March 2010

Formations Lesson for April 11: A Song of Praise

March 30 2010 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage:  Psalm 150; Jude 24-25

“Praise the Lord!” It’s both the first and last lines of Psalm 150.

It’s the hallelu-yah that we saw in last week’s lesson.

It’s the “Hallelujah” of our Easter hymns (Hallelujah! Christ arose!), and the “Alleluia,” too (Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!). “Praise the Lord!”

It’s an imperative form of the Hebrew verb halal, “to praise, to shout or sing praise,” plus the direct object, -yah, from Yahweh, the personal name of God. “Praise the Lord!”

And if it’s an imperative, that means it’s a command.

It’s an order.

“Praise the Lord!” Do it!

But how does one respond to a command to praise?

How can one respond?

Must a basketball fan be commanded to cheer when her team scores? Must a parent be ordered to clap at his child’s piano recital?

Must a grandparent be instructed to carry pictures of the new grandbaby in her purse?

Praise is something that comes naturally. Either you feel it, or you don’t. And if you feel it, you do it.

Yet Psalm 150 commands us to praise. It tells us whom to praise: the Lord (v. 1).

It tells us when and where to praise: all the time, whether in church (“his sanctuary”) or out under the stars (“his mighty firmament”).

It tells us why to praise: because of God’s “mighty deeds” and “surpassing greatness” (v. 2).

It tells us how to praise: with trumpet, lute (guitar? maybe even electric?), harp, tambourine, dance (in church?), strings, pipe, and cymbals — loud, clanging, crashing ones (vv. 3-5).

It tells us who should praise: everything that lives and breathes (v. 6). “Praise the Lord!”

But how can one be commanded to praise?

Unless perhaps the command itself is an act of praise.

We do it all the time:

O come, let us adore Him!
Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing; power and majesty, praise to the King!
Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!

The grammar may be imperative, but these aren’t commands. They’re exclamations!

I rode my motorcycle across the Bogue Sound bridge between Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle. Out over the ocean, low on the horizon, lay a thundercloud, dark and menacing.

From behind the cloud the early morning sun, its disc hidden from view, shot magnificent rays of gold upward into the blue sky.

I didn’t say it, didn’t shout it or sing it, but I sure thought it: “Praise the Lord!” It just came naturally.
3/30/2010 3:11:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for April 11: The Right Stuff

March 30 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passages: 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 3:4-5,18; 4:1-2,5-6,16-18

People are insecure about the darnedest things. I’ve known virtual geniuses on the ivories who will claim they can’t play piano at all and will break into a sweat when asked to play Christmas carols for their own families. My mom is a wonderful cook. But ask her how she does it and she’ll clam up and turn away as if she’s scared you are a food critic. And while we are on the subject, it seems people are not insecure about some things that perhaps they have reason to be. 

As Baptists, we hold the doctrine of “priesthood of the believer” as near and dear as just about anything. As Christians we accept that we have a responsibility to be the “hands and feet of Christ” in the world. But with what reverence do we take the tasks of being ministers of the gospel? I am afraid that far too often the simple answer is “not enough.” 

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul starts with the premise that none, alone, is worthy to be a minister of Christ. He quickly adds however, that through Christ, all can be. It is a solemn responsibility, one we must NOT take lightly. Only when we realize our dependence on Christ, can we truly understand what it takes to be His ministers here on earth. 

A minister friend of mine tells a wonderful story of a dinner date he and his wife had with a surgeon friend of theirs and his wife. In the town the couples lived in, on the day of the planned date, there was a terrible automobile crash.

The surgeon spent hours that day operating on as many as 4 or 5 different people. My friend, who was pastor of the doctor’s church, called to say it was OK if the stress of the day had caused the surgeon to need to postpone their date.

The surgeon, with a laugh my friend recounts as “almost silly,” asked why his pastor thought that necessary.

The surgeon said, “Nonsense, I had in my hands only their lives. Every Sunday, preacher, you hold the eternal destinations of hundreds on your every word.”

Paul reminds this early church in chapter 4, verse 2 that we have this ministry, and we must not rely on our craftiness or deceit, but rather, just the truth. To be ministers of the gospel, we must be dependent on the gospel.  
3/30/2010 3:09:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for April 4: A Song of Life

March 23 2010 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Peter 2:4-7

The sanctuary lights dim. The baptistry curtain parts. The water shimmers behind the glass pane. The pastor wades in, extending his hand to the candidate coming down the steps. The organist plays softly:

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus, my Savior.

The candidate glides through the water to the pastor’s side. 

Waiting the coming day, Jesus, my Lord.

The pastor introduces her to the congregation and asks, “Do you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead?” 

She answers, “I do.”  Still, the organ, so softly:

Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus, my Savior.

“And what is your confession of faith?”

“Jesus is Lord!”

Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus, my Lord.

The pastor raises his hand in blessing: “In obedience to the command of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ ...”

Death cannot keep his prey, Jesus, my Savior.

“... I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.”

He tore the bars away, Jesus, my Lord!

Under she goes! Backwards, face up, as a corpse in a grave.

Then up she comes! Sputtering, wiping her eyes, water cascading from her hair, a big grin on her face. New life! 

The organist confirms it, literally pulling out all the stops. The volume and brightness of the music fill the church:

Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!
He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

God’s people have long used songs to rejoice in God’s salvation.

Psalms 113-118 are called the Egyptian Hallel psalms (from hallelu-yah, meaning “Praise the Lord”).  They were sung at all the major festivals to celebrate Israel’s liberation from Egypt and to express confidence in God’s continued preservation. Perhaps written originally after a victory in battle, Psalm 118 was always the last song at the Passover meal, maybe even the one Jesus and His disciples sang after their Last Supper. On the way to the cross, a song of hope and deliverance! 

Then the writer of 1 Peter (2:7) quoted one line from the psalm (v. 22) to affirm our own hope and deliverance in Christ: “The very stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

Hallelujah! Christ arose!

And because He lives, we shall live also. That’s a song worth singing.             
3/23/2010 3:17:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for April 4: When Easter Becomes Just Another Holiday

March 23 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passages: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,12-19, 54b-58

If you think about it, really think about it, there should NEVER be a danger of Easter “becoming just another holiday.” How could it? Even non-believers find the story to be unbelievable.

Christians celebrate Easter as the pinnacle of all that faith is. In verses 12-19 of the focal passage, Paul pushes the Corinthians on this very point. If Easter isn’t special then our faith, as Paul puts it, is “in vain.” 

Last year my children joined the swim team at the pool where we are members. Neither of my kids had ever had any formal swim training beyond the introductory stuff they do at the YMCA, which we took them to as infants.

They learned how to swim, but that is it, they just learned how to swim. They did not receive instruction on correct procedure for certain strokes or anything like that.

Early on, after one of the first practices, my daughter reported that the swim coach told the group they needed to go back and “emphasize” the importance of the strokes.

She told my daughter and her teammates that in order to avoid being disqualified, they really needed to know the difference between (for example) the breast stroke and the butterfly.  Her coach said, “Competitive swimming cannot be about JUST getting from one end of the pool to the other fast.” 

Likewise, Easter cannot be about JUST a nice sunrise service or fancy worship or, worse yet, the family table for a big lunch. 

The New Revised Standard version of the Bible translates verse 15 this way: We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that He raised Christ — whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

You may have to read that a couple of times, but when it sinks in, it really sinks in. To make Easter just another holiday is to misrepresent God.

Easter is not just a holiday, something that rolls around the calendar and stops on a Sunday once a year. Easter is what we believe, it is everything we believe. By claiming the name Christian, Easter is who we are!
3/23/2010 3:15:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for March 28: A Song of Despair

March 15 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Psalm 22:1-10, 14-15, 19-21; Mark 15:33-39  

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The word “forsaken” can also be translated abandoned or deserted. First spoken by King David, then Jesus, these words are a cry from the heart.

Have you ever felt as though God has forsaken you? If so, you are in good company. The words uttered by King David and Jesus have been spoken by countless millions of perplexed and suffering people through the centuries.

It is a question as old as humanity. It is as new as the pain of a broken heart. My God, my God, why…?

I remember accompanying a highway patrolman to tell a young woman in my congregation that her husband had been killed in a car accident caused by a drunken driver. I will never forget her deep pain and the way she cried out to God. “Why God? Where were you?” 

What do we have to offer someone who is in the depths of despair? We have a Christ who has walked that road and who is, therefore, able to enter into full sympathy with us.

We can be sure that God is not angry because we question.

After all, Jesus Himself asked “Why?”

The articulation of the absence of God in Psalm 22 lasts for 21 verses. Who knows how long those verses represent in actual time? The feeling of abandonment can last a long time. However, even in the worst situations of life we must cling to God.

Charles Spurgeon said that it is easy to believe in God when life smiles on you, but it is much more difficult when life frowns on you.

The psalmist says, “My strength is dried up…and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:15).

Although spoken by David, these words were fulfilled by Jesus’ suffering during His crucifixion. John 19:28 says, “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”

It is striking to me that the very order of the psalms seems to suggest that we can rely on God. The psalm immediately following Psalm 22 is, of course, Psalm 23 which begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

This is Passion Week. Easter trumps Good Friday. God’s healing triumphs over tragedy. A song of despair can become a song of thanksgiving as we cling to God, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57).  
3/15/2010 5:34:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for March 28: When Worship Dishonors God

March 15 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passages: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Have you ever heard that old saying, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees?” I suppose it can be used in many contexts, but it almost always means the same thing — at least I think.

That is: we should not get caught up in minor details and miss a bigger point. Paul suggests to the Corinthians that worship can be a “forest for the trees” kind of thing too. If we get so caught up in the ritual, traditions, and customs of a part of worship, we can miss the bigger point of worship’s purpose, that being to honor God. 

My first experience in a Catholic church left me with so many questions, but none more essential to my mind on that day than the one I had about “Holy Water.”

I walked in with my (now) wife and father-in-law, both of whom had been Catholic for years and knew every ritual of their faith.

Each dipped a hand in the trickle of water which was located just inside the door. Each took the dampened hand and made a sign of the cross before proceeding into the sanctuary. I didn’t get it.

I had no idea why the water was holy. And I refused to let the question go.

I completely missed the rest of the service trying to ask and have answered an insignificant question. I have no idea what was sung, preached or prayed, for the rest of the day. Whether I agree with this church’s custom, or that one’s worship devices should NOT keep me from worshipping.

How frequently (or infrequently) one church does communion or what things are sacred parts of the apparatus of a particular service may, in fact, be good questions. It is possible I would decide my “preference” or style of worship based on exactly these kinds of things. But these should never determine whether I worship or not. 

While worship is often done corporately, each of us has individual responsibility for our own praise of God. Nothing should keep us from glorifying Him with our worship.   
3/15/2010 5:32:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for March 21: A Question of Destiny

March 10 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Matthew 23:29-39  

New Orleans’ victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV was destiny according to Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Brees, who joined the Saints during the city’s struggle to recover from Hurricane Katrina said of the upset victory: “It was all meant to be, it’s all destiny.”

Destiny is often understood as a fixed sequence of events that is inevitable and unchangeable.

Another thought is that individuals choose their own destiny by the decisions made in life. In our text today, the Pharisees seem certain of their destiny, but Jesus calls their destiny into question.

In this passage we see a feisty Jesus. He speaks boldly to “the crowds” and “His disciples” (Matt. 23:1) to show the disconnect between the religious leaders’ profession and practice.

The scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), the chair in the synagogue reserved for the authoritative teacher of the law in a Jewish community. From this position they expounded the meaning of the law to the worshipers.

The problem was not with the Pharisees’ teachings or beliefs, but with their behavior. They did not apply their teachings to their own behavior. Hypocrisy is talking about God’s will, but failing to do it.

In Matthew 23, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for their sins in a series of seven woes. Jesus predicts that the Jewish people will continue the pattern of rejecting the messengers of God just as they did in the past.

Jesus reveals a kind of logic of the kingdom: those who are sent in Spirit will act as witnesses. We recall from a previous lesson that the only unforgiveable sin is the blasphemy of the Spirit. Jesus says that what is done to those who act in truth will bring judgment.

In this passage Jesus clearly alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. He speaks of His great love for Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37). Our openness to receive God’s love depends on our willingness to live in His truth. You can’t demand a person’s love and reject all that they are at the same time.

This passage comes in sequence just before Passion Week and Jesus’ betrayal. Jesus has strongly condemned the religious hypocrisy of those who claim they would not have condemned the prophets, but now reject Jesus.

In verse 39 we see that Jesus will someday return, and at that time all people will recognize Him for who He is. How will you respond to Jesus now? It is a question of destiny!  
3/10/2010 8:55:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for March 21: When Members Insist on Their Way

March 10 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passages: 1 Corinthians 8:1-4, 7-13; 10:31-33

“But I waaa-ahaha-nnt it!”

Anyone who has children is familiar with this cry. Usually, you hear it in the cattle-shoot lines most of us refer to as the check-out.

As we wait impatiently for our turn, our children are subjected to all sorts of temptation beautifully displayed at eye level.

Now, candy in and of itself is not bad. I, no doubt as you, have treated my children to all sorts of candy at various times. But in children, those who know no bounds or restraint, unlimited delight can do more harm than good.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians about protecting those who are weaker than us.

His example was meat that had been sacrificed for idols … but the message was very similar.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, it seems as if Paul is talking in riddles. It helps to know the original text for “know” as used in both verses.

In verse one; “know” is oida which refers to the investigative process. The word used for “knows” in the second verse is ginosko, a deeper more experiential knowledge that leads to moral wisdom.

Essentially, Paul is telling us that “head knowledge” by itself is useless. It’s only when combined with compassion and kindness that one succeeds in true knowledge.

So why do the different definitions of “know” matter?

How does what Paul is saying apply to our lives? It’s actually very simple and we can use the example our children and candy provides us to see it.

We know (oida) candy, in and of itself, is not all bad. And we know (oida) our children do not have the ability to withstand the temptation when candy is in front of them.

Because we know our children cannot withstand the candy temptation, we know (ginosko) we must refrain from eating it in front of them or displaying it within hands reach.

It’s not that we can’t have it; it’s the compassion we have on them that keeps us from subjecting them to their weakness.

Our focus is not on the candy or even if we ourselves can exercise restraint, but rather what’s best for our children. 

By knowing — ginosko — we honor and protect them. 

Whether it’s meat, candy or something else, we must always remember that just because we can stand strong doesn’t mean those who are watching us can too.  
3/10/2010 8:52:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for March 14: A Question of Outrageous Claims

March 3 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: John 6:41-59   

Our text for today thrusts us into the middle of a conversation between Jesus and the people who experienced the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. They had followed Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and He exposed their motives by accusing them of only wanting another free meal.

The people were seeking a Moses figure that would feed them every day. In response, Jesus told them that they should desire spiritual food that lasts rather than food that is consumed and gone. This passage begins with the people grumbling about Jesus’ statement: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). They knew His parents, and questioned how Jesus could say that He came down from heaven.

Jesus does not try to clarify His statement, but instead responds with a clear command: “Stop grumbling among yourselves” (John 6:43). There is an obvious parallel in this passage with the Jews in the wilderness that grumbled against Moses (Exodus 16:2; Numbers 11:4-6).

In this text, the grumbling refers specifically to what Jesus has said, but it also has a general application. Every church could benefit from a “No Grumbling” sign prominently displayed! Jesus further upsets the crowd when He says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).

The people question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). In the book of John we often see people taking Jesus’ analogies in a literal sense.

Nicodemus was confused when Jesus told him to be born again (John 3:4) and the woman at the well wondered about the water that would keep her from thirsting again (John 4:15). 

Like the people in John’s gospel, there are those who interpret Jesus’ words literally. They believe that, in communion, the bread actually becomes the body of Jesus and the wine becomes His blood (transubstantiation). Baptists understand Jesus’ words to be symbolic.

The prophets spoke of eating the word of God (Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 3:3). Eating the word symbolized receiving the word into their lives.

To have Jesus in one’s life is to find ultimate satisfaction. Our deepest hunger is met. Our deepest thirst is satisfied. In Him we have sustaining food that satisfies all our needs!    
3/3/2010 4:52:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for March 14: When Immorality Comes to Church

March 3 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passages: 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 9-13; 6:15-20  

March 21, 2003, will stand in infamy as the day that a new phrase was introduced to the world: Shock and Awe. According to Wikipedia, “shock and awe” is “technically known as rapid dominance and is a military doctrine.” The writers of the doctrine, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, say it will “impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on . . . (to) seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels.”

Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly what Christians face, in a world such as ours. Specifically, sex has become something so constantly in the face of all who live in these times that it really feels like a war is going on.

In an “immediate and sufficiently timely way” we are all “overloaded” everywhere we look with sex — so much so that our “perceptions and understanding” render us “incapable of resistance.” We have become a society, both inside the church and out, where anything goes and nothing’s sacred.

Sexual immorality within the church is very difficult to cope with. Christians are called to hold each other accountable and sexual immorality is not outside that calling. Literally, in chapter 5, verses 12 and 13, the word “judge” is Krino meaning to “enter within a judicial contest with.” In essence, Paul is encouraging Christians to “call out” other Christians. We must walk the line between lovingly correcting and passively condoning church members’ immoral choices with the focus on bringing them to a life of grace and eternal salvation through our Lord and Savior.

Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps using his own shock and awe campaign, he asks the church in Corinth if he should “unite the members of Christ with a prostitute.” Even today, the language he uses shocks us and reminds us of the consequences of physical union outside of marriage.  

No matter how powerful it may seem, the shock and awe campaign we face in reference to sex has a very distinguishable difference from the military doctrine. The one who has launched the attack has no power over our Creator and therefore, no power over us. When Christians seek to unite with the Lord, we have victory over all things that tempt us … including sexual immorality.   
3/3/2010 4:50:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments