May 2009

Formations lesson for June 7: The Sinner’s Prayer

May 26 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Luke 18:9-14

On Sunday evenings before Training Union some of us junior boys would hang out in an upstairs classroom at church.

One summer afternoon a family was having a cookout in their yard across the street. Several of us stuck our heads out the window, somebody counted to three, and we all shouted together, “Why aren’t you in church?”

We could have been poster boys for today’s parable.

This is the first of four lessons on prayer, starting with the Sinner’s Prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Actually, the parable is not strictly about prayer. It’s about self-righteousness and humility (v. 9,14). But one sure way to demonstrate either quality is by the way we pray.

It’s a mistake to picture all Pharisees as wicked. They didn’t set out to become prideful and arrogant.

They really wanted to please God. But some of them were just too good at it, at least in their own eyes.

In his biography of Southwestern Seminary professor W.T. Conner, Stewart A. Newman recalls Dr. Conner being asked if overly pious and self-righteous people would get into heaven. His answer? “If they don’t overshoot it.”

Take the man in our parable. The result of his scrupulous adherence to the Jewish law, as well as to the additional rules and interpretations designed to enforce and amplify that law, was his attitude of spiritual superiority. He trusted in his own goodness and looked down on others (v. 9), and his attitude was reflected in his prayer (v. 11-12). For him, prayer was showing off. Some translations (KJV, RSV) say he “prayed thus with himself.”

God, if He was listening at all, was not impressed.

It’s clear who Jesus likes in this story: the one nobody else does. Why? “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Remember the old hymn, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy? “All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.”  

Unable to trust in his own goodness, the tax collector could only cast himself on God’s mercy.

But the Pharisee didn’t need any help, from God or anybody else. Both men got what they prayed for. Prayer can open the door to God’s grace, or slam the door in God’s face.

We boys knew we had done wrong. As soon as we yelled out the church window, we ducked out of sight. Fifty years later I still remember it. Even we good religious folk need to be forgiven, and often. So let us pray.  

5/26/2009 3:43:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for June 7: Purposefully Connected

May 26 2009 by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: 1 John 1:1-2:2

When people see you having a good time they want to be a part of what you are doing.  This is a hard fact for many churches to realize, when the fellowship is good it will produce results.

It is definitely OK to have fun and be a Christian.

That does not mean that you have a “wild” party, whatever that definition might be, each time you come together.

However, it does mean that there is an intrinsic joy that is to be present when God’s people come together.

The writer in 1 John is sending a message to counteract false teachings that were present as the early church was establishing itself.

There were those who denied the true humanity of Christ, and 1 John opens with a strong statement of Christ’s divinity and His humanity as John experienced ministry alongside our Savior who was in existence from the dawn of time.

It is a solid theological foundation that allows believers to have the understanding to go into the world and stand against the false teachings of our present time.

Those who live in right fellowship with other believers or in the light as John calls it in verses 5-7 means that we will try to avoid sinful lifestyles.

This connection to others within the church helps to create a sense of accountability and connection so that our walk does not suffer from sin that could be a barrier to us and a stumbling block to others.  

The ultimate realization is that sin will creep into our lives and our fellowship.

The right thing to do is to confess that sin.

To stand before God and to brazenly say that we are without sin is to fool ourselves and to think God a liar. None are perfect, and sin will creep into our lives no matter how hard we try to avoid it.

The great and wonderful gift we have been given is that in confessing our sin we can be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  

What greater gift could we require?

Fellowship within the body is of much greater importance than we realize.

When the world has the opportunity to see the church working together in a spirit of cooperation and unity it sends a positive message to the surrounding society.

Instead of seeing our squabbles over power struggles and personal agendas it is much more powerful to show a passion for the one that, “. . . is the Word of life” (v. 1).

When true fellowship and connection is there people will want to enter the doors of the church and allow Jesus to enter their hearts.

5/26/2009 3:42:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for May 31: The Jews Prevail

May 20 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 8:3-9:3, 26-28

Haman is dead.

Mordecai is saved, elevated with Esther to the highest echelons of power.   

But what about the other Persian Jews? There’s still an edict in effect ordering their destruction.  

The king would like to help, but a royal edict, once issued, cannot be revoked. The solution?

Esther and Mordecai may write an additional edict if they choose (8:3-8).

They go for self-defense, matching their enemies blow-for-blow and word-for-word.

Haman’s original edict gave orders to “destroy, kill and annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children … and plunder their goods” (3:13). Mordecai’s new edict allows the Jews to “destroy, kill and annihilate” whoever attacks them, “with their children and women, and plunder their goods,” and on the very day that Haman picked for the extermination (8:11-12).

During the Cold War it was called MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction. Our nation’s principal deterrent against a Soviet nuclear attack was the sure and certain knowledge that if they shot first we could, and would, shoot back, with equal or greater force.

Destroy us, and they would be destroyed, blow-for-blow. “Mad,” maybe, but effective.

Is deterrence what Esther and Mordecai are after? Faced with mutual destruction, everybody might just stand down. If not, the Jews will defend themselves. Or are they planning a preemptive strike?

Another lesson writer accuses the study guide of “sanitizing” the account by overlooking the carnage in Chapter 9.

The text is ambiguous about who starts the killing spree, but the Jews are strongly implicated and clearly have the upper hand: 500 enemies dead in the capital alone (8:17-9:6).

Even the king seems appalled: “What more do you want?” Esther requests a one-day extension to mop up the stragglers, including Haman’s ten sons (9:7-14).

The final body count empire-wide is 75,000 (9:16). To the Jews’ credit, “they did not touch the plunder” (9:10, 15). Robbery is not the motive here.

Purim is the two-day festival celebrating the victory (9:17-28): “a day for gladness and feasting … for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.” In this final reversal, the day Haman intended for sorrow is now remembered joyfully as one of deliverance.

The book clearly wants us to recognize God’s hand, even unnamed. Haman the Amalekite almost certainly would have gone after the Jews, sooner or later.

That Mordecai and Esther were on the scene and able to help was providential.

But the slaughter! Was God pleased with that? No wonder we need Jesus.       

5/20/2009 6:45:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 31: Philip Loved To Tell Others About Jesus

May 20 2009 by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: Acts 6:2-3, 5a; 8:4-8, 26-31, 34-35; 21:8-9

We often share that of which we are proud. It can be seen as a parent brings out the photos of children to show to someone. I carry a family picture in my billfold with Shelley and all three of our children smiling at the camera happily. I want to have it ready when I have the opportunity to speak to someone that I have not seen recently. I am often asked, “How’s the family?” and I can show them, not just tell them.  

As a part of the body of Christ we are called to have an unashamed pride in Christ that calls us to share Him with the world by showing and telling. One such person was Phillip in the scriptures as we see him chosen as one of the seven in Acts 6:1-7 when a misunderstanding arose concerning the serving of Greek widows at the table. They were being overlooked and the Apostles realized that assistance was needed.

The congregation looked amongst themselves and chose persons for these tasks within the body with three characteristics: good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled with wisdom. The main point of their task would be service to the body and it would allow the Apostles to concentrate on teaching the Word.  

Following the choosing of the seven Stephen became the first Christian martyr and persecution of the church became severe.

The early believers became scattered and Phillip went to Samaria to preach the gospel. His going to Samaria was quite amazing within itself considering the historical tension between the Jews and Samaritans, but in Acts 1:8 Christ Himself included Samaria in His commission. Many responded to Phillip’s preaching, believed and were baptized.  

We then find Phillip in chapter 8 of Acts in contact with an Ethiopian eunuch in the service of the Queen Mother of ancient Ethiopia. The eunuch is an official from a country that would be located in the present area of Sudan and was most likely traveling in a simple ox drawn cart. Phillip is led to the eunuch by the Holy Spirit and heard him reading from Isaiah about the “Suffering Servant” and Phillip takes the opportunity to discuss the passage with him and share the gospel message with him.

And finally in Acts 21:8-9 we see Paul stopping at Phillip’s house in Caesarea as he was returning to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey. Caesarea is where Phillip went following the event with the eunuch and he most likely founded the church there. This city was the seat of the governor of Judea and was 60 miles from Jerusalem as well.

In these verses we see a simple glimpse into the family of Phillip the evangelist, and his family. Not only was he ready to share Christ with others, but he had shared Christ with his family and now his daughters were given to the gift of prophecy, truth telling.

How proud of Christ are we today? May our life and words tell the truth of our pride!     

5/20/2009 6:44:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for May 24: Esther Takes a Risk

May 11 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 5:1-8; 7:1-8:2

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all. 

— Friedrich Von Logau (tr. Henry W. Longfellow)

An insomniac king with a beautiful love interest; palace intrigues, comic twists and dramatic reversals; a slapstick mixup of Shakespearean proportions; an arch-villain who gets his just desserts — it doesn’t get any better than this.

Esther melts Xerxes’ heart when she enters, unbidden, into his court. He knows her concern must be serious and offers whatever she asks, even half the kingdom. Instead she invites him to bring Haman to dinner, twice. She has a lot of buttering up to do. As for Haman, he’s overjoyed at his apparent good fortune (5:1-9).

But out in the street Mordecai again refuses to do obeisance. Haman is livid. Power, wealth, status — nothing matters as long as this Jew defies him. Egged on by his wife and friends, he constructs a gallows for Mordecai (5:9-14).

That night the king, unable to sleep, rereads the legal notices in the paper (better than counting sheep?). “Did we ever reward Mordecai for disrupting that assassination plot?” The answer is no. When Haman comes to ask permission to carry out the hanging, Xerxes asks his question first: “How to honor a faithful subject?” Certain that it’s all about him, Haman suggests an over-the-top appreciation ceremony which the king orders him to carry out — for Mordecai (6:1-11). Irony, anyone?

Stung by the humiliation, Haman forgets all about the second banquet and must be collected by the king’s men. There Esther makes her startling pronouncement: Haman! He’s the villain who is threatening her and all her people (6:12-7:6).

The king storms out in a rage. Returning to find Haman literally flung across Esther begging for mercy, Xerxes mistakes it for an assault on his queen. A servant notices the new gallows outside.  How convenient! “Hang him on that” (7:7-10).

Esther gets Haman’s house and Mordecai gets his job, symbolized by the king’s ring, formerly on Haman’s finger. Next to the king, two Jews are now the most powerful people in the land (8:1-2; remember Joseph and Daniel?).

It can seem like forever. The innocent suffer while the wicked go free. But sometimes — not always, but sometimes — the chickens come home to roost. The evil a person intends toward others becomes his own undoing, and justice prevails.

More than eight years have passed since Vashti was deposed (1:3, 2:16, 3:7). Meanwhile God, unnamed, stands patiently waiting, having placed the advancement of His divine purposes into the hands of two ordinary people. Imagine that.

5/11/2009 6:05:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 24: Barnabas: The Man Who Encouraged Others

May 11 2009 by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 13:14-15, 42-43

My daughter Kenley is doing something for the first time, playing little league softball. One of the church members is coaching the team, and he asked her if she would like to play. Her initial response was one of enthusiasm, and we were glad to see her excited about something. The move to Sylva was difficult for our two oldest children in 2006. They left friends, a sense of comfort, and in their minds moved a long way from family.  It has been especially hard on Kenley.

She has struggled with batting, and I have tried to be an encourager as I go to practices and tell her, “Good swing!” Unfortunately, that has been the main result because the bat hardly touched the ball until the last two games.

In her most recent game she got a hit three out of four at bats. And as I stood there at the fence clapping and shouting for her I could see her smile and her face gleaming as she ran to first base. She had wanted to quit, but we kept encouraging her not to give up.

In the Book of Acts we see a man named Barnabas whose name means “Son of Encouragement.”

He is an early benefactor of the church, selling land and giving the proceeds to the church in Acts 4 so that the money could be used to help those in need. He is later seen in Acts 9 reaching out to the Apostle Paul when the disciples were skeptical about receiving him because of his past. Barnabas vouched for Paul and shared how Paul had proclaimed Christ in Damascas so that they would know he had been converted.

Barnabas reached out to Hellenistic Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene preaching in Antioch at the request of the Jerusalem church and worked with them for a year. He sought the assistance of Paul, and they saw great things happen for the sake of the Lord.

They realized that the gospel was open for all. It should be noted that in this section of Acts 11 in verse 24 Barnabas is described as “good” and he is the only person Luke describes as such.

And finally in Acts 13 as we see Paul and Barnabas outside of a synagogue in Antioch their final words to a group of believers are to continue in the grace of God.

They are left with words of encouragement so that these believers will go with the understanding to grow in their faith.

Barnabas is given his name for a reason, and that reason is evident. 

I would not trade anything for that smile that I saw on Kenley’s face as she ran the bases at the ballgame, as she heard me yelling her name and telling her, “Way to go!” I could almost feel tears in my eyes after the first hit because her success was not just encouraging for her. 

It gave me a sense of hope as well. We all need that sense from time to time. We all need encouragement. Find someone who needs encouragement and share it today, be a Barnabas. 


5/11/2009 6:02:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for May 17: Mordecai Intercedes

May 4 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 4

“Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” —
Mordecai to Esther (4:14).

A study I once read indicated that a significant number of preachers are the firstborn sons of willful mothers, thus high-achieving, more compliant than rebellious, and having a strong need for approval. I fit the profile (mostly). But does that mean the calling I felt as a college senior that led me into the ministry was not also the voice of God?

Events in the book of Esther are building. Queen Vashti is deposed; Esther is chosen.
The egotistical Haman is prime minister. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and adoptive father, angers Haman by refusing to bow to him.

Haman retaliates by bribing the king to order all Jews exterminated. God’s people are in mourning.

But there is one person the king values above Haman: Esther. With nowhere else to go, Mordecai gets a message to her inside the palace, where she remains blissfully ignorant of Haman’s scheme. “You’ve got to help!” Mordecai says. “Besides, your life is in danger too, once the king learns who you are” (4:8, 13).

And then the most famous line from the book, the closest it comes to acknowledging the hand of God: “If you don’t do something, deliverance will come from somewhere else. But who knows? Maybe this is why you’re there in the first place.”

God rarely appears to us in a burning bush or a blinding light on the road. If we’re going to find God where He is, we have to take Him as He comes, whether in a pagan king’s choice of a queen or a budding minister’s family of origin.

“If I perish, I perish.” — Esther to Mordecai (4:16).

Esther agrees to intercede, but there’s a problem. To protect the king, the Persian Secret Service forbids approaching him unsolicited.

The penalty is death. And the king hasn’t asked for Esther in a month (4:11).

Why does Esther agree to risk it? Despite Mordecai’s warning, nobody, not even Haman, suspects she is a Jew until she reveals it herself (7:4). She might have gotten away free.

Instead this seems like an act of courage, of determination, of taking her fate (and her people’s) into her own hands, of serving a higher cause and answering to a higher power, regardless of the cost. “If I perish, I perish” is not really that far removed from “Nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.” God’s activity often requires the cooperation of God’s servant, even to the point of sacrifice.

The Bible has only two books named after women. Esther is one of them. Surprised?    

5/4/2009 7:22:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 17: Abigail — Living with a Difficult Husband

May 4 2009 by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: 1 Samuel 25:2-3, 18-19, 23-31, 36-38, 39b

Throughout history you can look to any person of great success and marvel at their accomplishments. It is always the most noted of persons, the one in the limelight that gets the credit, the fame, the fortune, and their name in the history books. Many events of the past have been attributed to great persons, but surely there were others in the background that had some role to play in the outcome.

On the grand stage of world affairs there are always persons that are working behind closed doors, or behind persons that are not seen, or even known. We have even heard the quote, “Behind every good man is a good woman.” In some cases it might be that behind even a bad man there is a good woman. In the scripture passage from 1 Samuel 25 Abigail is just such a dear wife. She is married to a husband that is very wealthy, but his character is called into question. Her husband’s name is Nabal, which literally means “fool,” and his actions seem to confirm the meaning.  

David is in hiding in the wilderness from Saul, and it is felt that he had watched over Nabal’s men and kept them safe, and also Nabal’s vast holdings. David became aware that it was sheering time, which meant that Nabal would also be slaughtering some animals and there would be feasting. David chose 10 of his men to go and ask Nabal that he might share some meat with him and his men and he told them to speak kindly to Nabal.

Unfortunately, when David’s men approached Nabal he was unaware of whom David was and asked, “Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give to men whose origin I do not know?” (v.11). With this response David’s men returned and David was angered and called his men to arms. Nabal was unaware of the protection that David had provided for him from marauders and thieves who would have stolen from his herds or done harm to his herders.  

One of Nabal’s men spoke with Abigail about how well David and his men treated them and that David had sent messengers to ask for assistance and how rudely Nabal had responded. It was at this moment that she realized that it was up to her to act in the best interest of her husband and her home. She gathered a great deal of food and supplies and went out to meet David, paying homage to him. David had pity on her and spared Nabal.  

She returned to find her husband drunk from feasting and said nothing to him until the next morning. At the news he was so shocked that he suffered a stroke and died ten days later. David offered to take Abigail as his wife.  

We see in Abigail an example of faithfulness. She realized that it fell to her to right that which was made wrong by her husband. Sometimes in life it falls upon each of us to help and protect those that we love, and in some way we have to help them find a way to accept responsibility for their actions.

5/4/2009 7:20:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments