May 2014

Explore the Bible Lesson for June 8: When Idols Tug at Your Heart

May 22 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passages: Ezekiel 8:3b-4, 10-12; 14:1-6
 
It is hard to believe that “American Idol” has been around since 2002, but it has. And the show has done remarkably well. A 2011 edition of TV Guide said that for an unprecedented eight consecutive years the show had been ranked number one in U.S. television ratings. If nothing else, the show is responsible for returning the word “idol” to contemporary lingo.

When most of us think of an “idol” we either think of the aforementioned TV show or maybe a little wooden or metal image in a far off pagan culture. In other words, few of us actually think that we may be guilty of worshipping an idol. Yet, if we examine the scriptures we may be surprised to learn that idols are not limited to musicians or pagan trinkets.
 
In Ezekiel 8:3-4 the Lord transports Ezekiel to the temple in Jerusalem in a vision. While there Ezekiel sees the “offensive statue that provokes jealousy.” What does that mean? An idol. An idol had been placed in the temple of the living God. Worse, the leaders in Israel were all engaging in the worship of these false idols. According to Ezekiel they reasoned, “the Lord does not see us.” They thought that since God had allowed captives to be carried off and because he was not immediately judging their actions, they could get away with it.

But God is not unaware. He knows not only our actions, but the motivations and intentions of our hearts. In Ezekiel 14:1-5 we learn that it is our hearts that are most affected by idols.
 
God tells the prophet that he would give the Israelites over to their idolatry. The goal, according to v. 5, was that they would realize the emptiness of their idolatry and the Lord would “take hold of” (or, “recapture”) their hearts. God wanted them to repent and turn from their idols (v. 6).
 
We learn from the rest of scripture (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Matthew 22:3-38) that anything that comes before Christ – your spouse, children, career, retirement account, hobby, church, tradition, material possessions – is an idol. Christ must be first. Anything less and we are worshipping an idol.
5/22/2014 1:08:57 PM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 8: God is Loving

May 22 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passage: 1 John 4:7-12
 
Our society is in love with L-O-V-E. We dedicate an entire day to a holiday that equates love with teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, cards and flowers. We recognize loved ones on anniversaries, birthdays and days dedicated just to them like “Mother’s Day.” We’re infiltrated with shows, movies, novels and poems all about love! And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we are created in the image of a loving God.
 
As we learn in this week’s passage, 1 John 4, God is love. We were created to be in relationship with Him and one another. The thing is, we can get too tied up in L-O-V-E, as we’d define it – romance, kisses, hugs, ooey-gooey feelings, dating, relationships – that we become man-centered. That’s when drama and breakups and bitterness come into play. Because it’s a known fact: sinners will let sinners down.
 
When we focus solely on that physical, passionate, romantic love as the Greeks would refer to as eros then we lose sight of the pure, godly and selfless love known as agape in our passage. God demonstrates His selfless agape in this: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
 
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul gives us an incredible definition of God’s agape in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,  does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails …” [NASB]
 
Agape love is not short-lived. It does not seek the best for oneself. It does not rejoice in immorality or any pursuit of unrighteousness. It is selfless. What a contrast to the kind of love that we see portrayed on the big screen of our culture.
 
As Christians, we can be counter-cultural because we worship a God who is love. How can you demonstrate God’s agape to someone in need of it this week?
 
5/22/2014 1:04:52 PM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for June 1: When Your World Crumbles

May 20 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passage: Ezekiel 1:1-3; 1:28; 2:1-5; 6:7-10
 
I recall hearing my pastor once say, “nothing grows on a mountaintop.” I did not really understand what he meant when he said that. Of course, I was only 12-years-old and had never seen a mountain. In 2013, however, I made a cross-country trip on my motorcycle. While riding through the mountains in Colorado I understood his illustration much better. A mountaintop offers a tremendous view and is awe-inspiring. But very little growth happens there.
 
In Ezekiel 1:1-3 we are introduced to the prophet while he is in exile. But he is not there alone; the Lord is there with him. Often when we face times of crisis we think the Lord has abandoned us. Yet, these verses in Ezekiel remind us God was still with him, and He was still using him.
 
Ezekiel learned that not only was God using him there in exile, but that God’s glory is not limited by national boundaries. Indeed, in Ezekiel 1:28 we learn that God’s glory was so radiant that the only response Ezekiel could give was to fall facedown on the ground. We really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, God’s glory shines the brightest when it is revealed in the darkest moments of our lives. Ezekiel was going to speak to a people that God referred to as “obstinate and hard hearted.” Ezekiel had a challenging mission that required the power of the Spirit (v. 2) to accomplish. His experience is a great reminder to us that we can do nothing apart from the Spirit’s empowerment. More than that, it is a reminder that tangible results are not always indications of obedience.
 
Ezekiel’s message is very challenging because he has to share bad news with suffering people. He has to inform them that they are suffering because of their own disobedience. Yet, it is this suffering that will ultimately drive them back to the Lord (Ezekiel 6:7-10).
 
Too often we value the “mountaintop experiences” in life. These passages from Ezekiel are reminders that God is with us in the valleys. Indeed, God often uses the experiences in the valley to teach us to depend upon Him all the more.
5/20/2014 12:44:36 PM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 1: God is Holy

May 20 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passage: Psalm 99:1-9
 
If someone were to ask you to name three characteristics of God, chances are that “holy” would be one of those characteristics. Why? Holiness is one of the most well-known characteristics of God, and is in fact, the most important. If God is not holy, then the gospel would be null and void. There would be no need for the cross because God would not be separate from sinners or sin.
 
Despite holiness being one of the most well-known and important characteristics, it may also be the least understood. As sinners it is hard for us to grasp what is sacred, consecrated, hallowed and set apart. And with the desire to be relevant and relatable in a lot of our American churches today, we seem to bypass the concept of holiness. Yet, God calls the church to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17 that they would be set apart and sanctified in truth.
 
Therefore, what should be the proper Christian response to God’s holiness? His holiness calls for reverence, awe and fear. All of these should culminate in worship.
 
In Psalm 99 we see “the peoples tremble” and “the earth quake” because “Holy is He!” In Isaiah 6, we read about the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on His throne where the seraphim are repetitively calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” He even notes that the foundations of the thresholds tremble at the voice of the Lord. And we get another glimpse of the One who is enthroned above through John, the author of Revelation, where the living creatures never cease saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” These examples show us how to respond to God’s holiness. 
 
How can you live out reverence, awe and fear of our holy God? Remember His holiness causes Him to be separate from our fallen world. Yet, in His great love, He has allowed us to approach His throne not because of our holiness, but because of the righteousness imparted to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
 
Let us worship the Holy One, who through grace makes us holy before Him!
5/20/2014 12:40:16 PM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for May 25: Invest in the Best

May 8 2014 by Troy Rust, pastor, Florence Avenue Baptist Church, Oxford

Focal Passages: Song of Songs 5:6-8; 6:1-3; 8:4-7
 
Several years ago I heard Dave Ramsey discourage co-signing a loan with someone, because the cosigner may get left holding the bag. Both business and marriage show that bringing a third party into a two-party agreement invites trouble. Most extramarital affairs begin in stupidity, not infidelity. Traveling, eating lunch or talking at length with someone of the opposite sex may unwittingly invite a third party to compete for your affection. Marriage presents enough difficulties when a husband and wife are committed to each other without distraction. If the husband decides he’d rather spend time with or talk to his female coworker, the wife unknowingly fights a relational undertow. No wonder the Shulammite woman declared, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). Your love for your spouse should be surpassed only by your love for Jesus.
 
Fidelity in marriage should be demonstrated and taught to our children. The older I get the more I am aware that I have less than 20 years to teach and model the Christian life to my children. I don’t want my daughters to begin thinking about God-honoring romance and marriage when they turn 16. I want to lead them to think about it in elementary school, while they are paying attention to Dad’s every move. If parents neglect this responsibility, their children will see love through the distorted lenses of cultural norms. They need learn why “love is as strong as death” and “jealousy is as strong as Sheol” (Song of Songs 8:6) from a biblical perspective.
 
While our culture writes books and makes movies about forbidden love and crimes of passion, the Bible teaches us that love is not an untamed emotion. Rather, it is a demonstration of the very nature of God who is love (1 John 4:8). He is jealous for the love of His people with a holy jealousy, and will not compete with idols for their worship (Exodus 20:5). In a similar way, husbands and wives must love each other with a holy jealousy that fights for their marriage and against all intruders.
5/8/2014 1:07:23 PM by Troy Rust, pastor, Florence Avenue Baptist Church, Oxford | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for May 25: Hope Shared

May 8 2014 by Bartley Wooten, pastor, Beulaville Baptist Church, Beulaville

Focal Passage: Acts 3:1-10
 
John Piper once told a story at a Passion Conference about a man who became a believer in another country. This man was so excited he could hardly wait to get back to his village to tell the people what had occurred in his life. After walking numerous miles, he entered his village proclaiming the gospel to all the people. However, the reception was not what he expected. As he explained the gospel the people became angry and they began to beat the young man until he eventually blacked out. After they beat him, they dragged him outside the village and left him to die. Remarkably, a day or two later the young man woke up confused about the hostility. He thought perhaps he told the story wrong so he went back to the village to explain the gospel again. Only this time he was met with a more severe beating. After waking up outside the village for a second time, he could not understand why those in the village were treating him in this manner. Determined to share the hope he had in Christ, he went back into the village. As they beat him for the third time, he remembered seeing the women crying before he blacked out.
 
Something was different, however, when he woke up. He found himself under the care of the people in the village. During the course of the third beating the people came under conviction realizing that if this young man was willing to be beaten for the message of Jesus, then it must be extremely valuable. As he recovered from his wounds, he was able to share the gospel with the people in the village, and they gave their lives to Christ. 
 
Many of us have experienced the wonderful hope found in Christ, but are we willing to suffer in order to share it with others? I believe a time is coming in America, and in some ways is already here, when the validation of our words will most likely involve suffering. Will you be ready?
5/8/2014 1:03:12 PM by Bartley Wooten, pastor, Beulaville Baptist Church, Beulaville | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for May 18: Righteous Romance

May 6 2014 by Troy Rust, pastor, Florence Avenue Baptist Church, Oxford

Focal Passages: Song of Songs 1:7-8, 15-2:2, 15; 4:9-12
 
We don’t usually think of the words “righteous” and “romance” going together. Modern American culture usually depicts romance as sensual carnality that ranges from sentimentality to adultery.
 
Many Christians, especially young women, are moved to tears by sappy love stories that pull the heart strings while overshadowing obvious sins. Although Solomon’s wisdom eventually gave way to an obsession with women (700 wives and 300 concubines), the Song of Songs tells of romance that is God-honoring and pure.
 
When my wife and I were dating, we wanted to be together all the time. Good-byes seemed to take forever because we didn’t want to say good night.
 
Whether you prefer dating or courtship, they both serve the purpose of enjoying someone’s company and getting to know them.
 
Righteous romance guards this time to make sure that although intimacy and familiarity escalate, they do not cross the line of sexual impropriety.
 
When a couple allows such destructive “little foxes” (Song of Songs 2:15) into their romance, the relationship can become subservient to sexual immorality.
 
By contrast, a Christian man must be able to call his love “my sister” before he calls her “my bride” (Song of Songs 4:10), showing that they are both in Christ and pursuing Him above all else.
 
The romance of dating makes it easy to view your girlfriend as “a lily among the thorns” (Song of Songs 2:2), but marriage will test your perception of her beauty.
 
After beholding her with no make-up, hair standing up and teeth unbrushed, you’ll find out whether your concept of her beauty is only skin deep. If so, your marriage won’t be successful even if you stay together.

The 80-year-old couple that’s been married for 60 years and still holds hands in church knows something about true beauty. They see in each other a beauty that increases with time. Their lips may be wrinkled, but they still “drip honey” for the one they love (Song of Songs 4:11).
5/6/2014 12:23:09 PM by Troy Rust, pastor, Florence Avenue Baptist Church, Oxford | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for May 18: Hope Renewed

May 6 2014 by Bartley Wooten, pastor, Beulaville Baptist Church, Beulaville

Focal Passages: John 18:15-18, 25-27; 21:15-19
 
The average size of a rearview mirror is about 10 inches in length. By design, it is meant to be small so it does not hinder the driver’s view of upcoming traffic. Even though it is small, it is important because it helps you see what is near the rear of the car. However, as important as the rearview mirror is, it was never designed to be the main focus while you are driving. In fact, I’m certain a car manufacture will tell you it is extremely difficult and dangerous to drive your car forward when only looking in the rearview mirror. In other words, if you keep your focus on what is behind you while driving, it may lead to a destructive future.
 
All of us make mistakes and sin against God. Sometimes those sins have extreme consequences, and we must deal with them biblically.
 
However, we must also realize that when we confess our sin and ask God to forgive us based on the finished work of Jesus Christ that God genuinely forgives and forgets our transgressions. A great example of this is found in our focal passage. Jesus chose to forgive, forget and restore Peter to ministry after he sinned. It is evident that Peter had a repentant heart, and it is also evident that Peter did not allow his past failure to impact his future success in service to our Lord.
 
In the same way, we must stop focusing in the rearview mirror of our lives and concentrate on what is in front of us. Once we confess our sin and God forgives us, we don’t need to dwell on our past failures.
 
Instead, we need to keep our eyes focused on the big picture and thank God for His mercy and grace.
 
So the next time you find yourself dwelling on the past, remember God’s plan for you involves a future full of hope. Therefore, spend less time looking in the rearview mirror and more time enjoying scenery in front of you, namely, God’s glory.
5/6/2014 12:17:51 PM by Bartley Wooten, pastor, Beulaville Baptist Church, Beulaville | with 0 comments