November 2009

Formations Lesson for December 6: O Little Town of Bethlehem

November 18 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 2:1-7

The second advent lesson focuses on the prophetic and New Testament fulfillment of the small town of Bethlehem (Heb. “house of bread”).

Modern-day Bethlehem is constantly in the news as the capital of a section within the future Palestinian state of the West Bank.

Since December 1995 when the Israelis withdrew from Bethlehem, it has been part of the framework of the peace process that began partial Palestinian self-rule there. For Muslims, Bethlehem is called Bayt Lahm (Arabic “house of meat”). Today 30,000 people live in Bethlehem. In 1948, its population was majority Christian (80 percent).

Today less than 15 percent claim to be Christians.

The Middle East has experienced a shrinking Christian population since 1948. Jerusalem boasted 20 percent Christians but today has less than 2 percent Christian. 

The greater Middle East has seen a decrease from a high of 20 percent to presently 5 percent.

Historically, Bethlehem is the burial place of Rachel and the setting for the book of Ruth.

At Bethlehem, David — Ruth’s great grandson — would be born and then anointed as Israel’s second king by the prophet Samuel.

Elmo Scoggin suggests that at the time of the prophet Micah, Bethlehem was considered small because “it had not grown large enough to be able to send 1,000 men to battle or to some other national duty.”

Towns and cities were known for the numbers of men they could muster. It was unthinkable that a small village that could not even raise a thousand men could produce a new and greater David” (“Micah,” Hosea-Malachi, BBC, Vol. 7, 1972, 214).  Francis Anderson and David Freedman speak of possible meanings in which Bethlehem has “junior rank” or is “ineligible for privileges of authority or inheritance enjoyed by the elder sibling” or is “small, poor, or weak” (Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor, Vol. 24E, 2000, 464-465.)

Is the preceding passage of Micah 4:9-5:1 with its cry of “Is there no king in you?” related to today’s passage?

While some scholars reject any correlation, the absence of a leader in 4:9-5:1 and the resulting destruction of Zion only highlight the need of a Messiah. Scoggin declares that “little” Bethlehem “is going to produce a great ruler for all of the reunited and restored Israel” and that Jerusalem “is to be denied the honor of producing the future Messiah” (213).

Bethlehem’s singular moment would occur with the birth of Jesus.

Through word and deed, God would shout that insignificant families and small towns are a part of His divine plan.

While cities like Jerusalem and Rome have a role to play in God’s plan, so do small towns like Bethlehem and Nazareth.

11/18/2009 9:43:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for December 6: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

November 18 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Micah 5:1-5a; 7:18-20

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy People free; From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.”

The air begins to smell of the crispness of late fall and approaching winter. The atmosphere seems to enliven the soul and excite the heart with promises of New Year’s beginnings as this year ends with Christmas celebrations. Though this year has been economically challenging for many families and unsettling for others, this season of the year reminds us that there is hope and promise in Him who is the “long-expected One.”

The Jewish nation at the time of Micah was facing a social and political crisis. The city of Jerusalem was under siege and the present moment was hopeless for God’s people. It was in the midst of grief and humiliation that one whose name means “Who is like the Lord” speaks a word of hope and praise.

“As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah- from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf” (NET). From Bethlehem the least (the traditional royal family home of David) arises a king and a shepherd.  In his coming the nation(s) will once more know security and peace.

“Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art: Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”

He who is called “Who is like the Lord” now asks, “Who is a God like you?” Micah closes his words of hope and restoration with a hymn of praise. “There is no other God like you!” he sings pointing the crisis-ladened hearts of Jerusalem’s population upward.  Recognizing that God’s judgement is faithful and true, he affirms God’s ultimate mercy and love.

God forgives sin and pardons our rebellion; he does not keep hold of his anger forever!  What a word of promise for everyone who would but believe, regardless of crises or insult. He hurls our sins into the depths of the sea and forgets forever.

I am reminded that Micah spoke words from God that he himself would never see fulfilled. Yet, in the end, he could still stand and exalt the merciful and faithful One who was working out His will throughout the intricate details of historical processes — political nations and foreign armies. Though surrounded and by the end in exile under the Babylonian empire, he never gave up the promise. And this long-expected One has come and He is Jesus!

“Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child, and yet a King, Born to reign in us forever, Now, Thy gracious Kingdom bring.”

11/18/2009 9:41:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for November 29: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

November 17 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: Isaiah 7:10-17; 8:1-4, 19; 9:2-7

Today many churches begin the celebration of Advent, preparing for Christmas and the “Coming of Christ.”  Stores are already filled with Christmas gifts, and everywhere Christmas music can be heard. Signs of Christmas preparation are all around us.

My grandmother Hazel Bryant worked at Quality Mills, a textile mill, on Franklin Street in Mount Airy.

Watching her money carefully, she would begin purchasing Christmas presents for her three children, their spouses, the eleven grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren, weeks in advance before Christmas. Her gifts were practical and appreciated — underwear and shirts.       

A month before Christmas, she would buy her stick candy and other Christmas needs.

A week before Christmas, pies and cakes would begin to appear — some we could try and some waited for Christmas (like her fruitcake that needed to age — I always felt like it was old enough just out of the oven).

If the Christmas festivities demand preparation, and they do, then certainly the richness of the message demands a thorough spiritual preparation. The incarnation of God in Christ, after all, has theological riches worthy of exploration.

This first message of Advent deals with the prophetic witness to the coming Christ.

Roger Nicole lists 224 direct citations from the Old Testament in the New Testament and cites Toy who lists an additional 613 allusions to the OT in the NT (“New Testament Use of the Old Testament,” Revelation and the Bible, Ed. Carl F. H. Henry, Baker, 1958, 137-151; an up-to-date source is the “Index of Allusions and Verbal Parallels” found in the Greek New Testament, 4th Rev. Ed. By Aland et al, UBS, 2007, 891). Many of these citations and allusions are used by NT authors who are convinced that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the OT prophets, including Isaiah.

In him, the echoes of a dozen prophetic voices find in his first coming and will find in his second coming ultimate fulfillment.

John Oswalt places Isaiah 7-9 within the context of the question of “Whom Shall We Trust?” (The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, Eerdmans, 1986, 192).

Hebrew Kings often found themselves making decisions that ignored the reality of an ever-present-and-faithful God and seeking security through alliances with neighboring kingdoms. Prophets tried to remind the kings that faithfulness to God and dependence on His strength were the keys to a secure future.

In this Christmas season when many Americans are struggling to make financial ends meet, the future seems at best uncertain. Where can we place our confidence?  It is in Immanuel declaring, “God is with us — you and me!” He is “Wonderful Counselor.” Will you not ask him for guidance?

11/17/2009 5:23:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for November 29: Work on Your Humility

November 17 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: James 4:1-17

Humility: J. Oswald Sanders writes in his book on Spiritual Leadership, “Out of his wisdom Robert Morrison of China wrote, ‘The greatest fault I think, in our mission, is that no one likes to be second.’ The world has yet to see what could happen if everyone lost the desire to get the glory. Wouldn’t it be a marvelous place if nobody cared who got the credit?’”

Humility: Someone has written that if you’re humble, you don’t write the book on how humble you are, with twelve life-size pictures in it.

James poses a question to this community of faith — What do you honestly desire?

Is it God’s will or your personal will? Sadly, if it is our own will, then we must be prepared for the consequences: out of a hedonistic (of your pleasures) spirit will arise wars and out of a covetous spirit, death. For James friendship with the world (apart from God) is hatred of God.

Humility: Not only is humility the passionate desire for God’s will, but it is also submitting ourselves to God and standing against the demonical and slanderous one.  It is drawing near to God, pure and single-minded.

Quoting from Proverbs 3:34, James writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

The term used for proud means to suppose oneself to be above others. It is to be disdainful and arrogant towards others that issues in an utter contempt for the others we meet.  According to Proverbs 6, there are six things which the Lord hates and among them is haughtiness or arrogant pride. Thus, God is fully armed in battle array against the proud and generously gracious towards the humble. James writes, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (4:10).

Humility: Underlying James’ teachings on humility is the example Jesus Christ displayed in his earthly ministry. Paul sings of this divine humility in Philippians 2:5-11.

Where James speaks of focus, submission and obedient trust, Paul describes He who though in nature was God “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant … humbled himself… and became obedient to death — And concludes by saying “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” James tells us to follow Christ’s example and “humble ourselves before God and he will lift us up.”

True humility is ultimately to Him who loves us and always carries us into His blessed future.

As the hymnist has so richly expressed, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” That is humility! 

11/17/2009 5:21:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Nov. 22: The Intercessor?

November 9 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: 1 Kings 2:13-25

This lesson is a cautionary warning to advocacy and gives balance to last Sunday’s lesson. There is a time to be an advocate and there is a time to refuse the inappropriate request for advocacy.

Bathsheba has a difficult time distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate advocacy.

Today’s passage easily divides into three parts: (1) the dialogue between Adonijah and Bathsheba (v. 13-18); (2) the dialogue between Bathsheba and King Solomon (v. 24); and (3) the death edict for Adonijah (v. 25) which is later followed by the banishment of the priest Abiathar (v. 27) and the death of the general Joab (v. 34). The end of chapter 2 states it succinctly: “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (v. 46).

Adonijah makes a new move against Solomon but only after the death of King David (2:10-13).

Tragically a time of mourning becomes a time for posturing and maneuvering for power, a time of raw politics. Adonijah recruits Bathsheba as his advocate or intercessor before King Solomon.

In last week’s lesson, Nathan had recruited Bathsheba as an advocate. Adonijah’s request, however, does not come from God.

Adonijah is the “son of Haggith” while Bathsheba is the “mother of Solomon.” There is some sensitivity to the fact here are two women who were part of King David’s harem.

Bathsheba’s opening query, “Is this a friendly visit?” (v. 13, CEV) underlies the feeling of uneasiness about Adonijah’s presence.

However, his words that affirm the Lord’s involvement in Solomon becoming king persuade Bathsheba that he has changed. Adonijah even calls Solomon “my brother” (v. 15).

He requests that Abishag be given to him (a consolation prize for his loss of the kingdom even though “all Israel” had expected he to be king?). The language is one of property exchanging hands.

Bathsheba naively sees no threat in Adonijah’s words and approaches her son, King Solomon, with the request. He shows her great deference and public respect.

He rises to greet her, bows to her, orders that a seat be brought, and has her seated on his right (v. 19).

That she commands his love and respect is beyond dispute. She does, indeed, have enormous influence over her son. She asks permission to make a request, and using Adonijah’s words, she concludes, “Do not refuse me” (v. 16, 20). King Solomon responds with the words of a loving son, calling Bathsheba “my mother” and promising, “I will not refuse you” (v. 20).

However, Bathsheba’s request infuriates Solomon as he realizes that his mother does not understand the possible consequences of her request. Both Adonijah as well as any male child born of the union could lay claim to the throne.

11/9/2009 1:51:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Nov. 22: Watch Your Language

November 9 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: James 3:1-18

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through…”

Perhaps you recognize the words above as lyrics from the musical “My Fair Lady” from a scene in which Eliza explodes in anger over all the pretty words that have been spoken to her with little action. 

In today’s lesson James writes in a similar vein. He deals with the issue of words and how they are used. He warns those who answer the call to teaching — “Be careful what you say and be careful to do what you say.”

In Ecclesiasticus 14:1 we read, “Blessed is the man who has not offended with his tongue.” Our words can build up or tear down another in an instant. Sometimes our words can convey a positive reality, but the tone sets a completely opposite reality. Sometimes language can appear innocent, yet be destructive in its use.

In Rwanda there are three tribes: Tutsi, Hutu and Twa (or pigmy). In the language of Rwanda there are numerous classes of nouns. Within these classes there is a human class, numerous thing classes, place classes, and inanimate object classes. Sadly because the Twa are disliked by the Tutsi and Hutu people, much of the terminology used to refer to them is found in the thing and inanimate class, rather than human class of nouns. Also, in the past much evangelism done by the various Christian denominations in Rwanda neglected the Twa people because they were seen not as people, but things!

James writes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be!” (3:9-10). How often have we heard or maybe said, after a holy time of worship, that the service was too long, or a testimony was too emotional, or the music was not to our liking, or “I didn’t get anything out of today’s service!” Decisions were made and God’s Spirit blessed but there always seems to be someone quick to dampen or kill what blessed others. Oh, the fiery and strong power of our tongues!

What does it require in order to speak with self-control and purity? James responds, “Wisdom which is not from below — earthy, unspiritual and demonic, but heavenly (from the breath of God) which is pure enough to approach God, in right relationship with God and men, sweetly reasonable, responsively submissive, merciful and fruitful (bearing fruit from mercy reflective of the Lord’s heart), unwavering in mind, and truly genuine.” Of such comes a harvest of righteousness and not empty kernels of deedless words.

11/9/2009 1:50:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Nov. 15: The Advocate

November 3 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: 1 Kings 1:11-31

In the first two lessons, Bathsheba plays a secondary role in the awkward beginning of her relationship with King David. In today’s lesson, she becomes the central actor as she is called upon to plead the case of Solomon before the king.

Today’s scripture easily divides itself into four dialogues: Nathan’s alarming conversation with Bathsheba (v. 11-14); Bathsheba’s dialogue with King David (v. 15-21); Nathan’s warning to the king (v. 22-27); and the final conversation when the king summons Bathsheba (v. 28-31).

Nathan senses the danger in the public activities of Adonijah (1:5-10). In a gathering of notables — military and religious — Adonijah, David’s eldest son, proclaims himself the future king (v. 5-9).

  Not everyone is invited to Adonijah’s pre-coronational ceremony. The first uninvited guest is the prophet Nathan (correctly viewed as the greatest threat to Adonijah’s claim to the throne).

The last uninvited guest is “Solomon his brother,” the rival to the throne (v. 10). 

Adonijah declares, “I will be king” (v. 5). The danger is real, and the uninvited need an advocate before the king or their lives may be forfeited in a future kingdom of Adonijah (v. 10).

The prophet Nathan asks Bathsheba to be an advocate for her son Solomon. She is to remind King David of his oath affirming Solomon as the next king (v. 13). This she does, successfully advocating for Solomon.

Scripture contains many examples of advocacy.

Rebekah becomes an advocate for the younger of her twin sons, Jacob, squeamish of an uncertain future under Esau (Gen. 27:5).

Naomi becomes a behind-the-scenes advocate for Ruth, guiding her toward a successful marriage to Boaz (Ruth 3:1ff). Advocacy in a political situation is especially hazardous.

Queen Esther is called upon to lay her life on the line for the Jews in exile (Esther 4).

The absence of advocates can create panic.

Tamar’s lack of an advocate leads her to “prostitute herself’ and trick her father-in-law Judah so that she might have a child and a future (Gen. 38). The widow in Jesus’ parable cries out daily for the judge to protect her (Luke 18:1-8).

Job’s hope of an advocate or “redeemer” before God finds prophetic fulfillment in Jesus Christ as our advocate before God (1 John 2:1).

Ray Shelton, retired missionary to Uruguay of the International Mission Board (and my father-in-law) became an advocate for the housing needs of Hispanic migrants in Georgia.

The king’s mother in Proverbs 31 instructs: “Open your mouth for the mute for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (v. 8-9, ESV)

Is God calling you to be an advocate?

11/3/2009 10:54:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Nov. 15: Treat Everyone Equally

November 3 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: James 2:1-13 

Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote a book of autobiographical fragments entitled Meetings. In this collection of brief memories/meditations, he shares about his early childhood, and especially about the complete disappearance of his mother when around three years of age.  Without a word one morning she was gone. Nothing was ever said by his father or his grandparents with whom he was sent to live the remainder of his childhood.

This “unspoken” experience followed him the rest of his life. As a result, he created a word which he defined as “mismeeting” or “miscounter:” the failure of a real meeting between individuals. For Buber, the most important reality of living was what he called “meeting.” In another book, he says, “all real living is meeting.”

He writes, “When I meet a man, I am not concerned about his opinions. I am concerned about the man.” That is, what is important is the manner in which we meet others; the quality of each relationship. In his own words “I think no human being can give more than this: making life possible for the other, if only for a moment.”

A glaring problem had beset this community of faith: partiality. In Buber’s words, they had failed to meet, engage the other whom they have encountered, making true life possible (if only for a moment). Instead, they had focused their attention on the glamorous externals of worldly success rather than the internal simplicities of the heart and had neglected right actions and substituted spiritually right words.

The term that is used in the text “partiality or favoritism” actually means “to judge in respect to the outward circumstances of men/women and not to their intrinsic merits, and so preferring as more worthy, one who is rich high-born, or powerful, to another who is destitute of such gifts.”  

Thus, the gold-fingered man in brilliant clothing is embraced and honored while the shabby-clothed one is relegated to a place out of the way in the back or subjected to serving as footstools. They had forgotten a very important principle: a rule of the kingdom: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” That is, you are to love the other — any other irrespective of race, circumstances or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet. 

James implies that they thought that they were pretty good people. They obeyed the laws of God and because of certain who had joined their group they were reaping great financial benefits.  But James points out that actually by disregarding the kingdom law of love they had broken all the laws. Partiality bears only death and judgement. And what profit or advantage is that? (James 2:14).

11/3/2009 10:52:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments