October 2010

Formations Lesson for Nov. 7: Submitting to authority

October 26 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Romans 13:1-7  

The government is persecuting Christians in my neighborhood.  Every week, dozens of believers are being stopped and fined by civil authorities for no other reason than traveling to attend a morning worship service. 

Of course, I suppose I should mention that these “martyrs” are also travelling to church at 85 miles per hour, and that this “persecution” comes in the form of blue lights and speeding citations. I’d hate to deface such regular churchgoers with a moniker like “speed demons,” so I’ll call them “swift saints.”  In their efforts to worship the Lord on time, “swift saints” represent a sad and silly effort to show devotion to God by disobeying the government.

In our passage for today, Paul encourages the Roman Christians to submit to the governing authorities. However, Christians have not always agreed as to how Paul’s instructions should be understood. 

Sure, we should obey the authorities when they tell us not to rob each other, but what if the government was to outlaw something like praying? If such a scenario seems alien to us, remember that Paul might be composing this epistle during the reign of Nero. 

Paul knew persecution was a possibility, and he instructs believers accordingly (Rom. 12:14). However, notice too that Paul writes that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad,” (v. 3a). 

Paul’s observation presupposes a government that has some discernment of right and wrong, thus it’s tempting to doubt that Paul had the maniacal reign of Nero specifically in mind.

The Greek word from which we get the term “martyr” is martus, meaning “a witness.” Under Roman persecution, believers were tortured and executed before jeering throngs, and thus it was the martyrs’ courageous civil disobedience that served as a public witness to the life-altering power of Christ. Even though many of us will never face such atrocious persecution, we too are called to bear witness.

By obeying the laws of the land, Christians show themselves to be a people dedicated to the common good, a people willing to respect and submit to authority.  Through our example, the crowds who watch our every move can still witness the transformed lives of those who bear Christ’s name. 

As “swift saints” burn down the highway at Mach 3, their hearts palpitate with each patrolman they pass in the median. They live in fear of authority because they do wrong (v. 3b).  Hopefully, churchgoers can cultivate a different reputation in the future. Christians must instead be known as that strange lot who proclaim God’s truth regardless of a ruler’s stance, all the while audaciously claiming citizenship in a kingdom not of this world.  
10/26/2010 7:36:00 AM by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Nov. 7: Why the Christian Life is Better

October 26 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passages: John 14:15-18, 27-31a; 15:11-16  

I lived my first nineteen years without Christ. Knowing that Christmas and Easter celebrated His birth and resurrection, I saw no connection between those events and my life and eternal destiny.

I knew God as Creator, not as Savior and Lord. I knew nothing of the peace He promised in John 14:27, or His joy recorded in 15:11, and never dreamed He had a purpose for my life (15:16).

During those years, no pastor or friend shared with me that a  man named Jesus left heaven to die and pay the penalty for my sins. I was unaware that I was a sinner at all, as I had never been to jail.   

Any Christian in pulpit or pew could have drawn me into the kingdom of God, but no one came. When I left for college, my spiritual biography could have been written in one sentence: I was good, but I was lost. One night my dorm mother sent a message by me to a girl upstairs.

Seeing her door ajar, I pushed it open to view something I had never seen before: A girl was on her knees talking out loud to God. I backed into the hall as if frozen in space. When she finished praying, I delivered the message and returned to my room. But I returned a different person. I had pushed open more than the door to her room; I had opened the door to the throne room of God, and I would never be the same again.

I desired the relationship she had with God, but knew nothing about inviting Christ into my life.  Neither did I understand the source of my restlessness: God’s Spirit was wooing me. Finally I decided to talk to God as she had done. I said, “Lord, I don’t know what I’m asking, so I don’t know how to ask, but whatever you did in that girl’s life, will you do in my life now?”

If you’d been present, you might have said, “I didn’t see anything happen.” Neither did I. The earth didn’t shake and bells didn’t ring. Only one thing occurred: Jesus kept His promise when He said, “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him . . .” (Rev. 3:20).

Life is better when lived in relationship with Jesus because He gives us His presence, peace, and purpose.  
10/26/2010 7:35:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Oct. 31: Defending the homeland

October 19 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: 1 Samuel 30:1-4, 11-20  

Fortunately for me, my parents used very clean language. 

I would have known otherwise. 

As a child I listened intently to their speech, believing that if they ever slipped up and “cursed,” then I would have license to do the same. 

The logic is questionable to be sure, but then again, my adolescent brain was often more concerned with what I could get away with rather than what would edify my character. In any event, I gauged a lot (but not all) of my behavior on the basis of what my mother and father did.  

When we read of David’s fight with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel, our knee-jerk reaction may be to deem his battle a justifiable “rescue mission,” and then keep reading. Yet we should not gloss over the fact that David’s life story includes a lot more fighting! 

Furthermore, we should not assume that because David fought his enemies, we automatically have license to fight those who wrong us.

Consider last month’s reading from Ecclesiastes 3.  Just because there is a “time to kill” (v. 3) and a “time for war” (v. 8) does not mean the author is sanctioning either. These “times” are descriptive, not prescriptive; they remind us how the world is, not necessarily how the world should be. David did fight on numerous occasions, but we must be careful not to use his actions as blind justification for the battles we long to wage.

If you read the entire chapter of 1 Samuel 30 you’ll notice that before David sought out the Amalekite marauders, he sought out God. David first asked if he should pursue the raiders, and secondly if his pursuit would be successful. God gives him the go-ahead on both counts (v. 8).

Instead of side-stepping God and charging into the Amalekite camp “swords a blazing,” David seeks the Lord’s wisdom. Here his actions give us more pause than permission.

How do we discern when it is acceptable to fight? Is fighting acceptable when we are on a “rescue mission” like David, or when we are provoked, or when we have simply exhausted every other option? Or does the way of Christ demand that we suffer violence and gross injustice by “turning the other cheek?”

These are difficult questions, and the Bible doesn’t provide easy answers.  Perhaps it is here that we should take our cue from David. Are we, like David, willing to take time and ask God’s permission before retaliating against our enemies?  If so, I suspect we’ll be surprised how few times God gives us a “yes.”  
10/19/2010 3:39:00 AM by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Oct. 31: Making Sense of Faith

October 19 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passages: Romans 4:1-3, 23-25; 10:9-13; Hebrews 12:1-2

When my husband Jack and I retired, we enjoyed lazy afternoons, books, and time to travel. Before long, however, we grew restless.

We decided that retirement meant being tired twice — first, tired of running the race that Hebrews 12:1-3 describes as “set before us,” and second, tired of not running.     

So, we asked God to renew our call. Soon, Jack was back in ministry, and I ran alongside.    

Does God ordain our race before we are born, as Jeremiah 1:5 suggests, or does our free will play a part?” God answers yes to both.

First, we choose either to run or go our own way, bypassing God’s will. Christians run because we are saved — not in order to be saved, or salvation would be the result of works. Paul insisted, “For by grace are you saved through faith ... it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”           

Secondly, we choose how to run. Races are tailor-made. You’re not running my race, and I’m not running yours. In choosing how to run, Hebrews 12:1 suggests we “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us.”

Reviewing my life, I wonder how much unnecessary weight, like worry, I should have laid aside. Secondly, we’re to “lay aside the sin which does so easily beset us,” the area where Satan might trip us up.

Every race has a start, middle, and finish.

For most of us, childhood, the start, is easy because others look out for us. Should we make a false start, there’s time to get things right.

The ending is also exhilarating with the finish line in sight. The middle of life’s race is the toughest.

We feel pain, pressure, and the temptation to take our eye off the goal of winning others to Christ. We’re too far into the race to turn back, and the finish line is not yet in sight.

It’s here we learn to live by faith. We do most of our spiritual growing in the middle of the race.

I don’t know what you’re going through today, but keep running.

The more obstacles you overcome, the more sense your faith will make. And Jesus waits at the finish line with your crown in His hand.  
10/19/2010 3:37:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Oct. 24: Taking Time for God

October 12 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Ecc. 12:1-8, 13-14

Cartoon characters always have an interesting way of making decisions. Whenever there is a crisis of conscience two tiny figures will materialize, one on each shoulder. One will be a haloed, angelic being who gently prods the character to do right; the other will be an impish little creature, clad in red spandex and brandishing a pitchfork, who tempts the character to do wrong. Alas, if it were that simple for us! Suffice it to say, our “internal dialogues” are a bit more complex.

Qohelet concludes his book with an impassioned plea for the young to remember God before their lives wind down. The poetry is beautiful, even if the message remains dismal. 

Life devolves in a downward spiral until Qohelet can no longer resist exclaiming once more, “[A]ll is vanity!” (v. 8). Not long thereafter, comes the kicker: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone,” (v. 13). The hands that are thrown up in frustration are now lifted in praise.

The seeming incongruity of these statements (“All is vanity” on the one hand, and “Fear God” on the other) have led many to believe that Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 was added by a later editor. Such editorial work may very well be an attempt to shore up the edges of a book that has ended on a less than cheery note. Nevertheless, verses 13-14 provide a provocative juxtaposition that should not be ignored, for it is in these verses that we recognize our own tension between pessimism and praise.

One of Qohelet’s emphases has been the limit of human existence and knowledge. While humans can acknowledge the mystery of the divine, they cannot presume to understand it. In short, humans know enough to know they don’t know much.

Yet, this ignorance can be dangerous, especially if humans come to the point that they do all thinking and no acting. For example, we may not know exactly how prayer “changes” things in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we stop praying. We may not understand a lot of the hard sayings of scripture, but that doesn’t mean we stop reading the Bible. We may be frustrated with bureaucracy and hypocrisy in the church, but that doesn’t mean we stop attending. Instead, we keep praying, we keep reading, and we keep going. 

In a world saturated with vanity, we must remember that fully understanding God is not a prerequisite for fully serving God.

The fear of the Lord comes before wisdom (Ps. 111:10), and not as a result of it.      
10/12/2010 10:22:00 AM by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Oct. 24: Jesus the One and Only

October 12 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passages: John 3:16-18; 14:6-11; 1 Timothy 2:3-6  

Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is 6,711 feet high, the highest point east of the Rockies. Mount Whitney in California is 14,501 feet high, twice as high as Mount Mitchell.

But Mount Everest in Asia stands 29,000 feet high, twice as high as Mount Whitney. If these mountains were placed side by side, anyone standing on Mount Mitchell or Mount Whitney would look up to Mount Everest.

So it is with Jesus.

All great individuals look up to Him, the one and only Son of God, for He towers above them in many ways.

Jesus stands tallest in conquering temptation. Almost daily, society uncovers character flaws in great people; but Jesus, the perfect Son of God, never sinned.

When Satan came against Him with three fierce temptations, He defeated the Enemy in every case. Jesus’ life has been scrutinized for centuries, but no flaws have been discovered either in His word or deed.

Jesus stands tallest in power. He stopped a storm and cast out demons. He healed the sick, blind, and deaf.

With five loaves and two fishes He fed 5,000 people. His dynamic personality attracted people from all walks of life. He changed Simon, a simple fisherman, into Peter, the forceful preacher at Pentecost, and He changed Saul, a murderous Pharisee, into Paul, the mighty missionary to the Gentiles.

When his enemies put Him to death on the cross, He rose again in three days. Yes, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, stands alone.

Finally, Jesus submitted more to God’s will than anyone who ever lived. He allowed God to map out His life’s plan. Even when God’s plan led to a cross, Jesus willingly died for the sins of the world.

As a result, deep in the heart of our Christian faith is a certain text: John 3:16. And deep in the heart of the text is a special word: whosoever. It can stand for all people, or it can stand for one person.

If you believe in Jesus, the verse belongs to you: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).

Now replace whosoever with your name and live your special text beginning today, because salvation refers to life on both sides of the grave.  
10/12/2010 10:19:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments