September 2008

Formations lesson for Oct. 5: Acceptable Worship

September 26 2008 by Shane Nixon, Institutional Director of Information Services, Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Gen. 4:1-16

I am not sure I remember the first time I heard the word "countenance." 

I am positive I had never heard it used such that I knew what it meant with certainty until I attended the funeral of my great uncle a couple of years back.

The preacher described Uncle Ruben as having a "constant countenance" and added that Rube could "laugh and cry at the same time without counterfeit." Most of my family cried at the insightful description. There was nothing counterfeit about my uncle Ruben, and his countenance gave witness.  

The American Heritage dictionary defines countenance as "appearance, especially the expression of the face."  

In both the original and "new" King James versions of the Bible, Gen. 4:5 tells us that Cain's countenance fell. That is, Cain's facial expression, we might say, dropped.  In picturing those words I clearly see a smile "dropping into" a frown signifying sadness. In the case of the biblical text here though, we are told Cain was angry. The particular emotion which "fell" onto Cain's face however isn't the important thing. It is the fact that whichever it was, it was not the one God was looking for.

When we worship, God has some expectations for us. The prospect of worshipping our God should have us so happy that we smile coming. The act of having worshipped our God should have us leave with a big grin as well. Worship, for us, has to be an act of "lifted countenance" both coming and going. It isn't quite "If you're happy and you know it, say amen" as the old song goes, but it isn't far from that either.

Acceptable worship is worship that makes us happy to come and do it. Acceptable worship is worship that makes us glad we did. Worship can't be just another item on our list of things to do, something we check off and move on. Our worship of God, like the description of my uncle's life has to be one without counterfeit; our worship has to be genuine, and it has to change us.  

Worship is something that we must do with a lifted countenance.

9/26/2008 8:31:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Institutional Director of Information Services, Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Oct. 5: Everyone is Lost in Sin

September 26 2008 by Sharon Johnson Pond, Founder of Other Side Jamaica and author

Focal Passage: Rom. 1:18-25, 28-32, 3:9-10

Many years ago I worked as a kindergarten teacher at a privately owned childcare center. The woman who owned the school had a way of instantly "getting to the heart of a matter."

One morning, as she came into her office, I was waiting for her, breathing fire because I was so angry at another person.

My boss saw my anger, smiled, and said, "OK, tell me what is going on."

I proceeded to do just that for about five minutes, and finally, as I slowed down, she laughingly told me, "I see. She just isn't doing to suit you."

Nothing she might have said could have stopped me any faster. She isn't doing to suit me? Why should she have to "do to suit me"?

In our scripture passage, Romans 2:8 — "but to those who are self-seeking ..." what could be more self-seeking than becoming irate over something someone did that did not suit me?

Our Lord showed me so clearly that I might become concerned or upset if people were not doing to suit Him, but suiting myself was not something to seek or desire.

I have not always succeeded since that time, but I do try to go take it to the Lord immediately if I feel the beginnings of anger or hurt over something someone does. Do I feel this way because I am concerned that they are not doing things my way? Am I concerned that they are not obeying God's truth, or am I feeling some possibly imagined slight because I want things done differently? I never, never want to "exchange the truth of God for the lie" (Rom. 1:25).

"For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written" (Rom. 2:24).

What a terrible indictment, to cause the blaspheming of my Lord by others because of something I have done.

My son, Marcus, tells of working with a man who was always extremely negative. It seemed as though nothing ever went right in his life. Unfortunately, he claimed to be a Christian, and so whenever he left a room, those who heard his negativity would shake their heads stating, "Those Christians are such hypocrites."

We know that, in many cases, the charge that unbelievers have against us, that of our being hypocrites, is both unfounded and unfair. Yet, as in this case, we have to always be on our guard, and constantly be in prayer, so that we can point others to Christ, instead of causing them to blaspheme Him.

9/26/2008 8:28:00 AM by Sharon Johnson Pond, Founder of Other Side Jamaica and author | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Sept. 28: A Time for Letting Go

September 19 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal Passage:  2 Chron. 35:20-27

One of my favorite traditions at family reunions is going on Saturday morning for breakfast to The Biscuit Factory in High Point. The fast food restaurant is famous for its homemade biscuits and for growing the waists of citizens in that city. On a recent visit, all 10 of us lined up at the counter and gave our orders to the cashier. I was last in line because I pay the bill. I had purchased a newspaper on my way into the restaurant, and when our biscuits were ready, I laid my paper on the counter, picked up the two trays of biscuits and took them to our tables. I went immediately back to get my paper, and, as I walked toward the counter, I saw a man in line pick up my paper, fold it, and put it under his arm. I said, “Sir, the paper you just picked up is mine. I laid it on the counter while I took our biscuits to our table.”

He replied, “Buddy, when you lay it down, you give it up.” I thought he was joking. He was not. Observing that he was bigger than me, I practiced one of my cardinal rules for staying alive. I said, “Youíre right.”
Our lesson on “letting go” reminds me of the words of the paper-stealer. “When you lay it down, you give it up.” This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans: “We were buried with Him in order that we may live a new life” (6:4, NIV).

In becoming a Christian, we laid down an old life and began a process of giving up those things that characterized that old life. This “letting go” was not a sad but a joyous experience. There were things that we had to cast aside and put behind us in order to move into our new life. And if we follow in obedience, the process of letting go continues daily. The Christian life is not something Christ gives us. It is something he makes us.

The late A.W. Tozer lists the marks of a spiritual person in his book That Incredible Christian. The one mark that impresses me most is: “The spiritual person desires to be holy rather than happy.”
To be holy means there are other things a Christian cannot be. It wasnít just money to which Jesus referred when he said to the rich, young ruler, “Go and sell all and come, follow me.”  

9/19/2008 11:04:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 28: Use It or Lose It

September 19 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal Passage: Matt. 25:14-30

There is a stark contrast in this parable between the two servants who are rewarded and the one who is punished. The one operated out of fear. The others operated out of joy.

The Bible says that joy comes from being in a right relationship with the Master. The unfaithful servant only saw his master as a “hard man.” He had no love or respect for him. He just hoped to avoid punishment. The other two servants were eager to please the master. They were not afraid of the risks involved in their dealings. They went “at once” to invest the master’s money and were excited to show him what they had gained.

The joy they had led them to do the master’s will. David wrote in Ps. 51:12-13 — “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”

Picture the women who had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. When they heard the news that Jesus was alive they “hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples” (Matt. 28:8). Paul describes the situation in the church of Macedonia: “Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2).

Joy was also the reward for the faithfulness of the two servants: “Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:23). When Jesus sent His followers on an evangelistic journey, preparing the way for Him to come, ‘The 72 returned with joy’” (Luke 10:17).

The only lasting motivation for Christian ministry is knowing that it will bring a smile to the face of God. In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner wrote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

By that I think he means that we should find our calling in life by looking first at what God has entrusted to us. Perhaps it is the knack of conversation or the gift of teaching or the quiet spirit that allows us to listen to others. Then we need to find where we can invest that gift into the lives of other people. We need to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to the places of need around us. When the thing that brings us joy also brings joy and life to others, God smiles.

9/19/2008 11:00:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Sept. 21: A Time for Boundaries

September 9 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal Passage: 2 Kings 23:1-28

In almost every church where I have served, I have taught a younger married couple’s Sunday School class. I have enjoyed contributing to the spiritual growth of young couples and young parents. One Sunday morning, years ago, I was teaching a class on marital fidelity. When I paused for questions, one young man, seated beside his wife, raised his hand and asked a question that surprised me. “Dr. King,” he said, “Why has God set boundaries on sexual relations in marriage?”

Before I could answer, he continued: “If I go to a convention in another state and I meet a woman who is attending the same convention, and we are lonely because I miss my wife and she misses her husband, what is wrong with us spending the night together?”

He was like the Energizer bunny. He just kept going and going and going. “Nobody but the two of us would know,” he argued. “She still loves her husband and I still love my wife, but we meet a God-given need in each other by keeping each other from being lonely and by sharing Christian love. Why is that wrong?”

His wife looked at him as if he had poured scalding water on her. Every set of eyes in that class that had been transfixed on him now turned toward me. I took a deep breath and hesitated before I answered him. I wanted my answer to be clearly understood.

I sensed that other young men in the class had a feeling that his argument made some sense. Indeed, the question, “Why are there boundaries in the Christian life?” is one that a great number of married men and women who faithfully attend church are asking in our culture today.

I called his name and said, “The Bible is a guide for faith and order in our lives as Christians. The Bible sets boundaries for Christians. I did not write the Bible. If I had written it, I probably would have omitted some things it does say and added other things that it doesn’t say. But I didn’t write it. It was written by people who were divinely inspired by God. It is God’s word to us. If we obey God’s word, we walk into joyous life. If we disobey God’s word, we walk toward a certain living death. We are faithful in marriage because God said we must be. And faith is the absolute certainty that God’s word can be trusted to bring abundant life.”

Any other questions?

9/9/2008 4:02:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 21: No Time Like the Present

September 9 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal Passage: Matt. 25:1-13

In March of 2006 our daughter was married on the beach in El Salvador. She had met and had fallen in love with a Christian man from that country. Part of our planning with them included wedding invitations. “We want the wedding to conclude as the sun is setting,” they said. “What time does that happen?” we asked. “Usually around 5:15. So I guess we need to invite everyone to come around 3:30.” “You don’t expect the service to last that long, do you?” “No,” they said, “but that way they will be there by 4:30.” Sure enough, some guests arrived at noon, others at 3:30 and the last ones arrived by 4:15. The wedding started at 4:30, right on time.

The uncertainty of when a wedding ceremony will actually begin seems very strange to us. We know exactly when the grandmothers and the mothers will be seated. We calculate to make sure the ceremony begins precisely on the hour.

The point of Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish virgins is clear: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Much of Jesus’ discussion about the end times centers on this point: “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:44).

The uncertainty about when Jesus will return should not lead us to question the certainty of His coming. We often live as though Jesus is not coming back to reclaim His bride and to transform this world. We are negligent in preparing ourselves and others to meet Him when He comes.

Several years ago the group, Newsong, wrote a song called “Fingertips and Noses.” It tells a story of a school for special children in Kentucky. The teacher tells the children about Jesus’ love and about His coming back to take us all to heaven. Suddenly all the children are at the windows, looking for Jesus to come. The chorus paints this picture:

Fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes.
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again.
All they know is that they love Him so.
And if He said He’d come, He’s coming.
And they can’t keep their windows clean.
For fingertips and noses.
Where will Jesus find us when He comes again?
Will we be like little children waiting just for Him?

9/9/2008 4:00:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Sept. 14: A Time for Teaching

September 2 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal Passage: 2 Kings 22:3-20

Experience has taught me that, consciously or subconsciously, we are always teaching something to somebody. Our responsibility as Christians is not only to be willing to teach but also to be aware of what we teach.

In 1980, Dr. Henry Crouch led my congregation in several days of spiritual renewal. My wife and I invited him to dinner one evening before a service, and while I helped her finish preparation for the meal, our six-year-old son Chris entertained Dr. Crouch in our den. Several years later, Henry Crouch and I crossed paths in Raleigh, and he told me of that experience. He said that he and Chris shared light conversation for a few minutes, and then Chris said to him, “You see that clock on the mantle?”

Henry acknowledged that he did. Chris continued, “Don’t touch it. That clock is the only thing my daddy has that belonged to his Granddaddy King. And if this house catches on fire, he’s going to run get that clock and take it outside, and then he’s going to come back and get me.”
This revelation was both humorous and alarming. For several days I kept asking myself, “What have I taught my son about his value to me?”

Without thinking, I had said several times to him: “Chris, that clock on the mantle is very precious to me. In fact, it’s priceless. If this house catches on fire, I’m going to grab that clock on the way outside.” 

Chris thought I was saying that the clock was more valuable to his father than anything else. Of course, that was not what I intended to teach my son. After my conversation with Dr. Crouch, I made an opportunity very quickly to sit down with my son and tell him, “You are very precious to me, and I want you to forgive me if I have given you the impression that you are not. You are far more valuable to me than any old clock.”

There is a poem that suggests, “You are writing a book, a chapter each day, by the deeds that you do, and the words that you say.” We can all teach a pretty good Sunday School lesson if we have a Bible and a good commentary and a little time to prepare. But, the most important lessons we are teaching in life are not with our words but with our lives. What are you teaching by your life and your witness?  

9/2/2008 8:56:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 14: Come One, Come All

September 2 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal Passage: Matthew 22:1-14

In his later years Mark Twain became pretty cynical about spiritual matters. In his book, Letters from the Earth, he discusses his amazement at what he perceived was the Christian view of heaven. None of the pleasures that excite mankind to the point he will risk life, reputation, everything, is there. Prayer takes its place.

There is singing — the kind of singing that would empty the house in two hours here goes on night and day, constantly, incessantly. And harps — every person is playing a harp — those millions and millions! Whereas not more than 20 in 1,000 of them could play an instrument on earth, or ever wanted to.

If that is the picture we have of what God has in store for us it is vastly different from the picture Jesus gives us. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”

Both of my children have gotten married in the last two years. Their weddings were festive times of celebrating and dancing with our best friends. We shared wonderful food, laughter and conversation around the tables. We rejoiced that our son and daughter both had found someone to love and share life with. If God is planning a feast for us in heaven that feels like a wedding banquet, it is not something we will want to miss.

The invited guests do not seem very excited about their invitation. Those who had received a Save the Date notice found other things more important to do when the day finally arrived.

These were not emergencies that prevented their appearance, but were routine matters of business. To put it mildly, the king did not take their refusal well. He expanded his invitation list to include all sorts of people. Those who had never been included in any event that would make the society page suddenly found themselves at the party of the decade.

The king’s treatment of the man improperly dressed seems out of character for one so generous. We are tempted to offer excuses for the man’s attire. Perhaps he couldn’t afford better.

According to ancient mid-eastern tradition the host of the party would have provided wedding
clothes for all the guests. The man must have thought his clothes were adequate for the occasion, refusing to wear what his host provided.

The Bible is clear that “All our righteous acts are filthy rags.” Unless we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ we cannot stand before God.

9/2/2008 8:53:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments