September 2010

Formations Lesson for Oct. 17: Time and Eternity

September 30 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Ecc. 3:9-15

I’m awful with directions. No, seriously. I couldn’t find the floor if I tripped. The sad part about it is that I could have avoided getting lost so many times had I just acknowledged this deficiency earlier. Instead, I always had ready-made justifications for why I was getting “turned around.”

They’d go something like the following: “Someone gave me bad directions,” “I was deep in thought and missed the turn,” “Road signs were wrong,” “I’m still recovering from an alien abduction.” You know, the standard excuses.  What made matters even worse was that, aside from the alien abduction thing, I actually believed these excuses myself! I could not admit to myself that I was simply bad with directions.

We often find it difficult to acknowledge our limitations. Though couched in some admittedly bleak language, that’s a point Qohelet (the author of Ecclesiastes) wants to drive home in Ecclesiastes 3.  Having marked out the limits of human existence in verses 1-8, Qohelet now turns his attention to the limits of human knowledge. Humans cannot fathom God’s ways (v. 11), and upon admitting this ignorance humans can revere God all the more (v. 14). 

But Qohelet doesn’t stop there. He makes the striking claim that humans have no advantage over the animals; just as their origins are the same, so too their ends will be the same (vv. 19-20).

Now before we cringe at what we think is a devaluing of humanity, it is important here to remember that Qohelet’s point is theological, not biological. Notice in verse 18 that it is God’s desire that humans see they are like the animals. Why? Because when it comes to knowing the ways of God, humans have more limitations than they readily admit.

Qohelet concludes by writing that a person should “enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v. 22, NIV). In other words, instead of fretting over what God has not revealed, we should find happiness in the here and now, seizing each day as a gift from God (v. 13). Does accepting our “lot” mean we can never express to God our dissatisfaction or disillusionment? Of course not. If that were the case, a book like Ecclesiastes could have never been written! Instead, we must recognize our limited knowledge, and humbly rely on God’s infinite wisdom.

In case you’re wondering, I finally began using a GPS. It was a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law.

Like Qohelet, she realized that sometimes it takes a little nudge before we’ll admit our limitations.  
9/30/2010 8:27:00 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. 17: What’s So Different About Jesus?

September 30 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passages: John 6:66-69; 9:17, 24-25, 31-33, 35-38; 20:27-29            

I knocked, expecting my friend Sandra to open the door. Instead, Lucy, the baby sitter, invited me in and explained that Sandra was away for an hour.

I was traveling home from a Billy Graham School of Evangelism, and stopped by for a visit. I wondered, “Is this a divine appointment?”

With Sandra away and the baby asleep, the setting was perfect to share my faith with Lucy, a foreign exchange student. 

Describing  my week’s experiences led to conversation about Christ.

“This is strange,” she said. “I’ve been here a year, and no one has mentioned Jesus to me. This week, Sandra’s neighbor and you have spoken to me about Him. This isn’t coincidental.”

Her observation indicated an openness to receive Christ, but as I shared how she could experience salvation, she said, “I believe there is good in all religions.”

“So do I,” I said.

“May I explain what distinguishes Jesus from all other religious leaders?”

“Yes, please do,” she said.

“To begin with, Jesus is the only religious leader who rose from the dead. Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius are all in graves.

“Jesus alone died to pay the penalty for the sins of all who believe and accept His death on the cross as payment for their sins.

“Other religions teach salvation by good works, commanding their followers to ‘go and do.’

“Christ calls His followers to ‘come and be.’”

Lucy insisted, “I love His teachings and believe His miracles, but I have trouble believing the resurrection.” I suggested she seek Christian counseling to resolve her doubt. During the following weeks, I mailed materials to her with evidences of the resurrection. When we talked by phone, I would ask, “Have you prayed to receive Christ?” Her answer remained: “I need more time.”           

Writing this commentary, I think of Lucy and how Christ pursued her, knocking on the door of her heart.

Would she open the door to receive Him, or would she “go away?” (Jn. 6:67.)

Months later, she called to say she had invited Christ into her life. 

“How do you know He’s there?” I teased.

“I spent time with Him this morning,” she said. If you know someone who needs to know Christ’s love and forgiveness,  please go to that person.

Because if not you, who?

If not now, when?

Eternity’s clock is ticking.
9/30/2010 8:22:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Oct. 10: Time Marches On

September 22 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Ecc. 3:1-8

I’m not crazy about picking people up at the airport. I fear that I’m going to get to the airport too late or too early, that the flight will get delayed or canceled, that I’m going to wait at the wrong gate, that I’ll forget the flight number, or worse yet, that I’ll forget the correct airline altogether!

My abysmal level of confidence is fueled by one overriding fear: my friends or loved ones are going to arrive and I won’t be there to meet them.

Qohelet takes us on a rollercoaster in Ecclesiastes 3 as he marks out the boundaries of an unpredictable life that is … well … strikingly predictable. There is life, love, and laughter; there is death, hate, and mourning.

Qohelet runs the gamut by describing everything we crave and everything we dread, bringing into sharp focus that these events are as inexorable as the rising sun.

If we labor under the delusion that these extremes of life will somehow never touch us, we live a fantasy.

Qohelet wants us to acknowledge life as it is, not necessarily as it should be.

Qohelet’s stark realism might depress us, especially if we fail to see the context in which he offers this litany of life’s limitations.

Read the remainder of chapter 3. It is God who has set these limitations on life. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end,” (Ecc. 3:11, NIV).

Through all the vagaries of life, God is not surprised, nor is God absent. In every instance and in every situation, God is there.

When in doubt, look over Psalm 139, a virtual commentary on the all-pervasiveness of God. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there,” (Ps. 139:7-8, NIV).  

In truth, at one time or the other many of us secretly wonder if God is going to be there to pick us up at the airport.

There are places in life we’ve never been, and fear of the unknown and the inevitable can weigh heavy on our hearts.

But rest assured that God will not be taken off guard when we ascend to the peaks or sink into the valleys of life.

We will never find ourselves in a place where God isn’t already waiting. 

Right on time, God will be there to pick us up.  
9/22/2010 7:11:00 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. 10: Why ‘Good’ Isn’t Good Enough

September 22 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh, speaker, author

Focal Passages: Isaiah 5:20-23; 6:1-8; Romans 3:21-26  

Bob sat writing a contract for the cost of painting our house. As he prepared to leave, I said, “Bob, have you made a contract with God about where you’ll spend eternity?”                                                                                                                              

He answered, “I never gave it a thought.”

“Suppose you die tonight, and God asks, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What will you say?”                                                 

He paused. “I suppose I’ll say, ‘Because of my good life.’ Every year I send a check to my former high school. It makes me feel so good.”                        

I said, “Bob, I have good news for you. May I share why living a good life isn’t good enough to earn heaven?”

He agreed. I explained that the Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Then I shared how he might be saved.                

Today’s tolerant society labels everything relative. Unfortunately, society often absorbs Satan’s ways. As Joni Eareckson Tada said, “We live today in a world in which the thing that was once unthinkable becomes tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And then applaudable.”

Today, sin is labeled a natural or socially inherited tendency, but God calls sin an act of asserting one’s will above the will of God. In our Scripture (Isa. 6:1-8), the prophet described three aspects of his vision of God in the Temple.

When Isaiah saw God high and lifted up; he saw himself defiled; and, once forgiven, he saw a world in need. Comparing his holiness to God’s, Isaiah cried, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips” (v. 7).

God heard, cleansed Isaiah’s lips, and forgave his sin. Immediately, Isaiah saw a sinful world. When God asked, “Who should I send? Who will go for Us?” Isaiah answered, “Here I am. Send me” (v. 8).

Isaiah’s vision rebukes our generation for its easygoing attitude toward sin, from pulpit to pew. Edmund Fuller has suggested that our advice to the woman taken in adultery and brought to Christ would be, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin some more.”           

After Bob prayed to receive Christ, he said, “For the first time, I realize that my girl is lost ... but she won’t be anymore.”

You and I may never cross the ocean to lead someone to Christ. But God is asking, “Will you cross the street?”
9/22/2010 7:09:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh, speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Oct. 3: Punching the Time Clock

September 21 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Ecc. 2:18-26

At some point, we’ve all heard the following encouragement: It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.

As a teenager, I was convinced the person who invented this axiom never won anything.

However, over time, I’ve come to see that this phrase is much more than a clever salve for defeat. In fact, it’s a truth that extends far beyond an athletic contest.

In our passage for today, the author of Ecclesiastes, identified as Qohelet (“the Teacher”) laments the realization that he will one day have to leave everything he has worked for to someone else.

And who can blame him? His frustration is palpable, and we can certainly relate to it.

Many of us trudge daily through work, suffering through five days of monotony so that we can enjoy two days of weekend bliss (if you’re lucky enough to get weekends off!).

We sleep, we eat, we work.

When we aren’t working, we think about work. We do that for a few decades, and then leave all we’ve worked for to someone else.

Sound very satisfying? Qohelet didn’t think so.

Qohelet’s musings invite us to ask, “How concerned should we be about what we leave behind?”

To answer this question, consider this sobering exercise: Imagine what you want to be said about you at your funeral.

Do you want someone to mention that you acquired a lot of stuff? That you earned a lot of money? Or do you want someone to talk about the kind of person you were?

In short, do you want people to mention whether you won or lost, or do you want them to remember how you played the game? Do we invite God to be a part of our daily routine? Do we seek God’s guidance, maybe not as much in what we are doing, but in how we are doing it?

Regardless of what our job entails, are we known as employees who are honest and hardworking, as those who work for our employers as if we are working for the Lord (Eph. 6:7)? Are we setting a Christ-like example and leaving a godly legacy for those around us and for those who will follow us?

Yes, our work can be toilsome. Yet it helps to remember that each moment of work is pregnant with opportunity, for even in the midst of routine, God is using us to show others how to play the game.

When we recognize this, we can experience a satisfaction that only God can provide (Ecc. 2:24-25).
9/21/2010 9:22:00 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. 3: Sin IS a Big Deal

September 21 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh, speaker, author

Focal Passages: Genesis 3:1-6, 16-19, 24; Romans 5:12-14  

After the meal, Lance and my husband Jack went upstairs to the computer. Before long, Lance reentered the kitchen. Exhibiting disdain, he said, “I want you to know that when I have a need, I look within myself! I need no one but myself!” With that, he left me wondering what had inspired his rage. 

Later, Jack explained: “Lance went online to show me photographs of his art show. I expressed admiration and added, ‘Lance, I’m sure you thank God for the way He’s gifted you.’ Suddenly, he stiffened, and raced downstairs to confront you.”                                

Studying Genesis 3, I recall how Lance behaved as though he were his own god, and how Eve believed Satan’s lie — that eating the forbidden fruit was no big deal; on the contrary, she would be wise like God (v. 4).

But by eating from the tree, Eve turned God’s creation, including endless life, upside down, and with sin came mortality and death. Genesis 3 is hauntingly familiar.

The passage doesn’t read right except in first person. Adam’s story is my story.

Yes, Adam poisoned the headwaters, but the stream has touched the shores of my life.

Without Genesis 3, the rest of the Bible cannot be understood, for there we find the elements of sin as we all experience them.

As Satan approaches Eve, we’re struck by his manner. He sounds pious and quotes scripture. Without contradicting God, he only raises a question: “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat the fruit from the trees in the garden?’”

At first, Eve leaps to God’s defense. Considering God’s wondrous provision — the sky, sun, plants, animals — how marvelous it is! She answers, “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But concerning the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”                                                                                                        
“No! You will not die,” the serpent said. “Instead, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”                       

Eve is thrown off balance. She no longer focuses on God’s provision, but on the one thing denied her.

Satan tempts her through her physical senses. She looks at the fruit (sight), she listens to Satan (sound), she takes the fruit (touch), and she eats (smell and taste). And in that moment sin is born, and mankind needs a Savior. Because sin IS a big deal.
9/21/2010 9:20:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh, speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Sept. 26: Trusting God’s Future

September 8 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: 2 Kings 2:1-14

I once served in a small Baptist church that was “run” by one person. Oh, there was no manipulation of committees or abuses of power. This man ran the church because he had served the church and community for a long time. He had exercised good judgment as a civic, family and church leader. People trusted him. They valued his wisdom.

They were inspired by his personal walk with the Lord. Bottom line: The church followed his leadership. 

One day he died, and there was a pervasive uneasiness throughout the church because the great leader had “gone to be with the Lord.”

What to do?

Elijah didn’t die, according to this text, but was whirled to heaven amidst chariots and horses of fire, as his young protégée looked on. He had been Israel’s de jure and de facto leader for decades. The hand of the Lord had been upon him in his unending battles against the prophets of Baal as well as the political intrigue practiced by Israelite monarchs.

He had selected Elisha to follow in his footsteps and carry on His prophecy.

Elisha, like many a young leader, didn’t relish the thought of stepping into Elijah’s sandals.

Who wanted to coach following Dean Smith? Again and again, Elisha was reminded that “today your master will be taken from you.” He replied, “Yes, I know, but do not speak of it” (2:3, 5). The reality was so harsh he didn’t want to think about it.

Yet, it was inevitable. Elijah was willing to grant Elisha one last request. The young man asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2:9). Elisha is asking for the inheritance of the oldest son (Deut 21:17). He is asking to succeed to the prophetic office of his “Father” (cf. V. 12). He has already demonstrated his loyalty to Elijah by following him around on what is apparently a pointless roundabout journey, from Gilgal, near the Jordan, to Bethel, then back to Jericho and the Jordan. He passed a final test by “seeing” Elijah taken up to heaven.

Elisha was ready. He took the mantle that had been Elijah’s and struck the water with it, as he had seen Elijah do on numerous occasions. As it had parted for Elijah, it also divided for Elisha. He was God’s man in this new era of Israel’s history.

Whenever leaders leave the scene there is naturally a feeling of anxiety. Thankfully we are not left to our natural selves. God continues to be in the business of raising leaders for service in His kingdom.
9/8/2010 5:43:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Sept. 26: The Case for God’s Involvement

September 8 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Psalm 139:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11

When my children were in Mission Friends, I taught Mission Friends. When they were in Children’s Bible Drill, I led Children’s Bible Drill. As they moved on to Youth Bible Drill, I moved to Youth Bible Drill.

And believe it or not, I actually coached both of my boys in cross country and track during their years at Green Sea Floyds High School.

Are you beginning to see a pattern?

I love my boys, and I find great joy in being involved in their everyday lives. Multiply that level of love and involvement by infinity and you’ll get a picture of how much God loves us and how He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives.

God is not a distant Creator who places us in this world and then leaves us to fend for ourselves. David wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7, NIV).

God is always with us. (See Ps. 46:1, Matt. 28:20b, and Rom. 8:35-39.)

God provides for our every need — just as He did for the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years” (Deut. 8:4, NIV).

David put it like this, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23:1, NIV).

The apostle Paul explained it this way, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19, NIV). I sincerely believe this means your physical needs, your spiritual needs, your emotional needs, your financial needs … Are you beginning to see another pattern?

And that’s not even the best part! God could have sent a representative from Heaven down to Earth to find out how we as a human race were doing. He could have — but He didn’t! He came himself! “Who being in very nature God…being made in human likeness … and being found in appearance as a man…” (Phil. 2:6-8, NIV).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14, NIV).

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21, NIV).

Jesus died on the cross in our place to provide a way for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him. I personally think the case for God’s involvement in our lives speaks for itself.

Hallelujah! What a mighty God we serve!  
9/8/2010 5:41:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Sept. 19: Trusting God’s Voice

September 8 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: 1 Kings 19:1-17

One of the young ministers I have mentored once said, “After I preach I get depressed.”

“Why?” I asked.

He added, “I don’t know. Even if I believe I’ve done a good job and the people are complimentary, I still feel that way. Is that the way it is for you each Sunday?”

This young minister had experienced what is common, not only in ministerial life, but in any kind of life dedicated to excellence. It is an experience Elijah had on the backside of his mountaintop victory at Carmel. Following his major victory over the gods of Baal and Asherah, Elijah is running low on spiritual energy and  is confronted by Queen Jezebel, the major antagonist of his ministry. He collapses into a state of depression and confesses suicidal thoughts.

What happened?

1. Physical Exhaustion. Elijah had run from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel, a 100-mile-trek (18:46), then from Jezreel to Beersheba, and then another day in the desert (19:3-4). It is not uncommon for depression to follow extraordinary bursts of exertion. Post-partum syndrome is the classic example of extended labor followed by depression.

2. Endless Spiritual Struggles. Most of us are capable of fighting one-time battles. It’s when we discover the battles are endless that depression sets in. Elijah understandably concluded the battle was over once he had settled scores with regional false prophets. Nevertheless, Jezebel got word to him that she was going to do to him what he did to her prophets (19:2). The battle wasn’t over.   

3. Feelings of Loneliness.
Sometimes we feel as if we are the only ones who are faithful, the only ones holding on to Christian morality, the only ones willing to serve on the difficult committees of church life. We may feel like we’re the only one in the marriage willing to forgive and start again.

Even after the Lord appeared to him, Elijah wanted to quit, saying, “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (19:10, 14). The fact was, there were at least 7,000 others “whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (19:18).            

How did God minister to Elijah in the face of his depression?

An angel of the Lord came and provided food and water for Elijah, followed by a good nap (19:5-8).  

Second, God provided spiritual nourishment by leading Elijah back to Mt. Horeb (Sinai), the holiest place in Israel’s history where he heard God’s voice again (19:8).

Finally, he gave Elijah opportunities to serve, having him anoint two kings and a prophet (19:15). 

Listen for the voice of God in these places when you are facing depression.  
9/8/2010 5:38:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Sept. 19: The Case for God’s Love

September 8 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Job 40:1-9; Romans 8:18-21, 28-30

“God is love” (1 John 4:8b, NIV).

We know in our heads that God is love because the Bible tells us so. We know in our hearts that God is love because we feel His love surrounding us on a daily basis.

That all sounds great when things are going the way you had planned. But what happens when the bottom falls out from under you? You lose your job. You are diagnosed with cancer. A loved one dies.

The picture now gets a little cloudy, doesn’t it?

You know God loves you, but you just don’t understand why He would allow these things to be happening to you.

It reminds me of a book I bought after my husband, Terry, died in 1992 — If God Is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Bad?

Don’t get me wrong. I knew in my head that God loved me. I even felt His love sustaining me as I tried to raise my two young sons as a widowed mom at the age of 37.

In my mind, however, it seemed like God must have blinked — or looked the other way for just a second — and I simply fell from the palm of His hand for a few moments.

Now you and I know I didn’t fall from God’s hand. And I didn’t fall out of His plan for my life.

God is faithful and His love for you and me never changes.

This week’s lesson helps us understand some very important truths about suffering and God’s unchanging love.

First of all, we are not God. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?” (Job 40:2, NIV). We have finite knowledge while God’s knowledge is infinite. God sees the entire picture of our lives while we only see the snapshot of the moment in which we are living.

Second, nothing that happens in the life of a Christian is ever wasted when placed into the hands of our loving Heavenly Father. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18, NIV). Many times God uses the difficulties and trials we have endured to minister to others in their time of need.

And lastly, as believers, we can trust God completely — regardless of our circumstances — because of His great love for us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NIV).    
9/8/2010 5:36:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments