Sunday School Lessons

Formations lesson for May 3: The King Chooses Esther

April 22 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 2:1-18

How can there be a book in the Bible that never mentions the name of God?

In seminary, Esther was the book we started with in introductory Hebrew.  One of our first words was “hamelek” — “the king” — occurring 26 times in the first chapter. You can bet I memorized that word!

How about Yahweh (the Lord)? It doesn’t appear once. Elohim (God)? Nope. Maybe El Shaddai (God Almighty)? Not there, and neither is any other divine name, not anywhere in the book.  Esther is the only Bible book with that distinction. What’s going on?

Some commentators see Esther as a nationalistic folktale celebrating two bold and clever Jews who outfox their more powerful enemies — a popular storyline for any oppressed people. Esther and Mordecai are the heroes, and everything that happens can be explained by their ingenuity and bravery. There’s nothing left for God to do.

Others notice that Purim, the festival instituted in Chapter 9, is not found in the law of Moses.  That, plus the Babylonian-sounding names of the feast itself (from “pur,” the lot Haman cast in 3:7) and Esther and Mordecai (Ishtar and Marduk were Babylonian gods), suggests that the festival may have had Persian, not Israelite, origins. This is not one of God’s own stories.

And Purim is a boisterous feast. It lasts into the wee hours. Revelers drink until they can’t distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai,” which they shout whenever the men’s names are read aloud. This is not God’s kind of party.

For these and other reasons, Esther had a hard time getting into the Hebrew Bible. It was one of the last books selected. Still, Esther made it — and again, without even mentioning God! What’s going on?

The first chapter is almost comic. Persian King Xerxes “ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia” (1:1), but he can’t make his own wife come to his celebration (1:12). Nervous men all over the empire fear that their wives will now treat them with similar contempt (1:17). So King Xerxes banishes Queen Vashti and decrees “that every man should be master in his own house” (1:22).

Chapter 2 introduces Mordecai, the resourceful Jew, and Esther, his cousin and adopted daughter, who is equally resourceful and courageous, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Esther enters the royal beauty pageant and lands Vashti’s old job. She wins the king’s heart, of course; but she also has his ear, which will come in handy when her people face a threat to their very existence.

Is all this merely a happy coincidence? Or can God still be present, even if His name is not?

4/22/2009 5:03:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 1 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 3: Barzillai: The Man Who Grew Old Gracefully

April 22 2009 by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: 2 Samuel 17:27-29; 19:31-39; 1 Kings 2:1, 7

I was raised in a small town in southeastern North Carolina, and there were certain expectations placed upon me by my mama. Those expectations are quickly going by the wayside in today’s society, and they are called “manners.” Simple things such as greeting those that are older than you with respect. These were staples in conversations, and if they were forgotten a quick tug on the ear would remind one how to speak. There are other simple terms of respect that seem to have been forgotten as well.  

However, the responsibility does not just fall on the younger generations; many seniors may not see it as their calling to maintain these levels of decorum. One friend told me, “I look forward to becoming an elderly Southern lady; I will grow tomatoes and wear funny hats.” It involves more than that, and in life we have responsibilities and expectations of what we will leave the future generations. Growing old with grace and leaving a legacy for posterity, most especially a legacy to point toward a commitment to God. In 2 Samuel and 1 Kings we see the interaction between King David and an elderly man named Barzillai who shows his faith through his actions.  

David is facing an insurrection led by his son Absalom and he is fleeing for his life. How disconcerting it must be to face a rebellion led by your own son, and find yourself fleeing from your capital city. One of the loyal subjects, an elderly gentleman, assists David. The subject’s wealth supported David for his stay in the city of Mahanaim east of the Jordan River. This created a bond because Barzillai was willing to do this and possibly faced retribution from Absalom’s army. In David’s final words (1 Kings 2:7), he tells Solomon to be faithful to Barzillai’s family.

David is so overtaken by the actions of Barzillai that he asks him to cross the Jordan River with him and return to Jerusalem after the revolt had been put down. David wished to repay him for his support and kindness during his exile. Barzillai realizes his age and infirmities will keep him from traveling and he desires to die at home, so he sends what is felt by most commentators to be his son.

In Barzillai we see an image of growing old with grace and an example of wisdom. He followed his heart and his faith. He knew that which was right and followed the direction that God laid before him. He also knew when to say no and stand firm upon his decisions, even when speaking to a king. For his commitment and faith, his family was rewarded with eating at the king’s table. What will be the benefits that our decisions will leave the generations we leave behind?        

4/22/2009 5:02:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for April 26: Rejoice in Hope

April 14 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:42-58

She lay propped up in bed. The family had gathered, filling the room and spilling out into the hall. Death was in the air.

She had attended our church years ago, a young mother with children in tow. Now the kids were grown with children of their own. She lived with a daughter and went to her church, at least whenever she was able.  

She had sent word for me to come and pray for her one last time. I asked, “Are you afraid?”
“Why should I be? God has never let me down before, and I don’t expect Him to start now.”

Frederick Buechner wrote a book he called Wishful Thinking. Hope might be called wishful living.

Hope is not some pitiful benign whining in the dark: “Well, maybe, if only, I guess so, I surely hope so …”

Hope is not some superstitious incantation: “OK, if I believe with all my heart, and shut my eyes real tight, and clap three times …”

Hope is looking directly into the face of the worst the world can throw at you, and still believing that God cares for you and will provide for you, and then living like it.

I once heard Samuel Proctor, pastor emeritus of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, preach a sermon entitled “Living in the Subjunctive Mood” — as if. That’s hope.

Hope looks up at a cloudless sky, prays for rain, and then goes to the shed and gets the hoe and heads to the vegetable garden — as if.

Hope hears the dreaded diagnosis, “cancer,” and the almost equally dreaded prescription, “radiation, followed by chemotherapy,” and on the way home from the doctor’s office stops at the travel agent’s to book a flight to Houston in October for the birth of the new granddaughter — as if.

Hope dares to believe that we are all created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and to prove it marches over the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into the teeth of the police dogs — as if.

Hope stands in a pew on Easter Sunday morning, singing boldly, “Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O Grave?” The next week that same hope stares misty-eyed at an open grave as the preacher declares, as boldly as possible, given the circumstances, “Look!  I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” — as if (vv. 55, 51).

Paul concludes this wonderful chapter (v. 58), “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” — as if. That’s hope.
    

4/14/2009 3:02:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 26: Jesus the Savior: Accept or Reject?

April 14 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Acts 2:22-24, 32-41

I still remember the discussion last September as I looked at the sweet little face before me and I heard the words, “Yes daddy, if you get me a small dog I won’t be afraid.” Famous last words! These words were spoken by our oldest child, our eight-year-old daughter Kenley. She has been uneasy around dogs since birth, and we had already tried to help her through this with one dog.

This was a big mistake. We added a Bouvier (Ranger) to the family in June 2008; he is now saddled and ridden by our two younger boys. So it was from this discussion we added a Miniature Schnauzer named Deacon. Her acceptance of him lasted exactly one day.

Acceptance and rejection create a fine line in our lives, and fears are hard to overcome. It is not something that can be forced upon a person. I know this full well, for no matter what my five-year-old John Isaac might say, I now am the proud owner of two dogs because of my bright ideas about overcoming fears. Our fears are strong and can cause us to react in various ways, even in harmful ways. They can cause us not just to make our own lives difficult but to possibly harm others. Our Savior faced the ultimate sacrifice of His life through God’s plan, and the fears of those who would not accept why He had come.

As we continue to look at the Book of Acts we see Peter sharing a sermon following the miracle at Pentecost, and speaking to the large crowd. Many had seen the miracles and signs performed by Christ, yet they still would not believe. Instead they delivered Christ over to be nailed to a cross by “godless men and put Him to death” (2:23). In Peter’s words he is exposing the people to the fact that they, and we, are responsible for our own actions.  

In verses 32-36 Peter shares with those gathered concerning Christ being exalted to the right hand of God the Father, and emphasizes that the Holy Spirit has been poured out through Jesus Christ and none other. It is Christ that sits in heaven, not their ancestor David. Though he may have been great, Christ is the Messiah for whom they waited. He references Psalm 110 to share that Christ is the Lord in this passage of scripture, and He now sits in the seat of honor.  “How terrible then was the act of His crucifixion,” Peter emphasizes (v. 36).

Upon hearing all of this, one translation states, “. . . they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” Peter does not miss a beat and he responds in a fashion that gives each of us the words to use, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Peter continues to tell them that this gift is in essence for all people. And with this nearly 3,000 were added and the church was beginning an amazing journey!

What fears today might keep someone from joining this continued journey with Christ?

4/14/2009 3:01:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for April 19: Contemplate Mystery

April 7 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:20-41

“Watch out for people who think they know it all,” my mother used to say. “Most of the time, they don’t.”

I was barely in school. We sat at the dinner table, or on the living room floor during a long, lazy summer afternoon. One of us would ask a question – something about science, or arithmetic, or history, but often about religion.

My questions, obviously, were a child’s: “If heaven is up, which way is it for the people in China?”

Mom’s questions were harder: “If God knows everything before it happens, does that mean it has to happen?”

Mom would do her best to explain difficult ideas in words that a child could understand. We’d discuss it upside down and all around until neither had more to say. Then, almost every time, she would sign off with the warning about know-it-alls. It was her way of saying some things just can’t be explained, at least not completely.

Paul was doing his best to explain difficult ideas in words even grownups found hard to understand.

“Resurrection?  What resurrection (v. 21)? She’s just as dead now as she was last week. Paul, how do you know?”

“‘As in Adam all die (v. 22)?’ What’s that about? Is sin inherited, like blue eyes or flat feet? How do you know that?”

“God will destroy ‘every ruler and authority and power’ (vv. 24-28)? Evil and corruption and oppression? Even death? Come on, Paul, get real.  Read the papers!”

“And what’s this business about heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and sun and moon and stars, and seeds dying in the ground (vv. 35-41)? Somehow that’s all supposed to explain something? Paul, how do you know? How do you know for sure?”

Finally Paul came right out and admitted it: “Look!  It’s a mystery” (v. 51). Some things can’t be reasoned out by logic or explained by the natural order of cause and effect. Some things you just can’t know by the normal ways of knowing. Some things you can only know by faith.

“But if you want proof,” Paul said, “think about this (vv. 30-32): Why do I put myself in danger all the time? Why did I fight wild animals at Ephesus, if my hope were only for this life, and on this earth? But … the resurrection!”

A minister friend was in the hospital, seriously ill. In recent years his family had suffered tragedy after tragedy, and now this. “How do you manage to keep going?” I asked.  

“I couldn’t,” he said, “except for one thing: the resurrection!”

Anybody can be a know-it-all, with an answer for everything. Betting your life is another thing altogether.

4/7/2009 7:06:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 19: Jesus’ Followers: Witnesses or Wishful Thinkers?

April 7 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4, 12-16

If there is one thing that our house rarely has in abundance it is silence.  My lovely wife Shelley has blessed me with three wonderful children (ages eight, five and two). In addition we have two dogs -— one moose and one miniature breed — as well as five fish. The fish do not seem to add much noise, but we had a previous problem with one that ate everything else we put in the tank with it. There are constant sounds filling the air with the familiar auditory pleasures of life. Quite often these sounds may seem to be nothing more than noise, while at other times they are a joyous melody. It is in those moments that I am able to hear within the hoopla a distinct message and interpret what is underneath; below the “noise” there is love. And in love we find meaning.

In the opening chapter of Acts we see the beginning of the early church, but it is not fully born. It was awaiting something, and Christ appeared to this group of believers that had clung together following the crucifixion. He shared that they were to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a baptism far greater than that of water. With this they would become witnesses to all the world. Note that the Greek word for witness and martyr are the same. This draws attention to the fact that sometimes our loyalty to Christ demands more than we are aware will be required.

This little group, led by the disciples, were to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it came upon them as a “rushing wind” and they were suddenly filled with “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). The amazing event in this miracle is that each person began to speak a different tongue, or language, and they went out among the many Jews that were in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Weeks, also known as Pentecost. This was celebrated seven weeks after Passover and was a time to give thanksgiving for the grain harvest. It was one of three major festivals and was a required time of celebrations. It expected that Jewish males would come to the Temple. Jerusalem was filled with people.  

The many people present were mystified; some in a sense of awe, while others mocked the believers as they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. As it was true for these first Christians, it is true for witnesses today. Our faith is not validated by the response of those listening; it is made real by that which we experience through Jesus Christ and His teachings in the Scriptures.  

Some of those present even stated that the Christians were drunk, but Peter rose boldly and spoke in defense of the believers. He spoke boldly without hesitation with the possibility of a large crowd turning against him. I find his words humorous in stating it is too early in the morning to be drunk, but he was direct and to the point. His words exemplify what I see as the greatest miracle of Pentecost concerning the gospel, making things plain, clear, and easily understood so everyone can know what it is all about.

Dear Lord make it so today.

4/7/2009 7:06:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for April 12: Remember the Resurrection

April 1 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:1-19

We called it The Blizzard of ’93.

It was March 13, and in our mountain town the daffodils were in full bloom.

Then it started snowing, and kept it up for three days.

A friend measured 42 inches of the white stuff in his yard.

The daffodils won, of course.

As the late snow melted their blooms began to reappear, one by one.

Old Man Winter gave it his best shot, but he couldn’t keep spring from coming.

Poet Charles Hanson Towne wrote:

If this bright lily can live once more,
And its white promise be as before,
Why can not the great stone be moved from His door?

If the green grass ascend and shake
Year after year, and blossoms break
Again and again, for April’s sake …

Faint heart, be sure, these things must be.
See the new bud on the old tree!
If flowers can wake, oh, why not He?

But Easter is not about lilies, or green grass, or new buds, or even daffodils. Those things are natural and normal and will surely come, even after Old Man Winter’s last gasp.

Easter is about the resurrection, and the resurrection was neither natural nor normal. It didn’t happen all by itself.  

There’s a key verb in verse 4, in the passive voice: “was raised.” Jesus didn’t wake up. Jesus didn’t get up. Jesus was raised up.

The resurrection happened by the power of God. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t normal. It was wonderful!

Maybe that’s why it was so hard for some of those at Corinth to believe, and for some people to believe today.

But it’s the heart of our faith, Paul said, the “most important thing” (vv. 3-8): Christ died, Christ was buried (He was really dead!), Christ was raised, and Christ appeared (He was really raised!).

Without the resurrection our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain, our hope is in vain, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (vv. 12-19). We aren’t asked to explain it, or even to understand it. We’re invited to believe it, and then to live by it.

The resurrection, after all, isn’t for April’s sake. It’s for Jesus’ sake, and for God’s sake, and for our sake, and even for the sake of the world.

4/1/2009 7:54:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 12: Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?

April 1 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Luke 24:1-8, 36-40, 44-46

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the ability to bring something back to life, breathe life into it?  
People are constantly seeking to do just that when they painstakingly restore things such as cars, furniture, or various other items. Sometimes the key is just finding that special item that often seems to allude.  

I have recently been reintroduced to a former hobby — collecting baseball cards — by a dear friend and fellow pastor. It involves these searches for those rare finds, and hopes for discoveries.

Unfortunately, with baseball cards there is not much hope of bringing them back to life. How you find them is how you find them. There are those moments when you come across a rare find and you wish that a “resurrection” was possible. I am trying to find a rare set of 1971 Topps cards because that is the year I was born, and they are hard to find. Imagine looking for a body in a tomb and arriving to find that it too was suddenly hard to find. This was what greeted the women on that first Easter.  

They arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and suddenly were surprised by the appearance of men in dazzling clothing, angelic messengers, which shared with them, “He is risen” (v. 6). The verse which is most poignant to me is the statement, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” (v. 5).  Christ had shared in all of the gospels that He was to suffer and He was to die, but most importantly He was to be raised from the dead (Matt. 16;21; 17:9,22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33).

Following the tomb discovery and Christ’s appearance on the Emmaus road Christ appears to a group as disciples were sharing their Emmaus experience. In this moment Jesus was affirming that it was no hallucination and that He had truly been resurrected from the grave and was back among the living. The physical resurrection of Jesus was the fulfillment of that which began on the cross and now the risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth are the same.

Jesus continued to speak with them in verses 44-46 about the fulfillment of Old Testament scriptures by referencing the “Law of Moses” which is the first five books of the Old Testament; the “Prophets” refers to the books of Joshua-2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea-Malachi; and the “Psalms” to the rest of the Old Testament. He shared with them that His suffering and resurrection were the fulfillment of that which was written. One prominent example of that is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53).  

And in the Easter miracle we have the greatest “find” of all. It is rarer than a ten gem mint 1951 Bowman rookie Micky Mantle card, and far more precious.

4/1/2009 7:53:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for April 5: Proclaim Christ’s Death

March 23 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage:  1 Cor. 11:17-32

Jesus was dead: no pulse, no breath, no blood pressure, dilated pupils, skin pallid and gray and cold.  He had passed through that moment some of us have seen in a hospital room when one second your loved one is there, and in the blink of an eye, gone. Jesus was dead.

Jesus’ movement was dead. Where were the disciples? Huddled in an upper room, the door locked and the shades drawn, trembling and afraid, lost and lonely, helpless and hopeless. It was all over. Jesus was dead, and as far as anyone could tell, so was His movement.

* * *

“You Baptists get the Lord’s Supper all wrong,” a Christian friend once told me. “For you it’s only a memorial meal, all about death.” She explained that in her church the Supper represents Christ’s living presence among and within those who gather to take it.

My friend makes a good point. I’ve been a preacher for 30 years, a Christian for 50, and a Baptist just about forever; and rarely do I preach, or hear, a communion sermon about the living and resurrected Christ present with us as we take the bread and cup. It would be good to preach and hear about that more often.

But today is Palm Sunday, this is Holy Week, and Friday is Good Friday. Easter may be right around the corner — just go to the drug store and count the chocolate eggs and stuffed rabbits — but it’s not here yet.

I once heard Professor Fred Craddock say, “You can’t have a resurrection if nobody’s dead.” He’s right, in more ways than one. You can’t have hope if you don’t know despair. You won’t understand forgiveness until you’re ready to repent. You don’t need to be saved if you think you’re not lost. You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday. “A seed,” Paul said, “doesn’t come to life unless it dies” (1 Cor. 15:36).

* * *

Maybe that’s part of what was wrong at the church in Corinth. Some were treating the Lord’s Supper like a party. Others were using it as an occasion to exalt themselves. They were focusing on themselves, but they weren’t “examining themselves,” in Paul’s words. There was plenty of Easter, maybe, but not much Good Friday.

So Paul had to remind them: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Yes, He is coming. Easter is right around the corner. For all who would follow Him, so is abundant and eternal life. But to get to either one, something in us has to die.

“You can’t have a resurrection if nobody’s dead.”

3/23/2009 9:52:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 5: Jesus: Delusional Dreamer or God’s Messiah?

March 23 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: Luke 23: 33, 35-49

One evening, early in my tenure at First Baptist, while I was driving back to Sylva from a trip to Asheville on highway 74 I began the climb up Balsam Mountain and noticed something to my right on another peak.  

I realized as I drew closer it was a lighted cross and I later found out that a family placed it there in memory of a son that had died at a young age. Now as I drive this all too familiar route I am comforted by the sight of this cross on my journeys.  

It tells me that I am not far from home, but in that lighted cross I am also reminded that a far greater home is promised to us through what happened on the cross of Calvary.

In Luke 23:33, 35-49 the cross is the central point as Christ is taken to the place called “the Skull” and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation is put in place.  

Many times the questions must arise concerning the events surrounding the death of Christ, and all that happened.

Why would the Savior die as a mere criminal?

Why would people be allowed to mock Him?  

This form of death was so shameful in the ancient world, but this was different. In this horrible moment Christ was raised to beauty for our sakes.

The beauty of the cross could not be hidden by a sign that mockingly proclaimed Jesus, “King of the Jews.” It only diminished the Jewish authorities who were offended by such a title.

The beauty of the cross could not be hidden by two criminals hanging beside our Savior.  

Their deeds had placed them in that moment, but as one of them realized, simply calling upon Christ opened entry to “paradise.”

Even the extreme darkness that covered the earth from noon to three could not hide the beauty of the cross.  In this time of darkness the Temple curtain was ripped apart as the way to God was to be opened by the death of Christ.  

Behind this curtain was a place called the “Holy of Holies,” in essence the place where God was to reside.

This area is referenced in Hebrews 9:3, 8.

It would now be possible to approach the Lord because of that which Christ is doing upon the cross.    

As Christ cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit,” (v. 46) His true beauty came into view to all who had witnessed the events.  

Those who had mocked, those who loved, and even a Roman centurion acknowledged His righteousness.  

Each time I climb Balsam Mountain on a clear evening and I see the lighted cross to my right I am reminded, there is a beauty in the cross.

3/23/2009 9:51:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 1 comments



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