Sunday School Lessons

Formations lesson for March 29: What Would Jesus Say about Himself?

March 18 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: John 8:39-59

One of my favorite movies is The Sandlot. The first time I saw it was on an airplane with my brother, so maybe there is a sentimental pull to it for me, but I think the story, the acting, and the cinematography are good enough to stand on their own. It is a good movie.

At any rate, one of the best scenes is when the Hamilton Porter character (the great Hambino) gets into a name-calling episode with the leader of the “organized baseball team.” They shout back and forth at each other, each trying to “one up” the last comment made until ultimately, Hamilton wins the challenge by proclaiming that his opponent plays “baseball like a girl.” That did it. Contest over.

The focal passage for this lesson reads much like a similar “one-up” challenge. The people proclaimed Abraham as their father. Jesus refuted their statement saying they are following their “real” father (the devil). The people then claim God as their father. Jesus refutes that statement by telling them they’d love Him if God was their father. He goes on to explain who their “real” father is and describes him as a liar and murderer. And then He tells them that if they loved God, they’d listen to Him. The people respond by calling Him a Samaritan devil possessed by a demon. Jesus doesn’t flinch. He refutes their claims by saying He honors His Father and that anyone who obeys His teaching will never die. The people are getting angry now. They challenge Jesus’ statements and ask Him, “Who do you think you are?”

Back and forth they go until the people pick up stones to throw at Jesus.

On the surface this schoolyard banter is puzzling. What I see is much more beautiful than any sandlot challenge. What was Jesus trying to tell us about Himself?

Jesus seems to be saying not something so much about Himself, but more about His love for us. “God sent me” he says. “I do not wish for honor and glory but to honor and glorify My Father. In Me there is eternal life. I have always been and always will be.” He is demonstrating His ability to love us more than we can understand. The compassion, understanding, hope, and perseverance in His message is truly beautiful. The love that He communicates, the deflection of honor and glory and the patience even to death is a message that came through very clearly.

Mind boggling as it is, what Jesus said about Himself really says more about His love for us.  

3/18/2009 5:42:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 29: Hang in There

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

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 6:1-16

A well-known concert violinist was asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. She replied, “There are many things that used to demand my time.  When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary.

When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret to my success.”

The wall was nearing completion. The walls were completed in 52 days.

But, opposition still attempted to prevent success. Sanballat et al. tried every distraction to pull Nehemiah away from the work and to undermine and discredit him.

As is so often, when opposition is thwarted, the enemy will attempt to distract and draw one away from the task at hand — “Come let us meet.” Nehemiah recognized it as an intention to harm him — “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down!”

If he would not meet with them, they decided to spread rumors that Nehemiah was setting himself up as king. His response, “No such things as you say have been done!”

Since rumors and distractions would not work, they resorted to threat of physical harm and violation of the temple. A friend was used to tempt Nehemiah to flee into the temple (thus violating the temple’s sanctity calling his own integrity in question); Nehemiah resisted — “Should such a man as I flee? I will not go in!”

Plagued by distractions and discouragement, Nehemiah kept his focus and heart in constant communication with the Lord (Neh. 6:14). What resulted was the recognition that the work had been accomplished with the help of the Lord!    

“When work is pressing, there are many little things that will come and seem to need attention. It is a very blessed thing to be quiet and still, work on and entrust the little things to God. He answers such trust in a wonderful way. The believer who has no time to fret and worry and harbor care has learned the secret of faith in God. A desperate desire to change some difficult circumstance may take our eyes off God and His glory. Some suffering Christians have been so anxious to get well and have spent so much time in trying to claim healing, that they have lost their spiritual blessing. God sometimes has to teach such persons that there must be a willingness to be sick before they are yielded enough to receive His fullest blessing. The enemy keeps at this work. Sanballat came four times to Nehemiah, always receiving the same answer. How many fears we have stopped to fight which ultimately have proved to be nothing. Nehemiah recognized that fear is sin and did not dare to yield to it.” (A.B. Simpson)

3/18/2009 5:41:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 2 comments



Formations lesson for March 12: What Would Jesus Say about Evangelism?

March 12 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: John 4:31-38

Legendary teacher of homiletics Fred Craddock tells a great story that I think of every time I hear the word evangelism.

Craddock says that one day he was in a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream store.  The franchise was in those days in an ad campaign celebrating its 32 flavors. Craddock was sampling one or two of the flavors when a young man walked up to him and asked if he’d “tried Jesus.” Dr. Craddock said he couldn’t help himself. He looked at the young man and said no, and asked if he could put that flavor on his spoon please.  

Fred Craddock wasn’t belittling the young man’s efforts as much as he was laughing at himself. Craddock adds that he never thinks we should “accost people with Jesus” but that “our responsibility to tell the story is great.”  

As great as the responsibility to tell the “good news,” and as good as the news in fact is, why does it make us so uncomfortable?

Not all of us, admittedly, but a great number of us are appalled to think we might have to go face to face with someone over what we believe and/or what they should.

Some of it is the whole “talking in front of others” thing, which those who research this kind of thing tell us is the number one fear of most people. But this isn’t public speaking, it is evangelism. And it is our duty by command straight from the mouth of Jesus.  

For clarity then, we have a command to do something that we (many of us anyway) aren’t comfortable doing. In the focal passage, Jesus says that we must simply get busy. Jesus says evangelism is a part of Christian discipleship, and that each of us is part of the greater work of the kingdom. He speaks of white fields and much labor. He calls us to action, he calls us to evangelism.  

How do we define that, what does it look like in 2009, and how do we get started? Well those weren’t the questions asked here.

They need to be answered, but not having them answered the way we want isn’t an excuse not to do what God calls us to do. The bottom line is we just have to get busy.  

What would Jesus say about evangelism? He’d say just do it!

3/12/2009 3:27:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 22: Clear the Air

March 12 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 5:1-16
    
“Radical decisions in obedience are of course the stuff of biblical faith, but now it cannot be radical decisions in a private world without brothers and sisters, without pasts and futures, without turf to be managed and cherished as a partner in the decisions. The unit of decision-making is the community and that always with reference to the land. … The central (biblical) problem is not emancipation but rootage, not meaning but belonging, not separation from community but location within it,” said Walter Brueggemann.

Nehemiah stood defiantly in opposition against those outside powers that verbally and physically abused the fallible remnant of Israel as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Each scarred stone placed in formation was a testimony to the great and awesome God who rules and sustains His people. Though victory was still ahead of the Jewish people, progress was assured.

But, external threats were not all that plagued them. An internal problem festered creating tension and dissension (Neh. 5:1). There was a deep disparity between the condition of the common people and the privileged class of Jews.

Due to the economic situation in this radically decimated environment, it was easy for some of the more elite to take advantage of their “neighbors.” What resulted was the pledging of property and children for money to pay taxes, to buy grain and food during a time of famine.

An already subsistence situation became even more intolerable.  Brother took advantage of brother (some accounts state that rates of interest were as high as 60-70 percent with severe penalties). Thus high interest rates, stiff penalties, and virtual enslavement created political unrest and economic crisis. Not only were there economic disparities between families and neighbors, but some were even selling their countrymen to foreigners!

Nehemiah confronted this unholy injustice. Calling a meeting of the people, he demanded that the unjust usury stop. He appealed to them (Neh. 5:9b). He called the people to return the properties of the impoverished and a portion of the interest they had exacted. Nehemiah stressed the fact that they were each a vital part of the community, a family in partnership working together in becoming a people before the nations (Gentiles). The outcome was successful and the guilty agreed without reservation (Neh. 5:13).

Rather than simply dictate law, Nehemiah lived out what he demanded. As governor he had access to the lands and goods of Jewish people. He had authority to tax the people for his administration and its continuing needs.

But, instead, he placed his every need in God’s hands and used his own resources to support his leadership. He recognized that his people were God’s people and he was their servant.

“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.”

3/12/2009 3:26:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 2 comments



Formations lesson for March 15: What Would Jesus Say about Discipleship?

March 3 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Mark 8:34-9:1

On the third day of my third grade year of school, my teacher asked me to step out in the hall.

No, I hadn’t done anything wrong (at least not yet — it was the third day). Believe it or not, she wanted to see me walk.

This has an explainable end I promise, even one that didn’t find an educator behind bars.
My teacher knew my grandfather, knew him well enough even to know how he walked. And she thought she recognized that walk in me.

It seems some of the men in my family have this “waddle like” strut that is so distinct as to make it uniquely recognizable. My teacher knew who I was, and whose I was by the way I walked.
If only being a disciple of Christ were that easy. It isn’t.

In Mark’s Gospel account, taking up a cross, losing one’s life, and the like are the costs of discipleship. So when we ask what Jesus might say on the subject, we should start with the fact that it is costly.

Jesus made the cost of following Him clear. He spelled it out.

In this focal passage, we have Christ addressing His gang of nomadic fisherman, disgruntled nationalists, and would-be revolutionaries in words so clear and simple, even this somewhat motley crew would understand.  

He also tells us everything we need to know about how to be a disciple. In verse 34, Jesus calls for the denial of self, the taking up of His cause, and the willingness to follow Him regardless.  

I find it interesting that Jesus gave us the requirements for discipleship before He told us about the cost of discipleship, at least in this passage.

It is as if Jesus knew that the difficulty this choice to be Christ-like would bring for us (because, of course He did) and He led us to it gradually.

But I think nonetheless that as usual, in a clear and succinct way, Jesus told us all we need to know.

The whole time, He speaks as though doing it is implied, as if we might say, it was essential. I couldn’t and can’t help the way I walk; it is just the way I walk. Our following Christ ought to be just as natural.

Jesus says discipleship is difficult. Jesus says discipleship is costly. Most of all though, Jesus says discipleship is necessary.  

3/3/2009 5:26:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 1 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 15: Don’t Despair

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

Focal Passage(s): Nehemiah 2:19-20; 4:1-14

Historian Barbara Tuchmann once insightfully wrote, “Men will not believe what does not fit with their plans or suit their pre-arrangements.” For Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, the appearance and passion of Nehemiah for Jerusalem did not fit into their schemes. As principal opponents to Nehemiah, they held territorial jurisdiction over the area (Tradition has it that Sanballat built the temple on Mount Gerizim to rival the temple in Jerusalem, John 4:20). Thus, according to Nehemiah 2:10, he and Tobiah were displeased that someone would come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

What follows is an opposition-response format in today’s text. In order to undermine the rebuilding project, they accused Nehemiah of insurrection — “Are you rebelling against the king?” (2:19). Nehemiah responds with an affirmation of divine assistance — “The God of heaven will grant us success.” Chapter three illustrates that faith response; the wall reconstruction project progresses.

When their accusations did not work, they dismiss the work derisively — “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (4:2). According to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Sanballat mocks their faith, “What do these wretched Jews think they are doing? Are they going to leave it all to God? Will they offer sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubble, even though they are burnt?” It was not enough to question Nehemiah’s motives (2:19-20), but his faith (and the Jews’) is also questioned.

In effect, Sanballat asked if they were expecting some kind of miracle! Were they expecting the stony rubble to become animated and take their place on the wall? Once more Nehemiah responds to this opposition with a prayer of lamentation — hear our enemies’ insults and bring down your judgment.

Remember their evil deeds and respond accordingly. The work continues because “the people had a mind and ‘were determined’ to work (4:6).” Opposition makes a people strong!

The accusations and ridicule are ineffective against the project; opposition intensifies with Sanballat and his cohorts plotting physical violence. Though Jerusalem is surrounded on all four sides by its enemies and the Jewish people’s resources are limited, they call to God for help and form battle lines along the walls. When word comes from the neighboring countryside of impending danger, they reinforce the wall’s open spaces and trust their Lord — “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome!” (4:14) And the wall was built!

Historian Will Durant once observed, “Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision and heroism. When she had overcome all her enemies, she flourished for a moment and then began to die.” Opposition kept Rome strong. Opposition made Nehemiah strong. In Christ, opposition can make us strong.

3/3/2009 5:25:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for March 8: What Would Jesus Say about Poverty?

February 24 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Luke 16:19-31

There are times when even we “preacher types” can’t make something too wordy. I’ll admit it doesn’t happen often, and that even when it does, we try to be verbose anyway. But even so, we can’t complicate this one.  

What Would Jesus Say about Poverty? He’d say to eradicate it, pure and simple. It is not complicated, it is not arguable, it is not even something we Baptists can disagree on. The evidence, the scriptural evidence, is just too clear.

From instructions to take a cup of cold water in “my name,” to concern for 5000-plus hungry people on a hillside, to commands to Peter to feed the lambs ... Jesus drove home the point about hunger. Make it go away.

Many will want to point out that often when Jesus spoke of “feeding” He was speaking of spiritually feeding people, not eliminating their physical need for sustenance. But while Jesus was and is far more concerned about our spiritual needs, He is not unconcerned about our physical ones.

There is another point. Jesus was a great leader. As such He understood something so simple that we often forget it. Hungry people make bad disciples. That is people whose bellies are empty won’t concentrate on filling their souls, they simply can’t. I had a basketball coach once who told me to always be “hungry for the ball.” He drove home his point by adding that he’d never seen someone with an empty stomach lose when filling their stomach was the prize. He told me that “hungry always wins.”  

If you read into my old coach’s axiom, you might want to say that hungry people do in fact make good disciples, as in those who hunger for righteousness will not lose the fight for it. While this is true, those same righteous seekers, if they are physically hungry will satisfy that need first.

The point is that we must first take care of all human need where we see it. There is no doubt this is what Jesus would have done, because it is without exception what Jesus did. And over and over again it is exactly what He told disciples then, is telling disciples now, and will disciples for all time to be busy doing.

Our “centering question” asks what Jesus would say about poverty. Jesus words ask us what we are doing about it!


2/24/2009 4:47:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 8: Prepare

February 24 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 2:1-8, 11-18
 
For a number of years it has been my pleasure to serve as congregational coach to several N.C. Baptists churches through the journey Pursuing Vital Ministry.

Though each congregation was unique in their settings, histories, and ministries, they each shared similarities. Regardless of ministry environment, a passionate desire to see and experience God’s will in their setting is prevalent.

Working with these congregations I sensed that they wanted to do more than influence their relevant communities — they wanted to bear witness to what God had powerfully done in their lives and what he seeks to accomplish — no matter the costs.

This insight did not come to them simply through some new, in-vogue program or theory. Instead, it developed out of seasons of continued prayer and corporate spiritual inspection. Like Nehemiah, in today’s text, each congregation had individuals sensitive to not only the changes occurring in their communities, but also to that divine unrest that seeks and discovers its respite in God’s presence and acceptance.

Nehemiah did not apathetically discard the report brought to him from his brother. He did not shrug his shoulders and discount his possible role in being used by God to bring positive change to Jerusalem’s disgraceful situation. Instead, he prayed and planned.

Nehemiah recognized that any progress he or his people would experience would have to come from God.

Any success would only be possible through divine intervention. According to the text, we see that Nehemiah’s actions were not an emotional rush to judgment.

Instead, it was cautious, courageous and visionary. He prayed to God before making a decision to approach the king.

Having prayerfully examined the problem he presented a logical, practical plan that successfully received the financial and military support of the Persian government.

Because not everyone will be supportive of the vision that the Lord gives to the community of faith, we must continue to be sensitive to God’s calling and leadership.

We must prayerfully recognize our part in the vision and involve ourselves in its actualization (2:17).

Verse 18 of today’s text describes what happens when individuals open themselves up to God’s vision and will — “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” The Jewish leadership and “followership” all were encouraged and empowered to do what earlier seemed impossible!

They, as well as congregations today, began to envision what God had promised to His covenant people. Their journey into God’s future had begun.

2/24/2009 4:45:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for March 1: What Would Jesus Say About the Bible?

February 17 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Matthew 4:1-11

It cannot escape anyone who does much reading of the New Testament that Jesus found Himself in opposition to the religious leaders of His day consistently.  They were the enforcers of law, the bearers of the covenant, and He was the personification of grace, the “new covenant.” A distinction must be made however, to clarify where Jesus came down on the law itself, as opposed to those who (unfairly) tried to enforce it. As opposed to the self righteous as could be, Jesus sought out righteousness. As opposed to legalism as possible, Jesus understood and honored the law.

In this focal passage, on three occasions Jesus answers temptations from the devil by referring to the law.  He uses three words to summarily dismiss His tempter.  Each time Jesus says “It is written . . .”

Of course much has been made in pop culture about asking the question which has come to be symbolized by four letters, WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? And we have begun, in church life, to turn that question on just about every subject. I saw an article not long ago asking WWJD but the “D” was for drive, not do. What Would Jesus say about the Bible? Well we are privileged to know some things Jesus actually DID say about the Bible. Of course, He would have been talking about what we know as the Old Testament, He was living out the New Testament or at least portions of it. But nonetheless, Jesus made no excuse and offered no loop hole for the law. Jesus said the law was necessary, but He also said the law was not enough.

The Bible, the one we read, has gone through centuries of scrutiny, decades of debate, and years without yielding. But when we ask the question what Jesus would say about our Bible, we need look no further than His words in our Bible for our answer. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus was and is the Living Word of God. We have a responsibility to read our Bibles, we know that. We should possess a longing to better understand the word of God as it applies to each of our lives, we are clear on that. And we should want to know what Jesus would say about everything. But we need not make this complicated.

As usual, the best way to hear what He’d say, about the Bible or anything else, is to listen to Him.


2/17/2009 5:26:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life for March 1: Be Aware

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

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-11
 
In early 1994, we (I and two first-term missionaries) traveled back into the interior of Burundi to visit churches with which I had worked closely and had experienced massive devastation from the coup d’etat that had occurred in October 1993. Our hearts ached and our spirits literally mourned as we drove through formerly populous market towns and vibrant villages now empty or worse strewn with bodies. Much like Nehemiah (1:4a), we “wept and mourned.”

Already, my wife and I (as former missionaries to Rwanda) had mourned the loss of many of our close Rwandan friends who had died in the genocide and dreaded when updates were given about the continuing situation. Words can never accurately describe the anguish and pain that is felt when confronted by such needless suffering.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Persia. Though information is scanty, news arrives through his brother, Hanani that Jerusalem lies in ruin and the morale of the remnant is low and troubled. According to Josephus, neighboring tribes were continually raiding the vulnerable city. He writes, “the surrounding nations were inflicting many injuries on the Jews, overrunning the country and plundering it by day and doing mischief by night, so that many had been carried off as captives … and every day the roads were found full of corpses.”

Rather than despair, Nehemiah turns his heart towards “the God of Heaven” (1:4b) after a season of fasting and prays an incredible prayer of lamentation and confession. Recognizing the gracious fidelity of the Lord is contrasted to the personal and corporate infidelities of Nehemiah and the people of Israel. “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (1:7).

The sole solution is God’s covenant response to a repentant people — “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants … give success … grant … mercy” (1:11).

Both in Rwanda and Burundi, atrocities continue and lives are lost. But even in the hostility and hopelessness, God continues to be present and acting out His will.

As one Rwandan believer has written in light of not only the genocide but the AIDS epidemic, “We meet here every day for mutual support, prayer and care giving … we are trying to give hope and assistance in the name of Christ.”

2/17/2009 5:25:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments



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