Sunday School Lessons

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



Formations lesson for Sept. 7: A Time For Nurture

August 26 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal Passage: 2 Chronicles 34:1-7  

In 1975, while pastor of First Baptist Church in Duncan, S.C., I was asked by a local helping agency to organize a ministry at the Duncan Prison Camp. I began by leading an early Sunday morning worship service. I usually had from 40-50 inmates to attend, and most of them seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.

One morning, I began my sermon by quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” It had a mesmerizing effect:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too …


I finished the first verse and started on the second:

If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same …

In the middle of the second verse, a young inmate in the front row interrupted. He stood up and tearfully asked, “But what if you can’t?”

I was startled. My first thought was, “You can’t ask questions in a sermon. I don’t have answers, I just have words.”

But when he asked the question, every head in room looked at him, and, then, in sync, every head turned and looked at me. I smiled, I frowned, I looked at my feet, and I realized he wanted an answer. I looked straight at him and said: “Sure you can.”

From the back of the room came another voice, “Sure you can, man.” And suddenly, other men in that room started nodding their heads and saying: “Yeah, you can,” and “Man, you can make it,” and “Go for it.”

That’s as far as my sermon got. One after another they made their way down to the front of the room and stood around the young inmate, and, one after another, they began to nurture him by telling of circumstances in their lives where they thought they couldn’t but they did. It was a moving service.

Webster’s dictionary defines nurture as “that which nourishes.” Ephesians 6:4 says Christian parents are to bring children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Our task as Christians is to encourage those about us “in the Lord.” To the discouraged and disheartened in this world, we affirm in the Lord, “Sure you can!”  

8/26/2008 2:57:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 7: Forgive Early and Often

August 26 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

You may remember the movie from a few years back called, “Pay it Forward.” The movie begins with a student who comes up with an idea for a class project. If someone does something for you, you don’t pay it back. You pay it forward by doing something good for three other people within 24 hours. Each of those three people then does something for three other people and so on. After two weeks of this process more than four million people will be touched by a good deed.

Apparently the servant in our story didn’t see the movie. If he felt gratitude, joy or thanksgiving he certainly didn’t pass it forward to anyone else. At the beginning of our story we see the servant has incurred a debt of millions of dollars. How did he get such a huge debt — embezzlement, misuse of funds, stealing? We have to assume the master trusted this servant and gave him a lot of freedom with his money.

Although the servant offered to repay the debt, a servant simply does not have access to that kind of money. The master canceled the entire debt, telling the man, “You are free to go.”
The first person the servant saw was someone who owed him something like $20. We might expect, “Hey guess what just happened to me? I want to show you grace like that.” Instead he grabs his friend by the neck and demands his money.

The other guy says, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.”

But our forgiven friend is not going to cut him any slack. He is not going to show any mercy.

When the master heard what happened he threw him in jail, where this time he is to be tortured until he pays his debt. It seems the servant’s debt was settled but his heart was not. He should have come from his experience overwhelmed with the generosity of his master so that he wanted to pay it forward to others. Instead he took the gift for granted and never considered the implications.

We sympathize with the main character, then rejoice in his good fortune. We stand in shock when he grabs his friend and demands his money, then cheer when he gets thrown in jail. It’s all good until you realize that Jesus is talking about you and me. Look again at the main character — he’s got our face.

As a saying attributed to Confucius goes, “Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass.”

8/26/2008 2:55:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 31: Transitions

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

Focal passage: Philippians 4:4-9

It was the late 1880s, and he was a cowboy from Oklahoma. He had been to Kansas City seeing things he had never even imagined.

His eyes had been opened on that visit, and he went back to Oklahoma singing to his friends, "Everything's up to date in Kansas City. They've gone about as far as they can go."

He then proceeded to describe just how far they had gone. He saw 23 gas buggies in one day.

He put his ear to a strange apparatus and heard someone talking. They called it a telephone.

He saw a skyscraper seven stories tall, "about as high as a building ought to go."

No wonder then that he went back home shaking his head in wonder at all those folks in Kansas City who have "gone about as far as they can go."

That cowboy reflected an instinct as old as humanity and one that is still a problem for us today.

It is the feeling that we have gone about as far as we can go.

In 1886 the United States Patent Office very nearly closed its doors because some congresspersons balked at including it in the budget, feeling that the country had already gone about as far as it could go. One congressman stated in the Congressional Record, "It now appears that everything practical has already been invented."

Fortunately, the Patent Office remained open, and that office went on to approve patents for such things as automobiles, gas engines, airplanes, telephones, radios, televisions, and you know the rest of the story.

The history of humanity is the story of change, of transitions from one world to the next. Our task as a church is not to decide whether we will change as we transition in life, but how we will change. We do not fear change because we have a changeless core — Jesus our Lord. His word does not change. His character does not change. His message of love and salvation for all people does not change.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says that having something changeless anchors us in the midst of a changing world.

"People can't live with change if there's not a changeless core inside of them," he said. "The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, and what you are about, and what you value."

That "changeless core" in the believer is Christ Himself. "My hope is built on nothing less ..."

8/19/2008 4:54:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 31: A Consistent Life

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

Focal passage: Hebrews 12:1-15

I picture this scripture as a conversation between God and a Christian full of good intentions, but missing some important information about what it means to lead a consistent life in Christ.

God:
Are you ready for the race?

Christian:
What race?

God: The race I have called you to run will lead you to a better country — a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16).

Christian: That's it! That's the race I want to run.

God: What's with the backpack?

Christian: That's where I carry all my past sins and guilt.

God: Doesn't that weight slow you down?

Christian: Well, I guess you are right. I never thought about it before.

God: If you want to finish this race you have to throw off everything that hinders so you can run with perseverance the race marked out for you (Heb. 12:1).

Christian (setting backpack aside): Boy, that feels better!

God:
Are you ready now?

Christian:
Yes.

God:
On your mark, get set...  (Christian takes off running.)

God:
You started before I said "Go!" That's cheating.

Christian:
But I want to win.

God:
I have given you rules to follow so that you can finish the race.  You can try to break those rules, but it never turns out like you thought it would. That is why I discipline you — to keep you on the right path and to help you avoid the pitfalls of sin (Heb. 12:5-11).

Christian: You're right. I've tried cheating before and it isn't worth it, even if I do win.

God: OK, let's try again. On your mark. Get set. Go! (Christian takes off in the wrong direction.) Wait a minute! Where are you going?

Christian: I don't know. Does it matter?

God: Sure it does. You will never reach the goal of eternal life unless you know where you are going. You need to keep your eyes on Jesus. As long as you follow Him, you will reach your destination (Heb. 12:2).

Christian: OK, now I know where I am headed. Let's try again.

God: On your mark. Get set. Go!  (Christian starts in the right direction determined to finish the race. After a while he becomes tired and discouraged.) Look around you at all the other believers who have run this race. They are watching you and encouraging you with prayers.  You are not alone. Don't give up (Heb. 12:1).

8/19/2008 4:48:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 24: Challenges

August 13 2008 by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point

Focal passage: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

I read a story about a woman named Annie. She had no family, lived alone, and had worked for 30 years at the same job. Her only companion was her cat.

When one cat died, she got another. Every year she was given four weeks of vacation leave, but she had never taken it nor had she ever taken a trip outside the town where she lived.

Many of her friends had asked her to go on trips with them, but she always replied, "I can't leave my cat. He's never been outside the house for any reason."  

Finally, a few of her friends planned a trip, made reservations for Annie, and confronted her with a demand that she go with them. They even arranged for Annie's neighbor to take care of the cat.

Annie reluctantly agreed to go, but she gave explicit instructions to her neighbor: "Whatever you do, don't let my cat outdoors. He has never been out in his life, and he would not know what to do."

The neighbor heard nothing from Annie for two weeks, and then came a postcard which stated, "I am having a wonderful time. Please let my cat out."

Our lesson this week is on "challenges." Challenges inevitably demand changes. Unfortunately, we Baptists often find ourselves reluctant to change. The message of the church never changes, but the method for sharing that message must change as each new generation arises.

Several years ago an editorial in the Biblical Recorder caused me to change the way I was sharing the message of Jesus.

The article stated that since 1980 the population of North Carolina had grown by 29 percent but membership in North Carolina Baptist churches had only grown by 5 percent. Why? Many churches are not adequately prepared to transition to the challenges of the future. We do not effectively understand the cultural shifts that surround us, and, therefore, we have not learned how to focus our message and our ministries through the lens of culture. The need exists to offer the gospel through new and innovative ways.

Our willingness to change is almost always contingent on our willingness to trust a Lord who says "Behold, I make all things new." Faith is not a creed; it is a passion.

Our message is not a doctrine; it is a person. That person is our Lord. He is calling us to "follow me." If we can begin a new journey with Jesus, then we may also find the courage to "let the cat out."

8/13/2008 5:45:00 AM by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 24: A Confident Life

August 13 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 10:19-36

The audience addressed in the letter to the Hebrews would be very familiar with the story of Aaron's two sons who came to present "unauthorized fire before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1).

"So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord"  (Leviticus 10:2). For the writer of Hebrews to say, "we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place" was a powerful statement.  

I believe we have lost much of our sense of awe about God. Because we have reduced God into something far less than He is, we seldom think, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Our confidence to approach God must not come at the expense of His majesty and awesomeness.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in His holy place (Psalm 24:3)?  The passage for this week answers that question for us.

Those with a sincere heart — A friend pointed out to me the origin of the word "sincere." The Latin root words mean, "without wax."

Imperfect vessels were patched with wax, then glazed to cover the gaps and cracks in the surface. Vessels that had no imperfections were called sincere, meaning they needed no wax to prevent leaking. A sincere heart is a heart that is perfectly formed and shaped by the potter's hands.

God tells us that He will give us a new heart and a new and right spirit. These gifts come from our faith in Jesus as the atonement for our sins.  

Those in a caring community —
Imagine a person in an office building suddenly becoming aware of a commotion out on the street.  As she looks out her window she can tell that the people below are watching something in the sky.

From her location in the building she cannot tell what is causing all the excitement, but she knows there is something because the others see it. In those times when we get in a place where we cannot see God, we need to know there are others who still see His face and feel His presence.

Those who walk with God — You cannot walk on paths that lead to sin and still claim to follow Christ.  There is a difference between those who stumble on occasion and those who "deliberately keep on sinning."
 
An elderly woman was fond of saying, "It is no sin to have head lice. It is a sin to keep them."

8/13/2008 5:43:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 17: Opportunities

August 5 2008 by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point

Focal passage: Joshua 1:1-9

Several years ago, I saw a billboard on I-85 in Spartanburg, S.C., that stated: "Nursing: the opportunity that knocks twice."

I was never certain what that billboard meant because opportunity seldom knocks twice. If one ignores an opportunity, the next time it knocks, it is not an opportunity. It is an issue. Many Christians and churches close the door to opportunities because they are unwilling to take a chance. The Christian life is filled with new opportunities for witness, growth, progress, new life and hope. But opportunity doesn't always knock twice. Two words are very important as we face opportunities.

One dangerous word is tomorrow. Richard Crowder writes about driving through the mountains of North Carolina and hearing on the radio a stem-winding radio evangelist preaching on "Satan's Favorite Word." Crowder listened for 15 minutes as the preacher ranted about Satan's favorite word, but he never said what it was. Just as Crowder started to change stations, the preacher shouted, "Satan's favorite word is tomorrow. Satan would rather hear you say tomorrow than any other word in the English language."

The word tomorrow has a paralyzing effect on humans. The Bible doesn't have much good to say about tomorrow. In fact, the Bible warns about putting off until tomorrow what we should do today. If a person says tomorrow often enough, it becomes the only word he knows how to say.

The second wonderful word is now. The word now is used in the Bible 1,582 times. It almost always means the same thing: God's acceptable moment is now, and we have an opportunity, right now. If we do not act now, the moment may never come again. Yesterday is gone, and there is not one thing we can do to bring it back or to change what happened.

Tomorrow is not yet here. One can plan for tomorrow and dream about tomorrow, but what happens tomorrow largely depends on decisions that are made right now.

Joshua believed in the importance of "now." He led the children of Israel back into the Promised Land. Shortly after arriving, he gathered the Israelites at Shechem. His speech to them was bold. He told them of a new opportunity God was giving them, and then he spoke powerful and challenging words: "Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." He was not threatening them. He was setting before them a new opportunity. The God of the church is that same God.


8/5/2008 1:18:00 AM by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 17: A Maturing Life

August 5 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 5:11-6:12
    
These verses stir many questions about what it means to "fall away" (Heb. 6:6), and offers few answers to those questions.

The writer, however, does not want us to focus on concerns about falling away, but on confidence of attaining salvation (Heb. 6:9). Our confidence comes from a growing and maturing faith. Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas/Fort Worth, uses a table as a powerful visual to illustrate different levels of spiritual maturity.

One seat at the table is for the spiritually mature. These are the folks who understand that they are children of God who have been invited by His grace. You can identify the mature because they are the ones who know when it is time to push away from the table and serve. The writer of Hebrews says the mature, "by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish between good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). They are known by the "work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people" (Heb. 6:10).

You will also have spiritual toddlers who are learning the elementary truths of spiritual things. Toddlers are messy as they learn to handle things that are new to them. They ask a lot of challenging questions that do not always have simple answers. The key to recognizing healthy children, both physically and spiritually, is that they are growing and learning.

Spiritual toddlers are acting and talking more like Christ every day.

The illustration of the table is not complete without a high chair. Although infants are cute and adorable, there is nothing cute about a 50-year old infant. Picture a 250-pound man sitting in the high chair. Ed Young calls it the "I" chair. His cries are constantly, "I want my way," "That's my seat," "I don't like her." His legs do not touch the floor because he has no intentions of going anywhere. His arms are always reaching out, but they are seeking what others can give, not what he can offer. These spiritual infants require lots of attention from the spiritually mature, often draining them of time and energy that should be invested in others. It is often the behavior of the spiritual infants that turns seekers away from church and away from Christ. Only God really knows the heart of these people who bear no spiritual fruit.

Those who sit in the chair of the spiritually mature can be "confident of better things." Their hope is made sure as Christ lives and loves through them.

8/5/2008 1:16:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



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