Sunday School Lessons

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

Formations lesson for Feb. 22: When Disaster Threatens

February 10 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: 2 Chronicles 20:1-12

I am very aware of the admonition against adding to or taking away from scripture. This is meant to be neither. However, I think the first word in verse 9 of the focal passage really could be changed. If disaster comes? Shouldn’t that be when?

Open the paper, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or log onto any news site on just about any given day and you’ll see all the disaster your eyes can handle.

From natural disaster to war and strife brought on by people’s actions to each other, it seems to me that in discussing disaster, we are almost always talking “when” and not “if.” I have a pastor friend who says if life hasn’t rained on your parade yet, you haven’t planned enough parades.

Disaster happens. It is our response to disaster then that is significant here.

In this passage, the people of Judah sought help from God for the impending disaster. And they believed.

They believed God would cause them to withstand whatever disaster came. Verse 20 reads in part: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established, believe in His prophets, and you shall prosper.

When disaster threatens, believe in God.

Believe in Him and the disaster will not be able to shake you.

Believe in His word and you will flourish. This is easy to say, but it can be harder to do.

Disaster — even the threat of it scares us. We want God to stop disasters, not walk with us through them. We want God to help us avert disaster, not help us pick up the pieces when it happens. But God doesn’t always do it the way we think He should. And so we see disaster of all types and kinds. And we know God will be with us when it comes.

Disaster strikes and it is not always a complete loss. Albert Einstein once said that there is some good in disaster, in that all mistakes are wiped out. That is true, and is good news I suppose, but as Christians we have better news. God is with us when disaster strikes. All we have to do is believe in Him and take Him at His word.

2/10/2009 4:31:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life for Feb. 22: Praying for Others

February 10 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: John 17:9-19

One of the greatest privileges I enjoy as an associational missionary and as a participant in mission projects to Quebec and Jamaica is that of intercessory prayer. At times I am daily visited by fellow believers and congregational leaders burdened with concerns and issues that often fall outside of our accumulated wisdoms and resources.

Usually a soft unspoken prayer begins these precious encounters and a joint prayer ends each session. Rather than be a polite acknowledgement of closure, prayer is that passionate recognition that the redeeming of each situation is possible alone through our Lord.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace. Then, everything about other people that repels me falls away.”

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus warned his disciples that he was going to leave them. Recorded in John 17, we have the true “Lord’s Prayer.”  Here he prays for his disciples and those who would follow in faith (in the future). Here Jesus literally brings them (and us) into the very presence of the Father only moments away from being betrayed, arrested and crucified.  

In His conversation with his Father He recognizes that though He will be away from His disciples they must remain and live out His presence daily and faithfully. He thus prays for their victory over the world rather than an easy escape from the world.  He prays that they with all who would follow be united — “May they be all one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (17:21, 23 NJB).  He prays for their protection- “protect them from the Evil One” (17:15 NJB). And he prays for their consecration (17:17-19): set apart for a special task as his representatives to the world, and set apart to a special equipping to that task — “Consecrate them in the truth, your word is truth.”

Whenever my wife, Sharon, leaves the women of Elim Church in Jamaica and the special friendships of merchant women in the Montego Bay market area to return home, she asks them what to pray about for them.  Each time she receives a plethora of burdens and blessings.

One asked for prayer for a possible cancerous growth, another for a straying child, and still another for God’s visible manifestation for their village or parish. Never is it for financial benefits or economic status — it is for the saving, gracious presence of the Lord.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).

2/10/2009 4:29:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 15: When Doing Right Brings Hardship

February 2 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

She had a flat tire. I realize you are going to ask if I really call that hardship. Well, not exactly and certainly not in comparison to the “real” hardships so many go through, especially in these days and times. But my friend was on her way to serve a meal at the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter when her left front tire blew out. Fortunately, there was not an accident, she was not hurt, and her car was not damaged beyond the tire, so again, I concede that calling this “hardship” is a bit of a stretch. She did have to get out of her car and change the tire before continuing on to do the service she felt called to. And so you can understand, if my friend, or someone in her shoes, would want to turn her face skyward and ask a question; “A flat tire on my way to serve at the homeless shelter?”

If the age old question is why bad things happen to good people, then the follow up question has to be what happens when doing the right things doesn’t have the proper effect.

And of course, immediately we see an issue. Whose perspective are we using when measuring what is “proper” or right?  

In the focal passage, the very first verse puts that into context for us.  Our treasure, the scripture says, is in “earthen vessels.” The Apostle Paul, writing here to the church at Corinth, makes a clear distinction between the human and the Divine, between the temporary and the eternal. Paul suggests that when viewed in this context, our “afflictions” are light, and last for only a moment. Interestingly, never is there even a hint that hardships won’t come, but rather that when looked at through the lens of God’s eye (as best we can anyway) we will see them differently.

My friend continued on her way that night, she changed the tire, and got to the shelter before her food was even cold. She met me and a few others from our Sunday School class, and we served many. She was a little late, and I think the grease and dust on her face wasn’t exactly a look she was going for. But standing there, serving those less fortunate, all of a sudden, her perspective changed. She was grateful instead of angry. She saw the affliction of a flat tire for what it was, temporary. And she knew that her service was of much more importance.

2/2/2009 8:12:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 15: Pray in Jesus’ Name

February 2 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: John 14:12-14; 15:14-16; 16:23-26

What’s in a name? I am named after my father and our son, Marcus, is named after my wife’s great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War and was a member of one of local churches in the 1850’s. In Rwanda and Burundi (as well as other African nations) when an individual becomes a Christian, he or she receives a new name signifying the new birth they have experienced.  

Names are more than identifying labels we place upon one another. They serve as a part of “who we are” — our personality marker. It implies an individual authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence and attributes. According to Hans Bietenhard, “The name carries will and power.”

Knowing His name is important. The Lord promises to respond when He is properly called upon. His very name is a gift of revelation and not an instrument of incantation (Bietenhard). Use of His name implies faith in Him and His power; it is a pledge of His saving presence and denotes His glory.

In the gospels, the name of Jesus denotes His divine purpose and mission. He is Immanuel — “God with us.” His name, Jesus, means “Yahweh is salvation, or Savior.” According to Bietenhard, to pray in His name (according to His will, on His commission, and with invocation of His name) is to believe that Jesus has come from the Father and that the Father hears each prayer for His sake. To pray in Jesus’ name is to become an active part of His mission.

To pray in Jesus’ name is to experience two important truths: first, it is to recognize that Jesus is present among the pray-ers. The works that He has done will be done and greater works still by those who abide in Him. Praying in His name recognizes His continuing presence among believers. Secondly, praying in His name recognizes that Jesus continues to powerfully intercede for those who pray. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him; Jesus is returning to the Father (John 14:12; 16:5) and now “anything you ask from the Father He will grant in my name” (16:23).

I was returning from teaching in Brazil and wanted to change my plane seat. When I spoke with the clerk I did not receive much help. But when I asked to check the status of my “Sky miles,” the clerk suddenly treated me differently — I was a part of the family and now better seating miraculously appeared. It was only when I asked in the name of that particular airline that I was empowered to enjoy and receive special attention.

When we pray in the name of Jesus, according to His will and His commission, we can expect an answer. As Barclay writes, “The prayer which can stand the test … in the end says, thy will be done, is always answered.”

2/2/2009 8:10:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 8: When All Seems Lost

January 28 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

The focal passage of scripture for this lesson is a letter, written by Jeremiah to a group of people who were being “carried away in captivity” from Jerusalem. The King, Nebuchadnezzar, has had the elders, priests, and prophets all carried away into captivity. Now the working title of the lesson is when all “seems” lost.  I am not sure about you, but for me, once the carrying away begins it isn’t a “seems” situation any more. Nope, at that point we have crossed over to the “all is actually lost” arena.

The word of the Lord, as delivered by the prophet is almost a “don’t panic” message. God insists that the children of Israel build houses, take wives, beget sons, and seek the peace of the city they are being carried to. I expect this message wasn’t met with a hearty “you betcha.” If I had been among them, I’d have been screaming that it was exactly the time to panic.

All seems lost? No all is lost, and the word of the Lord is “don’t panic.”  Recent days and times from financial markets to the housing situation show an “all is lost” state of affairs. We don’t want people to tell us not to panic; we want them to give us a reason we shouldn’t. In the matters of finances and housing, that isn’t happening. In fact we are being told the worst may be yet to come. All is not only lost, but some of what might have come to us eventually is now being lost too.  

But with God, it is never quite this way.

You see what we must realize is the fallacy in my earlier presumption, that there comes a point at which we cross over from all seeming to be lost, to where all actually is. With God all is never lost. With God there is always hope.

In verse 14 of the focal passage, God’s words are words of that hope. I will gather you back together, I will bring you from the far place, I will be found by you . . . not I might, not I could, but I will: A definitive statement from which we must take hope. Even when all seems lost, it isn’t. Even when all feels lost it cannot be, not with God.  

When all seems lost we must only remember to turn to the God of hope, with whom all is never lost.

1/28/2009 3:00:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 8: Pray Persistently

January 28 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 18:1-8

Concerning prayer, Kierkegaard tells the following story:
An ancient pagan, who in pagandom was renowned and praised for his wisdom, sailed on the same ship with a wicked man. When the ship was in distress the wicked man lifted up his voice in prayer, but the wise man said to him: “Keep quiet, my friend; if heaven discovers that you are on board, the ship will go under.”

French philosopher/theologian Jacques Ellul once wrote, “Faith is not a place of refuge for passive souls; it implies the will to change the world.” Faith lives in the language world of risks and courage. It is best seen in our individual prayer expressions.

We pray prayers of burdened requests and impassioned pleas. Our prayers are in effect longings for divine activity and alteration in those events that appear hopeless and pointless (whether it be illness, economic instability or guidance). Enveloped by a sense of abandonment we pray for intervention and respite.

Sadly, our prayers can become self-contained rather than kingdom-focused.

Today’s lesson examines the faith and persistence of two women.  One is described as a “Canaanite,” and the other a Jewish widow. The Canaanite woman came from a culture renowned for its wickedness and depravity. She was not a Jew or proselyte of the Jewish faith, yet she recognized who Jesus was.  With the little light she may have possessed, she exercised “great faith.” Against all odds, she persisted courageously and humbly, reverently and respectfully seeking a miracle from God. She wanted her world (and that of her sick daughter) changed, even if all that remained were the leftover crumbs of the gospel — that was more than enough!  

The second woman was a widow seeking redemption and vindication (over a legal matter) from a very unsavory judge. Poor and defenseless, her only resource was uncommon persistence. She would not give up, regardless of the cost of time and energy. Her persistence was as intense as a “punch in the face” (the judge feared that she would exhaust or give him a black eye if he did not respond to her). Of such is the kingdom of God, for “it is necessary always to pray and not to lose heart.”  

“But when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?” That is, when he comes will he find a people risking all for the sake of the kingdom, trusting the Lord’s answer knowing it means courageous change and not passive refuge?

1/28/2009 2:59:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 1: Meeting God through Worship

January 21 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 12:1-6

She was “pretty sure” she left it on the counter in the dressing room.  

“Pretty sure?” I asked.

“Well kinda pretty sure,” my nine-year-old daughter responded.

We had finished a show of The Nutcracker that she and I both were in and she had taken her latest handheld video game to play during the “down time.” Knowing how much that game console cost, I wanted to make sure we got it back. We had turned around after only a few minutes on our way home from the theater, and when we got back, the stage doors were still open. She ran in, and I waited. And waited . . . and waited. The longer I sat the more I was sure we weren’t going to find the video game on the dressing room counter no matter how “pretty sure” we were we had left it there.  

Sure enough in a few moments more, my daughter walked out, tears in her eyes and said that she couldn’t find it. I did my daddy-best to console her, but I wanted her to learn a lesson at the same time. I took her for an ice cream and we sat and talked about responsibility, consequences, and how she might earn enough to replace the now lost game system. As we left the ice cream shop, my daughter turned and said, “Daddy, even if you are disappointed in me, I still love you. Thank you, Daddy, for helping me through this.”

Of course I melted, but that isn’t the point. In Isaiah 12, the prophet speaks of praising God because even though God was angry, He turns it away to comfort His children. We are to praise God at all times. We will, inevitably, disappoint Him. It is our condition as humans. But even in that forgiveness needing state, we must praise.

The next night, one of Grace’s friends and fellow performers came running up to her as we approached the theater. Seems she had mistakenly picked up Grace’s game, and was delighted to return it. Grace’s eyes filled up with tears, and she was as relieved as I have ever seen her. But she came to me and said, “Daddy, I am glad we found it, I really am. But thanks for letting me know things would be OK if we didn’t.”

Isaiah says that the “Holy One of Israel” who is in our midst is great. He is, and it will be OK. But we should offer Him praise even when our feeble minds can’t figure out how it will be.

1/21/2009 5:19:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 1: Pray Confidently

January 21 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Psalm 86:1-13

Last October I was part of a mission project in the small community of Elim in St. Elizabeth parish of Jamaica.  The main objective of the project was to provide health education and blood pressure analysis for one of the most poverty-stricken areas on an otherwise Caribbean island paradise. With a healthcare focus the team also provided preaching, counseling and Bible teaching.

One of the images that stand out most vividly is the experience of worship. At each service the congregation would sit quietly until “the moment” at which time the worship leader began to sing and they would join in (unaccompanied by musical instruments). The songs would express  heartfelt burdens and prayers to the Lord rejoicing in assured answers and hope. The team witnessed a people deprived of all physical and material resource confident in the spiritual (and physical) resources that only Creator and Covenant God could provide. Like their songs, their prayers continued that intimate conversation of confident trust and humble conviction.

Psalm 86 reminds me of the Jamaican believers. Unlike many psalms in the Psalter, 86 is a unique statement of confident faith in the face of doubt and immediate threat. According to George A.F. Knight, almost every line of this psalm is a quotation from the other psalms or from the Torah (there are around 40 quotations). Yet, the true purpose of the poem is to deliberately praise the Lord. It is a medley of remembered songs and promises that come to mind “in the day of trouble” even when there is no sign of an answer, “You are my God.”

David is alone and seemingly helpless — “poor and needy.” Though consciously aware of his own failings, he still knows and asserts that “You are good and forgiving, abounding in love to all who call on you.”  “Overwhelmed with his trouble” (Knight) he clings to the very hem of God’s presence because he knows that God answers and comforts.

How does one respond when God manifests His presence and grace?  “Teach me your way, O Lord” in order that I may manifest fidelity even as you are faithful. He prayerfully asks, “Unify my heart, though disintegrated by sin and doubts, to fear your name!” David is asking (like our Jamaican family) for a God-given and God-bathed beginning to his (and their) crumbling world. “Show me a sign … because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”

“Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite” (Thomas Ken).

1/21/2009 5:17:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 25: Meeting God through the Spirit

January 16 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 11:1-9

“How much do you trust the Holy Spirit?”

I wasn’t even sure I heard the question right or not, but either way I had no answer. I was with a group of people from my church at a retreat weekend that was supposed to be about church growth and avoiding a decline, or ending a plateau on which so many churches like ours sit. We were supposed to be talking demographics and socio-economics.  How much do I trust the Holy Spirit? What kind of question was that?

Well, a really good one actually. You see the way we meet God in our world is through His Holy Spirit. We need to know how much we trust this Comforter of God.  

In Isaiah, we find that the “earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” through the Spirit.  

Normally, talk about “spirits” and “ghosts” makes us nervous. It leaves too many things open and leaves our belief subject to the mystical whims of any who claim to see or hear from such.  How do we know when the “Spirit” we are dealing with is that of God — when it is the Holy Spirit? Well the prophet says that if the results of communication through the spirit are righteousness, that is a good place to start. He uses words like faithfulness and might. He speaks of this Spirit as being “the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”    

Perhaps not as concrete a definition as we might hope for, but not completely ambiguous either. When we meet God through the Spirit, we meet righteousness face-to-face. When we go to God through His Spirit, we come in contact with the fear of the Lord.  

Isaiah spoke of a branch of the root of Jesse, which of course we know was and is Jesus. And when Jesus spoke of giving us a means to God, He spoke of a Comforter. There is no science to it. There is no exact way to know.  It is almost something you just have to feel.  

And something we must trust.  

How much do you trust the Holy Spirit?

Enough to come to God through it alone?

1/16/2009 5:00:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

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