Sunday School Lessons

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

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan. 25: Receive New Life

January 16 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Acts 16:13-18, 25-34

My wife, Sharon, has a special missional passion — the women of Jamaica, especially of the Elim community in St. Elizabeth’s parish. Through a former pastor in our association who has visited the Elim area numerous times, she took part in an evangelistic project. During the time of her first visit she heard the Lord speak to her about the women of Jamaica.

Since that first encounter, the Lord has continued to reveal deeper needs and challenges that make life difficult and at times dangerous for the women of this parish. I believe that Sharon’s “Macedonian call” was truly her “Jamaican call.”

Paul experienced such a call as he attempted to continue his missionary journeys. What began in one tenuous direction catapulted him in another direction — to Macedonia or Europe. Paul quickly obeyed the call and entered Philippi.

Three principle individuals embraced the gospel message. Interestingly enough, the first group to hear his message was women on a riverbank (there was no synagogue in the city) and his first European convert was a businesswoman (rare and expensive purple fabrics) named Lydia. In the text we find that she was a worshiper of God (a believer in the God of Israel). She had a listening heart, an open heart and a responsive heart. As an immediate fruit of her conversion, Lydia offered (urged Paul and the others to accept) her home in hospitality as the first church in Philippi.  

The second that possibly embraced the gospel (though we do not know for sure, though she was healed of possession) was another businesswoman, though of questionable employment — a fortune-telling slave girl. While Lydia had a listening heart, this young girl had an enslaved heart. With a word of authority Paul spoke and the girl was liberated.

In Jamaica, so many are enslaved. Many live day-by-day not knowing where the next meal will come from or how to respond to health challenges with no financial resources. Others are enslaved by the physical abuses of angry, belligerent partners and of unfulfilled promises made by addictions. Sharon has had the joy of seeing some break away from these heartaches and embrace the healing, liberating power of Christ.

The last reported individual in this text was a jailer doing his job as a public servant. After an unsettling earthquake that instantly shattered his world, he encountered Christ. Through the attitude of praise by Paul and Silas (even when unjustly imprisoned) and subsequent response to the jailer’s deep question of longing for a right heart, the jailer embraced the Lord Jesus. With a ready heart, he (and his household) received Christ.

Jeremiah expresses it best when he repeats the promise of the Lord: “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart” Jer. 29:13.

1/16/2009 4:58:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 18: Meeting God in the Temple

January 7 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 6:1-8

Nancy B Knott was my 9th grade English teacher. Mrs. Knott was a good teacher, but like most good English teacher she had some quirks. Her attendance policy was unforgiving, for example. But the thing I remember most about Mrs. Knott was the full week of class time we spent watching Gone with the Wind.

Now before you launch a “fire Mrs. Knott for wasting valuable class room time” campaign let me explain. Gone with the Wind is an important piece of American literature. Historians, folks who study literature, and sociologists all agree the statement of the work is a crucial part of America’s growing up after the wounds of war and the social injustices of slavery. But I digress. One reason Mrs. Knott had us watch it, at least so she said, was that “chivalry is dead.”

Mrs. Knott made it her goal to bring it back to life showing us what chivalry in the deep antebellum south looked like up close and personal for a week. Break from “real work” or not, the kids (me included) loved it. We may have started the week planning on napping and writing notes, but the picture captivated us and Mrs. Knott made her points. Not the least of which was the one about chivalry, as I believe I actually opened the door a time or two for a female classmate on the way out of 9th grade English!

To use Mrs. Knott’s point, while amending her words . . . “Churchmanship is dead.”

As a lifetime denominational servant, I won’t make many friends by saying that statement is especially true of those “in the church business,” but it is nonetheless true. But it is not just those of us who “do church” all week who fail to do it on Sunday, churchmanship is dead, or at least dying.

When Isaiah was called to be a prophet, that call happened in the temple. He literally “met God” in the temple. So much is made today of daily quite time, and personal devotion, and please hear me say the need for such exists, but there is also a need to be in church. We need the fellowship of other believers. We need to be in God’s house, among God’s people. We need to be involved in the doing, on a week-by-week basis, of church.

And that doesn’t mean just once a week, but all throughout the week. From Wednesday night prayer meetings to committee meetings and of course to Sunday morning worship . . . we must meet God in the temple.

1/7/2009 6:50:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan. 18: Show Fresh Respect

January 7 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Genesis 4:1-16, 25-26

The well-known account of Cain and Abel continues the biblical account of sin and its consequences upon humanity in its personal and spiritual relationships. Many cultures identify themselves historically in this tale of jealousy and murder. For example, in Rwanda and Burundi there are those who identify the primordial brothers as Tutsi (pastoral) and Hutu (agricultural) locked in eternal animosity and rivalry. In fact, the author was once told during the time of the Rwanda genocide that Tutsis could never be saved because reception of salvation required repentance and a Tutsi would never admit they were wrong.

Instead, the account is a picture of a culture that devalues life. Interestingly this “murder” occurs in the context of religious expression. The text states that both brothers respond to the Lord by presenting gifts (minha — a gift of homage or allegiance) from their labors — Cain’s fruit of the ground and Abel’s firstborn and fat portions. The Lord’s responses to the gifts were not over whether the particular offering was “blood” related or not, but over the individual’s heart attitude (In Deuteronomy 8 and following we discover that God has room for both). From the text, we find that Cain’s attitude is one of arrogance and deceit (1 John 3:12). There is a play on images in the Hebrew text in which Cain’s face portrays a frown and the Lord offers to lift it up or smile. Cain’s face gives him away and rather than discipline him, the Lord offers restoration if he would only experience a change of heart- like a loving father, the Lord points to his child a way out of danger. With verse seven, the reader and Cain are forced to recognize personal responsibility to actions of sin or the mastery of those acts.

Sadly, though temporarily oscillating between accepting or defying God’s remonstrance (D. Kidner), Cain cold-bloodedly murders his brother. As in the garden after the first act of disobedience, God appears immediately. Rather than “Where are you?” he asks, “Where is your brother?” Once more God offers repentance, but the violator responds “Am I responsible for my brother?” His lie is betrayed by the shout of his brother’s blood crying out from the ground. “What have you done?” and the hardened, impenitent heart discovers that “to destroy life goes far beyond man’s proper sphere” (Gerhard von Rad).

Thus, judgment must be more terrible because sacred life itself has been violated.

But, the last word is not Cain’s. He may protest the curse, but the Lord covenants with Cain His personal protection becoming His go’el (though separated from God remains under His salvific protection). Though the Lord is concerned with the innocent, He is also deeply concerned with the sinner.

The last word is not a tragic shedding of innocent blood. Instead, with the birth of another son, Seth, it is the buoyant shoot of spiritual growth as it begins to break forth and “people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

1/7/2009 6:49:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 11: Meeting God in Judgment

December 31 2008 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 5:1-13

In a not so previous life, many Biblical Recorder readers knew me mainly for my technical acumen.  From the voice behind and content creator of the “Cyber Tip of the Month” on UpClose, to a “church technology coach” many got to know me in that “more geek than I want to admit” role. Well, as hard as I try to shed the computer guy mantra, it seems to stick with me like flies on honey.

I must concede that occasionally knowing that techno-lingo pays off.  In computer programming jargon there is a term known as JIJO which means literally “junk in/junk out.” It is used by programmers to describe the actions of a computer when the underlying code on which it acts is bad. If the programming is bad then the computerís actions will be also. If you put junk in (by way of bad code) you’ll get junk out (in the resulting malfunctioning computer.)

As much as I try to move on, it just may be that old computer programming jargon has a place here. The prophet Isaiah speaks in the focal passage of a disappointing vineyard. In verse four of chapter five he asks why a vineyard produced the wrong kind of grapes. The answer is the old computer programmer mantra; junk in, junk out.

In the next two verses, Isaiah speaks of a field laid waste, burned and trampled. The prophet goes on to list various things from intoxicating drink to staying out all night as possible junk which causes the judgment to be harsh.  Each of us would have our own take on what is and isn’t junk here, but the truth is it varies from person to person. Of course there are some obvious things we might all agree on, but there are just as many we would argue. The point is to know what actions your intake are going to produce.

God is watching our actions, all of our actions; every single one. He is aware of everything we do. He alone stands worthy to judge us, and He in fact will. We need not to try and avoid God’s judgment, for it is unavoidable. Rather we need to be living lives that make the judgment of God a positive one. We must limit the amount of (all) junk which goes into our lives and bodies, so we can keep (any) junk from coming out.

12/31/2008 10:20:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan. 11: Discover Fresh Hope

December 31 2008 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Psalm 42:1-43:5


This one word seems to express that walled-up flood of turbulent emotions and piercing heartaches that opens up the worshipper to Book Two of the Psalter. This worshipper has been away from Jerusalem, the “wadi (spring of water in the parched desert)” of spiritual refreshment and has felt the estrangement deep within his/her very soul. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Like a gaping hole begging to be filled, the traveler seeks respite even in fragile memories of another day, a holy day of celebration and processions. But now, oh the drought … the depths!

The psalmist asks, “Why are you so cut down, O my soul, and why do you groan tumultuously deep within me?” The drought … the depths! Is there no hope? “Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” Vulnerable because of such thirst for God, he/she experiences the mockery and taunts of onlookers and the barrenness of the landscape. Is there really no hope?

Then in quiet refrain the worshipper responds “Hope in God: for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

With that comes the realization that though in danger of being permanently engulfed by the boiling, seething turmoil of wave upon wave of deep evil, his/her footing will not slip nor faith falter (even if forgotten by God (v. 9). Instead, hope in God … my salvation and my God. Why? “Because by day He commands His steadfast love and at night His song is with me…”

Psalm 42 defiantly asks twice (v. 5, 11) about the despair and tumult of apparent divine abandonment (v. 9) and turns to joyous memories of a better time. Now in Psalm 43 the question is affirmed with grateful confidence as the psalmist recognizes the situation and calls upon his God to send out His light and truth. “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause … Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me … to your holy hill and to your dwelling.” Instead of “why have you forgotten me?” the writer asks, “why have I forgotten you?”— He/she declares, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge.” There is hope! There is hope in spite of possible silence or even perceived rejection.

George Knight writes, “Hope is knowing that God is there and so hope means waiting for God. But hope arouses us to praise the God we are waiting for when we seem to have lost him from sight. Moreover, just doing so means putting out your hand into the darkness and finding it gripped by Another.”

As the hymnist has written,

“I’m overshadowed by His mighty love.
Love eternal, changeless pure.
Overshadowed by His mighty love
Rest is mine, serene, secure.”

12/31/2008 10:17:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 4: Meeting God in Renewal

December 23 2008 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 2:1-6, 13, 20-22

For some reason I always thought “new” was one of those words. Do you know what I mean? There are certain words which simply do not need a qualifier of any kind. Not some overused adverb or even a well placed adjective. There is no such thing as “very pregnant.”

One cannot be “seriously dead” as opposed to some other kind of not living state. What is the difference after all between new and brand new? And can something really be “new again?” Split the semantic hair with me if you must, but really isn’t “new” descriptive enough by itself? Aren’t things pretty much either new or old?

In church circles we don’t add a qualifying descriptive word to new, instead we add a prefix. (Of course we also often add a suffix, but the significant part is the “re” we put in front of new.) When we do, we are saying exactly that we are “new again.” Is this possible? More specifically, we talk of being made new again through some process of renewal that an encounter with the Most High God brings on. Back in western N.C. where I grew up, “a come to Jesus” meeting wasn’t exactly something you looked forward to, as it usually involved discipline of a parent, not coming closer to God.

We go even a step further. We speak of spiritual “mountain top experiences” and of having an “ah-ha” moment with God. We come down from, or out of such an experience with a renewed vigor in our daily Christian walk. Maybe the word fails us, maybe it isn’t exactly new again, but fresh or revived, but the point here is made.

When speaking of what one biblical commentator calls the “Future of the House of God” the Prophet Isaiah talks of many people coming and going up to the mountain of the Lord. The imagery is so real and is used to remind us that in our humanity, we do occasionally fall away from the high and lifted up place that should be our walk with God. We must then seek out ways we can see, as Isaiah labels it, the “glory of His majesty” as if viewing it for the first time.

We must, in our spiritual walks at least, constantly find ways to become new again!

12/23/2008 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 Jan. 4: Gain Fresh Perspective

December 23 2008 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Psalm 19:1-14

Immanuel Kant once wrote, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on these: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” The psalmist elucidates both points in this symphonic hymn of declaration and revelation. He moves from heaven’s “wordless” declaration of God’s glory (v. 1-6) to the clarity of the written word’s revelation of God’s grace (v. 7-10) and then personally responds in faith and humility (v. 11-14).

1) The wordless declaration of God’s glory. I find a breathtaking clarity in winter skies. The crispness of the air seems to purge away all unnatural impurities and effluence leaving only a crystal blue sky shouting out exuberant joy to its Creator. Each day irrepressibly bubbles over with expressions of praise to and reflections of God and His creative thoughts.

Hymnist Joseph Addison writes:

“What though nor real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found;
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine,
‘The hand that made us is divine.’”

2) The written revelation of God’s grace. Today the need for rediscovering the filial joy and wonder of divine relationship is essential as time for personal prayer and study is tested by mounting cultural and economic challenges. Undaunted by his own disheartening trials, the psalmist points to six components of divine revelation or encounter: the law (Torah) or God’s revealed will, the testimony (statutes) or truths attested by God in covenant, His precepts and commandments by which God addresses us, holy reverence (fear) in response, and His ordinances (mishpat) or judgments. Arthur Weiser writes, “For the poet the law is the point at which an encounter takes place with the living God who reveals himself in the law…” Thus through encountering God and His word of revelation the believer is embraced, redeemed and sustained.

In the face of divine revelation and glorious majesty, the worshiper moves not by a false pride but prayerful humility recognizing his/her inadequacy and assured by faith that each prayer will be answered by his/her Redeemer’s forgiving and preserving grace — “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer!”

12/23/2008 5:30:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Dec. 28: Faith

December 19 2008 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Hebrews 11:1-7

Faith may be the most clearly defined term commonly used in the religious vernacular. In the dictionary, regardless of which version you use, you’ll find common words used in the definitions like “belief” and “fidelity.” Most dictionaries have as many as eight definitions of the word! From hymns we hear that faith is “the victory that overcomes the world” and that “our faith looks up to God.” And of course there is Hebrews 11:1, giving as clear a scriptural definition as one will find for any word used in the Bible.

And yet do we really know what it is to have faith? I mean of course we do, but can we “define it” such that others, specifically those without it, can know what we mean? If we explain that our faith is “what we believe in” then a pastor friend of mine has an interesting exercise which makes my point. He says that trying to explain to someone what you believe, is like trying to describe yellow to someone born blind. You simply can’t. None of the terms we would use to describe yellow work for someone who has never seen. Light, bright, pastel — those things mean nothing if you were born blind.

It is a good thing that faith is the evidence of things not seen. Faith is not something we can adequately describe; it is something we live. Faith is not something we can properly delineate; it is something we use to subsist. Our faith is how we live, not some vague part of who we are.

Faith is one of those things that, for Christians, you don’t need eyes to know it when you see it!

12/19/2008 5:51:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

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