Sunday School Lessons

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

Formations lesson for Aug. 10: Risks

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

Focal passage: Genesis 11:1-9

Early in my ministry, my six-year-old son would get up early on Sunday mornings to go with me to church. One Sunday morning, on Johnson Street, we saw a stalled auto on the shoulder of the road with a driver at the wheel. I slowed but did not stop. At the next red light my son asked,  "Dad, what about the Good Samaritan?"

Without speaking, I began to compose, in my mind, a response about the risks of stopping to help strangers and of getting tied up on a Sunday morning when I had "church" things to do. And suddenly, we were at the church, and I never did answer his question. But neither did I forget it.

Ten years later, when my son was 16, I bought him a used car, and he suggested later that day that we go for a ride. We left the house and headed down Johnson Street. In the distance was a car parked on the shoulder of the road with flashers on.

As we got closer, he slowed down, then stopped and leaned over me to ask, "Ma'am, can we help you?"

"No," she replied. "I have called my husband. He is on the way."

That same light was red. As we waited, I glanced at him and said,  "Chris, you were right, and I was wrong."

He, too, remembered after 10 years, and suddenly the light changed, and we were moving again. He did not look at me, but he smiled and patted me on the leg. "Dad," he said, "sometimes you need to take a chance."

George Barna identifies three stages in the life of a church: risk-takers, when the church is young and growing; caretakers, when the church is older and works primarily through committees; and undertakers, when the church begins saying,

"We've never done it that way before." Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews had become caretakers and undertakers.

I am not one who likes to take chances. I like to do things that are familiar and safe. I don't eat escargot and squid. I never wear pants without a belt. I don't get on roller coasters. I do not rappel high mountains. I do not ride untamed horses. And
I do not stop and help a stranded motorist. But I repeat: my son was right and I was wrong. What he did was closer to conforming to the image of Christ than what I did.

If you are a Christian, sometimes you need to take a chance.

8/5/2008 1:12:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 10: A Faithful Life

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

Focal passage: Hebrews 2:14-18; 3:1, 5-14
There is an old saying, "Well begun is half done." Although this may be true, it is not the complete picture. Think in terms of a horse race, a work project, a novel or a Christian life. It is finishing well that really makes the difference. The writer of Hebrews offers suggestions for finishing well the race that God has called us to run.

Look to Jesus (Heb. 3:1)
Jesus is called the pioneer of our faith. He is the one who has gone before us and has remained faithful to the end. He not only showed us how to live faithfully, He also showed us how to die.

Because He was obedient to the point of death, God has lifted Him up above all others (Phil. 2:8-9). By keeping our eyes on Jesus we can find encouragement, "so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:3). It was when Peter took his eyes off Jesus that he began to sink in the water.

Learn from the Jews (Heb. 3:7-11)

The people of Israel were well on their way to the Promised Land. God had brought them out of Egypt and had opened a way for them to cross the Red Sea. When they came to the land of Canaan, however, their hearts became hard. They did not believe that God could empower them to overcome the enemy, so they turned away from God and from His promises.

"These things were written as examples for us." Imagine driving down the highway when suddenly the car in front of you drops out of sight. Surely you would have enough sense to stop and head in another direction.

Lean on each other (Heb. 3:13)
Remaining faithful is much easier when we are surrounded by others who are also seeking God.

Before I gave in to convenience and bought a gas grill, I always cooked on charcoal. I would pile all the coals together and squirt lots of lighter fluid on the pile. When the match hit the coals they would ignite into a roaring flame that quickly settled into a glow. As long as the coals stayed together they would grow hotter and soon be ready for cooking. If a coal rolled away from the pile, however, it would quickly turn cold and useless.

The same is true for us. When we are away from other believers, it is easy to "lose the fire." Our hearts become hard, and we become useless to the kingdom.

8/5/2008 1:09:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Aug. 3: Hospitality to Christ

July 16 2008 by Lamar King

Focal Passage: Matt. 25:31-46

Jesus prayed a dynamic prayer in John 17:24: "Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me ..."(NRSV).

This verse does not refer to hope in the eschatological vision of the church. Rather, this verse implies what Augustine of Hippo prayed in the fifth century: "Lord, help me to know where you are and what you are doing, that I may be there and doing that same thing."

Showing hospitality to Christ is being where He is and doing what He is doing in this life. But, it is more. A deep commitment to Jesus results in a spiritual bonding of the servant to His master. We become one with Christ as we open our lives in hospitality to Him.

Sugar, flour, oil, flavoring, salt and eggs can be stirred together, but this does not create a bond. Cake batter is a mixture of substances, but these substances have only been mixed. Bonding is caused by a chemical reaction, and chemical reactions need some kind of energy to start the bond. In cooking, the energy that bonds is heat. When heat is applied to cake batter, something new is formed. Cake batter plus heat is no longer a mixture. It is a new thing, a new substance.

When we are spiritually bonded to Christ, we become a new thing. The energy that forms this bond is the Holy Spirit, and this bonding occurs only as we open our lives to the dynamic power of the Spirit who creates something new. Many Christians miss the joy of salvation because they have accepted a spurious substitute for their unity with Christ. Christians do not want to merely "mix" with spiritual things. Christians seek to become one with their Lord.

A.W. Tozer addresses this issue: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority among the groups and people who call themselves by His name. The present position of Christ may be likened to that of a king in a limited constitutional monarchy.

The king in such a country is no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis, someone else makes the decisions.

Hospitality to Christ fulfills the promise that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).

7/16/2008 8:07:00 AM by Lamar King | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Aug. 3: A Focused Life

July 16 2008 by Jim Baldwin

Focal Passage: Heb. 1:1-6, 10-14; 2:1-4

The teacher had given her art class an assignment to draw anything they wanted to draw. As she walked around the room, observing their work, she stopped at the desk of a girl working intently on her drawing.

"What are you drawing?" the teacher asked.

The little girl replied, "I'm drawing a picture of God."  

The teacher, trying to be careful not to belittle the girl's efforts, responded, "But, honey, no one knows what God looks like."

The girl, now somewhat annoyed at the interruption, answered, "They will when I get finished!"

The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were Jewish Christians. As such, they would have had nothing depicting the likeness of God. God was too great to be captured on paper, canvas, wood, or even in the imagination of humans. Whether they admitted it or not, the people who received and read the letter to the Hebrews must have imagined what God was like.

We can know something about a person by the things he or she has made. From the works of great artists to crayon drawings on a refrigerator, art becomes an expression of the person who created it. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands (Ps. 19:1). God has revealed His power and divine majesty in His creation, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

We can know something about a person through the things he or she has written. The Bible was written so that we might know God and what He is like. "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (Jn. 20:31) Still we leave our Bibles on the shelf at home or on the pew at church. How can we know God if we do not study His word?

The writer of Hebrews makes his point when he says, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Heb. 1:2) God was not content to leave us to decipher the etchings of His hand in creation. He was not satisfied with a book that could be set aside and forgotten. He came to earth as a human being so that we might get to know Him face-to-face. Jesus said to those who would listen, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn. 14:9)

How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation (Heb. 2:3)?

7/16/2008 8:04:00 AM by Jim Baldwin | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for July 27: Hospitality to Newcomers

July 16 2008 by Lamar King

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 14:20-33

As a pastor who has moved several times, I know how good hospitality to a newcomer feels; but it is probably true that first-time guests in some churches do not always feel welcome.

Every human being has the same basic needs to feel affirmed and valued and welcomed into the lives of others.

Gladys, more than anybody else, helped me see this.  

Upon moving to Baltimore, my wife and I bought a lovely house with a needy yard. I was certain that no landscaping business wanted to provide "just a little help." With my well-rehearsed speech, I called a local landscaping business anyway.

"Hello, this is Gladys," said the receptionist.  

I explained my need to Gladys. "I've tried to improve my yard," I said, "but I have only made matters worse. I need some help, but I'm not ready to sign a contract, and I don't want to be pressured."

"Darling," she said, "what is your name?" I told her.

"Well, Sugar Pie," she continued, "ain't nobody here gonna take advantage of you. If they do, old Gladys is gonna do some neck wringing." I knew immediately that I was talking to a friend. I felt a warm welcome into her life and her business.

"Now, Sweetie, you don't have a problem," she said. "You have a friend. Baby doll, you let me send Tim over to take a peek, and if he don't treat you right, I'll come myself."  

Tim came and did a good job. I paid more than I had expected to pay, but it didn't seem to matter because, though I had only known her for 10 minutes, Gladys and I were dear friends. Soon enough, I realized that it wasn't Tim I really needed. It was Gladys, so I called her again.   

"Lord have mercy!" she wailed as I told her who I was. "Did Tim treat you unkindly, darling?"

"No," I assured her. "I just thought I might get Tim to help me with a second project."

"Well, Baby Doll, you tell me what you got in mind, and Gladys will work a magic spell." Her "spell" wasn't another contract. It was gracious hospitality.  

Every church needs a Gladys to affirm newcomers and to reassure them that they are important. Hospitality to newcomers must be sincere, but more than that, it must be warm and personal, and it must affirm the value and worth of visitors who are really guests, of our Lord.  

7/16/2008 7:58:00 AM by Lamar King | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 27: Just How Heavenly is Heaven?

July 16 2008 by Jim Baldwin

Focal Passages: Rev. 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5

John's description of heaven tells us more about what is not there than about what is there. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. There is no sun nor moon, nor night. There is no need for a temple because the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple. Our words are terribly inadequate to express the realities of heaven. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him (2 Cor. 2:9).

What we are told is that "They will see His face" (Rev. 22:4). John       Bunyan wrote in his classic work, The Pilgrim's Progress, "I see myself now at the end of my journey, my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon, for me. I have formerly lived by hear-say and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him, in whose company I delight myself."

Several years ago my brother-in-law helped open a new hotel in the Durham area. My family was invited to participate in the grand opening. It was a fancy affair and admission was by invitation only. As we walked across the parking lot we realized we had left our invitation at home. Fortunately, as we approached the doorman, we saw my wife's brother just inside the door.

"We're with him," we said, and he allowed us in. When we get to heaven we need only say, "We're with Jesus."

We try so hard to make ourselves worthy of heaven. We attend church, give our tithes and even study ahead for our Sunday School lessons, thinking that God will take notice and allow us into heaven.

The truth is that we do not qualify according to the standards of heaven. "Nothing impure will ever enter into it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful."

We all have impure hearts. We all have done shameful or deceitful things. The good news is not that God recognizes our goodness. The good news is that when we trust Jesus as our Savior it is His righteousness that God sees in us (Phil. 3:7-9). The only question God will ask us when we stand before Him is, "Do you know Jesus?" Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life will enter heaven (Rev. 21:27).

7/16/2008 7:55:00 AM by Jim Baldwin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 20: What's Up With Christ Coming Down?

July 1 2008 by Focal Passage: Rev. 19:6-9, 11-16, 19-21

Several years ago, at a Henry Blackaby conference, I heard Travis Cottrell sing a powerful praise song, "We Will Ride." The song ignited a passion in me for the return of Jesus. I hope it will help open up these verses about the return of Christ.

"He has fire in His eyes and a sword in His hand

And He's riding a white horse across this land

And He's calling out to you and me

'Will you ride with me?'"

After frightening images of beasts and dragons, of horsemen and prostitutes, finally we see Jesus, seated upon a white horse. All the multitude of heaven shout, "Hallelujah!" when He arrives. Although most of His contemporaries did not recognize Jesus when He walked on earth, there is no mistaking Him this time.

The first time He came riding on a donkey. Next time He will be riding on a white horse.

The first time He came on the dusty roads of Canaan. Next time He will be coming on the clouds of glory.

The first time He was followed by 12 men. Next time He will be followed by the armies of heaven.

The first time they spit on Him and mocked His name. Next time every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The first time they brought Him before Herod who sentenced Him to die. Next time He will sit on the throne, and He will judge all the nations.

The first time they asked, "Who is this man?" Next time they will all know He is King of kings and Lord of lords. It will be written upon His robe and upon His thigh, and all the angels of heaven will proclaim it.

The last stanza to the song says:

"That fire in His eyes is His love for His bride

And He's longing that she be with Him

Right by His side

And He's calling out to us right now,

"Will you ride with me?"

Whenever I officiate a wedding, I enter the sanctuary with the groom and the best man. We stand at the front of the sanctuary awaiting the bride's entrance. As all heads turn to watch the bride coming down the aisle, I watch the groom. I want to see the love in his eyes and the joy of knowing his bride will soon be with him. I envision Jesus standing at the gates of heaven, having defeated all His enemies, ready to receive His bride.

7/1/2008 5:48:00 PM by Focal Passage: Rev. 19:6-9, 11-16, 19-21 | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 6: Who's Really in Charge

June 18 2008 by Jim Baldwin, Focal Passage: Rev. 5:1-14

When my children were still young, they discovered the board game, "The Game of Life." As I watched them play for the first time I was totally confused. I could not figure out why they got so excited over a certain spin of the wheel, or why they had to hand over thousands of dollars.

You see, I had not read the instructions and did not understand the rules. It was all a mystery to me.

Many people find themselves feeling very much the same way about "real life." They feel like they are moving across a gigantic board where they are forced to make decisions and take steps, but they are not sure where they are headed nor how to get there.

As John steps into the throne room of God he sees the Lord seated on His throne and holding a scroll in His hand. The scroll tells of the coming judgment on sin and evil, but it also tells of God's protection over His people.

But the scroll is sealed, and no one on earth is worthy to open it. In this passage are the answers to some of life's questions.

Why can I not see God? John was told, "See the Lion." But he could not see a Lion: All he could see was a Lamb. Only when he was able to stop weeping could he see that the Lion and the Lamb were the same. It is normal and natural for us to grieve over loss and disappointment. But the Bible instructs us not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). I asked a somber young man one day, "How are you doing?"

"Pretty good, under the circumstances," he replied.

So I asked him, "What are you doing under the circumstances? We are told that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us!" We have to lift up our eyes so that, even through our tears, we can see Jesus.

Why does God not hear my prayers? John's vision of heaven makes it clear that God does hear our prayers. As the Lamb takes the scroll from the hand of God, the 24 elders present bowls full of incense, "which are the prayers of the saints." Even though you may feel that your prayers "never get higher than the ceiling," here we have confirmation that they rise up to the throne of God. Rev. 8:3 tells us that all of heaven stands still so that God can listen to your prayers.

6/18/2008 12:00:00 PM by Jim Baldwin, Focal Passage: Rev. 5:1-14 | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for July 6: Hospitality to Strangers

June 18 2008 by Lamar King, Focal passages: Job 31:16-23, 31-32

As a young minister, I willingly responded to transients stopping by the church seeking help. But, over time, my attitude radically changed. I started calling them "beggars." I became more like the priest and Levite and less like the good Samaritan.

I was very busy one Thursday morning when the call came: "Someone at the door wants to see the pastor." A man in dirty clothes said he was a concert pianist who had been ordered out of the house by his wife in Charleston, S.C., with only the clothes on his back. He was hitchhiking to Salem, Va., to live with his son until he could get back on his feet. I suspected he was lying.

I had profound respect for concert pianists. Concert pianists don't beg. He waited in the lobby while I fixed him a ham and cheese sandwich. When I handed it to him, I expected him to leave and let me get back to my work. To my dismay, he opened the bag and began eating the sandwich. When he finished, he said, "I want to give you a gift." He asked if he could use the piano in the dining room close by. I insisted that he leave, but he walked into the dining room and sat down at the piano. He played classical music as well as anyone I have ever heard. He was brilliant.

Members of a committee meeting nearby heard the music and interrupted their meeting to come out and listen. We sat there spellbound for at least 20 minutes. When he finished, we gave him a standing ovation. As I walked with him to the door, I said, "I am so sorry." "Why?" he asked. I replied, "Because I treated you like a beggar, and you are not one." He said to me, "But I am a beggar." And, as he walked away, he said to me: "You should treat every beggar as if he were a concert pianist, and if you don't, you're not much of a Christian."

My life and my witness fundamentally changed that day. I resolved never again to forget that every human being has equal worth and equal value.

The biblical call to extend hospitality to strangers does not preclude being cautious. But, in our zeal to protect our lives and possessions, let us not overlook one of God's most wonderful blessings. One never knows when offering hospitality to strangers may also be an occasion for "entertaining angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

6/18/2008 12:00:00 PM by Lamar King, Focal passages: Job 31:16-23, 31-32 | with 0 comments

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