Sunday School Lessons

Explore the Bible Lesson for February 21: What’s the Sign?

February 9 2016 by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton

Focal passage: Matthew 12:38-42
 
All too often we go to God in prayer asking that He would move in a specific way in order to prove His commitment to our good. We may dress it up to make ourselves look more pious in the moment, but behind our prayers often what we are saying to God is, “Speak to me by answering this prayer in the way that I am asking. Show me a sign to prove you are with me and able to help me.”
 
Then we go looking for signs or feelings to see if God is answering our prayer.
 
In Matthew 12:38, the Pharisees approach Jesus similarly, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
 
They do not cover it up with pious language, they just simply admit, “we want a sign.” I am always astonished at this request. A sign? Really?
 
Jesus had already healed a leper (8:1-4), the Centurion’s paralyzed son (8:5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law, everyone from the city who had demons or were sick (8:14-17), two demoniacs from the Gadarenes, (8:28-34), another paralytic (9:1-8), a woman who had severe bleeding (9:18-26), a dead girl (9:18-26), two men born blind (9:27-31), a mute man (9:32-34) and the man with a withered hand (12:9-14).
 
What more could they need? What more could we need?
 
When we pray prayers that ask God to prove His love or commitment to us, we are acting more like this group of scribes and Pharisees than we are faithful followers of King Jesus.

Jesus answers them (and us) by saying there is only one sign needed for a person to know the love and power of God, and that is an empty tomb in the Middle East. Jesus is the truer Jonah who was swallowed by a more sinister grave only to return from the depths three days later.
 
So may we keep making bold requests to God in prayer, but let us do so because the only sign we need to believe in His good and sovereign rule over our lives has already happened – His tomb is still empty.

2/9/2016 11:23:38 AM by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for February 21: Distinct in My Reactions

February 9 2016 by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex

Focal passage: Matthew 5:33-42
 
The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.
 
However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.
 
Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.
 
Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?
 
Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.
 
In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.
 
However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.
 
In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.
 
If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.

2/9/2016 11:04:50 AM by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for February 14: An Open Invitation

February 1 2016 by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton

Focal passage: Matthew 11:20-30
 
One of the greatest dangers in the church is the temptation to confuse the gospel of Christ with pharisaical moralism. Pharisaical moralism says you need to conform externally to living a “good Christian life.” The gospel of Christ says you need to be transformed internally by God Himself.
 
Now of course we want to do what’s right and avoid doing bad things, but if one does the right things for the wrong reason, then it wasn’t really the right thing.
 
Isaiah captures the vanity of believing you can do good things to earn the favor of a Holy and Righteous God by saying, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6a).
 
The first words preached by Jesus in Matthew highlight the contrast between moralism and the gospel, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
 
The word “repent” demands that we first acknowledge our failure to be and do good. At first glance this seems like bad news.
 
However, the Good News of the gospel is only understood in the context of the bad news of our sin against God. We must first realize that not only are we guilty of doing bad, we are bad.
 
We must acknowledge that we can’t even live up to our own standards of goodness let alone the standards of God. And if we are honest, seeking to be a good Christian in our own strength is exhausting because we always fail to live up to God’s perfect standard.

All this sets the stage beautifully for Christ’s invitation in Matthew 11:28.
 
He invites those who have come to the end of their pharisaical moralism saying, “Come to me all who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
 
Repentance is refusing to rely on your own righteousness and running to rest in the righteousness of Christ. Come to Him all you who are weary, He will give you rest.

2/1/2016 11:09:30 AM by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for February 14: Distinct in My Relationships

January 28 2016 by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex

Focal passage: Matthew 5:27-32
 
Lust is not a new problem; it’s as ancient as the post-Eden condition. Human lust for covenant-breaking sexuality is rooted in the fallen passions of our heart (Matthew 5:27-28). However, the problem of lust has been exasperated in the age of the Internet beyond what anyone could have imagined. And while pornography is an issue of public morality, it’s often shrouded in the secrecy of personal privacy. Our sinful lust is easily fed by the Internet, which offers an easily found image, an easily accessible video.
 
Though no sin is safely hidden from the eyes of our Savior. Even more so, Jesus died to pay the price for our sinful indulgence of lust. Therefore, God takes the sin of lust seriously. And so should we. According to Jesus, indulged lust is equal to adultery. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). This is an issue of the heart.

Lust begins in the heart, the center of a person’s being. It is not enough to maintain physical purity alone, for many Christians adultery is easily avoidable. Jesus calls us to guard against engaging in lust mentally, a heart act of unfaithfulness.
 
The imagery of “tearing out one’s eye” is a deliberate overstatement to emphasize the importance of purity. Those claim to be children of God should be willing to go above and beyond in order to avoid becoming ensnared by sexual sin that finds its origins in the pits of hell. Lustful intent promises satisfaction, but delivers death. The pornography industry is empowered by the fires of hell.
 
Thankfully, in Christ there is salvation from the snares of indulged lust. Even more so, by the power of the Spirit, there is the offer of salvation from sinful patterns of unfaithfulness to God and one’s spouse.
 
The Good News of the gospel is that when we take sin seriously, God will deal with us graciously. In Christ there is true satisfaction of our deepest desires.

1/28/2016 11:01:00 AM by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for February 7: In His Service

January 26 2016 by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton

Focal passage: Matthew 9:35-10:8
 
Sometimes when I’m in public places, especially with big crowds, I like to sit down and “people-watch.” It is always fascinating to observe emotions and body language as people shop or move through a crowd to get to their desired destination. Some walk franticly, weaving in and out of the slow walkers. Others are texting and tripping all over everything as they walk – which can be especially fun to watch.
 
People-watching can sometimes be good, cheap and innocent entertainment. In Matthew 9:35-10:42, we see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, people-watching for much more than innocent entertainment. He looks upon the crowds and feels a deep and powerful combination of pain and love.
 
He feels compassion for the people because “they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus viewed people through the lens of their relationship to God. Then He turned and invited His followers to join in His mission to introduce the shepherd-less crowds to the Good Shepherd.
 
It never fails when I read this text that I am amped up and ready for Jesus’ mission strategy. How do we take the gospel to the masses? What’s the first step? Sell everything and move somewhere difficult? Open air preaching? Target the major cities? Go after the most intimidating ones first? – The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, so let’s get to work!
 
But then Jesus says, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I am always humbled and corrected by this first step in following King Jesus into His mission. He models and teaches the correct process for His followers.
 
First, we must see the crowds, then we must feel compassion because they lack Jesus, and next we must pray to the King who is sovereign over His army. See, feel, pray and then we are to go (10:1-42).

Let us keep people-watching, but let’s do it looking through the lenses of the Good Shepherd. Let’s live with open eyes, broken hearts, calloused knees and beautiful feet (Romans 10:15).

1/26/2016 10:45:46 AM by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for February 7: Distinct in My Approach to Conflict

January 26 2016 by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex

Focal passage: Matthew 5:21-26
 
Unresolved conflict is damaging to our soul. As Christians we know God calls us to pursue peace in our relationships. As Christians, we also know conflict in our relationships is to be expected. The doctrine of sin is most evident when we are angry at one another. The sinful nature of our hearts is often exposed by our thoughts, words and actions. Anger typically occasions a desire to damage or destroy another person. While we are called to love one another sacrificially, when conflict arises, we often lash out at one another relentlessly. Jesus says, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22).
 
While we all acknowledge unresolved conflict damages our souls, we often fail to recognize it is detrimental to our worship. In Mathew 5:23-24, Jesus teaches that if we intend to offer a gift at the altar of worship, when unresolved conflict is between us and another, we should first attempt reconciliation. This may seem like an odd command at first, but if we reflect on the nature of the gospel, this command is given context.
 
Aren’t we all, as Christians, recipients of God’s grace in reconciling us to Himself through Jesus Christ? Aren’t we the ones who have wronged God in unimaginable ways with our sin? Hasn’t God offered us grace when we did not deserve it? God offers reconciliation, when we deserve judgment. How can we come to the altar as reconciled worshipers of God if we are withholding the opportunity of reconciliation from another person?
 
If we have truly experienced the Good News of Jesus, we will see reconciliation with the person who has something against us is a gospel issue. What is interesting about this passage is that the one who initiates the reconciliation here is the one who has wronged the other person. God has taken initiative to reconcile us even when we did not deserve it. We must take initiative in conflict to be reconciled to those we’ve hurt, because they deserve it. This is the power of the cross.

1/26/2016 10:38:28 AM by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for January 31: Faith demonstrated

January 14 2016 by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton

Focal passage: Matthew 8:5-13
 
All too often we read the Bible through self-focused lenses rather than through God-focused lenses. We do this by reading a passage in light of the personal narrative of our lives rather than the meta-narrative of scripture. Often this causes us to miss the main point of a passage because we jump too quickly to personal application.
 
It is particularly easy to make this mistake when reading about the miracles that Jesus performs in the gospels. Matthew positions nine such miracles in Matthew 8-9. One might read of Jesus cleansing a leper, healing paralytics, curing a fever, calming a raging storm, casting a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, raising a dead girl to new life, healing a chronic bleeder, opening the eyes of the blind and the mouth of the mute, and then ask the question, “Why don’t we see these things happening more often today?”
 
To ask this question is to miss Matthew’s main point. These two chapters are organized like McDonald’s notorious hamburger, the Big Mac: There are 3 separate sets of 3 miracles (the bread of the Big Mac) and sandwiched in-between are two calls to discipleship (the meat of the Big Mac).
 
Matthew, as he does throughout this gospel, is organizing material in such a way that we see Jesus as the Authoritative King. When the Son of David speaks, creation obeys: diseases must leave, destructive storms must stop, demons must exit, death must let go and disciples must follow. This is what we are to see today as we read these texts: Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Authoritative King over all creation.
 
Therefore let us read these miracles and first rejoice that Jesus, the authoritative King, is the One who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
 
He is a trustworthy and powerful King who is able to defeat the great enemies that wage war against His people. Therefore, like the centurion, let us boldly and humbly present our requests to God believing that Christ is the King over all.

1/14/2016 10:44:08 AM by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 31: Distinct in My Influence

January 14 2016 by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex

Focal passage: Matthew 5:13-20
 
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, Christians are expected to live according to high moral standards. However, when we reflect on the ethic that Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount, it can be easy to fall into despair. Who among us can perfectly uphold these holy virtues? If we are honest, all of us fall short more than we’d like to admit.
 
The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus came to fulfill the totality of the law. In other words, where the Israelites failed, where we fail, Christ has perfectly lived according to every “iota and dot” of God’s perfect law.
 
Though our righteousness has not exceeded the Scribes and the Pharisees, His has. And it is through Him that we are able to enter the Kingdom of heaven by grace alone, through faith alone.
 
But do not be mistaken! Christ still calls His disciples to not only teach His commands, but also live according to His commands.
 
Jesus illustrates this point by using the examples of salt and light. Like salt, Christians are to preserve what is good, and season our lives for the good of the world. As a light to the world, God’s people are called to illuminate the world through good works that bring glory to Him.
 
This is a call for believers to live a life of worship in response to God’s saving grace.

The law is for our good because it shapes our life of worship to be offered as a sacrifice of praise. Christ did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it. He also empowers us to live out the law through His Spirit. Oh what amazing grace!
 
We live in a broken world where all that is good is being corroded away by sin. In His power, we are the salt that preserves God’s good presence to those around us.
 
We live in a dark world where the shadows of sin creep into every area of society. By His power, our lives illuminate the darkness, pointing others to find their way to the light of Jesus Christ.

1/14/2016 10:29:41 AM by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for January 24: Two paths, one choice

January 12 2016 by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton

Focal passage: Matthew 7:13-21, 24-27
 
Stephen Curry, the point guard for the defending NBA championship Golden State Warriors, is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in professional basketball history. Last season he set the record for three-pointers made in a season with 286. This season he is on pace to blister that record with a projected 326 shots from behind the arc. He played college basketball at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., where he attended a Bible study with some friends of mine, which makes his historic run all the more entertaining for me to watch.
 
What does all of this information about Curry have to do with the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? In the midst of Jesus’ invitation, he gives one of the most horrifying warnings in all of scripture.
 
He says that on judgment day many people who have performed many religious acts will be rejected because He never knew them.
 
I can tell you a lot of information about Curry. I can quote stats and tell you about mutual acquaintances, but if you approach the basketball star and ask him about me, he will have no idea who you are talking about. He does not know me.
 
In this warning, Jesus says that many people may know His “stats” as recorded in His Word. Many may have friends who know Him. Many may have done religious deeds, yet on judgment day many will find out Jesus never knew them.
 
Knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus.
 
Jesus concluded his sermon, not by turning down the lights and playing a powerful song so as to create an emotional moment, but instead by making it crystal clear that He is the one narrow way to enter the kingdom of heaven. He must know you.
 
Going to church, doing religious acts and knowing a lot about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus. Repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ alone is the only way to know and be known by Jesus. Therefore the most important question you could possibly answer is, “Does Jesus know you?”

1/12/2016 10:35:42 AM by Clint Darst, pastor, Freedom Church, Lincolnton | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 24: Distinct in My Character

January 12 2016 by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex

Focal passage: Matthew 5:1-12
 
Throughout the ages the Church has utilized Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to frame the Christian life. More specifically, one of the essential passages that the ancient Fathers of the church used to catechize new believers was the “beatitudes,” which are short statements that summarized the essence of that sermon. These statements are labeled the “beatitudes” from the Latin word beatus, which means “blessed or happy.” In other words, it is a state of living that is not marked by temporary and circumstantial happiness, but a deep joy that is rooted in one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

  • The poor in Spirit are blessed because they recognize their neediness for grace from God.

  • Those who mourn their sin, also recognize the comfort they find in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

  • The meek are blessed because they do not feel the need to assert themselves over others to get what they want, but find rest in God’s providential sovereignty over all events on earth.

  • Those who long for righteousness, find satisfaction in the deep wells of gospel empowered and Spirit reliant living.

  • The merciful are blessed, because they, after receiving mercy from God, can offer mercy to others freely.

  • The pure in heart are those who have seen God in Christ, and have received His righteousness as a gift in faith.

  • Those who make peace, (or seek the well-being of those around them) receive the blessing of giving the lost a picture of what is to come.

  • Even those who are wrongly treated and reviled are counted among the blessed, because their reward in the world to come is certainly worth the trials here.

This is a life lived in the power of the Spirit and in response to God’s blessing. We are doubly blessed because we experience God’s blessing in obedience (Luke 11:28; 1 Peter 3:9; James 1:22; Revelation 22:7). But even more so, obedience itself is a blessing! Which one of us would be able to live this way in our own power?

1/12/2016 10:30:54 AM by Matt Capps, pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex | with 0 comments



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