July 2015

Explore the Bible Lesson for August 16: Redeeming the Judgment

July 30 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: Revelation 9:1-12
From August to October we are typically on high alert for hurricanes – especially those who live closest to the coast. We track storms, and when a warning is issued that one may make landfall people respond. Grocery stores run out of batteries, bread, milk and water. Generators become difficult to find. Gas stations fill with cars. No one wants to be surprised and unprepared.
This passage is a warning about something coming that is much more terrifying than a hurricane. If you are not prepared for the coming judgment of God, there will be no escape.
Revelation 6-9 is about the opening of the seven seals of the scroll that Jesus received from His Father in chapter 5. Each one describes a particular expression of judgment during the end times. The seventh seal is described in chapters 8-9. It contains seven trumpets blown by angels to announce specific judgment. These terrors mirror several of the plagues in Egypt during the Exodus, except they are global in scope.
All the expressions of God’s judgment are powerful and terrible. For instance these locusts after the fifth trumpet with helmets and breastplates, faces like humans, teeth like lions and stingers like scorpions will inflict pain so bad that people would wish they could just die.

However, there are two things worth noting.
First, those who are sealed by the Holy Spirit will not suffer this brutal punishment. Jesus paid our penalty and preserves us from the wrath of God. Second, God demonstrates his love by issuing the warning. The trumpet is not the first warning. Revelation (and many other prophecies in scripture) is intended to warn all people of the coming judgment.
Many scholars have helped us see that seals have been broken and, though we cannot know exact dates, the time is near. Let’s be prepared for our redemption and sound the trumpet through our witness that the judgment we deserve is coming, but “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). Be prepared, not by running to the stores, but by trusting in the Savior.

7/30/2015 11:19:17 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 16: Return to Unity

July 30 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Acts 4:31-37
Growing up as a teenager in the church, I frequently found myself in an uncomfortable position. I knew intellectually that my fellow church members were my brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we shared a special bond. Despite knowing this, however, there were numerous occasions when I couldn’t help feeling as if I’d rather not have any kind of bond with a particular brother or sister.
Why did they have to be so weird? Why couldn’t they be more like my cool friends?
Sadly, I was missing a hugely important implication of the gospel. There might not be any way around the fact that a certain brother or sister was quirkier than I would prefer, but the wonder of the church is not that it is the most comfortable and homogenous social experience around. What is wondrous about it is that radically different people from all sorts of backgrounds now shared a spiritual and eternal unity, not based on common interests or heritage, but based solely on the blood of Christ.
Acts 4:31-37 beautifully illustrates a central gospel truth: as we are restored to God, we are restored to each other in unity and purpose. Sin alienates us from God and fellow man, but the gospel remedies both. We cannot experience love and unity with Christ divorced from love and unity for our brothers and sisters.
The church in Acts shows us that this unity is rooted in a common focus: namely Christ and His mission in the world. This unity finds its expression as we share with and sacrifice for one another out of a common love from and for Christ.
Reflect on the attitudes and patterns of your life. Are you marked by a bond with other believers that is rooted in what Christ has done and aimed at advancing His Kingdom on the earth? Or is your “unity” just a thinly veiled form of showing favoritism for those who are like you culturally? Are you marked by sacrificial generosity toward your brothers and sisters or do you hold tightly to what is “yours”?

7/30/2015 11:13:19 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for August 9: The Worthy Lamb

July 28 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: Revelation 5:1-14
Perhaps you have been to an exciting ball game on the weekend. Then, on Sunday, gathered for worship and were disappointed because the celebration seemed pale in comparison.
Why should this be? I’m not suggesting worship at church should look like Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, but don’t we have something worthy of greater celebration than a successful basketball program?
In this passage John describes worship as it will be for all of eternity. The scene is inspiring on the deepest level when you picture the Father on His throne, and the Lion-like Lamb who is the only One worthy to carry out God’s final judgment and redemption. Heaven erupts in celebration of Jesus as the four majestic creatures and the elders surrounding the throne worship Him, joined by millions of angels and ultimately everything in creation.
Doesn’t it seem that we have more to gain from the sacrifice of the Lamb than all the heavenly beings? We are the redeemed and have the greatest cause for celebration. The more we understand redemption, the greater our worship will be.
Let your heart be filled with a sense of Jesus’ worth with the following illustration of what He has done for you.
A boy once captured some birds and put them in a cage. A man saw the boy carrying the cage and asked what he was going to do with the birds.
“Oh,” the boy replied, “I’m going to play with them for a while and then feed them to my cat.” The man looked at the caged birds and took pity on them. He offered the boy a price that the he couldn’t pass up.
After purchasing the cage of birds he immediately opened it and set them free.
That’s what Jesus did for us. Satan had us caged and was going to feed us into the jaws of eternal death. But Jesus purchased us, cage and all, and set us free.
In heaven, He bears the marks of the price he paid, and is worthy the eternal outpouring of worship from everything in heaven, on earth and under the earth!

7/28/2015 9:41:55 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 9: Return to God’s Word

July 28 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Nehemiah 8:1-8
Do you struggle with reading your Bible consistently? When you do get around to reading it, do you find your mind wandering, unable to focus on the words before you? Why do we often have such trouble being captivated by the very words of God?
In this passage, we see a very different response from the Israelites to God’s Word.

Specifically, we find three components of how the Israelites responded to the Word of God that we can apply to our own encounters with God’s Word.
The first component of a proper response is to be attentive to God’s Word. Are we approaching God’s Word with an attitude of expectation and a genuine desire to hear what God has to say? Too often we simply try to squeeze a pithy verse into an already busy schedule, as if this was a serious or worthy attempt at hearing from God. Instead, should we carve ample time and ready our hearts to hear what God is saying in the words of scripture?
It is not enough to hear God’s Word, however. As Jesus points out in John 14:15, those who truly love Him obey His commands. The Israelites responded to the reading of the Word in worship. Worship is an appropriate response after God has spoken, but we must be careful not to confuse lip service with worship. Worship does not end with our words, but carries over into our actions. To worship God is to obey what He commands in His Word.
One final takeaway from the Israelites’ response is found in verses 7-8. Notice, they studied God’s Word. It was necessary that some who were more skilled and well-versed explain God’s Word to others.
We should not be lazy or complacent in our approach to the scriptures. We must study them diligently. Spiritual growth and intellectual engagement are not mutually exclusive. Let’s approach the Bible with the weightiness, seriousness and rigor that is appropriate for the very Words of God. Don’t neglect the Bible; God’s Word is the fuel for a consistent godly life.

7/28/2015 9:34:04 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for August 2: Glimpse of the Throne

July 16 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: Revelation 4:1-11
John Piper tells a story of when he preached about the holiness of God without giving any application. He usually tries to be practical in his preaching, but on this occasion he wanted to see if portraying the greatness of God would meet the needs of his people.
He says, “I didn’t realize that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under the message. I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said: ‘Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?’ Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after a service. ‘John,’ he said, ‘these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on.’”
Jesus knew what the persecuted Christians in the first century needed was a glimpse of the greatness and holiness of God.
They didn’t just need practical steps for various circumstances of life. More than that, they needed to understand that God is majestically seated on His throne and holds the unfolding history of the world firmly in His hands. They don’t have to fear their adversaries. They just need to rest in the comfort of their glorious Father.
Today in America resistance to God’s Word seems to be increasing, and there are lots of questions about what impact this will have on our churches. Rest in the fact that no court and no government can remove God from His throne! Let’s join in heaven’s celebration and worship our thrice holy, almighty God. He created all things, and all things exist to accomplish His unstoppable plan.

7/16/2015 11:51:06 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 2: Return to Prayer

July 16 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Nehemiah 1:3-10
Every now and then we hear a statistic about what percentage of Americans say they pray with some degree of regularity. Frankly, I’m usually shocked that the number is that high, but when we stop to consider what passes as prayer, the number seems less surprising.
Sadly, many of us see prayer as a time to update God on our wishlists. Our primary attitude when it comes to prayer is one of demands and wish fulfillment.
But what if our attitude toward prayer was different? What if we took our cue from the Lord’s Prayer, seeking that His kingdom come and His will be done? Nehemiah gives us an excellent example of this. Notice that God-focused prayer does not exclude asking God to act or to provide. Yet God-honoring prayer does not treat Him as if He were a cosmic wish-granter.
Nehemiah’s prayer recognizes the trouble and distress that has come upon God’s people. Our own prayers must do the same. Prayer does not neglect or ignore the reality of trials and suffering, it recognizes this reality and brings it to the Lord. This is the Christian response to distress. We turn to God in prayer, casting our sorrows and burdens upon His sovereignty and mercy. Take note here, because this is central: The way forward for the believer is not through instinctive action.
The way forward is to retreat into prayer and seek the Lord’s face.
We should also note from Nehemiah’s prayer that an honest assessment and confession of sin is integral. It is not likely that we will come to the Lord in prayer without any sin to confess, but by Christ’s redeeming work, we can confess it, repent and turn from it and be restored. May we seek the Lord in prayer not as those seeking gifts, but as those who recognize that He has already given us the greatest gift: Himself!

7/16/2015 11:47:20 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for July 26: Let Them Hear

July 14 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21
I have five children (yes, I invite your prayers). So I am well aware that it is possible to hear, yet not really hear. I know my kids hear what their mother and I tell them, but it seems at times to go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes we have them repeat to us what we said to make sure they heard. Usually they can do it, but even this is no guarantee that they actually took it to heart. They conveniently hear only the parts they want.
This happens with adults at churches every Sunday. The preacher preaches, and many people do not hear. It’s not because the sound system was not loud enough, but because people’s hearts were not open to receive a word from God. It is possible to listen to the preacher and read the Bible, yet not truly hear what God is saying.
Jesus instructed John to write letters to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). These letters address specific issues in each church. They include His words of commendation and rebuke where necessary. In each letter He challenges the church to become overcomers by trusting in Him and aligning with His instruction. However, He ends each letter with the phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Spiritual hearing is something God must grant us. We cannot assume that people hear just because they gather in our worship centers. We must labor in prayer. Pray for your church and yourself that you will have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying. As you pray, position yourself to hear from God as well. James instructs Christians to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19). Strive to eliminate all that hinders you from hearing, trusting and heeding God’s Word. Prepare your hearts to hear every time God’s Word is opened. 
A.W. Tozer said, “Whatever engages my attention when I should be meditating on God and things eternal does injury to my soul.”

7/14/2015 11:13:52 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 26: Return to Your First Love

July 14 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Revelation 2:1-7
Have you ever been in a rut? I’ve been there, going through life as a mere passenger in someone else’s car, repeating patterns that used to mean something, but now are just routine.
It’s a tragic place to be, whether it’s true of a job, a relationship or some other aspect of life. What’s truly frightening about this, however, is that it can be true of our spiritual life, and often without even realizing it.
One of the benefits of spiritual disciplines is that over time, they become ingrained into the very fabric of our lives.
 Yet if we’re not careful, this benefit can easily become a liability. We may find ourselves doing all the right things without the necessary heart motivations driving the actions.
Standing firm in our faith and rightly believing and understanding doctrine are important aspects of our spiritual walk, but they are not the full picture. It is not simply enough that we never deny the faith and that we believe what is true about God and the gospel.
Divorced of an impassioned heart that loves Christ, the actions become mere religious repetition, lacking any real substance.
Let’s be clear here: actions do not save us, therefore any action that is not motivated by a deep love for Jesus and a desire to obey Him ultimately falls short.
This is what God is getting at in this passage.
Actions are important but they are not saving. Actions generally flow forth from what is in the heart. But if we are not on guard, our actions can just be empty shells.
What are we to do then? Don’t despair because God offers mercy and grace.
First, we remember what we lost, and then we repent of having lost it. Finally, we return to our first love, the Savior Himself! Without that love we are salt that has lost its taste.

7/14/2015 11:09:54 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for July 19: Jesus’ Revelation

July 8 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: Revelation 1:1–8
Revelation is perhaps the most intriguing book of the Bible. There are various views on how to interpret it.
When we read Revelation, what is most important is that we remember God is not concealing secret truths, but revealing Jesus Christ. That’s why it is called “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (verse 1).
In the midst of suffering and persecution, the first century church needed to see that Jesus is the King of Kings who reigns and will right all wrong. Still in the 21st century, we need to realize that Jesus is King and He is continuing to work out His plan.
We may not know all the particulars of the end times (cf. Acts 1:8), but we need to know Jesus and cling to Him as we are bombarded with temptation, mockery and doubt.
The Lord reveals himself as the “Alpha and Omega,” which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
Later, Jesus adds, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). This statement means Jesus existed before everything else, and He will exist when all else fades away. Jesus is the only self-existent, eternal one. His existence depends on no one, and everything’s existence depends on Him (see also Colossians 1:15-17).
Because Jesus is the beginning and the end, the writer of Hebrews calls Him the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Likewise, Paul told the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Since Jesus finishes all He starts, we can expect Him to return and finish the work of establishing His everlasting Kingdom. We don’t know when, so we must be prepared.
When Jesus comes again everyone will bow to Him as the great King – some gladly, and some with wailing (1:7, see also Philippians 2:9-11). Those who already follow Him will rejoice. Those who reject Him will be stuck in their sin and suffer the consequences of His righteous judgment. What will it be like for you when Jesus returns?

7/8/2015 12:53:10 PM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 19: Return to God

July 8 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal Passage: Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-5,10
Many years ago I went through a difficult experience where I witnessed believers behaving in a manner that was wholly incompatible with the gospel.

When I confronted them about it, the response was not what I expected. They dismissed all that I said and began to treat me as an enemy. This hurt me deeply as I had known and looked up to them for many years.
My hurt eventually led me to deep resentment and bitterness. I had responded sinfully to being sinned against.
Mercifully, the Lord used the experience to expose what was in my heart and to reorient affections that had lost their original focus.

Something similar happened to Jonah. To be clear, he never saw Nineveh as friends or role models.

They were oppressors of Israel. Yet Jonah was not without blame. In his heart, he had clung to sinful emotions and attitudes toward Nineveh to the point that even the possibility that they might repent and turn to God was repulsive to him.

Jonah, like so many of us, responded sinfully to the sin of others. As an Israelite, he should have understood well how merciful and patient God had been to continually extend grace to Israel after they had strayed.

The outcome of Jonah’s story is a testament to the love and mercy of God. Jonah obeys reluctantly and upon hearing the word, Nineveh repents. God shows them mercy and relents from destroying the city.

God uses these events to show Jonah what is going on in his heart, how he is more capable of feeling compassion for a plant than for human beings heading straight for destruction.

What about us? What is the response of our heart to God’s call?

Will we respond like Nineveh and repent of our sin and look to Christ as our only hope for salvation?

God’s call to return to Him demands a response, yet if we repent He welcomes us with mercy.

7/8/2015 12:43:09 PM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments