June 2015

Explore the Bible Lesson for July 12: Jesus Alone

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

Focal Passage: 1 John 5:1-12
Among the foundational doctrines of the Reformation is the belief that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

We are not saved because we deserve it. We are not saved because we worked for it. We are saved only because of what Jesus did for us. We receive this salvation by trusting in Him for it, not as a reward for our efforts.

Yet, like much of John’s letter, these verses seem to imply that salvation involves some action on the part of Christians.

Well, that’s because salvation does involve obedience to the instruction in scripture. However, it is obedience that results from salvation, not obedience that results in salvation.

We must resist the pull towards legalism that has threatened the church throughout history. We cannot earn God’s favor. We do not need to show God or anyone else that we deserve to be saved. Instead, we need to admit that we are unworthy in order to appreciate God’s grace.

At the same time, we must beware the error of antinomianism, which teaches that obedience to the commands of scripture is not necessary.

Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.”

John helps us see that true faith originates from a heart that is simultaneously filled with love and a desire to follow Jesus in obedience to the Word.

If love and obedience are not at work, that is an indication that there is no true faith. He says, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4 ESV).

Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-10. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are saved for good works, which God has prepared for us. Trust in Jesus alone for your salvation and follow Jesus alone with your life. As John Sammis wrote in his 1887 hymn, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

6/30/2015 11:05:49 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 12: Call Others to Step Forward

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

Focal Passage: Joshua 24:14-18, 24-26
How many of us stepped into leadership already knowing exactly what to do?

Odds are there was someone who went before us who taught us and shared their wisdom.

If nothing else, we at least learned not to repeat their mistakes. When we look to our Christian walk, the same principle is true.

In my own experience, many of the times of greatest growth in my walk with Christ have come from older, wiser men taking time to invest in me and teaching me how to follow the Lord.

Often, this instruction was pleasant and easy going, but there were times when I needed to be brought to my senses a bit more forcefully.

In much the same way, Joshua lays out a stark choice before Israel.

As his final act of public leadership, Joshua presents Israel with the option to worship and obey the one true God or to turn away and follow false gods.

There simply was no middle ground, they were either for God or they were not. In laying the options before them, Joshua did not keep his decision a secret. He was clear with Israel: both he and his family would follow the Lord.

Our leadership likewise needs to do two things.

First, we have to set the example.

Just as others influenced us and gave us an example to follow (or in some cases, to reject), we too have to lead with our lives as we show others what it means to follow Christ.

However, it’s not enough to just be a good example.

Part of the leader’s task is to call others to follow God in obedience.

This isn’t necessarily comfortable.

In fact, it can be difficult and awkward to challenge others to obedience in the Lord, but leaders recognize the necessity.

The greatest example and the greatest call to follow are both found in Christ. May we lead others as He leads His church!

6/30/2015 10:59:07 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for July 5: Real Love

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

Focal Passage: 1 John 4:7-21
Perhaps fairytales and Hollywood have distorted our understanding of love.
Real love is not just a sentimental feeling that swells in your heart and causes butterflies in your stomach. Love has more to do with our actions than our feelings. Or, as John Mayer sings, “Love is a verb. It ain’t a thing.”
Real love is also one of the distinctive marks of true Christians. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be so distinct in the world that others would be able to identify them as His disciples by this love (John 13:35). Only people with God’s Spirit living within are able to really love. What the world calls love is a counterfeit. It may share some of the same characteristics, but love is only authentic when it comes from God.
As true Christians we have both the power and the pattern for real love. We have the power to love by the Spirit of Christ in us (1 John 4:13). Our passage tells us that God is Love and, if He lives in us, His love will be evident through us (1 John 4:8, 16).

You do not need to wait for that warm fuzzy feeling or for tears to roll down your cheeks. Choose today to look for ways to love people. Trust God to empower you. We have the pattern for love in the work of Christ for us.
John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). In his writings John mentions love 116 times because he was absolutely gripped by God’s love demonstrated at the cross.
Real love involves sacrifice, even for people who don’t deserve it. Jesus suffered and died for you and me even though we were sinners and enemies of God (Romans 5:8, 10). Reflect on the love of God towards you and let us together show the world what real love is.

Lord, magnify your love to us and multiply it through us!

6/30/2015 10:22:47 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 5: Work Through Conflict

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

Focal Passages: Joshua 22:11-12, 15-18, 26-27, 33-34
How do you handle conflict as you lead others? Most of us have probably experienced some unhealthy, and ultimately ungodly responses to conflict. Some respond to conflict by avoiding confrontation and hoping the issue will resolve itself. Others take a more direct approach, confronting without any regard for peacemaking. We, however, are concerned with a different kind of approach. As leaders under the lordship of Christ, we want to know how we are to respond to conflict in a manner that brings Him glory.
In this passage, we find the Israelites with a potential civil war on their hands. It’s a simple case of misinterpreted motives. We should take note of a few important elements here that ought to inform how we handle conflict in our own lives. First, we should recognize what the conflict is about. The Israelites west of the Jordan suspect that the two and a half tribes across the Jordan have turned away from the Lord’s commands. If true, this has to be confronted. Notice that they are not just upset over the landscaping across the river.
As leaders, we need to know which issues we should confront firmly and which matters warrant a softer touch. As we saw previously, sin cannot go unchallenged. We are called to lovingly confront sin, and here the Israelites believe they are doing just that, and they express their concern with love.
The conflict resolution doesn’t end here. From the Israelites we learn the importance of listening. Without this important component, the situation in Joshua 22 might have turned out quite differently. A God-honoring approach to conflict resolution is fair to the other side. Notice the resolution of the conflict between the Israelites: God receives worship as a result.
This should be the end goal every time we encounter conflict. Conflict is not easy nor is it pleasant, but the leader who longs to glorify God recognizes it as an opportunity to display the greatness of God.

6/30/2015 10:19:03 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for June 28: Is This of God?

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

Focal Passage: 1 John 4:1-6
Discernment is not one of our strengths in this age. Ours is a day where most people give toleration the pride of place among virtues. While there are many benefits to toleration, it can also numb us over time to the importance of standing for truth. It is not unloving to stand for truth. In fact, it is in the context of teaching about loving one another that John mentions the necessity of discernment.
Our adversary is not dormant. Just as he was a real threat to the health of the first-century church, he is active and trying to deceive our churches. You cannot trust every preacher you hear on TV, regardless of his/her popularity. Do not believe everything you read – even if the book is a best seller and came from a Christian bookstore.
Several years ago I attended a special service in a church on the Gulf Coast that claimed to be experiencing five years of ongoing revival.
I had to witness it, but afterwards was greatly disturbed.
They claimed miraculous works of the Spirit were taking place, but it was a chaotic spectacle. I left confused and wondering, “Is this of God?”
How do we know when something is truly of God? There is no substitute to learning God’s Word.
The more we know truth, the better prepared we are to discern error. In our passage John gives us the clearest test.
Ask yourself, “Does this teaching or activity magnify Jesus or detract from Him?”
J.I. Packer compares the work of the Holy Spirit to a well-placed floodlight focused on Jesus. On the front of our church property we have a beautiful white cross as the focal point in a rock garden with a bench.
At nightfall floodlights beneath the cross illuminate it. When you drive by in the dark, it’s hard to miss the cross. You don’t see the actual lights because they were not placed to draw attention to themselves. They bring your eyes to the cross.
Remember, concerning the work of the Spirit, Jesus said, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14).

6/16/2015 10:50:20 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 28: Move Beyond Failure

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

Focal Passages: Joshua 7:13-15, 19-21, 25-26; 8:1
Have you ever experienced the thrill and joy of a great success only to be met promptly by a resounding defeat?
It is a sobering experience, not unlike the Little Leaguer who rounds third base at full speed on his way to home plate, imagining in his mind that he is about to win the World Series, only to find himself meeting the ground early due to an unfortunate slip.
It is in those moments of failure that we are soberly reminded of our human weakness. As leaders, we are affected not just by our own limitations, but by those of the people we lead. Joshua was coming off the heels of a resounding victory at Jericho. God had delivered the city into the hands of Israel. Yet now, at only their second battle, Israel is met with defeat.
But why? Was it Joshua’s leadership? Had their military techniques failed? Had God failed to keep His promise? The text gives us a clear answer: sin. Sin had brought about the defeat. Let’s be clear, sin does not ruin God’s plans. He is almighty and His plans are never thwarted. But the rebellion in our heart, disobedience against God’s commands, inevitably causes us to stand in opposition to what God is doing. The result cannot be success.
God is Holy and perfect, and He cannot let sin go unresolved. In the battle for Ai, we find that God loves Israel too much to let them win as sin pollutes them. Sin must be dealt with.
As leaders, we should respond to sin and failures as Joshua did: we confront it, we deal with it appropriately and we move forward. God will not let sin go unchecked, but mercifully for those of us who are in Christ, sin has been dealt with decisively! We don’t ignore sin or rationalize it.
As Christ-followers we confess it and repent, painful as it may be, but we don’t wallow in defeat. Christ our Savior has conquered sin and death, therefore we press on in the battle!

6/16/2015 10:46:18 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for June 21: Dangers to Avoid

June 4 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: 1 John 2:15–27
Christians are a different breed, because God made us new creatures when we were born again. We have new desires, yet we are still vulnerable to the same temptations that gripped Adam and Eve. In this passage, John alerts the church to traps set by Satan to entangle us.
A Scottish preacher once told a story about a farmer who captured a young eagle. He put a restraint on it so it couldn’t fly, and then let it roam in the barnyard. Before long the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of a lowly hen.
After many months a shepherd from the mountains visited. Seeing the eagle, he said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer became convinced to cut off the restraint, but strangely the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking. Eventually, the shepherd picked it up and set it on a high wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off, going higher and higher. At last it was acting like an eagle again.
How many Christians fall into the trap of finding their contentment in the temporal and material things of this world? They are scratching and pecking instead of enjoying the benefits of the gospel. John shows us that love for the things of the world chokes out our ability to love God and enjoy His love (2:15). Beware the traps of materialism and cultural approval. Stuff and status will not truly satisfy. Beware the erroneous teaching of those who make less of Christ and more of you. It may sound uplifting, but you will only be satisfied when Jesus is supreme in your life. These things are not from God. Seek satisfaction instead with what God has provided – His Word and His indwelling Spirit.

6/4/2015 10:48:07 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 21: Stick to God’s Plan

June 4 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Joshua 6:1-5, 12-16, 20
It’s often difficult to persevere when our task seems far from completion. Discouragement and frustration can easily set in and suddenly, giving up seems far more appealing than the path of obedience. What’s our response in the midst of what feels like fruitless labor? Are we quick to forget God’s plans and forego obedience? Or are our lives marked by perseverance in following God’s commands?
Consider the scenario: God had commanded Joshua to march around the city, only to then return to camp without having conquered Jericho, day after day. Consider how they had seen God part the Jordan at the first step they took into its waters. The same God who displayed His might so decisively at the Jordan now seemed to be commanding them to do warm-up exercises.
As leaders we like to see results, but sometimes the lesson that God is teaching is one of patient perseverance and resolute trust in Him. We might imagine one of the Israelites wondering, “Why do we have to keep marching in circles waiting for the seventh day? Why can’t God just act now?”
Without a doubt, God is capable of bringing about the victory now. He is powerful enough to bring about the end result right at this moment. But what then becomes of our being made into the image of Christ? Is it not through faithful obedience that we learn to wait on the Lord instead of seeing Him as our cosmic wish-granter?
We may not know God’s plan for the specific situation we are facing. We might pray and obey for years and not see “victory.” Yet we know with certainty God’s ultimate plan to display His glory and conform us to the image of Christ. We who are in Christ are completely free to obey God and trust Him fully in every circumstance because we have full assurance of His ultimate and decisive victory!
As you lead others, help them to see what a faithful and powerful God it is that requires our obedience!

6/4/2015 10:42:55 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Explore the Bible Lesson for June 14: Walking in the Light

June 2 2015 by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson

Focal Passage: 1 John 1:5–2:6
Imagine a co-worker strolling into an important meeting 15 minutes late. As he enters the room, he apologizes, “I’m so sorry for being late, but I had a rough commute this morning. First, I got a flat tire on I-85. Then, I pulled over, and as I stepped out of the car to put on my spare, I stumbled into the lane of oncoming traffic and was hit by a Mack truck. It was terribly painful, but I did my best to quickly get up, change my tire and get here.”
This would, of course, be the worst excuse in the history of late-for-work excuses. You cannot finish changing a tire, or come to work, or do anything like you once did if you truly encounter a Mack truck. You are going to be different – to say the least!
Likewise, how could a person claim to encounter Jesus Christ, yet be the same as he was before? John says Christians ought to “walk in the light” (1:7). Walking in the light is more of a litmus test than a checklist. If you don’t live differently since supposedly encountering Jesus, then maybe you came really close but the collision was avoided. When we truly encounter Jesus our former life is wrecked.
Walking in the light describes your new lifestyle that gives evidence of your trust in Jesus by growing in holiness through joyful obedience to the scriptures. Because none of us will walk perfectly (1:8, 10), our lives must involve confessing our sin. We cannot attain holy perfection, but we can walk in a holy direction. We follow Jesus, and when we stumble in sin, we confess and He cleanses us from unrighteousness.
Walking in the light can be daunting because it means we are exposed. Yet, we should not fear such exposure. We should rejoice in it because the work of Christ is visible and magnified through us. People will see Jesus as we grow in holiness. They will see Jesus as we fail and are forgiven. And they need to see Jesus because the gospel of His forgiveness is not only for our sins, but also for those of the whole world (2:2).

6/2/2015 10:18:50 AM by Michael Wilkes, pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Henderson | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 14: Be Confident in God’s Power

June 2 2015 by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Joshua 3:7-17
Imagine Joshua’s predicament: What if God had called you, as the brand new leader of a large multitude, to lead the entire congregation to the edge of the river with the expectation that the waters would part and you would all be able to cross? How would you muster the courage to even take the first step toward the water?
Often, we tend to think of our leadership roles as our accomplishment. “My skill got me this position, and it’s my reputation on the line!” Yet Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan paints a strikingly different picture of leadership for us.
Why was Joshua so seemingly fearless in commanding Israel to march through the Jordan? If he had been relying on his own ability to lead them across, he would have been better off commanding them to figure out a way to make kayaks out of sand! Joshua was aware of the meaning and purpose of his leadership; His leadership was not for his own name’s sake, but for the glory of God.
In much the same way, we need to continually be reminded that our leadership, whatever its form or context, is not meant to bring us glory. It’s meant to put on display the wonder and majesty of our King! When faced with adversity and trials, does your leadership reflect that your hope and trust are rooted in what Christ has done and is doing? Or do you despair at the thought of your name being maligned – or worse – forgotten?
Leadership is not easy. It’s not often comfortable or glamorous, despite appearances. With responsibility comes pressure and stress. Why not rest on the infinite strength of the Almighty?
Joshua lead with confidence in the power of God, having seen His mighty works in the wilderness. We too can lead with confidence in God’s strength and character. We have His promises, and we have seen His mighty works. What mightier work than His decisive defeat of sin and death by His own death and resurrection?

6/2/2015 10:11:37 AM by Manny Prieto, lay pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments