Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Will You Chance Your Arm?

By: Adam McClendon
Adam is the Lead Pastor at Springhill Church and the Director of New Line Ministries.

2 Corinthians 5:20a: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ….”

Believers in Christ have the privilege of representing him through life and words to a dark and desperate world.  While this privilege is amazing, its call to serve as an ambassador often brings fear as a result of the uncertainty surrounding how others might respond. 

This story is about finding courage in the face of such uncertainty and as it is read, the question each follower of Christ must ask when confronted with the fear of sharing the good news of Jesus is, “Will I chance my arm?” 

In 1492 two Irish families, the Butlers of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Kildare, were involved in a bitter feud. This disagreement centred around the position of Lord Deputy. Both families wanted one of their own to hold the position. In 1492 this tension broke into outright warfare and a small skirmish occured between the two families just outside the city walls.  
The Butlers, realising that the fighting was getting out of control, took refuge in the Chapter House of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. However, the FitzGeralds followed them into the Cathedral and asked them to come out and make peace. The Butlers, afraid that if they did so they would be slaughtered, refused.
 As a gesture of good faith the head of the Kildare family, Gerald FitzGerald, ordered that a hole be cut in the door. He then thrust his arm through the door and offered his hand in peace to those on the other side.  Upon seeing this, FitzGerald was willing to risk his arm by putting it through the door the Butlers reasoned that he was serious in his intention. They shook hands through the door, the Butlers emerged from the Chapter House and the two families made peace. 
Today this door is known as the "Door of Reconciliation" and is on display in the Cathedral's north transept. This story also lives on in a famous expression in Ireland "To chance your arm" (Story taken from: http://www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/Chancing-Your-Arm.aspx).

So, will you chance your arm?  Will you risk the relationship, your reputation or whatever else you fear losing in your commitment to be an ambassador of Christ to a world that desperately needs to be reconciled to him?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Good News

The On-Ramp...

If most people were asked, “How does one get to heaven,” what answer do you think they would give?

I remember asking my five-year-old that question one time. Actually, I asked her two questions. First, how is someone saved? “They fight back,” she calmly said. Smiling, I responded, “Well, sure, but I’m asking, how does someone go to heaven?” “They die,” she said, with a look on her face that clearly communicated that as an adult I should already know these things.

As funny as that moment was, most people seem to believe that in order to get to heaven, they have to “fight back” by being good, or at least good enough. When I ask people why they think this, they usually tell me that they have just always been taught that, or that it just seems to make sense. Many of those same people will say they
believe this is an important question to answer, and that they believe the Bible is true, but they have never looked in the Bible to see how God answers the question of going to heaven. Why not?

So, this is a brief introduction and a simple outline in order to share with you God’s plan for how one goes to heaven. In the end, I hope you see that the goal of God’s Word is not to show you how to go to heaven, but to show you how to have real life and a real relationship with the God who is the source of all life and who deeply loves you (John 3:16; 14:6)! Thus, if someone gave this to you, I pray you realize that he or she cares for you. If you found it, I pray you see this as a divine moment where God is trying to speak to you and invite you into a relationship with Him.

Then, how do you have this real life relationship with God? To describe the answer to that question, followers of Christ often use terms like “believe in the gospel” (good news), or “be saved,” or “be born again.” All these are terms the Bible uses in order to talk about this life- changing relationship with God, whereby, your life is no longer your own but His, and He becomes your Master, your Lord, your Savior, and your King. He provides an eternal home for you in heaven, because those who experience this new life are considered His children.

Here are 4 points that help explain God’s path to having a right relationship and new life in Him.

The Coordinates...

1. A Recognition of God’s Perfection
Most people talk about how loving God is; however, He is also a loving God who is just and holy. Look at what the last part of Leviticus 19:2 says: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Because God is holy and perfect, He cannot and will not tolerate or associate peaceably with sin. In other words, God treats sin as an enemy of His holiness. Since He is holy, He commands anyone
who desires to have a relationship with Him to be holy and perfect.

This point is proven time and time again in the Bible. Here are a few more verses:

Exodus 3:5: “‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’”

Leviticus 11:44a, 45: “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy...I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”

Isaiah 5:16: “But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his

Isaiah 43:3: “For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior....”

Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”

If you want a relationship with God Almighty, then you must acknowledge Him as He has revealed Himself through His Word. He is holy.

2. A Recognition of God’s Problem
Because God is holy, He commands anyone who desires to have a relationship with Him to be holy and perfect. One problem must immediately be recognized: we are sinful!

Romans 3:23: “...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....”

Let’s say you are better than the average person. After all, you’re not that bad. This is the wrong perspective. That’s what gets so many people in trouble. They compare themselves to those around them, versus looking at God’s own Word and evaluating themselves based on His standard: His own perfection.

Imagine you are taking a 1000-question test to pass a class. Let’s say you miss only 1 question. Did you make a perfect score? Is your test perfect? No. Regardless of how many questions are added to the test and how many more are correct, if one answer is wrong, your score is not perfect.

Just take the Ten Commandments as God’s most basic standard. Have you ever lied? Lusted? Dishonored a parent? You may seek
to justify the behavior by your standards, but by God’s standards you have sinned. Just one sin blemishes the record, so you cannot be considered holy and you stand opposed to God.

Ezekiel 18:4: “...the soul who sins is the one who will die.”
Sin has made a separation between people and God. Look at Isaiah.

Isaiah 59:1-2: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

To find salvation and experience a right relationship with God, you have to acknowledge that you cannot do it on your own. You are sinful.

3. A Recognition of God’s Provision
The whole idea of salvation implies being saved from something. This is the good news, that God has bridged the chasm that separating you from Him. He has solved the problem.

First, what has God provided salvation from? He has provided salvation from the bondage and penalty sin brought.

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sin brings with it death and bondage. Both spiritual death and physical death are ultimate consequences of your sin. In contrast, the life that Jesus brings is spiritual. It transforms your life here and that gift will be eternally experienced once you pass from this sinful world into His presence.

Second, how did God provide salvation from the death and bondage of sin? In the Old Testament of the Bible, time and time again sacrifices are described. Why? There are two reasons.
One, these sacrifices reveal that sins can only be paid for by the shedding of perfect innocent blood.

Hebrews 9:22: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

Two, they point to Jesus as the ultimate perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of those who trust in him.

John 1:29b: “‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”

So, throughout the Bible, God demonstrates that He is both loving and holy. In His holiness, He cannot tolerate sin and must judge it, but in His love He provides a way for you to receive forgiveness and cleansing from sin and to have your relationship with God restored.

He provided that path to restoration by sending Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to die on a cross and be raised again as your sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the perfect and final sacrifice. In God’s holiness, He judges sin. In His love and grace, He provides Jesus who takes judgment upon Himself, so that you can be restored to a right relationship with God. You can be forgiven through Jesus.

Here are a few verses that show God’s provision through Christ as the only path to salvation from sin’s curse.

Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

John 3:14-16: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life.’”

John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
That’s why the Bible calls it the new birth. It is a removal of sin and the beginning of a new relationship, a new life, with God.

John 3:3b: “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’”

2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Thus, the perfect provision of God in providing deliverance from sin and restoring your relationship with God is provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Third, what must you do to receive this provision for my sin? Initially, it may be helpful to talk about how you do not receive this provision.

Salvation is
• Not praying a prayer.
• Not walking an aisle at church.
• Not going to church.
• Not being baptized.
• Not having Christian parents.
• Not a simple acknowledgment of Christ’s deity,

sacrificial death and resurrection.

This point is hard for many people. Notice what God’s Word says in James.

James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

It is not enough to simply acknowledge the truth. You must accept God’s free gift of salvation and give your life to Jesus. That is why the Bible constantly talks of faith and repentance as the requirement to experience this new life. The new life is there, but can only be received by a repentant heart of faith.

Let’s try and explain it this way. Suppose you receive a notice that you have won $1 million, and all you have to do is go down to the local courthouse and claim your prize. Acknowledging you have been awarded the prize does not make it yours. You have to receive it.

To receive salvation takes an exercise of repentant faith (Acts 20:21). Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Acts 3:19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
Luke 13:3: “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Faith is the means of receiving God’s gracious gift of salvation. It is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as your sole means of deliverance from the condemnation and bondage of sin.

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

To better understand this faith, think of a parachute. You can have knowledge that what you are looking at is a parachute. You can even believe the parachute will work, but you have not demonstrated biblical faith until it is strapped on and you jump out of the plane trusting solely in it.

In other words, true biblical faith is a deep seated belief resulting in a changed life.

It is a repentant faith that changes one’s life. It is a faith that bends one’s knee in allegiance to King Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). It is a belief that He provides salvation and a surrender of one’s will to His.

John 6:28-29: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”

Now, where do good works fit in? Works are a part of salvation, but not as most people think. Good works should be a necessary byproduct of a grateful heart which has experienced salvation.
Thus, if you truly receive this gracious provision God has made for your sin in Christ, you will seek to live for Him, not in order to receive the gift, because it has already been given, but you will seek to live for Him out of a deep appreciation for what He has done for you.

That’s why John proclaims in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” 

Notice that to truly believe in the sacrifice of King Jesus is to place your life in obedience under His Lordship.

4. A Recognition of God’s Promise
If you repent of your sins and place your faith in the saving work of Christ, as He died for your sins and rose again, God promises to restore you to a right relationship with Himself and give you eternal life.

If you trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the sole provision for your sins, the Bible promises to free you from the condemnation and bondage that sin brought.

In other words, if you believe on Jesus’ death and resurrection as the payment for your sins, then you will be forgiven and enabled to walk in obedience. You will be saved. What a great promise!

Romans 10:9-10: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Through Jesus’ sacrifice the guilt and stain of sin is removed, making those who believe clean.

Isaiah 1:18: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [the Messiah] the iniquity of us all.”

Acts 10:43: “All the prophets testify about him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

1 Peter 2:24: “He [Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

God’s promise is that if you repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus as Lord, your relationship with God will be restored and you will be counted as His child and He will be your heavenly Father.

John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit”

Romans 8:13-17: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

The Road to Salvation...

An Invitation:
So, have you had your relationship with the eternal God of the universe restored? Are you His child and is He your God? Have your trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus as payment and cleansing for your sins?

Maybe you prayed a prayer when you were a child, but it was uninformed and not in repentant faith.
Maybe you walked an aisle at a church, but never really trusted in Jesus and repented of your sins.

Maybe you were born into a Christian family, but never made Jesus your Savior and Lord personally.

Maybe you have not heard this message before or have heard but refused to believe. Yet something is different this time. Maybe for the first time, you see the truth of God’s provision and His promise of eternal life, and you want to be saved.

Trust in His provision today. That’s it. Exercise repentant faith. Repent of your sin acknowledging that you have sinned against God and stand condemned. Believe Jesus died and rose again and trust Him as your Savior and Lord. Believe Jesus is the sole means of forgiveness and trust in His provision for your sin today.

If you want to express that repentant faith in the form of a prayer, that’s fine. Here is one you can pray, but remember, a prayer doesn’t save you. You are saved when you receive the grace of God by faith. So, here is a prayer, but you must choose to believe what you pray.

“Dear God. I know I have sinned against you. I believe Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for my sins and he rose again, so that everyone who believes on his provision for sin can have eternal life. God, I believe. I know I can’t earn my way to heaven. Please forgive me of my sins and be my heavenly Father. I surrender my life to you. You are my Lord. You are my Master. You are my God. Help me to live out my faith. Amen.”

Roadside Assistance...

Next Steps:
If you just made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, congratulations. What an awesome step! You have been forgiven! You have been set free! Walk in that freedom and in your newly experienced faith.

Now, inevitably, a few more questions come up. Hopefully, this information will be found helpful.

Do I have to go to church?
Yes and no. No, your salvation is not dependent upon you going to church; however, you will not grow as God designed without it. I encourage you to find a good church. Prayerfully ask God to guide you to a place where you can worship him together with other people of like faith. Yes, churches are full of hypocrites. That’s life. Wherever there are people, there will be problems; however, God calls us to worship together and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18). One of God’s key means for us to grow together is through church (Hebrews 10:25).

There are a lot of churches. How do I find a good one?
You are right. There are a lot of churches and some of them are great and some not so great. There is not a perfect way of finding a godly Bible-believing church. The search may be hard, but trust God to put you in the right place, and please don’t lose heart.

First, contact the person who gave this to you. See if you can join them. If that is not an option, try simply asking some family or friends if they recommend a good Bible- focused, Bible-believing church. One thing is that before you even visit the church, go ahead and call or email them through their website.

See if you can get in touch with the staff or pastor. Let them know you plan on visiting and you have recently accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior. Ask for help and please do not let pride get in the way. The enemy would love to let your fear keep you from finding help and encouragement.

Do I need a Bible? How do I know which one to get?
Absolutely. The Bible is God’s Word. It is His instructions for your life. If you do not own a Bible or have an old translation that is hard to understand, I would recommend first contacting one of the churches mentioned in the last question. Ask them for help and tell them you need a good Bible. They would love to help.

You can also purchase one. Almost any book store will have a good Bible. Lifeway stores will probably have a larger selection. Concerning versions, I would recommend the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), or the New International Version (NIV).

How do I study the Bible? Should I start anywhere particularly?
I would encourage you to read the Bible daily. There is so much to learn and so much to experience. Before reading the Bible, pray and ask God’s Holy Spirit to help guide you in His truth. Here is a basic approach to studying the Bible. First, read a portion of the Bible (a chapter for instance) and prayerfully ask, “What does this say?” Second, think about what you read and prayerfully ask, “What does this mean?” Finally, prayerfully ask, “What difference should this make in my life?”

If you have not read the Bible before, I would recommend beginning in Matthew and reading through the
New Testament.

How do I pray?
Think of prayer as talking to God. It can be done at anytime. It can be silent in your head and heart or spoken out loud. I just encourage you to pray a lot. Talk to God about everything. Just remember, He is not a genie in a bottle, He is God. He will not always give you what you want, but you can be confident He will do what is best. He is good and just.

What about baptism?
While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is an important step of public obedience proclaiming that you have died to your former life and have committed your new life to Jesus as Lord. Baptism is an extremely important act of obedience and should not be delayed. Please don’t hesitate. Whichever church you end up attending, let them know that you need to be baptized as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reflections on Josiah's Life and Legacy

By: Adam McClendon
Adam is the Lead Pastor at Springhill Church and the Director of New Line Ministries.

Josiah is one of my favorite kings mentioned in the Bible (2 Kngs 22-23).  Josiah began to rule at the age of 8 and eventually went on to initiate one of the greatest reform movements in Israel’s history.  The catalyst for this reform was none other than the power of the Word of God.  The kings and the nation had strayed from God’s plan and lived in violation of his covenant faithfulness.  They had abandoned God. 

Yet, even in the midst of this dark time, God’s Word was there, and when Hilkiah, the High Priest, brought the lost Law of God to Josiah, his response was remarkable.  He was broken and cried out in repentance (2 Kngs 22:11)!  He then called the nation to repent and return to the Lord.

While this story is so powerful, it also has a sad ending.  Josiah dies in battle and leaves the throne to godless sons (Jer 22:11, 18).  One son is foolish and self-absorbed and ends up imprisoned in Egypt (2 Kngs 22:31-33; Jer 22:11-17).  Another son is nothing more than an evil puppet for Pharaoh (2 Kngs 23:36-24:6).  On top of all of this, the spiritual leaders left in the wake of Josiah’s death were self-serving and evil (Jer 23:1-2).

As I think about the faithfulness of Josiah and the faithlessness of those who followed after him, I am confronted with these thoughts.

* Do I examine my life in light of the truth of God’s Word or by cultural standards?

* Is my heart still sensitive to the Word of God like Josiah’s?  Does my sin, no matter how small I may think it is, still disgust and break me and bring me to repentance?

* How am I helping raise up faithful leaders who will serve as soldiers for the glory of Christ alongside of me and, prayerfully, even one day replace me (2 Tim 2:1-3)?

* Do I acknowledge the shepherding work of God and see it as my privilege to serve as an undershepherd, under his authority, building his people?

* Am I pouring Christ into those over whom God has given me the privilege of serving? 

* Do I use my position for personal gain (even if only to boost my ego), or am I dying to self so that Christ may live through me to build his church?  Do I understand that my life exists solely to be used as a stepping stone for other people to draw closer to Christ?

As I think of Josiah, I am challenged by his humility and sensitivity to God’s Word.  I’m also saddened by the lack of spiritual legacy left behind.

May God bless our efforts to continue to serve as conduits through whom he can work, so that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ might be proclaimed to all.

2 Corinthians 4:4-6: “4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”