Garland Of Grace – 10.27.19

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Flowers for Sarah and the Messianic Secret

And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. – Mark 7:36

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 is a day I will never forget. That was the day Sarah and I became parents. We were overwhelmed by the goodness of God as He blessed us with a beautiful baby girl we named Aubrey Adaline. The next morning, I planned to surprise Sarah with an order of fresh flowers delivered to her hospital room. After slipping away from the hospital “to run a few errands,” I stopped by the florist to place the order. With excitement, I shared with the florist (a total stranger) the joyous events that had transpired the previous evening.  I explained my desire to surprise my wife with a delivery of flowers to her hospital room. I placed the order and instructed the florist to call me on my cell phone if she had any questions. As I returned to the hospital and entered the room, Sarah said the florist had just called with a question about my order. I couldn’t believe it! The surprise was no longer a surprise. To this day I am still puzzled why the florist did not follow my specific instructions. Why would she attempt to track me down by calling the hospital and have the operator transfer the call to our room? That seems like a lot more work than simply calling me directly on my cell. When the flowers eventually arrived, Sarah graciously received them with much appreciation, but the flowers would have been much more meaningful if they had been a secret. I walked away from that situation realizing that some people struggle to follow instructions.

In the passage above, Jesus gave instructions to a crowd after He had just healed a man who was both deaf and mute. He specifically told them not to talk about the miracle they had just witnessed. But instead of honoring His request, the people publicized what they saw.

Throughout the gospels there are moments when Jesus instructed people to keep quiet about His miraculous deeds (Matthew 16:20, Mark 1:43-45; 3:12; 5:43; 8:30; Luke 8:56; 9:21). In his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew” Phillip Yancy refers to this as “The Messianic Secret.” But have you ever wondered why? Similar to the story above, our Lord had His reasons. From our vantage point, it seems somewhat counterproductive to the mission of sharing the good news of the gospel. Why would our Lord want to stifle His message of grace, love, and healing? After all, back then “word of mouth” was the most effective form of social media. To understand the purpose behind this, we consider two possibilities. To begin with, Jesus’ time had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20). Jesus was always about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49) and continually submitted to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42). He had an awareness of the timetable mapped out for Him by the Father.  When Jesus said that His time had not yet come, He was referring to the public manifestation of His Messiahship and the suffering He would eventually endure. A second reason is the fact that Jesus did not want people to follow Him for the wrong reason. The buzz surrounding Jesus’ miracles might lead someone to only follow Him so they can witness another miracle – as if He was a magician traveling the countryside with a bag full of tricks.  Yet Jesus wanted people to follow Him out of pure love and devotion. He wanted sincerity of heart. He had not been sent by the Father to entertain the masses; He had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

To this day, Sarah and I laugh about the florist who failed to follow instructions. Reflect upon these things, and know that our Lord always had His reasons for the instructions He gave!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 08.30.19

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Fingerprints and a Bucket of Paint; Words of Wisdom from a Deacon Named Kenny

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord…” – Psalm 127:3

In recent months, God has blessed the Seventh Street family with  a tremendous increase of children  within our Children’s department. There have been multiple factors that have led to this. To begin with, our Vacation Bible School this summer was absolutely amazing! And through the various outreach opportunities surrounding our VBS ministry, we have been able to connect with a handful of families within our community. And because of our growing bus ministry, these children are now attending our services. Sadly, many of these children are arriving on Sunday mornings without breakfast. Because of this, we began meeting that need last Sunday by providing a meal for them as they start their day.

Undoubtedly, God has placed in our lap an overwhelming opportunity to show the love of Christ, teach the truth of the gospel, and see these children come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.   Yet many of these children are not accustomed to church worship services and are unaware of what is considered to be appropriate etiquette within God’s house.

God has called us to be faithful and patient in our efforts to steer these children to Jesus. Be patient. Don’t lose your cool. Don’t miss out on the opportunity given to us by God!  He has entrusted these children to our care. The question is, “How are we going to handle such an overwhelming responsibility?”

The first church I pastored was Wildersville Baptist Church, a  rural church off Interstate 40 half way between Memphis and Nashville.  One of our deacons was a man named Kenny Cavness. I believe Kenny had the right attitude when it came to children in God’s house.  He once told me a story about how years earlier a church member had complained to him about the “noisy children” and their dirty fingerprints left in the hallway. Kenny quickly responded by saying, “We need to be thankful that the fingerprints are on the wall!” Kenny’s point was simply this; church walls can easily be repainted, but having the children in God’s house is priceless. Kenny passed away in 2007. But his words have permanently shaped my philosophy of Children’s ministry.

Let’s not be prunes complaining about noise or bad behavior. Instead let’s do something about it by setting the right example and steering them in the right direction. Let’s show the love of Christ by sharing the gospel.  You never know what God might do.  He might just be calling you to invest your life into the lives of our children. We certainly could use your help! Finally, let us pray together for God to do amazing things in the life of Seventh Street Baptist Church!

 – Pastor Eric

 

Garland Of Grace – 08.04.19

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The Season for Joy Is Now

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.” – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

Sometimes, biblical texts can develop inaccurate characterizations. For instance, Leviticus is considered a difficult read, while Esther is known for lacking a direct reference to God. Song of Songs is set apart by its sexually explicit language, while Ecclesiastes is seen as having a depressing tone. Yet such characterizations are unfair assessments, incorrectly depicting the full scope of the biblical text and distracting from the author’s intended message. Yet when these mischaracterizations are removed, the God of detail can be seen in Leviticus and God can be seen through the courage of Mordecai within Esther. God’s love can be seen through the marriage relationship in Song of Songs while God’s call for man to live a joyous life is unearthed in Ecclesiastes. Misguided assumptions about various books of the Bible hinder the full understanding of God’s redemptive plan for man and the Bible’s overarching theme of redemption. For instance, Ecclesiastes is not the negative book that many see it to be.  It is not a collection life observations penned by some embittered and cynical critic. Rather, it is a realistic outlook on life based upon various life observations, which contrast the vanity of a life apart from God with a joyous life rooted in God.

An in depth study of Ecclesiastes reveals joy and satisfaction to be a continual theme, teaching true joy can only be found in God and God alone. This theme eclipses the horizontal earthly message of man’s difficulties while living life under the sun, and is confirmed within the Preacher’s epilogue (Ecclesiastes 12:9-11) as he sums up his purpose in arranging the words of wisdom that he carefully chose. The Preacher describes his selection of proverbial sayings as “delightful words” to be applied, leading to personal enjoyment and delight.  The Preacher then describes these delightful words as being truthful. This signifies a connection between truth and joy. And so there is the deeper message of joy within the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a joy only found in God; for nothing else will satisfy man’s heart but God Himself.

This is illustrated in the passage above. Following his poetic reflection upon the various seasons of life, he focuses upon the goodness of God and the gifts he graciously provides. The passage reminds us that in the midst of each life season, we should seize the moment by enjoying the gifts given to us by the good hand of God. Whether it is in toil or in the daily activities such as eating and drinking, enjoyment should be sought out since these things are gifts from God.  The Preacher highlights this every time he shifts his focus away from the horizontal frustrations of life under the sun and on to God, the giver of all good things.

God in His providential care has graciously blessed His children with gifts to enjoy. And when these gifts are celebrated, God Himself is filled with joy. A common illustration involves a parent giving a gift to a child.  If the child hurriedly opens up the gift, only to cast it aside without enjoying the gift, the parent is dishonored. But if a child treasures the gift and expresses enjoyment in the gift, the giver is honored.  And so it is with God and His children. When we enjoy God’s gifts, He is pleased and takes pleasure in the joy we express.

To find purpose and meaning in life, we must look beyond the sun and look to God. And when we seek Him, we will find joy, peace, contentment and satisfaction.  And so let us celebrate the graciousness of our heavenly Father who bestows His blessings upon us each and every day and enjoy the daily gifts we so frequently take for granted. The season for joy is now; for our purpose in life is to give God glory and find enjoyment in Him.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 07.14.19

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From the Cradle to the Coffin; Living a Vaporous Life for God’s Glory

“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” – Ecclesiastes 1:14

Many people believe when King Solomon described life by using the word “vanity,” that he was suggesting life was meaningless. But this is a rather poor interpretation, and could not be further from the truth. The Hebrew word for vanity (which appears thirty-seven times in Ecclesiastes alone) is “habel.” It means “vaporous” or “breath.” Solomon was comparing life to a vapor because life is fleeting and vaporous. To illustrate this truth, let us consider a person’s breath on a cold winter’s morning.

Life is brief – When you exhale on a cold winter’s morning, you see your breath for one split second, and then it is gone. It appears to vanish as quickly as it arrived.  This is similar to a person’s life. It is only for a moment; just a blip on the timeline of human history.  Elderly people, when reflecting upon their life, frequently express how quickly it seems their life has passed by.   And how true this is; for the journey from the cradle to the coffin is a rapid journey.  Solomon’s father, King David, expressed this truth when he said to God “Behold You made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath.” James echoed some of the same sentiments of David and Solomon when he wrote, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

Life is unpredictable – When your warm breath collides with the cold air, the pattern of your breath can formulate into any shape and can go in any direction. Your next breath will produce a different vaporous pattern. Similar to Solomon’s description of the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:6), your breath seems to wisp around any way it wishes. Likewise, your life is unpredictable. Because life is very transient and elusive, there is not some recognizable distinctive pattern. From man’s perspective, life is filled with the unexpected.

Life cannot be grasped – Have you ever tried to catch your breath? It cannot be done. In the same way, you will never be able to master life. Solomon says that trying to understand the riddles of life is like striving after the wind. It is a burdensome task that cannot be accomplished (Ecclesiastes 1:13). The description of “chasing after the wind” might be beautiful poetic imagery to reflect upon, but in reality the action itself is a vain endeavor marked by endless futility.  No matter how passionately you try to master your life, you will fail to grasp it and will always come up empty handed. There are just some things that are beyond your comprehension that you will never understand.

Our lives are easily forgotten – Like a vanishing breath on a cold winter’s morning replaced by another, “a generation goes and a generation comes” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). People live their lives day in and day out, and when they are gone, so is their life story.  Solomon says, “There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.” Do you know anything about your great-great-great grandparents? You probably do not.  No worries, your great-great-great grandchildren will not know about you either.

Since life is fleeting, how should you respond? First, accept these truths about life and realize how limited you really are.  Humbly yield your life to God. Seize the day by enjoying the gifts from God’s good hand; gifts such as food, drink, and labor (Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:12, and 5:18). Be content with your lot in life (Ecclesiastes 3:22, 5:18). Be joyful in doing good (Ecclesiastes 3:12), and enjoy your spouse (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). And by all means, prepare for eternity. Simply put, life on earth is brief and soon you will draw your final breath, so enjoy God and give Him glory.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 04.03.19

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Posts and Stones; thoughts on Marking your Spiritual Pilgrimage

“Set up for yourself road marks, Place for yourself guideposts; Direct your mind to the highway, the way by which you went…” – Jeremiah 31:21

In the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, we read of the disobedience of God’s people. Because of their unfaithfulness to God, they were overtaken by their enemies and exiled from their homeland. However, God promised them that they would eventually return home. This is why they were instructed to position road marks or guideposts along their path as they left their homeland. These waymarks would one day assist the Israelites in retracing their steps back home. The markers used were very simplistic in nature; for it might have been a pile of rocks referred to as “guidestones” or even a wooden post of sorts referred to as a “guidepost.” This practice certainly made sense, considering the barren terrain traveled by God’s people; a terrain that lacked visible landmarks or any obvious points of reference.

There is much we can learn from the passage above; for it reminds us of the need to symbolically set up markers along our own personal spiritual pilgrimage to help us along the way. But this raises a question; what type of guidestones should we use to mark our path?  Well, it will differ for each person, but for me, my guidestones have been the life moments when the fingerprints of God were most evident, the moments when God’s presence was most overwhelming, the moments when the guiding hand of God was clearly felt, and even those difficult teaching moments marked with failure. With this in mind, let’s consider the importance of setting up spiritual guidestones as we travel down life’s path.

To begin with, guidestones help you remember where you have been. To help understand this point, let me to illustrate. If I was traveling in an unfamiliar area without the capability of  GPS navigation, I would look for land markers are in the area and do my best to remember them. For instance, I might note that I turned left at the intersection where the red brick church was located or that I went past the city park. By doing so, I am familiarizing myself with the surroundings of my journey so when I do return home, I end up taking the correct path. And so as the Israelites ventured into foreign territory, they periodically set up road markers to designate the path back home. Likewise, the spiritual guidestones we set up on our path should remind us of our spiritual story and where we have been.

Secondly, guidestones show God’s continual care and compassion. The Israelites had to deal the consequences of their sin as they faced exile and left their homeland. By heeding these instructions, they were still experiencing God’s grace; for despite their unfaithfulness, He still cared for them and His love for His people never ceased. Like a Father to His children, He corrected them and loved them at the same time (Proverbs 3:12). And as they made the trek away from home, each stone and post they used to mark the way served as a reminder that God had not forgotten them.

Finally, guidestones help bring you back home. With these instructions we see that God was also promising that one day there would be an end to their season of exile. Despite their unfaithfulness, the Lord provided for them a path of return. They would have to suffer the consequences of their sin and face exile, but there would come a day when God would lead them home. This truth is a message of hope to those who feel they have spiritually passed a point of no return or have somehow exhausted the grace of God. Our heavenly Father has a return policy for His wayward children in which they can come back home to Him.

Our roads today are marked with an assortment of signs providing instruction and direction. Likewise, your life road needs to be marked with spiritual signage reminding you of the various benchmarks moments in your journey. Ponder these things today, and ask God to help you prop up spiritual stones and posts that continually point you back to God.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 01.27.19

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We Wrestle Not; Musings on Spiritual Warfare

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12

As long as the people of God are on this side of eternity, they will be susceptible to the fiery darts of the enemy (Ephesians 6:16). Satan the adversary is cunning and conniving in his attempts to destroy God’s people (1 Peter 5:8).  Spiritual warfare is real and is the reason why Christians must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10). In our passage above, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and clearly articulated spiritual warfare in the Christian’s life by using the Greek word “palé” meaning “struggle.” In ancient culture, it was a word associated with popular competitive sporting matches. Paul, known for his metaphors, accurately depicts the reality of spiritual warfare by associating the believer’s daily spiritual battles with wrestling matches, language his audience would understand. And one cannot help but be reminded of the familiar phrase “wrestle with sin” when considering this Scriptural metaphor. For instance, a believer might share with another that he or she is “wrestling” with a particular sin.

But is it possible this Christian cliché can be misused? Many people say they “wrestle” with a particular sin, suggesting they are actively in a fight against the enemy, when in reality there is very little fighting. More often than not, the believer fails to fight at all, and instead rapidly waves a white flag in the face of temptation, thus paving the way to sin. As one preacher from yesteryear put it, “the problem with many Christians is they wrestle not!” To be sure, some believers actually do put up a fight against the enemy. But others fail to fight and simply let the enemy have his way; for they wrestle not!

Until we are ushered into eternity, sin will be a festering thread woven into the tapestry of our lives. And since sin is part of our earthly story, it would be wise for the people of God to embrace Paul’s words of warning and instruction about spiritual warfare. The truth is, the spiritual struggles we endure are far greater and deeper than their initial appearances. Appearances may lead us to assume the spiritual wrestling match is with the people who oppose us.  But a deeper look reveals the true, underlying current behind it all; our adversary the devil.  He is the conniving instigator behind every spiritual attack we face and he is the mastermind behind every devilish scheme that comes our way. Like the weapons in the arsenal of an advancing opponent, Satan aims his fiery darts in our direction attempting to derail us on our spiritual pilgrimage (Ephesians 6:16).  Paul warns against the naivety of seeing spiritual warfare as something only surface deep; for there is a massive network of demonic forces lurking within sinister underworld, an army of Satan and his demons synchronizing their fiery darts in our direction.  And so when we begin to see this unseen reality for what it is, we begin to understand that our enemy is not the one attacking us; rather our enemy is Satan and his agents of evil.

Dear Christian friend, be sure to put on the full armor of God so you will be properly prepared for the devil’s schemes. Strap on the belt of truth, fasten the chinstrap to the helmet of salvation, lift up the shield of faith, put on the breastplate of righteousness, lace up your pair of gospel shoes, have a firm grip on the Sword of the Spirit, and with calloused knees, be in a spirit of continual prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18). But by all means, be sure to wrestle! Remember, our Lord never promised following Him would be easy. But He did promise that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And so as you fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), you would do well to have the same attitude as David as he fought Goliath…“the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47).

 – Pastor Eric

Garland of Grace – 01.08.19

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The Grace of the Father

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” – John 1:16

I suppose every one of us as a child made some sort of craft while attending elementary school. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher Mrs. Diggs had all the students make a special gift for their dads. The craft project called for three things; an empty plastic orange juice cylinder (the kind that would usually contain frozen orange juice), various colors of yarn, and, like any good craft, Elmer’s Glue. We were to take the orange juice cylinder and lather the outside of it with glue. We were to then take the various colors of yarn and wrap the yarn around the cylinder starting from the bottom up to the top, creating a colorful tapestry. When finished, it was to serve as pen and pencil holder, a gift perfect for any dad. I followed my teacher’s instructions and diligently worked on the craft project, gluing a tapestry of red, orange and brown threads of yarn around my orange juice cylinder. When I finished my masterpiece, I proudly saw it as a work of art ready to be displayed in an art gallery. In my five-year old mind, it was something that any office supply store would want to sell. When I gave it to my father, he gladly received my gift with grace. He said, “Thank you, it is great” and he took it to work and placed it on his office desk. And, it would stay on his desk for many years. One day as a high school student, I was hanging out in my Dad’s office and saw my kindergarten craft. I picked it up and thoroughly examined it. For some reason, it was not as glorious as I had remembered it. It was actually quite crude and unattractive. The string pattern was uneven, somewhat drooping on one side, and there were globs of glue all over the edges. To be sure, my creation was not as good as I remembered it to be. What was even more overwhelming was the fact that my dad had kept it on his desk all those years. In that moment, I realized that the pen holder on my father’s desk said more about my gracious father than it did the pen holder.

There is much we can learn from this particular story from my childhood. To begin with, it is easy to have high regard for ourselves and our accomplishments when in reality we are flawed people who fall short. To be sure, there is a great dose of humility in my story. Secondly, when I gave the pen and pencil holder to my father, I really thought that it was good. But in reality, my father did not receive it because it was good, he received it because I was His child and He was a gracious father. And so it is with God. He receives our gifts, not so much because they are worthy of His attention, but because He is full of grace. The Father then receives our gifts, puts them on display and uses them for His glory.

In our verse above, John reminds his audience about the greatness of God’s grace; for God’s people have been bestowed with grace upon grace. This amount of grace heaped upon the children of God is immeasurable, and is firmly rooted in His gracious gift of His son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Paul wrote to the believers in Rome and said “we are justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Also, Paul also stressed that we are no longer under the law but grace (Romans 6:14). We can also find comfort in knowing that God’s grace is sufficient at all times (2 Corinthians 12:9). Furthermore, God even provides grace to His people for the purpose of Good works (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Dear child of God, there are many wonderful truths rooted in God’s grace! Bask in the rays of God’s grace (Numbers 6:25) and rest in His fatherly care for you. And like the pen holder, remember it’s not about you and it’s all about Him!

 –  Pastor Eric