Garland Of Grace – 10.22.17

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Sola Scriptura

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” – 2 Timothy 3:16

The Apostle Paul stressed the importance of God’s Word throughout his second letter penned to his young protégé Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to be a good steward of the Scriptures by practicing serious study habits. Paul told Timothy that if a person failed to handle the Scriptures carefully and accurately, they have reason to be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul went on to say that the Scriptures are the fully inspired, infallible, God-breathed Word of God. They are completely accurate, true, and reliable, free of any errors or contradictions. The Apostle Paul undoubtedly had a high regard for the Scriptures, as should we. For God’s Word is truth, because He Himself is Truth (John 17:17, John 14:6). God cannot lie, and thus His words are pure (Titus 1:1-2). The Scriptures provide direction and guide the believer in the pursuit of righteousness (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word is also used to test whether or not a particular teaching is true or false. (2 Peter 3:16-18, 1 John 4:1).

But by the sixteenth century, truths surrounding the authority of Scripture had been practically abandoned by the Roman Catholic Church. “Thus saith the Lord” had been replaced with “Thus saith the Church.” The Pope’s word was valued more than God’s Word.  Scripture had taken a backseat to church creeds and traditions. Priests dictated the Scriptures instead of explaining the Scriptures. The church taught and practiced traditions which were in direct conflict with the scriptures.  Undoubtedly, it was a very dark chapter in church history. This was the atmosphere when Martin Luther showed up on the scene and began questioning the tactics and teachings of the Church. In his “95 Theses” hung on the church door at Wittenberg, Luther proclaimed the Scriptures as the supreme authority of the Christian faith, making it clear that God’s Word always supersedes the word of the church. Luther stressed these truths by using the Latin slogan “Sola Scriptura” which means “Scripture alone.” It was a timely message considering the Roman Catholic Church had become saturated with unbiblical traditions. And, not surprisingly, Luther’s theses was rejected by the church officials and Papal authority.

However, we should not interpret Luther’s concern about church tradition to mean that somehow all church tradition is bad. The truth is, church traditions based upon God’s Word can be extremely beneficial, enriching both the devotional life of the individual along with the overall health of a congregation. Bible Based traditions can help guide believers in righteousness. Luther’s message was simply this; any tradition conjured up by the church apart from the Word of God must be rejected. And as the Protestant Reformation gained steam, more and more people began to see the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church for what they were.  Over time, “Sola Scriptura” eventually became a rallying cry for the Reformers.

In the centuries that followed, “Sola Scriptura” was deeply woven into the tapestry of protestant evangelicalism. Even today, “Sola Scriptura” is a belief held by the majority of the evangelical community and is seen as a foundational pillar within Christian faith and practice. However, this is not the case with a handful of denominations.  In recent years, some denominations have softened their position on the Scriptures and seem to no longer hold to Scripture as the final authority for the church. Denominational councils and conferences have buckled under the pressures of a changing society and have done so all in the name of “tolerance” and “political correctness.” This is why “Sola Scriptura” must always be seen as a theological non-negotiable; for the authority of God’s Word is not up for debate.  Bottom line; a church congregation must fully embrace “Sola Scriptura” to maintain proper spiritual health.

Oh that we would have a deep appreciation for Protestant Reformation! Because of the reformation, our spiritual lives are not contingent upon the word of the church.  Instead, we have the Word of God readily available to us as the final authority of our faith. Ponder these things today, and may we all be people who have the utmost regard for God’s holy and precious Word!

– Pastor Eric

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Garland Of Grace – 10.15.17

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Thoughts on Martin Luther and the Five Solas

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

Martin Luther is considered to be the father of the protestant reformation. He is well known for a document he wrote known as the “95 theses.” It listed the various unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther posted the document on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. (Because of his actions, October 31st is known as Reformation Day) Undoubtedly, it was a pivotal point on the timeline of church history.

But where would the church be if it had not been for the boldness of Martin Luther? Would the church still be trapped in the clutches of Catholicism? We will never really know answers to these hypothetical questions. But we can find comfort in knowing that God in His sovereignty gave a German monk named Martin Luther the boldness to confront the heresies that had infiltrated the Catholic Church, an institution which controlled the majority of the religious thought during that time frame.

Luther was born in Germany in 1483. In his youth, he attended a Catholic school. During this time, he showed interest in becoming a monk. However, this displeased his father who wanted Martin to pursue a career in business. So, his father withdrew him from the Catholic school and placed him in another school where he received a degree in law. However, things dramatically changed for Luther after a near death experience in which he was almost stuck by lightning. Luther viewed the event as a sign from God, and devoted his life entirely to ministry. Luther began serving as a monk in 1505. Seven years later, he received a doctorate and began teaching as a Bible professor. It was during this time that Luther began having concerns about the teachings of the Catholic Church. Luther studied the Scriptures with diligence and accuracy (2 Timothy 2:15), and the more he studied the less confidence he had in the Church. He questioned many of the church’s teachings such as Immaculate Conception (meaning Mary was without sin), infant baptism, transubstantiation, the practice of indulgences, and papal authority (just to name a few). These were just some of the concerns that led to Luther writing the “95 theses” which addressed these heresies and others within the Roman Catholic Church.

There are five primary doctrines or slogans that sum up Luther’s “95 Theses.” In Latin, they are referred to as “The Five Solas.” The first one is known as “Sola Scriptura” meaning “Scripture Alone.” It teaches that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority in the life of the believer, not the church. If a church tradition or teaching is contrary to God’s Word, then it must be rejected. To sum it up, the Bible is to be seen as the ultimate and final authority (2 Timothy 3:16). The second doctrine is known as “Sola Fide” meaning “Faith Alone.” It stresses salvation is by faith, and not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). No amount of good deeds will get a person to heaven; for it is faith and trust in Christ that saves. The third doctrine is known as “Sola Gratia” meaning “Grace Alone.” It teaches that no one deserves salvation; for it is a free unmerited gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). The fourth doctrine is known as “Solus Christus” meaning “Christ Alone.” It teaches that by no other name are people saved (Acts 4:12), and that no one comes to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6). Finally, the fifth doctrine is known as “Soli Deo Gloria” which means “Glory to God Alone.”  This teaches that everything the believer does and says should have the sole purpose of giving God glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

These five doctrines of the Christian faith are fundamental in what we as evangelical Christians believe today; for they serve as the pillars we build our theology upon and the framework we use to shape our worldview.  With this in mind, let us celebrate these great truths, and may they act as theological markers on the road of life.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 10.08.17

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Pipes, PJ’s, Playmates and Porn; the Wasted Life of Playboy Hugh Hefner

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” – Matthew 16:26-27

In the fall of 2017, Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, passed away at the age of ninety-one.  He was known for his Playboy magazine, his Playboy mansion, his playmate girls, along with his lavish playboy life-style. Yet even in light of his fast-paced lifestyle, it is fair to say that his life was a wasted life. With his passing, here are a few truths that come to mind.

Women are not objects; they are image bearers of God. For centuries women have been sexually exploited. Yet this truth was cranked up a few notches in December of 1953 when Hefner released the first issue of Playboy magazine. Ever since that first publication, thousands of women have been presented as objects of sexual pleasure instead of the beautiful people that they are. Women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and their bodies magnify the majesty of our glorious Creator. When God extracted the rib from Adam to create Eve, He designed a beautiful human body designed for His glory, not a body to be advertised for perverted sexual gratification.

Pornography is a vicious societal cancer. Pornography has created sexual addictions, busted up marriages, destroyed families and has even led to patterns of sin from one generation to the next. To be sure, pornographic publications such as Hefner’s Playboy magazine only escalated the so-called “sexual revolution” of the second half of the twentieth century. Sadly, this destructive pattern has continued well into the twenty-first century. Like a cancer, pornography has eaten away at many people’s lives, robbing them of what is good and pure about sex. Sex (in the boundaries of a biblical marriage) is a beautiful gift from God. Yet pornography has distorted what God intended in the sexual relationship between husband and wife. Pornography is also very desensitizing. As one progresses down the pornography parkway, they will continue to exit off a little further into uncharted territory. And with each exit, they push the envelope a bit further, in an effort to satisfy their unbridled sexual cravings. Sadly, each time they do so, they slip even deeper into the perilous pit of sin.

Not every legacy is a good legacy. Oftentimes when famous people die, they are hailed as heroes for their “impact on society” or how they “changed the world.” But rarely is this the case. Usually their “legacy” is somewhat inflated or exaggerated. But in Hugh Hefner’s case, he really did impact society, and he certainly changed the world. However, he should not be hailed as a hero.  Truth be known, every person leaves behind a legacy. But we must remember that not every legacy is a good legacy. Both Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler impacted society and changed the world, but their legacies are in stark contrast. This is why we should all consider the type of legacy we are leaving.

In the passage above, Jesus addressed the cost of following Him. Some will follow, and some will not. Those who do not follow Him will face eternal consequences. This passage should lay heavy upon the ears of those who have not repented of their sins and received Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Pertaining to Hugh Hefner, I am no judge. However, as Christians, we are permitted to be fruit inspectors (Matthew 7:16). And we know that where there is no fruit, there is no root (John 15:5-6). Based upon his own public rejection of the gospel along with the lack of spiritual fruit in his life, it would be fair to assume that Hugh is now in Hell (that is unless He trusted Christ prior to his death).

What type of life are you building? What kind of legacy are you leaving? Ask God to give you the tools and resources to live a life marked by holiness and leave a godly legacy.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace 10.01.17

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A Garland of Grace

“The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding. Prize her, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown of beauty.” Proverbs 4:7-9

With the exception of the name of Jesus, the word “grace” has been referred to as one of the most beautiful words in all of the human language.  Grace is God’s act of favor upon His children as He gives us that which we do not deserve; namely salvation. The apostle Paul made it clear to the early church at Ephesus that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  I have heard an acrostic used for the word grace; God’s riches at Christ’s expense; and how true that is. By unmerited favor and of no accomplishment of our own, we receive the wonderful riches that were made available to us at Christ’s expense. The flock I shepherd is named Grace Baptist Church, and I believe many of the people involved in the initial establishment and inception of our church in the early days felt an especially overwhelming sense of God’s grace.

But when we bump into the phrase “garland of grace” what does it mean, and where does it originate?  Our passage above is taken from the book of Proverbs, a book of the Bible that is marked with great wisdom, and is labeled as wisdom literature in the Old Testament canon. In this particular verse, wisdom is portrayed with a feminine personification. The pronoun “she” used in this verse is a reference to wisdom.  You might have heard the phrase “mother wisdom.” So what will “she” do?  For those that pursue wisdom, she will place on them a garland of grace. That raises another question. What is a garland?  Webster’s defines a garland as “a wreath or chaplet made of branches, flowers, feathers and sometimes of precious stones to be worn on the head like a crown.” Simply put, a garland is a wreath worn on the head.  It is very similar to how athletes in ancient times would compete to obtain the winner’s wreath (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). So when Solomon in our passage above says that wisdom will adorn us with a garland of grace, he means that if you make it a priority to seek out wisdom, and you desire to be wise in your approach to life, it will be evident by the way that you live. It will be so obvious to others that your life will be evidently laced with the wisdom and grace of God Dr. John Macarthur puts it this way; He says, “The wisdom of God will adorn one’s life for all to see its beauty.”

The Word of God ought to serve as a “garland of grace” around our heads. Our lives should bear God’s Word in such a way that people know that we have laced our life with the wisdom found within its pages. The Bible is to serve as our instruction manual for life, and should be treasured more than vaults of gold, handfuls of diamonds, seafloors of pearls, or islands of rare spices.  But studying God’s Word alone does not necessarily make someone wise. Application of scripture and heartfelt faith must enter the picture as well.  And it is only when God’s Word is collectively studied, digested, and applied together that wisdom is obtained (Ezra 7:10).  It must not simply brush the surface of a person’s life.  It must be embedded into the crevices of the soul.  It cannot be fabricated by head knowledge. Wisdom must go deeper and mark the life of the believer in a very real and deep way. This truth is echoed in the New Testament when James says that Christians are to be a doers of the word, and not simply just hearers (James 1:22).  One last thought; it is also not a bad idea to pray for wisdom as King Solomon did (1 Kings 3:9-11).

My prayer for you is that wisdom would adorn your life like a garland of grace just as King Solomon poetically described in our text. And you pray as well; ask God to lace your life with a garland of grace.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 09.24.17

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Fruitless Vines and Failing Olives; Finding Joy in Difficult Times

“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19

The book of Habakkuk provides a glimpse into one of the darker chapters in the story of God’s people. The people of Judah were held in captivity by the Chaldeans. Because of this, the prophet Habakkuk makes a passionate plea to the Lord on behalf of the people for deliverance. Essentially, the story reads like a conversation between Habakkuk and the Lord. First, the prophet questions why God has permitted the people to be held captive (Ch. 1 vs. 1-4). God responds by telling Habakkuk that His reasons for doing so would seem unbelievable to Habakkuk (Ch. 1 vs. 5-11). The conversation continues and eventually leads to a beautiful prayer penned by the prophet expressing His faith in the Lord (Ch. 3). At the end of the prayer, He concludes that no matter how difficult circumstances might become, he would find joy in the Lord. And his unwavering joy would be based upon three beautiful promises. So what were these promises?

To begin with, the Lord was his source of salvation. At the time, it was not God’s will to deliver the people of Judah from captivity. But Habakkuk rested in knowing that God provided salvation for his soul. He knew that spiritual deliverance was more important than earthly deliverance. And so it is with us; we too can rest in knowing that spiritual deliverance is of greater importance than temporal, earthly deliverance.

Secondly, the Lord would be his source of strength. Habakkuk understood his vulnerabilities, and knew that he on his own could not muster up enough strength to endure difficult times, but the God would be His source of strength. Oh that we would see this to be true in our lives as well and that we would lean upon the Lord in tap into His the daily provisional strength he offers His children.  Trusting in Him means leaning upon Him (Proverbs 3:5-6); for He is our strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). We are frail and fragile people who are helpless without the strong and sturdy hand of our Lord.

Finally, the Lord would be his source of stability. Habakkuk says that the Lord makes his feet like the feet of a deer, allowing him to reach high places. This is a symbolic expression of the sure and stable footing God provides for him during times of instability. Though everything around him might seem to be a slippery slope, He knows the Lord will firmly plant His feet on solid ground. We too can rest in this promise. The Lord is our solid Rock, and it is He who sets our feet on solid ground (Psalm 40:1).

There are other life truths that we can learn this story. For instance, it is okay to ask question God, as long as we do so reverently. Habakkuk asked God some tough questions about why God had permitted Hos chosen people to be held captive.  Yet He asked these things with a spirit of humility. We are also reminded that joy should not be contingent upon external circumstances.  In chapter 3 verse 17, Habakkuk lists possible scenarios of devastation. Yet he determines that if they actually happened, his joy in God would not be stifled. Oh that we would have that same resolve!

The book of Habakkuk begins with words of concern and brokenness and ends with words of joy and praise. I pray this great gem of truth hidden within the Minor Prophets spoke to you as it did to me. Consider these promises of God’s future blessing, and allow them to be the catalyst to spark deep satisfying joy in the Lord.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 09.17.17

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Bad Alignment

“So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.” – Joshua 9:14

Whenever you hear the word “alignment,” what probably comes to the forefront of your mind is an automobile. For instance, it is vitally important for vehicles tires to be aligned with each other.  The word alignment means “to be in agreement with.” When your tires are in alignment, it means that they are in agreement with each other. Yet on the other hand, alignment can be a bad thing.  James made it clear that believers were not to align themselves with the world because friendship with the world is an act of hatred to a holy and righteous God. (James 4:4). Oh that we would understand that it is a dangerous thing to flirt with the attractions of the world and align our hearts with things in opposition to God.

Joshua chapter 9 tells of how Joshua and the children of Israel made an agreement with the Gibeonites.  But as they made this agreement with the Gibeonites, they were acting in direct disobedience to God; for God had specifically instructed His people to destroy the Gibeonites.  Why; because the Gibeonites were enemies of the one true God Jehovah.  Israel had been deceived by the Gibeonites, and fell into the sin of making a covenant agreement with them.  And in the midst of the story, we stumble across a very chilling statement that is hard to fathom. The Bible tells us that Joshua and the people of God aligned themselves with the Gibeonites, and never sought out the Lord’s counsel on the matter.

But this scripture text teaches another spiritual truth. Even great heroes of the faith like Joshua are susceptible to the sin of agreeing with the world and lining up with things that are in direct opposition to God. If it can happen to spiritual giants like Joshua, then it can happen to anyone. This is why we must cautiously guard our testimonies and our lives throughout every season of our spiritual development. And we can do so by seeking God in all circumstances.  This practice must be a continual spiritual discipline intentionally and meticulously woven into the very tapestry of our daily lives.  It involves guarding against the blinding, devilish arrogance that can creep into our lives and cloud our judgment, which in turn can keep us from seeking God’s counsel.

Acting without seeking the counsel of God is a very detrimental thing. When we align ourselves with the world, we are immediately out of alignment with God and out of His will for our lives.  Such an act is spiritual adultery, and a vile offense to the Lord.  Yet this temptation can be subtle and deceptive just as it was for Joshua and the Israelites. For the believer, joining up with the ways of the world is not something that happens overnight in some brief moment in time. Rather, it is a gradual process just as sin always is.  Oh how grieving it is to know how susceptible God’s people really are to aligning themselves with the world!  We must avoid this miry pitfall by seeking God’s will in all things; for He is our caring Father who has a plan for our lives and has our best interest in mind.

So as you face the circumstances of life, ask yourself, “What does God think about this matter?”  And as you pose this soul probing question, remember that it does not really matter what the world says and thinks, it only matters what God says and thinks.  Dr. Adrian Rogers said it best; “If you please God, it does not matter who you displease, if you displease God, it does not matter who you please.”  Ponder upon these truthful warnings, and see to it that your heart is only aligned with the one true and living God.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 09.10.17

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The Preacher and the Prostitute

“The Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel” – Hosea 3:1

One of the most powerful personal testimonies in the entire bible is the personal testimony of the prophet Hosea.  Hosea was a prophet of God who married a harlot named Gomer.  Hosea was a righteous man, but yet God told him to marry a sinful and ungodly prostitute. I suppose that if that happened today it would be all over local and national news. Their lead story would be called “Preacher Marries Street Walker” Their story may even make The Dr. Phil Show! It’s so hard to even fathom, but it happened. God told Hosea to do it, and he was obedient. And Hosea did so and loved her and treated her with the utmost dignity and respect. It was a level of respect Gomer had never experienced before in her life.  But after a while she started taking Hosea’s love for granted and grew dissatisfied.  She started thinking about her old life again. It was at this point that the prophet Hosea then begins a journey through one of the most trying times in his life.  His wife has cheated on him and left him.  To make things even worse, she had run out on him and started not just shacking up with one man, but she was literally pursuing the life of a prostitute. And after all her bad behavior, how did Hosea respond to Gomer’s infidelity?  He pleaded with her. Even after all she had done, he did not give up on her. He still clung to the hope that one day she would come home and come to her senses. One day God told Hosea to go into the city and go find his wife.  So he did.  Where was she?  She was up on the slave trading block. God told Hosea, that even though she belonged to him, he was to buy her back, and bring her back home.  He was to pay the price for her. You know, Hosea was an amazing husband considering after all that she did to him and her unfaithfulness to him.  He forgave her for what she had done.  He loved her more than he had before it ever had happened.

But Hosea’s personal testimony about his marriage tells two stories. Certainly it is a literal story between husband and wife, but is also symbolizes God’s relationship with his people. Israel had been very unfaithful to God. They had been involved two types of adultery. They had committed spiritual adultery against God. How did they do this?  They were involved with pagan Idol worship.  But their spiritual adultery led to “real” sexual adultery. Israel was guilty of worshiping the false god Baal, the Canaanite rain god.  This pagan worship towards Baal taught that human sexuality was tied to agricultural fertility. To encourage good crops they would do sexual immoral acts.  That’s why God chose Hosea to be the author of the book that bears his name.  Only a man that had been cheated on could properly tell the story of how Israel cheated on God. Gomer’s behavior towards her husband Hosea certainly pictures Israel’s behavior toward God. God tells Hosea to share his painful story and compare it to Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.

How many times have you and I treated God similar to how Gomer treated Hosea?  Do you want to know how God feels when we run out on Him and we shack up with the world? Hosea 2:13 describes how God feels.  Listen to what God says about Gomer.  “She adorns herself with her earrings and jewelry, and she follows her lovers, because she has forgotten Me.” Forgotten; that is how God feels.  But just like Hosea was a great husband, Our God is great. Like Hosea, He still loves you.  He never gives up on you, and still wants to restore you.  He paid the price for you. Now that is love!

 – Pastor Eric