Garland Of Grace – 12.17.17

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A Testimony Guarded; Lessons from the Life of Joseph

“It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” – Genesis 39:7, 10-12

One of the best examples of someone in the Bible that guarded their testimony would be the story of Joseph. Joseph had been placed the highest position in Potiphar’s kingdom. Everything that Potiphar owned was placed under his care. He had been entrusted by his master to oversee the business of the kingdom. Nothing was off limits, except for Potiphar’s wife. Now Potiphar’s wife was not the most moral person. She was attracted to Joseph physically, and desired to have relations with him. She aggressively pursued this day after day. She let it be known very clearly to Joseph that she was willing to cheat on her husband. When confronted with her proposals, Joseph even asked her how he could do something so evil and sin against God. So Joseph stayed the course and kept his mind on the job that he had been given. He paid no attention to the advances made by Potiphar’s wife. Finally, one day, it all came to a head. She made a sexual advance toward Joseph, and he fled from the scene. He wanted no part in her conniving scheme. Potiphar’s wife decided that she had been rejected for the last time, and decided to get back at him. She lied to her husband and reported that Joseph was the one who had made the sexual advance. Joseph was thrown into prison. But through God’s providence he was released and placed back into a position of high authority. Through it all, Joseph kept his purity. He realized the importance of honoring God with his testimony. He knew that a moment of pleasure was not worth losing his testimony over. God allowed him to suffer the consequences of other people’s evil actions, but through it all, God honored Joseph for his purity.

Building a good testimony calls for a desire to honor God in every area of your life. One of the best ways to develop a strong testimony for the Lord is to make God’s Word a road map for your life. The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

I want to ask you a question. What is your testimony? Remember, your testimony is what others see in your life. When your name is mentioned in conversation, what do people think about or say about you? Can people look at your life and see evidence that the Holy Spirit of God is dwelling within you? Remember, what we do as a Christian is a reflection of Jesus Christ since we bear His name. I want to challenge you to reflect upon your testimony for the Lord. If you feel that your testimony has been tainted with things in the past, lay your irreparable past at the feet of Jesus, and begin this moment to live for Him with all of your heart. One last thing to ponder; a testimony is not always an individual. It can be a corporate body of believers such as a family or a church family. Does your family have a good testimony for the Lord? What about your church? Does your church family have a good testimony in the community, or is associated with squabbles and fighting? Let’s comprehend the importance of a good testimony for the Lord, and strive to honor God through all that we do and say!

 – Pastor Eric

    

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Garland Of Grace – 12.03.17

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Treasures from the Orient; Thoughts on the Three Gifts

“After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11

One of the most splendid scenes within the Christmas Story is when distinguished foreigners known as magi traveled from the east on mission to worship the child Jesus. Contrary to the nativity scene set up in your living room, Jesus was probably about two years of age when they arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph. And, interestingly, nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three wise men. People have automatically assumed there were three because of the three treasures given to the Christ child. The wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts that seem a bit strange for a two-year old. But as we unpack these three gifts a bit, we find that they were in actuality very appropriate.

The gift of Gold – Gold was an expensive commodity associated with royalty. These wise men had already acknowledged His kingship in Matthew 2:2 when they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Throughout the Scriptures, Christ’s kingship is clearly proclaimed. He was referred to as King prior to his birth (Luke 1:32-33), at His death (John 19:19), and even seven-hundred years prior to His birth by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:7). Gold is also one of the purest of all metals, reflecting Christ’s purity. Undoubtedly, the gift of gold was a gift fit for Jesus, the King of kings.

The gift of Frankincense – Frankincense was a resin or gum that was highly fragrant when burned, and was frequently used in worship to the Lord. Exodus 30:34-37 lists frankincense as one of the ingredients used to make a specific type of incense used in a burnt offering. This particular gift pointed to Christ’s holiness and that He alone is worthy of worship. And worship was one of the primary reasons why these wise men had traveled from afar in search for the child Jesus.  In Matthew 2:2 they said, “We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” The frankincense also points to Christ as our High priest. He is the one and only Mediator between God and man. He pleads our case before the Father and continually makes intercession on our behalf.

The gift of Myrrh – Myrrh was a spice commonly used in ancient embalming practices to prepare a body for proper burial. It was associated with suffering and death. To be sure, it seems a bit strange to give a toddler a gift signifying suffering and death. Today, it would be like giving a little boy a gift certificate to a funeral home. I wonder what went through the minds of Mary and Joseph when they saw the Myrrh. Did they fully understand?  Did they see the gift as somewhat morbid? But as bizarre of a gift myrrh might be, it reminds us of Christ’s earthly mission to die for the sins of the world; for He was born to die. Later, Myrrh’s theme of suffering and death would once again mark Christ’s life in the events that led up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ abusers offered Him gall to drink, a drink containing myrrh (Mark 15:23). Christ suffered and died as the propitiation for our sins, taking our punishment and penalty.

Soon after receiving the three gifts, the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream that King Herod would seek after the child Jesus in an effort to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13). Joseph heeded the warning, and hastily traveled to Egypt in effort to protect his family (Mathew 2:14). And because of the gift of gold from the magi, Mary and Joseph would have had the finances to cover their traveling expenses.

I pray these thoughts on the three gifts from the magi have enriched the Christmas story for you this year. Let us worship and adore the little baby boy born in Bethlehem; for He is Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 11.19.17

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Soli Deo Gloria

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36

Scholars divide the book of Romans into two sections. In Chapters 1-11, the Apostle Paul articulates man’s sin problem along with God’s redemptive plan for man. In Chapters 12-16, he explains the results of salvation and describes the transformed life of the believer. Sandwiched between these two themes is a beautiful doxology in which Paul expresses the greatness of God. At the end of chapter 11, he closes His thoughts on God by exclaiming, “To God be the glory forever.” The glory of God is a continual theme throughout Paul’s writings, possibly because of his deep understanding of how far removed man really is from God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The theme of God’s glory is found within the Latin slogan, “Soli Deo Gloria.” It means “glory to God alone.” Similar to the other four Solas, it was a rallying cry of the Reformers during the Protestant Reformation. It was their desire that God receive the utmost glory in all things. One might say that Soli Deo Gloria is the summation of the other Solas. For instance, God is most glorified when we fully embrace Sola Scriptura, believing Scripture to be the inspired, infallible God-breathed Word of God. God is most glorified when we fully embrace Sola Fide, resting in the promise that salvation is not based upon works, but rather by faith alone. God is most glorified when we fully embrace Sola Gratia, and stand firm on the truth that we are saved by God’s grace and nothing else. And God is most glorified when we fully embrace Solus Christus, believing Christ to be the only mediator between God and man, and the only way a person can be saved. If Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Solus Christus are spokes of a wheel, then Soli Deo Gloria is the axle. They all come together and meet within this one overarching theme of “Glory to God Alone.”

Martin Luther had become increasingly concerned that God was not receiving the glory He deserved. By adding to the doctrine of salvation, the Roman Catholic Church had taken partial credit for saving people; credit that belonged to God. And with the church teaching salvation was contingent upon works, even a person could even take partial credit for being saved. But none of the glory can be given to any church or individual. All of the glory belongs to God, and God has no plans in sharing His glory. In Isaiah 48:11, He says, “My glory I will not give to another.” God made this clear when He gave the Ten Commandments to His people. Exodus 20:3-5 says, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” It is here we see that one of God’s attributes is a righteous jealousy. The fact that God will not share His glory does not mean that He is a glory hoarder or egotistical. And it certainly does not mean that He is in need of attention. It is simply means that there is no one like God and He alone does wondrous things (Psalm 72:18). He has no rivals, equals, or companions (1 Chronicles 17:20). This is why He deserves all the glory.

“Soli Deo Gloria” should be the believer’s life theme. Paul stressed this when he told the church at Corinth to do every activity for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Let us commit in our hearts to strive to give God glory in all we do and say.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 11.12.17

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Solus Christus

 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Colossians 1:13-18

A non-negotiable within the Christian faith is the exclusivity of the gospel message, meaning salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone. Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This unwavering truth was highlighted during the Protestant Reformation by the use of the Latin slogan “Solus Christus” meaning “only Christ” or “Christ alone.”  The Roman Catholic Church had complicated the doctrine of salvation by teaching salvation was obtained through various combinations; Jesus plus the church, Jesus plus good works, Jesus plus prayers to Mary and the saints, Jesus plus indulgences, Jesus  plus communion, or even Jesus plus baptism. But with his 95 Theses, Martin Luther called out the church for these heretical additions to the doctrine of salvation. He stressed that nothing could be, should be, or needed to be added to Christ’s completed work on the cross. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary was sufficient to save sinners. No additions were necessary.

Another reason Luther and the Reformers used the phrase “Solus Christus” was in effort to place the focus back on Christ. Sadly, all of the additions to the doctrine of Salvation had pulled the focus away from Christ.  The Reformers simply wanted to give Christ the honor and glory He deserved. In our passage above, Paul articulated the greatness of Christ. He first expressed thoughts on Christ as Creator and His involvement in creation as the second person of the Trinity. He then addressed themes such as the eternality of Christ, the sovereignty of Christ, Christ as the Head of the church, and the supremacy of Christ. The passage is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful expressions of the incomparable Christ in all of the New Testament, and it was a favorite passage of the Reformers in returning the focus back on Christ.

“Solus Christus” reminds us that salvation is not about man. We might be the recipients of salvation, but the real story of salvation is Jesus. We are paupers. He is King. We are sick. He is the Healer. We are wretched. He is Glorious. We are in turmoil. He is Peace. We are sinners. He is the Savior. “Solus Christus” also reminds us that Jesus Himself is the gospel. The Word of God is all about Jesus because Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is His story. Luther understood this, and fully embraced “Solus Christus” by referring to Christ as the center and circumference of the Bible.

Christ is King of kings (Revelation 19:6). He is our Savior (Luke 2:11). He is our Redeemer (Galatians 3:13). He is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), and is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the Door (John 10:7), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and the Vine (John 15:5). He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and the Son of God (John 10:36). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the Root and Offspring of David and the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). He is the Resurrection (John 11:25) and the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8). It is because of these wonderful truths that Jesus must have preeminence in all things. His position of supremacy is reserved for Him and Him only. Oh that we would have the highest regard for our incomparable Savior; for He deserves first place in everything!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 11.05.17

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Sola Gratia

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  – Ephesians 2:8-9

One of the most beautiful words in the Bible is grace. It has been described with the acrostic, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” Grace is what makes the gospel message “good news” because it is at the heart of the gospel. And since grace is central to the gospel message, the doctrine of grace was on center stage during the Protestant Reformation. One of the Latin slogans that served as a rallying cry for the reformers was “Sola Gratia,” meaning was by God’s “grace alone.” However, the doctrine of “grace alone” did not suddenly show up on the scene during the time of the Reformation. Centuries prior to Luther, early church father Augustine of Hippo, had stressed salvation was only by God’s grace and that nothing could be done to earn or achieve salvation; for it was a free gift from God.

However, the term “grace alone” was not necessarily foreign to the vocabulary of the Roman Catholic Church. It was actually a theological phrase familiar to Catholics. However, its meaning was drastically different than what was meant when spoken by the Reformers. The Church saw “grace alone” as a spiritual work of God in a person’s life which began at baptism, which prepared a person for salvation and good works. However, when the Reformers used the term “grace alone” they meant that salvation was based upon the grace of God alone and it that had nothing to do with good works. During Luther’s life, he had actually taught both viewpoints; the Catholic viewpoint before parting ways with the Church, and eventually the Biblical view. In his book, “Echoes of the Reformation” author Brandon D. Smith writes, “The Church taught that grace didn’t save completely, but rather prepared people to be saved. Luther the monk said grace alone is the gasoline that propels the car of salvation. Luther the reformer said grace alone is the entire car.”

The passage above is one of the most familiar passages on God’s saving grace. The Apostle Paul mentioned grace and faith together in the same sentence. But this isn’t surprising; for they are really two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable doctrines woven together within the tapestry of the Christian faith. However, they are still very distinct from each other. It has been said that grace is God’s response to man while faith is man’s response to God. Paul stresses to the Church at Ephesus that God had saved them, not because of anything they had done, but simply by His grace. The salvation He provided was a free gift that they did not deserve.

The bible teaches salvation is based only upon God’s unmerited favor towards sinners, and that everyone is undeserving of God’s grace. Truth be known, a person cannot really begin to appreciate the grace of God until they begin to understand how sinful they really are. The Bible teaches that the heart of man is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). In Romans 7:24, Paul even referred to himself as a wretched man (which is certainly a fair assessment of the human heart).  Mankind is born into sin (Psalm 51:5) and immediately at odds with God. Because of our sin nature, we are spiritually broken before in His presence (Isaiah 6:5). There is nothing good about us (Romans 3:10). Even our best falls short of God’s standard; for our righteous deeds are but filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). A person really can’t enjoy God’s gracious act of salvation until they realize that salvation is their greatest need.

There is something liberating within the doctrine of grace.  It removes the burden of a meritorious approach to salvation, and instead provides a spiritual confidence and assurance that can only be found in Christ Jesus. I am so thankful that God used Martin Luther to expose doctrinal errors during a particularly dark chapter in church history. So let us rejoice together in the goodness of God, and celebrate the beautiful blessing of knowing that our salvation is simply by God’s grace alone!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 10.29.17

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Sola Fide

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16

One of the responsibilities Martin Luther had within the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Protestant Reformation was serving as a church representative for his region of Germany.  This position called for periodical trips to Rome to meet with Catholic leadership. It was through these trips that Luther began to realize the many heretical teachings within the Church. With each trip to Rome, both his concerns and frustrations grew. Specifically, he was distraught over the church’s viewpoint on salvation. The Church had muddied up the doctrine of salvation with a collection of extrabiblical teachings. They taught that for a person to be in right standing with God, they had to attach to their faith good deeds and works. In essence, they were teaching that salvation was a formula of faith plus works. Luther wrestled immensely over the issue for quite some time.  One day in 1515, he was reading Paul’s letter the church at Rome and came across the following statement in Romans 1:16-17; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith.” For Luther, the passage leaped off the page, and provided an overwhelming sense of liberation and freedom. It was a benchmark moment in Luther’s life; for God was preparing him to confront the slew of heretical teachings that were flowing out of the Roman Catholic Church.

This page from Luther’s story brings us to our second Latin slogan birthed out of the Protestant Reformation, “Sola Fide.” The word “Fide” means “faith” and “sola” means “alone.” Luther stressed that salvation was by faith alone, and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It was a liberating theological concept, quite foreign to the people of that day who constantly lived under the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. Fast forward to today, and Sola Fide is undoubtedly a foundational core belief in evangelicalism.

However, Sola Fide in no way negates the importance of works within the life of the believer. We are to bear spiritual fruit (Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:23) and we produce spiritual fruit by abiding in Jesus the Vine (John 15:4). James even stresses the need for spiritual works (James 2:17-26). But these passages are not at odds with any verses that stress salvation by faith alone like Romans 1:16-17 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Instead, these passages actually complement each other, teaching in a faith that works. This truth is made clear when the Apostle Paul emphasized salvation by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), then immediately stressed the importance of works in the Christian’s life (Ephesians 2:10). This means that faith and works are inseparable. A person does good works not so that they will be saved, but rather they do good works because they are saved.  Good works are the result of salvation. Musician Rich Mullins said it best when he wrote “faith without works” was “about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”

Isn’t it wonderful to know that salvation cannot be bought, sold, earned or achieved? We cannot obtain salvation through our own good deeds or accomplishments. We are saved by God’s grace, which is His unmerited favor towards us, and the salvation offered to us is a free gift that we receive by faith and faith alone. World religions stress a salvation based upon human accomplishments while Christianity stresses personal faith in Christ, trusting in what He accomplished through His sacrificial death at Calvary. No wonder it has been said that works based religions are religions of “do,” while Christianity is a religion of “done!”  Let us celebrate together the beautiful promises for the believer found in Sola fide!

 – Pastor Eric

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