Garland Of Grace – 05.20.18

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B and O Construction Company; Skilled Craftsmen for the Glory of God

 “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel…’” – Exodus 31:1-2A

In Exodus 31, we are introduced to a skilled craftsman named Bezalel. He was appointed by God to serve on the construction crew assigned to build the tabernacle. We know very little about Bezalel. However, we are able to glean four life principles from his story.

To begin with, Bezalel was called of God. God tells Moses that He has “called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 31:2). As we read Bezalel’s story, we learn that he faithfully obeyed the call of God (Exodus 31:2-5). And so it should be with all His children; when God calls you to complete a specific task for His kingdom, you are to see your calling as a commissioning from God to complete the task He has set before you.

Secondly, Bezalel was equipped by God for the task at hand. God had filled Bezalel “with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge…” (Exodus 31:3). Bezalel was an instrument in the hand of God because of His God-given wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. You must remember one cannot accomplish God’s purposes without having God’s blessing upon their life; for God will always equip those He calls.

Third, Bezalel used the resources God had given him. What had God called Bezalel to do? He was “to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:4-5). Available to him were the building materials of metal, stone and wood. He took these materials and used them for the glory of God.  Likewise, you and I must do the same. This is not to suggest that you have been called by God to work with precious metals or stones like Bezalel (though that might be the case), but it does mean that you are called to work with whatever materials and resources God has delivered to your “life job site.” And you are to use those materials and resources to accomplish His purposes.

Finally, Bezalel glorified God through his talents and abilities. God had “filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom… and in all kinds of craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:3). This craftsmanship was truly a God-given talent; for it is God who places the skills and talents of men into their hearts (Exodus 31:6). Likewise, the gifts and talents you have are woven into your life by the good hand of God.  Any credit for the skills you possess goes to God.

We are then introduced to Oholiab, Bezalel’s co-worker. Like Bezalel, Oholiab was appointed by God for the task at hand (Exodus 31:6). He was also an expert in engraving and embroidery (Exodus 38:23). Both men honored God with their service in constructing the tabernacle. Dr. J Vernon McGee said “these men and their helpers were given special gifts for craftsmanship. They made the tabernacle furniture and also the garments. The Spirit of God equipped them for their work. I believe craftsmanship was their trade, and that they worked with gold and silver and other delicate things. But they were given a special gift from God to do God’s work.”

In light of Bezalel’s and Oholiab’s story, ask yourself the following questions; what has God called you to do in service to Him?  How has He equipped you to do what He has asked of you? What resources are available to you to complete this task? And, how can you complete the task for the glory of God?

One final thought; Bezalel’s and Oholiab’s story reminds us that some are called to serve God on the front lines like Moses and Aaron, while others are called to serve behind the scenes like our two skilled craftsmen. But whatever the calling, all service to the Lord is vital to God’s kingdom. No matter what God has called you to do, serve with a willing heart and glorify Him in all things, just like our friends Bezalel and Oholiab.

 – Pastor Eric

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The Plight of John Currier; Thoughts on the Call to Verbally Share the Gospel

“But get up and  stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you…” – Acts 26:16

There is a fascinating story George Sweeting shared in his book “The No-Guilt Guide for Witnessing.” Sweeting tells about a man named John Currier who in 1949 was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Later, he was transferred and paroled to work on a farm near Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1968, Currier’s sentence was terminated, and a letter bearing the good news was sent to him. But for reasons unknown, John never saw the letter, nor was he told anything about it. Life on that farm was hard and without promise for the future. Yet John kept doing what he was told even after the farmer for whom he worked had died.  Ten years went by. Then eventually in 1978 a state parole officer learned about Currier’s plight, found him, and told him that his sentence had been terminated. Currier was a free man.  Sweeting concluded that story by asking the following question; “Would it matter to you if someone sent you an important message, the most important in your life, and year after year the urgent message was never delivered? We who have heard the good news and experienced freedom through Christ are responsible to proclaim it to others still enslaved by sin. Are we doing all we can to make sure that people get the message?”

Currier’s plight is an amazing story. Yet in light of his story, let us consider the passage above. In Acts 26, the Apostle Paul made clear a defense for his faith in Christ before King Agrippa.  In his speech, Paul articulated the details surrounding his conversion experience which had taken place on the Damascus Road. Specifically, he shared with King Agrippa that Jesus, the King of Kings, had commanded him to be a “witness.”

But what does it mean to be a witness?  Well, to begin with, being a witness for Christ involves reflecting the gospel through our actions. This is referred to as “lifestyle witnessing.” We ought to live out our lives in such a way that we radiate the gospel through our actions.  It is the desire for people to see Christ in our lives. But being a witness is so much more than just our actions.  As we see in Paul’s speech to King Agrippa and in the story of John Currier, there is still the need for a “verbal” witness. This is why witnessing always involves verbally sharing with others what Christ has done in your life. As one Christian put it, it is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” If you have trusted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then you have a testimony to be shared.  As a Christian, you have the good news of Jesus Christ; good and glorious news that provides freedom for imprisoned people. This is why we are called to share our faith to those whom God has placed in our path. It would be a travesty for you to only “Lifestyle witness” and never verbally share your faith. It has been said that if all you ever do is practice lifestyle witnessing without ever verbally sharing the gospel, then all you are doing is making this world a better place for people to leave before they die and go to hell.

The bottom line is this; it is not God’s will for His people to selfishly hoard the gospel by failing to be a verbal witness. Instead, it is His desire for the gospel message to be verbally shared with others.  We would do well to remember that the Apostle Paul described his responsibility to witness as a calling from God. With all of these things in mind, take time out today and ask God to help you be a better verbal witness by His grace and for His glory!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 05.06.18

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When God Leaves Us Alone…

“Even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.” – 2 Chronicles 32:31

Every believer has had those spiritual mountain top experiences and times in their life when they feel so close to God.  In those special seasons of life, the fellowship with the Lord is extra sweet and the internal peace felt within that child of God is a feeling of serenity.  But whether we want to admit it or not, that is not how every moment within the Christian life is.  There are times in our spiritual pilgrimage when the closeness of God is not felt like before.  It might be because we are out of fellowship with God or it possibly might mean that unconfessed sin is serving as a barrier to our intimacy with the Lord (Hosea 5:6).  But that is not always the case either.  Believe it or not, there are times in a Christian’s journey when they are right with the Lord, but they still feel like He is far away.  How can this be?

Well, sometimes the Lord will draw back from a person’s life for a season, and it is always for a reason.  During that period of time, the believer won’t feel the closeness of God as he or she had in times past. The purpose behind this is always to cause that Christian to grow deeper in their longing for God.  And it is in those moments that one can find themselves asking… “God, are you there?”  Maybe you can relate to that.  If so, it would be good for you to remember that God’s ways are certainly not your ways, and that God’s purposes are not your purposes.  Admittedly, it is hard for some to believe that God would do such a thing.  But we can be rest assured that if God chooses to do this in the life of one of His children, it is done so to benefit that person in the long run.

This spiritual truth was evident in King Hezekiah’s life.  We all know that King Hezekiah had had a very close and intimate relationship with the Lord most of his life and during his reign as king.  But consider our verse above.  At a very crucial time in his life, the Bible tells us that the Lord left him alone.  I am truly convinced that God’s reason for doing this was twofold.  First, God did this to test Hezekiah’s character.  Notice our text above says, “God left him alone only to test him.”  What was the reason? So “that He might know all that was in his heart.”  Secondly, I believe that this happened in Hezekiah’s life to also reveal his dependency upon God.  The only way one can properly develop spiritually is to truly know, understand, and experience our personal need and dependency on God.  When God left him alone, Hezekiah was reminded of his total and utter dependency upon the living God.

We must be cautious in our interpretation of what is meant when the text says “God left him alone.”  It does not mean King Hezekiah’s relationship had somehow been permanently severed. Nor does it mean that God had willingly forfeited His omnipresence. Both of these interpretations would be theological perversion. Rather, the passage must be understood in the following way;  one can be in the presence of another and still be “left alone.” The Lord, though continually present in the king’s life, dialed back His permeating presence. Thus, God left Hezekiah alone. God in His providential care permitted a season of loneliness to blow through Hezekiah’s life to test his character and cause him to depend on God all the more.

Can you relate to what happened spiritually to King Hezekiah?  Can you flip through the pages of your life story and remember times when you were right with the Lord, but yet you did not feel the powerful presence of God as you had in prior times?  If so, it might just be that God was testing you, and teaching you to lean and depend on Him even more.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 04.22.18

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Dewey Williams and the Hesitating Squirrel

“How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” – 1 Kings 18:21

In 2010, the Lord laid it upon my heart to preach a series of sermons to my congregation in Tennessee on the subject of “Great Questions of the Bible.” (It is a sermon study I later preached to our Seventh Street congregation). But during the initial study with my Grace Baptist Church family (as with Seventh Street) we considered various questions such as, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, “What must I do to be saved?”, “Why do the wicked prosper?”, “What is man that you take thought of Him?”, “Where can I go from Your Spirit?”, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”, and many others. One of the questions we considered came from our passage above.  Elijah speaks directly to the people of God on Mount Carmel and asks them, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” His question is considered one of the greatest invitations in the Bible.

But what really led Elijah to pose such a confronting question? The people of God had flirtatiously dabbled with pagan idolatry, having turned a listening ear to the false prophets of Baal.  Yet at the same time, they wanted to keep the benefits and privileges that came with being God’s people. They wanted it both ways. They claimed allegiance to God with their lips, while committing spiritual adultery by fanning the flames of strange fire in their hearts. And so Elijah made it very clear to them that they could not have it both ways. His words of confrontation were similar to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24 when our Lord said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” The people of God in Elijah’s time were very hesitant, postponing any expression of decision or commitment; for they did not answer him a word. Yet Elijah’s challenge was very clear; it was time to decide. Were the people of God going to forsake their recreational idolatrous habits by being fully committed to the Lord, or were they going to continue to straddle the fence?  Not to decide was to decide.

As I preached the sermon, I wanted to illustrate Elijah’s question. So I asked our congregation to imagine a hesitating squirrel in the middle of a road.  I am sure you know what I am describing; for we have all seen the hesitating squirrel. He sees the oncoming vehicle while feeling the vibrations upon the surface of the road.  Panic stricken, he is unsure on which way to turn. Does he go back the way he came from, or does he make a dash to the other the side? Many times, the squirrel’s hesitancy is magnified all the more by a display of fancy footwork in going back and forth. Unfortunately, his inability to decide can lead to a deadly outcome.

Present in the congregation that morning was an elderly man by the name of Dewey Williams. He had been visiting our church for a little over a month. While hearing the sermon, he was personally confronted with our question for the day, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?” In that moment, he realized that he had been a lot like that squirrel.  For eighty-one years he had hesitated and delayed in making a decision for Jesus Christ.  But that morning, God opened his eyes to the gospel, and Mr. Dewey saw his need to trust and receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.

Dewey has now gone home to be with the Lord. To be sure, Dewey picked up the baton of the Christian faith late in life being converted at age eighty-one. But one thing is for sure; he finished strong. Every time I go down the road and see a hesitating squirrel, I smile and think of a man named Dewey Williams. I pray that you do the same.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 04.15.18

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Noah’s Ark; An Old Testament Picture of Christ

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” – Matthew 24:37-39

One of the most vivid snapshots of Christ within the Old Testament is Noah’s Ark.  Let us strap on our New Testament binoculars as we peer into this Old Testament passage.

To begin with, there was only one ark (Genesis 6:14). God did not instruct Noah to build a fleet of arks. The ark was the only plan of salvation God provided. There were not alternate means of escaping the coming judgment of God. This is true with salvation. 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.”

Secondly, this is further illustrated in the design of the ark itself; for the ark only had one door (Genesis 6:16), and only those who entered the ark through the one door would be saved. Similarly, God, the Architect of our lives,  has drawn out a plan of salvation that only calls for one Door. Jesus said, “I am the Door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” And so only those who enter into a personal relationship with Christ will be saved from the flood waters of God’s wrath.

Thirdly, it was God who shut the door of the ark (Genesis 7:16). Likewise, when we enter the Ark of salvation through Christ the Door, it is God who seals us and secures us. Noah’s Ark did not have life jackets or lifeboats. Why; because Noah and his family were safe and secure within the vessel of salvation God had provided. Unlike the Titanic, Noah’s Ark was truly the unsinkable ship!  And we too can have the same security as we enter through Christ the Door and trust in Him for salvation. Just as Noah and his family weathered the storm within the bosom of the ark, the child of God can confidently weather the storms of life resting in the bosom of Christ.

Fourth, the ark did not have oars or a rudder. This means Noah and his family could do nothing to steer the ship. God was the Captain. By entering the ark, they were totaling trusting and relying on God for their deliverance from the flood. If the ark had been equipped with oars or a rudder, Noah and his family could have become prideful, thinking that somehow they had contributed to their deliverance from the flood waters. Once again, we clearly see the gospel message of salvation. Trusting in Christ means not trusting in ourselves; for there is nothing we could ever do to save ourselves from our sins.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.”

Finally, God did not tell Noah and his family to “go” into the ark. Instead, He invited them to “come” into the ark (Genesis 7:1). This is quite significant; for there is a drastic difference between telling someone to “go” and inviting someone to “come.” If God had told them to go into the ark, His words would have suggested that they were somehow departing His presence. But that is not what God said. He said, “Come.” And so as they accepted His invitation and entered the ark, they were entering the very presence of God. Likewise, when we accept the invitation to come through Jesus the door, we are entering into a personal relationship with God Himself.

May we not be guilty of turning a deaf ear to the warning of God’s judgment like Noah’s generation (2 Peter 2:5). Take heed, and make sure that you are not left outside of the Ark of salvation!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland of Grace – 03.25.18

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I am Barabbas

“So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” – Matthew 27:17

Overlooked in the passion story is a man named Barabbas. Yet his story magnifies a wonderful truth to consider. Let’s look at his life, and see how his story magnifies God’s gracious gospel message.

To begin with, Barabbas was a notorious criminal. Matthew 27:16 says that, “At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.” Barabbas was well known for his life of crime. He was certainly not the type of guy you would want your daughter to bring home. If he were alive today, his face would be on the bulletin board at the Post Office, or even appear on “America’s Most Wanted.” He had a long rap sheet. Everyone knew about this guy; for he had developed a notorious reputation for his criminal activity. Secondly, Barabbas was anti-government. Mark 15:7 says, “Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists.” Insurrectionists were those who led rebellions against governmental authority. This obviously did not set well with the Roman officials of that day. Thirdly, Barabbas was a murderer. Mark 15:7 also says he “had committed murder in the insurrection.”  We do not know much of the political rebellion Barabbas was involved with, but during the incident, he had committed murder. Finally, Barabbas was a thief. In John 18:40, Barabbas is described as a robber. Once again, we do not know the details surrounding this particular crime, but the Apostle John felt it necessary to provide this information.

And then Jesus enters Barabbas’ life. In celebration of the Passover feast, it was a custom in that day for a prisoner (chosen by the people) to be released (Matthew 27:15). Out of self-interest, the people had been handed Jesus over to the authorities (Matthew 27:18). Pilate, knowing the selfish intentions of the crowd, asked them if he should release Jesus or Barabbas (Matthew 27:21). They cried out, “Barabbas!” Their response was mind-blowing; the same crowd who earlier in the week cried “Hail Him, hail Him!” now cried “Nail Him, nail Him!” Pilate even told the crowd he found no fault in Christ (John 18:38, John 19:4, John 19:6). Yet they only demanded the release of Barabbas all the more. And with their demand, they put their stamp of approval upon the execution of Jesus.

It was an unexpected turn of events. The criminal who was a menace was released back into society while Jesus, an innocent man, was sentenced to death. The crowd’s decision contradicted the overwhelming evidence; a guilty man was set free while an innocent man was charged and sentenced to death. Jesus had been a blessing to society while Barabbas had been a menace to society. Jesus was a law abiding citizen while Barabbas had tried to overthrow the government. Jesus gave life while Barabbas took life. Jesus gave to people while Barabbas had stolen from people. It was in that fateful moment that the gavel of injustice fell and had permanently left its mark upon human history.

Yet it is in this chapter of the passion story where we clearly see the gospel of God. We are Barabbas.  We are notorious sinners with a long rap sheet and we are guilty as charged. And Jesus, who knew no sin, took our penalty and our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). Just as sinless Jesus substituted sinful Barabbas, He does the same for us.  He bore our sins and took the punishment that we so rightly deserve. And just as Barabbas was release from prison, we too are released from the prison of sin when we trust in Christ as Savior and Lord.

You might not care for the comparison to Barabbas, but it is certainly a fair comparison.  You are more like Barabbas than you realize. The human heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and is capable of committing a vast array of sins (Galatians 5:19-21). Before conversion, you were shackled in the prison of sin with a death sentence, and the only way that you could be set free was for Jesus to take your place.

With these things in mind, I pray that you see Barabbas in a fresh new way. And as you identify with Barabbas, I pray it magnifies the beauty of God’s gracious act of love as He sent His Son Jesus to take your place!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 03.15.18

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Heavenly Struggles; The Thoughts of a Pastor’s Wife

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are Trustworthy and true.’” – Revelation 21:5

I want to go home. Home as in Heaven, where there is NO sadness, NO death, NO mourning, NO crying, and NO pain. I also want to think that there will be NO stress! There are days when the stresses of everyday life seem to get too large for one person to handle on her own. There are times, when as a parent you have to pull, tug, and beg to get your pre-teen out of bed for school. Then there are the times when you are already running late and the cat throws up all over your bag or you spill coffee down your white blouse and you have nothing else clean to wear to work. It is times like these that I just want to go home, home as in Heaven. The Bible describes life in Heaven as beautiful. Heaven itself is so beautiful to look upon; for it has been created using precious stones and pure gold. There is only light and no night and the gates will never have to be shut. In Heaven I will have a room prepared for me. Yet in light of how amazing and wonderful Heaven is, I must continually remind myself that I am here on earth for a purpose. And as I look back on the petty things of life that seem so big, they are really just small concerns in the grand scheme of things.

Eventually, the preteen gets out of bed and gets ready for school and is on her way to learn and grow and do great things. The cat throw-up eventually washes out and the coffee, well, that’s just ruined but another blouse can be purchased at a later date. The trivial worries and stresses of this world are only a small blip in God’s big picture. He will cause all things to work for His glory and He will make this earth anew. In Revelation 21:5 Gods word says: He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” I am able to see my stresses and struggles for what they truly are, small. When compared to God’s purpose for this earth my daily stresses and struggles are nothing. He will make the whole Earth new again and He will dwell with us. I am confident in that statement because it is written that the words are “trustworthy and true.” When it comes to everyday struggles I need to remember that what God says is trustworthy and true. There are no loopholes or clauses hidden anywhere; for it’s just truth.

So, for the days when my struggles seem too big, I endeavor to remember these words that are true.  Isaiah 41:10 states a beautiful promise.  It states, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I am reminded of Revelation 21:7 when it says, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” At the end of the day I have learned to draw nearer to God and He will give me strength, endurance and comfort during the truly difficult times and during the not-so difficult times that seem, in the moment, to be the toughest ever!

 – Sarah