Garland Of Grace – 03.22.20

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Prosperity or Pestilence; Fitting Coronavirus into a Biblical Worldview

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” – Ecclesiastes 7:14

In recent weeks, it has been overwhelming to witness the pandemonium surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. To be sure, COVID 19 must be taken seriously, and people are understandably filled with fear and uncertainty. But in these tumultuous times, how should the coronavirus fit into the believer’s Biblical worldview?  Here are a few thoughts gleaned from Ecclesiastes 7:14.

First, every day is handcrafted by God. Solomon describes God as the Creator of each day, whether it is a day marked with joy or a day stained with adversity. We should find rest in knowing the sovereign hand of God weaves both bright threads (days of prosperity) and dark threads (days of adversity) into our life tapestry. God creatively crafts every day with purpose, no matter the events that make up each day. This means God is in control even when the world seems out of control. And the world seems out of control does it not? Life as we know it has been drastically altered. Restaurants and businesses have closed their doors. Sporting events have postponed their seasons or cancelled altogether. Schools and colleges have cancelled the current semester. Airports and bus stations are empty. City streets look like a Hollywood depiction of a zombie apocalypse. State governors have ordered citizens to stay home while countries across the globe have closed borders. Churches have dismissed services. The stock market continues to fall as the death toll from COVID 19 continues to rise. People are encouraged to practice social distancing in effort to curtail the spread of the virus. It all seems surreal. But none of these events have taken God by surprise. We rest in God’s sovereignty knowing He has the whole world in His hands even when everything around us seems to be out of hand. And so in desperate times such as these, God’s people must live out the gospel of God motivated by faith rather than fear.

Secondly, seasons of adversity should bring our thoughts to God all the more. Solomon says days of adversity should orient our thoughts toward God. This is not to suggest that during seasons of joy our thoughts on God can be dialed down. Solomon is simply reminding us that life’s obstacles can be used as opportunities to draw us into deeper contemplation on the things of God.

Thirdly, our eternal security should overshadow the insecurity of the moment. Solomon says “so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” It is a perplexing statement, but it was his poetic way of saying we do not know what each day will bring. Tomorrow might be a day of joy or it might be a day of catastrophe. We just do not know. The insecurity of the moment has been the primary thrust behind the panic surrounding COVID 19 pandemic. Supermarket shelves have been stripped bare as hordes of people have crammed their cupboards with items seen as essential for survival. Why; because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. True, we cannot know what will happen in light of the current circumstances, but as God’s people, we can have assurance of our eternal destiny. As we live out the gospel and point others to Christ during these unprecedented times, pray that people would spiritually prepare for eternity and put stock in the promises of God with the same sense of urgency as they have in physically preparing for the moment by stocking up on toilet paper!

Dear Christian friend, don’t waste the chapter of your life infected by the coronavirus.  See the virus in light of Scripture. Treasure each day (whether good or bad) as a gift from God, and dwell upon Him all the more during this season of adversity. Finally, though the insecurity of the moment can be overwhelming, find rest in your eternal security.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 02.12.20

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Hold On To Your Harp for a Better Day

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion! How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” – Psalm 137:1-4

Throughout the centuries, Psalm 137 has been prayed, recited, and memorized within both the Jewish and Christian religious communities. Because of its raw and authentic tone on the subjects of captivity and despair, the passage has been especially embraced by those facing seasons of difficulty and despair. Penned during the Babylonian exile, the Psalmist emotionally pulls back the curtain on the hearts of God’s people, and exposes the emotions felt by the Israelites during one of their darkest hours. As God’s people sat on the riverbank, they wept over their current circumstance, overwhelmed by the heavy hand of their Babylonian oppressors.

As they tearfully gathered at the riverbank, God’s people reflected upon better days. They hung their harps in the branches of the willows located on the riverbank, symbolizing their current season of despair. The Psalmist expresses the overwhelming pressure the people of God felt in that moment, as their captors required them to break out in song; songs about Zion. But singing simply to appease their pagan captives would be an expression of dishonor to the Lord. Besides, they felt as if there was very little to sing about. The joy usually associated with singing was absent from their hearts, making it impossible to sing with sincerity. In essence, the people of God had lost their song. Their passion was held captive as they themselves experienced captivity. They had lost their song because they had lost their joy. For them, singing to the Lord was not to be some perfunctory act void of emotions. Rather, it was to be a joyous act of worship marked by praise, exaltation, and sincerity of heart. Making matters worse, the songs of Zion were some of the deepest expressions of joy found in their songbook. It was ludicrous to imagine the possibility of singing the songs of Zion with joy. Discouragement weighed heavy upon the hearts of God’s people during their season of exile.

Yet no matter how devastating their circumstances were, they still held on to a glimmer of hope. This is expressed in Psalm 137:5-6 as the Psalmist passionately lamented and cried out to the Lord. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” It would be easy in such unprecedented circumstances to abandon all thoughts of a future hope and forget God, yet there would be devastating repercussions in doing so. Because of this, the Psalmist did not want to be guilty of forgetting the Lord and his past provision, and was determined to express his faith in the Lord and keep his thoughts upon Him. Because of their current circumstances, the Israelites felt forgotten by God, yet they were determined not to forget Him. I think James Montgomery Boice got it right when he said, “they…did not break their harps in pieces or throw them in the stream. Instead they hung them in the poplars, presumably saving them for what would surely be a better day.”

It would be easy in your season of despair to lose all hope and give up. But God’s people in their darkest hour did not forfeit their hope and despairingly trash their musical instruments.  Instead, they only hung them in the willow branches; for they always held on to the hope that their season of darkness would one day end and their joyful song restored.

How about you?  How do you respond when you lose your song?  You can be rest assured there will be seasons in your life when you feel you have. But even in those moments, respond as God’s people did.  Hold on to your harp and hope for a better day.

 – Pastor Eric

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