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

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Garland Of Grace – 04.03.19

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Posts and Stones; thoughts on Marking your Spiritual Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 01.27.19

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We Wrestle Not; Musings on Spiritual Warfare

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

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

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

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

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

 – Pastor Eric

Garland of Grace – 01.08.19

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The Grace of the Father

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

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

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

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

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

 –  Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 11.04.18

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What on Earth is God Doing? Thoughts and Reflections for God’s People as they Approach Election Day

“In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” – Isaiah 6:1

I had a seminary professor that would frequently say, “God’s people should keep a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”  His point was simply this; Christians must see current events through the lenses of Scripture. With this in mind, how should believers view the political elections of governmental leaders?  Here are a few thoughts and reflections to consider…

To begin with, we must remember that no matter the changing brushstrokes on the political landscape, God is on the throne. Consider our passage above. The prophet Isaiah received a heavenly vision of the Lord sitting on His throne. And we are specifically told that Isaiah experienced this magnificent vision during the year of King Uzziah’s death. King Uzziah had reigned as King of Judah for twenty-seven years. This meant that an entire generation of people had only experienced one political administration. Thus, King Uzziah’s long tenure had led to a sense of political familiarity and national stability. But with the death of their king, came the threat of uncertainty and instability. And so Isaiah’s message provided a message of assurance to the people of Judah; earthly kings and thrones will change, but the throne of God never changes.

Secondly, no matter the results of an election, we can find comfort in knowing God has established the outcome.  The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome and said, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” In John 19:11, Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” Scripture unequivocally attests to the fact that it is God who removes kings and establishes kings (Daniel 2:21). Presidents, prime ministers, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, and even kings like Uzziah, are all placed into their position of authority by God and God alone.  He is the One who establishes all the governing authorities of the nations.  This is not to suggest that every world leader is of God or even makes godly decisions. Obviously that is not the case.  But God is sovereign and nothing happens without His permission.  The kings and queens of the world are simply pawns in the hand of God to accomplish His purposes. And whether they seek after God like King Hezekiah (2 Kings 22:2), or fail to seek after God like wicked King Jeroboam (2 Kings 13:11), God still uses them to accomplish His purposes (2 Kings 23:4-20; 2 Kings 14:26-27). It has been said that God will permit wicked leaders to rise to power for one of two reasons; to judge a nation or to accomplish a greater good.

Finally, no matter the outcome of an election, the sun will still rise the next day. Frequently during an election season, the political party on the losing end will act like the outcome is the end of the world. Yet no matter your political persuasion, you can be rest assured that the world is still on its axis and the stars did not fall from the sky. You can find comfort in knowing the sun will rise the next morning and life will go on.

I am certainly not suggesting that the people of God should not vote. To the contrary; it is vital and even necessary for Christians to exercise their right to vote and voice their opinion on the various issues at hand.  Just as God uses kings and governmental leaders to accomplish His purposes, He will do the same through the voice of His people.

I pray these insights are an encouragement to you during the next election season. Ponder these truths as you pray for God’s will to be accomplished through the election of governmental officials. And as you seek to understand current events within the political arena, keep your Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 09.16.18

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The Human Heart; A Storage Bin for Sin

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

There is a popular cliché used in our culture today that, from its initial sounding, seems innocent enough, but quite possibly just might be some of the worst possible advice a person could ever give or receive. It is the phrase, “follow your heart.” In recent years it has been used as a way to encourage people to make decisions based upon what they feel their heart leads them to do.  It has appeared on bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets and even social media postings. But is it biblical?  The answer to that question is an emphatic “no.” To the contrary; “follow your heart” is nothing more than an emotionally charged catch phrase without substance. Truth be known, life decisions are not to be based upon feelings. Why; because people are too emotionally charged and are prone to respond irrationally, leading to knee jerk reactions and rash decisions. With this in mind, let us look into the Scriptures and see why it is dangerous to follow the heart.

The Bible provides a sobering description of the human heart. Early in the Scriptures we read that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Mark 7:21-23 says, “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” In Psalm 66:18, we see that the heart of man acts as a storage bin for sin; for when we regard wickedness in our heart, the Lord will not hear us. In the New Testament we read that “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18), and because people are sinful and are inclined to be double-minded, the heart of man needs purifying (James 4:8). And so the human heart is extremely susceptible to demonstrate a spirit of rebellion and can lead to a hardened heart (Hebrews 3:8).  Because of this, it should not surprise us that John Calvin described the heart of man as “a perpetual factory of idols.”

The Bible provides clear instruction on how we should use our heart. We are to give God our heart (Proverbs 23:26) and love Him with all of our heart (Matthew 22:37). We are to cry out to God with our heart (Psalm 119:45) and give thanks to Him (Psalm 9:1). We are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart (Proverbs 3:5-6). We are to be pure in heart (Matthew 5:8) and called to purify our heart (James 4:8). We are instructed to do the will of God from the heart (Ephesians 6:6). Even the meditation of our heart is to be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14). We must remember that God discerns the intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). That is why we must guard our heart (Proverbs 4:23) and ask God to test our heart (Psalm 26:2). We must pray like David and ask that God to create in us a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). In the verses above, the heart is simply the instrument used to describe man’s pursuit in glorifying God; for God is the goal, not the human heart. This is why it is safe to say that we are to follow God with all of our heart instead of following your heart. Remember, Lot followed his heart and it led to much trouble (Genesis 13:10-11).

Dear Christian friend; know that God did much for you at conversion when He replaced your heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Even to this day, He grants peace for your heart when it is troubled (John 14:27). And so delight and find pleasure in Him; for when you do so, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). Ponder these truths today, and ask God to clearly speak to your heart.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 07.02.18

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The Rock Hill Fire; God’s Future Grace in the Charred Remains of Yesterday’s Past

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

Early in my ministry I had the opportunity to serve as Youth Minister at Rock Hill Baptist Church in Lexington, Tennessee. While there, the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to see great things accomplished for His kingdom.  Rock Hill has always had a special place in my heart.  I began dating my sweet wife Sarah during my time at Rock Hill. It was also where I was as I welcomed in the year 2000. During our church night watch service, the old church bell rung at midnight as we all rang in the new millennium. It certainly was a special memory. Eventually, my time at Rock Hill came to an end, and God called me to my next ministry. However, my relationships with the people of Rock Hill remained. Years later, in 2010, Rock Hill’s sanctuary was stuck by lightning. And in that moment, a building filled with over one-hundred years of memories burned to the ground in just a little over one-hundred minutes.

How can we glean spiritual insight from such a devastating fire? Here are five insights that come to mind…

1. Nothing surprises God. – Though the fire took everyone by surprise, it did not surprise God. God is all knowing, and nothing happens without His permission. From construction, to demolition, He knows how long every single man made structure on this earth will last.

2. The Church is God’s people, not some building. – The church is not constructed with bricks and mortar, but with the people of God. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in service to Him.   And whether our meeting place is destroyed by wind, fire, or flood, nothing can sever our eternal security in Him.

3. Everything on Earth will eventually burn up. – Everything will eventually be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10), and that none of our earthly structures or possessions will last. Only the soul of man is eternal, and as eternal beings, we will either spend eternity in heaven or hell (Matthew 25:46).

4. We learn from the past, not live in the past. – Historical church buildings are undoubtedly a wonderful treasure. But they are to only be houses of worship, not objects of worship. Now, I am certainly not suggesting that the people of Rock Hill were guilty of worshiping their church building. They certainly were not. But in the days that followed the fire, I was reminded of how God does not want His people to dwell on the past. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

5. God holds every lightning bolt in His hand. – God has complete authority over all creation; for even the wind and the sea obey Him (Matthew 8:27). This includes every crackle of thunder and every bolt of lightning, and He alone determines where each bolt of lightning will strike (Job 36:32). And so on that cold January afternoon, God the Meteorologist permitted one of His lightning bolts to strike the sanctuary of Rock Hill Baptist Church, for reasons beyond our comprehension. Yet we should still find comfort in knowing that God even controlled the lightning bolt that struck the church.

The fire left its mark upon the hearts and lives of Rock Hill’s people. But as the dust settled in the months that followed, God blessed the church as He equipped them with the adequate tools and resources needed to rebuild.  And by the grace of God, they were able to climb out from under the rubble of devastation to become even stronger in their faith and service to the Lord. And so Paul’s words to the church at Rome in our passage above were certainly true for the Rock Hill Church family; God caused all the events surrounding the fire with Rock Hill’s best interest in mind.

Ponder these things today, and let us look for God’s future grace in the charred remains of yesterday’s past.

 – Pastor Eric