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

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Garland Of Grace – 06.26.18

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The Personal Touch of God

“Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.” – Mark 8:23-25

Christianity more than just a religion; it is a personal relationship with God. While the religions of the world present their impersonal “god” or “gods” in a very stale, stoic, and sterile way, Christianity embraces the beautiful truth that God is personal, and those who surrender their life to Him enjoy the benefit of having a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe! Let that sink in; for it truly is an overwhelming thought!  However, this truth should not surprise us; for all throughout the Scriptures, we read where God has continually demonstrated how personable He is by touching people’s lives in a very personal way. Because of His touch, He knows His own by name (Isaiah 43:1) and His children have the joy of personally calling Him Abba, Father (Romans 8:15). They even are blessed with direct access to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). With these examples in mind, let us probe further in the subject of God’s personal touch.

In the Old Testament, we see the personal touch of God as He breathed life into man (Genesis 2:7), confronted the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:8-19), walked with Enoch (Genesis 5:24), called Noah to build the ark (Genesis 6:8-14), halted Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22:11-12), wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32), and showed His care for Joseph by providing His continual presence (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23). And that is just the book of Genesis! There are thousands of examples throughout the Old Testament where we see God deal with His people in a very personal way.

Within the New Testament, we see the personal touch of God as He sent His Son to this earth on mission to die for the sins of the world (Romans 5:8). This is further made evident through the life of Christ as He ministered to people in a very personal way. Take for instance, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). He intentionally reached out to minister to her, despite the social and cultural barriers of that day. He demonstrated the same caring approach in His conversation with Zacchaeus the tax collector, an occupation frowned upon by society (Luke 19:1-10). We see this same level of compassion from our Lord as He fed the masses (Matthew 14:13-21), touched the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), as He ministered to the woman who touched the hem of His garment (Matthew 9:20-22), and as He touched the blind man mentioned in our passage above. All throughout the gospels, we see our Lord continually encountering people in need of His personal touch.

Yet, isn’t it wonderful to know that the personable God we read of within the Scriptures is the same God who personally touches lives today? Dear Christian friend, you can be rest assured that the Father’s fingerprints are all over you! He chose you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5) He had already penned your life story before you even took your first breath (Psalm 139:16). He knows the plans that He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11). He has etched His covenant of love upon the hearts of His children, signifying that we belong to Him (Jeremiah 31:33). He treasures you more than He does the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:25-33). He even knows the exact amount of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7)!

And so our God is not distant, callous, obtuse, or even standoffish. To the contrary; He individually loves and treasures His people! He passionately pursues us (Ezekiel 34:11), showing sincere care for our well-being with our best interest in mind. Ponder these wonderful truths today, and celebrate the personal touch of God within your life!

 – Pastor Eric

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

Garland Of Grace – 05.14.18

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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