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

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Garland of Grace – 03.25.18

Teudas

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

Garland Of Grace – 03.11.18

Gold Bars Emgoldex

Hidden Treasure; the Joy of Treasuring God

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44

In 2005, I came across the story below while reading “A Call to Die” written by David Nassar. It tells of a treasure seeker named Mel Fisher who, back in 1985, found the lost treasure of the shipwrecked Nuestra Senora De Atocha off the coast of the Florida Keys. The story illustrates a great truth to help us understand Jesus’ parable about the hidden treasure.

“On July 20th, 1985, Mel Fisher leaned over the side of the salvage boat off the Florida Keys. As he had done thousands of times before, he watched the bubbles from the scuba tanks and waited for some god news. For seventeen years, Fisher had looked for the wreck of the Nuestra Senora De Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank in a hurricane in 1622. For years, divers found many other wrecks, but none would compare to the Atocha. Ancient documents in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, said that this ship carried enormous quantities of gold, silver, and jewels from Havana to Spain. The man who found it would be rich beyond his wildest imagination. Everybody in Key West knew Fisher had looked for the Atocha day after day and year after year, and many of them laughed at his inept efforts. Then on July 20, 1975, Fisher’s son Dirk found a bronze cannon from the Atocha. Surely riches were just around the corner. But instead of riches, Fisher only found heartache when Dirk, his wife, and another diver were killed a week later when their boat capsized. Fisher buried them but kept up the search. In the next few years, Fisher found a few coins, a few gold platters, and a few emeralds…just enough to keep investors interested.  But they failed to find the main compartment of treasure. On that afternoon in 1985, (exactly ten years to the day of the death of His son and daughter-in-law) Fisher tried a new salvage technique. He rigged up his engines to blow water through a tube to hose off the sea floor. It stirred up an immense quantity of sand in the water. After it settled, he sent his divers down for a look. Fisher stood at the side watching. After only a few minutes, a diver surfaced, ripped off his mask and yelled, “It’s here! We’ve found the main pile!” Imagine being that diver as he swam down through the settling sand and suddenly gazed on a stack of gold and silver bars eight feet wide, five feet high, and twenty feet long!  It contained over 7000 ounces of gold, 1000 silver bars, and 530,000 doubloons. Gold necklaces, platters, and candelabras, littered the ocean bottom. The divers scooped up double-handfuls of huge emeralds. On the first day, the divers brought up so much treasure that the salvage boat almost sank!  It took a 70 man crew and two and a half years to recover it all. The haul was valued at 400 million dollars. Mel fisher had quite a treasure, but he had given up practically everything to get it: his reputation, his comfort, the lives of his family. But the value of the treasure was worth more to him than anything in the world. Sadly, we know that Fisher’s treasure was only earthly, and many would say he still came out short. But you can’t deny his passion and commitment.”

Mel Fisher had given up everything in his quest to locate a hidden treasure on the ocean floor. Likewise, the man in Jesus’ parable gave up everything to obtain the treasure he had found in the field. He valued the treasure so much that he was willing to forsake everything else. Nothing else mattered except obtaining the treasure. And the best part of the parable was the joy the man felt in his heart.

A parable has been defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The heavenly meaning within this particular parable is that a relationship with God is a treasure to be sought after. It is the most important thing in life. And as one pursues this intimacy with God, anything that might get in the way must be forsaken. Ponder this parable, and rest in the joy you have found in your treasured relationship with God!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 02.11.18

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Oaks of Righteousness; A Love Letter to Seventh Street, Valentine’s Day 2018

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:3B

Last year on the Sunday prior to Valentine’s Day, I penned a “love letter” of sorts to the members of the church expressing my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for the Seventh Street family. I would like to do the same this year. I pray the following letter serves as an encouragement to you all during this season of love.

Dear Seventh Street Family,

It is hard to imagine, but it has been almost four years since God brought our family to Cullman, Alabama. To this day, we are continually overwhelmed by the love and kindness demonstrated to our family by our church family. We love you all so very much and we are forever grateful that the Lord in His infinite wisdom knitted our lives together with yours.

I want to draw your attention to the passage above. Here we see that the people of God are described as “oaks of righteousness.”  I think we would all agree that there is just something overwhelmingly beautiful about an oak tree. It is a tree known for its deep roots, roots which provide a firm foundation. They are trees known for their great size and strength, and are seen as giants of the forest. Their growth pattern is slow, yet their lifespan is long. They are stately trees that do not easily sway; for its branches gracefully reach up to the heavens. Even its distinctive leaf is marked with beauty, easily identifiable from the other leaves on the forest floor.

With this description in mind, I want to encourage Seventh Street to be oaks of righteousness.  Be beautifully strong, deeply rooted in the soil of God’s Word. Do not buckle under the weight of the world or the pressures of society. Continue to exemplify an unwavering commitment to the Word of God. Pursue lasting, steady growth rather than rapid, shallow growth; for God has called us to be  oaks of righteousness, not  overnight mushrooms. Also, stand firm as you branch out into our community with the gospel of God, reaching to heaven with God’s glory as your aim.  To do all of these things, we each must live a life similar to the oak leaf; separate and distinct. Oh that we would be firmly planted as oaks of righteousness in the forest of the world.

I encourage you to have a God-sized vision for what the Lord can do within our community through the ministries of Seventh Street. God has certainly surrounded us with multiple opportunities of ministry. The fields are white unto harvest, and we must be faithful in reaching people with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. As we show the love of God to the city of Cullman, we must radiate the gospel in all that we do and say. To be sure, God has intentionally brought all of us together for such a time as this (Esther 4:14), and have been strategically positioned within our community to do His will and His work. So let us glue our hands to the gospel plow and not look back (Luke 9:62)!

In closing, God has faithfully blessed Seventh Street for over 141 years.  And as long as we honor Him in all things, He will continue to do so. We must simply continue to demonstrate a spirit of humility (James 4:10) as we wait for His return. I love you all, and desire to be a pastor to you in every way possible.  If there is any specific way that I can ever minister to you and your family, do not hesitate to let me know.

Your pastor and friend,

Eric Martin

Garland Of Grace – 02.04.18

PearlJam-Yield

Colliding Captains, Road Signs, and the Wisdom of Yielding to God

“Submit therefore to God….Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” – James 4:7A & 10

I recently read a story about a maritime catastrophe that occurred in the Black Sea involving two colliding ships. Lives were lost simply because two captains refused to yield to the other. The story magnifies the stubbornness of the human heart while also teaching a valuable life lesson on the importance of yielding. Allow me to share it with you…

“Back in the summer of 1986, two marine vessels collided in the Black Sea off the coast of what used to be known as the Soviet Union. Hundreds of passengers perished as they were hurled into the icy waters.  News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like some sort of radar malfunction. The accident was not caused by unfavorable weather conditions such a storm or a thick fog. Believe it or not, the cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both captains could have steered clear, but according to the news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time the two parties had come to their senses, it was too late.”

Think for a moment of all the people who lost their lives because of pride and arrogance. What an indictment on the human heart! As I read that story, the word “yield” seemed to leap off the page. When I think about what it means to yield, I think of the familiar road sign instructing drivers to “yield” to any oncoming traffic. These signs are strategically placed at assigned intersections in effort to improve the flow of traffic. They are hung to help protect motorists from having a collision. But imagine for a moment what would happen if a driver chose to ignore a yield sign in an attempt to have his way instead respecting the oncoming drivers who actually have the right of way? That driver would be like the two captains in our story, and there would definitely be detrimental consequences to their foolish actions.

Yet the word “yield” also provides a spiritual lesson for consideration. God’s children are to “yield” their lives over to their Heavenly Father. This yielding involves a willingness to submit to His divine authority. In our passage above, James emphatically stressed the importance of submitting to God in all things (Vs.7). He then said that God’s people are to humble themselves before God (Vs. 10). It should not surprise us that James mentioned submission and humility within the same line of thought; for they are spiritually inseparable.

At this point it is worth noting that the act of submission is frequently seen as a sign of weakness (at least from a secular point of view). But spiritually speaking, this could not be further from the truth; for God actually strengthens those who willingly humble themselves before God and submit under His almighty hand (1 Peter 5:6). No wonder James described the outcome of showing humility in the presence of God in the way that he did. He said that those who humble themselves before God will be “exalted” by God (Vs.10).

Oh that we would be broken and humble people for the glory of God, daily yielding to Him and submitting to His Lordship in every area of our lives. It would be wise for us to remember the foolishness of trying to get ahead of God. Remember the story of Abraham, Sarai, and Hagar (Genesis 16)? Instead, we ought to patiently wait for His perfect timing and humbly follow His lead. God’s timetable is always better than any timetable we could plan on our own; for God always has the right of way on our life highway. With these things in mind, ask God to cultivate within you a humble and submissive spirit as you yield to His divine authority. And as you do so, know that the Lord will exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 01.21.18

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We Are Now Ready to Go

“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:8

The story below is from the book “Killing Fields, Living Fields” by author Don Cormack. It is the story of a Cambodian Christian family who, back in 1975, paid the ultimate price and died for their faith in Jesus Christ. The father’s name was Haim. The recorded events surrounding the last hours of their life are overwhelming to read. I pray their story stirs a wellspring of emotions within you as it has within me.

“Haim’s entire family was rounded up that afternoon. They were “the old dandruff”, “bad blood”, “enemies of the glorious revolution”, “CIA agents”. They were Christians. The family spent a sleepless night comforting one another and praying for each other as they lay bound together in the dewy grass beneath a stand of friendly trees. Next morning the teenage soldiers returned and led them from their Gethsemane to their place of execution, to the nearby viel somlap, “the killing fields”. The place was grim indeed and bore many gruesome signs of a place of execution. A sickly smell of death hung in the air. Curious villagers foraging in the scrub nearby lingered, half hidden, watching the familiar routine as the family were ordered to dig a large grave for themselves. Then, consenting to Haim’s request for a moment to prepare themselves for death, father, mother, and children, hands linked, knelt together around the gaping pit. With loud cries to God, Haim began exhorting both the Khmer Rouge and all those looking on from afar to repent and believe the gospel. Then, in a panic, one of Haim’s young sons leapt to his feet, bolted into the surrounding bush and disappeared. Haim jumped up and with amazing coolness and authority prevailed upon the Khmer Rouge not to pursue the lad, but allow him to call back the boy. The knots of onlookers, peering around trees, the Khmer Rouge, and the stunned family still kneeling at the graveside, looked on in awe as Haim began calling to his son, pleading with him to return and die together with his family. “What comparison, my son,” he called out, “stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?” After a few tense moments the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. “Now we are ready to go,” Haim told the Khmer Rouge. But by this time there was not a soldier standing there who had the heart to raise his hoe to deliver the death blow on the backs of these noble heads. Ultimately this had to be done by the Khmer Rouge commune chief, who had not witnessed these things. But few of those watching doubted that as each of these Christians’ bodies toppled silently into the earthen pit which the victims themselves had prepared, their souls soared heavenward to a place prepared by their Lord.”

I first came across the story of Haim and his family back in 2010. To this day, Haim’s words of instruction spoken to his fleeing son are etched upon my heart. Would a few remaining days on the run in some futile attempt to postpone the inevitable really be worth it? Would it not be better to simply embrace a moment of pain followed by eternal joy in heaven with Jesus? Haim’s words to his son remind me of our passage above. The Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth stressed the immediacy of the Christian’s heavenly home after death. When the believer leaves this world, they are immediately ushered into heaven. There is no wait or delay.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord? Oh that we would always see the temporal in light of the eternal, and be able to confidently say with Haim, “We are now ready to go.”

 – Pastor Eric