Garland Of Grace – 07.25.16

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The Principal is My Pal 

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 

While I was a college student at Union University in Jackson Tennessee, I worked as an engraver at a local trophy shop. It was my responsibility to oversee the engraving machine, and fill any trophy orders that we received.  One particular job order that has been forever “etched” upon my memory was an elementary school order for 115 “Principal’s List” trophies. As usual, I pulled the order and began working on the trophies. I entered all of the information into the computer that controlled the engraving needle. When all of the metal plates were completed, I cut them to proper size and placed them upon all of the trophies. As I was completing the order and preparing them to be boxed, I made one last count to make sure that they were all there. The good news was that I had made them all.  The bad news was that I had misspelled the word “Principal.” In front of my eyes were 115 trophies that read, “Principle’s List.”  I really goofed! But what made this blunder even worse was the fact that it was my boss Mr. Singleton who noticed it first. Ever since that day, I have never forgotten how to spell “principal.” Mr. Singleton told me to always remember that the principal is my pal.  I found myself spending the rest of the afternoon correcting the order before it was delivered to the school.

Humans make mistakes but God never does. To the contrary; He does all things well (Mark 7:37). We are flawed finite creatures, and our infinite God is without error or flaw. With this in mind, why in our passage above did Jesus tell people to be perfect?  Was He suggesting the notion that man could somehow achieve sinlessness perfection? Obviously not; the only one who lived a sinless life was Jesus Himself (Hebrews 4:15). Was Jesus promoting the belief of salvation by works?  No; if that was the case, no one would obtain salvation. Rather, He was teaching the importance of living out the Christian life. At this point, a proper understanding of the word “perfect” will help. Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” which means “having reached its end; mature; complete; perfect.”  As we grow and develop in our faith, we are a work in progress gradually moving towards completion (Philippians 1:6). This work in progress is called sanctification. It is a process that begins at conversion when the Holy Spirit indwells you (Romans 8:9) and continues on throughout your entire life. It is not that you become sinless but rather that you desire to sin less. Everything about you is overhauled from the inside out.  We become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is through this sanctification process that God develops His children by equipping them with every good and perfect thing needed to mature them to completeness.

Unfortunately, there are those who carelessly use their vulnerability and susceptibility to sin as an excuse to continue in sin. They might say something like, “Well, all people sin, and I suppose that I will struggle with sin as long as I am on this side of heaven.” While this statement may be true (Romans 3:23, Mark 14:38), such an argument should never be used to justify sinful behavior. We must remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome; “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it (Romans 6:1-2)?” A few verses later we read that the believer is to be dead to sin and alive to Christ (6:11).  The bottom line is this; we might not have the capability of living perfect lives as Christ Jesus did, but this does not diminish the fact that we should imitate and mirror the life of Jesus. We should passionately pursue holiness and avoid sin at all cost.

 – Pastor Eric

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Garland Of Grace – 01.11.16

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Was She Brandy or Brittany?

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places; so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name…” – Isaiah 45:3-4B

I suppose one of the worst things that a young man can do on a date with a young lady is to call her by the wrong name.  But to my everlasting shame, I must confess that I am guilty of this unimaginable dating blunder.  The year prior to my engagement to my precious Sarah, I met a particular young lady at my church.  She seemed like a really sweet girl.  She came from a good Christian family, and her love for God was overwhelming.  A few of my friends encouraged me to take the time out and get to know her.  After a few weeks of casual conversation at church gatherings, I finally mustered up the nerve one Sunday night to ask her if she would like to get some ice cream after church. She said yes, and so we did.  It was a really awesome time of fellowship together. She shared with me her passion for missions, and her desire to serve overseas on the mission field.  It was really encouraging to hear about her passion for lost people to be saved.  After staying for a time at the local Dairy Queen, I took her home.  As we said our goodbyes, I suddenly drew a blank, and called her the wrong name!  I could not believe it!  It was a horrific moment in my dating career.  What made things worse was that the wrong name I used just so happened to be the name of another girl at church.  I quickly corrected myself and called her the right name.  But it was too late. The awkward moment had been birthed and the damage had been done.  Needless to say it was the very first and the very last time I ever went out with her. My embarrassment took away any desire to ask her out again.  I figured that she would not be interested in a guy that could not even remember her name.

This embarrassing moment served as a reminder to me of how fallible and forgetful I really am.  But while it magnifies my forgetfulness, it also points to the infallibility of our great God who never forgets.  I may have drawn a blank that day with Brandy, but God never draws a blank, and He does not forget our name.  God is the omniscient and all-knowing God. For me, it is a great a joy and comfort to know that God knows each and every one of His children by name.  I pray that every parent reading this would take time out ponder that glorious truth for just a moment; for every parent with more than one child has been guilty of transposing their children’s names.  But God the Father does not have the flaw of forgetfulness. God cannot become confused.  No such defect deficiency mars the fatherhood of our great God.

In our passage above, we read that God calls His covenant people by name. This concept is further developed in the New Testament as we see Jesus the Messiah as the Good Shepherd who calls His sheep by name (John 10:3).  But as wonderful as this truth is, it really should not take us by surprise; for our Lord knows everything about us, even the amount of hair on our head (Luke 12:7).  And if God deems it necessary to know the amount of hair on your head, then He most certainly knows you by name, and will remember your name forever. We might be just a number to the government, but to the God of heaven who holds all earthly governments in His authoritative hand, we are a person with a name.  So know that we worship a personal God who wants to know you very intimately and personally.  He knows your name.  Come to know His name in a greater and deeper way.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 01.04.16

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Gluttony and Homosexuality…What Should Be Preached

“All unrighteousness is sin.” – I John 5:17

I recently heard the following statement from a young Christian lady. She said, “Pastors should only preach on homosexuality as often as they do other sins such as gluttony.” I found her statement intriguing, and I pondered her words for quite some time.  I would like to share a few of my thoughts pertaining to her statement…

Her statement carries a level of truth. – I somewhat understand the message behind her statement.  Sadly, many pastors have honed in on the particular sin of homosexuality so much that they have developed their preaching ministry into weekly gay-bashing sessions from the pulpit. No wonder the lost world associates the word “evangelicals” with the term “gay-haters.” This is why ministers should never misuse the pulpit by harping on certain sins and ignoring others. The truth is, all sin is against a Holy and righteous God. So instead of shutting a possible door of ministry by radiating a spirit of condemnation, the twenty-first century church needs to find a way to leave the door of ministry open to this particular group of hurting people who in bondage to sin. This can only be accomplished by speaking the truth in love.

Her statement is seriously flawedIn light of the recent culture shift on homosexuality, should homosexuality be addressed from the pulpit more often than other sins? Well, I would suggest that at this particular point on the moral timeline, yes it should. Why should pastors preach on homosexuality more often than gluttony?  It is because our culture is not aggressively trying to convince society that gluttony is okay. When two-thirds of Americans are overweight, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are very quick to warn of the health risks associated with overeating to a society addicted to food.  Our culture understands overeating is not a good thing to accept and embrace, and they would frown upon anyone who would see obesity as a positive life choice. This obviously is a stark contrast to how our culture has responded to the sin of homosexuality. Culture says homosexuality is a good thing to accept. Through the years our society has increasingly demonstrated an attitude of tolerance, and they have encouraged our culture to see homosexuality as an accepted life choice. Yet this is the very reason why proclaimers of the gospel of God must actively speak the truth in love. Because of these direct attacks from social progressives on the Bible’s position on homosexuality, Christians must defend the truth of God’s Word. I know that when I preach against the sin of homosexuality, my message is not designed to condemn the sinner, but to combat the culture shift in which our society sees homosexuality as a social norm. Sadly, the attitude of acceptance and tolerance towards homosexuality has leaked into the twenty-first century church.  It is my responsibility to stop the leak from trickling into the congregation that the Lord has entrusted into my care. I also believe pastors have a responsibility to be relevant to the social issues pressing upon culture. It has been said that as a pastors prepares a sermon, he should have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Good preaching will always be relevant and applicable to the times which the message is preached. These are just a few reasons why pastors should preach on the subject of homosexuality more often than gluttony.

Preaching is a great responsibility and should be taken seriously. And the goal in preaching should always be for God to be glorified. This is only accomplished when man’s sinful condition is exposed, God’s saving grace magnified, and man’s need for repentance through faith in in Jesus Christ proclaimed.

I pray this young lady’s statement has caused you to think about these matters as well.  Ponder these things with me today, and may our churches be better stewards of the preaching ministry of our churches.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 12.17.15

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The Three R’s of Repentance; Return, Remove and Realign 

“Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

In our passage above, the ark of God had been captured by the Philistines, but during the time frame that the ark was in their possession, God caused grief and sickness upon them (I Samuel 5). This led the Philistines to the conclusion that it was God Jehovah, the God of Israel that was causing their sickness and infirmities, and the reason for their illness was rooted in the fact that they had taken the ark of God from the people of God.  So they sent the ark back to the Israelites (I Samuel 6). Once the ark of God came back into Israelite possession, it stayed in Kiriath-jerim at the house of Abinadab for a period of twenty years.  But the bible tells us that even after all these events, the Israelites still “lamented after the Lord” (I Samuel 7:2). In other words, even after getting the ark back in their possession, something was still wrong.  What was the problem?  The problem was sin; for the people of God had continued to dabble and flirt with various forms of idolatry.  So they looked to Samuel, a natural born leader and a God called man for instruction on what to do next.  Samuel gave three simple instructions. He told them they needed to return, remove and realign.

Samuel told the people that they needed to return to the Lord. They were to return to the Lord and do so with their entire heart.  When Samuel spoke to the people of Israel, he stressed the importance of returning to the Lord with “all” of their hearts.  These words serve as a reminder to us that there is nothing halfhearted about getting right with God. When doing business with the Lord, God wants all of our hearts.

Secondly, Samuel told the people to remove. Remove what? They were to remove anything from their life that displeased the Lord. Specifically, they were to rid themselves of the articles of idolatry sprinkled throughout their lives. They could not sincerely return to the Lord unless they removed the things out of their life that were offensive to the Lord and acted as a barrier to their commitment to Him.

Finally, Samuel instructed the people of God to realign their allegiance to the one true God and do so by serving and worshiping Him and Him alone. Alignment means to be in agreement with. The people of God were to turn their affections away from the secular attractions of the world and line their hearts up with the very heart of God. If they did these things, God would deliver them. What was the outcome? The people of Israel did all the things that were commanded of them, turned their affections towards the Lord, and began serving Him and Him only (I Samuel 7:4).

Sometimes we complicate the simple do we not? We are a lot like the Israelites here in our story as we set up idols to the things of this world and then wonder what is wrong in our life.  But the answer to such a predicament is a threefold response to God; return, remove, and realign. We cannot properly return to the Lord unless we clean up our life.  Any sin we selfishly choose to hold on to will only serve as a hindrance to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  And only when that sin barrier is removed will we be able to properly realign our lives to be in tune with the Lord. May God use these truths from chapter in the story of God’s people to impact your life in a transforming, God pleasing way.  Take time out today and evaluate your life in light of this great text.  Oh may we have ears to hear the voice of the Lord clearly command His people to return to Him!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 12.02.15

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Jesus; the Cornerstone and Foundation Of the Church

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22

There are various metaphors within the word of God, and one that we find particularly in the Apostle Paul’s writings is that of a building.  For instance, Paul explains that our bodies serve as a temple that God the Holy Spirit dwells within (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Another illustration of this metaphor is found in the verse above as Paul speaks of the birth and growth process of the church.  Paul says that it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.”  The cornerstone of a building plays a vital role within the construction process.  The cornerstone is the central stone of a building of which all other stones takes alignment.  Every other stone finds it’s positioning based upon the initial positioning of the cornerstone.  The cornerstone serves as the guide and template for all other stones used to construct a building.  Thus, Jesus is the cornerstone of the church.  All other aspects of the church are to be determined by Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone of the church. He is the template.  He is the central focus that determines all other things within the church.  Dr. Greg Allison says it best.  He says that “The imagery of cornerstone was intended to emphasize the centrality of Jesus Christ to the church: As the principal stone of the building from which the rest of the edifice takes alignment, the cornerstone holds the place of supreme importance.”   So with this in mind, what should the church be centered on?  Should it be church programs?  Should it be church polity?  Should it be church policies and procedures?  What about the leadership personalities of the church?  None of these things should ever be the focus of the church.  Rather, the church should be centered on Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God. Scripture makes this explicit when Jesus Christ Himself calls what He is building “my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul used another construction metaphor in relation to Jesus Christ. It is found in I Corinthians 3 when he says, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.   According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (Verses 9-11). Within this particular text, Paul articulates principles for Christian living.  Our lives are to be constructed and built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  Like a wise architect, we are to construct our lives in such a way that our footing is poured on the rock of Christ Jesus as we construct our “spiritual house” (our lives).  All other foundations such as earthly foundations will not hold up.  Only Jesus Christ, the true foundation, will stand the test of time (Matthew 7:24-27).

As we consider these two specific construction metaphors, Christ as the cornerstone of the church and the foundation for our lives, we see the vital truth that Jesus is to be the central focal point in everything that we do and say. This applies to the church as well as our personal lives.  He serves as the template and standard that all other things are fitted to.  With these truths in mind, may God bless your architectural endeavors for Him!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 11.08.15

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The Man on the Island and the Game of Monopoly

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” – Romans 1:18-20

If a man lives in the depths of the amazon jungle separated from the rest of the populated world and is unaware of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, is he spiritually accountable for the condition of his soul?  What about the man on the island isolated from society who has never heard the gospel message of Christ? Because of his unique circumstance, does he get a free pass when it comes to matters of eternal life? This question has been posed in many theological circles throughout the centuries. We would like to think that because of their unique circumstances, they are not held spiritually responsible, and that when it comes to the subject of Hell, they receive some sort of a “get out of jail free” card.

But if this were true, it would mean that sharing the gospel of Christ with someone would be equivalent to taking away their free pass to heaven because they would now be held accountable.  If that were the case, why should we even take the time to share Jesus with others in the first place?  At least if we kept the gospel to ourselves, we would be shielding them from the opportunity to reject the gospel. And if this was really true, it would make more sense for us not to tell people about Jesus so that more people could stay ignorant of the gospel and thus not be held spiritually responsible.

Yet this is an erroneous position on the matter. We can be rest assured that such a man is in fact held spiritually accountable.  If he was not, why did our Lord Jesus give us the great commission in the first place? The fact that Jesus commanded His followers to go and tell is proof that the man on the island does not get a free pass into heaven. A free pass would suggest that the man on the island is innocent and free of any sin debt. Yet the Bible says that there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10). Therefore ignorance does not equal innocence.  It is a hard truth for many to swallow.  We ask ourselves, “How can a loving God hold the man on the island who has never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ accountable for his actions?”

The answer is simply this; He is held accountable for his actions because deep down inside, whether he wants to admit it or not, he knows right from wrong…at least in large measure. Within the heart of man is a general understanding of right and wrong, even if it is denied or ignored. Paul makes this clear in Romans 2:14-16 when he writes, “Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Paul penned those words after making the statement in our passage above where he had explained that creation speaks of God’s glory, and that the earth itself testifies of His existence. Because of all of these things, man is without excuse.

In the end, all men will be held accountable, whether living in the jungle, or on an island. Man’s guilty status cannot be ignored, overlooked, or excused. Nor can man be saved apart from hearing and responding to the gospel of Christ. With these truths in mind, isn’t it appropriate that later in the letter to the Romans, Paul says that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)? Oh how this ought to fan the flame of your heart to see lost people saved!  Pray today that God will give you a passion for people to come to know Christ personally through hearing and receiving the gospel!

(P.S. – Obviously the man in the amazon pictured above is not alone; he keeps a cameraman with him…Haha!)

Garland Of Grace – 11.04.15

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Are You Coddling Or Killing Sin?

“The thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” – 2 Samuel 11:27

We are all familiar with the story of when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. We are also familiar with David’s attempts to cover up his sin, and how one sin led to another. We are familiar with chapter twelve when the prophet Nathan, sent by God, confronted David about his sin.  Finally, we are familiar with the unfolding consequences of sin that grew out of this terrible act.

But oftentimes overlooked in this story is a small phrase that David said to Joab. After David had issued a command for Uriah the Hittite to be purposefully and strategically placed on the front line of battle making him a prime target to be killed, and after the Uriah actually was murdered, he said to Joab, the commander of the army, “Do not let this thing displease you.” The Hebrew text reveals more about this often overlooked statement. David literally told Joab “not to view what has been done as evil.” In essence, David was downplaying his sinful act of murder. He described his horrible deed to Joab in such a way that his words served as an attempt to discount and lessen the severity of what he had done. David had become nonchalant about his sin and wanted those around him to become nonchalant about his sin as well.  But even more intriguing is what God thought about what David had done. In our passage above we see that what David had done was seen as evil in the sight of the Lord.  David “blew off” what his sinful actions but God did not. The Hebrew language allows us to see the severity of this contrast.  David says, “Don’t think of it as evil” and God makes it clear that what had happened was evil. Make no mistake about it, what God thought about David’s sin is of greater importance than what David thought of his sin.

Are you coddling your sin, by blowing it off and thinking that it is really not a big deal? If you are, then know this; God takes sin seriously, and He wants you to do so as well. No amount of disregard on our part about the severity of our sin can take away the actuality of the severity of our sin. Your sin is offensive to God. Your sin, if not dealt with, will destroy you.  It is in our sin nature to gradually become more accepting of sin in our lives if we do not kill it. It has been said that either you kill your sin or your sin will kill you. These wise words ought to be burned an etched in your heart as a reminder of the dangerous pitfall known as sin. And when you become nonchalant about your sin and begin to take your sin lightly, you are going down a path that will eventually lead to devastation and destruction. So one of the best things that you can ever do to maintain spiritual health is to always keep before you the severity of your sin, and to keep fresh on your mind what God thinks about sin. Remember, sin might be sweet to the taste, but it always leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Satan wants you to get soft on sin. But guard your heart against developing an indifference towards sin. Such indifference serves as an indictment upon your personal spiritual condition. Rather, ask God to help you see sin for the horrific offense that it really is and the reality of its ugliness. Oh that we would be in the business of killing sin!

– Pastor Eric