Garland Of Grace – 10.05.15

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Jesus and Bluegrass

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” – Matthew 7:24-27

In our passage above, we read what is referred to as “the parable of the two builders.”  This familiar story serves as the caboose to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher that ever lived. Within this parable, we find a sharp contrast between two types of builders. There are those who are wise in their construction endeavors, and build their house upon the rock. And then there are those who are rather foolish in their construction efforts, and carelessly build their house upon a sandy foundation.  Both parties faced storms. But it was only the ones who built their house upon the rock that weathered the storms. For centuries, this great closing illustration to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has resonated in the hearts and lives of His followers.  But let us ponder a little further these great words of wisdom spoken from the lips of our Lord.

Oftentimes overlooked is the repetitive use of the word “everyone.”  It appears twice, once in reference to the wise builders that hearken to His teachings and apply them to their lives, and once again in reference to the foolish builders who casually dismissed Jesus’ words of instruction.  But it is the word “everyone” that magnifies a great truth about life, and it is the fact that “everyone” is building.  No one can escape this passage of scripture! We all fall in one category or another.  Either we are constructing our lives upon the firm foundation of the rock of Christ Jesus, or we are constructing unstable lives built upon the sandy beaches of the world. But “everyone” means “everyone.” The difference between the two was the fact that some were doers of the Word, and others were only hearers of the Word (James 1:22).  The question is simply this; which type of builder are you?

One of my favorite memories from my high school days took place in the spring of 1992.  One weekend, my Sunday school teacher took a group of boys from our class on a camping trip in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. We canoed the Buffalo River near the town of Yellville. Saturday evening, we went to a bluegrass singing. It is a night etched upon my memory with great detail.  I remember listening to a group known as “Joe Sasser and Friends.” I enjoyed their music so much I bought their gospel cassette tape. One of the songs was titled, “Working On A Building.” It says, “I’m a working on building, working on building, for my Lord, for my Lord.  It’s a Holy Ghost building, for my Lord, for my Lord…” It was a song that at the time I really did fully understand its spiritual implications, but I now understand its meaning quite clearly. We are all working on a building. We are constructing “life houses” so to speak. Our life journey is a continual building process. Those who trust in the Lord firmly set the foundation of their lives upon Christ the Rock.  In contrast, those who try to cut corners and ignore God and His building codes construct an unstable life that ends up being eternally condemned.

You might have never seen your life as a construction project.  But you are a builder, and you are building a life.  In fact, everyone around you is hammering away at their own “life house.” But if it is a house that has not been constructed upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, then it will sway, crack, and eventually collapse from the shifting sands beneath.  Ask the Lord today to grant you the wisdom to not only hear His words of instruction, but to also do them and incorporate them into your life.

Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 09.21.15

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The Missing Phone; Lessons From the Corner of Mary Kate and Clarks Creek

“I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” – Revelation 2:4

A few years ago I lost my cell phone.  (I am sure you have done that before) My first emotion was frustration at myself for being so careless.  But that frustration developed into genuine worry the longer I went without locating it.  By nighttime, I was feverishly looking everywhere I knew to look, retracing my steps in an attempt to find it.  I remembered where I was when I had received my last phone call.  I was not in the house; I was out in the garage.  So I went out to the garage to look around.  It was then that a terrible horrendous feeling came over me.  I remembered carelessly laying my phone on the bumper of my truck which had already been driven twice since the phone had been missing!  In a panic, I began walking in the night down my street looking for the phone, but to no avail.  I continued to walk and pray, and began walking down the next road that I had driven on. While I prayed, I also used my wife’s phone to dial my phone in a glimmer of hope that I would hear it, and that it had not been squashed by traffic.  I was just about to give up hope when I heard a quiet and faint ring in the dark of night.  Shocked and surprised, I was relieved to know two things; it was somewhere out there, and secondly, it was still working!  But what was most amazing was where I found it.  It was out in the middle of the road! It had been lying in the path of vehicle tires for hours, and yet it had not even received a scratch!

How many times have you lost your cell phone? Maybe you left it lying somewhere, and you could not remember for the life of you where you left it.  It doesn’t even have to be a cell phone.  It could have been a wallet or even an important set of keys. But the point is this; whether we want to admit it or not, we probably have all left behind something of great value to us.  And we all know how it feels to misplace a valuable item. The longer you go without finding it, the more frustrated and worried you become.  You will do the most logical thing you know to do, and begin the process of retracing your steps in an attempt to recover the missing item.  And if not found, your worry, if not handled properly, will develop into panic.

Oh how often we panic over something that is missing in our lives!  Oh how quick we are to fret over what we might have left behind!  But with this truth about our human nature in mind, why is it that so many people in the church will panic over a missing cell phone or a wallet, and won’t panic when their zeal for the Lord seems to be missing?  So many people in the church today have become lethargic.  They have lost their zeal in their service to the Lord.  Their passionate love affair with God doesn’t seem as romantic as it used to be.  They have left their first love, and yet they do not seem to be too worried about it. What a travesty and indictment on our twenty-first century Christian culture that a missing wallet or cell phone brings more stress to our lives and disturbs us more within our heart than a missing zeal for serving Christ that we used to have.

Have you left your first love?  It might be that as you have been reading this, it has hit you like a ton of bricks that you are missing something in your relationship with God that used to be there.  If so, my suggestion to you would be to do what you normally would do anytime you lose something that is very precious and valuable to you.  Retrace your steps and work your way back!  Ask the Lord to show you what steps to take for you to get back to the place in your life where you had a fervent passion for God.  I promise you this; He will answer a prayer like that every time!

 – EM

Garland Of Grace – 09.08.15

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Christ My Captain

And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”  – Mark 4:37-39

A few years ago, the Lord kept drawing my heart towards spiritual thoughts in relation to the ocean.  For example, God brought to my ears an old hymn from the 1800’s titled, “Jesus, Savior Pilot Me” written by Edward Hopper and John Gould.  It says…

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me, over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal. Chart and compass come from thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me. As a mother stills her child, thou canst hush the ocean wild; boisterous waves obey thy will, when thou sayest to them, “Be still!” Wondrous sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me. When at last I near the shore, and the fearful breakers roar ‘twixt me and the peaceful rest, then, while leaning on thy breast, may I hear thee say to me, “Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

It was this classic hymn that filled my heart during an early morning quiet time with the Lord as I watched a November sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico. During the same time frame, I was introduced to a more contemporary musician named Josh Garrels.  His album titled “Love and War and the Sea In Between” is an entire work with an aquatic theme in relation to our pilgrimage to God.

Yet this aquatic theme for me went beyond the realm of music. I also stumbled across a puritan prayer titled “Voyage.” A portion of it reads…

“O Lord of the oceans, My little bark sails on a restless sea, Grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely. Suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course;   Let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals; Bring me to harbor with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled. I ask great things, expect great things, shall receive great things. I venture on thee wholly, fully, my wind, sunshine, anchor, defense. The voyage is long, the waves high, the storms pitiless, but my helm is held steady, thy Word secures safe passage, thy grace wafts me onward, my haven is guaranteed.”

It was a theme that impacted me greatly. And through it, the Lord has led me to pen the following prayer. I pray it speaks to you as you venture out into the uncharted waters of the new church year…

“Christ Jesus, please be my Captain. Just as You calmed the sea, calm the raging storms within me.  Help me to submit to thee like the Sea of Galilee. I am just a vulnerable vessel battling the waves and winds of the world. Though the waves are high, help me stay the course as I approach impending storms. Satan the great sea monster will do his best to toss my ship and throw me overboard. Yet help me know that You are my anchor, and that the rope of Your love does not sway in the wind.  It is secured tightly on the deck of grace. Fasten the straps of my life jacket and anchor my soul on the rock of eternal security. Though the voyage is long, chart my course through Your oceans of mercy. I long for your blood stained hands take hold of the helm of my heart and navigate me through the rough, uncharted waters ahead. You are my pilot, and You who provide the map and compass. Dear Christ my captain, steady my boat and bring me safe passage to salvation’s shore.” – Michael Eric Martin

Garland Of Grace – 09.06.15

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The Marks of a Godly Home

“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” – Colossians 3:18-21

 The Apostle Paul in our passage above addresses family relationships. These verses serve as a manual for family living and are repeated by the Apostle Paul as he also wrote to the early church at Ephesus (Ephesians 6:1-9).  But what is interesting to note is that these words of instruction seem to fall into natural pairings.  First, coupled together are words of instruction about the marriage union between a husband and wife (vs. 18-19). Our second pairing addresses the relationship between parents and children (Vs. 20-21). These words about family life should carry great significance in the life of each and every believer. These particular earthly relationships involve the Christian attribute of faithfulness; a faithfulness that should also be reflected in the believer’s relationship with the Lord.

First, let us consider what Paul says about the marital relationship between husband and wife. We are told that a wife should be submissive to her husband.  Unfortunately, this verse has been misused and abused by many people.  This most certainly does not suggest that a man is to arrogantly ‘lord’ things over his wife or that the wife should be a slave to the husband.  Quite frankly, it is disturbing to hear some of the gross misinterpretations that have been birthed out reading this particular verse in isolation. Verse 18 must be seen in light of verse 19.  God has called the man to be the spiritual leader of the home.  This is a great responsibility that cannot be taken lightly; for he is God’s ordained spiritual leader for the home.  This leadership involves a deep love for his wife, a love that emulates the love Christ has for His own bride, the church.  A godly wife should have no reservations in submitting to a man who loves her with such a pure and passionate love.

Secondly, Paul addresses the parent child relationship (Vs. 20-21).  In these particular verses, we see a reflection of how our relationship with the heavenly Father ought to be, and how we are to respond to Him through obedience as His child.  God has placed children under the authority of their parents, and children are to obey their parents.  This reminds us that we are to submit to our Heavenly Father.  Yet these verses also remind us that parents are under the authority of God.  Parents should not expect their children to submit to their parental authority if they are not actively submitting to the authority of God.

How do all of these family matters relate to the Christian virtue of faithfulness?  For starters, Paul has already driven home the fact that we are to be faithful to the Lord in all things (Vs 17).  Such faithfulness involves a submission to the authorities God has placed in our lives. If we are not faithful in our earthly relationships, how can we expect to faithfully serve God who is our heavenly Father?  When we show a faithful respect for the authorities that God has placed in our life, whether it be a husbands authority (Vs 18; I Corinthians 11:3), or parental authority (Vs 20; Ephesians 6:2), we are faithfully honoring God.

God loves a godly home, and He actively desires for your home to be a home fully committed to Him (Joshua 24:15). Undoubtedly, such a home will be laced with a faithfulness expressed through family relationships.

 – Pastor E

Garland Of Grace – 08.25.15

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Praying, Partnering, and Persevering

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” – Philippians 1:3-5

In the opening verses of Philippians we are reminded of three necessary ingredients needed in furthering the gospel message.  Let us prepare our hearts for this week’s lesson as we consider the importance of praying, partnering, and persevering.

First, there is the vital need for prayer.  Paul demonstrates this as he joyously prays for the Philippian church (Vs 4).  No doubt, knowing that Paul was praying for them must have served as a great source of encouragement for these early Christians. The importance of prayer is magnified all the more as Paul expresses his desire to see the church grow in love for each other, walk blamelessly in their testimony for the Lord, and see the fruit of righteousness blossom individually in their lives (Vs 9-11).  From our perspective, prayer as a necessary ingredient in furthering the gospel might be understood as a given, but there is always the looming danger of being too presumptuous.  Unfortunately, prayer has become an ingredient often neglected, and the church today has been plagued by the festering disease of prayerlessness.  It would be good for us to remember that the engine for of furthering the gospel will not run without the fuel of prayer.  We must pray for each other, and do so with calloused knees.

Secondly, we are reminded that the gospel cannot be promoted without corporate participation among believers (Vs. 5).  Paul affirmed his love and support for the church at Philippi, while at the same time acknowledging their love and support for him.  Paul saw them as his fellow helpers in the spreading of the gospel of Christ.  Likewise, we are to see fellow believers in the same light.  As brothers and sisters knitted together in the tapestry of God’s family, we are to corporately participate and partner with each other for the common purpose of glorifying God. There is a glorious gem of truth within this partnership, and it is the assistance we receive from each other as we serve the Lord and fulfill the great commission hand in hand. Partners work together and single mindedly pursue the same goal. Admittedly, the Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage is filled mountains and valleys. But the journey through this strange and weary land is a little smoother if we walk alongside each other while focused on the same aim.

Thirdly, Paul encourages the Philippians to stay the course and persevere. He does so by reminding them that God began a good work in them and would be faithful to complete it (Vs 6). This wonderful promise reminds us that we are continually under construction, and will be so until our Lord calls us home. Spiritual growth is not overnight, and takes time.  Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis says, “God is not always in a hurry as we are.  He desires to produce “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3), not overnight mushrooms.” No doubt, there are times when we feel spiritually stagnant and as if construction has halted, and in those moments frustration can easily set in and serve as a distraction from our aim.  But we must hold on to the truth that though we are a work in progress, God will be faithful to complete it. We persevere by submitting to our heavenly Father in all things, like moist clay in the hands of a potter.

Praying, partnering, and persevering are all part of the recipe in furthering gospel of Christ. May these spiritual disciplines be incorporated into each of our lives as we daily serve our Lord.

 – Pastor E

Garland Of Grace – 08.19.15

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Praising God in the Dark Seasons

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”  –  Job 1:20-22

 No matter the situations that you are faced with in life, you ought to spiritually discipline yourself to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” within your heart.  No doubt, life is filled with unexpected events.  But in all of life’s circumstances, the Christian ought to radiate a spirit of thankfulness to Lord. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. For we all are guilty of coddling a crummy attitude, and aiding and abetting a spirit of negativity, especially when things in our life aren’t going so well.  This is why it is so refreshing to ponder Job’s attitude when unexpected events occurred in his life.

Job was a man that exemplified the right attitude even in the midst of life’s storms.  He was a man who faced severe hardships that seemed to come at him all at once like one big tidal wave.  He lost his possessions, his children, and his health.  But through it all, he still had the right outlook on life.  But that was certainly not the case with those around him. Job’s wife suggested that he ought to curse God. Job’s “friends” acted more like stumbling blocks than building blocks.  But through the strength of the Lord, Job endured his wife’s bitterness and his friend’s negativity. He could have played the “blame game” for the catastrophic events in his life, but instead he chose to worship the Lord.

Now don’t misunderstand me, Job still mourned over the horrific events that had transpired in his life. For instance, in the text above we are told that he shaved his head. Shaving one’s head signified a spirit of mourning.  There is no doubt that he was deeply saddened over his hardships.  But the secret to his endurance through adversity was the fact that as he mourned, he worshiped and blessed the name of the Lord.  His attitude of worship was continual, and was not lessened because of the trials he faced.  In fact, I believe that the trials and hardships he endured only drew him into deeper fellowship with God. Tough times have a way of doing that.  God will use obstacles and the pressures of life to draw you closer to Him.  Now, I am not suggesting that Job never questioned God because we know that he did.  I am simply stressing the fact that through all the adversity, Job continued to thankfully worship the Lord.

What about you? How do you respond in the dark seasons of life?  Do you reflect a worshipful attitude? Remember your attitude will “tell” on you.  What do I mean by that?  Well, if you have a close intimate relationship with God, your attitude will make that evident to others.  People will see that no matter what occurs in your life, your purpose for living is to give God glory.  But if you are not walking close to the Lord, and you are out of fellowship with Him, your attitude will make that evident to others as well. Don’t underestimate the influence of your attitude, for it can be a powerful tool.  It can draw people closer to God or it can deter people from God. Which one do you want to be remembered for? Do you want your life to be marked with an attitude of gratitude and worshipful thanksgiving to the Lord, or do you want it to be marked by a negative attitude?  When God asks for your heart, He wants everything about you, even your attitude. Make a commitment today to glorify God with your attitude!

 – EM

Garland Of Grace – 08.10.15

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The Grain Bin of God’s Grace

“Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey.” – Genesis 42:25

In our passage above, Jacob had sent his sons into Egypt to acquire grain so that they could survive the worldwide famine. Joseph was now the Prime Minister of Egypt and oversaw the distribution of the grain to all the people of the land. When they showed up requesting grain, Joseph could have easily retaliated against his brothers who had wronged so many years earlier. But He chose not to do so. Instead he filled up their traveling sacks with grain, and unbeknownst to them at the time, returned their money as well. It is in this kind gesture of grace that we see yet another picture of Christ; for our Lord Jesus had all authority at his disposal while on the cross of Calvary and He could have called upon legions of angels to retaliate against those who had abused Him (Matthew 26:53). But He chose not to do so. Instead He demonstrated grace by forgiving them (Luke 23:34). This snapshot of our Savior is further magnified when we reflect upon the returned money. This meant that the brothers did not pay the price for the grain. It was Joseph who covered the cost. And so it is with salvation; Jesus paid the price and delivers us from the spiritual famine we face. And just as the grain was a free gift for the brothers, salvation is a free gift offered to you and me.

However, there was an underlying motive within this kind gesture. God was using Joseph to expose the brother’s guilt and help them “come clean” about their past. We see this as one of the brothers discovered the money in his sack. He said “My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.” And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28). In that moment of discovery, their sacks had been filled with blessing while their hearts were filled with guilt. And for the very first time the brothers make reference to God. This is quite significant because it reminds us of the conversion story of every born-again believer; for one of the ways God reveals to us that we are sinners is by heaping His grace upon our lives. We must remember that it is only when we begin to see our own sin for what it is that we truly begin to see Christ for who He is. And so by causing a famine across the land, God began the process of chipping away at the ice surrounding the brother’s hearts. They had already admitted their guilt (V 21) and they had begun to see things from a new perspective (V 21-22). Now they were seeing all of the things that were happening to them in light of God (V 25). As it is with salvation; God will bring a famine into a person’s life in order to lead them to Him, just as the earthly famine led the brothers to Joseph. And once we’ve encountered Him, we begin to see our sinfulness for what it is, and we start seeing our predicament from a new perspective.

Know this my dear friend; you are simply a traveler in a famine stricken land. And the only way you can survive is to humbly bring the sack of your soul to the King of Kings, and seek out the grain that only He can provide. If you try to purchase it, you will find that your money has been returned; for the spiritual food you need to satisfy your hungry soul cannot be bought. It is a free gift that has already been paid for. Christ has covered the cost. You certainly do not deserve this act of kindness. Yet He lovingly fills the sack of your soul with unmerited grace and forgiveness. Just as Joseph filled up his brother’s sacks with grain, Jesus our brother (Hebrews 2:11) graciously fills up our spiritual sacks. So open wide and feast at the grain bin of God’s grace.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 08.04.15

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Going Out of the Way to Stay Out of the Way

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink…. Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ….The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” – Matthew 25:35-40

Some of the most self-absorbed, self-centered, people I know are people that profess to be “Christians.” They are people that talk a good talk about showing the love of Christ to those in need, but their talk does not match their walk. Their words are empty, fruitless and cheap. The truth is, they simply do not want to be bothered with the needs of their fellow man. For them, people in need serve as a festering distraction from their personal agendas. This is evident because their actions reveal what is really in their heart. They see extending a helping hand as something that might take up too much of their precious time. They are people that “go out of the way” to “stay out of the way” of those in need.

I boldly question a person’s salvation if they fit the description above. Now I am certainly not suggesting that we earn salvation by our good works or by our own merit; for we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nor am I suggesting some sort of social gospel; for man’s spiritual need is far greater than any physical needs he might have. But with all of that said, a true believer will desire to reach out to others in physical distress. The genuine Christian will be so radically impacted by Christ that he will see others as Christ does. This will also mean that he will love people as God loves people. The truth of the matter is that the love of God is not really in a person’s heart if they do not show the love of God to others. (1 John 3:17). You see, we are called to demonstrate the gospel visibly. This means that we are to be hands and feet for the Lord, reaching out to those in physical need. And when we meet physical needs of those in distress, we do so for no other purpose but to glorify our heavenly Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16). Jesus said that if you do these things to hurting people, you have done it to me! We serve God by helping the hurting, and do so in the name of Jesus.

But believe it or not, it is actually possible to show acts of kindness to those in physical need, and not do so out of love. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early church at Corinth and said, “if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (I Corinthians 13:3).” So if our motive in reaching out to others is not purely based on the fact that we love God, there is something radically wrong with our acts of service.

What are you doing as you travel on your Christian pilgrimage to reflect and radiate the very heart of God? God is love and we are to take on the mind and heart of God. We must see people as God does. We must love people as God does. We must minister to people as God would. We are His ambassadors here in this temporary home (2 Corinthians 5:20). Take time out today and pray to God to burden your heart for those in need, for no other purpose but to glorify your heavenly Father!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 07.30.15

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From Pebbles to Pearls; The Booming and Blooming Beauty of Encountering Christ

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 

When you trust Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, a radical change begins to take place in your life.  You will begin to walk differently, talk differently, think differently and act differently. You will be delightfully different for Jesus. At that moment of conversion, you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God, and a purging process begins in your life.  God begins removing impurities from your heart, and cleaning you from the inside out.  This process is called sanctification.  Sanctification is God setting you apart in service for Him.  Sanctification is the daily process of being made more like Christ. When you are saved you are forever changed, because you have had a real encounter with the true and living God. You will never be the same.  Just as the apostle Paul explained to the church at Corinth, You are a new creation in Christ Jesus; the old has passed and the new has come. Only God can transform the heart of a wretched sinner; only He can change pebbles to pearls and burlap to cashmere. Only He can grind rough limestone rock into a fine usable powder. Only He can blossom beautiful daisies in the same soil where weeds used to flourish. If this radical change is not evident in a person’s life, the sincerity of their “encounter with God” must be questioned.  One cannot claim a genuine encounter with the living God and remain the same without any evidence of a changed life.

Imagine for a moment that one Sunday morning I walked in late to our Sunday morning service.  I began to explain my tardiness by saying, “The strangest thing happened to me this morning on the way to church.  I was driving down the road and had a flat tire. I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of my vehicle. While I was changing the tire, I accidentally dropped one of the lug nuts and it rolled out into the highway.  When I went to retrieve it, I accidentally slipped and was hit by an oncoming vehicle traveling at sixty-five miles per hour.”  As I told this bizarre story to the church family, you begin to notice that I have no scuff marks on my clothes or any bruises on my body.  In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that what I have claimed to have happened to me actually happened.  What would be your initial thought? Well, it would be the thought resonating in the mind of any common sensed individual; you would know that I was lying.  For if I had genuinely been hit by a car, there would be overwhelming evidence that it was an actual event that took place. I would be marked by this one event, and my life would be changed forever.

So it is when someone is saved.  Their life is impacted in such a way that others can see that what they have claimed to have happened really did happen.  It will be such a life changing moment that everything prior and everything afterwards within their life journey points to that one life-altering moment. It would forever be the most climatic chapter in the story book of their life.

Is that your story?  Is their evidence in your life that what you claim to have happened to you in relation to Christ really happened?  If you claim Christ, yet show no signs that you have had a life-changing encounter with the living Savior, your claim is empty and void of sincerity.  Ponder these things today; just as an earthly son takes on the characteristics and attributes of his earthly father, so too will the child of God take on the likeness of His heavenly Father.  This truth is at the heart of the sanctification process.  Remember, no Jesus…no change. Know Jesus…know change.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 07.21.15

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Cannibals or Worms; Pondering the Path of a Pioneer Christian

“They kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus.” – Acts 5:42

I love to read about the boldness of the apostles recorded in the book of Acts. They were pioneers of the faith, boldly leading the way. A “pioneer Christian” is not concerned about what others say, but rather is more concerned with what God has to say.  They lead the way, focused and driven by the God given call upon his or her life.  They live in such a way that long after they are gone, people still benefit from their witness for Christ.  With this in mind, I pose a question; are you a pioneer Christian?

In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles experience imprisonment and are flogged for their faith in Christ.  What is their response?  They make it clear to their adversaries that they are determined to obey God rather than men, and that they cannot nor will not keep quiet about Jesus Christ.  As they depart their adversaries, they leave with joy in their hearts, only determined to proclaim Christ even more.

When I think about pioneer Christians, I am also reminded of great missionaries of yesteryear. For instance, man by the name of James Chalmers comes to mind. Chalmers was born in 1841.  At age eighteen in 1859 he felt the call of God upon his life to do mission work.  In 1877 at the age of 36 he sailed for the Cook Islands of Polynesia to join a pioneer mission work in New Guinea.  Chalmers led many locals to Christ in his 24 years there. He kept going, no matter how tough the circumstances were.  Chalmers was known for his zeal for the Lord, and with this God-given zeal, he faithfully continued to press on with the gospel.  He passionately and vigorously witnessed without compromise to the savage locals about Jesus Christ, and no matter the results, he never gave up.  Eventually Chalmers was murdered by cannibals in 1901 at the age of sixty.  But his legacy lived on and his story did not end there. Forty years later, his impact on the country of New Guinea was still felt.  During World War II, some American fighter pilots were shot down over New Guinea. These American fighters were led to Christ by former cannibals who had been initially led to Christ by James Chalmers.

I also think about another missionary by the name of John G. Paton (1824-1907). He was a Scottish preacher and missionary to the people of the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific. It was a region known for savages and cannibals. Before Paton’s missionary departure, an older man from his homeland asked him to reconsider going to such a dangerous region. “You will be eaten by cannibals!” the man exclaimed.  Paton’s response was chilling; “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the great day my resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

A pioneer Christian is not interested in simply meeting what seems to be the some sort of “status quo” of the Christian life. They are not persuaded by the attractive words of man.  They are not tossed by the unexpected waves on the sea of life.  Instead, the pioneer Christian looks out at the horizon of life and sees obstacles as opportunities. They are selfless, understanding the biblical principle of what it means to die to self and to live for Christ. They understand the cost of taking up their cross and following Christ.  They stay focused on their mission, and have one goal in mind; to run the race and fight the good fight for the glory of God.

God is looking for radical pioneer Christians and I can say with confidence that He is calling all of us to be pioneer Christians. Let us commit in our hearts that we too are going to be radical pioneers for Christ, blazing a path for the glory of God.

 – Pastor Eric