Garland Of Grace – 03.11.18

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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

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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

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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

 

Garland Of Grace – 01.14.18

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Jonathan Edwards and the Birthmarks of the Believer

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” – 1 John 1:6

Listed below are just a few character traits of a true believer. They are each taken from the epistle of First John. Jonathan Edwards, the American Congregationalist Protestant minister who played a lead role in North American revivalism in the eighteenth century, described these evidences as “holy affections.” I have taken Edwards’s list underlined in bold print and have added my own commentary. Consider each one, and ask God to show you how many are truly evident in your life.

A respect for God. (1 John 1:8) If we minimize our sin, we will end up minimizing the holiness of God.  But it is only when we see how offensive our sin is to a holy and righteous God that we begin to properly see His holiness. Our relationship to God must always be seen in the proper perspective; we are the creature and He is the creator.

Obedience to God’s Word. (1 John 2:5) The Bible is life’s instruction manual, and our lives should be marked by a passionate desire to glorify God by obeying the Scriptures.  His words are commands to obey, not suggestions to consider. The sincere believer will treasure God’s Word by incorporating its principles into their life.

Distaste for the things of the world. (1 John 2:15) Our affections should be for the things of God rather than the things of the world. We are to live life pursuing holiness, not flirtatiously pursuing after worldliness. We must not be guilty of spiritual adultery by having a love affair with the world (James 4:4). Though we are “in” this world, we must remember that we are not “of” this world (John 15:19; 17:16).

A steadfast faithfulness to God. (1 John 2:19) – Our commitment to the Lord should be steady and unwavering. No matter the circumstances, our faithfulness to God should not buckle or waver under the pressures of life. Our allegiance to God must surpass all other allegiances in our life.

Anticipation to the second coming. (1 John 3:2-3) We should long for the second coming of Christ.  As long as we are on this side of eternity, our attitude should be of one setting up temporary tent pegs, not pouring permanent concrete. We are only visitors traveling through who are not home yet.

Disturbed by sin in your life. (1 John 3:9) Before conversion, a person loves sin. But after conversion they loathe sin. They are bothered of all sin because it disrupts their intimacy with God. Because of this, the true convert will be about the business of killing sin (Romans 8:12-13).

A love for other believers. (1 John 3:14) Christians are known for their love for each another. If we profess Christ and yet allow hate to fester in our heart, the sincerity of our faith in Christ should be rightly questioned.

Experienced answered prayer. (1 John 3:22) God hears the prayers of His Children and delights in granting their requests so long as they align with His will. The true believer will have a fervent prayer life marked by the fruits of their labor. James 5:16 says “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

A spirit of discernment. (1 John 4:1) The true Christian will exercise a discerning spirit. Like spiritual radar, the Holy Spirit will quickly assist the true believer to help determine good from evil. And because of the spirit’s presence in their life, they will wisely decipher right from wrong.

Awareness of the Spirit of God living within you. (1 John 4:13) The Child of God will be keenly aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life. They will easily detect the Spirit’s conviction (John 16:8), comfort (John 14:16), indwelling (1 Corinthians 6:19) and leading (Acts 1:8).

What an overwhelming list! Test and see if your life is marked by these Christian attributes. If there are any areas of weakness, ask God to help you see spiritual progress as you pursue God’s Glory in every area of your life.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 01.07.18

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Fake Plastic Fruit; Lessons on the Fruit of the Spirit

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

Growing up, my mother decorated our kitchen with a fruit theme. She had fruit-themed wallpaper, fruit shaped refrigerator magnets, and of course, the classic bowl of plastic fruit that served as the kitchen table centerpiece. The bowl contained a collection of fake renditions of some of the most popular fruit. There was an apple, a banana, an orange, a lemon, a pear and a cluster of grapes. I remember the contents of the bowl quite well, because one of my weekly chores was to dust the house, and I remember how difficult it was to dust a fake cluster of grapes! This snapshot from my childhood teaches a great spiritual truth. To avoid living dusty lives, God’s people must bear real and authentic spiritual fruit. If what we display is plastic and fake, it will be quickly detected by others.

In Galatians 5, Paul stressed the importance of putting off the things of the flesh (Vs.16-21) and putting on the things of the Spirit (Vs.22-23). It is in these latter verses we find the fruit of the Spirit, the attributes that mark the believer’s life.  This list of Christian character traits clustered together act as the evidence of true conversion. This means we are known by the abundance of fruit (or lack of fruit) in our lives. Jesus taught that we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:16) and undoubtedly, there will be plenty of people quick to act as fruit inspectors. With all of these things in mind, let’s consider a few truths about the fruit of the Spirit.

To begin with, the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal. Paul referred to these Christian attributes as “the fruit of the Spirit,” not “the fruits of the Spirit.” The Greek word for fruit is the word “karpos.” Paul uses it in the singular, meaning the fruit is to be seen collectively as a whole. They are not options for the choosing.  You cannot embrace kindness and joy while rejecting patience and self-control.

Secondly, some fruit will ripen faster than others. With actual fruit, some will mature more rapidly than others. This is true for the fruit of the Spirit within the life of the believer. For instance, the fruit of patience might flourish while the fruit of gentleness needs more cultivating. The fruit of self-control might ripen more rapidly than the fruit of love. But whatever pattern of growth develops within our life, we must faithfully yield ourselves to God the Gardener as He tills the soil of our heart. And as we readily receive His tilling, we will bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15).

Thirdly, we are no fruit producers; we are fruit bearers. This spiritual fruit belongs to the Holy Spirit. This is why they called the fruit “of the Spirit.” This means that we in our own efforts cannot and never will produce spiritual fruit on our own. Instead, we simply bear the fruit that matures as God the Holy Spirit works in our lives.

Finally, we must remember that where there is no root, there is no fruit.  To bear luscious spiritual fruit, we must be connected to Jesus the Vine (John 15) which calls for abiding or remaining in Him. However, abiding in Christ must be intentional; for it is an action contrary to human nature. Left to ourselves, we have a tendency to reject any form of dependency, and instead our fleshly desires crave self-sufficiency. But the Christian life calls for submission to God, and submission involves abiding in Christ. Abiding in Jesus the Vine is a spiritual discipline in which we must daily seek to cultivate deep intimacy and fellowship with the Lord. If we neglect to do so, our spiritual fruit will fail to mature and instead will wilt.

What is in your spiritual fruit bowl? Are you displaying fresh fruit for God, or has the fruit in your life become dusty? Let us commit to abide in the Vine of Christ, so we can abundantly bear fresh spiritual fruit for God’s glory!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 12.31.17

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My Upper Room; Thoughts on the Christian’s Daily Devotional Life

“In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” – Psalm 5:3

From 2008 to 2014, our family lived in a small community in western Tennessee called Jacks Creek. During that time frame, I served as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in neighboring Pinson, Tennessee. Our house had an area over the garage that was an elongated rectangular floored attic space with a drop down door. As strange as it may sound, it was my favorite place in the house. I guess it all started one summer when I had some electrical work done in the attic. The single sixty watt light bulb initially installed just wasn’t enough light, so I had two more lights added. Up until that point, I had not seen the potential of the space. It was large enough to be finished out into a room. All it would need would be a set of steps, plumbing, heating and air ducts, and a few walls thrown up. Sarah and I talked about it, but realized that we were a few years away financially from such a project. But then it dawned on me; why do I have to wait a few years to enjoy such a nice usable space? The next thing I knew, I had taken a corner in the attic made it into a makeshift room. I set up a desk, a swivel chair, a box fan for the summer, and a space heater for the winter. I even found an old remnant of carpet to use as a rug. Eventually I began using the area for my quiet times with the Lord. During that time of my ministry, it seemed as if my intimacy and fellowship with the Lord was deeply enriched. For me, it was refreshing to have my own place of solitude where I could get alone with God and drink from His streams of grace through prayer and Bible study. Each month, I would try to add something to make it more like a room. For instance, in the attic was my grandmother’s antique rocking chair. I dusted it off and began using it as a kneeling bench for prayer. I put a few pictures up of the family. I bought small thermometer and attached it to a wood beam to see how hot or cold it gets during the varying seasons. For the first few years, I sweated through the heat of the summertime, and bundled up in the winter. Eventually, the temperature was no longer a concern; for two men in my church graciously decided to sheet-rock the attic space and install duct work to provide heat and air, which they did all free of charge! I was humbled and overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity.  As I think back upon those years, it seems as if each meeting I had with God up in my upper room drew me into closer fellowship with Him.

In our passage above, David expressed the importance of beginning each day in prayer to the Lord. He stressed God’s listening ear to his petitions. His prayers were marked by belief, as He eagerly awaited the Lord’s response.  This became a daily pattern for David. And for years, my daily pattern involved a set of creaky attic steps.

It is vital for the Christian to spend quality time with the Lord. Sadly, there have been days I failed to do so. And each time I have neglected my alone time with the Lord, it has been evident to me (and in some instances evident to others).

As we begin another year, I encourage you to start each day in deep and intimate fellowship with the Lord. Determine to meet with God before you meet the day. You don’t have to hang out in your attic like I did. That was a fit for me, but only for a season. Since our move to Alabama, I now have my quiet time in my office at church. The place of meeting is not as important as the meeting itself. And as you meet with God, ask Him to awaken you both physically and spiritually. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart and speak to you clearly though His Word and through prayer. If you do so, you will find each day to be more fulfilling than the day before.  Ponder these things today, and ask God to enrich your devotional time with Him throughout the year.

 – Pastor Eric