Garland Of Grace – 09.03.17

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Balance Transfer

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus Christ took the place of sinners.  He was our substitute.  A substitute takes the place of another.  This gracious act is what theologians mean by the term “substitutionary atonement.” As Christ suffered, bled, and died on the cruel cross of Calvary, He died in our place and bore the sins of many (Isaiah 53:12).  And as substitute, He took the punishment for sin that we so rightly deserved.  In that moment, the wrath and punishment for our sin was transferred to Christ.  Our sins were imputed to His account, meaning they were charged to Him.  To help us understand this better, consider what is referred to in the financial world as a “balance transfer.”  All of our sin was transferred to Christ’s account, taking away our sin, our guilt and our shame.

In our passage above, the apostle Paul writes to the early Corinthian church and explains God’s transfer policy that took place at Calvary.  Jesus Christ, who never sinned once, instantly became a heaping mass of sin as He was placed into the oven of God’s fury. And as the events of Golgotha unfolded, the sinless spotless Lamb of God took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

We are most undeserving of this gracious balance transfer.  Because of our sin, we actually deserve eternal punishment in the confines of hell (Romans 3:23A).  Yet God graciously and freely offered His one and only begotten Son as a perpetual sacrifice to pay the price for our sin, something that we could never afford to pay for ourselves.  The reason why we cannot pay this debt is because we are totally bankrupt sinners before a holy and righteous God. We have no equity to hold claim to, nor do we have some accumulated amount of merit or accomplishments that we can boast of that can serve as credit in our favor.  Instead, (and to use another financial term) we are “in the red.”  We are deficient because we fall short of God’s standard and are in need of a righteous Savior who will pay our sin debt in full.  Even our best falls short of God’s standard, and the only one who could meet that standard was Jesus.

But this transaction is actually twofold.  Not only were our sins charged to Christ’s account, but His righteousness was charged to our account. Paul wrote in Romans 4:1-5, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found; for if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”  So we must place faith in Christ for our sin debt to be charged to Jesus.  As we trust Him for salvation, we are justified given right standing with God.  This is all because of His Son’s righteousness that has been put into our account.

These truths are the heart of the gospel message. Salvation is not based upon good works, personal accomplishments, or even church membership.  It is solely based upon what Christ did on the cross for sinners.  Those who are in Christ, are no longer burdened with a sin debt and carry an account in the red, but rather are now under the red, royal, regal redeeming Crimson blood of Christ (Isaiah 1:18).  If we do not surrender our lives to Christ, and instead attempt to carry the burden of our sinful condition, we will stay in the red. Only trusting Christ and believing on Him for salvation cancels and clears our debt bringing our account into right status.

 – Pastor Eric

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Garland Of Grace – 08.27.17

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Flowers for a Father’s Funeral; Instructions from our Heavenly Father

“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

I was blessed a few weeks ago to witness a Christian following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I was in line a local dollar store purchasing a few items for work. There was a woman two people ahead of me in line. She had begun putting her items on the conveyor belt to go through the check-out process. I noticed her items seemed to have a theme. There were a lot of white silk flowers, glass vases, white table cloths and candles. I, being a hopeless romantic, assumed that she was working on decorations for a wedding. The young man working the check-out line was new. He was working as quickly as he could, but did not have as much practice as the other employee working in the store that day. He asked her for help. The other employee became frustrated and was very unkind to him in front of everyone in the store.  The employee was so rude to the young man that the lady with the “wedding” items felt the need to apologize. She also apologized to the young lady that was in line in front of me.  The young lady told her not to worry; for she was just getting a few items and was not in a hurry. The young lady then mentioned that she was just happy to be out and about and to have a small break from work. The lady purchasing the wedding items said that she would like to be anywhere but in that store purchasing items for her father’s service.  I immediately understood what she meant; for her father, whom she evidently loved dearly, had passed away. As the new employee continued to ring up the lady’s purchases, the young lady in front of me told the him to just ring her items up with this lady’s and she would just pay for it all. The young man paused and looked at her but quickly continued ringing up the items. The lady who lost her father tried to insist that the young lady not pay for her items. However, the young lady insisted, and expressed that she simply wanted to show love to her in her moment of loss and sadness. I do not remember how much the purchase was, but that’s not the point.  I was moved by the boldness of this young lady to follow Christ. She was kind and thoughtful while the grieving lady was grateful and moved to tears. The new employee who had been treated unkindly by his co-worker was also moved by this young lady’s ability to follow the urging of the Holy Spirit. I was encouraged and in awe to be a witness to such an act of love and kindness.

The young lady in the store lived out the passage above where the Apostle Paul shared with the church at Thessalonica that they were “taught by God to love one another.” May I learn and grow and show the same amount of loving, boldness for Jesus as that young lady!

 – Sarah

Garland Of Grace – 08.20.17

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God’s Planetarium; A Total Eclipse of the Human Heart

 “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” – Psalm 8:3-4

I have always enjoyed astronomy. As a child, one of my favorite places was the planetarium in my hometown. When we visited relatives in Huntsville, Alabama, the U.S Space and Rocket Center was a must see. One day in third grade my teacher, Mrs. Radford, explained the difference between a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse. She said that it would be thirty-three years before North America would experience another total solar eclipse. She then rattled off the date of the eclipse. Reaching into my desk for anything to write on, I grabbed a book I had been reading. Quickly, I flipped to the back of the book and wrote down August 21, 2017. I remember thinking that no matter where I would be on that day, I would make sure to experience the eclipse to the fullest extent.

As I write this devotional, we are only three weeks away from this once in a lifetime event. And I have a promise to keep to a little eight year old boy from 1984 – I am committed to experience the total eclipse to the fullest extent. On that day, our family will travel to an area of Tennessee located in what scientists refer to as the eclipse’s “path of totality.” I pray the trip is a teaching moment for our children as they enjoy a front row seat at God’s planetarium. Our family Scripture that day will be Psalm 8:3-4. It is a great passage to coincide with the eclipse. Here are a few life lessons I pray God will teach my children through the events of that day.

For starters, God spoke the universe into existence with the greatest precision. David poetically describes the moon and the stars as the work of God’s fingers. Yet God never broke a sweat. He simply spoke the universe into existence. Our God the scientist placed the sun, the moon, and the planets in the perfect order for everything to be in harmony. This truth is confirmed all the more when scientists are able to predict eclipses hundreds of years in advance, and do so to the day, the hour, the minute and the second.

Secondly, daytime darkness reminds us of God’s judgement within the Word of God. When Christ was crucified, there was three hours of darkness (Mark 15:33), a timeframe much longer than the 2 minutes at 34 seconds we will experience during the total eclipse. Now what happened during that timeframe between Father and Son we do not fully understand. However, we do know that the sin of the world was heaped upon Christ as God the Father placed His Son into an oven of wrath and fury. In that moment, Christ received the judgement mankind so rightly deserved. Also, it is worth noting that the darkening of the sun and God’s judgment are coupled together on the great and terrible day of the Lord (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20).

Third, we are the crowning glory of God’s creation. After pondering the greatness of the universe, David asks why God even takes thought of man. Yet he answers His own question in verse five when he says God has made man, “a little lower than God” and that He has crowned man “with glory and majesty.” This means mankind is the most precious part of God’s creation; for we are His prized jewel. This truth is to be seen in light of the total solar eclipse; for though an eclipse is an unforgettable event of great importance, the aspect of God’s creation with the greatest importance is mankind; for man is the only part of the created order made in the image of God.

Finally, God totally eclipses the hearts of His people with the shadow of the cross. Eclipse means “to overshadow” or “to take precedence.” In a total solar eclipse, the moon overshadows the sun. The moon takes precedence. And so it should be within the Christian life. When someone surrenders to Christ, their life should no longer take precedence.  Rather, Christ should be the focus. He overshadows by taking center-stage in their life.

I pray these spiritual truths speak to you. And may we all be amazed by the beauty and majesty of God’s planetarium!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 08.13.17

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The John 3:16 of the Old Testament

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Old Testament is Zephaniah 3:17. It has been described as “the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.” Sadly, it has been frequently overlooked because of its obscure location within the Minor Prophets. The book of Zephaniah carries a message of doom and the coming wrath of God, followed by a message of hope and blessing upon God’s chosen remnant. And it is in this message of hope that we find our beautiful passage of promise. Similar to its sister verse in the New Testament, it carries a great summary of God’s love. The verse has five statements about God’s loving response to His people. Let us take a moment and consider each of these five statements.

The Lord your God is in your midst. God’s presence is not limited to His leading and protecting. Here, His presence is expressed in another meaningful way; for He is in the midst of every action done by His people. His presence continually permeates the lives of His children. To put it another way, He is their constant companion.  No matter what season of life or what difficulties we might face, we can be rest assured that God is always with us. God’s faithfulness to His people is never in question or uncertain.

He is a mighty one who will save. God is our helping hero who protects delivers us and provides salvation to His people. Other translations help provide a deeper understanding of this statement. The New American Standard Version says He is a “victorious Warrior.”  The New Revised Standard Version describes him as “the one who gives victory.” The New Living Translation calls Him “a mighty Savior.”  However articulated, we can gather a few truths. First, we need deliverance and saving.  Second, God mightily saves us. Third, the victory is not ours to claim; for the victory belongs to the Lord.

He will rejoice over you with gladness. God has happy thoughts towards His people. He is filled with gladness and rejoices over His children. Like a proud father filled with pride over His children, God celebrates over us with an indescribable joy. And no matter what transpires in life, we can know that our loving Father will always orchestrate a symphony of life events with our best interest in mind.

He will quiet you by His love. Throughout the centuries, theologians have struggled with this particular portion of the text. The Hebrew reads “He will be silent in His love.” The King James Version says, “He will rest in His love.” The New International Version says, “In His love He will no longer rebuke you.” Undoubtedly, the meaning behind this statement has been thoroughly debated. But no matter which way the statement is understood, the wording is quite stirring and carries good news for the children of God. It means that God will keep silent pertaining to the sins of His people, and that the love He has for His children is so strong and deep that it is accompanied with an overwhelming silence.

He will exult over you with loud singing. Here we see that our heavenly Father’s rejoicing over His children is so exuberant, that He actually breaks out in song.  The word for singing in the Hebrew means “a ringing cry.” But even more interesting, His singing is described as “loud.” This simply points to the intensity of the song. Think about that for just a moment; God the Father sings passionate lullabies to His children!  Knowing this gives greater meaning to the joy we have in calling Him “Abba, Father.”

I pray that Zephaniah 3:17 would be a banner of blessing in your life; for His banner over us is love (Song of Solomon 2:4). And let us not be guilty of only reading these great descriptions of God’s love, but that we would relish and savor them!  Ask God today to help you embrace His unending love!

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 08.06.17

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Broken Cisterns; Preferring the Polluted Over the Pure

“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:13

The verse above just might be one of the saddest passages of Scripture in all the Old Testament. It is here that God admonishes His people for trying to find satisfaction in worldly things rather than simply finding satisfaction in Him. They had a drinking problem. They had stopped drinking from the wellspring of the living God, and instead were trying to drink from the cisterns of the world. Instead of passionately pursing God, they were passionately pursuing anything and everything besides God. They were dipping their “life-buckets” into broken cisterns, yet these cisterns failed to satisfy. And because of their unfaithfulness, God describes their actions as evil. Their story should serve as a warning to us today; for we must guard against allowing these same sins to take root in our own lives. Let us take a moment and consider the dangers in pursuing after the cisterns of the world.

To begin with, the cisterns of the world fail to hold water and eventually dry up. The world’s cisterns have a leaking problem. They are perpetually broken and cannot hold water. The people in Jeremiah’s day failed to understand this as they continually flirted with idolatrous worship and feasted upon worldly pleasures. They sought after their manmade cisterns, which only left them feeling emptier than before. Sadly, not much has changed throughout the centuries. People today drink from the various cisterns at their disposal in effort to find personal satisfaction and contentment. Yet their efforts to hydrate their souls are in vain. They often choose to linger around the dried up cisterns in hopes that something satisfying might spring up. Yet while they linger, their dusty and dirty lives are marked by self-pleasure and self-indulgence all the more.

Secondly, drinking from the cisterns of the world leads to sickness. The living waters of salvation flowing from the fountain of God lead to purity and life. On the other hand, earthly cisterns only offer contamination. Sadly, the people of Jeremiah’s day preferred the polluted over the pure. Yet we too are guilty of the same sin when we pursue anyone or anything more than we pursue God. Sin always leads to sickness, and we become spiritually sick when we drink the muddy water scooped out of the cisterns of the world.

Third, the cisterns of the world are deceiving. What the world offers may initially seem alluring, but will only leave us disillusioned, disappointed, dissatisfied. We must remember that the cisterns hewn out by the hands of men are like a mirage. At first glance they seem impressive, but once the rays of reality shine upon it, its attractiveness evaporates. This is a favorite tactic of our adversary the devil. He has a way of making sin attractive. However, once we give in to a particular sin, we eventually realize that it really did not satisfy the longings of our heart. It has been said that the thought of sin is always more attractive than the deed itself.

Finally, empty cisterns lead to empty lives. Everyone longs to experience a fulfilled life rather than an empty life. Yet the broken and leaking cisterns of the world expand the emptiness of the human heart. Only a fulfilled life is found in God. This is why our passage describes God as the fountain of “living” waters. Only the flowing waters of the living God can fill and satisfy the human heart. In John 4:13-14, Jesus told the woman at the well that “everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

Oh that we would not be like the people of Jeremiah’s day!  Let us not be guilty of forsaking God, the Fountain of Living Waters. He is the Wellspring of Life and only He can satisfy the human soul. Let us drink freely from the well that never runs dry!

– Pastor Eric

Garland of Grace – 07.16.17

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In the World, But Not of the World

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” – John 15:19

The child of God is not “of” this world. They have been strategically positioned “in” this world for a season to be an instrument in the hand of God to accomplish His purposes on earth. Being “in” the world simply means that God has called His people to be salt and light to this lost, dark, and dying world. It means that it is not God’s will for His people to be hermits hiding from society and that it is His will for them to go out penetrate this icy world with the warmth of the gospel. But, being “in” the world is radically different than being “of” the world. So what does it really mean to be “not of this world?”

“Not of this world” means that earth is not our permanent residence. Planet earth is just a temporal dwelling place for the believer.  Our time here on earth should be seen as simply an extended stay at a traveler’s inn, an inn that we will one day check out of and depart for our eternal, permanent home in heaven. To fully embrace this truth and see in the proper perspective, one must look back to the beginning of human history, back to the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was like a perfect utopia. It had not been marred by sin, sickness, disease or death. But because of Adam and Eve’s sin, any hopes in their new garden home were dashed. As tenants, Adam and Eve were guilty of a contract breach with God the Landlord, and they were evicted. And since the fall of man when our original parents were displaced out of the Garden of Eden, God’s people have not been home. The good news for the child of God is that they will arrive home when they are ushered through the threshold of eternity.  Oh that we would live like aliens journeying through a foreign land longing for home!

“Not of this world” means we are not to have a love affair with the world. The word “world” is used in three ways within Scripture. It can refer to planet earth (Matthew 4:4, Acts 17:24), it can refer to the inhabitants of the earth (John 3:16), or it can refer to the evil and sinful behaviors of mankind (1 John 2:15). When we refer to not having a love affair with the world, we are referring to the latter. The longings and affections of our heart should not be drawn to wickedness of society or this evil world system, even in light all of its alluring vices. Having the world as a mistress will spiritually ravage the soul. So instead, our love affair should be with kingdom things, the things of God. The Bible says that we are to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). It would be wise for us to remember that a love for the world is equivalent to a hatred for God (James 1:22). This means we are not to think, act, respond and function like the world. We are not to be in step with the world’s drum. There should be something refreshing about our approach to life, so refreshing that those without Christ long for what we have.

“Not of this world” means that the weight of the world is not the end of the world. Let’s face it; life’s pressures can be overwhelming. And because of this, hopes can be dashed and dreams can be shattered. But since the Christian is not of this world, they have available to them a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and a greater future hope. And with this hope is the ability to see life’s difficulties through the lenses of eternity and the prism of God’s sovereignty. To be “not of this world” means to see every event in light of eternity.

Ponder these truths today, and may your testimony be that you are in the world, but not of this world.

– Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 07.12.17

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The Church that Shut the Door in the Face of Jesus

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”– Revelation 3:20A

Probably one of the most misused scripture references in God’s Word is the familiar text above.  Many have used this particular verse as a tool in witnessing to lost people.  Pastors and evangelists have frequently referred to this verse in an attempt to encourage lost people to trust Christ and be saved.  They do so by explaining that Jesus is knocking at the door of their heart, asking to come into life.  While it is vitally important we explain to lost people that the Lord desires to come into their heart and life, it is just as important that we make sure we use the right passages of scripture to do so (Romans 3:10, 23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9, 13, Ephesians 2:8-9).  In witnessing you must use the right tools, and to use Revelation 3:20 for evangelistic purposes is like using a wrench for a hammer.  You see, further study of this passage reveals that Jesus actually spoke these penetrating words to Christians, not lost people. Specifically, He was speaking to the local church at Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor addressed in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation.

So now that we know Jesus’ intended audience was a church, I suppose the next question that comes to mind is why would our Lord speak these sobering words to believers in the first place?  It seems bizarre that Jesus would request entrance into one of His own churches.  I mean in essence He was saying, “Open the door and let me back in!”  First, we must understand the condition of this particular church.  If ever there was a congregation marred with mediocrity, and inundated with unresponsiveness it was the lethargic Laodicean church.  They had become satisfied with the norm, and were more interested in maintaining rather than ministering.  And while they lazily swam in the lukewarm waters of half-heartedness, our Lord Jesus lovingly confronted them about their sin.  Speaking with a broken heart, He made it clear that they had gradually closed the door in His face; because of this, He was standing on the outside, knocking on the door to come back in.

Unfortunately, this describes many churches today. By turning the key of compromise, they have gradually opened the door to ministry mediocrity.  Instead of offering God their best, they gave God their leftovers.  And by doing so, they have inadvertently snuffed out the permeating presence of Jesus.  Oh how I pray that by understanding the entire story behind this familiar verse helps you see the value of its original meaning. This is why misuse of a text or veering scripture off its intended meaning poses such a grave danger.  It is an arrogant thing to isolate passages of scripture and separate them from its original context.  Remember, as stewards of God’s Word, we are to accurately handle the Word of Christ (2 Timothy 2:15).

But let’s get back to the church at Laodicea; Jesus followed up His piercing statement with a bit of positive and encouraging news. He says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20B).” In other words, the church that had shut the door in the face of Jesus (and any wayward believer for that matter) could experience restoration, be blessed, and brought into right fellowship with Him.  Aren’t you glad that our Lord offers forgiveness and restoration? That means that no matter what you’ve done, you can be made right with Him!  My dear friend; if these things describe you, I urge you to reopen your door to the Lord, and then wedge the doorstop of God’s forgiveness under your door.

 – Pastor Eric