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

 

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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

Garland Of Grace – 12.24.17

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Joseph and the Promise of God’s Presence

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.” – Genesis 39:1-3

God never promised His child that life would be fair.  There are going to be times of injustice in your life when you get what you do not deserve.  One of the best examples of this life truth is the life story of Joseph.  Joseph’s story is one of unfair punishment.  He certainly did not deserve to be thrown into the pit by his brothers.  He certainly did not deserve to be sold into slavery by his brothers to a traveling band of Ishmaelites.  He did not deserve to be falsely accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife.  He certainly did not deserve to be thrown into prison for a crime that he was completely innocent of.  Let’s face it; there are times when we get a bad shake in life and receive what we do not deserve.  It will happen to you at some point if it hasn’t already.  Know this; there will be a time in your life when you get shafted and are treated unfairly.

God never promised us that following Him would be a bed of roses.  But I want us to consider three promises that we find in our text above.  In the midst of those times that we have been dealt with unfairly and we get what we do not deserve, we can have comfort to know that God is walking beside us. Verse two tells us that in the midst of Joseph’s personal turmoil that the Lord was with him. This same promise is further echoed in Genesis 39:21.  What comfort you and I can have to know that even when we have been dealt with unfairly, God is with us in the midst of our troubling circumstances! But there is a second promise.  Because God was with Joseph, he became successful.  This means that even during the ruts in life when we have received injustice, we can know that God is working for us. This promise is further exemplified in the life story of Joseph when we are told that the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer (Genesis 39:21). From a human perspective, it is easy for one to feel as if though God has abandoned them during times of injustice. But what comfort the Christian can have to know that God has been there the entire time, working behind the scenes! What joy to know that God is not working against us, but working for us!  Oh but there is a third promise in our text, and it is this; we can know that God is witnessing through us.  Now there is a stipulation to this promise. God will only witness through us when we respond to the injustice we have been handed with a spirit of grace.  The way we respond to personal injustice is vital in the testimony of the believer.  Joseph responded with grace to the injustice he had been dealt, and because of his response of grace, those around him noticed that there was something radically different about him.  Our text above tells us that “his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.” We may not realize it, but our response after we have been treated unfairly speaks volumes about our relationship with God.

Maybe you have been treated unfairly. Maybe the hand of injustice has dealt you a “bad hand of cards.” How are you going to respond?  One thing is true.  If you respond with grace, you can hold fast to these three promises.  You can know that God is walking beside you, God is working for you, and that God is witnessing through you.

 – Pastor Eric

Garland Of Grace – 12.17.17

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A Testimony Guarded; Lessons from the Life of Joseph

“It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” – Genesis 39:7, 10-12

One of the best examples of someone in the Bible that guarded their testimony would be the story of Joseph. Joseph had been placed the highest position in Potiphar’s kingdom. Everything that Potiphar owned was placed under his care. He had been entrusted by his master to oversee the business of the kingdom. Nothing was off limits, except for Potiphar’s wife. Now Potiphar’s wife was not the most moral person. She was attracted to Joseph physically, and desired to have relations with him. She aggressively pursued this day after day. She let it be known very clearly to Joseph that she was willing to cheat on her husband. When confronted with her proposals, Joseph even asked her how he could do something so evil and sin against God. So Joseph stayed the course and kept his mind on the job that he had been given. He paid no attention to the advances made by Potiphar’s wife. Finally, one day, it all came to a head. She made a sexual advance toward Joseph, and he fled from the scene. He wanted no part in her conniving scheme. Potiphar’s wife decided that she had been rejected for the last time, and decided to get back at him. She lied to her husband and reported that Joseph was the one who had made the sexual advance. Joseph was thrown into prison. But through God’s providence he was released and placed back into a position of high authority. Through it all, Joseph kept his purity. He realized the importance of honoring God with his testimony. He knew that a moment of pleasure was not worth losing his testimony over. God allowed him to suffer the consequences of other people’s evil actions, but through it all, God honored Joseph for his purity.

Building a good testimony calls for a desire to honor God in every area of your life. One of the best ways to develop a strong testimony for the Lord is to make God’s Word a road map for your life. The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

I want to ask you a question. What is your testimony? Remember, your testimony is what others see in your life. When your name is mentioned in conversation, what do people think about or say about you? Can people look at your life and see evidence that the Holy Spirit of God is dwelling within you? Remember, what we do as a Christian is a reflection of Jesus Christ since we bear His name. I want to challenge you to reflect upon your testimony for the Lord. If you feel that your testimony has been tainted with things in the past, lay your irreparable past at the feet of Jesus, and begin this moment to live for Him with all of your heart. One last thing to ponder; a testimony is not always an individual. It can be a corporate body of believers such as a family or a church family. Does your family have a good testimony for the Lord? What about your church? Does your church family have a good testimony in the community, or is associated with squabbles and fighting? Let’s comprehend the importance of a good testimony for the Lord, and strive to honor God through all that we do and say!

 – Pastor Eric

    

Garland Of Grace – 12.03.17

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Treasures from the Orient; Thoughts on the Three Gifts

“After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11

One of the most splendid scenes within the Christmas Story is when distinguished foreigners known as magi traveled from the east on mission to worship the child Jesus. Contrary to the nativity scene set up in your living room, Jesus was probably about two years of age when they arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph. And, interestingly, nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three wise men. People have automatically assumed there were three because of the three treasures given to the Christ child. The wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts that seem a bit strange for a two-year old. But as we unpack these three gifts a bit, we find that they were in actuality very appropriate.

The gift of Gold – Gold was an expensive commodity associated with royalty. These wise men had already acknowledged His kingship in Matthew 2:2 when they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Throughout the Scriptures, Christ’s kingship is clearly proclaimed. He was referred to as King prior to his birth (Luke 1:32-33), at His death (John 19:19), and even seven-hundred years prior to His birth by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:7). Gold is also one of the purest of all metals, reflecting Christ’s purity. Undoubtedly, the gift of gold was a gift fit for Jesus, the King of kings.

The gift of Frankincense – Frankincense was a resin or gum that was highly fragrant when burned, and was frequently used in worship to the Lord. Exodus 30:34-37 lists frankincense as one of the ingredients used to make a specific type of incense used in a burnt offering. This particular gift pointed to Christ’s holiness and that He alone is worthy of worship. And worship was one of the primary reasons why these wise men had traveled from afar in search for the child Jesus.  In Matthew 2:2 they said, “We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” The frankincense also points to Christ as our High priest. He is the one and only Mediator between God and man. He pleads our case before the Father and continually makes intercession on our behalf.

The gift of Myrrh – Myrrh was a spice commonly used in ancient embalming practices to prepare a body for proper burial. It was associated with suffering and death. To be sure, it seems a bit strange to give a toddler a gift signifying suffering and death. Today, it would be like giving a little boy a gift certificate to a funeral home. I wonder what went through the minds of Mary and Joseph when they saw the Myrrh. Did they fully understand?  Did they see the gift as somewhat morbid? But as bizarre of a gift myrrh might be, it reminds us of Christ’s earthly mission to die for the sins of the world; for He was born to die. Later, Myrrh’s theme of suffering and death would once again mark Christ’s life in the events that led up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ abusers offered Him gall to drink, a drink containing myrrh (Mark 15:23). Christ suffered and died as the propitiation for our sins, taking our punishment and penalty.

Soon after receiving the three gifts, the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream that King Herod would seek after the child Jesus in an effort to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13). Joseph heeded the warning, and hastily traveled to Egypt in effort to protect his family (Mathew 2:14). And because of the gift of gold from the magi, Mary and Joseph would have had the finances to cover their traveling expenses.

I pray these thoughts on the three gifts from the magi have enriched the Christmas story for you this year. Let us worship and adore the little baby boy born in Bethlehem; for He is Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world!

 – Pastor Eric