July 2024 Pastor’s Corner — A Reflection or The Real Thing?

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. — 2 Corinthians 3:18

Last Friday was a full moon.  I am always amazed to look outside in the middle of a clear night and see how bright it is during a full moon.  The moon shines so brightly, it’s hard to see the other stars in the sky, and sometimes it’s almost bright enough to read a book.  A few months ago, I was at the beach for the full moon and it almost looked like the sunrise (pictured on the left).  The moon is glorious in its own right, but it is ultimately lacking and inadequate.

The light of a full moon pushes back the darkness of the night, but only partially.  The light of the moon does not provide warmth, or life, or health.  It might be enough to see by, but just barely.  This is because the moon doesn’t have any light of its own; it is not the source of its light.  The light the moon provides is but a reflection of the real thing.  An amazing reflection, a brilliant reflection, but a reflection nonetheless.  I love the light of a full moon, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing.

The sun, on the other hand, is the source of the light the moon reflects.  When the sun rises, the dark is banished for as long as the sun is in the sky.  It is the light of the sun that warms the earth, that enables plants and life to grow, that provides nutrients and vitamins that are essential for our health.  Even the sunrise itself is degrees of beauty above and beyond that of the moonrise.  One can look at a full moon, but to look upon the sun is to risk severe damage to your eyes.  The glory of the sun is far beyond that of the moon.  The light of the moon is pretty neat, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

There are many things that claim to be able to replace the light of the presence of God in our lives.  Money, possessions, people, things, and much more.  Some of those things are good and provide a pretty good reflection of God, but most of those things are cheap imitations that don’t actually reflect God at all.  Sometimes, because trying to look at the glory of God is as painful as trying to look directly at the sun, we’d rather have the reflection than the real thing.  It’s easier for me to look at what I believe about God rather than seek to be present with God.  But, even if my beliefs and theology are perfect, they are a mere reflection of the glory of God.  They cannot sustain, nourish, feed or warm my soul.  Only God can do that.  Imagine how much more harmful it is for us to choose the false reflections, the idols that claim to be able to replace God in our lives.  It’s like trying to replace the sun with a flashlight.

This morning I sat outside on our deck reading my Bible and praying as the sun rose over my neighbor’s house.  A cool, almost chilly morning was instantly warmed, the dew almost immediately evaporating.  I was struck by how often I choose the things of God instead of the presence of God, let alone the false idols that claim to imitate and reflect the warmth of God’s presence over the real thing.  Jesus Christ came and died so that we could behold the glory of the Lord directly.  Don’t settle for a poor imitation or reflection when the real thing is available to you.  Seek the presence of the Lord and behold His glory, so that you may be transformed by Him.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. — Hebrews 10:19-22

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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June 2024 Pastor’s Corner — Blessed Naïveté

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 

— 1 Corinthians 14:20

Has anyone ever accused you of being “holier than thou”?  It’s a strange insult, when you think about it, but it’s also one that I think most folks dread having applied to them.  There’s a good reason for that — the phrase is really directed at those who are arrogant and self-righteous in their “holiness” and look down on those who they deem not as worthy.  However, our dread of this accusation has had a consequence that is deeply affecting the Church (capital ‘C,’ as in the church universal not just the local church).  

Instead of striving after true holiness, as just about every page of the Bible calls us to, we strive to be relevant and relatable so folks will see us as just like and certainly no better than they are.  We try to avoid the scarlet ‘H’ as much as possible.  As NT Wright writes, “There are people who pride themselves on knowing about evil, but can’t be bothered to think through serious issues from a biblical or theological point of view. There are many Christians who can tell you which film star is getting divorced but can’t tell you where in the Bible you might find teaching on the subject.”  We want to make sure that folks know we’re no different than they are.  I doubt any Christian is trying to be an expert in evil; most likely we just want to make sure that we’re not being naïve about it.  We want to be seen as mature, not childish.

Paul flips that kind of thinking upside down in 1 Corinthians 14:20.  He says that what I just described isn’t mature — it’s childish.  True maturity doesn’t come from familiarity with or knowledge of evil, but rather by pursuing Christ and holiness.  Those who are truly holy don’t go around flaunting it in front of and over others.  Somewhat ironically, the holier we become, we become all the more aware of the depths of our sin and brokenness.  Consider Jesus.  He was perfectly relatable and relevant to all with whom he came in contact.  Sinners were drawn to him, so much so that He spent far more time with the “sinners” than He did with those who considered themselves “saints.”  Yet He never compromised his holiness or his righteousness, nor did He ever entertain temptation, sin or evil.

If we are striving to show the world that Christians are just like them, then what do we have to offer?  The entire point of the Gospel is that the world can never provide that for which our souls yearn. The world can never heal our brokenness. The world can never help us atone for our sins and failures. The world cannot provide life.  The Gospel, the Good News, is that by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ we have been called out and set apart (that’s what “holiness” means).  Being mature and holy isn’t about being perfect or sinless, but it does mean that we strive to leave sin and evil behind, focusing instead on Jesus Christ. True maturity comes from “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14-15)

Instead of trying to show how much like the world we are, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. — Philippians 4:8-9

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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May 2024 Pastor’s Corner — The Unexpected

Blessed is the man… 

whose delight is in the law of the LORD, 

and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree 

planted by streams of water 

that yields its fruit in its season, 

and its leaf does not wither. 

In all that he does, he prospers.

— Psalm 1:1-4

This is Fred the Tree.  Fred is growing in the most unexpected and unlikely of places — right in the middle of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge in Key West.  Against all odds (and all the odds are against it), Fred not only sprouted but has thrived in a most inhospitable location.  Fred provides a beautiful example of how, when we trust in the Lord, our faith can grow and flourish in the most unexpected places and ways.

Trusting in the Lord, and growing ever deeper in that trust, is everything that is meant by “faith,” particularly faith in Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 5:6, Paul summarizes everything he believes about the Gospel when he writes, “For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith [trust] expressed in love.” (Gal. 5:6 MESSAGE)  But “trusting in God” is a somewhat strange and abstract concept.  It’s very easy to say we “Trust in the LORD with all our heart, and do not lean on our own understanding” (Prov. 3:5 ESV), but how do we know if we actually are trusting in the Lord as much as we think we are?

As March drew to a close, I came down with an unexpected stomach illness.  The next day, we made an unexpected visit to the ER, which resulted in an unexpected hospital stay that included unexpected surgery to address a congenital issue that I learned about, unexpectedly, four years ago.  When I fell ill, even when I was admitted to the hospital and learned I was going to have surgery, I never imagined I would end up being out of the pulpit for 4 weeks and facing a recovery process that will end up being a total of 6 weeks or more.  Every step of the process, as my circumstances continued to become more concerning and severe than I first thought, could have been fraught with anxiety and worry.  I’m not saying I didn’t have my moments, but in general (and other than feeling terribly sick), I felt a deep sense of peace and calm through it all.  I knew, without a doubt, that everything was going to be fine, no matter what happened.

I have had, and continue to have, seasons of wrestling with the Lord.  There have been many times when I have argued with God and struggled to understand the whats and the whys of what He has allowed me to go through, and sometimes things He has purposefully brought my way.  I don’t like a lot of those things, and in many respects I still wish going through those seasons wasn’t necessary.  And yet, in each and every case, the Lord has proved himself trustworthy and true.  Through it all, even though I still don’t understand most of it, I have learned to trust Him a little bit more than I did before.  It is because of those times that when this very unexpected, and frankly quite severe, situation occurred, I found that I wasn’t worried or afraid.  The Lord had proven himself faithful in the big things and the small in the past, how could I expect anything other this time around?

It is in the unexpected moments and circumstances of life that we both learn to trust Him more and find out how much we already trust in Him.  The “soil” that allows our faith to grow and mature is trusting in the Lord and His Word.  When we trust in Him and learn to trust Him more each day, our faith is able to grow and even thrive in the midst of the most unexpected or even hostile circumstances.  Place your trust in the Lord today, and continue to do so each and every day, so that when the times of trial and struggle, when the unexpected comes along, you will be able to hold fast and stand firm, to face whatever may come with peace and assurance, knowing in your heart of hearts that the Lord will once again be faithful and true.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25)

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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April 2024 Pastor’s Corner — Refuge

 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. — Psalm. 28:2

As I come to a half-century of walking this earth, I find that the frenetic nature of our culture is wearing on me more often than not.  Everything seems to operate at a “hurry up and wait” pace that leaves me stressed and exhausted, and there are few places to go to find a respite from it.  Social media stirs up my anxiety and my discontent.  The news stirs up my fears and worries.  The pleasure of eating out is often tainted by slow service due to understaffed restaurants and higher prices due to supply chain issues.  The advancements of technology that were meant to improve the quality of our lives (and in many ways it has) seems to have had the opposite effect more often than not.  It’s not just our youth and children whose faces are plastered to their phones, but all generations.  Instead of having more time to rest and relax, we are constantly pushed to do more in less time.  We need sanctuary.  Sanctuary from the frenetic pace of our culture, our lives, and our selves.

“Sanctuary” is defined as “a place of refuge or safety.”  For thousands of years, the spaces we set aside for encountering God have been called a sanctuary.  Even still today, we refer to these spaces as a sanctuary, and in those spaces we experience and do things that are different than any other place to which we go.  A sanctuary is an inherently counter-cultural space, it is intrinsically different from anywhere else in our lives.  Everywhere else we go is designed to meet some need or want in our lives.  We want to go to those places because we expect them to do something for us.  A sanctuary, though, is different.  We do things in a sanctuary that is unlike anything else we do, anywhere else. The sanctuary provides refuge and safety because it enables us to look beyond ourselves, to see and experience God.

The fundamental flaw with the typical rhythms of our lives is that it all revolves around us.  I structure my life in order to meet my wants and needs.  “I” am the center of my life.  While that’s somewhat obvious, it is also the primary problem, because “I” can not satisfy myself.  “I” can not meet the deepest longings of my soul, as hard as I might try.  And trying is exhausting.  What we do in a sanctuary is designed and intended to move our eyes off our navels and onto the cross.  Away from myself, and onto the Lord.  In the sanctuary, we move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.  From what we know to what we don’t.  From what we want to Who we need.  In the sanctuary, we are reminded that we are not the center of the universe, or even our lives.  That it’s not always all about me, or you, but rather about Him.

Ultimately, sanctuary isn’t a particular place but rather a Person, Jesus Christ.  And technically we can find sanctuary wherever we find Him, which is anywhere.  But practically we need particular places of sanctuary, spaces intended for refuge and safety for our souls.  Places where we do things differently than anywhere else in our lives, where we worship our God, confess our sins, receive His word, practice His sacraments.  Come to the sanctuary, and find refuge and safety from the frenetic world in which we live.

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. — Psalm 59:16

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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March 2024 Pastor’s Corner — This Changes Everything

 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. — 1 Corinthians 15:16-17

There are a lot of doctrines that are crucial to our Christian faith.  In the EPC, we have a list of them known as “The Essentials of Our Faith.”  Those essentials include what we believe about the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), God the Holy Spirit; the problem of our sin and our salvation in Christ; the church; the return of Christ; and the purpose and mission of every Christian.  All of those are important doctrines and in many respects define the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. It’s not so much that believing these things make you a Presbyterian, but that Christians throughout the centuries have held these doctrines as essential.  But in the paragraph about Jesus Christ is a statement that is, in many respects, more important than any other:

“[Jesus Christ] died on the cross a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. On the third day He arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven, where, at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He now is our High Priest and Mediator.”

That’s it.  That’s the entire house of cards.  Everything we believe as Christians rises and falls on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As Paul wrote in the passage quoted above, if Christ was not raised from the dead, everything else we believe is meaningless.  Conversely, in order to understand why and how Christ was raised from the dead, it’s necessary to believe most everything included in the Essentials of Our Faith.  As Thomas Oden writes,

No aspect of Jesus’ ministry was more minutely recorded than his resurrection. Due to the pivotal importance of his resurrection, the evidence for it appears to have been assiduously collected, transmitted, and embedded in the essential proclamation of salvation attested by the earliest Christian communities. The Gospel narratives seem to be saying to us that if we cannot credit the last validating episode of his life, we are not likely to grasp anything else said about him. (The Word of Life, pg 495)

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything.  It is the confirmation that everything the Old Testament said about Jesus is true; that everything Jesus said about himself is true.  It is the means of our sanctification, the way our sins are atoned for, the reason we are freed from the shackles of our sins.  It is the promise of our redeemed and restored souls, the hope of our eternal salvation, the guarantee of our future life with Christ.  It is the way God chose to restore all of broken creation to what He intended from the very beginning.  And it is completely unprecedented in human history, so much so that it is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

We’ve heard the “old, old story” so many times that we can forget how radical, revolutionary and profound it really is.  That’s why we have the season of Lent in the church calendar.  The early church fathers recognized how important it is for believers to spend a significant period of time reflecting on what Jesus accomplished on Easter Sunday. During this season, I invite you to make a habit of reading 1 Corinthians 15 as part of your daily Scripture reading and prayer time.  Spend time meditating on and contemplating the wonder of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Allow the depths of the love of God made manifest through His Son Jesus Christ settle deeply in your heart, and share that message of hope and life with those around you.  That’s what we have to offer: because He lives, so we live.  That changes everything.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  — 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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February 2024 Pastor’s Corner — A Slow But Steady Process

 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” — Isaiah 1:18

Being the snow lover that I am, I delighted in our most recent winter storm.  While far from the largest snow, it was the most we’ve received in a couple of years and more than enough to blanket everything in a beautiful coating of white.  It was a slow process that took most of the day, so slow you almost couldn’t see it happening.  But surely enough, as the hours ticked by, the world was transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland.

As I watched the snow falling and the slow transformation of everything, I thought of the passage from Isaiah quoted above.  No matter how deep our sins, God’s grace will cover them like snow.  Isaiah uses the color red for sin because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22).  The more crimson the color, the worse the sin.  And yet, no matter how crimson our sins might be, they’ve all been paid for, atoned for, by the shed blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our souls are made as pure white as a fresh snowfall.

But we aren’t finished with our sin, are we? Even though our forgiveness and salvation are assured, as long as we’re on this side of Glory, we continue to wrestle with our sinful nature.  As Martin Luther famously said, “We are at once justified and sinful.”  Our journey with Jesus is a journey of becoming ever more sanctified (which means holy, or more like Jesus) and ever less sinful.  Sometimes we make great strides toward holiness, sometimes we slide back into our sins.  It’s a process, a journey, and it takes time.  Kind of like how it takes time for the world to turn white while the snow falls.

When the snow first started, the ground was still fairly warm.  Most of the snow melted immediately.  In fact, a lot of the snow melted before the ground cooled enough for the snow to begin to stick.  The tree branches were the first to collect the snow, but roads took a lot longer, and even when the snow began to stick, the roads first turned to a mushy grey.  Puddles in the yard where the already melted snow collected held out for as long as they could, but even they eventually froze and were covered over with snow.  Yet the snow was persistent and relentless, persevering until all was remade under a beautiful white blanket.

It is the Holy Spirit that is restoring our souls, one day at a time, moment by moment.  Just like the snowfall, the Holy Spirit is persistent and relentless with you.  Often, you might not notice that anything is changing at all.  But over time, as we continue to walk with the Lord in faithfulness and pursue Him in all things, we’ll begin to notice that we aren’t who we used to be, that our soul is gradually becoming more and more pure and white.  Set your mind and your heart on the things of God, and freely confess your sins — old, new, even the repeats —so He can “purge you with hyssop” so you can “hear joy and gladness” in your soul. 

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. — Psalm 51:7-8

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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November 2023 Pastor’s Corner — Show & Tell 

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? — Rom. 10:13-15

One of my favorite quotations is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”  I love this quote because it emphasizes how important our actions are in backing up what we say we believe.  Telling others about the Gospel is good; living the Gospel is better.  In last month’s article, we talked about how we live the Gospel in our lives, thinking purposefully about how we live in “uniquely Christian” ways in our areas of influence and the places we go.  As the quote above stresses, it is important that we live what we say we believe, and through those actions, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know.

But the quote does not say to not use words.  Words are important, and when it comes to sharing the Gospel and good news of Jesus Christ with others, we do need to use our words.  As the words of the Apostle Paul at the top of this article make clear, there comes a point where we have to invite others to learn more about Jesus Christ.  How are people supposed to know about the goodness of the Lord and the joy of our salvation if we aren’t telling them about it?  When God meets you where you are and you experience His love and grace in a new and different way, that is something we should want to share with other people.  As Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the hope that is in you.

Telling others about what God is doing in our lives doesn’t have to be a full exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to have all the answers, actually, you don’t have to have any of the answers.  Just Jesus.  To paraphrase the (formerly) blind man’s answer in John 9:25, “I don’t know everything there is to know or understand about Jesus.  One thing I do know, I once was blind, but now I see.”  Or even better is Philip’s answer in John 1:46, “Come and see.”  Invite others to “come and see” Jesus for themselves.  Show people what Jesus has done and is doing by living in uniquely Christian ways, and tell them they can come and see for themselves!  It might simply saying something along the lines of, “I had the most incredible experience with God in church this past Sunday.  You should come next Sunday so you can experience it too.”  Or maybe, “I’m so grateful for my church community because they {fill in the blank}.  If you’re looking for genuine community, come with me next Sunday.”  It might even be “Yesterday, my pastor said {fill in the blank}, and I’d never realized that about God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit/etc, and I’m so encouraged!”  Although, it’ll more likely be, “Yesterday, my pastor put his foot in his mouth so badly, and it was hilarious.  Come and hear him do it again this Sunday!”

By all means, seek to love and serve others wherever you go and in whatever you do in uniquely Christian ways.  As much as you’re able, live out the Gospel in which we have found our hope and our life.  Live in such a way that others want to ask you about your hope and faith in Jesus Christ, and tell them about Him! 

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” — Is. 52:7

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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October 2023 Pastor’s Corner – Uniquely Christian

 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

— Matt. 5:46-47

There’s a prayer that pops up in my daily devotional (Seeking God’s Face by Philip Reinders, if you’re interested) every few days: “for God to equip us to serve in uniquely Christian ways in the public arena.”  Praying for God to help us to serve in “uniquely Christian ways” seems such an obvious and unnecessary thing, doesn’t it?  And yet, over the past several months, this particular prayer has needled away at the back of my mind.

The hard truth most of us probably don’t want to admit is that there is very little that is “uniquely Christian” in how we go about our daily lives.  When it comes to living as a Christian, long as we’re generally nice to others, basically good in most respects, and overall relatively happy and content in our lives, we figure we’re doing pretty good.  And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things.  Most every person should attempt to live that way.  But that’s just the thing.  Most every person does live that way.  There is nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing uniquely Christian about it either.  If that’s the extent of our witness, of how we represent the hope and joy of the Christian life to others, it’s not all that surprising that people aren’t interested in learning more about the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s pretty clear from Scripture that there is supposed to be something about how we live our lives that is fundamentally and uniquely different from how the rest of the world lives.  Consider what Paul writes: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (Eph. 4:17)  For the Hebrews, there were only two kinds of people: Hebrews and Gentiles.  “Gentile” is simply a name for someone who is not Hebrew.  But when Jesus and Paul, and the other New Testament writers, use the term, it’s more helpful to think of it as “people who don’t believe in Jesus.”  So Christians aren’t supposed to live their lives the same way non-Christians do.  But what does that look like?  Paul continues, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

What does living and serving in uniquely Christian ways look like?  Pretty much every book of the New Testament talks about this, but a great place to start is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, a portion of which is quoted above.  In summary, Jesus says that a uniquely Christian life is one that seeks reconciliation with others, honors the image of God in all people, is a person of their word, turns the other cheek instead of seeking retribution or revenge, loves their enemies, gives generously to those in need, seeks God in all things without flaunting their faith in front of others, radically trusts God in the present and in the future, focuses first on personal holiness rather than judging what’s wrong in others.  There’s obviously a lot of nuance in what Jesus says that I just skipped for the sake of summary, but you get the gist.  Another great place to continue your study of what it means to live and serve in uniquely Christian ways is to read the rest of Ephesians 4, which we looked at in the previous paragraph.  Start with Ephesians 4:17, and read through the end of chapter 5.

As followers of Christ, our lives ought to be fundamentally different than those who don’t follow Christ.  Peter writes, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)  Our very way of interacting with others and the world around us, the love we extend to each and every person, the faith we hold on to, the hope that secures us, should be captivating and intriguing to those who don’t know Jesus.  We are called to be different. 

Take some time to look at yourself and your life.  How are you serving and living in uniquely Christian ways?  What might need to change so that you reflect Christ more clearly and brightly to those around you.  These are great questions for any Christian to ask, at any point in their walk with the Lord.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

— Matt. 5:14-16

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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August 2023 Pastor’s Corner — Faith & Prayer

 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matt. 17:19–20

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” — Mark 9:28–29

Sometimes you come across something in the Bible that seems small and innocuous at first, but over time you realize what you thought was little is actually a lot bigger.  Jesus is really good at doing that when he is teaching us things.  In this case, the little thing I came across was a small difference in how Matthew and Mark relate the healing of an epileptic, demon-possessed boy.  This scene takes places immediately after the transfiguration of Jesus.  The disciples were not able to cast the demon out, and the Pharisees mocked them for it.  Jesus, of course, was able.  After Jesus and the disciples entered the privacy of the house they were staying in, they asked Jesus why they weren’t able to drive the demon out.  That’s where the difference in the stories comes in, as well as the revelation the Holy Spirit impressed upon me.

As you can see above, Jesus gives a different answer in Matthew compared to Mark.  But it’s not actually a different answer, and that’s the part that’s stuck with me for the past few days.  What did the disciples need to drive the demon out, more faith or more prayer?  Yes.  You see, faith and prayer are intrinsically linked together.  As William Hendriksen writes, “Where there is little faith, there is little prayer. Conversely, where there is an abundance of genuine, persevering faith, there is also fervent, unrelenting prayer.”  When our faith lags, our trust in God erodes.  If we aren’t trusting in God, then why would we pray, for is not prayer itself an act and expression of trust?  The more deeply I trust in God, the stronger my faith will be, the more constant will then be my prayers. 

It is hard, sometimes, to know how our walk with the Lord is going. If someone were to ask you, “how strong is your faith today?” how would you know what to say? It’s such a subjective question.  We can often think our faith in God is strong, when we aren’t actually trusting in Him very much at all.  However, being asked, “how is your prayer life going?” is much more concrete and objective.  As the Holy Spirit has needled at me about this, I’ve come to see a strong and direct correlation between my prayer life and my trust in God.  I encourage you to look at your prayer life as well.  Are you trusting in the Lord as much as you say or think you are?  Does your prayer life reflect that trust and faith?  There’s no time like right now to pray! 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. — 1 Th. 5:16–19

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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July 2023 Pastor’s Corner – Priceless

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

— Matt. 13:44–46

Much like a pearl inside an oyster, sometimes the greatest and most profound truths come in the pithiest of sayings.  These two sayings of Jesus are definitely fantastic examples of that.  They are very simple parables that are easy to grasp and understand.  And yet, just like the point they are making, there is so much more within once we slow down and enter the story.

Imagine yourself as the man or the merchant.  Smell the soil of the field or the salty water where the oysters are.  Visualize coming across the treasure in the field — did you have to dig to find it, or was it poking out of the ground?  What was it about the pearl that caught your eye as it sat under the water?  What could possibly be found in that treasure, how large must that pearl have been, to motivate you to (don’t miss this) sell everything you have in order to purchase the field or the treasure? Not just doing that, but doing it with great joy and excitement?  Take a moment more — when was the last time you felt that kind of joy about, well, anything?  Honestly, this is a ridiculous story, almost ludicrous.  No one in their right mind would actually do anything like that, right? Which is exactly the point, but not the entire point.

Now consider what Jesus says is the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great value.  Jesus is talking about the kingdom of Heaven.  Often, we think the treasure being spoken of is salvation, which it is.  But it’s also so much more.  The treasure that’s worth more than anything else in our lives is more than just accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, it’s embracing the way of life that Jesus introduced to us and the world.  Walking in the way of Jesus — loving God with all our being (Matt. 22:37-38), loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), loving even our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matt 5:43-48), living a life of Christ-like service to the rejected and hurting (James 1:27), resting in the grace of Christ (Matt 11:28-30) — that is the treasure beyond all value.  That is worth more than all of our earthly possessions or dreams.

The apostles and countless saints throughout the centuries have experienced the truth of these parables.  Paul experienced this so viscerally he proclaims, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.   For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)  Most of us, though, are scared off by that idea.  As Brennan Manning once said, “We want to draw close enough to the blazing inferno of the love of God that we stay warm, but not so close that we might get burned.”  It makes you wonder if we’re missing something, doesn’t it?

As we continue through this summer, be intentional in reflecting on your walk with the Lord.  Have you found your relationship with Jesus to be a treasure worth selling everything you have to gain?  What is holding you back from knowing Jesus so well that everything else becomes “rubbish”?  How would it actually feel to let yourself be burned by the blazing inferno of the love of God?  There’s more to this life than just living and dying, waking and sleeping.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could merely be forgiven of your sins and receive the promise of eternal life, He meant for you to have more and better life than you’ve ever dreamed of (John 10:10), and that life is best found and pursued together (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 

— Psa. 51:12

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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