Hi, my name is Eric and I still need Jesus.
When I began attending Emmanuel in September of 1986 it was a place of grace. Pastor Walt Zimmerman was a man of grace and of great faith. In founding Emmanuel, there were a few things that he would constantly repeat. One was that ‘Emmanuel’ means that God is with us! and we certainly couldn’t build this church without Him! The second and third were that “I NEVER want this church to known of as the church of the can’t and don’t” There is so much you can do in Christ why focus on something so small as what you can’t. It was a wonderful time to be a part of such a great work. I was just 16 years old and four years later married the girl who dragged me into church, Trisha, who was and still is such an awesome lady.
My eldest daughter Kierstin is afflicted with Cerebral Palsy (she is 21 today and doing wonderfully with adult service staffing). We were active in our church when Kierstin was born and nearly died. I was raised to believe in Jesus and had been saved at a young age, but struggled with doubts for many years until I came to Emmanuel Baptist Church where I settled the doubts and embraced the grace of God. However, when Kierstin was born and nearly died, I had a crisis of faith. In the years following Kierstin’s birth the Lord Jesus made himself known to me in a more complete way and used this trial to shape me into the man I am today. I still remember screaming at God while driving my car down Route 93 south in New Hampshire. I remember yelling at Him and asking Him how he could say that He loved me when He wouldn’t heal my daughter. It was on that highway, in that moment when my Father in Heaven reminded me of His love through the death of His son and that in saving me and moving in to live within me, He not only suffered for my sin, but suffers with my sorrow. I haven’t often questioned Him like that again. Ten years after that fateful day when we almost lost Kierstin, the Lord blessed us with a healthy daughter Chloe Danielle. Have you heard the expression “you complete me”? When Chloe was born (though we feared how Kierstin would react to a healthy sibling) we all realized that she was a very missing piece in our lives. Four years later along came Nate. He is my son and I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity to raise a good man, and play with such a great kid.
Following the assurance of my salvation and baptism I began to serve Jesus in many ministries. Three that were closest to my heart were the nursing home ministry, the worship ministry and the ministry to the youth of our church. In 1998 I answered the call of God on my life to vocational ministry and began working full-time at Emmanuel the following year.
In March of 2002, I was ordained by Emmanuel Baptist Church as a Gospel minister. However something at Emmanuel had been changing. The renown Bible Teacher and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary Chuck Swindoll says that it’s nearly impossible to find a church or institution that has remained a place of grace for very long; that you must be vigilant against the encroachment of legalism. Grace had begun to disappear from Emmanuel Baptist Church. To be clear, the doctrine of the Gospel didn’t ever change, but development of the believer had. The church of the do and the can, became known of as the church of the can’t and don’t. It was gradual. It was as if the sun was just quietly beginning to hide behind the clouds. The loss of grace isn’t often (in my opinion) a matter of a sweeping storm, scouring away the truth; it’s far more subtle and really seems to make a lot of sense when it’s happening. Where we used to enjoy coming out to church and tithing and singing and hanging out with friends it was increasingly becoming a burden, we just were becoming dead inside. Legalism steals life. Plain and simple. Legalism breeds sin as well; which is odd since its very creation is meant to ward off sin with its rules and lists and standards and so on and so forth; so there we sat, happy to work with the teens (and really they became my wife and my little family in the church), and yet not in much else.
Then in February of 2004, I was told by my pastor to go start Lighthouse Baptist Church in the Concord area of NH. It was bittersweet. To leave a place that we had been a part of for the better part of our adult lives and start an adventure we neither felt called to or led to was one of the most difficult things we have ever done. Leaving those teens behind felt like we were ripping out our hearts. Yet there was something sweet to be found in such bitter waters. Like the tree that Moses (in the book of Exodus) cast in the bitter waters in order to make them sweet; my wife and I began to rediscover grace. It began to bloom slowly at first, a weak and beggarly thing, but once above the surface it became hearty and stubbornly refused to go away. At first I had no idea what God had begun, however I felt the Lord speak quietly to my heart to stay away, to pastor these people and to wait. It has taken these last nine years for grace to reach the place that it has in my life today.
One of our first brushes with grace was while we were at Lighthouse Baptist and had visited Bible Center Church in West Virgina with Shawn Thornton and Troy and Steph Thornton my brother and sister in law. I was still steeped in my cultural fundamentalist ways and looked down my nose at this church that had the wrong Bible translation, the wrong music and the wrong standards. I expected to find a bunch of near heathens with little regard to God’s Word and little true understanding of what little they might have. Instead what I found were a people that sincerely loved Jesus and grace! I would go on to fight against this truth for two more years and yet as Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free”.
In the second year of that church plant the Lord moved in miraculous ways to merge Lighthouse and Landmark Baptist Church into the New Landmark Baptist Church of Loudon NH. Within the following year the Lord Jesus worked and souls were saved and baptized. A new church sanctuary was completed by the end of the first year of the merger. Landmark while still remaining traditional and translation focused, became more and more a place of grace. People that came from legalistic or authoritarian churches found that (in their words) they could breathe. The shackles of legalism were falling off and it was a wonderful time to pastor and be a part of the work of the Lord. It reminds me now, looking back, of the early years of Emmanuel.
Following the completion of the church sanctuary, God showed me that my work at Landmark was done and it was time to return to Emmanuel…
In February of 2007 my former pastor called and asked me to return to take the reins and pastor Emmanuel. I knew right then the Lord was in it. A few weeks later, my pastor changed his mind about retiring, but the Lord had confirmed for me that it was time to return. It began what would become two of the most difficult years of my life. Emmanuel had embraced legalism and authoritarianism deeply. The Lord had work to do in me during those years, breaking me and revealing my flaws and weaknesses and He is still trying to scour away the clinging vestiges of legalism and authoritarianism. The darkness of those days struck a contrast with the burgeoning fruit of grace that had began to develop within me a greater desire for truth and grace. I had tasted grace and seen the sun above the swirling clouds of legalism and I pray to never return to those bitter waters.
In July of 2008 the Lord moved my pastor to lead the church to vote for me to be the pastor-elect of the church. In June of 2009 I assumed the pastorate of my home church. It’s been nearly four years since that day. It hasn’t all been easy; in fact the wounds of legalism run very deep in those subjected to as well as those that are steeped in it. However, the clouds are breaking, the Son is shining a little bit more every day and joy is returning to the bride of Christ on this earth.
As you have read along this story, maybe you have found yourself trapped by religion. Whether legalism or some other form, I would invite you to embrace grace. I hope that you will consider yourself at this moment. Do you have a know so heart, or are you stuck in the heartache of a hope so heart? Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to take all of your sins away. He was punished enough for you and me and all that will believe and trust in him. Above all else, please consider this, that Jesus, God in the flesh, loves you and wants to save you. For that to happen, you must turn to God, without excuse for your sin. You must accept full responsibility for yourself and trust the mercy that is in Jesus because of his sacrifice. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion proving that God the father was satisfied with Jesus’ punishment for our sins. Call upon Him and He will save you. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.”