The Gospel Language

Erik Raymond —  January 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

It is said that author J.R.R. Tolkien created over 14 languages for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some have observed that for Tolkien language presupposed a story. The language he created served to communicate his story in a particularly compelling way. But it was the story that brought the language alive. It gave it texture.

In the Scriptures we also find that language paints the drama. Think about the early chapters of the Bible as if you have never read them before. You have themes and concepts like mercy, grace, covenant, blessing, inheritance, promise, rest, etc. It is here, early on in the story, that God begins to show us the budding flowers redemption and restoration. This is the gospel language. God created it to serve his ends in communicating the most fascinating, soul-arresting, hear-stirring, joy-producing drama in history.

Continue Reading…

I can remember about a dozen years ago being told by my pastor to listen to a sermon from S. Lewis Johnson. I remember that I was trying to multitask at the time but was unsuccessful. I stopped what I was doing and was riveted. Johnson in his thick but soothing southern drawl unpacked the Bible in a clear, captivating, and compelling way. He modeled what you think about when you think of a preacher: he got out of the way, pointed to Christ and really left an impression. He made difficult passages clear and simple passages profound. In both cases he magnified Christ.

In light of this I am quite pleased over a new publication by Zondervan entitled Discovering Romans: Spiritual Revival for the Soul. The volume is a collection of Johnson’s sermons from Romans. The sermons have been adapted by Mike Abendroth.

Continue Reading…

It was good for me to hear this today.

A Poker Tell from the GOP

Erik Raymond —  January 22, 2015 — 1 Comment

“I believe that leadership is all about putting the right beliefs into action, and knowing, on the basis of convictions, what those right beliefs and actions are…Without convictions you might be able to manage, but you cannot really lead.” R. Albert Mohler Jr., The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters

Mohler’s larger point in his book is that leaders must lead from and with conviction. Without genuine conviction leaders will be susceptible to being governed by pragmatism. In turn they will be characterized by political posturing. This is bad for the leader and worse for those they lead.

Sadly, on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we read the following from The Washington Post today:

House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation’s restrictive language would once again spoil the party’s chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.

Many Christians have faithfully endorsed the Republican party as their party in light of a shared conviction over morality. Part of this conviction has included opposition to abortion. But as we see, perhaps the base was not as secure as once thought.

It would appear that at least with some members of the GOP their convictions on issues are a bit more fluid while their conviction for political success remain solid. We should not be surprised here. If politicians adopted political views in the first place in order to gain popularity why would they hang onto them if it would cost them popularity?

If politics were a game of poker (and by this I do not mean to offend any poker players) then what we have here is a tell. The politicians hand has been tipped off based upon their behavior. We know what cards they are holding with conviction and which are being held for convenience.

New York Times columnist Russ Douthat gets it right in this tweet:

We may be disgusted but we shouldn’t be too surprised.

When you listen to believers talk about the Christian life there is a common theme: prayer is important and difficult. This is not a new phenomenon, even the earliest disciples requested some classes on prayer (Luke 11:1). Therefore, it is encouraging and instructive to hear Jesus’ teaching on how to pray from what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”

What is interesting to me is the way he begins: “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). In this Jesus calls us to the family room for a conversation with our heavenly Father. Before we go further, however, it is important, even imperative to acknowledge and overcome a major obstacle that this opening presents.

Continue Reading…

This is neither my house nor my chair. If it was, I would like sitting in it.

Our family recently moved to a new home in a new neighborhood. We lived in our previous home for over 10 years. During those years our family saw four children born, major medical trials, a church planted, and a plethora of daily events that produce a range of reactions. Whatever the situation I would always tend to find myself in the same place, leaning against a wall in the family room looking out our back window. This spot proved to be extremely versatile. It was there that I wept for fear, excitement, regret, answered prayer, and joy. Now we live in a new home, in a new space. My familiar wall and view are not there. Sometimes I catch myself roaming about the house like Noah’s raven looking for a place to land. I’m sure the time and space will come.

As a believer do you have a place in the Bible that you return to for particular gospel encouragement? Is there a Scripture that is so versatile that it is able to meet and greet you in every one of life’s events?

Continue Reading…

IMG_0492

“You can learn a lot about a man by the way he shakes your hand.” This advice came from my grandfather to me while I was very young. It made sense to my young ears coming from this gritty, World-War II vet who was still hobbled by war injury, but nevertheless always shook your hand with the intensity of a first meeting. What he said further surprised me, “Not just how he shakes your hand but how his hand feels. Is it smooth or calloused? Hard-workers have callouses.”

His point seemed clear enough: a man’s work ethic is revealed in his grip.

Continue Reading…

An interesting thing happens when we watch a movie or read a book. We are able to simultaneously live amid two realities. On the one hand, we are wrapped into the movie or the book. We lean forward in our seats, clench our fists, perhaps even shed a tear or two.

But, at the same time, we know that it is not real. After all, we paid for a ticket to the show! Regardless, we can effortlessly live between what is real and what is fantasy. In the wisdom and kindness of God’s creative design, we can enjoy refreshment amid our daily life while still living in it. It is something of a recreational vacation without having to travel.

And, we don’t really feel the tension, we certainly don’t ask questions–we just enjoy the entertainment benefits.

I’ve observed a similar dynamic with the Christian life. We know that we sin—even as Christians, we sin. We know also, that God is holy. We have these two realities side by side: our sin and God’s holiness. Do you feel the tension? These two realities don’t seem able to coexist.

How can they?

Continue Reading…

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Said

Erik Raymond —  December 15, 2014 — 2 Comments

What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since, I think it is edifying, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and was talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished– “I read my Bible, pray and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”

God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers”. In no time I was getting on people’s nerves and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on in a Hallmark Card. It’s messy and pride exposing. It is anything but easy.

Continue Reading…

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love” (Ephesians 1:4)

We learn also from these words, that election gives no occasion to licentiousness, or to the blasphemy of wicked men who say, “Let us live in any manner we please; for, if we have been elected, we cannot perish.” Paul tells them plainly, that they have no right to separate holiness of life from the grace of election; for “whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified.” (Rom. 8:30.)

The inference, too, which the Catharists, Celestines, and Donatists drew from these words, that we may attain perfection in this life, is without foundation. This is the goal to which the whole course of our life must be directed, and we shall not reach it till we have finished our course.

Where are the men who dread and avoid the doctrine of predestination as an inextricable labyrinth, who believe it to be useless and almost dangerous? No doctrine is more useful, provided it be handled in the proper and cautious manner, of which Paul gives us an example, when he presents it as an illustration of the infinite goodness of God, and employs it as an excitement to gratitude. This is the true fountain from which we must draw our knowledge of the divine mercy. If men should evade every other argument, election shuts their mouth, so that they dare not and cannot claim anything for themselves. But let us remember the purpose for which Paul reasons about predestination, lest, by reasoning with any other view, we fall into dangerous errors.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 199–200). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

We Need a Few Good Men.

Erik Raymond —  December 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

Every man desires to be considered a “good man”. If God has given a man 75 years of life and he looks back at it, nothing would give him more joy than to know that it wasn’t in vain. Further, the church is in desperate need of good men. The reason of course is that good men honor God and multiply themselves. Good men make more good men.

But, what do they look like?

Continue Reading…

We tend to embrace technology without much consideration. Advancements must be good because, after all, they are advancements.  If we can be more connected to people and process more information then it must be a win. Right? Why should we even give it a second thought?

The ubiquity of smartphones should cause us to think for a minute. According to Pew Research data, 58% of Americans have smart phones while 90% have a cell phone (source). This is a very connected society. It is also a very new phenomenon in history. This should cause us to think and ask some questions.

For example, is this level of connection necessary? Is it good, harmful or indifferent? Is it changing me? Is it changing the way I relate to others and do my job?

Continue Reading…

The Scriptures teach that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). This is a staggering fact. He, the unchanging, ever-perfect, always good God–gives gifts to imperfect, weak, needy people.

Why does he do it? Well, one could rightly say, it is because he has abundance and we are needy. This is true. God needs nothing and we need everything. However, his giving is more than a cold, mechanical, divine donation. God gives because God loves. He loves us. And, his giving is the overflow of his love in sharing himself and his creation with us.

Continue Reading…

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Erik Raymond —  November 26, 2014

As we in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, this prayer from Valley of Vision will doubtlessly bless you:

O My God,

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

I bless thee for body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

I bless thee for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness;

I bless thee for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

What does it mean to say that someone is totally depraved? In short it means that humanity is dead in sin. We are neither willing nor able to merit God’s favor by acts of righteousness for we are all unrighteous (Rom. 3:10-19, 23; Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 1:21; Tit. 3:3). This does not mean that people cannot do any good things–there is relative good (i.e. helping the old lady across the street)—however, we cannot and do not do good things before God apart from Christ. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, we by nature are prone to hate God and neighbor, and daily increase our debt.

I have noticed that many people speak of depravity in terms of what we do. In explaining depravity of man they talk of homosexuality, murder, slander, etc. I don’t think this is helpful. Instead of speaking first of what we do we should instead speak of who we are. We are depraved, therefore we do sinful things.

Continue Reading…

It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.

In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.

Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.

So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?

Continue Reading…

Technological advancements have made communication much easier. We can email, text, instant message, call, or Skype. While this makes meeting easier it does not necessarily make it better. As Christians we should endeavor to be loving in everything we do. This requires thoughtful intentionality when considering the medium for communicating information. Ease must never trump love.

Continue Reading…

Logos Bible Software

Erik Raymond —  November 19, 2014

As a pastor I feel a bit of a tension when it comes to sermon prep. On the one hand I feel like I could do my job without a computer or the most recent technological developments. On the other hand I feel like I should–and almost must take advantage of the opportunities for efficiency that technology affords. I wrestled through this tension a few years back at the request of a friend. He is a proponent of Logos Bible Software and he, pleading for increased efficiency, urged me to at least consider the switch. I am grateful that I did.

People often ask what software I use and why. The quick answer is Logos. One reason is that not only the fact that Logos is a great resource, but the developers remain unsatisfied; they continue to pursue a more efficient, better resource for Bible study and sermon prep. In Logos 6 there are many updates and enhancements to improve Bible Study and Sermon Prep.

Continue Reading…

Do You Deny Sola Scriptura?

Erik Raymond —  November 18, 2014

Protestants speak of the term sola Scriptura as foundational to our understanding the Bible. But, what does it mean? And, why is it important?

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. (John MacArthur via Ligonier)

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” — Westminster Confession of Faith

Continue Reading…

Simplified Evangelism

Erik Raymond —  November 11, 2014

simplify small“It’s not that complicated.” How many times have you said this to someone? How many times has someone said it to you? If we’re honest–too many to count (on both accounts). Our ability to overthink and over-complicate our tasks is like spam for our productivity. Consider how free you feel when a task is simplified, steps are outlined, and a plan is in place.

Let’s remember that our clutter is not limited to the task lists of business or the home. We often overcomplicate our most basic responsibilities as a Christian. Consider evangelism for example. Here are some of the things we say and do to complicate this:

Continue Reading…