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?

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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.

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Logos Bible Software

Erik Raymond —  November 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

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.

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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

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Simplified Evangelism

Erik Raymond —  November 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

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:

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So often it’s the little stuff that makes the biggest impact.

This is true in my home as I am blessed to enjoy delicious meals on a regular basis. I often ask, “What is in this?” when enjoying a new dish or a new twist on an old dish. My wife will usually give one-word answers, “Lime.” “Cardamon.”  “Turmeric.” “Honey.” “Pesto.” I am always surprised. I am always delighted. We rarely eat bland, ordinary, lifeless meals—for this I am daily thankful.

Like cooking, preaching can become bland. It can fail to have that freshness worthy of the gospel table. There are many reasons why. One could identify a lack of preparation, lack of understanding, poor delivery, and shallowness. We would not disagree that under-cooking the homiletical meal is a problem. But there is something else that can make preaching bland: the deadly reality of not being personally wowed by the subject.

I have seen this in some otherwise terrific sermons. Guys can be exegetically sound, communicate with clarity, illustrate with profundity, and then at the end of the sermon it tastes like grandma’s meatloaf: somewhat filling but not so memorable.

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A Caricature of God.

Erik Raymond —  November 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

When you open up the newspaper you often are greeted with a humorous picture in the editorial section. The sketch, called a caricature, is a picture of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a reaction.

The pictures are often comical. We have seen the common ones where President Obama’s ears, teeth, and chin are ridiculously large while his eyes and his shoulders are proportionally very small. It’s amusing and accepted.

However, people often draw caricatures of God. This is neither amusing nor should it be accepted.

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Sometimes as Christians we can’t help but feel good about ourselves, particularly when we are serving God faithfully. It’s subtle too. Maybe it’s hospitality, evangelism, preaching or teaching, or serving in the nursery–when we get done we might be tempted to say, “Ah, that was good.”

No problems there—right? Of course not.

But then it continues, “That was good. And, I am good. I’ve done well. People should see this.”

Now we have begun to veer.

It is good and right to serve with gusto and joy. It is dangerous to serve with pride and pretense.

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I find it ironic and troubling that so many who wave the gospel-centered flag too often carelessly let it touch the ground in their writing, tweets, and conversations. Far from being semantics, this issue communicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and its implications for holiness.

It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

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This quote by Spurgeon was brought to my attention this week by a dear brother. It was especially helpful in considering the immutability of God (the fact that he does not change) even in light of the incarnation of Christ.

“All creatures change. Man, especially as to his body, is always undergoing revolution. Very probably there is not a single particle in my body which was in it a few years ago. This frame has been worn away by activity, its atoms have been removed by friction, fresh particles of matter have in the mean time constantly accrued to my body, and so it has been replenished; but its substance is altered.

The fabric of which this world is made is ever passing away; like a stream of water, drops are running away and others are following after, keeping the river still full, but always changing in its elements.

But God is perpetually the same. He is not composed of any substance or material, but is spirit—pure, essential, and ethereal spirit—and therefore he is immutable. He remains everlastingly the same. There are no furrows on his eternal brow. No age hath palsied him; no years have marked him with the mementoes of their flight; he sees ages pass, but with him it is ever now. He is the great I AM—the Great Unchangeable.

Mark you, his essence did not undergo a change when it became united with the manhood. When Christ in past years did gird himself with mortal clay, the essence of his divinity was not changed; flesh did not become God, nor did God become flesh by a real actual change of nature; the two were united in hypostatical union, but the Godhead was still the same. It was the same when he was a babe in the manger, as it was when he stretched the curtains of heaven; it was the same God that hung upon the cross, and whose blood flowed down in a purple river, the self-same God that holds the world upon his everlasting shoulders, and bears in his hands the keys of death and hell.

He never has been changed in his essence, not even by his incarnation; he remains everlastingly, eternally, the one unchanging God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither the shadow of a change.” –Charles Spurgeon, The Immutability of God

If the evangelical church were a boat then it would have some leaks. And everyone seems to have an opinion as to the problem. If I could put the two most common critiques in buckets they would be 1) the preaching, 2) the appetite of church members. In my years of ministry I have often found it quite ironic that many evangelicals complain about preaching not being “biblical” while pastors often complain about “evangelicals today who don’t want biblical preaching”.

Somebody cue the Alanis Morissette.

I can’t attempt to bridge the gap nor fix the problem in a short blog post, however, I can offer a suggestion that I think would help: Make use of the old confessions and catechisms.

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Go ahead and think about the person whom you think is the most unlikely to become a Christian. Now, ask yourself why you think this. Odds are you are looking at the way they order their life and in particular their blatant distaste and disregard for God. But you need to correct this thinking. It’s unbiblical to look at what you have to work with and think, “I could see them becoming a Christian” or “There is no way they could become a Christian.” In both cases grace is neglected.

Let me give you an example. In Acts chapter 6 we read: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

Let that sink in.

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How Can I Maintain Unity?

Erik Raymond —  October 29, 2014 — 3 Comments

If you have been involved in the local church for more than 2 weeks than you are ripe for some type of conflict. To be sure, there are varying levels of conflict, however, the truth that there will be conflict amongst Christians is with us until we reside in glory. The reason for conflict is sin (James 4:1-2). We sin in what we say, what we do, what we don’t do, and how we think. Sin’s fingerprints are on everything.

We know that conflict assaults one of the most precious treasures in the church: unity. We understand from Scripture that the Holy Spirit creates unity and the church is to maintain it (Eph. 4:3). This command translated “to maintain” means to guard, keep watch, attend to. The word is used in the context of a guard with a prisoner (Mt. 28.4; Acts 12.6) but also of one keeping or observing the Sabbath (Jn. 9.16) or keeping the commandments (Jn. 14.15, 21). What’s more this is to be done with eagerness. This word communicates the diligent effort and striving associated with a priority (cf. Heb. 4.11; 2 Pet. 3.14; 2 Pet. 1.15). What we have here then is a top priority for Christians—they are to give ongoing, active, prioritization to the guarding of unity. We are to tend to it with such care because it is so valuable and so costly.

Think about this. It is quite a charge (especially for sinners).

In light of its value there is little wonder why Paul tells us to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12.18), live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12.16), urges two arguing ladies to get along (Phil. 4.2), and encourages thoughtful introspection–in light of unity, before taking the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11.17-20ff). Jesus himself seems to prize reconciliation and unity at such a cost that he calls for shockingly uncomfortable steps to bring about restoration:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)

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Have you become discouraged in evangelism? Have your eyes grown weary from looking for fruit? Are you wondering if the problem is more with you than them?

Let me tell you a true story.

Nearly 20 years ago I was an unbelieving, angry guy. I hadn’t previously been exposed to “Bible-thumping” guys but, now that I was, I utterly despised them. I hated their smiles, humility, hopefulness, charity, and confidence. Oh, how I hated their confidence. I would mock, insult, and try to get them to “sin” or blush. They just kept on like they understood me better than I understood myself.

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Fear Not, Little Flock

Erik Raymond —  October 24, 2014 — 1 Comment

I am thoroughly enjoying Michael Horton’s new book Ordinary. I hope to review it soon, but will doubtless be quoting from it for months.

Here is a sample:

I think that if Jesus were to return today, he might tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. “will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, italics added). The gates of hell are no small matter, at least for us. We’re quite anxious. We have to do something about this (this being whatever we’re shocked by at present). America is in moral free-fall. The media are persecuting us. Churches seem to be losing their way. Radical Islam is on the march–not to mention the perfect storm of AIDS, famine, and war that has taken millions of lives in Africa. Every time we turn on the news, our compassion or anger is aroused–to the point that we become numb to it. And people in the pews are numb to it, especially when the church places still more burdens on their shoulders.

This burden of extraordinary impact weighs heavily, first, on the shoulders of pastors. But here is the good news: it is not your ministry, church, or people. You do not have to create and protect a personal legacy, but simply to distribute and guard Christ’s legacy entrusted to his apostles. You don’t have to bind Satan and storm the gates of hell. Christ has already done this. We’re just sweeping in being him to unlock the prison doors. You don’t have to live the gospel, be the gospel, do the gospel, and lead the troops to redeem culture and reconcile the world to God. We are not building a kingdom that can be convulsed with violence like other realms, but we are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28, italics added).

The disciples surely had reason to worry about the world’s opposition. It was a little flock, and their King did not allow them to carry weapons. However, Jesus simply said to them and says now to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) –Michael Horton, Ordinary, p. 119-120

Concerning the coming of the Lord (second advent)

“That day lies hid, that every day we may be on the watch…He who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who affirms that it is far off, nor is it he who says it is near, but rather he who, whether it be far off or near, awaits it with sincere faith, steadfast hope, and fervent love.”

–Augustine

The Day Lies Hid, that We Might Be On the Watch

The Bible is both motive-reading and future-predicting. We, as finite creatures, can do neither. I cannot tell you what you are thinking, or why you are doing what you are doing. The Bible does.

Why is this? How is this? It is because it is a living book. Like Spurgeon said, I’ve read many books, this book reads me! It is true—the Bible is alive. Scripture says as much:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The Word is a sword that is all knife; it cuts both ways. It is sharp.

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I remember reading Ephesians as a newer Christian and being shocked as I came across the Apostle’s words in chapter 5:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

I quickly became nervous because my wife was a brand new Christian and I was about as biblically literate as a flannel board. My first thought was, “This can’t mean what I think it means.” And my second thought was, “How in the world am I going to sell Christie on this?”

The first question was answered with a “yes” and a “no”. The concept of male leadership, even headship, was correct. However, I had this wrong perception of some type of bizarre patriarchal suppression of the wife by the husband. In my mind leadership and submission seemed to demean rather than provide for her flourishing.

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It has always been the tradition that weddings are conducted within the context of the church. The reason for this is far more than it simply being a tradition however.

God ordains the institution of marriage. He created marriage and he defines it.

But there is even more significance to the marriage: it serves as a vivid metaphor for the central message of the Christian faith, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It may be difficult without some explanation to understand the gospel simply by coming to a wedding or looking at a marriage. The particulars of the metaphor take some explaining.

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When you read the news lately it seems like we are caught up in a playground battle of “one-upping”. Like kids swapping tales by the swings, news agencies pushing out stories that say, “Oh, yeah, have you heard about…?”

Each day we read of new developments in this moral revolution in America. Then we read of a story in Houston that is frankly so insane that it sounds like it was made up by a kid under the monkey bars.

The city of Houston passed the now infamous “bathroom bill”. Among other things, this allows people to use the restroom of their choice, based upon their own self-chosen gender identity. This means that men who say that they are women can walk into the ladies’ room and vice-versa.

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