Archives For Ordinary Pastor

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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer

Erik Raymond —  November 26, 2014 — 1 Comment

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.

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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 — 3 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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