Archives For Ordinary Pastor

One of the great challenges for me is trying to learn from history. I have such a propensity to hunker down into my current circumstances. Theologically speaking this is not helpful. In truth, many of the current debates or controversies have already been encountered by faithful forebears in church history.

Therefore, it is good to learn theological truth as well as the way in which other Christians have worked through these issues in history. As a pastor we have used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as a text to introduce men to the theological truth. Now, I am thankful, that Gregg Allison has published a Historical Theology that functions as a companion to Grudem’s very helpful work.

Allison provides the historical narrative to how these various doctrines have been understood and worked out throughout church history. And it helpfully corrolates with Wayne Grudem’s topical study.

If you have studied historical theology before you can no doubt see how helpful this is. Allison’s arrangement of the historical theology is topical not chronological. This makes things much easier for me to keep straight. It is also a great auxilary to a study in systematic theology.

Gregg Allison sat down with The Gospel Coalition for this interview. I thought it was helpful.

Discounted copies of Historical Theology are available at Amazon and Westminster Books.

A Father’s Love

Erik Raymond —  May 31, 2011

I am a people watcher. I love to observe and try to understand who and what people are about. Sometimes I get more than I bargain for. Last week was such a time.

I was studying in a local coffee shop and I saw a family of three enter. The Mom and Dad were in their early 40’s and their son was in his late teens. He was dressed like a typical teenager, baggy basketball shorts, Nike t-shirt, flip flops. He had short hair and earrings in both ears. The Dad was fit and very well built.  They looked like a typical athletic family out for a coffee together.

However, within a few minutes I noticed that this boy was a little different. He kept hugging his dad. He would talk to them but then continually come back in for a hug. After a closer look I noticed that he was handicapped.

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Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Today is Memorial Day here in the US and it serves a great day to remember those who have served both their generation and the generations to come through their heroic defense of freedom.

I think it is fitting and good to honor those who have sacrificed for others. As a former veteran I am especially inclined to be passionately patriotic. However, as a Christian I see this day as a gigantic arrow pointing to a more Memorial Day.

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First of all, this book has a great title, cover and theme. Don’t Call it a Comeback…Am I the only one who hears (and quietly sings) LL Cool J’s “Mama said knock you out!” when you read that?

The sub-title gets at what the authors are after: The Old Faith for a New Day.

This is refreshing. In this book you have nearly two dozen young evangelical leaders writing on very important topics. The goal is to print and bind that old faith as articulated by young leaders. This, in my view is very encouraging and refreshing. I praise God that many today are not looking inward for creativity and meaning but rather looking outside and even backwards for truth unchanged, tested and strong.

The book is edited by Kevin DeYoung. Himself a very good writer and thinker, DeYoung shows his ability to lead a project and get many different voices to sing in harmony and, well, sound good. Unity of voice is always the challenge with a group writing project. These guys do a good job being different but the same.

Along these lines, you have to admire them for taking such a big chunk of the pie for this book. At the end of the day it’s who we are, what we believe and how we live. This is not an easy task. They do a good job putting in a lot of what really matters.

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Leaders set and reset the mission for their people. This is not just a matter of firing off a company wide email with the mission statement subtly appended in the signature block either. Effective leadership is much more sweaty, messy, and organic.

Leaders must work hard to communicate the mission and model the mission. Doing this effectively, that is–with integrity, clarity, and passion, creates an organizational greenhouse. It makes the organization ripe for organic, self-replicating growth.

In chapters 8-10 of Mark’s Gospel we read of three occasions where Jesus predicts his death (8.31; 9.31; 10.32-34). In between these statements Jesus is teaching his disciples about what it means to live as a one who has denied themselves, taken up their cross, and followed him (cf. 8.34). In short, Jesus is showing, explaining, modeling, and resetting what it means to follow him.

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This video kind of caught me by surprise a bit. Michael Horton, whom I greatly appreciate, offers his concern with the church planting movement in general with the so-called ‘New Calvinists’. His concern pivots on the fact that without a solid doctrine of the church your doctrines of grace “will be planted in mid air.” While he rejoices in the rediscovery of the glory of Christ in the gospel he seems to cringe about the long-term implications of the way in which it’s being discovered and proclaimed.

Here’s a quote from a couple of minutes in:

There are a lot of new-Calvinists today who are basically followers of Charles Finney when it comes to the actual practice of ministry. You can’t staple Reformed Theology to a basically Finny-ite, revivalistic, eccessology. It’s fire and water. People are not really going to be nurtured, at least by the people who preach to them week in and week out, in that kind of environment.


Some quick thoughts:

1. Pastors need to be equipped for ministry. However, there is not a biblical mandate for seminary. There are pros and cons with either route. This is why I suspect that Horton’s concern is with the quality of equipping and the particular emphasis of these church planting movements.

2. If being gospel-centered means being unbiblically reductionistic (ie under-emphasizing the church) then we are not quite giving the gospel its full reach (cf. Ephesians). Horton’s words are helpful and thought provoking.

3. The Finney reference is a loaded statement. I would love to hear more from Dr Horton on this before taking it and running with it. Even so, I am not sure that seminary is necessarily the answer to the problem. However, I think rock he kicks over is worth thinking about.  Are young Calvinists neglecting their duty to teach their people the Bible in the name of being a missional church?

(ht: on the video)

The other morning I had the blessing of spending some good time with my 7 year-old daughter. In addition to just enjoying some quality time together one of my aims was to find out a bit more about what she was thinking spiritually.

In the midst of our talk I asked her about why Jesus is so special. Her answer was…surprising:

Because, he’s basically magic.

At this point both of my eyebrows came together somewhere in the middle of my forehead. “What do you mean by that?” I asked.

She went on:

Well, he can do whatever he wants. He heals people, he makes food out of nothing, he rose from the dead. He’s basically magic. He’s magic.

As we continued to talk I found out that she was talking about the fact that Jesus is unique in his power and what he has done. I was beginning to understand better.

This is definitely a label I had not previously heard applied to Jesus. At least, I hadn’t heard it with the corresponding orthodox explanation.

This brief talk, intending to help her, may actually greatly serve me in the long-run. Her answer became the platform and reference point for further discussion. It showed me areas to shine some light on and to amplify.

Also, through this I realized again the importance of asking questions, asking follow up questions, and not assuming that my kids are getting the perfect data transfer from my mind to theirs. This applies when we talk about anything, but especially theological matters.

Without a doubt it is good for parents to take some time out and spend one-on-one time with an individual child. This becomes even more tricky when you have multiple children. But, the payoff is worth it. The importance of this is something I am beginning to realize myself.

Literature. That one word used to produce the same reaction in me as ‘communism’. I was not a fan.

I am not sure if I ever actually passed a legitimate English class in HS or College. I frankly don’t know how I got the paperwork. But at any rate, I left and cruised into my early 20’s with a distaste for the subject like a kid has for vegtables.

This was until someone pointed me to a few books. Perhaps, better, they pointed me to Leland Ryken. His books, How to Read the Bible as Literature, The Word of God in English, and then the publication of The ESV Literary Study Bible were revolutionary in my life. He taught me about the various genres in the Bible and how to approach them. He wrote about how to read above the individual verses and see the big picture of the chapter, section, and book come together. It is this last one that has so immensely helped me in my study of the Bible, and in particular, in preaching.

One thing that has happened is I have begun to appreciate the way in which the biblical authors tell the story. They frame it in very intentional ways in order to make profound theological points. As a result, I find myself continually impressed with the work these ancient writers put in.

Let me give you a few examples from the Gospel of Mark. I am preaching through Mark so these are on the front burner for me.

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One of the hardest parts of living the Christian life is honesty. When I talk about honesty I am not so much talking about lying about things as mislabeling things.

Let me give you an example. I have been sick with some strange bug for a few days now. In the midst of this I have noticed far more grumpiness, shortness and impatience. I also feel lazy and a lot of self-pity. During this time I found myself not speaking with the appropriate tone and tenderness to some people close to me. Shortly thereafter I went to talk to them about it. My aim was an apology through confession and repentance.

But what happened? I gave them something like this:

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As a pastor my whole goal is to see people grow in Christ likeness. Pastors want to see transformation. We want to see obedience, maturity and growth. This is nothing new. The apostle Paul labored and strived to see or present “everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1.28).

But how do you get them there?

There are two main approaches that I have seen. One is more popular than the other, and sadly, it is also less biblical.

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Get Ready!

Get ready, it’s coming.  This week you’ll see a flurry of blogs, news articles, and TV spots about the man who predicts the end of the world will happen this Saturday, May 21st.    That’s right, Harold Camping of Family Radio says that he has singlehandedly figured out that the Bible says the world will end next Saturday.  Our friend and Christian apologist, James White, has written extensively and even debated Camping over his false prophecies.  You can read about it here and here.

Our immediate reaction to such nonsense might be to recoil and merely cast him aside as another nut that isn’t worth our time.  However, I don’t think that’s the right reaction.  Instead, we should be intentionally looking to redeem this opportunity to preach the truth.

What should we say to our friends and family?  Here are five suggestions:

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“and again, as was his custom, he taught them” (Mark 10.1c)

Sometimes, when reading the life of Jesus, we jump over seemingly minor details to get to bigger details that we we know are coming.

I would argue, however, that there really are no insignificant items.

Take for instance the above reference to Jesus teaching the crowds. We know that Mark 10 goes on to provide a highly charged debate between Jesus and the Pharisess on the topic of divorce and marriage.

In this case Mark puts a Christological speed-bump before us. We are bidden to slow down a bit before charging into the narrative.

And when we do, what do we find? We find the truth that Jesus teaches the crowds. Mark adds the emphasis that this was his custom.

This passage bleeds compassion. It is like a healthy pine in a forest of verses. There is pitch to be seen and felt as we draw close.

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Some Random Shots

Erik Raymond —  May 14, 2011

Here are some pics of a recent trip to the park. I thought they were pretty amazing and worth posting.

Here is Luke getting some serious air (note the shadow on the ground)…

20110514-124713.jpg

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One news story that continues to have everyone’s attention is the extreme flooding in the Southern US. In particular, the city of Memphis is feeling the effects of the Mississippi River’s unusually high levels.

This has been of particular interest in our home due to the fact that many of our extended family lives in that city/region. One of the questions that comes up with the kids, and frankly myself, is how do you think about this biblically?

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Several years back I heard John Piper say that he doesn’t have a television. My first thought was, “He is more of a freak than I thought.” My second thought was, “Poor kids.”

However, now the TV gets about as much attention in our house as the Christmas decorations. What happened? And why?

In our home we have 5 kids (1 on the way). They range in age from nearly 2 to nearly 16. Their TV habits and interests vary quite a bit. My wife could care less if she ever watches TV again. However, I am they guy that enjoys sports. I have, in the past, watched concurrent episodes of Sports Center just to do it. I enjoy Red Sox Baseball, Celtics hoops, and all of the NFL. On top of that, I live in Omaha. And part of any successfull correspondence with the locals is speaking the language of Nebraska Football. (That last sentence was robed in missional talk but it is really me saying that I am a big College Football fan in general and Husker fan in particular).

Needless to say TV had the potential to dominate. And it did. So, we restricted things, starting with me.

What I noticed was interesting.

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I’m enjoying Taking Hold of God. It is a book that endeavors to incite believers to pray by showcasing the faithfulness of Reformed and Puritan brothers from yesteryear.

There is a chapter on Matthew Henry that I have found very helpful and convicting. Here is a sample:

Henry wrote in his diary, ‘I love prayer. It is that which buckles on all the Christain’s armour.’ Since the Christian must wear God’s armor at all times, he must pray without ceasing. According to Henry, the access that Christians have to God in Christ gives them:

(1) A companion ready in all their solitudes, so that they are never less alone than when alone. Do we need better society than fellowship with the Father?

(2) A counsellor ready in all their doubts,…a guide (Ps. 73:24), who has promised to direct with his eye, to lead us in the way wherein we should go.

(3) A comforter ready in all their sorrows…[to] support sinking spirits, and be the strength of a fainting heart.

(4) A supply ready in all their wants. They that have access to God have access to a full fountain, an inexhaustible treasure, a rich mine.

(5) A support ready under all their burdens. They have access to him asAdonai [my Lord], my stay and the strength of my heart (Ps. 73:26).

(6) A shelter ready in all their dangers, a city of refuge near at hand. The name of the Lord is a strong tower (Prov. 18:10).

(7) Strength ready for all their performances in doing work, fighting work. He is their arm every morning (Isa. 33:2).

(8) Salvation insured by a sweet and undeceiving earnest…If he thus guides us by his counsel he will receive us to glory.

Good stuff.

Yesterday I was enjoying an afternoon run when I was introduced to an elementary-school student who instructed me in the gospel.

I was trekking along, making good time, and enjoying the first real warm day of the season. Up ahead I noticed three elementary school girls walking along the paved trail.

In my usual scan to see if adjustments were necessary I noticed that this group of parochial school students were not in the mood for good deeds. In fact, they seemed to fan out a bit when they saw me coming closer. They were intending to crowd me off the trail!

I’ll be honest, for a split-second I had thoughts of giving them an earful. After all, don’t they know anything about the rules of walking on trails? Not to mention the simple courtesy that should be shown to people older than them?

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(Gen 4.13) Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.

Cain killed his brother because he was jealous of him before the Lord.  His own glory was eclipsed by the glory and pleasure of God.  The requisite judgment ran downhill upon him and he was crushed.  He could not bear it.

Likewise I have felt the word of the LORD thunder and bring intimidation through my conscience.  Furthermore, I have heard it with clarity through the Word of God, the Scriptures.  While sitting under the unescapable shadow of divine displeasure and judgment you have no choice but to just put your hands up in frustration, declaring impotency and defeat: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”  For truly if it was my time to open wide and drink down the cup of holy displeasure for my sin then I would truly be quoting Cain.

However, in God’s kind and merciful providence he has provided.  He sent his beloved Son to obediently offer up an acceptable sacrifice on my behalf.  The Lord Jesus is his brother’s keeper indeed.  The greater Abel’s blood speaks a better word (Heb. 12.24). Upon the cross he bore the unbearable punishment for me.  The good shepherd, the true ‘keeper of the sheep’ offered up a perfect sacrifice for such a rebel as me who was a  poor ‘worker of the ground’ (Gen. 4.2).

Can you echo Cain’s words? I can as I run to the greater Abel.

I am humbled and refreshed this morning that while my offering was self-centered, works based idolatry; Jesus offered perfection perfectly for me; and he remains accepted.  And the curse remains dealt with.

Recently The Gospel Coalition hosted a national conference. Their theme was simple and clear: Preaching Christ from all of Scripture. I went and was greatly impacted by the proclamation of the greatness of Christ in all of the Scriptures. This passionate priority has begun to really take hold of many (especially younger) preachers here of late. I rejoice in this because I think it reflects Jesus’ own view and model of biblical preaching (Luke 24).

With this however, there is a practice that is not best.

Let me get at it this way. Guys want to preach Christ-centered sermons. They don’t want to moralize the Bible. What’s more, it’s ‘cool’ (hate to use that word) to preach from the Old Testament. So what happens? Preachers get amped up on Biblical Theology and Redemptive Preaching and they crack open their Old Testaments for a sermon series. Then they roll up their homiletical sleeves and get to work.

But there is a problem. It’s in the approach.

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This morning I read of the news of the assination of Usama Bin Laden and felt a strange mix of emotions. As a Christian who is an American and a former active duty member of the military my emotions converged and overlapped. I spent the better part of a morning jog thinking through how I should think biblically about Bin Laden’s death. What follows is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is a start. And it answers some of my own discomfort.

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