There are a number of good conferences in my area this month. If you are nearby you may want to consider attending.

1. Carl Trueman Reformation Today: Three sessions on the Reformation with a leading historian and theologian. I am planning on attending this and taking a bunch of people from Emmaus. This event is hosted by Omaha Bible Church (info).

2. Paul David Tripp, The Heart of Parenting: Tripp is probably one of the most helpful voices in this conversation. I wish I were able to be there. This event is hosted by Evangelical Free Church in Grand Island (info).

3. Jim Eckman, Worldview Conference: Eckman is a former University President who continues to think through how to think biblically about current events. This is hosted by Cornerstone Baptist Church (info).

Are We Really That Bad?

Erik Raymond —  October 1, 2014 — 3 Comments

Last night after dinner I was attempting to explain question 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism to the kids:

Q. But are we so corrupt
that we are totally unable to do any good
and inclined toward all evil?

A. Yes, unless we are born again
by the Spirit of God.

As you can imagine the difficulty of grasping the concept of people being unable to do any good at all. Kids see non-Christians in our neighborhood helping others, they hear of kindness through various non-religious charities, and let’s face it: there are some nice people that you bump into.

How can you explain this tension?

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If you get around a couple of preachers you will hear them eventually begin to discuss preaching. At some point in the discussion they will talk about how they prepare their sermons and what formate that use for their notes. It’s very interesting shop talk actually.

Myself, I have, over the last several years, significantly adjusted the way I prepare and use my notes for preaching. Much like a batter adjusting his swing to gain some advantage, a preacher is always analyzing, evaluating, and tweaking.

I have gone through several variations and now am at the place where I am comfortable (for now). Here are some of them. If you are a preacher, I’m sure you can relate to a few.

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Prior to full-time ministry I worked for several years in a Fortune 500 company. As in most companies there were people who were highly respected experts. They were able to do their job well, advance, and experience great professional success.

At the same time, many seemed to do it mostly alone. They really seemed like loners who had their way of doing things and they did it well. One thing I remember is that not only did people keep their own trade secrets close to the vest, they also frequently knocked the ladder out from others trying to climb up with them. I am not describing a unique professional environment here. Many companies and professionals thrive on this type of competition.

Interestingly, as I was coming up the ladder professionally I was also considering whether or not full-time ministry was something that I should pursue. I would try to get time with church leaders to ask questions and get counsel. I found that my requests were largely ignored or worse—critically received. As I lived in the professional environment but was desirous of the ministry environment, I became frustrated (and embarrassed) that the church reflected an unhealthy and unbiblical business model.

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One of the cries of the Reformation that is particularly instructive for us is Semper Reformanda or “Always Reforming.” The concept is that as a people we are always being reformed by the Scriptures. So long as we live on this side of glory, we are always reforming. To be more precise, the essence of the term is not that the church is changing but rather she is is always being reformed (by the Bible). This reformation pivots on our understanding and application of the gospel.

I rejoice in the work of church revitalization today. If you are not familiar with the concept, revitalization has to do with the reinvigoration of an unhealthy church with biblical ministry. This always starts with restoring the gospel to its rightful place of preeminence. The gospel, once enthroned in the church, seeps down into its marrow so that all of her life and ministry is calibrated by the truth of Christ crucified for sinners.

My contention is that every church needs to be continually revitalized. Let’s call it all ongoing revitalization (in contrast to major revitalization). The church is to be always engaged in the work of revitalization. This is because sin is not going anywhere and the gospel is infinitely precious. And every pastor should be aware of and therefore engaged in this work.

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4 Friends Bible Students Need

Erik Raymond —  September 22, 2014 — 3 Comments

“What do I need to focus on?”

This is a regular question that I get. Sometimes it comes from guys who are looking at the potential of being in full-time ministry at some point. Other times it comes from men or women who just want to grow in their ability to serve the Lord. I always point them to 4 friends that they need to get acquainted with.*

1) Systematic Theology. This is the study of what the Bible says about a particular topic. It is a particularly important discipline because of the fact that the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we have to know in order to grow in godliness and understanding (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, I can wring out the text on a topic and know what I need to know. Further, if I have built up a solid Systematic Theology then I can keep myself from biting on the shiny packages of false teaching. It’s like the rails on the bowling alley (not that I bowl)– it keeps you in line.

Suggestions for books: 1) Berkhoff, 2) Grudem, 3) Reymond

2) Historical Theology. This is the tandem to Systematic Theology. Historical Theology traces the development of theology throughout the history of the church. This is also helpful as it shows the various heresies and doctrinal battles that have occurred. So often, it’s the same demonic script, repackageed and resold. Knowing history helps in the present. Continue Reading…

My mind and heart simultaneously explode when I think about the divine plan, commonly referred to as the covenant of redemption. In this arrangement or agreement we have the Son willingly accepting the assignment of being the Redeemer. In a fictional but devotional series of paragraphs, John Flavel contemplates something of this Trinitarian conversation.

My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice!  Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them:  What shall be done for these souls?

And thus Christ returns.  O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it.  I will rather choose to suffer they wrath than they should suffer it:  upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

But, my son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it:  and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures…yet I am content to undertake it.”  (Flavel, Works Volume 1) p.61

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When I read the news I often feel like I am walking around in a the middle of a power-outage. Things are not arranged the way I thought they were (or at least the way my mind thinks they should be). Let me give you a couple of examples.

In the last few weeks the National Football League (NFL) has been in the headlines for incidents that occurred off the football field. In the first instance, Ray Rice was seen violently abusing his then fiancé. The running back appears to knock her out cold and then calmly drag her out of an elevator. The video goes viral and is accompanied by a loud public outcry. Rice is suspended indefinitely from the NFL and cut from his team. In another story, another running back, Adrian Peterson, is indicted for child abuse. Peterson, allegedly, went far beyond any reasonable forms of discipline and training his child. The images and descriptions of the wounds are graphic and disturbing. The public outcry over Peterson’s case is also loud and it appears, justifiably so.

As Christians we can join in the chorus of opposition. In both cases, Rice and Peterson, we see the breakdown of what God created man to be. Instead of loving, protective, sacrificial, servant leadership that promotes flourishing, there is violence, selfishness, and destructiveness.

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With the anniversary of 9/11 today I was remembering afresh the shock, devastation, and vulnerability that was shared by so many. At the same time, I was reminded of President Bush. The events surrounding 9/11 served to show some very important leadership characteristics from the president. He was strong, decisive, clear, passionate, sympathetic, and believable. He led with conviction and courage.

You may not be fan of George W. Bush, and certainly he had his issues, however, he did lead with conviction and courage.

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It is a common phrase spoken by Christians and wrestled with by pastors, “I don’t feel connected at church.” The pastoral burden is for all Christians to be thriving in and through the ministry. When we hear something like this we immediately go into “fix-it” mode. Often times we even attempt to construct some structure around the person to help them feel connected.

But what if this didn’t help anyone? What if the problem wasn’t the ministry but the individual? What if the disconnection we feel is actually the consequence of selfishness?*

Catering to selfishness will never cure selfishness, it only fortifies it.

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According to John MacArthur:

“Expository preaching is the most crucial thing in the life of the church.”

The most effective thing you will ever do is preach the word of God from the pulpit.”

More below:

Sabotaging the Fellowship

Erik Raymond —  September 2, 2014 — 1 Comment

screwtape

Dearest Pruflas,

You are continuing to develop your craft at a record pace. I am particularly referring to your ability to quietly console and reassure those who feel heavy conviction after hearing a sermon. Remember, continue to emphasize that the preacher is modeling the exception rather than the rule. The lion’s share of believers do not even follow these commands fully (nor should they). Gently lull them to sleep with relative reasoning and sundry Bible verses. Most of them do not understand what the verses mean, so you will gain great advantage when you quote the book to sooth their consciences.

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servantI have been enjoying the reading of one of my favorite Puritans, Richard Sibbes. When you read Sibbes it is like eating that perfect pie–you have to cut some slices and share it. Enjoy!

In Christ we have the greatest and the lowest joined together; exalted God and humbled man. I appreciate how Richard Sibbes brings this out:

[He is] the Lord of all and a servant, and such a servant as should be under a curse, for the Highest of all to come to the deepest abasement. For there was no abasement ever so deep as Christ’s was, in a double regard. 

First, None ever went so low as he, for he suffered the wrath of God, and bore upon him the sins of us all; none ever was so low. 

And then in another respect his abasement was greatest, because he be a curse, to suffer the wrath of God, to be the lowest of all Lord, whither dost thou descend? Here is a wonder in these conjunctions.

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As I tweeted yesterday, I am speechless but for praise by the appointment of David Platt as the new President of the International Mission Board (SBC). This is huge to have a guy with Platt’s burden and theology leading the international missions effort of the largest Protestant denomination in the world. (see also Tim Brister’s post re a letter from the mission field re Platt’s appointment)

Praise God for this.

I love this quote from the video below:

“As the President of the International Mission Board, all I want to do is mobilize local churches to run after global missions….The local church is the means that God is going to use for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

detours demonic

I’m fascinated by summits between leaders. Whether we are talking about Roosevelt and Churchill or Reagan and Gorbachev or a host of other historical moments, I’m intrigued.

But there is perhaps no bigger meeting than what we find in Matthew chapter 4 between Jesus and Satan. Here you have the seed of the woman and the serpent meeting together in that long awaited moment. The head of the true evil empire and the head of the new humanity, the kingdom of grace.

When you look at the temptations you see Satan attempt to get Jesus to take his eye of the ball (this may be an oversimplification). He appeals to his status and his rights as the Son of God. He also offers him what seems to be what Jesus wants: to be King.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:8–9)

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What is Zeal?

Erik Raymond —  August 26, 2014

I was thinking today about the connection of zeal to hope. Hope is the ballast in the soul of the Christian that keeps him from being tossed about by the winds of uncertainty. It is also the basis for our zeal. When we say that we are hopeful we are saying that our faith is in God and all that he promises. Zeal then is the response to resting in God’s promise. You might say that resting produces a flurry (zeal) of activity. When our zeal is low we can be sure that we are not truly hoping in God (or at least wilting in it).

This brought me to the following quote from J.C. Ryle in Practical Religion on the subject of zeal. I find it instructive in line with the connection between hope and zeal. As you read it remember that Jesus was the most hopeful person of all time, little wonder he was also the most zealous (Jn. 2.13-17). Continue Reading…

never resist urge to pray

As people we know that it is often wise to resist various urges that we have. We can keep ourselves out of trouble by resisting the urge to say something when we are offended. We can prevent various health issues by resisting urges to overeat or (routinely) eat unhealthy foods. We can steer clear from financial debt by resisting the urge to buy something on impulse. We can almost develop a reflex of resistance in this fallen world. This can be good for us (and others).

However, there is one urge that you should never resist. This area is prayer. I believe it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones whom I first read who said, “Never resist any urge to pray.” That is great advice without much need for explanation. But let me point out a couple of reasons why.

The urge to pray does not come from your flesh or the devil, but from God. It is God who is urging and drawing his children to pray. He desires communion with his people. We can be confident that the urge to pray is an urgent call from God to lay our pride down and come to him with the sweet joys of communion with the Triune God. In prayer we come to confess our sin, claim God’s promises, bath in Christ’s blood, and refresh our souls. As Calvin said, prayer is climbing up into the lap of our Father. Why should we ever resist such an urge?

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I’m excited to let you know about a new album that just came out this week. It is “Battle To Do” by Stephen Gates. Stephen is a dear brother and friend who leads us in musical worship on Sundays at Emmaus. He is a very gifted guitar player and vocalist. What’s more, he writes and sings out of a heart that is deeply conscious of the greatness of Christ as well as the presence of indwelling sin (Hence the title: Though I am new…there is Battle to Do). To this end, this album is a refreshing, edifying blessing to me. I shamelessly encourage you to buy it.

Battle to Do is available on iTunes and Amazon.

We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Here we are reminded about the simplicity of a child and perhaps some of the things that Jesus would have been aiming at when he reminded us of being like a child. She doesn’t have all of the hangups that we often have about evangelism. She hasn’t been rejected, argued with, or belittled. She doesn’t entertain the quiet, embarrassing doubts about the sufficiency and power of the gospel. She just understands, in her young mind, the need for us as Christians to tell unbelievers about Jesus. And she is exactly right.

I share this story because it was so encouraging to me and I think it would be for you also. Further, it reminds us not to overcomplicate things; it is really that simple: someone has got to open their mouths and talk about Christ. The gospel is powerful. It is sufficient (Rom. 1:16). After all, this is how we ourselves came to faith in the Savior.

“It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Hebrews 7:7)

Like a shaken two-liter of soda in the hands of a 5-year-old, the story of Melchizedek is fully charged and overflowing in Christological significance. We learn of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ’s priesthood by means of this somewhat mysterious and obscure type from Salem. It is upon this new priesthood that the new covenant is built. For a guy with only a hand-full of Old Testament verses he sure does get a lot of airtime in the New Testament Scriptures.

shutterstock_94042480There is one phrase that arrests my attention in Hebrews 7 however. It is this statement about the inferior being blessed by the superior. In the case of the narrative we are talking about Genesis 14 where Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek.

The context of chapters 13 & 14 include a story of Abram and Lot separating because their hired hands could not get along (Gen. 13.13). Abram went toward the land of Canaan and Lot towards Sodom. Following this a war breaks out and Sodom, along with 4 other kings, are defeated by the 4 king coalition from the north. Consequently, Sodom, and Lot with them, were dragged north towards Mesopotamia. When Abram hears about this he gathers his crew and charges after them. In due time he catches them, battles them, and wins. He takes Lot and all of his possessions and turns around to go home. Abram is legit.

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