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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The last weekend of October is traditionally called “Reformation Weekend”, the time when the church was reformed in her understanding and application of the gospel. There are many historians and theologians today who help us to better understand what happened and why it was so important. Carl Trueman is one of these guys (see his books here). Thankfully, he is going to be in Omaha next weekend on Saturday, October 25th to speak on this topic.

Our friends at Omaha Bible Church are hosting this event. It is from 8am through 2pm and childcare is provided. You can’t beat the deal $5 individual / $10 family.

If you are around Omaha next weekend, make plans to come…go ahead and register at their site here.

This is probably one of the most common questions I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids.

Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?

OUR PRACTICE

This is what we do in our home. I am not saying it is for everyone, but we are supportive of it as a practice by conviction and experience. Our children range from 20 months to almost 16. There is quite a variety.

I’ll hit this from two angles, family and personal devotions.

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I remember talking to someone recently and they said, “Why is it that all you Christians talk about is homosexuality?” I told them, “Everyone is talking about homosexuality, not just Christians.”

The topic is in the paper, in Hollywood, at the water-cooler, and increasingly, at the dinner table. Invariably, the question comes to the Christian, “Is God anti-gay?”

We have to be thoughtful in how we answer questions about God and the Bible. We are always required to be faithful, and part of this requires that we graciously adorn the gospel.

Sam Allberry has written a book to help us think through this question as well as other questions about the Bible and same-sex attraction. What makes this book uncommon is its author. Allberry discloses early on that he has lived with same-sex attraction since his early teen years. This fact enables Allberry a unique voice to speak biblically to an increasingly contentious subject.

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Christian parents are called to help their children to think about, interact with, and evaluate current issues from a biblical perspective. Cultivating a Christian worldview is one of the main components of child training.

Over the last couple of months, as ISIS has been increasingly in the news, we have had a few discussions as a family about what has been happening. Our 6 children range from 3 to 19, so there needs to be thoughtful care given to the details of our discussion. However, it is quite near impossible to tame down the atrocities of ISIS to a general audience.

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We like the details when we like the topic.

Consider a newly engaged couple, do you have much trouble getting them to tell you the story about how they met and fell in love? Not likely. Or, how about new parents? Many will gladly recount the details of their birth story for you. How about a little kid who just saw something surprising? I think of my little 5-year-old daughter who recently told me the whole story of how she got a princess dress at Goodwill and how it really is an Elsa dress because of these 5 things… We love details when we love the topic we are describing.

God is no different. He loves details, especially when describing who he loves. He is very thorough, precise and passionate to communicate the intricate beauty and diverse glories of his Son.

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If you are active in evangelism then you regularly get questions about whether or not you can trust the Bible. The questions are valid–if we are to put all of our hope and trust in what the Bible says then we should be able to trust it.

This new little book (80 pages) from Barry Cooper is a gem. In it Cooper answers many of the most common questions about the Bible. He does so in a warm, faithful, and understandable way.

Take a look at the chapter titles:

1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word? The world, the word, and what Jesus thought of the Bible.

2. Does the Bible seem the be God’s word? Consistency, conspiracies, and corruptions.

3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word? Tasting, seeing, and the sweetness of Scripture. 

In such a small book Cooper does a commendable job putting a lot of very helpful material in a very accessible format. He interacts with some apologetics, textual criticism, historical theology, and systematic theology. There are many books that provide the same stuff, but none (that I can think of) that do it so accessibly. It is an ideal book to give to someone who is asking questions about the Bible as well as a newer Christian who requires further study on the topic. It can be used in evangelism and/or discipleship. Further, Cooper writes in a way that is very clear. Since he deals with topics that I regularly deal with, I plan to keep my copy nearby.

The only thing I am not keen on with this book is the cover (it is very bright). BUT, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. What’s more, it was published in England so it must be cool.

Pick it up at Amazon on Kindle or hard-copy for under $7 (as of today).

Christians approach evangelism a lot like dieting. We are comfortable doing what we are comfortable with. Occasionally, someone will say something that unsettles us.

In terms of our physical health, we go on a diet, join a gym, or pledge to be more fit. I think of this analogy whenever I see a guy getting abused by a trainer. They look like they are going to die. It’s obvious they won’t continue.

In the spiritual realm, specifically with regard to evangelism, people are convicted after they hear a sermon, read a book, or talk with a Christian friend. They pledge to be more active in evangelism. They grab some tracts, set some witnessing goals, and get set to “do-evangelism.” Then, after a few weeks they fizzle. They slide back into the posture of evangelistic passivity. Like the red-cheeked, exhausted fella at the gym: they are ready to throw in the towel.

But what if faithful evangelism didn’t involve anything extra but simply intentionally doing what you already do? Continue Reading…

20schemes Giveaway

Erik Raymond —  October 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

Enter below to win a t-shirt and a book from the ministry of 20schemes (more info on 20schemes)

First, who doesn’t want a free book? But this book is also a very good book. It is about the grace of Christ to Mez McConnell. I guarantee it will encourage you.

Second, it is a t-shirt. Who doesn’t want a free t-shirt. Also, you should note that the shirt will help you speak with a Scottish accent and give you some street cred (if you happen to need any).

Enter below!

“I will become a Christian once I get my life together.”

I have heard this phrase too many times to count while talking to people about Jesus. People believe that they need to clean up to become a Christian.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the thing that qualified someone to become a Christian is their filth. Jesus did not say, “I came to affirm the moral.” Or “I came to congratulate the righteous.” Never! Give Jesus the mic and hear him clearly:

“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:17, ESV)

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How do we bring about change?

There is no real debate about the presence of problems in society. One must simply open the newspaper to see the chronicles of brokenness. Each day we read of domestic violence, drug abuse, abortion, corporate greed, gang violence, and terrorism. There is no shortage of problems.

But how do we fix this? The common approach is to work on the symptoms. To do this people spend money, try to change the environment, work on education, and even provide technological advantages. In other words, the common approach to fixing problems is to work on the external. Presumably, we believe that if we can fix the environment around a person then people will thrive.

How does God fix the problems? As the Creator and omniscient One, he has a unique even a privileged perspective. We should hear it. Continue Reading…

In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”

As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.

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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

“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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