I grew up playing and watching a lot of baseball. It was almost a religion for me and Fenway Park in Boston was my church (so to speak). To further the illustration, the elders and leaders were players on the Red Sox. I think of Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski. When I would arrive at Fenway I can remember walking out of the tunnel and being overcome by all of the images and sounds. There was the fresh cut grass, the 37′ wall in left field, the Prudential Building, and the sight of the players warming up. I was absolutely invested–I might have even secretly felt like was on the team.

Several years ago one of these players, Roger Clemens, was investigated for cheating. He was found to have used performance enhancing drugs, or banned substances. Clemens, along with a bevy of other players, have received something of an asterisk on their career because they have dishonored the sacred tradition and integrity of the game.

As a baseball fan I can appreciate the way the league, players, and fans have renounced the way these guys tried to take a short-cut. Some players cared more about themselves than the game. This, according to baseball is unacceptable.

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Last week we had Mez McConnell from 20schemes come to Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne to talk about church planting in poor contexts. We did this in order to spur on this type of work in our community as well as raise awareness for this crucial ministry in Scotland.

The goal of 20schemes is:

Our long term desire is to see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the revitalisation and planting of gospel-preaching churches, ultimately led by a future generation of indigenous church leaders.

To that end we will initiate a church planting and revitalisation effort by recruiting training supporting and sending church planters,female outreach workers,ministry apprentices and short term interns to work part of church planting teams within Scotland’s housing schemes.

We believe that building healthy, gospel preaching churches in Scotland’s poorest communities will bring true, sustainable and long-term renewal to Scotland’s schemes.

We have all of the talks on our website here. I cannot recommend them highly enough. There is a significant paradigm shift that needs to happen when thinking about mercy ministry. I think Mez nails it.

You should also listen to his sermon on Sunday morning at Emmaus. The text is John 18:1-11. Here is the link.

If you are a church that is looking to partner with an international ministry–that is truly doing work–consider partnering with my friends a 20schemes. I know these guys and love them. Listen to the talks and reach out to them. (link)

Lately I am learning of the indispensability of personally listening to sermons. Let me explain. Over the last several years I have preached, on average, nearly 50 Sundays per year. The times I have not preached I have been on vacation or traveling. As a result, I very rarely sit under preaching. I am making a distinction from listening to sermons and sitting under preaching. I listen to sermons all the time but rarely sit under the preached word live.

I believe that this has not helpful to me. In fact, I need to sit under live preaching.

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Have you ever felt like you were alone in your church? Maybe you look around and think, “There are not a lot of people like me.” In some sense that may be true. There may not be many people who were raised in your hometown, like the same type of food, enjoy the same hobbies, and prefer the same music. So, yes, in this sense you may not be able to chop it up with them about your favorite team or curry or novel.

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Nobody likes to be criticized. Everybody appreciates a compliment. These are the two most non-controversial statements ever written on this blog. But they are true.

Pastors get their fair share of both.

One thing that I am learning as a pastor is that the good friends actually bring both.

There will always be people to criticize you when you preach the Bible, deal with sin and frankly, are a sinner yourself. They will make mistakes and get mad at you. You will make mistakes and they will get mad at you. This is life in a fallen world.

At the same time there are a lot of people who are just kind. They give compliments, affirmation and always say nice things. You rarely hear them speak critically.

At first glance (and with all honesty) we might prefer that our churches be filled with the later and devoid of the former. It seems like this would be a much nicer and more tolerable climate.

But would this be a good gospel climate? Continue Reading…

Along with several thousand other pastors and church leaders, I am here in Louisville for the Together for the Gospel conference. This event and the corresponding movement seems to keep growing without any indication of plateauing. Therefore, it is a real joy to come and take it in, rejoicing in this season of abundant blessing.

There are some personal items that I am excited about. Let me highlight a few.

1) Concentrated Exposure to Preaching. Some health and fitness people go on radical cleanses or others do extreme training spells. These have the effect of a radical impact on the body. Preaching, this much preaching, can be very impactful for me and countless others. I am prayerfully excited about what God will do with his knife that is all blade (Heb. 4:16).

2) Singing. I love to sing even though I am horrible at it. To have several thousand passionately singing together, with the weight of ministry and burden for people anchoring the ballasts of our souls–this is powerful stuff. It is truly a portal into heaven where Christ is supremely treasured opinion the praise of his people.

3) Being Surprised. A friend reminded me last night that we serve the living God. Therefore, he is active and working in our lives. He often surprises us with his word with a familiar passage. He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. He knows what I need and when I need it. God surprises me like this and I am looking forward to more.

4) Meeting New and Talking with Old Friends. This event welcomes a unique fraternity together. We are able to instantly connect and understand one another. To hear the stories of gospel triumph in faraway lands or pastoral faithfulness in a surprising place—these things bless my soul. We are not alone. In fact, there is a great multitude who have not bowed their knees to Baal.

5) Being Here with my Son. This year I am blessed to be here with my 18 year old son. It is a rich privilege and gift of grace to be able to experience this with him. I look forward to seeing its impact on him as well as I fervently pray for generational faithfulness in my family.

If you are at T4G consider coming over to the 20schemes event with Tim Challies on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I would love to meet you and be encouraged by your ministry.

Moments Matter

Erik Raymond —  April 7, 2014

It has been well said that our life is made up of a series of moments. We may be tempted to think little of these moments because we appear to have a lot of them. 

But what if these little moments were actually very important? 

The little moments of our lives make up our lives. They color, shape and accent our lives. It would follow then that these moments are very important. 

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Let me break this down for you: Blog-Father (Challies) + British Gospel Roughneck (Mez) + Wicked Smart Guys (9Marks) = Late Night Win.

If you are going to the Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) next week in Louisville then you will want to consider trotting over to The Galt House after the evening sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday for an event entitled, “Late Night with Tim Challies.” The event is hosted by 20schemes, a ministry in Scotland dedicated to planting and revitalizing churches among the poor.

On his blog Tim faithfully raises issues and thinks through them biblically. In this context he will be leading a discussion on church planting and mercy ministry among the poor. This is an important subject that requires clear thinking. Along with Tim, I am excited to join other guests Mez McConnell, Mike McKinley, Jonathan Leeman, and Matthew Spandler-Davison in this discussion.

Come and join us!

Who are the most influential Evangelicals in the US?

Thom Rainer, the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted an informal survey of people that, according to Rainer, “are very knowledgeable about the evangelical scene in the United States.”

Ok, sounds promising. If there are any lingering doubts Rainer adds, “The respondents represent a cross section of denominational and non-denominational churches and entities. From my perspective, those I surveyed are clearly evangelicals themselves.”

Well, we need to trust his judgment.

On with the list.

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If you are connected in any way to mainline (particularly American) evangelicalism then you have probably said or heard the following said countless times in the last two years:

“I need to get back in the Word.”

“My prayer life has been kinda dry lately.”

Often times these “confessions” come in the midst of small groups or in response to some eager, well-meaning brother or sister. How do we respond?

Most often it is with the super-spiritual, muppet-faced grimacing sigh: “Hmm. Hmm. I will pray for you that God would help you get back in the Word.”

Is this helpful?

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Job Opening at Emmaus

Erik Raymond —  March 31, 2014

Emmaus is hiring a music leader. Interested applicants should read the posting on our website (here) along with the full position description.

We are a church that heartily agrees with the premise of Chapell’s Christ Centered Worship and sings many Indelible Grace tracks along with some Sovereign Grace and Enfield. We have about 12 musicians (cellos, violin, guitars, flute, keyboard, and organ).

Pass it on to folks who may be interested.

Sometimes it’s the little things, the small details, that hit the high notes of our praise.

David was on the run from a brood who wanted him out as king. There are thousands pursuing him, as Psalm 3 says. To make matters worse the coup is led by none other than his son Absolom. The king is fleeing the people who were supposed to be loyal we’re pursuing.

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Mudslides and Terra Firma

Erik Raymond —  March 26, 2014

Most of us, without much consideration assume that the ground that we stand on is secure. As we continue to hear the reports coming out of Washington state we are reminded that even the ground itself is not stable. As of today there are 14 people dead and nearly 200 missing as a result of a massive mudslide in Snowhomish County, Washington.

The stories and interviews are heart-wrenching. Surprising tragedies like this shake us. If the ground itself is not stable, what is?

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The Compound Effect.

Erik Raymond —  March 25, 2014

Do you want to be that person who is always saying profound and prophetic things? You know the person who seems like no matter what comes out of their mouth it is just dripping with biblical wisdom and maturity. They reek of holiness. They just project godliness. You know who and what I’m talking about.

I can get you there. I can. I’m confident of it.

How?

It seems like everyone is selling the fast track. We are bombarded with advertisements to “Get rich quick!”or “Lose weight in 14 days!” The faster…the better. Is this another scheme? Let’s call it: “Two weeks to John Piper!”

Hardly. When we talk about spiritual growth it simply doesn’t work this way. It can’t. When you think about spiritual growth you think in terms of a roast not a microwave. It takes time. It has to.

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“He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2)

The word translated “deal gently” has the idea of being balanced on the spectrum between anger and grief. It was the healthy mid point that allowed the person to not be so indifferent that they were unmoved by grief but not so emotional that they could not be firm on sin. What was to result was a spiritual rock, one who could compassionately identify with weak people to bring them help.

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The grace of God is sufficient.

Hardaway_Crossover

I know this but sometimes it is hard to believe it. I operate under the false assumption that I have to augment God’s wisdom, power, and presence with my own (wisdom, power and ability). Every now and then God does the spiritual equivalent of a quick crossover over dribble and a two-handed dunk in the lane. He surprises me and reminds me that he is awesome. He is awesome in power, wisdom and love. I just stand up and cheer as I watch the false idol (that I created) writhing in pain from the broken ankles (it’s March Madness, you have to expect basketball illustrations).

God did this recently. I talked with a brother who has endured an astoundingly heavy trial. As I talked to him he boasted in the God of the Word and the Word of God. The best part was, I know it wasn’t fake. I had talked to him awhile ago and he was laid low by the affliction. Now he was truly encouraged.

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If you read this blog then you very likely are rejoicing in the resurgence of church planting. This rejoicing leads to increased burden for gospel ministry to advance in all areas–rural and urban, affluent and poor. The gospel is for all people.

In our context, God has called us to plant a church in an urban, diverse context of Omaha. As we endeavor to be faithful we are reaching out to friends for help. This is why we at Emmaus are excited to welcome our friends from 20schemes to come for a Saturday morning training session on ministry in poor contexts. Mez McConnell will also preach on Sunday morning at Emmaus.

The details for the event are listed below. But here is the truth: it will be very helpful and very free. If you are anywhere near Omaha for the weekend of April 5th, then please come an join us. If you need a place to stay message me via the contact form.

Please register here.

here is the info—

Every ministry that endeavors to be biblical will ask the question: “How should we faithfully minister in our poor communities?” The question can be answered on multiple levels from the perspective of the individual Christian to the local church.

On Saturday morning, April 5th, Emmaus will be hosting 20schemes to consider how to faithfully minister in a lower income is a ministry based in Edinburgh, Scotland that is committed to seeing the poorest communities in Scotland transformed through the revitalization and planting of gospel-preaching churches. In Scotland a “scheme” is a housing project. The ministry is aggressively pursuing this effort by recruiting, training, supportimng, and sending church planters, female outreach workers, ministry apprentices and short term interns to work within Scotland’s housing schemes.

At Emmaus 20schemes founder Mez McConnell will speak on this topic and then lead a discussion on church planting in urban, poorer contexts.

This would be a strategic event to invite pastors, leaders, and others with whom you would like to cultivate a gospel-centered, missionary focus. It is open to both men and women.

Here is the schedule:

0800-0900 Breakfast & Coffee

0900-1000 Principles for Working Among the Poor

1000-1015 Break

1015-1100 Discussion on Church Planting and Mercy Ministry

Register for this event here

Why did Saul of Tarsus change his name to Paul after his conversion? Many people have debated throughout the years and we don’t really have any way of knowing. With this said, I enjoyed reading Thomas Goodwin’s thoughts in Volume 1 of his works.

The name Paul was a name usual among the Romans; given to a Roman deputy, Acts 13:7; and thus the name Saul might have been fitted unto the Roman mode, S being turned into P; and that which strengthens this conjecture is, that we read of this change of his name first when we read of his converse with that Roman deputy, Acts 13; but chiefly when he was anew separated to the work of preaching to the Gentiles by the command of the Holy Ghost, Acts 13:4.

It may be added that this new name hath been the rather given him by the Romans, and the more readily accepted by him, as fitly glancing at the littleness of his stature,* (which the more illustrated the glory of God’s grace in the gifts of his mind,) of which antiquity gives testimony from tradition, and ancient images of him four hundred years after, in Chrysostom’s time, Niceph. lib. ii., cap. 37.

And Chrysostom, in his homily De princip. Apostol., calls him ὁ τριπηχὺς ἄνθρωπος, a man of three cubits, whereas the ordinary proportion of men is four; which may most probably be thought to be that baseness and weakness of presence, which himself acknowledgeth in himself, 2 Cor. 10:1, 10. It is certain that the name Paulus was first given to the family of the Æmylians in Rome for the littleness of their stature. And this change himself might well permit and take on him: a new Gentile name instead of his Jewish, as an indication of his new office, the Apostle of the Gentiles, Rom. 11:13: it being withal so fitly suited to express the character of his spirit and his most eminent grace, littleness in his own eyes; which, accordingly, you find him still inculcating, as if it were his motto, both interpreting his name and expressing his spirit, ‘less than the least of saints,’ Eph. 3:8; ‘least of apostles,’ 1 Cor. 15:9; perhaps in some allusion to his name, Paul; but this is only a conjecture, on which I insist not.

As Goodwin concludes that it is only conjecture, I agree. However, it is a good meditation of a potential historical truth to communicate an accurate spiritual truth: The Gospel makes its ministers little and Jesus Big!

Pastoral ministry is hard and there are a lot of ways that someone can go awry. This is brought to the fore in an article in Christianity Today noting that Mark Driscoll is retracting his best-seller status and “resetting his life.” This due to the fact that controversy seems to be as much a characteristic as blessing in his ministry.

As a pastor you can become inflated with pride and bang your head on the door frame, because you believe the lie that all of the good things that are happening in your ministry are because you are awesome. On the other hand, you can be thrown into the depths of despair because things are not progressing as well as the other guy or whatever your expectations might have been.

The danger on both sides is that our identity, standing, security, approval, etc are based upon us. Attendance is up? I feel good. Attendance down? I feel like a failure. Excitement over ministry? I’m excited. Issues of discontentment or discouragement? Suddenly I’m sullen. You see, pastoral ministry is hard because I am selfish.

I can relate to Driscoll. I don’t agree with everything he says and does but I see how he got where he is right now. And, if you’re a pastor, you should see it too. The idol self-approval is deadly. Whether you have 30 people or 30,000 people in your church, you are prone to this and so am I.

I don’t pretend that all of Driscoll’s issues should be swept under the rug now that he has owned up to some of what has happened. However, I am saying that of all people, pastors should be able to identify with him and be rooting for him to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This we do while looking to ourselves lest we too be tempted–because we know we already can.

ice cream manOver the last several months I have received a number of questions or comments about how pastors speak. On one level there is concern and on another just a genuine question. Before going any further we have to ask if there is any standard of language for a pastor. The answer is yes.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

Rather than giving a cause for offense at what they say a young pastor is to set the pace for holiness in his words, life, love, faith and purity (cf. also 1 Pet. 5:4). Paul also tells Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). Neglect of one will undermine the other.

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