I was greatly impacted by a meeting that I had nearly 15 years ago with my pastor at the time. During the meeting I was talking about my desire for ministry and a great burden for the gospel to be clearly preached and central to all that we do.

In the midst of the conversation the pastor got annoyed. His annoyance seemed to be connected to my burdens and how they communicated a referendum on his ministry.

At one point in the conversation he said something that left a tremendous impact on me. He said baldly:

When you get old you come to see that things don’t work out so neatly. We’ll see if you have the same passion in 10 years.

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Selfies and The Gospel

Erik Raymond —  December 16, 2013

President Obama remains in hot water for his selfie with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. People are outraged not only at the setting, a service for a deceased dignitary, but also the act itself (unbecoming, juvenile, and narcissistic).

The fact is we are a world of selfies. Oxford Dictionary named selfie the word of the year in 2013. Even if we cringe at other people incessantly taking and posting personal portraits of themselves, we do it ourselves (even if we feel kind of dirty for doing it). The term selfie is a perfect term for us. We are a people who are uncomfortably and unhealthily drawn towards ourselves. And we like drawing other people to ourselves. We are, after all, about ourselves.

Selfie-ness is not new. It has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided to make the world about themselves rather than God. They wanted God to be the supporting actor in story of their lives.

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This sermon and this section in particular was a great blessing to me today. Is Spurgeon’s great longing and prayer beginning to be realized in our day? To some degree you would have to say “yes.”

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The Road to Apostasy

Erik Raymond —  December 9, 2013

When someone walks away from the faith it sends seismic ripples throughout the church. Somewhere amid the shock and emotions, we realize that we saw alarming signs but didn’t think they would materialize. I personally have seen this happen far too many times. In each case however, the steps, the path is strikingly similar.

So, how does it happen? Let me walk you down the road to apostasy. This is intended to illuminate this dark and often camouflaged path.

First let me give you a bottom line proposition: The road to apostasy is paved by bricks of apathy towards Christ. If you want to persevere, then give attention to your affections. This is a summary. Let’s work it out.

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Pastor Rick Warren was on Piers Morgan and answered a number of tough questions. In particular, Piers Morgan (as he is known to do) continued to press the issue of gay marriage. Warren, thankfully, answered tactfully, articulately, winsomely, and more important–faithfully. What a great encouragement. (Link)

Read this slowly and thoughtfully. Lot’s of wisdom and instruction flowing here:

It is a great sin to think any sin little; but it is a greater sin to think the righteousness of Christ is not above all sin. Our disobedience is the disobedience of man; but Christ’s obedience is the obedience of God: therefore, our believing in Christ doth please God better than if we had continued in innocency, and never sinned. The least sin is unpardonable without this obedience and righteousness of Christ; and the greatest is pardonable by it. Therefore, O seek in to Christ, to be clothed upon with this righteousness.

from, Ralph Erskine “And Walking in Him, Opened”

(HT: First Importance)

This is so good. It captures so much of what my and so many other hearts longs for. Thank you John Piper for stirring us once again to supremely treasure God in all of life.

How do you spice up a conference of family integrated churches? Ask a question about Reformed Rap. That’s exactly what happened at The Worship of God Conference from the NCFIC (National Center for Family Integrated Churches). This issue has been significantly batted around the blogosphere since the video posted below went viral over the Thanksgiving break.

As a pastor I now feel that I should address it. It has come to the threshold of our church family. As a church we are supportive of many of the priorities of the Family-Integrated Church movement (family shepherding, priority of the Word of God, priority of the local church, etc). At the same time many of our members (including pastors) regularly bob their heads to Reformed Rap.

So, what happened? It is like Uncle Integrated took a swipe at Cousin Hip-Hop over Thanksgiving Dinner. What do we do? Like any dysfunctional (sinful) family we have to take a step back and respond in love.

The strongest statement from the panel was made by Geoff Botkin who said that those who were driving Christian Rap were “disobedient cowards.” He later issued a statement that seemed to be intended as an apology. The overall tone of the panel was negative towards hip-hop and in some cases, like above, were vehemently opposed to it. Pass the sweet potatoes Uncle Geoff!

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We all know that women are very different then men. However, we don’t always appreciate it.

Over the last several years I have watched my wife prepare for birthday parties, holiday seasons, or other special events. She, like many women, gives considerable time and attention to the details. In particular she works to ensure that the colors, design, and even the most minute matters are covered. I’ve seen gum balls color-coded, paper cut outs, cup cakes and napkins match, balloons, sparkly soda, snow sprinkles on a red table cloth, swirly straws, and even a big metal bucket filled with ice to so people will feel “festive” when they get their drink. This is what women do. Men on the other hand, we think function. We reuse our forks, wipe our chin on our sleeves, and pass on the straws. We skim past the details without noticing.

In the past I have noticed the details and asked, “why?” My wife lovingly instructed me that it is an expression of creativity, joy, and love. It is festive.

While struggling to pull this type of thing off my self, I have come to appreciate it. What’s more, I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm so as to love my wife more, appreciate our differentness, and marvel at God’s design.

If you were to comb through your Old Testament you would find that God is a God of detail. You have chapters and chapters of detail about the tabernacle in Exodus. We have dimensions, colors, types, and all other specifics. Like the detail that my wife expends I can zoom past these. I understand the big picture and pass on through to the next chapter. I understand the expressions. I understand the expressions?

The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ. The types and shadows of the Old Testament ultimately point forward to Jesus (1 Cor. 5.7; 1 Cor. 10; Lk. 24). The chapters of description of the tabernacle and the temple demonstrate the infinite beauty, holiness, and varied complexity of Jesus. When God speaks of these symbols he showcases his love for the glory of Christ. God goes through great detail to construct the shadows in order to serve the substance (Jesus).

Therefore, when I look at the frills, the colors, the designs, the Pinterest Boards, the sketches, and the actual parties, I can marvel at the way in which my wife loves the person she is honoring. This reminds me of how our Father loves to honor our glorious Savior. Far from zooming past the details we can spend a moment to marvel at these reflections of creativity that express love. We will find ourselves appreciating the way our wives honor others while seeing the Father express his love for Jesus.

Prophet, Priest, and King. Those three words have biblical tonnage tethered to them. Each communicate the person and work of Christ with succinct theological clarity.

The Heidelberg Catechism picks up this thread in question 31 (emphasis mine):

Q: Why is he called “Christ”, that is, the anointed?

A: Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also to be our eternal King, who governs us by his word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in that salvation, he has purchased for us.

I have found that these three terms are also quite helpful in thinking through the believer’s response to the gospel in living a life of worshipful obedience.

Prophet: Christians are to make the good confession of faith, speak the truth of the gospel to one another and outsiders, and continue to be governed by the truth that, “it is written…” (Rom. 10.9-11; Col. 3.15-17; Matt. 28.18-20; 2 Tim. 3.16-17).

Priest: As believers we are to continually offer up the sacrifice of praise in response to the sufficient and unblemished work of Christ. Just like the burnt offering that was to be ever burning and consuming of the sacrifice, so too Christians, in our thinking and living, are to be ever burning and completely consumed with the glory of Christ in the gospel (Rom. 12.1-2ff; Heb. 13.15-16).

King: As we follow Christ we are to find ourselves striving against those things that are against Christ our King. We are to put sin to death, resist the devil, and look forward to reigning eternally with him (Rom. 6.12-13; Gal. 5.17ff; 2 Tim. 2.12; 1 Pet. 5.8-9).

These descriptions are not perfect but I have found them helpful in personally thinking through and communicating our response to the work of Christ as we endeavor to obey and reflect him in this world.

Delayed adolescence is a reality in American families. There is no disputing the massive increase in number of young people that choose to live with their parents late into their 20’s and in some cases into their 30’s. Insurance companies have taken notice of this and have extended coverage of “children” well into the mid to late 20’s. There is no surprise then that while adolescence is prolonged the expreriences that correspond with being an adult are decreasing. Marriages are decreasing while video games sales are increasing. The delayed adolescence of the American youth is a fascinating and increasingly troubling trend.

But I am not a sociologist. I am a pastor. My concern is with the attitude and culture of delayed adolescence in the church. More specifically, I am not here thinking primarily about the evangelical culture that tends to awkwardly squirm away from and therefore curiously mute the conversation of male leadership in the church. I am thinking far more broadly than even this, to the philosophy and theological vision of churches that cultivate and promote a delayed doctrinal adolescence in the church.

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I recently came across an article about Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama. I am more of an admirer rather than a fan of Alabama and Saban. I’m overall very intrigued by college football coaches. I enjoy watching what makes them successful and what is detrimental to their leadership.

The Saban piece was fascinating. Of particular interest is the coach’s eating habits. Each day he eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch: “for breakfast, he eats two Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies; for lunch, a salad of iceberg lettuce, turkey, and tomatoes.” Why? “The regular menu, he says, saves him the time of deciding what to eat each day…”

If the coach is thinking about what to eat then he is not thinking about or doing something else. In Saban’s case it is the game plan, recruiting, or some other aspect of his leadership. This is a guy who has intentionally, some may even say fanatically, ordered his day by his commitment to his priorities. You don’t ascend to the height of a highly competitive field and stay there by accident. There is a tremendous amount of intentional ordering, reverse engineering, focus, discipline, and sacrifice.

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Don’t Waste Your MRI

Erik Raymond —  November 19, 2013

Yesterday I enjoyed the privilege of getting an MRI. It is not my first experience with the acronym. Each time it becomes a bit of a sanctifying experience.

Prior to the procedure I answered extensive questions to ensure that I was not embedded with anything that might be magnetic. They wanted to validate that I was safely alone in the room. As the procedure began I learned what it would feel like to be trapped inside of a jack-hammer. In time the incessent pinging became almost melodic and strangely soothing.

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You may be familiar with the story in 1 Kings 21. Ahab is one of the worst kings in the history of Israel. His lusts knows no bounds. One day he decides that he wants to take the vineyard that belonged to a man named Naboth. He offered to give him another patch of land or even to buy it from him. However, Naboth resisted: ‘”The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1Ki 21.3)

Naboth refused because the land was part of his inheritance. We might think that this is dripping with the sentimentality of family. And it may. But more than that, it represents the Hebrew mindset that the land is a gift from God. Naboth can’t just “give it up and take something else.” The land is not like a pair of sneakers or upgrading a phone.

As we read on we see that Ahab’s wife, the notorious Jezebel, does his dirty work. She gets a couple of worthless guys together to accuse Naboth of something he did not do in order to put him to death. This she does successfully. The innocent Naboth is killed outside the city because of a false accusation of blasphemy.

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In Jonathan Edwards’ book Religious Affections, he lobbies for the premise that Christians operate chiefly as pilgrims here on earth, with our hearts passionately enflamed from heaven (i.e. Religious Affections). Even further, Edwards argues that God supernaturally keeps “making up the difference” of our earthliness and his heavenliness. In speaking of this grace Edwards writes: “their grace is the dawn of glory; and God fits them for that world by conforming them to it.”

One of the ways in which Edwards suggests that God does this conforming is through the privilege of prayer. When we pray we are not to think that we are somehow informing God of his perfections, as if he was not aware of his prevailing holiness, goodness, justice, love, mercy, & all sufficiency! Nor are we telling God something he does not know in terms of our finiteness, dependence, and unworthiness that we might somehow convince God to do the things that we ask. But rather, prayer is used by God in the lives of believers to mold, prepare and affect the hearts of his children “with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.”

Edwards is connecting a pivotal dot here for us. So often we see in the Psalms, the Psalmists bemoaning their respective plights, only to meditate and extol God’s attributes, with the result being a worshipful recognition of divine goodness upon the receipt of answered prayer, whether or not the answer is ‘favorable’ to the petitioner (cf. Ps. 116; 118; 121; 123; etc..).

I love thinking about prayer in this way, as a spiritual cardio workout. When we pray we are massaging our hearts with the pressure of God’s eternal perfections and subsequently producing in us the enduring praise to the glory of his grace. Prayer both prepares and sustains affections. In preparing our hearts it works to mold our imperfections closer to the perfect image of Christ and in sustaining it ignites within us an enduring passionate appreciation and pursuit of the glory of God.

So then one might rightly say prayer is for us, but prayer is for God.

Enjoy prayer today, knowing that it is producing in you an affectionate longing for heaven, where heaven’s King reigns, and where one day all of his saints will be joined together before his indescribable throne to ascribe glory, honor and praise to the Lamb who sits exalted.

To the surprise of no one, Joel Osteen is on the cover of another magazine and the author of another book. The life-coach with a million dollar smile continues to be widely popular. To be clear: I am not against life-coaches or good smiles. I even have a personal soft-spot for a mullet and a well fitting suit. However, what I am against is a guy who continues to use Jesus’ bandwidth to broadcast his message.

Our church building is right next to a high school. Several months ago we noticed our wi-fi was ridiculously slow. After some investigation we found out that many of the students were cutting class and sitting on our stoop watching movies and other network demanding activities. The ministry of the church was being slowed by the student’s entertainment. I feel like this is what Joel Osteen does. He just kind of hangs out on the stoop of Christianity with his God-talk giving hat-tips to Jesus and a Bible story every now and then. But you know what? He is dragging down our bandwith. He is convoluting the message. He is hindering communication.

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If you are a Christian then you have convictions. If you are a Christian who knows other Christians then you probably have realized that we don’t all agree on everything. As a result, it is incumbent upon those who name Christ to consider how we engage with those who have different doctrinal foundations and ministry expressions. The two loudest arguments we hear are those who tend to be overly critical and those who tend to be overly accepting. On the one side folks want to limit their full affirmation and support of a teacher and ministry to those within their “tribe” (referring to people just like them). Others, resisting this, build a big tent and welcome as many people in there as they can.

As I have thought about this more and more I find it ironic that both sides are after the same thing: influence. One side wants to protect people by minimizing it and others want to influence people by expanding it. It is truly fascinating to watch and observe.

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You are Saved by Works.

Erik Raymond —  November 5, 2013

If you are saved then you are saved by works.

No, I am not retreating or backsliding or apostatizing into Roman Catholicism or other synergistic form of salvation. I am simply restating the truth that the Bible declares. You are saved by works.

Let me elaborate and clarify the statement: You are saved by works, just not your works. If you are saved, you are saved based upon the works, the merits, the doing and dying of Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel.

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God is sovereign over all things. This is quite a statement. It is a biblical statement (Ps. 115.3, 135.6). We know that God has decreed whatever comes to pass to actually come to pass. He is in charge of everthing from molecules to miracles, his soveriegnty rules over all.

Part of this truth is the fact that God ordains the means to bring about his will. I have been reminded of this on multiple occassions recently.

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The Gospel Man

Erik Raymond —  October 22, 2013

photo (7)Nearly a year ago some of the leaders at our newly planted church sat down to assess what we were, for lack of a better word, “creating.” We examined what our culture, systems, and structures were producing. We measured it against what we were aiming for, to make and train disciples who make and train disciples. During this healthy period of self-examination we determined that we were not hitting the mark in a satisfactory manner. As a result we started with the end in mind, reverse engineering our overall approach and execution of discipleship with the goal of producing a certain type of guy. This guy was aptly named, “The Gospel Man.”

Before telling you what The Gospel Man is like, let me tell you why I think it is absolutely important for leaders to do this.

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