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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When we are afflicted by the devastating trials of this life it can feel like we are being held underwater. It’s tough to hear, hard to breathe, and frightening. We panic. We get anxious. This is understandable. Life in this broken world is filled with heart-shredding trials that leg-sweep us surprisingly.

In the midst of this it is very important to remember to focus on what we know and not what we do not know. The common question is “why?” This is something we know in part but not in full. In the context of the big picture we understand that the answer to the “why” question is that we live in a post Genesis 3 world. However, the specific nuanced answer to “why” is unknown. We don’t know precisely “why.”

But we do know who God is and how he acts. This is tremendously comforting. In fact, when Job was laid low by trial he never received the answer to the “why” question but he did get a lengthy exposition of the “who.” It may seem like a theological copout but if you are spending time “under-water” in the midst of the waves of the trial then you need something objective, you need to clasp ahold of a dock.

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How can you tell that your pastor loves you? This could get tricky. We might be tempted to exegete his facial expressions, evaluate his manners, or consider whether or not he sends you a birthday card. However, the Bible actually gives several ways that demonstrate this love.

One of the ways the pastor shows his love is by feeding the flock (the church) the Word of God.

Where do we get this from? There are many places in the Bible, but a good place to see this is in John chapter 21.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”” (John 21:15)

Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs. He says the same thing in verse 17. The word has to do with caring for or looking after the flock. In the Middle Eastern agrarian culture the shepherd would lead his flock to food and the still waters of refreshment. He ensured that they were properly fed.

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We live in a very strange time in our history. Today people define themselves by what they do and feel. Personal preferences become the arbitrator of what is or is not true. Much of the debate surrounding the issues of human sexuality and same-sex marriage stems from the issue of the one who sets the rules.

And when you get many people who agree on these common rules you have a culture of legislators, arbitrators of what is true. A man may say that he is actually a woman and a woman a man.

To illustrate the confusion, Facebook now offers the field “custom” to its users in addition to the traditional category of “male” and “female.”

As people, we do not have a right to define or dictate things that we do not have authority over. We did not create ourselves. We do not dictate our gender. This is the Creator’s privilege and pleasure, not our own.

This also holds true for the church. The church is not ours to customize. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs. The church is God’s. And, we are his. In fact, we have no more right to alter, redefine, or change the church’s identity than we do our own gender. The church is the household of God.

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If you are going to the Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) next month 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 20 Schemes, 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, guests include Mez McConnell, Mike McKinley, Jonathan Leeman, Michael Spandler-Davison, and myself.

I have been to many of these conferences and typically, I don’t wind down right after the last session. I get together with friends, often times pastors from other areas, and talk about how we are working to see the gospel speed ahead in our contexts. These are very rewarding times. How about making plans to walk over to the Galt House and think through this topic with some friends? The event is free and seating is limited to the first 250 people who come. I hope to see you there!

Below is a video from Mez about the event.

Late night with Tim Challies, hosted by 20schemes from Niddrie Community Church on Vimeo.

I witnessed something today that I consider a remarkable privilege. It was as if I travelled back in time to colonial New England. And it happened here in the middle of the epicenter if technological development and advancement.

I’m in Los Angeles at Grace Church for the Shepherds’ Conference along with 3,000-plus other pastors, and mid sermon the power went out. The place went black with only emergency lights dimly shining in the cavernous brick auditorium that is Grace Church.

What did John MacArthur do? He grabbed a flashlight and just kept on preaching. He didn’t flinch. He was unflappable.  He literally just kept going. His voice grew with intensity as he unpacked the covenant of redemption. Soon his voice was traveling powerfully to every corner of the room.

Without being trite, let me just say, it was awesome. I felt like I was in an auditorium in Geneva with men leaning in to hear each word Calvin spoke or out in a field in western Massachusettes to hear Whitfield. Dr MacArthur just went on preaching Christ. In Spurgeon fashion he powerfully pleaded with pastors to preach Christ or stop preaching.

Since the power outage prevents access to his words, I’ll give you snippet here:

I just wish that the church would lift up Christ. If anyone would tag your church let it be this, “They were ever and always exalting Christ” you and your church should be known for robust Christology. Do you want to know the secret to Grace Church? These people keep be holding the glory of Christ and they have been and are being transformed! That’s the answer. When I watch TV preachers I yell at the TV. “Stop!! Give them Christ!” A truncated Christology does not help anyone. Men, you need to care less about what people want to hear and more about what they need to hear. Give them Christ.

This power outage served as an illustration for us. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you from preaching Christ! What a surprising blessing and timely lesson this was. I’m thankful for the providential feeling of going back in time, while being  greatly encouraged to keep plodding along in faithfulness.

Update: in talking with Phil Johnson today he let me know that the quick thinking pastor Mark Dever grabbed his iPhone and captured the scene described above. Take a listen below:

Calvin on “Blessing”

Erik Raymond —  March 5, 2014

I was reading in Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians this am and he helpfully laid out various aspects of blessing. I appreciated his pastoral care in addressing the subject after the repetition in verse 3 of Ephesians 1.

Here it is…

I find in Scripture four different significations of this word.

1. We are said to bless God when we offer praise to him for his goodness.

2. God is said to bless us, when he crowns our undertakings with success, and, in the exercise of his goodness, bestows upon us happiness and prosperity; and the reason is, that our enjoyments depend entirely upon his pleasure. Our attention is here called to the singular efficacy which dwells in the very word of God, and which Paul expresses in beautiful language.

3. Men bless each other by prayer.

4. The priest’s blessing is not simply a prayer, but is likewise a testimony and pledge of the Divine blessing; for the priests received a commission to bless in the name of the Lord. Paul therefore blesses God, because he hath blessed us, that is, hath enriched us with all blessing and grace.