The door flings open and a wide-eyed, curly-haired little girl hastens into the center of the room. She comes right up to me without a second thought. She is my daughter, the fact that I am in a meeting is of no consequence to her at the tender age of 3. She has something to say.

One of the things that I learned in pastoral ministry is that children are often a very good illustration of the truth that we are trying to communicate. This is no different. The scene described above have been happened multiple times over the years.  One of my kids would run in, jump up on my lap and ask if they could eat a piece of candy or to inform me of something that was very important to them at the moment. As parents we had to work with them on manners but not confidence. They understood that they had free access to Daddy. Come and plead, talk, make your requests known to me. I think of their little faces, resolving to come and then running down the hall to get there, and then with wide-eyes they march in. It’s instructive for us.

This truth of Christ’s high priestly care for us provokes a most amazing response. It is the response of coming to God’s throne with confidence.

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“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus felt the full force of all temptations. The ones that we feel and cave upon he felt to the highest level–and prevailed victoriously.

You might be saying, “It was different for Jesus–he is the Son of God! How can he really understand me?”

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I remember going to the dentist as a kid. After all of the picking and cleaning I was given fluoride. I picked the flavor, marinated in that gushy material, and then spit it out. The hygienist would then treat me like a prize-fighter and give me a tube for water. I compliantly, swished and spit. Then I was done, out of the chair and on my way out the door.

I am afraid that too many of us practice dental chair devotions. We grab our Bibles, spend some time in it and then we are done. We promptly put down our Bibles and walk out the door or on to our daily tasks. Five to eight hours later someone could ask you, “What did you read in the Word today?” The answer, too often, is, “I can’t remember.”

What happened? We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly. This is because we often practice a “swish and spit” devotional time. We don’t really engage the mind and heart with the Word.

How do we resist this “swish and spit” mentality?

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“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

You would expect a book that is divine and living would in fact be active, and so it is. Paul writes in 1 Thess. 2:13 that the word of God does work. Jeremiah writes: ““Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)
God’s word is powerful. The word translated here as powerful is the source of our word energy. It means to say that God’s word has God’s power, his energy.

Because it is God’s word, it is an undefeatable word. The Bible has all the essentials of the life and power of God to do his work! Isaiah says that the word of God does not return void; it does his work, powerfully so (Is. 55). The Word of God is powerful.

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Paul rejoiced whenever Christ was preached (Phil. 1:15-18) and I try to do the same. Paul also talked about proclaiming Christ with wisdom and making the most of our times with the unbelieving world around us–even having grace dripping from our lips (Col. 1:28-29; Col. 4:5-6). Therefore, I can rejoice but also long for some evangelists to switch up their game a bit to be a more considerate and faithful.

Here are four evangelists that need to retire. If only they were just caricatures.

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I recently visited with a friend who is in his mid 60’s and has pastored Reformed Baptist churches for decades. He talked to me about how encouraged he is about the resurgence of Calvinism in the church today, particularly among the young people. He cited the preaching, the books being published, the websites, and the conferences. With glistening eyes he said, “Back in the 80’s when we’d go to Banner (of Truth) conferences we would never have imagined a day like this in our lifetime.”

We are living in something of an ecclesiological bizzaro world where Calvinism is wildly popular. But I want to make a distinction: Calvinism is popular but it is not sexy. Just because something is enjoying appeal among an admittedly increasing amount of people does not mean it is universally appealing.
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I remember the day I first heard the gospel, it was awesome.  My faithful friend unpacked the message of the gospel to this weary sinner.  I was pierced through.  I needed a Savior and I knew it.  As our discussion came to a natural end, my friend found out that I did not own a Bible.  So as a good friend he gave me the one he was carrying.  It was a green pocket New Testament with the Psalms & Proverbs.  It comfortably was transferred from the pocket of his military cargo pants to my own.  I was and am thankful for my friend John’s kindness and graciousness that day.

However, what I am a little bent about is that Bible.  As I mentioned it was the NT, Psalms & Proverbs.  It did not include the Old Testament Scriptures.  This was a bit of a problem for me.  I had zero Bible knowledge at this point.  I did not know that the Bible had two testaments, I thought ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ last name, and couldn’t understand the purpose for all of these various letters (epistles).  But I read my green King James New Testament as tried to get stuff figured out.

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Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand

Erik Raymond —  February 10, 2014

Click on image for Photo Credit.

There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblical in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he is in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. As a result Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).

There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor is to be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”

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The Church About Nothing

Erik Raymond —  February 4, 2014

What do we want to do when we want to learn about a church? Well, typically, we read their websites and maybe listen to a sermon or two. This is definitely helpful. However, I’d like to suggest another option: listen to members talk. Go ahead, engage in conversation with members, listen to discussions in the hallway, read some of the folks’ social media posts, etc. What do they say?

It is one thing to confess truth and quite another to believe it. When the truth of the gospel gets in us we have to talk about it. It overflows. Paul highlighted this in Colossians 3:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

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I’m that guy that opens up the hood of his car when something goes wrong and stares at everything waiting for a big on/off switch to suddenly appear. I have no idea what I’m doing. If someone came by and said I needed to to replace this filter or pump or spray this stuff or get a new whatever rod, I’d do it. I don’t understand how stuff fits together and the relationship between the parts. I am proficient at turning the key and driving (at a high-level, mind you).

I do respect the heck out of a guy who knows how stuff (technical term) fits together. I trust them.

When I look at some of the trends in Evangelicalism, and in particular the Gospel-Centered movement, I wonder if pastors are more like the mechanic or the mechanically challenged guy. What I mean is, are pastors just looking for the “on-off” switch or do they actually know how things fit together? Do they understand the implications of doing or saying certain things? Do they understand (even a little bit) church history and historical theology?

Let me give you an observation of where we seem to be and then a theological proposition as to why this makes no sense.

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What is your most prized possession? To find out we would only have to look at what you give your time, attention, and resources to.

For the Christian, what should be the most prized possession? Everyone including the First Grade Sunday School Class just rightly answered, “Bible.” Very good; but, why?

The reason why is because the Bible is rock of revelation that our faith is built upon.

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As is I am sure is common in other places, we have experienced one of the longer, more intense spells of illness in recent memory. Here in Omaha, Nebraska sickness is being passed around like dollar bills. Our church family and our immediate family have also been greatly impacted. Even I, though not normally prone to getting sick, have come down with multiple viruses.

In recent weeks, while afflicted, some truth hit me like a surprise flu: I am generally very healthy. This is a tremendous blessing. In a world full of bacteria and sickness we get along pretty well. What’s more, we are not guaranteed health. Therefore, what we do get is a blessing.

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A Mantra Worth Repeating

Erik Raymond —  January 6, 2014

I really liked this from Ray Ortland and Immanuel Nashville. It is a simple, clear and concise explanation. “It can be for you…if it’s not beneath you.”

(ht: Tim Brister)

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Col. 1:12)

Paul here takes a biopsy of the prayerful heart of the Christian. What is to be found? The believer is to be filled with gratitude to our infinitely kind Father and his love towards us. He is demonstrating that the Christian’s thanksgiving is rooted in their Father’s action. In other words, this thankful walk is a gospel-informed walk.

Our kind Father has ‘qualified the unqualified’ to share in his glorious inheritance. This inheritance is sin proof, death proof, and time proof. It is laid up in heaven for Christ’s followers. It has been graciously purchased, lovingly applied, and sovereignly protected. And so we are…thankful and continue to be thankful.

This posture of thankful prayer is to continue as long as God is worthy of our praise. The same Spirit that God has sent into our hearts and causes us to cry “Abba Father” is the one that sings joyfully to heaven with intimate thanksgiving for his great work of love towards us in Christ Jesus.

Have you ever found yourself disinterested in the genealogies or lengthy records of people in the Bible? From time to time I find myself stepping on the devotional gas to speed past those names as if they are not important. I know better than this.

As Alan Jacobs observes in his book Reading in the Age of Distraction, too many of  us read for information rather than pleasure. We just can run through the words looking to pick out the meat and leave behind the bones (so to speak). What happens when we do this in a narrative like in Ezra 2? (This happened to me this morning.)

In this section the list of over 40,000 exiles are returning from captivity to Israel. If we just skip over it we miss the joy that the author is aiming to communicate. These people were living in a foreign land, displaced from their history and identity. They were removed from the hub of worship. They lived under the cloud of God’s evident displeasure. Not only could they not enjoy all of the blessings that God had provided them as his nation, they were made to see, breath, and even taste pagan culture in all of its dregs. Now, at this particular time, God was moving these people (listed in this chapter) back to the land to enjoy the blessings of God and restart the covenant community’s practice of worship.

When we skim over the names we miss the fact that these are real people, with real birthdays, real deaths, real sniffles; they had real issues: real fears and dreams. God was answering prayers and longings. He was bringing them home to be his people. There are some real morsels of delight there for us if we are willing to slow down.

Reading should be enjoyable not laborious. Bible reading should be particularly enjoyable for the Christian. This takes work for us however. Everything in the tide of our information culture says “skim” “skip” “fast” and “self.” We have got to force ourselves, or at leat preach to ourselves to read for joy rather than simply information. As you make plans to read the Bible in 2014 do so with joy because you get to not because you have to.

We are a culture that loves the hero story. From Potter to Skywalker to Frodo to Katniss, heroes captivate the young and old in their triumphant adventures.

Our English teachers would remind us that there are some essential elements to a hero story. You could argue for more or less, but here are some basic elements:

The Calling for the mission
The Rejection of the call
The Token or something powerful to help the hero
The Journey
The Guide
The Suffering
The Temptation to Quit
The Drive to Finish
The Victory and Reward

As you think through various stories you can doubtless identify these key elements.

It is popular (and easy) to see a correlation between Jesus and these heroes. After all, the mission of Jesus is the ultimate epic story.

But hold on. There is a stark difference. Among the items listed above there is one characteristic that is not present at any stage of the life of Christ. Did you catch it?

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Today at lunch I was talking with a friend while Christmas music was playing. He made the observation how interesting it is that people sing such rich, bold, Christ-exalting songs without really considering the lyrics.

Consider Joy to the World:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Also, consider NPR playing We Three Kings:

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

As Christians we can sing truth about Christ and it impacts us; it stirs our hearts. We consider the worth and work of Christ and it makes us emotional. However, other people can compartmentalize the words. They can sing dispassionately about the kingdom of Christ.

What does this teach us? It serves to illustrate the necessity of regeneration. Until the Spirit of God claims us as his own, makes us alive spiritually, and gives us eyes to see the glory of Christ then songs about King Jesus are about as powerful as songs about Santa Claus. They don’t move the emotional meter because we are not born again.

For all of the grumbling about censoring Christmas we should step back for a second and rejoice that the truth of Christ, often times in robust, beautiful ways, is being declared on the radio through traditional Christmas hymns. Maybe God might even make one to marvel amid such a song.

The Duck Won’t Stop Here

Erik Raymond —  December 21, 2013

The comments of a 67-year-old, Southern, Christian man remain national news. Phil Robertson, the star of the number one cable television show, Duck Dynasty, remains in embroiled in a controversy surrounding his interview with GQ Magazine. As nearly everyone knows by now, the controversial comments were concerning his view of homosexuality. While the choice of wording and tone were a bit strong and some might argue overboard, they were not, in their distilled sense, unbiblical.

The controversy has brought several participants into focus. My early read is that the Ducks will be fine. Here’s why.

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All the talk and controversy about plagiarism has made me somewhat uncomfortable. When I listened to the infamous interview between radio host Janet Mefford and Pastor / Author Mark Driscoll I was haunted by a phrase. I don’t know if it is an exact quote or not but it went like this, “You are stealing his ideas.”

I am a pastor. My whole life and ministry is about regurgitating someone else’s ideas. I believe it was Charles Hodge who said that he never had an original thought or idea. We read, listen, talk, think, integrate, pray, and listen. This is what we do. In one very real sense pastors don’t know what is original and what is not. Even our sermon outlines have a family tree.

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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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