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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20scehemes-t4g

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.

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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