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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

How many times have you heard someone comment on a move that worked out, “Hey that guy has tremendous instincts.” The observation comes from watching a leader make a tough decision and having that decision pay off. The coach calls the right play. The Commander deploys the right forces and tactics. The executive changes structures and systems of a company. We as observers see this and conclude that they have sharp, almost supernatural, instincts.

Is this true? In Albert Mohler’s book on Leadership, Conviction to Lead, he makes the point that it is not so much instinct that you are seeing but thinking in action.

Like everyone else, leaders operate out of capacities such as instinct, intuition, and habit. But what sets the leader apart is the commitment to bring these very things under the control of active intellect and right patterns of thinking. When an organization is run well, the average person, and perhaps even the average follower within the organization, might assume that the leader has some secret and almost magical sense of direction and purpose—an instinct or inner voice that seems always to guide with accuracy. In truth, this inner voice is the achievement of devoted thinking, not a gift that simply falls into the leader’s lap.

The observer watches in the moment or from afar. He exegetes the decision and can only conclude that it is instinct. Mohler’s point is that you are here seeing the blessed product of intentional, careful, disciplined thinking. As he says what seems to be instinct is simply the achievement of devoted thinking.

This should be a breath of fresh air to young and old leaders alike who feel that they don’t have such instincts. Instead bemoaning their giftedness they should get to work thinking about their organization so they can make good, well-reasoned decisions during crunch time.

If you haven’t read Mohler’s book, then what are you waiting for? Seriously, it’s that good. You can pick up Conviction to Lead at Amazon where it is also in Kindle format.

I am an unabashed gym eavesdropper. This is really the only place where I shamelessly listen to people talking. Whether it is in the locker room, on the workout floor in the lobby or wherever: I listen. In one recent conversation I heard a couple of guys talking. The one guy was in his mid 50′s and the other guy, I’ll guess early 20′s. Both guys were in great shape. The older guy was telling the younger guy what he has been up to in terms of training. Apparently they hadn’t seen each other for some time and this guy was noticeably different. He explained how he changed his diet, got disciplined about weights, and didn’t try to go too fast. Over the last year and a half the guy has transformed.

As I listened to them I couldn’t help but notice the younger guy’s shock. He is knee-deep in the culture that demands instant results. He remarked of how amazed he was at the difference over time. In the end it was a proper plan, consistency of discipline, and time. The guy was a different guy.

Continue Reading…

When we are in the heat of the moment we tend to think of the heat of the moment. However, as Christians we know that there is a much bigger, far grander plan at work. We are living in light of one who died for us.

In this section of John Flavel’s sermon on the covenant of redemption he tries to capture a dialog, based upon Scriptural deductions, of the Father and the Son concerning our salvation. This is intended to encourage obedience, loyalty, love and thanksgiving.

Continue Reading…

My wife is a great cook. I’m not just saying that because I have to or because I am a guy and eat whatever is in front of me. No, my wife is actually a phenomenal cook. She follows recipes, creates recipes, and flat out freestyles like a culinary ninja in the kitchen. As you’d guess, I really like her cooking. However, there are times when she blows us away. Surprising flavor matched with presentation washed down with a savoring that is unmatched. These are the times of particular grace when I am button-holed and reminded, my wife can cook.

Similarly, God is faithful. I mean, he is really faithful. I am not just saying that because I have to or because that is what Christians say. No, God is really faithful. He keeps his promises, he blesses, he works through prayer, and he opens the eyes of people to believe the gospel.

As a pastor I get to see this quite a bit. To my shame, I sometimes get used to it and forget to marvel. On such occasions God tends to graciously grab ahold of my collar and really get my attention.

Continue Reading…

After a lengthy sermon on the beauty of Christ, John Flavel provides an exhortation to ministers to proclaim this message that is of first importance without reservation or flinching.

it is our calling, as the Bridegroom’s friends, to woo and win souls to Christ, to set him forth to the people as crucified among them, Gal. 3:1, to present him in all his attractive excellencies, that all hearts may be ravished with his beauty, and charmed into his arms by love: we must also be able to defend the truths of Christ against undermining heretics, to instil his knowledge into the ignorant, to answer the cases and scruples of poor doubting Christians.

How many intricate knots have we to untie? What pains, what skill is requisite for such as are employed about our work? And shall we spend our precious time in frivolous controversies, philosophical niceties, dry and barren scholastic notions?

Shall we study everything but Christ? Revolve all volumes but the sacred ones? What is observed even of Bellarmine, that he turned with loathing from school divinity, because it wanted the sweet juice of piety, may be convictive to many among us, who are often too much in love with worse employment than what he is said to loathe. O let the knowledge of Christ dwell richly in us.

John Flavel, Works, Volume 1, p. 40

Wise and helpful diagnosis here from Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect? He is noting how often a couple will ask, “What happened to us? How in the world did we end up here?” The answer is not acute but a chronic problem.

It feels to them that they have driven into some kind of marital fog. It feels that what was once bright and sunny has suddenly gone dark. But nothing has been sudden. The changes of their marriage have taken place in progressive, little steps. In those unremarkable moments that occur in every marriage, wrong thoughts, desires, words, and actions changed the character and direction of their marriage; they took place in little moments, and no one was paying attention.

We all do it.

It’s not that we suddenly quit loving one another. No, that’s not what typically happens. Marriages don’t typically change with an explosion. Marriages typically change by the process of erosion. Even where marital explosions take place, they usually take place at the end of a long process of erosion. The movement of a marriage from an active commitment to an active lifestyle of unity, understanding, and love rarely takes place in one step. Rather, this movement takes place in ten thousand little steps.

The problem is that as these changes are taking place we tend to be asleep at the wheel. What we once committed to value and protect has progressively become the thing we take for granted. What we were once deeply appreciative of, we have become used to having over the long haul. The person that was so much the focus of our affection and attention has morphed into little more than the person that we live with—you know, a part of our environment and daily schedule. (Tripp, What Did You Expect?)

This past weekend I preached a sermon on giving. As I was preparing the sermon I realized that in over 8 years of full-time ministry I have never preached a sermon on giving. My first response was a self-congratulation. I am not like those unbalanced, prosperity guys nor like the manipulating, arm-bending preachers who guilt trip those who don’t tithe.

Amid the back-patting I was convicted. The Bible talks a lot about giving and Jesus rings the stewardship bell quite often himself. How is it that I have gone through this many sermons without addressing it?

So why don’t we preach on giving?

Continue Reading…

“Bo Will Do It!”

Erik Raymond —  October 2, 2013

photo (5)I often find myself having my theological convictions reinforced and sharpened through parenting. Our youngest child is a hard-charging, intense, resolute little 2-year-old. His first (semi) sentence was literally, “Bo do it.” This is a phrase that he often repeats when people try to help him. “Let me pick you up.” “Bo do it. Bo will walk.” “Let me put your shoes on.” “Bo do it.” “I’ll buckle you in.” “Bo will do it.” He gets a bit excited and animated when attempting to do everything he desires to put his hand to.

This reminds me of the Covenant of Works. God gave the first man, Adam, a job to do (Gen. 1 & 2). He was promised blessing by means of obedience. Of course he failed to do what God required (Rom. 5:12-18) and we all to have done the same (Hos. 6:7; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23).

All of humanity is wired for work. This work is characterized by working with our hands and minds (doing stuff) but is also more vividly seen through our overall relationship with God. We are bent on working to please God. As a response to this virtually every religion in the world pivots on what we do. Religion is based upon doing all we can to please God. We must undo the omelets that Adam (and us) scrambled up.

When I listen to little Bo exclaim, “Bo do it!” I know that this desire to do will mature. He will eventually grow into a young man who attempts to expiate his own guilt by means of his working. The conscience will clamor so the hands of the soul will become ready to work.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot work our way out of the spiritual bondage we find ourselves in. Like our national debt, spiritual debt just daily increases and any effort to personally lesson it just exacerbates it.

We need a substitute. We need what the Bible calls “the last Adam.” (1 Cor. 15.45) Jesus Christ is that last Adam. He obeyed in every area that Adam failed. It is ultimately his work for us that deals with our conscience and guilt. It by the perfect life of obedience and the sin-atoning death that we may find true rest and rejoicing. By the doing and dying of Jesus we may cease striving and start living.

All of us need to go from “Bo will do it” to “Christ has done it!”

One interesting aspect of living in the Midwest is the sudden change in weather. We can go from sun to ominous clouds to run for cover faster than an opponent can score on Nebraska’s Defense. A particularly captivating expression of this extreme weather is the hail storm. It is not unusual to see quarter, even golf-bowl sized hail bouncing off the sidewalks, cars, and roads. Once the storm has passed the damage is assessed and often times cars, roofs, garage doors and other personal property has suffered at the hands of the storm.

It is this hail-storm that has been a perennial reminder for me of my job in the pulpit.

Let me explain. The preacher’s job is to preach the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:2). That is, we are to herald, proclaim, or declare what the Bible says. As we do this we will be highlighting the unique beauty, excellency and glory of Jesus Christ. This is the preacher’s job year after year, month after month, weak after week, and sermon after sermon. We proclaim him! (Col. 1.28).

Continue Reading…

Here in Nebraska the most influential, popular and public figure is not the governor or even Warren Buffet. It is the head football coach at the University of Nebraska. That coach is currently Bo Pelini. And he finds himself a bit more in the public eye than normal (he has been the number one trending topic on twitter for the better part of a day).

What did he do? In short he had a private conversation 2 years ago. The conversation was secretly recorded and then surprisingly released yesterday. In the audio Pelini did his personal best to wear the F word out of existence. He laid out the fans and the news media after a dramatic come from behind win. It’s bad, even worse than this paragraph makes it sound. (link to story in the Omaha World Herald, audio has bad language)

Continue Reading…

Like many other things contextualization arises from a good seed (goal) but can sometimes grow into an unhealthy flower. We want to see people come to know Jesus so we work hard to remove the cultural hurdles that come into play when we communicate the gospel. Contextualization in its most faithful form aims to remain faithful to the text (Bible) amid an ever-changing context (culture).

There can be some unintended consequences to an overly acute contextualization. Perhaps “blind spot” is a good term to capture this. Let me provide an example. Let’s say First Baptist Church (FBC) is working hard to reach the 20-somethings in their community. They build their staff, gear their services, consider their language, and even tailor all of their communication towards this age group. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they are being absolutely faithful to the text in this context. We have best motives and best practices, so to speak. After a couple of years of slugging it out they have 150 young people coming on a Sunday morning. Within 4 years this doubles. They are plodding ahead. Their contextualization at FBC seems to be well thought out, careful, and faithful.

Continue Reading…