Archives For Grace

We Need a Few Good Men.

Erik Raymond —  December 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

Every man desires to be considered a “good man”. If God has given a man 75 years of life and he looks back at it, nothing would give him more joy than to know that it wasn’t in vain. Further, the church is in desperate need of good men. The reason of course is that good men honor God and multiply themselves. Good men make more good men.

But, what do they look like?

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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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Very helpful quote here from Mike Cosper in his new and helpful book  Rhythms of Grace:

To our imaginations, it’s probably strange (at the least) or gross (at the worst) to envision anyone perpetually exalting himself. We live in a world full of bluster and bragging, where Nicki Minaj boasts “I’m the best,” LeBron James tattoos “Chosen 1” across his shoulders, and everyone from pastors to porn stars are self-celebrating on Twitter and Facebook. The idea that God would be associated with anything like that behavior is disconcerting.

But God’s own self-adoration is nothing like ours. Unlike our own self-congratulatory spirit, God’s view of himself is unmistaken and unexaggerated.

As hymn writer Fredrick Lehman said:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky. God’s glory and perfection are inexhaustible. We can’t say enough about how glorious he truly is. The greatest gift he can give us is a revelation of himself. Exalting anything else would be cruel.

God calls Christians to love one another. Half of Jesus’ summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22.39). While we know this truth like the back of our hand we also know the difficulty of doing it.

Why is it so hard? It is hard because sin complicates things. My sin makes me unloving and unlovely and others’ sin makes them unloving and unlovely.

So what do we do?

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Some books are too long and say too little. Other books seem too brief but still say quite a bit. Tim Keller’s book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness falls into this latter category.

The book is small enough to read over your lunch hour but will need to be digested over a lifetime. Keller walks uses 1 Corinthians as lenses to understanding how the gospel had gripped and transformed the Apostle Paul. The result: gospel humility. Or, in other words: self-forgetfulness.

The book is more like a sermon that gets after you. With probing application that pulls the gospel-train into town, Keller helps show pride and chase it away with gospel.

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Two of the most heart-grabbing events in our human experience are death and birth. When a friend or loved one dies we attend the funeral, coming alongside of the family to grieve with them. When someone close to us has a baby we likewise come to rejoice with them. In both events the arrow that is shot through our hearts is life. Life intersects differently with our minds and emotions depending upon if it is birth or death; but it is life or the absence of it that brings the reaction.

The Bible uses both of these concepts to describe the Christian experience. Prior to conversion we were dead spiritually (Eph. 2.1). This spiritual death was characterized by separation from God and expressed in terms of evil deeds (Col. 1.21; Titus 3.3). Once converted, we are brought to life (Rom. 6.4, 13; Eph. 2.4-10). This life is characterized by communion with God and expressed in terms of obedience to God’s Word and loving loyalty to him (1 Jn. 3.1-10).

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Guilt: drive me to the cross

This is a sketch from my wife’s journal. Note the steering-wheel and actor named “guilt”.

Christians typically bounce off of two extremes:

  1. Undervaluing the work of Christ by clinging to our own merit
  2. Undervaluing the work of Christ by wallowing in our guilt

This is as dangerous as it is insane (and unbelieving).

Sometimes I find myself bouncing off of these opposing and perilous walls within the same day.

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I’m reading a bit of Herman Bavinck this morning in preparation for a class with some men in our church. I have been particularly encouraged by his section on God’s goodness. Below is an adaptation of some of his thoughts on the grace of God as an expression of the goodness of God.

The Grace of God is..

God’s goodness is much more glorious when it is shown to those who only deserve evil.

The etymology of the word indicates a bowing and inclination towards another. In other words, the favor that one receives or gives to another.

Used with reference to God, however, its object is never creatures in general, nor the Gentiles, but only his people.

The voluntary, unrestrained, and unmerited favor that he shows to sinners and that, instead of the verdict of death, brings them righteousness and life.

As such it is a virtue and attribute of God (Rom. 5.15; 1 Pet. 5.10), demonstrated in the sending his Son, who is full of grace (John 1.14; 1 Pet. 1.13), and additionally in the bestowal of all sorts of spiritual and material benefits, all of which are the gifts of grace and are themselves called “grace” (Rom. 5.20; 6.1; Eph. 1.7; 2.5,8; Phil. 1.2; Col. 1.2; Titus 3.7; etc), thus radically excluding all merit on the part of humans (Jn. 1.17; Rom. 4.4, 16; 6.14, 23; 11.5ff; Eph. 2.8; Gal. 5.3-4).”

 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1 p. 214

Boasting Before God?

Erik Raymond —  October 4, 2012

My monthly article at Christianity.com is up. In it I deal with the foolishness of clinging to our own performance before God and the necessity of clinging to Christ’s for us.

Here is a sample:

I have found that it is customary for legalists to keep these types of lists nearby. Some do so on paper, others on their phone, and still others in their minds. At any rate, the list is easy to find and often times the front line defense in the battle against a guilty conscience or questions from without. After all, who can argue with such a resume?

But the Christian on the other hand does not carry about lists of our good deeds. We don’t because we can’t. We are sinners. I could make a list of my good deeds, but it would amount to a post-it note on the backside of the tractor-trailer of my depravity. And the post-it note would read “all of grace.” I am a sinner.

You can read the rest here.

So encouraging to know the neither the problem nor the solution has changed in the last 350 years:

The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion—is that we do not warm them with thoughts of God. Hold a magnifying glass to the sun, and the glass burns that which is near to it. So when our thoughts are lifted up to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, our affections are set on fire. No sooner had the spouse been thinking upon her Savior’s beauty—but she fell into love-sickness. (Song of Sol. 5:8).

O saints, do but let your thoughts dwell upon the love of Christ, who passed by angels and thought of you; who was wounded that, out of his wounds, the balm of Gilead might come to heal you; who leaped into the sea of his Father’s wrath, to save you from drowning in the lake of fire! Think of this unparalleled love, which sets the angels wondering—and see if it will not affect your hearts and cause tears to flow forth! — Thomas Watson (The Great Gain of Godliness), p. 87

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As Christians we understand that everything we do is to be an act of worship (1 Cor. 10.31) and if we do anything that does not glorify God then we ought to repent and get busy doing what is honorable to our Lord. So what about watching sports? How can you watch sports to the glory of God?

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It was as marked a contrast as I can remember. One day I came home from work cursing God’s name and the next I opened the same door proclaiming his goodness to me.

I had grown up Roman Catholic but was not very good at it. In fact, my religion looked a lot more like atheism than Catholicism. I acted like there was no God; whether he was dead or nonexistent I did not know. I just knew that I did not fear him.

Then the God that I neither knew nor feared drew near to me. He began pressing hard upon me. He convicted me of sin and made me to despair. My fear of death and judgment overwhelmed me. A dead or nonexistent God could not explain what I was going through. He had knocked me off balance. I was unsettled and looking for answers.

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As Christians we typically bounce off of two extremes:

  1. Undervaluing the work of Christ by clinging to our own merit
  2. Undervaluing the work of Christ by wallowing in our guilt

This is as dangerous as it is insane (and unbelieving).

Sometimes I find myself bouncing off of these opposing and perilous walls within the same day.

Continue Reading…

I appreciated this quote in the midst of a very helpful book by Tim Chester:

In Greek mythology, the Sirens would sing enchanting songs drawing sailors irresistibly toward the rocks and certain shipwreck. Odysseeus filled his crew’s ears with wax and had them tie him to the mast. This is the approach of legalism. We bind ourselves up with laws and disciplines in a vain attempt to resist temptation.

Orpheus, on the other hand, played such beautiful music on his harp that his sailors ignored the seducitons of the Sirens’ song. This is the way of faith.

The grace of the gospel sings a far more glorious song than the enticements of sin, if only we have the faith to hear its music. –Tim Chester, You Can Change, p.57

It reminds me of the truth that flesh cannot defeat the flesh (Colossians 2.23). In order to grow in godliness it must come through the transforming grace of Christ (cf Colossians 3). This sweet gospel song is so attractive and gloriously captivating to Christ’s sheep.

Sometimes in life you hit a patch of trials. Things just seem to come rapid fire at a speed too difficult to adjust to or handle.

As Christians we know that God is both Sovereign and Good. Therefore, nothing comes down the pike of providence that has not been vetted by divine wisdom and goodness. This brings us encouragement amid difficult seasons.

During these seasons of refining we often ask ourselves and hear our friends ask us, “How are you responding to this?” This is a good and right question. In fact, we are told by James that we are to “count it all joy…when we encounter trials of various kinds” (James 1.3). We must be reminded of God’s loving, sovereign, good purpose in the trial.

However, I want to push it a bit further. I’m afraid that, too often, I run through my “character of God filter” without running through my presence and power of God filter.

In 2 Corinthians 12 we learn that Paul was afflicted by a thorn in the flesh. This was intended by God to prevent conceit. In the midst of Paul dealing with this trial he asked God multiple times to remove it. That is, he wanted relief. The weight of this trial upon the chest of his soul was too heavy.

I don’t think that Paul had difficulty with his theology. He knew of God’s sovereign goodness to him. However, he needed to hear of God’s gracious power.

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You know those people that have a laugh that makes others smile and laugh? I know you do. These are special people. I have a few in my life.

With those people, I have been known to think up jokes before hand and then try the surprise attack on them in a conversation. It’s kind of like a joke ninja move. It works. People laugh. I laugh. We all feel better.

I happen to also be married to one of those people with the good gift of infectious laughter. When my wife gets going, I mean, really gets to laughing, there is little that you can do to stop it. It is like a laughing tornado; you will get caught up and taken away to laughter land.

This happened last night as we went out as a family to watch Gulliver’s Travels. Jack Black is funny as advertised. This movie did not dissapoint.

What was interesting was how our 18 month-old little girl responded–not to the movie, but to her Momma. In one scene Jack Black is being tortured by a giant little girl. He was dressed up in baby doll clothes and is being forced to do things he does not want to. At this point my wife is dying with laughter. She is hitting me, kicking me, hardly breathing, and just managing to make a sound that is as funny as it is captivating. And our little girl is just locked in with this grin. She is smiling at her Mom as she laughs hysterically. She has no clue what is so funny, but she is laughing. (by the way, the other people in the theater also joined in with laughter. Their laughter was prolonged and I have a hunch that Mrs Raymond is to blame/credit for it.)

This reaction by our little one got me thinking as I was smiling. Laughter is such a good gift from God. When we are laughing we are carefree. We have momentarily escaped from the felt reality of this cursed world. We are transported to a place where we can honestly and heartedly…be happy. We do it without regard. We laugh out loud. We don’t care who hears us, we are laughing! What a blessed escape from life this is.

This is why I think it is important to have people around you who are funny. You need people who can make you laugh. This is especially true for pastors. I have a guy that I will text or call and say, “bring the levity.” He does not disappoint; he’s a funny cat. You obviously have to balance this out or you’ll be a joke and never take anything seriously; life is not a Calvin and Hobbes comic book. You get the point.

I’m praising God for the renewed realization of the gift of laughter. God is good to give us this gift in the midst of a broken world. These bursts of laughter are a reminder of a day and kingdom coming where happiness prevails. There will be laughter and singing there. There will be no more mourning or sadness. Laughter will not be an escape from that place but a trademark of it. God’s people will be happy. Until then, I praise him for the common grace of funny people and good gut laughs.

I am thankful for…

Erik Raymond —  November 26, 2009

Realizing that thankfulness is not merely manners but a spiritual apprehension graced by God (Rom. 1.21; Col. 3.17), I have a short list of things I am thankful for this am…

I am thankful that God made a covenant with his Son to save his people from their sins (John 17.4)

I am thankful that God created this world as the stage to display his glory (Ps. 19.1-7)

I am thankful that God created men & women to reflect his image, enjoy his creation and rule righteously over it (Gen. 1.26-28)

I am thankful that God did not destroy the world when our first parents sinned, but instead announced that he would bring relief (Gen. 3.15)

I am thankful that God continued to lovingly communicate redemption through the prophets at various stages (1 Pet. 1.10-12)

I am thanfkul that Jesus, God’s Son became a man without ceasing to be God, in order to earn my redemption (John 1.1, 14)

I am thankful that Jesus, motivated by love and in obedience to his Father, fully obeyed the Law of God in the place of a rebel like me (John 8.29; Matt. 3.17)

I am thankful that Jesus own life of obedience is a sufficient basis to credit & cover me with so that I might stand blameless, holy and beyond reproach in his site (Rom. 3.26; Col. 1.22)

I am thankful that the sufficiency & perfection of Jesus’ work is eternal, it will not fade and is forever acceptable in the site of God (Heb. 7.25-27)

I am thankful that Jesus did not cave into pressures, become weak, or turn aside from the cross as he marched resolutely to Golgotha in order to be the surety for my debt of not obeying God’s Law (Matt. 26.39)

I am thankful that upon that cross Jesus fully drank the divine cup of wrath that was due a rebel like me; the foaming, fully fermented cup of righteous wrath, that was due me, is now empty and therefore I have peace with God (Rom. 3.24-26, 5.1)

I am thankful that Jesus powerfully rose from the dead, furnishing proof that he is who he said he was, and God has accepted him (Acts 17.31)

I am thankful that Jesus is the head of the church, that is he is the Lord and lifegiver of it (Col. 1.18)

I am thankful that Jesus will come again for his church, finally defeat all of his foes, and put all things into subjection to himself as he will rule over creation righteously as the Last Adam (Eph. 1.10-12, 20-22; 1 Cor. 15.24-25)

I am thankful that God has given his Holy Spirit to point me to Jesus, instruct me in Jesus, by unfolding the Word of God that I might know, enjoy and be satisfied in God alone (1 Cor. 2.10-16; 2 Cor 3.17-18)

I am thankful for many many other blessings this Thankgsiving, however, at the end of the day the source and substance of all that is truly a blessing is the knowledge of, experience of and joy in God himself.

A Picture that Captures Me

Erik Raymond —  November 5, 2009

My  life, his grace, his truth, his power.  It is worth a thousand words and I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing it.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4.6)

The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area -Lev 16.22

According to Jewish tradition the scapegoat, after being escorted outside the camp and into the desert, was tossed off of a cliff so that he would not ever return. As such the carrier of the sins and grief of the people, and therefore the sins and grief themselves, are removed from them.

Surely you can see Christ in this type! Our glorious Savior was dispatched to Azazel to carry our sins and grief (Is. 53.4-6). His escort was not a selected Israelite but the Holy Spirit.  He resolutely marched as the innocent one, bearing up under divine displeasure for us. He was thrust off of the cliff of rejection, abandonment and judgment that our sin might be forever removed (Ps. 103.12). Just as if the goat did not go into the desert then the old saints would not have smiled upon the Day of Atonement, so too if Christ had not set his face unto the desert of rejection and wrath we would have no reason to smile.

O’ the glorious Savior who fully bore our sins in his body upon the tree (1 Pet. 2.24). What is left to do but smile upon him with cleansed hearts full of joy.

Psst: God Loves You

Erik Raymond —  August 16, 2009
the-calvinists-love.jpg

Hi, my name is Erik. I am a Calvinist and I have a problem.

I’ve noticed a bit of a theological and devotional imbalance. Perhaps you can relate. I love Christ, his gospel, the theology that encompasses these things. I love to meditate, talk, and even dream about Christ and the gospel.

However, something in me flinches when I say that God loves me. You can put your eyebrow back down. If you are swimming in the Reformed side of the pool you know what I am talking about. I often feel like I need to qualify the conditions of God’s love towards me, by rushing to articulate such things such as grace, mercy and election. Don’t get me wrong these are all true expression of God’s love for me but I am uncomfortable just saying Paul’s words as if they are my own:

Galatians 2:20 20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

This is what bugs me.

Perhaps it is an over reaction against the pop-evangelical portrayal of Jesus as everybody’s boyfriend instead of Lord and King, I don’t know.

At any rate, the Bible is clear: God loves his children. I need to stop there. I need to loiter around this monument of theological truth. Too often, out of a fallen understanding, I try to chase this sweet taste of divine benevolence with other theological tonics, as if I am feeling guilty or something. This is not right. Any theology that cannot marvel and enjoy the love of God in Christ Jesus is not divinely calibrated.

So here I am today talking to myself and instead of listening to myself. I need to have my mind renewed by the word of God (Rom. 12.1-2) that I might properly esteem and enjoy the great and marvelous Savior who loved me and gave himself up for me.

I definitely do not have it all figured out and the more I grow the more chinks in the armor I see. Thanks be to God for his illuminating grace through sanctification. Thanks be to God for his love for me.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

[originally posted in June of 2007]