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Contentment is a Work of Grace

May 27, 2015 | Erik Raymond

hand sand losing

I am taking up the topic of contentment in a few articles here on the blog. In a previous post I began writing about what contentment is. This second article continues to focus on the nature of contentment and how we go about learning it.

Contentment is Spiritual

We are staying on track if we stick with our definition of contentment: Contentment is the inward, quiet spirit that joyfully submits to God’s providence.

It is the key for us to understand that contentment is spiritual. Through the gospel, God is working a change in his people. Part of this change that he is working is a change in how we value things.

In Romans 1 we see the ugly pattern of sin. Tragically, we appraise created things as more valuable than God himself. We believe the hollow and hissing promises of the tempter, and like our first parents, exchange God’s truth for a lie, and worship and serve creation instead of God.

What does the gospel do? It unfastens us from finding our meaning, purpose, and identity in created things and enables us to find it in God himself. Remember, this is the way creation was designed to work prior to sin entering the world.

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Is Contentment a Lost Art?

May 26, 2015 | Erik Raymond

StoneWallIf you drive through rural New England towns you will notice an abundance of stone walls. These walls served as property markers hundreds of years ago; and, because they were well built, many remain to this day. However, while the walls remain, the art of building a stone wall has nearly faded away. The craftsmen, who, in a previous age were plentiful are now dwindling to a small number.

A few years ago my dad (who lives in New England) wanted to have a wall built on his property that reflected some of the old world craftsmanship. As he inquired as to who could do it, he found that the list was remarkably small. He got his guy, but, he was booked for months. When he finally came he was like a guy from another age. His tools, work ethic, and even the way he spoke about the wall seemed to be from another time. He represented some of the lost art of mason work.

I wonder if you have experienced something like this when you read Christian biographies or theological works from previous generations. I know I have found myself convicted and a bit taken back by my own shallowness when considering their devotion and depth. One such area is the topic of contentment. When I read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, or The Art of Divine Contentment, by Thomas Watson, I feel like I am hearing from men from another world. (more…)

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Memorial Day Meditation

May 25, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Today is Memorial Day here in the US and it serves a great day to remember those who have served both their generation and the generations to come through their heroic defense of freedom.

I think it is fitting and good to honor those who have sacrificed for others. As a veteran myself,  I am especially inclined to be passionately patriotic. However, as a Christian I see this day as a gigantic arrow pointing to a more Memorial Day.

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Never Offer the Benefits of the Gospel Without the Benefactor Himself

May 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I have been quite refreshed by the book Feed My Sheep. It is a compilation with contributions from Mohler, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur (among others). As you might expect, it is a very helpful reminder and instruction into the priority of preaching.

This particular quote is from Sinclair Ferguson in his chapter preaching to the heart. The whole chapter is very helpful, but this was particularly appropriate:

There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need.

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Called Out of and Into Something

May 22, 2015 | Erik Raymond

leaving2

When we read the New Testament we are reminded that a remarkable transformation has happened. When we become a Christian we are transferred from one kingdom to another. Notice how the Apostle Paul puts it in Colossians 1:13.

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13)

Notice the two words, delivered and transferred.

The first word has to do with a rescue from a dangerous captivity. Believers are rescued from the tyrannical oppression of sin and Satan. Formerly opposed to God and his kingdom rule, we have been rescued, or delivered from it.

Secondly, we have been transferred. This is a change of status. The emphasis is upon the change that comes. The word is used for the sun being changed to darkness (Acts 2:20) or laughter being changed to crying (James 4:9). The transfer is a dramatic change of status from the dominion of darkness to the loving rule of Christ Jesus.

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Book Review- Gather God’s People

May 21, 2015 | Erik Raymond

gather Gods people croftThe Practical Shepherding Series from Brian Croft continues to be a helpful resource for pastors. In one of his latest releases Brian writes with one of his pastors at Auburndale Baptist Church, Jason Adkins. In this volume, Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church, Croft and Adkins offer a practical content to ensure that worship gatherings glorify God and bless God’s people. As a result, the book focuses on helping ministers to focus the worship services upon the Scripture.

The book is divided up into 3 sections. Part 1 focuses on the what the Bible says about worship, part 2 provides instruction on how to plan worship services, and part 3 talks about how pastors can put into practice what they have discussed in parts 1 and 2.

One aspect of this book that I greatly appreciated was how the authors emphasize that planning worship is a pastoral function and that the pastor is a worship leader. Too often we think of the worship leader as the person who leads music. While music is a component of worship it is not all; there is far more worship than music in our Sunday gatherings. The preaching, praying, reading of Scripture, and observances of the ordinances are all leading in worship. Even this little tweak can be revolutionary for pastors and congregations.

One of the strengths of this series by Croft is its accessibility. Practical Shepherding is short and immensely helpful. With this, the books do not cover everything that one might have questions on. There are other books that may provide more thorough treatment on the topics (on the topic of worship consider: Chappel or Kauflin or Cosper). Someone might also read this book and find that their model is a bit different than the context that Croft and Adkins write from. While some may find this to be a demerit of the book, I think this can be helpful for pastors and church leaders. There are some basic truths and convictions that undergird the ministry expressions of faithful churches in different contexts. If a church does not sing hymns or Psalms they can still find help here by the emphasis upon doctrinally rich, Christ-centered songs that drive minds and hearts back to the Scripture.

If you are looking for some practical instruction on why pastors should be active in the planning and leading of worship and then examples of how to do it—then this book will be very helpful for you.

You can pick up a discounted copy of Gather God’s People at Amazon.

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A Good Word from a Veteran Preacher

May 21, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Since many readers of this site are pastors, even young pastors, I thought it would be helpful to share this quote of a confession from Bryan Chapell concerning a misguided practice from his early days of preaching.

 

In my earliest years of ministry, I most valued mining obscure texts. I thought the effort showed how serious I was about all of Scripture. I also believed that handling such passages well would show how qualified I was to preach.

Preaching difficult and little-known texts was like showing my diploma. I later learned to love shedding light on important texts or bringing new life to familiar texts. Concentrating on the Bible’s ‘fine print’ gave people the impression they could not read their Bible’s without me. My pride may have appreciated this perception, but it was poor pastoring.

The Bible became an opaque book full of grammatical mazes and logical knots that I had to untangle each week. Thus, by consistently choosing texts in the Bible’s densest forests, I denied people the sunlight it more regularly offers and made them less willing to approach its paths.

Some people may have thought much of my abilities to handle the Word, but more lost confidence in their ability to do the same. (Chapell, Bryan. Christ-centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 69.)

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Who has Authority to Regulate Marriage?

May 20, 2015 | Erik Raymond

catholic-wedding-songs.jpgMarriage is all over the news today and we as Christians are cringing. And this shows how much things have changed.  All of the marriage chatter, in previous generations, would have been a reason for celebration, but is now an occasion for face-palming. Of course, we know this is not because Christians have fundamentaly changed in our understanding of marriage but because the cultural stream is rushing ahead at white-water speed in its redefinition of marriage.

Who has Authority to Regulate Marriage?

When marriage is discussed in the public square there is a question that routinely gets bypassed. “Who has the right and authority over it? —Who is in charge of it?”

The assumption with marriage, as with the rest of our lives, is that, well, we are! Whatever makes us happy and whatever the majority or the most influential people want to do…this is who has the right to authoritatively speak about marriage. It really is this question of authority that has paved the way for the present moral revolution. Even if it is rarely noticed or acknowledged, authority, like rebar on a highway road, undergirds all of this contemporary debate about marriage. The authoritative answer today is: We have the authority to regulate marriage.

But, this is fraught with a number of problems; I’ll highlight two.

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Book Review- What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

May 19, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I have not been in ministry for a long time (10 years) but I have seen a very big shift. The number one question I have gotten in the last 3 years has to do with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I don’t think that in the previous 7 years combined I’ve had as many conversations about this topic as in these last 12 months. It seems that everyone is talking about it, whether inside and outside the church.

People often ask for resources or more information on the topic, but most of the real good stuff out there is pretty dense and off-putting to the curious church member or biblical illiterate. I’m thankful that Kevin DeYoung has brought his pastoral heart and lucid pen to this subject. In his book What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? DeYoung writes a most helpful book on this subject.

The book breaks into two parts. Part 1 deals with what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. DeYoung shows that the Bible teaches unequivocally that homosexuality is a sin. And, that this is the teaching throughout the Bible and not limited to some obscure, non-applicable portion of the Scripture. In doing this he helps to educate his readers that it is not just the expression of sin that God is opposed to (though he is), but the depravity of the heart, the nature that is rebelling against God’s rule. I thought Kevin was particularly helpful in his careful lexical work to show the continuity between Paul’s thought in Romans 1 and the holiness code in Leviticus. People who walk through that section will find themselves well equipped to easily explain a subject that may have previously been intimidating.

In part 2 he deals with the objections to this interpretation. Chapters such as “Not that Kind of Homosexuality” and “What about Gluttony and Divorce” and “You’re on the Wrong Side of History” and “The God I worship is a God of Love” are quite helpful. DeYoung winsomely and faithfully navigates these perennial questions with pastoral care and biblical precision. Readers who read them will not only be better equipped to answer question but also to answer them without being a jerk. Which, regrettably, is sometimes a problem for us as Christians.

The topic is not going away and neither are the questions. I’m thankful that Kevin DeYoung put in the work to write the book that will serve the broader church. This is definitely a book that I whole-heartedly recommend.

Pick up a discounted copy at Amazon (kindle available)

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Questions to Ask When Adding Ministries

May 18, 2015 | Erik Raymond

If you are an engaged, commitment member of a local church then you have probably at some point said to yourself or a friend, “We should do this ministry.” Often times these types of thoughts and ideas give birth to very fruitful and faithful ministries. As church leaders pastors pray for increasingly burdened and active church members.

But, there is more to it than this.

Let’s say that an entire church membership of 200 people are all burdened for new ministry expressions. Some want to work with international students, others with children in the congregation, still others with women in the church, and others with the poor in the community. And, for the sake of the illustration, they all are bringing these ideas to the pastors. How should the church leaders think through this ideas?

I have found three questions to be very helpful in evaluating ministry. These questions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but rather they represent a process for working through faithful ministry in the local church.

(1) What do we need to do?

This is the question of what the Bible clearly says we as a church are called to do. The Bible is actually quite simple. The church is to assemble together, preach and teach the Bible, pray, read the Scriptures, encourage and admonish one another, observe the Lord’s Supper, baptize new converts, disciple one another, and spend time together. We often complicate things by elevating things that we have seen in other churches or ministry contexts to this level, but at its core, the church is very simple. Before affixing the “we need to do this” label to something we really need to make sure that biblically speaking, we really do need to it.

(2) What do we want to do?

Obviously the categories listed above are quite broad. We have some flexibility and liberty in how we go about doing what we need to do. The Bible doesn’t tell us what time we are to meet, how often to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or how a church should specifically structure their discipleship. But this does not mean that we should not carefully evaluate what we want to do in light of what we need to do. For example, let’s say that someone said that the church needed to begin a college ministry to evangelize and disciple college students. Does this fall into the category of “need to do”? I would say no. The Bible does not say that we need to have a college ministry. A church is still a church even if they do not have a ministry directly dedicated to university students. However, does this mean that it is unbiblical to start such a ministry? Of course not. One can see how it is an expression of evangelism and discipleship to do this. But, it is important to keep our categories right when we are thinking about this; there is a difference between need to and want to.

(3) What should we do?

If the first question is one of faithfulness and the second of desire, this question is about opportunity. We know what we are called to do, and we see opportunities to do this, now, what should we do in light of this?

In our context the Lord has placed us in a community that has a large number of Spanish speaking families without having many (any?) evangelical witness in the area. When we evaluate what we are called to do and what we want to do it becomes clear that we should work to bring the gospel to this community. This decision became easier and clearer when God brought a Spanish-speaking, mature guy to us who shared this burden. We are pursuing this opportunity but not without working through first what God has called us to do and given us a desire to do.

These questions will prove helpful when you consider that for everything you add to you ministry calendar you impact something else. If you add a church event on a weeknight then you will impact your families’ rhythms and lives. It will doubtless impact other ministries as well. Therefore, church leaders and members must be careful to consider not only the question of what they want to do but what they can do. Sometimes ministries need to be shut down and other times ideas need to be put on hold. Working through our calling and context is clarifying and liberating. It keeps us from feeling like we have do everything while reminding us of what we need to do.

I will also say that I have not always done this perfectly (I wish I had!). There are times when I have felt the pressure to ask another question, “What will make people happy?” But this is neither the faithful nor helpful question. We have to ensure we are doing what is right for the church in light of what we read in the Bible. It takes patience and discipline, but it is very much worth it.

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