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Is Donald Trump a Theological Populist?

Jul 28, 2015 | Erik Raymond

donald trump on forgivenessHave you seen Donald Trump in the news lately? If you haven’t then you haven’t been watching the news. The billionaire businessman seems to be making headlines daily.

Of course, a main reason for this is not only what Mr. Trump says but how he says it. He is striking a chord as something of an unfiltered populist. Many people claim that he is touching on issues that they want to be discussed. And as a result, he is fast becoming a voice for many Americans.

Trump the…Theologian?

Some recent comments indicate that his representation may be a bit more broad than simply the economy and immigration, however. Mr. Trump has been dipping his toe in the formidable ocean of religion.

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Sola Scriptura or Sola Cardia?

Jul 27, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Protestants speak of the term sola Scriptura as foundational to our understanding the Bible. But, what does it mean? And, why is it important?

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. (John MacArthur via Ligonier)

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” — Westminster Confession of Faith

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Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things

Jul 24, 2015 | Erik Raymond

small flower

I don’t know that I have ever seen an experience that could rival it. There was crying so loud that people could hear it from a far distance away. The crying was strange though, it was mixed with happiness and lament. It was 2,500 or so years ago in the land of Israel. The exiles had returned and had laid the foundation for the new temple. The older folks were wailing with lament because they had seen the previous temple in all of its glory. The younger folks who had grown up in exile were excited and full of joy as they looked ahead to this new temple.

The strange chorus of weeping and wailing punctuates the epic scene in Ezra 3 as the foundation for the new temple is laid.

At the same time we can read of the prophet Zechariah dealing with the attitudes of lament here as well as the forthcoming fear of man in chapters 4-5 of Ezra. One of the big prophetic hammers that Zechariah brings to this party is a statement about what God is doing and the fact that people are not to despise the day of small things.

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”…For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (Zech. 4.6-7,10)

What is smaller than a group of 40,000 exiled rejects returning to a God-forsaken land, embarking on a building project to bring a kingdom?

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How to Marvel at Your Wife’s Creativity

Jul 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond

We all know that women are very different then men. However, we don’t always appreciate it.

Over the last several years I have watched my wife prepare for birthday parties, holiday seasons, or other special events. She, like many women, gives considerable time and attention to the details. In particular she works to ensure that the colors, design, and even the most minute matters are covered. I’ve seen gum balls color-coded, paper cut outs, cup cakes and napkins match, balloons, sparkly soda, snow sprinkles on a red table cloth, swirly straws, and even a big metal bucket filled with ice to so people will feel “festive” when they get their drink. This is what women do. Men on the other hand, we think function. We reuse our forks, wipe our chin on our sleeves, and pass on the straws. We skim past the details without noticing.

In the past I have noticed the details and asked, “why?” My wife lovingly instructed me that it is an expression of creativity, joy, and love. It is festive.

While struggling to pull this type of thing off my self, I have come to appreciate it. What’s more, I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm so as to love my wife more, appreciate our differentness, and marvel at God’s design.

If you were to comb through your Old Testament you would find that God is a God of detail. You have chapters and chapters of detail about the tabernacle in Exodus. We have dimensions, colors, types, and all other specifics. Like the detail that my wife expends I can zoom past these. I understand the big picture and pass on through to the next chapter. I understand the expressions. I understand the expressions?

The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ. The types and shadows of the Old Testament ultimately point forward to Jesus (1 Cor. 5.7; 1 Cor. 10; Lk. 24). The chapters of description of the tabernacle and the temple demonstrate the infinite beauty, holiness, and varied complexity of Jesus. When God speaks of these symbols he showcases his love for the glory of Christ. God goes through great detail to construct the shadows in order to serve the substance (Jesus).

Therefore, when I look at the frills, the colors, the designs, the Pinterest Boards, the sketches, and the actual parties, I can marvel at the way in which my wife loves the person she is honoring. This reminds me of how our Father loves to honor our glorious Savior. Far from zooming past the details we can spend a moment to marvel at these reflections of creativity that express love. We will find ourselves appreciating the way our wives honor others while seeing the Father express his love for Jesus.

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Book Review- Expository Preaching with Word Pictures

Jul 22, 2015 | Erik Raymond

expository preaching with word picturesPreaching has fallen on hard times in our day.  Many insist that pulpit ministries are boring, ineffective, outdated, and irrelevant.  And if you listen to a sampling of sermons from various pulpits, there is an element of some truth to the frustrations.

So how does the preacher who wants to preach the word of God not get in the way and make the sermon become the Sunday morning equivalent to the flight attendant’s reading of the pre-flight safety instructions?

Author and pastor Jack Hughes has some ideas.  He has written a very helpful book entitled Expository Preaching with Word Pictures.  Hughes is convinced for the need of more colorful and descriptive preaching in our day.  To help with the task he enlists the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson.  Watson is renown for his ability to carve spiritual truth into our minds through powerfully weighted words.

Consider these examples:

“Zeal in a minister is as proper as fire on the altar. Some are afraid to reprove, like the swordfish which has a sword in his head, but is without a heart. So they carry the sword of the Spirit with them—but have no heart to draw it out in reproof against sin. How many have sown pillows under their people, Ezek. 13:18, making them sleep so securely, that they never awoke until they were in hell!”

“The sins of the wicked pierce Christ’s side.  The sins of the godly go to his heart.”

“A godly man loves the Word preached, which is a commentary upon the Word written. This day-star has risen in his heart, and ushered in the Sun of righteousness. The Scriptures are the sovereign oils and balsams; the preaching of the Word is the pouring of them out. The Scriptures are the precious spices; the preaching of the Word is the beating of these spices, which causes a wonderful fragrance and delight.”

Hughes labors to prove the Scriptural basis to use (and not abuse) word pictures and illustrations.  He interacts with many of the popular objections and then continues to demonstrate biblically the need for such a practice in the pulpit.

In the chapter entitled “Do is yourself Word Pictures” Hughes endeavors to help preachers find illustrations and word pictures in their lives and world around them.  This is a most helpful chapter for preachers.  He follows this chapter with a word of caution to those who may be given unto excess and misuse the pens of word pictures by scribbling over and veiling the very text they intending to highlight.

Finally, Hughes includes a 100 page appendix of topical organized quotes from Thomas Watson.  This is a very helpful resource for the Bible teacher; if you can’t think of something on your own you can cruise on back to Watson’s pantry and borrow some of his supplies.

Expository Preaching with Word Pictures is a helpful tool for preachers; I found it very encouraging and instructive.

You may pick up a copy of this book at Amazon.

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Simple, Practical Ways to Improve Your Preaching

Jul 21, 2015 | Erik Raymond

open window fresh airOver the years I have heard a lot of sermons; some have been good others, not so much. If you are a preacher then you, like me, want to get better. In this post I’ll take for granted that we understand that no sermon will get off the ground unless it is preaching the Scriptures. If you are not doing this then anything I write here will not help you. What follows here are 5 simple, practical preaching helps. As I study preaching and preachers these things are present in consistently helpful, good expositions.

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The God of Peace

Jul 20, 2015 | Erik Raymond

still waterWe are accustomed to reading of politicians and diplomats laboring earnestly to resolve international conflict through peace treaties. But, what tends to happen after an agreement is signed? It seems as though before the ink is even dry, there needs to be another summit to make another treaty because the former one has already been violated. Peace seems to be as elusive as it is desired.

This is why it is particularly striking to read that God is called the God of peace (Heb. 13:20).

Fact, Feeling, or Both?

When you first read those words how do you think of the word peace? Do you think in subjective terms—I feel a peace from God, or objective terms—I have peace with God? Most people tend toward the first while assuming the second. I want to convince you that the author is referring to the second and that the subjective peace comes as a (blessed) result of it.

How is God the God of Peace?

What does this mean that God is the God of peace? God is the source of peace, maker of peace, and the one who gives peace. There is no true and lasting peace outside of him.

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The Essential Edwards Collection

Jul 17, 2015 | Erik Raymond

edwards collectionIt is a scene that I’ve seen replayed several times over. Someone comes across a few lines from the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and they are mesmerized. They ask, “Who talks like this?” When they find out that it was Jonathan Edwards they begin researching and then read the rest of the sermon and begin other writings. Then, like a drill running low on battery, they lose steam. Edwards’ writing is something of a thick piece of wood. Some would even say he is a stud. Because his writing is so theologically dense he is tough to work through. People get discouraged and decide to stay away from the guy with the fantastic quotes and outstanding hair.

What they need is some help. They need Edwards’ writing to be a bit more accessible. John Piper has done this for an entire generation, not the least with God’s Passion for His Glory. But even this, for some, is tough sledding.

Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney have worked hard to serve the church by putting together an accessible introduction to the life and thought of Edwards. It is both theological and biographical. The authors compiled a series of 5 books entitled The Essential Edwards Collection:  Jonathan Edwards Lover of GodJonathan Edwards On BeautyJonathan Edwards On Heaven and HellJonathan Edwards On the Good Life, and Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity.

The endorsements are helpful and spot-on:

“Why hasn’t this been done before? The Essential Edwards Collection is now essential reading for the serious-minded Christian. Doug Sweeney and Owen Strachan have written five excellent and accessible introductions to America’s towering theological genius – Jonathan Edwards.  They combine serious scholarship with the ability to make Edwards and his theology come alive for a new generation. The Essential Edwards Collection is a great achievement and a tremendous resource. I can’t think of a better way to gain a foundational knowledge of Edwards and his lasting significance.” - R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Everyone says Jonathan Edwards is important. Quite frankly, however, his writing style is pretty dense by contemporary standards, so few pastors and other Christian leaders have invested much time reading him. This new series tackles the problem. Here is the kernel of much of Edwards’s thought in eminently accessible form.” - D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“In The Essential Edwards Collection, Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney point with knowledge and excitement to clear and searching sections that illuminate God’s truth and search our hearts. In this collection, Edwards is introduced to a new generation of readers. His concerns are made our concerns. This is a worthy effort and I pray that God will bless it.” - Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC.

The books are the small paperbacks weighing in at about 150 pages. They are written with plenty of section headers, application questions, and historical details. Anyone wanting to get to know Edwards in a non-intimidating way should pick these up. You can get the entire set or buy them individually. My guess is that once you read through some of these you’ll be inclined to pick up more of Edwards’ own writings. And, you’ll have the steam to get through it!

The Essential Edwards set is discounted at Amazon (kindle — all 5 books for $16!).

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Pastors: An Idea for your Next Sermon Series

Jul 16, 2015 | Erik Raymond

ezra nehemiah

Preachers love to preach. We love to dive down deep, mining God’s Word for glorious, eternal treasures and then to swim back up to the service, sharing them with our church each week. But sometimes we get a little preacher’s cramp in so far as what to preach next. After preaching through Ezra and Nehemiah, I am thoroughly convinced that pastors, in particular those who are in the work of church planting revitalization, should prayerfully consider preaching through these books.

Here are some reasons…

New Beginnings: Ezra starts out with the people of God in Babylon. Within a verse or two God is stirring the heart of a pagan King (Cyrus) to send his people back to Israel to rebuild the temple and reestablish the covenant community. It is time for a new day. In particular for a church plant or revitalization, this helps to show how God works in people and communities to build something new.

Idolatry: The books are replete with examples of what idolatry is. Everywhere from the negligence of the weak in Nehemiah 8 to the ignorance of the Sabbath in order to make wine in Nehemiah 13, God shows how the elevation of good things to ultimate things is actually a replacement of what is ultimate, namely the worship and adoration of the Lord God. This primes the pump for a crucial discussion on idolatry.

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Remembering He Gives Life

Jul 15, 2015 | Erik Raymond

blooming tulips

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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