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Some Things Are Not What They Appear to Be

Apr 28, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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Sometimes things are not what they appear. I have stared for what felt like hours into one of the magic eye books waiting to “see it”. To my shame I have put the book down many times confessing that I didn’t see it.

This happens in our Bible reading too. Remember a couple of vivid occasions in the gospel narrative: Judas kissed Jesus and we also see Peter run away. If we were there we may think that Judas was the man while Peter was tucking it and running. However, Judas was in fact the worst kind of betrayer while Peter turned out to be loyal unto death. Consider also the scene in Genesis 3, the Garden of Eden. The jewel of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, are flirting with disaster. They are being lulled to sleep by the hissing promises of the evil one. They cave and God judges. From the outside it looks like this is done. However, things are not like they appear. God says,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”” (Genesis 3:15)

There is the promise of adversity and ultimate triumph. The verse here still is not without some language that has us set up for something we don’t fully expect. There will be a crushing of the head by the seed of the woman but also the bruising of the heel by the offspring of the serpent.

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How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Apr 27, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, Let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring, and replenishing love.

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This Vineyard Makes Gospel Wine

Apr 25, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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.

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Love is Patient

Apr 24, 2015 | Erik Raymond

This past Sunday I was not preaching and therefore was blessed to lead the congregation in the confession of sin. It is always a rich time together as we prepare our hearts for worship by considering what God requires and what Christ has done. We are presently walking through 1 Cor 13 to be reminded what the Bible says about love. It is teaching us about where we need to repent even as it teaches us how we must treasure Christ. Here are my notes from Sunday.


 

1 Corinthians 13:4 we read the profound and powerful words: Love is patient.

What does this mean? When we think of patience we may think of the word tranquil or peaceful. This is a good start for us. However, the word is nuanced a bit to involve some type of opposition or perhaps even suffering. This is important because it means that when the heat gets turned up around us or within us–we can take it. We don’t lash out, we don’t give up, we don’t lose it.

When we think about patience we have to think about God himself. He is said to be very patient when provoked.

  • “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)
  • “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6)

How do we root out a lack of love that is characterized by impatience? We can think through what this teaches us about how we respond to people. If we lack patience with people then we are lacking love for them. The Bible is clear that we are to love both enemy and friend alike, therefore we are to be patient with all.

Consider this past week, or even the last day.

  • In your relationships, are you patient? Are you loving others?
  • Has someone gotten under your skin lately? Have you become unsettled and lashed out at them?
  • Husbands and wives: Is your relationship characterized by love’s fruit of patience?
  • Parents, consider your relationship with your kids. Do you find yourself patient with your children when they disobey? Are your expectations reasonable so as to foster obedience and loving patience?
  • Children consider your relationship with your brothers and sisters. Are you patient with them? Do you yell at them when they don’t listen to you or do what you want them to do right away?
  • Was there an issue at work this week? How did you respond?
  • Have you lashed out on social media or in a text? Do you take to the public airways to air your frustrations?
  • Do you yell and scream at people who cut you off on the road? Do you go to war with your vehicular enemies?
  • Are you losing your temper when things don’t go your way? Can you handle adversity with patience?
  • Are you patient with God’s timing? Do you find it difficult to embrace providence?
  • Even when persecuted for righteousness sake we are to maintain the peaceful fruit of love; patience.

How do we respond?
We pray in confession of sin. We take these items that God brings to our mind and we scurry to him in prayer. Even as we do, we remember that God is patient with us because Jesus was the incarnation of love and always patiently endured when wronged in our place. Therefore, we stand in his righteousness even as we pray with confession of our sin.

Our Father, as your children we climb up to your lap in prayer to confess our sin to you. Your word has highlighted the importance of patience in both pleasant and difficult times. How often we fall short of what you require. And how often do we justify our shortcomings based upon the circumstances that press upon us. Forgive us, Our Father. Forgive us for our lack of patience, our lack of love. Cleanse us again with the pardoning grace that Christ bought for us. And work renewal into us that bears fruit in keeping with repentance. May we encourage each other towards this patience. Make us to be a people, a church that is characterized by a loving patience which reflects you our patient and loving God.

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Book Review- The Creedal Imperative

Apr 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Perhaps you’ve heard or even yourself said, “I have no creed but the Bible.” This phrase used to promote biblical fidelity is also commonly deployed as a missile against creeds, confessions, and other historic, man-made documents such as catechisms. But is this dichotomy helpful? Is it even biblical? Are historic documents and biblical fidelity mutually exclusive?

Carl Trueman wrote The Creedal Imperative to address this question and its apparent tension in some people’s minds. His short answer is: no. The dichotomy is not helpful. It is not biblical. The documents and the Bible are not mutually exclusive. In fact, says Trueman, these documents are very helpful and important.

Trueman investigates the suspicion people have of these documents and lends a possible solution that people are more shaped by the spirit of this age than they appear. He shows how science, consumerism, and technology all serve to eschew the past as they triumphantly march into the future only to take a brief bow in the present. On the other hand, creeds and confessions have a link to a time that many people in various sectors view with some degree of suspicion and superiority. In some cases this is right. We would be quite alarmed to find our doctor looking up how to do medicine from books in the 1700’s. However, the medicine of the soul is a bit different. The symptoms and treatment do not change with time. We should guard against such unbiblical thinking that resists our past. (more…)

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Tips for Evangelistic Intentionality

Apr 22, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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Faithful evangelism is so crucial to the health of a church. The gospel that is grasped is given away. Most Christians agree and even want to see this happen but often struggle with implementing it in their lives. In this post I want to provide a few practical, immediate things that you can do to foster more evangelistic faithfulness.

Grapple with the Great Commission. Read Matthew 28:18-20 again. Who is in the passage? Jesus and his disciples. What are the disciples to do? Make and train disciples. What do they train them on? Obedience to Jesus’ commands. Does this “Great Commission” fall in the category of a command from King Jesus? Yes. Are you going to obey Jesus?

Identify 3-4 people for encouragement and accountability. Think of a few people who you know from church that you know will pray for you, keep you accountable, and are bold enough to exhort you if you go into default chicken mode. Get together as friends (ideally 3-4 people) and identify unbelievers that you know, have contact with or would like to see come to Christ. Consider neighbors, coworkers, family members, people you see frequently, or even places where random people are that you can talk to (i.e. public transit). Write down the names, make a plan for gospel opportunities, and then pray for one another. Follow up periodically for encouragement and accountability. Consider what this looks like if it multiples: groups of 3-4 praying for and pursuing 9-12 people turns into 15-20 people praying for and pursuing 45-60 people.

Pray for evangelistic opportunities. Think about Paul. The guy was an evangelism beast—yet he still requested prayer for boldness and faithfulness:

and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19-20)

Take evangelistic opportunities. It is my experience that if I am praying for God to bring me evangelistic opportunities then I am much more likely to see and seize them. If I am not praying I tend to operate with the comfortable fog of selfishness and silence. Pray for opportunities, it is a very healthy thing for a Christian to do.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— (Colossians 4:2-3)

I think of Paul before Felix in Acts 24. He was looking at some serious consequences. However, instead of being safe he was faithful. He stood before Felix and talked to him about God’s Word. This is a providential opportunity. Instead of flattering the sandals off Felix like Tertullus did (Acts 24:2-4) he tried to preach unbelief out of him (Acts 24:24-25)! He took the opportunities that he prayed that God would give him!

Make evangelistic opportunities. When you heart is drenched in the gospel you will become creative in trying to give it away. Remember when Paul was in jail in Philippi? He and Silas were having a hymn sing and praying to God as they were locked in the chains. The other prisoners and the guards were getting gospeled even when Paul and Silas were bound. Then God unlocked them and the prison. You might think that Paul would run out of there and maybe stick out his tongue at the guard, right? Nope. He stops to give the gospel to the now suicidal guard. The evangelist made an opportunity because his compass was oriented by gospel.

Paul did not have another great commission. He had the same words. He had to grapple with the same kingship / authority / submission / fear issues that we do. So, let me encourage you to grapple with the great commission, grab some friends to join you, and then get to work in the privilege of giving away the gospel.

(image source: Shutterstock)

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Do You Have a Dysfunctional Relationship with God?

Apr 21, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Regrettably, this scene has been repeated many times in pastoral counseling. The husband and wife come in to talk about their marriage. As they sit down the wife positions herself with her back slightly turned away from her husband. The husband responds by inching away from her to increase the standard buffer zone between seats. I am writing a couple of things down in my notebook while looking up to observe. They are both looking away from each other, avoiding any interaction.

“What is going on guys?” I ask. “We are having issues.” The wife says, as the husband lets out a sigh like air from a slashed tire. The room gets increasingly tense as they both get louder and more defensive. In time I ask some simple questions and find out that this couple hasn’t spoken in weeks, they don’t sleep in the same room (let alone the same bed), and neither seem willing to make a move in humility. As they talk neither listens to what the other is saying.

You don’t have to be a professional counselor to conclude that this is not a healthy relationship. In fact, you would quite easily conclude that this is a dysfunctional relationship.

What is so troubling to me is how many professing Christians have a similar relationship with God, let’s call it a dysfunctional relationship. In every counseling situation and in an alarmingly high rate of regular conversation with Christians, I have observed that many people do not pray regularly, read their Bibles devotionally, or prioritize the Lord’s Day gathering of the church.

Why is this important? Healthy relationships are characterized by communication and the experience of each other’s loving, assuring, faithful presence. How do we talk to God? We pray to him. We unload the burdens of our hearts before God, trusting in his love, care, power, and even his desire to hear from us (Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 5:6-8). How do we hear from God? We read the Bible, this is God’s word to us. In the Scriptures we hear God speak about who he is, what he has done, and what he will do (Mt. 4:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). As some have said, “Do you want to hear God speak to you? Read the Bible. Do you want him to speak audibly? Read it aloud.” How do we experience his faithful presence? In particular (though not limited to this) we gather together as a local church to worship. In this assembly we meet with the Triune God through prayer, the ministry of the Word, the Lord’s Table, Baptism, and the fellowship of the saints. God is said to be with us in the assembly and warns us against forsaking or otherwise taking it for granted (Heb. 10:25, 12:22-29; Rev. 1:13).

Like a regular relationship, we have to see the warning signs here in our spiritual relationship. If we find ourselves intentionally avoiding or carelessly neglecting communion with God then we are on a troubling trajectory. Regardless of its apparent prevalence, a dysfunctional relationship with God is neither ideal nor healthy. It is also unbiblical. God’s people love God, love God’s word, and love God’s people. It is a symptom of a very serious problem when these things are not present and regular in a Christian’s life.  And unlike the common excuse in marriage, you cannot say, “It’s his fault.” God is there with ears open to hear your prayers, the ink of his word is wet and ready for you to read, and he is always attending your Sunday gathering. So, adjust your posture, stop turning your back to him, and come to him in the humility of repentance and faith to get to work on this most precious of all relationships.

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Book Review- Compelling Community

Apr 20, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I recently reviewed Compelling Community from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, the latest in the 9Marks series of publications. I really enjoyed the book. I quote a portion of the review below, but you can read the full review here.

Often the word community is casually tossed around like a Frisbee at a church picnic. Most are familiar enough with it to comfortably “give it a toss” but don’t often think deeply about its dynamics. What would you say community is in your church? Is it small groups? Perhaps it’s a fellowship meal. Maybe it’s men or women getting together. Whatever the case, community likely involves church people getting together for one reason or another. This is a good start, but there is more.

In the latest release from 9Marks, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop thoughtfully advance the conversation in Compelling CommunityWhere God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive. Dever and Dunlop serve together as pastors at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dunlop discloses that while the book is written in his voice, it includes significant influence and input from Dever. Therefore, they are co-authors.

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Dever and Dunlop distinguish between “gospel-plus” community and “gospel-revealing” community. I found this distinction to be most helpful.

“Gospel-plus” community is characterized by people’s natural similarities to build community. ”In gospel-plus community, nearly every relationship is founded on the gospel plus something else,” the authors observe. ”Sam and Joe are both Christians, but the real reason they’re friends is that they’re both singers in their 40s, or share a passion to combat illiteracy, or work as doctors” (22). This might be a fine thing, but it says little about the gospel.

In “gospel-revealing” community, on the other hand, many relationships “would never exist” but for the truth and power of the gospel. The authors explain:

[This is] either because of the depth of care for each other or because two people in relationship have little in common but Christ. While affinity-based relationships also thrive in this church, they’re not the focus. Instead, church leaders focus on helping people outside of their comfort zones to cultivate relationships that would not be possible apart from the supernatural. And so this community reveals the power of the gospel. (22-23)

When you think about this point, it just makes sense. Instead of seeing churches build natural things that will surely perish, God builds them on the eternal word and work of Christ. He will not build modern-day Babels that reflect us, but monuments of grace that showcase the glory of the Trinity.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

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Our Reluctance to Go to Christ

Apr 20, 2015 | Erik Raymond

There is an essential internal dialog of the heart when we sin. There is a point when the fog of our heart’s deception must be cut through with the promise and power of Christ. M’Cheyne exposes the contrast here via his own personal narrative as informed by Scripture.

I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go, as if it were making Christ a minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded they are all lies, direct from hell.

John argues the opposite way: ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.’  I am sure there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin, but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart, but it is the way.”

—Robert Murray M’Cheyne, quoted by Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 176

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Drink, O my Friends, yea, Drink Abundantly!

Apr 17, 2015 | Erik Raymond

The fact that there is boundless, endless, bottomless grace in Christ is a deep consolation to the one who has been made to feel weary and heavy under the weight of their sin. John Owen says beautifully, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly!”

…if all the world should (if I may so say) set themselves to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation; if they should set themselves to draw from one single promise, an angel standing by and crying, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly, take so much grace and pardon as shall be abundantly sufficient for the world of sin which is in every one of you;” — they would not be able to sink the grace of the promise one hair’s breadth. There is enough for millions of worlds, if they were; because it flows into it from an infinite, bottomless fountain.

Will not this suit us in all our distresses? What is our finite guilt before it? Show me the sinner that can spread his iniquities to the dimensions (if I may so say) of this grace. Here is mercy enough for the greatest, the oldest, the stubbornest transgressor, — “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Take heed of them who would rob you of the Deity of Christ. If there were no more grace for me than what can be treasured up in a mere man, I should rejoice [if] my portion might be under rocks and mountains. John Owen, Communion with the Triune God

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