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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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Faithfully Delivering the Gospel

Apr 16, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Recently I’ve been thinking about the power of the gospel. As I do, I’ve been critiquing my own heart, “Do I really believe this?”

Remember, apart from Christ, humanity is not afflicted with a case of the spiritual sniffles, but rather is spiritually dead, utterly unresponsive to the things of God. Ephesians reminds us of this vividly:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

So what are you, the evangelist, the Christian, to do? Talk to people about Jesus. The power is neither in you nor the sinner, but in the gospel!

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A Gust of Good News

Apr 15, 2015 | Erik Raymond

This morning in my Bible reading I came to a familiar and foriegn passage.

It was familiar because I know it. I can quote it. It is foriegn because it is so alien to this world and its system.

I am talking about these words from Jesus:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus here extends himself to all people. He invites and entreats people to come to him.

But specifically, he invites a certain type of people. He invites hungry and hurting people. That is, those who need labor and need rest.

This hits every person. All people have served and pursued things which cannot satisfy. These created things, when elevated to a level of worship, will only disappoint and discourage us. They cannot meet the need. As a result, like dogs running around a racetrack, whenever we ‘catch the rabbit’ and get what we want, we only want more. This is because we were made for so much more.

The insatiable desire of humanity is intended to find its satisfaction in Christ. It is truly only Christ that can fill and satisfy the hungry and hurting soul.

In this context Jesus is talking to people who have been taking beatings at the hands of religious systems. You may recall that in chapter 12 of Matthew he begins to talk about the Sabbath and what it is intended to mean. Jesus provides that true rest as he brings contentment in himself.

Many have made promises to make people whole and happy, but it is only Christ who could ever offer such things with any sort of integrity.

He heals the broken and satisfies the hungry. This is truly a heavenly draft to bless our souls!

Father, you have given so much, such indescribable riches in Christ. Yet I still find myself groveling at the feet of counterfeit gods. They are cruel masters who cannot satisfy only hurt and afflict. Unfasten me from them. Make me to be one who finds Jesus increasingly glorious! May you, in the power of the Holy Spirit, give me eyes to better see and savor Christ. May his glory truly eclipse all that I see, feel, and desire. In fact, may he be that ultimate soul-satisfying, heart-healing treasure. May all things be subordinated to and in the service of Christ.

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This Shunammite Leaves Gospel Footprints

Apr 14, 2015 | Erik Raymond

In 2 Kings 8 we read of a woman who had been the beneficiary of the powerful kindness of God through his servant Elisha. The Shunammite woman’s son had died and then God used Elisha to raise him from the dead (2 Kings 4.18ff).

Elisha then warned her that a famine was coming and that it was wise to leave her homeland. This advice was taken. In chapter 8 we learn that she has come back to her land to find it in someone else’s hands. She goes to the King and asks for grace. She asked the king for her land back.

A funny thing happened though. As she entered to make her requests known, the King was having his ears filled with the mighty deeds of God through Elisha. More specifically, God’s mighty deeds to this very woman! (2 Kings 8.4-6). This is absolutely amazing. The King, with a somewhat softened heart, gives the woman all of her land back plus the produce from the fields she would have earned had she been there (2 Kings 8.6).

We can’t help but see gospel themes come to the surface as we consider this.

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He Gave Him…That He Might be a Feast for our Souls

Apr 13, 2015 | Erik Raymond

There are few guys, alive or dead, who can get after me like Jonathan Edwards. The 18th Century Pastor is always throwing strikes when I am in the box. I love it.

Here is a quote that is resounding in my mind like a personal soundtrack. It is from his sermon entitled God Glorified in Man’s Dependence.

He gave him to dwell amongst us; he gave him to us incarnate, or in our nature; and in the like though sinless infirmities. He gave him to us in a low and afflicted state; and not only so, but as slain, that he might be a feast for our souls.

The greatness of the gift of Christ is seen in his value as the beloved Son of God. Then this valuable one is given to us. We who are rebels. And further, he bears our nature. He identifies with us and us with him. Consider the greatness of this gift.

But, it goes further, says Edwards. He was slain for us, so that he might be a feast for our souls. He was crucified that he might become the supreme delight of our very beings! His death is meant to unfasten our clinging claws from the driftwood and vapor of this world and instead fasten firm to his righteous garments. We cling to him with humble delight because he is infinitely valuable. He satisfies our weary longing. He is indeed a feast for our hungry souls! What grace! What a gift! What a Savior!

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The Beautiful Son

Apr 12, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Below is a poem meditation I wrote based upon the truth that God eternally smiles upon his Son (Mk. 1.9-11) and in time he has visited him in judgment and wrath as Christ was forsaken by God for us (Mt. 27.46). What a Savior! He makes rebels sons! He makes us his own.

Eternal favor rests on you
-the Father smiles, yes this is right
The joy of heaven- without ceasing
-rests upon Jesus Christ

Even as a man, still he can
-stand below in heaven’s sights
Hearing again the eternal song,
-‘My beloved Son with whom I delight’

Then the cross, where he died
-a death that truly should’ve been mine
Heaven’s frown now rests upon you
-all my sin, to you, God imputes

By the Spirit, my eyes are opened
-from enemy to son, I’m taught to hope and
Sing a new song, now clothed in white
-My beloved Savior, with whom I delight!

 

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He is Just the Christ I Need!

Apr 11, 2015 | Erik Raymond

The believer, too, beholds a suitability in Christ, sees Him to be just the Savior adapted to the necessities of his soul; and this renders Him peculiarly precious.

“I see Him,” exclaims the believer, “to be exactly the Christ I need- His fulness meets my emptiness- His blood cleanses my guilt- His grace subdues my sin- His patience bears with my infirmities- His gentleness succours my weakness- His love quickens my obedience- His sympathy soothes my sorrows- His beauty charms my eye.

He is just the Savior, just the Christ I need, and no words can describe His preciousness to my soul!”

–Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God

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Next Week and The TGC Conference

Apr 10, 2015 | Erik Raymond

tgc15-1-0-s-386x470Next week I will be in Orlando at The Gospel Coalition conference. As a result I will not be posting new content to this blog. Instead, I’m going to have some of my favorite older articles come through as a repost. I like them because they come from some times of rich discovery of the centrality, beauty, and sufficiency of the gospel. Most are from a number of years ago so I am doubtful that they will seem like reruns for you. I just wanted you to know in case you see comments from 2006 or something.

Also, if you are headed to Orlando and you read the blog, I’d love the chance to say hello. I’ll be teaching a breakout session on Tuesday at 3pm on Evangelism and then a discussion on Wednesday morning (more info here). It is always great to meet folks and put a face with a name.

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