Don’t Give Them Hallmark Platitudes

Oct 06, 2015 | Erik Raymond


What do you say when someone close to you enters a season of intense pain and grief? How do serve them well?

Some of the most common choices include the following. First, you can avoid them. It is painful and unsettling to see people hurting; it’s easier to just avoid it. Second, you can minimize it. Try to shrink down the effect of what is happening by contrasting it with something else. Third, you could trivialize it. This is perhaps the most common. Here we say a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make any sense or help. But, it’s ok since it is in a nice voice or because it comes in a card.

I don’t believe any of these are helpful or advisable. Staying away does not help the person who is hurting. Friends, and in particular Christian friends, are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rm. 12.15). Minimizing grief is just a smoke screen that doesn’t ever help. After all, Christians have a context for what is happening so providing this is actually more helpful. And finally, the Hallmark platitudes just don’t help. It actually makes the problems we are facing worse because it shows that we don’t really have much in the way of help; we just say stuff that sounds nice.

Instead of Hallmark give hurting people Habakkuk. That doesn’t sound very marketable, does it? But it is helpful. Let me explain.

Habakkuk and his people were getting their tails kicked by neighboring countries. God tells him that it is going to get far worse before it’ll get better. The Babylonians were stretching their hamstrings and about to invade, assault, and capture them. The bad religious people in Israel would be judged by the bad pagan people in Babylon. Habakkuk is grappling with his lot in life. It was hard. And this is what we can learn about suffering and helping those who are hurting. God hears the cries and wades into them. Far from minimizing, sentimentalizing, relativizing, or staying away, God enters in and provides counsel.

As you read Habakkuk in light of the situation in the book you see that God’s dealing with the prophet is instructive for us. Here are a few of the things we can glean from the book in this light.

1) Let them talk.

In chapter 1 of Habakkuk he is fatigued and frustrated; and he just vents. He unburdens his soul before God and he listens. This is so important because I don’t think Habakkuk was in a great spot there. He was having a hard time and things were going to get worse. But God listened to his cries. Many times in these situation we are quick to try to talk and solve everything. We may be dropping Hallmark phrases or we might just ramble; either way we are not letting people talk it out. This is helpful for them.

2) Be honest.

In chapter 1 God lays it out. Even though Habakkuk is in a tough spot he does not avoid the difficult conversation. He lets him know that things will get worse. When we are thinking about pain and suffering it is helpful to not minimize what is going on or cling to some remote hope. Don’t bring in Saviors that are simply going to let people down. Be compassionately and lovingly present. But also, be honest.

3) Give them God.

At the end of the first and throughout the second chapter of Habakkuk he is reminded of who God is. Far from being unaware, disinterested, or even worse–unrighteous, God is holy. He is not only aware of what is going on but he is presently enveloped in praise in his holy temple (Hab. 2:20). Help your hurting friends to fasten their hearts and hope upon God.

4) Remind them what is coming.

In the second chapter Habakkuk is told that the unrighteous will be punished. God is not unjust. He will vindicate his honor and rescue his people. What are we to make of this physical affliction? How do we process it? God is a God who heals the broken, resurrects the dead, and restores the creation. Our suffering fits into a giant stream of God’s redemptive work. Help them to see what is coming in the future is not more pain but actual relief. God makes things right.

5) Bend the hooks into straight lines.

We have a lot of questions when bad things happen. “Why now?” “Why would God let this happen?” These are common questions but they are not helpful questions. One reason is because we usually can’t provide a good answer to them. We simply don’t know “why”. But, we do know who God is. Try to help people see with clarity who God is and what he is doing. In other words, bend the hooks of the question marks into the straight lines of the exclamation point: God is God!

6) Vector their trust.

What people need and want in tough times is to fasten their hope and trust upon something or someone who can deliver. This is not ultimately the medicine, doctors, technology or willpower. Help people to see the trustworthiness of God

7) Dispel the happiness myth.

Most people equate joy with happiness. I don’t think this is helpful or explictaley biblical. Happiness is so often tied to circumstances whereas joy is tied to God’s character. Joy is an abiding trust or confidence in the fact that God is God. He is in control and trustworthy. Even though the mountains give way my God will remain. He cannot be toppled or defeated. We can be joyful even in pain and suffering (2 Cor. 6.10; Jam. 1:2-3).

8) Remind them of salvation.

At the end of Habakkuk we read:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18, ESV)

Even though everything else falls apart the fact remains that God is the God of my salvation. When we think about the context of pain and suffering we have to remember that it is because of sin that it has come. God has come to rescue people from the effects of sin’s curse. He reconciles us to him and he makes a new creation. He loves us and saves us (Gal. 2:20). Put the suffering in context in order to showcase the glorious salvation that God has wrought. He will resurrect us and give us a new body that will not be plagued with sin, suffering and death.

Please don’t settle for Hallmark when people are hurting. Instead, take a look at a book like Habakkuk and see how big God is and how he has worked to secure our abiding joy in him.

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I Was Rebuked Without A Word

Oct 05, 2015 | Erik Raymond


I was a fairly new Christian in my mid-twenties. I was running very hard fueled by zeal and far less knowledge. To my credit I was talking to a lot of people about the gospel. To my shame I was developing a bit of a self-righteousness toward those who did not. I remember judging people and whole churches’ faithfulness based upon the appearance of outward zeal or emotion. Until one day I got rebuked without a word.

We had been going to a new church for a few months. This church had good teaching but I felt the music left something to be desired. Also, there seemed to be a real lack of passion for a people who supposedly so loved the Bible. What gives?

We would sing as a congregation and I remember offering my weekly critique of the music. In my mind then it was incremental so I did not see the ugliness of it. But, it was truly ugly. One Sunday we happened to be standing behind a gentleman that was a bit quirky in his approach to conversation. He smiled and seemed sincere but, man, he always seemed to say something that was obtuse and somewhat unsettling. I don’t mean that it was inappropriate but that it unsettled my ease. It made me uncomfortable. He had a way of getting under my skin. And now he was standing in front of me singing while I was in full critique mode. I remember looking at him and wondering how he could be so lacking in emotion. He just stood there with this hands behind his back and seemed as still as a statue apart from regular breaths of air as he sang. I observed a guy who loved to get after me but seemed not so intent in pursuing God. He seemed about as passionate as a chair. I remember thinking how sick I was of this hypocritical, hyper-spiritual church where nobody but me was passionate.

Then everything changed. As the song ended and we were about to take our seats, and incidental to him sitting down turned slightly. His eyes were full of tears and his smile was full. I was gutted. I saw the man that I wanted to be; humble, free, focused, and full of delight in God.

He was worshipping God and I was worshiping myself. I had been judging this guy based upon my standard of godliness and zeal. In my immature world everything seemed to revolve around me. I was beginning to discredit a church and even this godly guy because he didn’t look like me. The problem with all of this was it was all about me. I was self-righteous, and, for the first time that I can remember, I saw it. This man was interacting with God and I was interacting with myself. It cut me deeply. Self-righteousness can take many forms but it always has the same empty, deformed shell when it gets exposed.

This was a key lesson for me to learn early on. We can’t judge hearts simply by what we think we see as outward displays of emotion or activity. Just because someone does not have outward displays of emotion or excitement does not mean that they do not love the Lord and are not in deep communion with him.

One of the things the gospel does is get our eyes off of ourselves. Like Tim Keller has said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Pride is always orbiting self. And regrettably the ministry of the church is not outside of this orbit. Try not to read hearts but rather believe all things and hope all things. Rejoice in the truth and pursue unity. My hunch is if Christians spent more time subduing and slaying self there would be more watery eyes when we gather on Sunday mornings. I know this was a game-changer for me and I praise God for it.


Image via Shutterstock

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The Prosperity Gospel has Gone Viral

Oct 01, 2015 | Erik Raymond


What do you think of when you read the words “Prosperity Gospel”? Odds are your stomach turns a bit as you think about the preachers on television that speak to very large crowds and appeal to even more in their books. More than likely you look at it as “out there” rather than “in here”. In one sense this is good. The shenanigans that some of those religious hucksters engage in should never be replicated in our churches. In another sense however, it’s naive. One does not have to cruising around in a private jet or be dressed ostentatiously to qualify as a promoter of the prosperity gospel. It is more subtle. And it is more pervasive.

In its unabashed nakedness, the prosperity gospel is a damning heresy that is not a gospel at all. It is a Ponzi scheme concocted by those at the top to prey upon the weak and vulnerable. Preachers of this false gospel use God as a genie who is dispatched to give us stuff, as a result, the gospel gets reduced to getting more stuff. This message is primarily physical rather than spiritual and is about this (best) life now rather than the one to come. And most damning of all, it is about us rather than God. The cross of Christ is reduced to a stage prop to support the large tent meetings they hold. It is like they use Jesus’ band-with to hack in and launch spiritual viruses in the world.

Regrettably, the prosperity gospel has gone viral. Being more nuanced and subtle than you may think, it is very active in the church. Like a computer virus it is draining vitality and productivity in the covenant community. And you know what the worst part is? You may not even know that you are impacted by it.

Here are a few ways that you can tell that you are nibbling at the hook of the prosperity gospel, without, perhaps, even knowing it.

(1) You are dissatisfied by the ordinary means of grace.

The Sunday gatherings of the Lord’s people are very unspectacular. We sing, read, and respond to God’s Word together. We probably don’t walk out of church like we walk out of a movie saying, “Wow! That was spectacular! I can’t believe how it ended! I never saw that coming.” No, we do the same thing every week with some variation of songs or Scripture. We do this because God tells us to do it; he says it is good for us (Heb. 10:25). We trust him. But sometimes we want a little more. Dissatisfied by preaching, prayer and singing we want it to be a little more “our style” and to fit “out tastes”. Soon, we find ourselves looking for that perfect place for us rather than the faithful place to God. Somehow it becomes our show. This subtle shift shows that we are at least susceptible to if not fully on with prosperity thinking.

(2) You think more about God’s blessings than God himself.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am thankful for the innumerable blessings that are ours in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But we must remember that the blessings are not the end but a means to an end; they point us to God. It is God himself that is the ultimate blessing. You can see how this plays out when you lose something that God has given you (maybe a job, a relationship, health, opportunity, etc). How do you react? Many times people get sideways with God as if he has changed. This preoccupation with created things instead of the Creator has the footprints of idolatry (Rom. 1:20-25). It is also at the heart of the prosperity gospel. Christians should be on guard for this type of unbiblical thinking in their church and in their lives.

(3) You avoid communion with God in the Word and in prayer.

Let’s get right down to it: Christianity is spiritual before it is physical. If you are restless about what you see then you will never be content in the One whom you cannot see. There is an epidemic of Bible negligence and prayerlessness in the church today. It is not because we are too busy, too smart, or too whatever—it is because we do not want to have communion with God. I believe this is a demonstration of prosperity thinking. It is hard work and a real demonstration of faith and discipline to read your Bible and quiet your heart before the Lord in humble adoration, confession and petition. We are very distracted by our stuff and our craving for stuff (created things) and not so drawn to God (our Creator and Savior). This is prosperity thinking and it has gone viral in the church.

(4) You’re exhausted.

I understand some people are exhausted for medical reasons or for simply working hard. I get that. But, what I’m talking about is the weariness of the soul and body from the endless pursuit of stuff. Life is a sprint from one thing to the next. The whole day is filled with the pursuit and pleasure of things. We work and play—then we repeat. This is what we are told to do. But, what about what you cannot see? What about the world to come? What about the heart? Do we as Christians not believe that there is a relationship between our bodies and our souls? Is there a connection between the restlessness and lack of contentment in our souls that so drives us to grind up our lives day by day?

(5) You think that if you work hard for God then he will work hard for you.

Many have bought into this lie. We go to church, keep our noses clean, and do whatever extra we can. Then we hope God will do his part and bless us with good kids, a nice house, a steady job, and plenty of money. But what happens when the company downsizes? When the kid starts taking drugs? When the 401k shrinks? We go into private litigation in our minds because God has not kept his end of the bargain. We want to sue God for his prosperity promises that we have signed on to.

(6) You believe suffering is an intrusion instead of an instrument.

The Christian, of all people, should know that suffering is part of the Christian life (Jn. 15:20; Phil 1:29). We follow a Savior who was crucified after all! The prosperity thinking has shaped our thinking to see that suffering is an intrusion in our lives. “Why is this happening? How could God let this happen?” These are questions that operate from a position of privilege and frankly, biblical ignorance. It is happening because we live in a fallen, broken world. But, it is also happening because God uses suffering to strengthen and sanctify his people. He makes us more like Jesus through our suffering (Jam. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; Heb. 5.7; etc.). Far from an intrusion, suffering is an instrument from God for our good and his glory. How do you view suffering?

(7) You could just live here forever.

When so much of the emphasis is upon the here and now and so little is placed upon the New City that awaits us we have to ask the question, “Do you even want to go to heaven?” Let’s say I had the ability to make you a deal where you could stay here on this world forever. You would never die and the ability to enjoy this world would not end. You could play all the video games, watch all the sunsets, drink and eat all the whatever, there would be football, hunting, shopping, and whatever else you want. You could just ride the merry-go-round of this world forever without ever having to put in another quarter. The only catch is this: no God. That’s right, you can’t pray, read the Bible, go to church, or anything. It is on the shelf. Would you take it?

The very thing that makes heaven so heavenly is God. That which makes Christians long for heaven is the lack of God-wardness here (starting in our own souls but moving out to the world around us). Ultimately, we don’t want more rides on the merry-go-round, we want fellowship with God unhindered by our sinful flesh!

Prosperity thinking has subtly lulled us to sleep dreaming solely of sunsets, success, and self-fulfillment. Friends, it’s not ultimately about any of this. The gospel brings us to God. I’m afraid we’ve gotten this twisted. The prosperity gospel has gone viral and the worst part is, many of us don’t even realize it.


(this post is an excerpt from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church on 9/27/15 from Habakkuk. Here is the link)

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Reading the Newspaper with Habakkuk

Sep 29, 2015 | Erik Raymond

old man newspaper 2

I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk and it has been very refreshing and instructive. One area of encouragement came through the interplay between current events and the context of God’s overarching plan. I think it is particularly helpful when we think about the current events in the world today.

If you are not familiar with the book let me set the table a bit. Israel is in a bad place in the early 7th Century BC. Assyria has kicked their teeth in a bit, deporting many and dominating those who remain. Because of the people’s rebellion against God’s Word they are suffering from the suffocating rule of a pagan nation. Habakkuk looks around and sees things getting worse rather than better. He cries out to God in chapter 1 declaring that he is fatigued and somewhat frustrated with what he sees. He wants answers as well as salvation.

God does answer him but not in the way that Habakkuk would have expected or even desired. God says that he is going to deal with the Assyrians and the rebellious covenant community by raising up and deploying the Babylonians. And, it would get very, very bad.

Through all of this however, Habakkuk is taught a very important lesson: God has an ultimate plan, an endgame, for both the nations and his people. To borrow from Jim Hamilton’s excellent book title, God will bring Salvation through Judgment”. God’s people will be saved. God’s enemies will be judged. But, the saving will not be easy, but painful through persecution.

Habakkuk is told to “wait” and to “watch” (Hab. 2:1-4). This is what it looks like to live by faith (Hab. 2:4). We are to trust and treasure God in the moment because we understand the big picture plan.

This is of tremendous importance to us in our 24-hour news cycle. We seem to have more opportunity today to fret over world events. Some Christians seem especially prone to trying to read every headline into a biblical prophecy. Generation after generation tries to overlay the newspaper with the Bible to see them line up just-so. This is often a frustrating and discouraging “fool’s-errand” because it does not look at the big picture and lean heavily upon what is known for certain. Instead, many lean on the uncertainties and find themselves frightened, fatigued, and frustrated.

Here’s a better way. Read the newspaper like Habakkuk.

1) Realize that God is holy (Hab. 2:20). We are reminded that God is in his temple and that we are to be silent before him. He is in absolute control. While the air on the ground is polluted by sin God is enveloped in his emanating holiness in this temple. We are not dealing with these trifling gods of people’s imaginations; the Lord God reigns!

2) Remember that God is committed to his holiness. The end-game will showcase God’s holiness. He will vindicate his perfect standard by judging those who fail to keep it. He will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory! (Hab. 2:14) This means that the earth will be filled with his knowledge and his presence. Holiness will flood the earth. O God, make it so!

3) Revisit God’s promise to judge his enemies (Hab. 2). God promises to not overlook sinful rebellion but rather to judge it. He will repay. With a number of “woe’s” God shows that iniquity is both noticed and will be punished. This revisiting of God’s past judgment will reinvigorate your prayers. You will begin praying like Habakkuk in chapter 3 as he looks ahead to this promised judgment. Imagine what it would be like if you read the newspaper and prayed in light of confidence in God’s good and just coming judgment.

4) Rehearse God’s past work of salvation. In Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 he recalls how God brought salvation through judgment. Whether through the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, Gideon’s triumph, or other seismic saving work, he remembers that God “went out for the salvation for your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked laying him bare from thing to neck” (Hab. 2:13). As Christians we see the mountain peak of this salvation when Christ himself was crucified for us. He was crushed and judged for the salvation of his people (Rom. 8:32; Gal. 2:20). This rehearsal of God’s saving work will refresh your soul. It should be a daily discipline.

5) Rejoice in the Lord (Hab. 3:18). Habakkuk understands that he is to live by faith (Hab. 2:4) which means that he is to trust God even when things don’t make sense. This rejoicing means that he has a settled abiding trust in God’s character. His joy or contentment is not tied to fluctuating circumstances (or headlines) but to God’s unchanging character! He has the privilege to rejoice in the God of his salvation! The Lord, God is his strength! And he is yours as well.

So read the newspaper, but don’t do it with amnesia. Read it from the position of being informed of what God is ultimately doing. Read the news with your grandpa Habakkuk. He’ll keep you on point.

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Politics, Church Membership, and Me

Sep 25, 2015 | Erik Raymond


trump bible

Authenticity is a big word in the news as of late. People are trying to prove that they are real and others are working to prove that they are fake. We see it in politics where some are considered “Republicans in name only” because they do maintain a pattern of “sound” conservative principles. We have also seen it with the visit of the Pope as the distinction between those who identify as Roman Catholics but do not embrace all of the church’s teaching. Then there is the back and forth between the Republican presidential candidates about whether or not someone is really a Christian or not. Is President Obama really a Christian or is he one in name only? Is Donald Trump truly a Christian or is it simply in name only? Is Ben Carson a Christian or is it just in name only?

This brings us to an important question. Who gets to say who is in fact a Christian? Does anyone have this authority?

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks those following him a very important question.

“…”Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”” (Matthew 16:13)

There were a bevy of ideas floating around (not unlike today), however, Jesus wanted to drill down and see what those who were following him believed. So he asked more specifically:

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”” (Matthew 16:15)

Peter, speaking immediately and confidently, said,

“Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”” (Matthew 16:16)

Peter nailed it. He makes the great confession of faith. And Jesus responds with affirming words:

“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” (Matthew 16:17-20)

Jesus gives the keys to those who make this great confession (that Jesus is the Christ). What do keys do? They open and close, they bind and loose. In other words, it is by this great profession of faith that one says “I am with Jesus.” However, notice the job of those with the keys. They are opening and closing access based upon the profession of faith. In other words, those who confess biblical faith in Jesus are identified and welcomed as his followers. It is examined and affirmed by other followers of Christ in a local church.

We see this same language on the other side in Matthew 18. Here Jesus is speaking about those whose profession of faith (I’m with Jesus) does not line up with their demonstration of faith (their life). Here the church, those who make the great profession, actually have the obligation to call the brother or sister into account if they persist in sin (denying their allegiance to Jesus). If they fail to listen to the church they are to be put out of the fellowship.

“”If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Notice again the language of binding and loosening. Whether in the front door of membership or the back door of discipline the congregation examines the profession of faith to see its validity. It is here, among those with the keys, that Jesus is dwelling with those who make such a profession and follow him. The church is made up of those who say, “I’m with Jesus.” And Jesus is there with the church.

Therefore, when we get bombarded with all of these questions about Trump, Carson, Huckabee, etc and whether or not they are really Christians, I have one simple question: Is there a group of believers, a church that stands behind them and says, “We vouch for him”? It would seem that anyone could use Jesus’ spiritual wifi signal and say “I’m on the network.” It’s public and open. However, when we read the Bible we see that it is not just what we say but what others say. Does anyone actually stand behind them? And, if so, what does that church believe? The questions of doctrine, confession of faith, and church membership should be pretty straightforward and clear. However, without a healthy local church we are left with all kinds of individuals orbiting about with their own expressions of spirituality. They are untethered from any confession, accountability, and affirmation.

When all of these questions of whether or not someone is a “real” Christian, I have one question, “Are you a member in good standing with a local church?”

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Book Review- Mea Culpa

Sep 24, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Mea CulpaAll vocations have their share of land-mines. Experienced, successful, and honest tradesmen will admit to making a ton of mistakes on their trip from journeyman to craftsman. Whenever a peer has the opportunity to listen in to these types of professional flubs they should take the opportunity. This vocational intel is gold. After all, what’s better than learning from a mistake without having to suffer its consequences?

I’m thankful for Kyle McClellen, a loving pastor who wrote a book to share his mistakes with other pastors. His goal is to share some of his vocational missteps, learning experiences, and bruises of sanctification with us. Through this relatively short book (120 pages in paperback) Kyle flips through his ministry scrapbook and offers commentary on his pastoral scars, black eyes, and speeding tickets.

Kyle went into seminary and ministry with a fair amount of approval. This did not serve him very well. It stoked his pride. He did well at seminary and then got called to a church. Well, multiple churches. In a short period of time he managed to burn through 4 churches! He found himself pulling orders at an Amazon warehouse. He was in a bad spot. Through a series of events he ended up reading Wendell Berry, falling in love with the town he grew up in, planting a church there, getting over himself, and pursuing what Jesus would have him pursue. He figured out who he is and what he is supposed to do. But, this did not come without significant pain. The lessons he learned in this process form the chapters of this book.

I should also say that Kyle is a friend. He ministers about 45 minutes away from me. His pastoral heart, compassion, and wisdom come from a guy who walked into his share of steel pipes. He has come along side of me to remind me of what is important and beautiful. He has encouraged me to love my wife, family and church out of a love for Christ. He is a good brother. I’m thankful he chose to write this book and serve others in this same way.

This book is helpful for the pastor or seminary student who wants to learn from a godly guy about what mistakes you should avoid. In fact, I think it is  a must read for the guy in seminary. I would hope that seminaries would keep this book in their bookstores to help encourage others with “big theological melons” and even bigger “sinful, selfish hearts” (see chapter 1).

But, it is also valuable to the church member that wonders what the pastor may be thinking. It helps to provide some context to church life and calling.

You can pick up a discounted copy at Amazon.

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Is this Missing from your Sermon Prep?

Sep 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Newcomb Demolition

It is Sunday morning, nearly 168 hours from the beginning of last week’s sermon. It is about time for you the preacher to take that walk again. You are going to walk alone to the sacred desk to preach. Are you ready? As you reflect on this question you realize that your mouth is dry and don’t have any water. Your opening to the sermon just got eclipsed by the reminder of a heavy pastoral concern. But you have to take this solitary walk. It is time. Are you ready? As you walk you throw up a petitionary flare, “God, help me.”

This question of readiness is really subjective. Some guys will answer it by considering what they have done in sermon prep. They have spent adequate time in prayer, studied the text, made a sensible outline, drew out some practical implications, and are ready to help people to understand God’s Word.

These are all good, even very good things. I aim to do them all each and every week. However, I wonder if sometimes we miss a very important aspect to sermon prep. Preachers should be wrecked and rebuilt by the text before preaching the text.

Be Wrecked by the Text

When you are wrecked by the text you have been stripped of your pride. Like a divine power-washer, the Bible has blasted off the mildew, dirt, and residue of self-reliance. The text has shown you God’s character and made you feel very small. You have been made to see something of the grandeur and greatness of God–in the very text you are preaching. And, when you see this then you can see yourself (Ps. 8). No one can rightly look at God without rightly looking at self. God’s bigness and beauty reveals our smallness and sin. This wrecks us. The Bible gives us a holy leg-sweep and brings us low. Preachers who have dirt stains on their face from being brought low are often very useful in the church.

Before taking that solitary walk to the pulpit, be sure to spend some intentional time letting the text work you over; let it wreck you.

But, that’s not all. Be wrecked, but also, rebuilt by the text.

Be Rebuilt by the Text

When you are brought low you are eligible to be helped by God. He hears your cries for relief and showers you with grace (Ps. 145.19). Not only do we see God’s bigness in the text we see his beauty. We see faithfulness, goodness, mercy, and grace sandwiched between holiness and righteousness. We see that God is unchanging and so therefore, immutably glorious in all of his perfections (Mal. 3.6)! Divine grace, mercy and love is not simply for them out there in the pew but for us in the pulpit. Oh, it is so good to have tasted and seen that the Lord is good! We have taken a big swig of the gospel tonic ourselves. The bigness and beauty of God means that he cares for and consoles his people–even preachers. We are rebuilt by the craftsmanship of the gospel with the tuck pointing of grace and goodness of God.

After wrestling with God you are blessed by him. He sends the limping one off in humility and acceptance with wind in his sails.

Doubtless, you can see the importance here of both. If the preachers is simply wrecked by the text then his sermon will lack the hope for renewal. If he is not wrecked then he will be like me describing the helpfulness of a kale smoothie–I’ve never tasted it myself but hear it is very good for you.

Anyone can have the self-discipline to put in the requisite hours to do the research, craft a sermon and deliver the message. However, it takes a man called by God to wrestle with God in the text and who will not refuse to let go of the text until God promises to bless him and his people. If you are a preacher, be this guy. Spend your week marinating in the text and then on Sunday morning sweat out the glory, greatness and grace of God in the passage. Perhaps God will be gracious to you and answer your prayers for preaching impact. He might just wreck and rebuild the congregation each week also!

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Do You Have a Healthy or Superficial Relationship with God?

Sep 22, 2015 | Erik Raymond

field missionary

How do you know if you have a good relationship with someone? Your initial reaction may be to evaluate based on the presence or absence of conflict. “We never argue.” But, how healthy is a relationship that does not have any disagreement, misunderstanding, arguments or forgiveness?

What if a healthy relationship was not the absence of conflict but rather the way in which it arises and is handled?

Let’s face it, if you are in a relationship with someone then you can be assured that there is a selfish sinner in it. This means that you will be saying, doing, and assuming things that are not loving. There will be a need for forgiveness to be extended. The conflict in the relationship is merely an occasion for relational intimacy. Through honesty and compassion the relationship goes to deeper levels. It is a bit counterintuitive though, but conflict–when handled properly–can help serve the relationship.

What about your relationship with God? Would you say that it is healthy? Is it mature? Is it deepening?

The dynamics change a bit here, but you are still in it so there is still a sinner in the relationship. Therefore, if you are being honest, there are going to be things that you do not understand, assume, and misread. You will reflex toward yourself rather than service. You will bring questions, complaints, burdens, and confusion to God. Is your relationship with God mature? Can it handle your deepest questions? Can you bring your fears? Do you trust him with insecurity? Do you unload your misunderstandings? Does your prayer life reflect the Psalmists’ groaning? Is there a clear pathway to the throne of grace where you come and unburden your heavy heart before God? Do you trust him to help you?

The prophet Habakkuk is one example of this type of mature, intimate, and healthy relationship with God. But, when you start reading the book in chapter 1 you might think he is on the JV team of spirituality. However, as you read the book and get into the stream of the narrative you realize that this guy is swimming in the deep end. His trust in God may be shaken a bit but, let’s remember, he is praying! He is looking for answers! Habakkuk shows us that you can complain to God without complaining about God. He prays, trusts, waits, listens, and hopes. And, at the end of the book he is ready to die clinging to God his strength (Hab. 3:17-19).

Are you trying to keep your relationship sanitary and safe? Have you bought the lie that this is what mature Christianity looks like? We are people that “have it all together”? Our shirts stay starched, pressed, and perfect? This is not reality. We live in a mess of a world. We are always getting soiled, wrinkled, jostled, and stained. Yet, we come to our Father, trusting and treasuring him, as we are,  unburdening our hearts in prayer.

A mature relationship with God is not sanitary and starched. It is lived in, worn, and stretched. It is not superficial or free from conflict. Let’s be honest, we have all kinds of issues–with God, ourselves, and others (by issues I mean our sin). But, because of the gospel we can be honest about these things with God. We come to him remembering who he is and what he has done. We come to him in prayer, asking him to help us to understand (Hab. 3:1-3). We live by faith in a good God (Hab. 2:4) while we live in a complicated world. God uses this to deepen our relationship with him.

Do you have a healthy or superficial relationship with God? The answer to this starts by asking what you do about conflict. Do you have any? And, how does it come up and how is it resolved?

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Did You Tell Anyone?

Sep 21, 2015 | Erik Raymond


Our family recently got away for a refreshing summer trip to the beach. With a lot of kids comes a lot of curiosity and imagination. The ocean proves to be a suitable playmate and stimulant for both. Add to this the summer news of shark attacks and you have the potential for some exciting moments on the beach.

One day one of our children recalled that they saw a shark fin sticking out of the water. After the story was told later in the day, a friend of ours who lives there on the coast asked a good question: “Did you tell anyone?”

Her point was clear: if you really did see a shark then you really should have run up and down the beach warning others to get out of the water. But, if you might have seen something or imagined it or hoped to see it–then you would probably just talk about it with friends and siblings.

As I thought about that exchange throughout the day the application for evangelism is appropriate. Do we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Do we really believe that he died on the cross for our sins? Do we really believe that Jesus is God in the flesh? Or do we just hope that it is true?

Similiar to potential shark sitings I guess you could tell by who you tell. Do you simply talk about it with friends and family–those in comfortable settings? Or, do you warn others–strangers and friends alike–because it is the right thing to do?

Do you really believe the gospel? Well, will you tell anyone?

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The Brick Roads Preach Stewardship

Sep 18, 2015 | Erik Raymond

A school bus for Florence School in about 1930.

We live in a part of our city that is decorated with old homes. I suppose old is a bit of a relative term. Omaha is about a 130 year-old city, and many of the homes in our neighborhood come from those early days. Some of the streets are the old brick roads. We were in a neighbor’s home last night and they had pictures of their house in the first few years of the 1900’s. Seeing the pictures, roads, and homes reminds me that we are just here for a brief period. We are something of a tenant here in this neighborhood. Many own homes but in reality they are simply stewards for a period of time. There were people who came before us and there will be people who come after us.

I frequently look at the brick roads and older architecture with an eye to the church. I think of how we today are stewards of God’s Word. We have a responsibility to preserve and promote the  testimony of the body of Christ. We have taken the keys from a previous generation to be the tenants in our own.

As I looked last night into the framed picture from over 100 years ago of a mom and her newborn  I felt a connection. Here we were doing the same thing in a different time. These people are long gone now and we are here. We live, make our mark, and attempt to be good stewards; leaving things better than we found them.

Isn’t this our priority as Christians? We contend for the faith (Jude v.3) and pass on the faith (2 Tim. 2:2). We train others to understand and obey what God’s Word says (Mt. 28:19-21). We do all of this knowing that life is a vapor, we are here today and gone tomorrow (Jm. 4:14). Therefore, we make it count, working hard to get the gospel in us and get it out to others.

Our time is short but the truth abides. It will outlast us, just like the brick roads, unflinching chimneys, and large oak trees in my neighborhood.

What are you doing today in response to the infinite gift of the gospel, the privilege of living as a church member, and the time have been given in life? May we be good stewards.

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