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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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The Devil is in the Details

Jul 14, 2015 | Erik Raymond

planned-parenthood-logo

Last night when my 4 year old was “reading” from his picture Bible he retold the story of Genesis 2-3. He repeatedly emphasized, like a musician stuck in a loop, that Satan was a snake. I woke up thinking about it having been reminded of the subtle craftiness of the serpent. He does not come with horns and a pitchfork but in the acceptable and familiar, and often flying under the cover of tolerance.

I saw the smudge of his fingerprints today when a video of a Planned Parenthood top doctor talks about the industry of selling the body parts of aborted children. It is striking how she speaks of it so casually in between bites of her salad and sips of her wine. In the video below Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explains how there is a market for the organs of these murdered children. There is even detail given to how to carefully extract the child in such a way so as to ensure marketability. Make no mistake: the Devil is in the details. He is a murderer and has been from the beginning. (Jn. 8:44)

Yesterday I wrote briefly about how we have forgotten how to blush. Like the contemporaries of Jeremiah (Jer. 8:12) we today seem to be incapable of becoming ashamed. Many today may, with chronological snobbery, look down our noses at those uncivilized generations before us who sacrificed children. If we do then we do so under the influence of the hypnotic hiss of the serpent. The fact is, Planned Parenthood receives over $540 million from the federal government and they are active in the industry not only of killing children but profiting from the sale of their body parts. How can this not shred your heart?

How can a nation that is so horrified by the barbaric killing by ISIS not be outraged by this? Is not the work of Planned Parenthood eerily similar to how the Islamic State profits through the murderous conquest of innocent people? How can we condemn it on one hand but fund it on the other? How can we be loudly outraged on the one hand but silent or indifferent on the other?

We cannot see the horrible inconsistencies because we are blinded by such an infallible self-interest.

However, just as in the days of Jeremiah when the people would not blush and were not ashamed, God sees. When they sip their wine, crunch their salads, and talk with such unfeeling casualness, God sees and hears. God will judge. He will vindicate his name and his people.

In the mean time the serpents still hisses and we as Christians, our stomaches still turn (daily) with groaning. We see the demonic slight of hand and we cry, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

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Your Church: A Missionary Family

Jul 14, 2015 | Erik Raymond

field missionary

Roger and Luke were sitting down for coffee to discuss ministry. Roger was a missionary overseas and Luke was a pastor. At one point during the conversation Luke asked Roger what he found most discouraging about his ministry.

His answer was surprising and revealing. Roger told him that the most discouraging aspect of ministry in his area is the other missionaries.

He went on to describe in detail how so many western churches send people to their area for mission work but in reality they are just on a vacation. They collect a check, get the benefits, and relax at the beach. Their engagement with the locals is minimal and when they do—they engage them with a critical spirit. These “missionaries” take up space at church and are really not ready to serve.

What is the problem here?

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We Don’t Know How to Blush

Jul 13, 2015 | Erik Raymond

shutterstock_179433509

If there is one thing we can be certain of when we read the news today it is that we should not be surprised. The staggering rate of the moral revolution has conditioned us this way. Each day’s headlines bring with it a sense of moral ascent (or descent, depending upon your perspective). And here I am not simply talking about so-called same-sex marriage and the erosion of religious liberty. Like dropping a line in the water, you often catch more than just a fish. We are pulling a lot into the boat that shapes our experience.

If one were inclined to be objective they might open their eyes and ears and try to pinpoint a root. Walk through the malls, the public square, flip through the TV, read the paper, listen to the chatter, and talk to strangers.

This is what I’ve been doing for quite some time. My conclusion: we have forgotten how to blush.

Why Would we Blush?

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When the Gospel Comes to Town

Jul 10, 2015 | Erik Raymond

As a pastor my life is characterized by an incessant longing for people to taste and see the goodness of God’s grace in the gospel. I pray for it, plan for, organize events to promote it, and even dream about it. I want to see the gospel come to our city and our church. I want evident gospel renewal.

In Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, there is a memorable scene where a large cask of wine is dropped and broken in the street. The cask had burst like a walnut shell and gushing all over the stones in the street. Dickens goes on to write:

All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stern the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there, to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sodden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish. There was no drainage to carry off the wine, and not only did it all get taken up, but so much mud got taken up along with it, that there might have been a scavenger in the street, if anybody acquainted with it could have believed in such a miraculous presence.

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How Praying for Evangelism is like Buying a White Van

Jul 09, 2015 | Erik Raymond

minivan

The apostle Paul seems like someone who took the initiative. If we could imagine Paul we would think of a guy who would parachute into a town and talk to everyone about Jesus before lunch. He was a guy who fearlessly and faithfully got it done.

We might be tempted to think that this was just how Paul was wired. After all, he was the guy who reminded Timothy not to fear men but to be bold with the truth.

But what if Paul wasn’t naturally bold? What if he was supernaturally bold? What if he knew that he was weak and as a result prayed for God’s help? What if Paul was just like us? Then we would be encouraged and instructed by his praying.

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Don’t Put God in a Box

Jul 08, 2015 | Erik Raymond

god in a boxWhen you read the NT you see the demonstration and description of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Right away on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the people are speaking in tongues. Not long after we see the dead raised, lame healed, and people transported. It is a powerful outbreaking of the Holy Spirit in an arresting way.

When you read these things (and their corresponding descriptions, instructions, and warnings) a Christian must ask if these so-called miraculous gifts are operative today (i.e. the gifts of tongues, healing, & prophecy). Do we today see the same types of things happening as we did in the early chapters of Acts?

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Book Review- From Eden to the New Jerusalem

Jul 07, 2015 | Erik Raymond

eden

One of the dangers for students of the Bible is to get so into details that we end up forgetting how these details fit together. It is not to say that the details are bad, for we love the details. However, if we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the big picture and how the various details fit together, then how much do we really understand these seemingly unrelated facts?

This is a good tension to realize and address. To help us in doing so T. Desmond Alexander has written a terrific book entitled From Eden to the New Jerusalem. And as the title suggests it is a study that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. It is a study called thematic biblical theology. That is, he tackles the Bible’s meta-story of creation, fall, redemption and runs it through the various books to understand their contribution to the big story, or the whole.

Here is one of the quotes that impacted me:

God’s original blueprint is for the whole earth to become a temple-city filled with people who have a holy or priestly status. Tragically, the actions of Adam and Eve endanger the fulfillment of this project. In spite of this, God graciously and mercifully embarks on a lengthy process designed to reverse this setback and bring to completion his creation scheme. pp. 30-31

The treasure in a book like this is its simplicity. Alexander is not writing too far above us. He takes the themes and chases them down through the Scriptures while providing us with a better understanding of God’s character, our sin, our Redeemer, and our hope. In this sense it is wonderfully profound. It is a book that helps change the way you look at your Bible, not in a bad sense, but in a good one.

Many times I get asked by people for a good book on Biblical Theology and there are several (see here, here, here, and here). But, sometimes they ask for something a little more entry level, something for them to cut their teeth on. This book is a great place to start. From Eden to the New Jerusalem will not let you down.

Good deals abound on this book; see Amazon and then Westminster.

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