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You May Not Like ‘em, but You Have to Love ‘em.

May 14, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Because of the gospel, which displays God’s love for us, Christians are to love others in the same way (1 Jn. 3.16). However, we often struggle with understanding and applying this verse. One helpful clarification is the distinction between “loving” and “liking” people.

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is extremely helpful in drawing this distinction for us. What follows is a quote Life in Christ a collection of his sermons on First John.

So let me put it like this: we are not called to like the bretheren, but we are called and commanded to love them. Furthermore, I would assert that loving and liking are not degrees of the same thing but are essentially different.

What is liking? What is it to like a person? Well, I would say that liking is something natural something instinctive ore elemental, something that is not the result of effort; you find yourself liking or not liking. In other words, liking is something physical and unintelligible.

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Actually, Counting Sheep Will Keep You Awake

May 13, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I can still remember my mom encouraging me to count sheep as a viable option to cure my adolesent insomnia. Even though it seemed strange to me to count sheep I was compliant. I can’t remember if it worked or not. At any rate, the saying endures through another generation.

I can tell you first hand, from a pastoral perspective, that counting sheep will not put you to sleep. In fact, it will do the opposite. If I wake up in the night and something comes to my mind concerning members of Emmaus or other believers that I love, then I am toast. I will toss and turn, restlessly praying for them.

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Beauty Shines Forth from Zion

May 12, 2015 | Erik Raymond

There are over 7 billion people in the world. Now imagine all of them receiving a summons to do something immediately. It seems almost impossible to consider something so important, so pressing that an entire state, let alone the entire world bend give undivided attention to it. But, this is what we read in the first words of the 50th Psalm:

“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Psalm 50:1)

God’s Word is going out as a summons to the entire earth, every day, all day. This means all people who have lived for centuries and centuries. This makes that 7 billion number explode with exponents.

What does he want the entire world to hear and know?

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” (Psalm 50:2)

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Preachers: Mix in Some Off-Speed Pitches

May 11, 2015 | Erik Raymond

In my week, Monday begins a new sermon preparation process. As one friend said recently, “As soon as I wake up on Monday morning I feel the next sermon tapping me on the shoulder.” Application is one important aspect of this preparation. As I work on sermon structure and content I am also stockpiling a list of potential avenues for personal and corporate application. Although it is time consuming and mind engaging, I don’t find this part of sermon prep particularly difficult. What is more difficult, in my view, is how to deploy the application.

One of the traps that preachers get into is a predictable routine. In the event that the preacher is organized he is often a bit too organized–and predictable. Surely you have heard sermons that have a story on the front end, the outline introduced (3 whatevers that ensure faithful….) and then the working through each of the points, a list of application points at the end, a quote, a plea, and then a prayer. Week after week these boiler plate sermons are served up with the creativity of a cafeteria lunch.

My plea is this: mix it up a bit.

If some preachers were baseball pitchers they would have the same routine with every batter: fastball, curveball, cutter, change-up, repeat. This may work the first time through the line-up, but eventually decent hitters are going to start teeing off on your predictability.

In the pastoral scope parishioners won’t tee off they’ll tune out (or maybe nod off?). With all the work pastors put into their study and sermon prep, this is not what we want.

So what do you do? How do you mix up your pitches, as it were?

Here are some suggestions:

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Helpful Resources for Discerning a Call to Ministry

May 08, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Last summer our elders and I were talking about trying to find some of the best books on the call to ministry. As we talked we realized that we did not have many of these books on hand. After doing a fair bit of research I read through a number of books to try to find the best resources for our context. We were looking for a shorter book that helped men to discern whether they should pursue ministry as a pastor. In particular, we were looking for resources that involved the congregation in the process. Below are the best books that we found and reviewed according the this criteria.

  1. Prepare the to Shepherd, by Brian Croft. Like most books on the subject Brian talks about the moral and spiritual qualifications for the office. But, the additional stuff you get from Brian would include a peak into how he prepares guys for the ministry. He lets us into his internship process at his church. Why is this important? Because he shows how the congregation comes to recognize and affirm the man’s gifting. It is short and very helpful.
  2. Church Elders, by Jeramie Rinne. I love Jeremy’s book for new elders or for elder preparation. It is so very helpful. I also think it is helpful for helping guys to discern what an elder looks like and then to see if the gifting is evident. This book does the same thing for the congregation. Put this alongside Croft’s book.
  3. Called to the Ministry, by Edmund Clowney. Many people really like this one. It was encouraging to me as a pastor and it helped me to value the ministry and the importance of the call. Clowney belabors the point of the personal and loving nature of God calling a man to ministry. It’s a helpful book that should be considered.
  4. Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, by Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti is just massively helpful in everything he writes; and this one is no different. While writing for both elders and deacons, this book helps the prospective pastor to better understand what a faithful elder looks like. Again, what does a called man look like?
  5. Am I Called? by Dave Harvey. This book deals specifically with the call to ministry. Harvey talks through what it means to be called and qualified—part of which is affirmation from the local church in which the individual is a member. I found his biographical stories at the end of each chapter, from pastors in the past to be complimentary to his chapters. Harvey writes like an older pastor talking to younger guys considering the ministry. In many cases this is the type of tone and content that pastors are aiming to get before their young potential leaders.

Honorable Mention: Lectures to My Students, by Spurgeon. It doesn’t fit with the short category, however, I think that anyone considering the ministry should read this book. It is clarifying and something of a pastoral classic for us today.

Any other suggestions?

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Book Review- Blind Spots

May 07, 2015 | Erik Raymond

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve heard that phrase dozens of times and it never loses its ring of simple profundity. The humbling, and somewhat disconcerting truth is, we don’t know the things that we don’t know about until they are pointed out or we learn them. Perhaps another phrase is also true: you don’t see what you don’t see.

In his book Blind Spots Collin Hansen is pointing out that we don’t tend to see the weaknesses in ourselves. This is a particularly relevant problem for us to consider today. Tim Keller observes in the forward that as the culture is rapidly becoming post-Christian the church seems to be fragmenting as we consider how to respond. Hansen groups these fragmenting responses into three groups, each with their own blind spots, and each becoming increasingly critical of the other two responses.

The three groups that Collin see believers fragmenting into are: courageous, compassionate, and commissioned. Each group tends to see through the lenses of their particular leaning. The courageous are the ardent defenders of theology and doctrine; the compassionate seek to help and serve those who are hurting; and the commissioned are those who see the ultimate priority of winning souls. Obviously none of these are bad, however, Hansen is arguing, most of us tend to gravitate towards one of these, and when we do, we also tend to gravitate away from the other two. Sometimes this is more passive (omitting them) and other times it is more active (attacking them).

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In the Mansion of God’s Character, Every Room is Bright Light!

May 07, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

As finite creatures we have trouble getting our arms around absolute knowledge. Even with the places or subjects that we are most familiar with, we often kick over another rock to discover something new.

This is not the case with God. He knows everything and everyone perfectly. He is the infinite God. His knowledge is complete. He is never learning or growing. Instead, he is utterly sufficient in his absolute and infinite perfection.

This is why such statements as John’s above are so astounding. God’s declares that he is light. This metaphor in the Scriptures refers to God’s purity or holiness as well as his knowledge. The assertion is that God is perfectly pure without any defect or blemish.

What makes this all the more astounding is that God himself is infinite. In other words, the infinite God has plumbed the depths of his infinite character, surveyed it, and concluded with credibility of his divine character: I am perfectly light! In the mansion of God’s character there is not a single room, closet, or hallway of iniquity—every room is bright light and a fragrance, a boquet of holiness!

As a result, believers are to walk in the light (1 John 1.5, 7). We are to press into his character and reflect it into the world around us. As we are doing this we are reminded that it is the holy and perfect sacrifice of Jesus (1 Jn. 1.7) that enables this. It is his holy blood offered for us that brings holiness to unholy people. As you can see it was God’s holiness (light) that determines the need for salvation as well as the nature of our new lives in Christ. Praise be to God that he has worked this in and through the Lord Jesus Christ!

Rejoice in and respond to this holy God–the God who is light!

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How Big Is Your Gospel?

May 06, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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Imagine for a moment that you are part of the 1st Century Philippian church. You are a first generation gospel work that was founded through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This famously included the “earthquake prison break” followed by the conversion of many people—not the least of which the jailer! The church is young, afflicted, generous, advancing, and still plagued with imperfection. And, here we sit awaiting the reading of a letter from our beloved Apostle Paul. After some prayer and a hymn, one of our elders stands up to read the letter in our gathering. Our ears are glued to his every word as we find ourselves transfixed by this content. Then we are surprised.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

Paul just called out two ladies—by name—and told them to basically “work it out”. I can almost see the pastor who was reading the letter pausing and looking at the women referenced as he read it. Doubtless all the other people did the same. This was intended to turn up the heat of urgency on an issue that was doubtless becoming increasingly divisive in the church.

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Difficulty Does Not Mean Desertion

May 05, 2015 | Erik Raymond

The 35th Psalm is a puzzling and then encouraging.

The Psalmist is describing the present narrative of his life. It is difficult. People make it difficult to be him. They contend with him and fight with him (v.1), devise evil for him (v.4) and dig a pit for his life (v.7). The opposition persistently opposes him.

If you read through the Psalm and begin interrogating it, you will find one of your key questions left unanswered. Why? Why are they opposing him like this? What did he do to them? He seems to have been quite nice and considerate to them actually (v.13-14). So why all of this scornful opposition?

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How to Shut Down Gossip

May 04, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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It seems that sometimes we deal with sin in the church with the same approach that the government deals with terrorism: It is impossible to remove it completely so we just kind of have to accept it and do our best to keep people safe.

Buttressed up against this common practice is the biblical teaching that sin is devastating. Let’s not forget that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the price paid for redemption from sin is death (Rom. 5:6), the reality for the a believer is that they are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11), and the ongoing priority for Christians is to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5; Heb. 12:1-2). This includes all sin. Every. Single. One.

GOSSIP IN SPIRITUAL NO MAN’S LAND

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