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Politics Aren’t that Easy

Jan 20, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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Donald Trump gave a speech the other day at Liberty University. Since I’m an evangelical I suspect he was trying to reach me and persuade me to vote for him. He appealed to some of our core identities as Christians in his speech. You know, the big stuff like saying Merry Christmas and dominating the world economically and militarily.

But, it’s not that easy. It really isn’t easy for us as Christians—it’s not supposed to be anyway.

Let me talk this through for a moment. Because of our view of the sanctity of life Christians find themselves at odds with both Republicans and Democrats on occasion. On the obvious issue of abortion we find commonality with many Republicans while we disagree with many Democrats on their pro-choice views. However, many conservatives seem more willing to go to war or at least get involved in military conflicts. Those who see the image of God in children in the womb fail to see it in the recipients of the bombs we deploy. On the other hand many Democrats support polices that promote humanitarian work among those who are needy. Evangelicals often find themselves applauding this and even working to support it. However, we grit our teeth in disgust when this humanitarian concern does not include those in the womb. We applaud diversity but reject how it impedes and increasingly seems to work to suffocate religious liberty. It’s not easy. It never is.

The candidates, talk shows, cable networks, newspapers, and increasingly evangelical leaders attempt to tell us who to vote for. But, it is not that easy. It’s complicated. Whenever you seem to find some traction with one candidate you quickly find yourself ambushed by another point that makes you surrender or at least reconsider your support.

I understand that Christ is my King and that his Kingdom is not of this world. I have very little confidence in the politicians and their ability to get much done. I am weary of their pandering and empty promises. However, I am even more tired of how many Christians remove or ignore the complexities of the situation. There are real ethical and philosophical concerns in politics and government. We can’t just check our Bibles at the door and pull the lever for who the pundits say we should. Christians must think, wrestle, pray, talk, and work this stuff out. It’s not that easy. It’s not supposed to be. Our King reminded us, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Don’t ever forget it.

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Living Intentionally Together as a Married Couple

Jan 19, 2016 | Erik Raymond

shutterstock_206755648Is it important for married couples to spend intentional time together each day? Few would argue with the wisdom of the practice but many would balk at its practicality. For many today the practice is simply not happening. A recent NY Times article written by Bruce Feiler indicated that it is increasingly common for husbands and wives to rarely see each other. The article focused on preferences and practices for sleep. Many wives are early to bed and early to rise each day while their husbands like to stay up late and sleep in a bit later. While some women are up early exercising and prepping for the day their husbands are up late watching Netflix or something on ESPN.

In my experience the practice is common for many Christian couples as well. Different sleep and lifestyle preferences combined with a desire to defer to one another leads to a lifestyle where very little time is actually spent together. There is a danger of simply living together rather than really living together. This tension is particularly acute for Christians. Our marriages are to joyfully reflect the reality of the gospel. In order to do so there must be regular expression of love, forgiveness, patience, respect, grace, and kindness. You simply can’t do these things without spending time together.

In order to pursue the type of relational intimacy that requires the gospel of grace there must be some intentionality. We are all plagued by a demanding life, a unique set of trials, and indwelling sin. Furthermore, we have the same amount of time each week, the same commands, and the same Holy Spirit.

Some basics that I’ve seen pay dividends in my marriage and the lives of those Christian brothers and sisters around me include the following:

1) Sync-up Meetings. Each night after putting the kids to be we sit down to talk. We talk about whatever is on our minds. It is an invaluable opportunity to hear what we are thinking about, burdened by, and excited over without a lot of noise in the background. I look forward to these times each day. Instead of turning on the TV, set aside some time to sit together, look at each other face to face, and talk. Over time this will prove to be an opportunity for kindness, love, forgiveness, patience, and service.

2) Pray together. When I talk to older saints who have a good, godly, attractive marriage they always talk about the importance of praying together. Sure, praying for the urgent medical situation and the regular meals can be expected, but what about the daily prayer that thanks God for his persevering grace, petitions for more humility, confesses ugliness in an argument, or pleads for wisdom in parenting?

3) Learn together. Engage your minds together as a couple. It could involve such things learning something new, contemplating new ideas, or debating things. There is a surprising intimacy when you discover things together as a couple. The opportunities are many, of course, but could include anything from learning to swing dance to philosophy of parenting to political discussion. Intentionally engage your minds together.

4) Be Ordinary together. One of my favorite things to do with my wife is driving around and doing errands. Just driving around town is an opportunity to talk and listen. With kids in tow we parent together, laugh, and learn. Sometimes it may be more convenient to go alone but it is never more fun.

Over time we grow older and pursue what we want to. Married Christians should work to intentionally and jealously pursue time together. As we do we have the opportunity to joyfully reflect the gospel.

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We are Saved By God, From God and For God

Jan 18, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Here in Revelation 5 we see that Christ was slain and at the same time he actively purchased a people with his blood from varied backgrounds. Who did he do this for? Sure those whom he has purchased are beneficiaries, there is no doubt about that; we are saved from hell and given life, we do indeed benefit! But look again at verse 9, for whom did Christ purchase these people? It is “for God”. Who is the primary beneficiary of the atonement of Jesus Christ? It is God. Christ purchased sinners for God. The prime motivation for the accomplishment of redemption is the glory, pleasure and will of God.  Believers are recipients, but not the primary end of salvation.

This fact is pivotal. If we understand the gospel in these terms then our Christian compass is far less likely to be selfishly oriented. We will be less likely to walk around thinking that we are the ultimate end for why God created the world and ordered Calvary. Instead, we will be calibrated by Scripture–knowing that God has done what he has done in Christ so that he would get the glory and pleasure that he rightly deserves.

If you are a Christian you are saved from God (from his just wrath), you are saved by God (by his sacrifice) and you are saved for God (for his delight and praise). It is healthy to meditate and rejoice in this reality. Let the gospel of God’s abounding grace sprout humility amid the weeds of selfishness. And may God’s aim of glorifying himself become our chief aim. Indeed there is no greater priority than this!

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Keeping the Gospel Soundtrack on Repeat

Jan 15, 2016 | Erik Raymond

As a Christian I struggle to keep the gospel playing on repeat on my mental play-list.  I default to Law and idolatry.  God then sends trials to providentially dissuade us of our value and fasten our eyes upon Jesus, who alone is valuable.

Having this daily struggle as a Christian I find it to be my struggle and burden for believers in the Lord’s church where I am privileged and blessed to pastor.  Therefore, I was richly blessed to read again of this dialog between Christian & Prudence in John Bunyan’s classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The context is a dinnertime conversation between believers about the primacy and power of Christ’s work.

Read this and be blessed and encouraged by the priority of returning to the cross, Christ’s righteousness, the Scriptures, and the return of Christ!

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry some of the baggage from the place you escaped?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but against my will.  I still have within me some of the carnal thoughts that all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted with.  Now all those things cause me to grieve.  If I could master my own heart, I would choose never to think of those things again, but when I try only to think about those things that are best, those things that are the worst creep back into my mind and behavior.

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry with you in your mind some recollection of the things that you were formerly involved with?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but greatly against my will, and especially those inward and carnal reasonings which all of my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted to revel in. But now all those things only grieve me; and should I be able to choose only what I think, I would choose never to think of those carnal things anymore. But when I would be doing that which is best, still that which is worse remains with me.

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Book Review- Grace Abounding: The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan

Jan 14, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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Known most for his allegory of the Christian life The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan was a faithful pastor who made the most of his writing opportunities. Though he lived and ministered nearly 400 years ago John Bunyan’s continues to impact the church. I remember reading some of his sermons along with The Pilgrim’s Progress as a new Christian. I was helped immensely as I read.

Over time I sought to find more information about this creative writer and careful crafter of word pictures. I was surprised to find out that he was not highly educated and not professionally trained for ministry. Myself not being the brightest bulb in the box and having not been to seminary, I identified with the 17th Century “tinker”. I looked for books that would help me learn more about him. A friend gave me Grace Abounding: The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan. Here David Calhoun gives us exactly what I was looking for at the time: an introduction to the biography, theology, ministry, and writing of Bunyan.

With the familiarity of a close friend or family member Calhoun takes us on a guided tour of Bunyan’s life and thought. Having now read other books on him, I’ve regularly returned to Grace Abounding for a refresher. In particular, Calhoun’s frequent quotation and interaction with Bunyan’s own spiritual autobiography entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (free on Kindle!) is quite helpful. Bunyan’s struggle with assurance for about 5 years helps readers to better understand the characters in The Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War. As Calhoun concludes, to know Christian and Mansoul is to know Bunyan himself.

Perhaps you have heard of Bunyan and maybe even read The Pilgrim’s Progress but have not gotten to know Bunyan himself, consider adding Calhoun’s book to your reading list for this year and getting to know this humble Redwood in God’s acreage. Any who aim to be encouraged in the grace of Christ will find him a suitable and most helpful companion.

You can pick up discounted copies of Grace Abounding at Amazon.

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What Will This Look Like When You’re 80?

Jan 13, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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One of the favorite lines around our house when one of the kids does something wrong is, “What is this going to look like when you are 18?” As parents, our point is that these sins in their toddler stages do grow up and mature. Pigging out and lusting after the cheese dip does mature into a lack of self-control in all of life as you grow. Connect the dots.

Let’s apply this principle to your Bible reading and devotions. If you take your current practices of spiritual discipline, what does this look like when you are 80?

Too many times I hear people talking about wanting to be more disciplined, more faithful, more intentional without being more active. The fact of the matter is, you will be tomorrow who you are today if you don’t make any changes.

So who do you want to be when you’re 40? 50? 60? 70? or 80?

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Giving Your Pastor Sermon Feedback

Jan 12, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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After purchasing something during the Christmas season the salesperson handed me the receipt and said, “Here you go. You will be contacted in a few days to complete a brief survey. You could win a gift-certificate.” I smiled politely and said, “OK. Thanks.” It’s not that I was going to avoid the survey but I certainly wasn’t going to go out of my way to look for it. In my mind there is not much more that they need from me after I take the receipt. However, my perspective changed when I was speaking to my college-aged son about how his work incentivized customer service through these surveys. Good survey results are good for him. I’ll admit it, now I’m more attuned to how I can help the salesperson and the respective companies to improve.

In a similar vein I’d like to encourage you who are members of a local church to have buy in to what is preached in your pulpit. As a preacher myself I can tell you that your feedback is immensely helpful.

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Created with the Kiss of God

Jan 11, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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When God created man it was such an intimate, personal, and powerful display. The Scriptures say that God “formed the man of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2.7). This intentionality and intimacy is demonstrated in God making Adam. But then it is taken to another level when we read that the Lord “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God is the life giver; the source and sustainer of life (Col. 1:16-17). Apart from God there is no life. Far from existing by chance we have been given life with intentionality and beautiful intimacy. Sinclair Ferguson said that Adam was created with the kiss of God. It is truly beautiful to consider the love that overflows in God’s creation as he breathes life into Adam.

We something similar in the new creation. We know that by virtue of our sin we have been separated from God (Col. 1:21). Prior to conversion we are all dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3). So what does God do? Jesus becomes a man, the second Adam, to live faithfully in every place that we fail. He loves God perfectly and loves neighbor perfectly. He is truly without sin. However, his life is set upon his hour. His soul vectors toward Calvary with divine initiative. He goes to that cross and is hung in between earth and heaven as the sacrifice for our sin. And there upon the cross, the life-giver gives his life. Jesus breathes his last. In order for the new creation to come, Jesus who is the life (Jn. 14.6) must die.

This is not the end of the story of course. On the third day Christ would be raised from the dead, as the first fruits of the new creation. In his wake innumerable sons of Adam would march to Canaan’s fair and happy land. In order to make this happen God the Holy Spirit would have to visit sinners like you and me with the same type of intentionality and intimacy demonstrated in the creation of man. God would take the the God-breathed word and put it in us giving spiritual life to a spiritually dead man. By the gust of gospel air we are made alive! As Paul exclaimed in 2 Cor 5.17, If anyone is in Christ–new creation!! We are part of this new creation. God has, through the gospel, made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2.8-10).

When you and I think about this we should have the same reaction to the first creation as to the second: humility. Just as God acted upon the freshly formed but lifeless sculpture in the garden so too it was God acting upon us in the new creation. We were yet without life until God gave it. May God forbid any boasting in our personal goodness, achievements, or merit. Apart from the grace of Christ we are nothing.

We ought to also have a high degree of gratitude to go with this humility. How kind and loving of God to come upon us in such a way as to give us unspeakable joy in the gospel?

We should also delight in the truth of God’s intentionality and intimacy with us. He comes to us, knowing our greatest need and gives us the remedy. In creation God created with a Fatherly kiss, so too in the new creation we come to life with the tender kiss of divine grace through the gospel.

 

[Image via Shutterstock]

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Book Review- Saving Eutychus

Jan 08, 2016 | Erik Raymond

saving eutychusI have read a number of books on how to be a faithful preacher but I have generally stayed away from books that aim to help make sermons interesting. The latter seem like pragmatic gimmicks and tend to read like fingernails down the homiletical chalkboard. If I am being faithful, then of course it is interesting! Right?

Well, sort of.

Gary Millar and Phil Campbell politely request an audience with guys who think this way. They believe that preachers should work to be both faithful and interesting.

In their book Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s Word and keep people awake, the authors labor to equip and encourage pastors to be intentional and prayerful in every aspect of their sermon preparation and delivery.

The authors remind readers of the priority of prayer, the necessity of remembering the point of the text and how it is inexcusable to forget the gospel in a sermon. To help with the process of sermon prep they let the reader join them in the study to watch them build a sermon. They also allow us to sit in on a sermon critique/feedback.

I loved the book and recommend it heartedly.

I also had some mild critiques. The authors advocate for particularly short sermons (20 minutes). This is less reasonable in my context and would probably be seen not as an attempt to keep people awake but rather not properly feeding. They also advocate writing out their sermons in manuscript form. This is a great method used by many, however, their form of manuscript includes a type of writing that may be difficult for many. They advocate writing out the sermon like you would talk to someone. This includes many grammatical practices that would be a bit of a jump for me. It would be like a new language. I appreciate the concept of a more conversational, easy to follow approach, but it is more difficult for me to write that way. These are minor critiques that did not bother me, in fact they made me think hard and consider my own context and practice.

One other area that I walked away encouraged was illustrations. They helped me to see the need for intentional illustrations. I like to use word pictures and have noticed that I have gotten lazy in that way. This book helped remind me to illustrate the obvious and do so in a way that will bring home the point well to the congregation. This refresher along with the priority of repetition make it a helpful reminder for me. I will plan to reread this next year as I’m looking to refresh and refine.

Pick up discounted copies of Saving Eutychus at Amazon.

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Kid’s Art and the Glory of God

Jan 07, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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As a Father of a couple of kids 6 and under I am frequently given gifts. These gifts are precious and priceless works of art. My children will spend significant time to go and get their paper and crayons to make me a picture. Then they run to me with the picture in hand and simply say, “Here Daddy, I made this.” I hold it up and admire it. Often I will ask questions and they answer in surprising detail about their intentions with their marks. There is no question: they made this artwork with intentionality. They want to share it with me.

I have been studying the book of Genesis lately and was struck with the parallel in creation. The Bible repeatedly says in chapter 1 that what God made was good. God looks at what he made with approval. It is good. He also wants to share its goodness. Psalm 19 tells us that the creation declares God’s glory. It is pouring forth speech about him as the glorious Creator of everything.

Without reducing the infinite glory of what we see in God’s creation, I feel that the illustration of what children are doing helps to communicate what we see in God’s work. God is sharing what he made while he delights in it. Further, he is inviting others to come and behold it and enter into his joy in its stunning beauty. The child, as an image bearer, is unwittingly reflecting something of their Creator’s work. They are joyfully sharing what they have made and inviting us to enter into their joy by agreeing with them about its goodness.

We might look past what kids are doing as simply developmental but I believe there is something devotional to observe as well. All creation, including children, are declaring his glory. Speech is being poured out. Do you see the Creator’s handiwork in the creativity of the children? It will provoke your worship. It has mine.

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