A Story of Providence: The TGC Omaha Chapter

Sep 17, 2015 | Erik Raymond

unnamed-2Last week a room full of pastors and leaders got together here in Omaha for the first TGC-Omaha meeting. It was a time filled with encouragement, equipping, and excitement over what God is doing in our area. It has been a long time coming.

Several years ago I drove up to Chicago with some fellow pastors to attend the first Gospel Coalition conference. It was 2007 and the conference was in the chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I don’t know if there were even 500 people there. I was richly encouraged as I met brothers from different regions and denominations. I became hopeful about what God might be doing in our day to, as DA Carson would say, bring the gospel from the periphery to the center.

But at that time, I was thinking personally and globally, or about me individually and the church universally–until I ran into Darrin Patrick. I literally bumped into him. He is a big guy so he didn’t budge much but it was enough of a thud that an explanation was necessary. I apologized and we introduced each other. In the midst of the brief talk he said, “Since you are in Omaha you are probably friends with Bob Thune then, right?” I answered him back, “No, actually. I’ve heard Bob’s name before, but no, I don’t know him.” Patrick then smiled and said, “Well, when you get back to Omaha you need to reach out to him.”

Patrick helped me to see that what I appreciated so much about the TGC vision, conference and feel could actually be in Omaha. As a young, eager pastor, this conversation made me hopeful.

When I got back to Omaha I emailed Bob and told him that Darrin Patrick said that he needed to take me out for lunch. From that meeting in 2007 we resolved to encourage each other in the ministry and prayerfully pursue gospel advancement in our area. At that time Bob was in the early stages of a church plant and since then I have worked to plant a church. We have seen other churches planted in our area and worked together to encourage pastors who desire to plant or revitalize churches in Nebraska and Iowa. We even began a network for pastors to gather for equipping, prayer, and encouragement. These quarterly meetings have now turned into the Omaha chapter of The Gospel Coalition. I praise God for it!

The takeaway from 2007 was that I not only have the opportunity but the privilege and perhaps even the responsibility to work with other pastors for the spread of the gospel. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I am thankful for where we are now and what is happening. If you are a pastor in Nebraska or western Iowa, we would love to have you join us.

Perhaps you would be willing to join me in praising God for what he has already done here and pray also for us and our area that God would bless these labors with gospel growth.

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The Cross Displays God’s Attributes in Perfect Harmony

Sep 16, 2015 | Erik Raymond

symphonyYesterday I wrote about the perfect illumination and amplification of God’s attributes through the cross of Jesus. The contention is that the cross is the supreme demonstration of God’s attributes. Do you want to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you want to see holiness? Look at the cross. Do you want to see righteousness? Go to the cross.

In this post I want to continue on with the meditation and provoke worship from a slightly different angle. I want to “turn the diamond” of Calvary a bit that we might see and savor, as Piper would say.

Not only is the cross the supreme demonstration of God’s attributes but it is also the place where all of the divine attributes were operating in perfect harmony. And in my understanding of God’s attributes, the cross is the only way in which this could happen.

When we look at the cross we see the physical suffering of the Jesus. But, what caused him to sweat drops of blood in the garden? It was the cup. That cup of divine wrath that is due to sinners would be served to Christ. It is the impending wrath of God that makes the Savior cry out in prayer.

And upon the cross we see the wrath of God displayed. Reminiscent of Exodus the sky goes black in judgment. There on Calvary we see God’s righteous justice being uncorked and unloaded upon the Savior as he bears the sins of the world.

But, this is not all we see. At the same time that righteousness is on display, do we not also see mercy, love and goodness? And now, looking back, do we not also learn of grace? Furthermore, do we not see holiness, forgiveness, sovereignty, and love wed together through the chords of truth? The cross of Christ then is the ampi-theather which hosts the symphony of God’s attributes in perfect harmony.

In a devotional commentary on what we are talking about consider this song of praise from the inspired pen of the Psalmist looking forward through Kingdom lenses:

Psalm 85:10 Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Indeed the cross is the beautiful harmonious symphony of all divine attributes. This really is where we draw from the infinite well of divine glory. See, without the cross of the perfect Savior God cannot be forgiving while also being holy and just. Sin is treason. The King may not turn a blind eye to sin and forget to punish. The righteous character of God demands punishment. However, God also says that he is a forgiving and merciful God.

How in the world can these attributes co-exist?

This is precisely where so many go wrong in thinking about God. Many today believe in a god whose love triumphs over his wrath, and since this works out pretty good for us (the enemies) there is not much further discussion or debate.

However, this cannot be! The God who does not and will not change does not compromise his eternally perfect character for the sake of sin-stained conscience and filthy track record.

No, God does not compromise his character, he amplifies it!

On the cross we have a simultaneous explosion of the divine perfections. This explosion is too wonderful for us to comprehend, to vast for us to fathom, and too heavenly for us to make up!

In fact, it is the preservation of God’s holiness and righteousness without compromising his love and forgiveness that distinguishes biblical Christianity from every other world religion. For it is here at the foot of the cross that God is both just and the justifier, he maintains his justice while also forgiving. There are not millions of religions in the world, but only two, biblical Christianity and everything else. Biblical Christianity maintains unflinching righteousness and justice while everyone else relies on a God who, at the end of the day, has a price and, whether we like it or not, is willing to be bribed by religious works.

Instead the cross declares to all mankind, with heavenly decibels, that the justice, holiness, love, mercy, and grace of God are all in tact. They have been marvelously displayed in perfect harmony upon Calvary’s tree as Jesus, the perfections of God incarnate offered himself as the sinner’s substitute, that God might be pleased to forgive sinners and exalt his glory.

Too many people today look at Jesus upon the cross like a spiritual piñata that God has set forth to take a beating so all of us good kids could get all the candy we deserve. No. No. No. Jesus Christ willingly hanging upon the wooden cross in utter humiliation while also maintaining and displaying all of his manifold perfections is the indictment upon all of our manifold imperfections. He is there because we are so bad. And, therefore, he is there because God is so good, holy, sovereign, wise, righteous, loving, and full of mercy.

So look at him and see everything you are not but, by grace, long to be. Love him because he is so different to you. Love him because he is so appealing to you. Love him because upon that cross heaven’s artillery was emptied upon him that the reservoir of mercy and grace might justly be opened to you.

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The Cross Illuminates God’s Attributes

Sep 15, 2015 | Erik Raymond

blinding light

Many have said that it is a study of the attributes of God that has been most impactful in their spiritual walk. No doubt it is when we, with eyes full of grace, look at God as he presents himself in his revelation that we are truly humbled and God himself is exalted in accordance with true knowledge of him.

I share these same sentiments. Several years ago, I began a home Bible study on the attributes of God. But a funny thing happened to me in this study. In preparing to teach on God’s holiness, I searched for the supreme representation and/or demonstration of divine holiness, I graciously stumbled upon what appeared to be the power cord that illuminated the divine perfections without rival.

As I studied the attributes of God’s holiness I found the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the supreme demonstration of this eternal perfection of God. The same thing happened as I studied God’s righteousness, his love, his mercy, his wisdom, his sovereignty and so on. This birthed a wonderful study that focused specifically on the attributes of God in light of the cross. God has used this study to change my life and compel worship and awe. The cross of the Jesus is indeed the supreme demonstration of the divine attributes.

Consider God’s holiness. Where do we find God distinguished as holy more than through the transcendent requirements and achievement of perfection? Surely the priests in Leviticus knew much of God’s holiness, but they merely looked in a glass dimly, but when we see with spiritual 20/20, we behold the holiness of God in HD. We see holiness incarnate nailed to a wooden tree by the demands of divine holiness that he might make unholy people holy and blameless. Indeed this is magnificent!

Consider also God’s love. You may say you see God loving in creation or through the giving of life and you are right. However, this pales in comparison to the Son of God, the very object of the Father’s affections, yes even the supreme delight and satisfaction of God, Jesus Christ himself, offered up to redeem rebels. Can you find God’s love more vividly, more beautifully, more heavenly than this?

Consider also God’s righteousness. Oh yes the inflexible divine attribute that is has been plaguing consciences throughout history. God’s righteousness is not seen supremely in the threatenings of the Law or the thunders of Sinai, but rather upon the hill of Calvary. For it is here that we see God’s infinite and unflinching righteousness relentlessly pursuing its vindication in the unleashing of all that is right, good, and just upon the substitute for all that is wrong, bad and filthy. Yes here in the shadow of the cross we see righteousness supremely demonstrated and vindicated. There is nothing like it.

Stand with me in the shadow of the cross and see God’s attributes perfectly illuminated. Tremble at his holiness in the demands of his sacrifice, be convicted and comforted by the unfathomable love that demanded and accomplished Calvary, feel you knees knock as you behold the gasping Son drink dry the eternal vat of condemnation that was due you as he bears all of the burden of divine righteousness.

Stand in the shadow of the cross to learn of God, for it is here where the Son of God was set forth to amplify and supremely demonstrate all of the divine perfections.

Stand here and fall in love with this dangerously lovely God and his supremely beautiful Son. Stand here and marvel. Stand here and worship. Stand here and don’t move, you are right where God wants you.

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Love Lustres at Calvary

Sep 14, 2015 | Erik Raymond

shutterstock_111970076Yes. Yes. A thousand times Yes.

My Father,

Enlarge my heart, warm my affections,
open my lips,
supply words that proclaim ‘Love Lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens
and heaps them on thy Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man,
thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.


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Push Off the Gospel-Wall

Sep 11, 2015 | Erik Raymond


I enjoy watching swimming. Not being much of a swimmer myself, I’m fascinated by how fast and fluid good swimmers are. It appears like an aquatic art form as they splash minimally, move rhythmically, and at the right time grab a breath of air like it’s second nature. One of my favorite  things to see good swimmers do is push off of the wall and do a return lap. When they come towards the end and do that flip-sping-thing underwater and then accelerate into the next lap. It’s beautiful. Of course it is not only beautiful it is strategic. Pushing off that wall is an efficient way to turn and it provides a proper push into the next lap.

I have a similar reaction when listening to particularly solid preachers or reading helpful (Christian) writers. In the midst of communicating they seem to effortlessly, but not unintentionally, push of the gospel wall as they steam ahead. It is a beautiful thing.

Some may call it gospel-grammar: we need to have our indicatives (the facts of what Christ did) informing our imperatives (what we must do as Christians). This is the pattern of the New Testament. The Apostles have a gospel reflex. They keep going back to the truth of Christ’s work to inform the priority of our work (consider the commands to husbands and wives in Eph. 5 for example).

You also have the gospel-identity. The fact of what Christ did shapes who we are. Ephesians does this repeatedly. Consider how many times the Apostle shows how we are “in Christ” or “in the beloved” in this book. And this continues throughout the NT. The writers continue to push off the gospel wall to show us that who we are is because of who Christ is and what he has done.

One of the helpful traits of a good preacher is his knack for observation. He could make observations all day (and sometimes talk about these observations all day). But this could also become a bit of a weakness. Sometimes preachers can drill down so low into details that they do not come up to the service to make the connections to the over-arching story of the Scripture. Sure, Ezekiel’s visions are fascinating, but how does it relate to the rest of the Bible? David’s nobility to give Saul a proper funeral in 2 Samuel, especially after Saul hunted him down like a most-wanted terrorist. But how does this apply to the rest of the Bible? How does Habakkuk’s vision of judgment in chapter 2 relate to us today and the world in the future? All of those who communicate biblical truth must be certain to push off the gopsel-wall throughout their messages.

Let us put this art-form of pushing off the gospel-wall on display; not for our glory but for God’s glory and the good of those who hear us. I trust it is beautiful not only in our eyes, but also in God’s—for he loves to do it himself!

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58, ESV)

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Preachers: Thou Shalt Not Bore People

Sep 09, 2015 | Erik Raymond

boring preaching

Last week Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was giving an important speech in New Hampshire. He was into it. He had a lot of things to say about jobs, the economy and healthcare. However, as he was delivering his speech the cameras caught a few people nodding off. One lady in particular looked like she was just about in full REM sleep before she quickly awoke and checked her watch. Many people, including Donald Trump, have seized this opportunity to poke fun at Bush and even try to discredit him as a candidate. I see it as an opportunity for us who are in ministry or who teach God’s word to be reminded of the importance of honest self-evaluation in view of not being boring.

Many of us who preach can identify with ole Jeb: we are sometimes kind of boring. And listen, you know this when you look up and see people fast asleep (hint: they are not praying for you when their eyes are closed). So we have some preachers who have a style and voice like Jeb Bush. It’s kind of dull. What can we do?



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How Would You Pray for Kim Davis?

Sep 08, 2015 | Erik Raymond


religious freedom

Are you supportive of Kim Davis?

As most people are aware, Kim Davis is the county clerk in Rowan County Kentucky who is now sitting in jail because she refused to sign marriage certificates that would violate her conscience informed by her religious (Christian) beliefs.


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Don’t Call it a Comeback, They’ve Been Here 10 Years

Sep 07, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I’m thankful that my friend Bob Thune and the church he planted and pastors just celebrated their 10 year anniversary. It is a joy to partner with Coram Deo here in Omaha for gospel advancement. In celebrating the occasion they put together this video that demonstrates their artistic skill, humor, and good beards.

Watch and laugh. Watch and rejoice. If you are a church planter, watch and identify.


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Being Biblical and unChristian

Sep 04, 2015 | Erik Raymond


We all have blind spots. We have our issues. Whether we are talking about personal, social, or theological blind spots, we have them. And to say you don’t, is to, well, make my point.

The important thing for us to look for said weaknesses, identify them and replace them. This is living life as a fallen sinner it is reality.

But sometimes our blind spots are our hobby horses. And this is a problem.

I can remember arguing about abortion with a friend who is pro-choice. In the midst of the discussion (it was civil) he called me out on my flippancy concerning life in the various wars that the US is involved in. He had a point. My issue was inconsistent. I had a blind spot.

Outspoken Bible Guys
I think there are people who are outspoken in their passion and devotion to the Bible. They are proponents of taking the Bible literally, being black or white and trying their best to obey what it says. We might call them evangelicals, fundamentalists, or simply Protestants. There really are many names and stripes available.

These guys (and ladies) will rightly go after those who compromise the Scriptures. They call out those who deny the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy. They oppose people who inject their ministries with pragmatic methods. They decry the moral compromise in and around the professing church. All of this to say, no one would accuse them of being unbiblical. In fact, this is their cry, “we are just being biblical.”

And quite frankly, I praise God for many of these folks. They are an encouragement in so many ways.

But at the same time, too often, they are a discouragement.

How is this possible?

Assuming the Gospel
It is possible because too often these hard core biblicists simply assume the gospel. Jesus is not emphasized as the means and motivation for rightesouness. Instead Christianity becomes a laboratory to apply biblical principles. Sanctification is rooted in a striving to do and be better.

Slowly but surely Jesus, his dying and doing for sinners, gets benched for my living and doing for God.

You can tell you are in one of these settings when you listen to Christians pray (cf Luke 18). They often talk about how bad everyone else is vs how bad they are. They talk about how much better they want to be rather than how great Christ is. The gospel may receive a hat tip but it is not the great ocean that satisfies our thirsty hearts and supplies our tears. It is just assumed. There is a lot of ‘God-talk’, ‘Bible-talk’…but very little Jesus-gospel-sin–talk.

Painful Irony
There is a painfully ironic contradiction here. See, on the one hand you have the hard-core, committed, Bible-guy…he is sold out to the Bible. And he will quickly channel his ‘inner-Saul’ and chuck spears at anyone who is not on the same page with him (1Sam 18.10-11). After all, they are compromisers. These are the guys who have conferences, watch-blogs, and sermons dedicated to taking out famous gospel-editors and biblical compromisers.

But here is the irony: too often the most ‘biblical’ folks are the most ‘unbiblical’. What do I mean by this? I mean that if the whole point of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus and you fail to make this your whole point in your life, preaching, writing, conferences, etc…then you have missed the point! And, in this case, your blind spot is glaring. You are undermining yourself!! These folks are so ‘biblical’ that they are unChristian!

I am not talking about semantics here. This is far bigger than this. Remember, it was the hard-core biblicists that had a jacked up Christology and ended up killing Jesus. If you are reading the Old Testament like a 1st Century Jew then you have a veil upon your eyes (2 Cor. 3). And if you are using Jesus to be your vehicle towards morality then you are just like the Galatians.

Our whole lives are to be calibrated by and anchored in the gospel. It is this that is of first importance (1 Cor. 15.1-3). To assume it, marginalize it, eclipse it, or ignore it IS just as bad as editing it.

How much do you emphasize the person and work of Christ? If you are a pastor, could your sermons be preached by a Muslim? a Roman Catholic? a Jew? or any other ‘moral’ monotheist? Or worse, could a Mormon preach your sermons?

If we are preaching the doing and dying of Jesus and not just a bunch of principles anchored in a moral code then you would offend them. But if you are not then be sure, you are offending God.

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Give ‘em Good Fish and Chips Every Sunday

Sep 02, 2015 | Erik Raymond

fish and chips

It is a problem that all pastors doubtless face, “How can I make sure that I am feeding all of the people that God has given me?”

When I look out upon our congregation on Sunday morning I see a wide spectrum. I see faithful and mature folks who have been walking with the Lord for decades and then some who have been Christians for only a few months. I see people in their 60’s and then folks in their 20’s. In addition to that there are many little 5 year-olds staring up at me trying to understand. There are people from a completely biblically illiterate background and then there are those who have grown up in evangelical churches but never heard the gospel. Then there are many guys who are running hard theologically and wanting to be challenged and fed.

And so I push back from the table, exhale, put my hands behind my head, and wonder to myself about how to best deal with this good problem.

I was sharing this dilemma with a friend recently. He would be in the ‘running hard theologically’ category. He smiled and said, “Just make good fish and chips every week. If you make fish and chips well then we will all be happy and fed.”

His point was this, regardless of what you are used to, expecting, or really want, you always appreciate a well-made plate of fish and chips. It seems to have that unique ability to simply ‘hit the spot’ every time you have it. So, says my friend, “Give us well-made fish and chips.”

I appreciated this. If the preaching is clear, biblical, fried in the gospel-batter and simply served then it will be helpful and profound wherever you are spiritually. The hard work then for the preacher is to take from their own level of interaction and bring it to a place where an 8 year old would understand the big picture, the new Christian would marvel at the Christological significance, and the hungry pastoral intern would be clenching his fist with a resolve to live for this glorious Christ. This is the work of thoughtful and dependent prayer and meditation. This is the work of pastoral ministry.

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