Dear Moms, You Do More Than You Know

Sep 15, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I preached last Sunday from Exodus 2:1-10. You’re probably familiar with the story–a baby in a basket floats down the Nile and lives to tell about it. It’s a wonderful story about Moses, a special boy with a special birth. But Moses is hardly the main player in the opening section of his life. His story starts as the story of three remarkable women.

Moses’s mother was courageous and creative, defying Pharaoh’s unrighteous decree and devising a way for her baby to have a chance at life.

Moses’s sister was resolute and resourceful, ready to save her helpless sibling and point Pharaoh’s daughter in the right direction.

Moses’s adoptive mother was powerful and full of pity, a beautiful picture of human compassion and common grace.

Three woman of different ages, different nationalities, and different social standings all doing their part to fulfill God’s great plan of redemption, though none of them knew the part they were playing and one of the three did not even belong to the people of God.

It’s true: there are many more men mentioned in the Bible than women. And yet, more than often than not when a women shows up, something good is going to happen. Jezebel and Athaliah were devilish tyrants, but most of the women in the Bible are much more hero than zero. Think of Sarah, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Abigail, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Think of the women who supported Jesus out of their means, the women who repented of their sins before Jesus, the women healed by Jesus, and the women at the empty tomb of Jesus. If you can tell the story of the Bible without ever naming a woman, you’re not telling the story as the Bible tells it.

There are a thousand things women can and will do as they play their part in the servants, workers, thinkers, pray-ers, sharers, and image bearers in God’s world. But over the last few weeks as I’ve been studying the book of Exodus more in depth, I’ve found special encouragement for mothers and for all those women who work with children.

Dear moms, I know a lot of you are crazy busy with the “blessings” in your life that don’t always feel like blessings. You’re tired. You’re frustrated. You’re anxious. You’re disappointed–with your kids and mostly with yourself. It can seem like making a difference for God is something you used to do or maybe something you can try to do twenty years from now. But at the moment, you’re just trying to make it through another day. Survive and advance. And maybe take a nap.

I don’t know what God’s up to in your life and through your life and because of your life. But here’s what I know from the first chapter and a half of Exodus: Up to this point in Exodus, the entire story has been moved forward by women, and specifically by women looking after children. This great story of divine deliverance–this world famous salvation story that will set the table for the salvation story of Calvary that is yet to come–would never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for women. No Moses, no Exodus, no redemption if it weren’t for moms, and midwives, and big sisters. Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter: God used them all in mighty ways–in ways they couldn’t fully understand at the time, in the ways that changed the world–and all by simply loving children and protecting their little lives. What’s true for teachers and nursery workers and volunteers and grandmothers and aunts and nieces and babysitters is especially true for the mothers reading this blog: you do more than you know.

Press on, mom, your labors are not in vain.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 14, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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Where Were You?

Sep 11, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I was in my final year at Gordon-Conwell. It was a beautiful morning–sunny, deep blue, not a cloud in the sky. I had an early morning class on that Tuesday. Maybe it was Minor Prophets, something with Hebrew I think.

I made the short walk across campus to my dorm room and picked up the phone. I had to check with my church. Something about a bulletin announcement or the preaching schedule. The church was in between pastors at the time, and I was helping out with some of the scheduling and some of the preaching. As it turned out, I was glad not to be preaching the next Sunday.

My friend on the phone asked me what I thought about the plane that had just crashed into the Twin Towers. I had no idea what he was talking about. This was 2001. I didn’t own a cell phone. I had no t.v. in my dorm room. Most of the time I went to the computer lab to check my email. We hung up the phone and I decided to figure out what had happened–probably one of these prop plane accidents. Didn’t John Denver die like that a few years ago?

I walked upstairs to the t.v. lounge, expecting the room to be quiet. It was around 10:00 in the morning. No one would be there. I was half right: the room was completely quiet, but everyone was there. I can’t remember if I saw the first tower fall, but I’m pretty sure I was in the room when the second tower fell. Unreal. Unbelievable.

I remember walking up and down the Holy Hill on campus, praying, thinking, somewhat fearful, knowing that since every flight in the country had been grounded, if I saw a plane in the sky it was very bad news. I remember everyone trying to call home and not getting through. I remember driving the two miles over to Gordon College to pick up my fiance so we could be together. I remember the special prayer service and how honored I was to pray with Peter Kuzmic during that time. I remember gathering in the one dorm room with a working t.v. to watch President Bush, and later Billy Graham.  I remember having to pray in chapel later that week and not knowing what to say, except that I should say something from Psalm 46.

I remember how personal the loss was for so many in Boston. I’d flown out of Logan too.

I remember all the American flags–everywhere, on mailboxes, on street corners, in store windows, even in Massachusetts. I remember hearing “I’m Proud to be an American” on the radio and crying instead of laughing. I remember how everything I was looking forward to–graduating, getting married, finding a church–seemed distant and on-hold, like maybe normal would not return, maybe nothing would be the same.

Life would be normal again. As least for most of us. Maybe too normal. Thousands walked into the church again. They didn’t stay. I told myself I would pray for my country every day for the rest of my life. I haven’t.

It’s hard to believe that this year’s freshman class doesn’t remember anything about 9/11. Those arriving at college in the past few weeks were three or four when the Towers fell. Barely out of diapers when the Pentagon was struck. They may know nothing about Todd Beamer’s “Let’s roll” or President Bush’s “I can hear you” or his opening pitch at Yankee Stadium. That’s bound to happen. I’m sure I don’t know as much about Pearl Harbor as I should. But let’s not allow the memory to become too distant.

Where were you?

Teach our history. Share your story. Thank God for mercies. Pray, repent, and don’t forget.

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Christian Virtue in the Age of Authenticity

Sep 09, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

The word doesn’t have to be annoying, but it usually is.

I opened up my big, red Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (yes, I still have one of these dinosaurs on my desk) and found five definitions for the word “authentic.” It used to mean (1) authoritative, but now means (2) something worthy of acceptance or belief or reproduced in accordance with the originals. Authentic can also mean (3) real or actual, or (4) refer to a musical chord progression. It’s the fifth definition, however, that has become standard: “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

In a day where people disdain hypocrisy more than any other vice and prize transparency more than any other virtue, you can be as obnoxious as you want to be, fail spectacularly, and sin repeatedly, as long as you never pretend to be any better than you really are. It makes no difference what errors you say, think, or do, if only you are true to yourself. This is life in the Age of Authenticity.

Which is not all bad. Jesus spared no verbal expense in rebuking the hypocrites of his day (Matt. 23). It’s good to tell the truth. It’s good to be consistent. It’s even good, as a general rule, to learn to be comfortable in your own skin, to refrain from trying to be someone or something you’re not. Authenticity appeals to so many of us because it seems a welcome antidote to calculating, self-righteous priggishness.

But living in the Age of Authenticity comes with many dangers–common vices made more deadly because they are willfully mistaken for virtues.

For starters, it should be obvious (but isn’t) that if your authentic self is a boorish self-promoter, it’s hardly a great win for the cause of honor that you are true to your own personality. Many pundits have tried to explain why Donald Trump has maintained his remarkable ride atop the GOP polls, and likely their theories about economic angst and conservative disappointment with the GOP establishment have something to do with it (as does almost non-stop media coverage for months). But Trump also benefits from being virtually gaffe proof, not because he doesn’t make any but because he makes them so often and doesn’t seem to give a rip. It’s not for me to tell you what to think of Trump’s policies, but I think by any objective measure he has shown himself to be someone who, how shall we say, would not meet the criteria for church office laid out in 1 Timothy 3. But as a candidate in the Age of Authenticity, he’s a perfect fit. In 2012, Mitt Romney was undone because of an off the cuff comment about 47% of the country that don’t pay taxes. Rick Perry went from Republican darling to disaster because of the word “oops.” When people think of Marco Rubio, many people still think of him getting thirsty on live television. Trump gets caught in a dozen slip ups like these–only much more substantive–every week. But because he never seems embarrassed with himself, unsure of himself, or anything other than delighted to be himself, he has (so far) been impervious to the usual gotcha moments that bedevil normal candidates. There is something refreshing about a candidate who refuses to play by the media’s rules, but playing by your own rules is nothing to celebrate if those rules aren’t worth celebrating.

There is always the danger that commendable forthrightness degenerates into crass and loutish behavior. I like how Anthony Thiselton translates 1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag–is not inflated with its own importance. It does not behave with ill-mannered impropriety; is not preoccupied with the interests of the self; does not become exasperated into pique; does not keep a reckoning up of evil.” Thiselton points out that the word usually translated “rude” in verse 5 is used (as a verb) in 7:36 with reference to behaving properly toward one’s betrothed and is used (as an adjective) in 12:23 with respect to the unpresentable parts of the body we cover up. In other words, “In all three contexts the contrast defines the opposition between on one side courtesy, good taste, good public manners, and propriety, and on the other side thoughtless pursuit of the immediate wishes of the self regardless of the conventions and courtesies of interpersonal life” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1049). Perhaps the pendulum was due to swing back to the “raw” and the “real,” but maybe we’ve missed the biblical (and loving) rationale behind long held prohibitions against swearing, against immodest dress, and against using sexually graphic language in public. No matter what seems most “authentic,” Christians should show the world a better way.

We mustn’t forget that the goal of those who carry their cross is self-denial, not self-expression. Think about what you would you want in a father, a general, a coach, or a president. Confidence would be good, but only if it’s a confidence rooted in stability, humility, and sacrifice–pretty much the opposite of what passes for authenticity today. Contemporary notions of authenticity are highly selective. As Collin Hansen pointed out to me recently, “The guys on Ashley Madison don’t get credit for seeking their authentic selves in an affair. But the guy who leaves his kids for another man does. Kim Davis doesn’t get credit for living authentically. But Caitlyn Jenner does.” Authenticity is often just another name for unfiltered bloviating or a certain kind of sexual progressivism. To be authentic is to be free from the bourgeois values of chastity, meekness, and self-restraint.

There are other dangers too.

Like the fact that in the Age of Authenticity the fear of contradiction between the public and private self is so strong that it has forced many people to fuse the two into one. When being “real” trumps all concern for decorum, due process, and quiet deliberation, we assume that every private discovery and painful journey must be made public. There is no place for Paul camping out in Arabia for a couple years or Moses getting his act together in Midian for a third of his life; everything we are learning, everything we are feeling, everything we are experiencing must be out in the open now and forever.

With this eliding of private and public comes an even deeper confusion about the nature of Spirit-wrought contrition. When Christians talk about being broken or being messed up or being complete failures, I think I know what they mean. At best, this language is an admirable expression of the continuing presence of indwelling sin and our constant need for a Savior. But we must be careful. Admitting that you are a screw up–as if God looks at sinners with a wearied grin that says “Come here, silly boy, and let me tousle your hair”–does not exactly capture the explicitly moral language of David’s God-directed plea in Psalm 51. Likewise, simply being honest about weakness in your life is not what the Heidelberg Catechism has in mind when it says “the dying-away of the old self” is “to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it” (Q/A 89). Authenticity is not to be confused with repentance.

Perhaps the biggest danger of all in the Age of Authenticity is that our authentic self gets misplaced. For those who have been joined to Christ through the miracle of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, being true to ourselves means being true to Christ in us.  Remember, it was the Gnostics who peddled the false gospel of salvation-through-self-awareness, while the authentic gospel promised something better than authenticity. The New Testament says little about getting in touch with the real you and a lot about walking in step with the real Him. If you follow the logic of Matthew 23 it becomes clear that hypocrisy is essentially saying one thing and doing another. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that what we do or think or feel matters less than whether we admit to doing and thinking and feeling those things. To act in a way that is right and proper, even when you feel something different, is not hypocrisy. It’s called maturity.

Put on the virtues of Christ, put off the vices of darkness. That’s the New Testament model (Eph. 4; Col. 3). Give it a try–with hard work and humility, with passion and with prayer, with real progress and with a lifetime of repentance. It’s actually much more practical, much more preach-able, and much more powerful than all stylish substitutes that pass for integrity and character in this Age of Authenticity.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 07, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s Monday and you need a little inspiration. This video is sure to do the trick–a tribute to the indomitable spirit of mankind.

Your week will never be the same.

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Ten Systematic Theology Resources

Sep 03, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

After Tuesday’s post about why study systematic theology, I thought it might be helpful to explore what systematic theologies are worth using. In the last few years a number of significant systematic textbooks have been released as well as a host of stand alone volumes on different topics with in systematic theology. I can’t begin to mention them all. And once we get outside of Reformed-Evangelical circles, my knowledge becomes much more limited. So rather than attempting a survey of the field, let me mention ten systematic theology resources I come back to again and again.

In no particular order:

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Historians would argue it’s not exactly a systematic theology, but it is theology at its best. It’s the one I read first and have read most. Much more readable than you might think, and filled with beautiful passages that will inspire as well as inform.



2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1938). Still hard to beat for order, precision, and (relative) brevity. Is there a better one-volume systematic theology in the Reformed tradition?




3. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (1906-1911). What a tremendous gift it was when Bavinck’s magnum opus began to be published in English–only a little more than a decade ago. Berkhof is basically a summary of Bavinck, so if you want to go deeper and wider and fuller, you need these four volumes. Also check out Bavinck’s smaller work Our Reasonable Faith.


4. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685). This was the textbook at Old Princeton until Hodge’s own Systematic Theology was released. It’s hard to overstate the influence Turretin has had on the development and transmission of Reformed theology in the English speaking world. Get these three volumes. Yes, they use the scholastic method. Yes, some of the debates will seem overly philosophical and arcane. But for comprehensiveness and careful delineation of categories, you will not find anything better.


5. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994). An unlikely bestseller, but if you find a college student reading systematic theology for fun, he’s probably reading Grudem. As a Presbyterian I don’t agree with all of Grudem’s conclusions, but he’s hard to beat for clarity, accessibility, and readability. You may also want to use Bible Doctrine or Christian Beliefs.


6. R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian (2014). I’m always on the look out for introductory volumes that we can use with elders or in our leadership training course. This book fits the bill nicely. We’ve also used John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord before.



7. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (2014). It would be a mistake to dive into systematic theology without paying attention to the great theological statements which have stood the test of time. For a lot of folks, that means the Westminster Confession of Faith, and this is the best, most use-able commentary out there. I wrote a popular-level commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism that may also interest some people.


8. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (2011). Not as user-friendly as Grudem, but more sophisticated–theology for theologians. Horton is especially good if you want a reliable contemporary writer who is very conversant with the history of theology and with the best theologians from other traditions.


9. Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (1986), Saved by Grace (1989), The Bible and the Future (1979). I’ve always found the structure in these volumes very intuitive and the exegesis particularly careful. Excellent and easy to use in pieces if you don’t want to read the whole thing.



10. Contours of Christian Theology (1993-2002). This series, edited by Gerald Bray, is one of the best things IVP ever published. Each volume tackles a single loci in 250-300 pages: the doctrine of God (Gerald Bray), the work of Christ (Robert Letham), the providence of God (Paul Helm), the doctrine of humanity (Charles Sherlock), the Holy Spirit (Sinclair Ferguson), the person of Christ (Donal MacLeod), the revelation of God (Peter Jensen), the church (Edmund Clowney). Every pastor should have these on his shelf. I use them often.

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Why Should We Study Systematic Theology?

Sep 01, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I love systematic theology. I have for a long time. I plan on immersing myself in it for the rest of my life. I hope my congregation will too. I hope especially that pastors will make the study of systematic theology a lifelong pursuit. Yes, I really believe systematic theology is that important.

Objections Against

But, unfortunately, systematic theology often gets a bad rap. It’s not unusual to find even pastors and professors dismissing dogmatics as an inferior version of the real stuff you get from exegetical or redemptive-historical theology. Of course, those are crucial too (and every good systematic theology will be built on both), but systematic theology is just as crucial, no matter the objections.

Objection 1: Systematic theology is not even possible. While it’s certainly true that we cannot know God as God knows himself, we can nevertheless know God truly. Theologians have long made the distinction between archetypal knowledge (which only God has) and ectypal knowledge (that which we can know about God through his revelation to us). God wants to be known.

Objection 2: Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. Of course, Christianity is a life, but it is a life predicated upon a doctrine. The gospel is good news. To fill up that news with content is to immediately move in the direction of systematic theology. If you want your Christianity to be about nothing but Jesus, you still have to answer the question: Who was Jesus and what about him are you all about? Positing an answer is going to require systematic theology.

Objection 3: Systematic theology is too neat and tidy. It’s sometimes suggested that systematic theology–with all its structure and logical rigor–is a modern, Enlightenment creation. What historical nonsense! Let’s not be so full of ourselves to think we are the first people to come up with organization and structure. Besides the study of dogmatics has been around since at least Origen’s Peri Archon (218 AD). If anything, the Enlightenment encouraged a less rigorous exploration of theology, favoring the ethics of personal morality over the fine tuning of theological polemics.

Objection 4: Systematic theology is not biblical enough. This would be a fair objection if systematic theology had no interest in dealing with the text of Scripture, but the best systematic textbooks have always been those that deal carefully with the big picture and the little details of Scripture. We don’t do systematic theology to avoid exegesis, but to pull our exegetical conclusions into a coherent whole.

Reasons For

If those are a few objections against, what are the positive reasons for systematic theology? Let me briefly mention six.

Reason 1: The Bible’s interest in truth demands it. Systematic theology is nothing if it not the pursuit of truth, and truth is essential to biblical Christianity. Jesus said the truth will set you free (John 8:32). The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The work of the Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). Eternal life is to know the only true God (John 17:3). Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17). Paul warned that for those who do not obey the truth there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:8). We are to be transformed by understanding the truth (Rom. 12:2). People can go to hell for preaching what is not true (Gal. 1:8). People within the church should be corrected when they believe the wrong things. “[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). People are sometimes to be kept out of your house for believing what is not true (2 John 9-10). The wicked perish because they refused to love the truth (2 Thess. 2:10). The workman of God must rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In other words, no Christian worthy of the name should be indifferent to the pursuit of right doctrine. As Louis Berkhof put it, “They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left” (Systematic Theology, 29).

Reason 2: Our view of Scripture demands it. All of Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that everything in the Bible matters. It also means that everything in the Bible possesses a fundamental unity, coming as it does from the same author (Matt. 19:4-6; Hebrews 3:7; 2 Peter 1:21). Systematic theology seeks to make the comprehensive unity seen and savored.

Reason 3: Realism about the human intellect demands it. One way or another, we will come to conclusions about the most important religious questions. Who was Jesus? What is the human predicament? Is there a hell? How can we be saved? How should we treat each other? What does it mean to be a good person? Why is there something rather than nothing? As soon as we set out to answer these questions we are engaging in systematic theology. The human mind can’t help but synthesize and organize.

Reason 4: The history of the church demands it. Why can’t we just let the Bible speak for itself? Because that’s not what we see in the Bible or in the early church. In Nehemiah 8:8, the leaders “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to the tradition they had received from him. God has always given his people teachers to not only read Scripture but to communicate and guard the truth of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13-14). This is why the early church naturally wrote creeds and confessions. They did not consider it sub-biblical to explain, defend, and protect the truths that were handed down to them in the Bible.

Reason 5: The unity of the church demands it. True ecumenicity is not possible apart from robust theological fidelity. Church unity requires doctrinal agreement: “There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). How can we contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) if we do not have a deep understanding of that faith?

Reason 6: The duty of the church demands it. Why waste time on systematic theology when there are people who need to hear the gospel?! Because those people need to hear the true gospel. If we are to proclaim the message, we must know what that message is. We owe it each other, we owe it to other churches, and we owe it to the world to give a clear articulation of our faith. “An open statement of the truth” is what Paul called it (2 Cor. 4:2).  “The Church of Jesus Christ,” Berkhof observed, should never seek refuge in camouflage, should not try to hide her identity” (31).Clarity requires carefulness, carefulness requires precision, and precision requires systematic theology. Get into it. Stick with it. Pass it on.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 31, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

The funniest thing in all these clips is that no matter what, the show must go on, even if that show is selling junk on tv.

[Sorry for the OMG at the beginning of the first clip.]

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Leading Your Leaders Retreat

Aug 28, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

After noting in passing on Monday that we were about to begin our annual staff retreat, I’ve had a surprising number of people ask about the why, what, and how of these retreats. I don’t pretend to have stumbled upon any magical formula when it comes to leadership getaways, but they are an important part of what we do at University Reformed Church, so perhaps something in our practice may be helpful for others.

I am entering the twelfth year of pastoral ministry at the church, and in almost every one of those years I’ve helped to lead two retreats: a staff retreat and an elders retreat. They aren’t elaborate. They aren’t groundbreaking. They aren’t terribly long. But they are definitely worth it. The most important reason to do a leaders retreat–and every church no matter the size has some group (or groups) of formal or informal leaders–is to spend time with those leaders. Yes, the size of retreat, the structure, and the location all matter, but what matters most is simply being together to share, laugh, eat, and pray. If you never get away with your key leaders (whether staff, elders, trustees, fellow pastors, small group leaders, whatever), you are missing out on an extremely valuable opportunity to strengthen relational bonds and build up relationship collateral.

So what do we do on our retreats? Here’s a snapshot.

Staff Retreat

Who: As our staff has grown over the years, so has the staff retreat. We’ve had as many as eleven; this past week we had eight people on the retreat (senior pastor, associate pastor, youth/children’s director, counseling director, director of community, director of international ministry, campus director, campus staff). Normally, we have two or three women staff members on the retreat, but this year (sadly) only the men could make it.

When: End of August. This is a busy time, but a good time for our staff to get together. The summer programs and summer vacations have ended and the fall kickoff is a week or two away. We are able to reconnect after being scattered for a few months and talk through any important issues that need to be addressed before the whirlwind comes.

Where: We try to find a cottage (or two) up north somewhere, preferably on a body of water. We usually end up driving for 2-3 hours.

How long: We left around lunch time on Monday and were home by noon on Wednesday. We’ve done two days instead of three before, but it’s better to have at least one full day without coming or going.

Why: I have three aims for our staff retreat. 1) I want us to spend time sharing and praying together. 2) I want us to have fun. 3) I want the schedule to be relaxed enough so that people can read their Bibles, get enough sleep, and get outside. I’d rather this retreat be under-planned than so packed with activities and information that people come home needing to recover from their “relaxing” getaway.

What: The “what” in planning is driven by the “why” of the retreat. This is not a planning retreat or vision retreat. We don’t normally try to tackle big issues or plan for the coming year. I’ve scheduled retreats like that (when they are necessary), but the purpose of this annual retreat is different. And that difference is reflected in what we do. We usually have plenty of down time for running, swimming, going to the beach, playing board games, reading, walking, and just enjoying leisurely conversation. We do have some structured time. In past years, we’ve had everyone share for 20 minutes and then receive prayer for 10 minutes. We’ve gone around the circle with everyone being asked a question (silly or serious) by every other person in the group. We’ve used a book to guide our time too. This past week I led us in two sessions (2-3 hours each) where we reflected on the categories “I am needy” and “I am needed” from Ed Welch’s book Side By Side.

Elders Retreat

Who: The pastors and elders. For us, that means two pastors (teaching elders) and twelve elders (ruling elders). Several of us on the staff retreat will also be on the elders retreat (because in addition to the pastors on staff, some of the directors are ruling elders).

When: September or October. Our elders serve (repeatable) three year terms. The new term starts in June, so ideally we would have our retreat at the beginning of the summer, but trying to get us all together during the summer is a futile exercise. So we aim for sometime early fall.

Where: If we can find a nice place within a couple hours that can accommodate all of us, that’s preferable. We’ve also met at church or someone’s home in town, which feels less like a getaway but does allow the men to sleep in their own beds (which they appreciate).

How long: Since most of the elders have jobs outside the church, the time away is shorter. Typically, we leave around 5:00pm on Friday and get home around the same time the next day.

Why: The purpose is similar, but not identical to the staff retreat. The average age of our staff is probably mid-30s, where most of our elders are 55-65 years old. This means we probably won’t try to go tubing (sorry guys!) and sleeping on air mattresses is frowned upon. The elders also do more in our polity to set the overall vision and direction for the church. So while we definitely still want to have fun, hang out, and maybe even play a game or two, our time is more focused. We only have 24 hours, so there is little opportunity for an outing or extended downtime.

What: We’ve done different things over the years. We’ve worked our way through a book. We’ve tackled one big issue (e.g., should we leave the denomination?). We’ve engaged in a time of brainstorming about the future. We’ve spent the whole time praying through the church directory. Normally, I think of three main sessions, one on Friday night and two on Saturday. One will be for prayer and sharing, one will be for visioning or problem solving, and one for teaching, singing, or more time in one of the first two categories.

In closing, let me reiterate that the when, where, how long, and what are not nearly as important as simply getting away and spending time together. Ministry is hard work. Inevitably, there will be stressful moments. There will be conflict. There will be sad and painful experiences. Every retreat is an investment in getting through those times. You’re building memories. You’re eating together. You’re talking about families. You’re praying and sharing and hearing each other snore. Find a way to spend unhurried time with your leaders. You won’t regret it.


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15 Ways to Fight Lust with the Sword of the Spirit

Aug 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It is almost impossible in the Western world to escape sensuality. Sex is on the television, in the movies and in our music, on the side of buses, during halftime shows, in our books and in glossy close-ups at supermarket check-out. Sex is all around us in the mall, dripping off every beer commercial, and two stories high on our billboards. Sexual sin is walking around our high schools, flaunted across our universities, and hiding in our churches.

And of course, sex is on the internet. Pornography and sex-related sites make up 60 percent of daily web traffic. Of internet users in the U.S., 40 percent visit porn sites at least once a month, and that number increases to 70 percent when the audience is 18-34 year old males. Half of hotel room patrons purchase pornography from their rooms. 90 percent of 8-16 year olds with internet access have viewed pornography online, and the average age of exposure is eleven.

The seventh commandment is not just broken in this country; it’s being smashed to pieces.

And sexual sin is not just an “out there” problem. Any pastor will tell you stories about how sexual sin has destroyed people in his congregation. None of us are immune from the dangers of sexual immorality. In a Christianity Today study from several years ago, 40 percent of clergy acknowledged visiting pornographic websites. Another survey found that 21 percent visit regularly. Yet another survey at found that 50 percent of pastors reported to viewing pornography in the previous year. And then there’s the underlying issue of the heart. The seventh commandment doesn’t just forbid adultery and pornography. It forbids every action, look, conversation, thought, or desire that incites lust and uncleanness.

So how in the world, in this world we live in, and with our sex-saturated hearts, can we obey the seventh commandment?

Let me suggest fifteen passages of Scripture that can help us fight lust and the temptation to sexual immorality.

1) Proverbs 5:18-19 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” This may seem a strange text for fighting sexual temptation, but married couples need to know they have delight at their lawful disposal. We need to know that sex is good, intimacy is good, bodies together in marriage are good. Good, glorious sex is spiritual warfare for the married couple.

2) Lamentations 3:25-27 “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” This a verse is for singles. Granted, this passage isn’t talking about waiting for a spouse. It’s about waiting on the Lord. But that’s the point: the Lord is good to those who wait for him. He knows what you need. The preceding verses tell us “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” Don’t think “How can I live without sex for another year or decade or two decades.” Think about today. The Lord has given you grace for this day and he will give you grace for the every subsequent day in which you follow God in the midst of unmet desires.

3) 1 Peter 3:15 “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Before you take a second look or dress yourself so that others will, think: “Will this make me more ready to talk to someone about Jesus?” Sensuality deadens the spiritual senses and makes us less courageous and effective witnesses for Christ.

4) 2 Peter 3:10-14 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…Therefore…be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Do you want to be cheating on your husband, masturbating, or watching Game of Thrones when Christ returns?

5) James 1:14-15 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This passage helps us understand how temptation works and reminds us that feeling tempted is not necessarily the same as sinning. Temptation beckons us to do what we should not do. That’s not sin. When the desire is nurtured it conceives and gives birth to sin (sin in the flesh or sin in the mind). Sin then grows and matures and leads to death. It is not lust to be attracted to someone or notice he or she is good looking. It is not lust to have a strong desire for sex. It is not lust to be excited about sex in marriage. It is not lust to inadvertently notice a woman bathing on the roof. It is sin to keep noticing and start scheming. Stoke the fires of this lustful passion and it will bring forth death. Just ask King David.

6) Hebrews 2:17-18 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus was tempted, not as we are from a sinful nature. But there were external voices calling him to sin. Let us not underestimate the real nature of his temptations and undercut his sympathy and his ability to help. Jesus was hungry in the wilderness. He had a desire, a want. He was enticed to make the stones bread so he could enjoy the pleasure of food. But he told the devil, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Matt. 4:1-3). In our moments of sexual temptation, we need to think, “Flesh does not sustain me. Jesus does.”

7) Romans 14:21 “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” As Christians, we want to help each other avoid sin, not lead one another into it with flirting, coarse joking, and immodest dress.

8) Matthew 5:27-30 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” We are not good fighters.  We make excuses. We don’t get radical. We pray a few prayers, feel bad all the time, tell a friend to ask how we’re doing once in awhile and that’s it. We need more decisive action than that. Avoid the movies, get rid of your internet connection, don’t kiss before marriage, throw out your t.v., tear out your eye—whatever it takes to battle lust. There are too many whole-bodied people going to hell and not enough spiritual amputees going to heaven.

9) Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” There are often temporal consequences for disobedience. It could be STDs, baggage in marriage, a guilty conscience, getting mired in a deeper addiction, distraction at work, a pornography fetish you pass on to your children, destroying your family, your marriage, or your ministry. There are also eternal consequences if you give yourself over to this sin. Galatians 6:8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

10) 1 Cor 6:15-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!…Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We need a theology of the body: the body is good, but it’s not yours. Jesus didn’t just die to ransom our souls. He also died for your body. It belongs to God. It is a member of Christ’s body now. Surely, we don’t want to employ Christ’s body in some sexual escapade or his eyes in viewing pornography or his mind in sensual fantasy.

11) 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Cultural liberalism says, “Just be yourself.” Self-help doctrine says, “You can find a better you if you just dig deep enough.” Moralism says, “Be a better person.” The Bible says, “You are a new person by God’s grace, now live like it.” “Be who you are” is the gospel motivation for holiness.

12) Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” No one fights a war by himself, and no one will have victory over sexual sin on his own. You need to talk to others about your struggles and listen just as well. Be honest. Ask good questions. Don’t just confess and feel better. Repent and change. Don’t just sympathize; admonish. Follow up with your brothers and sisters. Pray and remind each other of the gospel.

13) James 4:6 “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God always gives more grace. So keep coming to him with your sin and all your commandment violations. Confess like David in Psalm 51 that you have sinned against God. Confess that God is the most offended party as a result of your sin. And then believe like David in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” We will never experience growing victory over sin unless we are quick to turn to Christ all the times we fail.

14) Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This has been the most helpful verse for me in fighting lust and the temptation to sexual immorality. We need to fight desire with desire. Satan tempts us by holding out something that will be pleasurable to us. We aren’t tempted to gorge ourselves on liverwurst, because for most of us, it doesn’t hold out the promise of great pleasure. But sex does. Pornography does. A second look does. The Bible gives us many weapons to fight temptation. We can tell ourselves it is wrong, it is sinful, it will lead to bad things, it isn’t what I should do as a Christian. All of those are helpful. But the one weapon we rarely use is more pleasure. We need to fight the fleeting pleasure of sexual sin with the far greater, more abiding pleasure of knowing God. The fight for sexual purity is the fight of faith. It may sound like nothing but hard work and gritting your teeth–the very opposite of faith. But faith is at the heart of this struggle. Do we believe that a glimpse of God is better than a glimpse of skin? Do we believe that God’s steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3)? We’d probably sin less if we spent less time thinking about our sins, sexual or otherwise, and more time meditating on the love and holiness of God.

15) Ephesians 1:19-21 “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The great power that created the world, and saved us, and raised Jesus from the dead–that same power is now at work in you. We must believe that God is stronger than sexual temptation, sin, and addiction. If you believe that God brought a dead man back to life, you should believe that you can change. Not over night usually, but from one degree of glory to the next. Work out your salvation from sexual sin with fear and trembling, for God’s power is already at work within you.

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