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What Jesus Didn’t Say

Sep 19, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

But on the other hand, do not think that I have come to completely affirm everything in the Law or Prophets either. There are stories in the Old Testament that did not happen as they are recorded. Sometimes, God’s people thought they heard the voice of God, but were mistaken. Other times, ancient people used God to justify their violence and exclusion. We can still read those parts of the Hebrew Bible and learn how unenlightened people used to think, but those sections are best corrected or set aside.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Obviously, this is a bit of an overstatement–Jewish hyperbole, poetic license, that sort of thing. By “jots and tittles” I don’t mean every bit of chronology, cosmology, or history. I’m just trying to say that the Old Testament is still really important and that it points to me. But whether, say, the exodus happened like it says in Exodus, or if Isaiah made any predictive prophesies, or whether the whole storyline of the Old Testament is out of whack–that kind of thing is not terribly important.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Again, let me clarify: I’m not actually against relaxing some of the more outdated commandments. After all, who doesn’t like relaxing! I don’t want my disciples getting hung up on minutia. As long as you are concerned about love–whatever you understand that to be–I wouldn’t worry about the particulars. People need relationships not rules, you know.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In hindsight, this is probably not the best way to express myself. I’m sorry for anyone who was hurt by the whole “never enter the kingdom of heaven” bit. That’s just an figure of speech for “the best way to live!” And I apologize if the righteousness piece felt legalistic. When I talk about hungering after righteousness or pursuing righteousness I’m thinking more on a cosmic level, not so much about your personal holiness. The only righteousness I expect to see from you is being right enough to know you are wrong. Look, the last thing I want is for people to get uptight with the Bible and start freaking out about doing everything by the book.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were super cool with his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had a realistic understanding of the Bible and helped the disciples feel better about themselves.

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Magnify Conference

Sep 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The Church Matters with Mark Dever

November 14-15, 2014

University Reformed Church
East Lansing, MI

I’m thrilled to have Mark Dever as our keynote speaker at this year’s Magnify Conference. This two-day event is sponsored by several Lansing area churches.

Whether you are a pastor, church leader, church member, or church drop-out we invite you to attend this special conference focusing on the centrality and health of the local church. Mark will be speaking three times. I will be speaking once and interviewing Mark for another session. Mark will also be preaching at University Reformed Church on Sunday, November 16.

This conference is always one of the highlights of my year. It brings together Christians from all over the area for fellowship and learning–and in a more intimate setting than many large conferences allow. And it’s very inexpensive.

You can register for the conference here.

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A Prayer for the Revival of Religion in Scotland

Sep 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Scotland CastleAs Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the question of independence, it would be fitting for all Christians–especially Reformed Christians–to give thanks for the rich Christian heritage in that nation and pray for a revival of gospel truth and grace.

I don’t claim to be an expert on contemporary Scotland or the church scene there. But I do know how concerned John Witherspoon was for his homeland in the 18th century. Here is a prayer adapted from portions of his sermon Prayer for National Prosperity and for the Revival of Religion Inseparably Connected preached on Thursday, February 16, 1758 on a public fast day in Scotland. Perhaps it captures how Scottish Christians might pray today, or how any of us in the West might pray for our own country

O Lord, let us not for Scotland, or for any nation, ask for national prosperity without a revival of religion. Our prayers are only warrantable when we adjust and proportion our esteem of the mercies of God to their real worth, and desire them for their proper ends. A love to one’s country, and a desire of its outward welfare, is, no doubt, an excellent an amiable disposition. But it is much more so to be concerned for their everlasting interest. When we ask for temporal prosperity, without an equal, or rather superior solicitude for the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, we are alienating his mercies from their proper use, turning them into weapons of rebellion against him, and cherishing that love of the world which is destructive of the love of God.

Are we not also, O Lord, in a very low and fallen state as a church? How have all ranks, from highest to lowest, corrupted their ways. How gross and prevalent is infidelity? How many of high rank have wholly deserted the house and worship of God? And with how much zeal and diligence does the lower part of the nation emulate the higher in that which is the reproach of both? So great is the prevalence of irreligion, contempt of God, sensuality and pride, that many of the grossest crimes are not only practiced but professed, not only frequent but open, not only persisted in but gloried in and boasted of.

It is not, indeed, to be wondered at that not only this nation, but the Protestant states of Europe in general should be brought under the rod, as they have so shamefully departed from that purity of faith and the strictness of morals which was the glory of the Reformation. How many have of late been ashamed of the cross of Christ and the doctrine of the grace of God? And what hath been substituted in their room? A pliant and fashionable scheme of religion, a fine theory of virtue and morality. A beautiful but unsubstantial idol, raised by human pride, adorned and dressed by human art, and supported by the wisdom of words.

For this reason, we ask that we might discover Christ’s power and glory in an eminent and remarkable revival of religion among all ranks.

That our blessed Redeemer, the king of Zion, who reigns to all generations, who hath ascended up on high and received gifts for men, would send forth his Spirit in a large and plentiful measure.

That his work and power may appear in all his gracious influences, convincing and converting sinners, sanctifying, quickening and comforting believers.

That this may be a common blessing on all corners of the land, on persons of every class and denomination, of every rank and degree, from the highest to the lowest, of every station and office, civil and sacred.

Above all, that he would “clothe his priests with salvation, that his saints may shout aloud for joy.”

O when shall the time come when “the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the residue of his people”? When instead of fine schemes spun for the honor of their makers, those who are called ministers of Christ shall preach the gospel, “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” When the truth of God, by its simplicity, majesty, force and efficacy, shall make its way into the hearts of the most obstinate, and Satan’s kingdom fall as lightning before it.

We plead that believers may be brought back to their first faith and their first love; that the unhappy divisions among us be abolished; and that the bond and centre of union may be Christ crucified, the only author of salvation.

Let us not give way to desponding thoughts. Though infidelity unresisted spread its poison, though profaneness and enmity to religion and seriousness everywhere abound, though there are few to support the interest of truth and righteousness, let us not be discouraged.

We plead the cause that shall finally prevail.

Religion shall rise from its ruin; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope for its speedy revival. While every one is diligent in his own sphere, and in his proper duty, and earnestly pleading for the revelation of the arm of the Lord, let us recollect his favor and protection to the church in every time of need, and his faithfulness which is to all generations. Let us say with the Psalmist, “Walk about Zion and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever, he will be our guide even unto death.” Amen.

Almost every word of the prayer above was taken directly from scattered portions of Witherspoon’s sermon. The message, based on Isaiah 51:9, can be found in Volume 2 of The Works of the Revd. John Witherspoon (Woodward, 1802), pages 453-477.

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Have a Happy Consitution Day and Read the First Amendment

Sep 17, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

ConstitutionToday commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution (September 17, 1787). If you’ve never read the Constitution, it’s not long and well worth reading (and re-reading).

After the Preamble, the most famous part of the Constitution is the First Amendment which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And what does this mean? John Baker, a Professor Emeritus of Law at LSU and a visiting Professor at Georgetown and Oxford, explains:

In recent years the Supreme Court has placed the Establishment and the Free Exercise of Religion Clauses in mutual tension, but it was not so for the Framers. None of the Framers believed that a governmental connection to religion was an evil in itself. Rather, many (though not all) opposed an established church because they believed that it was a threat to the free exercise of religion. Their primary goal was to protect free exercise. That was the main thrust of James Madison’s famous Memorial and Remonstrance (1785), in which he argued that the state of Virginia ought not to pay the salaries of the Anglican clergy because that practice was a impediment to a person’s free connection to whatever religion his conscience directed him.

Nor did most of the Founding generation believe that government ought to be “untainted” by religion, or ought not to take an interest in furthering the people’s connection to religion. The Northwest Ordinance (1787), which the First Congress reenacted, stated: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” As President, George Washington’s practice concretized the understanding of most of his contemporaries. In his first inaugural address, Washington declared as his “first official act” his “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe” that He might bless the new government. Directing his words to his compatriots, Washington said:

“In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”

Washington bracketed his years as President with similar sentiments in his Farewell Address (1796):

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. There mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.”

And he added: “And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.”

There is nothing in the drafting history of the First Amendment that contradicts Washington’s understanding of the appropriate relation between government and religion. In the First Congress, the committee proposal in the House read, “no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.” But some evinced concern that the phrase might put in doubt the legitimacy of some of the states’ own religious establishments. Six of the original thirteen states had established churches. James Madison believed modifying the phrasing to prohibit a “national religion” would be sufficient to allay that concern and would make clear that the new government was not to impinge on the rights of conscience by establishing a governmental connection to a church. Representative Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire suggested that “Congress shall make no laws touching religion or the rights of conscience.” The House finally settled on this language: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed.” The Senate preferred the formula “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” which likely would have permitted direct financial support to a sect.

In the end, the conference between the House and the Senate agreed on the current version: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The addition of the word “respecting” is significant. It prohibits Congress from legislating either to establish a national religion or to disestablish a state religion. As Laurence Tribe has written, “[a] growing body of evidence suggests that the Framers principally intended the Establishment of Religion Clause to perform two functions: to protect state religious establishments from national displacement, and to prevent the national government from aiding some, but not all, religions.” ( The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, 302-303)

If you are looking for a one-stop, scholarly, yet accessible resource to understanding the Constitution, I recommend The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, edited by Edwin Meese III, Matthew Spalding, and David Forte. The volume provides a balanced, relatively brief commentary on the Constitution from an originalist perspective. I’m glad to have it on my shelf.

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Another Novelist to Consider Reading

Sep 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Reading Justin Taylor’s excellent series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading has gotten me thinking about good old Jeeves and Wooster. I’ve mentioned before my delight in P.G. Wodehouse.

Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language. Ever.

He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books may not be dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing. And his humor is, unlike many humorists, is actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what? (Take my word for it, and read Wodehouse to understand my drift).

Reading Wodehouse spin tall tales about foppish socialites and an unflappable butler is reminiscent of the best (and cleanest) episodes of Seinfeld. The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), and the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and his insults so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle.

The next time someone looks at you cross, try this line:

She looked at me in rather a rummy way. It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.

And to express your discouragement:

I’ve examined the darned cloud with a microscope, and if it’s got a silver lining it’s some little dissembler!

For use with the outdoorsy members of your family:

I ordered another. If this was going to be fish-story, I needed stimulants.

Looking for a good put-down?

It seemed to me almost incredible that a fellow could be such a perfect chump as dear old Biffy without a bit of assistance.

Wodehouse had a genius for word pictures and similes:

Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge.

His writing is also stuffed with biblical allusions and church-related hilarity. Here, for example, is a clergyman asking Bertie Wooster, who is secretly engaged in a gambling ring betting on the length of sermons, if his message might be too long:

You do not think it would be a good thing to cut, to prune? I might, for example, delete the rather exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians?

And then there’s this allusion to Job 39:25 (which I had to look up):

He sat up with a jerk. The Biblical horse that said “Ha, ha” among the trumpets could not have displayed more animation.

For good measure, here are a few more of my favorite biblical references strung together:

There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.

For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively from my cigarette case.

Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids’ school we were at together, and you know what he’s like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man’s pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting point with lists of the kings of Judah.

And last but not least:

He fingered his moustache unhappily. He was feeling now as Elijah would have felt in the wilderness if the ravens had suddenly developed cut-throat business methods.

And as far as memorable one-liners, these have always stuck with me:

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say “when.”

For your own growth in writing and facility with the English language, and most of all for sheer delight, read P.G. Wodehouse. It doesn’t matter much where you start, but Right Ho, Jeeves is one of my favorites.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 15, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Some old school Monday Morning Humor, but still one of my favorites.

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A Prayer for Muslim Lands

Sep 12, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952), Hope College graduate, Princeton professor, RCA minister and “The Apostle to Islam,” prayed for the Muslim world like this:

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.

Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.

Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.

Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.

Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Surely this prayer from 1923 is worth praying every bit as much now as then. It’s amazing how the needs and challenges are still the same generations after Zwemer’s prayer.

The paragraphs above, as well as other writings from Zwemer, can be found in Islam and the Cross: Selections from “The Apostle to Islam” edited by Roger Greenway.

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Blessed Are the Meek

Sep 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Meekness is hard to define. It is not a subservient groveling. It is not a spineless acquiescence. The Greeks had no respect for meekness because they equated it with servility–people taking advantage of you, people walking all over you, people punching you in the gut as you thank them for the pleasure of being hit, that sort of thing.

But that’s not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a combination of patience, gentleness, and a complete submission to the will of God. Meekness is learning to be self-controlled instead of needing to be in control. Meekness is opening your heart instead of clenching your fist. Meekness is the firm resolve that it is always better to suffer than to sin.

Meekness is one of the great virtues of the Christian (Col. 3:12). The world may have no place for it, but the Bible does.

Moses was the meekest man on the earth (Number 12:3). And if you know anything about Moses, you know he wasn’t born with a meek personality. He killed somebody! We are not talking about a personality trait. You can be soft or loud, introverted or extroverted and still have meekness. Moses had to have meekness pressed into him by life and by the Lord.

Or think of Paul. There were big time issues in Corinth, and Paul wasn’t afraid to talk tough. But his first approach was to plead with the saints by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1).

If you think meekness is for losers, then you think Jesus is a loser. The Son of Man was a meek man (Matt. 11:29). Of course, that’s not the only thing to say about Jesus, but it’s one thing we can say.

When you are confronted, when you are wronged, when you get all hot and bothered and you’re tightening up inside, what does meekness look like? When you come after your adversaries is it with a whip or with a weep? Who’s sins upset you more, the sins of your neighbors or your own? Meekness is not about being a doormat. It’s about being dignified, even in the face of confusion, anxiety, and injustice.

Blessed are the meek, for they–of all people!–shall inherit the whole wide world (Matt. 5:5).

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Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry

Sep 09, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I don’t think being a huge football fan is automatically, or even normally, idolatrous. I’ve loved watching football as long as I can remember. It’s one of the many habits of sports fandom I picked up from my dad. Each year when I start to get sad about the inevitable ending of summer, I am cheered to think that with everything we start to lose in the month of September–daylight, heat, leaves, pool time, vacations, sleeping in–at least we gain football.

Americans love football like the rest of the world loves. . . .football. Except in our football the actions takes place six seconds at a time and the players pretend they are NOT hurt.

Wherever there is a consuming passion for anything that is not God there is the danger of idolatry. And football is certainly a consuming passion for many in this country. So what are some of the signs that football has grown to idolatrous proportions in the heart of the Christian?

Here are three questions to help in your self-diagnosis:

1. Is ministry and worship on the Lord’s Day compromised by my allegiance to football on Saturday and Sunday?

It’s a bit of common grace goodness to unwind during part of your Saturday watching college football. My Sunday scruples are even sufficiently lenient that a little football on Sunday can be enjoyable (and usually a nice precursor to a nap). But let’s keep our priorities straight. And twelve hours of football on Saturday, only to be dead tired for church on Sunday, is not the right priority. Some Christians drive hours every Saturday to watch their team live on the field. If that’s a way to spend time with your family and enjoy being outside seven Saturdays this fall, that’s great. If it means you miss attending your own church for the next three months, not so great. And when it comes to Sunday, football should not dictate whether we can attend a Sunday school class, whether we stay for the missionary potluck, whether we can invite a new family over for lunch, or whether we can come back for evening worship. Football is fun–in its place. Football in the place of worship is, well, worship.

2. Are my emotions all out whack?

This was a bad weekend for my football teams. The Spartans lost a marquee match-up to the Oregon Ducks. The Big Ten embarrassed itself all day Saturday. And on Sunday the Bears looked bad in losing to the underdog Bills. The only bright spot was tight end Julius Thomas going off against the Colts–a three touchdown performance which allowed me to beat my 11 year-old son in fantasy football. Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.

How do you feel when your team loses? I don’t think you have to feel especially chipper about it. We root for our teams for all sorts of reasons: regional pride, family tradition, loyalty to our alma mater, comradery with friends. A little bummed-out-ness is fine. The opposite of idolatry is not emotional detachment from most of life. And yet, some of us need to get a grip. It’s a game! A game with a ball, played by men in tights. Caring about your son’s JV scrimmage is no excuse for berating other grown men (let alone children).

Go ahead and root your guts out for the Fighting Turkey Vultures but don’t be a bore to your wife and a louse to your kids just because they lost a nail-biter to the Flying Turnips in overtime. If the good news of Jesus’ resurrection can’t outweigh the bad news of your team’s minus 3 turnover differential you’ve got some heart work to do. Cheer when your team wins and kick the dirt when they lose, but don’t show up to church a sourpuss and don’t sit their emotionally unengaged during the worship of our Triune God when everyone knows how you can jump, jive, and wail for a perfectly placed pooch punt. Where your heart leaps out of your chest, there your treasure is also.

3. Can my conversation go deeper than football?

Sports is a great entry point for many conversations. It’s more interesting than the weather and safer than politics. And in a town like East Lansing, virtually everyone knows something about Michigan State football and basketball (even my wife knows a little!). I don’t feel bad talking about sports in the church lobby or across the lawn in the neighborhood. But the point of wading through the shallow section of the pool is to get to the deep end. Don’t stop at sports. Don’t settle for being the guy who knows only one question: “Did you catch the game?” Press on to more important matters. Redeem the time in between commercials. Don’t waste your tailgate.

I see no problem in caring about football. But the man or woman who cares only about sports doesn’t care about nearly enough. Go ahead and give football a little bit of your weekend. Just don’t give it your worship.

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