Latest


Book Briefs

May 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s been awhile since I’ve jotted down a few notes from my reading pile. The stack has gotten a bit tall, eclectic too.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009). Based on the author’s famous (and extremely popular) political philosophy course at Harvard, this book examine rival conceptions of justice, exploring “isms” like utilitarianism and libertarianism and thinkers like Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls. What makes the book so effective is Sandel’s easy prose and how liberally he peppers the book with striking illustrations, dilemmas, and examples. Speaking of liberal, Sandel’s own view of justice leans in that direction, but the book is still worthwhile for readers of any perspective.

Fred Siegel, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class (Encounter Books, 2013). Decidedly not leaning in the direction of contemporary liberalism is this book by Fred Siegel, an author, essayist, former editor, and what some might call a “public intellectual.” Don’t let the title and packaging of the book fool you. This is not a fly by the seat of your pants political hit job. In a little more than 200 pages, Siegel takes the reader through the last 100 years of American political and literary history, arguing that modern liberalism has been built upon “a spirited critique of Americanism, a condition [it] understood as the mass pursuit of prosperity by an energetic but crude, grasping people chasing their private ambition without the benefit of a clerisy to guide them” (105-106).

Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country (Basic Books, 2015). One of the most fascinating, thought-provoking, “I really want to talk to someone about what I’m reading” kind of books I’ve read in the past few years. This is a personal book in which Steele’s own experiences with racism (Steele is black) often take center stage, along with his frustration with white liberals who gain cultural currency by distancing themselves from the Bad more than doing anything to effectively promote the Good. Steele laments that older notions of the Good–hard work, virtue, loyalty, honesty–have been replaced by contemporary notions of the Good that are obtained simply by rejecting America as a fundamentally hypocritical society. The upshot: “This formula–relativism to dissociation to legitimacy to power–enables post-1960s liberalism to present itself to the American people not as an ideology or even as politics, but as nothing less than a moral and cultural imperative” (156).

William VanDoodewaard, The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015). This important book is not for the faint of heart.  True, the book is scholarly and dense, but that’s because Bill (a friend of mine) has done his homework. If you want to understand how the church, through the centuries, has understood Adam and Eve, you cannot ignore this book. Read the introduction, the first and last chapter, and the epilogue if you want this big book’s big idea.

Gloria Furman, The Pastor’s Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love (Crossway, 2015). I love Gloria’s writing because my wife–who is busy with six kids and doesn’t get to read as much as she would like–loves to read Gloria’s writing. Here’s what we say on the inside cover: “This book is a breath of fresh air, not because it’s personal (which it is), or because it is practical (which it is), but because it is profoundly biblical. We found Gloria’s Scripture-saturated counsel to be eminently realistic and deeply encouraging. Her wit and wisdom will be good for the pastor and good for the pastor’s wife, which is good news for those in ministry and good news for the church.”

Carl R. Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2015). When Carl writes on church history I make sure to read it. Read this book and you’ll go past the boilerplate Luther that is sometimes clumsily trudged out for sermon illustrations and slipshod theological wrangling. Here’s my blurb: “Carl Trueman has pulled off a tremendous feat: he’s not only given us a volume that is scholarly and historically nuanced while still accessible and refreshingly contemporary; he’s also managed to capture the brilliance and boldness of Martin Luther in a relatively short space. Trueman is to be commended for presenting a Luther who is so unlike us in so many ways, and yet a Luther from whom we can learn so much.”

Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, Donald C. Guthrie, Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving (IVP Books, 2013). There are better books for inspiration and edification in pastoral ministry. Sociological studies can come off dry and detached. But there are still many good reminders in these pages. The topics are what you might expect in a book on healthy pastoral ministry: self-care, conflict, spiritual formation, community, involvement, family life, stress, leadership. Most helpful for me was reading what the many quotations from the actual pastors in the study. I resonated with many of their struggles and weaknesses.

James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Banner of Truth, 2015 [1869]). Banner is to be commended for publishing this crucial study, and for doing so in a sturdy, handsome, one volume hardcover. I know it’s cliche, but every Presbyterian pastor really should have this book on his shelf. Here’s what I say on the back cover: “I am thrilled to see this classic work on Presbyterian polity being reissued. And if you think ‘thrilled’ and ‘Presbyterian polity’ don’t belong in the same sentence, that’s just one more reason we need Bannerman’s book. In a day when the doctrine of the church is often thought obscure, irrelevant, and even divisive, Bannerman reminds us just how much our forefathers thought about this topic and just how much the Bible has to say on these issues. This big book on the nature and order of the church is more helpful, more contemporary, and more important than you might think.”

Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Ten Speed Press, 2014). Yes, I actually read this book. And yes, parts of it were helpful. Kondo, who seems to have been a natural tidying prodigy all her life, offers a number of common sense suggestions (e.g., get rid of lots of your stuff, discard then organize, tidy up your life and you’ll feel better) and some ideas you may not have thought of (stack your clothes and socks vertically, try to tidy up your house in one whirlwind cleaning spree, throw everything on the floor before you tidy it up). I could have done with 20 pages on tidying up instead of 200, and less of the infomercial “everything will get better!” pitch would have been nice. But still, if you get inspired to pitch (or give away) a bunch of stuff, that book will have served a useful purpose. One big caution: Kondo’s Shintoism comes through in pronounced ways toward the end of the book.

 

View Comments

Monday Morning Machine

May 18, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I wasn’t alive when it happened, but every year I go to YouTube and watch it again: Secretariat’s run at the Belmont Stakes. Now that American Pharoah has won the Derby and the Preakness, come June 6 all eyes will be on the long New York track to see if we get our first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

I’m the most casual of horse racing fans. I try to watch about ten minutes every year-the three races in the Triple Crown. My wife and kids now actually enjoy watching the three races too. And once they show themselves a tad bit interested, I make them watch the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I’ve seen it dozens of times, but I’m still mesmerized by Secretariat’s amazing feat. The large chestnut colt they called “Big Red” didn’t just destroy the field by 31 lengths (1/16th of a mile), he so completely demolished the track record-a record that still stands-that he would have beaten the previous record holder Gallant Man by 13 lengths. Chic Anderson got it right in his famous call: Secretariat was moving like a tremendous machine.

Lost in the unsurpassed greatness of Secretariat is how good his competitor Sham was forty years ago. As Joe Posnanski pointed out in an excellent article a couple years ago, Sham’s run at the Kentucky Derby should have been one for the ages. He finished 8 lengths in front of the rest of the field, with a blistering time of 1:59.8, still the second fastest time in history. Sham was the best horse that day and the best horse to ever run the Derby–except, of course, for Secretariat who beat him by two and a half lengths. And then there’s Secretariat’s move at the Preakness, going from last to first in a matter of seconds. It’s almost as famous as his Belmont run. Just like Clyde Drexler and Patrick Ewing might have been great champions had they not played in the age of MJ, Sham might be remembered as one of the greatest horses of all time, if he hadn’t been born in the wrong year.

Without getting too spiritual about a horse, I think we can find echoes of the divine in our fascination with Secretariat. We love to watch greatness. We love to re-live and re-watch the impossible made possible. We love to see the greatest there ever was. And I think we love Secretariat all the more because he was just a horse. He never said the wrong thing, never was caught at the wrong party, never disgraced his fans or family. More than forty years later he is still a unique champion, without scandal or controversy, frozen in history with nothing but power, greatness, and grace.

Yes, even a horse reminds us we were made for something more.

View Comments

6 Reasons Why Membership Matters

May 14, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

“Why bother with church membership?”

I’ve been asked the question before. Sometimes it’s said with genuine curiosity-“So explain to me what membership is all about.” Other times it’s said with a tinge of suspicion-“So tell me again, why do you think I should become a member?”-as if joining the church automatically signed you up to tithe by direct deposit.

For many Christians membership sounds stiff, something you have at your bank or the country club, but too formal for the church. Even if it’s agreed that Christianity is not a lone ranger religion, that we need community and fellowship with other Christians, we still bristle at the thought of officially joining a church. Why all the hoops? Why box the Holy Spirit into member/non-member categories? Why bother joining a local church when I’m already a member of the universal Church?

Some Christians–because of church tradition or church baggage–may not be convinced of church membership no matter how many times “member” actually shows up in the New Testament. But many others are open to hearing the justification for something they’ve not thought much about.

Here are just a few reasons why church membership matters.

1. In joining a church you make visible your commitment to Christ and his people. Membership is one way to raise the flag of faith. You state before God and others that you are part of this local body of believers. It’s easy to talk in glowing terms about the invisible church-the body of all believers near and far, living and dead-but it’s in the visible church that God expects you to live out your faith.

Sometimes I think that we wouldn’t all be clamoring for community if we had actually experienced it. Real fellowship is hard work, because most people are a lot like us-selfish, petty, and proud. But that’s the body God calls us to.

How many of Paul’s letters were written to individuals? Only a handful, and these were mostly to pastors. The majority of his letters were written to a local body of believers. We see the same thing in Revelation. Jesus spoke to individual congregations in places like Smyrna, Sardis, and Laodicea. The New Testament knows no Christians floating around in “just me and Jesus” land. Believers belong to churches.

2. Making a commitment makes a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture. Many bowling leagues require more of their members than our churches. Where this is true, the church is a sad reflection of its culture. Ours is a consumer culture were everything is tailored to meet our needs and satisfy our preferences. When those needs aren’t met, we can always move on to the next product, or job, or spouse.

Joining a church in such an environment makes a counter-cultural statement. It says “I am committed to this group of people and they are committed to me. I am here to give, more than get.”

Even if you will only be in town for a few years, it’s still not a bad idea to join a church. It lets your home church (if you are a student) know that you are being cared for, and it lets your present know that you want to be cared for here.

But it’s not just about being cared for, it’s about making a decision and sticking with it-something my generation, with our oppressive number of choices, finds difficult. We prefer to date the church-have her around for special events, take her out when life feels lonely, and keep her around for a rainy day. Membership is one way to stop dating churches, and marrying one.

3. We can be overly independent. In the West, it’s one of the best and worst thing about us. We are free spirits and critical thinkers. We get an idea and run with it. But whose running with us? And are any of us running in the same direction? Membership states in a formal way, “I am part of something bigger than myself. I am not just one of three hundred individuals. I am part of a body.”

4. Church membership keeps us accountable. When we join a church we are offering ourselves to one another to be encouraged, rebuked, corrected, and served. We are placing ourselves under leaders and submitting to their authority (Heb. 13:7). We are saying, “I am here to stay. I want to help you grow in godliness. Will you help me to do the same?”

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, writes,

Church membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have great expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage as well.

5. Joining the church will help your pastor and elders be more faithful shepherds. Hebrews 13:7 says “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” That’s your part as “laypeople”. Here’s our part as leaders: “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” As a pastor I take very seriously my responsibility before God to watch care for souls. At almost every elders’ meeting the RCA Book of Church Order instructed us “seek to determine whether any members of the congregation are in need of special care regarding their spiritual condition and/or not making faithful use of the means of grace.” This is hard enough to do in a church like ours where there is constant turnover, but it’s even harder when we don’t know who is really a part of this flock.

To give just one example, we try to be diligent in following up with people who haven’t been at our church for a while. This is a challenge. But if you never become a member, we can’t tell if you are really gone, because we might not be sure if you were ever here! It’s nearly impossible for the elders to shepherd the flock when they don’t know who really considers them their shepherds.

6. Joining the church gives you an opportunity to make promises. When someone become a member at University Reformed Church, he makes promises to pray, give, serve, attend worship, accept the spiritual guidance of the church, obey its teachings, and seek the things that make for unity, purity, and peace. We ought not to make these promises lightly. They are solemn vows. And we must hold each other to them. If you don’t join the church, you miss an opportunity to publicly make these promises, inviting the elders and the rest of the body to hold you to these promises-which would be missing out on great spiritual benefit, for you, your leaders, and the whole church.

Membership matters more than most people think. If you really want to be a counter-cultural revolutionary, sign up for the membership class, meet with your elders, and join your local church.

View Comments

How Do I Know I’m a Christian?

May 12, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Whenever counseling Christians looking for assurance of salvation, I take them to 1 John. This brief epistle is full of help for determining whether we are in the faith or not. In particular, there are three signs in 1 John given to us so we can answer the question “Do I have confidence or condemnation?”

The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).  John doesn’t want people to be doubting.  God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life.  And this is the first sign, that you believe in Jesus.  You believe he is the Christ or the Messiah (2:22).  You believe he is the Son of God (5:10).  And you believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2).  So if you get your theology wrong about Jesus you will not have eternal life.  But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you believe in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord (4:14-16; 5:1, 5).

The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).  Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness-should not be confident.  This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.  This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  So if you live a morally righteous life you should have confidence (3:24). And lest this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin (1:9-10).

The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14).  If you hate like Cain you do not have life.  But if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters eternal life abides in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another (4:7-12, 21).

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. We live a righteous life. We are generous toward other Christians.  Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, we love his commands, and we love his people.  No one of the three is optional.  All must be present in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance (see 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2).

John belabors the same points again and again. Do you love God?  Do you love his commands?  Do you love his people?  If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death.  If you do, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

View Comments

Hymns We Should Sing More Often: God Moves

May 08, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.

**********

Psalm 88 is surely the gloomiest of all the psalms of lament and a fitting description of poet and hymn writer William Cowper’s life (1731-1800). Verse 15 says, “Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.” This verse describes much of his experience, even as a Christian. Cowper is regarded as one of the best early Romantic English poets and also wrote some of the best English hymn texts, often in collaboration with his friend and mentor John Newton. But despite his literary success and friendship with one of the most warm-hearted pastors in church history, Cowper struggled with severe depression most of his adult life. Despite a powerful conversion he never enjoyed a continuous assurance of salvation and often struggled with thinking himself under God’s wrath. His life is a testimony to God’s sustaining grace and willingness to use weak vessels to glorify himself and bless others.

Cowper wrote “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” in 1773 before he fell into a deep depression. In the mysterious providence of God this hymn has brought comfort and hope to countless believers who, like Cowper, struggle through the long dark night of the soul. In this way Cowper fulfills what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” The hymn lyrics remind us that God’s ways are not our ways and that things are often not the way they seem. He often works most powerfully in apparent weakness, those who may feel abandoned by God may in fact be beloved children, and there are wise and loving purposes in the suffering he ordains for his people. As Cowper writes,

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

I am highlighting Bob Kauflin’s arrangement of Cowper’s hymn. Bob, director for worship at Sovereign Grace Ministries, wrote new music and added a refrain after the tsunami disaster in 2005. He wanted to proclaim the truth of God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophes and help the church to respond in faith. May Cowper’s life and this hymn encourage you to trust in God’s sovereignty in your life and to cling to Christ in all your trials and sufferings.

VERSE 1
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm
Deep in His dark and hidden mines
With never-failing skill
He fashions all His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

CHORUS 1
So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You

VERSE 2
O fearful saints new courage take
The clouds that you now dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

CHORUS 2
So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You
When tears are great
And comforts few
We hope in mercies ever new
We trust in You

VERSE 3
God’s purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain

View Comments

13 Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer

May 07, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

1. Prepare. Some traditions use set prayers. Others rely on extemporaneous prayers. Both have their place. But I believe what our congregations need most are studied prayers. These prayers may or may not be read, but will be thought through ahead of time. Public prayer is often boring because little thought is put into it. There’s no training for it, no effort put it into it. An hour or two is not too long to spend in preparing a long, pastoral prayer.

2. Use forms with freedom. Learn from The Valley of Vision or Hughes Oliphant Old or the Book of Common Prayer. But suit their prayers to your own purposes. The Didache, after laying down set prayers for Communion, also allows “the prophets to give thanks however they wish.”

3. Pray Scripture. Don’t just ask God for what we want. Let him teach us what we should want.

4. Don’t footnote. Spurgeon: “It is not necessary in prayer to string a selection of texts of Scripture together, and quote David, and Daniel, and Job, and Paul, and Peter, and every other body, under the title of ‘thy servant of old.'” The Lord already knows who said everything so don’t tell him again in your prayers.

5. Leave the preaching for the sermon. Don’t exhort. Don’t explain texts. Don’t unpack complex theology. Spurgeon again: “Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require; or else they degenerate into downright preachings, so that there is no difference between the praying and the preaching, except that in the one the minister has his eyes shut, and in the other he keeps them open. It is not necessary in prayer to rehearse the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism.”

6. Share some details of congregational life, but not all.
A good shepherd will often mention by name various sheep that need special care. But don’t try to cover every engagement in the last three months or surreptitiously announce the youth retreat in your prayer (“Lord, be with our young people gathering this Friday at 5:00pm with their Bibles and a sleeping bag…”). Spurgeon one more time: “As I have said before, there is no need to make the public prayer a gazette of the week’s events, or a register of the births, deaths, and marriages of your people, but the general moments that have taken place in the congregation should be noted by the minister’s careful heart.”

7. Pray so that others can follow you easily. The goal is edification (1 Cor. 14:17). So don’t let your sentences get too long, too flowery, too ornate. If you write out your prayers, write for the ear not for the eye. On the other hand, don’t use distracting colloquialisms like, “Lord, you’re so sweet.”

8. Keep it relatively brief. Better to be too short than too long. Five minutes is plenty in most North American churches. Seven to ten minutes is possible if you are experienced and have trained your people well.

9. Remember you are praying with and on behalf of others.
Use “we” and “our” (like in the Lord’s Prayer). This is not the time to confess your personal sins or recount your personal experiences.

10. Order your prayer. Make sure there is a flow and direction. Don’t get too wordy. Keep a good pace. It often makes sense to work from the inside out, praying first for concerns of the congregation and then moving out to the community, the global church, and the world.

11. Beware of verbal ticks. For example: popping your p’s, smacking your lips, sighing, ums, mindless repetition of the divine name, unnecessary use of the word “just” and “like,” an over-reliance on the phrase “we pray” or “we would pray” instead of simply praying.

12. Show proper reverence, confidence, and emotion. Pray like you mean it, like God is God, and as if he really hears us.

13. Pray before you pray. Ask God for help as you prepare. Ask him for humility and grace as you go up to pray.

View Comments

MSU Basketball Player Matt Costello Talks About Faith, Family, and the Final Four

May 05, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Matt Costello is a 6-9 forward on the MSU basketball team. We’ve been pleased to have Matt attend URC when he’s at school (and he’s not on the road). Earlier in the year, Matt and his teammate Travis Trice spoke to our college group about their faith in Christ. Matt was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions with me before he finishes the school year.

Hi Matt. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your life as a student, a Christian, and a basketball player. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What are you studying? What are your plans for this summer?

Sure, as you said already my name is Matt Costello. I am from Linwood, MI. Right now I am studying Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Economics. This summer I plan on staying in East Lansing to take classes and workout with the team.

Before I get to some questions about your faith, let’s talk basketball. Congratulations on a great tournament run. Honestly, did you think you guys would make it to the Final Four?

Thank you very much. It was such a blast. Honestly, I did. Our motto all summer was Indy. It was our goal from the start and even though we had to work through a couple of rough spots we still believed we would make it to the Final Four. Being able to play basketball on a stage as big as the Final Four was a dream come true.

How do you think you improved most as a player? What are you hoping to work on for next year?

The way I improved most this year was becoming more confident in what I do. Oddly enough the thing that I need to work on for this upcoming year is still confidence. This summer I will be getting as many repetitions as possible so I have greater confidence for what I am doing next year as a senior. I need to polish up a few of my moves.

What’s it like playing for someone as revered and respected as Tom Izzo?

Playing for Coach Izzo was one of the big reasons that I came to Michigan State. Coach pushes his players to be better than they ever thought possible. His results speak for themselves. I wanted to be a part of that from the get go so I was bought in.

How did you become a Christian? How have you grown in your faith since coming to college?

I was raised in a good church with amazing parents. Faith in Christ was easy. Being a Christian at a school like MSU is not as easy. I’ve grown in my faith in college by making it more my own. What I mean by that is growing up I just listened to my parents and believed what they believed. Since I came to college my parents have been more removed. I now have to research things for myself in the Bible and understand why I do certain things. Figuring things out in the Bible for myself has made my personal relationship with the Lord more real.

From the outside your life as a big time college athlete at a big time basketball program can look pretty glamorous. What are some of the difficulties or pressures that may surprise people?

Most people don’t realize the amount of time away from family, friends and church that happens during the season and how big of an impact that can have on an athlete’s will. We only get a couple days off during the entire season and most our families live a long way away. We do not get the opportunity to see them very often. Most Sundays we are either playing a game, traveling or in a required team meeting. Being committed to a church is very tough. This wears on your spirit and makes it tough to get through the season.

What are some of the spiritual challenges or temptations you face as a Christian student-athlete?

The biggest challenge I face, and I know this might sound strange, is that women aren’t shy about coming up to me. I am very fortunate to have a girlfriend that keeps me in check, but it is still difficult when lots of people know your name and want to be near you. I have found the most helpful way to fight temptation is by putting myself in good situations. This can mean I will lose some respect with my teammates because I will not go partying with them, but in the end they get over it because they know I still care for them.

How does the gospel make a difference in how you play basketball and how you think about every facet of the game (e.g., wins, losses, competition, practice, conflict, the media)?

The gospel puts things in perspective. When I’m coming home at night and I have doubts or questions with my performance I’ll start praying to God. He almost always makes me realize it is just a game. My ultimate identity is not found in what Coach thinks of me or how many times a ball goes through a hoop. My identity securely rests in the blood of Jesus. On top of that, the struggles I am going through are nothing compared to what He or other people have gone through. Being a college athlete might be stressful, but I’m also living the dream of so many. I shouldn’t complain. This helps the stress go away and gives me the ability me assess the situation better than I previously would have.

How can readers of this blog pray for you?

I would just ask that they pray for a revival on the team. It feels like a few guys are teetering on the brink of becoming Christians. We have had some great conversations in the locker room. A lot of the guys have good spiritual questions and they want to keep talking. Please pray for the right words to come out of the mouths of the Christians. And please pray that my teammates would take heart to what we are saying.

View Comments

Monday Morning Humor

May 04, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Happy Star Wars Day.

View Comments

Imperfection and Initiative in the Christian Life

May 01, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Will Christians ever completely obey God in this life? Absolutely not. So then we shouldn’t work hard to grow in holiness or exhort others to do the same? Again, the answer is no. The admission of imperfection does not have to be the enemy of endeavor. We can keep trying even if we know we will never fully succeed.

Here’s how John Calvin puts it:

I do not insist that the moral life of a Christian man breathe nothing but the very gospel, yet this ought to be desired, and we must strive toward it. But I do not so strictly demand evangelical perfection that I would not acknowledge as a Christian one who has not yet attained it. For thus all would be excluded from the church, since no one is found who is not far removed from it, while many have advanced a little toward it whom it would nevertheless be unjust to cast away.

Makes sense. We are not going to be perfect. In fact, we are all light years away from the holiness of God. But Calvin’s not finished.

What then? Let that target be set before our eyes at which we are earnestly to aim. Let that goal be appointed toward which we should strive and struggle. For it is not lawful for you to divide things with God in such a manner that you undertake part of those things which are enjoined upon you by his Word but omit part, according to your own judgment. For in the first place, he everywhere commends integrity as the chief part of worshiping him [Gen. 17:1; Ps. 41:12; etc.]. By this word he means a sincere simplicity of mind, free from guile and feigning, the opposite of a double heart. It is as if it were said that the beginning of right living is spiritual, where the inner feeling of the mind is unfeignedly dedicated to God for the cultivation of holiness and righteousness.

So what’s the bottom line?

Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him. (Institutes III.vii.5)

As is often the case, our forefathers knew a thing or two about good doctrine and sound practice. Calvin strikes the right balance between realism and effort, between trusting and trying, between accepting imperfection without excusing iniquity. We would do well to listen to the likes of Calvin as we seek to understand and apply a  wise, Reformed, and biblical approach to sanctification.

View Comments

Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Rejoice, the Lord Is King

Apr 29, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.

*******

The two most important figures in eighteenth century hymnody were Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and the writer of this hymn, Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Charles, who with his older brother John (1703-1791) started the Methodist movement, wrote more 6500 hymns during his lifetime. We still sing many of Wesley’s hymns, including “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

Charles Wesley wrote the text to “Rejoice, the Lord is King” (1744) for Easter and Ascension Sundays. Originally the hymn had six stanzas, five of which are included in the Trinity Hymnal. The text rejoices in the kingship of Christ who rules over all. The refrain–“Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”–is a combination of two elements: the sursum corda (“Lift up your hearts”) which is a millennia old Latin prayer said before Communion and the joyful exclamation of Philippians 4:4 (“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.”).

The tune comes from John Darwall (1731-1789), an English vicar and an amateur musician. This tune, first published in 1770 as a setting for Psalm 148, is the only Darwall tune still in common use.

Rejoice, the Lord is king! Your Lord and king adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

View Comments
1 2 3 4 5 209