Maundy Thursday

Apr 17, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Like millions of Christians around the world, we will have a Maundy Thursday service tonight. If you’ve never heard the term, it’s not Monday-Thursday (which always confused me as a kid), but Maundy Thursday, as in Mandatum Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin word for “command” or “mandate”, and the day is called Maundy Thursday because on the night before his death Jesus gave his disciples a new command. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

At first it seems strange that Christ would call this a new command. After all, the Old Testament instructed God’s people to love their neighbors and Christ himself summarized the law as love for God and love for others. So what’s new about love? What makes the command new is that because of Jesus’ passion there is a new standard, a new example of love.

There was never any love like the dying love of Jesus. It is tender and sweet (13:33). It serves (13:2-17). It loves even unto death (13:1). Jesus had nothing to gain from us by loving us. There was nothing in us to draw us to him. But he loved us still, while we were yet sinners. At the Last Supper, in the garden, at his betrayal, facing the Jewish leaders, before Pontius Pilate, being scourged, carrying his cross, being nailed to the wood, breathing his dying breath, forsaken by God-he loved us.

To the end.

To death.

Love shone best and brightest at Calvary.

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy, cast off that I might be brought in, trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend, surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best, stripped that I might be clothed, wounded that I might be healed, athirst that I might drink, tormented that I might be comforted, made a shame that I might inherit glory, entered darkness that I might have eternal life.My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes, groaned that I might have endless song, endured all pain that I might have unfading health, bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem, bowed his head that I might uplift mine, experienced reproach that I might receive welcome, closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness, expired that I might for ever live. (The Valley of Vision, “Love Lustres at Calvary”)

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A Hymn Worth Not Singing

Apr 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I’m thankful for most of the hymns I learned in the church growing up. I’m thankful for the timeless ones from Watts and Wesley and even the campy ones like Victory in Jesus. Considering the move to all things digital, I’m increasingly thankful that we even had a hymnal to hold, peruse, learn from, and take home.

But most hymnals have a few clunkers. I grew up singing God of Grace and God of Glory. It’s a good title set to a strong tune (almost always CWR RHONDDA, though the author wrote it for REGENT SQUARE) and has the stirring refrain: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.” The problem is the hymn was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well known liberal preacher who inflamed the modernist-fundamentalist controversy with his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win” (1922), in which he set aside essential articles of the Christian faith like the virgin birth and the Second Coming.

Can we only sing songs in church written by solid evangelical Christians? I wouldn’t say that. We may not know the precise theological convictions of some ancient hymn writers and, no doubt, popular tunes can come from a wide array of sources. But I question whether we should sing songs meaning something with the words that the author did not mean. Fosdick wrote God of Grace for the dedication of the Rockefeller financed Riverside Church in New York City (October 5, 1930). Years later when he penned his autobiography, Fosdick entitled it “The Living of these Days,” an allusion to a line in the second verse of his famous hymn. When Fosdick wrote of the church’s need for courage and asked God that the church might bloom in “glorious flower,” he had a different vision for the church than we should be comfortable with.

Besides the question of authorial intent and a host of vague exhortations, the hymn has one dreadful line:

Save us from weak resignation,
From the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.

The first sentence is passable, though it comes across as an ode to willpower. The second sentence should simply not be sung. Is it really the case that the search for salvation is our eternal glory? Is this what liberalism has to offer—that we exult in our journeying after God? It’s no wonder so many contemporary hymnals have left out this verse or changed the line to “the gift of your salvation.” The surpassing glory of divine grace is not be found in our seeking, but in our being found.

How striking that the other famous hymn to use the tune CWM RHONDDA is Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, written by the great Welsh preacher and hymn writer William Williams. Where Fosdick celebrates earthly triumph and our seeking after salvation, Williams has us sing of God’s kindness in leading us through this pilgrim life until we safely reach our heavenly home on the other side of death and destruction. Both use the same stout Welsh tune, but only one deserves it. There are many true statements in Fosdick’s hymn, but not enough to overshadow the man’s errant theology and his misguided sense of where true glory lies.

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Are Christians in America Persecuted?

Apr 15, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The short answer is “Yes, all the time.”

The not as short answer is: “Yes, Christians in America are persecuted, but not as frequently, consistently, or with nearly the intensity that Christians are persecuted in many other parts of the world.”

For a longer answer, keep reading.

What’s In a Word

I understand why non-Christians would say Christians in this country are not persecuted. It doesn’t help their cause to make martyrs of rank and file evangelicals. And besides, many secular people still think the Christian Right is intent on instituting a theocracy and punishing all infidels. Persecution is hardly in their purview.

I also understand why progressive Christians would say Christians in this country are not persecuted. Christians on the left are apt to see evangelicals as the meanies, not secularists. Progressive Christians hold to a narrative that blames conservatives for instigating the culture war and driving young people from the church. Persecution is not the problem; intransigence is. Progressives long for the day when—if we would just beat our fundamentalist spears into NPR pruning hooks—our churches would be full of Christian activists attuned to the sensitivities of our cultural despisers.

I even understand why many conservative Christians are reticent to use the p-word to describe our troubles. We think of persecution as church bombings and physical violence—the sort of stuff our brothers and sisters in North Africa and the Middle East and in parts of Asia face every day. We understand, rightly, that getting a forced hiatus from Duck Dynasty is not exactly suffering on the same scale. If persecution means “there’s a decent chance this year that someone will try to kill me or a family member for being Christians” then no, we are not persecuted in this country.

Bringing in the Bible

But is that what the Bible means by “persecution”? Like most Greek words, the word translated “persecution” in our English Bibles (dioko) has a wide semantic range. According to the standard lexicon for the New Testament (BDAG), dioko can mean “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute.” In many place in the New Testament, persecution refers to violence toward Christians. Matthew 10:21-23 speaks family members killing other family members. Luke 11:49 references killing and persecution in the same breath. And in Acts persecution is linked with arrest, murder, and physical violence (Acts 7:52; 9:4; 22:4, 7; 26:11, 14; see also Gal. 1:13).

But there is reason to think dioko is not limited to these extreme acts of oppression. In Matthew 5:10, Jesus promises that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will be blessed. Then in v. 11 he further explains what this persecution is like: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” It’s possible that reviling and persecuting and uttering evil are three distinct acts, but considering verse 11 flows out of verse 10, it’s better to see these as overlapping categories. When verse 12 says “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” Jesus does not mean every prophet was killed, but rather that all the prophets were reviled and spoken against, and in this manner (or worse) they were persecuted. Persecution may mean being put to death (Matt. 10:21), but it can also refer to being “hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22).

We are confirmed in this broader understanding of persecution by two other passages:

John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

2 Timothy 3:13 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Persecution is not something that befalls only a few Christians. While it’s possible to read Jesus’ words in John 15:20 as a unique promise for the apostles, the passage from 2 Timothy cannot be read so narrowly. The point is plain: while martyrdom is a special category set aside for a select number of Christians (Rev. 6:8-11), persecution is the normal experience of every Christian everywhere. From stiff fines, to family shame, to being kicked off college campuses, to laws against sharing our faith, to unjust trials, to public mockery and scorn, to arrest and brutality, if we faithfully follow Jesus in this world we all will face persecution at some point in our Christian discipleship.

Why This Matters

So what? What’s the big deal in proving that “technically” Christians are being persecuted in this country? Is this about feeling sorry for ourselves and finding more ammunition to blame the media for our troubles? Not at all. We should not think more highly of our suffering than it deserves.

But neither should we make it out to be something less than it is. There are at least four reasons it’s important we realize that Christians in America will be, and often are being, persecuted.

First, we do not want to miss out on the privilege of suffering, even a little bit, for the name of Jesus (Acts. 5:41). Being hated for Christian beliefs and Christian virtues is no fun under any circumstances, but the pain is made worse when we have no category for joining in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering (Phil. 3:10).

Second, we should not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test us (1 Peter 4:12). If we expect persecution to only come in the form of imprisonment and death, we will not know what to think of slander, derision, and disdain. The New Testament assumes that being hated for one’s Christianity is the norm, not the exception.

Third, if we overly limit the scope of persecution, we will neglect the Christian ethic incumbent upon us to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom. 12:14; see also 1 Cor. 4:12). When people slander us, mock us, or pass laws against us because we are thought to be anti-gay, anti-science, and anti-women, that is persecution. And as such, we are commanded by Christ himself to pray for those and love those who hate us so.

Fourth, if John 15:20 is true, and 2 Timothy 3:13 is true, and the expectation of the entire New Testament is true, then no amount of PR work is going to rescue the church from being thought by some as backwards and bigoted. Where in the gospels did Jesus promise that the world would love us if we just kept our heads down and tried to be good neighbors? Where in Revelation is war with the dragon presented as anyone’s fault but the dragon’s? I know many outsiders think of the church as being very “unchristian” and evangelicals as being political operatives for the Republican Party. So let’s have the humility to see if we are as obnoxious and unintelligent as many people surmise. But let’s not assume that bad press with the world means we’ve done wrong by God. This is Holy Week after all, where Jesus was hated by the crowd and abandoned by his own disciples.

As followers of a crucified king we should expect to be like the scum of the earth to some (1 Cor. 4:13) and like the aroma of death to others (2 Cor. 2:16). We should not think misinformed hatred and intolerant harassment mean the church has gone off the rails. The presence of persecution is no sign that Christians have failed to engage the world properly. In fact, from everything we’ve seen in the passages above we ought to suspect something is wrong with us if we have avoided all of the world’s persecution successfully.

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Monday Morning Humor

Apr 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I hope your pageant turns out better than this one.

And then there’s this one–the actions starts around 1:15.

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Preaching Carefully on Palm Sunday

Apr 13, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Just to be clear: the crowd on Palm Sunday welcoming Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” is by and large not the same crowd on Good Friday that demands his death with shouts of “Crucify!”

This is a popular point preachers like to make, and I’ve probably made it myself: “Look at the fickle crowd. They sing songs to him on Sunday and five days later on Friday they want to kill him. How quickly we all turn away.” But read all four gospel accounts carefully (and check some good commentaries). The excited throng on Palm Sunday was filled with Galilean pilgrims and the larger group of disciples, not the Jerusalem crowd in general (see Luke 19:37; Mark 15:40-41; John 12:12, 17).

R.T. France summarizes:

There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favourite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city, the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him.’

Have a blessed Holy Week that sticks closely to all sorts of glorious texts.

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Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

Apr 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Revelation 9:20-21 “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

God’s word to the peoples of the world is not only an offer of grace, nor even less simply a call to live rightly, nor even less still a promise to make all our dreams come true if we just have faith. We have not heard all that God wants to say to us unless we have heard his command to repent.

Ezekiel said “Repent and turn from your transgressions” (Ezek. 18:30).  John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Peter said “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).  And Paul said God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Repentance has never been easy. No one likes to be told “Die to yourself.  Kill that in you.  Admit you are wrong and change.”  That’s never been an easy sell. It’s much easier to get a crowd by leaving out the repentance part of faith, but it’s not faithful. It’s not even Christianity. Of course, there is a whole lot more to following Jesus than repentance, but it’s certainly not less.  “Repent,” Jesus said, or “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

Repentance has always been hard, always will be hard.

Regret, now that’s easy. Suppose you walk into work one day, furious for no good reason. You get paid well and treated nicely, but you feel like supervisor is unfair. You should have got the promotion, even though you were less qualified and less experienced.  Nevertheless, you march into the office and let your supervisor have it. You tell him where to stick this job. You tell him exactly what you think about him and his wife and mother and his grandmother and his dog. Next thing you know, you’re fired. Later that night, you feel just sick about the whole thing.  How could you have been so stupid to say all that. Now you’re out of work. That’s regret. You don’t have to see your sin or admit wrong and be humbled to feel regret. You just have to feel bad about the consequences of your actions. It’s easy to have regret, but that’s not repentance.

Embarrassment is easy too. Suppose you’re out in the lobby after church and a group of you are chatting about “her.”  No one has talked to “her,” but you all talking about her–what’s wrong in her marriage, what’s wrong with her kids, what’s wrong with her house. You aren’t strategizing how to help her. You’re just talking about her. And then you realize she’s been looking for her coat right behind you the whole time.  She’s heard the whole thing.  And as she bolts out of church crying, you feel just terrible. You are so embarrassed. Now, it may be that you are really struck in your conscience and you are moved to ask for forgiveness. But it could be that you are just embarrassed at being caught. You feel terrible, not so much with having gossiped, but that she heard you gossiping. You wonder what she thinks of you now and if she will tell others about this incident. Sure, you feel terrible, but it’s out of love for your reputation, not out of hatred for sin. You’re simply embarrassed, and that’s not repentance.

Apology is not repentance either.  To be sure, repentance often involves an apology. But just because you’ve issued an apology doesn’t mean you’ve repented.  We’ve all heard and given pseudo-apologies.  “I’m sorry if you were offended.”  “I’m sorry if you took things the wrong way.”  “I’m sorry I said that about your kids.  It’s not that I think their bad kids, their just wild, unruly, and undisciplined.  I’m sorry you’re so sensitive.” Or even when the apology is sincere, it may not be a sincere statement of repentance.  It may just be a sincere statement of feeling remorse or shame.

So regret is easy, embarrassment is easy, and apology is easy.  Repentance, on the other hand, is very hard and, therefore, much rarer.  Repentance involves two things: a change of mind and a change of behavior.

Repentance means you change your mind.  That’s what the Greek word metanoia means– a changed (meta) mind (noia).

You change your mind about yourself: “I am not fundamentally a good person deep down.  I am not the center of the universe.  I am not the king of the world or even my life.”

You change your mind about sin: “I am responsible for my actions.  My past hurts do not excuse my present failings.  My offenses against God and against others are not trivial.  I do not live or think or feel as I should.”

And you change your mind about God: “He is trustworthy.  His word is sure.  He is able to forgive and to save. I believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. I owe him my life and my allegiance. He is my King and my Sovereign, and he wants what is best for me.  I believe it!”

Repentance is hard because changing someone’s mind is hard.  In fact, when we’re dealing with spiritual matters of the heart, God’s the only one who can really change your mind.  People are simply not predisposed to say “I was wrong! I was wrong about God and about myself. My whole way of looking at the world has been in error.  I want to change.”  That’s repentance.  And it’s amazing when it happens.

In the classic book detailing his conversion to Christianity, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton compares his journey to an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England, while under the impression he was in the South Seas.  That’s how Chesterton came to Christ.  He rejected Christianity and set out to find what was really true.  And when he found the truth, he discovered he was back home again.  What he found had been there all along.

Here’s how he describes his metanoia, his change of mind:

For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me.  I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before…No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.

I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century.  I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age.  Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth.  And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.  I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths.  And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine.

When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom…The man from the yacht thought he was the first to find England; I thought I was the first to find Europe. I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

Chesterton changed his mind.  He admitted he was a fool and a joke.  He had professed all the latest ideas.  But the one thing he was sure was most wrong, ended up being right.

Repentance also involves a change of behavior.  It’s like a train conductor driving his train down the tracks straight for the side of a mountain.  It’s one thing for him to realize and admit that his train his going in the wrong direction.  It’s another thing to stop the train and it get it going in the opposite direction.

As you probably know, prior to becoming a Christian, John Newton was a drunken sailor and a slave trader.  He was converted in a storm at sea.  His life whole did not change at once.  But because his repentance was genuine, he did change.

I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament.  Thus far, the Lord had wrought a marvelous thing: I was no longer an infidel: I heartily renounced my former profaneness, and had taken up some right notions…I was sorry for my past misspent life, and purposed an immediate reformation.  I was quite freed from the habit of swearing, which seemed to have been as deeply rooted in me as a second nature.  Thus, to all appearance, I was a new man.

From there he had a long road of being transformed from one degree of glory to the next. He changed his mind and his behavior slowly began to follow suit. It took time, but he bore fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). He did not change in order to become new, but  that he was a new man had to be proved by his change.

If we preach a “gospel” with no call to repentance we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel.

If we knowing allow unconcerned, impenitent sinners into the membership and ministry of the church, we are deceiving their souls and putting ours at risk as well.

If we think people can find a Savior without forsaking their sin, we do not know what sort of Savior Jesus Christ is.

There are few things more important in life than repentance.  So important, that Revelation, and the gospels, and the epistles, and the Old Testament make clear that you don’t go to heaven without it.

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One of My Most Vivid Memories from T4G

Apr 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I’m not crazy about the video montage, but I will never forget this sermon and this section from R.C. Sproul’s address at T4G in 2008.

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One of the Absolute Best Things about T4G Is the Singing

Apr 09, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

And this is one of my favorite hymns. I hope we do it again this year.

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What We Need

Apr 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Good works are not optional for the Christian. Christians who live in habitual, unrepentant sin show themselves not to be true Christians. Of course, we all stumble (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8).  But there’s a difference between falling into sin and jumping in with both feet. It doesn’t matter the sin—pride, slander, robbery, covetousness, or sexual immorality—if we give ourselves to it and live in it with joyful abandon, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. Simply put, people walking day after day in the same sin without a fight or repentance go to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 John 3:14).

In our day careful attention needs to be paid to the issue of sexual immorality in particular.  This isn’t because Christians are prudes or like to judge others or are obsessed with sex.  We have to talk about sexual sin because it is the idol of our age. For the church to be silent on the most important ethical matters of our day would be irresponsible and cowardly. This means Christians have difficult waters ahead, especially as it relates to the issue of homosexuality. How can we talk about sexual immorality in a way that is both true and gracious?

First, we need courage.  We need courage to say that unchecked, unrepentant sexual immorality–like unchecked, unrepentant theft, greed, drunkenness, anger, and bitterness–cannot be tolerated in the church.  We need courage in our churches, our denominations, our schools, and our parachurch organizations to affirm clearly—not just on paper, but in our preaching and actions—that blatant sin, of any kind (especially when it is persistent), is to be lovingly rebuked, not celebrated and solemnized. The peace-loving, conflict-avoiding, middle of the roaders need courage to stand on God’s word and not compromise for fear of being thought mean, narrow, majoring on the minors, a distraction, or arrogantly self-assured. Young people especially need courage to stick out in their schools and among their friends as they winsomely defend the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman for a lifetime.

Second, we need humility.  We need to check our own hearts to make sure our courage does not become hostility, and our love for the word of God does not become disdain for those who disobey it.  We need to ask God to show us our blind spots, whether it has to do with divorce, or greed, or self-righteousness. We need to repent of pride. We need to repent of our own sexual sins.

Third, we need love.  We must be willing to touch—emotionally, socially, and physically—those who sin just like us, even if they sin in different ways than some of us.  We need to love enough to listen to those who struggle with sexual temptations. We need to love enough to suffer with those who suffer and be willing to suffer for standing on the word of God.

Fourth, we need hope.  We need hope that God can change the hardest heart and slowly, over time, change the deepest addictions, habits, and affections. And if he chooses not to, we need hope to believe he can give us the grace to walk in the light as he is in the light. We need to offer hope—the hope of God’s mercy, the hope of forgiveness, the hope of eternal life, the hope of a warm, truth-filled, grace-saturated church community, the hope of 1 Corinthians 6 that “such were some of you.”

Finally, we need prayer. Pray that evangelical churches and institutions would not do the easy thing and try to make all sides happy under the guise of conversation and dialogue, but do the hard, loving thing and call sin sin so that grace can be grace and God can show himself to be the sort of God who forgives our iniquities, heals our diseases, redeems our life from the pit, crowns us with steadfast love and mercy, and satisfies us with good. Pray for those who struggle with sexual temptation—whether it be pornography, lust, or same gender attraction.  Pray that our churches would be welcoming places for strugglers, sinners, and sufferers.  Pray for open doors to minister to those who often hate the church—sometimes for bad reasons and sometimes for understandable reasons.  Pray for those in the gay community—one of the least reached peoples on earth—that they would be open to the truth of God’s word and that our hearts would be open to them. Pray that God would rid us of unrighteous anger, cowardice, compromise, and fear. Pray that the precious, holy, merciful name of Jesus would be hallowed, and that the light of Christ would shine in the dark places in our cities, and in the dark places in our churches, and in the dark places of our own hearts.

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Monday Morning Humor

Apr 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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