But Where Are the Nine?

Nov 25, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising god with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” (Luke 17:15-17)

Everyone reading this blog has reason to give praise to God. The question is whether we will go on our thankless way like the rest of the former lepers, or turn around and fall at Jesus’ feet like the Samaritan. Are you part of the one or one of the nine?

I find it easy to ask God for things. I find it relatively easy to confess sin, perhaps because I have so much of it and feel guilty for it. It is harder for me to give thanks, not because I think I’m too proud to say thank you, but because I don’t have my eyes open to see all that God has done and is doing.

All of us, I imagine, got sick in the past year. And almost all of us got better. Have we given thanks? If we are getting sicker, maybe even approaching death, have we given thanks for the grace to make it this far and for the grace that will lead us home?

There is so much God has done for us: jobs, paid our bills, paying our bills at church, safe travel, safe surgeries, miraculous provision for little babies over the past year. We’ve had good test results, open doors, and unexpected blessings. Have we thanked God?

Did you sleep last night? Did your kids? Will you eat tomorrow? Have you seen people recently converted? Are their relationships in the process of being healed? Did you sell your house or get married or finish school? Have you enjoyed the encouragement and support of the church? Have you enjoyed laughter and sympathy with friends? We’ve known guilt. We’ve received grace. Will we live out gratitude?

We aren’t all blessed in the same ways. But we all have been blessed in innumerable ways. Some return to Jesus with praise. Others do not. Which prompts Jesus to say two things: “Your faith has made you well” and “Where are the nine?”

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Doctrine Matters: Eternal Life Depends Upon It

Nov 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Christianity is much more than getting your doctrine right.

But it is not less.

You can have right doctrine and not be a Christian. You can know all sorts of true things about Jesus and not be saved. The Devil is not unaware of who Jesus really is. The first beings in the Gospels to recognize the true identify of Christ are the demons. You can know true things and not be a Christian.

But you cannot be a Christian without knowing true things.

Some doctrines are absolutely essential. You can know some truths and still be lost, but there are some truths, without which, you will not be found. What we believe about Jesus is one of those truths.

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

If you are interested in abiding with Jesus and abiding with the Father, you will care about the truth abiding in you. We will not know God unless we know the truth. Which is another way of saying: You do not get to heaven without theology. The promise of 1 John is that if the truth abides in you, you abide in God and you will receive what is promised to you: namely, eternal life.

So if you care about eternity–if you care about your friends, your children, your parents who do not know Jesus–you will care to tell them and to plead with them about Christ. Because if they do not know the Son–no matter how “spiritual” they are and non matter how nice they are and no matter how many positive things they say about God, all the good things they say about God or how nice they are–they do not know the Father.

Let us not send people into the world with merely a vague notion that Jesus saves without teaching them particulars about the Jesus who does save. Jesus is a Savior for every kind of person, but not every kind of Jesus saves.

Do you know Jesus Christ? Do you know this man, this God-Man, this Son, this Savior, this King, this Christ? Will you get to know this Jesus and never budge from him—the one we find in the word, the one abiding in you by the Holy Spirit, the one you received when you became a Christian? It is not an exaggeration to say that heaven hangs in the balance. Your eternal happiness depends upon it.

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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URC Employment Opportunity: Director of Worship

Nov 20, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

University Reformed Church is looking for a Director of Worship. This is a new full time position at the church with responsibility for providing leadership for Sunday worship services, various music ministries, and other pastoral duties based on the candidate’s gifting.

The qualified candidate for Director of Worship will know and love God and His Word, and will be a true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. This person will be in agreement with URC’s Statement of Faith and membership covenant, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Director should meet the qualifications for elder as laid out in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, and the PCA Book of Church Order. This person should also have an understanding of and ability to embrace URC’s A Brief Theology and Philosophy of Worship. The position is open to ordained or non-ordained applicants.

The qualified candidate will fulfill the following requirements:

  • Extensive experience and high level of skill in music and worship leading
  • Good understanding of basic music theory and fundamentals
  • Piano proficiency to enable teaching at rehearsals

Also valued:

  • Bachelor’s degree in music (or equivalent experience)
  • Guitar proficiency
  • Music arranging and/or choral conducting experience
  • Formal theological training

Resumes and applications may be submitted electronically to Sean Duffy, chair of the Director of Worship Selection Committee, or by mail to the church office. Consideration of submitted resumes will begin December 14.

Job Posting

Job Description

URC’s Brief Theology and Philosophy of Worship

Employment Application

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Our Eyes Look to the Lord Our God

Nov 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

One of our elders, Peeter Lukas, is recently retired from working on the line at GM. He’s also a very thoughtful man, and a quite a good thinker and writer. Whenever he leads a devotional time, he writes out his remarks in advance and reads them to us. What he presents is invariably edifying and inspiring.

Below is his devotion for a recent meeting of our Director of Worship Search Committee (of which, in addition to being an elder, he is also a member). I think you’ll find this short meditation good for your soul, not to mention good for anyone else looking for someone to help lead the congregation in worship.


Psalm 123

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

The question that we are all asking is, “What sort of man are we looking for?” It seems “strange” to me that a man on planet Earth actually exists today who shall, Lord willing, be here some day. But who is he? I don’t think we’re looking for a Vegas lounge lizard—“There’s no business like show business…”—and I doubt we’re looking for the ninth century British monk who gave out cordial “Remember death” greetings to one and all.

So, who are we looking for?

The Psalmist, in verse one says, “I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”

Also, Psalm 34:1-5 says,

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.

What are we looking for? Ultimately, it’s a man of spiritual purity—a man who lifts his eyes and heart to God in knowledgeable, eager expectation of mercy in his own worship. He worships in such a way that he can say in verse 3, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us.” He knows of the mercies of God within his own soul first. God has gifted him with musical abilities that find their first outlet in his own worship of the God of mercies. He has a profound awareness of the mercy and grace of God in Christ. A director of worship is therefore urgent about one thing—the necessity of God alone at the center of our corporate worship.

Simple question: Is there any concern that URC’s worship would somehow become “professional” or any other derivative of this which would mean a loss of true spirituality if we hire a director of worship?

Simple answer: There should be few words more troubling to this man than the word “professional.” He labors after undistracting excellence in worship, but he labors for the right things. He’s concerned that the microphone perfectly picks up the angelic voice of 7 year old Sally Pureheart. He won’t ask during a group photo, “Did you get my best side?” He says, “I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” and he longs to see the same in others. This is what we further see in verse 2.

Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Our director of worship is a servant. He may wear a three piece suit, he may wear jeans and a sweater, but he’s a man with a passion that our eyes look to the Lord our God. He has a concern to serve and be with everyone, servants and maidservants included. Yes, he’s concerned to understand and minister to the multi-ethnic culture of University Reformed Church. I just said that he labors for the right things. He likes the gospel as it was defined by African-Americans over a hundred years ago—“being seized by the power of a new affection.” But he is just as concerned and sensitive to the typical middle class, college educated family, with a husband who works too much, a wife who is becoming increasingly depressed, a son who looks at his Xbox too much, and a daughter who thinks that the Kardashians are THE template.

Yes, he will labor to be pure, to have passion, and also to be proficient. He’s a man who will work hard to figure out how to use a pin whistle or violin or organ or choir for the edification of the body. It seems that we want a man who not only knows that there are 88 keys to a piano, but he knows how to find and use them. He‘s a man who knows that the word “chord“ has the letter “h“ in it, and he knows how to help others find the various chords on a guitar. To what degree of proficiency? I think the Psalmist answers that in verse 2: “so our eyes look to the Lord our God till he has mercy upon us.” Many of us don’t know chords from choruses, or arias from librettos, but what matters most is that we the someone we find can proficiently and passionately lead “us” and “ourselves” and “our families” in God honoring worship.

One final question and thought: What’s the context of Psalm 123? The commentators aren’t unanimous in this. James Boice leans towards it being written “in the early days after the Jew’s return from exile in Babylon”. Calvin leans to the time “when the Jews were captives in Babylon or when Antiochus Epiphanes exercised towards them (the Jews) the most relentless cruelty.”

The precise timetable may not be known but it still helps us to better understand the emotional context of verses 3 and 4.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Contempt, scorn, being mocked—there are few things that more quickly cut into us than contempt, scorn, mocking. And yet, the Psalmist in Psalm 123 isn’t being stringent; he doesn’t retaliate the mocker‘s words, he doesn’t build strong walls of “regulative principles and principles and principles,” accompanied with fiery eyes. Yes, he did say “more than enough” two times but he used the word “mercy” three times. And his terra firma reality was…

so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Our man ought to be proficient—we‘ll each have a slightly different definition as to what this looks like, but at the end of the day, can he serve well the entire body of URC? Our man needs to be passionate about the gospel and in serving others, and our man must be pure, the delight of his eyes is to be in the Lord and in His mercy.

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Does the Thomas Aquinas Quotation Exist?

Nov 18, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

One of the points I raised in yesterday’s post was whether this famous Aquinas quotation actually exists: “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.” This line gets used often, but I’ve never seen any citation given for it.

One of the commenters took up my challenge and identified the location of this quotation.

Well, sort of. Actually, it’s not at all the same quotation, but here’s what was relayed in the comments section:

Since you asked for it, the Aquinas quote you are [sic] could not find is in ST II.II q30, a2, ad2. “On like manner this applies to those also who are in great fear, for they are so intent on their own passion, that they pay no attention to the suffering of others.”

This is helpful, but it’s not what Aquinas has been quoted as saying. The citation noted above (from the Summa Theologica) is in a section about “Whether the reason for taking pity is a defect in the person who pities?” Defect here is not a pejorative term. It simply means, is the lack or loss of something the reason for pity? To which Aquinas answers yes: “A defect is always the reason for taking pity, either because one looks upon another’s defect as one’s own, through being united to him by love, or on account of the possibility of suffering in the same way.” Fear comes into play in Aquinas’ logic not because it drives compassion out of the heart, but because it can be a distraction. When someone is gripped by the passion of fear, it can be hard to notice anything or anyone outside of ourselves. That’s still a fine Christian insight, and some may argue that it applies to the immigration crisis. It’s not, however, the same as saying that fear and compassion are mutually exclusive.

And in any event, the original quotation–the popular one often cited in a variety of contexts–still doesn’t appear to be something Aquinas actually said.

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Immigration Policy Must be Based on More than an Appeal to Compassion

Nov 17, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I don’t know how to fix the United States’ broken immigration system, and I don’t know how many Syrian or Turkish refugees should be admitted into this country. This is not to suggest that Christians shouldn’t care deeply about both of these issues. It is to admit, however, that the issues are of such a complexity that they cannot be solved by good intentions and broad appeals to Christian compassion.

Since the horrible events in France have focused the world’s attention on immediate immigration policy, let’s set aside the question of what to do with those who have entered this country illegally and think about how to handle the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers who are waiting permission to enter prosperous, Western nations like the United States.

When faced with the sight of millions of men, women, and children from war-torn lands seeking a better life—or just plain life—most Christians will voice their approval for open door policies of inclusion, hospitality, and welcome. For example, in a recent Christianity Today editorial (November 2015), Mark Galli chides the United States for becoming “increasingly stingy about welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” He considers our immigration policy “scandalous” when compared with Germany’s generous decision to welcome 800,000 refugees this year. While Mark—whom I’ve met and whose writing I often appreciate—does not wish to deny “the real political, social, and economic challenges of welcoming more sojourners,” the burden of his piece is that we not “let the gods of fear and security dictate how we respond.”

My good friend Trevin Wax sounded a similar note in his Washington Post opinion piece over the weekend. With his typical readability and heartfelt sincerity, Trevin argues that one sure way to let the terrorists win is to allow ourselves to be gripped by fear. “Terrorism thrives on fear,” he writes, “and fear—if left unchecked—can spread into the deepest, darkest corners of our hearts and lead to decisions and choices that, in normal times, would be unthinkable.” Trevin’s post is a stirring call to let compassion triumph over fear. Although Trevin acknowledges that “prudence” requires that we “enforce the strictest standards of security,” his underlying concern is that fear will lead to hatred, hatred will eclipse compassion, and without compassion we will not have the courage to welcome the thousands of families and children who have been victimized by war and violence through no fault of their own. As many Christians have done, and not a few Muslims and secular writers too, Trevin cites the famous line from Thomas Aquinas in support of open-door immigration policies: ““Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.” The Christian response is compassion not fear, which means that Rick Snyder (my governor) is likely wrong, if not immoral, to suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan.

After reading Mark and Trevin, I find myself wanting to cheer on much of what they encourage. Our church has always had a vibrant international ministry and we’ve rallied around families trying to work through the labyrinth of U.S. immigration policies so they can stay in the country legally. I too am turned off by the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that sounds more like Pharaoh in Exodus 1 than the “love the sojourner” commands in Deuteronomy 10. It is a commendable response to see hurting people and think, “Let’s do all we can to help.”

And yet, this good Christian impulse runs the risk of taking an extremely complex geo-political, international crisis and reducing it to pious platitudes about showing compassion to the least of these and not giving in to fear. As I said at the beginning, I don’t have a plan to fix our broken immigration system and I don’t know the “correct” number of Syrian refugees to welcome into the country, but I do think there is more than one way for a Christian to approach these issues. As much as I respect my evangelical brothers like Mark and Trevin, I stumble over a few of their claims and conclusions.

First, I don’t find the Aquinas quotation particularly helpful. For starters, I’m not sure he actually said it. I’m no expert on Aquinas, but after digging around my books and scouring the internet for the better part of a morning I couldn’t find anyone anywhere providing attribution for this quotation. If someone knows where the line about fear and compassion comes from, let me know because I’d love to see the context. What I do know is that the Summa Theologica contains several chapters on the nature, object, causes, and effects of fear, and they present a much more nuanced picture (1a2ae, 41-44). According to Aquinas, fear is neither a virtue nor a vice, but a passion arising (1) out of love (i.e., we love someone or something that could be lost or destroyed) and (2) out of defect (i.e., our inability to overcome someone or something more powerful than ourselves). While fear—whose effects, Aquinas says, are contraction, deliberation, and trembling—can hinder our capacity for rational deliberation, it is often a motivation for seeking wise counsel and pursuing positive action. According to Aquinas, the opposite of fear is not compassion, but boldness or daring (audacia), which inspires us to meet danger head-on with the certain hope that we shall prevail (1a2ae,45). So what is the Aquinas-approved immigration plan? I don’t know, but at the very least we should allow that the perfect love that casts our fear (1 John 4:18) is not the fear of terrorists entering the country and spraying a theater with bullets.

Second, the nod to security is appropriate but undeveloped. When Christians write about welcoming more refugees, there is usually some aside about the importance of taking every necessary security measure. True enough, but isn’t part of the problem that the bad guys and good guys aren’t always easy to distinguish? There is no way to do background checks on every Syrian refugee. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of displaced persons are simply looking for peace and a new chance at life. But does anyone doubt there may also be a small number of extremists waiting in the same line? Is it unChristian to not want radical jihadists shooting people in our communities? That’s hardly a far-fetched scenario. So how do we balance competing goods—the good of welcoming in suffering people and the good of keeping out those who want to inflict suffering on others? And how do we pursue these ends when it may be impossible to know if we are helping the right people? The answer is not as easy as fear versus compassion. Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away. It’s not unreasonable or unfeeling to think that in some cases supplying refugee camps with humanitarian aid or protecting safe havens elsewhere could be a responsible approach that avoids the risks of immediate resettlement in the United States.

Finally, the Christian impulse to make our immigration policy as wide as possible often fails to consider the importance of sovereign nation-states. In a timely essay entitled “Two Theories of Immigration” (First Things, December 2015), Mark Amstutz, a political science professor at Wheaton College, argues that a communitarian approach must take priority over a cosmopolitan approach. According to Amstutz, the communitarian embraces the moral duty to care for refugees, but also accepts “a concurrent obligation to maintain our own societies as stable and well-governed.” The cosmopolitan approaches international affairs from a different perspective, viewing the world as a “coherent global society united by the simple fact of our common humanity, and often regard[ing] the nation-state as an impediment to international justice.” While the universal ambitions of the cosmopolitan approach resonate with Christians, Amstutz maintains that good immigration policy needs to be balanced with communitarian insights about the positive goods that come from a strong sense of national unity, the realism which underscores the need for competing (and cooperating) powers, and the important role nation-states play in advancing human rights. In other words, while the cosmopolitan approach is admirable in its emphasis on inclusion and welcoming the stranger, it often fails to consider the social, economic, and security challenges which tear at the cultural cohesion necessary for human flourishing.

The issue of immigration—both for those inside the country already and for those wanting to get in—is bound to be a pressing political, international, and humanitarian concern for many years. We need Christian writers, thinkers, pastors, scholars, and activists to be a part of the conversation. My plea is that the conversation reflect the complexity of the situation and goes beyond the familiar dichotomies of love versus hate, inclusion versus exclusion, and fear versus compassion. There are too many important things, and too many human lives, at stake to move quite so quickly from solid Christian principles to simple policy prescriptions.

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 16, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

“The humor of the entire situation soon gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere.”

Last week saw the 45th anniversary of one of the greatest local news stories of all time.

HT: Tony Reinke

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Ten Diagnostic Questions for Your Marriage

Nov 12, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who suggested that laughter is often a very good indicator of how well the marriage is going. When the silliness slows down, it may be because you are in a season of suffering, but it may also mean you’ve exited a season of peace and trust. The couple that laughs together lasts together.

This insight got me thinking: what are some other questions that can help diagnose the health of our marital life? Here are ten that may prove useful.

1. Do you pray together? This may be the hardest one, so I’ll put it first. While I do know of good marriages where the husband and wife don’t pray together nearly as much as they would like, I don’t know any bad marriages where the husband and wife pray together all the time.

2. Do you still notice each other? I don’t remember much about the movie Dave (the 90’s flick about a lookalike who stands in for a deceased president), but I remember a scene where the pretend president (played by Kevin Kline) is caught staring at the legs of his “wife” (Sigourney Weaver). Later it is revealed that she knew from that early moment that this man was not her real husband, because her real husband (who died having an affair) hadn’t looked at her legs for years. Okay, it’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad lesson. Is there any chance anyone would ever catch you noticing your spouse as attractive?

3. Do you ever hold hands? In the movies? On the couch? Walking around the block? During prayer at church? In the car? We all love to see old couples holding hands. It always made me feel good as a kid to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand while driving (yes, it was sometimes dangerous). If this simple act of affection is missing, more may be missing than you realize.

4. When is the last time you said “I’m sorry”? Not as an excuse. Not with a snarl. But a sincere, tender, broken-hearted apology.

5. When is the last time you said, “Thank you”? I’m not talking about politeness when passing the salt. I’m talking about a specific expression of gratitude for doing the dishes, for letting you sleep in, for working hard to provide for the family, for watching the kids all day, or for making your favorite meal.

6. When is the last time you planned a surprise? A few weeks ago I got my wife flowers for no particular reason. It just felt like it had been too long since I had gone out of my way to give her something nice. Do you still surprise each other with gifts, with special outings, with a kiss out of the blue, with coming home early (or staying up late)?

7. When is the last time you embarrassed the kids together? Children should roll their eyes from time to time because of how silly mom and dad can get. They should see you dancing, see you kissing, see you acting utterly goofy. The kids will hate it, but deep down probably love it too. Children need to see their parents having a grand time together.

8. When is the last time you went out and talked about something other than the kids? You don’t have to spend money. You can go on a walk, grab a swing, or drink water (it’s always cold!) at Panera. Just get away from the kids and try not fixate on them when they’re not there.

9. What would others think about your spouse just by listening to you speak about him or her? We all have occasions where we talk about our spouse to others–in a small group, at a prayer meeting, to another friend, to a family member, to the pastor. If someone could overhear everything you said about your husband or wife in a month, and then they met your spouse for the first time, would they be surprised by the person they found? From your conversation, would others guess that your spouse is a prince of a guy or queen of the harpies?

10. Do you think more about what you aren’t giving or about what you aren’t getting? We all get hurt in marriage. We all get disappointed. Stick with someone until death and you are bound to be wronged a time or two. But as you think about what needs help in your marriage, are you fixated on your spouse’s deficiencies or your room for improvement? To love like Christ is to commit to loving well even when we are not loved as we deserve.

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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Nov 10, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

On November 10, 1975, exactly 40 years ago today, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior, the largest Great Lakes freighter at the time of its launch and the largest to ever sink in the Great Lakes. The infamous disaster was made even more famous when Gordon Lightfoot wrote, composed, and recorded The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to commemorate the lives of the 29 sailors who died on the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. I remember learning the song as a young boy and seeing various artifacts on display as my family visited the Upper Pennisula. I bet most Michiganders can sing the first verse, and few can listen to the song without getting a chill or two.

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