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November 23, 2015

As a young man, I often spent time around older men so I could receive their wisdom and counsel. I wanted to hear about their experience of living as Christians, and especially their experience of growing in holiness. I wanted their assurance that they had seen significant success in the battle against sin—not just that they had made hesitant little tip-toes toward holiness, but that they had become far more holy than they ever would have thought possible.

Sadly, few things were as alarming and discouraging as hearing older men talk about their sin. This was especially true of sexual sin. Not once did I hear men testify to pronounced, significant success in this area. Rather, I heard them speak of it as a constant trial and as an area of very little progress. Most often it was said not with brokenness but with a kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge. “I’m only human, you know.” “I may be fifty, but I’m still a man.” These men had given up the most blatant outward expressions of sexual immorality, but still had eyes that wandered and they still lived with fantasies playing in their minds.

What I kept hearing was, “Give it your best shot. Get rid of the most blatant sins. Don’t look at porn or commit adultery, but be realistic as well.” It’s like these men had reached a grudging, reluctant point of obedience that had smoothed out the roughest edges. And then they had determined that this was far enough. They thought it was unrealistic to expect much more of themselves. I was devastated when I heard an older friend I admired more than just about anyone else say, “I don’t think it matters where I get my appetite, as long as I eat at home.” Was that really the best I could hope for, that I’d be outwardly faithful to a wife but inwardly I would wander? Could I expect that I’d never really progress much beyond where I was as a young man? Did I have to resign myself to living forever with a mind that wandered and dreamed of all I didn’t have?

All the while I was reading the Bible and heard God say “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all [or absolute] purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) and “but among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity” (Ephesians 5:3). I read about Job and the covenant he made that he would never look with lust upon a young woman. What I longed to hear from an exemplary older man was, “Yes, you can be far holier than you ever thought possible. I know, because I am far holier than I ever would have thought possible.”

It took many years and a lot of pondering God’s Word before I realized that God really can make his people far holier than they thought possible. The change began with a simple but life-changing realization: God would not tell me to do something I could not actually do. I read, “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) and understood that God was saying, “You actually can treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. You actually can be far purer than you ever thought possible.” I read, “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity” and understood God was saying, “You actually can live without the constant sin and guilt of wandering eyes and a daydreaming mind. You can when you’re walking with me.”

I came to understand that God’s commands are not suggestions. They are not vague notions of propriety. They are not tasks or to-dos. Not to the Christian, that is. To the Christian, God’s commands are promises. They are promises that you really can be this, you really can have this, you really can do this if you take hold of what he offers. God does not merely give the command and then leave you to your own devices. That would be impossible. No, God gives the command and offers the means to obey and fulfill the command. He gives you the desire to put that sin to death, he gives you the desire to come alive to righteousness, and he gives you the Holy Spirit to make it all possible. When he gives you all this, there is nothing more to need! God commands so you can take hold of his promise and see him prove himself faithful. You actually can obey him all the way. You actually can be free from the sin, and not just in its broadest, most blatant forms.

To young men I want to say this (and young women and older men and older women): You can be far holier, far purer than you ever thought possible. You really can. You may not see your sin so completely and utterly vanquished that it never raises its ugly head again. But you can see massive, unbelievable success against that sin. You can, because God gives you a command. And where he gives a command, he also gives the means to obey.

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 23, 2015

Crossway has several Christmas-themed books on sale for Kindle including: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and The Innkeeper by John Piper ($3.99 each); Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Nancy Guthrie ($2.99); The Three Wise Women by Christin Ditchfield ($1.99); The Invention of Lefse by Larry Woiwode ($1.99). Also consider The Dating Manifesto by Lisa Anderson ($2.99); Wisdom & Wonder ($0.99) and Rooted & Grounded ($1.99) by Abraham Kuyper; Setting Our Affections upon Glory by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ($2.99). Not surprisingly, Amazon is offering Kindle devices for sale as part of their Black Friday week event.

The Bible App Deep Dive

I enjoyed this extensive review and comparison of various Bible apps. It’s fun to see how far apps have come over the past few years.

Holiday at the Dictator’s Guesthouse

If you’re in the mood for a long read, you’ll enjoy reading about one eccentric who decided to travel to North Korea in order to leave a Bible behind. It didn’t go very well.

Don’t Forget These Heroes of Paris

The terrible events in Paris did not unfold without some heroics. “At center stage in this show of courage and compassion were men and women who risked their lives to save others.”

Questions Through the Decades

Alan Wilson shares a series of questions which characterise each decade of life.

This Day in 101. According to tradition, Clement of Rome, “the first apostolic father,” died 1,914 years ago today. *

Syria’s Lost Children

Even while people consider how to help Syrian refugees, it is important that we do not lose sight of who many of them actually are. “Photojournalist Magnus Wennman traveled around Europe and the Middle East, capturing these children of war as they tried to find some rest in a frightening, uncertain world.”

Forgetting to Preach the Gospel

The new emphasis on gospel-centered preaching is a good thing. “As with any philosophy, it is often easier to believe in theory than it is to implement in practice. In this blog we will look at three common ways that those committed to gospel-centered preaching unintentionally forget to preach the gospel.”

Why Fractals Are So Beautiful

“You don’t have to look hard to notice aspects of nature that clearly don’t fit the Euclidean framework. Rivers, mountains, coastlines, lightning, our circulatory system: Where’s the symmetry and structure? Where’s the order? The answer, as mathematicians are discovering more and more often, involves fractals: geometric figures that occur in nature, even in seemingly chaotic systems.”


When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink of understanding the Gospel. —Tim Keller

Letters to the Editor
November 22, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some of the letters to the editor that have come in this week—letters that are representative of the ones I received recently. I would invite those of you who read the blog regularly to consider reading these letters as a part of the back-and-forth between writer and readers.

Comments on Comments

I know others are disappointed with the demise of the comment section but I wanted to let you know how much more I enjoy the letters to the editor feature. While it wasn’t a huge problem with this blog, comments sections too often become a place for disrespect, argument, and unrelated rabbit trails and can be frustrating to wade through (not to mention the occasional raising of my ire!). With the letters feature, I just get the highlights (and a few lowlights) that are relevant to the topic at hand. Keep up the good work!
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR


I miss the comments section. I miss the encouragement of people who agree and the thought provoked by those who don’t… Or those who wish to add something. I’m not a commenter, but I’m a reader. Thanks!
—Jenny S, Mankato, MN


Tim-I sure appreciate your Best Commentaries recommendations. What I REALLY miss is the comment section where many other Bible students and seasoned expositors added their recommendations to your list of helpful commentaries. The collected experience and wisdom was much more than comments- but help for us other expositors always seeking the best tools. Please bring these back. Thanks!
—Dave S, Dover, PA

Tim: To this point I have not found a way to maintain the old commenting threads without also opening up new ones. For now it looks like the section is either on or off. I’m working on it.

Comments on Jesus Calling and last week’s Letters to the Editor

I assume that I will not be the only one to comment on the Letters to the Editor #5. I want to commend you for posting the article that you did regarding Jesus Calling. You asked to become very unpopular; it shows that you’re not about blogging in order to gain the affirmation of the populace. Thank you for writing articles that are concerned with the approbation of God. Let me make three observations about the responses to your article. 1) All of the responses that you posted were written by women. Was that purposeful? Would you say that most of the responses you received were from women? I just want to point out that the demographic that love Jesus Calling the most seems to be middle aged women (like Sarah Young). Funny how Jesus sounds like a middle aged women in SY’s writings. 2) Many of the objectors to your article used their own experience as an argument for the validity of the book. The readers are so quick to justify their use of the devotional by the fact that THEY, and those dear to them, use it. Hmmm. Since when have our experiences fully vindicated us with respect to our opinions? 3) Why are we glossing over the fact that our hero (SY) has claimed, via her preface, that she wanted something more than Scripture? That claim alone should set off red flags. She has just claimed that God’s voice in Scripture is not, and was not, enough for her; there are no two ways about it. You can’t get around that. Sarah Young’s claims are alarming.
—Caleb H, Cambridge, ON

Tim: You were not the only one to comment on the fact that all the letters to the editor related to Jesus Calling were written by women. That is because all (or nearly all) the letters I received about Jesus Calling were by women. In my view this simply shows the core demographic that is purchasing, reading, and sharing the book.

Comments on A Call for Christian Extremists

Applause for your article, A Call for Christian Extremists. A couple of reflections: Among my like-minded heirs of the Reformation, the principled reaction to these thoughts are that Jesus saved us, He’s sanctifying us, that there’s nothing really to require that we get very extreme. This is the response of both orthodox and Arminian groups. My response to them in turn is that there are a lot of scriptures that hold out for us our high calling in Christ Jesus, and encourage us to press in. The other note is that from fellowship with Catholics I heard the idea, “The only tragedy is not to be a saint.” That came from some literary source. Being a saint is another name for Christian Extremist. It seems to me that there’s no room among the heirs of the Reformation for heroic holiness, especially as it resembles Catholicism.
—Bruce M, Arlington, MA


Hi Tim, I want to agree completely with your article about Christian extremism - as I agree with nearly everything else you post. And yet, I don’t. Not quite. Here’s my quibble.

I think that the call to Christian extremism, to be zealots for a cause, finds expression only secondarily in good works. That’s hard to say, because I don’t for a moment want people to think they are unimportant. I agree they are essential. I am glad to have you calling us to be zealous for good works. Yet I believe they are still secondary. Because our true cause, the area where we truly need to focus our zeal and extremism, is the gospel of Christ. Like Paul, in the end we must be determined to know nothing except Christ crucified. That’s what it’s truly all about. That’s our cause. And the reason I think this is a point worth making, is because it’s this very distinction that differentiates Christians from the world. The world loves good works. The world hates Christ’s cross. Good works will earn us the world’s approval, but only the gospel of Christ crucified will change hearts. By all means let’s be extremists. But our cause is not good works. Our cause is Christ.
—Tim Z, Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia

Tim: I don’t disagree with you. However, a zealous love of the gospel will necessarily work itself out in good works. And these good works will be a distinctly Christian kind—done for the good of others and the glory of God. Anyone can do good works, but only Christians can perform the biblical definition of good works which are those done to God’s glory.

Comments on A Charle Brown Religion

I have always loved Peanuts and good old Charlie Brown. The Christmas special is much loved in my household and is watched numerous times each Christmas season. In fact I even trace my conversion to the special. When I was in my late teens, one viewing I was so overwhelmed by Linus reading from Luke, that after the show was over I had to leave the room and compose myself. It’s not cool or tough to see a 18-year-old weep. Raised in a non-Christian home with respect towards the Church, this special was all the Bible I would hear. Although I did have believing grandmothers, I was indifferent to religion. This began for me a serious look into Jesus and I began to read my Gideon New Testament. A few years later I was converted through a sermon that I was in Church for because of the young woman I was dating, whom I was trying to impress. She is now my wife of 28 years. But I look back at moment and it’s clear that God’s word—thanks to Sparky and through Linus—began something in me. So has been always a bit sad knowing Schulz drifted. But he stilled used Linus and the Bible throughout Peanuts. I will always enjoy Peanuts.
—Reg S, New Minas, NS

Comments about Protect Your Family With Circle

Thanks for reviewing Circle. I’ve look at the website and contacted the company and am very excited about this and how it will help families. It should be noted however, for your Canadian readers (I am one), Circle will be available for sale in Canada in 2016 according to the contact I’ve had with the company.
—Jon D, New Minas, NS

Tim: Wait, there are 2 comments in the same week from New Minas, NS? Wikipedia says the town has a population of 5,000. What are the chances?


Hey Tim, would love to use this but when I went to order there was no option for Canada. How un-Canadian of you bro! Thanks for all you are doing for the kingdom. You and your family are in our prayers.
—Quentin W, Calgary, AB

Tim: This is correct. Circle plans to release the device beyond America in 2016. But, if you are like most Canadians, you ought to know how to work around such geographic limitations!

General Comments

I just had a brain spasm because my husband asked me if I knew that there was a new Indelible Grace album. Back in April, I pledged to support the IG VII on Kickstarter. I discussed this support at the time with my husband. Over the last several months, each time there was an update, I told him about it. On Sunday I got the download code for the new album and downloaded it, and have been listening since. This morning I put a link to the Bandcamp page on my facebook. So when my husband asked if I knew there was a new Indelible Grace CD, I looked at him like he was from another dimension. He explained that nothing is real to him until Challies links to it. Thought you’d want to know.
—Lindele E, Alexandria, VA

Tim: Now that’s just plain funny.


November 21, 2015

There is not much new on the ebook front today, but it’s probably just as well—next week will be big because of Black Friday. Already I’m putting together a list of a ton of deals on books, ebooks, and lots of other good material. So be sure to check in on Friday.

Running Away with the Circus

Here’s an interesting reflection on the circus in the age of mass digital entertainment. Is there still a place for it in today’s world?

The Generation That Doesn’t Remember Life Before Smartphones

While we are on the subject of this digital world, Popular Mechanics covers the American teenager as the first generation that has no memory of life before smartphones.

On Being Matt Chandler’s Roommate

I enjoyed this one: “My sophomore year a student transferred in who captured the attention and imagination of much of the student body. His name was Matt Chandler.”

Four Types of Worship Teams

Jamie Brown reflects on four different types of worship teams, four approaches to how to structure, view, and lead a team.

That Old-Timey Accent

Ever noticed that people in old movies all kind of talked with the same funny accent? Here’s why.

How Should Christians Think About the Refugee Crisis?

Here is Russell Moore’s take on how we should think about the refugee crisis. He says to stop pitting security and compassion against each other.

Tomorrow in 1963. 52 years ago tomorrow beloved British author, apologist, and scholar C.S. Lewis died—one week before his 65th birthday. *

Why Isn’t It Faster to Fly West?

If the earth is spinning to the east at 1000 miles per hour, why can’t we fly west more easily? This video explains.

Thinking Conference

If you’re in Toronto, or looking for an excuse to visit, you might want to look at the Thinking conference. It should be a good one!

The New Man

Thanks to P&R for sponsoring the blog this week with an article entitled ‘Men, We Can’t Just ‘Do It’.”


The story of every great Christian achievement is the history of answered prayer. —E.M. Bounds

Free Stuff Fridays
November 20, 2015

This week's Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Missional Wear. For years they have been producing great Reformed theology t-shirts, apparel, drinkware, posters, and more. They are now introducing a new line of paper goods including greeting cards, flat cards, and note pads. There will be 5 winners that will each receive a t-shirt of their choosing and a sampler of Missional Wear's brand new stationery products.

Missional Wear t-shirts and hoodies make a perfect Christmas gift for the theology lover in your life. This Christmas morning they will be surprised to see their favorite theologian on a t-shirt. Make it even more special by adding their favorite quote on the back. With over 150 designs to choose from, you will definitely find something that they will absolutely love. Get an early start with the coupon code CHALLIES that will get you between $3 and $5 off each apparel item that you purchase!

Skip the cliché Christmas cards and send one that is beautiful with a theologically sound message. These Soli Deo Gloria and Five Solas folded card sets will send a unique message to your family, friends, and loved ones. The cards have a matte finish and are blank inside, allowing you plenty of space to write a personal message. Each card comes with a matching envelope that make them ready to mail. For a limited time you can get 100 cards for the price of 50, so grab them while they are available!

Have you ever needed to write a note of encouragement and wanted to write it on something more than a blank piece of printer paper? Missional Wear's new note cards are the ideal size for writting a short message. These unique note cards feature original art of some of your favorite theologians like Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and John Owen. One of the most popular designs features this quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever."

If you write a lot of notes or just need something to jot down your grocery list, one of their new 50 sheet notepads may be exactly what you are looking for. They are a great way to expose others to some of the greatest theologians and theological truths via something as simple as a note. There are 4 beautiful designs to choose from with quantity discounts for all of you heavy note takers out there.

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

4 Great Reasons to Read Romans
November 20, 2015

The book of Romans is an absolute treasure. J.I. Packer expresses it well when he says, “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen most clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen.” I want the message of Romans to continue to get into my heart and life. To that end, I listened to Michael Kruger’s recent lectures on the book and want to commend them to you. These lectures were given at RTS Charlotte where Kruger serves as President. They were delivered not in a classroom environment but as part of a ladies’ study. They are some of the best teaching on the book I’ve ever heard.

The study is divided into “seasons” of 20 or 21 lectures each with each lecture coming in at around 45 minutes. Season 1 covers chapters 1 through 9 in 20 lectures (plus a brief extra). Season 2 begins in Romans 8 and continues to Romans 11.

For each session you can download the notes, then watch the video. They are as ideally suited for watching alone as watching with friends or family. Give them a try! I think you will enjoy them as much as I did.

Season 1 (Romans 1-7)

Series 2 (Romans 8-11)

November 20, 2015

Today’s Kindle deals include Recapturing the Voice of God by Stephen Smith ($4.99); Preaching the Old Testament by Scott Gibson ($1.99); Picture Perfect by Amy Baker (free); Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley ($2.99). New from GLH Publishing is Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot ($0.99).

The Syrian Refugee Controversy

Joe Carter’s article will get you caught up on the Syrian refugee controversy (as it pertains to inviting refugees into America).

Bad Doctrine vs. Heresy

Mike Riccardi uses Mohler’s theological triage to attempt to sort the bad doctrine from the outright heresy.

The Short Half-Life of Online Empathy

“Everything’s accelerated these days, and the same must be said for grief online. The Internet cycles through all five stages in as many tweets. We find it hurtling toward us: unavoidable, wall-to-wall.”

Windows Turns 30

Microsoft Windows turns 30 this week. Here’s a visual tour of its history. How many of these versions did you use?

Meaningless Chatter

Here is a selection of words and phrases you may use (especially if you’re a preacher or church leader) that really have no meaning.

This Day in 1541. 474 years ago today at the age of 32, John Calvin established a theocratic government in Geneva, which provided a home base for Protestantism throughout Europe. *

Fascinating Letters From the Time Archives

Time shares the 7 most fascinating letters from their archives. They come from Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and Tennessee Williams, among others.

What Is an Evangelical?

Christianity Today: “About 2 out of 5 Protestants who call themselves evangelicals no longer qualify under a new definition of what true evangelicals believe. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 Protestants who don’t self-identify as evangelicals actually have beliefs matching the new definition of evangelical.”


Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology. —J.I. Packer

A Charlie Brown Religion
November 19, 2015

Like countless millions of people of my generation (and the one before and the one after), I grew up reading Peanuts. I loved reading stories and gags based on Charlie Brown and his gang. Charles Schulz had a gift for creating lovable characters and for communicating real ideas through the simplest medium—three or four small squares on newsprint. One thing that always fascinated me about Schulz was his references to the Christian faith. Hundreds of his strips and many of his television specials included subtle and sometimes blatant quotes from the Bible and musings on faith. Why did he include these? Was he a Christian attempting to share his beliefs through his medium or did he just find the Bible an interesting and inspiring work of literature?

Like me, Stephen J. Lind grew up in a Christian home, reading and enjoying Peanuts. He, too, had an interest in Schulz’s religious beliefs. And he has just released A Charlie Brown Religion, a fascinating spiritual biography of Charles Schulz.

This book concerns the thematic thread of religion in Sparky’s life and work. It does not have much to say about his love for hockey, golf, or chocolate chip cookies (all of which were important in various ways to him), but the book has plenty to say about the importance of Charles Schulz’s faith. The reader of this book should not see such a focus to be an indication that Schulz’s life was entirely consumed and driven by religious thought. It wasn’t. Yet such thought was deeply interesting and personally important to him, with a breadth and depth of context and performance that more than justifies a complete volume devoted to its history.

This work tells the story of Schulz’s life and times while keeping the focus on his faith. His faith was as complicated as the man himself and developed a great deal over the course of his life. Lind says, “One might see this book as weaving together answers to two primary questions—‘Was Charles Schulz a religious man?’ and ‘Is there really much religion in Peanuts?’ The simple answer to both of those questions is ‘Yes.’ But the simple answer is rarely the truest answer in history, and you may find that the questions themselves need challenging as we search for thicker answers.”

Schultz was raised in a family that put little stock in religion. As a young adult he came into contact with members of a Church of God in Minnesota and eventually professed faith in Jesus Christ. “He was fully committed to his spiritual beliefs, having developed what others in the church might describe as a ‘personal relationship’ with God through his faith in Christ, but Schulz had not yet developed his own personal spiritual voice. Instead, the language of the Church of God would provide the structure for his thought.” He came to love the Bible and rose to a leadership position within his church, often leading Bible studies, preaching, and doing street evangelism. “Over the years, Sparky [his nickname] would mark nearly every page of his Bible with a pencil or pen, underlining meaningful passages, transcribing timelines, and circling key words, so much that he would naturally forget what had inspired him to do so for certain passages. He filled the margins with explanations drawn from his commentaries and scrawled out personal insights in the blank space left at the end of an Old or New Testament book.” He later moved to California where he joined a United Methodist Church and became active as a Sunday school teacher.

Through this time he was gaining fame as the creator of Peanuts, quickly rising to become the world’s most popular cartoonist. From the beginning, he incorporated spiritual themes into his comics, sometimes quoting the Bible directly. Most famously, he had Linus quote an extended passage from the Bible in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

But sometimes things are not as simple as they seem. Schulz married Joyce Halverson who had no interest in religion and who refused to attend church with him. By their twentieth anniversary their marriage was in trouble and Schulz was engaged in an extra-marital affair. His marriage and affair both ended, and he soon re-married, this time to Jeannie Clyde to whom he would remain married until his death. Like Joyce, Jeannie had no interest in the Christian faith. By this time Schulz was no longer attending church and had lost much of his early enthusiasm for the Bible. Lind speculates “that within the tumult of a failing marriage and while in the midst of a private romantic affair, he no longer felt comfortable leading a study of the Bible.” He soon began describing himself as a “secular humanist,” though Lind points out that “Schulz’s statements reflected something more like a biblical humanism—merely a loosening of the already open, thoughtful faith that he had held since before leaving Minnesota. It was not a reversal of his faith, nor was it a signal of a personal religious crisis.” But it was also a clear sign that he did not hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. Over time, he came to hold to something closer to universalism, believing “there were others who were part of that Kingdom without even knowing it, without believing in Jesus. They were worshipping God through their heart attitudes and their merciful actions, regardless of their theological beliefs.” He died in perplexity and despair, grieving that he had not been given more years to live.

And yet through all of this evolution of his beliefs, or perhaps the clarifying of his existing beliefs, Schulz continued to share parts of the Bible through his work. At a time when culture, and especially entertainment culture, were openly hostile to Christianity, Schulz would include references to the Bible and have Linus boldly recite the meaning of Christmas. Even today, millions gather around their television sets to hear this monologue. While Schulz personally turned away from many core Christian beliefs, he at the same time brought Christian ideas back into the cultural mainstream.

A Charlie Brown Religion is as interesting a biography as I have read this year. It is just long enough to do justice to its subject without adding too much detail, and it moves at just the right pace. It describes a man who found joy and comfort in Christian beliefs, but who never fully appropriated those beliefs—not to the fullest degree. Attempting to understand his faith and its place in his life is equal parts perplexing and fascinating.