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Tim Challies

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August 29, 2014

There are two different lives I lead. Two different kinds of life. There is the life I love, but that is so difficult to maintain, and there is the life I hate, but am so often tempted toward. The first is a life of discipline and self-control, while the second is a life of disorganization and instability. I love the first life, but am constantly sliding toward the second.

The Bible commends self-control and discipline. We are told that self-control is fruit of the Spirit, an imprint of God’s presence in our lives. We are told to discipline and train ourselves to godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), to labor for habits and patterns that will drive us toward holy thoughts, holy desires, and holy lives.

I consider self-control a lost virtue, a quality we too easily ignore. I think we can be uncomfortable with the very idea of self-control because we love to emphasize grace. Somehow grace seems to equate with freedom from structure, with freedom from rigidity. We revel in the freedom of the gospel, not realizing that the gospel doesn’t free us from self-control, but to self-control. Because we are no longer counting on our habits and patterns to discipline us toward salvation, we can joyfully mobilize them to discipline us toward sanctification.

Self-control and discipline are gifts we can use to constrain sin and promote holiness. They are gifts we can use to hinder old habits and promote new, better patterns.

I love my life of discipline and self-control. I hate my life of confusion and instability. And yet that life is always beckoning, always calling. The very moment I begin coasting, I coast away from restraint and toward chaos. I coast away from discipline and toward disorganization.

As a Christian I am influenced by an old man and a new man, the man I was and the man I am becoming. The new man loves to see each moment as a gift of God that must be stewarded well; the old man loves to fritter away time and opportunity, one moment at a time. The new man sees the benefit of living a disciplined life; the old man insists it is just not worth the effort. The new man sees that patterns and habits can be renewed and redeemed and used for good; the old man screams that this is weakness, a crutch for the person who lacks better motivation.

As summer gives way to fall — as summer’s chaos gives way to fall’s schedule — this is the time to renew my commitment to a life of self-control, a life that is disciplined toward godliness. It is time to renew my commitment to their sheer goodness, and their plain value. There is no better time than right now.

August 29, 2014

Here are some good Kindle deals: Desperate by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson ($0.99); Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke ($0.99); The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias ($2.99); Letters To a Young Calvinist by James K.A. Smith ($2.99).

4 Ways To Live Out Your Role As Helper - Jen Thorn: “One of the reasons many wives struggle in their marriages is because they refuse to embrace the role God has given them as helper to their husband.”

David Platt as IMB President - I mentioned yesterday that David Platt has been elected President of the International Mission Board. In this article Hershael York addresses some concerns. I was especially interested in these words: “I’ve been in ministry all of my adult life. I’ve known Adrian Rogers, W. A. Criswell, Stephen Olford, John Stott, and many truly great men of God. I say this carefully and reverently: I have never met anyone on whom the anointing of God rests as powerfully and comfortably as David Platt.”

Bill Cosby and Victoria Osteen - Bill Cosby responds to Victoria Osteen.

Shopé - My good friend Sope, who goes by the name Shopé, just released a new EP. If you’re into Christian rap, you may enjoy it.

Only Two Religions - Ligonier has released a new teaching series by Peter Jones doing what he does best: Explaining how there are really only two religions in the world. You can watch the first part for free.

Destruction and Diversion - There are a few great lines in this article. “Satan is not so concerned with moral living as much as moral living apart from Jesus. Satan is not concerned with emptying churches of people as much as he is emptying the pulpit of the cross of Christ.”

A child of God cannot fall away while he is held fast in the two arms of God, his love, and his faithfulness. —Thomas Watson

Watson

August 28, 2014

I hate sin. Sin is destructive. Sin is insane. Sin is maddening. Sin is just plain stupid. Yet sin is also so alluring, so tempting, and always so close at hand. Even while we fight sin, sin fights us.

There are many strategies to identify and destroy sin, and one of the best is to read great books on the subject. There is no better book than John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin (or Overcoming Sin and Temptation). I plan to begin reading it next week and would love you to read it with me—and hundreds of other people—in a program I call “Reading Classics Together.”

Will you read it with me?

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays (beginning next week—September 4), visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

OSAT

I am going to read Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a slight modernization of the work, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic. This edition maintains the unabridged text, but provides useful introductions and editorial assistance. For example, the editors footnote difficult or obscure words, update archaic language (i.e. they change “thee” to “you”), transliterate words that Owen provided in the original biblical languages, and so on. They also add helpful introductions to the sections. They maintain the full impact of Owen’s words while removing some of the hindrances experienced by the modern reader.

However, if you would like to read the original, you are more than welcome to do so and will benefit just as much. Here is where you can track down the book:

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on September 4, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 14 chapters, meaning the program will last for 14 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to September 4.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

August 28, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch (free); The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas Kostenberger ($1.99); New from GLH Publishing is According to Promise by Charles Spurgeon ($0.99).

Why Does God Let Me Stay So Weak? - Mark Altrogge has a great answer.

David Platt Is IMB President - I’m not Southern Baptist so don’t fully understand the importance of David Platt being announced as president of the International Mission Board. But judging by the level of excitement among my Southern Baptist friends, it’s big news. See commentary by: J.D. Greear and Russell Moore.

5 Components of Effective Delegation - Matt Perman offers a look at an underappreciated skill: delegation.

Better Places to Send Your “Ice Bucket Challenge” Money - Gene Veith: “ The main beneficiary of the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ is the ALS Association.  The problem with that group, though, is that they use a stem cell line from an aborted child.  There are, however, other ALS research organizations that honor the sanctity of life.”

Creating a Culture of Evangelism - Here are some tips on creating a culture of evangelism within a church.

Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking. —Oswald Chambers

Chambers

August 27, 2014

As time goes on, I find myself doing more and more of my reading on my Kindle, and taking advantage of its super-simple ability to make notes and highlights. At the same time, I find myself relying on Evernote to help me retain and organize information. Books hold the information I want to know while Evernote holds the information I want to retain. When I put the two of them together, I get a powerful system to record and remember what I have read. Let me share a simple technique to quickly and easily get every one of your Kindle notes and highlights into Evernote.

Install Evernote Web Clipper

Before you do anything else, visit Evernote and install their Web Clipper browser extension, available for all major browsers. 

Visit kindle.amazon.com

Once you have installed the Web Clipper, you are ready to track down your notes and highlights. Visit http://kindle.amazon.com and sign in using your Amazon username and password:

Kindle

Locate Your Book

After logging in, click on “Your Books” to see a list of the books you own in Kindle format:

Your Books

Click the title you would like to export to Evernote:

Kindle

Note: If you have a huge library, see my note below titled “For Big Libraries.”

Find Your Highlights

Click on “You have X highlighted passages:”

Highlights

Use Evernote’s Web Clipper

You will now see a page with a simple listing of all of your notes and highlights, just like this:

August 27, 2014

I’ve found just a couple of new Kindle deals today: In My Father’s House by Mary Kassian ($2.99) and Am I Called? by Dave Harvey ($0.99).

Banner of Truth Ebooks - Better late than never, right? Banner of Truth has just released their first ebooks and they include The Valley of Vision. While we’re talking books, check out the weekly deals from Westminster Books; many of them are geared to students.

5 Phone Charging Myths, Debunked - I think I’ve heard all of these myths at one time or another.

Never Resist the Urge to Pray - Summer must be over because Erik Raymond has returned from his blogging vacation. This is good news, because he was posting some great articles back in May and June.

9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Life for God’s Glory - “If the law of God can be summarized in a positive command, then we consider how to ‘run to’ God rather than merely how to ‘run from’ sin. Life is not primarily about what we avoid, but what we pursue.”

The One Thing My Mother Would Not Let Me Become - As a Canadian, I have been watching the reaction to the situation in Ferguson with some interest and very little comprehension. I found Thabiti Anyabwile’s most recent article very eye-opening. (On the same theme, here’s a perspective from an African-American who was formerly a police officer.)

7 Smartphone Photography Tips & Tricks - If you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket or purse (and you probably do), you may appreciate these tips and tricks.

A gracious wife satisfies a good husband, and silences a bad one. —George Swinnock

Swinnock

August 26, 2014

Habits are tricky things. We are more than our habits, but certainly not less. We live so much of our lives according to our habits, but still remain responsible for what we do and what we do not do. Some habits emerge without any thought and through mindless, repetitive actions, while others are formed only through deliberate effort. As Christians we work to build godly habits and put aside ungodly habits, but learn not to depend on habits for our salvation or lean too heavily upon them for sanctification.

Habits are the subject of the bestselling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating book, and especially so when it focuses in on the habits that make our lives what they are.

We are creatures of habit, and I have to assume that God designed us this way. He designed us so we form neurological pathways that condition us to do certain things in a kind of routine. “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”

Here we see both the beauty and the horror of habits, the beauty of habits as they would exist in a perfect world and the horror of habits as they exist in a sin-stained world. Habits allow behavior to unfold automatically and without thinking, so that once we set them in motion, they unfold along established pathways. “The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.” Both virtue and vice can be packaged within habits so that, to some degree, both positive and negative actions can be done on a near-subconscious level.

This is why we teach ourselves to form habits like reading the Bible at the very beginning of the day or to have family worship immediately after dinner—once the habit is established, we will obey its summons to do those things that are so important to our lives. And this is why we have such trouble battling those long-established habits of sin—once the habit is established, we will battle to disobey its summons to do those things that are so destructive. It seems like it should be so easy to stop looking at pornography, to stop drinking to excess, or to stop gorging ourselves on food, but our habits drive and cajole us into old patterns.

At heart, habits are quite simple. “This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.” The craving is the key: The things we crave are the things that power our habits. If we are to form good habits, we need to crave the right things, and if we are to break bad habits, we need to learn to control the bad cravings. Duhigg says, “Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.”

Duhigg looks at habits from a decidedly non-Christian and evolutionary perspective, but still offers a great deal of wisdom that will be of great interest to Christians. I was especially interested to see Duhigg enforce the importance of community in overcoming negative habits. “The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.” This sounds completely consistent with a Christian ethic which calls upon Christians to confess their sin to one another, to pray for one another, and to bear one another’s burdens. This is never more important than when trying to overcome old and sinful patterns of behavior.

When Paul told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2), I am sure he was referring not only to thoughts, but also to habits because habits, too, emerge from the mind. Duhigg shows us the power of habits, but also the importance of overcoming and replacing bad habits. After all, “once you know a [bad] habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it.” As Christians acknowledging the existence of God, we have a heightened responsibility to use the power of habit with the greatest care and the greatest wisdom.

You can buy The Power of Habit at Amazon.

August 26, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: It Is Not Death to Die by Jim Cromarty ($4.99); Killing Fields, Living Fields by Don Cormack ($3.99); The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle by Nell Chinchen ($2.99); The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper ($1.99).

Losing Your Voice - Here are four ways that pastors lose their pulpits.

Tangled Up in Blue - Sammy Rhodes writes about depression and the Christian life. 

Satan Does Not Hold the Keys of Death - R.C. Sproul explains in his inimitable way: “We have different vocations with respect to the jobs and tasks God gives us in this life. But we all share in the vocation of death.”

Breaking Up to the Glory of God - Deepak Reju offers counsel on how to break up well.

The Danger of Measurable Outcomes - Os Guinness provides a timely warning.

No flattery can heal a bad conscience, so no slander can hurt a good one. —Thomas Watson

Watson