Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

March 24, 2015

When I was growing up and still living with my parents, my family supported ministries based in the USSR, and on our fridge we had a big poster covered in photographs of Russian pastors who were imprisoned or endangered because of their faith. Every night in our devotions we would pray for one of them, that God would bless and protect him. Meanwhile we lived in middle-class suburbia in Toronto. We freely told our neighbors about Jesus, we went to church twice each Sunday, we read the Bible openly, and even went to Christian schools. It did not seem fair that we had it so easy.

And we still have it easy. It is still remarkably easy to be a Christian here in North America. We have never faced systemic persecution. We have laws that protect our freedom to worship and our freedom to believe what we believe.

That’s not to say, though, that we never suffer. We still do face scorn and mockery, and especially so as the culture around us proceeds farther and deeper into paganism. Though the burdens we bear are light compared to what some others have had to carry, they are burdens nonetheless. I was recently studying 1 Peter 4 and found 5 reasons that we can and should rejoice even now when we are persecuted, or even in that day when we face much greater persecution.

Rejoice Because God Is Testing You

In times of trial, you can rejoice because God is testing you. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (verse 12). Even trials exist under the sovereignty of your all-powerful God, and they exist in order to test you. There are at least two ways that God tests you in times of persecution: He tests the genuineness of your faith, and he tests the maturity of your faith. When persecution comes, the false Christians are tested and inevitably run away. In the moment they are forced to suffer, they recant their faith and run away. Their faith is tested and proven fraudulent. The other kind of test is one that proves the depth or maturity of the believer’s faith. There is an important distinction between this test and the kind of test you are accustomed to. When you are in school and take a test, the purpose is for the teacher to know how well you’re doing. But when God tests you, the purpose is for you to know how well you’re doing. God wants you to be encouraged, and so he allows a trial to come, and that trial proves you who you are and how much you’ve grown. You don’t know what your faith is made of until it’s tested. So you truly can rejoice in trials knowing that God tests the ones he loves.

Rejoice Because You Share Christ’s Sufferings

The second reason you can rejoice in suffering is because you are sharing Christ’s sufferings. Peter says, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” When you are persecuted, when you undergo those trials, you are participating in Christ’s sufferings. As you suffer you inevitably come to a greater understanding of what Christ endured on your behalf, and this draws you closer to him. After all, if someone persecutes you, it isn’t because they hate you; they persecute you because they hate Christ. In this way suffering is a kind of promise from God: A promise that you are united to his Son. Your suffering is proof of your salvation. You can praise God knowing that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings because you are united to him.

Rejoice Because God Is With You

Third, rejoice because God is with you. He is near to you in your persecution. Verse 14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a promise that God does not abandon you in your persecution, but is right there with you in the middle of it. This is one very good reason to read church history. What you find as you read about people who are being persecuted is that they have a supernatural joy and that they so often speak about God’s nearness in their suffering. When it seems that everyone else has abandoned them, they have a much deeper awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit living within them, blessing them, and comforting them. While they do not love being persecuted, they would not trade away their personal experience of God in that persecution. As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Rejoice, because God is with you.

Rejoice Because God Is Glorified

Fourth, rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” When you suffer because you are a Christian, and when you suffer as a Christian, God is glorified. Why? We can get a hint from the book of Job. Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. But no, Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. And we see that in times of persecution, Christians constantly glorify God. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified even in persecution, and God is glorified especially in persecution.

Rejoice Because Justice Is Near

Finally, Christians can rejoice in persecution because justice is near. Those who persecute Christians will not triumph in the end. Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter asks a rhetorical question: If God even allows his precious, chosen people to suffer in this world, how much greater will be the suffering of those who persecute them? God has determined that Christians will suffer. He has determined that Christians will prove their faith and strengthen their faith not apart from persecution, but through it. And yet persecution is not the end. Death is not the end. The worst thing unbelievers can do to the Christian is destroy his body through death, but the Christian knows that in Christ he has overcome death. Christian, you can rejoice in God’s justice, knowing that God has triumphed, is triumphing, and will triumph. Those who persecute you will receive justice; God will not be mocked.

In your suffering you really can rejoice. As you are being persecuted, you can be glad. Why? Because God is testing you to prove and strengthen your faith, because you share the sufferings of Christ, because God is near to you, because God is being glorified, and because justice is not far off.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 24, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Five Points by John Piper (One of my all-time favorite Piper books; $3.99); Salvation by Crucifixion by Philip Ryken ($2.99); Bible Answers by Derek Prime ($2.99); Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo ($0.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($0.99).

Shelf-Life Of Worship Songs - Jamie Brown: “Things are not as simple for worship leaders/church music directors as they used to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more complicated thing.”

Closing Accounts - This is a sad and sobering account of elder care today.

Blaine Boyer And His Personal Entourage - I enjoyed this story about Blaine Boyer and his baseball career.

Witchdoctors, Football, and Understanding Africa - This is definitely one of the most interesting articles you’ll read today.

He Knows - “He knew what joys this day would hold and He knows what sorrows tomorrow may hold, and whatever comes we know that we little unknowing ones are held close.”

Keep a Close Watch on Your Life and Illustrations - “I for one think sermon illustrations are way overrated. Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons.”

We stand in the present but dwell on the past in order that we can be steadfast for the future. —Dale Ralph Davis

Davis

March 23, 2015

We Christians put on a good face, don’t we? Each of us shows up on Sunday morning looking like we are doing just fine, like our lives are on cruise control, like we have had the best week ever. But ask a couple of leading questions, and probe just beneath the surface, and it soon falls apart. Each of us comes to church feeling the weight and the difficulty of this life. God has something he wants us to do in these situations. There is something he calls us to—something beautifully surprising and uncomfortable. Track with me for a couple of minutes here, and I’ll show you what it is.

The Reality: You are Dust

One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is Psalm 103. I pray it often, and focus on these words: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” These words tell us that even while we pray to the all-knowing and all-powerful God, we do so as created beings who were formed out of the dust of the ground. If we learn anything from our dusty origins, we learn that God did not intend for us to be superhuman and he did not intend for us to be God-like. He made us dust, not divine, and this was his good will. He made us weak.

The Difficulty: You Are Burdened

Meanwhile, the Bible tells us that this life is full of trials and tribulations. Experience backs this up. This world is so sinful, we are so sinful, and the people around us are so sinful, that trials are inevitable. Each of us has burdens we carry through life. Sometimes these are burdens of our own making, sometimes these are burdens that come through sickness, sometimes these are burdens that come through other forms of suffering. But whatever the case, we dusty humans inevitably face burdens that seem crushingly and insurmountably heavy. Jesus speaks to the reality of life in this world when he says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We are weak and we are burdened.

The Promise: Help

God knows that we are weak. God knows each one of the trials we face, and he makes the sure promise that he can and will sustain us through each of them. In Psalm 55:22 he says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” In times of temptation toward sin he promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There are many more promises we could turn to, but the theme would be the same: God acknowledges our weakness and promises to meet them with his strength. We are weak and we are burdened, but God promises to help.

The Temptation: Self-Reliance

We dusty, sinful human beings face a ridiculous temptation: self-reliance. Despite our weaknesses and despite our track-record of sin, we find ourselves constantly tempted to look to ourselves for help. Listen to what John Piper says: “Pride, or self-exaltation, or self-reliance is the one virus that causes all the moral diseases of the world. This has been the case ever since Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they wanted to be God instead of trust God. And it will be true until the final outburst of human pride is crushed at the battle of Armageddon. There is only one basic moral issue: how to overcome the relentless urge of the human heart to assert itself against the authority and grace of God.” We may see this self-reliance manifest itself in our lives in at least two ways: When we will not bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, and when we will not bring those burdens to other Christians. In both cases we like to convince ourselves that we can bear this weight on our own, that we are strong enough to carry it.

The Solution: Community

When we are ready to let go of our self-sufficiency, we find that God offers an amazing solution. He offers a way that we can be relieved of the burdens we carry. Very often, the way God fulfills his promises and answers our prayers is through other Christians right there in our local churches. God expects that we will tell others about our burdens and that we will respond to them together, in community. This is why Paul told the church in Galatia to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Our church communities are to be marked by the sharing and bearing of burdens. If this is to happen, our churches need to be marked by humility, as each of us admits that we cannot make it through life on our own; they need to be marked by vulnerability, as we open up to others and seek their counsel and their help; they need to be marked by awareness, as we pursue the people around us, asking them how we can assist in life’s trials. God’s solutions always come from outside ourselves.

The Vocation: Burden-Bearing

All of this leads us to the joyful vocation of burden-bearing. Piper says, “Here is a vocation that will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over: Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.” Make them lighter through prayer, make them lighter by skillfully bringing and applying the Word of God, and make them lighter by the comfort of your presence. In every case, make it your sacred calling to seek out and to share the burdens of your brothers and sisters. There is no higher calling than this. (For more on burden-bearing read An Extraordinary Skill for Ordinary Christians.) But there is more: You also owe it to yourself and to your church community to share your burdens with them, to humble yourself by asking for their help.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 23, 2015

Here a some Kindle deals to start the week: The Last Days of Jesus by Andreas Kostenberger & Justin Taylor ($3.99); A Shelter in the Storm by Paul Tripp ($2.99); Scandalous by D.A. Carson ($2.99); How God Became Jesus by Michael Bird ($4.99); A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible by Leland Ryken ($4.99); Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb ($3.99 each).

The Archive of an Interesting Life - It’s not a junk drawer — it’s the archive of an interesting life.

The Grace in Going to Church - I like this one: The simple grace of committing to a church and going there week in and week out.

Al Mohler on Keeping the Southern Baptist Faith - WORLD magazine interviews Al Mohler.

The Wonder of Sunday Morning - Trevin Wax reflects on the sweet wonder of a normal Sunday morning.

Homecoming - Those who have followed Kara Tippetts’ blog for the past few years will want to read about her homecoming.

John Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer - Joel Beeke distills some of Calvin’s wisdom on prayer.

Christian, beware of thinking lightly of sin. Take heed in case you fall little by little. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

March 22, 2015

Later this week I will be at McMaster University to speak to students there about knowing and doing the will of God. Few areas of Christian theology have generated more controvery and more bad teaching than this one. In his book Prayer, Tim Keller illustrates how even good men can take impressions, feelings, or promptings much too far.

If we leave the Bible out, we may plumb our impressions and feelings and imagine God saying various things to us, but how can we be sure we are not self-deceived? The eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman George Whitefield was one of the spearheads of the Great Awakening, a period of massive renewal of interest in Christianity across Western societies and a time of significant church growth. Whitefield was a riveting orator and is considered one of the greatest preachers in church history. In late 1743 his first child, a son, was born to he and his wife, Elizabeth. Whitefield had a strong impression that God was telling him the child would grow up to also be a “preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” In view of this divine assurance, he gave his son the name John, after John the Baptist, whose mother was also named Elizabeth. When John Whitefield was born, George baptized his son before a large crowd and preached a sermon on the great works that God would do through his son. He knew that cynics were sneering at his prophecies, but he ignored them.

Then, at just four months old, his son died suddenly of a seizure. The Whitefields were of course grief-stricken, but George was particularly convicted about how wrong he had been to count his inward impulses and intuitions as being essentially equal to God’s Word. He realized he had led his congregation into the same disillusioning mistake. Whitefield had interpreted his own feelings—his understandable and powerful fatherly pride and joy in his son, and his hopes for him—as God speaking to his heart. Not long afterward, he wrote a wrenching prayer for himself, that God would “render this mistaken parent more cautious, more sober-minded, more experienced in Satan’s devices, and consequently more useful in his future labors to the church of God.”

The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.

(HT: STR)

March 21, 2015

There is a handful of new Kindle deals today: Ego Trip by Glynn Harrison ($0.99); To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler ($2.51); A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur ($5.69).

Mental Floss explains How a Brilliant Intelligence Officer Used ‘Monopoly’ to Free WWII POWs. It’s an interesting story.

BBC has great footage of the recent total solar eclipse.

An unlikely friendship joins Christian efforts to battle high-interest loans: How a Twitter Feud over Same-Sex Marriage May Doom Payday Lending.

Here’s the Christian’s call: Come and Die. “Have you ever seen a military recruitment poster or TV ad that showed wounded soldiers? Ever seen one that showed soldiers taking bullets, medics administering morphine to blood-gushing comrades, or an array of battle-hardened quadriplegics?”

A Good Mentor Slows You Down. And, I suppose, at times he might speed you up as well! But the point is well-taken.

Thanks to RPTS for sponsoring the blog today with their article Technology and the Christian Life.

Tim Keller nails it, in this excerpt from The Meaning of Marriage: You Never Marry the Right Person.

In heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

March 20, 2015

For those who are counting, this is the 300th edition of Free Stuff Fridays. Do the math, and that means readers have won somewhere around 4,500 books. Not bad! This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by CBD Reformed. And as they always do, they are giving away a pretty good prize package. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of the winners will receive the following 3 books:

  • KellerJesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Timothy Keller (Retail Price $16.00). “An insightful and revelatory look at the life of Christ by the man Newsweek called ‘a C.S. Lewis for the 21st century.’ Join Keller as he explores the Gospel of Mark; demonstrates how the story of Jesus is cosmic, historical, and personal; and encourages you to re-examine your relationship with God. Previously published as King’s Cross.”
  • Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer (Retail price $12.99). “Whether your church is vibrant or dying, whether you are a pastor or a church member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church will walk you through the radical paths necessary to keep your church alive to the glory of God and advancement of Christ’s Kingdom!”
  • Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, Edited by Nancy Guthrie (Retail Price $12.99). “In Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, editor Nancy Guthrie draws from works and sermons of twenty-five classic theologians and contemporaries to bring you and your family into an experience of the passion of Christ. Combining the victory of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and Scripture, she draws you to the cross throughout the Easter season and beyond.”

In addition, CBD Reformed is offering a 4-day sale (March 20 - 23) on the following three products:

Enter the Draw

All you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

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.