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Tim Challies

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July 24, 2014

A recent headline proclaimed that buying a car ranks among most people’s least favorite activity. Many would rather suffer pain or be deprived of a favorite pleasure than to have to endure the car lot and the car salesman. Recently, inevitably, it was my turn to face the pain. With our old minivan ailing and a long roadtrip looming, I had little choice in the matter. I had procrastinated as long as I could.

Now there are various strategies involved in buying cars. Some people only buy really, really used cars and drive them until they can wring out the last little vestige of value. Then they rub out the VIN, drive it into a lake, and start over. Not surprisingly, these people tend to be pretty handy, and comfortable under a hood. Other people buy only new cars, drive them until the new car smell has faded, and then swap them for something newer. As you would expect, these people tend to be pretty comfortable with their checkbook.

I hold to the philosophy of buying new and driving until the serious problems begin—maybe seven or eight years with the right brand, all the scheduled maintenance, and a little bit of luck. I hold to this position largely because I consider cars magic. They exist far beyond the boundaries of science and reason and firmly within the realm of wizardry. I have no idea how they work and live with the fear that if I touch anything beyond the gas cap, I will disrupt the sorcery and cause a total breakdown. I am in awe of them, and terrified when they begin to show signs of aging. When a hear that strange whir or unusual clunk, I just assume that the engine is about to blow. (Cars still have engines, right?) Our old car was making a lot of those whirs and clunks and related sounds. I had lost all confidence in it, so it was time to go shopping.

When Aileen and I walked into the dealership and began looking at that new van, the salesman did a great job of introducing us to this amazing new vehicle. He showed us lots of buttons and screens and described all the different ways the van would beep at us while we drove it. I am quite sure it is nearing sentience and, with a software update or two, should be able to drive itself and even parent my children. He opened the hood so we could admire the engine and I nodded dutifully, pretending that I actually had some idea of what I was looking at. I think I fooled him. “Mmm. Look at that. It’s shiny.” He didn’t notice the beads of sweat trickling down my face. “Tell me more about the beeps.”

What really impressed us about this van was its reliability. He convinced us that this vehicle is very possibly the greatest and most reliable car ever made by the hand of man. He assured us that the car would never break down, that the warranty would prove bulletproof, and that if we were simply to buy it today, all our wildest dreams would come true.

We were an easy mark, I guess, and before long he convinced us. We shook his hand and he led us into the office of the finance manager. Now, the finance manager’s job was to figure out how we intended to pay for this vehicle and to verify that we actually had a reasonable likelihood of doing so. However, it quickly became apparent that he could pick up a few commission dollars by selling us an extended warranty. Suddenly we were being told that we had just agreed to buy the worst car ever built, that it was probably going to break down before we even got it out of the parking lot, that the warranty is absolutely laughable, and that we would never sleep soundly at night unless we agreed to that third-party, $3,000 extended warranty plan. “Your life will not be worth living if you walk out of here without that extended warranty.”

I called him on it. “The salesman just told us this was the most reliable van on the market; now you’re telling me it’s a piece of junk that’s going to burst into flames if I look at it wrong. What gives?” He assured me that he was just looking out for me, that he was a friend. I assured him, in turn, that there was, literally, no chance that I was ever going to walk out of there with an extended warranty, unless, of course, he was willing to give it as a gift. Since, you know, we’re friends now.

No wonder we hate to buy cars. At least I don’t need to endure the pain again for another seven or eight years.

As we drove away in our whirring and clunking old van, hopeful that the factory would soon spit out that shiny new one for us, I found myself thinking about the contradiction between the salesman and the finance manager. I was sold on the car’s reliability, but once I was in, well, that’s where I was told the truth (or a version of it, at least).

And I realized that we, as Christians, sometimes pull this very sales trick when we preach the gospel and plead with our friends. We assure our friends that God has a great and wonderful plan for their lives, that putting their faith in him will bring endless and untold blessings. We tell of all the benefits of being a Christian. Well and good.

But when Jesus walked the earth, he was no salesman. He told those who wanted to follow him that the cost would be high. He told them that it would cost them their friends, their family, their finances, their plans, their comfort, and maybe even their lives. He told them that it would cost them everything.

No wonder that our friends are suspicious. And no wonder so many are shocked when they make a profession of faith and immediately meet with pain and mockery and deep questions and the sustained attacks of a Devil who wants them back. They were won with a sales trick—won with only half the truth. They have every right to be disillusioned.

Car lot photo credit: Shutterstock

July 24, 2014

Defending Tony Dungy’s Right to Have an Opinion - Ted Kluck: “As soon as I saw Tony Dungy’s recent quotes about the Michael Sam situation, saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he ‘wouldn’t want to deal with’ the baggage, I knew he would be publicly castigated. Dungy deviated from our culture’s de facto ‘Things That Are Acceptable to Say About Michael Sam’ talking points…”

Is Plan B an Abortifacient? - Is Plan B actually an abortifacient? This series of articles answers the question.

Other people’s pornography - Jeremy Walker highlights a growing concern. 

Prioritizing Church Attendance - Yes! You will never regret prioritizing attending the gatherings of your church.

The Kind of Complaint That’s Pleasing to God - There is at least one time we can bring our complaints—or something like complaints—before God.

About Beauty - The beauty discussion continues on and on. Here are some good and level-headed points about beauty.

A casual relationship with the Word of God reflects a casual relationship with the Son of God. —Anonymous

Anonymous

July 23, 2014

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right mind, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

July 23, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: The God Who Justifies by James White ($3.49); Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss ($2.99); The 11 Secrets of Getting Published by Mary DeMuth ($4.97). B&H has a long list of biographies on sale: Adoniram Judson by Jason Duesing ($2.99); Andrew Fuller by Paul Brewster ($2.99); James Robinson Graves by James Patterson ($2.99); John A. Broadus by David Dockery ($2.99); 131 Christians Everyone Should Know by Mark Galli & Ted Olsen ($2.99); Sgt. York by John Perry ($2.99); 

Dispatches from the Front - Westminster Books is offering a great deal on the newest Dispatches from the Front DVD. At $5, it’s pretty much a steal. We watched it with our whole family and loved it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Birth Control’ - Karen Swallow Prior: “I suspect one of the greatest obstacles to constructive dialogue on the questions about birth control raised by the Hobby Lobby case is the imprecision of the terms being discussed. Perhaps, then, the first step toward finding agreement—or at least correctly identifying at the points on which we can agree to disagree—is to employ common definitions.”

KJV Study Bible - This fall Reformation Heritage Books will be publishing a KJV Study Bible; judging by the list of contributors it will be excellent.

Credo Magazine - There is a new issue of Credo magazine available as a free download or online read.

What Makes Marriage So Hard? - Who knew marriage could be so hard? And painful? And beautiful.

Welcome to “The Matrix” - This article describes what happens at the FedEx sorting facility in Memphis every night when 140 planes land there. I found it fascinating!

Look at the Book - Here’s an early look at what John Piper hopes to accomplish through his new Look at the Book conferences.

Your Redeemer is bigger than your past. —Robert Jones

Jones

July 22, 2014

After almost two weeks of vacation, I am back in my own home in my own town. We had a great time and, as usual, some of my favorite times were spent reading. When I go on vacation, I tend to focus on light reading and books a little bit outside my normal reading diet. Here are the ones I liked best:

On Writing WellOn Writing Well by William Zinsser. Considering the amount of my time I spend writing, I have invested far too little time in reading books on the craft of writing. Zinsser’s is brilliant, though you will have to be willing to overlook his left-leaning ideologies (It’s time to get over George W. Bush!). Now in it’s 30th anniversary edition, On Writing Well contains hundreds of helpful lessons on being a better writer. I plan to return to it regularly.

Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly & Master Evernote by S.J. Scott. I am a committed Evernote user and use it with near-religious fervor to organize and archive much of the information I encounter and wish to retain. To improve my use of Evernote I read two books and found them both helpful. Master Evernote is well worth the $2.99 investment; Evernote Essentials is a bit more of a stretch at $12.99 but still reasonable value. The books are helpfully contradictory at certain points (e.g. Tag everything and don’t rely on notebooks versus rely on notebooks and don’t tag everything) which shows the freedom each of us has to make Evernote conform to our preferences. Both books conclude with helpful tips and suggestions on how to use Evernote well.

Die EmptyDie Empty by Todd Henry. From the author of The Accidental Creative comes Die Empty, a new book on “unleashing your best work every day.” This is an ideal book to pillage—to read with a view to grabbing and implementing some of its most important ideas. Henry’s purpose is simply to help the reader structure their life in such a way that they can go to bed each night content that they did their best work that day. It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but is simple enough to translate.

Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Are you noticing a theme here? Put together by the team at 99U, the book is meant to give you “a toolkit for tackling the new challenges of a 24/7, always-on workplace.” Each chapter is by a different contributor and, not surprisingly, the quality varies a fair bit. But, again, this is a book that is ideal for pillaging for great ideas, and there are many of them in there.

Flight 232Flight 232 by Laurence Gonzales. On July 19, 1989, United Airlines flight 232 crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, after a massive failure in its center engine. Twenty-five years later, Gonzales investigates the accident and speaks to many of the survivors. I found it fascinating, though Gonzales may have written a book that was just a little too long and that looked at a few too many of the survivors. Still, I enjoyed it and would happily commend it to people with a morbid interest in such topics.

Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. This is the only explicitly Christian book I read in full while on vacation. Last week I shared a full review of it which you can read by clicking the link. 

July 22, 2014

Here’s a handful of new Kindle deals: John A. Broadus by David Dockery ($0.99); The Gospel Commission by Michael Horton ($3.99); Five Points by John Piper ($5.99). The next two I’m not familiar with, but they may be worth a look: Effective Staffing for Vital Churches by Bill Easum & Billy Tenny-Brittian ($3.99); Five Secrets Great Dads Know by Paul Coughlin ($0.99). If you’re in the market for a Kindle, Amazon has the 7” Kindle Fire HDX at $100 off today only.

Gavin Peacock’s Moment - CBMW is venturing into longform writing and they get it started well with this article.

9 Things Rich People Do Differently Every Day - Rich versus poor is not the world’s most important distinction, but I did find these 9 differences quite interesting.

Was Bonhoeffer Gay? - A recent biography of Bonhoeffer has focused on his sexuality and suggested he had same-sex attraction. Trevin Wax responds.

Why a Lustful Man Doesn’t Want a Woman - Denny Burk highlights a particularly brilliant quote from the particularly brilliant C.S. Lewis.

An Abandoned Dog - Here’s your feel-good video du jour.

The Dangers and Duty of Confessing Sin to One Another - Nicholas Batzig looks at the dangers and the duty of obeying the Bible’s command to confess your sins to one another.

The world is filled with God’s glory. You can’t turn without bumping into it. —R.C. Sproul

Sproul

July 21, 2014

Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.

Studying. Studying is reading at its best, I think, but reading that can and should be done with only the choicest books. Life is too short and there are simply too many books to invest a great deal of time in every one of them. And this is where so many readers go wrong—they spend too much time and invest too much effort in books that simply don’t deserve it. When you study a book, you labor over it, you read it with highlighter in hand, you flip back and forth, you try to learn absolutely everything the book offers. Only the smallest percentage of books are worthy of this level of investment, so choose carefully which books you study. (Suggestions: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen or The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul)

Pillaging. Pillaging is one of my favorite forms of reading, and especially when the book is in a familiar category and written to be very practical. I will often buy the latest and greatest books on business and productivity and read them at a rapid pace. As I do this, I am looking for tips that I can ponder and apply. I do not intend to allow these books to teach me a whole new form of getting things done—I have my system and it works well. However, I am eager to pillage these books for ideas that can tweak my system and make it better. (Consider: Essentialism by Greg Mckeown or Habit Stacking by S.J. Scott)

Devotional. Devotional reading is reading deep truths meant to make a deep impact on your faith. This is slow and meditative reading that requires an open Bible and plenty of prayer. The Christian faith has many wonderful devotional works that are drawn from the Bible and will, in turn, draw you to the Bible. Read these ones day-by-day and allow them to lead you closer to God as he reveals himself through his Word. (Consider: The Reformed Expository Commentary series or Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon)

Skimming. In recent years we have heard a lot about the evils of skimming, and it is true that for many people skimming is now their dominant form of reading. This is not a good development. But having said that, skimming still has its place. Some books are worthy of little more than a skim, and especially if you have already read extensively in that category. If you have read six books on marriage, you probably don’t need to do more than skim the seventh. Most books will benefit from a skim before in-depth reading as it will both help you understand whether it is actually worthy of study and help you better understand the flow of the author’s argument. Do not making skimming your only form of reading, but also don’t feel guilty if you find yourself skimming twice as many books as you read in depth. The more books you read, the more you earn the right to skim.

Stretch. Stretch reading is going beyond the popularizers and reading the sources. Some of us find that we much prefer reading books by the people who write on a popular level and who make their topic eminently accessible. But sometimes we ought to force ourselves to read more difficult texts—the Church Fathers or Reformation-era writers, the historians or scientists. (Suggestions: The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards)

Rerun. Rerun reading is returning to an old favorite to read it again. This may be that old novel that you fell in love with so many years ago and returning to that novel is like journeying back to an old vacation spot. It may be that formative Christian living book that meant so much to you when you were first saved. Either way, your purpose in reading this book is almost entirely pleasure; you are not reading it to learn from it as much as for the plain enjoyment of finding comfort in its familiar words and phrases.

Failed. Failed reading is an important part of any balanced reading diet. I speak to far too many people who feel it is wrong to stop reading a book before they have finished it. But sometimes you just need to admit defeat and stop reading. The more books you read, and especially the more books you study, the more you earn the right to give up on a few of them.

Book image credit: Shutterstock

July 21, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick ($1.99); Faithful Women and the Extraordinary God by Noel Piper ($1.99); The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook by Various ($2.99); The Gospel As Centered edited by Tim Keller & D.A. Carson ($2.99); To the Glory of God by James Montgomery Boice ($1.99); The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel ($1.99); A Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig ($3.99).

Testing Your Faith in Divine Intervention - Sandy Grant writes about some of the evil events in the news today and assigns the blame accordingly.

3 Scriptures for Financial Hardship - Here are three passages (out of many) that may console in times of financial hardship.

Being a Better Online Reader - The New Yorker has some tips on being a better online reader.

Through Heaven’s Doorway - Randy Alcorn has an encouraging (yes, encouraging!) post about death.

Convert, Pay the Tax, or Die - “Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul.”

Ministering to Families Battling Cancer - Here is how (and how not) to minister to families battling cancer.

The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. —C.H. Spurgeon 

Spurgeon