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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

May 27, 2015

I sometimes wonder what it was like for Sarah as she watched Abraham and Hagar walk into that tent together—what she thought, what she felt (Genesis 16). What was it like for the wife to watch her husband seek privacy with that other woman, knowing exactly what they were about to do? Where did her mind go in those moments when they were out of sight? How far had Sarah fallen to not only permit this, but to suggest and even demand it? What has to happen in a wife for her to give her husband to another woman’s embrace?

Idolatry has to happen, that’s what. Sarah had become an idolater. She had not begun to worship idols of wood or stone, but she was an idolater nonetheless. There was one thing she was convinced she had to have in order to experience joy and in order to live a fulfilled life, and that was the one thing God had held back. She had a husband, she had honor, she had beauty, she had fantastic wealth, but she had no child, no son. And it very nearly destroyed her. It caused her to act in the most outrageous way, and to draw others into her sin.

Sarah believed in the existence of God. Sarah even believed in the power and authority of God, I am certain. This God had called her and Abraham to leave their home and to move to a distant promised land. This God had established his covenant with Abraham. This God had protected and preserved them, enriched them, and given them great honor. But despite it all, Sarah had lost faith in the promises of this God. She had stopped believing in the goodness of this God.

God had made one promise that he seemed slow to fulfill. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would number more than the stars in the sky. He had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. He had promised, but had not yet delivered. Never mind those many nations—he had not yet given them a single child! And in all the waiting, Sarah had stopped believing. Through all the many years of childlessness, she had lost her faith. And when her faith fizzled, she began to take action on her own. If God would not fulfill the promise, then Sarah would. “Abraham, take my servant Hagar and give me children by her.”

Sarah gained that child, but, as always, sin over-promised and under-delivered. The first thrill of joy soon turned to jealousy, then rage, then conflict, then open warfare.

Finally, just as he had said, God did fulfill his promise. He gave Abraham and Sarah the child he had promised all along. His answer to them had never been “no,” but simply “wait.” All he had asked of them was to wait and trust. There are echoes here of God’s great promise of salvation: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9). God is slow only from our too-limited human perspective.

Where is God asking you to simply wait and trust? Where have you lost faith, or where is your faith wavering? Where is God slow to fulfill his promises to you, slow to answer prayer, slow to grant you the gift of understanding? Look right there and you may see displaced and then misplaced faith. Look right there and you may see how you have begun to come up with your own devious plans, even plans that directly contradict the clear, revealed will of God. Look right there and you may just see an idol taking root. Look right there and plead with God to restore your faith in him and his promises.

Hagar

 

May 27, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: How to Talk to a Skeptic by Donald Johnson ($1.99); Encountering Christ in the Covenants by Daniel McManigal ($0.99); Love Worth Finding by Joyce Rogers ($0.99); The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham ($0.99); Biblical Authority by James Draper ($2.99); If God Made the Universe, Who Made God? ($2.99).

Thigh, Breast or Door? - “Hey, can you go close the thigh? Oh, I mean the…breast? Nope…the door…that’s it…the door!” Missionary blogs are among my favorites, and here’s an interesting one. Be sure to listen to the audio recording.

The Christian Life - Westminster Books has the “Theologians on the Christian” life series on sale this week (including the volume I interviewed Tony Reinke about yesterday). Be sure to scroll down for a few more Newton-related deals.

A Pastoral Perspective on Illegal Immigration - Nathan Busenitz shares Grace Community Church’s position on illegal immigration.

Romance and Tragedy - You may well have read of this couple before, but it is worth reading again. “It was not until three years after her mother died in 1990 that DeRonda Elliott opened the suitcase containing the letters her parents exchanged during World War II.”

The Creators - I was Stephen Altrogge’s guest in the first episode of a new podcast he is doing called “The Creators.” We talked about creativity and all kinds of other stuff.

Servant Leadership - Matt Perman highlights the 7 characteristics of servant leadership.

May 26, 2015

You are familiar with the name John Newton, I am sure, and with the broad strokes of his life—how he went from captaining a slave trading ship to becoming a Christian and composing the great hymn “Amazing Grace.” What fewer people know about is his 40 years of pastoral ministry. Newton the pastor is the subject of Tony Reinke’s new book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ. I recently asked Tony to tell us why he wrote this book and what we can expect to gain by reading it.

MeJudging by the title, this sounds like it could be a book that applies only to really smart people. Is it a book that ordinary Christians should read? Why?

TonyJohn Newton was a practical man, so I aimed to write a practical book. In the words of one biographer, Newton was a man of utility — he had zero patience with pie-in the-sky theory and speculation. He helped ordinary Christians navigate the challenges of their busy lives, and I hope this book does the same.

SeriesNewton is proof that the deeper we are willing to go into the mess and the hurt of this world to help people, the more we move away from detached, cerebral theology and toward hands-on, real-world pastoral care. And this was his world, as noted historian Bruce Hindmarsh put it so well in an interview, “Pre-modern life was pre-analgesic, pre-antiseptic, and pre-anesthetic. People hurt all the time.” It was into this relentless physical pain that God raised up Newton to serve as a spiritual cardiologist.

Newton was a student of the human heart’s response to the soreness and pressures of daily life: he studied his own heart’s responses, and then he studied Scripture to apply God’s promises to daily life. He was a realist to the max.

If the Ask Pastor John podcast is my attempt to ask the perplexing ethical questions to Pastor John Piper, this new book is something of an Ask Pastor John Newton — my attempt to ask Newton the most puzzling questions we face in the Christian life. I found his answers in his letters.

So don’t let the wig on Newton’s head undermine his value for our generation. Bible counselor Ed Welch recently said that in reading my book he felt pastored by John Newton, and this is exactly what I hope every reader experiences — a personal encounter with one of the church’s greatest ministers, who in turn helps us to commune with the living God.

MeSo it’s not quite a biography, right? If not, what is it?

TonyRight, my book is not a biography (I certainly could not improve on Jonathan Aitken’s work). Newton’s life was formed by a few monumental events, and those events shaped all of his instruction on the Christian life. So I recount key anecdotes and biographical highlights in order to show how those events illuminate his broader pastoral care.

I call my work “pastoral synthesis.” I want us to be pastored by Newton, and to this end I started by gathering together all of Newton’s many published letters — about 1,000 of them in various collections from over the centuries (and many of them preserved in old, rare, and fragile volumes in libraries around the world).

What I’ve found is that my generation (and younger) are unlikely to read old letters, even those by Newton. To serve the church, we need willing researchers to volunteer for the heavy work of collecting all the letters, identifying Newton’s key answers to the perennial questions of the Christian life, and then developing all that into a guided tour that allows the unique voice of Newton to frequently emerge. I was honored when Justin Taylor and Steve Nichols nominated me for the task and invited me to publish in their incredible series (Theologians on the Christian Life).

MeIf you had to distill all of Newton’s counsel to a central point, what would that be?

TonyTo live is Christ — this is my subtitle and I’m convinced this is the core of all Newton’s pastoral counsel. Newton’s heart and mind was engrossed by the person of Christ.

May 26, 2015

In case you missed it yesterday, Crossway has put the Kindle versions of their Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series on sale at $2.99 each: Christian Worldview; The Liberal Arts; Art and Music; Philosophy; The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking; Political Thought; Ethics and Moral Reasoning. Also consider Grounded in the Gospel by J.I. Packer ($2.99).

A Dad’s Life - This article makes you click “next page” twice and throws in some pop-under ads. Despite all that, it’s still well worth reading.

Letter to a Teen Unboxing Their First Smartphone - Here’s an article I wrote for Desiring God. It’s intended for the teen who is just getting a smartphone for the first time.

How Batteries Work - You’ve always wondered, haven’t you?

Seeing the Invisible God - “I have often thought that just one, brief, sensory-filled visitation from the Lord would be the most effective way for me to be changed. It could be accomplished in a minute or less and would, I think, inspire greater obedience, less wavering or dullness of faith, more vivid hope, and tireless evangelistic zeal. That doesn’t seem too much to ask.”

Risen - I suppose we will be hearing a lot more about this movie in the days to come. Rumor has it that it is an unofficial sequel to The Passion of the Christ.

A Week with the Watch - My friend Nathan reflects on his first week with an Apple Watch.

20 Lessons in 20 Years - Brian Croft has just completed 20 years of ministry and takes some time to reflect on lessons he has learned.

My graphic designer is on vacation; quote graphics will return in 2 weeks.

May 25, 2015

It may be the email I get more than any other: Can you help me find a church? Sometimes I receive it when a person has come to new theological convictions and realizes that his current church is completely unsuitable, but far more often he has just moved across the country or across the world, has settled into his new home, and has now started the search for a new church.

Before I answer the question, can I encourage you to consider the importance of finding a new church before you move? If public worship and church community are as central to your life and faith as the New Testament suggests, then it can be perilous to move anywhere without first determining that there are suitable churches in that location. So many people will go and scout the neighborhoods, check out the schools, and leave a deposit on the new house, but forget all about the church until they have actually made the move and settled in. I recommend the opposite approach: Find the church first, and then start thinking about the other factors.

Now, how can you find a church in a new area? The easiest way I know is to begin with a trusted source that can make a recommendation. If you are affiliated with a denomination, it will be as simple as visiting the denomination’s web site. But for those who wish to search wider, I recommend beginning with a handful of church directories, each of which lists like-minded churches. These are the best three I know of:

The Gospel Coalition maintains a church directory that is open to any church that affirms their Foundation Documents. This at least narrows the search and can provide a few churches to visit and consider.

The Master’s Seminary maintains a Find a Church page which lists churches founded or pastored by their alumni. 

9Marks Church Search offers a similar directory for churches that wish to be affiliated with them. 

Between the three directories, you now have a good place to begin your search. In every case, a search of my area turns up very good results. One thing to keep in mind: The organizations that provide these directories simply list the churches, but do not vouch for them, so you will need to visit and assess.

Let me close with a suggestion for local churches: I think one of the most helpful features you can add to your church’s web page is an affiliations or recommendations page where you list and recommend like-minded ministries. This helps people who visit your site make connections with the wider Christian world. They may not know the name of your pastor or the theological positions of your church, but through these affiliations they can at least get a glimpse of who you are. Here is what we do at Grace Fellowship Church:

  • The Gospel Coalition is a group of pastors and churches that exist to promote gospel-centered ministry and biblically-faithful resources for the church. Grace Fellowship Church shares the doctrinal convictions and theological vision for ministry as outlined in their Foundation Documents.
  • Desiring God Ministries has influenced Grace Fellowship Church primarily through the writing and preaching of Pastor John Piper. Though we are not in formal affiliation with Desiring God, we share John Piper’s convictions about the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty, salvation, mission, suffering, and the way one should live the Christian life.
  • 9Marks Ministries, founded by Pastor Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, has been formative in our understanding of how a church is to be governed.

Those who visit our site as part of their search for a new church invariably find this page just as helpful as our sermons and our statement of faith.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 25, 2015

Crossway has put the Kindle versions of their Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series on sale at $2.99 each: Christian Worldview; The Liberal Arts; Art and Music; Philosophy; The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking; Political Thought; Ethics and Moral Reasoning.

Spiritual Dry Spells: Causes and Cures - We all go through a spiritual dry spell at one time or another, don’t we? Here’s a word on causes and cures.

Fifty Shades of Khaki: Biblical Minimalism - Clint Archer on minimalism. “The average American house contains over 300,000 items. The community of modern minimalists I stumbled upon while researching efficient packing strategies strives to prune its inventory of possessions to three digits at most.”

Atheism’s Foundation for Morality - Randy Alcorn: “Choosing moral behaviors because they make you feel happy can make sense, in a Bertrand Russell/Sam Harris sort of way, but what if it makes you feel happy to torture animals or kill Jews or steal from your employer?”

35 Things I Wish I’d Known in High School - Here is some wisdom for young ladies.

Real Glory - This is a good one: “What a day it will be. A day when true honor will be unveiled.”

The Holy Spirit Before Pentecost - This is a helpful illustration of the Holy Spirit before and after Pentecost.

(My graphic designer is on vacation, so I am on a quote graphic hiatus; quotes will return in 2 weeks.)

May 24, 2015

One of the most difficult things to do is to lovingly confront another person about sin, or—even harder—about what may have been sin. In his excellent book Side by Side, Ed Welch offers some practical counsel on doing this well.


The hardest sins to talk about are those we see someone commit, but we receive no invitation to speak. Here, we must decide if the sin is to be called out or covered.

Don’t Be Silent Out of Fear

Most people who have witnessed sin or are even suspicious of it in another don’t regret raising such important matters when they are raised well, but they do regret having been silent.

A church was left dazed when both a men’s leader and a women’s leader left their spouses, wrote a good-bye note to their families, and disappeared together. As a plan for pastoral care gradually developed, over a dozen people in the church said “I should have said something.” They had observed the way the two leaders had interacted and spoken about each other, and they regretted their silence.

When sin becomes public, especially when it is sin that damages relationships or incurs legal problems, so many think, “I should have said something.” Yet we are slow to remember those mental notes. Our fear of people’s angry reactions, the myth that help is needed only when asked for, and our sense that we have no right to say anything because we ourselves are quite a mess—these contribute to safe relationships rather than loving ones.

Don’t Be Silent Out of Anger

If the sin has been against us, our anger is an even bigger problem than fear. The Old Testament puts it this way: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Lev. 19:17). When angry, we might be excellent at talking to others about someone’s sin, but wretched at talking to the actual sinner. Meanwhile, just a smidgeon of humility would remind us that we are rivaling the very sin we oppose as we stand in prideful judgment. If we are stuck in anger, we are the needy ones, and we ask for help.

Get Help

If we have any questions about how to proceed, we ask for help. We are part of a larger body, not private therapists, and we will often ask the larger body to help us to help others. And even when we ask for help, we proceed carefully. Confidences are important to us, and we want to speak well of people, so we might ask anonymously.

“I think I should speak to someone about something I witnessed. Could you help me know what to say and even whether I should say it?”

Just the Facts

Our task is to hold up a mirror so that others see themselves more than they see us. We tell what we have actually seen; we avoid interpretations and usually stay away from speaking of how the actions might have hurt or disappointed us—that can wait for another time.

”The other day I saw you walking down the street with Rich [not her husband]. Is everything okay? Should I be concerned?

”At the church meeting, you seemed pretty angry. I noticed that everyone went silent after you spoke, as if they were afraid to say anything. Could we talk about that?”

”You seemed on edge this morning. When I asked about your upcoming day, you said my question was stupid. Is something wrong?”

I was thinking about our conversation the other day. When you talked about Jackie, you seemed to be holding some things against her. Could we talk about that?”

”When we were talking about your marriage, everything was about her—it was all her fault—and nothing was your own. I know things are complicated, but isn’t our goal to be seeing our own faults long before we see our spouse’s?

Yes, any of those comments would be difficult for most of us. But we are compelled by love. How would we want to be approached by someone who is aware of our public sin?

Be Prepared for Possible Negative Reactions

It doesn’t always go well. The one we approach might get mad at us, which means we have probably identified something important. Anger is usually a self-indictment. Or the person becomes upset because we have been clumsy, self-righteous, or judgmental, in which case we are saddened, ask forgiveness, and grow in wisdom.

And what if the other person does not accept our words and refuses to hear? Perhaps we wait, perhaps we persist because the matter is so important, perhaps we get advice from a wise friend, or perhaps we enlist someone else who has witnessed the sinful behavior and go together (Matt. 18:15-16). Love is what orients us. Fear or anger will blind us, but love and the best interests of others are our guide.

Image credit: Shutterstock