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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Set An Example
October 27, 2016

Art comes in many different forms. Visit a museum or art gallery and you may see sculpture, pottery, calligraphy, and, of course, paintings. Though each of these is beautiful and valuable in its own way, the Bible commends another form of art, one that is more important and more enduring. It is a living art. Francis Schaeffer said, “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense. … The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” No work of art is more beautiful, more precious, than a life lived for God in imitation of his Son.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes to Timothy to tell him that he is responsible for making his life just such a work of art. He is to “set an example” before other Christians, and especially the ones in his local church. Though he is still young, he is to have confidence in his ability to live an exemplary life. Over the past few weeks I have been taking a deep dive into this passage, and doing so with younger Christians in mind. Having looked at what it meant for Timothy to set an example in his speech and conduct, we are now ready to consider his love.

Set an Example In Your Love

“Let no one despise you for your youth,” said Paul, “but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love…” We have already seen that speech and conduct refer to the two ways Timothy’s behavior would manifest itself externally—through his words and through his actions. Timothy was to ensure that everything he said and everything he did was worthy of imitation. Paul now begins to challenge Timothy in his inner qualities. Even in the inner man he is to be exemplary, to serve as a model of Christian virtue and maturity.

It is no surprise that love heads up Paul’s list of inner virtues, for love is the chief of all graces. As he says elsewhere, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is a defining trait for a Christian: “Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love” (1 John 4: 7- 8). Love is to mark everything we do: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Co 16:14). But what is love? What is the love Timothy was meant to have?

If you have been around churches for any length of time, you have probably encountered the Greek word Paul uses here: agape (a-GOP-ay). You probably also know that Greek has several different words that we translate as “love,” each with its own nuance. Agape is as straightforward as they come. It refers to esteem or affection, regard or concern. Timothy was to search his heart to ensure he was concerned for the people in his church, that he desired what was best for them, that he was eager to equip and protect them, and even that he felt affection for them. His heart was to be warm, not cool. All the while he was to know that what he felt and believed internally would eventually manifest itself externally.

We need to understand that according to the Bible, love is not just a feeling or emotion but something that works itself out in action. Love is not less than what we feel, but it is certainly more. Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not only feel love for you but that he ultimately acted in love for you? His feelings would not have done us much good! The ultimate measure of love is not what you feel for others but what you do for them. Paul’s concern was not just that Timothy feel love for others, but that he act in loving ways.

Why was this something Paul needed to mention specifically? Because people are hard to love! Loving others is the kind of challenge that tests the best of men. It is a challenge because of sin—we are sinful and they are sinful, and there is always trouble when sin meets sin. Yet loving the hard-to-love is how we demonstrate our obedience to God. It is how we demonstrate our conformity to him. It is how we display Christ-like humility. Ultimately, it is how we give evidence of our salvation. The love we extend to others is the very same love God has extended to us through Christ.

Young Timothy was to be an example of Christian love, love he felt internally and love he acted externally. The special setting for his love was his local church, for it was there that he was to set an example before other believers. Timothy’s challenge has become your challenge. You, too, are called to love. You are called to love the people in your local church and to serve as a model of what it means to love them well, to love them creatively, to love them thoroughly, to love them even—especially!—if they are hard to love. They may be hard to love because they are difficult people. They may be hard to love because they are so different from you—older, younger, in a different stage of life, educated a different way, a different ethnicity. They may be hard to love because you are shy and they are bold. But the challenge remains.

Each of us has a comfort zone. Each of us has a group of people who make us comfortable and other groups that make us uncomfortable. Within the church, our love needs to extend beyond any comfort zone. Your love needs to extend beyond your comfort zone. The church is to be a community of people who love one another despite differences, who love one another through differences. It is the place where God showcases what he is doing in this world by calling all kinds of people to himself and binding them together in a spiritual family. Your church needs you to be an example of a Christian marked by love  a Christian who displays inner transformation by outward actions. Your church needs you need to serve Christ by serving his people, the people he bought with his blood.

Here is a challenge: Try to begin a friendship—a real friendship—with someone in your church who is at least 10 years older than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is at least 10 years younger than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is disabled. You don’t need to do all of this today or this week, but over the coming weeks and months, see if you can form genuine friendships with people who are different from you. You will benefit, they will benefit, and God will receive the glory.

Questions to Consider

  1. Who do you know who sets the believers an example in his or her love? How does that person display love for others?
  2. Consider what A.W. Pink says: “The measure of our love for others can largely be determined by the frequency and earnestness of our prayers for them.” Do you pray for others? How can you pray for them with greater frequency and earnestness?
  3. In what ways do you think you are setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and thank God for each of them. In what ways do you think you are not setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and ask God for his grace to change you.

October 27, 2016

There are plenty of new Kindle deals today for those who keep an eye on such things. Baker Books has 5 titles on sale in honor of Reformation Day while Christian Focus has 4 good books marked down. Find them all here.

Cries in the Dark

This is hard to read, but important to read. Jessica Harris shares some cries for help from some of the many women she interacts with who are struggling with pornography. It’s not just a guy problem!

Is It Sinful to Watch Porn with My Spouse?

While on the subject of sexual sin, John Piper answers a too-common question: Is it sinful to watch porn if I’m watching it with my spouse?

The Politics of Jen Hatmaker

I know quite a lot of people are wondering what Jen Hatmaker believers. In this new interview she lays out her views on several issues, including homosexuality and gay marriage.

When the Taliban Takes the Girl Next Door

“In 2012, York County’s Caitlan Coleman and her husband were kidnapped by terrorists. They’ve been held in captivity ever since. Only after they vanished did friends and family learn Caitlan’s gut-wrenching secret.”

Kill the Midweek Prayer Meeting?

James Faris has a level-headed article about the significant of keeping or killing the mid-week prayer meeting.

A Warning for Americans

There’s an interesting, alarming story playing out in Toronto that may serve as a warning to Americans.

This Day in 1978. 38 years ago today the complete New International Version (NIV) of the Bible was first published. *

It Happened to George Washington’s Church

What an encouraging article about The Falls Anglican Church! “Stories about losing rarely reach the front page, but our countercultural faith is different. We believe to live is Christ and to die is gain. Daily news of victories—in sports, in politics—obscures this truth. That’s why we need more stories of gaining through loss. Such stories are bound to continue for the faithful in today’s America.”

Why You Should Listen to “Four Seasons”

You might just enjoy this video on Vivaldi’s masterpiece. 

This Is My Body

This is interesting but not surprising: “Religious beliefs about the body had a significant influence on body image, over and above other factors such as religious commitment.”

Flashback: On Wanting To Not Die

I recruited Aileen to the cause and said, “We need to get fit.” She loves me enough to play along. Neither of us had ever been to a gym or health club before. We did not know what to expect when we walked through those doors, but we steeled our nerve, took courage from one another, walked in, and asked to speak to someone.

As the cuture around us shifts away from the gospel, our response should not be outrage but outreach. —Phillip Bethancourt

Things Christians Just Do Not Get To Do
October 26, 2016

This one began with a conversation, with a statement within that conversation: “Christians don’t get to hold a grudge!” It’s just not an option, not a vice we can allow ourselves. But it’s not the only thing Christians don’t get to do. There are other kinds of behavior that God rules out, that God describes as being nothing less than sinful rebellion. Sadly, this doesn’t always stop us. Some of these behaviors continue despite God’s insistence that they are unfittinng for his children. Here are a few I’ve encountered lately in life, family, and ministry.

Christians don’t get to hold a grudge. You’ve got two options when a person commits an offense against you: You can overlook it or you can confront it (Proverbs 19:11, Matthew 18:15-17). You either let it go without ever holding it against the other person or you confront it in love and bring it to a healthy resolution. But you can never hold on to it in anger and bitterness. That’s simply not an option for the believer.

Christians don’t get to withhold forgiveness. When a person seeks your forgiveness you are duty bound to forgive him (Luke 17:1-4). Even if that person sins against you repeatedly and seeks forgiveness each time, you are equally duty bound to extend forgiveness. You don’t get to decide that the person needs to suffer for a while first, that the person deserves the silent treatment, or that the person isn’t sufficiently sincere. You need to extend forgiveness as freely and immediately as God has extended forgiveness to you.

Christians don’t get to hoard their wealth. Christians can and should earn money. When given the opportunity, Christians can and should earn more rather than less money—there’s no intrinsic value in poverty and no intrinsic trouble in wealth. But Christians are not to hoard their wealth (Mark 10:23). Rather, Christians are to understand that wealth is a means to God’s ends. This includes provision for self and family and reasonable preparation for the future, but it also includes resourcing God’s mission here and now. God measures wealth not by what is accumulated but by what is put toward his work.

Christians don’t get to complain. Grumbling is a favorite sin to many. Some go so far as to treat it as a kind of virtue—just think of late-night television and the grumbling that goes on there under the banner of comedy. But the Bible reveals grumbling as a problem of the heart and a behavior that is unsuited to the Christian. Rather, we are told to “do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14; see also 1 Peter 4:9, James 4:1-3). Rather than grumble you are to pray and to give thanks to God for his providence, no matter the circumstances.

Christians don’t get to go it alone. There is an independent streak deep within the human heart, a desire to go it alone in life. Yet Christians are commanded to form themselves into churches, into communities of believers who share life together (Hebrews 10:25). Lone Christians are disobedient Christians who refuse to take hold of one of God’s most important means of grace. Living outside a community of Christians is not a legitimate option for the Christian.

Christians don’t get to be a thorn in their pastor’s side. So many churches have that person or those few people who take it upon themselves to keep the pastor honest, to challenge his every move, to refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt. They see devil’s advocacy as their ministry within the church—their ministry of restraint upon the church’s leaders. But the Bible allows no such “ministry.” Rather, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Christians don’t get to be unproductive. Laziness and lack of productivity are rarely far from us. It’s hard to be active and easy to be distracted. There’s always a reason to veer away from our responsibilities and toward entertainment. But Christians don’t get to be lazy. They don’t get to be unproductive. Productivity is a word that is maligned and misunderstood, yet when defined correctly it is the heart of the Christian life. To be productive according to the best definition of the term is to bring glory to God by doing good for others (Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 10:24). That’s what you’re here for!

Christians don’t get to have a pet sin. Make no mistake, it is grueling work to put sin to death. It can be difficult and discouraging. It is especially tough work when it comes to putting those pet sins to death, those sins you have grown to love and coddle over a lifetime (Colossians 3:5). But as a Christian you do not get to have a pet sin, a peccadillo, a sin you refuse to confront through the power of the Holy Spirit. Every sin, no matter how small or precious it seems, is to be confronted and destroyed.

Christians don’t get to be anxious. Many Christians think worrying and fretting is something less than a sin. Some would go so far as to think that worry is necessary, as if refusing to worry about life’s cares and sorrows indicates apathy. But actually, a refusal to worry indicates confidence in the will of God. God tells his people not to worry, not to be anxious, but to instead entrust all things to his kind and good providence (Philippians 4:6-7). Anxiety is not a legitimate option for the Christian.

Christians don’t get to speak evil of one another. We know that we can’t go around gossiping about one another, recklessly spreading malicious information or pseudo-facts. But we still find ways of doing it, whether it’s in the guise of a prayer request, a plea for help, or a joke. As a Christian you need to be aware of your tendency to speak evil of others, to misuse your words (James 3:6, 9). And you need to guard yourself against speaking of others in a way you wouldn’t if you were face-to-face. Words are to be used only to build up and never to cut up.

These are all things—just a few of the things—Christians don’t get to do. These are things we don’t get to do because they are associated with godlessness rather than godliness, with sin rather than salvation. In every case God has freed us by his gospel to a new and better way of living—a way of love, forgiveness, generosity, encouragement, community, submission, industry, purity, and freedom. We don’t get to do those things that would only ever harm us and the people around us.

October 26, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton, The Question of God by Armand Nicholi, Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow, and God-Breathed by Josh McDowell.

Yesterday I reviewed The Radical Book for Kids. Today Westminster Books has a special deal on it. Also, Banner of Truth is having a Reformation Day sale.

What’s Your Budget For Staying Spiritually Healthy?

This is a great question!

What Should Be One of My Chief Aims at Church?

It’s a good question with a simple answer.

The Other Sister

“As many as 700,000 adults in the U.S. with a disability like autism live with parents or another family member who’s at least 60 years old. What happens when those caregivers are gone? One sibling confronts her past and likely future.”

Lonely for a Friend?

Christine Hoover continues to write about friendship and to do so well. “When we hold an ideal of friendship in our minds—who it will be, what they will be like—we hold a standard above the heads of real women God has placed in our lives, and then we wonder why we’re constantly disappointed and bitterly lonely.”

Befriend Those with Disabilities and Special Needs

And while on the subject of friendship, here’s a great challenge from Scott Sauls.

This Day in 1751. 265 years ago today hymnwriter and author of ‘The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul,’ Philip Doddridge, died. This book led William Wilberforce and many others to Christ. *

Time to Change Your Church!

“Every church will have its deficiencies. Local church members must not allow discontentment to fester in their hearts and minds. Rather, we should seek to be ‘change agents’ for the health and well-being of the body of which we are a part.”

Urban Geography

This video explores why we live where we live and points out the differences between North America and Europe.

On My Shelf

The Gospel Coalition interviewed me about books and reading.

Flashback: I Demand Justice!

As I walked out of Dachau I felt a deep longing for justice. I did not just want the kind of justice that would hand out a life sentence, but a cosmic justice, a complete justice, God’s own justice against the evildoers.

You will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything else. —C.H. Spurgeon

The Radical Book for Kids
October 25, 2016

I’m glad to say that this book passed the kid test. I deliberately left it lying on the table before my kids got home from school. My ten-year-old walked in, dumped her shoes and knapsack in the middle of the floor (we’re still working on that) and sauntered toward the kitchen. But she didn’t get there because she saw the book and just had to explore it. That’s a good sign.

It isn’t surprising, though, because Champ Thornton’s The Radical Book for Kids is eye-catching inside and out. In fact, I think it’s one of the best-looking kids’ books I’ve seen in a long time. (Props to Tim Green for the excellent cover design and Scot McDonald for the interior work.) Best of all, that good looking interior and exterior complements the interesting, important content. Thornton, father to three young children, says, “It’s my prayer that this book will be used by God to grow deep roots of faith in the children who read it. More than this, I hope it will also encourage young readers to keep on learning about his Word, his gospel, his church, and life in his world. If this book makes our children more curious and thirsty to know God and the good news of his Word, then it will have done its job.”

So what is The Radical Book for Kids? First, it is a book for children to read on their own, with kids between the ages of 8 and 14 as the target audience. Parents or teachers might also find it a helpful resource, but primarily it’s for children to read to themselves. Second, it’s a book that is radical according to a few different meanings of the word. Radical first meant “going to the root” and this book goes to the very roots of the Christian faith. Second, the word means “extreme” or “drastic,” and the book teaches “about following Jesus and standing for him in the storms of life” while also teaching about some people who did that. Third, it offers some radical (“excellent, cool”) fun—creating pottery, locating stars, and even building slingshots and catapults. By all of those definitions it’s radical.

The book is comprised of 67 short chapters that together span about 250 pages. It begins with a couple of chapters on the Bible, then advances to God and the gospel. From there it turns to the Christian life, sin, obedience, creation, and so on. Yet it doesn’t progress in a completely linear way. Rather, it circles back to important subjects, advancing them incrementally each time. It pauses for fun from time to time, or adds a biography of a key Christian figure. It offers help with friendship, with loving parents, with understanding the big picture of the Bible. It provides slick comparisons of the 4 gospels and then immediately offers instruction on tying 3 different kinds of knots. All throughout it is stuffed full of pictures, illustrations, sidebars, quizzes, and little points to ponder. All throughout it is written in a tone that speaks well to the target audience.

Overall, as children read this book they will encounter faith questions (Can you prove that God exists? How do we know the Bible is true?), fun facts, historical information and vignettes, lessons on the person and work of God, challenges to live like Jesus, fun skills to learn (friendship, cleaning your room, memorizing anything, etc), challenges to attempt (make a sling, make a sundial, etc), and knowledge about the Bible. It’s a great combination and one children will enjoy. Michael Horton says it well in his commendation: “It’s not just about fun facts; it is a spark for discover of God, his world, and our place in it.”

We’re living at a time when we have some exceptional children’s books available to us, books to complement and supplement the precious truths we want our children to know and to believe. The Radical Book for Kids is just such a book. It is especially noteworthy in that it is meant to be read by children rather than to children and in its excellent design that will effectively draw and hold their attention. It’s a book I recommend and one I will be encouraging my children to read.

October 25, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: The American Hour by Os Guinness, Money, Greed, and God by Jay Richards, God’s Indwelling Presence by Jamaes Hamilton, Sgt. York by John Perry, Read the Bible for Life by George Guthrie.

Died: Jack Chick

Christianity Today writes, “Jack Chick, the cartoonist who wanted to save your soul from hell, died Sunday at age 92.” 

(Racial) Diversity and Reformed Identity

I really appreciate this article by Joe Kim. “(Racial) diversity within our theological community helps us all form a stronger sense of theological identity and sense of self.”

Photographing 400 Towns in Iowa

This photographer has taken shots of 400 towns in Iowa. Based on what he’s seen and experienced, he speaks about the Trump phenomenon. (Personally, I was drawn by his description of and sympathy with the rural poor.)

Meet the Baby Born Twice

CNN reports on a baby removed from her mother for surgery, then returned to her mother’s womb. Denny Burk asks a legitimate question about this.

The Witchdoctor’s Goats and Halloween

You’ll enjoy this reflection on Halloween at home and in Tanzania, the most superstitious country in Africa.

This Day in 1564. 452 years ago today German composer Hans Leo Hassler was born. He left a rich musical legacy including ‘Passion Corale’ to which the Church sings ‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.’ *

10 Things You should Know about Interpreting the Bible

Sam Storms: “Today we look at 10 things we should know about how to interpret the Bible (or conversely, how not to interpret it). But before we begin, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not an answer-book that provides ready-made explanations for all problems or solutions to puzzling questions…” 

Speak How You Speak

Here’s a tip for preachers or public speakers: Speak how to actually speak.

ARCTIC - Visual Vibes

There’s a bit of humanism mixed in, but this is still an amazing video displaying the beauty of the Arctic.

Flashback: The Discipline of Watching

This is one of the most important things Jerry Bridges ever taught me: ““Realize that your ‘temptation antenna’ is constantly scanning your environment looking for those areas of sin.” 

Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing which is not in the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible.J.C. Ryle

Death to Clickbait
October 24, 2016

I hate clickbait. I absolutely despise it. Clickbait is lazy. It’s manipulative. It’s distracting and disappointing. It’s an abomination. Death to clickbait!

What is clickbait? “Clickbaiting is the intentional act of over-promising or otherwise misrepresenting—in a headline, on social media, in an image, or some combination—what you’re going to find when you read a story on the web.” It uses headlines with provocative adjectives—stunning, amazing, unbelievable, shocking. It promises that it will blow your mind, that you won’t believe what you see, that it will change your life. You know clickbait when you see it. It’s made to be alluring, made to be so compelling that you click before you think.

Clickbait exists because there is so much media vying for our attention today. We are participants in an attention economy in which the easy currency is page views. Everyone wants page views! For companies and their sites, page views are closely tied to advertising and the money it brings. If you want to turn a profit, you’d better generate page views. For individuals and their blogs, page views are closely tied to influence and the opportunities it brings. If you want a book contract or a conference platform, you’d better be able to prove that you’ve got people clicking and reading.

There are easy ways and hard ways to generate page views. The hard way is to create great content—articles that are interesting, unique, compelling, worthwhile. It is no small feat to create content so strong that people will not only read it but also share it. The much easier way to generate page views is to create great headlines—or provocative ones, at least. With a great headline you’ll get the click, you’ll get the page view, and you don’t even need to invest all the time and effort in creating the great content. And this, of course, is where clickbait makes its appearance.

Clickbait goes wrong in at least two ways that ought to be especially convicting to Christian writers.

First, clickbait is a failure to tell the truth because it depends upon misrepresentation. It promises a lot but is almost invariably disappointing. The twelve life-changing productivity tips turn out to be old, weary ones you’ve heard a thousand times before. The mind-blowing new technique is pure gimmickry that wouldn’t work in a million years. The shocking photos are anything but. Clickbait is wax fruit—attractive but empty. It’s white bread—tasty but unsatisfying. It’s the Atlanta Braves—promising but disappointing. Whether it’s a straight-up lie or a mere stretch, clickbait fails the test of truth. Be warned: “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool” (Proverbs 19:1). And “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel” (Proverbs 20:17).

Second, clickbait is a failure to loveClickbait exists where the writer or publisher is thinking of himself before others. His primary concern is not loving or serving other people by providing helpful, high-quality articles. No, his concern is building his own platform or stuffing his own pockets. This emphasis on money or influence works itself out in ways that frustrate the reader. As Christians we know better than to irritate others to benefit ourselves. Be challenged: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

There is nothing wrong and everything right with a great headline. There is nothing right and everything wrong with clickbait. Sometimes the difference between the two is subtle or subjective, but it’s usually found in the content that lies beyond the headline. If the headline is true and realistic, if it accurately describes the content, it may just be a great headline. If it is inaccurate, stretching, gimmicky, it may just be clickbait.

Here are a few encouragements to Christian writers:

  • Work hard to create headlines that are compelling but not gimmicky, that stand out in a crowded space but without resorting to manipulation and cheap tricks. Writing good headlines is a way you serve your readers.
  • Give people what you promised in the headline. Maybe give them more. Never give them less.
  • Keep an eye on your adjectives. If it’s not actually shocking, don’t say that it is. Don’t lead people to believe something is stunning or amazing unless you intend to prove that this is actually the case.
  • Put your readers first by putting content first. Don’t write for money or platform—not as the matter of first importance. Write for the joy of serving others. Before you click “publish” ask whether or how this article and its headline will serve other people. Pray about it.
  • Put the majority of your effort into creating articles that are true, that are deep, that are helpful, that are of the highest standards. Be willing to reject a great headline because it’s not quite true or not backed up by a great article. In fact, always be wary of an article that begins with a headline. It’s more likely that a good headline will follow a good article than vice versa.