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Tim Challies

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October 22, 2014

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books. It has been too long since I’ve sorted through the piles and to tell you which of them have risen to the top. Here are some of the new and notable books I’ve received in the past month or so.

OrdinaryOrdinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical World by Michael Horton. This was the book I wanted to write; Horton beat me to the punch. “Radical. Crazy. Transformative and restless. Every word we read these days seems to suggest there’s a ‘next-best-thing,’ if only we would change our comfortable, compromising lives. In fact, the greatest fear most Christians have is boredom—the sense that they are missing out on the radical life Jesus promised. One thing is certain. No one wants to be ‘ordinary.’ Yet pastor and author Michael Horton believes that our attempts to measure our spiritual growth by our experiences, constantly seeking after the next big breakthrough, have left many Christians disillusioned and disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with an energetic faith; the danger is that we can burn ourselves out on restless anxieties and unrealistic expectations. What’s needed is not another program or a fresh approach to spiritual growth; it’s a renewed appreciation for the commonplace.” (Amazon, Westminster Books)

New Morning MerciesNew Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. I can’t think of too many things by Paul Tripp that haven’t benefitted me, and my guess is that this new devotional wouldn’t prove the exception. “Mornings can be tough. Sometimes, a hearty breakfast and strong cup of coffee just aren’t enough. Offering more than a rush of caffeine, best-selling author Paul David Tripp wants to energize you with the most potent encouragement imaginable: the gospel. Forget ‘behavior modification’ or feel-good aphorisms. Tripp knows that what we really need is an encounter with the living God. Then we’ll be prepared to trust in God’s goodness, rely on his grace, and live for his glory each and every day.” (Amazon)

Visitors Guide to HellA Visitor’s Guide to Hell: A Manual for Temporary Entrants and Those Who Would Prefer to Avoid Eternal Damnation by Clint Archer. This book makes me wonder: Would you want someone to dedicate a book to you when the book’s topic is hell? (As it happens, the book is dedicated to John MacArthur and the faculty of The Master’s Seminary). Here’s the description: “Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about Hell … but were too afraid to ask! In the realm of eternal damnation, what tortures will we find? How hot is it, really? And most important of all, how can we make sure that it’s not our final destination? Drawing on the Bible, as well as a host of other literary and religious sources, an expert on Scripture provides an illuminating look at Hell—from its occupants to its don’t-miss sites. Dr. Clint Archer offers a thought-provoking, learned, at-times-hilarious guide to a place that might be interesting to visit … but you wouldn’t want to live there!” Unfortunately there isn’t (yet?) a Kindle version of this one. (Amazon)

Compassion Without CompromiseCompassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth by Adam Barr & Ron Citlau. Could there be a more urgent book with all that is going on in the society around us? “In the next year at least one of these things will happen in your life: A family member will come out of the closet and expect you to be okay with it; Your elementary–age child’s curriculum will discuss LGBT families; Your company will talk about building a tolerant workplace for LGBT co–workers; Your college–age child will tell you your view on homosexuality is bigoted. Are you ready? In their role as pastors, Adam Barr and Ron Citlau have seen how this issue can tear apart families, friendships, and even churches. In this book they combine biblical answers with practical, real–world advice on how to think about and discuss this issue with those you care about.” (Amazon, Westminster Books)

October 22, 2014

The great Kindle deals continue: Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat ($3.99); Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary ($5.99); An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson & Douglas Moo ($5.99); The Way of Wisdom by J.I. Packer ($5.99); Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer ($4.27); Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Walter Kaiser & Moises Silva ($5.99); The New Matthew Henry Commentary ($7.99); New Testament Theology by Leon Morris ($4.99); Zondervan All-in-One Bible Reference Guide ($4.99).

Jesus, What a Wonderful Name - You’ll enjoy watching Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ long and powerful Scripture recitation from the recent True Woman conference.

Proactive and Reactive Prayer - The distinction between proactive and reactive prayer can be a helpful one. If we don’t guard ourselves, our prayers will almost always drift toward the reactive.

Moses, Maximum, and a Bloody Valentine - I’m enjoying the series at The Gospel Coalition that deals with perplexing passages of the Bible.

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep - Here are some tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

70 Years Ago Today - 70 years ago today was the day that J.I. Packer became a Christian.

Early believers had to be commanded not to evangelize. Modern believers have to be urged to speak. —Thom Rainer

Rainer

October 21, 2014

As I continue this series on getting things done, I want to remind you of our definition of productivity: Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I would like to briefly address that “good to others and glory to God” because I know it can be a little bit abstract. 

Let me confess: Doing good to others and bringing glory to God is not something I think about every moment. When I sit down to do paperwork for the church I don’t think, “How can I glorify God in this?” When I take my son out for breakfast I don’t think, “How can I do him good and glorify God over the next hour?” Perhaps I should, and I probably have a lot of room for growth here. But what I ensure I do is reserve moments of deliberate thoughtfulness and in these times consider and plan how I can do good to others and in that way glorify God. I structure my life and live within a system so that day-by-day and week-by-week I am executing plans and projects that reflect the time I spent considering how to do those good things that bring glory to Him.

Task Management

Today I want to turn to the very practical subject of task management tools because they represent the heart of an effective productivity system. The task management tool is tool you use to store and organize your tasks or actions. While each of the four tools is important, none is more crucial to the functioning of the system than this one. There is a real sense in which all of the other tools are supplemental to it, because this is the one that will determine and propel your actions each day.

I use OmniFocus as my task management tool. I appreciate its rich feature set, its attractive design, its excellent desktop and iPhone apps, and the way it comfortably complements the way I like to get things done. However, most of the principles I am about to lay out will also work with ToDoist or similar packages.

Let’s talk about how to get your life into a task management system, and how to structure a basic workflow.

Projects

No two people use OmniFocus exactly the same way, and most people don’t use it exactly the same way for very long. That’s just fine. I will tell you how I use it in the hope that you can use that as a starting point and adapt it to fit your life and your responsibilities.

If you went through the previous article, I trust you have already installed your task management tool and begun the basic setup. I organize OmniFocus according to my 5 areas of responsibility: Personal, Family, Social, GFC [church], and Business. Each area of responsibility contains what OmniFocus calls projects and these projects represent my roles, duties and projects. Within each of these OmniFocus projects I have one or more tasks. Here are some examples of this hierarchy of area of responsibility → project → task.

Area of Responsibility: Family

  • Project: Finance
    • Open: New Savings Account
    • Update: Budget
    • Research: New Insurance Policy
  • Project: Home
  • Register: Keurig
  • Complete: Kitchen Paint
  • Buy: New Fire Extinguisher

Area of Responsibility: Business

  • Project: G3 Conference
    • Decide: Text to Preach
    • Prepare: Sermon
    • Book: Flights
  • Project: Free Stuff Fridays
  • Verify: This Week’s Sponsor
  • Launch: This Week’s Giveaway
  • Choose: This Week’s Winners
  • Send: Winners to Sponsor

Area of Responsibility: Church

  • Project: Young Adults’ Ministry
    • Set: Next Meeting Date
    • Decide: Next Meeting Topic
  • Project: Members’ Meeting
  • Create: Members’ Meeting Agenda
  • Discuss: Agenda with Elders
  • Send: Agenda to Members

Adding Tasks

Whenever I think of something I must do, or may want to do, I immediately add it into my OmniFocus inbox. The inbox is a place to hold unfiltered and unsorted tasks, so I add tasks to it indiscriminately. Because OmniFocus is on my laptop, desktop, and iPhone, I have it with me just about anywhere I go, and this allows me to enter items the moment I think of them.

October 21, 2014

Kindle collectors will want to know that Zondervan has some amazing deals on reference books. They include volumes in the excellent ZECNT series: Galatians by Thomas Schreiner ($7.99); Matthew by Grant Osborne ($9.99); Ephesians by Clinton Arnold ($7.99); James by Craig Blomberg ($4.99); Luke by David Garland ($9.99). You’ll also find An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke ($9.99); An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman ($7.99); Theology of the New Testament by Frank Thielman ($7.99); Church History Volume 1 by Everett Ferguson ($7.99). There are also some volumes in the Expositors Bible Commentary series: Genesis-Leviticus ($9.99); Proverbs-Isaiah ($9.99); Daniel-Malachi ($7.99); Romans-Galatians ($7.99); Hebrews-Revelation ($9.99). Most of those are deep discounts.

Technologies That Will Be Inside You - This all sounds terrifying now. And a few years from now we’ll wonder how we ever lived without them.

4 Reasons to Speak the Gospel to One Another - Derek Hiebert begins an interesting-looking series by offering four reasons that Christians ought to speak the gospel to one another.

From Medicine to Ministry - You’ll enjoy reading this profile of Miguel Nunez, who pastors in Dominican Republic.

Morning to Evening - Here’s a new album from Redeemer Church of Knoxville.

Central Iowa - If you’re in or near central Iowa, I’d love to see you at this conference I’m doing with Matt Perman.

In Secret - Derek Thomas: “According to Jesus, it is what we do in secret that matters most. Jesus is not suggesting that the outward is unimportant—far from it.”

Your restless heart will only find rest when it rests in the person, presence and promises of Jesus. —Paul Tripp

Tripp

October 20, 2014

Every pastor encounters people who have given up, or are tempted to give up, meeting together with God’s people. At any given time just about every church has some people who are in danger of drifting away, and no longer participating in the life of the church. To do so is to directly disobey Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage warns us not to neglect local church fellowship and participation, and also hints at the reasons we may do so.

Here are two reasons you may be tempted to neglect meeting together with God’s people.

You Forget What You Bring

Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians against leaving local church fellowship, and the verse immediately prior gives the reason. As Christians, we all equally bear the responsibility to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to provoke one another to act in love and we are to provoke one another to promote good works. And the simple fact is that we cannot do these things if we are not together.

In the background of the book of Hebrews is the New Testament teaching that we, as Christians, are like a body—Christ’s body. In Romans 12 Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” In some way God looks upon Christians just like we look upon the many parts of one body—many parts, but one person. In some way God looks upon the local church as many parts but one body. Paul explains the same theme in 1 Corinthians and in both of these passages he draws the same application—that just as each part of the body has an important function, each Christian has an important gift. Just as each part of the body makes the body function well and as a whole, each Christian’s gift is meant to make the church function well and as a whole. There are no superfluous body parts, and there are no superfluous Christians.

When you are tempted to disassociate from the local church, whether permanently or semi-permanently or even for a lazy Sunday where you just can’t be bothered, you have forgotten what you bring to the people of your church. You have neglected to understand or believe that you, yes you!, are a crucial part of the body of Christ. You have a gift to bring, and the church is only complete when you bring it and use it.

God has made you part of the body, and the body needs you to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny them the gifts he has given you—gifts that bring him glory when you use them for the good of others.

You Forget What You Need

If it is true that God has gifted you to be a part of the whole, there is an important implication: God has gifted them as well. You are incomplete without your church. God has not so gifted you of all people that you can thrive and grow without the gifts he has given to others. You are part of the body, but only a small and singular part of it. Unless you can imagine your thumb striking off on its own and building a life for itself, or unless you can imagine your appendix seceding from the body and thriving, you shouldn’t imagine yourself leaving local church fellowship.

In this way neglecting to meet with God’s people is a sign of overwhelming and outrageous pride. You have somehow determined either that the gifts God has given others are of no real consequence to you, or you have determined that you are so gifted that you can happily survive without. The reality, of course, is that God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community. Lone Christians are dead Christians.

God has made you part of a body, and you need the rest of that body to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny yourself the gifts he has given them—gifts that bring him glory when they use them for your good.

In those times where it just seems to hard to be part of a local church, and in those times where neglecting the church seems so attractive, you are forgetting what you bring and what you need. Of course you’ve also neglected to consider how badly you need the preaching of God’s Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the witnessing of baptisms and the other beautifully ordinary means of grace that God dispenses through his gathered church. But first you’ve forgotten that you are part of a body—a body you need, and a body that needs you.

October 20, 2014

It’s not hard to spot the theme for this week’s Kindle deals from Crossway: What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile ($0.99); Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); Total Church by Tim Chester ($0.99); Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne ($0.99). Also consider Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan ($1.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($1.99); Keep Your Greek by Constantine Campbell ($2.99).

Of Michael Landon and Brittany Maynard - Wesley Smith powerfully compares the deaths of Michael Landon and the forthcoming death of media darling Brittany Maynard.

The Wide Road to Divorce - This is a helpful article on divorce-proofing marriage.

Humans of the World - Here are some of the most striking photos from the world tour of the author of Humans of New York.

The Odd Music of Motherhood - I enjoyed this poetic celebration of the music of motherhood.

Adventures of a Church Introvert - I can identify with this one, though I’ve learned to embrace it.

In his presence is fullness of joy; in his absence is depth of misery. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

October 19, 2014

There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes. In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Excuse Them

This is the voice of therapy culture. Sometimes we make excuses for our child’s misbehavior. We say, “he’s tired, she’s had a hard day, he’s disappointed, she’s traumatised, he’s got low self-esteem …” Now all of these things may be true. But that is not the point. The point is this: are we going to allow our children to take responsibility for their own behavior/misbehavior or not? Or is it always going to be the fault of someone else or of the circumstances? I am not saying we cannot be understanding or sympathetic. But if we are going to praise our children when they do well, surely it is logical to chastise them when they do badly. They make choices, which are moral choices, all day long. If we commend them for the good we cannot merely excuse them for the bad. That is very poor training because it teaches them to blame-shift.

Ignore Them

This is the voice of liberalism, which would be inclined to allow the children as far as possible to do as they like. When called upon to intervene, liberalism refuses to recognise an absolute moral worldview, whereby some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. This is a failure in discipline because we need to instruct our children’s sense of right and wrong and that this is quite outside of how they fell about it. It might feel great to pull someone’s hair but it is wrong. Children have a moral sense, they have a conscience and this conscience is your friend when you discipline. Bring in right and wrong as absolutes. And be clear that the fundamental right course of action for a child is obedience to you.

Organise Them

[This is] the voice of strategic management. Some parents work really hard to avoid the occasion for misbehavior by organizing their children’s life and surroundings. You tie up the cupboards; you take the plug off the computer; you run a tight schedule. You make prevention of confrontation your responsibility. If your child misbehaves it is your fault for not organizing the circumstances so that it was impossible for them to misbehave. By taking this approach you are denying your child the freedom to fail. But you are forgetting that in general in this life we learn more by getting things wrong than by getting things right. It is one of the great routes to wisdom: learn by your mistakes. A child has to have some independence in order to learn to take responsibility. They need to be let off the leash so that they will understand the need for self-discipline. Otherwise you are deceiving yourself. So back off occasionally and see what he/she does.

Consult Them

This is where you always ask the child what he or she would like. There is a place for that of course, say, in a restaurant. But in many parents’ vocabularies, the language of choice has replaced the language of command. They say, “Would you like to wash your hands and come to the table?” Do they really mean that doing those things is optional and that the child can legitimately say “no?” It is an habitual turn of phrase but it also carries a message. And it can turn into parental wheedling and coaxing a child when in fact perhaps she could have just kindly but firmly instructed. It sometimes seems that parents are afraid to tell their children what to do. I want to suggest that it is fine to just say what you want to happen and insist that it does. Parenting is not a consultation exercise. You are the adult and you are there to take the long view and decide what is best. You don’t have to shout and rant, you can just say, “This is what is happening now.” Be in charge.

Bribe Them

It seems such a great idea and in the short-term can be extremely effective. And I am well aware that it is highly recommended in some circles. But it is a poor choice. Firstly because it does not change anything inside — being extrinsic, it only changes outward behavior and that only just enough to hit off the reward. After that, normal misbehavior can be and often is resumed. But worse than that, bribery takes behavior out of the moral framework and makes obedience to you optional. Can that be right? What if the child turns down your proffered sweets or sticker and decides being disobedient is more fun? Do you enter into negotiations and up the ante? You are teaching the children that the only reason to comply is if there is something (material) in it for him. But remember what the Bible says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Certainly the next verse talks about the promise attached to a long life in the land. But that is only saying what I often told my children: “Good boys are happy boys; good girls are happy girls.” As a Christian parent you will want your children ultimately to choose good behavior for its own sake. If you habitually bribe them you are effectively denying the child the opportunity for finding out that good behavior is its own reward.