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Tim Challies

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April 2004

April 30, 2004

A great little quote from David Crowder when asked in an interview on CNN if he considers himself a rock star. “I’ve got a really good pal that says ‘you guys are more like a moon than a star,’ because the moon, if it wasn’t for the sunshine, is just a ball of dirt. For us, the light of Christ, when it shines on us, it’s just a beautiful collision. We are more interested in attracting attention to God than ourselves.”

April 30, 2004

I was thrilled several years ago to hear that the book The Lord of the Rings was going to be made into a series of epic films. With production budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and the bulk of the work being done outside of Hollywood, I knew this series was going to be good! But more than being able to watch a great series of films, I was thrilled to know that a book I had read several times and for which I had great respect would be brought into the mainstream. Not too long ago people who read The Lord of the Rings were considered just a bit weird. When we brought the book up in conversation it would often earn us a look that said “you’re not one of those Dungeons and Dragons people, are you?” I am not. I simply enjoy a good story and J.R.R. Tolkien was a master at telling one.

Now that Lord of the Rings has entered the mainstream we who have known and loved the story for many years can finally use its rich depths for purposes of illustration. It is that which I intend to do today.

Tolkien writes about a kingdom called Gondor which for many years has not had a king. While waiting for the rightful heir to come and claim his throne, a series of stewards has been placed in charge of the land. The steward in charge at the time of the events described in the book is named Denethor and he has two sons, Boromir and Faramir, both of whom figure prominently in the story (and subsequently, in the movie). As steward of the land, Denethor has the power of the king but without the title. He is able to make decisions and to pass judgment. He receives the respect and admiration of the people of the land. His primary task is to do whatever is best for the land in the absence of the rightful ruler. In all he does he is to remember his position – to remember that he is not the king. As a constant reminder of his temporary position he is forbidden to rule from the king’s throne.

“…awe fell upon him as he looked down that avenue of kings long dead. At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap.” (Lord of the Rings, page 784)

That man, of course, is the steward. Where the king was allowed the full honor of sitting upon the throne, surrounded by splendor, the steward is consigned to rule from a plain, unadorned chair that sat at the foot of the throne.

Denethor is not a very good steward. He dreads the day the king returns, for he knows that with the return of the king will come his own return to obscurity. He jealously guards the power that had been given him and does not look forward to the day when he will have to relinquish the kingdom to its rightful owner. This attitude affects his decisions, for he often makes decisions based on his own desire for preservation rather than based on what is best for the kingdom he has sworn to protect. We find him saying:

“…the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.” To this Gandalf replied “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom against that even, which few now look to see.” (Page 788)

The steward is failing in his duty to properly care for what has been entrusted to him. We learn later that he had been going beyond the care of his office and had become corrupted by the enemy. His abuse of what had been entrusted to him leads to his own corruption.

So why do I use this illustration? I use it because the concept of stewardship is largely foreign to our culture. We understand ownership, borrowing, leasing and mortgaging but have little knowledge of stewardship. Yet it is a crucial concept in the Bible and one that we ought to know well. And here in the mainstream is a wonderful example of stewardship gone wrong.

The Bible tells us that we are stewards of the talents, treasures and gifts God has given to us. Each of us is responsible to be a faithful steward with the gifts and talents with which God has blessed us. Where God has given richly, much is expected in return. At no time does God give us full and final ownership of what He has given us. We need to realize that we are but stewards.

Where God gives me treasure I need to ensure that I do not begin to believe that it is mine. I need to seek God’s will on how He, as king, would have me use it. He has given me His instruction manual in The Bible which gives me the guidelines I need to understand what he would have me do. When God tells me to let go of the money He has entrusted to my care, I need to immediately and cheerfully open my hand and let it go.

God has blessed me with two beautiful children, yet I know that I have them only on trust. God has made me steward of those children. As such I need to dedicate myself to raising them in a way that would please Him, knowing that at any moment He could choose to take them back to Himself.

We will return briefly to our story.

Drunk with corruption and power and unwilling to hand over the kingdom, Denethor, steward of Gondor, takes his own life, ending his years of poor stewardship. His son, Faramir, takes his place. Soon the heir to the throne returns to Gondor and Faramir has an opportunity to prove his character.

”Faramir met Aragorn [the rightful king] in the midst of those there assembled, and he knelt, and said: “The last steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.”…Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: “Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn…Shall he be king and enter into the city and dwell there?” And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice.”

Moments later, when the new king has been crowned, it is Faramir who leads the cries of “Behold the king!”

Faramir was everything his father was not. He was a good steward who looked forward to the return of the king and was willing and ready to hand what had been entrusted to him to its rightful owner. Faramir proved his character.

When the King returns He will ask me if I have been a faithful steward. He will examine the evidence and where He gave me much He will expect much in return. It is my hope and my prayer that I will be faithful with what He has given me, so that I can hear Him say that I have been a good steward, faithfully doing the will of my King. When the King returns I pray that instead of grumbling, instead of holding on, I will be able to let go and lead the chorus of “Behold the king!”

April 30, 2004

MSN has an article entitled Sitcom Future Unclear After ‘Friends’ in which they question if sitcoms have had their day and will now begin to fade away. With Friends, Sex and the City, Frasier all bowing out this season and Everybody Loves Raymond all but done, they wonder if the genre will be able to go on. Many people are wondering if sitcoms will begin to fade away.

Oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please.

Now I do not watch any of the aforementioned shows, though I have seen bits of them in the past (except Sex and the City - I haven’t ever seen any of that since I don’t get HBO or whatever network carried it) but I do know they generally have a formula for creating laughs. Sex = funny. It’s that simple. Dirty jokes, dirty comments and dirty thoughts make people laugh. Write enough of those jokes to fill a 22 minute broadcast and you have yourself a show!

Anyways, I say good riddance to all of those shows and sitcoms in general. The only problem is this - what will take their place? I shudder to think that even more reality shows may be created to fill the void!

Have you ever noticed that the more shows there are on television, the less there is to watch?

April 30, 2004

Christian musician Steve Camp (who happens to be Reformed) has posted an interesting article series at his Web site entitled The Worship Driven Life. In Part One he writes about doctrine in worship and worship being on the downgrade (borrowing a term from the days of Spurgeon). In Part Two he writes about what constitutes genuine, authentic, Biblical worship. He focuses primarily on what worship is not and will turn to what worship truly needs to be in next week’s article.

The series is updated on a weekly basis with new articles posted on Thursdays. His site has some other excellent resources and it is worth browsing through (this is a good place to start).

April 29, 2004

It was just about two years ago now that I was walking along the shores of Lake Ontario, gazing out across the water and spending some much-needed time in prayer. It was noon and I had escaped my basement office for just a while. I was employed by a good company and was drawing a good salary – almost twice what I had started at when I entered the industry just two years before. We were renting a spacious house and were driving an almost-new car. Yet there I was, pouring my heart out to God, asking if He wanted me to leave this job behind. I had never had a lot of confidence in my ability to discern God’s will for my life. I often heard people use phrases like “God told me” or “I knew God wanted me to” but such concepts were largely foreign to me. Or they were until that day.

Allow me to reminisce a while…

I graduated from McMaster University in 1997 with a bachelor of arts. After three years of focusing primarily on history I was more than ready to look to my future and begin a career. I had a beautiful girlfriend and I intended to ask her to marry me – something I did a mere 30 days after graduation – and looked forward to life with her. But what could I do with a degree in history? As I looked at the job prospects I found there was not a whole lot a person could do with a degree in history. A new Starbucks was opening only minutes from my house, so with little else to do I applied and soon found myself working behind the counter for 8 hours a day (the only male on a staff of 15)! I enjoyed the company despite my hatred of coffee and was fast-tracked to various management positions. There is little doubt in my mind that I could have made a career for myself in that company. My father, though, had different ideas.

My father decided, rightly I’m sure, that a career at Starbucks would be less than fulfilling for me. Though he enjoyed the pound of coffee I brought to him each week, he was willing to sacrifice that to have me begin a career that would hold more promise. He dragged me off to a local college and all but forced me to join a one-year computer program. Though expensive, it offered a career in the lucrative and ever-growing field of computers. The course was held in downtown Hamilton, which is roughly equivalent to downtown Pittsburgh or Buffalo. Despite that drawback, I elected to heed my father’s advice and give it a shot.

After getting married in August of 1998 I resigned from my position at Starbucks and began another round of education. I completed the course several months early and with great grades. I remember one course that I completed in 15 minutes – just long enough to write the exam – and scored 95%. Fortunately most were far more difficult than that one.

I walked out of college in 1999 with a diploma in Network Administration as well as stacks of Microsoft certifications and immediately found employment with a company called Datex Communications Corporation. They were a small mom and pop software and billing company boasting about 20 employees that was based in a beautiful, historic building on the shores of Lake Ontario. Poised for growth, they were just at the point where they needed someone to manage their networks and deal with increasing numbers of technical support issues. I stepped into that role and enjoyed it thoroughly. I was making a rather pitiful wage, but for a young couple with no children and few responsibilities, it was just enough.

I worked at Datex (shortly after I was hired Datex was purchased by ACS, a massive company based in Dallas which needed a product we designed in order to help their Y2K efforts) for almost two years, progressing to the position of Senior LAN Administrator. I did resign at one point due to my pitiful wage and went to work for a company in downtown Toronto, but after only a couple of weeks my previous manager asked me to return and nearly doubled my salary, raising it to a rational amount. But I digress. After Y2K passed with barely a whimper, ACS decided they no longer needed Datex and shut us down, putting all the employees out of work.

I was the last employee to be let go and spent (quite literally) two months sitting in the building with the one other remaining employee. I got to escort everyone to the door and take their security passes from them – often a difficult task. As the building got more and more empty, there was less and less to do. I promised my boss that the day after he was laid-off I would turn his office into a hockey room and that is exactly what happened. No sooner had he left than a hockey net mysteriously appeared in that office and we began day-long hockey-based games. Our only responsibility was to answer the door if anyone rang – an event that usually happened only once a week. There was, quite literally, nothing else to do!

Finally the day came when we received our severance. Fortunately I had done more than play office hockey for the past months and I walked out of Datex and right to my new job which was just a few blocks away. The new company was similar to Datex – a small business that had just been purchased by a much larger American corporation. The work I did was similar to what I had done previously. The office was not very nice – though it was in beautiful downtown Oakville, the offices themselves were in the basement of a rather drab building. My office had no windows. The work was rather repetitive and boring – there was little to stimulate an active mind. The quality of my work began to suffer as boredom took over.

And so it was that I found myself walking along the shores of Lake Ontario, praying about my work situation. I had been doing some Web design work on the side and enjoyed the creativity it required. I had a couple of companies for which I was doing part-time work with their computers and networks. As the work increased I began to think about the prospects of starting my own company. I desperately wanted to do something that I liked and something that would keep my mind active. I looked forward to the prospect of working from home and being able to be my own boss. It was about these issues that I prayed, asking God to give me clarity. I remember praying “God, please just make it crystal clear what you want me to do.” I certainly did not want to move a few steps ahead of God, but I also did not want to drag behind Him.

Still uncertain of my future I returned to the office ready to finish out the day. No sooner had I walked in the door (5 minutes early, as always) that I was told to see my manager immediately. I entered his office and found him sitting there with his boss who had apparently decided to fly up from headquarters in the States. Sure enough, I was being let go once again. I experienced a sense of déjà vu as my boss’ boss explained that my department was being terminated and the jobs would be handled from South of the border. As I heard his words I thought back to my prayer and I laughed. I even told them exactly what I was laughing about and how I had just prayed about my future. They smiled politely, wished me the best and had someone accompany me to my desk to pick up my things.

As I was cleaning up my desk I was dreading having to call my wife to tell her the news. She drove me to work each day and had the car, so I would have to share the news over the phone rather than telling her face-to-face where I knew I could comfort her. As I fretted the phone rang. Answering it I discovered it was my close friend (and pastor of our church) calling. He had never called me at work before, but said that he was at the traffic light outside my building and had just remembered something he had to ask me. I told him to pull into the parking lot and I would be right there! I grabbed my things, walked upstairs into the fresh, spring air and left the corporate world behind. Mere minutes after returning home and sharing the news with Aileen the phone rang once more and this time it was a friend calling to say that their company needed a new Web site and someone who could contract with them to manage their network. And just like that Websonix was born.

It has been two years since I began Websonix. I began it with no money and no loans. There have been some very frugal times, but God has come through for us time and again. We have never had to borrow money and have never had to seriously worry about where money for food or rent was going to come from. I have been able to dedicate lots of time to church and to other ministries that I simply would not have had time for had I been working a nine-to-five. We stand as proof that God lives up to His promise of provision.

Things are still difficult at times, and I don’t suppose it will ever change. People who own their own businesses tell me there is never going to be a time when we can “coast” and I don’t think we would have it any other way. We look forward to experiencing God’s providence, knowing that we can never depend on our own abilities. Through it all we have learned a simple trust and dependence upon our Lord. God truly is good!

April 29, 2004

Bill C-250 passed through the senate with a 59-11 vote in favor. Barely a whisper of this event was heard in the news or printed in the media. The legislation is now awaiting just the royal rubber-stamp before it becomes law.

This law adds homosexuals to the list of people protected by Canada’s hate crimes legislation.

Naturally Christians opposed this bill, believing that it would eventually lead to persecution for anyone preaching Biblical views on homosexuality. The impact of this law on free speech and freedom of religion will become apparent in the months to come.

I received the following article via email and have not been able to find a source to site for it. If you know who wrote it or where else it is posted, please let me know so I can properly cite it.

Paul Martin and his Liberal team adopted Private Member’s Bill C-250 and pushed it through the Senate to become law just in time to pave the way for a new election. Now criticism of the redefinition of marriage may be a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. The president of Canada Christian College and the Canada Family Action Coalition, Dr. Charles McVety states “People of faith and good will across the nation are deeply disturbed by such draconian measures to silence religious and moral teaching related to sex outside marriage therefore I am urging all Canadians not to vote for Members of Parliament who passed this new law”.

The latest Compass poll “Same Sex Marriage as a Sleeper Issue” reported that only 31% of Canadians support Parliament legally changing the definition of marriage. It is painfully obvious that 31% will not elect anyone with a majority mandate. By having Bill C-250 pass the Prime Minister made sure that freedom of religion would not be exercised during his re-election bid. However Dr. McVety states that the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms supercedes Bill C-250 and promises freedom of religion, therefore people of faith are free to express their concerns. He also says a court challenge on the validity of new law is currently being discussed and will be launched as early as possible”.

The new law is severely flawed on many counts. Bill C-250:
1) gives protection to anti-Semitism by adding the defense “if the statement … is based on belief in a religious text”.
2) outlaws teaching that sex outside of marriage is wrong,
3) protects all types of sexual deviancies as it does not give a definition to “sexual orientation”.
4) allows anyone to charge you with a criminal indictment. Most laws require the police to levy a charge.
5) can imprison you if you are “likely” guilty. Usually evidence must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
6) is contradictory for it provides a legal method to attack people of faith.
7) contravenes fundamental democratic principles such as freedom of religion.

Dr. McVety believes the chilling effect of “Fahrenheit 451” style legislation is the most onerous element of this plan. Many citizens may take heed to the threat of incarceration and not express their positions in public discourse. In addition he says section 320 of the criminal code will be used extensively to remove the Bible and other scriptures from public places for you cannot have “criminal” documents in a government building”. Welcome to Canada’s “Brave New World.”

Proponents of the bill say that it only gives protection for homosexuals and lesbians against hateful assault. Dr. McVety states that “this Bill is not about violence. It only addresses speech and words in print. All people of good will are against violence as these concerns are already addressed in other parts of the criminal code of Canada.”

The only hope for freedom in this nation is for Canadians to stand up and vote principled Members of Parliament into office to rescind bill C-250 thereby restoring fundamental democratic principles such as freedom of religion.

Alarmist or prophetic? Only time will tell…

April 29, 2004

Way back in February I posted a list of the Dove Award nominees and provided a bit of uninspired commentary on each of the categories I care a bit about. It turns out that I did quite well with my picks! I was elated to see that Switchfoot cleaned up in their categories after being snubbed by the Grammy Awards. MercyMe, to no one’s surprise, received several awards, more for their incredible break into the mainstream market than for the album they released last year. Let’s take a look at some of last night’s winners.

Song of the Year - Word of God Speak by MercyMe. We knew they were going to win this, so no great surprise here. As I said, this is an award for their mainstream success as much as it is for writing a good song.

Songwriter of the Year - Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. I have only heard this album once or twice so cannot comment. I would have picked Derek Webb, but that’s just me…

Male Vocalist of the Year - Jeremy Camp. Not my favorite artist, but he is an able singer and songwriter and has a nice voice to boot. He has quite an incredible testimony too…

Female Vocalist of the Year - Stacey Orrico. Was there ever any doubt?

Group of the Year - MercyMe. Once again, we know why they won this award, and I suppose based on the amazing success of I Can Only Imagine they probably deserve it. Note, though, that this award does not come to them because of an album they released last year.

Artist of the Year - MercyMe. Strange that a group can win artist of the year and Group of the Year. See above.

New Artist of the Year - Jeremy Camp. Fair enough. I would have liked to see Derek Webb but he is not in the good books of the GMA at the moment.

Modern Rock Recorded Song of the Year - Breaking Me Down by downhere. This was my pick in a bit of a weak category. It’s nice to see some Canadian boys pick up the award, though!

Rock Recorded Song of the Year - Ammunition by Switchfoot. I used to like this song. Having heard it live a couple of weeks ago, I now love it. A well-deserved award for a fantastic band.

Rock/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year - Meant to Live by Switchfoot. Again, well-deserved award for this band. Their break into the mainstream should assure them of even more GMA attention in coming years. I had hoped Gone would win, but Meant to Live was a great song too.

Modern Rock Album of the Year - Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do by Relient K. They have made a better album than this in the past and there was a better album nominated in the category. I was hoping Dakona would get some deserved recognition in this category. Still, Two Lefts was a fun, if not particularly good, album. Perhaps I am just getting a bit too old to enjoy Relient K.

Rock Album of the Year - Lose This Life by Tait. This album was one of my biggest disappointments of the year. However, it was in a weak category. It is strange, though, that a song that garnered no nominations for songwriting can win an award for the album.

Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year - The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot. Easily the best album in the category, I would have been very disappointed to see anything else win. This is a great and well-deserved honor for Switchfoot.

So all-in-all, I would have to say the GMA did quite well this year. There were a few surprises but more often than not I would say the right artists took home awards. Now if only those people at the Grammies could get it right…

April 29, 2004

There seems to be lots of controversy about what Mel Gibson’s next project will be. It is known that before The Passion of the Christ became a blockbuster he was planning on making a fourth installment of Mad Max, the movie that launched his career and made him a Hollywood superstar. Having now become a hero of the Christian world and having alienated much of his non-Christian audience, it would seem that might be a bad idea.

There have been unconfirmed reports that he was planning a film of the story of the Macabbean rebellion that occured shortly before the time of Jesus. Gibson expressed interest in this subject but has not confirmed that he was going to proceed with a movie.

Yesterday I posted a link to a group of Franciscan Friars who are petitioning Gibson to make his next movie a biography of Francis of Assisi.

Variety has now reported that he is planning to produce an epic movie about Boudicca, a peasant girl who rose from obscurity to become a military leader, eventually leading the Celtic tribes of Britain against Rome. As with Braveheart, she was driven by revenge, seeking to avenge the deaths of her husband and child. It will be directed by the relatively unknown director Gavin O�Connor.