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Tim Challies

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June 2004

June 26, 2004

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. My son spent his morning in our church’s preschool program while my wife and I enjoyed the service. When the service was over, my son came bounding into the auditorium just overflowing with excitement, holding something behind his back. He came to me and told me he had a surprise for me. With a flourish he presented to me a little pencil holder he had made for me that very morning. It was made of an orange juice can covered with bits of road map. A sticker on the read “Nick’s dad must ‘Obey God’ and follow his directions. Acts 5:29.”

If I were to look at my son’s creation purely objectively I was see a monstrosity - something that made a mockery of pencil holders. The bits of paper covered only a portion of the can and most of them were loose. The liner on the inside of the can was peeling away because of the moisture it was exposed to. Had I seen nothing but a pencil holder, I would have thrown it away in disgust.

But I see more than a pencil holder. I see an expression of my son’s love for me. I see the effort he put into it and know that he did the best he could. He is incapable at only four years old of making a work of art worthy of a gallery. So while this gift may be a monstrosity, to me it is beautiful. I have never met a parent who would throw away such a gift, expressing disgust at the flaws in it. Every parents understands the joy of receiving such gifts.

I love to bring gifts to God. Whether it is a portion of the finances He has blessed me with or whether it is my time or talents, I love to present my gifts before my heavenly Father. I know that if He viewed these gifts objectively, he would see little more than the monstrosities they are before His perfect standards. He would see the selfishness in my heart as I give money to Him, knowing that I could just as easily use that money to buy myself something nice. He knows that my heart is not perfectly pure as I bring my gifts of worship to Him. He knows who I am. Yet God accepts these imperfect gifts. As a loving Father he accepts the ragged, misshapen little pencil holders I bring to Him and gives them a place of honor on His desk. He knows my imperfections, He knows I am only dust, and He knows that through my gifts, faulty as they may be, I seek to bring honor and glory to Him.

June 25, 2004

When you pray, petitioning God for something, do you really expect results? Do you pray as one who is already defeated, expecting before you even pray that God will not grant your prayer? Or do you pray with confidence that God hears and answers prayer?

Acts 12 contains a wonderful story that shows how even the giants of the faith and the pillars of the church had trouble putting their confidence in God through prayer. In that chapter we read about Peter’s arrest and imprisonment by King Herod. Having just had James the brother of John put to death, and seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod sent his soldiers to arrest Peter and put him in prison, intending on having him killed after the Passover. We read in verse five “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” Other translations choose to interpret fervent as earnest or constant. The point is clear: God’s people were praying with great zeal, great emotion and great sincerity, asking God to save the life of their beloved brother.

While the people were on the other side of town praying for Peter, God saw fit to rescue him. He sent an angel to Peter who led him from the prison and to the gate of the city. Peter seems to have believed this was a dream, for verse 11 says “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’” He immediately went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, knowing that the church at Jerusalem would be gathered there. He no doubt realized that they would be gathered together to pray for him.

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

Do you see what happened there? Believers who had been with Jesus and had learned from His disciples were gathered together to pray for Peter. These were people who should have had great faith, yet when they heard that their prayers had been answered they did not believe it. You can almost imagine them snarling to the poor servant girl “You’re crazy! It can’t be Peter! He’s in prison and we’re busy praying that God will save him!” The situation is almost comical, isn’t it?

You have to ask yourself, is there any purpose in praying if you do not really believe God is capable of answering prayer? Why pray if you do not believe that God is willing to hear your prayer? God is not only capable of answering prayer, but He is also willing to answer prayer.

Pray to God with your expectations set high. Exercise faith through prayer, trusting that God hears your petition. As a father loves to grant what his child requests, so our heavenly Father loves to answer sincere, godly prayer. God may not answer your request at the time you expect or in the way you expect, but trust that He will answer.

June 25, 2004

Congratulations to my little sister Maryanne and my brother-in-law Pat on the birth of their second child, Joshua Patrick - a brother to Anna Grace. Little Joshua made his entry into the world this morning away down south in Atlanta.

These are the times when it is difficult to live 1000 miles away from the rest of the family! However, if all goes well Pat, Maryanne and their now-bigger family are intending on travelling up this way in just a few weeks so I will get to meet my nephew at that time.

June 24, 2004

Just a few weeks ago I had no idea who Garry Ezzo was and how controversial his childraising programs are. I had looked over his book “Growing Kids God’s Way” but had never really read it. Then Matt Hall posted about Babywise and a little bit about the controversy. This article drew me especially and I was amazed to see that this Babywise stuff is very nearly a cult!

If you’re interested in the subject, TulipGirl has some great articles that describe her own experience with it as well as the experiences of some other women. All their stories sound eerily similar as they come to the realization that what they thought was helping their child was in reality starving their child.

This Babywise thing sounds like yet another substandard Christian version of a secular program. Filled with bad theology, terrible exegesis (God forsook Jesus on the cross and in so doing provided the ultimate example of why parents should leave their children to cry) and bearing just enough resemblance to a Christian program to keep people happy, it draws in millions of Christians.

So if you are interested in the program, I would highly recommend reading through those resources before committing yourself (and your child)!

June 24, 2004

I know so little about love. This thought occurred to me just a few weeks ago and I began to look at love to see what it is and how I can learn to love more and love better. It is no great mystery that the Bible places great emphasis on love. The word “love” appears hundreds of times through the Scripture as God tells us not only how much He loves His children but also how we are to display God’s love to others.

It did not take me long to learn about the unbreakable link between love and humility. Love is impossible without humility. If I want to excel at love, I first need to learn to be humble; to learn to count my own joy and pleasure as less important than the joy and pleasure of someone else. Perhaps the key to love is learning to derive pleasure from someone else’s pleasure. Selfless love is to find pleasure in another person’s pleasure.

I think of my daughter and how much she loves it when I blow on her tummy. I derive no pleasure from the act of blowing “raspberries” on her stomach, but I derive nearly endless amounts of pleasure from hearing her squeal “stop!” and then “again!” I receive pleasure from her pleasure. While I could be reading a good book or surfing the Internet, thus deriving pleasure directly from my actions, I choose instead to find pleasure through my daughter’s pleasure. I put myself first by putting her first, finding pleasure in her pleasure.

I wish I could say that this was the rule rather than the exception, but far more often I seek to find pleasure selfishly.

I found in the Bible that there are two types of humility, and though they are related, they are distinct. God tells us to first to be humble before Him and then to be humble before our fellow man.

Humility before God is a humility before His Word. I need to approach the Bible with humility each time I open its pages. I need to acknowledge that the Word is the teacher and I am the student. I need to allow the Bible to tell me who I am and describe my condition as a human being. I need to accept the Bible’s solution to my condition. Psalm 25:9 says “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.” If I approach God’s Word to humble myself before it, God will guide and teach me. If I approach His Word with pride and with a haughty spirit, God will oppose me, for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

When I read God’s Word with an attitude of humility I can learn from the tragic times faced by characters such as Samson or David. I know that I am as human as they were and as prone to sin as they were. I see myself in the words of Genesis 6:5 which says “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” When I read Jeremiah 17:9 I know that it describes my condition; I know that it is my heart that “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If I approach these same passages with an attitude of arrogance, feeling pride in my own abilities, I will learn nothing.

I believe this attitude of humility is what separates those believers who really “get it” from the masses of professed believers who never do - those people who continually show an attitude of arrogance before God do not allow Him to change and mold them. They make gods of themselves, believing that they are capable of doing God’s work in their own lives. They deny the truth and gravity of their situations. I can think of so many people I have known who never humbled themselves before the Word. When they read about sin, they saw other people. When they read the passages of Scripture that demand changes to their lives or that went against what they believed, they refused to humble themselves. I have been in that position and have refused to change and I am sure you have been too.

God forgive us for our arrogance and give us humble hearts.

When we have humbled ourselves before God, we are able to show His love to others by humbling ourselves before them – by esteeming them better than ourselves. Without first humbling ourselves before Him, we merely show our own love which is fatally flawed and full of sin. I think of Mother Teresa, a woman who outwardly showed love to so many, yet just a brief look at her life will show beyond any dispute that she never humbled herself before God. Think of the good her life could have accomplished had she been able to show God’s perfect love to the world rather than only her own selfish love.

Imagine how my life would change and how your life would change if we were truly able to derive pleasure from the pleasure of others. Imagine if we dedicated the time we spend deriving pleasure from television to gaining pleasure from the joy of helping others and esteeming them better than ourselves. Imagine how Christians could impact the world around them if we really understood the value of humility.

Many months ago I studied the book of Proverbs and learned the absolute importance of wisdom. Since then I continually pray that God will help me grow in wisdom. I have recently begun to pray that He will also grant me humility before His Word, so that He can change me and so that I can then show His love to the world around me.

June 23, 2004

I was doing my morning rounds of the Internet and came across an article at Pastors.com, a site run by Rick Warren as a resource to, you guessed it, pastors (He seems to resource them by strongarming them into purchasing endless amounts of his sermons, his books and so on). The article is part of Warren’s weekly “Ministry Toolbox” and in this particular article he is writing about nationwide conference calls he is hosting to discuss his 40 Days of Purpose program. Anyone who wants to can join this conference call and listen to Warren share what God has been doing through this program and listen to a Bible study on one God’s five purposes for our lives.

The article Warren wrote to describe this program is really quite funny. It reminds me of some of the spam that infiltrates my mailbox every day. He continually alternates between standard text and bold. When he’s really excited he does bold italics.

We’re preparing for a time of nation-wide revival!

Right now there are a number of factors that are tipping the scales toward a possible national spiritual awakening, and I’d like to talk with you about partnering together to accomplish God’s purposes at this historic moment.

But now 15,000 other churches have used 40 Days of Purpose as a tool and over 20 million people have read The Purpose-Driven Life. This is a significant number when you consider it only takes 2% of a culture to change it.

My suggestion is that you invite a key business leader from your church - one who might serve as your 40 Days of Purpose director - to join you in this phone call. Even better, you can put me on speakerphone and invite your entire leadership team to be a part of this call.

It reminds me of a monster truck rally. “God is sending revivial, revival, revival! Join my conference call or you’ll miss, miss, miss out, out, out!”

Like everything else Warren writes about his program, this article is chock full of unsubstantiated numbers. 15,000 churches have done his 40 Days of Purpose program and another 15,000 will be doing it this fall. 20 million people have read the book! 2% of a culture will change it! 100 denominations are doing the program! And on it goes…

The long and the short of it is that Warren has suddenly realized that God is going to begin a nationwide spiritual revival based on his Purpose Driven Life. He must feel good to be the instigator in history’s first revival that bears no mention of sin and repentance.

Of course we all know that God always chooses to use poor theology, poor methodology and terrible use of Scripture to reach people, right? God approves of methods that minimize the gospel in favor of humanism and the Spirit’s leading to being driven by purpose…doesn’t He? God is going to change a nation based on people muttering “I believe in you and I receive you.”

Mr. Warren, I suspect you are starting to display the hubris that all humans are prone to slip into when they receive the kind of laud that has been given you. If your 40 Days of Purpose program triggers a nationwide revival, I will eat my hat. Yes, you heard it here first. I will take my Toronto Maple Leafs hat and ingest it before witnesses. As a matter of fact, I’ll eat your hat too if you wish. If God chooses to send Revival to the land, I will rejoice - but I guarantee it will not be on the basis if your book.

June 22, 2004

Dear neighbor,

I know that it is sometimes difficult to live in a townhouse. I know we each only have a postage-stamp-sized backyard and that sometimes you can hear us in our house just like we sometimes hear you. I sympathize.

I would like to point something out. We’ve noticed that you have a bad habit that you only indulge on the weekends that your daughters are with their father. You think you’re sneaky about it too - always making sure the dryer is on with a whole lot of fabric softener in it when you head outside. Now I assume you don’t realize this, but marijuana smoke is a much stronger smell than fabric softener. I’ll give you credit for trying, but let me tell you…it’s not working!

Now I really don’t care if you choose to smoke up - you’re a middle-aged adult and by now must know better, but you are your own boss now. I do wonder what your teenage girls would think if they found out and how you would explain it away. But honestly, we both know it’s not even a criminal offense in Canada anymore. What I do care about, though, is when my entire home starts to stink like a frat house! So please, please…do you think you could find some other place to smoke your weed? I’m tired of going up to bed, only to find my room stinking of pot.

I appreciate your consideration in this matter.

Tim

June 22, 2004

Brian McLaren is a pastor and author who is leading the church’s charge into postmodernism and is one of the foremost voices of the emerging church movement. His book More Ready Than You Realize was recommended to me by several people. One called it “the best book I’ve ever read on evangelism” and another went almost as far, calling it “one of the best books” he had read on the subject. In my discussion of the book I am going to avoid speaking about the emerging church, since evangelism is the true focus of this volume. Though it is difficult to separate the emerging church from McLaren’s approach to evangelism, I will seek to do so.