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Tim Challies

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October 2004

October 27, 2004

A member of the community brought to my attention a beautiful message that Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary, delivered at the funeral of Petros Roukas. Roukas was a pastor who, while suffering from depression, took his life. As I read Chapell’s message, I was struck by his tenderness towards his friend and towards the grieving wife. But most of all, I was struck by the tenderness of our God who gives us hope. Without God we would have no hope. This is something that has been made clear to me in recent days as I have heard from a friend whose husband is suffering in the hospital. They are not believers and it is so clear that there is no hope in their hearts - they are driven to despair, unable to see any meaning in suffering or any hope beyond it.

Here are some quotes from Chappel’s message:

Petros knew what it was to be poor in spirit. But he was not alone. Jesus said these words to a crowd gathered on a mountain. If you have been there, you know that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A sloping field of grass and flowers overlooking the deep blue of the Sea of Galilee, but somehow the natural beauty was not enough to counter the spiritual poverty of those Jesus addressed. When he spoke of the poor in spirit, he knew he was not speaking of a hypothetical person somewhere in the world. Jesus was speaking to many before him for whom the beauty did not bring adequate solace. The crowds gathered and listened because they knew they were the poor in spirit. And, the reason that we come here today in numbers is because we are the poor in spirit – we know emptiness, the bankruptcy of our answers and adequacy, helplessness before the wrong in our world and heart.

Willingly succumbing to these entanglements of our corrupted nature is not excusable for the Christian, but it is understandable and forgivable. We do not excuse the sin that is a consequence of yielding to the corruptions of our nature because the Bible says, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Our spiritual resources through Christ are sufficient to resist the temptations of our corrupted nature. And, yet, at the same time anyone who has ever snapped at his spouse when he is tired, or been cranky because a meal was late, or blue because the day was rainy, or thought he would never get well again because a cold lasted for more than two weeks – such a person can begin to understand how one who, after months and months of mental anguish that he could not explain or escape, could have let down his guard and plummeted into the shadows that obscured the light of God for a time. And when you begin to understand that, then you know that what is still not excusable can be – must be – forgivable.

How can such a prayer be valid or possible? Because the Gospel is true and therefore, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thus, I will grieve, but not as those who have no hope, but rather as those who can say in the face of dark valleys, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I highly recommend reading the entire message which you can find here.

October 26, 2004

I allowed myself a few minutes early this morning to think back about my school days, and in particular my closest friend during those days. This may or may not have been spurred by him registering a comment in the forums yesterday and subsequently sending me an email to announce the birth of his first child. It probably was.

My family moved to Ancaster, Ontario a mere two days before the first day of school. I was to attend eighth grade at Timothy Christian School in Hamilton, a few minutes’ bus ride away. Having moved several times in my childhood I was not particularly nervous about starting into a new school as I tended to make friends quite quickly. I was never one of the leaders of the class, but I was never a follower or the one everyone beat up on either. That first day was a little intimidating but I got through it quite well. It helped that there were two other new students beginning that day. It took only as long as lunch time for me to meet Brian who was to become my closest friend for many years. Over the weeks that followed we began to get to know each other and to realize that we had much in common. I believe our very first conversation revolving around our hobbies, which at the time were assembling those cheap little plastic model kits that just never quite seem to look right.

It turns out Brian lived in the countryside a few minutes outside of Ancaster but attended the same church I did. The church had service times of 9:30 and 3:30 which allowed a perfect window of opportunity for visiting between services. For years we would trade off almost every Sunday – one Sunday I would go to Brian’s house between services and the next week he would come to mine. Of course as my sisters began to grow up it seemed Brian wanted to come over a little bit more frequently, but I’m sure the girls had nothing to do with it. Most of our Sundays were consumed with playing hockey when we were at his house or playing some sort of board game or computer game when at my house. We spent endless hours blasting tennis balls at each other on his driveway and blasting little plastic armies in my basement bedroom when it was my turn to entertain.

A year after we met we both moved on to high school. The school was quite small and had nothing to offer at lunch time, so we ended up (as did everyone, it seemed) walking endless circuits of the hallways and around the building. When we could we would sign up to play basketball or badminton as part of our intramural activities. We were usually quite evenly matched in sports, though he definitely held the edge in badminton. He was also better academically, mostly, I’m sure, because he actually had something of a work ethic – something that I did not discover until long after my school days were complete.

During the first three years of high school we continued to be joined at the hip. We hung out together (since we were far too old to play by this time) at school, moped around between church services and even got into trouble together a few times. Perhaps one of my most vivid childhood memories is paying back his neighbor’s grouchiness by obliterating his mailbox with firecrackers, smoke bombs and other childhood playthings. Generally, though, we were good kids, even trying to make a point of inviting people others regarded as the “losers” to spend Sunday afternoons with us.

Sometime in the eleventh grade our relationship changed. It was during these days that God began to do His work in me. While I had been raised in a strong Christian family, in my teens I began to wrestle with whether I would continue to coast on my parents’ faith or if I would truly take it as my own. Needless to say, God drew me to Himself and while I had no great moment of epiphany, at some point I became a believer. While I don’t believe my behavior changed radically, for some reason we began to drift apart. Following the eleventh grade I elected to finish my high school education at the local public high school. Around the same time my family began attending a different church and Brian and I slowly drifted apart. Two years earlier we would never have believed it, but as the months passed we saw each other less and less.

A few years passed. Sure we bumped into each other every now and then, but the old friendship was clearly gone. He had found new friends and I had found my future wife. Though we attended the same university we saw each other only every few weeks. Strangely enough it was during this time that I became close to his older brother, probably because our courses were in the same buildings and we often spent time between classes eating pizza in the cafeteria.

I am still surprised that Brian was not one of my groomsmen when I got married. Of course I shouldn’t be surprised since I never asked him! He was at the wedding but played no official role. That is strange, considering the impact he had on my life. A few years later he got married and I was also a mere spectator at his wedding.

As I reflected on our relationship I felt sorry that we did not stay closer. We truly were bosom buddies, but perhaps our relationship was built around shallow, childish pursuits and there was not enough to sustain us as we grew up and (eventually) matured. I remember a few years ago Brian came over and shared that he, too, had become a believer and that he now understood the changes I went through in the eleventh grade. I was thrilled to hear about God’s work in his life.

Not too long ago Brian and his wife went through a very difficult period and it grieved me that I could not help them through their time of grieving. At that time I truly wished we were closer. A few days ago Brian’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and Brian sent me an email to share the joyous news. While the miles and even the years may separate us, today I share his joy, rejoicing in God’s goodness.

Now that I have reached the end of this article I feel like I need to make a profound point, but I’m not so sure there is one. I suppose it was therapeutic just to spend some time reflecting on a great friend who God put in my life for a time. Who knows? Perhaps God will allow our paths to converge again some day. I do not know if his role will be purely in the past, or whether God will allow him to work in my future as well. But regardless of the Lord’s plan, I thank God for giving me a friend like Brian, who brought me so much joy and friendship during my childhood.

October 26, 2004

My brother-in-law has a hilarious photo he is submitting to the Photo Friday challenge this week. Well, I think it’s hilarious anyways. The photo is of a note written by my mother who was acting in her grandmotherly position of scribe for my son. Nick was dictating the note on behalf of a store he apparently works for. Check it out here.

October 25, 2004

Every week Rick Warren sends out his Ministry Toolbox and it seems he always gives me something to think about. As the man at the leading edge of evangelicalism these days I always pay attention to what he says, for I know it will be only a matter of weeks before many churches follow his lead.

This week he addresses the topic of seeker services, saying that when he started Saddleback he immediately “decided to specialize our services, having one targeted for the purpose of growing Christians and planning another one specifically for reaching our non-believing friends. We call our evangelistic-targeted service a ‘seeker-sensitive service.’” The seeker services are designed to appeal to make sense to people with no religious background and are to be a safe place for believers to bring their seeking friends. Warren provides a few pointers about seeker services, saying that they do not have to compromise the message or be shallow in nature. But what really caught my eye was his assertion that a “common criticism against evangelistic seeker services is that they cater to consumers.” Now obviously this is true - many people complain that these services cater to the unbeliever, so that they services are eventually driven by non-Christians. What I found shocking was Warren’s next statement that “But the truth is that every style of worship service caters to someone.”

I absolutely agree with this, provided the “s” in “someone” is capitalized. Last I checked, our worship was to cater to God, not to people. We are to direct our worship to please the Creator, not the creature. It is true that there are many different ways of worshipping God. I am not going to take a stand on whether an organ or a guitar is a more holy way of worshipping God. I do know, though, that regardless of how we worship, the object of our worship is God and in worship we cater to His desires. However He tells us to worship Him is how we are to do it - obediently and unhesitatingly. I hope that anyone who worships God with a huge choir and modern instrumentation does so from the conviction that this is the best way to cater to God’s desire to be worshipped and not from a desire to cater to the congregation. The same holds true for the church that uses no instrumentation and has only a precentor at the front leading in the singing of the Psalms. I hope that our worship is built around our beliefs concerning God’s desires, not man’s desires.

But I digress. I have no use for seeker services. When we seek God as the Seeker our attitude towards seeker services must change. Every service is a Seeker service, designed to honor the One who seeks true worshippers - those whose worship is firmly rooted in the Word.

October 25, 2004

Guidance and the Voice of God is one of several books I have read recently that discusses the way God speaks to and guides His children. I have turned to these books in response to the words I hear all around me in modern Christianity. People continually ask God to speak to us in circumstances and situations. I am often asked how God spoke to me during a period of time or perhaps during a specific event. The terms people use would seem to indicate that many of them hear audibly from God on an ongoing basis and that such revelation from God is normative for the Christian life. Yet I have been a Christian for many years and have never received a “word from the Lord” and have never had a vision, dream or whispering that I can attribute to God.

Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne, authors of Guidance and the Voice of God believe that God has spoken to us fully and finally through the Bible and that this is the only way we should expect for Him to speak to us. They make five propositions about how God guides us:

October 24, 2004

Pagan influences are everywhere in our culture. They are often, perhaps even primarily, unnoticed as we have become so attuned to them. Where God tells us to worship Him as the Creator, all paganism is based on somehow worshipping creation. Peter Jones has written this little book, Gospel Truth / Pagan Lies to show some of the many pagan influences in our society. He contrasts them with the truths of the gospel as summarized by the five solas of the Reformation.

The pagan influences he identifies are:

October 23, 2004

We first met Mr. Tweedle a short while after his wife died. To make a bit of extra money he invited a young couple to come and live with him and those people, members of our church, eventually brought him with them on Sunday mornings. I don’t know if he was a believer or not. He had some sort of Christian background, but did not seem to be too serious about his faith. Plenty of people talked to him about it and he had ample opportunity to learn about the Lord in church, but I have no idea if he ever gave his life to the Lord or not.

Mr. Tweedle had been a motorcycle dispatch courier during the Second World War and had developed a love of motorbikes. He loved being alone on the open road. His wife did not share his enthusiasm and he was forced to give up his bike when they married. But mere days after her death, though he was well into his seventies, he bought himself a new bike. It wasn’t the biggest or fastest bike around, but he loved it.

The church we attended at the time was unaparalleled when it came to hospitality, and shortly after Mr. Tweedle began attending, they made sure he had people to visit whenever he wanted. Pretty soon he began to move through a rotation of families where every week or two he would visit a different family after church. Services were at 9:30 with the “evening” service at 3:30, so he would often come over for lunch or even just for coffee after the morning worship service. Being a polite fellow, he realized he should bring something along each week for the people he visited, so he constructed a little wooden box on the back of his bike, and each week he would bake a “butter tart” pie (there was probably a better name for it, but if so it escapes me) and put it in that box. Whichever family had him over that week would, of course, get that pie. Those pies were absolutely delicious. If he stayed for lunch, he would eat and then find a couch to lie on and within minutes would be fast asleep as he caught a few “z’s.” We would then head over to church and he would catch a few more during the afternoon service.

One spring Mr. Tweedle decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and ride his bike around Europe. He first drove all the way down the East Coast of the United States to catch a ship that could take him over the Atlantic. He told us later that for a good bit of the distance a Hell’s Angels troupe accompanied him, delighted to have found such a neat old guy still out riding his bike. He spent the summer travelling through Europe on his bike, seeing the sites and no doubt reliving many memories of the war.

Shortly after that we moved and I never saw Mr. Tweedle again. Several years ago he died, and I can only hope that he went to be with the Lord. I was priveleged to know such a genuine and interesting person and I do hope that He came to know Jesus as his Savior. He is an inspiration to me for the sheer vigor he showed for life - not being willing to give up on his passions and dreams even though old age had come. I do hope that some day we can sit down in heaven and maybe share in one of those pies he made so well.

October 22, 2004

Since the middle of the twentieth century, dynamic equivalency has become standard practice and the vast majority of Bible translations since then have eschewed a literal format in favor of the less-literal approach. The most popular of these is the New International Version, but other popular translations such as the Contemporary English Version, The Message and the New Living Translation have also been guided by these principles. One does not have to look far to find a book that is critical of the translation techniques and principles that have come to be known as dynamic equivalency. The bulk of the books written to defend literal translations are written by theologians, many of whom are convinced that the King James version is the only pure English translation. That is where The Word of God in English stands apart, for it is written not by a theologian but by a Professor of English, Leland Ryken, who is a literary critic and a professor at Wheaton College. Having devoted his life to studying and teaching the English language, he is able to approach the subject with a fresh perspective.