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Tim Challies

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June 2005

June 25, 2005

I am not a big fan of Relevant Magazine. In my mind it represents a flavor of Christianity that seeks to appeal to the world by being cool and hip. It’s Christianity with frosted hair and all the right labels of clothing. So when I am asked to read a book published by Relevant I am a little bit apprehensive, which I will admit is probably not fair of me. Adventures in Holy Matrimony by Julie Anne Fidler asks the questions, “When happens when the storybook wedding is over? What happens when the white picket fence you dreamed of turns out to be not-so-white and just a little dangerous?” In other words, what happens when real life so rudely interrupts a storybook romance?

June 24, 2005

To answer that rhetorical question, my friend Francis and his soon-to-be-wife do. We will be heading off shortly to witness it. Francis is a good friend whom I have known since I was just a young lad. He and my brother have long been good friends as well. And as if getting married wasn’t good enough, he also recently graduated from Westminster Seminary and will soon be seeking a call in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

It occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve ever met his fiancee.

The wedding is sure to bring me face-fo-face with people I have not met for many years, so that is always fun. It will also mark the first time in well over a year that I will have to wear a tie. That is not so much fun.

I should also run into a few of the readers of this site. Regular reader and occasional forum poster drareg (Gerard) is in the wedding party. And I’m quite sure there will be a few others. After the wedding I’ll be hanging out with my friend Chad VanDixhoorn whom I have not seen in far too long. Chad has been overseas earning his doctorate in England. He is also heading up the Westminster Assembly Project. Those of you who were at the PCA General Assembly last week heard him talking about this project.

Anyways, that is my afternoon all planned out. For those who don’t drop by the site over the weekend, I wish you a blessed weekend and a relaxing Lord’s Day. As for the rest of you, who are obviously gluttons for punishment, I’m planning to post some book and DVD reviews over the weekend.

June 24, 2005

Not too long ago I began to pray that God would teach me to pray. A bit of an odd request, is it not? Obviously I already knew something about prayer if I was praying about it in the first place, but my concern was that despite my prayer habits, which are sometimes good and sometimes bad, I have often felt that I just don’t really understand what prayer is all about. When I pray I’ve often wondered just what the point is. I’ve often wished that I was better at praying and that maybe God would answer a few more of my prayers if I just learned to pray like a Spurgeon or another great preacher of days gone by whose words to God can still stir hearts even today.

I believe God answered my prayer through Bryan Chapell and his book Praying Backwards.

June 23, 2005

I would like you to help me out. I don’t ask for much from the people who read this site, but you can help me out now by replying to this thread. If you think about the subject matter for a bit before replying it would be even more helpful!

As you may know from previous threads, I am working on a new site, tentatively (though this is less-tentative than before) called Christian Media Review. This site will feature reviews of just about everything with a Jesus label on it: books (fiction, nonfiction, children’s, teen’s), DVDs, music, software, t-shirts, etc. Just kidding about the t-shirts. In case you’re wondering, I will probably not be doing the bulk of the reviewing for this site, but will be asking others to do this.

As you ponder a site that contains reviews of products you might just want to buy (since we all buy Christian books or music at least occasionally) what would be helpful to you as the discerning Christian consumer? What features of review sites do you absolutely need to have? What features do you despise?

I will kickstart the discussion with a list of popular features that may or may not be included:

Ratings - Do you like a numerical or star rating of products (where the reviewer indicates that this is a 5-star book, but that is only a 3-star) or do you prefer just to read a well-formed review and draw your own conclusions?

Reader Reviews - Do you like to read reader reviews (like at Amazon)? Do you like the ability to express your opinion of a product by clicking a simple star rating?

Forums - Do you like to discuss the products in forums right on the site?

Multiple Buying Options - Do you like to have the ability to compare prices directly from the site?

That gives you a few to work with. Now let’s talk about this. Help me build a site that will be most useful to you, the reader.

June 23, 2005

Earlier this year, Eric over at Evangelical Underground presented the 1st Annual Evangelical Blog Awards. He gave recognition to some of the leading sites in the Christian blogosphere. Sadly, he did not recognize those bloggers who deserve demerit. That is what I intend to do today through the 1st Annual Christian Blogosphere Awards of Demerit. You can find the list of awards and winners right here, right now.

RSS Aggravation

This is awarded to the blogger who most often edits his or her posts, causing people with RSS Readers to scream in frustration at being notified multiple times about the same post.

And the winner is! Phil Johnson, the Pyromaniac. His obsession with detail may make him a fantastic book editor, but it is not so wonderful in blogging. Hey Phil! How about proofreading before you post an article? We don’t all want to be notified every time a comma becomes a semicolon!

Honorable mentions in this category go to:

  • Amy of Amy’s Humble Musings who recently edited a post 11 times, possibly the record for a single post. In her defense, the post was announcing some pretty special news and she may have been a bit giddy. I’m willing to forgive her if you are.
  • Centurion who likes to tamper with posts two or three days after they are first written.

Most In Need of a Template Change

This is awarded to the blogger who is most in need of a template change. This year’s award go to:

James White and his crew at Alpha & Omega Ministries. I am thankful that they fixed the most pressing of the Firefox problems (there are a few remaining!) and actually added some margins to the permalink pages, I think it’s time to upgrade. How many copies of Scripture Alone (great book, by the way) do we need to buy to convince you to find a new template?

Honorable mention goes to the Blogger or WordPress users who have the same template as any of 250,000 other bloggers (you know who you are). A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of free templates available to you. Why not try something new?

Blogroll Bloat

This is awarded to the blogger with the most bloated blogroll. These people do not seem to realize that each link they add to their blogroll decreases the value of every other link. While linking to some other blogs is expected and perhaps even necessary, blogrolling is a bit like drinking: it’s important to know when to draw the line.

This award goes to Dory at Wittenberg Gate. She has a whole lot of linking going on. I’m guessing that if she actually read even a tenth of those blogs she wouldn’t have time to do much else.

Honorable mentions go to the seperated-at-birth-brothers Jollyblogger and Adrian Warnock both of whom must feel obligated to post the full list of users associated with the aggregators they manage.

Worst Use of A Foreign Language

Using foreign languages in the title of a site is all the rage in the blogosphere. This award is given to the blogger who displays the worst use of foreign language.

And the winner is Schadenfreude. Because of people can’t pronounce it and can’t spell it, they can’t visit it.

Honorable mention goes to Echo Zoe. The name necessitates the use of special characters which appear on blogrolls as this gibberish - έχω ζωη. Okay, then.

Design Discontentment

This is awarded to the blogger who shows the greatest discontent with the current state of his site’s template, no matter what the current state may be.

And the winner is…Tim Irvin of The Irvins. Tim constantly fiddles with his design (though usually for the better) and as this is being awarded, is transitioning from WordPress to Movabletype and starting with a whole new template. Again.

Honorable mention goes to What Is This. James is a web designer and so I feel his pain. But sooner or later you’ve got to just let it rest! I can’t think of any of his templates that have been bad, yet he rolls out a new design every couple of months.

Comment Ratio

This is awarded to the blog with the lowest ratio of comments to posts. It seems we have a tie in this category. This years co-winners are:

Boar’s Head Tavern and Alpha & Omega which each average precisely 0 comments per post. Coincidence? I think not!

Special Achievement in Demerit

This award goes to a blogger who shows special achievement in the blogosphere.

This year’s award goes to Hugh Hewitt, who, despite writing a book about the subject, does not offer many of the staples of effective blogging. His site has no RSS feed and features archives that are nearly impossible to negotiate. And yet he managed to figure out how to add a tip jar. Come on, Hugh, email me and I’ll get you all fixed up! It’s time to walk the talk here and get back on the cutting edge. How many copies of Blog do we need to…ah, never mind.

And that wraps up this year’s Christian Blogosphere Awards of Demerit. I hope you’ll join us again next year, when we once again poke fun at the best and worst of Christian blogging.

(Please take these awards in the spirit they are intended - a spirit of humor and deliberate exaggeration. It’s supposed to be funny. I take full responsibility for any lack of humor.)

June 22, 2005

I am considering writing a series of articles that will discuss some of the challenges facing the church in the 21st century. While I have written about many of these issues in past articles, I thought it might be interesting to address them in a more organized, coherent format. Generally I’d like to use a format similar to:

Challenge - Overview of the challenge to the church.
Proponents - Where relevant, this would list the people who champion a doctrine that presents a challenge to the church.
Challengers - People who have challenged the proponents.
At Stake - Discussion of what is at stake.
Solution - Proposed solutions.
Resources - Recommended resources for learning more.

I will list a few obvious challenges and hope that readers will be able to propose some more:

Open Theism
New Perspective on Paul
Biblical Sufficiency
Biblical Inerrancy

I am not sure how many articles I would like to write, but by drawing up an exhaustive list I can sort through and choose the ones that seem to pose the greatest challenge.

Your turn!

June 22, 2005

Have you ever stopped to consider just how strange prayer is? Have you considered the implications of the fact that we, through our prayers, have the ability to interact with the God who is sovereign over all of the universe? It is a profound thought that God even changes the future (so to speak) based on our prayers.

Of course God does not need our prayers to accomplish His will, does He? He could rule this universe perfectly well without any input from the beings He created to inhabit it. Yet in His sovereignty He decided that this is how the world would operate. In some way He operates in such a way that He takes into consideration the needs and desires of His people. God does not answer every prayer. It is strange to think that in many cases godly men and women are praying for things that are exactly opposite. While the farmer prays for rain to water his crops, a pastor prays for sun during the church picnic.

Let’s stop for just a moment to consider how the world might be different if God answered every prayer, if indeed such a thing were possible. Imagine, for a moment, that you were present when Joseph was being assaulted by his brothers. There is little doubt that you would drop to your knees and ask that God would save him; that God would send someone to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. Or imagine that you were present with Mary and Martha when they were praying for their brother, Lazarus. You would have been beside them, praying over the inert form of Lazarus as he drew his last breath, begging that God would restore his health. Or what if you were present at the cross? Would you not have been praying for God to send the legion of angels to deliver the King from His cross?

What if God had answered your prayers? In each of these cases God knew exactly what had to happen in order for Him to accomplish His eternal purposes. As mere humans our ability to pray effectively is always limited by our limited knowledge.

Do you ever wish that you were better at praying? Or do you ever find yourself wishing that you had more confidence in your prayers? This lack of confidence seems to be especially difficult in my life. I often find that I really have no confidence that my prayers really make a difference or that God is even interested in hearing them. I sometimes feel like I am praying only for my own benefit and really am almost praying to myself rather than to God. I pray selfishly, even considering my own needs and comfort when praying for others.

In recent days I have been reading Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell. It has a snappy title that refers to something I discovered not so long ago: while we often end our prayers “in Jesus name,” in reality we need to begin our prayers in His name, acknowledging that it is only through the blood of Christ that we have the ability and privilege to approach God.

The fourth chapter of this book discusses “Praying in the Spirit.” This is a topic I have studied in the past and have even written about, but for some reason it has not been absorbed into my heart the way it should. One of the clearest teachings of the Spirit’s role in prayer is found in Romans 8:26-28, where Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Last year I wrote about the final part of this passage, “for the good.” I wrote:

God’s desire for His children is that they more and more become conformed to the image of His Son. So when God tells us that He will work all things for our good, He indicates that all things work to make us more like Jesus. Those who have been believers for many years will know that this is not always a gentle or fun process. Sometimes God has to use radical, terrifying or even sorrowful measures to help us change. Sometimes we work in concert with God in our sanctification, but other times He has to reach down and force the issue. My pastor is fond of saying that “God is less concerned with your comfort than your character” and this is exactly what Romans 8:28 tells us. God will work for the good of His purposes, not necessarily our purposes.

In reading Chappel’s book, and his explanation of these verses, God spoke directly to my heart (not a phrase I use often or lightly) about the words that precede those ones. When I feel weak in prayer, the Holy Spirit is there, helping me. Even when I do not know how or what to pray, the Spirit knows, and stands between myself and the Father, presenting to Him prayers that express what is best. Where I am limited by limited knowledge, the Spirit is not. He takes my prayers and conforms them to the Father’s will before bringing them before the Throne of Grace. When I pray in Jesus’ name, humbling myself before His sovereignty, I offer my will and desires to Him, and truly seek “the good” that Paul speaks of. I acknowledge that in my humanness I would make a mess of even the most trivial decisions, and trust that God knows best.

Chapell provides a helpful illustration. “I have enjoyed watching a baker decorate a cake with an icing pipe. The icing is globbed into the tube as a yucky, unformed mess. But that’s not the end of the process. Attached to the end of the pipe is a decorator tip. When the baker forces the icing through the tip, the mess gets shaped into intricate designs that make the cake beautiful. The Holy Spirit similarly helps my prayers. I glob my desires into my prayers. I do not intend to make a mess of things, but with my mixed motives and limited vision, I have no assurance that my prayers match God’s design. In fact, I would hesitate to pray at all if my prayers were God’s only direction for accomplishing his purposes. Were my prayers truly capable of binding God’s hands, I would be dangerous. My finite, fallible will cannot devise the best course for the universe. Still, I pray because I believe the Holy Spirit works like that decorator tip. He forms my prayers into God’s beautiful design for all things” (page 73).

That is a beautiful assurance and one I have long been seeking. While it does not remove my responsibility to seek to pray for things that truly are “for the good,” I also know that my limited vision and human selfishness will not interfere with presenting to the Father prayers that are powerful and sweet. A useful illustration for this is the power of water as it flows through a sluice, heading towards a dam. The water flows with greater and greater power. Where the water I send out is barely moving, the Spirit narrows it, presenting to God a stream that is able to cut through steel.

God has shown me, through His Word, that I can have confidence in my prayers, even when I feel like they are going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. I do not have confidence in my own earnestness or ability. I have confidence that before my prayers reach the Father, they are mediated by the Holy Spirit, whose groans and utterings are made in the full view of His sovereignty, eternity, and omniscience. The Holy Spirit presents prayers that are fully conformed to the will of God, even when I cannot.

I have not yet completed this book. I am reading it slowly (for me), savoring it. I should have a review in a few days. For now, you can check it out at Amazon. Praying Backwards

June 22, 2005

Last week I told you about my neighbour, who came to our door asking me to take him to the hospital, before collapsing and falling unconscious. Through the last week we have received occasional updates from his daughter. This morning there was a knock at the door and he stood there with a card and a box of chocolates. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged, and then he retreated indoors to spend time on the couch. He was just released this morning, and while he is still weak, he is feeling quite good. It has been seven days since the incident.

It turns out that he had a severe allergic reaction to latex balloons within their house. Had he not been able to stumble down the stairs and make his way to our front door, he would have died, alone in that house.

I’d ask for your continued prayers as we look for opportunities to be good neighbors, and ultimately to present to him the Good News.