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Tim Challies

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September 2005

September 27, 2005
Tuesday September 27, 2005
  • Music: - While contemplating a week in Biloxi ministering amongst Hurricane Katrina damage, Eric Schumacher pens a new hymn, The Fury of the Wind, The Raging of the Sea.
  • Reviews: There seems to be some controversy over God is the Gospel, John Piper’s newest book. Check Diet of Bookworms for reviews both good and bad.
  • Blogspotting: Phil Johnson discusses Brian McLaren and mentions an article I wrote long ago.
  • Community Blog: Ron Gleason begins a new series entitled Hip, Relevant Pink Plastic Flamingos in the Front Yard (I) based on Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis.
  • Church History: - It was 465 years ago today that the Jesuit order was founded and began to play an important role in the anti-Protestant Counter-Reformation, converting many people back to Catholicism.
  • September 26, 2005

    Yesterday afternoon I attended the funeral of my friend Mike (context here and here). It was quite a nice funeral, as these things go, and was more a celebration of his life than a time of mourning for his death. There were hundreds of people in attendance, enough that my friend and I, and many other people, were forced to stand throughout. It was also ridiculously hot for an late-September funeral in Canada. As always, the funeral gave me opportunity to reflect on a few things and I thought I’d share some of those today.

    Grief turns the toughest into poets. Mike’s brothers, one of whom is older than him and the other younger, did a speech of sorts. They recounted memories from their childhood, described the evolution of the patented “banana slice” that plagued Mike’s golf game, laughed at his “anal retentiveness” (as they described it) and remembered his ability to make their mother laugh when she was supposed to be angry. The speech culminated in a poem the older brother had written following Mike’s death. While I do not remember the poem, it struck me how poetry seems fitting during the emotional highs and lows of life. Mike’s brother did not look like the type who would usually sit down to pen a poem, yet here he was, reading it unashamedly (or nearly unashamedly) in front of hundreds of people. I have often seen the same at weddings or following the birth of children. Somehow poetry expresses what prose cannot seem to. I guess that is why David and the other Psalmists decided to use poetry to express such depths of joy, pain, sorrow and penitence. I have not written poetry for many years, and I think those who read my early efforts would agree that this is a good thing.

    I miss liturgy. It’s breaking news and you heard it here first. I miss litury. I don’t miss candles and bowing to crosses, but I do miss some of the formality of a more structured service. The funeral was held in an Anglican church that I do not believe was “high” Anglican. But I appreciated several elements of the service. I enjoyed praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Granted most of the people in the audience were probably unbelievers (and many were probably Catholic as there was a whole lot of “crossing” going on), but I do enjoy praying together. I also enjoyed reciting the Twenty-third Psalm in unison. And finally, I enjoyed the written liturgy the priest read to commend Mike’s soul to God. I have often expressed my belief that simply because words are written down and are not my own, they are no less pleasing to God, and I feel that proved true at the funeral.

    I miss the “set apartness” of the clergy. I grew up in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. While neither of these traditions had any sort of a priesthood, they did believe in a “set apartness” of the pastor that is not present in most evangelical churches. Evangelical pastors often seem to feel that they need to be the most casual and the most irreverent if they are to model informality and authenticity to their congregations (and in saying this I do not mean to indict my own pastors). While I have no desire to create a priestly caste, I do appreciate the dignity of clergy that are set apart. Somehow this just seems to be an external indicator that the pastor takes his roles and responsibilities seriously and a reminder to the people that he has been called to fill a special role.

    I do not know Anglican etiquette. The priest would finish reading the Bible or praying and would say some words of conclusion and just about everyone else in the service knew what to say back to him. I did not. It occurs to me that the last time I sat through an Anglican service was many, many years ago - probably following the death of my great uncle who was an Anglican priest (and, according to all the evidence, a life-long unbeliever). So I have never had opportunity to learn the proper conduct in that denomination. Can someone fill me in?

    My life will be a failure if at my funeral people only remember how nice I was. I’m guessing that when the disciples gathered after Jesus’ death they did not sit and recount all the nice things He did. And when the early church remembered Paul, I doubt they remembered the times he had said nice things and played with their children. Of course there is nothing wrong with being nice. But that is not how I want to be remembered. Nor do I want to be remembered primarily as a good husband or good father. Mike was a nice guy. He was friendly, usually happy and was generally willing to help others. He was a good husband and a good father. But conspicuously absent from memories of Mike was any mention of his love for God. If my life does not display a deep, abiding love for God, a love so integral to my life that all who know me can’t help but notice it, I’ll consider my life a great failure. I don’t want to be remembered as a nice guy. I want to be remembered as a godly guy.

    And finally, cremation is a difficult concept to explain to a five-year old. My son wanted to know what they did with the body. I told him the body had been cremated. He asked what “cremated” meant and I decided I would give the default parental response of, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” I’m not so sure that it would be useful for a child of his age to think about a body being burned to ashes. That is probably beyond what a five-year old mind can deal with.

    So that is it. Mike has been laid to rest. I continue to pray that God would not allow me any rest as long as there are other Mikes around me.

    September 26, 2005
    Monday September 26, 2005
  • Blogspotting: Centuri0n declares me persona non grata and banishes me from his blogroll (for the time-being, at least).
  • Blogspotting Bonus: The Crusty Curmudgeon expresses agreement on The Servetus Problem.
  • Tools: LibraryThing - a great (and fast, and cost-effective) way of cataloging your books.
  • Sports: Is there a better running back in football right now than LaDanian Tomlinson?
  • September 25, 2005

    I attend a church where the majority of the members are new believers. Many of them have never attended another evangelical church. This introduces some good elements and some bad to the church. On the good side, few of them have any real expectations or baggage that they bring from other churches. Every church has two or three people who are always saying, “Well that’s not how we did it at [insert previous church here]” and they are generally tough people to deal with. We don’t have a whole lot of those. On the other hand, these new believers don’t know or understand some basic church etiquette. For example, everybody knows that leaving a Bible on a seat (or pew) is the universal sign for “taken.” In most churches it is as effective as building a barbed wire fence around a seat. But when I leave a Bible on a seat in my church, it’s likely that when I return, some helpful person will have moved the Bible and sat in my seat. It is a horrifying breach of etiquette, is it not? And who will teach these people what is and is not acceptable?

    I just rummaged through my closet to find some funeral-appropriate attire. Mike’s funeral is this afternoon and I’m guessing I shouldn’t wear the “I think therefore I blog” t-shirt I’ve got on at the moment. The problem is that I wear dressy clothes so seldom. And as we all know, the longer clothes hang in a closet, the smaller they get. I’m not exactly sure how this phenomenon occurs, yet it seems to be remarkably consistent. I eventually found a pants, shirt and tie combination that shouldn’t suffocate me over the course of the afternoon. Now I get to iron them all. Whee!

    Anyways, I have got a lot to do before 4 PM when the funeral begins (or more correctly, before 3:30 PM when my ride gets here) so I am going to get busy. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new feature for the site and probably some reflections on what is bound to be an emotional funeral. God bless you as you enjoy the rest of your Lord’s day.

    September 24, 2005

    I received the following news from Nancy Pearcey. I have had opportunity to browse through the Study Guide Edition of Total Truth and it looks great. I will have a thorough review of it next month.

    World Journalism Institute is happy to announce that the study guide edition of Total Truth:Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity is now in bookstores. Total Truth is an award-winning book on Christian worldview by Nancy Pearcey, WJI’s Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar.

    The new study guide edition is a great resource for Sunday School classes and study groups. It goes far beyond the typical guide by offering 30 pages of significant new content—fresh stories, examples, and illustrations to bring the book’s themes to life. Each chapter also suggests on-going activities to guide readers in detecting worldview themes in their work and daily experience.

    Nancy Pearcey has “road-tested” the material with students in WJI’s journalism courses and their feedback has been highly enthusiastic. Many say it greatly enhanced their reading of the book.

    “Virtually every day I get emails from readers who want to know if there is a study guide available for Total Truth,” Pearcey told WJI. “The book is being used by churches, schools, and study groups around the country—even by reading groups among Capitol Hill staffers.”

    The study guide edition is an outstanding tool to help readers dig deeper into the text and learn how to be equipped with a Christian worldview. It is available from your local Christian bookstore or Borders, or online from Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores. Total Truth won the Award of Merit in the Christianity & Culture category in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2005, and the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best book of the year in the Christianity & Society category.

    September 23, 2005

    I’m going to be rolling out a new feature of this blog on Monday. Or am am hoping to, anyways. It is a feature that is long overdue, and one I hope contributes to the blogosphere. So check back Monday for that - it’s guaranteed to be a letdown.

    Two weeks from today I will be making the trek to the bustling metropolis of Minneapolis to attend (and blog) the Desiring God National Conference. I will be teaming up with Doug McHone (of Coffeewirls fame) to bring a riveting play-by-play of the event. We haven’t discussed roles yet, but I’m thinking he should be Al Michaels and I’ll be John Madden. I guess that means I have to say “cankles” a lot. I’ve arranged some prizes to give away, so mark the date on your calendar and be sure to check in at this site, or at coffeeswirls.com.

    I will be flying aboard MidWest Airlines, an airline I chose based entirely on price. Seats on their planes were significantly cheaper than on any other airlines. I hope that is simply because they are a not-for-profit organization and not because they cut corners in their hiring and maintenance practices. My itinerary has me leaving Toronto at about 10:30 EST. Of course I have to clear U.S. Customs before I can even set foot in the plane and that is bound to take some time. Last time my sister and brother-in-law flew out of Canada my sweet little sister ended up being quite rude to a Customs agent who was growing increasingly rude with her. I intend to be my usual charming self and avoid any similar trouble. And of course, after Customs, I still need to pass security. MidWest saw fit to send me the following guidelines:

    • Avoid wearing clothing, jewelry or other accessories that contain metal when traveling through the security checkpoints:
      • Heavy Jewelry (including pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, earrings, body piercings, cuff links, lanyards or bolo ties) [shouldn’t be an issue. I’ll remove my extensive jewelry collection before going through customs screening
      • Clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs [I’m not Amish, you know].
      • Metal hair barrettes or other hair decoration [I barely have enough hair to decorate it].
      • Belt buckles [I don’t think I have a belt with a plastic buckle].
      • Under-wire bras [I’ll make sure to wear one without wires].
    • Hidden items such as body piercings may result in your being directed to additional screening for a pat-down inspection. If selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down search. [Great, so now I have to remove all my body piercings too].
    • Take metal items such as keys, loose change, mobile phones, pagers, and personal data assistants (PDAs) out of your pockets. [Alright, I get the idea].

    After a flight of an hour and a half (I think - it’s hard to tell with the various time zones), barely enough time to skim through the on-board magazines, I will arrive in Milwaukee and will have to waste some three hours before the final leg of my journey, a grueling hour-long flight to Minneapolis. MidWest tells me that the plane, a Boeing 717 which probably outdates me by several decades, features “extra-wide, two-across leather seating in every row, plus baked-onboard chocolate chip cookies on many flights.” I’m pretty sure I’ve never been on board a flight that featured fresh-baked cookies. According to the seating chart posted on MidWest’s site, it seems that the 717 has outdoor bathroom facilities, as they seem to be located on the right side of the aircraft, immediately beside the tail. That could get windy.

    And now, with no further ado, I present the most frivolous link I have yet posted. This is one of the funniest sermon bloopers I’ve ever heard. You may not want to watch this at work or with the kiddies around you. Did Lot Pitch His Tents or did he…? Make sure you watch to the end so you can witness the complete meltdown of an awfully embarrassed pastor.

    September 22, 2005

    One of my long-time favorite shows on television is The Antiques Roadshow. It is a show that has been a staple on PBS for many years and on British television for longer than that. Recently they have even begun a Canadian version which I have not yet had opportunity to watch. The show affords people the opportunity to bring their antique possessions, whether furniture, paintings, toys or anything else, and have them appraised by some of the world’s foremost experts in antiquities. Every show the producers single out ten or fifteen items and show an expert providing a detailed description and valuation of the item. Each section closes with the expert telling the owner just what the item is worth. It is always fun to see eyes pop out or to see people jump up and down with excitement as they realize that they have in their possession an item worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every episode the viewer has opportunity to see junk transformed to treasure.

    I suppose my attraction to the show probably stems from my love for history (which I did, after all, spend my college-years studying). I often marvel at the knowledge the antique experts display as they describe the history of a piece of furniture, the man who made it, how much it cost 200 years ago and what it is worth today. I love to watch the expert’s excitement as they see items they know are rare and valuable. I stand in amazement not so much at what some of the items are worth but that people are actually willing to pay that price for some of them. After all, an item is only worth what someone will pay for it.

    There is one episode that stands out in my mind, because it featured the most valuable item they have ever shown on The Antiques Roadshow (there was one item they appraised that was more valuable but the owner wished to remain anonymous). The story was wonderful.

    An elderly gentleman from Tuscon, Arizona brought in an old blanket he had inherited several years before. He knew it was old and believed it had a little bit of value – perhaps a few hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars. After inheriting this blanket he threw it over the back of a rocking chair in his bedroom and had not often thought about it until presented with opportunity to take it to the Raodshow.

    With the blanket hanging on a rack behind them, the expert appraiser told the old man that his heart had stopped when he first saw it. Watching the show I could see the excitement written all over the expert’s face and extending throughout his body, for he just could not stand still. He began to explain just what the blanket was. It was a Navajo chief’s blanket that had been woven in the 1840’s. Surviving in wonderful condition, it was one of the oldest intact Navajo weaves to survive to the twenty-first century, and certainly one of only a tiny handful to exist outside of museum collections. He showed the fine detail of the weaving and even showed where it had been torn and repaired shortly after it was first made. I could see the excitement in his eyes as he looked at something he knew was extremely valuable. He knew that sitting before him was more than a blanket – it was a rare national treasure of incredible value.

    The appraiser seemed to have trouble even beginning to tell the audience just how important this blanket was. He left no doubt, though, when he told of its value. Because of its rarity and historical significance, he had no trouble assigning a value of somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000. Yes, this elderly gentleman had come to the show carrying a blanket worth almost a half million dollars. He simply could not believe what he was hearing. Choked up and with tears pouring from his eyes he asked to hear the amount again. I honestly thought he might just pass out then and there.

    It is safe to say that the blanket the man had cavalierly carried in with him was cradled carefully in his arms as he walked out. In fact, he walked out of the building with security guards on either side of him, drove straight to a bank, and placed the blanket in a safety deposit box. What had been junk, a mere accent to an old rocking chair, had been immediately transformed to a precious treasure.

    The blanket had not changed any – it was exactly the same blanket after the show as it had been an hour before while the man waited in line, yet something had changed. It was not the blanket, but the man who had changed. What he had seen as a blanket of no extraordinary value he now realized was an extremely rare and valuable national treasure. What he had in his arms was the envy of every Indian collector in the world and of the thousands of people watching the show. What he had overlooked before, he now loved and treasured.

    I remember a day, not too long ago, when I sat in my little office reading my Bible. Now I have had many Bibles in my lifetime and have been reading the Word with some degree of faithfulness since I was just a child. I am sure I have read the entire book several times through (except, probably, for some of those Minor Prophets!). On this particular morning I came across Hebrews 4 where I read the words “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I had read those words many times, had heard people preach about them and had read books which sought to exposit them. But that morning, as I read those words, something stirred in my soul. It was as if an appraiser had stood beside me and told me just exactly what it was I was holding in my hands. I began to look up other similar passages – Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 4 and more. As I looked back down at my Bible, it was as if the book had been transformed from a blanket draped casually over my chair to one that was a priceless treasure. The book was the same, but suddenly I had a deep appreciation for its value. Chills ran down my spine as I appreciated for the first time what a treasure I held before me.

    The Bible has never been the same to me since that day. I have not been the same since that day. Rather than being just another book on a rather busy bookshelf, my Bible now stands out as a treasure. More than just words, the Bible is the very Word of God! More than ink on a page, the Bible is alive and active. It contains exactly what God wants me to know about Him and about myself. It is the awesome, amazing, living revelation of an awesome, amazing, powerful God to His created beings.

    That day, as I stood in awe of the blessing I have in this book, I asked God to continue to impress its value on me and He has been faithful in doing so. I do not presume to have a full understanding of the Bible’s importance and value, but I do believe I know far more than I did before. My love and respect for the Word continue to grow. The more I learn of the Word, the more I praise God for bestowing this treasure upon me and the more I stand in awe of His wisdom for revealing Himself to us in this way.

    Just as millions of people have dusted off their antiques and hauled them to stadiums or arenas around North America to have them appraised by the experts, I would encourage you to dust off your Bible and ask the Appraiser to impress on you its worth. If you approach Him humbly and with a thirst for wisdom, He will show you the incredible value of the treasure He has given you.

    Note: I first posted an article similar to this a couple of years ago. Recent reflection on Scripture led me to rewrite it and post it again.

    September 21, 2005

    Yesterday I provided the first part of a critical review of Is The Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (read it here. I wrote a summary of each chapter, allowing the reader to understand the author’s arguments as they reached the conclusion that the Reformation is, indeed, over. Noll and Nystrom feel that the most important differences between Catholic and Protestant theology are no longer based on issues of soteriology (how people can be saved) but now primarily concern issues of ecclesiology (the nature of the church). Today I would like to provide some analysis of the book and the author’s arguments.