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Tim Challies

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January 2008

January 28, 2008
Monday January 28, 2008 Is Homemaking the Only Priority?
Carolyn McCulley begins what promises to be an interesting series answering this question.
Old and Alone
Dr. Mohler discusses a new article “looking at what happens when divorced parents age — a significant demographic trend in a world of aging baby boomers.”
Tips for Parenting
This site has a list of helpful do’s and don’ts for raising babies.
Toy Story 3D
Perennial favorites Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are coming back to theaters after being given the full 3-D treatment.
Bob Kellemen Reviews my Book
Bob Kellemen has an encouraging review of my book.
January 27, 2008

Yesterday I posted a prayer for the Lord’s Day eve and said that I had made that prayer my own. Unfortunately that venerable Puritan neglected to pray for health and good sleep and, as it happens, I enjoyed neither last night. The kids were hacking and coughing and I woke up in the wee hours with a ridiculous sinus headache, runny nose, and all the rest. Rather than infecting others in the church I figured it was best if I stayed home today.

I’ve been asked to complete a meme. I generally decline such invitations, but since I’m sick today and since my head isn’t working enough to come up with anything more interesting, I thought it would be fun. So this is the “Self-Disclosure Meme” which means that I’m supposed to tell you seven things you probably don’t know about me. So here goes.

Sports

Despite my Canadian heritage, I have never been a big fan of hockey. And not just because the Maple Leafs, my hometown team, have not won the Stanley Cup (or even had a respectable record) since long before I was born. When I was a kid I played plenty of street hockey (a near-daily activity at Canadian schools) but only ever played ice hockey a handful of times. It never appealed. I consider baseball the finest sport in the world and the one I like to watch, play and follow more than any other. I played several seasons of little league baseball when I was a kid. My idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon involves a couch, a Coke, a good biography, and a ballgame on television. I’ve been a Blue Jays fan since the day I got my first radio and began to tune in to listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth calling the games. When it’s the off-season, I also enjoy watching football (NFL-only. The CFL is just too weird with their three downs and huge end zones). I consider basketball an utter waste of time and the most ridiculous waste of time this side of Sudoku.

Food

I’ve never eaten Chinese food. Nor do I intend to. At first I thought I would just hate it. Now it’s sheer stubbornness.

I do not drink alcohol. It’s not that I’m convicted that the Bible prohibits it, but rather that I just can’t stand the taste of it. The mere taste makes me feel sick, so I abstain. It’s probably better that way. I also can’t stand the taste of coffee or tea or most other grown-up drinks. I do, however, love the taste of Coke, though never more than twice a day. It was a dark day when Coke discontinued producing Coke with Lime. When I am traveling in the U.S. I tend to drink less Coke since American Coke, sweetened with corn syrup, has an inferior taste to Canadian (and Mexican) Coke, which is sweetened with sugar.

Life

I have lived in quite a few different towns, most of which are in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. I was born in Toronto-proper but moved to Unionville (on the east side of the city) when in grade school. After spending a year in Edinburgh, Scotland (where my dad studied) we moved to Hamilton (on the west side of Toronto). Since we got married, Aileen and I have lived in Brantford, Dundas and Oakville, all on the west side of Toronto. We have no plans to leave Oakville anytime soon.

Hobbies

When I was a kid I did all of the usual kid hobbies—baseball cards, gerbils, plastic models, and so on. As an adult I tend to spend most of my spare time reading. Reading pays, by far, the biggest dividends. But I do have a 60 gallon freshwater aquarium that consumes some of my time and interest. It’s a big show tank that sits in the living room, so I try to keep it looking its best. It is a constant battle to keep the plants growing (but not the algae) and the fish happy (but not devouring each other). We have an amazing fish store near us where I can buy just about any kind of fish I could want for it. I like to find strange and interesting fish like ghost knives and glass catfish.

As a child I read voraciously. I stopped reading for several years after completing college but got back into it after accepting a job that proved very boring. I would escape to the local library for an hour at lunch time after first stopping at the Christian bookstore. It was here that I found the first of the Christian Living and theology books I ever really read—John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel and James Boice’s Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? I had never heard of either man before. These books changed my life and I haven’t stopped reading since.

Marriage

Aileen was the only girl I ever dated (or that I ever seriously wanted to date). The first words she ever said to me were, “I’m going to kill you.” But that’s probably more a subject for her meme than for mine. I can’t quite say it was love at first sight, but it was close to it. We dated for about three years before getting married. When we married I was twenty one and she was twenty two (she is seven months older than I am). Like many couples, we intended to wait a few years before beginning a family. Our resolve lasted less than a year and our first child arrived eighteen months after our wedding. In August of this year, we’ll celebrate our tenth anniversary.

Family

If you were to go back and trace the occupations of my forebears you’d find that, in many cases, they are educators or writers. There are journalists, teachers, preachers and politicians. I am not the first author in my family. My grandfather, who was a Supreme Court judge in Quebec, wrote a couple of enthralling volumes entitled The law of expropriation and * The Doctrine of Unjustified Enrichment in the Law of the Province of Quebec. Meanwhile, my great (or great great) uncle wrote one called *Water Powers of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta - Commission of Conservation Canada: Committee on Waters and Water-Powers. I have a copy of the last one and it is every bit as fascinating as it sounds.

Personal

I have an awful memory and am extremely adept at forgetting names, places, dates and other important matters. I rely on my wife to file away family memories. A few days ago she asked if I remembered when Abby (who was about two years old at the time, I believe) developed a bladder infection and we had to take her to the hospital for a long and ugly series of tests. I have absolutely no memory of this. None. But it sounds like it was a pretty important deal and she assures me that I was there. If I can remember my own name I generally figure I’m having a good day. Aileen is pretty sure I’ll be completely senile by the time I’m fifty.

January 26, 2008

In the tradition I grew up in, Saturday was considered a prelude to Sunday. It was a day of preparation for the Lord’s Day to come. I recently read a biography of theologian John Murray and enjoyed reading about how he understood the day in the same way (which makes good sense since he was also Presbyterian). Saturday evenings, in particular, were to be set aside for Sunday preparation. It reminded me of my youth.

In reading The Valley of Vision I found this prayer and have made it mine today. I suspect Murray would do the same.


Another week has gone and I have been preserved
in my going out,
in my coming in.

Thine has been the vigilance that has turned threatened evils aside;
thine the supplies that have nourished me;
Thine the comforts that have indulged me;
Thine the relations and friends that have delighted me;
Thine the means of grace which have edified me;
Thine the Book, which, amidst all my enjoyments, has told me that this is not my rest,
that in all successes one thing alone is needful, to love my Saviour.
Nothing can equal the number of they mercies but my imperfections and sins.
These, O God, I will neither conceal nor palliate, but confess with a broken heart.

In what condition would secret reviews of my life leave me
were it not for the assurance that with thee there is plenteous redemption,
that thou art a forgiving God,
that thou mayest be feared!

While I hope for pardon through the blood of the cross,
I pray to be clothed with humility,
to be quickened in thy way,
to be more devoted to thee,
to keep the end of my life in view,
to be cured of the folly of delay and indecision,
to know how frail I am,
to number my days and apply my heart unto wisdom.

January 25, 2008

Since my book was released I’ve had a few requests to share what I’ve learned about the book-writing process. Friday seemed like a good day to do that. On the whole I found writing the book to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and one I hope to enjoy again. There are currently no plans for a second book but I do hope to begin again before too long.

What I’d like to do today is share just a few entirely subjective thoughts on my experience in the hope that it will prove useful or interesting to you.

Writing the Proposal

I was blessed to be able to avoid much of the thankless chore of submitting the book (unsolicited) to all kinds of different publishers and just hoping against hope that it would stand out above some of the rest. But usually there is no way of avoiding this. I do not have much wisdom to share when it comes to actually finding a publisher. One thing I can attest to, though, is the value of having a blog. More and more I think we’re going to see the blogosphere serving as a kind of minor leagues where writers can establish first that they can write well and second that other people will be interested in reading what they write. It is a proving ground, of sorts. In the coming months and years you are going to see more and more books written by people who came to the attention of publishers through their blogs. Get used to it.

Publishers differ on how much input they wish to have when it comes to the actual writing process. Some involve themselves in each word of each sentence while others prefer that you simply submit a manuscript to them when it is complete. In either case, it is usually best not to write a complete book before shopping it to publishers. Instead, write a complete outline and submit that with two very good sample chapters. Make these your two best, strongest, most complete, most biblical, most amazing chapters. Edit and proof-read them thoroughly and get others to do the same. Here are the areas you’ll likely wish to cover in a proposal: A Brief Introduction to the Book, The Need for This Book, Competition or Similar Books, The Audience for This Book, Biography, Promotion (ways you will be able to promote your book), and Endorsements (people who are likely to endorse the book).

In your proposal outline every single way you may be able to sell the book through your own channels. As the publishing industry changes, it is becoming increasingly important that you prove able to assist in selling the books. This is particularly true with smaller publishers.

If all goes well, your proposal will be accepted and you’ll be offered a contract. This contract will help you understand that, unless you end up selling books like Don Miller or John Eldredge, you won’t be wanting to quit your day job anytime soon!

Writing the Manuscript

When you begin to write the book you’ll probably learn how silly your initial proposal was. The outline will morph and evolve until it’s scarcely recognizable. It’s all part of the game, I guess. Just yesterday I had a friend, who is also writing a book, remark on the strange nature of writing. You hole yourself up for days researching a subject and writing down what you need to communicate about it. And then you emerge into the sun again, asking people to read it over and critique it. You’ll do this time and again as you move through the book. Because I’ve only written one book I haven’t really established a system, but I did find it best to try to set aside at least one or two days for writing. I got more accomplished this way than if I only worked for an hour or two at a time. As the book grew in length, it took longer and longer to find my context. I would often have to read the entire book before I could continue from where I left off writing. And as the book grew, this would take several hours out of my first day of writing.

I had intended to write the book in order from chapter 1 to chapter 10, but soon found this wasn’t as easy or as logical as it at first seemed. Instead I wrote the book thematically. As I searched the Bible and other resources I would find topics that seemed to fit well under a particular category. I would then try to write about those topics, regardless of the chapter they fit into. This system (or lack thereof) may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. It also made things less rigid, I think, as it meant I could hold off writing about subjects that I had not adequately researched. It meant that I did not have to write chapter six if there was still research to do on that chapter.

Prayer support was indispensable at this time. I had asked many friends to pray for me as I wrote the book, and particularly on Fridays which I tried to set aside for research and writing. This prayers, I am convinced, made all the difference.

Your contract will specify how long you will have to write the book. In all likelihood you’ll require six months or a year to complete it. From the time you submit a proposal to the time the book actually hits store shelves can easily be two years. Patience will prove a virtue.

A Published Author

Seeing the book in print was not nearly the experience I had thought it might be. No angels sang and no trumpets blew. It was, of course, good to see the book in print, but I don’t think it registers up there with marriage and the birth of my children. Nor should it, I guess. Since the book’s release I’ve done all kinds of interviews (both radio and print) with many more to come. If you write a book you’ll want to prepare yourself to talk about it. This can be a little more difficult than it sounds since it will probably be at least six months between the time you complete the book and the time everyone wants to talk about it. So you’ll want to spend some time re-reading the book to make sure that all of its content is fresh in your mind. Make sure you write out a good list of “Questions about the Book” and be prepared with good answers to them. Your publisher will probably help you with this.

And then prepare for the unexpected. Lots of strange and interesting and uncomfortable opportunities are likely to arise as the book begins to make its way into the world. Pray a lot and ask others to pray for you during this time. You’ll need it.

Top 40

Top 40I thought you might get a laugh out of this and figured I’d just add it in here. In the most recent issue of Christian Retailing magazine is the first half of an article called “40 Under 40” (the second half will be published in the next issue). It is a listing of people they consider influential future leaders in the publishing industry. “The future direction and health of the Christian retail channel depends much on the next generation of leaders emerging to shape the publishing and selling of Christian resources in a world very different from its formative years. Christian Retailing identified 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are widely considered to be influential figures for the days ahead. Young leaders in eight categories are profiled, beginning in this issue, by Natalie Nichols Gillespie.” The list includes lots of people I haven’t heard of (primarily industry insiders) and a few I have (e.g. Rob Bell, Matt Bronleewe, David Crowder, Kirk Franklin, etc). Somehow they saw fit to include me in this list. It’s an honor of course. But just in case it was going to give me a big head, they declared me the least recognizable on the list. Those who know me will know that I’m just fine with that status. Click on the picture to see an excerpt from the article.

January 25, 2008
Friday January 25, 2008 Sovereign Grace Sale
For the month of February Sovereign Grace will be selling all CDs for six dollars. With free shipping. Pursuit of Godliness books will be $5. Free shipping is a US-only deal. Canadians and others lodge your protest here!
Monergism Books Sale
Monergism Books is also offering free shipping until tomorrow. John has the details.
Forests, Dog Attacks, and Discernment
Paul (my pastor) has some good words on the subject of discernment. Clearly I’ve taught him well.
January 24, 2008

This morning we continue with our reading of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re into the real heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

In the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” In the past chapters and those to come Owen approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation.
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. Last week he offered the first of his particular instructions on how to go about the business of mortifying sin. He told us to consider whether our lust has certain dangerous symptoms accompanying it and went on to describe certain conditions: Inveterateness (a state of being deep-rooted or habitual); secret pleas of the heart to countenance sin without a gospel attempt to mortify sin; applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin; frequency of success in sin’s seduction; arguing against sin only because of impending punishment; probable judiciary hardness; when your lust has already withstood particular dealings from God against it. This week he turns to a second instruction.

Summary

This chapter’s theme is this: Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin. Owen follows this outline:

  1. Consider the guilt of it
    • Though the power of sin be weakened by inherent grace, yet the guilt of remaining sin is aggravated and heightened by it
    • God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in the hearts of his servants
  2. Consider the danger of it
    • Of being hardened by deceitfulness
    • Of some great temporal correction
    • Of loss of peace and strength
    • Of eternal destruction
  3. Consider its present evils
    • It grieves the holy and blessed Spirit
    • The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it
    • It will take away a man’s usefulness in his generation

Discussion

I don’t know that any other chapter has given me more to think about than this one. It’s not just that it was tough going (and certain sections really were tough to read and absorb) but that Owen covered some aspects of thinking about sin that really were new to me. I’ll give a brief thought about each of the three headings he used: the guilt of sin, the danger of sin, and the evil of sin.

I doubt too many Christians can read Owen’s thoughts on considering the guilt of our sin and remain unaffected. Of course I wasn’t entirely sure that I read it correctly but after three or four go-rounds I am fairly confident. Owen says, “Though the power of sin be weakened by inherent grace, yet the guilt of remaining sin is aggravated and heightened by it.” He says also that “God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in the hearts of his servants.” I take this to mean that sin committed by a Christian is in a sense far more serious than sin committed by an unbeliever. Once God has given us light and life, we sin in a way that is different from how we sinned before. When we sin as Christians we sin in direct contradiction to the work of the Spirit in our lives. “We, doubtless, are more evil than any, if we do [sin]. I shall not insist on the special aggravations of the sins of such persons—how they sin against more love, mercy, grace, assistance, relief, means, and deliverances than others. But let this consideration abide in your mind—there is inconceivably more evil and guilt in the evil of your heart that does remain, than there would be in so much sin if you had no grace at all.” With the great blessing of new life comes the great responsibility to be free from sin. When we do sin, we blatantly disregard the Spirit’s work and leading in our life. Hence there is a whole new dimension to our sin and a whole new level of seriousness.

In his section on the dangers of sin, Owen warned of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, of the danger of temporal punishment, of the loss of peace and strength in relationship with God and of eternal destruction. The one that stood out to me was the danger of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. I believe it is for good reason that he listed this one first. No person can find himself on the road to destruction or even being punished by God in this life if he has not first been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. “There is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God.” At the close of this section comes a dire warning and challenge: “Is it not enough to make any heart to tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season. Take heed, this is that [which] your lust is working toward—the hardening of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul.” When we have low thoughts of our sin it means we must also have low thoughts of the work and person of Christ and low thoughts of eternal reward and punishment. If we get sin wrong, we get everything else wrong. Sin is deceitful and we must have a biblical understanding of it if we are to honor God with our lives. We must mortify sin lest we allow it to blind us to its realities.

Where the dangers of sin point to future realities, the evils of sin point to the present. Here Owen offers three warnings. Sin grieves the holy and blessed Spirit; the Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it; and sin will take away a man’s [or woman’s] usefulness in his [or her] generation. I think it speaks volumes about a person’s heart whether or not these realities really concern him. Only one who has truly been born again will be concerned with grieving the Holy Spirit or wounding Jesus Christ afresh. Only a Christian will have a heart that is grieved by grieving God. Any man may fear and abhor the consequences of sin in his own life, but only a true believer will concern himself with how his sins affect God. “Among those who walk with God, there is no greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness, and the preserving of their hearts and spirits in all purity and cleanness, than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually considering what they give entertainment in their hearts unto, and rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled.” Does this thought motivate me to mortify the sin in my life? Does this thought motivate you to destroy the sin in yours? Or are we so self-centered that our first consideration is how our sin impacts our own lives and our own hearts? Those who truly love the Lord will prove this love by turning from sin.

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter eleven.

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

January 24, 2008
Thursday January 24, 2008 Calling for Truth
I’ll be one of two guests today on Calling for Truth with Kevin Boling in case you’re interested in tuning in (through the radio or online). The guest on just before me will be Barack Obama (who will, no doubt, prove an interesting interview!).
D.A. Carson in Toronto
D.A. Carson will be speaking at a variety of locations in the Toronto area in the next week. Ian has a round-up if you’d like to catch one of his speaking engagements.
John Piper on a Common Word
In this short video John Piper responds to the “A Common Word Between Us and You” initiative to bring Christians and Muslims together.
Ten Questions with Steve Lawson
Here are the first five of ten questions with Steve Lawson. There’s a link to read the next five.
January 23, 2008

It is easy to grow discouraged at the state of the church. As a person who invests quite a lot of time and attention to studying the church, her health and what Jesus requires of her, I often find myself lamenting her state. Writers from all backgrounds and denominations have written about the church, and I have read many of these books and publications. The standard book begins with a few chapters outlining all the ways the church has failed with the rest of the book providing the solution. If only we did this or that or the other thing, we would make the church what she was intended to be. I haven’t read too many books that give the church a pat on the back and said “good job!” Maybe for good reason. Maybe not. When I wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I was deliberate in not doing that, in not giving a long list of all the ways the church has failed. In a sense I don’t need to as her failing are evident to anyone who seeks to look for them; but I also did not wish to spread a spirit of discouragement.

Here are just a couple of examples of people who have taken on the church in recent years. Rick Warren wrote the mega-seller The Purpose Driven Church wherein he proclaimed that the church had lost sight of her purpose and had to rediscover it. Millions of pastors bought and read this book and began what Warren refers to as the Second Reformation - a Reformation of purpose. A couple of years ago I counted six or seven books in the Christian bookstore heralding “the next Reformation,” yet all of them pointed towards a different basis for this Reformation. The men and women of the Emergent community continually write indictments of the church, showing how, in their view, she has failed in the modern world and is primed to be an even greater failure in the postmodern world. A person who is fully immersed in the Emergent church sent me an email once and wrote about “denominational distinctives that strive to keep us divided” as if churches are purposely focusing on the distinctives in order to drive wedges between them and other believers. There are any number of other authors that identify problems and tell us how to fix them. Many people are proud to be believers, yet are ashamed to be part of the church - the visible body of Christ. They portray the church as being purposeless, intellectual and ancient, knowingly and joyfully trapped in the past, snickering as we watch our neighbors fall into the abyss.

Yet the church is not a failure; the church—the remnant of those who are faithful, who compose only a fraction of the wider, visible church, remain true to Christ and continue to do God’s work in the world. Jesus Himself told us that the road to salvation is narrow and only a few enter, so we should not be surprised when there are far more who turn their backs than respond with joy. We mourn their loss but trust in God’s sovereignty in saving His people. This I can guarantee: 100% of God’s elect have been (or will be!) ministered to and changed by the Word of God. Every one of them has heard the preaching of a minister of the Word or has read a Bible lovingly and obediently translated which was delivered to someone who needed it most. Why do we dwell so often and sometimes exclusively on our failures and shortcomings? Does this honor God and glorify Him for the battles that have been won and the lives He has changed through us?

Despite these victories we too often see the church as a failure. I used to get a lot of emails from a friend who has a high view of his own sin. He tends to sign his emails as “your sinful, spiteful, hell-deserving sinner of a friend” or something like that. He never hides from his own sin, and I admire that. And while it is fully true that he is a sinner and no doubt feels spite and malice and does deserve hell, this is only half the story. In his view of his sin I think he often loses sight of the fact that in God’s eyes he is now a beautiful new creation, restored to the image of God. He has been bought with precious blood and adopted into the family of the king! I continually have to remind him that he is focusing on only half of the battle. His emphasis on his sin does not allow him to see the beauty of what he has become. And I think this is how the church often sees itself - it sees the bad and loses track of all the good things that the church has done through Christ.

The church, despite sin and failings and shortcomings and imperfections of all sorts is a glorious body and one that I know Christ is proud of. He has promised that the church will prevail and we can take refuge in that promise. If we were not such a sinful mess we would not need him at all! But because we are sinful and constantly go astray, we need Him to lead and guide us as we act as His representatives on earth. I know that there is so much more we could do, and must do. I know the church is not all that God wants it to be. Yet I am confident that it brings Him glory and makes Him proud. So if you are part of this body, allow yourself a moment of gratitude and awe for what God has done in and through His body; thank God that you can be part of something so awesome, so glorious, so godly. And then put your hand to the plow and continue the work He has entrusted to us.