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Tim Challies

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April 2008

April 28, 2008
Monday April 28, 2008 Economic Stimulus Payments and God’s Glory
I’ve been waiting for someone to write this. Imagine the good American Christians can do with their “free” money from the government. Instead of heading straight to Best Buy, why not find a good and creative way of blessing others and worshiping God with that money. John Piper explains.
The New Face of Gay Marriage
Dr. Mohler: “”Young Gay Rites” is itself a noteworthy signal about the future of marriage. If Denizet-Lewis is right, the legalization of same-sex marriage is changing the ways some homosexuals are living their lives. In other words, same-sex marriage in Massachusetts is changing homosexual culture in some unexpected ways.”
How Can I Bless My Pastor
John Piper explains. “Don’t give me a Rolls-Royce when I turn sixty. I would’ve wasted my life if you think you’re blessing me with some big financial gift when I’m sixty. I want to see your life changed. I want to see you pour yourself out for others. And I’m sure that’s what you’re asking about.”
Screwtape: The Luciferian Laptop
Douglas Groothuis plays C.S. Lewis and writes a letter to Wormwood about the effects of technology.
The Most Annoying Song Ever
“After gathering data about people’s least favorite music and lyrical subjects, they did the unthinkable: they combined them into a single monstrosity, specifically engineered to sound unpleasant to the maximum percentage of listeners.”
April 27, 2008

The Elisha FoundationIn the past months you may well have heard me mention The Elisha Foundation. This is a foundation I first discovered through my pastor (who is a regular speaker at the Foundation’s annual retreats) and subsequently learned about more when I designed a new website for it. I quickly came to respect what they do and wanted to share with you an interview I conducted with Justin Reimer who founded and still heads up the organization.

What is the Elisha Foundation?

The Elisha Foundation is a non-profit organization created to provide encouragement and resources for families of people with special needs (kids and adults). Our primary vehicle of ministry is through small and intimate Family Retreats geared towards biblical encouragement and disability specific resources. Soon we will be providing monthly respite resources for families in our area as well.

When and why did you begin the Foundation?

My wife, Tamara, and I started the foundation in the Fall of 2005 after years of anticipation. Though the idea started some 10 years ago through a series of Sovereign circumstances preparing us for our calling when our first child, Elisha was born. Just hours after his birth he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit due to medical complications. During the early hours of this new and blessed addition to our family we were overcome with the moment. God saw fit to make us stewards of such a wondrous and enigmatic blessing as a special needs child. The enormity of this responsibility was only made more sweet by the grace of God. This was a defining moment in our young lives with profound impact on our faith, goals and dreams.

Prior to the birth of our son Tamara and I shared the ambition of one day being missionaries to a foreign country. With the new direction our lives were taking we were left wondering how we could minister to the needs of others. Early on a sweet lady put it plainly to Tamara in this way, “Instead of you going to the mission field, the mission field has been brought to you through Elisha.” So simple yet so profound was that little morsel of wisdom. It helped us to look beyond the circumstances and realize that God had given us a new direction, to minister to those with special needs and their families.

Over the next seven years we lived in six different states and experienced the disability resources and programs that each state offered. Though each offered great things none provided the foundational emphasis on family and definitely not on Christ. Through these travels and experiences our hearts desire was to provide an environment for families with disabled family members where the emphasis is on familial growth in Christ rather than on “dealing with” the disability. A place where faith in Christ is strengthened, love is flourished, passion is reformed and intimacy is encouraged. What greater resource than to build the family on those four fundamentals - faith, love, passion, intimacy in Christ. We experienced great growth in these areas through our own trials and experiences. We have had three more sweet children (and another on the way!) since the birth of Elisha and have been greatly encouraged by their interaction with Eli as well as the opportunity for them to recognize and minister to the needs of others of lesser health or condition.

Most confirming to us in our pursuits with TEF was our most recent Retreat. We had a family there who had a daughter with an extremely rare genetic disorder. So rare that the doctor’s gave her little chance of survival and recommended abortion. She is now 4 years old and although there are great delays in her development she is exceeding anything the doctor’s thought possible. It is a rough road though, be it feedings every 2 hours for the first three years of her life, the growth hormone shots, or the litany of other care she needs. She cannot sit up on her own and when she is ill she suffers from seizures. Along with raising her, her parents have six other children to not just care for, but to raise.

We invited them to the Retreat knowing that there was a good chance they wouldn’t be able to make it due to her situation. It was a stretch for her to be around a large group of people possibly carrying the latest flu strain. But they were able to come although under slight duress. By the end of the Retreat they were overwhelmed by how much they needed that time away as a family. You see it was the first time in three and a half years that they were able to worship together as a family. They had to take turns going to church and no one offered to help them with her so that they could go together. In tears, the dad stated what the whole weekend meant to them and that there were not words enough to describe the benefit to their family. He is now a dear friend of mine and his family has been challenged anew by the Word being taught at the Retreat and by simply being together and having people help them there be unencumbered.

How does the Foundation seek to serve families of people with disabilities?

Of primary importance to TEF is to see that families make much of Christ in their circumstances, not to make much of their circumstances with a side order of Christ - so to speak. It is common place to see a family put so much emphasis on their circumstances (autism, Down syndrome, etc.) that that becomes central to who they are as a family and , in a way, defines who they are. We know and understand the challenges from our own experience but by God’s grace He has compelled us to keep Christ central to our lives, not Down syndrome, and that is what ultimately should define our family - lives centered on Christ no matter what.

God has placed within our stewardship the blessed parent child relationship with a special needs child. We have been and will continue to be challenged and encouraged by this great blessing.

As our faith in Christ has been strengthened through this relationship we have sought to aid the growth of the faith of others in similar situations. Teaching them to love Jesus more deeply, develop a passion for the unique circumstance that God has placed them in and develop a more intimate relationship with Him out of which flows a more intimate relationship with God and family.

When focusing on the vehicle for this objective our minds were immediately set on a retreat. A quiet, beautiful, peaceful, rejuvenating place that would be conducive to allowing people to let down their guard and relax while providing them with pampering not common to them nor even available to them. And to provide focused Bible teaching to edify and build up the Faith.

Who typically attends the Elisha Foundation retreats? Who is permitted to attend?

We specifically chose a broad “label” to target our field of ministry - “special needs”. We have had varying levels of severity of diagnosis’ from Asperger’s to autism, from Down syndrome to Hunter’s syndrome, from extremely rare genetic disorders to malignant teratoma’s and even leukemia. One of the unique aspects of the environment we aim to create for a Retreat is that by having needs from a wide range of spectrums each set of parents is drawing from the diversity of experiences of the other parents.

For example, I have a child with Down syndrome and another parent has a child with Hunter’s syndrome. I can learn a lot from that parent as they may have a very short time on earth with that child and the window of interaction with the child is brief, where I see through a long term window for my child. It reminds me of the brevity of life and to treat each day with more earnestness; whereas, they can learn from our experiences perhaps in how we educate our son or even a level of endurance as we will care for our son until we pass from this life.

To answer your question, anyone who has a “special need” be it a disability, medical condition or other chronic issues is welcome to our Retreats. If they aren’t sure about how they might “fit in” they can call us and talk it over with us. Our future plans include Retreats for those who have lost children and for our wounded military veterans as well. If people are hurting we want to help them see Jesus in it and through it.

Are there any books you have found particularly useful in helping people come to terms with disabilities within their families or their churches?

The most obvious and significant answer is Scripture; however, God has Sovereignly placed the likes of Joni Erickson Tada in the midst of the Body of Christ to encourage support and help people come to His terms with their appointment in life. When God Weeps by Joni is a must read and is a book that we give to every family that comes to a Retreat. She and Steve Estes do a great job of applying the Christ to painful situations with experience and biblical conviction.

What books do you recommend on the subject of suffering?

With today’s technology sermons are a great source of encouragement, keep in mind some of these families can’t always make it to church, etc. Sermons by the likes of Paul Martin, John Piper, John MacArthur among others have been a great encouragement to my family and to others that I have been able to pass them along to. As for books, I guess I gave some of it away already but in addition to the aforementioned book there are a couple of others I would recommend.

The Holy Bible, by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by Justin Taylor, John Piper, Mark Talbot, and Stephen F. Saint

A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

The Power of Suffering by John MacArthur

Also, we have found biographies to be very helpful as well. The likes of William Cowper, Fannie Crosby, William Wilberforce, etc.

What can local churches do to better serve families that have a family member with a disability?

This is a good question as it doesn’t start with specialized programs. It starts with the Body of Christ first enfolding that family or person on a practical relational level. This is a challenge as many of us don’t feel comfortable around a person with a disability. Consider this, is a person with “special needs” any less created in the image of God than you or I? Answer, no. With that in mind I would challenge every believer to do something so sweetly simple when you see a needy person or family and you don’t know what you can do to help them. Just ask!

When a family walks in the door and you recognize that perhaps they may have a child with special needs, ask them what you can do to help them worship together with you. “May” is italicized intentionally as not all of us can spot and name a child’s “special need” so even if you have a suspicion offer to help. It is okay to not know or even be uncomfortable with a special needs situation. It may be awkward to you but think of what some families are faced with when they attend church and are told to leave the service because their autistic child yells out involuntarily.

This is an area of great concern as in certain parts of the country the willingness to approach someone in a needy situation is lacking. If a church finds themselves in a position to target a special needs ministry then there are two books I would recommend:

Special Needs Special Ministry by Jim Pierson, Pat Verbal and Louise Tucker Jones

Let All the Children Come to Me by MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth

The simplest and, in many ways, the most helpful thing someone can do is to simply offer to be a special needs persons “buddy” on Sundays. Assist in whatever way needed to facilitate that family and that persons Lord’s Day.

How can Christians support the Foundation?

Praying, volunteering and giving. We have sought to have TEF not be exclusively Christian in our servicing these special families. At each of our Retreats we have had non-believers and believers alike in attendance. Pray that we would continue to have opportunities for the Gospel.

Volunteering is a vital part of all that we do. During a Retreat we have 20+ dedicated, full time volunteers. We have been richly blessed by our volunteers as we push them to the point of exhaustion but they see it as an act of worship. We are always looking to add to our book of volunteers. If anyone would like to volunteer please contact us we would love to have your help.

Giving is vital to us as well and is not my favorite subject but it is necessary for doing what we do, this includes not just our monetary needs but books for our Retreats as well. Right now we have no paid staff and schedule Retreats as we have funding.

If a person is interested in learning more about the Foundation and its ministries, how would they do that?

The web site is the easiest way to find out about us but you can contact myself (Justin.Reimer {at} TheElishaFoundation.org) or our newest Board Member, Chris (Chris.Wick {at} TheElishaFoundation.org) directly. My phone number is 541-419-6007.

April 26, 2008

It’s funny how Saturdays, which used to be the most relaxing day for me, have become so busy. I am coaching Nick’s baseball team this year and we were on the field early this morning for our first practice. This season the kids are staring from the plate to a pitching machine and seeing pitches whistling in at 40 miles per hour. This is a substantial step up from last year’s coach pitch league where the balls were lobbed from about 10 feet away. Each of the kids got ten pitches from the machine and most of them flailed helplessly at all ten. Now that practice is over, we’ve got to get ready for Nick’s birthday parting at a nearby bowling alley. His birthday was a few weeks ago but this was the earliest we could book some lanes for him…and he really wanted to bowl for his birthday. So it is going to be a good but busy day.

Amazon’s Kindle

I have been thinking about buying a Kindle (which Amazon finally has in stock after many months of distribution problems). Though the reviews on the Kindles are decidedly mixed, I do think it could solve a couple of problems for me.


One problem is that I am just about out of room to store books in my office. When we first moved into this house two years ago, I had three or four bookcases in the office and my books fit. Today I have seven full and two half bookcases and they are almost all full. Of greater concern is the fact that I am out of walls against which I can place more bookcases. The photo above was taken a couple of months ago. Even since then things have gotten worse. Books are beginning to stack up on top of the bookcases. I am going to go through and cull some of the junk, but I know it will not take long for the problem to return.

All of this to say that a Kindle may just offer me the ability to read at least some of my books in a “soft” format rather than a printed format.

The second issue, and the one that is probably more likely to be solved by a Kindle, is that I have stacks of manuscripts to read through and it might be nice to read some of those on the Kindle rather than on printed 8.5 x 11 inch paper or in PDF files on my computer.

And so I ask…does anyone out there own a Kindle? What is your user experience like with it? Is it worth the rather steep price of $400? What I really need is to find a friend who can loan me one for a while…

Strange Places

Last week I shared a couple of photos of my book in strange places. The very next day I received not one but two photos of the book in Mongolia, of all places. And the two people who sent the photos are not, to my knowledge, connected to one another. So here is the photographic proof of the book in Mongolia. If you have a picture of my book in a strange place, feel free to send it along.


New Music

A CD I’ve been enjoying a lot in the past week is Before the Throne by Sojourn (Sojourn Community Church of Louisville, KY). It is a CD that earned a rare five star review from Christianity Today. The reviewer said, “Every once in a while, I receive an album that pleasantly surprises me on all fronts. Not only is the packaging impeccably and cleverly designed on Sojourn’s Before the Throne, but the worship band for Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky also managed a far more impressive feat: They actually wrote worship music that I didn’t feel like I’d already heard a million times before. Hard to imagine, I know.” The album features ten original songs and one cover and the songs represent a wide variety of musical styles. Personal favorites are “We Are Listening” (Morning and evening we come / To delight in the words of our God / Give us eyes to see / Give us faith to hear / …that the Word has come / …that the Word is here) and “In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross” (These crowns I’ve clenched with fisted hands / I cast them down before the throne / Of Christ my God the worthy lamb / Christ crucified, the Great I AM / Hallelujah, Hallelujah). You can learn more about it at sojournmusic.com. You can download several songs for free (including my favorite tracks) if you’d like to sample the album.

Sojourn has just announced that their next project will be a 2-CD set of hymns inspired by Isaac Watts, “The Father Of English Hymnody.” The assignment for the songwriters was to “rewrite the Isaac Watts hymnal … Take these lyrics as a springboard and rewrite the words and melodies. Capture the language of our time and place and keep vibrant the message of the songs. Look for ways to refresh metaphors and imagery in the songs … and write melodies that will fit contemporary song arrangements.” This will prove quite the challenge, I am sure, and I look forward to hearing the result!

Another new and good CD is one you’ve seen advertised right here—Come Weary Saints by Sovereign Grace Music. “Come Weary Saints is an invitation to redirect your focus to the God whose love has been forever demonstrated at the cross of Calvary. As you listen to these songs, may your faith and joy in the Savior be strengthened for the challenges you face, now or in the future.” It features songs by the usual cast of characters, including Bob Kauflin, Mark and Stephen Altrogge, Steve and Vicki Cook and Pat Sczebel. It is perhaps not insignificant that the first time I listened to the album was in a hospital bed while cradling a sleeping but very sick little girl. It was an encouragement to me then and has been in the couple of weeks since.

You can listen to song samples and purchase the album right here. Personal favorites are “So I Will Trust You,” “I Have a Shelter,” and “Through the Precious Blood.”

April 25, 2008

Do Hard ThingsI’ve often reflected on an experience I had when I was studying in college. With a busy semester ahead of me, I decided to take “Death and Dying,” an elective that had the reputation of being an exceptionally easy course (a “bird course” we called it back then). On the first day we arrived in the lecture hall, the professor handed out a reading list and what he assured us were the lecture notes for the entire course. With these in hand, we were told, there was little use in showing up for the rest of the year unless we were really and truly interested in the subject matter. It was not a difficult course, he said, and we could probably do fine if we just turned in the assignments and showed up to write the exam. Needless to say, most of us took this as an opportunity to have an evening to ourselves each week rather than actually sitting through long and boring lectures on a subject that was of little interest. Also needless to say, most of us earned very poor grades.

April 25, 2008
Friday April 25, 2008 Gospel Translations
At the Ligonier blog is an article about the new Gospel Translations initiative and Ligonier’s involvement in it. There is also a video detailing the Gospel Translations effort.
Ehrman and Wright Discuss Suffering
Beliefnet has a lengthy dialog between Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright on the subject of suffering.
For Sale: 13 Year Old Virgin
The Telegraph has the sad story of young girls in India being ushered into a life of prostitution.
Are You Bored With Good Preaching?
Paul offers some good words for people who sit under good preaching.
An Engineer’s Guide to Cats
If you’ve got seven minutes to burn, this video is strangely enjoyable.
A New Jesus Biography
“”Basic Instinct” director Paul Verhoeven has written a book that contradicts biblical teaching by suggesting that Jesus might have been fathered by a Roman soldier who raped Mary.”
April 24, 2008

Lydia Brownback, author and editor extraordinaire, has recently released a couple of books in a new “On-the-Go Devotional” series. Written for women, “On-the-Go Devotionals easily tuck into a purse or gym bag and make great gifts. Each lesson is self-contained, with Scripture and a paragraph or two of teaching that will steer women away from worldly coping techniques, away from themselves and their circumstances, and onto God and their security in Christ.” The first in series is Trust: A Godly Woman’s Adornment and the second Contentment: A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Aileen has been reading them, enjoying them and benefiting from them. Husbands: these are two books well worth buying as a treat for your wife.

Here is a brief excerpt from a chapter in Contentment that deals with “My Share.” Though the topic in view is family squabbles over “stuff” (and really, how many families do not have shameful stories of fighting over dividing an inheritance) the application is far wider.


We can pray, “Lord, work in my sister’s heart so that she sees how unfair this is,” but the answer we will get is the same answer that Jesus game to this man: “Man, who made me an judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). And he turned to all who were listening and said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v. 15).

The first thing Jesus did was to clear up misconceptions about who he is (v.14). He did that then, and he does it today. We will never know contentment in Christ if we seek him as a divine referee, however unfairly we may have been treated. His work in our lives is not about making sure we get the maximum benefits in the here and now, even when we are entitled to those benefits. In fact, real contentment often comes when we willingly embrace the loss of them.

The second thing Jesus does is reveal the spirit of covetousness that underlies most of our prayers about obtaining our share. Fighting over things is something we are to guard against because all such fighting is sin. But Jesus does more than simply place his finger on the sin problem; he provides a remedy for it by redirecting our thinking to the place of peace. We will never find contentment—freedom from that angry feeling of unfairness—by getting the things that are rightfully ours. We will find it by letting go of our entitlement to them.

April 24, 2008

Last year some of the readers of this site began to read Christian classics together with me. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. We spent eight weeks reading through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, covering one chapter per week and posting some thoughts about the book on Thursday mornings. We then turned to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and read it over thirteen weeks. Both titles were worthwhile reads and we learned that they have rightly earned their reputations as Christian classics. Feedback from readers assured me that this was a project we should continue as it benefited all who chose to participate.

Today we begin the third round of this project by reading The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by A.W. Pink. We’ll cover only the Introduction today and look at each of the book’s seven chapters in the seven weeks to come. I hope you’ll read along with us.

Each I am going to offer a short summary of the chapter and a couple of brief reflections. At that point I’ll ask that you feel free to post your own questions, comments or reflections.

Summary

As Introductions go, this one had a lot to offer. Because the book focuses on the seven words Jesus spoke from the cross, Pink had to provide the important “back story” in this introduction. To do this he explained that the death of Jesus was natural, unnatural, preternatural and supernatural.

Jesus’ death was natural in that it was a real death. The fact that this can seem so unremarkable to us proves that we do not have a sufficient apprehension of just who Jesus was. That God Himself could suffer and face a very human death is far more remarkable than we are accustomed to thinking. Jesus’ death was unnatural in that it was abnormal. Death had no claim on Jesus as it does on every other human who has ever lived. Hence Jesus death was different from any other before or since. Jesus’ death was preternatural in that it had been marked out and determined for Him beforehand. Before the foundations of the earth it had been foreordained that Jesus would die and that He would die in this manner. Jesus’ death was supernatural in that it was different from every other death (just as His birth was different and His life was different). Pink expands on this point by showing seven ways in which the Lord’s death was entirely unique.

In the chapters which follow we shall hearken to the words which fell from his lips while he hung upon the cross - words which make known to us some of the attendant circumstances of the great tragedy; words which reveal the excellencies of the one who suffered there; words in which is wrapped up the gospel of our salvation; and words which inform us of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of the Death Divine.”

Discussion

While I enjoyed Pink’s discussion of Jesus’ death under the four headings, it was the section on Jesus’ death being supernatural that really grabbed and held my attention. Though certain aspects of this have crossed my mind in the past (such as Jesus yielding His Spirit rather than having it taken from Him) there were others that were fresh to me. Never have I considered that Jesus was actively involved in fulfilling prophecy when He said, “I thirst.” While prophecy obviously has a predictive element, it makes perfect sense to me that Jesus would have had an awareness that He was fulfilling prophecy. Hence He deliberately cried out in thirst in order to fulfill those prophetic words spoken so long before. Similarly, I had never before taken in the significance of the word “loud” in the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke loudly, showing that His strength had not failed Him. He had not been defeated; He had won. Pink attaches significance to every element of the biblical narrative whereas I am sometimes too quick to miss the important details.

Though this Introduction was short, it certainly packed a punch and gave me some things to meditate upon. I can’t wait to dive into the heart of the book beginning next week.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the first chapter of the book. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from even just the Introduction to the book. Feel free to post 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 anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

April 24, 2008
Thursday April 24, 2008 Is Prince Caspian Really C.S. Lewis?
Devin Brown provides an answer in a recent article at Christianity Today.
OpenBible Labs
OpenBible Labs has some small but fascinating experiments with Bible data. The Bible Word Locator and Bible Book Browser are particularly interesting.
Dr. Mohler on The Shack
Dr. Mohler recently dedicated most of a radio program to the book “The Shack.” He goes so far as to say that it contains “undiluted heresy.” (HT)
Hannah Montana Strikes It Even Richer
“Miley Cyrus, 15-year-old teen star who attributes her family and Christian faith for keeping her grounded in her fast-pace lifestyle, will write about her life before becoming Hannah Montana in a book deal that was confirmed by the publisher for Disney on Tuesday.” She has signed a seven figure deal for this book.
Boeing’s Big Dream
Fortune has a fascinating photo essay about the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.