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Tim Challies

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May 2008

May 27, 2008

This morning I headed to the airport and made the brief hop to Harrisburg, PA. It was a short flight (just over an hour) on the tiniest plane I’ve flown on. You know it’s a small flight when the guy who takes your bags planeside (and who checks your seat belts and who explains the emergency exit procedures) pulls off his orange safety vest, jumps into the cockpit and flies the plane! The plane was hot and smelly and small enough that there was no snack service, but I was engrossed in a book and barely noticed. Incidentally, have you ever noticed how the smaller the plane, the more the pilot flies it like a fighter jet? I’m pretty accustomed to flying by now but there were a few times where my stomach fell to the floor! What a ride.

Anyways, I am here for the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference. This is my last conference for the year (or for the spring at least). Though I am feeling a mite “conferenced out,” I really did want to experience Banner of Truth—the original Reformed ministry and Reformed conference. Before there was Together for the Gospel or The Basics or Ligonier or any of these, there was Banner of Truth. It has long stood firm and has brought us countless numbers of great books. We are gathered here on the campus of Messiah College and look forward to messages from Iain Murray, Rick Phillips, Ian Hamilton, David Troxel and David Campbell. A couple hundred men have gathered here to enjoy this event and to enjoy fellowship together. Though there are nine plenary sessions, it looks like the schedule allows for a fair bit of off-time, ideal for catching up with old friends (I’ve already met a couple of friends I didn’t know would be here). I’ll be bringing updates over the next couple of days before heading home Thursday afternoon.

The first sermon came courtesy of Iain Murray and he spoke on John 21:18-19—the last command of Jesus. He spoke to the pastors here of what it means to follow Christ and to live life in His presence and for His service.

After this message we broke for dinner and I observed that this conference is one that functions almost like a fellowship. Many men clearly come year after year and on the first day there are reunions all around. I ended up eating at a table filled with Canadians (and one American), some of whom went to the churches I did back in my younger days. It was good to meet them for the first time in many years and to catch up on all that has happened since. And then I hurried back to my dorm to guest on Moody Radio’s Prime Time America (you can probably find the archived audio on the site if you care to listen. You can likely guess what we were discussing. I was on 1.5 hours into the program if you want to fast forward).

And as I write this we are at the end of the conference’s second message, a sermon by Craig Troxel entitled “Fan the Flame” and expositing 2 Timothy 1:6. I’m in a hurry to post this because Iain Murray is going to lead a guided tour of the bookstore (a task that usually falls to Sinclair Ferguson who, unfortunately, was not able to be here this year). It will be interesting, I’m sure, to gain Murray’s perspective on these books (all of which are published by Banner of Truth).

I’ll check in again tomorrow…

May 27, 2008

320px-Kindle2.gifA few weeks ago I cracked open the box for my new Kindle, Amazon’s wireless reading device. Since then I’ve had ample opportunity to use it and I’d like to provide a short review based on my experiences with it. I believe that reading reviews of this product will greatly enhance your enjoyment of it because you will know what to expect. I believe many of those who have been disappointed by their Kindles have been disappointed because they have expected it to be something it is not.

Because I read so much and because I read many books in manuscript format, I wanted to gauge the Kindle’s effectiveness in two broad areas. First, I wanted to determine how effective it is as medium for displaying e-books. Though I love to read printed books, I was eager to attempt reading paperless books as well. Second, I wanted to determine whether it is an effective medium for displaying books in manuscript format (which is typically an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word file). While the Kindle’s functionality goes beyond these tasks, I had little interest in those other areas. For example, because I have near-constant access to my PC, there is no reason for me to read blogs or newspapers on this device. Neither did I wish to use it to play MP3’s or browse Wikipedia. The Kindle does all of these things, but I have not adequately tested its abilities in these areas.

The Reading Experience

Though it is difficult to explain the experience of using the Kindle, I will attempt it as best I can. The device is about the size and weight of a small paperback (it is 7.5” x 5.3” x 0.7” in size and 10.3 ounces in weight). Looking at it, it is clear that Amazon’s engineers invested more effort in functionality than in beauty; it is rather utilitarian and certainly would not be mistaken for an Apple product (though the packaging was rather snazzy and did evoke memories of unwrapping my first iPod). The screen is 6” in size (diagonally) with 600 x 800 resolution. It is grayscale and utilizes a groundbreaking e-ink technology that offers a couple of benefits over a standard LCD screen (like the screens on a laptop): it uses very little power which in turn preserves battery life; and it is not backlit, removing the difficulty with eye fatigue that can plague those who read on LCD screens. It amply mimics the “feel” of ink on paper.

The box includes the Kindle, a power cord used to recharge the battery, a USB cable for connecting the Kindle to a computer and a leather cover or folder that is used to protect it.

KindleReading books is as simple as clicking the Next Page and Previous Page buttons. It involves no scrolling through pages—text never waits “below” the viewable area as it often does on a web page. Instead, a click of the Next Page button will refresh the screen (which takes about one second) and display the next page of text. Text is very easy to read and there is more than adequate contrast between the text and the background. Any pictures or diagrams within the text will display in grayscale. The device includes a full QWERTY keyboard and using this keyboard you can take notes on any portion of a book. You can also “highlight” portions of the text (the highlighting appears as a box around the selected text). Notes can be easily exported to your PC (though highlighted portions cannot). And, of course, you can bookmark your last page to return to it quickly and easily.

Buying and Adding Books

There are two ways of adding books to the Kindle. The first way involves purchasing books directly from Amazon (this can be done through the Kindle or through Amazon’s site). There are already more than 120,000 books available in Kindle format and they are priced significantly lower than their printed counterparts. By way of comparison, my book is priced at $11.89 for the printed version and at $7.99 for the Kindle version. Bestsellers are all available for $9.99 or less. Purchasing through Amazon uses their 1-Click method. As soon as you purchase, the book is sent wirelessly to your device through cellular networks and should arrive in less than one minute. Alternatively, you can download the file to your PC and move it to your Kindle using the USB cable provided for that purpose. Because I am outside of the United States I cannot take advantage of the wireless method, but find purchasing quick and easy nonetheless.

The second way of adding books to the Kindle involves adding books that are in some kind of file format—Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and so on. In such cases the files need to first be converted to the e-book format. Amazon will do this for you and either deliver the file via email (free) or send it wirelessly to your device for a small fee ($0.10). There are also downloadable free programs available that will do this conversion should you wish to do it yourself.

My Experience

The Kindle met or exceeded all of my expectations as a reading device. I have found it a pleasure to use. It took me a little while to grow accustomed to the speed with which I’d have to click the “Next Page” button but I caught on quickly. I can now read as quickly as I do with regular books. My eyes do not grow tired as I read and it’s a pleasure to be able to take an entire library of books with me in one very small package. My Kindle travels with me!

v2-all._V4948253_.jpgI have found it an effective means of reading books purchased from Amazon and have also enjoyed it as a way of reading manuscripts. Having said that, I do think it has its limitations and those limitations revolve primarily around interacting with a book. These are not so much limitations with the Kindle as they are inevitable with any reading device. I am an interactive reader, always making notes and using my highlighter. While the Kindle does support both notes and highlighting, it is not easy to run back and skim the book looking for notes and highlights—or certainly not as easy as it is with a book. While I love the Kindle for lighter reading, I do not think it would be as effective for me when it comes to more dense reading; for those situations I would still want to have my book, my pencils and my highlighter. Then again, I can sit on an airplane with an entire library at my disposal on my Kindle, even if I cannot adequately highlight. It becomes a matter of weighing pro’s and con’s.

Conclusion

My conclusion, then, is that the Amazon is very good at its primary function and, as long as the prospective buyer ensures that he knows what it does (and what it doesn’t do) he should be well pleased with it. It is exceptionally effective at displaying e-books and at providing a medium to read books on something other than dead trees. It is a far better option than reading on a computer screen, on a PDA or on other similar devices. The secondary functionality is, well, secondary. Though it may be useful functionality for some, it does not much interest me. I love my Kindle and have no regrets about buying it.

NOTE: If you plan on buying a Kindle, make sure you find your way to Amazon by clicking on the banner or link from a blog you enjoy (not necessarily this blog!). Amazon pays out an affiliate reward of $40 to sites that refer a person who actually purchases a Kindle. You can make someone’s day with your purchase.

May 26, 2008
Monday May 26, 2008 Free Subscription from Matthias Media
“We’re [still!] giving away 500 FREE subscriptions to our monthly magazine, The Briefing, to North American readers. No obligation. No cost. Posted to you totally free. We just want you to get to know us a bit better, and this seems like a good way to do it.”
End Women’s Suffrage!
This video shows the absurdity of many petitions.
The Challenge of Attention in the Digital Age
I only skimmed this article by Dr. Mohler, but it looked good. “Courtney Martin identifies the state of our distracted minds as the primary cause of intellectual neglect. The static and noise of everyday life and the information overload combine to rob the mind of the capacity for attentiveness.”
Church to Debate Convert Motion
“A traditionalist Anglican has said he will continue with a campaign for the Church of England to work explicitly to convert Muslims to Christianity.” Many in the church do not wish to evangelize Muslims.
Hannitizing the GOP
Rick Pearcey on Hannity on a unified platform for the GOP in 2008.
Owen on Logos
The works of John Owen are in prepub for Logos. At $224.95 it’s a lot cheaper (and a lot more searchable) than the printed versions.
May 25, 2008

Continuing my new habit of posting prayers on Sunday, here is a prayer for Scriptural convictions. It is once more drawn from The Valley of Vision. It seemed appropriate in a week I’ve been considering how I tend not to regard Scripture as the treasure it is. This is a prayer praising God for the gift of the Bible and asking forgiveness for regarding it so little and so lightly.


O God of love,
I approach thee with encouragements derived from thy character,
for I am not left to feel after thee in the darkness of my nature,
nor to worship thee as the unknown God.
I cannot find out thy perfections,
but I know thou art good,
ready to forgive, plenteous in mercy.
Thou hast displayed thy wisdom, power, and goodness in all thy works,
and hast revealed thy will in the Scripture of truth.
Thou hast caused it to be preserved, translated, published, multiplied,
so that all men may possess it and find thee in it.
Here I see thy greatness and thy grace,
thy pity and thy rectitude,
thy mercy and thy truth,
thy being and men’s hearts;
Through it thou hast magnified thy name,
and favoured mankind with the gospel.
Have mercy on me,
for I have ungratefully received thy benefits,
little improved my privileges,
made light of spiritual things,
disregarded thy messages,
contended with examples of the good,
rebukes of conscience, admonitions of friends, leadings of providence.
I deserve that thy kingdom be taken away from me.
Lord, I confess my sin with feeling, lamentation, a broken heart,
a contrite spirit, self-abhorrence, self-condemnation, self-despair.
Give me relief by Jesus my hope,
faith in his name of Saviour,
forgiveness by his blood,
strength by his presence,
holiness by his Spirit:
And let me love thee with all my heart.

May 24, 2008

Inside Prince CaspianWith Disney’s adaptation of Prince Caspian having just arrived on the big screen, we have seen a flood of Narnia-related books hitting the store shelves. Readers who searched for books to coincide with the release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will be familiar with many of the authors and their books. Devin Brown’s Inside Prince Caspain is written in the same style and format as Inside Narnia. Leland Ryken’s and Marjorie Mead’s A Reader’s Guide To Caspian is the sequel to A Reader’s Guide Through the Wardrobe. And Christin Ditchfield’s A Family Guide to Prince Caspian is a follow-up to A Family Guide to the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

May 23, 2008

It is the Lord’s delight to give us what we ask of Him in prayer. Like David, we should all pray, “O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Psalm 54:2). If Christians did not believe in the efficacy of prayer, there would be no reason for us to ask anything of God. He is the one who tells us that we can have confidence that our prayers ascend to Him. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15). While as Christians we pay lip-service to the superlatives in that sentence (“whatever” and “anything”), how often do we really believe it?

The fact is that our prayers are often hindered. There are times when it feels like our prayers are reaching the ceiling and going no further; times when we are lying face-down on the floor and feel that our prayers are rising no higher than the fibers of the carpet. While we can be sure that God does hear our prayers, there are times when He chooses not to heed or answer them. In this brief article we’ll go over six reasons God may not heed our prayers. This list is incomplete, for there may be other ways our prayers are hindered, but it contains the most likely and significant ways.

It is important to know from the outset that I am the only one who can hinder my prayers. You are the only one who can hinder your prayers. I cannot hinder your prayers anymore than you can hinder mine. And while we may have done much to hinder our prayers, we are not necessarily even aware of this. So let’s look at these as six warnings from Scripture.

Selfish Motives

All humans are selfish. It is part of our human nature that we naturally regard our own interests ahead of the interests of others. And sadly, we often regard our own interests ahead of God’s. In the passage we read above, 1 John 5:14 and 15, the apostle tells us that our confidence comes from asking “according to his [God’s] will.” James similarly exhorts “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

So the first hindrance to our prayer is our motives. We must ask in accordance with God’s will as revealed in the Bible. We must ask only for things that are consistent with the character and nature of God. We must ask for things that are for the spiritual benefit of ourselves or for the person on whose behalf we pray. God will not answer our self-centered, self-serving prayers.

Turning Away From Scripture

If we are not spending time immersing ourselves in Scripture and are not obeying what we have learned, we should not expect God to answer our prayers. Our defiance in ignoring the life-giving Words of the Bible may hinder us from having our prayers answered. Solomon goes so far as to suggest that prayers made from such a hardened heart are an abomination to God. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).

When we read the Words of Scripture, we ask and encourage God to speak to us. He provides the understanding we need to live lives that bring glory to Him—lives that are increasingly consistent with His standards of grace and holiness. If we thumb our nose at the importance of this discipline and if we disobey what He teaches, He will not answer our prayers. Without submitting ourselves to Scripture, we may not even know what and how to pray. We pray best and most effectively when we are saturated in the Word of God.

Unforgiving Hearts

The Christian has been forgiven for the greatest of offenses. He has been forgiven for knowingly, purposely and unrepentantly transgressing the Law of God. And yet we are often slow to forgive our fellow man for the smallest of transgressions. Even the biggest of the sins committed against us are as nothing compared to how we sinned against God. God does not honor this attitude. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Our ongoing assurance of pardon before the Father is in some way dependent on our willingness to forgive others. We must be attentive to our hearts, to ensure that we are not harboring hatred and resentment towards others. If we have this attitude we should expect our prayers to be hindered.

Family Discord

It is God’s will that families live together in peace and harmony. It is, of course, impossible for us to live in perfect peace, but God demands that we maintain close relationships and that we seek harmony in our family relationships. It is foremost the responsibility of the father, as the head of the household, to ensure that there is not discord within the family. When this discord exists, especially in the relationship of a husband to his wife, his prayers may well be hindered. The apostle Peter, a married man himself, exhorted husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, being sensitive to their needs, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

The relationship between a husband and a wife is to reflect that of Christ to His church. It is to be a relationship of absolute love, adoration and sacrifice. If Christ gave His life for the church, how can a husband do any less for his wife? This is, of course, impossible when the relationship is strained or broken. Thus a man should examine his relationship with his wife to ensure this is not a hindrance to his prayers (and to hers).

Unconfessed Sin

Just as unforgiveness can hinder our prayers, so can sin in our lives that we have refused to confess before God. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18), says the Psalmist. Before we conclude that God has simply not heard or prayers or that it is not His will to give us what we ask, we need to examine our hearts to see if unconfessed sin stands as a barrier between ourselves and God.

While we need to continually examine our hearts, we need also to ask God to reveal our sin to us. We should ask those closest to us what they have observed in our lives. While God most often reveals sin through the reading of and meditating upon His Word, we should realize that if we do not learn our lesson from Scripture, He may have to resort to harsher tactics where our sin is revealed before others, even publicly. While this may be difficult and humiliating, He does so because He loves us and does not wish for this sin to continue to corrupt us and to stand as a barrier between Himself and us.

Doubt

God wants us to have confidence in His ability and willingness to provide what is necessary for us to attain to godliness. He wants us to believe that He can and will do what He says. Thus when we doubt—when we ask expecting rejection and when we ask almost hoping for rejection—we will hinder our prayers. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-7).

Our prayers cannot be separated from our faith. If we are to ask God, we must ask with expectancy, believing in our heart of hearts that God can and will give what we desire, provided that what we desire is really what we need and what will bring glory to Him! We are to ask with confidence and expectancy, praying out of the faith He has given us.

Conclusion

The eighteenth chapter of Luke is premised with the following words: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus goes on to share the parable of the persistent widow. It is a parable designed to teach the importance of persisting in prayer. It is God’s desire that we persist in our petitions before Him. When we ask and do not receive, we need to examine ourselves and question why our prayers are being hindered. Are we asking selfishly? Have we turned away from God, harbored unforgiveness in our hearts or ignored sin in our lives? Or have we allowed discord to creep into our families? These questions can lead us back to the Word of God, guide us to an examination of our hearts, and lead us back to sweet communion with the Lord.

May 23, 2008
Friday May 23, 2008 New Attitude Conference
The New Attitude Conference kicks off tomorrow. You can follow their blog to read live updates from the conference.
European Court Agrees to Hear Chimp’s Plea for Human Rights
Sometimes words just fail me.
Coming Soon from John Piper
John Piper has a blog post about the four (!) books he completed while on writing leave.
The Irrelevance of Relevance
At Stand to Reason’s blog is a short but good post on the losing game that is cultural relevance.
Strange Fire in Florida
Dan Edelen has some good things to say about the “revival” currently in swing in Lakeland, Florida.