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December 2008

December 31, 2008

Yet another year is giving us its last gasps. Tonight we’ll celebrate the passing of an old year and the dawning of a new one. It is a good occasion, a good opportunity, to reflect on the year that was and the year that will be. To that end, here is a prayer drawn from The Valley of Vision. It shares hope and encouragement for the new year. It is a good one to include in your prayers as you look forward to 2009.

O Lord,
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service, to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me They grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
May Thy fear by my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.

December 30, 2008

Continued from yesterday…

Every now and again my son decides the time is right to build a paper airplane air force. He raids my printer to get the stacks of paper he’ll need and then opens up The Dangerous Book for Boys to try out some of the designs printed in that book. But after building a few of these he inevitably wants to try some new planes—some bombers or fighters, perhaps. So he and I head to Google and go searching for new and creative ways of building paper airplanes. There are all kinds of sites that show photographs of amazing designs and give instructions on how to build them. Some of the instructions are descriptive: “fold the paper in half lengthwise and then undo the folds. Now, fold the paper from the top corner to the crease and then halfway back again. Tear a small line between the corner and the centerline and fold that new section into three equal parts.” And so it goes. We have found these instructions nearly impossible to follow. For all their best efforts, these sites cannot adequately describe how to build the planes. Far more helpful are the sites that offer videos or even animated graphic files that show the steps. This allows us to follow along, step-by-step, as the expert builds his plane and leads us with him. If you’ve ever tried to build Origami or other similar crafts you’ll undoubtedly have encountered the same limitation—telling is rarely as useful as showing.

Yesterday I wrote about the potentially tragic consequences of using the wrong measure. You’ll remember the story of the Gimli Glider, the airliner that ran out of fuel 5 miles above the earth because a fueling technician had made a simple error. He had used the wrong measure, dispatching the plane with 22,300 pounds of fuel instead of 22,300 kilograms. Only the skill of an outstanding pilot and God’s kind providences kept the situation from turning tragic.

As we evaluate our lives and as we try to live in a way that pleases God, we are constantly measuring and weighing. We are holding ourselves up against a certain standard and seeing how we compare to it. There are times—too many times—that we or I, at any rate, don’t let me speak for you, hold myself to the wrong standard. I compare myself to other people. I look to my friends or family or pastors or even complete strangers and compare myself to them. Often I come out looking pretty good. They are, after all, sinners just as I am. Their sin gives me hope and gives me peace. I may be a sinner, but at least I’ve never done that! Well, not recently, anyways. Or perhaps their godliness stirs my heart with envy. How could they be so immune to that this sin or that one? Why can’t I be free from that sin? What does it say about me that I continue to struggle with it?

There is a great danger in this habit. As I look to others and as I measure my godliness, my growth in grace by the standard of other people, I may learn to despise their godliness and to rejoice in their sin. After all, if they are my standard, their growth in grace calls into question my own. At the same time, their fall into sin will gladden me as I rejoice in not having fallen so far or so hard. I’ve looked to the wrong standard and have reached the wrong goals.

God does not call me to hold myself to the standard set by other Christians. My task is not to look to them and measure myself by that standard. No, I am always to compare myself to the measure he gave. Our measure is God himself. Our measure is perfection.

Jesus came to this earth and lived a life worthy of emulation. He lived a life that perfectly modeled God’s standard. He gave me the measure. So as I seek to evaluate my life and as I seek to understand whether I am growing in godly character, I am to compare myself to Christ. God did not merely tell me how to live in a way that pleases him, but went so far as to show me. He gave me far more than a guide book filled with instructions and more than a list of do’s and don’ts. He gave me an example to perfectly model to us the way he wants me to live.

What character trait could I want that was not already perfectly modeled by Christ? As he laid aside his glory and took on human flesh, he modeled sympathy, becoming what we are. As he washed the feet of his disciples, Christ modeled humility. As he prayed for his accusers, he modeled forgiveness. As he taught his followers he modeled patient, kind, servant leadership. As he died for those who had turned their backs on him, he modeled love. In all these ways he showed us how we are to live.

And so my life is to be a life lived by looking constantly to Christ. Am I seeking to grow in humility? I need to look to Christ! Am I wondering if I’ve been growing in my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ? I must look to Christ! Do I seek to grow in my ability to lead my family? I must follow the example of Christ!

He is the measure. He is the standard. He has modeled for me all that I need to be and do. He has not just told me, but has shown me. He has not merely given the standard, but has lived it and been it. And this frees me to live a life that looks to the right standard and the best standard—a life free from the bitter jealously and agonizing defeat that would come by comparing myself as a sinner to sinners. I look to his perfect measure, knowing that I cannot perfectly attain it, but trusting that the same power that enabled him to be perfect is the power in me that is helping me fight sin and that will some day free me from it altogether. It is the power that helps me look forward to that great day when sin will be no more.

December 29, 2008

On July 23, 1983, Flight 143, an Air Canada Boeing 767, lifted off from Montreal’s Montreal-Dorval International Airport on its way to Edmonton, Alberta. On board were 69 passengers and crew. Sometime around the flight’s halfway mark, while over the tiny community of Red Lake, Ontario, near the border of Manitoba, an alarm sounded in the cockpit, indicating that there was a problem with the fuel pressure on one side of the aircraft. The pilots, assuming that a fuel pump had failed, took corrective action and determined that the flight could continue. But just moments later, they received a similar warning from the other side of the aircraft. Immediately one of the engines failed and the pilots prepared to make an immediate landing at Winnipeg’s airport, the closest airport with a runway of sufficient length for a wide body jet. At this point there was no great emergency, for modern aircraft are designed to fly on just one engine. However, as the pilots spoke to the air traffic controllers in Winnipeg, they heard a new alarm, one neither man could remember hearing before. It was an alarm indicating that both engines were failing. Within seconds, many of the cockpit’s instruments went blank and an eerie silence settled over the plane as the second engine ground to a halt. Flight 143 had run out of fuel 28,000 feet above the ground.

Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal were faced with a nearly impossible task. They had to land a modern airliner, a 300,000 pound glider, without engines, without power, without most of their instruments. This event was nearly unprecedented in aviation history and neither their training nor their flight manuals had prepared them for such an event. Quick calculations showed that they would not be able to glide all the way to Manitoba. Captain Pearson suggested they try to land at his old air force base at Gimli, Manitoba. He was unaware that the air strip at Gimli had since been decommissioned and had become a drag strip. The runway had been divided into two lanes with a guard rail running along the middle. That very day was “Family Day” at the races and the area surrounding the runway was covered in cars and campers while racing fans enjoyed the day’s events. The pilots turned their plane toward Gimli, unaware of all of this.

As the aircraft approached Gimli, the skill of the pilots was tested to the extreme. Captain Pearson was an avid glider pilot and knew many of the tricks of the trade. He used one of these, executing an incredible forward slip maneuver to slow the plane and reduce altitude just before landing. Amazingly, he managed to put the plane down on the runway and to bring it to a halt without careening into the crowds. There had been insufficient power to drop the nose wheel and it collapsed as the plane touched down. This was the only major damage sustained by the aircraft. All 69 passengers and crew escaped unharmed. The 767 was quickly repaired and remained in service for almost 25 years more before being retired on January 1 of 2008. Both pilots were awarded the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship.

A subsequent investigation quickly discovered what had gone wrong with the plane now referred to as the Gimli Glider. At that time Canada was in the process of converting from the imperial to the metric system of measurements. The pilot had correctly calculated the amount of fuel that would be needed to fly from Montreal to Edmonton. However, the technician responsible for fueling had incorrectly factored the conversion from metric to imperial. Flight 143 left Montreal not with 22,300 kilograms of fuel as it needed, but with 22,300 pounds, just over half of the amount necessary for that long flight. It was a simple case of looking to the wrong standard, the wrong measure, and it nearly led to tragic consequences.

I thought of this story yesterday as I pondered my tendency to adhere to wrong standards. I thought about that part of my heart, that awful depraved part, that loves to hear about the faults, the sins, the depravity of others. It is this part of my heart that holds me up to an easy standard and a wrong standard—the standard of other people. I love to measure my heart, my faith by comparing myself to others. And inevitably I often look good in comparison. We are, after all, a sinful bunch who constantly find new and creative ways of sinning against God.

There is a better measure.

To be continued tomorrow…

Gimli Glider

December 28, 2008

Let me share again today a prayer from The Valley of Vision that great collection of Puritan prayers. This one seems appropriate as we approach the end of another year and look forward to the year beyond.

O Love beyond Compare,
Thou art good when thou givest,
when thou takest away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.
December 27, 2008

Christians love their conferences. Calvinists love their conferences. Put the two together and, well, you’ve got an awful lot of events in any given year. Many major ministries offer their annual conferences along with a selection of regional conferences; churches offer small conferences designed to serve a local constituency; ministries like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition offer bi-annual conferences designed to attract and coordinate pastors or ministry leaders from around the nation and around the world. If you live in the United States, it is likely that you do not have to travel very far to find a great conference in the coming year.

All of this got me wondering: how many conferences do you anticipate attending this year? I’ve changed up the poll on this site so you can vote and let us know how many you’ll be at least attempting to attend.

Do note that if you are reading this via RSS, you’ll have to click through to the site to actually answer. All voting is anonymous…

December 26, 2008

I’m mostly taking time off through the end of this week, but wanted to share a few links I found round and about.

The first shares the sad news that Disney has decided to walk away from the Chronicles of Narnia films. This leaves Walden Media looking for another distributor who can take them on (which Fox probably being the most obvious contender). It’s not that the movies were losing money; far from it, really. It’s just that they were not turning enough of a profit for the investment and that there was a significant reduction in profit from the first to the second. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been in pre-production and there is no word on whether that will now cease or if it will continue while Walden shops the franchise. It also calls into question whether, even if the franchise does continue, they can secure the same actors and actresses. So here is hoping a studio like Fox can see some good in the franchise and pick it up without completely destroying it. And here’s hoping they can turn the future films into something better than Prince Caspian which was, at least in most people’s eyes, not nearly as good as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You can read more details here.

Second, I don’t know what the Media Research Center is, but I had a great time reading through their 2008 quotes of the year. Awards were handed out in categories such as The Obamagasm Award, From Camelot to Obamalot Award, Politics of Meaninglessness Award for the Silliest Analysis, and so on. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews won “Quote of the Year” for this doozy: [Listening to Obama], “I felt this thrill going up my leg!” You can read more at this link.

And finally, this looks like a great program. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got quite a few Bibles lying around your home—Bibles that have been replaced at one time or another and are now just gathering dust. You don’t want to throw them out, but also don’t quite know what to do with them. Well here is one way of putting them to good use. You can bare your bookshelf and send the books to pastors in other parts of the world. Christian Resources International has a program in place that will help you do just that. “Just enter your name, address, and denomination in the form below, and then we’ll send you—free—all the mailing materials you need to send a Bible to a specific pastor, Christian worker, church member, or seeker overseas. We’ll send you the recipient’s name and address, so you can pray for the recipient by name.” You can go to the post office (if you’re in the U.S., at least) and send that envelope anywhere in the world for only $12. And, because ” the mailing materials bear CRI’s return address, you need not worry that you’ll be personally contacted by anyone overseas.” Take a look at the program and see if it may be a good way of finally clearing out some of those old Bibles.

December 25, 2008

Here is a brief introduction to a Challies family Christmas. It’s really the only kind of Christmas I’ve ever known and it’s one I’ve come to love.

I grew up as part of a tradition that celebrated Christmas but did not generally emphasize it as a day to remember the birth of Jesus. It was not quite a secular holiday, but neither was it a sacred one. Aileen’s family was quite similar. So our Christmas traditions include little by the way of reading nativity stories or lighting candles. It’s also worth mentioning that our Christmas traditions are evolving as time goes on. Now that my family has moved to the U.S., we spend every second Christmas in the south. My parents and all of my siblings gather (from Toronto, New York City, Atlanta and Chattanooga) and we celebrate Christmas together. This is an off-year for us, meaning that we are at home in Canada.

We had a quiet Christmas Eve and mostly focused on getting the children to bed at a good hour. Last night I convinced Aileen to let me open one of my gifts which I knew was the complete Faulty Towers. That kept us occupied between the kids’ bedtime and our own. Just before bed we laid out the stockings and made sure the gifts were where they needed to be. We don’t do the Santa thing.

Christmas morning we began with stockings for the children and then ate our traditional breakfast of home made croissants and bacon and egg rings (which my mom made when I was a kid and I make now). Those bacon and egg rings are made in muffin tins and are really quite delicious—much better than standard bacon and eggs. That’s a tradition that goes back as far as I can remember. After breakfast we got to work and began opening gifts, moving from youngest to oldest and going until they were done (and since we’re not huge gift-givers, this doesn’t take too long). And now we’re just taking it easy and looking toward the afternoon when we’ll be going to Aileen’s folk’s place. And, of course, we’re helping the kids build Lego sets, charge up batteries, figure out instructions, and so on. We’ll be spending the day fairly quietly, just enjoying family and lots of good food.

And that’s about all. We try to keep Christmas fairly simple and low-key. It’s usually just about the best day of the year.

From me and from my family to you and to yours…Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2008

A couple of days ago I was a guest on a radio program, discussing my favorite books from 2008. At one point the host asked what books I am looking forward to reading next year. I thought I’d share just a short list here. This is based only on books that have been announced or that I’ve somehow discovered in my online wanderings.

As you probably know, 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Hence we are going to see several Calvin biographies. It is actually surprising how few there are today; I’ve little doubt that this will be remedied next year. So for those of us who are indebted to Calvin but who know little about him, next year should offer a bounty of good resources. I hope to read at least two or three of those biographies.

2009 also marks Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The New York Times says “Throw in the fact that the next president of the United States, like Lincoln, is a former state legislator from Illinois, and an African-American who says he has been reading the writings of the man who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and you have, well, Lincoln-mania.” Because his birthday is in February, we can expect several biographies and other resources in the early months of the year. It’s not like we are suffering from a lack of top-notch biographies on Lincoln, but I expect to see the field grow even more crowded. Ronald C. White’s A. Lincoln: A Biography looks as if it may be the best of the bunch.

There are two books releasing on almost the same day (and for almost the same price—only $0.01 separates them) titled Finding God in The Shack. I’ll probably read them.

We will undoubtedly see a deluge of good Christian books next year. Some of the ones I am looking forward to are:

  • The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington (disclosure: I’ve already read it and written an endorsement for it. It’s a very good book)
  • Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random … Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung. Of the writing of books dealing with God’s will there is no end; but this one looks both interesting and unique.
  • Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce Ware.
  • The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by Albert Mohler.
  • This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence by John Piper. He waited many years to write this book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

How about you? What books are you looking forward to reading next year?