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Tim Challies

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April 2009

April 22, 2009

A long time ago I added to this web site a little counter. It is way down at the bottom right of each page and it increments by one number each day. It simply tracks the number of days since I made a commitment to blog every day. That was back on October 1, 2003. I first put it there as a challenge and as a reminder to write something every day. I had found writing an important part of my walk with the Lord and wanted to be sure that I kept it up. And so that number reminded me to keep going. Through all of the years and all of the site changes, it has just kept faithfully incrementing, one number every 24 hours. After a while blogging each day became habitual but, for sake of tradition, I left the counter in place. Of course I don’t notice it often—it is just there as it has been since 2003.

Today that silly little counter ticked over to 2000.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this data. I’m pretty sure that such a thing (could it even be termed an accomplishment) is not commendable. I kind of think of Ashton Kutcher who recently became the first person with one million Twitter followers. Like, who cares, really, that a million people get to “hear” him tweet “I love that ppl feel obligated 2 let thier community know they R unfollowing me lol”? Or like those people who scarf down 98 hot dogs in five minutes. Are we impressed at their freakish capacities to do stupid things?

I don’t think blogging for 2000 consecutive days is something that anyone in the world would deem cool (and I say that on a day that I’m going to speak in front of over 100 fellow bloggers). It should probably be met with counseling or with medication more than it should be met with applause. But since so many of you have been along through at least a part of that journey (and just a few have been along throughout the entire journey) I thought it might be worth mentioning. I lay in bed this morning (I’m in Central Standard Time but my brain is still firmly fixed at home in Eastern Standard Time) thinking about all I’ve learned over the years and thinking of how the blogosphere has changed. And I tell you, it has been a long and interesting journey (and perhaps I should try to write down a few of those thoughts over the coming days). And I guess it’s one that is going to continue tomorrow when that little counter increments to 2001.

*****

People often ask me if I actually blog each day or if I write a week’s worth of posts on Monday and just queue them up. To be honest, I do at least some writing on 99% of the days. There are occasional times (vacations and such) when I do write in advance and then schedule the articles to post a day or two later. But mostly I wake up in the morning with a thought or a sentence or a topic in my head, I sit at my keyboard, and I just see what happens. It has been a very important discipline for me as a Christian and as a writer. I recently read Jerry Seinfeld’s response to how he got to be such a good comedian. He basically said that he has a calendar and he commits to writing every day, crossing off that day once he has written at least something. He’s found that brute force and commitment go a long way. And I guess I’ve found the same. I think I’ve become a better writer simply by writing so much and I think I’ve learned a lot about faith simply by spending so much time thinking and then writing about it.

Sometimes people also wonder if I am obsessed or if I could just walk away for a day or for a week. And yes, I’m convinced that I could—I just don’t see any reason to try it just to make a point. I would guess that the day will come sooner rather than later. I would also guess I won’t much care (though friends and family will since they assume that if there is nothing on my blog by mid-afternoon that I have died and they start calling to make sure everything is okay). It has been a fun challenge to try to say something at least halfway valuable every day, but I am not married to it.

And there are people who wonder if I have some brilliant long-term strategy for this blog. The answer, not surprisingly, is no. That’s just not the way my brain works. I rarely think more than a day or two in advance and have really never done so. I try to keep the content here reasonably new, reasonably fresh and a reasonable reflection of what’s going on in my life as I try to live for Christ. There are times when I am tempted to think of strategy and the “could-be’s.” I know that I break the majority of the rules for good blogging—write short posts, use lots of subheadings, add some graphics, make your posts skimmable, be controversial, etc, etc. In fact, probably only 20% of the people who started reading this post have gotten this far simply because, once again, I’ve broken all the rules. But in the end I just can’t get away from the thought that I’ve been enjoying the site pretty much as it is and that I don’t fancy making any great changes. Que sera.

April 22, 2009
Porn and Paper Pastors
Beneath this nicely-alliterated title is an excellent article from Dan Phillips. “This post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage. It is about people with paper pastors.”
How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read
Here is an article from WSJ about the end of the book and the dawn of the e-book. “I knew then that the book’s migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social.”
Yesterday We Lost a Member of our Church Family
Z: ” His name was Matt. He had a very unique and amazing story.”
Great Book Deals
This pastor continues to sell some great books at great prices on eBay.
April 21, 2009

Why Johnny Can't PreachNineteen sixty-six saw the publication of a book titled Why Johnny Can’t Read. Its author, Rudolf Flesh, explained in it that societal changes were leading to illiteracy; children were increasingly unable to read, at least with the effectiveness of the children of years gone by. By the 1980’s, Linden and Whimbey had followed with Why Johnny Can’t Write in which they showed the similar societal trends were now keeping Johnny (a generic name used to refer to any child, male or female) from expressing himself in writing. T. David Gordon has self-consciously titled Why Johnny Can’t Preach after these books because he uses it to argue that the same societal trends that kept Johnny from being able to read and write have kept a generation of ministers from being able to preach. Johnny just can’t preach and Gordon just can’t take it anymore.

April 20, 2009

Like all Christians, I love my quiet time. I am always thrilled at the prospect of sitting down for a few quiet moments before a busy day to spend some time alone with God—a few moments one-on-one with my Creator. I love to open the Bible and to carefully and systematically read the Word of God, allowing it to penetrate my heart. I love to sit and think deeply and meditatively about the Scriptures and to seek ways that I can apply God’s word to my heart. I love to pray to God, pouring out my heart in confession, praise, thanksgiving and petition. It is always the best and greatest part of my day. I couldn’t live without my quiet time.

But that’s not reality, is it?

I sometimes love my quiet time. I am sometimes thrilled at the prospect of sitting down to spend some time with God; too often, though, I dread it. I’d rather catch up on the news or spend some time writing or reading a good book or find out how badly the Blue Jays beat the A’s the day before. My quiet time is often invaded by little children, demanding my time and attention. Too often I hate to make my way through a difficult book of the Bible and dread spending another day reading through the prophecies of Isaiah. Thinking requires more time and effort than I am willing to give and it usually seems that a quick, cursory prayer is enough to make me feel that I’ve done my duty and asked God to bless my day and to forgive me for being a jerk with my kids the night before. I skim Scripture, breathe a prayer, and settle down to my breakfast.

That’s a little closer to reality, right?

In The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges provides two scenarios and then a question. In the first, he describes a good day. “You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as you read your Bible and pray. Your plans for the day generally fall into place, and you somehow sense that presence of God with you. To top it off, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is truly searching. As you talk with the person, you silently pray for the Holy Spirit to help you and to also work in your friend’s heart.” We’ve all had days like that. But we’ve also all had days like this: “You don’t arise at the first ring of your alarm. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you awaken, it’s too late to have a quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the day’s activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things just generally go wrong all day. You become more and more irritable as the day wears on, and you certainly don’t sense God’s presence in your life. That evening, however, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior.” Bridges then asks if you would enter into those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence. Think about it for a moment. If you’re like most Christians, I suspect you would feel less confident about witnessing on a bad day then on a good day. You would feel less confidence that God would speak in and through you and that you would be able to share your faith forcefully and with conviction.

Why is it that we tend to think this way? According to Bridges, we’ve come to believe that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditional upon our spiritual performance. In other words, if we’ve performed well and done our quiet time as we ought to have done, we have put ourselves in a place where God can bless us. We may not consciously articulate this, but we prove that we believe it when we have a bad day and are certain that on this day we are absolutely unworthy of God’s blessings. This attitude “reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: the thinking that, although we are saved by grace, we earn or forfeit God’s blessings in our daily lives by our performance.”

Perhaps you, like me, have too often turned quiet time into a performance. If you perform well for God, you enter your day filled with confidence that God will bless you, and that He will have to bless you. You feel that your performance has earned you the right to have a day filled with His presence, filled with blessings, and filled with confidence. And, of course, when you turn in a poor performance, you feel that God is in heaven booing you and heaving proverbial rotten vegetables in the form of removing His presence and, in the words of a friend, “dishing out bummers.”

Quiet time becomes tyrannical when you understand it as a performance. Bridges provides a pearl of wisdom. “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” Whether you are having a good day or a bad day, the basis of your relationship with is not your performance, for even your best efforts are but filthy rags. Instead, your relationship is based on grace. Grace does not just save you and then leave you alone. No, grace saves you and then sustains you and equips you and motivates you. You are saved by grace and you then live by grace. Whether in the midst of a good day or bad, God does not base His relationship with you on performance, but on whether or not you are trusting in His Son.

Greg Johnson of St. Louis Center for Christian Study wrote an interesting tract entitled “Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt.” Johnson wrote about something I had only recently realized myself. “That half hour every morning of Scriptural study and prayer is not actually commanded in the Bible.” Imagine that. He goes on to say, “As a theologian, I can remind us that to bind the conscience where Scripture leaves freedom is a very, very serious crime. It’s legalism rearing its ugly little head again. We’ve become legalistic about a legalistic command. This is serious.” We have somehow allowed our quiet time, in its length, depth or consistency, to become the measure of our relationship with God. But “your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible.” So what, then, does Scripture command? It commands that the Word of God be constantly upon your heart. You are to pray, to read the Scripture and to meditate upon it, but you are to do so from a joyful desire, and not mere performance-based duty. You are to do so throughout your whole life, and not merely for a few minutes each morning. Like Johnson, you will come to realize that the “goal isn’t that we pray and read the Bible less, but that we do so more—and with a free and needy heart.”

So do not allow quiet time to become performance. View it as a chance to grow in grace. Begin with an expression of your dependency upon God’s grace, and end with an affirmation of His grace. Acknowledge that you have no right to approach God directly, but can approach Him only through the work of His Son. Focus on the gospel as the message of grace that both saves and sustains. And allow quiet time to become a gift of worship you present to God, and a gift of grace you receive from Him.

April 20, 2009
Mary Kassian on The Shack
Mary Kassian, author of The Feminine Mistake writes about William Young’s portrayal of God in The Shack: “The Shack contains terribly wrong concepts about God. Plain and simple. If you think it doesn’t, then you’re well on your way to accepting the image of the Christa on the cross. In a few years, you’ll be hanging her up in your church. I don’t think I’m overstating the case.”
Venturing Some More
My friend Ryan offers some good thoughts on trusting Christ even through difficult circumstances. “We are depending daily on God’s provision for meeting our needs. Now, I do realize that even Bill Gates relies on God for his very life and comforts each day (whether Bill knows it or not), but being strapped for cash makes that dependence more tangible. But I began to examine how much I was really trusting in God, and found resistance in different areas of my heart.”
Twin Lakes Audio
The audio for Twin Lakes Fellowship is now available online. Speakers include Ligon Duncan, Derek Thomas and Terry Johnson.
Need Calvinized?
Dr. David Murray brings a video introduction to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary’s upcoming conference “Calvin for the 21st Century.” He wants you to know that this conference is targeted not primary at pastors or seminarians but at “ordinary Christians.”
Deals of the Day from Monergism Books
Monergism Books is offering two titles at a 53% discount: Fathers & Sons: Stand Fast in the Way of Truth and Fathers & Sons: Hold Fast in a Broken World. Also, Revolutions in Worldview is available at a 50% discount.
April 19, 2009

It has been too long, I think, since I’ve posted a prayer from The Valley of Vision. This one, titled “Humility in Service,” seems appropriate for a Sunday morning as the day will undoubtedly bring us many opportunities to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and many opportunities to share the Good News with those who do not yet know the Lord.

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected,
words ill-advised,
I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps,
my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behaviour, provoking pettiness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;
If I have turned coldly from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me:
If I have withheld relief from penury and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me.

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive,
the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;
Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness arising from
the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties,
my unimproved advantages, thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy may I remember
that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.

April 18, 2009

The following quote comes from Iain Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided (on page 291 if you must know). I think it offers good food for thought (even on a Saturday morning).

The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.

So if we would have true unity, we must have theology. We are to share, profess and enjoy unity with other believers, even those who do not share certain “lesser” doctrines. This is not to imply that any doctrine is unimportant, but simply that some are more important than others. J.C. Ryle wisely observed that believers should “keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.” But there are times when we must reject supposed unity because of the higher importance of truth and sound doctrine. To repeat Murray’s words, “it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world.” Nor will it ever be.

April 17, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

With a new Friday comes a new Free Stuff Fridays giveaway. This week’s sponsor is Moody Publishers. They are offering a package of some of their most popular new releases. There will be five winners, each of whom will receive:

  1. Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies by Steve and Candice Watters
  2. Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen by Candice Watters
  3. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley
  4. The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently About Your Relationship Can Change Everything by Mitch Temple
  5. Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung

moody.jpg

All you need to do to have a chance at winning is to add your name and email address to the form below.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes tonight at midnight.