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Tim Challies

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June 2009

June 30, 2009

Does Grace Grow Best in WinterTo live is to suffer. It is sadly inevitable that in this sinful world, we will all suffer. Some suffer more than others and some suffer for different reasons than others. But the fact remains that all of us will face hardship and pain. Knowing this, we are wise to arm ourselves for those times, to prepare ourselves for the inevitable affliction. Does Grace Grow in Winter?, authored by Ligon Duncan and J. Nicholas Reid is just the kind of book that does this so well, offering wise, biblical, pastoral counsel useful to those in the fight and to those only preparing to fight. The book considers suffering in the light of the sovereignty of our wise and loving God.

June 30, 2009
How Rude Was Jesus?
This week Mounce looks to Jesus’ words to his mother at the wedding of Cana to seek to understand whether (as many have said) those words were rude.
Letter to a Pastors’ Wife
From the True Woman blog: “Believe it or not, one of the things I would love to be is … a pastor’s wife! Obviously, there’s not much I can do about that. But, I did have fun asking several current and former pastors’ wives to share their words of wisdom with me—just in case God has this in store for me. The following letter is from my current pastor’s wife, Holly. I love it. I hope it will help you as you seek to support, love, and respect your pastor and his wife as they shoulder the responsibilities and burdens of shepherding the church daily. So, here you are…”
Keeping a Child’s Gender a Secret
Jill Stanek reports on this awful story. “Pop’s parents, both 24, made a decision when their baby was born to keep Pop’s sex a secret. Aside from a select few - those who have changed the child’s diaper - nobody knows Pop’s gender; if anyone enquires, Pop’s parents simply say they don’t disclose this information.”
Firefox 3.5 Review
Firefox 3.5 releases today and Slate has an early review. If you’re still using Internet Explorer, this is probably a good day to make the switch.
Deal of the Day: Ligonier Clearance
Ligonier Ministries has a great clearance area where you can get some good bargains. For example, Onward Christian Soldiers which originally sold for $16.00 is now marked down to just $6.08. There are lots of good titles, both new and old.
June 29, 2009

Earlier this morning I finished up Richard J. Evans’ The Third Reich at War, a very long, very thorough, very interesting tracing of the rise and fall of German military might from 1939 to 1945. More than just another account of the Second World War, this book looks to battles, but also to atrocities and to the German home front. It provides an overall perspective on the German experience of war, from the men on the front lines, to the Jews in concentration camps, to the men and women who lived in the cities and worked in the factories. It goes so far as to look at German art and music during the war. It is, in a word, thorough.

Whenever I read about Germany in the Second World War, I am amazed that so many normal people, people not unlike you and me, were involved in acts of astounding evil. While many Germans disagreed with the wholesale extermination of Jews and Gypsies and people with mental disabilities, few had the will or courage to voice their disagreements. Many were complicit in these crimes, many others were actively involved, even if they did not fully support the ideology behind them. We read of otherwise ordinary men who murdered hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of helpless people. We read of monsters who found joy in torture and mutilation. We read of doctors, sworn to protect human life, who instead took the opportunity to carry out barbarous experiments on young children, torturing them and killing them with no apparent attack of conscience. Surely Satan had a field day in Germany in those days.

As I read about these crimes, these atrocities, my heart cries out for justice. This is a natural cry, I think, and a good one. Yet so often it seems that these people got away with their crimes. Hitler, the mastermind of it all, died in 1945, but did so at his own hand. A bullet to the head hardly seems to satisfy the demands of justice based on the lives of 6 million Jews and countless millions of other lives destroyed in the war he began. It almost seems that he got away with it. Or Josef Mengele who carried out ruthless medical experiments at Auschwitz and, who after the war, escaped to South America where he lived in relative peace until he died of a stroke in 1979. Where is the justice in this? Did he get away with it?

When we read in the Bible that the law of God is written on our hearts, surely this is some of what we mean—that we have a sense of justice and that we want this sense of justice to be served, to be satisfied. We also know from Scripture that justice will be served. Indeed, it must be served. And we want it to be served. Justice is “the quality of being just or fair;” it is “judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments.” But it is more. A Christian definition of justice goes further. Justice is the due reward or punishment for an act. God must punish evil. We know this. We tremble at this thought. Or we ought to.

God must punish evil. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we are shocked at the reality that He willingly paid the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in Him, even those who have committed unimaginable sins. When I believed in Him I saw that He suffered for me. I deserve to be punished for all those things I’ve done to forsake Him. But Jesus, through His great mercy, accepted this punishment on my behalf. Justice has been served.

But those who do not turn to Him must be punished for their own sin. And it is here that we see how justice will be served. The sin of even a man as blatantly evil as Adolph Eichmann, who relentlessly hunted down Jews throughout the Reich, differs from mine only in degree. He and I are both sinners through and through. We are both sinners in thought, word and deed. But God has seen fit to extend grace to restrain me from doing all of the evil I’d otherwise so love to do. And He has accepted Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf. Justice has already been served on my behalf. But for those who do not turn to Christ, justice is still in the future. Justice hovers just over the horizon.

We do not look forward to the punishment of another person with a sick glee. We do not rejoice in what they must suffer. But we do look forward to the fact that justice will finally be served. God will not and cannot allow sin to be unpunished. And while we are humbled by the grace that is ours through Christ, we still thank God that there will be justice. We do not have unlimited license to sin knowing that death allows us to escape just punishment. Instead we see that death is just the beginning, just the entrance, to the courtroom where justice will be served. Death is no escape.

June 29, 2009
World Reaction to Jackson’s Death
When a celebrity dies I’m often amazed to see how many people had, in a sense, lived vicariously through him. This is easy to see in this photo essay of people remembering Michael Jackson.
Piper vs. Wright on Justification
Trevin Wax has an article in Christianity Today that serves as a primer on the justification debate between Piper and Wright. It is a good way of getting oriented in the debate.
See it to Believe it
This car makes quite the statement.
Counting the Cost of Sexual Immorality
Randy Alcorn: “About twenty-five years ago, while pastors at Good Shepherd Community Church, my friend Alan Hlavka and I both developed lists of all the specific consequences we could think of that would result from our immorality as pastors. The lists were devastating, and to us they spoke more powerfully than any sermon or article on the subject.”
The Buzz Around the SBC Meetings
Denny Burk explains why there’s a bit of a buzz around this year’s SBC meetings (at least if you read certain blogs!).
Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics
Just owning this set of four volumes adds about 3 points to your I.Q. and is guaranteed to impress your friends. Monergism Books is offering it $79 or a 61% discount.
June 28, 2009

In his book The Truth of the Cross, R.C. Sproul spends some time discussing the human condition and as he does so he uses three biblical concepts: debtors, enemies, and criminals. The Bible describes all of us in these terms. What Sproul does here, and this really helped it hit home for me, is show how it is always the Father who has been offended and the Son who intercedes. We have committed crimes against God and are, thus, justly termed criminals. The Father stands as Judge, passing the just sentence of death. But Christ stands between us and the Father, acting as substitute. Our sin puts us in debt to God so that we are debtors to Him. God is the creditor who demands repayment, but Christ stands in as surety. And sin puts us at enmity with God, making us His enemies. He has been violated by our sin, but Christ intercedes as mediator, opening the way between man and God.

Sproul breaks this down into the following simple table:

Sin As…ManGodChrist
DebtDebtorCreditorSurety
EnmityEnemyViolated OneMediator
CrimeCriminalJudgeSubstitute

He concludes this: “Christ, then, is the One Who made satisfaction. By His work on the cross, He satisfied the demands of God’s justice with regard to our debt, our state of enmity, and our crime. In light of the facts of God’s justice and our sinfulness, it is not difficult to see the absolute necessity of the atonement.”

What a great Savior!

June 27, 2009

I thought you would enjoy this quote from Jim Andrew’s Polishing God’s Monuments (one of my favorite books from a couple of years ago). This book, which offers “pillars of hope for punishing times” tells Andrews’ story of faith and perseverance through almost unbelievable suffering. This man writes from hard experience and here he offers sound, biblical wisdom.

*****

When the Lord’s ways do not neatly conform to our pat little paradigms of what seems (to our fallible minds) right and just, and good and faithful, it says something about human nature that usually the first thought that comes to mind is that something is wrong with God. Somehow the last thing that occurs to us is that God is simply too big for our small boxes. It is imperative at such times that we learn to be humble, not haughty. God always deserves the benefit of the doubt. And, faith always pleads with us, “Dear soul, trust in God’s power, trust God’s wisdom, trust God’s goodness, trust God’s faithfulness—even though to your mixed-up, emotionally over-charged mind he doesn’t seem to be living up to his resume or promises. Just do it anyways.

Christian common sense should also remind us that divine revelation is always a far more reliable barometer of reality that our personal perceptions, distorted as they are by how we think a moral and upright God is obliged to behave in this situation or that. Friends, my advice is this: discount personal feelings—rest in the biblical facts. Don’t always be awash in how things seem; anchor your faith on how divine revelation says they are. Never allow blind emotions to float you off into the open sea of doubt.

With that adjustment, one can trust his goodness even when God may not seem to be good; one can trust his wisdom even when he may not seem to be wise; one can trust he is acting in character even when he may not seem to be measuring up to his own revealed profile; one can trust his power even when it seems he is weak; one can trust his faithfulness even when it seems he is not being faithful.

June 26, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s Friday and, as you know, that brings us to another edition of Free Stuff Fridays—an opportunity for you to win some free product from a great sponsor. This week’s sponsor is Timberdoodle, a supplier of homeschooling curriculum and related material. They are offering five great prizes. Each of five winners will be able to select a set of Jungle Doctor books (there are two sets of six books—winners will be able to select one or the other). This is what they say about these books:

Popular For A Reason
In the 1940s there was probably no more crucial calling than that of a missionary, no more intriguing place than Africa, and no more gratifying task than that of a doctor. Mix the three together and you have a series of mesmerizing children’s books that have inspired multiple generations of children to serve God regardless of the cost.

Bringing Medical Help To A Primitive Culture
Born in 1910, Paul White was an extraordinary Australian missionary who labored several years as a physician in the African nation of Tanzania. The Jungle Doctor series is based on his experiences working in the bush and recounts the struggles of providing medicine in a primitive colonial hospital.

Epidemics, Drug Dealers, Witchdoctors, Wildlife… vs. The Gospel
But epidemics weren’t the only battle the doctor faced. Satan used drug dealers, witchdoctors, and menacing wildlife in an attempt to choke out the doctor’s Gospel message. Yet Paul, clearly a gifted communicator, effectively shared God’s love with Tanzanian families in a unique way that made complete sense to them. If your family likes read aloud books, know that these are some of best, for there is much to discuss in nearly every chapter. From the idiosyncrasies of the Australian language and how diseases are spread to the dark side of unbelief, each volume is an education in itself. First published in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Jungle Doctor series has been translated into more than eighty languages, including Braille, and is newly reprinted for another generation.

You can read more by looking at the first set or the second set at the Timberdoodle site.

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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 Saturday at noon.


June 26, 2009

So the king is dead. What a sad end to a sad life; a pathetic end to a pathetic life (by which I mean to use pathetic in its true sense as “arousing pity and sympathy). I don’t know that I have ever seen, in one man, such a combination of self-love and self-loathing, shocking narcissism combined with equally shocking self-hatred. Truly Michael Jackson was unparalleled.

Andrew Sullivan offered a few interesting thoughts.

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours’ and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.

I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life. And I pray that such genius will not be so abused again.

From beginning to end, Jackson led a tortured life and he led much of it in full view of the public. As much as he was secretive, being whisked about behind masks and tinted windows, the sheer volume of cameras and the unending interest in his life meant that his every step was recorded. We saw him change his skin color, change his face, and almost change his gender. Through it all, we gasped at his obvious self-loathing, expressed in his desire to change everything he is and was and manifested in his increasingly bizarre behavior. He was a tortured soul and I doubt we can even imagine what was going on inside that increasingly twisted heart, that increasingly conflicted mind.

Michael Jackson was in so many ways a product of this sick celebrity culture (that he helped create) that will never rest satisfied until it has both created and then destroyed the newest celebrity. We want our celebrities to start strong and finish weak, to begin with a bang and then fizzle, pop and sputter, all for our enjoyment and entertainment (Susan Boyle stands as the most recent example of this). Jackson gave us so much to talk about, so much to enjoy. More than any other celebrity he embodied the “vanities” of Ecclesiastes. He was at one time known for what he did so well and then was known for being a freak; he was at one time fantastically wealthy and then utterly broke; he was once loved and then despised. He had it all and yet, it seemed, he had nothing. All of it was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Andrew Sullivan ended his reflection on Jackson by saying, “I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life.” I hope the same. Truly, I do. I never cared much for Michael Jackson. I listened to his music occasionally in life but, after losing my childhood collection of 45’s, I didn’t ever buy one of his songs or albums. But it was impossible to miss him completely as even decades after the peak of his fame, his face was often in the news and even a simple skim of the headlines would show that his strangeness was increasing year-by-year. Through all of this I haven’t ever hoped for much on his behalf. But I hope now that he has finally found peace. Sadly, though, his life showed no evidence that he had found the One who is peace, the one who offers true peace. And if that is the case, the true horror of it all is that Jackson will spend all of eternity in the same twisted mind that tortured him for most of the fifty years he was given here. Those fifty years seemed to drive him to the brink of utter insanity; the thought of an eternity in that state is too horrific to imagine. We may like to think that death inevitably brings peace to a tortured existence. But Scripture gives us no reason to find hope except in the One who offers hope by saying “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” May you find that rest today so you can enjoy that rest eternally.