Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

July 2009

July 23, 2009

I am on vacation this week and will be giving just an abbreviated look at this chapter. But let me begin by saying that this book really is a treasure. This chapter and the one before it have been nothing short of excellent and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. There are not many books I read through more than once, but I am convinced that this will be one of them.

I am going to provide just a single extended quote. In this section Burroughs is teaching about the right knowledge of God’s providence, arguing that a proper understanding of God’s providence is critical to any who would find true contentment. He says, “there is an infinite variety of the works of God in an ordinary providence, and yet they all work in an orderly way. We put these two things together, for God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend one upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever God did from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but one work, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderly motion to attain to the end that God from all eternity has appointed.”

He continues,

We, indeed, look at things by pieces, we look at one detail and do not consider the relation that one thing has to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relation that one thing has to another. When a child looks at a clock, it looks first at one wheel, and then at another wheel: he does not look at them all together or the dependence that one has upon another; but the workman has his eyes on them all together and sees the dependence of all, one upon another: so it is in God’s providence. Now notice how this works to contentment: when a certain passage of providence befalls me, that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped, a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this. In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependent upon one another. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.

And here, by the way, we may see what a great deal of evil there is in discontent, for you would have God’s providence altered in such and such a detail: now if it were only in that detail, and that had relation to nothing else it would not be so much, but by your desire to have your will in such a detail, you may cross God in a thousand things that he has to bring about, because it is possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing that you would fain have otherwise than it is. It is just as if a child should cry out and say, ‘Let that one wheel stop’; though he says only one wheel, yet if that were to stop, it is as much as if he should say they must all stop.

That just smacked me right between the eyes.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I’ll leave it to you to share what stood out to you through the rest of the chapter.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 7, “The Excellence of Contentment.”

Discussion

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
July 22, 2009

A couple of summers ago my parents paid us a rare summer visit. Usually they come to visit in fall or winter, but this year they came in summer. Because my dad is only truly resting when he is hard at work, I asked him to help me with several projects around the house. These were either projects that I had not had time to attend to, or projects for which I would have to rely upon his expertise. As always, dad was glad to pitch in and to do what needed to be done. So while my mother spent as much time as she could with Aileen and the kids, dad and I got to work. On Saturday we installed a new air conditioner, something that turned out to be far easier said than done and that quickly consumed much of the day. The end result, though, was just what we had hoped for and was just in time to carry us through a couple of days of uncomfortable heat and humidity. Having taken care of this, we decided to attack the lawns and gardens. We laid sod in the backyard and planted perennials in the flower beds. We transformed the outside of our home.

Dad is a career landscaper and has a great love for rocks, trees, plants and flowers. I have spent countless hours with my father, and used to work with him quite often when I was younger. He must have given up on me eventually because I would do a half-baked job of nearly everything he asked of me. When plants needed a soaking, I’d give them only a quick shower before finding something more interesting to do. When plants needed to be buried deep in the ground, I would leave their roots exposed to the elements. I am sure it was on a scalding hot Ontario summer day, when I was covered in dirt and dust and manure, that I resolved that I would work a desk job when I was older.

Though I had worked with dad so often, it was only recently that I realized something fundamental to his choice of vocation. We were driving along Highway 5, a highway that represents the northern border of the town of Oakville. On the south side of the highway is a bustling suburban environment. Houses reach almost to the side of the road and there are newly-built gas stations on almost every corner. There are enough restaurants, Wal-Marts and big box stores to support a thriving community. In true Canadian style, the neighborhoods are predominantly flat and boring. The trees have been torn down, the valleys have been filled in, and the houses are often so close that a person could easily leap from roof-to-roof. Sometimes a single majestic, lonely tree stands at the entrance to a neighborhood with a sign underneath reading “Oak Trails.”

That is the south side of Highway 5. The opposite side, the north side, is everything that the south is not. Fields of corn and wheat border the highway. Many fields that have long laid fallow, stretch as far as the eye can see, passing into the distance. There are rolling hills and small forests. The occasional valley, with a stream running through it, cuts across the landscape. Cows graze and horses run.

On one side of Highway 5 is progress. A city thrives there, a city filled with men and women who commute into Toronto, the nerve center of Canada. These people choose to live in Oakville, the wealthiest city in Canada. They run the banks and own the businesses that drive our economy. Their demand for more houses, bigger houses, push the borders of Oakville ever further north. They push the borders toward the other side of Highway 5, the side that is nothing. Or that is what most of us see. Where we see nothing, dad sees beauty.

As we were driving along the highway, making our way to an eclectic, disorganized but well-stocked garden center that you would not notice unless you where it was, I heard dad cry, “Oh, look at that beautiful chestnut! Wow! Look at it!” I turned my head and saw a tree, standing tall and proud, rising above a field of grass. I’d like to describe it in more detail, but that is all I saw. A tree. But where I saw only a tree, I knew that dad saw something so much more. A few minutes later he pointed towards the urban sprawl and said, “Right down that road there used to be the biggest poplar in all of Ontario. It was six feet across at its base. I bet it’s long gone by now.”

For dad this is a tragedy. For many of us, a huge poplar tree is an annoyance. Its roots lift our sidewalks, disturb our gardens and tear into our foundations. Its massive trunk and swaying branches block our review or shade too much of our backyard. And so we cut it down and tear it apart. After all, it’s only a tree. But to dad it is more. It is an object of tremendous beauty.

I wish that I could see beauty the way dad does. I wish that I could delight in the simple, natural beauty of a chestnut tree. But all I see, even when I look closely, is a tree. I can describe it using adjectives—big, thick, leafy, round—but not in any adjectives that really capture the essence of its beauty. And that’s because I see only a tree.

I think that when dad sees a tree, he must see the tree’s Creator. He must see something more than the color and the shape. Maybe he sees God’s providence in a tree that has stood for fifty years. A hundred years. A tree that has offered shelter to generation after generation. Or maybe that tree is simply a beautiful work of art. Maybe that tree is a manifestation of the Artist who sculpted it in such a way to tell us something about Himself. That tree stands as a reminder of the great Creator. I don’t really know what dad sees in those trees. I never thought to ask him. But I wish I could see whatever he sees.

Highway 5 seems almost a parable to me. On one side is progress and on the other is nature. On one side is ugliness and on the other is beauty. I tend towards what is ugly but progressive. I tend to see urban sprawl as a sign of Canada’s progress as our population grows and our economy strengthens. But dad prefers natural beauty, even at the expense of progress. He sees the tragedy of a great tree falling and the tragedy of beauty being torn away only to be replaced by ugliness.

There is a reason that many of the fields north of Highway 5 lie fallow. Many of those fields, perhaps even all of them, have been purchased by developers. Oakville will soon have reached the limits of its growth. With Lake Ontario removing the possibility of southward growth, and with other cities to the east and the west, there is only one way for the city to move. Already the city is beginning to leap across the highway and this “progress” will continue for the foreseeable future. Trees will be cut down and trucked away to nearby mills. Hills will be flattened and the soil will be poured into the valleys. Sewers will cut into the fields and roads will be laid. Houses, schools and stores will spring up.

That chestnut tree is going to be a casualty of progress. Perhaps it will be left standing at the entrance to a neighborhood of million dollar houses where it will languish in the hard clay. Eventually it will die. I won’t even notice. Dad will lament the loss of such beauty. I’ll wish that I could too.


I’m on vacation so you’re getting a repeat today. I first posted this back in ‘06, I believe.

July 22, 2009
LAX Is Home
Here’s proof that just about any story that catches my eye can end up in A La Carte. I found this one rather fascinating for some reason. “Lancaster’s 2001 Tradewinds sits among 100 trailers and motor homes that form a colony of pilots, mechanics and other airline workers at LAX, the third-busiest airport in the nation. They are citizens of one of the most unusual communities in the United States.”
Questions for your Missions Budget
Kevin DeYoung gives some good questions to ask when it comes to setting a missions budget.
Best Christian Design
Best Christian Design is a web design gallery (one of hundreds out there) but with a unique twist. It focuses entirely on Christian web sites—churches, ministries, and so on.
Young Men: Learn Self Control
From CBMW’s blog: “Two sports events this weekend, one seen across the globe, the other far more mundane, provided me with an opportunity to teach my six-year-old son a crucial lesson in biblical manhood. ”
July 21, 2009

The New Shape of World ChristianityThose of us who are Western Christians continue to hear reports that the church is migrating to the south and to the east—that as our nations increasingly turn their collective backs on God, God begins fresh work in other parts of the world. Says Mark Noll in his new book The New Shape of World Christianity, “It is as if the globe had been turned upside down and sideways. A few short decades ago, Christian believers were concentrated in the global north and west, but now a rapidly swelling majority lives in the global south and east. [If a Christian] Rip Van Winkle wiped a half-century of sleep from his eyes … and tried to locate his fellow Christian believers, he would find them in surprising places, expressing their faith in surprising ways, under surprising conditions, with surprising relationships to culture and politics, and raising surprising theological questions that would not have seemed possible when he fell asleep.”

July 21, 2009
Same-Name Couple to Wed
“This October, Kelly Hildebrandt will vow to share her life with a man who already shares her name. This is no joke. Kelly Katrina Hildebrandt, 20, and Kelly Carl Hildebrandt, 24, expect just over 100 guests at a ceremony at the Lighthouse Point Yacht & Racquet Club in South Florida, where they will become husband and wife.”
Making Silence Together
Mark Dever on leaving times of silence in a church service. “I’m a sound addict. Even as I write about silence now, I’ve got Paganini blasting in my study! But yesterday morning in church during one of our silences, I became aware of how corporate a labor such public silence is.”
Turkish Penitents Compete in a Gameshow
“It sounds like the beginning of a joke: what do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room? Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
July 20, 2009

I am on vacation this week—at home but taking a break from the web design that keeps me busy day after day. Sometimes I relax by writing; other times I relax by not writing. I don’t know yet whether this vacation will see more of the former or the latter. My plans for today involve taking my son to swimming lessons, heading to Ikea to look at some living room furniture to replace the now-tattered couches we’ve had since we got married (useless fact—we live exactly equidistant from two Ikeas, both of which are 22.4 kilometers away), taking the car for an oil change and spending a bit of time reading. It sounds like the makings of an okay day.

Today I wanted to share just a short reflection on something I read in the Bible—a little reflection on Jeremiah 25:9. Here are verses 8 and 9:

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.

What always stands out to me in these verses are the words “my servant Nebuchadnezzar.” If you’ve read the account of King Nebuchadnezzar as it is found in the book of Daniel, you’ll know that he was not a man who submitted his life to God. While at a point he was forced to acknowledge that Daniel’s God was the true God, he never submitted to his authority and acknowledged him as the only God. The Bible gives us little reason to hope that Nebuchadnezzar ever turned from his sin and cast himself upon the Lord.

Despite Nebuchadnezzar’s sinfulness and his rejection of God, we see that God calls him a servant—his servant. Now we are accustomed to thinking of God’s servants in the way Paul speaks of himself—a bond servant dedicated to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet here we find an unrepentant man, unregenerate man also being called a servant. I guess this should come as no surprise. Jesus Himself spoke of “wicked servants” in his parables, showing that there are two types of servants, the willing and the unwilling. In either case, this person is subject to God and must bow before his authority, whether he wishes to or not.

So the question for you and for me is this: will we be God’s willing servant? Will we be the kind of servants who bow before God as master and seek to lovingly and obediently carry out his will? Or will we be among those wicked and evil servants who are subject to God, but who refuse to acknowledge his superiority? Will we be submissive as servants should be or will we seek to usurp the role of the Master?

God help us to be faithful, submissive, willing servants.

July 20, 2009
Can Kindle Take Your Books Away?
Can Amazon’s Kindle just take your books away? They sure can! James Grant has the story. “This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.”
When the Boat Comes In
Four-and-a-half centuries of Scotland’s social and religious history was closed yesterday, but only a couple of dozen people turned up to publicly mourn the passing of strict Sabbath observance. Around 200 people, however, came to cheer the first-ever scheduled sailing of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry Isle of Lewis from Stornoway to Ullapool yesterday afternoon.
Why Winning Athletes Are Getting Bigger
I can’t say much about this person’s theory, but some of the facts in the story are interesting. “Specifically, while the average human has gained about 1.9 inches in height since 1900, Charles’ research showed that the fastest swimmers have grown 4.5 inches and the swiftest runners have grown 6.4 inches.”
Christian Conferences in Canada
Canadians will want to check out the Sola Scriptura site to see some of the conferences that are coming to Canada this year.
Deal of the Day: NASB Wide Margin Reference Bible Monergism Books is offering 40% off Cambridge NASB Wide-Margin Reference Bibles, Black Goatskin Leather, Black French Morocco Leather & Hardcover. Cambridge Wide-Margin Reference Bibles also available in ESV.
July 19, 2009

Today is the Lord’s Day and I thought I’d pass along some advice pertaining to the day. It comes courtesy of Donald Whitney. His book Simplify Your Spiritual Life offers a long series of short chapters, each offering wisdom on a specific part of the Christian’s walk with the Lord. And here he offers some valuable wisdom for getting the most out of your Lord’s Day. This is something I read quite a few years ago now and it really did help restore in my mind the value of this day, a day that is a special gift of God.

*****

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the biblical term Sabbath? Many people, including those familiar with the New Testament, may think first of legalism. That’s because nearly every mention of “Sabbath” in the Gospels has to do with the Pharisees accusing Jesus of violating their manmade rules. God’s original intention, however, was for the Jews to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13). He meant for each of them on that day to “delight [themselves] in the Lord” (verse 14). Far from being a day to dread because of its restrictions, God designed the Sabbath to be a delightful day, the best of the week.

If that was true in the Old Testament, how much more should those who know God through Christ and have His Holy Spirit find delight in “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10)?

How do we do this? As I mentioned in the previous chapter, there are differing views on what the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Day. But those rooted deeply in Scripture would agree on at least these two principles (though some would argue for much more): First, our greatest privilege and most important responsibility on the Lord’s day is to worship Him with His people. Not only was the Old Testament Sabbath a day of worship, but we have the apostolic command about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:24). And the apostolic example associated with this command is worship “on the first day of the week” (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

Second, all our activities on Sunday should reflect the fact that it is “the Lord’s day” (over and above the fact that, according to Psalm 118:24, every day is “the day which the Lord has made”). As you would expect, the practical aspects of what this means are very personal and intensely debated. In general, I think it means devoting ourselves to the pursuit of those things that promote the enjoyment of God. This also includes those activities that edify our church and family, extend the kingdom of God, and refresh our souls and bodies.

Years ago I began to delight in the Lord’s Day much more intentionally. One change was to redirect the time I spent watching sports on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t because I don’t like viewing sports on TV anymore, for I enjoy that as much as ever. Rather, I stopped watching in order to turn to activities that would better restore my soul and recreate my body. People speak of “vegging” in front of the television. Staring at a screen for hours may not make us more tired, but neither does it invigorate us. Unlike taking a nap, a prayer-walk, reading the Bible or other good book alone or with family, or having a time of spiritual fellowship with other believers, we don’t feel refreshed after an afternoon of TV-watching.

Imagine living to age seventy and spending every Lord’s Day in the ways I’ve suggested. You’d experience ten years of worshiping the Lord with His people, reading great literature, playing with your children or grandchildren, taking walks, enjoying fellowship, and taking naps. Does this sound like a burden to you? Most people dream of a life like this. It’s the kind of life you can enjoy when you delight in the Lord’s Day.