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Tim Challies

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September 2009

September 21, 2009

Americans are debating the future of their nation’s health care and as they do so, they keep looking beyond their borders to the systems in place in other countries. And, very often, their attention rests on Canada. More often than not, at least today, it is conservatives focusing on Canada, telling stories of woe, describing the utter breakdown of health care. You hear of people who have been forced to mortgage their homes and travel to the United States in order to receive basic care; you hear of people forced south of the border by hospitals that have no free beds; you hear of people who are utterly unable to find even a family doctor. Believe the press and you’ll think the Canadian system is in utter disrepair.

Now I am not much of one for politics, and especially so when those politics span two nations. Neither am I an economist who can talk about how Canada’s health care system impacts the nation financially (though obviously it’s a significant burden on the taxpayer). But what I do want to say is this: the truth about Canadian Health Care is that it’s really stinkin’ good. As a nation we are hard-wired to complain and we do tend to complain about our health system as we grumble about our politicians, hockey players and donuts. But we also like to boast and when we talk to Americans, one of the things we like to boast in most is the health care system (or the beer, depending on your personality type).

And it is good (the health care, that is—I’m not qualified to comment on the beer). When I hear Glenn Beck talking about the Canadian system as if it is hand-in-hand with Cuba, well, my blood boils a little bit. Of course I have little to go on beyond personal experiences and those of friends and family. But my experience is uniformly good. If I need to see my family doctor, I can call him and get an appointment usually the same day and, if not, shortly after. If I don’t care to wait, I can go to a walk-in clinic where, depending on the day, I may be seen immediately or after a couple of hours of waiting (there are at least four of these clinics within a fifteen minute drive of my home). Hospital emergency rooms, especially in cities, tend to be a little busy, but only if you have been triaged and determined not to need immediate care. If you need a couple of stitches, you may be waiting a little while; if you have a heart attack, you’ll receive much higher priority. I have only known one person who has gone to the US for treatment and, in her case, she chose not to wait a week for a mammogram. Living within minutes of the border and wishing to free her mind from worry, it was an easy choice for her to expedite things by driving to the US. When I speak to friends and family I generally hear the same things. Sure, we might like wait times to be a little shorter here and there; elective surgeries can come with long waiting times and in some locales there are just not enough doctors to go around. But overall, I do not know of a single Canadian who would trade our system for that of our neighbors to the south. I know of many more people who travel from the US to Canada to receive health care than vice versa. In fact, I hear there is a bustling business in forging health cards so Americans can pose as Canadians and be treated as them. If the health care is that bad, why would people be crossing the border to enjoy it?

It is worth nothing that in 2004 Canadians voted for the Greatest Canadian (yes, I know it was run through the liberal CBC, but still…) and winner was Tommy Douglas, the man who engineered the whole system. Though few Canadians would share his socialist political ideology (sitting as we are under a Conservative government), fewer still have any desire to dismantle the system he created. Is it a perfect system? No way. I don’t think there is a single nation we can point at as having a perfect system. But Canada’s system has to be as good as just about any of them.

Now it must be admitted that health care falls under the domain of the individual provinces, so care will differ from province-to-province. It is likely to be better in the Greater Toronto Area where I live than it is far to the north where towns are few and far between. Is it sustainable in the long term? I don’t have an easy answer. We could probably provide endless caveats. But for the average Canadian, the health care system is entirely adequate and we really have no good reason to complain. Take the time to ask Canadians and I am sure this is what you will find. There will always been exceptions, but for the majority of Canadians the majority of the time, our health coverage is exceptional.

I do not mean this as a defense or endorsement of what President Obama is proposing in the United States. Admittedly, if I were American, I’d be highly suspicious of the plan, especially when looking to the economics of it. Instead, I write all this simply to remind you, “don’t believe everything you hear.” This is as true when the rhetoric is coming from a conservative mouthpiece as when it comes from a liberal.

(For further reading, here are just a couple of useful articles: The Truth About Canadian Healthcare and Healthcare: Public vs. Private.)

September 21, 2009
Dan Brown’s 20 Worst Sentences
I thoroughly enjoyed this roundup of the worst twenty sentences found in books written by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. A favorite: “My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my zodiac iconography is pretty good.”
Spec Work
There has been a lot of talk recently in the design biz about spec work (where multiple people complete work and a client only pays for the work he actually chooses). Church Marketing Sucks has “An Open Letter to Rick Warren about Spec Work” in which they talk about some of the pitfalls of this kind of work.
The Gospel Coalition Reloaded
The Gospel Coalition has released a new version of their site. Blog readers will be interested to see that Justin Taylor has elected to move his blog to TGC.
Why Do So Many NFL Players Go Bankrupt?
This is an interesting article that discusses why it is that so many football players go bankrupt shortly after their careers end.
September 20, 2009

It must be a year or two now since I first began running a bit of advertising on my web site. Initially I did so because the costs of running the site were increasing and advertising offered a means of offsetting those costs. As time has gone on, it has continued to cover the infrastructure costs and has also been able to go toward some of the books I buy to review and, when it exceeds that, to support my family. It has proven a real blessing to us in many ways. And, I hope, it has allowed you, the readers, to get your eyes on some worthwhile products. I’ve always sought to be careful with whom I allow to advertise, only allowing those whose products I find biblical. To be honest, I’ve always hoped that somehow along the way I’ll find a model that will allow me to dedicate much more time to writing in general (and the blog in particular) and while advertising has certainly not approached this level, it’s shown me that at some point it may be a far-off possibility.

I say all this because I want to alert you to something new. I am going to run a trial of a slightly different approach to advertising. To this point advertising has consisted of the banner ads in the right sidebar and the banner at the bottom of the RSS feed. I’ve often had several advertisers posting ads at the same time. And it has generally worked out quite well. But I am always trying to look ahead a little bit, to find other models that may work. In the coming weeks a couple of advertisers will begin a trial program in which they will be the exclusive sponsor of the site for a week at a time. There will be just one banner ad in the site’s sidebar in a given week, but a larger one that we’re accustomed to. There will be one banner ad in the RSS feed. And here’s what’s new: the advertiser will also provide a single “sponsored post” over the course of the week. In other words, at some point during the week there will be an article on the site that will be written by the advertiser and directed to you, the reader. It will be clearly marked as a sponsored post so there is no concern, I hope, that it will seem under-handed. This program will only be offered to advertisers who are interested in letting you know about products that are good—biblically sound and appealing to the kind of person who reads this blog.

The purpose of these sponsored posts is to alert you of interesting products but also, hopefully, to build a bit of a bridge between the companies or ministries and the readers. As I’ve traveled around over the past few years, and as I’ve gotten to know the men and women behind the scenes at ministries and conferences and publishers and so on, I’ve so often been impressed by their desire to serve God in the vocation he has given them. And I think through these posts we can probably do a bit to put a human face on the books, the conferences, and any other product.

Or perhaps not. I am always concerned that advertising will somehow cheapen the rest of what I do on this site. But we’re going to give it a shot regardless. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks and we’ll learn as we go. Feel free to offer feedback if and when you think it would be useful to me.

September 19, 2009

I’ll be honest. What first stood out to me about this prayer (drawn from The Valley of Vision) was the title, “A Colloquy On Rejoicing.” I immediately looked up colloquy and found that it is simply a kind of formal conversation and that the word is often used in a religious context. So it makes good sense here. This prayer represents a Christian’s conversation with himself as he reflects on his desire, his responsibility, to rejoice in all that God is and in all that God has done.

Remember, O My Soul,
It is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God:
He requires it of thee for all his favours of grace.
Rejoice then in the Giver and his goodness,
Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God,
for whatever a man trusts in,
from that he expects happiness.

He who is the ground of thy faith
should be the substance of thy joy.
Whence then come heaviness and dejection,
when joy is sown in thee,
promised by the Father,
bestowed by the Son,
inwrought by the Holy Spirit,
thine by grace,
thy birthright in believing?

Art thou seeking to rejoice in thyself
from an evil motive of pride and self-reputation?
Thou hast nothing of thine own but sin,
nothing to move God to be gracious,
or to continue his grace towards thee.
If thou forget this thou wilt lose thy joy.
Art thou grieving under a sense of indwelling sin?
Let godly sorrow work repentance,
as the true spirit which the Lord blesses,
and which creates fullest joy;
Sorrow for self opens rejoicing in God,
Self-loathing draws down divine delights.
Hast thou sought joys in some creature comfort?
Look not below God for happiness;
fall not asleep in Delilah’s lap.
Let God be all in all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full.

September 18, 2009

The Reason for SportsI have always found it difficult to think about sports in a distinctly Christian way. I love sports (mostly watching, occasionally playing) and want to be able to enjoy fandom guilt-free. But every now and then, when I look at another of the sports scandals or when I hear of the lives of athletes, I wonder if professional sports really is a worthwhile pastime for the Christian. By our participation as fans are we contributing to the sometimes-shocking lack of morality, to the building of massive egos, to the idolatry of the athlete? How should we, as Christians, think about these things? Christians tend toward two extremes, I think, either writing off professional athletics altogether or embracing them with unblinking acceptance. Yet I’m convinced that neither extreme is helpful. It was with interest, then, that I picked up Ted Kluck’s The Reason for Sports (you may know Kluck from his books co-written with Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church).

September 18, 2009
Don’t Be Like Mike
Voddie Baucham: “There was a stark difference between the two acceptance speeches. As I listened to the two speeches, all I could think of was the old commercial catchphrase, “Like Mike… If I could be like Mike.” Unfortunately, in this instance, Mike was the last person anyone should aspire to be like. This was definitely not a Michael Jordan highlight. Jordan’s Speech was self-centered, indulgent, arrogant, and at times embarrassing. In contrast, David Robinson rose to the occasion and made a brief, inspiring, encouraging speech (see his speech here) that made his family, his team, and his friends proud. ”
The Stimulus Didn’t Work
That’s what the WSJ says…and they back it up quite well.
Will Babies With Down Syndrome Just Disappear?
Al Mohler asks the question. “The development of prenatal diagnostic technologies presents a constellation of moral issues — with the diagnosis of Down syndrome front and center. Over the past several years, a marked decrease in the number of babies born with Down syndrome has been both observed and widely reported. This decrease can be traced directly to the decision to abort after prenatal diagnosis.”
Deal of the Day: Biblical Theology
Here’s a good one. Today only you can get John Owen’s “Biblical Theology” at 50% off. Use coupon code OwenBT to get the deal.
September 17, 2009

We made it! And honestly, it was barely even a challenge. There have been some classics that I’ve had to struggle to finish. Sometimes, by the end, it is hard work just to turn the next page. But that was not that case, at least for me, with The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I found it a joy to read from beginning to end and it is one I know I will return to in the future (though I may need a copy that is no quite so thoroughly highlighted). Today I am simply going to provide a very brief overview of the chapter and then offer a few of my favorite quotes.

In this final chapter, Burroughs concludes his thoughts on how to attain contentment. Here are the twelve directions he gives:

1. All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts.

2. If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.

3. Be sure of your call to every business you go about.

4. I must walk by rule in the work that I am called to.

5. Exercise much faith.

6. Labor to be spiritually minded.

7. Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things.

8. Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world.

9. Let not men and women pore too much upon their afflictions: that is, busy their thoughts too much to look down into their afflictions.

10. Make a good interpretation of God’s ways towards you.

11. Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves.

12. Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them. When you have them, do not take too much satisfaction in them.

Let me share just a few favorite quotes that I had to highlight on my way through:

“You can never make a ship go steady, by propping it outside; you know there must be ballast within the ship, to make it go steady. And so, there is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this.”

“Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me.”

“Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God.”

“Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, but are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world; that is, they will not be very grievous or painful to such a one as is mortified to the world.”

“You find many people, all of whose thoughts are taken up about what their crosses and afflictions are, they are altogether thinking and speaking of them. It is just with them as with a child who has a sore: his finger is always on the sore; so men’s and women’s thoughts are always on their afflictions.”

The Next Classic

Stay tuned and in a couple of weeks I’ll announce the next classic we’ll be reading together. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments here.

But for now, I’d love to hear your concluding thoughts on The Rare Jewel

September 16, 2009

Last week I met Rick Warren. I was in Los Angeles to speak at the Christian Web Conference (where my topic was “Tweeting Truth With Love: Grace in an Age of Instant Communication”) and at the conference I bumped into David Chrzan, Warren’s Chief of Staff. He and I spoke for quite some time—an hour at least—and chatted about some of the critiques I’ve made in the past regarding Warren and his books. With ministries as expansive and important as Saddleback and Purpose Driven, these people are accustomed to dealing with detractors and over the years some of my critiques have reached their ears.

The irony of my talk with David is that I had come all the way to California to speak about the importance of communicating truth with love and there I was, being challenged on doing just that. It was not David challenging me as much as my own conscience. I wondered, had I always been fair to Warren? As David and I spoke it suddenly dawned on me that Rick Warren is a real person. He isn’t a robot or a really clever computer who spits out books and sermons, but a real guy. And as a real guy, he is aware of some of the controversy that surrounds him—including reviews and articles written by the likes of me. And as I’ve often had to do in the past, I had to pause to consider whether I would say to Warren face-to-face what I’ve said about him in my reviews and articles. This is not to say that I’ve ever accused Warren of heresy or torturing kittens. But I have commented on the nature, the completeness of the gospel he preaches—surely a topic that is close to his heart.

Later that day I received a “tweet” (it’s a Twitter thing) from Warren inviting me to come and check out Saddleback. Every time I am in California I think of doing so, but it has never quite worked out. This time, though, it fit my schedule perfectly. So I set out for Saddleback with a couple of friends.

Before I got to Saddleback, I went back and read through some of what I’ve written about Warren over the years, focusing on what have undoubtedly been the three most-read articles: my reviews of The Purpose Driven Church, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose of Christmas. As I read them, I was actually pleased to see that I was, at least in my opinion, quite level-headed in these reviews. I think they were generally kind and rational, even while disagreeing with some of what Warren communicated. What I have not done is critique Warren to the extent that others have done. I’ve never considered him a pawn of the United Nations who is attempting to bring about one-world government and the downfall of all society. I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of deliberately trying to push a pro-New Age agenda on his readers. I have sought to focus on the message and method he advocates in his books.

My main critiques of Warren and his ministry have been:

His use of Scripture. Most notably, this involves using many translations based, at least from an outside perspective, more on what the translations say than on their faithfulness to the original text.

The completeness of the gospel. In The Purpose Driven Life he says, “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ” but really goes no further than that in explaining the gospel. And this in one of the best-selling books of all-time. I have often found that the gospel he preaches stops just a little bit short. It is just a little too easy.

His view of conversion. In The Purpose Driven Life he encourages readers to pray this prayer: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you” and then welcomes them into the family of God. His view of conversion and his haste to baptize people and welcome them into church membership (you can do all of these in a single day at Saddleback) have often caused alarm.

The role of pragmatism. In The Purpose Driven Church he makes a blanket statement that is really startling when you pause to consider it: “never criticize what God is blessing.” This kind of pragmatism in which faithfulness is judged by our perceived results is a hallmark of the Purpose Driven model of church.

So these critiques were in the back of my mind as I headed to Saddleback, as David kindly gave us a thorough tour of the facilities and as I attended the Saturday evening worship service. And I suppose they were just in the back of my mind as I spent perhaps a half hour with Warren after the service.

A few people have since asked me to describe my meeting with Warren. I don’t really know how or why I would do that. How or why would I evaluate and analyze a half-hour of mostly-random conversation? We sat down with no agenda and mostly just chatted. But what I will say is this: having met Warren and having spent a few hours at Saddleback I was at once impressed with his giftedness and confirmed in some of my concerns about his ministry. As an example of the former, he reads hundreds of books per year and just this year has already completed 18 of 26 volumes of the complete works of Jonathan Edwards (whom he regards as his hero). As an example of the latter, his sermon on Sunday used at least 6 Bible translations, some of which seemed to be chosen at the expense of the true meaning. So I guess I was confirmed in seeing that Warren is a pretty normal guy in most ways and an above average guy in other ways. I can see his passion for what he does—his passion for sharing Christ with the world. At the same time, I walked away realizing that many of my concerns are fair ones.

I want to affirm here, though, that I am allowed by Scripture to disagree with him. None of my critiques or concerns indicate that I think he is unsaved or deliberately doing things contrary to Scripture. Rather, I believe it is primarily that he and I read Scripture differently at certain points. We read the same words and come to different conclusions. If I did not believe my conclusions were the proper ones and if I did not believe they were important, I would have no reason to raise my concerns. Honestly, I feel that Warren is, in a sense, better than his theology—that with his intellect and knowledge of Scripture and expansive knowledge of what others have written, he ought to see a kind of disconnect between some of what he must believe and how this theology works itself out through his church. I wonder if he has paused to ask what Jonathan Edwards would have to say about his church, his books, his methods. So having spent time with the man and his ministry, and while granting that I saw just a brief glimpse of each, I want to affirm that there is much that seems sound but much else that bears a kind of iron-sharpening-iron kind of critique. Warren has thrust himself onto an international stage and therefore he cannot be surprised when he receives critique. If he were a small-town pastor in middle America, no one would be noticing and critiquing him. But as a pastor who prays at Presidential inaugurations and who has the ear of many world leaders, he has to expect that people will dissect his words. After all, as a Christian leader there are times when he represents all of us and there are times when hundreds of thousands of people are listening to his every word.

Somehow just meeting Warren reinforced in my mind the challenge we face as we reconcile ourselves to a fast-paced, digital world in which a person can quickly dash off a missive that can severely impact another person on the other side of the continent. It seems that ethics and morality have been a bit slow to catch up to ability in this new digital world. As I read those three reviews I realized that in each case there would be things I might say just a little differently. I am too often prone to forget that the authors whose books I review are real people and I am too quick to ignore my conscience when I consider whether the things I write and post online for all the world to read are things I would also say face-to-face. I hope this will help me in the future as I seek to be fair and godly in all that I write.

In November Zondervan will release The Hope You Need, the long-awaited follow-up to The Purpose Driven Life and one that is based on the Lord’s Prayer (which, in turn, was the subject of an eight-part sermon series). I intend to review this book as I’ve reviewed each of his other titles. But I think, having met Warren and having met the people who work with him, I can honestly say that this review will be a little bit different. It will come from a new perspective and, I hope, be as fair as I know how to Warren, to Saddleback and to Scripture.