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Tim Challies

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31 Days of Purity
March 01, 2014

Today, along with several thousand men, I am beginning “31 Days of Purity.” This is for all of us—for those who are young and those who are old, for those who are married and those who are single, for those who struggle mightily in the area of sexual sin and for those who may barely struggle at all. It is a time—a month—to focus on what the Bible says about sexual purity. Each day I will share a short passage from Scripture, a brief reflection on that passage, and a prayer. You can ponder the Scripture, read the devotional, and pray the prayer, and why not do it together with a friend, a brother in Christ? (Read more here)

As we begin these days together, I think we ought to begin with the gospel.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

It is good that you have this desire to pursue sexual purity. It is good that you are joining with us for these thirty-one days. And yet even a good desire can be sinfully motivated or sinfully directed. The sad fact is that we are never far from self-centeredness, from attempting to do these things for our own glory. We are never far from self-reliance, from attempting to do these things in our own strength. We are never far from legalism, from attempting to do these things to merit God’s favor.

This is why we must begin with the gospel and this is why each of these thirty-one days must be founded upon and directed toward the gospel of Jesus Christ: that Christ died for our sin and that he was raised from the dead. The gospel makes all the difference. The gospel destroys self-centeredness by gripping our hearts with a great and growing desire to see Christ glorified. The gospel destroys our self-reliance by showing that Christ had to do what we could not do for ourselves. The gospel destroys our legalism by assuring us that we do not have to earn God’s favor because through Christ Jesus we already have it. And so, as we embark together on these 31 Days of Purity, we must begin with, dwell upon, and finish with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Father in heaven, please help me to glory in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Please remove from within me any desire for self-glorification, any hint of self-reliance, even the smallest thought that I would ever have to earn your favor. I pray that through these thirty-one days, my desire would be to see you glorified in my life, to grow in my reliance upon you, and to rest in what Christ has done in restoring peace and fellowship between me and you. Make the gospel resound in my heart today and every day.

February 27, 2014

In February 1906, William J. Seymour, a 24-year-old, one-eyed son of former slaves, began what had been planned as a one-month visit to Los Angeles. Seymour was a preacher based in Houston who had become convinced that speaking in tongues was the first evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Barred from many churches in Los Angeles, he and a group of followers began a series of meetings in the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. They prayed, they pleaded with God, they fasted, and finally, after five weeks, a man named Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Others soon followed, and Bonnie Brae House soon became known as the spot where the modern Pentecostal movement began. For that reason, it is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are telling the history of Christianity.

Bonnie Brae HouseThe Pentecostal movement is such a significant force within Christianity today that it can be difficult to believe that it, in the sweep of Christian history, it is still in its infancy. The history of the Reformation, the history of the Great Awakening, the history of the early missionary movement—these were times where God was powerful present and powerfully accomplishing his purposes and plans. Yet the signs and wonders that marked the early church—the prophecies and miracles and speaking in tongues—were neither sought nor seen.

And then, rather suddenly, there were Pentecostals, those who longed for and believed in the restoration of the apostolic power of the early church. Most historians believe that Pentecostalism emerged from the American and British revival movements of the late nineteenth century. One of the significant themes during these times was holiness and a higher life. Many taught that the end times were near and that during this time the church should expect a great outpouring of God’s power through signs and wonders.

Charles Parham, a holiness pastor and evangelist, was an early leader in this movement. In 1900 he founded a school near Topeka, Kansas, where he taught that speaking in tongues was the first and necessary evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit. On January 1, 1901, many of his students prayed for and experienced tongues, believing that God had given them miraculous knowledge of foreign languages. Parham soon closed his school and began a four-year tour through Kansas and Missouri, propagating his teaching. In 1905, he settled in Houston, Texas, where he founded a second school and among his most devoted students was William J. Seymour.

On April 9, 1906, under Seymour’s influence, Edward Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Almost immediately several others began doing the same, and the small congregation believed they were experiencing a modern-day Pentecost. Just a few days later Seymour himself would have his first experience of tongues-speaking.

The news of this event spread rapidly and soon people of all religious, ethnic, and financial stripes began to migrate to Bonnie Brae Street, eager to see what was happening and to experience it themselves. The crowds quickly grew so large that it became difficult to even come near the house. The sheer number of people pressing up against the house undermined the foundation and caused the front porch to collapse, though amazingly, no one was hurt. Within a week of the outbreak of revival the church had to look for a larger facility and they soon settled in a former African Methodist Episcopal Church at 312 Azusa Street. Having begun on April 9, the Azusa Street Revival would carry on for 9 years.

Designer Babies
February 26, 2014

The headline says it all: “The Dawn of the Designer Babies.” Scientists have developed a new technology meant to eliminate genetic abnormalities in newborns. They do this by combining the DNA of three people instead of only two. The procedure has been successfully tested in monkeys and now the FDA is considering whether the trial should expand to humans. At first the procedure would be available only to women who are likely to pass on debilitating genetic diseases to their children. After that? Well, we can only imagine.

The history of technology shows that we would far rather ask the “can we?” questions than the “should we?” questions. We are more interested in ability than morality. Lest we get cocky, we ought to admit that this is true in the small picture as much as the big picture, in the living room as much as the laboratory. Our relationship to technology is such that on some level we tacitly believe technology’s gifts to us must be good. We believe this when the new social network or the new cell phone comes along and we believe this when the new experimental procedure comes along.

According to Fox, this new “experimental technique, if approved for use, would allow a woman to give birth to a baby who inherits her normal nucleus DNA but not her defective mitochondrial DNA.” In order “to accomplish this, researchers would remove the nucleus DNA from a healthy female donor’s eggs and replace it with the nucleus DNA of the prospective mother. After fertilization, the resulting child would inherit the mother’s nucleus DNA — which contains most inherited traits like eye color and height — but the donor’s healthy mitochondrial DNA.”

On a pragmatic level, this makes all kinds of sense. It promises to further eliminate diseases and abnormalities, goals that are well within our God-given mandate of filling this earth and exercising dominion over it. On an ethical and spiritual level it is troubling. The slippery slope implications are especially disquieting because this same technology could be used to craft custom-built, designer children, a specific combination of traits according to the parent’s specifications. Once we allow designer children, we will not be far from expecting designer children. Once we can eliminate genetic abnormalities, it will not be long before we should eliminate genetic abnormalities, where it is considered downright cruel not to eliminate them. When this happens, the disabled and those who brought them into the world will be further marginalized. We could discuss the implications all day long.

But I want to make narrower observations. It never ceases to amaze me how the world breaks down when people will not look to the Bible in order to gain God’s perspective on matters like these. The Bible assures us we are so marred by sin and so full of ourselves, that in order to know ourselves, in order to know God, and in order to know how to live in this world, we must gain God’s perspective through his Word. When we read and believe and obey and trust the Bible, our outlook is absolutely transformed. We are given God’s eyes to see this world.

Crucifixion Not the Cross
February 25, 2014

Last week I compared The Passion of the Christ to the forthcoming Son of God, a film set to release later this week. I meant to point out that we can’t expect a movie to do what God promises only the Word will do. I also wanted to suggest similarities between the two movies and to draw attention to the obvious attempts from the marketing team behind Son of God to apply lessons learned during the brouhaha surrounding The Passion of the Christ. Today I want to dig in just a little bit more. I suppose I am going to be a tad contrary here, but I want to give us something to think about before we buy our tickets.

Now listen: I know many people who read this site have thought about the movie, will go to see it, and will enjoy it. I also know many people who read this site will not go to see the movie because they too have thought about it and are convicted it would be wrong for them to go. I believe this is one of those areas in which Christians need to acknowledge that some will believe the very opposite of what they themselves believe. Convictions will vary, even among Christians of the same theological stripe, which makes it an ideal time to obey Romans 14 and to refuse to pass judgment on one another.

Before moving on, let’s distinguish between two related terms: crucifixion and cross. I will allow David Wells to describe the difference: “The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness.” According to this definition, many were crucified, but only One went to the cross.

Here is what I want to think about: A film cannot adequately capture the reality of what transpired between the Father and the Son while the Son hung upon the cross. If this is true, a film that displays the crucifixion but misses the cross might actually prove a hindrance rather than a help to the Christian faith. Even the best movie will still be hampered by a grave weakness.

Words and pictures are very different media, and in the history of redemption, God has used both. For example, in the Old Testament God used words to record prophecies about the coming Messiah while in the tabernacle he provided pictures of the coming Messiah and what he would accomplish—an altar for sacrifice, a lamb to be slaughtered, incense rising to God. Words can tell truth while pictures can display truth.

When it comes to the cross, God has given us four written eyewitness accounts but no visual accounts. Why is this? The Bible doesn’t tell us. What we do know, though, is that every medium has limitations. While visual media are excellent at conveying feelings, they are poorly suited to conveying ideas. Words are able to tell what happened at the cross in a way that pictures cannot.

At the cross we encounter something no picture can tell. Its reality cannot be displayed. Even the eyewitnesses of the cross, those who saw it all unfold, walked away ignorant that day, needing words to explain what had happened there. When we see the crucifixion, our eyes see excruciating physical suffering; when we read about the cross, our hearts recoil at soul-crushing spiritual suffering. When we see the crucifixion, our eyes see soldiers punishing an innocent man; when we read about the cross, our minds grapple with God the Father pouring out his wrath upon his sinless Son. When we see the crucifixion, we see a man stripped naked and slowly dying; when we read about the cross we see Christ Jesus clothed in our unrighteousness. When it comes to understanding the cross, only words will do, only words are sufficient.

The False Teachers
February 23, 2014

Last week I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher whose teaching can still be found today, though most often in a reduced form. His name is Pelagius.

Pelagius

Historians believe that Pelagius was born in Britain around the year 354. We know little about his early years, but do know that at some point he became a monk and in that capacity journeyed to Rome. While in Rome, Pelagius began to write theological works, though, except for a few fragments, these have been lost and are known to us only through quotes in the writings of those who refuted him. He began to promote a rigorous asceticism, apparently out of concern for the moral laxity he saw among many Roman Christians. This austere lifestyle made him attractive to many Romans and he soon gained a considerable following. One person in particular, a lawyer named Celestius, became a devoted follower and promoter of Pelagius’ teachings.

It is said that at one time Pelagius heard a quote from Augustine’s Confessions—“Command what you will, and give what you command”—and blamed such teaching for the lack of morality in the church. He believed that Augustine was teaching doctrine contrary to a biblical understanding of both grace and free will and believed such teaching turned man into a mere automaton. Contrary to Augustine, “Pelagius taught that human beings have a natural capacity to reject evil and seek God, that Christ’s admonition, “Be ye perfect,” presupposes this capacity, and that grace is the natural ability given by God to seek and to serve God” (Theopedia).

When the Visigoths attacked Rome in 410, Pelagius and Celestius fled together to Carthage in North Africa. Pelagius’ influence began to spread there as well, causing concern for Augustine who responded by publishing several works that refuted and counteracted Pelagius. After a couple of years in Africa, Pelagius moved to Palestine and Augustine promptly warned Jerome that Pelagius was spreading a seditious heresy. Jerome, too, labored to prevent this false teaching from spreading in the East.

In 416 the church in North Africa held two separate synods to examine Pelagius’ teachings and both of them condemned him. Their results were sent to pope Innocent I for his decision, and upon receiving them he excommunicated Pelagius and Celestius. However, less than two months later, pope Innocent died and he was succeeded by Zosimus. Pelagius and Celestius asked Zosimus to reconsider the previous pope’s decision. When he did so there was alarm in North Africa and yet another synod was immediately convened to beg him not to repeal the prior pope’s sentence until it could be proven that the two men had clearly denounced their false beliefs.

31 Days of Purity
February 20, 2014

Men, I want to offer you a challenge. You too, women, but allow me speak to the men first. Beginning on March 1, I am going to begin a program I’m calling 31 Days of Purity. This is for all of us—for those who are young and those who are old, for those who are married and those who are single, for those who struggle mightily in the area of sexual sin and for those who may barely struggle at all. I would love it if you would commit with me to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of considering what God’s Word says about sexual purity and thirty-one days of praying that God would help us fight sin and pursue holiness in this area.

Will you join me?

What If I Don’t Struggle?

A little while ago I wrote an article titled When You’re at Your Best, Plan for Your Worst. My point there was that even if you have gained significant victory in this area, thank the Lord, but don’t stop battling. What I said there still applies:

There is a kind of weakness, a kind of vulnerability, that may come when we are convinced of our strength. It is when we are not being tempted, it is when we are standing strong in the Lord’s grace, that we ought to consider the times we will be weak and tempted and eager to sin. We need to assume such times will come and we need to use the moments of strength to put measures in place that will protect us when we are weak.

Also, even as you pray for yourself, you can partner with a friend who may not be experiencing the same victory. Encourage him along. There is every reason for you to join us, even if you are not struggling in this area. 

What About Women?

Women, you can be involved too. I would love it if you would follow along, read what God’s Word says, and then pray for the men in your life: your husbands, your sons, your grandsons. What a blessing it would be to them if you will pray for them in an area in which Satan seems to be winning so many battles. Also, if you are struggling in the area of sexual purity, you’ll easily be able to adapt the devotionals and prayers to your own use.

How Does It Work?

Men, here’s how to get started.

First, pray about people who might join you in this challenge, and then ask them. I am convinced this time will be especially encouraging if you ask a friend or two to join you and if you make it a point to pray with and for one another.

Son of God the Movie
February 18, 2014

In late 2003 and early 2004, we were told that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was going to change the world. We saw breathless slogans like, “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.” Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life had made him a household name, predicted “a spiritual tsunami” would hit when the film released. When he saw this tsunami coming, he planned a two-week preaching series leading up to the movie’s release, booked 47 theatre screens so members of his church could attend with their lost friends, invited a long list of celebrities and billionaires to a premier showing, and prepared a three-week small group curriculum for follow-up. He claimed that his church rode this tsunami to incredible results: “Over 600 unchurched community leaders attended our VIP showing; 892 friends of members were saved during the two-week sermon series. Over 600 new small groups were formed, and our average attendance increased by 3,000.”

It is hard to overestimate the buzz, the excitement, and the anticipation prior to The Passion. Do you remember it? I do.

Back in 2004, I was a member of a Southern Baptist church that tried to ride the Passion wave by mimicking just about everything Rick Warren did. The pastors raised tens of thousands of dollars from the congregation, then bought movie passes, booked theaters, distributed tickets, formed small groups, bought Warren’s follow-up curriculum, and waited to transform the city. Giving away the tickets was the easy part—people gladly accepted free movie passes to the film everyone was talking about. All the tickets went, but as far as I know, not a single person—not even one—came to any of the follow-up studies. No one was saved. Nothing happened. All the time, energy and resources gained nothing.

In the film’s aftermath George Barna got to work and found that the results we saw were far more typical than what Warren reported. “Among the most startling outcomes is the apparent absence of a direct evangelistic impact by the movie. Less than one-tenth of one percent of those who saw the film stated that they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their savior in reaction to the film’s content.” Either The Passion was not actually a great opportunity for evangelism, or most churches botched it.

Ten years later it is indisputable that all the talk of The Passion of the Christ being a powerful tool for evangelism was far more hype than reality. The marketing slogans earned Mel Gibson hundreds of millions of dollars, and brought lots of money to marketers and merchandisers. But the claim that it was the best outreach opportunity since Pentecost is downright embarrassing. For all the good the movie did, we may as well have just written checks to Mel Gibson and skipped the movie.

Yet here we go again. We are just a couple of weeks away from the next The Passion of the Christ: Mark Burnett’s Son of God. Based on the 2013 miniseries The Bible, it is being marketed much like The Passion before it. B&H has just announced a new small-group Bible study from Rick Warren titled Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You. The press release quotes Warren as saying, Son of God is “the best movie I’ve seen on the life of Jesus in years.” The release also says, “The film has made headlines in the build-up to its Feb. 28 nationwide release as churches and organizations across the country have been renting out cinema multiplexes to show the film on every screen the night before its official release.”

The False Teachers
February 16, 2014

This morning I am setting out on a new series of articles that will scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—and pause to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Pelgius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We will begin this morning with one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dangerous, false teachers: Arius.

Arius

Arius is said to have been Libyan by descent, and he was probably born around 256 AD. We know little about his early days except that he studied under Lucian, the presbyter of Antioch. He later returned to Alexandria and became a presbyter there where he quickly became both prestigious and popular.

Arius’ difficulties began in 318 when he clashed with Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria. Alexander believed in the co-eternality of the Word of God while Arius taught that the Word was created by God. Because Alexander understood this as a dangerous threat to the church, he publicly condemned Arius’ teaching and removed him from all church posts. However, Arius refused to accept Alexander’s judgments and appealed to the people of the city and to other eastern bishops. In this way the dispute spread and became a severe threat to church unity. Seeing this danger, and wishing to avert division within his empire, Constantine called the first Christian council: the Council of Nicaea.

At the council, Arius’ teaching was formally condemned. The debate lasted from May 20 until June 19, at which point the council produced an initial form of the Nicaean Creed which explicitly affirmed the “begotten” position and condemned Arianism. All but two of the attendees voted in its favor and those two, along with Arius, were excommunicated and banished to Illyria. All of Arius’ writings were ordered confiscated and burned.

After being in exile for a decade, Arius sought to be restored to the church, and appealed directly to the emperor. Constantine became convinced of Arius’ return to orthodoxy and soon ordered Alexander, the patriarch of Constantinople, to reinstate him. Alexander was wary of letting Arius back into the church and, according to a letter by Athanasius, prayed that God would somehow prevent it. Very soon after this prayer, before Arius could be reinstated, he died.

Nathan Busenitz summarizes Arius’ impact in this way: “In ancient times, Arius’ teachings presented the foremost threat to orthodox Christianity—which is why historians like Alexander Mackay have labeled him ‘the greatest heretic of antiquity’.” His false teaching, coming as it did in the church’s infancy, truly did represent a grave threat.

His False teaching

Arius’ unorthodox position can be summed up very simply as “there was when he was not.” In other words, he held that God the Son is not co-eternal with God the Father. Instead, he believed that the Son was God’s first creation and that through him everything else was made (Colossians 1:15). This made the Son the only direct creation of the Father and thus unique among all creation as the first and greatest created being, but it also made the Father’s divinity greater than the Son’s. He argued that the opposing view, which would soon be officially established as the orthodox position, was incompatible with monotheism.

February 13, 2014

There is a lot to look forward to when the Lord returns and when we begin life anew in the new heaven and new earth. I guess you could say that infinite pleasures await there—pleasures that will know no end, because time will know no end. The greatest of all these pleasures will undoubtedly be the ability to be face-to-face with God at last, free from all traces of sin and evil. Of all heaven’s treasures, none offers more than this.

But heaven’s greatest pleasure is not it’s only pleasure. Lately I have been thinking about another joy that awaits—the joy of a very different relationship with time. When we are mortal, time is a finite resource. But when ten thousand years is as a day, and a day as ten thousand years, time will be infinite and we will be immortal. That will change everything.

I thought about this last week when I traveled to Grace College in Indiana to speak at a few of their chapel services. I had chosen to accept their invitation and was grateful for the opportunity—I enjoyed speaking to the students and I enjoyed getting to know a few of them. There are few things I like more than spending time with Christian college students. Yet in choosing to accept the invitation, I had to choose not to do other good things for those two days.

One of the most exasperating parts of life in this world is that I must constantly choose the good things not to do. So much of life is not the choice between good and bad, but between good and good. Even in the joy of doing one good thing, there is the sorrow of not being able to do another good thing. Three days spent in Indiana, is three days spent apart from my wife and my children. It is three days away from the people I love; I will never get those days back. I have been given perhaps 7,000 or 8,000 days with my children before they move out to begin life on their own, and in going away, I permanently traded away three of those precious days.

Bad Singing
February 10, 2014

One of the real privileges I’ve had over the past few years is experiencing and participating in worship services at quite a variety of churches. These churches have spanned a few different continents, at least four or five different countries, and a host of denominations and traditions. They have ranged from congregations with hundreds or even a thousand members all the way down to churches with just a handful of faithful Christians.

Yesterday I found myself reflecting on many of these churches and I realized something that surprised me: I am drawn toward a church that sings poorly and am a little suspicious of a church that sings really well. Let me explain.

A few years ago I worshiped at a church that had been established decades ago. This was quite a large congregation where three or four generations were worshiping together and where God’s Word had been faithfully proclaimed for many, many years. It was faithfully proclaimed the day I was there. The congregation has a distinct but unusual style of singing, one established many years in the past and carried on to our day.

These people know how to sing. They sing loudly. They sing skillfully. They sing beautifully. They sing in parts and with minimal instrumentation so that together they raise one voice to the Lord.

But one reason they sing so well is that there are very few among them who are new to the faith; there are very few among them who have not been raised to hear those songs week by week from their youngest days. By their own admission, they are poor evangelists and their church is not attractive to outsiders because it is so bound in a distinct culture foreign to those around them. They sing so well because they evangelize so poorly.

And then I think to another church I visited in the not-so-distant past. This is a church where the singing is, well, not quite as beautiful. Though there are some in the church who know the songs and who know how to sing a hymn or a contemporary worship song, there are many more who simply do not. As the music rises and falls, many of those voices fall and rise. As the songs progress, many in the church can do little more than mumble along and hope to hit at least a few of the notes.

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