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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

June 19, 2008

You may well know of Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife (he is executive director and co-founder of FamilyLife and the daily host of the radio program Family Life Today). He has authored or co-authored several books. Rainey’s daughter Rebecca recently gave birth to Molly Ann, her first child. Molly was unexpectedly born with a life-threatening medical condition. The following are a few emails explaining the situation and asking for prayer. As the father of young children, reading these emails just about broke my heart. Please pray for Dennis and his wife Barbara and for Rebecca and her husband Jake. And pray for Molly. Though it seems that her situation is hopeless, God is more than capable of healing even this little girl.

Update: this evening Dennis Rainey wrote “Molly met The Savior just moments ago and is breathing celestial air at the feet of Jesus.” So do pray that God would grant His grace to the mourning parents and grandparents.

Initial Email

E-Mail from Dennis Rainey (Sun, June 15, 2008),

Believe me, this is not an email that I wanted to write you…but you are family and need to know.

Molly was born Friday morning around 5:30 to our daughter Rebecca and her husband Jake Mutz. A single email from her dad Jake announced “It’s a girl.” I knew something was up when we didn’t hear anything from them for the next hour and a half.

Everything about Molly looks so cute and normal. But she has a problem with a vein that carries blood to the brain. The Vein of Galen is supposed to carry blood, nutrients, oxygen, ect to the brain, but because it is enlarged and has a tangle of blood vessels in the middle of her brain, it is flooding the brain with too much blood and the blood that is going there is not going throughout the brain as needed. The result is that at birth her heart began working double time to try to pump blood to the rest of her body. Her condition at birth was so serious that she was in congestive heart failure and she had pulmonary hypertension.

The MRI taken on Molly around noon yesterday came back with very bad news. More than 50% of her brain has irreversible brain damage. She is blind. If she ends up being able to live thru numerous surgeries, she will not be totally paralyzed, but likely be in a wheel chair, not able to talk, or understand language. The pediatric neurological surgeon told us that the only hope of her living would be a series of 10-15-20 surgeries, that would need to begin soon…each one risky for a new born, and with a very questionable outcome. If taken off the ventilator, her heart and lungs would fail within a few days, if not within hours.

Rebecca and Jake are faced with the choice of multiple surgeries with no guarantees or making her comfortable and enjoying all the days the Lord God gives her. Words can’t describe what Jake and Rebecca are experiencing.

I am writing you to ask you to please pray:

Pray for Jake and Rebecca that they will be comforted and experience God’s peace in the midst of dashed hopes.

Pray that they’ll have wisdom to know what God wants them to do.

And ask God to heal Molly. He is able. He could do it. Yet, He may have other plans for her little life. May His will be done. And may he be honored.

Thanks for praying.
Dennis
Ps 112:1-2

Update #1

E-Mail from Dennis Rainey (Tuesday, June 17, 2008)

Molly’s condition remains the same, critical. Multiple meetings with neonatologists, pediatric cardiologists (from here to Little Rock, to Indiana to Mayo Clinic), neurologists, and interventional radiologists, have confirmed: Much of her blood is going to the brain.
Because of the abnormal vein and aneurysm, the blood that’s going there is ineffective, since it’s not going to her lungs, and the rest of her body…as a result 60-80% of her blood is going to her brain, normally it should be 10-15%. And because of this she is in congestive heart failure.

Damage is substantial to both halves of the brain and permanent. As a result they have two options:

Brain surgery, very dangerous and at best a questionable procedure, since she’ll never function normally without a miracle. If the surgery is successful, the congestive heart failure could be slowed and with a couple more surgeries, perhaps eliminated. Leaving Molly with a damaged brain and many more dangerous surgeries.

Second option is to withdraw life support and enjoy what hours or days God may give Rebecca and Jake with her. It is likely she’ll only live a few hours.

I have to tell you that listening and watching Rebecca and Jake (with Molly in Jake’s arms) grapple over what God wants them to do in terms of treatment of their daughter has been THE most difficult thing I’ve ever watched. It’s been holy. Worshipful. Heart rending. It is beyond imagination and words. I know that some of you have been through this, but oh how tough to watch two people you love enter into this deep valley. I marvel at how honest and real they’ve continued to be. Their faith and trust in God is remarkable.

They have decided not to operate. And in the coming days, Rebecca and Jake have decided to remove the life support.

What has been unimaginatively tough has just become a lot tougher. Please pray for Jake and Rebecca’s broken hearts. Scriptures tell us our days are numbered. Molly’s little life may be comprised of less than 7 days.

I am grateful for your prayers and sustaining love.

God is God. We are surrendering to Him and His ways. Blessed be the Name of our God. There is NO hope in any other.

Dennis

Update #2

E-Mail from Dennis Rainey (Thursday, June 19, 2008)

As the sun is coming out here in Colorado, and The Son will soon be welcoming home Rebecca and Jake’s daughter, Molly. A gift, entrusted to them for 7 days, to be ushered home, undoubtedly by a band of the gentlest and mighty angels dispatched from the throne of God to carry her into the presence of The Savior.

What has been tough, is about to get much tougher. Pray for Rebecca and Jake and forward this email to anyone you know who will pray for them.

Our days here have been so full of the presence of God. Honoring Him for Molly Ann.

Friday morning she was born… she didn’t cry for nearly 4’ because she was suffering from congestive heart failure. Her mom held her only for seconds before she was whisked away to be placed on life support. We think her problem is a heart murmur. Oh how I wish that was all she had. She is rushed by ambulance to The Children’s Hospital here in Aurora. We arrive that evening to hear Jake say she is going to need brain surgery. I am thinking…I wish it was a heart murmur.

Saturday was a day of testing, in more ways than one. She has x-rays, ultra-sound, and MRIs around 11. The radiologist makes a copy for Jake and me from her text book about the Vein of Galen. I go on line and find out that Molly is up against a serious abnormality in the middle of her brain that it is VERY rare and VERY destructive. Around 4 we are seated in a private room with a neurologist, cardiologist, neonatologist, and nurse giving us the news that over 50% of Molly’s brain is permanently damaged and that the damage affects both halves of the brain. 10-15-20 dangerous surgeries, she MIGHT be able to have A FEW functions as a human being. (Later I talk to a friend who has been a neurologist for 30 years and he puts it in perspective-“In cases like Molly where there is so much brain damage, I have never seen a good outcome through surgery.” Never is a strong word. Yet we hope and pray for a miracle…even today) It is as though this young couple have been hit by a truck, news beyond comprehension. Joy turns to mourning.

In other words, it would take a miracle for Molly to live.

Sunday Jake’s parents, Bill and Pam Mutz, arrive along with some of their family. Laura flies in from DC, Samuel and Stephanie and their three children fly in from Seattle, Ashley flies in from Memphis where she was on vacation with her husband and 5 sons and Ben and Marsha Kay come to the hospital. Rebecca and Jake want to introduce their new daughter to each family member. Many come and kneel at Rebecca’s feet and just sob. When a family is being a family it is powerful. Worshipful. God honoring.

Jake and Rebecca spend a good bit of Sunday and Monday praying, talking, seeking second opinions trying to decide what is God’s will for Molly…what is the loving thing to do?

Monday we surround Molly and have a baby dedication, read Scripture, pray and sing a couple of songs. More than a dozen of us weep our way through the familiar hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Again many of us kneel at Rebecca’s feet as she hold’s little Molly in her arms teethered to life support tubes.

Monday night Bill and Pam Mutz and Barbara and I witness the unimaginable…we sit in a hospital room as Jake hold’s Molly…listening for over 2 hours as Jake and Rebecca process their choices. God is God, but it’s impossible to NOT feel, this just shouldn’t be. What a choice for a young couple to have to make. They decide to not pursue the several very dangerous and complex brain surgeries and remove life support later in the week.

Tuesday, honestly, I don’t know what happened to Tuesday. But I do know that if love could heal, Molly would be well. Instead, we can all see Molly’s little chest pounding, her heart beating faster and faster, trying to keep up with what she needs to live. 60-80% of her blood is going to her brain when it should be 10-15%.

I do know that Wednesday was an incredible day. Videoing, picture taking, making a mold of Molly’s hands, Rebecca and Jake holding Molly still teethered by life support tubes. Rebecca and the mom’s giving Molly her first, and only bath, washing her hair. Stroking her little naked body. This is not what this young mother expected. Doing footprints and hand prints. Ask me to show you my bible and I’ll show you her footprints all over Psalm 127 and 128…and her handprint on my life verse, Psalm 112:1-2…Her life may have been short in terms of days, but her life has been mighty. Mighty Molly Mutz.

Wednesday closed out with this email at midnight from Jake, on the close of the last full day that Molly will likely live:

I just got done holding Molly chest-to-chest for the last 3.5 hours! Heavenly! I could feel her beating heart on my bare chest! 2569 kisses later I relinquished her to Mom.

She is an Angel!!!!

Now Rebecca is experiencing this delight! I just looked over at Bec & she nodded, as if to say - I WILL be sleeping here with my Sweet Pea for the next 12 hours!

We love you guys!
Jake & Rebecca

And now today. Molly’s coronation day. Read Ecclesiastes 7:1-4. This morning we will all say goodbye one by one and then leave Rebecca and Jake to spend the afternoon with her. She is expected to live only a few minutes after being taken off all life support machines later on this afternoon.

Pray for Jake and Rebecca today.

And for the Mutz family and ours.

Our hearts are breaking.

Update #3

E-mail from Dennis Rainey (Evening of Thursday June 19, 2008)

Molly met The Savior just moments ago and is breathing celestial air at the feet of Jesus.

June 16, 2008

Though I work primarily as a web designer, and despite receiving training in another area of the computer field (network administration, for those who may be interested), my most significant education was in history. It was history that I studied while in college and it is, in many ways, still my first love. As much as I love reading Christian living and spiritual growth books, I’m always eager to dive into my next history book. In the decade since I completed college I have continued to read in history, and in particular, in church history.

As I’ve read about the first-century church, I’ve been struck by the blessedness of living in this generation—our generation. As I study the very early Christians I begin to see again just what a legacy we have as Christ followers. The faith as we know it today was not simply handed to us, but was painstakingly developed over hundreds and thousands of years. The Scriptures have been closely studied through all of those years and the general pattern has been incremental steps forward and often large steps backward. Sometimes God sees fit to allow the church to take a giant step forward, as in the days of the Reformation, but more often the church has slowly and deliberately developed doctrine that accords to Scripture. Today we have unprecedented access to the Scripture and to resources dealing with the Bible. For this we ought to be profoundly grateful.

I thought it would be worthwhile to list some reasons that we, as Christians, should be eager to engage in the study of church history.

God Tells Us To: The Bible continually exhorts believers to search out and remember the past. The Old Testament in particular is filled with references to God commanding the Israelites to remember His deeds of the past. He instituted ceremony after ceremony, festival after festival, that caused His people to look to what He had done in the past. Veiled in many of these ceremonies and festivals was a glimpse of what would happen in the future. And so, when we look to the past, we may also glimpse just a little bit of what God promises us in the future.

For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?” (Job 8:8-10)

The pillars and monuments of the past serve as constant reminders of God’s faithfulness. They serve to increase our faith and they reassure us that as God has acted in the past, He will act in the future.

To Understand Today: We should study the past to understand the present. The study of history, when done right, is always a humbling experience. It allows us to understand and sympathize with the plight of those who came before us. It helps us understand the blessings we enjoy today that were not always enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in days past. It also prevents us from developing a view of the faith that is too narrowly focused on our day and ignores the long, storied history of the church. It shows us that we are not too far different from so many of our brothers and sisters in days past and helps us avoid sins and mistakes they may have made.

To Understand Tomorrow: History is not just a study of the past in an attempt to understand the present, but is also an attempt to understand and even predict the future. When we see the patterns of days gone by, we can begin to formulate ideas about where current trends will lead. By understanding the past we begin to understand the future. When we understand where our current trends are taking us, we can react to avoid heading down paths that have been shown to be ruinous.

To Understand Providence: As Christians we are often guilty of dwelling in the present and looking eagerly to the future while forgetting all about the past. But to do this is to lose sight of the valuable teaching of the past. In past days God revealed Himself in mighty ways, continually providing for His people through trial and persecution. When we study the past, we can see many of the ways in which God’s providence has already been displayed. This can serve as a valuable teaching tool as we prepare to face trials or persecution in our day. It can and should spur us to greater love and appreciation of God and give us greater confidence in His promises. As He has been faithful to men and women of days gone by, He will be faithful to us and to our children. This assurance gives us great stability in our faith.

To Understand Error: In many ways the history of the church is a history of action and reaction. Much of Christian theology has been developed and strengthened in reaction to error and heresy. When we visit the past we can see how error has arisen in the church and we can see which errors have already arisen and have been decided by a consensus of the church. This can be valuable as we face the inevitable error in our own day. Many Christians engage anew in battles over doctrine for which they could receive a great deal of guidance from great theologians of days past. By studying what has happened, we can avoid future errors and even the patterns that precede error.

To Understand People: We all enjoy considering who we would choose to sit for a meal with, were we able to select from all the people who are living or have lived in the past. The reality, of course, is that we cannot speak with our heroes who have lived before us. Yet by studying history we can come to know and understand them. We can come to see the parts of their lives that brought glory to God and the parts that brought Him dishonor. We can see what led to their rise to prominence within the church and perhaps the character flaws that led to their downfall. We can learn much not just from history, but from specific people who lived in a period of history.

To Understand Endurance: Since Christ left the earth, Christians have lived in anticipation of His return. Those who lived in the first century expected that this event would be imminent. And yet, two millennia later, we continue to wait. As we look to history we arm ourselves with the knowledge that Christ’s return may still be far off. As we see how men and women have persevered throughout the history of the church, we are strengthened with endurance, knowing that we, too, shall be witnesses to Christ’s return when that great day finally arrives.

Can you think of more reasons? If you can, feel free to post a comment below.

June 04, 2008

Planet Earth is widely regarded as the greatest nature or wildlife series ever produced. Says David Attenborough in the opening moments, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.” And it proceeds to do just that, finding and filming some of the most exquisitely beautiful locations on the planet. The scenery, the panoramas, the creatures are absolutely breathtaking.

While the producers of the series are not Christians (or do not claim to be Christians) and while the films were not meant to draw attention to God, as I watched them I was continually drawn to marvel in the greatness of the Lord. As the films provided a tour of so many beautiful locations and as they gave close-up shots of such incredible creatures, I saw the hand of a Creator. I saw it everywhere.

I’ve since often reflected on what I saw in the series and eventually wrote down a list of some of the things I learned about God through Planet Earth. And today I’ll share that list with you.

I learned that our God is…

…A God of Variety

jungle.jpgAs a web designer I know a thing or two about design. I know about the demands placed upon those who seek to design. I know that it is not nearly as easy as it may appear. Sometimes creating even just two or three variations on a similar theme taxes my creative abilities to the max. A few hours of design work on a theme can leave me tired and burned out. Design inspiration can go missing for long periods and may show up only in isolated bursts.

But God is not so limited. In Planet Earth we see stunning variety in plants, animals, and landscapes. There are animals we’ve grown accustomed to—the ones we see around us every day—and there are animals the likes of which we can barely even imagine. There are plants of every kind, every color, every size. From beginning to end, this series showcases diversity. It shows God as a lover of variety. God could easily have created just a few animals or a even just a few types of animals. But He went far beyond, creating far more creatures and plants than anyone has ever been able to count. The diversity is almost unimaginable.

God’s emphasis on variety in what He has created teaches me that He also loves variety in other areas. God has not created humans to resemble one another in gifts and talents any more than He has created all of us to look the same. God is pleased with who He has made us to be.

…A God of Beauty

God did not make a world that is drab and uninteresting. Instead He made a world that is dazzling in its beauty. Plants, animals, and landscapes can cause us to gasp in wonder. Who but God could have created such beauty? He created a world of untold beauty and created us so we could enjoy it with Him. He created this world and declared that it was very good. Planet Earth shows us the world’s beauty in ways that were previously impossible and unimaginable.

Humans are drawn to beauty, and little wonder as we are created in the image of the one who designed beauty. Beauty is something that flows from the character of God and in pursuing and enjoying beauty, we imitate the One who made us.

…A God of Detail

God overlooked no detail in creating this world. While humans like to declare that certain parts of our bodies are unnecessary or left over from some far-off evolutionary process, nature offers us no such hints. In Planet Earth we cannot help but see the beauty of God in the details—in the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals. God created this world to function perfectly, down to its tiniest and seemingly least significant parts.

whale.jpgIf God has seen fit to be involved in the tiniest details of the tiniest creatures He has made, how much more can we trust Him in the details of our lives. The same God who sees the sparrow fall is the God who is present with us as we seek to live our lives in accordance with His will. The God who has woven together this world is the same God who weaves together providence for our good and for His glory.

…A God of the Big Picture

While God has overlooked no detail, he has not done so at the expense of the big picture. The way the world works is so clearly seen as the tiniest creatures in the ocean become food for the larger creatures, who in turn become food for larger creatures still. Life begins in the oceans and filters out throughout the earth. Even with the advent of sin into the world, everything functions so well in the big picture. Planet Earth shows us the big picture in action.

As God watches over the sparrow and even the smallest details of our lives, so He weaves together the big picture. The big picture of creation and of history shows us a God who created us and, despite our sin, has redeemed a people for Himself. The big picture shows that everything in the world is unfolding exactly as God planned for it to. In the big picture as much as the small God will be glorified.

…A God of Pleasure

God takes pleasure in His creation; He takes pleasure in beauty. There are some places in the world and some plants and creatures that seem to exist primarily to display their beauty. Planet Earth takes the viewer to the deepest recesses of the world and there shows beauty almost unmatched in the world above. What purpose does such beauty serve except to allow God to reflect His glory through what He has made. The beauty is unmatched.

God is not a cruel taskmaster who wants only to push His people to do things they do not want to do. On the contrary, God takes pleasure in what He has made and He wants us to take pleasure in it as well. As we look at the world He has made, we can stop and look and ponder and delight in what He has done. We find pleasure in creation and ultimately in the One who made it all.

…A God of Laughter

Bird of ParadiseGod takes pleasure in His creation, to be sure. But He must also sometimes enjoy what He has made for the humor it displays. Who can but laugh as he watches Planet Earth and sees the bizarre and hilarious mating displays of the ridiculous birds of paradise? Surely God must have a sense of humor to create something so entertaining and something so funny.

God does not wish for His people to go through life solemn and sour. Laughter is a gift from God and when we laugh at the sublime and the ridiculous we honor the God who made us to be people who laugh. And He made certain aspects of His creation funny so that we could join Him in laughter and delight.

…A God of His Word

The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself in what He has made. He reveals His existence, His power, His authority. He also reveals His wrath. In nature we see glimpses of what God created this world to be and glimpses of what it has since become. And we learn that God is a God of His Word. As Tennyson wrote so long ago, nature is red in tooth and claw. In Planet Earth we see the results of the fall into sin. We see animals destroying one another; we see humans destroying the creation. We see that God is not One to be trifled with. What He says is true. What He says will come to pass. God warned man of the consequences of sin, and man ignored the Creator. The world has been suffering ever since.

seal-shark.jpgCreation testifies to the truth of what God tells us about sin and its consequences. If this is the case, we can also trust God when He tells us how we can avoid the eternal consequences of sin. The same God who saw man plunge this world into sin is the God who has provided salvation to those who would believe in Him. He is a good and a kind and a trustworthy God. He is worthy of our trust.

…A God of Redemption

Nature cries out for redemption—for release from its bondage. We cannot even begin to fathom the amount of death and destruction upon this planet—this planet where death was once entirely foreign and unnatural. Every day countless millions of animals are torn apart, suffering in agony as they fall prey to one creature or another. No creature is immune. Some may live for centuries, but sooner or later they go the way of all the earth; they die and decay and pass away. In every glimpse of a baby animal being torn to pieces and in every scene of terror and bloodshed our hearts cry out that this is wrong, this is unnatural. Somehow we know that death is a foreign state. And we ask, “when will the last drop of blood be shed?” We long for the final redemption of this world and its return to a state of perfection. Nature attests to the fact that death is wrong; and it testifies to the end of all that is unnatural.

cave.jpgPlanet Earth vividly shows that the world groans as it awaits redemption. And as we watch we, too, cry out for someone who can stop all of the suffering and destruction. Our hearts long for a redeemer!

…A God of Adventure

This world will be fully and finally redeemed. And when that time comes, we will have the inestimable privilege of enjoying an eternity exploring the wonders of the world He has made for us. The wonders will only increase as the sin is removed from us and as we enjoy access to every part of this planet. We will enjoy eternal adventures exploring the deepest depths and the highest heights of this amazing planet.

While we may love to explore even today, we know that even the most committed explorers can catch only a glimpse of the world’s wonders. But the time is coming when we will have unending opportunities to see the hand of a loving creator in every part of this world. But even now we can praise Him for what He has made and what He has done.


A couple of months ago I reviewed Planet Earth and its predecessor Blue Planet. Click here if you want to read that. If you are interested in buying the series, I’m pretty sure the best prices are at Amazon (or they were when I bought it).

June 02, 2008

For the past few weeks I’ve been transfixed by a word. That may sound a little bit strange but it is exactly what’s happened. It keeps coming to mind and I keep pondering it, trying to gain a sense of its meaning. Though the word appears just three times in Scripture, twice in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Christ and once in Matthew in the fulfillment of that prophecy, it’s a word we have all used and a word whose meaning most of us know. Our children read about it every Christmas and our pastors mention it in their Christmas sermons. That word is Immanuel. God with us. God is with us.

I sense there is a lot to this word and to the truth behind it that I’ve never thought about before and I know that there must be great application to my own life. I hope to spend more time studying it and discerning how God wants me to live based on the awesome fact that “God is with us.” But even now as I’ve meditated upon this word I’ve been profoundly moved. How can we ever exhaust the wonder of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, taking on human flesh? And even then, how can we but marvel that He did not come in the form of a great and mighty warrior, but in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. God in flesh; God in human flesh. Like every baby before and since He entered this world through pain and agony, sweat and blood. Though He was the power that had created the world, He depended upon His mother’s breast for physical sustenance. Though He upheld the creation by the Word of His power, He needed His parents to protect and nurture Him as a helpless infant.

What mind could conceive of a God who would walk this world and be so misunderstood? Why would God come to earth only to have almost everyone He encountered ignore His divinity? How could people see God and not understand?

Yesterday my pastor preached on John 8, one of two chapters dealing with Jesus’ time at the Feast of Booths. Here, as in so many passages of the gospels, we see people trying to figure out who this person is. They accuse Him of being a Samaritan and of being possessed by Satan: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They wonder how He could claim to know Abraham: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” They ask if He is going to commit suicide: “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” They are utterly bewildered, blinded by their own ignorance and their own hatred of all that is good and true. Before them stood “God is with us” and all they saw was a wicked and perverse man who blasphemed their faith.

As Jesus’ ministry continued, people continued to seek but not find His identity. Even as He stood trial the questions continued. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate, and then “So you are a king?” Pilate was incredulous, unable to understand who this man was. Even His beloved disciples wondered and wavered.

As I sat in church yesterday and pondered the mystery of so many who were unable to see that God was with them, standing before them, I was struck by the fact that this will not always be so. Jesus came to earth incognito, announced only to a group of shepherds as they tended their flocks in the night. Suddenly the dark night was disturbed and God’s glory shone all around. An angel announced the birth of Jesus and immediately a host of angels poured forth their praise at the wonder of it all. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” To so many others, though, Jesus appeared just as a man, walking the dusty roads of Israel. No angels foretold His coming; no trumpets blew as He approached. Even today, Jesus is present with us through the Word of God. He is quietly but powerfully present there, though just as when most people looked at Jesus and saw only man and not God, today most people look at the Bible and see words but not Word.

But this will not always be. God gives us today, He gives us now, to understand who Jesus is and to humble ourselves before Him. He tells us that today is the day we need to put our faith in this God who came as man. When Jesus returns to earth, He will not come incognito. He will come with all of the power and the glory and the honor that are rightly His. When He returns to earth, there will be no mistaking who He is. When He comes again, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And God will be glorified in every one of us. There will be no mistaking who He is.

May 19, 2008

Today is the day that I and my fellow Canadians celebrate Victoria Day. It is a day in which we, at least in theory, commemorate the birthday of Queen Victoria (and Queen Elizabeth II, though I suspect most people are not aware that she piggybacks in her birthday as well). Most Canadians, I’m quite sure, do not know or care what the day commemorates, though they are happy enough to enjoy a day away from work and school. I will attempt to remedy this shocking ignorance today. It gives me an opportunity to share another fact in my “It’s a Fact, Eh? archives.

It was in 1845 that Canada’s Legislature first declared May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday, a holiday. After Victoria’s death in 1901, Parliament passed an Act that established a legal holiday on May 24 in each year (or May 25 if May 24 fell on a Sunday) under the name Victoria Day. Since then, the birthday of each of the subsequent kings and queens has been celebrated on or around that same day. A later amendment to the Act of Parliament established the celebration of Victoria Day on the Monday preceding May 25. And this is why we celebrated Victoria Day today, even though it is only the 19th. While the official name of the holiday is Victoria Day, many Canadians refer to it as “May Twenty-Four.” The queen’s birthday has largely been forgotten and instead the day tends to mark the unofficial beginning of the summer season.

The traditional way to celebrate the day (or more often the whole weekend) is to head to a cottage or campground and to drink oneself into oblivion—a fairly popular Canadian pastime. For this reason the holiday has become known colloquially as “May two four.” (A “two four” is a Canadian term for a case of beer that contains, of course, twenty four bottles). For many Canadians it is the weekend they open their cottages after spending a winter away. The long weekend concludes with fireworks displays as soon as it is dark enough to see them. Many people find themselves unwilling or unable to remain awake after dark on Monday night, so it’s not unusual to find firework displays throughout the weekend. Some towns host “official” displays while in others neighbors get together and fire off their own. Victoria Day is one of only two days where Canadians tend to use fireworks (the other being July 1 or Canada Day).

Like most Canadians, I know little about Queen Victoria. She is just that dowdy-looking queen who is always shown wearing black and who presided over a period of explosive growth of the British Empire and of the popularity of romantic novels. I understand, though, that she was a Christian. I have often heard a rather stirring quote attributed to her. “O how I wish the Lord would come during my lifetime,” she once said. When someone inquired why, she responded: “Because I should so love to lay the Crown of England at His feet.” And what a moving picture that is, of a ruler who would be so willing and eager to submit to the lordship of the One who rules all.

My plans for this Victoria Day involve a lot of writing. We have a busy week ahead and it leaves me needing to use at least part of this day to try to meet some writing deadlines. Hence I’ll take it easy, but still try to get some work done. If it gets warmer, brighter and sunnier than it is right now, I’ll probably take the kids to the park and spend some time with them there. But since it looks like we’re going to have rotten weather today I think it’s going to be an indoor kind of day. I guess that means we may watch a movie and play some board games. Sounds like an okay day to me.

May 18, 2008

Since I committed to daily blogging I’ve often joked that the day I don’t post, lots of people will presume I’m dead. This is one of those days that saw me hurry through the morning and then head to church. After the service we enjoyed an afternoon of fellowship with a family in our church and we then went to the evening service. Suddenly it’s 7:30 and I haven’t blogged. We came home to a flashing light on the phone and a message checking to make sure we were still alive. “You haven’t posted yet so I just wanted to check in and make sure everything’s okay.”

As I’ve been using Sundays to lately to post prayers, I thought it appropriate today to post a prayer for the Lord’s Day Evening. Once again this is drawn from The Valley of Vision.


MOST HOLY GOD,
May the close of an earthly sabbath remind me that the last of them will one day end.
Animate me with joy that in heaven praise will never cease,
that adoration will continue forever,
that no flesh will grow weary,
no congregations disperse,
no affections flag,
no thoughts wander,
no will droop,
but all will be adoring love.
Guard my mind from making ordinances my stay or trust,
from hewing out broken cisterns,
from resting on outward helps.
Wing me though earthly forms to thy immediate presence;
May my feeble prayers show me the emptiness and vanity of my sins;
Deepen in me the conviction that my most fervent prayers,
and my lowly confessions, need to be repented of.
May my best services bring me nearer to the cross,
and prompt me to cry, ‘None but Jesus!’
By thy Spirit give abiding life to the lessons of this day:
May the seed sown take deep root and yield a full harvest.
Let all who see me take knowledge that I have been with thee
that thou has taught me my need as a sinner
hast revealed a finished salvation to me,
hast enriched me with all spiritual blessings,
hast chosen me to show forth Jesus to others,
hast helped me to dispel the mists of unbelief.
O great Creator, mighty Protector, gracious Preserver,
thou dost load me with loving kindnesses,
and hast made me thy purchased possession,
and redeemed me from all guilt;
I praise and bless thee for
my sabbath rest,
my calm conscience,
my peace of heart.

May 07, 2008

Yesterday I wrote about sin, asking if sin is primarily something we do or something we are. Some questions arose in light of that article and I wanted to carry on a bit of discussion by looking further at the doctrine of human depravity. I have shared most of this in the past but felt it was well worth covering again. It is easy to see this doctrine as one that is terribly depressing and deflating, but when we properly understand depravity I think we can also find it very liberating. It gives us cause to praise God for His grace.

Total Depravity

The doctrine of total depravity be defined something like this: “Total Depravity is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will” (I don’t recommend Wikipedia for theological precision, but in this case they offer quite a good definition). Because the purpose of this article is not to defend Total Depravity I will not offer biblical support for it. I hope to write such a series of articles in the future.

When we say that mankind fell in Adam, we affirm that as our federal or representative head, Adam’s sin was passed on to each of us. Adam represented the human race, and when he decided to forsake God, he did so on behalf of every one of us. This is similar to a head of state declaring war on another nation - his declaration means that each person within his nation, each person that he represents, is now at war with the foreign country. Job laments “Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) No one who has been born of man can escape this radically sinful nature. Nature tells us that like begets like; a dog can only give birth to dogs, not to cats or frogs or birds. Similarly a sinful person can only bring forth other sinful people (which helps us understand why Jesus needed to be conceived of the Holy Spirit).

Another affirmation we make in the Christian view of the fall is that there is a sense in which the first sin is ours in the same way in which it was Adam’s. While we did not actually take the piece of fruit and eat it, God foreordained our relationship to Adam long before Adam fell so that from the moment of our conception we are sinful. We are not innocent until we commit our first sin, but are condemned, sinful people from the moment our lives begin. Psalm 58:3 tells us that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” Before we are even born we are already sinful, and deliberately go astray as soon as we are able.

How Sinful Are We?

And so it is that humans are sinful from the moment life begins. But how sinful are they? Like many Calvinists today, I am convinced that a term such as Radical Depravity or Radical Corruption is superior to “Total Depravity.” I believe these terms contribute to clarifying the matter, for by total depravity we do not mean that people are as depraved as they could possibly be—they are totally corrupt in some ways but not in others. It is here that it is helpful to distinguish between extent and degree.

When we say humans are totally depraved in extent, we mean that their depravity has reached every part of their being. It extends to every part of them - their mind, body and spirit are all corrupt. When we speak of a total degree of depravity, we indicate that something is exactly as bad as it could possibly be so that there is not even a tiny bit of good left. The doctrine of total depravity speaks to extent, not to degree.

Consider an illustration of three glasses of water. The first glass contains clean, pure water and represents Adam in his perfect state before the Fall. Now consider a second glass which contains this same clean, pure water. We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be.

The Equalizer

Total Depravity is the great equalizer of humans before God. Even when we compare the most sinful man to the young boy who was saved long before he even knew how to get into serious trouble, we see that all men are equal before God. The Bible teaches that we are not sinners because of the degree of our depravity, but because of the extent. The degree exists only because of the extent.

The extent of my depravity is just as great as that of the worst sinner the world has ever known. The thoughts of his heart were continually evil, and so were mine. He hated God, and so did I. As one who came to trust Christ as only a child I had little opportunity to express this hatred and resentment, yet the Bible teaches that it was there all along. Titus 3:3 tells us that “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” These words are as true of a child as they are of an adult. Even my sweet little two-year-old redhead downstairs passes her days in foolishness, disobedience and malice towards both God and men. There are none who are truly innocent before God. Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us as much where it says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Were it not for Scripture’s clear teaching on Total Depravity, I may have cause to boast or to consider myself somehow more innocent than a person who instigated and endured much pain and suffering before being drawn to the Lord. Yet the Bible teaches me that my depravity, even as a child, was as great in extent as anyone’s. It was only His grace that kept me from being as corrupt in degree. If God delights in saving us, who are depraved in extent, we know also that God can save anyone despite the degree of his sin. If I compare myself to another and find him more in need of a Savior than I, I have made the mistake of comparing my sin to his, instead of comparing my sin to God’s perfection. God does not judge us by comparing one to the other, but against His perfect Law.

Total Depravity is not “mere” doctrine, but is truth that should and must impact every believer’s life. This truth is the great equalizer, for it shows that the best and worst of men are all equally corrupt in light of God’s perfect standard. “The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23) God had to stoop just as far to grab me as He did the lowliest criminal, for we were equally dead, equally depraved and equally in need of His grace, His life. The miracle that brought me to life is the same miracle that must bring every sinful man or woman to life. We are equal as we fall to our faces before the cross. An old song by the French Canadian band The Kry says it well:

Down at the cross come and leave your pride
Lay everything at His feet
For all of us He was willing to die
Even when we were weak
When we were still without strength
When we were set in our ways
When we were filled with hatred for Him
Still He was willing to die for you and I

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Let not the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
For all men are equal down at the cross

This is the biblical teaching on depravity. All humans are corrupt in extent—every part of us testifies to our imperfection, but thanks be to God, not in degree. And before us lies a decision. God tells us that when we die we can anticipate either becoming perfected, so once again we will be like that glass of water that is crystal clear, free from any poison of corruption or being cast out of His presence where we will become like that glass of poison, as corrupt and evil and filled with hate as we could possibly be.

May 07, 2008

You have probably heard about the Evangelical Manifesto—a document that has received some attention in the press over the past few days. This manifesto was made public for the first time just a few minutes ago and is now publicly available at anevangelicalmanifesto.com. According to those who drafted the document, “The two-fold purpose of this declaration is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world today, and second to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.”

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

The document was drafted by a Steering Committee comprised of Timothy George, Os Guinness, John Huffman, Rich Mouw, Jesse Miranda, David Neff, Richard Ohman, Larry Ross and Dallas Willard. Among the Charter Signatories are such diverse notables as Leith Anderson, Kay Arthur, Darrell Bock, Jack Hayford, Max Lucado, Erwin Lutzer, J. P. Moreland, Mark Noll, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Jim Wallis.

I look forward to reading through it as soon as I’ve got a few minutes to do so!