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Tim Challies

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February 08, 2010

I graduated from college in 1997 (Or so. To be honest, I don’t even remember exactly what year it was and didn’t bother attending the graduation ceremony or picking up my diploma which undoubtedly recorded the date). My history degree did not open up the world of possibilities I had obviously thought it might when I first chose history as my major three years before. With few options available to me, and suffering from a lack of motivation, I decided I had better find some kind of employment, even if it did not incorporate my training. I learned that a new Starbucks was opening nearby and quickly made my way through the interview process. The day the store opened I was there, and I stayed at that job, putting in my forty hours a week, for what must have been a year—possibly more.

I’m not sure if this is still the case, but back then every store was required to select one “Coffee Expert,” the one person on staff who would receive a bit of extra training in the world of coffee and who was required to know more about the various flavors of coffee than anyone else. This person had to be able to identify the differences between the types and to teach others how to do the same. He was responsible for brewing different kinds of coffees in order to educate both the employees and the customers. Through some strange twist of fate I was appointed to this position by the manager.

There was just one small problem. I hated coffee. I still do. I am convinced that it is a vile, evil concoction and one that has cruelly enslaved much of the human race. I despise the stuff, even in what I am assured is its finest form by the hoards of brainwashed Starbucks robots. I can barely stand even the smallest taste of it. It curdles my tongue, makes my eyes water, and leaves me gagging. I find it utterly revolting.

And yet I was the coffee expert. When customers wanted to know about the different kinds of coffee we offered, it was my job to lead them through the various options available to them and to help them select the coffee that was suited to their tastes. A customer would choose a package from the counter and I would say, “Oh, now that’s a great choice. It’s a delicious, full-bodied roast that you can taste all over your tongue. Look for the flavors of oak and a subtle hint of the spring flowers that grow in the mountains of Peru.” I had the routine down pat and helped sell a lot of coffee—more than anyone else in the store, I’m sure. The facts were all true; it’s not like I was some kind of used car dealer covering up a vehicle’s flaws and hoping to make a sell to some poor sap who would be stuck with a useless hulk. I simply relayed information I knew was true. But I hated the product. Had I been entirely forthcoming I would have said this: “It mostly tastes like cigarettes. When I drink it I detect mostly the flavor of charcoal mixed with dirt—and not the nice dirt I used to eat as a kid, either. It tastes like burned, charred, nasty, ugly hot dirt. It’s loaded with caffeine and I’m sure it’s going to shorten your life. If you enjoy the smell or taste of manure, I’m sure you’ll love it. Would you like me to grind it for you?” It always struck me as just a little bit odd that I would champion something I disliked so much.

Since I wrote my first book I had quite a few people ask when I would begin a second one. My response was that I’d write another book when I had lived another book. When it comes to writing it is always a temptation to relay information I know is true, even if I have not incorporated it into my life. I’ve had to confess that I’ve done this in the past right here on this blog. I can sometimes content myself with knowing that something I am writing is true and biblical, even if it has little resonance in my life.

When I worked at Starbucks I had absolutely no passion for coffee. Though I could talk a good line, I always felt a bit like I was lying. Customers would ask, “What’s your favorite?” and I would just blurt out a flavor based on my favorite packaging. I had no favorite coffee anymore than I had a favorite flavor of cough syrup or a favorite kind of kick in the teeth. I don’t want my life to be like this. I want what I say and what I write to be a reflection of who I really am—or who I really want to be through the power of the Spirit.

I want to be a Christian who doesn’t just do a smooth job of selling the Christian life. I could probably sit down and write a book that would say all the right things and make me feel very happy when I had typed out the last word. But it wouldn’t satisfy because it wouldn’t be genuine.

Recently I read through a part of Michael Emlet’s book Cross Talk and came across these words. Though targeted specifically at ministers, I think they are applicable to any of us.

A temptation in ministry is to think that just because we prepared a Bible study, a sermon, or a discipleship appointment (or wrote a book like this!), we are deeply engaging with the God of the universe. But that’s not necessarily true. It’s easy in ministry to live more as a ‘pipe’ than a ‘reservoir.’ That is, it’s easy to live merely as a conduit to others of the transforming truths of God’s Word, rather than as a changed and transformed reservoir who overflows with lived-out gospel truth. You wouldn’t imagine cooking meal after meal for your family without sitting down to enjoy that nourishment, would you? To paraphrase James 1:22, let’s not merely be hearers or speakers or counselors of the Word, but doers, first and foremost.

I know that in writing a book I could easily be a hearer and speaker but not a doer. But that isn’t who and what I want to be. As you know, I’ve begun work on The Next Story. And already I’m seeing how I have to make changes to my life based on what I am learning. Some of these will be experimental, trying to live out different ideas on a trial basis. Though totally unrelated to the book, I did this with vegetarianism recently, going two weeks without meat just to try it out and to see what life is like with a whole new set of tastes and flavors. There are things I will try out just for the sake of the book, with no intention of maintaining them long-term. But other changes are going to be permanent, coming on the heels of necessity or conviction. I will introduce you to a couple of these in the days to come. (Hint: you may have noticed I didn’t post an A La Carte today…)

February 05, 2010

Recently a reader of this wrote me to ask if I had ever written anything dealing with believers and the final judgment. I quickly realized that I had not and thought that today would be a good opportunity to remedy that. So here is a brief look at what believers can expect in the final judgment.

There are several principles we need to keep in mind as we begin.

There will be a final judgment - At the end of days there will be a final judgment. We can offer no greater evidence than the words of Revelation 20:11-15 which vividly portrays this event.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

In some final day, firmly set in the mind of God but hidden from us, there will be a great event of judgment in which those who are living and those who are dead will be brought before the throne of judgment where they will be examined and judged.

Christ will be the judge - Christ will serve as judge. We know this from passages such as 2 Timothy 4:1 where Paul writes of “Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead” and 4:8 where he refers to “the Lord, the righteous judge.” John also writes of Christ as judge saying in John 5:26-27, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”

All men are to be judged - All men, both Christians and unbelievers, will stand before God in judgment. Revelation 20, quoted above, makes it clear that none are excluded from appearing before God’s throne. Similarly Matthew 25 speaks of the final judgment. While Jesus does differentiate between the sheep and the goats, he indicates that both will appear before his throne to be separated, the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

The ground of the judgment will be men’s deeds - Men will be judged according to what they have done, what they have thought, what they have said. Even the secrets of the heart will be brought to light in that day. The true character of each man will be exposed in the sight of God, in the sight of that person and in the sight of all.

Men will be judged according to God’s revelation - Christ will judge people on this basis of God’s revelation of himself. Therefore there will be a greater degree of reward or punishment to those who have had access to a greater measure of God’s revelation. To whom much is given, much shall be required.

With these principles in mind, we can now ask how believers will be judged.

In Romans 14 Paul says “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” and “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Writing to the believers in Corinth he says, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” It seems clear, then, that believers will need to appear before the Judge.

But this final judgment for believers will not be a judgment of life or death. There is no reason to think that as we approach God’s throne we will have pounding hearts, hoping that we will pass the test and be put at his right hand (and similarly there is little reason to think that unbelievers will approach the throne wondering if they are saved; they will know that they approach the throne to hear of their punishment). It is not that kind of a judgment, for all who have put their faith in Christ have already been justified and declared righteous. Christ has already been judged on their behalf. Instead, this final judgment will be a time of the bestowing of reward. Here Christ will evaluate all we have done according to the light given us and bestow rewards accordingly.

Some Christians believe that in the judgment all of our evil deeds will be exposed—that before we receive our reward we will first have all we’ve said and done brought into the light (see 1 Corinthians 4:5). However, this must be balanced with passages such as Psalm 103:12 (“as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us”) and Micah 7:19 (“You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”). It is my understanding, then, that our sins will not be exposed before others and that Christ will not speak of them in that day, for those sins have already been dealt with and have already been removed. Though Christ will dispense reward or withhold reward on the basis of what we’ve done or haven’t done, he will not bring those sinful deeds before all the world.

We may now ask the question if there will be discontent in heaven that some have received greater reward than others. So accustomed are we to finding joy and meaning in what we possess, and so accustomed are we to feeling that equality in possessions or wealth is a key to true happiness, that we have difficulty understanding how there can be inequality, and perhaps even radical inequality, even in perfect bliss. But if we understand that our true happiness is found not in what we own but in our delight in God, we must then see that all of us will be entirely, perfectly content after the judgment. Furthermore, we will know that God has judged rightly and given to each of us no more and no less than what we deserve. There will be no court of appeals for no one will want or need to appeal his reward.

How then do we live in light of this doctrine? We live righteous lives, storing up treasures in heaven. Somehow in my mind this seems like an ignoble motive—to obey God and to do good things as a means of storing up eternal reward. Yet Christ himself indicated that it is a good motive saying, “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” And so we can live here and now free from the need to find reward and satisfaction in this life, knowing that in eternity our reward shall be given in full.

If you would like to study this subject more, the best resources I was able to find were systematic theologies (Grudem, Culver and Hodge all proved helpful).

February 01, 2010

This morning my devotions took me to the final chapters of John (which, to those who know the reading plan I’m using this year, is an admission that I’m a few days behind). We find such poignant little stories in these chapters, stories like Peter and John running to the empty tomb, Thomas falling on his face before the risen Lord, Jesus restoring Peter after his three denials. There is one story among them, though, that I love most of all.

Mary Magdalene has come to Jesus’ tomb and is distressed to see that his body is gone, the stone rolled away. Convinced that someone has taken away his body, she stands outside the tomb weeping. Two angels appear within and ask simply “Woman, why are you weeping?” She replies, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” The words carry with them the pain of her loss. Not only has she lost her Lord, but even his body has been taken away. She is lost and alone.

Then she turns and sees someone else. She does not recognize Him, though it is the very one she seeks. Somehow her eyes are closed so she cannot see who it is. This man says “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She supposes he must be the gardener and says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She wants the body back, needs the body back, and begs that this man might return it to her.

But then, in an instant, her eyes are opened. Jesus, as he had called Lazarus out from the tomb, calls to her. He says but one word. “Mary.” It’s one of the best sentences in all of the Bible. At at that very instant she knows. At that very instant she sees and knows and understands that the One she seeks is standing right there behind her. He is alive! He has risen! She turns and cries out “Rabboni!” (which means teacher). I wonder, does she scream this word, run to him, and throw her arms around his neck? Perhaps she can do little more than call out in a whisper as she falls at his feet. We don’t know. But we do know that she clings to Jesus, overwhelmed with his presence, overwhelmed to know that he is alive. She sees and hears and believes. She knows now that Jesus is alive.

As I read these words, I think of the way Jesus called me and the way he has called countless numbers of men and women to himself. Like Mary I was once unable to see Jesus for who he is. I saw a man who may as well have been a gardener. He was a good man, a moral man, and maybe even a great man. But he was just a man. Only when Jesus called me by name was I able to see that him as the God-man. Only then was I able to see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Only then did I really and truly know him. And only then were my eyes opened so I could see and my ears unstopped so I could hear and my heart renewed so I could believe. Like Mary, he called me by name.

January 28, 2010

Yesterday I sat and watched liveblog coverage of the long-awaited announcement from Apple. To no one’s great surprise, they unveiled their newest device, the iPad. While everyone knew this tablet device was coming, everyone had wondered exactly what it would be. Apple has high standards when it comes to devices like this one and I, for one, was prepared to be amazed. Alas, I was disappointed. iDisappointed, even. I’m ready to declare that the iPad is the greatest disappointment in all of human history (at least since The Phantom Menace).

January 25, 2010

I figure that I’ve earned the right to occasionally re-post a past favorite article when circumstances so dictate (hey, it’s my site!). I’m doing that today. I wrote this one a couple of years ago and was thinking about it yesterday while sitting on a plane in the pouring rain.


At four o’clock in the afternoon of August 2, 2005, I was just a few minutes into a long online training session with a software manufacturer. As we spoke, and as the technician showed me the features of this software, I suddenly noticed that it had gotten very dark in my office. I looked outside and saw that the sky was as dark as ever I’ve seen an afternoon summer sky. Within minutes rain began to fall—hard, driving rain—the kind of rain that will soak you to the skin in seconds. I said to the technician, “this is the worst rain storm I’ve ever seen.” The rain was falling so hard and in such great drops that I could only barely see the house across from my own.

The pilots of Air France flight 358 may have been echoing my words. As the rain fell in Oakville, it also poured down in nearby Toronto. At that very moment their aircraft was on its final approach to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The airplane, an Airbus A340, had left France’s Charles de Gaulle International Airport just over eight hours prior to this and the passengers—businesspersons, vacationers, and students—had enjoyed an uneventful flight. Uneventful so far, that is.

As they neared Toronto, the pilots were warned of thunderstorms in the area and, as they began their approach, were told that jets landing moments earlier had warned of poor braking action on the runways below. Their weather radar showed heavy rain immediately over the airport. Despite such warnings, the pilots felt they would be able to safely land their aircraft. When they were nearly 200 feet above the runway threshold, while on the instrument landing system approach to Runway 24L and as the pilots reacted to rising winds, the aircraft began to deviate slightly from its glidescope. A series of lightning strikes struck the ground in the area of the runway. Flight 358 crossed the runway threshold nearly 40 feet above the standard glideslope. As it neared the ground, violent winds rocked the plane and heavy rain pelted it, drastically reducing forward visibility.

The pilots, unaware that they still had plenty of time to bring the plane around for a second, safer landing attempt, pressed forward. The aircraft’s wheels touched down at 4:01 PM, but did so at almost the halfway point of the 9,000 foot runway. Improper procedures kept the pilots from activating the thrust reversers until 13 seconds after touchdown and from going to full reverse for a further 3.5 seconds. In such weather conditions and with delayed activation of thrust reverses, the laws of physics dictated that a plane weighing almost 185 tons would require nearly 6,700 feet of usable runway to come to a complete and safe stop. The pilots did not yet know it, but they were facing an impossible task.

With the pavement covered in water and a runway surface that was now far too short, the pilots did their best to stop the aircraft as it skidded down the runway. Twenty six seconds after touching down, still traveling at 90 mph as it came to the end of the runway, the Airbus careened across a strip of grass, crossed a service road, crushed fences and light posts, and hurtled across Convair Drive before coming to rest, finally, in a small ravine adjacent to Etobicoke Creek. Some fifteen to twenty seconds had elapsed from the time the aircraft left the runway. Amazingly, the fuselage was largely intact. But as the plane had crossed Convair Drive, fuel had begun to leak and had immediately caught fire. As the plane came to a halt the fire began to spread and to intensify.

It had been almost three decades since the last serious incident at Pearson Airport. On June 26, 1978, Air Canada flight 189 to Winnipeg suffered a burst tire while taking off. The pilot aborted the takeoff but did so too late. That plane, a DC-9, also overran the runway and plunged into Etobicoke Creek, killing two passengers and injuring most of the 105 who survived. It was an eerie foreshadowing of the events of August 2, 2005.

Since flight 189 in 1978 there had been no serious occurrences at the airport—no major accidents or incidents. For twenty-seven years the firefighters had trained to deal with a situation like this one. An entire generation of firefighters had come and gone without seeing a single incident. They could almost be excused for being under-prepared, slow to respond, slow to act.

Seeing flashes of fire and realizing the plane had overrun the runway, a tower controller activated the airport’s crash alarm twenty-six seconds after flight 358 left the runway. But by this time the airport firefighters who, due to the bad weather, had been in the alarm room and had watched the plane land, were already on their way to the crash scene. They arrived only 52 seconds after the plane left the runway. Already they found that half of the passengers had been evacuated. The Air France flight attendants had reacted promptly and just as their training dictated, ushering the passengers to the closest available exists. By the time fire began to consume the fuselage, the last passenger had been evacuated.

Despite twenty seven years without an incident, those firefighters were ready and they responded well in advance of the parameters dictated by safety regulations. In less than a minute they were on the scene and were assisting the passengers. It took less time for them to get to the crash site than it did for fully half of the passengers to leave it.

Air France 358

In the aftermath of this crash, and as I read reports about it, I immediately zeroed in on this simple number that appeared almost unbelievable to me: 52 seconds. I couldn’t believe just how ready these firefighters were.

The theme of preparation is important in the Bible and was much on my mind around the time of that crash as it was then that I was in the early stages of writing a book on the subject of discernment. This incident has been sitting in the back of my mind ever since. Preparation, I’m convinced, is one of the keys to discernment. In all my studies on discernment, this was the one thing that stood out above everything else. The simple fact is that those who are discerning are those who prepare themselves by knowing and studying Scripture. They dedicate themselves to the simple disciplines of reading, prayer and sitting under biblical preaching at the local church.

Just this morning I spent some time studying Genesis 3 and I read of Satan tempting Eve. It seems that Eve was somehow inadequately prepared to deal with this adversary. She was so easily led astray, so easily allowing Satan to lead her away from what was true. Perhaps she just hadn’t given enough thought to the command of the Lord that she not eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Perhaps she had never paused to consider what God meant by not eating. Regardless, she certainly did not trust in His Word or in His goodness. She was unprepared. And so often we are the same way. Though Satan’s tactics have changed little in the millennia between then and now, we are still woefully unprepared to deal with him.

The crash of Flight 358 ended far better than it could have. Almost unbelievably, all of the 297 passengers and 12 crew members survived the crash. There were only a few serious injuries, almost all of which were caused by the leap from the plane to the ground below. Air France flight 358 was a disaster averted.

The last to leave the shattered wreckage were the plane’s First Officer and several airport firefighters. They firefighters had swept through the plane ensuring that no one had been left behind. They stepped out just as the fire consumed and destroyed what was left of the cabin. They were where they were needed when they were needed. They were ready.

January 18, 2010

As you know, I’ve been participating in a short exchange of letters with Luke Muehlhauser who blogs at Common Sense Atheism. Here is where we’ve been so far:

Luke’s First Letter to Me

My Reply to Luke

Luke’s Second Letter to Me

My Second Reply
Luke’s Third Letter to Me

And here is my third and final letter.



I guess this brings us to the final letter in our brief exchange. I have enjoyed this little series. As you no doubt know by personal experience, blogs tend to attract a very homogeneous readership—people tend to read blogs for which they identify with the author. Generally that means that they are quite similar to the author in the most important ways. Every now and again, though, for the sake of growth and variety, it is interesting to break the mold a little bit and we’ve done that here. It has been a learning experience and one I’m grateful for.

I’ve delayed this letter just a little bit as I’ve been wondering what to say and how to close out this exchange. With such vast differences in our belief systems, there is an endless list of issues we could discuss. But ultimately, I care a lot less for issues than I do for people. So I’d like to close in this way. I know in saying these things I may well be falling into exactly what you had hoped or expected. But I fear for you and find that there is nothing else I want to say as urgently as this.

In my first letter I quoted words from the book of Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” God has given you a remarkable privilege, Luke. Not only did he give you knowledge of him through all that he has made (including you!) but he also allowed you to be born born into a home where you had access to the Bible, where your parents took you to church, and where you enjoyed countless other blessings. And yet you are suppressing the truth about who God is and about the very fact that he exists. In so doing, you are provoking God’s wrath. God cannot and will not abide such sin.

Yet God is gracious. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). God commands all people everywhere to repent. God commands you to repent, Luke. He tells you to turn away from sin, to stop suppressing the truth and to turn toward him. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God commands that you turn and he is patient as he waits for you to do so.

But he will not wait forever. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4,5). In continually turning your back on God, you are storing up wrath for yourself. “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6-8). This is your future, Luke, if you do not turn from your sin.

My prayer for you is that you would turn to Christ. In fact, I call on you right here and right now to do just that. Turn from yourself, look to Christ, and find life in him! Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Heed his call; turn to him; find life.

January 14, 2010

Yesterday, as an aspect of researching the book I’m working on, I read (re-read, actually) Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death. The timing was interesting, coming as it did just one day after the horrifying earthquake in Haiti. Postman’s book deals with media in an age of entertainment and I found many of the lessons he teaches in the book immediately applicable to the situation in Haiti. Let me summarize some of them.

Our television culture grew out of the age of telegraphy. The great idea in the age of the telegraph was “that transportation and communication could be disengaged from each other, that space was not an inevitable constraint on the movement of information.” While there was a time when only Haitians would have known about the disaster, today, in our rapidly-shrinking world, it is immediately visible from pole-to-pole. But telegraphy did more than make the world much smaller. It unexpectedly “destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse.”

We now have context-free information; “that is, the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a ‘thing’ that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.” And this is exactly what we are seeing today. News of the disaster is a valuable commodity which is why the top reporters from the top networks have all hustled to Haiti to gather information and, even more importantly, to show themselves within the disaster zone. The value of the information being sent to us is not in action but in the information itself.

We cannot overrate the importance of the images we are seeing on the screens before us (and truly they are both moving and horrifying). “In a peculiar way, the photograph was the perfect complement to the flood of telegraphic news-from-nowhere that threatened to submerge readers in a sea of facts from unknown places about strangers with unknown faces. For the photograph gave a concrete reality to the strange-sounding datelines, and attached faces to unknown names. Thus it provided the illusion, at least, that ‘the news’ had a connection to something within one’s sensory experience. It created an apparent context for the ‘news of the day.’ And the ‘news of the day’ created a context for the photograph. … But the sense of the context created by the partnership of photograph and headline was, of course, entirely illusory.” These photographs arouse our sympathy and somehow make us feel like we have more of a context to understand the disaster. It is not just an earthquake now, but a true disaster for the sad and terrified faces we see in photographs. We now feel like we are somehow attached to the information we are receiving, at least in a way we would not be were we only to read about it.

Yet what do we really know? “Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them. … The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headlines—sensational, fragmented, impersonal.” Looking at photographs and reading a few headlines is knowledge of but not knowledge about.

“Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principle legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the ‘information-action ratio.’” “In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action.” As we moved away from a typographic world into a telegraphic and television world (and now into a digital world), information became separated from action. “For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.” This is a kind of information glut that makes us unable to react to all the information available to us or to do anything about most of it. Were we to actively respond to every situation and disaster that we learn about, we would be constantly in motion and constantly bankrupt. “For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply.” We have become impotent to react in a meaningful way to the information we consume. “We have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.” What do you intend to do about the disaster in Haiti?

Three days from now we will have moved on. Maybe it will take four or five. But honestly, after the weekend, few of us will ever think of Haiti again. The next news story will come along and Haiti will be relegated to history. But three days from now and a week from now, the situation in Haiti will be far worse than it is today. The devastation will be more complete. The pain will be greater. The country has been devastated and it will take years to recover. At the end of the year when the best photographs of 2010 are revealed, the photos of Haiti, that make us weep today, will be nearly forgotten. By then they will be old news, eleven and a half months removed from the headlines. We’ll think, “Oh right, I remember that.” And then we will scroll down to the next photo.

Postman calls the world brought about and fostered by television a “peek-a-boo world” “where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.”

And isn’t that what the Haiti earthquake is for most of us? It is entertainment. That sounds cold but it is exactly the case. If we turn on the television and watch those images and do nothing about it before moving on to the next news item, have we not merely been entertained?

In one regard I have to turn from Postman. Postman, though he knew his Bible well, was not a Christian and did not understand the power of prayer. Though we may be impotent to act, to actually go to Haiti and give aid, we can ask God to accomplish his purposes, even through so devastating a situation. We can pray for the nation and its people. We should pray for them, even, and especially for brothers in sisters in Christ who live in that country. We should pray that as people from around the world head to Haiti to feed the hungry and heal the sick, that they would take the gospel with them. And we can consider giving financially to credible organizations that will be involved in relief efforts (such as Compassion). It turns out that we are not entirely impotent in the aftermath of this great disaster.

January 06, 2010

I’ve put it off long enough. I’ve blocked off a few days in my schedule, I’ve prepared myself mentally (I hope) and I’ve gathered the things I need. Today I begin in earnest on my new book, The Next Story, and by “in earnest” I really just mean I’m going to start for real; all I’ve got so far is a proposal. (Click here if you’d like an overview of the book). This gives me just about six months to write a 200-250 page manuscript. That may seem like a long time but I know the weeks will race by, leaving me scrambling by the end. It’s pretty much inevitable and unavoidable.

I have very limited experience in writing books, with only one to my credit so far. The second time around I feel somewhat more prepared for the experience, maybe like a mother heading into labor with her second child. She knows it’s going to be brutal but she knows as well that there will be joy when all is said and done. That’s probably not quite a fair analogy, though, because I do enjoy the writing process far more, I’m sure, than a mother enjoys being in labor. Plus, a man can never use childbirth as a metaphor without arousing the wrath of women who have actually been through it. So scratch that analogy. Suffice it to say that I’m at once looking forward to and dreading the experience. I know it is going to have huge highs and deep lows.

Here is my office where I’ll be spending my days, tapping away on my computer.

(Click through to see an annotated version of the photo)

I may well also migrate occasionally to Artisano, a local bakery cafe that serves the most outrageously delicious steak and portobello sandwich along with pastries that are actually worth eating (a rarity, I find) and a wide selection of overpriced drinks ($4 for lemonade? Are you serious?). Best of all, they have free WiFi and don’t seem to mind people who hang out there for hours at a time.

I would really like to use Apple’s Pages to write the manuscript, both because of its less-cluttered interface and its handy full-screen mode that blocks out all visual distractions. So I will begin with Pages but may have to eventually transition to Word, especially once we get to the editing stage and the tracking function comes into play. That is not a happy thought since Word on Mac is somewhat less than wonderful.

I’ve done the important work of selecting my font (11pt Palatino) and my line spacing (1.4). These things are important to me to the point of being silly. But I figure that if I have to stare at a manuscript for hundreds or thousands of hours, it may as well look the best it can. It leaves me with a screen that looks really black and white:


To the other side of my desk, behind my chair, is all of this:

(Again, click through for the silly annotated version)

That little cart there is stuffed full of books I intend to read or re-read as I go. Actually, there are quite a few more than you see there since my wife has offered to take on some of the reading and has selected a stack of titles to work her way through, taking notes and getting together some big picture ideas. She is good to me.

In the coming days I intend to do little writing, lots of reading and massive amounts of note-taking. Though I have prepared quite a detailed proposal for the book, I want to start afresh, at least to some extent, to ensure that my approach to the topic is really the best it can be. I will first seek out the themes that will appear through the book, look for a biblical framework to understand the human heart and technology, and then go looking for the topics of the individual chapters. Even as I write this I am excited to get to work.

In the weeks to come I’ll introduce you to the cast of characters who are going to help make this book come together. But for now, I had best quit procrastinating and start this book. It’s not going to write itself, is it?

But first, one more item. As I began writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discipline several years ago, I specifically asked the readers of this site if they would commit to praying for me once a week. It was a tremendous encouragement to me to talk to readers, often people I had only just met at a conference, who told me “I’m praying for you.” I have no doubt that those prayers were effective and often, when I was struggling and specifically requested prayer, I could honestly feel or sense the difference prayer was making. Once again I would like to ask if you’d be willing to pray for me. This is a book that deals with technology, but even more it is a book that deals with living as Christians in a world that is rapidly changing all around us. It’s not about technology as much as it is about the soul and about the gospel. If I am to write about such things and if I am to do so with any power, I will need God’s help. If you would be willing to ask him to help me, and to do so regularly, I’d be ever grateful.

And here I go…