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Burning and Yearning
January 06, 2016

The Bible allows us to distinguish between two kinds of sexual desire, a pure and sinless sexual desire and an impure, sinful one. We can term these yearning and burning. Yearning is a legitimate sexual desire, the desire to explore and experience sexuality with a God-given spouse. Burning is an illegitimate form of sexual desire, the desire to explore and experience sexuality with someone who is not a God-given spouse (or, alternatively, to experience inappropriate or even perverse forms of sexuality with a God-given spouse). Sexual desire is at the heart of both, but yearning is the desire experienced in a pure way while burning is the desire experienced in a sinful way.

Yearning can be experienced by men and women, married and single. It can be prevalent or occasional, minimal or strong. It is the eagerness to respond to sexual desire in a self-controlled, God-honoring way. A husband may find himself lost in a daydream yearning to experience sexual intimacy with his wife. A single woman may find herself yearning for a husband so she can discover and experience sexual pleasure and fulfillment. These are not evil desires. They are natural, human desires. The first compels a husband and wife to enjoy sexual union while the second compels a single man or woman to pursue a husband or wife. For those who do not have a spouse or whose spouse is for some reason unavailable, yearning compels a deeper reliance on God, a deeper trust in his goodness and sufficiency.

Burning can also be experienced by men and women, married and single. It can be prevalent or occasional, minimal or strong. It is the longing to respond to sexual desire in a way that is not self-controlled and not God-honoring. A wife may find herself lost in a daydream, burning to experience sexual intimacy with someone who is not her husband. A single man may find himself burning with lust for a particular woman, objectifying her, idolizing sexual pleasure with her, as if that is his only hope for fulfillment. A married man may even badger and bully his wife to get what he is convinced he needs in that moment. These desires are evil. They are a perversion of God’s gift of sexuality.

I draw the distinction to show that there is a sexual desire that is good and honoring to God. We do not need to feel guilt for this desire or to feel that it is intrinsically wrong. It is a sexual desire that is yielded to the Lord. It is experienced, yet carefully controlled according to the Word of the Lord, channeled to appropriate ends—marriage, intimacy, or reliance upon God. But there is also a sexual desire that is not yielded to the Lord. It is experienced, yet without self-control and heedless to the Word of the Lord, channeled to evil ends. Both can be experienced by married men and women, and both can be experienced by single men and women.

This distinction matters. Owning the difference between yearning and burning allows us to see that not all sexual desire is wrong, even when experienced by someone who does not have a spouse. It allows us to see that not all sexual desire is good, even when experienced by someone who does have a spouse. It allows for sexual desire and even frustration, but without feeding it or being defeated by it. It allows for the desire for sexual nearness and fulfillment even without allowing that desire to degrade into sin.

Burning is desire perverted and unrestrained. Yearning is desire surrendered.

Stop Reading Marriage Books
January 04, 2016

On a near-daily basis I receive emails from people asking me for book recommendations. When I feel equipped to give those recommendations, I am happy to share them (and even have a section of my site dedicated to this).

A little while ago I had a young man write to ask about books on marriage. He told me that he had recently become engaged and that he and his fiancée were eager to prepare themselves. They thought they would do this by reading all of the best books on marriage. He asked specifically for 6-8 books, and said that they intended to read each one of them. It was a noble request made for the best of reasons. But I think it was a mite misguided.

When it comes to books on marriage we are spoiled for choices. I can easily put together a list of 6 or 8 marriage books that are grounded in the Bible and full of godly wisdom. I could probably list another 6 or 8 that may not be quite as strong but still contain plenty of value. And then there are the myriad books that deal with the nuances of marriage—sex, romance, money, conflict, and on and on. Again, we are spoiled for choice and blessed beyond measure.

But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, or at least to partake of too much of a good thing. Reading 6 or 8 books on marriage before exchanging wedding rings may be too much of a good thing.

This is the counsel I gave that young man:

Read one or two books on marriage and maybe even read them out loud together. Consider The Meaning of Marriage and When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, perhaps. It may be wise to read, or at least have ready, a book like Ed Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure which can help with the intricacies and difficulties of the sexual relationship. (Many who don’t have a resource like that in the early days soon wish they did.)

After you’ve settled on your marriage books, find a book or two that address a specific sin or weakness in your life. Or, perhaps even better, books that will motivate you to grow in holiness. R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God always tops my list, with Jerry Bridges The Pursuit of Holiness right behind it. Read them too, either alone or individually. After all, personal holiness is a much better gift to bring your new spouse than extensive book-knowledge of the ins and outs of marriage.

And then stop reading and start inviting—stop with the marriage books and begin to invite yourself into the lives and homes of people whose marriage you admire. If you have a home of your own, invite couples into it. Otherwise, take the risk of inviting yourself into their home. Talk to these people and ask them about the joys and sorrows of marriage, the ups and downs of their relationship. Ask them how they met and married and what they remember of the early days of their marriage. Ask them how they resolve conflict and why they decided to have children right away or why they decided to wait. Ask them how they maintain their relationship today and what they would do differently if they had to do it all again. Talk about money and in-laws. Even ask them for counsel about a healthy sexual relationship if such questions seem appropriate. Learn from them. Best of all, follow-up with them weeks or months after your wedding—visit again and tell about the joys and difficulties you have experienced. Let them counsel and encourage you again.

Books are wonderful, and I believe strongly in the value of reading. Books on marriage can be wonderful, and I have benefitted from reading many of them. But the best and most helpful books on marriage are the ones being lived out by husbands and wives in your family, in your neighborhood, and especially in your church. Read them longer and more thoroughly than any other.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 03, 2016

Once again, here is a selection of Letters to the Editor. The most popular article I’ve ever written is Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. While I wrote it long before I invited letters to the editor, as soon as I allowed letters, they began to flow in. Here is a selection that represents the variety of opinions.

Just wanting to remind you that just because they’re at a relatives house doesn’t make them safe either! If our daughter was invited to a party or sleepover I always called the parents to make sure they were home and what activities the kids would be doing plus were they allowed to leave the house? I would sometimes find that they’d give me the right answer but not follow through once the event started.
—Jan H, New Glarus, WI

***

I am a Mother of three two boys and a girl. My rule regarding sleep overs was not open to discussion in our home. From a young age boundaries were set, explained and reinforced. The boundaries were defined by the element of risk. Sleepovers fell in the high risk zone so they were avoided all together. Our thoughts are don’t allow the situation to arise and it becomes a non-issue!
—Mandy R, Canada

***

I read your article, and I must say I’m a little shocked at how little perspective you have and how much you’ve allowed your anxiety to overrule reasonable risk assessment. You realize that your cute child is far more likely to be molested by someone they know well, such as an uncle. Not by a parent of another child in front of other children with whom they are sleeping in the same room with. Does it happen? Yes. But these things are really outside of your control, so denying a very important part of childhood development (aka, learning to be away from mom and dad) just so that you can abaite your anxiety is downright selfish. You aren’t keeping your kid home for their mental wellbeing, you are keeping them home for yours.
—Cathy M, Corning, NY

***

We are expecting our first child. It’s an exciting yet terrifying time. I often worry about keeping my child safe. So your article has given me much needed perspective and courage. When I was young my dad was hurt bad in an accident. We lost our home and had to move in with some relatives. I ended up being sexually abused by an older cousin there. I felt that I couldn’t say anything because if I did we wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. We would end up in the streets and it would be my fault. Going through that made it hard to trust others. I’m very lucky to have found a wonderful husband who supports and loves me. Sleepovers were always fun when I was little but now I feel that they are just not worth the risk. Thank you for sharing how you drew a line on sleepovers and didn’t cross it. I shall be taking that advice to help keep my child safe. Thanks again.
—Jessica P, Salt Lake City, UT

***

My oldest is now 24, we allowed her to sleep over starting at six when she was in kindergarden. We never had issues. These events are part of the socializing of children. When she was in fourth grade we invited all the girls from her class to our house, it was a crazy night but a great night, we invited all the girls, no cliques, didn’t matter the race, for the most part they got along, but we were dealing with fourth grade girls. High school was stressful, but if our daughter had not dealt with cliques and social issues in grade school (which were dealt with during sleep overs) she would have not been able to handle high school! There will always be issues, but you have to teach you child to deal with the issues. As a parent you MUST get to know the parents of your child’s friends. There are some risks, but the benefits of making life long friends with your child’s friends families is worth it.
—Janet V, Baton Rouge, LA

***

I believe that by forbidding your children sleepovers, you are depriving them of the hours they require to independently practice forming deep social bonds with their peers, a deprivation which could inadvertently hamper their emotional maturation and weaken their ability to resist predators now and later in life.

The development of private, personal, peer-based relationships outside of the family system is a process all people are required to do throughout their lives. It is deeply critical that children learn this process and practice it extensively in childhood.

However, it takes a lot of free time for a person of any age to converse enough to develop a true, healthy emotional bonds with a stranger peer. Unstructured, unsupervised private free time as peers is deeply necessary for social bonding among all people. And in this modern era of appointment play and supervised extracurricular activities, an overnight or weekend visit is the only opportunity children have to bond without almost constant interruption by adults. Willfully depriving children of the privacy and hours required to develop healthy social habits is monstrous.
—Christina D, Seattle, WA

***

I read a child training book years ago that confirmed my belief that sleepovers were a bad idea. So we took that approach with our children. We made one exception later, after which we found out some things about the family that, had we known before,we wouldn’t have allowed the sleepover. This and 3 personal incidences when I was a child 45 years ago confirm this: You are, and should always be, responsible, diligent, and watchful for your child’s wellbeing.
—Leanna S, Hollandale, MS

Tim: I received quite a few emails that were very difficult to read as they contained details of people who had been molested and abused while attending sleepovers. I chose not to share the ones that included heartbreaking details.

Comments on How Should Christians Use Guns

Last week I shared some of the articles that had been written in response to John Piper’s thoughts on Christians and guns. Needless to say, there were quite a few responses.

Appreciate the article as well as the others referenced. This still appears to be a liberty issue. My work experience (13 yrs. Corrections Officer, 2+ yrs hospital security) has allowed me to see a deeper level of human depravity; some people actually derive pleasure from harming others. In light of the many ‘pajama boys’ running around today, men need to be reminded of their obligations as men. I don’t get paid to look the other way. I totally trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and also embrace Romans 13. Not all of us are wired to be passive, some of us are wired to be warriors and will use the force necessary to protect those entrusted to our care. Some things in life are worth fighting for…and some things in life are worth dying for.
—Steve R, Freeport, IL

***

I live next to a Naval air base here in Southern Maryland and my church has (unsurprisingly) plenty of pilots, gun safety instructors, marines…etc. So I come from a more conservative “pro-gun” “pro-self defense” background. While I am not a gun owner myself, I am not a pacifist—and I have been wrestling with this idea of Christian suffering vs. Christian responsibility. When do we lay down our weapons and be taken for Christ? And when do we become a loving neighbor and protect the weak around us?

I am glad John Piper addressed the issue, and though I do not fully agree with his conclusions I think he brings some very needed points. His talk of sacrifice and suffering rings strange in our free and Western ears. It is easy to become so comfortably entitled to “our stuff” and “our lives”—that when they are threatened we opt to go down with out “guns blazing.” The call of Christ is to lose, to die to self, to suffer. Like most of our brothers and sisters around the world. This is something we must remember.

As you pointed out, Tim, the issue of guns is not an issue of “first order doctrine,” making it challenging to draw clear cut lines that define when it is okay to defend and when it is necessary to suffer. I think there are times when (though they may be very rare) it is perhaps the most loving thing to do shoot a gun. If we have the means to defend our neighbor or our family (entrusted to us by God) it is the Christian and the loving thing to defend. Not to look the other way. There is also an element of “losing ourselves” in defending those around us—which last time I checked is most Christian.

Though I am still grappling with this issue, I think too often we in the West are dying on the hill of self-protection. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch my guns. Don’t touch my stuff. The rare cases where Christian responsibility is allowable is when we shoot not in the name of self, but in the name of those around us and those entrusted into our care.
—Daniel H, Southern Maryland

***

My husband and I started discussing John Piper’s article as soon as I read it on Facebook; I even posted it on my FB page. What I am seeing in my NewsFeed and even hearing in discussions with other Christians is more of the attitude that Jerry Falwell espoused. There is a certain swagger in Christian circles that has replaced trust in God. People look at others with suspicion instead of love, and have a “don’t mess with me or else” demeanor. Do they trust God or do they live in fear? Aside from the multitudes of injuries, suicides, and accidental deaths that occur from having guns in the home, one of my biggest concerns is that a citizen will shoot first without any attempt to diffuse the situation. Ideally, this is the aim of the police—they give the suspect the opportunity to cease what he/she is doing.

As always, I appreciate your blog and your desire for balance. There have been many hateful things said, not only about John Piper’s article, but about him as a teacher. I think I am more worried about those gun owners, but I will hand that concern over to Jesus.
—Kathy S, Lebanon, PA

***

Thank you for giving John Piper’s article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:

(1) While Piper’s article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being “biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old” (Wedgeworth’s words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don’t think it is true that Piper “assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not” (Wedgeworth’s explanation for his “biblicistic” charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God’s unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ’s defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic “biblicism.”

(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: “The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I’ve been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond” (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he’s thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a “reluctant journey toward nonviolence.” Piper needs to read this book (I think he’s stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
—Dwight G, Leon, IA

***

I appreciate the overall respectful tone with which you responded to John Piper’s piece “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves”. However, I am disappointed in the narrowness of the arguments used by cited authors in support of Christians using deadly force against attackers. It seems to be basically assumed by people holding your position that the only recourse left to a man whose wife and/or family is being attacked is to stand idly and helplessly by if he does not have a gun handy. As well, the situations which are created by proponents of deadly force are extremely hypothetical and no attempt is made to sort through all the nuances of such hypothetical situations. For a very well stated stance on the non-violent position, I would strongly encourage you to read Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. Mr. Sprinkle has arrived at his position “reluctantly” and as such has though through it well. Blessings.
—Conrad H, Mozambique, Africa

Tim: The narrowness of the articles I quoted was a reflection of the narrowness of the responses. I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.

Thanks to all who took the time to write a letter to the editor. Now that I have posted 10 of these collections, I am glad to consider this a successful experiment. I intend to continue to invite and share such letters.

How To Finish Over 100 Books in 2016
December 31, 2015

Are you going to take the 2016 Reading Challenge this year? I talked it over with my family and we have decided to team up on it. We have the poster up, we are ready to go, and are just waiting for January 1. Whether you do it alone or with others, 100 books in a year can sound intimidating. Yet many people (myself included) regularly read at that pace. My friend Bryan DeWire wrote a little article to tell how he read 112 books in 2015, and how he wants to encourage you to try to aim for almost that many.


This past year, my goal was to finish 111 books. By God’s grace, I made it to 112. Why 111? My previous record was 110. That means, I typically aim to finish at least 2 books a week.

That might sound totally out of your reach. But you might be surprised to hear that it’s quite doable. I am not a fast reader. My strength is noticing details. I love to copyedit. That means, I read every word—and I read fairly slow. And I’m the kind of nerd who does not consider myself having read a book if I did not also read the footnotes—and all of the cover—and all of the front and back matter. Yes, even the copyright page! Bottom line: If I can do it, so can you! [Tim’s note: You do not need to read all that stuff to consider the book complete!]

Admittedly, the number of books you read is somewhat arbitrary. The main aim is to love God with all of your mind as you engage various works of theology, business, fiction, and so on (Matthew 22:37). It would be better to master fewer books than to lightly skim hundreds of books just to say that you have read them. That is not the point. But I have found that I can get a surprising amount of reading done by establishing the following three habits:

1. Have a Specific Goal in Mind 

So many times, we fail to accomplish much simply because we don’t plan to do so. The principle applies to Bible reading and prayer, and it also applies to reading other books. So, here are a couple ideas:

Perhaps you can list out the top 20 books you want to read and even put them in order of your interest. Then you can commit to reading them throughout 2016. That’s not even 2 books a month.

Or perhaps you can take on The 2016 Reading Challenge from Tim Challies. Within that challenge, you can choose to read 13, 26, 52, 104, or (with extra credit) all 109 books throughout the year. That challenge is appealing to me because Tim’s plan will encourage me to read different kinds of books than I might normally read. Plus, there have already been some great discussions over at the Goodreads group, VT Reading Challenge (VT stands for Visual Theology, the series of posters that Tim posts on his site). The group has already given me accountability, recommendations, and fellowship.

Too often, when you aim at nothing, you hit the mark! So get a plan in place.

2. Write Down the Books That You Finish

While I have done this during certain seasons before, 2015 was the first year I consistently kept a list of books that I finished (which included audio books I listened to and any kids books over 100 pages). I simply kept a numbered list of titles I finished and the dates I finished them. For example, here is a screen shot of the books I read in November (my best month of the year):

Books in 2015

Seeing this list get bigger throughout the year motivated me to press on. It’s encouraging to see what you can do when you simply stick at something consistently. Plus, if you take The 2016 Reading Challenge, it’s all the easier to track what you’ve been reading!

3. Establish Boundaries for Entertainment Use

I already said that my previous record was 110 books in a year. What I didn’t say was that I had read that many books all the way back in 2004. That’s 11 years ago! Since then, the distractions in my life have multiplied: having an iPhone, MacBook, Twitter, Facebook—and much more.

So, I realized: I can do this. I just need to be more intentional. I need to set better boundaries—and perhaps even give certain things up at least temporarily, if not for good. Here are a few changes you could consider making:

  • Only check Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and email at certain times. Just don’t check them continuously! We are literally re-wiring our brains when we check these things over and over and over again.
  • Only use your computer, smartphone, and TV after having your devotions—which often leads to other book reading!
  • Likewise, don’t use your computer, smartphone, and TV after dinner (or 7:00 p.m. or whatever works for you).
  • Resolve to only spend a certain amount of time every day on these technologies. Set a timer and follow through.

If you have forgotten what it’s like, take some steps and rediscover the joy of getting lost in a great book!

Image credit: Shutterstock

What John Piper Said About Guns
December 29, 2015

John Piper sparked a firestorm with his recent article, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves? Piper’s article was a response to Jerry Falwell Jr. who has encouraged the students at Liberty University to secure permits to carry guns. I appreciated Piper’s attempt to answer a difficult question, and equally appreciated some of the measured and helpful responses from those who disagreed with him. What follows is a summary of some of the points he made along with some of the major points of three people who interacted with and (tactfully) disagreed with him: Steven Wedgeworth, Bob Thune, and Douglas Wilson.

Here is Piper’s big point in his own words:

My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.

In response to this, Steven Wedgeworth writes, “This is a good way to approach the issue and a very important one for the average pastor to be able to consider. An eagerness to shed blood is anti-biblical and a real temptation in our contemporary culture. But Dr. Piper’s declaration that he is not “primarily” interested in self-defense falls flat when he goes on to directly address self-defense and tie it in to a larger theological framework of sacrifice and exile.” Several others noted roughly the same thing, that Piper says he is attempting to deal with a limited and defined point, but actually goes significantly wider than that. Much of the disagreement comes from these wider points.

Wedgeworth goes on to offer these three critiques:

  1. “Piper’s argument is biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old.” [For a definition of biblicism, click here and scroll down to the heading Biblicism.]
  2. “Piper confuses self-sacrifice with the protection of others.”
  3. “Piper’s essay is actually a very confusing piece of argument.”

He concludes by saying, “[Piper’s] logic is badly confused, as he fails to distinguish between the spiritual and temporal realms, misunderstands the civic role of the family, and conflates the question of preservation of life with vengeance and bloodlust in general. Thus, he is unable to offer any sort of corrective and may actually give a cure that is worse than the disease.”

Later in his article, Piper writes, “[A]ny claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, ‘[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain’ (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.”

Bob Thune responds, “[Piper] fails to reckon with the reality that in the United States, a Christian citizen who legally uses deadly force to stop an attacker is a legitimate extension of the government’s sword-wielding power. If God has given the ruler the right to bear the sword… and if the ruler extends to private citizens that right… then where exactly is the extrapolation?”

Similarly, Thune says, “Piper asserts that there is, in the Bible, ‘no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military.’ But can he point to the chapter and verse where the Bible deals with police and military using lethal force? No. Because there isn’t one. The assertion that police and military may use lethal force is an application of texts like Romans 13. And so is the assertion that a private citizen may use lethal force!”

Later, Thune writes,

I agree with Piper that Christians should not carry concealed weapons for the purposes of (in the order of his arguments) 1. avenging ourselves, 2. retaliating for unjust treatment, 3. handling hostility, 4. advancing the Christian cause by force, 5. returning evil for evil, or 6. resisting persecution. … 

Piper leans heavily on the book of 1 Peter, where Christians are urged to endure unjust suffering. But contextually, that persecution was coming from the government itself. If at some point in the future our government turns with hostility upon Christians and uses the “power of the sword” against us (as did Nero in the first century), then certainly we must bear that suffering without retaliation. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are doing this right now throughout the world. But it’s a stretch to say: therefore, Christians should lay down while a radicalized terrorist shoots innocent people.

Doug Wilson praises Piper for what he attempts to do in this article: “He is a biblical absolutist, and he is pursuing a tight, systematic, rational argument from the text of Scripture. … I don’t have a doubt in my mind that John will go wherever the argument requires him to go, and he will submit to the text, whatever it says. We need more of that, not less.” He then summarizes his disagreement by interacting with this section of Piper’s article: “I do not know what I would do before this situation [a man assaulting his wife] presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. And I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me.” Here is Wilson’s response:

Let us say that a member of John Piper’s leadership team shot and killed someone who was violently assaulting his wife. The prosecutor refused to touch the case because he said it was an open and shut case. The response was well within the law, and the force used to stop the assailant was not disproportionate. Let us also say that the man who did this believes that he did the right thing, the only thing that he could have done under those circumstances. He is not apologetic at all. In short, he had a gun on him, and he had that gun because he disagreed with John’s entire approach as outlined in the article. Now what?

The solution is, of course, to continue to study God’s Word and to believe that it contains the wisdom we need to know how to respond.

I would like to commend those who disagreed with Piper in a civil fashion. This is not an issue of first-order doctrine and, for that reason, there is every reason to have the discussion and to have it tactfully. I benefitted a lot from reading and considering the various positions. Between them, they aptly highlighted the complexity of the issue and put forward compelling arguments. This is exactly what the blogosphere can do so well.

As for me, I live in Canada where the laws are very different and so, too, is the relationship between citizens and firearms. For that reason, I have put little thought into the ownership and use of guns and found this discussion quite helpful in forming my thoughts. To tip my cards just a little, I find myself appreciating Piper’s efforts, especially related to demeanor and heart-attitude, but leaning more toward the points made by Wedgeworth and Thune.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 23, 2015

I am not one of those good bloggers, those by-the-book bloggers. The good ones always know exactly who reads their articles, how many visitors they get each day, how people found their way to the articles, and on and on. But I have never paid much attention to such metrics. However, once or twice a year I put a bit of effort into generating some reports and thought I would share a bit of what happened here in 2015. Here is a brief recap of the year that was.

The site served up nearly 16,000,000 pageviews this year from somewhere around 7,500,000 people. These people visited from 237 different countries with 79% of them representing the United States. The top 5 countries were the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. Following those nations were Philippines, India, Singapore, New Zealand, and Kenya. Facebook was the largest source of visitors, followed by Google and Twitter. Visitors clicked a little over 12,000,000 links to visit articles listed in A La Carte. Beyond all of that, the site generated around 6,500,000 emails to the people who choose to receive the articles that way.

The top search terms that led people here were various spellings and misspellings of my name followed by “benny hinn,” “norman vincent peale,” “td jakes,” and “paul washer.” One of those is not like the others!

And here are the top-ten articles of the year in order of the number of views.

  1. Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. This marks the second year running that this article has been at the top of the list. This year alone it was read almost 5,000,000 times.
  2. My Wife’s Plea to Christian Men. This one attracted a lot of attention, and a strange mix of both criticism and praise. For what it’s worth, she and I stand by it.
  3. 10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling. Here I outlined a series of significant concerns with a runaway bestselling book.
  4. How an Affair Really Begins. I drew largely from the work of other people to show that affairs do not begin with sex.
  5. 6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches. I wrote this one early in the year after reading Deepak Reju’s book on protecting churches from predators.
  6. A Clean House and a Wasted Life. This was a reflection on productivity and why we sometimes measure it all wrong.
  7. You Don’t Need a Date Night. I wrote this one just a couple of weeks ago and it gained a surprising amount of attention.
  8. 7 Lessons from 50 Shades of Grey. Just like the title says, I was reflecting on the 50 Shades phenomenon.
  9. Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie? This article from 5 years ago gained new life when I changed up the quiz format to make it interactive.
  10. 5 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Dating Relationship. A brief look at some ways that dating can go off the rails.

And that was 2015! I look forward to finishing out this year and then seeing what the next year will bring. Before I sign off for the day, please accept my gratitude that you continue to read this site. Your participation simply by reading the articles is a tremendous blessing and encouragement to me.

One Big Tip to Make Your Resolutions Stick
December 21, 2015

’Tis the season to begin to consider those annual New Year’s resolutions. ’Tis the season to first evaluate whether such resolutions are a good idea or a bad one.

Speaking personally, I am a believer in New Year’s resolutions. I believe our lives benefit when we take time to think, evaluate, and dream a little, to consider how we are doing and how we have been living, and to compare it to how we want and ought to live. The dawn of a new year gives us a fresh opportunity and a helpful context to create resolutions and to put them into action. I do not make resolutions every year, but often I do. I think this is one of those years.

Through success and failure I have learned a bit about New Year’s resolutions and want to share a tip— a two-part tip. It’s a simple but important one: Resolve them prayerfully and plan them carefully. This, I think, is a key to successful resolutions.

Resolve them prayerfully. December 31 is not the ideal time to come up with a list of resolutions, because the impulsive ones rarely stick. The best resolutions are the ones that come through thought and planning. Actually, the best ones are the ones you pray about. Instead of procrastinating until the very end of the year, begin to think and pray now about a bad habit you would like to break and new virtuous habit you would like to begin in its place. Or think and pray of a character trait you would like to emphasize or an activity you would like to begin. Speak to other people about these things. Take the whole process seriously and approach it deliberately. If a resolution is worth making, surely it’s worth praying about. Resolve prayerfully, not impulsively.

Plan them carefully. Once you have made your resolution, you need to invest a little effort in planning. You need to plan how and when you will take the actions that go along with the resolution. Sheer willpower is enough to begin a new thing or to take the first steps against a bad thing, but eventually you will need something more. You will need to form a habit. Willpower is both fickle and fleeting, but habits—habits are built (or broken) only over time. To build or break a habit you need some kind of discipline that will help you do, or not do, certain behaviors. So think carefully and plan how, when, and where you will build your habit.

If you resolve to get fit, actually plan the times and activities and put them on your calendar right now. If you resolve to put greater emphasis on personal devotions, decide today where you will do them and what the format will be. If you resolve to budget your money, select your budgeting tool now and schedule the times you will update it. Do you see it? Don’t only decide. Resolve them prayerfully and plan them carefully. And don’t just plan the first day, but the first thirty since that is roughly the time it takes to form a new habit.

So now, get evaluating, get thinking, get praying, get resolving, and get planning. What will you resolve for 2016?

(In my new book Do More Better I teach the value of having a system in your life. That system gives exactly the structure you need to build or break habits. Whether you use that system or another, it will go a long way to making you successful in your resolutions). I guess that’s just one more reason to read it!

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
December 20, 2015

This week’s letters to the editor dealt almost entirely with the article I wrote about date nights. Now, I thought the article quite clearly communicated that date nights are fine and dandy, but simply not necessary. Hence the title You Don’t Need a Date Night. Unfortunately, some people took me as saying “Date nights are stupid and an utter waste of time.” Obviously, that was not my intent. I love going out with Aileen—I just don’t regard it as necessary. Still, the vast majority of the feedback was very positive—there seem to be a lot of people dealing with a lot of guilt for not dating more often—and I have reflected that in this selection of letters.

Thank you for writing this. My husband and I were blessed with 5 babies in 5-½ years so our time during the “littles period” was full of the babies, and toddlers and diapers, and shepherding, and food prep…and…I could go on and on. Because we were so busy with our family, many older couples, with right intentions would say, “Do you have a regular date night?” and we would cringe, guilt and horror building inside, and sheeplishly say, “Well, no, there just isn’t time to go out.” The response was always the same, “Well, you need to make time for it. It should be a priority,” which only added to the guilt. I know we would have appreciated the nights we did get a movie in at home or all the hours we spent next to each other on the couch reading books in a finally quiet house had we had the perspective of this article. Our marriage has gone through so much—and survived—not because we had weekly date nights. It survived because we have God’s grace in the middle of it all and a deep thankfulness for the gift of each other—and the fact that we really like being together as “us.”
—Julie D, Grand Rapids, MI

***

I was perusing Facebook for a few minutes this afternoon when I noticed a few friends had linked to your post. The title was provocative enough for me to click and read. I must say, friend, “Bravo!” My wife and I have been married for 5.5 years now, and we’ve had thoughts similar to what you’ve expressed all along the way. Certainly we enjoy a night out together, but by and large, some of our most cherished moments have come in relaxing together at home. I too have been disappointed that there seems to be a sort of air of legalism about this whole “dating your wife” thing, as if to say that if you do not take a weekly outing you are somehow sub-par and are probably in need of counseling. Hogwash! Of course I want to avoid the other ditch which might say that we absolutely never have to go out together, but especially while I’m in seminary full time, am working part-time and while we are raising young children (4, 3, 1), I want to focus on enjoying the “little” things. I think in the end, we’ll find that those “little” things will turn out to be not so little after all, and the elevated status we’ve given to the periphery that is weekly nights out we will find to be not quite so integral to a vital, loving union.
—Marco S, Minneapolis, MN

***

Thank you for your blog post. I too love to go out on dates with my wife, but I’ve been saddled with guilt over not being able to maintain a weekly date night over the 20 years of our marriage. While she surely deserves better and more than I have given her, I believe she is grateful for what I have done and (like you and your wife) we have settled in to a comfortable existence with each other. Arranging and paying for a babysitter and thinking about how our 7-year-old son is doing while we’re out often makes date night a contrived and much less relaxing time than grabbing a few quiet moments with each other in our pajamas in the early morning or later evening hours. Some might read your post and lament over your “boring” life but what it sounds to me like is a happy, comfortable love. A commitment to sharing the small and the mundane, and actually enjoying all those little moments. While I hope to grow as a husband to my wife, count me among those who will do so not just in the romantic realm, but on the emotional and spiritual planes as well.
—Steve J, Ruckersville, VA

***

Thank you so much for your thoughts on date nights. My husband and I have never been able to schedule regular dates as he works a 2nd shift job and every weekend. We also have four young children. When you add the cost of childcare to the cost of the date itself things get expensive quickly. I struggle with guilt because of all the people telling us that our marriage is not the priority as a result. After reading your comments I felt relieved. Thank you for your encouragement.
—Renee Y, Philadelphia, PA

***

Thank you for your recent article on the ubiquitously recommended date night. My experience has been the same. I don’t remember the last date night my wife and I had but we do all kinds of things together. There is another angle that I think you have overlooked. My chief complaint about the date night is that it comes from people who are relatively well off with quite a bit more disposable income than me. As a pastor of a small church in a rural community with 4 kids at home, we can’t afford regular date nights. After a babysitter and a decent dinner we are talking probably $50 minimum. I can’t afford that every week and most of my parishioners can’t either, and they shouldn’t. There are lots of other ways to spend time together. Sometimes for us it is just talking over a cup of herbal tea on the sofa for a half hour after the kids are in bed. It seems like every time I turn on one of the “family” programs on Christian radio I get another wave of guilt for not planning a weekly or even monthly date night. I enjoy them and so does my wife, but we both know we can’t really afford them and we would rather give whatever excess money we have to other causes than our date night. We have made life choices and kingdom choices in which there isn’t much room for date nights, and that’s okay.
—Ian S, Millinocket, ME

***

Thank you so much, Tim, for writing this article. I have been married for almost 29 years. We have never had scheduled date nights. We certainly had time out when the kids were younger, and made special occasions of it, but for the most part, we simply enjoy regular life together. We play board games, watch movies, read together, and go on photo walks together. Nothing special, but my husband has never felt pressured to organize anything, and when he has done something special, it’s been great. Thanks again for your perspective on this.
—Kim S, Simcoe, ON

And then there were some who disagreed. Some disagreed charitably:

You’ve done so much for so many of us in the way of encouraging a purposeful approach to the Christian life. I was disappointed to read that a purposeful approach to marital connectedness was not something that you espouse. Having been dead broke with young children (two of whom have disabilities), I can tell you that our marriage would be a statistic today if we hadn’t set aside time each week for our marriage and if we hadn’t made a priority of routine nights away from our busy, needy household. If I were able to speak to your readers, I would say, “Make time alone with your spouse a routine priority. Do whatever it takes so that both of you feel loved, cherished, refreshed and cared for in your marriage.”
—Dana W, Edmond, Oklahoma

Tim: I heard from a couple of other people who have children with disabilities and they, too, spoke of the utter necessity of date nights in their context.

***

I read your article and JA Medders’ about not needing a date night. I have to say, I think you might be in the very small minority! Many couples “do” life separately. They are pulled in opposite directions daily by the demands of kids’ schedules, work activities, church service, or different hobbies. And they don’t do chores together (as you described)! So for those couples, the purpose of the date night is to purposely set aside time for one another. And, as you sort of alluded to, date nights don’t have to be romantic evenings with high expectations (and even higher dollar signs). Going for a jog together, having coffee on the patio, running errands, etc—the point is to ensure you’re making time for each other, and more importantly, that you’re making your marriage a priority. The concept I think you left out is that we must be proactive in our marriages. Medders was right—if we wait until our marriage is in trouble to have a date night—it’s too late. As Christians, we know that Satan is out to get marriages and families. Marriage is a picture of the gospel, and ripping apart marriages is a picture of ripping apart Christ and His Bride. With that knowledge, and because Satan is like a lion prowling around seeking whom he can destroy, we must put safeguards in place to protect our marriages. Date nights are one such safeguard. Christian marriages should be fun, lively, and attractive to proclaim our witness to the world—that God designed marriage to be good and to bring glory to Him. When we are ho-hum and mediocre, we dim the light that God wants to shine on the beauty of His plan for marriage and family. You probably agree with all I just stated, but it’s too important not to say—Christians need to do a better job of understanding the purpose of marriage and what’s at stake when marriages are just “ok”. Date nights are strong statements that say, “I value my spouse among all others on earth, and I value God’s glory and His plan for us.”
—Marla C, Owensboro, KY

Tim: Quite right. But I would simply add that there are other ways of making that same statement.

***

Well, between you and (hitherto unknown to me) blogger J.A. Medders, we’ve recently been treated to thorough arguments as to why we don’t need date nights. I’m not sure why the sudden need to attack this particular item but I’m a little surprised (by you, I’ve never read Medders). My wife and I have been married for 20 years this month and about a year ago we started a date night. Not because there were any problems but because as missionaries with a large family (6, now 7, children + one orphan we are caring for) learning an exceedingly difficult foreign language, not to mention my pastoring a small church—we need some weekly time away. It’s nothing fancy—Sometimes, we’re deciding what to do as we walk out the door—but it’s become a really nice thing for us to look forward to each week. I’m not really aware of some date-night-saves-your-marriage culture but you should both beware of criticizing something that may be helpful to many couples out there. There was one quote from Medders article (which you referenced and endorsed) that I found very telling. He said “In the early stages of my marriage there was a greater need for expected date nights; we were still getting to really know each other.” This set off major alarm bells. As I’ve counseled married men in the past (and will in the future), your wife is a “moving target”—IOW, just because you know her today doesn’t mean you’ll know her a year from now. Never take your knowledge of your wife who is a growing, changing person (just like you), for granted. I guess what really bothered me was the overall condescending nature of your post. In all the years I’ve been reading you (and you’re now the only blog I have the time or desire to read—other than the ones you link to) this may be the only time I’ve felt this negatively about something you’ve written. Overall, for me at least, this post was spectacularly unedifying.
—Ryan G, Taiwan

Tim: I would say you stand as proof of my point. Your marriage has survived and thrived for 20 years without a date night. That’s wonderful. And, again, I do not mean to say that date nights are bad. I simply mean to say they are not necessary.

And then there were some who disagreed somewhat uncharitably.

The headline of your article certainly caught my attention and I was suprised by it. Then, I realized the article was written by a man and I wasn’t suprised anymore. Sorry if that sounds snarky, but really that is how I feel. I get your point, really I do. But if your wife is being totally honest with you, she would like to write a rebuttal to your article and the headline would be, “Why My Husband Really Doesn’t Need Sex that Often…”
—Kellie O, Andover, KS

Tim: I hope I misunderstand this, but it seems to indicate that a date night is a kind of sexual transaction in which he takes her out in order to earn the right to sex. I fear this happens in too many marriages. But, please, whatever date nights are, don’t reduce them to a transaction!

Comments on Liberation Letter

Through the grace of God, I was delivered from the Mormon church over a decade ago. I was raised in the church from childhood, left for a few years at 18 when I refused to go on a mission because I had begun to question what they taught, and returned again as an adult after my wife and I suffered through the loss of a child and I was desperate for their “families are forever” theology. We were completely sold out - serving in callings, having our children baptized and sealed to us in the temple, receiving our temple endowments, and being sealed to my wife (sort of the Mormon version of a wedding ceremony - our civil ceremony would never do if we wanted exaltation). However, it didn’t take long for the old, nagging questions to surface and I eventually came to the same conclusions as the letter writer. I wrote my own letter to our local Mormon leadership and have never looked back. I do, however, continue to struggle against years of indoctrination that my salvation requires works and I am often overwhelmed by a sense that I should be doing more, reading more, serving more, praying more…performing more like some sort of trick pony trying to please God and always falling short. It has been difficult to walk in grace and let go of the old mentality but I am making progress every day as I remind myself that it is not anything I do but what Jesus has done for me. I, like the author, pray that those who have been deceived by the “Christian” veneer of Mormonism will have their eyes opened to the truth and write their own letters of liberation!
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR