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Tim Challies

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July 22, 2015

I want my heroes to be good, only good, and my villains to be bad, only bad. I can deal with this. The trouble comes when I see vices in my heroes and virtues in my villains. That is where it all gets complicated.

This man has a long history of preaching and defending the gospel, but then he makes statements about the inerrancy of Scripture that leave me scratching my head. This woman has had a long and effective ministry of teaching the Bible, but then she allies herself with a ministry that I find very concerning and she quotes an author who is theologically dangerous. Or, on the flip side, this teacher has long questioned some important doctrines, but then he begins to say things that are not only helpful, but uniquely true and insightful.

The problem, I am convinced, is that we expect a kind of consistency that is just not realistic for people so deeply stained by sin. We want our heroes and our villains to be monolithic, to play their roles perfectly. But this world is rarely so clean and neat.

The fact is that we are all a mess of contradictions. We are a mess of contradictions who are highly attuned to other people’s, but blind to our own. We will joyfully believe both A and B, we will joyfully do both A and Not A, all the while thinking that we are being perfectly consistent. But we will not tolerate this in others.

If we demand utter consistency we will eventually abandon all our heroes and miss the virtues of our villains. We will end up on a lonely little island all alone, convinced that we are the only consistent people left. We will follow our consistency to isolation and despair.

I have my heroes just like you do. I have people that I admire, people with whom I have a kind of emotional or spiritual attachment. I may not even know them, but I still look up to them, value their opinions, and even model aspects of my life and faith on theirs. And when I see these contradictions in people who are so godly I can only assume that I must have some significant contradictions of my own. I assume that I am equally blind to these contradictions. I assume that I am equally convinced of the virtues of my vices.

I have learned that I need to choose my heroes carefully. I need to expect that my heroes will be flawed. I need to believe that I am flawed. And I need to force myself to remember that the best of men are but men at their best.

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July 21, 2015

One of my favorite things about the New Testament epistles is the personal moments, the personal interactions between the author and his audience. I love to read Paul’s “don’t forget the milk” list at the end of 2 Timothy. I love to read his warm greetings and remembrances at the end of Romans.

One great moment comes in 2 Timothy 3. Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him of the privilege he had as a young man. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Paul reminds Timothy of the two most influential people in his young life—his mother and grandmother (see also 2 Timothy 1:5). We learn that Timothy had had the distinct privilege of being raised in a Christian home, and Paul wants him to consider what this had done to him and in him.

What was it that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had done that earned Paul’s praise? What did they do that had made such a difference in his life? It was not having Timothy study and memorize his catechism. It was not teaching him systematic theology. Paul didn’t commend him for all the Bible verses he had memorized or all the songs he knew. He didn’t even mention Timothy having a male mentor or someone who took him under his wing. Those are all good things, but they are not the things that interested Paul here.

Paul says only this: that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had introduced him to the Bible, to what he calls “the sacred writings.” And the Bible had done its work in Timothy. The Bible had made all the difference. It had made Timothy wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It had saved his soul and turned him into the man he had become.

I find this such a sweet and timely encouragement. There are so many ways in which I feel my failure as a parent. There are so many things I hear other parents doing and find myself wishing that I was doing them as well. But in Paul’s words I am reminded that my primary task as a father is to simply expose my children to God’s Word. Whatever else I do, I must do this. And I do. Day by day we read God’s Word together and week by week we hear it preached and taught together. As much as we can, we make our home one where the Word is present and honored.

I am more convinced than ever that nothing will make a greater difference in the lives of my children than this: exposure to the perfect, powerful Word of God. If I do that, I am doing the right thing. I am doing the best thing. I am doing the one thing that matters most.

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July 20, 2015

The Bible gives us many motivations to do battle with sin and to persist in putting sin to death. We battle sin because of a newfound desire for righteousness. We battle sin out of love and loyalty to Christ. We battle sin out of hatred for the consequences of sin. But one reason Christians too often overlook is this: We battle sin as an expression of love for others.

In the first eight verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul commands the Christians in Thessalonica to put to death all expressions of sexual sin. They are to abstain from sexual immorality and instead learn how to control their bodies in holiness and honor. They are to trade the passionate and out-of-control lust of the pagan for the loving self-control of the Christian. And as Paul completes this brief teaching on sexual immorality, he turns immediately to a related topic: the love of one Christian for another. When he has finished condemning their lust, he affirms and encourages their love.

I am convinced that there is a connection here. As Paul tells the church to turn away from lust, he tells them to turn toward love. It’s easy to see why: lust destroys love. A person driven by selfish lust cannot act in selfless love. A person who is controlled by lustful desires and lustful deeds no longer has a mind filled with Spirit-motivated desires and a life marked by Spirit-motivated deeds. The area of lust, especially as it is so commonly expressed in pornography, may be the clearest example of the value of putting sin to death as an expression of love for others.

A commitment to pornography destroys the ability to take seriously a command like this one, which Paul gave to Timothy: “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). A man who is dedicating himself to pornography, who is objectifying women for his own gratification, cannot treat younger—or older—women with purity and dignity. His lust destroys his ability to love.

A commitment to pornography destroys the ability of a man to enter into church leadership. Paul also said to Timothy, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (3:1). Young men who will not do battle with this sin are rendering themselves unavailable for ministry. There are men with great God-given abilities who could be stepping out as the next generation of Christian leaders, except that this sin continues to dominate their life. If they will not put it to death for their own sake, surely they can put it to death as an expression of love for a church that needs strong leaders.

In all of these ways and so many more, a Christian’s lust interferes with the ability to love. In all of these ways and so many more, the Christian could express love for his brothers and sisters by putting sin to death.

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July 19, 2015

I do not remember when or how I first came across the 4 questions that John Wesley proposed we consider when spending money, but it was probably in a Randy Alcorn book. Wesley believed in the value of introspection, perhaps to a fault, but understood that he was accountable to God for the way he used each and every penny. These questions guided him and I think they merit our consideration as well.

His first question was a foundational one. “In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?” In other words, he always wanted to check his own heart to make sure that when he took out his wallet, it was with an understanding that he would be spending God’s money on God’s behalf. He wanted to always remind himself who actually owned the money.

The second question was this: “What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way?” He did not just want to know that the Bible allowed him to spend it that way, but actually required him to do so. He wanted to spend every bit of money in a way that God had commanded, not just permitted.

The third question he would ask is this: “Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?” Wesley wanted to be able to let go of anything he purchased and make it an offering to the Lord. He wanted to be able to say, “I made the purchase, I completed the sale, but I did it for you. It’s yours to use as you will.”

Wesley’s final question was, “Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?” He wanted to know that when he stood before the Lord and this purchase was weighed in the balances, he would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Those are 4 great questions that bring biblical wisdom to bear on the way we use our money.

July 14, 2015

The Christian religion is at once the broadest and the narrowest in the world. It is a faith that admits every possible kind of person. But it admits them in only one way.

There is one God. Only one. If there were two gods there might be two paths to salvation—you get saved by this god and I will get saved by that one. But there is only one God and, therefore, only one path to salvation.

There is one humanity. Only one. If there were two kinds of people there might be two paths to salvation—you are part of this group and I am part of that one. But there is only one humanity and, therefore, only one path to salvation.

There is one Mediator. Only one. If there were two mediators there might be two paths to salvation—you have this mediator represent you and I’ll go with that one. But there is only one mediator and, therefore, only one path to salvation.

There is one ransom. Only one. If there were two ransoms there might be two paths to salvation—you have your debt paid by that savior and I’ll have my debt paid by the other one. But there is only one ransom and, therefore, only one path to salvation.

One God created one humanity represented by one Mediator who paid one ransom. So there is only one way. The way to salvation is so broad that it can admit every person who seeks for God, yet so narrow that they can enter only through Jesus Christ. (See 1 Timothy 2:1-7.)

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July 10, 2015

A couple of weekends ago the annual Pride Parade shut down the city center here in Toronto. It capped what had already been a 10-day Pride Toronto festival. The parade gave an opportunity for the LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities to declare their pride in who they are, and they did it by parading through the heart of the city. The event was publicized, televised, and celebrated.

At the same time I was preaching the next text in a series of sermons and came to Romans 1:16-17 where the apostle Paul declares some pride of his own. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he says. He was writing to this church in Rome to tell them of his desire to travel to their city for the specific purpose of preaching the gospel to them and to the people around them. The reason he wanted to do this was his gospel pride. He was proud of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it.

And I found myself wondering, Why is the gospel more offensive than a pride parade? Why is gospel pride scorned while gay (and lesbian and trans and…) pride is cheered? After all, the parade, its floats, its participants, its nudity, its blatant sexuality—these things could easily be offensive to many people. My family has been warned by gay people not to take our kids anywhere near it because of what it would expose them to. Yet our culture celebrates LGBTTIQQ2SA* and mocks the gospel. In a world of crazy ideas, the gospel sounds like the craziest one of all. Why?

Because of this: The gospel is the one message that counters everything we want to believe about ourselves and about God. It counters the message of Pride Toronto, it counters the message of liberal Christianity, it counters the message of atheism, it counters the message of Mormonism, it counters the message of humanism, it counters every single message outside of itself.

We want to believe that we are autonomous, but the gospel assures us we are under the jurisdiction of God. We want to believe that we are good at heart, but the gospel says we are far worse than we could possibly imagine. We want to believe we are wise, but the gospel says we are foolish. We want to define ourselves by our desires and preferences, but the gospel says that God has already defined us in the act of creating us. We want to believe that we can do whatever we want today without fear of eternal consequences, but the gospel unapologetically declares that there will be the most fearsome and eternal consequences for our sin. That is an offensive message. That is an ultimately offensive message.

Gay pride and its many extensions—that is an easy sell. It is selling candy to children, crack to addicts, ESVs to Calvinists. It is simply giving people what they crave. It is reassuring them of what they long to believe. It is allowing them to celebrate what they already love.

But the gospel cuts against the grain with a message that counters it all: You are disobedient, you are dead, you are doomed. (And, of course, until Christ found me I, too, was disobedient and dead and doomed.) This bad news of the gospel is so offensive (yet so demonstrably true!) that few people stick around to hear the good news—the good news that there is hope and forgiveness and freedom for those who will put their faith in Jesus Christ and receive his salvation. The bright stars are only visible against the dark sky, and the ultimate joy of the gospel only shines against the ultimate bad.

* LGBTTIQQ2SA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirited and Allies

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July 07, 2015

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is one of those accounts from the life of Jesus that is in danger of becoming cliché. And it will become that if we fail to see the true hero of the story.

Luke sets up a contrast between two sisters: Mary and Martha. Jesus has come to visit, and he has brought a crowd with him. Martha is likely the older sister here and the owner of the home. The responsibility of hospitality has fallen to her, and as Jesus teaches, she rushes around to prepare food and to keep her guests full and fed. She undoubtedly believed she would be able to count on her sister Mary to help her. But instead of helping, Mary just sits at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning. A sharp conflict arises.

Luke tells us that Martha has become distracted by much serving. We would probably say that Mary is the distracted one; she has been distracted from helping her sister show hospitality. But no, it’s Martha who is distracted. She complains to Jesus and asks him to intervene, to command Mary to help. Jesus, full of love and compassion, replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42). And so we learn that we are to be like Mary in a Martha world, people who prioritize spending time with Jesus instead of allowing the cares of life to overwhelm us. Mary is the hero.

Or is she? In all our talk of the atoning death of Jesus, we need to guard ourselves against losing the wonder of the fact that God himself, the second person of the Trinity, came in human flesh; that the One who created the world took on a human nature and entered our world as a baby who needed to be cared for like any other human infant; that as a man born under the law, he obeyed his mother and father; that as a man he had to grow in wisdom and understanding; that as the incarnate Jesus and true man he really walked from place to place, that he got blisters on his feet, that he got tired and hungry, that he needed hospitality.

Charles Wesley wrote a powerful hymn to proclaim the wonder of God made man.

Let earth and Heav’n combine, angels and men agree
To praise in songs divine, Th’ incarnate deity
Our God contracted to a span, Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.

Do you see the great love of God, that Jesus Christ, God immortal, God eternal, would become a man so that he could be like us, so he could be one of us, so he could save us? When we see Jesus sitting in Martha’s home, we see the true hero of the story.

July 06, 2015

The church has always had some of those people associated with it. There have always been people who maintain an offensive disposition when it comes to their faith. These are the people who seem to love nothing more than a good fight. They bait every conversation with a few key words, hoping that you will blunder into a discussion they know they can win. They play one Christian off another. They might elevate themselves into positions of Christian leadership for the purpose of enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense.

Even back in the days when the Apostle Paul was traveling from city to city to preach the gospel and plant churches—even then there were people who had an unhealthy craving for controversy (see 1 Timothy 6). At one point he wrote Timothy to warn specifically about these people. He identified them as professed Christians who especially love to quarrel about theological nuances and who have a knack for causing fights between others. It’s a too-common “gift” this gift of spiritual discouragement.

But as I read 1 Timothy and hear Paul warn about these controversialists, I hear him sound a second warning as well. This is a warning about a second kind of person who sins very differently but no less seriously. If we have controversy on the one side of the equation, we have complacency on the other. This, too, is a sin and it, too, is very dangerous.

The complacent Christian is the one who is afraid to speak up even when the situation is serious and in dire need of attention. He is the one who cowers before men and who would rather not speak at all than risk offending another person or risk taking sides. He would allow his Christian brothers and sisters to face spiritual risk instead of speaking up in defense of the truth. As we read the New Testament it seems possible, and perhaps even likely, that Timothy’s temptation was toward complacency. Paul felt it necessary to remind Timothy of the importance of taking sides in order to protect the purity of the gospel and to defend God’s people.

As I thought about controversy and complacency, I realized that in my own way and in different contexts I am prone to both of them. In real life and in face to face conversation, my tendency is toward complacency. Fear of man can compel me or shame me into silence. I have to push myself to speak boldly when there is controversy that needs to be addressed or, even worse, controversialists who need to be rebuked.

But I’m a hero behind my keyboard and have a natural tendency to be bold and brave and, if I’m not careful, downright obnoxious. I have to push myself to resist the temptation to speak up about issues that do not concern me and for which I have no business offering an opinion.

Controversy and complacency—both are alive in the church today. Sadly, both are alive in me as well.