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Tim Challies

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March 26, 2009

The Cross He BoreEaster is fast approaching and, as you may remember, I thought it would be both fun and worthwhile to read a book together as we prepare to remember the Lord’s death and to celebrate his resurrection. The book that always come to mind this time of year is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. This is a series of thirteen meditations on the sufferings of the Redeemer, beginning with Gethsemane and ending in the outer darkness. In his Foreword to the book, Edward Donnelly says, “in rereading these chapters, I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop - and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”

A few weeks ago I announced that I’d like to read the book with you and I know that a lot of you bought the book so you can read along (enough of you bought it, I believe, that it pretty well sold out. This is the second time we’ve bought up all of the copies of this book!). This is your reminder that we will begin to read it, one chapter per day, beginning this Sunday. So check back here Sunday morning for just a brief reflection on the first chapter.

March 22, 2009

We’re on our way home. We have not been away for too long, but already we are more than ready to be back in our home, back in our natural context. We’re ready to be where we most want to be. Our vacation was great, of course. We got to see some of the United States, we got to see family and friends and Aileen and I got to get away for a couple of days to take in a great conference marked by some truly great teaching. And yet we’re ready for home.

This longing for home has been much on my mind lately. I’m sure you know what it is, what it means, to long for home. When you are somewhere other than where you most love to be, how can you do any other than long for home?

We should be there soon, if the Lord wills it. Already we have left Chattanooga and are making the long drive up the I-75. By late this afternoon we should be back in Canada and by this evening we should be back in our house. We’ll be home at last.

This week I enjoyed hearing some godly teachers discuss the holiness of God. This is a concept that is at once terrifying and comforting. It is a concept that may make me feel the need to flee from God. And yet it is also something that makes me want to flee to him. God is so holy, he is so pure, he is so “other” that to even begin to understand his holiness is to understand my sin and my inability to stand in his presence as I am. And yet to understand his mercy and his grace, shown so clearly in the cross, is to desire to be with him and to see that Savior face-to-face. To be in him is to realize that this earth is not my home, or not my true home anyway. It is just a destination along the way

There’s nothing wrong with Chattanooga, there’s nothing wrong with friends and family, and there is nothing wrong with being away. It’s just that it’s so good to be home. I’m longing for it and I’m ready for it.

March 15, 2009

Last week I offered the first of a series of wallpapers to coincide with the Scripture Memorization effort some of us are enjoying. This week we are moving to a new passage of Scripture and hence I wanted to offer you a wallpaper to go along with it. Our new passage is going to be (to no one’s great surprise) Romans 14 (and the first seven verses of Romans 15). This will be our last passage in Romans; it means we will have memorized chapters 12, 13, 14 and the first portion of 15. This includes, then, this entire “application” section of Paul’s Epistle. It will be good to have it filed away so we can continue to meditate upon it, learn from it, and grow because of it.

Romans 14

You can download it in three sizes:

1024 x 768, 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200

Not sure how to change your wallpaper? Windows users click here, Mac users click here.

I hope you find them useful. In the coming weeks I’ll post “catch-up” wallpapers for Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12.

Also, if you are into graphics design and would like to come up with some alternate designs for the Scripture memory wallpapers, please let me know. I’d love to be able to offer up a series of designs for each passage.

And finally, if you need this wallpaper in a size I haven’t offered, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. I’m not sure who uses what wallpaper sizes these days.

If you are interested in joining in with us as we memorize portions of God’s Word, please add your name and email address below:





March 10, 2009

I want to say a word about advertising on the Internet. And then I want to ask you a question. I know that Tuesday is typically the day I post a book review but, unfortunately, with all the home repair and renovations we’ve been doing these past couple of weeks, my reading time has not been what it usually is. I hope to have a review later in the week.

In the meantime, let’s talk advertising. I realized that I added advertising to this site without ever explaining my rationale . Let me do that today.

Some time ago I added a few ads to my site. I generally run about three of them, though this week I’ve got a couple more than that just because I got a bit disorganized and overbooked. Generally, though, I keep a few ads running at the top of the site and keep one running in the RSS feed. I did not begin running ads lightly but thought about it long and hard. I was fearful that, if I started running ads, I would begin to think about the site differently. I worried that I would begin to do things or write things purely because of the potential economic value. I feared it would be a temptation to view the site as a business rather than as a hobby or ministry or whatever it is now. I actually don’t know what the site is now and I kind of like it that way; it is what it is and I want to keep it pretty much the same.

I guard against this because I’ve seen what happens to churches when they adopt a marketing mindset. Every church markets; the moment a church places a sign outside or puts an advertisement in the phone book or the local newspaper, it is marketing. But some churches go far further, adopting a kind of marketing mindset that makes the church functionally not much different than a business. After a while every decision comes back to the bottom line, whether that is a dollar figure or an attendance figure. This quickly sends churches into a tailspin, a downward spiral that draws them further and further from the Bible. It is inevitable, really.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a commercial blog. Most of the really popular blogs out there are businesses (think Lifehacker or Engadget or sites of that nature). They bring in revenue through advertising and pay people to do their writing, all while turning a tidy bottom line. These sites, then, have to think as businesses; with the heavy costs involved, they need to appeal to an audience so they can sell lots of ad spots so they can cover their costs and make money. It’s just a typical business model. It’s a model that might work for a Christian blog as well, but it’s one I’ve been committed to avoid.

So my goal was to offer some ad spots while maintaining my integrity. I’ve sought to do just that. These ads help cover the costs for the site (which are considerable compared to what they were when things started out!). I do not let ads or advertisers influence my writing; I try to choose advertisers very carefully to ensure nothing is advertised here that I’d out-and-out disagree with.

So that’s my rationale. I want to talk for just a minute about ad-blocking software. This is most commonly in the form of Firefox’s ad-blocking plugin but there are other options available as well. I am not bothered much one way or the other if people block the ads on my site. However, I have wondered about the morality of blocking advertising. After all, many sites depend on ads for support. We can use a blog like Lifehacker as an example. I do not know much about their business model, but let’s assume that advertising is the sole or at least major source of their income. They must incur massive costs with hosting, development and writing; they recoup these costs by putting ads on their site and by getting you to rest your eyeballs on those ads (and, of course, they hope, by getting you to click the ads). Now if you use software that blocks the ads, you are effectively getting a paid service for free, are you not? You are enjoying the benefits of the web site, enjoying the benefits of a site supported by advertising, while cutting yourself out of the revenue generation. I know that television advertisers are wrestling with similar issues related to their commercials; PVRs are ubiquitous now and most of them offer commercial-skipping functionality. As with web sites, people are getting a service but without “paying” for it by watching the ads.

So I’ve wondered if this an ethical issue? Speaking personally, I stopped using ad blocking software quite a long time ago for this very reason. I just couldn’t reconcile reading the sites while blocking all of the ads; I also became aware of the irony of using ad blockers on other sites while selling ad spots on my own.

I am open to the idea that I am wrong here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Is there anything wrong with using ad blocking software?

March 07, 2009

Romans 13

As you know, I’ve been enjoying memorizing passages of Scripture with readers of this site. To this point we have finished Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12. We are hard at work on Romans 13. I thought it might be valuable to offer wallpapers for your desktop that tied in to the memorization program (though even if you are not participating you may enjoy them). I had a graphics designer come up with some designs and will link them each time we begin a new passage. Here, then, is a wallpaper you can download for Romans 13.

You can download it in four sizes:

1024 x 768, 1680 x 1050, 1600 x 1200, 1920 x 1200

Not sure how to change your wallpaper? Windows users click here, Mac users click here.

I hope you find them useful. In the coming weeks I’ll post wallpapers for Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12.

March 06, 2009

On Wednesday I posited that endless choice brings us endless discontentment. While marketers may try to assure us that a consumer with more options is a happier consumer, evidence seems to indicate that more options mostly make us increasingly miserable. Speaking personally, I can attest that this is true. I don’t want to disparage choice as if being forced to choose is somehow wrong. But plain experience shows that infinite choice does not bring about greater happiness. If anything, the opposite is true.

I began thinking about this as I read news articles about so-called “designer babies.” An article from the BBC says, “LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.” Using a lab technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, his clinic allows parents to choose not only the sex of their child, but also physical traits such as hair color and eye color. Though in the past this technology has been used primarily to screen for inheritable genetic defects, clinics are now beginning to use it to screen for physical traits. By next year we should begin to see the first generation of customized children—children whose parents have ensured that they will be free from genetic disorders and children whose gender, hair color, eye color and even height have been carefully selected.

The ethical dilemmas here are dizzying; they are so plentiful, I hardly know where to begin.

Maybe the best place to begin is with the conscience. I believe any biblically-informed conscience (and even many consciences that know nothing of the Bible) will rebel against this. And rightly so. As Christians we know that God has given conscience as a gift; somehow he has planted within us some knowledge of his law and conscience can steer us away from violating it. And so we ought to listen to conscience. When conscience reacts as strongly as it does when it hears of designer children, we need to take heed.

But I want to look at just a couple of other implications—ones that are related to what I wrote on Wednesday.

Endless choice bring endless regret. When we have fewer options, we are able to have more confidence in the choice we eventually make. If I have only three cell phones available to me, the task of choosing just one of them is relatively straightforward. When I have three hundred phones available to me and each one can be customized with cases, colors, ringtones and nearly everything else, the choice becomes much more difficult. And after I finally make a choice, it is far more likely that I will regret my decision. This is especially so when each of these phones will soon be replaced by something even better; even the latest and greatest is on the verge of utter irrelevance and obsolescence.

How much more so when we think about our children? When we customize our children, we will think of them differently; we will have to think of them differently. Since the dawn of Creation, humans have regarded children as a surprise and mystery. Will he have mom’s hair? Will she have dad’s eyes? Will it be a boy or a girl? We have always had to leave such things in the hands of God. We may wish or hope or dream, but ultimately each child is a gift from God. This is true whether the child is mentally and physically sound with just the physical traits we had hoped for or whether the child is mentally and physically handicapped and with none of the physical traits we may have wished for. Of course genetic testing and widespread abortion have already allowed us to destroy almost every child with mental or physical handicaps. But now this technology is going further so that we are able to choose far more; at the very least we can increase the probability for one or more of the physical traits.

What would cause us to believe that the ability to choose our child’s hair color, eye color and other traits is going to make us happier with the child? Does not the very fact that we can make such choices open the possibility that we will then be able to regret the choice?

Endless customization also leads to discontent because it raises our expectations. If I go to the local car lot and buy a standard model car, my expectations of that vehicle will be far different than if I buy a heavily-customized car. I once saw a television show where a football player was buying a new car. He bought it from a dealer and immediately drove it to a shop where it was heavily customized; the after-market customization cost far more than the original value of the vehicle. And, of course, when the car was ready he looked it over with the utmost care to make sure it had been customized to his exact specifications. He would have been satisfied with nothing less. He had paid for, demanded and now expected perfection.

How could things be any different with children whose importance and impact obviously far eclipse a car? How will a parent react when her customized child turns out to be just as fussy, just as grouchy, just as sinful as any other child? Will this parent not have increased expectations of the child and potentially unrealistically high expectations?

Imagine a mother’s reaction when she pays money (lots of money!) to customize her child—perhaps she has selected a child with blond hair and blue eyes—and finds that the child actually has brown hair with green eyes. Will she demand her money back? Will she still be able to love such a child? After all, this technology offers no guarantees—she may demand a physical trait only to see the technology fail her. Can she live happily with a green-eyed child when all her friends’ children have blue? One British fertility expert warns against “turning babies into commodities that you buy off the shelf.” And this is exactly what we face—children who are commodities who can be carefully customized and personalized. Only if we buy into today’s consumerist mindset could we possibly believe that this will make us any happier or any more content. The reality, I’m convinced, will be just the opposite.

Again, I think the ethical implications go far beyond this, but these are just two implications that grow out of the consumerist mindset so prominent in our culture. Shopping for just one out of hundreds of cell phones may be relatively insignificant, but I think we can see it as just a shadow of the moral dilemmas that we are beginning to face as technology continues to far outpace morality.

February 26, 2009

As you might imagine, I receive a good deal of email from people who read this site. Probably the most common questions I receive (other than those mentioning The Shack) deal with books and reading. I guess I’ve established a reputation as a bookworm and people often ask just how I find time to read all these books, what books I recommend, and whether I’ve developed a system to help me retain information. Every now and then I try to jot down my thoughts and I thought I’d share those today. These are, then, some rather random thoughts on reading. And after I’ve jotted down all of my thoughts, I’d love to hear your tips on reading.

I love to read and have nearly always loved to read and ever since I learned how to do it, it has been a passion of mine; it has been my favorite hobby. When I was younger my parents gave me books by Christian authors like R.C. Sproul and encouraged me to read biographies of great men and women. They modeled a love for reading as both of them constantly read good books. While I merely toyed with the books they gave me dealing with spiritual topics, I positively devoured books on history, and in particular, military history. My love for this subject took me through university and into adulthood. About eight or ten years ago, though, I began to be drawn towards Christian books. As far as I can recall, the first of these I bought was Classic Christianity by Bob George (withhold your comments, please) and it was soon followed by Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Boice. That began a trend that has only intensified as the years have gone by.

It just a few years ago that I decided, mostly on a whim, that I would try to read a book each week for what I hoped would be the rest of my life. Subsequently, I also decided that I would attempt to provide reviews of the majority of these books. My reasoning was simply that through these reviews I could help other people who are interested in reading only a few books per year focus on titles that are worth their while, while at the same time helping them avoid the mountains of trash on the bookstore shelves. I realized that if I were to live for another fifty years, this commitment would mean that I would be able to read over 2500 books before I die. The thought of being able to learn from what God has taught 2500 other people was inspiring. Since I set that goal I have found that I can actually read closer to two books every week, so now tend to read and review around 100 books a year. I suppose this raises the potential to reading over 5,000 books in the next fifty years. I’m going to need some more bookshelves.

What follows is some seemingly-random points about reading. I hope you may find something here a little bit helpful.

First, an encouragement for those who have difficulty with reading. The more I read, the easier it is to read; the more I read, the better I get at it. A few years ago I read four books that discussed godly principles for decision making. Three of them were based primarily on the fourth (and anyone who has read about this subject will know the book I am referring to). Needless to say, it became progressively easier to read and understand each subsequent book. I have found that this is true of any topic. It is also true of reading in general. The more I have dedicated myself to reading, the better I have become at it. I have often spoken to people who have given up on reading because they have found it difficult. To these people I offer this encouragement: press on. Like any discipline, reading will become easier as you dedicate yourself to it. Don’t give up!

A lot of the books I read are short. The majority of the books I read are under 250 pages, and quite a few have fewer than 200 pages. I generally do not discriminate against a book based on its page count, so this is either a product of coincidence or of percentages. It seems to me that the average “Christian Living” book weighs in between 160 and 200 pages. Biographies and books dealing with theology or church history tend to be longer and require greater effort. So obviously the quantity of books I read has something to do with the average number of pages.

I read all the time, or most of it anyways. I watch only very little television (especially after having cut cable), but even when I do, I usually have my nose in a book. I also try to get out of bed a couple of hours before everyone else so I can have some quiet time to read. When I go to the doctor or the barber, I tend to stick a book in my pocket so I can use that fifteen minutes doing something other than reading old copies of People magazine. It is amazing how many ten and fifteen minute periods there are in life that can be used for reading.

Speaking of which, for those who insist that they have no time to read, consider this (and excuse the vulgarity). If you were to read one page of a book per day, you would be able to read at least two of the average Christian Living books in a year, right? And, of course, a bathroom break is the perfect time to read a page or two of a book. So consider: if you were to keep a book in the bathroom and read only when you were, you know, using the bathroom, you could read two books per year. If you were to read only when you were brushing your teeth, you could read another book or two a year. So if you feel that you do not have time to read, why not keep a book in the bathroom and commit to reading it there? Two books a year is better than none!

One of my peculiarities, but one I have found helpful, is reading two or even three books at a time. I used to find that I would sometimes mistake physical fatigue for what was actually a fatigue brought about by dwelling too long on a particular subject. Sometimes when I put down that first book and begin reading a second book, I immediately feel refreshed. It turns out that my mind was tired and this was making my body feel tired. So consider keeping a couple of books on the go, and books that deal with completely different topics.

Here is a basic outline of how I read a book. I begin by giving the book a quick scan, hoping to understand what it is about, what the author is going to attempt to prove and how he is going to set about this task. I read the back cover and the endorsements. I skim over the table of contents and look through the end notes and bibliography. Having done that, I tend to linger a little bit over the introductory chapter(s), since I find this to be the most important section in the book. It generally lays out the basic framework of the author’s argument and lets me know what he is arguing against. I read with a pencil in hand (I buy those clickable Bic pencils by the box) and highlight liberally. I also tend to jot short notes and questions in the margins or at the end of chapters. Points that are important to the author’s argument tend to receive a *, and points that are exceedingly important receive a bigger, bolder *. I often also make a list of important page numbers and questions on the inside front cover of the book. In some cases I’ll make two or three columns of page numbers. By doing all of this, I am making the book my own and not just reading it, but actually interacting with it as I go. This is tremendously helpful for both understanding and retention.

I don’t know if there is an objectively good way of marking books, but I doubt it. So work on a system that works for you and stick with it. But don’t be afraid to mark your books. Again, books are meant to be interacted with.

I’ll be honest and admit that I forget a great deal of what I read. Anyone who tells you otherwise may not be telling the truth (unless he has a Spurgeon-like photographic memory). I used to be discouraged if, a year (or a month or a week) after reading a book, I could barely remember the content. I have since realized that this is inevitable. I focus on remembering what I can and trust that simply because I do not remember the complete outline of a book, this does not prove that a book has not been edifying to me. After all, if this was our standard, just about every sermon would be a complete failure. I trust that the Spirit works in me as I read good books and that He works despite my imperfect memory.

Reviewing books is an excellent way of driving home the main points of a book. It is as good a memory device as I can imagine. In fact, I would encourage every reader to review the books they read, even if those reviews will never be made public. It is a good discipline to think through the main points of the book and is as valuable a discipline to formulate thoughts on whether or not the reader agrees with a book. When you finish a book, why not jot down a short review, even if it is only a few lines, and stick it inside the book? You’ll be grateful later on.

Let me wrap it up this way. I see reading as a discipline, but a pleasurable one. I love it and have found it to be tremendously beneficial to my spiritual life. Reading and writing have together brought me untold benefit. I can honestly say that most evenings there is nothing I’d rather do.

I’ve said my bit. Do you have any tips or tricks or practices that might be beneficial to those who are trying to read, to read more and to read better? If so, leave a comment…

February 25, 2009

snapshots.jpgI have written a lot of articles through the past 6+ years of blogging. Within all of the “every day” have been a few that I consider favorites—articles that, for one reason or another, stick with me even months or years later. I’ve often thought about collecting some of those together and allowing this to serve as a kind of introduction to the site. I finally had opportunity to do just that.

And so I thought I’d offer this, Snapshots & Screenshots as a means of introducing myself and introducing what I write. It is a collection of twelve of my favorite articles; twelve of the ones I remember as I think back over the past few years. Those of you who have been reading the site for a long time may well remember some or all of those; I trust the newcomers will find something to enjoy as well.