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Tim Challies

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What Should We Do with Books by Fallen Leaders
May 06, 2016

Today’s article was sparked by a question from a long-time reader of the site. “With the sad removal from ministry of yet another prominent pastor, I’ve been wondering how we are to view their ministry retrospectively. What do we do with their books? With their sermons? With their tweets and blog posts?” He told of a Christian bookseller who has been left with entire boxes of titles by an author who was removed from ministry. Would it be wrong to try to sell them? Would it be right for him to take the loss and to throw them away? The questions remind me of a gloomy photo snapped outside what was formerly Mars Hill Ballard’s building, a photo of a dumpster filled to overflowing with rain-drenched copies of Mark Driscoll’s A Call to Resurgence.

What do we do with material associated with a leader who has since justly been removed from his position after committing some act or pattern of disqualifying immorality? What should we do? I am not convinced there are crystal-clear and perfectly objective standards here, but let me tell you how I think it through, especially as it pertains to purchasing, reading, reviewing, or recommending books.

The first thing that must be said is that immorality does not negate truth, even truth that is in the books of leaders who have fallen. What was true when the pastor had a good reputation is true when he has a poor reputation. This means that a book does not suddenly transform from orthodox to heretical on the basis of the author’s immorality. What was true before is true now, what was brilliant before is brilliant now, what was mediocre or muddled before remains mediocre or muddled now. The leader’s actions have no effect on the objective truth or error of his material.

But then we must also say this: Immorality negates the qualifications of the author. When it comes to Christian leaders, our concern must be for character far more than ability or any other quality. I recently dedicated an entire series of articles to Christian character, explaining that while Christian character is meant to be displayed by all Christians it must be exemplified by church leaders. In almost every case, the leaders who fall are local church pastors or elders and called to exemplify such character. A Christian leader needs to acknowledge that his qualifications are inextricably bound up in his character. If it is proven that he lacks godly character, his local church is right to exercise God’s authority by removing him from positions of influence. It stands to reason that the rest of us, those of us who are beyond that local church, do well to follow the lead of its elders.

Also, not all disqualifiers are the same. Some disqualifiers are rightly seen as permanently ending a leader’s ministry and this is especially the case when the leader is unrepentant or when he flees from the authority of his church or denomination. But there are other disqualifiers that can be addressed over a period of time under the care and authority of a local church in such a way that the leader can return to positions of influence.

Then I think of another factor: A book is closely associated with its author. Recommending a book is usually tacitly recommending the book’s author. After all, to learn from a book is to learn from its author. To commend a book is in some way to commend its author. In the case of a man who has fallen, others have been caught up in his fall and often damaged by his actions. Recommending a book by an abusive pastor may be unkind to those he has abused and may subtly cast doubt on the judgment of his local church. It may be that the way to love others, and especially those hurt by the fallen leader, is to keep a distance from his material.

On a similar note, a book reflects its author. A marriage book written by an adulterer probably reflects his lack of self-control, a leadership book written by an abuser probably reflects his domineering, a doctrine book written by an apostate probably contains the seeds of his apostasy. Choose very carefully who influences you.

And here is another factor: A book is a means to pay an author. To purchase a book is to give money to its author. Though authors usually make only a small portion of a book’s purchase price, the fact remains that there is a financial transaction between the author and reader. In this way, purchasing a book by a fallen pastor is a means of offering him monetary support.

Let’s add this: Without immoral men we would have to gut the Bible. Think about a Bible that excised every word spoken or written by an adulterer. We would have to remove every word spoken by Abraham and Jacob, just to start. Then we’d have to get rid of most of the Psalms and Proverbs and, of course, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes would have to go as well. If we expanded from adultery to other serious sins, we’d have to remove Isaac because of his repeated deceptions, Peter because of his denial of Jesus, Jonah because of his disobedience to God’s revealed will, and Samuel because of his protection of his wayward sons. Soon we’d have almost no Bible left. I will grant that these men were speaking and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, not the ultimate authors of their words, but the fact remains that God has often chosen to use fallen and immoral men. I don’t really know how this one factors in, but felt it was right to mention it, even if only to show the complexity of what might seem like a straightforward question.

In the end, exercise wisdom, heed conscience, and take cues from the local church. Consider all of these factors, trust that God delights to give you wisdom, carefully heed conscience when it calls or accuses, and be willing to follow the cues of the author’s church or denominational authorities.

As for me, I find it difficult to read books by authors who have disgraced and disqualified themselves. Depending on the kind of immorality he displayed, I may even get rid of his books. We of all generations are so blessed by good books that I see little reason to even consider ones written by leaders who have made a trainwreck of their ministries. I can’t think of a single category of book that needs the work of a fallen author. There are other great books on leadership, other ones on marriage, on prayer and suffering and Christian living. I do not need to rely on the books of those who have justly been removed from ministry. Neither do I need to read or recommend them.

Image credit: Shutterstock

50 People 1 Question
May 04, 2016

Last month the Jubilee Project published a short video in which they ask 50 people 1 simple question: If you could be any age, what age would you be? They ask the question of children and seniors and people of every age between. The answers are not surprising—not surprising in a culture that so honors autonomy and freedom, that so honors youth. Most wanted to be in their late teens or early twenties so they could live or relive the days of youth, the days when they were young and energetic and care-free, the days before the onset of so many of life’s regrets and responsibilities.

If you could be any age, what age would you be?

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be older, older than right then, older than right now. When I was sixteen I wanted to be seventeen so I could get out of high school and get started on college. When I was seventeen I wanted to be twenty so I could be done with college and move on to a career. I finished high school a year ahead of my peers and university two years ahead mostly because I was stretching and straining to be older.

If I could be any age, what age would I be? I certainly wouldn’t be a day younger than my current age of 39. When I look back at 16 and 18 and 21 and the other significant milestones of youth, I have no desire to return to them. I have some fond memories, to be sure. I might go back and relive certain moments just to feel and experience them again. But I have no desire to go back, no desire to be young.

I have no desire to be young because I treasure what has come with being old—or older, at least. An 18-year-old body is terrible value in exchange for a 39-year-old mind. A 19-year-old’s autonomy makes a woefully poor trade for a 39-year-old’s Christian maturity. A 21-year-old’s optimism is absurd in light of a 39-year-old’s realism. Even a newlywed’s romance, while genuine, is shallow in comparison to the depth and stability that comes with the passage of years and decades. It is maturity I have always longed for, maturity I have always sought after—maturity of mind, spirit, relationship. There is no path to maturity but the path that leads through time. To go back would be to forsake hard-won maturity, to even desire to go back would be to prefer folly over wisdom. I would never want to do it. Those days may have been good, but these days are far better.

How old would I want to be? 39 at the very least, but probably even older than that, older than I am now. It’s not so much that I want the years, but that I long for the character, the maturity, and the closeness to Christ that comes with the years. I will gladly take the years if only they make me more like Christ and draw me closer to Christ. That’s the best exchange of all.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Tim and Aileen
May 03, 2016

One of the things I love to do for fun is read, ponder, and memorize poetry. One of my favorites is “I Wish I Could Remember That First Day” by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. In this poem she gives voice to a woman thinking back to the first time she met the man she would eventually fall in love with. She expresses remorse that she cannot remember more about the day and the occasion. She knows it happened but is grieved at the realization that she can’t recall details—even basic ones like whether it was cloudy or sunny, whether it was summer or winter. But that lapse of memory should be no surprise, right? There was no reason to take note of the details because there was no way of knowing that this man and, therefore this occasion, would eventually prove to be especially significant. She says,

If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

She finishes wistfully: “Did one but know…” If she had known then how important the day and the meeting would prove, she would have recorded every detail. She would have made sure to take mental snapshots of it all. But, alas, it was soon over and forgotten, lost to the mists of time.

I know the feeling.

It was the summer of 1993. I was sixteen going on seventeen, sandwiched between eleventh and twelfth grades, convinced, no doubt, that I was all grown up. That summer I was working shifts as a gas jockey in the little town of Ancaster, Ontario. The Blue Jays were flying high and well on their way to a second consecutive World Series. Life was good.

One evening my friend Mark asked me to hang out at his place and my guess is that we were getting together to watch the ballgame since he had cable and I did not. He lived on a little court with 5 or 6 other houses and as we drove into the court that evening, we saw the neighborhood kids playing a game together. One girl was a little bit older than the others—she looked about our age—and obviously the boss. Did Mark introduce us? I don’t remember. But I know I would remember if I had grasped the significance of that moment. I would have taken in every detail. I would have noticed exactly where she was standing, how she looked, what she was doing. “Did one but know.” But how could I have known? How could I have known that I was getting my very first look at my future wife, at the one woman God had already determined I’d spend my life with. I couldn’t. So Mark and I walked into his house and I didn’t think about her again.

At least, I didn’t think about her again until that fall. In twelfth grade I began a new school—Ancaster High School. On my first morning I walked into history class, and there she was, sitting at the desk right behind me. She recognized me—did I recognize her? Again, I don’t remember. We chatted, and pretty quickly we became friends. Again, I wish I had recorded every moment of that first day in class. It would be fun to replay it now—now that I know how our lives would intertwine. But I have no memory of it beyond the mere fact that we met (and that her first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.” She was thinking back to the fact that I had seen her doing something as uncool as playing with the neighborhood kids.) We were friends for the first semester when we shared that history class, we were acquaintances for the second semester when we no longer shared a class, and then I graduated and moved on to university while she went back for grade thirteen—Ontario had thirteen grades in those days, though I chose to fast-track by compressing my final two years into one. And again, she disappeared from my life and mind. “Did one but know.”

More than a year later the phone rang. She had been cleaning out her address book, had come to my number, and had to make the decision about whether to keep it or erase it. She chose not only to keep it but to call it. It turns out she also had a murder mystery party coming up and needed someone to accompany her. Would I like to? No, I was far too shy so turned her down. But she called again a little while later. She asked me to go somewhere else, though I’ve long since forgotten what or where. I turned her down again. We kept talking, though, and eventually decided we’d meet up for ice cream.

She didn’t know it, but I had an agenda for this meeting, for the first time I had seen her in nearly a year-and-a-half. I had to explain to her that I couldn’t date her because I was a Christian and she was not—she had been raised without any reference to religion, hadn’t ever been to a church, hadn’t ever read a Bible, hadn’t ever put her faith in Jesus Christ. And here, at last, is where the vague memories give way to much more vivid ones. I can remember where we met and what she was wearing. I can remember her responding well and expressing what seemed to be genuine interest in Christianity. I can remember her professing faith just a few weeks later and being baptized not too long after that. And, see? The memories begin to get much clearer because I—because we—began to realize they mattered. It began to dawn on us that we were building toward something. We started to deliberately make memories together. We’ve been making them for more than twenty years.

Aileen PhotoThe girl I first saw when I was sixteen and she was seventeen turns forty years old today. We’ve been together for more than twenty years and have been married for nearly eighteen. I’ve often wondered if it’s weird that I carry in my wallet a picture of an eighteen-year-old girl. Is that weird? Not if it’s a picture of my wife, right? The photo has been there for twenty years now and I guess I keep it because it links me back to the beginning, back to the days I’ve mostly forgotten, back to when I first saw her, when I first spoke to her. It’s one of my most precious possessions. Yet even though I keep that picture of her from when we first met, it’s who she has become, who she is now, that I love the most. She has become patient and kind and wise and godly. She serves me, she helps me, she pushes me, she strengthens me, she guards me, she loves me. I am gladly, gloriously dependent on her in so many ways.

The great honor of my life is that she would willingly link herself to me so we can go through life together. I am proud of her: proud to be her friend, proud to be her husband. I am proud to have been there when she turned twenty, when she turned thirty, and to be here still as she turns forty. I pray that God gives us many more years, many more decades, many more memories together. It baffles me, it humbles me, it thrills me that God would entrust to me so precious a gift as his daughter, my wife. I am—and no doubt will be—eternally grateful.

Faith Hacking
May 02, 2016

Not too long ago I was speaking to a friend who was lamenting the way he had spent his time the day before. He had become convicted that his prayer life was languishing and that it would benefit from a measure of organization. A couple of hours later he had to move on to other activities and realized that he had put a lot of time into thinking about prayer and organizing prayer, but little time into the actual act of prayer. Have you ever had an experience like that?

I attempted to relieve my friend’s burden that day. I explained that sometimes the key to sparking your prayer life is as simple as dedicating time to prayer but that other times the key is organizing the time you’ve already dedicated to it. I explained that the time he gave to administer his prayer life stood as proof of the importance he places on it. After all, while there is a time for spontaneity, most good things in life require effort, they require administration. Most of life’s important matters require not only the act itself, but also the preparation for the act. This is true of worship, relationship, and romance, so why should it be any different with prayer? We carefully plan our church services to consider unity between Scripture, sermon, and songs. We carefully plan our events to consider introductions, topics, and transitions. We carefully plan our dates to consider dress and reservations and conversation. In all of these activities we understand that the up-front effort is necessary to bring about a better result. Good things require effort; the best things require even more effort.

Prayer is a good thing that thrives with effort, not only in the act of praying but also in its administration. And so I find myself wondering today: Is it time for you to organize your prayer life? Is it time for you to invest some effort not only in praying but also in preparing yourself to pray?

Here are a few ideas that may help.

Integrate John Piper’s method of praying in concentric circles. This is how Piper once challenged his church: “Consider praying in concentric circles from your own soul outward to the whole world. This is my regular practice. I pray for my own soul first. Not because I am more deserving than others, but because if God doesn’t awaken and strengthen and humble and fill my own soul, then I can’t pray for anybody else’s. So I plead with the Lord every morning for my own soul’s perseverance and purification and power. Then I go to the next concentric circle, my family, and I pray for each of them by name: Noel, Karsten/Shelly/Millie, Benjamin, Abraham, Barnabas, Talitha and some of my extended family. Then I go to the next concentric circle, the staff and elders of Bethlehem. I name them all by name.” And it continues outward until he has prayed for his city, his country, and the world. This is a method I have long since integrated into my own prayer life. You may want to read more about it.

Use PrayerMate or another prayer app. I have been a long-time user of PrayerMate and have benefitted tremendously from this simple app. PrayerMate borrows from the physical world and mimics an organized collection of index cards. Imagine a card file: Each of the dividers marks a new category, each of the categories contains several cards, and each card contains a person or item to pray about. Now just take that paradigm and translate it to an app. You create your categories and cards, and each day the app presents you with a collection of items to pray for. It’s that simple! Piper’s concentric circle model fits perfectly with the PrayerMate methodology and it has been the way I’ve prayed now for many years. You can read more here about how I set it up and how I use it. Even if you do not follow the model exactly, it will at least give you a place to begin.

Use D.A. Carson’s method of prayer cards. In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson outlines the method he uses. It is quite similar to the previous two, but relies on paper instead of an app. “Apart from any printed guides I may use, I keep a manila folder in my study, where I pray, and usually I take it with me when I am traveling. The first sheet in that folder is a list of people for whom I ought to pray regularly: they are bound up with me, with who I am. My wife heads the list, followed by my children and a number of relatives, followed in turn by a number of close friends in various parts of the world. The second sheet in my folder lists short-range and intermediate-range concerns that will not remain there indefinitely. They include forthcoming responsibilities in ministry and various crises or opportunities that I have heard about, often among Christians I scarcely know…” You can read more about his method in this excerpt from his book.

Use Paul Miller’s method of prayer cards. In A Praying Life, Paul Miller outlines a method that relies on index cards. He say, “A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.” Once again, you may do well to read more about this method and to consider adopting it.

There are many more methods you can use to organize your prayer life. But the principle is clear: Give time and effort to your prayer life, not only in praying, but also in preparing yourself to pray. A healthy prayer life consists not only of prayer, but also of preparation. I have long since found that the absolute best motivator in prayer is knowing what I am going to pray for. Vague ideas of prayer promote vague prayers. Disorganized methods of prayer promote disorganized prayers. Methods for prayer promote meaningful prayers. Why don’t you take some time today to organize your prayer life?

Who Does My Body Belong To
April 29, 2016

I spent last weekend at a pair of conferences, each of which dealt in some way with matters of human sexuality. Such conferences are common today as Christians attempt to understand, interpret, and respond to the moral revolution raging around us. It struck me that just three or four years ago these events were discussing issues of marriage in the face of the likelihood that the institution of marriage would soon be opened to homosexual couples. For most people today that concern seems almost quaint, like debating whether women should be allowed to vote. The conversation has shifted so dramatically that the question today is whether there is any real meaning or significance in something as foundational to humanity as biological sex—a conversation we carry on as people begin to choose bathrooms and change rooms not on the basis of sex but of identity, of feelings rather than fact.

Of all the questions asked over the course of the weekend, there is one that stands out to me: Who does my body belong to? In some ways this question stands at the very heart of our cultural conversation. A speaker asked the question in one seminar but, because of time constraints, could offer only a partial answer. I’ve found myself pondering it in the days since.

So, who does my body belong to? The Christian answer is obvious: My body belongs to God. In fact, my body is owned twice by God, once because he created it and again because he redeemed it. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14); “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). God has the right of ownership and the right of redemption. I am to relate to my body as a grateful steward rather than an autonomous owner. This is my solemn responsibility, to gladly surrender my body to God, to use it in the ways he commands. I surrender it by denying myself forbidden desires or pleasures (1 Thessalonians 4:4), by pursuing the highest desires and pleasures (Proverbs 5:19, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5), and by my willingness to even see it destroyed in his service (2 Corinthians 11:25-29). God-followers have always placed great importance on using the body to procreate as a means of carrying out God’s creation mandate that we “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Understanding God’s ownership of the body not only limits behavior that God says is unworthy of his creatures, but promotes behavior that God says is good for his creatures.

Just pause for one moment to consider this kind of a world—a world in which each person glorifies God in his or her body all the time. This is the world of Genesis 1 and 2. The rest of the Bible and the rest of human history show with undisputed clarity that one of the consequences of sin is the selfish reclamation of our bodies. (A subsequent answer that I will not deal with at this time is that after God, my wife owns my body—see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5).)

Who owns my body? God does. There is another answer, though, and while it can easily be traced to a biblical understanding of the world, it is found even in cultures that have long since lost or denied God’s Word: My body belongs to my people, to my ancestors and descendants. People have traditionally had a strong sense of the unity of past, present, and future. And this was true—and still is true—for many cultures. I would be expected to honor my ancestors by carrying on the family line and I would be expected to honor my descendants by ensuring that there actually would be descendants. No horror could be greater than the horror of a family line coming to an end (see, for example, 1 Samuel 2:27-36). Thus my body belongs to the past and the future—it belongs to my people. This brings with it the responsibility to use my body to procreate, to create future generations. Even without reference to the God of the Bible, this sense of responsibility puts a kind of governor on human behavior that might cause me to turn away from certain desires in order to fulfill my familial and societal obligations.

Again, pause to consider this kind of a world. This may not be a Christian world, but it is still a world that understands the goodness of family and the stability the family unit brings to individuals and to all of society.

And now we advance to modern Western society and we see that all limits and governors have been taken off—they’ve been taken off, thrown down, and stamped into the dust. Who does my body belong to? In a society obsessed with autonomy, personal rights, and total sexual freedom, my body belongs to me—to me and only me. I bear no responsibility to God because there is no God. Or even if I do acknowledge deity, the responsibility I bear to him is to be true to myself and to my own desires, for of course that is what he wants for me. I bear no responsibility to those who have come before me; their desires and sacrifices lay no obligation on me to ensure that there will be a generation who follows. The past is the past and the future is of no concern to me if it interferes with my joy in the present. My body is mine, thank you very much, and I owe it to myself to use it however I will.

Do you see how far we’ve come? The Bible says that my body belongs to God. Even Godless traditional societies will at least say that my body belongs to my people. But here and now my body belongs to me and it is outright bigotry for you to impose upon me any obligation to the contrary.

What do we do about this? The answer is simple: We obey God. As Christians, we celebrate the beautiful fact that we were each handcrafted by God, we have been bought with a price, and we now have the joyful responsibility and privilege of glorifying God in our bodies. We live in this way before a dark, selfish world and simply let God’s light shine.

Image credit: Shutterstock

3 Ways College Students Can Do More Better
April 27, 2016

When I look back on life, one of my real regrets is not making more of my college experience. Those years offered unique opportunities to grow in knowledge and wisdom but also to grow in character and godliness. Unfortunately, I was unfocused and immature. I wasted many golden opportunities and excelled only at euchre and finding ways to get by with as little work as possible.

Recently I spoke with my friend Peter Krol, president of the campus ministry DiscipleMakers, and spoke to him about productivity principles for college students. What principles could help students avoid the mistakes I made? Could the kinds of principles I lay out in my book Do More Better provide structure so students could not only make the most of their studies but also make the most of the other opportunities afforded by these unique years? A few weeks later we enjoyed a long lunch meeting and he told me that yes, he thought they could. He offered feedback so helpful I asked if he would write it out for me and for you. I’m grateful that he was willing to do so. Here, then, courtesy of Peter, are “3 Ways College Students Can Do More Better Through Finals Week and Into the Summer.”

According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, almost 75% of American college freshmen consider it “essential” or “very important” to help others in difficulty. Almost 40% want to become community leaders. And both of these figures are at 50-year highs.

Seventeen years of student ministry have shown me that, for many Christian students, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh, as they say, is weak. Or busy. Or swamped, crushed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. And with less than a month remaining in the semester, bare survival has long since snuffed the smoldering wick of idealism. It may be “essential” to help others in difficulty, and it may be “very important” to become a community leader. But right now, we’ve just gotta get by.

Now what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? What if Ecclesiastes got it right? “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth. … Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). Yes, your youth is vanity. That means this next month will be but a breath, long forgotten by the time you’ve clocked any serious life experience. But the way you handle this breath, this season, could set you up for greater success in the next. And the next. And the next.

With a little effort, we can remove some of your heart’s vexation and some of your body’s pain so you actually can rejoice in your youth. You’ll give God greater glory, and you’ll do more good for others. Here are a few tips.

1. Make a List and Stick to It

As a place to begin, I propose a discipline so simple, you may be tempted to disregard its usefulness. But hear these words of wisdom from my 7-year-old daughter, who included the following in her first self-published masterpiece, the Book of Lists:

What I Do When I Wake Up

  1. Wake up.
  2. Jump out of bed.
  3. Get dressed.
  4. Go downstairs.
  5. Do your schoolwork.
  6. Eat lunch.
  7. Ask to be askoozd [Editor’s note: excused].
  8. Hop out of your seat.
  9. (On Tuesday and Saturday take bath.)
  10. Play with small toys.
  11. Eat dinner.
  12. Get ready for bed. (Get your peejays on and brush your teeth and yous the potty.)

I confess she’s rather extreme. She gets it from her mother, whose first reaction upon reading Confessions of an Organized Housewife was, “I can do better than that.” But don’t miss my point here: A list will streamline your life, and it can do some of your thinking for you. Take 30 minutes to create a master list of every assignment yet to be completed. To do this, gather your syllabus from each course and enter your final exams, papers, and projects into Todoist (or another task management program—learn to use this kind of software!). Assign each task with the proper due date, and order the list chronologically.

Now try an experiment with me. Give yourself no more than 60 hours per week for your work time. Enter those hours on your calendar. During those 60 hours each week, do the following:

  1. Work hard. No social media, streaming video, or other distractions; only classes and true work time.
  2. Do the next thing on your list, even if it’s not due for a few more days.

Outside of those 60 hours, don’t do any schoolwork. Spend time with friends, work out, invest in extracurriculars, catch up on social media, and do whatever you find restful and enjoyable in the sight of God. Don’t forget to spend time helping others in difficulty and developing as a community leader. “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). And of course, your options for personal time are not without bounds. “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

Make your end-of-semester list and stick to it. If you pursue this discipline, I am willing to bet you will not only have a reasonably painless end to your semester, but you’ll be able to get more sleep, beat deadlines, and do greater good for your community. I dare you to try it and prove me wrong.

2. Set Goals for the Summer

Don’t waste your break. Though it may not feel like it, you probably have more discretionary time and money right now than you will have in the next 4 decades. But without thoughtful intentions, your summer will sprout wings and fly to the moon. Come August, you’ll wonder how it went by so fast.

The easiest way to plan for the summer is to set a few goals. Consider:

  • What parts of the Bible do you want to read for the first time or study more deeply?
  • What books would you like to read?
  • What people would you like to meet with for outreach, encouragement, or discipleship?
  • What would you like to learn, and from whom? How can you get yourself around people who live the kind of life you would like to live before Christ, so they can rub off on you?
  • Where can you volunteer your time?
  • How can you get more involved in your church?
  • What other projects would encourage you?

I majored in music and minored in classical Greek, so my sort of fun was along those lines. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer transcribing a brass quintet piece from a recording, all for a friend’s wedding the following September. Because the sheet music wasn’t published or available for purchase, I had to spend dozens of hours generating it myself. This project shaped me into both a better friend and a better musician. The following summer, I wrote my own translation of Matthew 1-7. It wasn’t very good, but it strengthened my passion for the ancient language and for God’s word. [A note from Tim: I began a business, hired several fellow college students, and learned how to be an entrepreneur.]

Whatever your lawful passions, find a way to put them to use this summer. Picture yourself four months from now and looking back on your break. What would you like to say you accomplished for the glory of God and the good of others?

3. Create a Productivity System for Next School Year

Your list of books to read this summer should include Do More Better[Full disclosure: Tim may have threatened to plagiarize my daughter’s Book of Lists (see above) and claim it as his own if I didn’t say this. Or, I may simply believe it to be true. You decide.] The summer provides an opportunity to both reflect on the past school year and prepare for the coming one, and Do More Better describes a vision for productivity and a system of tools that will help you to thrive through the challenges. But you’ll want to get the system in place before the new semester hits. Once the busyness sets back in, you’ll be tempted to slide back into the old ways of doing things. And you’ll be right back where we started this post (willing spirit, weak flesh). [From Tim: If you read the book and have questions or concerns, please get in touch; tell me Peter sent you, and I’ll make sure I provide a personal reply.]

I’m praying for the next generation of students to profess Christ and do more good for the world better. With a dose of courage and discipline, you’ll become effective community leaders, well equipped to help others in difficulty.

Peter Krol is president of DiscipleMakers campus ministry. He blogs at Knowable Word, where he helps ordinary people learn to study the Bible.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Two Kinds of Conversation with Your Children
April 25, 2016

Over the course of my years of parenting, I have picked up advice from a hundred different sources. Like most parents I have read a few books on parenting, some of them general works and some of them targeted at specific joys or challenges. I have read a lot of blog posts and other articles addressing one angle or the other. Of course I’ve been challenged by the Bible through personal study and sermons. And then there are those personal one-on-one conversations with other parents where I have asked them questions or they have volunteered counsel. I remain a firm advocate of saying to people, “I’d like my children to be like yours. Tell me what you’ve learned along the way.”

One of my most formative conversations came when my oldest child was seven or eight. I was speaking to a friend who was both older and more experienced in parenting—his oldest child was already into her late teens. The counsel this friend gave me was as simple as it gets and just about as helpful as any I’ve heard.

He told me about the various conversations you will need to have with your children as they grow and mature. Those simple and direct talks with seven-year-olds eventually give way to much deeper and more nuanced ones with seventeen-year-olds. And then he offered advice on two different ways to have such conversations.

The first is the face-to-face conversation. This is the one you have when sitting on opposite sides of a table at Starbucks or of a booth at Denny’s. In this setting both you and your child can look each other in the eye and enjoy all the relational directness and intimacy this affords. These are occasions that will at times arise serendipitously but ones you should also be deliberate in creating by inviting your children to go out with you or by finding times you can be alone in the home. This is when you can ask about school and work and family. This is when you can ask about faith and church and devotion. This is when you can enjoy simple and free conversation and follow it wherever it goes.

The second kind of conversation is the side-by-side conversation. This is the one you have while driving together—you in the driver’s seat and your child in the passenger seat—or perhaps when working on a project or activity together. In this conversation you will not be looking one another in the eye because the setting makes it difficult, and this is exactly the point. As you converse you will both be able to keep your eyes fixed on the road ahead or on the task at hand. As you reduce the intimacy of your posture you can increase the intimacy of your conversation. You do this out of kindness to your child, knowing that it is easier for him or her to express or confess certain matters when not being forced to stare into the eyes of mom or dad. This is when you can ask about love and romance and matters of the heart. This is when you can ask about lust and purity and matters of sexuality. This is when you can discuss matters that would otherwise be awkward and uncomfortable. And again, these are opportunities to take when they unexpectedly arise and opportunities to generate when you know a particular conversation is due or overdue.

From the perspective of an inexperienced parent with young children, this counsel was both timely and valuable. It was counsel I’ve heeded and counsel that proved to me the necessity of mature, experienced Christian friends.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 24, 2016

The last couple of weeks have been fairly quiet when it comes to letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the majority of them dealt with the article I wrote on evolution and the age of the universe. Here are a small selection of letters.

Comments on Spiritual Drafting and the Danger of Christian Complacency

Thanks so much for this article. One point to add is that drafting actually helps the person in front go faster due to less personal wind drag. I think you could develop more spiritual applications with this principle in mind. My wife and I ride bikes… well, now we ride one bike—a tandem. This bike is now our bike of choice and “two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor”. Just some thoughts. Thanks for your ministry!
—David D, Meridian, ID

Tim: Yes, I am aware that drafting actually benefits the lead rider as well. It’s something to do with physics, I suppose. But to admit that it benefits the lead rider would have damaged my analogy so I just chose to ignore it! And, actually, I think I’m on good ground there since even in the Bible analogies or parables are used to prove one point without fully exploring every angle. They all fall part at one time or another.

Comments on Evolution and a Universe as Young as Humanity

Tim: I knew when I wrote this article that I was going to receive responses. I was grateful to see how many of them were kind and challenging. The great majority compared space to time and said that if I want to say that the vastness of time causes trouble with my understanding of creation, I also need to deal with the vastness of space. Here are just a couple of examples.

The theological thrust of this article seems to be missing something. If you think we need to deny the vastness of TIME for the theological reason that it makes humanity too insignificant, you’d also need to deny the vastness of SPACE, a similarly tiny proportion of which is directly relevant to humanity. In fact, on this reasoning, vast space is a bigger problem than vast time. Any amount of time can be understood as all purposed by God to lead up to humanity, while nothing similar can be said of all space.

Fortunately, there is no theological reason to deny the vastness of either time or space. Psalm 8 reflects on Genesis 1 and gives us two truths about humanity side-by-side. A. Humanity is extremely insignificant compared to the vastness of what God has created (v3-4, alluding to Genesis 1 day 4). B. Yet, despite that, God has graciously given humanity authority to rule creation like God himself (v5-8, alluding to Genesis 1 day 6). So an increased appreciation of the vastness of time and space would not deny that we’ve been appointed to a central position in creation (B). Instead it would deepen our appreciation of the vastness of creation relative to ourselves (A) and so deepen our appreciation of God’s GRACE in appointing us to a central, God-like position over creation (B).
—Jeremy W, Brisbane Australia


I have been a longtime fan of this blog, but I think Mr. Challies’ basic argument regarding the age of the universe has some deep flaws.

He writes: “If we admit and endorse an ancient universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of time had no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is late and incidental rather than timely and purposeful.” This simply does not follow. For one, there’s no necessary, logical entailment from the “If” to the “then”. But worse, it seems to presuppose the unbiblical notion that it is man’s presence in the universe that gives the universe purpose and order. There is nothing in Scripture that supports this idea, and I’m sure Mr. Challies does not believe this.

True, man is the image-bearer of God and at the center of redemptive history, but that must be counter-balanced by the fact that we find ourselves at that center because of our sin and neediness— on this score, God’s Word teaches us that it is NOT all about us. And so, on the contrary, one could just as easily take this 24-hour clock analogy as a healthy antidote to human pride, with the lesson being that if we’re this small on a scale of just a few billion years, how much more compared to the eternality and perfection of God?

Indeed, if Challies’s presupposition, above, would apply to an ancient universe, then it would also apply to a 5 literal-days-old universe—but again, Challies would never admit to the notion that creation was “vastly purposeless” for the great majority of the first 5 days of the creation week because he understands that what gave the creation purpose and order was God’s work, not man’s. Man’s work was designed to bring glory to God by imaging the order and dominion that God has manifest from eternity past—following the creation week. But if Mr. Challies can believe, on theological grounds, that a “human-less” creation can still manifest God’s purpose, direction, and design for a relatively short span of time, why not also for a relatively “long” span of time, with God directing the details (as theistic evolutionists argue)?

So our presence and work in the universe is just a blip on the cosmic radar?—welcome to finite existence, and meet your infinite Creator, O man of dust, whose life is a vapor!

Further, if we extended Challies’ logic about mankind’s significance relative to time, we should also wonder why we can’t also apply it to space—but then we might reach the absurd conclusion that the universe, indeed, even our own galaxy, can’t possibly be as large as scientists say that it is, as that too would diminish man’s place in creation.

And finally, what would this logic force us to conclude when we consider that Jesus—the God-Man—only stepped into human history for a mere 33 years? Even in a universe that is only 10,000 years old, Jesus’ ministry would proportionately comprise only 25 seconds of a 24-hour day. And yet, from this, we would certainly not draw the kind of conclusion that Challies draws regarding man’s place in an ancient universe, as we know that it is God Himself who gives great significance to “brief” events.

In the end, this kind of argument seems to unwittingly Christianize the pronouncement of Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things”, which the Greeks and Romans maintained for centuries. For centuries, this notion helped entrench the geo-centric model of the universe, not a God-centered one, as some of its advocates in the Church supposed.

Let me be clear: I am certainly not accusing Mr. Challies of failing to be “God-centered”—indeed, I believe he is devoutly God-centered. Nor am I a theistic evolutionist: I would cheerfully join Mr. Challies in mustering arguments against it, in fact. I just wouldn’t use this one.

Rather, I would simply encourage Mr. Challies and his readers to continue to think more critically about the kinds of arguments that are used on all sides of this debate in order to better harmonize our understanding of science and Scripture so that the God of Scripture would be magnified.
—Eric T, La Mirada, CA

Comments on Our Forgetful God

Many thanks for all your insightful posts! I always enjoy reading what you write.

I, however, cannot agree with you that God forgets things. As Jay Adams points out in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, God does not forget, He not-remembers. That is, He stops bringing things up. God is omniscient. To say that God forgets something, at least in the normal way people forget things, is contrary to this attribute of God.

Not-remembering is at the heart of forgiveness, as Jay Adams points out. Indeed, one of the chief points of interest in that book is Adams’s definition of forgiveness as a three-fold promise: when you forgive someone, you are making a promise that you will not bring the matter up again either to the person who offended you, or to anyone else, or to yourself.

Applying this definition to God’s forgiveness towards us, forgiveness is a promise that God will not-remember our sins against us. He will not bring them up again. Of course He knows that we actually did those sins.

This distinction between not-remembering and forgetting is crucial, I think. Forgetting is a human thing where we once knew something, and some time later we do not know it. God forgets nothing, because He knows everything. Not-remembering is a decision, a promise, never to bring something up again, and it is this, not forgetting, that is at the heart of forgiveness.
—Adrian K, Park City, KS

Tim: I believe you and I are saying roughly the same thing. I am teeing off a passage which says that God forgets our sins. I understand that God’s forgetting is a particular kind of forgetting—the kind that Jay Adams helpfully labels as a “not-remembering.” But because the Bible says God forgets, I think we are on good grounds to say it as well.