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December 13, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some recent letters to the editor. This week’s Letters to the Editors were almost entirely focused on three articles. 

Comments on Homemaking In Light of Eternity

My wife is a capable and ambitious woman who does not particularly enjoy being a homemaker. She left a career in Human Resources Benefits Management when we had our first child and she planned to return when he entered school. God had other plans - our child was born with severe disabilities. He requires a talented, full-time caregiver and advocate with experience in medical service management. What a blessing she is and uniquely gifted by God for unexpected career. Our son is a lot of work and I’m amazed at my wife’s selfless love for him, giving up the prospect of easier and more prestigious work for the foreseeable future.

PS: Reading your blog is my Sunday ritual, undertaken from Korea this week due business travel. Thanks for your ministry.
—Matt N, Grand Rapids, MI

***

Hi Tim, being a career homemaker/ homeschooler/ wife and mom of five eternal souls (and now a grandmother to four going on five), I was delighted with your initial article applauding your wife for choosing this vocation rather than frittering away her life finding significance by the world’s definition. Well, you didn’t exactly put it that way but…

In your second post on homemaking in light of the gospel, I was heartened by the reminder that this life is not all there is. True enough. But I do wonder if the angle of the article is still weighted toward valuing what the world values—following our passions, fulfilling our dreams, pursuing a path of significance as it seems right to us…Only, you say we just need to put these off for a little while, not DIE to them, and embrace this sacrificial calling for as few years as we can get away with…. I say, if they are God-given desires then invest them in your mothering, teaching, training process. Don’t just squirrel them away for eternity! I could get on a little soapbox here, but I believe as Christians we have been too quick to abnegate the instruction of our young to institutions and have neglected to pass on our own unique passions and vision (and in so doing to find great fulfillment in our callings!)…. What if we were to see our passions as God-given for investing into our own family and the lives of those we touch in the process of rearing them?! (rather than as trading cards for making money and finding significance in the world’s eyes!)

It seems to me that the vocation of mothering/ nurturing/ investing our lives and dreams and passions in our progeny is a Creation ordinance, predating the coming of the Gospel. It is not something we ‘choose’ and then nobly ‘bear’ as our ‘sacrifice’. It is God’s masterful and ineffable design for mothers, to save us from ourselves if you will. Mothering with all we are and have is not just ‘sacrifice’. It is privilege, high calling, perfect, HOLY. When we act as though we have laid down 30 or 40 years of our lives (Hey, don’t stop there; there’s grandparenting!!) for something great but still hold onto the belief that we have missed out on something that might have been more significant…we insult our Creator. To fulfill God’s calling without regret and without a martyr complex—with Joy—this is the role and high privilege of motherhood. What other career even begins to compare to its dividends? Being loved and known as a faithful godly “Mom”, is that not making an impact?!

The gospel transforms homemaking because… it calls us to die to ourselves and live for God’s kingdom and in so doing we find life in the here and now while our own paltry ideas of ‘success’ and ‘significance’ fade along with all the other ways the world has sought to conform us to its mold. We are freed to really live without regret and without chomping at the bit to have this lifetime over with so we can get on with our real passions!

[For the record, I am a trained linguist who once commenced to do Bible Translation, but was channelled into motherhood while in the process and didn’t get to fulfill that ‘dream’, so I DO understand that there are other career options out there, valid and valiant ones. The question is, what is God’s calling for my lifetime. He is in the process of sanctifying me through that calling. Incidentally, the translation we set out to do did get done without our needing to be the ones to get the glory…]

Thanks for your good thinking, Tim, that so often stirs my own in good ways.
—Linda S, Nelson, BC

Tim: I think this a helpful corrective. I generally try to make one point per article so this may have been a bit outside of what I meant to communicate. But I quite agree with much of what you say. Perhaps, though, I don’t see that what you and I are saying are mutually exclusive as much as complementary.

***

The gospel does indeed transform homemaking, or it might be better to say, it transforms our perspective on homemaking. It has always been a high calling of the Lord.

However, your article unintentionally validates the impression that many women who have chosen a life of homemaking and child-rearing have put aside “better” options and sacrificially settled for second best. Using the terms in the article “gave up”, “forfeit”, “putting on hold”, “letting go of dreams and desires” in regards to women who chose family over career all support this notion.

This closes the door to the possibility that for many this simply was the first and best choice, not that we simply fell into it because we had no education, job or anything else to do. So often homemaking is pitted against the development of talents and vocational interests as you have leaned toward doing in this article. They are not mutually exclusive. Yes, priorities will be adjusted according to the family situation, but children benefit greatly from the example of a mother who continues to develop her mind and talents.
—Sandy P, Brantford, ON

***

Tim, thank you for this article, which I can see (from Facebook) is a great encouragement to many women. I myself am humbled and astounded by God’s grace and favor that he plucked me from a consuming career and put me in Bible College. Now, as a Christian for any length of time, you will know as well as I do the struggles many women face with singlehood. Now that I am in a tightly-knit Christian circle, I am privy to how painful this topic is to many - only because the ‘Christian’ culture here idealizes women who get married and have kids in their early 20s. I am afraid articles like yours inadvertently encourages a middle-class Christianity - where women tie their identities to husbands and children instead of God. At its worst it discourages women from utilizing their God-given gifts for God’s Kingdom - and this may involve living out their skills and passions on this side of the grave. Biblically, I fail to see how being a wife and mother is superior to being a single person living purposefully for God. I understand this is not what you are saying, but such a conclusion may be derived from your article. Perpetua and Felicity would not be impressed. Perhaps instead of saying ‘Ladies, last chance to be a wife and a mom!’ it would be more edifying to say that God is fulfilling his purposes for you - in this lifetime (Ps 57:2).
—Sharm D, Melbourne, Australia

***

Thank you for writing these thought provoking & encouraging articles. As one who has also chosen this path, I don’t get a lot of recognition or kudos. I am the age where many of my peers are peaking at their careers. I look back & sometimes wonder what do I have to show for my years of homemaking. There are unfulfilled dreams due to my “career” choice. Thank you for the reminder that this is important & heaven is waiting .
—Phillis W, Loogootee, IN

***

Hi, thanks for your homemaking articles. It’s encouraging to hear of other women living to serve as laid out in scripture. I am a young lady deeply desirous of doing the same but I wonder if you can get some of these ladies to speak on the process involved please. In my case I have obligations to work once I complete my degree and a student loan to be paid starting some months post graduation. Would be great to hear from these women if they’re willing to share with other women or even if you can direct me to anyone who may be willing to share and guide me in this process. Again, thank you for the articles and all you offer freely. God Bless & Keep you and your family.
—Amanda S, Trinidad & Tobago

Tim: If you keep an eye on the daily A La Carte postings I do, you will encounter quite a lot of excellent blogs written by and for women, many of whom are homemakers.

Comments on The 2016 Reading Challenge

That’s an excellent initiative. I appreciate much this initiative to encourage book-reading habit. It will also help if you can suggest titles of good books in those 104 categories.Thank you.
—Alexis A, Bangalore, India

***

I am from South Africa and need some input regarding choices of books in the various categories mentioned in your 2016 reading challenge. Christian books are relatively easier as I normally base my choices on the authors I know in additon to the authors these authors recommend. However, when it comes to books about current issues, classical novels etc. I am ignorant as to what type and authors will actually be beneficial to me. Is there any possible way you can assist me in selecting titles for these categories.
—Sergio W, Capetown, South Africa

***

Have you already selected books for this challenge for yourself? Also, have people sent in their lists. If so, would you mind sharing some of the choices in an upcoming blog post? Thanks!
—Steven M, Louisville, KY

Tim: Many of the comments I received about the Reading Challenge were calls for resources. (And, as you can see here, they came from around the world.) I intend to recommend resources throughout the year.

Comments on The Humble Celebrity

I thought you would appreciate another story highlighting the humility of Francis Schaeffer. My father-in-law (Pop) has led a bible study in his home for over four decades. Pop has had all kinds of Christians who happened to be famous, from athletes to theologians, take part in his bible study. Back in the 70’s Francis Schaeffer spoke for a week in his church, so he was invited to lead the study one evening. There was a man in the study who was a new believer and was passionate about studying the beliefs of cults. He had put together a huge chart made of several pieces of poster board, comparing the beliefs of various cults and Christianity. He was so excited about sharing it with the group. As he explained his chart, he laid it out on the floor and started rearranging the furniture, explaining to the group that they could see it better from up above. Pop started to cringe. But Schaeffer, gladly and without hesitation, stood on his chair and followed everyone around the circle, walking on the furniture, as the excited young man explained his chart. You can imagine this brilliant man, known the world over, wearing his knickers and walking on the furniture! Pop has never forgotten Scheffer’s example of humble encouragement.
—Dean W, Spring, TX

Tim: Thanks for sharing this sweet little anecdote, Dean.

Homemaking in the Light of Eternity
December 08, 2015

That article about homemaking struck a nerve. Last week I wrote about Aileen and her Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking, and I did so to share my gratitude that she decided to put aside other dreams to focus on caring for the home and children (and of course, for me). In retrospect, there is one more thing I wish I had said in that article, and I aim to say it today: The gospel transforms homemaking.

Now I know it’s all the Reformed rage to hitch the word “gospel” to every possible topic or issue. I find myself backing away from some of the gospel-dash-centred wording these days lest it come across as cliché. But in this case, I am perfectly comfortable with the statement that the gospel makes a world—in fact, an eternity—of difference in homemaking.

And now the part where I explain. They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions. They say it is only what you do in this life that matters. They say that you need to full-out live your dash, that little line that will someday appear on your gravestone to represent the time between the day you were born into this world and the day you died out of it. And they are right. They are right to a degree.

But Christians know that the dash is deceptive. It is only the beginning. The dash matters a whole lot, and it is so very important that we spend our lives effectively stewarding our gifts, time, talent, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. (Hey, someone should write a book about that!) But the dash is just the short opening blip on a much longer line that extends to forever. While our existence has a clear beginning, it has no end. We will live until we die, and then we will live again. We will live until we die, and then we will be more fully alive than we have ever been.

And yet even Christians can slip into living as if this world is all there is, as if there is nothing beyond that short dash. The gospel transforms homemaking precisely because it assures us that we do not need to do and see and have and accomplish everything in this short life. The gospel promises life beyond—a much better, longer, and more fulfilling life.

The woman who devotes thirty or forty years of her life to homemaking—the prime of her life, that is—is choosing to let go of certain dreams and desires. Since I wrote that article I have had some very accomplished women write to say, “I gave up a great career and incredible opportunities and millions of dollars because I wanted to be there for our children.” I have had many proud husbands write to say, “My wife chose to forfeit what could have been an amazing career because she chose to raise our children.” These are genuine sacrifices. But as a believer she is not being asked to give up these things forever. Instead, she is putting them on hold. She is delaying them. She is prioritizing other things for a time.

Most Christians believe that the person who exists on the other side of the grave will be very much consistent with the person who exists on this side. She will be her still except that the presence of sin and the consequences of sin will be gone. What she loves here will very likely be what she loves there and what she does well here will very probably be what she does well there. Gifting and passion and skill on this side of the grave are undoubtedly a good indicator of gifting and passion and skill on that side of the grave.

This means that she can confidently choose to pursue being a wife and mother now, believing that she will have all of eternity to explore those other interests, talents, and passions. This means that she is not wasting them. She is not ignoring or neglecting them. She is merely choosing to prioritize other things for a time. There will be no marriage there, so her only opportunity to prioritize and perfect marriage is right now. There will be no children there, so her only opportunity to make the most of mothering is right here and right now.

If you do not believe in life after death, I understand the overwhelming desire to build a career now, because it is the only career you will ever have. I understand why you need to grab ahold of every opportunity because there will be no more opportunities beyond the ones you have today. But for the Christian, there is a forever still to come—a forever of living in this world, exploring this world, exercising dominion over this world, and glorifying God through every gift, talent, moment, passion, and opportunity. Homemaking in the light of eternity allows her to wait patiently for the forever to come.

Like I said, the gospel transforms homemaking. It transforms everything.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
December 06, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some recent letters to the editor. This week’s Letters to the Editors (and last week’s, since I didn’t post any last week) were almost entirely focused on three articles. 

Comments on The Plausibility Problem

I’d like to thank you for your review and recommendation of Ed Shaw’s book. As a Christian who happens to be attracted to the same sex, it’s one of the best I’ve read on the topic. I wanted to point out something that I think the Reformed community has generally missed when it comes to this issue, namely how hard it is for the parents. I’ve seen this in my own life. Over the past year and a bit I’ve opened up to a number of family and friends about my struggles in this area. Overall I’ve been amazed and extremely grateful to all my friends for their love and support once I told them. God is good! The fear I felt that my friends would reject me or look down on me for this has been found to be groundless. However it was much harder for my parents to hear this about me. They were afraid that if the church in general knows, I may be looked down upon and treated as an outcast. It must be brutal to learn that a son that you hoped would be happily married and have kids (your grandchildren) may have to live his whole life in singleness. Often I think that my parents have a harder time with this than I do and that is one of the hardest parts of having SSA. I think in general it could potentially cause the parents to have a lot of guilt (was it the way we raised him/her?) that would be compounded if the church looked down on those dealing with SSA. If we could have a church community like the one Ed Shaw outlines in his book, parents would not have to fear for their child as the church would be ready and willing to be a support for both the individual dealing with the same-sex attraction as well as his or her family.
—Liam K, Edinburgh, Scotland

Tim: Thanks, Liam. This is an area where we, as Christians (and Reformed Christians) have a lot of learning, listening, and thinking to do. I hope and pray we can take Shaw’s challenge and make sure we offer a plausible alternative to the world’s messaging.

Comments on The Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!” as the old saying goes. I stayed home with my six children. The days are long, but the years are short. We as parents do not have much time to instill our faith and values into our kids. No money would be worth missing our children’s first steps or first words or their games or concerts, or to miss the daily conversations about God and life that ensue. And we did struggle financially, but my husband worked hard and God provided our needs and many wants. I, too, felt “dumb” at times, especially when I was the only other woman in a get-together who did not work outside of our home, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Now that our kids are all grown up with families of their own, all of our girls and daughters-in-law are home with their children. They are pursuing the best thing for their families. It can be lonely and hard at times, but it is worth it. Thank you, Tim, for giving women at home a boost! You can’t take anything to heaven with you but people.
—Victoria K, Upper Chichester, PA

***

Hi Tim, thanks so much for your article about Aileen’s decision to stay home and about stay at home moms in general. I have read very few articles on this topic that were written by men, and I appreciate you supporting women in this way and championing their hard work at home! My husband and I have also chosen to live in a cheaper housing area and to live on a tight budget so that I can stay home. If I were to go to work (as a nurse) our income would double; but that is not our choice while our kids are little. It is a lot of work to be diligent with our resources, but we believe it is worth it. I’m grateful to my husband for working hard and for the option of staying home. I know many who would like to be home with their kids but who don’t have that luxury.
—Emily A, Roseville, CA

***

Thank you for writing on this often-neglected topic of homemaking. Now that all of my children are in elementary school, I have been regularly asked, “So what are you going to do now?” Or more boldly, “When are you going back to work?” I never left work! My work changed into being a wife and raising three children. That is work. Bless you for recognizing, encouraging and validating this vital career choice.
—Ursula F, Apex, NC

***

I’m writing in response to your short article The Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking. I am a wife and lawyer turned stay-at-home mom to my three young children (aged two, four and six). I quit my job at a large international law firm when my eldest was born, and most of my colleagues and many of my friends thought it was an insane move. I walked away from a salary in the $200,000 range, and traded in my sporty Mercedes for a ragged SUV. Gone are the days when I purchased expensive things from expensive stores.

But the truth is, I don’t miss my former career one bit. As a homemaker, I have found a depth of calling that no degree of professional accolade or shiny sports car could ever begin to mimic. God has blessed me with the weighty responsibility of instructing my children in his ways, of filtering the things of this fallen world for three little people, and of creating a home where biblical hierarchy is modeled.

There is immense, eternal responsibility inherent in the vocation of homemaking, and in it I find true joy.

God bless your wife for her desire to serve her family. “An excellent wife who can find?” Tim Challies, apparently. -)
—Leah R, Philadelphia PA

Tim: Indeed. Yet it struck me as interesting that 100% of the letters to the editor on this topic were supportive. It is encouraging to me how many women (with their husbands) have made the same decision for the same reasons.

Comments on A Simple But Life-Changing Realization

I understand what you are trying to say in this article, but would caution that it comes close to sounding like you are advocating the “abundant-life” or “second blessing”-type teachings of Keswick or Wesleyan theology. I’ve been reading your material long enough to know that you don’t subscribe to that aberrant school of thought, but wanted to share this observation with you. I completely agree with the points you’ve made in this article, and praise God for how He has used your ministry to help me to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
—Tom W, Spring Lake, NJ

***

As a young minister struggling to maintain purity, this was a great encouragement. Thank you for helping me remember that God is not just giving a command, but an opportunity to experience life with Him. Truth be told, I was in the midst of battling temptation when I came to it, and God gave exactly what I needed. Thanks again for this truth.
—Greg H, Tallahassee, FL

***

Let me first say how much my wife and I enjoy reading your blog on a regular basis. You have been a great help. This letter is not an argument but rather a request for clarification. In your article, “A Simple But Life-Changing Realization”, you write, “God would not tell me to do something I could not actually do.” Would you say that applies universally, even to a command like in Matthew 5:48 where Jesus tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”? Any insight you can provide on the matter would be much appreciated.
—Nick A, Atlanta, GA

***

Tim, I wanted to thank you for your article “A Simple But Life-Changing Realization.” As a young man who has chosen sexual sin over and over again, this article was used to breathe life into my dry and restless soul; the realization that God’s commands are promises and that he provides the means to obey and fulfill those things is truly breathtaking. You say, “You actually can obey him all the way. You actually can be free from the sin, and not just in its broadest, most blatant forms.” I desperately want that and now I understand that it is possible. Thank you, Tim.
—Austin B, Kansas City, MO

***

I agree with you because I’ve seen it lived out in my father’s life as well as others. But he would be the first to say (in fact he did say this last evening at our home fellowship) that the sign of a mature Christian is how fast he can run to the cross. Note that he didn’t say he is getting better (he’s now 85 years old) but that by confessing sin quickly, applying the precious blood of Jesus, he is set free from the bondage of that sin. To deal with sin, we have to be willing to bring it out into the light, not hide it or justify it, but call it what it is and allow Jesus to make us clean. He’s been very open over the years about some of his struggles with sin and because he’s willing to share how Jesus has met him, forgiven him and continues to help him, others are encouraged in their lives as well. Holiness is possible because Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it possible. The blood will NEVER lose its power!
—Mary O, Snoqualmie, WA

Tim: Not surprisingly, there was a lot of response to this one. I would like to return to the concerns about “higher life” and perfectionism that people asked about. I was grateful that, while people raised the concern, they also gave the benefit of the doubt: “We know that you don’t actually believe this, so please clarify.” For now, maybe I will just say this: Properly understood, grace always sounds far too good to be true!

December 02, 2015

We recently received an email from one of Nick’s tenth-grade [public school] teachers, sent to all the parents: “I would like to invite parents to come to our class to speak about the career they chose. I want to expose the student to a variety of careers and experiences. Would you like to come and speak to us?” My very first thought was for Aileen: “I think you should go as a stay-at-home mom.”

When I met Aileen, she was a seventeen-year-old high school student who was earning good grades and active with teams and organizations; when I began dating her, she was a first-year university student who was preparing for a career of helping others through social work; when I married her, she had completed her undergraduate work and was about to pursue a Master’s degree. But then we settled into life together and she soon admitted that her real dream and desire was to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. She had always wanted this. It is what her mother had chosen and what she wanted as well. And she did. She withdrew from her program, settled into her new vocation, and was soon joined by one, then two, then three children.

Aileen had options before her and made her choice. She chose the thing she wanted to do and the thing she felt called to do. She believed that this was the way she could best serve her family. Yet when I told her, “I think you should speak to Nick’s class,” she scoffed. Maybe she thought I was teasing or mocking her. But I wasn’t. I think it would be wonderful for her to represent something very few children in that school have ever seen.

We live in a neighborhood of baby boom bungalows and 70’s-era townhouses. It is a neighborhood people go to in order to buy their first home (before they get enough equity to upgrade) or where they return to buy their final home (when they downgrade to get equity back out). While our neighborhood is perfectly respectful, it is known as “the ghetto” of our town simply beside of what has sprung up all around it.

The local high school is up the road, past the shopping center, in a different voting ward, in a neighborhood of enormous new homes. We once calculated that with what it costs to buy one home there, you could buy seven of ours. Without exaggeration, they have more square footage in their basements than we do in our entire house. The school board reports that the average annual family income for students in that school is climbing toward $200,000. Suffice it to say, there are not a lot of single-income families there. There can’t be when you need to qualify for and pay down a million-dollar mortgage. There are plenty of nannies and babysitters, but not a lot of stay-at-home mothers.

I am not passing judgment on those families. Not in the least. I am merely making the observation that my wife chose a rare and counter-cultural vocation. She chose a vocation that was once very respectful but is now viewed with some shame. I would love for her to explain why she chose this vocation even with other options available to her, what opportunities it has given her, whether she would do it like this if she had to do it all again. I would like her to explain to the tenth-grade students that this, too, is a choice available to them, and a choice worth considering.

She won’t, and I respect her decision. She is a reluctant public speaker at the best of times, and a high school careers class would push her too far from her comfort zone. I understand that. But at the very least I want to express my love and respect for her and for the path she chose. Though she followed her desire and her conscience, it has not always been easy. Even while she has always been personally confident of her choice, she has faced outside criticism. She has felt out-of-place. She has felt judged. But I, her husband, and we, her children, honor and love her. To echo Lemuel, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all’” (Proverbs 31:28-29).

Image credit: Shutterstock

Do More Better
December 01, 2015

Do More BetterToday is the day! My new book Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity is now available. This is a unique book on productivity and one that I believe will prove helpful to anyone who reads it. In fact, the book begins with these words: “I believe this book can improve your life.” And, let’s be honest, it would not have been worth my time writing it (or your time reading it) if I didn’t believe that. I believe it can and will. I can say this because of the nature of productivity.

I define productivity as effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. That is a universal call. Whether you are a student or a professional, a work-from-home dad or a stay-at-home mom, you are responsible before God for emphasizing this kind of productivity. So productivity is not about doing more stuff or taking on more projects or crossing more tasks off your to-do list. It’s about doing more good, more of what matters most.

Do More Better teaches both why and how you need to do good—good works that benefit others and glorify God. It teaches the great purpose behind our productivity, it tells about common obstacles and how to overcome them, it provides specific guidance on using 3 essential tools for getting things done, it helps you develop daily and weekly routines, and it offers much more besides.

The book is short (just over 100 pages), fast-paced, and very practical. I wrote it to be applicable to every Christian, not only the highly-paid businessman or the too-busy-to-breathe pastor. Because productivity is for all of us, I wrote a book for all of us. I hope you’ll consider reading it, and I trust you’ll benefit from it.

Buy It (Please!)

Do More Better is currently available at Amazon and Cruciform Press.

How I Love Your Law
November 25, 2015

I have been around Christians all my life, and I don’t know that I’ve heard too many of them exclaim, “Oh how I love your law!” Yet in Psalm 119 we find David saying that very thing, expressing his love for God’s law. In the very first Psalm we find him declaring the man blessed who finds God’s law a source of great delight. It sounds a bit strange to our ears, doesn’t it? Aren’t we people of grace? Aren’t we free from the law?

Not in this case. When David expressed his love of God’s law he was expressing his love of God’s revealed truth, all the knowledge and instruction he has given to humanity in his Word. David had less of it than we do—he had only the first few books of what would later be the 66-book Bible. But he read these few books, he pondered them, and he diligently applied their wisdom to his life. The more he did this, the more his affection grew.

What was it about the law that swelled David’s affections? Was he just a rigid kind of character who liked to do what was right and was afraid of doing what was wrong? Did he have a very structured, legal mind? No, he loved this: God’s law is a reflection of God’s character. When David looked at the law of God he saw the person of God, the character of God, the heart of God. As he read God’s Word he came face-to-face with the God he loved. He saw in the law an accurate portrait, an accurate reflection of the character of God. And he loved it because he loved him.

The law of God is God’s character externalized. It comes to us from the very heart and mind of God. Its purpose is not first to tell us what we must be and what we must do. Not first. Its purpose is to tell us first who God is and what he is like. And right here the Bible confronts you and me. If we don’t love the law and don’t want to do the law, we don’t love the God who gave the law. Do we love the law of God like David did? Do we treasure it as he treasured it? Do we meditate upon it and internalize it and live in light of it as he did? David loved the law of God because he loved the God of the law. Do we?

Image credit: Shutterstock

Transformation
November 23, 2015

As a young man, I often spent time around older men so I could receive their wisdom and counsel. I wanted to hear about their experience of living as Christians, and especially their experience of growing in holiness. I wanted their assurance that they had seen significant success in the battle against sin—not just that they had made hesitant little tip-toes toward holiness, but that they had become far more holy than they ever would have thought possible.

Sadly, few things were as alarming and discouraging as hearing older men talk about their sin. This was especially true of sexual sin. Not once did I hear men testify to pronounced, significant success in this area. Rather, I heard them speak of it as a constant trial and as an area of very little progress. Most often it was said not with brokenness but with a kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge. “I’m only human, you know.” “I may be fifty, but I’m still a man.” These men had given up the most blatant outward expressions of sexual immorality, but still had eyes that wandered and they still lived with fantasies playing in their minds.

What I kept hearing was, “Give it your best shot. Get rid of the most blatant sins. Don’t look at porn or commit adultery, but be realistic as well.” It’s like these men had reached a grudging, reluctant point of obedience that had smoothed out the roughest edges. And then they had determined that this was far enough. They thought it was unrealistic to expect much more of themselves. I was devastated when I heard an older friend I admired more than just about anyone else say, “I don’t think it matters where I get my appetite, as long as I eat at home.” Was that really the best I could hope for, that I’d be outwardly faithful to a wife but inwardly I would wander? Could I expect that I’d never really progress much beyond where I was as a young man? Did I have to resign myself to living forever with a mind that wandered and dreamed of all I didn’t have?

All the while I was reading the Bible and heard God say “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all [or absolute] purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) and “but among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity” (Ephesians 5:3). I read about Job and the covenant he made that he would never look with lust upon a young woman. What I longed to hear from an exemplary older man was, “Yes, you can be far holier than you ever thought possible. I know, because I am far holier than I ever would have thought possible.”

It took many years and a lot of pondering God’s Word before I realized that God really can make his people far holier than they thought possible. The change began with a simple but life-changing realization: God would not tell me to do something I could not actually do. I read, “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) and understood that God was saying, “You actually can treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. You actually can be far purer than you ever thought possible.” I read, “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity” and understood God was saying, “You actually can live without the constant sin and guilt of wandering eyes and a daydreaming mind. You can when you’re walking with me.”

I came to understand that God’s commands are not suggestions. They are not vague notions of propriety. They are not tasks or to-dos. Not to the Christian, that is. To the Christian, God’s commands are promises. They are promises that you really can be this, you really can have this, you really can do this if you take hold of what he offers. God does not merely give the command and then leave you to your own devices. That would be impossible. No, God gives the command and offers the means to obey and fulfill the command. He gives you the desire to put that sin to death, he gives you the desire to come alive to righteousness, and he gives you the Holy Spirit to make it all possible. When he gives you all this, there is nothing more to need! God commands so you can take hold of his promise and see him prove himself faithful. You actually can obey him all the way. You actually can be free from the sin, and not just in its broadest, most blatant forms.

To young men I want to say this (and young women and older men and older women): You can be far holier, far purer than you ever thought possible. You really can. You may not see your sin so completely and utterly vanquished that it never raises its ugly head again. But you can see massive, unbelievable success against that sin. You can, because God gives you a command. And where he gives a command, he also gives the means to obey.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
November 22, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some of the letters to the editor that have come in this week—letters that are representative of the ones I received recently. I would invite those of you who read the blog regularly to consider reading these letters as a part of the back-and-forth between writer and readers.

Comments on Comments

I know others are disappointed with the demise of the comment section but I wanted to let you know how much more I enjoy the letters to the editor feature. While it wasn’t a huge problem with this blog, comments sections too often become a place for disrespect, argument, and unrelated rabbit trails and can be frustrating to wade through (not to mention the occasional raising of my ire!). With the letters feature, I just get the highlights (and a few lowlights) that are relevant to the topic at hand. Keep up the good work!
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR

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I miss the comments section. I miss the encouragement of people who agree and the thought provoked by those who don’t… Or those who wish to add something. I’m not a commenter, but I’m a reader. Thanks!
—Jenny S, Mankato, MN

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Tim-I sure appreciate your Best Commentaries recommendations. What I REALLY miss is the comment section where many other Bible students and seasoned expositors added their recommendations to your list of helpful commentaries. The collected experience and wisdom was much more than comments- but help for us other expositors always seeking the best tools. Please bring these back. Thanks!
—Dave S, Dover, PA

Tim: To this point I have not found a way to maintain the old commenting threads without also opening up new ones. For now it looks like the section is either on or off. I’m working on it.

Comments on Jesus Calling and last week’s Letters to the Editor

I assume that I will not be the only one to comment on the Letters to the Editor #5. I want to commend you for posting the article that you did regarding Jesus Calling. You asked to become very unpopular; it shows that you’re not about blogging in order to gain the affirmation of the populace. Thank you for writing articles that are concerned with the approbation of God. Let me make three observations about the responses to your article. 1) All of the responses that you posted were written by women. Was that purposeful? Would you say that most of the responses you received were from women? I just want to point out that the demographic that love Jesus Calling the most seems to be middle aged women (like Sarah Young). Funny how Jesus sounds like a middle aged women in SY’s writings. 2) Many of the objectors to your article used their own experience as an argument for the validity of the book. The readers are so quick to justify their use of the devotional by the fact that THEY, and those dear to them, use it. Hmmm. Since when have our experiences fully vindicated us with respect to our opinions? 3) Why are we glossing over the fact that our hero (SY) has claimed, via her preface, that she wanted something more than Scripture? That claim alone should set off red flags. She has just claimed that God’s voice in Scripture is not, and was not, enough for her; there are no two ways about it. You can’t get around that. Sarah Young’s claims are alarming.
—Caleb H, Cambridge, ON

Tim: You were not the only one to comment on the fact that all the letters to the editor related to Jesus Calling were written by women. That is because all (or nearly all) the letters I received about Jesus Calling were by women. In my view this simply shows the core demographic that is purchasing, reading, and sharing the book.

Comments on A Call for Christian Extremists

Applause for your article, A Call for Christian Extremists. A couple of reflections: Among my like-minded heirs of the Reformation, the principled reaction to these thoughts are that Jesus saved us, He’s sanctifying us, that there’s nothing really to require that we get very extreme. This is the response of both orthodox and Arminian groups. My response to them in turn is that there are a lot of scriptures that hold out for us our high calling in Christ Jesus, and encourage us to press in. The other note is that from fellowship with Catholics I heard the idea, “The only tragedy is not to be a saint.” That came from some literary source. Being a saint is another name for Christian Extremist. It seems to me that there’s no room among the heirs of the Reformation for heroic holiness, especially as it resembles Catholicism.
—Bruce M, Arlington, MA

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Hi Tim, I want to agree completely with your article about Christian extremism - as I agree with nearly everything else you post. And yet, I don’t. Not quite. Here’s my quibble.

I think that the call to Christian extremism, to be zealots for a cause, finds expression only secondarily in good works. That’s hard to say, because I don’t for a moment want people to think they are unimportant. I agree they are essential. I am glad to have you calling us to be zealous for good works. Yet I believe they are still secondary. Because our true cause, the area where we truly need to focus our zeal and extremism, is the gospel of Christ. Like Paul, in the end we must be determined to know nothing except Christ crucified. That’s what it’s truly all about. That’s our cause. And the reason I think this is a point worth making, is because it’s this very distinction that differentiates Christians from the world. The world loves good works. The world hates Christ’s cross. Good works will earn us the world’s approval, but only the gospel of Christ crucified will change hearts. By all means let’s be extremists. But our cause is not good works. Our cause is Christ.
—Tim Z, Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia

Tim: I don’t disagree with you. However, a zealous love of the gospel will necessarily work itself out in good works. And these good works will be a distinctly Christian kind—done for the good of others and the glory of God. Anyone can do good works, but only Christians can perform the biblical definition of good works which are those done to God’s glory.

Comments on A Charle Brown Religion

I have always loved Peanuts and good old Charlie Brown. The Christmas special is much loved in my household and is watched numerous times each Christmas season. In fact I even trace my conversion to the special. When I was in my late teens, one viewing I was so overwhelmed by Linus reading from Luke, that after the show was over I had to leave the room and compose myself. It’s not cool or tough to see a 18-year-old weep. Raised in a non-Christian home with respect towards the Church, this special was all the Bible I would hear. Although I did have believing grandmothers, I was indifferent to religion. This began for me a serious look into Jesus and I began to read my Gideon New Testament. A few years later I was converted through a sermon that I was in Church for because of the young woman I was dating, whom I was trying to impress. She is now my wife of 28 years. But I look back at moment and it’s clear that God’s word—thanks to Sparky and through Linus—began something in me. So has been always a bit sad knowing Schulz drifted. But he stilled used Linus and the Bible throughout Peanuts. I will always enjoy Peanuts.
—Reg S, New Minas, NS

Comments about Protect Your Family With Circle

Thanks for reviewing Circle. I’ve look at the website and contacted the company and am very excited about this and how it will help families. It should be noted however, for your Canadian readers (I am one), Circle will be available for sale in Canada in 2016 according to the contact I’ve had with the company.
—Jon D, New Minas, NS

Tim: Wait, there are 2 comments in the same week from New Minas, NS? Wikipedia says the town has a population of 5,000. What are the chances?

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Hey Tim, would love to use this but when I went to order there was no option for Canada. How un-Canadian of you bro! Thanks for all you are doing for the kingdom. You and your family are in our prayers.
—Quentin W, Calgary, AB

Tim: This is correct. Circle plans to release the device beyond America in 2016. But, if you are like most Canadians, you ought to know how to work around such geographic limitations!

General Comments

I just had a brain spasm because my husband asked me if I knew that there was a new Indelible Grace album. Back in April, I pledged to support the IG VII on Kickstarter. I discussed this support at the time with my husband. Over the last several months, each time there was an update, I told him about it. On Sunday I got the download code for the new album and downloaded it, and have been listening since. This morning I put a link to the Bandcamp page on my facebook. So when my husband asked if I knew there was a new Indelible Grace CD, I looked at him like he was from another dimension. He explained that nothing is real to him until Challies links to it. Thought you’d want to know.
—Lindele E, Alexandria, VA

Tim: Now that’s just plain funny.