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Tim Challies

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December 29, 2014

We have all heard the statistics: 50% of people make some kind of new year’s resolution, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. That is more than a little discouraging. But I still believe in new year’s resolutions. I believe in them as a convenient opportunity to evaluate life and to make choices about living life better. I have done a fair bit of reading on how to make resolutions work, and it turns out that though there are many reasons your resolutions may not work, the most common ones are easy enough to avoid. Here are some tips on making wise resolutions and on making them stick.

Make Resolutions, Not Wishes

The most likely reason your new year’s resolution will fail is that you haven’t actually made a resolution—you have made a wish. On December 31 you may decide that in the year ahead you will lose weight, or read your Bible more often, or finally stop smoking. Those are all good desires. But this is not the time to wish upon a star and hope that you will magically change; it is the time to firmly resolve to change your life. Make sure that you are resolving, not wishing.

Make Just 1 Resolution

With that heightened sense of optimism that seems to come with the dawning of a new year, it is easy to believe that this is the time to change everything you dislike about yourself. But January 1 is not a realistic time to change every part of your life. You will dramatically increase your chances of success when you force yourself to make just 1 resolution. At the very most, make no more than 2 or 3.

Convert Your Resolution To Habits

Though you are more than your habits, you are certainly not less. Through most of life you follow your habits—you do those things you have wired yourself to do. Whatever your resolution is, you need to prepare to turn it into a habit. Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it. Resolve to change your bad habits while also developing new and better habits. But be warned: Changing habits takes both time and patience, so you will need to prepare yourself for a long and difficult battle.

Make a Plan

You will almost certainly fail in your new year’s resolution if you do not enter the new year with a plan to succeed. Do not decide that you will exercise more; determine that you will exercise for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon at 3 PM. Do not hope to read your Bible more; choose a reading plan, determine how many days a week you will read your Bible, and decide when and where you will do it. Plan how you will build your new habit and then stick to your plan. It will take 2 or 3 months for that new habit to form, so be patient. Reward can be a powerful motivator in building new habits, so consider building in a system of small rewards.

Share Your Resolution

These well-known verses from Ecclesiastes give us a helpful tip: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Resolutions work best when they involve another person. Tell a friend about your resolution, and ask him to hold you accountable; his involvement will strengthen your resolve. Even better, pair up and make the same resolution as your friend so you can work toward a shared goal.

Plan For Temptations and Setbacks

Your resolutions may fail because you have not anticipated and planned for the inevitable temptations and setbacks. If you are trying to live with virtue, you can expect to face all kinds of temptations to slip back into your old ways. Plan in advance how you will respond in those moments when you are tempted to revert to that behavior you hate. Also plan in advance what will happen when you actually succumb to the temptation, so you will not slip into despair and give up. You will fail if you do not expect to be tempted and to experience setbacks.


Finally, as a Christian I want to offer this: Pray. Pray as you consider all the resolutions you could make, pray as you choose one as your area of special focus, pray as you begin to work toward new habits, pray when you face temptation to slip away from those habits, and pray to thank God when you see success. Bathe your life in prayer, and make those changes for God’s glory, not your own.

How To Make a Resolution That Sticks

Do you want to make a resolution that sticks? Then here’s what you can do:

  • Make 1 resolution and make it a specific and realistic one—big enough to be meaningful, but small and defined enough to be attainable.
  • Decide what habits you will need to break and what habits you will need to form in order to succeed.
  • Create a plan that will train you in that new habit while replacing any negative habits.
  • Tell a friend about your plan and ask him to check in with you on a regular basis.
  • Plan in advance how you will meet with temptation and how you will deal with failure.
  • Pray consistently and persistently.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 24, 2014

We know so little about Jesus’ birth. While it has been the subject of billions of dramatizations and endless speculations, the historian Luke gives it all of one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

It is almost frustrating, isn’t it? If I had been writing the story of Jesus’ life, I would have written paragraphs and pages. I would have explained why Mary was traveling with Joseph to begin with, why no one in Bethlehem welcomed them into their home, why there was no better place for them to stay than a barn, who was with them when that baby was born, and so much else. I would have filled out all of those details and removed all of the speculation.

But you know what? I probably would have drowned the story in detail. We see it often in the Bible: God does not give us all the details we want, but he always gives us the details we need.

When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we get all the details we need to understand one thing with the utmost clarity: Jesus comes as the least. Luke opens this part of his account of Jesus’ life with the name of Caesar Augustus, the mighty emperor, the man who can speak a word and make millions of people do his bidding. With a word he can force them to travel significant distances to do something as simple as register for taxation. This is Caesar the strong, Caesar the proud, Caesar the powerful. He is the greatest emperor of the greatest Empire, and the mightiest man on the planet.

And then Luke switches his attention to a little baby, born in the most ignominious circumstances. Born to a virgin, born away from home, born in a barn, laid to rest in a feed trough. The contrast is powerful and undeniable. 

We would imagine, of course, that the Messiah would be born high, a son of great privilege. We would expect that he would be born in circumstances more befitting a king. He should have been born to royalty, not to peasants, he should have been born in a palace, not a barn, he should have been born surrounded by the finest doctors who would have safely ushered him into the world.

But no. Everyone in town turns away his parents. They have nowhere else to go, so he is born in a barn and is laid to rest in a feeding trough.

Why? Because God will teach us something through Jesus. He will teach us that we see this world completely backwards. He will teach us that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the world’s eyes. He will teach us that the way to exaltation is through humiliation, that the way to go high is to go low. And he will teach it first and best through his very own Son, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He came as the least, and he came for the least.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 23, 2014

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of blog. There are blogs that provide a platform for content creation and there are blogs that provide a platform for content curation. The creators are the ones who think of the ideas and write them out a few hundred words at a time; the curators are the ones who collect other people’s ideas, provide links to them, and sometimes comment on them. Both kinds of blog can be very successful and both kinds can be very helpful.

When I first began blogging, I was committed almost entirely to content creation. I was interested in exploring new ideas, reading new books, and discussing current events, and I found unexpected joy in doing it out loud and in public through the Internet. At that time I was (sinfully) opposed to curating content and linking to other people’s material. Somehow Envy had shown up and convinced me that if I did that, I would diminish my own readership. The best thing, and the safest thing, he told me, was to pretend that my site was the only one out there worth reading. It was both stupid and prideful. It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect.

One day I became spiritually convinced that I was sinning. God had given me a platform and it was only fair and good that I use the platform to highlight others who were creating excellent articles. As often as not, these articles were far better than anything I was writing at the time. I understood that I could be a bigger blessing to those who read my site by pointing them elsewhere. Discovering that sin, and dealing with it, brought a certain freedom to my life and to the way I wrote. I was free to celebrate the brilliance and the success of others, and free to share it with those who visited my blog.

Eventually the blog evolved into both daily curation and daily creation. I continued to write a daily article, and I determined I would link to other people’s sites most days as well. The curated part of my blog is what I call A La Carte, a daily round-up of articles I found interesting the day before (or sometimes even that very morning).

A La Carte has become one of my favorite things to do. Every day I comb through a long list of blogs and other web sites; I scan through Twitter to see what others are talking about; I rummage through lists of hundreds of marked-down Kindle books to see if I can find one or two that I can recommend; I find a thought-provoking quote to cap it all off. And almost every day I find myself smiling at the privilege that is mine as I do it all.

My criteria for A La Carte is simple: I look for stuff that I find interesting. My philosophy here is quite simple: I am a pretty normal person and have pretty normal tastes. If I find it interesting and worthy of a few minutes of time and attention, I suppose other people are likely to as well. If I find it humorous or downright hilarious, there is a pretty good chance you will find the same.

In any case, it’s a pleasure to find the information, it’s a pleasure to read the information, and it’s a pleasure to bundle it up and put it out there. Thanks for continuing to read it.

December 22, 2014

No one expected that the Messiah would come how he came. Yes, the people knew that at some point God would send a Savior, but they could hardly have expected that he would be born to unknown parents and that he would enter this world in a barn. They would hardly have expected that their Messiah would be born in the lowest possible circumstances.

Why was it important to God’s purpose that Jesus be born so low? There are many things that God meant to teach us through the life of Jesus, and one of them is that exaltation comes through humiliation. The way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the eyes of others. 

The greatest people are those who stoop the lowest—and no one could possibly stoop lower than Jesus. And that is why Jesus was willing to be born in the way he was born. He came to serve, and there is no service that was too low for him to do. His birth would provide a glimpse of his entire life, and a fitting introduction to the kind of life he would lead. Consider these words from just a little later in the Bible:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Do you see it? Jesus could have been born to the greatest people in the greatest of circumstances. He deserved nothing less. But he meant to demonstrate that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to go low. When he was older, Jesus would say, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus had every right to every privilege and every comfort. But he rejected them all so that he could serve us. He served us by being born into this world. He served us by living a humble life in this world. He served us by being crucified out of this world. Through his birth, his life, and his death, he shows that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to go low, to love others, to serve others, to give up comfort, to give up privilege, and to do it all for God’s glory.

Porn-Free Family
December 18, 2014

This Christmas a lot of children will receive porn from under the tree. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway.

The first iPod, the first tablet, the first laptop—these are today’s coming of age rituals. We give our daughter her first iPod and she responds with joy. While we know there is lots of bad stuff out there on the Internet, we never imagine that she—our little girl—would ever want to see it or ever go anywhere she is likely to find it. We give our teen his first laptop, warn him about the responsibility that is now his, and send him on his way. We make a mental note to follow up in a couple of weeks, but are sure that he will do just fine. “He will talk to me if he has any questions or temptations, right?”

The statistics don’t lie. According to recent research, 52% of pornography is now viewed through mobile devices, and 1 in 5 searches from a mobile device is for porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 12. Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls will be exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents. 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to online pornography. (source)

The fact is, giving your children computers, iPods, tablets—any of these devices—gives them access to the major gateway to pornography.

The statistics are intimidating, but not inevitable. There are things you can do to protect your family. If you choose to give your kids digital devices for Christmas, be sure to take measures to protect them.

You will need to have at least 3 goals.

Your first goal will have to be teaching and training. You need to teach and train your children to use their devices responsibly. This kind of training is an indispensable part of responsible parenting in a world like this one. Train your children to use these devices well, and as they prove themselves, allow them freer access and more responsibility.

Your second goal will have to be guarding your children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists. The innocent ought to remain innocent without being unintentionally exposed to pornography or dangerous situations before their parents have been able to teach and train them.

Your third goal will have to be preventing your children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists. Children and teenagers are insatiably curious and are taught from a young age to use the Internet to find answers to their questions. This is a dangerous combination when it comes to adult matters, and especially matters of sexuality. The concerned parent will want to make it as difficult as possible for his children to access dangerous or pornographic material, even if they want to.

There are different ways to achieve these three goals, but as a starting point, why don’t you consult my Porn-Free Family Plan. It is not a perfect solution (There is no perfect solution!) but it is a good one, and will at least get you on your way.

Read: The Porn-Free Family Plan.

December 17, 2014

George Clooney loses sleep over bad reviews of his movies. Angelina Jolie is a “minimally talented spoiled brat.” Tom Hanks checks into hotels as Johnny Madrid. You know by now, I’m sure, that a group calling themselves Guardians of Peace hacked Sony’s computers, obtained a massive amount of private and internal data, and released it to the public. The media has had a field day sorting through it, digging up the dirt, and sending it out to an eager public.

The majority of this information is mundane, of course. But then there are the few pieces that are downright incendiary. I guess it is somehow entertaining to read about the foibles of the big stars and satisfying to see a massive corporation take a hit. But this hack should cause us all to pause and consider.

Sony’s nightmare proves one thing beyond any doubt: There is an imbalance between our ability to create digital information and our ability to protect it. We create digital data all day and every day. Every email, every Facebook update, every Tweet, every photo, every Google doc—it’s all out there, and it all remains out there. But there’s far more than that. Every Google search, every phone call, every Facebook profile search, every place you take your mobile phone, every purchase you make, every scan of your loyalty card—every bit of it is collected and stored somewhere. We trust that it is all stored safely. But what happens when it’s not?

When I think about all of this information from Sony, it is not the megastar temper tantrums that stand out, and it is not the details of new movies. What intimidates me most is the very ordinary people whose lives have suddenly been exposed. An article at Gizmodo (language warning) says it well: 

The most painful stuff in the Sony cache is a doctor shopping for Ritalin. It’s an email about trying to get pregnant. It’s shit-talking coworkers behind their backs, and people’s credit card log-ins. It’s literally thousands of Social Security numbers laid bare. It’s even the harmless, mundane, trivial stuff that makes up any day’s email load that suddenly feels ugly and raw out in the open, a digital Babadook brought to life by a scorched earth cyberattack.

And that’s just it. The biggest victims here are the ordinary, low-level employees who represent the collateral damage—people who were doing normal things in the normal way, but who suddenly had it all laid bare. People who are just like you and me. Their shame has become our entertainment.

This digital world brings us some amazing new capabilities, but every big technological shift also brings us serious risks and vulnerabilities. You can see those vulnerabilities all over the headlines today. We need to decide whether information that has been made public should really be considered public. We need to decide what it means to think and behave as Christians in this area. Is it okay to declare open season on public information?

I have no skeletons in my closet. I have no deep and dark secrets that would ruin me if they leaked out. But still, the thought of my emails being made public, and the thought of you combing through them looking for dirt (because you sure wouldn’t go combing through them looking for grace, would you?) is terrifying. Too-quick comments, private jokes, thoughtless replies, unformed thoughts, out-of-context humor, romantic sweet nothings, bad days and ugly words—they would all be there, I’m sure. It is all there in the mundane day-to-day emails that receive little more than a moment’s thought and are immediately erased from my memory. I can barely imagine the sense of dread and the vulnerability that would come, knowing that people were clicking through one after the other after the other. I don’t need to have deep and dark secrets—buried in these tens of thousands of mundane messages would be more than enough to expose things I don’t even know about myself, and things you have no right to know about me.

It is only a matter of time before something like this happens to someone you know. At some point you may well be faced with the opportunity to go rooting through another person’s emails after they have been hacked and made public. So let me ask: Will you read those emails? Will you read your pastor’s emails if they are suddenly available to the public? Will you read your favorite celebrity preacher’s emails if they are just a click or two away? Will you read your least-favorite Christian celebrity’s emails if they are there for the taking? Will they read your emails?

The time to decide is right now, not in that moment. At that moment it may already be too late.

Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com

December 15, 2014

You’ve got to be careful what you share online. Over the weekend Facebook and Twitter were suddenly inundated with links to a new recording of the Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” mashed up with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was recorded by The Piano Guys and features David Archuleta, a one-time runner up on American Idol. It is a creative recording that intersperses shots of the musicians with video taken to record the world’s largest nativity scene. The song is beautifully sung and the music is rich; it is no surprise that it quickly gained over one million views. Well and good, right? Well, except for one thing: Its purpose is to separate you from Jesus Christ.

This video was produced as a key part of a huge social media campaign called #ShareTheGift—a Mormon evangelistic social media campaign. This campaign is meant to reclaim Christmas as a religious holiday but also to serve as a gateway into Mormonism. At the end of the video is a brief testimony by Steven Sharp Nelson of The Piano Guys who shares what Christmas means to him and who points to a second video titled “He Is the Gift.” This video, in turn, leads to a page at Mormon.org that shares why you, too, ought to become Mormon.

As I said, you’ve got to be careful what you share online. What looks good at a glance may harbor some deep concerns.

I thought a lot about this video over the weekend and want to offer a few reflections on its significance.

This video reminds us that Christians—true Christians who hold to the true gospel of the Bible—are not the only ones who use biblical language and who sing the great hymns of the Christian faith. Mormons sing many of the same hymns as we do, though they often change the lyrics to remove any references to the Trinity or to otherwise make them palatable with Mormon theology. (e.g. Where in “Holy, Holy, Holy” we sing “God in three persons blessed Trinity” they sing “God in his glory, blessed Deity.”) Mormons claim to be Christians and to honor the Bible; they speak of Jesus as their Savior and Redeemer and claim that he is the only begotten son of the Father; they proclaim a gospel of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end. But they also deny the doctrine of the Trinity, they deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and they deny justification by grace alone through faith alone. Though they proclaim that they are Christians, in reality they are Christ-deniers. We do not need to apologize for this and cannot over-emphasize it: Mormons are not Christians. Yet they share just enough of our beliefs that they can masquerade as Christians if we do not look deeper than the surface.

December 08, 2014

We live in a world that is full of temptation. There is no rest from sin and no rest from temptation to sin. There is not a single moment when we can relax our vigilance. As John Owen says, we can leave sin alone when sin leaves us alone, and that will not be until we are on the far side of the grave.

Temptations can be like the waves of the sea as they break along the beach—they rise and fall, they ebb and flow. Yet temptations are not entirely unpredictable, and there are certain times in life in which they are more likely to press hard than in others. Here are 4 times or seasons in which you need to be especially vigilant against temptation.

A Season of Prosperity

Prosperity and temptation so often go hand-in-hand. It is not that prosperity is a curse or that you ought to dread it. Rather, you need to have an awareness that prosperity carries with it the food and fuel for so much temptation. Agur knew this, writing in Proverbs, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Guard yourself in those times of abundance, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of temptation—temptation to deny that this prosperity is a gift of God’s good grace (ingratitude!), temptation to hoard those good gifts (greed!), temptation to believe that God prefers you over those who have less (pride!). Your prosperity may be the smokescreen that masks a great temptation.

A Season of Spiritual Formality

There are inevitably times in life when your delight in God grows lukewarm. There are times when your heart longs for satisfaction in something—anything—other than God and his riches. In these times your worship is marked by formality, your time in prayer and God’s Word become cold duty, you look with dread at the times of fellowship with other Christians. You may neglect the pursuit of communion with God, and instead treat your relationship with him as just another of life’s joyless duties. In these times you may be sure that Satan is close at hand to tempt you, to draw you even farther from God and even deeper into lesser pleasures. Your heart is already marked by coldness, and he longs to make it colder still. Fight! Fight to restore the joy of your salvation.

A Season of Spiritual Bliss

Just as temptation may be close behind your spiritual doldrums, it may also be lurking close behind your spiritual heights. You can observe this very thing in the life of Paul, who received the great gift of being caught up to the third heaven and seeing Christ there, but who was immediately visited by Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). God loves to bless us with those times of freedom and pleasure, but temptation may be close at hand. In those times of great spiritual enjoyment you may be tempted to neglect the means of grace. So satisfied are you in the current state that you stop fighting sin and accept this grace as your due. You may even brag about the heights you have reached, and all but beg God to chasten and humble you. Enjoy soaring to those spiritual heights, but do not cease from guarding your heart, mind, and soul.

A Season of Self-Confidence

You will inevitably enter into sore temptation in those times when you are full of self-confidence. This was exactly the case with Peter who, on the final night of Jesus’ life, bragged that he would never desert his Savior. Yet within hours he had not only abandoned him but denied him not once, not twice, but three times. His self-confidence allowed him to compare himself with others and boast, “Though they may forsake you, I will not.” And still he fell gravely at the very first opportunity. This world is full of temptations that range from sins of lust to sins of anger and sins of false belief. The greater your confidence in your ability to overcome these sins in your own strength, the greater your confidence that these sins cannot sway you, the greater the likelihood you will be tempted with them, and the greater the likelihood you will fall into them. Beware self-confidence and flee from its first awakenings.

Temptation will come. Temptation may well come in those times of prosperity, those times of formality, those times of bliss, and those times of self-confidence. But even when temptation is inevitable, succumbing to the temptation is not. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). You must, and you can, endure.

To learn more about these seasons of temptation, read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (pages 197-202). 

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