Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


Fractured Christians
August 04, 2015

Have you ever considered how books of the Bible would be changed if God had left out their final chapter?

Matthew without chapter 28 would leave us as Christians without a Great Commission. Ruth without chapter 4 would never allow us to marvel that this Moabite woman was the great-grandmother of the great King David and the great-(many times over)-grandmother of our Savior, the greater King David.

And what if Jonah was a book with three chapters instead of four? A three-chapter Jonah is a powerful story of a man running from God, being transformed by God, obeying God, and witnessing a great and unexpected revival. But Jonah has four chapters, and it is in that final chapter that everything changes. In chapter four, Jonah goes off the rails; he witnesses the mighty power of God in bringing revival to an entire city, but he responds in a disconcerting way: 

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

There is a challenge here for the theologically minded Christian—the Christian who loves doctrine and, even better, loves sound doctrine.

Even in the midst of his complaining, Jonah described some of the best and greatest qualities of God. He was correct in describing God as merciful and gracious, as slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, as relenting from disaster. Yet these qualities of this sovereign God were qualities Jonah came to resent.

Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. He believed that he and his people were worthy of God’s attention and worthy of God’s salvation. And he believed the people of Nineveh were unworthy of God’s affection and salvation. Jonah failed to see that the very qualities that allowed God to save Nineveh were the qualities that allowed Him to extend grace to Israel. He was blind to his own desperate need.

Jonah warns us that we too can have correct doctrine even while we neglect to love God for being who He is. In our minds and hearts, we can partition God, embracing the qualities we like while rejecting the qualities we dislike. We can be fractured Christians, speaking glorious facts even while feeling bitter resentment.

The book closes with this tension unresolved, and I am convinced it remains unresolved so that you and I can ponder and apply this truth: To resent even the smallest part of God’s perfect, holy character is to resent all that God is.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Through New Eyes
August 03, 2015

One of the great joys of being a Christian is the ability we gain to look at the Bible and, through the Bible, to see the world in the way God sees it. It is like the Bible is a pair of glasses through which we gain God’s vision and God’s perspective. The Holy Spirit illumines our minds so that suddenly we see God as He really is and we see ourselves as we really are. We see God and respond with fear and awe. We see ourselves and respond with sorrow or shame—and sometimes both.

The gospel of Matthew describes several occasions from the life of Jesus when He reacted with the full force of righteous indignation, when He exemplified justified anger that was free from any hint of sin. These culminate in chapter 23 when seven times He cries, “Woe!” to the scribes and Pharisees. Seven times He points out their hypocrisy and warns them of the judgment they are calling down upon themselves.

I am following a Bible reading plan and often listen to God’s Word in place of reading it. As I listened to Matthew 23 recently, I found myself laughing out loud as Jesus unleashed on these religious rulers. If words were sticks and stones, He would have left these men battered and bruised and bleeding. Of course, these words were more powerful and painful than sticks and stones, and the scribes and Pharisees would react to them by bruising and battering Jesus.

As I pondered Matthew 23, my laughter soon turned somber because God gave me eyes to see myself in those religious authorities who had so infuriated Jesus. I saw in myself the tendency that marked them.

The Pharisee looks at God’s commands and either takes them only at face value or shrinks them down to a manageable size. He reads God’s command to Israel that His people are to tithe, that they are to give to the Lord the firstfruits of their labor. The Pharisee responds by carefully measuring ten percent of everything he owns and making a big production of presenting it at the temple. He gives his ten percent, but neglects other parts of the law. He extends the law only as far as he is able to keep it, and he thinks he has done enough.

Jesus will not stand for this. He considers all of God’s law. He shows that no man can possibly keep all of it. Keeping one command is good, but insufficient. God’s law includes the tithe, when ten percent is counted and carried to the temple, but it includes other commands as well. It requires us to care for justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). Jesus meant for His disciples to see that the Pharisees were not keeping the whole law. In fact, no man can keep all of God’s commandments. No man but Jesus, that is.

As my laughter turned to sorrow, I was able to respond by looking once more to the cross, to see the One who perfectly fulfilled the law on my behalf.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Why We Fail at Family Devotions
July 29, 2015

I have written about family devotions a number of times (most recently in How We Do Family Devotions), and it always leads to a response. Whenever I write about the subject, I immediately receive emails and messages from people who have tried and failed, or who are still trying and are convinced they are failing. I compiled some of that feedback and came up with a list of reasons we fail at family devotions.

We Make it Too Hard

I think the main reason we fail is that we make it too hard. Family devotions are the simplest thing in the world. We just need to get the family together, and then read the Bible and pray. Anything beyond that is gravy. Sing a song if you like. Engage in discussion if you like. Memorize a catechism if you like. Don’t feel like you need to begin with more than the basics. Don’t feel like you have failed if you do not get beyond the very basics. Read a few verses and pray. Then, the next day, read and pray. And the day after that. And the one after that. Take Sunday off (Hey, you’ve been to church, right?) but then pick it right up again on Monday. And just keep going.

I am convinced a lot of people fail because we feel that Word and prayer are not enough. We read books and blogs by people who do so much more and feel that we do not measure up. We finish, see that only 5 minutes have elapsed, and feel like that can’t possibly be enough. It is easier to not do devotions at all than to do them simply. Don’t fall into that trap. Word and prayer are enough. Word and prayer are awesome. Make the fact that you do them more important than how you do them.

We Measure Too Short

Another reason we fail at family devotions is that we give up too quickly. We measure short instead of long. We do it for a few weeks or a few months and don’t see any significant results. Our kids still look bored. Our spouse still doesn’t really buy into it. We ourselves find any excuse to take a day off. And we begin to wonder if this is really worth it, if this is really making a difference.

But we need to measure long, not short. We need to think more about eighteen or twenty years of exposure to the Bible than eighteen days or eighteen weeks. We need to think about our own lives and how we need to hear things a hundred times, not one or two times, before we respond to that conviction. We need to remember and believe that God works through these simple means, but that he does so at his own pace. We need to believe that God honors the means he provides.

We Do It Out of Guilt, Not Conviction

Here is a third reason we fail: We do family devotions out of guilt, not conviction. We hear a sermon illustration about family devotions or get challenged by a book we read. We decide that it is time to finally do this thing, to finally begin this habit. But we are doing so out of guilt rather than real conviction. Our motives are all wrong.

Guilt can motivate for a while, but not for long. When times get difficult or when the guilt begins to fade, it is only conviction that will keep us going. Make sure that you are doing family devotions out of true conviction. Know in your own mind that this is a valuable habit and that God calls you, as the parent, to lead your family in this way. Go to the Word of God and allow God to challenge you with the importance of reading his Word and praying to him.

Our Spouse Won’t Do It

This may be the most difficult scenario: We do not do family devotions because our spouse will not participate. Sometimes dad wants to do family devotions but mom will not agree. Far more commonly, though, mom is desperate to see dad lead family devotions but he is just not interested. I can’t even tell you all the times I have seen or heard of this very scenario.

Each one of these situations needs to be approached differently and carefully. Husband, speak to your wife and appeal to her to participate. If she will not, then consider going ahead and doing devotions with your children. Wife, appeal to your husband to take the lead in devotions and full-out support him, affirming his every move. If he will not take the lead, perhaps consider leading devotions on your own. In either case, remember that the local church is your ally here, both through other members who may be able to offer counsel and through pastors or elders.

We Get Proud

Finally, we also fail because we get proud. Here’s what I mean: We try family devotions. It goes well for a week. Then we forget all about it. A couple of months later we try again, feeling a little sheepish this time. We explain to the family, “It’s my fault, but I really want us to commit to this and to make it work.” This time we do it for a couple of weeks, but then stop again. The third time around we feel even more embarrassed about telling our family that yes, we are doing this again and that yes, it’s dad’s fault again. Pride rears its ugly head and it seems easier to just succumb to the failure than to rise to the challenge. We get proud and allow pride to withhold a blessing from our family.

Look, family devotions is a sweet and simple habit, a sweet and simple discipline. It is called family devotions not only because it is a gathering of the family, but because it is meant to be by and for your family. Make sure you allow your family devotions to reflect the uniqueness of your family. Make them your own, and do them for the good of your family and the glory of God. Mostly, just do them.

Image credit: Shutterstock

What Gives God Pleasure
July 28, 2015

You can tell a lot about a person by learning what brings him pleasure. Pleasure is good. God has wired us to pursue pleasure. The question is: Will we seek the truest and highest pleasures, or will we settle for lesser ones? Will we, in the oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis, accept the holiday by the sea or will we continue to fuss about in the slums with our little mud pies?

What makes you happy? What pleasures do you pursue? That might be one of the most important things about you. Where your pleasures are, there your heart will be. And let’s ask a related question: What makes God happy? What pleasures does God pursue? That might be one of the most important things about God.

Paul has an interesting answer for us in 1 Timothy 2:4: God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s desire unveils his pleasure: God loves to save the lost. This brings him great joy.

God’s desire to save the lost is not idle or casual. It is not a desire he merely feels. Rather, this desire has led him to action—the action of providing “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). God’s desire to save people from their sin has led him to take the costliest action imaginable in the sending and sacrificing of his own Son.

Do you share God’s desire? Do you long to share God’s pleasure? If it is so good to God, shouldn’t it be so good to you?

What fascinates me about this text is how God calls us to action. He does not immediately tell us to go out and share the gospel. Not yet. The clear call to action is prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” He goes on to say, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” The good here is the good of prayer. God deems it good that we plead with him for the souls of the lost. He deems it good that we pray before we go, that we pray as we go, that we pray after we go. God’s desire and God’s provision meet at the point of prayer.

If you share God’s desire for the pleasure of seeing the lost come to a saving knowledge of Christ, you will pray. You must pray. You must pray that God will extend his grace by extending the gift of faith.

Image credit: Shutterstock

No Platform High Enough
July 27, 2015

When it is platform you crave, when it is the size or the popularity of your following that you use as the measure of your success, you will inevitably and eventually find that there is no platform high enough. No success will ever perfectly fulfill your ambitions.

When it is recognition that you are after, affirmation of your hard work, affirmation of your skills or wisdom or contributions, there can be no reward fulfilling enough. There will always be one more acknowledgment you want and one more you are sure you need.

When it is the size of your congregation that motivates your actions and serves as your goal, not even a megachurch will satisfy. There is no church big enough. Even if the church is packed to the rafters, and even if it expands to campuses around the city or state, you will remain unfulfilled.

When it is money that motivates and money that promises joy, your satisfaction in money will only ever be hollow. If joy promises that it is just a salary increase away, you will find that joy remains forever just out of reach. There is no wealth great enough. You will always crave just a little bit more. 

When it is the CEO’s office that promises completion and fulfillment, when it is the top job at the top firm, no job title will satisfy. There is no position and no compensation package grand enough to satisfy your desire for joy.

When it is possessions that holds out the promise of joy, you will find that even the most stuff and the nicest stuff fails to bring satisfaction. You can fill your home, your basement, your garage, your storage unit with the best stuff money can buy, but the ache inside will not go away.

When it is conference invitations you want, there will never be a conference big enough. There will never be a crowd large enough. There will never be a fanbase adoring enough. There will never be a location distant enough. Satisfaction will remain frustratingly elusive.

When it is book sales that drive your ambitions and promise joy, there will never be a book that sells well enough. Even a runaway bestseller and a round of morning talk show invites will leave you feeling hollow.

When it is sexual satisfaction that promises true fulfillment, no lover will fulfill. No succession of lovers will fulfill. Each episode and each person will only increase your desire for what you cannot find. There is no sexual pleasure fulfilling enough.

No matter your goal, no matter your god, it will not and cannot bring lasting satisfaction. In this world, God’s world, these kinds of desires were never meant to bring ultimate satisfaction. Rather, all the pleasures of this world are meant to be subordinate, to point beyond themselves to the satisfaction that is found in God. The deepest joy this world offers, and the only lasting joy this world offers, is the joy that comes from seeking his kingdom instead of your own.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Why Bloggers Are Calling It Quits
July 23, 2015

I have been blogging for 12 years now. For at least 11 of those years, people have been predicting the end of the blog. The reasons have changed, but the predictions have been consistent: It is only a matter of time before the blogosphere collapses.

Last month Christianity Today ran an article by Amy Julia Becker titled “Why Bloggers Are Calling It Quits.” She points to high-profile bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Heather Armstrong. Both of them have recently decided to walk away from their blogs at the very height of their popularity. She focuses on several reasons that bloggers quit: They grow weary of the anonymous vitriol that dominates so much online discussion, they realize that these blogs have come to dominate their lives, forcing them to inhabit a fast-paced always-on digital existence, and they want to slow down and to focus on a different kind of writing. Becker laments, “With the constantly changing and endlessly available content, and the pressure for writers to garner as many ‘clicks’ as possible, the Internet lends itself to a loss of storytelling, and a loss of careful thought.”

I do not disagree with all Becker says. I, too, sometimes grow weary of blogs and the blogosphere. I hate that even the most bland or innocuous statement will inevitably be taken by someone somewhere as an outrage. I completely agree that “We need to preserve a place for storytelling that takes time, and thought, and care, storytelling that provides a sense of telos, of purpose and meaning and not just an ever-changing present reality.” But the blogosphere isn’t meant to be a replacement for such works; it is meant to complement them. Ironically, the people who write those great works will immediately turn to the blogosphere to spread the ideas and sell the books. Both media are improved when they work together. We do not need to downplay one in order to give due respect to the other.

I predict that the blogosphere will continue to grow and thrive. At least, the idea of the blogosphere will grow and thrive. The idea that gave rise to the blogosphere is that it offered people with ideas a voice that circumvented the traditional gatekeepers. Newspaper editors no longer stood between opinions and audiences. Book publishers could no longer determine the authors who would introduce and evaluate the big ideas. Magazines and news shows were no longer the only curators of interesting news and information. That anyone today can have a voice seems normal in 2015, but we forget that fifteen years ago it was a novel idea.

Blogs have given a voice to the people, and the people do not intend to give it back anytime soon. News and information, both in its content and curation, has been democratized. I don’t see that changing for a long time. We don’t want to go back to a world where a few giant media outlets control the ideas and suggest how we ought to think about them.

The medium will inevitably evolve and (I pray) mature. Some of the traditional elements of a blog (such as a comment section, which I pretty much leave closed these days) are disappearing or migrating to platforms like Facebook. Someday we may even lose the word “blog.” But the idea is here to say. Yes, a lot of bloggers are quitting. But many others are taking their place.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

July 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Shutterstock