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Tim Challies

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How I Get Things Done
February 29, 2016

I love tools. I especially love good tools. I love to explore different tools, to try them, and to choose the ones that do the job the best. In my case, the tools I use tend to be related to writing and publishing and they come in both hardware and software varieties. I outlined my preferred productivity tools in Do More Better and if you read that book you will find some detail on Evernote, Todoist, and Google Calendar. Today I want to tell a little about some of the other tools I use in case they are of interest to you.

Hardware Tools

When it comes to hardware I depend on three tools—a mobile phone, a desktop, and a laptop. I also have an older iPad I use almost exclusively for preaching and speaking.

For my desktop I use an iMac. I made the transition from PC to Mac a few years ago and have been very pleased with both the hardware and software options. I have thought of moving away from a desktop in favour of using only a laptop, but have developed pretty serious carpal tunnel syndrome and find it badly aggravated when using a laptop. For that reason I use my iMac whenever I am at home and use the laptop only when traveling.

Now, about that laptop. I spend enough time away from my home that I need to be able to do almost everything I do on my desktop while I am away. Until very recently I have used a MacBook, but it recently gave up the ghost and this has given me the opportunity to try something new. I am currently trying out an iPad Pro (shout-out to Staples and their return policy) to see if I can make it work as a laptop replacement. This, again, is primarily to ease the pain of the carpal tunnel syndrome. My recent trip to Ligonier Ministries National Conference was the first I have done without a laptop and it went very well. There was only one minor task I found that I could not do on the iPad Pro. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying the ultra-big iOS device and there is a pretty good chance I will stick with it. Unlike the iPad which is primarily a device for consuming content, the iPad Pro can excel at producing it.

My mobile phone, an older iPhone, is primarily for keeping in touch with people, but I also use it with my productivity tools (mostly to scan receipts into Evernote) and, occasionally, to update a blog post. In fact, I recently wrote an entire article while my wife was trying on dresses. I do not use it in such a way that I need to have every version, so I just replace it when my carrier contract allows me to.

And then there is that older iPad I use for preaching and teaching. I suppose I could use the iPad Pro for that, but I think it may be a bit too big to take into the pulpit. I guess that old iPad will have to keep going for a while.

Software Tools

Now, moving on to software.

I do almost all of my writing in Ulysses. Ulysses really does just one thing but it does it brilliantly—it allows me to get words out of my head and onto the screen. It does this by presenting a clean, unobstructed screen and by removing most of the formatting options that gum up Word and Pages and other word processors. It lives on all my devices and syncs perfectly and transparently between them. Whenever and wherever I have an idea, I can immediately get it into Ulysses. I love it, and especially with the updated iPad and new iPhone apps they are releasing this week.
Ulysses

My last couple of books have been written using Scrivener. I find it useful for book-length writing, but also find it very, very complicated and a little bit clunky and ugly. I may well write my next book (if there is a next book) in Ulysses. Either way, these programs are good only for the initial draft since an editor will eventually and inevitably convert it to Microsoft Word. Sadly, further drafts always need to be completed in Word.

I use Feedly to hold the 150 or 200 blogs I read and to display the updates from them. Pocket allows me to one-click save them for possible inclusion in A La Carte. I use Pocket for only that one purpose—a temporary holding area for A La Carte. Anything I want to archive permanently goes into Evernote.

For communication with other people (Cruciform Press, Visual Theology, my artist and designer) I mostly use Slack, a tool I have found very useful as an alternative to email. I may write more about Slack in the future as I see it as a good candidate for ministry team communications. I use Trello as an editorial calendar and may write more about that in the future as well.

A tool I use every day is Dropbox. I now keep all of my files in Dropbox—photos, music, documents, and so on. That way 100% of my files are stored in the cloud and I am immune to losing them if my hard drive crashes or my computer is stolen. If a drive dies or a computer goes missing, I simply replace it, sync Dropbox, and it’s all right back where it needs to be. TextExpander is a little background utility that I use half-heartedly, but even then it saves me time and bother in repetitive tasks. I tend to use Chrome as my browser, but may migrate to Safari; I tend to switch back and forth every year or so.

Finally, Logos is now my Bible and my research library all in one. I have written about Logos many times before and will do so again in the future, I’m sure.

Email Tools

As much as we all hate email, it continues to be a necessary evil. Thankfully, new tools and processes are making it more tolerable than it has been in a long time, though I still try to avoid it whenever possible (hence Slack for many of my communications). Until very recently I have used my browser to access GMail.com. The shortcut system there is very powerful and allows for speedy mail processing without using a mouse. Lately, though, I have been experimenting with a couple of other tools including Outlook and CloudMagic, largely because I find it distracting to use a browser tab for email—I prefer an app I can open and close or reveal and hide at will. It is too soon to say if any of the features these other apps offer will balance out the sheer convenience of GMail’s native interface and its speed in searching for archived mail. You can read about how I process email here.

February 28, 2016

There were not a lot of letters to the editor this week which probably indicates that I stuck mostly to non-controversial topics, or that I stuck to full-out boring topics! That said, I did receive some interesting ones; this is a selection.

Comments on The Spiritual Disease Ravaging Our World

Thanks for the good article regarding affluence. Thank you for emphasizing generosity over frugality. The call to generosity is a call we who are blessed with much need to hear. In the spirit of Galatians 6:10, our generosity should begin with the poor who are in our own churches. And that is the problem. Most evangelical churches do not have the poor in them. This is a real conundrum to me. Jesus said that it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And yet, when we speak of being generous to the needy we can, most of the time, only speak of people who are not in our churches. Most of the time we are referring to people who do not even live in our nation. This, I think, is another symptom of affluenza. We keep our distance from the poor. We are more than willing to show generosity but from a safe distance. We can show great compassion to needy people in far away places while speaking with great derision about the poor in the government housing next door. Why, when we speak of the needy, can we only speak of “them” and not “us”? Why, if the rich are harder to get into the kingdom, do we have more of them than the poor? Could it be that we are not trying to reach them? I hope not. But I fear it may be so. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us. And the poor are demonstrably not like most people in evangelical churches.

I really did enjoy your article. I think all I would add to it would be some practical suggestions about how believers and churches can show generosity to the needy in our own neighbourhoods, starting with intentional evangelistic outreach to them. The list could be endless of things we could do for them.

We have such a glorious Gospel. What a shame it is that so much of the work being done with the needy in our cities, is done by churches who have abandoned the biblical Gospel in many ways and while providing so much good help, neglect the best thing of all.
—Ken D, Moffat ON

Tim: I do not disagree with you. Much of what you say here rings true in the context I know: Toronto. Our churches tend to be affluent and to attract the comfortably middle class. We do little to intentionally reach into poorer areas and to attract needier people. I need to think more about the role of a social state since most of the poor in Toronto would be wealthy when measured against the poor in less developed nations and when measured against the poor of biblical times.

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Comments on The Character of the Christian: Temperate

This pushes a lot of buttons for me. My birth father’s family has a history of alcoholism (although I didn’t know about it - or him - until relatively recently). I never have drunk much alcohol and only once to excess, which I have asked to be forgiven for.

The thing is, it’s pretty hard for a Christian to justify drinking. Not that I think alcohol is evil in and of itself. I don’t. But I Corinthians 8:9 says my liberty shouldn’t be a stumbling block to others. So I shouldn’t drink around people who have a sincere conviction that it’s wrong to drink; I shouldn’t drink around people for whom alcohol is a problem — knowingly OR unknowingly IMHO; and I shouldn’t drink where I could be tempted to overdo it. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for drinking alcohol in a fashion that doesn’t dishonor the Lord. Mostly at home as part of a meal, or as an ingredient when cooking for myself or my husband (who also doesn’t drink now).

I’ve run into people on both sides of the alcohol issue who are pretty vocal about their standpoints, pro and con. To those who are against, I would warn against legalism. And to those who are adamantly ‘for’: What does it say about you that you put your desire to drink, even in moderation, and in any circumstances, ahead of Scripture, ahead of compassion for those who act out of conscience? Is alcohol that important? Should it be?
—Janet A, Eastlake, OH

Tim: I find Romans 14 very helpful in understanding how we can best enjoy God’s gifts while loving God’s people. It tells us that we can enjoy God’s gifts, but that the true freedom we have in Christ is the freedom to deny ourselves those gifts for the sake of others.

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Comments on Do More Better.

The Do More Better email series and blog postings helped to get me back on track and not waste valuable time I could be engaging in ministry opportunities. It is amazing how much “free time” I have to spend with my family and friends. This has helped me focus on completing my college level studies, which are all online courses. I make the list of things I need to complete for that week’s activity and go through the list knocking out tasks and communicating with the groups I’ve been involved with to get assignments tackled and out of the way before the weekend. I have more of a weekend open to play games and go on trips with my wife and leave the laptop at home. Thanks again for the opportunity to read through these postings and the book. God bless!
—Joseph W, Keyes, OK

Tim: It was kind of you to write. I have been blessed and so encouraged to receive such positive feedback from the book!

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Comments on 2016 Reading Challenge February Update

How on earth do you find the time to read and blog and do all that you do with 3 young children? You work from home now right as you left your job as a full time pastor. I am about to have my first child. I work from home. I struggle with distractions. I have read/listened to your book. Could you possibly give a day-by-day / hour-by-hour breakdown of your life during the week?
—Ken R, Brooklyn, NY

Tim: Such a breakdown would only expose how boring my life really is. I read a lot because I read quickly (a skill most gain as they read more and more), because I read a lot of books for pleasure rather than retention (hence, I read them at a good clip), and because I use a lot of the little moments between other things to get through another page or two. There is really no great trick to it. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures so I’m almost always looking for the opportunity to indulge in a few more words…

The Character of the Christian
February 25, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for Christian leaders and for all Christians to be temperate and sober rather than drunk or debauched.

Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer must…not [be] a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:2–3). Again, he tells Titus, elders must “not [be] open to the charge of debauchery” and they must not be “a drunkard” (Titus 1:5–7). Why this specific qualification? What is so important about it?

Alexander Strauch says plainly, “Drunkenness is sin, and persistently drunken people require church discipline. … So a person in a position of trust and authority over other people can’t have a drinking problem.” Again, he writes, “If an elder has a drinking problem, he will lead people astray and bring reproach upon the church. His overindulgence will interfere with spiritual growth and service, and it may well lead to more degrading sins.” It is worth noting that the Bible does not lay the blame for drunkenness on alcohol itself, but on the one consuming it. Commenting on 1 Timothy 3, John Stott points out that Paul “did not require them to be total abstainers, since Jesus himself changed water into wine and made wine the emblem of his blood. … What Paul requires, however, is moderation, as an example of the self-mastery already mentioned…”

John Piper widens the passage’s implications a little bit when he says, “The general qualification here would be like the one above under temperance, namely, self-control—not addicted to anything harmful or debilitating or worldly. Freedom from enslavements should be so highly prized that no bondage is yielded to.” Piper extends the reach of this command from alcohol to any other kind of intoxicant or narcotic—a common and, I believe fair extension of the principle.

As we have seen for each one of these qualifiers, God requires all Christians—not just elders—to pursue the same standards. Paul tells the church at Corinth that they must not associate or eat with “anyone who bears the name of brother” and who is a “drunkard” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Why? Because drunkards (among others) “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Again, Paul says, “those who do such things (like get drunk) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Elsewhere, he commands, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Peter agrees: “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do (which includes getting drunk)” (1 Peter 4:3).

The Proverbs also warn against drunkenness numerous times and in numerous ways. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat” (Proverbs 23:20). Consider also this passage:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” (Proverbs 23:29–35)

Finally, specific groups of people are also told to be sober. Deacons are held to the following standard: “Deacons likewise must…not [be] addicted to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). And again Paul writes, “Older women likewise are…not [to be] slaves to much wine” (Titus 3:3).

The Bible makes it crystal clear—God’s people are to be enslaved only to Jesus Christ. They are to resist any competitors, chief among them alcohol.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Does your life reflect sobriety and self-control? I encourage you to ask yourself questions like these:

  • Do you have a biblically-informed position on whether or not Christians may consume alcohol? Do you abide by your position?
  • Are you able to partake of alcohol in moderation and without becoming intoxicated? Would your friends and your family agree?
  • Do you find yourself tempted to drink too close to your limit? Do you regularly succumb to the temptation to have “just one more drink”?
  • Are there any other substances that you are addicted to? Do you look to alcohol or any other substance for the happiness and satisfaction that only Christ can provide?

Prayer Points

Whether you drink regularly, occasionally, or not at all, I encourage you to consider praying some of these prayers:

  • I pray that you would deepen my convictions about alcohol so that I can partake (or not partake) with freedom and confidence. Help me never to violate my conscience, never to pass judgment on others, and never to flaunt my freedom.
  • I pray that I would be able to enjoy your gifts without becoming enslaved to them. I pray that you would give me victory over all drunkenness and indulgence. Even if that is an unthinkable temptation right now, I ask that you would help me never to relax my guard but always to be vigilant.
  • I pray that you would make me more like Christ who was able to be around alcohol and those who consumed it, but who could not be charged with drunkenness because he never once over-indulged.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to not be lovers of money.

Affluence and Discontentment
February 24, 2016

Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” Jesus said as He recalled the beauty of a common lily (Luke 12:27). And I suspect that even Solomon in all his splendor could not have imagined the sheer affluence that you and I enjoy today. The lily is here today and gone tomorrow, so fleeting and commonplace that we overlook its intricate beauty and fail to acknowledge the glory of the God who made and sustains it. Is it possible that we have grown so accustomed to our affluence that we have lost the wonder of it, too? Is it possible that our affluence harms us even as it blesses us?

Those of us who live in the developed world today enjoy a measure of wealth that is almost beyond understanding. This is the kind of wealth that billions of the world’s population can only dream of. This is wealth that previous generations could not have imagined. And it is not merely money that we enjoy in such abundance, but also comfort, influence, and so much else. We are incredibly, unbelievably, divinely blessed. And yet, many of us can identify that this wealth brings with it a kind of illness, a spiritual malaise that some have labeled “affluenza.” Are we sick with affluenza? And if so, is there a way that we can use and enjoy our affluence without succumbing to this ugly disease?

The Symptoms of Affluenza

In the waning days of the First World War, the war to end all wars, an unexpected illness began to break out in small pockets around the world. What at first showed only the symptoms of a cold soon progressed into a particularly virulent form of the influenza virus. Incredibly contagious and dangerous, this virus quickly overwhelmed a sick patient’s immune system. Often, within hours of exposure to the disease, a patient would show the first symptoms, and within a day would be desperately ill, unable to breathe, drowning in ravaged lungs. Passed from soldier to soldier as they were jammed together in the front-line trenches and transported by marching armies, the Spanish flu spread to almost every nation in the world and claimed the lives of somewhere between twenty million and forty million people. It is known today as the deadliest epidemic in human history, and in its time it ravaged the world.

Affluenza is a spiritual disease that is ravaging the modern world. It is similar to every other disease in that we can accurately diagnose it by its telltale symptoms.

Ironically, the most common symptom of affluenza is discontentment. Many of us have discovered that as our wealth and our possessions multiply, so too does our discontentment. There is an inverse relationship between how much we have and how much we are convinced we need to be content. Just think about Adam and Eve. They had the whole world before them. The whole world, that is, but for one little tree that God had decreed would be off limits. And somehow they determined that they could not possibly be content unless they had the fruit from that tree. And like Adam and Eve, we can have great abundance and still feel empty. We can have great abundance while still feeling the gnawing discontent that we do not have more. Just one more dollar, just one more gadget, just one more vacation, just one more upgrade—joy is always that close, but that far away. If you suffer from affluenza, you will know it when you look at all you have and still believe that just a little bit more will really bring the joy you crave.

Another common symptom of affluenza is self-dependence. Our abilities multiply alongside our wealth, and when we are most able, we tend to be least dependent. Why would I pray to God for my daily bread when I have millions in my savings account? Why would I pray for God to give me wisdom when I can already see the fruit of my hard work and good decisions? The man with little prays much; the man with much prays little. If you spot self-dependence in your life—self-dependence manifested especially in prayerlessness—you may well be suffering from affuenza.

Allow me to point you to one more symptom of affluenza: ingratitude. The Bible makes it clear that all the good we enjoy is a gift from God (James 1:17). The Bible makes it equally clear that we are to return thanks to God, gratefully and specifically, for each one of those good gifts. But ingratitude is a grave challenge to the person suffering from affluenza. Why should I give thanks to God when I am the one who has worked so hard for what I have? Why should I give thanks to God if what I have is only the smallest portion of what I actually want or deserve? Your lack of gratitude may prove that you have a bad case of affluenza.

The Cure for Affluenza

To one degree or another, we all suffer from affluenza. We are all shaped by the incredible wealth and influence we enjoy. But your case is not hopeless. While your symptoms may be pronounced and your case may be advanced, you are not beyond cure. The power of God to heal you is far greater than the power of affluenza to destroy you.

Overcoming affluenza is much like overcoming any other sin. It begins with owning and identifying that sin before God. Overcoming affluenza first requires confession. Confess to God that you have failed to thank Him for the gifts He has given you, and confess that you have failed to use your affluence with godly wisdom. Confess that too often you have preferred the gift to the Giver. When you have confessed to God, confess to another Christian, obeying God’s command through James: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

Having confessed your sin, prepare to do battle against that sin. The Bible tells us that there are always two parts to overcoming sin. First, we must put an end to patterns of sin, so work hard to turn aside from discontentment, self-dependence, and ingratitude. But not sinning is not enough. We must also replace those old, evil patterns with new, holy ones. Affluenza is not addressed through poverty or frugality, but through generosity. To whom much is given, much will be required. And in all the world and in all of history, few have been given all that we have. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul said, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28). To the affluenza-stricken Westerner of the twenty-first century, he might say, “Let the affluenza sufferer no longer squander his affluence, but rather let him use it generously to do good to others and to glorify God.”

Finally, ensure that you are living for eternity, not just for today. Understand that you are not the owner of your wealth but only the steward of it. It is God’s wealth, God’s influence, and He intends for you to use it responsibly in the knowledge that He will call you to account. You faithfully steward all of this affluence when you use it with a view to eternity. God’s Word tells us that we are to live in such a way that we store up treasures in heaven. Whatever we acquire here will be left here, but whatever we invest in God’s cause will endure for all eternity. From an eternal perspective, we see that affluence is meaningless if it is not directed to those purposes that last forever.

The Responsibility of Affluence

Satan specializes in transforming blessings into curses, and we see undeniable evidence of his handiwork in the world around us. Affluence is meant to be a blessing, not a curse. Wealth is meant to be a joyful responsibility that frees us to do good to others and bring glory to God. It is a curse only when it turns into full-blown affluenza, when we shift our allegiance from the One who gives the gift to the gift itself.

When we live with full-blown affluenza, our possessions promise contentment but deliver only emptiness. Our wealth promises joy but delivers only obsession. Our abundance promises freedom but delivers only captivity. But when we flee from affluenza, we are able to enjoy the Giver through His gifts. We are able to invest our affluence in the only cause that endures forever.

This article originally appeared in Tabletalk magazine.

I Feel I Think I Believe
February 22, 2016

Have you noticed how everyone today seems to tell us what and how they feel? “I feel like we should pray about that before we do it.” “I feel like Hillary Clinton would make a terrible (or wonderful) president.” “I feel like that’s an unfair statement.” I could be wrong here, but aren’t these “I feel” statements more common than they used to be? It may be a matter of mere semantics or a matter of the evolution of the English language. But it may just be more than that. It may just point us to something we ought to consider.

There is a hierarchy when it comes to the ways we express ourselves and our convictions. There are some things we believe, some things we think, and some things we feel. The terms are hierarchical rather than synonymous and over time we ought to see a progression from feeling to thinking to believing. We should want to elevate more of what we feel into what we think and more of what we think into what we believe. I will grant that there can be fine distinctions here, but there is still value in distinguishing them, at least for our purposes.

The things I believe are the things for which I have the highest confidence. They are the things I am convinced of, the things I hold to be absolutely true, even though you may disagree. I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I believe democracy is superior to fascism or communism. I believe marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.

The things I think are the things for which I have a little bit less confidence. These are the areas in which I am in a process of growth in understanding and conviction. These are the areas in which absolute right or wrong may not be quite as clear. I believe God tells us to assemble with other Christians to worship him each week, and I think it is best to do this on Sunday (especially here in North America).

The things I feel are the things I am unsure of, the things I am encountering and responding to on an impulsive or emotional level. I feel that it would be a bad idea for the government of Canada to shut down the office of religious freedom. I feel that because I have only the barest knowledge of the office and its functions and I would need to learn more in order to develop thoughts and then beliefs about it. I feel that it would be a good idea for the Blue Jays to offer a contract extension to Jose Bautista, but I have not read or researched enough to have well-formed thoughts.

In this way I believe, I think, and I feel have different meanings. And I believe (not “I feel”) that these meanings are consistent with how they have typically been used. So why, then, do we speak so much of feelings today?

I think that our preference for “I feel” may just unmask our culture’s fear of strong convictions and confident self-expression. “I feel” may be a way of safeguarding ourselves in an age that elevates faux tolerance and political correctness as the highest of all virtues. It proactively softens the blow for those things we would otherwise declare to be true and right and good. You may be offended by my thoughts or beliefs, but surely not by my feelings!

Yet we as Christians must know what we believe and we must believe these things with strength and confidence. It is not wrong to feel, but it is not enough. Feelings will not sustain us when the world turns against us. Feelings will not sustain us when enemies rise up to oppose our faith. Feelings will not sustain us in the face of compelling arguments against the Bible, against creation, against the resurrection. Only strong convictions grounded upon well-formed thoughts will be enough in that day. In fact, only strong convictions grounded upon well-formed thoughts are enough for this day.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 21, 2016

With the start of another week comes another selection of letters to the editor. This was a lively week for letters and the ones I publish below represent a cross-section of the feedback from readers like you.

Comments on Why Did God Create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

I’m curious about your Sinclair Ferguson quote from The Whole Christ and am wondering how it’s different than the type of writing found in Jesus Calling? I’m not trying to be snarky and haven’t read either book but am truly wondering how “speaking for God” (as you wrote in your critique of Sarah Young’s book) is okay in this instance. I don’t find anything particularly out of line with what Ferguson said in this quote but am left confused about the general practice of assuming what God is thinking or saying—and writing it as a first-person quotation.
—Emily V, Jacksonville, FL

Tim - I received a number of questions about this, which rather surprised me. I see these as wholly different things. Ferguson was simply offering a first-person explanation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sarah Young, on the other hand, says that she is bringing new revelation from Jesus. One is explanatory, the other is revelatory.

Comments on Messy Grace

Messy Grace sounds like a fascinating read. I appreciated the important points you made about homosexuality providing an identity, the difference between identity and behaviour, and our calls and convictions being too simplistic. I agree, but in my opinion you go on to make the same mistake you’ve just identified when you present the new identity found in Christ as the solution. Whilst true, this is overly simplistic and overlooks the core issue which is that sexuality provides a deep seated identity to all, whether gay or straight. Your sexuality determines a lot more about you than your sexual behaviour - it determines much of your personality and how you relate to others (of either gender). You didn’t have to give up this core part of your identity when you came to Christ, but that’s what some are asking same sex attracted people to. For a heterosexual person who has never had their sexuality challenged, it’s very hard to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has only ever know same sex attraction—but for the sake of our witness, I believe we need to start with that while recognising how deeply entrenched our own sexuality is to who we are.
—Ian M, Bristol, UK

Comments on Sex on the Silver Screen

This article is one of your best, as far as relevance in today’s creeping moral standard within the world of entertainment. You hit the nail on the head while juxtaposing God’s Word to the subject directly (and did not dance around it, which is refreshing.) Sure, what you write about is not a new subject. However, movie sex scenes have gotten to the point where they are obviously gratuitous and designed to elicit a voyeurism response while moving the bar just a little further from the standard. At some point one just sees it for what it is: indecency, and wrong. Your article reminded me that there are points in life when we as individuals have strayed far enough from God’s prescribed path that we become cognizant, and a reset moment occurs that realigns our thinking. I believe your article is a big reset moment which brings unabashed clarity to the subject of which you write. Thank you for an excellent reminder to guard ourselves—not as a Puritan—but as a Christian who must honor God’s requirements for what we put into our minds through visual media.
—Paul M, Virginia Dale, CO

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Hi Tim, I have enjoyed reading challies.com for some years. I am a young Christian and have felt some of the same sentiment that you express in the Sex and the Silver Screen article. You mention that nearly every show has such scenes. My question is whether you would suggest that skipping the scene or skipping the show is the more appropriate response? Thanks for your commitment to engage important issues like this one!
—Matthew C, Belfast, NI

Tim: I did not cover this in the article, but may at a later date.

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I agree with your point, that if we’re not comfortable with our spouse doing something with another man/woman, we shouldn’t be comfortable watching it. That brings up a question though: what should we watch at all? I for one wouldn’t be comfortable with my wife kissing another man, yet this is frequently portrayed by actors who are playing characters that are dating or married. Those actors must actually kiss, and make it believable. For that matter, I wouldn’t want my wife to act out any part of an intimate relationship with another man. I would think these issues extend beyond explicit sex alone. How then do you suggest we draw appropriate boundaries and still (if at all) leave room for artistic expression?
—Baxter M, Winston Salem, NC

Tim: That, too, is a very valid question. I think of Kirk Cameron in the film Fireproof who said he would only kiss his own wife. So in the kissing scene at the end of the movie, the filmmakers subtly substituted his own wife.

***

I really appreciate this article. I’d add: I think your reasoning here explains why on-screen violence isn’t the same as on-screen sex. It’s possible to act like you’re killing someone without actually doing so. It isn’t the same when it comes to touching someone in an intimate manner. Christians are often criticized for objecting more to on-screen sex than we do to on-screen violence, and I think your article explains well why the first is more troubling than the second. (Not to say on-screen violence isn’t a problem. Simply to say that it’s a much more “apples to oranges” situation than it might first appear to be.)
—Jessica S, Los Angeles, CA

***

Let me start by saying that I’ve never left a comment or written to the author of a blog article. But I’m compelled to today because of the graphic nature of this particular article. Pornography is pervasive in our culture. I dare say it is pervasive even in the church. Thankfully, many men (and women) are winning the battle against the temptation to get pulled in by a society that is trying to force it on us all. So….while agree 100% with the points in your article, I’m astonished at the detailed descriptions that I read. I am afraid that the graphic depictions you gave could cause a brother or sister to fall back into former bondage. Just as an alcoholic can’t play with alcohol, Christians should play with pornography. It’s a vile addiction. Please consider removing your article or at least cleaning it up to be more suitable for Christian readers. After all, the very point if your article is to encourage people to abstain from watching sexual encounters on TV yet you paint a vivid description of one several times. Thanks for considering my request.
—Shannon M, North Carolina

Comments on She Who Shall Not Be Named

I am reading Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. The author spent most of life in Middle East, and provides some commentary on the David and Bathsheba incident. David’s actions are deplorable, for sure. However, modesty in the Middle East was huge. Bathing quarters were extremely private. It would have been impossible for David to “stumble” upon a bathing woman in this culture. Bathsheba “had” to place herself in this “view” of David in order for the encounter to be possible. She would have had to open doors, relieve drapes, or do some other purposeful measures in order to be “discovered” by the most powerful man in Jerusalem. The Jewish commentators did place some fair amount of blame on Bathsheba (including leaving her nameless in one of the NT geneaologies). We shouldn’t dismiss older commentators as “sexist” too easily. Again, David still had full responsibility for his actions, and no excuses, but Bathsheba was not an innocent lamb, in the least, if we look at historical customs.
—Steve H, Peoria, AZ

She Who Shall Not Be Named
February 19, 2016

You never know where your Bible study will take you. You never understand how perfectly God has woven his Word until you follow a single thread from author to author, culture to culture, millennium to millennium, and see how God’s revelation of himself and his purposes is so perfectly consistent. Recently I followed a thread that began in a New Testament epistle and then ran past ancient priests and prophets, cultures and kingdoms, until eventually it wrapped around the life of King David. And here I found something that challenged me, something that I believe can challenge you too. It is something that speaks poignantly to a situation we face here, these thousands of years later.

King David’s infamous act of adultery has long been held as a powerful case study of the nature of temptation. Through its consequences to his life, family, and kingdom, it has been held as well as a case study of the terrible ravages of sin. As each generation has grappled with the sins of its age, David’s depravity has provided new and timely lessons, new warnings, and new rebukes.

You know, I am sure, how the story unfolds. As David walks on the rooftop late one spring afternoon, he spots a woman bathing—a particularly beautiful and desirable woman. As David investigates, he learns that she is also particularly vulnerable—vulnerable because her husband is off fighting David’s war. “So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her” (2 Samuel 11:4). Shortly thereafter, she would report to David that she was pregnant with his child. Adultery would lead to murder, making it an evil, ugly story of sin begetting sin begetting sin.

It makes a fascinating study to observe the difference between older and newer commentaries when it comes to Bathsheba’s role in what unfolded. If you do this, you will see that many of the older commentators lay a measure of blame on her. What was she doing bathing then and there? Didn’t she come willingly when the king summoned her to his palace? Didn’t she later prove herself a formidable woman who was angling for her son to be David’s successor (see 1 Kings 1)? Maybe she was the victimizer and he the victim!

By contrast, most modern commentators (rightly, I believe) attach the full measure of blame to David. The ESV Study Bible seems to stick closely to the text of 2 Samuel 11 and to offer the best insight into human nature when it says “Given the elaborate attempt David makes (vv. 6–13) to cover up the initial act of his adultery, it is hardly likely that he makes his intention clear when he summons Bathsheba. Probably David makes inquiry about the welfare of the family of his trusted general during Uriah’s absence and gives Uriah’s wife the honor of a private interview, even sending messengers (plural) to invite Bathsheba.” There is no hint in the text that Bathsheba is anything other than the unwilling victim of the king’s sexual exploitation.

Bathsheba dutifully responds to the king’s summons and it is only when she arrives that David makes his intentions clear. By then he has set aside all self-control and will now take what he has determined he ought to have. Walter Brueggemann deduces this from both the words and the style of the narrative:

The action is quick. The verbs rush as the passion of David rushed. He sent; he took; he lay (v. 4). The royal deed of self-indulgence does not take very long. There is no adornment to the action. The woman then gets some verbs: she returned, she conceived. The action is so stark. There is nothing but action. There is no conversation. There is no hint of caring, of affection, of love—only lust.

David has a sudden surge of sexual desire and acts on it recklessly and impulsively. Whether by strength or seduction he takes what is not his. Then the deed is over and right at this moment we can make an observation about a small detail in the text. After the text’s description of David’s deed it says, “the woman conceived.” Brueggemann points out that “David does not call her by name, does not even speak to her. At the end of the encounter she is only ‘the woman’ (v. 5).” Only “the woman”? Why? We had already been introduced to her as Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, but now after the consummation of the act she is only “the woman.” She has become only “she who shall not be named.”

Why? Because David had not treated her as a person. He stripped her humanity when he stripped her clothing. He stole her dignity through his brutality. And this is where we can draw a lesson for the twenty-first century, especially as it pertains to the plague of pornography. The people who act out pornography have fake names or no names at all. They have no family, no history, no dreams, no future. They have no reality, no humanity. They lack all of this because in the minds of those who lust after them they are not fully human. They are nameless faces, personless bodies. Those who exploit them strip them of their names to strip them of their humanity. To do what they do to them, to take what they take from them, they must first remove their humanity. This is the cost of obsession, compulsion, and exploitation. These women, too, are only “she who shall not be named.”

The Character of the Christian
February 18, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for an elder—and every Christian—to be gentle.

Paul writes to Timothy, “Therefore an overseer must [be] not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:2–3). Similarly, he tells Titus that an overseer “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered … or violent” (Titus 1:7). The positive characteristic here is gentleness and it is opposed by the two negative characteristics of violence and quarreling. The elder (and, therefore, every mature Christian) pursues gentleness and flees from violence and bickering.

To be gentle is to be tender, humble, and fair, to know what posture and response is fitting for any occasion. It indicates a graciousness, a desire to extend mercy to others, and a desire to yield to both the will of God and the preferences of other people. Such gentleness will be expressed first in the home and only subsequently in the church. It is a rare trait, but one we know and love when we see and experience it.

Alexander Strauch notes that to pursue gentleness is to imitate Jesus. He writes, “Jesus tells us who He is as a person: He is gentle and humble. Too many religious leaders, however, are not gentle nor are they humble. They are controlling and proud. They use people to satisfy their fat egos. But Jesus is refreshingly different. He truly loves people, selflessly serving and giving His life for them. He expects His followers—especially the elders who lead His people—to be humble and gentle like Himself.” Similarly, John Piper writes, “This [gentleness] is the opposite of pugnacious or belligerent. He should not be harsh or mean-spirited. He should be inclined to tenderness and resort to toughness only when the circumstances commend this form of love. His words should not be acid or divisive but helpful and encouraging.”

The elder, then, must be gentle, able to control his temper and his response to others when he is attacked, maligned, and finds himself in tense or difficult situations. He is marked at all times by patience, tenderness, and a sweet spirit. Negatively, he must not lose control either physically or verbally. He must not respond to others with physical force or threats of violence. When it comes to his words, he must not quarrel or bicker or be one who loves to argue. Even when pushed and exasperated he will not lash out with his words, he will not crush a bruised reed or snuff out a faintly burning wick.

I am sure you realize that God calls all Christians—not just elders—to be gentle. Elders must serve as examples of gentleness, but each one of us must display this trait if we are to imitate our Savior. There are many texts we can turn to, including this one which tells us that gentleness is a necessary fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Shortly thereafter Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

He urges the Christians in Ephesus to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and says that this involves living “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). When speaking of the congregation under Titus’ care he says, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2). The evidence is clear: We are to be gentle so we can serve as a display of the one who deals so gently with us.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Does your life reflect the meekness and humility of gentleness? I encourage you to prayerfully ask yourself questions like these:

  • When someone wrongs you, are you prone to lash out in anger? If so, does that anger express itself physically, verbally, or both?
  • Are people afraid to confront sin in your life because they fear your anger or your cutting words? Do your wife and children fear you?
  • Would your friends and family say that you are gentle? Would they say that you treat them with tenderness?
  • Do you like to play the devil’s advocate? Do you like a good argument? What would your social media presence indicate?

Prayer Points

The God of peace is eager to give you the peace of God (Phillipians 4:7, 9). So, I encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would make me more like Christ so that I may be gentle just like he is gentle. I pray that I would regularly consider all the ways in which you have been so patient and gentle with me.
  • I pray that you would help me swallow my pride, confess my sins to others, and restore any strained relationships I have.
  • I pray that you would give me the grace to be patient and calm when others attack and misunderstand me. Help me respond with gentleness even in the most difficult circumstances.
  • I pray that I would be slow to begin an argument or to wade into someone else’s.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to be temperate in their consumption of alcohol.