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Tim Challies

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December 25, 2013

It is Christmas morning as I write these words, and this year we are away down south in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We are here to spend the holidays with my parents and siblings. All-told I guess there will be twenty-four of us gathered around the tree and the table a bit later on—that’s my parents, my four siblings, their spouses, and a growing number of kids who range from 13-years-old down to ten months. We’ve already opened stockings and gifts as individual families, but later on will pass presents between families.

I was raised in a Christian tradition that saw Christmas as a family day, but not a religious holiday. Though we never did the Santa thing, Christmas was still the biggest holiday on our family calendar—a day to gather as family, to enjoy exchanging gifts, to enjoy time together. Even today, all these years later, making Christmas all about the birth of Jesus still feels a little bit unfamiliar, a little bit forbidden. And yet we are still sure to acknowledge the best gift of all, to thank God for sending his Son. That is worth acknowledging and celebrating today and every day.

No matter how you mark the day, thank you for reading, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2013

Tis the season for year-end round-ups, and it is a good time for such business matters because readership always plunges dramatically during the holiday season. I took some time to look back at my statistics from the year that was, and here are the articles that got the greatest number of readers in 2013:

10. The Art and Science of the Humblebrag - This tongue-in-cheek article was about social media and the humblebrag.

9. In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers - This article is about my experience of being in the crosshairs of the discernment bloggers.

8. Lessons Learned at Strange Fire - These were my reflections on the Strange Fire conference and book.

7. Thinking Biblically About C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries - This was an attempt to share my own thinking on the news about C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

6. 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Wife - This was a follow-up for the article that takes the #1 spot below.

5. Jesus Calling - This has been on the “most popular” lists for three years now. Sarah Young’s books continue to sell and continue to generate controversy.

4. Stopping An Affair Before It Begins - This was a simple word on how to protect a marriage from sexual sin.

3. The Porn-Free Family - The popularity of this article shows me just how helpless parents feel in the face of all the electronic temptations that face our families today.

2. John MacArthur Answers His Critics - This one comes as no great surprise. This was the first part of an interview with MacArthur that followed his Strange Fire conference.

1. 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Kids - This one took me rather by surprise and quickly became not only the most popular article of 2013, but the most popular (non-book review) article I’ve ever written.

December 23, 2013

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This was one of Paul’s parting commands to Timothy. Paul had nearly come to the end of his life and wrote Timothy to tell him that he had to think beyond himself and his own generation. Timothy was to think about the future and plan for it with care and diligence.

The pastor is to select some—and only some—of the men in his care to receive special attention and training because these are the men to whom he will entrust the gospel and the future of the Christian faith. But how will a pastor know what kind of man to choose? There’s an acronym I have found helpful. You may well have run into it before; I came across it most recently in a sermon from Steven Cole. The pastor must focus his attention on those men who are FAT:

Faithful. These are men whose great ambition is the glory of God, who long to care for souls, and who long to see God’s kingdom advance. Calvin says such men are to be chosen not on account of the existence of their faith, since all Christians have faith, but on the pre-eminence of their faith. Some men have an extra measure of desire and ability to labor in preserving and spreading Christian faith and practice. Faithful men will not lose, neglect or falsify the gospel but will, conversely, handle it with great care. These are the ones who are to be the special object of the pastor’s attention.

Available. The pastor must entrust the gospel to men who are available: who desire this ministry for pure motives and who are willing to take it upon themselves. There will inevitably be some who will want to be chosen on the basis of personal ambition, jealousy, pride or even outright deception; these men must be avoided. There are some who will be unwilling because of apathy or by fear of consequences; these men must be given time to mature. There are some who are simply not able to because of other responsibilities or their current stage of life; these men must be allowed to carry on without shame or guilt. The pastor is to seek out men who have made themselves available in terms of time, effort and character.

December 22, 2013

Last week I began a new series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we will take a look at each of the seven councils. For each one we will consider the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance. We continue today with the First Council of Constantinople.

Setting & Purpose

The First Council of Constantinople was held in Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, Turkey. It was convened by Theodosius I who at that time was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The council met from May to July, 381.

The council was convened to try to unite a church that remained divided over the issue of Christ’s nature and his relationship with the Father. Though the First Council of Nicaea had already attempted to reach consensus, Arianism and other heterodox understandings remained a battleground in every region of the empire.

Major Characters

There were 150 Eastern bishops present at the council and among them were a handful of notable characters.

Meletius, bishop of Antioch served as the first president of the council, but died shortly after it began.

Gregory of Nazianzus was elected bishop of Constantinople at the start of the council and, after the death of Meletius, took over as president. However, shortly thereafter, the legality of his election was challenged based on a canon from the Council of Nicaea that bishops cannot be transferred from see to see (Gregory had previously been bishop in Sasima). This dispute prompted Gregory to resign from the bishopric and presidency.

Nectarius was a civil official who was quickly baptized so he could take over as bishop of Constantinople and president of the council when Gregory stepped down.

December 19, 2013

Well isn’t this the most self-serving thing you’ll read all day? But I’d like you to hear me out. It was just over two years ago that Zondervan published my book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion. This was a book that came out of my own explorations on the nature and purpose of technology—not only digital technology, but all human technology.

I think you should read it, if you haven’t already. Or you should at least consider it.

It is not only a book for techies, for technophiles, for people who watched Star Trek and who live and breathe computer languages. It is not only a book for people who always need to buy the next great thing. It is a book for all of us since. If you are reading these words, the book necessarily applies to you.

Just a few days ago I took the book down from my shelf for the first time in a while and ran through it. It was interesting to see how much it speaks to today’s challenges and even to today’s current events. Obviously I would not have written the book if hadn’t believed that it was important. Still, it was still comforting to see that it really has made a significant difference in my life and that in many ways I really am thinking differently and living differently because of what I discovered along the way.

Let me give you five reasons I think you should consider reading The Next Story.

Read it to learn why you are surrounded by technology. Our functional understanding of technology is “anything that was invented after I was born.” But in reality, everything around us is technology, something that has been invented to make our lives better or easier or more comfortable or more productive. This is as true of the book and the television and the automobile as it is of the iPhone or the web browser. Because you are surrounded at all times by technology, it would be wise for you to understand what technology is and how it functions in this world.

Read it to learn what God thinks about technology. We tend to understand technology as something that exists in the realm of science or science fiction, but there is a deeply theological component to technology. Our ability to create flows out of the fact that we are created in the image of a creative God; our desire to create flows out of our mandate to subdue this world and exercise dominion over it; our motive to create flows out of our purpose in this world, to glorify and enjoy God. We must learn to think Christianly about our technology.

Read it to learn about the connection between technology and idolatry. Perhaps the most important insight I learned when preparing the book was the deep connection between technology and idolatry. Because our technologies always promise more productivity, more comfort, more wealth, more good things—because they always promise to deliver more of what we like the best—we are never far from idolatry when we embrace technology. This has implications all over life and will transform the way you think about the next great device or idea.

December 18, 2013

I had an idea! What if I rebrand this site Reformed People and make it the gossip rag, the tabloid, of the Reformed world? This much is true: I would never run out of people to discuss and evaluate. Just last week I received emails or phone calls concerning at least five open and active people issues, celebrity issues, that I could write about. And those are only the ones I can remember a week later. I won’t rebrand, of course, but the point is, there could be a site dedicated only to gossip and people news that concerns our little corner of the Christian world. Worst of all, I think people might actually read it.

But hold on. Maybe it’s not quite so simple. The Bible offers strict warnings against meddling and gossiping. It warns against sticking our noses into issues that do not concern us. But at the same time it assigns to each of us the responsibility to guard others, to warn them about those who might harm them or lead them astray. There are times where I can or must speak out. There is apparent friction here, tension between the two extremes of broadcasting an opinion on every matter and an unwillingness to speak out on any issue at all. When are we to stay out and when are we to wade in? When am I to stay out and when am I to wade in, with the platform I’ve been given?

5 Desires

As I have considered when I can or should speak, I have gone searching for help and have discovered five godly desires I should have when it comes to speaking about other people (see Denny Burk for more).

Desire Peace. Romans 12:18 exhorts us to be at peace with all men. Whenever possible, we are to avoid controversy and quarrelling in favour of peace. I need to examine myself to see if I am using an issue for noble or ignoble motives and whether I do have that good desire to be at peace.

Desire to Protect. I owe it to my brothers and sisters to protect them from error or other kinds of danger, and to warn them when they may not see it.

Desire Repentance. My ultimate purpose in writing about controversial matters should not be exposure, but the repentance of the person who is in error. Even Paul told Timothy to command false teachers not to teach strange doctrines, he told Timothy that the goal in all this was to produce in the false teachers “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). The purpose is not to win a battle, but to compel change.

Desire to Use Controversy Carefully. Controversy generates visitors and, on the Internet, visitors are currency. I need to be certain I am not using another person’s misfortune to elevate myself. I ought to be known for whom and what I am for, not whom and what I am against.

Desire to Quiet the Unrepentant. Even while I address an issue, I want to quiet the unrepentant person rather than to elevate his platform. I should attempt to write in such a way that his profile is diminished rather than extended.

Let me pause for one moment here. One of the shaping experiences in my early days as a blogger was when the publicist for a very well-known, non-Christian author got in touch with me to ask if I would review this man’s latest book. When I pushed and asked why, it became clear that negative reviews from Christians would prove helpful in generating sales. Lesson learned: No press is bad press. One thing I have observed recently is that we can put people with a platform in the difficult position of being told that if they do not speak to an issue, it is proof that they are complicit in it. However, it may be that they are every bit as outraged as we are, but they believe their voice will make the problem worse, not better. They may well be right. (See also Bell, Hell and What We Did Well; and no, Bell was not the author in question.)

December 15, 2013

Today I am beginning a new series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we will take a look at each of the seven councils. For each one we will consider the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance.

We begin today with the First Council of Nicaea.

Setting & Purpose

The First Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine had hoped to unite his empire under the banner of Christianity, but now saw such unity threatened by a grave theological dispute. Hosius of Cordoba recommended a council as the means to address the brewing controversy and Constantine responded by calling church leaders to Nicaea in Bithynia (modern-day Iznik, Turkey). Somewhere between 250 and 318 bishops from across the Roman empire attended, and the council began its formal deliberations on May 20.

The major issue the council was charged with addressing was the nature of Christ‘s divinity, and in particular, the relationship between the Father and the Son. As a secondary matter the council was to debate the celebration of Easter.

Major Characters

The two most important figures at the council were Athanasius, a young deacon who came as a companion to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and Arius, a controversial presbyter and priest from Alexandria. Constantine was present as an overseer, but did not vote.

The Conflict

The conflict at the heart of the First Council of Nicaea involved the nature of God the Son in relation to God the Father. On one side of the conflict were those who held that Jesus Christ was created by the Father and on the other side were those who held that Jesus Christ was begotten by the Father.

December 13, 2013

Evernote owns me. Evernote knows things about me that I myself have long since forgotten. Evernote is my external brain, my electronic memory. It is one of the best parts of living in a digital age and has quickly become one of my most indispensable electronic tools.

What is Evernote? It is an application designed to record, archive and retrieve information. Designed to use a familiar paradigm—notes stored within notebooks—it is meant to help you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences across all the computers, phones and tablets you use. It’s brilliant, and it’s getting better all the time.

Let me explain how and why I use Evernote.

I Take It Everywhere

Evernote goes with me everywhere I go because I never know when I will want to record or retrieve information. I have installed it on pretty much every device I use. It is on my computer at home, it is on my computer at the church office, it is on my cell phone, and it is on my iPad. Where I go, Evernote goes with me and it is never more than a couple of button presses away. It is there when I need to access important documents, and it is there when I have one of those ideas that needs to be recorded right now before I forget all about it.

I Tell It Everything

I regularly feed all kinds of information into Evernote. It took me a while to learn this: The more I enter into it, the more powerful it becomes. When I used it sparingly, I found it less useful than when I committed to it. Here are some of the ways I feed it information:

  • Every time I lead a meeting, I create a note to record agendas, minutes, and observations. (Tip: if you use printed agendas, write all over it and then snap a scan of it on your phone using Evernote’s document scanner feature.)
  • Every time I think of something I need to buy the next time I am out shopping, I add it to a shopping list.
  • When I receive an emailed invoice or receipt, I forward it to Evernote using my Evernote email address. (Tip: add @receipts to the subject line of the email to automatically forward it to a “receipts” notebook.)
  • When doing an interview or when having an important discussion, I hit the “record” button and record the discussion.
  • When I have an idea for a future blog post or even a future book project, I add it to Evernote.
  • Every time I prepare a sermon, conference talk, or devotional, I add it to my “Speaking & Sermons” notebook. This gives me full access to all my sermons and speeches all the time (something that has come in handy more than once!).
  • I use the Chrome extension to clip articles and PDF documents I may want to refer to in the future. (Tip: Evernote Premium will allow you to search within PDF documents, something that will definitely come in hand.)

And that is just a start. If it is information I may want to access in the future, it goes in.

December 11, 2013

Once there was a boy so meek and modest, he was awarded a Most Humble badge. The next day, it was taken away because he wore it. Here endeth the lesson.” And here endeth the opening quote from TIME’s story to announce Pope Francis as the Person of the Year for 2013. Nancy Gibbs continues:

How do you practice humility from the most exalted throne on earth? Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis. In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.

For all of these reasons and more, he is a natural and obvious choice for this distinction.

The world reacted with shock when, on March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as the 266th pope. However, through the opening months of his reign, he is proving to be exactly what the Roman Catholic Church needed, even if he wasn’t initially what many Catholics wanted. The church has been hit hard by scandal and by the perception that Catholicism is an ancient and obsolete faith with little ability to speak to modern controversies: homosexuality, female clergy, abortion, contraception, and the like. Francis has breathed life into the church and aroused the adoration of the people he leads.

Francis follows the forgettable Benedict XVI who was more of a scholar than a pope of or for the people. Of course Benedict had the difficult task of following the much-loved John Paul II, a man who casts a long shadow.

Francis has been handed the impossible and unenviable task of representing Catholics on every end of the spectrum, from those who want the church to return to its oldest beliefs and oldest forms of worship, to those who want to liberalize the church and to embrace the spirit of the age in every part. A second article from TIME explains the impossibility of his task despite early success and adulation. He brings hope, but irreconcilable hope, to the “elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest.” If he succeeds with one, he will necessarily fail with the other. Not surprisingly, he is guarded with his words.

He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Yet even while he has avoided speaking bluntly to many of the most pressing issues, he has been masterful in his actions. “He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face.” He makes full use of new media and does so with skill.

The fact is, Pope Francis has taken the Roman Catholic Church by storm and the whole world is watching. Just yesterday Facebook announced that he was the most talked about topic on Facebook worldwide this year. He is Christendom’s newest and biggest celebrity. His reach, his power, his popularity are unparalleled.

December 10, 2013

We have a love-hate relationship with celebrity culture. We who consider ourselves part of this New Calvinism hate the idea of celebrity, but have no clear idea how to avoid the reality. We say we hate a celebrity culture, yet stories about our celebrities dominate blogs and periodicals; a sure way to draw in massive amounts of traffic is to write about each new scandal connected to each of our celebrities. We see the dangers posed by a culture of celebrity, but also see that to some degree it is unavoidable. After all, there are men and women we honour and respect and look up to, who are worthy of our regard and worthy of the leadership we give them.

We expend all kinds of effort in celebrating these people we love, and commending them to others, and spreading their fame. We serve as evangelists for their books and their churches and their conferences. We build them up in our own minds and in the wider church culture. We do this naturally and almost without thinking about it. “You’ve just got to read Don’t Waste Your Life!” “Have you seen Paul Washer’s Shocking Youth Sermon?” “Don’t you read that blog? Don’t you follow that Twitter account?”

We can’t stop this celebrity culture. Not all the way. Carl Trueman has become a celebrity in his own right at least in part because of all he has written to oppose celebrityism. Ironically, his anti-celebrity earned him a place on the front stage at one of the biggest conferences going. And this is what happens to the men and women we raise up—they are given bigger platforms and a louder voice. This is the way we want it. We usually don’t regard celebrityism as a problem so long as our celebrities are the ones on top. It’s the other person’s celebrity we have problems with. If we need to have celebrities, I’m glad that Trueman is one of mine.

This is the front side of celebrity culture—elevating people to high positions. We all see this and all know it. But there is another side as well. There is a flip side and it is even uglier. It is the destruction of those people we once honoured. Sometimes I wonder what we love more, raising up our celebrities or tearing them back down.

Let me pause for one moment to assure you that I began writing this article long before the most recent scandal, and even the one before that (which takes us back all of about ten days, I suppose). But if you think I am taking the passive-aggressive approach to writing about that guy or those guys or that situation, you’re wrong.

Back to where I left off. We love the rise and we love the fall. Both make for fantastic entertainment. I wonder sometimes if the reason we end up tearing down our celebrities is that we have elevated them to such a degree in the first place. Once we have done that, once we have put them on the biggest platforms and once we have given them publishing deals with the wealthiest publishers, there is really only one way for them to go, and it’s not up.

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