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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

20 Quick Tips to Improve Your Productivity
August 29, 2016

We all want to be productive, right? And no matter how productive we are, we all want to be more productive still. This is good, assuming we have defined productivity in a good way, perhaps something like “Using my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God” (which, as you may know, is the definition I propose in my book Do More Better). To that end, here are 20 real-world, time-tested tips to improve your productivity.

  1. Be curious. When you meet someone who appears to be especially productive or organized, ask him or her for tips. I have learned a lot by reading great books, but even more by asking others how they manage their time, how they built a system, and how they have learned to be successful in their tasks.
  2. Plan to recite and remember. Use your task management software to remind you to review things you have memorized. I love to memorize Scripture and poetry and have my software set to remind me each day to review a different poem or Bible passage. This habit ensures that they remain fresh in my mind.
  3. Break it down. Be careful of tasks that are dauntingly huge. “Write: A Great Novel” is so giant a task you may never begin, and even if you do, you will be unable to track your progress. Break giant tasks into a series of smaller tasks and work through them progressively.
  4. Use a password manager. We all have a lot of passwords to remember today—passwords for email and Facebook and banking and just about everything else. A password manager can be a very helpful tool. Begin by going online and searching for 1Password or LastPass. These programs will help you remember your passwords while also increasing the strength of your passwords.
  5. Use strong passwords. A bad password is, well, bad. You make a criminal’s life exponentially more difficult if you determine you will use stronger and better passwords. There is much debate as to what constitutes a good password, but whatever else you believe, a good password is one that protects your account and one that you can actually remember. I recommend using four random words strung together. This kind of password is more memorable than a random string of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks and actually offers better protection. A mnemonic device, perhaps a silly little scenario that uses all four words, can help you remember your new password.
  6. Create a not-to-do list. Create a note or document that will contain a not-to-do list. Make this a list of bad productivity habits you are trying to break, and go over this list each week during your weekly review. My not-to-do list includes “Do not drink coffee after 2 p.m,” “Do not leave email open all day,” and “Do not agree to meetings that have no agenda or no end-time.”
  7. Set a time-limit on meetings. Meetings tend to expand to fill the time you give them. You will probably find that you can get as much done in a short and focused meeting as in a long and unfocused one. Be sure that all participants know when the meeting begins and when it ends. Begin on time and end on time.
  8. Prioritize personal devotions. Productivity is fueled by the spiritual disciplines. You are not truly productive if you get things done all day while neglecting your soul. Be careful that your personal devotions do not become just another item to check off your to-do list.
  9. Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is rarely effective and almost never leads to increased productivity. Whenever possible choose a task, take it to completion, and then move on to the next one.
  10. Move around. Sometimes a change of scenery is as good as time off. If you are doing creative work, try bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop, switching every couple of hours. If you usually work from the kitchen table, try switching to a different room for a few hours. The quiet room at the local library is one of my favorite places to hole up for a couple of hours of writing.
  11. Learn to delegate. Delegation is a rare skill, but refusing to delegate can rob you of time you could spend doing the most important things. Think creatively about who may be able to handle some of the tasks that keep you from getting other things accomplished. What may be drudgery to you may be a joy to someone else. What you do poorly someone else may be able to do with excellence.
  12. Track your time. Every now and again it may be helpful to audit your use of time. You can do this manually by simply recording start and stop times in a journal or automatically by using software tools such as Toggl or RescueTime. Auditing your time will show you when and where you are most efficient productive while also showing you when and where you tend to waste time.
  13. Don’t leave email open. Set aside specific times in the day when you will check email, and keep it closed at all other times. Most of us can make do very well even if we check email only once or twice in a day.
  14. Plan to rest. Plan to take at least one day out of every week where you rest from as many responsibilities as you can. If you do not plan this day it will soon get away from you, so plan when it will be and plan how you will use it.
  15. Turn off notifications. Whenever possible turn off notifications on your electronic devices. You probably do not need to be notified every time you receive an email or every time your friends update Facebook. Fight against the distraction that seems to grow with every new generation of software and devices.
  16. Write it down. If you don’t write it down you will probably forget it. Most of us live with the dread that many of our best ideas are forever lost because we forgot to write them down. As soon as you have an idea, get it typed out or down and then get it into your system. You may forget, but Evernote or your Moleskine doesn’t.
  17. Take breaks. Breaks may seem like lost productivity, but they actually enhance your productivity. Schedule breaks into your day and enjoy them guilt-free. The busier your day, the more important they will be. So get up for a few minutes, walk around the block, get hot (if your workplace is cold) or cold (if your workplace is hot), grab a cup of coffee, and get back into it.
  18. Get accountability. Have someone check in with you on a regular basis (perhaps during a team meeting) to ask if you are keeping up with your productivity system. Having something or someone outside the system prompting you to maintain the system will help keep you going when motivation is low.
  19. Don’t send unnecessary email. Sending unnecessary email means you will also receive unnecessary email. Send sparingly and you will receive sparingly.
  20. Exercise. I know it seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing you can do for productivity is to stop trying to be so productive and to spend some time exercising. Productivity is about all of life and requires all of your body and mind. Make sure you make time to get fit and to stay fit.

(If you have read Do More Better, you may recognize this as a bonus chapter from the end of it.)

A Drop in the Bucket
August 28, 2016

I love words. I love language. I love the Bible. I especially love it when these 3 friends meet. This happens often because the Bible—the King James Bible—played such a pivotal role in the development of English. Over the next little while I’m going to take a few Sundays to discuss some common English idioms that have their origin in the Bible. (Do I need to define idiom first? An idiom is an expression that has a meaning unrelated to the actual words that comprise it.)

The Expression

A drop in the bucket, sometimes alternately rendered as a drop in the ocean, is “an insufficient or inconsequential amount in comparison with what is required.” A bucket (or an ocean) contains so many drops that the addition of one more makes no meaningful difference. So if a charity is fundraising for a new building and that building is going to cost $2 million, we might say that a $2 donation is a drop in the bucket—it is inconsequential when compared to the need. So when Italy sued Volkswagen for malfeasance after they lied about their cars’ emissions, the media reported that the $5.5 million fine was merely a drop in the bucket as it represented just 0.037 percent of the American settlement.

The Origin

This phrase originates in Isaiah 40:15 and follows soon after some of the best-known words in all of Isaiah’s long prophecy—words you will recognize from the ministry of John the Baptist and, of course, from Handel’s Messiah:

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah goes on to bring further comfort to God’s people by assuring them that God has not forgotten them, but will come to their rescue and tend to them. And then he says this:

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;

God’s people may have felt intimidated by the mighty nations around them, but in the eyes of God, those nations were like a drop from a bucket. Notice that the original expression is “drop from a bucket” where we tend to say “drop in a bucket.” Apparently God’s concern was the loss of a drop rather than the gain of a drop, though this makes no difference to the meaning. The ESV Study Bible interprets the verse succinctly: “The nations of mankind may seem insurmountable to Israel, but they are as nothing to God.” John Oswalt says the passage implies this question: “What are the nations—so impressive in their glory, and earthshaking in their power? They are the drop of water falling back into the cistern as the bucket is pulled up, the speck of dust on the pan of the balance scales that does not even cause the scales to flutter. Both are ephemeral and neither is cause for a moment’s notice.”

The Application

We tend to use the expression “drop in a bucket” when we feel that our contribution is too small to make a difference—or perhaps, worse, when we feel that another person’s contribution is too small to make a difference. In this way it is an expression of hopelessness or pessimism. But in the hands of an almighty God, no contribution is meaningless—none is too big, none is too small. He is not bound by the limits of what we can offer. God is far more concerned with the state of our hearts than the magnitude of our contributions. See Mark 12:41-44.

When we use the expression in a way consistent with its origin we see that it is not meant to make us consider ourselves but our God. God’s people were so significant in his eyes that he comforted them with this declaration of power: Those other nations are like a drop from a bucket. No matter how difficult or intimidating the circumstances we face, they are but a drop from a bucket in the eyes of a sovereign God. They are but that minuscule drop that falls from the bucket and trickles back to the bottom of the well.

Finally, there is great comfort to be found in the context of the verse, and perhaps especially in the verses that immediately precede it (12-14):

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?

Perhaps you would do well to sing these words:

(This is a very nice, moody, alternate version of the song.)

5 Life Lessons From An Olympic Gold Medalist
August 27, 2016

Of all the people you’ve ever seen preach in a Speedo, David Boudia must be the most eloquent. A world-class diver who, after Rio, now has 4 Olympic medals to his name, he often stands with reporters after competitions and does all he can to deflect attention away from himself and toward Jesus. He usually does this by telling how his identity is not wrapped up in being an Olympian or a medalist but in being in Christ Jesus. Just before the 2016 Olympics he released his biography Greater Than Gold. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and wanted to share the 5 big life lessons he communicates.

Don’t live by how you feel, but by what you know to be true. Our hearts and minds deceive us by telling us that we should trust ourselves—our wisdom, our feelings, our instincts—rather than trusting what God says through the Bible. But this is a sure path to pain. “Your old self (before Christ) would live by how you felt. But if you’ve been made new in Christ, you don’t have to live that way. You are free from that bondage.” Pointing to Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”), he explains that the culture around us teaches us to live by our emotions, to assume that a good life requires pursuing whatever feels good. But this is a lie. What is true is that this kind of good life delivers momentary satisfaction while leading ultimately to heartache and despair.

Take your thoughts captive. Sin is the great enemy of the soul and while it eventually expresses itself externally, it always begins internally. As Christians we need to take our thoughts captive so we can take our actions captive. “As followers of Christ, we are called to battle [sin] valiantly and vigorously. Don’t be passive in the war against sin and resign yourself to the fact that you have no control over your thoughts. You do! God provides grace and will help you in the fight. Our obedience to Christ must be marked not just by how we act externally but by how we think inwardly. You don’t have to give in to sinful thoughts. Take them captive to obey Christ.” Here he points to 2 Corinthians 10:5 which is one of his favorite verses and one he often recites to himself in important moments: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Be process oriented, not results oriented. Of all his life lessons, this is the one drawn most directly from his diving. As he was learning to master his craft, he had to learn the importance of prioritizing process over results. A focus on results may lead to pragmatism, but a focus on process leads naturally to all-around excellence. “So many times in our lives, results are out of our hands and we are dependent on things we can’t control for the outcomes we desire. Learning instead to focus on the process, the journey itself, allows us to focus our energies more on the things we can control. That, in turn, leads to greater fulfillment and more enjoyment as we go through life leaving our ultimate path in the Lord’s hands,” just like it says in Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.”

Put your hope in the right place. Much of Boudia’s story recounts times he was looking for satisfaction in all the wrong things, and especially in Olympic glory. It was only when he found Christ that he found the right place for his hope. “I tried my utmost to find lasting satisfaction and joy in things that were never designed to provide them—in the creation rather than the Creator. I thought the Olympics and a gold medal were a surefire way for me to be happy for life. The result? Destruction, despair, and disillusionment. Fame is fleeting. Riches can vanish in an instant. Pursuing such temporary pleasures may provide some momentary joy, but not joy in its fullest as God designed his people to have it. True joy on earth and eternal joy in heaven are found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ.” Here he points to Titus 3:1–7, one of the New Testament’s great “but” passages where Paul describes who Christians once were and how they once lived before telling of the transformation they’ve undergone since salvation. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared…”

All I have is Christ. The final lesson is the one that summarizes all the others—his utter dependence upon Christ. He has come to rely fully on Christ for his hope but also for his joy, for his identity, for his worth, for his life, for his future. “You can take the gold medal away from me. You can take my health and my career. You can take my particular church. And as much as I love them, you can take my friends and my family. If all I have is Jesus, then Jesus is enough. It’s a scary thought, yes, but true. He is worth every sacrifice you may have to make. He is worth every struggle in this life you may have. The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). He is my only hope, and he is your only hope.”

Greater Than Gold is an interesting, meaty, and encouraging read. It’s one you may well enjoy.

How Petra Rocked My Soul
August 26, 2016

When I was a teen, I didn’t know much about Christian rock music, but I did know that it was for losers. Big losers. Big losers who were probably barely Christian at all. Those sad, sorry people listened to those sad, sorry bands playing their silly, shallow little ditties. But not me. No way.

My best friend became a loser right around age 14. I had hopped a Greyhound from Hamilton to the far side of Toronto to spend a weekend with Paul. We sat down to do what boys that age do—probably something destructive—and he popped a new tape into his stereo. “These guys are Christians.” I scoffed. “They’re called Petra. The album is Beyond Belief.” I laughed. What a weakling. It really was beyond belief. He and I used to listen to Duran Duran together. Bon Jovi. Guns N’ Roses. And now we were going to listen to this tripe? Come on. Plus they can’t actually be Christians. Not good Christians, anyway. They play electric guitar! They’ve got long hair, for pity’s sake!

Beyond BeliefI endured it for the weekend, though I’m sure I griped and complained all the while. Or maybe I played along—I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember that moments before I left for home I scrounged up a blank tape and copied just one song—just one song to take home to my friends so we could laugh together. I ended up with the first song on the second side: “Underground.” Then I went home.

Sure enough, I played it for my friends and we laughed. After all, we were Reformed and baptized and catechized—we didn’t need Christian rock. Christian rock was for Arminians or Pentecostals or Baptists—weaklings all of them. It certainly wasn’t for the likes of us.

I played it for some more friends. I played it for my family. I kept playing it until I realized I was playing it for me. This song was saying something to me. At some point I had started to hear the lyrics—to really hear them. I realized “Underground” was a song about professing Christ instead of denying him, of being bold instead of intimidated. That was strong, not weak. Was I willing to stand for Christ? Or was I a weakling? Uh oh.

“Mom! Can you take me to the Christian bookstore?”

I bought the album and listened to the rest of the songs. It started with “Armed and Dangerous,” a song about relying upon God, then went to “I Am on the Rock,” a proclamation of confidence in God. “Creed” was simply The Apostle’s Creed set to music, “Beyond Belief” was about current and future hope, while “Love” was an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. And that was just side 1. I listened to it until I wore it out. I listened to it on my ghetto blaster, in my parent’s minivan, on my awesome walkman—whenever and wherever I could. I listened until I knew every one of John’s words, every one of Louie’s beats, every one of Bob’s solos.

I listened until I became a Christian.* Late one night I caught a glimpse of the ugly depravity of my heart side by side with the heart-stopping holiness of God. (A night, as it happens, when I was also reading a Frank Peretti book, but that’s a story for another day.) I was undone. I was redone. I was reborn. All of that parenting and Bible-reading and sermonizing and catechizing had done its work in me, but somehow it was just waiting for one more thing—for news of the warm and personal relationship with God that Petra kept singing about. It was as if their music was saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you’ve memorized the catechism, I know you go to church, I know you read your Bible. That’s all great. Way to go! But do you know Christ? Do you love him? Will you live for him?” I realized that I didn’t really know him, that I didn’t really love him. I resolved that I would live for him. I resolved to God and the four walls that I would live for him for the rest of my days. And on that night I began a whole new life. Petra had rocked me out of my self-sufficiency, out of my complacency, out of my depravity. Petra had rocked my soul.

*Or maybe I already was a Christian but it was here I determined that I would take my faith seriously and live like a Christian—I’ve never been too clear on that. I do intend to ask the Lord some day.

Petra fans: Remember this epic video for “Beyond Belief?” It was, of course, excerpted from the hour-long movie they created. Also, you purists, don’t bug me about using the “Petra Praise” photo for this article instead of the “Beyond Belief” photo. It proved remarkably difficult to find big, reasonable-quality photos from so long ago. Here, just watch this video of the 2015 “Beyond Belief” reunion and leave me alone.

The Bestsellers
August 25, 2016

I do believe that today’s entry in this series I’ve called “The Bestsellers” will be the final one for a time. “The Bestsellers,” as you know, takes a brief look at Christian books that have sold at least 1 million copies. I have now written about the majority of the books that fit the criteria and intend to circle back as more titles make the list. But before this hiatus, I want to provide an overview of one of the books that is conspicuous by its absence. After all, it is one of the very few that has exceeded not just 1 million copies sold, but 10 million (a feat matched by only 6 others, all of which I’ve covered in this series: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, Heaven Is For Real, Jesus Calling, and The Five Love Languages). It is Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic More Than a Carpenter.

More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell

Joslin McDowell was born in Union City, Michigan in 1939. He had a turbulent, traumatic, and abusive childhood and departed for college a convinced agnostic. However, he was soon challenged with Christianity’s claims and, as he examined them, became convinced of the reliability and truthfulness of the Christian faith. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. While he had planned to go to law school, his conversion reoriented his life, and he attended Wheaton College and then Talbot Theological Seminary, finishing with a Master of Divinity degree.

More Than a CarpenterIn 1961 McDowell joined the Campus Crusade team but soon began his own Josh McDowell Ministry as a ministry under Campus Crusade. Before long he was traveling the world as an apologist, speaking primarily to college students. In 1972 he published his first book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (which would sell over 1 million copies and which Christianity Today would later place 13th in their list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”). In it he made a case for the Christian faith by accumulating evidence based on manuscripts, fulfillment of prophecy, evidence of the resurrection, and so on. He followed it in 1977 with More Than A Carpenter.

Part biography and part apologetic, More Than a Carpenter begins and ends with McDowell’s own story of going from skepticism to faith. The table of contents lays out his evangelistic technique while also displaying a classically modern approach to addressing questions of the faith: 1) My Story 2) What Makes Jesus So Different? 3) Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? 4) What About Science? 5) Are the Bible Records Reliable? 6) Who Would Die For a Lie? 7) What Good Is a Dead Messiah? 8) Did You Hear What Happened to Saul? 9) Can You Keep a Good Man Down? 10) Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up? 11) Isn’t There Some Other Way? 12) He Changed My Life. The book is short at just 128 pages and carefully prepared to appeal to a wide and general audience. It is just the kind of book many Christians eagerly handed their skeptical or unbelieving friends in the hope they would read it and be convinced.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Like Evidence That Demands a Verdict before it, More Than a Carpenter, was an immediate and long-lasting success. Unfortunately, its release predates the time when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was maintaining records, so all I have learned about sales is that in 2013 it was awarded the Diamond Book Award for exceeding 10 million copies sold. The cover of the most recent (third) edition says it has now sold more than 15 million copies while McDowell’s website claims that 30 million copies have been distributed. I take that to mean that many copies have been given away freely.

More Than a Carpenter is a classically modernist approach to apologetics and it is clear that it played a significant role in its time. Many people were persuaded by its arguments and count the book as one of the reasons they professed faith in Christ. It raised McDowell’s status in the Christian world and gave him the opportunity to travel widely and speak to millions, pleading with them to answer the simple question, “Who is Jesus?” In its success it played a key role in popularizing what is known as the “classical” or “evidentialist” approach to apologetics. It was also just the kind of work that postmodern Christians and opponents of Christianity loved to hate, mocking it for laying out so straightforward a path from evidence to profession.

The book underwent a significant revision in 2009 when, joined by his son Sean, McDowell updated some content to reflect questions raised by the New Atheists. It currently has 540 reviews on Amazon where it averages 4.5 stars.

Since the Award

McDowell continues to write and continues to focus on apologetics as indicated by the titles of some of his most recent works: Evidence for the Resurrection (2009), The Unshakable Truth (2010), and Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011). Sean, also a graduate of Talbot and later of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps in many ways and has joined him in several key writing projects.

Sean and Josh McDowell

A Personal Perspective

I first encountered McDowell through Christian music. In the 80s and 90s he was often associated with Christian acts, sometimes traveling with them to deliver a mid-concert devotional. His Why Wait? campaign (based on his 1987 book by the same title) was popularized by his association with a selection of Christian bands. In this video, for example, he introduces a song by Petra (always and forever my favorite band of the era):

At least in my life, that was how I encountered him and how I still know him—as the guy in the sweater who gets to hang out with the greatest Christian bands in the greatest (or was it the worst?) era of Christian music.

One Very Good Reason to Read Your Bible
August 24, 2016

There are some proverbs that practically beg for personal application. Proverbs 3:27 is one of them: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” That little maxim resonates in a hundred other passages including, of course, the Golden Rule and the second Great Commandment: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Taken together, they reinforce the Bible’s clear emphasis on doing good to others, on living in such a way that we are constantly focused on how we can be a blessing to the people in our lives.

I thought of this proverb recently as I pondered personal devotions. I had been speaking to people who were struggling with their devotions, who were sporadic at their best and plain uninterested at their worst. Some had tried and failed, tried again and failed again, tried a third time and thrown in the towel. Others (by their own assessment) had grown lazy or weary, first skipping a day here and there, then skipping a week, then a month. And it was in this context that this little proverb came to my mind: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

One of the great benefits of having access to the Bible and to private spaces is that we have all we need to engage in this time of daily devotion. We can easily find a time and space to read the Bible, to ponder it, and to pray. But maybe this individual practice has spawned an individual spirit. Maybe we see devotions as something we do first for ourselves. In that way it is easy enough to let the practice go, like skipping a meal or missing that workout at the gym. It isn’t hard to take a pass if I’m the only one bearing the consequences.

But the benefit of personal devotions goes far beyond self. The benefit of knowledge of God and intimacy with God extends to your family, to your neighbors, to your church. If you can’t or won’t do devotions for your own sake, won’t you do it for the sake of others? Won’t you do it for their good, even if not for your own?

Husband or wife, make your personal devotions an expression of love for your spouse. Do it for his or her sake. You express love for your spouse when you draw close to God because your love for God will overflow into love for your spouse. You express love for your spouse when you realize your deep sinfulness and, therefore, your deep need for divine correction and instruction. You love your spouse best when you love God best.

Mom or dad, do your personal devotions for the sake of your children. Not reading and not praying is simply not loving. It is in your power to do good to your children by spending time with the Lord, for that time will grow you in mercy and patience and respect and a hundred other parenting virtues. You fail to show your children love when you fail to do them this good.

Christian, do your personal devotions for the sake of your neighbors. Your intimacy with God will generate in you a desire to see your neighbors enjoy the same intimacy. Are you lukewarm in your evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the state of their souls? Your apathy toward God is expressing itself in apathy toward your neighbor.

Church member, do your personal devotions for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Read the Word and speak to God so you can draw closer to God, so you can grow in conformity to Christ. Grow in knowledge to help protect your church from error, grow in character to help protect your church from ungodliness, grow in holiness to help protect your church from yourself and your own sin.

One of the great dangers in the Christian life is living first for self. One of the associated dangers, then, is seeing personal devotion as a practice that goes no further than my own mind, my own heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Your intimacy with God, your knowledge of God, your time with God, works its way outward to everyone around you. The good you can do them every day is the good of spending time with God.

Take a Course with R.C. and Me
August 23, 2016

This fall I am going to be taking a course taught by R.C. Sproul—a brand new course based on his most recent teaching series, “Justified by Faith Alone.” Even better, I’ll be moderating the course so you can take it with me, for free! With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation fast approaching, there is no better time to ensure you have a solid understanding of this key doctrine. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is no better guide to it than Dr. Sproul. To be clear, this is not vintage R.C. Sproul, but a brand new course he recently created and recorded. In it he explores the biblical, theological, and historical significance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

How It Works

The course will run for 8 weeks, beginning September 6 and continuing until November 1 (which, of course, ties in nicely with Reformation Day). The format is ultra simple: Each week you will watch a video, take a brief quiz to test your learning, and, if you like, engage in discussions with other people who are taking the course. You’ll also be able to ask questions and vote on other people’s questions to determine which will be addressed during the optional Google Hangouts.

Let me tell you about these video-based Hangouts. I will be hosting them weekly on Tuesdays from 5:30–6:00 pm ET. You’ll be able to watch and then jump in to ask questions. This will be a time to talk about what we’ve learned and to answer questions about it. Even better, every other week I will be joined by an expert on theology or church history to answer your questions and to dive deeper into that week’s topic.

Want to know a little bit more about the course? Here goes:

Faith alone is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The doctrine of justification by faith alone is at the center of Reformation theology, and remains critical for all believers today. This doctrine is continually under assault, yet without it, there is no gospel. In this course, Dr. Sproul explores the doctrine of justification historically, theologically, and biblically. He carefully defines each term in the phrase “justification by faith alone” while pointing to the imputation of a perfect righteousness found only in Jesus Christ.

And here is the course schedule:

  • Preview Week (Aug. 29–Sep. 4): “A Doctrine for Today”
  • Week 1 (Sep. 5–11): “Martin Luther”
  • Week 2 (Sep. 12–18): “The Ninety-Five Theses”
  • Week 3 (Sep. 19–25): “The Roman Catholic View”
  • Week 4 (Sep. 26–Oct. 2): “Defining Our Terms”
  • Week 5 (Oct. 3–9): “By Faith Alone”
  • Week 6 (Oct. 10–16): “Paul’s Letter to the Romans”
  • Week 7 (Oct. 17–23): “The Consequences of Justification”
  • Week 8 (Oct. 24–30): “Paul vs. James?”

Getting Started

Enrollment is open right now at connect.ligonier.org. You can access the course, preview the learning path, and, of course, register. Access to the course material will open on August 29 with a preview week titled “A Doctrine for Today.” The course will officially begin on Tuesday, September 6 when I host the first Hangout.

We have even arranged a nice little bonus for you: Everyone who completes the course will receive a hard copy of R.C. Sproul’s excellent book The Truth of the Cross. That will be sent your way once the course is complete.

I’d love for you to join in and take “Justified by Faith Alone” with me. Again, it is completely free and requires just an hour or two per week between now and November 1. I think you will find it both challenging and edifying. Why not take it with your spouse, with your family, with your small group? Get creative and get learning!

Click here to get started.

August 21, 2016

One of the great joys of running this blog is receiving letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those letters this week concerned Adam Ford’s guest article Some Things You Should Know About Christians Who Struggle With Anxiety. I have chosen to print only letters related to that subject. I hope you find them both interesting and thought-provoking.

I have a 17 year old daughter who also has Generalised and Social Anxiety disorders. I found this article a remarkable inside view to living with anxiety and I really value that insight. The one thing I would have appreciated Adam’s perspective on is the use of medication to treat anxiety (perhaps this would be a great follow up article). I think there is a huge misconception amongst Christians that using medicine to treat disorders such as anxiety or depression is a cop-out. Many think that Christians should be leaning on God and faith to overcome these disorders. This misconception does not acknowledge the severity of living with anxiety. We don’t think twice about taking medicine for diabetes or asthma, so why is there still a resistance to treating anxiety and depression medically?
—Joan C, Johannesburg, South Africa

***

The topic of anxiety, panic attacks, etc is a persistent one and also controversial. Our thoughts are quite opposite to the views expressed in the article. True physiological problems are able to be diagnosed by laboratory tests. There are no blood tests, urinalysis, or internal scope which are routinely used to diagnose the ailments mentioned in the article. Rather a set of observable behaviors and attitudes are used to determine them. Sadly, these diagnostic lists are very subjective and the behaviors are easily faked by clever individuals. We have known of this happening.

Various family members & friends have experienced anxiety, depression, panic attacks or such episodes. Those who are Christians acknowledged that at the outset for them it truly was a spiritual matter. Their desire to be in control of their situations over-rode their desire to depend on God’s best and His provision. When medication was prescribed, there was a change in actions, but at times the behavior changed at will, too. It was disturbing to read a Christian site, and for another to confirm by sharing the article to a wider audience, that lack of trust in God and His provision for His people is not a spiritual matter. From the beginning God declared it to be so and there is nothing to indicate He has changed His mind.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. God bless you
—Ruth M, Gorham, ME

***

Tim, I am thankful for your blog and the wealth of biblical wisdom it provides. I had a heart to respond and share my journey with anxiety. I hope it brings encouragement. Thank you Adam for bravely sharing your story about your struggles with Anxiety. Unlike you, I have always been an introvert and had struggled with anxiety since childhood. Anxiety has run all through my family on both sides for generations. I do not normally write a reply to a blog, but as I read your story, my heart ached for you. I could not resist to share my story of God’s deliverance from a period of time when my fear became overwhelming, just as you described. My desire is to bring you hope and encouragement that there is freedom from this prison of fear.

As I share my experience, let me start by saying that I hope that any part of my story does not sound as though I am an expert or that I have all the answers, I don’t. I only boast in Jesus Christ who graciously set me free from this bondage. Like most people, as you mentioned, I kept this anxiety to myself. I was the “good” girl, the “strong” Christian, a Pharisee at heart. I falsely believed that I had to hold everything and everyone all together, including myself. I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home. At some point in my early childhood, a lie was planted deep into my heart. After doing something wrong, my father whom I greatly cherished, told me that I would be sent to an orphanage if I continued to be bad. I was also taught that God kept a record of wrongs and to be careful not to get 3 black X’s in the sky. This created a very fear based relationship with my earthly father and God my Father.

After receiving Christ as my Savior as a teenager, I still struggled with fear and rejection. After being baptized as a young adult, I was chosen to share my testimony which included struggling with social anxiety. But it was not until many years later, with two teens of my own, when severe trials and suffering hit our family. It was then that I experienced my first panic attack. I was not only being attacked by panic, but all my hopes and dreams for the Christian family I envisioned, was being destroyed. It was a huge dark battle. I don’t think I shared my panic attacks with anyone. My husband knew I was struggling, yet even with him, I did not fully disclose the severity. Like you described, your whole world gets turned upside down. Simple pleasures such as driving, shopping, eating (which includes fear in swallowing and choking), taking a bath, walking in a crowd of people, traveling to new places, even breathing, all became an overwhelming scary burden.

Looking back, I do believe that a big part of this trial was to prove my faith genuine and to lead me to full assurance in Christ. (1 Peter1:6-7) To root out the lies of my heart and bring true healing and freedom. During that time of fear, I could not sense God’s presence, but I do believe now, that He was closer than I ever realized. I believe the Spirit was bringing me out of my bondage to fear and leading me to receive the Spirit of Adoption where I now cry “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15).

Today I have confidence knowing that God first loved me. I no longer I am trying to earn his favor(slavery), live in fear of being sent to an orphanage (rejection), or that He will disown me by getting three black X’s in the sky (performance). The love of Christ has cast out my bondage to fear (1 John 4:17-19).

During my battle, I desperately clung to God’s Word and cried out in prayer for God’s mercy. I also read some books such as Anxious for Nothing by John Mac Arthur and Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick that were great resources to help me renew my wrong thinking. I think most of my fear was initiated in my mind by wrong thinking and self focus. By grace, I learned to take every wrong thought captive and focus on God’s attributes, meditate on His Truth, and behold the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I gradually was set free and have not had a panic attack for a long time now.

More recently, I have grown to love Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. His sermon on “A Spirit of Bondage” (John 3:8) and “Freedom from Fear” (Romans 8:15) now help me to better understand the many different aspects of fear in the believer as well as the unbeliever. MLJ says that godly men such as Augustine, Whitfield, and Luther struggled with this very thing. How encouraging! Once set free, look at the impact they have had on so many for the Kingdom of God. I believe the same for you.

(Just a sidenote…Since that dark time, God has been restoring our broken family. shortly before my father’s passing he told me that he became born again, my mother rededicated her life to the Lord, my daughter who was missing for weeks was blessed with a son (our first grand baby). God is so gracious, loving, and merciful. May He continue to write our story for His glory.)
—Barbara P, Orange, CA

***

I just wanted to thank you for posting this article, but most especially to Adam for having the courage to write it. My wife has been struggling with debilitating anxiety for several years now. We don’t understand it, why it is happening, nor how to help others understand. Reading Adam’s words was like watching my wife and our life together. Most days I donst get it, but Adam has given her words she has not been able to express to me and so many others around us. I am humbled as a result. Sincerest thanks from the bottoms of our hearts.
—Sean F, Reading, PA

***

Thank you for your openness. I do understand that the purpose of writing this piece was to give people a window into anxiety disorder. It was helpful for that. But it did seem to give the impression that it was completely physiological and therefore not something God was able to change. First of all, God can change the physiological. And also, a disorder like this involves the spiritual and emotional, the whole person. God is at work in all of these areas. Are you able to write a follow up article describing how the gospel has worked in your life to change you? How you have been able to overcome aspects of this disorder to get outside yourself, and serve others?
—Jeremy P, Middleboro, MA

***

I appreciate the author’s perspective, his sense of humor, honesty, affirmation of the power of the gospel within this situation. Nonetheless, the story also seemed to beg the question: why the change? what happened to begin this anxiety disorder?
—Steven I, Three Hills, AB