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Tim Challies

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Christian Living

March 24, 2010

This Sunday evening I will be driving out to Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge and will be talking to a group of young men. I’ve been asked to share with them some of what I discussed in my book Sexual Detox (which will eventually be available as a printed book, honest). Yesterday I began to think about what I would tell them, what I would challenge them with.

When discussing sexuality with young men, I feel a real burden to share with them the consequences of sexual sin and to compare that to the joy and freedom of obedience. And this, I think, is what I need to tell them on Sunday. Though their hearts and bodies are crying out for some kind of sexual fulfillment, some kind of false intimacy, they will ultimately find freedom in obedience to God.

This is a difficult concept to get our minds around. All around us we hear messages that we will find the greatest freedom in pursuing our deepest desires, whatever those desires may be. Recently I read the bestselling book Anticancer, written by David Servan-Schreiber. In this book he talks about the importance of a healthy immune system for battling against disease. He lists several factors that may cause an immune system to decrease rather than strengthen. And one of those factors is denying or ignoring one’s natural homosexuality. If you are homosexual, the best thing for your body and soul is to pursue your homosexuality. True freedom, he implies, freedom of both body and spirit, will be found in pursuing homosexuality; captivity will come by ignoring what he believes to be natural and good.

March 22, 2010

You know the words of Genesis 2:18. There God, having completed his work of Creation, having declared the excellence of all that he has made, says “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” It is useful to consider the context of the creation of Adam’s helper. God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone and that he had need of a helper. And yet he did not, at that moment, create such a helper and neither, as far as we know, did he say anything about this to Adam. Instead, he commanded Adam to name the animals. And he was obviously not just to name them, but to consider and evaluate each one. And as he did so, he must have realized that none of them were like him—none bore the image of God. An ache of loneliness must have developed within as he studied and pondered and realized that he was so much different from each of them. And there, in that context, God caused Adam to fall asleep and from his own body created a woman. And when Adam opened his eyes it is no wonder that he burst into praise. He looked upon this woman and saw at last his companion, his helper, and he cried out

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

It was after coming to an understanding of his loneliness, his incompleteness, that Adam was able to offer God heartfelt praise for such great provision. Having experienced loneliness even in perfection, he knew the greatness of his gift.

March 18, 2010

Yesterday I received an email from a reader of this site and today I’d like to answer it (with the permission of the person who sent it). Here is what he wrote:

Thank you so much for your booklet, “Sexual Detox.” I have read it over and over, and am still very much challenged by it. I was recently married and was under the illusion that marriage would solve all of my lust problems… Even though I had been told numerous times that it would not. Now I feel that everything has come to head, I know what I must do, and I want so very badly to do it, but I feel that the devil knows this is THE deciding point in my life on this issue, and he is working hard against me. I feel more captivated and strangled by my sin than ever before, and I need you to pray for me. If you have any advice or encouragement to offer, please tell me.

Thanks for sending this note. It sounds to me like you are absolutely right when say that this is a deciding point in your life on the issue of lust and the acting out of that lust. Satan will be working hard against you and, in many ways, you will be working hard against yourself. You gave yourself over to your sin and no doubt you’ve become captivated by it. As sin always seeks to do, it has ensnared you. But take heart. There is hope.

To reiterate what I wrote in Sexual Detox, the fact that you feel sexual desire is a good and noble thing. God has given you that desire so you will pursue your bride. But, like all good gifts, the gift of sex is one that we are prone to pervert, turning it into a means of selfish self-fulfillment. God wants you to pursue your wife, to win her heart not just once but day-by-day; and he wants you to enjoy sex with her. But, of course, you have grown used to indulging the flesh, to giving it its desires, those desires that are perversions of the true gift. And sin rarely just goes away; it is usually a long and difficult process to put it to death.

March 15, 2010

We don’t fully understand the Lord’s Supper. Yes, there is a lot we do know and understand about it; we know that it is a means of grace by which we are drawn closer together as a body of believers and, more importantly, drawn closer to the Savior whose death is signified in it. We know that the breaking of bread symbolizes the breaking of Christ’s body and the pouring of the wine symbolizes his blood being poured out for us; we know that through the act Christ symbolizes his love for us and the blessings he pours out upon us. And we know that our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of our dependence upon Christ, admitting as we take and eat that we need his blood and righteousness. It is clearly far more than the sum of its parts.

And yet what we don’t understand so well is how Christ nourishes us through Lord’s Supper. When Christ instituted it he said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Christ says that just as eating ordinary food nourishes and strengthens our body, so feeding upon Christ, in a figurative sense, will feed our souls. In this act we both symbolize our dependence upon this food and we experience that nourishment. Though we do not quite know how this happens, we know that we receive spiritual strength through it. And certainly just about any Christian can testify to the joy and strength and spiritual refreshment he has received through the Lord’s Supper. We cannot quantify it and yet neither can we (or would we want to) deny it.

March 11, 2010

I woke up this morning feeling just a bit discouraged. I guess there’s a fair bit of uncertainty in certain parts of life right now, the kind of uncertainty that tends to be on my mind late at night or early in the morning (or, worst of all, smack dab between the two). I’m facing a day in which I need to be sharp and creative; a day in which I’ve got to make some good progress on my book. That deadline is creeping closer and closer and I can’t afford to be complacent. And yet few things are more difficult than a day of concentration and creativity when faced by that discouragement. For some reason the thought of even trying to settle down to write today it is both terrifying and paralyzing.

When I got out of bed I found myself doing what I often do when discouraged—tidying the house. I don’t know why, but for some odd reason I find this therapeutic. So I prayed while I went, putting away the dishes in the rack, tidying up the kids’ toys in the basement, putting away the winter boots piled near the front door that, hopefully, we will not need again this year. I got breakfast ready for the kids, woke them up, got ready for the day and ushered them out the door to the school bus. I came up to my office and wrote a pretty good blog post which, with one errant touch on the wrong button, promptly disappeared, just like that. It’s been a long time since I made such a rookie mistake. This was probably not the best day for it.

Along the way, somewhere between tidying the house and making breakfast, I turned to the Bible, asking to find in it words of life.

March 08, 2010

As anyone knows who has studied the life of Jonathan Edwards, he dedicated a large portion of his ministry to thinking, writing and teaching about the freedom of the will. And, of course, he eventually published a classic work dealing with the subject. In writing the book he thought back to the days when revival had swept his church, his community and the area around it. And as he reflected on the individuals who had been swept up in the revival, or those who had made professions of faith in the years following, he became aware of a fundamental flaw in many of these professions. “Self-controlled individuals, as he had observed in his parishes for the past fifteen years, would acknowledge guilt for particular sins, but not guilt for their fundamentally rebellious hearts.”

Little has changed. I have met countless people who consider themselves Christians and who admit to sin in their lives and feel guilt and remorse for individual sins, but who seem unable or unwilling to admit the incontrovertible fact that their hearts are in rebellion against God. The Bible tells us in plain terms that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. And I don’t think we can overstate what a fundamental difference this is! We do not need to seek forgiveness merely for the sins we commit, but for our fundamentally evil and rebellious hearts—hearts that, in their natural state, hate God and are fully and completely and gleefully and willingly opposed to Him.

In his oh-so-good biography of Edwards, George Marsden summarizes Edwards’ assessment of this problem. “Guided by conscience, they saw particular sins as failures of will power, which might be overcome by exercising greater self-control.” When sin has been defined merely as individual acts of the will, it is possible for humans, even devoid of God’s help, to overcome those evil acts and deeds. An unbelieving man who explodes in anger or a woman who grumbles against her husband can overcome those sins in their own power. Unbelievers can throw off addiction and poor behavior through an act of the will. But they can never address the heart of the issue. While they may make cosmetic changes, they can never overcome the deeper issues because they can never change their hearts.

February 25, 2010

Aileen and I were once members of a church that, after a few years of existence, began to de-emphasize doctrine. Some of the pastors seemed to reach the conclusion that “doctrine divides” and that the church really just needed to focus on evangelism and on “action.” They seemed to determine that a sound theological foundation held in common was unattainable and unrealistic. Therefore, doctrine should be laid aside and the church should rally around the things we had in common—a desire to reach others with the gospel and a desire to serve other people. It was a bit of a naive strategy, of course, and one that was bound to cause problems.

February 23, 2010

In 2006, AOL made an epic misjudgment. As part of a research project headed by Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, AOL made available to the public a massive amount of search data, releasing the search history of 650,000 users over a 3-month period. That totaled some twenty one million searches. Before releasing the data they anonymized it, stripping away user names and replacing them with numbers. Yet because of the nature of the data, people very quickly linked real people to abstract numbers—a massive violation of privacy and confidentiality. Within days AOL realized its mistake and withdrew the data. But already it had been copied and posted elsewhere on the internet where today it lives on in infamy.

Some searches were dark and disturbing, others unremarkable in every way, and still others strangely amusing. Often you could reconstruct a person’s life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time. Consider this user:

February 17, 2010

Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace is one of those books that is worth reading slowly and meditatively, pausing often to reflect and journal. I rarely dwell too long on a single book, but because of the sheer quantity and quality of Bible-based teaching within this book, I felt compelled to read it slowly and meditatively. It was well worth the effort and the time spent.

One of the areas of that book that has impacted in my life came when I read about the importance of disciplining myself to make choices that glorify God. Bridges says that “the practice of putting off sinful attitudes and actions and putting on Christlike character involves a constant series of choices. We choose in every situation which direction we will go. It is through these choices that we develop Christlike habits of living.” I was intrigued by this. I soon thought back to a time a few years ago when I discovered, much to my surprise, that I excelled in the not-too-spiritual gift of discouragement. I realized, through God’s work in my heart, that I was often being a discouragement to other people. I tended towards the pessimistic and sarcastic and seldom sought to bring encouragement. And so I put some effort into cultivating a spirit of encouragement. I initially found this to be a difficult task. One would not think it difficult to be an encourager, but I found that it truly was difficult to reverse course. I would be encouraging for a short time but would soon slip back into old patterns. I continued to be a discourager.

One day it occurred to me that I was going to have to discipline myself to encourage others. And so I took the strange and seemingly-artificial step of calendaring time to encourage others. It sounds strange, I know, but I opened up my calendar and created a 5-minute appointment recurring every three days. The appointment simply said “Encourage!” And so, every third day, while I was hard at work, a little reminder would flash up on my screen. “Encourage!,” it said. And I would. I would take the opportunity to quickly phone a friend or dash off an email to someone I felt was in need of encouragement. This felt very artificial. I felt like a fraud as I, with a heart of discouragement, attempted to be an encouragement to others. But as time went on, it began to become quite natural. I soon found that I no longer felt the same spirit of discouragement within me. Encouragement slowly became more natural. What had begun as a discipline that felt artificial, soon became a habit that felt natural.

There was a lesson in there for me. I agree with Bridges who often says “discipline without direction is drudgery.” Had I disciplined myself to be encouraging without first being convicted by the Spirit of my sin, and I had I attempted to be an encourager without first setting a direction that honored God, I doubt that he would have blessed my efforts. But I believe that he did bless them. I can still be as discouraging as anyone I know, but I also think that discouragement is no longer as quick to arise as it was before. More and more I find that I tend towards encouragement rather that discouragement. After a couple of months I was able to remove the recurring appointment from my calendar. Since then I’ve sometimes had to add the appointment back to my calendar just to encourage me to once again encourage others, but it never takes all that much effort anymore to get myself back into the mindset of being an encourager.

Bridges writes, “Habits are developed by repetition, and it is in the arena of moral choices that we develop spiritual habit patterns.” I believe this was proven true in my experience. “It is through righteous actions that we develop holy character. Holiness of character, then, is developed one choice at a time as we choose to act righteously in each and every situation and circumstance we encounter during the day.” I think there are some who feel that discipline brings about holiness. These are men and women who are unbelievably disciplined. They get out of bed at the same time each day, spent 22 minutes praying and 17 minutes reading the Bible. They feel that this discipline leads them closer to God. But maybe it’s not quite so simple. It is not discipline or commitment or conviction that makes us holy. Rather, “we become more holy by obedience to the Word of God, by choosing to obey His will as revealed in the Scriptures in all the various circumstances of our lives.” Conviction, commitment and discipline are necessary to making the right choices, but true spiritual growth can come only when we choose to obey God’s commandments, one at a time.

Discipline, commitment, conviction and godly habits are closely related. It is important that we are disciplined, but only after we have been convicted and have set a direction towards godliness. At this time discipline and commitment can be used by God to work in us his holiness. Discipline is but a means to a much higher, more Christ-like end. It is a cruel master but a wonderful servant.

February 15, 2010

Today is Family Day here in Canada (or in Ontario at least—each province celebrates the day a little differently), so I’ll be mixing my time between work and hanging out with the family. A La Carte will return tomorrow. For now, here’s a short reflection on the nature of temptation.

In Bruce Walke’s Old Testament Theology he writes about man’s fall into sin and discusses the way Satan’s first temptation took shape. He suggests that this original act of temptation is an archetype of sorts. All of the temptation that would follow through the long line of human experience would mimic this one. Satan tempted the second human being in the same way he tempts the 20 billionth (or whatever I happen to be). It is not just Satan who works in this way, though, but all human beings. We are prone to following Satan in luring others into sin in the same way.

Here are five steps to leading another person into sin.

Be a theologian. There is little doubt that Satan is a theologian, and a skilled and outspoken one at that. He has had a very long time to study God and, as a leader among angels, once enjoyed free access to him and close communion with him. Satan knows God and knows about the character of God. But unlike the theologians we seek to be, Satan is a theologian who despises God with every bit of his being. When he turns to Eve and says, “Did God really say…?” he brings Eve into a dialogue that opens her mind to a new realm of possibility, one she would not have thought of on her own. He knows God well enough to know what God has said and done.

But there is more. Satan is not only a student of God but also of men. From the moment God first spoke of man, Satan must have been watching and observing. Knowing that man was the crown of creation, Satan was surely looking for an opening, a way to destroy this jewel. He became a student of the ways of men. As a theologian, a psychologist and an anthropologist, Satan has unique skill at leading men astray.

Turn commands into questions. Satan takes the command of God and rephrases it as a question. “Did God really say?” What was a clear statement suddenly becomes hazy. Posing as a theologian he asks, “Are you sure about this, or is this only Adam’s testimony as to what God said? Are you sure? How do you know? Is this really a command? Can we discuss this a little bit? Is it possible that you misinterpreted what God said? Is it possible that there is some context here we’ve ignored?” Waltke says, “Within the framework of faith, these questions are proper and necessary, but when they are designed to lead us away from the simplicity of childlike obedience, they are wrong.” And so we see Satan raising questions of interpretation and authority necessarily designed to create doubt and confusion and to lead away from the simplicity of a childlike obedience.

Emphasize prohibition over freedom. Satan carefully and deliberately distorts, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” into “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” He overlooks the great freedom God gave Adam and Eve and instead overstates the one prohibition. He gets Eve to focus on the prohibition rather than the gift and the freedom. Instead of focusing on the Tree of Life, from which she was free to eat, and on the millions of other trees available to her, Satan got her to focus her heart on that one tree from which she was not allowed to eat. And Eve began to focus not on what she had been given, but on what had been forbidden. And suddenly nothing but what was forbidden could satisfy her.

Doubt God’s sincerity and motives. Satan casts God’s motives as self-regard rather than love. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He convinces Eve that God is limiting her, that he is not giving her the full measure of humanity. He is holding back, reserving for himself things that she deserves to know and to experience. As Waltke says, we hear this message all around us today. “Be liberated! Be free! Self-actualize! Unleash your inner potential! The Serpent’s message even echoes in the church. Instead of sanctification, the church seeks self-improvement. Instead of holiness, the church seeks happiness.” When you hear such things, you can rest assured that the Serpent is once again at work seeking to convince you that you need to be something other than what you were created to be.

Deny what God says is true. In the final step, Satan flatly denies what is true. “You will not surely die.” The fruit of all of the doubt and the resentment is unbelief. If God’s words happen to hinder us from becoming what we want to be or from doing what we want to do, Satan convinces us that we can safely ignore them. In the church today many people de-emphasize sin because it may hinder the quest for self-actualization or it may make people feel guilty or damage their self-esteem. “Sadly many evangelical churches are in the process of buying into a guilt-free, pain-free, judgment-free gospel.”

In the face of such temptation, the woman yields to Satan’s denials and half-truths. “Having stripped Eve of her spiritual defenses, Satan’s work is done.” Without God, the decision will be made purely on the basis of pragmatism, of what works best to bring about the desired end, on the basis of aesthetics, of what is beautiful, and on the basis of self-improvement, of what will bring her supposed wisdom. It is only one short step from here to outright disobedience.

And so Satan works through questioning, doubt, focusing on what is forbidden and finally on outright denial of the truth. And Eve is only the first to be drawn in and to succumb to the temptation. Every one of us has fallen for the same old trap. If you think of your own life, I’m sure you will think of examples where this pattern was used against you, perhaps just in your own thoughts or perhaps in a book you have read (and there are many books in the bookstores, both Christian and non- where this same pattern is used). Satan’s first tactic worked so well that I don’t think he has ever felt it necessary to modify it too much. The shape of temptation has not changed.

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