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Christian Living

December 09, 2013

It may be one of the most difficult imperatives in all of the Bible: “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). This verse assures us there are times we ought to be angry, but with one all-important caveat: we must not sin in our anger. Any honest person will need to acknowledge the sheer difficulty in doing this. Anger comes easily; righteous anger does not.

In his book Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones offers help. He gives three distinguishing marks of righteous anger.

Actual Sin

The first mark of righteous anger is that it reacts against actual sin. It arises from an accurate perception of what is actually evil. The Shorter Catechism helpfully summarizes sin as any “want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” This is what ought to arouse our anger.

This means that for anger to be righteous, it cannot arise in response to a violation of my preferences. It cannot arise because I have been inconvenienced or I feel that my rights and freedoms have been trampled upon. Righteous anger reacts against what is really sin.

I love it when Aileen greets me when I get home from work. It makes me feel good because it makes me feel loved. But here’s the thing: Running to the front door to greet me isn’t always the first thing on her list of priorities. She gets busy with life, and often when I get home there is no welcoming committee with signs and balloons and a brass band. It’s right in this moment that I can find myself getting angry. I don’t blow up and yell and scream and throw my computer bag across the room. Instead, I sulk. I get angry, but try to pretty it up by letting it be that brooding anger instead of that explosive anger. When Aileen does see me and does come to give me that hug, I tighten up or move away. Now I don’t want anything to do with her.

Has she sinned? Did she sin against God? Of course not. She hasn’t sinned, she just hasn’t accounted for one of my petty preferences. In that moment, I am making a moral judgment as if I am God, as if I am the one who makes the rules that govern this world. Aileen has not conformed to the law of Tim, and this is the source of my displeasure. I’ve elevated myself to God’s place so that against me, me only, has she sinned, and done what is evil in my sight.

December 05, 2013

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.

Gossip #1: The Spy

The first kind of gossip, and I know you’ve run across this person before, is The Spy. Solomon describes him in Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” The Spy is an informer, a person who gathers secrets so he can use them to his personal advantage. This is the person who is always listening for rumors and who always seems to know everyone else’s business. His ear is always to the ground. The Spy’s main motivation is power. It may be the thrill of knowing something before everyone else, or it may be the power that comes when threatening others by revealing their secrets. He uses information to elevate himself and to destroy others.

Gossip #2: The Grumbler

The second gossip is The Grumbler and we find him in Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” The Grumbler complains and criticizes. She criticizes other people and complains about them behind their backs. She spreads all their secrets, describes exactly how she feels about them, and then excuses it all by saying, “I just needed to vent for a while.” Because she is miserable, and because misery loves company, she drags other people into her grumbling. Her motive is often jealously or envy. She wants what another person has and grumbles because she does not have it herself.

Gossip #3: The Backstabber

We all know The Backstabber, don’t we? The Backstabber is a complainer, but he is more than that. He is also angry and malicious and is out destroy others. He may bring full-out lies in order to bring down another person, or he may engage in a smear campaign. He looks for something, anything, everything wrong with his enemies and makes sure everyone knows about those things; if he can’t find them, he makes them up. The Backstabber is often motivated by revenge for some deep offense, some opportunity lost, or some hardship gained. This offense or perceived offense has led to bitterness which has taken root and motivated this desire for revenge. Today, many of these people begin web sites and do their work as loudly and publicly as possible.

December 04, 2013

At one time or another, most of us witnessed the devastation that comes through infidelity in marriage. We have seen marriages stretched almost to the breaking point and we have seen marriages destroyed by an unfaithful husband or unfaithful wife.

Affairs do not begin with sex. Falling into bed with a man who is not your husband or a woman who is not your wife is simply one step in a long chain of events, one decision in a long series of poor decisions.

Last weekend I teamed up with Denny Burk to speak at a conference about sex and its cultural counterfeits. Denny preached a powerful message about the blessing and importance of sexual intimacy within marriage and as he did so, he referred to one of his favorite preachers, Tommy Nelson, who provides 6 “e’s” to describe the “ease” with which people fall into extra-marital affairs. They are worth considering. (Note: I am writing from the perspective of a man, but this as easily applies to women.)

1) Eliminate

Affairs do not begin when you experience sexual intimacy with someone who is not your spouse. An affair begins much farther back, when you begin to eliminate intimacy in your marriage. This is not only the intimacy of sex, but the intimacy that comes by dating, by long face-to-face conversations, and by physical affection. Instead of pursuing your wife, you grow hard and complacent. The joy fades, the discontentment rises.

2) Encounter

As you eliminate the intimacy in your own marriage you will inevitably encounter someone else who is attractive to you. She may be physically attractive, she may be attractive in character, she may be attractive in seeming to provide what your wife is lacking. Regardless of the specifics, there will be something about her that will draw you and promise to offer the very things you are missing in your own marriage.

3) Enjoy

After that encounter, you will find that you soon begin to enjoy your relationship with that other woman. Your enjoyment of this woman allows her to move into the emotional space formerly reserved for your wife. It is here that the wise man will immediately identify the danger and back away. Yet the enjoyment is pleasurable, of course, and too many men neglect to take the wise and godly course of action.

November 22, 2013

Greatness awaits. Two men don their armor and swing their weapons, a giant battle axe against two short swords. The axe falls and the battle is over. Two men race their sports cars through the countryside, mountains rising up on both sides as they jockey for position. One car aggressively bumps the other so it hits the guard rail and overturns in a shower of sparks. Greatness awaits. Two men lead their futuristic armies as they wage a bloody war to defend or overthrow a city. They march bravely through the noise, the confusion, the blood. Greatness awaits.

Greatness awaits. Greatness is there for the taking, if only you’ll reach out and take hold of it. This is the promise of Sony’s campaign for the new PlayStation 4 gaming console. It is the theme of their marketing, the challenge of a commercial that has been viewed on YouTube almost 12 million times and many more times in other media. The commercial and campaign have been received with great enthusiasm. Men get it. They want it. They respond to it.

Greatness

We hear a lot of complaints today about men and their video games. We know now that the average gamer is not a thirteen-year-old boy burning up those hours between getting home from school and eating dinner with his family (though certainly teenage boys do love their games). There has been a massive demographic shift so that today the average gamer is a man in his twenties or thirties who owns a $1,000 widescreen television, plugs in his $400 console, loads it up with $70 games, and regards gaming as his hobby.

I have often wondered why it is that men are so drawn to video games. What is it in the male consciousness that responds to these games and keeps going back for more? I think Sony may have captured it in this brilliant campaign: Greatness awaits.

Most of us live very ordinary lives, lives that are consumed with far more drudgery than excitement. Even the most interesting jobs involve endless amounts of maintenance and paperwork. We know we are doing the right thing, the good thing, when we go to the office and put in our hours and have a salary deposited into our bank accounts every couple of weeks. It is the right thing to do, but it’s all so humdrum.

Video games offer the action and adrenaline missing from our lives. But even more significantly, video games offer the allure of accomplishment, the allure of greatness. We don’t play games to lose, but to win. We don’t play to be the vanquished but the vanquisher. We play to triumph, to conquer, to overthrow and overcome, to do the things that are so far outside our experience of life. Our nerves grow taut, our palms sweat, our hearts beat faster. In a column at Family Studies, Amber Lapp says games offer “an ‘escape’—as one 23-year-old unmarried father put it—from the duties and drudgeries of reality.”

November 18, 2013

There are some subjects in the Christian world we probably talk about too much and some we may talk about too little. Over time, I think we swing back and forth, often overcorrecting. In my experience money has been one of those subjects we sometimes over-emphasize and at other times almost forget altogether.

I have benefited tremendously from frank, Bible-based discussions on how Christians are to use their money. I have modeled my use of money after people who spoke to me, or who wrote candidly, about their own use of money. As far as I can discern they did not do this in order to boast, but in order to lead and disciple. Their practical counsel has shaped my understanding of the right use of money at least as much as any sermons I’ve heard.

Someone once drew my attention to four questions to ask when I am about to make a purchase—any purchase. Looking back, I can see how much better I am at managing money when I keep questions like these in mind (which, I believe, were first posed by John Wesley).

1. In spending this money, am I acting as if I own it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee? I need to have a constant awareness that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). God owns everything in this world, and that includes both me and my money. I am not the owner of my money, but a mere steward or trustee. I am given money so I can use it on God’s behalf. When I face my next purchase, I need to ask myself whether I am acting as if I own my money, or whether I am aware that this is God’s money. This question alone may make all the difference between a good purchase and a foolish one.

2. What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way? The Bible gives guidance on the way I am to use my money and I need to keep a careful watch on myself to ensure I am using it that way. Money is to be used to support myself and my family, to support local church ministry, to bring relief to the poor, and many other noble ends. I tend to look for the cracks and the wiggle room that will give me license to use my money in any way I want. I believe we are permitted to spend a portion of our money on gifts and rest and enjoying the good things of this world, so this question does not remove all fun in life! But this question does ensure I am using my money in a balanced and biblical way.

November 06, 2013

QuestionA reader of this site recently asked me this question: Is all sin equal in God’s eyes? It is a common question and the answer is of the variety that is always a little bit unsatisfying: It is one of those “yes and no” answers.

There is a sense in which all sin is the same. Every sin is an act of rebellion against God. Any sin, no matter whether it is an angry thought or outright murder, is a declaration of independence from God, a means of saying, “I am going to do this my way instead of your way. I choose my will rather than your will.” In that sense every sin is sufficient to justify an eternity of separation from God. Every sin grieves God and arouses his just wrath. God hates sin because his very nature is contrary to sin. This is not God being mean or arbitrary, but God simply giving us the wages due to our rebellion.

However, it is equally correct to express that some sins are more serious than others. Certain sins are more significant than others because the consequences are more significant. We observe this in the New Testament, in Paul’s description of sin in Romans 1. Here we see the progression of sin so that as people are given over to their sin and rebellion, they progress into sin that is more and more serious. We also see this displayed in the laws of the Old Testament where, for example, the consequence for theft is not as grave as the consequence for murder. There are degrees of punishment for various sexual sins so that some are punished with a fine, some are punished by banishment and some are punished by death. Each is sin, but each is judged to be more or less serious; the punishment accords with the crime. Of course we see it today as well, reflected in our civil laws and reflected in our parenting and church discipline and every other area where laws exist.

Is all sin equal in God’s eyes? Yes and no. All sin is equal in causing us to be separated from God, but some sins are more significant because they bring about more serious consequences.

Allow me one word of caution. The fact that some sins are judged to be more serious than others must not give us license to evaluate our actions on the basis of whether a certain act is a little sin or a big sin. We are commanded to be perfect in the face of all sin and with the Holy Spirit living within us, we never have to sin. And, as Spurgeon warns, the big sins begin with the little sins: “Oh! take heed of those small beginnings of sin. Beginnings of sin are like the letting out of water: first, there is an ooze; then a drip; then a slender stream; then a vein of water; and then, at last, a flood: and a rampart is swept before it, a continent is drowned. Take heed of small beginnings, for they lead to worse.”

October 30, 2013

With the entrance of sin into the world and into our hearts, we have gained some remarkable (and remarkably sad) abilities. One of those newfound abilities is the capacity to lose our wonder, to grow cold to even the most beautiful things. Things that once inspired us, that once moved us, that caused us to marvel or to cry out in praise—even these things can grow stale over time; even these things can become old. One of the great joys and great promises of eternity is that in heaven we will never lose our wonder but will, to the contrary, enjoy ever-increasing wonder and ever-increasing joy. What moves us today will move us even more tomorrow and what causes us to marvel tomorrow will bring even greater wonder in the future. C.S. Lewis captures just a little bit of this in the closing sentences of his Narnia chronicles:

And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

“Every chapter is better than the one before.” If only that were true here and now. It should be, but it is not.

Just recently I realized that I had somehow lost much of the joy in one of life’s great pleasures.

I have had the experience a few times. I have walked into a building—a church or a school or a community center where a group of Christians meets—and I have heard distant singing. I’ve gone to investigate, walking quietly toward the sound, trying to track it down. And as I wandered the halls, I eventually found a gathering of Christians, expressing praise to God through song.

October 14, 2013

Every guy has received a warning about “the second glance.” Here’s how it works: When you see an attractive woman, you are morally responsible for the second glance, not the first. Because you cannot help seeing what is there in front of you, the second glance is the one where you will display sin or virtue. It is here that you make the moral choice—the choice to lust or the choice to direct your eyes and your thoughts to something that honors God.

I have never been completely comfortable with the second glance logic. More on that in a moment, but first we need to see that this is not only a guy thing.

Women can have the same issue or one that is very closely related. For some women the issue is identical—looking with lust. For others it may be something else, such as alighting your eyes on someone who doesn’t fit in and then allowing yourself condescending thoughts about her. It may be thinking unkind thoughts about the immodest woman or the too-modest woman or the woman whose children are dressed so perfectly or so imperfectly. Whether you are a man or woman, you will be tempted at times to allow your eyes to direct you to people who will then take your thoughts in unholy directions. It is a universal problem.

Back to the question: Is it only the second glance that counts? Yes and no.

October 09, 2013

If I had any doubt about the potential evils of the Internet, they were permanently erased when I wrote a book about pornography, and followed it with one on life and faith after the digital explosion. In the aftermath I received email after email describing what pornography and other online dangers had done to individuals and to families. Since I have traveled around speaking on the subject of technology, I’ve learned even more about just how harmful it can be to allow children or teenagers free reign when it comes to their devices and their access to the Web. We are handing power tools to children and acting surprised when they get badly hurt.

My children are growing up fast—my son is 13 and my daughters are (almost) 11 and 7. They are asking for and in some cases even needing greater access to computers. Their friends are starting to get their first cell phones. My son just opened a Facebook account. Even my seven-year-old loves to write emails to her grandmother.

I am getting nervous. I know all the facts about what they may encounter out there, but have done too little to protect them.

I am about to strengthen my plan to protect my family. I thought it might be helpful to share this plan and this journey with you, both to get your feedback on it, and to allow you to see how it progresses. I intend to report back in a month or two to let you know what we have learned along the way.

Goals

I have four main goals:

Goal #1. I want to guard my children from seeing or experiencing what they don’t know exists. I want the innocent to remain innocent. In other words, I do not want my children to see pornography or to experience dangerous situations before I have been able to discuss these things with them. I have already had several of these discussions with my son, but not yet with my daughters. I believe this is a talk to have with them when they are old enough—probably around 11 or 12.

Goal #2. I want to prevent them from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists. I am under no illusion that they will never want to see what all the buzz is about  and what their friends will inevitably be discussing. So I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to access dangerous or pornographic material, even if they want to.

October 07, 2013

In some Christian traditions they are emphasized to the point of exhaustion; in others they are so diminished as to barely exist at all. Whatever we believe about the spiritual gifts, we at least need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit gives a great range of gifts to his people and that they are given to glorify God as we use them to serve one another (read 1 Corinthians 12).

Yet since we are sinful people, we can take even the good gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them as a means of discouragement. This can happen in at least two ways: when we envy the gifts given to others or when we assume that others should share our giftings. In his book Accidental Pharisees (which, incidentally, is currently $2.99 on Kindle), Larry Osborne refers to the first of these as gift envy and the second as gift projection.

Gift Envy

Whatever gifts I have been given, evangelism is definitely not among them. But I know people who have this gift. They are the ones whose hearts leap with excitement when they think about standing on a street corner and preaching to a crowd of strangers. They are the ones who have the ability to make every conversation a gospel opportunity and to do so without making it weird. They come to prayer meetings with a long list of people to pray for that they have met and evangelized in just the past week. They love to strike up conversations on planes or busses or wherever else they find a captive audience. They have met every person in the neighborhood and told them all about Jesus. They make it seem so easy.

I am not so gifted. My ideal flight is the one where the seat next to me remains empty so I can settle in with a good book. I am pretty sure I would pass out if I tried to do street preaching. When I attempt to steer a conversation toward the gospel, it always feels so unnatural. It’s not that I don’t want to do the work of an evangelist and not that I haven’t done it plenty of times in the past. It just comes with great difficulty and with little skill.

When I look at those friends who are greatly gifted in this way, I am tempted toward guilt and from guilt it is only a short step to envy. I hear them describe all the opportunities they had, they created, they took, and I feel my heart sink a little. I can begin to envy this gift, to wish I had it. Why shouldn’t I be gifted in this way? I want to reach the lost, I want to be a skilled evangelist, I want to share the gospel with friends, family and neighbors.

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