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August 22, 2011

I mentioned a short time ago that my parents are committed readers of biography (which makes Christmas and birthday shopping really easy). A couple of years ago I bought them a copy of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning life of Harry Truman. My mother was particularly taken with the biography and its subject and I’ve since enjoyed hearing her reflections on Truman. I asked her if she would write some reflections and what follows is the result. I loved reading it and hope you will too!

McCullough TrumanTo my great surprise, I have come to heartily respect a New Deal Mason. And who is that? Harry Truman—someone I knew little about until I recently received the Truman biography by David McCullough. I am trying to learn more about American history, specifically the history of the twentieth century, so I took it on willingly. I became fascinated by this man almost immediately. Who doesn’t love to read the obscure beginnings of someone destined for fame, and try to understand the hows and whys of his life?

The golden thread that runs through Truman’s life, from first to last, is that of an honorable, incorruptible character. The tributes paid to his integrity would be unbelievable did they not come from so many people over such a long span of time. Here is a sampling, from everyone from his housemaid to Winston Churchill:

A fellow military officer from World War One said he was, “…one of the cleanest fellows morally that I ever saw or know….he was clean all the way through.”

Vietta Garr, a servant in the Truman home for many years said, “I never heard a squabble the entire time I was with them. I have never seen Mr. Truman angry.”

His long-term secretary said, “Never in all the years I worked for him did I ever see him lose his temper. He was always soft-spoken and very considerate to his staff.”

Winston Churchill called him a “man of exceptional character.”

And, from General Marshall, “The full stature of this man will only be proven by history. … It is not the courage of the decisions that will live, but the integrity of the man.”

When Dean Acheson, his final Secretary of State, asked him to speak at Yale, he said, “it is not what he says but what he is which is important to young men, and gets communicated.”

And, finally, Eric Sevareid looked back on Truman with these words, “…It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

And where did his noble bent of mind come from? From a mother who was unbending in her desire that he “be good”, and from extensive exposure to historical heroes and to the Bible–which he had read twice by the time he was twelve years old. Truman was by no means a Christian–rather, he was a committed Mason–but he loved the ethics of Scripture and tried his best to live by them. His respect for Scripture, as he understood it, was both deep and sincere. As with his great hero, Andrew Jackson, he kissed the Bible at both of his inauguration ceremonies.

July 05, 2011

One of the many gifts my parents bequeathed to me is a love of history. I have not seen my parents read many Christian living or spiritual growth books, but I have seen them read countless biographies and histories. One of my great joys is to buy them books for birthdays and Christmas (and any other occasion I can think of) and then to talk with them about what they’ve read. My mother recently read the new biography of John MacArthur and during our subsequent discussion I asked if she would consider writing down a few of her major takeaways. She was kind enough to do so. So what follows is written by my mother, Barbara Challies. Enjoy!

John MacArthur BiographyI read Iain Murray’s recent biography of John MacArthur after my husband received it as a gift. As my reading tends to be mostly about, and by, “dead white men,” I had little direct knowledge of MacArthur, who is still very much alive. I did, however, know him by reputation and held him in the highest regard for the wonderful consistency and forthrightness I heard of from others. So, when Tim asked me to write a brief response to Murray’s book, I did it gladly, but as a MacArthur neophyte.

I had expected to read of a man who loves God’s word with his whole heart and is determined to serve him with all biblical faithfulness. That is exactly what I did find. What I did not expect to find, and I am speaking with all honesty, is someone so very interesting. Why was I surprised? To be honest, I think it is because he is a nice-looking man with a nice-looking wife and children from a big church in California. I thought “they” were mass-marketed, with little appeal to this serious (ex-patriate) Canadian.

So what have I found interesting about this man? If you don’t mind, that is what I will deal with in a few brief paragraphs. I take for granted you are familiar with his excellent, biblically-based theology.

Insight = Bible + History

The first thing is the level of his insight. Love of the Bible and a love of church history—MacArthur has both—always make people insightful. They enable a bottom-line, “essence of the essence” judgment of issues that seems prophetic. In reality, it is the weighing of alternatives on a very finely balanced biblical-historical set of scales. What seems effortless is really the product of much reading and contemplation. MacArthur, as a very young man, was able to see and articulate the problem with the modern American church—easy believism and lack of holiness. When the charismatic movement began to become mainstream, he spoke out against it on the basis of the bedrock of “Scripture Alone,” and his knowledge of similar movements in the past which had harmed the church. He saw immediately that Scripture and experience could not stand as fellow conduits to knowing God. One must engulf the other. Similarly, with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, MacArthur quickly grasped that the essential question—What is a Christian in the first place?—was left unaddressed. The essence of his understanding of each of these issues is so simple that it is easy to underestimate the complete clarity needed to reach them. Again, I will say it is the cumulative effect of immersion in biblical study and church history.


November 12, 2010

A few weeks ago I blogged a short series that told of how I came to know the Lord and, from there, how I became Reformed. Part of my background is being raised by Christian parents. A little while ago my mother wrote out her testimony and shared it with the family and it struck me that her testimony is an important part of my own. Just a few days ago my sister posted it to her blog and, well, that struck me as a great idea. So I will do the same. Here is the story of how my mother came to know the Lord. It is written in the present tense, but begins a few decades ago…


I am sitting on the Voyageur bus on the way to Lennoxville, Quebec.  I have decided to take a few days and figure out whether or not I can find a reason to continue to live.  If not, I will kill myself.  This is not a hasty or emotional decision.  I simply hate life, the tiresome process of getting through another long and meaningless day.   I feel like Sisyphus of the Greek legends, condemned every day to attempting to roll a huge rock uphill, only to have it roll back again and again.  I can not bear it any longer. 

I arrive at the bus station in Lennoxville, and begin the walk along College St. to the university.  I really don’t know why I am there.  I just hope I can think clearly away from home.  I arrive on campus and go along to the hub of the building, the vestibule in front of the theatre.  I am sitting there waiting for Godot, for who knows what.  Along comes someone I know.  It is John Challies.  We were not really friends while I attended Bishop’s.  But we had had some interesting conversations along the way.  We had even gone out on one date. He was always part of the artsy, Bohemian crowd, with a reputation as the campus cynic.  I was more conservative.  He comes right over to me and obviously wants to talk.  And talk he does.  About things I had never heard of before, at least as part of real life – about God and the Bible, about sin and Christ.  What in the world is this?  I listen but I am not happy.  I wish he would stop talking and go away.  I have absolutely no sense that this is the answer to my heart’s cry.  None whatsoever.  Stop it!  The only comment I remember later is one he made toward the end of our time together.  I have shared with him my despair.  He says, Barbara, I think God has great things in store for you…What?…And he extracts a promise from me to go and have dinner with him two nights later…I don’t want to, but I am polite and say I will.

October 11, 2010

It is Thanksgiving in Canada today. And while I’m stuffing myself with turkey and other stuff, I’m turning the blog over to a guest blogger. Nancy Leigh DeMoss prepared this article, a look at the way spiritual change takes place in the life of the Christian. As it happens, I’ll be spending this coming weekend in Fort Worth with Nancy and her ministry for the True Woman conference.


Recently I ran into a woman I had not seen for several weeks. I hardly recognized her. Her hair, normally blonde, had turned completely white. The transformation was dramatic. All it took was forty minutes and some bleach.

If only spiritual transformation were that easy. Just read a book, see a counselor, attend a conference, make a fresh commitment, shed a few tears at an altar, memorize a few verses … and, presto, out comes a mature, godly Christian.

To the contrary, the experience of many believers looks like this.

Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.

After all the struggle and effort, we tend to want a “quick fix”—a once-for-all victory—so we won’t have to keep wrestling with the same old issues.

In my own walk with God, I have discovered some helpful principles about how spiritual change takes place.

1. Deep, lasting spiritual change rarely happens overnight. It is a process that involves training, testing, and time. There are no shortcuts.

We hear of people being dramatically delivered from drug or alcohol addiction, and we may wonder, “Why doesn’t God do that for me? Why do I have to struggle with this food addiction, with lust, worry, and anger?”

Before the children of Israel could possess the Promised Land, they had to drive out the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. Ultimate victory was assured if they would “trust and obey,” but it would take time. “I will not drive them out in a single year,” God said. “Little by little, I will drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:29-30).

God is committed to winning the hearts and developing the character of His people. That requires a process.

July 17, 2010

I have returned safely from my week away (more about that on Monday) but first I have one more short guest blog for you. This was sent to me by Tim Turner, the Principal Designer and founder of Subsplash and one of the creators of The Church App. Tim and I have been working together on some interesting and forthcoming projects. As I begin to reflect on my week away from all digital technologies, I appreciated Tim’s words of gratitude for them.


We’re a spoiled bunch. As 21st century techno-geeks, we have gadgets that give us everything at our fingertips. We break into fits of rage when we have to wait 2 seconds for page-loads, the Twitter Fail Whale, and the occasional commercial on Pandora. We throw a fit when we don’t have perfect 3G coverage on our iPhone 4. It’s so easy to get upset about these things. And it’s even easier to rationalize it. I know this because I do it.

Not only do we suffer from “Chronological-Snobbery,” as C. S. Lewis calls it (thinking that because we’re the latest, we’re also the greatest), but I would also pose that we suffer from Technological-Snobbery (thinking that we deserve the perfected latest and greatest).

We should really take a minute to chill out and remember God’s grace and blessing. We are at an amazing point in history and we should celebrate that with humility. We get to experience some extraordinary advances, especially as Christians. To read the Bible, we don’t need to walk mile upon dusty mile to read a handwritten scroll. We can flip open our phone and access 40 different translations, with cross-references, notes, commentary, devotions, and more. We can access decades of sermons from many incredible Bible teachers and churches both in audio and video forms, all on-demand anywhere in the world. Having all these resources available to us at the tap of a finger is a great and wonderful blessing that we should not take for granted. It’s important that we not put ourselves in the middle of the iUniverse—even though our phones are called iPhone. It’s not about us. It’s about God and His work that he’s doing through Jesus and His church. People are meeting Jesus and we’re experiencing His Truth in amazing ways. If that takes an extra 2 seconds, I’ll try to be ok with that.

July 16, 2010

Today’s guest blog comes from my good friend Mark Tubbs. Mark has taken upon himself much of the day-to-day work associated with Discerning Reader and for that I am deeply indebeted to him. Today he writes about marriage and parenting.


Back in May, my wife and I attended an incredibly challenging and inspiring Paul David Tripp conference on marriage, entitled What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (there is a excellent Crossway book of the same name). I learned so much about parenting.

Did I say parenting? Yes; I took away manifold parenting insights from this marriage conference. That’s not to say that I didn’t imbibe any marriage insights; I certainly did. I was chastened up and down regarding all the ways I superimpose my failings onto my wife. I was humbled to learn that the secret to our long and successful marriage is that we share a deep and abiding love for me (HT Jess MacCallum for that phrase).

It’s no secret that the Bible speaks to parenting, but it may be a surprise to you just how often it does so indirectly. At his conference, Tripp stated, “The Bible isn’t arranged by topic. If you go only to the “marriage” passages, you miss most of what the Bible says about marriage.” In his book, he elaborates in a section entitled “Using the Bible Biblically”:

July 15, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is Frank Turk, he of Pyromaniancs fame. He shares what was meant to be a recorded conference message but has instead been relegated (reduced?) to a blog post.


Some of the massive throng of readers for this blog may know that I was nominated to speak at “theNines” this year — which is an on-line event where the speakers record 9 minutes of advice for people in ministry, and the event itself is free of change. Turns out that I have also been selected. Only the rules changed this year: instead of 9 minutes, we only get 6, and the topic has itself also changed significantly. Until there’s a public announcement about that, I’ll leave that to the chaps at Leadership Network and Catalyst to disambiguate the situation.

BUT: the changes leave me with a 9-minute talk that I drafted and now cannot use — until Tim e-mailed me yesterday and asked for a submission to help him keep his blog running for a couple of days while he’s away from his desk. So for all of you, here’s what I would have said if nothing else had changed:

First of all, to sort of throw a rock at my normal constituents, I want to strongly recommend Rick Warren’s video from last year about what the purpose of the local church is. That’s a great nine minutes on what the local church ought to be, and you should go back to the archives to watch that one again and again because he’s right.

There’s another side to what Pastor Warren said in that video, and I wanted to make that the focus of my brief time here: it’s the topic of “bigness”. See: a subtext of Pastor Warren’s talk is that a ministry is not really fruitful unless it’s big – because really: only a big church with big resources can do what Saddleback does on paper and in fact in the real world. You can’t send thousands of missionaries and planters unless you have tens of thousands supporting them – or at least as a base from which to draw all those people.

July 14, 2010

Today’s guest post comes to us from Stephen McGarvey. Stephen is editorial director of Salem Web Network (i.e. christianity.com, crosswalk.com, and so on). He tackles a subject that is near and dear to me—using discernment in real life.


Is there ever a time man can judge another man? I can’t find it in the Bible but my friend says it’s ok to judge false teachers. 

The question above arrived in my inbox a few days ago from one the readers of Christianity.com. This is an issue that arises regularly in our little editorial corner of the world.  Typically, however, the question isn’t phrased as mildly as this member of our audience put it. The more usual way this issue comes to our attention is from an incensed Facebook comment or reader feedback post that sounds more like:

How dare you condemn this fine Christian person whom I love and their film/book/movie/actions/etc? How can you call yourself a Christian and write something so negative?

There are certainly examples of the “negativity” to be found on the Christian websites I am responsible for as well as the sites of others who look to comment on life’s issues from the Christian perspective.

July 13, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is Ed Stetzer. That’s a name that is familiar to most of you, I’m sure. I recently spoke at an event with Ed and, having enjoyed his company, asked if he’d be willing to put together a guest post. And, as you’re about to see, he was kind enough to do so.


A lot of kids grow up wanting to be a rock star. These days the term “rock star” is applied much more liberally than the days of heavy metal. Athletes are rock stars, movie stars are rock stars, software designers are rock stars. The rock star aesthetic has been democratized.

You don’t even have to live a rock and roll lifestyle to be a rock star. These days even the most un-hip of occupations can achieve rock star appeal. Including pastors.

Somebody once said, “The Gospel came to the Greeks and the Greeks turned it into a philosophy. The Gospel came to the Romans and the Romans turned it into a system. The Gospel came to the Europeans and the Europeans turned it into a culture. The Gospel came to America and the Americans turned it into a business.” And business is booming. Millions of churchgoers file in to buildings each week, line up in rows like shelves at Walmart, and watch the stage. They come for one purpose: to see a show and hear a pastor.

This, by uncritical standards, is success. But while this phenomenon increases, I believe it can be damaging to the spiritual vitality of the American church.

July 12, 2010

Today’s guest blog comes courtesy of Matthew Smith. Matthew is a singer-songwriter from Nashville who takes old hymn lyrics and sets them to new music. He is a founding member of the Indelible Grace community, and tours full time, playing concerts of hymns at churches. I blogged here last week about his new song “Goodnight,” from his forthcoming album Watch The Rising Day. For this article I simply asked Matthew to writes about how he came to find such joy in setting old hymns to new music.


When I was in high school, I loved to sing. I sang in the shower. I sang in my room. I sang while walking down the hallways at school. I sang until people told me to shut up. (They seemed rude at the time, but in retrospect, they had a point. It was pretty annoying.) By the time I was sixteen, I figured out a way to sing in a more socially acceptable way. I learned how to play guitar.

Like many high school kids before and since who’ve learned to string together three guitar chords, I was soon recruited to lead the worship singing for my youth group’s weekly meetings. (Or forced myself upon the position— my memory fails me at this point.) After leading the music, I would sit down and hear a message, whose point was often that I needed to try harder. Try harder to be a “good witness” at school. Try harder to avoid temptation. Try harder to obey God.

Somehow, the idea of trying harder carried over to worship. My repertoire consisted of praise and worship songs (none of which had an F chord— I didn’t know how to play that one), mainly ones that talked about how much I wanted to worship God. I thought that if I tried harder, was sincere enough, and really meant it enough, that I would enter into a state of capital-w Worship. The world around me would fade away, I would lose my inhibitions, and I would achieve a spiritual state of being lost in worship.

But this state of spiritual ecstasy never arrived. And, in my mind, there was only one person to blame–me. I was a failed worshiper.