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November 30, 2014

This morning I am thrilled to bring you a guest article from my friend Tim Keesee of Frontline Missions and the excellent DVDs Dispatches from the Front. This is an article he prepared in honor of John Bunyan’s birthday on November 28.


On the Rail near Bedford, England

Beads of rain race along my window as my express train speeds through the mist back to London. My mind and pen are racing, too—I have seen and heard so much in Bunyan’s Bedford.

Took a train this morning to Bedford to walk where John Bunyan walked—for him it was a path of suffering that included 12 years in prison for Christ’s sake. Yet from that lonely cell came one of the greatest books, The Pilgrim’s Progress. After more than three centuries, it lives on in over 200 languages worldwide. But it’s more than a book—it’s Bible and biography in one. It smells of the dungeon and glows with the Gospel. I recall during the Soviet times seeing underground printed copies of The Pilgrim’s Progress—the treasured pages bound by hand, and the boards covered with wallpaper. With so much love and risk wrapped up in that dangerous volume, it was a book that could rightly be judged by its cover.

Bunyan’s book has blessed the world, but in Bedford, little remains from his life and long imprisonment. The church meeting place in his day was a barn where Dissenters worshiped. It has long since been replaced by a beautifully-appointed chapel with a museum next door. In the garden between them, the remains of those who heard him preach rest beneath moss and marble. The home Bunyan shared with his wife and children—which stood for over three centuries—could not stand up to a bulldozer when “progress” came rolling through a few years ago.

A minute’s walk from Bunyan’s church, the site of his jail is marked by a sidewalk tablet. The pavement is pocked with gum and crowded with shoppers hurrying past. I expect most of them are ignorant of the one who from that very spot wrote, “The parting with my Wife and poor Children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones.” At any moment Bunyan could have walked out a free man—all he had to do was promise not to preach. But this he could not do.

The charges against him in 1660 were precisely what house church pastors in China, Vietnam, and across central Asia face right now—holding “illegal meetings.”  But John Bunyan had to preach the Gospel—not in defiance of men but in devotion to God. It was a calling that would cost him dearly, especially in the separation from his wife and four children, including a blind daughter. In his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan wrote from prison,

I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities; the parting with my Wife and poor Children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great Mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor Family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind Child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides;  oh, the thoughts of the hardship my poor Blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces… yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. O, I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his Wife and Children; yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it.

The years passed, and so did Pilgrim’s trials—the Hill of Difficulty, the lions, the wounds of Apollyon, the chains of Giant Despair, and finally through dark water to the Celestial City. It was a path that Bunyan knew very well—and a way already worn by nail-scarred feet. This hard, lonely place was once made brighter by “the fellowship of His sufferings.” There in Bedford Jail, Bunyan wrote and worshipped in pain and took comfort in His company.

Bunyan

September 24, 2014

Last month I posted a list of recommended blogs by and for Christian women. At the end of the post I made a parenthetical remark that many of the blogs I follow had gone cold in recent months. A short time later I received an email from three women who blog: Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill. They asked if they could speak to the issue, and I was glad to have them do so. Here are their thoughts on blogs gone cold.

Conservative female bloggers tend to publish less consistently than their male counterparts. Three women writers explore the reasons why.

True Success (Hannah Anderson)

Back in August, Tim Challies posted a helpful list of theological blogs by and for women. At the end, he noted that several blogs had “gone cold,” questioning when and whether the writers would return. As a female theological blogger myself, I smiled and thought, “Of course, they have.”

There are many reasons that blogs go cold—neglect, attrition, or simply a lack of focus—but  one reason that conservative female bloggers struggle to publish consistently is because we tend to blog outside organized ministry while our male counterparts write from within it. Certainly, not every male theological blogger is employed in ministry, but many do serve as full-time pastors, directors of para-church organizations, seminary professors, and students preparing for a theological career. You don’t find many male engineers, doctors, mathematicians, or police officers blogging in this same niche.

On the other hand, the majority of conservative female bloggers do not blog from a ministry context. Rarely are they employed by a church; they are not even pursuing a “career” in this field. By and large, they are lay women—homemakers, teachers, graphic designers, and writers who simply have an aptitude and interest in theology.

I do not mean to suggest that male bloggers in ministry are blogging “on the clock” but simply that their day job and their blogging flow together naturally. The opposite is true for their female peers. Conservative female bloggers must actually devote more time to covering the same topics because they do not naturally arise from their work week. For example, my day job is as a wife and mother; if I decide to respond to the latest theological snafu, it’s not because I need to understand the nature of sanctification in order to get the laundry done. But if I were a pastor, I would need to understand it and could justify the time to study it out.

The tension between our “day jobs” and blogging is not a problem so long as we don’t evaluate a blogger’s worth based on productivity alone. In my own life, I’ve had to accept that God has called me to be both a stay-at-home mom and a writer. I must believe that His providence is wise enough to have placed me at this nexus for a reason—perhaps to show that theology is for all of life, for both men and women.

But accepting this tension also means accepting the fact that I will be less “productive” than my male counterparts. It means learning to multi-task and not being surprised when I find myself listening to “The Future of Protestantism” while decorating an Angry Bird birthday cake for my 5-year-old son. (True story.)

Thankfully, in God’s kingdom, productivity is not everything. My success as a blogger is not found in my stats, my regularity, or how many posts go viral. My success is found in being faithful to His call and believing that He uses the weak—even irregular—things of the world to accomplish His eternal purposes.

A Time for Everything (Courney Reissig)

For me, there is no other place where I feel the limitations of my varying seasons like writing. While both genders are constrained by their seasons, women are confronted with it more acutely. So much of our writing in the blogosphere is born out of our life experiences, and though helpful, there are some life experiences that do not afford the time needed to write about them (i.e. small children, pregnancy, caring for aging parents, etc.). 

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.

Family

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.

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