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Personal Reflections

August 08, 2007

Nine years ago, on this very day, my best friend got married. It was one of the first weddings I had ever been to and I remember it well. It was a beautiful wedding, I thought, exactly the kind I might have planned. It was simple but dignified, homespun but not cheap. The mother of the bride had not only arranged all of the arrangements and bouquets, but had even grown the flowers, having planned for this day since the spring. A small greenhouse in the backyard, specially constructed by the bride’s father, had made it possible to grow some beautiful flowers. The cake was wonderful and also a creation of the mother of the bride.

The bride was beautiful, of course, and was glowing with joy from the moment we first saw her as she walked into the church. Not one to want to be the center of attention, she was shy but happy to have her turn being the bride. It was her day more than anyone else’s.

The day was hot. In fact, talking to people who had been at my best friend’s wedding, the heat is one of the things they remember most. The ceremony had taken place in a beautiful, historic Anglican church with a grand pipe organ that had been played by a very skillful organist. The wedding began in the morning so it was not too hot in shelter of the great stones that made up the church. The couple was married in a traditional Christian ceremony and then moved to a nearby old town hall, another historic building, though one without air conditioning. The photos for the day show the groomsmen wearing tuxedos to begin the reception, and then only vests, and then only shirts. Faces got redder and redder as morning turned into afternoon. But no one seemed to mind. The speeches were fun and dignified, the reception short but meaningful. And then the bride and groom were gone, off to begin their new lives together. It truly was a great day.

It’s been nine years and my best friend is still happy, and in fact, happier than on that day. Life has thrown that couple a few curves but they love each other more today than they did even on a day as memorable as that one. God has been good to them. God has blessed my best friend and, in fact, has blessed me through my best friend. He has been at the very center of that relationship since the first day, binding the two together.

I remember my best friend’s wedding like it was yesterday. And really it sometimes almost seems that it was just a few days ago that they walked up that aisle; that we walked up the aisle and into a new life. Because on this day, nine short years ago, my best friend married me.

Happy nine, my love.

August 06, 2007

Asking myself why I want her to change…

I have been thinking about this subject for a while now. I’ve even tried to write about it once or twice with decidedly poor results, causing me to give up and put it aside for another day. I’m going to give it another shot today and hope it works out better.

It was probably a month ago, or sometime around then, that I found myself faced with what should be a simple question. I had been talking to Aileen about some things in her life and character just the way husbands and wives do. I was trying to be a good husband, helping her work through a couple of areas where I thought she should examine her heart to see if she needed to make some changes. She would be the first to admit that there are areas where she can and should change to better reflect the Christ-like character she wants to have. And, as her husband, I have a better view than anyone else. And so I occasionally raise such issues. But it turns out that I’m sinful too. There are many areas in my life where I know I need to commit to change—areas that still have not been brought under the Lordship of Christ. As I spoke to her I began to ask myself, “Why do I want her to change?” Again, this should be a simple question, but as I began to unravel my heart, and as I began to try to get to the bottom of my motives, I was rather surprised at what I found.

Yesterday our pastor opened his sermon by talking about the many young men who have come to him of the course of his pastoral ministry asking him, “How do I know if I really love a girl?” He suggested this as a useful response: You know you love someone when you feel profoundly committed to them and to their good. And it does seem like a good response. This response helped me tie together some of the thoughts that have been trying to coalesce in my mind these past weeks.

I am committed to Aileen. There is no doubt about it. She is the one for me and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to make her happy. I love her to death. This Wednesday we’ll celebrate our ninth anniversary and I love her now more than ever. I am committed to her good as well. But this is where things get tricky; this is where the lines seem to blur. What is her good? It seems clear to me that what is best for her is to have her character conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Her good is Christ-likeness. And thus when I challenge her on areas in her life, when I seek after her good, the ultimate goal should be to help her see where she is falling short of the example of Christ and to help her strive towards the character of a Christian. I hope she holds this out as the goal as well when she feels that she needs to challenge or confront me.

The problem is that often I confuse her good with my good. And this is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to write about all this time: how often do my concerns for change in her life really center around me? How often, when I address an area in her life am I really just trying to make my own life easier? How often do my exhortations, which I strive to make gentle and loving, revolve around how she has fallen short of my standards rather than God’s?

It turns out, I think, that my motives are often far from pure. Far too often I hold out my needs, my desires, myself as the standard. I’m trying to invoke change, not to lead her closer to the Savior, but to conform her to standards I’ve set for her. It turns out that in supposedly seeking her good, I’m actually seeking my own. How utterly self-centered of me.

So this has been my challenge. Am I really committed to my wife being a more godly woman, or am I content with trying to just make her a better wife (with better being defined by me)? It’s been an interesting process and I think and I hope that I am beginning to see it all through new eyes.

(I don’t often add this kind of note to the end of my posts, but I want to clarify that I don’t scold my wife constantly. Neither does she have an abnormal number of areas in her life where she is in desperate need of change. I think I’m discussing here the kind of conversations that happen in any marriage and between any husband and wife…)

July 11, 2007

Here’s something a little bit different. I’ve been asked to guest on a radio program for today, so rather than typing out an article today, I’ll simply refer you to the program. It will go out live this afternoon from 1-2 PM EST. If you’re in the area of Greenville, South Carolina, you should be able to listen on your radio. Everyone else can pick it up over the Net through the audio stream. We’ll be talking about the book, the blog, Discerning Reader and whatever else comes up. I believe the phones will be open for at least some of the time, so if you feel the need to make fun of a Canadian today, here’s your chance.

You can read details of the program, “Calling For Truth,” right here.

Calling for Truth

June 17, 2007

Today is Father’s Day and I thought I’d share something I posted here before—an article I wrote for my dad three years ago on this day.

Like most boys I idolized my father. When I was a child you would have had a difficult time convincing me that there was anyone smarter, faster or stronger than my dad. I really did believe it when I told my friends that “my dad can beat up your dad!” And it may well have been true. Dad was a landscaper, and for eight months of every year he spent just about every waking hour hauling loads of soil from his truck to the gardens and manipulating enormous rocks to make sure they looked just right. Though this took a physical toll on him, it left him stronger than an ox. When he and I used to wrestle, I could make absolutely no headway against him. I would run at him and hit him with all that I had, but even with a full head of steam I could not knock him off-balance. He would just grab me with his rough, leathery hands and toss me aside like I was barely even there.

Dad had working man hands. I’ll never forget those hands; they were hard as rock. Holding dad’s hand was like holding a sanding block and just about as uncomfortable. As he labored day-in and day-out, his hands built up so many rough calluses that they soon became as hard as dried leather. They were scarred with the evidence of so many bumps and bruises inflicted on job sites. I saw in his hands an ideal, for to me they represented a hard-working man who labored diligently to support his family. I felt pride when I compared his hands to those of men who spent their lives at desks - there really was no comparison - and looked forward to the day when my hands would be hard and callused like dads’. I believe there is something inside each of us that really wants nothing more than to carry out God’s original command to humans which was to till the soil and to care for the earth. Dad had the privilege of doing that every day and the even greater privilege of loving nothing more.

Yet behind his love for working with plants and rocks and soil, I think dad always felt a twinge of shame and regret. He grew up in an affluent family, one which had a long history of politicians and lawyers. My grandfather was a Supreme Court judge, and dad’s uncles were members of parliament. Surely, dad felt deep inside, landscaping was not a profession suitable for a man from such lineage. Finally succumbing to the pressure he had created in himself, he returned to school, upgrading his two Bachelor’s degrees to a Master’s. For several years he worked diligently, studying languages, history and theology. A strange thing happened. As the months turned into years I noticed that his hands no longer felt like leather. The longer he labored in school, the softer his hands became. Before long his hands were much like mine - soft and free from calluses.

Dad graduated with a Master’s degree and tried so hard to be happy in an office job. He tried his hand at a few things and it wasn’t so much that he wasn’t good at them as that he just did not enjoy what he was doing. He found himself thinking nostalgically of burying his hands in fresh topsoil and sculpting beautiful gardens where there had been nothing but weeds and chaos. Finally it became too much and one day dad went and bought himself a great, big pickup truck. He returned to sculpting the soil he had left behind.

Now whenever I see dad he has dirt under his fingernails. His hands are once again as hard as dried leather and I can’t imagine my son feels any more comfortable holding his hand than I did so many years ago. As he returns shamelessly to the task for which God created Him, his hands again bear evidence of his labor.

It occurs to me as I write this that one day we are all going to stand before God and it’s as if He is going to reach down to each of us and feel our hands. He has assigned to all of His children the same task, and it is a difficult one. We need to take His message into all the world, diligently and shamelessly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. If our hands are not as rough as sandpaper and do not feel like old leather, perhaps we are not being diligent in that labor. If our hands bear no scars, perhaps we have not received the cuts and bruises that are bound to come to those who go forth on His behalf. Our hands must bear the evidence of our labor.

June 13, 2007

Discerning Reader

As you probably know, I run not only this blog but also Discerning Reader, a site that, until now has focused entirely on book reviews. Just last week I relaunched the site with a whole new design and a bunch of new features. Most notably, we will now add new reviews every week (on Tuesdays) and will add other information on a near-daily basis. I expect to update the site at least three to four times a week. It will become (and, I hope, is already becoming) a place where you can keep up with what is new and exciting in the world of Christians books. If you visit the RSS page you can subscribe (via RSS or email) to receive update notifications for either articles or reviews.

You’ll see that the subscription-based features I mentioned a few weeks ago are in place, even though the content is not there yet. I continue to gauge interest in that aspect of the site and, for the time being, am preparing to launch the first subscriber content next month.

Now, for some reason that remains unknown to me, Google has been hesitant to add Discerning Reader to its index. The primary way Google finds out about sites and gauges their importance is through links from other sites. And so I’m going to ask you, if you have a site of any kind, to link to Discerning Reader. Just to entice you a little more, I’ll sweeten the deal. I’ve got a few copies of some great Steve Lawson books around here that I’d love to give away (because they are so good and because they are taking up a lot of space). So here’s the deal. If you add a link from your site to Discerning Reader and send me an email proving you’ve done so, I’ll enter you in a draw. If you are a blogger, don’t feel obliged to mention us in an article or post. A simple link in your blogroll or on the main page of your site will be fine. A week from today I’ll select three winners, each of whom will be sent a copy of Foundations of Grace, the first in the A Long Line of Godly Men series, along with a copy of The Expository Genius of John Calvin. This will get you a good start with this series that will build over the next few years. Even if you don’t anticipate enjoying the books, I guarantee that you know someone who will. Hold on to them until Christmas and give them away then!

You can link to the site however you see fit. It would probably be most helpful if you would link something like this:

Christian Book Reviews or Discerning Reader. The search engines pay great attention to the actual content of your link text (which in the two examples I’ve given are “Christian Book Reviews” and “Discerning Reader”). If you prefer to link with a graphic, here is the logo in a few different sizes:

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

June 07, 2007

I am a Web designer and as such I have to be creative on an on-going basis. Every time a client calls and asks me to design a site I have to be creative and come up with a new design—something that will look attractive, that will be original and will fit the “feel” of the company or ministry or person. This is often quite difficult to do. I find it especially so when I’ve got 8 or 10 projects on the go, much like I do now. I’m not always convinced that I’ve got 8 or 10 new designs in me. Design is certainly not something that can always be done easily and quickly. I find that I can’t force design; I can’t force the creativity it takes to make a design. I sometimes try and the results are always underwhelming. So I have to wait, chipping away until finally, in a burst of creativity, I design something that is worth sharing. Something I can stand behind and be proud of. The muse has to speak, so to speak.

I enjoy writing a great deal and look forward to it almost every day. Like web design, though, writing requires creativity on a daily basis if I am to attempt to produce something that is at least somewhat interesting and somewhat well-written. Like web design, writing is a process of creating something from nothing—of forcing myself to produce something I can consider good. An aspect of what I love about writing on a daily basis is forcing myself to think, to ponder, and to jot down something. Some days I know exactly what I am going to write before I set down at my computer. Other days I have no idea and just kind of let things flow.

Lately I don’t think I have done very well on either account. Several years ago, shortly after I began doing both blogging and web design, I coined the term “creativity cramp” to describe what I had been experiencing at the time—a general failure to be creative; an inability to create. And I’m at that place again. I do not suffer from a lack of ideas. I can see Web sites in my mind but when I try to create them they just don’t work out. They end up as clumsy, unformed, uninteresting messes. They are nowhere near the quality I demand of myself. I can see articles and posts in my mind, understand what I could say. But when I try to actually write them out they lack clarity, cohesiveness and quality. They are sad, pathetic little efforts.

This is creativity cramp! It’s much like writer’s block, I’m sure, but it extends to all areas of creativity. Any attempt at creativity just seems to fall flat.

This has happened before. It eventually resolves itself in a burst of creativity as I finally churn out the words and images that have been escaping me for the last week or two. So bear with me. I’m not looking for sympathy: just a bit of patience from clients and readers alike. This shouldn’t last long.

June 06, 2007

When I was a teenager, there was a boy in my class who was not quite normal. I don’t know if he suffered from a type of mental disorder or if he was just a bit “different”—never completely accustomizing to the culture he lived in. I suspect the latter. Somehow he did not quite fit in. He had funny mannerisms, would sometimes say strange things and often seemed oblivious to social propriety. One of my enduring memories of him is watching him sit in the front pew at church and proceed to give his ears a really good cleaning, sprinkling what he dug out on the carpet below. He was oblivious to this being odd behavior. While clearly bright in some ways, he was hopeless in others. Something of a loner, probably less by choice and more by lack of interest from his classmates, he would spend lunch and breaks by himself, though this never appeared to bother him too much. I don’t think he got teased too much simply because he was quite confident in who and what he was and in who and what he was not. Now that I think about it, I don’t know that he would really have known or cared even if he had been teased.

Every now and then my parents would tell me I had to have him over on a Sunday afternoon between the two worship services. The church we attended at the time met for morning worship at 9:30 or 10:00 and for a second worship service in the middle of the afternoon. This was ideal for visiting, as a person or family could come over between services and enjoy a nice visit, but not one that grew too long. And so I would sometimes find him in my company on Sunday afternoons. I really didn’t mind having him over, despite his eccentricities. I suppose I probably worried that being spied with him would somehow lower my social status (humble though this status may have been) but I’m sure my friends knew that I had been forced to invite him over and that I spent time with him more out of imposition than desire. I never really got to know him too well. A couple of times he reciprocated the invitation and, with trepidation lest anyone spot me, I would go to his house and spend the afternoon with his family. I don’t remember what we did on these afternoons together. My memories have faded.

When the afternoon service was over and I had the evening to myself, I was proud of what I had done. I had taken this simple guy who had no friends and had been a friend to him for a few hours. I had allowed him to feel what I thought was acceptance and to feel that he was not entirely alone. But come Monday morning I would not stand by his side and talk to him. I would allow him to walk endless circuits around the school or to sit quietly with a book. When pity was taken out of the equation, I had nothing to offer. I had no desire to give of myself. It was almost as if I would spend those Sunday afternoons clearing my throat to the sky and whispering under my breath, “God! Do You see what I’m doing here, right? I’m being a friend to this guy! And it’s not much fun!”

I wasn’t a true friend, of course. I didn’t really care about my classmate. If my parents decided he needed to have some companionship for a day I would take him under my wing, but I did it for them or for me or maybe somehow for God. But not for him. My true friends are those people I enjoy spending time with just for the joy of being with them. This guy was someone I spent time with out of obligation or out of a desire to put a notch in my belt of sanctification.

A short time ago I reviewed a marvelous little book called Same Kind of Different as Me. The book has touched many people and I think it has done so because it is the story of two people who seem to be so unequal and yet find true equality. One is a successful businessman while the other is a homeless drifter; one is married with a loving family while the other is single and alone; one is normal and the other is decidedly not. The relationship starts as one of pity but ends as one of true fraternal love and acceptance. The one who seems to have everything already is the one who receives untold blessings.

My pastor has spent a couple of days blogging about considering special needs in church. He says, quite rightly I think, that “only the Christian Church is really set up to joyfully co-exist with families of all different types of needs. For a large measure of the tension we feel is bound up in our own sin, and only Christians have a means to genuinely deal with that sin. Because God has given us the Holy Spirit, we can be humble. And large doses of humility are what is needed in order to walk through all this tension and awkwardness.” He quotes his friend Justin Reimer who says, “What these families [of disabled children] need is help, not pity.”

Pity isn’t necessarily a bad emotion, but I’ve found that it does not tend to be the foundation of good, noble and godly ends. I pitied my classmate and did what I felt was best for him. I extended some kind of companionship, but my pity led me to focus on myself more than on him. What I did, I did for others and not for him. Looking inward or upward I was unable to see past myself to see this boy for who he was. I found pleasure not in anything he was or anything he offered, but in what I thought I might gain through the gratitude of my parents, the gratefulness of his parents, or the blessing of God. Looking back I can see that I really knew nothing about him. I never made any kind of effort to get to know him. I never made the effort to let him touch my life or to show me who he really was. I thought I already knew. I was arrogant, believing in the innate superiority of my normalcy while assuming that his eccentricity necessarily meant he had nothing to offer and that he needed my help. He was pitied, but not accepted; tolerated but never loved.

I’ve known other people like this. I know some today. They do not need pity. The parents of those who are disabled do not want you to pity them or to accept them as a project—as a means to your own sanctification. They want you to see these people for who they are and what they can offer and to love and embrace and accept them on that basis. This was a point I never got to with my classmate. He was, at best, a project; an inconvenience I grudgingly accepted at times; someone who was somehow less than a full person. When I think of him and I think of the other people in my life who were never quite normal, never quite adhering to the norms of society or never quite able to adhere to them, I wonder what I’ve missed in forsaking such friendship. I wonder what I’ve missed in pitying rather than accepting—in seeking myself rather than the other person. I wonder what they’ve lost and what I’ve lost because I could not realign my expectations for friendship and companionship. I never learned to appreciate these people, to look beyond their eccentricities and disabilities, and to see the people beyond. I never learned to enjoy their presence, their friendship and all that they offer.

I’m confident that Paul is right and that the church is the best and most natural place for these people and their families to joyfully co-exist with others. But I’m confident that I’ve done a lousy job of proving him right.

June 02, 2007

I’m a bit late posting today. I had arranged weeks ago for my son and me to head to the Rogers Center today to see the Blue Jays take on the White Sox. We were going to meet a new friend (and reader of this site who just so happens to have served as chaplain to the Blue Jays for decades) at the stadium and take in the game with him.

Early in the day I got a call from this friend and he told me that he had arranged passes for us to go down to the field during pre-game. So we hurried off and met up with him at the Rogers Center. And sure enough, we made our way through the dark recesses of the stadium and emerged in the Jays’ dugout. Now I’m too old to be too overly impressed by such things, but it was as if my son had touched the moon. He was thrilled. And I know I would have been too at his age.

Best of all, John Gibbons (the coach) came over, chatted with him for a bit, and gave him a couple of balls. Then we headed towards the Jays’ clubhouse and met up with Alex Rios, one of Nick’s favorite players. We got a photo with him and he signed one of those balls. And then, late in the game, he smashed a three run homer that put the final nail in the coffin for the Sox. We also met Jerry Howarth who calls the games on the radio. I listened to Jerry every night on the radio when I grew up and my son listens to him most nights now. It was great to finally meet the guy after hearing him talk for so many years.

So all-in-all it was a pretty good day. I’ve been to a lot of ball games in my time, but this one, well, it stands out.

May 15, 2007

Last week at The Basics Conference I was privileged to lead a seminar on the topic of blogging. The topic that was assigned to me, “Blogging Your Ministry,” is probably not the best title for what I delivered. I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out what I could possibly say about blogging that would not be both tedious and boring. I soon found that there was a lot that was worth saying when I looked deeper than the simple nuts and bolts of blogging. When I dug a little bit deeper and looked at the history, value and impact of blogging, I found all sorts of interesting issues that the church would do well to think about. So over the next few days I’d like to share some of that with you. These few articles, which will be similar but not identical to the seminar, should be of interest, I think, to those who blog but also to those who read blogs or who are wondering what blogs are. There should be something of interest in this series for all Christians. I’ll define blogging, share the story of how I came to be a blogger, look at the short history of blogs, suggest ways you can begin a successful blog of your own (something I did not address in the body of the seminar as delivered last week) and try to see what blogging means to the church.

Let’s begin by defining this term blog. When people think of this term they usually picture a teenage girl posting disjointed ramblings about how much she hates her parents or a grumpy Christian leveling both barrels at someone who has drawn his wrath. Though these are mere caricatures, they are popular ones. Thankfully, though, they are ones the blogosphere is beginning to overcome as people begin to take it more seriously. Let me give you what I consider to be the marks of a blog: they are a personal form of communication, they are an instant form of communication, they are a time-stamped form of communication and they are a public and interactive form of communication.

Blogs are personal in that the tone of a blog post is typically informal and conversational. Where books and magazines tend towards formality, blogs tend to be written from a more personal perspective and are directed more deliberately at the reader. I enjoy reading a blog by Randy Baseler, a bigwig at Boeing who is Vice President of Marketing for that company (NOTE: Randy just retired so another Randy, Randy Tinseth). Where most communication from within the aircraft industry would be hopelessly formal and tedious, Randy gives information that is targeted at people like me, who have an informal interest in the latest and greatest developments when it comes to aircraft. We do not know the industry lingo so need someone like this to decipher it for us. He gives a personal look at an industry that is usually very impersonal.

While blogs are personal, they are also personalized, reflecting the personality of the author, perhaps through the actual look of the site, through the presentation of the content or through the content the author chooses to deal with.

Second, blogs are instant. Where a newspaper is always a day late with the news, a magazine is a week or a month late and a book may be a year late, a blog is right up-to-date. They are instant and immediate, allowing people to tell others what they are thinking at exactly the moment they are thinking it. Obviously this can be both a benefit and a drawback.

Third, blogs are a time-stamped form of communication. Blogs are organized by date so that the most recent article is at the top of the page and the ones below it are necessarily those that were posted before. Thus blogs value what is new over what is older and possibly even better. If you visit the site of an author you might find that his best book is the one featured first on his site. In the blogosphere it is always the latest article that is featured. You would also find that any archived post on a blog is likewise stamped with a date. Thus blog posts always have a wider context of the date and time they were written.

Finally, blogs are a public form and interactive of communication. What is posted online may well be available forever. As I was preparing this article I was shocked to see that I could still find copies of the very first articles I had ever written—articles I had long-since forgotten about and which were erased from my site many years ago. Content posted on blogs is meant to be public. It is possible that a blogger hopes the public will remain contained to a specific group, such as his family or his church, but sooner or later content will be picked up by search engines and other people will find it. This is the very nature of blogs.

You may have noticed that I did not define blogs as dealing with a particular subject matter. While there was a time that blogs were more consistent, today they can come in many forms and deal with absolutely any subject matter. They can be authored by a single person or by a team of people. They can represent merely a hobby or, on occasion, represent a significant income stream. When attempting to understand how blogs work, it is helpful to see them as a network where one is connected to another. Articles written by one blogger tend to be picked up and discussed by others, so that there can be an intricate web of discussion between many authors and many sites. And, while comments are not necessary to make a blog a blog, most sites to allow interaction between the author and the reader and discussion between other readers.

With that formality aside, let me briefly share my story.

In September of 2002 I decided, rather on the spur of the moment as I recall, to begin my own web site. I really knew nothing about web sites but thought maintaining one might prove to be a fun distraction for me. My parents and four siblings had recently moved down to the Atlanta area and, with a one-year old son and with my wife pregnant again, I thought I would use the site as a photo gallery to post pictures of this growing family. Since this was going to be a site by family and for family I spent thirty five dollars to reserve the family name, choosing the domain challies.com. Using some borrowed web space, I pieced together a really bad little site. I uploaded a few photos and over the next few months updated the site every now and again, adding a new set of pictures or writing the occasional personal comment.

As the months passed I continued to update the site, but did so only every few weeks. It was really a sad little site in desperate need of attention. But I found that I did enjoy posting little updates on my family when I got around to doing so. In late 2003 I heard a new word in the media. This word, blog, sounded intriguing. I inadvertently stumbled across one of these blogs, one day, while doing some research and realized that it was really not much different from my site and from what I was already doing. The only real difference was that blogs offered the ability for people reading the site to interact with the content by posting their own comments. That seemed like a great idea, so I installed some blogging software and began calling my site a blog. When I posted an article my mother or my wife would post a little “Good job!” comment for me. But I still didn’t update it much.

October 31, 2003 was a pivotal day. I decided that day that I should get serious about this blogging thing and committed to either blogging every day for a year or giving up and getting rid of the site altogether. So I wrote an article on November 1, November 2, November 3…and before I knew it, it was a year later and I was still going. I recommitted in 2004, 2005, 2006. That was over three years ago and I’m still blogging every day and look forward to doing so almost every day. According to the silly little counter I maintain for my own amusement, I am nearing my 1300th consecutive day.

It came as a great shock to me that, when I began to write, people began to read the site—people I didn’t know and people from all around the world. Before I knew it I had twenty people reading my site every day. Then it was fifty and a hundred and a thousand and two thousand and three thousand and five thousand…and then it occurred on day that my site had become one of the most widely-visited Christian blogs. I realized that I had been plunked into the center of something that was getting really big really quickly.

But things continued to get stranger and stranger. I soon passed my one millionth visitor. I began to receive emails from people I regarded as heroes or to read the occasional reference to something I had written in articles these people were writing. In 2005 I was asked by Desiring God to fly to Minneapolis to liveblog their annual National Conference and that was soon followed by many other invitations. Since then I’ve been privileged to attend major conferences across the United States. I even recently completed my first book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, which should be available in January and which deals, obviously, with the subject of spiritual discernment. And now I’ve begun to receive and to accept the occasional speaking engagement. All-in-all it’s been quite a ride. And it could be that it’s just starting.

I’ve often paused to ask myself just why I continue to blog. As I’ve done so it has become clear over the past years that I do this primarily for the good of my own soul. I treat blogging as nearly a spiritual discipline or as an extension to the other disciplines of reading the Bible and praying. My desire to post something every day that is new and interesting and theologically-correct keeps me turning constantly to the Bible and constantly to good books. It has been very good and healthy for me.

Let me put this in perspective. I am a self-employed computer guy from Canada with no seminary or Bible college education. I have nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in history and one I really only barely deserved, and I earned it from a college people only know of because Clark Pinnock taught there. I attend a church no one has heard of and, until recently, had never met any well-known Christian leaders or speakers. So while I am supremely unqualified, people continue to visit the site. When they do so, they read book reviews, they read personal reflections, and they read what I attempt to teach or share on the subject of theology. I often feel like I’m in over my head.

I do not tell you all of this to boast or to point to anything I have done. When I began my web site I had no plan for it but to post pictures of my children. When I began writing I had no plan but to give my family and immediate friends the occasional article to read. Yet it has grown into something so much more. A quick search of the Net will turn up all kinds of articles telling you how you can quickly create a blog that is widely-read and influential. Apparently there are certain shortcuts a blogger can take. The thing is, I didn’t know about any of this when I began and have done very little to deliberately promote the site. I just kept writing.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what God is doing through this web site. Is this leading to something or is God preparing me for something? What does He want me to do with all of this? These are private wrestlings—things I hope become increasingly clear to me. But if we look beyond these private struggles I think we come to some interesting questions that the church needs to address. We’ll get to this in a future article. This series will continue tomorrow.

May 03, 2007

About one year ago I became the owner of the domain discerningreader.com. The purpose of Discerning Reader has been to serve Christians by providing discerning reviews of books that are intended for Christians or that are of particular interest to Christians. The former category primarily includes titles published by Christian publishing houses; the latter includes books that may impact the church even though they are not targeted at Christians (titles such as The Da Vinci Code or The God Delusion). Discerning Reader has also served both authors and publishers in promoting books that are consistent with the truths of the Bible. The site now has reviews of hundreds of Christian books, information about authors, and other relevant information. Reaction to the site has been very positive and it has become a regular stop for many Christian readers.

The site has been a labor of love and has not generated any revenue. Nor have I intended it to do so. But now, in my eagerness to find ideas that can serve the church, it has occurred to me that I could leverage what I have begun at Discerning Reader to provide a useful resource that would stand between publishers and readers. It would carry on the vision of Discerning Reader - putting good books in the hands of believers while equipping them to deal in a discerning fashion with books that are unbiblical. But it would also further this goal. I have a burning desire to encourage people to read and to read good books. I am a firm believer in an educated laity (not to mention an educated clergy) and believe that having Christians read good books will be a significant means to that noble end!

But I can only really bring this to fruition if it does not interfere with my need to make a living. And the best way of having this happen would be to generate revenue through Discerning Reader. And so I am in the initial stages of investigating adding a paid component to Discerning Reader. Rather than staying only with the current model, where visitors come to Discerning Reader as they feel the need to investigate books, it will push regular content to readers.

If this plan goes forward, the site will soon feature both free content and content available only to subscribers. It will also be completed redesigned and rebranded. There will be two subscription levels: individual and church.

  • Free content will be available online at discerningreader.com. It will include book reviews, book suggestions, author information and site updates. In other words, it will include just about all of the current content.
  • Content available to individual subscribers will include a bi-weekly newsletter containing at least one thorough book summary of a particularly important book, shorter summaries of notable but less-important books, and updates about notable new releases from publishers. The newsletter will be suitable for printing. All content in the newsletter will also be available online at discerningreader.com to those who subscribe. The book summaries should not be confused with reviews. They will attempt to objectively summarize a book without interacting with it (whereas a review is, by its very nature, subjective).
  • Content available to church subscribers will include all the features available to individual subscribers but the newsletter will contain additional content geared specifically for churches. This will include short summaries suitable for printing in church bulletins, suggestions for church libraries, and so on. All content in the newsletter will also be available online at discerningreader.com to those who subscribe.

The individual subscriptions will be considered personal use, meaning that the subscriber will not be permitted to distribute the content. Church subscriptions will allow the newsletters to be printed and distributed to those attending the church (they can be printed and handed out, posted to bulletin boards, etc).

Books chosen for a thorough summary for those who choose to subscribe to access the paid content will likely fall into one of three categories. The first is books that are intended for Christians, are published by Christian publishers, are consistent with the Bible and are recommended by Discerning Reader. Ideal candidates might be titles such as Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs, John Piper’s Desiring God, and so on. These are books that are “thinking books” and are groundbreaking in some way. The second category is books that are intended for Christians, are published by Christian publishers, and are exceedingly popular, but are not necessarily recommended by Discerning Reader. Titles in this category might include Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church, Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, or Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. The third category is books that are not written by or for Christians, but are somehow relevant to them. In this category we may find Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation and the like. These are books that have targeted Christianity and are, thus, of interest to Christians. With books in these latter two categories we would attempt, after providing a subjective summary, to help Christians think rightly about the topics raised.

It is my hope that, if this new idea proves feasible, it can serve authors, publishers, churches and individual readers. It will provide a bi-weekly newsletter encouraging Christians to read good books and to read them with discernment. At the same time it will help readers understand other popular books, how to think rightly about them, and how to respond to them.

The reason I post all this is to ask for your input and your feedback. Primarily I need to know if this is something you would consider subscribing to. It is my opinion that, with the huge increase in the number of books being printed, Christians are eager to seek feedback before they make a purchase and before they invest their time in reading. Therefore, I think this would prove a valuable service. But I could be wrong. So here are three questions.

  1. Would you, as an individual, consider subscribing to a service of this nature? And as a second part to this question, would you, as a pastor or elder, consider subscribing your church to a service of this nature?
  2. If you would consider subscribing, what would you be willing to pay? My thought is that something like $40/year would be fair for personal use and perhaps $150 or so for a church subscription.
  3. Are there other features you would suggest, expect or demand if you were to subscribe to this service?

Your answers to these questions, and any other feedback you care to give, is most appreciated.

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