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Personal Reflections

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.

May 03, 2007

I have found it exceptionally difficult to write this week. Actually, I’ve found it difficult to work as well. I’m not sure what’s going on, really. So today I’m going to cop out and just share a few personal tidbits and try to come up with something more creative and more exciting for tomorrow.

Part of the reason I’ve been distracted this week is that I’ve been asked to lead a seminar at The Basics Conference next week (that’s the conference held at Alistair Begg’s church in the Cleveland area) and I’ve been preparing for that. The topic I was assigned was “Blogging Your Ministry.” Now I don’t really define myself as a blogger and don’t really want that to be my legacy, but I’m still happy enough to speak on the topic. Rather than putting together a “how-to” kind of seminar, I thought I’d try to dig a bit deeper and try to see what trends lie behind blogging and what blogging means to the church. It’s been an interesting time of preparation for me and I’ll share the content after I’ve delivered it (twice) in Cleveland next week. I believe they will also release the audio at some point. This will be my first foray into actually speaking at a conference and, while I’m definitely more of a writer than a speaker, I am looking forward to it in a sick kind of way. I’ve been asked to do some other speaking engagements in the coming months so it seems that I can’t avoid moving beyond the safety and security of my keyboard.

Speaking of writing, the publisher has settled on a title for my book and I’ve given my agreement to it. You’ll remember that my working title was The Discipline of Discernment and that, while that title neatly summarized the content, I didn’t find it awfully exciting. Well, a committee met and discussed things and they decided to change it, but not by much. The book will now be published under the title The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. It will be released on January 7 of next year and will likely be a 288-page paperback (if you’ve got a copy of Piper and Taylor’s Sex and the Supremacy of Christ you can see what a 288-page Crossway paperback looks like). I sent the book off to the publisher a month ago and don’t expect to have much more to do with it until later in the summer when the editing will begin in earnest. I do, though, have to work on a study guide between now and then. I haven’t heard back yet from any of the people who agreed to endorse it, but neither would I expect to for another month or two. I do believe the publisher will begin working on the cover art in the near future so that may be the next update I can give you. I’ll continue to keep you in the loop!

Changing from writing to reading, I just finished up a new biography of John Newton that should be publicly available in about six weeks. It is written by Jonathan Aitken who has previously written biographies of Charles Colson and Richard Nixon. I made the “mistake” of reading this book while pausing between the first and second volume of Dallimore’s great biography of George Whitefield. I suppose that wasn’t quite fair. I was struck by the difference between a biography written by a long-time Christian pastor who studied his subject for decades and who wrote about him over the course of fifteen years versus a man who is a more recent convert and who has clearly not researched his subject to the same extent. I mean this more as praise of Dallimore than as criticism of Aitken. The biography of Newton is good and I really enjoyed it. But it is certainly not in the same league as George Whitefield. This biography of Whitefield is expensive but it really is a must-have (Volume 1 and Volume 1). I’ll have a more thorough review in a week or so.

And that’s it for me for now. Customers and a seminar are calling me…

April 24, 2007

Last week Jacob Hantla wrote about an article that had appeared in the news the day before. A girl who lives in the Minneapolis area unexpectedly gave birth to a baby. She is overweight and it seems that neither she nor her mother had known that she was pregnant. She did not want the baby and reacted to its birth by stabbing it some 135 times and stuffing the lifeless body in a trash can. She is now facing charges of first degree murder, a charge that could potentially put her in prison for the rest of her life, and is being held on $1 million bail. Jacob points out a sad and disgusting aspect of this case, saying “since it was after the baby had passed through the birth canal instead of a few hours earlier while it remained in the uterus, the law declares it first degree murder instead of abortion.” As the title of his article suggests, if this girl wanted to avoid trouble, she really should have killed the baby a day earlier. Had she done this it would have been a mere surgical procedure to get rid of unwanted tissue. There may have been repercussions for this kind of late-term abortion, but not a first degree murder charge.

I came across another interesting article last week. In this one a man was appealing to the courts to have them overturn the order that forces him to pay alimony to his ex-wife. His ex, you see, has undergone gender reassignment surgery and now considers herself [or is that himself?] a man. The former husband is now arguing in the courts that it is illegal for him to pay alimony to a man and thus he should no longer be forced to pay. While he is, in many ways, absolutely right, the consensus of legal experts is that the courts will not be sympathetic to him.

These two articles reaffirmed in mind the absolute value of absolute truth. Once we, as humans, begin to tamper with what God says is true and good, we launch ourselves down a slippery slope that will necessarily lead to greater and grander error. Only when we have rejected God’s truth do we need to fight about and wrestle with issues such as whether a baby killed inside its mother is morally and ethically equal to the murder of a baby outside of its mother’s body. Only when we turn from God’s truth do we need to wonder if a man who used to be a woman is really now a woman or a man. When God’s Word is held out as the standard, these questions immediately dissolve in the light of its certainty.

It is not just unbelievers who encounter these strange and unnatural questions. When Christians are swayed from the truth and begin to introduce error into their lives they, too, have to face questions that they really have no need or right to ask. It has been my experience that when I find myself wrestling with issues that seem like they should be clear, more often than not I soon find that I have introduced some kind of error into my thinking. This error brings shades of gray to what is really black and white. God’s Word is given to bring light and clarity. If it seems to bring confusion, you can rest assured that the fault is yours and not the Bible’s!

April 23, 2007

The Pacific Campaign of the Second World War is a fascinating slice of military history. In many ways, it seemed like a nonsensical series of battles between the United States and Japan—battles that ranks as some of the most horrifyingly brutal in the long and terrible history of warfare. As the Americans sought revenge for the devastation of Pearl Harbor, and as they sought to curtail Japanese aggression in the East, they fought their way across the Pacific Ocean, moving slowly and deliberately from island to island. Tiny, seemingly insignificant pieces of coral, jutting from the midst of a boundless ocean, hundreds of miles, thousands even, from the nearest mainland, became fierce battlegrounds. Tens of thousands of lives were lost in conquering little pieces of land. And yet these islands were far more important than their size may have indicated, for they were able to serve as air bases from which strikes could be launched against other islands, and eventually against Japan itself. The insignificant islands were crucial stepping stones across the vast Pacific Ocean.

In this campaign the little things were necessary prerequisites to bigger things. The little pieces of land led to the Japanese mainland. Little things led to big things.

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing our pastor challenge us on erecting idols of the heart. He challenged us to seek out the sin in our lives and to determine where we have built idols that supplant the preeminence that rightly belongs to God. I thought about this yesterday and have, in truth, been thinking about sin a whole lot lately. I’ve been amazed to see lately how God has been dealing with some of my bigger, more glaring sins, completely eradicating their prominence in my life. Some of these sins remain, to be sure, but with only a fraction of the power and hold they had in the past. And for this I am exceedingly grateful. I’ve been asking myself why God would be so gracious in doing this. What does it mean? What does it point to? Why, after so many years of struggle, would God one day suddenly just take them away? Will they come back in such power and strength in the future or are they really and truly diminished for good?

Yet, though God has been so gracious and kind, I know that so much sin remains. So much. When I look at my life and at my heart, at this point at least, I do not see the huge and glaring sins that I may have pointed to even a year ago. Rather, I see many smaller sins, these sins that I know are mere stepping stones to bigger ones. And so, though I have written on this topic in the past (and last summer, to be exact) I felt that today, for the good of my own soul, I needed to revisit it since it may just be that the sin that is most prevalent in my life right now is in allowing these small sins and giving them only scant notice. My big sin is the multitude of small sins.

As with so many other believers, I often tend to feel that I’m a pretty good guy. I have never committed any of the really “bad” sins. I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never committed adultery and I’ve never stolen anything big enough for anyone to notice that it’s missing. I pay my taxes, stick near the speed limit, and try not to hate people. But while I have not committed those big sins, I’ve come to realize just how open I have become to the little sins. To use our military metaphor, while the mainland has not yet been conquered, I can see how I’ve gleefully allowed island after island to fall to Satan. Surely concentrated attacks on the mainland cannot be far behind. Surely big sins will follow these little ones.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, likens Satan’s attacks to bridging a gulf. “If it be desired to bridge a gulf, it is often the custom to shoot an arrow, and cross it with a line almost as thin as film. That line passes over and a string is drawn after it, and after that some small rope, and after that a cable, and after that the swinging suspension bridge, that makes a way for thousands.” An apt metaphor. Not too long ago, the Toronto press reported on a local man who had committed a horrifying murder. A bit of a loner, this man began to use his home computer to look at pornography. Soon light pornography was not enough to satisfy him and he began to look at things that were increasingly perverse and disgusting. He became enslaved to his sin so that before long he was seeking after and finding loads of child pornography. And one day, as he was looking at these horrible acts played out on his computer screen, he looked out his window and saw a young girl walking by. Without planning and without having seriously considered that he might do this or even that he was capable of it, he snatched her from the street. A couple of days later the police found her battered, abused and now lifeless body. The man turned himself in and confessed to the crime, insisting that he had not meant to do something so horrifying, so evil. It is likely true that this was not an act that had been planned for a long time. Satan had conquered island after island in this man’s heart until he finally reached the mainland. A series of small beginnings led to a horrible end. Spurgeon warns against allowing these 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.” I think of the classic tale of the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. If he removes his finger and the water flows, what was once a mere dribble of water will soon become a raging torrent that will flood farmland and drown innocent people. Sin is like the ocean, with a power that, even when restrained, remains potent. It is always pushing against the walls of the dike.

Stories like that of the man who brutalized the little girl terrify me. It’s not that I enjoy pornography or have even ever considered seeking out child pornography. Rather, it terrifies me because it shows the truth of the lesson behind the story—the lesson that little things lead to big things. Thomas Brooks, the Puritan, wrote, “Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do. Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul.” If this is true in the life of an average guy who murdered a little child, could it not be true in my life? The Japanese Army knew this and it led them to fight tooth and nail for each and every little piece of coral in the Pacific Ocean.

in God’s Way of Holiness, Horatius Bonar wrote, “The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness and meanness, little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity—the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life.” Jerry Bridges is astute in pointing out that “it is in the minutiae of life where most of us live day after day.” Few of us are regularly faced with the outright decision of whether or not to commit adultery, but each of us is faced each day with the temptation of stealing a single lustful look or allowing a single lustful fantasy to play out in our minds.

We may think we avoid evil by fleeing the sins we perceive to be greater. But Jesus dealt harshly with such thoughts. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus gave no quarter to sin. He knew that sin begins in the heart and it begins not with a great act of sin, but with many small acts. Surely Cain first grumbled against Abel, and then plotted against him before finally murdering him. Surely David allowed himself to think lustful thoughts and surely he went to the roof of his palace knowing what he might see. Those little sins led to breathtakingly horrifying, ungodly acts of lust and anger.

The truth is, that every sin, whether large or small, is a declaration of war against God. In last year’s Israeli-Lebanon crisis, we saw this principle played out. The Hezbollah sent a few troops across the border into Israel. They did not send an entire army, but only a small squad of soldiers. Still, this was as much a declaration of war as if they had sent every solider under their command. Israel perceived this for the statement it was and reacted accordingly. In the same way even a small sin is a declaration of war against God. After all, Adam and Eve did not commit adultery and did not murder—they merely ate a piece of fruit that God had told them not to eat. This may seem only a small sin, but it is a sin that has made all the difference.

As I reflected on the sin in my life, I have been challenged in my life to guard against the small sins—those sins that seem so small, so insignificant. I have come to see through Scripture and through human experience how those sins soon lead to others. They are but the beginnings of much greater sins. Each and every one, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is a declaration of war and an act of war against the Creator. And if I do not guard against these sins, soon island after island will be conquered and only the mainland will remain, weak and unprotected. It could well be that the greatest sin I face today is in allowing small sins to pass by scarcely noticed, all the while rejoicing that I do not succumb to the greater sins. Yet if I allow the small sins to pass through my heart and I allow them to take root, it is only a matter of time before small things lead to big things.

Thanks be to God that He provides the strength and the power to reconquer and reclaim islands that have already fallen to the enemy. He has won battles, but by the grace of God he will be pushed back, further and further from the mainland, and will not win the war. Through His power even the smallest island can be ably and securely defended.

I append to this article a brief note for my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is good to look to the heart and to assess where Satan has made gains in your life. I plead with you to look long and deep at those little matters, those small sins, those stepping stones to the big and glaring sins. If there is great sin in your life, bring it before God and plead for His grace. But look also to the stepping stones that carried Satan one step at a time. If you struggle with pornography, look to your eyes or look to your attitude towards women and sex; if you struggle with having a foul mouth, look to the movies you watch or the music you listen to; if you struggle with gratitude, look to your understanding of the meaning and power of the cross. At this very moment my wife is outside tending to our garden. Show knows that if she wants to have a lush and beautiful garden, she must deal with the weeds that seek to smother out her plants. Were she to simply snip the top of the weed she would find that they will grow back in just a few days. Instead, she needs to dig down, wrestling with that weed until she extracts it by the roots, tearing it from the soil. Do this with your sin, digging ever deeper and determining where you have given Satan permission to put roots of sin into your life. Tear out those roots, cast them away, and live in freedom.

April 02, 2007

The first Monday in April has long been one of my favorite days of the year. It is the day that the Boys of Summer take to the field and begin the long, difficult journey through the baseball season.

Since I was just a child I have loved baseball. I grew up listening to the sounds of the game and spending every moment I could on the field. My earliest baseball memories go back to the days I lived in Unionville, Ontario, which at the time was a small town just outside of Toronto (it has now been assimilated by the growing urban sprawl known as the Greater Toronto Area). We lived in a beautiful house on a property with almost an acre of grass in the backyard. Though this afforded me many opportunities to practice batting and throwing, I most often spent my time just down the street at the side of a strip-mall near my house. Years before someone had painted a strike-zone on the outside wall of the upholstery store, and for hours and hours every day I stood facing that wall, throwing a tennis ball at the strike zone. I would practice my repertoire of pitches, though in reality there is not much variety when throwing a tennis ball. As the ball bounced back to me I would practice my fielding and practice relaying the ball to an imaginary first baseman. Day after day, all summer long, I would throw a tennis ball against that wall, sharpening my skills and imagining that I was playing for real.

When evening came my favorite pastime was to ride my bike to the local park where every evening there would be some kind of ball game. Usually it was overweight, middle-aged men playing slo-pitch. I would head to the concession area, buy some licorice or Gobstoppers and then sit back and watch the men play. It was not awfully good baseball, of course, but I really didn’t care, for it was still baseball. Sometimes I would be brave and head for one of the dugouts to ask if the team needed a bat boy. More often than not they would gladly let me play that role, so when the plays were over I would sprint over to the fallen bat and retrieve it. That, along with ensuring the bats were all nicely lined up against the fence in the dugout, were my only responsibilities, yet I felt ten feet tall, knowing I was playing my part in the game. I would inevitably lose track of the time and as night was falling I would see my brother walking through the field, coming to tell me that mom and dad said I had to get home right now! As soon as my days of being grounded were over, I would be right back at the park, watching and hoping to be the bat boy once again.

When I was 7 or 8 years old my grandmother bought me a clock radio. As a matter of fact, that same radio still sits beside my bed and still wakes me most mornings, though lately my children often beat the alarm. As a child that radio was my gateway into the world of professional baseball. When I was growing up we had no television (for which I am very thankful) so the radio became my indispensable friend. Every night I would tune in to AM 1430 which was the home of the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto and would listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth do the play-by-play. My parents would tuck me into bed, and as soon as they had left my room I would turn the radio on and I would be at the ballgame. On the weekends I would stop what I was doing at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and head to my room to take in the game. If I was feeling ambitious I would even pull out a scorecard and score the game myself. The commentators would often help out, saying “that’s a 4-2 putout, for those of you scoring at home.”

My obsession for baseball led me to try my hand at the game and for several years I played in various softball leagues. Though I was never a star player, I had a much better head for the game than the rest of the kids, for I knew the rules inside and out. I was occasionally even able to talk my way past the umpires. Once I remember talking myself out of an infield fly, even though I knew full-well that I should have been out. I began my playing days at third base, but soon found that first base was where I really loved playing. I was good enough that I never got stuck out in right field, but not good enough to get placed at shortstop. But that was fine, for as long as I was on the field I was happy.

Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are the times my father would take me to see my heroes in action. Once a year we would sit down in front of a schedule and choose a game we were going to go to. As we drove downtown, first to Exhibition Stadium and later to Skydome, the excitement would rise. We would climb to our seats and for the next 3 hours my eyes would be fixated on the field. For the same 3 hours my father’s eyes would be fixated on the crowd as he watched bizarre human behavior. While I was an avid baseball fan, my father was not — he derived his pleasure from watching the drunk guy who held the bell that would ring whenever George Bell came come to the plate or from any of the other strange shows of behavior one sees where tens of thousands of people gather. I was a student of baseball while he was a student of human behavior. After the game we would always go to the same little pizza parlour for some slices of pepperoni pizza and a can of Coke. It was the perfect end to the perfect night.

When I was in eighth grade my family moved to Ancaster, a small town outside of Hamilton. It was here that I got my first taste of playing hardball. I loved knowing I was playing the same game as the men in the major leagues. At our first practice I remember the coach watching me play and saying “you’ve got a rocket!” That, of course, meant that I could throw the ball hard and he decided he would try me at pitcher. What an honor it was to get to stand there on the rubber, knowing that the game was in my hands. I honestly do not recall how many games I pitched and how I did. I do remember my first strikeout and with shame remember my first balk. Unfortunately, though, my pitching repertoire consisted of only a few pitches (slow, fast and faster) and it was not enough to set me apart from the ace on our team (whose pitches were fast, faster and fastest). My greatest memory of that season, my final season playing baseball, was the final game of the playoffs. We had advanced that far and were playing a team which had some very strong hitters. It came to the final inning and the score was tied. My coach put me in left field knowing that I would be able to track down any fly balls that came that way. Sure enough, there came a pivotal moment where the opposing team had a runner on second with two out. The batter knocked a solid hit into left — a good single. Naturally the runner from second was going to try to make it home with the go-ahead run. I fielded the ball on a hop and without breaking stride, launched it at my catcher. It bounced perfectly halfway between third and home and hopped right into his mitt. All he had to do was wait for the runner to hit his glove. He did, and just like that the inning was over and the threat had ended. In our next at-bat we scored the winning run to win the championship. My memory is not of winning, but of people celebrating the catcher’s perfect play at the plate when I had been the one who made the perfect throw. I think there is a lesson in there somewhere!

Two of the happiest moments of my life came in 1992 and 1993, for those were the years that the Blue Jays were at their best. They won the World Series in 1992, beating out the Atlanta Braves in a spectacular 6-game showdown. 1993, though, was special, for that game ended in a way that has happened only twice in baseball’s long history. In the bottom of the ninth inning in game six of the World Series, Joe Carter hit a home run to win the game. I can still remember the commentator’s voices rising and breaking as they called that long homer to left. I remember the celebration as in houses all around the city cheering broke out. Cars drove down the street honking their horns. I jumped and bounced and celebrated a great victory. My long years of following the Jays’ every move had finally paid off — twice!

I do not follow baseball as closely as I used to. As I have gotten older I have found other hobbies and interests that take my attention from the superstars on the baseball diamonds. I have found people whom I respect far more than the boys of summer. Yet when the white of winter begins to melt into the green of spring, my mind always returns to the simple pleasures of my youth — the pleasures of the crack of a bat and the sharp sting of a ball hitting a mitt. My heart always beats a little faster on the first Monday of April as it is the day the Blue Jays return to the field and announce that baseball season has, once again, begun.

Today the Toronto Blue Jays will take to the field and will pick up their first win of the season against the Detroit Tigers. In a few days my son and I will sit down, pull out the schedule, and plan a trip or two into Toronto to watch the game. We’ll go and watch the game together and then buy some slices of pizza on the way home. Meanwhile, he’ll undoubtedly be spending his time outside in the yard throwing and catching a baseball, honing his skills and falling in love with the game.

March 29, 2007

I’ve been thinking for a while now that it would be interesting and beneficial to have bloggers post their testimonies to their blogs. Some have already done this, but many (myself included) have not. And yet I love testimonies and find them so beautiful and so moving. It is amazing to read about the many ways God saves His people. He uses an infinite variety of means to draw an infinite variety of His people to Himself. Testimonies stand as evidence of God’s grace, showing God’s ability and desire to save people of all types and from all walks of life. They inspire Christians to appreciate the goodness and grace of the Lord. They are also valuable for witnessing to others. So I thought I would put a challenge out for Christian bloggers to post their testimonies to their blogs next Tuesday (we can call it Testimony Tuesday). When you have done so, send me a link through email and I’ll collect them all on my site. And we can rejoice in God’s goodness together.

If you are a blog reader but not a blog owner, why not find a friend and post your testimony to his blog or in his comment section.

Just to kick things off, here is my testimony as I wrote it out when applying for membership at our church.

I can never remember a time that I did not consider myself a Christian. That is a strange way to begin a testimony, I admit, but it is the truth. And still I think my story is a testimony not to anything I’ve been or done, but to the grace of God.

I was raised in a Christian home. My parents were both first generation Christians who were converted only shortly before marrying. When I was born they were Anglican and were on the path to embracing those great doctrines of God’s grace and sovereignty. When I was only an infant they spent the better part of a year at L’Abri in England, learning about Christian doctrine and living through the children and proteges of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Upon their return we joined a Presbyterian church and, when I was in grade school, migrated to Reformed churches in the Dutch tradition. At some point when I was only five or six years old I seemed to make a commitment to Christ. While I do not remember this, my parents do and feel that it was a genuine expression of faith. Through my childhood we went to church just about any time the doors were upon, read the Bible as a family and memorized catechisms. I also attended Christian schools where I was taught about the world through a Christian perspective and was made to learn Christian history and theology. Sadly, this theological tradition tends to assume the salvation of any born into it. It also tends to overplay the importance of corporate identity in Christ at the expense of a living, vibrant and personal faith. While my parents did much to overcome this deficiency, I always assumed I was a Christian but rarely stopped to ponder if I really was. I considered myself a believer but, in retrospect, showed very little evidence of this.

When I was fifteen or sixteen I came in contact, through a friend, with the Christian rock band Petra. He had fallen in love with their music and played one of their tapes for me. I reacted as I had been implicitly taught through the churches and schools I had been attending most of my life. I laughed and scoffed. And yet I copied a few of the songs and took them home with me. I listened to them time and again and soon bought as many of their albums as I could afford. This music did something in me that I had not expected. The music was full of “I” and “me” and personal challenges and made me consider whether I could, in good conscience, sing along with the band. The song “Underground” stands out in particular.

I won’t go underground I won’t turn and flee I won’t bow the knee I won’t go underground I won’t run and hide from the rising tide I won’t go underground I won’t compromise what the world denies I won’t go underground And I’m not ashamed of the cross I’ve claimed

Did I really have the kind of faith that would not run and hide? Was I willing to compromise? Had I really claimed the cross? Was this Christian faith really mine, or was it something I was just acting out as I imitated my parents? It seems silly, I know, that such simple songs could challenge me this deeply. And yet they did. They just simmered in my mind and in my heart.

That winter my parents decided, against my wishes, to send my brother and me to a winter retreat at a church near our cottage. This was a Reformed Presbyterian Church and the retreat drew teens from Ottawa all the way to upstate New York. That weekend I saw something that surprised me; something that was foreign to me. I saw teenagers willing to live out their faith and unashamed of doing it. I saw teenagers who did not just claim to be Christians but, to my great surprise, actually acted like Christians. This shocked me and made me uncomfortable and yet somehow it also intrigued me. I wanted whatever these kids had.

I returned to high school markedly different. I soon began to feel a distance from my friends. I began to live like a Christian more than ever before and my friends were unimpressed. They mocked me, telling me I was becoming a holy roller. Their criticism, the newfound emphasis on personally embracing the gospel and the knowledge that teens actually could live like Christians circulated in my mind. One evening, only weeks after returning from the retreat, I remember sitting in my room listening to music and reading, of all things, Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. The book ended just as the album did. The final song on the album ended in a chorus that repeated “Let the trumpet sound throughout the universe / We proclaim the glory of the Lord / Jesus Christ has gained for us the victory / He’s already won the holy war.” Sometime inside me changed. I collapsed on my bed and told God to do with my life whatever He wanted. I had an awareness of my sin and an awareness of God’s grace that was far more prevalent than at any other time I remember before then. I don’t know if this moment marked my conversion or if it just marked the moment that I truly stepped out and made the faith of my parents my own. Either way, it was a defining moment for me and one that remains dear. I increasingly began to desire to follow hard after God. I began to see the world through the lens of Scripture and began to value what God values. My life was transformed.

I soon left both the church and school. I had to. I couldn’t be in places that dragged up bad memories and places where so many people my age acted in ways that were completely inconsistent with their profession. I had been given a new start and needed to start over in other areas as well. God so ordained it that on my very first day at my new school I met the woman who was to become my wife. We married five years later.

As I look over my life I see a testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness. By grace He saved my parents and then showed His faithfulness in answering their prayers by bringing myself and my four siblings to Himself. By grace He caused me as a young boy to cry out to Him and later to see the reality of my parent’s faith and the truth of His Word and then to turn to Him in faith and obedience. By grace He allowed my life to intersect with Aileen’s so that our two stories, our two testimonies, have now blended into one. By grace He has already begun to conform me to the image of His Son and in faith I trust that His grace will sustain me to the end. This truly is a testimony, not to anything I’ve been or done, but to the love and grace of God.

March 28, 2007

I was skimming headlines a few days ago and noticed a story about some activists on a college campus who were planning to cover all of the school’s mirrors for a day. I did not read long enough to see why they wanted to do this, but I assume it was somehow meant to draw attention to a problem the school or government was covering up. You know how these college-aged activists are, always thinking they are so clever and profound. But in this case they got me to thinking about life without mirrors.

Now I’m not one of those metrosexual guys who spends half of my life primping and preening in front of a mirror. My bathroom isn’t stocked with hundreds of different kinds of moisturizers, hair products and body sprays. But I still wouldn’t want to start my day without a quick peek into the mirror. I still like to make sure that my weird and wiry hair isn’t doing anything too obnoxious and that the afflictions of age (primarily those thick black hairs that seem to grow suddenly out of strange places) are not protruding from places they shouldn’t be.

There is something comforting about peering into a mirror every now and then. Certainly there is usually no reason to gaze at myself when I go into a bathroom but, like you, I always make a cursory check to ensure that nothing too weird is going on. If I eat a poppy seed bagel (my favorite!) I have to check that there isn’t a seed stuck between those two teeth that are just a tiny bit crooked and always (always!) manage to trap a seed. Few things are worse than trooping around all day and only realizing at the end of it that I’ve had a piece of parsley or spinach stuck to one of my teeth or that I’ve had a ridiculous cowlick. You know the feeling.

My personal Bible study this morning took me to the closing verses of the first chapter of James. You no doubt know these words well:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

As I read these verses and began to meditate upon them I was reminded immediately of those activists on the college campus. I realized that I would never intentionally head out to a meeting or an appointment without first checking a mirror to make sure that everything looked just about right (or as right as it can, anyways, based on what I’m working with here). Covering all the mirrors in our house would bother me! And then I was struck by the way James portrays the Bible as a mirror for the heart. I thought of how loathe I am to begin my day without peering into a mirror but how little it troubles me when I begin the day without peering into the mirror of the Word.

I know there have been times when I’ve forgotten to check a mirror before heading out. Most of the time it hasn’t mattered, but there have been a couple of occasions when I realized only when it was too late that I had forgotten to shave or that I was still showing clear evidence on my face of having eaten a chocolate cookie earlier in the day. I could have saved myself embarrassment by just checking the mirror. I know there have been times when I’ve forgotten or neglected to look into the mirror of the Word, the perfect law of liberty, to assess my heart. Most of the time it hasn’t shown, but I know there have been occasions when I gave clear evidence of this to the people I encountered. There have been other times that I’ve read the Bible, but have not allowed it to penetrate or to take hold. I’ve been just the person James warns about who “looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” I have looked quickly, glanced briefly, but have not looked long enough to allow the Scripture to reflect back to me my sin and God’s standard of holiness. I have gone merrily on my way having already forgotten to be both a hearer and a doer.

God’s Word has the unique ability to give great clarity to what God demands and expects of us. It also unmasks our sin and our rebellion. I would be a fool not to gaze into this mirror every day. I would be a fool to go about life without regularly looking into this amazing mirror.

March 24, 2007

Roy Halladay is Toronto Blue Jays’ ace pitcher and is one of the top players in baseball. Halladay has a well-established routine that begins as soon as a game is complete and continues until the next game has begun five or six days later. He has another routine which takes him from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. And, like many players, has a routine which takes him from pitch-to-pitch. His off-season regimen, which prepares him for a long and grueling season of baseball, is legendary and readies more than his arm. To prepare his mind he reads The Mental ABC’s of Pitching seven or eight times every season. To hone his concentration he carries with him a series of laminate grids filled with 100 randomly numbered squares that he crosses off in order, from 00 to 99, with an erasable marker. “Every day that I’m not pitching, I’m doing something that’s going to help me when I’m out there, not just vegging on the bench or in the hotel room,” he says. To prepare his body he works out constantly and so vigorously that he rarely breaks into a sweat during a game. He has the reputation of being the team’s hardest worker. Not surprisingly, he is also the team’s best player. His team members flock to him, eager to learn from his routine so they, in turn, can become better players. While Halladay is clearly a talented athlete, what sets him apart is his preparation. He prepares to pitch by rigorously preparing himself both physically and mentally. He tends to more than his arm, but looks to his entire body and mind. He knows that to be a great player requires skill and preparation in a wide variety of disciplines.

I have been thinking about what is necessary to be a man or woman of discernment (and you’ll have to forgive me for the constant discernment talk these days. For obvious reasons it is much on my mind). It is clear that discernment is not a discipline that can be pursued on its own. A person who wishes to be discerning cannot simply read and study the passages of the Bible dealing with discernment. He cannot concentrate only on making the black-and-white decisions necessitated by discernment. Rather, he must look further and prepare himself in a variety of disciplines. He must be a person who prays, who studies the Bible, who is committed to a local church, and so on. He must maintain a particular posture. This makes me think of a sprinter. Just as a person who wishes to win a sprint will have to begin the race in a certain posture, crouched low with legs ready to spring forward, a person who wishes to be discerning must maintain a particular spiritual posture.

While this idea of spiritual posture arose from my musings on discernment, I have come to see that it has wide application. In any discipline of the Christian life, we need to have a certain kind of posture. There is nothing a Christian does or practices that is isolated from everything else. Too often I get hung up on one thing. I emphasize prayer and let Bible-reading slip. I emphasize reading my Bible and let prayer slip. But these disciplines are necessarily inter-related and together form the posture that allows me to run the race in a way that brings glory to God.

February 21, 2007

I am quite a fan of sports, or certain sports at any rate. One thing that has always attracted me to sports, and baseball in particular, is the numbers. I can take a brief look at a list of players and immediately have a sense as to how they are doing. The sports pages always have these great lists of statistics, showing batting averages, on base percentages, numbers of hits, home runs, singles, doubles and runs batted in. Sorting those lists quickly allows the best players to rise to the top. Statistics has become such an art, such a science, that every aspect of the game can be boiled down to a number or a rating. Even the inevitable intangibles have been boiled down to numbers and percentages. The fact is that success in sports is easily measured, easily tabulated, and easily understood in simple numbers.

But sports is one of the few areas where this actually works. Back when I used to work in the corporate world I would have to undergo the annual process known as a “performance review.” I would be given a form which would guide me in rating myself in various areas. I had to determine if I was poor, below average, average, above average or excellent in my leadership skills, in performing the responsibilities of my job, in participating in teamwork, and on and on. I would then submit this form to my manager and he would walk me through the form he had filled out on my behalf. We would compare notes to see where his impressions of me were different from my impressions of myself. It was sometimes a helpful process, but there was something just a bit humiliating about it. There was something dehumanizing about boiling down a year’s worth of work into a number between one and five. There was little room for the unmeasurable skills, for the contributions that are not mentioned on the form or that are not easily measured. I hated performance reviews and am thankful that, because I am self-employed, I no longer have to endure them.

The success of a Christian life is difficult to measure. Occasionally I receive some kind of a test or assessment that seeks to lead me through my skills, gifting, abilities and so on. This assessment will apparently help me understand how I am doing as a Christian and what areas I need to work on. But, as with a corporate performance review, boiling down the Christian life to a list of numbers and ratings just doesn’t work. I can’t rate myself between one and five in areas like evangelism, personal devotions and church attendance. It just doesn’t work.

And yet there is one time in the year when I receive a numeric rating that helps me gauge my “performance” in at least one area. And at the same time of the year I receive a numeric rating that helps me see just how much God has blessed me. That time of the year is right now—it is tax time.

I dislike tax time almost as much as I dislike performance reviews. As a self-employed guy I know that I will never again experience the wonder of the tax refund. I owe money, and lots of money, to the government every April. Every spring I have to dig deep and come up with a year’s worth of income tax so I can pay the government what I owe. With Canadian taxes being what they are (this “free” health care we enjoy isn’t really anywhere near free as so many Canadians are reminded this time of year) this is never a small amount.

So while the very bottom line on a tax return (the “this is what you owe us” line) is often painful to me, the one immediately above that, the one that shows my income, is always a blessing. I typically cringe to see it because I know that the very bottom number is necessarily influenced by the one right above it. And yet I am always amazed at just how God has blessed us financially in the year that has just passed. Since Aileen and I have been married we have seen that number go up and down. But always it has been enough. Usually it has been more than enough. For just one brief moment I can see God’s providence through another year written plainly in black ink on that little line.

There is another line that is of equal importance. Further up in the form is the spot where I have to list the amount of money I have donated to eligible charitable organizations throughout the year. Through the first two months of the year, these organizations are responsible for sending tax receipts to anyone who has donated money and, as often as not, I am surprised when I receive these forms. I expect one from my church, but often forget other individuals and organizations I have supported through the year. I compile these little numbers and arrive at a bigger number. And then I compare this number to the number mentioned earlier, the one on the second line from the bottom. This may be a moment of humility and a moment of shame, especially if the one number is just the tiniest fraction of the other. Hopefully, however, it will again cause me to marvel at God’s goodness in providing for my family. Hopefully it will be a moment of holy humility as I see the hand of God’s provision. It may be a moment of joy as I see that God has continued to impress upon me the importance of being obedient to Him so that I understand the importance of giving regularly to His work. Not many unbelievers would be willing to give away ten percent of their income; not many would be able to. And yet, as Christians, we know that all we have is God’s and that He rewards faithfulness, consistently providing for those who return to Him the first fruits of their labor.

Of course numbers are not a thorough measure of our giving. They may tell how much we have given, but they cannot tell us about the spirit in which they have been given. God knows and judges our hearts, and He cannot be fooled by mere numbers. He expects that we give joyfully. Numbers look much the same whether they are grudging or joyful. But not to God. He knows.

Tax time is an awful time. It is mostly a thankless time. And yet we would be remiss if we did not use it as an opportunity to examine our hearts, to measure at least the quantity our gifts and offerings to God, and to see at least some measure of His faithfulness to us through another year. It more than offsets the pain of having to empty bank accounts to give to the government what they demand and deserve.