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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

February 13, 2007

Thank you. Just over a week ago I asked that you would pray for me. I asked that God would allow me opportunity both to work (and thus make money to support my family) and to find time to finish up my book in what is going to be a very busy six to eight weeks. Someone must have taken the time to pray for me because God answered in an amazing way. Late last week I got a call from a person whose client needed a site completed on an emergency basis. When he told me how much these people were willing to pay, my eyes bugged out a little bit. I dropped everything and worked on the site for two days, Friday and Saturday. During this time I made what is pretty well a month’s worth of money. So thank you for praying. God is good. This is yet another God moment, another story, proving to me that God is behind me in writing this book. It means the world to me.

For the last few weeks I’ve felt as if I’m somehow living under some kind of special blessing. The realities of God’s care and provision seem so real to me—probably more real than at any other time in my life. I can’t really explain it. Perhaps I should turn to the Puritans, those men and women who had such a gift for understanding and explaining the realities of God’s involvement in our lives. Perhaps they would be able to help me understand. I’ve had lots of moments in my life where I’ve felt so close to God, so aware of His presence. Sometimes they last for minutes and sometimes for days. I think every Christian experiences these and every Christian begs God to never let them go away. And yet they always do. What I feel now is different. It’s not a feeling as much as a sense and understanding of the reality that God is providing in ways that somehow seem beyond the course of the ordinary. That’s the best I can do.

And even while God is providing for me in such amazing ways, I am shocked and amazed by my own prayerlessness. As with many Christians, spending time with God in Scripture and prayer has been a lifelong struggle with me. Neither of these disciplines comes naturally to me and I fight constantly to spend time with God and to even want to spend time with God. It is one that breeds guilt and shame. It breeds exasperation. Even at my most insightful moments I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what it is that convinces me that I should do anything but spend a good part of my day studying God’s Word and pouring out my heart to Him. Even at those times when I feel like I am making strides forward, I still know how much better I could do. I’m amazed at my own failures. It’s not that I don’t pray at all, but more that I just don’t pray enough. I don’t pray often enough and I don’t pray earnestly enough.

Recently I’ve been reading Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne (of Matthias Media fame). I’ve found this book helpful in understanding why we, and why I, don’t pray. It is too easy to say “I’m lazy” or “I can’t find the time” or “I can’t be bothered.” These reasons are too much on the surface and must be mere symptoms of a deeper, greater problem. Jensen and Payne point to three broad reasons. These are not the surface reasons, but the deeper heart issues that feed the surface reasons.

First, we don’t pray because we have false views of God. In our hearts we doubt that God is able to respond to our prayers. We may think that He is limited by natural laws he put in place to govern the world or that He is limited by his fixed, sovereign will. Alternatively, we may doubt that God is willing to respond to our prayers and act in a way that benefits us. We may question whether God is willing to act because of the problem of evil or because we consider our requests too small or insignificant to merit His attention. Of course these are all false assumptions. And, while they may manifest themselves in excuses like “I just don’t have time today,” they are based on a view of God that is opposed to how He reveals Himself to us in Scripture. We sin when we think of God in such human ways.

The second reason is that we have false views of our relationship with God. We may not trust God as we should and persist in this disobedience. We may think that our prayers have only been heard if and when we receive exactly what we asked for or we may think that our feelings are accurate indicators of our prayers and whether or not God has heard them. These are also false assumptions. The reality is that God may answer prayer in an infinite number of ways and we may never understand just how God has answered. He may also answer with a “no.” And while our feelings are important, they cannot stand as the measure of the quality of our prayers or the extent to which God has heard them. Prayer is to be an objective fact of our relationship with God, not a subjective impression of our feelings. And, as the authors point out, “the important thing about trust is not how strong the trust is or how it feels, but whether the thing you’re trusting in is trustworthy.”

The final reason is simply sin and Satan. The ultimate basis of our difficulty is not intellectual but moral and spiritual. Our sin keeps us from acknowledging our dependence on God and our lack of independence. Because we are sinful we do not want to rely on God or respond to His call to trust and prayer. And, of course, Satan, our old adversary, will do all he can to keep us from praying. He will interfere in whatever way he can.

These are three reasons, each of which contributes to the “I don’t have time” and “I can’t be bothered” excuses that we offer all too often. I am spending time searching my heart to see how these false assumptions have somehow fueled my prayerlessness. I know in my head that I need to pray, that I need to pray earnestly, and that I need to pray a lot. And somehow I so often seem not to. There must be something in my heart, something lurking there, that is keeping me from acting on what I know. There must be something that is keeping me from living in obedience and from effectively denying the sovereignty of God on such a consistent basis. There must be.

The authors say, rightly I believe, that the hardest part of prayer is starting. And this is where we so often fail. It is where I so often fail. I do not commit to prayer as a discipline that is absolutely critical to my relationship with God. And then it becomes just so easy to let it slip by or to give it only a token effort. And yet somehow God still sees fit to bless me so richly. He is good.

February 09, 2007

This time next week, if all goes well, I will be sitting on a plane, on my way to Los Angeles. I will be heading to the Terrace Theatre: Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center (that’s a mouth full!) to bring liveblogging of the Resolved Conference. This kicks off my 2007 liveblogging schedule—a schedule that is ridiculously full.

I never anticipated that I’d be traveling across the United States blogging conferences. It is really something that just kind of happened to me (much like just about everything else about this web site). Liveblogging is really a new phenomenon and one I am mostly making up as I go. There is really no model to follow and no objectively right way of doing it. I do enjoy liveblogging a great deal and am looking forward to all of the opportunities that are fast approaching. As I weighed various opportunities, I was struck by the diversity of ministries that are either distinctly Reformed or that appeal to a Reformed audience. This diversity quickly became my theme as I decided which invitations to accept and which to regretfully decline. I find it thrilling that I’ll have the opportunity to criss-cross the continent this year and see so many ministries in action. I find it unlikely that I will be offered or be able to accept such a variety in the future. Time will tell. But for this year I just couldn’t decline so many incredible opportunities.

There are conferences “seasons,” with most conferences being held in the spring or fall. My schedule reflects this. Here are the conferences I hope to attend this year.

I will be kicking off my Spring conference itinerary with the Resolved Conference, a conference inspired by the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards and geared towards a younger audience (I anticipate being one of the oldest people in the audience!). It is a ministry of Grace Community Church. I’ve invited one of the young guys (he’s single, ladies!) from our church to go along with me and am looking forward to spending the weekend with him. Speakers at this conference will be Rick Holland, John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, C.J. Mahaney and John Piper. Can you think of a group of men better qualified to address this young crowd?

Two weeks after Resolved, I’ll be heading back to L.A. (this time with my pastor) for the Shepherd’s Conference which runs from the 6th until the 10th of March. This is also a ministry of Grace Church and is geared towards pastors. I was at this conference last year and enjoyed it a great deal. This year the conference is adding a “Scholar’s Desk,” a stand-up desk outside the main auditorium. At the desk there will be assigned scholars and topics with two or three scholars on duty during all of the time slots. Anyone who cares to drop by will be able to ask any question about the given topic. Topics will include student ministries, expository preaching, counseling, and so on. Another of the topics will be blogging, and they’ve asked me to serve at the desk during this time. It is not often that “scholar” and “blogger” are used together, so I will definitely take advantage of this opportunity. It ought to be fun. Speakers at this year’s conference are largely the same as last year: John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Steve Lawson, Ligon Duncan and John Piper. While the conference officially extends until the Sunday, I will head home on the Saturday.

The next conference is just a few days later! The Ligonier Conference begins on the 15th and runs until the 17th. The speakers at this conference are R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler and Ravi Zacharias. I will make my way down to Orlando and take in this conference with my brother-in-law.

Amazingly enough, all three of these conferences have filled up and have closed registration. I believe Ligonier will be the biggest with about 5,000 in attendance. The fact that all of these conferences are filled attests to the growing interest in conferences. I suspect the Internet has done wonders in making it easier to publicize these conferences and draw people to them. And, of course, all three of them have a great lineup of speakers. By this time I’m assuming that John Piper will consider taking out a restraining order against the weird Canadian guy that seems to be following him from conference to conference.

After Ligonier I’ll have a few weeks off and will then head for Mississippi for the Twin Lakes Fellowship. This conference is a ministry of Ligon Duncan’s First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi and is unique in that it is small and relatively unknown. Still, it promises to be very interesting. Speakers will include Ligon Duncan, Derek Thomas and Thabiti Anyabwile. I do believe this will be the first conference I’ll go to by myself!

Next up is The Basics: A Pastor’s Conference, which is held in Cleveland, Ohio from May 7-9. It is associated with Alistair Begg’s Parkside Church. Keith and Kristyn Getty will be leading worship. Speaking will be Alistair Begg, Derek Thomas, Edward Lobb and Voddie Baucham. I know very little about Alistair Begg, Truth for Life and Parkside Church and am really looking forward to learning more about them.

The final conference of the spring is New Attitude which runs from May 26-29 and is held in Louisville, Kentucky. This conference targets much the same crowd as Resolved and is sponsored by Sovereign Grace Ministries. The topic, spiritual discernment, is near and dear to my heart. I have often questioned the wisdom of submitting my book and then, just weeks later, going to hear John Piper, Josh Harris, Al Mohler, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney discuss the very same topic! It could prove very humbling. Aileen will be coming to this conference with me (her first conference!) so it will be great to spend the weekend with her.

Where my spring is going to be very busy, the fall looks lighter. The only conference I’ve committed to is the Alpha & Omega conference. It begins in Seattle and then heads to a cruise ship for a tour up the coast of the Pacific Northwest. It looks like I am unlikely to be at this year’s Desiring God conference, one I have been at for the past two years. There are another couples of opportunities I am weighing, but it seems likely that it will be a quiet fall for me.

So there you have it. I am eager to make these liveblogging opportunities as useful and edifying as they can possibly be. I want to be able to serve both the conference organizers and the people who read this site and am eager for any insight into how I can do that. So please, if there are aspects of my previous attempts at liveblogging that you have hated or there are some things you would like me to improve, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

February 03, 2007

I am drawing ever-closer to the deadline to hand my book to the publisher. The current word count is somewhere around 43,000 and the page count around 140 (though obviously the page count can change a whole lot based on the spacing, font selection and so on). As work continues and as the book draws closer to completion, I am becoming increasingly excited and, even better, increasingly convinced that this book may actually have something to say (imagine that!).

There have been a lot of pretty neat God moments along the way. A few weeks ago I had decided to focus a day’s writing on a passage in Hebrews, but did not have a lot in the way of Hebrews resources. The mail showed up just a few minutes after I had sat down at my desk and, when I opened it up, found a review copy of a newly published commentary on Hebrews. It addressed head-on the issues I was writing about that day and proved very helpful to me. Just yesterday I decided to focus on a particular passage in Ephesians. Once again the mail showed up and there, courtesy of a publisher, was an Ephesians study guide that I had not ordered and had not expected. And once again it proved very helpful. Since this project began I’ve seen irrefutable evidence of God’s assistance with this project; I’ve seen it time and again. These little moments, these little moments of providence, have been greatly encouraging to me.

I anticipate that the manuscript will be ready for me to send to the publisher around six weeks from now (eight weeks at the lastest). That may be a tad ambitious, but I do hope I can make that deadline. However, for that to happen, I think I am going to need a lot of prayer. My spring live-blogging schedule begins in just two weeks (with a trip to California for the Resolved Conference) and between then and the end of March I’ll be making yet another trip to California for the Shepherd’s Conference, a trip to Orlando for Ligonier and a trip to Atlanta to visit my family. And, of course, I have a lot of web design projects underway with new ones set to begin soon. If this book is going to be completed, I’ll have to be very careful with my time, something that has always given me trouble. I am also going to have to steal some time from my paying job in order to work on the book which could potentially introduce financial difficulties (especially with a particularly horrendous tax bill facing me not too long from now, for such are the joys of being self-employed). Despite a busy schedule I’m confident that I can keep all of these balls in the air, but only with God’s help.

And so I’d ask for your prayers. Please pray that God will continue to bless my efforts in writing this book; pray that God will help me organize my time and use my time wisely; pray that God will keep me from cutting into my time with Him in order to work on other projects; pray that God would provide for us financially. I covet your prayers and thank you in advance for them!

January 31, 2007

Being a parent is wonderful. Parenting is filled with moments of joy and happiness and excitement and love. But it’s also filled with moments of almost overwhelming frustration. We’ve had plenty of great times and plenty of awfully frustrating times in the past few weeks. A couple of days ago Aileen and I were talking about the children (our two older children in particular) and I said, “You know, what I find most frustrating is that they seriously think we’re out to get them. They really think that we are always raining on their parades rather than looking out for their best interests.” And sure, there are times that we are acting selfishly, putting our own interests ahead of those of our children. But far more often than not, we are truly interested in protecting them, and most often we need to protect them from themselves—from their own silliness, willfulness or ignorance.

“No, really, pants that end four inches above your ankle look really, really silly!” “No, those are long johns, not pants. You wear them under your pants, not instead of pants!” “You do NOT want to eat that. Trust me!” And so often the response we get is anger or frustration rather than gratitude. If you are a parent you know exactly what I am referring to. Children are constantly doing, saying and attempting things that are going to put them in danger or perhaps even just make them look and feel ridiculous. We are constantly reacting to these things, trying to help them understand what is best for them—what will serve them rather than hurt them, what will be good for them rather than harm them. It is a constant battle to help them understand how to live in this world.

Over the past few days I have been reading the manuscript of a book that will be published later this year. It is a book dealing with relationships between men and women. It is quite atypical as these books go, focusing on complementarity and focusing on the gospel. In reading the book I was struck by how the sin of my children is really so similar to my own and to the sin that has plagued humanity for so many years.

You know the story of Genesis 3 as well as I do. That crafty serpent comes to Eve and says to her:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

God, the one who created the world, told Adam and Eve how they were to live in it. They were able to enjoy everything the world had to offer, but for one tree. The whole world was open to them but for this one small thing. But we all know how it happened. Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was not really looking out for their best interests at all. No, God was being selfish to deny Adam and Eve the fruit from that tree. He was holding them back, keeping them from being like Him, knowing good and evil. And so they rebelled. They did things their way. They lost confidence in God’s benevolence and gobbled down the fruit. But no sooner had they eaten that fruit than they saw that they were naked. Their eyes were opened, the Bible says. Their hearts were shut. The wages of their sin would be death. I can’t help but wonder how long it took after they sank their teeth into the fruit that they saw some innocent little creature be pounced on and devoured before their eyes. How long before they saw blood flow and began to witness the carnage they had unleashed?

Since that day we have all rebelled against authority. We no longer believe in the benevolence of those who lead us. Children naturally assume that their parents are out to get them. Wives believe that their husbands are looking out for their own interests above anyone else’s. Citizens assume that governments are shortchanging us. And all of us believe that God is being less than forthcoming, less than loving. We believe that God is giving us something less than what is best. We react to his loving commands with groans and grumbles and frustration.

The frustration I feel with my children when they rebel against my concern and my love for them, must be only the faintest shadow of the frustration God feels towards me. They rebel against me in small ways while I rebel against Him in ways that are so much bigger and so much more significant. The sin of my children has given me opportunity to reflect on the state of my own heart and to repent of my sin of rebellion against God’s authority. Parenting is sometimes a delight and sometimes a frustration, but always an opportunity to learn and to grow. I’m grateful that God let me learn this lesson.

January 23, 2007

This thing called blogging is not nearly as easy as it looks, and this is especially true in a blog that receives a good deal of traffic. I suppose if you were to plot out the history of this blog in terms of its traffic, you would end up with a graph showing a slow but steady rise from the left of the graph (representing the time I began the site) to the right (representing today). I do not follow traffic all that closely and have never invested any time in streamlining this site for search engine optimization and the like. I just like to write and to attempt to encourage and interact with other believers. And yet a quick look at my site’s statistics shows that I should anticipate more than a million unique visits in 2007. Traffic continues to grow. And really I hate the word “traffic.” After all, each visit is made not only by a computer, but by a person. Traffic seems so dehumanizing. As the readership of this site has increased, so have the types of people who read it.

When a blog first starts out, there are typically only a few readers and the readers that do spend time at the site tend to agree with the author. When I first began writing at this site, it was only my family that read it. Eventually a few friends and friends of friends began to read it. But as it grew, people from further outside my circles began to show up. Soon it was being read by people I had never met and people whose theology was light years away from mine. As the readership grew, so did the number of theological perspectives. Needless to say, where there is a large number of perspectives, there will be a large number of disagreements.

So while today some people read the site because they tend to agree with my theological perspectives, others read it precisely because they do not. Some read it simply because they’ve heard about it and want to know what the fuss is about. Still others read it because they want to comment in the hope that people will follow a comment link back to their own blog. Some probably read it because Phil Johnson got it in his head to begin calling me “The World’s Most Famous Christian Blogger” and people who saw that title simply wanted to figure out who I am. Either way, where people used to read the site primarily because they felt some kind of affinity with me, people now read for any number of reasons.

This has introduced an interesting phenomenon and one I’ve only noticed recently. It seems that the site is now at the point that, no matter what I write, someone will disagree with me (and may just disagree vehemently). If I mention a contentious issue like the TNIV, I can be assured that someone will be bothered that I did not provide a blanket condemnation of the translation. But, of course, had I done so, others would have been bothered that I overstepped my bounds. This is inevitable, I realize. But it is requiring me to make adjustments to my mindset in regards to the blog. I am usually a person who shuns controversy and it is quite foreign to me to have to deal with people who strongly disagree with me.

I have also come to realize the importance of theological precision. I do not consider the vast majority of what I write to be systematic theology or even to be true teaching. Often I just reflect on what has been playing through my mind and make those reflections public. Yesterday, for example, I wrote about prayer and said that prayer is not something I do for me, but something I do for God. A few commenters noted this and disagreed with me, saying that there is nothing God needs from us. I do not wish to open this can of worms except to say that yesterday’s article was not meant to be a theology of prayer. Really it was more of a personal reflection upon the subject of prayer. The difference was clear in my mind and yet I suppose I failed to convey that. Either way, I’ve come to see that I need to attempt to ensure greater accuracy and precision. I may have to scale back a little bit on my personal reflections since, by definition, they do not always represent fully-formed theology. They are personal and perhaps are often better left that way.

There have been times in the past when this site has undergone something of a transition. What used to be a site that displayed photos of my family morphed into a site that was a little bit like a watchblog. And when I got tired of that game, it morphed into whatever it is now. I’ve got a feeling that another transition time is coming and that it is going to have to come if this site is to remain a useful resource. But to this point I am not sure what this transition involves. I probably won’t know until I can look back on it.

I do not say all of this to complain. It’s just that this is a new phenomenon to me and one that is going to take some adjustment. I suppose it comes with the territory and is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something I have become aware of and something I need to ensure I am equipped to deal with. So please be patient because I’m still learning.

January 08, 2007

Prayer Answered:

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was moved out of intensive care and into a private room at Baptist Hospital East this afternoon and continues to improve following complications from abdominal surgery that was performed Dec. 28.

Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern, said Mohler is in good spirits following a difficult weekend.

“I am extremely encouraged after having just left his room,” Moore said Monday afternoon. “He is eating, he is in good spirits and it looks as though the situation is completely under control at this point. He looks strong, is in remarkably good spirits and is even cracking jokes.

“Dr. Mohler is very appreciative of the prayers of God’s people and the outpouring of support from the churches and from the community.”

Mohler was placed in intensive care Friday after developing blood clots in both lungs. After nearly a week of intense abdominal pain, he was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 27 and underwent surgery the following day.

While physicians reported that the procedure went well and that Mohler’s abdominal issues were remedied, the development of blood clots led doctors to move Mohler to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Moore asked that the seminary community and local churches continue to pray for Mohler and his family during the recovery. It is not yet known when Mohler will be released from the hospital, however Moore said the improvement in Mohler’s condition along with his high spirits were readily evident.

“He has a stack of books and articles in his bed along with a massive number of highlighters,” Moore said, “so the Albert Mohler I know is back.”

Prayer Requested:

Let’s continue to pray that God will heal Dr. Mohler and get him back to serving Him in his home, church and seminary.

January 07, 2007

As I continue to press on with writing The Discipline of Discernment and as I see the book starting to come together I am slowly beginning to consider some of the finer details. For example, I have decided to add a “Key Thought” to the end of each chapter. I always appreciate when authors are deliberate about ensuring that the reader has understood the purpose of each chapter (Bryan Chapell’s Praying Backwards is an excellent example of this) and that the reader understands the flow of the book (and I think Alex Chediak’s With One Voice does an admirable job in this regard). Because my argument builds from chapter-to-chapter I feel it is important that people understand each of the components and that they remember what has already been covered. Other details may include whether there will be an index, a Scripture index, and so on.

Another item I am considering is study questions or application questions. This would be a short list of five or ten questions at the end of each chapter that would allow people to think about the topic and begin to apply it to their lives. However, I am not convinced that such a guide would be worth the effort. I will, to my shame, admit that when I read a book it is very rare that I pause at the study questions. I would not be surprised to learn that most other people also pass over them.

And so I thought I would take this public. This is not to say that I will necessarily base my decision on the consensus view here, but more that I am simply interested in learning about your reading habits. And thus I ask: Do you read the study guides or application questions in the books you read? Do you consider the questions and answer them, or do you simply pass over them and move to the next chapter?

January 04, 2007

My work on The Discipline of Discernment has taken me to many places in the Bible and to many of the books on my bookshelves. I have been surprised and delighted to see how God has been preparing me to write this book, for many of the books I have read in the past few years tie directly into what I feel the Bible says about discernment. I’ve found help in books by many authors and on a variety of topics.

Some of the areas I have researched in connection to my book have been little more than rabbit trails. As I’ve done the work I’ve found that they are dead ends and do not tie into discernment at all. Others have proven to be far more valuable. One area I was researching on the weekend was an area in which I read quite extensively a couple of years ago: knowing and doing God’s will. As I looked into this area, I browsed through several books I had read in years past. And this led me to a book by Jim Elliff.

In his small but helpful book Led By The Spirit, Jim Elliff describes Christians he terms “illuminists” - people who, when confronted by difficult decisions in life, seek guidance from God by getting a series of impressions which they believes come as God directly impacts the spirit. This term is not to be confused with illumination, which is the Spirit’s work of illuminating the words of Scripture to believers. Elliff used to practice this kind of decision-making so knows it well. I also know it well and have often encountered Christians who place a great deal of emphasis on listening for and heeding these impressions. With some of these people it is clear that they are not hearing God-given impressions for God would not give the kind of guidance they attribute to Him. With other people, and here I think primarily of some of the Charismatic Christians I have met recently, it is not so easy to discount the impressions. They truly do appear to be listening to God and to be responding to Him in a way that is consistent with Scripture. In fact, meeting such people has really made me wrestle with my position on this issue.

Regardless of your take on this issue, I think you will find this quote from Elliff both helpful and meaningful:

God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist’s way. He may bless him. He may honor his faith more than his method. I am quite sure that God always condescends to our imperfections. And if there is immaturity, we must realize that God will often use in our zealous immaturity what he disallows in our maturity.

The Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield (1714-1770), who had such tendencies in his earlier days, later commented, “I am a man of like passions with others, and consequently may have sometimes mistaken nature for grace, imagination for revelation.” He put away his illuministic patterns as he grew in Christ. Yet, it is important to note that he was used in those earlier days just as dramatically as in later life.

I do not mean to say that those who listen to impressions are necessarily immature. Rather I’d point you to a wider application, and one that I have found very reassuring and encouraging. Elliff is absolutely correct when he says that God condescends to our imperfections. I believe this is especially the case when our imperfections are due to immaturity in the faith. God may see fit to use zealous immaturity. But, as time passes, He expects that we grow in our knowledge and our faith. And when this happens His expectations of us no doubt increase.

But I thank God that He does condescend to our imperfections and to my imperfections. Knowing myself as I do, I know that I offer Him more imperfection than perfection. I know that I am often zealous in my imperfection and am grateful that He chooses to honor this zeal, even when I am just plain wrong.

January 02, 2007

As you may know, I am in the midst of writing my first book. I am now four months into what I hope will be a six-month writing period. This will be followed many many months of editing, proofing and whatever else happens between the time a manuscript is submitted and a book arrives in the mail.

If you have read this site for any length of time, you’ll know that I am a lover of books and that I read near-constantly. I know a lot about books, but until recently have known very little about actually writing one. A few days ago I began to think about the past few months and what I have learned thus far. I thought I’d share a few of these things (though I’m sure there will be much more to learn as this project continues). So here is what I have learned so far from writing a book.

The Bible says things far better than I ever could. While I am not sure that the following will survive the editing process, it was something I wanted to add to the book’s introduction for my own benefit so I could read it again and again through the months I spend writing: “You will no doubt note that I refer to and quote the Bible many times throughout this book. I do so simply because I have nothing to offer but what Scripture says. I have not mastered the discipline of discernment, but like you, I fail often in my attempts to separate what is true from what is false. I have written this book as much for my benefit as for yours. I have approached this book with what I hope is a spirit of humility, asking God to direct my mind and to lead me to the portions of Scripture that are most relevant to this study. I believe He has been gracious in doing so and I trust that you will benefit as much from reading this study as I have from writing it. So please, because I offer only what Scripture says, do not glance fleetingly at the passages I reproduce in the text, and especially those at the beginning of chapters, but read them slowly and meditatively, letting them penetrate your soul. I have not inserted verses of Scripture simply to prove my case; rather, these verses are my case. If you are to remember anything from this book, let it be not my words, but the words of the Bible. This is my hope; this is my prayer.” The first few drafts of the book, where I had done little more than outline the content as I anticipated it coming together, were based around my ideas. But as time has gone on and I’ve studied verse after verse, passage after passage, the book has been reshaped and reframed. The book is being framed increasingly around the Bible and about passages relevant to the study. I’ve done this simply because the Bible speaks so clearly and so convictingly on the topic of discernment. My task revolves around pulling together the relevant passages and explaining or expositing them. In this way I am letting God to the talking through His Word. And He can say things far better than I can!

There is an incredible unity in the Bible, from book to book, testament to testament. What the Old Testament says about discernment is completely consistent with what the New Testament says. What Jesus says is that same as what John and Paul say. There are no passages that are isolated from the others or that say something contradictory. Despite the difference in language, culture and authorship, unity is preserved throughout.

Writing a book is a labor of love. My wife can attest to this as much as I can. She has seen me become sorely discouraged through the writing process and has also seen me full of excitement as my studies have led me to something new and something that has gripped my soul. I have heard many authors compare writing a book to having a child and it seems an apt metaphor, though one I’m sure I’ll understand more fully once the editing process is complete (a process I expect to be both excruciatingly painful and exceedingly humbling).

There is nothing that has not been said before. In fact, if an author has something to say that is completely new and original, it seems unlikely that it can be consistent with Scripture. Thousands of years ago the sage wrote “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). If this was true then, how much more is it true today when we see tens or hundreds of thousands of books being released every year. The task of the author seems increasingly to be collecting and coordinating facts that already exist to shine the wisdom of the Bible on a particular topic. While the topic of spiritual discernment has received very little attention compared to other subjects (prayer, spiritual disciplines, church growth, etc, etc…) there is still a bounty of information available for anyone willing to invest in the time and effort of searching it out.

Writing a book requires prayer. I have been praying for this book for a long time now and am blessed to know that others have been praying for it as well. It is always a tremendous encouragement to hear someone say “I have been praying for you as you write the book!” Were it not for prayer I know that I would be making little progress and that the book would have little to say. So if you have been praying for it, you have my sincere gratitude. Do know that it is making a difference.

And finally, writing a book is a joy. Of course I have not loved every moment of it, and already there have been some times where I have become very discouraged. But I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this book and really do hope I can dedicate more and more life of my life to this task and this calling. There is so much I would love to be able to say, if only I had time and resources to research and write it all! It is a rare privilege for a person to be able to have writing as a primary vocation. I truly do hope that somehow this can someday this privilege can be mine.

December 25, 2006

It is Christmas. Our day began a little bit earlier than I would have liked, but also a little bit later than I had expected. With our children growing older, we are finally able to celebrate Christmas the way I remember it as a child - a day of rising early and trembling with anticipation, hoping, just hoping, that the toy you wanted most is there, waiting under the tree. Christmas is a great time to be a father, to enjoy the children squealing with excitement, joy and gratitude. I was thrilled to hear my children suggest that “mommy and daddy should open presents first this year since they take such good care of us.”

Because the children are only now coming to that age where they really appreciate Christmas, we are only just beginning to create some family Christmas traditions. To this point our traditions have been derived from a combination of how my family celebrated and how Aileen’s family celebrated. Neither family made Christmas into a distinctly religious occasion, so such an emphasis does not come naturally to either one of us. We are still not sure how much we will emphasize Christmas as Jesus’ birthday and how much we’ll just emphasize family, giving, gratitude, and so on. We’re uncertain if the day will revolve around the birth of Jesus or around Christian virtues. I suppose we’ll just have to see how the day evolves as time goes on.

After spending a good bit of my morning building Lego spaceships, assembling Playmobil garden centers, and cleaning up scattered bits of plastic and wrapping paper, Aileen and I were able to turn our attention to dinner. We got our Presbyterian Turkey all prepped and ready to go (we consider it Presbyterian and certainly not Baptist after we poured a half a bottle of sherry into its body cavity), the potatoes peeled and the table set. Now we’re just waiting for my in-laws to arrive in an hour or two. Already it has been a wonderful Christmas. I suspect it will get better still.

So from me to you, and from my family to yours, have a safe and wonderful and blessed Christmas Day.