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Personal Reflections

June 07, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

June 06, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 02, 2007

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 03, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.