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March 01, 2008

Our church is hosting its first ever conference today, and I was supposed to help out. I was looking forward to serving there and just doing whatever needed to be done. But it wasn’t mean to be. Just around the stroke of midnight, both Aileen and Michaela came down with some awful strain of the flu and both were up pretty well all night. I didn’t fare much better, what with changing bedding, rinsing out buckets, and all the other joyous tasks befalling those whose family members are sick. It looks like they are both over the worst of it, so hopefully whatever it was is short-lived!

My brain is pretty well convinced that it’s time for bed and I certainly don’t have it in me to write anything intelligent or profound. Instead, I’ll provide some miscellania—a compendium of weird and wonderful things that, for one reason or another, I’ve decided to bookmark this week.

A Great Review (of an Awful Movie)

I greatly enjoyed reading Christianity Today’s review of the new film “Semi-Pro” (starring Will Ferrell). It does a great job dismantling what sounds like an exceptionally poor (and immoral) movie, and this from a publication that, in my judgment, can sometimes be a tad soft on bad movies.

It’s not simply that Semi-Pro is bad, it’s that it has the appearance of a film actively doing everything in its power to be rotten as it can possibly be. At one point in the film, after making a cruel joke at the expense of another person’s feelings, Harrelson’s character takes an emotional step backward and questions/confesses, “Still not funny?” No Woody, not by a long shot.

Despite a riotous cast and a battery of what should be hilarious cameos, Semi-Pro shoots and misses the mark by a wide margin. Even the usually reliable Ferrell falls flat, prompting one to wonder if this film is uniquely bad or if Ferrell’s brand of humor has finally reached its critical mass.

Is there such a thing as an F minus?” one reviewer asked me as we filed out of the theater. If there is, it was invented for films such as this. Semi-Pro is the sort of film you’d describe as laughably bad except for the fact that you wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea by seeing the film’s title and the word laughter together in the same sentence.

Semi-Pro has utterly no redeeming value, spiritual or otherwise.

An Interview with Warren Buffett

A couple of days ago I read a Q&A with Warren Buffett. Students from Emory’s Goizueta Business School and McCombs School of Business at UT Austin had been invited to visit Mr. Buffett for a session and one of the students recorded the answers. Though there were quite a few interesting points in the interview, one of them really stood out to me. Buffett was asked this: “Given your business success, your immense fortune, and your celebrity status, how do you stay so down to earth and humble? Are there specific people or lessons you have learned throughout your life that enable you to maintain this outlook?” Here is a part of his reply, focusing on the money he has given away in his lifetime:

I have never given away a dime that has any meaning on how I live. There are people that go to church and they put money in the offering plate that truly makes a difference in how they will live their lives, what they will eat, what presents they will buy for their children. There’s no reason to get puffed up over things you didn’t control.”

I was reminded immediately of the biblical story of the widow giving her last pennies to God while rich men blew trumpets to announce their greater but still lesser gifts. It is always interesting to hear of the world’s wealthiest people giving away billions of dollars, but Buffett realizes that his gift of billions have nowhere near the impact of a much smaller gift from a much poorer person. The gifts that God seems to treasure are those that are sacrificial rather than those that come from the overflow. Buffett seems to have some awareness of this.

Superficiality

The day of the Oscars I noticed a story describing what the Hollywood superstars go through so they can look their absolute best on Oscar night. The story was fascinating, hilarious and horrifying all at once. It’s amazing the physical standards our society holds up for these people. We expect them to look absolutely perfect. We don’t really care how they act before and after, as long as they look good. So the celebrities do their best to deliver in what must always be a losing game. Here are some of the things they do to themselves so they look their best on the red carpet:

  • The most crowded waiting room pre-Oscars is at the Beverly Hills clinic of celebrity skin specialist Sonya Dakar - where stars line up for her signature £1,000 facial. Madonna is said to have headed there for a treatment last year which includes a diamond scrub (using diamond particles to exfoliate the skin), an exfoliating skin peel, green tea face mask and red-and-blue UV light therapy to prevent acne.
  • It seems there was a tiny bump of fat which stuck out over the back of her dress. Rather than change her outfit, she dialled Manhattan dermatologist Dr Patricia Wexler, who says “it was easier to do a little liposuction than to fix the dress.”
  • Reese Witherspoon once had some Oscar gold sprayed into her hair. Top LA stylist Mark Townsend used Vavoom Gold Heat, a dry oil spray containing real gold. That way, Reese really sparkled on TV.
  • Another popular pre-Oscars trick is the Suddenly Slimmer body wrap. Stars are wrapped in bandages soaked in a special mineral solution (said to remove toxins) and then jump on an exercise machine for one hour. The inches are guaranteed not to come back unless they gain weight.
  • Most of the women in LA have been on the Master Cleanse (that’s lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup, a saltwater drink and laxative tea) all week.”
  • While last year everyone clamoured for the best “eyebrow specialist,” this year it’s all about having your own “eyelash expert.”
  • The drugs Inderal or Atenolol are popular as they “slow down your heart so, when you’re up there on stage, you don’t get palpitations and become sweaty.”

It’s easy to laugh at these people when we see what they go through, but really the problem is with us and our crazy culture. We are the ones who make such absurd and unrealistic demands.

Escape the Trap

Escape the Trap” is a small booklet designed to give “men and boys a biblical basis for winning their battles with sexual temptation and pornography.” I read through it and found it to do a good job of describing the personal, relational and spiritual dangers of pornography and pornographic addiction. Sadly, such material is badly needed both within the church and outside of it. Thankfully, there are some good resources for people seeking to overcome or avoid such temptation. This booklet is one more example.

Language Rapists

A friend forwarded an excellent article from The Weekly Standard. David Gelernter, writing about feminism and the English language, asks “Can the damage to our mother tongue be undone?” He laments the gender-neutralizing of the language and the damage it does to our ability to express ourselves smoothly and easily. Here are a few choice quotes:

  • How can I teach my students to write decently when the English language has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Academic-Industrial Complex?”
  • When students have been ordered since first grade to put “he or she” in spots where “he” would mean exactly the same thing, and “firefighter” where “fireman” would mean exactly the same thing? How can we then tell them, “Make every word, every syllable count!” They may be ignorant but they’re not stupid. The well-aimed torpedo of Feminist English has sunk the whole process of teaching students to write. The small minority of born writers will always get by, inventing their own rules as they go. But we used to expect every educated citizen to write decently—and that goal is out the window.”
  • The fixed idea forced by language rapists upon a whole generation of students, that “he” can refer only to a male, is (in short) wrong. It is applied with nonsensical inconsistency, too. The same feminist warriors who would never write “he” where “he or she” will do would also never write “the author or authoress” where “the author” will do.”
  • We have accepted, implicitly, a hit-and-run vandalizing of English—the richest, most expressive language in the world. Languages such as French are shaped and guided by official boards of big shots. But English used to be a language of the people, by the people, for the people. “The living language is like a cowpath,” wrote White; “it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs.” We have allowed our academic overlords to plow up White’s cow-path and replace it with a steel-and-concrete highway, hemmed in by guardrails and heavily patrolled by police.”
February 22, 2008

Occasionally I use a Friday article to take care of a few things that have been on my mind. I’m going to do that today.

A Media Junkie

Joe Carter is a media junkie. You can read about his media obsession right here. He took an inventory of his media consumption and found he reads “one daily newspaper, 12 magazines, and over 300 RSS feeds.” And even then he reads far more magazines than he subscribes to.

I do not subscribe to any newspapers, despite their best efforts to get me to do so. I think newspapers call more often than any other telemarketers trying to get me to subscribe. It must be desperate times. I subscribe to two magazines and intend to let both of them lapse when my subscriptions run out. I read People magazine when I forget to take a book when going to the doctor or for a haircut. I have found that newspapers and magazines are no longer a compelling source of information. I miss the analysis they provide, but see no other reason to subscribe to them anymore. I do, though, subscribe to 100 RSS feeds or so and I do enjoy skimming those headlines looking for nuggets of gold. Some I read for pleasure, some for information and some out of habit.

How do you consume media today? How much do you consume?

Dear America

Dear America. Please stop complaining about everything.

Sincerely,

Tim from Canada

(I mean, seriously, is there a country in the world that is greater than the U.S. but which breeds such discontent among its people?)

Keller, Chopra, Tolle

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is, as predicted, rising up the bestseller charts. It’s currently #6 on the Amazon “Spirituality” chart (and #41 overall), sandwiched between Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. If Oprah hadn’t recently praised Tolle, taking several of his titles far up the charts, Keller would be higher still.

When I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Keller’s book and was surprised to see how many people stared at the cover. A couple stopped short to stare at it, though I was on the phone at the time and couldn’t converse with them. But I’m thinking the book is going to be a great conversation starter. There is such a hunger for spirituality in our day and this book may held lead many people to the One they need.

Jesus in Love

As you may know, novelist Anne Rice recently returned to the Catholic Church and subsequently gave up writing about vampires in favor of writing a series of books on the life of Jesus. I just finished reading the second in this series, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Like any dramatization of the life of Jesus, this one takes liberties and artistic license. It also gets many facts just plain wrong, something I’ll cover in my review next week. But in the meantime, it raised an interesting question.

Much of the story involves the relationship between Jesus, the year before he began his public ministry, and a young woman who wants to be married to Him. Jesus’s family cannot understand why He does not marry and neither does the community around Him. Rice (wrongly, I’m convinced) chooses to portray Jesus as only slowly coming to the realization of His deity, and Jesus is sometimes confused and conflicted by His human desires. He desperately desires to know the intimacy of love, but somehow knows that it is something He will have to forsake because of His unique calling. So this young woman begs Him to love her and He, with great pain, refuses her. This is one of the main plot lines in Rice’s second book.

So what do you think? Did Jesus ever fall in love? Could Jesus have fallen in love? Would His humanity allow Him to feel such things, or would His deity protect Him from a broken heart? Why or why not?

February 20, 2008

A total eclipse of the Moon is set to occur during the night of Wednesday, February 20/21, 2008 (tonight). It will be visible throughout most of North and South America. I believe it is the last total eclipse we will see for several years.

Lunar Eclipse

Here is what NASA says about the event:

During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon’s disk can take on a dramatically colorful appearance from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and (rarely) very dark gray.

An eclipse of the Moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the Sun’s rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.

A partial eclipse will begin at 8:43 EST and will become total at 10:01. So make sure you take the kids outside to see it.

NASA has lots of good information.

February 08, 2008

I’m a little bit later than usual in updating this site, but I’m also a timezone removed from where I usually update it. Yesterday, after spending over a hour shoveling out the car, the house, and a neighbor’s driveway, I left behind the cold and the snow and caught a flight to Nashville (where it’s merely cold—there doesn’t seem to be any snow). I am here for the Nashville Conference on the Church & Theology where I’ll be speaking tomorrow afternoon. We’ll also be hearing messages from D.A. Carson and Steve Lawson. I’ll be spending much of the day preparing for my message tomorrow. The conference kicks off this evening with Dr. Carson giving a message on “Keeping Up with the Conversation”—an overview of the Emergent Movement and the Emerging Church.

Whenever I travel I tend to buy myself a book at the airport and it’s usually something popular and easy to read. I love to just veg out on the plane by reading something enjoyable but not too serious. I typically spend just about every moment between the time I get onto the plane and the time I get off reading. I’m so boring. Yesterday I browsed around the airport bookstore and couldn’t find the right book. Nothing really leaped out at me. Eventually I settled on a book called Sugar. It is a 400+ page history of sugar. Needless to say, it is quite fascinating. No, really! The author shows just how great an impact sugar has had on the world and through the first couple hundred pages I’ve learned a lot. Honest. I’ll write a review when I’ve finished it.

Yesterday’s flight was interesting. Because it was Air Canada, it was an hour late leaving the ground. They compensated for their tardiness by offering free alcohol—something I’ve never seen before (and a deal I’m not interested in taking advantage of!). I was sitting next to a guy who staked his claim to all neutral ground and to about 30% of my space. He wasn’t a particularly big guy, but somehow he seemed to overflow. The seats on this plane were particularly narrow so perhaps that didn’t help. Before we even left the ground he had already fallen asleep and was continually moaning rather than snoring. He’d take a deep breath and then go “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Again and again. It was kind of funny, really. He didn’t say a word the whole time but did take the time to scowl at me when a little corner of the packet of the snack we had been given blew over into his area. You never know who you’re going to be rubbing shoulders with (quite literally) when you fly. I’m never sure if a prefer the surly, quiet types or the happy, chatty types. I’m always hoping for the opportunity to have some good conversation, but so far that has usually eluded me.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. I will check in with some conference updates over the weekend. Meanwhile, if you would be willing to pray for me, that God would bless me as I seek to share His Word tomorrow, I’d be grateful!

And by way of P.S., since I did not have opportunity to write an A La Carte today, I thought I’d make you aware of this. Boundless Magazine has just published an article I wrote called Involuntary Community. It is based on an article I first wrote here but has been extended, tidied up, and I hope, made better.

January 27, 2008

Yesterday I posted a prayer for the Lord’s Day eve and said that I had made that prayer my own. Unfortunately that venerable Puritan neglected to pray for health and good sleep and, as it happens, I enjoyed neither last night. The kids were hacking and coughing and I woke up in the wee hours with a ridiculous sinus headache, runny nose, and all the rest. Rather than infecting others in the church I figured it was best if I stayed home today.

I’ve been asked to complete a meme. I generally decline such invitations, but since I’m sick today and since my head isn’t working enough to come up with anything more interesting, I thought it would be fun. So this is the “Self-Disclosure Meme” which means that I’m supposed to tell you seven things you probably don’t know about me. So here goes.

Sports

Despite my Canadian heritage, I have never been a big fan of hockey. And not just because the Maple Leafs, my hometown team, have not won the Stanley Cup (or even had a respectable record) since long before I was born. When I was a kid I played plenty of street hockey (a near-daily activity at Canadian schools) but only ever played ice hockey a handful of times. It never appealed. I consider baseball the finest sport in the world and the one I like to watch, play and follow more than any other. I played several seasons of little league baseball when I was a kid. My idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon involves a couch, a Coke, a good biography, and a ballgame on television. I’ve been a Blue Jays fan since the day I got my first radio and began to tune in to listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth calling the games. When it’s the off-season, I also enjoy watching football (NFL-only. The CFL is just too weird with their three downs and huge end zones). I consider basketball an utter waste of time and the most ridiculous waste of time this side of Sudoku.

Food

I’ve never eaten Chinese food. Nor do I intend to. At first I thought I would just hate it. Now it’s sheer stubbornness.

I do not drink alcohol. It’s not that I’m convicted that the Bible prohibits it, but rather that I just can’t stand the taste of it. The mere taste makes me feel sick, so I abstain. It’s probably better that way. I also can’t stand the taste of coffee or tea or most other grown-up drinks. I do, however, love the taste of Coke, though never more than twice a day. It was a dark day when Coke discontinued producing Coke with Lime. When I am traveling in the U.S. I tend to drink less Coke since American Coke, sweetened with corn syrup, has an inferior taste to Canadian (and Mexican) Coke, which is sweetened with sugar.

Life

I have lived in quite a few different towns, most of which are in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. I was born in Toronto-proper but moved to Unionville (on the east side of the city) when in grade school. After spending a year in Edinburgh, Scotland (where my dad studied) we moved to Hamilton (on the west side of Toronto). Since we got married, Aileen and I have lived in Brantford, Dundas and Oakville, all on the west side of Toronto. We have no plans to leave Oakville anytime soon.

Hobbies

When I was a kid I did all of the usual kid hobbies—baseball cards, gerbils, plastic models, and so on. As an adult I tend to spend most of my spare time reading. Reading pays, by far, the biggest dividends. But I do have a 60 gallon freshwater aquarium that consumes some of my time and interest. It’s a big show tank that sits in the living room, so I try to keep it looking its best. It is a constant battle to keep the plants growing (but not the algae) and the fish happy (but not devouring each other). We have an amazing fish store near us where I can buy just about any kind of fish I could want for it. I like to find strange and interesting fish like ghost knives and glass catfish.

As a child I read voraciously. I stopped reading for several years after completing college but got back into it after accepting a job that proved very boring. I would escape to the local library for an hour at lunch time after first stopping at the Christian bookstore. It was here that I found the first of the Christian Living and theology books I ever really read—John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel and James Boice’s Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? I had never heard of either man before. These books changed my life and I haven’t stopped reading since.

Marriage

Aileen was the only girl I ever dated (or that I ever seriously wanted to date). The first words she ever said to me were, “I’m going to kill you.” But that’s probably more a subject for her meme than for mine. I can’t quite say it was love at first sight, but it was close to it. We dated for about three years before getting married. When we married I was twenty one and she was twenty two (she is seven months older than I am). Like many couples, we intended to wait a few years before beginning a family. Our resolve lasted less than a year and our first child arrived eighteen months after our wedding. In August of this year, we’ll celebrate our tenth anniversary.

Family

If you were to go back and trace the occupations of my forebears you’d find that, in many cases, they are educators or writers. There are journalists, teachers, preachers and politicians. I am not the first author in my family. My grandfather, who was a Supreme Court judge in Quebec, wrote a couple of enthralling volumes entitled The law of expropriation and * The Doctrine of Unjustified Enrichment in the Law of the Province of Quebec. Meanwhile, my great (or great great) uncle wrote one called *Water Powers of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta - Commission of Conservation Canada: Committee on Waters and Water-Powers. I have a copy of the last one and it is every bit as fascinating as it sounds.

Personal

I have an awful memory and am extremely adept at forgetting names, places, dates and other important matters. I rely on my wife to file away family memories. A few days ago she asked if I remembered when Abby (who was about two years old at the time, I believe) developed a bladder infection and we had to take her to the hospital for a long and ugly series of tests. I have absolutely no memory of this. None. But it sounds like it was a pretty important deal and she assures me that I was there. If I can remember my own name I generally figure I’m having a good day. Aileen is pretty sure I’ll be completely senile by the time I’m fifty.

January 09, 2008

I’ve been married for long enough now (it will be ten years this summer!) to realize that I will never fully understand my wife. In fact I’ll never really understand women. Despite knowing Aileen for thirteen years now and despite being married to her for a decade, she’s still a mystery to me in many ways. It’s probably better this way.

Women, it seems, love to receive baskets full of smelly, pretty things they’ll never actually use. This year Aileen came home from one shopping excursion loaded down with these baskets, each of which was stuffed full of strange items I am quite sure no one will use. Ever. There were candles flavored with vanilla and candles flavored with trout. There was soap made with aloe and echinacea and moisturizer made with dolphin mucus and otter snot. And, of course, there were those little round paintball gun bullets meant for the bath that look suspiciously like candy but, as one of my children once found out, taste nothing like it. Each item had been carefully placed on a bed of shredded paper and the whole kit and kaboodle was wrapped in plastic and covered in pink ribbons. These baskets were distributed to female friends, cousins and family members and were received with much joy. Every item was dutifully examined and carefully sniffed. “Mmmmmmmm…”

I just don’t understand. I can’t understand.

Aileen received some of these baskets too. And of course she was tickled pink. She was as glad to receive a basket of this stuff as she was to give one away. She had her own baskets full of candles, soaps, and other pretty, smelly things. When the pretty and the practical collide, err on the side of pretty.

I lit one of those candles a few days ago just to see what would happen. We had just arrived home from our vacation in the States and the house had that stale smell from being closed up too long. I thought a candle might be just the thing. I believe the one I selected was supposed to smell like vanilla, walnuts and roast pork. Within moments Aileen crinkled her nose and blew it out. I think I had violated some unwritten rule by actually using the candle. I later noted that all of the soaps she had received had been carefully placed in a drawer—but not the drawer where we actually keep the soap that will some day find itself being used in the shower. Rather, it was packed away in the “other” drawer—the one we only think of cracking open if we actually run out of real soap. All this pretty pink soap has been relegated to emergency or backup status in favor of the usual Zest.

I learned something important about all of this. As we drove home after an evening of giving and receiving these smelly things, I remarked to Aileen, “But no one ever uses this stuff!” See, I’m the kind of person who is happy to get socks for Christmas. Socks are a good gift because I know I’ll use them. There’s nothing pretty or interesting about socks (or not once you get too old to wear Spiderman socks at any rate) but there’s no doubt that they’re usable. Plus, putting on new socks is one of life’s most underrated and overlooked pleasures. But it turns out that the fact that no one ever uses these smelly things is unimportant. That’s not the point, apparently. The point is that they’re pretty. Or that’s all I can figure.

As I surveyed the gifts I bought Aileen for Christmas this year, I saw that I had bought her mostly things that were practical—the second season of “Star Trek Voyager” on DVD (something else I don’t understand but I’ll leave that for another article!), some items she wanted for the house, and so on. They were good things and things she’ll use a lot, but they weren’t particularly nice or pretty things. And I can’t help but wonder if I messed up. Maybe I thrust what is probably a male-centered understanding of gift giving upon my wife. Maybe I was too practical and didn’t realize that women value prettiness at least as highly as usefulness.

I guess in the female mind the usability of the item is sometimes secondary to the way it looks. The fact that it’s pretty means more than the fact that it’s entirely impractical. I don’t really understand, but it’s something I’m going to have to keep in mind for next Christmas.

January 06, 2008

For a long time now I’ve been reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Because the book has collided a little bit with vacation and with some “necessary” reading, it has taken me a long time to get through it, even though it is a very enjoyable read. Within the book I’ve found a couple of great quotes from the pen of John Adams—quotes that have stuck with me. Adams is in some ways a man after my own heart and he shows it in these words:

I want to see my children every day. I want to see my grass and blossoms and corn … But above all, except the wife and children, I want to see my books.”

Those words resonate with me. My books are among my greatest pleasure and when I find I do not have time to read, I miss it a lot. There is pleasure to be found both in the books and in the experience of reading them.

And again:

The only way to compose myself and collect my thoughts is to set down at my table, place my diary before me, and take my pen into my hand. This apparatus takes off my attention from other objects. Pen, ink, and paper and a sitting posture are great helps to attention and thinking.”

I, too, find that I can get very little thinking done, and cannot hold my attention for long, if I do not do my thinking with the assistance of pen, ink and paper.

January 01, 2008

I love the dawning of a new year. I tend to view life in “chunks,” in periods with a defined beginning and end. When driving home from Tennessee yesterday I inadvertently grouped the drive into pieces in my mind and felt relief and success with the completion of each portion—from Tennessee to Cincinnati, from Cincy to Detroit, and from Detroit to home. I do the same with periods of time, enjoying the beginning of one period and looking forward to reaching the end of it. A new year is an obvious period to focus on examining success in reaching goals and in looking towards new goals. I do not usually bother with new year’s resolutions. But I do see January 1 as a good day to focus on what I’d like to accomplish and what I’d like to prioritize in the weeks and months to come.

I went looking today for some guidance on how to approach a new year. I found myself reading a grand old Puritan prayer and wanted to share it with you. Taken from The Valley of Vision, this prayer is known as “Year’s End.” I adapted it slightly to change antiquated language to slightly more modern language. But this is as I would pray it today…and as I have prayed it today.

O Love Beyond Compare,
You are good when you give,
when you take away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.
You have loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love redeemed my soul;
You love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Your goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Your goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With you as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless you that you have veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If you have appointed storms of tribulation,
you will be with me in them;
If I have to pass through storms of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see your face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith will not fail;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify yourself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel suitable always
for your use.

What a beautiful prayer that is, that God would use us to further His purposes. Another prayer from the same book begins by saying “Length of days does not profit me unless the days are passed in your presence, in your service, to your glory.” Another year will profit us nothing if we do not live it in and through a for the Lord.

I received an email this morning and this was a suggested New Year’s text. I can hardly think of a better one for meditation on this day. It is Proverbs 30 and verses 8 and 9.

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

Oh that God would simply sustain us through another year, giving what we need rather than what we want, and giving only that which we can handle and that which we can use for His glory. May 2008 be that kind of year for you and for your family, and for me and mine.

December 31, 2007

We spent our new year’s eve on the road. We got up at three o’clock this morning and scraped the frost off the windshield (frost in Chattanooga?) before hitting the road very shortly after four. Nobody should ever be awake at that hour. It’s just a bad idea. The children were simply hauled out of bed and shoved into their booster seats. Thankfully they went back to sleep (even if they did awake a few hours later complaining of neck aches). We got almost to Cincinnati before stopping for breakfast, but experienced a slower journey after that. Still, we were just over fourteen hours door-to-door which is a pretty good deal, we think. We’re finally home safe and sound. The house is still standing and my fish are still alive. A neighbor had kindly agreed to gather the stacks of books and paraphernalia that inevitably showed up while we were away. And so we’re home. It was a good trip and a good time away. But home is always best.

We knew that we were coming home to empty fridge and empty pantry so wanted to stop by the grocery store. We pulled into the parking lot precisely one minute after they locked the doors (they are a 24 hour shop but closed early today since it’s new year’s eve). We drove fourteen hours and missed by one minute. D’oh! We did an inventory of the food we’ve got left and it’s basically nothing. We’ll be scrounging until the stores open again on Monday. Noodles with nothing on them, anyone? Happy New Year! Maybe we’ll make it a new family tradition. (Just kidding, of course. We are pleased to have traveled home safely and will be grateful for what we’ve got).

I had lots and lots of time to think while driving today, and here are a few of the things that were rattling around in my mind.

Paul Washer

The Reality Check Conference gave me the opportunity to experience the teaching ministry of Paul Washer. I really enjoyed it, on the whole, and learned a lot from him. He’s given me lots of things to think about in the days to come. He’s passionate (by which I mean he yells a lot) and very motivated to help Christians, and young Christians in particular, to avoid the trappings of empty evangelicalism. I hope and pray my children are able to sit under teaching like that when they are teens. My only reservation is that he often seems to overstate things. For example, he said that if anyone were to speak to his six year old boy about having a crush on girls, he would grab that person by the neck and throw him up against the wall. A bit extreme perhaps? Another time he essentially mocked boys who play video games, seemingly suggesting that such games are never a worthy activity. This kind of blanket statement and extreme statement seemed to take away rather than add to his points. I love his passion and would not want him to temper that aspect of his ministry. But I’d also love to see him perhaps stop just a bit short of some of the more extreme statements. Young and impressionable people are listening! Beyond that small concern, I very much appreciated his ministry and look forward to hearing him again in the future. If I were a pastor or youth leader I would not hesitate to ask him to speak to my congregation nor would I hesitate to recommend him to others.

Ohio

I still dislike Ohio. If I were to give the state a new motto it would be “The Out to Get You State.” For Kentucky I’d suggest “We Burn Stuff” (since there are always fires burning in Kentucky, it seems) and for Tennessee “Closed At Five.”

Fireworks

All up and down the I-75 are stores that seemingly sell nothing but fireworks (and DVDs of firework displays. Whee!). I’ve never seen any cars at these stores and, despite having spent at least a month out of the past year in the United States, have never once seen or heard any evidence of a person using fireworks. And so I wonder, what are these stores a front for? If they aren’t selling fireworks, and the evidence seems to point to no fireworks being sold, how do these people make money and what do they do all day? What are they really selling and who shops there? Inquiring minds would like to know…

Timing

When we arrived home Aileen called her mother to let her know we had made it through. We found out that we arrived just hours ahead of a snowstorm that is set to drop ten to fifteen centimeters of snow over the area we were driving. I’m glad we made it ahead of that. Thank the Lord for small providences.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and be sure to watch out for that “other guy” on the road tonight…

December 29, 2007

I’ve been sick before and after conferences, but never during one. Until today, that is. In this morning’s session I started to feel a little bit under the weather, but thought it may have just been the heat (the conference room is pretty warm). I thought I’d head outdoors to see if I felt better when out in the cooler air. My wife and children were wandering the city today, so I joined them for a while. But I still felt rotten to just headed back to the hotel and decided to crash out for a bit. Hopefully it was just something I ate because I’m feeling a bit better and am hoping that a good night’s sleep will put things to rights. Unfortunately this meant I had to miss this evening’s proceedings. Sorry that I had to do this. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and will be able to bring an update from the conference’s conclusion. I’m also due to speak at a local church tomorrow evening and would like to feel healthy as I do that! Your prayers would be appreciated.

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