Posted 5/13/15 at 11:44 AM | Tim Challies
I find it almost hard to believe now, but there was a time in my life that I hated coffee. At least I thought I did. I wanted to be a grownup like everyone else, so had tried to drink it on a number of occasions. But every time I did, I found it more disgusting than the time before. I just couldn’t figure out what everyone else loved about it.
It turns out, though, that my friends had unintentionally led me astray. Knowing that I had never drunk it before, they had always tried to make it more palatable by giving me some mixed-up hybrid of coffee, sugar, and cream. They thought it would be best for me to begin with a little coffee and a lot of other stuff that would cut the bitterness. And every time I tried it I hated it.
When they added to it, they changed it entirely
But then one day it occurred to me that I had never actually just tried straight-up coffee. I poured myself a cup of the real deal, and from the first sip found that I loved it. It wasn’t the coffee I had hated, but the combination of coffee, sugar, and cream! In fact, the joy of drinking coffee was in the full-out flavor, bitterness and all. The problem all along was that people had diluted the coffee, or added something to it, thinking that this would make it more enjoyable. When they added to it, they changed it entirely, so that it wasn’t really coffee anymore. FULL POST
Posted 5/5/15 at 2:57 PM | Tim Challies
The Bible is a book full of metaphors—word pictures that God uses to explain who he is and what he requires of us. We are sheep and God is a shepherd. We are treasonous prodigals and God is a forgiving Father. We are trees, able to bear good fruit or bad fruit. Jesus is water, able to refresh the driest, thirstiest soul. From beginning to end, the Bible teaches us using vivid pictures.
One of my favorite metaphors is one we find in Paul’s epistles—the picture of Christians, of the church, as a body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12, Paul writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” A human body is made up of many parts, each of which has its own function, and each of which is integral to the functioning of the whole. And in the same way, each local church is made up of a great variety of people. Each of us is given special gifts by God, meant to bless and encourage other Christians. This makes each person indispensable to the functioning of the whole church. Just as there are no superfluous body parts, there are no redundant Christians. We are all gifted so that we can be a blessing to others. FULL POST
Posted 4/29/15 at 12:44 PM | Tim Challies
A friend of mine expects that she will soon be engaged to be married, and finds herself wondering about the nature of engagement. We assume it: We must get engaged to be married before we actually get married. But what is engagement? Is it an inviolable agreement with all the significance of marriage? Is it a tentative agreement that can be broken off on a whim? What exactly is this thing we call engagement?
The first thing we must admit is that there is no New Testament command that a couple must be engaged before they are married, and no New Testament edict about what an engagement looks like. We see a description of betrothal—something similar to engagement—in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but no prescription that we are to imitate this exact form of it. We see glimpses of similar traditions in the Old Testament but, again, nothing that binds us today.
Whatever engagement is, we need to admit that it is a cultural, not a biblical, construct. Like the white dress at the wedding or the black suit at the funeral, engagement is a construct that varies significantly from culture to culture. We see this when we can look past our own traditions. FULL POST
Posted 4/28/15 at 1:36 PM | Tim Challies
In their book Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop write about the importance of diversity within each local church. While the word diversitytends to draw our minds immediately to racial diversity, they believe the Bible points to a wider kind of diversity. Here is what they say:
Many reading this book live in places where churches share guilt for the moral scourge of racism. As a result, we care deeply about the presence of ethnic diversity in our churches. And this concern is noble. Scripture celebrates ethnic diversity. Certainly, that’s at least part of what Paul speaks of in Ephesians 3.
But if by diversity we only ever mean ethnic diversity, we’re missing the main message of Ephesians 3. After all, not every region of the world has ethnic diversity. The diversity I’m writing about is any multiplicity of backgrounds where unity is possible only through the gospel. With this as our standard, many types of differences fit the basic pattern of Ephesians 3. Think of all the different boundaries—respected by society—that the local church must transgress. FULL POST
Posted 4/17/15 at 11:49 AM | Tim Challies
A friend and I were talking recently, and we discussed the current state of Christian publishing. He asked me, “What really good books have not yet been written?” I thought about it for a little while and came up with 7 books I would definitely read.
Al Mohler’s memoirs. There are some people whose lives merit a biography, and Mohler is definitely among them. But I would prefer to read Mohler’s memoirs than to read a traditional biography. He has a unique way of expressing himself and of relating his experiences, and I am convinced that some of this—too much of this—would be lost if someone else wrote an account of his life. So Dr. Mohler’s memoirs: this is at the top of my list, and I hope that some day he will publish them. I’d be first in line at the bookstore.
A biography of John MacArthur. Yes, I know that Iain Murray has already written a biography of John MacArthur, and it was pretty good. But, by Murray’s own admission, it is far from the final word. After all, its subject is still alive and still active in life and ministry, so the story of his life is not yet complete. What is undeniable is that MacArthur has had a profound influence on the world and on the church; few people have a real understanding of all he has accomplished, and all the Lord has accomplished through him. A great biography would allow us to glorify God for all he has done through MacArthur’s life and ministry. FULL POST
Posted 4/15/15 at 11:09 AM | Tim Challies
Sometimes pride looks an awful lot like humility. There are times that our pride convinces us to put on a great show of what looks to all the world like humility so that we will be seen and acknowledged by others. We swell with pride when we hear, “He is humble.” It is a tricky thing, the human heart—prone to deceive both ourselves and others.
The Apostle Paul was a genuinely humble man. He had a deep awareness of his own sin and a profound sense of his own unworthiness before God. When he wrote to the church at Philippi, he went to great lengths to explain that he knew himself to be the chief of sinners. He remembered with shame that by persecuting the Lord’s church, he had persecuted the Lord Himself (Phil. 3:6; Acts 9:4). He had much to humble him.
Yet when he wrote to that church, Paul also told them, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). These might have been the proudest words he ever spoke. He might have been verbalizing the inclination of every heart, that the world would be a better place if everyone was just a little bit more like us. “Imitate me! I have this Christian life all figured out. Do things my way and you’ll be OK.” But was it pride that spoke? I don’t think so. FULL POST
Posted 3/30/15 at 12:56 PM | Tim Challies
I am not easily offended. People will sometimes apologize to me for something they have said or something they have done, concerned that I was offended at their behavior. But I rarely am. It usually doesn’t even occur to me to be offended. But then there is that one situation with that one friend.
A long time ago a friend really did offend me. He hurt me badly, actually. In the aftermath he did the right thing. I spoke to him and expressed how his behavior had hurt me, and he apologized. And that should have been enough, right?
But this is the one offense in my life I found it difficult to move past. And I mean that—for many years this offense existed in its own category in my life. It was the one wound that was so slow to heal. And I sometimes wondered why. Why was this one so hard to let go? Why did I still bear the weight of it, even much later on?
As I thought about it and as I prayed about it, I came to see that somewhere along the way I had decided that my friend was not sorry enough. My memories of the moment told me that he was not contrite enough. His assessment of his actions never quite seemed to measure up to my own. At least, that was my perception of the matter. What grieved me merely bothered him. That was how I perceived it and that is how it sat heavy on my heart. FULL POST
Posted 3/24/15 at 11:16 AM | Tim Challies
When I was growing up and still living with my parents, my family supported ministries based in the USSR, and on our fridge we had a big poster covered in photographs of Russian pastors who were imprisoned or endangered because of their faith. Every night in our devotions we would pray for one of them, that God would bless and protect him. Meanwhile we lived in middle-class suburbia in Toronto. We freely told our neighbors about Jesus, we went to church twice each Sunday, we read the Bible openly, and even went to Christian schools. It did not seem fair that we had it so easy.
And we still have it easy. It is still remarkably easy to be a Christian here in North America. We have never faced systemic persecution. We have laws that protect our freedom to worship and our freedom to believe what we believe.
That’s not to say, though, that we never suffer. We still do face scorn and mockery, and especially so as the culture around us proceeds farther and deeper into paganism. Though the burdens we bear are light compared to what some others have had to carry, they are burdens nonetheless. I was recently studying 1 Peter 4 and found 5 reasons that we can and should rejoice even now when we are persecuted, or even in that day when we face much greater persecution. FULL POST
Posted 3/23/15 at 2:45 PM | Tim Challies
Christians put on a good face, don’t we? Each of us shows up on Sunday morning looking like we are doing just fine, like our lives are on cruise control, like we have had the best week ever. But ask a couple of leading questions, and probe just beneath the surface, and it soon falls apart. Each of us comes to church feeling the weight and the difficulty of this life. God has something he wants us to do in these situations. There is something he calls us to—something beautifully surprising and uncomfortable. Track with me for a couple of minutes here, and I’ll show you what it is.
One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is Psalm 103. I pray it often, and focus on these words: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” These words tell us that even while we pray to the all-knowing and all-powerful God, we do so as created beings who were formed out of the dust of the ground. If we learn anything from our dusty origins, we learn that God did not intend for us to be superhuman and he did not intend for us to be God-like. He made us dust, not divine, and this was his good will. He made us weak. FULL POST
Posted 3/18/15 at 1:12 PM | Tim Challies
I read a lot of books. I read a lot of books because I just plain love to read, and a read a lot of books because, as a reviewer, I receive a lot of them and am always trying to keep ahead of the growing piles. But the more I read, the harder I can find it to answer this question: What is a good book? What are the marks of an especially good book?
I was recently reading Iain Murray’s short biography of Amy Carmichael and in there he quotes A.W. Tozer who once said, “The work of a good book is to incite the reader to moral action, to turn his eyes toward God and to urge him forward.” And yes, this a good criteria; a good book will urge its reader to do something, to become something, to make some significant and lasting change to life. Murray goes on to say, “Amy Carmichael’s writings belong to that category. Numbers who took her books up only out of interest, put them down to pray.” Prayer: That may be the best moral action of all because it ought to come before anything else we do, any other changes we make, any other plans we form. FULL POST