Posted 5/22/13 at 10:49 AM | Tim Challies
Just about every Christian has memorized the closing verses of Galatians and Paul's description of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This is the character of the man or woman who has been justified by grace through faith.
Yet as we review the list, and especially as we review it slowly and prayerfully, we may find ourselves growing weary and discouraged by how little of that fruit we see. We are still angry at times, still struggling with self-control, still not nearly as gentle as Jesus Christ was and is.
Paul's metaphor of the "fruit" of the Spirit can help us, though. Here are five things that are true of fruit trees and, therefore, true of the fruit of the Spirit.
1. Growth is Gradual. We are an impatient people accustomed to instant gratification. But fruit grows slowly. A fruit tree grows gradually and over many years of careful and deliberate cultivation. If you purchase a sapling apple tree today, a sapling which is already more than a year old and well established, and if you plant it in the right climate zone and in fertile soil, and if there are other trees nearby that can help pollinate it, and if you care for it exactly as you should, it will probably be close to 5 years before you see the first apple dangling from the end of a branch and many years beyond that before it is at its top production, bearing the most and best fruit. Trees are tended carefully, pruned deliberately, and loved patiently until they bear the best fruit. Our growth in character is also far more gradual than we may like but the patience that is to mark our lives first marks God himself; he is patient with us as we grow toward maturity. FULL POST
Posted 5/21/13 at 10:17 AM | Tim Challies
You may be one of those Christians who serves. And serves. And serves some more. When you head to church on Sunday you are preparing yourself to serve and when you return home you are exhausted. And if you are one of those servant-hearted Christians it may just be that the more you serve, the more you see how so many other Christians serve sparingly and half-heartedly. You may find that it is a challenge to serve Christ and to keep your joy.
Enter Serving Without Sinking by John Hindley. This is a book about what happens inside our minds and hearts as we do our acts of Christian service. It is a call away from weariness, discouragement, bitterness and joylessness as we serve. And it does that by pointing us to the greatest Servant of all--the one who came to us not to be served but to serve. "This book isn't primarily about our service. It's mainly about Jesus Christ, and about His service. ... Jesus does not want you to measure your life by your service of Him. He does not want your service to get in the way of your love for Him. He did not come to be served by you--He came to serve you." This one truth is remarkably freeing. It frees us from service done to earn or impress or compare and instead allows us to enjoy the ways in which he serves us. But, of course, when we are so loved and so served, we will long to joyfully serve in return. FULL POST
Posted 5/20/13 at 8:26 PM | Tim Challies
Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I'm in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.
My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about Ruth.
Robert Hubbard, Jr. - The Book of Ruth (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, 1989). Ruth is one of the few books of the Bible that I have preached straight-through and, therefore, one I can speak to from at least a bit of personal experience. Hubbard’s receives near-unanimous praise and Keith Mathison says it well: “Robert Hubbard's commentary on Ruth is a model of how commentaries should be written. It is careful and clear. It manages to deal with both details and the big picture. This is the first commentary to which one should turn with questions about the Book of Ruth.” It was certainly helpful to me. (Amazon, Westminster Books) FULL POST
Posted 5/20/13 at 12:56 PM | Tim Challies
We all know that the story of Jonah is really the story of Jonah and his whale, right? Every childrens' Bible majors on that whale and its role in miraculously delivering Jonah from the depths of the sea. The whale is the hero of the story, the knight in shining blubber who comes to the rescue.
Except, of course, that he isn't (and may not be a whale at all since the Bible identifies him only as a "giant fish"). We just need to fast-forward a little bit and go to the life of Christ where he tells us that the story of Jonah is really all about him. Jonah is about Jesus. Jesus is the hero of the story. Here is what Jesus says in Matthew 12 after the Scribes and Pharisees ask him for a sign, a circus trick that would validate his claims.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
As Jesus interprets Jonah he shows that it points to him. He shows that Jonah serves as a type of Christ, a pointer to the future Savior, and says that there is a correlation between Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish and Jesus' three days in the tomb ("the heart of the earth"). This is not to say that the story of Jonah isn't real and didn't have immediate, historical application. It really happened and was really meant to teach God's people in that day. However, Jonah's story was to serve a greater and longer-lasting purpose in pointing people to a future Savior and in teaching something about that Savior. Today we read Jonah in both of these ways, as a prophetic book that speaks to God's people in Jonah's day, and as a book that points us to Jesus Christ. FULL POST
Posted 5/20/13 at 10:33 AM | Tim Challies
If Isaac Watts is known as the father of English hymnody, William Williams (1717-1791) is considered by many to be the father of Welsh hymnody.
In 1738 Williams heard a sermon by the revivalist preacher Howell Harris, a fiery Welsh layman who had been influenced by the Methodist movement in England. It was through this sermon that Williams discerned his calling to go into the ministry.
Williams first pursued becoming an Anglican priest (in the Church of Wales) and entered as a deacon in 1740. However, he soon came to discover that his heart was with Harris and his itinerant work, and before long he left his small curacy in the mountains to join with the traveling Methodist preachers.
The revivalists realized that the Welsh language was lacking in hymns--the church in Wales was still primarily singing metrical psalms in their worship services. In order to promote the creation of hymns, Harris put together a hymn-writing competition between the different preachers.
As Louis Benson relates, “the prize fell easily to Williams Williams, who had the poet’s passion and a gift of verse-writing. Therefore it was not very long before he was recognized as poet laureate of the Welsh revival.” FULL POST
Posted 5/17/13 at 10:08 AM | Tim Challies |
Last night my wife and I sat and did a rough tally of the number of couples we have known as they have gone through dating and engagement. It's a pretty good number of friends, family, and fellow church members. Then we thought about how many of them maintained healthy and God-glorifying physical boundaries and how many had confessed that they had not. The numbers were suddenly not looking nearly so good. This is one of those areas where contemporary Christians so often do very poorly and this is exactly why there have been so many recent books on dating, courtship, purity and all the rest. Christians are failing and desperately looking for a better way.
It has been some time since I have read a book on dating and relationships, probably because it has been some time since the subject has seemed urgent to me. But recently a local pastor told me that as he pastors young adults toward marriage, he has been helped by Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. I decided to check it out and I am glad I did so. FULL POST
Posted 5/16/13 at 10:26 AM | Tim Challies |
Everyone has had to ask or answer the question at one time or another: When it comes to the physical component of a dating relationship, how far is too far? Can we hold hands? Can we kiss? Can we do a little bit more than kiss? Should we even explore the physical relationship a little bit to ensure we are compatible?
I am accustomed to giving the easy answer: "It's not about how far can we go, but how holy we can be. You are asking all the wrong questions!" That may make me feel smart and a little bit godly, but it's not exactly a satisfying or helpful answer.
In their book Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach, Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas offer an answer. They are aware of the long history of legalistic answers and the many slippery slope or fear-based approaches that have more to do with avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies than pursuing holiness. They do not want to create a new law, but draw out an implication of the deepest meaning of marriage. They are convinced that the Bible offers us exactly the answer we are looking for. How far is too far? "Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible does speak with clarity--objective clarity--about what is physically appropriate between an unmarried man and woman in a pre-marriage relationship." FULL POST
Posted 5/15/13 at 11:35 AM | Tim Challies
God spoke to me on Sunday morning. It was clear. It was undeniable. God spoke to me in a moment of need, he brought me a word of comfort, and gave me exactly the message I needed to hear.
Preaching a sermon is one of the most difficult things I do. It is a good kind of difficult, the kind that pushes me into areas I would otherwise avoid. There is even a part of me that loves to preach and I am so grateful that my church allows and even asks me to do it. But even while I believe in preaching and while I believe that I am called to do it on occasion, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier with time.
The process of preparing a sermon is right in my wheelhouse; I love to sit at a desk with an open Bible, with reference books, and with an open word processor. I love the process of studying, understanding, interpreting, writing, editing, sharpening, applying, illustrating and everything else that goes into preparing a sermon. This fits who I am--just one man alone with his books. It is not always a simple or straightforward process, but it is very comfortable.
But delivering a sermon, preaching it, is everything I'm not. The preacher is the guy who stands front and center; my natural tendency is to be in the back corner. The preacher proclaims with a loud voice; I prefer a quieter tone. The preacher has every eye upon him; I am glad to have every eye turned away. Whoever I am at my most comfortable is everything preaching takes away. Preaching is me contorted out of my natural posture, stretched to my most unnatural state. FULL POST
Posted 5/15/13 at 11:17 AM | Tim Challies
I am in the unique and enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books and I like to provide regular roundups of some of the best and brightest of the bunch. Of all the books I have received recently, here are the ones that appear most noteworthy.
Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman. I count Gloria as a friend, having invited myself to take advantage of her (and her husband's) hospitality when I was in Dubai last year. I am really excited to see her first book in print. "Sometimes life feels a lot like a burden--day-in and day-out it's the same chores and tasks, challenges and discouragements, anxieties and responsibilities. Dust bunnies show up on the stairwell, social commitments clutter the calendar, and our families demand daily attention and care. At times, just catching our breath seems like an impossible feat. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a working woman splitting time between the office and home, Gloria Furman--writer, pastor's wife, cross-cultural worker, and mom--encourages us to see the reality of God's grace in all of life, especially those areas that often appear to be boring and unimportant. Using personal examples and insightful stories, her richly theological reflections help us experience the gospel's extraordinary power to transform our ordinary lives." Aileen and I read this book in pre-publication and were glad to write an endorsement for it. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books). FULL POST
Posted 5/14/13 at 11:12 AM | Tim Challies
There are some books on preaching that are meant for preachers. These are books that teach the nuts and bolts of preaching, that are full of practical tips and illustration. There is a place for such works. There are other books on preaching that are meant for all Christians. These are books that describe the power and priority of preaching in the Christian church and in the Christian life. Steven Lawson's The Kind of Preaching God Blesses falls squarely in the second category. This is a book for all of us whether we preach weekly, preach occasionally or never preach at all.
The book has an interesting story behind it. In May of 2011, Lawson was to speak at the annual Pastors' Conference at Moody Bible Institute. He decided to do an exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:1-9 and titled it "The Kind of Preaching God Blesses." That message resounded with the men who attended the conference and Lawson himself experienced an unusually tangible sense of the Lord's assistance and pleasure in preaching it. He carried that message with him to Russia, to California and Orlando, and when he preached it, the Lord stirred his people. After all, every Christian knows, or ought to know, that "as the pulpit goes, so goes the church. Never has this been more true than it is in this present hour. The fact remains, no church can rise any higher than its pulpit. The spiritual life of any congregation and its growth in grace will never exceed the high-water mark set by its pulpit." That message is at the very heart of this book. FULL POST