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The Twenties: A Retrospective (II)

(This is part two of an article I began here). I ended the last article with the birth of our first child.

It did not take long after the birth of our son to encounter difficulties with our church. I knew nothing of Baptists, but had begun listening to Charles Stanley on my way to work each day and quickly began to respect his passion for the Word and his ability to teach it simply. The churches of my youth focused largely on a corporate faith but with Stanley I encountered a personal faith that challenged and intrigued me. When I realized that Baptists could be something other than hopelessly shallow, Baptist churches also began to intrigue me. And as I encountered Baptists who were clearly strong believers (something I would once never have considered possible) I began to question paedo-baptism. Aileen and I hesitated to have our baby baptized immediately and this created tension in the church. We begged for more time to investigate baptism, but were not allowed this time. We were told to have our child baptized immediately or to face church discipline. Feeling hard done by, we felt it would be best to leave the church, for we would be moving away soon enough anyways. As we did so, we walked away from the Reformed faith and began attending a local Baptist church. The parting words from a man whom we much respected were “You won’t like Baptists. They are shallow, boring people.” The Reformed faith was all I had known as a child, but I was ready to forsake it, confusing the narrow segment of Reformed churches I had known as being representative of the whole. It would be a long time before I would attend a Reformed church again. (I do want to mention here that I really do have great respect for the leadership at our old church. We were young and not very wise. Whether they were right or wrong, they felt they were doing what was good and necessary. We have no hard feelings and have since worshiped in the church.)

Around this same time, the fall of 2000, I found myself dreading my daily commute to Oakville, a drive that would routinely take the better part of an hour each way. We decided to investigate a move to Oakville. Oakville is one of the wealthiest towns in Canada and housing prices reflect that money so we did not hold out much hope. But just as we began to despair of ever finding affordable housing, a co-worker mentioned that he had purchased a townhouse in Oakville and was looking for tenants. While we could not afford the rent at that time, we realized that we could make ends meet if we took in a boarder from the local college. And so, in early September of 2000, we moved to Oakville and met Kristin, a student who was to live with us for five years. Through those years Kristin became a good friend, almost a big sister to our children, and best of all, a sister in Christ. We soon fell in love with Oakville and settled into the community.

Finding a church in this new town was not easy. This is, after all, Canada, a country where Bible-believing churches are few and far between. Reformed churches are almost unheard of and there are none in Oakville, even today. We visited several churches and attended one for several months. None of them felt like home. One day we found a flyer in our mailbox announcing the opening of a new Baptist church in our area. On our first visit we were impressed with the people and with their desire to reach out to the community. We began attending every week and soon became some of the first members. Before long I was leading weekly Bible studies and Aileen was heading up a growing children’s ministry. The church was structured around Purpose Driven principles, but this did not trouble me, for at the time I had never heard of Rick Warren or of his books. I just knew that this church was excited about reaching into the community for Christ and this thrilled me.

By the middle of 2001 it became clear that the company I was working for was not going to survive for long. In 1999 it been purchased by a massive American company that had seen fit to use our technology as a cheap Y2K solution. When Y2K passed uneventfully it became inevitable that the company would be shut down. In July of 2001 the entire staff, save me, was laid off. After spending one very boring month alone in an office building keeping an eye on a couple of computers I was laid off as well. Through a business contact I immediately began my next job, also in Oakville. I soon found this job a trial as I had to pass my days in a room filled with noisy file servers. I began to develop headaches and could hear the incessant whine of computer fans in my sleep. I started to dream of beginning my own company. But by this time Aileen was pregnant with our second child and I did not feel I could quit my job in order to pursue the dream of owning my own company. I could not trade certainty for uncertainty.

There was one thing about this job that changed my life. Because I did not enjoy the office environment, I began to escape every day to the local library, which was only a short walk away. Placed between my office and the library was a terrible little Christian bookstore, but one that carried the occasional good book. It was here that I first began to buy and to read good Christian books. Until this time I do not ever recall reading a Christian book other than the occasional Frank Peretti novel. But sitting in the Oakville Public Library I read books that changed my life. The most notable were Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace? by James Boice and Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur. I knew nothing of these two men, but fell in love with their writing and with Christian books in general. I began to raid the shelves of my pastors’ libraries, reading whatever I could find. I also began carrying a journal with me, jotting down thoughts as they occurred and taking copious notes on the books I read. Through the ministries of these men I slowly began to recover my Reformed roots. Slowly I found myself struggling to reconcile Purpose Driven principles and Arminian theology with Scripture and with the Reformed faith.

By April of 2002 the pull towards beginning my own company was growing stronger. In my spare time I had begun to teach myself the basics of web design and was also capable of being a standard “computer guy.” And yet my wife’s belly was growing ever-larger, showing that my family was about to grow as well. I desperately wanted to do something that I liked and something that would keep my mind active. I looked forward to the prospect of working from home and being able to be my own boss. It was about these issues that I prayed one warm April day while I walked by the shores of Lake Ontario. I asked God to give me clarity. I remember praying “God, please just make it crystal clear what you want me to do.”

Still uncertain of my future I returned to the office ready to finish out the day. No sooner had I walked in the door than I was told to see my manager immediately. I entered his office and found him sitting there with his boss who had unexpectedly arrived from the company’s headquarters in the States. To my great shock I learned that I was being laid off once again. I experienced a sense of deja vu as my boss explained that my department was being terminated and the jobs would be handled from south of the border. They smiled politely, wished me the best and had someone accompany me to my desk to pick up my things.

As I was cleaning up my desk I dreaded having to call my wife to tell her the news. She drove me to work each day and had the car, so I would have to share the news over the phone rather than telling her face-to-face where I knew I could break the news to her gently and offer her comfort. As I silently fretted the phone rang. Answering it I discovered it was my close friend and pastor calling. He had never called me at work before, but said that he was at the traffic light outside my building and had just remembered something he had to ask me. I told him to pull into the parking lot and I would be right there. I grabbed my things, walked upstairs into the fresh, spring air and left the corporate world behind. Mere minutes after returning home and sharing the news with Aileen the phone rang once more and this time it was a friend calling to say that their company needed a new web site and someone who could contract with them to manage their network. And just like that Websonix was born with no loans, no business plan and very few prospects. I continued teaching myself web design and did whatever work I could find.

Business was slow, but severance payments had been reasonable and we somehow managed to keep paying our bills, though money was constantly tight. These were lean and often terrifying days. I had no office (I later moved to the basement), so worked in the living room while my young son ran around and Aileen tried to ignore my ever-present music. We dreaded the beginning of the month when bills came due, and yet somehow never had to miss a payment or beg and borrow money.

On September 25, 2002 with the time approaching to have our second child, I decided to register a website where I could post pictures of my children for the benefit of my family in the United States. I eventually settled upon challies.com. I began to post pictures but, having done a bit of writing recently, decided to post the occasional article there as well in case my family was interested in reading them. On October 7 I posted an article outlining the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism and on the 23rd a short article challenging the way evangelicals remember Mother Teresa. Little did I know where these articles would lead!

October 30, 2002 marked the birth of my daughter, Abigail. We were now a family of four. My responsibilities were quickly increasing.

By mid-2003 Challies Dot Com was beginning to resemble a blog, at least to some extent. I was still not using any kind of blogging software, but was posting book reviews (my first book review was Battle For The Beginning by John MacArthur) and was updating with at least some frequency. It surprised me to see that strangers began to visit the site, having found links to my articles and reviews from the search engines. It surprised me even more to find that they enjoyed reading these articles. I began to write more often and found that, in my opinion at least, the more I wrote, the better my writing got. I also found that the more I wrote the more I found that I wanted to say.

It was around this time that I was introduced the phenomenon of blogging and decided that it was something I should attempt. I have never been very good at hobbies and fully expected this one to fall by the wayside as so many others before it. By October I had installed new software and had begun to blog irregularly, but the site was languishing from lack of attention. I would post every week or two as I found or made time. This changed on October 31. I decided rather spontaneously that, beginning the next day, I would either post every day for a year or give up on blogging altogether. And so it was that on November 1, 2003 I posted an article and began a string of daily blogging that has not yet ceased, though it has been over three years. This discipline of daily blogging has been the most demanding but most rewarding task I’ve ever undertaken.

2004 and 2005 passed fairly quietly with fewer milestones than the preceding years. We were settling into life. Websonix continued to grow and slowly became a viable company, capable of supporting my family. The blog also continued to grow in popularity, first bringing in ten or twenty visitors every day, and then hundreds, and then thousands. Through this time the site went through something of a silent transformation. In the site’s infancy I feel it focused too often on what was negative and what was controversial. I began to realize that I was quickly becoming one of the infamous “watchbloggers.” Over time, though, and through the grace of God, I’m sure, I realized that I had little interest in pursuing watchblogging and decided to focus more attention on what was edifying and what was, quite simply, of interest to me. The site became more personal and less negative.

In October of 2005, at the invitation of Desiring God, I received my first invitation to liveblog a conference. This was quite a thrill and I still consider it a great honor. It opened the doors to many more opportunities, all of which have proven to be tremendous blessings.

And this brings us to 2006. Early in the year we decided that the time had come for us to find a new church. While we had many good friends and good memories in our old church, theological differences dictated that it would be best for us to move on. Looking back I can see that this break was inevitable from the moment I began to read good books. The church was not Reformed, which troubled us to some degree, of course, but not enough to disassociate ourselves from it. It was now a recovering Purpose Driven church and was missional, I suppose (though I never heard the term used in the church), which appealed to us in many ways. But it was also largely fad-driven (to borrow Phil Johnson’s phrase) and increasingly seeking a kind of relevance and “coolness” that we could not reconcile with our beliefs. As my opportunities to minister grew I also sought a kind of accountability that this church was not able or willing to provide. We began to yearn for more from the preaching and for worship that was focused on the grace and sovereignty of God. Through my site I had encountered Paul Martin, who pastors Grace Fellowship Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation in an area of Toronto a few minutes east of Oakville. I had met with Paul in December of 2005 and was immediately struck by his godliness and humility (or, if you prefer, as my wife said “You’ve got a big ol’ man-crush on him!”). Early in the new year I brought my family to Grace and we have been worshiping with that body of believers since. We feel at home among them. Paul has already become a dear and trusted friend.

In March of 2006 Aileen and I were thrilled to be able to buy our first house. We did not move far from the home we rented for five years as we chose to remain in the same neighborhood. Only two months later, on May 3 of this year, the same day Aileen celebrated her 30th birthday, she gave birth to little Michaela, our second daughter and third child. And not long after that I signed a contract for my first book, The Discipline of Discernment, which will be published (Lord willing) in early 2008.

And this brings us to today. And today brings us to tomorrow when I will turn thirty. It seems difficult to conceive of a decade that could bring more milestones and more blessings than the one that has just passed. I have changed from an unemployed, unmarried student to a married, self-employed father of three. I have learned that so much of the wisdom that was passed to me as a young man is true: I do love my wife now more than I did even on our wedding day. She is more beautiful and more precious to me than ever before. The best days of my life were not the days when I was single, but the days I spent with my wife and children just enjoying their presence. I have little doubt that the best days still lie ahead. I have learned more than I can possibly quantify and have grown immeasurably. I have been blessed so far beyond what I deserve.

It has been a decade of unbelievable blessings. It has been a decade of a few pains, but countless thousands of joys. God has been so good, so faithful even when I have been faithless. I have felt His presence and have known His presence from day to day, from year to year. When I look back I am amazed by His grace. When I look forward I anticipate this grace continuing to sustain me as long as He chooses to allow me to sojourn here. I can hardly wait to see where He will lead me next.