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December 23, 2015

I am not one of those good bloggers, those by-the-book bloggers. The good ones always know exactly who reads their articles, how many visitors they get each day, how people found their way to the articles, and on and on. But I have never paid much attention to such metrics. However, once or twice a year I put a bit of effort into generating some reports and thought I would share a bit of what happened here in 2015. Here is a brief recap of the year that was.

The site served up nearly 16,000,000 pageviews this year from somewhere around 7,500,000 people. These people visited from 237 different countries with 79% of them representing the United States. The top 5 countries were the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. Following those nations were Philippines, India, Singapore, New Zealand, and Kenya. Facebook was the largest source of visitors, followed by Google and Twitter. Visitors clicked a little over 12,000,000 links to visit articles listed in A La Carte. Beyond all of that, the site generated around 6,500,000 emails to the people who choose to receive the articles that way.

The top search terms that led people here were various spellings and misspellings of my name followed by “benny hinn,” “norman vincent peale,” “td jakes,” and “paul washer.” One of those is not like the others!

And here are the top-ten articles of the year in order of the number of views.

  1. Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. This marks the second year running that this article has been at the top of the list. This year alone it was read almost 5,000,000 times.
  2. My Wife’s Plea to Christian Men. This one attracted a lot of attention, and a strange mix of both criticism and praise. For what it’s worth, she and I stand by it.
  3. 10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling. Here I outlined a series of significant concerns with a runaway bestselling book.
  4. How an Affair Really Begins. I drew largely from the work of other people to show that affairs do not begin with sex.
  5. 6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches. I wrote this one early in the year after reading Deepak Reju’s book on protecting churches from predators.
  6. A Clean House and a Wasted Life. This was a reflection on productivity and why we sometimes measure it all wrong.
  7. You Don’t Need a Date Night. I wrote this one just a couple of weeks ago and it gained a surprising amount of attention.
  8. 7 Lessons from 50 Shades of Grey. Just like the title says, I was reflecting on the 50 Shades phenomenon.
  9. Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie? This article from 5 years ago gained new life when I changed up the quiz format to make it interactive.
  10. 5 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Dating Relationship. A brief look at some ways that dating can go off the rails.

And that was 2015! I look forward to finishing out this year and then seeing what the next year will bring. Before I sign off for the day, please accept my gratitude that you continue to read this site. Your participation simply by reading the articles is a tremendous blessing and encouragement to me.

One Big Tip to Make Your Resolutions Stick
December 21, 2015

’Tis the season to begin to consider those annual New Year’s resolutions. ’Tis the season to first evaluate whether such resolutions are a good idea or a bad one.

Speaking personally, I am a believer in New Year’s resolutions. I believe our lives benefit when we take time to think, evaluate, and dream a little, to consider how we are doing and how we have been living, and to compare it to how we want and ought to live. The dawn of a new year gives us a fresh opportunity and a helpful context to create resolutions and to put them into action. I do not make resolutions every year, but often I do. I think this is one of those years.

Through success and failure I have learned a bit about New Year’s resolutions and want to share a tip— a two-part tip. It’s a simple but important one: Resolve them prayerfully and plan them carefully. This, I think, is a key to successful resolutions.

Resolve them prayerfully. December 31 is not the ideal time to come up with a list of resolutions, because the impulsive ones rarely stick. The best resolutions are the ones that come through thought and planning. Actually, the best ones are the ones you pray about. Instead of procrastinating until the very end of the year, begin to think and pray now about a bad habit you would like to break and new virtuous habit you would like to begin in its place. Or think and pray of a character trait you would like to emphasize or an activity you would like to begin. Speak to other people about these things. Take the whole process seriously and approach it deliberately. If a resolution is worth making, surely it’s worth praying about. Resolve prayerfully, not impulsively.

Plan them carefully. Once you have made your resolution, you need to invest a little effort in planning. You need to plan how and when you will take the actions that go along with the resolution. Sheer willpower is enough to begin a new thing or to take the first steps against a bad thing, but eventually you will need something more. You will need to form a habit. Willpower is both fickle and fleeting, but habits—habits are built (or broken) only over time. To build or break a habit you need some kind of discipline that will help you do, or not do, certain behaviors. So think carefully and plan how, when, and where you will build your habit.

If you resolve to get fit, actually plan the times and activities and put them on your calendar right now. If you resolve to put greater emphasis on personal devotions, decide today where you will do them and what the format will be. If you resolve to budget your money, select your budgeting tool now and schedule the times you will update it. Do you see it? Don’t only decide. Resolve them prayerfully and plan them carefully. And don’t just plan the first day, but the first thirty since that is roughly the time it takes to form a new habit.

So now, get evaluating, get thinking, get praying, get resolving, and get planning. What will you resolve for 2016?

(In my new book Do More Better I teach the value of having a system in your life. That system gives exactly the structure you need to build or break habits. Whether you use that system or another, it will go a long way to making you successful in your resolutions). I guess that’s just one more reason to read it!

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
December 20, 2015

This week’s letters to the editor dealt almost entirely with the article I wrote about date nights. Now, I thought the article quite clearly communicated that date nights are fine and dandy, but simply not necessary. Hence the title You Don’t Need a Date Night. Unfortunately, some people took me as saying “Date nights are stupid and an utter waste of time.” Obviously, that was not my intent. I love going out with Aileen—I just don’t regard it as necessary. Still, the vast majority of the feedback was very positive—there seem to be a lot of people dealing with a lot of guilt for not dating more often—and I have reflected that in this selection of letters.

Thank you for writing this. My husband and I were blessed with 5 babies in 5-½ years so our time during the “littles period” was full of the babies, and toddlers and diapers, and shepherding, and food prep…and…I could go on and on. Because we were so busy with our family, many older couples, with right intentions would say, “Do you have a regular date night?” and we would cringe, guilt and horror building inside, and sheeplishly say, “Well, no, there just isn’t time to go out.” The response was always the same, “Well, you need to make time for it. It should be a priority,” which only added to the guilt. I know we would have appreciated the nights we did get a movie in at home or all the hours we spent next to each other on the couch reading books in a finally quiet house had we had the perspective of this article. Our marriage has gone through so much—and survived—not because we had weekly date nights. It survived because we have God’s grace in the middle of it all and a deep thankfulness for the gift of each other—and the fact that we really like being together as “us.”
—Julie D, Grand Rapids, MI

***

I was perusing Facebook for a few minutes this afternoon when I noticed a few friends had linked to your post. The title was provocative enough for me to click and read. I must say, friend, “Bravo!” My wife and I have been married for 5.5 years now, and we’ve had thoughts similar to what you’ve expressed all along the way. Certainly we enjoy a night out together, but by and large, some of our most cherished moments have come in relaxing together at home. I too have been disappointed that there seems to be a sort of air of legalism about this whole “dating your wife” thing, as if to say that if you do not take a weekly outing you are somehow sub-par and are probably in need of counseling. Hogwash! Of course I want to avoid the other ditch which might say that we absolutely never have to go out together, but especially while I’m in seminary full time, am working part-time and while we are raising young children (4, 3, 1), I want to focus on enjoying the “little” things. I think in the end, we’ll find that those “little” things will turn out to be not so little after all, and the elevated status we’ve given to the periphery that is weekly nights out we will find to be not quite so integral to a vital, loving union.
—Marco S, Minneapolis, MN

***

Thank you for your blog post. I too love to go out on dates with my wife, but I’ve been saddled with guilt over not being able to maintain a weekly date night over the 20 years of our marriage. While she surely deserves better and more than I have given her, I believe she is grateful for what I have done and (like you and your wife) we have settled in to a comfortable existence with each other. Arranging and paying for a babysitter and thinking about how our 7-year-old son is doing while we’re out often makes date night a contrived and much less relaxing time than grabbing a few quiet moments with each other in our pajamas in the early morning or later evening hours. Some might read your post and lament over your “boring” life but what it sounds to me like is a happy, comfortable love. A commitment to sharing the small and the mundane, and actually enjoying all those little moments. While I hope to grow as a husband to my wife, count me among those who will do so not just in the romantic realm, but on the emotional and spiritual planes as well.
—Steve J, Ruckersville, VA

***

Thank you so much for your thoughts on date nights. My husband and I have never been able to schedule regular dates as he works a 2nd shift job and every weekend. We also have four young children. When you add the cost of childcare to the cost of the date itself things get expensive quickly. I struggle with guilt because of all the people telling us that our marriage is not the priority as a result. After reading your comments I felt relieved. Thank you for your encouragement.
—Renee Y, Philadelphia, PA

***

Thank you for your recent article on the ubiquitously recommended date night. My experience has been the same. I don’t remember the last date night my wife and I had but we do all kinds of things together. There is another angle that I think you have overlooked. My chief complaint about the date night is that it comes from people who are relatively well off with quite a bit more disposable income than me. As a pastor of a small church in a rural community with 4 kids at home, we can’t afford regular date nights. After a babysitter and a decent dinner we are talking probably $50 minimum. I can’t afford that every week and most of my parishioners can’t either, and they shouldn’t. There are lots of other ways to spend time together. Sometimes for us it is just talking over a cup of herbal tea on the sofa for a half hour after the kids are in bed. It seems like every time I turn on one of the “family” programs on Christian radio I get another wave of guilt for not planning a weekly or even monthly date night. I enjoy them and so does my wife, but we both know we can’t really afford them and we would rather give whatever excess money we have to other causes than our date night. We have made life choices and kingdom choices in which there isn’t much room for date nights, and that’s okay.
—Ian S, Millinocket, ME

***

Thank you so much, Tim, for writing this article. I have been married for almost 29 years. We have never had scheduled date nights. We certainly had time out when the kids were younger, and made special occasions of it, but for the most part, we simply enjoy regular life together. We play board games, watch movies, read together, and go on photo walks together. Nothing special, but my husband has never felt pressured to organize anything, and when he has done something special, it’s been great. Thanks again for your perspective on this.
—Kim S, Simcoe, ON

And then there were some who disagreed. Some disagreed charitably:

You’ve done so much for so many of us in the way of encouraging a purposeful approach to the Christian life. I was disappointed to read that a purposeful approach to marital connectedness was not something that you espouse. Having been dead broke with young children (two of whom have disabilities), I can tell you that our marriage would be a statistic today if we hadn’t set aside time each week for our marriage and if we hadn’t made a priority of routine nights away from our busy, needy household. If I were able to speak to your readers, I would say, “Make time alone with your spouse a routine priority. Do whatever it takes so that both of you feel loved, cherished, refreshed and cared for in your marriage.”
—Dana W, Edmond, Oklahoma

Tim: I heard from a couple of other people who have children with disabilities and they, too, spoke of the utter necessity of date nights in their context.

***

I read your article and JA Medders’ about not needing a date night. I have to say, I think you might be in the very small minority! Many couples “do” life separately. They are pulled in opposite directions daily by the demands of kids’ schedules, work activities, church service, or different hobbies. And they don’t do chores together (as you described)! So for those couples, the purpose of the date night is to purposely set aside time for one another. And, as you sort of alluded to, date nights don’t have to be romantic evenings with high expectations (and even higher dollar signs). Going for a jog together, having coffee on the patio, running errands, etc—the point is to ensure you’re making time for each other, and more importantly, that you’re making your marriage a priority. The concept I think you left out is that we must be proactive in our marriages. Medders was right—if we wait until our marriage is in trouble to have a date night—it’s too late. As Christians, we know that Satan is out to get marriages and families. Marriage is a picture of the gospel, and ripping apart marriages is a picture of ripping apart Christ and His Bride. With that knowledge, and because Satan is like a lion prowling around seeking whom he can destroy, we must put safeguards in place to protect our marriages. Date nights are one such safeguard. Christian marriages should be fun, lively, and attractive to proclaim our witness to the world—that God designed marriage to be good and to bring glory to Him. When we are ho-hum and mediocre, we dim the light that God wants to shine on the beauty of His plan for marriage and family. You probably agree with all I just stated, but it’s too important not to say—Christians need to do a better job of understanding the purpose of marriage and what’s at stake when marriages are just “ok”. Date nights are strong statements that say, “I value my spouse among all others on earth, and I value God’s glory and His plan for us.”
—Marla C, Owensboro, KY

Tim: Quite right. But I would simply add that there are other ways of making that same statement.

***

Well, between you and (hitherto unknown to me) blogger J.A. Medders, we’ve recently been treated to thorough arguments as to why we don’t need date nights. I’m not sure why the sudden need to attack this particular item but I’m a little surprised (by you, I’ve never read Medders). My wife and I have been married for 20 years this month and about a year ago we started a date night. Not because there were any problems but because as missionaries with a large family (6, now 7, children + one orphan we are caring for) learning an exceedingly difficult foreign language, not to mention my pastoring a small church—we need some weekly time away. It’s nothing fancy—Sometimes, we’re deciding what to do as we walk out the door—but it’s become a really nice thing for us to look forward to each week. I’m not really aware of some date-night-saves-your-marriage culture but you should both beware of criticizing something that may be helpful to many couples out there. There was one quote from Medders article (which you referenced and endorsed) that I found very telling. He said “In the early stages of my marriage there was a greater need for expected date nights; we were still getting to really know each other.” This set off major alarm bells. As I’ve counseled married men in the past (and will in the future), your wife is a “moving target”—IOW, just because you know her today doesn’t mean you’ll know her a year from now. Never take your knowledge of your wife who is a growing, changing person (just like you), for granted. I guess what really bothered me was the overall condescending nature of your post. In all the years I’ve been reading you (and you’re now the only blog I have the time or desire to read—other than the ones you link to) this may be the only time I’ve felt this negatively about something you’ve written. Overall, for me at least, this post was spectacularly unedifying.
—Ryan G, Taiwan

Tim: I would say you stand as proof of my point. Your marriage has survived and thrived for 20 years without a date night. That’s wonderful. And, again, I do not mean to say that date nights are bad. I simply mean to say they are not necessary.

And then there were some who disagreed somewhat uncharitably.

The headline of your article certainly caught my attention and I was suprised by it. Then, I realized the article was written by a man and I wasn’t suprised anymore. Sorry if that sounds snarky, but really that is how I feel. I get your point, really I do. But if your wife is being totally honest with you, she would like to write a rebuttal to your article and the headline would be, “Why My Husband Really Doesn’t Need Sex that Often…”
—Kellie O, Andover, KS

Tim: I hope I misunderstand this, but it seems to indicate that a date night is a kind of sexual transaction in which he takes her out in order to earn the right to sex. I fear this happens in too many marriages. But, please, whatever date nights are, don’t reduce them to a transaction!

Comments on Liberation Letter

Through the grace of God, I was delivered from the Mormon church over a decade ago. I was raised in the church from childhood, left for a few years at 18 when I refused to go on a mission because I had begun to question what they taught, and returned again as an adult after my wife and I suffered through the loss of a child and I was desperate for their “families are forever” theology. We were completely sold out - serving in callings, having our children baptized and sealed to us in the temple, receiving our temple endowments, and being sealed to my wife (sort of the Mormon version of a wedding ceremony - our civil ceremony would never do if we wanted exaltation). However, it didn’t take long for the old, nagging questions to surface and I eventually came to the same conclusions as the letter writer. I wrote my own letter to our local Mormon leadership and have never looked back. I do, however, continue to struggle against years of indoctrination that my salvation requires works and I am often overwhelmed by a sense that I should be doing more, reading more, serving more, praying more…performing more like some sort of trick pony trying to please God and always falling short. It has been difficult to walk in grace and let go of the old mentality but I am making progress every day as I remind myself that it is not anything I do but what Jesus has done for me. I, like the author, pray that those who have been deceived by the “Christian” veneer of Mormonism will have their eyes opened to the truth and write their own letters of liberation!
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR

You Do Not Need a Date Night
December 16, 2015

I have read most of the popular books on marriage and romance. I know what they say. They say that you need to have a regular date night—weekly, preferably—and that this is a key, maybe even the key, to a healthy marriage. Some of them go farther still and say that you don’t only need a date night, but the two of you need to get away together at least once or twice every year. How else can your marriage thrive?

I know what these well-meaning authors mean to accomplish. I know what they are saying and I know why they say it. But I don’t buy it. I don’t buy the necessity of it. I don’t think you need a date night. I don’t think your marriage will necessarily suffer without it. I don’t think you ought to feel guilty if you don’t schedule it every week, or every month for that. It may be a good thing, but it isn’t a necessary thing.

Aileen and I have never made date nights a regular (and certainly not weekly) occurrence. We haven’t ever felt the need. We have never even really felt the desire to go out that often. And I think we’re doing okay without them.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy going out with her, whether that’s for dinner or dessert or an evening with friends. I enjoy escaping for a night or two together when the opportunity presents itself. There is no one in the world with whom I would rather spend an evening or weekend. But I don’t often crave those times.

Why? Because I also enjoy going to the gym with her or just stepping out for a quick evening walk around the block. I enjoy wandering the aisles of Home Depot or Ikea with her as we catch up on those little household errands. I enjoy helping her make dinner and I enjoy it when she helps me do the dishes or when we team up to make the kids’ lunches. I especially enjoy sitting on the couch together to watch Antiques Roadshow (still the best show on television!) or Downton Abbey or whatever else we’re into. I enjoy lying in bed next to her as each of us devours whatever book we are reading at the moment. I just plain enjoy her. I enjoy doing life alongside her—normal life. With all the time we spend doing life together, and all the satisfaction we derive from it, we are quite content. (Yes, she read this article and gave her assent!)

Marriage is made up of date nights and romantic weekends. But far more it is made up of those million mundane little moments. More than it is dancing and candlelight and bed and breakfasts, it is doing chores together, driving to church together, watching a miniseries together, eating meals together. It has been my experience that the more we enjoy those ordinary moments and the more we find satisfaction and significance in them, the less we need or even desire those extraordinary occasions.

I know couples who have neither common interests nor common activities, and they thrive through their regularly-scheduled date nights. I understand that, and I’m genuinely happy for them! I know others who just love to be out and about and, again, thrive with their date nights. But for us, the best nights, the nights we love, the nights we crave, are the most normal nights of all. And we are delighted with that.

Hold On
December 14, 2015

I am a quitter. In some ways I am, at least. There are parts and places in life where I will maintain a stubborn determination to the end (like, say, this whole blog every day thing I’ve been doing). But there are others where I give up, where I can too easily quit. And one of those places is in the battle against sin. Certain sins, anyway.

I believe that God blesses obedience. I believe that God has blessings stored up for those who are faithful to obey his commands. He is a good God who loves to give good gifts to his children. I want those gifts, the most precious of which is that closeness, that relational nearness to him. As I put sin to death and come alive to righteousness, I find that I draw ever closer to God so that I know him better and trust him more. Conversely, when I ignore sin, foster it, or refuse to confess it, I find more and more of that disquieting sense of relational distance. Of course I do, because sin is always aimed at God, always aimed at declaring independence from him. The joy of obedience is the joy of nearness; the curse of disobedience is the curse of distance.

I want the blessing and the joy that comes with obedience, with conformity to Christ. The question is, do I want it enough to endure temptation for it? I like to obey when obedience is easy. I like to obey when obedience is a matter of a quick and simple yes or no or when it is a matter of refusing those things that are not much of a temptation anyway. But what about those times when obedience requires endurance? What about those times when the blessing lies on the far side of a long, alluring temptation? That’s exactly when I am tempted to quit.

And in those times I need to remind myself to hold on. I need to cling to God’s promises. I need to remind myself of the joy that waits on the far side of the temptation. I need to assure myself that obedience is worth it and that disobedience always disappoints.

I speak often with young men who are almost drowning in sexual temptation. And I want them to know that God blesses obedience, but that blessing comes after endurance. Blessing is waiting beyond the temptation. I want them to know that if they just endure the temptation they will learn that God’s promises are true, that he really can and does satisfy. But if they sin now, if they succumb to the temptation, they will never know, they will never learn, they will never experience that sweet joy and fellowship.

I speak often with people who are battling other sins—sins like anger, perhaps. When they are experiencing the temptation it seems like satisfaction will only come by giving in. They are in a situation where they are being needled, where frustration is growing, where tempers are fraying, where it seems for all the world that they can only be satisfied if they blow up and vent some steam. But once again God promises there is greater satisfaction in obedience than in disobedience. But they have to endure to discover it, they have to hold on. God wants them to cling to his Word for just a little while, and then they will see. But they won’t see if they won’t hold on. Again, the blessing is just beyond the temptation.

I speak often to myself in those areas where sin is especially tempting to me. And I remind myself that I need to hold on. I think sometimes of Jacob who had to wrestle with God all night before he would receive his blessing (see Genesis 32). Like Jacob, I want my blessing now. But sometimes God gives the blessing only after I have endured. And when I do endure I invariably find that God’s promises are true, that his presence is near, that obedience was so much better than disobedience. I am never disappointed.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 13, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some recent letters to the editor. This week’s Letters to the Editors were almost entirely focused on three articles. 

Comments on Homemaking In Light of Eternity

My wife is a capable and ambitious woman who does not particularly enjoy being a homemaker. She left a career in Human Resources Benefits Management when we had our first child and she planned to return when he entered school. God had other plans - our child was born with severe disabilities. He requires a talented, full-time caregiver and advocate with experience in medical service management. What a blessing she is and uniquely gifted by God for unexpected career. Our son is a lot of work and I’m amazed at my wife’s selfless love for him, giving up the prospect of easier and more prestigious work for the foreseeable future.

PS: Reading your blog is my Sunday ritual, undertaken from Korea this week due business travel. Thanks for your ministry.
—Matt N, Grand Rapids, MI

***

Hi Tim, being a career homemaker/ homeschooler/ wife and mom of five eternal souls (and now a grandmother to four going on five), I was delighted with your initial article applauding your wife for choosing this vocation rather than frittering away her life finding significance by the world’s definition. Well, you didn’t exactly put it that way but…

In your second post on homemaking in light of the gospel, I was heartened by the reminder that this life is not all there is. True enough. But I do wonder if the angle of the article is still weighted toward valuing what the world values—following our passions, fulfilling our dreams, pursuing a path of significance as it seems right to us…Only, you say we just need to put these off for a little while, not DIE to them, and embrace this sacrificial calling for as few years as we can get away with…. I say, if they are God-given desires then invest them in your mothering, teaching, training process. Don’t just squirrel them away for eternity! I could get on a little soapbox here, but I believe as Christians we have been too quick to abnegate the instruction of our young to institutions and have neglected to pass on our own unique passions and vision (and in so doing to find great fulfillment in our callings!)…. What if we were to see our passions as God-given for investing into our own family and the lives of those we touch in the process of rearing them?! (rather than as trading cards for making money and finding significance in the world’s eyes!)

It seems to me that the vocation of mothering/ nurturing/ investing our lives and dreams and passions in our progeny is a Creation ordinance, predating the coming of the Gospel. It is not something we ‘choose’ and then nobly ‘bear’ as our ‘sacrifice’. It is God’s masterful and ineffable design for mothers, to save us from ourselves if you will. Mothering with all we are and have is not just ‘sacrifice’. It is privilege, high calling, perfect, HOLY. When we act as though we have laid down 30 or 40 years of our lives (Hey, don’t stop there; there’s grandparenting!!) for something great but still hold onto the belief that we have missed out on something that might have been more significant…we insult our Creator. To fulfill God’s calling without regret and without a martyr complex—with Joy—this is the role and high privilege of motherhood. What other career even begins to compare to its dividends? Being loved and known as a faithful godly “Mom”, is that not making an impact?!

The gospel transforms homemaking because… it calls us to die to ourselves and live for God’s kingdom and in so doing we find life in the here and now while our own paltry ideas of ‘success’ and ‘significance’ fade along with all the other ways the world has sought to conform us to its mold. We are freed to really live without regret and without chomping at the bit to have this lifetime over with so we can get on with our real passions!

[For the record, I am a trained linguist who once commenced to do Bible Translation, but was channelled into motherhood while in the process and didn’t get to fulfill that ‘dream’, so I DO understand that there are other career options out there, valid and valiant ones. The question is, what is God’s calling for my lifetime. He is in the process of sanctifying me through that calling. Incidentally, the translation we set out to do did get done without our needing to be the ones to get the glory…]

Thanks for your good thinking, Tim, that so often stirs my own in good ways.
—Linda S, Nelson, BC

Tim: I think this a helpful corrective. I generally try to make one point per article so this may have been a bit outside of what I meant to communicate. But I quite agree with much of what you say. Perhaps, though, I don’t see that what you and I are saying are mutually exclusive as much as complementary.

***

The gospel does indeed transform homemaking, or it might be better to say, it transforms our perspective on homemaking. It has always been a high calling of the Lord.

However, your article unintentionally validates the impression that many women who have chosen a life of homemaking and child-rearing have put aside “better” options and sacrificially settled for second best. Using the terms in the article “gave up”, “forfeit”, “putting on hold”, “letting go of dreams and desires” in regards to women who chose family over career all support this notion.

This closes the door to the possibility that for many this simply was the first and best choice, not that we simply fell into it because we had no education, job or anything else to do. So often homemaking is pitted against the development of talents and vocational interests as you have leaned toward doing in this article. They are not mutually exclusive. Yes, priorities will be adjusted according to the family situation, but children benefit greatly from the example of a mother who continues to develop her mind and talents.
—Sandy P, Brantford, ON

***

Tim, thank you for this article, which I can see (from Facebook) is a great encouragement to many women. I myself am humbled and astounded by God’s grace and favor that he plucked me from a consuming career and put me in Bible College. Now, as a Christian for any length of time, you will know as well as I do the struggles many women face with singlehood. Now that I am in a tightly-knit Christian circle, I am privy to how painful this topic is to many - only because the ‘Christian’ culture here idealizes women who get married and have kids in their early 20s. I am afraid articles like yours inadvertently encourages a middle-class Christianity - where women tie their identities to husbands and children instead of God. At its worst it discourages women from utilizing their God-given gifts for God’s Kingdom - and this may involve living out their skills and passions on this side of the grave. Biblically, I fail to see how being a wife and mother is superior to being a single person living purposefully for God. I understand this is not what you are saying, but such a conclusion may be derived from your article. Perpetua and Felicity would not be impressed. Perhaps instead of saying ‘Ladies, last chance to be a wife and a mom!’ it would be more edifying to say that God is fulfilling his purposes for you - in this lifetime (Ps 57:2).
—Sharm D, Melbourne, Australia

***

Thank you for writing these thought provoking & encouraging articles. As one who has also chosen this path, I don’t get a lot of recognition or kudos. I am the age where many of my peers are peaking at their careers. I look back & sometimes wonder what do I have to show for my years of homemaking. There are unfulfilled dreams due to my “career” choice. Thank you for the reminder that this is important & heaven is waiting .
—Phillis W, Loogootee, IN

***

Hi, thanks for your homemaking articles. It’s encouraging to hear of other women living to serve as laid out in scripture. I am a young lady deeply desirous of doing the same but I wonder if you can get some of these ladies to speak on the process involved please. In my case I have obligations to work once I complete my degree and a student loan to be paid starting some months post graduation. Would be great to hear from these women if they’re willing to share with other women or even if you can direct me to anyone who may be willing to share and guide me in this process. Again, thank you for the articles and all you offer freely. God Bless & Keep you and your family.
—Amanda S, Trinidad & Tobago

Tim: If you keep an eye on the daily A La Carte postings I do, you will encounter quite a lot of excellent blogs written by and for women, many of whom are homemakers.

Comments on The 2016 Reading Challenge

That’s an excellent initiative. I appreciate much this initiative to encourage book-reading habit. It will also help if you can suggest titles of good books in those 104 categories.Thank you.
—Alexis A, Bangalore, India

***

I am from South Africa and need some input regarding choices of books in the various categories mentioned in your 2016 reading challenge. Christian books are relatively easier as I normally base my choices on the authors I know in additon to the authors these authors recommend. However, when it comes to books about current issues, classical novels etc. I am ignorant as to what type and authors will actually be beneficial to me. Is there any possible way you can assist me in selecting titles for these categories.
—Sergio W, Capetown, South Africa

***

Have you already selected books for this challenge for yourself? Also, have people sent in their lists. If so, would you mind sharing some of the choices in an upcoming blog post? Thanks!
—Steven M, Louisville, KY

Tim: Many of the comments I received about the Reading Challenge were calls for resources. (And, as you can see here, they came from around the world.) I intend to recommend resources throughout the year.

Comments on The Humble Celebrity

I thought you would appreciate another story highlighting the humility of Francis Schaeffer. My father-in-law (Pop) has led a bible study in his home for over four decades. Pop has had all kinds of Christians who happened to be famous, from athletes to theologians, take part in his bible study. Back in the 70’s Francis Schaeffer spoke for a week in his church, so he was invited to lead the study one evening. There was a man in the study who was a new believer and was passionate about studying the beliefs of cults. He had put together a huge chart made of several pieces of poster board, comparing the beliefs of various cults and Christianity. He was so excited about sharing it with the group. As he explained his chart, he laid it out on the floor and started rearranging the furniture, explaining to the group that they could see it better from up above. Pop started to cringe. But Schaeffer, gladly and without hesitation, stood on his chair and followed everyone around the circle, walking on the furniture, as the excited young man explained his chart. You can imagine this brilliant man, known the world over, wearing his knickers and walking on the furniture! Pop has never forgotten Scheffer’s example of humble encouragement.
—Dean W, Spring, TX

Tim: Thanks for sharing this sweet little anecdote, Dean.

Homemaking in the Light of Eternity
December 08, 2015

That article about homemaking struck a nerve. Last week I wrote about Aileen and her Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking, and I did so to share my gratitude that she decided to put aside other dreams to focus on caring for the home and children (and of course, for me). In retrospect, there is one more thing I wish I had said in that article, and I aim to say it today: The gospel transforms homemaking.

Now I know it’s all the Reformed rage to hitch the word “gospel” to every possible topic or issue. I find myself backing away from some of the gospel-dash-centred wording these days lest it come across as cliché. But in this case, I am perfectly comfortable with the statement that the gospel makes a world—in fact, an eternity—of difference in homemaking.

And now the part where I explain. They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions. They say it is only what you do in this life that matters. They say that you need to full-out live your dash, that little line that will someday appear on your gravestone to represent the time between the day you were born into this world and the day you died out of it. And they are right. They are right to a degree.

But Christians know that the dash is deceptive. It is only the beginning. The dash matters a whole lot, and it is so very important that we spend our lives effectively stewarding our gifts, time, talent, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. (Hey, someone should write a book about that!) But the dash is just the short opening blip on a much longer line that extends to forever. While our existence has a clear beginning, it has no end. We will live until we die, and then we will live again. We will live until we die, and then we will be more fully alive than we have ever been.

And yet even Christians can slip into living as if this world is all there is, as if there is nothing beyond that short dash. The gospel transforms homemaking precisely because it assures us that we do not need to do and see and have and accomplish everything in this short life. The gospel promises life beyond—a much better, longer, and more fulfilling life.

The woman who devotes thirty or forty years of her life to homemaking—the prime of her life, that is—is choosing to let go of certain dreams and desires. Since I wrote that article I have had some very accomplished women write to say, “I gave up a great career and incredible opportunities and millions of dollars because I wanted to be there for our children.” I have had many proud husbands write to say, “My wife chose to forfeit what could have been an amazing career because she chose to raise our children.” These are genuine sacrifices. But as a believer she is not being asked to give up these things forever. Instead, she is putting them on hold. She is delaying them. She is prioritizing other things for a time.

Most Christians believe that the person who exists on the other side of the grave will be very much consistent with the person who exists on this side. She will be her still except that the presence of sin and the consequences of sin will be gone. What she loves here will very likely be what she loves there and what she does well here will very probably be what she does well there. Gifting and passion and skill on this side of the grave are undoubtedly a good indicator of gifting and passion and skill on that side of the grave.

This means that she can confidently choose to pursue being a wife and mother now, believing that she will have all of eternity to explore those other interests, talents, and passions. This means that she is not wasting them. She is not ignoring or neglecting them. She is merely choosing to prioritize other things for a time. There will be no marriage there, so her only opportunity to prioritize and perfect marriage is right now. There will be no children there, so her only opportunity to make the most of mothering is right here and right now.

If you do not believe in life after death, I understand the overwhelming desire to build a career now, because it is the only career you will ever have. I understand why you need to grab ahold of every opportunity because there will be no more opportunities beyond the ones you have today. But for the Christian, there is a forever still to come—a forever of living in this world, exploring this world, exercising dominion over this world, and glorifying God through every gift, talent, moment, passion, and opportunity. Homemaking in the light of eternity allows her to wait patiently for the forever to come.

Like I said, the gospel transforms homemaking. It transforms everything.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
December 06, 2015

Blogs were never meant to be one-way communication. Because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining a helpful commenting section, I have recently added a Letters to the Editor feature. Today I share some recent letters to the editor. This week’s Letters to the Editors (and last week’s, since I didn’t post any last week) were almost entirely focused on three articles. 

Comments on The Plausibility Problem

I’d like to thank you for your review and recommendation of Ed Shaw’s book. As a Christian who happens to be attracted to the same sex, it’s one of the best I’ve read on the topic. I wanted to point out something that I think the Reformed community has generally missed when it comes to this issue, namely how hard it is for the parents. I’ve seen this in my own life. Over the past year and a bit I’ve opened up to a number of family and friends about my struggles in this area. Overall I’ve been amazed and extremely grateful to all my friends for their love and support once I told them. God is good! The fear I felt that my friends would reject me or look down on me for this has been found to be groundless. However it was much harder for my parents to hear this about me. They were afraid that if the church in general knows, I may be looked down upon and treated as an outcast. It must be brutal to learn that a son that you hoped would be happily married and have kids (your grandchildren) may have to live his whole life in singleness. Often I think that my parents have a harder time with this than I do and that is one of the hardest parts of having SSA. I think in general it could potentially cause the parents to have a lot of guilt (was it the way we raised him/her?) that would be compounded if the church looked down on those dealing with SSA. If we could have a church community like the one Ed Shaw outlines in his book, parents would not have to fear for their child as the church would be ready and willing to be a support for both the individual dealing with the same-sex attraction as well as his or her family.
—Liam K, Edinburgh, Scotland

Tim: Thanks, Liam. This is an area where we, as Christians (and Reformed Christians) have a lot of learning, listening, and thinking to do. I hope and pray we can take Shaw’s challenge and make sure we offer a plausible alternative to the world’s messaging.

Comments on The Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!” as the old saying goes. I stayed home with my six children. The days are long, but the years are short. We as parents do not have much time to instill our faith and values into our kids. No money would be worth missing our children’s first steps or first words or their games or concerts, or to miss the daily conversations about God and life that ensue. And we did struggle financially, but my husband worked hard and God provided our needs and many wants. I, too, felt “dumb” at times, especially when I was the only other woman in a get-together who did not work outside of our home, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Now that our kids are all grown up with families of their own, all of our girls and daughters-in-law are home with their children. They are pursuing the best thing for their families. It can be lonely and hard at times, but it is worth it. Thank you, Tim, for giving women at home a boost! You can’t take anything to heaven with you but people.
—Victoria K, Upper Chichester, PA

***

Hi Tim, thanks so much for your article about Aileen’s decision to stay home and about stay at home moms in general. I have read very few articles on this topic that were written by men, and I appreciate you supporting women in this way and championing their hard work at home! My husband and I have also chosen to live in a cheaper housing area and to live on a tight budget so that I can stay home. If I were to go to work (as a nurse) our income would double; but that is not our choice while our kids are little. It is a lot of work to be diligent with our resources, but we believe it is worth it. I’m grateful to my husband for working hard and for the option of staying home. I know many who would like to be home with their kids but who don’t have that luxury.
—Emily A, Roseville, CA

***

Thank you for writing on this often-neglected topic of homemaking. Now that all of my children are in elementary school, I have been regularly asked, “So what are you going to do now?” Or more boldly, “When are you going back to work?” I never left work! My work changed into being a wife and raising three children. That is work. Bless you for recognizing, encouraging and validating this vital career choice.
—Ursula F, Apex, NC

***

I’m writing in response to your short article The Counter-Cultural Vocation of Homemaking. I am a wife and lawyer turned stay-at-home mom to my three young children (aged two, four and six). I quit my job at a large international law firm when my eldest was born, and most of my colleagues and many of my friends thought it was an insane move. I walked away from a salary in the $200,000 range, and traded in my sporty Mercedes for a ragged SUV. Gone are the days when I purchased expensive things from expensive stores.

But the truth is, I don’t miss my former career one bit. As a homemaker, I have found a depth of calling that no degree of professional accolade or shiny sports car could ever begin to mimic. God has blessed me with the weighty responsibility of instructing my children in his ways, of filtering the things of this fallen world for three little people, and of creating a home where biblical hierarchy is modeled.

There is immense, eternal responsibility inherent in the vocation of homemaking, and in it I find true joy.

God bless your wife for her desire to serve her family. “An excellent wife who can find?” Tim Challies, apparently. -)
—Leah R, Philadelphia PA

Tim: Indeed. Yet it struck me as interesting that 100% of the letters to the editor on this topic were supportive. It is encouraging to me how many women (with their husbands) have made the same decision for the same reasons.

Comments on A Simple But Life-Changing Realization

I understand what you are trying to say in this article, but would caution that it comes close to sounding like you are advocating the “abundant-life” or “second blessing”-type teachings of Keswick or Wesleyan theology. I’ve been reading your material long enough to know that you don’t subscribe to that aberrant school of thought, but wanted to share this observation with you. I completely agree with the points you’ve made in this article, and praise God for how He has used your ministry to help me to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
—Tom W, Spring Lake, NJ

***

As a young minister struggling to maintain purity, this was a great encouragement. Thank you for helping me remember that God is not just giving a command, but an opportunity to experience life with Him. Truth be told, I was in the midst of battling temptation when I came to it, and God gave exactly what I needed. Thanks again for this truth.
—Greg H, Tallahassee, FL

***

Let me first say how much my wife and I enjoy reading your blog on a regular basis. You have been a great help. This letter is not an argument but rather a request for clarification. In your article, “A Simple But Life-Changing Realization”, you write, “God would not tell me to do something I could not actually do.” Would you say that applies universally, even to a command like in Matthew 5:48 where Jesus tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”? Any insight you can provide on the matter would be much appreciated.
—Nick A, Atlanta, GA

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Tim, I wanted to thank you for your article “A Simple But Life-Changing Realization.” As a young man who has chosen sexual sin over and over again, this article was used to breathe life into my dry and restless soul; the realization that God’s commands are promises and that he provides the means to obey and fulfill those things is truly breathtaking. You say, “You actually can obey him all the way. You actually can be free from the sin, and not just in its broadest, most blatant forms.” I desperately want that and now I understand that it is possible. Thank you, Tim.
—Austin B, Kansas City, MO

***

I agree with you because I’ve seen it lived out in my father’s life as well as others. But he would be the first to say (in fact he did say this last evening at our home fellowship) that the sign of a mature Christian is how fast he can run to the cross. Note that he didn’t say he is getting better (he’s now 85 years old) but that by confessing sin quickly, applying the precious blood of Jesus, he is set free from the bondage of that sin. To deal with sin, we have to be willing to bring it out into the light, not hide it or justify it, but call it what it is and allow Jesus to make us clean. He’s been very open over the years about some of his struggles with sin and because he’s willing to share how Jesus has met him, forgiven him and continues to help him, others are encouraged in their lives as well. Holiness is possible because Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it possible. The blood will NEVER lose its power!
—Mary O, Snoqualmie, WA

Tim: Not surprisingly, there was a lot of response to this one. I would like to return to the concerns about “higher life” and perfectionism that people asked about. I was grateful that, while people raised the concern, they also gave the benefit of the doubt: “We know that you don’t actually believe this, so please clarify.” For now, maybe I will just say this: Properly understood, grace always sounds far too good to be true!