Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

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parenting

1 year 5 months ago
Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?” This is a question many an honest and searching mother has asked herself. If motherhood is so good, so desirable, so obviously the will of God, then why does it have to be so difficult? Why does it feel so unfulfilling? This was Sarah Mae’s question as she faced another day of caring for her children after yet another sleepless night—one of those days where she was just too tired and too worn out to be a mom. “Down to the bone, to the deepest part of my soul, is the love I have for my children. Every day of my life is imperfectly offered to them. But the little years, they’re hard and oftentimes lonely. It’s like a secret we fear sharing, just how life-altering motherhood is, especially when you don’t have training or support.”

Mae found both training and support through Sally Clarkson, an author who would also become a dear friend and much-needed mentor. Together they have written Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, a book that, judging by its early reviews, has resonated with mothers.

Sally and I want to encourage you to keep going even when it feels like you can’t, and we want to help you. We won’t offer you formulas, but we will offer ideas, perspectives, transparency, and wisdom. We have some ideas for you in getting help, and we are making a plea for older women to remember the tired years and come alongside young mothers, so that our children and our children’s children will know how to serve and to receive help.

Mae and Clarkson collaborate in a very natural way. Mae, whose oldest child is just six years old, describes motherhood as she goes through it. She identifies concerns, confesses exasperation, asks question. Clarkson responds as the mentor, the one whose children are older and grown, the one who comes alongside those who are in the trenches.

I have no first-hand experience of motherhood, but what I can testify is that the questions Mae poses are the very ones that Aileen and I have discussed so many times. Almost every area of frustration is here: the never-ending piles of laundry, the house that begins to fall apart before the cleaning is even complete, the children who won’t sleep, the children who don’t want to obey. But it goes deeper than that. Here too is the self-reliance and unrealistic expectation. “A good mom, in my mind, was up bright and early before her children woke up; she got dressed, did her hair, put on her makeup, had her quiet time, and had breakfast simmering in the pan as she went to wake up her babes. Of course in my fantasy she was always cheery, always smelled good, and never raised her voice. She was what God never asked us to be apart from Him: perfect.”

The authors’ solutions to such questions and frustrations uniformly lead back to Scripture.

Each of us has a story, but God, who originated the design of motherhood, is the expert advisor to whom we should turn. God has equipped us for every good work, and I am quite confident that He who designed this role to be so eternally significant is the one who is ready to help, support, instruct, and guide. He will provide all we need for the task He has given us to fulfill. But to hear from God we must become women of the Word and women who pray, so that His voice may lead us as we grow into this role with grace. I look back now through all of the huge obstacles, unexpected twists, and challenges on this course of motherhood through my life and see that at each point, He was there, helping, carrying, guarding, and blessing as a true and present advocate. He is the reason for any success or blessing I have felt as a mother.

As the authors share wisdom, they also share hope.

Our shoulders often falter under a constant weight of performance and duty. We get caught up in the hectic cycle of endless tasks and often end up finding our lives to be a barren wasteland of burdens. We ask half-heartedly for a sip of His grace, never fully expecting Him to listen and answer. Yet Jesus wants us to come for a bottomless lake of His mercy, joy, fun, love, forgiveness, power, beauty, adventure, and freedom. He desires to give us eyes to see every moment from His perspective, looking out with a view over all of eternity—and seeing the stark difference between what really matters and what will soon pass.

When I finished reading this book, I immediately told Aileen that she would find it rich and encouraging. I want her to read it, because I know it will bless her. It will reassure her of her own inadequency and call her to depend more upon Christ, it will remind her of the value of both friendship and mentorship, it will tell her that her experiences in motherhood are universal, it will encourage her again and again to read, to pray, and to find her deepest satisfaction in God. As Ann Voskamp writes in the foreword, “if I make God first and am most satisfied in His love, I’m released to love my children fully and most satisfactorily.”

Let me share just three small areas of weakness: First, there were times that I wanted the authors to dig just a little bit deeper. For example, when dealing with inadequacies and addictions they introduce the subject of heart idolatries, but they do little more than that. This would have been an ideal location to dig into the concept—such a helpful one—in a bit more detail. Second, there are several words and phrases that seem just a little bit too vague or cliche, where I believe the authors would have done well to expand on them a little bit (e.g. “Lean into Jesus”). Third, there are times when they seem to indicate that raising children in a Christian environment can predispose them to become Christians. There may be a sense in which this is true—the Lord does work through Christian families to draw children to the Lord—but that relationship was not made as clear as I would have liked. As so many parents can testify (and as Clarkson writes in a Q&A at the end of the book), the Lord makes no guarantees.

Those minor concerns aside, I very much enjoyed reading Desperate and am convinced that it will bless and encourage any mother who reads it.

4 years 1 week ago
I have just one memory that involves Ted Kluck. A year ago, maybe a little bit less, he and I were together in Chicago at a small gathering of young(ish) Christian authors. Ten or fifteen of us were gathered there, sitting around a group of tables in a hotel conference room. We had the opportunity to spend an evening with D.A. Carson, the D.A. Carson, to ask him any question we wanted. It’s no small thing to have open access, even for an hour or two, to one of the world’s greatest theologians. The questions were flying fast and furious. Unfortunately for Ted and for me, we were the only two there who weren’t involved in some level of graduate degree in theology. I was rooming with a guy who, if I have it right, is significantly younger than me but the owner of two PhD’s. Meanwhile, I have a three-year degree in history and Ted, well, he’s a former football player who undoubtedly took a few knocks on the head along the way. Ted and I sat opposite one another at this table, both feeling like the dumb guys. We didn’t understand the questions and we sure as shootin’ didn’t understand the answers. Later we commiserated, celebrating being the dumb guys. It’s a good memory.

But really, that memory has very little to do with this book review, a review of a book dealing with adoption.

Adoption is all the rage today. Is that an obnoxious thing to say? I simply mean that lots of Christians, and Reformed Christians in particular, are talking about adoption and, even better, getting involved in adoption. In recent years we’ve seen the birth of a great organization and conference dedicated to it and we’ve seen the release of a couple of excellent books on the topic. Best of all, we’ve seen more and more people actually adopt children, welcoming them to their homes, to their churches. Like many of you, I’m excited for this trend and hope it continues.

A new book on adoption, and one that is quite a bit different than the rest, is Ted Kluck’s Hello, I Love You. This is essentially a memoir, a story written during the time that Ted and his wife Kristin adopted two boys from Ukraine. As such it provides a gut-honest look at the trials, the tribulations and the eventual joys of adoption and, in this case, overseas adoption. Along the way it covers topics like infertility, international travel and spiritual depression.

One of the strengths of this book is the wry sense of humor Kluck maintains throughout. Though he deals with a serious topic, he allows his sense of humor to shine through. He’s adept at finding the humor in just about any situation. It’s not often of the laugh-out-loud variety, but it’s humor nonetheless. One of the weaknesses of the book, strangely enough, is this same sense of humor. Different people have different tolerances, I suppose, for the extent and the amount of the humor and I found that after a while it got a little predictable and maybe just a little bit too much. The same goes for Kluck’s honesty. Yes, I wanted him to be honest about what they encountered and how they dealt with it, but at times it seemed like he stubbed his toes against some kind of a line and occasionally crossed it.

I have to say, though, that neither one of those little complaints did much to temper my enjoyment of the book. And certainly neither one would keep me from recommending it. The book is successful exactly because of Kluck’s honesty about the trials that came with the adoptions. As I, the reader, read about yet another roadblock, I wanted Ted and his family to overcome it. As the final paperwork was complete and as they headed home with their son, I rejoiced along with them. Somehow all of those trials made the joy more complete.

This is not a textbook for adoption and not a theological defense of it. Instead, it’s a memoir, a story of adoption. And it works very well on that level, as narrative. But it also works well in pointing subtly to the bigger point of the spiritual reality inherent in adoption and the spiritual struggles so often encountered by those who pursue it. And besides all of that, it’s a fun book to read. Win, win. It’s pretty good for a fellow dumb guy.

7 years 8 months ago

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (in theory) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s recipient of the award is the New Attitude blog. New Attitude is a ministry that was begun by Josh Harris who “felt a call to equip his generation with biblical teaching which they could invest in their local churches.” The conference ended in 2004 as Josh dedicated himself to his role of Senior Pastor at Covenant Life Church, but in 2006 it was resurrected under Sovereign Grace Ministries. Next year’s conference (May 26-29 in Louisville, KY) deals with discernment, a topic that has been much on my mind recently. The New Attitude blog features the writing of various members of the NA crew along with Eric Simmons who now heads up the ministry. While geared primarily to younger Christians, the site offers plenty to benefit believers of all ages.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

7 years 9 months ago

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (in theory) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s recipient of the award is Historia ecclesiastica, the blog of Dr. Michael Haykin. A highly-regarded church historian, Dr. Haykin is Principal of Toronto Baptist Seinary and author of far too many books to list. His blog is “An ecclesioblog, that is, a blog mostly on the history of the Church: ‘Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,” for ‘the words of the wise are like…nails firmly fixed.’ So ‘remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God.’” The posts tend to focus on the history of the church and prominent men of faith. While Dr. Haykin does not post on a daily basis, he does post regularly and posts content that is well worth reading. I commend his blog and his books to you (and his seminary, at that…).

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

7 years 10 months ago
I used to be an avid computer gamer. From the time computers became widely available, I was using them to play games. I played them for long enough to know that they don’t make them like they used to. Modern-day games have not risen above the standards set by such classics as X-Com, Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, SimCity and so on. When these games were made, computers were primitive enough that a game had to stand on the merits of its gameplay. Graphics were not exciting enough to be able to hide a bad game within pretty graphics. With recent advancements in technology, games have undergone a radical transformation. Today’s games are rapidly becoming almost photo-realistic. This raises new issues about the morality of portraying acts of violence and sexuality that were mostly unknown even a few short years ago.

Video games have often gotten a bad rap. After the awful events of Columbine High School, video games were presented as being part of the training ground for the killers. Since that time the press has often focused attention on the games played by those who commit crimes. That was proven true as recently as last week when a young man shot nineteen people in a Montreal college. There was immediate discussion of the games he played and how they may have contributed to his violent acts.

I don’t really play computer games anymore. I would only want to play the best games and, by their very definition, these games take hours, even hundreds of hours, to play and to master. I’ve known people who have invested countless hours in games. This is time I’m just not able to give. Still, I keep an eye on the industry, interested in tracing its development and evolution. I’ve seen that, while games continue to look better and better, they are also portraying increasingly-shocking acts of depravity. I know that I will need to wrestle with issues raised by video games as my children grow older and begin to become interested in them, and so it was with some interest that I read Richard Abanes’ new book What Every Parent Needs to Know About Video Games.

Abanes is an avid gamer. Throughout the book he describes his interest in various games, often pausing to share glimpses of the games he likes most. He writes as one with a great interest in the industry and as a supporter of it. “My intention is for this volume to be a small, yet significant, contribution to what promises to someday be a vast collection of video-game-related literature. Clearly, the era of video games has arrived—and all of us are already a part of it.”

If I had to boil this book down to two main points it would be these. First, computer games are neither intrinsically good or evil. Like television or theatre, video games are amoral. They can be made good or bad by those who design them, but have no intrinsic morality. Second, computer games are rated for a reason. As with film, games are rated according to their content and those who play games (or who make decisions on behalf of children), need to look for these ratings and make decisions accordingly. There are a great many games that are inappropriate for children and many that are inappropriate for everyone. Conversely, there are countless games that are a lot of fun and can provide wonderful entertainment.

Abanes explains the ratings system, explains the different genres of video games, and then concentrates on the fact that “mature means mature,” which is to say that ratings have meaning and should be followed accordingly.

The book ends like this: “I am off to spend a few hours playing Eve Online—my favorite game of all. It is time—finally time—for me to buy and fly a brand-new battle cruiser called a Ferox. I have been training for it since the start of my work on this book. Now, several months later, the piloting skills I need have been obtained, and I have enough Interstellar Kredits (space money) to make my purchase…so I can zoom off into the cosmos. Look out, space pirates—here I come!” I found it very nearly embarrassing to read such words, but at least they prove that Abanes speaks as an insider to this industry. Too many books are written by concerned Christians who know nothing of what they speak out against. Such a charge cannot be levelled against this author…and I think it’s better this way. While not a groundbreaking book, and not one that contains vast amounts of deep analysis, What Every Parent Needs to Know About Video Games will get parents thinking about the difficult issues regarding video games and reassure them that their children can engage in this hobby and do so in a way that does not dishonor God.

8 years 5 months ago

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

It seemed appropriate that, on the day I posted a review of Carolyn Mahaney’s book Feminine Appeal I would also honor her site, Girl Talk as King for a Week. Of course she does not blog alone but with the help of her three daughters Nicole, Kristin and Janelle. They describe the blog as “A mother and three daughters who love the gospel and aspire to biblical womanhood.” The site has become a place for women to gather and learn from the collective wisdom of four godly women. And I know that at least the occasional guy visits the site and even maintains it as his home page (Right Justin?).

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Girl Talk in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

9 years 10 months ago

Safe in the Arms of God is described on the cover as “truth from heaven about the death of a child.” In this short, but intense book, John MacArthur answers the question of what happens to children - those unborn, stillborn, or youngsters - when they die. This is a question that has perplexed Christians since the days of the early church. While most Christians have held the view that their children are in heaven, the majority have believed that without being able to adequately defend their position. In this book MacArthur provides a Biblical examination of the issues and ultimately provides a satisfying answer.

In this short review I will not examine the issue itself, but MacArthur’s handling of the issue.

MacArthur’s position is that all children who die, regardless of the era they were born in, their nationality or the religion of their parents, are immediately ushered into heaven. When Larry King interviewed him in the aftermath of September 11, he asked MacArthur what happened to any children who lost their lives in the tragedies. His answer was (and remains) “instant heaven.” While that answer was all King wanted, inquiring minds are intrigued by the Biblical grounds for such a view. The author spends several chapters carefully crafting his argument. He gives examples from the Bible which show that there is some assurance that children can be taken to heaven (David’s son is the common example) and provides a mountain of other important evidence. Most of this, while it helps build the case, does not prove anything on its own.

Essentially, though, the argument comes down to this: salvation is by grace, damnation by works - most notably the action of rejecting God. Infants are incapable of rejecting or accepting God, and thus God chooses to extend His mercy to them. It is important to note that God saves them not on the basis of justice but on the basis of His grace.

After making the argument, MacArthur spends several chapters speaking about whether parents will see and know their children in heaven, why the child had to die and what others can do to help grieving parents. The book is interspersed with the stories and testimonies of parents who have suffered a loss and have taken comfort in God’s promises.

MacArthur makes a compelling, Biblical argument to support the idea that all children who die in infancy are saved by the great mercy of God and are safe for eternity in the arms of a loving God. I give it my recommendation.