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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

October 04, 2011

It is a common theme in the Christian world. A man is called to the ministry in the local church and over time proves to be a man who can build a church, a man who leads or preaches in such a way that a church grows up around him. His popularity results in book contracts and opportunities to speak at conferences and at other churches. Perhaps he establishes a parachurch ministry along the way. And then, one day, still in his prime years, he gives up the pulpit to focus on writing and speaking and other interests. He leaves that local church behind and leaves pastoral ministry with it.

It happens and it happens quite regularly. Having traveled widely and having spoken at many different churches and for many different conferences, I can understand the attraction (while granting, of course, that any success or accolades I’ve experienced pale in comparison to so many other men). I can understand why and how people could give up leading the local church in favor of the speaking circuit. I began to think about this as Rob Bell announced his resignation from Mars Hill just as I set out for 6 days of speaking engagements at a conference, a college and a church.

Of course I cannot judge any other man’s motives. Unless a man chooses to reveal his reasons, I do not know why he decides to leave the pastorate to pursue writing or speaking or a combination of the two. However, though I cannot judge another person’s motives, I know that to some extent I can judge my own. And if I were to leave the pastorate to be a speaker and author, I think I know why I would do so.

September 29, 2011

The dogLast night I returned safe and sound from all of my travels. I thoroughly enjoyed the speaking trip, but as always, it was wonderful to return home. I came home not only to my family, but to that new dog I surprised my kids with (am 8-week old Chocolate Lab). I figured I should include a fun photo of myself with the dog, but the silly thing fell asleep as soon as I picked her up. Nevertheless, here she is. She doesn’t have a name yet, but I assume we’ll figure that out soon enough. The kids are lobbying for “Brownie” or “Sienna.” I’m not a big fan of either, but I’m not sure that I actually get a vote.

Also, I mentioned earlier in the week that I had been out on a photo shoot for a magazine story that is coming up early next year. My friend Lukas Van Dyke decided to get all whimsical and hauled a desk and chair into the hills of California. Here is what that part of the photo shoot looked like from a little ways up the hill (my friend Steve took photos of the photos). I’m looking forward to seeing what Lukas puts together.

Photo Shoot

Now that I’m home, I’m gearing up to officiate a wedding on Saturday and then to begin a 3-part sermon series on Jonah the week after. There is always lots going on around here!

September 28, 2011

It was a busy day, yesterday, my last full day down here in California. Or out here in California. Or whatever the proper terminology is. I spent most of the morning preparing my chapel talk for today, eventually settling on a message about distraction in the digital age. I was asked to speak as much as possible about technology and Christian living, so thought this would address a genuine concern most students have—or at least a genuine problem they are dealing with. I’ll be preaching that message in just a few minutes. It’s not expositional, but draws on Scripture throughout.

After preparing that message (and finally taking care of my In-N-Out fix), I headed for The Master’s College. But back to In-N-Out for a moment. In-N-Out is a great California burger chain. I went through the drive-through and they asked me, “Will you be eating in the car.” Because I replied “yes,” they gave me a place mat to put over my knees and then put the food in a kind of tray; the burger was wrapped in such a way that it could be eaten with one hand. I was duly impressed. And kind of surprised. And kind of grossed out. What does it say about us as a society that restaurants are serving food in packaging specifically to be eaten in the car? Nevertheless, I went ahead and ate it, and enjoyed every bite.

Back to The Master’s College. I was given a tour around the grounds and told all about the philosophy behind the school. What a great college. It has 1010 students and is at maximum capacity until they build some new dorms. The student-to-teacher ratio is ultra-low which means academic levels are ultra-high. I was duly impressed and kind of felt a bit envious that I never got to experience this kind of a school. I’d be thrilled if my kids wanted to come out here some day.

September 27, 2011

It was an interesting and full yesterday. I’m still out here on the West Coast doing quite a lot of speaking. Yesterday began with preaching at chapel at The Master’s College. I realized as I was sitting there, just before the service began, that this is the first chapel service I’ve ever been to. It was a really nice service complete with great worship music and students who seemed really attentive while I preached on the importance of speaking truth with love, especially in the midst of all the communicating we do in this digital world. I really enjoyed the experience.

After chapel was complete I spent an hour in a class taught by Professor Grant Horner (he of the Bible-reading plan). Greg Koukl happened to be there as well and we spent the time talking to the students and answering their questions. 

Later in the afternoon Lukas Van Dyke took me off to the middle of nowhere (almost literally) to do a photo shoot. There’s a magazine that is doing an interview with me in an upcoming issue and my friends have been mocking me that in every interview I do, there’s always the same old photo of me. I took this as a sign that it was time for some new ones. Lukas got all creative, setting me up in a field with a desk and chair. Weird but fun. I’ll show you the shots when they’re ready.

September 25, 2011

Well, I made it safely from Boston to Los Angeles. One thing I neglected to realize when planning my travel is that arriving in L.A. at 10:30 PM is a lot later than it seems when coming in from the East Coast. So I arrived at 10:30, but of course it was really 1:30 AM in the east. Thankfully I slept soundly and was in pretty good shape to speak at Grace Community Church this morning. I spoke before a group of a few hundred thirty-somethings and then before what must have been 1,000 college students. I spoke from Genesis 3, tracing redemptive history through the cherubim that the Lord placed outside Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life. What a thrill it was to be able to travel right across the continent and preach God’s Word.

Coming from quite a small church, it was an interesting experience to be on a campus with thousands and thousands of people milling about. I guess it would be simple enough to be just a face in the crowd, but it certainly seemed like there was lots of true fellowship going on there. It looks like the church does a good job of allowing people to be part of something small, even with such a huge congregation.

And that was that. We swung by the church quickly to say hello to Dr. MacArthur and then had lunch with Travis Allen and his family (Travis is involved in running the GTY web site and blog).

Somehow, in the middle of it all, I began to think of this quote from Michael Emlet. I want to remember this one in the midst of studying and speaking and preaching. It is a good corrective; a good warning.

A temptation in ministry is to think that just because we prepared a Bible study, a sermon, or a discipleship appointment (or wrote a book like this!), we are deeply engaging with the God of the universe. But that’s not necessarily true. It’s easy in ministry to live more as a ‘pipe’ than a ‘reservoir.’ That is, it’s easy to live merely as a conduit to others of the transforming truths of God’s Word, rather than as a changed and transformed reservoir who overflows with lived-out gospel truth. You wouldn’t imagine cooking meal after meal for your family without sitting down to enjoy that nourishment, would you? To paraphrase James 1:22, let’s not merely be hearers or speakers or counselors of the Word, but doers, first and foremost.

Those are words I need to remember.

Tomorrow I’m off to The Master’s College to lead chapel and do a few other things. Should be fun!

September 23, 2011

It’s the first day of fall today and I’m kicking off the new season by setting out on a speaking trip. In just a few minutes I’ll jump aboard a really small plane (motion sickness guaranteed!) here in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and make my way to Providence, Rhode Island and from there to West Boylston, Massachusetts. Bethlehem Bible Church is the site of one of Wretched Radio’s Psalm 119 conferences and I will be speaking twice on the subect of spiritual discernment. I’m looking forward to spending some time there with Trevin Wax, Todd Friel, and others.

The Psalm 119 conference wraps up on Saturday afternoon. As soon as it’s done I’ll be making the long flight from Boston to Los Angeles, California. On Sunday morning I’ll be speaking at two of the fellowship groups at Grace Community Church, one that is geared toward young families and the other toward the college crowd. The speaking times coincide with the times John MacArthur preaches, so unfortunately I won’t be able to worship at those services.

On Monday and Wednesday mornings I’ll be speaking in chapel at The Master’s College and on Tuesday evening I’ll do a Q&A with students. And there are a few other things going on as well: I’ll be dropping in on a class or two, getting a look at Grace To You and even doing a photo shoot with my pal Lukas Van Dyke.

While I’ve traveled a lot over the past 5 or 6 years, this trip somehow feels especially significant to me. I believe this may owe in large part to the length of the trip—6 days away is about as long as I’ve ever been away—and the fact that I am speaking so many times. I’ll be speaking or preaching at least 7 or 8 times in the days I’m away.

If you think of it, I’d be grateful if you’d pray for safe travels for me and for my health. I woke up in the night feeling like a head cold was starting to beat me up and ended up being awake for several hours. Needless to say, a bad cold might interfere more than a little bit. I’d also appreciate prayers that I might have words to speak to the people I’ll have the privilege and responsibility of speaking before in the days to come.

August 29, 2011

I lay in bed for quite a long time this morning, in that strange state that is somewhere between asleep and awake—that place where the mind is working but the body is not. My mind was racing back and forth and eventually settled on an old memory. It’s a memory I hate and one of those I would purge if I could.

It goes back to a conference I attended in 2006. Not long before the conference I had reviewed a book and had taken issue with the theology it taught. The book had showed up at my house unsolicited and, after reading it, I posted a review that pointed out what I considered some significant weaknesses. Here I was now, several weeks later, walking the halls of a convention center. As I moved through the crowd, a little ways ahead of me and coming directly toward me, I saw the author of that book walking, talking and laughing with a friend of mine. They hadn’t yet seen me but were heading straight toward me and I knew that if we were to pass one another, my friend would stop and introduce us.

In that moment I felt a strange flush of shame and conviction. In that moment I realized that this author was a real person. I guess I should have known that, but somehow it hadn’t really occurred to me. It was so easy for me to read a book and post a review on the Internet without thinking of the fact that this author was a real person. He was not just some cleverly-programmed computer who spat out books and he was not a one-dimensional evil heretic who was out to subdue the Christian faith. He was a believer and one much like me, but for some fairly subtle theological differences.

August 15, 2011

I’ve just returned home after spending a week in the United States. I travel to the U.S. quite often—easily 8 or 10 times a year, but more often than not I am there for just a day or two and I often see nothing but an airport, a convention center or church, and a hotel. This time was different. Over 8 days we drove 3400 kilometers, from Michigan, through Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee and down into Georgia. We stopped often, drove around the cities, did a bit of shopping and spent lots of time with people. When I got home, I opened a word processor and just began to write and ramble, trying to think through this journey.

I am very comfortable in the United States, having been there so often and in so many different cities and states. I love America and I love Americans. But still, it is not my country and there is always a sense in which I am an observer just as we all are when we are in a place that is not our own, like being in someone else’s home or being a first-time guest in a church. It has been a year since I spent any significant amount of time in the States, and especially time traveling through the States.

Media around the world has spilled millions of gallons of ink on describing the American economic woes. I returned home to find a copy of Maclean’s (Canada’s answer to TIME or Newsweek) with the cover story discussing the looming double-dip recession. The words “America is Doomed” are plastered at the top of the page. I knew that I was going to be looking for evidence of all of this; I wanted to see if this was just the media creating the news or if there is truth to it.

America has always been the land of extraordinary wealth; the malls and theaters are always packed, the stores always thriving, new neighborhoods always springing up. This is how we, the rest of the world, perceive America—as a nation that loves to own, that loves to spend, that has immense wealth. Yet according to the media, this is exactly what is being threatened today.