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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

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.

July 04, 2011

It has been several months now since The Next Story released and already I am fielding questions about my next book. I find that I am beginning to think about it as well and this got me thinking about the time after the release of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. i went looking for some of my reflections at that time and found that my thinking was heading in the same direction then as it is now.

I graduated from college in 1995 (Or so. To be honest, I don’t even remember exactly what year it was), having earned a degree in history. That degree did not open up the world of possibilities I had thought it might when I first chose history as my major three years before. With few options available to me, and suffering from a lack of motivation, I decided I had better find some kind of employment, even if it did not incorporate my training. I learned that a new Starbucks was opening nearby and quickly made my way through the interview process. The day the store opened I was there, and I stayed at that job, putting in my forty hours a week, for what must have been a year—possibly more.

I’m not sure if this is still the case, but back then every store was required to select one “Coffee Expert,” the one person on staff who would receive a bit of extra training in the world of coffee and who was required to know more about the various flavors of coffee than anyone else. This person had to be able to identify the differences between the types and to teach others how to do the same. He was responsible for brewing different kinds of coffees in order to educate both the employees and the customers. Through some strange twist of fate I was appointed to this position by the manager.

There was just one small problem. I hated coffee. It curdled my tongue, made my eyes water, and left me gagging. I found it utterly revolting. It was only a few months ago that I finally succumbed to the inevitable and learned to like it.

June 15, 2011

September 25 will mark 9 years since this blog began. I guess it is more accurate to say that it will mark 9 years since the site began—the blog took a few months to come to life. It was 9 years ago that I decided to begin a web site that would display pictures of my children—that’s what challies.com was meant to be. My parents and siblings had recently moved to the United States and, as a proud father, I wanted to show off the kids. It was not too long after that I decided to write a couple of articles to share with my folks. The search engines worked their magic, other people began to read the articles, and I learned that I really enjoyed writing. And that is how the blog began.

That was a long time ago. As another summer is approaching I can’t help but feel that this site is at something of a defining moment. Life has changed a lot since 2002. Back then I had been married for 4 years, I had just 1 child and I was working an entry-level technical support job for a local billing company. Today I am coming up on my 13th anniversary, I am a father of 3, and I am a pastor. The site has grown from 1 or 2 articles to thousands and it has grown from having 1 daily visitor (me) to having tens of thousands. The design has changed 5 or 6 times and the software behind it just about as often. The ascendency of Twitter and Facebook and RSS have meant that as many people now digest the site’s content off-site as they do on-site; more, probably. This has all happened while I’ve been going about life. Yet the site really is part of my life; it has been a formative influence not just on my mind and character, but on my direction and vocation. I owe my career as an author to the blog; it was through the blog that I came into contact with Grace Fellowship Church where I now pastor; I could go on.

The content and format has changed quite a bit too. I used to blog once every few weeks or every few days. In November of 2003 I decided I would force myself to write every day for a year and if I failed, I’d give up blogging altogether. I’ve blogged every day since. I used to post just one time a day, but then I added A La Carte and told myself that I would not count it as that day’s blog post. More recently I’ve sought to emphasize some of the great resources available to us, which means I am often posting 3 times each weekday. Somehow I am not running out of things to say or resources to draw attention to.

May 25, 2011

Last Christmas coincided with the start of my new job as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church. This meant that for the first time in many years I was working outside of the home. My Christmas gift from Aileen and the kids was a digital picture frame, something that would keep me thinking about them even while I was at the office. I loaded it up with pictures and keep a slideshow going most days I work at the church.

I love having the pictures there, of course. But here’s the thing: We aren’t much for photography around the Challies home, and tend to haul out the camera only at special occasions. It just so happens, then, that the majority of the photos I see every day have been taken at birthdays and Christmas. Many of the shots show a child opening something. You can see the look of excitement and anticipation on the child’s face. If the shot is a wide one you might be able to spot mom or dad there, eager to catch the look of joy as the child sees that gift—that one gift he or she wanted to badly.

In most of those photos the wrapping paper has been removed enough that you can see the present beneath. It began with trucks (our son was born first), then went to Playmobil and then dolls and Lego and tea sets and easels and all kinds of other things. We do not go overboard on these occasions, but we do like to get each of the kids at least one thing they really want. So there are 10 Christmases represented there, and 24 birthdays, and all sorts of gifts.

But here’s the thing. I look at those pictures, the pictures of the presents, and realize that they are almost all long gone. They’ve all been forgotten and thrown away. Most of them, anyway. The Playmobil fell apart, the kids grew tired of it, and eventually we freecycled it. My son got bored of the trucks and we gave them to a friend. Or maybe they’re in a box somewhere in the basement. The dollhouse was just a cheap one and it didn’t last. All those things that were so exciting in the moment ended up lost and forgotten, tossed to the curb.

May 19, 2011

I am often asked how I organize my time—how I get things done. Over the past few years I’ve invested quite a bit of time in trying to find a system that works for me and along the way have had plenty of stops and starts. But I thought today I’d share the system I’ve put into place since it seems to be working quite well. I am not by nature an organized person so I’ve had to rely on a system like this one to keep me going. So here it is, my rather eclectic way of getting things done.


I am a Mac user, so my hardware is Apple-based. Before I tell you about it, let me explain why there is so much of it. For many years I was running quite a high-volume web design business and this required a lot of equipment. I’m no longer doing web design, but still have much of the equipment (such as the iPad and MacBook). So while I use quite a few different pieces of hardware, I could just as easily make do with just two: a MacBook and an iPhone.

A key to my system is having a way of either doing work or capturing to-do items in the major contexts I find myself in. So at home and at the church office I’ve got an iMac and in my pocket I’ve got an iPhone (an older one, but I’m going to wait out my contract). If I need to go mobile, such as when I speak at a conference or head to a coffee shop, I take the MacBook (which Aileen uses most of the time). At this time the iPad does not play a major role in my productivity.

Of course the hardware is merely a means to access software.


One of the great benefits of using a Mac is the abundance of top-notch software, and especially task management software based on the GTD (Getting Things Done) model. Having tried many of them, and having a rather light commitment to the key components of the GTD model, I’ve settled on OmniFocus. This is the software I use to record what I need to get done and to organize the many tasks and projects I’ve got on the go. I have folders for each area of my life (Family, Church, Blog, Writing, Speaking, etc) and within those folders there are projects and task lists.

OmniFocus offers several features that I depend upon:

  • Mobile. There are versions of OmniFocus for the desktop, iPhone and iPad. I plan to buy the iPad version when or if it fits the budget, but for now just use the iPhone version on both the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone app allows me to add new tasks by recording a voice memo, something that is hugely helpful when I am driving (and it’s amazing how many things I remember when I’m behind the wheel).
  • Cloud. It’s not perfect (it will only sync when you open the program on your mobile device) but it’s far better than Things or the other close competitors. This allows me to access my to-do list when I am at home or when I am out and about.
  • Contexts. Because I work from a home office and a church office, one of the features I depend upon is contexts. OmniFocus encourages you to create different contexts for your tasks. Contexts are largely geographical, but they can also be situational or, well, contextual. Some of my contexts are Home, Home Office, Church, Church Office, Errands, and so on. I’ve also got contexts for Elder Meetings (which is a situation, not a place) and even for certain people. When I am about to head out in the car, I just check the Errands context and I am immediately reminded of other things I need to while I’m out and about. When I get to church I check the Church Office context and see a list of the tasks I need to do there.

OmniFocus has a bit of a steep learning curve but once you understand the concepts and find a workflow that works for you, it is very, very useful and extremely powerful. It aptly fulfills that great principle from GTD that you need to get tasks out of your mind and into a system.

December 29, 2010

I’m on vacation this week—not the kind of vacation where we all jump in the car and drive to warmer parts of the continent, but the kind of vacation that allows me to just stay around the house and do what I love to do—hang out with the family and read good books. I guess they now call this a staycation. I’m on a serious history kick these days, reading biographies and histories of World War 2. Great stuff. As much as I enjoy reading all the Christian books, I still love to read history most of all. Michael Korda’s Hero was a fantastic biography of an eccentric British war hero while Berlin at War is essentially the biography of the city during the Second World War. I’m also slowly working my way through John Keegan’s The Second World War, the first general history I’ve read in quite a few years.

Obviously, unlike my last vacation, this is not a digital vacation like I took last summer where I headed to the middle of nowhere, far away from cell towers and Internet and other trappings of a digital world. But I am trying to be on the computer less, to check email less, and so on. Because that allows me to be more fully present with my family.

Yesterday I took the family to see the movie Tangled in 3D. It was a good one—lots of fun and without all the subtle (or not-so-subtle) adult humor that’s become a part of too many kids’ movies. The 3D was well-done; far better than it was in Up which is, I believe, the last one we saw in 3D. They charged us $10 to see the movie and that price included the glasses. At the end they encouraged us to recycle the glasses so we could do our bit for the environment. I decided to keep mine just out of spite for the prices they charge us. Whenever I go to a movie I find it hard to believe that they can actually convince me to part with $23 in exchange for 2 bags of popcorn and 2 cups of Coke, which all together can’t cost them more than $0.50. It’s depressing.

As for the rest of the week, we really do not have a lot of plans. We’ll mostly just hang around the house, I think, taking it easy. And that sounds awfully good to me.

December 25, 2010

We were up at 7 this morning to get our Christmas started with stockings and gifts and a special breakfast and other family traditions. And a few hours later I’m sitting here at my computer, running back through Christmas posts from years past to see what I was doing on Christmas in 2009, 2008, 2007—I can go all the way back to 2003. Some years we’ve been at home while other years we’ve been celebrating an Atlanta or Chattanooga Christmas. No two years have quite been the same.

This year we are at home, though a little bit later on we’ll be driving to my in-laws place and doing a Christmas dinner there (roast lamb, if I heard it right). And that will be that—a fun, quiet, traditional family Christmas. I love it.

I find myself thinking this morning about the miracle of Emmanuel, the miracle of God being with us. It’s a shame that we could ever get used to such a thing—to something as amazing as God being with us, God coming to earth in human form. It’s an idea I don’t ever want to get so used to that it begins to lose its wonder.

And as I sit here I am listening to Sojurn sing this song, “God Is With Us.”

The glory of God has come to the earth,
The glory of God in our Savior’s birth,
Join with the angels to sing and proclaim
Glory to His name

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Eternity’s likeness has come into time,
A light in the darkness, now hope is alive,
Down from the heavens on this holy night,
Our God in a manger, our God as a child.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Oh, let us bring Him more than our silver and gold…