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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

October 25, 2010

I’ve now written two articles about how I got here (part one and part two). I sat down to write about the background to this site—the events that led to its beginning—and got a little distracted along the way. Today I’ll actually get to the heart of the story.

I ended the last article in September 2000, at the point where Aileen and I (and our baby son) moved to Oakville. As we did so, we left behind the Dutch Reformed tradition—the only tradition we had really known. We had a few weeks’ worth of experience in the Baptist world but no more. I had never read a Christian book, at least to my memory, but had a background of strong, Reformational theology.

For almost a year we bounced from church-to-church in the Oakville area. We attended a couple of them for an extended period of time (a few months) but in both cases found the churches hopelessly shallow and largely disinterested. We did not have the vocabulary to describe them beyond just being shallow. The sermons were short and topical, the services focused on things other than the Bible. We made no friendships and found no fellowship, even after attending one of these churches for four or five months (literally, we didn’t have anyone show even the least bit of interest in us).

It was just about a year later that we received a card in the mail announcing the start of a new church, a Baptist church, that would meet in a high school near our home. We liked the idea of being involved in something new and exciting and decided we would check it out. It was a Southern Baptist church and one that was meant to be the starting point of a whole church planting movement that would blanket the Toronto area and, eventually, all of Canada. We went to their very first service and were immediately intrigued. The theology seemed sound enough but what really drew us was the emphasis on mission, on being part of a movement that would be dedicated to spreading the gospel. We had never heard of anything like it. But as soon as we did, we were hooked. We were very eager to take an emphasis on mission over an emphasis on theology. In fact, we now believed that Reformed theology was inherently anti-evangelistic.

This was a church we could get behind and we soon settled in and became members. We joined a small group and found deep, meaningful, lasting friendships there. These were exciting times. The church grew quickly, soon passing the 100 mark and then reaching toward 150 (which is amazing growth in a Canadian context). The church soon planted several others, beginning this movement that would transform Canada.

It was around this time, late 2002, that I registered the domain challies.com. My parents had recently moved to the U.S. and I wanted to have a family site through which I could share photographs of the kids. And so I grabbed the family name and set up a site. Being a budding web designer, I used it as a test ground to try out some new designs and new methods. At one point I decided to write an article or two. In one of his sermons, our pastor mentioned Mother Teresa in a positive sense, using her as an example of true Christian virtue. I looked into her and wrote an article I titled The Myth of Mother Teresa. I enjoyed doing that writing and eventually wrote another article or two. The search engines worked their magic and soon people were reading these articles. About a year after the site started, I pulled down the photographs of the kids and decided to focus on writing. It was at the end of 2003 that I made the commitment to blog every day, a habit I’ve maintained to the present day.

But. You knew a but was going to come in sooner or later, right? The first couple of years were a honeymoon time. Two things combined to bring the honeymoon to an end.

October 21, 2010

Yesterday I began writing about How I Got Here in an article that somehow began to turn into a loose autobiography. I got as far as walking into my first day at a new high school and being confronted by a cute girl whose first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.”

So there I was in Ancaster High, a new Christian and a terribly unmotivated student. For the first semester I enjoyed spending lots of time with that girl; we’d spend our first class together every day and found that we had a lot in common. I seem to recall asking her to go to a youth group function with me once or twice, but she wasn’t interested. She wasn’t a believer, she was seeing another guy, and seemed to just enjoy me as a friend. And that was great. Second semester came around and since we no longer had any classes together we pretty much lost touch.

I finished up at Ancaster High and earned grades that were good enough to get me into McMaster University, a school just down the hill in Hamilton. I could live at home which suited me fine as I didn’t have any real interest in going away. My only real memories of the first year of university are playing euchre (I played a ton of euchre that year) and of getting my first email account. I certainly did not do a lot of work. I didn’t party as so many people do in their first year (and, in fact, never went through those wild years so common to even Christian teens). I just rode the bus to school, played euchre, went to my classes and went back home. I continued attending those Dutch Reformed churches, though I was beginning to feel a certain distance from them as time went on.

In the summer between my first and second years of university a strange thing happened. The phone rang one day; my little sister Susanna answered, handed me the phone and said with a smirk, “It’s your girlfriend.” It wasn’t my girlfriend (I actually hadn’t ever had a girlfriend); instead, it was Aileen, that girl from high school. She was calling under the pretense of asking me about McMaster University. She told me that she had been looking at her options for university the next year, had remembered that I was heading to McMaster, and thought she’d ask me about the school. The strange thing is that her father had worked at McMaster for twenty years (as I’m sure I reminded her) and would be more than capable of answering any of her questions. It turns out that she actually wanted to ask me as her date to a murder mystery party; she was no longer seeing that other guy and needed someone to go with her. Now the phone call made a little bit more sense. When I told my parents about this call my mom said, “Wow. Isn’t that a little forward of her?”

October 20, 2010

Last night my wife and I were reminiscing about this web site, about my growing career as a writer (at least I hope it’s growing) and about the church contexts that produced me, that produced this blog. As we spoke I realized that I’ve never really discussed the genesis of this site and, by extension, the church I was part of when I began writing. I spent about 5 years in quite a poor church after tossing aside Reformed theology and this site really grew out of that experience. I thought it might be interesting to go back a few years and talk about those days. I sat down to write and soon found that this is going to have to be a multi-day kind of article. But it’s biographical, so I hope you can at least find some human interest in it. Let me start by telling you a little bit about me…

I grew up within the Reformed tradition and with a firm grounding in Reformation theology. My parents were both saved near the end of their time at college and both were saved after growing up in unbelieving homes. They heard the gospel through Pentecostal friends who faithfully prayed for them and led them to the Lord. Naturally they, too, became Pentecostal. However, shortly after becoming Christians and getting married, they headed to Europe for a honeymoon (and later to live for a while) and found themselves at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. It was there that they came face-to-face with sound theology and this theology would forever shape them. I was baptized as a child in an Anglican church (they were getting closer to the Reformed tradition) and soon thereafter my folks became members at a PCC congregation (Presbyterian Church of Canada) in Toronto.

My parents were Presbyterian at heart and my earliest church memories are of the sweet fellowship of that Presbyterian church. Many of the members of that church remain dear family friends even now. Eventually we left that congregation to be part of a plant in the nearby suburb of Unionville—a church plant that soon disintegrated in ugly circumstances brought about by one of the members.

Around that time my parents become friends with the pastor of a nearby church that was in the Dutch Reformed tradition and before long we started attending that body (it was a Canadian Reformed Church for those who just have to know). We remained in those churches for many years, except for a year-long trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, during which my father studied at the Free Church of Scotland seminary. But from the time I was in grade school to just about the time I graduated from high school, I was part of the Dutch Reformed tradition, despite having no Dutch blood. We moved around a little bit in these years, eventually settling in Ancaster, Ontario, but what was always true was that we were the only non-Dutch family in the churches and schools we attended.

September 29, 2010

Blogging

Admittedly, the title of this blog post is a bit of hyperbole. That’s probably not the best way to begin an article, but I know that far more people will read the first line of the article than the last one, so if I leave the punch line too long, most people will miss it. It’s just reality.

If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you know that I truly do enjoy blogging; I don’t hate it at all. Blogging is one of the genuine pleasures of my life. Rarely does a day come along when I just do not want to sit down and write something. Yet blogging is not without its challenges and frustrations. Today I want to let you in on just a few of the aspects of blogging I struggle with the most, things that occurred to me recently as I pondered what I do here and why.

The point of this is not to complain about you. I implicate myself as much as anyone here. Instead, the purpose is simply to express some of the difficulties and frustrations of blogging. I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek, I suppose, to see what I struggle with as I consider what to write here on the blog.

A Fickle Audience

Those of us who read blogs are a very fickle audience (and I include myself in this—I write 1 blog but read 100 or so). This is particularly true for those of us who rely on RSS readers or other means of organizing the content we read. These tools, necessary ones if we are to keep up with the content of more than just a few blogs, give us the ability to quickly filter out the good from the bad and the good from the average. They allow us to look very quickly at the articles generated by hundreds of blogs so we can focus in and actually engage with just the few articles that most appeal to us. So while I say that I read 100 blogs, I actually look briefly at the content of 100 blogs and on any given day read the content of only a few. I am fickle and will read only what stands out to me.

The fickle nature of we, the blog readers, have led to several adaptations by bloggers. In the first place, generating titles has become something of an art. When we look through the many articles in our RSS readers, we will be drawn primarily by a title. And for this reason there is a lot of skill in crafting just the right title (though this is a skill that has largely passed me by). This leads people to rely on this kind of a format: # adjective noun that [or from or with or by or…] noun (7 Awesome Books by John Piper, 5 Spectacular Sites for Web Designers, 144 Groovy Movies Starring Canadians, etc). This is also why many bloggers have a photo near the top of each blog post—the photos draw the eye and makes it more likely that a person will pause to read a little of the article.

The fickleness of blog readers is an ongoing frustration to me, even as I act just as fickle as everyone else. If a person really wants to succeed as a blogger, he will need to cater to some of these realities. Those of us who are stubborn and do not want to adapt, who do not want to stick an out-of-context photo at the top of each post and who don’t always want to rely on hyperbolic titles, will necessarily lose potential readers because of it. As you and I read blogs we want to be impressed, we want each article to wow us. Sadly no blogger can write a wow kind of post every time, any more than a pastor can preach a wow sermon every week or you can give your spouse a wow kiss every morning.

This puts a lot of pressure on the writer and especially so if he keeps his eye on site statistics. When he does, he can see immediately how the audience regarded his article—how they chose to read it or ignore it. Though the content may have been profound, biblical, wise, it will be missed because the audience did not make the effort to actually understand what it was.

August 08, 2010

A question I am asked quite often goes something like this: “Do you ever have a day where you just do not want to write anything?” Are there ever days when the absolute last thing I want to do is to sit down and write? I can answer, quite honestly I think, that this happens only very rarely. There are definitely times where I don’t feel like I have much to say (and some would argue more than others, I suppose, about how often this happens) but there are very few days where I don’t care to write at all. The reasons is simple, really, and is something I’ve expressed often. Writing has become a critical part of my spiritual development. I write about things I’ve learned, and the desire to keep having things to write continually motivates me to seek to learn more. I think Saint Augustine said this best: “I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress by writing.”

I love those words. They inspire me to see writing not only as a way of gaining more knowledge, but as a way of marking the progress of applying any knowledge I’ve acquired. I do not want to be a person who knows a lot but who has little ability to apply what I’ve learned or to use it to draw closer to God. Intellectual development may be important and may be gratifying, but it is a lousy end in itself. Rather, I see the pursuit of knowledge as the means to a greater end—glorifying and enjoying God. I write when I learn and learn by writing. There isn’t much I know that I haven’t written about. Writing is the means by which I take information and knowledge and ruminuate on it and, hopefully, turn it into wisdom.

So no, there are few days when I just can’t consider writing. And if I find that I don’t want to, I just go ahead and do it anyway. It’s that important to me.

July 23, 2010

Friday morning seems like a good time to give you a couple of personal updates and to ask you a question about this web site. But make sure that you don’t miss today’s A La Carte and Free Stuff Fridays.

Quality

I have been thinking a little bit lately about the quality of the content of this site. A few times I’ve run back through the articles I’ve written in recent weeks and have thought to myself that the quality of the posts is suffering a little bit. As I look to what I was writing a year ago, or even six months ago, and compare it to what I’ve been doing over the past two months or so, I can’t help but feel that the level of quality has dropped off. And I’m sorry about this. I’m quite frustrated by it.

I think this drop in quality is directly related to the book I’m writing. I’m into crunch time with the book and it is sapping the vast majority of my creative energy (and just about every other kind of energy I can create or can pour into my body through caffeinated beverages). This is inevitable, I think, and yet it is still frustrating. I am trying to adapt a little bit, mostly by readjusting my daily blogging routine. But I think the problem remains.

So what I want to do today is to ask you to bear with me. The book is due on September 1 and I think that as soon as it is complete and submitted to the publisher I will suddenly find myself with a lot more energy and a lot more creativity. There are several blog series I’ve been wanting to write, but I just haven’t been able to find time and attention to research and to write them.

July 19, 2010

I have returned from my week away—a week away from home and a week away from the day-to-day. On July 9th we bundled ourselves into the van and drove 1100 kilometers pretty much due south. That took us to a state park in Virginia—a state park far from civilization, one that is accessible only by back roads. There we met up with all of my family along with some of Aileen’s. And there we stayed for a week, living in some surprisingly nice cabins.

We spent the week doing family stuff, vacation stuff. We went to the beach, went for walks, talked, played, read and saw some of the sights. We drove to Appomattox and saw the home where the Civil War essentially came to an end. We drove to nearby small towns and looked (mostly unsuccessfully) for something interesting to see or do. But mostly we just stayed pretty much static, in or around the cabins. It was a genuinely relaxing vacation, a time of real rest. It was a time I needed in a bad way.

I kept my week entirely free of electronic media (not counting the GPS that was affixed to my windshield). I had no phone, no text messages, no email, no blogs, no Twitter, no Facebook, no television. I had prepared myself to find this difficult, to deal with wanting to fight the guidelines I had put in place, with wanting to “cheat” and steal a few glances at email. But what surprised me most about my media fast was how much I enjoyed it. There was not a single moment of regret and not a single moment of wanting to find a wifi signal to check in with the world. I fell of the grid and was very content to be there.

June 22, 2010

As you read this, I’m on my way home from Orlando, Florida. I’ve been here with the family for nearly a week now, first to take in Ligonier Ministries’ National Conference and then to grab a few days’ vacation. This is part one of our two-part vacation this summer—a bit later on we’ll be headed for a state park in Virginia.

I was busy from Thursday morning until Saturday afternoon and, quite literally, did not venture outside until then. On Thursday I spoke at the pre-conference which dealt with digital living. It was quite a good and useful event, I think, and featured talks from myself, Burk Parsons, Al Mohler and Ed Stetzer. If you read blogs, use Twitter, have a Facebook account or are otherwise engaged in social media, you may want to check out the audio or video. I think it will prove worth your while and hopefully it will help you understand these technologies a little bit better and help you use them in a way that honors God.

June 07, 2010

One of the unexpected blessings of writing this blog is that it sets in stone things that that have happened in the past or even just things I’ve been thinking about months or years before. I use the blog, in some ways, as a record of spiritual development. I return quite often to articles I’ve written in the past to challenge myself anew or to recount God’s grace in my life. Sometimes I just flip through the archives over a period of time and I am reminded what was happening then, what I was thinking then, how I was growing.

Several years ago now, a friend of mine who was a former co-worker and manager, succumbed to leukemia. It had actually been a few years since Mike and I had worked together and we had seen each other only occasionally since the company we had both worked for had shut down. I found out about the leukemia through his wife who included me in the updates she would send out every week or two in order to keep friends and family updated on his condition. I read these with increasing delight as he began to show positive signs of recovery, and with horror as the disease rallied and began to destroy him. I went to his home once to fix his wife’s’ computer. Mike was in the hospital at that time and his wife was nearly overwhelmed. “You know God, right? Tim, you’ve got to pray for us!” she cried out at one point. And of course I did.

I got in to the hospital to see Mike just once. Because of his weakened condition only visitors who were very healthy were allowed to visit him. We sat and talked and recounted old times, chatting and enjoying one another’s company. I wanted to know about Mike’s spiritual condition. It was obvious by that point that he was unlikely to survive his illness and I was concerned to know about his standing with the Lord. But before I could really ask him, a nurse swept into the room and made it obvious that the visit was over—Mike had to have some kind of awful but all-too-regular procedure. Mike soon took a turn for the worse and, after ten days in the palliative ward, he died. The day after I received the notice from his wife that he had been admitted to the palliative ward I sat down and wrote an article that continues to haunt me. It went like this:

May 16, 2010

Today at my church home of Grace Fellowship Church I was ordained as an elder/pastor (we make no distinction real between the two). I share this with you because, well, because I’ve shared so much of my life with you and this is quite a significant event. Our pastor preached from Titus 2:15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (If you’d like to hear the sermon, you can do so here)

Here are the notes my son took:

Dad = Titus

Dad Needs To:

  • Speak the gospel to God’s people
  • Make people remember God
  • Preach the gospel to the pastors
  • Preach the gospel to mom
  • Preach the gospel to me and my sisters
  • Be a model in his life
  • Rebuke people if they do wrong
  • Have patience and love

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