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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

November 05, 2005

For the past couple of years we have been able to observe an industrious pair of robins building a nest in a tree directly outside our bathroom window. Just about a foot below the window and perhaps 8 feet out from the house, in a little crook of a crabapple tree, they build a nest of grass, mud and bits of string. Before long the mother begins spending all her time sitting on the nest and though we can’t see the bottom of the nest we knew that she has laid some eggs. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later we begin to notice little pink heads and yellow beaks protruding from the nest. We laugh at the little things as they sit with their beaks to the sky, wide open, just waiting for a feeding. After just a few days their heads and then their bodies begin to rise above the edges of the nest.

It is incredible to see how quickly they grow. In less than two weeks they bear a striking resemblance to their parents. Though still quite small and though their chests are spotted for camouflage, they seem as if they are just about ready to explore the world. Sure enough, only a couple of weeks after hatching, we come down one morning to find the nest vacant. The little birds have flown the nest.

I is always just a little bit sad. I enjoy watching the birds grow up and am always sure that I’ll get to watch them for longer than two weeks! But just like that they are gone. You know, I wonder if even their parents are surprised at how quickly they grew up. It seems that children always grow up faster than their parents expect, for I can’t count the number of times I have heard people older than I am marvel at how soon their own children flew the nest.

I reflected on this further and began to think about my own children. Even now I can’t believe that my son is already five. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were celebrating his first birthday? Just two or three days ago that he first called me “daddy?”

Though it will probably be twenty years before I walk my little girl down the aisle, I have little doubt that as I hold her arm and walk her into her new life and into her new family, I will be struck by how quickly time passes. I can imagine her childhood flashing before me, as it will seem like just yesterday that the nurse passed me the little pink baby just moments after she was born, all swaddled in blankets, and who stared at me with her big brown eyes, wondering who I was. I’ll have memories of chasing a little, bare-bottomed, giggling baby around the house, trying desperately to corral her to get a diaper on her before company arrives. I’ll have memories of her first day at school, her first ballet class and probably even her first date. I know it will seem that there just hasn’t been enough time – that I’ll want her to wait for just one more day. Just one more day to sit with daddy and talk about her hopes and her dreams. Just to sit with daddy.

It seems time just passes too quickly.

It seems they grow up so fast.

I wonder what God thinks as He looks down on me. Does He look down at me and wonder to Himself how I could have come so far, so fast? Does He smile in amazement that after only ten or fifteen years of being a Christian I’ve grown up so much?

Somehow I don’t think He does. In fact, it is far more likely that He looks down and shakes His head in wonder that I have so often refused to grow up; that I’ve refused to learn from the tough times and have refused to keep my sight fixed on Him in the good times. So often I have believed that I can do this all on my own. So often I have had to be reminded that I cannot. And just as often I have failed to learn my lesson. I have failed to grow up.

But as often as I have chosen to continue sipping milk rather than grow up and begin to chew on solid food, God has extended His forgiveness. He has given me the hope and even the yearning to desire adulthood. It seems ironic that I will never fully become alive - will never fully grow up - until I die, for the day I leave this earth and pass into glory, I will finally reach full spiritual maturity. Yet even now I know that with His help and through His grace I will continue to grow up, continue to grow closer to Him and continue to grow in my desire to be like Him.

God help me grow up.

This is another one of those articles I wrote months ago and am only now tidying up and posting.

November 04, 2005

It has been nearly a week since I updated the look of the site. Initially there were quite a few people who objected (sometimes quite strenuously) to this. I know that in the ensuing time some have come around and have learned to appreciate the new design. To the rest of you, well, you’re clearly beyond hope!

Now we turn to other matters.

Gerard, a reader of this site who has quite an interesting job title, sent the following email: “Some of your readers might want to know that you can now use AvantGo to synchronize RSS feeds to PocketPC or Palm devices. I’ve got challies.com on my handheld now, and it’s a great way to read your site.” Who knew?

If you look to the top of the right column on any page in this site you’ll see another interesting way of reading the site: subscribing by email. Using this service you can enter your address and have a daily digest of the articles posted during that day sent to your email address. There is no advertising, no spam, etc.

I updated the forum template so it comes a little closer to imitating the look of the main site. I may edit it further as I have time.

Finally, I wish you all a good weekend. For those who read on Saturday and Sunday, I’ll have some book reviews for you over the weekend. For the rest, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you on Monday.

November 03, 2005

Shepherds ConferenceI have been offered the privilege of liveblogging the 2006 Shepherd’s Conference. This conference, as you may know, is affiliated with Grace Community Church and, of course, John MacArthur. It runs from March 1 to 5 of 2006. I am thrilled to have this opportunity, not only to learn from what I’m sure will be a challenging time of examining God’s Word, but with the opportunity to share the conference through the Internet with those who are not able to attend. For every person who is able to attend, there must be ten or twenty who cannot. I trust that liveblogging will allow these people to follow along with the conference. I know that many people found this a helpful extension to the Desiring God Conference (links) as it allowed them a glimpse into the proceedings during that event. Naturally I have accepted the invitation.

Keynote speakers for this year’s event include Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. Steven Lawson, Dr. Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever (where was he when they were handing out the PhD’s?). Not to be outdone, the blogosphere’s own Phil Johnson will be leading several seminars, including one entitled “Rome is Burning: Examining the damning doctrines of Roman Catholicism.” Other seminar leaders include Rick Holland, Nathan Busenitz and Richard Mayhue. The scheduled is packed with ten general sessions and five seminar sessions. And to think that my fingers were burning at the conclusion of the eight sessions at Desiring God! Strangely enough, I will be seeing most of the keynote speakers just a few weeks later at the Together for the Gospel conference which I will also be liveblogging.

Unfortunately I will be on my own for travel and accomodations for the Shepherd’s Conference. For the first time in the long history of this site, I am going to ask readers if they would care to help me financially. Everything within me rebels against this. I have never put advertising on my site and have never linked to a tip jar. In fact, at least for the time being I do not want to ask for money and will not do so. I will merely provide people with the ability to donate to the cause should they feel so inclined. If you would like to donate, you can do so through the little “Dropcash Campaign” box in the right sidebar. I am targetting $500 as I feel that will likely be sufficient for airfare and accomodations. Any donations will be directed to my wife’s Paypal account and she will manage the finances. No donation is too small. I do apologize for bringing this up and hope you understand my reluctance in doing so. I trust that my blogging during the conference, as I do my best to bring you the words of such gifted and godly men, will somehow prove sufficient compensation.

October 29, 2005

The long-awaited new design is now live. While I am sure to hear a lot of complaints about removing the old design, I feel that this design will serve us all better. Here are a few of the new features unique to this design:

Comment Equality - There is now equality between the comments in the Sideblog, Community blog and main blog. It is no longer a case of “All comments are equal but some comments are more equal than others.” All of this is to say that the comment listing now includes comments from all three parts of the blog which saves me from having three seperate lists. It will simplify the ongoing discussions.

King for a Week - This is a new area where I hope to feature a different blog each week. The last several headlines from that blog will appear on my site for a week. Consider it a tribute to blogs I feel are worthy of being read.

Store - It is not actually a store, but links to a few different ways people can support this site.

Portfolio - Because I receive so many questions from readers of this site about my web design work I have decided to add some portfolio items directly to the site. This area is still under development.

Trackback page - There is now a dedicated page that will list the last 20 or so trackbacks that have been sent to this site.

Expanded, annotated blogroll - Having been berated countless times for my pathetic blogroll, I have finally expanded and even annotated it.

Email subscription - I have added an email subscription feature whereby anyone can sign up to receive daily digest emails of the articles posted to the site. Check the toolbox area for more information.

Paginated category and date-based archives - This is a small touch but one that makes browsing categories and archives easier. Rather than having all items appear on one page, the items are now broken into pages of ten results per page.

Year at a glance - This feature allows a person to quickly find any entries posted on a particular date. I’m guessing that I will use this feature more than anyone else.

Bells and whistles - I added various other bells and whistles. Among them are smooth scrolling (scroll down to the bottom of a page and click “back to top” to see it in action) and various visual clues to which links you have visited, which will take you to a location outside of my site, etc.

The site was created to take advantage of certain features that are only available in Firefox. Thus the site does look moderately better in Firefox than in Internet Explorer. I trust that with the release of Internet Explorer 7 next year the gap will close to some extent.

I am both eager and worried as I anticipate your reaction to this new design. Fire away!

October 29, 2005

1:59 PM - I am currently upgrading the site. Please bear with me as I make these changes. I will update as I make progress here…

3:57 PM - We’re getting there. Another hour or so and I should have most of this done. So far commenters appear to be 1 Pro and 1 Con.

October 27, 2005

My friend Bill has been on the lookout for the 1000th registered user of the forums here at Challies Dot Com. Just a few minutes ago he let me know that we have reached that lofty goal. A user registered as N_student replied with a comment about book suggestions for college students. He indicated his appreciation for the list and said that of those books I suggested, “some i have already read, and some are going on my list. ” To celebrate the 1000th visitor I think it only appropriate that I treat him to one of those that are on his list. So if he replies to this post (thus showing that he isn’t just a one-time reader and one-time poster), I’ll buy him any one of the titles on my list that he added to his.

The rest of you get nothing. Actually, maybe I’ll…no, forget it. You get nothing.

October 12, 2005

In the past several days I have found myself turning time and again to a particular song, a song that has been in my collection for many years and which I have always enjoyed. Sung by a short-lived band named “Doulos,” the title of the song is simply, “Again.” The song seems to capture something that has been precious to me recently.

my mouth is empty
shame surrounds me
I feel what I say can’t be heard or shouldn’t be
again I’m jumping into darkness
not knowing if my feet will land again

again I’m caught and made innocent
as I land in a pool of blood
how many times can the gift of life be given
I stand still and weep again

As we would expect, the song is tied together in the chorus. It is a simple chorus, containing only one line. “How long till I become holy.” But the line is not sung with great joy and excitment, but rather almost as a groan or a cry. “Oh, how long till I become holy?” I assume this song was inspired, at least in part, by Romans 8. As I looked at that passage this morning I was struck by the sheer volume of groaning we see in the verses. It is not just believers who groan, but rather it is Christians, Creation and the Holy Spirit who are said to be groaning.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” The world was made perfect and holy, but through the sin of our first parents, Creation fell with us. And now, as if to show that this is an unnatural state, all of Creation cries out to God for the end of such sin and torment. The hills wait for the day when they can sing praise to God and the trees wait to clap their hands in joy and freedom. This personification of nature, as found in Isaiah, shows just how much the whole world waits for redemption and the end of sin.

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Christians, those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, also groan as we wait for the final consumation. We groan inwardly as our spirits cry out to God. We know that sin is foreign to us as beings created in the image of God and our hearts cry out for an end to sin. Some also cry outwardly, eagerly anticipating the end of pain, suffering and physical affliction. It is this cry that is the subject of the song. “Oh, how long till I become holy?” How long must it be, Lord, before you take away this death and this corruption? How long before you make me who I so badly want to be? How long before you take me to the presence of the One I long to see?

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” But we do not groan alone. No, for we have Divine aid. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our cries to God. When I feel weak in prayer, the Holy Spirit is there, helping me. Even when I do not know how or what to pray, the Spirit knows, and stands between myself and the Father, presenting to Him prayers that express what is best. Where I am limited by limited knowledge, the Spirit is not. He takes my prayers and conforms them to the Father’s will before bringing them before the Throne of Grace. When I pray in Jesus’ name, humbling myself before His sovereignty, I offer my will and desires to Him, and truly seek “the good” that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28. I acknowledge that in my humanness I would make a mess of even the most trivial decisions, and trust that God knows best.

And so until that great day when the world is finally perfected, the Holy Spirit groans with the Creation and with believers, as together we cry out for the new heaven and the new earth. And with the songwriter and with Christians through the ages, I groan at the burden of my own sin. But despite my hatred of sin I do the very thing I least want to do and jump once again into the darkness only to find myself caught again in a pool of blood. I am forgiven again and wonder within myself just how many times God can forgive me and just how long His patience can last. Often I pause to weep, either at the depth of my own depravity or at the height of God’s grace. And all the while I cry out, “Oh, how long? How long, oh Lord, before you make me fully, truly, purely holy?”

September 26, 2005

Yesterday afternoon I attended the funeral of my friend Mike (context here and here). It was quite a nice funeral, as these things go, and was more a celebration of his life than a time of mourning for his death. There were hundreds of people in attendance, enough that my friend and I, and many other people, were forced to stand throughout. It was also ridiculously hot for an late-September funeral in Canada. As always, the funeral gave me opportunity to reflect on a few things and I thought I’d share some of those today.

Grief turns the toughest into poets. Mike’s brothers, one of whom is older than him and the other younger, did a speech of sorts. They recounted memories from their childhood, described the evolution of the patented “banana slice” that plagued Mike’s golf game, laughed at his “anal retentiveness” (as they described it) and remembered his ability to make their mother laugh when she was supposed to be angry. The speech culminated in a poem the older brother had written following Mike’s death. While I do not remember the poem, it struck me how poetry seems fitting during the emotional highs and lows of life. Mike’s brother did not look like the type who would usually sit down to pen a poem, yet here he was, reading it unashamedly (or nearly unashamedly) in front of hundreds of people. I have often seen the same at weddings or following the birth of children. Somehow poetry expresses what prose cannot seem to. I guess that is why David and the other Psalmists decided to use poetry to express such depths of joy, pain, sorrow and penitence. I have not written poetry for many years, and I think those who read my early efforts would agree that this is a good thing.

I miss liturgy. It’s breaking news and you heard it here first. I miss litury. I don’t miss candles and bowing to crosses, but I do miss some of the formality of a more structured service. The funeral was held in an Anglican church that I do not believe was “high” Anglican. But I appreciated several elements of the service. I enjoyed praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Granted most of the people in the audience were probably unbelievers (and many were probably Catholic as there was a whole lot of “crossing” going on), but I do enjoy praying together. I also enjoyed reciting the Twenty-third Psalm in unison. And finally, I enjoyed the written liturgy the priest read to commend Mike’s soul to God. I have often expressed my belief that simply because words are written down and are not my own, they are no less pleasing to God, and I feel that proved true at the funeral.

I miss the “set apartness” of the clergy. I grew up in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. While neither of these traditions had any sort of a priesthood, they did believe in a “set apartness” of the pastor that is not present in most evangelical churches. Evangelical pastors often seem to feel that they need to be the most casual and the most irreverent if they are to model informality and authenticity to their congregations (and in saying this I do not mean to indict my own pastors). While I have no desire to create a priestly caste, I do appreciate the dignity of clergy that are set apart. Somehow this just seems to be an external indicator that the pastor takes his roles and responsibilities seriously and a reminder to the people that he has been called to fill a special role.

I do not know Anglican etiquette. The priest would finish reading the Bible or praying and would say some words of conclusion and just about everyone else in the service knew what to say back to him. I did not. It occurs to me that the last time I sat through an Anglican service was many, many years ago - probably following the death of my great uncle who was an Anglican priest (and, according to all the evidence, a life-long unbeliever). So I have never had opportunity to learn the proper conduct in that denomination. Can someone fill me in?

My life will be a failure if at my funeral people only remember how nice I was. I’m guessing that when the disciples gathered after Jesus’ death they did not sit and recount all the nice things He did. And when the early church remembered Paul, I doubt they remembered the times he had said nice things and played with their children. Of course there is nothing wrong with being nice. But that is not how I want to be remembered. Nor do I want to be remembered primarily as a good husband or good father. Mike was a nice guy. He was friendly, usually happy and was generally willing to help others. He was a good husband and a good father. But conspicuously absent from memories of Mike was any mention of his love for God. If my life does not display a deep, abiding love for God, a love so integral to my life that all who know me can’t help but notice it, I’ll consider my life a great failure. I don’t want to be remembered as a nice guy. I want to be remembered as a godly guy.

And finally, cremation is a difficult concept to explain to a five-year old. My son wanted to know what they did with the body. I told him the body had been cremated. He asked what “cremated” meant and I decided I would give the default parental response of, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” I’m not so sure that it would be useful for a child of his age to think about a body being burned to ashes. That is probably beyond what a five-year old mind can deal with.

So that is it. Mike has been laid to rest. I continue to pray that God would not allow me any rest as long as there are other Mikes around me.

September 19, 2005

Last week I shared an article about my friend Mike. I though I would update the situation. This morning I received the following, long-awaited email. I have modified it very slightly to protect the family’s privacy.

…it is with a heavy heart that I inform you all that Mike passed away peacefully on Saturday morning September 17th at 6:15 am at Princess Margaret Hospital. Mike’s mom and I were with him when he went and held his hand and told him how much we loved him and that he would be missed, and that he was incredibly brave for all that he has been through this past year…

…I told the girls today about their daddy, and [Older Daughter, age 5] was just devastated and [Younger Daughter] who is only 3 took care of [Older Daughter] and I by giving us Kleenex and water and told us we would be ok - typical of my nurturing 3 year old, she is wise beyond her years but also does not understand I am sure what I have told her at such a young age. I told them we are girls and girls are strong, therefore we will be ok and they liked that.

Thank you again for your love and support.

The funeral will be held this Sunday afternoon. I would ask for your prayers for Mike’s wife and daughters, that somehow God would bring some some sense of peace and meaning through this. Pray that he would use this to pull them to His arms. It is a bit ironic, I suppose, that Mike’s wife is a counsellor who has no-doubt counselled hundreds or thousands of grieving people. I can’t help but wonder how all her training and experience are holding up now that she is the one looking for answers and trying to fill a great void in her life.

And pray that I would have opportunities to speak with her and to other people effected by Mike’s death. The funeral will be held at an Anglican church and I pray the the pastor, whom I do not know, challenges those in attendance to examine their own lives in the light of eternity.

And finally, pray that we, you and I, would never, ever get over the death of an unsaved loved one.

September 17, 2005

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition (2002) defines the proverb “every dog has his day” as meaning, “Even the lowest of us enjoys a moment of glory.” In our culture we often hear about people enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. What few people realize is that it was none other than Andy Warhol who coined this phrase (or the basis for this phrase) when he said in 1968, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Later, in 1979 he declared that his prediction had come true: “…my prediction from the sixties finally came true: ‘In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.’”

Wikipedia defines “fifteen minutes of fame” as follows: “In popular culture, 15 minutes of fame refers to a sudden state of celebrity that is believed unlikely to continue long enough to affect the new celebrity’s life for the better.” Reality television provides bountiful opportunities for fifteen minutes of fame. People are raised to the status of instant celebrity, but after they show wraps up, and after their brief appearance on Letterman, they go back to stock shelves in the local grocery store. Fame is fleeting.

“Get to the point!” I can already hear you screaming. I’ll do that. My fifteen minutes of fame have arrived. I harbor no illusions that this will effect my life for the better. However, I do consider this a great honor. The following is taken from the introduction to the upcoming Total Truth: Study Guide Edition, the second edition of Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth.

My Fifteen Minutes

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank the little people…

But seriously, I have had the manuscript sitting on my shelf for several weeks now and noticed that introduction when someone pointed it out to me. It is amusing to note that in the version I have, which I believe is older than the one I posted here, my name is listed before Al Mohler. But placing Mohler first is definitely the more natural order of things!