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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

June 24, 2006

It’s a beautiful day in Toronto. Though it’s a little bit overcast, it is still warm and bright. It’s an almost perfect day to take in a ballgame. And, in fact, that was my plan. Once or twice a season I like to take my son down to the Rogers Center to watch the Bluejays play and today seemed ideal. The weather is great, so the roof of the stadium should be open, and yet we won’t have to worry about baking and burning in the hot summer sun. The Jays’ ace, Roy Halladay, is on the hill so the game is almost guaranteed to move along quickly and there is a very good chance that Toronto will win. The game starts at 4:00 rather than the usual 1:00, allowing us time to do our Saturday chores before we head to the game.

Just as I was going to announce this plan to my son, I suddenly remembered that there is more than baseball happening downtown this weekend. This is the weekend of Toronto’s “Pride” week, a week long celebration of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and the like. The week culminates in a “Dyke March” today and the “Pride Parade” on Sunday. Official statistics proclaim that over a million people take in these events, though those in the know seem to indicate this is greatly over-stating the truth. Regardless, the fact is that this weekend parts of the downtown core of Toronto are dedicated to celebrating homosexuality. Whole blocks have been barricaded and celebrations are happening throughout the area.

It seems to me that it would be pretty irresponsible to take my son downtown this weekend. The stadium is a few blocks from the epicenter of the Pride celebrations, but there is sure to be revelry far beyond those boundaries. Just yesterday, my friend Ian went shopping and posted this on his blog: “I was first tipped off that something was different because there was a patio set-up in front of the store for eating, making it have the appearance of a restaurant. As of yet, I have no idea why that was set-up. There were a number of people milling about, and amongst the crowd was this man in full regalia. I really couldn’t say who he thought he was, but he sure didn’t think he was of the male gender! Fish-net stockings, a bright and shiny super-hero costume, more make-up than Tammy Faye, he was easy to pick out of the crowd. In particular because he was easy 6 ft. tall with a stocky build. With him was another man, this one less super-hero, more hooker. They made quite a pair, standing amidst a crowd of people who were trying to act as if nothing abnormal were going on.”

You see, I just don’t know that I’d like my six-year old to have to see this. And what’s more, I don’t think my son should have to see this. Like Ian, I don’t react with disgust to men like this. Nor do I respond with acceptance. I pity them, though, and hope that God extends His grace to them as He has seen fit to do with me. This exhibition of depravity is but a reminder of my own depravity. But a young boy does not need such vivid reminders. Not like this.

And so my son and I will stay home today and perhaps take in the game on television. And we’ll wait for another weekend when we can have our city back.

June 23, 2006

I believe in the Bible, that it is clear, complete, sufficient, true and without error. It says what it means. I do not demand that God speaks to me apart from it. I’m not waiting for still, small voices in my head or trying desperately to find God’s will through random circumstances. I read, He speaks, I obey. Or I try anyways.

I believe in the God of the Bible. I believe in a God who is one, yet three. I believe in a God who is loving, holy, just, kind and good. I believe in a God who knows all and has foreordained all that has come to pass or will come to pass.

I believe that God, from nothing, made the world and everything in it in six days. Not six ages or six phases or six million years, but six days. 144 hours. That’s what He said, so that’s what He did. And it was good.

I believe in sin. I believe that Eve actually did converse with a talking snake and that her act of rebellion and the sin of her husband was as simple as taking a bite of a really delightful piece of fruit. This is not metaphor or fable. This is just what happened. Because of that sin, I believe you and I are both worthy of God’s wrath. When Adam fell, we fell. And it was not good.

I believe that I am sinful. I delight in evil. I hate what is good. I am thoroughly, utterly depraved. Sin pervades every area of my life and turns me against my Creator. What is true of me is true of all men.

I believe in justice and in judgment. I believe that God, being just, demands just satisfaction for any all sinful deeds.

I believe in hell. A literal, tormentuous hell that is far worse than we can imagine. Nor should we want to imagine it. It is a place of justice. There are no devils with pitchforks and no sense of community where sinners sit around and discuss all the fun they had on earth. It is just the sinner and God, full of wrath, one-on-one forever. You don’t want to experience that and neither do I, though I believe that we both deserve to go there.

I believe in grace, the unmerited favor that God chooses to extend to all in some ways and to only some in other ways. God grants grace to all men that they may live and laugh and love and enjoy this world. I believe that God grants special grace to some so that they may love and enjoy and serve Him forever. God shows His grace in providing us with a way out of the horrifying mess we’ve made.

I believe in Jesus. Born of a virgin, the perfect, Holy Son of God. The God-man. He died, literally, was buried, literally, and rose, literally.

I believe in the atonement. Jesus died on the cross in place of His people. He suffered in place of His people. And through this act, my sin was imputed to Him and His righteousness was imputed to me. This was the greatest act of grace and kindness the world has ever known or ever will know. Nothing that can, will, or could happen is greater than this.

I believe there is no salvation outside of Jesus. God will not waive the requirements of righteousness at the final judgment. Not for anyone and not for everyone. Not for those who have never heard of Him. Not for children. Not even not for those who love Him.

I believe in the gospel, the message of the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection.

I believe in repentance, for without turning away it is impossible to turn towards.

I believe that man’s chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. To glorify God by enjoying Him forever. I don’t need to undergo testing, fill out inventories or take a forty day journey to discover my gifting or purpose. Our purpose is as simple and as joyful as living to bring honor and joy and glory to God. Our purpose is a privilege.

I believe in the church - the true church - which is God’s community of the elect, anxiously awaiting the sound of the trumpet, dedicating themselves to carrying out God’s purposes while they wait. The church is the total number of God’s people living when they are where they are. It is the church’s honor and responsibility to take the good news to all the world.

I believe in families that honor God. I believe in families centered around marriage, an institution created by God and for God. Men are to lead their wives. Women are to submit to their husbands. Together, through their complementary roles, they are to provide a portrait of the love of God for His people.

I believe in perseverance; that God, by His grace, will never let go of those who have been saved.

I believe in heaven. A literal, beautiful, physical heaven that is far better than we can imagine. Heaven is the community of the redeemed together with God, full of love, all together for ever. It is a place of no pain, no sorrow. I long for this place. I hope I see it soon.

I believe in glorification; that someday God will return and will bring with him a new heaven and a new earth. Those who have been saved will live together forever, new body and perfected spirit united, in the presence of God. My heart aches for this day, for on this day I will believe perfectly and fully. And so will you.

June 20, 2006

We were blessed to have my parents spend this weekend at our home. They drove here from Atlanta on Friday and left again bright and early this morning. It was their first time seeing our new house and, more importantly, seeing their new grand-daughter. Because my dad is only truly resting when he is hard at work, I asked him to help me with several projects around the house. These were either projects that I had not had time to attend to, or projects for which I would have to rely upon his expertise. As always, dad was glad to pitch in and to do what needed to be done. So while my mother spent as much time as she could with Aileen and the kids, dad and I got to work. On Saturday we installed a new air conditioner, something that turned out to be far easier said than done and that quickly consumed much of the day. The end result, though, was just what we had hoped for and was just in time to carry us through a couple of days of uncomfortable heat and humidity. On Monday, after spending the Lord’s Day in worship and in fellowship, we decided to attack the lawns and gardens. We laid sod in the backyard and planted perennials in the flower beds. We transformed the outside of our home.

Dad is a career landscaper and has a great love for rocks, trees, plants and flowers. I have spent countless hours with my father, and used to work with him quite often when I was younger. He must have given up on me eventually because I would do a half-baked job of nearly everything he asked of me. When plants needed a soaking, I’d give them only a quick shower before finding something more interesting to do. When plants needed to be buried deep in the ground, I would leave their roots exposed to the elements. I am sure it was on a scalding hot Ontario summer day, when I was covered in dirt and dust and manure, that I resolved that I would work a desk job when I was older.

Though I had worked with dad so often, it was only yesterday that I realized something fundamental to his choice of vocation. We were driving along Highway 5, a highway that represents the northern border of the town of Oakville. On the south side of the highway is a bustling suburban environment. Houses reach almost to the side of the road and there are newly-built gas stations on almost every corner. There are enough restaurants, Wal-Marts and big box stores to support a thriving community. In true Canadian style, the neighborhoods are predominantly flat and boring. The trees have been torn down, the valleys have been filled in, and the houses are often so close that a person could easily leap from roof-to-roof. Sometimes a single majestic, lonely tree stands at the entrance to a neighborhood with a sign underneath reading “Oak Trails.”

That is the south side of Highway 5. The opposite side, the north side, is everything that the south is not. Fields of corn and wheat border the highway. Many fields that have long laid fallow, stretch as far as the eye can see, passing into the distance. There are rolling hills and small forests. The occasional valley, with a stream running through it, cuts across the landscape. Cows graze and horses run.

On one side of Highway 5 is progress. A city thrives there, a city filled with men and women who commute into Toronto, the nerve center of Canada. These people choose to live in Oakville, the wealthiest city in Canada. They run the banks and own the businesses that drive our economy. Their demand for more houses, bigger houses, push the borders of Oakville ever further north. They push the borders toward the other side of Highway 5, the side that is nothing. Or that is what most of us see. Where we see nothing, dad sees beauty.

As we were driving along the highway, making our way to an eclectic, disorganized but well-stocked garden center that you would not notice unless you where it was, I heard dad cry, “Oh, look at that beautiful chestnut! Wow! Look at it!” I turned my head and saw a tree, standing tall and proud, rising above a field of grass. I’d like to describe it in more detail, but that is all I saw. A tree. But where I saw only a tree, I knew that dad saw something so much more. A few minutes later he pointed towards the urban sprawl and said, “Right down that road there used to be the biggest poplar in all of Ontario. It was six feet across at its base. I bet it’s long gone by now.”

For dad this is a tragedy. For many of us, a huge poplar tree is an annoyance. Its roots lift our sidewalks, disturb our gardens and tear into our foundations. Its massive trunk and swaying branches block our review or shade too much of our backyard. And so we cut it down and tear it apart. After all, it’s only a tree. But to dad it is more. It is an object of tremendous beauty.

I wish that I could see beauty the way dad does. I wish that I could delight in the simple, natural beauty of a chestnut tree. But all I see, even when I look closely, is a tree. I can describe it using adjectives—big, thick, leafy, round—but not in any adjectives that really capture the essence of its beauty. And that’s because I see only a tree.

I think that when dad sees a tree, he must see the tree’s Creator. He must see something more than the color and the shape. Maybe he sees God’s providence in a tree that has stood for fifty years. A hundred years. A tree that has offered shelter to generation after generation. Or maybe that tree is simply a beautiful work of art. Maybe that tree is a manifestation of the Artist who sculpted it in such a way to tell us something about Himself. That tree stands as a reminder of the great Creator. I don’t really know what dad sees in those trees. I never thought to ask him. But I wish I could see whatever he sees.

Highway 5 seems almost a parable to me. On one side is progress and on the other is nature. On one side is ugliness and on the other is beauty. I tend towards what is ugly but progressive. I tend to see urban sprawl as a sign of Canada’s progress as our population grows and our economy strengthens. But dad prefers natural beauty, even at the expense of progress. He sees the tragedy of a great tree falling and the tragedy of beauty being torn away only to be replaced by ugliness.

There is a reason that many of the fields north of Highway 5 lie fallow. Many of those fields, perhaps even all of them, have been purchased by developers. Oakville will soon have reached the limits of its growth. With Lake Ontario removing the possibility of southward growth, and with other cities to the east and the west, there is only one way for the city to move. By 2008 the city will leap across the highway. Trees will be cut down and trucked away to nearby mills. Hills will be flattened and the soil will be poured into the valleys. Sewers will cut into the fields and roads will be laid. Houses, schools and stores will spring up.

That chestnut tree is going to be a casualty of progress. Perhaps it will be left standing at the entrance to a neighborhood of half-million dollar houses where it will languish in the hard clay. Eventually it will die. I’ll shrug my shoulders. Dad will lament the loss of such beauty. I’ll wish that I could too.

June 02, 2006

It is healthy, I think, to reflect at times upon the evil of my heart. This seems like a terribly negative thing to do, but I believe it is an important discipline of my spiritual life that I seek to discover where evil lurks within my heart. There are some areas in my heart where, through God’s grace, sin has been routed, pushed back. There are certain temptations that are no longer temptations and certain sins that no longer stir my soul. But there are others, always others, that like a volcano are sometimes dormant, sometimes active. It is in times of reflection and meditation upon God’s Word that I am able to see and understand those places that I have allowed sin to make its awful presence known.

I often see the evil of my heart most clearly when I become aware that I have begrudged another person a blessing. Perhaps another man has been given a salary increase or a generous bonus and now has money that I do not. Perhaps another man has been given a position of responsibility at work or at church. This man has been given a blessing and I resent it. I see that he has been blessed and I react with envy and resentment. If pride is the most common, insidious sin, surely envy follows soon after. In The Call, Os Guinness says this:

Traditionally envy was regarded as the second worst and second most prevalent of the seven deadly sins. Like pride, it is a sin of the spirit, not of the flesh, and thus a “cold” and highly “respectable” sin, in contrast to the “warm” and openly “disreputable” sins of the flesh, such as gluttony. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the one vice that its perpetrators never enjoy and rarely confess.

Without pride and without envy, many other sins would not exist. Would there be adultery without pride or envy? Would there be gluttony? It is for good reason that the Ten Commandments conclude with a prohibition against coveting, for it is the desire of our hearts that leads us into sin. Envy is a deeply private but destructive form of covetousness. It was Aquinas who provided a famous definition of envy when he suggested it is “sorrow at another’s good.” Guinness says:

Envy enters when, seeing someone else’s happiness or success, we feel ourselves called into question. Then, out of the hurt of our wounded self-esteem, we seek to bring the other person down to our level by word or deed. They belittle us by their success, we feel; we should bring them down to their deserved level, envy helps us feel. Full-blown envy, in short, is dejection plus disparagement plus destruction.

Dorothy Sayers said, “Envy begins by asking plausibly: ‘Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy?’ and it ends by demanding: ‘Why should others enjoy what I may not?’” Guinness provides a clear example of the truth of this statement, using the words of Sir John Gielgud, “When Sir Laurence Olivier played Hamlet in 1948, and the critics raved, I wept.” These are startling words but ones with which I can identify. While others have raved I have often wept or have often wanted to weep. While I should have been offering congratulations or encouragement, too often I have been muttering and grinding my teeth, begrudging another man a blessing.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addresses the fact that pride is essentially competitive. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”

And this envy, so dark and so evil, so competitive and so selfish, lives in my heart. It lives in yours. One of the most horrifying aspects of envy is that we are most likely to feel envious of those who are similarly called, equipped and gifted. Those people with whom we share the most, from whom we stand to learn most, are those we most resent. Guinness reminds his readers of Thomas Mann who showed that “we are always most vulnerable to envying those closest to our own gifts and callings. Musicians generally envy musicians, not politicians; politicians other politicians; sportspeople other sportspeople; professors other professors; ministers other ministers.”

Thankfully, there is a cure for envy. The cure comes in a contentment found in comparing ourselves not to mere men, but to Christ. It comes in setting our minds on heavenly matters. The task of each believer is to do all he can with what God has given him. He is not to resent what has been given to another and is not to feel he needs to accomplish the task of another. He is to be a faithful steward of the gifts, blessings and resources that have been provided to him. We are not all called to the same task and we will not all experience the same blessings on earth. And when it is time to receive our reward, each of us will be rewarded not on the basis of the quantity of the blessings we received, but on the quality of our response to these blessings, no matter how abundant.

I will close with the words of Charles Spurgeon.

The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshiping God and communing with Him all the day long, however long the day may seem. True religion lifts the soul into a higher region, where the judgment becomes more clear and the desires are more elevated. The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men.
May 06, 2006

I’ve heard it said that when a person loses a loved one who is particularly close to him—a wife or a child perhaps—he struggles with the fact that, while his life has been thrown into disarray, the world around him just keeps on moving. His world has been rocked and he may feel like his life is over, yet everyone else he knows continues to go to work and school and baseball practice. There is a sense in which having a baby is almost like that. For one family, it is a monumentous event. For direct family members it is an occasion to rejoice, but is not often earth shattering. For close friends it is a time to congratulate and perhaps prepare a meal to help the family out. But for most people, it is no different than any other day. I’m sure any family who has had a child can relate. It is an odd time.

Of course it is also a rewarding time. Looking at my tiny little daughter I am surprised by just how much I’ve missed having a baby around. I hadn’t realized how much I love having a baby in the family. She is a whole lot of work, of course. She has already generated far more than her fair share of laundry, kept us awake far into the night and has woken us up long before we were ready. She has a well-developed set of lungs though she doesn’t often feel the need to throttle them up to full volume. It requires a tremendous amount of time and energy to keep her content, but it is time and effort we wouldn’t trade for the world. She melts my heart every time her face crumples in sadness as she begins to protest her empty little stomach.

Over the past couple of days, my wife and I have received countless expressions of support and congratulation. We have been blessed by the prayers of friends, family members, and no doubt many people who do not even know. We have been touched that you have been willing and eager to rejoice with us.

Aileen and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who congratulated us, sent us e-cards and prayed for us. We have been greatly blessed and touched by these expressions of support. It is a profound blessing and honor to have the privilege of being so blessed. So thank you. We are exceedingly grateful.

May 04, 2006

I’m in love.

Last night, on her thirtieth birthday, my wife gave herself (and me!) quite a gift: our daughter, Michaela (in case you don’t know, the name is pronounced “mih-KAY-lah”) Joy Challies. I’m crazy about her already. Actually, I’m crazy about both of them.

Michaela was an unexpected gift, actually. In her two previous pregnancies, Aileen has given birth ten days and seven days past her due date, so we were not anticipating Michaela’s arrival for another couple of weeks. However, during a routine thirty-eight week appointment yesterday afternoon, the midwife decided that, based on a few factors (higher protein levels, possible decreased fetal movement and slightly increasing blood pressure), she would send Aileen to the hospital for a consult with the obstetrician. The doctor noted a strange little temporary decrease in the baby’s heartbeat and, while she was not overly concerned, recommended that it would be best to get the baby out sooner rather than later—or that was her gut feeling, anyways. Her attitude, based on Aileen’s past history of elevated blood pressure in the final days of pregnancy, was that “at this point all we’d be waiting for is for something to go wrong.”

So they induced Aileen at around 8:30 PM (by breaking her water and by giving her oxytocin) while I ran home to get her bags (which she had only packed that day!). After a couple of hours, just as things were getting really difficult for her and as she was about four centimeters dilated, they gave her an epidural. Only a couple of contractions after the epidural she said she needed to push. The midwife didn’t believe her so Aileen raised the volume a little and sure enough, the baby was well on her way. After four or five minutes of pushing, Michaela was born. She had a little bit of trouble breathing initially, perhaps related to the cord being around her neck, though thankfully only loosely, but after a couple of minutes the midwife and nurses had her wailing at the top of her lungs. They found also that she had tied a knot in her cord so were glad that they had induced her when they did as it made for a short labor and delivery.

I left the hospital a few hours later. Aileen was doing great—she needed only a couple of stitches and should be back on her feet shortly. Knowing her, I’m sure she’ll be itching to get home today. Michaela was still having a bit of trouble with fluid in her lungs, but the nurses checked her out and thought she would manage to get through it on her own. So I came home to grab a couple hours of sleep and will take the children to meet their sister in just a little while.

Needless to say I am profoundly grateful to God for the gift of another child. He certainly has been good to us in blessing us with this little family. May He continue to bless us in His kind providence, and may He be the Lord of our home.

Here are the inevitable and expected early photos. I’ll try to get some better ones later today.



May 03, 2006

Aileen had a midwife appointment this afternoon and after much humming and hawing, the midwife decided to send Aileen to the hospital for a consult with the O.B. The O.B., after much similar humming and hawing, thought it would be best to induce Aileen tonight and get that baby out. There are no serious medical concerns, but they just thought this was the best course of action since, at 38.5 weeks, the baby is considered full term and, in the words of the doctor, “at this point all we’d be waiting for is for something to go wrong.” So, they are going to get the I.V.’s running in just a few minutes and hopefully we’ll have a baby soon.

I have just scooted home to call family members, to make sure the kids are taken care of, and to grab Aileen’s suitcase. I’ll be heading back momentarily. So your prayers are appreciated tonight and I look forward to bringing you good news sometime tomorrow!

April 25, 2006

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for Aileen. She went to the midwife today and received a clean bill of health. Her blood pressure, which had been trending up through the past three or four visits, suddenly fell precipitously back down to where it was a couple of months ago. It is now at a near-perfect level, actually. So I guess the combination of lots of prayer and lots of rest did the trick. I am very grateful. She should now be able to be less worried as she faces the last three or four weeks of pregnancy. God is good.

Of course this also means that I am free and clear to go to Kentucky from tomorrow until Friday for the Together for the Gospel Conference.

Once again, thank you for your prayers.