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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

April 08, 2010

So here I sit at 8:09 AM on a Thursday morning wondering what I am going to say today. There are times when I find writing this blog a great joy and there are times where I find it a heavy burden. Those tough times are blessedly few. Today I feel neither; I suppose I’m somewhere between. Sometimes I think well ahead and very occasionally even write posts a day or two in advance. Usually I sit down in the morning knowing what I am going to say, or at least what I am going to start to say. But today I just don’t know.

And yet I want to write. Writing has become such an important discipline in my life. It’s through writing that I do my best thinking and through writing that I do my best application of truth. I may think I know something in my mind, but when I write about it I realize that i had barely known anything at all. And really, writing is becoming my life. Ideally I spend about half of every day writing, focusing time on my blog, on my book and on my 10MillionWords reading project. Put it all together and it’s a writer’s life I’m living at the moment. And I love it.

People often ask me, “How can I become a better writer?” The answer is both obvious and simple. If you want to write better, you need to write more. As with any discipline, some people are born with exceptional talent and for them writing comes easily, naturally and with great skill. But for most of us, writing takes long and hard practice. If you want to be a good writer, you need to write even on those days when you’d rather do anything else, on those days when you feel like you’ve got nothing to say. During the recent Olympics I saw video after video of athletes answering similar questions in their field. Time and time again I heard them say that they got to the top of their game by practicing hard, day in and day out. They practiced hardest on the days when they felt like they had the least to give and on the days when they would rather have been anywhere else doing anything else. It’s not on the easy days and through the joyful practices that an athlete becomes an Olympian. It’s through the hard days, through the gruelling ones. Here is where he learns the character and endurance that will carry him in competition.

February 06, 2010

One of the strange things that happens when you write a book is that other authors begin to ask you if you would endorse their own book. There is a strange little economy whereby people in a particular genre all endorse one another’s books. This is true in the Christian world as it’s true for books about history, politics, and the like. A relatively small group of people pass their books around with requests for endorsements.

I’ve written quite a few of these little blurbs lately. It is something I’m generally quite eager to do and even honored to do. There is a certain sense in which it is humbling to have someone ask if you’d put your name on their book, offering it a stamp of approval. Yet there is also a certain danger to it, knowing that if you do not read the book carefully, you may later be accused of endorsing a book with a potentially serious theological error in it. Stranger things have happened. What is more nerve-racking still is that you may well be endorsing a manuscript that will be edited after you’ve submitted your endorsement, meaning that the content going to print may be quite different from the content you’ve put your name to.

Different authors have different standards when it comes to writing endorsements. Some go sight-unseen, endorsing a friend’s book without even really reading the content. He knows his friend, he knows his theological position, and on that basis he will write an endorsement even without looking through the manuscript. Other authors are exacting, reading very carefully to ensure that every statement is as precise as it ought to be and even pushing back a little bit, asking the author to make necessary changes before they will put their name to an endorsement. Still other authors may just skim through the manuscript, looking for potential problem areas and reading those quickly even while racing through the rest.

When I began to write endorsements, I was very much in the middle camp—I would read every word of every sentence and would do so carefully. This is what I was most comfortable with, both for sake of conscience and credibility. I wanted to endorse only really good books and ones that were free of any theological error or weakness. As time has gone on, though, I’ve found myself spanning the middle camp and the final one. I have found that not every book easily lends itself to a thorough reading (such as a book of written prayers) and not every book depends upon theological precision (such as a biography). And so my early idealism has been undone just a little bit. And yet strangely this occasionally nags at my conscience. Somehow I feel that I cannot rightly write a convicting endorsement without having read every word. And yet if I were to read every word, I could not write more than the very, very occasional endorsement due to the time it would take to read the manuscripts so carefully. I have no desire to be the guy whose name is on every book; at the same time, I do like to say “yes” to these requests when I feel it would be helpful to the author.

At this point I want to ask you, when you read an endorsement, do you suppose that the author has pored over every word? Do you read these blurbs as blanket endorsements of the content, or do you see them as something less significant than that. Realistically, if you were to write endorsements, what camp would you be in?

January 27, 2010

Yesterday I was in Orlando, today I’m in Savannah. Throughout this year I will be consulting with Ligonier Ministries, working with them on developing content for their web sites and other digital platforms. We had planned this two-day series of meetings and they needed to include two groups of people. The halfway point between these groups was Savannah, Georgia. And it just so happens that someone in Savannah loaned us a beautiful beach house to meet in. So here we are, overlooking the water and enjoying the beauty of it all. But mostly we’re having day-long meetings.

Here’s the view from my room just after sunrise.

Savannah

January 26, 2010

Let me give you a brief update as to what I’ve been up to the past couple of days.

On Sunday night I hopped aboard a plane and jetted down to Orlando, Florida for some meetings with the good folks at Ligonier Ministries.

Flying from Toronto to Orlando is, obviously, an international flight and, hence, all kinds of draconian new TSA-mandated rules apply to it. It used to be that a flight from Canada was little different than a domestic flight but for having to pre-clear US Customs—something that took only a few brief minutes. But over the past month things have changed.

I have to assume that the heads of the TSA sat down one day and said, “Flying is miserable, but not quite miserable enough. Let’s talk about things we can do to make it even worse.” And then they mandated those rules to countries like Canada who fly to the US. On Sunday night my time in the airport involved standing sequentially in eight(!) different lineups and having my passport and boarding pass checked eight different times (not necessarily corresponding to each of the lineups). The entire process took fully two hours, even though there were less than half a dozen flights to be screened, and left me sprinting down the concourse in a full-out run to make my plane (which, thankfully, I did).

I know that the security people are tasked with the rather thankless job of keeping us safe in the air and I am truly grateful for what they do. In fact, I always stop to thank at least one of them for keeping us safe up there. But anyone can see that the current system is woefully inefficient and unsustainable. If Sunday night, a slow time for travel, is so problematic, I cannot imagine what things must have looked like on Monday morning. This is going to make people just give up travel, figuring that it is just not worth the frustration. They are going to have to fix the system.

Once we left the ground we immediately hit pretty significant turbulence which meant that they were not able to serve drinks, though the flight attendants did walk up and down the aisle to hand out extra air sickness bags. All these factors led to two different medical emergencies with passengers lying passed out in the aisles, a call for doctors to identify themselves, and so on. It was truly a bizarre experience.

For all that it was still a good enough flight (better than I deserve, right?) that allowed me a few hours of reading, disturbed only by the giggling of the guy in the next seat who was very much enjoying some Sandra Bullock movie. We arrived in Orlando safe and sound and only thirty minutes behind schedule.

Yesterday I met up with the people of Ligonier Ministries and spent the day with them. Highlights of the day included a tour of the new St. Andrew’s Chapel which really is stunning (as I know you can tell from this grainy iPhone picture of it). They have done an amazing job of constructing a new church that maintains a classical feel. In a day when so many new churches are constructed with a utilitarian feel it was nice to see one that has been constructed with an eye to beauty.

St Andrews

Though the same property will soon house the offices for Ligonier Ministries and the Ligonier Academy, those buildings are still being renovated. So we headed over to the current offices just in time to see Dr. Sproul tape an interview with Dr. Stephen Myer, one of the founders of the Intelligent Design movement. It was fascinating to watch the exchange between the two of them; it was the kind of discussion that left the rest of us feeling a little bit dumb, I think. I’ll let you know when it airs on Renewing Your Mind. Here’s an ultra-grainy shot which brings my horrible photography skills into full collision with the iPhone’s low-light limitations.

I love to get little behind-the-scenes glimpses at different ministries and it was a real joy to meet many of the godly men and women who serve at Ligonier. I’m looking forward to spending another day with them today.

Here’s one last thing I just had to grab a shot of. As we were driving from one place to another we went pass a bear-crossing sign. I had no idea that bears were a problem in Florida. So here is evidence of that fact. Sadly, there were no bears crossing yesterday.

For those wondering, A La Carte may make an appearance this week. But when I travel I find it very difficult to spend the time necessary to collect and assess the links. So I’ll do what I can, but make no promises.

January 03, 2010

Two days ago I officially began 10MillionWords. This is a year-long project in which, for 2010, I am going to read all of the New York Times bestsellers (non-fiction, that is). The purpose of the project is something that has maybe evolved a little in the months since I dreamed it up. It began as a kind of culture or worldview study in which I would learn about life, North American life, at the dawn of a new decade. After all, there is a lot I can learn about the culture through its bestselling books. It has also turned into something of a personal challenge in which I want to see just what I can learn from all of these books, what patterns I can detect in them, and what themes arise. The amount of reading I intend to do this year is, well, intimidating. Yet there are few things I love more than reading and I do anticipate enjoying myself a good deal.

Anyway, if you have not yet heard of this project, I’d encourage you to check it out. There are fifteen books on the list at any given time which means there were fifteen there as of January 1. I’ve already reading thirteen of them and will be finishing up the other two in the days to come. Through it all I will be keeping tabs not only on the books but on the process of reading and attempting to digest them all.

You can read the first couple of posts at 10MillionWords.com or subscribe via RSS.

January 01, 2010

I am feeling unusually pensive this morning. Sometimes a new year dawns with barely a whisper. Sometimes it arrives with a shout. This year I sit here on January 1 with more than a little apprehension, feeling like the new year is screaming at me. There is little doubt that this is going to be a busy year. That’s the way I like it, really, as I am easily bored, so I am not complaining. When I’ve contemplated taking something major off my schedule Aileen has always counseled me, “You need to do a lot or you will get bored.” She is probably right. Yet as I look at 2010 I see all sorts of tasks—each of which I am both looking forward to and intimidated by—staring back at me.

I have a book manuscript due in six months and at this point I have barely begun (more than preliminary research, that is). I have taken on a project to read all of the New York Times non-fiction bestsellers for a year and, while I am very much looking forward to doing all that reading, I do worry occasionally that it will prove burdensome. I want to continue reviewing a Christian book per week and also want to dedicate some time to reading substantial theological volumes. And of course I do not want to neglect or de-emphasize those things that are central to my life—time with my children, time with my wife, investing in my church family, producing good work for my clients, spending time reading the Bible and praying, and so on. I want to be busy enough to keep me interested and motivated but not so busy that I burn out. I so badly want to use this year in such a way that I use every moment, bringing glory to God in each day given to me.

To that end, here is a prayer I am praying today. It is drawn from The Valley of Vision.

O Lord,
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service, to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
May Thy fear by my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.

And having prayed that prayer, I will also be turning to Don Whitney’s Ten Questions for the New Year to attempt to give me some context for what I do and attempt to do this year.

I believe 2010 is going to be an amazing year and I’m eager (and a little scared) to get it started.

And to you, on this day, I wish a safe and happy new year. May you know God’s richest blessings in 2010.

December 27, 2009

A little while ago I participated in one of those silly memes that made its way around the Net, filling out a list of really boring things about myself. My mom enjoyed it but figured she could do better. Today she and Aileen got a couple of my sisters together (since we’re all together for Christmas) and came up with a list of things they knew would embarrass me. They told me I had to post it on my site. So here goes. Ten things about me (or memories from my family members) you probably didn’t know…

Tim is eight. His brother is twelve. They have been left to co-babysit their three little sisters. When we come home, Tim produces a pan of strawberry tarts he has baked from a recipe taken from his sister’s “Anne of Green Gables” cookbook.

Tim has discovered business principles—specifically profit. He sneaks off school property, buys penny candy, then retails it at school for much more than he paid. We only find out about this many years later.

Tim and his family are in the heart of London, England. His middle sister has gone missing, lost in the crowds. The kids are commanded to “Sit! Stay!” while we split up to go and look for her. And off we go. We come back minutes later without her—but there she is. Tim has disobeyed orders, found her, and brought her safely back.

A stove element has started a grease fire. Mom and sisters run out of the house. Tim, eight, runs in and puts out the fire. Nothing a little soda won’t fix.

Tim is five years old and has just returned from his first day in school. He sees a little neighbour boy, four years old, waiting to greet him. “Hi, kid” he says, and ruffles his hair. He’s a big kid now.

Tim is now a teenager and has a new hobby—breeding and raising love birds. The stench! Threats and revilings from mother! Eventually mom ends up cleaning the cages at five dollars per cage. Tim considers it a good deal. Sigh.

Tim has a temper and once, blam, his fist goes through the basement wall. All his parents know is that he has become a convinced non-smoker. Why else would that non-smoking sign appear, so strategically placed in his room? Dad finds and patches it after Tim gets married and moves out.

Nothing is too good for Tim’s girlfriend, Aileen. As a matter of fact, he wants to marry her. But the expense of Ancaster’s finest restaurant is prohibitive to his twenty year-old budget. Hold on! His sister has won a $100 gift card to that restaurant as a prize for her long-distance running. And somehow that card wends its way into Tim’s wallet.

Tim and his friend Brian are racing on their bikes to Tim’s house, where they will share a bag of chips—Brian’s treat. All of a sudden Tim goes over his handlebars and into the ditch. Brian rides up, looks down at the twisted mess of boy and bike and with anguish on his face cries, “My chips!” And somehow they are still friends.

Tim is a middle-schooler aiming at being the best “mediocre” he can be. “Mrs. Challies,” says his teacher, “Tim is a very average boy.” To which the principal later responds, “Mrs. Challies, Mr. ________ is a very average teacher…”

December 26, 2009

Yesterday was a good day. How could it be otherwise, really? We were together as a family: my parents, my brother, my three sisters with their husbands and children and, of course, my wife and kids. It was a wonderful kind of chaos as the twenty-one of us crammed into quite a small house to celebrate Christmas. We laughed and ate and exchanged gifts and cuddled nieces and nephews. But mostly we just talked. It was beautiful.

One thing we did not do was any overt celebration or remembrance of Jesus’ birth. This has never been part of our family tradition, perhaps because my parents were not raised as Christians and hence did not have it as part of their background. Or perhaps because when they were saved they found themselves in conservative, Scottish-influenced circles where Christmas was not celebrated in that way. Either way, our family has always loved Christmas and has always been grateful to God for it, but without specifically making it a day to celebrate the birth of Christ.

There has been a sense in which I’ve felt a little guilty about this, especially when so many Christians heap so much attention on this day. For a while it seemed that we might have been among a majority of Christians; today is seems that we are part of a slim minority. That’s how it feels, anyway.

And yesterday, as I thought about this, I realized that I really have no cause to feel remorse or regret. What gives December 25 its value is not that we dedicate it to special remembrance of the birth of Jesus, though certainly that is a fine thing to do (Romans 14:5). What gives December 25 its value is that Jesus is alive. It is another day for each of us, given in trust and given in love. It is a day we are to use in God’s service and for God’s glory. For some this means setting it aside as a day to mark Jesus’ birthday; for others it means spending time with family and friends and enjoying the good gifts of family and fellowship—these things that have inherent value in being blessings from the hand of God.

I suppose it comes down to this: we do not need to attribute to the day any extra meaning or any extra significance in order for it to be a valuable day or in order to wring from it its greatest worth. The greatest significance of December 25 is that it is a good gift from a good God given for our delight and his glory.

December 25, 2009

Our Christmas morning began at a reasonable hour here in Atlanta, Georgia. For the past couple of days we’ve been staying with my sister’s family and we enjoyed watching our kids and their kids open their presents. In just a few minutes we’ll be heading to Chattanooga, Tennessee (about two hours away) to meet up with the rest of my family. We’ll all be together for the second time in a calendar year (a record, I think). That means there will be 21 of us, by my count, all celebrating Christmas together (that’s 2 Challies parents, 5 Challies kids, 4 Challies spouses and 10 Challies grandkids).

Before we hit the road, I thought I’d send along this special message from my children…

Kids

Have a Merry Christmas!

October 11, 2009

I found myself reminiscing this afternoon about old Mr. Tweedle—a man I hadn’t thought about in ages. Years ago, when we were members at a Reformed church in Hamilton, Mr. Tweedle had shown up at the church. He was an elderly man already, probably well into his seventies. He was a refugee from Canada’s United Church, a denomination that had slid from liberal to liberaler to liberalerst. When he found out from a neighbor that most people in our church believed in the validity of capital punishment (not that it matters in Canada, really, since we have no capital punishment) he decided to come to the church. I don’t think he was a believer—at least, I don’t think he had ever placed his faith in Christ. Yes, he believed in the existence of God and yes he felt it was important to attend church. But I don’t know that I ever understood him to truly believe.

When Mr. Tweedle was a young man, he had loved riding motorcycles. He was even a motorcycle courier for the Canadian army during the Second World War, first spending time in England and then, after the invasion, zipping around the continent. When the war was over, he returned to Hamilton and married. But his wife told him she did not want him to ride motorcycles anymore—they were too dangerous. So he put the bike away and lived life without.

When we knew him he was recently widowed. Just about the first thing he did after his wife died was go out and buy a new motorbike along with a $700 leather jacket. The church had pretty much adopted him by then and behind the scenes the deacons ensured that every week he was invited into someone’s home. Being a traditionalist when it comes to the etiquette of hospitality, he knew he would have to bring something with him as a little “thank you” gift. He was able to cook a mean pecan pie, so went ahead and built a specially-designed little box for the back of his motorbike, just the right size to hold a single pie. Every Sunday, at least when the weather was good, he would drive his motorcycle to church with a pecan pie tucked safely into that box. After the service he would head to the home of someone in the church. He would eat lunch with the family and then find a quiet place to lie down. He would sleep until mid-afternoon when the second service was set to begin. Then he would wake up, head for church, and sleep through the afternoon service. When I picture him in my mind, I mostly picture him with his head nodding almost to his chest during those long, afternoon services.

One day Mr. Tweedle decided that he would like to go and visit some of the sights he had seen in Europe decades before. He wanted to take his motorcycle with him, so drove it all the way from Hamilton, Ontario to Savannah, Georgia from where he caught a ship that carried him across the Atlantic. For weeks he traveled around Europe, by himself, on his bike all the while. Then he came home the way he returned. The only detail I remember from his description of his trip was that at one point he had come across a bike gang—a chapter of Hell’s Angels, I believe. They got a kick out of this old guy, alone in the world with his bike, so rode with him for some time. It’s a picture that still makes me laugh—old Mr. Tweedle, frail and tiny, riding his little old motorcycle while around him cruise huge biker dudes on their massive Harleys. I bet Mr. Tweedle loved every minute of it.

I don’t know what became of Mr. Tweedle. I don’t know if he ever truly loved the Lord or if he was just attached to the idea of God. I sure hope he turned to the Lord, even in his old age. Today he makes me think how people come and go in life, how God brings people in who for a year or two are there, week after week, and who are then gone, never to be seen again. With so many others like him, Mr. Tweedle has become just a distant memory to me.

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