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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

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…


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.

October 10, 2009

It is Thanksgiving Weekend here in Canada—about as early a Thanksgiving as we ever have, I think. It comes a long time before the American equivalent, at any rate. The Canadian Thanksgiving is a fair bit like its American counterpart, though without the storied history. Where Americans have great stories about Pilgrims and the Indians who saved their lives, Canadians just know that we get the day off and that it’s a good day to spend with family. It is, I think, my favorite holiday of the year. The weather is usually beautiful, cool and crisp just like autumn should be. The leaves are changing color and beginning to fall.

For many Canadians the day includes parades and festive meals, often including turkey with all the “fixins.” We eat pumpkin and apple pies and squash and whatever other vegetables are available that go well with turkey. Many Canadians regard the American celebration of Thanksgiving to be almost vulgar for its excesses. We tend not to make it a day for huge quantities of food and loud football games. We certainly do not gear up for a “Black Friday” shopping experience the next day where financial excess follows closely behind caloric excess. Thanksgiving is usually a quiet day of hiking, enjoying nature, and enjoying fellowship with family and friends. It is not nearly as significant day as Thanksgiving is in America. Yet there is still something magical about it.

This year my parents are visiting, so my dad and I have been hard at work. My dad relaxes by working, so he and I have torn up and replaced our front walkway and I think this afternoon or Monday we’ll do a bit of plumbing work. And then we’ll sit back and relax and enjoy the time together as family. It sounds like the makings of a pretty good weekend. Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to it. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

September 24, 2009

A couple of days ago I sat down with Aileen and a blank piece of paper. On the top of the paper I wrote, “If we were better parents to our children we would…” and then, between the two of us, we began to jot down ideas. We thought of some of the things we would do if we were to be the kind of parents we really want to be—parents who love our children, who value genuine friendships with them and, primarily, who raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And I think we came up with a few ideas that ought to make a real difference.

As we did so, I thought of something I wrote a couple of years ago. It somehow seemed relevant. Here it is…

My children have been behaving a little bit strangely at bedtime in recent days. My son tends to be melancholy in the evenings at the best of times but recently has been getting worried as soon as we tuck him into bed. Two nights ago he was concerned that the Sith were going to attack him (how he even knows who the Sith are is beyond me) and last night he was worried that the Japanese were going to invade Canada (I guess he has been reading about the Second World War). I assured him that the Japanese were not going to invade our country but he replied, “Well, they snuck up on Hawaii without the Americans noticing!” This much is true. His little sister feeds off his worries and almost inevitably ends up creating her own.

It generally happens that, by the time we tuck the children into bed, Aileen and I are ready to be done with them for the day. It may sound harsh, but by the end of a long day, we are more than eager to spend an hour or two by ourselves in the living room before also heading for bed. The last thing we want is a parade of children up and down the stairs and a chorus of cries asking us to come upstairs to mediate one problem or another.

Last night, a good hour after I put my daughter to bed, and as I settled into the couch to spend some time reading, I heard a cry of “Daddy!” I went to the bottom of the stairs and asked what she wanted. “Will you come and cuddle me?” she called out. I thought about it for a moment and eventually told her that she should already be asleep and that I was not going to come up and cuddle her. Thankfully she soon drifted off and slept well.

As I thought about it a little bit more I realized that I did not want to cuddle her, at least in part, because I had to. I was looking at it as a “got to” situation: “I’ve got to cuddle her.” And I rebelled. It didn’t take me long to regret my decision. She is going to be with us for so few years and for many of those she will no doubt have no desire to cuddle me. And is it so bad for a six-year old to want a cuddle (or another cuddle) before bed? The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like a “get to” situation: “I get to cuddle her.”

It’s funny the difference made by that one little letter. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with the got to’s and the get to’s. Church can seem like a “got to” obligation, but it is so much sweeter when I face it as if it is a “get to” privilege. My morning devotions can often feel like a “got to” but I enjoy them so much more when I treat them like a “get to.” Rather than having to face the Bible and prayer in the morning, I see them as an enjoyable privilege. It often makes all the difference in a mind as feeble and sinful as mine.

When Abby stumbled down the stairs this morning, squinting through barely-awake eyes, her hair all askew, I grabbed her up in a big hug and settled onto the couch with her for a few minutes of cuddling. It is something I get to do, at least for a few more years. It was my privilege and my pleasure.

September 09, 2009

When I need to travel by plane, I often catch a shuttle to the airport. This is one of those little buses that will pick me up at my door and drop me at the terminal. The service is a little bit expensive (and getting more so), at least compared to having Aileen drive me, but the cost is well worth it when compared to waking the family at 5 AM and bundling them into the car. That just does not work out well.

A couple of months ago, when heading from the airport to home, I noticed a little magazine in the seat pocket ahead of me and, with nothing else to do, dug it out and gave it a read. It was a tourist guide to Southern Ontario, focusing on Toronto and the cities and towns surrounding it. Naturally, I flipped about halfway through to the “O” section to see what the editors would say about my home town of Oakville. They had a lot to say, as it happens. They mentioned the beauty of the old neighborhoods along the shores of Lake Ontario where many of the homes have stood for 100 years or more and where you need not even apply unless you’ve got at least seven digits to put toward your home. They mentioned the main street with all its quaint shops, boutiques and cafes and suggested that a person could easily spend a day there browsing, shopping, eating, snapping photographs. They wrote of the beautiful harbor, of some of the provincial parks and of the little museum dedicating to preserving the history of the area. They declared Oakville an exceptionally beautiful town and a must-visit for anyone who happens to be in the area.

As I finished up the Oakville section, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. Oakville sounds like a really great place!” The editors’ description of my town opened my eyes, or re-opened my eyes, to some of the beauty I have lost in its familiarity. I see so many of these things so often that they have lost their interest, lost what sets them apart. It brought to mind the old cliche, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” When I see those grand old homes, I see inflated real estate prices and snobby kids who attend tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-a-year private schools that pretty much set them up for life in the local old boy network (and where their high schools are called “colleges” just to set them apart). When I see Lakeshore Road, the main street, I think of overpaid merchandise and far too little parking. I have rarely ventured into the local parks and have never set foot inside the museum. I suppose I’ve pretty much taken my town for granted. In all its familiarity it has eventually generated contempt. It’s just Oakville, right?

I would like to say that since that day I’ve taken a renewed interest in my town and have begun to see it for what it is. Maybe in some ways I have. The last time I went down to the old part of town I did pause to take in some of those grand old homes and to appreciate their beauty. And there is beauty in those homes—more so, I think, than the new builds that fill so much of the rest of the town. We recently went down to the edge of Lake Ontario, right near the museum, to shoot some family photographs and couldn’t help but note the beauty of the parks and the unique character of the old part of the town. It is picturesque, without a doubt.

But even more than helping me appreciate the town I live in, simply reading this simple little magazine began to open my eyes to some of the other things in life I take for granted, some of the other things I’ve allowed to become too familiar. Some of God’s greatest gifts to me are the ones that are closest to me and it is discouraging that these are the very ones with which I am most likely to grow too familiar—so familiar that they begin to seem so drab, so…normal. The remarkable can so soon become unremarkable just by its closeness. The greatest gift can fade just because it is so accessible. Discontentment seems native to the human heart, at least in this sinful world. And I think we all are prone to allow the greatest, closest gifts to fade simply by virtue of their familiarity.

September 05, 2009

You’ll have to bear with me today as I ramble a little bit on the subject of book reviews. Because reviews are such an important part of what I do here, I thought it would be worth covering just a little bit of how and why I do reviews.

I generally try to review at least one book per week and, in general, I try to choose a book that you, the readers, are likely to enjoy. Now obviously there are times that I think a book will be good but it turns out to be less than stellar. It happens. But most of the time, when I choose a book based on its subject, author, endorsements or description, it turns out to be a book I can recommend for one reason or another. Most weeks I post these reviews on Tuesday. My purpose with these reviews is to make you aware of some of the books that are coming available and to give you a sense of what you stand to gain by reading them. Since I enjoy reading so much, since I can do it quickly and since I have access to the books, I see this as a way of helping others find books that will appeal to them. If the guy who loves reading a hundred books per year can help the guy who reads ten choose the best ten, then I figure we’ve got a proverbial win-win.

Of course, and as you know, I read more books than these. In recent months I’ve begun writing the occasional “Books I Didn’t Review” article to make you aware of some of the other reading I’ve been doing. These are books I tend not to review either because they do not merit a full review or because I determine that the readers of this site are not likely to be interested in them. In such cases I tend to post just a short overview of the book with a sentence or two of my own take on it.

I also read the occasional book that I am quite sure I will dislike or that I will be ambivalent toward. I often do this when the book is a megaseller or when it seems primed to become a megaseller. So, for example, I have suffered through both of Joel Osteen’s books. I’ve done this primarily so there is at least one (hopefully) discerning review of the book somewhere on the Internet. I always post these reviews at Amazon, trusting that the reviews will at least help a person or two find a better alternative to Osteen’s mindless puffery. I have done the same with books like The Secret, The Shack and so on. Osteen’s third book is set to release next month; I am undecided about whether or not I can bear to read yet another one. And I mean that—just because of their sheer stupidity I find them grueling to get through.

Now, let me share a couple of things by way of disclosure. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but wanted to do so again just to be sure that everything is above-board. When you read one of my reviews and see a link to buy it at Amazon or Monergism Books, those are affiliate links which means that there is typically some financial compensation that goes to me should you choose to purchase something after clicking the link. I think most people assume this, but I do reiterate it from time-to-time. These funds go to the purchase of books (the ones that are not provided gratis by publishers), to the support of the web site and, in a good month, to the support of the Challies family!

Also, you have probably (hopefully!) noticed the ads on my site. There occasionally seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest in that I will review a book while also running an ad for it (which most often happens when I review a book the same week it releases which is also, of course, when the publisher is most likely to advertise it). You may wonder how I could fairly criticize a book deserving of critique when I am being paid to run an ad for that very book. Well, thankfully that has not happened, at least to this point. But do know that advertisers have no expectation that the mere fact that they place an ad on my site will in any way impact my reviews. They expect fair reviews. Plus, I would consider it an assault on my conscience to review a bad book positively in order not to risk advertising compensation. So do know that I consider fair reviews a high calling and I will not deviate from that. I am committed to fair and objective reviews.

I will have more to say about this in the future, but do know that next year I intend to continue my once-weekly reviews of the latest Christian books. But I also hope to devote a bit more attention to the latest and greatest mainstream books. Stay tuned for details on that.

If you have further suggestions about book reviews, about the types of book I review, and so on, I would be glad to hear them!