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Personal Reflections

December 25, 2008

Here is a brief introduction to a Challies family Christmas. It’s really the only kind of Christmas I’ve ever known and it’s one I’ve come to love.

I grew up as part of a tradition that celebrated Christmas but did not generally emphasize it as a day to remember the birth of Jesus. It was not quite a secular holiday, but neither was it a sacred one. Aileen’s family was quite similar. So our Christmas traditions include little by the way of reading nativity stories or lighting candles. It’s also worth mentioning that our Christmas traditions are evolving as time goes on. Now that my family has moved to the U.S., we spend every second Christmas in the south. My parents and all of my siblings gather (from Toronto, New York City, Atlanta and Chattanooga) and we celebrate Christmas together. This is an off-year for us, meaning that we are at home in Canada.

We had a quiet Christmas Eve and mostly focused on getting the children to bed at a good hour. Last night I convinced Aileen to let me open one of my gifts which I knew was the complete Faulty Towers. That kept us occupied between the kids’ bedtime and our own. Just before bed we laid out the stockings and made sure the gifts were where they needed to be. We don’t do the Santa thing.

Christmas morning we began with stockings for the children and then ate our traditional breakfast of home made croissants and bacon and egg rings (which my mom made when I was a kid and I make now). Those bacon and egg rings are made in muffin tins and are really quite delicious—much better than standard bacon and eggs. That’s a tradition that goes back as far as I can remember. After breakfast we got to work and began opening gifts, moving from youngest to oldest and going until they were done (and since we’re not huge gift-givers, this doesn’t take too long). And now we’re just taking it easy and looking toward the afternoon when we’ll be going to Aileen’s folk’s place. And, of course, we’re helping the kids build Lego sets, charge up batteries, figure out instructions, and so on. We’ll be spending the day fairly quietly, just enjoying family and lots of good food.

And that’s about all. We try to keep Christmas fairly simple and low-key. It’s usually just about the best day of the year.

From me and from my family to you and to yours…Merry Christmas!

December 07, 2008

In recent months my family has been discovering (for the kids) or rediscovering (for Aileen and me) a love of board games. We’ve had great fun playing games like Ticket to Ride (an amazing game for the whole family), Lost Cities (a fast and fun strategy game for two adults or older children), and a few of the classics. In the next day or two Aileen and I are going to tackle Carcassonne, by all accounts a classic in its own right. Nick loves to play complicated war games like Axis & Allies and Risk, though he plays by his own rules.

With Christmas fast approaching, we’re looking at getting a few more games to tide us through these long, cold, winter months. I’m guessing there are some people out there who can suggest a few surefire winners for us. We’d prefer either games that the whole family can play (or, at least, age eight or nine and up) or games that Aileen and I can play on our own. We’re not too interesting, at least for now, in games that require four or more people. I’ve been looking at games like Blokus, Power Grid, and Puerto Rico. Can anyone suggest other games that might be worthwhile additions to our collection?

November 09, 2008

It must have been a couple of months ago now that Aileen and I got rid of cable TV. We didn’t get rid of the television altogether—we kept it so we could watch DVDs and enjoy the Wii. But we got rid of cable and now have access to precisely 0 channels. Today I paused to reflect on all of the things I miss about having cable television.

Here they are in no particular order:


The end.

November 05, 2008

You may have seen me mention Liam’s name in a previous blog post. Liam is the son of our friends Kim and Jason and a friend to Nick. Today he is having a major surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. Even if the surgery is 100% successful. he will be in the hospital for ten days and will see a period of recovery that may take up to a year. I’d just ask you to pray, as we are today, that God would bless Liam through this whole experience and use it to draw him closer to Himself. And of course pray that God would bless the doctors, giving them skill and wisdom that they would successfully complete this surgery.

You can receive updates from Kim’s blog Zoo-ology.

Here’s a shot of Liam and Jason. Liam needed to have his head shaved for the surgery, so dad and grandpa had their heads shaved as well!


October 26, 2008

Earlier today I was thinking about my favorite hymn lyrics (not hymns overall-just particular lyrics). I think my all-time favorite is and remains the final stanza of “And Can it Be?” The last two lines just grip my soul every time I sing them:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I’ve often reflected on the concept of boldness and this song reminds me of what a privilege it is to be able to approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

Running a close second is a hymn we sang just this afternoon during our Lord’s Supper service. Again, it is the final stanza of a hymn, this one “The Love of God.” I’ll provide all of the lyrics but would point you to that last verse.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.


O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

I just love that picture, that metaphor, of trying to measure or quantify the love of God and finding that even the vastness of creation, reduced to letters and words, would barely even begin to show just how great and how wide and how deep is God’s love. It’s amazingly powerful.

What are your favorite hymn lyrics?

October 18, 2008

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at Chinese Gospel Church in downtown Toronto. It’s a church right in the heart of the city in the area known (not so creatively) as Chinatown (if you ever go there you will quickly find out why it has this name). I told the people there that, when I was growing up in the suburbs, we used to go on class trips to Chinatown as a kind of foreign cultural experience. We’d go to the markets down there to look at strange fruits and vegetables and to buy chicken feet and other delicacies that we’d soon throw at each other. Good times.

I was speaking last night to a college and careers kind of group—people ranging from their late teens into their thirties (and maybe a bit beyond). It won’t surprise you to learn that I spoke on spiritual discernment and maturity. The evening began with a time of singing and then transitioned into prayer in small groups of four or five people. As we prayed I was struck immediately by what a privilege it is to be members of the body of Christ. Here I was sitting with people I had never met before, but here I was bound together with them in prayer. I was filled with gratitude that God has seen fit to build his Body through people in diverse places and from diverse backgrounds. It’s not that these people were so different from me—many of them were second or third generation Canadians—but more that they were at once strangers and family.

Who but God could conceive of something so incredible, so unique? Who but God could build a family of brothers and sisters that spans cities and countries and continents? Who but God? Last night I prayed with friends, family and strangers and experienced the communion of the saints in a new and powerful way.

October 13, 2008

If you’ve been reading this site for a few years, you may remember the time I wrote about my old van leaving me stranded on the side of the highway. My lease was nearly over and I had to drive across town (about one hour each way) to visit a car dealer and have him put a price on my van. This happened to be a rare occasion that I did not have my cell phone with me. The charger had disappeared, the battery was flat, and I just left the phone at home, setting off without it.

As I was making my way home, zipping along the area’s busiest highway, I heard a strange sound and thought, “I hope that’s not my car.” I looked around and couldn’t see any other vehicles close enough to me that it could be anything but my car. Within a couple of seconds the car began to shake and then it began to vibrate so strongly that it became a chore to hold it straight. It did not take long to realize that I had blown a tire at 100 kilometers per hour. It so happened that I was on a bridge at the time and one that offered no shoulder to pull onto. I threw on the hazard lights and crept along, driving as fast as I dared on three tires and one rim. Trucks, cars and buses were honking and swerving to avoid me on the slick, rainy pavement. But finally the bridge ended and I was able to pull over to the side and stop. While it was not exactly my choice, I could hardly have picked a worse place to stop. I ended up parked in the middle of a triangular area right where two major highways converged—between the inside lane of one highway and the merging outside lane of a second highway. Cars were tearing by on the right and the left, joining the flow of mid-afternoon traffic. I had no phone, it was pouring rain, and this was definitely no place to attempt to change the tire. I knew no passerby would stop, as there simply was not a good place to do so.

And so I did the obvious thing. I said, “God, I’m kind of stuck here. I’d really appreciate it if you’d send along a police car or a tow truck. It would be a long, dangerous, wet walk to a phone and really, the only building nearby is a Kingdom Hall and it doesn’t look like anyone is there, so I’m just going to stay here and wait for you to send help.” And that’s what I did. With cars hurtling by on both sides, I sat and looked expectantly out the back window. Sure enough, it took only ten or fifteen minutes for a tow truck to show up. Handily, it was a flat bed truck—it would have been very difficult for him to get behind my van to tow from the rear. Equally handily, it was a CAA truck (CAA is the Canadian chapter of the American Automobile Club) and, since I am a CAA member, the towing would cost me nothing. Within five minutes he had hoisted the van onto his truck, secured it, and pulled back into traffic. He had a good laugh at me, saying what I already knew—that I really could not have picked a worse spot to break down. He even took the opportunity to call his manager and laugh about it.

I asked him if someone had called him on my behalf or if he had just happened by. “No,” he said. “I just dropped someone off in Georgetown and had decided to take the side roads back. But then I changed my mind and figured I’d take the highway just to see if anyone out here needed a tow.” Imagine that.

This really isn’t much of a story. I was never in great danger and really only suffered a couple of hours of inconvenience while waiting for the tires to be changed. But as I was sitting in Wal-Mart, munching on a McDonald’s burger and wondering what the tires would cost, I thought back to my reaction when the tow truck showed up. I realized I had blurted out, naturally enough, “Thank you, God” as I saw the truck turn on his lights and pull in just ahead of me. I was not the least bit surprised that the truck had shown up and had shown up quickly. God knew I was in a tight spot and I had asked Him to provide for me. He seemed glad enough to do so. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

It occurred to me then that it is really only the privilege of the Christian to be thankful. I spoke about this a few days later with a friend of mine who is ambivalent about the possibility of God’s existence. I asked her how she would feel in a similar situation. Would she be thankful? And if so, to whom would she express thanks? Without God we can only believe in fate or karma. No one offers thanks to fate. Fate is nothing. It is impersonal, directionless. No one asks anything of fate and no one offers thanks to fate. I could be thankful to the driver of the tow truck, and I was of course, but who was it that so ordered things that he was returning from Georgetown just at that moment? And how was it that he changed his mind and decided to take the highway home rather than the faster back roads? Surely not fate, chance or karma. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head is the same God who took care of me that day. And I am thankful.

Today is Thanksgiving day up here in Canada. It is a day set aside specifically to offer thanks. It is sad to think of how many Canadians will sit with their loved ones around tables loaded with food and will be unable and unwilling to thank the One who has provided it for them. They may thank mothers for making food or fathers for providing it, but they will not be able to thank the God who has given them the talents, the abilities, and, well, everything else. My expression of thanks in the car that day was natural. It was really just an outpouring of the faith God that has given to me. It was an expression of worship to the God who proved again that day that He is in control. Where there was faith-based expectation, gratitude naturally followed. I was filled with thanksgiving for thanksgiving. I was filled with thanks for the ability and the privilege of giving thanks. God is good to provide and is good to allow us to thank Him for His provision.

September 17, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I went to watch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Tampa Bay Rays (baseball, for those of you who may not follow professional sports). For the first time in recent memory I went to the game on back-to-back days, both Friday and Saturday. When they announced the group that would sing the national anthems for Saturday afternoon’s game, I knew I was where I needed to be that day. The singers were The Calvinist Cadets.

The reason I went to both games was that the Rays were in town and with them was Ben Zobrist, whom you may remember from this interview I did with him back before the season began. I met Ben while speaking at a conference down in Nashville and we had agreed that when he was in Toronto, we’d meet up for dinner after a game. Injuries and trips to the AAA team had kept him out of Toronto for the Rays’ previous two trips through Toronto, but this weekend he was here. On Friday my son wanted to go and see him play, so I took him to the game and we met up there with a friend. On Saturday Aileen and I went off to take in the game and we then enjoyed dinner with Ben and his wife (who travels with him through most of the season). I even bumped into a reader of this site at the game (Hi, David!).

As we were sitting out in the stands, I began to think what it would be like to have a job that provided instant feedback. When you’re a player in the Major Leagues, everything you do well is met with applause and everything you do poorly is met with icy silence or with loud boos. One day’s hero is so easily the next day’s goat. When B.J. Ryan, the Jays’ closer, charged onto the field in the ninth inning to try to nail down the save, the crowd went wild. When he struck a man out, there were loud cheers. But, when he gave up three runs to tie the game, he walked off the field to a chorus of boos. The crowd was fickle, expecting him to do his job and to do it right—and to do it all in front of their watching eyes. He had a bad day and the crowd let him know what they thought of that. One day he nailed the save and was loved; the next day he blew the save and was reviled.

Now maybe there is something to be said for the argument that when a guy’s weekly paycheck comes out at almost $200,000, as B.J. Ryan’s does, you expect him to do his job right (Can you imagine heading to the bank every Friday afternoon to deposit a check for $200,000?). But I still wonder what it would be like if we all received such instant feedback in our vocations. What would I do differently if I turned around to see a crowd sitting behind me, watching my every move? What would my day be like if every time I wrote a good sentence or created a good line of HTML code the crowd went wild; and what would it be like if every time I wrote something stupid or broke an otherwise good site layout, a chorus of boos arose behind me? It wouldn’t be much of a life.

I am grateful for grace. There is One who watches me at all times and who must sometimes shake His head in amazement as I blow yet another save or write yet another chunk of bad code or thoughtless prose. And though I deserve the jeers and the jabs, He extends grace. I am glad that, far more often than not, it is only He who sees my failings, for He is the source of all grace and comfort. He is no fickle fan, but the One who loves freely, who loves with a steadfast, gracious love.

September 13, 2008

A couple of months ago I received a rather unique invitation. Compassion International was considering sending a team of bloggers to Dominican Republic and wondered if I might be interested in tagging along. The purpose of the trip is for these bloggers to see what Compassion is doing in that place and to learn what the organization is all about. I thought about it for some time and have decided to go along. I have long wondered about Compassion, having a perhaps-unhealthy skepticism about such ministries. The more I learn about it, though, the more I am convinced it is a good and valuable organization and I hope that this trip will help allay any remaining fears.

Here is what Compassion says about the trip: “November 2-7, 2008 Compassion International will take a group of bloggers to see their ministry to over 40,000 children in the Dominican Republic. Known for its resort-speckled beaches, there’s another side to this Caribbean nation unknown to most vacationers. Our bloggers will visit a city dump where families scavenge for food and clothing. They’ll tour a neighborhood where drugs are trafficked and children live beside open sewers. And bloggers will also see firsthand how Compassion International and child sponsors are bringing hope to children living in these places by releasing them from poverty in Jesus’ name.”

And so, in early November, I will be heading to Dominican Republic. My one fear about the trip is being away from home for the better part of a week all by my lonesome—no friends and no family to go along. I spoke to my wife and children and spoke to Compassion and it now seems likely that my son Nicholas, who is eight, will be coming with me. If it works out (and again, I think it will), he will be starting his own blog for the trip and will be blogging from the perspective of an eight year-old. I’m hoping that his blog will be of interest to some of the children out there. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to spend the time and enjoy the experience with my boy.

So keep an eye on this blog from November 2-7 and you can read updates from Dominican. You may also like to tune in to read some other blogs as these people will also be going: Melanie from TheBigMamaBlog.com, Mary from OwlHaven.net, Marlboro Man (and his two daughters) from ThePioneerWoman.com, Jennifer from 5MinutesForMom.com. Shaun Groves and Brian Seay will co-lead the trip.

August 13, 2008

Last Saturday Aileen and I watched as some friends of ours were married. First was a beautiful ceremony at a historic Baptist church in the heart of the city and this was followed by a lengthy, enjoyable reception at a nearby reception hall. We enjoyed ourselves a lot and rejoice with our friends, praying for God’s blessing on their new marriage.

As I was sitting in the church and as I sat at the reception, eating great food, talking to friends, listening to speeches and just looking around and observing, I began to think back to other weddings I’ve been to. I saw that there have been phases in my life—different ways I’ve enjoyed wedding ceremonies.

Before I was married, I would attend wedding ceremonies and think about my own future wedding. Even before I knew Aileen and had a real ceremony in mind, I would look at the bride and groom and transport myself into the future, just wondering what it would be like to stand up there and to be the one marrying that beautiful bride. What does a groom feel? What would my bride look like? When would my time come?

After my own marriage, weddings became an occasion to reminisce about my own wedding ceremony, now an event in the past. I would sit with Aileen beside me and remember how I felt when I saw her standing in the back of the church and how I felt as I kissed her for the first time as husband and wife. I would feel again those swells of emotion as I remembered that momentous day. And what a day it was.

But now something has changed. Perhaps I am getting old; perhaps life has changed me; probably both. As I watched Alicia walk to the front of the church on the arm of her father and as I saw Nick’s face change as he gazed upon his bride (he later confessed, in a most unromantic way, that he was so excited he almost threw up when he saw her); as I heard Nick’s mother say, “It seems like only yesterday” and as Alicia’s father proclaimed his affection for his daughter and his regard for his new son; as Nick’s brother shared stories from Nick’s childhood and as Alicia’s sister shared memories from their younger years; as Nick and Alicia sang a first song (in place of dancing a first dance); as I observed all of these things, my mind was drawn to my own children, and to my daughters in particular.

My wedding is now ten years in the past. While it remains the best day of my life, already the memories are growing hazy. Once again I am gazing forward rather than backwards. I am gazing to the future and seeing myself not as the groom, but as the father, the man who will stand at the front proclaiming “I do,” not as the man receiving the bride but as the one giving her to another. And it’s almost too much to take. The words, “it seems like yesterday,” haunt me. My daughters are five and two, my son eight. There are so many wasted yesterdays that have already gone by and there are only so many tomorrows left. When it is my turn to give that speech, when I look at my daughter sitting beside her new husband or my son beside his new bride, will I think back to all those yesterdays with fondness, knowing that they were used to the fullest extent? Or will I, like so many fathers, look back with regret at day after wasted yesterday?

May God grant grace…