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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

The Major Life Decision That Put My Theology to the Test
October 09, 2015

It’s always a little easier to help others live the Christian life than to live it myself. It is easy enough to tell others how to face temptation when that particular sin has no hold on me. It is easy for me, a married guy, to give instruction on how to live the single life. And, as I recently discovered, it is easy to tell others how to make decisions when I’m not the one who is facing the life-altering choice. But then, a few weeks ago, I had to make a decision that would impact my life, my family, and my church. It was grueling and it put my theology to the test.

For the past five years, my time and attention has been divided between writing and serving as associate pastor at Grace Fellowship Church. I love to do both of these things and have wanted to give them each my full-out effort. For several years I was able to maintain that balance and still have lots of time to be a husband and father. But over the past couple of years both the church and my web site have grown substantially. I came to the growing realization that I was no longer giving the best of my time and attention to either one. At least, not unless I was willing to steal it from my family.

I consulted with friends, Aileen and the kids, and my fellow elders at Grace Fellowship Church. We thought a lot and prayed a lot. And together we decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign my full-time position as associate pastor so I could dedicate the bulk of my attention to this web site and to writing projects. My resignation was effective as of September 30. To be clear, there is no scandal or sin that pushed me here. I am still a pastor/elder at Grace Fellowship Church; it’s just that I am now doing this on a volunteer basis instead of being on staff. (Paul Martin, the senior pastor at GFC, provides his perspective here: About that Tim Challies Guy.)

On the one hand, this was a straightforward decision. I was beginning to crumble under the weight of all my responsibilities and even seeing my health start to suffer. But on the other hand, it was grueling because I have such affection for pastoring and, even more, for the people I pastor and the people I pastor with. I wanted desperately to find a solution that would allow me to give equal time to both of the things I love to do. But, try as I might, I couldn’t come up with one.

I have often written and taught on how to know and do the will of God. (See, for example, Why Making Decisions Is So Hard.) This situation represented the first time in quite a while when I had to make a major, life-altering decision. I found myself surprised by the difficulty. I know how to do it by the book: I followed the process and came to a decision—a good decision, I think. But I didn’t love it. I had to push myself to believe that this is all God requires of me—to seek his revealed will and to then live boldly, with confidence in him.

I resigned from Grace Fellowship Church with a nagging sense of failure. I have seen others succeed at local church and wider ministry. Why couldn’t I? I resigned with a frustrating lack of clarity. I wanted to have more facts at my disposal, and especially more facts about what the future holds. I resigned with more than a little regret, regretting my inability and limitations.

But I also resigned with conviction and excitement. I am coming up on 12 years of daily blogging and in all that time have never been able to do it on more than a part-time basis. In the early days I was a full-time network administrator, then a full-time web developer, then a full-time pastor. October 1 represented the very first day I have ever been able to give my writing the absolute best of my time and attention. And, between you and me, it felt great.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but as the saying goes, I do know the one who holds the future. And I look forward to learning what he has for me.

Now, before I close out this little article, I want to express my gratitude to you. Thank you for reading this site. Thank you for making it a part of your day. I thank God for you and hope to be able to serve you well in the days and years to come. I do not plan to make any major changes in the near future. I do not plan to write a whole lot more. But I do hope that this increased time will allow me to write deeper and better.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 25, 2014

My family celebrates two very different kinds of Christmas. Some years we head down to the South, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to spend Christmas with my parents, my siblings, and their families. Other years we stay right here at home and keep things smaller and quieter.

It is one of those stay-at-home years—we are at home and following our usual, treasured Christmas morning rituals: The kids woke up early, but managed to contain themselves until 7. The girls, that is. My son probably could have stayed in bed until noon. At 7 we all headed downstairs so they could dig through their stockings and find all the little gifts and trinkets Aileen collected for them. After stockings we had our standard Christmas breakfast of croissants and bacon-wrapped eggs, and then worked our way through all of those gifts we had gotten one another. It was very nearly perfect. A bit later today we will have a big meal with Aileen’s parents and sister. And that will be our Christmas, just the way we like it.

No matter if or how you mark the day, thank you for reading, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 25, 2012

It is a stay-at-home kind of Christmas this year. I always find it fun to run back through the blog posts from December 25ths of the past to see where my family was and what we were doing that day. Some years we head down to Chattanooga to join my parents and siblings, while other years we stay here in Toronto and meet up with my in-laws. This year we are right here at home.

The kids were pounding down the door at 7 this morning, ready to begin the day by raiding their stockings. As soon as a friend joined us (after coming off night shift) we had breakfast together and opened gifts. It has been a nice, leisurely morning, mostly dedicated to putting together the toys and other things the kids received. We’ll take it easy for another hour or two, and then get into the turkey routine. 

Of all the Christmases of my life so far, I think this is the one where I’ve focused most on the beauty and the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christmas has always been about family and gifts and other things that are objectively good and in of themselves. But this year I wanted to focus my thoughts on what it means that the eternal Son of God became a man and was born into this world. A month’s worth of thought and reflection was hardly enough to scratch the surface of something so amazing, but even then it was pure joy to consider what it means and to allow it to resound in my heart.

This song by Sojourn has been dear to me.

The glory of God has come to the earth,
The glory of God in our Savior’s birth,
Join with the angels to sing and proclaim
Glory to His name

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Eternity’s likeness has come into time,
A light in the darkness, now hope is alive,
Down from the heavens on this holy night,
Our God in a manger, our God as a child.

Whether you are at home or away, whether you are spending the day with family or pondering the incarnation (or both!) I wish you a merry Christmas.

May 16, 2012

It was exactly two years ago that I was ordained to the ministry. Yesterday I went back and looked at the ordination vow I made. Even better, I went back and looked at the notes my son jotted down during the sermon that day. The text was Titus 2:15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Here is what he wrote:

Dad = Titus

Dad Needs To:

  • Speak the gospel to God’s people
  • Make people remember God
  • Preach the gospel to the pastors
  • Preach the gospel to mom
  • Preach the gospel to me and my sisters
  • Be a model in his life
  • Rebuke people if they do wrong
  • Have patience and love

And I guess that’s the ministry in a nutshell, isn’t it?

January 04, 2012

I fell asleep last night thinking about Mike. Mike was a friend and colleague, something of a mentor in the first real job I had after graduating from college. I met Mike on the first day at that new job and it didn’t take long for us to click. We were never great friends—we didn’t call one another on the weekends or get our families together (though we sometimes talked about it)—but for several years, as long as the job lasted, we were friends at the office.

We had a lot in common, the two of us, though Mike was a few years older and in management while I was younger and nowhere near management. Mike knew of this great little Italian restaurant not too far from the office and we would often go there for lunch together, devising creative ways of making and losing wagers on who would pay for the meal. A sports nut, he would often make paying contingent on a team that won or lost, whether that team was winning or losing at hockey, football, baseball or pretty much any other game (we drew the line at wrestling). Sometimes we would go to the local driving range at lunch and hit a bucket or two of balls—still another way of determining who would pay for lunch the next time around.

We also had in common our dedication to family. We had gotten married within a couple of years of one another and we had children that were just about the same ages. In an office full of young guys who were still sowing their wild oats, so to speak, Mike and I were more dedicated to family than to fun. When all the other guys went to a local “gentlemen’s club” to celebrate a birthday or promotion, Mike and I would go to the Italian place, eat lasagna, and talk about our kids.

Mike and I sometimes talked about the things that matter most—sin and Saviors and salvation. A lapsed Anglican, Mike was not too interested in talking about faith. It’s not that he was outwardly hostile or combative; he was simply indifferent, polite.

One day our small, privately-owned company was purchased by a giant American corporation. We were promised stock options and insurance plans and all kinds of perks. Instead we were handed pink slips. The whole branch was shut down; the technology was taken south and the staff was laid off. Mike and I went our separate ways. I didn’t see him for the next couple of years. We emailed occasionally, but no more than that.

But after a couple of years had passed I got an email from Mike’s wife. Mike had come down with a cough and then a severe backache with that cough. A trip to the doctor raised the terrifying prospect of cancer; a trip to the specialist revealed the ugly truth of a virulent form of leukemia. The doctors gave him less than a 20% chance of survival. His wife wrote to ask if I would pray. She was desperate and afraid and knew me as the guy who prayed. So I prayed.

October 29, 2011

One of the unique features of this blog is the little counter down in the bottom right of the site. It’s a little feature that simply increments by 1 number each day. Today it stands at 2,920.

What this means is that it was 2,920 days ago that I decided to make this blog an every day affair. Divide 2,920 by 365 and you get 8, which means that it has now been 8 years since I made that decision to blog every day (and since I began to keep that commitment). Even though this site dates back to September of 2002, which is when I registered the domain name challies.com, it was about a year later that the blog really became what it is today—or, at least, that it began to become whatever it is today.

It was back then, at the very end of October 2003, that I decided to blog every day for a year. Even though the site had been in existence for a year, it was not going very well. I wasn’t at all committed to the site and was adding a new article only every week or two. I decided that I needed to either make it into something worthwhile or just give up and find something else to do with my time. I set the challenge: I would blog every day for a year or I would throw in the towel and find a new hobby. So I set out with the daily blogging. It wasn’t always easy and the results weren’t always good, but things improved over the course of the year. When the end of that first year came around, I decided to recommit to the daily writing and have done so ever since.

Some people have suggested I need to ditch this counter—that it is in some way prideful. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a little bit of the site’s history and something that I’d hesitate to remove. Yes, 2,920 seems like a silly number, but I guess it just reminds me of when the number was 2 or 200 or 365—when I was using it as motivation to slog through another day on my goal to 1 year of daily blogging. I hardly ever look at it anymore, but I’m glad that it’s there, day after day, slowly incrementing just like it’s done every day for 8 years.

October 07, 2011

It has been busy days around here. As you know, I spent last week on the road, speaking in Boston and Los Angeles. Today I am spending just 1 day in Dallas to speak at another of the Psalm 119 conferences. And then it will be a while before I am on the road again. Speaking opportunities seem to come largely in the spring and the fall, which means they are grouped together into a few months of the year. I do enjoy speaking, but I’m always happiest at home.

While I was away last week, Aileen did a bit of home reno. She got a couple of friends together, tore out the floors in our living room and dining room (they were old parquet floors that were well past their prime) and hauled it all off to the dump. On Monday she and I laid new subfloor. And then yesterday afternoon she just went ahead and laid the new flooring. I was traveling, unfortunately, so really wasn’t any help. I’m rather looking forward to getting home to see what the floors look like. I guess next week I’ll try to help her as we do baseboards and finishing. Good times. It’s good to be married to an omnicapable wife.

I mentioned last week that we got a new puppy—a little Chocolate Labrador Retriever. She’s rather cute and fun and energetic. She’s also pretty much incontinent which tends to temper the fun a little bit. Why didn’t anyone warn me about this? She also chewed right through the power cable on my laptop without electrocuting herself, which is kind of impressive. Either way, I would have thought that one of you would have warned me about these things.

I’m off to the conference to preach on the gospel and spiritual discernment.

October 04, 2011

It is a common theme in the Christian world. A man is called to the ministry in the local church and over time proves to be a man who can build a church, a man who leads or preaches in such a way that a church grows up around him. His popularity results in book contracts and opportunities to speak at conferences and at other churches. Perhaps he establishes a parachurch ministry along the way. And then, one day, still in his prime years, he gives up the pulpit to focus on writing and speaking and other interests. He leaves that local church behind and leaves pastoral ministry with it.

It happens and it happens quite regularly. Having traveled widely and having spoken at many different churches and for many different conferences, I can understand the attraction (while granting, of course, that any success or accolades I’ve experienced pale in comparison to so many other men). I can understand why and how people could give up leading the local church in favor of the speaking circuit. I began to think about this as Rob Bell announced his resignation from Mars Hill just as I set out for 6 days of speaking engagements at a conference, a college and a church.

Of course I cannot judge any other man’s motives. Unless a man chooses to reveal his reasons, I do not know why he decides to leave the pastorate to pursue writing or speaking or a combination of the two. However, though I cannot judge another person’s motives, I know that to some extent I can judge my own. And if I were to leave the pastorate to be a speaker and author, I think I know why I would do so.

September 29, 2011

The dogLast night I returned safe and sound from all of my travels. I thoroughly enjoyed the speaking trip, but as always, it was wonderful to return home. I came home not only to my family, but to that new dog I surprised my kids with (am 8-week old Chocolate Lab). I figured I should include a fun photo of myself with the dog, but the silly thing fell asleep as soon as I picked her up. Nevertheless, here she is. She doesn’t have a name yet, but I assume we’ll figure that out soon enough. The kids are lobbying for “Brownie” or “Sienna.” I’m not a big fan of either, but I’m not sure that I actually get a vote.

Also, I mentioned earlier in the week that I had been out on a photo shoot for a magazine story that is coming up early next year. My friend Lukas Van Dyke decided to get all whimsical and hauled a desk and chair into the hills of California. Here is what that part of the photo shoot looked like from a little ways up the hill (my friend Steve took photos of the photos). I’m looking forward to seeing what Lukas puts together.

Photo Shoot

Now that I’m home, I’m gearing up to officiate a wedding on Saturday and then to begin a 3-part sermon series on Jonah the week after. There is always lots going on around here!

September 28, 2011

It was a busy day, yesterday, my last full day down here in California. Or out here in California. Or whatever the proper terminology is. I spent most of the morning preparing my chapel talk for today, eventually settling on a message about distraction in the digital age. I was asked to speak as much as possible about technology and Christian living, so thought this would address a genuine concern most students have—or at least a genuine problem they are dealing with. I’ll be preaching that message in just a few minutes. It’s not expositional, but draws on Scripture throughout.

After preparing that message (and finally taking care of my In-N-Out fix), I headed for The Master’s College. But back to In-N-Out for a moment. In-N-Out is a great California burger chain. I went through the drive-through and they asked me, “Will you be eating in the car.” Because I replied “yes,” they gave me a place mat to put over my knees and then put the food in a kind of tray; the burger was wrapped in such a way that it could be eaten with one hand. I was duly impressed. And kind of surprised. And kind of grossed out. What does it say about us as a society that restaurants are serving food in packaging specifically to be eaten in the car? Nevertheless, I went ahead and ate it, and enjoyed every bite.

Back to The Master’s College. I was given a tour around the grounds and told all about the philosophy behind the school. What a great college. It has 1010 students and is at maximum capacity until they build some new dorms. The student-to-teacher ratio is ultra-low which means academic levels are ultra-high. I was duly impressed and kind of felt a bit envious that I never got to experience this kind of a school. I’d be thrilled if my kids wanted to come out here some day.