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September 25, 2007

This blog passes a milestone…

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day I began this web site. In September of 2002, the first month this site was in operation—just a little blog dedicated to sharing pictures of my children with family members who had moved far away—it had two visitors, my mother and my wife. And I thought that was just fine. Just five years later, in September of 2007, the pictures of my family are long gone from the site and I expect nearly 200,000 people to take in at least one of its articles. And that’s fine too. I had no expectations for the site when I first registered the domain challies.com, but had I taken the time to dream a little I’m confident I could never have imagined so many people would make it a part of their lives. I find it profoundly humbling. I did not set out to create a blog that anyone beyond my family would care to read. Having said that, I am grateful that God has seen fit to so bless the site and I now seek to be a faithful steward of the responsibility with which He has entrusted me. It’s been quite the ride. And I suspect it’s only just begun.

When I look back to the history of my blog I can see that the site began to gain a bit of momentum and became much more valuable to me—much more of a pleasure to me—just at the time God graciously taught me that the site is not primarily a forum for me to voice my opinion, as if that is worth anything, but rather that it represents an opportunity to serve the church. It was then that I began to focus attention on directing people to resources beyond the site—to other blogs, to other ministries, and to books, resources and services that can benefit the church. It was then that I began to turn the focus from myself and turned it instead to the church. Long-time readers may note that it was about this time that I turned away from “watch-blogging” and moved instead towards what I hope is a more biblical form of discernment. It has been this desire, the desire to serve God by serving the church, that has led me to invest so much time and effort in this blog.

It’s that desire that keeps me going. And I do intend to keep going. I love blogging and intend to keep it up for the long haul. I love writing. These words, drawn from the Acknowledgments section of the book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church continue to inspire and motivate me. “Writing … is sweet fellowship with the Lord. He instructs me as I write. If no one ever reads it, His purpose has been accomplished in my own soul. I am satisfied. If He is pleased to use it in the lives of others, may He be glorified.”

At least one thing is going to change around here. As traffic to the blog has increased and as my responsibilities to it have grown accordingly (to say nothing of Discerning Reader!), I’ve become increasingly aware of my inability to provide the quality (and to some degree, the quantity) of content I would like to be able to create. At the same time I’ve begun to realize the potential difficulties I face in attempting to balance writing with providing an income to care for my family through my full-time occupation as a self-employed web designer. There are so many things I would like to be able to do, but so little time as I have to dedicate myself primarily to web design.

I feel that God has entrusted me with a unique ministry through my blog (and through Discerning Reader) but increasingly feel unable to give it my very best. There are hundreds of articles I would like to write for the blog and so many ways in which I’d like to support ministries and to support other bloggers, but time fails me to even attempt many of the things I’d so like to do. I receive many important and thoughtful emails, but am often unable to dedicate the time to crafting similarly thoughtful replies. As the release of my book draws near I am receiving increased invitations to speak, to participate in conferences and radio programs and to write for other publications.

So I’ve made the decision that I am going to begin running a few advertisements on the blog. I have been very hesitant to do so in the past, but can see that circumstances are now making it a near-necessity. So in the coming weeks you’ll start to see some ads show up. I hate to do this in some ways, but just feel the time has come. I hope you’ll keep an eye on the ads, clicking them and making this experiment a success!

It is my hope and prayer that this will allow me to dedicate more time and attention to writing content that will serve the church, thus serving the Lord of the church. I’m going to keep writing, praying that God will continue to work in me as I do so. And I hope that He grants grace that I can study His Word and share with you some of what He has been teaching me. So stick around; I think we’re only just getting warmed up around here.

As I wrap up for the day, I know I would be remiss to neglect thanking you, the reader of this site. Your prayers and support and gifts and encouragement have blessed me immeasurably over the years. I’m grateful to count many of you as friends and eagerly anticipate getting to know more of you as time goes on. You are a blessing to me.

SDG.

P.S.- Here’s a picture my friend Peter sent me this morning. He’s obviously getting an early start on celebrating the site’s birthday…

Peter

July 26, 2007

Aileen and I were blessed, when we first began dating, to be members of a church where there were many elderly couples. They were couples who exemplified so many beautiful qualities. Christians for decades, they shone with the light of Christ and were living proof that, though physical beauty fades with the years, true inner beauty grows with every year spent in and through Christ. They had a life, a glow, a presence that drew us to them. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a church where the young people were so eager to spend time with the elderly. We loved them and wanted to be like them.

Even today Aileen and I remember these couples fondly and remember what a joy it was just to be with them and just to see them living their lives together, more in love with each other in old age than at any other time. As the years went by they grew increasingly dependent on each other and we could see that the two more and more became one.

I thought of these couples again when I recently bumped into “Dear Bobbie,” a song by the band Yellowcard. I really know nothing of the band beyond this one song, so if they are really militant fundamentalist Mormons, well, don’t take this as an endorsement of them or of any of their other music. The song is based on a letter from the singer’s grandfather that was addressed to his wife of 58 years. It is structured around three portions of the letter read by the now 87 year old man. He reads them in a trembly, distinctly ancient voice. But he speaks of days long gone by—“I remember pleated skirts, black and white saddle shoes.” He speaks of the things he remembers about the woman he loves; the woman who has shared his life. While I love the lyrics, they really are somewhat impotent without the accompanying music, so you may want to blow $0.99 at iTunes just to listen in.

Dear Bobbie,

Do you remember when you were young and very pretty? I do, I remember pleated skirts, black and white saddle shoes. Do you remember dancing half the night? I do, I still think of you when we dance, although we cant jitterbug as we did then.

Do you remember when
How long has it been
1945 you opened my blue eyes
To see a whole new life
Do you remember when
I told you this that night,
That if you’re by my side
When everyday begins
I’ll fall for you again
I made a promise when
I told you this that night

I’ll be fine
When I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
When I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

Do you remember the times we would give up on each other and get back together? We finally was married in 1949. We drove the yellow convertible on our honeymoon. Do you remember? I do.

Life has led us here
Together all these years
This house that we have made
Holds 20,000 days
And memories we’ve saved
Since life has led us here

And I’ll be fine
Cause when I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
Cause when I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

I’m coming home to you
Slipping off my shoes
Resting in my chair
See you standing there
The silver in your hair
I’m coming home to you
When I lay tonight, when I close my eyes
I know the sun will rise
Here or the next life
As long as you’re still mine, then its alright

I’ll be fine
Cause when I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
Cause when I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

You have gray hair now but you’re a beautiful women and the years have been good to both of us. We walk slow now, but we still have each other. The glue of love is still bonding us together. Love is what I remember. Do you remember?

There is something so haunting, so beautiful, about hearing a lifetime of memories shared between people that had been knit together for so long. This song captures well that beauty. It reminds me of those wonderful old men and women who invested in us when we were so young and just beginning the long journey together. It reminds me of the way they looked at each other, deep into each other’s eyes, seeing there so much that they loved and treasured. I can’t help but wonder what I’ll remember.

July 23, 2007

I’m on vacation this week. Aileen and I are perched in a nice little cottage just over a dune from a beautiful beach. The cottage is great. It has electricity and all kinds of good amenities, but no phone and no access to the internet. There is a television but it is useful only as a means of playing DVDs and receives no channels. My cell phone only picks up a roaming signal out of the U.S.(which we can see just across the lake) so I’m not about to call anyone. All-in-all it’s a beautiful thing. The only way of getting on the Internet is to drive a few minutes to a nearby town and visit the public library (or, I suppose, drive around looking for a wireless internet conection at a cafe or hotel). Since we’ve been here I’ve spent a maximum of fifteen minutes a day wired in to the world, this in comparison to the usual ten or twelve hours a day when I’m at home. I check my email, make sure my site is alive and well, see how badly the Blue Jays got beaten the day before, and make a brief check of the important news feeds at my Netvibes account. Then I shut down and return to my isolated existence.

It has been a good experience. I don’t miss the internet nearly as much as I might have thought had I known long in advance that there would be no access here. In fact, I’ve felt a certain freedom here. Some time ago I told Aileen that lately I’ve felt something of a captive to technology. I’ve been unable to get away from the phone, the cell phone, email, the internet and all the other forms of communication. This is a problem inherent, I suppose, when both my job (web design) and my hobby (blogging) depend upon the internet. Much of my communication with friends and family also takes place through the Net. Thus it’s very easy for work to intrude into leisure and leisure to intrude into work. My workdays can quickly become wrapped up in all kinds of person concerns as I respond to emails and blog posts while I should be working. My evenings are rarely quite as relaxing as I’d like as it seems that there is always something popping up, something I need to head online to solve. I told Aileen that I had decided not to check email in the evenings (or not as often at any rate) and that I had to try to separate work from the rest of life, something that isn’t always easy to do when a person works from home as I do. This vacation has forced this upon me and I’ve found that I like it.

Technology is largely a good thing, I’m sure. I’m convinced that part of our mandate for this world includes creating and enjoying new kinds of technology. But while these technological advancements can certainly do a lot to make life easier and better, they also have a way of making life more complicated. They extend our work days and worm their way into our leisure, at least if we allow them to. I’ve found that it is important to create boundaries between work and leisure and the only way of doing this, I think, at least in my case, is to be deliberate about creating space and time where technology does not intrude.

This vacation has shown me that surviving without internet and without being always-available isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem. It is more a matter of willpower than necessity. I’ve found that I like being away from the internet for a time and that it gives me more time to do things that somehow seem less important but are, in reality, more so.

July 20, 2007

Featuring…You?

Way back near the end of 2005 I began the feature I called “King for a Week,” where I highlight another person’s blog for a week or two (perhaps the name was not the best choice, but it’s too late to change it now). I’m glad I did this and, though I’ve pretty well exhausted my list of long-time regular reads, I plan to continue with it. But I realize that there are many readers who do not have blogs (or who have a life beyond their blogs) and I thought it would be fun to find a way of featuring some of your contributions to the kingdom. Thus I’m interested in connecting with people who are involved in some kind of creative endeavor—perhaps music, art, photography, short stories, poetry or the like. I think even of landscaping or fashion or any other pursuit that involves creating things for the glory of God. If you fit the bill (or know someone who does), why don’t you send me an email and we can talk about this feature. I’d love to have the opportunity to showcase your creations and the ways you serve the Lord with your talents.

A New Look

Every now and again, I guess it is about once per year on average, I update the look of this site. I do this for various reasons, but usually because a) I am easily bored with my designs, b) the sites serves, in part, as a gateway to my web design company and it is important to keep it looking fresh or c) the nature of the site changes a bit over time and there is something I wish to emphasize that cannot easily be done with the current design. I guess all of these reasons have come together this time. Especially, though, I’ve had to prepare for the lead-up to the book, knowing that I’ll need to make the book available through the site and begin to “promote” it in some way. I think the new design lends itself to that task a little better. I am also considering integrating my company site with the blog. Put all of that together, and it makes sense to move to a new design, I think.

I’ve been tossing around this new design for a while, bouncing it off Facebook friends and just about anyone else who cares to give it a look. On the whole it has been positively received and I hope to move to it about a week from now. Half of you will probably hate it (half always do when I change designs) but you’ll just have to trust it’s for a good cause! Even if you don’t like the look quite as much, I think you’ll agree that the functionality is improved.

Commenting

If you are one of the readers who comments on occasion you’ll know that the commenting system is running a bit slowly. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I think I may be maxing out the server the site is on, though I don’t really know how this could be. I can’t figure out why else things would be running slowly. A new version of Movabletype (my blogging software) is expected soon and I will upgrade and hope it helps solve the problems. If not I may consider changing hosts or potentially moving to Wordpress or something similar. Either way, I don’t like waiting 45 seconds for comments to appear any more than you do. And, while that is annoying, what is worse is when people figure nothing has happened and hit the button a couple more times! So I’ll see what I can do.

Less Fun

I think it is time to drop the “Putting the fun in fundamentalism” tag that has accompanied this site since its infancy. That tag actually followed me to the blog from an online community I used to be involved with. I took it on before I really understand the connotations of defining myself as a fundamentalist. It’s not that I’m scared or ashamed of the word, but I’m not sure that I want the book to be associated with it! So if you have alternate suggestions, feel free to send them along!

December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.

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