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December 31, 2007

We spent our new year’s eve on the road. We got up at three o’clock this morning and scraped the frost off the windshield (frost in Chattanooga?) before hitting the road very shortly after four. Nobody should ever be awake at that hour. It’s just a bad idea. The children were simply hauled out of bed and shoved into their booster seats. Thankfully they went back to sleep (even if they did awake a few hours later complaining of neck aches). We got almost to Cincinnati before stopping for breakfast, but experienced a slower journey after that. Still, we were just over fourteen hours door-to-door which is a pretty good deal, we think. We’re finally home safe and sound. The house is still standing and my fish are still alive. A neighbor had kindly agreed to gather the stacks of books and paraphernalia that inevitably showed up while we were away. And so we’re home. It was a good trip and a good time away. But home is always best.

We knew that we were coming home to empty fridge and empty pantry so wanted to stop by the grocery store. We pulled into the parking lot precisely one minute after they locked the doors (they are a 24 hour shop but closed early today since it’s new year’s eve). We drove fourteen hours and missed by one minute. D’oh! We did an inventory of the food we’ve got left and it’s basically nothing. We’ll be scrounging until the stores open again on Monday. Noodles with nothing on them, anyone? Happy New Year! Maybe we’ll make it a new family tradition. (Just kidding, of course. We are pleased to have traveled home safely and will be grateful for what we’ve got).

I had lots and lots of time to think while driving today, and here are a few of the things that were rattling around in my mind.

Paul Washer

The Reality Check Conference gave me the opportunity to experience the teaching ministry of Paul Washer. I really enjoyed it, on the whole, and learned a lot from him. He’s given me lots of things to think about in the days to come. He’s passionate (by which I mean he yells a lot) and very motivated to help Christians, and young Christians in particular, to avoid the trappings of empty evangelicalism. I hope and pray my children are able to sit under teaching like that when they are teens. My only reservation is that he often seems to overstate things. For example, he said that if anyone were to speak to his six year old boy about having a crush on girls, he would grab that person by the neck and throw him up against the wall. A bit extreme perhaps? Another time he essentially mocked boys who play video games, seemingly suggesting that such games are never a worthy activity. This kind of blanket statement and extreme statement seemed to take away rather than add to his points. I love his passion and would not want him to temper that aspect of his ministry. But I’d also love to see him perhaps stop just a bit short of some of the more extreme statements. Young and impressionable people are listening! Beyond that small concern, I very much appreciated his ministry and look forward to hearing him again in the future. If I were a pastor or youth leader I would not hesitate to ask him to speak to my congregation nor would I hesitate to recommend him to others.


I still dislike Ohio. If I were to give the state a new motto it would be “The Out to Get You State.” For Kentucky I’d suggest “We Burn Stuff” (since there are always fires burning in Kentucky, it seems) and for Tennessee “Closed At Five.”


All up and down the I-75 are stores that seemingly sell nothing but fireworks (and DVDs of firework displays. Whee!). I’ve never seen any cars at these stores and, despite having spent at least a month out of the past year in the United States, have never once seen or heard any evidence of a person using fireworks. And so I wonder, what are these stores a front for? If they aren’t selling fireworks, and the evidence seems to point to no fireworks being sold, how do these people make money and what do they do all day? What are they really selling and who shops there? Inquiring minds would like to know…


When we arrived home Aileen called her mother to let her know we had made it through. We found out that we arrived just hours ahead of a snowstorm that is set to drop ten to fifteen centimeters of snow over the area we were driving. I’m glad we made it ahead of that. Thank the Lord for small providences.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and be sure to watch out for that “other guy” on the road tonight…

December 29, 2007

I’ve been sick before and after conferences, but never during one. Until today, that is. In this morning’s session I started to feel a little bit under the weather, but thought it may have just been the heat (the conference room is pretty warm). I thought I’d head outdoors to see if I felt better when out in the cooler air. My wife and children were wandering the city today, so I joined them for a while. But I still felt rotten to just headed back to the hotel and decided to crash out for a bit. Hopefully it was just something I ate because I’m feeling a bit better and am hoping that a good night’s sleep will put things to rights. Unfortunately this meant I had to miss this evening’s proceedings. Sorry that I had to do this. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and will be able to bring an update from the conference’s conclusion. I’m also due to speak at a local church tomorrow evening and would like to feel healthy as I do that! Your prayers would be appreciated.

December 27, 2007

It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do my weekly John Owen “Reading the Classics Together” post today. And for that I apologize. Being away from home has completely disrupted my ability to keep this site operating as it usually does. I’m a routine-based person, it seems, and being away from my usual day-to-day life really changes my ability to do what I usually do. I woke up very early this morning and, with a touch of panic, my first thought was, “Today is John Owen day.” Yet I haven’t read the chapter carefully yet. In fact, I haven’t even thought of doing so. Most weeks I read it at least twice prior to Thursday morning and once more write before I write about it. This week I haven’t even thought about the book. I blame the disruption of my routine.

I’m a routine-driven guy. Case in point: my side of the bed. A few weeks before our youngest was born Aileen and I began planning how we would restructure certain parts of our lives to accommodate an entirely helpless infant. As we did with our first two children, and to the great chagrin of all the Ezzo followers out there, we decided to have the baby sleeping in our room for the first few weeks (or months, depending on how soon we would get tired of having a baby in such close proximity). Because the master bedroom in our new house was oriented differently than in our old house, we realized that, for sake of convenience, it might be easiest if Aileen and I changed sides of the bed. That way, when she needed to nurse the baby at night, she would not have to climb over or around me. So on Friday night we changed sides. I didn’t sleep. On Saturday night we tried again. I didn’t sleep. Finally, in the middle of the night, when my tossing and turning had woken her up, we switched back. I slept like a baby. My routine survived.

My ability to carry on normal operations on this site depends on routine, I guess. As soon as I travel, I find that the time I usually spend reading the Bible, praying, reading good books, reflecting on life, and so on, is very hard to come by. I stay up late yacking with my siblings and then sleep in late the next morning. When I’m usually writing, I’m now sleeping. When I’m usually sleeping I’m now talking. Of course it’s great to have some time off and time away from the day-to-day, but it certainly does impact my ability to keep this site going.

So please just hang on for a few more days as I continue to focus on lighter fare at this site. Beginning tomorrow I’ll be spending the weekend at the Reality Check Conference and look forward to bringing some good updates from what promises to be a really interesting event. Sunday evening I’ll be speaking at Lyndon Avenue Baptist Church in Chattanooga. Monday I’ll be driving home. Tuesday is New Years and then on Wednesday life returns to normal. As much as I love being away and love being with family, it will be good to be home and it will be good to be back to my beloved routine.

December 25, 2007

It has been a long but good day here in Woodstock, GA. We got up early and had the kids dig into their stockings. Then, once family had arrived from far and wide, we got busy opening what looked like just an obscene amount of gifts (there are, after all, eighteen people involved). After a great breakfast, a few of the menfolk (mostly) headed downstairs to package up copies of my book to be sent all around the world.


That’s my brother-in-law Rick checking labels against the spreadsheet, me stuffing books into envelopes, my brother-in-law Justin putting the 3 cent stamps on, my dad putting on the rest of the stamps, and my brother-in-law Pat writing “Media Mail” in hundreds of envelopes. It wasn’t fun work, but we had a good time. Or I did, anyways.

We got most of the tough work done and it remains just to take all of those books to the post office tomorrow.

Anyways, from my clan to yours, have a very Merry Christmas…


December 24, 2007

I’ve seen a few blogs where the authors are outlining their Christmas traditions. I’ve also been asked by some readers what my Christmas includes. So I thought I’d let you in on the Challies family Christmas. The way Aileen and I celebrate Christmas is a bit of a blend of two family traditions.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, 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 actually quite similar. So our Christmas traditions include little by the way of reading nativity stories (though we did that on occasion) 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. That means we have (at the moment) 18 people gathering together. The off years, where we celebrate at our own at home, is a lot quieter but maybe not quite so much fun.

On Christmas Eve we usually just enjoy appetizers and snacks and try to get the children to bed at a good hour. And we tend to turn in fairly early as well as we know the next day will begin early. We might watch a movie or play a game or just hang out. Just before bed we lay out the stockings and make sure the gifts are where they need to be. There’s no mention of Santa.

Christmas morning we begin with stockings for the children and then eat a breakfast of croissants and bacon and egg rings (which my mom makes). 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 get to work and begin opening gifts, moving from youngest to oldest and going round after round. After a few rounds order inevitably gets thrown the wind and we just open whatever is left. Then we begin to look towards the afternoon and begin work on a turkey dinner (which we try to convince my brother-in-law to make since he cooks up a mean turkey). We tend to spend the day fairly quietly, just enjoying family and lots of good food. There’s inevitably a game or two going on and some music playing. We eat together and then head our separate ways. This year we’re beginning what we hope will be a new tradition by heading out the day after Christmas for a family outing (which, this year, will probably take us to the Chattanooga aquarium).

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.

December 21, 2007

Yesterday morning (shortly after posting my John Owen post, as it happens) we bundled the family into the car and began to drive south. Far south. We are on our way to Atlanta to spend some time with my family. Yesterday we made it from Toronto all the way to almost the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. I’m writing today from a hotel that I believe is in a town called Corbin or something like that. I must have had a little too much Coke yesterday (I’m not a coffee drinker so Coke gives me my caffeine for the highway) because I didn’t sleep very well and then woke up early. I thought I’d get some writing done while the family catches up on lost sleep.

As I lay in bed last night I was thinking about how long this drive is (16 hours each way, or so) and how easy it would be to waste that entire 16 hours. I determined before we left that I was going to try to take advantage of the time and to that end packed some good audio books—Max McLean’s recording of The Pilgrim’s Progress and an audio version of Desiring God. Aileen the supermom packed a great bag of goodies for the kids—coloring books and stories, stickers and stamps, and nearly everything else a kid could want to use up some of the long hours. The kids haven’t quite yet caught onto the joy of traveling games—counting out of state plates, etc. But they had a good time with their treat bags and with a couple of DVDs as well. I didn’t listen to as much as the audio books as I might have liked, but did make some progress through The Pilgrim’s Progress since I thought the children would be more likely to enjoy that than Desiring God.

I’m determined that we’ll make the most of these two drives and thought I would ask you what you do to keep from wasting your drives. Every family, I think, sooner or later does a ridiculously long drive. If you’ve done that, why not share what you do to redeem some of that time. I’d be eager to learn.

November 23, 2007

Every now and again I get concerned that people are going to think this blog is getting too commercialized—that I keep trying to sell you things. I’m not into blogging for that. But sometimes it’s fun to talk about things like this, so bear with me. Today I’m going to talk about Christmas music and offer up some suggestions.

A few of my favorite blogs have been offering Christmas music suggestions. I don’t think lists of favorites get much more eclectic than those for Christmas music. After all, there are so many available that people can search far and wide and far across genres to make their picks. David’s picks range from The Master’s College Choral to Nat King Cole. Zach’s picks are surprisingly mainstream for Zach (and include, to my great surprise, selections by both Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant). He also goes with Harry Connick Jr., Charlie Brown, and Kevin Max.

I am not a big fan of Sufjan Stevens and his rather weird music, but I do think his Christmas set Songs for Christmas (42 songs across 5 EPs) is an amazing set and one you probably haven’t heard before. He sings plenty of the traditional songs interspersed with some of his own. Songs like “I Saw Three Ships” (disc 2), “Once in David’s Royal City” (disc 2) and “The Friendly Beasts” (disc 3) are done very, very well. With five albums recorded over five years, there is something for everyone on these CDs. I love ‘em! The set comes with “a 42-page booklet with an original Christmas essay by acclaimed American novelist Ricky Moody, two essays, a short story by Stevens, a holiday sticker, chord charts, lyrics, comic strip, family portrait poster, photos, and an animated video.”

Christmas Songs is the latest album by Jars of Clay and one that showed up just in time for Christmas. The guys, who are among the most talented musicians in all of Christian music, provide fourteen songs, some of which are classics and some of which are originals.

Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man was released last year by Sovereign Grace Ministries. You’ve probably seen ads for it running on this site. It offers twelve original songs by Bob Kauflin, Mark Altrogge, and the other Sovereign Grace musicians.

City on a Hill: It’s Christmas is an entry in the City on a Hill series and one that brings some Christmas favorites and a few originals by bands like Caedmon’s Call, Jars Of Clay, Third Day and Sixpence None The Richer.

If you’re in the mood for some lighter fare, Relient K’s Let it Snow Baby, Let it Reindeer is kind of fun. It has seventeen songs, some of which are the typical holiday favorites and some of which are Matt Theissen’s typical Relient K tunes. At the very least, it’s a fun album to listen to! If you bought 2003’s Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand you’ve already got half the songs. If you like that, you may also enjoy the Gloria EP by Hawk Nelson.

Of course it’s not Christmas if you don’t listen to at least one Trans-Siberian Orchestra album at least once. I’m kind of partial towards The Lost Christmas Eve. And you’ll need to listen to Handel’s Messiah at least one time as well. Better yet, read it and keep a Bible handy as you do so.

Those are my picks. What are your favorite Christmas albums?

November 02, 2007

All Scripture is breathed out by God…

In my personal devotions I’ve recently begun a study of Esther. Since it is a short book and one that is entirely narrative, I do not anticipate being in the book for long—probably just about one day per chapter. Esther is probably best known among Christians as being a book of the Bible that never mentions God, either explicitly or even implicitly. But though His name is never mentioned, His hand is all over the book. His name does not need to be mentioned for us to see Him in, over and behind the story. His providence and His care for His people is as clear in Esther as it would be if His name was mentioned throughout.

Yet it’s still easy to miss God in the story. The evidence of this is in how little attention we give to this book. It is rarely spoken of and rarely preached. I don’t know if, through all my years of going to church, I’ve ever heard a sermon that looked primarily to Esther. But there is a reason that Esther is in the Bible. Like each of the other sixty five books, its author is God—the God who is unafraid to leave His name out of this story.

A few weeks ago I spent a few days staying at the home of my aunt and uncle. They live in the countryside, far from any major urban center. They embrace country living, growing vegetables on their farm, allowing a giant, furry, stinky dog to roam and protect the property, and keeping a small collection of potent firearms. While not a seasoned hunter, my uncle does enjoy heading out into his property to chase down the occasional deer. One evening he and I sat outside while he grilled some steaks and he told of how he killed a deer on his property the year before. After killing it, he knew that he would need to figure out how to butcher the thing. So he loaded it onto a little tractor and drove it up to his barn. There he hoisted it up so it hung from a rafter, and he set to work.

Thankfully, he had had the foresight to get a copy of a book that gave step-by-step instructions on how to properly butcher the deer and prepare the meat. As he described the butchering process, he disappeared into the house for a moment and returned with the book. I began to flip through it, turning past chapters on how to butcher cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, raccoons and chickens. It wasn’t hard to tell when I came to the portion on butchering a deer—those pages were covered in blood. Obviously my uncle had kept this book with him through the butchering process and had turned to it often. There were bloody fingerprints on the edges and drops of blood smeared across the pages. It looked well-used. Apparently it served as a good guide because my uncle managed to properly butcher the deer and prepare it for eating. The week we were there he was preparing a pit in which he could smoke the meat from the next deer that found itself in his crosshairs.

I thought about that book later and thought about the difference between the pages that are covered with blood and those that are still pristine (and which will no doubt remain that way until a hapless sheep happens to wander through my uncle’s property during hunting season). I thought of that book as I began my study of Esther, pondering the difference between the pages that show evidence of use and those that do not. There are some pages in my Bible that are covered in blood, so to speak. They are pages that I use to proclaim or defend my faith; they are pages with verses that uplift and inspire; they are the pages with verses that people like to adapt as their “life verses.” I turn to these pages often and love to learn from them.

But then there is Esther. I’ve rarely turned to the book at all. There is no blood on the pages of Esther, at least in my Bible. There is little evidence that I have learned from those pages and that I use them to bolster my faith. There is little evidence that I have used those pages to teach me more about the God I serve. But even from this brief study (in which I’m being guided by the commentary of Iain Duguid) I’m learning again that God didn’t put any unnecessary chapters or any empty narratives in His book. After all, this is the God who says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Even Esther, the book that does not mention God, is given for teaching, reproof, correction and for training in righteousness. It exists to make me competent and equipped to live in the way God wants me to live.

I’ve become convicted that I can’t leave Esther until there is some blood on those pages.