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Tim Challies

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March 22, 2009

We’re on our way home. We have not been away for too long, but already we are more than ready to be back in our home, back in our natural context. We’re ready to be where we most want to be. Our vacation was great, of course. We got to see some of the United States, we got to see family and friends and Aileen and I got to get away for a couple of days to take in a great conference marked by some truly great teaching. And yet we’re ready for home.

This longing for home has been much on my mind lately. I’m sure you know what it is, what it means, to long for home. When you are somewhere other than where you most love to be, how can you do any other than long for home?

We should be there soon, if the Lord wills it. Already we have left Chattanooga and are making the long drive up the I-75. By late this afternoon we should be back in Canada and by this evening we should be back in our house. We’ll be home at last.

This week I enjoyed hearing some godly teachers discuss the holiness of God. This is a concept that is at once terrifying and comforting. It is a concept that may make me feel the need to flee from God. And yet it is also something that makes me want to flee to him. God is so holy, he is so pure, he is so “other” that to even begin to understand his holiness is to understand my sin and my inability to stand in his presence as I am. And yet to understand his mercy and his grace, shown so clearly in the cross, is to desire to be with him and to see that Savior face-to-face. To be in him is to realize that this earth is not my home, or not my true home anyway. It is just a destination along the way

There’s nothing wrong with Chattanooga, there’s nothing wrong with friends and family, and there is nothing wrong with being away. It’s just that it’s so good to be home. I’m longing for it and I’m ready for it.

March 11, 2009

Every now and again I give myself a writing assignment. Typically I write about whatever is on my mind, but occasionally, as a way of attempting to not always take the easy way out, I give myself an assignment. Yesterday I took my car to the mechanic and knew I had a couple of hours to kill while sitting in the waiting room. So I decided I’d just start writing and see what happened. A rather silly assignment, I’m sure, but one I enjoyed. Here are the less-than-stellar results.


I took my van to the mechanic today. He’s a long-time member of my church and a guy I actually trust (rather a rarity with mechanics). With a couple thousand miles of driving facing me in the coming weeks, with the van needing an oil change and with an engine light that has been lit up for several months now, I thought it would be a good idea. The plan was to get the oil changed and to replace the EGR valve. I don’t know what an EGR is or does, but the mechanic assured me that replacing it would make the engine light go away. Seems fair to me. I do know that a faulty EGR valve (and the associated engine light) won’t make the van explode or burst into flame or otherwise self-destruct, but it does mean that if something else goes wrong, I may not know since the engine light is already booked solid. So it was time to get that valve fixed. Simple, right? An oil change and a valve swap and I’m out of here!

But you know the way these things go. My mechanic, like most, is not content to let me go until he has pocketed all of my money. After a few minutes he popped his head into the waiting room and told me that my (new!) tires (that I bought elsewhere) are showing uneven wear. I don’t need to do anything right away, but I’ll need to deal with it soon. “Dunslop” tires he called them, to go along with my “Scaryvan.” A couple of minutes later he called me into the bay and showed where my power steering fluid is leaking which, I suppose, will explain the whirring or whining sound I often hear at low speeds. I don’t know much about cars, but I was able to verify that it was, indeed, leaking. The suggested fix is around $700 (and involves replacing a rack or something; the luggage rack maybe?) but he’s going to try a cheaper alternative for me that involves some kind of additive and regular monitoring of the reservoir. Then I found out that replacing the EGR valve requires removing the alternator; though the alternator is fine (I know you were concerned), removing it would take a few extra minutes. And, as you know, time is money when the van is up on the hoist. Oh, and the brakes are down to about 30% with the rotors showing some pretty bad wear. Have I been feeling any pulling as I’ve used the brakes? They don’t need to be replaced immediately, but another few months and they’ll be done; don’t be surprised if you start to feeling the pulling soon. It will be around $300 to get those done. I am still waiting for him to walk in here and say, “I’ve got some great news! We were going to charge you $300 for a new EGR valve but it turns out we found a spare one in your glove compartment. How about that!” But I’m not holding my breath.

I’m looking at the car sitting up on the hoist and kind of hoping it just falls off. Wouldn’t that be grand? Then insurance could deal with it and I wouldn’t have to get all this stuff fixed. Suddenly I find myself hoping for a fortuitous hydraulics malfunction. Come on, just tip to the right a little bit…

I think a car may be one of the great suburban evil necessities. When you’ve got three children, you have to upgrade that car to a minivan (or if you’ve got three children and little common sense, a giant SUV may serve as a replacement). I hate cars (and vans and SUVs). There is nothing else that costs so much and yet, every time you use it, it decreases in value (except your house, potentially, if you live in California or Arizona). Every time the sun sets, that car is worth less than it was when the sun rose. Every time you take it for a drive, you take a chunk out of its value. The payments stay the same month after month, the maintenance costs rise, the value falls. This is particularly true when you own a Chrysler Grand Caravan as I’m discovering just a little bit too late.

I just found out that the rear wiper is torn. At least that one is cheap and easy to replace. I’m no mechanic, but I do know how to do that, anyway. Then again, while they’ve got the car in the bay, I may as well just get them to do it.

March 09, 2009

Today I want to say a word about Christians and accountability groups or accountability partnerships. I am not sure if Christians have always spoken as much of accountability as we do today or if this has been a happy result of organizations such as Promise Keepers. I guess I have not been an adult Christian long enough to know.

I am convinced there is great benefit in Christians pursuing accountability relationships, at least in some situations. It is valuable, I believe, for Christians to meet on a regular basis to confess sin, to speak of God’s grace, to share triumphs, to ask tough questions and to pray for one another. I meet every week among a group of leaders from my church and just about every week somebody asks one of these questions: “Is there anything you really do not want to talk about?” or “Is there something you should tell us that you’re hoping nobody will ask?” These are good questions, leading questions, that cause us to probe our hearts a little bit to see if there is something we ought to confess. As leaders and potential leaders in the church, we desire transparency; we believe the Bible demands it.

As much as there has been great personal benefit in these times of accountability and in living with the specter of accountability, I’ve seen as well that there is one drawback; not surprisingly, it is a drawback related to my own sin. A little while ago I was reading a book review by Erik Raymond and thought he brought this out so succinctly. “Accountability is often quite helpful,” he said. “However, many times folks end up fearing their ‘accountability partner’ while remaining numbly void of a healthy fear of God. This does not kill the root of sin, but unwittingly increases a fear of man (idolatry).”

I know that this has been something I’ve been prone to. Because of my accountability relationships I find myself putting sin to death, or at least refusing to give in to sin and temptation of various kinds. But often, when I look to my heart, I see that my motive is hardly pure. I am motivated by not wanting to have to admit or confess such sin to another person. Every week, before we meet, we fill out a sheet that asks a variety of questions: have I been faithful to pray for the men and women of the church this week? Have any of my financial dealings failed to be filled with integrity? Have I given sufficient time to my family? Have I fallen into any kind of sexual sin? Did I take a day off this week? Though this is a helpful way of examining my week, looking back to see evidence of sin in my life and evidence of God’s grace, I know that my heart is often motivated more by a desire not to confess sin to other men than it is to honor God. In other words, I am often motivated more by fear of man than I am by a fear of God.

I’ve (quite literally) laid awake some nights, wondering what is going on in my heart that I’d be more concerned about what my friends and pastors think of me than I am by a desire to obey God. If I want to be very pragmatic, I can rejoice that at least I am not sinning; without accountability I might be more likely to give in to temptation. After all, if that were the case, only God might ever know. If no one was going to ask me whether I’ve been faithful to pray for the people of the church, I would be more likely not to pray. But I pray, at least in part because I know that I will have to answer the question, “Did you pray for the men and women of the church this week?”. But then I wonder, what kind of prayers am I offering if they are motivated by fear of man instead of obedience to God? Does God even want to hear such prayers? What if they are 50% obedience, 50% fear of man? Or 80% obedience and 20% fear or man?

I think Erik nails it when he says accountability may give opportunity not to kill the root of sin, but to actually increase a fear of man. This is not the fault of accountability, I’m sure, but of the individual’s sinful heart. It’s my fault, not accountability’s. There is some kind of idol in my life that values the acceptance of man or a desire to perform well in the eyes of man more than it desires to be obedient to God for the sake of God. At least, that’s the only explanation I can offer.

March 02, 2009

Mom always shovels the driveway. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed time and again. We live in a neighborhood that has a lot of single moms. I suppose the statistics dictate that most neighborhoods have more than their fair share of single moms. But ours seems to have an unusual amount. I think it is related to the housing prices here. We live in (quite literally) the most affordable housing in town. It is one of the very few neighborhoods in the area where a single income can support a mortgage. It is one of the few neighborhoods that is nice, that is safe and where the homes are small enough to be affordable. And so we have many young couples, many elderly couples, and many single parents. The single moms may have one child, they may have two or three. In most cases the children are teenagers, in their twenties or even in their early thirties. In almost every case there is at least one boy thirteen or older who is able-bodied. Yet in almost every case, mom is the one who shovels the driveway.

I remember being a rebellious, listless teenager. I remember how little I wanted to do much of anything for anyone else. I remember our elderly next-door neighbor had a heart attack and was unable to do any strenuous labor. We had a good snowfall one day and I was enjoying the day from the refuge of my bedroom in the basement, lying across my bed reading a book and listening to some music. My father came down and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to go upstairs, get my winter gear on and get outside to shovel the neighbor’s driveway. He gave me a figurative (and perhaps literal—my memory is a little hazy) kick in the rear-end and sent me on my way. I went outside and there was my neighbor’s wife, shoveling the drive. I pitched in and soon had it cleared. The lesson has stuck.

Dad had high expectations of me, but reasonable, biblical ones. He wanted me to be proactive in service to others; he wanted me to be looking for opportunities to serve and for opportunities to serve as a man serves; he wanted me to use my (growing) strength to serve other people.

I have a boy of my own now and I can see that some of what was in me is in him. He is a good kid, a kind soul. Yet he is sometimes as reluctant to serve as I was when I was young. I am seeking to teach him that he is to use his strength, his ability to serve others and especially to serve those who are weaker or less able than he is. It will not be long before my son is stronger than my wife. Already when they goof around together I can see that she does not have a whole lot on him. What becomes of a mom when she has children who are bigger than she is, stronger than she is, and yet with so little maturity, so little restraint? What happens when there is no one to mentor the boy, to teach him that his strength must be used to serve others?

This is a lesson a father needs to pass to his son. It’s a lesson that no one has taught to so many of the boys who live around me. A few weeks ago I saw a mother struggling with a load of groceries while her boys pushed past one another and past her to get into the house. I stopped them and told them to get back to the car to help their mother. They looked at me blankly and walked into their house, mumbling an excuse. Mom struggled down the walkway she had shoveled with the groceries she was forced to carry. Dad is long gone. There is no one to give these boys the good, swift kick to the posterior that would get them acting like men.

February 25, 2009

snapshots.jpgI have written a lot of articles through the past 6+ years of blogging. Within all of the “every day” have been a few that I consider favorites—articles that, for one reason or another, stick with me even months or years later. I’ve often thought about collecting some of those together and allowing this to serve as a kind of introduction to the site. I finally had opportunity to do just that.

And so I thought I’d offer this, Snapshots & Screenshots as a means of introducing myself and introducing what I write. It is a collection of twelve of my favorite articles; twelve of the ones I remember as I think back over the past few years. Those of you who have been reading the site for a long time may well remember some or all of those; I trust the newcomers will find something to enjoy as well.

February 18, 2009

Cell Phone Laptop

This weekend I spoke at a youth retreat in Northern Michigan. I won’t get more specific than that because, well, I can’t. I followed some vans full of teenagers from Flint and stopped where they stopped, about an hour and a half north. We settled in at this rather nice little Christian camp in what appeared to be 175 acres situated right in the middle of nowhere. It was an ideal spot for a retreat.

Almost ideal, actually. The camp was not far enough away from civilization that cell phone reception disappeared. It was weak, but it was present. And that was enough, I fear, that a lot of students were not able to retreat at all. Before we left, the youth leader asked the students if they would consider going without their phones for as much of the day as they could stand. He did not want to legislate that they had to leave their phones at home, but he did ask that they consider trying to untie themselves for at least a short while.

I must be old because I tend to use my phone as a phone (Imagine that!). Anything else I can do with it is merely supplemental; a handy bonus for desperate times. I almost never send or receive text messages and really don’t understand why I’d want to. Only on the rarest of occasions will I use it to browse the web since the access it offers is slow, tiny and restrictive. I usually just prefer to wait until I’m in front of something that can do it better. I do make the occasional exception (like the other day when Aileen and I were out and wanted to check show times at the nearby theater) but my phone is pretty much just a phone to me.

I can see, though, that for teenagers a phone is so much more. A cell phone really becomes an extension of who they are; it becomes a part of them. It is a bridge to their friends through texting or even calling, it is a bridge to the internet and a bridge to the world of social media. They can hardly separate their identity, their self-understanding, from it. And this makes me realize that for them to retreat (i.e. to go away on a youth retreat) must mean leaving the phone behind. I don’t know that today’s teens can retreat at all when the phone comes with them. After all, the whole purpose of a retreat is to get away—to get far away. When an army signals the retreat, the soldiers drop anything that holds them back, anything that weighs them down. They run for their lives. When we retreat for the good of our souls, we should be just as willing to unencumber ourselves, to leave behind whatever will weigh down our hearts and souls. A personal or youth group retreat is an opportunity to remove oneself from the usual situations, the usual contexts, and to spend time focusing on the soul. It is a time to lose some of one’s self-identity whether vocationally or as a student or in any of one’s other roles. It is almost impossible to do this, I think, when the outside world keeps beeping and buzzing and beckoning, announcing its presence. Its pull is too strong; its grip too firm.

While my cell phone does not grip me this way, I do know that other things do. One other thing does, at any rate. This weekend was not a retreat for me (or for any of the leaders up there). There was too much to do with preparing to speak six times, with trying to get to know the kids, with trying to be available to them, and so on. But if this had been a retreat for me, I can see that I would have had to leave technology behind as well. Maybe I could take my phone since it is merely a tool for me. But my computer, or at least its access to the Internet, would have to stay behind. I couldn’t properly retreat and bring the internet with me. It would be no retreat at all. My internet identity is a part of my self-identity that I’d have to leave behind if I wanted to retreat.

It is always amazing to me just how pervasive technology has become. But I’ve usually seen this by way of quantity more than quality. I’ve been amazed that I can go just about anywhere and find reception for my cell phone (and thus access to the internet) so that I almost never need to be completely unavailable to my wife should she need me (or my blog, should it need me). But rarely have I paused to consider that the pervasiveness of technology goes far deeper. It goes to my very identity so that I am something less without access the Internet. When I disconnect, a piece of me, a piece of who I am, disconnects as well. If this is true of me, who had the digital world grow up around me and who has known life without it, how much more is it true of those digital natives, the teens and kids of today who have never known anything but the digital world?

February 09, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin, a collection of historical love letters sent from one Christian lover to another. Despite feeling like a bit of a voyeur, spying on private communications, I enjoyed reading these letters, and highly recommended the book. But it got me thinking about my relationship with my wife and whether she and I will leave behind any such tangible evidence of our love for one another. We have a few letters from our courtship days, little love notes that we’d sooner die than have anyone else read, but notes that we can’t bring ourselves to throw away. I remember my mother once saying that she and my father once exchanged such letters and we were free to read them…once she and dad were dead. But these letters I sent to Aileen were from our pre-digital days. This was before we both had email accounts. Sure I still write her cards on occasion and seek to share my heart with her on pen and paper, but more often than not, if she and I are far apart, I turn to email.

I wonder what we may be losing in a digital world. Are love letters of this kind becoming relics of an age gone by? Will tomorrow’s young lovers leave behind any “hard copy” evidence of their love? Or will it all be in bits and bytes, emails, text messages and chats? When my hard drive crashes or my cell phone gets lost, am I losing all this evidence of my love for my wife and hers for me?

Is there something inherent in putting ink to paper that makes it more valuable than perhaps communicating by putting finger to keyboard and sending off an email. I began to wonder, what might this book look like in twenty or thirty years as a generation of digital natives grows older? What might we read in The Christian Lover II: Dispatches from the Digital Age?

Well, here is a chapter sharing the letters of John and Kate MacDonald, who were missionaries to China. They are both eighteen now, and these love letters will be exchanged in just a couple of years. This is an excerpt from The Christian Lover II, to be published in 2029:


Following the traditions of the time, John asked permission from Katie’s father Frank before asking Katie to marry him. He did so by text message.

John to Frank:

“I can ask Katie to marry me? I luv her”

Frank to John:


Records of text messages shows what an important occasion this was in the lives of these two lovers. Just five days later, the morning after she had accepted his invitation, John sent this to Katie:

“kate, had a great time on sat. can’t wait to see ya again soon. byeeeee! ps sorry the ring was 2 big.”

Kate’s response showed how much their relationship was built upon humor and how much joy she found in him.

“lolz! love ya lots. luv teh ring!!!!”


OK, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, I admit. But I do wonder. In all likelihood, such communication would have been quickly erased, lost forever when the cell phone ran out of memory. After all, who keeps endless archives of text messages? In this case maybe it isn’t a bad thing to see it lost. But what about those heartfelt, lengthy, deep emails a husband sends to his wife when he is traveling? They may get filed away in a “Keep” folder, but for how long? How will they be rediscovered 100 or 200 years later? What happens when the hard drive gets corrupted and the file destroyed?

Just the other day I was talking to a friend and asking if, in days past, a person had ever gone to his desk, taken out a pen and writing paper, written “LOL” on that paper, sealed it up, put a stamp on it, and run it out to a mailbox. Probably not. Yet every day I seem to receive an email or two that has no more content than that. And maybe I send one occasionally myself. Is there something inherently light, “unweighty,” about digital communication?

Roy Rosenzweig of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va has this to say: “The disappearance of letters as a source for historians is a huge loss; letters have traditionally been vital to some kinds of historical work — especially political and intellectual history.” I think love letters have been vital for children to learn about their parents and grandchildren to learn about their ancestors. And I wonder if we will be leaving anything behind for the generations that will follow us. We will leave plenty of digital evidence of our existence. But will we leave that heart-to-heart, husband-to-wife evidence that has educated and comforted those who wished to know about their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers?

What a loss it will be if a lack of evidence means that there can never be The Christian Lover II.

February 08, 2009

There is some “25-Things” meme making its way around Facebook (and, from there, to the web beyond). I’ve been tagged a whole bunch of times. It has, after all, apparently been completed some five million times. Such memes are not really my thing. Some people take these things way too seriously and offer facts that, in other context, would be terribly humiliating. And yet they are kind of fine. I’ll take a different approach. Here are twenty five stupendously boring things you didn’t want to know about me. Do note that in order to compile the list I had to enlist the help of Aileen since she is one of the world’s foremost experts on me.

  1. Until seventh grade I was known as “Timothy” because there were two boys in my class by the same name and I wasn’t cool enough to be the one who rated “Tim.” Even today you can tell the old family friends because they will still call me “Timothy.”
  2. My middle name is John (after my dad). I was given a second middle name (Belford—my mother’s maiden name) but it never appeared on my birth certificate and, because I was embarrassed by it, I quietly dropped it in high school.
  3. My parents were both born and raised in Quebec but both spoke English as their first language. I’ve been to Quebec only a handful of times.
  4. I hated school so much that I trimmed a year off high school, a year off university, and six months from my year-long college course. My goal was to earn grades that were just good enough while spending the least amount of time possible in school.
  5. I was a very unmotivated student. One teacher told my parents “Timothy is a very average boy.” My parents mentioned this to their friend (the principal) who replied “[Teacher’s Name] is a very average teacher.” I always though that rejoinder was hilariously Churchill-like.
  6. When I order ice cream I almost always order strawberry even though I don’t really like it. It became a habit as a child when I wanted to copy my much cooler cousin who always ordered the strawberry.
  7. I am a “Belford” more than a “Challies,” which is to say that in many ways I inherited the traits of my mother’s family. The dominant careers in my mother’s extended family are journalism, teaching and ministry.
  8. When I was in seventh grade, I spent just about a year of my life in Scotland. I cut my time short by returning to Canada and spending the summer with a friend.
  9. I have a strong dislike toward swimming and utter disgust toward swimming in public pools. Though I can swim just fine, I never learned to dive.
  10. I learned to drive stick on the way home from the car lot after buying my first car (truck, actually. I was a Chevy S-10). That truck was wrecked in an accident I caused even though I was not in the vehicle when it got wrecked. Long story.
  11. Occasionally I convince myself that, given the chance, I could have been good enough to play baseball professionally.
  12. My grandfather was a Supreme Court Justice. He had a long list of cool titles like The Right Honorable, Lieutenant-Colonel and Chief Justice. I never met him as he died before I was born.
  13. My favorite candy is Sour Patch Kids (replacing Cherry Blasters which were the former favorites). High quality Dutch or English wine gums rate high on the list as well.
  14. I’m color blind. I discovered this the day a teacher asked me why I had colored all the lakes on a map purple instead of blue.
  15. In tenth grade I won the school’s General Knowledge contest, beating both the older students and the teachers. I threw out the ribbon and did not enter again the next year.
  16. I did not attend my graduation ceremonies for high school, university or college. I hate being the center of attention. Plus, as explained earlier, in every case I would have graduated with the year ahead of mine, and hence people I did not know.
  17. When I was a kid I had a pair of gerbils whose litter of babies fell one short of the Guinness Book of World Records. I didn’t bother calling to let them know.
  18. For two years while I was in university, I ran a student painting business, employing six or eight other students. They did the work while I drove the truck around. They also made all the money as it turns out. This was a good lesson in business for me.
  19. In high school and/or university I studied French, Latin and Greek. I still remember a surprising amount of Latin. I’ve forgotten most of the Greek (which may or may not be related to the fact that I attended only one or two out of every five classes. It was their fault for scheduling classes five days a week at 8 AM).
  20. I was entrepreneurial as a child. I would put coins on a train track near my house so they would get flattened. I would then sell them at school at a profit. I also ran a black market candy business in grade school where I would sneak off-property, buy candy, and then resell it at higher prices.
  21. I married the first (and only) girl I ever dated.
  22. The first rock concert I ever went to was Petra during their Unseen Power tour. The first Christian album I ever bought was Petra’s Beyond Belief. I organized and promoted a Petra concert during their God Fixation tour. Altogether I saw Petra in concert six or seven times.
  23. When I was eight years old I was outside playing when my mother and sisters came running out of the house saying the kitchen was on fire. I ran inside and put the fire out using what I had learned at school about grease fires.
  24. The first book I ever remember reading on my own is Pilgrim’s Progress.
  25. When I was in high school, I went to an aptitude counselor and did a long battery of tests. He told me that the two most likely careers for me were clergy and computers.