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Tim Challies

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November 29, 2008

Yesterday I swung by Chapters, Canada’s answer to Barnes & Noble. It was actually the first time in a long while that I had been inside a real brick and mortar bookstore. Though I browse books on a near-daily basis through the internet, rarely do I actually go into a store. I had almost forgotten what a different experience it is and what a good experience it is. Aileen and I found a few books we wanted to buy as Christmas gifts for the kids. Then, as we were heading to the checkout, one of the store’s employees handed us a gift card. The card had a value of anywhere between $5 and $2500—they would tell us as we completed our purchase. We took the card and went to the cash. I was not the least bit surprised to find that the card was worth $5, the absolute minimum it could have been worth. I was not going to complain, of course, as it was still $5 back in my pocket. But there was just a little part of me that was disappointed that there were to be no grand prizes yesterday!

I say that I wasn’t surprised because I’m quite sure I’ve never won anything in my life. It’s not like I compulsively enter contests, but I do enter or participate when it makes sense to do so. And I never, ever win. Not to my recollection, anyways. I’ve heard of people who have won some great and unexpected prizes and know of a few friends who have walked away with some pretty amazing ones. But I’ve never been so lucky (lucky says the Calvinist?).

It occurs that I’m probably not the only one. Have you ever won anything exciting?

November 05, 2008

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

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

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

liam.JPG

October 18, 2008

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

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

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

October 04, 2008

I receive a lot of books in the mail. A lot of books. Choosing which ones I am going to read and review is always a bit of a chore. This morning I tidying up the disaster area that is my office floor and was trying to figure out which of the books would be added to my “to-read” bookcase and which would be filed in the other bookcases unread and forlorn. I jotted down the list of books that have shown up just this week and thought I’d share it with you (maybe so you can sympathize with the difficult task of choosing the two or three I’ll actually be able to make time for). So here is a breakdown of the books I received this week along with a brief assessment of whether or not I am likely to read and review each one.

In the Beginning: The Art of Genesis: A Pop-Up Book. Likely. Undoubtedly the most unique book I’ve received in a long time, this is a pop-up book with art based on the book of Genesis. It’s beautifully done; however, there is a good bit of text that accompanies the art. Obviously my assessment of the book will have to depend on whether that text is consistent with Scripture or if the author has taken a lot of liberties. My two year-old will undoubtedly destroy the book the first opportunity she gets. Has a pop-up book ever survived a toddler?

Zion’s Christian Soldiers?: The Bible, Israel and the Church by Stephen Sizer. Very unlikely. I know very little about the topic and am just not all that interested in it.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. Near 100%. This is an advance copy of the manuscript since the book isn’t due for release until October 30. I’ll almost definitely read and review this one.

Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance by Al Mohler. Near 100%. I admire Mohler a lot and a quick skim through this book was enough for it to grab my attention. I’ve read his other three books, so why stop now?

Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God by Mark Batterson. Not likely. I read the first chapter and found it slow-going. He seems to want to write like Mark Buchanan but can’t pull it off. Plus, it’s part two of another book I haven’t read, so I don’t have the proper context for it.

Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience by Thomas Williams. My conscience probably wouldn’t allow me to read a book about conscience written by a theology teacher at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke. Probable. It’s longer than I had expected and, since it’s from Beeke, it’s going to be dense. And while it’s not like I’m itching to read another introduction to Calvinism, this one does look very good.

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Very likely. This is Michael Horton’s forthcoming book and it looks excellent. This is only in manuscript form but at least it’s bound and not just a stack of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper.

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C.J. Mahaney. 50/50 at best. I want to read it but may not be able to squeeze it in. It has already been reviewed at Discerning Reader so that means I may need to prioritize other books.

Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul. Probable. It’s a small book and looks very readable. The more I read of Sproul the more I come to respect him as a teacher and I’m eager to check out what looks like a good introductory book.

Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen. Probable if it doesn’t get too technical. I recently tried reading a book called The Cell’s Design that was interesting but obviously written for people way smarter than I am. Hopefully this one is for normal guys like me.

The Prince’s Poison Cup by R. C. Sproul and Justin Gerard. Definitely. Actually, I have already read it to the kids. I have it in PDF format and sat them down in front of my computer to read it to them. It’s an excellent book and wonderfully illustrated. The kids loved it.

The Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships by Anthony Selvaggio. Probable. I’ve yet to find a Shepherd Press book that hasn’t been worth my time.

Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley. 50/50. I really like Carolyn and am eager to read the book. However, another person will be reviewing it for Discerning Reader so that may make it fall off my list (just like Worldliness).

Family Worship for the Reformation Season by Ray Rhodes. Very likely. Ray’s a nice guy and even let me preach at his church once. So I’ll give the book a shot.

Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life by Caroline Pigozzi. Unlikely. It looks like a somewhat less-than-balanced life of John Paul II. I’m not too interested in reading a life of the Pope and even more so when the cover says “The Pope I Knew So Well.”

Invitation: Billy Graham and the Lives God Touched by Basyle and Aram Tchividjian. Unlikely. It’s a nice-looking book but I’ve only got so much time.

One Year of Dinner Table Devotions by Nancy Guthrie. No chance. I do not use devotionals and do not often review them.

Simple Small Groups by Bill Search. Unlikely. I am participating in a small group this year but I don’t think I’ll read a book about them.

Under God’s Smile: The Trinitarian Blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14 by Derek Prime. Unlikely. Too niche to be of much interest to me.

Look After Your Voice: Taking Care of the Preacher’s Greatest Asset by Mike Mellor. No chance, but I will be passing it along to my pastor who has expressed interest in it and may just review it on his blog. I’m sure he’ll find it a valuable read. It does look like a good book for its niche audience.

Israel: Land of Promise, Faith and Beauty by Paul Williams and Clive Anderson. No chance, unless I find myself traveling to Israel this year. I do like these travel guides from DayOne, but I won’t review them unless I’m actually using the guide. (Note to DayOne—send me to any of these places and I’ll review your guide!)

Discipline with Care: Applying Biblical Correction in Your Church by Stephen McQuoid. Not likely. Once again, it’s a bit too niche. Plus, there are a couple of other DayOne titles that are higher on my list.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden. Likely. I can’t stand Rob Bell’s books as his writing style really offends me. But I’ll probably plow through the book regardless. It may be burdensome, but at least it’s not long. Plus, I’ve already read two chapters.

If you do the math, you’ll see that I can’t possibly read all of the ones I’ve marked as likely or very likely. What to do…

September 26, 2008

It’s Friday and that’s a good day to ramble. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share just a couple of items of “miscellania.”

Personal Updates

I’ve had a couple of people ask for updates as to what I’m up to these days. So here goes. My fall travel schedule is very light, for which I’m grateful. In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Chicago to blog the True Woman conference. Yes, feel free to make fun of me for it. It is going to be a huge conference with over 6000 women in attendance. Speakers include John Piper, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Joni Eareckson Tada, Janet Parshall, Mary Kassian, Fern Nichols and Karen Loritts. It’s hardly my usual live-blogging gig, but it should be fun nonetheless. The week after that I’ll be speaking at Chinese Gospel Church here in Toronto. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot on my schedule. And, of course, in early November I’ll be heading to Dominican Republic with Compassion International to see what they are up to over there.

I’m currently putting my spring schedule together. I’ll be teaching at a youth retreat in Michigan for a weekend in February. When conference season begins (typically March, April and May) I’ll be heading to The Gospel Coalition and, in all probability, the Moody Pastors Conference (in both cases to blog about them). In March I’ll be reading a paper at the Toronto Pastors Fellowship. And I’m evaluating a few other opportunities.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment continues to sell, I guess. It has just gone to a third printing which is a great encouragement. To be honest, I do not have much of a sense of what that translates to in numbers, so don’t ask! I am not yet working on my next book, at least beyond the “gathering ideas” stage. I just haven’t quite found that idea yet—the one I can spend a year writing about.

Incognito

It’s not like we really need proof of the increasing prevalence of pornography in our society, but if we did we could look to the newest crop of web browsers. The browser that has made the greatest splash in recent days is Google’s Chrome; it overshadowed the release of a beta version of Internet Explorer 8. And, of course, a new version of Firefox is coming soon (a minor update—3.1). One feature of all of these new browsers (and a feature Safari has had for some time) is what is known as “private browsing” or, more commonly, “porn mode.”

Porn mode allows a user to browse the internet without the browser maintaining a history. Google describes it this way when you open an “incognito window:” “You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.” In other words, you can browse the web without leaving on your computer any trace of what you’ve done or where you’ve been. I’ll grant that there are useful applications of this technology beyond pornography—it may be useful if you are using a computer in a public library or if you have logged onto a friend’s computer to do some quick banking. But the most obvious application and the one it will undoubtedly be used for most, is finding and viewing pornography. I’m quite convinced that this is yet another example of pornography driving technology. This presents a bit of a conundrum to parents who may be accustomed to keeping tabs on their children’s browsing habits. So parents, be warned; your kids may be going incognito.

The Solas

The SolasA little while ago I was asked to collaborate on an interesting project—writing a curriculum on the five solas appropriate for teens. So I worked with InQuest Ministries and together we came up with The Solas. “When only the best will do, then the best is all you need. The 5 Solas of the reformation that make up this study are the best means for understanding the basic theological foundation on which our faith rests. By engaging with and applying the principles covered in this 5 session study we will gain an understanding of the uniqueness of our faith and why it is the best to build our life on.” In five sessions it leads students through each of the five solas. It is available online as a downloadable product. You can find information about it at InQuest Ministries.

September 17, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2008

In the past months the server that hosts this site has been dragging a little bit. It has gone down a few times and has begin consuming too many resources. And so I’ve decided to move to a new server with a host that is dedicated to supporting Movabletype, the software that runs behind the scenes here. While I was going through all the trouble of moving to the new server, I decided to rebuild the site’s templates from the ground-up (or nearly so) and to tinker just a little bit with the site’s features and design. I also upgraded to the latest version of the software.

And so by this morning most of you should be seeing the site on its new server. I, on the other hand, am still waiting for the changes to “take” and continue to see the old site.

There are a few new features on this site you may like to know about:

At long last I changed around the top banner. Gone is the lonely winter tree. As much as I love the image, I think a year was long enough for it to be there. In its place is a chair. Yup, a chair. This will, of course, be utterly irrelevant to those of you who read via RSS!

You can now create an account on the site. This will be useful to those of you who comment regularly. The account will mean you can sign in and not have to continually enter your username, email address, and so on. It also gives you the ability to track your old comments, to track other people’s comments, etc. The page where you do all of this is still be perfected, so you’ll have to give me some time in that regard.

The front page has been simplified a little bit (since it was getting a bit cluttered). I removed much of what was there and replaced it with a poll/survey and ActionStream (which tracks what I do in other places on the web—Digg, Twitter, and so on). I removed A La Carte from the sidebar and it is now in the same time line as the other posts.

There are quite a few other changes that are sufficiently insignificant that they are probably not worth mentioning.

Beyond these changes, I expect things to continue here pretty much as they have for the past six years.

August 04, 2008

It is a holiday in most parts of Canada today. It is known as the “Civic Holiday” throughout the nation and may have other names assigned locally (such as “Simcoe Day” in Toronto). It is one of those holidays that seems to have been created mostly just for the joy of having a summer day away from the office. We’re not complaining. We’ve decided to make this a quiet day and we have no plans to run to any of the area’s tourist attractions, the only kind of businesses that will be open today.

Last week we actually made a rare venture to one of these spots. Marineland is Canada’s answer to SeaWorld. It combines roller coasters and rides with dolphins and whales. After riding the coasters and ferris wheels you can feed the bears and watch the dolphin and whale shows. (You can buy Corn Pops to feed the bears—throwing it down on them from about 15 feet up. Poor bears) It’s a fair bit of fun as it needs to be when it costs a family of four $160 to get in. I had no intention of riding the roller coasters or going on any of the rides. But we had a young Aussie guy hanging out with us for a few days and he wanted to ride a coaster—the world’s largest steel roller coaster, apparently. I told him I’d walk with him to the start of the ride to gauge how long the wait was going to be. After I walked all the way up there I was feeling too prideful to walk the pathway back, with all the people no doubt laughing at me as if I’d been too scared. So I rode the ride after all and even enjoyed it a bit. But my favorite part of the day was watching those whales and dolphins performing. It is amazing to me that with nothing but a whistle and a hand signal, humans can make whales and dolphins and seals and walruses and just about any other animal do the craziest things.

Throughout the summer those of us who attend Grace Fellowship Church have been enjoying a summer series on the book of James. The pastor’s assistant Julian is preaching in the absence of our pastor who is on sabbatical. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been studying the well-known words of James 3. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I couldn’t help but think of those words as I watched the whales jump and splash and kiss spectators. And I couldn’t help but think of those whales as we read the words in church yesterday morning. Human ingenuity has taught us to tame even whales so we can climb into a pool and swim with them and so with nothing more than a whistle we can make animals so much vastly bigger and stronger than we are do our bidding. And yet, as we saw those whales obey the command to splash the crowd, we heard swearing and cursing; we saw people lashing out in anger and frustration. Everywhere we looked we saw the evidence that James is exactly right.

Every beast and bird, every reptile and sea creature can be tamed. But that tongue remains a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

July 27, 2008

Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.


Chaffeys Locks is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Ontario. Perched between two small lakes that are part of the Rideau Lakes system, it is a historic town founded by William Chaffey in 1816. He established a milling business there, at the swift-flowing rapids that separated Indian Lake from Opinicon Lake. Sadly, in 1827 he died of malaria, leaving behind a thriving business. His wife sold the land and businesses to Colonel John By, the man tasked with building the Rideau Canal that would connect Kingston, on the edge of Lake Ontario, with Ottawa, far inland, and beyond that to Montreal. This would avoid the perilous St. Lawrence River route that was constantly patrolled by American ships. In 1831 work was completed on a lock that raises boast almost 11 feet as they pass from one lake to the next.

By the turn of the century, with the canal no longer integral to Canada’s national defense, the lakes became attractive to tourists from local cities. Around mid-century, a man with the last name Challies purchased the better part of an acre of land along the shores of Indian Lake. A short ways away from the existing house he built a log cabin. Family lore has long insisted that the logs for this cabin were pillaged from Ontario’s stocks of telephone poles. Because of the long, beautiful vista looking west over the lake, he called it Sunset Lodge.

I spend my first summer at our cottage at Chaffeys Locks the summer before I am born. Because mom has lost two babies between my older brother and me, she lies on the sofa every afternoon and will not budge until she feels her baby move. The 1976 summer Olympics are on. Someone has brought a television to the cottage and somehow it picks up the CBC broadcast. She lies and watches the broadcast until I oblige and race around her stomach, doing twists and backflips and somersaults. Mom never has long to wait.

I spend every summer of my young life at the cottage. Sometimes we are there for only a week or two and other times we are there for weeks at a stretch. While my family moves with fair frequency and we live in house after house, the cottage remains a constant. Nothing ever changes there. The furniture inside is the furniture that has been there since the day I was born. The neighbors are the neighbors that have lived there for generations. It is always the same.

There is only one summer that I do not want to be there. I have fallen in love with a pretty brown-haired girl. We may not yet have formalized our relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, but already I can’t imagine being away from her for two weeks. My parents, wanting to have Aileen and I keep a little bit of distance and knowing that we will not have too many more vacations together as a family, demand that I come with them. After two days at the cottage I take matters into my own hands. It is a move of desperation, I suppose. I go looking for things I’m allergic to—dust, pollen and whatever else I can find. I inhale whatever I can and rub it in my eyes. Soon I’m gasping for breath with tears pouring down my cheeks. I explain to my parents that my allergies are just too bad. They agree that I should catch a Greyhound bus back home and I do just that.

In 2005, with the cottage’s three owners (my father, his brother and his sister) scattering to the four winds and no longer able to visit often enough to justify the expenses of maintenance, they decide to sell it. I spend my last summer in Chaffeys Lock, enjoying the beautiful location with my wife and my children, the fifth generation of Challies’ to vacation there. And then I bid a fond farewell to that spot on earth I have come to love more than any other. I leave the property whispering a quiet prayer that when the new earth comes, maybe, just maybe, God would be so gracious as to grant me that same little strip of lakefront property on the shores of Indian Lake.

July 19, 2008

It’s funny how Saturdays, a day of fun and relaxation when I was young, have turned into days of busyness. Early in the day I had to put on my coach’s hat to lead my son’s team through a baseball practice. No sooner had we returned home from that than Aileen had to run my daughter to a birthday party. This afternoon will be spent, least in part, preparing lunch for a crowd we’re having back to the house tomorrow. Saturdays are a good day, to be sure, but they sure aren’t quite as empty as I remember them being as a kid.

Here’s a quote I dug up recently. It is a good one and perhaps particularly so on such a busy day. It comes from a letter missionary Robert Moffat wrote to his wife.

It was only yesterday, after laying down the Bible, that I wondered what kind of mind I would have had if I had not the Book of God, the Book containing the astounding idea of ‘from everlasting to everlasting,’ the development of all that is worth knowing … One would think, that as I have critically and, I think, devoutly read and examined every verse, every word in the Bible, some a score of times over, I should not require to open the pages of that unspeakable blessed Book. Alas, for the human memory! I read the Bible today with the same feeling I ever did, like the hungry when seeking food, the thirsty when seeking drink, the bewildered when seeking counsel and the mourner when seeking comfort. Don’t you believe all this? For alas, I read it sometimes as a formal thing, though my heart condemns me afterwards … I am yet astonished at my own ignorance of the Bible!

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