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Tim Challies

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June 03, 2012

Today my parents and brothers and sisters and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews are gathering in a little house in Chattanooga. Forty years ago today, the third of June of 1972, was a double celebration for my parents: my father marked his twenty-third birthday and he married my mother. Both had been born and raised in Quebec, one of the most unchurched areas in all of North America, yet against all odds both had recently encountered the gospel and been saved. Fresh out of university, they began life together. Andrew, my older brother, came into the world almost a year after they were married, and he was soon followed by me and then by three girls. By the time my parents celebrated their fifteenth anniversary, they had five children.

Today four of those children have settled in Atlanta or Chattanooga or somewhere between, while one, this one, remains in Canada. Four children are married and between us we have been blessed with children of our own—twelve grandchildren for my parents (with one of my sisters having recently announced that number thirteen is on the way). The Lord has been so kind to my family.

As I ponder forty years of marriage, more than thirty-six of which I witnessed either up-close or from some distance, I find myself wondering this: How do you measure success as parents? What is a fair and realistic measure? Is it subjective, based on thoughts and feelings and impressions? Is it objective, based on numbers and statistics and dollar figures? I don’t know. What I do know is that the Bible provides a simple and overarching command to every parent: raise your children in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord. According to that measure my parents experienced an abundance of the Lord’s grace and were successful. Today each one of the five children professes faith in Christ and each one is living as if that profession is genuine.

Yesterday I sat for some time and pondered their success. I looked to my own life and my own parenting to see what lessons I’ve drawn from my parents and applied to my own family. There are four that stood out.

October 25, 2010

I’ve now written two articles about how I got here (part one and part two). I sat down to write about the background to this site—the events that led to its beginning—and got a little distracted along the way. Today I’ll actually get to the heart of the story.

I ended the last article in September 2000, at the point where Aileen and I (and our baby son) moved to Oakville. As we did so, we left behind the Dutch Reformed tradition—the only tradition we had really known. We had a few weeks’ worth of experience in the Baptist world but no more. I had never read a Christian book, at least to my memory, but had a background of strong, Reformational theology.

For almost a year we bounced from church-to-church in the Oakville area. We attended a couple of them for an extended period of time (a few months) but in both cases found the churches hopelessly shallow and largely disinterested. We did not have the vocabulary to describe them beyond just being shallow. The sermons were short and topical, the services focused on things other than the Bible. We made no friendships and found no fellowship, even after attending one of these churches for four or five months (literally, we didn’t have anyone show even the least bit of interest in us).

It was just about a year later that we received a card in the mail announcing the start of a new church, a Baptist church, that would meet in a high school near our home. We liked the idea of being involved in something new and exciting and decided we would check it out. It was a Southern Baptist church and one that was meant to be the starting point of a whole church planting movement that would blanket the Toronto area and, eventually, all of Canada. We went to their very first service and were immediately intrigued. The theology seemed sound enough but what really drew us was the emphasis on mission, on being part of a movement that would be dedicated to spreading the gospel. We had never heard of anything like it. But as soon as we did, we were hooked. We were very eager to take an emphasis on mission over an emphasis on theology. In fact, we now believed that Reformed theology was inherently anti-evangelistic.

This was a church we could get behind and we soon settled in and became members. We joined a small group and found deep, meaningful, lasting friendships there. These were exciting times. The church grew quickly, soon passing the 100 mark and then reaching toward 150 (which is amazing growth in a Canadian context). The church soon planted several others, beginning this movement that would transform Canada.

It was around this time, late 2002, that I registered the domain challies.com. My parents had recently moved to the U.S. and I wanted to have a family site through which I could share photographs of the kids. And so I grabbed the family name and set up a site. Being a budding web designer, I used it as a test ground to try out some new designs and new methods. At one point I decided to write an article or two. In one of his sermons, our pastor mentioned Mother Teresa in a positive sense, using her as an example of true Christian virtue. I looked into her and wrote an article I titled The Myth of Mother Teresa. I enjoyed doing that writing and eventually wrote another article or two. The search engines worked their magic and soon people were reading these articles. About a year after the site started, I pulled down the photographs of the kids and decided to focus on writing. It was at the end of 2003 that I made the commitment to blog every day, a habit I’ve maintained to the present day.

But. You knew a but was going to come in sooner or later, right? The first couple of years were a honeymoon time. Two things combined to bring the honeymoon to an end.

October 21, 2010

Yesterday I began writing about How I Got Here in an article that somehow began to turn into a loose autobiography. I got as far as walking into my first day at a new high school and being confronted by a cute girl whose first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.”

So there I was in Ancaster High, a new Christian and a terribly unmotivated student. For the first semester I enjoyed spending lots of time with that girl; we’d spend our first class together every day and found that we had a lot in common. I seem to recall asking her to go to a youth group function with me once or twice, but she wasn’t interested. She wasn’t a believer, she was seeing another guy, and seemed to just enjoy me as a friend. And that was great. Second semester came around and since we no longer had any classes together we pretty much lost touch.

I finished up at Ancaster High and earned grades that were good enough to get me into McMaster University, a school just down the hill in Hamilton. I could live at home which suited me fine as I didn’t have any real interest in going away. My only real memories of the first year of university are playing euchre (I played a ton of euchre that year) and of getting my first email account. I certainly did not do a lot of work. I didn’t party as so many people do in their first year (and, in fact, never went through those wild years so common to even Christian teens). I just rode the bus to school, played euchre, went to my classes and went back home. I continued attending those Dutch Reformed churches, though I was beginning to feel a certain distance from them as time went on.

In the summer between my first and second years of university a strange thing happened. The phone rang one day; my little sister Susanna answered, handed me the phone and said with a smirk, “It’s your girlfriend.” It wasn’t my girlfriend (I actually hadn’t ever had a girlfriend); instead, it was Aileen, that girl from high school. She was calling under the pretense of asking me about McMaster University. She told me that she had been looking at her options for university the next year, had remembered that I was heading to McMaster, and thought she’d ask me about the school. The strange thing is that her father had worked at McMaster for twenty years (as I’m sure I reminded her) and would be more than capable of answering any of her questions. It turns out that she actually wanted to ask me as her date to a murder mystery party; she was no longer seeing that other guy and needed someone to go with her. Now the phone call made a little bit more sense. When I told my parents about this call my mom said, “Wow. Isn’t that a little forward of her?”

October 20, 2010

Last night my wife and I were reminiscing about this web site, about my growing career as a writer (at least I hope it’s growing) and about the church contexts that produced me, that produced this blog. As we spoke I realized that I’ve never really discussed the genesis of this site and, by extension, the church I was part of when I began writing. I spent about 5 years in quite a poor church after tossing aside Reformed theology and this site really grew out of that experience. I thought it might be interesting to go back a few years and talk about those days. I sat down to write and soon found that this is going to have to be a multi-day kind of article. But it’s biographical, so I hope you can at least find some human interest in it. Let me start by telling you a little bit about me…

I grew up within the Reformed tradition and with a firm grounding in Reformation theology. My parents were both saved near the end of their time at college and both were saved after growing up in unbelieving homes. They heard the gospel through Pentecostal friends who faithfully prayed for them and led them to the Lord. Naturally they, too, became Pentecostal. However, shortly after becoming Christians and getting married, they headed to Europe for a honeymoon (and later to live for a while) and found themselves at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. It was there that they came face-to-face with sound theology and this theology would forever shape them. I was baptized as a child in an Anglican church (they were getting closer to the Reformed tradition) and soon thereafter my folks became members at a PCC congregation (Presbyterian Church of Canada) in Toronto.

My parents were Presbyterian at heart and my earliest church memories are of the sweet fellowship of that Presbyterian church. Many of the members of that church remain dear family friends even now. Eventually we left that congregation to be part of a plant in the nearby suburb of Unionville—a church plant that soon disintegrated in ugly circumstances brought about by one of the members.

Around that time my parents become friends with the pastor of a nearby church that was in the Dutch Reformed tradition and before long we started attending that body (it was a Canadian Reformed Church for those who just have to know). We remained in those churches for many years, except for a year-long trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, during which my father studied at the Free Church of Scotland seminary. But from the time I was in grade school to just about the time I graduated from high school, I was part of the Dutch Reformed tradition, despite having no Dutch blood. We moved around a little bit in these years, eventually settling in Ancaster, Ontario, but what was always true was that we were the only non-Dutch family in the churches and schools we attended.

May 16, 2010

Today at my church home of Grace Fellowship Church I was ordained as an elder/pastor (we make no distinction real between the two). I share this with you because, well, because I’ve shared so much of my life with you and this is quite a significant event. Our pastor preached from Titus 2:15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (If you’d like to hear the sermon, you can do so here)

Here are the notes my son took:

Dad = Titus

Dad Needs To:

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

March 29, 2010

My memory isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and my memory has always been awful. Out of necessity I allow Aileen to be my memory and she’s always saying things like, “Do you remember when we had to rush Abby to the hospital for that operation and I ended up staying there with her all night?” And I search my memory banks and find absolutely no recollection of such an event. It’s pathetic, really. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before she’s pinning my name to my shirt to help me remember who I am.

But of course there are some memories that are forever clear and that, I trust, will always remain that way. I will never forget standing at the front of St. John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster on an already-hot morning in August of 1998, as I waited for my bride-to-be to walk down the aisle. From the moment I saw her, I was completely undone, unable and unwilling to hold back the emotion. There she was, walking toward me, about to become my wife. It was a moment I had been anticipating for so long and here it was at last. It was almost surreal, like a dream—a dream come true. I cried like a baby.

Yesterday at church we wrapped up a beautiful day of worship by singing “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” This is one of my favorite hymns. It was written by Anne Cousin back in the mid 1800’s and before it was a hymn it was a poem inspired by the letters and the last words of Samuel Rutherford. Only later was it set to music. The best verse of all is this one:

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.

March 11, 2010

I woke up this morning feeling just a bit discouraged. I guess there’s a fair bit of uncertainty in certain parts of life right now, the kind of uncertainty that tends to be on my mind late at night or early in the morning (or, worst of all, smack dab between the two). I’m facing a day in which I need to be sharp and creative; a day in which I’ve got to make some good progress on my book. That deadline is creeping closer and closer and I can’t afford to be complacent. And yet few things are more difficult than a day of concentration and creativity when faced by that discouragement. For some reason the thought of even trying to settle down to write today it is both terrifying and paralyzing.

When I got out of bed I found myself doing what I often do when discouraged—tidying the house. I don’t know why, but for some odd reason I find this therapeutic. So I prayed while I went, putting away the dishes in the rack, tidying up the kids’ toys in the basement, putting away the winter boots piled near the front door that, hopefully, we will not need again this year. I got breakfast ready for the kids, woke them up, got ready for the day and ushered them out the door to the school bus. I came up to my office and wrote a pretty good blog post which, with one errant touch on the wrong button, promptly disappeared, just like that. It’s been a long time since I made such a rookie mistake. This was probably not the best day for it.

Along the way, somewhere between tidying the house and making breakfast, I turned to the Bible, asking to find in it words of life.

February 22, 2010

This morning I want to provide a few updates on life, books and web sites.

First off, I owe you an update on The Next Story, the book I’m writing. To this point, progress has been slow—discouragingly slow, really. Yet I’ve got hope that things will pick up soon. I have been focusing on gathering and pondering ideas more than actually putting ideas into words. So while the manuscript still has a word count of approximately 0, I think I’m getting to the point where the ideas are coming together in my mind. That means that I’ll soon be ready to write. In fact, I plan on spending most of today working my way through a couple more books with the hope that tomorrow I’ll have enough firm ideas in place that I can begin to work on some of the chapters. In the future I’ll try to write an article on the actually process I’m going through as I put this book together. For now, though, I covet your prayers and hope to have some good reports soon.