Three months ago, Tim Challies, sent me a text with a picture of his son, Nick, and his fiancé, Ryn. The picture was taken right after Nick proposed to Ryn. Tim’s text said:

“So this happened today. You’re not the only one wooing an American. Though it looks like he’s now ahead of you in the race!” 

I was so happy for him, though I joked I was unhappy he had proposed to his American girlfriend before I could propose to mine. And Tim was so proud of him. He said, “he has to beat his old man. And if he gets married next summer, he will be a few months younger than I was [when I married his mother]. 

However, last week, on November 3rd, when he was just twenty years old, Nick suddenly passed away. 

I can’t remember the last time I saw Nick. He was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where he was preparing to become a pastor—a pastor like his father.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him, but I know that one of the last times I saw him, as usual, I hugged him and forced a kiss on his cheek—because I knew he hated it when I did that. Which would, naturally, lead to a conversation filled with sarcastic and witty comments, mostly from Nick.

I used to try to compete with Nick’s wit, but by the time he was sixteen, I gave up. He was too smart and too fast with his lips. So instead, as Nick would say, I bullied him with my enormous size instead. 

Anyone who’s spent any time with Nick will tell you about his brilliant wit. But that’s not what I’ll remember most about him.

A couple of years ago, I was holding a little girl in my arms. I was playing with her—moving her up and down. As I was doing that, I noticed that Nick was staring at us for several minutes. Finally, Nick walked nearer to us, and said, “Sam, you’re bullying little kids again?”.

Then Nick leaned towards me and said, “it suits you, Sam. fatherhood suits you. You would be a good father.” 

I’ll never forget that. Nick was just seventeen or eighteen years old at the time, and his words were deeply encouraging to me—especially since he knew about my non-existent relationship with my father and my relationship with his father. 

Tim Challies has been my mentor for many years. No man has ever pursued a loving, mentoring relationship with me the way Tim has. Tim has been a better father figure to me than anyone has. And for that reason, I’ve always especially admired Tim’s boy, Nick. If anyone knew what a good father looked like, it was Nick. So his words meant a lot to me then, and they mean even more to me today. 

Nick loved his father, and Tim loved his son. And yet, even though I’m devastated by Nick’s death, I’m grieving and rejoicing—because Tim has lost a son, but Nick hasn’t lost a father. 

As Tim said in that text three months ago, Nick is ahead of many of us in the race. He’s completed his race. He is now with God—he is now with an even better father in heaven. He was born to a good father and good mother, but he was born-again by an even better father.

And for that reason, we rejoice. He had a good father in life and a good father in death.