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April 2008

April 30, 2008

I guess it is about time the semicolon got its due. Here’s a little excerpt of a book I ran across recently. It is written by Lewis Thomas (whoever that is or was…):

I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

I will also include Thomas’ thoughts on the ever-annoying exclamation mark. I do so for the benefit of my friends David and Paul who have had discussions about this very topic. In fact, David sought out Paul at Together for the Gospel precisely so he could meet him and tell him to stop using so many of them. I think Thomas would be on your side, David!!!

Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

You can read the rest of Thomas’ thoughts on punctuation here.

April 30, 2008

The Sponsor

This month’s sponsor is Reformation Heritage Books. RHB publishes and distributes Puritan and Reformed books. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, which you know as a publisher that has done more than just about any other organization to bring Puritan writings back into print is now under the direction of Reformation Heritage.

The Prizes

Reformation Heritage Books

3rd prize: the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series
Profiles in Reformed Spirituality is a series of books designed to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of particular Christians with selected passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketch and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the treated person’s contribution to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through works of those people treated in this series. Under the guidance of series editors Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality promises to provide a valuable primer to our rich Reformed heritage. The 3rd prize winner will receive all four current title available in this series:

  • “A Consuming Fire”: The Piety of Alexander Whyte of Free St. George’s

  • “A Sweet Flame”: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

  • “Dedicated to the Service of the Temple”: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins

  • “Christ Is All”: The Piety of Horatius Bonar

2nd prize: Soli Deo Gloria selections
Soli Deo Gloria Publications has done more to bring Puritan writings back in to print than any other organization. Now under the direction of Reformation Heritage Books, SDG will continue to make these gems from the past an enduring supply of gospel ministry for generations to come. The 2nd prize winner will receive the following Soli Deo Gloria titles:

  • Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards

  • Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, by Jeremiah Burroughs

  • Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel

  • Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shephard

  • Plus the books in the 3rd prize package

1st prize: new and bestselling RHB titles
The 1st prize winner will receive some of RHB’s new and bestselling titles:

  • God with Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is, by Daniel R. Hyde. Here is a captivating introduction to who Jesus really is. Admirably displaying his pastoral gifts, Daniel R. Hyde winsomely relates the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ to the people in the pew. The book is well grounded in Scripture, historically informative, and doctrinally precise. You will walk away from this book understanding the necessity of Jesus’ two natures for our salvation, and praising God for all that He is for us in the glorious person of Christ.

  • Reformation Heroes: An Illustrated Overview, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke. With this beautifully illustrated book, families will enjoy learning about the people God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation. This book is written at a level for older children and teenagers, but is equally enjoyable for adults. Its attractive 11” x 8.5” coffee table book format makes it a great gift, while the content is useful enough for a history text.

  • Meet the Puritans: with a Guide to Modern Reprints, by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans provides a biographical and theological introduction to the Puritans whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, and also gives helpful summaries and insightful analyses of those reprinted works. It contains nearly 150 biographical entries, and nearly 700 summaries of reprinted works. If you have wanted to start reading the Puritans but do not know where to begin, this is the resource for you.
  • Plus the books in the 2nd and 3rd prize packages

Small Print

As with previous giveaways, you can increase your chances of winning by referring others. Details and other smallish print is available in the contest area. I recommend you read it. There have been times that a potential winner forfeited the prize because he did not join the mailing list!

Enter the Draw

You can enter the draw here (Please read the instructions carefully!):

www.challies.com/draw.php

April 30, 2008
Wednesday April 20, 2008 Tuesdays are for Reviews
We uploaded eight (!) new reviews to Discerning Reader yesterday. We add reviews every Tuesday so you may like to make DR at least a once-weekly stop in your internet travels.
Coming Soon from John Piper
At the Desiring God blog is an update about the forthcoming books from John Piper. It looks like there will be lots of good books coming our way!
Christian Ministry Fined for Discrimination
It’s a sign of things to come, I’m sure. “One of Canada’s largest Christian ministries dedicated to caring for the disabled was fined $23,000 recently by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for allegedly discriminating against a former homosexual employee.”
Jesus Made Me Puke
Here’s a sad and somewhat embarrassing article by Matt Taibbi who writes for Rolling Stone who went “undercover” into the religious right and recorded all of his experiences.
Our Climate Numbers Are a Mess
From the Wall Street Journal: “Why is the news on global warming always bad? Perhaps because there’s little incentive to look at things the other way. If you do, you’re liable to be pilloried by your colleagues.”
April 29, 2008

Mark was determined to die. And in retrospect there was really nothing anyone could have done to stop him.

His first attempt came when he was 18 and it left him with scars running the length of his arms. His sister found him sitting calmly in the bathtub, a razor blade lying in the pool of blood. Help arrived in time to save him. When he was released from hospital his parents took him to the finest psychiatrists in the city. Each one of them diagnosed him with something different: one said he had a personality disorder and another schizophrenia. One even told him that he was “just a punk” who was bent on defying his parents and making their lives miserable. I think this one may have been on to something.

Mark overdosed on pills on his sister’s birthday. She had invited a few friends to spend the night and they were in the family room watching a movie when he came down to the basement, delirious from the medication cocktail he had consumed. Another call to 9-1-1 and another stay in the hospital once again saved his life. This time he was admitted to a psychiatric institution where he spent several months resting and recovering. Upon his release, ominously, he told his parents that if he wanted to kill himself there was nothing they would be able to do to stop him.

So what was the family to do? Sure, his family could have tried to ensure that someone was with him every hour of every day, but that would have left his entire family in a state of bondage. They hoped against hope that he had, indeed, recovered, and that he had found some reason to live. They prayed that he would find something worth living for. They grew to trust him, believing at last that he had found reason to go on living. Perhaps his artwork or even his writing could give him the inspiration to face life.

But his artwork was dark as death. His room was filled with dolls, covered in blood and in various states of torture and dismemberment. It sends chills down my spine just to think of it.

One Sunday in July Mark finally won his battle. No one knew he was still so determined to die. His plan was elaborate. It was cruel.

Sunday morning his mother climbed into her car, planning to go to the store. On the steering wheel was a note from Mark saying that he had taken his life, that it was too late to save him, and that he had left clues about his suicide in places they did not expect. His mother, hysterical, ran into the house. After quickly skimming the note, his father ran upstairs and into Mark’s room. Mark lay on the floor, already stiff and cold. A mask ran from a tank of helium to his face. A block of wood had held the valve open as he breathed in the poisonous gas. Mark was dead.

I was asked to come and be with the family just hours after Mark’s death. The coroner had just left when I arrived. The phone was ringing as neighbors called to ask why there had been police cars and an ambulance outside the house. My wife and I sat with the family as they poured out their grief and their guilt. Shouldn’t they have known that he was going to try this again? Shouldn’t they have been able to prevent it? If only they had decided to walk into his room the night before! Mark’s father, searching for meaning in the face of tragedy, spoke of Mark’s death as a gift to the family. Maybe, he said, just maybe, Mark had seen how his problems had contributed to the troubles the family had experienced recently. Maybe Mark took his life so that the family could put aside their differences and renew their commitment to remaining together. Maybe, in some bizarre way, Mark sacrificed himself for the good of others. Maybe this was Mark’s gift. Maybe there was just a little bit of light amidst all the darkness.

Mark gave his family another gift. He left little notes in unexpected places. After his death the family would open a book and find a cruel note he had left there just before he died. His sister opened her Bible and found many passages highlighted. Mark had asked to borrow it and had highlighted passages throughout the Gospels and through Romans that outlined the way of salvation. I’ve often wondered if he understood the passages he had highlighted. I hope he did.

Aileen and I and the members of the church we attended gathered around the family, which has no relatives in North America, providing them with food and taking care of the funeral planning. One of the strangest experiences of my life was returning that helium tank to the store Mark had rented it from. The clerk was quite upset that I did not have the receipt for the tank and told me I could not return the tank until I found it. He finally relented when I told him that there had been a tragedy within the family and he was not going to get a receipt, ever.

In the days following Mark’s death, his parents did reconcile, at least for a time. His mother, who had been living a few minutes away, moved back in with his father. His sister moved home from school, and for the first time in many months the family was truly together.

The funeral was a study in opposites. Or perhaps it was a study in unity. Mark’s friends mostly occupied one side of the church. They dressed in jeans and t-shirts, mostly black. Many of them wore the distinctive makeup of so-called Goths. Many wore pentagrams. Yet these people, so obsessed with death, seemed unable to deal with death’s stark reality. As they stared at his body, lying at peace in the coffin, they broke down. Many of them felt the need to touch him, tousling his hair or touching his shoulder. One or two of them pushed little baggies of marijuana into his coffin.

The friends of Mark’s sister occupied the other side of the church. These seemed mostly to be clean-cut businessmen and churchgoers. His parent’s colleagues, largely professors and scientists, were mixed among them. An overflow room was needed to hold the members of his sister’s church (my church at the time) who came to show their support for her.

These two groups, so different from each other, were united in their grief. Some grieved for the loss of a friend. Others grieved for the grief their friends were feeling. Two of them grieved for a son they were unable to help. One grieved for her only sibling. Throwing herself on her brother’s body, Mark’s sister wept as she poured out her grief that she would never be an aunt. She was now an only-child.

I love her as a sister. She spent countless hours with my family when she was younger and seemed to become another sibling. I told her then that if she ever needs a big brother I am only a phone call away. But I know I’m a cheap substitute for the God-given gift of a flesh-and-blood brother.

The family asked me to read from the Bible and pray at the funeral. What could I say about a young man who hated God and did all he could do to defy Him? What could I say that would provide some comfort to the family and help them through this terrible time? The answer, obviously, was absolutely nothing. So I prayed that God would comfort them. I prayed that God would make Himself real to them and provide them with the strength to go on.

I carried Mark’s coffin to the grave. We laid it down beside the little patch of plastic grass, placed there to cover the stark reality of freshly-dug soil, and solemnly stepped back. His friends soon surrounded the coffin, pulling out their cigarettes as if to share one last smoke with their friend. While they tossed their cigarette butts to the ground beside his coffin one or two placed a flower on top. The pastor led us in a prayer. And then we turned and walked away.

Years have passed since Mark’s body was laid to rest on a hill in a quiet cemetery. Mark’s gift has been forgotten. His parents have gone their separate ways. His sister has moved to Australia where she is involved in ministry, rescuing girls from a life of prostitution. Her mother was baptized about a year after Mark’s death, having been led to the Lord by the simple love of the Christians who surrounded them during those dark days. His father has moved away and remarried.

Mark left pleasant memories of his childhood, but little more than heartbreaking memories of his teenage years. The family has fractured, unable to find grounds for reconciliation. His death was senseless; purposeless. Mark left his family no gift.

But the light still shone even when all seemed so dark. God, who specializes in working good from evil, was able to take what was senseless and purposeless and use it to build His kingdom. All credit goes not to the person who caused the pain, but to the One who used it for good.

Yes, I did post an article awfully similar to this several years ago. Somehow it just seemed timely to post one like it again…

April 29, 2008
Tuesday April 29, 2008 Porn in Public Libraries
Carolyn McCulley comments on the growing phenomenon of people using public computers to browse pornography.
Everyone Must Be a Theologian
Over at the Ligonier blog we’re providing (in regular installments) the complete text of John Gerstner’s book “Theology for Everyman.” The first chapter says that every person is called to be a theologian.
Screwtape Gives Devil His Due
The Washington Post gives a positive review to Max McLean’s production of “Screwtape” now playing in Washington, D.C.. “But the fiendish reality the production conjures is colorful enough to appeal to theatergoers of any, or no, religious persuasion. The Devil is an equal-opportunity entertainer.”
Theologian Trading Cards
Yes, you read the heading correctly. Here is the beginning of a collection of theologian trading cards, coming soon to online retailers (really!).
RSS Reader for Complete Noobs
Abraham Piper has a tutorial to guide you through getting setup with Google Reader (in case you’ve been itching to try out this RSS thing everyone’s talking about).
April 28, 2008

Over the weekend I read an advanced reading copy of Crazy Love by Francis Chan (a book that is due for publication in May). You may not know the name, but you may well have seen his “Just Stop and Think” movie where he walks along a beach with a surfboard while sharing the gospel. This is Chan’s first book and I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll post a review in the near future, but for now, here is a short quote that jumped out at me, perhaps because I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately.


A while back I had a free evening, so I decided to go to the store and buy some items to give away to those who needed them more than I do. It was a good idea, something I want my life to be characterized by more and more.

But it was embarrassing.

I realized that everyone I knew had enough, that I didn’t know many people who were truly in need, and that I need to change that. I needed to go and intentionally meet people who don’t live like I do or think like I do, people who could never repay me. For their sake but for my own as well.

April 28, 2008

Gum, Geckos and GodI don’t think it takes very many years of child raising before every parent realizes that he is in over his head. I am no stranger to this feeling. As I was walking my eight-year-old son to school just last week he turned to me and said, “Dad, why is it that people think killing one another will solve the world’s problems?” My first instinct was that it would be a simple question to answer. But a moment’s reflection made me realize that a proper answer would have to touch on all kinds of issues of theological significance. Thankfully my son is quite a good listener and we were able to turn his question into a good chat.

April 28, 2008

I’m not much of a do-it-yourself type. I’m well aware of my limits. You know, I’m pretty comfortable changing light bulbs and painting walls, but beyond that I tend to put a call out to my father-in-law (for low priority jobs) or a paid expert (for high priority jobs). We’ve got a few neighbors who are involved in the trades and I’ve been known to get them to come in to do cabling or minor wiring. When they come I play the role I used to play with my dad—holding the flashlight or passing the wrenches. Nice guys that they are, they either work for free or for favors (“I’ve got a computer that just isn’t working right…”). Rumor has it that they also accept beer as currency, but I’ve never been too comfortable with alcohol as currency.

We are having some plumbing issues in the Challies household at the moment. What started yesterday as a clogged drain has become a rain shower in the dining room. When I went to bed last night it looked like I’d be making a fairly routine call to a plumber in the morning; when I woke up the whole dining room ceiling was looking just a bit too convex for my liking. Again, I’m no expert, but as I understand it, ceiling are supposed to be pretty well flat. I took a nail and pushed it into the ceiling. I don’t think I should be able to push a nail through drywall with only my thumb, but this one went through with little resistance. I pulled it back out and water began to pour pretty freely. I guess that explains why the ceiling was buckling a little bit.

We’ve now got an assortment of buckets throughout the living room, catching water as it pour from various little holes and crevices. Replacing that ceiling has been on our long list of things to do and I guess this has bumped it to a much shorter list. At this point I think the ceiling will survive without crashing to the floor. But it may surprise me still.

All this is to say that I didn’t have time or opportunity to write what I wanted to write today. So I’m going to post a book review instead (not something I generally like to do on Mondays). But the plumber is here and he’s probably going to need me to hold a flashlight for him or something…