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February 15, 2015

Suffering is inevitable in this world. When we ourselves are so full of sin and are living in a world scarred by sin, it would be surprisingly only if we were escape all suffering. But there is hope. I trust you will be encouraged by this amazing bit of writing from Theodore Cuyler, drawn from God’s Light on Dark Clouds.

I have noticed that the deaf often have an unusual quickness of eyesight; the blind are often gifted with an increased capacity for hearing; and sometimes when the eye is darkened and the ear is closed, the sense of touch becomes so exquisite that we are able to converse with the sufferer through that sense alone. This law explains why God put so many of His people under a sharp regimen of hardship and burden-bearing in order that they may be sinewed into strength; why a Joseph must be shut into a prison in order that he may be trained for a palace and for the premiership of the kingdom. Outside of the Damascus Gate I saw the spot where Stephen was stoned into a cruel death; but that martyr blood was not only the “seed of the Church,” but the first germ of conviction in the heart of Saul of Tarsus. This law explains the reason why God often sweeps away a Christian’s possessions in order that he may become rich in faith, and why He dashes many persons off the track of prosperity, where they were running at fifty miles the hour, in order that their pride might be crushed, and that they might seek the safer track of humility and holy living. … God’s people are never so exalted as when they are brought low, never so enriched as when they are emptied, never so advanced as when they are set back by adversity, never so near the crown as when under the cross. One of the sweetest enjoyments of heaven will be to review our own experiences under this law of compensations, and to see how often affliction worked out for us the exceeding weight of glory.

There is a great want in all God’s people who have never had the education of sharp trial. There are so many graces that can only be pricked into us by the puncture of suffering, and so many lessons that can only be learned through tears, that when God leaves a Christian without any trials, He really leaves him to a terrible danger. His heart, unplowed by discipline, will be very apt to run to the tares of selfishness and worldliness and pride. In a musical instrument there are some keys that must be touched in order to evoke its fullest melodies; God is a wonderful organist, who knows just what heart-chord to strike.

In the Black Forest of Germany a baron built a castle with two lofty towers. From one tower to the other he stretched several wires, which in calm weather were motionless and silent. When the wind began to blow, the wires began to play like an Eolian harp in the window. As the wind rose into a fierce gale, the old baron sat in his castle and heard his mighty hurricane-harp playing grandly over the battlements. So, while the weather is calm and the skies clear, a great many of the emotions of a Christian’s heart are silent. As soon as the wind of adversity smites the chords, the heart begins to play; and when God sends a hurricane of terrible trial you will hear strains of submission and faith, and even of sublime confidence and holy exultation, which could never have been heard in the calm hours of prosperity. Oh, brethren, let the winds smite us, if they only make the spices flow; let us not shrink from the deepest trial, if at midnight we can only sing praises to God.

If we want to know what clouds of affliction mean and what they are sent for, we must not flee away from them in fright with closed ears and bandaged eyes. Fleeing from the cloud is fleeing from the Divine love that is behind the cloud.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 14, 2015

Here are a few Kindle deals for you: Counseling the Hard Cases by Stuart Scott & Heath Lambert ($2.99); Different by Design by Carrie Sandom ($3.99); Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin ($0.99); The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis ($2.99); Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper ($2.99).

R.C. Sproul Jr. pulls no punches: “As a rule, men are relational dolts. From an early age girls develop sophisticated communications arrays, whereby they are able to simultaneously translate what anyone says, whether with words, expression or body language, into what they actually mean.”

I enjoy the site Redeemed Reader and appreciated this: Five Red Flags to Watch for in YA Christian Romance Fiction.

Here is a look at how How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life. It contains important matters for reflection in a digital age.

When it comes to parenting, it’s good to Remember What You Signed Up For.

Thanks to Ligonier Ministries for sponsoring the blog this week with the article The Light of the Reformation Was the Light of the Bible.

Here are 10 Pointers For Young Preachers. “I am way too young to be called a sage, but I don’t get called young any more either. So while there is better advice to be found, here are some pointers from me for young preachers…”

Kress Biblical Resources has quite a lot of good books in their catalog, and for now they are deeply discounted.

The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. —R.C. Sproul

Sproul

February 13, 2015

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by The Gray Havens—the husband-wife Dave and Licia Radford, a folk-pop duo whose unique artistry draws from such influences as C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Jonathan Edwards. They are offering 5 prize packages this week, and each package will consist of:

  • Fire and StoneOne 12oz. bag of The Gray Havens Coffee Blend, which is roasted at the coffee shop where they first started playing shows. (I’ve tried it and it’s good!)
  • 1 CD copy of their recent album Fire and Stone. Fire and Stone, their debut full-length recording, is being hailed as “a phenomenal recording,” and reached the Top 10 on national mainstream Singer-Songwriter charts.
  • An autographed tour poster

If you’d like to buy their album, you can enjoy $4 dollars off the digital version by going to their store and using 4FIRE as a promo code.

You’re also free to download and enjoy their song “Far Kingdom.”

Enter the Draw

All you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

Porn-Free Family
February 13, 2015

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and, thanks to one surprising bestseller and its new film adaptation, the whole world is buzzing about pornography and deviant sexuality. 50 Shades has done everything it can to beat and brutalize an otherwise sweet occasion. The day of hearts and flowers has been turned into a day of whips and chains. It’s abhorrent.

Sadly, pornography is one of those subjects I have written about many times over the years. I did not set out to write so many articles, and even a short book, on the subject. Yet as someone who has invested a lot of effort in discipling young adults, and who has at the same time been attempting to make sense of the digital explosion, it has been sadly inevitable.

Here are ten articles I’ve written on the subject of pornography and deviant sexuality:

7 Good Reasons to Stop Looking at Porn Right Now. In this article I sketch out 7 reasons you need to break your porn habit, and do it by suggesting 7 different costs: The cost to your soul, to your neighbor, to your church, to your Savior, and so on. Pornography is not a private sin done in darkness, but a sin against the entire community.

50 Shades of Porn - This one was written almost exactly 2 years ago and contained this warning: “Women, you need to be aware because the pornographers are coming after you. Yes, you.”

Pornolesence - Pornolesence is a word I coined to describe something I have seen a hundred times over: Pornolescence is that period when a person is old enough and mature enough to know that pornography is wrong and that it exacts a heavy price, but too immature or too apathetic to do anything about it. Pornolescence is that period where he feels the guilt of his sin, but still enjoys it too much to give it up. It is a very dangerous place to be.

The Porn-Free Family Plan - The Porn Free Family Plan is a step-by-step plan to help your family be, and remain, porn-free. It will teach you the tools, and the character qualities, you will need to protect your family. (Note: It has been revised and expanded in the second edition of my book The Next Story which releases in a couple of weeks.)

Hope in a Pornified World - Despite all the bad news, I believe that we can have great hope for the future. In this article I share two of those reasons for hope: God’s common grace, and a whole new generation of parents.

Sexual Detox - Pornifying the Marriage Bed - This was the first of a series of articles that eventually became a book. While the book was expanded, improved and edited, the blog series maintains some of that urgency.

Mobility, Privacy, Pornography - The takeaway from this one is very simple but also very important: The majority of pornography is now being consummed on mobile devices. Yet the majority of our efforts in protecting our families has gone into our fixed computers.

Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas - Every Christmas (and birthday and graduation and …) a lot of children will receive porn from their parents. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway. That’s because parents are not properly training their children to use their devices.

Help! My Kids Are Looking at Porn! - It’s a tough reality that so many parents have had to deal with. This article suggests ways to approach your children when you learn of their struggles.

7 Lessons from 50 Shades of Gray - I collaborated with Helen Thorne on this article that attempts to address the 50 Shades phenomenon.

Book Recommendations

Here are books I recommend on the subject of pornography.

Top Recommendation

Finally Free by Heath Lambert. 

Having read many books on this topic, I quickly identified three unique and noteworthy strengths in Finally Free. The first is its commitment to the gospel of grace. Lambert avoids using “gospel” or “grace” like buzzwords that have no real meaning. He speaks of grace as a power that we can discover, that we can use, that is available to us as we fight against sin. The second is the books sheer practicality. No other book I have read so helpfully lays out strategies—strategies you can actually do and that will actually work—in the fight against porn. The third is its encouraging tone. He encourages by focusing on Christ’s power over sin and he encourages by his authority on the subject, earned in those thousands and thousands of counselling sessions.

Other Recommendations

  • Undefiled by Harry Schaumburg. Schaumburg’s particular strength and ministry is in recovery from sexual sin. This book is ideal for hurting spouses who are attempting to recover together.
  • Wired For Intimacy by William Struthers. Struthers explores the important link between pornography and biology.
  • Purity Is Possible by Helen Thorne. Written for women, this book addresses the issues of pornography, fantasy and erotica from a female perspective.
  • Sexual Sanity For Men by David White is geared toward helping men build or recover a healthy sexual identity. Also consider Sexual Sanity for Women by Ellen Dykas (Amazon). 
  • My own Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn is a short, punchy book on pornography geared particularly to young men.
  • Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin is a gut-honest book about porn and one that provides a hopeful way forward.

February 13, 2015

Just a couple of minor Kindle deals today: Uncommon Marriage by Tony & Lauren Dungy ($1.99); God in the White House by Randall Balmer ($1.99). You can find a complete and updated list here: Kindle Deals for Christian Readers. Finally, several Kindle devices are on sale today at pretty good prices.

Why It’s So Popular - This is one of the best things I’ve read on the topic: The real reason 50 Shades of Grey is so popular. While we’re on the subject, here’s an interesting idea from Moody: Send them your copy of the book, and they’ll send back a copy of Pulling Back the Shades. Also Dr. Mohler has a great article on 50 Shades.

The Most Glorious Cure - Kevin DeYoung: “No one plans to be a widow at twenty-three. Tomorrow I will preach at the funeral of Elliott Preston Orr, a young man from our congregation who died of cancer last Friday.”

Truth-Telling and the News Media - A Christian who is also a former news anchor reacts to the situation involving Brian Williams.

What Your Wife Wants You to Know on Valentine’s Day - While I don’t think this is all universally true, it’s probably not far from that.

Instagram - I have been asked to begin uploading my daily quote graphics to Instagram. If you’re an Instagram user, you can now find them all right here

What Science Can’t Prove - “I often hear the comment, ‘Science has proved there is no God.’ Don’t ever be bullied by such a statement. Science is completely incapable of proving such a thing.”

The more holy a man becomes, the more he will loathe and mourn over the remains of indwelling sin. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

February 12, 2015

I was born weak. Though I bear my father’s last name, I bear a much stronger resemblance to my mother’s side of the family. The people on her side tend to live long and relatively healthy lives, but they are physically and constitutionally weak—weaker, at least, than the hardy Challies folk.

I was born again weak. Though I was born again in the image of Christ, I was born again with a strong resemblance to his predecessor Adam. And the people on his side are weak—weak in faith. And I think there is a clear parallel between the two kinds of weakness.

Last summer Aileen and I discovered the importance (and joy, and pain) of working out. I had invested little effort in my physical fitness over the years and, let’s be honest: it was beginning to show. I convinced Aileen to join me, and we walked into a health club together and asked for help. They assessed us, hooked us up with a trainer, and we got to work.

Not surprisingly, I quickly learned that I was in poor shape. I had a lot of muscles that were very weak, and they were weak because they had not been developed. They had never been developed because they had never been exercised. I learned, for example, that what I thought was a natural slouch in my shoulders, was actually owing, at least in part, to under-developed muscles. I learned that the leg cramps I was prone to when jogging were due to calf muscles that were weak and poorly stretched.

The solution to this weakness was straightforward, but required a good deal of effort—I had to exercise those muscles, I had to stretch them, I had to build them up. And over time the problems began to correct themselves. There was marked improvement.

Weak faith is a lot like a weak muscle. Faith begins weak and it remains weak when it is not exercised. God calls us to live by faith and calls us to use our faith—our faith in him and in his promises. But so often our faith remains weak because it remains unused.

We need to exercise that faith if we want to see it grow. And this is why God does not show us the end before the beginning. This is why God does not give us a complete view of the future. If God showed us a vision of each step along the way and the final consequence of our decision or the final outcome of our crisis, we would have no reason to exercise our faith, and our faith would never grow.

So instead God calls us to use that faith, and to see it develop.

We exercise our faith when we read the promises of God, when we believe the promises of God, and when we call upon God to fulfill his promises. In those times we stretch our faith, and then we see it grow.

We exercise our faith when we step out into some new venture or new experience, trusting that God will do what is right and what is best and that he will provide for us. Again, we stretch our faith, we exercise it, and see it grow.

We exercise our faith when through suffering we trust in the character of God and take our refuge in the Word of God. We stretch that faith and watch it grow.

We are people of weak faith, but we can grow, if only we will use and exercise the faith God gives.

February 12, 2015

Crossway has discounted a few Kindle books for Valentine’s Day: A Loving Life by Paul Miller ($3.99); What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp ($3.99); Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Ryken ($3.99); Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard ($3.99). Also consider Divine Design by John MacArthur (free); Better Love Now by Tommy Nelson ($2.99); and God on Sex by Daniel Akin ($0.99).

Using A Theological Dictionary for Word Studies - You may enjoy this article from Patrick Schreiner as he looks at how to use a theological dictionary.

Why Is the Number of the Beast 666? - TGC asks the question of Greg Beale. And speaking of Beale, Westminster Books has his new, abbreviated commentary on Revelation discounted today. (Note: Beale’s full commentary on Revelation is regarded as one of the best, so this abbreviation should be excellent.)

God Likes You - It’s such a sweet truth: God doesn’t only love you; he also likes you.

The Hidden Network - BBC writes about the hidden network that runs the world.

The Receiving End of Grace - So true: Brian Williams has fallen from grace, and now he needs grace.

The Rightful Heir? - “How do you respond to people who locate the gay rights movement within the civil rights tradition?” Jonathan Leeman answers.

The Shadow Eclipsed by the Substance - You will enjoy reading Erik’s meditation on the cross of Christ.

Preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ. —William Perkins

Perkins

February 11, 2015

It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

I posted a version of this article in 2011. Image credit: Shutterstock