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Quotes

April 12, 2015

Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon if you prefer, must be one of the most controversial books in the whole Bible, and whether it is meant to be literal or allegorical (or both) is one of the great debates of every age. But what we must know and believe is that the book is a good gift of God and relevant for our day and every day. In the opening chapter of his new commentary, James Hamilton has this to say about the book’s contemporary importance.

The people of God need the Word of God, and we desperately need the Song of Songs today. Our time is notable for massive sexual confusion, distortion, and perversion. Pornography is pervasive. Adultery is celebrated in the cultture at large, the devastation of divorce normalized, the fiction of same-sex marriage legalized—all satanic attempts to make immorality moral through the permission of the legislature. In this subverted moral universe, those who adhere to morality as the Bible asserts the Creator intended it are regarded as bigots, or worse.

As a result of the Fall, we who are Christians experience deeply distorted and destructive instincts and attitudes about sexuality. Even among the redeemed we can find broken and damaged marriages. Some members of the bride of Christ harbor unrealistic expectations about what marriage will be like, about what our needs are, and about how to achieve satisfaction.

How are we to straighten out our crooked thinking, find healing for old wounds, and be renewed in our minds when it comes to marriage and sex? God’s Word is living and active. God’s Word is relevant. God’s Word is able to make us wise unto salvation. And I am confident that God has given us the Song of Solomon so that we will think rightly about sexuality. As we present the living sacrifices of our lives—even in our sexuality—to the One who showed us mercy (Rom. 12:1-2), the Song of Songs is one of the tools the Spirit of God will use to conform us to the image of Christ, to transform us from one degree of glory to another, to enable us to take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ.

God has given us the Song of Solomon so that His glory in Christ will shine in our marriages and in our sexuality. We want the glory of God in Christ to shine in the way we think about and live out the emotional and physical intimacy God intends for husbands and wives by the power of the Spirit.

The Song of Songs is inviting, exciting, and daunting, and God will use it to make us love Him, to make us long for Christ, and to make us better single people and better spouses, better adolescents and better adults, better children and better parents. The Bible is more real than the world, and the way to live in the Bible’s account of reality, which is the real world, is to steep ourselves in it, to understand it, to relish it, meditating on it day and night.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 05, 2015

Sometimes you stop reading just a little bit too soon. That may be your temptation as you read this quote from Charles Spurgeon. But you’ll be missing out if you don’t read right to the end…

Heaven will be full of the ceaseless praises of Jesus. Eternity! thine unnumbered years shall speed their everlasting course, but forever and for ever, “to him be glory.” Is he not a “Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”? “To him be glory.” Is he not king for ever?—King of kings and Lord of lords, the everlasting Father? “To him be glory for ever.” Never shall his praises cease. That which was bought with blood deserves to last while immortality endures. The glory of the cross must never be eclipsed; the lustre of the grave and of the resurrection must never be dimmed. O Jesus! thou shalt be praised for ever. Long as immortal spirits live—long as the Father’s throne endures—for ever, for ever, unto thee shall be glory. Believer, you are anticipating the time when you shall join the saints above in ascribing all glory to Jesus; but are you glorifying him now? The apostle’s words are, “To him be glory both now and for ever.” Will you not this day make it your prayer? “Lord, help me to glorify thee; I am poor, help me to glorify thee by contentment; I am sick, help me to give thee honour by patience; I have talents, help me to extol thee by spending them for thee; I have time, Lord, help me to redeem it, that I may serve thee; I have a heart to feel, Lord, let that heart feel no love but thine, and glow with no flame but affection for thee; I have a head to think, Lord, help me to think of thee and for thee; thou hast put me in this world for something, Lord, show me what that is, and help me to work out my life-purpose: I cannot do much, but as the widow put in her two mites, which were all her living, so, Lord, I cast my time and eternity too into thy treasury; I am all thine; take me, and enable me to glorify thee now, in all that I say, in all that I do, and with all that I have.”

Pray it, and allow yourself to imagine what your life would look like if you lived it…

March 29, 2015

William Struthers’ book Wired for Intimacy made quite an impact when it was released in 2009. Struthers went deep into the human brain to show that God has hard-wired us for intimacy and relationships, and to show that pornography has disrupted the brain’s circuitry in dark and dangerous ways. He spoke about other matters as well, and one that still remains important to me is his discussion of the unique importance of the masculine voice. He distinguishes between the masculine and the feminine voice and insists that both play crucial and unique functions in relationships.

The voice of the masculine speaks to affirm. All children are carried and primarily nourished by the mother. Daughters and sons first know their mother as she carries them, delivers them into the world and then is their primary source of nourishment. In many ways the child moves from becoming an extension of the mother to their own person. All children, both boys and girls, develop their own sense of identity as they separate from their mother. For boys, this process is fairly straightforward. What makes them different from their mothers is fairly easy to see: their bodies.

Both young boys and young girls need to hear from both the feminine and the masculine voice. These voices can be spoken by both mothers and fathers. A father is not incapable of nurturing because he is a man, neither is a mother incapable of affirming because she is a woman. But the masculine voice alone speaking both affirmation and nurture is not enough. The feminine voice speaking both nurture and affirmation is not enough.

Does this mean that a child who grows up in a house where one of their parents is not present is doomed to a life of truncated emotional, psychological and spiritual development? Not if there is a male presence other than the father that is able to come in and act as a surrogate for those children. Boys and girls both need a masculine voice in their life that encourages, affirms, challenges, enables and stretches them. In an ideal set of circumstances both mother and father are present in the raising of a child. Both the masculine and the feminine speak to nurture, protect and grow, albeit in different ways.

There is something special about the affirming voice of the masculine father. This voice of affirmation is not just needed for young men, but also for young women. While it may be true that “only a father can tell a boy when he is a man” (and worthy to stand among his peers), it is also true that the father’s affirmation of a daughter’s worth speaks into her being in a way that others do not. … The masculine voice of affirmation spoken to a man lets him know that he is worthy to stand in the company of his peers; he is loved because of who he is. The masculine voice of affirmation spoken to a woman lets her know that she is loved because of who she is and that she is worthy of pursuit.

When a boy realizes that he is other than his mother (his body is different and she acknowledges that he is different), who is it that tells him who he is, what he is to do, what he will become? His father. The father, the masculine voice, acts to inform, equip, instruct and model. In the absence of this voice, which at its best is loving, trustworthy and affirming, a boy is forced to look for whatever is available to discover who he is. He may look to his mother for instruction, and she rightly has much to say on the matter, her guidance on how a man should relate comes from a female perspective. He may look to another male figure in his life; a grandfather, uncle, elder brother or the media.

The masculine voice is received as a voice that speaks unchanging truth. Just as we think of the Word of God being truth that is unchanging, so a man’s words speak to what he knows to be true. The Promise Keepers movement of the 1990s hit this nail on the head. When a man makes a promise, he is honor bound to keep it because his word is who he is. The degree to which a man keeps his word is the measure of his integrity and honor. When the masculine voice affirms, it says, “It is good.” It doesn’t say, “It is okay now, but it might not be later.” The affirming nature of God is evidenced in the first chapter of Genesis after the many acts of creation. God “saw that it was good.”

March 22, 2015

Later this week I will be at McMaster University to speak to students there about knowing and doing the will of God. Few areas of Christian theology have generated more controvery and more bad teaching than this one. In his book Prayer, Tim Keller illustrates how even good men can take impressions, feelings, or promptings much too far.

If we leave the Bible out, we may plumb our impressions and feelings and imagine God saying various things to us, but how can we be sure we are not self-deceived? The eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman George Whitefield was one of the spearheads of the Great Awakening, a period of massive renewal of interest in Christianity across Western societies and a time of significant church growth. Whitefield was a riveting orator and is considered one of the greatest preachers in church history. In late 1743 his first child, a son, was born to he and his wife, Elizabeth. Whitefield had a strong impression that God was telling him the child would grow up to also be a “preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” In view of this divine assurance, he gave his son the name John, after John the Baptist, whose mother was also named Elizabeth. When John Whitefield was born, George baptized his son before a large crowd and preached a sermon on the great works that God would do through his son. He knew that cynics were sneering at his prophecies, but he ignored them.

Then, at just four months old, his son died suddenly of a seizure. The Whitefields were of course grief-stricken, but George was particularly convicted about how wrong he had been to count his inward impulses and intuitions as being essentially equal to God’s Word. He realized he had led his congregation into the same disillusioning mistake. Whitefield had interpreted his own feelings—his understandable and powerful fatherly pride and joy in his son, and his hopes for him—as God speaking to his heart. Not long afterward, he wrote a wrenching prayer for himself, that God would “render this mistaken parent more cautious, more sober-minded, more experienced in Satan’s devices, and consequently more useful in his future labors to the church of God.”

The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.

(HT: STR)

March 08, 2015

I am sure you are familiar with the powerful words of Philippians 4:6-7: “[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In his book Mindscape, Timothy Witmer explains that there are 4 ways in which these words call us to pray.

Pray specifically. Paul uses different words for “prayer” in verse 6. The first is a general word for prayer, but the second word, “supplication,” refers to an urgent specific plea. This is reinforced when he adds, “let your requests be made known to God.” I’ve heard some folks say that when they pray they don’t ask for anything for themselves. This might sound very selfless and holy, but it is wrong! The prayer Jesus taught his own disciples includes specific personal requests. It begins with praise to our Father in heaven and ends with his kingdom and power and glory; but in the middle supplications Jesus teaches us to ask God to meet our important personal needs. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:11-13). Requests for daily provision, forgiveness, and protection are quite personal, and we are urged to bring them before the Lord regularly. This includes things we are prone to worry about. Do not be reluctant to cry out the Lord about anything and everything.

Pray remembering God’s goodness. You’ll also notice that Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” Praying with thanksgiving requires us to remember all of the good things the Lord has done for us and is doing for us now. After all, there are more things in your mindscape than just worry needs. Worries might be in the foreground at the moment, but there are many other things to which you should draw your attention and for which you should be thankful. This isn’t easy because our natural tendency is to focus on our worries rather than to give thanks. When you are worried, bring your cares to the Lord, but also remember his kindness and goodness to you right now and in the past.

Pray expecting an answer. Another reason we can pray with thanksgiving is that we can expect an answer. Sometimes the answer might not be what we expect, but the Lord has promised to answer. As many have observed, the answers the Lord gives can be “yes,” “no,” or “not yet.” We might always like a “yes” but the Lord our heavenly Father knows what is best and he will not give us something that isn’t good for us. When I was in college I thought the Lord’s plan for me was to become a famous tuba performer. Yes, that’s right—I said a tuba performer! He had given me lots of success up to that point and I was a performance major in my college. I decided that I would audition for the United States Marine Band (The President’s Own) in Washington, DC, and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. I didn’t make either one. It was “no” and “no” from the Lord. I was disappointed, but in closing these two doors the Lord was directing me elsewhere—toward the ministry.

Pray expecting that God will want your response, too. As we pray, the Lord might make it clear that there is something that we need to do. For example, if you’re worried about a relationship, God might lead you to have a conversation with the individual with whom you’ve had difficulties. He will certainly impress upon you the need to look for and apply for jobs if you have lost your job. New health challenges will require a change in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Be ready to be directed toward the things you might need to do regarding your situation. This leading will always be according to and consistent with his Word. If you feel that God is calling you to do something that is beyond you—pray about that as well. If he is calling you to do something, he will also give you his Spirit to do it. Pray for the Spirit to help you and direct you so that you can follow Jesus wherever he calls you to go. Fundamentally, Paul reminds us that the Lord will answer, and that we should be prepared for where that answer may lead or what that answer may call us to do.

March 01, 2015

I shared recently how much I enjoyed reading Michael Wittmer’s new book Becoming Worldly Saints. What I appreciate most is the perfect balance he strikes between living full-out for God while also enjoying life in this world. Here is a section I found especially helpful.

There are two ways to ruin our relationship with the Giver of all things. The first is to ignore him and focus entirely on his gifts. This temptation to idolatry is ever present, and we must remain vigilant against it. The second way is to ignore the gift and focus entirely on the Giver. What would we make of an insufferably pious child who opened every Christmas present only to toss it aside and say, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, but all I really want is you!” Wouldn’t the parents throw up their hands and say, “I’m glad you love us best, but you know what, you’re impossible to shop for!” If the first temptation ignores the God who gives, the second refuses to let him be the God who gives.

This latter temptation is a subtler form of idolatry. It’s idolatry because we are acting as if we know better than God, who gives us “every good and perfect gift” to enjoy (James 1:7). Theologian Doug Wilson explains, “If I turn every gift that God gives over in my hands suspiciously, looking for the idol trap, then I am not rejoicing before Him the way I ought to be.” And it’s subtle because it seems exceedingly pious. We assume we must be in pretty good shape if our biggest problem is that our love for God swamps our appreciation for his gifts.

We must see God’s gifts of creation as windows into his glory and opportunities to praise him. But we must also find pleasure in them. We should thank God for our day on the lake, but we don’t need to say “Praise you, Jesus!” with each cast. We must thank God for our daily bread, but it’s okay to focus on the flavors of our sandwich while we’re eating it. We’re even allowed to score a touchdown or hit a home run without pausing to pound our chest and point to heaven.

Our love for Jesus and his world is not a zero sum game. Attention given to creation is not stolen from its Creator. The more we enjoy God’s gifts for their own sake, the more we can appreciate him. And thank him for, and love him with. Where will you enjoy God’s creation today? Thank God for the privilege of being human and of being here. Then go have some fun.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 22, 2015

This week I read some of Richard Sibbe’s work The Love of Christ and was struck by an excerpt from one of his sermons in which he writes about the presence of Christ in and among his people. Here is how he wants to encourage you:

What a comfort is this to Christians, that they have the presence of Christ so far forth as shall make them happy, and as the earth will afford. Nothing but heaven, or rather Christ in heaven itself, will content the child of God. In the mean time, his presence in the congregation makes their souls, as it were, heaven. If the king’s presence, who carries the court with him, makes all places where he is a court, so Christ he carries a kind of heaven with him. Wheresoever he is, his presence hath with it life, light, comfort, strength, and all; for one beam of his countenance will scatter all the clouds of grief whatsoever. It is no matter where we are, so Christ is with us. If with the three children in a fiery furnace, it is no matter, if ‘a fourth be there also,’ Dan. 3:25. So if Christ be with us, the flames nor nothing shall hurt us. If in a dungeon, as Paul and Silas were, Acts 16:24, if Christ’s presence be there, by his Spirit to enlarge our souls, all is comfortable whatsoever.

It changeth the nature of all things, sweeteneth everything, besides that sweetness which it brings unto the soul, by the presence of the Spirit; as we see in the Acts, when they had received the Holy Ghost more abundantly, they cared not what they suffered, regarded not whipping; nay, were glad ‘that they were accounted worthy to suffer anything for Christ,’ Acts 5:41. Whence came this fortitude? From the presence of Christ, and the Comforter which he had formerly promised.

So let us have the Spirit of Christ that comes from him; then it is no matter what our condition be in the world. Upon this ground let us fear nothing that shall befall us in God’s cause, whatsoever it is. We shall have a spirit of prayer at the worst. God never takes away the spirit of supplication from his children, but leaves them that, until at length he possess them fully of their desires. In all Christ’s delays, let us look unto the cause, and to our carriage therein; renew our repentance, that we may be in a fit state to go to God, and God to come to us. Desire him to fit us for prayer and holy communion with him, that we may never doubt of his presence.

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 08, 2015

Earlier in the week I came across a powerful quote, and one that came at just the right time, helping me formulate some thoughts I had been trying to express. This comes from John Frame’s Systematic Theology, and it challenges each one of us to understand, believe, and obey the sheer authority of God’s Word.

When God Commands, we are to obey. When he asserts, we are to believe him. When he promises, we are to embrace and trust those promises. Thus, we respond to the sheer authority of God’s word.

Adam and Eve had no way of testing what God told them about the forbidden fruit. They couldn’t work any experiment that would show them whether God had rightly predicted the effects of the fruit. They simply had to take God at his word. Satan interposed a contrary interpretation, but the first couple should not have taken his opinion seriously. They should simply have believed God. They did not, of course. They sided with Satan rather than God–or, perhaps better, they claimed that their own authority transcended God’s. That is to say, they claimed autonomy. They claimed that they themselves were the highest authority, the ultimate criterion of truth and right.

The NT praises Noah (Heb. 11:7), Abraham (Rom. 4:1-25; Heb. 11:8-19), and many others because of their faith, and their faith was grounded in God’s word. They simply believed what God said and obeyed him. So for new covenant believers: if they love Jesus, they will do what he says (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:7, 10, 14; 17:6, 17; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2-3; 2 John 6).

So we should think of God’s word as a personal communication from him to us. In DWG, I presented this as a general way of thinking about the word of God: the personal-word model. Think of God speaking to you as a real person would–as directly as your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends. Many in Scripture heard such speech from God, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

And when God speaks, his word carries authority. This means that it imposes obligations. When God commands, he expects us to obey. When he brings information, we are to believe him. When he promises, we should embrace his promises.

If God really talked to you, as he did to Abraham, you would not (if you know what is best for you) criticize his words or disagree with him.

February 01, 2015

Last week GLH Publishing released a new Kindle edition of Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander. I barely got a page or two into the book before I came across such a helpful section that describes the connection between knowledge and piety—between what we know and how we practice our Christian faith. Here is what Alexander wants you to know.


If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety. Error never can, under any circumstances, produce the effects of truth.

This is now generally acknowledged; but it is not so clearly understood by all that any defect in our knowledge of the truth must, just so far as the error extends, mar the symmetry of the impression produced. The error, in this case, is of course not supposed to relate to fundamental truths, for then there can be no genuine piety; but where a true impression is made, it may be rendered very defective for want a complete knowledge of the whole system of revealed truth, or its beauty marred by the existence of some errors mingled with the truth, which may be well illustrated by returning again to the seal.

Suppose that some part of the image inscribed on it has been defaced or that some of the letters have been obliterated; it is evident that when the impression is made on the wax there will be a corresponding deficiency or deformity, although in the main the impress may be correct. There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person. This consideration teaches us the importance of truth and the duty of increasing daily in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the true and only method of growing in grace. There may be much correct theoretical knowledge, I admit, where there is no impression corresponding with it on the heart; but still, all good impressions on the heart are from the truth, and from the truth alone.

Hence we find that those denominations of Christians which receive the system of evangelical truth only in part have a defective experience, and their Christian character, as a body, is so far defective; and even where true piety exists we often find a sad mixture of enthusiasm, self-righteousness or superstition. And even where the theory of doctrinal truth is complete, yet if there be an error respecting the terms of Christian communion, by narrowing the entrance into Christ’s fold to a degree which his word does not authorize, this single error, whatever professions may be made to the contrary with the lips, always generates a narrow spirit of bigotry, which greatly obstructs the free exercise of that brotherly love which Christ made the badge of discipleship.

If these things be so, then let all Christians use unceasing diligence in acquiring a correct knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and let them pray without ceasing for the influence of the Holy Spirit to render the truth effectual in the sanctification of the whole man—soul, body and spirit. “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth,” was a prayer offered up by Christ in behalf of all whom the Father had given him.

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