TBT: The Effects of a Loving God

2 Corinthians 13.5
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?


By Thomas Doolittle (1632-1707)

Besides, belief (how do we know we “are in the faith”)? We know by what we value, by what our will chooses, and by our affection loving Christ above all.

What We Value
A woman whose house is on fire loses all her pewter to the flames so that she may save her child. Is it not apparent which she values most? Likewise, you will keep Christ, if you prize him most.

What We Choose
Christ is an honor to the believer, and Christ is most prized and valued by the believer. Can a man not know what he prizes most?
What he values and esteems most?
What his mind dictates to him to be chosen above all?
Whether his will chooses according to the dictates of the mind?

The affections, love, and desire enjoy what the will choices; grief fills the heart when he cannot obtain it. There is as much power of God required, and strength of grace, to make a man part with his beloved sin as all the rest.

Loving Christ Above All

By the effects of love, we may certainly know that we love him.
  1. By your unfeigned desires to be like unto him. — We love to imitate those whom we dearly love. Love produces assimilation: if he is holy, so we will be; if he hates sin, so will we.
  2. By your passionate desire to be united to him, to have him with you. — You go from your prayer closet to the congregation — if you find him there, from the word to the sacrament, you rejoice.
  3. By your great care to please him, fear to offend him, and resigning yourself to him. — When it grieves your heart to grieve the Lord, and it breaks thy heart when your break his commands.
  4. By the love that we bear in his image — in whoever we love by denying ourselves of honor and profit, if necessary, God should call us to do them good.

The delight of the heart is revealed in the enjoyment a man values, even while lacking other things. You can delight in Christ, in poverty, affliction, in the midst of troubles in the world.

*Abridged and language updated from Rev. Doolittle’s Cambridge talk, If We Must Aim At Assurance, What Should They Do, That Are Not Able To Discern Their Own Spiritual Condition?

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51)
2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Calamity Come

2 Corinthians 12.9
He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”By Ben Palpant

Editor’s Note: As we reflect on the verse above I want to return to an excerpt we published as part of our Summer Reading Series. This transparent look at his faith — during intense suffering — serves as both encouragement and great challenge. Ben Palpant’s transparency reveals both the profound pain of weakness and the remarkable sufficiency of God’s grace in it.

From the author’s website: “In his mid-thirties, Ben Palpant was suddenly reduced to an infant in a matter of a few short weeks–learning again to read and walk and feed himself. With no clear diagnosis, he was left alone with his questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why is this happening to me?’”

No child in the history of mankind, when asked what he would like to do when he grows up, has ever responded, “I want to suffer.” I, for one, did not. — Ben Palpant

C.S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone. John Piper has called pain God’s pedagogy. “God, I am listening. Teach me. Speak into this bewilderment.”

After my meltdown in the office, everyone important to me encouraged me to stay home. My wife, father, mother, boss, and friends seemed to conspire against my ambitions. Soon my head began bobbing involuntarily and tremors gradually took over my torso. And then my arms and even my legs shook. My hands curled in on themselves and my tongue thickened in my mouth. I would sit like that for hours at a time.

My stability dissolved under the strain of suffering. In my suffering, I forgot that pain has a context. It is framed by the Master Storyteller. I am imagined: before I kicked against my mother’s womb, before the nurse pricked my heel and I cried out, before I threw a snowball and squealed with delight, God imagined all of it.

He imagined the death of grubs and the death of the chicks that ate them. Such pain is part of his story. Thomas Merton suggested that the mystery of God eclipses our suffering.

Pain is no case against God. No matter the cause. No matter the degree. Suffering does not call into question the existence of a good God; rather, it calls into question our lives. — Ben Palpant

He knows the falling of a sparrow and he knew the collapse of a mind. God does not look at our suffering from afar. It is an intimate event to him. He is the author of every detail, speaking the suffering as it occurs.

— Excerpt from A Small Cup of Light by Ben Palpant. benpalpant.com, 2014.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 19 (Listen – 7:31)
2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)

The Strengths of Weakness

2 Corinthians 11.30
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Paul frequently asked his fellow believers to pray for him. Sometimes he would simply say, “Brothers, pray for us.” Other times he would passionately plead,“Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” And we know why he so desperately needed their prayers.
2 Corinthians 11.24-27
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Paul was brilliant and intense. He was a great man, a spiritual warrior, and a chosen instrument of God. Yet he needed others to pray for him. Why?
First, he knew that he could never accomplish his work apart from the grace of God: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Second, he knew that moral growth and ministry fruitfulness came only by prayer. As he told the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment”(moral growth), and wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (fruitfulness).
Lord, we long for grace, moral growth and fruitfulness in our lives. Thus, we know that we must meet with you in prayer. We must boast in our weaknesses apart from you, knowing that we cannot accomplish the most lasting achievements on this earth apart from your might, power, glory and love.
Let us not be lazy in praying for one another – that your grace would abound in our lives, that our love may grow in knowledge and depth of insight, and that your word may speed ahead and be honored in our lives – even as we endure hardship for our obedience like Paul did. Amen.
Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

Destroyed Arguments; Thriving Lives

2 Corinthians 10.5
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Christian culture wars receive a tragic amount of airtime. Most Americans know the name “Westboro Baptist” though its parishioners represent an extreme fringe minority who congregate in a rural town few can locate on a map.

We don’t often get the privilege of knowing the hundreds-of-thousands of other Christians who — in response to Christ’s love — serve their neighbors, sacrifice personal comfort to invest in the lives of the marginalized, and give themselves in friendship and service to their coworkers.

This disproportionate emphasis on the loudest voices can disorient our initial perspective on the verse above. It is not a rally cry for a culture war, but a stern warning to followers of Christ that our flesh will be mislead by the messages of our culture.

Pastor Leonardo de Chirico provides insight by examining the Greek word Logismoi — translated “arguments” above.

Logismoi are sinful systems of thought, evil ways of life, and religious but anti-Christian gospels that promise meaning, hope, and protection. Logismoi are worldviews that shape [a] city… They are overarching sinful narratives on which people rely. — Leonardo de Chirico

Logismoi are everywhere, but Paul’s principle concern was tearing them down inside the Christian community. The apostle pressed the Corinthians to think deeply about their faith. A modern inspection might look like this: yes, I profess to follow Christ, but where do I functionally find my happiness, comfort, hope, security, and joy?

Idols like to inhabit peoples’ lives, their imaginations, their shared memory, and their collective hopes,” De Chirico warns. In Paul’s words, “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This reality creates profound humility toward other sinners. But the message of the gospel brings us hope; in the same breath Paul says, “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Christians are free both from trying to leverage faith to win a culture war and from trying to shout above the noise the rabble-rousers create. Instead we get to spend our lives humbly responding to the work of Christ in us, giving ourselves to those around us, and growing in grace as we allow the Spirit to correct, heal, and lead us to a thriving life. Protest signs are filled with the words of men, but cities are transformed by the sacrificial work of God in and through his church.


Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 17 (Listen – 5:00)
2 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 2:45)

Rhythms of Grace and Discipline :: The Weekend Reading List

Our minds consistently underestimate the impact of daily rhythms. Most people want to live healthy lives, but get discouraged when they can’t commit to extended times of exercise.

The American College of Cardiology released surprising research that shows running just five minutes a day decreases a person’s likelihood of dying from a cardiovascular cause by 45%. The study reveals short excursions increase overall health and lifespan as significantly as running 150-minutes a week.
What is true for our bodies is also true for our souls. Yet how much more do we underestimate the impact of spiritual rhythms?
The flesh resists this daily humiliation, first by a frontal attack, and later by hiding itself under the words of the spirit (i.e. in the name of ‘evangelical liberty’). We claim liberty from all legal compulsion, from self-martyrdom and mortification, and play this off against the proper evangelical use of discipline and asceticism; we thus excuse our self-indulgence and irregularity in prayer, in meditation and in our bodily life. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Though Bonhoeffer’s critique can appear like an attack on what it means to live centered on grace and not law, his intention is the opposite. The Cost of Discipleship is the theologian’s manifesto showing how spiritual disciplines, practiced well, are not contradictory to grace, but extensions of it.
“Godly discipline is being disciplined in the strength of the Holy Spirit, with the purpose of sanctification,” writes Sarah Walton. Her post on spiritual disciplines and grace explores how spiritual disciplines are practiced in the life of Christians who are, “fully aware that justification comes only through salvation in Christ.”
The danger of confusing [disciplines with legalism] is that we can lose the important spiritual disciplines which are crucial to our growth, sanctification, protection, and intimacy with Christ. — Sarah Walton
Spiritual disciplines result in godly change. Nearly anyone can self-will reasonable amounts of self discipline or patience — which may be why the writers of scripture reveal the mark of the Christian not to be one-off character traits, but a life marked by the Fruit of the Spirit.
Paul wrote of the Fruit of the Spirit as the transferable attributes of God. Quite simply, if a person lives closely with God they will begin to exhibit his character. True Fruit of the Spirit are lived in concert: peace in gentleness; patience in love; joy in self-discipline. This balance only comes as we live in discipline and are strengthened by the Spirit.
Renewing emphasis on a discipline of faith, like scripture reading, prayer, or solitude, can reorient our lives. These seasons of renewal don’t have to be massive — committing to memorize the New Testament or praying two hours a day — the long-term impact of daily rhythms is significant.
In his TED talk on creating change, Google engineer Matt Cutts shares, “I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick”
“So here’s my question to you: What are you waiting for? I guarantee you the next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not, so why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot! For the next 30 days.” — Matt Cutts
Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 14 (Listen – 5:57)
2 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 2:58)
This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 15 (Listen – 6:06) and 2 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 3:25)
2 Samuel 16 (Listen – 4:03) and 2 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 2:26)
The Weekend Reading List
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