The Fruit of Faith

Hebrews 13.7
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

People have just enough religion to make themselves miserable; they cannot be happy at a wild party and they are uncomfortable at a prayer meeting. — Dwight Moody

The subject of faith is discussed at a higher frequency in Hebrews, three dozen times in just 13 chapters, than any other book of the Bible. The author roots faith not in human experience, but in its object. “The nature of faith and the vitality of faith is rooted in what God is like, not what we are like,” observes John Piper. “You don’t find out what Christian faith is by consulting your felt needs. You find out by consulting the nature of God.”

The quintessential explanation of Christian faith is found in Hebrews 11, which opens with “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The sixth verse of the chapter is nearly identical to the first, bookending a single idea: faith is believing in God’s being and beauty.

A man with any sense will not follow after that which he conceives has no advantage in it; but when a man can honestly say, “The best interests of my highest nature depend upon my getting to God, becoming his servant, and having him as my Father and my Friend,” then it is that he diligently seeks him. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The faithful in Scripture are contrasted not only with the irreligious, but also against the self-righteous and those who did nothing to cultivate their inherited faith. Charles Haddon Spurgeon examines the difference in his sermon “What is Essential in Coming to God?”

Of all the miserable things in the world, a little religion is about the worst of all. The joys of the world—and it has its delusions which worldlings call joys—they dare not go after; and for want of faith they dare not claim the joys of the Spirit of God; so they are wretched.

That man gets the most out of godliness who gives himself most to it. He not only seeks him, but seeks him with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.

Hebrews provides Christians with examples of faith to imitate, not to be confused with recipes of actions to mimic. Each person’s life presents the glory of faith in full bloom — the first fruits of salvation worth seeking after.


Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 11:59)
Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)

Suffering, Punishment, and Discipline

Hebrews 12.6

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.
The reason there is suffering in my life is because there’s suffering in the world. — Timothy Keller

The New Testament carefully parses the difference between suffering, punishment, and discipline. Suffering is often seen as the absorbed effects of sin outside of ourselves. Broken people rage against us while a broken world destroys our body through death and disease.

The faithful are instructed to persevere in suffering because God will be faithful to work in us through the suffering. In a series entitled, The Nature Of Faith, Timothy Keller explains, “This is a broken world. God has said he’s going to deal with it some day. Meanwhile, he’s going to bring good out of it somehow. I know this.”

Punishment and discipline come from another angle—God’s reaction to sin. The most simple way to parse the difference between the two comes in an instructive article to parents from Focus on the Family:

Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in your children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because it’s focused on the past, children feel helpless. They can’t undo what they’ve already done, and they can’t change the circumstances that their behavior has produced.

Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused, always pointing toward future acts. It has nothing to do with retribution and everything to do with redemption.

Punishment is retributive. Discipline is formative. Hebrews 12 opens by asking Christians to “look to Jesus.” It’s a challenge to consider the way he bore the discipline earned by our sin; “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Forcing suffering into the framework of discipline destroy’s people’s hope. Dr. Keller concludes, “A Christian says, I do deserve it, but it’s not punishment… God would never take two payments for the same debt.”

God disciplines those he loves. Again, Focus on the Family highlights the emphasis of a parent with their beloved child:
Whereas the purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. Whereas the origin of punishment is the frustration of the parent, the origin of discipline is a high moti­vation for the welfare of the child. And whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security. Discipline always holds the child’s best interests, not the parent’s anger, in the forefront. It is never out of control.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 9-10 (Listen – 7:48)
Hebrews 12 (Listen – 4:36)

Je Suis

We are scared and filled with hate at the same time. [It’s a] dark period, but we shall not give up. — Pascal Bruckner, from Paris

Although we now live in near-certainty of future terrorists attacks, they are becoming increasingly more difficult to detect and prevent. This weekend’s horrific attack was preceded by an ominous warning from Mark Trévidic, a former French anti-terrorism judge. “The real war that ISIS intends to wage on our soil has not yet begun,” Trévidic told Paris Match last September, “our darkest days are ahead.”

“Darkness” is a spiritual metaphor—one that has reentered language of the state and the world of literature at a remarkable clip since what is considered to be the turning point of international terrorism, 1979. As people of faith, we agree — terrorism is a vile expression of the darkness that has torn apart humanity since evil entered our world. Moreover we also see that humanity’s attempts to be its own source of light have catastrophically fallen short.

The creators of dynamite, the submarine, and the machine gun all believed their inventions would bring peace to mankind. AT&T’s chief engineer in the 1890’s prophesied that the telephone would usher in an era of, “peace on earth, good will towards men.” He was working on the precursor to the cell phone, now used to coördinate attacks and trigger bombs.

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and every­thing evil,” wrote St. Justin Martyr in the second century. Then, drawing from the prophecy of Isaiah, he pictured the world for which our heart longs:
All of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the crucified one.

Millions have said they are praying for Paris — it is an act with an impact we cannot underestimate. Judge Trévidic was careful to warn not just of the oncoming attacks, but for the way we respond, “Terrorism is one-upmanship. It must always go further, hit harder.”

The solution to our suffering, of which terrorism is a fruit, is found in the one who called himself, “I am.” It is the Savior who laid down his life to bring resurrection to the dead, healing to the broken, and the return of all that has been lost.

And so we weep with the broken. We pray for those suffering. We enter into one of the most difficult Christian expressions of worship and pray for our enemies. We join the history of the church, crying, “Come, Lord Jesus” — our hearts and our world need the restoration of the great Je Suis.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 7-8 (Listen – 9:04 )
Hebrews 11 (Listen – 6:22)

The Luxury Narrative :: Weekend Reading List

Grace alone can save, and this grace is the direct gift of God, unmediated by any earthly institution. The elect cannot by any act of their own evoke it; but they can prepare their hearts to receive it, and cherish it when received. — R.H. Tawny

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, American consumers are caught up in the largest shopping weekend for U.S. retail. Once a single day named “Black,” the event now starts early Thanksgiving morning and slithers its way to Cyber Monday. Though the weekend of feckless spending is falling out of style, with declining sales since 2012 and retailers like REI opting out of the torrent of brick-and-mortar shoppers, U.S. consumers spent $9 billion last year — not counting online sales.

One of the fastest-growing categories in retail over the past decade is luxury goods. High-end clothes, watches, and electronics (case-in-point:Apple) are commanding an ever-increasing amount of consumer spending globally.

Most people own things that they don’t really need. It is worth thinking about why. — Paul Bloom.

“Certain consumer behaviors seem irrational, wasteful, even evil. What drives people to possess so much more than they need?” asks Yale physiology professor Paul Bloom. “The arguments against [luxury goods] are based on an incomplete theory of psychology, one that misses the depth of the pleasures they provide.”

Modern research around luxury goods tends to focus either on the way they create an image (I have a nice car, so I make more money and will be a better mate) or the way consumers respond to higher-quality products (this bespoke suit feels better than a cheap one). Bloom argues that we desire luxury goods for deeper reasons than aesthetics or image-refinement.

In a recent article Bloom cites Geoffrey Miller’s Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior: “Someone who doesn’t want to pay $30,000 for the Rolex President watch can go online and, for $1,200, buy a knockoff so finely made that only an expert can tell the difference.” Miller notes the two watches are almost identical in their features including a Swiss ETA 25-jewel movement, a micro-laser-etched crown on the dial, a quad-wrapped 18k gold forged case, unique serial numbers, and a Rolex brand hologram sticker.

Bloom concludes, “If the fake Rolexes are indistinguishable from the real ones, they would work just as well if one’s goal is to impress others.” Similarly the knock-offs are water- and shock-resistant: the quality decrease is nearly imperceivable. So why would someone pay a $29,000 premium? Research shows that the history of an object is connected to the pleasure we receive from it. Psychologists call this the endowment effect.

From this perspective, the lure of such goods is not limited to their utility or beauty or to our beliefs that possessing them will impress people. Part of the lure is that we believe these items have a certain sort of history. The pleasure we get from these objects is genuine and aesthetic, not mostly sensory. — Paul Bloom

Brands are getting better about telling their stories. We’ve become accustomed to turning over everything from bags of coffee to bracelet price tags to find out more about the story of their creation. Notice the marketing around BMW’s new i3: “A vision to completely reimagine the future of mobility and rethink what it means to drive an electric vehicle…” scroll to read more.

Our nature is to flood our lives with the stories of objects in order to gain and project an understanding of who we are. Oakley’s and Under Armor – we’re strong and fast. Helly Hansen – we sail and explore. Warby Parker – we are smart and mid-century modern. Materialism pollutes our true identity with fickle narratives.

The authors of Scripture believed we are part of a meta-story — the story of a God who created and loves us, a God who was willing to sacrifice everything to reunite our story into his own. They also argue that we are, by nature, disconnected from this story. Our souls are searching for deeper stories and histories.

Forgoing a luxury good, or the surplus of any goods in general, could be an act of discipleship. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism historian R.H. Tawney concludes:

Like an engineer, who, to direct the oncoming tide, dams all channels except the one through which it is to pour, like a painter who makes light visible by plunging all that is not light in gloom, the Christian attunes his heart to the voice from Heaven by an immense effort of concentration and abnegation. To win all, he renounces all. When earthly props have been cast down, the soul stands in the presence of God.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 1-2 (Listen – 11:18)
Hebrews 8 (Listen – 2:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 3-4 (Listen – 8:52) Hebrews 9 (Listen – 4:40)
1 Chronicles 5-6 (Listen – 12:23) Hebrews 10 (Listen – 5:33)

The Weekend Reading List

Admiring the Love of God :: Throwback Thursday

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. — Hebrews 7.25

By Thomas Jacombe

We are more apprehensive of the love of the Son, than we are of the love of the Father. I would not speak any thing to diminish the love of the Son; God forbid! It was wonderful, superlative love! Only I would heighten your apprehensions of the Father’s love in the great work of our redemption.

Admire the love of the Father.

Redemption was not only brought about only by Christ, the Father had a great hand in it. Therefore it is said, “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand:” and, “I have found a ransom.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

God set his thoughts on work for wretched man, struck up a covenant with his Son, and therein laid the foundation for man’s recovery. Let angels and men and all creatures adore God’s love. That you would return love for love — return your drop for God’s ocean! We must “honor the Son, even as we honor the Father;” and we must love the Father, as we love the Son.

And then admire the love of the Son too.

He is willing to engage in this covenant. He knew the terms of it; what the redemption of man would cost him — even his life and precious blood: yet, for all this, he willingly and freely binds himself to redeem poor sinners, whatever it cost him.

Oh, the heights, depths, breadths of this love! Blessed Jesus, that you should “lay down your life for” me, to wash away my sins in your own blood, to give your “soul as an offering for sin,” upon this encouragement and motive,—that you might see such a poor worm as I brought in to God; that you should set yourself as a screen between God’s wrath and my poor soul, and do and suffer ten thousand times more than what tongue can express or heart conceive.

What shall I, what can I, say to all this? I may only fall down, and wonder at that love which can never be fathomed!

*Excerpted and languages updated from Thomas Jacombe’s sermon, “The Covenant of Redemption Opened.”

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 25 (Listen – 5:24)
Hebrews 7 (Listen – 4:01)

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