Faith in our strong God magnifies Grace

father holding hands with daughter walking in shallow water at beachToday’s post comes from John Piper, but his childhood story struck a chord with me. I can faintly remember a similar moment when my dad rescued a mini-me  from under a freak wave at the beach (in his good shoes). I trust you will find this an encouragement:

I do not nullify the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21)

“When I lost my footing as a little boy in the undertow at the beach, I felt as if I were going to be dragged to the middle of the ocean in an instant.

It was a terrifying thing. I tried to get my bearings and figure out which way was up. But I couldn’t get my feet on the ground and the current was too strong to swim. I wasn’t a good swimmer anyway.

In my panic I thought of only one thing: Could someone help me? But I couldn’t even call out from under the water.

When I felt my father’s hand take hold of my upper arm like a mighty vice grip, it was the sweetest feeling in the world. I yielded entirely to being overpowered by his strength. I reveled in being picked up at his will. I did not resist.

The thought did not enter my mind that I should try to show that things aren’t so bad; or that I should add my strength to my dad’s arm. All I thought was, Yes! I need you! I thank you! I love your strength! I love your initiative! I love your grip! You are great!

In that spirit of yielded affection, one cannot boast. I call that yielded affection “faith.” And my father was the embodiment of the future grace that I craved under the water. This is the faith that magnifies grace.

As we ponder how to live the Christian life, the uppermost thought should be: How can I magnify rather than nullify the grace of God? Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:20–21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”

Why does his life not nullify the grace of God? Because he lives by faith in the Son of God. Faith calls all attention to grace and magnifies it, rather than nullifying it.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/books/future-grace

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Suffering. . . A transforming grace?

“God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?”

(The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, p.96–97)

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/c-s-lewis-on-heaven-and-the-new-earth-god-s-eternal-remedy-to-the-problem-of-evil-and-suffering

Discipling New Believers – what to read first

For new believers with little exposure to the Bible, it can be one overwhelming book. I recently came across this ordered list of suggestions for reading the four gospels. It has much good reasoning.

Start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order:

(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John

Why that order?

Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.

Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!’” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.

Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.

Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.

And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond!  I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!

John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.

Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)

Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)

https://churchsetfree.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/discipling-and-new-believers/

Prayer Isn’t Simply Plowing Through A List. What Is Prayer? This.

prayer girlBlessings for the New Year! I’m sure that like me you are keen to be more prayerful in 2015. This post from Blazing Center should whet your appetite for more. Keller’s book, referred to in this post, is certainly on my to read list.

What is prayer?

“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, that leads to a full encounter with him,” Tim Keller writes in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

That’s astounding, if you slow down and think about it. Prayer is talking tTim Keller Prayero the Creator of all that is. Even more, it’s talking back to him, in response to his initiative to start a conversation with us. But even that definition fails to adequately describe what actually happens when we pray. So before he gives a definition of prayer, Keller quotes the English poet George Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I).” Herbert doesn’t define prayer; instead, he describes it, in all its richness and variety. Here is the poem. Don’t rush. Read it slowly.

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,

God’s breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,

The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,

The land of spices; something understood.

Can we define prayer? Yes, certainly. But is defining it the end goal? By no means. We haven’t exhausted the meaning of prayer until we have personally experienced and entered into the riches Herbert describes. Don’t be content with a definition. Hear God’s invitation to you through Christ: you’re invited to the banquet. Enter the conversation. “For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

By Josh Blount
http://theblazingcenter.com/2015/01/prayer-isnt-simply-going-through-a-list-what-is-prayer-this.html

The Music of the Written Word

This is a short demonstration of the power and music of words. If you are a blog writer you should enjoy this!

FIVE WORDS
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Gary Provost, quoted in Roy Peter Clark’s (terrific) Writing Tools

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Growing into sacrificial, radical living

jesuschangedmylifejpgAs we grow in relational intimacy with Christ through the gospel, we gradually overflow in radical living for Christ. Any low-grade sense of guilt gets conquered by a high-grade sense of gospel that compels a willing, urgent, joyful, uncompromising, grace-saturated, God-glorifying obedience in us. We live sacrificially, not because we feel guilty, but because we have been loved greatly and now find satisfaction in sacrificial love for others. We live radically, not because we have to, but because we want to.

David Platt in “Radical Together

Go Deep in the Grace of God – Piper’s Five Points

piper 5pts“Perhaps your greatest spiritual need right now is precisely this — to let the flood of God’s prodigal grace wash over you afresh and like never before. As much as your instincts may be saying that next step is yours, what decision you make, what change you can effect, it may be that what you need most is to stand back, look outside yourself, and see the salvation of the Lord which he has worked for you  — by sheer grace.”

If you are looking for a little book to read for some encouragement in understanding the grace of God, Pipers “Five Points” will probably fit the bill. In less than a hundred pages you can plumb the depths of the irresistible grace of God, in a journey through the Five Points of Calvinism, on which the book is based. Along with Martin Luther, John Calvin was the most influential writer in the Protestant Reformation. If you have never considered the building blocks of our Protestant faith, head over to Piper’s site for the free PDF.

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/go-deep-in-the-grace-of-god

The amazing grace that justifies the ungodly – that’s me!

all of graceToday I was exploring my Olive Tree Bible app (on the ipad) and discovered a library of free books, from Piper to Edwards to Spurgeon and more! The excerpt below comes from Spurgeon’s “All of Grace“.  Though he was writing in the late 1800’s he is direct and bold in his writing – you can’t run and hide. He offers us salvation, by grace, through faith. I trust you will find it an encouragement – a reminder of the grace that saves. (You can find the book free on many places on line as well.)

“If God justifieth the ungodly, then, dear friend, He can justify you. Is not that the very kind of person that you are? If you are unconverted at this moment, it is a very proper description of you; you have lived without God, you have been the reverse of godly; in one word, you have been and are ungodly. Perhaps you have not even attended a place of worship on Sunday, but have lived in disregard of God’s day, and house, and Word- this proves you to have been ungodly. Sadder still, it may be you have even tried to doubt God’s existence, and have gone the length of saying that you did so. You have lived on this fair earth, which is full of the tokens of God’s presence, and all the while you have shut your eyes to the clear evidences of His power and Now, while this is very surprising, I want you to notice how available it makes the gospel to you and to me. If God justifieth the ungodly, then, dear friend, He can justify you. Is not that the very kind of person that you are? If you are unconverted at this moment, it is a very proper description of you; you have lived without God, you have been the reverse of godly; in one word, you have been and are ungodly. Perhaps you have not even attended a place of worship on Sunday, but have lived in disregard of God’s day, and house, and Word- this proves you to have been ungodly. Sadder still, it may be you have even tried to doubt God’s existence, and have gone the length of saying that you did so. You have lived on this fair earth, which is full of the tokens of God’s presence, and all the while you have shut your eyes to the clear evidences of His power and Godhead. You have lived as if there were no God.
Indeed, you would have been very pleased if you could have demonstrated to yourself to a certainty that there was no God whatever. Possibly you have lived a great many years in this way, so that you are now pretty well settled in your ways, and yet God is not in any of them. If you were labeled
UNGODLY
it would as well describe you as if the sea were to be labeled salt water. Would it not?
Possibly you are a person of another sort; you have regularly attended to all the outward forms of religion, and yet you have had no heart in them at all, but have been really ungodly. Though meeting with the people of God, you have never met with God for yourself; you have been in the choir, and yet have not praised the Lord with your heart. You have lived without any love to God in your heart, or regard to his commands in your life. Well, you are just the kind of man to whom this gospel is sent- this gospel which says that God justifieth the ungodly. It is very wonderful, but it is happily available for you. It just suits you. Does it not? How I wish that you would accept it! If you are a sensible man, you will see the remarkable grace of God in providing for such as you are, and you will say to yourself, “Justify the ungodly! Why, then, should not I be justified, and justified at once?”
Now, observe further, that it must be so– that the salvation of God is for those who do not deserve it, and have no preparation for it. It is reasonable that the statement should be put in the Bible; for, dear friend, no others need justifying but those who have no justification of their own. If any of my readers are perfectly righteous, they want no justifying. You feel that you are doing your duty well, and almost putting heaven under an obligation to you. What do you want with a Saviour, or with mercy? What do you want with justification? You will be tired of my book by this time, for it will have no interest to you.
If any of you are giving yourselves such proud airs, listen to me for a little while. You will be lost, as sure as you are alive. You righteous men, whose righteousness is all of your own working, are either deceivers or deceived; for the Scripture cannot lie, and it saith plainly, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” In any case I have no gospel to preach to the self- righteous, no, not a word of it. Jesus Christ himself came not to call the righteous, and I am not going to do what He did not do. If I called you, you would not come, and, therefore, I will not call you, under that character. No, I bid you rather look at that righteousness of yours till you see what a delusion it is. It is not half so substantial as a cobweb. Have done with it! Flee from it! Oh believe that the only persons that can need justification are those who are not in themselves just! They need that something should be done for them to make them just before the judgment seat of God. Depend upon it, the Lord only does that which is needful. Infinite wisdom never attempts that which is unnecessary. Jesus never undertakes that which is superfluous. To make him just who is just is no work for God– that were a labor for a fool; but to make him just who is unjust– that is work for infinite love and mercy. To justify the ungodly– this is a miracle worthy of a God. And for certain it is so.”

You are the Music – Book Preview

You are the Music demy.inddYou Are the Music: How Music Reveals What it Means to be Human
by Victoria Williamson

A deft, unique exploration of how music makes us who we are, throughout our lives.

This looks like an interesting book for anyone interested in music and the power it wields in the human experience.  I don’t yet have a copy, but I will certainly be seeking it out. Here is a little taste of the subject matter (taken from Good Reads):

‘You are the music / While the music lasts’
T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

“Do babies remember music from the womb? Can classical music increase your child’s IQ? Is music good for productivity? Can it aid recovery from illness and injury? And what is going on in your brain when Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ transports you back to teenage years?

In a brilliant new work that will delight music lovers of every persuasion, music psychologist Victoria Williamson examines our relationship with music across the whole of a lifetime.
Along the way she reveals the amazing ways in which music can physically reshape our brains, explores how ‘smart music listening’ can improve cognitive performance, and considers the perennial puzzle of what causes ‘earworms’.

Requiring no specialist musical or scientific knowledge, this upbeat, eye-opening book reveals as never before the extent of the universal language of music that lives deep inside us all.”

Paperback, 272 pages
Expected publication: March 6th 2014 by Icon Books
original title:You Are the Music: How Music Reveals What it Means to be Human
ISBN13 9781848316539

Book Review: ‘One Forever’

One Forever‘ by Rory Shiner (Matthias Media 2012) One forever2

When you think of yourself being “in Christ” what do you think of? How would you explain this gospel truth? It is much easier to understand Christianity in terms of believing in Christ, or following Christ or knowing Christ. Yet this “in Christ” terminology is favoured by the New Testament writers, Paul especially. It is also packed with the wondrous grace of God shown in the gift of His Son.
If you want to understand better what it means to be IN Christ then this book is for you.
Published in 2012 and written by Australian pastor Rory Shiner One Forever: The Transforming Power of Being in Christ explores so many facets of what this phrase means, in just seven chapters. His writing is conversational and friendly, accessible to most adults and probably many youth. His illustrations are easy to understand, yet the concepts are deep and his pastoral heart is clear. Rory wants us to have the confidence and certainty of being IN Christ, even if our faith is small.
Here are some of the main ideas he explores:

1. To be a Christian is to be in Christ.
“To be a Christian is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to believe into him. It is to clothe yourself with him.” p40

2. The size of your faith does not matter. The power of the one you have faith in does.

3. Justification is not up to us or our efforts.
Justification is objective. “Justification was not achieved in my heart but on a cross outside Jerusalem”.
“Justification is one of the great joy factories of the Christian life”.
P46

4. We are united with Christ in his death and his righteousness and his resurrection.
If we only think of ourselves as following Christ or knowing Christ or being near Christ then we don’t capture what union captures. p58. “Union with Christ is our defence against the playground bullies of sins and temptation.” p56

5. We are right before God because we are in Christ and HE is right before God.
“To stand in Christ is to stand in a place where the wrath of God will never be felt because wrath of God has already been there.” p36

6. Christians aren’t just ‘not perfect but forgiven’, they ‘forgiven and they are united to christ . . . indwelt by the Spirit of God, and they are empowered by God to live a new life. p 62

7. Christ identifies so closely with the Church, His church is His body, He is the Church. When his church is persecuted Christ is persecuted p.70, 68, “Church is the most concrete expression of your union with Christ.” p.73.
“The distinction we make between how we treat Christ and how we treat his gathered people is not a distinction that Jesus makes” (p74).

8. In the case of the weakest and most broken members of our churches, their very brokenness is their gift to the church. They gift to the church their brokenness, and as we are drawn out of ourselves to serve them, we learn how to be the body of Christ. p.72

Now if that has not whet your appetite to better understand the treasure of what it means to be “in Christ”, check out the video below which is designed to explain a little more. And you can find the book at Matthias, Koorong, and Amazon. I hope it will be a blessing to you!

You may also like: 
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/03/04/holding-on-to-what-we-already-have-in-christ-philippians-316/
and
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2012/09/06/stones-or-bricks-god-lives-in-us-together-1-corinthians-316/