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.


Lost in worshipping the created

I have some friends who are totally in lonature-man-in-tree-on-waterve with the beauty of the natural world. They ravenously consume nature documentaries and scientific discoveries, and relish the fascinating and amazing laws which exist in the universe. I must say I do share and rejoice in such a fascination! Yet it is possible to be lost, from God’s perspective, even with such an attitude. Linked to this love of creation is the exaltation of mankind, as the crown of creation. As mankind exalts, expresses, captures, ponders, reproduces, learns from and preserves all the wonder of creation, the wonder of the Creator (who in fact made, entered and sustains this creation!) can be, sadly, pushed aside.

Consider these words from John Piper:

“The tragedy of the world is that the echo is mistaken for the Original Shout. When our back is to the breathtaking beauty of God, we cast a shadow on the earth and fall in love with it. But it does not satisfy. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them. . . For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of the flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
(from The Dangerous Duty of Delight)

His words remind me of those penned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 1:  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator

Piper comments further on this ‘exchange’:  How could I put my eye to some great telescope, designed to make me glad with visions of the galaxies, and notice in the glass a dim reflection of my face and say:”Now I am happy, I am loved?” How could I stand before the setting sun, between the mountain range and the vastness of the sea, and think that everlasting joy should come from making much of me? . . . “
(Don’t Waste your Life, John Piper, 2003, p.186.)

What this really boils down to is love of humanity, humanity exalting itself in bold denial of the Creator, saying ‘all this can exist and be sustained simply by the ingenuity of mankind’ – or by the evolutionary process, which apparently needs no initial designer (?!).

How sad to be so in love with the shadow of the Creator, that a relationship with the Creator is fortfeited, the Creator in whose image we are made, the Creator whose love and sense of right and justice and compassion lives in us as a testimony to his character – even if we deny him.

If this is a struggle for you, please check out my older post on a similar topic: https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/07/01/an-unwasted-life-makes-much-of-jesus/

I trust and pray you can see the God who created and sustains this universe, by His living and eternal Word, Jesus Christ. Faith in him will never disappoint!

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

Star-over-Bethlehem“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2) 

John Piper writes: “Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.”


You may also enjoy:
The waterfall, river and reservoir of God’s Grace

God’s Word leads us in prayer

prayer2Sometimes we can feel like our prayers are going unanswered, or that our feeble efforts to be consistent and persistent in prayer mean God probably doesn’t even want to answer! But God is not like us. He is compassionate and gracious. His grace is new every morning.

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:2)

If you need help to get praying again there are plenty of books to read on the topic. There is also journalling, prayer partners and other methods to try. But today I’d like to suggest a few simple points (courtesy of John Piper) to remind you that the greatest help for the practice of prayer is probably God’s Word itself. Consider the following reasons why:

  1. Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms especially).
  2. The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  3. We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
  4. The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
  5. Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

You may also enjoy:

The waterfall, river and reservoir of God’s Grace                  An unwasted life makes much of Jesus
all things newsolid-joy-app

The blessed and God-breathed Book (2 Timothy 3:16)

GodBreathed_slide1x_365_y_273This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance concerning God’s Word, the Bible, the God-breathed book on which we build our faith.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:

1. The Word is God-breathed:  Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millennia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.

I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.” (2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine). 
This leads to my second point.

2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money .  . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.

3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation (this is the world’s view of the “good book” – which shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law!) Instead, the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10).

John Piper explains well:
Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.”
(John Piper from Desiring God)

You may also enjoy:
Sharing the rich, indwelling Word               Sharing the perspicuity of God’s gracious Word

Grace dispels fear through the promises

freedom with textJohn Piper “The Power of a Superior Promise” from Solid Joys Devotionals

You may also like:
Grace has now appeared                     Co-Heirs with the Child of the Promise

Praising God makes our joy complete

made-to-praise_tWe all know that self-praise is no praise at all – and seeking the praise of others is even worse. Nothing sounds so bad as someone describing or complaining about all their great efforts and actions simply so we can praise them for it!

So why then does God so eagerly and perhaps egotistically command us to praise Him? The pages of Scripture (which are in fact ‘God-breathed’ – 2Tim3:16) constantly direct and urge us to praise God. So basically he is asking for it. He created us for His pleasure and he does delight in our praise. Yet he doesn’t need our praise, surely? He is not insecure like us!  On the other hand, yes he does deserve praise, so why shouldn’t we praise Him?

Perhaps the short answer to this dilemma is that praising God is good for us! God knows this, so directs us to praise Him. But let me direct you to some relevant discussion from C.S Lewis and John Piper to explain:

“Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” . . . The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. . . I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. . .  If we were not allowed to speak of what we value and celebrate what we love and praise what we admire, our joy could not be full.”
(C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)

“So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, he must not only give us himself; he must also win from us the praise of our hearts — not because he needs to shore up some weakness in himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because he loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising him, the most magnificent of all beings. . . . God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things “for the praise of his glory,” he preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings.”
(John Piper. Desiring God, pages 48–49)

So praising God completes our joyful experience of his good and gracious character. How important it is then to see our music ministry as providing an opportunity to do just that – to bring people to praise God, even when they don’t “feel” like it or sing with trepidation because they sing ‘out of tune’.
People need to praise God. Praising God not only completes our joyful experience of his love, it also takes our eyes from ourselves and our problems to the One who holds us together, who has moved towards us with compassion in Christ.
Let’s keep doing all we can to bring people to the place of praise!

(And this may be the topic for another blog post but I’ll mention it anyway: God sings over us!
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 – almost a Three Sixteen!))

You may also like:

Why is it so Critical that we Sing Together (from the Blazing Center)

Working for those moments of Joy                                     You are our Song from Age to Age
Age to Age - Sovereign Grace Musicgrow music


Thanks for the blog award!

notes 7I was recently nominated for the Liebster Award by one of my blog followers: http://savurbks.wordpress.com/ (Check out their About to understand their intriguing title!)  I am honored to accept as well as humbled to have been nominated. (The Liebster Award is an award designed to help bloggers enter the blogging community.)  I’ve just reached 10000 views on my blog this weekend and I’m really enjoying sharing with people all over the globe.

Here are the questions I was posed and my answers:liebster
1. If you could meet any author, whom would you like to meet?
Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird
2. What is your favorite childhood book?

My Little Dinosaur – a Little Golden Book!
3. If you could watch a movie adaptation of any book, which book would you choose?
Markus Zusak’s THE MESSENGER. His other most famous book, THE BOOK THIEF, will be released as a film later this year.
4. What is your favorite genre of books?
Historical fiction – though I do read heaps of non-fiction books, in the realms of psychology and relationships.
5. What is the next book on your “must read” list?
Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer.
6. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?
The National parks in the USA and Canada would be awesome. But I live so far away! New Zealand might have to do.
7. Who is your role model?
As a Christian I obviously follow Jesus and want to have his ‘mind’ in my living, in my attitude to the things of this world, and to others. But there are plenty of wise older Christian women I attempt to emulate in their attitude to their husbands, children and living in general – probably not one particular person.
8. If you wrote a book, what would the title be?
“In Pitch Silence” (I’ve even described the basic plot to my daughter but just haven’t made a start!)
9. What book has inspired you through use of a Bible verse?
THINK by John Piper – which encourages us to think on God’s word and be changed: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Timothy 2:7) (You can find a good review here.)
10. Why or how did you start bogging?
Having a journalism degree and many years working as a high school English/History/Media teacher, I thought it would be fun to start writing and sharing some ideas with people out there – particularly on my two favourite topics, music and God’s grace. That is simply how sevennotesofgrace was born. (But it was tricky to devise the blog title I must say). It is fun to see your words ‘published’ and shared, so they can be an encouragement or challenge to others.

Though extremely hard to choose, I am limited to only ten blog nominees, so here are my choices:

A Journey of faith (http://daughterbydesign.wordpress.com/about/)
An Imperfect Life made perfect by grace (http://sheensteve.wordpress.com/about/)
Sermons and Soda Water (http://sermonsandsodawater.wordpress.com/about/)
Revelling in the Overflowing Grace of God (http://bickleyhouse.wordpress.com/about/)
Proverbs Way  (http://proverbsway.com/about-2/)
Chong’s Worship (http://www.chongsworship.com/about/)
Singing in Babylon (http://singinginbabylon.wordpress.com/about/)
Journey of Joy (http://greatjourneyofjoy.com/about/)
Eternitainment (http://eternitainment.com/about/)
One Passion One Devotion (http://onepassiononedevotion.wordpress.com/about/)

And I will also mention this favourite blog (though her blog is declared ‘award free’ – so I’m not really giving her an award :))
Lessons by Heart (http://lessonsbyheart.wordpress.com/about/)

Here are a few procedures to forward this Award on (if you so desire):
– Link back the blogger that tagged you
– Nominate ten others and answer the questions of the one who tagged you
– Ask ten questions for the bloggers you nominate
– Let your nominees know of their award
(Please let me know when you answer the questions as I would like to check back and read through your answers.)

And here are your questions, my dear nominated blogs!
1. What do you remember about your favourite teacher?
2. What was your favourite childhood book?
3. Which fictional book would you like to live in?
4. What is your favourite bible book – why?
5. What is your favourite Christian band/artist?
6. Where do you do your best thinking?
7. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
8. What is the next book on your to read list?
9. Why/how did you start blogging?
10. What is the most burning question you have – to ask God?

Again, thank-you to http://savurbks.wordpress.com/. Have fun and enjoy the Award!

The waterfall, river and reservoir of God’s grace

solid-joy-appI have been really enjoying a smart phone app called “Solid Joys” which comes from the pen of John Piper. Each daily devotion takes about a minute to read, and a few more minutes to contemplate. (You can look it up here if you would like to read online, or check your phone’s app store.) This one is on the theme of grace and how it relates to our past, present and future. Grace is not just about God doing good to us, but also in us. I hope you will find it as encouraging as I did.

The Different Tenses of Grace

We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)

Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it — undeserved favor. It is also a power from God that acts in our lives and makes good things happen in us and for us.

Paul said that we fulfill our resolves for good “by his power” (verse 11). And then he adds at the end of verse 12, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The power that actually works in our lives to make Christ-exalting obedience possible is an extension of the grace of God.

You can see this also in 1 Corinthians 15:10: 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.

So grace is an active, present, transformative, obedience-enabling power.

Therefore this grace which moves in power from God to you at a point in time is both past and future. It has already done something for you or in you and therefore is past. And it is about to do something in you and for you, and so it is future — both five seconds away and five million years away.

God’s grace is ever cascading over the waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past.

“Living by Faith in Future Grace”

You may also like these posts:

More Great Grace Songs                                                   The Unexpected timing of God’s grace
advent                               kingscross

Taking control doesn’t guarantee safety or happiness

hands on wheel“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
Oswald Chambers

There is an illusion of safety that comes with being the driver of a car. We think we have control over the brake, the steering and accelerator, and we feel safer since we are calling the shots. We think we have control over our destination, that we will arrive safe and happy. And we can foolishly think this holds true while juggling a coffee or phone – or both!  On the other hand it takes a great deal of trust (particularly for me) to hand over the controls to an unseen pilot who sustains your life 30,000 feet in the air in a metal tube, and promises to deliver you safely to some distant destination. Yet statistically we are safer in the air! (There is a 1 in 20 000 chance of death by air travel, but only 1 in 100 by car! Read more here).

Now I know this is not a perfect analogy, but the same is true of the Christian life in many ways.

When things seem to be going wrong in our life, and we are not enjoying the level of happiness we (think we) see all around us, it is all too tempting to grab the reins and take back control over our life. We think our way (or the way of the world around us) will lead to fulfillment and lasting joy. Even if God has explicitly put certain choices off limits, our hurts push us to take back control. We may feel desperately lonely as a single woman, a childless mother or uncherished wife (talking mainly to the women here today). We think God (and others) don’t understand just how difficult it is to live like this! And in this state it may seem like a great idea to have an affair or hook up with an unbeliever, to focus on the selfish pursuit of eternal youth, or fill your life with material things that (also) can only buy short term joy. But taking control doesn’t mean we will be happy!

As Christians we have placed our lives in the hands of our Saviour. That’s how we became Christians – by submitting to Christ, to His revealed will, to His word. We chose to live with Christ as our Lord and Saviour, to walk His way, worthy of the life he called us, worthy of His name we own. So even in the hard things of loneliness or loss, God’s way is still the best way. His ‘restrictions’ are motivated by love and designed for our good! If we take control and choose to live outside of his revealed will, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in a greater state of unhappiness than we were in before.

There are no easy solutions in this fallen world, but If you are in Christ then pushing Him out the driver’s door won’t help. Try digging deeper into His living words. Try serving, try building deep relationships with others, sharing your frustrations and praying together, and growing in the knowledge of God. These things will not fulfill all our longings in this life, but they will be living inside God’s good will for us. As John Piper says (in a post entitled “Are Christians Satisfied?“):

“Christ does offer total satisfaction, much of it right now in hope and forgiveness and growing power to love. But all of it in the age to come when we will be made perfect in a perfect world. Then there will be no sense in which we will be disappointed in ourselves or in our circumstances at all.”

Choosing to go God’s way definitely means we won’t have our hands on the wheel, but the One who does is infinitely wiser and greater than we. Keep trusting Him!