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

Commitments for 2017

new-year-goalsThis is an excellent New Year post from Paul Tripp – which proposes an alternative to New Year resolutions (which aren’t all bad, by the way). Here is a summary of his key points:

DON’T MAKE RESOLUTIONS – MAKE COMMITMENTS
1. Be honest about your struggles
2. Rest in God’s presence and strength
3. Don’t look horizontally for what can only be found vertically
4. Deepen your relationship to the Body of Christ
5. Argue with your own heart
6. Work to assure that praise replaces complaint
7. Rest in the complete work of Jesus Christ.

Interested? You can read the whole article below or visit the site:

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. While I understand the desire for fresh starts and new beginnings, none of us has the power to reinvent ourselves simply because the calendar has flipped over to a new year. But since the gospel of Jesus Christ carries with it a message of fresh starts and new beginnings – because of the forgiving and transforming power of God’s grace – looking forward at the year to come does give us an opportunity to give ourselves anew to practical, daily-life commitments that are rooted in the gospel.

Let me suggest seven commitments that all of us have been empowered, and should be excited, to make.

1. Be honest about your struggles.

Denial of your daily struggles with temptation and sin is never a pathway to change. The work of Jesus frees all of us to be honest about our weaknesses and failures without fear of God’s judgment. The gospel welcomes us in our weakness to run to God and not away from him. The doorway to personal change begins with humbly admitting your need for the help that only God can give.

2. Rest in God’s presence and strength.

Refuse to load your personal potential and welfare on your small shoulders. Remember the Jesus is with you, in you and for you, and because he is, your welfare rests on his infinitely huge shoulders. When you measure your potential, don’t forget that your life has been invaded by his power and grace. You could argue that Jesus is your potential.

3. Don’t look horizontally for what can only be found vertically.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced into believing that life can be found in the people, possessions, situations, locations and experiences of everyday life. Remember, the role of created things is not to give you life, but to point you to the One who is the Way, the Truth and Life. Refuse to try to satisfy your heart with things that will never offer you the satisfaction that you seek.

4. Deepen your relationship to the body of Christ.

You and I were never hardwired by God to walk with him on our own. God’s plan for us is deeply relational. We’re wired to be connected and dependent, not isolated and independent. Live close to God’s people, inviting those around you to intrude on your private world and to function as God’s tools of comfort, encouragement, confrontation, growth and change.

Remember, sin makes it hard for us to see ourselves objectively and accurately. Personal spiritual insight and growth really is the result of community.

5. Argue with your own heart.

It’s a theme of my ministry that I will continue to repeat: no one has more influence in your life than you do because no one talks to your more than you do. Don’t give way to self-talk that is marked by fear, despondency, futility, hopelessness or discouragement. Preach the gospel of God’s love, grace, presence, promises and power to yourself multiple times a day. Commit to carrying on a gospel conversation with yourself that never stops.

6. Work to assure that praise replaces complaint.

It’s sad, but true, that the default language of every sinner is complaint. Because sin causes me to think that life is all about me, it also causes me to constantly find reasons for being dissatisfied. But when you and I are living for something bigger than our own pleasure and comfort, and when we’re committed to counting our blessings more than we count our complaints, praise will fill our hearts and punctuate our conversations.

How about committing yourself to beginning every day by counting the many, many ways God has showered you with blessings you could have never earned or deserved on your own?

7. Rest in the complete work of Jesus Christ.

You have reason for rest, because even though the calendar has flipped to a new year, your Savior still greets you with new mercies every morning, he still will not send you without going with you or call you to a job without giving you what you need to do it, and he still reigns over all things for your sake. You can rest because you are in the good hands of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

So, as the new year unfolds, don’t fool yourself with grandiose resolutions that none of us has the power to keep. Rather, celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s huge catalog of graces. Re-commit yourself to living every day in light of what you have been given in and through your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year!”

http://paultripp.sitewrench.com/articles/posts/dont-make-resolutions-make-commitments

 

The Christmas Letter I’d like to write

nativitystorythe_photos_1“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

At this time of year many people write and share a recount of the year that has been. They assemble great photos to illustrate their ventures, and list the things they and their family have achieved at work, at school, at home, at church, the house renovations and holidays.

While it is great to reflect on and share all these blessings, in thankfulness to the God who grants them, I can’t help thinking the ‘rosy Christmas letter’ can be somewhat discouraging to others, to people who consider their own personal achievements as nothing but disappointing by comparison. Perhaps their circumstances and God’s plans have taken them down a more difficult and lonely path. (And if I am being honest, such loneliness occurs even in the midst of a busy household at times.)

So, if I were to write an honest Christmas letter about the struggles of the year, here are some of the things I would like to share – to help others know they are not alone. Life is hard and being a Christian doesn’t magically end the difficulties, but God is good and there is joy to be found in Christ amidst the difficulties.

In 2016:
* I have faced ongoing challenges as a parent, spouse, home owner and friend. I have fought to love my children and husband, to serve selflessly.
* I have faced various mysterious and apparently unrelated health issues, which have shown only slight signs of improvement. These challenges will continue in the New Year.
* I have fought the discouragement of watching others pursue fulfilment apart from Christ, and disappointment with myself for not knowing how/being willing to challenge others for such attitudes.
* I have fought to acknowledge the reality of God and his grace in my own thinking about the circumstances of day to day living.
* I have fought disappointment with myself when I see pride or envy, or any of the things Christ died for, rising up in me again.
* I have worked hard as a teacher, with many many unseen extra hours of toil. While this brings some moments of great joy, largely it is draining and I see little gain for all my efforts.
* I have sometimes been cold to others and showed little genuine concern for them.

* I have become more aware of my own sin and selfishness.
* I feel like I have aged more and had worse quality sleep this year than any to date. The ‘days of trouble’ that the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of have certainly arrived (or at least made an appearance).
* I have been hooked on checking my phone notifications and other comforts that I selfishly enjoy.
* I have battled against staying up later than I should, mindless television and being more excited about things that have no eternal value than I should be!

But all these things do NOT bring me to a point of despair! (Sorry if it sounds that way.) These struggles prove that Christ is at work in me and this is the main reason I can be joyful this Christmas!

As James says (1:2-4): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The ‘World’ just doesn’t get this. They think we have bought into a big fat lie which only brings us guilt and hard work.
But we have met the risen Saviour, we have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, God with us, Immanuel!
What else can we do but follow him?

Blessings to you this Christmas,
from Ros

Book of Luke in song

This is a post about an album and a song which is no longer new News, but in case you missed it, it may be worth a look: Songs for the Book of Luke by The Gospel Coalition

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/11/05/luke-album-named-best-of-best/

You can follow links here to listen and access sheet music for all the songs on the album: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/lukealbum/
https://thegospelcoalition.bandcamp.com/album/songs-for-the-book-of-luke

luke-songCome to the Feast (track 9) is a song about the lavish banquet of God’s grace that abounds for any and all who would have it. Yet, it is also a call for the church to serve as heralds of this feast, both to those who know their need (the poor) and those who don’t (the rich). It comes from the parable of the great banquet found in Luke 14:16-24 where Jesus gives us a picture of the gracious kingdom of God that woos and welcomes the most broken, sinful, and lost of people. The musical style is not the mainstream. You may find it a refreshing change. (If used for the congregation, I would suggest the tempo could go up a little.)

COME TO THE FEAST

Go to the highways and hedges, go to the farthest of fields
Go and compel, the sick and the well
For our Father’s house will be filled

Go to the streets of the city, bring in the crippled and blind
All who would taste this banquet of grace
Must come and waste no more time.

Chorus
Come to the feast, come to the table
The great and the least, the rich and the poor
Come to the feast, come to the table,
Come and hunger no more

In the robe of the lamb you’ll be covered
Dressed in his pure righteousness
For all of your guilt, his blood it was spilt
So come by your Father be blessed

Words and Music by Jeff Lawson © 2012 Jeff Lawson Music

 

A Prayer for Father’s Day (Down Under)

I prayed this prayer last year on Father’s Day at our church. Praise God for his heavenly Fatherliness!

nativitystorythe_photos_1Dear Heavenly Father
Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to earth, entrusting him into the care of an earthly Father and modelling to us your sacrificial love and servant leadership. We give thanks for our own earthly fathers, for the love, provision and protection they have given us, even though imperfectly at times. Lord, forgive us for demanding perfection from our dads, which is only something you can give. Help us all to be prayerful for our fathers and appreciate the important role they played in leading and guiding us. Help us to show and express our love for our dads today.
We also think of the many children around us who live in a fatherless world, through absence or neglect or abuse. We pray that those children might find in you the father they seek. We pray children and families we connect with through Clubhouse and the Kids holiday program, that they might know your perfect Father’s love, that they might know you as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord that you are the Father to the Fatherless.
We pray too for those who have lost fathers in the last year, for your comfort at this time while others are celebrating the love of fathers. Thank you Lord for the good memories we can share at this time, and the many good things our fathers have contributed to our characters and lives.
Pray for all dads, that they can love and accept and affirm their children, showing wisdom and patience as they seek to teach their children about Jesus. We pray particularly for new dads, for the task of leading and guiding which they may feel so unprepared for. Thank you that no matter what experiences they have had, with a good, bad or absent father, that they can love like you because your holy and fatherly spirit lives in them, by faith.  We pray that your design for families to be led by Christ-following dads, would be lived out amongst us, and would influence the society around us, for good and your glory!
Amen

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 truth that rescues, renovates and restores

rainbow treeAnd I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

I just love the grace and truth of these two favourite passages (of mine) from God’s word. They sum up the compassionate heart of a God who would send his own son to die in order to make alive those dead in their rebellion against himself! They explain that the abundant new life we have in Christ is in no way something we have dreamed up. This is the intervention of an all-powerful God into the hearts of mortal men and women!

I also love the way the band Tenth Avenue North have described this rescue and restoration plan of our loving God (album: Light Meets the Dark). He came to bring us truth, which is his very substance. He came to bring us back to the start, to a relationship with him unhindered by our sin. He came to touch our hard hearts, to soften and make them tender and alive toward him. I trust you will enjoy meditating on the truth of these verses, particularly the grace of God which they reveal, grace which comes to us by no merit of our own.

“The Truth Is Who You Are”

It would be easier if You were just a thought in my head
Simply something that I once read
A belief needing my defense

And it would be easier if You were something I once knew
A hope just to hold on
But You’re holding out Your hands

You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are, it’s who You are

And it’s not enough to just say, “I believe”
‘Cause truth is that talk is cheap
So grace give me eyes to see

You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are
It’s who You are

Flesh and blood You offer us
Oh, to eat the bread and drink the cup
Oh, to taste, to see, to feel, to touch
Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us

‘Cause You came to break the chains apart
To wake the dead and the sleeping of our hearts
You gave us truth that truth is who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are

Here is a video commentary by the lead singer, explaining more about the meaning of the song:

Four little girls, suffering and God’s perfect peace

4girlsspaffords1You’ve probably heard of Horatio Spafford. You may realise he is the author of the hymn “It Is Well” (When Peace Like a River) and that he suffered the tragic loss of his four daughters before penning those now famous words. But here is a little more background you may not be aware of, along with an interesting question from Tim Keller:

“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”

spaffordWhen Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.

Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:

My sin, oh, though the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”

In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.

– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-312

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

You can listen to a new arrangement of IT IS WELL by Todd Fields. Find it here on Spotify (our church songlist for 2014).

Greater is the One living inside of me

mercy welcome‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed
When others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world

These lines are the chorus of a really lively and encouraging song on the latest Mercy Me album. The song is titled Greater. It explores the fact that the Great One – Jesus Christ himself – lives in us by grace, through faith!  From His perspective we are redeemed, we are fully accepted by Him, with all our guilt and pain. Though there are days we lose the battle, “grace says it doesn’t matter”.  He is living in us and He is greater than the world that would condemn and discourage, and call us fools.  I pray that your joy and strength may be renewed in the Lord as you sing along.  Below you will find the lyric video, the story behind the song and the lyrics themselves. (If you don’t have a copy of the latest Mercy Me Album, this site says it is just 5.99 on iTunes for a limited time: http://mercyme.org/)  Blessings to you!

GREATER (Mercy Me, Album: Welcome to the New)

Bring your tired and bring your shame
Bring your guilt and bring your pain
Don’t you know that’s not your name
You will always be much more to me

Every day I wrestle with the voices
That keep telling me I’m not right
But that’s alright

‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed
When others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world
In the world, In the world
And greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world

Bring your doubts and bring your fears
Bring your hurt and bring your tears
There’ll be no condemnation here
You are holy, righteous and redeemed

Every time I fall
There’ll be those who will call me
A mistake, Well that’s OK

Chorus:

There’ll be days I lose the battle
Grace says that it doesn’t matter
‘Cause the cross already won the war
He’s Greater, He’s Greater

I am learning to run freely
Understanding just how He sees me
And it makes me love Him more and more
He’s Greater, He’s Greater

Songwriters: Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Ben Glover, David Garcia, James Bryson, Jim Bryson, Michael John Scheuchzer, Mike Scheuchzer, Nathan Cochran, Robby Shaffer

You would probably also like this song from the same album: Flawless
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2014/05/14/the-cross-has-made-you-flawless/

 

Remembering grace – specifically!

prayer2No matter who we are or what circumstances and concerns we have, all of us have to deal with trouble in our lives. This post comes from Paul David Tripp with some great advice for turning our troubles into a time when we can be thankful, when we can remember God’s grace to us in a very specific way – quite a challenge!

“When trouble comes, it’s vital that you talk to yourself. . . no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you as much as you do. What you say to you in moments of trouble will impact the way you respond.

David was a man well acquainted with trouble. Poor David; if you read the Psalms, he always seems to be in trouble! But in these moments, David was always talking to himself. We saw this in Psalm 27 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

There’s something else David did in times of trouble that’s very helpful; it’s found in Psalm 4 – “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” (Psalm 4:1, ESV, emphasis mine). In the midst of trouble, David remembered the acts of God. Notice how the above phrase is in the past tense – “you have given me relief when I was in distress.” He’s not thanking the Lord for currently relieving his distressing circumstances.

What can we learn from David? In times of trouble, it’s helpful to remember with specificity the past acts of God’s relieving mercy and grace. You and I have such a short-term memory. Because of sin, we’re all about the gratification and pleasure of today. When trouble comes knocking, we get absorbed in the immediate, forgetting what God has delivered us from in the past and what he’s transforming us into for the future.

David speaks gospel sense to his soul: “Remember, this is not new. I’ve experienced trouble in the past and God was good to me then. He remains good to me today, and what I’m facing is not out of his loving and wise rule.”

I would guess that David learned this theological skill from his ancestors. In the Old Testament, God stops the rushing waters of the Jordan River so the nation of Israel can cross on dry land. The Lord tells Joshua to set out 12 memorial stones. Why? “So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” (Joshua 4:24)

I would encourage you to take notes from Joshua and David. Remember, with specificity, the good things God has done for you. Journal, take a picture, or do whatever else can help you, so when trouble comes knocking, you can say like David, “You have given me relief when I was I distress.”

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

1. How often do you talk to yourself?
2. Reflect on some of the things you’ve said to yourself in the past week. What were you saying to you?
3. What, or who, are some influences that can shape what you say to you?
4. What are some examples from your life when God has given you relief from distress?
5. How can you create “memorial stones” to remind yourself that the hand of the Lord is mighty?