How free is Grace? (By John Piper)

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 — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6) 

The decisive act of God in conversion is that he “made us alive together with Christ” even when “we were dead in our trespasses.” In other words, we were dead to God. We were unresponsive; we had no true spiritual interest; we had no taste for the beauties of Christ; we were simply dead to all that mattered.

Then God acted — unconditionally — before we could do anything to be fit vessels of grace. He made us alive. He sovereignly awakened us to see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The spiritual senses that were dead miraculously came to life.

Verse 4 says that this was an act of “mercy.” That is, God saw us in our deadness and pitied us. God saw the terrible wages of sin leading to eternal death and misery. And the riches of his mercy overflowed to us in our need. But what is so remarkable about this text is that Paul breaks the flow of his own sentence in order to insert, “by grace you have been saved.” “God . . . made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

Paul is going to say this again in verse 8. So why does he break the flow in order to add it here? What’s more, the focus is on God’s mercy responding to our miserable plight of deadness; so why does Paul go out of his way to say that it is also by grace that we are saved?

I think the answer is that Paul recognizes here a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.

What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.

The Freeness of Grace #SolidJoys http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/the-freeness-of-grace

City Alight

I’m currently listening to a new album from the people at City Alight Music. Check out this YouTube playlist with lyrics. I hope you will find some inspiration here. I’m particularly enjoying ‘Saved My Soul‘ and ‘Only a Holy God‘. (You can also visit them on Facebook where you will find this vision statement: Our vision is to create music that declares the name of JESUS, promotes theological truth & encourages God’s Church. Part of St Paul’s Castle Hill, Australia.)

More Than A Birthday Party For Jesus? 

away-in-a-manger-king-size-bed-jesus

What can worship leaders, pastors and creative leaders do to help Christians experience the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas? http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching

Christmas can be a stressful time of year, and Christians are not immune to the pressures and demands of this season. Many Christians find it difficult to significantly engage with Christmas on a spiritual level. Have you ever heard a Christian say “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas?”

The Christian experience of Christmas should be much richer, more distinct and more meaningful than the Christmas experience promoted across our culture. But for this to happen, Christmas must become more than just a birthday party for Jesus and a time for family reunions.

For Christians to gain a deeper and richer appreciation for the Christmas season as a Christian event (rather than just a cultural one) we must take a step back and look at Christmas in the broader context of the historical Christian calendar.

For centuries believers have followed the Christian Year as part of their spiritual formation and discipleship. According to this ancient tradition, Christmas was celebrated as a twelve-day feast, not just a one-day event. This celebration was the culmination of four weeks of spiritual preparation and anticipation known as Advent.

The well-known Internet Monk blogger Michael Spencer illustrates the difference between Advent and Christmas. He says, “Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the Saviour in the Scriptures and in the world.”1

I believe that rediscovering the spiritual rhythm and preparation of Advent will help Christians experience the true meaning of Christmas.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas – when our culture is shouting at us to “spend!” “buy!” and “consume!” – the season of Advent teaches us to slow down and reflect on God’s story and our place in it, it teaches us patience, and cultivates within us a child-like sense of anticipation and longing. Advent does this by helping us to remember the historical silence of the Scriptures between the Old and New Testaments and the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Advent also helps us to anticipate Jesus’ future return and the eventual completion of His work in redeeming and renewing all of Creation.

Advent spirituality is about recognising that we are living in the “now, but not yet…” between the inauguration and fulfilment, between promise and completion. During Advent, the words of John the Baptist ring in our ears “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”2 as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. For Christians, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation, reflection and repentance, which directly opposes our culture’s penchant for busy-ness, over-spending and over-indulgence in the lead up to Christmas.

Christmas is more than just a celebration of Christ’s arrival. In the light of Advent, Christmas becomes the fulfilment of the expectation that builds throughout the Advent season. At Christmas, we remember that God broke through into our earthly dimension. Through His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ worked to restore the earth and all creation from within, according to God’s good plan and purpose. Our response as His followers is to join with Him, today and every day, in His ongoing work of restoring the world unto Himself, until the day that He returns.3

In this way, Christmas calls us to a tangible response as followers of Jesus: to live out ‘incarnational spirituality’4 – an expression of Christian faith that embodies the life of Christ into the world in which we live. The prayer of the Christmas season is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”5 It is a reminder that “the work of restoring creation has begun,”6 and that we are called to join in that work, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit.

By understanding and integrating these historically important Christian ideas into worship gatherings leading up to Christmas, worship leaders and pastors can help those they lead to discover a deeper and more significant Christmas spirituality. That is, where faith overflows into tangible and intentional expressions of incarnational Christianity – a faith that is in the world but not of it.

Worship leaders and songwriters can help their communities experience Advent by choosing and writing songs, prayers and using language that focuses on the expectation of Christ’s coming; and saving the celebration of his arrival until Christmas Day.

Worship leaders can research, read and learn more about the seasons of Advent and Christmas in order to help their congregations wrap their Christmas experience around God’s story, not the story of commerce, culture and consumption.7

As worship leaders and creative influencers, we have the opportunity to shape the ways in which our worshipping communities experience Christmas, and ultimately influence the kind of Christianity the live out between Sundays. As we learn and immerse ourselves in the rich meaning of the “Christian Year” and prayerfully contextualise the themes and ideas of these seasons into our worship gatherings, I believe that Christmas can once again become a primarily Christian event in our churches – one that encourages us in our faith and empowers us in our witness as we remember, experience and live out the Truth of Christmas.

Ryan Day is the Worship Pastor at Gymea Baptist Church
www.gymeabaptist.org.au   www.ryanday.com.au

References:
1.      Spencer, Michael; http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-michael-spencer-helps-us-prepare-for-advent (Accessed on 1 December 2011)
2.      Matthew 3:3b (See also John 1:23 and Isaiah 40:3) (NIV)
3.      For a balanced and insightful look at the role of Christians as restorers, see “The Next Christians” (DoubleDay Publishing, 2010) by Gabe Lyons.
4.      Webber, Robert “Ancient-Future Time”, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004, page 61-71.
5.      Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
6.      Webber, page 61
7.      Robert Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time” would be a great introduction to understanding Advent, Christmas and the entire Christian calendar.

THIS ARTICLE CAME FROM http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching

My top five – most viewed in 2016

thanksWordPress.com users published more than 595 million posts in 2016.  That’s slightly more than I managed to publish, but I do love the way much of my older content continues to be useful and encouraging to people all over the globe. Here are my top 5 most viewed posts this year. If you have only just followed me, you might like to check out why they are still popular. 

5. How to Encourage your music team even when you’re not the leader
How great would it be if every single player and singer and sound technician took up the opportunity to positively influence the way their team functions. Consider the following list, 10 ways team players can be more encouraging members of their music team. . .

4. All of Creation Sing with me now, the veil is torn
Without being zapped or burnt to a crisp we sinful humans can now see the “glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Mercy Me’s song All of Creation gets quite a mention as well.

3. The Conundrum of Keys, Capos and Congregational Singing
This post contains four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing.

2. The Cross Has Made You Flawless
This post generated quite a lot of discussion – around the song Flawless. See what you think. In Christ we stand before our heavenly Father as perfect, flawless people. We are wrapped up in Christ’s righteousness.

1. Never Alone
This most viewed post shares a congregational song, Never Alone. It has a simple melody (great for church singing) and the lyrics bring such comfort. Christ is with us! We are not alone . . . no matter how alone we may feel.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
(NLT Matthew 28:20)

Thanks for reading in 2016! Merry Christmas!

Ros

 

Count it all Joy that God is in control

“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.” (James 1:2-4)
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

The call to ‘consider it pure joy’ when we face trials and sufferings is quite the challenge. Should we actually be happy that we have lost something or someone, or that we are rebuked and persecuted? Can we really find pure joy in such a situation? Or are we called simply to put on a brave face, or fake smile?

While trials may not bring us direct or obvious ‘happiness’ they can bring us lasting joy – when they push us to rely on God, rather than ourselves. They shout a loud reminder through our shattered shell of comfort that He alone is in control. God is God, and I am not.

These lyrics come from an older song by Sovereign Grace Music, which works quite well as a congregational song. I hope you find it encouraging.

(Here is the link to get the sheet music)

Count it all Joy
VERSE 1
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When my troubles
Close me in on every side
Lord, I’ll count it all joy
When this road of faith
Runs through the darkest night
For I know You’re at work in me
Yes I know You’ll provide
All the grace I need 

CHORUS
You have always been my Rock 
I will trust You forever, forever 
You have never failed me God 
I will trust You forever, forever 

VERSE 2
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When the weight of sorrow
Drives me to my knees
Every heartache and pain
In Your mighty hands
Is forming Christ in me
And I know that Your Word is true
Yes, I know every trial
Will only prove 

BRIDGE
Who can separate us
From You and Your great love 

Words and music by Steve & Vikki Cook © 2004 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Grace Worship

Grace

What grace it is that we don’t have to win God’s favour by our goodness.

#timkeller

A post shared by Tim Keller Quotes (@dailytimkellerquotes) on

From Tim Keller

Let Joy take temptation’s place

I just love the poetry in this song, which challenges us to see ourselves as a people ‘built by hands of love’ to ‘fight back darkness with delight‘. We are to be filled with God’s presence (we are your ‘cathedrals’). And I find this a great concept too: replacing temptation with Joy! These are things we can choose to focus on in our day, to actively make into habits in our living and attitudes. I trust you will be encouraged by these words.

“Cathedrals” by Tenth Avenue North

We were built by the hands of love
Redeemed in spite of what we’ve done
We are the spirit’s dwelling place
And now, children of the light
Fight back darkness with delight
Lift your eyes up to His face
Let joy take temptation’s place
Joy takes temptation’s placeOpen up our souls to feel Your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
God, fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see You as You are

Father, let Your kingdom come
Keep us from our lesser loves
Nothing else can satisfy
Like the joy found in Your eyes
There’s joy found inside Your eyes
Your eyes

Open up our souls to feel Your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
God, fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see You as You areMay we see You as You are

And our hungry souls reach out to whatever fills us up
But we’ll keep on falling down unless we fall in love
Our hungry souls reach out to whatever fills us up
But we keep on falling down until we fall in love

Lord, Lord, Lord

Assurance for the flawed and incomplete

image

One of my most popular and most discussed posts concerns the Mercy Me song ‘Flawless’ – with the statement ‘the Cross has made you flawless’. You can remind yourself of the song here.
Today I’m sharing a post from John Piper which explains the certainty of our salvation in Christ. This salvation is not flawed – though we most certainly are. But the question remains: Has Christ truly perfected us for all time? Now?

Assurance for Incomplete People

Article by John Piper Scripture: Hebrews 10:14 

By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever.

Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?

There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present tense is important. “Those who are beingsanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise, they would not need to go on being sanctified.

In What Way Are We Perfect?

So here we have the shocking combination: The very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” We can also think back to chapters 5 and 6 to recall that these Christians are anything but perfect. For example, in Hebrews 5:11 he says, “You have become dull of hearing.” So we may safely say that “perfected” inHebrews 10:14 does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.

Well, what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (Hebrews 10:15–18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah on the new covenant, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17–18: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” So he explains the present perfection in terms (at least) of forgiveness.

Christ’s people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sins (Hebrews 9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense, we stand before him perfected. When he looks on us, he does not impute any of our sins to us — past, present, or future. He does not count our sins against us.

Finding Assurance in Perfection

Now notice, second, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross.Hebrews 10:14 tells us plainly: “By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are beingperfected. Or you could say, Christ has fullysanctified those who are now beingsanctified — which the writer does, in fact, say in verse 10, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Thus verse 10 says, we “have been sanctified.” Verse 14 says, we “are being sanctified.”

What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father, if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. Hebrews 10:14 means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father, not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified” — “being made holy.”

You may have assurance of your perfect standing with God because by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfections toward more and more holiness. Our remaining imperfection is not a sign of our disqualification, but a mark of all whom God “has perfected for all time” — if we are in the process of “being changed” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So take heart. Fix your eyes on the once-for-all, perfecting work of Christ. And set your face against all known sin.
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/complete-assurance-for-incomplete-people

Grace Upon Grace

“My sin is erased, my heart is amazed by your grace upon grace.”

Here are some beautiful song lyrics from a recent song by Josh Wilson, on the album “That was Then, This is Now” (2015). 

“Grace Upon Grace”

Every morning I open up my eyes to see mercy’s brand new
Darkness disappears and the day reveals all You’ve carried me thru
You are so faithful and I am so grateful God

Heavenly Father
You love like no other
You call me Your own
You never let go
You are my rescue
How can I thank You?
My sin is erased, my heart is amazed by Your
Grace upon grace

Seems impossible, a love unstoppable that just won’t give up on me
You left the 99 to find a heart like mine that’s all the proof that I need
You are so faithful and I am so grateful God

Heavenly Father
You love like no other
You call me Your own
You never let go
You are my rescue
How can I thank You?
My sin is erased, my heart is amazed by Your
Grace upon grace

I am Yours, I am Yours
I was made for You, I was made for You
I am Yours, I am Yours
I will live for You, I will live for You (Lord)

Heavenly Father
You love like no other
You call me Your own
You never let go
You are my rescue
How can I thank You?
My sin is erased, my heart is amazed
Forever oh God I will give You my praise
My sin is erased, my heart is amazed by Your
Grace upon grace

Watch “The Christmas Chord || Spoken word on Christmas” on YouTube

This is a great one to file away for next year. It gives an engaging summary of the Christmas story – which is so much more than just a story: a world-changing and heart-changing event which continues to strike a chord with people for the first time every day of the year. What constant rejoicing there must be in heaven! Blessings to you for the year ahead. May you grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)