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

Lauren Daigle – Light Of The World

Missed this for Christmas 2016, but will save for 2017. Happy New Year!

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

 

Is it worth remembering Christmas?

hith-christmas-raditionl-eThis is a post I wrote for Christmas 2012, when many of you hadn’t joined me on this Blog. Thanks for reading this year! Blessings to you for a wonderful Christmas.

Ever since the Roman church fixed Christmas on December 25 (440AD) there have been a vast array of opinions about whether or not we Christians should in fact be celebrating Christ’s birth in this way. Some people wholeheartedly support it, and go all out in their celebrations. Others try to avoid it, and mock or despise those who do celebrate Christ’s birth at the time of an old Pagan Sun-god festival. Some families I know refuse to partake in the gift giving of the day (with much sadness for their children).

In 1647 Christmas was abolished in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan parliament. December 25 was a working day from 1644 to 1656. There were riots across the country. Christmas church services were broken up by armed soldiers. Shopkeepers came off the worst: if they closed then soldiers forced them to open; if they opened, the rioters forced them to close! Christmas decorations in London were torn down and burned by the mayor. Christmas puddings were banned.

In America the Puritan leaders followed suit and banned Christmas in some states (1659). A New England state law said:“Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas shall pay 5 shillings as a fine.” And you could buy a lot for 5 shillings! The Christmas ban was dropped in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1836 that Alabama said 25 December was to be a holiday, then everyone in the USA copied them. By then people in Victorian Britain had lost interest in Christmas, but when Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 they decided Christmas was a wonderful idea.

dec 25For me Christmas has always been a wonderful time of year, full of family fun and traditions – but does that justify the celebration? While the commercialism is distracting (and the concept of an jolly Father figure who rewards us according to merit is in total opposition to the forgiveness and grace found in Jesus) I do think there is a case for celebrating wholeheartedly as Christians.

And it all comes down to remembering.

Throughout the history of God’s redemptive intervention into our fallen world, He told us to keep remembering what he has done. For example, it was on the basis of covenant promises, given to Abraham, that Israel was rescued from slavery through Moses – slavery to both Egypt and sin. The Passover Lamb which saved them from death (well, God saved them!) was so important to remember that a whole special menu plan was devised. As people ate they would remember and teach their children to remember what God had done. When the new generation of Israel emerged from the wilderness wanderings (their parents caused), Moses spent a whole book (Deuteronomy) explaining how important it was to remember and obey all the laws God had given, to guide and direct their new lives in the Promised Land. They were to live lives worthy of their God and show the world what he had done for them. He rescued them into a covenant relationship, for the glory of His Name.

So why wouldn’t we remember the one event which reminds us of the time God stepped into human history Himself. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, to save us! While the Cross is the thing that saves us, we must remember the beginning of that journey to the Cross: Christ born as a helpless baby, fully God and fully man, in such lowly circumstances. He was born, destined to be despised and rejected, for our sake.

What a great opportunity we have at Christmas time, when even non-Christians are willing to celebrate the birth of a Saviour whom they do not know! They are remembering, even though they don’t fully understand. We have the full story to share – to explain to them what they are really celebrating! Let’s open the dialogue at every opportunity, even in those long line-ups at the checkout! Let’s show them how to remember in thankfulness and awe the Incarnation of God’s son, sent to save.

May the glory go to our great God this Christmas – as we remember!

You may also enjoy:

Great Christmas music                                    Is He really making a list and checking it twice?

Help from Heaven

matt-rContinuing the journey through Christmas albums, here is a beautiful song from Matt Redman’s newly released Christmas Lights album, called Help from Heaven.

“When the road ahead is hidden
And we need a new beginning
When the battle’s closing in, still believe oh
One more step into the promise
And the hands of grace that hold us
Just believe, Just believe in help from heaven”

Indeed, this may be where you are right now, facing the hidden road ahead. Yet it is the hope of heaven, anchored in Christ, which brings help and strength to us in the daily challenges . . . and in the more difficult challenges: things like declining health, aging, broken relationships, injustice and inexplicable tragedies. As I listen to this song I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Colossians 3:1-4.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Christ is our life! What an assurance. If that is not help from Heaven, I’m not sure what is. Blessings to you!

http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/help-from-heaven-matt-redman/

Help from Heaven

There is a moment ev’ry heart needs a rescue
There is a season ev’ry soul needs a breakthrough
Help from heaven, We all need help from heaven

There is a whisper a voice of hope inside you
There is an answer a name above to guide you
Help from heaven, We all need help from heaven
Help from heaven

Chorus 1

When the world is on our shoulders
And we need a hand to hold us
When no miracle is found still believe oh
When the sea of night surrounds us
And all questions try to drown us
Just believe
Just believe in help from heaven
Help from heaven

Verse 3

There is a reason these tears will not be wasted
There is a future for all these broken pieces
Look to heaven
All we need is help from heaven
Help from heaven

Chorus 2

When the road ahead is hidden
And we need a new beginning
When the battle’s closing in still believe oh
One more step into the promise
And the hands of grace that hold us
Just believe
Just believe in help from heaven
Help from heaven

Misc 1

(Bridge)
Taking heart and holding on
Hope is closer than we know
Heaven will not let us go
Help from heaven
(Never will let us go)
(REPEAT)
Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2016 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Crossroad Distributors Pty. Ltd.)
http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/help-from-heaven-matt-redman/

 

This is Love – Incarnate King, Begotten Son

I have a number of Christmas albums lined up, ready for repeat performances in our house over the coming months. One of these I bought after Christmas last year, and never really had a chance to listen to: Paul Baloche’s “Christmas Worship“. Tucked away at track number 6 is this beautiful song which is fast becoming a new favourite – “This is Love” – co-written and performed by Kathryn Scott. Enjoy the powerful truth of God’s love.

Heaven’s splendour left behind,
The King of glory born to die.
God and man to reconcile,
You came to offer up Your life.

This is love, this is love,
Incarnate King, begotten Son.
This is love, this is love,
You choose to make your home in us.

Worship fell that holy night,
Angel voices filled the sky.
Lowly shepherds raised their eyes,
Following the star so bright.

This is love, this is love,
Incarnate King, begotten Son.
This is love, this is love,
You choose to make your home in us.

Come thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our peace in Thee.

This is love, this is love,
Incarnate King, begotten Son.
This is love, this is love,
You choose to make your home in us.

Christmas sheet music and more

wp-1451220015671.jpegIf you are looking for a particular Christmas carol or song, then you should try this page at Music Notes. Enjoy planning the soundtrack for your Christmas celebrations!

http://www.musicnotes.com/christmas-sheet-music/

O come, O come, Emmanuel – The Piano Guys

Listen to this beautiful rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel by the Piano Guys. If you would like to know more of the origins of this beautiful Christmas song, read on.

This is one of my favourite Christmas songs, for the very fact that you cannot miss who Jesus is from the very first line – God with us, Emmanuel! This song recognises Christ’s first arrival, and makes us long for His second, expressed in most eloquent theology. Yet who is the author, you may ask? It was penned in Latin by an unnamed European monk, sometime before the 8th century A.D. He must have had a unique and rich knowledge of the Bible, shown by the way he weaves together several Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah: “the rod of Jesse,” the “Dayspring from on high,” the “Key of David,” and “Wisdom from on high.”  For Medieval Christians who did not have a Bible to read, this valuable song would help them know and understand and teach others what the hope of Christ was all about. In the early 19th century an Anglican priest named John Mason Neale came across the hymn in an ancient book called the “Psalteroium Cantionum Catholicarum.” The tune that went with the text was from a 15th century French Franciscan convent of nuns ministering in Portugal. Rev. Neale translated the Latin into English and gave the world a song.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny ;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home ;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

Real Love

This is a cover of Hillsong Young and Free – Real Love, sung by a young man I have been privileged to get to know this year, Myles Vele. He came as an intern to teach at my school and will continue with us in 2017. Hope you enjoy this. Blessings to all.