God’s Everywhere Grace

What do you see when you look at your neighbor? Do you see his dodgy business dealings, his chaotic garage, his overgrown lawn, his marital tiffs, and his bad language?

Is that all you see? Is there nothing good you can think of?

What about the time he helped you start your car that icy morning? What about his devotion to his wife (despite their noisy arguments)? Or his kindness to your children? Or his heroic service in Operation Desert Storm?

Are these qualities not worth pondering and appreciating?

Barking boss and complaining customers
Now let’s get in the SUV and go to your workplace. Right, what do you see there?

A barking boss, cheating colleagues, complaining customers, and unreliable computers?

Is that all you see? I know it’s all you talk about when you come home every night. But are you seeing the whole picture? Is there no one with any skill or talent? Does everyone treat everyone like dirt every day? Are there no kind words or actions in the rest zone or staff room? Think of all that the machines and computers do accomplish each day. Do customers never express appreciation?

Seriously ask yourself, challenge yourself, are you seeing the whole picture? Or are you overlooking or ignoring a number of benefits and blessings in your workplace?

Damaging and deliberate blindness
If I’ve just described you at home or at work, then you are closing your eyes, ears, and minds to the grace of God, which is not only a serious sin, but it’s also incredibly damaging to you.

“Never!” you retort. “I deeply appreciate God’s grace, I talk about it all the time. But these people and places are just sinful. They have no idea of God’s grace. The people are lost and going to hell. The places are fallen and decaying and destined for everlasting burning. I know God’s grace when I see it, and it ain’t anywhere to be found over the fence or in the factory.”

I agree that these people and places are marred by sin and misery; without salvation, they are doomed. And yet, and yet, I insist that you are choosing not to see the grace of God in these people and places. I’m not talking about God’s saving grace of course, but about what is often called His common grace.

Saving grace is reserved for God’s people alone and results in their salvation and sanctification. Common grace, is experienced by everyone to one degree or another, and although this results in signifcant benefits and blessings in everyone’s lives, it does not save nor sanctify anyone.

Common grace includes all the gifts and blessings God distributes to everyone (hence “common”) and His restraining of evil in us and around us. All of that, the positive giving and the negative restraining, is grace, because it’s God dealing with His creatures in mercy, not justice. As John Murray put it: “Common grace is every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.”

Deny and downplay sin?
I don’t want to deny or downplay sin and its terrible impact on our world and its people, on our neighbors and family. However, if all we see in these areas is sin and misery, we’re closing our eyes to God’s work of grace all over the world and all around us. Yes, God’s common grace is really that common; it extends to all places and all people. There’s no inch or milimeter, tribe or people, neighbor or son, where His grace is not found to some degree.

If we do shut out common grace we’re also shutting down worship and joy, because the more we recognize God’s common grace, the more we will worship God and the more joy we will have in our lives. Common grace produces common worship and common joy. It will change the way we look at everyone and everyplace. Instead of just looking for evidence of sin, usually not hard to find, we will also look for evidence of God’s work, and rejoice in it. We will be less suspicious and cynical, more open to beauty, more enthusiastic to praise and appreciate God and His works.

It may sound more pious to only focus on the sin and lostness of people. But if we do that, if we exclude from view God’s work in, through, and around them, we are shutting our eyes to a beautiful part of God’s daily work and we are missing an opportunity to worship Him for His gracious work.

Renaming ceremony
To help us prise open our eyes and hearts to God’s common grace, let’s start by renaming it. “Common” sounds so, well, common. It could be read and heard in a demeaning way, as if it’s grace that’s not worth much, cheap grace as it were. So let’s call it “everywhere grace.” I toyed with the idea of calling it “everywhere love” as love is easier for most people to understand than grace. However, love can be deserved; grace, by definition, can never be deserved. As we need to preserve the “underserving” nature of this, let’s just call it “everywhere grace.” And let it lead to everywhere worship and everywhere joy.

Next: God’s Every-Animal Grace

Building a Pure Life [Book Review]

Book review of Building a Pure Life by Dave Coats.

This book was forged in the battlefield of personal sanctification as Pastor and Biblical Counselor, Dave Coats, fought for purity in this muddy world. Also, having worked with people in this area of spiritual struggle for many years, he concluded that the best way to help people who already lacked personal discipline and self-control was to provide a workbook format that “forced” them to study the Word of God daily.

Over an eight week period of manageable daily lessons, Dave systematically dismantles the heart idols that surround the sins of impurity and gradually builds a new and powerful sense of the greatness and goodness of God. The mind is renewed by daily readings, songs, meditations, and questions, hopefully renewing the heart in the process.

Structured Approach
If someone was incredibly self-motivated and determined to break with their sensual sins, then they would find this a good structured resource to work through on their own. However, most people who are losing the battle with lust will likely need someone in their lives – a biblical counselor, pastor, or friend – to help push them through the workbook. If you are losing more than winning, and you really want to win, take this book to someone you can trust and ask them to keep you accountable with the daily readings and exercises.

Pre-emptive strike
This would also be a good workbook for “prevention,” a sort of pre-emptive strike, especially for teenagers. Maybe parents could ask their teenage children to work through it to weaken sin before it gets its roots in too deep, and also to build up defensive walls through raising the twin bulwarks of the goodness and greatness of God.

Four Features
I especially appreciated four features in the book. First, the God-centered focus. There’s no question that delighting in God is the most powerful enemy of sin. Dave’s relentless focus on the greatness and goodness of God will produce deep humilty before God and profound love for God.

Second, throughout and especially in the appendix, it deals honestly, bravely, and plainly with masturbation. No punches pulled. Straight between the eyes. Repent of this sin.

Third, it did what very few other books on this subject do. It called into serious question the reality of conversion if people keep falling into this sin. Through personal testimonies, Dave shows that one of the greatest ways we can love people is not to say, “Oh, well, God forgives, it’s tough, no one’s perfect, etc.” Rather it’s to say, “How can you do this and say you know and love God?” If in the past the church has been too unforgiving of those who fell into sexual sin, we are certainly at risk today of “over-forgiving” in the sense that we rarely question the compatability of repeated offending with real conversion.

Fourth, the weekly focus on the cross, keeps hope alive and points all sinners and saints to the only source of purity for the head, the heart, and the hand.

Building a Pure Life by Dave Coats (262 pp). Available from Amazon.

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A weak mother is a good mother
“A good mother is not one who bakes intricate treats, who schools a certain way, who manages her household within an inch of its life, or who has her children in a million wonderful activities. A good mother is one that acknowledges her need for the power of God to train and teach and change the hearts of her children.”

7 Ways to Interpret the Bible Like a Pharisee
How not to do it.

Three Applicational Emphasis in Preaching Deuteronomy
Peter Mead produces excellent short posts that provide big interpretive keys.

On Long Walks and Deep Thoughts
Brice Ashford argues for the intellectual and spiritual benefits of walking. Some of my best ever sermons came to me while walking the beaches beside my Scottish island home.  I do miss that.

Does the Bible permit polygamy
Seems like a ridiculous question, but we’d better get clued up on it because that’s probably the next cultural battlefield.

You must be born again
If you’re not, this article will make you want it. If you are, it will make you value it.

Interrogating a text [Video]

Email and RSS readers click here to view video.

Some of the textual questions we want to ask when preparing a sermon are:

  1. What are the main words in the text?
  2. What are the most important places or personalities?
  3. What doctrines are involved?
  4. What is central and what is peripheral?
  5. How is the text structured?

Previous videos in the How Sermons Work series here.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals [Book Review]

Review of some chapters in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper.

“Some chapters” because I am only going to refer to the six new chapters in this expanded second edition. Plenty of other reviews have been written about the material in the original book.

Most honest new chapter: Brothers, God does make much of us (4)
When great men (or women) realize they’ve taken a wrong turn, under- or over-emphasized some truth, or become imbalanced through trying to correct imbalance, they correct course and put things right – publicly.

Sadly that’s extremely rare. Some may correct things privately, but never say what needs to be said publicly. Others just stubbornly and proudly continue to teach the same things in the same way, no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented. Still others dig even deeper to prove their theological muscles and macho spirituality.

Thankfully John Piper has the spiritual guts and the humility to sometimes say, “Hey, I went too far there,” or “I missed something out there.” That’s what he’s doing in chapter 4, which he calls a “mid-course corrective.”

It’s not that he taught major heresy or anything like that; just that he probably over-reacted to a particular evangelical problem, and now, with the benefit of time and thought, he is re-balancing to a more biblical weighting.

Most God-centered new chapter: Brothers, God is the Gospel (6)
Piper is concerned that we do not define the Gospel by its benefits alone. He wants us to go on past all the glorious benefits to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. That alone makes the other good things promised in the Gospel good. God is the Gospel because it brings us to Him. If it doesn’t, it’s not the Gospel.

Most courageous new chapter: Brothers, be Bible-oriented – not Entertainment oriented preachers (13)
Here Piper bravely takes on the flippant, funny, feel-good entertainment-type preaching that can be found in so many churches. He says the main problem with this “is that it is out of sync with the subject matter of the Bible, and diminishes our people’s capacities to discern and feel the weight of glorious truth.”

Most original chapter: Brothers, pursue the tone of the text (18)
For me, this was the most thought-provoking chapter, mainly because of my interest in preaching and in teaching students how to preach. Piper asks, “What tone should you aim at in preaching?” and answers, “Pursue the tone of the text.” I’m sure most preachers do this sub-consciously to some degree, but I found the ten areas of reflection in this chapter to be extremely helpful for stimulating a more conscious and intentional exegesis and communication of each text’s tone.

Most controversial chapter: Brothers, help them act the miracle (22)
These statements shouldn’t be controversial:

  • The cross of Christ unleashes power that expresses itself though my volitional attack on sin.
  • The cross becomes effective in conquering sin by empowering my will to oppose sin in my life.
  • The link between the cross and my conquered sin is a Holy Spirit-empowered will.
  • God intends that part of our experience of sanctification be the conscious, willed, opposition to specific sins in our lives.

That these statements are now controversial, indicates how confused the present church scene is. I’m hopeful that the clarity, balance, and exegetical accuracy of this chapter will go a long way to advancing the truth and impeding error.

Most practical new chapter: Brothers, bodily training is of some value (27)
A few years ago, I had to learn this chapter the hard way – through various operations and a brush with death. I hope the biblical balance and common sense of this chapter will prevent other pastors suffering similarly and also enable us all to see how God uses bodily health and fitness to open our eyes to His glory and serve Him better.

Concluding question: If you bought the original book, do these six additional chapters make the second edition worth purchasing?

My answer: YES!

Brothers, we are not professionals by John Piper (307 pages). Available at Amazon.com

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31 Days with Samuel Rutherford
If you’re going to spend a dollar today, you won’t do better than this.

Raising the Dread
R.C. Sproul Jr., sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

Delivery Dynamics: Are you you?
Peter Mead’s been running a good series on the mechanics of sermon delivery (see previous posts here, here, and here)

Who has clean hands and a pure heart?
Appetizing taster from Anthony Carter’s new book , Blood Work, published by Reformation Trust.

Michael Jordan’s Greatest Season
Seth Getz: “Sometimes we look at someone who is successful and declare that they are “a winner” but what we don’t always see is the often long string of losing in that persons background.”

Revisiting the iron cage
Barry York replies to a letter from a young man who fears he has committed the unpardonable sin.