Saturday, July 01, 2006

EMA: John Piper - Sustaining Grace

Following the first talk on risk is right we were reminded: that we will risk only by passion for God's glory when we know the great reward and tresure in Christ. We must preach the glory of the THEN so people will suffer NOW. You cannot be too heavenly minded... and then Dr. Piper turned to Sustaining Grace:

1. Enduring as a Christian: pray to stay a Christian
2. Enduring in word ministry
3. Enduring where we are as long as we're called to be there
4. Enduring in marriage, even in hardship

In our time endurance is not valued. Everything has to change. So, how do we endure? Sustaining grace is the answer. Defined in Piper's poem:
Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, BUT THIS,
The grace that orders our trouble and pain
And then in the darkness is there to sustain

God can prevent the pain but often he doesn't. Instead he proves the grace to sustain. This happened with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. Piper also cited a number of examples from his own church.

We then turned to Jeremiah 32v36-41. Jerusalem has been given into Babylon's hands by God. But, v37, God will gather them from the hand he had driven them to. Sustaining grace will triumph... but that doesn't avert the trouble.

Can we say "God will bring me back?" What is our assurance? Ourselves? Our will? We are so prone to wander but dependent on grace. Pray to be kept in Christ, in ministry. Pray to be kept from sin, whatever the cost. Reformed theology must always lead to prayer (and also to evangelism). Only God can do it. Only God can keep me a Christian tomorrow.

Jeremiah 32 contains New Covenant promises that are secured in Jesus blood. They are for us.

1. God promises to be our God if we belong to Jesus - v38. God uses all he has to see that we remain his.

2. God promises to change our hearts and give us love and fear of him - v39 & v40b. God doesn't just watch, he acts! God keeps the covenant. Sustaining grace is Sovereign grace. Grace is irrestistable, not because we don't resist, but because God overcomes our restistance.

3. God promises that he will not turn away from us or let us turn away from him - v40b. The only basis for me believing tomorrow is God. He keeps me. And God will honour the needle of truth, in the haystack of error (Packer) - so even Arminians are kept by God (!). Keeping us even if we don't believe it. But, we must believe it.

4. God promises to do this keeping with the greatest intensity of desire imaginable -v41. He loves to do us good. We have small capacity for joy but when infinite power ishappy - God is full of celebration. He rejoices to sustain us. Can I concieve of an intensity of desire greater than ALL God's hgeart and soul? NO. All the world's desire for everything woudl still be less, six billion people for a life time is still nothing compared to God's desire to sustain us. A thimble versus the pacific... no even greater.

Sustaining grace in action will mean we can risk and the world will have to ask - what reason for the hope we have?

This talk was a passionate display of reformed doctrine that inspires action and deeply intense worship. We sang Be Thou My Vision in response with real convinction. I was struck again by God's work and glory described here:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, in the day or the night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
Be Thou ever with Thee, and I with thee, Lord;
Be Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Be Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be Thou my whole armour, be Thou my true might
Be Thou my soul’s Shelter, be Thou my strong Tower:
O raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Be Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Be Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
O Sovereign of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, Thou heaven's bright son,
O grant me its joys, after victory is won;
great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be Thou my Vision, O Ruler of all.
So simple, God is sovereign and his grace sustains... delivered with appropriate passion... why isn't every sermon like this? Why isn't my life more God-centred, God-exalting, God-enjoying.


  1. I was at the EMA but my notes from the sessions weren't as extensive as yours, so thank you for these.

  2. one of the perks of doing a maths degree is that you learn to take very thorough notes...

  3. Just listened to this talk this morning while jogging around Sapporo, Japan! Great stuff!
    Was emailing the poem to a certain Jim W (whom I think you know quite well!?) and couldn't quite remember it word for word. So thanks again for your thorough notes!