Three Takeaways from TGC17

Don’t leave grace! What is there outside of grace?!

With this powerful exhortation, John Piper concluded the opening message of TGC17, drawn from the first chapter of Galatians. 8,500 people gathered in Indianapolis this week to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at “No Other Gospel,” the plenary hall resounding with voices raised in singing. It was a small picture of what eternity will be like when the nations are gathered before Christ, exalting his name forever.

Here are three things I’m taking away from this excellent, biblical conference:

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Failure’s Tyranny

A brief glance across the office. Everyone’s working hard—but on what? They seem to know exactly what to do, laser-sharp vision guiding them. But her vision feels…blurry. In the worst moments, insecurity taunts, “They should hire someone else,” its weight pressing down and paralyzing her.

Tomorrow will be better, she promises herself. Tomorrow, I’ll do better. I have to.

And the pressure increases.

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Thanksgiving: A Gospel Guide

The Bible frequently uses the metaphor of food to stir our senses and move us to a deeper understanding of the all-satisfying nature of the glory of our Lord Jesus. Consider these verses:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5).

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

The way we as humans relate to food is but a small picture of how we are to relate to Christ. This imagery speaks to us because – let’s be honest – we love food. We love it, and we need it. There is nothing quite like a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter night or a crisp, healthy salad on a hot summer day. And there is nothing quite like Thanksgiving: the feast to end all earthly feasts!

As we prepare to gather with family and friends this Thursday, let us keep in mind that every aspect of Thanksgiving offers us a glimpse of God’s goodness toward us. If we unpack the good gifts of the holiday, we’ll see that they reflect, at their deepest level, the gospel.

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God Will Not Be Used

Most people know when they are being used. It’s obvious. A friend likes the perks of being around you because you can afford to pay. A family member emotionally manipulates you to get their way. A coworker sticks close because you do the better work.

We dislike being used. It feels slimy. We can see through a person’s attempt to keep us near, right to the heart of their agenda. But God’s ability to look on a person’s heart far surpasses our own. He can clearly discern that what we often want isn’t him, but what he gives us.

The good news? The gospel is for users like you and me. But first, a story.

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Three Ways to Welcome Others as Christ Has Welcomed You

 

Another ministry year has begun. Our small group kicked off last week with good food and discussion around the purpose of our time together. In preparing for the women, and in adding some new women to the group, the idea of “welcoming warmly” has been on my mind.

This morning’s sermon drove these thoughts home, as the pastor asked us to consider how Christ has welcomed us. Christ’s welcome and our ability to welcome go hand in hand:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

In what ways has Christ welcomed us, and how does this enable us to “welcome one another”? Whether you’re leading a small group, hosting friends and family, pastoring your flock, or getting to know your neighbors, consider a few ways to welcome, based on how Jesus has welcomed you:

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The Nation That Tries to Heal Itself Can Only Destroy Itself

One thing after another. That’s the way it’s felt this past month, as acts of terrorism and violence have escalated and followed on one another’s heels. I find myself waking up each day wondering what the headlines will say, wondering what happened while I was sleeping or moving about daily life…

Violence is starting to feel normal and, though no believer should be surprised at evil’s presence, we are becoming freshly sensitive to its increasing prevalence. If I’m honest, I’m afraid, baffled, ashamed, and sad all at once.

Certain headlines and official statements haven’t helped. News headlines like “Who can heal America?” and remarks from our President read, “Only we can prove that we have the grace and character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence.”

The worldview behind such thinking is even more saddening because we cannot be the solution when we are actually the problem.

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Glory Not in Your Independence

I love playing the hero.

And when I say “love,” what I mean is that I simply cannot resist the tendency to do so. To appear weak before other people, to admit that I cannot perform certain functions or that I’m at a loss, often seems like the worst kind of failure.

So I pull up my bootstraps, wipe the sweat off my brow, and pretend I’m Miss Independent.

The last time this happened in a grand scale was not my proudest moment. A significant foot injury had landed me in a hard cast for six weeks. The doctor’s instructions were to “take it easy” and elevate my lower half as often as possible.

Somehow, in my unspoken desire for independence I interpreted those instructions as, “Go grocery shopping, even though your foot hurts, and don’t bother to ask for anyone’s help.”

Great idea.

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Be Strengthened by Grace

While I often know that I am weak in the light of God’s strength, it is a very different matter when I taste this reality. It is in these moments that God breaks me of selfish pride and carefully crafted plans that are rooted in the false belief that I somehow have control over my own life. I am challenged with the question, Do you really trust Me, even at the end of your rope?

When my answer wavers, the temptation is to despair for lack of faith. How can I continue to trust him if my faith is so weak in the first place? I wonder. Then, the gospel. It is in the confession of our weakness that our Father humbles us through his reminder that even faith in Christ is created and upheld by him, that salvation comes from the Lord and not through our own efforts.

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How to Date with Holiness, Honor, and Humility

I was flabbergasted and a little shook up. About four years ago, as I progressed through the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was flabbergasted that couples existed who waited to kiss until their wedding day and shook up because, if God commanded this, then I had already blown my chance over a high school romance.

Even still, something was not sitting right with me about this premise. So I went to my pastor.

We sat in his office and talked for a solid hour about the purpose of this book and the thoughts it advocated on dating. I still have the email he wrote to me, finishing up our conversation. He said:

I also think we need to be wise about our dating approach. To go out to dinner and a movie with a “date” is one thing. To go for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods is putting oneself in a situation where one is more removed from helpful boundaries…

Helpful boundaries. Let’s talk about them.

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Bind My Wandering Heart to Thee

I never thought I would be afraid of feeling good again.

For seven years, all I had known was physical pain, muscular weakness, and chronic fatigue. The daily battle against my flesh had become so regular that I almost forgot it was abnormal to feel what I felt. I hardly even noticed affliction anymore…until I began to feel better.

After one year of intense treatment for Lyme disease, my body has responded positively, and now I have days — even weeks — where I feel strong. Woah. The difference has been like night and day. I rejoice that I am able to exercise again, stay up until 9:00pm without feeling catatonic, and participate in activities that I could not enjoy one year ago.

Yet, I am afraid. I am afraid of forgetting.

I’m afraid of growing prideful in my newfound physical strength and somehow wandering from the Lord. I’m afraid of failing to grasp how much I need him, body and soul. I’m afraid that the faithfulness and works of my God, as seen so profoundly in this difficult season, will become seemingly less and less awesome as the days pass. I’m afraid that I will stray.

As hard as this time of physical affliction has been, the Lord has kept me dependent on his gospel in a unique way through it. Lyme disease has been my thorn in the flesh, to remind me that the all-surpassing power comes from God, that I am merely a jar of clay. He has used my very obvious weaknesses to bind me to himself.

And so I wonder, What will happen to me if I get better? Will I forget all that God has done? Will I forget how much I need him?

And so, I’m clinging to Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 12:10:

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here, Paul lists a number of circumstances that God uses to keep believers clinging to his Son, the supplier of true strength. In other words, there will always be something to keep us dependent on Jesus and aware of our need for him.

Yes, physical weakness is included within this list, but this list is certainly not limited to it.

What is making you especially aware of your need for Christ and his gospel right now? What might God be wanting to use to show you your need and bind you to himself?

Is it a physical affliction, disease, or injury? Is it gospel-opposition from unbelieving friends, family members, or coworkers? Is it outright persecution of your faith? It is financial trouble, the loss of a job, or the passing of a loved one? Is it a battle against a particular pattern of sin? Is it the destruction of your property, the receiving of bad news, or heartache from a prodigal child?

Because of the gospel of his Son, we know that our Father will never let us go. We know that his work within us will not be finished until the day he calls us home. Christ has secured this promise for us.

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to thee

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

Seal it for thy courts above

So we needn’t be afraid of running independent of him for long; for when we begin to, out of the pride of our flesh, we know that God will delight to call us back to himself. He will graciously remind us of our need for his strength, and the gospel of our salvation will bind our wandering hearts to his.

What is God using to bind your heart to his?