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?

How to Share Your Testimony

When preparing your testimony, ask yourself, “How do the details of my story ultimately point to God’s bigger story in the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie explains the importance of this in a powerful way:

There are lots of voices out there today who will say that there is power in simply telling your story. To an extent that is true. But our stories alone have little power to inspire or change lives. What is more important is figuring out how to use our stories to tell God’s story.

Preparing Your Testimony

It is tempting to get caught up in the details of our own experiences, making our story an end in itself. But, as Christians, preparing and sharing our stories should be about so much more. Our testimonies should point people to the bigger story of God’s gospel.

Share your testimony in about two minutes.

Unfortunately, we’ve all heard ten to twenty-minute testimonies which lost their effectiveness because of their length! Regardless of how interesting we believe our personal stories are, we should keep in mind the limited attention span of our listeners:

People now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects [sic] of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. (Kevin McSpadden, TIME Magazine)

An eight-second attention span may be exaggerated, but it makes a good point. We do not have limitless amounts of time to share what God has done in our lives, so we must be concise, clear, and compelling.

A good rule-of-thumb is to prepare a two-minute testimony on paper. Write down your main thoughts, then edit the testimony to include only the most compelling and clear points about how the gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed your life. Pass along your words to a trusted member of the body of Christ, someone whom you trust will give you honest and helpful feedback.

Then practice sharing your testimony out loud in about two minutes or less.

Share God’s story through your testimony.

Follow Nancy Guthrie’s wisdom by figuring out how to use your story to share God’s bigger story. If you do this, the opportunity may present itself later to talk more about Jesus Christ.

Here are some questions to help you share God’s story through your testimony:

  • At what point did I understand that Jesus Christ reigns over creation as Lord? When did I first grasp his authority over all things, including my life?
  • At what point did I understand that I was an enemy of God by nature? (This could address outward, rebellious acts or the more hidden, inward sins of pride, lust, shame, etc.)
  • When did the Holy Spirit open my eyes to see the gravity and consequences of my sin?
  • How did I first grasp that Jesus Christ came to save sinners by bearing their sin on the cross?
  • What was my response to God’s free gift of grace given through the righteousness of Jesus? How has believing on Christ changed my perspective on the world and my circumstances? How has Christ changed my desires and pursuits? What have I learned about God’s character through the gospel?
  • How would I encourage someone to put his or her faith in Jesus?

These are only several questions to spur on your thought process. Listen to various testimonies to hear examples of how other believers have structured their stories. There is not one right way, but there is only one truth — so make it your goal to share it!

(Some great Bible passages that clearly explain God’s story are Romans 8:31-34, Isaiah 53:3-6, Romans 5:6-11, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.)

Share an invitation to faith in Christ.

Finally, wrap up your testimony by inviting the listener(s) to faith in Jesus Christ. Consider Peter’s testimony to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43, when he finishes with this invitation: “Everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Use whatever opportunity God has given you — whether at a church event, in your workplace, or while hanging out with unbelieving friends — to encourage people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ’s gracious Lordship and rule.

A Final Word

Always remember that your testimony is a miracle of God’s grace. This is true of every believer! Some of our stories may seem more dramatic than others, but all believers were raised from death to life when Christ saved us…and that is a miracle.

How do the details of your story ultimately point to God’s bigger story in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

Are You Lost Enough in Your Feeling for a Savior?

Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior. (Richard Sibbes)

It is possible to be blinded by what we believe is our own goodness. “I’m alright,” we think. “I gave my life to Christ a long time ago.” We misunderstand the dire nature of our weakness, our sinfulness, our desperation. We often do not see clearly how much we need the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Are you keeping watch on yourself? Taking note of your own heart? Have you come to grips with your failures and understood your inherent tendency to serve self, work for self, promote self, and seek self? Or have you also thought, “I’m alright,” believing that sin must be some outwardly obvious act to be “sin”? Have you been blinded to your need for the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ?

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but the humble will be exalted, says Jesus in Luke’s Gospel; this is not the only place in the Bible where similar warnings are spoken to sinful men. Why the warnings? Because our sin nature either cries, “Me first! Look at me! Aren’t I wonderful?” or else, “I’m awful, undeserving of attention. Do not look at me. I cannot believe that Christ’s atonement is sufficient to cover my sin.”

Neither of these are attitudes are founded in the gospel of Christ.

The person who displays the first attitude forgets that Christ alone is perfect in splendor and holiness, the only one who wholly reflects the glory of the Father. He or she forgets that the whole point of the story of salvation as told throughout the Bible purposes to put on display the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He or she forgets that apart from Christ they can do nothing, and they falsely believe that Jesus is merely a means to an end: a better life in eternity, a better life now, perhaps even a reason to stumble into sin because “grace abounds all the more.”

This person is greatly deceived and is not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior.

The second person equally forgets that Christ alone perfect in splendor and holiness, the only one who wholly reflects the glory of the Father. He or she forgets that the atoning work of Christ upon the cross is indeed sufficient to save unworthy, rebellious, repentant sinners. He or she falsely believes that self-deprecation is the means to eventual glory…because doesn’t self-deprecation mean that I am humbly working my way to heaven?

This person is, ironically so, also greatly deceived and is not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior.

In both cases, pride is present, but in different forms and degrees. The pride of the first says, “All of these wonderful, freely bestowed spiritual blessings and gifts must mean that I am doing exactly what God wants me to do. He must be so pleased with me!” The pride of the second says, “I cannot believe that any of these bestowed spiritual blessings and gifts are freely mine Christ, so I will continue to work for them. I will assert my own worthiness by continually asserting my own unworthiness!”

Both of these cases involve people greatly deceived, who are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior.

So what is it to be lost enough? What is it to know true humility, to be brought low, the kind of humility which Christ says he will exalt on the Last Day?

Sibbes says this about the genuinely humble sinner saved by grace, whom he calls a bruised reed:

A set measure of bruising of ourselves cannot be prescribed, but it must be so far as (1) that we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Saviour must be had; and (2) that we reform that which is amiss, though it be to the cutting off of our right hand, or pulling out of our right eye. (12, emphasis mine)

So, according to Sibbes, the genuinely humble believer: (1) Sees his or her need of salvation because of seeing clearly the great, saving glory of God in the gospel of Christ and; (2) Turns from those sins which would keep him or her from reflecting the great, saving glory of God in the gospel of Christ and drawing near to Christ, through the gospel, in tender fellowship.

As the Bible says, a broken and contrite heart the Lord God will not despise (Ps. 51:17).

Therefore, may we become broken and contrite people who are increasingly aware of how much we need the mercy and grace of God shown in Jesus Christ because we are soaking in the perfect, unmatched glory of the Son in the Bible.

May we become people who realize that it is only through divine humbling by the Spirit and faith in the Son’s saving work that we will eventually be exalted with Christ in the heavenly realms.

May we become people who run straight away to Christ our Advocate when we are convicted of sin because we trust that he has cast that sin and shame away, as far as the east is from the west, by bearing it himself, transferring to us his spotless record of righteousness instead.

May we find ourselves truly lost in our own feeling for a Savior.

…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Is. 42:3)