Once saved always saved? Or, is there more?

TCGHeadshots_090418_FINCH-14.jpg

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul reminds us that the gospel is the message which we “received,” in which we “stand,” and by which we are “being saved.” The Scriptures push us to not only look back to when we were saved but to press forward knowing God is still at work in us.

Last Sunday, Sam (pictured above with his wife Rachel) shared his testimony of how he was saved and is still being saved by God’s continued work of grace. Read along below.

The Lord saved me when I was about 7 years old.  My dad was a pastor and church planter, so I heard the good news of Jesus regularly.  I remember riding in the car with my family on a rainy day, when the Lord opened my eyes to my need of a Savior.  So, I prayed in my heart, and asked Jesus to forgive my sins and save me.  Subsequent to that miracle, God began the long and slow process of heart transformation.

When I was a teenager, I loved sports.  I was particularly drawn to basketball and strongly desired to play college ball.  God had other plans for me, though.  I injured my shoulder in a game, and missed out on the last 2 years of high school basketball.  I really struggled with that situation, as I felt like God had taken my dream from me.  Ultimately, He did, but for His bigger purposes.  I remember my parents counseling me to trust God, even when I don’t understand.  Later, I realized that my real problem was that basketball was too high a priority in my life.  Like an idol.

When I entered college, my focus shifted from basketball to academics.  I had to work a job to pay for college, so I was either studying or working all the time.  It is a wonder that I ever got married.  Rachel and I had the same major, and nearly all the same classes.  So, God literally had to put her right in front of me, and I am so thankful for that.  During my senior year of college, one of my friends asked me why I worked so hard.  At that time, I honestly did not know.  Looking back, I realize that I was looking for my identity in something other than Christ.  That thing was Achievement.  Another idol to me.

After we got married, I finished up my training. Then we ended up here in Athens by God’s leading.  That was almost 14 years ago.  At that time, I put all my energy into work.  But it wasn’t as fulfilled as I had hoped it would be.  I started to become depression and continued to feel this way for several months.  I started hating my work.  My parents advised me to pray that God would either change my circumstances or change my heart.  I prayed that prayer daily for months.  I believed God would change my circumstances and move us to another job.  But thankfully, God did not change my circumstances.  He opened my eyes to the opportunities of ministry and fruitful work all around me.  Once I took my eyes off of myself, the fog of depression began to lift.  I realize now that work has been another idol in my life.

The main point I am trying to make is that God has consistently and patiently removed distractions (or idols) in my life over the years and called me seek Him first.  I wish I could say I am complete.  I wish I could say the gospel is always the center of my life, but I still battle with sin and these distractions.  Yet, God is so patient, kind, and gracious with me.  He continues to transform my heart.  He has given me a loving wife who gently points out my pride.  He has given me several godly friends that keep me accountable.  And we are so thankful for this church that consistently preaches the Word and the gospel.  Praise the Lord for His transforming grace!

Summer Book Study for Men!

The word holiness sounds so boring, bland, & uninteresting. It’s an old word. So we assume it’s irrelevant & has little to actually do with us.

Yet, when the Bible talks about holiness, it isn’t boring, bland, or uninteresting at all. The Bible describes the holy as those who are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, & so on. It is anything but boring.

What’s more. The Bible describes the godly or holy as those who “flourish in the courts of our God” and who are “ever full of sap & green” (Ps. 92:13–14). Godly people aren’t irrelevant; they are always relevant, because they are living to the hilt for the only things that matter. They are those who found joy in God & “at his right hand pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

We want to be holy, more than anything else.

This summer, we are challenging the men to read sections of Faithfulness & Holiness by J.C. Ryle together as we strive after this goal.

So, here are the details.

1. We will gather 6 times from June–August on Tuesday nights to review what we’re reading. Below are the dates.

  • June 4

  • June 25

  • July 9

  • July 23

  • August 6

  • August 20

2. If you are interested & able to commit the dates above, sign up here.

Ladies' Night on Thursday, May 16!

tacos.jpg

It’s hard to have hundred dollar conversations in dime moments.

So, the ladies have devised a simple plan for this week: Talk & eat tacos together.

Here are the details:

  • WHERE: El Jinette (2011 Congress Pkwy S, Athens, TN 37303)

  • WHEN: 6:30pm on Thursday, May 16

  • WHAT TO BRING?: Your favorite beauty product (for a conversation starter!)

  • ANYTHING ELSE?: A friend.

We had a blast at our Couples’ Night last week.

IMG_1303.jpg

We had a blast at our Couples’ Night last week. We ate, talked, & learned. And we all lost to Taylor & Elisabeth in a game.

We need the Song of Solomon—that little, (slightly) odd book tucked away in the Old Testament.

in our day of self-focused love & marriage, the Song of Songs shines brightly & calls us to self-giving, joyful love that will last. A love that is romantic, tender, reciprocal, & deeply satisfying.

That’s what we want for our marriages more than anything else.

As Song of Songs holds out for us:

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.  If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised (8:6–7).

Let us pursue this love & heed the words of Matt Chandler who has written: “Pay attention to the desires, the strengths, the growth of your spouse, the things that only you get to see. Mine for those. Look for those. Be dialed in. Pay attention.”

If you were unable attend or want to listen along, click below.

It took me a long time to "truly recognize MY need for a Savior."

TCGHeadshots_090418_FINCH-4.jpg

Ben & Joy (pictured above) are no strangers to Athens or our church plant. Yet, last Sunday, it was so encouraging to hear Joy’s testimony—to hear what we did not know.

Joy grew up in the church & knew a lot about Jesus, but that’s not the end of the story. Read along to see how God opened her eyes to see more about him & her need.

Liar, thief, manipulator, lawbreaker, murderous in my thoughts, filled with extreme fears. Caring too much about the opinion of others, selfish and self-indulgent, hateful, ungodly and filled with kinds of evil. This is a description of my heart without Christ, but it took a long time before I believed it.

I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a minister and I was born in the middle of vacation bible school. I prayed to receive Christ at age 5 in our home. I was baptized by my dad at 7 and shared the ABCs of Christianity for the first time in Kindergarten. However, the “A” admit that you’re a sinner part always seemed a little more for “them” and not for me.

I attended youth camps and was discipled by a college student while in junior high. God used His Word to inform my decisions in life and I was passionate about others hearing about God and His plans for their lives.

My freshman year of college, during a school-wide chapel service, a local pastor preached from Romans on the depravity of man. My heart broke over the fact that I had never really understood that truth. In reality I had never truly recognized MY need for a Savior. I began to read scripture like never before to study this truth. I began to see how sin deeply marked my life, even though on the outside I appeared to “have it all together.” I began to see how nothing I could do could ever remove the guilt and shame of my sin.

I began to see myself as the sinner I told you about in the beginning.

Yet, it hasn’t always been easy. When I first got married, I thought I knew how to be a perfect wife because I had read so many books on godly marriages. God humbled me to a pile on the floor of our apartment when I couldn’t even plan meals for two. I thought I had parenting figured after reading and consulting many godly resources after child number 1 but God quickly, in his kindness, gave us with child number 2 and 3 so that I would be reminded of my desperation for Him as I cared for 3 under 3. I thought I had life in a manageable place until God changed our life plan 3 years ago and took us on a journey proving Psalm 16:9, “a man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

In the end, I rejoice because even though I am still a sinner, my understanding of my sin has led me to understand my need for a Savior and to rejoice over the Savior God has provided in Jesus. Because of Jesus, no sin defines me. In fact, they are no longer mine; Jesus took them all away, too far away for me to ever reach. Jesus bore God’s righteous wrath reserved for me and now truly all I know is grace!

Potluck, along with a special guest this Sunday.

TGC_ProPresenterSlides_Potluck.jpg

There are few things we enjoy more than food with friends.

This Sunday, we are having a Potluck Lunch immediately after the service. Bring something to share!

In addition, we will have some special guests with us: Jake & Loren Simmons. Jake & Loren are dear friends of ours. Jake is a pastor at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. However, Jake is also from Athens & is excited to return this Sunday to preach & encourage Trinity Grace.

MOOFEST is this Saturday!

Several years ago, volunteers gathered to brainstorm ways to celebrate the rich dairy tradition in McMinn Country & came up with the idea of MOOFEST.

This Saturday, Moofest will take place from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Ingleside Avenue between the library and Mayfield Diary. There will be tons going on: music from Troy Underwood, Reliance BlueGrass Band, Kinslee Melhorn, & Steve Miller; a pet parade; mooing, ice-cream eating & milk chugging contests, and more.

In addition, our friends from Christ’s Legacy Academy will be gathered in the downtown pavilion & offering live music.

Come on out to support our community & our milk!

We love stories of God's saving grace.

TGCFiesta-5.jpg

Psalm 34:3 says, Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

We love to hear stories of God’s saving grace. It helps us magnify the Lord and exalt his name together! Several weeks ago, Taylor (pictured above) shared his story & we wanted to share it with you. (Note: while Taylor & his family’s Wild West outfits are quite impressive, sadly it is not their usual attire!)

Why are you alive?  This question exploded into my mind for the first time the summer between 10th and 11th grade.  Our family had recently moved from South Florida to the town of Dayton, TN where my dad took a new job.  During this season of transition, I began to feel lost and isolated and my vulnerability led to some deep introspection.  And one summer evening, the question came, “Why are you alive?”

Having grown up in church my whole life, you would think I had all the answers ready.  However, even with knowing much of the Bible, believing parents, attending Christian school and church, praying the sinner’s prayer, and getting baptized, this question—Why am I alive? —sent me down a 2-year road of seemingly endless dead-ends.  I found myself facing many other questions, like “What do I really believe?  Am I just a product of my environment? What is truth? If there is truth, how can I know what is true? If I was born in India, would I be a Hindu or if I was born in the Middle East, would I be a Muslim?” Although I maintained the façade of a “good church kid,” I began to inwardly despair.

By my senior year of high school, I was tired of chasing (what I thought were) unanswerable questions.  I became spiritually numb and detached.  I decided to base my life on two certainties: I was alive and I was going to die.  Suicide crossed my mind, not as a way of escape, but as a way to finally get the answers about purpose and meaning that continually haunted me.

Then, the summer after graduating high school, God came for me.  I wasn’t listening to a sermon.  I wasn’t at a conference, or revival, or rally.  In fact, it is difficult to explain exactly what happened, but I believe God gave me this picture to show what He was doing.

In the picture, I was standing in front of a large, double-door trying to open it up.  I knew that on the other side of this door were the answers to all my questions about life, but it was locked.  I tried to open it, but I couldn’t.  I slammed into it with my shoulder and kicked it until I felt completely drained of energy.  I began to weep, because I assumed I would never get to the answers.

At this point, a hand reached over and presented me with a key.  I was so overjoyed to have the key that I never looked up to see whose hand it was.  I instantly opened the door to find an infinite hallway lined with doors.  I knew that each of these doors represented my questions.  The answers I was seeking could be found on the other side. My excitement returned to despair as I realized that each of these doors was also locked. 

As my inability to open a single door became increasingly clear, I realized what God was trying to show me.  Up until this moment, I had been trying to understand and interpret life on my own.  I never acknowledged the “key-giver.” I had been trying to figure out MY purpose in MY life according to MY own understanding. I had failed to look to the God of the Bible and listen to what he wanted to say about himself, life, and meaning.

Up until this moment, I viewed Jesus as someone there to serve me.  Hell seemed really painful and miserable. I didn’t want to go there, so I believed in Jesus!  I consulted the God of the Bible from time to time but failed to see him as the Creator and Master of all.

But God would not let me just be casual with him any longer.  God graciously broke me and began to transform my life. I began to see my sin as an affront to this gracious, loving God and found forgiveness in Jesus.  I realized I could never understand the purpose of my life until I submitted completely to him. I no longer wanted to go to heaven to get away from hell; I wanted to know the living God.  I was a new creation. I began to see with new eyes. I hungered to read and know more of the Scriptures for the first time. With God at the center of the story, Christianity finally started to make sense.

I can’t say all my questions have been answered.  I still have quite a few left, as my wife and friends can attest!  Nevertheless, I have learned why I am alive. As Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Save the Date: Couples' Night!

TGC_ProPresenterSlides_CouplesNight.jpg

Marriage is hard enough already, so let’s walk it out with friends.

On Wednesday, May 8, we are inviting couples to gather together for an evening of fellowship, teaching, games, & more at Ramble Creek Vineyard.

Our topic should be quite helpful—it is Romance & Intimacy from the Song of Songs.

  • WHEN: Wednesday, May 8 at 6:30pm

  • WHERE: Ramble Creek (277 Co Rd 437, 37303)

  • WHAT TO BRING: your family, friends, & whoever wants to come

  • ANYTHING ELSE?: FREE (or $5 for childcare)

Should it really be called Good Friday?

Many people have asked & pondered, “What did Good Friday mean for Jesus?”

Obviously, we know it mean the cross, but what specifically was the day like for Jesus?

On this Good Friday, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read & meditate on what Jesus experienced as the sacrifice for our sins.

Read the biblical account of Good Friday.

The Scriptures include extensive details about this day. Here are the specific passages:

  • Matthew 26:47–27:56

  • Mark 14:43–15:41

  • Luke 22:47–23:49

  • John 18:2–19:27

Read or listen to a “Crucifixion Narrative.”

Over the past several years, I have listened or read the following “Crucifixion Narrative” by Rick Gamache, the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Bloomington, MN. It has helped me immensely to remember & rejoice in all Jesus suffered for me.

You can listen to Rick Gamache read & preach this narrative. Or, you can read it for yourself.

Worship God.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Abide hard by the cross and search the mystery of his wounds.”

Hymnwriter Philip Bliss helps us worship & stand amazed at the love of God revealed through this “Man of Sorrows.”

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name, for the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Guilty, vile, and helpless, we, spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full redemption—can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Lifted up was He to die, “It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high;
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
When He comes, our glorious King, to His kingdom us to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing
Hallelujah! what a Savior!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Come & celebrate Easter with us on April 21!

TGC_ProPresenterSlides_Easter01.jpg

There is no better day on the Christian’s calendar than Easter Sunday.

Wonderfully, Easter announces: Jesus is risen from the dead! And for the Christian, Easter announces: All the guilt for your sin has been erased & you have a completely new start!

More than that though, Easter welcomes us to a life-giving party. It begins now with new life. But, that is only the beginning. There is so much more to come in this life & the next…as we will celebrate this week.

If you are looking for a place to worship this coming Sunday, we’d love to have you. If you know someone looking, bring them along!

This Sunday, April 21 at 10:30am

Athens City Middle School

Also, on Saturday, April 20, we plan to go into the community to invite folks to church this week. Below are the times & locations if you would like to join us.

  • 9:30am—FoodCity (105 S Hill St, Athens, TN 37303)

  • 11:00am—Walmart (1815 Decatur Pike, Athens, TN 37303)

Kids albums you won't hate!

I can’t promise these songs won’t get stuck in your head, but I can promise you won’t hate them.

Kids are like sponges. They soak up everything they see & hear. That’s why kids’ albums can be so helpful to fill kids’ minds & hearts with the truths of God’s Word.

The first two are by SEEDS FAMILY WORSHIP. They have put out many Scripture memory songs (Scripture put to simple music) & these are two of them.

The second two are by SOVEREIGN GRACE MUSIC.

  • The Ology. These songs are based on theology (hence, the name!) & teach kids about God, people, sin, God’s promises, the Holy Spirit, adoption, sanctification, the church, Christ’s return, & the Bible.

  • Listen Up! These songs are based on the many stories & parables of Jesus.

I want to know the secret.

37_TGC_IG_Philippians4_1213.jpg

Contentment is not a gift.

It is not a grin-n-bear-it attitude.

It is not feeling good when things are going well or feeling bad when things aren’t.

“It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent.” Thomas Watson

It is not realizing you have it better than others.

It is not even connected to our circumstances. Hard circumstances are hand-picked opportunities to rest in God’s wisdom.

“The wise God has ordered our condition. If He sees that it is better for us to abound, we shall abound. If He sees that it is better for us to want, we shall want. Be content to be at God’s disposal.” Thomas Watson

It is living with the settled confidence that Jesus is with us & will never give us what we can’t endure with his help. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

That’s the secret! It doesn’t mean Jesus will give super-human strength. And it doesn’t mean we can accomplish whatever we want with his help. It’s not often flashy. But, it (often slowly) sets us free from discontent & complaining to live a life of humility, faith, & gratitude.

WORK DAY!

TGC_ProPresenterSlides_ACMSWorkday.jpg

We’re grateful for ACMS & excited to serve them!

Athens City Middle School has graciously allowed us to use their facility each week. We are grateful! And we have this wonderful opportunity to give back to them & serve our community.

So plan on joining us Saturday, April 6 for a work day at ACMS.

Projects include: painting, spring cleaning, weeding & replanting flower beds, & more.

Here are a few details:

  • WHEN: 8:30am on Saturday, April 6

  • WHERE: 200 Keith Lane

  • WHAT TO BRING: Drop cloths, paint rollers, gloves, & square-point shovels

  • KIDS?: They are welcome to come if they’re willing to help!

Hiking together to Benton Falls!

Benton falls.jpg

Spring is in the air!

Let’s get outside & enjoy it together!

This Saturday, we are going to hike to Benton Falls. It is an easy, 3-mile roundtrip hike at the Chilhowee Recreational Area. And, as you can see, the falls are beautiful!

Details are:

WHEN: this Saturday, March 23.

WHERE TO MEET: 9:30am at Athens City Middle School (200 Keith Lane).

WHAT TO BRING: walking shoes, lunch, & a few dollars to donate to the park.

WHAT (ELSE) TO BRING: a friend, neighbor, family member. All are welcome.

QUESTIONS: Call or email Jenn Larson (jenn2984 [at] gmail [dot] com).

One more note: Part of the road is unpaved but well maintained. It would be better to drive smaller vehicles.

Janelle Thomas's testimony of sustaining grace.

Janelle.jpg

Oftentimes life does not go as planned.

Last Sunday, Janelle Thomas shared her testimony about how she has met God & grown through the un-planned, tragic death of her father Kelly several years ago.

Read & rejoice, as she shares about how God has been at work:

As Taylor said, my name is Janelle Thomas. Jesus graciously saved me at the age of five. I thought that with Christ in my heart, there might be little bumps in life but nothing major and there would always be happiness around the corner. When my dad died four years ago, I was thrown a major curve ball. I had always been a joyful person but all of a sudden I felt anger towards God that I had never felt before. Does He really love us? Does He really care about me? If He does, why would He let my daddy die? These questions swarmed my head day and night. I was angry. I was sad. I hadn’t felt this pain before. But when I fell, God picked me up. When I stumbled, God held my hand. It may not look like He is there, but He is. I once read that “when there is just one set of foot prints in the sand, that is when Jesus was carrying you.” 

As I was preparing this testimony, I was reminded of Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made: I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I cannot rejoice that my dad died, but I can rejoice of the things that have come from his death. First, I rejoice in the church God has given me in Trinity Grace. I am so blessed by the friends I have. How well you take care of me and how much you and your families love me. I am also so thankful for the many godly men in my life, who love and take care of me and make me feel special when I am with them. For example, people like Mr. Chris who hugs me every time I step foot into his home, or playfully tugs on my braid. Or Mr. Stephen who when I am freaking out about playing bass on stage for the first time calms my nerves, and there are countless other who have blessed my life. And Mr. Daniel picks us up VERY early on Sunday mornings when we have set up. 

Second, I rejoice in the effect of my dad’s life on others. I have seen some of his students come to Christ because of his story and some of his colleagues pondering their faith because of his legacy. And I don’t even know all the people his life effected.

Third, over and above these things, I have learned to rejoice in God’s great power, His saving grace, and His great love. I have begun to learn how to turn from anger and selfishness to be a humble and joyful person. I have begun to rejoice in whatever the Lord brings into my life. As the hymn says, “When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say it is well with my soul.” I can finally say it is well with my soul!