Forget Uber! Get a free ride in Amherst, MA on October 31 or November 1, 11pm-2am by calling our hotline: 413-548-9474. Learn more about Free Rides here.
How can I live the re-godded life?
by Robert Krumrey
I’ve been saying recently in Sunday morning sermons that the root of sin is the de-godding of God. It’s a phrase I’m borrowing from professor D. A. Carson. By using this phrase he gets at the very thing that the gospel fixes. Modern day Christians are easily swayed into believing that the good news of Jesus’ saving is mostly about them. He’s there to save them from sin and all of its effects while allowing them to continue in a me centered life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is both a Savior and a King. He comes to announce the gospel (good news that sinners are saved from sin) of the Kingdom (he’s come to take everything over including us). You see these concepts in the scripture I quoted yesterday from Mark chapter 1:
It is clear that Jesus expects people to respond to the gospel with repentance and faith. This is a re-godding of the human heart which is necessary if one is going to return to Paradise. So what does this re-godded life look like?
The re-godded life is characterized by worship. This may seem obvious, that if you’ve been re-godded and God is now your center, you will worship God. The Apostle Paul indicates this in Romans chapter 12 after he has explained the gospel and called the reader to exercise saving faith in that gospel. He then writes in verse 1 that “by the mercies of God” one should present their bodies “as a living sacrifice which is your spiritual worship”. This describes the new orientation of the re-godded soul - the offering of one’s whole self on the altar of worship as a living sacrifice.
This may still seem rather impractical. Sure, I worship God on Sunday’s when I experience the gospel through song, sermon, and sacrament, but what about day to day living? In order to take this perspective of gospel fueled worship into your day to day you’ll need to learn how to build altars. This is one of the practices we notice Abram (later called Abraham) participating in as he goes about his journey with God:
One commentator I read on this passage mentions the fact that the only thing Abraham is leaving behind in the places where he travels is an altar. Once he had experienced the call of God to leave all and follow, he adopts a daily posture of worship expressed by his building of altars everywhere he sets up camp. But what does this have to do with you and me? Do we need to be building altars next to our desk at work? Not exactly. While we certainly don’t need to build literal altars, we do need to adopt the practice of worshipping God wherever we find ourselves - work, home, running errands, on vacation . . .
Setting Aside Time
In order to do this, we’ll need to be intentional about turning our hearts toward God in worship in the course of every day. This is why maturing Christians try to have time set aside each day (perhaps multiple times per day) to reorient their hearts. Our default as fallen humans is not to be worshippers of God but instead to worship everything else but God. This requires there to be times set aside for “practicing the presence of God”. Reminding ourselves that we live before his face and that we are both loved and led by him. This can be first thing in the morning, during our lunch break, as our head hits the pillow at night. Attach a spiritual component to the usual rhythms of your day (waking, meals, sleeping . . . ) and your overall posture toward God will more likely be that of genuine worship.
Gorging on the Gospel
You just can’t get too much gospel truth. While gorging on almost anything else is eventually going to be detrimental, meditating on the truth of the gospel is something you just can’t get too much of. Think about how your heart is oriented after a Sunday morning service and how you are able to live in a God oriented way for the next few hours. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t take long until we’ve been blasted by some kind of contrary word or image that causes our hearts to gravitate toward something else at our center. This is why we need to be constantly filling our minds with the truth of the gospel. This can happen in a number of ways: Reading our Bibles, listening to theologically sound music, reading good books, regularly talking about the gospel with friends and family.
You may think that this is a little much. Would you say that eating food three times a day is a little too much? Or breathing air every few seconds is a little too much? Of course not! You need these things on a regular basis to live. Your need for the gospel is no different. This intake of gospel truth can be introduced into these times that you set aside for worship at the “altar”. Gospel intake can also be added to parts of your day that would usually be time wasters like a commute to and from work or your walk to class. Even a 10 or 15 minute dose of a sermon or teaching or merely listening to an audio version of the scripture while you are waiting or walking can be a benefit to your spiritual life.
Practicing the Presence
I mentioned earlier the phrase “practicing the presence”. This comes from a book by Brother Lawrence who chronicled his attempt to keep conscious contact with God every waking minute of every day. It’s a really interesting read and a Christian classic. I read this book a long time ago so I admit I don’t remember a lot of its content, but I did take away this concept of keeping conscious contact with God as often as I can. I think this is what the Apostle Paul may be getting at when he tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. I do this mostly by praying short prayers as I go about my day. If I feel tired or anxious, I ask God to strengthen or calm me. If i’m afraid, I ask for faith. If I’m walking into a difficult situation, I ask for wisdom. After I leave a meeting or an event, I pray for God to continue to work in the lives of the people I’ve just been with. This often occurs in the car where I pray aloud until I pull into my driveway at home. All of this is a work in progress, but it is a part of how God has been re-godding me over the last 33 years of walking with him. I’d like to think that in my journey with him, I’ve left behind many a makeshift altar of worship to the one who is both my Savior and my King.
Robert is husband to Melanie, dad to Kory (and wife Rebecca), Cooper, and Kayla and lead pastor of MERCYhouse. His roles in the church include teaching and leadership.
What’s behind feelings of shame?
by Robert Krumrey
We’ve just finished looking at Genesis chapters 1-3 in the last two sermons. There is a lot about nakedness which can be a little embarrassing. Last week, the scripture reading from Genesis 2 ended with “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” and then the reader said “This is the word of the Lord”. My inner middle schooler was wanting to burst out with a giggle or an elbow to my neighbor’s ribs. Of course, as the pastor, I kept my cool through readings in both services.
This week (in Genesis 3) we heard another mention of nakedness: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” This didn’t illicit the same response. There is something very troubling about this passage. Not because Adam and Eve are naked, but that in a heartbeat they’ve gone from being “comfortable in their own skin” to being full of shame.
Why is this part of the Genesis 3 account? It is a very important revelation of what life is like when paradise is lost. Humans are guilty of sin and with that guilt comes a whole truck load of shame. Mike Wikerson in his book Redemption says this about shame:
This experience of feeling that something is wrong with you is one of the effects of sin - sins that we have committed and sins committed against us. It’s part of what is meant when we say that sin causes separation between humans and themselves. Fallen humans stand outside of themselves and see themselves as something to be ashamed of instead of staying fully present to God, self, others, and earth.
This is one of the most horrific effects of the fall in Genesis 3. We were not created to be full of sadness and anxious thoughts. We were never meant to loath ourselves or wish we were dead. That said, as sinners who are committing sin, we should be ashamed of ourselves. This is where this whole shame thing gets tricky.
As you were reading, I know some of you may have been thinking that our culture could actually use a little more shame now and again. It seems that many of us have thrown off all shame with a little help from a therapist and our favorite self-help guru. Just a few weeks ago, Smith College expressed their lack of shame by walking out of convocation wearing nothing but their underwear - which is a yearly tradition by the way. Yet, no matter what we do to tell ourselves that we should jettison shame, we just can’t seem to do it. Those who are among younger generations today are exhibiting ever increasing occurrences of anxiety, depression, cutting, even suicide. No amount of telling ourselves and each other that we shouldn’t be ashamed seems to get at the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is sin. If shame is a natural effect of sin, we will never remove it until we deal with the disease. When we press into understanding more of what Jesus has done for us in the gospel, we find that he has dealt with both our guilt and our shame. The theological words for how he deals with these are propitiation and expiation. Propitiation is what Jesus’ death does to clear guilty sinners from their deserved punishment. How does he do that? He takes the punishment. Most of us get this if we’ve been around the gospel any amount of time. What some of us miss is the meaning of expiation.
Expiation is the washing away of the uncleanness that the sin left behind. That sense of being spiritually dirty. The bible is full of allusions to “washing away” uncleanness. When you read these kinds of verses, you should think expiation. Here’s one that is well known among many Christians:
Notice that the verse speaks to both guilt (forgiveness of a debt) but also to shame (cleansing from unrighteousness). These are two sides of the same coin that are available to those who put their trust in Jesus for salvation. Jesus frees us from the penalty of sin but also the marring of our souls that sin leaves behind. This is for EVERYONE who relies on Jesus as their Savior from sin. Paul writes this to the Corinthian church who had quite a long list of shameful acts in their history:
This is such a powerful declaration over the Corinthians. They had done very shameful things and I’m sure struggled with regret for their past actions and continued thinking of themselves in those old categories. The Apostle will have none of it. Though those in the church were certainly not perfect (see the books of first and second Corinthians), he declares them washed and made holy. This is their new identity and nothing will change the removal of both their guilt and shame. Jesus came to accomplish both and to restore us to a state of naked and unashamed!
Robert is husband to Melanie, dad to Kory (and wife Rebecca), Cooper, and Kayla and lead pastor of MERCYhouse. His roles in the church include teaching and leadership.
Why is parenting so tough, and what can be done about it?
by Robert Krumrey
In last Sunday’s sermon we looked at some of the patterns of the paradise for which we were made. One of those was the integration of gender, marriage, and sex. This powerful combination can lead to babies that then get raised in a stable home with a mom and dad who love them and love one another. Best of all, the children in this home can learn to place God at the center of their lives as they are led to do so through the instruction and discipline of their parents. In a word, this is a piece of “Paradise”.
But don’t be fooled, this is no easy task. I’m fairly certain that even if Adam and Eve had been able to raise children in a sinless world that it would NOT have been a breeze. Work is in the created order and raising children is work with or without sin. What we will find out this week is that the Paradise we were made for is lost because of sin resulting in a very painful place to do just about anything including raising children. God mentions this to Eve when he is explaining some of the consequences of sin:
This statement is not God being a big meany but explaining that there will be great pain in this world that is a natural consequence of rejecting God as authority which had included his ongoing giving of Paradise. Now human beings have chosen to go it alone and will therefore live in a world where there is suffering and death. Some of that suffering will be experienced in the “pain of childbearing” but not only that, there will be pain in child rearing as well.
If you need to understand this better, just look at the faces of parents of small children. Many of our families at MERCYhouse are in the stage where they are trying to tame the tiny tyrants that are determined to rule the kingdom that is their family. It is exhausting to say the least. Again, this would be hard work even if these little angels were really angels. They would still need to eat and bathe and learn their ABC’s. Now add on that they are sinners and that mom and dad are sinners and you’ve got a recipe for one of the toughest jobs there is - being a parent. Add on to this any physical or mental health issues like sleep disorders or autism and the weight can be unbearable.
But then there is God. Just as he did not leave Adam and Eve alone in their sin, he comes to us as well. I would say that raising kids has been the hardest thing that Melanie and I have ever done. Hard on us personally. Hard on our marriage. Hard on the kids. Family is one of those places where you cannot curate your image. There is no faking it in family. Everybody can see everyone else’s weakness and sin. Even more, those imperfect humans are somehow bringing things out of me that up to this point I’ve been able to keep tapped down. Why is it that I can keep my head all day as a pastor and then lose it at home with my spouse or a kid.
All this pain and suffering being experienced in a family can actually be part of the path back to Paradise. These experiences with spouse and children do bring the worst out of us and if we are not careful we will blame them for making us do these things. Instead we should see what’s happening through the words of Jesus:
According to Jesus, what comes out of our body (words, attitudes, actions) can be traced back to one source and it’s not the bad attitude of our teen or toddler. It’s our own heart. One of the things I didn’t expect to be doing a lot of when I envisioned myself as a parent was asking my children to forgive me. Much to my surprise, I did. Over and over I had to say to my little ones (and later my big ones), “Dad shouldn’t have said that.” or “Please forgive me for losing my temper.” It was (and is) humiliating to say the least. Especially when your 5 year old is looking up into your eyes and saying, “Dad, I forgive you.”.
That said, this humiliation was good. It was good for me and for our kids. What is true about me is that I am a sinner AND that I am forgiven because of what Jesus has done for me on the cross. Because God has forgiven me, I can give and receive forgiveness from others. This is such an important path back to Paradise. So if you are married, married with children, or thinking about what that would be like some day. Know that it is a very painful place but by God’s grace a little piece of Paradise.
Here are a few suggestions for making it more Paradise than Pain:
Remind yourself and your kids that you and your kids are sinners
Remind yourself and your kids that the grace in the gospel is there for you and your kids to be forgiven of sin and transformed from sin’s power.
Confront the sin in your kids, not merely for the purpose of managing behavior, but in order to point them to the need for Jesus’ saving work on the cross and for grace to repent from sin and submit to Jesus as King.
Confess to one another when you have sinned regardless of what the other person did that “made” you do whatever it was. That word or action was already in your heart just waiting to jump out. Your kid just helped you see what was in there.
Pray together as a family for HELP from God for mom, dad, and kids to be changed by God’s power resulting in glory for God and good for your family (aka Paradise!)
Robert is husband to Melanie, dad to Kory (and wife Rebecca), Cooper, and Kayla and lead pastor of MERCYhouse. His roles in the church include teaching and leadership.
MERCYhouse is a gospel-centered family on mission to make disciples who make disciples. We hope that’s clear when you come to worship with us on Sunday. We hope that’s clear as you attend any of our (many) events this fall. And we hope that’s especially clear as you hear about our sole group offering this semester: Discipleship Groups.
What are Discipleship Groups?
Discipleship Groups are groups of 3-4 people who meet weekly during the semester to learn and engage with Gospel Belief and Spiritual Practice. It’s a place where people are learning how to be disciples (followers) of Jesus, while also learning how to make disciples of others.
We take Jesus’ command to make disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 seriously and want to create opportunities for this to happen here at MERCYhouse. This is why we have Discipleship Groups! Not to check a box off or feel good about ourselves, but to be obedient to Christ and experience faithful living in fellowship with Him and others.
Over the course of 10 weeks you will meet at a time that’s best for you and your Discipleship Group members and be led by our trained Discipleship Group Leaders through 6 chapters of Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials. It’s a fantastic resource that helps establish people in Christian belief and practice, while also sparking great conversations on both.
That’s the content. But what’s the culture? There are four ingredients that we believe are crucial for Discipleship Groups to succeed in helping mature you in your faith and equipping you to make disciples.
Ingredient 1: Size
Our Discipleship Groups are intentionally 3-4 people in size. While this is not a strict rule, we believe groups this size can be fruitful for several reasons. One: it gives everyone a chance to interact with the content in a meaningful way. People learn at different speeds and a smaller group accommodates this reality within a reasonable amount of time. Smaller groups allow more people to talk more often. Two: it allows transparency to occur more naturally. In Ogden’s words: “Self-disclosure is integral to transformation, and openness becomes increasingly difficult in direct proportion to the size of the group.” Three: it helps with accountability. It’s easier to hide in a larger group, making it possible to be present but not participate. This is not what produces spiritual maturity or growth of faith!
Ingredient 2: Truth
Discipleship Groups are anchored to the unchanging truth of God’s Word (the Bible). The Word of God is solid footing in a culture filled with sandy, unstable philosophies and worldviews. Our Discipleship Groups engage directly with scripture, seeing first hand how they inform both how we think and how we live. This pursuit and anchoring to truth is not done in a vacuum— it’s done in the context of honest and transparent relationships.
Ingredient 3: Transparency
The pursuit of truth without acknowledgement of where we stand in comparison to that truth is a sterile, academic exercise. It’s like being taught how to swim through a lecture— you may receive some valuable knowledge but one would never call themselves a swimmer unless they honestly assess themselves in the water. This requires humility and vulnerability, but it is mutual. Your Discipleship Group Leader will be modeling this transparency.
Ingredient 4: Mutual Accountability
It’s one thing to know how things ought to be, and it’s another to be honest about how we might fall short of that. But if we stop there, we end up merely justifying our spiritual mediocrity week after week. Included in the culture of Discipleship Groups is a hopeful expectation that the Holy Spirit is producing true transformation in us as we follow Christ. Discipleship Groups are encouraged to hold one another accountable— not just in participation of the group but also to the deep convictions and commitments the group members are making as the Spirit leads them.
In Ogden’s words, “when the Truth of God’s Word is at the heart of self-revealing, intimate relationships rooted in mutual accountability, you have the ingredients for Spirit-motivated transformation.” This is our hope and prayer as we invite you to participate in Discipleship Groups at MERCYhouse!
Tommy Moore is a Staff Associate of Spiritual Formation at MERCYhouse. If you have any questions, you can reach him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can know God?
by Robert Krumrey
Have you ever heard Christians talk about knowing God? For some who have grown up in church, this kind of language can become as mundane as talking about the weather. To others who are outside the church, it may seem absolutely absurd. Why would an all powerful all knowing Deity relate personally with a human being? It is a lofty claim, but it seems to be something that God is serious about accomplishing in the lives of people like you and me. Last Sunday’s sermon explored one of the places in the Bible that indicates that God wants to relate with us personally:
This verse encapsulates God’s vision of a community of humans that know him personally. This is so much more than the typical religious pitch. Most religions are either offering an impersonal set of rules and ritual or an impersonal experience of mystical power. Neither of these versions of religion communicates that there is a god who relates through a personality. If you think about it long enough, it does seem logical that if I am a person who can relate with other persons, wouldn’t the God who made me also be personal?
This is one of the most powerful truths to be revealed about God in the Bible. It is expressed ultimately in what theologians call the “Incarnation”. This is a 10 dollar word used for communicating that Jesus (who is God) took on a human nature. He took on “carne” or flesh. In Jesus, God is revealing himself as more than an energy or a force. He’s personal and can therefore be related to in a way that could be described as “knowing” and not just knowing about.
So how can one experience God in this way? Notice in the above verse from Jeremiah that the prophet couples the idea of knowing God personally with the idea of forgiveness of sin. I shared yesterday that the word “iniquity” not only points to sinful actions but also to a sinful condition that is at the root of all of our sinful actions. This is an unpopular part of of the message of how one comes to “know God”. Why would the prophet Jeremiah mention sin and sinfulness while simultaneously inviting people into an intimate relationship with the Divine.
Jeremiah’s mentioning of the problem of sin reveals something else about God’s nature - that he is holy. The idea of holiness includes moral purity and perfection. It also includes the idea that God is “set apart” from anything that is not morally pure and perfect. Humans were created in the image of the pure and perfect God. This was our state when we were in the Paradise of the garden of Eden. When humans chose to sin against a holy God, they didn’t just do something wrong. They broke relationship with God. This is when humans went from knowing God to merely knowing about God.
Thankfully God does what it takes to usher us back to this state of personally relating with him. This is what Jesus is getting at when he is instituting communion with his disciples and says “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (see Luke 22:14-23). He’s inviting them into fellowship with him (hence the meal) and he is dealing with human sin which is why the meal is a remembrance of body and blood. This new covenant of deep relationship is bought and paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross and is the Path back to the Paradise that we were made for in the first place.
We hope that those of you who long for this but have not yet entered into it, would join us for this semester’s sermon series "Path to Paradise” and that the result would be more than helping you learn about God (although that is certainly helpful) but that you would come to know him.
If you would like to follow along with Bible readings that correspond to Sunday messages, check out this reading plan - Path to Paradise Reading Plan Hope to see you on Sunday!
Robert is husband to Melanie and dad to Kory, Kayla, and Cooper. He came here with his family in 1999 to plant MERCYhouse and currently serves as lead pastor primarily fulfilling roles of teaching and leadership.
You may have noticed that there is a renewed emphasis on making disciples at MERCYhouse. We’ve always been about this in theory but we struggled to put that theory into practice. This is true of most Bible teaching churches in the US. They preach and teach about how everyone should be a disciple maker and then everyone goes home and keeps living their lives in much the same way as their non Christian neighbors - going to work and school, making meals, raising kids, watching a show, and enjoying a restful weekend now and again.
For many Christians it feels very difficult to do all those things mentioned above plus a Sunday service and weekly small group. Add a daily devotional and some generous giving and you’ve just overloaded the whole system. You begin to feel like you are doing more than your fair share, but then you read the Bible and you come across verses like this:
This is an awe inspiring passage. An invitation to join Jesus in a world wide mission of making disciples (aka followers of Jesus). Disciples that make disciples that make disciples. A movement that ends up catalyzing the reaching of people from every nation resulting in a God glorifying church who will spend eternity enjoying the infinite goodness and glory of God. Let’s GO!!!
So why haven’t we done much of this? I think there are at least three reasons:
1. We don’t care
Everything we do starts with motivation. The things we do and don’t do. The things we say and don’t say. All of these are driven by something. It may be fear or love or guilt, but whatever it is will drive us into action or inaction. Some of us just don’t care (lack motivation) about making disciples and we need to confess this to our Savior and then submit to him as King. It’s a sin to not care about the things that God cares about. If Jesus has commissioned us to care about discipleship in our communities and beyond and we don’t that’s on us. We need to confess that apathy and ask for his forgiveness and transformation. Before Jesus gives the mandate to make disciples in Matthew 28 he reminds them of this:
He’s saying this to let us know he has all the resources in both the seen and unseen world to carry out this mission of making disciples. He’s also saying this to remind us that he is King. We respond to Jesus’ saving work by submitting to him as our King and that submission includes disciple making.
2. We don’t know how
The second reason we might not be making disciples is that we don’t know where to start. I’ve assumed that many of our members are in this category - desiring to follow King Jesus and his mandate but not knowing what to do in order to make a disciple. This is why we’ve tried to put together a simple path that people can follow to both be established as disciples but also to participate in the establishing of others in Christian belief and spiritual practice. This is what discipleship groups are all about. These groups meet for 10 weeks (out of a 16 week semester) and are made up of 4-5 people. Everyone in the group uses a workbook called Discipleship Essentials. These groups are designed to provide an environment of transparency, accountability, and learning. You can sign up to join a group HERE or if you’ve already participated in a group you can sign up to help lead HERE.
3. We don’t feel like we have time
I suspect that the major reason most Christians don’t participate in disciple making is because they feel like they are already in a deficit when it comes to time and energy. They’ve given all of their available resources to their work, school, friends, and family. They might even justify their lack of involvement in making disciples of Jesus by saying that they are discipling their kids (which is very important by the way!) or that they periodically tell their co-workers that they go to church. Something tells me that this is not all that Jesus had in mind when he commissioned us to make disciples of all nations. I’m also pretty sure he knew that this all needed to get done in the midst of a busy life. There are no disclaimers to his command. He didn’t say go make disciples unless you are a busy mom or you have a challenging job or you have a crazy schedule. Here’s what he did say:
The King who has all authority says that he is with us. He is with us as we seek to obey his command to go and make disciples. This Sunday you’ll actually hear from some busy people in our church who took Jesus up on his offer to sustain them in the making of disciples, in spite of a busy life. You’ll never guess what Jesus did? He made good on his promise and sustained them in all parts of their lives as they made room for this very important obedience.
I’ve found that helping others find and follow Jesus is actually something that Jesus uses to infuse my life with joy and strength instead of adding to the deficit. When you join God in the mission that he is already on, you experience his presence in ways that you never had before. Ways that you will never experience if you make your Christian life all about you and yours. Will there be hard days? Yes. Will there be challenges all along the way? Yes. But the overall result will be obedience to your King and that is always the place of greatest life in the Kingdom of God. So let’s GO!!! and make some disciples.
Summer is coming to an end and September is fast approaching. That means one thing - Fall Launch at MERCYhouse! What’s Fall Launch? September is one of the most exciting times of the year at MERCYhouse. While some churches are flooded with new guests on Christmas and Easter, our church will welcome 100’s of new guests over the month of September. It is a time of great opportunity to reach people with the good news about Jesus and help them find a church family at MH. Here’s a few ways you can participate:
The main way that people engage with our church for the first time is on Sunday morning. We intentionally provide food and coffee before and after our worship service not only to feed hungry bellies, but because we know that food is a great catalyst for getting to know one another. We open the doors 30 minutes in advance of service times for the purpose of fostering connection. If you are a member of MERCYhouse, we need you to come early so you can help us connect with new guests. Staff and Greeters are not enough for 50-100 new guests in a single service. Please come early and stay late for the purpose of getting to know new folks and inviting them to engage with Jesus and his church.
Park Far (& Pray Hard)
Parking is a little challenging at MERCYhouse. Church members who don’t have accessibility needs or small children are asked to park in Umass Lot 46 on Butterfield Terrace just off of North Pleasant Street. This will open up parking for new people who are still trying to find their way around. On that walk from the parking lot (only 1 block), take time to pray for the service - for people to connect with Jesus and one another, for the preaching, and the music.
Jesus commanded his church to join him on a mission. That mission is to make disciples who make disciples until his kingdom arrives among people of every nation. We at MERCYhouse are committed to equipping every member of our church to do just that. This means that we are only offering 2 different kinds of groups this semester - discipleship groups and small groups. Everyone who is involved in our church is being asked to go through discipleship groups as their first stop in our small group system. This makes sure that we are all on the same page regarding our understanding of the basics of what it means to be a disciple. Once someone has gone through a discipleship group, they are then challenged to lead a discipleship group and are also invited to a small group for ongoing growth and support. Small groups are only available to people who have gone through the content in discipleship groups. This is a change in the way we’ve done things in the past, but we’re already seeing God use this to help make disciples who make disciples. If you’ve never been in a disciple group, please sign-up HERE to join a group. If you did a discipleship group last year, come to our leaders gathering on Saturday, September, 7th from 9:30am to 2:30pm in our main church building. To RSVP for the gathering or for more info. about any of these groups contact tommy(at(mercyhouse365.org.
Facts or Feelings?
Seeking truth and the one true god
Have you ever wondered if your faith was too emotional and not based enough on a knowledge of the truth, or have you found yourself in a dry intellectualism that seemed devoid of the presence of God? Depending on your temperament and upbringing you probably lean one way or the other in these experiences. The Christian Faith has so many different expressions that it can be very confusing when trying to figure out the “right way” of faith and/or practice. Yet, there is a right way of belief and practice. At least on the foundational level. We heard a bit about this in yesterday’s sermon from the book of Jude. Jude’s answer to the experiential vs. intellectual question is that a healthy faith expression includes both. He writes:
Jude points to the necessity of building one another up in the “most holy faith”. This harkens back to the beginning of his book when he exhorts his readers to “contend for the faith”. Christianity is not merely a mystical experience. It’s based on historical events like the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s also based on truths that have been given to us by God through people and eventually God’s own Son Jesus. The writer of Hebrews states:
God tells us stuff and we believe it because it comes from God. This first came through sinful humans like you and me (while being superintended by the Holy Spirit) and eventually through the one who is both God and human, Jesus. This has to be the bedrock of one’s faith. If it’s not, then the waxing and waning of our experiences will determine our faith which has the staying power of a middle school crush.
That said, Jude doesn’t stop there. These truth claims are a doorway into a real relationship with a real God. He says in Jude 20 that we should not only build one another up in the most holy faith, but that we should also “pray in the Holy Spirit”. See yesterday’s sermon for more on what that means, but the short version is that being a Christian really is a personal relationship with a personal God. God is a person and we his image bearers are persons and we were meant to relate with one another.
This is a life transforming truth and one we should lean into if we haven’t already. Jesus died on the cross not just to forgive our sins and be done with us. He was dealing with the sin problem because he wanted to open a doorway to relationship and that could never happen if we were left in our sins.
Jesus puts it this way in the Gospel of John:
Notice that he does include “keeping his word”. Also notice that he doesn’t stop there but goes on to say that he and the father want to express love to human beings by making a home with them. This is the true end of all of our scripture and doctrine study - to enjoy a loving fellowship with God that was blood bought by Jesus.
A few years ago I was given a book about C.S. Lewis called the Romantic Rationalist. The authors used this term to describe Lewis and it fits him well. He, unlike most writers, could write fiction and non-fiction. More than that he could write Christian fiction and non-fiction. In his books, he addresses both the life of the mind and the heart.
In a way, we all need to become Romantic Rationalists. We may not be authors, but we do want to engage our minds in a quest for truth and engage our hearts in the experience of the one true God. There is no other way to give our whole selves (mind, will, emotions) to Jesus and truly follow him and no other.
So where do you need to go deeper? Is it the life of the mind (rationalist) or the experience of an ongoing relationship with God (romantic). Honestly, it’s always going to be both. While these two concepts can be separated for the purpose of discussion, a healthy Christian’s study of truth (light in the mind) and experience of God (heat in the heart) will always be inseparable.
Check out these resources that will address both in different but helpful ways:
20 years in MA!
by Robert Krumrey
July 15, 1999 is a little known day in history that is observed in the Krumrey household. It’s the day that we crossed over the Massachusetts state line with the intention of starting a new church called MERCYhouse. As you can see from the photo above (which is way before selfies so Mel is taking the pic) we were a bit younger than we are now. We’d been married for almost 7 years and the boys were ages 2 and 4. Kory had just turned 4 on June 29th. I had just finished seminary and had worked most recently as university minister at University Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, OK. We had left a thriving college ministry and a very loving and supportive church 1500 miles away from Amherst, MA. When we arrived we knew Joe and Wendi Green, who were our partners in church planting, and that was it.
The day we arrived was much like today. Blue skies and a perfect summer temp. Our hearts were full of anticipation for what God would do in the start of a new church. Of course we had no idea what we were doing but honestly who does when it comes to starting a church from scratch. We stayed in a motel for a few days and then finally got the keys to our rent house on Amity Street. It was the perfect home base with lots of room for entertaining and walking distance from everything. It was time to begin.
We started with prayer. Lots of prayer. Joe and I prayer walked all five campuses and the communities of Amherst and Northampton. If you’re not familiar with prayer walking it’s “praying on site with insight”. That means you walk along the streets and sidewalks of a place observing what people are doing and saying. What the posters promote and the shops are selling. As you observe all of this, you begin to understand some of the needs, hopes, dreams for the region and you pray accordingly. We did this a lot. Using this scripture from Colossians 4 as a guide for our prayers:
We were asking God to open a door for the gospel message and that when he did that we would proclaim it as we should. I remember walking on the Amherst College campus while reflecting on the rich Christian history there. Walking beside a statue of Henry Ward Beecher who was an Amherst alum and a world famous evangelist and long time pastor in Brooklyn. His statue sits prominently on the edge of campus looking over the town of Amherst as if to be keeping watch over the town. I remember walking into Abbey Chapel for the first time at Mt. Holyoke and reading the plaque at the grave of Mary Lyon. Realizing that the college had been founded, like Amherst, to train students for gospel ministry. We also walked the streets of Northampton and were reminded of the influence of Jonathan Edwards and his experience of the First Great Awakening in the 1730’s. Reminders of God’s work were everywhere.
Henry Ward Beecher
Everywhere but in the hearts of the people. It was there that we saw a gospel poverty that broke our hearts. There were very few gospel preaching churches and very few campus ministries who were bringing the gospel to the five colleges. It felt like a spiritual wasteland, but of course, God was at work. One month after our arrival, Greg Mozel and his family arrived at FBC Amherst and began a revitalization of the church. We immediately began to see openness to gospel conversations and by the end of September we were gathering for Sunday worship with about 30 people (mostly students) and about a dozen for discipleship during the week. Within the first three weeks of school we celebrated three baptisms. We quickly found that there was a hunger for the gospel and a desire among the newly converted to grow as disciples of Jesus. Most of this ministry was among Umass students, but within two years we were reaching students from all five colleges with the gospel.
These last 20 years have been one crazy ride. We have as many children in our kids ministry as we did in our entire Sunday services back in ‘99. We have almost as many staff workers as people involved in discipleship in those early days. God has blessed us with a facility on the edge of the university. Best of all, we’ve seen countless people baptized, discipled, and sent out to places around the US and the world. Today I opened an email from a family who just had their third baby. Both the husband and the wife placed faith in Christ in our church. They then left to live in NYC and have been a part of a church there for almost 2 decades. The husband is an elder in the church and a teacher and the wife works with an NGO that is advocating for refugees around the globe. They first heard the gospel right here in our little church and have leveraged their lives for the cause of the gospel, not to mention raising three awesome kids to love Jesus.
We’ve learned a lot along the way. There has been pain so deep we didn’t think we could take another step. There has been joy so great we could hardly contain it all in our hearts. We have seen the work of God up close and personal in so many lives including the lives of our own family. Some of what we learned and have reflected on during sabbatical is to keep going back to what we knew before - pray, preach the gospel, and make disciples of those who respond in faith. No matter how large or how small a church or ministry is, these three things must remain at the forefront. Certainly there are other things that have to be tended to like new siding on the parish house or making sure the budget gets covered, but these three basics have always been paramount and will remain so.
So let’s celebrate these 20 years of God’s faithfulness! He loves to empower the execution of an impossible endeavor because it shows that he is at work among us. We hope all who can will join us on Sunday, November 3rd for an official celebration of these 20 years, but not so we can rest in the past of old success. Instead to be reminded of the goodness of our all powerful God. A remembrance that I hope will encourage us to continue in faith filled living for his glory and the good of the people who live on our campuses and in our communities and around the world.
by Robert Krumrey
Yesterday we started the book of Jude in our continuation of our Summer Sermon Series “Brief”. We’re going through the shortest books in the New Testament and would love for you to join us either here in Amherst or online. You can check out the series here on SoundCloud. In the sermon, I mention a few resources that I think would be helpful in coming to a better understanding of what “the faith” even is. The importance of understanding the essential truth claims of the Christian faith cannot be overstated. The New Testament writers are all taking great pains to make sure that we get the truth that was “once for all delivered to the saints”.
The place to begin in understanding the faith is the Bible itself. We (along with Christians throughout the ages) believe that the Bible is God’s word and has been given to us by God so that we can understand who God is, what he has done, and how we should respond to both his person and work. One Bible App that many people have found helpful for reading the scriptures is the YouVersion and can be found in your app store. If you’d rather read one with actual paper and ink, pick one up at our resource table on Sunday.
You may find that the Bible can sometimes be confusing which is why it is also helpful for Christians to study sound doctrine. Sound doctrine (see Titus 1:9, 2:1 for this concept) is biblically faithful and practically helpful summaries of essential Christian truth. This kind of study helps us better understand the gospel for ourselves and for explaining it to others. The church through the ages has used Creeds and Catechisms to help teach sound doctrine to Christians. Creeds are short summary statements that can be recited in public worship while Catechisms are more thorough treatments of the same truths found in the Creeds.
I mention several examples of both Creeds and Catechisms in the sermon, but I want to draw your attention to two of the things I mentioned. The FIVE SOLAS which I briefly mentioned in the sermon are treated much more thoroughly in this sermon from 2017. This will be a tremendous help to you in discerning what the gospel is and whether or not people are teaching a true or false gospel. In regard to a Catechism, I would also like to direct you to another app which contains the New City Catechism. It is an outstanding resource for understanding basic Christian doctrine and can be used with kids or adults. Each “Question” in the Catechism is also accompanied with a scripture verse, two readings written by authors from different time periods, and a short prayer.
Take some time to explore at least one of these resources this week. While July is a little slower around MERCYhouse, God is continuing his work to build up the body of our church. Enjoy!
The Last Part
Hey there MERCYhouse! We’ve been looking at Luke 9 & 10 in a standalone sermon series this winter titled, “Jesus University.” It’s been a close look at the process of discipleship as Jesus calls His first followers, from the revealing of his divine identity to His invitation to join His mission. What were they called to? How did it play out in their lives? What does this mean for us today, as we’re called to follow Jesus?
If you’ve missed any of the sermons, check out our podcast here.
Snowdays and Sundays
In the (almost) 20 years that MERCYhouse has been in existence, we’ve only canceled service twice due to weather. But while most of us were cozy and warm at home, a set of sermon notes lay cold, sad and lonely on a printer tray. Even though we didn’t have service, I want to take the time to articulate the major points from the last sermon to wrap up our standalone series.
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
The Seventy-Two who Leaned In
What we see in chapter 10 is Jesus mobilizing a whole new batch of disciples. Up until this point, the original twelve disciples have been the most visible. And I think this is intentional-- Jesus will continue investing in and pouring into these twelve, equipping them to be disciples, make disciples, and multiply disciples. But for the first time, we see a group of people appear on the scene who are not the 12 Apostles, and who aren’t in the crowds of thousands. 72 people.
What’s interesting to me is that the first mention of these 72 are of them being sent out. We don’t really see their spiritual and emotional progression like we do with the 12. They seem to just appear onto the scene. But the reality is that these are people most likely from the crowd who took a step in closer. Thos who didn’t settle with the rumors they were hearing about Jesus, or what their own knowledge or study of ancient scriptures would have concluded about Jesus. But they navigated through the crowds of thousands and listened to and engaged with Jesus for themselves.
And what we know about these 72 is that they get it. They have the same epic realization that the Apostles had that Jesus isn’t just some kind teacher with a few tricks up his sleeve-- he was the anointed one from God, the Messiah, the Christ. We know this because Jesus is having them go and preach the Gospel, embodying and representing the Kingdom of God in verse 9.
This should encourage us! It shows us that the 12 Apostles, though they have a very unique and specific role, weren’t the only ones being called by Jesus. It should give us hope that it’s okay to engage with God from a distance in the crowd at first, but as we approach Him and get closer to Him, he meets us and reveals himself to us, and brings us into His Kingdom, and invites us into His Mission.
I wonder who attending our services is in that metaphorical pack of 72? Who are those that might not be as visible up front or known by name or have the spotlight on them often. But those who have worked their way through the crowd that is our culture, through the noise and rumors about Jesus, who have personally met Jesus and who are being invited in to help build God’s Kingdom. I wonder who’s on that journey right now as you’re reading this, drawing near and answering the call from Jesus. If that’s you, be encouraged. Continue leaning in, like the 72. This is just the beginning.
Two by Two
It says that Jesus sends them out in pairs of twos. And while we’re not sure if the apostles at the beginning of Luke 9 were sent out in pairs or by themselves, Luke makes a point of it here. Well, why? We’ve been seeing this theme of urgency in preaching the Gospel. So if there’s a hurry or a rush to get the word out to as many people as possible, wouldn’t it make sense logistically to send them out as individuals and reach twice as many people in the same time?
Ministry is not always about efficiency. And I say this with a smirk because I love efficiency. I have literally sprained my fingers carrying a dozen bags of groceries in one trip from the car. I love stir-frying food because there’s one pan to clean. Single stream recycling is awesome. My favorite kind of PJs are onesies. If something says two-in-one, it’s great. If it’s three-in-one it’s amazing.
But the reality is that when it comes to the ministry of preaching the Gospel and walking with people toward faith in Jesus Christ-- it’s not about finding the fastest most efficient method… even if you’re tempted like me, to want to find one.
No, it’s not about reaching as many people as possible; it’s about effectively and authentically communicating the Gospel. Going two by two speaks to both the challenge of what they’re about to do, but also the power of encouragement and accountability in the fellowship of a brother or sister.
We’re getting a glimpse here that will be further revealed of the role of community and church as Jesus builds his Kingdom. The fellowship and encouragement and accountability that we can provide for our brothers and sister is not just a byproduct-- it’s a prescription. It’s a necessary ingredient in this case. It’s not optional for the 72. It wasn’t, “Hey, if you’re not feeling confident or if you’re not that outgoing, why don’t you find a buddy?” No, Jesus pairs up everyone, regardless of how socially proficient or awkward they are.
Gospel Sharing as a Community
Last week we talked about the cost of discipleship-- that following Jesus requires a denial of ourselves and preparation to die. Jesus says plainly that if anyone wants to come after Him, that person has to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him. The challenge and cost of discipleship is real. And we shouldn’t be discouraged if we experience the cost and the challenge of following Jesus.
Here, it’s understood that bringing the Gospel to our neighbors, our friends, our family, our coworkers-- it’s hard. It’s not easy by any means, and if you feel the struggle, the temptation to be ashamed of Jesus, know that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to do it alone.
By going in twos, the disciples could encourage one another. They could remind each other the mission their on. They can speak truth to one another when doubts or lies creep in. They can hold each other accountable to the message of the Gospel, to be obedient to what Jesus had commissioned them to do. They could pray for one another, for boldness and wisdom, for joy and supernatural empowerment.
If you’re crushed by the challenge of sharing the Gospel with someone, not able to initiate that conversation or get to that place where you can talk about Jesus… I would say to at least let someone know that you’re making the effort. Say, “Hey, my coworker is on my heart and mind and I want to share the Gospel with them. But I just haven’t had the chance. I haven’t mustered up the boldness.” And if you’re on the receiving end of that and your friend shares this with you, don’t just do the well-intentioned “Yeah, I’ll pray for you,” and forget about it. Pray with them, on the spot! Write it down in your journal to continue praying about it. Set a reminder in your phone to check up on them. It’s this camaraderie and fellowship that Jesus prescribes for the effective preaching of the Gospel… so let’s use it!
The job of Christ belongs to Jesus
[Jesus] sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.
It may not look like it, but this is really encouraging. On one level, Jesus is not sending his disciples to figure things out on their own. Their mission is to preach the Gospel as heralds bringing a message from the one who is to come. They are not sent as kings required to conquer by their own strength.
This is helpful in telling us what the role of Gospel preaching is, but also what the role of Jesus is. Remember what we looked at a couple of weeks ago… it wasn’t Peter who was discovered to be the Messiah. It wasn’t John who was the anointed King and rescuer of man. The job of the Christ belongs to Jesus, and that’s not a responsibility that he ever hands over to men and women. Not for the 72, and not for us now.
In our mission to share the Good news of Christ with others, it’s never our role to do the work of salvation in people. It’s our job to point to the savior, Jesus Christ, and that’s it.
I think that’s such an important point to hold onto and remember as we think about reaching people with the Gospel. It’s so easy to slip into a place where we think that our primary objective is to convert people to Christ. Or even in a discipleship relationship, to do the work of maturing those we’re discipling. To change their lives and rip them out of their brokenness and sinful habits. Brothers and sisters, that’s not our job! Our job is to speak the truth of the Gospel, to be a herald for Jesus Christ, to point to Jesus as the savior and solution, and to carry our hurt and wounded brothers and sisters to Christ the healer. If we want to have a healthy view of mission that doesn’t stifle us with anxiety and overbearing burden… then we need to know what our job is, and what Jesus’ is. It’s Christ who does the heavy lifting.
What a mercy it is when the preacher knows that his Master is coming after him, when he can hear the sound of his Master’s feet behind him! What courage it gives him! He knows that, though it is very little that he can do, he is the thin end of the wedge preparing the way for One who can do everything.
This was clear for the 72. It was communicated that they were going before him, and preparing a way for Him. And that He was the star of the show. He’d carry the ultimate burden, not the 72.
And they needed to hear this. Not just to feel the burden lifted and give them a sense of freedom that we ourselves can also have today as we go. But because this was just the beginning. What they were being sent out to do, though it may have felt like a “workshop week” or weekend outreach event… it’s a task that we ourselves have inherited 2000 years later, that we’ll continue to pass on as long as Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Look at verse two:
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
God is constantly preparing the hearts of people and calling them to Himself
We often look at the world around us and see tough soil. Especially here in New England. How often do we use that mentality-- that people here are just so tough to talk to about God. But I think some of that mentality is one that we can hide behind, that maybe creates anxiety or defeats us before we even make an effort to bring the Gospel to our neighbors. But maybe that’s because we’re thinking that we need to do the growing and the maturing and the budding. But we see here that God is the God of the harvest. Because as tough as we think the soil might be, it’s God who does the growing. And the reality is that there is a plentiful harvest.
God is preparing the hearts of people and calling them to Himself. Constantly, often without us seeing it or knowing about it. Consider that God began calling us before time began (Ephesian 1:5) to know Him and be His disciple. You may recall a time when someone communicated the Gospel to you and you received it and began following Jesus. But it wasn’t like you tapped on Jesus’ shoulder and he was like, “oh hey! I’m Jesus, who are you?” No, he knew you before you were born. As you were being knit in your mother’s womb. And he chose you, to redeem you and rescue you. And like a nagging voice and feeling I had as a teenager that I was missing something, that there was something more-- that was the gentle, subtle call of God on my life. Until that day where my faith burst through the soil at the sound of a smashing plate (ask me about this!), and I was ready to be cultivated and grown into mature faith.
There are people around you, where you work, where you go to school, where you buy your coffee or pick up your burrito, where you work out, where you get your oil changed, where you eat dinner, where you buy your groceries, where you walk in the park, where you take your kids to day care, where you shop for clothes-- where you live. There are people whom God has been calling to Himself, and who are waiting to hear the Gospel communicated, and are ready to break through the “tough soil” and enter into faith in Jesus and discipleship of Jesus.
This Valley is full of them. The harvest is plentiful. And the laborers, those obediently committed to following Jesus and His commands to preach the Gospel and point to the savior… are few. We are few. So we pray. As Jesus tells those of us who are laboring, not those on the sideline, but as those among the 72 who are on mission… he calls us to pray for more. MERCYhouse, that’s the prayer of 2019 from us as the Staff and the other leaders in the community here. That more of you who have been hanging out in the crowds would step into the ring of disciples going out and laboring in the fields with the plentiful harvest at hand.
Got questions? Want to chat? The author of this blog post can be reached by email: email@example.com or use our contact form to get in touch with us!
by Robert Krumrey
Next Sunday is the last Sunday in September and we’ve had a great start. We are glad to see so many new faces. 116 people filled out cards over the last 4 weeks indicating they were first time guests. I know for a fact that there were even more of you first timers out there who didn’t fill out a card. As you may have noticed, we’ve been encouraging you to take “next steps” in your relationship with God and at MERCYhouse. One of the most important of these steps is coming up this Sunday, September 30th. We are calling it MH Connect and it will be happening after each of our worship services.
What is MH Connect?
We’ll be presenting a brief overview of our church - what we believe, a little bit about our history, a description of our church mission, and ways you can get involved. When people come to this event, it lets us know that you weren’t just dropping by but that you really are serious about exploring what it means to become a part of our community. You’ll also get to meet some of our staff, a few church members, and some of the other people that are just getting started on their journey at MERCYhouse.
Who can come?
Anyone who is interested. Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth, anyone who is wanting to explore more deeply what it means to be a part of MH is welcome to come by.
When and Where is it happening?
We’ll be doing this twice on Sunday after each of our services. 11:00am after the first service and 1:00pm after the second service. There will be some light snacks to tide you over if you’re feeling hungry. The gathering will last exactly 1 hour. This will all take place in our cafe which is in the basement of our main church building.
How can I sign up?
We would love to know if you are coming so we can plan to have enough food. You can RSVP by contacting our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. If for some reason you can’t attend but want to let us know that you are serious about exploring further what it means to be a part of MERCYhouse, please contact us so we can answer your questions and let you know when we are doing this again.
What should I make of the Battles in the Bible?
by Robert Krumrey
Last Sunday, I talked about one of the battles of the Bible. Barak and Deborah versus King Jabin and his general Sisera. There are chariots and swords. Blood is spilled and God’s people come out on top. This can be really uncomfortable for us modern people when we see a religiously motivated war between two people groups sanctioned by the God of the Bible. What are we to make of these battles?
The most important thing to understand is how Israel and the church are different AND the same. The Old Testament people of God are an actual nation that is established on an actual piece of land. The New Testament people of God are a people who are made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation. This new people of God were made possible in part by the groundwork that was laid by the Old Testament people of God. Israel the nation becomes the landing pad for Jesus - the promised Jewish Messiah who comes to save all peoples.
In order to establish and maintain the Old Testament people of God they must do what nations often have to do - wage war. They wage war to get their land and they wage war to keep it. No nation exists without war either to establish themselves or protect themselves or both. The U.S. was established in the midst of a revolution and has rarely seen a time when there wasn’t some kind of military conflict.
This is NOT the kind of people that Jesus is establishing when he says he’s building the church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16). He is constantly hinting at this different kind of vision. Here are a couple of examples:
To the Samaritan woman at the well: John 4:21-24
Jesus to Pilate: Luke 18:36
It seems obvious in these passages and many others that the New Testament people of God are not a geopolitical unit . The “place” of worship is no longer an issue. Instead it will be the nature of that worship. Supernatural (Spirit) worship grounded in right belief (gospel truth). This Spirit empowered gospel will bring about a Kingdom that will not be advanced with swords and shields. If it was, Jesus’ followers “would have been fighting” in order to deliver them from Rome. Instead, they proclaimed the gospel to Rome and 300 years later Christianity was the majority religion of the empire. Not a drop of blood was spilled in hand to hand combat. The only ones bleeding were the martyrs who proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom.
So how do we wage war now?
I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon that we wage war by prayerfully proclaiming the word of God. One of the places I get this is from the Apostle Paul’s writing to the Ephesians. He spends a good bit of chapter 6 of that book telling his hearers to put on armor. Armor is defensive and there are a lot of things that can be said about those important pieces of defense. He then follows up with the offensive weapons in these verses from Ephesians 6:17-19:
Here Paul shifts from defense (helmet, etc.) to talking about offense and mentions two things. The word (which is a sword) and prayer. He tells the Ephesians to pray at all times and then asks for prayer for his own ministry of proclamation. It’s the primary way that the Kingdom of God is advanced in the hearts of human beings. This certainly doesn’t negate the importance of demonstrating that gospel with actions of love and justice, but it cannot take the fight to the enemy if prayerful proclamation is not happening.
So forward march! You are in a war and you’ve been equipped by the Spirit with everything you need - Word and Prayer. You’ve also been given the church as both an equipping center and a place to serve alongside others in the mission of God.
How can we make more disciples?
by Robert Krumrey
This past weekend we launched our small groups with an emphasis on Discipleship. Honestly, we've always emphasized discipleship as a goal for our small groups. While we talked this talk, we often weren't able to walk the walk. Ask any of our small group leaders if discipleship is important and they will say, "yes!". Ask any of our leaders whether they think our small groups are producing lots of mature disciples, most will say "sort of" or "not sure". I know. I asked them. So what's the problem?
We don't think it's that complicated of an answer. Environments that seem most conducive to fruitful discipleship share three components - content, connection, and commitment. Let's take a look at each of these and what will be required of us to embrace all three.
It will be no surprise to most of you that discipleship must originate with the truth of the gospel. If you don't have this, you have absolutely nothing. You can have the best groups and the best strategy, but if you do not have right doctrine you might as well join the book club. It will probably be more interesting.
It is essential that we are experiencing truth from God's word together. It's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes (in his book called Life Together) as "life together under the word". This seems to be what Jesus is saying in Matthew 28:16-20 when he commands us to make disciples by baptizing people into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not just some ritual bath with religious incantations. He's saying that we must make sure the one who is confessing conversion knows enough to understand the basics of who God is - the work of the Father, the work of the Son, the work of the Spirit. We have to be experiencing this content in an ongoing way in the preaching moment on Sunday, in our devotional reading, and in our small group discussions.
This semester we've chosen to have all of our small groups go through the same content - a portion of the workbook called Discipleship Essentials. It has basic discipleship content which we hope will create a good foundation in the lives of all of our members and others. After going through it together, we plan to ask all future members to go through the material in order to continue the foundation building in the lives of each Christian that makes up our congregation.
You may be saying, "Don't we already have content?" and perhaps you are right. While this is essential, it is not the only thing that's required for making disciples. Effective discipleship only happens in the context of tight-knit relationships. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1 that the church of Corinth should "be imitators of me as I am of Christ." Again in 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul tells young Pastor Timothy to "Keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers"
These verses and many others indicate that content ("your teaching") is only part of the discipleship equation. There must also be modeling. A kind of show and tell that results in "spiritual formation" in the lives of those who are living life under the word and doing so together. This is why Sunday sermons are very important but not enough. Experiencing the word in a small group context is essential for growing as a disciple. There is absolutely no other way to experience this.
You may still be saying, "Don't we already have these things?" Yes and No. As a church, we do have a teaching diet of gospel truth. We also have some tight-knit relationships. What we lack in many instances is commitment. For some, they lack the commitment to even show up regularly for a small group. For others who do show up, there is a lack of commitment to study and apply the word of God. When we hear good content, but do nothing about it, we end up with hard hearts and a very shallow relationship with God and others.
This new way of doing things in our small group ministry is going to require a greater commitment. Things like:
- Commitment to doing homework every week
- Commitment to pray for one another
- Commitment to memorize scripture
- Commitment to lead others through the same material in the future
As you begin to consider this new discipleship material and some of these new initiatives, you may begin to tell yourself that you just can't afford to make this kind of commitment. Might I suggest that you can't afford not to. Your life as a disciple has got to take first priority if you want to actually walk with God and bear the good fruit that comes from such a relationship with Him. It's a move toward the second part of Jesus' commission in Matthew 28:16-20 where he tells us to teach people to obey everything He has commanded. This is a tall order for the church but it is from the lips of the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (also in Matthew 28). There is nothing in your life that is more important. For you, your church, your family & friends, your world. Join with us this semester as we seek to grow as disciples of Jesus.
It's that time of year again. Lots of traffic in the Walmart parking lot. Middle aged parents dropping off their little darlings at the dorm. Music pumping out of the Pike house (frat house across the street from MH) on Wednesday night and Thursday night - honestly, every night . School is back in session. Our town has a love/hate relationship with the students. Sometimes I hear a collective moan in August from some of the "old timers" of Amherst.
But not this old timer.
I often think about wearing a GoPro while I go about my days to record all that I see God doing in the lives of our church members. As a pastor, I have the privilege of having a front row seat to many of the unfolding stories that make up the family of MERCYhouse.
5 simple ways to engage
by Robert Krumrey
Last Sunday (7/8/18), I preached on Hebrews 13:10-14 about what it means to bear the reproach of being a Christian. You can listen to that sermon here. This was a huge burden for the original hearers of the book of Hebrews. They were very discouraged that their own Jewish brothers were attempting to shame them back into a Judaism without Jesus. Evidently, they were starting to go the way of compromising their belief in and practice of the gospel because of it. The book of Hebrews is an all out attempt to exhort them back into whole-hearted gospel life.
We too suffer from a burden of fear and shame when it comes to our faith. Being bible believing Christians who seek to commend a message of absolute truth over and against other truth claims (religious & secular) is less than popular in our cultural moment. After the sermon, a few of you shared that you were walking away from our church service with a newfound willingness to engage people with the gospel in spite of the risks of being treated with contempt. So now what?
Here are five simple ways to engage others with the gospel:
The simplest way to begin engaging people with the gospel is to begin to pray for opportunities to do so. We see this in Paul's writings. He writes this to the Colossians, "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak." (Col 4:3,4). He is asking God to open doors for the gospel and to supernaturally empower Paul to speak the gospel clearly when those doors open. If the Apostle Paul needed to pray (and ask others to pray) in order to see God work through is evangelistic efforts, surely we need that too.
2. Offer Hospitality
Effective evangelism occurs in the context of real relationship. If we don't have some genuine friendships with people without Christ, we probably aren't going to be very good at commending Jesus to others. This weekend I was in the Amherst farmers market and ran into some Christians who were passing out gospel tracts. They were friendly but the interaction felt very strange as I was handed a strange and confusing flyer with absolutely no relational connection. To be fair, they were doing more to evangelize Amherst than I was last Saturday, but their efforts were completely devoid of relationship and therefore fairly ineffective as far as I could tell. Opening your life and home to others to merely do life together is a huge step toward being able to commend the gospel to friends and neighbors. Even better, doing so alongside other Christians so that people can see an authentication of the gospel message in Christian community.
3. Just Ask
Most of us think of gospel witness in terms of us talking and the other person listening. To be sure, if there is not explanation of gospel truth, we are not going to be faithful in this endeavor. But how do we know what to say if we haven't asked some good questions and listened well to understand the person's background. No one grows up in a vacuum. Who they are today (spiritually or otherwise) is a result of all of their yesterdays. Therefore, ask lots of questions to find out where people are in their understanding of Jesus. One, because you love them and really want to get to know them. Two, because you can't really address the questions or misunderstandings that they have about the gospel if you don't know what those are. So ask some good questions and then really listen and ask follow-up questions. People who have been listened too are much more likely to enter into a respectful and friendly dialogue about Jesus.
4. Tell Your Story
Once someone has done some history giving about their own lives, reciprocate by giving some of your own. This is actually just a good way to relate with others. This of course will not be exclusively Christian content but some of it will be. Don't edit yourself (except if some of your religious language you typically use is hard to understand) but be honest about what Jesus means to you and what he has done in your life. Follow up with questions to them about their own experience with Jesus or church if they haven't already given that information in their own story telling.
5. Next Steps
As you get to know someone, you will become aware of their level of receptivity as it pertains to the gospel. When a friend begins to ask you questions and shows signs of sincere interest in knowing more, offer them a "next step". This could be an invite to Sunday worship or a Bible study. It could be giving them a Christian book to read (we give out some good ones for free in our services) or asking them if they want to read and discuss one of the four gospels. This takes courage but you'll never know until you try. A huge percentage of people say that if they were asked to engage in some kind of Christian activity that they would (see surprise #3 in this article).
So with hearts strengthened with grace, let's risk having to bear the reproach of being a gospel witness by praying for and engaging with the people around us with the greatest news ever told!
How to strengthen my WEAK heart . . .this WEEK
by Robert Krumrey
Sunday morning (7/1/18), I heard an excellent sermon from Austin Kopack on having our hearts strengthened by the grace of the gospel. We were reminded that our hearts are weak and that if we seek to strengthen them by imbibing "diverse and strange teachings" we'll wind up spiritually sick. Austin likened this to trying to live off of only coconuts or taking wonder pills filled with mercury and winding up near death. (see story about the coconut man).
Now your back at home and going about your life. The words of sermon and song that were ringing in your ears are now being drowned out by all kinds of other stories about how to get the "good life" and your heart is beginning to falter. So what does one do to continue strengthening one's heart with grace?
Monday - MEDITATE ON THE SERMON
One thing to do is to keep meditating on the sermon you just heard preached. Don't just forget it and move on. God was speaking through the preaching of his word. Not only that, he was speaking a message that was uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit for the congregation of MERCYhouse on July 1, 2018. There was something unique that happened in that room and it won't happen again, at least, not in the same way. So go back over the sermon text and your sermon notes and think about what God was saying to you through the sermon. If you didn't take notes, start taking them. If God is speaking, I definitely don't want to miss what he is saying to me so I always write them down when I'm the hearer and not the preacher.
Tuesday - TAKE A CUE FROM THE MH WEEKLY RECAP
Each week you receive an update about the sermon that was preached the Sunday before and some suggestions for how you can go deeper in reflecting on and applying the content of the sermon (thanks Meghan!). If you don't get the update, you can sign up HERE. Once you read the "How Should We Then Live" section, take a cue from some part of it and take a next step.
Wednesday - ATTEND A SMALL GROUP
One big reason we offer small groups during the week is because we know that a weekly gathering on Sunday is not going to be enough to keep our hearts strong. We are going to need additional exposure to the gospel in community and small groups provide the perfect place for that. That said, we are between summer and fall small group offerings and don't have the usual menu of small groups available. This means you have more time in your schedule to gather with friends to enjoy time together and talk about what God is doing in your lives. Make sure you ask some good questions to get people talking about more than the latest Red Sox game or fashion trend. A few good questions I like to ask is "What's going well for you right now?" What's really hard right now?" "How can I pray for you?"
Thursday - READ THE BIBLE
I know you're supposed to read the Bible every day but why not use at least one day to focus on studying some part of it for a little longer than the usual quick devotional. Most working people don't have a lot of free time. I do find that most working people do have an evening where they can forgo the usual TV show or social media binge and spend some concentrated time reading the Bible. Lately, I've been using these scripture journals to help me focus on a particular section of the Bible and study more deeply than a cursory read. No Christian is going to grow in grace if they don't do some deeper dives in scripture. You can also listen to scripture using the ESV website or YOUVERSION app. Take a cue from Austin's sermon and listen to the book of Hebrews this week.
Friday - TALK WITH FRIENDS
I know I mentioned this earlier, but something I pray for our congregation is for people to feel more comfortable "gospeling" each other in the course of normal conversation. It may seem awkward at first, but our hearts are all longing for their to be friends in our life that are sharing about the significance of the gospel in their daily experiences and encouraging us to do the same. Genuine sharing about our hearts as they relate to Jesus is part of how we can actually succeed in applying the gospel in a way that will actually strengthen us.
Saturday - PREPARE OUR HEARTS FOR SUNDAY MORNING
I mentioned earlier that one of the ways to get more out of the weekly gospel preaching is to take notes. The other is to prepare oneself for that preaching the night before. Because we preach through books of the Bible, you usually know what is next. Sometimes we even provide reading guides to keep you on track. Next week (7/8/18) I'll be preaching Hebrews 13:10-14. Take a few minutes on Saturday night or early Sunday morning to read the text and pray for the receptivity of your own heart and the hearts of others. Also pray that God would use the preacher to illuminate God's word in a way that would strengthen our hearts with gospel grace and show us what to do once we've received that fresh power.
Sunday - ATTEND CHURCH WITH A HEART THAT IS READY
Once you've engaged your heart in the kinds of things mentioned above, you will be much more alert to what God is doing in you and in others. Pray for yourself, for others, for the preacher and others who are leading in worship. Be ready to take notes and always be asking yourself, "What is God saying to me and our church and what am I supposed to do about it?" If you are not interested in doing the types of things mentioned in this article, I guarantee you will find your heart in a state of weakness. You'll find yourself wondering why you don't have spiritual strength to carry on. The reason will always be that you need to lay off the coconuts and do as the writer of Hebrews tells us - to have our hearts "strengthened by grace".