Dear MERCYhouse, God has provided the members of MERCYhouse with an opportunity to show some practical love to our wonderful full time staff associate, Vi Tran.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com. 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".
What's happening in the SBC . . . and why should I care?
by Robert Krumrey
If you've been paying any attention to the news over the last few months, you've probably heard news stories and editorializing about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). They've been embroiled in a controversy that has included the ousting of some high profile leaders in the denomination. Two of the biggest are Frank Page and Paige Patterson. Frank Page was the president of the denomination from 2010-2018 and was recently ousted because of a "morally inappropriate" relationship. Paige Patterson was the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2003-2018 until recently fired because of inappropriate comments he made about the domestic abuse of a woman and allegations that he didn't properly handle the report of a rape that happened on his campus 15 years ago. This has caused quite a stir in the denomination and many have called for a deep repentance among all who make up the SBC family. See these articles by Beth Moore, Albert Mohler, and Sam Rainer for a taste of these kinds of calls for change.
But why should you care? For one reason, this is the largest protestant denomination on the planet with over 15 million members. When this group gets moving in the same direction, and that direction happens to be Christ exalting, big things can happen. Part of what we are seeing in the convention is an acceleration of change that's been occurring already as younger leaders seek to make the denomination more about gospel ministry and less about fighting a nationalistic culture war. This came to a head around election time when another high profile leader (Russell Moore) was critical of then candidate Donald Trump. You could quickly see those who were wanting to make a political power grab through the presidential vote and those who were wanting to remain faithful to the Scriptures no matter what. Thankfully, Moore weathered the storm and remained an important voice in the SBC and evangelicalism as a whole.
Another reason to care is that MERCYhouse is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. We always have been. We were sponsored by the Baptist Convention of New England, which is the regional expression of the SBC, when we planted the church in 1999. Church planting in North America and around the world is one of the main emphases of the convention. We were given enough money to pay two full-time planters (Robert Krumrey and Joe Greene) as well as money for start up costs and equipment in that first year. This partnership continues to be a blessing to our church as we receive training and encouragement for pastor and staff as well as financial support for outreaches like Free Rides. They also provide ministries for our teens like Crosswalk Camp, YEC, and Quest. The convention also participates in providing relief for disaster victims and is often first on the scene before FEMA or Red Cross. These kinds of things don't seem to make it to the news very often. All of these ministries and more are funded by millions of sinners saved by grace, known as Southern Baptists, who are all working together to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world who desperately needs him. We at MH are a part of that family.
The third reason to care about what's going on with the SBC is that they are having their annual meeting in Dallas, TX next week (June 12,13). People who are called "messengers" will be traveling there from all over the US. These are sent from any SBC church who wants to send them. It's run a little bit like a political convention where states send delegates to vote on their behalf. These messengers will gather to vote on various "resolutions" that have been put forth by the churches of the SBC. Everything is driven by the churches and is then voted on by the churches. It's about as nondenominational of a denomination as you can get. Instead of a top down hierarchy, autonomous local churches seek to hammer out a consensus about how they will partner going forward. This is why it's called a "convention" because officially it only exists once a year when its messengers gather to deliberate and vote.
Because of the recent scandals, this seems like a really important moment for the convention, so let's pray for those who will be gathering in Dallas next week. I've been to the convention a couple of times through the years and it's always been an exciting time of rallying around the cause of the gospel. I expect this year's meeting will feel less like a rally and more like a solemn assembly. Let's pray that we as a convention (both those in the meeting and those of us at home) will repent of sin and turn toward the Savior for forgiveness and transformation. That any and all abuse and oppression against women will be confessed and repented of. Also, that a powerful renewal would occur across all convention churches (including our own) resulting in a powerful witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Want to find out more?
March 25th - April 1st
Following Jesus from Death to Life
Next week (March 22 - April 1) is the time when the western church remembers the most important week in history. This is no joke. As Christians, we believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is an event of such monumental proportions that all of human history hinges upon it. We'll be reflecting on the events leading up to and including these moments in time that make up the foundation of our faith. This very important week starts off with Palm Sunday and ends with the resurrection of Jesus on the very next Sunday (Easter).
Join us for any or all of the following events this week:
Sunday, March 25 (9:15am and 11:15am) - Palm Sunday in main church building (Acts 9:1-19)
Monday, March 26 (7:00pm) - Umass at MERCYhouse main building (Mt. 21:28-32)
Thursday, March 29 (6:00pm) - Passover Seder in main church building
Friday, March 30 (noon) - Crosswalk, meet in main church building and walk through downtown Amherst. Return to church building by 1pm.
Friday, March 30 (6:30pm) - Good Friday Tenebrae Service
Sunday, April 1 (9:15am and 11:15am) - Resurrection Sunday!, main church building
Yesterday, we dove into one of the toughest passages in the New Testament. A married couple posing as more generous than they really are end up dropping dead under the judgment of God. It was a reminder to the early church (and to us) that Christianity is serious business and that we should never take the word of God lightly. Many of you responded with humble confession and requests for prayer and counsel. Now comes the hard work of figuring out what this challenge from God means in our every day life. What does it mean to be bold if I'm working in an office or staying home with children or going to class with 19 year olds. How do I manage my particular financial resources such that I live a life of generosity. The short answer is "pray about it."
This may seem cliche, but I'm serious. Praying about these things is the first step in getting any traction in these areas. We can't grow in boldness or generosity without the help of God's Spirit. And how do we acquire spiritual wisdom and power from the Holy Spirit? Pray. Jesus says it this way:
Look at how Jesus intertwines the promise of doing great works in the power of the Holy Spirit with praying and doing so "in his name". This doesn't mean merely uttering Jesus' name like a magic word. It means praying as one who is under the authority of King Jesus. This is why Jesus trains his disciples to pray "your kingdom come" and "your will be done". King Jesus has all authority and power and wants to impart that authority to his children. The means he uses to give us the power to do things like be bold and generous is prayer.
So how do we pray?
Pray honestly! If you are afraid. Confess it. If you lack faith. Admit it. If you feel apathetic in your love toward God and others. Put it out there. This is the remedy for getting past our hypocrisy and seeing real change in our hearts. God obviously knows what we think and feel about him and others, but like Ananias and Sapphira, we think we can "lie to the Holy Spirit". We can't. So why not just put it all out there.
Once we've been honest with God, then freshly receive his forgiveness. Allow God's grace to wash you clean from guilt and shame. This is obviously not receiving saving grace if we are already a Christian. We know that once we are in Christ, there is nothing that will change our identity as a forgiven child of God. What we do need is the practical experience of daily forgiveness which comes via transforming grace in the lives of the converted. This seems to be what John is describing in 1 John 1:9
Once we've experienced his forgiveness, we then need his filling. When we initially turned to Jesus, we didn't just come to him because we were sinners. We came because we were incomplete without him. Even if we were in a perfect world, hanging out with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, we would be in need of the indwelling Spirit of God. Paul describes it this way:
Paul makes it clear that understanding the will of God is not enough, one must be supernaturally empowered to actually follow his will. So how do you get that filling? Ask for it. Jesus describes it this way:
Jesus is clear about this. God is a good Father. Good fathers give good gifts to their children. The best gift a father can give his children is himself. Jesus says if you want more of the Holy Spirit's work in your life, just ask.
So get to asking! Get honest, get forgiven, and get filled and you'll be well on your way to being bold and generous. Better yet, you'll know your loving Father that much better!
A couple of weeks ago Austin Kopack preached on a section of Deuteronomy that addressed tithing. Tithing is the giving of 10% of one's resources as an offering to God. It's a way to acknowledge that God is the source of everything one has and it's the way that God resources the ongoing ministry that facilitates the spiritual life of his people.
Twice a year MERCYhouse gathers its members for a meeting that includes celebrating what God has done in the congregation, praying for the church and its mission, and voting on items as mandated by our church constitution.
I was incredibly blessed today by Tommy Moore's preaching (listen to sermon here). So grateful to have a number of people in our church who can skillfully explain God's word so that we can all be built up and encouraged.
Yesterday we took a break from our Remembrance Sermon Series and heard a brief overview of an important event in church history known as the Reformation. If you missed this sermon/lecture, you can check it out here. If this has peaked your interest and you want to explore further, check out these resources on the reformation.
Over the past few weeks, I've been asked this question several times - "What are you preaching on this Fall?" It's hard to know how to make small talk with the pastor, but this question seems as good as any. When I say, "Deuteronomy", they usually respond with a bewildered look or blurt out "Why?"
Sunday's Sermon got more feedback (positive & negative) than any sermon I've ever preached. By the way, what I'm calling "negative" was very gracious disagreement and not mean spirited at all. Several questions came out of the experience. Here are three that have been reoccurring:
If you've ever read much of the Old Testament, you've probably come up against verses like this:
And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. Deuteronomy 2:34
It's that time of year again! Church announcements are filled with info. about Small Groups and why everyone should join one. This past Sunday we had about 300 adults attend our services and they all heard about this opportunity to connect with others around scripture, prayer, fellowship, and mission. Yet, through the years, we've found that about 1/3 of Sunday attendees actually heed the call to engage in this more intimate experience of Christian growth known as the small group.