Dear Death

— NICK HARSH —

Dear Death,

Thank you for your painting. It turned out beautiful. Indeed, the idea was nothing foreign to you. Over the centuries, you have mastered the art of painting yourself on the canvas of history. Nero and Hitler were well-trained pupils — both learned your craft well. But, the Dispersion and Auschwitz were merely child’s play when compared to the invention of abortion, the heartbreak of miscarriage, or the loss of a parent. Your artwork is bent, yet humanity has taken a naive liking to it — we have picked up the brush and attempted to mimic your work. Like children unknowingly playing with fingerpaint, we have painted pornography in the place of chastity, gossip in place of edification, and “good stewardship” in place of generosity.

We grieve at funerals where you are present yet welcome you into our bedrooms as entertainment. We have suppressed the truth and chosen rather to believe that our pictures are beautiful, realistic, raw — “Look mommy! Do you see what I painted?” They are not. Our artwork is grotesque and mimics the original artist. While these pieces are impressionistic at best, they have left a mark on history. I have never been a fan of your work, but this piece is different. It is still horrible to be sure, but it has a strange beauty to it. The road to the Place of the Skull and the crown of thorns were painted masterfully. You are no stranger to painting the cross — it is one of your specialties. But this cross was different. No. Rather it was the man who was different. He was silent as a lamb.

Yet, as I look at the awful picture, even now, it is impossible to think of him as a victim. Instead, it is as if I am looking at “God’s backside” — at the very moment in history where God seemed to be acting in precise contradiction to all that a person might naturally anticipate Him to be. When most people think of divine power, they wrongly assume it is analogous to human power presuming they can arrive at a conception of God’s power by merely augmenting or multiplying the most potent things of which their minds can comprehend. But, this man displayed his power in weakness and victory through his ostensible defeat at the hands of evil men. In fact, the longer I study your work, the more it seems as if that man hanging in the picture was grasping your very hand and willfully painting himself into a picture he never belonged in. It is horrible to look at but find it beautiful. For through it God revealed himself wonderfully in history through the ugly and violent picture of the cross.

Sincerely, Christian

• • •

Dear Christian,

I hate that picture and loathe the day I painted it. How was I to know that man would take my art and twist it into such a grotesque thing of wonder and beauty. It’s disgusting. The very thought makes me want to vomit. How dare he take my hand as I paint and use my style, my craft to accomplish his horrible purpose? How dare he seek to achieve his purpose in those “beloved children” of his by means alien to him? Death is my craft. It’s MINE! To my shame, I still wonder how that man’s Father — my enemy — could will the greatest crime in human history without involving himself in any kind of moral guilt. I proudly claim the blood on my hands. But who does he think he is to tell me how he would be painted? Who is he to determine when he would be painted into the picture and when he would leave it? How was I to know that three days later he would paint another piece that would undo every canvas I have ever made? It is as if he borrowed my art to swallow it up completely. I hate that man. I hate that picture.

Signed, Death

• • •

Dear Death (a reprise),

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely, Paul

A Playlist For Life

— CLOUDY NAMANNY —

I can’t sing at all, and I can’t keep a steady beat, but God has given me a great love for music. I would say my passion for music began when I started band in fifth grade. Over the years my love has grown. I did not grow up listening to Christian music but have come to value its impact on my daily life. I have a playlist for different times in my adult life, and in many ways you can trace my journey through these songs.

Life was pretty hard for me (in my mind): I was married, had three very young kids, a full-time job, and was trying to live a life for God. That was the problem — I was trying to do it. If the choice to trust Jesus as my Savior wasn’t done quite right, then I was going to work extra hard to look good and do good works. I went to church, graduated from a Christian college, and was teaching at a Christian school. That's the picture of a good Christian. Right? God brought me to a place in my life where I couldn’t do anything more. My life was a mess and needed Him. I needed a Savior. After coming to the complete understanding that I could do nothing, I accepted Jesus' death on the cross for me as full payment for my sins. Nothing could be added to what He did for me. I now knew I was a child of God. Truly, I was a child of the one true God. Hello, My Name Is by Matthew West became one of the most powerful songs in my life. I have to admit it isn’t my favorite music, but the words were just what I needed. Another song that I love with the same message is Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship.

I didn’t know how important this would become just a couple of years later. My husband had been home from work with a bad back and not feeling well. When we got home, there was something very wrong, and I decided to take him to the hospital. I packed up my three kids (10, 8, 8 at the time) in the car and walked my husband to the car. On our way to the car, he collapsed. At that moment, I learned what it really meant to cry out to God, and in my arms, he went to be with his Savior for eternity. Over the next days and months, music became more important than ever. I knew what the kids and I needed was to pump truth into our hearts continuously. I remember it being hard to breathe and people reminded me to breathe all the time. I thought that was natural, but it was such hard work just to breathe. I heard the song Tell Your Heart to Beat Again by Danny Gokey. I told myself daily to keep going. Two weeks after my husband died one of my students passed away, and this song kept ringing in my ears. Not long after I was able to hear this song live with the family of my student — we cried a lot together.

I found myself lost and not knowing who I was anymore. I lost my title as Wife that I had for almost 15 years, and I didn’t know how to handle learning who I was again. Once again, I was reminded that I am a child of God. My identity was in Jesus and not all my hats I wore. I needed to get this in my head. My identity is in God and not in the hats. I had many platforms: wife, mom, teacher, friend, and daughter. Some platforms change, but our identity in Jesus never changes. Realizing this the year after his death was hard, and I went through difficult times. We sang a song called My Lighthouse by Rend Collective. This song was used to help me through a difficult night and to guide me back to God when I couldn’t see clearly. He was my lighthouse in so many ways, and He brought me back safely to shore when the waves seemed harder than they ever had in our lives. My God loves me so much that He sent His son to die on the cross for my sins. He cares for our every need. I can place my hope and trust in God. One day I will live in heaven for eternity, and this is what drives me — the confidence I have in Jesus. A song I learned just a few weeks ago called One Day (When We All Get To Heaven) by Matt Redman that gives me hope and what I get to look forward to for eternity. If you don’t have this hope, I would love to help you to know how you can be sure that you can spend eternity in heaven with your personal savior and be His child.

Crazy Busy

— NICK HARSH —

Most of us have experienced moments in life where it seemed as if 24 hours were not enough time to accomplish the tasks before us. Often you and I feel as if we are at war with the clock fighting an enemy who maintains a consistent barrage of military attacks in the form of one more task to do. Perhaps you have wondered if there is any way to get a handle on the busyness of life.

There are many times when the responsibilities and tasks of the day seem to be more than I can handle. After all, “The only people busier than single grad students are people who aren’t single and aren’t grad students.” [1] I have often wondered, “When do I get to stop and take a nap? Why did I agree to do this project/activity? Can I maintain this pace long term? Also, when do we get to take a nap? Will I ever get caught up?”

At times I have turned in perfunctory work to professors because I didn’t have time to offer them excellence. I have forgotten about appointments (most recently a chiropractor appointment) and double booked events. I have passed up opportunities to serve because I felt as if I were too busy. I have been blinded to the needs of people around me because my own needs seemed more important at the time. I have overlooked time in God’s word and opted for assigned homework instead. In short, I have used business as an excuse to avoid godliness. Can you relate?

Now, admittedly, I don’t know the specifics of your busy life. But there came a point when I realized that life wasn’t going to slow down and wait for me. If I was going to pursue godliness it was going to take place in the context of a busy schedule. I don’t claim to have mastered these things. But, here are a few principles that have helped me gain a better grasp on the busyness of life.

JESUS WAS BUSY

No doubt, you can think of times in your life when you were busy. In Mark 1:21-34 we get a glimpse into the ministry of Jesus and find that he had moments of intense business as well. Jesus begins his day teaching in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28). While he was teaching a man with an unclean spirit cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Jesus responded by rebuking the unclean spirit and commanding it to come out of the man. When he was done teaching, immediately he went to the house of Simon and Andrew. There he healed Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever. That same evening they brought men, women, and children to Jesus so he could heal them.

“And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1:33-34)

Clearly, this was an extremely busy day for the Son of God. Yet we read that, “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” This verse stands in amazing contrast to the busyness of the previous day and the busyness that would follow that week. Often times we enter into the busyness of life with grand ideas of how we “make it work.” Jesus, on the other hand, enters into the busyness of life prayerfully. He still found moments of quiet; moments to be alone with his Father. If Jesus valued moments alone with the Father we should value the same thing. Often busy times in life cause us to neglect moments of prayer but these are precisely the times we most need to carve out moments of quiet. Martin Luther is credited with saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” This statement seems so paradoxical yet it has deep roots in Scriptural truths. When things get crazy, enter into the busyness of life prayerfully. Listen to what Zach Eswine says about this.

“Let us now make it clear that preachers who move in missional ways will require greater monastic cultivation. Missional movement requires greater, not lesser, piety. We recognize the dangers of a retreat from culture. But let us also affirm the danger of trying to move into culture without strategic retreating.” [2]

Eswine specifically is addressing preachers in his book but the concept applies to everyone. The more intentional you are about moving into the world in a missional way, the more intentional you must be at finding moments of solitude. Jesus is an excellent example of this (Mark 1:35).

WE MAKE TIME FOR WHAT IS IMPORTANT

You have heard it said that we make time for what is important, but have you ever considered that busyness is the fastest way to expose idols in your heart? How many times have you said (or thought), “I have no time,” yet somehow we are very good at staying connected via social media? I am not saying that social media is inherently sinful. But I do know that if something is important to you, you will make time for that thing. For this reason, busyness can actually be a blessing because it reveals our hearts. The next time you have a crazy busy day ask yourself, “What did I find time to do today?” Chances are this will expose your priorities and will allow you to determine if you are valuing the best things. I would encourage you to be intentional about prioritizing the most important things. Perhaps this means writing out a list of everything on your mind and separating the list into “urgent” and “important” tasks. This takes discipline but will guard you against the ternary of the urgent.

BUSYNESS IS NOT A VIRTUE

In saying that busyness is not a virtue, it’s important to clarify between a busy life and a busy mentality. No doubt, a life on mission is going to be busy to a degree. After all, the people who have most impacted the world didn’t do it by binge-watching Netflix and playing Super Mario World 3. The people who have had the greatest impact in this world are the ones who poured their lives and energy into people. They were busy!

There are two extremes we must avoid here. On the one hand, we must understand that to live on mission means we will have seasons of business — our schedules will likely be full. On the other hand, you and I are not God. We are finite beings in need of rest. If your theology doesn’t allow you to plant flowers, watch Netflix, or go for a walk, you have poor theology.

But there is a difference between diligence, which leads to a busy schedule and a “woe is me” mentality which always complains about being busy. One is sinful the other is missional. The goal for believers should be to stay busy doing good works toward those in need. But this is fundamentally different than running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Yet too often we feel significance in the busyness. We like being busy because it makes us feel important. But our significance is not found in how busy we are; significance is found in Jesus. He alone can provide rest in the midst of a crazy busy life.


[1] Crazy Busy, pp. 13.

[2] Preaching to a Post-everything World, pp. 260-26.

Come Ye Sinners Poor And Needy

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)

The Bible has been compared to “a pool in which a child may wade, and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound.” (NICNT, pp. 3) This is true of all the Bible, but it is especially true of the Gospel. The gospel is simple enough for a young child to understand and embrace. It is also profound enough to amaze believers for a lifetime. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul presents the gospel using only eight words. He says, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Much could be said about the kind of sinners Jesus came to save. Paul describes with great detail the type of sinner he was before Christ. He was unworthy!

However, this is true for everyone. Jesus came to save sinners who are unworthy and each person is unworthy in light of God’s holiness. Sometimes people wrongly think they are too unworthy to be saved. Statements like, “I know God wants to save people, but I doubt that he wants to save me,” or “I know Jesus died for bad people but does he want to save someone as bad as me,” indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and a heart filled with pride. While this kind of language seems humble, the opposite is true. It is not from a spirit of humility that a person makes these statements. It is from a heart of arrogance. Crazy right?

It’s scary to consider how deceptive our proud hearts can be. They masquerade behind a mask of lowliness. However, to think that a person could be too sinful for Jesus to save is to devalue the significance of his death. It is to look at the most magnificent display of love this world has ever seen and respond, “That’s not good enough.” Joseph Hart (1759) captured the peril of this well in the hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners Poor And Needy,” when he penned the following words.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

There is tension here. The times when we feel least worthy to come to God are the very moments we need to fall on our knees and turn to him. We typically don’t have a strong desire to go to God in prayer immediately after we’ve have sinned. And yet, that is precisely the response a person should have. The irony is that if you and I wait till we are worthy to come to God, we will never come at all. The implication is clear. God doesn’t want you and I to clean ourselves up and make ourselves look good before coming to him. He wants us to come as we are. When we come to him in humility, he is faithful to forgive, cleanse, and restore our lives.

Prophet To Pagans: A Story of Repentance

— NICK HARSH —

My name is Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of God to the nation of Israel, and this is my story.

You may wonder what it is like having a front row seat to watch the revival of a nation; especially a nation like Assyria. In the years that followed, people would say things to me like, “That is shocking,” or “I still can’t believe the Assyrians repented.” Believe me, I am as amazed as you are. I can still remember the day I arrived in Nineveh. As I approached the city, I was horrified to see bones scattered everywhere clearly placed to intimidate any nation that was foolish enough to attack the city.

I hope that this was nothing but a “cruel welcome mat” and that the city would be more welcoming once I stepped through the gate — God wouldn’t really send me to a city this bad. Would He? The moment as a whole is somewhat of a blur. More than anything there are images seared into my memory. My eyes flashed rapidly from pyramids of skulls to walls overlain with skin. Parts of the city were lit with torches and based on the carnage I had already witness, I refused to let my mind linger long on this detail. It was as if every element of the city was designed as a warning that said, “Don’t mess with Assyria!” Beyond the blatant brutality of this nation, the idolatry and immorality of this city clear to see. Status of presumed deities where erect throughout the city. It was overwhelming to think that the fear of God could be so far from the minds of a nation whose streets were filled with so many deities. Truly this was a godless nation.

Words are slow. You must not lose sight of the fact that these sights and sounds rushed upon me within five seconds of entering the gate. Up to that point in my life, the stories and evils of the Assyrians were primarily just that — stories. But now that I saw this city with my own eyes it was almost more than I could handle — the sights the sounds made me sick to the stomach. How could men be so bent, so inhuman, so evil?

Then all of the sudden, I was reminded of my purpose for being in that detestable city. I was there to call that vile city to repentance — a thought that also made me sick to my stomach. I knew that God is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. After all, I am an Israelite. If any nation had experienced the relentless grace and mercy of God, it was my people. But this! This was more than I could handle.

You must not think less of me when I tell you that anger began to well up inside of me. I was angry at these people for their evil. I was angry at the thought that these were the very ones that God had promised to use to bring about the judgment of my own people. But mostly I was angry at the thought that God was offering these people a second chance. Please understand, I did everything I could to fight back against these thoughts. After all, I had just spent three days in the belly of a fish. I knew what how severe and unrelenting the grace of God could be in a person’s life. I knew what it was like to be conquered by kindness. And I am not being dishonest to say that my repentance in the fish was genuine, but repentance is more complicated than a one and done event. I thought that my mind was settled in the fish, but when my intentions met reality, I found myself to be far weaker than I had hoped or imagined. Things that I confessed in the fish were beginning to sound like empty platitudes.

I had to stop thinking about it, or I would talk myself out of obeying God — this was a mistake I knew I could not afford to make, so I began to preach the words that God had given me. “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” I was thankful that God hadn’t given me a longer sermon. Personally, I don’t think I could have gotten many more words out of my mouth. So, on I went preaching throughout the city, “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” Believe me, I am as aware as you are that my message was anything but profound. Yet, to my surprise and dismay, the people began to listen and then repent.

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. (Jonah 3:5)

I was devastated. How could this be happening? I thought about taking a ship to Joppa. Not to escape God but to avoid my own people — the Israelites. I had no doubt that when they heard, “Jonah son of Amittai went and preached repentance to the Nineties,” they would kill me for sure — especially if Nineveh repented. However, when I considered the difficulty of convincing those mariners that I was not a ghost, and how unlikely it was that they would ever let me on their ship again, I gave up the idea and continued preaching.

As I preached, I consoled myself with this thought. Religious activity does not guarantee genuine repentance. Again, if there was ever a nation more prone to disingenuous repentance, it was the nation of Israel. More than once my people had repented and turned back to their evil ways, repented and turned back to their evil ways.

Certainly, I wondered if there was still a chance that their repentance was only worldly repentance rather than repentance brought about by God. For my part, I hoped that this was the case but continued preaching as I was told. You can imagine my dismay when the word of the Lord reached the king, and his actions left no doubt that the repentance of this city was genuine. There could be no doubt that the response from the people of Nineveh was a work of God in the hearts of the people.

…he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:6-10)

Receive The Implanted Word

— NICK HARSH —

In James 1:18 he writes, “Of his [God’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” This is referring to our salvation. In kindness and of his own will, God gave us new life — he did this using the word. In the verses that follow (vs. 19-27), James shows us that, “The word that graciously and powerfully creates ‘born again’ Christians (v. 18) is also the word that demands deep-rooted and widely expressed obedience.” [1] When we are saved, we begin a life-long process of allowing God’s word to make us more and more like Jesus. The goal is to grow in our love and obedience to it. Notice, however, what James says about the word — he calls it implanted.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

It’s clear that James is referring to more than merely hearing and affirming truth. He is talking about something that has taken up residence in our hearts.

God saves people by means of the Spirit and the word. He intends to sanctify people by the same means — saving faith and sanctifying faith have the same parents. Therefore, it’s essential that believers receive the word with meekness on a regular basis. The goal is that God’s word would dwell in us — be implanted in us — in such a way that it changes the way we live. James is not describing an academic process. He is telling us what God uses to make you and I more like Jesus. Let me give a few practical ways to do this.

READ GOD’S WORD

It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to receive God’s word with meekness is to read it. Yet unrealistic expectations can often frustrate us from making this a regular part of our lives. Sometimes we want our Bible reading time to be a nearly “transcendental” experience. We want it to be at the perfect coffee shop, with a pack of brand new highlighters, quiet kids, and a crème brûlée latte to complement what God is doing in our life. But let me encourage you, the goal of Bible reading is not that we would walk away every time having found our life verse but that we would grow in our understand of God character and be conformed to the image of his Son. Bible reading doesn’t have to be a hyper-spiritual event for God to use it in your life.

And, if you’re willing to commit 15 to 20 minutes a day, you can read through the Bible once every year. That’s about how long it takes me to make a cup of coffee in the morning.

LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD

Another practical way you can get God’s word into your life is by listening to it. Did you know that it’s not cheating to listen to your Bible? A few months ago, Pastor Cody recommended the Street Lights app to me — it puts God’s word to music. If you have the YouVersion app, you can listen to the Bible that way. Not only that but many artists have set Scripture to music — one of my favorites is called The Corner Room. They were recommended to me by Pastor Zach.

SERMONS/PODCASTS

Sermons or podcasts are another great idea. Whether you listen to our Soteria App or something else, this is a great way to receive God’s word with meekness. So perhaps once or twice a week, instead of listening to the radio on your way to work, you could listen to a sermon or podcast. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The goal is just to make God’s word a regular part of your life. Here are a few of my favorite podcasts.

MEMORIZE GOD’S WORD

Perhaps the thing God has used most in my life is Scripture memory. Over the years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to receive a lot of formal Bible training. Yet, the times that I have felt closest to God have not been when I was “waist deep” in a paper. It wasn’t the times I was trying to wrap my mind around participles or 3rd declension words in Greek. The moments I have felt closest to God were the times I memorized Scripture. Obviously, I am thankful for my education, but in most cases memorizing a passage of scripture has helped me understand it more than parsing or diagraming ever could.

I know for some this seems unattainable, but my experience is that 3 to 5 minutes a day is about all it takes to begin memorizing Scripture. My routine is pretty simple. Each morning (unless I miss, which absolutely happens), I read that weeks verse(s) ten times out loud. Then I close my Bible and go on with the rest of my day. That’s it.

Maybe you are one of those people who struggle to memorize — Bible memory doesn’t come quickly to you. Let me encourage you to just pick a verse — not three or ten, just one — and read it ten times every day this week. I think you will be amazed not only at how well you’ll remember the verse but at the ways God uses the implanted word in your life. And, should you find yourself unable to memorize the verse in a week, you will be no worse off for the time spent meditating on Scripture.

FACEBOOK < THE WORD

So often we think, “I just want to be more like Jesus,” while neglecting the means that God has given us to accomplish that. Believe me, I love Facebook and Netflix, but Facebook is not the means by which God wants to make you more like Jesus — the word is. So find ways to get it into your life. Find ways to let it dwell in you. So that when you aren’t thinking about what you’re thinking about, you’re thinking about the word. So that when you wake up at 3:00a Scripture comes to mind. As you receive the word in this way, I believe it will impact your life in ways you never knew it could.


[1] Moo, Douglas J. James. 2nd Revised ed. edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015, pp. 117.

Three Prayers For Sunday Morning

— NICK HARSH —

Sunday morning. For some families, these two simple words call to mind a morning filled with chaos. For others, however, Sunday mornings are slow and provide an opportunity to sleep in. Sometimes when you arrive at church, it’s clear that others have had a crazy morning. Perhaps you observe a periodic yawn, missed belt-loop, or uncombed cowlick en route to the sanctuary — the alarm clock is a strong foe, and not all are victorious. Others seem to have it together — we wish they would teach us their ways. Regardless of your pre-church routine, here are three prayers to pray on Sunday morning.

LORD, GIVE ME A CHANCE TO SERVE

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Those who have been made alive in Christ — given eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus — are no longer slaves to sin. Earlier in Galatians Paul writes that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” We are no longer under the law. We’ve been set free. One of the implications of our freedom is service. In light of our redemption, we should look for ways to serve others. As those who have been set free from servitude to sin we should live with eyes open to serve those for whom Christ died. Often as we gather on Sunday, the responsibilities of the coming week weigh heavy on our minds. But let us not forget that through Jesus we have been set free from servanthood to sin so that we may willingly serve believers. The point is not that we would feel guilty or serve begrudgingly. Instead, when we grasp the gospel, the natural response is to serve.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is more significant than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

You and I are never more like Jesus than when we use our freedom to serve others graciously. There is no better example of sacrificial service than Jesus. Each week we have to privilege of following his example by serving one another.

LORD, GIVE ME A CHANCE TO ENCOURAGE

The New Testament is replete with “one-another” commands — things we are to do towards one another. One of those exhortations is to encourage one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) 

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

Each week people come to church with the burdens of the past week fresh in their minds — we do too. Not only that but many carry with them the shame of their own sinfulness equally fresh in their minds — we do too. We can all think of moments where we fell short, moments where our lives were not consistent with the salvation we claim. As a believer, we have the opportunity to encourage one another in our walk with Jesus. At times this means cheering people on as they faithfully pursue Christ. Other times this means confronting sin and encouraging repentance. In both cases, we are called to encourage one another.

LORD, MAKE ME HOSPITABLE TOWARDS GUESTS

This is a tough one. It is easy to gather as a church, check our kids into their classes, grab our coffee, and attend the service without ever considering the people around you. Have you ever considered, though, how unusual your Sunday activities are to the person who never grew up in the church? In what other context does a group of people, with little in common, stand facing the front of a room to sing songs about death, and blood, and grace. Then we spend the better part of an hour listening to someone talk. Where else does that happen — TED Talks? Yet how sad would it be if our liturgy and activities were the only things that caused our churches to stand out? How sad would it be if the guests at our churches saw no differences between your joy and their boss’s, between your friendliness and their casher’s? Yes, it can be a bit uncomfortable introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met, but this Sunday let’s embrace the awkward and pray, “Lord, help me see guests and treat them with love and hospitality.”

His Mercy Is More by John Newton

— NICK HARSH —

A few weeks ago, we sang the song His Mercy Is More by Matt Papa. What I appreciate about the song is the way clearly-worded truth overflows from each verse. The song is full of weighty truths, delivered in poetic punches, that soothe one’s soul. What you may not know, however, is that the lyrics are originally from the following letter written by John Newton. 

I can truly say, that I bear you upon my heart and in my prayers. I have rejoiced to see the beginning of a good and gracious work in you.

And I have confidence in the Lord Jesus, that He will carry it on and complete it and that you will be amongst the number of those who shall sing redeeming love to eternity.

Therefore fear none of the things appointed for you to suffer by the way. But gird up the loins of your mind, and hope to the end. Be not impatient, but wait humbly upon the Lord.

You have one hard lesson to learn, that is, the evil of your own heart. You know something of it, but it is needful that you should know more. For the more we know of ourselves, the more we shall prize and love Jesus and His salvation.

I hope what you find in yourself by daily experience will humble you, but not discourage you: humble you it should, and I believe it does.

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you?

But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?

Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief, and the remainder of a legal spirit. And these evils are not removed in a day.

Wait on the Lord, and He will enable you to see more and more of the power and grace of our High Priest.

The more you know Him, the better you will trust Him: the more you trust Him, the better you will love Him; the more you love Him, the better you will serve Him.

This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He is teaching you these things, and I trust He will teach you to the end.

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.

Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection. And in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.

Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavour to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

I commend you to the care of the good Shepherd, and remain, for His sake,

Yours,

John Newton
March 18, 1767


John Newton, “Cardiphonia” in The Works of John Newton (vol. 2; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 140–141