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

THANKFUL FOR…

— NICK HARSH —

Last week at our annual Soteria Thanksgiving Meal, there was a wall designated for our church family to share things they are thankful for. Here is a list of the things that were written.

SOTERIA IS THANKFUL FOR…

My husband and beautiful girls // Baby brother // Swim team // Iowa Hawkeyes // I am saved // Mom and Dad // The Bible // Food // Family and Baseball // Family, God, Food and friends // Friends, family and Jesus // Jesus on the cross // Family and Hugs // Church // That God came to save me and everyone // Gal pals // Salvation // Cute kids // For my brain // Legos // My son Buddy // Water // God and his sovereignty // My dog // Football, Broncos, turkey, and sports // My rabbit Nibbles // My job // My mommy // My friends // Animals // Jesus as our Savior // My teachers // The students that I get to share God with everyday // Pastor Mike // God’s grace // For the big turkey, they caught // For getting baptized // For horses // For my hands // My husband // Stuffed animals // Everything God has done.

This is a great list, but it is not a completed list. How could it be? Each of us could likely think of a hundred examples of God's blessing each day. Or, consider the ways that God has blessed Soteria this year by allowing more people to believe the gospel, be baptized, and grow together in community. Each of these are good gifts from the hand of a gracious God. Indeed we serve a good God who gives good gifts to his children. James writes,

JAMES 1:17-18

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will, he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. I hope that as you celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, you’ll give thanks for the big things and the small things. Both are from God and are a reminder of his unfailing love for us.

Happy Thanksgiving Soteria!

The Best Question Asked At My Ordination

— JARED SEGERSTROM —

Two weeks ago I participated in an ordination council at Soteria. Ordination is a time for area pastors and church people to examine a man’s doctrine and character and determine whether he is called to serve in pastoral ministry. Prior to my council, I spent hours reviewing my doctrinal statement. For two weeks every shower time turned into a mock ordination council where I rehearsed how I was going to answer a particular question about spiritual gifts or the imputed righteousness of Jesus. I wanted to be ready with an answer for every question.

The Tuesday morning came, and although I was sweating through my undershirt, I felt I was as ready as I could be. Several area pastors arrived, my family drove down from Waterloo and Webster City, and even a dozen church people showed up which was a welcome surprise. Pastor Mike, who moderated my council, made it clear to everyone that the floor was open for questions from church members as well as pastors. As the examining began, I was asked good, ministry-focused questions from the area pastors, many of which I had anticipated beforehand. There are a few questions I would have liked to re-answer with more clarity, but all in all it was going well.

Then we arrived to Angelology, which in my opinion is one of the areas of doctrine which is fairly “cut and dry” with little application to real life. I was surprised to see a hand go up from one of our church members, a dear friend with a son in our youth group. Her husband died unexpectedly a few years ago, and one of the statements her children heard most often was that their father is now an angel and he is looking down on them. She shared how frustrating it was for her kids to hear that statement repeatedly. She wanted to encourage her kids and provide them with an answer for people who offered this well-intentioned, but theologically inaccurate encouragement. 

God used that question to remind me of an important truth. Every area of Christian doctrine is important for life and ministry. Even the more obscure areas of doctrine, like angels, connects to real life. God reminded me that I’m not called as a pastor to know my Bible just so I can sound smart in front of my peers or pass examinations. I need to know my Bible so that I can give people what they desperately need: truth from God’s Word which helps them navigate life by faith. 

I looked at that dear friend and gave her the best answer I could come up with.  I reminder her that her husband and her kids’ father is living in perfect fellowship with his Savior Jesus Christ. Angels are incredible creatures with some extraordinary abilities, but they don’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus that Christians enjoy. Regarding the salvation experienced by humans who place their faith in Jesus, Peter says that angels “long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). This family can take hope that although their dad is not an angel, he is something better, a child of God who enjoys unrestricted access to his Savior as someone cleansed by the righteousness of Jesus.

I was asked many good questions that day, but the best question was the one I wasn’t expecting. I’m so thankful for a good and sovereign God working through a dear and precious saint to remind me of that important and eternal truth.

When Hope Fades

— MIKE AUGSBURGER —

OUR GOOD

All of us can relate to a parent dealing with a child because all of us have been either a parent or a child at some point. Having said that, here’s a key phrase from a parent to child: “I’m doing this for your own good.” In this scenario, the parent is always more sure of this truth than the child! As a child, you’re tempted to ask, “Really? Cause I’m just not seeing it like that!”

Romans 8:31 is one of many texts that makes the unqualified promise that God is ultimately and eternally FOR us. It reads,

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God is absolutely, and without question, FOR us. God does give us “all things,” meaning he will always give us what we need. However, as we’ve learned from our sermon series in John 11, the “all things” doesn’t necessarily equal “all things pleasant and nice.” Like a loving parent, he will always give us what we need — what is designed for our flourishing.

OUR LIFELINE

Most Christians don’t question these truths. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knew Jesus loved them. However, as we’ve seen in John 11, those unequivocal truths are inevitably tested in the furnace of life. Martha asks, “Jesus, why didn’t you come sooner?” Mary asserts, “Jesus, you could be sparing us this pain right now.” A senior saint in your church says, “I don’t understand the meaning of this painful arthritis!” A heartbroken young woman asks, “Why, Jesus, did my father have to die before he knew his grandkids?”

It is in the midst of this furnace that God says, “I am FOR you. I love you. Always. Period.” Yet, these circumstances fire-test our beliefs. How can we be assured of the truth? It’s a matter of how much you know, believe, and trust God’s Word. Memorize verses, read the stories of Scripture, galvanize your heart in the platinum-plated truth of God’s love for you. That is your lifeline when all hell breaks loose. Hold onto it with white-knuckled intensity!

OUR MEASUREMENT

If it is true that God is FOR us, that God loves us, that God always does what’s best for us, then it changes the way God’s love is measured. In John 11:5-6 Jesus stuns us with what sounds like sheer cruelty. John says, “Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Therefore, because he loved them, he let Lazarus die.”

Wow. What does that mean? How do we interact with truth like this? Quite simply it means you, and I cannot measure God’s love by the amount of ease and comfort in my life — it is impossible. Unfortunately, western Christianity has equated ease and comfort with God’s blessing and favor. Western Christianity has drawn up a math problem that says church attendance plus good works equals God’s blessing in my life. In reality, that arithmetic is NOT love — it’s hatred. Only unloving, inattentive parents would provide this for their children, but we know God is not unloving or inattentive. He’s good. He’s loving, and he always does what’s best for us.

If this is the wrong measuring tool, then what is the right measurement? This coming Sunday, October 21, 2018, we will answer this question from John 11:38-44. However, here it is in a nutshell: the most loving thing God could ever do for us is to let us see and experience his glory. That’s how we measure his love for us. The times we see God’s glory on display the most is not when life is a bed of cotton balls. Instead, it’s when we’re cold, naked, and sleeping on concrete. That’s when God becomes real. That’s when his glory shines through the brightest. That’s when we can go back to the truth that God is FOR us, and we hang on for dear life!

Making Plans in Pencil

— JaRED SEGERSTROM —

Few things in life bring me more enjoyment than making plans. I love putting the next few months down on my calendar, organizing it under the categories of “Family,” “Church,” and “Work.” In the last few weeks, I added graduation open houses, youth camp, and a wedding to our summer calendar. Short-term planning keeps me from overbooking and allows me to schedule fun for our family. 

I also love long-term planning. About once a month my wife and I find ourselves relaxing in the living room after our daughter has gone to bed, talking about our future. We love to dream out loud about ministry aspirations, more children, paying off those dreaded student loans, and even future trips we’d like to take (Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand, anyone?). Discussing these long-term plans infuses excitement into our mundane weekly activities.

Making plans is by no means an evil activity. In fact, planning the future often evidences wise stewardship. But taken too far, our planning can actually demonstrate foolishness and a selfish heart.

In his letter to dispersed Christians, James offers a caution to those who make their plans without consulting God. James 4:13-17 says,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

To summarize, James tells his readers to make plans in pencil. Planning your life without seeking God’s guidance will leave you bitterly disappointed. However, humble planning marked by flexibility demonstrates wisdom and trust in God. James gives four reasons why godly people make plans in pencil.

1. We can’t predict tomorrow, but God already has.

James was speaking to thrifty business people who were determined to get rich quickly. What was wrong with their plans? They forgot that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We are all one job loss, one illness, or one tragedy away from derailed plans and uncertainty. Is the solution to make no plans whatsoever? Of course not. Instead, we make plans but commit them to our loving Father who has already written the script for our life. When we do encounter unexpected changes, we ask God for the faith to trust him and to respond in a righteous way.

2. Our lives are short, but God is eternal.

James reminds his readers that the length of our lives more closely resembles the steam coming off our morning coffee than a centuries-old river or a mile-deep ocean. Our days are limited. Our God, on the other hand, has never been bound by time. He is sovereignly moving all of history towards a finish line, which is the eternal restoration of the relationship between God and his creation. We are wise to order our lives around the only things which will enter that eternity: the souls of people and the Word of God. 

3. Our knowledge is tainted, but God’s will is trustworthy.

Have you ever made a decision based on faulty logic or incomplete information? It’s an exceptionally frustrating feeling. The fact of the matter is we don’t know as much as we think we do. Sin has affected every part of us including our intellect. Our all-knowing God, however, has a mind free from sin’s effects. We can trust him when our knowledge falls short. When we tell someone we are going to do something “Lord-willing,” we are not throwing in a superstitious Christian cliché. Instead, we are reminding ourselves and those around us that God knows better than we do. At the end of the day, I want my life to mirror the plans of my all-knowing Father, not my own tainted knowledge.

4. Our desires are evil, but God’s desires are perfect.

When we brag about our pre-determined plans to others, we simply reveal the evil desires of our heart. James 4:1 tells us that it’s those same evil desires which cause us to fight with other people. Wanting our own way, following our own dreams, and planning independently of God and his will, all reflect a heart which places self above God. We need to discard our self-exalting agenda, and instead walk in the new life we’ve been given through the shed blood of Jesus. Each morning we get up, rejoice in the new mercies waiting for us, and ask God to align our desires with His holy character.

As you write out your plans for the upcoming week, month, or even lifetime, listen to the wisdom James 4 provides. Put away your ink pen with its unpredictably short-term agenda, tainted knowledge, and selfish ambition. In its place, pick up the humble pencil and write out your plans, all the while trusting an eternally-minded God to change those plans to line up with His perfect character.

7-Day Challenge (to be continued)

Two weeks ago Pastor Mike issued a 7-Day Challenge. The goal was to spend time reading the Bible for seven days straight. We want to help you continue to make God's Word a part of your life, so Pastor Josh designed a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart.  You may notice there are no checkboxes. That is intentional because Bible reading was never meant to be a task we check off our to-do lists. Instead, meditating on God’s word is the primary means by which we grow in our relationship with Jesus. I can imagine your spouse wouldn’t be very pleased if half-way through your next date together you took out a notebook, checked a box indicating that you “went on a date,” and then headed to the car. But, it's easy for us to have a similar mentality when it comes to spending time in God’s Word — too often we miss the point entirely. 

However, just like every other relationship, our relationship with Jesus takes work and intentionality. No relationship ever coasts towards greater depth. The point of this chart is to help you develop the habit of reading your Bible while avoiding the checkbox mentality. The goal is to connect your heart to the Word as often as possible — to inculcate the Word of God into your life. Draw a line (on the chart) to connect the Bible and heart each day you spend reading. If you miss a day, no worries. Dates are not included so you won’t need to play “catch-up.” We hope you enjoy! 

Stop by the Connect Desk and grab a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart. We will have different sizes including a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart (full-sheet), a 3-week Reading Chart (half-sheet), and a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart (poster size). Or if you prefer, you can simply download the PDF for yourself using the links below. 

Dear Soteria Avondale

— NICK HARSH —

 

Dear Soteria Avondale, 

There are moments when God allows us to get a small glimpse of his power and sovereignty. He pulls back the curtain and we are able to see that the very ordinary occurrences in life are opportunities to impact eternity. No doubt there are days when we wake up and feel as if our work is pointless; when we question whether or not the sacrifices we have made are worth it. Often it is in those moments when we are most frustrated and discouraged that God gives us a small glimpse of what he is doing. He reminds us that He is working behind the scenes in ways we could never have imagined. A few weeks ago, someone told me of a very specific way that God has used our church body. Soteria Avondale, you are the answer to a mother’s prayer! 

Not long ago I ran into an old friend — figuratively of course not literally. We began talking about life and she asked how things are going at Soteria. As we talked about some of the ways God is working, I made the comment that we are planting a new church in Arizona and how excited I am about the team God has brought together. When I said this she smiled and responded, “That is so wonderful! I am praying that more churches would be planted in Arizona. My son and his family live there  and don’t really have a good church to attend.” She mentioned that her son isn’t currently living for the Lord but was excited to hear that our church had considered Arizona for a church plant. I asked her, “So where in Arizona does your son live?” She began explaining that he lives in the Phoenix area; not in Phoenix but in a suburb to the Southwest. She said, “It is a city called Avondale.” It was my turn to smile! I looked at her and said, “That is where our church will be located.” She began to cry and told me that she has prayed for years that a solid gospel-preaching church would come to her son’s city. It was such a joy to tell her that God had answered her prayer. 

Dear Soteria Avondale, you are the answer to this mother’s prayer. We never know the impact that the little moments (and big moments) can have in people’s lives but one thing is certain: God is at work in ways we cannot see and is doing things that we could never imagine. There are still more prayers to be answered and more sons who need to hear the Gospel and be made alive in Jesus (in both Avondale and Des Moines). We have the amazing privilege of intersecting with these stories every day. Clearly, God is at work and I am confident that He has big plans for Soteria Avondale. It is exciting to think of all the other prayers God wants to answer through Soteria Avondale. 

We love you, we are praying for you, and we’re so grateful for the ways God is going to transform lives using the “ordinary moments” in your life. 

 

Sincerely, 

Nick Harsh 

Identity Determines Mission

 NICK HARSH 

 

"Sound theological understanding underlies distinctively Christian ministry. Servants who understand their masters purposes have a clearer sense of mission. Theological perception of God’s program in the world helps formulate long-range goals in life for those who do his will on earth. Servants who know who they are can function more freely with a sense of identity."

— Integrative Theology, pp. 47-48.

 

Most of us have experienced it before, the uncomfortable feeling of the first day on the job. Each situation is different but often the first day (or even the first few months) at a job is uncomfortable because we aren’t completely sure what we are supposed to be doing. Early on we rely heavily on our job description because it records our responsibilities in propositional form. Our job description clearly defines our identity with the company or business we are a part of. The job description tells us who we are, what we are responsible to do, and the authority that we have to carry out those tasks. In other words, our identity determines our responsibility.

While this is certainly true in the workplace, it is also true in every other aspect of life. If you are a mother, that identity carries with it a certain set of responsibilities. If you are a father the same is true. If you are a student, then your responsibilities are often accompanied by a deadline. This is equally true when it comes to our walk with God. Identity determines mission. If I don’t know my job, I am not going to be able to do it well. So as believers, what is our job? What should we accomplish? We find the answer in Matthew 28:18-20.

Matthew 28:18-20  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

MISSION:

While it might seem like there are four commands in these verses, it’s important to realize that there is really only one command — make disciples. The other phrases, which look like commands (e.g. Go therefore, baptizing, and teaching) are called adverbial participles. That’s just a fancy name we give to words formed from verbs that function like adjectives. In other words they describe the action of the main verb, which is “make disciples.”

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 4.19.21 PM.png

Whoa…that’s a lot of grammar! But it’s this vital information that helps us better understand our job description as believers.

THE STRATEGY: 

One would think that a mission which extends to all nations would require a complex strategy. Yet this is not what we find in Matthew. Instead, we find three simple, yet life-consuming methods for making disciples. Specifically, we are to “Go, Baptize, and Teach.” That’s our job description. We are to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. This is a very sobering, but freeing reality. It is sobering because of the scope of our mission. We are not trying to make mere church-goers; the goal is to make disciples of all nations. That is a massive task! Yet this singular mission enables us to be faithful and to grow where God has planted us, which then frees us from the desire of always having to chase the next big thing. We don’t have to perpetually grasp for the next big ministry opportunity. If you want to do God’s work, find a local church and start serving. Build friendships with unbelievers that can support gospel conversations.

THE PROMISE:

But, what gives us the confidence to complete such a lifelong task? The answer is really quite amazing. We have been given the stewardship of Jesus’ authority and the promise of God’s presence. Notice how the command in these verses is sandwiched between two promises.

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The clarity of a job description and the backing of an employer enables and empowers us to work with focus and diligence. In the same way, the clarity of a singular mission – to make disciples – and the promise of God’s authority and presence should motivate us to work toward the mission with diligence.


1 Integrative Theology, pp. 47-48.