Month: February 2014

We Value the Gospel

indexThis past Sunday, we began to walk through a series on our 12 values. (You can find the full listing here.) Dictionary.com defines a value as ”A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.” Thinking in this vein, the values we have are an attempt to reflect our priorities, what’s important to us; and in addition, to reflect what we desire to become, what will characterize us a local body of Jesus followers.

One of our “vertical” values is the Gospel. At Mercy Hill we will work hard at keeping the Gospel central. This means that though we talk about the Gospel as one of our core values, in a very real sense, the Gospel is that which defines who we are in Jesus and then leads us to embrace all of our values.

Simply stated, the Gospel is God’s good news to broken sinners that Jesus Christ came to live, die and rise again for the forgiveness of sin to bring redeemed sinners under God’s gracious reign for the renewal of all things. Our lives are centered in this news: 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)

We believe the grace offered in the Gospel, imparted by the Spirit, is the most powerful change agent in the universe. It is, “the very power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, we are “eager to preach the gospel…” (Rom. 1:15) It will be central to all we do.

By God’s persevering grace, we will be a Gospel people – never forgetting that God’s good news to broken sinners is that Jesus Christ came to live, die and rise again for the forgiveness of our sin to bring redeemed sinners like us under God’s gracious reign for the renewal of all things.

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A Passion for Unbelieving People

letterpress-passion-1-MWhen you consider where you were born, where you have lived, and where you live now…do you think God has been in control of that? How about his providence over where you work, where you go to school, or what street you live on?

To the exiles of his day, Jeremiah captured the words of God, “…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:7). Notice God reminds them that he had sent them to this new place, and he reminds them that he had a purpose for them in that place.

Fast forward to 2014…Why has God put us (as individuals and as a church) where he has? As a church, we understand our mission this way, “Mercy Hill Church exists to bring glory to God and affect gospel change by gathering God’s people and growing them to be like Jesus.” We long to be used by God to affect gospel change. One of the significant ways we will do that is by gathering God’s people. And we do that by having a passion for those in our lives who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ a passion to have a gospel presence for the sake of having gospel proclamation.

We’ve stated this passion this way…

Our passion for unbelieving people will find its fruit in evangelism and outreach. Our evangelism will be Gospel-proclaiming, hope-giving, relationally-based, enduring, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our outreach will be Christ-motivated, justice-pursuing, needs-meeting, compassionate, generous and sacrificial.

When we think about our evangelism, we can think in two categories: “come and hear” (attractional) and “go and tell” (missional/incarnational). In the “come and hear” aspect, the church invites people to come to where we are (at church, in our small group) and hear the gospel. We would desire to attract them to come to us. In the “go and tell” aspect the church focuses on sending her people out to go and be where people are (where we live; where we go to school; where we work), bringing the gospel to them.

Mercy Hill will definitely lean strongly on the “go and tell” side of evangelism – encouraging and preparing our folks to go and tell. And yet we understand that there will always be a “come and hear” dynamic, so we will have a worship service that is accessible and understandable to people, create a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and not shy away from weaving the true gospel throughout our songs, prayers, and sermons.

Our prayer is that our evangelism, our speaking of the love of Jesus, will be…

  • Gospel-proclaiming. Because to become followers of Jesus, people must hear the Good News, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word…”  There are many false gospels, many “works-based” or “man-centered” gospels, so we want to intentionally speak of the true, “God-centered” gospel…“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
  • Hope-giving. Because we have words of real hope, we have GOOD news to share: “good news of great joy” as the angels announced at Jesus’ birth.
  • Relationally-based.  Because in most cases, God uses people to be a conduit of the gospel to other people. Again, a focus on “go and tell” instead of “come and hear.”
  • Enduring. Because a person’s path to faith in Jesus is most often not a quick “in and out” process. We want to encourage faithful, enduring relationships of love and truth over the long haul.
  • Empowered by the Holy Spirit. Because ultimately, it is God’s work to save. We must define success for us in evangelism as faithfulness to proclaim; not the number of people that were “converted” when we spoke.

When we consider the nature of our outreach, our showing of the love of Jesus to those in our lives, we pray that it will be characterized by being…

  • Christ-motivated. Because we are not just a social service agency, we love and serve people for Jesus’ sake. They are made in the image of God, worthy of our love and service, and we are hoping to see Jesus impact their lives through us.
  • Justice-pursuing. Because there are real wrongs in our culture that need to be righted. We will pursue justice for the unborn, those incapable of pursuing it for themselves, those unfairly demeaned because of race, ability, etc.
  • Needs-meeting. Because real people have real needs, we will seek to learn what those needs are (not to define the needs we think people should have) and by God’s grace and provision meet the needs we can.
  • Compassionate. Because we understand that to love without action is pointless, and to act without love is heartless, our desire is to wed our love for people with action on their behalf. That is true compassion.
  • Generous. Because we desire to reflect the heart of God, we will strive to be generous, overflowing with others as he has overflowed with us in Jesus.
  • Sacrificial. Because, again, we desire to reflect the heart of God, his amazing sacrifice for us seen most clearly in the cross of Jesus.

Because we desire to have a passion for unbelieving people, we will ask ourselves regularly: “Do we love the people around us?” Do we love them enough to bring the gospel to bear in the every days of life, in word and deed – faithfully being the presence of Jesus, so that we can proclaim Jesus?

Link: Our 5 Passions

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church (Thom S. Rainer)

I initially ran across this blog from Thom Rainer about a year ago and was saddened to see so many of these alive and well in the church I was pastoring at that time. The end result of this deeply embedded inward focus, even though it was not a majority of the folks, was not good. Now as I am helping to plant this new church, I encourage us to allow this article to serve as a reminder of some of the pitfalls that, by the grace of God,  we want to actively avoid. Let’s be humble enough to see that no one starts out with a desire to be inwardly obsessed, but that this danger can creep in from day one. May the Spirit give us wisdom and discernment to be Gospel-minded, kingdom-building people, for his glory and the joy of his people in Jesus.

Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

  1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
  3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
  4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
  5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
  9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
  10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

71DEtWWCOXL._SL1500_Originally posted on May 2, 2012 by Thom S. Rainer (The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church). They also appear in chapter 3 (I Will Not Let My Church Be About My Preferences and Desires) in his new book I Am A Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference.

A Passion for God’s People

letterpress-passion-1-MAs a church we will have a Passion for God’s People. This passion will be seen in a commitment to biblical discipleship and fellowship.

To summarize: our discipleship will be Word-based, mind-transforming, heart-changing, application-oriented, personal, and transferable. Our fellowship will be authentic, life-on-life, burden-bearing, joy-sharing, love-showing, and familial.

One passage that captures some of what biblical discipleship and fellowship looks like is Hebrews 10:23-25…Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The goal in the passage is steadfastness in the faith (“hold fast…without wavering…to he confession of our hope”). Our goal is to be steadily growing as a disciple of Jesus. This goal is grounded on the faithfulness of God to keep his promise – his promise to save us, sanctify us, and bring us to final glorification.

The means to help us accomplish that goal is our being with “one another”. We are to stir up” each other, to encourage each other, to love and good works. To be able to do this, it is implied that we need to “meet together”. Being together allows this stirring and encouraging to move from the theoretical to the practical. We talk about this being together in terms of being close enough to others to “know” them and to “be known” by them.

Therefore, as a church we will have two primary ministries to help the process of biblical discipleship and fellowship:

  • Community Groups. Growth, care, and mission are essential for healthy body life and these happen most naturally in smaller, more intimate settings. We will not be a church with community groups, but a church of community groups.
  • Discipleship Groups. It is helpful for people to get together to help one another pursue becoming like Jesus through the Word and accountability. We will help people to link up in discipling groups of 2-4 people. We anticipate these same gender groups largely flowing out of existing Community Group relationships.

A very wise 17th century pastor said, “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.” God’s people who try to live disconnected from other Jesus followers are setting themselves up for spiritual danger.

At Mercy Hill, we are not content to just “play” church, thinking a once-a-week “fix” of church will keep us healthy. Our desire is to have a passion to pray and seek to really be the church for one another – helping each other grow to be more like Jesus; caring for one another’s needs; helping one another be the light of Jesus for our communities.

Our 5 Passions…

What’s Behind Mercy Hill?

Mercy Hill Circle Logo 3

Isn’t it interesting how a name is often so fitting or conversely, how at times a name is not fitting at all? Is a name defined by the one who bears it or is the person defined by the name they are given?  As a church our identity begins and flows out of who we are in Jesus and nothing else.  As Christians we’ve been given a name that defines who we are and gives direction and purpose to what we do. By God’s grace to us and the power of the Holy Spirit we can live and work and breathe in a way that is worthy and fitting of the name we’ve been given as Children of God and the Bride of Christ.

When considering the name for a new church God is building in West Chicago and surrounding communities there were a couple primary reasons Mercy Hill Church was chosen.

First, it is representative of who the church is already in Christ, saved by Jesus. (Titus 3.5) Mercy Hill is a reference to Calvary or Golgotha, where the perfect and only sinless Savior died to pay for our sin.  (1 Peter 1.3) We desire to honor and remember His sacrifice and be identified with it, even in name.

Secondly, the name Mercy Hill acts as a continual reminder to fulfill our calling to live like Jesus; sacrificially and exuding a loving mercy to those within and outside the church. (Luke 6.36)  All good things that come from God began with His loving Mercy to us. Ephesians 2.4 says, “But God, being rich in mercy…” and from that flows grace, life, resurrection, glory and an inheritance. The Church should engage the world with The Gospel the same way, with a loving mercy.

It is the greatest of names we have been given as Children of God! It is also a great gift to have the Holy Spirit leading us in our new identity! We look forward to what God has planned for The Gospel as it lived out by this people – the people of Mercy Hill Church.

-Ryan Guerra, Worship Pastor

The Stupendous Reality of Being “in Christ Jesus” (Desiring God: John Piper)

Originally posted: January 25, 2012, by John Piper

Being “in Christ Jesus” is a stupendous reality. It is breathtaking what it means to be in Christ. United to Christ. Bound to Christ. If you are “in Christ” listen to what it means for you:

  1. In Christ Jesus you were given grace before the world was created. 2 Timothy 1:9, “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
  2. In Christ Jesus you were chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
  3. In Christ Jesus you are loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  4. In Christ Jesus you were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. Ephesians 1:7, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
  5. In Christ Jesus you are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  6. In Christ Jesus you have become a new creation and a son of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
  7. In Christ Jesus you have been seated in the heavenly places even while he lived on earth. Ephesians 2:6, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
  8. In Christ Jesus all the promises of God are Yes for you. 2 Corinthians 1:20, “All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ.”
  9. In Christ Jesus you are being sanctified and made holy. 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.
  10. In Christ Jesus everything you really needed will be supplied. Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
  11. In Christ Jesus the peace of God will guard your heart and mind. Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  12. In Christ Jesus you have eternal life. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  13. And in Christ Jesus you will be raised from the dead at the coming of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” All those united to Adam in the first humanity die. All those united to Christ in the new humanity rise to live again

How do we get into Christ?

At the unconscious and decisive level it is God’s sovereign work: “From God are you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

But at the conscious level of our own action, it is through faith. Christ dwells in our hearts “through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). The life we live in union with his death and life “we live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). We are united in his death and resurrection “through faith” (Colossians 2:12).

This is a wonderful truth. Union with Christ is the ground of everlasting joy, and it is free.

Praying Balanced, God-Centered Prayers

I don’t believe that there is a set formula for how to pray, set words to pray, set ways to pray. But I also know that there are some who are unsure of how to pray, and specifically, what to pray. I have found the acrostic, P.R.A.Y., to be helpful as I try to keep my own prayers well balanced, and centered on God. It is a tool to help – definitely not inspired, nor the only tool you can use, but helpful. Let me briefly explain what the acrostic P.R.A.Y stands for.

PRAISE. Praise takes our thoughts and directs them vertically – towards God – praising him for who he is and what he has done. Jesus’ own model of prayer, given to his disciples when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray”, is recorded in Matthew chapter six, he teaches us to begin vertically, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” You could translate “hallowed be your name”, with the phrase, “let your name be praised and adored above all other names!”

It is good to begin our prayers by praising God, adoring him for who he is and what he has done, by offering him our thanks. The “P” of praise reminds us that prayer is primarily a vertical, God-focused act.

REPENT. Periodically, someone will come to me and say, “I feel that God is not answering my prayers.” Initially I will do some probing about the nature of the prayer. I want to hear if their prayer is really in line with God’s will. For example, if they tell me that they’re praying that God will help them win the lottery, I think it’s pretty simple to understand why God’s not answering.

However, if it seems like a legitimate prayer, I will probe some more, usually asking, “Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?” I ask that because the Scripture informs me and experience reinforces the truth that one of the greatest hindrances to answered prayer is sin that is not dealt with.

That leads me to the second letter in my prayer acrostic, “R”…it reminds us that part of our prayer needs to be that we repent of any known sin.

What does repentance sound like? Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after his sin of adultery has been exposed. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment… Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit…Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation…For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

ASK. As our hearts are God-oriented in praise and purified through repentance, then I think we’re ready to come and “Ask.” God does not discourage us from coming and asking in prayer. Jesus makes this wonderful promise in Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…” James tells us bluntly, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

But notice the model of Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer…before he teaches us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread…” in verse eleven of Matthew six, he teaches us to set the right parameters, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The key to our asking is to ask according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” The key in the passage is the phrase, “according to his will”.

YIELD. That humble willingness to ask “according to his will”, in faith that he can do it, leads to the final letter of the acrostic, “Y”, which stands for “Yield”.

We must be willing to yield our desires and our thoughts to God’s sovereign wisdom. Our model is Jesus. As he faced the Cross, he prayed this way in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We must pray with that spirit of humble yielding of our will to his.

Read more about Mercy Hill’s Passion for Prayer.

A Passion for Prayer

letterpress-passion-1-MToo often, as Jesus followers we talk a good game about prayer and even talk about praying a lot, but when pressed to be honest, we have to admit that we actually don’t pray very much. It is our desire to change this trend, in our personal lives, and in the life of our young church.

We want to be a people who have A Passion for Prayer. Our passion for prayer is to see it be the central engine that drives all we do. Our hope then, is that our prayer will be faith-filled, dependence-motivated, faithfully practiced, both formal and spontaneous.

Why do we say, “the central engine that drives all we do?”. We say that because of what happens when we pray! Consider these seven amazing things that happen when God speaks to us as we are in conversation with him; seven promises of prayer we find in God’s Word.

  • When we are passionate to hear God’s voice in prayer, we gain understanding. Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
  • When we pray, we get wisdom. James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
  • When we pray, we receive direction. Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes [or “directs”] his steps.”
  • When we are passionate to hear God’s voice in prayer, the joy of the Lord fills our hearts. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
  • When we pray God pours out mercy and grace. Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
  • When we are passionate to hear God’s voice in prayer, we have peace of mind. Philippians 4:6-7, “…do not be anxious [don’t worry; don’t fret] about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • When we pray God’s will is accomplished. James 5:16-18, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

Why do we say, “faith-filled?” We say that because praying without faith makes no sense. It is just dry ritual. This is a powerful word from Wayne Grudem: “If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in a response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that he does, then we would pray much more than we do. If we pray little, it is probably because we do not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all.”

Why do we say, dependence-motivated” We say that because God is glorified as the great Giver in our dependence. Prayer is an act of desperation! It says, “We can’t do this alone…we don’t have the wisdom, the power, the compassion…We need you. If you don’t act, we’re in big trouble!

We will be passionate to prayA pastor I know, speaking about the vital role of prayer, once said, “No one can become an authentic Christian on a steady diet of activity. Power comes out of stillness; strength comes out of solitude.” (Bill Hybels) We will pray…

  • Personally
  • In our homes
  • In our community groups
  • At special times
  • When we gather…

O that we would be a people whose strength and power and authenticity flow out of the stillness and solitude of our prayers!

“Among professing Christians, prayerlessness produces joylessness.” (John Piper)