City Life: Work Different

We all have work to do. Whether it’s the reading assignment for class, taking care of the family, or paving road, every single person on Earth works in some capacity. One of the primary things God created humanity to do was work. If you remember, one of the very first things God gave to humanity was a job; God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and told him to work and keep it. And all of this transpired before sin entered the world. When God gave a satisfying declaration that everything was good, he included work in that declaration.

Work is good, but we have tremendous trouble with that truth because work is frustrated, distorted, and sometimes pointless because of the Fall of humanity. The entrance of sin into the world has left some with a bad taste in their mouth for work, as in the case of those who try to avoid it. And some have an unhealthy obsession with work and cannot seem to stop working.

The amazing thing is that the gospel changes everything including the way we work. Jesus came to work in our place, quite literally. He was a carpenter for a bit. Jesus worked a job perfectly; he did not loath work or worship it. Jesus honored his Father through his common, everyday job. Later on, Jesus made a vocational switch to ministry, a job that would lead him to poverty, but his needs were met. His new assignment led him to his death, but ended in his resurrection. Through his work in life, death, and resurrection, Jesus redeemed work itself. Now, work can be different than before.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul declares that whatever a person does, whether it be your job or enjoying a latte, do it in such a way to show God’s worth and importance. Because of what Jesus has done, we have the opportunity to work different.

Yet, working different may not always be an obvious difference. How does a Christian drink a latte different from a non-Christian? How does making bread honor and glorify God? Even further, why does my everyday job matter? Aren’t “spiritual tasks” better than secular tasks? Shouldn’t everyone just leave their jobs and do full-time vocational ministry? Questions like these and more are answered this summer through City Life.

City Life is an 8-week summer project for college students at Mercy Hill. City Life teaches college students to re-think the relationship between faith and work while they work a job or internship all summer long. All participants will have a small group to discuss and workout the things they are learning to live out. They will also hear from marketplace professionals on how the gospel changes their work every day. Lastly, participants will discover how their job can fit into the mission of God around the world. Apply today!

www.mercyhillgso.com/citylife

-Jon Sheets – College Ministry Director

A Peek Behind the Curtain: MH Staff Culture

Over the past 6 months, our team has slowly been putting on paper those values that shape us as the Mercy Hill staff team. For a church (or any organization), the values clarify those beliefs or traits that make the organization what it is. Values are not goals. When we talk about values, we are talking about who we are not what we want to do. This is obviously nothing new in organizational or church life, though it is a bit new to us. When we were planting Mercy Hill, we didn’t put a ton of stock in statements outlining our values. When it came to values, we generally kept silent. I think for most leadership gurus this is pretty much anathema! How can you fight to stick to your values if you haven’t written down what they are?

Five years ago, I had a ton of angst about endless lists of values being written before we launched. Looking back—now having the benefit of learning from a few key leaders—I understand why. I think the bottom line comes down to this: How could we write down values when we didn’t know who we were? Churches, like all organizations, have personalities. Staff teams, over time, come to realize their talents, the ways that they work best, and what dreams particularly resonate with them. These things are important to know before value statements can be written to reflect actual values. For a value statement to have any real meaning, it must reflect the team’s culture. The risk of rigidly writing out values on the front end is that who you were going to become wasn’t reflected in the values as they were written. Then later, because you know it’s not really who you are, the values become a nice piece of artwork in the office rather than a litmus test for hiring and evaluation.

To be clear, I am not saying that writing down goals of who you want to be on the front end of a church plant is wrong. Actually, I am sure it is quite helpful. But there is a big difference in writing down hopes of a future identity versus an actual value. I think my advice for a church plant or start up now would be to write down goals and values, but hold the values loosely. Again, I think in leadership circles that may sound crazy! The argument goes that without holding to your values in stone you will be in danger of becoming something you didn’t intend to. My only point is, when you write out your values before knowing who you are, you could end up trying desperately to become something that you aren’t. While there is danger in both, I think the latter has more potential for slowing down an organization.

This coming September, Mercy Hill Church will turn five. The church has grown and our staff has grown. In terms of our staff culture, I love it and I know it well. But with the amount of people that are on-boarding now we have seen the value in writing out some statements that will help new folks get their mind around our culture. The only way to learn a culture is to live inside it, but value statements can certainly give new team members a head start. Over this series of blogs, I want to lay out the six tensions that describe the values of Mercy Hill’s staff culture. Again, these are not goals. Rather they are a reflection of who we are. Obviously, no one on Mercy Hill’s staff will live these things out perfectly! All of us more innately do better with some and have to work on others. But, generally speaking, these statements describe our staff team and what type of person could expect to flourish should they join us. If you are a Mercy Hill member, I hope you will find it interesting and encouraging to peek behind the curtain and see some of the inner workings of the church staff. And if you are a potential planter or entrepreneur, maybe these posts will give you something to think about in terms of your own values and goals. In the next post I will define our values. For us, values aren’t defined in a singular trait but in holding the tension between two competing traits.

-Andrew Hopper – Lead Pastor

Why Introverts Need Community: Written by an Extreme Introvert

My name is Randy Titus, and I am an extreme introvert. And when I say that I am an extreme introvert, I do not mean that I am an introvert by the modern day “hijacked” definition of the word. Seriously, these days you have “extroverted introverts” and “introverted extroverts.” I even read an article the other day about the “4 shades of introversion.” Call me simple, but I prefer the more traditional definition of what an introvert is: “a shy person.” That’s me! I am shy. I have to mentally prepare myself to spend time with other people. Being in crowds or around new people causes great anxiety and stress for me. I am an introvert. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you why I ignore my introverted desires and force myself to spend time with other people.

I spend time with other people for God’s glory and for my good. 

I’ve been in vocational ministry for several years now and just a few months into my ministry, my wife Stephanie gave me some very important feedback. She said, as lovingly and as graciously as she possibly could, “Randy, if you are going to be a pastor then you have to talk to people!” That’s a novel idea right? Well, I am so thankful that she loved me enough to tell me the truth. 

Looking back now on all that God has done in our lives through Christian community, I would probably go even further then what she said. I would say that if you are a Christian, then you need to not only talk to people, you also need to invest in people. You need to know others and be known by others. The reality is that people need you, and you need people.

People Need You

If you read through the New Testament, you will find very quickly that the phrase “one another” pops up quite frequently. “Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians. 5:11). “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). “Love one another” (John 13:34).  Why are there more than thirty of these “one another” statements in the New Testament? I’ll tell you why.  Because God has designed his church to function in the context of life-changing community. You cannot live out and be obedient to the one another statements of the New Testament without knowing people, talking to people, and doing life with other people. People need you.

You Need People

Not only do people need you, you need other people. Why? Sin is blinding, that’s why. Believe it or not, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you probably have some spiritual blind spots in your life. However, if you are an introvert, you are especially in danger of your spiritual blind spots leading to spiritual disaster in your life. When we don’t allow others to know us, we are, in essence, functionally isolating ourselves from the community of faith that God has placed around us. That is dangerous.

So, here’s my plea to all of my fellow introvert brothers and sisters: press through the discomfort and anxiety! I know the struggle is real, but don’t let that struggle keep you from the community of faith around you. Here’s a simple action step. Grouplink is less than two weeks away, so now is a great time to connect to a life-giving Community Group at Mercy Hill. And yes, I know that coming to a Grouplink event stirs up images of crowds and maybe even having conversations with strangers. But I promise that it will be worth it in the end! God has changed my life in so many ways through Community Groups. Will you allow him to change yours?

Sign up for a group today at www.mercyhillgso.com/grouplink

-Randy Titus (Campus Pastor)

Don’t Be a Consumer: Come to the Weekender

On January 20-22, we will be having our first Weekender of the year and it is a great time to come. Start 2017 off by being more committed to Mercy Hill.

What is the Weekender?

The Weekender is the big front-door to becoming a committed, serving member of Mercy Hill. On Friday night, we will cater a delicious dinner while you hear from our leadership team about the story of Mercy Hill, the foundational DNA principles of the church, and our core theological beliefs. There will even be time for you to ask the pastors and staff those nagging questions that you always wanted to ask.

On Saturday morning, we will serve you fruit and donuts while our leadership explains the important ways that you can get involved in what we do.

On Sunday, you will put this information to work as you shadow a serve team and envision what it will be like for you to serve alongside of us.

Why Should I Attend?

Perhaps it may not be apparent to you, but you are a product of what you do. You are formed by your daily routines. But, if you are a Christian, God has made you a new creation, someone who is a living witness to what a citizen of the Kingdom of God looks like. The problem is that the culture around us is constantly trying to form us into one of its citizens.

We can look at the Sunday worship gathering as a tuning fork. As we exist in the world throughout the week, being exposed to its multitudinous influences, we begin to lose our tuning to the Kingdom. There is much we can do during the week to slow this process, but the Bible makes clear that it is in the gathering where we best regain the tuning of our hearts to the tone of the Kingdom and the rest of our week flows from that. But if all we are doing is coming to the gathering to consume and not be involved, then we are not fighting against the world’s influence. Our culture is constantly creating consumerist personalities because it needs them to survive, personalities that are always looking for just the right amount of dislikes to stop shopping at a certain place, even if it’s a church.

What does this have to do with the Weekender? The Weekender gets you involved in the church by connecting you to the Mercy Hill story, getting you on a serve team, and providing you an opportunity to become a committed covenant member of Mercy Hill. A covenant member is someone who is deeply invested in accountability, prayer, participation, and generosity with Mercy Hill. If you have yet to come to the Weekender and become a covenant member, there are profoundly important ways that you are not a part of the Mercy Hill family and are not receiving all of the counterformative benefits that the local church bestows through the Holy Spirit to retune your life. If you are not serving the church, then you are still a consumer. Mercy Hill is still a church you are attending and not “my church.”

A church is not a place to shop for entertaining music and powerful preaching, but a family to commit to in order to be conformed, exhorted, and held accountable to the image of Christ.

You can sign-up for the January Weekender at www.mercyhillgso.com/weekender.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)

Practices for You to be Less You in 2017

I built the need for resolutions or “counterformative practices” in my previous blog. I would recommend checking it out here.

It seems odd to start out a blog for a church about smoking, but here we are. They say one of the best ways to quit smoking is to find a way to keep yourself occupied with something else at the times you usually have a cigarette. I believe there is great wisdom there when thinking about New Year’s resolutions as counterformative practices.

Walk through your daily routines and think about how they may be creating destructive habits in the future. Perhaps the best way to pursue holiness is to love God enough to plan counterformative holy practices into our lives that produce Christ-like habits and using them as replacements for the less than holy things that what we are currently practicing. I believe that this is an ultra-practical way of taking John Owen’s advice when he says, “He, then, that would kill any burdensome sin: let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience” (my paraphrase).

Here are some suggestions for practices to pick up in 2017. Note* It is a common assumption that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but studies have disproved that. It appears that the average time to form a habit is 66 days. Some of the following daily activities listed are not daily activities but weekly and monthly ones, so they may take more diligence in order to form as habit:

1. Prayer

“Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17).

The reason I put prayer first in this list is because I would advise praying for God’s strength, grace, and direction in being diligent in starting these practices. Prayer is the fuel for everything we do. If you do not know where to start, strive for a morning and evening prayer time. If you are doing these already, try to add in a lunch time prayer. These can be five minute prayers or hour long prayers (obviously, if you aren’t praying already, then anything is better than nothing because God desires to have a relationship with you. Just make sure that the goal is to work towards extended prayer).

Some people simply are scared to pray because they don’t know how. Jesus actually taught us how to pray by giving us the Lord’s Prayer. Something that has been practiced for millennia is taking the Lord’s Prayer as a framework and expanding it out. This is something that I practice and something that I recommend. You can hear John Piper giving an example of this here. For deeper study on prayer, check out Timothy Keller’s book Prayer.

2. Bible Reading

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8a).

Find a Bible reading plan that you plan to read daily. You have to plan in advance a specific time when you will do this, or it simply will be too easy to falter. You could choose to study the passages and context of the scripture that was covered on a Sunday, or you could start a year-long reading plan. Knowing more of the overarching story of the Bible will help you understand each individual passage.

I like the M’Cheyne Reading Plan (goes through the OT once and the NT and the Psalms twice in the year). This plan can be found on the Bible app or, even better, you can get D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God devotionals (Vol 1 and Vol 2) that follow the M’Cheyne reading plan and connects that day’s passages to the overarching story of Scripture.

3. Community Group

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

If your commitment to Community Group has been a little lacking in the past year, decide to be more committed this year. This will not only put you in a position to practice what the Holy Spirit has been producing in you, but it will give you people who can encourage you in your resolve to build habits of Christlikeness. If stuck to, this will be the perfect avenue to build the holy habits of concern and love for others, confession, and accountability.

If you are not in a group at Mercy Hill, we are having a Grouplink on January 27th. Sign up here to get placed in a group.

4. Serving

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Build the practice of serving on Sundays in whatever capacity the church needs. Many want to serve only where they are gifted and some have no idea where they are gifted. How we learn where our gifts intersect with the church’s need (especially at Mercy Hill) is to just get involved. The very first step, if you haven’t already, is to go through our Weekender. The next one is January 20 – 22. Sign up here.

5. Generosity

Paul says this about generosity: “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:7).

Yes, you can cultivate a habit of generosity. Those who begin to practice generosity become increasingly more generous. This is truly a counterformative habit that the Spirit can use to transform our hearts to be more like Christ who gave up all the riches of heaven to give us his own life. You can give for the very first time here or set up a recurring gift and start today on your road to being more Christ-like in your generosity.

I am praying that the Holy Spirit will give you all strength this year as you fight the good fight.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)

Dying to My Flesh and Its Color: Postures of Humility

On Wednesday, October 26th, Mercy Hill held its “Living Room Conversations: A Gospel-centered Conversation on Race” between a panel of pastors, staff, and church members of varied backgrounds. This post is a part of our Continuing the Conversation blog series that seeks to keep Mercy Hill thinking and talking about issues of race.

A friend once asked me what I would do if I found myself as a minority in a predominantly black, gospel-centered church. My immediate inclination was to claim with pride that, of course, I would stay there. After all, if Christ crucified and resurrected is the song of my heart, then that being preached would be enough for me. I so longed for this to be my answer. I wanted it to be true so badly that I almost lied to myself.

Why Me?

First of all, the only qualification I have for writing this post is the sin that made reconciliation necessary. Especially for me, this is pride. I allowed myself to believe that I was so sophisticated that I could somehow remove myself from my own biases, that I could rise above my social context and view race relations as a totally unbiased source.

I am a twenty-one-year-old, white female from a small rural town in southeastern North Carolina. I view everything I see and encounter through this lens. We cannot deny who we are and where we come from as we view the world. On our own, we can’t see past our biases. We are unchallenged by our own thoughts. However, if we are to truly see and engage other cultures, we must lay ourselves down before the Lord and in community.

Humility Before the Lord

When the Lord commands us to die to our own flesh and take up our cross, we get it. We are so sinful and filthy before a spotless and holy God. However, part of dying to my own flesh means not only dying to my sin but also the literal flesh on my body, my whiteness and the societally created privilege that it brings. I do not crucify my whiteness for the sake of sympathy or denial. I rejoice as one who believes in the risen Jesus, as one who knows it is written that EVERY tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented on the throne. I crucify my whiteness because it makes me more like Jesus.

This does not mean that I question the way the Lord has created me; it means my life resounds that I am no worthier of the cross of Christ or the privileges of society because I am white. It means I accept that the color of my skin makes me no better a judge of sin or society than anyone else. It means that when God sees me what He first sees is Jesus in the place of a sinful twenty-one-year-old, white female. It means that I am not colorblind, for this passes over the fact that there are ways I benefit from our society that my sweet sisters of other colors do not. Above anything else, it means that my sin alone would have been enough to drive the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross. My mocking voice alone would have shouted, “Crucify him!” But He saw us—you, me, and those who look different than you. He sent Jesus as the ransom for our sins and as the only way to be restored to Him, and now He sees Jesus when He looks at us who have believed in him.

Humility in Community

Back to my friend that I told you about in the beginning. I certainly could have biblically and theologically justified saying all that mattered to me was the gospel being proclaimed and preached every week. I would have been lying to her. Instead, I said that I still clung to comfort more than the very word of the Lord. I would certainly attend a church where I was the minority, but I likely wouldn’t stay. It would be easy for me to find gospel-centered worship in a place that was more comfortable. If I was honest, that is what I would choose. This response only happened because the Spirit of the Lord revealed sin in my heart. I had to first be humble before the Lord before I could ever be humble in community. We must allow the Lord to show us that we aren’t right, that we haven’t gotten it all figured out, and that we do not hold the world in our hands. Then, he continues to reveal this very truth to us through Christian community.

I’ve sat through dozens of uncomfortable conversations with this same friend where we have both been challenged by the other person’s perspectives. I know this relationship has made me more like Jesus, more discerning of the culture around me, and more skeptical of my own biases. In order to see racial reconciliation continue in our church and in our city, we must engage one another and learn from one another. As we do, we will begin to see His Kingdom come now as it is in heaven.

O, to see the way the Lord sees.

-Greta Griswold (Mercy Hill Member)

This Year, Don’t Be Yourself

There is much debate when the new year rolls around as to whether Christians should participate in New Year’s resolutions. The gripe among the concerned is that resolutions will lead to legalism—the action of trying to earn one’s eternal salvation by doing good. The argument goes that we do not need to set up resolutions to be better Christians, we simply need the Holy Spirit to give us a deeper and wider vision of the gospel. This will then propel us to live the life of holiness that pleases God.

Salvation comes by faith in Jesus alone through grace alone, that is joyously true. And it is also true that the Holy Spirit is the supplier of power to transform our lives. But what if we’ve misjudged how the Holy Spirit works? What if the Spirit doesn’t simply give us the power to reach the desired ends, but also gives us the conviction to form different practices that will mold us into the person he wants us to be—a person that reflects Christlikeness.

Plant Seeds in the Right Field

I believe this is what Paul is referring to in Galatians 6 when he says: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (v. 7-9 NIV)

The idea of sowing is the idea of planting seed. In Paul’s analogy, it means that whatever we practice, watch, read, experience, or desire is planting a seed in us that will ultimate grow fruit to be used by either our corrupt sinful nature or by the Spirit. The Spirit desires that we practice things in our lives that will form Christ-like habits, Christlikeness as second nature.

You Are What You Love

James K. A. Smith, in his provocative and challenging new book You Are What You Love, gives a modern voice to this topic and suggests that many people, despite having learned much Christian knowledge, have perhaps been frustrated by their lack of real life change:

Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do? . . . Ever had the experience of hearing an incredibly illuminating and informative sermon on a Sunday, waking up Monday morning with new resolve and conviction to be different, and already failing by Tuesday night? You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a new way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness. (Smith 5)

Smith’s conclusion is that the reason we aren’t changing is that we are still ruled by our old habits. We are still formed by a world that has done everything in its power to get us to be consumers who love its products (through advertising, marketing, and even mall design!)*. What we love is what we chase and what we orient our lives toward. We love the things the world has formed us to love (and this is not simply materialistic but much deeper than that).

We Are Creatures of Habit

All this chasing and loving changes our practices which then forms our habits. We can surmise that when we are pulled away from God, it is by the claws of the world’s habits that have sunk into us over decade(s) of formation. Smith notes that some psychologists have estimated that over 90% of everything we do is from habit or “second nature.” Through the learning of Christian knowledge, we may be interacting with and affecting the 10% of conscious choice in some way, but those deeply ingrained habits will come and pull us away from the throne of God without our even realizing it.

The only way to work against the world’s formation is to engage in what Smith calls “counterformative” practices. These are practices that remind us that we are in God’s grand story and not our own. These practices develop new habits that are robust enough to hold us steady even in the strongest winds of spiritual resistance and darkest nights of the soul.

Don’t Be Yourself in 2017

This is why I believe New Year’s resolutions are a good thing for Christians. They are essentially resolutions to develop a new practice in the year to reach the desired end of Christ-like habits. Let us resolve to struggle for habits that will reap love for and faithfulness to God, habits that make us more concerned for others than ourselves, habits that make us look a bit more like Jesus at year’s end. We can rest in the truth that the Spirit will reward our efforts with good fruit.

Legalism is quite a danger, but I believe that Satan has exaggerated the danger in order to push us into a sanctification stalemate. We are far too unconcerned with fighting against ourselves to become more like Christ. The Holy Spirit has the power to form you into the likeness of Christ, and he lays out multiple counterformative practices in the scriptures to make sure that we are pressing ahead in fighting the good fight. In the next blog, I will be listing out some practices that will be good to begin in 2017.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)

*I am not discounting miraculous sanctification, in the likes of people that become more Christ-like over-night in a certain area, but it seems to be the case that in many areas our old habits are still an issue.

What Does “Equal Sacrifice” Mean?

During Generous December one phrase that has come up in the announcements, preaching, and our social media is the idea of “equal sacrifice.” As a church, we have called everyone who calls Mercy Hill home to equal sacrifice when it comes to Generous December. God is calling each of us to equal sacrifice, but that does not mean equal gifts.

So the question is, how do we know when we are “sacrificing?” How do we know when we are giving according to what God has given us? Below are three helpful guidelines, all from 2 Corinthians 8, that will help us think about what “sacrificing” means for us this Christmas season.

1. Give according to your means.

In 2 Corinthians 8:12–14 Paul states, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”

The Bible never calls us to give out of what we don’t have, the Bible calls us to give out of what we have. And not only that, it calls us to give “according to” what we have. Practically speaking, each person in the church is in a different stage of life and may be in a different place financially. This is why the Bible never calls us all to give the same amount but to give according to what we have. So the question is, am I giving according to my means? Does the size of my gift reflect what I have?

2. Give until it hurts.

In 2 Corinthians 8:3 Paul states, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,”

Not only did the churches in Macedonia, who Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians 8, give according to their means, they gave even “beyond their means.” Honestly, one of the only ways that we can truly know that our giving is a sacrifice is to give more than we can spare. Only then do we know that we have truly sacrificed.

This is what the churches in Macedonia did. From an outside perspective they did not have anything to spare, and yet they were extremely generous. Look at what Paul says about their poverty and generosity in 2 Corinthians 8:2, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”

C.S. Lewis once stated,

“I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.”

3. Give as a response to the gospel.

2 Corinthians 8:9 states, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

The last, and most failsafe principle when we are thinking about what God would have us give, is to give as a response to what God has given us in the gospel. Giving should never solely be based on need, or duty, or even as a way to have joy. Although all of those can be part of the motivation to give, the ultimate motivation to give is based on what Jesus has given us.

When we forget this truth, that Jesus has given us everything in the gospel, it is easy for our giving to slip into habit or duty. And when this happens, our giving will typically look more like “sufficient” giving rather than “sacrificial” giving. Before we open our hands to give this Christmas, we must remember that God opened heaven and gave us his only Son.

-Bobby Herrington (Executive Pastor)

Life Change Story: Emmanuel Malette

Last Sunday, we all shared in a story of life change that displays the heart of why Mercy Hill Church desires to launch campuses throughout the Triad. The story of Emmanuel Malette is one of many that exemplifies how the gospel of Christ gives people a deeper desire to worship God, a greater understanding of community, and a longing for others to experience relationship with Jesus as Lord of their life. Every time we hear or personally experience one of these stories, we should thank God with rejoicing and beg for more based on what He is able and willing to do in and through His people.

I recall the first time I met Emmanuel. It was at our Regional campus during our “King and Cross” sermon series in November 2015. Immediately following the sermon, he was in a mob of college students comprised of some who were visiting and others that are covenant members who happened to introduce him to Mercy Hill. He and I had a brief conversation about the content of the sermon and what he planned to do when he graduated from UNCG in the upcoming spring semester.

Emmanuel seemed to me to be genuinely appreciative of the experience of fellowship among the body of Christ at Mercy Hill and especially from the UNCG students who were members. Following that meeting, I would recall seeing him from time to time but not consistently, and I wasn’t sure why. Eventually, Emmanuel shared with me and others that he was faced with a situation that was stifling the building of relationships through our Sunday gatherings and regular Christian community. This crippling situation led him to forego the weekly worship gatherings at times for the purpose of doing other things on Sunday. The potential situation that was thwarting his fellowship with other believers was a lack of transportation.

There is an emphasis on potential because Emmanuel’s lack of a car did not only serve to prevent him from attending the weekly gatherings on a consistent basis. His lack of a car also served as his basis for telling others that would have likely given him a ride on request why he decided not to attend the Sunday gathering more consistently. This may seem minor to some, but I have realized that this tendency to find a reason not to fellowship with other believers is present in the heart of every person.

Personally, I strongly believe that Emmanuel’s willingness to share this tendency and his personal conviction to repent of it through fellowship with others is evidence of the grace of God. This evidence of God’s grace serves to show how God is able and willing to use his people to lead others to greater faith and a life of repentance. Our consideration of this tendency and how God intends to use us to respond to it is worthy of our attention for a few moments. I will present a question that will help us to consider this. How many people do you know in the Triad that have the tendency to find reason(s) not to fellowship with other believers?

As I ask myself that question, at least ten people I know come to my mind. Some are neighbors. Some are former co-workers. Some are parents. Some are married. Some are single. Some are widowed. Some are divorced. Some were recently released from jail. Some are homeless. Some are care-takers. Some are in Greensboro. Some are in Winston-Salem. Some are in High Point. Some are in Whitsett. My point here is that there are many who are lacking consistent fellowship with other believers for many different reasons. Yet, as we saw in Emmanuel’s story, God is able and willing to eliminate some of these reasons by sending his people to launch campuses throughout the Triad. Emmanuel was one of the first persons to be baptized at our Clifton Road campus this past September. I doubt that when he originally decided to live on Clifton Road that he could foresee that.

As we head into the home stretch of Generous December, let us pray for others that may have reason to forego gathering with the fellowship of other believers. Let us consider how God may have us sacrifice to bring about a life-changing experience that others could not possibly foresee. Let us hope that God would pour out His grace in a manner that would increase His praise and the building up of His church through the launching of future Mercy Hill campuses.

-Gary Rivers (Associate Campus Pastor)

Prejudiced Hearts and the Mountain of Racism

On Wednesday, October 26th, Mercy Hill held its “Living Room Conversations: A Gospel-centered Conversation on Race” between a panel of pastors, staff, and church members of varied backgrounds. This post is a part of our Continuing the Conversation blog series that seeks to keep Mercy Hill thinking and talking about issues of race.

So, I’m prejudiced. But it’s not like what you’re probably thinking. I don’t think I’m better or more superior than others just because they look different, or have a different skin color. I’m an equal opportunity offender. I think less of others, no matter who they are, because I’m selfish.

And that’s not me trying to brag about sin in my life. I’d like to propose we’re all like that. We’re all selfish, self-focused people who think we’re superior to others; we all elevate ourselves and our opinions above everyone else around us. We even do that to God himself.

Look for the Self-Centeredness Root

This self-centeredness is the problem at the root of racism around the world, and it’s the problem at the root of every other sin in our lives. Racism, though, has resurfaced as a topic of public discussion due to recent events. Rightfully so, I’d say. It’s an old problem that has been largely ignored for one reason or another, and it has sprung up again like a mountain in our society, dividing citizens of this world and citizens of Heaven alike.

But it’s a mountain we should be willing to traverse if we call Jesus our Lord. Citizens of Heaven can’t be bound by obstacles, even of the human heart. And that’s ultimately what racism is. It’s a heart problem.

I used to think, “I’m not racist!” After all, I grew up in a diverse setting. I’m white, but had black friends as a kid, as well as friends from other countries and varying ethnicities—certainly one of the positive things about a public education. I roomed with a black friend in college. And, I have friends and church family now who don’t look like me or have my cultural heritage.

Yet, as the cultural climate in America has quickly risen to a boiling point, I’ve caught myself starting to wander at times, getting lost in the mountain, so to speak. I’ve seen the news reports over the last year and heard the outcry from my black neighbors calling for justice and recognition. Yet, I’ve found myself initially thinking in a way that lacks compassion and empathy and is probably downright ungodly.

Oh my.

Those initial thoughts show my heart’s tendency to disregard others with whom I don’t identify. It’s not that I was overtly racist toward those men I saw in the news, like some in our society probably were. It’s that I don’t have their experience, so my initial reaction is to dismiss or ignore them. That’s not right, and it shows how selfish I really am. I must at least be willing to listen, whether it’s my experience or not.

So, if it kind of gets under your skin when you hear someone say, “We’re all racist at some level,” I hope you’ll get over it and recognize it’s true. It’s true to the same extent that if you’ve ever lied before, you’re a liar. Or if you’ve ever stolen or cheated before, you’re a thief. Or if you’ve ever lusted before, you’re an adulterer. Or if you’ve ever hated someone, you’re a murderer.

I don’t want to discount the fact that there are people in our world who hate those of a different skin color. That’s racism. But I also don’t want us to fall into the trap of thinking we’re better than them just because we’re not overtly racist ourselves.

The Heart of Racism

The thing is, all sin (including racism) is a heart problem. And if the heart is the seat of our emotions, our feelings, and our very identity, then sin is, at root, an identity problem. When my identity is wrapped up in myself, then I’ve rejected the identity God has prepared for me. In other words, apart from God my identity is wrapped up in my sin.

But you know what? The first step in overcoming sin of any kind, including racism, is to admit that.

During the recent presidential primaries, the leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Dr. Russell Moore, was accused of being a nasty guy with no heart! And rather than retaliate with a message of anger or defense, Dr. Moore came out with an exemplary response. He said, “I actually agree. I am a nasty guy with no heart, which is why I need forgiveness of sins and redemption through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

If we call ourselves Christians, then we should take the same posture of humility. I’m going to tend toward racism and a whole lot of other sin issues, and I need the redemption that God offers through Jesus Christ. I’m sure I’m much worse than I even realize.

The Gospel Answer

Thankfully, when I look at the Bible, it gives me hope that my identity can be changed. Though my tendency is to wrap myself in the bonds of sin, Jesus has broken those bonds and made me free to live a life of love for my neighbors. My tendency is toward selfishness, but Jesus can move me toward selflessness.

Where I fail to be a good neighbor, Jesus was the ultimate Good Neighbor. He lived the life I should live, but don’t. And then, instead of getting the reward for living a perfect life, Jesus took the death I deserve for my rebellion against God. Jesus took my place. Then, he overcame death so that, one day in the future, those who trust in him can overcome death with him at the end of human history.

Now, as I trust in and dwell on that gospel story, and as I consider how much God loves and has forgiven me through Jesus, I’m moved to love and forgive and empathize with others. As he’s been a good neighbor to me, so I want to be a good neighbor to them. My identity isn’t found in my sin, but in my Savior, and that changes everything.

-Carter Mundy (Mercy Hill Elder)