3 Important Reasons to Sing Through the Awkwardness

Have you ever been singing while driving in your car, only to look over at the person in the car beside you, staring? Embarrassing, right? My go-to is usually to pretend like I’m talking on the phone. Singing is a funny thing. Although it’s socially acceptable and normal to sing, there’s something very vulnerable about singing—especially in front of people. Maybe that’s the point.

Ephesians 5:19 says singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”

If we’re not careful, we can miss the importance of it. Singing in church is so much more than just singing in church. Don Whitney said it like this, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers.” I believe many things happen when the church sings together, but I want to highlight three of them:

1. Corporate Worship Cures Spiritual Amnesia

We are forgetful people. Our flesh desires created things rather than the Creator. Congregational singing is an invitation to remember our identity in the gospel. We need to remember that God is holy, we are sinners, Jesus saved us, and then Jesus sends us.

Corporate worship plays an essential part in our sanctification. We sing “among ourselves… to the Lord.” We don’t sing to an audience of one, but an audience of three: God, his people, and unbelievers. When we encounter God, he changes us. When we join in corporate worship, God loves not only to change our minds, but also our hearts. We pray when unbelievers witness this that they too will be wrecked by the gospel.

Our awe for God is heightened, our affection amplified, and our joy multiplied when we worship Jesus together. Martin Luther said, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”

2. Corporate Worship Brings Unity 

One day, people from every tribe and tongue will stand before God’s throne singing, “Worthy is the Lamb!” What better picture of heaven is there than that of corporate worship? Each week, people of different age, race, gender, and socio-economic status unite their voices in praise and adoration to our God. While stars and mountains can declare God’s glory, only God’s people (united through Jesus) can declare his glorious mercy. Many things can bring a sense of unity—restaurants, baseball games, shopping malls—but nothing brings true unity like corporate worship.

3. Corporate Worship Helps Guide Us Through Suffering

There are many things in life that are difficult, if not impossible, to do alone. One of those things is suffering. James 1:2-3: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” When troubles come my way, usually the last thing I think is, “Oh, hey! Here’s an opportunity for some great joy.” Understanding this truth doesn’t necessarily make suffering easier, but there’s something powerful about a room full of people, looking up to heaven, declaring:

“So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know his name.”

In trying times, my natural reaction is to look inward at my problems. But in corporate worship, I look out at a room full of people who also carry pain and sorrow, and I’m reminded that suffering is not in vain. I’m reminded that we share the same hope: one day Jesus will right every wrong.

I conclude with this: God is not only worthy of our praises; he inhabits them. The same God that created the universe indwells the very room in which we sing our songs. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is moving about the room seeking to gather us to himself. May we never discount the significance of singing in corporate worship.

-Jon Azzarello (Worship Services Director)

Let Your Kids Take You To Church

The scene is well rehearsed: it’s twenty minutes before church starts. Your oldest child is still looking for his shoes. Your youngest is continuing to complain about the outfit you picked out for her. Breakfast is now a pipe dream, and as usual, your cell phone is missing. Somehow you do it—everyone is quasi-presentable, out the door, and off to church.

Getting kids to church is a task of monumental proportions. But what if instead of you taking your kids to church, your kids got to take you to church for a night? That’s exactly what Family Worship Night is all about. It’s an opportunity for you as a family to come together in a fun and relaxed environment and worship together.   What is Family Worship Night exactly you ask? Here are a few things that hopefully will convince you not to miss it on Friday, November 11th.

It’s an exciting night for the kids

One thing that we’re committed to as a Kid’s Ministry is to help kids realize that loving Jesus and having fun are not mutually exclusive. Church can (and should) be fun! Family worship night typifies this ideal. There will be pizza, lots of singing, some jumping around, and of course a few epic games. It might be one of the most exciting things you do all month as a family.

Equipping for the parents

Having fun is great, but we also want to make sure that you as a family are equipped to worship together frequently in your home. The Bible is clear that parents are the primary disciple makers in the home (Duet 6, Ps.78), and we want to help you at every level to see this enacted in your home. Family worship night is structured in such a way to give you a portrait of what you can do on a consistent basis through the teaching of God’s Word, the singing of Gospel truth, and the integration of activities that make it all stick.

Formative for the whole family

Sometimes we just need a little motivation. Most families that I talk with genuinely desire to worship together in their home, but life can make that tricky at times. Family Worship Night is designed not only to give you a visual of what worship elements you can incorporate, but it’s meant to give you a push in the direction of implementation. Our prayer for you as a family is that you leave with some fun memories, but moreover, you leave with a renewed sense of worshiping together daily.

Just imagine what it would look like if, by worshiping together, we saw generation after generation of kids raised up to believe that the most exciting life they could live is a life lived for Jesus. That dream is made a reality as families worship together and grow together. We are excited to see you and your family worship with us for Family Worship Night on Friday, November 11th.

Here are a few important details to make sure you’re ready for this exciting night:

The night will begin at 6:30 with pizza for just $1 a slice (cash only). We’re also asking families to bring a box of Goldfish or Clorox wipes for our Kids Ministry. Lastly, you must register here so that we can make sure we have room for your family.

-Jeremy Dager (Age-based Ministries Pastor)

The Vision of Mercy Hill Worship

Sunday’s sermon was taken from Mark 11 when Jesus, before entering the temple, cursed the fig tree. Even though the tree was leafy green, it didn’t bear any fruit. Jesus was teaching through an enacted parable that it is possible to be full of religious activity on the outside and be spiritually dead on the inside. Worship (our heart’s eye) is our response to the person and works of God. And without worship, the mission will die.

The vision of Mercy Hill Worship is to lead our congregation in beholding the greatness of God; remembering the redemptive work and good news of the gospel; and giving thanks through Jesus for the glory of God the Father.

As we strive to lead worship well through music each week, we’ve made some resources available to you.

Recently, our worship and creative teams got together for a night of worship, and we recorded live tapings of three of our most-played original songs – born from sermons and community group discussions at Mercy Hill. We are working to make audio recordings available down the road; but for now, this is a way to easily listen, learn, and reflect on the message of these songs. We hope you enjoy!

Lyrics and chord charts are available here if you’d like to sing or play along.

Check out “No One Like You” here. 

-Jon Azzarello (Worship Services Director)

Broken Bones

As a senior in college, I was recruited to help a friend’s parents move.  Not the most exciting way to spend the weekend, but I was determined to make the most of it.  And boy did I ever make the most of it.  Right about the time when we had emptied the truck and brought all of their possessions into the new home I spotted something incredible…a vintage skateboard tucked away in the back corner.

 

Of course something had to be done with this fantastic find.  But what?  Thankfully, I had my other two college roommates there with me who offered a litany of brilliant suggestions (as only twenty-one year old college guys could offer).  We settled on the best option, which was for me to see if I could ride the skateboard off the back of the truck, down the 15 foot ramp, and into the driveway.  Simple.

 

Well, several torn ligaments, a broken wrist, and a six-week full arm cast later I realized it might not have been one of my most shining moments.  The worst part of course was the pain.  Who knew that such a small part of your body (my wrist) could cause such incredible pain?  Broken bones are no joke…they hurt, which is why David in Psalm 51 uses them as an apt analogy in his prayer of repentance.

 

One thing we noticed coming out of the sermon on Sunday is that the process of repentance is comprehensive because sin is complex.  Far too often we simplify the repentance process because we think our sin is simple.  We sin…God forgives.  This is certainly true, but our sin is so much deeper and thus we need a solution that is so much bigger.  On Sunday, we looked at two of the phrases David uses to describe the process of repentance (“wash me”, “purge me”) and in this post I want to look at two more.

 

In Psalm 51:8 David says, “let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”  Here, David is comparing the outer agony of a broken bone with the inner agony of a sinfully broken heart.  Sin has the ability to break through to the depth of your heart and cause searing pain.  And in the process, this sin robs you of your joy and gladness.  Some of you know exactly what it looks like for sin to steal your joy and gladness.  Maybe it’s a hidden sin or a sin that you just can’t seem to shake, but it has all but robbed you of every ounce of joy that you have.

 

David rejoices because of a “broken bone” because he has seen God’s healing power and he knows that God is in the business of healing broken bones.  There are those of us who need to take comfort in the fact that although your bones have been broken (and yes, it’s painful) – God can heal broken bones and restore your joy.  Our cry ought to be that of Psalm 51:12 where David says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”  When we repent…God restores.

 

Lastly, in v.11, David says, “Cast me not away from your presence.”  The greatest fear for David was not losing his kingdom, it wasn’t losing his reputation, it was losing his relationship with his heavenly Father.  When it comes to our own sin…our greatest fear should not be whether or not we’ll get caught…or what people will think of us.  The greatest fear we should have in response to our sin is the reality that our sin separates us from God.   

 

It begs the question…do you take your sin that seriously?  Sin isn’t something that annoys God…it doesn’t make God have a bad day.  Sin is an affront to a holy God and David realizes that his sin actually separates him from God.  Maybe you’ve never really taken the time to consider the weight of your sin and the eternal consequences that result because of it.

Your response is still the same…repent.

 

As we start this year and as we think about what it would look like for us to be a praying people, may prayers of repentance saturate our prayer life.  May the complexity of our sin cause us to see the comprehensive beauty of repentance and may both of those realities drive us to our knees in prayer.

-Jeremy Dager (Pastor of Age-based Ministries)

Tears, Tantrums, and Theology

Both kids were finally all cleaned up, in their pajamas, and ready for bed. We were actually making pretty good time and there hadn’t been any tears thus far. My two kids (2 and 5) were snuggled up next to my wife and I in preparation for our family devotion/worship time. As I began reading from The Gospel Story Book, every member of the family appeared eerily attentive. Could this be? Had we made a spiritual breakthrough? And then in the midst of my reading…my 5 year old stopped me mid sentence. It sounded serious.

 

“Daddy?” she asked. “Yes sweetheart?” I replied with hopeful anticipation that she was about to ask a profoundly deep theological question. “I need to tell you something,” she replied. “What could it be?” I wondered. Had my seminary training finally paid off? Eagerly I inquired, “of course…what is it?”

 

“I tooted!” So close…

 

I’ve written previously about the difficulty of family devotions and the dread that can wash over parents as we anticipate such an endeavor. And even as a pastor, I can say…I get it. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. And sometimes it seems downright pointless, which is why I am so grateful for times of encouragement when I receive a renewed sense of the importance in spending time each day worshiping in the Word with my family.

 

Recently, I finished a great little book entitled A Neglected Grace. In it, author Jason Helopoulos reminds us of the eternal significance of family worship and he gives a number of super practical tips. As a church, and one that believes that discipleship begins and ends in the home, this book is a phenomenal tool for all types of families. Here are the key components to understanding and applying family devotions/worship:

 

  1. Understand the reason for family discipleship –

“Because the Bible says so” doesn’t always sound helpful, but it is certainly a good reason. All throughout Scripture (Old and New) the Bible is littered with exhortations to parents to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We’ve talked extensively before about Deuteronomy 6:6-7, but also take note of Psalm 78, which reads: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Check out Genesis 18:19 or flip to the New Testament and see what Paul says in Ephesians 6:4. God has uniquely given parents the task of spiritual formation in the lives of their children and He has uniquely placed them as shepherds in their home.

 

  1. Take the right approach to family discipleship –

It’s all about setting your expectations rightly. As a Philly sports fan I’ve learned to set my expectations low every year…and I’m never disappointed. The idea of gathering 1 or 2 or 3 kids together daily for 15 minutes of complete and uninterrupted silence where you have a nightly revival in your home is probably a little misguided (to say the least). Instead, start slow, stay disciplined, and leave room for grace. That means you don’t have to jump into a full 60 minute worship set…drums, guitars, and all.

 

Start with 8-10 minutes a night when you read one chapter in the Bible and say a simple prayer. Do this every night for a month, at the same time and preferably in the same place. And…heaven forbid you miss a night…don’t beat yourself up. Just start back up the following night. Helopoulous helpfully reminds us, “Family worship is an instrument or a means of grace, not a burden that our family is to struggle under.” 1

 

  1. Start looking for methods to apply family devotions/worship –

It’s been encouraging to see a resurgence of churches and families with a desire to see the home as the main mission field for kids. This means there are a host of great resources and tools at your disposal. At Mercy Hill, you can visit our family resource page to find devotionals, Bible story books, and articles to equip you as parent. One immediate and easy application is to download our 12 Day Advent devotional for families. This devotional is simple, easy to use, and profoundly helpful for starting good gospel-centered conversations leading up to Christmas day. There’s some Scripture to go over, a few questions to prompt discussion, a prayer, and even a fun activity to help the content stick.

 

Lastly, we are going to be rolling out a new resource to parents at the beginning of the New Year. It will be a detailed guide to help your family set up a meaningful and lasting devotional/worship time. Our hope is that as your family makes the God-honoring priority to spend time each day in the Word – you would feel both encouraged and equipped by your local church.

 

Above all…it is our desire that we would see generation after generation of kids who – because of the conviction and discipline of their parents – realize there is no more exciting life than a life lived for Jesus.

-Jeremy Dager (Pastor of Age-based Ministries)

1 Helopoulos, 86.

Can Studying Glorify God?

I know…I said it.  Study.  It’s the dreaded word that many of our students are facing as finals week quickly approaches.  With several late nights and lattes planned, many students come to the end of the semester dreading the “s” word.  And as difficult and draining as studying can be, we have to be careful not to miss the bigger picture.  Studying, yes studying, is an act of worship.

 

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Translation…as a follower of Jesus, your studying matters.  Yes, it matters in order to pass the exam that will help you pass the class.  But it matters far greater in terms of your call as a Christian.  As you approach the last few weeks of the semester, here are two crucial things to keep in mind.

 

The first is to remember that “all of life is God’s.”  A while back I read an incredible book by Leland Ryken entitled Worldly Saints.  The book outlines the historical theology of a group of people known as the Puritans.  Much has been said about the Puritans (good and bad), but one of the most striking things about the Puritans is that they truly embodied Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:31.

 

Here’s what Ryken had to say:

 

“Puritanism was impelled by the insight that all of life is God’s.  The Puritans lived simultaneously in two worlds – the invisible spiritual world and the physical world of earthly existence.  For the Puritans, both worlds were equally real, and there was no cleavage of life into sacred and secular.  All of life was sacred.”[1] 

 

So what do 17th century Puritans have to do with 21st century college students?  They remind us very clearly that there is nothing you do that doesn’t matter to God.  Church stuff is most definitely important, but no more important than studying (this is not an out to miss church because you have to “study”).  Ask yourself this…how would your study habits change if you knew they mattered to God as much as your personal quiet time or sharing the gospel with your suitemate? 

 

I would venture to guess that your efforts towards studying might change a bit.  Laziness and procrastination (which are both forms of laziness) are not glorifying to God.  God has placed you where you are at and it is His desire that you glorify Him there.   Studying might not seem super spiritual, but over the next couple of weeks it might be one of the most “spiritual” things you do.  So study well and study to the glory of God.

 

The second crucial thing that needs to be considered during exam week is that your grades don’t define you.  Laziness certainly doesn’t glorify God, but neither does idolatry.  For many students, exam week is filled with extreme amounts of stress, anxiety, and worry…most of which derives itself from the root cause of idolatry.

 

Your problem is not neglecting to study but rather it’s studying too much.  You are driven by the fear that if you don’t get a certain grade in a certain class then you won’t be the person you are supposed to be.  Your identity is so wrapped up in your academic performance that it drives your sleep habits, your health, your emotions…pretty much everything.  Remember what John Piper said…“God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him” – not in what grade you get at the end of the semester.

 

So which is it: laziness or idolatry?  Both approaches to studying are sinful and both approaches bring anything but glory to God.  For some this simply means that you need to actually pick up a book and study.  Stop being lazy…it’s not cool and it’s not glorifying to God.  For others it means that you need to put the book down and go to bed and trust God that His plan for your life does not hinge on this one test.

All of life is God’s.  So study to the glory of God, which means you need to stop reading this and start studying or sleep (like now)!

– Jeremy Dager (Pastor of Age-based Ministries)

[1] Worldly Saints, 208.

Trusting God

Catching the Vision

In the fall of 2014 God was continuing to bring new people to our church but there was just no room for them. I remember multiple Sundays during that time where even though we had 4 services people would be asked to sit on the floor or in the lobby. The heartbreaking part was that those type of Sundays never happened back to back. The next Sunday (after a large crowd the Sunday before) tons of newer people simply wouldn’t come back amidst the madness of the crowd and our inadequate facility.

Our church’s response was the For His Name project. For His Name was a financial initiative geared towards raising the funds needed to expand our facilities enabling further growth. Phase one was to double the size our worship space. Phase two was to double the size and generally update our kids space. And phase 3 was to launch a second location for Mercy Hill Church somewhere in the Triad. Truth be told, just seeing phase one completed in 2015 would have been a huge win! But God took the church’s faithfulness and poured out his blessing. In 2015 we saw phase one and two completed and now at the end of the year we are within striking distance of seeing phase 3 kicked off.

Right now we are in a series called For His Name: Finish Strong. If we come together as a church, open our hands to the Lord, and sacrificially give we will see the third phase of this expansion happen in 2016. In rough numbers, 1.2 million dollars was committed to For His Name in 2014. Of that total committed , about 1 million has already come in. So in the first place, for us to finish strong and launch a second location well means that we see the rest of the committed total come in before the end of the year. If you committed to this project in 2014 I challenge you to finish strong. God is moving right here, right now. We have seen what He has done in just 12 months. Let us be motivated to give with joy and complete what we started.

However, with so many people at Mercy Hill now that weren’t here a year ago there is another challenge that has to be thrown out. If you are newer to our church within the last year, chances are there was a place for you to come and plug in because someone else made a sacrifice last year. The same is true for your children. Someone loved you without even knowing you. Someone opened their hands to God on your behalf. They wanted to make room for you. Well, as 2015 closes out you will have the same opportunity to sacrificially give for someone else. The goal we have proposed is $200k. That will complete our commitments and we will have finished what we started. But in truth, launching a campus in central GSO costs 3 times that amount. We need people to onramp into this project and sacrificially give as so many people did a year ago. There is no doubt in my mind we can see this goal blown out of the water if God’s people see the vision and give. We are praying you will be a part.

– Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)

Anywhere and Everywhere

Family devotions. Those two words alone have the ability to conjure up feelings of confusion and frustration for even the most well-intentioned parent. I remember when my daughter was born, having grand visions of nighttime devotions filled with angelic worship and pillow-gripping Bible stories. Now with a three year old and a five year old those grand visions have turned into the reality of a combined 48 second attention span that is usually interrupted by either someone “tooting” or crying.

It’s defeating to say the least. Maybe other parents can relate. So then what does a meaningful devotional life look like for families who truly desire to follow Christ? One of our favorite passages of Scripture in Mercy Hill Kids is found in the book of Deuteronomy. It’s instruction for parents and it reads like this:

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6:5-9).

As a church, we believe that discipleship begins and ends in the home. But discipling your kids can be really really hard. Between balancing soccer practice, naps, and a whole host of other family activities, there never seems to be enough time. That is why the above verses from Deuteronomy can be helpful in developing a strategic and impactful family devotional time…a devotional time that works with your busy schedule and not against it.

Here are five possible locations that you can utilize to develop a healthy “as you go” family devotional time.

1. The dinner table – 

There are few times during the day when the family is all together. The dinner table is usually one of those. Instead of allowing those 12-15 minutes of precious time to go by while talking about sports or school, why not take that time to walk through a weekly devotional guide? Mercy Hill puts together a Kid’s Guide every week to help parents meaningfully talk about that week’s sermon.

2. Bedtime –

At the end of the day, every parent wants one thing…quiet. In a house full of kids, quiet is hard to come by. But bedtime can offer a few moments of solace from the craziness of the day. It’s also a great time to walk your kids through one of the helpful kids Bible studies that you can check out on our parent resource page.

3. Road tripping –

Long car rides can be tough. But they can be useful for setting up meaningful conversations with your kids about the gospel. Taking 10-15 minutes prior to your trip to think about specific topics of conversation which are centered around Scripture can have a huge impact. Talk to your kids about what God is doing in your life. Use what God is teaching you to teach your kids about who God is and how He can work in their lives.

4. The car line –

Over the past month I’ve been introduced to the concept of the car line. And as painful as it can be to wait…creep up a few inches…and then wait some more, the car line can be a great 15 (or more) minutes to have family devotions. One specific way to capture the moment amidst the congestion of vehicles is to work with your child on Scripture memorization. You can download the Gospel Project app as a tool to work with your child on the verses he/she is memorizing at church.

5. OK…anytime you’re in the car –

Bottom line…as parents we spend a lot of time in the car. Why not redeem that time? Get creative, be intentional, and allow God to use the time that you “walk along the road”.

Imagine a generation of kids who hear the gospel and realize from an early age that there is no life more exciting than a life lived for Jesus. As the local church, we want to partner with you to see this come to fruition in your family.

Join us on Friday night, October 9th for Family Worship Night. This will be a time to worship as a family, have some fun, and hear more about setting up a meaningful family devotion time.

– Jeremy Dager (Pastor of Age-based Ministries)

MHKidsWorshipNight

3 Reasons Why We Love College Students

There are probably a thousand reasons why I love the college students who attend Mercy Hill Church! But with their return for the fall semester I thought I would go ahead and post three.

  • Our college students are courageous. The college students I know from Mercy Hill are very bold with their faith. They fully understand the environment they live in is hostile to the Gospel yet it doesn’t scare them; it seems to embolden them. Now, I am not totally sure why this is the case though it is my observation. It may be that before we all get old and have kids and mortgages we are generally more courageous about life. Then again, it may be that God has given this generation a zeal for His name that is just plain special. So while I am not sure why, I am sure it is there. One way I know is that college students make up a very large portion of our baptism numbers every year. As our students courageously live on mission for Jesus in a tough environment, Jesus is changing people and receiving glory.

  • Our college students put their yes on the table. For the last 3 years, some of the most willing participants in God’s global mission from Mercy Hill have come from our college crowd. A great example of this is our summer Sent Initiative. Last summer we had around a dozen students who raised support, interned with our church, and went on two mission trips in something called the City Project. This summer, as our Sent Initiative expanded, we saw that number almost triple with students not only participating in City Project, but others actually living over seas or on mission right here in the Triad. Our students, it seems, take seriously Jesus’ call to be the Lord of their lives. They do what He says do and go where He says go.

  • Our college students raise the spiritual climate of the entire church. I don’t want to give a wrong impression about how much of our crowd is made up of college students. Right now our best guess is that they make up about 20% of our congregation. While that number is significant, we are far from being a “college church”. With that said, when that 20% is missing you can feel it! Not simply from the lack of numbers, but from the energy and spiritual vitality they bring. We have all heard that college students are poor, and that is probably true enough from a financial standpoint, but they are rich in Spirit. I know personally I rejoice when our students return because their worship pushes me and my family to worship with more abandon.

In short, I praise God that He has given our church these warriors of the faith to steward! Mercy Hill, let us be grateful for them, encourage them, and pray for them throughout this semester.

– Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)