Dear brothers and sisters,

1. Amazing Grace 
This time last year I read Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke. It is a biography and a distillation of the theology of John Newton. I can safely say that it is one of the most spiritually encouraging books I have ever read. I recommend it warmly to you. If you enjoy it consider getting a hold of his letters.

Through the book I discovered that Newton played an instrumental role in the initial proclamation of the gospel in Australia. It was conversations with his friend William Wilberforce that led to the appointment of an Evangelical, Richard Johnson, as chaplain to the colony. Johnson sailed with the First Fleet in May 1787 and carried with him a poem written by Newton, which included this verse:

Go bear the Saviour’s name to lands unknown,
Tell to the southern world his wondrous grace;
An energy divine thy words shall own,
And draw their untaught hearts to seek His face.

Praise God for Newton’s gospel heart that we benefit from so deeply today.

Another discovery was the origin of Newton’s best known hymn Amazing Grace. Newton penned it for his congregation in Olney for New Year’s Day, 1773. The hymn is inspired by King David’s review of the Lord’s overwhelming grace to him in his past, present and future in 1 Chronicles 17. It also reflects Newton’s personal practice at New Year’s to recount God’s past, present and future mercies and to spend time giving thanks to him.

The approach of the atheist world around us is to complain about the difficulties of this past year, breath a sigh of relief that it is finally over and wish for better things in 2022. But such an approach is not fitting for us. As Christians we are above all thankful people because God has enabled us to understand reality: that all we deserve is his righteous judgement but what he has done instead is to shower us daily with blessing upon blessing.

I notice that the atheistic ‘mindfulness’ industry has begun to promote a ‘practice of gratitude’ because of its scientifically proven mental health and well-being benefits. In one sense that is wise. But in another it is thoroughly ridiculous. Gratitude by its very nature demands a person to whom we give thanks because they are the source of what we have received. But whom do the mindfulness practitioners direct people to thank when practising gratitude? The universe? The force? Themselves? It is simultaneously tragic and absurd. But as Christians we know where our thanks is to be directed because we know the God from whom all blessings flow. And that knowledge is nothing to be proud about. It is itself an unsought and unearned gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).

I am conscious of God’s profound goodness to me, my family and us as a church family this past year. I plan to follow Newton’s example and set aside a brief time with our family tomorrow to recall his blessings to us in 2021 and thank him for them. It may be something you too would like to do. Here is one and here another version of Amazing Grace that you might like use if you do so.

2. ‘Songs of the King’ 
This Sunday we begin a new series that will continue throughout January in the Psalms: ‘Songs of the King’.

2nd Jan: Psalm 40 – David Robertson
9th Jan: Psalm 51 – John Mason
16th Jan: Psalm 72 – John Woodhouse
23rd Jan: Psalm 118 – Micky Mantle
30th Jan: Psalm 145 – Chase Kuhn

Each week we will look at a different Psalm that was first sung by King David but finds its ultimate fulfilment as a song of King Jesus. These in turn become songs we are enabled to sing as those who are ‘in Christ’ as his people. I’m grateful to our speakers and looking forward to learning from this wonderful part of God’s word.

Happy New Year!

Your brother in Christ,

P.S. You may have noticed a missing ‘e’ from my name above. This is not a mistake! Over the years I have attempted to assert my original preferred spelling in emails expecting my correspondents to follow suit. But no matter how much I have tried the ‘e’ clings on like a stubborn barnacle refusing to let go! I blame Walt Disney’s mouse and his famous song. And so for years I’ve given in and gone with the flow. But my 2022 resolution is to purge the redundant ‘e’ once and for all! Ellie, my wife, thinks I am crazy and it is a middle-aged folly. She is almost certainly right. But I’m going to try.  So thank you for indulging this very indulgent explanation. And thank you in advance for humouring me and cooperating in this ridiculous personal quest. Mick -no ‘e’- y.