Tonight I am featuring an article that my daughter Amy wrote. Amy serves as a children’s minister at a church in Warrenville, Illinois, USA, and writes on the testimony of John Newton on her blog page, achildspeace.com. http://achildspeace.com/?p=52
John Newton: A Children’s Message
Well after a week of VBS, I am more than a little exhausted. So instead of telling you about the week, I thought I’d post the children’s message I gave yesterday in church! It was a privilege getting to tell them about the life of John Newton and singing with them at the end was incredibly meaningful! This summer our pastor is doing a series through the Sermon on the Mount and we will have a special children’s message every time. However this past Sunday, Pastor George was out of town. So our guest preacher chose Philippians 3:1-12 relating it to portions of the sermon on the mount, but mostly just dealing with that beautiful passage.
So, here is my kid’s sermon:
Good morning everyone.
This morning we are going to be taking a break form our series on the Sermon on the Mount.
I have a man I would like to talk to you about. His name is John Newton. I first learned about John Newton when I was in 3rd grade, so the same age as some of you. My dad thought it was an important story for me and for my brothers to learn from. And I love the story of John Newton’s life. You all know something about John Newton, even if you don’t know that you know! You see John wrote one of our most famous hymns: Amazing Grace. How many of you know that song?
John was born in London in 1725. When he was a teenager and early on in adult hood, he was what many would call a terrible person. He used bad language, he ran away from responsibility and he mocked and made fun of those in authority over him. He was demoted in the navy for bad behavior and eventually he landed as a worker on a slave ship. You see at this time in England they had slave ships that would sail to Africa and pile people in to bring them back to England. They thought that these African people were not people at all and were to be used for their own purposes. John Newton was not living a life honoring to God.
But this isn’t the most important part of the story.
You see God had a plan for John. As a young man aboard the slave ship they hit a storm. It was a terrible storm, one that scared John very much. And in that moment he remembered the faith his mother had taught him. He cried out to God and began his conversion experience. You see it took some time for John to turn his life to God fully. But when he did, wow!
And this is where the story gets REALLY good! After a few years, John left the slave trade and over several, several years he grew to became one of the most respected and influential pastors in England. He was loved and trusted by 1000s and he preached in one of the most important and prestigious parishes of London. Young ministers really wanted to spend time with John so they could learn from him. God was using John to work among those around him in a big way. And John would eventually even play a part in abolishing the slave trade in England. And what you may or may not know is that John Newton wrote one of our most famous hymns, Amazing Grace. You see it wasn’t so important that John was a sinner, all of us our sinners. But God was using a man who was the worst of sinners to draw many, many, many people to Himself. That’s the good news!
Now remember the story of John while I talk about our scripture.
In our scripture today [Philippians 3:1-12], which you will hear more about later on in the service, we are reminded that nothing is better than the surpassing greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. You see the Apostle Paul writes that he thought he was the best of people, and he was doing all the right things. But when he came to faith in Christ, he realized that not even the best of works is anything compared to the surpassing greatness of God. In the book of Isaiah we also hear that all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. They simply mean nothing compared to Christ. Now we know that God does not like our sin, but in these passages in scripture we learn that even our righteous acts, our good acts mean nothing compared to the greatness of Christ. Does this mean that we shouldn’t do them? No, as we’ve learned in the past God uses our actions to draw others to Himself. We should never stop doing good. But we should remember that anytime we begin to have faith in those works instead of faith in God then something is wrong! Our good works are done only in obedience to Christ.
So why did I tell you the story of John Newton? What I love about John Newton’s story is how clearly it testifies to the work of Christ. And not just in his conversion. Obviously a man going from a slave trader to a minister of the gospel is an amazing story. But I find what Christ did after his conversion even more amazing.
You see John became an important minister of the Gospel. His good works were plentiful and he had plenty of reason to think highly of himself. But John, by the grace of Christ, was constantly aware of his own sinfulness and he was constantly in awe of the great work of Christ. He lived his life simply as a sinner being redeemed and used by God to draw others to himself.
As an 82 year old man John Newton was quoted as saying, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
Kids, as you continue to grow in faith, my prayer for you is that your faith may be like John Newton and so many others of faith. What I want most for you is for you constantly live your life in obedience to the greatness of what Christ has done for you. I pray that you will be faithful in good deeds but will not trust in those deeds as your salvation. My hope for all of you is that Christ will use you actively to come to himself. But at the end of the day, I hope that when you return home and as you lay in bed you lay amazed at the surpassing greatness of God our Father seen so evidently through Jesus Christ. He loves you, and he will help you do this.
So I thought it would be good today, as we close to sing about this wonderful grace. Will you join me in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace that our friend, John Newton, so beautifully wrote?