Sermon Recap | "One day you will find 'the one.'” 

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Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. - 1 Corinthians 7:6-9

1. Singleness and marriage are both good gifts, each with their own unique benefits. 

Your goal, whether single or married, is to leverage your life to give glory and honor to Jesus.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • In what ways am I selfishly focused on myself and my own happiness?
  • Where am I believing culture’s views about romance instead of trusting Jesus?

2. When romance becomes God, disappointment will follow.

Check out Genesis 29 for a case study.

3. We need to find contentment in God’s love that will never disappoint.

A Counselor Reflects on Healthy Boundaries and Safe People

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Ask a Professional: An Interview with Kristi Clements; LPC

We are on Week 6 of an 8-week series called, “You Are Here.” As a family, we’ve been navigating through some common cultural phrases to see if they hold up to any real pressure or scrutiny in the face of the Gospel. This past week, we examined the phrase, “Eliminate negative people from our life” and the cultural belief that we should get rid of anyone in our lives who is difficult or draining. 

To follow up on this topic, we talked with Kristi Clements, a licensed professional counselor and long-time missionary member. She and her husband, Brandon, helped plant Midtown Lexington two years ago. She also started her own Counseling & Consulting practice and regularly treats people dealing with anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 


How do you define “boundaries” as a counselor?

Boundaries are our personal property line, which marks what I am responsible for. Boundaries define what is mine and what is not mine. They are incredibly freeing because they show me where my responsibility ends and someone else’s begins. Boundaries give us our sense of ownership and help us take responsibility for ourselves. 

We’ve been talking about some cultural norms or phrases that have slowly but surely seeped into the way that we are living our lives, and specifically this sense of freedom to “eliminate negative people from our lives.” How would you encourage people in discerning if it’s the right time to remove yourself from a person or situation? 

I would use a process called “boundary development” which allows a person to examine why they are finding another person to be challenging or difficult to love. From there, we would work to discern how they are being responsible “for” a person versus “to” that person and we would work to correct that behavior. We would then begin the process of identifying healthy boundaries that need to be established in order to start developing a healthier relationship with that person and the best way to communicate those boundaries with the other person. 

Where, in your practice or around your group of believers, have you seen people misuse this concept of “boundaries”? 

Boundaries are a lot like chainsaws. They are incredibly helpful when we need to cut down a tree or a limb, but if used incorrectly they are quite damaging and can easily cut off an arm! So, we have to think of them as helpful and yet, they are secondary to what the Lord has called us to in our relationships (carry one another’s burdens, speak truth to one another in love, etc.). I find that many people try to use boundaries to just be selfish and not have to do things they don’t want to do. 

How do we to confront or bring up the conversation with someone who is infringing or pressing against our boundaries? Or how do we confront someone who is using boundaries like chainsaws to not be challenged or pressed by people in their life?  

I think we make communication harder than it has to be because of our poor boundaries. So, if someone is infringing on your boundaries say to yourself: “Self, you get to tell them that. You need to tell them that. Don’t have poor boundaries by ignoring your needs because you are scared to hurt their feelings.” Then, go tell that person in a humble way that you need to check in with them about this boundary you have. 

The term “self-care” gets bounced around a lot when we’re talking about boundaries. Where have you seen this idea being misused or abused? What is a helpful way for us to think about self-care as believers? 

I see people use “self-care” as a way to be selfish and mindless, which is not the intent of self-care for believers. The simplest way I can define self-care would be taking time to care for the soul/mind/body and confessing to the Lord our need for Him. Self-care looks a lot like checking in with ourselves (and the Holy Spirit!) and asking what to do with the ten minutes we have between meetings. TV may give us a moment of rest, but true self-care happens more in proactive things like praying, contacting a friend that needs encouragement, moving our body in a healthy way to care for it, drinking a really good cup of coffee that reminds us that God made coffee beans! I think the ultimate goal of self-care is renewal and rejuvenation, but we only get that when we realize we need a savior and the savior is not us.

For you personally, what do healthy rest, self-care, and boundaries look like? 

This is actually really difficult for me. I keep using “they” or “client,” but man, I have a hard time not just being selfish and zoning out. I learned from a sweet member at Midtown to look at my week and highlight energizing things green, draining things red, and neutral things yellow. Then, I can’t just take off all of the red items the next week (let’s be honest, I sometimes want to!) but instead, I make sure to cushion those red events with green items. So, if I know I’m going to have a really difficult conversation with a client, I will attempt to go grab coffee and pray while I walk to Starbucks from my office after. I can’t be selfish and say, “ummm, client, I’m too tired and you’re too difficult this week…gotta cancel!” but I can know that for whatever reason, I will be drained after that hour and need to care for my mind and soul. I think that routine has helped me to know of my neediness for the Lord and practice a lot of “I need a savior and I am not my own savior.”  I also have a running list of things I know I need to do to actually care for my body/mind/soul that I am continually trying to practice. 

The term “safe people” is another phrase that gets tossed around a lot. Where did this term actually come from?

The term, “safe people” got pretty popular when Cloud and Townsend, the authors of the book Boundaries, wrote about it. They defined safe people as people who draw us closer to God, to others, and help us become the person God created us to be. Pop psychology has damaged that last idea, but I do think there is some value in someone knowing you and being able to encourage you in the giftedness the Lord has given you. So, safe people are people that are like you, not like you, and everything in between. Safe people are legitimately any people that are pointing you to the Gospel in your life. 

How do you encourage people to reach out to community as they are going through counseling with you? 

I usually ask for them to create a list of people that we call their “support system.” This can range from their family to friends to coworkers to neighbors to sorority sisters/fraternity brothers to lifegroup/small group/whatever group with their church to 12 Step Programs to pastors. We sometimes even have sessions with that group to help foster a healthy, working relationship between client and their support network. I also tell my clients they are in session with me 1-2 hours a week max, so the hard work happens outside of the four walls of my office. They need people to help support them when they are doing that hard work.


If you are interested in learning more about the work that Kristi does, you can check out her website: kristiclements.org. If you think that you need counseling, please contact your lifegroup leader or Ryan Rike, pastor of care. 


 

Sermon Recap | "Eliminate negative people from your life."

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There is a cultural belief that says you have to eliminate the negative people from your life. So how do we, as God’s people, think about the people that He has put into our lives—specifically the people who tend to be a bit more draining?

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. - Romans 15:1

The phrase “bear with” means to pick up and carry the weight of the weak. (Check out Mark 2:1-12

Two reasons the strong have an obligation to bear with the weak:

  1. for your own growth
  2. for the growth of the weak 

The key to strong communities is not to avoid the weak, but to embrace them.

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. - Romans 15:2

Two options for how you approach the people in your life:

  1. People exist to please/serve you. 
  2. People exist for you to please/serve them. 

You are either using people or loving people and what you believe here changes everything about how you go about your life. 

“Eliminate negative people from your life” is rooted in the belief that the people that God has put in your life exist to serve you and if they don’t you need to get rid of them. 

For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, “the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” - Romans 15:3 (Check out Psalm 69)

Jesus did not approach people asking, “What can you do for me?” but instead chose to love people when all they brought was their brokenness and their need. Jesus does not love any of us based on what we bring to the table. At some point, the reality of the nature of our relationship with Jesus soaks in and it directly impacts how we relate to and love the people in our lives. The way we love the weak and difficult people in our own lives is direct evidence of how much we understand the gospel.

We must not grow weary in loving other people, but instead, constantly set our minds on Christ. (Hebrews 12:3)

or whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. - Romans 15:4-7

Together, we have the opportunity to show our community what Christ has shown us. 

Three things that are required in order for us to grow in loving people:

  1. Prayer. Pray for a new heart to actually see this change take place. Pray for the difficult/draining people in your life every day. 
  2. Practice. Go out of your way to meet someone new. Set up a weekly hospitality night. Join us in one of our Serve the City Partnership events.
  3. Patience. You are not immediately going to see fruit, so pray for endurance. 

"Slavery thrives in the absence of right and wrong."

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Tiffany Beaver has called Midtown home for almost ten years. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy and went on to earn her Masters in Social Work from the University of South Carolina. Tiffany is currently pursuing her doctorate in Philosophy from the University of South Carolina, with a focus in applied ethics. Her favorite people are her husband Benjamin and their 2.5-year-old daughter Teagan. 


When I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Social Work, I cared a lot about social justice. Lots of injustices made me angry, but I hadn’t found that one thing that really made my blood boil...until I traveled to Orlando to present an academic paper at a Christian social work conference. I attended a pre-conference seminar on human trafficking/modern day slavery that changed my life. When I registered for the seminar I assumed that “far-away slavery” would be the topic of discussion. However, that was far from what was actually discussed. The seminar was primarily focused on human trafficking and modern day slavery in the United States. In fact, during the seminar our speaker pulled up a website and showed us in real time conversations that were happening amongst sex traffickers within a mile of our Orlando conference venue. My mind was blown, and my heart was crushed. How could this be a reality in my own country…and how could I be completely oblivious? 

From that point forward I was drawn to the issue of modern slavery. I read and learned about it. I joined organizations that fought against slavery. I gave money when I could. I told other people about it. I slowly changed some of my own purchasing habits. I even went with a group of Midtown family to India to work with kids who have been rescued from sex slavery. 

After working as a social worker for nearly five years, I knew that I was in the wrong field. So I went back to school to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and within philosophy I decided to focus more specifically on ethics. Modern slavery is one of the most complex, urgent ethical issues facing our world. (Did you know that according to IJM, a leading anti-slavery organization, 45+ million people are trapped in slavery right now?) In a light bulb moment of clarity early in my Ph.D. program, I knew that I was going to focus my Ph.D in philosophical studies on the issue of modern slavery. 

Fast forward six years, and I have developed and taught a course at USC to teach students about modern slavery, presented at an international slavery conference, and I am writing a dissertation (basically a book) on issues of responsibility surrounding modern slavery. 

The questions I’m most interested in answering include: “Who is responsible for the existence of modern slavery?” and “What are normal people like you and me obligated to do in response to the existence of slavery in our world?” My ultimate goal is to successfully argue that due to the gravity of the human rights violation(s) that slavery imposes, we cannot live as if the atrocity of slavery is the stuff of history books. Those of us in a position to do something (and that turns out to include most of us) are obligated to take at least some steps to change this reality. 

The Dangers of Moral Relativism

If it were true that everyone has to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, what would this mean for me, my research, and ultimately for the global fight against modern slavery? The short answer is that, if individuals (or even particular societies) decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, I might as well just stop what I’m doing, lay down my pen, cease teaching, kick my soapbox to the curb, and take a nap. Because arguing for any objective human right(s) - including rights to autonomy, freedom from coercion, bodily safety/security, compensation for work, fair and safe working conditions, etc. (see the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights) – is incoherent in a world where right and wrong are subject to the whims of individuals or societies. We cannot make a case that you and I (or anyone else) are obligated to do certain things on behalf of modern slaves if we are each able to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Furthermore, we cannot condemn slavery in any place, at any time past or present or future, if we have no grounds for objectively rejecting the enslavement of human beings. After all, if right and wrong are relative, and everyone decides for himself or herself what is permissible or impermissible, we have absolutely no right to tell slavers or pimps or human traffickers or old men who buy sex with prepubescent girls and boys that they are wrong. If we take away objective right and wrong, we put all of the power into the hands of the oppressors and slavers to use and abuse others as they see fit. We simultaneously silence the victims of these injustices, who know very well that objective right and wrong exist, but who have no grounds to argue this in a world of “you do you” moral relativism.  

For those of us who long eagerly for justice – especially justice for those in our world who have been the most abused and overlooked and exploited – we must cling to the reality that there are right actions and there are wrong actions. Enslaving human beings is wrong. It was wrong in ancient Greece and Rome, it was wrong in Antebellum America, and it is wrong today, wherever it exists across the globe. AND those who do wrong things are accountable. They are culpable. Their actions have consequences.We can judge them, because a standard exists, and slavery falls grossly short of that standard. 

These arguments (for objective right and wrong) are logical arguments. When really pressed, most people – both atheists and theists alike – choose to accept them. The alternative is to reject the notion of human rights, which most people are not willing to do. The desire and fight for justice only makes sense in a world where some things are objectively right and other things are objectively wrong. For atheists, the difficulty then lies in justifying where such an objective standard of right and wrong comes from. For Christians, we can easily answer this question. 

God’s View of Moral Relativism

The God I worship and serve cares more about justice than I ever will. He is the one who created people with value and dignity and worth. He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) and breathed into us His breath (Genesis 2:7), and when we screwed up and shattered our relationship with Him he devised a plan to free us from our self-imposed slavery (Genesis 3:15, 21). God made a covenant with His people (Genesis 17:9), and when they were slaves in Egypt He heard their cries and delivered them from their oppression (Exodus 2:23, 6:5-6, 13:14; 20:2). 

Scripture is filled with affirmation that God is a God of Justice.
(Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 37:22-24; Psalm 9:7-8; Psalm 33:4-5; Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 61:8; Psalm 145:5-9)

“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” -Psalm 103:6

Scripture also clearly implores us to seek justice on behalf of others.
(Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 21:12; Hosea 12:6)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” -Micah 6:8

As a follower of Jesus, I have all the reason in the world to fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed. Jesus died to free me from my own slavery to sin, and thus satisfy the demands of justice on my behalf. (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 6:17-18)

My Christian worldview affirms that right and wrong are objective truths. God values human life above everything else He created (Genesis 1:27-31), and although injustice often reigns in our fallen world, we can trust in the hope and knowledge that our God is a God of justice. He will win in the end, and He will establish his throne as a throne of justice (Isaiah 16:1-5). 

And with this hope before me, I trudge on in this broken world, fighting for justice where I can, and looking toward that day when Jesus will make everything right. With this hope, I echo John in Revelation 22:20: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  


 

Sermon Recap | "Everyone has to decide for themselves what is right and wrong."

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What is right for you may not be right for me.
You have to find your own truth.
You can believe whatever you want as long as you don’t tell others what to believe.

Moral or cultural relativism: morals are not absolute. They are culturally formed and no culture is inherently superior to another. Therefore, everyone must decide what is right and wrong.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? - Romans 6:12-16

Paul says clearly that morality is not subjective. God has a transcendent, objective standard of morality despite our cultural resistance to this idea. This leads some question God or reject the God of the Bible who claims the right to declare objective moral truth.

There is such a thing as right and wrong, and God holds everyone accountable to it. (Romans 2:16)

The irony about our pushback against a God who sets an objective moral standard is that our souls actually desire for there to be an objective right and wrong in our world.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. - Romans 2:14-15

Paul says that our actions, thoughts, and consciences actually prove to us that we do know and believe in an ultimate moral authority.

At times, we like the idea of everyone choosing for himself what is right and wrong, but when someone truly wrongs or abuses someone that we love, we don’t have to be convinced that there are some rules that should not be broken.

If we remove absolute truth, then we remove the basis for justice altogether. If we say that we want everyone to decide what is right and wrong, we are saying that we should not be able to enforce rules that protect and bring justice to people.

The very fact that we have a desire to condemn things that we see as unjust shows that the work of the law is written on our hearts and our consciences bear witness to it. 

It’s great news that God cares so passionately about justice but it’s also the most terrifying news because all of us have done so much wrong. The truth is, we need a God who cares about people enough to judge those that break universal laws to the full extent of the law, and we need a God who cares about people enough to be able to forgive and show grace to those who have broken His laws.

This is where the beauty of the gospel is found: Christianity is good news for those who have suffered wrong AND those who have done wrong.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. - Romans 3:20-25

This gift that Christ gives is the reason we know we can trust Him as the universal authority.
His life showed us that He was perfectly righteous. The fact that God poured out His wrath for sin, shows us that He cares about justice. The fact that Christ took the wrath of God onto Himself for our sins while sparing all those that believe in Him from the punishment that we all deserve, shows us that He loves us tremendously. There is no one more qualified to establish the universal law that we all desperately need to exist.

So let us trust in His law even when we don’t understand it. Even when we don’t feel like it, because the crucified and risen savior has proven that He and He alone is worthy of establishing the ultimate transcendent law that we should all submit to.

Trusting God When Bad Things Won’t Stop Happening

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Member Spotlight: Courtney and Allen Tipping

Allen and Courtney moved to Columbia in 2005 to help plant Midtown Fellowship. The past decade of their lives has been marked with much suffering. The first year they were in Columbia, Courtney’s father passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, after months of battling with infertility, Courtney and Allen found out that they were pregnant with sextuplets. In March of 2009, at 22 weeks, the babies were delivered into the arms of Jesus. Eighteen months later, the Tippings joyfully delivered a baby girl: Zoe. However, in April of 2014, Zoe was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Wilms tumor. The cancer had already taken over one kidney, the lungs, and an artery running to the heart. After several months of chemo and radiation, Zoe underwent surgery at St. Jude’s to remove one kidney and as much of the tumor as the surgeon was able to reach. Currently, all MRI and CT scans are stable. A year later, the Tippings found out they were pregnant again, only to learn a few months later that their daughter had a condition called acrania. While she would be full of life in the womb, she would more than likely not survive once delivered. Baby Mia was born in November of 2015 and lived ten minutes before she too went to be with Jesus. In addition to Zoe, the Tippings have two other living children: Sadie and Toby. 

Throughout your suffering, how did you deal with fear or anger towards God? What have you learned about expressing those feelings? 

Allen: To find out we were pregnant with six babies after struggling with infertility is a hard feeling to describe. So then to make it to 22 weeks only to lose all six of them, I just didn’t understand. We could have avoided all of this. A lot of things hit me after discovering Mia’s diagnosis as well. We were pregnant and it was so exciting and then the news just felt crushing. Even thinking back to Zoe—she was an incredible gift after the six, but she was born with cancer. The mental stuff starts going and you start asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” It felt like a personal attack. I think the biggest question I wrestled with was, “God, do you love me?” 
Courtney: I think the hardest time for me was after we learned about Mia’s diagnosis at our first trimester ultrasound. I still didn’t feel like life had gotten back to normal after everything with Zoe’s cancer. So with the news that we were going to have a daughter that would most likely never live outside the womb, I began to deeply question how we were going to sustain through all of it. 
Allen: One freeing thing that Courtney said to me was, “We are not okay and that’s okay and there’s no rush to get better.” I needed that freedom. I knew I needed to get better, but I didn’t know how to pick up the pieces. For an entire year after losing the six, when I prayed, I used the phrase “God is good” because I didn’t know if I believed it. So I just said it enough until I could believe it. I just had to take little nuggets of truth and hold onto them. I realized that I could not let my current circumstances color my view of the cross. The cross had to be the lens through which I viewed my suffering.

How were you able to have hope in the midst of tragedy?

Allen: The hope happened with every tragedy when we got to see church family be present and do very tangible things to love us. Knowing that people were praying for us was the way we saw the Lord’s endurance for us.
Courtney: When we were in the hospital right in between losing the first two babies and then starting labor with the remaining four, I got to a point where, physically, I just wanted to give up. I desperately wanted to keep fighting and so I asked people to read scripture and speak truth to me as I was in labor. I knew that was the only thing that was going to get me through. And I remember praying that somehow God would be seen clearly through something as awful as losing the six babies. I had a similar feeling about a month into Zoe’s longest hospital stay. On a particularly difficult and emotional night in the hospital, I broke down, unsure how we had the endurance to get through it all. And in the middle of the emotions, I knew that the Lord was giving us the endurance and that somehow He was going to be seen and glorified through all the grossness. 
Allen: I also had to come to grips with the reality that my life may be a tragedy. I just don’t know. I have no backing to say, “It will just get better.” Ultimately you just have to hope for heaven and when Jesus comes back and makes all things new. One thing that was helpful for me was the reminder in 1 Peter 5:9 that people are suffering all over the world in different ways. Some days, I needed the reminder that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. So I would remember that, and I would hope for heaven, and I would look to the cross. Those three things helped me push through. There’s certainly a desire for pain and suffering to end but the only way for that to stop is for Jesus to come back and when He does, judgment starts. So it’s God’s grace to call more people to Himself and not end things now. That was very helpful for me—to remember that what I would love to see happen (my personal suffering ending) would mean others don’t get to experience God’s grace. 

How have you seen God use the suffering in your life for His glory and your good?

Courtney: One way is Toby’s adoption story. Tiffany was one of Zoe’s nurses in the hospital. We formed a relationship with her when she worked weekends at the hospital. Then, in 2016, she met Toby’s birth mother at an elementary school talent show. They got talking and Tiffany learned that she wanted to put her son up for adoption and Tiffany reached out to us. Three weeks later, we were in the hospital, experiencing the birth of our son, Toby. 
Allen: I know of two Midtown members who both became believers after hearing Adam’s sermon on suffering the week after Zoe was diagnosed with cancer. One of the people is now a resident at our church and she recently told me that sermon and experience was one of the main things God used to save her. I don’t want to hurt just so God can use it, but at the same time, it does help—knowing that God can use even the worst of things for good. I don’t want my daughter to have to go through cancer for it to happen, but I’m glad that God uses it. 
Courtney: One sweet way that we see the Lord use the things that are super tough is the continual favor we have with the children’s hospital and ongoing relationships we have with the staff and other patients’ families there. Because we were so deeply loved by community during our stays in the hospital, I have a desire for other families to experience a picture of that type of community as well. We do monthly dinners with the moms who have children battling cancer and it’s just a time to say, “I know a little bit of where you’re at and I’m here.” We’ve also been able to form a Serve the City partnership between Midtown and the Children’s hospital. And at Palmetto Health’s last employee rally, Allen and I were interviewed for a video and had a chance to share our story and we got to talk about Jesus and suffering to every Palmetto Health employee. 

What were the most helpful things that people said or did to come alongside you in your suffering? Any advice for other people as they try to walk well with friends who are suffering? 

Allen: Presence is what matters. Just try to avoid all the clichés. They are unhelpful. Give me the promises that I can hold on to if you are going to give me anything. Mostly, I just wanted people there who would cry with me and let me know they cared. Another thing that was really helpful was when a person would ask if they could do a specific thing for us, like cut our grass. Often, people throw out a more general, “let me know if there’s anything that I can do to help,” but when someone’s life is falling apart, they more than likely don’t even know what they need. 
Courtney: I’d encourage people to not be scared to be present when people are hurting. That’s what I felt like the Lord really used in my life—He uses other people and He uses me when I just show up and I’m available. The other thing that has been really important to me is to have people not forget about the babies we’ve lost and the suffering we’ve gone through. It means so much to me when people want to talk about the babies or see pictures or allow me to talk about Zoe’s continuing journey with cancer. Remember to ask people questions and love them well through it all—even after the first couple of weeks of trauma. 

What good news were you clinging to in the midst of your suffering that you’d like to share with others?

Allen and Courtney: Psalm 62:5-8! Our souls find rest in God alone. 
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
 Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Sermon Recap | "If you do good things, good things will happen to you."

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And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. –Galatians 6:9

While most people in our culture don’t ascribe to a holistic, religious karma worldview, the mentality that people who do good things will get repaid with a good life is everywhere. And there’s a problem with a karma-way of thinking: we grow weary of doing good.

Three ways that karma creates weariness:

  1. Karma can’t explain the random, chaotic nature of human suffering in the world. (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Luke 13)

  2. Karma leads to believing things about God that He never actually said about Himself. God never promises to keep everything bad from happening to his people. What he does promise is to be with His people in the midst of anything they go through and He promises that someday He will do away with all brokenness in this world once and forever.

  3. Karma fuels a sense of entitlement in us. 

What does the gospel offer that is different? 
We get something way better than karma; We get grace. 

Through the gospel, we are called and motivated to do good because underserved good has already been done to us. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

God will return to remake the world and do away with all suffering. We look back to the cross and we look forward to that promise that God will do away with all weariness and all pain and all suffering. 

Moana and the Disney Doctrine

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Courtney Gibson has been around Midtown since its early days. When she’s not spending time with her husband, Adam, and two kids, Selah and Hunter, she enjoys putting her MFA in Creative Writing to good use by editing manuscripts and book proposals. She has recently taken over curating the Midtown blog. 

Before my daughter was born, I talked a big game: we would not do princesses. This included but was not limited to: princess costumes, princess dolls, and shirts with phrases like, “Diva Princess.” But then my daughter was born, and it was as if she came out wearing glass slippers and humming Cinderella’s “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” Somehow I went from self-righteously imagining how I would raise a princess-dissing daughter to detangling a very well-loved Rapunzel doll’s hair while watching the 100th episode of Sofia the First

When my daughter was three, my in-laws took us to Disney World and it really was magical. Somewhere between eating lunch in Cinderella’s castle and touching Gaston’s biceps, I became an adult woman who loves Disney. I even own a shirt that says, “I like my food Mickey shaped.”

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The thing about Disney is, they are very good at what they do: be it franchising a story or indoctrinating children into their worldview. I quickly learned that when my toddlers were watching Disney Jr., they weren’t merely viewing shows about pirates and toy doctors, they were absorbing a belief system: a belief system that often did not line up with the good news of the gospel. And while my very first inclination may have been to throw away our television and ban the D-word from our home, I realized that Disney was doing me a favor; they were providing me with a natural opportunity to train my children up in wisdom and discernment.  

 
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1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says: Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. I began to wonder: What does it look like to teach my children to test everything—to affirm what is beautiful in their world and culture and also reject those things that do not line up with what we know to be true in God’s Word?. How could we have these conversations in a way that becomes normal? I wanted to make sure that as we enjoyed the adventures of Disney, we were always looking out for these three questions:

  1. What can we affirm?
  2. What do we reject?
  3. What can be redeemed?
    And a fourth question we ask at times:
  4. How does this point to Jesus, the ultimate hero?

Here’s a practical example of how these questions have played out in our family’s conversations recently:

Our family was predestined to be Moana fans. As soon as I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the songs for the movie while simultaneously writing Hamilton, I knew I was a goner.

We took our kids to the theatre on Opening Day and as soon as baby Moana looked up at us with her big Disney baby eyes, we were hooked. And it really is a beautiful movie: the scenery, the adventure, the feelings, and of course the music. The movie wasn’t even over, and I was already singing about the ocean calling me.

As we walked out of the theatre, my husband turned to our kids and said, “I really loved that movie, but I didn’t love how Moana thought she knew more than her dad. What did you guys think?” And then the ball was rolling. Obviously, the way that we dialogue with a five-year-old and two-year-old looks different than someone parenting older children, but here are some conversations that have happened over the last several months as Moana continues to be a favorite in our home:

  1. Affirm what is good. 

    Moana sees darkness taking over her world and she wants to fight to bring light. She does not want to remain passive; she wants to be a part of the solution and bring light to her community. Jesus calls us to likewise bring light into the darkness. 

    Moana does a nice job critiquing Maui for his self-centered arrogance. He has his most heroic moments when he learns to use his gifts to serve others instead of serving himself. 

    The movie also critiques Tamatoa, the crab for only caring about shiny, material possessions. 

    Moana comes to realize the value of community both on her journey to restore the heart of Te Fiti and as she returns home to her village. 

  2. Reject what doesn’t line up with God’s Word.

    Moana disobeys her father and the good restrictions he’s placed on her life with seemingly no negative or realistic consequences. Her father’s rules are not frivolous, but rather come from wisdom and experience that she does not yet possess.

    Moana’s grandmother tells Moana to follow the little voice inside of her no matter what, because it is the truest thing about her. God’s Word tells us that our hearts include some of our true identity: the image of God stamped on us. But our hearts are also marred with sin that needs to be repented of, not embraced. 

  3. Redeem what we can.

    Moana sings about having conflicting desires: she both wants to be the perfect daughter and she feels called to the water, where her family has forbidden her to go. All of us have these conflicting desires—these feelings of wanting to do what we can’t do and not wanting to do the things we should do. The Bible says this is because of sin. And the good news of the gospel is that, in Christ, we don’t have to be slaves to sin or our desires!

    Both Moana and the goddess Te Fiti are wrestling with their identity. They don’t know who they are and both are encouraged to look inside themselves to find the answer. The good news of the gospel, is that in Christ, we have a new, unshakable identity that is based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

  4. Point to Jesus, the ultimate hero. 

    Like Moana, Jesus left his home to come to earth and eliminate darkness. But unlike Moana, Jesus was sent by his father, on the ultimate rescue mission to save the world from sin and darkness. Where Moana can only encourage people to look inside themselves for strength, Jesus invites us to trust in His strength and power and not in our own.

    These conversations are ongoing. As we prepared to meet Moana at Disney World last December, we had a lot of fun brainstorming the questions we would ask her:

    • Moana, do you see any possible ramifications of only, always following your heart?

    • Moana did you know that God trusted your dad to parent you so you should listen to him and follow his instruction?

Truth be told, as soon as we met her, she offered us a lesson in wayfinding, and I think the only question that got asked was, “Can you sign my autograph book?” but man, I love the conversations our family is growing  to have. I love seeing my children’s minds constantly as work, as they are beginning to test what they hear. Just the other day in the car, as we were listening to the Moana soundtrack, my daughter asked about a line in Maui’s song when he says, “There’s no need to pray, it’s okay.” On the way to the park, my five-year-old and I were able to engage in a beautiful conversation because she is learning how to discern and seek truth. 

My prayer for both of my children, is that as they grow in wisdom and discernment, they will have something bigger than the courage to follow their own hearts, but rather they will be captivated by and fall in love with the heart of God—to love the things that He loves, to despise the things that He despises, and fight for the things that matter for eternity.

Sermon Recap | "Follow your heart."

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“Have the courage to follow your heart.”
“Listen to the little voice inside of you.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do.”
“You can do anything you want to do as long as you believe it.”
“I have to be free to follow my heart.”

In all of these sayings, what we are talking about is freedom and restrictions. So how should we think about rules and expectations? Should we really throw off all restrictions that are put on so that we can follow our hearts?

As Jesus was talking to a crowd of people, He said: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." –John 8:31-32

There is an inherent relationship between truth and freedom.

There is no freedom outside of the truth. If you really want freedom, you must know the truth. Jesus says the rules are designed to set you free.

Galatians 5:1 says: "For freedom Christ has set us free"

Jesus wants to set you free, but not in the same way that culture does.

As a culture, we are pretty dialed in to how life crumbles in the presence of the wrong restrictions. It’s just that we aren’t as dialed into how life also crumbles in the absence of the right restrictions. We’re missing a key insight of Jesus’ here: True freedom is not found in the absence of restrictions; true freedom is found in the presence of the right restrictions.

When we understand what we, as humans, are designed for, then we can begin to live under the good, necessary, and life-giving restrictions that God has given us:

  1. We are designed for love

  2. We are designed for carrying weight

  3. We are designed for God

One of the most dangerous aspects of “just following your heart” is that sin is present in our hearts and sin desires to enslave us.

In John 8:34-35, Jesus says to the crowd: "Truly, truly, I say to you everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever."

True freedom isn’t found in running away from God but in running to Him.

So run to Jesus, who, instead of enjoying the freedom He had in heaven, took the weighty restrictions of sin onto Himself in the cross so that we could be free.

So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. –John 8:36

Sermon Recap | “Do whatever makes you happy.”

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“Do whatever makes you happy.”
“The most important thing in life is to pursue your own happiness.”
“Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
“God really wants me to be happy.”

These phrases get thrown around all of the time in our culture…even within Christian culture. So what does the Bible really say about happiness? Does God really want me to be happy?

Isaiah 55 tells us that in our pursuit of happiness, we are chasing the right thing in the wrong way:

"Come everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
   and he who has no money
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price."

                                            -Isaiah 55:1

Isaiah 55:1 actually brings up three drinks: water, milk, and wine.

  • Water is for reviving and replenishment.

  • Milk is for nourishment and strength.

  • Wine is for joy and gladness.

God is inviting us to find our holistic satisfaction in Him.

We are all searching for contentment, joy, satisfaction, and happiness. The question is, what are we turning to in this pursuit? In Isaiah 55:2, God explains that the ways we’re pursuing happiness and satisfaction are empty pursuits:

"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"

                                            -Isaiah 55:2

So where does true happiness come from? Isaiah 55:6-9 answers this question in a  surprising way:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts."

                                            -Isaiah 55:6-9

True happiness is a byproduct of repenting and returning to the Lord.

In light of Isaiah 55, here are six steps to go about seeking happiness through repentance:

  1. Agree with God about where true happiness is found (Isaiah 55:9)

  2. Confess to God (Where have you been trying to find your happiness apart from God? Where have you been mistrusting God and not believing that satisfaction is only found in Him?)

  3. Confess to others (Allow the people that God has placed in your life to be a part of your growth and change)

  4. Actually stop (repentance is not just mentally agreeing with God; you must actually cut yourself off from the places you’ve been going to in your search for happiness and actually return to the Lord and press into Him.)

  5. Make it right (You are going to realize that there are some people that you’ve harmed in your selfish pursuit of happiness and you need to go make it right.)

  6. Keep returning to God by choosing to enjoy Him. (Isaiah 55:2-3 and 7. This is the mark of the mature Christian life.)

Returning to God includes celebrating that God’s loves for you doesn’t change, despite how often you do. Repentance is brokenness that leads to celebrating Jesus!

Check out the full sermon here:

"You need to find yourself." Pressing In

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In Sunday’s sermon, we looked at four areas where people are tempted to look inward to find their identity. Which one is it for you? We’ve put together some additional resources that we hope will serve you as you repent of where you’re tempted to find your identity. And as you press in, remember the beautiful truth that, in Christ, you have a new identity based on His finished work on the cross.

We are what we do.

Memorize: "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ." –Philippians 3:7-8

Study: Philippians 3 and Romans 4

Listen: “The Good Life: The Trophy Case”

We are what we have.

Memorize: "Then He said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”" –Luke 12:15

Study: Matthew 19:16-30 and Acts 4: 32-37

Listen: “Luke: The Wealth Trap”

We are who we have.

Memorize: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man." –Psalm 118:8

Study: John 1:1-18 and Romans 1:18-25

Listen: “Theology of Sex: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Romance”

We are our desires.

Memorize: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." –Galatians 5:16-17

Study: Mark 4:18-19 and Romans 7:15-25

Listen: “Luke: Jesus Needs a PR Manager”

Sermon Recap | "You need to find yourself."

How do I know who I am? What makes me, me? How do I figure that out? You need to find yourself is modern society’s response to identity: Look inward, and whatever you find there, celebrate it.

When most of us look inward, we end up defining our identity in one of four ways:

1.     I am what I do

2.     I am what I have

3.     I am who I have

4.     I am my desires

When we try to build our identities on what we find inside ourselves, we run into several problems. Our inward search for identity leaves us in a constant state of earning. And based on what we discover, we become trapped in cycles of self-righteousness or despair. None of these are secure.

But the good news of the gospel is that if we are in Christ, we are given a new, unshakable identity. (Colossians 2:1-10)

So how do we build our new identity in Christ? Colossians 3:1-4 tells us:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are of earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will appear with him in glory.

We will best understand ourselves when we stop looking inward and focus our eyes on God. Our identity is wrapped in His victory, not our own. We are defined by the fact that the God of the universe has adopted us into His family as His children.

It turns out that what we believe about God is the most important thing about us.

This week, set your eyes on Jesus: the founder and the finisher of our faith. Our identity is based on what He thinks of us from day to day and that doesn’t change. In Him, we have an unshakable identity.

Check out yesterday’s sermon here: 

Member Blog - Throwing a Neighborhood Cookout

In our Member Blog Series, we hear from Midtown members who are working to apply the Bible and what we’ve been teaching on Sundays into their everyday lives. The goal is to provide you real-life, practical insight and inspiration as you work to do the same.
 
For today’s Member Blog, we’re interviewing Christian and Steph Boehm who have been around Midtown since November, 2016. In response to our recent Home series, Christian and Steph worked with their LifeGroup to throw a neighborhood cookout.

Q: Tell us a bit about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What kind of relationships do you have with your neighbors?

We live in Friarsgate, a very large, established neighborhood in Irmo. We actually just bought our first house here in August, and it just so happens to be three doors down from one of Stephanie’s childhood friends who still lives there. We took Christmas cookies around to a few of our neighbors to meet them, but had not spent much time with them other than saying “hi” when getting the mail or doing yard work. Our relationship with our neighbors echoed the our culture unfortunately— mostly just say hello but keep to yourselves.
 

Q: Were there any particular scriptures or sermons that specifically motivated you to throw this cookout for your neighbors?

The HOME series really inspired us to reach out to our neighbors and build community, especially the sermon by Brandon Clements - “A Home in the Hands of a Loving God.” He encouraged us that even when it’s awkward and it’s easy to make excuses, God calls us to be hospitable anyways. Neither of us were really close with our neighbors growing up and we decided we wanted to change that. We often host parties for our friends, but have not been really tried it for people we don’t know.
 

Q: How’d it go?

When we delivered invitations to our neighbors, most of them were very excited about the fact that we were hosting a neighborhood party. Many of them are older couples whose kids grew up here, but once their kids moved away, they haven’t really been hanging out with each other anymore. Some of them have lived here for 15 or 20 years and didn’t even know the name of the neighbor right across the street from them. We were very encouraged with how many people came, and how well everyone got along. It was so cool to not only meet our neighbors, but see them getting to know each other too. We grilled burgers, had a bonfire to roast hot dogs and played yard games like corn hole, giant jenga and croquet.  We had great conversation around the bonfire and everyone seemed to have a great time and were very appreciative.
 

Q: Did you see any specific ways God provided for this party to go well?

Once we had the idea to have this neighborhood cookout, our Life Group gladly jumped in and offered to help. There is a wide range of ages in our Life Group and we felt like that was helpful to be able to relate with our multi-generational neighbors and encouraged more conversation. Because some of our Life Group family were there, it also naturally led to more conversation about Midtown which then transformed into people sharing their own personal church backgrounds and talking about Jesus. Because Christian and I are only two people, it was great having more of our church family there to help welcome those who came.
 

Q: Any plans to do it again in the future?

Yeah! We’re planning to throw these neighborhood parties once a month or so. Our hope is to invite more and more neighbors every party so that we can extend our reach through more of our neighborhood. The parties will probably not only be cookouts, but will change with the seasons and holidays as we may invite them over to watch football, or have a Christmas cookie exchange, for example.
 

Q: What advice would you have for members of our church family who want to throw a similar party to connect with their neighbors?

Keep it simple. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef or have a house that looks like Southern Living. The party decorations don’t have to look like they came straight off Pinterest. Just use what you have, borrow things from friends, get a $15 bouquet of flowers from Costco and accept the help when people want to bring food or help you decorate. 

When you invite people you don’t know it seems in your mind that it will be super awkward, but it’s really not that bad. People are longing for community, family and friends. Most people probably want to know their neighbors but are scared it will be awkward. Who knows what kind of opportunities we are missing just because we’re afraid of being turned down?
 
Use what you have, and make it work in your stage of life. Another family in our LifeGroup was inspired by the HOME sermon series to start Saturday Swim days. They have an open invitation to anyone in our Life Group who is getting to know someone (especially those who don’t have a church or are non-Christians) to use their pool on Saturdays during the summer.  Another lady in our LifeGroup has a beautiful screened in porch, and has invited many people to use it as a place to pray on Thursdays. People may come and go as they please, and she has Bibles and other books that people can read if they want. My sister-in-law just hosted a baby shower for a friend, but as she has three little kids, it’s hard to prepare a large amount of food by herself, so she asked everyone to bring something to share. 

These examples have really helped me to understand that hospitality doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, and it doesn’t have to look the same at different stages in your life. I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s most important to 1.) be present in the moment, 2.) to be observant of people’s needs and to 3.) create a safe and loving environment. That’s so much more important than every little detail being perfect. God made each of us with different gifts and I just love seeing how people can be so creative in how they help others feel welcomed and loved. 

Thanks to Steph and Christian for their time and insight. We hope it’s encouraging to you as we all continue to pursue offering God’s warmth and hospitality through our homes!
 

Crisis of Faith: Why Should I trust the Bible? Part 2.

    In week 1 of our new series, we spoke about the historical reliability of the Resurrection. You can listen to the sermon from your church here. Along with questions about the reliability of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, many people have questions about the historical reliability of the Bible in general. The following is content we used to include in our Midtown Class that discusses how confident you can be in the historical reliability of the Scriptural texts.

Why Should I Trust the Bible is Accurate?

    Some people struggle in trusting the early copies of each original book of the Bible are trustworthy. To help bolster your confidence in the early copies I would like to simply compare the New Testament books with various other books that are widely read and accepted in Western literature. In so doing I want to show you how trustworthy the earliest copies of the Bible are because we have so many manuscripts, and those manuscripts are so close to the original writings of the New Testament. We will look at two general tests for determining the historicity of any ancient text: the bibliographical test (number and quality of manuscripts), and the internal test (the consistency of the text to not contradict itself).

You can find our blog outlining test #1: The Bibliographical Test here.

 
Test #2 – The Internal Test

    This test of the Bible’s accuracy is indeed important because each book is a witness to a body of truth and much like a legal case in our day if a witness were to contradict themselves then their testimony should not be deemed trustworthy. The following are a few simple examples that illustrate the amazing internal unity of the Bible.


    To understand how important the internal test is, we first have to understand exactly what kind of a book the Bible is. Lots of people think the Bible is just one big book. But that’s not very accurate, in fact, it's more of a small library. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written by around forty authors over the rough time span of sixteen hundred years. The authors are a very diverse group representing Kings, peasants, doctors, farmers and fishermen amongst many others. Not only were the authors diverse, but so were the locations it was written, the books of the Bible are written from both prisons and palaces, spanning three different continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

 

In conclusion, the bible is a multicultural, multi-genre, multi-authored book written to and received by equally diverse audiences. 

 

    In light of all that, the Bible is overwhelmingly, unbelievably consistent. Imagine organizing forty authors on three different continents with widely varying backgrounds and historical contexts over the course of sixteen hundred years to write sixty-six books centered on one topic. And you have to organize this project with no phone, no internet and absolutely no physical ability to talk or collaborate. The probability is much higher that the Bible would be a random, scattershot, disorganized and chaotic mess.

 

Unbelievable harmony

    And instead, it’s beautifully, dare I say miraculously consistent. To showcase the astonishing continuity of the Bible, German Lutheran Pastor, Christoph Römhild, and American tech wiz, Chris Harrison, made a chart to visually represent the consistency of the Bible. They connected different color lines to show the 63,779 cross references and internal consistencies in the Bible. There is no other book in human history that displays this kind of internal consistency over centuries and centuries of production. One might be almost tempted to think that the Bible is supernaturally inspired or something.

But what about the contradictions?

    Our modern minds say, ok ok, that’s impressive… but isn’t the Bible full of contradictions? With this in mind, atheist Sam Harris created his own chart with what he claims are 475 contradictions. It’s important to note that the vast majority of these aren’t contradictions at all, and even the ones that seem like they are, really aren’t. They require a bit of study and interpretative work, but they all have explanations. But it’s also important to acknowledge the scope of internal consistency compared to the scope of Harris’ supposed contradictions.

    To depict these two charts as being the same size is pretty disingenuous. Even if we temporarily ignore the fact that all of these supposed contradictions have been dealt with before, we should also consider how vastly different the two numbers, 63,779 and 475 really are. To show the scale of those two numbers together the charts would looks like this:

    You may be thinking to yourself, wait a minute. I don’t see anything. Exactly. Lets zoom it in for you although the comparison does stretch the limits of my computer’s graphics card:

    That almost imperceptible red smudge inside that red circle is what we’re talking about here. However, if you really wrestle with the idea of Bible contradictions, I recommend The Big Book of Bible Difficulties which deals with all of these in detail. If you don’t have time for an entire textbook, let me give you a few examples of the supposed contradictions Mr. Harris is stuck on:

  • Joshua 7 says Achan is the son of Carmi. However, Joshua 22 says Achan is the son of Zerah. That’s a definite contradiction, right? Well to figure this one out, we have to know that the Hebrew word for son can mean any male descendant. Son, grandson, great grandson, etc. In this case, Achan is Zerah’s great grandson.
  • The four gospels all say there was a sign on the cross above Jesus that said, King of the Jews. But they each record it slightly different:
    • “The King of the Jews.” (Mark 15:2) 
    • “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:38) 
    • “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37) 
    • “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) 

We can all agree that these recordings are slightly different. And we can also reasonably agree that in no way are these viable historical contradictions. 

 

    And the internal test doesn’t just include internal consistency. It also includes an astounding amount of prophecy that accurately predicted real events in history. Neither Islam, nor any other world religion or cult can present any specific prophecies concerning the coming of their prophets. However in the Bible, we see hundreds of fulfilled prophecies extending hundreds, and sometimes over a thousand years into the future. Consider the few following prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:

1. Born of a woman (Gen. 3:15 cf. Matt. 1:20; Gal. 4:4)
2. Descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22:18 cf. Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16)
3. Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14 cf. Matt. 1:18)
4. Born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2 cf. Luke 2:1–7)
5. Prophesied by the forerunner John the Baptist (Isa. 40; Mal. 3:1 cf. John 1:19–52)
6. Rejected by his own people (Isa. 53 cf. John 1)
7. Presented as a king riding a donkey (Zech. 9:9 cf. Luke 19:35–37)
8. Betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9 cf. Matt. 26:50)
9. Betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12 cf. 26:15)
10. Blood money thrown on temple floor & used to buy a potter's field (Zech. 11:13 cf. Matt. 27:5–7) Note: the temple was destroyed in 70 AD so the Messiah must have come prior to then.
11. Crucified (Ps. 22:16 cf. Luke 23:33) Note: crucifixion didn’t exist until hundreds of years after Psalms was written.
12. Crucified with thieves (Isa. 53:12 cf. Matt. 27:38)
13. Forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1 cf. Matt. 27:46)
14. Lots cast for His clothing (Ps. 22:18 cf. John 19:23)
15. Buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9 cf. Matt. 27:57)
16. Resurrected & exalted (Ps. 16:10, Isa. 52:13, 53:10–12 cf. Acts 2:25–32)
17. Ascended into heaven (Ps. 68:18 cf. Acts 1:8, Eph. 4:8).
 


    The Bible is clearly a book of history and not just philosophy because it continually promises concrete historical events that in time come to pass exactly as promised.
These promises show the divine inspiration of the Bible and their fulfillment proves that there is a God who rules over human history and brings events to pass just as He ordains them. Because of these facts, we can trust the internal consistency of the Bible to be a chorus of faithful witnesses who sing together in harmony.
 

Crisis of Faith: Why Should I trust the Bible? Part 1

    In week 1 of our new series, we spoke about the historical reliability of the Resurrection. You can listen to the sermon from your church here. Along with questions about the reliability of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, many people have questions about the historical reliability of the Bible in general. The following is content we used to include in our Midtown Class that discusses how confident you can be in the historical reliability of the Scriptural texts.

Why Should I Trust the Bible is Accurate?

Some people struggle in trusting the early copies of each original book of the Bible are trustworthy. To help bolster your confidence in the early copies I would like to simply compare the New Testament books with various other books that are widely read and accepted in Western literature. In so doing I want to show you how trustworthy the earliest copies of the Bible are because we have so many manuscripts, and those manuscripts are so close to the original writings of the New Testament. We will look at two general tests for determining the historicity of any ancient text: the bibliographical test (number and quality of manuscripts), and the internal test (the consistency of the text to not contradict itself).

You can find our blog outlining test #2: The Internal Test here.

 
Test #1 – The Bibliographical Test

   The bibliographical test seeks to determine the quantity and quality of documents, as well as how far removed they are from the time of the originals. The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.).

*Taken directly from Ken Boa’s “I’m Glad You Asked” page 78

 
    The age of the biblical manuscripts is also excellent. Likely the oldest manuscript is a scrap of papyrus (p52) containing John 18:31–33 and 37–38, dating from AD 125–130, no more than 40 years after John’s gospel was likely written. A non–Christian scholar, Carsten Peter Thiede even claims that he has dated a fragment of Matthew to about 60 AD. By comparing the ancient manuscripts we find that the vast majority of variations are minor elements of spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of words or phrases.

    Only about 400 (less than one page of an English translation) have any significant bearing on the meaning of a passage, and most are footnoted in Modern English translations. Overall, 97–99% of the New Testament can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages.
 
    The Scripture quoted in the works of the early Christian writers (most 95–150 AD) are so extensive that virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed except for 11 verses, mostly from 2 and 3 John.

A Curious Discovery

    Critics of the accuracy of the Bible routinely claimed that it was, in fact, a series of fables and legends that had developed over hundreds of years because there were not enough copies of ancient manuscripts to alleviate their skepticism. Curiously, a simple shepherd boy dealt a deathblow to their criticisms in 1947. He wandered into a cave in the Middle East and discovered large pottery jars filled with leather scrolls of the Bible that had been wrapped in linen cloth. Amazingly, the ancient copies of the books of the Bible were in good condition despite their age and harsh climate because they had been well sealed for nearly 1,900 years. What is now known as The Dead Sea Scrolls are made up of some 40,000 inscribed ancient fragments. From these fragments, more than 500 books have been reconstructed, including some Old Testament books such as a complete copy of Isaiah.

    Simply, if someone seeks to eliminate the trustworthiness of the New Testament then to be consistent they would also have to dismiss virtually the entire canon of western literature and pull everything from Homer to Plato and Aristotle off of bookstore shelves and out of classroom discussions.

Precious in His Sight Historical and Statistical Sources

Throughout our recent Precious in His Sight series, we used a number of current statistics and historical facts in our sermons and book. In an age of “alternative facts” and millennial skepticism of all things authority, many of us are hesitant to accept stats without researching their source. Which can be a great thing; since so many people are trying to convince you of so many different things for so many different reasons.

As much as any series before, your pastors worked their tails off to research for this series and we are happy to provide you with sources for as many stats and historical references as we could find quickly by scanning back through the sermons and the book. If you notice anything you find questionable in a sermon or book that isn’t sourced here, just shoot us an email at hello@midtowncolumbia.com, and we will get you the source as quickly as possible.

Statistical References from our Sermons:

Week 1 - Red & Yellow, Black & White

Stats included in the sermon:

  • The median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings (meaning everything you own) in 2011, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household.

  • When you further control for education the disparity grows. College degree headed household $301,300 vs $26,300.

  • Median household income - $71,300 vs $43,300. 40% higher for white americans.

Source: US Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation found here.

Stat included in sermon:

  • African american babies die at a rate over twice the frequency of white babies.

Source: Study done and published in the American Journal of Public Health found here and referenced in Time magazine here.

Stat included in sermon:

  • “Black mothers are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth that white americans.”

Source: Center for Disease Control report found here.

Stat included in sermon:

  • Young african american males are 6 times more likely to be murdered than are young white american males.

Source: Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics found here.


Week 2 - On Earth As It Is In Heaven

  • No social statistics were used in this sermon.


Week 3 - The Privilege of Good Deeds

These stats were re-referenced from week 1:

  • The median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings (meaning everything you own) in 2011, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household.

  • When you further control for education the disparity grows. College degree headed household $301,300 vs $26,300.

Source: US Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation found here.

Stat included in sermon:

  • Equivalent black-owned homes are valued 18% lower than white-owned homes. Even when you control for income, age, social class, architecture, and geography.

Source: 2001 Brookings Institute Study referenced here in Forbes Magazine.

Stat included in sermon:

  • Sociologists have found that if the percentage of minority people in a neighborhood grows past a 13-15% “tipping point”, white people start to leave the neighborhood.

Source: Study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found here and referenced in the NY Times here.

Week 4 - Gospel Weapons that Disarm

  • No social statistics were used in this sermon.

Week 5 - Today is History (Question and Answer Panel)

Stat included in sermon:

  • In the question about why we focussed this series on black and white relations instead of other minorities in America, we answered that part of the reason is because Columbia’s population is 49.6% white and 41.7% black.

Source: 2010 US Census found here and referenced here.

 

Racial Reconciliation

The Racial Chasm

The racial problems that we have inherited explains an awful lot of the current tension in our society. Something happens, whether it’s a shooting, a viral video, a protest, or another inflammatory comment by another political figure, and different people look at the same events, and often come to very different conclusions.

What did you see? Who was at fault? Who’s right and who’s wrong? What do you think about                                          (fill in the blank with the latest controversy)?

The same events, seen through different eyes, can yield wildly different interpretations. These differences often lie among racial lines, because different races have had vastly different experiences in this country over our existence as a nation.

The recent events that have brought racial tension to the surface in America are nothing new. They are only the latest occurrences in a long history of racial pain, tension and strife. What the vast differences in reaction along racial lines tell us more than anything is that America is still deeply divided by race. Especially between white Americans and black Americans, because we have inherited the most baggage from a long and painful history.

Even to this day racial separation is a significant issue. We largely operate in different social circles, live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and even belong to different churches. Our family get-togethers not only look different from one another, they feel different, right down to the stories that are told, the shared history of our ancestors, and the extent to which race is a topic of conversation. These differences in experience and worldview seem to be lit on fire when a controversial event happens in our country.

Point to how much progress has been made on racial issues, how much better things are now than they were in recent history, and you might just get a pained look from a black American. They may nod in agreement, but then have a list of a dozen instances where all is still not equal.

Bring up the centuries of mistreatment and abuse of African Americans to a white American, and they may do a mental shrug and settle into a sense of helplessness. Yeah, all those things were terrible, they might think. But that was a long time ago, and I had nothing to do with any of that...so what am I supposed to do?

All of this sometimes leads to the feeling that there is an uncrossable chasm between our races. In every period of our history there has been pain, mistreatment and racial division. Our society, try as it might, does not seem to have the necessary tools to adequately deal with this chasm.

 

The Chasm Maker: Simultaneously Invisible & Obvious

How can a justice issue this large and this obvious to me be this invisible to some?

How can something that seems so invisible to me seem so large and obvious to others?

One of the biggest problems with justice issues in general is that if you haven’t experienced them, they often seem invisible to you. Meanwhile, if you have experienced them directly, their realness and detriment are so obvious as to demand immediate attention and action. This is precisely the case with racial issues in America. When we let the media fill in the gaps of our limited real interaction with people from another race, we are left with a lot of confusion, anger and misunderstanding.

If you find yourself thinking, “I really don’t see it”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that a lack of insight and experience doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist. Seek to understand. Read some books. Talk to a person who does see it. Don’t assume anything about their motives or bias. Just ask them questions and be willing to listen.

If you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t you see this?”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that there are people who have never experienced, seen or dealt with what you has been a huge piece of your life. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you or don’t care.

The only chance we have at really pursuing solutions together for the racial chasm in America is for us to all faithfully work together to help each other see clearly and accurately. We will never respond appropriately while we are blind to anyone else’s perspective.

 

Hope for the Chasm

Racial issues can feel as hopeless as any. The divide seems to widen across a lot of painful history and settle in over time, leading to despair that any true and lasting reconciliation could ever happen. Even if we agree about all of the root issues, we can still disagree wildly about what are the best solutions moving forward.

For Christians, however, there is a thing about chasms like this one:

Jesus doesn’t do chasms.

He did not save white and black people, only for us to draw an invisible line in the sand and stand there silently thinking, “You’ll never understand.” No, He came to make us family. He came to bring the unity of the gospel, right into the midst of our centuries of racial strife. Lines in the sand are not an option when we’ll share eternity together worshipping God in a sea of diversity.

The church has an incredible opportunity in this time and place, because we have God-given resources and motivation to deal with these historic problems. We have gospel tools that the world around us doesn’t. We have the compelling truth to tell with our lives that no blood runs deeper than Jesus’ blood.

Upon visiting a recent Baptism Gathering, one guest to our church made an incredible remark. He said:

"I wish the rest of the world could see what's happening here. The media makes it seem like there is no hope that people from different backgrounds and races can live together in harmony. But whatever is happening here is proof that's not true."

This is the goal family--for us to continue to grow into the sort of reconciled community that the world needs and wants to see. Here’s how Cole Brown, African American pastor from Portland, Oregon puts it:

“In John 17 Jesus repeatedly states that the unity of his people will be a convincing apologetic for Jesus and his gospel. Jesus prays that his followers will be brought “to complete unity” and then states that when they are “then the world will know that you sent me.” The unity Jesus is speaking must be a visible unity and an abnormal unity. It has to be visible enough for non-Christians to see it and abnormal enough for non-Christians to need an explanation for it which only Jesus can satisfy. It can’t be unity of a group of people who are already alike in every way. Such unity is normal in our world and would not stand as evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is. It must be unity of people who would never otherwise be together apart from Jesus Christ. This includes unity across socio-economical, educational, generational, and cultural divides. It also includes unity across racial lines. In fact, in twenty-first century America, unity across racial lines may be the most powerful demonstration of unity that Christians can provide as evidence of Jesus’ identity.”

Let’s prayerfully seek to see Jesus put the racial chasm to death, by acknowledging our own prejudices, humbly seeking understanding and taking any steps to walk in gospel reconciliation (both inside the church family and outside) wherever possible.

A Letter From Your Pastors

Copied from the prologue of the "Precious in His Sight" book. Grab a book at any Gathering.

We try to remind you regularly that pastoring you and our church family is a privilege and a joy. You guys are awesome. It’s hard to explain how much we love you. So even as we are launching this series on a heated conversation like race, we do so with a lot of joy and confidence. And as we do, we wanted to give you some disclaimers.

1.) You can let your guard down.

We are not coming after you. You are already faithfully walking in many of the applications we plan to talk about in this series. Because of your love for Jesus, you do a great job welcoming people in regardless of racial or cultural background. All of our churches have members of various ethnicities who are sharing life as a family. We see you seeking to be sensitive to this issue. You express an uncommon eagerness to listen and learn. People often note how much fun our city-wide Gatherings are, where the diversity of styles and skin colors across our family is on full display. 

The overall tone of this series will not be one of rebuke. Our hope is to simply continue growing together when it comes to racial issues.

Now culturally speaking, stepping into the current conversation about race is somewhat dicey. People have vehement, passionate and often polarized perspectives on all kinds of racial issues. Many of these are fueled by political agendas and clickbait that get attention by intentionally being rude and overstated. 

Nuance isn’t celebrated (or even considered) nearly enough in this conversation. 

And that’s exactly why we have to continue engaging in this conversation. It’s both necessary and a beautiful missional opportunity. As Christians, we have tools and a perspective that the world needs to move toward the peaceful hope and unity that most desire (though the American church has frequently and painfully neglected these tools). There are real people in our society who are hurting and need gracious Christians armed with gospel mercy and biblical clarity to proclaim and embody the redeemed life formed only by the blood of Jesus. 

Sure it will be risky, awkward and uncomfortable at times, but that’s never stopped us before. Part of our blood-bought identity is entering into the mess of our broken world with gospel hope and helpfulness. 

2.) Don’t assume political agendas.

Conservative or liberal political leanings are not a prerequisite for this conversation. You can agree with everything we say in this series and everything the Bible has to say about race issues and still lean toward or hold conservative or liberal political values. We intend to look into what the Word of God has to say about race, oppression, justice, love and compassion and draw out applications for our current time and place. In fact, that’s exactly what we always seek to do as a church family. Nothing we are doing here is a veiled attempt to get you to align with a political platform.

3.) Race issues can be obvious to some while invisible to others. 

One of the biggest problems with injustice issues in general, and specifically racial issues in America, is that if you haven’t experienced them, they often seem invisible to you. Meanwhile, if you have experienced them or observed them directly, their realness and detriment are so obvious as to demand urgent attention and immediate action. 

If you find yourself thinking, “I really don’t see it”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that a lack of insight and experience doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

If you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t you see this?”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that there are people who have never experienced, seen or dealt with what you are dealing with. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you or don’t care. The best solution is for us to all faithfully work together to see them accurately and respond appropriately.

In light of this paradox… 

4.) This book, series and conversation could be difficult at times. 

There’s a decent chance that there will be ideas in this series that will be tough to swallow. We are going to try our best, but there’s a chance one of our pastors may misspeak in a sermon. There’s a chance someone in your LifeGroup might say something that makes you shift in your chair 

We’re becoming more and more convinced that there’s almost no way to venture into this conversation without some of these uncomfortable and awkward moments happening. And each of these moments will provide another opportunity to give each other the grace that we have all received from Jesus. 

5.) We invite you to a no yelling policy (and no mocking, insulting, hating or any other kind of self-righteousness either).
 

James 1:19-21 “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Just to be clear, this goes for everyone. Sometimes it feels like the call to listen is really just a call for me to listen while you tell me I’m wrong. The Biblical call to listen is not a bully tactic to silence others and win arguments. All of us need a heavy dose of listening marked by mercy, meekness and understanding. Especially for people who think differently than us. And all of us need to be corrected at times. 

6.) The book you are holding is supplemental and primarily historical.

The book you are holding is a supplement to the sermon series. It details parts of the story of race relations in America and includes space for sermon notes and LifeGroup discussion guides. The sermons will primarily work through the story of God as it relates to race, whereas this book is meant to serve as an overview of the persistent race problems our country has experienced. 

Without the story of God, we won’t be theologically prepared to see the deepest issues and hold out the truest solutions. 

Without the story of America, we will lack necessary perspective and understanding as to where our culture’s current race issues came from and why they are often so hard to move past.

Just like your personal history had massive effects on shaping who you are now, our country’s history has shaped our present situation in the same way. We’ve attempted to present historical facts with as little commentary as possible. 

The goal in all of this is to help us see the historical connections that led to many of the problems we have inherited. We are not starting from a blank slate. Even a cursory knowledge of these issues can bring about understanding and help us make connections to the current problems we are experiencing.

The Bible calls all of God's children to stand with and speak for the oppressed, which means we must be aware of oppression’s history and presence in order to start. Our request is that you read the historical content we've provided here while looking for ways these historical events might still be affecting lives to this day.

In Conclusion,

Someday there will be no more mourning, nor pain, nor death nor tears in our eyes. (Revelation 21:4) Someday there will be no more racism, or hatred, or oppression and injustice that have caused untold amounts of pain, mourning, death and tears.

And until that day, as God’s people we are called to do justice; to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

So let us do it armed with Jesus’ hope and love. 

Let us scorn the discomfort of hard solutions as we pursue peace at any cost. Let us persevere in whatever good deeds Jesus calls us to with every comfort that God is responsible for the coming redemption of all things. 


Grace and peace,

Your pastors at Midtown

Why We Take A Break At Christmas

As long as we've been a church, we haven't hosted Gatherings on the weeks around Christmas and New Years. Since this is different than what many churches do, we thought it might be helpful to explain why.

1. CHURCH IS MORE THAN WHAT HAPPENS ON SUNDAYS.

The bible is clear that church is a group of people, not a service on Sunday. While meeting together is important, it is not the main way church is practiced. So when we don't have Gatherings for two weeks, it doesn't mean we're not "having church." It simply means that during those two weeks, our church will not all be meeting together in a building.

2. REST AND FAMILY TIME IS IMPORTANT FOR OUR STAFF.

Not having Gatherings for two weeks helps enable our church staff and pastors to take time off to rest and be with family. This helps our staff and pastors be good leaders to their family, in addition to good leaders of our church. In addition, the bible tells us that resting is a good way of reminding ourselves that it is ultimately God who holds things together, not us. For our staff, resting is important so that we remember that God is ultimately the one who leads his Church.

3. CHRISTMAS IS A GREAT TIME FOR MISSION.

Christmas is arguably the time of year that boasts the most parties and get-togethers. Take the time you would have spent at a Gathering and/or serving with Midtown, and attend/throw a party instead. Show the love and hospitality of Jesus by enjoying time, company, and food with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

Kids & Parents Weekend Recap & Resources

Our goal with Kids & Parents Weekend is to equip parents to lead Jesus-centered families. We started the weekend with a Parent's Night Out on Friday to allow parents a night of rest. On Saturday we threw a Parenting Seminar, followed by breakout sessions. Lastly, we wrapped up the weekend with a family-friendly Gathering. You can watch the seminar below and grab all of the worksheets and materials from the weekend.

Breakout Sessions & Materials:

Session #1: 

Below is a video of the main session followed by a breakout session led by Jon Ludovina and Chris Cook. You can find the referenced handout below. 


SESSION #2: 

In this breakout session Director of Kids and Families, Laura Jones teaches how to create a family culture where God is known and enjoyed through spiritual disciplines. You can find the audio and the referenced handout below. 


SESSION #3: 

In this breakout session, Steve Von Fange explains a helpful parenting tool called The Road to Independence Chart. You can listen to the session and download the worksheets below. 


Questions?

If you have any questions about Kids and Parents Weekend, and of the sessions, or our Kidtown ministry feel free to email Laura Jones here