Sermon Recap | Overcoming Evil

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Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:17-21

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” summarizes the entire chapter of Romans 12 and provides us with an answer as we look to answer the question: How do we persevere and not drift away from the vision of who God has called us to be as His church?

By our sinful natures, we are hard-wired with an impulse to retaliate, to repay evil with evil. The evil that is latent within us, within those around us, and within our culture is all working together to overcome us. 

Evil wants to destroy our ability to be a Jesus-centered family on mission:

Jesus-centered: Evil has two ways to do this:

  1. Evil overcomes us when we choose sin over Jesus
  2. Evil overcomes us when we choose religion over Jesus

Family: Evil wants to rip apart our sense of family with one another. Evil takes joy when churches are full of relational strife and division. 

On mission: Evil overcomes our effectiveness in ministry easily by causing us to be consumed with:

  1. Busyness
  2. Apathy

In the midst of all of this evil seeking to overcome, Paul gives us three encouragements—three tools to fight with—to last for the long haul. 

Three ways to persevere: 

  1. Remember that God will make everything right in the end. (Romans 12:18) Paul says to live peaceably with all and to do this, we’re going to have to choose not to avenge ourselves. Every act will be paid for so we don’t have to retaliate. We don’t have to fix everything now; Instead, we can rest in the fact that God will make everything right in the end. 
  2. Remember that evil loses when you refuse to play. (Romans 12:20) When people hurt us and make themselves our enemies, instead of retaliating, we serve them. Evil loses when we refuse to play the game; it puts the ball of burning coals back in the other person’s court.
  3. Remember the grace you’ve been given. (Romans 12:19) Remember that God, in Jesus, didn’t repay us evil for evil like we deserved, but instead he has called us his beloved. Instead, God has chosen to love us the same way that he loves Jesus. 
     

Sermon Recap | Winsomely Weird

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You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5:14-16 14

Jesus says that if the church will just be who it’s supposed to be then we won’t even be able to hide the light. The church is supposed to standout. It’s supposed to be weird…just a good weird—a winsomely weird. 

In Romans 12:14-16, Jesus gives us five commands that serve as lamps to light up our city on a hill. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. - Romans 12:14-16

These are five aspects of what it looks like for the church to live on mission:

1.) A resilient love that chooses to bless regardless of how people treat you

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

”Humility does not feel a right to better treatment than Jesus got.” - John Piper

Practical Application:  Who’s treating you like an enemy? Pray for them and think through how you can bless them.

2.) A fearlessness that chooses to be with people regardless of their circumstances

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

Practical Application: Where are people in your LifeGroup or community mourning or rejoicing? Go be there. If they’re celebrating, bring a gift or food, and make it a party. If they’re mourning, bring some tissues and go reflect God who loves them in their pain.

3.) A grace that chooses to make peace with people regardless of conflict

Live in harmony with one another.

“If grace is true, Christians should be the least offended people in the world.” - Scott Sauls

Practical Application: Who are you in relational conflict with right now? Have you done everything you possibly can to make peace?

4.) A security that chooses to embrace people regardless of their social status

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

Practical Application: Who is the hardest person that God has put around you to love? How can you go out of your way to befriend, engage, and love them this week? Check out our upcoming Serve the City events for opportunities to love and serve the most vulnerable in our city. 

5.) A humility that chooses to respect people regardless of their views

Never be wise in your own spirit.

“It's impossible to love someone you disagree with when you secretly believe they need Jesus more than you do.” - Duke Kwon

Practical Application: What aspects of another person are most likely to make you feel superior to them? Pray for continued gospel reminders and a renewed humility. 

Sermon Recap | They Will Know You Are My Disciples By Your Love

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Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. - Romans 9:12-13

In this passage of Romans 12, Paul gives a list of commands on how to live as a church family in light of the unique kind of love Jesus has shown us. God intends to create a unique, set apart people and a culture marked by the same genuine kind of love found in Jesus. 

Verse 9 tells us that love must be genuine. Each of the following commands expounds on  the header: “Love must be genuine.” Genuine love is the starting point. We are motivated by the gospel: Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life for us. This, in turn, empowers us to love one another by laying down our lives in the way we love and serve.

Genuine love deals with sin together. (Romans 12:9)
God is holy. We are called to be holy—unique and set apart. To be holy is to cling to what is good and to reject what is evil. (Check out John 8:1-11, specifically vs. 11, for an example of how Jesus illustrates this command.) Genuine love empowers us to both love and accept sinful people where they are while pushing them to repent and change. 

Practical Application: 

  1. Ask yourself where you need to repent. What might you need to confess? Our goal is to hate what is evil: Where are you off? 
  2. Pray through how you can love somebody well this week by engaging them with love and truth and grace and help point them back to Jesus. 

Genuine love puts other people’s preferences first. (Romans 12:10)
We love one another genuinely by taking a humble posture and the lowliest position. (See how Jesus models this in John 13:1-17). Genuine love is a sacrificial love that dies to self. 

Practical Application: 

  1. Set aside your preferences and choose to like what someone else likes just because they like it. Ask someone in your Lifegroup, “What is your favorite thing to do and can I do it with you?” 
  2. Set aside your preferences by choosing to do the dirty work. “Outdo in honor” means always finding a way to serve. 

Genuine love fights apathy together. (Romans 12:11)
Jesus was never lacking in spiritual fervor. (Check out John 4:34) He was always motivated by doing the will of the Father. Our culture is setup to drift toward complacency and apathy. Because it is so easy to drift toward apathy, we must encourage one another to continue to grow, stay focused on Jesus, and continue to serve one another. 

Practical Application: Fight apathy by encouraging one another. Think of someone that you can encourage this week: How have you seen God at work in their lives? How can you encourage them in the way they have been loving and serving those around them?

Genuine love suffers well together. (Romans 12:12)
Because Jesus has suffered on our behalf, it radically changes our perspective. (Check out Luke 22:29-71) It means that we can suffer well together because God gives us ultimate hope: that he is making all things new. One day all pain and suffering will cease to exist. Together we can rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and run to God in prayer as we wait for this day to come. 

Practical Application: Who in your life is suffering? Who in your life is hurting? Commit to pray for them this week. Commit to support them, hold them up, and lift them to Jesus. 

Genuine love lives generously. (Romans 12:13)
Mark 10:45 reminds us that Jesus’ entire life and death was a sacrifice. He gave everything away to invite us in. Jesus’ example is always our starting point for generosity. God wants to continue to rearrange our hearts and minds such that we are looking for ways to be able to give to others in need. 

Practical Application:

  1. Fight against the current. Live generously by opening up your wallet. This week, set aside money to bless someone.
  2. Live generously by opening up your home. Over the next two weeks, invite someone over to your house.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - John 13:34-45

Going Deeper: Spiritual Gifts

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We have been studying Romans 12 as part of our “Jesus-Centered Family on Mission” series. Last week, we looked at verses 4-8 which paint a picture of the church functioning like a body, all with distinct parts that work together. Part of these beautiful and unique differences are our spiritual gifts that we are given when we become believers and are welcomed into God’s family. 

There are four main passages in the Bible that we look to for a list of spiritual gifts: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Spiritual gifts are always meant to be used in the context of serving and building up the body of Christ. They are to always be done in love, or they are useless. These gifts are anointed by God; we cannot choose our gift. Though not a comprehensive list, we have tried to break down the prominent spiritual gifts under each of the categories we discussed: gifts that serve with words, gifts that serve with hands, and gifts that serve with stuff. We hope these descriptions and the personal assessment questions that follow allow you to not only more clearly discern what your own spiritual gift may be, but also the gifting of those in your LifeGroup as you encourage each other to press into your gifts and grow in serving our church family. 

Spiritual gifts that serve with WORDS:

Teaching (1 Corinthians 12:27-28): The God-given ability to understand and communicate biblical truth in a clear and relevant manner so that there is understanding and application. 

Learning, researching, communicating, and illustrating truth are qualities that an individual will manifest when exercising the gift of teaching. These people enjoy studying and learning new information, and find joy in sharing it with others. 

  1. Do you enjoy studying and researching?
  2. Do others come to you for insight into scripture? When you teach, do people “get it”?
  3. When you see someone confused in their understanding of the Bible, do you feel a responsibility to speak to them about it?

Exhortation and Encouragement (Romans 12:6-8): Involves motivating, encouraging, and consoling others so they mature in their walk with Jesus. 

Christians with this gift have an unusual sensitivity for and are attracted to those who are discouraged or struggling. As a result, people tend to pursue them for healing words, gracious truth, and compassionate counsel. These people also tend to have a high degree of patience and optimism.

  1. Do people seek you out for advice and encouragement?
  2. Would you rather speak personally with someone about their problems rather than send them to someone else for help?
  3. Do you enjoy walking with people through difficulties? Do you find it easy to express joy in the presence of those who are suffering? 

Evangelism (Ephesians 4:11): The ability and desire to boldly and clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ so that non-Christians can become Christians. 

Evangelists often care passionately about lost people and have a strong desire to see them meet Jesus. They feel compassion for the lost and seek to earnestly understand their questions and doubts so they can provide a compelling answer. 

  1. Do you enjoy being with non-Christians and sharing the gospel?
  2. Are you able to effectively communicate to non-Christians in a language they can understand? 
  3. Do you find it easy to direct a conversation toward the topic of Jesus Christ?

Discernment (1 Corinthians 12:8-10): The ability to quickly perceive whether such things as people, events, or beliefs are from God or Satan. 

  1. Do you have a solid understanding of scripture and a sensitivity to the leading of God to the Holy Spirit?
  2. Can you read a book or hear a teacher and almost immediately uncover any false teaching?
  3. Do you often make a swift evaluation of someone or something that was said, that others did not see but yet proved to be correct?

Wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8; Ephesians 1:17): The ability to have insight into people and situations that is not obvious to the average person, combined with an understanding of what to do and how to do it. It is the ability to not only see, but also apply the principles of God’s word to the practical matters of life by the “spirit of wisdom.” 

  1. Do you seem to understand things about God’s Word that others believers with the same background and experience don’t seem to know?
  2. Are you able to apply biblical truth in a practical way to help counsel others to make good life choices?
  3. Do you find that when people have important decisions to make, they come to you for prayer and biblical counsel?

Prophecy (Romans 12): The ability to see what is going on spiritually (in a person’s life or in a community) when no one else can and speak into it the Word of God. Prophecy is a bit of a combination of Wisdom and Truth with a side of Discernment. 


Spiritual gifts that serve with your HANDS:

Service (1 Corinthians 12:27-28): The ability to joyfully work alongside another and help that person complete the task that God has given them. This gift is usually accompanied with an attitude of humility and sacrifice, as well as the ability to perceive the needs of others. 

These people tend to demonstrate a servant’s attitude, loyalty, attention to detail, and responsiveness to others. 

  1. Do you enjoy helping others become more effective in their work? When someone is doing a poor job, is your first instinct to help them instead of criticize?
  2. Do you prefer to labor behind the scenes?
  3. When you hear of someone with needs, do you offer your services if possible? 

Acts of Mercy (Romans 12:6-8): The capacity to feel and express unusual compassion and sympathy for those in difficulty or crisis situations and provide them with the necessary help and support to see them through the tough times. 

People with this gift have the ability to “walk in another’s shoes” and feel the pain and burdens they carry. They desire to make a difference in the life of hurting people without being judgmental. 

  1. Do you find yourself being drawn to people who are needy, hurting, sick, disabled, or elderly?
  2. Do you often think of ways to minister to those who are suffering? 
  3. Do you find yourself responding more to people out of compassion than judgment? 

Leadership (Romans 12:6-8): Found in people who have a clear, significant vision from God and are able to communicate it publicly or privately in such a way that they influence others to pursue that vision. 

These people tend to gravitate toward the “point position” in a ministry. Others have trust and confidence in their abilities. 

  1. Do you have confidence in your ability to lead? Do you usually take leadership in a group where none exists?
  2. When a difficult situation arises, do others look to you for input and leadership?
  3. Do you find leadership enjoyable rather than frustrating or difficult?

Administration (1 Corinthians 12:27-28): The God-given ability to give direction and make decisions on behalf of others that result in efficient operation and accomplishment of goals. Administration includes the ability to organize people, things, information, finances etc. Often the mark of the administrator is the ability to accomplish things in a “fitting and orderly way.” 

Administrators often have a keen eye for detail. They may also possess the natural talents of organization, observing and using details, problem solving, and reasoning. 

  1. Do you naturally organize your life, schedule, finances, priorities, etc?
  2. Can you bring order out of chaos?
  3. Do you become energized working on tasks and projects?

Spiritual gifts that serve with your STUFF:

Generosity/Giving (Romans 12:6-8): The ability to give money and other forms of wealth joyfully, wisely, and generously to meet the needs of others and help support ministries. 
Regardless of the amount, people with these gifts view their treasures, talents, and time as on loan from God and not their own. They are often moved to meet the physical needs of others. They enjoy giving of themselves and what they have.

  1. Do you tend to see the needs of others more than other people do?
  2. Do you enjoy giving your time, talent, and treasures to others?
  3. Do you find yourself looking for opportunities to give your money—even when no one asks?

Hospitality (Romans 12:13): The ability to welcome strangers and entertain guests, often in your home, with great joy and kindness so that they become friends. Hospitality is supposed to include one’s family (1 Timothy 5:8), friends (Proverbs 27:10), Christians (Galatians 6:10), and strangers who may not be Christians (Leviticus 19:34). 

These people tend to have an “open home” where others are welcome to visit.

  1. Do you enjoy having people in your home? Do you enjoy watching people meet and have fun at parties and events you help to plan and host?
  2. Do you feel that something is really missing in your life when you cannot have guests in your home?
  3. Do you consider your home as a place of ministry?


 

Sermon Recap | Participate Like Parts of a Body

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We don’t all have the same function or gift and that’s good! The body works together as the individuals understand their functions and use their gifts together. 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. -Romans 12:4-6

God, in his grace and mercy, gifts each of us with specific ways that we are called to contribute to the body. 

These gifts differ (1 Corinthians 12:14-21) and that’s a good thing! God knew what he was doing when he put us in a body together.  For us to be a Jesus-Centered Family on Mission here in Columbia, we have to understand that as Christians, all of us are gifted. All of us are called to serve. All of us have a role to play. 

Three pushbacks people have:

  1. I don’t have any gifts. Your job is not to analyze your gifts and determine if God did a good job or not, but instead, put your gifts on the altar and offer them to serve in love for the building up of the body.
  2. I don’t have that gift. Not having a specific gift isn’t an excuse to disobediently refuse to grow in Christlikeness that all of us are called to walk in. 
  3. I don’t need other people’s gifts. The truth is, we all need each other. 
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. - Romans 12:6-8

Three Categories of Spiritual Gifts:

  1. Gifts that serve with your words: prophecy, teaching, exhortation.
    Words have power! For a refresher on this topic, listen to the sermon, “Wisdom and Words” from our “Proverbs” series.  
  2. Gifts that serve with your hands: serving, acts of mercy, leading
  3. Gifts that serve with your stuff: generosity

*Tune into the blog later this week for a post that breaks down each spiritual gift in more detail 

Three Next Steps:

  1. Try something. Serve! All of us are called to have a posture of service. If you’re not serving somewhere, go to midtowndowntown.com/serve
  2. Try everything while looking for the best fit. Don’t wait for your giftedness to be needed; Jump in and contribute. If you don’t know what your giftedness is, chances are, you won’t discover it until you start serving. 
  3. Specialize. As you learn more and more of your gifts and strengths, try to shift more and more of your time in that direction. This is going to require saying, “no” to some opportunities. 

Staff Spotlight | Renew Your Mind

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During Week 1 of our current sermon series, “Jesus-Centered Family on Mission,” we discussed the importance of pressing into Jesus as individuals in order to become the family that Christ has invited us to be as His church. 

Romans 12:2 calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order to accomplish this, we must remind ourselves of the gospel every day, over and over. One way to do this is to spend time identifying the lies we are tempted to believe, replacing those lies with the truth of the gospel, and then thinking through practically, what applying this truth to our lives could look like.

Several members of our staff took time last week to share how they are currently renewing their minds. Our hope is that these truths would both serve to encourage you and challenge you to think through the specific lies that you are believing as you take time this week to apply the beauty of the gospel to those lies, so that as a church, we can be transformed to look more like Christ. 

Jon Ludovina: Teaching

Lie: Ever since the “Sloth” sermon during our “Proverbs” series this summer, I've been realizing how tempted I am to believe the lie that rest and replenishment are found in doing nothing, vegging out, and watching TV. 

Truth: Sloth is a rejection of purpose and real rest is found in connecting with Jesus, not just getting away from my responsibilities. (Proverbs 13:4 and Isaiah 30:15)

Personal Application: Even though it's not my natural personality bent, I actually thrive when I diligently plan intentional rhythms for my rest and for my family. Getting away from all my responsibilities leads to cyclical patterns of just wanting to veg out more which causes things to pile up and become overwhelming and depressing. Diligently planning, executing those plans, and resting toward Jesus actually brings freedom and purpose to my soul. 

Tim Olson: Church Planting Candidate

Lie: I'm only at peace if I am in control of my present, future, and have everything figured out.

Truth: God upholds me and directs my life. He offers me a better peace by resting in Him, and not in controlling all the outcomes of my life.  (Psalm 119:165). 

Personal Application: In the past, I've tried to figure out the solution to my stress, then pray towards the outcome I desire. God is teaching me to run to Him first with my anxiety and fear, trusting Him to provide all peace.

Laura Jones: Kidtown

Lie: God expects me to do "big flashy things" for Him in order for my life to be significant.

Truth: Jesus' life, death, and resurrection have made me righteous. Jesus set a clear pattern for us by taking the posture of a servant. God does not need me to do anything for Him. Instead, He graciously invites me to be part of His mission to rescue the world through small unflashy acts of faithfulness. (Philippians 2:2-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Personal Application: This looks like daily faithfulness to abide in Him and obey Him in all of the small, seemingly insignificant duties of life. It helps me to remember the saying, “Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes.” I must remind myself that I'm a perfect 10 in Christ. Jesus empowers me to serve in the small, repetitive, and mostly unnoticed ways. I'm transforming my mind to not despise the small things but enjoy them because Jesus is with me. 

Jay Hendricks: Music and Production

Lie: I believe that more sleep, scrolling through social media, watching football, doing nothing, will be life-giving and refreshing. 

Truth: Prayer, the Word, and resting in God's promises give me what I need. 

Personal Application: When I feel the need to "retreat" from life for a moment, I remind myself that what I desire is available through journaling, praying, reading the Word, and surrendering my time, my work, and my failures to the Lord. One practical application for me has been deleting apps that have been mostly life-sucking. So now when I open my phone (when triggered by boredom), I have few things to run to before I am reminded that what I'm seeking is refreshment, not retreat. Then I try to pray, sit in silence and remind myself of scripture or journal. 

Nick Johnston: Communications

Lie: The lie I often tend to believe is that my worth is tied to my performance. Fear of failure makes me want to escape from reality so that I don't have to deal with things.

Truth: My worth will never be tied to my performance. Instead, my worth is a result of Jesus' perfect performance, where he gave me his righteousness and took my sin and shame.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Personal Application: When I realize that my identity is firm in the finished work of Christ, I'm able to embrace reality. The truth is that at times I will fail, but Christ never will and so that frees me up. It's okay for me to not be perfect because I'm already credited Jesus' perfection. 

Sermon Recap | Belong Like Parts of a Body

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For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members,[a] and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. - Romans 12:3-5:

Church unity looks like one body with many members.

4 things that threaten church unity:

  1. Consumerism - A pervasive mentality that treats church as a provider of spiritual goods and services. Marked by the question, “What am I getting out of this?” 
  2. Conflict - Sinful people always end up having conflict. The only question is whether you let that conflict drive you away from unity or into greater unity through forgiveness, repentance, grace and reconciliation. 
  3. Circumstances - If Jesus is central, then His call to belong to each other as a body dictates how we build the rest of our lives. When He isn’t, we will always have excuses that prevent us from commitment. Our schedules reveal our priorities. 
  4. Condescension - A prideful comparison of viewing yourself as smarter and more important than other people in the body. 

No matter which mentality you are tempted to believe, the answer for all of us is grace. Jesus’ body was broken so that we could be brought together as one body in the church. 

Living in Light of Eternity

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During our “You Are Here” series, we examined common beliefs and phrases in our culture, and compared them with truths presented in the Bible. The series concluded this week with the saying, “You only live once.” This common phrase is often used to encourage reckless, self-gratifying behaviors or to encourage people to live in the moment. As well, it taps deeper into the truth that we were not made to sleepwalk our way through life.

In Ephesians 5:8-17, the Bible affirms the idea that we need to wake up and actively live our lives but rejects the idea that our pleasure is the purpose of life. The ultimate motivation for us is setting our minds on  Jesus - both His sacrificial, selfless life, and  the eternal life promised in Him to all who follow Him. Following Jesus comes at a cost, and living a life with eternity and God’s kingdom in mind looks very strange to our culture. 

In this member spotlight, we are highlighting  a few of the many people in our church family who are leveraging their lives for the gospel in beautiful ways! The work of Jesus in their hearts is clearly seen in how they live life sacrificially and in light of eternity.

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Caroline Faucette

In the Classroom

Caroline is in her third year of teaching at a low-income middle school here in Columbia. Though not originally from Columbia, Caroline enjoyed her time at USC and with Midtown while she was in college. She decided she wanted to stay and work in Columbia after listening to parents in our church family who were concerned about the public education for their children but still desired to live and be involved in their downtown neighborhoods. God showed Caroline how her school is her mission field, not only to serve her students, but to serve her students’ families and the community. It made sense to her to be a part of the solution and help parents see that there shouldn’t be a conflict between giving their children a good education and loving their neighbors well.

Exciting as it may be, Caroline has definitely faced many push-backs. There are times when she interacts with frustrated and exhausted coworkers who are not always eager to hear about the hope she has. There are times when it’s difficult to build relationships with students and relate with their parents. During these moments, doubts and lies creep in, and it’s hard for Caroline to justify working where God has her when she has co-workers telling her she’s limiting her professional and career growth by staying here. However, Caroline has seen God fueling her hope and passion to teach and serve her students as best as she can. 

If you want to join in on the work God is doing in our schools, pray for Caroline and other teachers in our church family who are loving and serving the students in our city.

 

Dave and Karen Brower

On the Mission Field

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Dave and Karen are going to Africa  to support  missionaries currently working there in the field. In addition to local outreach, As a nurse, Karen will help missionaries in the area navigate the healthcare systems, find appropriate aid for themselves, and ensure they stay healthy. Dave will be connecting and working with a team reaching the lost there and doing some part time IT work remotely for CIU. After going on a medical mission trip to Africa, Karen realized how little she knew about health and went back to school to get her nursing degree with the desire that God would one day call her to go and serve in this field. Dave and Karen have thought about doing missions over the years, but timing and the Lord’s will only made it happen now, in their 50s.

Uprooting their lives at an age when others are looking into retirement has brought its share of difficulties, but God has used those to shine all the more brightly. The Browers were most worried about selling their house that they invested time and money in, but they didn’t even put their house on the market before someone expressed interest, viewed it, and wanted to buy it right away. It is painful for Dave and Karen to think about the memories they won’t be able to make with their six grandchildren, and giving and selling their belongings has not been easy, but they are all the more aware of the cost of following Jesus and aware of how little they need the things of this world.

To support Dave and Karen, pray for them as they prepare for missions and transition into moving overseas.

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Kent and Ana Bateman

Church Planting
 

The Batemans, along with other members from our church, set out to plant a church in Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 2016. Starting a church from the ground-up is no small task. Much of the Bateman’s time and energy goes towards building relationships with their core team and new locals from Knoxville who are coming around their church. Kent, one of the pastors at City Church, says that ever since he met Jesus and began living life alongside other followers of Jesus, he wanted to create that same type of community so more people could experience that. Ana, who never thought that she would be a church planter’s wife, always wanted to be a part of a church plant and make Biblical family available to clients, coworkers, and anyone else she came across.

It’s been challenging for Kent and Ana to adjust to having a smaller church family and circle of support, when they were so accustomed to having an extensive church family back in Columbia. Despite the challenges, God has been working by bringing in young adults and couples from all walks of life: people who’ve been searching for a Jesus-centered church, people who have been suffering and in need of community, and even people who want nothing to do with church. These people have all been welcomed in the church with their passion, hurt, or questions, and God has been actively redeeming the lost and bringing more people into His family. 

If you’d like to support City Church and the work that Kent and Ana are doing in Knoxville through prayer or financially, please check out City Church’s website.

 

Dalisha Shingler

Education Reform
 

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During her graduate studies at USC, Dalisha found a disconnect between the research addressing opportunity gaps within underserved low-income African American communities and the action done to see change happen. Dalisha has since taken these concepts and theories and has been applying them within her specifically designed Residency role with Midtown. She wrote a plan of action to aid in increased literacy rates at Carver-Lyon Elementary, the closest school to Midtown Two Notch and a school with historically low reading scores. Through reading culturally relevant literature to engage students in reading, she hopes that the students’ reading ability and test scores will increase. The Serve the City partnership, known as Hearts4Schools, was formed, with Dalisha leading up the charge in building relationships with students in a time where they are most vulnerable and in affirming that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

While Dalisha would like to see action and results sooner, she has also realized the importance of pausing and praying for the staff and administrators she’s in contact with at Carver-Lyon. She has recognized the need for patience and care with them, as they are vital to seeing change happen in the school, and ultimately, with the students. She is excited for the partnership with Carver-Lyon and praying that the students get educational literacy, but she is also praying that they come to know Jesus and form relationships at Midtown Two Notch. Ultimately, Dalisha’s desire with the program is that the gospel is both portrayed and proclaimed to the students and staff at Carver-Lyon Elementary.

To support Dalisha and the Hearts4Schools partnership, pray for the volunteers who will be reading and building with the students at Carver-Lyon Elementary. 

What makes it worth it?

Lastly, here are what each of these members answered when asked, “what makes your work and decisions worth it?”

Caroline: 

“I know that I may never see the fruits from my students' lives as they grow and mature, but what makes it worth it is knowing that I have been deeply loved by Jesus and that He gives me the strength to follow through with His plan to save Columbia.”

Dave and Karen: 

“We just want to follow Him on this adventure. We feel His peace and presence in our lives. After all, isn't that what's it all about, Him?”

Kent and Ana: 

“If you factor in the good news of Jesus–that Jesus sacrificed everything to make us his own–moving to another city makes tons of sense. Actually, in light of that, why wouldn't we?”

Dalisha: 

“Education helps provide human dignity. That makes it worth it. We are affirming the imago dei of individuals and helping them walk in God's design for them. ”

Sermon Recap | Transformation vs. Behavior Modification 

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12 captures what God designed the church to be: a Jesus-centered family on mission. If you lose any of the three parts (Jesus-centered, family, mission) you no longer have a healthy church.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5: 13-14

As the church, we are called to be salt and light but we can’t be the church we’re called to be if you’re not becoming the person God intended you to be; The more that you come to look like Jesus, the more that we come to look like a Jesus-centered family on mission. 

In light of what Jesus has done, we are each to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1; Galatians 2:20)

There are three things that we must become dead to as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices:

  1. self-rule/autonomy
  2. worshipping the things we used to worship
  3. certain ways of thinking/patterns of thought (Romans 12:2)

In order to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, we must remind ourselves of the gospel over and over again. This week, think through the lies/certain patterns of thought that you are tempted to fall into. Then, practice renewing your mind by replacing those lies with the truth of the gospel. And finally, ask yourself, “What is the practical application of this truth?” Consider writing this down on a notecard that you can look at throughout your week, as together, we fight to be individuals who are becoming the people that God intended us to be so that together, we can be a Jesus-centered family on mission. 


 

Sermon Recap | "You only live once."

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The “You only live once” or “YOLO” mentality is all about having an experience without thinking about consequences.

YOLO actually echoes something a little bit deeper in all of us: We all have a desire for our life to count. We want meaning for why we exist and struggle with the reality that the majority of life is ordinary, routine, and mundane. 

 “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’”
- Ephesians 5:8-13

What we can accept from YOLO:

We can accept the call. The idea behind YOLO is “wake up.” YOLO and the Bible are both calling us to view the reality that we live in: that one day we will die. Our lives were given to us by God. How do we make them matter?

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom -Psalm 90:12

What we reject from YOLO:

We need to reject the very premise that YOLO is built on: that you only live once. The reality of the Bible is that you actually live twice and that changes everything.

We have a whole new lens to look through and incredible clarity about what matters; We get to spend our days building the kingdom of God and working on the mission of God.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Romans 8:18

What we can redeem from YOLO:

We want to redeem the outcome. YOLO is all consuming. Christianity brings freedom from consumption. 

In light of the gospel, and the fact that we have a new identity in Christ and an eternal perspective, the pressure is off. The Bible tells us that what is to come is better than anything we can experience here on Earth. We can remember that ordinary is not insignificant because Jesus is interacting in our lives and eternity awaits us. 

Loving the Stranger to Whom You Find Yourself Married

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Lucy Blair was a part of Midtown in college and has recently moved back with her husband Jake, a church planting candidate. Lucy and Jake are grateful to be a part of Midtown’s church family. 

“The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough, we will find that just right person. This overlooks a crucial fact, and that fact is this: that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom it is we marry; we just think we do. And even if we do marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being the enormous thing it is, means we will not be able to stay the same person after entering into it that we were before. [The great challenge then is] learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”
-Steve Hauerwas

I was a college freshman when I came to know the Lord, and within a year I began regularly attending Midtown gatherings, became a missionary member, and joined a Lifegroup. I largely credit Midtown’s teaching on relationships with the healthy perspective I had going into marriage. Because of the biblical view I’d gained over the years, I entered my marriage viewing it as a partnership with someone who would complement me, sharpen me, encourage me in my strengths and help me see my blind spots. I also knew that I was a sinner, and whoever I married was also going to be a sinner, so there would be a lot of brokenness between us, but we were choosing to love each other for the rest of our lives. 

That’s not the cultural message of marriage. Culture says, when you find “the one”, you’ll just know. “The one” will complete you, infinitely improve your life, meet your needs before you even realize you have them, and satisfy all your desires. “The one” will keep you happy. And if they don’t… well, get out of that marriage because you deserve to be happy. You must not have married “the one”. Keep your options open so you can find the real “one” next time. 

I, however, do not have to spend my time analyzing if I married “the one”. Because Jake is who I married, he is my one. And that changes everything. No need to keep my options open; no fantasizing about other prospects. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. My husband definitely does not always make me happy (nor I him). If we were looking for red exit signs directing the way out whenever marriage rubbed us the wrong way, we could probably find them. One messed up broken person bound to another messed up broken person can be (spoiler alert) messy and broken. But if I believe what God says about Himself- that He sovereignly rules over all- then He wasn’t sleeping on the job when we exchanged our vows. God was paying attention, in power, on the throne on my wedding day. 

Here are some of the practical ways that committing to view my spouse as my one plays out in marriage. Sometimes, loving my spouse means...

  1. Laying down my preferences. Jake loves comic book movies. I would rather watch paint dry than sit through two hours of explosions and CGI fight scenes. But, I try to go to to the theater with him for the ones he’s really excited about because I know it means a lot to him. Wayne’s World was one of his favorite flicks as a kid. I noticed that the Nickelodeon on Main St. was doing a one-night showing of Wayne’s World so I surprised him with tickets. He was so delighted. It was adorable. Now, if I were choosing my perfect itinerary of a date night, we might have gone to a swanky dinner at a new restaurant or lingered at the wine bar down the street. But choosing something I knew he’d love, even if it wasn’t my favorite, ended up bringing me lots of joy. 
  2. Appreciating our differences. If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs types, Jake is an ENTJ and I’m an ISFJ. This means that we have some significant differences in how we process information and relate to the world around us. One way that manifests itself is that Jake is completely energized by being around people and would choose to be surrounded by a large group at all times if he could get away with it. I, on the other hand, prefer smaller groups of 2 or 3 and find mass quantities of human interaction pretty draining. In our first year of marriage (first month even!) that was something we definitely had to grow in. Jake quickly discovered that my capacity and energy level for social events was drastically different than his. He learned that my need for alone time had nothing to do with my feelings towards him. He lays down his desire to constantly gather people in our home because he knows it can be exhausting for me. On the flipside, I have learned that, even though having people over can be tiring, it is so good for Jake. That even after a long, hard day that’s worn us out, I can sacrifice a quiet night because I know having friends over is energizing and life-giving for my husband. 
  3. Believing the best. My natural tendency when my feelings are hurt is to recoil inward and isolate. I can get too much in my own head and make up the backstory about why my husband said that hurtful thing, what he must be thinking, and how little he cares. The fact is usually that he just misspoke and I have completely overreacted to a run-of-the-mill misunderstanding. When I take the time to stop and acknowledge that I am the worst of sinners, I can then believe the best about my spouse. I remind myself, preach to myself, will myself to believe in moments when it’s hard, that my husband is on my team. He is for me, not against me. So much devastation can be avoided if we would first believe this about our spouse before the defenses go up. 

The beauty of trusting God’s sovereignty in marriage and choosing daily to view your spouse as your one is that you are freed up to truly and fully love your spouse. You don’t need to manipulate the other person into making you happy, try to change who he is, or serve out of fear that she’ll leave. You can just get after the beautiful, hard work of learning how to love and care for the person you married. 

If you’d like to check out a few additional resources that were really helpful to me, I’d highly recommend the book, When Sinners Say I Do. This is a book that Midtown frequently uses in their premarital counseling. There was also a really helpful sermon series five years ago called “A Marriage You’d Actually Want”, and you can find all those podcasts here

Singleness: Punishment or Blessing?

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Lizzie Keegan has been a part of Midtown church family for a little over two years. She moved to Columbia to work with InterVarsity, a campus ministry, after doing ministry in Virginia for six years. She loves her work of walking alongside college students as they learn to follow Jesus. 


As a single woman in my thirties working in college ministry, my life is full of conversations about singleness and dating and marriage. Since so many of the students and friends I talk to are single, much of the conversation centers around waiting for “the one”. What will he be like? How will I know if she is “the one”? Does he really like me? I really hope I am not called to singleness. How do I know if I am called to singleness? As I wade through these questions in conversations, and sometimes ask them myself, I am often struck by the panic with which people talk about singleness. Beneath our questions is the lingering belief that somehow singleness is a punishment. 

Our culture, the church, our families, and our friends often perpetuate the idea that eventually our lives will lead to the point of finding “the one” - a significant other who will finally be our “happily ever after”. We spend our childhood and adolescence assuming marriage will be our future and we are confused when we find ourselves single. We assume that something must be wrong. 

The truth that single people have to wrestle through is that not only are we not guaranteed “the one”, we are not even guaranteed “one”. Marriage is not promised for anyone and despite what we may believe, it is not a better or more rewarding life than singleness. Singleness, like marriage, is a way that God has intended us to live that can be hard and lonely but can also be vibrant and full of Gospel-goodness. Yes, there are unique challenges to singleness, just like there are unique challenges to marriage, but there are also unique blessings to singleness as well. The blessings of singleness do not have to be the silver lining to a disappointing life but rather they can be joys unto themselves. 

Perhaps one of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13 where Paul says: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Though you have most likely seen this on an athletic sign, Paul’s intent was not an encouragement for competition. Look at what Paul says right before in verse 12: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul is saying that God’s strength empowers us to get through anything in life by learning contentment. 

When I tell people that I am content in my singleness, I think they often misunderstand what I mean. People assume I mean that I do not desire marriage or a family of my own and that God just gave me a magical gift of not desiring it. That is not the case at all. Like Paul, I have learned (and am constantly learning) how to be content. Contentment is not a moment where God releases us from desiring the thing we want; contentment is a posture that we learn by believing and choosing to live in the truth that God’s way is better than our desires. Being content in singleness does not mean we never feel lonely or sad, rather it means that we are learning, day by day, to trust Jesus precisely in the moments of loneliness and sadness. 

One of the biggest barriers to learning contentment in singleness is that we are taught to wait for marriage. We wait in line at the store because we see that our lane has a cashier working. We wait for a phone call from a friend who said they would call. We wait for results from a test that we have already taken. We only actively wait for what we know is coming - yet so many single people wait for marriage to fully live their lives. We wait for something that we do not know is coming before we allow ourselves to do the things we long to do. Some of the best advice I received about living fully as a single woman was to not wait to do “adult” things until I got married. Rather than wait for something that may or may not come, we get to live our lives fully now -- settle down, buy a house, visit cool places, vacation with friends, etc. For my group of single friends, this means we vacation together every year (thanks Adam for starting Friend Cruise!). 

The other barrier we must admit is the belief that marriage is a reward. Too often I hear people telling each other what they need to do or work on in order to get married - as though marriage is a prize to be won. When we make marriage a reward, we treat God as a stingy and withholding Father rather than seeing Him as the generous and gracious Father that He is. A lot of that is rooted in the culture and church’s idolatry of marriage. We are told, both overtly and subtly, that marriage will bring a more joyful and complete life. Single Christians have the opportunity to show the church and the world that we can live a full life in the kingdom without a spouse. 

Once we have seen the barriers in ourselves and the world around us, how do we go about living in the contentment that Paul says is possible in Christ? Here are three encouragements for practically living out of contentment:

  1. Pursue deep friendships: One of the biggest losses in a society that idolizes romance is that we place less value on deep, intimate, committed friendships. God created humanity for relationship - not necessarily for marriage, but for relationship. We are made to live in community where we are known and loved. You do not need marriage in order to have relationships where you are known, loved, valued, and celebrated. Not only were we made for relationship, we were created for relationship with the opposite sex. We long to be known and loved by the opposite sex because cross-gender relationships reflect God’s image in a unique way. Although single people may never experience the intimacy with the opposite sex that comes in marriage, we can have healthy intimacy in cross-gender friendships. As I talk with good friends and college students about singleness, those who treat the opposite sex as off limits for friendship often have a worse view of singleness and feel more frustrated by it. However, my friends who have healthy cross-gender friendships enjoy the partnership that men and women were created for, even in singleness.
  2. Spend your singleness well: Most single people have the opportunity to get a full night of sleep every night. We get to choose what we do each weekend and with our free time. Use your time for kingdom service. Serve in the church. Live missionally in the city. Married people are called to these things as well, but as single people we are able to use our time in different ways. Use the extra space you have as a single person to love families well. Bring coffee to a tired mom. Make dinner for your friends whose kids are sick. Some of the most life-giving relationships I have are the ones where I get to enter the beautiful chaos of a family because of my independence as a single woman. 
  3. Remind yourself daily that God’s plan is always better than your plan for yourself: Paul tells us that contentment is learned - and how do we learn things? We tell ourselves over and over until we remember. Learning contentment in singleness requires repeating to yourself, and having community repeat to you, the truth of God’s goodness and His control over your life. Confess the lies you believe about singleness, marriage, and God’s plan for your life. Remind yourself of the truth: your good heavenly Father knows what is best for you. His way is always best. 

For those of us who are single, God invites us to learn to be content in life without “the one” or even “one” at all. We get to learn day in and day out, just like married people, that God’s love is the only path to truth contentment. 

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.