Member Blog - Throwing a Neighborhood Cookout

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How’d it go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Should I Trust the Bible is Accurate?

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

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

 
Test #2 – The Internal Test

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

Unbelievable harmony

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

But what about the contradictions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

Why Should I Trust the Bible is Accurate?

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

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

 
Test #1 – The Bibliographical Test

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

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

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

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

A Curious Discovery

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

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

Precious in His Sight Historical and Statistical Sources

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

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

Statistical References from our Sermons:

Week 1 - Red & Yellow, Black & White

Stats included in the sermon:

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

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

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

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

Stat included in sermon:

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

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

Stat included in sermon:

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

Source: Center for Disease Control report found here.

Stat included in sermon:

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

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


Week 2 - On Earth As It Is In Heaven

  • No social statistics were used in this sermon.


Week 3 - The Privilege of Good Deeds

These stats were re-referenced from week 1:

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

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

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

Stat included in sermon:

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

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

Stat included in sermon:

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

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

Week 4 - Gospel Weapons that Disarm

  • No social statistics were used in this sermon.

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

Stat included in sermon:

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

Source: 2010 US Census found here and referenced here.

 

Racial Reconciliation

The Racial Chasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Chasm Maker: Simultaneously Invisible & Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hope for the Chasm

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

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

Jesus doesn’t do chasms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter From Your Pastors

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

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

1.) You can let your guard down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.) Don’t assume political agendas.

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

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

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

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

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

In light of this paradox… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion,

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

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

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

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


Grace and peace,

Your pastors at Midtown

Why We Take A Break At Christmas

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

1. CHURCH IS MORE THAN WHAT HAPPENS ON SUNDAYS.

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

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

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

3. CHRISTMAS IS A GREAT TIME FOR MISSION.

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

None of our three churches will have Gatherings on December 25 and January 1. Gatherings will resume on January 8. 

Kids & Parents Weekend Recap & Resources

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

Breakout Sessions & Materials:

Session #1: 

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


SESSION #2: 

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


SESSION #3: 

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


Questions?

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

He Went and Proclaimed to the Spirits in Prison?

This blog post was written by Lexington teaching team resident Garrison Weiner


On October 16th, as part of our series ‘Exiles’ we discussed 1 Peter 3:19-22 and what it teaches about Christian faith and Baptism. This passage is one of those passages in Scripture that isn’t expressly clear on first read. Although Peter’s confusing language doesn’t conflict with the heart of the gospel or who God is... it still brings up the question, “What exactly are you talking about Peter?” 


The specific questions start at the end of v. 18 when Peter describes Jesus as “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah,”


Peter, who are these spirits in prison Jesus went to? When did he go to them? What did he preach?


In the sermon we talked about four historical options that have been often interpreted and debated from these verses in terms of answering the When, Who and What questions of this passage.

 

  1. When: During the days of Noah. 
    Who: Noah’s contemporaries. Who were live humans at the time, but have died since and are now spirits in prison because they didn’t listen to the message of grace that was preached to them. 
    What: Either Jesus’ spirit preached through Noah or Jesus’ Spirit preached on His own the message that God is a God of grace and justice. That though they deserved spiritual punishment for their sinful rejection of God, He was making a way of grace for them. All they had to do was humbly repent, trust in God and get in the boat Noah was making.
     
  2. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Noah’s contemporaries who are literally dead spirits in prison at the time that Jesus is preaching to them.
    What: In this case, the message was some manner of triumph and victory; “See I told you. I’ve conquered suffering and made a way for people to be set free from death, but you can have no part of it because you rejected Me.” It can’t be that Jesus offered Noah’s contemporaries a second chance at grace after death because of Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
     
  3. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Demonic spiritual beings who were at work in the days of Noah.
    What: In this case, the message is similar to the above case; triumph and victory accomplished through the cross despite these beings work to subvert God’s plan.
     
  4. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Those who died in faith and are in the Jewish place of the dead - sheol.
    What: In this case, Peter is referring to Jesus leading a jailbreak of sorts for God’s people in the Old Testament who died in faith but haven’t been brought into paradise yet. 


As we mentioned in the sermon, option 1 seems to be the best explanation for Peter’s line of thought. While Noah was building the boat, God was making His appeal through Jesus’ Spirit working in the midst of Noah’s faithful and costly obedience. Noah lived the exile life that Peter argues for throughout this entire letter. God patiently offered His mercy through Noah’s humble obedience. And in the same way when we get baptized (v. 21-22), it corresponds to our walking in Noah’s footsteps; receiving God’s gracious favor, trusting our lives in humble obedience to the vessel of God’s grace, and praying for God to patiently proclaim His mercy through our exile lives.


My main problem with options 2 and 3 are motive. What would be Jesus’ motivation for proclaiming triumph to a certain subset of people or demons in hell? Why preach that message at all at this timeframe? And why not preach that message to all of them? And how exactly does this explain any of the context that Peter brings up? 


Comparatively option 4 is a very Biblical and reasonable idea, but I don’t think it’s what Peter is talking about here. If you’re interested in studying some more of the Scriptural position behind this option and what the significance of Jesus descending to Hell might be, you can check out this helpful blog.


The Bible does have confusing passages and when we come upon them it’s worthwhile to consider historical interpretations; cross references with the rest of Biblical truth; and categorically understand that the importance of nailing down a particular interpretation of a particular passage often relates to the importance of the questions being answered. In this case, little if anything that is central to the Christian faith is at risk. The only question is to figure out, “Peter what exactly are you talking about?

Missional Marriage

This blog post was written by teaching team and women's ministry resident Morgan Duke.


My name is Morgan. I am a part-time resident here at Midtown, a part-time nurse, and a full-time fiancee, engaged to one incredibly handsome, hunk-of-a man. In light of the passage on exile husbands and wives we studied a few weeks ago, 1 Peter 3:1-6, I was asked to write about what it means to be a part of God’s mission through marriage from the perspective of someone who is engaged. So I started thinking about it and quickly realized:


There are so many things vying for my attention in engagement...


The actual wedding planning is always there. Did I mention that’s my third part-time job at this point? We’re talking decor, vendors, food, venue, music, guest lists, invitations etc. etc. etc. So many decisions about things I’ve never in my life had strong preferences about. 


Then there’s the family drama that comes with wedding planning.


And there’s premarital counseling. You know, that fun little endeavor where you go in thinking these nice counselors are going to help you fix your very sinful fiance... only to casually realize that you’re the worst of all sinners. 


And we’re supposed to have date nights where we don’t talk about wedding stuff and just enjoy each other. Which takes coordination and time when you’re working with weird schedules and two different lifegroups.


And we’re supposed to be having conversations about big things and small things, like parenting and chores and expectations and budgeting. Andrew and I hadn’t explicitly had any of those conversations prior to engagement, so for my type A planning self, I want to have all of them at once. He (wisely) slows me down, but I’m left with all of the thoughts y’all. My mental list of “things we need to talk about stat!” is overwhelming. Nevermind all the time and energy it takes to actually have the conversations.


And--for our own personal health--we’re individually trying to fight for time with Jesus. No snarky comments on this one. Time with Jesus is massively important. Necessary, even. Dare I say “the good portion; the one necessary thing”? (Luke 10:38-42). And still, it requires time, mental energy and emotional investment.


And the list could go on and on. It’s like as soon as that knee is dropped, a hundred different thoughts and demands start piling up. And then a well-meaning friend asks, 


“….Oh yeah, and how are you guys going to be missional in marriage?”


To be quite blunt, if being on mission is one more thing to add to the schedule and learn how to do, I have absolutely no idea. We probably won’t. There just isn’t any time and there isn’t any energy and there isn’t space. 


...UNLESS...


We’re already being missional right now. Where we are. If God’s mission can be can be planted and blossom right in the everyday rhythms of life; right where I am, then there’s a chance.


Building with people and speaking the gospel into their lives is not my primary posture toward life. I value efficiency, so investing in relationships requires hard work and energy. It just doesn’t happen apart from that Holy Spirit prompting me to care about the things Jesus cares about. 


And He is slowly but surely reminding me of how greatly he cares for people.
He is slowly but surely opening my eyes to see opportunities to join Him. 
Even in the midst of this crazy engagement season.


He isn’t letting me fall for the lie that my engagement is all about me.


And by His guidance He is continually reminding me that:


Being on mission is an active part of my walk with Jesus; woven into the everyday rhythms of my life; not some added extra thing to throw on top


Or here’s another way to put it:


Marriage isn’t the catalyst for mission, Jesus is. 


When seen through this lens, mission isn’t some additional thing married couples have to learn or only married people can do. We all get to join God’s mission here. 


But I’m only half of the equation in a marriage. My counterpart probably isn’t going to be prompted into loving Jesus and people because of a ring on his finger. Part of the reason I’m so incredibly attracted to Andrew is that he loves people. He loves them well. He naturally opens his life to invite others in, he seeks relationships and being around people. 


One of the reasons I want to marry him is that he is already on mission. He is already loving and seeking to share the good news of Jesus with those around him. I trust that. It’s something I get to join in on, that we’ve been doing separately and now get to do together. 


When it comes to the person you’re intending to marry: do they love Jesus apart from your prompting or do they act like they love Jesus just to appease you? One of those is going to make loving Jesus and loving people so much easier and more beautiful as you join your lives. The other will create all kinds of tension and strain. Do their eyes glaze over when you talk about Jesus like He’s alive and you love Him? Do they know Christian words but show no evidence of intending to live out those words in humble obedience? If the answer is yes to either of those questions, why are you marrying this person? Why are you ignoring what your soul level discernment knows clearly? If you’re engaged, I’m begging you to reevaluate the lifelong decision you’re about to make. 


Talk to Jesus, talk to community you trust. And do what you know you need to do.

 


Marriage as a Gospel picture


Marriage does, however, create a unique opportunity for putting the gospel on display. Lets look at Ephesians:


"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."
                                                                                               Ephesians 5:22-30


Ladies: I know we hate the word “submission”. And some of us for good reason--it has frequently been distorted, abused and used in terribly inappropriate contexts. So wives, to get to see how this is actually a beautiful picture of Jesus, check out Luke 22 specifically verse 42. Jesus lived his life in humble submission to the Father. “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus invites us to look more like him by relinquishing our control. By voicing our thoughts, but in the rare times unanimous accord can’t be reached; letting our husbands lead out and make the call. Jesus invites us to trust Him to love us, care for us, and ultimately to secure our souls, so that we can let our husbands lead--and give them grace to not always lead perfectly. 


Gents: Y’all have the task of loving your wives like Christ loved the church. Jesus loves his bride perfectly, yes, but I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying here...no one is that good. The call is to point your wife towards Jesus; towards her source of redemption, sanctification, life. To respect and love her, treating her with the care and compassion Christ shows the church. To lead in a way that sacrifices your preferences for her needs; not to save her but to point her consistently to her Savior. I can’t imagine the weight of that role, guys. For those of you who are faithfully stepping into that, thank you, genuinely. For those of you who aren’t, I’m begging you. I’ve spent enough time with women’s ministry now to see the damage you cause to your lady when you don’t sacrificially love her and point her towards Jesus. For all of you men, if you will step into this, you will find good news for this weighty role: Jesus is gladly waiting to face you and walk with you in this fight. He’s already covered all of our failures and He ultimately is our (and our family’s) security, identity, worth, love. Lead your family deeper into that love and understanding and you’ve nailed it. 


Have y’all ever seen a couple that loves like that? The wife trusts her husband; not because he’s perfect, but because she’s so confident in the Lord. And a husband who loves his wife; not because he needs to be fulfilled or satisfied, but out of the overflow of love of Jesus. No couples are perfect, but when I see glimpses of that gospel motivated love, I learn more about the character of God. I want it; I want Him. I am more motivated to love and seek him. 


Andrew and I have had conversations about opening up our home and our lives. I’m assuming marriage is going to take a lot of learning and will probably look super messy the first few years. But our prayer is that as we open our--most likely literally and figuratively-- messy home to others, they see more of Jesus as he grows in us. As he chooses to show Himself through us. Not because we’re perfect, but because we’re seeking him.

10 Types of Biblical Suffering

This blog post was written by pastor Jon Ludovina and teaching team resident Garrison Weiner.


“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”   -Psalm 62:1-2

At some point we will all experience different types of suffering. It’s a difficult reality of living in a fractured world. Everything down here is touched by brokenness. But in the midst of the darkness, Christ has given us a new and living hope (1 Peter 1:3-4). He’s rescued us from sin, promised to walk with us through life and to guide us into the next. As God’s redeemed people we can come to him in our suffering and rest in Him. 

With that in mind here are 10 types of suffering we mentioned in week 7 of our series Exiles, a study of 1 Peter, which you can find here. We hope this is a helpful tool to understand your own suffering, relate to other people’s sufferings and learn how to pray and walk together as God’s exile people:

  1. Creation Suffering. This is a very broad category. Every inch of God’s creation has been tainted by sin and it’s effects. Natural disasters, terminal diseases and the sting of death wreak havoc. Much of suffering can be explained with nothing more than, “this is what it’s like to live in a broken world.” We hurt along with creation itself which groans while it waits to be renewed. (Romans 8:19-22)
  2. Grief Suffering. The painful reality is we’re all going to see sin take a lot of things away from us. Sin and death and suffering has a traumatic impact on the human soul and the right response is grief. A heart-wrenching cocktail of sadness and anger. People we love die and we grieve. Relationships fall apart and we grieve. We fight and struggle with sin and we grieve. (Ps 31:9-10, 1 Peter 1:6)
  3. Consequential Suffering. All sin has collateral damage; both in our own souls and in the people around us. When we actively sin we will experience consequences; and these are often very painful. The Bible states clearly that we are one of the main sources of pain in our lives. (Romans 6:23, Romans 7:21-25)
  4. Victim Suffering. Even when we’re not sinning and suffering our own consequences, we will often suffer as other people sin against us; sometimes in really harmful ways. Abuse, trauma, oppression and other forms of evil are painful realities throughout the world. (Psalm 9:9)
  5. Empathetic Suffering. Watching someone you love suffer is one of the most painful experiences on earth. God calls His people to identify with the hurting; to mourn with those who mourn. As well those who work in helping professions (counselor, social work, medical, etc.) will walk in this consistently. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Romans 12:15)
  6. Collective Suffering. This is when you suffer because you belong to a larger group of people who are suffering. We are part of families, nations and ethnic groups. When our group hurts, we hurt. Collective suffering often has a disproportionate effect on minorities. (Judges 21:1-3)
  7. Preventative/Discipline Suffering. Some pain is a small pain now that warns us of greater pain coming if we don’t heed the warning (e.g. abdominal pain that indicates appendicitis). Another example is when a loving parent gives their child a small yet painful consequence now to prevent much greater pain later in their life. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
  8. Holiness Suffering. When we follow Jesus for the sake of walking in Gods footsteps we will experience the suffering of laying down our fleshly desires and fighting our sin. This battle with the flesh will hurt, and our suffering for righteousness’ sake reveals what an incredible treasure Jesus is. (Romans 5:1-8, 1 Peter 4:1-6)
  9. Opposition Suffering. Jesus warned His followers that just following Him will lead to suffering at times. Historically, God’s people have frequently suffered at the hands of those who oppose God. Opposition suffering can range from taunting, getting made fun of all the way to the extreme of physically persecution and martyrdom. (John 15:20)
  10. Missional Suffering. Jesus endured suffering to show off how much God loves those who are far from them. We will sometimes be called to do the same to sacrificially love people far from God. (Romans 5:6-8, Colossians 1:24)

It’s important to remember that this list isn’t close to exhaustive, and suffering rarely cuts so clean as to fit neatly into one category. Suffering is often a mysterious combination of of multiple categories and sometimes it has little to no answer at all. However, studying and meditating on these types of suffering can help you respond well to someone who is in pain. It can also encourage you as you delve into and process your own pain. Prayerfully consider what types of suffering you’re dealing with and look to the Scriptures to see how God responds to those dealing with suffering similar to yours.

Bad Reasons to Vote for Someone; and Good Questions to Ask

This blog post was written by teaching team resident Garrison Weiner and pastor Jon Ludovina.


Election season is upon us. 

Like a sleazy guy hitting on you at a bar.

I can’t tell you who to vote for. Or who not to vote for. Biblically, I can’t even tell you as a Christian that you absolutely should or should not vote. But I can tell you the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection gives us new perspective and a new identity. 

Christian Perspective in the Voting Booth

God has done all the work to save us from the dominion of darkness. God has sovereignly held the world together from its foundation and He will continue to do so until He decides it’s time to bring the new heaven and the new earth. No result in this election speaks ultimate hope or devastation for us as individuals or as a nation. God is our hope. Not Trump. Not Clinton. Not Johnson. 

Christian Identity in the Voting Booth

If you choose to vote, do so remembering that you’ve been made part of God’s redeemed family. Vote knowing that we walk in the balanced tension of being holy exiles; citizens of heaven first and foremost. And modern patriotic Americans secondly. With these two identities we are invited to democratically participate or abstain knowing no action or outcome will dictate who we are. 

If your candidate loses, you are still God’s kid. Secure, loved, and full of hope. 
If your candidate wins, we still have work to do as God’s missionary exiles that the government cannot and will not do for us.

So, Who Should I Vote For? 

Remembering that as a Christian you are free to vote or not vote as you prayerfully choose, but I want to give you some help if you do decide to vote for someone. If you choose to vote, please prayerfully consider these bad reasons to vote for someone and good questions to ask as you pick your candidate:

Bad Reasons to Vote for Someone:

  • Guilt. I think I’ve thought this before, “If I don’t vote then I’m not a real American.” Or, “I’m wasting my hard earned right to vote. Soldiers died for this. I better care.” The good news for me and you as believers is that we belong to a greater kingdom. Our foremost allegiance is to Jesus, not America. We are free to embrace our rights as citizens by participating or abstaining. We live in the land of the free, but we know ultimate freedom is found in Christ. Freedom from guilt, condemnation and putting our identity in American ideals.
  • Biased media told me to. If you only listen to one media outlet, it’s kind of like only eating one food group. You’re not going to get a balanced diet. To be informed we have to listen to the talking points of the candidate instead of solely listening to others opinions. And we have to make sure the candidates actions back up their talking points. 
  • “I’ve always voted _____ .” My family is ______ .   As Christians it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be straight ticket voters. There will be certain issues and approaches we agree with from both sides of the ticket. If you dismiss someone or vote for someone simply because they have a [R] or [D] beside their name, you’re exercising your right to laziness; not your right to thoughtfully vote. 
  • Because I think they’ll fix everything. Biblically, in order for a candidate to fix everything they would need to live a perfect life, sinless and holy. Then they would need to die one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable and be resurrected. Instead of worrying about whether a candidate will fix all our problems or not, we can trust and rejoice because God who has redeemed us. And God will sustain us through all our worries and struggles in this broken world.

If you do choose to vote and you’re trying to faithfully avoid the above pitfalls, here are some helpful questions to ask as you seek to use your vote well:

Good Questions to Ask:

  • Are they trustworthy? Politicians can be really good at putting on a face. Every American politician faces the temptation to deceive to save face and get elected. Is the candidate committed to living with integrity? Have they been caught in lies? Are they willing to admit and own their mistakes and failures? (Proverbs 16:10-13, Proverbs 25:19).
  • Do they show conviction? Part of leading with integrity is remaining faithful to what you believe. Do they only say what they think is popular or what they think will get them elected? Have they displayed a willingness to fight for unpopular positions? Have they displayed a consistent worldview and philosophy that is foundational to their policies? People are allowed to change their opinions, but wishy-washy beliefs and pandering for blocks of voters are unhealthy character traits for a leader. (Proverbs 3:3-4, Proverbs 28:20).
  • Do they show compassion? Does the candidate care about people? Do they tend to villainize anyone who disagrees with them or is affiliated with a different party? Is there evidence that they intend to use their office as a way to serve people? Or do they desire their office to serve them? (Psalm 34:18, 1 Peter 3:8, Proverbs 22:16, 22-23)
  • How are they going to spend money? I’m beginning to see how being financially responsible can shape the course of your entire life. As I’ve taken this into account personally, I realized I’ll be paying taxes for the rest of my life and if you’re an American citizen you’re probably in the same boat as me. The candidates that are running for office are going to be the ones handling that money. How are they going to utilize our money? If a candidate is responsible with money and has plans to utilize monetary resources efficiently, they’re worth considering (Psalm 112:5, Proverbs 16:8, 1 Tim. 6:17-19).

I know that these questions won’t necessarily give you an obvious candidate to vote for; but they’re all worthy of your prayer and consideration. As believers in Jesus we’ve been reconciled to God and given new identities. Being exiles in this world  we get to engage the culture we live in; whether we vote or not. We’re free to choose but either way, we are called to be united as church family. The candidates running for office this fall can’t save the world. But God can and is actively working to save our communities and our world. 

So Vote. Or don’t vote. 

But don’t forget who you are. 

Should I Get Baptized?

Every time we have sign-ups for baptisms, we get a lot of questions about how to know if a person is ready to be baptized. Since there are a lot of differing opinions on what baptism is and when a person should be baptized, we thought we’d try clear the water (pun intended) and simplify things a bit.

Below are the two primary questions to consider in deciding if/when you should be baptized:

1. Are you a Christian?

This question is actually very different from “did you grow up in church?” or “are you a morally upright person?” The question is, do you have a relationship with Jesus that includes a knowledge of your sin, a remorse over your sin that leads you to trust in Jesus for forgiveness, and a desire to see his will as being the most important thing in your life. If these things are true of you, you're probably ready to be baptized. But if you’re not already a Christian, being baptized will not magically turn you into one.

2. Have you been baptized since becoming a Christian?

The pattern in the Bible is that a person is baptized after becoming a Christian. So if you are a Christian but haven’t been baptized since becoming one, we encourage you to participate in baptism. If you were baptized earlier in life, but it was before you had a genuine relationship with Jesus, we also encourage you to be baptized now that you have become a Christian. If you have been baptized since becoming a Christian, there is no need to be baptized again.

If you have considered the above questions, and want to be baptized at our next Baptism Gathering, you can sign up here. If you have any other questions about baptism or becoming a Christian, feel free to contact us.

The Freedom of Fear

This blog post was written by one of our teaching team residents, Cole Simpson.


We all Fear Something

Loss.
Pain.
Failure.
Snakes.

Everyone, at least at some level, is afraid. 

And rather than ignore, deny, or tell us to just stop fearing, Peter redirects it. Two times specifically, he tells us to fear God. First, in chapter 1 Peter is talking to fellow believers about what they should and should not do and gives them an interesting command, “Conduct yourselves with fear in your time of exile(1 Peter 1:17). And in chapter 2 where he says simply, “Fear God” (1 Peter 2:17).
 
These examples in 1 Peter aren’t unique instances throughout Scripture. The Bible actually calls us to fear God over 300 times. But in light of God’s love, mercy, grace and overall character, this command can seem confusing or even contradictory to the good news of what God has done for us. 

So what does it mean to fear God?


Unhealthy Fear


I had a friend growing up who I’ll call Mike. Mike was a tough kid -- the toughest kid I’ve ever met. He wasn’t afraid of anything. Multiple times I saw him get into arguments with people twice his size and every time the larger kid cowered. No matter how much bigger or stronger, nobody fought or messed with Mike.
 
This always baffled me until one day I was with him and his dad walked up to talk to us.  His dad was small; nothing particularly impressive or intimidating about his stature. But suddenly everything about Mike changed.  The toughest kid I knew got very quiet. He wouldn’t look his father in the eyes. His only words were a quick “yes sir” or “no sir”. And Mike didn’t go back to normal until his father walked away. 
 
As time went on I noticed this more and more. Until finally, a light bulb went off. Mike was comfortable fighting absolutely anyone because he had been fighting his entire life. My concerns were confirmed when the truth came out that his dad had been beating him most of his life. He wasn’t afraid of anything because he experienced hell everyday at home. What else was there to fear?
 
This is the kind of picture that came to mind when I read the words “Fear the Lord” in the Scriptures. Like many of us, this command was distressing for me because I didn’t want to follow God if I had to view Him like Mike’s dad.


Healthy Fear


I had another friend growing up who I’ll call Clara. Clara was the type of girl that everybody gravitated towards. She just had the ability to make anyone and everyone feel welcomed. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from; Clara wanted to listen to your story. 
 
When Clara got into high school there was a guy that was interested in her. When he asked her out however, she told him he needed to ask her dad. While this would scare off many, he was seriously into her so he asked her dad. Clara’s dad said yes they could on one condition. 

Their first date would be dinner with their family. 

When most of my friends were fooling around, hooking up, and dating whomever they wanted with next to no parental involvement, this sounded sort of ludicrous to me. But what came next was downright craziness. For the entire first year of their relationship, they only went on dates at Clara’s house!

I remember asking Clara why she put up with it? Why she wasn’t angry? Why she didn’t think her parents were being ridiculous? She smiled and said:

Nobody loves me more than my parents, so if they think this is what I need to do, then I trust them”.
 

It was one of the most beautiful statements I’ve ever heard. 

Clara’s view of her parents encapsulates a huge part of how the Bible describes our fear of God. In realizing how much God loves us, how could we trust anything above him?  Clara had a humility about herself and a rigorous trust in her parents. A healthy trust. A healthy respect. And a fear. 

A healthy fear.
 
Fearing the Lord means we rigorously trust Him. We humbly submit ourselves to Him with a healthy respect and fear. It means, God gets the biggest voice in our life. 


The Freedom of Fearing the Lord


The reality is that fearing the Lord gives us a freedom that we can never attain apart from it.  

Fear of the Lord kills insecurity. The God of the universe, who created the stars in the heavens also formed me individually (Psalms 139:13-18). We can rest in the fact that God, our Father, loves us more than anyone else ever could (Romans 8:37-39)

We no longer have to fear man because we know that God is the only voice that matters and in Christ His thoughts towards us are, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) No one else’s judgment compares to the judgment of our loving, and fearful Father.

We are freed to love those around us fully. No longer are we enslaved to using the people around us to fill our needs of approval, power, control, or comfort.  Instead of continuing to run to unsatisfying idols (Jeremiah 2:13) we can run to God,  the true fountain of life (John 4:13-14), and be satisfied. 

Fear of God means politics and politicians aren’t ultimate. So if my candidate loses or the worst candidate ever wins, I can remain confident that God will hold the universe together (Romans 13:1)

The almighty, holy, God of the universe came to the earth and died on a cross while we were still dead, so that me and you, unrighteous sinners who deserve hell, could know him (Romans 5:8, Luke 12:5).  How could we not fear him?

Our Exile Heritage

This blog post was written by Pastor Jon Ludovina and Cole Simpson.


1 Peter 1:1-2

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
     To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
     May grace and peace be multiplied to you."
    

The Dispersion:

Dispersion comes from the Greek word ‘Diaspora’ which means “to distribute in foreign lands” or “to scatter abroad.” Historically, it refers to those Israelites who had been exiled into the surrounding lands of Egypt, Babylon and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) throughout the Old Testament and hadn’t returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, Ezra or Nehemiah. 
    
There is some debate as to why exactly Peter uses the term as he greets these Christians in churches scattered throughout Asia Minor. Some scholars argue that these believers were literal exiles from Rome who Peter had ministered to before they were scattered under Caesar Claudius’ non-violent Expulsion in 49 AD. As the Roman Emperor, Claudius found the Jews and the young Christian movement annoying and disruptive. So he had 50,000 Jews and Christians sent into new Roman colonies. 
    
Others argue that Peter’s use of the term is simply describing Asia Minor as one of the areas that the Israelites in Old Testament exile had been scattered to. 
    
Regardless of these differing views, what’s agreed upon fundamentally is that Peter understands and wants these Christians to understand that upon receiving new birth in Jesus, God gives us an identity as exiles. We are God’s scattered family of vagabonds. Resident aliens living in a foreign land as an envoy of emissaries (Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:11-12). And this concept -- a major theme of Peter’s letter -- has a rich and powerful history amongst God’s peoples.

The First Exiles:

Since the Garden of Eden God’s people have been exiled. Adam and Eve were removed from their garden home after choosing sin over God (Genesis 3:23-24). Following in their footsteps, all of humanity has tasted the curse of sin; the reality of living in a world that is only a temporary home. 

"We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile."
-Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Father of an Exile Nation:

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram and promises to make him the father of a great nation. But this incredible promise comes with the condition that Abram must leave his homeland and travel to a foreign land. Unlike Adam and Eve who were forced into exile by their sinful lack of faith, Abram chooses to embrace God’s call to live as an exile because he is filled with faith. 

Exiles in Egypt:

Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph becomes an exile in Egypt not because of his sin but because of the sins of his jealous brothers (Genesis 37). And God uses Joseph’s exile to eventually save millions of people from a coming famine. Joseph rises to power and social prominence in the Egyptian empire. His family moves to Egypt and multiplies greatly. 
Then Joseph dies and is forgotten about. 
And the Israelites lose their place of social prominence in Egyptian culture. This movement from the center of society to the fringes quickly turns into violent persecution. Moses is hidden by his parents because the Egyptians were brutally murdering Israelites boys under 2 years of age (Exodus 1-2). He grows up in wealth and power as Pharaoh’s adopted son. Until God leads him to leave this place of centrality and lead God’s people out of slavery. 

Exiles in Babylon:

After God uses Moses to deliver His people out of slavery, they take a long windy road to the Promised Land. Then in 607 BC the reign of  King Nebuchadnezzar II spread throughout the Middle East. Stage by stage the Babylonians conquer and exile the elite Israelites out of Jerusalem and into Babylon. Eventually the Babylonians decimate Jerusalem, destroy the temple, burn the houses, and over 10,000 Israelites are forcibly exiled to Babylon (Daniel 1, Jeremiah 25). 

In Summary: 

God’s people have always been exiles. 

Well, pretty much always. Throughout history, God’s people spend significantly more time in exile than out of it. And they get there in a manner of different ways: because of their own sins (Genesis 3), because of the sins of others (Genesis 37), because of their national idolatry (Jeremiah 25), because of tyrannical empires overtaking them (Daniel 1, 9), and even because of faithful decisions to trust and follow God to a new homeland (Genesis 12). But no matter the reason, God is always in the midst of it, working to save His people and the people around them. He leads His people to embrace their identity as missionary exiles; heaven’s outpost embassy. 

Christians as Exiles:

Peter, raised as a pious Israelite, brings all of this history to account when he calls the Christians in his letter exiles. He’s reminding them that God has continually worked for salvation no matter how painful the circumstances of His people are. He’s reminding them that God is with them, whether they are treated well by their culture or not. No matter the situation that got them into exile in the first place, God has never and will never abandon His people. 

Exiles in the Roman Empire:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the gospel of grace spread throughout Rome very quickly. Despite the rapid spread, Christians were not well liked in general by Rome. This was largely due to the fact that they held their allegiance to Jesus higher than their allegiance to the Roman Empire. The common cultural perception was that they were at best weird and at worst dangerous. 

Tension also rose between Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the new Messianic sect of Jews who did believe he was the son of God (a.k.a. many of the early Christians). This tension resulted in Jews aggressively persecuting Christians all the way to the extreme of death because the Jews believed the Christians were twisting and perverting Judaism. This persecution is seen in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), Paul’s persecution (Acts 8) and also leads to the martyrdom of James, Jesus’ brother. This conflict also caused riots in the synagogues which ultimately led to Claudius expelling the more than 50,000 Jews and Christians, like we mentioned before.  

However this persecution was not limited to the Jewish Christians. As the church invited in new Jewish and Gentile believers, Gentile Christians were also marginalized and mistreated by their non believing friends because they had turned away from their old ways to the ways of Christ (1 Peter 4:1-6). 

In other words, no matter who you were as a Christian at the time, you were likely to experience some type of exile treatment; from smaller forms of marginalization to more violent forms of persecution. 

Modern Exiles:

Like the Christians Peter wrote to in Asia Minor, we are now called to pick up the mantle of living as exiles for the benefit of the world around us by seeing and knowing and glorifying Jesus. The purpose of God’s people has always been to be a lamppost in the darkness; a city on a hill that proclaims and shows off God’s beauty to the world (Matthew 5:14).  

In America and much of the West, we are culturally approaching the end of a period known as Christendom. As a strong contrast to most of the history of God’s people, Christendom saw Christian values and the church take a central role at the core of society. Many of the effects of this are still seen in the South; people claiming to be Christians with little to no active love or desire to follow Him; networking by putting Christian symbols on business materials, etc. So for many people, moving from Christendom to a more post-Christian will be a rocky transition. 

But as God’s people, our purpose has never been to demand a central role in our society here and now. As God’s people, our purpose is to glorify him in whatever cultural circumstance we find ourselves. We look forward to a coming land where Jesus will be central to all of culture. And we allow that future hope to empower us to live as exile missionaries no matter where we are. Because we know this isn't our home. So we don’t need it to maximize our comfort. Exiles are freed up to love on their neighbors with little demands on what kind of treatment we receive in return. 

Exactly like Jesus came to a foreign land as an exile. 

Exactly like He was mistreated by His neighbors.

And kept on loving them anyway.

So that now we can go from being His enemies to being His friends. From being strangers to being His family. And from being citizens of earth to being citizens of heaven, sent on an exile mission with Jesus, the Exile of all exiles.

Helpful Resource for Anthology: The Bible Project

Hey, my name is David Leggett and I'm one of our teaching team residents. Being a part of teaching team has been an incredibly humbling experience for me, mainly because I came into this year of residency thinking I knew my way around the Bible fairly well. But over the past year, I’ve been shown again and again that I know much less about the Bible than I previously thought. 

The more I've learned about the Bible, the more I've realized just how much I don't know. It seems like the only way to get all of the necessary information to really understand scripture is to get a seminary degree and that's 1.) not something God’s leading me to pursue right now and 2.) factually inaccurate. There's actually great, free resources available for Christians to grow in understanding of the Bible.

One of the most helpful tools I've found is the work the guys are doing over at the Bible Project. They’re creating short five minute videos for individual books and sections of the Bible. These videos give simple, useful background information; a brief introduction to the author and setting; as well as explaining the big picture of the text; the style and the narrative arc. Armed with these videos, I’m much more equipped to understand the individual passages I’m studying.

Videos For You To Watch

From Bible Project, check out these videos for context on what we’ve seen so far in Anthology and as we move through the series, we’ll continue to point you to more videos to help us learn to love the stories of God.

Get the Luke Binder

On August 3 we began our series studying the book of Luke. As a resource to help you and your LifeGroup follow along with the series, we worked with Reclaim Workshop to create beautiful handcrafted pinewood binders. Each binder is branded by hand and includes study material for each week of the series.

The binders include:

  • Information on background, important places and key people in Luke
  • Pages for sermon notes each week
  • Questions for personal study
  • LifeGroup discussion questions

The binders are available for free at any of our Gatherings, but if you're out-of-town or need one in the meantime, you can grab the digital version here:

Section IX: The King Returns 

But What about Masturbation?

Cole Simpson and Morgan Duke serve as teaching team residents through our Residency program. For more information about the Residency, visit midtownres.com.


Masturbation. 

Before 2016, I’d (Cole) never heard the word in a church building.  

Growing up, my experience was that we avoided the topics of masturbation and sex pretty much all together at church. As I’ve lead a LifeGroup and we walked through the Theology of Sex series as a church family, I realized exactly how unhelpful this approach is. If you haven’t read the setup article I wrote about God’s design for sex, at least give it a skim, since it sets up a good amount of what we talk about here.

In January when our church started the Theology of Sex series, I (Cole) asked my LifeGroup what they wanted to hear about during the series. One of them responded almost immediately, “Will they talk about masturbation?... churches always talk about porn and masturbation together but they’re not the same.” Another guy added, “Yeah, I know what the Bible says about pornography, but it doesn’t say much about masturbation.”

We also asked people to text in their questions during the series, and a number of them sounded like this:

  • What does the bible say about masturbation?
  • Is it sinful to masturbation? What if it doesn’t involve looking at pornography?
  • How can God say masturbation is wrong? Isn’t it just a natural release? 
  • But I really want to masturbate... ?

Until we started this series, I (Cole) didn’t realize just how many people struggle with questions about masturbation. I also wrongly assumed that most of these questions came from college males. Then I realized that a large percentage of the questions were being asked by women, from middle and high school girls, to college and adult women. Some of our female LifeGroup leaders and coaches said this was the biggest issue the ladies in their LifeGroups wanted to hear about during the series. So I asked my good friend, Morgan Duke, to co-author this blog with me. She kindly said yes. 

Side note from Morgan: Hey y'all! Being involved in several women's LifeGroups over the past few years, over half of the women I’ve walked with struggled with masturbation. So I pretty desperately want to help us move past the outdated and foolish stigma that “ladies don’t deal with that." Please stop pretending that porn is a male-only sport. Please stop pretending masturbation is foreign to females. And please, let’s all have conversations about the factual reality than any and all sins are liable to affect all of our lives. 

If You’re Lusting

In the first blog, I (Cole) talked a good bit about lust. But we want to take a moment to look at it again. Jesus explains in the sermon on the mount that lust, at a mental level, is the same categorical sin as committing adultery. He adds that it would be better to tear out your eye or cut off your hand than to lust. He’s using a hyperbole, but the point is clear: lust is a big deal.  

If you lust while you’re masturbating (and to be honest; the vast majority of us who masturbate; the vast majority of times we masturbate...it involves lust), then it’s sin. But for my LifeGroup guys, they made it clear that they didn’t want pornography, lust, and masturbation treated like synonyms. They are part of a growing pushback to the traditional assumption:

But... what if I don’t lust while I masturbate?

What if masturbation is just a physical act of relief?

What if it’s just an appetite that needs to be filled?

What if it’s unrealistic to not masturbate?

What if my doctor or my counselor or my teacher or my staff handbook at work recommends masturbation as a way to relieve stress?

All these questions represent a counterproposal to the traditional argument that masturbation pretty much always involves lust. And before we address these questions let’s reiterate a few things:

Jesus says if we are lusting while we are masturbating it is just as much a sin as adultery, murder, stealing, gossip, or any other sin.

We’d all be remiss if we don’t at least challenge some of these questions. What if our hearts are actually deceiving us? What if we’re actually just looking for ways to justify the lust behind our masturbation?

In a sex-fueled society like ours, it’s entirely possible that lust could be subtly affecting our actions more than we realize. And lustful desire for the feeling of physical orgasm could be just as sinful as lustful desire for a human being.

But the biggest problem is that even if none of these are the case, the biblical picture would still leave masturbation outside of marriage out of bounds. We’re going to group the questions into three separate categories:

  1. What if I can masturbate without lusting?
  2. What if it’s just a natural appetite?
  3. What if it’s unrealistic to go without masturbation? What if I just can’t wait?

What if I can masturbate without lusting?

We’ve heard lots of people argue that if you can masturbate without lusting, then that makes masturbation acceptable. Unfortunately, that’s not a very thoroughly biblical thought process.
First off, Paul says that we as Christians are not to be mastered by anything. What he means is that anything addictive to a Christian is a detriment to our spiritual vitality and health. And herein lies the problem. With or without lust or porn, masturbation is still addictive. On a biological level this can’t be avoided. Every single time you orgasm your brain releases a cocktail of chemicals that are highly addictive (some scientists have even compared orgasm to the addictive nature of drugs like cocaine and heroin). So whether or not you are lusting after an individual or an image in your mind, orgasm is always addictive to something. 
The question just becomes, what are we addicting ourselves to?             

So if we completely gave you the benefit of the doubt and conceded that you’d mastered a technique of masturbating without lust, the question would still remain: what is that act of masturbation and orgasm addicting you to? Yourself? Pleasure in isolation? No matter how you spin it, solitary and self-enacted orgasm falls short of its God-given intention (binding you to your spouse). No matter how we try to justify it, masturbation ends up fortifying our consumeristic individualism. And that leads us right into our next question: 

What if it’s just a natural appetite?

The debate of what type of sex act is permissible is not a new debate. The people who lived in first century Corinth had a similar thought process. Some of them believed they could have sex with prostitutes because sex is an appetite just like hunger. Paul addresses this mindset by explaining that sex is far more than a mere physical appetite. This is why a victim of sexual assault doesn’t feel clean after a shower. And this is the cornerstone of why masturbation is off limits outside of marriage. Masturbation, whether lust is involved or not is always a sex act. And God’s design is for all sex and all sexual expression to exist within a covenant marriage. 

God’s design for sex and orgasm is to addict you to your spouse. 

God’s design for sex is to create a deeper more intimate connection with your spouse.

God’s design for orgasm is to renew the vows you made with your spouse.

If what’s happening in the bedroom isn’t accomplishing spousal intimacy then we’re missing God’s blueprint for sex’s divine purpose. When we try to say that sex is just an appetite or that orgasm is just biological we are trashing God’s incredible design for sex. In my first article, I (Cole) argued “Any orgasm outside of marriage fails to live up to its amazing design.” This is always true no matter how the orgasm is achieved.  

But what if it’s just a natural process and release? Well, the truth is, God has provided a natural process for male release to occur through nocturnal emission so masturbation is not necessary. And female bodies don’t experience the same physical build-up or need for release that male bodies do.

But honestly, here’s the biggest issue. Part of Jesus dying on the cross was to release us from our natural appetites. If our faith is in Jesus, then we are no longer owned by our urges. The cross sets us free from our old selves and the desires of the flesh. Through His Spirit, God gives us the power and the self-control to fight any and all selfish and sinful craving. Paul even says that being controlled by your appetites is a characteristic of people that are not a part of God’s kingdom. Sex is a natural desire, but it’s also more than that and at the same time Jesus frees us from needing it.

What if it’s unrealistic to not masturbate? What if I just can’t wait?

What if the reality is that in a sex-fueled culture like ours, masturbation is the best option I’ve got? If I’m trying not to have sex with my significant other until we get married, isn’t masturbation the least harmful alternative?

We’ve heard these questions and many more like them from people in and around our church family. And they are real questions worth addressing, but they’re not actually compelling reasons to give in to masturbation’s temptation. Here are four specific reasons and four tools to help you fight this fight:

  1. Trading one sin for another is an inept way to be set free from sin. The temptation to trade sinful activity with your boyfriend or girlfriend (or with someone outside of your marriage) for a “less harmful” sexual act seems tempting, but it leaves us caught in sin’s snares. This is a religious game that completely misses the freedom Jesus offers us.
  2. Jesus is a better treasure than physical pleasure. The Psalmist tells us that in God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. Jesus tells us that if we really understood how much good life His kingdom has to offer us, we would gladly sell everything we have to get it. Masturbation is a bad trade for Jesus. His relief, His comfort, His satisfaction is such that no orgasm could ever compare. 
  3. God doesn’t promise us that the waiting is temporary. The problem with the question, “But what if I can’t wait?” is that it assumes marriage is Jesus’ plan for your life. But He never promises this. Telling yourself that masturbation is just a temporary solution that marriage will solve is both short-sighted and assumptive.
  4. Jesus gives us strength when we don’t have it. If you’re discouraged or running out of hope, I pray that these beautiful and powerful words written by the Apostle Peter will encourage you:
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires.” 

God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Now equipped with God’s gospel promises, we can escape the corruption in the world. It’s a promise. We don’t have to conform to what’s normal or logical in the world. We are free to put our sin to death. 
Through the gospel, Isaiah’s prophetic encouragement is fulfilled:

For those who trust in the Lord, He will renew our strength.

We will mount up on wings like eagles.

We will run and not grow weary. 

We will walk and not grow faint.

The gospel says even unrealistic, hard to imagine possibilities become possible through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the new life and new Spirit He gives us by grace.

Okay, but even if I completely agree with everything you’ve said, now what? 

Maybe you’re now convinced that self-stimulated orgasm is a sin. Maybe not yet. Either way, It’s important that we continue to ask ourselves “why?”. For me (Morgan), one of the most powerful insights into the issue of masturbation was the "why" question. I once heard someone describe masturbation as a control issue, “I will choose to orgasm when I choose to, whether another human is involved or not.” Suddenly the act of masturbation became linked with a deeper heart issue and it became much, much easier to confront with truth. 

What is your why

How are you using masturbation to obtain something lacking in your life? 

What do you believe God is withholding from you?

We have to daily reject the easy answer that “masturbation is the most morally/socially acceptable outlet for my sexual desire” and instead dig deeper...Why? What am I after? What am using masturbation to achieve (release, comfort, satisfaction, control, happiness, sleep, etc.)? Why? Tap into that inner 3-year-old and keep asking “why” until you grow intimately acquainted with the motives behind your struggle.

Then, invite in Jesus. 

Invite in community. 

Fight to remove the stigma of the word “masturbation” and have open conversations about the struggle. Anything that sits in the dark festers and rots. So whether you view this particular sin struggle as a big deal or a small one, talk about it. Bring it into the light. It’s not enough to be in community, you have to be honest. You have to trust Jesus to enable you to be vulnerable. If we are 99% known and 1% unknown then we are still unknown. And Jesus won’t rest until we are fully known; fully alive and free in the light. Push against the voices of guilt and shame.

If you are in Jesus, you are perfectly clean.

If you are in Jesus, you are completely known.

If you are in Jesus, you are already entirely accepted.

So you have nothing to fear. 

And nothing to lose. 

Only growth, holiness, freedom and healing to gain. 

So let’s become the kind of people who understand our hearts, our motives and who daily learn to fight our sin and seek after Jesus together. Let’s be honest and hopeful. Let’s be prayerful and practical. And let’s not settle for anything less than God’s beautiful and perfect design for every aspect of our sexuality.

Does God Really Say I Can't Be With Other Guys? (Pt. 2)

For anyone just joining us, this is my second post about homosexuality and the Church. The first post can be found here (If you haven’t read it, pause for 2 minutes and go check it out… but seriously, go. I’ll still be here. Promise.). In that post, I focused on some of the biggest pushbacks and questions that I have had about God’s design for my sexuality. After wrestling with whether or not the church is actually a safe place for years, this post will focus more on questions about what it looks like to have a church that welcomes and loves members of the LGBT community.

For full disclosure, as I mentioned in the first post, I am a man who is attracted to members of the same sex, and at the same time, I am a member of a church, Midtown Fellowship, that faithfully holds to the biblical view of God’s design for gender and sexuality. I hope that this post will show what it looks like to walk in that seeming contradiction.


How Can I, As A Gay Man, Trust Christians?

I remember sitting in a pew one Sunday while I was growing up and thinking to myself, “If these are God’s people, I don’t want anything to do with God.” On another occasion, I remember seeing an anti-Pride protest and thinking, “Why are these people so hateful?”

Then in college, I found myself sitting in my room with my head buried in my hands agonizing, “If God only cares about my sin… If He has no interest in my well being whatsoever... Then how can I trust Him at all?”

I have spent years wrestling with this question.

Agonizing over its potential answers.

Begging God to help me.

Help me understand.

Help me make sense of my desires.

But as I have wrestled with this question, I have realized it was based on a faulty assumption. I was assuming that the actions of “God’s people”, the church, were an accurate reflection of God’s character; that God approved of and condoned the actions of every individual who ever claimed to act in His name.

The first problem with this idea baffled me when I first encountered it. Simply claiming to be a believer does not actually mean that someone is a follower of Christ.  Many of the people spewing the most hate-filled messages about homosexuality are, in fact, not Christians. I was convicting God for actions taken by people who had twisted Scripture to fit into their hate-filled agenda. These weren’t people interested in God, these were people using God as a means to an end.

They weren’t Christians.

They were self-righteous bigots.

Which left me with the question, what about the people who really are Christians and are still causing pain.

There were times when the Christians I knew were ignorant or insensitive.

There were times when they had no interest in being helpful.

There were times when they seemed disgusted by me.

There were times when the only way I could interpret their actions was as hateful.

And that’s what I thought it meant to be a Christian, but the more time I spent in God’s word, the more He began to show me what it really meant to be a Christian. Being a Christian does not mean knowing the right answers and displaying moral superiority about your ability to avoid certain sins.

Being a Christian means admitting my sinfulness and proclaiming my need for a savior. It means I stop trying to earn my way back to God. It means I run to God for the forgiveness and grace I can never earn. And because of that, in everything, I am called to trust in the love of Christ, and Christ alone, not the love of anything else. Not the love of a romantic interest. Not the love of my parents or family. And not even the love of God’s people, the church.

The Bible makes it clear that all humans, including Christians, despite their best intentions, are still sinners that will continue to let each other down. So pointing out that Christians are sinners who fail to love and fail to treat people fairly and perfectly isn’t actually a reason to not trust Jesus. It’s one more piece of evidence that Christians, like the rest of us need a Savior.

But What About Christian Hypocrites?

To be honest, the Church, historically, has failed miserably to minister well to those who question their gender or sexuality. Preachers have stood in their pulpits and relentlessly called out people who struggle with same-sex attraction, but have looked the other way when congregants commit heterosexual adultery, show unrepentant greed, or struggle with any number of other sins (pride, drunkenness, and lying come to mind).

As a result, myself and other members of the LGBT community have felt unfairly singled out, ridiculed, and unwelcomed by the Church. My heart breaks with that of those whom the Church has spurned and ostracized.

Growing up in a fairly conservative Southern church, I too know the utter exhaustion that comes from feeling as if you have to hide the truth because your sins are unspeakable, and it seemed like that was the only possibility.

But it’s not.

The biblical call on believers in Jesus is to create a community that is radically welcoming to everyone, including members of the LGBT community. The Bible calls the Church to be a family that sees each other’s sins, and loves each other regardless. To be a group of people that rally around one another when life is difficult. To be a people who celebrate the wins together and also that walks through the mess of life together.

And as crazy as it sounds, I’ve seen it.

There are members of my church family who know me, know my story, know the depths of my sin, and have welcomed me into their lives and loved me unconditionally.

I have struggled with the fear of loneliness that comes with lifelong celibacy, and my church family has absolutely fought alongside me. I have been invited to crash my friends’ dates. I have been invited to live with other people in our church family. And not just other single people. I have been invited into the homes of our married friends to live with them. To be a part of their family. To help raise their kids.

I have been invited on family vacations. Not only with young married people. I’ve been invited into family traditions that involved meeting my friend’s older parents and siblings and their spouses. I have been invited to share holidays with people. To share birthdays. To share random Wednesday afternoons. To come and gather with them during the times of the year that often tempt me to feel the most lonely.

I have been welcomed as a volunteer in the Church. I not only serve in the church office each week, but I serve with our Kids & Families team. Because I’ll be honest, I think kids are some of the most fun people to be around in the world. And because my church family isn’t afraid of me. They don’t think I’m a monster who needs to be kept separate from the next generation. I serve alongside all of our other members in helping to raise the kids in our church family, both on Sundays and everyday of the week. There is no position in our church which is off limits to an individual with same sex attraction who is earnestly repenting and pushing into Jesus.

I have been blessed to be a part of group confession, where every person in the group was openly and honestly chasing after Jesus and reminding everyone else in the group of the gospel. I didn’t feel like people wanted to find me out or catch me. I haven’t felt that my sins were any different than the sins of other people in the group.

And if we are being real, it’s not just me. Our church family has routinely welcomed members of the LGBT community. Into their families, into their homes, and into their lives. I am invited to join into our church wide culture of repentance. To come alongside my brothers and sisters, my friends, and my pastors as we all learn to trust more and more in the love of Jesus.

Can I Pursue Him and Jesus?

At the end of the day, the question that remains is, “Can I pursue a romantic, sexual relationship with another man and still be a Christian?”

More than anything else, I want the answer to be yes.

Some nights I lay awake begging God for the answer to be yes…

Because any other answer feels crushing.

I lay there staring at the ceiling and questioning...how can I go on if the answer is no?

But, as much as it pains me, the answer is no.

Being a Christian means laying down my personal desires and submitting to Jesus and his Word. Being a Christian means living in light of Christ’s teaching. Being a Christian means knowing that I’ll never do any of this perfectly, but Jesus has already perfectly laid down His desires to love and serve me. Even if I claim faith in Christ verbally, James reminds me that true faith in Christ is accompanied by a heart level desire to pursue holiness. This means that as a Christian, I am called to subjugate all of my desires to the teaching of Scripture. This includes my desire to be with other guys.

To be clear, this call is not unique to those who question the Bible’s sexual ethic, but it does include us.

Where Then Is My Hope?

The cross of Jesus is the hope for all of us.

For those of us who struggle with their sexuality and those who don’t.

Hebrews 4:15 describes Christ saying, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” As strange as it might sound, there is no temptation and no underlying belief that Jesus was not also tempted with. 

When I find myself daydreaming about a romantic relationship with the cute guy I pass on Main Street because that would surely fix my loneliness, Jesus was tempted with the same belief.

When it feels like all I need to be happy is the friendship and approval of another man, I can trust that Jesus felt that, too.

When I long for the security from an emotional connection with another man, I can trust that Jesus was tempted to believe that that same desire would satisfy him.

Christ understands even my day to day trials.

I can run to him with my exhaustion, my frustrations, and my desires, because he understands me and wants good for me. My struggles will not evaporate overnight and the road ahead of me will not be easy, but as a faithful Christian, I am called to run to the cross of Jesus and faithfully submit to the authority of Scripture, even when it feels like death.

So when I do fail to live by God’s design for my sexuality, the good news of the Gospel is that Christ came and took on the punishment for our sins, all of our sins without exception, and I can still approach his throne in confidence because of grace.

Through all of this, I’m praying for Jesus to give me strength in the times when my desires seem overwhelming.

I’m praying others who struggle with same sex attraction would see the perfect love available to them through Christ.

I’m praying for other churches to see the beautiful design the Bible describes for what kind of hospitable and loving people we are called to be.

I’m praying that Christians who are ignorant, insensitive, or even hateful would repent and trust Jesus instead of their own righteousness.

And I’m praying that each of us, same sex attracted or not, would daily push more and more into the good news of the Gospel.

Don't Waste Your Easter Ham

Hey, church fam!

We are officially less than two weeks away from our biggest Sunday of the year! As you know, we don’t go out of our way to overhype our Sunday Gatherings. Our goal isn’t to blow your mind with dazzling lights, drop-the-mic sermons, or Hollywood-grade video production. Because as impressive as an event can be, our long-term goal is not to be entertained by a show, but to connect and become a certain kind of people. And so we think of our Sunday Gatherings as a well-balanced regular diet of gospel truth, community, and shaping. Many of our Sunday Gatherings are ordinary, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. 

Why is Easter is such a big deal?

That being said, we really enjoy making a big deal out of Easter. If there’s one Sunday we want to draw attention to, it should be the one that commemorates Jesus triumphing over sin, death and the grave. 

On Easter, we sing loud.

We baptize people and we cheer loud.

We listen to people tell their stories of how Jesus has changed them and we rejoice loud.

And for all of these reasons, we often encourage you to invite people to the Easter Gathering who don’t normally come around church. Friends and family and neighbors and coworkers that you invite will hear the gospel proclaimed, one story after another, as people describe how Jesus saved them and why they’re getting baptized. 

And for this year, we thought why don’t we up the ante on inviting people in? Because as impressive as an event can be, our long-term goal is not to be entertained by a show, but to connect and become a certain kind of people. So what we’re doing is asking you to do is take your invitation up a level. 

Two easy steps to a successful Easter

Step 1: Pray about inviting anyone Jesus may want to come to the Easter Gathering

Take a few minutes right now to pray about who Jesus might want you to invite to the Easter Gathering. Personally, invite them. Pray for Jesus to use the Gathering to lead them towards Himself. And also, spread a broad net. Use word-of-mouth, the invites that we’ll have at our Gatherings this Sunday, share the link to our Easter page on Facebook–whatever it takes. But don’t just stop there:

Step 2: Host an Easter Meal with the express purpose of inviting in new friends to get to know you, your family, and your LifeGroup.

With Easter being what it is in our culture, countless people will show up to our Easter Gathering, and it’ll be one of if not the only time they attend a church service all year long. So let’s leverage the Easter Gathering as a bridge to help people relationally connect with our church family.

Our Easter Gatherings are conveniently placed right before meal times (10:00am & 5:00pm). And who doesn’t love a good Easter lunch or dinner? So don’t just invite your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to an Easter Gathering, invite them to an Easter Gathering, followed by an Easter meal! Get together with your LifeGroup and plan a feast at someone’s house or snag a reservation at a local restaurant. Use that time to treat that friend of yours to some free food. Ask them what they thought about the Gathering. “Did that stuff make sense?” “Did you relate to any of the stories on video?” “Did that raise any questions for you?” And listen well to their answers.

The best part is that as you eat together, your friends get a front-row seat to observe church family in the context of your LifeGroup. Which is exactly how Jesus said people would recognize us as His; based on how we love each other. So let your friends see how you and your LifeGroup relate to one another, how you speak to each other, how you serve and care for one another. Who knows–they might just ask questions about that later.

Make it count

So this Easter, if you can, don’t waste your Easter ham.

Leverage it for the gospel.

Leverage it as an open door for someone who needs Jesus and His family. 

Have a feast, a party, a blast with your closest friends and invite someone else in to be part of the merriment. 

Easter’s our biggest Sunday of the year. Let’s leverage it so that it could be a life-changing moment in some of our friend's, family member's, and coworkers live's.