Why We Take A Break At Christmas

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

1. CHURCH IS MORE THAN WHAT HAPPENS ON SUNDAYS.

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

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

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

3. CHRISTMAS IS A GREAT TIME FOR MISSION.

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

Kids & Parents Weekend Recap & Resources

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

Breakout Sessions & Materials:

Session #1: 

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


SESSION #2: 

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


SESSION #3: 

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


Questions?

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

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?

Should I get Baptized.jpg

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. 

Does God Really Say I Can't Be With Other Guys?

This post was written by a member of our church family who experiences same-sex attraction and would like to remain anonymous for the protection of him and his family.

As a Christian man who struggles with same-sex attraction, this question is the most difficult question I’ve wrestled with in my faith. Even now, I find myself asking it almost daily. I’m publishing this post anonymously because this is not a past-tense discussion. Bluntly, I am not yet ready to talk about my same-sex attraction in public; for example, I am still praying about the most loving way to tell my parents because I’m not sure what their response will be. In the midst of this tension, I am continually pressing into what the Gospel says about my sexuality and learning to trust God’s design more and more each day.

The first part of this post covers some of the biggest questions I wrestle with. They are the smaller questions that all add up to the big one. They are questions I find myself asking God directly. They influence my day to day actions. The second part of the post will also deal with questions I wrestle with, but questions that impact the entire LGBT community, not just my personal walk. 

Before we dive in, I need to be honest with you. When I first asked each of these questions, I wished desperately for God to answer them in an affirming manner. I resisted anytime an answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear. 
          These are not questions that I think are easily answered.
          These are not questions that are easily asked.

However, as I have wrestled with these questions, God has faithfully pursued me and convinced me (over and over) to trust in his design for my sexuality. This change is painfully slow at points... at most points. But it is my hope and prayer that this post will give you a glimpse into my struggle and how God keeps changing my heart. In doing so I hope to accomplish two things: 

  • Provide encouragement for those who experience any degree of same sex attraction.
  • Give insight to those looking to love those in the LGBT community well.

Does it matter who I’m chasing after?

One of the most tempting lies for me to believe is that God doesn’t care who I flirt with. I want to run to Biblical passages about how to handle topics with some room for interpretation (e.g. Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 10:23 – 11:1). I want to tell myself, “Whether or not I live according to God’s design for sexuality is a question of conscience, so I am free to do what I want.” But as I have dug into God’s word, He keeps making clear to me that His plan for my sexuality is not a question of conscience. The Bible clearly establishes and repeatedly reaffirms God’s sexual ethic. Ultimately, God showed me that asking this question requires incredible hubris, because the question I am really asking is “Does God know what is best, or do I?“ When I honestly consider this new question, I realize that as the creator, God knows what is good for me and the world better than I do.

But the Bible is just an old book reflecting the culture of it’s day, right?

This is the question I hear friends wrestling with more often than any other. After all, the Bible was written in a backwards and oppressive culture, right? The problem is the more I looked into scripture, the more I realized this question didn’t adequately address the facts. When introducing the list of forbidden sexual relationships in Leviticus, God tells Moses, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt…and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan.” God begins his explanation of his sexual ethic by explaining that it flies in the face of the cultural sexual expectations of the time. Similarly, it would be redundant of Paul to reiterate God’s sexual ethic in his letters if his readers weren’t feeling a personal temptation to do what he encourages them to avoid. As a result, the more I’ve studied, the more I’ve become convinced that God’s sexual ethic has always been countercultural.

Eventually, I came to see that there was something quite different at work in this question. When I found myself arguing that our society has a superior sexual ethic than earlier cultures, I realized this thought was based on the assumption that our culture is superior in general compared to previous cultures (otherwise why would I think our thinking about sex is any better than theirs?). The problem with that is, I don’t actually have any logical way to defend that statement. Anything that I use to argue that our culture is better creates a circular argument that begs the question. I can’t honestly or logically argue this way without privileging our culture’s way of thinking above the thinking of previous peoples.

How can I be satisfied if I’m not with him?

As someone well indoctrinated by American and Western culture, this is by far the hardest question for me. In the depths of my soul, I’m tempted to believe that the solution to my anxieties and insecurities is the approval that would come from a relationship with another man. I want to believe that God doesn’t understand the strength of my desires, so once I explain my situation to God, he will have to cut me some slack. But the more I’ve thought through this idea, the more God has confronted me on it. We see in Genesis 1:26 that the purpose of man is so much larger than fulfilling sexual desires. We are designed for more than chasing our animalistic desires. We are designed to be in communion with God and to reflect God’s image to all of creation. Our desire to be fulfilled comes from a deep longing in us to live this out, and our dissatisfaction with life ultimately stems from our broken relationship with God. A brilliant Scottish writer, Bruce Marshall, once remarked, "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." He’s right. 

And my brothel just happens to be the dream of being in a relationship with a man. 
Even if I were to get with my dream guy (in any capacity), I might get some brief contentment, but it will never lead to the lasting satisfaction I really want.  

What do we do if God is right about this?

So far, I’ve focused on ways that God has worked in me and confronted my sinful nature, but this is only half the battle. In the next post, I’m going to turn from asking questions about personal interactions with God’s design for sexuality and focus on the implications of this discussion not just for myself but for the church as a whole. 

In the meantime, I’m praying for each of you. I know that this has been incredibly hard for me and that it is going to be hard for you as well. So, I’m praying that Jesus will be our strength and our hope when we can’t do it on our own.

Parenting in a Broken World

One of the questions that have come up repeatedly during the Theology of Sex series relates to how do we parent our kids in light of our culture’s views on sex, gender, marriage and romance. One parent specifically talked about interaction with public schools as the worldview of the public schools continue to change in line with our general cultural views. Most of the questions have been hinting at the difficult balance between preparing our kids to interact with the world and protecting our kids from the pain and brokenness of the world?

We’ve found the following article, “Why the City is a Wonderful Place to Raise Children” contains some very helpful perspective on these topics. Kathy Keller is married to Dr. Timothy Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC). She certainly doesn’t attempt to answer all the specific questions you might have and doesn’t specifically address issues of gender and sexuality, but her gospel-centered parenting perspective gives us some helpful framework as we have these conversations in our LifeGroups. We hope you’ll enjoy this article as a resource as you pray and talk through questions of parenting and living in the midst of a sinful culture.

Sure, Sex is Meant for a Covenant. But What About ______?

Cole Simpson serves as a teaching team resident through our Residency program. For more information about the Residency, visit midtownres.com.


I grew up in the south. I grew up in church whenever the doors were open. And by the time I got to high school, proms and dating; pretty much all I knew was I wasn’t supposed to have sex. I certainly didn’t know why that was the rule. I just knew it was the rule. In fact, one of the most important rules. And in this moralistic environment, I frequently found myself asking, “How far is too far?” 

The problem is that’s pretty much the opposite of what Paul says to do:

Flee.

Run. 

Get your heart as far from sexual sin as possible.

Reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother and I got into fights. Frequently.  Sometimes we aggravated her so much, Mom would tell us, “Stop touching each other!!” So of course, my little brother’s response was to “not touch” me. Instead, he would antagonize me by getting as close as physically possible. If I asked him to stop, my brother would calmly reply, “I AM NOT TOUCHING YOU!”

This is an unfortunately accurate description of my high school view of sex. I could justify everything by saying “I AM NOT TOUCHING IT.” I am not having sex. No matter what I happened to be doing with a girl, I could always tell myself that I wasn’t doing it. So it was ok.

Fleeing is the opposite of that. 

Fleeing isn’t getting as close to sexual immorality as we can.

It’s running from it. 

Wherever we are tempted to move towards it; we stop, turn and run. This is why Paul in another letter tells us not to have a hint of sexual immorality. My thought process was backwards. God’s design for all sexual expression to exist inside a marriage covenant is wise and gracious. It’s a good design. 

Like the good dad that He is, He warns us that sex used outside of it’s intended purpose can cause harm to us and everyone involved. So of course His command is flee.

Ok...but doesn’t that make God’s view of sex restrictive? 

Is that even realistic in the 21st century? Why does God care so much? Doesn’t God want me to be happy? 

I asked all these questions and hundreds of others, because I was confused. When I was told I couldn’t have sex until marriage, my assumption was that God and His rules were dumb. I knew better than He did.

I heard sex is supposed to be satisfying. So then the idea of waiting until marriage seemed pointless and harmful. God must have been some kind of mean tyrant who made this rule just because He could. 

But overtime I considered other questions:

  • Why might a loving God have given this design and these restrictions for sex? 
  • What if there were real reasons why I should trust God? 
  • What if God is smarter than I am?

And the answer I slowly came to see is that God understands that sex is actually a really big deal.

Not the biggest deal ever. Not the only big deal. 

But a big deal nonetheless.

Despite what we’ve been told, sex is much more than just physical pleasure. We know this even when we don’t want to admit it. I remember talking to a friend about her boyfriend and she told me “I know it is a good thing because it’s not just physical! It has actually brought us closer together.” 

Her point was that sex was relational, emotional and even spiritual. The Bible describes this aspect of sex as becoming “one flesh”. Flesh doesn’t just mean body here. It’s the whole person. Their heart, their mind, their body and their soul. So the Bible is saying that sex is a physical picture of what’s happening at every level; two persons becoming one. 

God designed sex to physically, emotionally, and spiritually bind us to our spouse.

Over the years it’s been interesting to see more and more research explaining how this happens at a physiological level. The brain literally starts to addict itself to whoever we have sex with. God designed orgasm to connect two people at deep levels. And not just anyone or everyone, but one someone who’s not going anywhere because we’ve committed to addict ourselves to them for the rest of our lives.

After wrestling with this for years, I realized that God wasn’t trying to hinder my pleasure. He was trying to maximize it. God designed sex for marriage because it’s unhelpful to form these deep, complex bonds with multiple people. There’s even research that indicates over time, having sex with multiple people negatively affects our ability to form these bonds. 

Sex is an incredible bonding agent meant for you and your spouse. And no one else.

Because any sexual activity that doesn’t bind us to our spouse is powerless to accomplish what God actually intends for it to do.

Any orgasm outside of marriage fails to live up to its amazing design.

God’s view of sex isn’t restrictive. Our modern Western view of sex is restrictive. It restricts us from experiencing all that sex can be. It restricts from enjoying all that sex has to offer.

Ok...but what counts as sexual sin? 

As I grew to understand God’s design and command to flee sexual immorality, I still found myself asking “but what exactly is sexual immorality?” A little study and I found out that the Greek word translated into the English phrase “sexual immorality” is porneia. It’s the same word we get pornography from. It means any sex act outside of marriage. So then I asked, “Well what exactly is a sex act?” 

Let’s say I didn’t exactly love the answer I found. 

Especially not when I found it coming out of Jesus’ mouth. On the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes lust in the mind as being equivalent to committing adultery. I knew adultery counted as a sex act. I didn’t really want to accept that lust counted as a sex act. Then Jesus says it would be better to tear out your eye than to continue using your eyes for the sex act of sinful lust.

Like it or not, it was clear that Jesus thought this was a big deal.

Lust, no matter where it happens, whether it occurs in your mind or your heart or your hands is porneia. And anything else that we would put on a spectrum between lust of the mind and cheating on your spouse counts too.

  • So if you are making out and you lust... porneia. 
  • Fantasizing about that girl in the coffee shop… porneia.
  • Daydreaming about that guy you work with… porneia.
  • Steamy romance novels... porneia.
  • Picking a movie because of its sex scenes... porneia.
  • “What if we just use our hands?”... porneia.
  • “What if our clothes stay on?”... porneia.
  • “What if we didn’t plan on this happening?”... porneia. 
  • “But we’re going to get married so it’s okay, right?”... porneia.  
  • 1 out of every 8 internet searches... porneia.

Jesus undermined all my attempts at justification. The games I liked to play. He cut through all the noise and cut to the core of my heart motivations. Lust is too far. If it was sexual sin in my mind, I had already crossed a line. 

Ok...but what about porn? 

It doesn’t hurt anyone after all, right? This question is very personal to me.   Around the age of seven I started watching porn and it became a regular part of my life.

I was seven.

However, even as a child I understood that porn was something I wasn’t supposed to be looking at. I was always very secretive. In fact, there was one instance where our laptop froze while I was looking at porn. I was so panicked about getting in trouble that I poured water all over it. 

I destroyed the laptop rather than have anyone find out what I was doing.  

I have had countless conversations with myself and others where I have asked “what’s the big deal?” It’s not like watching porn affects anyone other than me. 

Well first off, we know Jesus says if we lust when we watch porn then it is a sex act; it’s porneia.  

But there’s something else here too. When we watch porn we are taking human beings with souls that God made and loves and adores. And we turn them into objects that exist for our pleasure. As I’ve thought about porn in light of the gospel, I’ve become more and more heartbroken about it.

As a brother who has a younger sister that I love dearly... As a friend of some amazing ladies that I respect greatly... As a boyfriend of a beautiful woman that I really care about... It tears me apart that I have objectified women in this way. And it isn’t like that objectification stops at the screen, it sinks into all aspects of our life. Over time, I started to see almost everyone as objects and nothing more. 

And I don’t even have time to talk about the unbelievable damage and destruction that happens to the sex workers in the porn industry.

But it’s not that porn just hurts other people. Paul is clear that it hurts us, too. For me, and everyone I’ve talked to, porn is never just a lust problem.

It is an intimacy problem.  

It is easier for us to go to a screen for instant gratification than it is to recognize that we are sinners in need of true  connection. We long to be known and loved. Porn tells us we are desired by gorgeous women and/or men but the truth is the feeling doesn’t last. 

Only in Christ have I found any lasting satisfaction.

Only in Christ can we be fully known and fully loved.

What about masturbation? 

Sometimes guys will ask me “but what about masturbation?”. The reality is that this is a growing question that many people have in our church and in our culture. It’s seen as the best, least harmful alternative if I’m trying not to have sex outside of marriage.

I tried to type up a short answer to this question and I realized it needs a more full answer so I’m going to write a follow up blog post on that question specifically: “Why is masturbation a sin?” For now let's wrap up here:

Grace

At many points in my life, if I had read this article, I would have been crushed. I would have found myself thinking, “I understand God’s good design. I understand His calling on me to flee from sexual immorality. I don’t even disagree with Him. 

But I can’t do it. 

It feels impossible. 

Especially when I consider that God’s call is to perfect obedience.”

The good news is God knows we will never be perfect. And He still loves us anyway. The good news is He knew how deep my porn addiction would go. He knew how many women I would turn into objects of lust. He knew how much I would resist and reject Him.

And instead of rejecting me, He loved me so much that He sent Jesus to rescue me. He knew I would never uphold this standard so He sent someone who could. This is the unbelievable grace of the gospel. I’m loved despite my brokenness.

Now don’t hear me wrong: I’m not saying sin isn’t a big deal.

It’s a huge deal.

So big a deal that Jesus died and took that sin upon himself. And until I really understood this incredibly gracious love of God for me, I never tasted real freedom. God’s unconditional love for me is what gives me hope when I fail. Hope that empowers me to fight my sexual sin; not to minimize it. 

I hope this blog has been helpful and clarifying about what sexual sin is and why it matters. But more than anything else, please hear me tell you this:

God looks at you and said “I know every way you will fail, I know exactly how impossible it is for you to perfectly flee from sexual sin.

And I love you. 

And I want you. 

And I sent Jesus to die for you.”

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

Theology of Sex Study Guide

To accompany our Theology of Sex series at all of our churches, we'll be releasing a weekly study guide to help facilitate discussion around the series. These study guides were designed to be used in community through our LifeGroups. 

As we trek through the complicated waters of gender, romance and sexuality in our culture, we hope that these study guides will assist all of us in our efforts to love Jesus, understand ourselves, and live out our mission.

Enjoy!

Study Guides:

Theology of Sex

There’s no shortage of oversimplified narratives about gender, sexuality, and marriage. These days it seems that everyone’s opinion is the right one and if you don’t share that opinion, you’re the enemy. But what is actually true? What do we do when confronted with difficult questions and even more difficult situations? How do we love our neighbor without compromising what is true? For something as complex as gender and sexuality, we need something far bigger. Far richer. Far more nuanced. We need a theology of sex. 

This series spends seven weeks unpacking God’s design for gender and sexuality in an effort to understand ourselves, love our neighbor, and live out our mission.

Week-by-Week

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Romance
January 17
As Americans, we are convinced that the point of life is happiness. Through movies, advertising, and music our culture has told us that the primary avenue to happiness is romance. But what if happiness is too small of a goal? What do we do when both happiness and romance fail us? 

(View Study Guide)  (View Leader Guide)

Gender, Bigfoot, & Leprechauns
January 24
The idea that gender is a made-up social construct is gaining widespread acceptance. But is that the most helpful conclusion? Does the idea of gender need be thrown out and left behind, or just seen with new lenses?

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

Do You Even Know How to Sports, Bro?
January 31
We all know the stereotype: the sports-loving, beer-drinking, thick-skinned man. But what about the rest of us? In a world where men are judged on whether or not they can throw a perfect spiral, what is masculinity actually about? What if being a man has little to do with how often you go hunting?

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice?
February 7
Our culture puts an immense amount of pressure on women. So many women are crushed by the weight of having a perfect body, perfect kids, and perfect relationships. But is that really what it means to be a woman? What if femininity has nothing to do with wearing a dress?

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

American Marriage v. Covenant Marriage
February 14
Most people would say marriage is “an expression of love.” And for some people, it is. But it sure does feel like more than that. The emotional weight, the complexity, the permanence–is that proof that it stands for something more? 

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

Consumeristic Sexual Individualism
February 21
What is the purpose of sex? Should it be casual and convenient? Apocalyptic and ultimate? Or something different altogether? Is sex an appetite we satisfy, or a gift we enjoy?

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

Hate-Filled Bigots & Hospitality
February 28
The Church has gained a reputation over the years as being intolerant, closed-minded, and bigoted. And to be honest, some of it is probably deserved. But what if there was a way to believe faithfully while still loving extravagantly? What if Christians were better known for the openness of their homes than the slogans of their picket signs?

(View Study Guide) (View Leader Guide)

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