How to Study the Bible

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As God’s people, we want to be guided by His Word and empowered by His Spirit to be a Jesus-centered family on mission.

As you prepare to study God’s Word, take a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and ask God to speak to you through His Word. This little moment of preparation reminds us that reading the Bible is a sacred act in which we invite God to speak to us.

1. Read

Then, as you read through the passage, make a note of anything that pops out to you or raises a question in you. Try not to get fixated on one phrase or verse, just make a note of it. After reading through the passage once, read through the passage once or twice more, this time thinking about what stands out in this passage and what impression it leaves on you. Reading out loud can be helpful too, as it can help us understand what we’re reading and help us process each verse of the passage.

2. Reflect

Now that you’ve read the passage through multiple times, take time to reflect on what you’ve just read, using either a journal or a note-taking app that you can read again in the future. As you reflect on the passage, try thinking through these two questions:

  • What does this passage reveal to us about God?

  • What does this passage reveal to us about people?

 3. Respond

After reflecting on the passage, it’s time to respond. Every part of Scripture is inspired by God Himself, and a message so perfect and powerful demands a response from us. So, in light of the truth you’ve just read, consider these two questions: 

  • What’s this passage calling me to do today?

  • What’s this passage calling me to pray for today?

We don’t expect that our lives will be radically changed every time we read our Bible. But we do know that we are becoming a more faithful people every time we open our Bibles. This is a discipline which will slowly transform us as we consistently study God’s Word. If we dig deeper in our reflections by applying God’s Word in specific ways, we can respond through repentance and live differently today. Even when we have more questions than answers, try asking your brothers and sisters in Christ what they think, and seek answers in other passages of the Bible. Although we don’t have all the answers yet, we believe that God provides truthful teaching and guidance for us through His Word, and we know that He will work miracles in us and through us as we continue to abide in His Word.

On Miraculous Gifts

In our sermon from last Sunday we described two theological camps on prophecy, tongues and other miraculous gifts. These camps, called cessationism and continuationism, are both filled with faithful, Spirit-filled Christians who back up their positions with Scripture. Because we have unity in Jesus, no matter where you land on the topic, we have plenty of room for disagreement and friendly debate without causing division

A Very Midtown Advent Book List [updated]

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[The following post has been updated as of November 28, 2018.]

I am prone to be dull, spiritually drowsy, halfhearted, lukewarm. That is the way human beings are, including Christians, even about great things…What you and I need is usually not a brand-new teaching. Brand-new truths are probably not truths. What we need are reminders about the greatness of the old truths. –John Piper

For those of you looking for some additional daily readings during this Advent season, here are a few that we would recommend:

Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
Piper’s Good News of Great Joy contains twenty-five short devotional readings beginning December 1st and going through Christmas Day. This book of advent meditations aims to put Jesus at the center of your holiday season.  Our Staff read this together several years ago and found it to be a helpful tool as we anticipated the celebration of Christ’s birth. And even better news: a free downloadable version of the book is available! (Click here!)

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper
Structured identically to Good News of Great Joy, this book contains twenty-five different scripture passages and devotional readings. Piper reminds readers that Christmas is about the coming of Christ into the world and it is his hope that these daily devotions will serve to focus our hearts on adoring Jesus, which is essentially what advent is all about. Free downloadable version is available! (Click here!)

Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp
Tripp’s advent book contains one devotion for each day in December with the intent of helping its readers slow down, prepare their hearts, and focus on what matters most: adoring Jesus. Each devotion starts with a gospel-centered thought followed by an extended meditation for the day. At the end of each daily reading there is a brief devotion for parents and children featuring one central theme from the Christmas story and related scripture verses. 

She Reads Truth (and now He Reads Truth) Advent Studies
Each year, the online resource She Reads Truth puts out a daily Advent Study that begins on the first Sunday of Advent. These studies are free through their website (and available for a fee through the She Reads Truth App). While 2018 will not come out until December 2nd this year, 2015, 2016, and 2017 are still available on their website.

For those not familiar with the She Reads Truth study format, each day consists of several scripture passages to read on your own followed by a blog post written by either a She Reads Truth blog contributor or a guest writer. These readings are definitely more “blog post” in style and should be read as such. In order to get the most out of these studies, we recommend reading and possible journaling and/or praying through the scriptures on your own and then reading the blog post as a follow up to that.

Advent 2015: Born is the King
Advent 2016: Christ Was Born For This
Advent 2017: Joy to the World

Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller
While not a daily Advent reading book, this one is just too good not to include. Keller’s goal in writing this book was to “make the truths of Christmas less hidden.” Keller takes readers on a journey into the surprising background of the nativity. By understanding the message of hope and salvation within the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth, readers will experience the redeeming power of God’s grace in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is a great one to read on your own and we’ve also seen it be beneficial to read alongside with someone who does not yet fully grasp the meaning of Christ’s coming. It’s perfect for gospel-conversations and questions!

related read: “A Very Midtown Children’s Advent Book List” blog post

A Very Midtown Children’s Advent Book List [updated]

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[The following post has been updated on November 28, 2018.]

Build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children. –John Piper

As Advent approaches, we wanted to provide parents with some additional resources that may be helpful as you seek to build God-centered anticipation and excitement in your homes.

But before we begin, just a little reminder from author Elyse Fitzpatrick: 

Above all, please don’t make this a way to earn righteousness or “make a tradition” that will somehow save your children when they, like you, are “prone to wander.” Traditions don’t save us, the Christ-child does…Don’t worry if you don’t get this done every day or in the right order. We tell you not to worry because you’re not the one bringing Christ to your children. The Holy Spirit does that. He may use you as a means to accomplish His work….or He may not. You can pray and then trust that He will use this season and your entire life in just the way He chooses.

So with that in mind, here are some helpful resources to help you point your family’s heart toward the advent of God’s Son this Christmas season:

Daily Advent Books:

Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
If you aren’t familiar with The Jesus Storybook Bible, it is one of our favorites all year long as each story whispers His name, pointing readers to Jesus. And there just happen to be exactly twenty-four Old Testament stories leading up to the birth of Jesus in the narrative. Start on December 1st, and you will reach the story of Jesus’ birth right on Christmas day. 

Check out this website for a free download of illustrated cards from the Storybook that match each daily reading. We recommend printing these on cardstock, laminating, and hanging one each day after reading the corresponding story for a great visual reminder of our waiting for the coming King. We’ve seen families turn them into Christmas ornaments or create a simple banner to hang from the mantle.


Unwrapping the Greatest Christmas Gift by Ann Voskamp
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is Ann Voskamp’s interpretation and extension of the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree. Similar to The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent plan, the Jesse tree uses Old Testament stories, this time, tracing Jesus’ family tree. As Voskamp describes in her opening: “The tree we really need to understand and be astonished by is the family tree of Jesus Christ. Because this is our story—your story…He adopts all the messy and broken and imperfect people into his tree and he gives us his family name.” Unwrapping the Greatest Gift begins on December 1st. Each day contains a scripture reading, a family devotion, one to three questions to discuss as a family, and additional optional family activities. 

Many families choose to make their own “Jesse trees” in conjunction with their reading. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, check out Pinterest for lots of ideas for making your own daily Jesse tree ornaments as a family. Or, if family crafts aren’t your thing, check out Etsy for many sets of Jesse tree ornaments ready to purchase. Feeling particularly thrifty? Voskamp provides a link to free downloads of pictures you can cut and use as ornaments. Use code “Jesse.” 

Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Geared towards elementary aged children, Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles (by author of Give Them Grace) is certainly the least frilly of the Advent bunch. Be prepared to look past a few typos, but what you will find is a sweet devotion that allows families to rest and rejoice in the Advent season. Each day contains a scripture passage to read as a family, followed by a mini devotional specifically for parents and then a devotion to read as a family. 

Each week also contains an additional family activity set up to tie in with that week’s study. As Elyse mentions in her introduction, each weekly activity requires a bit of prep work and she encourages parents to think through the best day of the week to complete the activity. 

Why Do We Call it Christmas? Reading Plan
Connect modern traditions with the birth of Jesus in this 10-day reading plan. Each day contains a short video clip from Phil Vischer’s (Veggie Tales) Buck Denver Asks- Why Do We Call It Christmas?, scripture reading, and short reflection with prayer prompts.

Picture Books:

Who Is Coming To Our House by Joseph Slate
Marketed Age: 1-3 years old
Available in board book or paperback, this simple book describes how the animals prepare a cozy home for the baby Jesus. The repetition of the book is immediately appealing to young children. While there’s room to be cautious about nativity books from animals’ perspectives, this sweet story provides age-appropriate anticipation of the birth of Christ, keeping His coming at the center of the story as the animals join in celebrating the newborn King. 

What is Christmas? by Michelle Medlock Adams
Marketed Age: 2-5 years old
Michelle Adams’ warm humorous text lists all of the things that Christmas might be about, only to conclude that it is truly about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. The whimsical art and rhyming fun-to-read verse draws young children in and serves as a great tool for helping young children process all that makes up the holiday season. And if the book ends up being a hit in your house, Adams has an entire series of similar books worth checking out! 

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Marketed Age: 4-7 years old
A personal favorite, author of the Jesus Storybook Bible creates a beautiful picture book that captures the moment that Christ arrives. The book contains the refrain “It’s time! It’s time” as creation whispers a secret: the long-awaited child had arrived! Lloyd describes the quiet celebration of creation in a way that will leave you and your family praising God as you celebrate that “the one who made us has come to live with us!”

The Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchell
Brand new this year (and by the same publisher as The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross which we are huge fans of) comes a captivating retelling of the Christmas story with adorable illustrations showing how God kept His promise to send a new King, a rescuing king, a forever king! This book helps children discover exactly how God kept His Christmas Promise.

related read: “A Very Midtown Advent Book List” blog post
 

How to Pray for College

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USC students return to campus this week and Saturday kicks off Midtown College’s Best First Week Ever. College Staff members, Cole Simpson and Garrison Weiner, let us in on why they hope our college students will participate in the Freshman 15 and how we as a church family, can be praying for our college leaders and USC students…

Both Cole and Garrison originally connected with Midtown family during their first weeks as college freshmen at USC. Cole attended a Best First Week Ever event where two older college guys invited him to join their LifeGroup. While it was several months before he attended a Gathering, Cole participated in LifeGroup every week, growing in relationships and understanding of what it meant to be Jesus-centered family on mission. Garrison came to college as a very new believer and recalls that his plan had been to party and join a fraternity but instead, almost immediately met a group of Christian guys who welcomed him in. Through these guys inviting him into their lives, Garrison realized he no longer needed to search for friends elsewhere because he’d met his people.

Now adults and serving in staff roles with our church, Cole and Garrison have a desire to meet and connect with college students over the first fifteen days of the school year because they know personally how it can change the trajectory of a student’s time in college and beyond. The two men have spent the last year raising up and equipping thirty two college leaders in our church who are ready to be sent out to their campus in hopes of welcoming in new students to our church family.

The college team has planned several events on campus that will make up what we like to call Best First Week Ever. Each event is designed around the goal of connecting with students and inviting them into Jesus-centered community in hopes that they can experience why Jesus is better than anything else. Our college leaders have been challenged to participate in the Freshman 15 and for the first 15 nights of the school year plan hangouts that they can invite new people into. The team is also prepared to launch 8 new freshmen LifeGroups within these first few weeks. For the second year in a row, we also have the opportunity to host on-campus college Gatherings (called First Five) for the first five weeks of the semester all leading up to our College Fall Retreat.

As a church family we want to join our college team in prayer during this vital time in their ministry. Below you’ll find a prayer guide for each day of the Freshman 15. We’d invite you to print this off or save it to your phone as we join our students and staff in asking God to use them in welcoming people into His family and showing them that He’s better than anything else.

Freshman Fifteen Prayer Guide

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August 20

Pray for our college leaders as they assist with Move-in Day today on USC’s campus. Pray for the students and families that they will meet and serve.

August 21

Pray for the students that will come out tonight to Best First Week Ever’s Concert at Cool Beans and our college leaders as they welcome them in and begin to connect.

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August 22

Pray for our college students to have boldness to invite people they’ve met to hang out and pray for the first evening of hangouts our students have planned.

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August 23

Today is the first day of classes at USC. Pray for our continued favor on campus and for Midtown students to be used by God in their classes this semester.

August 24

Pray for our 8 new LifeGroups that will be forming and the leaders who are prayerfully seeking people to invite into them. Pray specifically that non-believers will join and through it, come to know God’s love for them.

August 25

Pray for tonight’s hangouts and for our students to be in tune with if there are people they’ve met who they should invite to tomorrow’s Gathering. Pray for new students who may attend a Gathering for the first time. (This would be an extra great Sunday for many of us to arrive 15 minutes early to in hopes that God might use us to connect with new students)

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August 26

Pray for our Block Party after the 11:15 Gathering. Pray that new students would stick around, connect, and get a glimpse of what we are all about. (All of church family is invited to this event! There will be food trucks and more opportunities to create margin around our Gathering time)

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August 27

Pray for students that will come out tonight for Best First Week Ever’s Music at the Russell. Pray for conversations that will be had and relationships that are forming.

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August 28

Pray for our new Freshmen LifeGroup Leaders as they are continuing to invite in and put on display what it means to be Jesus-centered family on mission.

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August 29

Pray for tomorrow night’s on-campus college Gathering (“First Five”) Pray for new students to attend and that believers and non-believers alike will feel welcomed.

 

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August 30

Pray for Michael Bailey as he teaches out of Ecclesiastes tonight at First Five. Pray for the college students in attendance as they hear the truth that Jesus is better than anything else.

August 31

Pray for our leaders as they follow up with students who attended First Five. Pray for tonight’s hangouts and for our leaders to continue to have energy and not grow weary.

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September 1

Pray for continued conversations between new students and our college leaders. Pray for relationships to be formed.  

September 2

Pray for today’s gathering and specifically for college students who may attend for the very first time.

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September 3

Pray for college leadership as they continue ministry throughout the year. Pray specifically pray for the next four weeks of “First Five” that will lead up to College Fall Retreat.

Sermon Recap | Ephesus

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This week we wrapped up our Lessons from Church Planting series by looking at the Church of Ephesus. We have more information about this church than any other in the Bible (Acts 19; 1 and 2 Timothy; Ephesians; Revelation 2) Kent Bateman, pastor of City Church in Knoxville, walked us through two particular passages of scripture to see what we might apply from the church of Ephesus to our own lives.

Acts 19:11-20

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

Following Jesus is necessarily disruptive.

The power of God is so evident through Paul that followers of Jesus bring everything that represents their former way of life, place them on an altar, and destroy them. Their way of life was disrupted in a major way by following Jesus.

When following Jesus disrupts someone’s life, it’s an absolutely beautiful thing to watch.  And when followers of Jesus allow Him to disrupt their lives, we begin to see what the church in Ephesus saw: the power of God prevailing mightily.

Acts 19:23-27

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

Following Jesus not only disrupts your individual life but the life of your city.

Following Jesus so impacted the lives of believers there that the very city felt the shock of men and women no longer worshipping idols in Ephesus.

But somewhere along the way, something happened. And when we see the church of Ephesus addressed in Revelation, it comes with an instruction of warning:

Revelation 2:1-5

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The church in Ephesus had lost their preference for the things of God.

The word that the Bible uses for love in this passage means “to choose to show unconditional preference for something.”

Jesus warns the Ephesians (and us) to not follow the natural drift that will cause everything else to disrupt their love for Jesus. He encourages them to rediscover their love—their preference—for following Jesus that they had in the beginning.

Every time Jesus or what the Scriptures teach conflicts with how we like our lives to be, we have two choices. We can choose to view these moments as threats or as opportunities. And all of that depends on whether or not we’ve allowed Jesus to disrupt our lives.

When Jesus disrupts people, lives change and cities change. So let’s be a part of seeing God’s power prevail. Let’s be a part of the beautifully disruptive kingdom of God. And that all starts with Jesus disrupting us.

Sermon Recap | Athens

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This week we learned from Paul in a city called Athens as he was asked to provide a reason for why anyone might trust Jesus and become a Christian. The following is one of the most studied and discussed passages in scripture on the topic of mission and engagement. What we see is Paul contextualize the gospel for the city of Athens. He meets people where they are and, using their own quotes and ways of thinking, presents the good news of Jesus. 

Acts 17:16-34
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

Paul is motivated by love and concern for these people who are misled, confused, and wrong. Everything that he says and does next flows out of his love, compassion, and concern. This is what drives mission in our lives. People are not projects. We love people because God loves people and we believe that Jesus is worthy of being worshipped by the people He loves. Like Paul, we believe that lives begin to fracture and break down the more that the one true God is pushed out and replaced. 

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[a] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[b] as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’[c]

29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst.34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

What should we take and apply?

1. Observe the idols
What are our idols? What are the objects of our worship? Everyone is pouring out their lives for someone or something. The opposite of Christianity is not atheism but idolatry. We need to know our friends’ and neighbors’ beliefs and idols. 

2. Undermine the idols
Nothing created can bear the weight of providing us with identity and meaning—only God can do that. What do our friends and neighbors believe? What are their idols and how can we help them see disconnects?

3. Show how Jesus is better
We show this to our neighbors and friends in two ways: First, by showing them that Jesus is a transcendent treasure unto Himself and second that whatever it is that they are pursuing in life, Jesus offers a better version of it. Repent and believe is always the invitation. Jesus is the only God who won’t let them down, who laid down His life for them, and rose from the dead to prove that every word He ever said was true and right. 

4. Be provoked
And with all of this, we have to be provoked, like Paul was. We must be provoked by our city and the brokenness that we see. We must be heartbroken over the ways we see people trying to make their lives work apart from God. We must see our indifference as wickedness. If we love the people around us and we believe the gospel, we must figure out every possible way to communicate it effectively.
 

Sermon Recap | Philippi

1. There is no “type” of person who becomes a Christian

The good news brings people together. A wealthy businesswoman, a poor slave girl, and a blue-collar ex-soldier become the church in Philippi. This is the power of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. He brings people together in a way that defies race, socioeconomics, background, and aptitudes. The good news of Jesus has the power to change and transform human beings from the inside out and to make people the family of God. 

2. God uses different methods to reach different people

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to evangelism and sharing our faith. God uses different means for different people who are coming from different places and backgrounds. 

The book, I Once Was Lost, is helpful in noting some common stages that many people go through on the path to becoming a Christian:

  1. trusted a Christian 

  2. interested (not shutting down conversation)

  3. considering (actually open to changing their life)

  4. placed faith in Jesus

3. Prayer is the most important part of the mission
If you talk to people about Jesus more than you talk to Jesus about people, you are doing it wrong. 

Sermon Recap | Antioch

The Christians in Antioch continually took responsibility and were willing to sacrifice for the mission of God. They didn’t get their names in the Bible. They got no credit. They were called “some of them.” Yet their faithfulness caused us to all be referred to as Christians for the rest of history. They jump-started the entire gospel spreading to all of western civilization by sending out Paul. Their reward was in heaven. Jesus called their name and that was enough for them.

Sermon Recap | I Am the Resurrection and the Life

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What do we do with the brokenness and suffering of our lives and in the world? 
What does Jesus have to say about it? What does He offer to real people who go through real pain and suffering?

In John 11:1-16, we see a family in the midst of intense suffering and pain. Jesus’ answer to the suffering and grief of this family is His answer to the suffering and pain we experience: I am the resurrection and the life. 

Nothing in our lives happens by chance or fate. God cares about all of our lives—from the biggest things to the smallest things. He cares about our lives and He’s working in the midst of them. He’s orchestrating all of it to an end and that end is God’s glory. (John 11:4)

In John 11:5-6, we read that Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is the reason he does not come and heal Lazarus immediately. 
    Because He loves them, He lets them go through it.
    Because He loves them, He doesn’t heal right away.
    Because He loves them, He lets them hurt and suffer.
    Because He loves them, He lets them mourn and grieve.

This is perfect love. This is love that seeks the ultimate good. This is love that knows that the ultimate good is the glory of God. 

The most loving thing that Jesus could do for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is wait and let them go through the pain and suffering so that they can see the glory of God. 

And then, in John 11:14, Jesus states that one of His reasons for not immediately saving Lazarus is so His disciples would believe. 

Jesus doesn’t see life the way that we see life. No suffering is wasted in the Kingdom of God. No pain is empty or hopeless. God is using all of it to accomplish His purposes. For His glory and our good. In the moment of Martha’s grief over the death of her brother, Jesus’ response is: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Through this statement, Jesus is reminding Martha that her hope is not in some specific event or set circumstance. Her hope—our hope—is not in a pain-free life. Jesus’ goal is not for Martha to be pain-free in this life; it’s to teach her something through the pain. It’s to accomplish something in her through the pain. Jesus wants Mary and Martha to shift their hope from earthy circumstances and set that hope on Him—their resurrection. 

Martha’s eyes are on the closed tomb of her brother but Jesus wants to move them onto the future empty tomb of her Savior. Death is a certainty for all of us, but Jesus has come with an offer of true life: 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” –John 11:25-26

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He does not say He’s bringing these things. Jesus is the embodiment of the undoing of the curse of sin. Jesus is saying that He is the resurrection for this dying creation; He is the hope for the entire world. Suffering and death is not the end of our story because it was not the end of Christ’s story.

So cling to the one who has all power and all control, who is good and is working all things for His glory. Cling to Jesus who has promised us a resurrection with Him.
 

Sermon Recap | I Am the Light of the World

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Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” - John 8:12 

In this statement, Jesus is saying that we all exist in spiritual darkness and that He’s the only one capable of turning on the lights. He then goes on to explain what gives Him the authority to be the light of the world: 

Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. - John 8:14

Jesus’ evidence for his authoritative statement is that He knows where He came from and where He is going. Later, in John 12, He further draws out this comparison:

32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

One way that we, as humans, have adapted to living life in the dark is that we tend to operate the truth train backwards and lead with our feelings and experiences. All these feelings and experiences only add up to speculation. But Jesus offers us something much better than speculation; Jesus offers revelation. In John 12:8, Jesus invites us to follow Him out of the darkness and into His light. 

The rest of the book of John will continue this refrain:

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” – John 11:9-10
46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. – John 12:46 

Jesus invites us out of darkness and with this invitation we can stop basing our lives on speculation and instead center them around revelation. 

Revelation says that God’s truth is the only truth. What we feel and think matters, but it does not bend reality in any way. 

If you are going through a difficult season right now, the good news about Jesus being the light of the world is that we do not grieve as those who do not have hope. We don’t suffer the same way as people stuck in the confusion of the dark suffer because we’ve been led out of it. He brings us out of our very limited view of our lives and tells us that He’s working all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. 

Because Jesus is the light of the world, He shows us over and over again that we’ve been looking at things all wrong. He’s come to call us out of darkness—out of speculation—and into His glorious, unchanging revelation. 

Jesus is the light of the world. He knew where He came from. He knew where He was going. He is the only trustworthy authority to follow out of the darkness. Thanks to Him, we don’t have to base our lives and eternities on speculation anymore.
 

Sermon Recap | I Am the Good Shepherd

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When Jesus claims to be a shepherd, He’s saying two things:

  1. He’s leading God’s people. He’s the one who cares for us.
  2. We are the sheep

Ezekiel 34:1-23 paints the picture of us as sheep in need of a good shepherd to save us. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:22-23. God has not forgotten His flock and He sent Jesus to rescue and care for His sheep.

Three ways that Jesus is our Good Shepherd:

1. Jesus gathers God’s people (John 10:1-6)

Jesus fulfills the prophecy to draw God’s people back to Himself. Jesus knows and calls each of us (His sheep) by name. He knows everything about us. We follow Jesus because we are His sheep.

2. Jesus protects God’s people (John 10:7-10)

Jesus isn’t just the shepherd; He’s also the door of the sheep. Jesus protects us from the destruction of sin and gives us joy. In Jesus, regardless of circumstances, we can find unshakable joy and abundant life. The Good Shepherd promises that the closer we walk with Him and more intimately we follow Him, the greater our joy will be.

3. Jesus dies for God’s people (John 10:11-18)

When the sheep are in imminent danger, our Good Shepherd lays down His life. A hired hand loves his own life more than he loves the sheep. Jesus isn’t a hired hand. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The sheep belong to Him and He loves them more than He loves His own life. That’s why He lays down His life for the sheep. When He sees the enemy coming, He doesn’t run; He steps in front of the sheep.

Who are you following? You are following a shepherd. We all are.  We are all sheep. The question isn’t whether or not you’re following a shepherd, it’s whether or not you are following the Good Shepherd.

Sermon Recap | I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

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Immediately following the Last Supper and washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus told His friends that He was about to go away—meaning that He was going to die, resurrect, and ascend to heaven. And then this conversation took place:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. -John 14:1-11

Jesus tells His disciples that He will get them home to heaven—a place where their hearts and souls will finally be at rest. And when His disciples question His claim, Jesus reminds them that He is the physical encounter with God; His works validate His claims. (Of course, He will eventually put the exclamation point on all of this by rising from the dead) In this little section of scripture alone, Jesus uses the word “believe” five times. Jesus says to His disciples, “I will handle everything. I will prepare a place for you. I will get you home. You just need to see to it that you are with me. Believe—entrust yourself to me—and I will get you home.”

Men like Peter and Paul took what Jesus said and they continued to teach it. (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:11-20) This teaching was in direct contradiction to the Roman Empire’s pluralistic belief system of many gods and many ways to the gods. Many Followers of Christ were actually killed because they would not say that Jesus was one of many gods, but instead, even under severe persecution, continued to proclaim that Jesus was Lord.

So how do we today, deal with questions and criticisms against Jesus’ claim that He is the only way to God?

1. Isn’t it dangerous to claim that Jesus is the only way to God
Doesn’t religious fundamentalism cause all sorts of problems and therefore shouldn’t we be done with it?

Generally speaking, religious fundamentalism can certainly be dangerous. It all depends on what the fundamental is. At the center of our faith is a man dying for his enemies. If you met a true Christian extremist fundamentalist, he wouldn’t kill those he disagreed with; he would die for them.

Calling people to follow a man who died for his enemies won’t make people dangerous. It will make them beautiful.

 

2. Isn’t it arrogant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God? Isn’t it arrogant to say that we have the truth and everyone else is wrong?

“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table” –GK Chesterton

Truth is not about pride or humility; it’s about fact.

Claiming that Jesus is God who rose from the dead and that He alone can get us to heaven is not about pride or humility. Now we could be right or wrong, but Jesus says that we should believe on account of His works. We believe He is right because He validated himself. We are not saying that we have the truth. We are saying that Jesus knows the truth. He’s the one who said it. Not us.

Now, sometimes people accuse Christians of being arrogant because Christians are being arrogant. If Christians ridicule other religions, are harsh or rude or self-righteous towards people of other backgrounds, or afraid of any sort of dialogue, then they are fairly criticized as being arrogant. It is possible to hold to the truth in a way that undermines the truth to which we hold. But the arrogance is not because we hold that Jesus rose from the grave.

3. Isn’t it more inclusive to claim that all good people go to heaven, no matter what they believe? Aren’t we being unnecessarily exclusive? Can’t we just say that all good people go to heaven?

By saying “all good people go to heaven” we are excluding bad people: people who don’t measure up, those who fall short and are inadequate. That is far more divisive and exclusive and self-righteous than Jesus is. To reject Christianity because it is exclusive but then say, “all good people go to heaven” is actually being more exclusive than Jesus. Jesus invites us to simply “believe” and be accepted by Him.

Jesus is exclusive but He’s not exclusive because of who He lets in; He’s exclusive because He’s the only way to get in.

There is room for everyone at the foot of the cross.


For those of us who know Jesus, it’s not just that He’s the only way home; He is home. Heaven isn’t heaven without Jesus. Heaven is heaven because Jesus is there. The presence of God is our home. For those of us who belong to Him, we’ve found Him to be all He says He is and more…including the way, the truth, the life.

Sermon Recap | I Am the Bread of Life

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This week we looked at the claim Jesus makes in John 6 that He is the Bread of Life.

The Problem:

People assume the purpose of religion is to have God as a helper who provides them with abundance and happiness, perhaps through material possessions, a promotion at work, or inner peace and tranquility.

In America, we live in a society spiritually marked by what people call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The 5 central tenants of this religious worldview are:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth

  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions

  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself

  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem

  5. Good people go to heaven when they die

This is a Jesus-less belief system. This is American spirituality that has no need for a savior. Jesus has no place or value. He will never be valued because He is irrelevant at best.

In John 6:35, Jesus confronts and destroys this belief system: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Key Words:

  • Bread: Bread was the central, critical food item and Jesus calls Himself the bread of life (bread=survival)

  • Life: There are two Greek words for “life” (bios=exist; zoe=live) and Jesus uses the word “zoe” to emphasize that the bread of God is coming from heaven to give life.

  • Believe: The word used was “pisteuo” meaning to entrust oneself to another. Belief does not mean laboring or working for God. In fact, to receive the bread of God, you actually must stop laboring and working for it. Belief is a personal relationship with a very real and personable God.

With these three words in mind, we can further unpack this grand statement of Jesus’ that He makes in John 6 shortly after He feeds the multitude:

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Jesus tells the crowd that they are seeking Him for the wrong reasons. They came to Him only to fill their physical appetite, but He offers them something different and much better: Jesus moves from their physical need to their spiritual one.

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

When they then ask Jesus how they should work for God, His response is that they must believe. Working for Jesus does not make Jesus precious to you; Seeking and savoring Jesus makes Him precious to you.

30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

When the people finally say they want the bread of life, Jesus tells them that He is the bread of life.

Jesus did not comE into the world mainly to give bread, but to be bread.

Like the crowd in the story, we often come to Jesus only to get what we can from Him. The problem with this mentality is that God is not a mere helper to make our lives better; He is life. Jesus did not come to meet our earthly desires; He came to change our desires.

Do you see Jesus as useful or do you see Him as the treasure?

If Jesus is the Bread of Life, then nothing else can be. The good life is not found in possessions or circumstances but in His presence. It is not something He gives but something He is.

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Because Jesus is the Bread of Life broken for us, He must be consumed. Jesus makes everyone choose: Either He is the Bread of Life, you believe and you consume Him… or you walk away.

Following Jesus is about getting Jesus. It’s not about what He will give you. Jesus isn’t a means to an end; His promises begin and end with His presence.  

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

The commitment to Jesus is often high when He gives people what they want, but many turn away when He reveals his identity and thus calls for their lives.

Who is Jesus to you?

Is Jesus the Bread of Life broken for you? Does your life reveal that? Do you really believe that the good life is found in Him? If none of your earthly desires were granted or if they were ripped away, would you still follow Jesus because He is the only bread of life?

Because Jesus is the Bread of Life, we must repent of everything else we’ve been chasing, and of all the ways we’ve viewed Jesus as merely helpful or useful, and come and eat.

Sermon Recap | I Am

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This week we kicked off our new series, “I Am God.” For the next six weeks, we will journey together through the gospel according to John as we examine seven different “I Am” statements that Jesus makes about himself.

We began our series by examining John 8:48-58:

The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.  I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.  Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.  Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”  “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

There has never been a more profound revelation of who God is than: I AM WHO I AM

(Exodus 3:1-15). It was from this proclamation in Exodus that God gave his covenant name: Yahweh: the intimate name between God and His people. As a result, Moses and his descendants knew this was the most holy and most sacred name—so much so that they refused to speak it or even spell it.

This name was the holiest word, the highest expression of divine self-reference, and in John 8, Jesus Christ does not simply take it on his lips; he takes it on himself.

With this self-revelation, Jesus draws a line in the sand. He claims to be God.

The seven statements that we are going to examine in this series are extreme:

I AM the way, the truth, the life

I AM the good shepherd

I AM the bread of life

I AM the gate

I AM the light of the world

I AM the true vine

I AM the resurrection and the life

Jesus has left us no middle ground. We have to do something with Him—either we worship Him or we crucify Him. There is no in between. We either reject Him or we give every inch of our lives to Him.  The more that we see Jesus as I AM, the more we realize we are not. And that changes everything.

Sermon Recap | Every Group Around the Pool

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Because of sin, we have three problems:

  1. Broken Creation (death, disease)

  2. Internal (Because we are sinners, we don’t trust God and we’ve built our lives around things other than Him)

  3. External (We have set ourselves up against God; He is rightly offended and opposed to us. He cannot let sin go undealt with and remain just)

What we need is reconciliation. We need for creation to be restored to its original design and we need to be reconciled to God. God’s response is to provide a way for us to be reconciled to him—first through Abraham and the Law and then, ultimately, through Jesus. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Jesus’ life was about reconciling all things back to God. (Colossians 1:19-22)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
-2 Corinthians 5:14-20

As new creations in Christ, we are given new minds that want to learn about God and know Him and new desires that draw us to God and the things of God. This is what propels the church of God forward.

Be sure to listen to the sermon for a broad summary of how the Gospel spread from Jesus’ closest friends all the way to us in Columbia, SC!

So how does our church go about the ministry of reconciliation?

Midtown’s Philosophy of Ministry:

Gatherings and LifeGroups are our primary programs

The Bible calls us into:

  1. Knowledge

  2. Care

  3. Friendships

  4. Mission

A healthy church culture will embody each of these things which is why that’s our aim for LifeGroups.

Elements of LifeGroup time:

  1. Discuss the sermon

  2. Engage the heart

  3. Catch up on life

  4. Review the mission

According to feedback from LifeGroups, the area that we are the weakest in is mission so we are starting an initiative called “Every Group Around the Pool.” We want every LifeGroup gathered around the baptistery as someone they led to Christ gets baptized.

We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and we find ourselves in a long line of believers who have faithfully proclaimed and ministered and watch God bless it by saving and redeeming and reconciling men and women to himself.