A Very Midtown Advent Book List [updated]


[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]


[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 Throw a Lifegroup Christmas Party


Jake Blair, one of our Church Planting Candidates, shares some ideas for how to host a memorable and intentional Christmas party this holiday season. 

It’s that time of year where many of our calendars are filled with Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, Secret Santa gift swaps, cookie exchanges and the like. In the midst of all the events, sometimes it’s hard to know how to maximize social enjoyment and gospel intentionality in a way that doesn’t feel awkward or forced.

This requires considering who is there. If your group has a lot of non-believers involved, make sure you help them understand what you’re doing and why. Give them a heads up so they don’t feel like any kind of bait and switch weirdness is happening.

With all that in mind, here are some ways to remind ourselves of the hope we have in Jesus by throwing LifeGroup parties that are both fun and full of gospel intentionality:

Consider Reading and Praying Together

  • This can work with an all adult party or a mixture of kids and adults!
  • Gather in a big circle and have someone or multiple people in your LifeGroup read the Christmas story out loud. 
  • When you’re done reading, spend some time praying and thanking God for sending His Son, Jesus to save us from our sins. 
  • Reading plans:
    • Simplest - Read Luke 1:1-21 straight through (or break it up into three parts - Luke 1:1-7, 8-14 and 15-21.)
    • Or make your own!

Sing Together

As Elf reminds us, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” As the Scripture reminds us, no one has more reason for Christmas singing than those of us who believe God sent His son to save us! And over and over (references from isaiah and Psalms and New Testament) God actually commands us to sing out loud. 

Why? Because biblical truths have a way of sinking further into our hearts when we put them to melody and music. So, get past any social awkwardness and strike up a fun and rich gospel-centered carol!

  • Have someone print out lyrics to familiar Christmas hymns and sing them together. Consider songs like, “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Joy Has Dawned” or “Come and Stand Amazed.” 
  • If you have musically gifted folks, encourage them to bring their instruments and play! 


In Isaiah, God promises us that when Jesus returns, we will all enjoy a massive feast with Jesus as the guest of honor. In light of that, every feast here on earth has the potential to point our hearts toward the feast He is preparing for us in that day.

  • Throw a big potluck. 
  • Don’t be thrifty with food; be extravagant! Encourage everyone to bring their very best thing they make. (a.k.a. Don’t ruin Jesus’ birthday party with instant potatoes.)
  • Invite people who could use a feast. Consider who in your life doesn’t normally get invited to the best parties and make them feel extra welcomed.
  • When you pray before the meal, emphasize God’s incredible goodness in providing this small feast and inviting us to the larger feast of heaven!

Start a New Tradition

Healthy families make memories together. One of the best ways to do this is by creating traditions that help make memories for years to come.

Discuss beforehand what would be fun for y’all. Make it special and memorable. (For example, if you always only do Secret Santa every year, consider mixing it up!) Options could be:

  • Watching a Christmas movie together that everyone quotes specific lines together.
  • Play a post-dinner football game or card game. 
  • Have a gingerbread house building contest!
  • (Consider incentives like: winners win a prize or losers have to clean the dishes!)

Throwing a LifeGroup party this holiday season? Use the hashtag #AVeryMidtownChristmas and we’ll feature you in our social media.

Sermon Recap | Peace for our World


Read Luke 2:8-14.

Every other time in the Bible that we see a group of angels singing, they are in the throne room of God. But here in Luke, an entire group of angels comes to witness and proclaim divinity being born as a human baby.

And in verse 14, the angels proclaim peace over those with whom God is pleased.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom - the Greek word is eirene - and it’s way more than the absence of conflict. It is not just the absence of bad. It’s the presence of everything good that is supposed to exist in all our relationships with God, ourselves and others. 

(Check out this 4 minute video for a more in-depth explanation of the word Shalom; This could be great to watch as a family or a LifeGroup and discuss!) 

In Luke, when the angels declare peace on earth, they mean way more than just internal, personal peace. Jesus’ advent is going to impact the global fabric of the world - broken shalom at a macro level. 

The reality of macro level broken shalom is the backdrop for a prophecy in Isaiah 9:2-7: 

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The solution for peace on earth is actually government—but a totally different kind of government. A sinless one. One that can change sinful hearts. One that can restore shalom completely in all our relationships, with God, ourselves and others. The promises in Isaiah are powerful because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is going to bring exactly that kind of government.

The angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 are the beginning of His peace invasion.

God has promised that there will be no end to the spread of Jesus kingdom and peaceful reign. And wherever it spreads, it’s taking shalom with it. 

We don’t have to wonder if that will happen, just when it will happen. We are like shepherds in a field, watching our flocks by night, smiling and just waiting on the clouds to part. We know that as surely as the angels broke through and announced the good news of Jesus the first time, He will surely come again and finish what He started.

And in case you have any doubt how committed God is about restoring shalom in all of creation, the cross is the proof. In the cross, the Prince of Peace took all of the world’s brokenness and sin onto Himself. And then He didn’t stay dead. God’s Spirit rose God’s Son and Jesus has conquered death and the grave.

So now until King Jesus returns to usher in His kingdom of peace once and for all, we long for His return and we live for it. We are called to be peacemakers—to  join God in increasing his governance to people and systems and communities that are broken and in need of shalom. 

Because we’ve been given peace through the blood of the Prince of Peace, we’re now looking for every opportunity to bring His kingdom of peace on earth. All seven of our Serve the City partners are precisely about this. The challenge this week is for all members of Midtown Family to give an average of $20 to our Serve the City partnerships. You can give online here. You can also sign up to serve here

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.


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.


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.


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.

Sermon Recap | Grace for Our Sin


The goal of our |giv| series from it’s beginning has been simple: we as a church family want to fight against the chaos of the holiday season which focuses on and promotes consumerism, and we want to refocus our attention on our gracious and generous God who gave everything to rescue and redeem a people for His own possession.

The Problem: Self Imposed Captivity

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the LORD: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.”  - Isaiah 52:1-3

The Old Testament tells the story of God’s people in rebellion against Him and the punishment they experienced because of their rebellion. They sinned and chased after other gods, thus breaking their covenant with God. This open rebellion and rejection of God led to Israel’s captivity.

What’s taking place with Israel is a picture of what sin does in all of us. Sin brings captivity, and we become its captives. 

Perhaps in this season you feel the weight of your own chosen captivity: 

  1. Captivity feels like weighty chains. Maybe you feel like you can’t measure up. Maybe you feel like no matter how hard you try, no matter how much effort you put forth, you don’t seem to be the person you know you ought to be.
  2. Captivity feels like entrapment. Maybe you can’t believe you did “that thing” again. Maybe you feel overwhelming shame of having to admit in LifeGroup that you did “that thing” again. You continue to fail over and over again and you feel defeated.  
  3. Captivity feels like you are unrescuable. Maybe you feel like you’re too far gone, as if you are outside of the reach of God’s saving arms. Maybe you feel like you have done too much, so you carry guilt and shame. 

The Promise: God Will Send a Redeemer 

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. - Isaiah 53:2-6

Redeem: The deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer.

Israel in the midst of its own captivity is crying out for a deliverer, a messiah, someone to rescue them from captivity. We too have longed for and continue to long for a savior, a deliverer, someone to deliver us into freedom.

The Solution: Jesus 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” - Matthew 1:18–21

In order for captives to be freed, either a ransom must be paid or the power must be overthrown. God, in Christ, does both. He delivered His people from captivity by paying for their sins and overthrowing the rule of sin and death.

No matter what you might be feeling, Jesus came to bring freedom from captivity. 

  1. Freedom from weighty chains. We are credited by His righteousness, so there is no more pressure to perform or live up to an unattainable standard. Through Christ, we have become sons and daughters whom God loves and is well pleased with. 
  2. Freedom from entrapment. Our Redeemer has overthrown the power of sin and death. Sin has lost its grip on us. We now have the freedom to choose righteousness. 
  3. Freedom from the lie. We are prone to believe the great lie that God does not love you, that you are too far gone, or that you are not worth the price. The truth is, God’s love for you is so great that he crushed His own son for you. 

In this Advent season, as the holiday craziness quickly approaches, let’s focus our hearts on freedom. Don’t look to the perfect holiday to set you free, look to the perfect Son who alone can set you free. 

Sermon Recap | Overcoming Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Busyness
  2. Apathy

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

Three ways to persevere: 

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

Sermon Recap | Winsomely Weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live in harmony with one another.

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

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

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

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

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

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

Never be wise in your own spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Application: 

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

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

Practical Application: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Application:

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

Going Deeper: Spiritual Gifts

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

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

Spiritual gifts that serve with WORDS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual gifts that serve with your HANDS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual gifts that serve with your STUFF:

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon Recap | Participate Like Parts of a Body

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

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

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

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

Three pushbacks people have:

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

Three Categories of Spiritual Gifts:

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

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

Three Next Steps:

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

Staff Spotlight | Renew Your Mind


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

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

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

Jon Ludovina: Teaching

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

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

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

Tim Olson: Church Planting Candidate

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

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

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

Laura Jones: Kidtown

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

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

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

Jay Hendricks: Music and Production

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

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

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

Nick Johnston: Communications

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

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

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

Sermon Recap | Belong Like Parts of a Body

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

Church unity looks like one body with many members.

4 things that threaten church unity:

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

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

Living in Light of Eternity


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

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

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


Caroline Faucette

In the Classroom

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

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

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


Dave and Karen Brower

On the Mission Field

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

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

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


Kent and Ana Bateman

Church Planting

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

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

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


Dalisha Shingler

Education Reform


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

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

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

What makes it worth it?

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


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

Dave and Karen: 

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

Kent and Ana: 

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


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

Sermon Recap | Transformation vs. Behavior Modification 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon Recap | "You only live once."


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

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

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

What we can accept from YOLO:

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

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

What we reject from YOLO:

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

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

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

What we can redeem from YOLO:

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

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

Loving the Stranger to Whom You Find Yourself Married


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singleness: Punishment or Blessing?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask yourself:

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

2. When romance becomes God, disappointment will follow.

Check out Genesis 29 for a case study.

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

A Counselor Reflects on Healthy Boundaries and Safe People


Ask a Professional: An Interview with Kristi Clements; LPC

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

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

How do you define “boundaries” as a counselor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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