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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Andy Stanley » Andy Stanley - I Love My Church

Andy Stanley - I Love My Church

Andy Stanley - I Love My Church

So thanks for being here and for those of you at all of our Atlanta area churches, and I think we have about 12 churches joining us live today. Thanks. Thanks for being there. And I haven't greeted everybody at North Point, so for those of you at the churches, give me just a second. If this is your first time with us, you came in a very unique, interesting time. In fact, you're about to learn some things about our church that will make you love us more or decide you know, I don't think that's church for me. So it's the really, it's the perfect time to be here, and you're so welcome to be here. And I assure you, if you come back next week, it won't be this crowded.

In fact, it may never be this crowded again, but I'm actually, I mean I keep getting people praying for me today, which I'm so grateful, but I'm honestly genuinely excited because I love our church and I love to brag about our church. And really today is just an opportunity that I have hoped I have eventually, came sooner than I thought to just tell you about some things about your church that you've been up to that you didn't know about. Not because they were secret, but because your lives just didn't necessarily interface with some of these amazing environments. Now, that said, this is not an emotionally neutral topic.

So out of sensitivity for the people around you, and this is for everybody at all of our churches, if you would please hold your boos and your applause. And I put this up here because if you say hold your boos, that can mean different things to different people. So I mean like this kind of boos. So hold your boos and your applause unless you're at home, hold anything you want, but I hold your boos and your applause. And I don't mean hold 'em to the end. I mean just you know, just hold 'em. And, and this, I didn't know if I should say this or not, but for those of you who are like super enthusiastic Christians, like you just preach along with me.

Yeah, preach it and get 'em sick 'em, go Andy, you know, and I understand that I grew up in that tradition. If you could dial that back a little bit, really outta sensitivity to some people around you who may be processing some of the things I'm gonna talk about for the first time in their whole life and may just disagree. So if we could just be sensitive today, that would be amazing. So let's jump in. On September the 18th, which is just a couple of weeks ago, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention published this article. Some of you have seen this. The Train is Leaving the Station. Andy Stanley's Departure from Biblical Christianity. The focus of the article, for those of you who saw it, and lots and lots of people saw it, that's why we're talking about today. The focus of the article was a conference that we hosted here at North Point Community Church this past Thursday and Friday, the Unconditional Conference.

Now, I don't think I've, I know I've never taken a whole Sunday to respond to criticism from outside our organization. In fact, I don't even respond publicly to criticism that comes from outside of our organization. I've taught you for years, you're doing a great work. Don't come down like Nehemiah. Well, we're doing a great work. I'm doing a great work. We don't have time to go down you know, and have meaning meaningless conversations. So I just, I don't respond. But because of his influence, the author of this article's influence, because of his influence and how widely this article has circulated and Christendom and in light of the confusion that this article and others just like it, have created for people in our church. 'Cause I've heard from you and I'm so glad you reached out. The confusion that's created in our network of churches.

And then as we began to hear the confusion, it's created, and I feel strange saying this, but this is the magnitude and why we're taking a Sunday to talk about it. The confusion is created in different parts of the world, especially with missionary organizations and churches who look to us for leadership. And all of a sudden they read these articles accusing us of all kind of stuff, and they begin to lose their confidence and they wonder hey, what's going on in Atlanta and what's going on specifically with Andy?

So we decided to address it. But here's the tricky part. The way I view this, and even though we have influence outside the walls of our church, I'm a local church pastor. From the way I think about this, and so you, and by you, I mean anybody at any of our local churches or our network of churches, you are my first audience. So I've made it a habit to never say anything out there that I haven't said in here first. And so I feel like I need to respond out there to some of the criticism, but before I respond out there, I wanted you to hear it from me first. And that's why we chose not to stream the message online.

Now, I know there are a lot of people who came from the outside because we weren't streaming it, and they just can't wait to you know, get their claws into us. I get that. And we're so glad that you're here. We'd love for you to come every single weekend. You may gain a different perspective on us for sure, but maybe even the Christian faith. So I know we have some people from the outside, but this is, I guess symbolically my way of saying I want you to hear this from me first before the outside world hears it. So back to the article. Y'all are very smart people, so all you have to do is you know, in 30 seconds you can read between the lines. The author is actually accusing me of departing from his version of biblical Christianity.

So I want to go on record and say I have never subscribed to his version of biblical Christianity to begin with, so I'm not leaving anything. And he, if he were here, he would say well, Andy, I've never subscribed to your version of biblical Christianity. And that's okay. We can agree to disagree, but this is so extraordinarily misleading. In my opinion, just my opinion, his version of biblical Christianity is the problem. His version, this version of biblical Christianity is why people are leaving Christianity unnecessarily. It's the version that causes people to resist the Christian faith because they can't find Jesus in the midst of all the other stuff and all the other theology and all the other complexity that gets globbed on to the message.

Bottom line, that version of Christianity draws lines. And Jesus drew circles. He drew circles so large and included so many people in his circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous. And his circle was big enough to include sinners like me. And I come from a long line of sinners like me. No Eric Church fans in the crowd. Okay, keep going. The good news is, now the good news is this article actually gives me an opportunity to talk about some things again, I am so proud of, but there's just never been an opportunity to talk about it.

So today I'm gonna tell you the backstory to the current story and then talk about our story moving forward. So we gotta go back in time for a few years. In 2014, Tom Chefs Unis and Kevin Ragsdale, who oversaw our amazing network of middle school and high school ministries throughout our network of churches. I think it was Tom that first came to me. He said Andy, more and more middle school students are coming out to their small group leaders about their same sex attraction. And we had already seen this begin to happen with high school students coming out to their small group leaders.

And so Tom and Kevin said hey Andy, our small group leaders and our volunteers, they just don't feel equipped to talk to a middle school or a high school student about same sex attraction. And would you put together a training to help our leaders, you know, know what to do with this? Well, to me, that is an extraordinary win. This is you know, this is almost 10 years ago. Once upon a time, I don't have to tell you this, once upon a time, the last place a middle school student or a high school student was gonna talk about their same sex attraction, the last place they were gonna talk about it was where? In church. And now they feel confident and they feel connected to where they can talk about the most sensitive area of their life with their small group leader in church.

I'm telling you, I'm so proud of our church and our volunteers and this incredible system that Kevin engineered all those years ago that's so relationally driven. So in spite of the fact that it created some tension, I thought, what a win for the church and what a win for us. Now to catch some of you up on some of the language I'm gonna use for the next few minutes, this is very important. When a Christian middle school student or a Christian high school student comes out about same sex attraction, they have rarely, rarely, rarely ever engaged in any same sex behavior. And this is an important distinction because of the way terminology is thrown around. And unfortunately the ways that Christians throw it around sometimes.

To the contrary, the realization that they are even drawn in the direction of same sex attraction is terrifying to a middle schooler and terrifying to a high school student. They don't embrace it, they resist it. They try to convince themselves that what they're feeling isn't real. They can try to convince themselves that perhaps this is just just gonna go away. If I don't think about it, if I don't tell anybody, maybe it's just gonna go away. And most are overwhelmed with a sense of something is wrong with me, even though I haven't done anything wrong.

Something is deeply wrong with me, even though I haven't done anything wrong. And they find themselves in a battle, not against a behavior. They find themselves in a battle against a defining attraction that they did not choose, but somehow has chosen them. And they pray and they pray and they pray. The truth is, the majority of gay adults acknowledge that at some point in their lives, they asked God to take it away. In my experience, I've talked to many, many, many, many gay men in particular, and I would say they don't just ask God to take it away, they beg God to take it away. They weep and ask God to take it away. They're afraid of disappointing their parents.

Depending on the church that they attend, they are literally afraid they are going to hell. Not because of anything they've done, but because of who they are, because of the message, not of culture, the message of the church. The implications are this, that most, not all, I wanna be careful, most gay men or women you know once upon a time they were a kid with a terrifying secret and they asked God to change them and God did not answer their prayer. So Kevin and Chev asked me to do this. I'm thinking oh, I'd be happy to, except I don't know anything about that exactly. So we did some investigation. There were virtually, there were really no resources to talk specifically about what we were gonna talk about, but I felt you know, I wanna help our small group leaders.

So I put together a training and I'll tell you where I got the content in just a minute. And so we gathered right here in this room at North Point Community Church, there were hundreds of small group leaders from all of our campuses, and I invited all the high school students who led small groups of middle schoolers because they could be part of this conversation. And the theme that night was this, the church should be the safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything including same sex attraction. In fact, I told everybody in the room, hey, when people ask you hey, what was that meeting about that you went to at the church?

I want you to say this, the church should be the safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything including same sex attracts. And I had 'em say it over and over and over because that was the theme. And that's what we believe the church should be the safest place on the planet. And the fact that middle schoolers and high school students were coming out to their small group leader, amazing. Again, I'm just so proud of our church. So in preparing for this, you know, our presentation I did on a, I think it was a Thursday night. Again, I couldn't find any helpful resources, so I knew who could answer this question best.

Some months earlier I had met with about 15 gay adult attenders who attended our campuses that we had contacted through the years. And I always was wondering why do you attend our church? You know, I mean based on how we teach and preach and I mean why do you attend? So I'd had this fascinating conversation. So I knew a bunch of their stories. So I immediately emailed I think six or seven of them, and I said I'm putting this training together, you know, I'm kind of making some of this stuff up, but you've had a bad church experience that I know you don't want repeated for this generation of kids with same-sex attraction.

So help me out. And I asked several questions. This is one of the questions I ask them. How do you wish the church had responded when you came out? In other words, what would've made a difference in your life? Because all of them that I had talked to, they all grew, all of 'em grew up in church. In fact, 86% of LGBQ plus folks in the United States grew up in church, but they leave church at twice the rate of straight people. So I knew they'd grown up in church, had bad church experience. So I asked them, what would help us help this student, group of students not experience what you did and that you experienced in your local church? What can we do to ensure that our same-sex attract students don't have a church experience like yours and lose their faith along the way? And they all responded.

And I sat at my kitchen counter and I just wept. And their insight and input was gold. It was so helpful. But the reason it was so emotional to me, because I already knew some of their stories, the reason it was so emotional was because all of them began this way, I can't believe anyone in the church is even interested in my story. I can't believe a pastor is actually asking me to help with ministry. And I just cried. So I took what they had, what they gave me, incredible insight, put it together. We did this training. Again, some of you, I am sure that some of you were there that night for that. Our students were appreciative, the leaders were appreciative.

And then our student pastors at our different campuses, of course, they were all in networks of student pastors in other churches. They began talking about it and other churches said hey, can we have that? Can we use that? And we were very hesitant. I mean this is you know, about 10 years ago. And you know, this whole conversation is so delicate, but it's so extremely important. So we just gave it away to pastors, youth pastors that wanted to show it. And then we began to hear back from youth pastors that said hey, I watched it. My small group leaders need this so, so, so much. But if I showed this to my student, to my volunteers, I would lose my job.

Now, pause there. A few years before that, and I can't do this in chronological order, you'll understand why in a minute. Back in 2011, okay, we're 2023. Back in 2011, our care network began getting more and more calls from parents whose kids had come out to them about their same sex attraction. Or in some cases their kids just announced to the parents, hey mom, dad, I'm gay. And the parents just didn't know what to do with this. So they called the church, they're like can anybody at the church talk to my son or my daughter? Is there somebody I can meet with? We don't know what to do. This took us by surprise. My kids were raised in church, they made a profession of faith, they were baptized, and now suddenly they're telling me they're gay and we don't know what to do.

These were middle school students, high school students, college students, kids in their twenties. Lynn McDonald, who I'll tell you more about in a minute, she says this, they, she and Greg have a gay son. And here's what she said. This is so instructive. She said when our children come out of the closet and we discover our child is LGBTQ plus, most Christian parents, most Christian parents go into the closet where many experience isolation and depression. Being in the closet prolongs your pain. Being in the closet prolongs your pain. This past weekend at the unconditional conference that we hosted, there was a father who shared his story. He said he got a call late one night, it was his son. He said dad, I'm in North Carolina, I'm in the hospital.

I just tried to take my life. And before his dad could respond he said and the next thing out of his son's mouth was I'm gay. And as he told a story, he said hey, you know, parents go into the closet. He said but for me, and for for my wife, when we found out our son was gay, I went into one closet and she went into a different closet. And then we both just turned out the lights because we didn't know what to do. We didn't know how to feel. We felt like failures as parents and Christian parents with gay kids, very rarely ever talk about it with anyone. They say they don't even talk about it with their closest friends. And they're certainly not gonna talk about it with their church friends.

And parents wonder what do we do wrong? How could we have kept this from happening? Is this our fault? Why our child? I prayed for my son every single morning. Moms, you know the prayers of a mother. I prayed for my daughter every single day. How could this happen? So Debbie Cozy, who runs our network of care throughout of all of our campuses, she said Andy there's, we're getting all these calls. Is it okay if I start a small group and maybe put the these parents together so we don't have to meet one-on-one? There's too many. And I said absolutely do that. And that group grew and grew and grew and outgrew a house and outgrew another house. And in the 2015, that group divided into three groups. And currently there are about 350 parents in these various parent connect groups. And that's what she decided to call it, Parent Connect.

And our ministry, that's been a part of our church for years and years and years, Parent Connect was born out of that need. The Parent Connect groups meet once a month. And I love the purpose. Debbie wrote this, and I quote this all the time. In fact, if you're a parent, this is just a great parenting strategy. Here's the purpose of Parent Connect. It's three things, to help parents love their child well. Every parent already loves their child, but when your child comes out as gay or says they're gay or struggling with same sex attraction or just embraces that identity and says mom, this is who I am, dad, this is who I am.

And you can say what you want, but this is who I am. In those moments, learning how to love your child in a different way and to love your child well is a skill in some ways that you have to develop even though you already love them in your heart. Because generally speaking, the first words that come out of a parent's mouth in those moments aren't the right words. And understandably so, because their child has been process, this is so important. Their child has been processing this for months. In some cases, they've been processing this for years, and mom and dad had no idea. And they finally got the courage to come out. And now mom and dad are starting a journey that their child has been in in some cases for many, many years.

So the three purposes to love their child well, number two, to help their child, to help parents point their child toward Jesus. This is what parent Connect does. Because kids detach from their, oftentimes detach from their faith depending on the church they're in, depending on the language their parents have used, depending on the language their parents use when they respond to their kids. So to teach parents how, even if you're not so sure you disagree with the decisions your kids have made, how to continue to point them to Jesus.

And the number three, and this is the most important one, I love this. And also to help parents discover what God wants to do in their own hearts. Because parents, you know this and grandparents, we parent through the filters of our heart. We parent through the filter of our insecurities. We parent through the filters of our fears, and we parent through the filters of our hopes and dreams for our kids, right? And when a young man or young woman comes out to their parents that they're gay or whatever term they used. In that moment, the parents' insecurities and fears skyrocket. And in that moment, their hopes and dreams for their children vanish. And that's a place a parent never wants to be. And they find their selves there suddenly.

So then Debbie came along and she said I've got another idea. She said now that we've got all these Parent Connect groups, I want to do a quarterly event where we bring all of them together so that they can see each other in one room at one time. Because on this journey, on this journey, knowing you are not alone is encouraging, is extremely encouraging, but knowing that you are not alone at your church is life giving. For some parents, they would say it was breathtaking.

So once a quarter on a Thursday night here at North Point Community Church, over in the attic where middle school meets on Sunday morning, we have an event. Debbie hosts this event. There's generally 150 or so parents. And now they've invited their high school kids, depending on what they're doing that night to attend as well. And they'll have a speaker or they'll have a panel, they'll have somebody that tells their story. And parents, oftentimes they weren't, they don't want to go to somebody's home and sort of you know, out themself as a parent with an LGBTQ plus kid.

So they'll come to this quarterly gathering knowing there's more people, and they, imagine they pull up in the parking lot behind the building and they sit and they have to talk themselves into going in, because who's in there? Who am I gonna see? What am I saying about myself as a parent? What am I saying about one of my children? And if they get the courage to get out of the car and walk up those steps and walk in that room, something amazing happens. They are not alone and they are not alone at their church.

I love this statement. This is from the Parent Connect literature that they've created. And I, and in some ways this is the problem you have been addressing for years and you didn't even know it. It's why I love my church, love our church. And this is the problem that every church should address. And one of the frustrations for me about all the criticism we've received and all the criticism you've received, and I know this sounds more arrogant than I mean for it to, I'm like you shouldn't be criticizing us. You should come and learn from us. We've been doing this for years.

Every evangelical, every conservative church needs to figure this out. And I work with some of the most, the greatest staff in the world who have waded into this messy situation. And I'm not saying kids are a mess or parents are a mess, I'm just saying it is messy because of the messaging of the church for many, many years that have just discounted this whole topic. So here's what I love. This is what, I think Debbie wrote this. She said ours should be the last generation of parents and families in the local church who go through this experience feeling isolated and without hope. In other words, let's put an end to this.

Let's create communities inside of our church where again, as I said to that group, you know, almost 10 years ago, the church should be the safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything including same sex attraction. And the church should be the safest place on the planet for parents to talk about anything, including their kids who were struggling with and wrestling with same sex attraction or their kids that have just come out and embrace the identity of mom, dad, I'm gay. Moving on.

In 2013, Greg and Lynn McDonald, who had moved to Atlanta pretty recently began attending Gwinnett Church. 12 years earlier, before that time, their son Greg Jr had, he was 17 years old, or 17 or 18 years old, he was found out and eventually, and immediately came out. Greg Junior was raised in church. The McDonald's are conservative Christians, Bible believing Christians, their son and daughter grew up going to Christian school. So this took them by complete surprise. Like they just didn't see this coming at all. They said we felt like we had to choose between our faith and our child. This is a tension just about every conservative or evangelical Christian family feels when one of their kids comes out.

I feel like based on what I was taught, how the Bible was taught to me, I can either hang on to my faith or I can hang on to my child, but how do I hang on to both? Lynn says she shared some of her story at the conference in the last couple days. She said I became Bible mama, Bible mama. It's like if I can just feed my son enough Bible verses certainly he's gonna realize I'm not really gay or this is wrong, or I need to change or I need to stop or I need to quit. And she said I just kept feeding verse after verse after verse and we would have these discussions. She said until we didn't, because he just stopped engaging in the conversation.

Their story is they completely alienated their son. They did it all wrong, good motives, love their son, did it wrong. And then God began to do a work in their heart and they quit trying to change him and they discovered new ways to love him. And then they begin to rebuild the relationship. So when they began going to Gwinnett Church, they found out about Parent Connect and they sat down with Debbie and Bill and Willis and they said hey, we wanna help. I mean we wanna help other parents not experience what we've experienced. We did it all wrong. We wanna help other parents get this right. We don't want another generation of gay kids or kids who grab that title or grab that identity. We don't want another generation of same-sex attracted kids or gay kids to feel like they have to leave their faith and leave the church.

There's gotta be a better way forward. We wanna help you figure that out. So they had lunch, and in the lunch Debbie and Bill said to Greg and Lynn, you know what? Because of your season of life and because of your life experience, we don't think, instead of just helping us, we think you should do something nationally. They sort of cast the vision. Why don't you do something digitally for parents all over the country, maybe all over the world to use your experience to help parents navigate this revelation when it's revealed to them that one of their kids is gay or LGBTQ plus or whatever their children are wrestling with at the time. Why don't you expand this beyond just you know, local churches in Atlanta.

So as they begin to talk, that idea was born and at the time, Lynn, Greg and Lynn, Lynn was at the tail end of her journey with cancer. And so her signature sign off for her email was always embracing the journey, Lynn McDonald. And Debbie said well, in terms of a name for this ministry, I think you've got a name for this ministry. I think you just call it Embracing the Journey. And so the ministry of Embracing the Journey with Greg and Lynn McDonald was born. They created digital groups all over the country. They began to coach and counsel with pastors whose kids had come out. And you know, when a pastor's child comes out, and if you're in the very conservative church, suddenly mom and dad don't know what to do.

Suddenly imagine this, you are pastoring a church where your child isn't welcome. You are pastoring a church and you have to keep what's going on in your family a secret from the church people, otherwise you will feel judged and alienated by the people you are shepherding. So they began to meet and to counsel and have expanded and just created incredible goodwill and have done amazing things. They do Zoom calls with missionaries all over the world. Missionaries have said, if my mission board found out about my daughter, they probably would kick me off the mission field. If my mission, if my support group, my financial support group found out about my son, I would lose my financial support. Those kinds of situations.

So time went by, they wrote a book called Embracing the Journey. It's available, it's their story. Last year, Greg and Lynn then reached out and said hey, we wanna do a conference. We do all of our ministry you know, digitally, but we'd like to do a conference that we can invite parents with LGBTQ plus kids and we wanna invite some experts to talk to them, to help them take their next step, make sure that they're healthy personally, make sure that their marriages are healthy as they you know, continue this journey with their precious children, that we wanna call it the Unconditional Conference. And so of course we said well sure. I mean we've already, we've been in this space for 10 years, why wouldn't we host the conference?

Well, as soon as they began marketing the conference, all the Christian critics pounced. What they said about Greg and Lynn was cruel. What they said about Debbie Coxy and Al was cruel. What they said about you as cruel, you need to flee the church. Andy's a heretic. He's sending people to hell. You know, I don't if you saw some of this stuff. Hopefully not. I look at it all. I never turn away from criticism. It's the only way to learn. And sometimes I go huh, I hope heaven's big. And we're in different areas. Anyway, sorry. No clapping, remember, no clapping. Yeah, I would've clapped at that. Anyway, so and they came after, sort of they came after me. And the criticism on that, and again, the criticism toward the conference was so intense.

Two of the primary communicators and presenters pulled out. One is a household name and Christian and one of the most famous authors in the United States, I would say 20% of you at least have read at least one or two of his books. And he said I just can't drag my family through this because of the online criticism. The problem is, or a big part of the problem is the critics of the conference. They never took time to discover the actual purpose of the Unconditional Conference. The story became Andy Stanley is hosting a gay affirming conference at North Point Community Church. And many of you saw bits and pieces and podcasts and articles. And so of course, since you didn't know anything about the conference, you didn't know anything about our history in this space.

Of course some of you are confused, some of you were, and some of you are mad and angry and families have left our church. And Diane, my assistant for 25 years is here. She would tell you anybody that called, texted, voicemail, email, I responded to personally. I just, there were days I met with three families at a time to say here's what's going on. Here's the backstory. Most of them are like oh, thank you. I didn't know that. Others of them are like honestly Andy, I just don't believe you and you know, we're out. And it's why I chose to spend an entire Sunday talking about this. So the purpose of the Unconditional Conference was not to equip parents to convince their gay kids that they weren't gay or shouldn't be gay.

That was not the purpose of the conference. Every parent who attended the conference had already tried that, right. Christian parents of LGBTQ plus kids go there immediately, they pull out the verses. They argue, they I mean, that's just where parents go. They pull out the convince, convict, coerce, control, convince, convict, coerce, control, convict, you know, convince, convict, coerce, control. And just as a parenting strategy in general, how effective is that? I mean that doesn't work with your kids. That didn't work on you when you were a kid. The purpose of the conference wasn't to equip parents to debate with their kids.

The purpose of the conference, of the Unconditional Conference was to equip parents to connect with their kids and to reconnect with their kids and to stay connected with their kids so they would have influence to keep their kids connected to their faith and keep their kids connected to Jesus. So the 10 presenters, or there are a few more of that, I think than that, but the 10 plus presenters that the McDonald's invited to speak at their conference, they chose the presenters based on that purpose. This wasn't a debate, this wasn't one side's gonna present, the other side. It wasn't that at all? They had healthcare professionals, marriage counselors, mental health professionals, some pastors, they invited me to speak. I said I don't wanna speak, but if you wanna interview me, I'd be happy to be a part of this.

I'm so proud of our church for hosting this. The presenters, these were presenters the McDonald's knew, this is so important. The presenters they chose were presenters that Greg and Lynn knew from their personal experience would be most helpful for these parents. And they should know because they are one of those parents. And this is why Justin and Brian were invited, the two married gay men at the center of all the controversy. And I'm sure that you've read all about that. And here's the thing about Brian and Justin, their stories and their journeys of growing up in church and maintaining their faith in Christ and their commitment to follow Christ all through their high school and college and single and all up to the time that they were married.

Their story is so powerful for parents of gay, especially kids, that it's the story parents with gay kids need to hear. It is virtually impossible. And you know this, if you stop to think about it, it is virtually impossible for a straight heterosexual parent to understand what's going on in the heart and mind of their same-sex attracted child when oftentimes their own child can't or won't verbalize it. And these two guys have an incredible way of helping parents understand what's going on in the mind and the heart specifically of their gay kids. They do an incredible job helping Christian parents understand, because they have been where those parents' children are.

Now, the other thing that the critics didn't know, and I'm glad they didn't, but it's okay, they're going to now, both Brian and Justin had already spoken at our church on several occasions at the quarterly gathering of Parent Connect. So we had already heard what they were gonna say. We already knew how effective they were connecting with parents of gay kids in particular. So this wasn't a surprise, this wasn't a guess. This wasn't a hey, I hope this works out. These guys are so excited about what we are doing because they like you, like me, like compassionate Christians don't want another generation of LGBTQ plus kids to feel like hey, who I think I am is incompatible with at least attempting to follow Jesus. And it's incompatible with the church because there is a bridge and these guys are bridge builders.

And again, they know that I don't line up with everything with them theologically or the way they interpret certain passages of scripture. But hey, the conference wasn't for me. The conference wasn't for most of you, I guarantee you the conference wasn't for any of the critics because the moment or the day that they discover one of their children or one of their grandchildren claims to be gay or transgender or questioning, they are gonna scramble for people that can help them get inside the hearts and minds of their children. That's what good parents do. So we knew exactly what they were gonna talk about at the conference, but again, this, and again, this was not a theology conference, it wasn't a bible conference, it was a pastoring conference.

And I just wanna say the conference was amazing. Oh my goodness, it was just amazing. I was so proud of our church. Anyway, now, based on all how, based on how all of this was presented by our online critics, I understand the confusion. I understand some of the anger that you've experienced toward me, that you feel like somebody's doing something behind your back. I understand the embarrassment some of you had. People were sharing with you what your pastor said. Did you know your pastor said this? You're like, oh my goodness, I've never heard him say that. But here it is in an article written by somebody I don't know. I'm sure it's true.

So I understand people are giving you articles and sending you stuff and you're like I had no idea this was going on in my church. So I'm so sorry for the confusion. That's why I wanted to take an entire Sunday to talk about it. Now, turning the corner, if I'm sitting out here and I'm a parent or a grandparent, here's what I'm thinking about now. Okay Andy, that's fascinating. Didn't know any of that. That sounds pretty good. But, but, but tell me, assure me, reassure me, what do we believe? What does our church believe and churches our size you can find individuals who believe just about anything, everything, and nothing. The better question perhaps is this question, what do we teach? What do we teach your children, your grandchildren? What do we teach about these issues? And it's the same thing we have taught for 28 years. Nothing has changed.

Again, I tell you all the time, Sandra and I raised our kids in these environments, we are thoroughly satisfied customers. I the thought that somebody is leaving our church over misinformation and pulling their kids out of our fabulous environments, that breaks my heart. Their parents are gonna be fine. You can find good preaching you know, just about anywhere. But the environments that we've created for kids they are the best, again, thoroughly satisfied customers. But as it relates to sexuality, here's what we teach. And hopefully you know this. I feel like if you've been coming for a while there, there should be no question about this, but I don't mind just putting it out there. We teach what I refer to as a New Testament sexual ethic.

In fact, I wrote a whole book about this, the New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating. My son Andrew calls it Loving Sex and Dating. I'm like that's not the name of the book. It's the New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating. Anyway, so from middle school to high school, to college, to singles to marriage, to single, single, again, every age and stage of life, this is what we teach. Whether a student is straight or gay or questioning, this is what we say. Hey, if you're gonna follow Jesus while you're figuring this out, if you're gonna follow Jesus as you struggle with your identity or some of the things you're feeling, as you're, if you're gonna follow Jesus, here's what it looks like sexually to follow Jesus. And the reason your heavenly Father has called you to live this way is because he loves you. And here it is. It's just three statements.

Number one, honor God with your body because the Holy Spirit lives in you. And your body is how people know what you believe and where you stand and your behavior through your body is to exemplify the goodness of God and the grace of God and the love of God. So you always honor God with your body and you always honor other people's bodies.

Number two, don't be mastered by anything, not by porn, not by a sexual addiction. Don't be mastered by another person. Don't be mastered by your infatuation. Don't be a mastered by your lust. Don't be mastered by anything. You have a master and he's a king and he loves you and he created you and he knows what's best for you.

And number three, the old fashioned one. Don't sexualize a relationship outside of marriage. That is so old fashioned. No sex before married. Well, if you're not married, I mean who even teaches that anymore? Always have, always will. And when people think we've listen, you know, wandered away from this, earlier this year, Joel Thomas did this amazing series called Intimate Encounters. And in one of the messages it was specifically about fidelity in marriage and sexual purity outside of marriage. And I mean he just was right on the nose.

And at the end of the message, at one campus, at least people broke out clapping. Like yes, we're glad somebody believes that, and here's why we're not gonna blink on this. And I've asked, you know, people in crowds this question, I've asked many people, dozens of people over the you know, to ask this question, hey, has sex outside of marriage made your life better? Or has it made it more complicated? Has sex outside of marriage made the person you had sex with, did it make their life better? Or did it make their life more complicated. And honest people say yeah, it it created some complications.

Well then what do you expect your heavenly father to say? Who loves you and loves the person whose life you may have set back? What do you think there are heavenly Fathers gonna say about sexual activity when oftentimes our sex outside of marriage makes you a liar for life? Because you're never gonna tell the truth about your past because you're too ashamed. What do you expect? So the message is the same for everybody. Sex is for married people.

Along these same lines, we affirm all three of the Apostle Paul statements on the topic of same-sex sex. Romans 1, 1st Corinthians 6, 1st Timothy 1, he references this. And we affirm exactly what the Paul, the Apostle Paul says. In other words, what the Apostle Paul called sin was sin then and it's sin now. Regarding marriage, and this feels weird to even say this, but just make sure everybody knows where we are. We talk about marriage or we talk about and teach about marriage the same way Jesus and the apostles do. Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man or a woman.

So biblical marriage, biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We've never shied away from that. We don't change the words in order not to offend people. Now here's what may surprise all of us straight people. The gay attenders in our churches, they aren't shocked that we talk that way. They aren't shocked by that. They expect that. They grew up on that. They hoped for that. They prayed for that. They prayed that God would change them so they could experience that. I have sat in groups with small groups of gay men, 35 and up to 65, and watch them weep because they don't have family, they couldn't have family. They prayed for that and God didn't answer their prayer. And many are convinced that traditional marriage is not an option for them.

So they commit to living a chaste life, an old fashioned word. And for many men and women who put their faith in Christ, they just decide okay, I'm just gonna buckle down. I'm just gonna bear down. I'm just gonna be by myself. I'm not gonna have family. I'm gonna be sexually pure. And many, many, many, many do that for long seasons of time and for some, it's their whole life. But for many that is not sustainable. And so they choose a same sex marriage, not because they're convinced it's biblical. They read the same Bible we do. They chose to marry for the same reason many of us did. Love, companionship, and family. And in the end, as was the case for all of us, and this is the important thing I want you to hear me say, it's their decision.

Our decision is to decide how we respond to their decision. Our decision as a group of local churches is how are we gonna respond to their decision? And we decided 28 years ago, we draw circles, we don't draw lines, we draw big circles. If someone desires to follow Jesus, regardless of their starting point, regardless of their past, regardless of their current circumstances, our message is come and see and come sit with me. And this is not new. This is who we are. It's who we've always been. And this is why I love our church. And this is why I'm so extraordinarily proud of you. We aren't condoning sin, we are restoring relationships, and we are literally saving lives. I wanna end with an email.

I got a couple dozen of these the last couple of weeks as people saw the criticism pouring in about the conference. I'll read this and we'll be done. Andy, my husband Craig and I have been attending North Point Community Church and then Browns Bridge Church since our two sons were in middle school and high school. They are now 35 and 37 years old. Collectively, we have served in almost every area of ministry, but never could we have known how much Parent Connect would mean to us.

February 9th, 2020, our youngest son, Michael came by for breakfast to watch you online with us. When the service was over, he said he had something he needed to share with us. Words cannot express the sadness we felt when he explained that for the last 20 years he had privately suffered knowing he was gay. Alone he carried this attraction for the same sex. And no matter how much he prayed or dated women, nothing changed. He expressed it with his tearful nights, praying that God would change him, but God did not. And even in this next sentence, I want you to listen, especially those of you who are a little bit like this on the inside right now. Would you just listen to this next statement? Even though he had not acted on his same sex attraction, he still carried shame and even considered suicide.

Now look, all of us have felt shame about things we've done. All of us have felt shame about things we haven't done. But I bet you've never carried shame about who you are. That's the difference. And when people say to me well Andy, it's just like, I just stop 'em and I say no, this is not like anything. This is and is. It is a category all unto itself. She goes on, she says, of course, we had previously taught our sons that it's a sin, just as it had been taught to us. We cried with him, we held him, we listened. If there's ever been a precious soul who wanted to please God and be kind to others, it's Michael. We were fearful for his future and we felt we could tell no one. There's the isolation.

As I was looking for a Bible study, our small group on the on the North Point website, I ran into Parent Connect not knowing exactly what it was. And I was too embarrassed to call. To Al and Debbie Cozy, to Greg and Lynn and all the Parent Connect team. I wanna thank you for being courageous and kind enough to love like Christ. We didn't know what to think or where to turn. We were heartbroken. Michael did not want to cause us pain, but we wanted to know who he really was and how he felt. We didn't know, we didn't want to cause him more pain than he'd already experienced. We needed help and we will be forever grateful that God led us to Parent Connect and Embracing the Journey.

I'm a retired NICU nurse and I've taken care of several babies that it was impossible to tell if they were male or female, a condition called ambiguous genitalia. This was not the case for Michael, but has definitely made me have greater understanding and love for individuals who experienced gender dysphoria and who are struggling with their identity. It is impossible to know how painful some of these experiences must be.

And then she says in her letter, "oh Father, help us to love well. We have grown in the last three and a half years in ways I could never have anticipated. Thanks to all of you and others like Justin Lee. Andy, we know that you and others mentioned are facing heavy criticism for hosting the Unconditional Conference. We just wanted you to know how much you've helped us. We thank God for our church and we thank Michael for helping us learn to live a better version of ourselves, to be more loving, less judgmental, and kinder people. With a grateful heart, Christine".

On one occasion, Jesus said this. He said "come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I'll give you rest. You'll find rest for your soul". All, that's a big circle. That's the invitation of our savior. That's the invitation of our church. That's the invitation of your church. And perhaps one day it'll be the invitation of every church.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this incredible, incredible group of people who love and we're all learning to love more like you. And we do not want to get it wrong. And we do not wanna mislead anybody, but we wanna be grace and truth maximized, not just grace, not just truth, not the balance of grace and truth. Full on all grace, all truth, all the time. And Father, I confess that our approaches, they fall short of perfection. But I pray that you give us the courage, give us the courage to stay in the place we need to be as a group of local churches. And I pray that you would do extraordinary things through us and maybe, maybe, maybe use us to move this conversation forward in our country, certainly in our communities, and maybe in the world. And we pray all of this in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen.

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