Fostering a Biblical Identity – A Parents Guide

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This guide was co-authored by Daren Mehl and Marie Davidson

Daren Mehl is a partner-supported missionary of Agape First Ministries. Marie Davidson is a mother and author.

Ministry Guide

Fostering a Biblical Identity – A Parents Guide

This guide offers parents a biblical perspective of where we are in culture today, the challenges before us, and the hope we have in God’s truth to be restored to His truth for family and our identity. Restoration of the family is God’s desire for us.

Ministry Guide

Agape First Ministries is proud to announce our first edition of our ministry guide, a collection of teachings from the Agape First Ministry team.

Immanuel Lifestyle Overview

Immanuel Prayer offers a process that is very useful to help people connect to the Lord in a prayer ministry session. It is a process of connection personally and interactively with the Lord, and removing barriers and hindrances to an intimate, interactive lifestyle of connection with Him. The goal is to build and deepen a securely attached relationship with the Lord, one that increases our capacity to stay connected to Him even in difficult life situations or painful experiences.

How the Church Has Hurt the LGBTQ+ Community

How has the Church hurt LGBTQ+ individuals? In so many ways, but in short, we have made it so difficult for them to come to the feet of Jesus. We need to ask God to help us show them love, and be armed with the truth, seasoned with grace, in order that we may share with them the message Jesus has, Today is the day of repentance!

Discipleship Matters

Discipleship matters to the Christian faith. To be transformed into the image of Jesus requires discipleship in the faith. God will transform those who remain a disciple of Jesus.

Immanuel Lifestyle Overview

Joy. What is it?

Have you ever experienced it?

Is it the same as happiness?

Is it possible to have joy in the midst of difficult circumstances?

How do you get joy?

How do you keep joy?

What does joy feel like?

These are all really good questions. Joy, according to the Dictionary of Psychology, is a feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exaltation of the spirit, arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; or a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It would seem that joy is the same as happiness, but more intense. If that is true, it would be very hard to have joy in the midst of difficult circumstances, because who is happy with adversity? Getting joy would seem to be getting a lifestyle without conflict, and keeping joy would seem only possible when you maintain a lifestyle without conflict. One dictionary says it is a feeling of extreme happiness or cheerfulness, especially related to the acquisition or expectation of something good, like a child on Christmas morning.

In the book “Building Bounce,” one of the authors wrote, ”Life is hard. We all get overwhelmed at times. But some people seem to be able to handle hardship better than others…Thanks to the latest brain science, we now understand that there is a secret to emotional resilience. It is joy. The more joy you have, the more hardship you can handle.”  Dr. Wilder explains joy as, ”someone is glad to be with me.” We recognize this joy visually in the emotional (or right side) of our brain before we recognize it in the left side (or cognitive side) of the brain. How do we recognize it? Visually, by seeing someone’s smile, or the light in their eyes when they see us.

Joy is relational. The more healthy, strong, and safe the relationships we have, the more joy we will experience. The Bible declares again and again that the joy of the Lord is our Strength; He gives strength to the weak and power to the powerless; He is able to make us strong and steadfast; He is our joy. The Bible also talks repeatedly about how God makes His face to shine upon us. He connects with us emotionally. He smiles on us. He is glad to be with us.

Our brains have “circuits” that guide our relational connections with God and others. These circuits are formed and changed in relationships, and so they are called “Relational Circuits.” Relational Connection Joy (or Connection) is the experience of being in an attuned relational engagement with God, oneself, or another person, AND perceiving that they are glad to be with you.

Attunement is an especially important form of interpersonal, emotional connection that feels like “we are on the same page”–we feel seen and heard; someone correctly understands our internal experience, and joins us in the emotions we are experiencing. Someone genuinely cares about us and is glad to be with us.

Our minds and brains have been designed to live in a relational world where everything is in shalom; where everything is in the right relationship, at the right time, in the right place, at the right strength, and in the right amount for God and people. At the center of this shalom is our brain’s relational circuits. If we lose our peace, particularly in relationships, these relational circuits can start to shut down. With our vital relational circuits partly or deeply off, problems get bigger, and we can start to  treat people like objects. Our cravings become monsters, and we can deeply hurt those we love. We feel alone, disconnected, and purposeless.

The easiest way to know if your relational circuits (or RC’s) are on or off is to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the problem bigger than the person?
  • Do I really want to listen to what they are feeling or saying?
  • Is my mind “locked onto” something upsetting?
  • Do I just want to get away, fight, or freeze?
  • Am I more aggressively interrogating, judging or trying to fix others?
  • Do I even want to be connected with someone I usually like?

We can turn our relational circuits back on and regain shalom by deliberately focusing on appreciation/gratitude or having someone else “tune in” to us and how we’re feeling.

The Immanuel Lifestyle is a process that helps us to grow our emotional capacity to withstand adversity by helping us to grow our relational strengths. How do we do that? By helping to increase each person’s capacity to have an interactive relationship with God. It is this experiential connection with God that is the foundation for deep and lasting spiritual growth and maturity; for healing from painful experiences and life events; and for developing relationships with others and unity in the Body of Christ.

We use:

  • Knowledge-based teaching that is informed by an understanding of the brain
  • Experiential exercises to discover how relational connection occurs with God and others
  • Specific explanations and skills to intentionally increase understanding of and capacity for relational connection
  • Practical examples, demonstrations, and reflection on Immanuel as a lifestyle, with the foundation laid for Immanuel as an intervention & Immanuel as a prayer ministry.

 Immanuel Prayer offers a process that is very useful to help people connect to the Lord in a prayer ministry session. It is a process of connection personally and interactively with the Lord, and removing barriers and hindrances to an intimate, interactive lifestyle of connection with Him. The goal is to build and deepen a securely attached relationship with the Lord, one that increases our capacity to stay connected to Him even in difficult life situations or painful experiences.

Connecting with God in Hessed Community

Hessed is the Hebrew word for Agape, God’s love, our namesake. We believe that joy is found in Hessed connection with God and our Christian community.

How do we walk with each other in a hessed community that fully engages with God? The most practical answer is connection with Him in praise, worship, prayer, and intercession that keeps going back to hessed. A deeper look at the center of God’s holiness is His mercy seat. The center of manifestive presence is loving kindness, a place where forgiveness flows; but there were also the tablets containing the 10 Commandments. The fellowship of believers dwelling in hessed is identically modeled: a place of love; but also purity. This mercy is not just functionally the way we treat each other’s weaknesses; but it is who we are aspiring to be by walking out the life He has called us to—holiness! 

Holiness was made possible by one Man (who is forever God) coming and fulfilling the Law by being sinless (perfect in keeping the righteous requirement) but also taking our punishment (for our disobedience to that Law). In light of Jesus’ hessed, our own righteousness would still be filthy rags. Even a strong attempt to “keep or perform” the Law would still pale in comparison. So, what does the Lord require, especially in the light of hessed?

A proper way of understanding the Law hebraically would be to actually “guard” the Law. I guard the Word of God by loving what it says, agreeing quickly with its truth (even if I have disobeyed); and I begin to see that abiding in His word has made me free of my bondage. I now guard that truth by continuing to abide in deep relationship with Him…(His name is The Word of God).

As Jesus was in the garden praying with His disciples, He admonished them to be on guard — “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus’ prescription to temptation is to be on the guard. What a beautiful way to guard His ways He has fulfilled for us, that we would be free to follow Him fully!

We are also told to “Keep (guard) your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The reality of not sinning isn’t to just do more good things. Psalm 119:11 tells us, “Your word I have hidden (guarded) in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” The Scriptures are clear that guarding the places His Word/Law dwell is of utmost importance.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace (Shalom) of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). This is how hessed works when engaged with our Abba who created us! We guard the way He has asked us to walk in, and He meets us with grace to overcome.

Agape First Ministries Hallmarks

Connection verses Change

At Agape First Ministries, we stress connection with Abba Father rather than simply changing sinful behavior. We believe that as you connect with Abba, the change will happen in His timing. Our Heavenly Father meets us right where we are at. Jesus hung out with the broken, the sinners, tax collectors, drunkards, and prostitutes. His relational connection with them transformed them. Jesus died for us while we were sinners so that He could attach to us in that place of death and make us fully alive.

Made to Love verses Betrayal of False Identity

We each were made fully in God’s image, and we were made to fully love. Sadly, the enemy has done much to confuse those with sexual brokenness about their immeasurable worth to Abba Father. Toxic shame can easily make us feel like we are deformed, an abomination, or our attempts to love God are wrong. Combine that with wrongly-applied Scripture, and toxic shame becomes enforced—giving us a false identity that yields betrayal. Deeper on the inside, beyond that false identity, we find the “Image of God” we were created in. This image remains unblemished regardless of how much trauma, abuse, or brokenness we encounter. Jesus sets us free to bring out the beauty of who He created us to be—Lovers of God that love others well. This forges us deeply into the identity He sees us as, not the identity the world, others, or that we ourselves would assign to us. Furthermore, we have been made expressly to worship God, and to love Him in a First Love capacity. As we grow in our true identity, being Lovers of God becomes our primary desire.

Freedom to Walk in the Spirit verses Right Behavior through Rules

Many of us make the mistake of just crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires, but never walking into the resurrected life on the other side of that cross we each bear. As Jesus transforms us from the inside out, we learn the freedom His Father created us to have—a vibrant life of walking with the Holy Spirit, who gives us grace. Simply trying to follow rules only ends in failure and further mars our hearts in comparison with the deep healing touch only Jesus can bring. As we learn to walk in the Spirit, we learn to guard our hearts and minds in such a way that the workmanship He is making us into comes forth; and every work becomes His work through us.

Immaturity verses Rebellion

There is a huge difference in the eyes of the Lord between rebellion and immaturity. Even as we struggle with habitual sins, if we have a sincere desire to follow Jesus’ lead, we are not in rebellion, and we are not His enemy. We are beloved sons or daughters and there is grace to learn to love Him fully by doing what He commands—to love God fully and love others. There is grace to grow into everything Abba has designed and desires for us to be. The Lord is very patient and kind—He disciplines us as children, He doesn’t judge us as He does His enemies. He fights against anything that would hinder us from fully encountering His love.

Fully Integrated & Alive verses Suppression

Suppressing our struggles, locking them away in the depths of our souls, and pretending they are not there is not healing. For most, sexual brokenness is an arrested development. When we have encountered trauma (an overwhelming situation we cannot overcome) we become stuck emotionally, mentally, spiritually, even possibly physically—thus not being able to grow. This suppression begins to fragment who we are in our internal world, causing more rules to follow, more addictions to act upon, more over compensation, all while not being able to return to joy, or to the image of God we were created in. As we begin to bring our trauma in connection with Jesus from a safe place, as we allow Him to unburden the fragments that exile us, and as we find our Abba Father enjoys being with us, even while walking through brokenness, integration releases fullness of life upon the undeveloped parts of us. We begin to actually live fully alive!

Self Acceptance—Seeing Glory & Discerning Identity by the Spirit

A huge part of walking out who God has created us to be is to stand outside of our struggles and let the very Mind of Christ inform us. As we become informed, taking every thought captive, renewing our mind, and guarding our heart and mind, becoming grace-filled—it simply flows naturally from the very presence of Immanuel (God with us.) As the Holy Spirit leads us deeper in our healing journey, the encounters of Jesus speaking our true identity takes place, resulting in transformation. As we begin to discern our true identity from the Word and our encounter, we begin to behold greater glory—we are children (sons or daughters) that have been made free by abiding in His Word, being His disciples!

We never overcome through religion

Having the “will power,” striving, legalism, “just stop it,” condemnation, and trying harder, are self righteous and only yield religion. This will never bring transformation. A deep, vibrant, relational connection with Abba Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit bring a yielding of our will to His design, resting as He fights our battles, Christ’s righteousness fulfilling the law so, we walk in the Spirit, true healing and deliverance and deep abiding intimacy with the One who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves! What a joy-filled life journey that lies ahead of us. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus), the word of our testimony, and not loving our own life; but being willing to lay it down. We serve the Faithful Witness, He cannot lie about us. He is leading us into deeper trust, belief, and obedience to His way—LOVE. Welcome to Agape First!

How the Church Has Hurt the LGBTQ+ Community

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”
Mark 16:15

Every day, headlines across the world mention the LGBTQ+ community. This topic is overwhelming our news outlets, our clothing stores, our advertisements, our places of employment, our doctor’s offices, sports, and even our schools, colleges, and universities. So, why is it that all we are getting from the American Church on this topic is nothing but crickets? 

According to a NBC news report done in 2020 by Dan Avery,

“The vast majority of religious LGBTQ Americans are Christian — split fairly evenly among Catholics (25 percent), Protestants (28 percent) and other Christian denominations (24.5 percent). Only about 2.5 percent identify as Jewish and 2 percent as Muslim.”

Even with these numbers, the American Church continues to conduct business as usual. What is it that has made such a large group of people leave the Church in preference of the LGBTQ+ community? Or, to put it more plainly: How has the Church hurt the LGBTQ+ ?

When it comes to LGBTQ-identifying members of the church, we typically see two extreme approaches. On one hand, we have a watered-down gospel approach, full of acceptance and even an unchanged message. On the other hand, we see the opposite approach–they preach a message of condemnation, creating a hierarchy of sin, which leaves no hope.

Neither of these approaches follow what God’s Word says the Church should do; and both of these approaches hurt the LGBTQ+ identified individual. Even more than this, it makes the challenge of sharing the need to repent an even more difficult task. We are Christ’s ambassadors and, therefore, have His message to bring–not our own. We have hurt LGBTQ+ identified individuals by not bringing them the message of Jesus Christ. Instead, we have sent our message, and have become a stumbling block to those who are lost.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

2 Corinthians 5:20

The world around us is changing; but if the Church focuses on being progressive and inclusive, instead of being doctrinally sound, we are bound to have some problems. All of the churches that desire to be inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals may be coming from a place of wanting to show Christ’s love, but they have lost sight of the truth. They have conformed to the thought process of this world–they have lost sight of what God’s Word says; and that His Word is the highest authority.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

Romans 6:6

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, ]excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Ephesians 4:17-24

When we preach a message of acceptance rather than that of repentance, we are preaching a false sense of security, and that is not love. This message gives the lost the sense that they have no need for a Savior. They have nothing to be saved from because they can remain unchanged. There is nothing that they need to die to, and nothing to “put off.” 

And He was saying to them all,

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23

Would we say that it is love to allow our child to run through a burning building? It’s what they want to do, and that is how they express themselves. However, I think that we would all agree that love in that case is to do whatever we need to do to protect our child from harm, or even death. This is what we are doing when we preach a message of acceptance rather than that of repentance; we are allowing others to run to the flames while we stand there and tell them you are loved.

Example: “This is what the Church is doing when it preaches a message of acceptance rather than that of repentance. This false gospel affirms people in their current state–standing by and watching them run into the flames while the Church just stands by and loves them to death.” 

In addition to this fallacy, there is yet another error the Church clings to: 

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 18:22

It is from this word abomination that many churches use as a launching pad into a hierarchy of sin. This is the other extreme. Instead of being progressive, they are more legalistic. Their practice is led out of fear and leads to a lack of compassion as well as a lack of hope. 

When we are led by fear it cripples us so that we are unable to move. If we are unable to move our lips, that makes us silent on issues that we should address. If we are unable to move, our hands we are unable to embrace the hurting. If we are unable to move our feet, we are not able to go to those who are so very lost. If we are unable to move our minds, from the things of this world to the things above, we will lack compassion. All of this breeds a lack of hope.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7

These churches have lost sight of the fact that mankind is made in the image of God. To be made in the image of God means that, in the eyes of God, each of us are worth saving. All of us are in need of a Savior; and Jesus is willing to go get the one while leaving the ninety-nine. He does this so that each one can have a relationship with Him. 

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27

It is also here that we see a lack of understanding to what Jesus has commanded us to do– love! This may stir up some people who stand on this point, believing that to love is to accept everything and everyone just as they are. But is that what the Bible instructs?? What is it really that drives churches to say, “I don’t want to compromise the doctrinal stance of our denomination by showing the LGBTQ+ Community love.” Couldn’t one even argue that not showing love IS compromising your faith? 

If these two sides are not what the Bible tells us, then what is the solution? The American Church has hurt LGBTQ-identifying individuals by watering down the message of Jesus, as well as poisoning the Gospel with a lack of compassion for the lost. 

When Jesus commanded us to love, He wasn’t telling us anything goes. He was telling us that love is selfless. Love is costly. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love is not harsh. Love rejoices with the truth, but does not delight in evil. All of this tells us that to love is not easy; but loving one another is how the world will know that we are His. 

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with everything we have so that means everything stems from that commandment. If we first must love God and to do so we must keep His commandments, then that should lead us right to proclaiming what Jesus proclaimed, “Repent!” and that message is to who Jesus came for. Not the healthy but the sick. Sinners, not the righteous. He came to seek and save the lost. As His ambassadors, shouldn’t it be that we are to do the same? As His disciples, shouldn’t we be preaching that same message to the ends of the earth and walking as He walked? 

God loved us–each and every one of us–while we were of least value. It was while we were there that He died for us. Not when our value increased, but while we were of least value. He did it all so that we could come to Him. That is love. It is that same unconditional love that we are to have as we encounter the LGBTQ+ community in order that we may share with them the message of hope found in repentance. If we remain silent, we only bring death, rather than life. If we continue to bring a false security, we allow them to be burned for all of eternity.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13

In order for the American Church to show the love of Jesus to the LGBTQ+ community, we are going to have to start by humbling ourselves, and then ask God for the grace to love the way He wants us to love them. We need to understand that no matter where we have come from, or what we have done, nothing is so great that our God can’t handle it. No sin is so heavy that Jesus’ blood can’t cover it. 

We need to come to a place of seeing that the hierarchy of sin is man made, and that every sin was bought at a price–the same price. Do we really want to show anyone that Jesus’ blood was not great enough to cover their sin? 

We have created an atmosphere of hate rather than that of love. We are not to love the practices, but the people. Hate their practices, but to the people, we are to show love. Our battle is not against the LGBTQ+ individuals, but we–the American Church–have forgotten this. Our battle is against the principalities and powers of this dark age. 

We need to put on our armor of God and get rid of the spirit of fear. It has no place amongst God’s people! This spirit of fear has caused us to be silent far too long. It has caused us to show a lack of compassion far too long. It has caused us to accept sin far too long. It has caused us to allow a lack of accountability far too long. But love . . . casts out fear. 

How has the Church hurt LGBTQ+ individuals? In so many ways, but in short, we have made it so difficult for them to come to the feet of Jesus. We need to ask God to help us show them love, and be armed with the truth, seasoned with grace, in order that we may share with them the message Jesus has, Today is the day of repentance! 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
1 John 4:18

Finally, I want you to consider that these two extremes that we, the American Church, display are a fantastic comparison of the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were very focused on the law. They were all about the law! The Gentiles were all about loose living. They lived the total opposite of what God required. They were the progressive type. It was Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that bridged the chasm between the Jews and the Gentiles. 

In the same way, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection bridges the gap between the Church and the LGBTQ+ Community. It is not either extreme that God calls us to, but rather something more in the middle. He calls us to love with a love that demands change or rejection. This is the love that God showed us by sending Jesus to die when we were of least value.

Lord, please help the American Church show your love for the LGBTQ+ we pray!

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8