The Idol of Purpose

By Evan Johnson

“The more I’ve listened to God, the more I’ve realized I don’t always catch what God is up to in real time… I usually understand what God is doing by seeing it through a rearview mirror.”

- Bob Goff

“Remember, nowadays it’s only personal courage that a man can get on in the world. If you see an opportunity, don’t stop to think but seize it, or you may lose it for ever. If that fails, try something else… Don’t fight shy of adventures.”

- Alexander Dumas

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

 

I changed my major eight times in my college career. It’s a joke I often allude to. I was everything from an English major to Human Environmental Sciences all the way to Marine Biology (until Shark Week ended). The bulk of these major changes happened during my sophomore year. Though I’ll readily admit it’s a hilarious concept that any English major would think he could succeed in elasmobranchology (the study of sharks), the effects of my indecision wore on me. I was asking the question every college student asks: “what am I going to do with my life?” 

For Christians, it may sound a bit more like: “what is God’s purpose for my life?” 

We’re a purpose-addicted society, anyway. We see it in our pop culture media from movies to books. In Beauty and the Beast, the butler-turned-candelabra Lumiere bemoans, “life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” In the Wolverine movies, the title character struggles with choosing not to be the weapon he was born to be. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey contemplates suicide because he wonders if the world would be any different if he’d never been born. In Fight Club, men escape a life devoid of purpose and find solace in their basic animal instincts. In Silence, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary in Feudal Japan struggles with whether or not his mission is useful. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff makes it his mission in life to make Catherine’s existence as intolerable as possible. In The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home to fulfill his purpose as king. In Up, after his wife dies, Mr. Frederickson’s sense of purpose is diluted—that is, until he attaches balloons to his house and flies away. 

We want to know that we’re here for a reason. True or not, we want to know there’s a point to it all. Otherwise, what’s the point? 

But allow me to give you some hard advice that you’ll find comfort in: 

Your purpose in life is not to discover your purpose in life

You already have one. God created everyone and everything to enjoy him. We are the conduit of his worship. The more of His love we take in, the more of His love we give out. 

Bob Goff sums it up pretty well in one tweet: 

“1. Love God 2. Love others 3. Do stuff” 

That’s it. That’s your to-do list. Those are your mission objectives. Love God, love others, and do stuff. It really is that simple, and here’s the secret: you can make a mistake and do the wrong stuff, and your to-do list won’t change. 

So it’s not necessarily our purpose that we’re searching for. Our destiny is glaring us in the face. It’s the nuts and bolts. It’s the tiny little how-to’s that we’re really asking for, and God provides a boundless field of grace to run in.  

Think about it. When you die, will God really look at you and say, “Sally, you really should have been a teacher instead of a doctor” or “Bill, couldn’t you hear me calling you to play golf instead of basketball?” 

No. God cares deeply about how we respond to him, how we respond to others, and how we respond to life in general. A teacher can be a good teacher or a bad teacher. A doctor can be a good doctor or a bad doctor. Find what you love to do—what you could do for eternity, and chase after that.  

Purpose does not equate job security.

I’ve met many pastors and medical missionaries and law-degree students who felt called by God to their respective fields, but I’ve never met any garbage men who expressed the same passion. I find that suspicious. I’m not saying I’m a conspiracy theorist, but there seems to be a higher number of people being called to white collar jobs than there are blue collar jobs.  

I’ve also met many young college students who expressed an interest to go into the ministry and when faced with an affected job market, turned the other way. In no fault of their own, they mistook their own fear for the word of the Holy Spirit. They mistook financial anxiety for God’s calling on their lives. That’s when doubt and fear sets in. They feel they’ve abandoned God and the church that was behind them. 

I should know. I've been there. 

This happens more often than we should be comfortable with, and it’s not excluded to vocational ministry callings. The fields of law and medicine have been very saturated in the recent years. Not everyone who has declared a law degree or pre-med has heard a voice from God mind you, but there does seem to be an overwhelming sense of purpose driving these young men and women into these fields. 

And these are good fields, but just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I’ll get to. That’s awful, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure if I do something else. I haven’t fallen short of God’s measuring stick for my life if my Biology degree lands me in an online magazine or if my English degree lands me as a Starbucks manager. 

We ask for God’s purpose in life, thinking that there’s a right answer. If we have the right answer, then we know what to do, and that’s one area of our life we don’t have to worry about messing up. And if God gives us the answer, then it’s his fault if it doesn’t turn out right. Right? 

The problem is we think of purpose as a destination and not a lifestyle. A purpose-driven life looks like a life filled with love.  

You’re still here.

I crossed the finish line of college with the skin of my nose. I needed 120 credit hours in four years. I think I had 121, and I decided that was enough for me. I had my degree. It was off to seminary. 

About a year later, there was one problem: I hated seminary. 

When a man feels called by God into what Paul describes to Timothy as a “noble profession,” he has a powerful sense of purpose. When he then comes to the realization that he hates this purpose, there is an overwhelming season of doubt, hopelessness, and anger. It’s not a pretty sight, but after what seemed like drowning in a doldrum of pointlessness, I came out the other side rather optimistic. 

God isn’t limited to getting glory by me being a pastor. The all-loving, all-powerful, all-merciful God of the universe can get glory in more ways than one. 

More ways than two. 

More ways than ten. 

I’m still here, so what do I wanna do? 

You’re still here, so what do you wanna do?

Stories of New Circle: Gena

This is an article in a new series that reflects that stories of the people of New Circle Church.

 

What is one thing that brought you joy in the past year?

Finishing my first year of teaching. That brought me immense joy because I came into it not knowing what to expect. At first, I was really, really stressed about it, but as I went through it, I found that I was really loving what I was doing. Loving what I do brings me an immense about of joy.

How do you find joy in teaching?

I know some of these kids don’t come from very good homes, so knowing that I can give them love, respect, or peace that they may not get from home brings me joy.

What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to teaching?

Being stern and sticking to my word. It’s really hard from me to not be like “you can’t do that” and five minutes later be like, “oh that’s fine.” It’s finding that balance of classroom management. I have a really hard time wanting them to like me. Sometimes I think “they won’t like me if I tell them ‘no.’”

What’s been a really impactful moment from January 1 of 2016 until now?

I got baptized in January. It was the first day that our church moved to the new building. It was something that had been on my mind for a while, so taking that step forward was really impactful. It literally happened so fast—I started coming to New Circle in November, and I got connected with a friend. She talked me through this, and I decided I wanted to do it.

How have you seen your faith affected over the past year?

My faith has affected my life decisions, things I want to do, and relationships. I look to a greater source than myself. It’s really cool because I’ve stepped out and done things that I know I wouldn’t have done in a million years. Doing those things—and knowing I’ve been led to do them—has been really cool. Good things happen afterwards, and I learn, “okay that was a good thing.”

Have you seen your growth reflected in your job as a teacher?

Definitely. It was actually really cool. When I first started my job, I was just starting to dig back into my faith, and then halfway through the school year was when I took that step. Afterwards, it was a complete turn-around in my attitude and how I was looking at situations because it’s really easy to get down on yourself or let yourself be taken in by the negativity of a situation. 

What’s one thing you’re most excited about in the upcoming year?

Continual growth—this new found trust that I have. I’m really excited to just see where he takes me and what’s to come.

What’s one thing that you’re nervous about?

The next school year—how that’s going to go, how this new class is going to be different than my old class.

Rooms of Thought

Rooms of Thought

By Evan Johnson

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.

Romans 12:1-2

 

We compartmentalize our lives. We’re a people ruled by scheduling, even if we’re bad at it. It’s the way our minds work. We have to-do lists and appointments. We have time blocks. Ultimately, we categorize things into rooms. Your rooms may look different than my rooms, but we have rooms nonetheless because within these rooms are the different avenues in which we experience life. We have our “church” room where all things Jesus live. It’s where we play in the worship band. It’s where we preach. It’s where we have bible study and try not to crack a joke that’s too crude.

We then have our “fun” room. This is where we watch Netflix, hang out with friends, listen to Kendrick Lamar, watch Mike Birbiglia, and throw Sunday football parties.

Though these two rooms may share a wall, they will never fuse. They will never become one room for us. We just can’t reconcile church with being fun, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it just isn’t. We’re just scared to say it because it might hurt God’s feelings.

So instead of confronting our divided lives, we instead allow the dividing lines to fester. Our church room and our fun room become unrecognizable to the other. They look like they belong in different parts of the country. This happens because we compartmentalize. Since we compartmentalize our lives, we allow our thoughts to become compartmentalized.

So when Paul tells the Christians in Rome to present their bodies as living sacrifices, is he asking them to add another room to their apartment-style thinking? I don’t think so. I think Paul is offering an alternative way of viewing life—that the Christian life encompasses all of you. Whether you are sitting in a pew listening to a sermon or sitting at home watching Mad Men, you are still the same purchased and redeemed child of God.

I think we always initially understood this, but the application that Paul wants from his readers is not to begin going through a list of their Spotify playlists and favorite Netflix shows to find those that glorify God and those that don’t. 

It’s to live a life according to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s to be a peacekeeper where you are, to thirst and hunger for righteousness in whatever you do, to be pure in heart and merciful in whatever room we’re in. It’s understanding that such a life brings with it persecution, sadness, mourning, and meekness, but the source of strength is not in any one single room. It’s not in our job, what we do for fun, where we attend church, our family history, or our political affiliation.

Our strength comes from the Creator of everything ever who wanted to get to know us.

It’s not the things in the rooms that present themselves as obstacles of worship and living a full life. It’s not your Netflix marathon of Friends or your Childish Gambino records. It’s the walls themselves. The walls are impudences to holiness.

Our lives are marked by holiness when they see people who are filled with life given by an emotionally complex Holy Spirit, a Jesus that wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, a God who relentlessly pursued his rebellious children in the deserts of the Middle East.

Our bodies are holy sacrifices when we are enjoying all of life and not just a portion of it.

Big Love, Small Steps

Big Love, Small Steps

By Evan Johnson

It’s no secret that our world is dark. Anyone who looks at the international stage and isn’t appalled by the sheer destructive capabilities of humanity is either a fool or a liar. It’s unavoidable. The world is broken, and it has been broken into many pieces. 

Remarkably, it’s not our job to “fix” it.

Hear me out.

I’m not saying there’s no theological prerogative as a Christian to “fix” the brokenness of the world. You could certainly make that argument. I’m saying that this world actually isn’t fixable. The damage has been done. What needs fixing is the brokenness of humanity, and that’s here to stay. The imperfection that plagues our lands in manifestations of genocide, poverty, prejudice, and murderous crimes is going to be here as long as we’re here.

Christians do have a redeemed heart, though. We have Joy. We have the power of the Almighty God who created the universe to love people beyond our own capacity. 

 

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” - 1 John 3:11,16

 

We have been given a great love so we can give great love. We have been shown mercy so we can show mercy. We have been shown grace so we can show grace. This is a really, really, really big idea, and as humans, we are attracted to big ideas. Look at everything we’ve built: the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall, the Empire State Building—the list goes on. Why? Why do we try and build such great marvelous?

We’re obsessed with greatness. Greatness and Awesomeness infatuate us. They mesmerize us. It’s a pretty simplistic example, but no one ever watched an olympic swimmer and went, “I love how adequate his abilities are in the pool.”

We love majesty. It’s hardwired within us. Maybe it’s in different ways, but it’s there. Some of us enjoy the awesomeness of technological advances. Others enjoy seeing the grand canyon stretch out beyond our horizon of sight. Regardless, bigness captivates us, so when something really really big happens to us, we want to respond in an equally big way. When God saves us, we want to save the world, but it can be easy to forget about the people around us who are lonely and forgotten. The people around us who, though they may not necessarily be lonely or forgotten, may need a friend that day.

Jesus used ordinary people to spread his gospel to ordinary people. God instructed that on Peter—not Paul, not Luke, not even his brother James—on Peter, the adequate-at-best fisherman, Jesus would build his church, and he did. Peter didn’t go to the emperors or the kings or the governors, though. He only went to the Sanhedrin when he was summoned to them. He went to the people he saw in his every day life.

Big love is big because of what it is—not because of who it’s for. Love for the poor is a love out of mercy. Love for the troubling and delinquent is a love out of grace. It’s not so much the object of the love that moves love into action as it is the essence of love itself. 

Since we have been given such a great and powerful love, it is only natural that it cannot be contained in our souls. Our souls are too small and feeble to contain all of the love God has for us.

How Christians Can Help the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

How Christians Can Help the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

By Audrey Masterson

 

So if the industry is so big, how can I help end it?

Friends, I would urge you to continue to research the facts of human trafficking; examine your purchasing habits and think about moving toward more ethical shopping practices; talk to everyone you know about the knowledge you have gained on this social injustice; go to your local lawmakers and government officials to change the laws to further help protect the vulnerable and prosecute the traffickers and buyers; speak up if you see red flags; and invest your time and financial resources to local and international non-profits fighting modern day slavery. And PRAY. Pray that God would heal our brokenness. Pray that we would be bold for one another. Pray that love would unite our community. Pray that the young people in our

city would learn their worth, become educated, and ultimately be equipped and empowered to be apart of the movement to end modern day slavery. And pray a prayer of thankfulness— that God has sent a Savior to mend the wounds that have the ability to paralyze us and who invites us into His work of redemption in Central Indiana!

Below are a few more resources to help you get started in enhancing your knowledge + websites where statistics were retrieved:

  • https://humantraffickinghotline.org/ (Report and Research Human Trafficking)

  • http://www.purchased.org/ (Indianapolis Nonprofit)

  • http://www.indiana.edu/~traffick/_resources/_literature/_research/_as

    sets/IPATH-Human-Trafficking-Red-Flags-for-the-General-

    Public.pdf (Red Flags)

  • https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

  • http://www.ilo.org/global/lang--en/index.htm

  • https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking

  • https://enditmovement.com/

  • http://www.a21.org/index.php?site=true

  • http://simplylivandco.com/ (for ethical branding)

  • https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking

  • https://www.dhs.gov/topic/human-trafficking

  • http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved/very-young-girls (watch a

    Documentary here)

  • http://in.gov/attorneygeneral/files/ht%20report%202016.pdf

    Additional Statistics:

  • The average global price of a human being is $90.

  • Some runaway groups estimate that 1 in 3 young people is solicited for sex

    within 48 hours of running away or becoming homeless in the U.S.

  • Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the Internet.

  • In 2015, an estimated 1 out of 5endangered runaways reported to

    the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.

    o Of those, 74% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.

  • US porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, & NBC (6.2 billion).

  • Over 60% of the men paying for a prostitute are married or in a serious relationship.

 

  • One out of three women recently surveyed said they view porn.

  • 90% of women face sexual abuse while being trafficked.

  • Pornography is used as blackmail to keep trafficked victims of sex

    trafficking from running.

  • 80% of prostitution survivorsat the WHISPER Oral History Project

    reported that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the

    kinds of sexual activities in which they wanted to engage.

  • 66-90 % of women involved in the production of pornography were

    sexually abused as children.

  • In 9 countries, almost half (49%) said that pornography was made of them

    while they were in sex trafficking.

  • 95% of prostituted women want out of prostitution but can't leave, but due

    to circumstances like having no other job skills, needing to be able to provide food and shelter for themselves and possibly family, and being under the control of their pimp.

  • Prostituted women are the number one victims of serial killers.

  • Out of 218 “johns” who were warned that the women they were looking at

    online were actually minors, 42% still wanted the underage girl.

  • Average life span of a victim of sex trafficking is reported to be approximately 7 years (found dead from attack, abuse, HIV or other STD’s,

    malnutrition, overdose, or suicide).

  • Every 30 seconds someone becomes a victim of Human Trafficking.

    *Name changed to protect the name of the individual’s story 

Why Christians Should Care About Human Trafficking (Part II)

Why Christians Should Care About Human Trafficking (Part II)

By Audrey Masterson

It seems like a question with an obvious answer, but it’s not. The problem seems endless, and it’s easy to feel helpless really quickly. But trafficking doesn’t happen because people make poor decisions, live erotic and irresponsible lifestyles, or even by chance. No, human trafficking happens because we are broken, sinful people. It’s a byproduct of damaged relationships, divided families, and a lack of love; "it’s because of systemic barriers to education and employment, neglect and early childhood trauma, struggles with self-esteem and mental health” (paraphrased Relevant Magazine). Trafficking happens because people are broken. 

We are all broken. 

The traffickers are broken. 

When you think of a pimp, what do you picture? An older African-American guy in a pinstriped suit with a top hat, gold teeth, and big chains around his neck—or maybe something similar? Yeah, I did too (and that could be the case), but typically they blend in a little more with the community around them. Today, pimps look like national and local criminal organizers, our neighbors, friends, family members, or romantic partners, agricultural operators, owners of small or medium-sized businesses, or of large factories, police officers, and government authorities. They could be of any ethnicity, any race, any gender, and any age. They are living and breathing and always scheming and preying on our youth. Yet, they are broken people too. 

The buyers are broken. 

Often referred to as “Johns” when referencing the sex industry, these are the people buying sex from prostitutes on the street and in brothels. Buyers are people financially supporting the porn industry by watching short films created by those trapped in the sex industry or attending strip clubs and massage parlors. Buyers are men and women of all races, ethnicities, and ages keeping individuals trapped in a life of slavery. And let’s not forget, buyers are those of us who consume and keep consuming products without researching fair-trade options. And buyers too are broken individuals. 

The victims are broken. 

These are the marginalized community groups and individuals found within our community being bought and sold in our backyards, our parking lots, in the motel down the street, and at truck stops, and these people are broken, and hurting. 

We are broken. 

We are the Christians unaware, shrinking back, remaining silent, and allowing this monstrosity to continue to occur in our neighborhoods; and we are those helping, learning, educating, and praying for those enslaved. That’s the “us,” and we are broken people in need of a Savior. 

We are all broken. We are broken by addictions, unhealthy and abusive relationships, loss and and unresolved pasts—by mistakes, regrets, and by unanswered prayers. But there is beauty found in brokenness. Our brokenness leads us to a need that can only be fulfilled by a God that created us in His own image. And that’s a reason to care. 

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”- Genesis 1:27

We are ALL created in the image of God, from the pimps to the buyers to thevictims to the helpers. Human trafficking is an assault on the dignity of human life and preys on the oppressed. If we believe that we have all been made in the likeness of God and deserve basic dignity then how could we stand by and allow brothers and sisters to be dehumanized, exploited, or marginalized? We care because, as Christians, we have been given an undeserved new life of freedom in Christ and the resources to help protect the vulnerable, prevent high-risk individuals from being exploited, and prosecute the criminals aiding the industry. 

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” - Galatians 5:1

One of the most beautiful and valuable aspects of Christianity in my opinion is free will. Free will says that we have the choice to take up our cross and follow Jesus— or not to, and to live apart from Him. Ultimately God, who is Love, gives us the option to love; however, to call ourselves Christians, God holds us accountable to a command to love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. 

"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.” - John 13:34

And that’s another reason to care about the fight against human trafficking. Because loving others who are different than ourselves promotes unity, creates stronger relationships, gives hope, and survives oppression. Love helps rescue those trapped in "the life", rehabilitate victims from a life of trauma, and reintegrate survivors back into our community after being estranged for a period of time. 

"And above all these [virtues] put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” - Colossians 3: 14

Not only do I believe that love withstands persecution, I believe that love [for the least of these]builds bridges and connects the community. In a war-torn world, I believe Christians need a cause to rally around— a cause to fight against because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil works by creating a wedge and hammering inch by inch until the people of God are torn, divided, and completely separated form one another. He doesn’t want us to live in community; he wants us in isolation— alone, defeated, manipulated, worn-out, and depressed— unable to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the shame we feel. It’s the only way he works and he’s actively seeking victims for his lowly dwelling place— people like you and me to become traffickers, buyers, and the exploited. Human trafficking isn’t new; human trafficking doesn’t just occur in 3rd-world countries; human trafficking isn’t onlysex trafficking; human trafficking doesn’t represent one culture, one race, or one gender; human trafficking doesn’t just show up during major sporting events; and human trafficking isn’t easy to identify and prosecute— but human trafficking is real, and it is happening all around us. 

"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." - Romans 12:4-5

Why Christians Should Care About Human Trafficking (Part I)

Why Christians Should Care About Human Trafficking (Part I)

This is a multi-part series that will cover human trafficking.

By Audrey Masterson

A few years ago I traveled to Baltimore on a trip that would ultimately change the way I view the world. I became aware of the reality of human trafficking, also referred to as, "modern day slavery" in the land of the free. How ironic. Most people who know me today know that I put a lot of time into exposing the injustice of human trafficking in an effort to be a part of a generation that helps end it, but I haven’t always known the truth behind the lies that are accepted within the American culture. Before I went to the east coast, I wrestled with the idea of being a "Christian without a specific passion;” and while this conviction is a deeply personal one, it led me to pray for a broken heart for something specific. My heart fell into pieces as I listened to Stephanie's* story and learned the startling facts of human trafficking. Since that trip to Baltimore, I have done countless hours of research, petitioned, and tried educating the people in my life of what I’ve learned. Furthermore, I pray that each person reading will be stirred in their affection for Jesus Christ and see the hope of restoration made available through Him, but before I share why I think it is important that professing Christians pay attention to this cause, I want to clarify some misconceptions of what human trafficking is and isn’t.

So what is human trafficking? 

Homeland Security defines Human Trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will. 

Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues within the sex industry including residential brothels, escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution. 

Labor trafficking has been found in diverse labor settings including domestic work, small businesses, large farms, and factories. 

Force: to make a way through or into by physical strength; break open by force 

  • Fraud: wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain
    Coercion: the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats 

Ultimately, human trafficking is a human rights issue— rights that are believed to belong justifiably to every person regardless of their race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, birth or other status (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights). Although we may at first turn to movies like Taken to represent our understanding of human trafficking, it can (and most often) looks different in America. It looks different in Central Indiana. 

And if this is a human rights issue, who does it affect? 

Broadly, all of us. Even before you knew the legal definition, yes, it has already affected you. Human trafficking enslaves people from varying backgrounds to produce the food we eat, manufacture the clothes we wear, and perform so we can be amused in our homes and out on the weekends. It affects where we shop, how we travel, and how we entertain ourselves. WE (you and I) are affected because products are being sold to us in mass amounts because we consistently want bigger, badder, and better. And we keep these people trapped in lives of slavery because of our own selfish desires. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). In 2016, there were 824 labor trafficking cases identified through the Human Trafficking Hotline where about 50% were female/male, 65% were foreign nationals, and 80% were adults; however, this is much different than sex trafficking in America. According to the Indiana State Report on HT, 83% of the victims identified in the United States were American citizens; approximately 1 million children are being bought and sold via the sex trade; and a majority of those targeted online and otherwise are females between the age of 12-18. This $150 billion industry traffics nearly 17,000 men, women, and children across the boarder each year, but we also have nearly 300,000 American youths attending our schools, playing on the streets in our neighborhoods, performing in the show-choir, working at the convenient store, and taking care of their younger siblings at risk right now, according to the FBI. 

While ALL humans are affected by human trafficking, those who are more vulnerable to exploitation are women and children, marginalized communities, immigrants, members of the LGBT community, victims of former assault, individuals with a low socio- economic background, kids in foster care, homeless and run-away teens, refugees and natural disaster victims, and those in unstable home environments. 

"The least of these.” - Matthew 25:40

Those are the words that keep circling back around in my head when I think about those vulnerable to exploitation-- those individuals who are mostly directly affected by the world’s second largest criminal industry (behind the drug trade). This fast growing criminal division is a heart issue to its core— and it’s multi-faceted. There are the traffickers. There are the buyers. There are those being sold. And there’s us. Us— individuals IN that group of marginalized people and those OUT side of it as well.

Sabbath: Stories of Discipline

By Samantha Wittgen

We have heard of Sabbath – we know that it has something to do with rest, and maybe that it is reserved for an entire, specific day. We usually can recall where it comes from – a command in the Old Testament to follow God’s lead in resting from work.  We might even have tried to practice Sabbath before.  However, we usually miss the best part of the Sabbath, what it’s for.

I would venture that each person reading this has at some point been victim to the lies of practicing Sabbath: I’m not good at being still and I have too much to do. I say victim because I think that word describes who we become & how we feel – enslaved, fearful, confused, frustrated – because we aren’t practicing Sabbath perfectly. When these feelings surface, the Sabbath loses its truth & allure as a holy gift and becomes a menacing lord over our lives. 

In the Old Testament in Exodus, the Sabbath was given as a mandate – a law – to the people of Israel for them to celebrate who God is & what He had done for them. God asked them to rest in remembrance of His work to bring them out of slavery; resting on the Sabbath was and is an active display of obedience & trust in our God who always provides! 

Jesus says the Sabbath is a gift for us – to meet our needs – and that we are not slaves of the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus reminds us that He is the Lord of all things, which includes the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). One of the greatest truths to remember regarding the Sabbath is that when our identity is in Jesus Christ, it does not have the power to convict or rename us – we are not lazy, we are not selfish, we are beloved.  

We don’t have to look farther than God, His Word, and each other to understand the things of God, and so I’ve asked for your input for this post: what is Sabbath, why is it hard, and how do you practice Sabbath?

WHAT IS SABBATH?

“God kindly showed me that Sabbath time is a gift. A gift to cease striving.”

“It's a mentality of: everything else can wait. Most importantly, I've discovered Sabbath isn't just resting, but re-centering yourself on the creator God who refreshes… A rest with God.”

“We can go without Sabbath, but it's like doing an overnighter: you drudge through life drained and tired.”

“It's a time to physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually relax and remember that God's actually good at being God. Sabbath doesn't require me to do anything.”

"In order for your soul to be healthy, you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

WHY IS RESTING HARD?

“Sabbath is not something I'm doing perfectly, but I have been much more intentional in practicing it lately. After an overload of stress and physical injury last year I experienced panic attacks for the first time in my life. I thought I was dying.”

“I don't think I intentionally exclude rest from my life, rather, I think you get stuck in a thought process of "I NEED to get ______ done". So it's more to do with priorities than rest.”

“For me, the hardest thing about Sabbath is it goes against everything I know and against everything society values - both in Christian circles and not. We're expected to produce and achieve. Hurry is all around us: we must meet deadlines, we must build our resumes, we must achieve. That's why Sabbath feels so foreign to us - because we don't know not-doing and not-achieving.”

WHAT DOES YOUR SABBATH LOOK LIKE?

“This is not to say I don't suffer the anxiety – I just had a mild attack yesterday – but I'm definitely am taking a different approach in listening to my body and God more.”

“Some of my favorite Sabbath moments have been when I'm not doing anything "sacred" - like times when I'm enjoying a bike ride or crafting or lounging with my cats. It has been in these types of moments, that my mind has been blown at just how thick I've sensed God's nearness compared to the times I had the accomplishment mindset in my Sabbath… I do think there's beauty in simply resting and delighting in the Lord and creation!”

“My first example is when I married my wife, Maryann. Before we married we agreed to take the first year as a rest. We did things together, went places together. We spent our time with each other. Did not engage in stuff outside of us. We kind of separated ourselves for that first year. It strengthened our marriage for 28 years.”

"Not so among you"

"Not so among you"

By Evan Johnson

And when the ten heard [Jesus rebuke James and John], they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

"It shall not be so among you." Jesus and his disciples had seen how the kings and governors and emperors of the world had empowered themselves with greatness. They built grandiose palaces for themselves. They had vast parades to showcase their power. Their wealth and popularity were celebrated by decree. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, wanted to sit at the right hand of Jesus when he established his kingdom. They weren’t alone in this thought process. It was commonly believed that the prophesied Messiah would establish an earthly kingdom like David did. The Jews were promised a land of their own, and Roman occupation stood in direct violation of this promise. They were longing for that promise to be fulfilled. Could this carpenter be that king that they had longed for?

In fact, Jesus did come to establish a kingdom on Earth, but it is one that transcends borders and nations across the globe. Abraham Kuyper is quoted as saying, “there is not one inch under all of creation of which Jesus Christ does not cry, ‘mine!’”

And it is his. Just not in the way that James and John had assumed, and the disciples were furious. What right had these two fishermen to assume that they could be governors in this new world order? Yet Jesus quickly puts this idea to rest. We are not rulers. We are servants. More importantly, we are servants to one another.

Last summer, I suffered the ever-present problem of my lease running up before I could find a place to live. I needed a place to stay. I had mentioned it to a friend of mine, Ted. He said he would check with his wife, but that he couldn’t imagine it being a problem. Sure enough, Claire gave us the green light. I stayed with them for two weeks. 

During those two weeks, I had a seizure while driving down Meridian and hit the railing of a bridge. When I got to the hospital, I called my pastor in a haze. He managed to understand that I was in the hospital and stayed with me until they released me. He dropped me off at Ted and Claire’s (I think—I still barely remember that night).

I had no car. Ted and Claire drove me anywhere I needed to go. I despise needing people. It messes with my pride. I consider myself less of a human. I hate needing people, but part of serving others is being okay with others serving you—setting aside your pride and letting others help you when you need it.

Everyone who showed me generosity and grace during that time in my life helped me through a very up-and-down time. I felt useless. I felt alone. I felt frustrated. Without Ted and Claire and the other people around me who are too many to name, I’m confident I would have thrown trust out of the window.

But the funny thing about being shown human kindness and generosity is it makes you want to show it to others.

Let's Get Coffee

By Micha Kandal

I grew up going to church. All through middle school I did the occasional retreat and weekday hang outs. But I was in no way invested in a community, and I didn't have anyone investing in me. (Mom & dad don't count) I just accepted this as what it was. I was meant to be independent and a "loner." 

I wasn't upset about this, and it didn't keep me up at night. I could just tell there was something missing. 

So fast forward a few years, and I'm moving to Indy. Freshman year dorm room. The only person I knew was my new roommate. We came from the same home town, and that was about it. 

Naturally, it was 1,000 degrees outside on move-in day. I was tired and exhausted and ready for my parents to leave so I could settle in and cry and breathe and do whatever else a freshman in college does in a new city. 

That’s when I heard the laugh, followed by really excited small talk. This random girl with a bright smile and sunshiny hair was talking to my mom and brother about Evansville and how she is also from this same place. My mom decided that she fully trusts this complete stranger and tells the stranger (Samantha Wittgen) to "take care of me" while I live in her absence. 

 

Sam and I exchange numbers, and as I get to know her, we become pals. She invites me into her community and to all of the young life events. During this whole process, that feeling of something missing that I mentioned before is starting to feel different. Jesus was doing some cool things. At the time, I thought I was just following around this new human, but looking back, Jesus was inviting me into new friendships that would change my life, to a community that would change my life

As I went into my sophomore year of college, I continued developing these awesome relationships over hundreds of cups of coffee and felt God answering prayers. He was answering my deep desires of wanting to be known and loved and encouraged by others around me. 

When I started coming to New Circle Church, my view of community completely shifted. I thought I knew what it was and what I wanted, but once I walked through the doors of the Oaks Academy, I knew I was home. All of the feelings and settling-for-being-a-loner, all were completely erased and replaced with that beautiful feeling of being wanted and known, accepted and invited in. 

Learning how to be a good friend and a part of my community has been challenging for sure. There are days when I put my phone on do not disturb and decide to not invest for a minute. There are also the super Jesus infused days, when I get the opportunity to hear more about people's lives, and to pray over them or alongside them. 

I know we were made to be with people. We were created with the capacity to love them well. I'm so thankful for all of the people I have come to know, and those who invest in me, and I in them. To feel known, respected, and encouraged is the closest thing to the kingdom I think I'll see and feel before the real thing. So until then, I'm going to keep walking with all the beautiful humans God has placed in my life. I’m going to keep listening for the loud laughs and excited small talk because this is how my sweet Savior lets me know I’m not alone.

God's Love Revealed Through Family

God's Love Revealed Through Family

By Amy Rager

Isn’t it intriguing- the ways God chooses to make himself and his love known to us?

-With names like ‘I AM.’

-Through passing by and allowing an onlooker—who must hide in the cleft of a rock—to see his back.

-By incarnating into the form of a counter-cultural story-teller with parables even his closest companions couldn’t comprehend.

There’s no doubt about it. Mystery and imagery are integral parts of God’s plan for revealing His love to the world.  This can be incredibly frustrating for those of us who would prefer a bulleted guide instead of a life-long process of seeking Him in His enigmatic Word. Yet, in spite of our logical objections, discovering the nature of God’s love and the content of His character can be a fulfilling experience of unveiling layer after layer of God’s beauty tucked into this often ugly world.  God’s hidden himself everywhere.  Seeking and finding can be one of our highest pleasures.

The Bible offers a very practical place to start.   References to the family unit are everywhere.  God is called our ‘Father.’  Jesus is the ‘Son of God.’  We are ‘fellow heirs’ with Christ.  Jesus called His followers ‘brothers and sisters.’  When the Biblical authors sought to conjure up love in our minds they most often used familial references.  So, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe that much could be uncovered about the love of God by studying and participating in family.  

Now, no family is perfect.  Often we end up learning just as much about God by the ache in our hearts when family fails us.  The hurt we feel shows us that whatever it is we have experienced is not the intended design of family and does not represent the way God loves us.  Even the broken aspects of family can point us to our Father.   

With that being said, here are a few things we can know about God and His love for us by studying the way he ordered families:

1. As families are intimate, so God loves us intimately.  Something about sharing a living space with someone creates an environment for true relationship.  Morning breath, stomach viruses, emotional ups and downs, they’re all experienced together.  Our parents, spouses, siblings, etc. know our flaws, witness our darkest habits, see our most embarrassing moments and still love us.   Likewise, God wants that kind of intimacy with us.  Jesus said, ‘In my Father’s house there are many room.’  I love that.  God wants to room with us.  He wants to know us and love us that completely. 

2. As familial relationships evolve, so does our relationship with God.  Small children see their parents as unknowable, an enigma.  How can they enjoy broccoli?!  Why do they prefer the news to cartoons?!  With time and maturity, not only does a child begin to understand their parents more, but soon they begin to trust their parents for wisdom and guidance.  We will never fully understand another human being, much less our infinite God, but overtime we become more familiar with His ways and gradually learn to trust and lean on Him.

3.  Just as families benefit from structure and order, so does our relationship with God.  Unfortunately, abuse (even from the church) of the concept of submission has created a very negative reaction to the word.   In contrast to the oppressive images we conjure up, by watching God-honoring families we can see that order in relationships is a loving thing.  Children who don’t trust their parent’s wisdom and rebel against their parameters suffer under their own direction.  Parents who don’t discipline their children let them walk into snares.  Husbands and wives who deny each other’s strengths and weaknesses limit their families’ ability to function in the healthiest way.  Likewise, God’s rules, discipline, and order for our relationship with Him serve to create an environment for flourishing.  When we deny His leadership and rebel against His rules, not only is our relationship with Him strained but we also heap up trouble for ourselves.  

The list goes on and on.  God, Our Father, loves us so.  Much more than even the best earthly father ever could.  He protects and provides for us.  He creates an environment that promotes growth.  His rules are for our benefit.  And He wants us to know and experience His love.

Look for hints of His love in your family.  Be a model of God’s love to your family.  Train your eyes to see the fingerprints God’s intentionally left all over this world he’s created.   Embrace the mystery and fall more in love with your God.

Luke, I Am Your Father!

By Tendai Kawadza

If this is the worst entry you’ve read so far, thank Evan Johnson! He tasked me with a blog entry and gave very little guidance, I’ll take a stab at it though. 

As a husband and father some of my happiest moments are not when we go on an outing or vacation - they are the spontaneous moments at home when somehow both my kids end up in my lap and we’re face to face laughing. It’s tough to come to terms with the fact that these kind of moments won’t last forever. It has been quite a transition over the last few years, moving from being a son and a brother to taking on the additional role of a husband and, for the last almost four years, father.

The bible gives us many references for the nature of our relationship to God - King, Father, Lord, etc - so the way I look at it is we have a father who happens to be a king and also created the universe. God has called us his children (Gal. 3:26). His desire is to have a familial relationship with us, Christian or not (Gal. 4:4-7). One of the reasons it’s so important to understand God in the father context is a father’s care. Their kids drive them to be better. They want their kids to do well, even exceed them. Many people who have scars from their earthly father have a tough time with this concept. If this is you, take some time and ask him to deepen your relationship so you not only see him as Lord but also as father. The world’s message about God is that he’s some kind of puppet master, man-behind-the-curtain character who just wants people to obey him and abide by his rules. 

However, when we start seeing ourselves as his children we move further away from that worldly mindset. We see a father who wants what’s best for us: "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give the holy spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13. We also see a father who’ll do anything for us (John 3:16). So maybe you've had daddy drama, join the club - find encouragement, you have a heavenly father who delights in you (Zeph. 3:17), a father who’ll never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).

God's Love in Marriage

God's Love in Marriage

By Barry Rager

Amy and I got married on May 14, 2005.  She was 21. I was 23.  At that age, you feel like you have a pretty good understanding of life.  To prepare for marriage, we read all of the books we were supposed to read, went through all of the premarital counseling, and discussed all of the questions we had with some of our older friends.  We were prepared, right?  

Nearly twelve years later I can say for a fact that we had no idea what was going on. Today, we are both very different people from what we were in 2005.  We think differently on many issues, our theology has been challenged and refined, and when you throw four kids into the mix, things are always crazy.

And as I am sure you have stereotypically heard, there are good times and there are bad times.  The same is true for us.  The good times have been great and impactful.  While I would not say that all the hard times have been great I know that they have been just as impactful- possibly even more so- than the good. 

God’s love is what has led Amy and I to still be devoted to one another and crazy about each other after twelve years.  Amy is not the same lady I married, she is so much more now!  I know her more and she knows me more, we have grown together.  The binding force for all of this is not some secret that we possess or me knowing that I could not do any better (which is true of course) but the love of God.

Through our faith in Christ, God put his love into our hearts (Romans 5:5).  This love has been on display in a multitude of ways in our marriage.  But one of the ways I have seen it on display the most is not a way I would have anticipated in 2005, it has been through hard conversations. 

Now you may be thinking, how in the world are hard conversations and God’s love related?  

What God desires for us is better than what we desire for ourselves.  As Christians, when we come to God in the brokenness of our sin and ask him to save us by faith he does!  But he does not leave us as we are.  God shapes us and molds us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29-30).  While the outcome is always good, sometimes the means by which God uses the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus can be hard.  God loves us enough that he does not pass over the hard conversations. God has used my marriage to Amy to shape and mold me more than I ever could have imagined. 

It is an act of love to have hard conversations with your spouse.  I cannot even number the times God has used Amy to show me sin, sometimes hidden from my view, in my life.  Was it easy for her to have those conversations with me?  No, but she loves me.  Her love moved her to action because she desired better for me.  In the moment none of these conversations were enjoyable. Looking back though, I am so glad Amy had the love to speak the truth to me.  

Is it easy to have hard conversations?  No.  Both of us in our marriage have had hard conversations with the other with the wrong attitude and approach.  That usually ends bad.  But when we come to dialogue by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) the situation usually ends in one of us or both of us looking more like Jesus.

Amy and I both look more like Jesus today than we did twelve years ago because God’s love has been the foundation for all of this.  I look forward to seeing what he will do - through the good and the bad - in and through our lives and how he will bind our hearts together more and more.

Marriage and God's Love

Marriage and God's Love

By Holly Moran

I’m not going to sit here, type an awe-inspiring blog, and act like I am some expert on marriage. I’m just not. My husband Scott and I have been married for just over 2 and a half years. I feel like I’ve learned some good stuff, but really the foundation of what I know about marriage comes from the Bible.

When I was a little girl, I always knew (or at least I thought I knew) that I would get married someday. My best friend and I did the whole pretend-wedding thing where we put on our mothers’ wedding dresses and smooched stuffed animals who were supposed to be the most amazing husbands ever.  I guess you could say we had unrealistic expectations about what marriage would look like. But we were just kids, right? Personally, I think most of us have pretty unrealistic expectations of marriage up until the day we say “I do.” How could we not? We watch all these romantic movies and read romantic novels that fill our brains with fluff. 

Even in Christian culture, this can happen. You may be familiar with the classic wedding verse 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. It goes like this (cue a harp playing in the background), “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Beautiful. Isn’t it? But let’s just zoom out here for a second and look at the context of this passage. The apostle Paul is writing a letter to a church in Corinth, a Roman Colony, around 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These people were struggling with things like selfishness, sexual immorality, idolatry…you know, the little stuff. Let’s just say they weren’t getting it, so Paul sent this letter with the intent of calling out their sin and pointing them back toward Christ.  

I’m not saying this passage can’t be applied to marriage. It most certainly can. But we need to look at it in the right context. Paul is not describing love as an ooey-gooey feeling that we have toward someone we are attracted to. He is talking about the action we should take toward others. So if we pull this back to marriage that would mean being patient with our spouse. Being kind to our spouse. Not envying what our spouse has. Not being rude to our spouse. Because if we think about it, this is how God treats us. He is patient with us. He is kind to us. He IS love. God endures all things. God never ends. 

You can’t expect your spouse to always love like Paul tells the Corinthians to love in his letter. You know why? Because humans aren’t perfect. You are not perfect, so how can you expect your spouse to be? There is not a single human being on this earth who can love in the perfect way that God can. Now I’m not saying that you and your spouse shouldn’t try to love each other like this. It just seems that as humans, our tendency is to try and fix the other person. Just the other day, I couldn’t find my headphones. I automatically assumed that Scott borrowed and lost them. I assumed this because he did this in the past with a pair of my scissors and maybe a few other things. In that moment of judgment, I wanted to fix him and make him more responsible…make him a better spouse. I wasn’t examining myself. I should have asked myself, “How can I love Scott in this situation? How can I work on not being resentful?” It turns out, I was the one who misplaced the headphones. 

So ask yourself: are you trying to be the kind of lover God calls you to be? The one who practices patience and kindness and puts others’ needs before his or her own. Try focusing on your qualities rather than on your spouse’s. And remember: we cannot love our spouse or others without God’s love. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Dwell in God’s love. Try to understand it. Pray that you can love like God did when He sent His son Jesus to die for us. Then hopefully, your marriage will begin to look more like you had always expected it would.

Three Ways That Newness Is Good For Us

Three Ways That Newness Is Good For Us

By Jonathan Groves

Where’s the grocery store?  This place looked closer on GPS.  I have no idea where that is.  What’s your name again?  Newness can be annoying and even frustrating.  Sometimes it goes even deeper: do I belong here?  What’s the plan?  Is there a plan?  What was I thinking?!?!

Fortunately, newness isn’t new, at least not to the Creator of all things.  Crazy transitions didn’t happen for the first time when you moved away from home or changed your major or took some seemingly illogical step of faith. In fact, newness is something God has been using to shape His people and unfold His plan for a long time.

In Genesis 12, newness takes center stage with a guy named Abram.  When I struggle with newness, it helps me to reflect on just how crazy this whole thing was.  God shows up and dumps all this on him like a bucket of cold water.  He says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”  Basically, God tells Abram to uproot his family, pack up, and start going to a destination he doesn’t even know yet.  That’s newness on a whole other level.

But God is at work in the newness.  He’s doing a bunch of things.  He’s teaching Abram about his own lack of faith, and He’s showing him just who he can trust.  It’s a lesson Abram needs to learn over and over again—and one that I do, too.  Newness is hard, but it’s good.  What does God do in newness?

God uses newness to show us Himself.   The most comfortable thing about familiarity is that it is manageable.  Even if it’s not good, it works.  But when God injects newness, we’re reminded of just how powerless we are and how wonderfully powerful He is.  If Abram had stayed where he had always been, he would not have seen God as the powerful provider that He is.

God uses newness to reveal His plan.  God tells Abram he’s going to make him “a great nation…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  God’s talking about the family line of this guy who is currently wandering for a home, a line that will eventually lead down to Jesus.  God is setting a rescue plan in motion for the world through this newness in Abram’s life.  This transition will have ripples that God uses to literally change the world.

God uses newness to make us more like Him.  If you keep reading his story, you see that Abram goes from a guy who is willing to pawn off his wife to save his skin to a man willing to sacrifice the thing most precious to him for God.  When God led Abram on this journey, He was working on his heart.  Newness works on our hearts, shaking out the unimportant stuff we’ve held onto for too long. It helps us focus us on what’s really important and leads us to a deeper and more glorious dependence on Him.

Newness isn’t easy, but it is good.  Praise God that He pushes us out of the familiar and into something far better.

Bible Before Netflix

Bible Before Netflix

By Craig Bannister

The start of every New Year serves as an opportunity to get a fresh start on some personal goals and habits. Whether it’s losing weight, ditching social media, or something different altogether, January is the starting line.

As January was approaching, my wife Brilyn and I were facing a problem. Every day, we had every intention of doing a devotional together or reading scripture together, and almost every day we somehow found a way to be too busy to get it done. Midnight would always roll around and we would both agree it was too late and that we should get some sleep. I think it became a motivation problem for us. We had no problem spending a couple hours watching our favorite Netflix shows, but reading together for 15 minutes always seemed like a daunting task. We realized it wasn’t a busy problem so much as it was an “us” problem. If we took away Netflix, we had a huge window of time to read together. Stick with me here. I’m not saying your New Year’s resolution should be giving up Netflix. I’m just putting forward the idea that maybe we aren’t as busy as we think. 

As a kid, when my parents wanted me to do a chore, they would withhold a reward until I completed it. For example, I couldn’t play video games until I got my homework done. Brilyn and I decided to implement the same kind of idea on ourselves. We haven’t stopped watching Netflix. We have just delayed watching it until we get our daily reading done. We’ve made it a habit to sit down and read together before we turn on Netflix. 

I was recently at an event where a church was giving away free Bibles. They had Bibles for people of all ages free for the taking. As I looked over the table, I noticed a one-year Bible in chronological order. It struck me because I began a one-year Bible challenge in high school, and chose to read it in chronological order but failed to complete the challenge. I grabbed two copies and decided this is what Bryan and I would read each day. We started reading together soon after I picked them up sometime in late October, and we stuck with it. If the structure of an assigned reading everyday would help you, there are plans on the Bible App and all over the Internet. I personally enjoyed having a physical Bible with the plan built in.

The New Year has officially come, and though it’s not an official resolution, we have continued to hold each other accountable with our reading. In the beginning, it was all about getting our reading done so we could watch our favorite shows. Now, it’s turned into more of a discussion each night. We have questions and comments about things we are studying so it’s more than knocking a chore out of the way to get to something we want. We look forward to it now. It was never about dreading reading our Bibles in the first place. We read when we could, but it wasn’t consistent. However, this simple idea has helped us create a habit that we plan to carry through 2017 and beyond.

If you aren’t hopelessly addicted to Netflix like us but struggle reading your Bible daily, maybe something similar could help you stay consistent. It could even be as simple as setting a certain time every day to read or reading before a meal. It’s whatever works best for you. In our crazy busy lives, when we are deliberate, we can still set aside time and dig into our Bibles daily.

Margo the Cat

Margo the Cat

By Micha Kandal

I’ve always liked cats. And who doesn’t love kittens? I grew up with them so I am very aware of how they operate, which is on their own terms.

Being an independent 22-year-old, I decided that it was time to be a cat owner. Why not? A Facebook opportunity brought me into being an official cat owner. My good friend Kirsten was tagged in a post that was filled with 8 furry creatures. I liked the post. I asked my roommates. Two days later, I drove with Kirsten two hours north to get this new commitment. 

The car ride back was great. As I befriended this orange and white animal (making sure she didn’t trap herself underneath the seats or die prematurely 25 minutes away from home), it set in. “It” being the heavy weight of this new responsibility. Knowing I am responsible for keeping this cat alive for the next 10-13 years.

I don’t think I’m ready for this.

I’ve had Margo for 5 months. She’s still alive and well, enough to eat the tape I’ve placed on the counters to keep her off of them. To say that getting her was the best possible choice I could have made wouldn’t necessarily be true. We’ve had our good moments, and there are times I’ve thought about throwing her into Kirsten’s living room and then running away…like when she eats the tape.

This story of Margo, though, mirrors my expectation versus reality.

I think that as humans, we’re so good about building up situations, scenarios, and even opportunities in our minds. I think we like to operate on the 0-100 spectrum. Our reactions range from not caring or being invested to EVERYTHING IS ABSOLUTELY THIS WAY OR ELSE. At least, this is my very natural tendency. It’s gonna be awesome, 100. And, if it’s not, we’re disappointed and all motivation is gone. I don’t care. I’m done. Back to zero. 

This is a lot like my walk with Jesus. 

I get so lost in my head about big life things and changes. I overthink and overanalyze. A new project. A new friendship. Any change, expected or unexpected. I build these up, more often than not, ridiculously high and unrealistic. And then it (life, the date, the conversation, the plan) doesn’t even remotely go the way I wanted. I get disappointed and frustrated and all of the other emotions in between. This emotional gamut gets aimed directly at Jesus. I play the blame game, and then I have an argument with the Creator about why he’s unfair and why my way was better. What-ifs and maybe-when’s are my favorite words to bargain with when I talk with God.

Reading these words back to myself sounds RIDICULOUS. Why am I arguing with God? Why am I expecting Him to cave and say “Oh, yeah, good call Micha.” 

But I do. I doubt, twist, overthink, manipulate, and allow all of these dark things to take residence in my mind. And as long as I let them stay, they grow. I take matters into my own hands, and I complain that I can’t hold onto any of the blessings or freedoms-from-heartaches God is trying to give me. Daily. 

Discovering that I do this has been so humbling. It’s a hard truth, but it’s so refreshing to know there’s a change that needs to happen and that I know the answer. This answer can often feel kind of intimidating though. Sometimes it’s easier to stand in the dark just because it’s familiar.

Putting it into practice is where the struggle lives. At the same time, I can feel Jesus pulling me nearer and nearer. I can hear him telling me more often than not, “I’m proud of you” and “You’re getting it!” God also gets my attention by speaking directly through the people in my community. So cool. So convicting. 

Learning the new normal of letting go of expectation and control has been hard. It has been harder than keeping Margo off of the counters (and maybe equally as frustrating). 

Learning how to choose God, to choose the life of living in an active stillness, and abiding in Him is such a big commitment. It’s intimidating and sometimes I’m fearful it won’t bring me the feeling of contentment or being made whole. Yet, this daily practice of surrendering all of my expectations has caused me to grow more in these past 3 months than I could have ever imagined. It’s still the most difficult thing I do some days.

But the complete and total peace that comes from this new thought altering lifestyle is so refreshing. My joy is becoming as real as the warmth you feel from the sun in the middle of June. It makes the freedom worth fighting for and the blessings so much greater.

My encouragement to you as an amateur cat owner and a person who gets obsessed with expectations and improbable realities is to open your hands. Literally, emotionally, spiritually. Drop the things that weigh you down, even for just 5 minutes. Ask for freedom. Declare rest. I promise that things WILL start to change. It might be the longest 5 minutes of your day, but it’ll also be the most life giving. 

Take heart & take back your freedom friends. You won’t regret it.

Brand New

By Brittany Kent

New - not existing before: made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time

New year, new resolutions, new goals, new you.

I think in lyrics, so for all you Ben Rector fans...

 


I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid,

I feel like a kid, I never thought I'd feel like this again.

When I close my eyes and don't even care if anyone sees me dancing.

Like I can fly and I don't even think of touching the ground.

It's the way that I feel when I'm with you

BRAND NEW

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation the old has passed away behold the new has come."

As a believer, this verse should bring so much hope! We are made new! The old is no more. Our sin is gone. Our shame is removed. Our identity is changed. We were once not a people, but now we are God’s people! Everyday is a new opportunity to grow closer to our Holy and Loving Dad!

However, if you're like me, you don't necessarily live in this freedom everyday. Lies from my past, fear of the future (or the unknown), and doubt in my identity are kept neatly shoved in a corner. Meanwhile, busyness and social media become my rhythm of life. I turn on autopilot, and I do the same things over and over again to avoid confrontation with the hope that I can live in comfortable “peace.”

Thankfully, God is loving, and His plans are better than mine. However, the truth is this monotony will continue to be reality apart from Christ. I can try to make changes. I can try to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but I will never be satisfied. I will never arrive.  The beauty of the gospel though is that in spite of sin (our missing the mark), God stepped into the picture through His Son Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose to life. It is through Jesus' resurrection power that every believer has new life. (Ephesians 2, 1 Peter 1:3) God gives the official restart and offers it to everyone who would trust in His work and not their own.

 

I have learned a lot in the past year. I have moved back and forth between two states (8 months in Indiana and 4 in Alabama), transitioned into different ministry roles, switched jobs, traveled to new places, and made new friends. With anything new, it has not existed before. It is made or introduced. Last year, I remember sharing how much I hate change because I can’t control it, but this year is different. I have learned that change brings fresh perspective and a renewed sense of hope.

2 Corinthians 5:17 is a promise that is not dependent on our ability to make ourselves new. The verse says, “if anyone is in Christ, they are.” Not “they will be.” They are a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come. God made me new and is still making me new. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t change. Change is hard. It requires work, and it takes consistency. However, Christ in me provides everything. Every day, God not only provides the opportunity to live out my new living identity, but He also gives me the strength to live in this identity.


Some days I feel like God is doing CPR, and other days I feel like He’s training me for a marathon, but the good news is the breath still comes from Him. God gives His Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him, and “ruah,” the Hebrew word for Spirit literally means breath.

Adopted into a New Family

Adopted into a New Family

By Ted Bourke

Well, here we are. In a flash, 2016 has come and gone like so many others and now we start afresh with 2017. With the start of a new year comes the desire for newness in a multitude of avenues. Resolutions about diets, exercising, reading, and other personal goals are set and attempted. The phrase "New year, new me" becomes a frequent mantra for people. People use the new year as a chance to start over, to make a change, to become new.

So how does this concept of newness coincide with our relationship with Christ? The answer is relatively straightforward. Ephesians 4:23-24 promises us that, in Christ, “ you (will) be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

We are made new in Him. He changes us, molds us, transforms us. The old is out, the new is in. Is it easy? Of course not - change is hard in whatever form it takes. But making a change and becoming new in Christ? It is so worth it. And we should never think that this only applies to young Christians who are newly on their journey with Christ. Everyone, no matter where they are, can find newness in Him - we should constantly be looking for ways to change and freshen our walk with Him.

Another way I look at this concept of newness is that when we commit ourselves to Christ, we are adopted into the great big family of God, thus beginning a new relationship with Him and with the people who have chosen to follow Him. Adoption is something very personal to my family - all four of my siblings are adopted from China. With each adoption, there came a sense of newness - new family, new environment, new life. There is this incredible feeling as I watched each one of my siblings experience that newness - a curiosity of what this new family would be like, an excitement over the possibilities, an apprehension of the unexpected. There was a chance to be made new with a new family, a family who loved and cared for them, a family who was ready to make that change alongside of them and be made new together as one.

This is how we are when we become new in Christ. We experience the same feelings as my siblings did - curiosity, excitement, apprehension. In my mind, God experiences the same incredible feelings I did each time I met my siblings whenever we give ourselves over to him and ask to be made new. It is so refreshing to know that He is in the business of second chances, of desiring us to make changes in our lives. Yes, it is exciting and, yes, it can fill us with apprehension. But, much the way my siblings had to rely on their new family to take care of them, we should find comfort in the fact that we have a God who will always be there for us

May this year be one of newness for all of us in whatever way you find it. I, for one, am excited about the the change happening for our church family. With our new building, we can reach and bring in so many more people. I firmly believe that, with the ground work that has already been laid, we can bring about a whole wave of newness in 2017 in this city. 

Mercy Ministry: "Maria"

Mercy Ministry: "Maria"

By Sydney Gautier

I met Maria the summer of 2015. I was trudging around downtown Indy with a backpack full of water bottles and peanut butter sandwiches ready to give out to people living on the streets. If it hadn't been for the jar of change sitting in front of Maria, I would never have guessed she was homeless. She didn't look much older than me. She had pretty blonde hair and bright blue eyes. As I approached her, she gave me a smile and gladly took the food I offered. I sat down, and we began to talk. That day started a wonderful friendship. Over the past year and a half, I've seen Maria off and on. She can be hard to find on the streets, but when I do find her it's always a joyful reunion. She never wants help, but she always wants prayer. The last time I saw Maria was different though, and it has stuck with me ever since. 

Instead of being greeted with a hug and smile, she buried her face in her hands and began to cry. Her bright blue eyes looked distant and tired, and her hair was thinning. She told me she had just gotten out of jail and had stayed away from drugs while she was there, but living back out on the streets had quickly thrown her into her old habits. I invited her to New Circle, and she expressed interest. She told me how she used to be a Christian and still considered herself one, but she didn't want to go back to church until she had her life together—that she just couldn't go like this. That is what has stuck with me for so long. Since then, I have had this unexplainable desire to tell people how loved they are—not just tell them, but scream it at them so loud they can't ignore it. To tell them how their creator is constantly pursuing them, how there's grace upon grace upon grace. How even in light of all of our sins and bruises and brokenness God looks at us and still fiercely loves us and wants us. How it's not what we do that earns his love, but instead what he did for us. His love is perfect. Even when we waiver and trip and fall and screw up time after time, His love and grace stay completely consistent. How God wants us just as we are, not once we have our lives together or once we feel "good enough" to step back into a church.

Whenever I think of this, I think of Ephesians 1. This is a passage I read almost daily. Just like Maria, we've all felt less than, unimportant, not good enough. But that's just the enemy speaking. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that, as children of God, we are chosen and seen as holy and blameless in his sight, that we have been adopted in sonship through Christ. He calls us forgiven and redeemed through the blood of Christ, and he calls us included in Christ when we heard the message of truth. Even through our struggles and even when we just can't seem to get our lives together he calls us Chosen, Loved, Forgiven, Wanted, Redeemed, and gives us hope in him. It doesn't make sense, but this is grace. 

And as I stood there praying with Maria, tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted so badly for her to see that there is so much grace and that she is so loved. That there is so much hope in Christ and that God doesn't want her to wait, but wants her just as she is. That Christ died so she could live, that’s a lot of love, more than we could possibly imagine.

You are so loved.