Advent: The Kingdom Life

Advent: The Kingdom Life

By Sydney Gautier

“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

- John 15:11

 

Because Jesus came, we can have joy.

A lot of sad things happen in our world. You don’t have to look far to find something that you wish was different in this world or in your life. Mass shootings, illnesses, divorces, the loss of a job, these things can make us feel hopeless. Jesus changes all of that, he came to make the sad things untrue, and to bring us joy in the midst of pain. Like Barry said, Jesus did not come to give us a bunch of rules to follow, he came to bring us joy! 

The coming of Jesus makes joy a reality.

Barry gave us an example of a sad story that was made untrue: the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a godly couple who were unable to bear a child (they were also advanced in their years). In this story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see God bringing hope to a situation that seemed utterly hopeless. In grace, God performed a miracle and allowed Elizabeth to have a son named John. Without God intervening, this was physically impossible. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s hard times did not come about because of sin in their life or because they did something wrong. They were described as righteous people, their hard times came because we live in a world that is broken by sin. Hard times, like the inability to get pregnant, are a product of the fall. But, in love and grace, God can intervene, making the sad things untrue, and the coming of Jesus makes this joy a reality. (To read the full story of Zechariah and Elizabeth go to Luke 1).

The birth of Jesus brought with it the great reversal.

Before John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, when the angel, Gabriel came to Zechariah to tell him that they would have a son named John. He also told Zechariah, “...many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord...he will be filled with the Holy Spirit... And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17) 

Here we are told that John will do great things. His ministry would see the hearts of many turn towards God in Israel. In his ministry, we get a glimpse of the sad things becoming untrue, and all of this would prepare for Jesus’ life and ministry. In Jesus’ ministry we see the blind see again, the lame begin to walk, and dead raised to life physically as well as those who are spiritually dead raised to life again as well. Tim Keller said this about Jesus doing all of these amazing things, making the sad things untrue: 

“The work of Christ was not a suspension of natural order but a restoration of the natural order.” 

The inauguration of God’s kingdom by the birth of Jesus brought with it the great reversal. During Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, we see God begin the process of restoring things to their natural order—making sad things untrue and joy possible.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

It can be easy to look around and see God working in the world yet still feel like He’s not working in your specific life. Barry brought up the word Emmanuel, pointing out its meaning is, “God with us.” This means that, by faith, Christ is with you all of the time. The amazing works he performed are not just stories of the past, he is still doing amazing things in our lives even now. If you are in Christ, he is with you always. He hears your prayers, and he cares for you. We should remember that even while there are tears on earth, and times can be hard like they were for Zechariah and Elizabeth, God is faithful and in his presence, there is fullness of joy! (Psalm 16:11)

Advent: The Kingdom Come

Advent: The Kingdom Come

By Sydney Gautier

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14)

These words in Luke 2 were the words that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds around Jerusalem when Jesus was born. They now knew that their King had come and the Savior of the world was now on earth. Shepherds weren’t high on the social ladder. They were looked down upon, and they were outcasts of society, but God wanted to make sure that the people who were hurting and downcast knew that there was hope. I would imagine if I was a shepherd watching all these angels flood the sky proclaiming this message, I would be quite startled and a little freaked out. But, Barry told us how the shepherds reacted. As soon as the angels went to heaven the shepherds said to one another, “let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which in the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15). They headed out humming the song the angels had been singing, praising the Lord. Through the birth of Christ, God’s glory was poured forth and his peace had come!

The birth of Jesus is the greatest revelation of the glory of God that ever took place. 

The birth of Jesus brought more glory to God than anything else we could imagine. When Jesus came to earth, God’s kingdom was inaugurated. Before then, he had ruled from afar and looked down on earth from heaven. But then in Jerusalem that night, the Kingdom finally came to earth, and when Jesus came, he brought peace with him. However, for him to bring us peace, he had to be the victim of pain, destruction, and death. Victoriously, he overcame all of those things. 

Jesus provides peace with God.

In Romans 5:1 it said, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Barry talked about how this means that God has declared us to be just in his sight because on the cross Jesus took upon himself all of our sins and the punishment that we deserve. So by faith in Chirst, God gives us the righteousness of Jesus. This is something I struggle with often. So many times in my life I am tempted to believe I have to work my way to God, to do something to earn righteousness. But this is not true, because justification comes through faith alone. It always seems crazy, but he does this because Jesus already paid the price for our sins and now we can have peace with God.

Jesus provides peace with ourselves.

This peace of God that comes through justification has also freed us from fear, guilt, and shame that can easily overtake us when we are struggling. I struggle with anxiety and overthinking everything in my life. It’s difficult for me to remember that I am forgiven by God, and I need to be able to forgive myself as well. And instead of taking my anxieties to God, I often want to sit and stew in all my worry, trying to find a way to fix it myself, but God loves us and wants to guard our hearts and minds if we would just let him. In letting God guard our hearts, we will be able to find peace with ourselves.

Jesus provides us peace with other people. 

In Romans 12:18 Paul writes, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Sometimes this can be hard. It can be hard when we feel like others are being hard to get along with or when someone does something that hurts us. But when we become amazed with God’s forgiveness and the peace that Jesus brings, we can be in a place to joyfully extend that forgiveness and peace to others. 

The peace that Jesus brings is available to all today by faith is Jesus Christ. Receive this peace and rest in it, taking all your anxieties and worries to the Lord.

Share a Meal

Share a Meal

By Micha Kandal

Everyone remembers middle school. Character building began, and we all got to discover what the word awkward meant in its purest form. The most important socializing and status building happened in a giant room with designated lines and different chairs for the different classes or cliques. This place was the lunchroom.

We might not put much thought into those faint middle school memories, but this was most likely the first place we actually “gathered” and shared in our community over a meal. The importance of this gathering goes so much deeper than the gossip or drama that was being discussed. It was a daily opportunity to come together, be present together, and encourage one another. This is pretty deep for 7th graders, but I think the basic fundamental act of eating and gathering together stems from this time in life.

Today, the only time I hear the word gather seems to be when someone writes it in really pretty calligraphy and designates it as their Facebook cover photo or when we begin talking and prepping for the holidays. This nonchalant view of the word gather completely strips it of its deepest meaning. To come together or celebrate each other. To sympathize or rejoice. These actions are all best experienced in the company of others. Gathering and meal sharing is so ritualistic everywhere, not just in American culture. For big celebrations like weddings or holidays to memorials and remembrances of loved ones, to the daily evening dinner.

We gather around a table and we share a meal because this setting and place instantly unifies us. I think this happens through prayer especially. We bless the hands that made the food. We are creating a space to invite Jesus to the table. As we are slightly disengaged from our busy day, we are all on the same level, eating the same food, simply just existing in the same place. Jesus is there. Through the conversations had and the questions asked. This is so easily taken for granted. It almost seems like second nature to me, to prepare a meal and eat it in the company of my current Netflix show. This is the new norm. Sometimes not even thinking about the gratitude that should come with each and every meal.

There is a big opportunity we miss when we treat meals, particularly dinner, like a “to-do list” item. Conversations are being missed and moments of connection and genuine community building are just pushed aside. There is so much more we can add to our days! So much we are missing, just because we are so accustomed to our rituals of Netflix or eating at separate times. Life is busy, families have schedules to balance, and roommates live separate lives.

However, each day, we have the opportunity to invite one another to the table. To genuine conversation. Parents invest in their kids’ lives each time they ask about school. Roommates are able to invest in each other when they share the same kitchen, preparing the same meal. All of these moments that so easily slip by us can become incredible spontaneous moments of grace, redemption, and joy. So, as we near the holidays, I invite you to invite those closest to you to the table. Whether the table is a dorm room couch or a family table that seats 12, take advantage of the present. Take advantage of being able to text or call those you live in community with and share a meal.

 

Advent: Actively Waiting - Sermon Highlight

Advent: Actively Waiting - Sermon Highlight

By Sydney Gautier

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning - lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:33-37

One thing I am absolutely terrible at is waiting. My husband would be the first to agree with me on that. I hate it. Waiting for dinner to be ready, waiting to hear back after a job interview, waiting for a score on a test . . . I do not do it well. It’s probably because I can be so impatient, and also because I hate the feeling of not knowing. The feeling after an interview; the interview is over, but now you’re stuck in this in-between time where you’re waiting to hear from the potential employer but you don’t know when that will be…or what they will say. The struggle. Or on a larger scale, Barry talked about how we wait for oppression to end, for hate to end, for pain to end. 

This past Sunday at New Circle, Barry kicked off the Christmas season by starting a series on Advent, a season of waiting, to help us focus on Christ. But like we already established, waiting isn’t easy. Advent is an invitation to wait to empathize with those who were waiting for the birth of the Messiah. In the passage above, Mark 13, the people who were hearing Jesus’ words were oppressed, and they were waiting for freedom, for someone to save them. They expected a military ruler, however, Jesus came and did so much more. He conquered sin and death and redeemed us, but waiting for this was hard.

We live in a time called, “the already, but not yet.” It means that Jesus is already and will continue to be victorious, sin and death have been conquered, but this hasn’t been fully realized because we are still waiting for the second coming. Life is still hard because we’re hanging in that in-between time. Jesus already came, but now we are waiting for his return. And during this “already but not yet” time, life will get harder before it gets easier. But as we wait, we can rest in the fact that God will intervene, making all things new. 

Barry talked about how Advent is an invitation to live our lives actively (not passively) waiting for the second coming. He described passive waiting as someone waiting during the spring for the water to get warm enough to fish. Active waiting would be someone in their boat, fishing pole in hand, reeling in their line hoping to catch a fish. In our faith, we can sometimes find ourselves doing more passive waiting than active waiting, but God says from the throne, “Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5) Barry pointed out that this has already been done, but it hasn’t fully happened yet. What’s really awesome is that God involves us in making all things new, He gives us roles to play. So during advent, we are invited to be more active in our waiting, using our gifts and passions to glorify God, to worship the Lord and share the gospel with others. We are not to just sit back and wait and watch from a distance, but to take part in this incredible story. What can you do this week to be active in this season of waiting?

A Word Study in Feasts

A Word Study in Feasts

By Evan Johnson

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…”

- Isaiah 61:1

“We know that when good fortune favors two such men it stands to reason we deserve it, too.” 

- Fiddler on the Roof

 

As we near the most festive time of the year, different cultures from around the globe will be celebrating holidays that surround the winter solstice in different ways. Feasting has been a part of human cultures forever. The Vikings did it. The Hebrews did it. The Romans did it. Everybody loves to come together in celebration and not just eat, but feast. 

For Israel, though, feasting and celebration were often stirred out of God’s mercy. We can see this in the evolution of the word basar throughout the Old Testament. It’s a Hebrew word that refers to four things: flesh (animal or human), humanity’s frailty, the passing on of generations from father to son, and good news. These four things have almost nothing in common on the surface, but if we look at them more closely, we can see a line of God’s gospel moving throughout these events. 

Let’s break down the different meanings. 

Basar - Animal Flesh

Farming and pasture care was a big part of Israel’s society, especially since they began their nationhood as a largely nomadic people. As a shepherd or as a cattle herder, you know which animals are your best. This is why there are so many laws about animal husbandry. That’s who Israel was, and in Leviticus 25, God outlines a time in which Israel is meant to just enjoy the work that they have done for the past 49 years. This time was known as Jubilee, and it included much feasting. 

Basar - Passing on of generations

Whenever someone has a child, it’s a joyous celebration. We see this when the promised child of Isaac is born Genesis. This isn’t new today. People still celebrate at the birth of a child. In an incredibly nomadic culture, a birth was one of the most exciting events that could happen in that community. The other was a marriage, which also involved much feasting. 

Basar - Human Frailty

We’ve talked about the greatness that’s tied to this word basar, but what about when it refers to our frailty? Since it is still a word for flesh, it’s still a perfect indicator of the carnal nature of humanity. Since animal flesh needed to be cut in order to save Israel from their fleshly sins, the word basar is still connected to the reason for the sacrifice: human frailty.  

Basar - Good News

However, there’s always good news. The word basar constantly means good news throughout the Old Testament. It means good tidings, be it for a new born son or for bringing the good news of a Deliverer to Israel as in Isaiah 61:1: 

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners… 

Though our flesh may fail, there is hope in the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross. He his flesh in place of our flesh, so that we could be reborn.  

This is good news. This may sound like a stretch of the imagination when it comes to the word basar, but the common thread is there: we feast because we’re happy. 

As we move into the most festive time of the year, reflect on why you are feasting. Take a look around at the family that God has given you and celebrate with them the good food and the good grace that he has given you. 

Enjoy what God has given you to enjoy. 

Insensitivity and Thanksgiving: Sermon Response

Insensitivity and Thanksgiving: Sermon Response

By Sydney Gautier

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think about house-hopping from Joe’s family to mine. Two Thanksgiving meals in one day means way too much turkey and mashed potatoes—and probably too much pie (if that’s possible). However, in the midst of the house-hopping, food, and family chaos, the actual giving thanks part of Thanksgiving can get lost. It even happens in the regular busyness of everyday life, so just like Barry, I would say that I also struggle with thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving is worship.

Thanksgiving is a day set aside to give thanks to God for all he has blessed us with. It serves as a reminder to believers that thanksgiving is to be a regular rhythm in our lives. In Psalm 95, we get a picture of someone who is truly celebrating what thanksgiving looks like, and they don’t need pie, turkey, or mashed potatoes. In Psalm 95:1-2 we see that thanksgiving is worship, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” This is a person who is truly thankful, calling for us to worship God for all he has done. 

Insensitivity hinders thanksgiving.

A grateful heart sounds great, but when everything seems to be going wrong, it can be difficult to be a thankful person. In the middle of what seems like a disaster, our natural reaction is not to give thanks and worship. It’s easier to feel hopeless, weak, and powerless. This can cause us to isolate ourselves. We can become callous and insensitive. The psalmist points to this reality with the Israelites in Psalm 95:6-8, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seem my work.” They had seen the creations of God and the miracles he had performed—and so have we, but with a hardened heart, we miss it all. I can think of many times during my life when everything seemed to be going wrong, and while I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I missed all the goodness of God that was right in front of me. Our hope here is that God is the softener of hearts!

We need to tear our hearts before Him.

Barry told us that God is the softener of our hearts, but the next question is how? In Joel 2:13 it says, “Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” So how do we tear our hearts? We look to God and repent for the hardness and insensitivity of our hearts. We confess our sins to God and spill our hearts out to Him. We tear our hearts before Him and be honest with Him. 

When we tear our hearts before God, we see healing begin. With a softened heart, it’s so much easier to give thanks and worship. Instead of immediately noticing all of the things that seem to be going wrong in our lives, we look to God and can be thankful knowing that He is faithful and good. We can be thankful because we know He is working, and He is making all things new. With a softened heart we see all of God’s handiwork, and we rejoice and give thanks for all that he has done for us.

 

Can We (Really) All Just Get Along?

By Amy Rager

It would seem that if a group of people built their ideology upon the same, infallible book that the members of the group would all pretty much believe the same thing.   And yet we all know a multitude of other Bible-believing Christians who make us want to hide under a rock.  There are folks who love God and live for Christ holding viewpoints that baffle us. 

Disagreements over God’s intent and desires have divided Christians since the days of Paul.   The problem is not new but its resolution is still pressing.  Here’s why:

We are called to unity.  Before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, he prayed these words over his disciples: I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word (that’s us!), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  

Jesus knew we would need each other. He knew that the world’s acceptance of him as its’ Savior would be influenced by our unity.  

Human nature says, “Divide.  Distance yourself from what you don’t understand.  Get ahead by clinging to the powerful.  Those who don’t agree with you must be dumb.  Surround yourself with those just like you.”  The Spirit within us says, “Unite.  Love.  Give grace.  Draw those in who may hurt you.  Give of yourself.  Everyone is made in the image of God.  No one is past redemption.’

The question of our day seems to be: can we coexist together in a meaningful way while having different points of view?  What a testimony it will be if the church can raise her voice and say, “Yes!  Look at us!  There is something that can unite and it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”  

But how?  How can a Christian of color have unity with a believer who denies the continued existence of racism?  How can a proponent of gun control and a gun rights activist within the same church get along?  How can someone who believes that part of the answer to crime control is eliminating immigration embrace their illegal immigrant brother or sister in Christ?  

I’m going to be really honest for a second and say that I don’t have the answer.  A problem this big is far above my pay-grade.  But I do have hope.  Our God will accomplish what he desires.    As we wait on him, we must act.  Will it be messy?  Sure.  But, ‘hope does not put us to shame.’  With that disclaimer, here are some steps to consider for promoting God-glorifying unity within the church:

1) Pray fervently and first  The Bible calls us ministers of reconciliation.  However, the kind of humility and strength that fosters unity comes only from God.  Faithful attempts at unity are our responsibility, but we are at God’s mercy for the results.   Plead with him.  Pray to God that he would give you discernment and compassion.  Pray that he would prepare the person(s) you are struggling with relationally for a meaningful journey toward unity.  Jesus prayed for our unity; it seems fitting we should pray for it as well.   Verses for inspiration: James 3:18, Philippians 4:7, Proverbs 16:7, Psalm 29:11

2) Listen as an invested sibling Being a part of the same family means actively investing in one another’s well-being.  Don’t make assumptions about your sister’s viewpoint or experience—ask her about it.  Don’t judge your brother from a mile away or let bitterness brew in your heart—have the difficult conversation.  Show them you care by your presence, and seek to understand.  Compassionate listening is empowering, and giving validity to someone’s experience builds bridges.  This does not mean, however, that you have to agree with or tolerate their statement.  Verses for inspiration: 1 John 4:20, Romans 12:5 & 10, 1 Timothy 5:1-2

3) Rebuke humbly Deception is dangerous.  Sin is oppressive.   After prayer and conversation, if you still feel they are deceived or walking in sin it is your obligation to offer humble rebuke.  As people who are capable of being deceived, we correct respectfully.  For their good and restoration, we point them back to the ways God intends.  We don’t let someone we love remain in error.  Verses for inspiration: Romans 12:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:26, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Proverbs 17:17

4) Rinse and repeat  The process doesn’t end.  Even if unity was restored, it will be challenged again soon enough.  Persevere.  Stay committed to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  ‘He who began a good work in (your fellow Christian) will be faithful to complete it.’  Don’t give up on unity within the church, the rewards are too great and the command is too strong.

Made Together: God in Community

Made Together: God in Community

By Sydney Gautier

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) 

 

When we gather in community, we declare who God is.

Most of the time when I think about gathering together in community, I think about getting to spend time with people I enjoy being around. I look forward to seeing my friends at church on Sunday and community group during the week. I love grabbing coffee with people I don’t get to see often and catching up with family during the holidays. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the main reason for community either. God exists in community. He exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three in one, all individual but always together in community with one another. That means that, when we gather together in community with one another, we are declaring who God is.

 

We are wired to be part of community.

As God was creating the universe, we see him saying over and over in Genesis, “it is good.” But then, Jonathan pointed out in chapter 2 verse 18 of Genesis it says, “The Lord God said, ‘it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ Up until this point, “it was good,” but since we are created in God’s image, and God exists together as the trinity, we are wired to exist in community. God gave Adam a helper, Eve, so that he would not be alone. 

 

Community is our aspiration.

At New Circle, we say that community is our aspiration. Jonathan reminded us that this isn’t just because we like hanging out with each other. By being in community, we are declaring who God is and embracing who He has wired us to be. However, when we try to isolate ourselves, we push against who God made us to be. Jonathan said, “Coming together as a family is critical for our spiritual growth and an opportunity to declare God to a world that needs him.” He gave us three ways to do this: to think about gathering differently, to embrace family as our identity, and to rejoice in the Gospel that brings us together. 

 

“God exists in an eternal relationship with the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a relational being, He creates us as relational beings to represent Him to all of Creation.” (Brad House)

Ordinary People: Work as Worship

Highlights by Sydney Gautier

Work should lead to worship.

When Barry first said this, it sounded strange to me. I’ve worked as a waitress, a hostess, a substitute teacher, an ice cream scooper, and even a carousel attendant. I can’t say that any of those felt like acts of worship, but as strange as it sounds, God cared about my ice cream scooping and the carousel attending. He cares about the way I work in these incredibly mundane jobs. I should, too. 

God ordained work. 

There was work in the garden of Eden before there was sin. Adam and Eve worked in the garden before they sinned, so it’s important to remember that work isn’t a punishment. Work is good. God even works every day to sustain His creation and make all things new. Jesus worked too. “My father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). God called us to be workers as well. He would not have done so unless it was good for us. He has called us to be teachers and construction workers and baristas and ice cream scoopers because he is a good father and knows what is best for us.

We are to work as living sacrifices.

God wants us to be totally dedicated and devoted to Him in our work. Paul puts it this way, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men...You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24). For me, this would mean scooping ice cream as if Jesus was the one I would be handing the cone to. Or setting a table as if Jesus was the one that was about to sit down and eat. If this is the way I would go about my work, my attitude would be completely different. I would go from being indifferent to being vigilant and engaged.

Extraordinary things happen when ordinary people do ordinary things with gospel intentionality.

What would happen if we went to work with this mindset everyday? A lot of the time, for me anyways, work can feel mundane and ordinary. Gospel intentionality changes this, though. We can use work as an act of worship. The gospel allows us to treat the people we work with differently because God’s glorification is the end goal. We are able to love the boss who is constantly breathing down our neck. We can show patience to the co-worker who has a hard time following directions. When we succeed at a project, we give the glory to God and are able to be grateful to him. 

Barry calculated that over our lifetimes, each of us will work on average 80,000 hours. That’s over 9 years of our lives that could be transformed from an act of weariness to an act of worship.

 

Strangers in a Strange Land

By Evan Johnson

“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

- Deuteronomy 10:19

“No man's an island."

- John Donne

“Toto… I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…”

- Dorothy

Moses_meets_Zipporah_at_the_well.jpg

When Moses first refers to himself as a sojourner or as a stranger in a strange land, it’s not when he’s wandering in the desert with over a million Israelites. It’s when he’s a fugitive for murder and he flees to Midian. He found grace there in his soon-to-be father-in-law, Jethro, and his people. He has a son and names him Gershom, which means “for I was a stranger in a strange land.”

We can take this to mean two things. Meaning number one: Moses gives Gershom this name out of gratitude for the grace that a people showed a random foreigner who arrived on their doorstop. Meaning number two: Moses is describing his time in Egypt where he was a member of the Egyptian elite and his people were being enslaved, despite God’s promises to deliver them.

I think it’s both. I think this is a call of gratitude as well as a remembrance of the bizarreness of the world in which he lived. He understands that without the love and grace of Jethro and Zipporah, he would not have survived in a land that he merely wandered into, escaping from the law of his own country. In the same breath, he understands that the land that he came from was not the final destination for God’s people.

We see this longing reminder repeated throughout Scripture. Deuteronomy instructs the people of Israel to love those who sojourn into their midst since they were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Jacob and his tribe wandered into Egypt in search of food and shelter in a time of famine in Canaan, and for a while, that’s what they got, but a couple hundred years later, things changed. The Israelites were so vast in number that the Pharaoh believed they were becoming a political force in Egypt, so he enslaved them. God calls his people to remember this—to remember the struggles of a sojourner.

As Americans, it’s hard to sympathize with the sojourner. The examples we have from our past experiences pale in comparison to true stories of wandering and hopelessness that happen at the border and in Syria, and while there should be legal precedents to ensure the safety of Americans as well as those wandering from drug-ridden countries and war-torn nations, we need to remember that our ancestors—both Egyptian and Pilgrim—were sojourners, too. To ignore the needs of human beings with souls and smiles, words and faces, hands and feet, tears and laughter, is to ignore Jesus Christ himself according to his own words.

Having said that, America is not New Jerusalem. Someone who crosses the border into America steps into a whole new world of problems and dilemmas. We are not the city on a hill—and we never will be. The goal of the American experiment to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dim world is an admirable goal, but we, too, are still strangers in a strange land. Our eternal home—our true citizenship—is in the Kingdom of Heaven to come.

When Jesus Christ himself returns to declare all authorities subjugated and plants himself as King of the world, then and only then will this land not be strange. Eternal bliss will be and feel normal. The need to fight or to quarrel will be an instinct of the past. Everything will feel... well... right. Since the eternity of the New Jerusalem dwells within us, we are then motivated by seeing this pain-free, forever unbroken world come about. Brokenness should be strange to the Christian. Pain should be a foreign idea to those with a redeemed heart. As ministers of reconciliation, our marching orders are to make this world less strange, even for people who are themselves strange to us.

We need to ask two questions, though.

Who is the sojourner among us?

Maybe the sojourner is a literal sojourner. Maybe it is an undocumented immigrant. Maybe it’s a dreamer. Maybe it’s a refugee. Maybe it's someone who has been displaced. The heart of the church is to reach out and help those who are either without a home or their home has become so unrecognizable to them that they don't know what to call it.

Or, maybe the sojourner is a more figurative sojourner. Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t quite fit in. Maybe it’s an abused spouse. Maybe it’s a child who has been taken advantage of. Maybe it’s a person who doesn’t trust our skin color or religion at all. They are still sojourners, and we still were sojourners. As Christians, we have a source for mercy and compassion—the mercy and compassion that Christ has given us. This love is not ours to keep. It is ours to give.

How can we help the sojourner among us?

Reach out to the sojourner next to you--your neighbor, your co-worker, your family member. If someone you know is going through a strange and hard time, show them that welcoming love that Jesus has already shown us all. Remind them of his love and grace. This doesn't have to be through Bible verses. Simply being a friend can be a powerful enough presence in someone's life.

Reach out to different organizations in your areas. There are refugees all over America hiding in plain sight. There are undocumented immigrants that need our help in neighborhoods simply nearby.

The Church has a vital role to play in loving its neighbors.

And its neighbors are sometimes wanderers.

And those wanderers need mercy.

Stories of New Circle: Ted

This blog post is a transcript of an interview with a builder at New Circle named Ted.

 

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What do you do for a living?

I teach seventh and eighth grade language arts at Saint Monica Catholic School, and I run their theatre program. I also co-own a theatre company.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I like the conversations that I have. The students are not too little, but they’re not too grown up. They’re at that perfect age where—and this may bounce cliché—you can sort of mold their minds. I can have great conversations with them about books and about life. I can read a book a hundred times and get a new perspective on a piece of literature from them, even if it’s just in one class. If I have a class of just twenty kids, then I have twenty different perspectives right there.

Also, being in my eighth year at St. Monica, I’ve known these families for a long time. I’ve built some strong relationships since I’m on sibling number two, three, or four in some families.

You haven’t been a part of the theatre company as long as you’ve been a part of Saint Monica, but I’d like to pose the same question. What’s your favorite part of co-owning a theatre company?

It’s actually very similar. Whereas with my eighth graders I’m seeing these books come to life, with the people we cast and the people who work on our plays, we get to see an entire play or musical come to life.

Also, we’ve met so many new people and made so many new friends—from all over—through this theatre company. We’ve got repeats. We’ve got new people.

Do you guys try and pick your plays in a more message-oriented sense, or are your selections more sporadic?

It’s a bit of a variety. We obviously want to do plays that we like, and we want to do different types of plays. For Instance, we just did Shakespeare, which was a huge challenge—in a good way, but in all our shows, we try not to be comfortable. We try not to settle. We don’t want to just be satisfied with doing one type of play or musical.

What’s your favorite play?

Arsenic and Old Lace. I’ve always loved it. I loved the movie since my dad showed it to me when I was in middle school, so I’ve always wanted to do it. When we finally got the chance, we built an entire living room—I still brag about that set to people. It was a pain to put together, but it turned out so well. 

Romeo and Juliet is my favorite Shakespeare, though. 

Why Romeo and Juliet?

It’s my favorite Shakespeare—and I love West Side Story. West Side Story is the musical adaptation of Romeo an Juliet, and I love it. What’s great about Shakespeare is you can make it your own. You can modernize it, especially with Romeo and Juliet. You can set it in any time period and it works. I saw a version where Juliet’s family was black and Romeo’s family was white, and it still worked because that’s where the tension came in. The two families were opposite races in the fifties.

With teaching and the theatre company being such a huge part of your life, have you seen God move in either (or both) parts of your life?

Absolutely. I’m at Saint Monica because of God. 

It’s a bit of a long story. First off, all of my siblings are adopted from China, so my mom was really into the blogging world and was connected to adopted families all over the country. The summer after I graduated college, I just kept getting rejection after rejection after rejection. I started looking elsewhere other than teaching. No one was hiring me because I didn’t have enough experience since I did just graduate. Well, my mom had written a blog post about me needing a job. There was a couple that traveled with my family to China to get my brother Philip, and the wife had just been looking at that blog post while a group of my friends were praying over my job situation. She was a teacher at Saint Monica. Catholic School. I get a call from her the next day from her. She says, “I know your degree is in middle school English, but I need an assistant for my preschool class.” I kind of hesitated, but when I found out that she was reading my mom’s blog post at the same time that people were praying over me, I couldn’t ignore it. Normally, I would say no to being a preschool teaching assistant, but I took it as a sign, and I’m now in my eighth year at Saint Monica.

I get to see the transformations in a kid who hates school who, by the end of the year, is reading Animal Farm. To me, God is transforming this kids. Whether they know it or not, God is molding them.

God has placed some incredible people in my life. People are very important to me. I’m very much a people person, so the relationships that I’ve built at Saint Monica are definitely thanks to God. I know it has

The same with the theatre company. We’re not a “Christian company,” but the way that we treat people and interact with them as actors is rooted in who we are as Christians.

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.