Philippians - The Power Of Intercession: Sermon Highlight

Philippians - The Power Of Intercession: Sermon Highlight

Scripture | Philippians 1:18-26

 

One of the hardest things to do is watch people you love go through difficult times and be unable to change their situation, or be unable to change our own situations. Feeling powerless as we—or those we love—go through hard times, we can quickly become frustrated, scared and sad. We know that Paul had a strong relationship with the Philippians, and we know that the Philippians loved Paul dearly. In the season that Paul is writing this letter to them, he was in the Roman prison. The struggles that the Philippian church watched Paul endure broke their hearts. They were 800 miles away and had no political power to change his situation. But they knew the power of prayer, so they prayed to God and their prayers changed everything. Paul wrote, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…” (Philippians 1:18-19). Barry told us that God acts when his people intercede for one another, and this is something that is still true for us today.

 

 

To intercede means “to intervene on behalf of another.” We see this in many different places throughout the Bible, like when Moses intercedes on the behalf of Israel. Just like Moses interceded for the people of Israel, we see the Philippians going to God in prayer on behalf of Paul. This is important because God partners with His people in order to bring about His desires. Barry told us that there is a direct correlation between the prayers of his people and His actions. James told the early church, “You do not have because you do not ask…” (James 4:2). The Philippians accepted God’s invitation to partner with Him to bring about His desires for the church in interceding for Paul, and we get the same invitation to partner with God in prayer.

 

 

Barry said that in prayers of intercession we should seek to be aware of God’s desires for someone and join Him in what He is doing. It does not mean manipulating God to do our will, but rather becoming aware of God’s desires for someone and joining Him in that. Paul wrote, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…” (Philippians 1:19) Paul knew that the Philippians were praying for God to help him. We know God wanted good for Paul and desired his deliverance, and that is exactly what He provided. In difficult situations, it is so easy to become discouraged and frustrated, but we need to remember that God is good and desires good for His children. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

 

 

We are told in 1 John 5:14, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” Then Hebrews 4:16 says, “Come boldly to his throne of grace.” Barry told us that when we are praying God’s heart for his children, we can come to Him confidently. Even in hearing this, we don’t always feel like we can go confidently to God in prayer because we worry we will pray for the wrong things. Often times we will, because none of us can discern the will of God perfectly; however, we can trust God and know that He is good—that He will not give someone something they don’t need or that isn’t good for them simply because we asked for it. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that when we don’t pray for the right things, or don’t know what to pray at all, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God! And Romans 8:34 says that Jesus in interceding for us as well!

 

So let us boldly approach the throne of God through prayer: for ourselves, for one another, and for our city and our world. Let us give thanks for the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ who intercede for us, and for our God who hears every word of our prayers. Let us intercede for one another just as the Philippian church did for Paul.

Philippians - The Advance of The Gospel: Sermon Highlight

Philippians - The Advance of The Gospel: Sermon Highlight

Scripture | Philippians 1:12-18

 

On Sunday, we started a series on the books of Philippians: a letter written by Paul to the church in Philippi. To get a little background on how this church was birthed, Barry had us look back to Acts 16. Paul was initially headed to Asia to preach, but between the Holy Spirit changing his route and a vision that led him to believe God was calling him elsewhere, he ended up in Macedonia, Philippi instead. He shared about Jesus and one of the people who heard and believed was a woman named Lydia. Lydia then proceeded to share the Gospel with her household who all went on to follow Jesus!

 

As Paul and Silas were going on to another place in Macedonia to share, a slave girl possessed by a demon began to follow them, and eventually, Paul cast out the demon. However, the owner of this girl was angry about this and they had Paul and Silas arrested. But in the prison, something incredible happened. Paul and Silas were praising God, and suddenly an earthquake took place! All of the doors to the cells were opened and the jailer, thinking everyone would escape, was going to kill himself. But Paul called out to him to stop and reassured him that everyone was still here and that none of the prisoners had left. After hearing Paul and Silas’ words and the songs they were signing, the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (Acts 16:30) This man’s entire household also went on to accept Jesus.

 

When Paul and Silas were released they were asked to leave the city. They went to visit Lydia, and then they left. But the church in Philippi was started with these two families: Lydia and her household and the jailer and his. These are the people Paul is writing to in the book of Philippians. It is several years later that he writes this letter, and the Philippian church had faced hard times and persecution for their faith. They were also discouraged to hear of the terrible things Paul was enduring. This letter was written to encourage them and remind them that nothing can hinder the progress of the Gospel.

 

This story of how the Philippi church started is pretty inspiring, but, as years passed and hard times came, it was easy for them to forget all of the amazing ways God was working, so they quickly become discouraged. This is something that can easily happen to us all. I can look back on my life and see God’s hand at work in so many different ways: the doors He opened, the people He put in my path, and the way He is always in control. Then, when hard times come, I can be quick to forget it all, just like the Philippians.

 

But, in his letter to the church, Paul wants to remind them of the power of the Gospel. He tells them, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12) Paul is in prison, yet again, for telling people about Jesus. I have to admit if I was put in prison…again….I would probably be a bit discouraged, but Paul is not! He’s excited because even this obstacle he is facing is helping to advance the Gospel! As people talked to Paul, they asked him why he was in prison, allowing him to share the Gospel with them. Then those people told other people the story about why Paul was in prison and they got to hear about Jesus as well! Barry told us that Paul was encouraged by this because he knew it only took one time for someone to hear the Gospel and for faith the be awakened! He wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing comes through the word of Christ.” This is why Paul is celebrating that so many have heard the Gospel and are now telling others without fear, because as more people hear, more people can come to know Jesus!

 

Paul ended this section of his letter with this, “Yes, and I will rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) Even in his hardship, Paul rejoiced because he remembered all that God had already done and was still doing, and because he knew how powerful the Gospel is: that nothing could ever hinder its progress. Today let’s not forget the incredible ways God is moving around us. Let’s remember, like Paul, how powerful God's Word is and that no obstacle can stand in the way of the advancement of the Gospel.

Hope and Purpose: Sermon Highlight

Hope and Purpose: Sermon Highlight

Scripture | Luke 24:36-49

 

The story of Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the dead in the Easter story changed everything. Not only is it the most miraculous story of all time, but it correlates strongly with Peter the disciple’s story and with each of our own stories. In his Easter sermon, Barry taught us, “All Easter stories begin with tears and confusion and end with hope and purpose.”

 

We have learned about Peter’s own story over the course of this three week series. He was a fisherman by trade who crossed paths with Jesus and eventually became the leader of the disciples. He became known as “the rock” after Jesus professed that he would build his church on Peter. But, the night before Jesus’s death, Jesus gathered His disciples to celebrate Passover.  At the meal, Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him. Each disciple exclaimed that it would not be them. This morphed into a heated discussion over which of them was the greatest. Jesus stopped their conversation and told Peter that Satan desired to break him like wheat. He ensured Peter that He was praying for him and said that when Peter returned, he was to strengthen the disciples, but that Peter would fail. Peter did not like hearing that he would fail, and told Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33) Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, he would deny knowing the Lord three times. Peter did this just like the Lord had predicted. The Scripture says in Luke 22:61-61, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” 

 

Peter’s Easter story began with tears and confusion. This man he had followed and learned from, who he had seen perform miracles and that he thought would overthrow the government had been crucified on a cross. On top of all that, he had denied Christ as it was happening. But, he had seen the empty grave and heard accounts of the risen Lord. We see Peter again at the end of the book of John. He is back to being a fisherman. He is out on his boat casting his nets. Peter fished all night but caught nothing, just like when he first met Jesus. As the sun began to rise, they heard a man’s voice call out from the shore telling them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, just as Jesus had the first time. Once again, they caught a huge amount of fish.

 

When they realized it was Jesus, Peter jumped into the water and swam to shore so that he would get to Jesus first. When Peter got to him, Jesus had a fire and breakfast prepared for them. After breakfast, the resurrected Christ asked Peter three times, once for every time he had denied Him, if he loved Him and each time Peter affirmed that he did. And after these questions, Jesus once again told Peter, “Follow me.” (John 21:19) After he had encountered the resurrected Christ, Peter started leading the disciples again. The resurrection of Jesus gave Peter hope of a restored relationship with Christ and led to a purpose! 

 

The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope and purpose. When Jesus died on the cross and then rose again 3 days later, he fulfilled the prophecies written about in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. He paid the ultimate sacrifice, the only sacrifice that could atone for our sins, and in that, we see that the resurrection points us to the hope of redemption! But, our full redemption could not have happened without the resurrection, Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like it.” Because of this, we have the hope of being made new and through faith in Christ we are made alive! 

 

In the death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed sin and any power it could have over us. This means that in Christ, we have true freedom. But, if we are not in Christ, we are stuck in the bondage of sin. In the resurrection, we find that we are not defined by our sin or defeated by our sin, but instead, we are defined by Christ, who defeated sin and offers freedom to those who trust in Him. 

 

The story of Easter gives us hope and purpose after tears and confusion. The resurrection gives us purpose in declaring the Gospel to all people! In Luke 24:45-49, it says that Jesus enabled his disciples to understand the Scripture. He then prophesied what would happen fifty days after Passover, when he sent the Holy Spirit that empowered their ability to live their lives for the glory of God and proclaim the Gospel. The Holy Spirit still empowers Jesus’ followers today, and we are called to live our lives for God’s glory and share the story of Jesus to a world that is broken, just like Peter and his disciples were called to do.  We see, in the Easter story that commission comes after confusion, that empowerment comes after failure, and that resurrection comes after death.

Hope, Believe, Love: Sermon Highlight

Hope, Believe, Love: Sermon Highlight

Scripture | Luke 5:1-11

 

For my husband Joe and I, we are in that season of life where a lot of our friends are getting married. Wedding invitations are hanging on our refrigerator as constant reminders to RSVP. Close friends and family members inviting us to partake in an important and monumental part of their lives. Like with any invitation, we have the option to regretfully decline or gratefully accept each and every one of them. But by declining such an invitation, we are missing out on what could potentially be a beautiful evening filled with friends, family, joy and true love. That’s usually not something we want to miss out on. In this story of Peter, we see him receive invitations from Jesus he wouldn’t want to miss out on either, and we are invited into the same things as Peter was. 

 

In this scripture, we have Peter, the professional fishermen, that had been out fishing all night and caught absolutely nothing. Considering this was his livelihood, it made for a rough day. We see in the scripture that a crowd was gathering around Jesus and they made their way over to where Peter and his friends were washing their nets. Jesus hopped in Peter’s boat to get some space and asked Peter to push it away from the land a little bit so he could teach. When he finished teaching, he told Peter to let down his nets for a catch. This would have probably caught Peter off guard since he had spent all night trying to fish with no luck, and on top of that, this was the first time he had met Jesus. But, this was an invitation for Peter to have hope. 

 

Regardless of the fact that Peter had only heard Jesus speak and had just met him, Luke wrote that he said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) Here we see Peter accepting Jesus’ invitation to hope! We can see that in this invitation Jesus is asking Peter to set aside his own thoughts and trust in his guidance. We have this same invitation, and by accepting it, our thoughts are transformed. We see John Piper define biblical hope as, “A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.” When Peter lets down his nets, he has this type of confident expectation in what Jesus has said. And we are called to live like that too. It could look like taking a step of faith or setting aside our own plans and ideas of what our lives should look like and trust in what God has called us to.

 

Jesus also extends an invitation of Peter to believe. When Jesus asked him to put down his nets, Peter and his friends witnessed a miracle. Jesus not only filled their nets but overflowed them to the point that their boat began to sink!! Upon seeing this, Luke writes, “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). We see that Peter saw this miracle and accepted Jesus’ invitation to believe. And just as we are invited to hope, we are also invited to believe, like Peter was. By accepting this invitation to believe it transforms how we live. Barry told us that our belief in Jesus should lead our lives to look more like Jesus’ life. This means living like Jesus at work and home and school, wherever we go. Although we won’t do this perfectly all the time, Jesus empowers us to live as his people in this world for his glory. 

 

The next invitation Peter receives is the invitation to love. After Peter and his friends witnessed this miracle and Peter confessed that Jesus is Lord, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10-11) Here Jesus invites Peter to be a part of his ministry in the world! This love of Christ enabled Peter to love people like Christ had loved him, and with this, his priorities changed. Now, instead of seeing himself and his needs as most important, he saw loving God and people as his first priority. He was no longer a professional fisherman, instead, he ministered to others and started churches, he preached and was persecuted and then, according to history was crucified upside-down because of his love for God and people. By accepting this invitation Peter is putting himself second, something we are invited into as well. 

 

We are called to live our lives completely for the glory of God, just like Christ did.  Unlike Jesus, we won’t always get it right, we will fail and mess up and probably be frustrated with ourselves at times, but through His grace and forgiveness and power we can follow God and accept each and every one of His invitations. God is alive and moving, and every day He is inviting us to take part in His story of the redemption of the world through His daily invitations to hope, believe and love. 

 

By Sydney Gautier

Confess and Be Healed

Confess and Be Healed

By Russ Jackson

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

- 1 Corinthians 10:13 

As a young Christian, this was one of the first verses that I memorized. I wish that I could say that I chose this verse for its deep meaning to me, but the truth is it was assigned to me by a Sunday school teacher.

Regardless, this verse has meant much to me all these years. If anyone reading this has doubts, fears, bad habits, or secret sin that seems overwhelming, keep in mind the first part of this verse: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” What you are feeling and experiencing right now is totally normal. There isn’t anything that you are going through that hasn’t already been experienced by others, and I would go so far as to say that anything that you have been or currently are being tempted with has also happened to Jesus. Let’s all pause for a moment to take this in. Yes, I am saying that Jesus has been tempted just the way you are being tempted now. In Hebrew 4:15 we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We have all of our temptations in common with Jesus with one minor difference: we sin.

One of the many things I love about our family at New Circle Church is that we do not pretend to be perfect. From least to greatest we all openly share the one trait of sin. Sin happens when we are tempted and give in to that temptation. We own it, we repent, we make amends as possible, and we move on.

Now to address the second part of this verse: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Need I say more? We have a great Father who knows our needs and our failures and regardless of all the times that we have been warned and encouraged, provides a way of escape. It’s like being in a burning building. We have choices to make—real life and death decisions. Will you panic and curl up into a ball, or perhaps run around in a frenzy and die? Or will you keep a clear head and exit via the fire door? It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet how many times do we succumb to the temptation and take the easy way out, not realizing that it is killing us spiritually?

I’ll tell you a secret that can save you years of going down the wrong road and then more years of regret and uselessness (I speak, sadly, from personal experience). We are told in James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Find someone you trust that cares about you and speak out loud the darkness that is in your heart so that you may be healed. It is really very simple, but it is also plenty scary.

Our adversary, the Devil, would love to separate us and tear us apart by whispering things like, “Don’t tell anyone.” “They will just think you a terrible and awful person.” “As long as they don’t know, it’s not real.” “No one is really as bad as you are, so they won’t understand, they will only condemn!”

On the other hand, Jesus says, “Confess and be healed!”

Acts 3:19&20 we read, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”.

You may be thinking, “Yes, but it’s all my fault that I am the mess that I have become,” and you would be right, but Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He puts no qualifications on this rest. He doesn’t say, “You can only come to me if you didn’t do it on purpose, the rest of you are on your own!” No. He makes no qualifications except that you come to him. It is as true for the believer as the unbeliever. If you have become weary and heavy-laden, the answer lies in Jesus—not in trying to make yourself righteous on your own.

Granted, there is a time to step back and contemplate the vastness of God’s mercy to us, but do not let this momentary pause keep you from vital action. After all, you are only delaying His healing in your life. This grace that we extend to unbelievers is also extended to us who believe. Jesus is still standing at the door of your heart asking permission to come in. It seems foolish to not accept so great an invitation.

Ruwach: Sermon Highlight

Ruwach: Sermon Highlight

By Sydney Gautier

Ezekiel 37: 1-10 | 

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”  So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

 

I remember being in high school and telling myself that if I could just get to college everything would be great. And then when I was in college I couldn’t wait to be out of college because I thought then life would be easier. Then I got out of college and realized, “silly me, can I go back to kindergarten?” Because life after college was just as hard, if not harder.  And I saw that hoping for the next thing in life, assuming it will suddenly make life easier was just an endless cycle. There’s always some aspect of difficulty because we live in a broken world. I’m almost 25 and my knees already pop when I walk up and down stairs, there are hurricanes and wars and a lot of the time things look pretty bleak in the world. But when we realize this and stop hoping in the world, our achievements, relationships and ourselves, then we start putting our hope in Christ instead. We realize we are hopeless unless God shows up. 

 

When we read through this scripture of Ezekiel’s vision we are shown a hopeless period in the life of Israel. Ezekiel is set down in a large valley, full of bones, I’d imagine this would be pretty scary and confusing. And as we go back and read this story, we see something crazy happen. We see God bring these bones back together and there was an army of bodies standing there empty. But then God breathed life into them. The Hebrew word that refers to the breath God breathed into these bodies is “ruwach” which means, wind, breath or spirit. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit is almost always referred to as ruwach in the Old Testament. We see ruwach come through wind, breath, or spirit giving life powerfully in Scripture. This is a reminder that the ruwach of God brings life and hope!

 

In a previously hopeless situation, God stepped in through Ezekiel to offer a message of hope to Israel. This was a time in Israel’s history when people had been starved to death, some were led off as prisoners of war to Babylon, and some were killed. It looked like a pretty hopeless situation. Barry said he pictured them to be frantic, running around trying to fix this mess on their own, but God wanted them to quiet their hearts and hear His words and be filled with hope,  “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit (ruwach) within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14)

 

How often do we find ourselves in these types of situations? Feeling utterly hopeless, frantically trying to solve our problems by our own strength; not trusting that God can see the situation from beginning to end and has full control. No matter the situation we find ourselves in, God can breathe life into it. We see this in Exodus when God was leading Moses and the Hebrews out of Egypt to the Promised Land, with the army coming after them, they came to the Red Sea and were at a loss. They couldn’t turn around but they couldn’t go through it either. There was no way out until God sent a wind, ruwach, split the waters and made a way. God is still splitting the Red Sea’s of our lives today, He’s already made a way for us through Jesus, and He continues to show up in our lives daily. 

 

Jesus is the perfect example of the hope we have in God. Barry pointed out that he fully trusted that the ruwach of God would blow upon his ministry, his sacrificial death and that the breath of God would bring him back to life three days later. His perfect hope enables us to hope in God. In our hopeless situations, let's remember that our God is a God who breathes life, that in Him, bleak situations can be redeemed and that we are utterly dependent on God to show up.

Anakephalaiosasthai: Sermon Response

Anakephalaiosasthai: Sermon Response

By Sydney Gautier

In my opinion, there are two types of storytellers in the world: the ones who give you every last detail, down to the color of their socks when the events were taking place, and then the ones who neatly sum things up and make sure you actually get the point of what they’re trying to tell you. Both are great, in different ways and depending on what the story is about. Today, we are focused on the latter type of story teller, the idea of “summing things up, bringing all things into unity, providing a center,” or the Greek word for all that, anakephalaiosasthai.

 

So that we have a better understanding of this 19 letter word, Barry helped break it down for us, here we go. First is “ana.” This word adds intensity to whatever it’s connected to. For example instead of saying, “it is cold.” We would say, “it is extremely cold.” It helps portray something as big and forceful. Next is “Kephala.” It means, “head, putting ahead, or an organizing center.” An organizing center is something that puts everything where it is supposed to be. This immediately makes me think of my husband, Joe. He loves organization and is a stickler for everything being in its rightful place, so we have various organization cabinets around our house because he knows without them, I would probably leave everything a disorganized mess. 

 

Paul used this word twice in scripture, once in today’s passage and once in Romans 13:9. He wrote, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9). See what he did there? All of the commandment and the words of the prophets are anakephalaiosasthaied, or “summed up or unified” in the phrase, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul’s usage of this word signifies an extreme reorganization around a new center that brings unity to all things.

 

In Ephesians 1, he shows us this new center, Jesus, the great unifier. He starts off with a very elaborate welcome and salutation to the church in Ephesus. We know from Acts 19 that Paul started the church in Ephesus and had a great ministry there. Barry told us that he and his disciples had so much favor that all the residents of this part of Asia (now known as Asia Minor) heard the Gospel! So we can understand why Paul would write this letter, but why was he so excited? Barry told us that in the original Greek, Ephesians 1:3-10 was one long run on sentence. Basically, Paul just kept writing and writing. If he was talking out loud he probably wouldn’t have time to take a breath between all the words. In verse 10 Paul brings it all together, “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1”10). The phrase, “to unite all things” is anakephalaiosasthai. God united all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth. Jesus changed everything.

Barry told us that Paul likely wrote this letter from a Roman prison, so he probably wasn’t in a situation that would cause much excitement. On top of that, Paul had a pretty rough life. He had been betrayed, arrested, been beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead, and, to top it all off, he had to put up with fights between Christians. But anakephalaiosasthai gives Paul a reason to be excited! Paul can look back on his life and see that he has anakephalaiosasthai-ed the story of his life. He can look at everything that has happened to him but with Jesus as the organizing center, the one who brought all of his life into unity, and that changed everything. It gave him a new perspective on his life. Everything that happened to him happened for a reason. Jesus brought unity to it all and God used it for his glory! This allowed Paul to have hope! All those bad things don’t seem as bad anymore when you can see that they have a purpose and that you can see God as the one who pours forth grace and blesses and adopts us sinful men and women and sons and daughters because of his love and for his pleasure. 

This can help give us a new perspective on our own lives, just like it did for Paul. Sometimes it can be easy to look back and dwell on the bad times, the struggles, or the negative parts of life. While we don’t need to pretend they didn’t happen and block them out of our minds, the shame, terror, illness, lies, and stress we have been through are part of each of our stories, but the Gospel provides and new perspective to see that story through. We can look back on our lives like Paul and retell our story, this time with Jesus at the center as the one who brings unity to all things. In doing this we can see redemption and hope like we see in Ephesians 1. It doesn’t mean that everything in our life will make perfect sense, but it does mean that we can have faith and trust that God is doing something, that He is constantly at work in our lives and in our stories.

Jesus Walks on Water: Sermon Highlight

Jesus Walks on Water: Sermon Highlight

By Sydney Gautier

Scripture | Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

In the midst of the storm Jesus is with us.

We can all recall storms in our lives. Maybe you feel like you’re in the middle of one now, or maybe you just weathered one and are on the other side. But we’ve all been there. I specifically remember my senior year of college. The first semester was one big storm that I thought would never end. One thing after another went wrong, I felt like I couldn’t catch a break. However, the story we read in Matthew 14:22-33 reminds us that in the midst of the storm, Jesus is with us. Jonathan went through three things that this story of Jesus walking on water in the middle of the storm shows us about Jesus.

God is in control.

We see in the passage above that Jesus sent the disciples out to sea before he went up to the mountain to pray. The trip they were making was about 5 miles. They left in the evening, but Jesus didn’t come to them until very early morning. That means they were out on the sea for quite a long time—longer than they had expected to be, but they made no progress because of the storm. This trip had become much more complicated than they thought it would be. They were terrified. The storm was out of their control. However, God knew what was going to happen before they stepped into the boat. That means he knew how it was going to end as well. The storm didn’t surprise Him. He was completely in control of the situation, so it’s important to know that Jesus didn't send them into the storm to punish them. God is powerful enough to use the brokenness of storms in our lives to show us Himself!

God loves you.

The first words Jesus says to the disciples when he comes to them in the storm are, “Do not be afraid.” This is what we say to people we love because we don’t want them to live in fear. This is what Joe says to me in the middle of the night when I swear I heard someone in the closet. This is what my parents told me when I thought there were monsters under my bed as a child. We see throughout scripture that Jesus is consistently loving and gracious towards the disciples despite the fact that they got things wrong a lot and didn’t deserve it. Sounds a lot like us, but through the storms and the sin and getting it wrong often, we are still so loved by God. In the scripture above we see Peter walk out onto the water. When he takes his eyes off Jesus, he starts to sink. He cries out to God, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus does because he’s Jesus, and he’s patient and gracious and loves Peter like he loves you and I. In the following verse, Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He doesn't say this to call Peter out or to shame him. Instead he’s saying it with love in his eyes, wanting to reassure him that he never needs to doubt—that he loves him and will never fail him.

 

It’s not about your faith, but God’s faithfulness.

My senior year, in the midst of a storm, I remember at times wondering what I could do to make myself stop sinking. Muster up more faith? Try harder? It’s easy to fall into that trap, but we learn from the story of Jesus walking on water that that isn’t the answer at all. In this story, we don’t see Jesus make Peter try harder to stop sinking in the middle of the storm. Instead he immediately reached out his hand to save him. We learned that what’s important is the object of our faith, Christ. Jonathan shared a quote about this from David Platt, “. . . if your eyes are on the wind, you will fall…But when your eyes are on Christ, when the all-sovereign, gracious, loving, merciful Savior and King of creation is the focus of your faith, you can always rest secure. Your faith will be constant, because Christ is constant.” This takes the burden of trying to muster up enough faith off of us. We just have to trust and keep our eyes on the Lord. We see that when we encounter God and his truth, it leads to worship. Despite the storm and the struggles, we can know God is in control. He loves us. He is faithful and for us, and this leads us to worship in His unexplainable peace in the midst of chaos.

The Older Brother

The Older Brother

By Sydney Gautier

As with anything in life, context is very important when we read stories in the Bible. We’ve all had those moments when we catch just one sentence in someone’s conversation or hop in at the end of a conversation and only hear something like “and then the cops pulled up.” Well, if you don’t know the context of this statement you have no idea if this person is getting arrested, if someone was hurt, or if they are on the run from authority. Understanding the context of this story is essential. In this story of the prodigal son, the context is just as important. 

Jesus’s audiences when he was telling this story were middle eastern peasants and religious leaders around A.D. 30. In this culture, when the younger brother asks for his inheritance from his father while he was still alive, it was basically like he was saying, “Dad, why don’t you just drop dead and give me what’s mine?” For this culture, the response that the dad gave normally would have been to slap the kid for such a request. Instead, he accepts that his son rejected his love. He gave him his inheritance, so the younger son takes the money and leaves. The boy goes out into the far country, loses all his money, and ends up feeding pigs to survive. Eventually, the boy saw his money issue as the true problem. He decides to go back to his father and work to pay off the debt that he owed. However, the father knew that the true problem wasn’t the money. It was the broken relationship. When the young son returns the Bible tells us that the father runs to him and embraces him to show his love and acceptance, regardless of what he had done. Here the boy also sees that the broken relationship was the problem, and there was nothing he could do to fix it, but he accepts the love and grace of his father and returns with no problems.

With the return of his youngest son, the father throws him a party. However, his older brother has no idea that his younger sibling has returned yet. He had probably written him off as a lost cause. As he approached the house, someone told him that his brother had returned and his father had killed the fattened calf to celebrate his return. In this culture, everything in the house was legally the property of the older brother even though the father remains the head of the house. Everything that was left was pledged to his son, so when the father threw this party for the younger brother, he was using the older brother’s inheritance to do so. Also, in this culture, the father would have been sitting with the guests and the older son would often stand and serve the meal as a sort of “head waiter.” He would engage in conversation with the guests, and he would even have to serve his younger brother. Jesus says that “...he was angry and refused to go in.” (Luke 15:28). He didn’t want to lower himself to such a point as to serve his younger brother. By refusing to enter into the party, the older brother brought shame upon his family just as the younger brother had, and once again we see the father paying the price of reconciliation with one of his sons. Instead of getting angry like society expected him to, the father “...came out and entreated him...” (Luke 15:28). In other words, he came out and tried to reconcile with his son so he could see things from his father’s perspective.

The older son was still angry though. He was full of bitterness, hate, pride, and self-deception. He felt justified in his actions towards his father and brother., yet the father reassures his older son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32). 

This is where the story ends. We don’t know what happens after that, but in leaving it here, Jesus invited all those hearing the story to come heed the words of the Father. 

God was represented by the father in this story, seeking reconciliation with his people. He loves those who have been careless with their lives and have lost everything that has been given to them, as well as those full of pride, bitterness, and hate. We see that the love of God is unfathomable. We see in Christ an example to follow. As Barry said, Jesus, the truly perfect Son of God did not look at us in our sin and failures and pride. Instead, we see the humility of Christ. We are hopeless outside of Christ, and in his love, mercy, and compassion, the Father sent the Son to bear our burdens and take our shame, to make possible reconciliation with the Father. This shows that Gospel is the foundation of our humility. We are to humble ourselves and serve others the way Jesus has.  Through faith in Christ, the Spirit lives in us, and gives us what we need to lovingly serve those around us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . .” (Galatians 5:22-23). And in Mark 10:45 Jesus tells us that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Thus we are to follow this example and humbly serve those around us.

 

“...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

Epiphany Sunday: the Magi

Epiphany Sunday: the Magi

By Sydney Gautier

The Wise Men are a very popular part of the Christmas story. There’s a well-known song about them called, “We The Kings.” We see them in all the Christmas plays, in the Nativity scenes set up on fireplace mantels, and in front of churches. What you may not have known is that they were not kings at all, but instead they were Magi—basically they were pagan astrologers. The word magi is actually where we get our word magic. So why is it that the first people to go see Jesus were people that practiced magic, something that God condemns? 

God is the ultimate seeker and that He has a heart for the nations.

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-12). These pagan astrologers saw the star and came from the east. They weren’t from Israel, and they weren’t righteous or holy, but God led them to Jesus from afar. This shows us his love for all the world.

As we have seen through this story of the Magi, God has a radical love for all people. He desires everyone to come and worship his son, not just the righteous. Jesus said he came for the sick, those who knew they were in need of a savior. This is what we see God doing here with the Magi. Even though the Magi practiced something that was shunned by the Jews, God drew these men to come and worship Jesus. God loved the Magi more than we can understand. God loves us more than we can understand. That also means that God loves those around us more than we can understand as well. At New Circle, we talk a lot about seeing the city of Indianapolis made new through the Gospel. That renewal involves men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, convicts as well as upstanding citizens all coming to know Jesus as their Savior. God loves these people and wants them to come to faith more than we can imagine. No one is too far gone for God to give up on them! 

God desires all people to come to know him, and he uses a variety of ways to bring people to his Son. With the Magi, we see that he used their love for astronomy to lead them straight to Jesus. He used something applicable to them, something they can relate to. In other stories through the Bible we see God use things like miracles, a talking donkey, tragedies, and nature to bring people to himself. God is still doing this today. People may be into practices that can look strange to us, but God can lead people to himself using these things just like he did with the Magi. 

The two means that will always be a part of the story of God drawing people to himself are the Word of God and the people of God. When the Magi went to Jerusalem, because that was the city of the Jewish people, they asked Herod where the Messiah was going to be born. Herod didn’t know, so he assembled the people of God to speak to the Magi from the Work of God. Here God used both his people and his Word to lead the Magi to Jesus. And if you are a believer, and have his word in your heart and your hand, you have everything you need to be used by God in the story of someone else’s salvation! “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the 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). Jesus is with us always, and has not asked us to go alone into sharing the Gospel, but to trust that he is with us in it!

Advent: The Love of the Kingdom

Advent: The Love of the Kingdom

By Sydney Gautier

Every year I get so excited to give my husband his Christmas gift (and birthday present) that I literally cannot wait until the actual day. So last night I gave Joe his Christmas present. and as much as he liked this gift, it by no means expresses just how much I love him because we could never find a present great that can express our affection enough to the people we love. When we apply this to God, we remember that he created everything and owns everything, and that means He could give the greatest gift ever. He did just that when he sent his Son Jesus Christ to save us. 

For God so loved the world. . . 

Barry pointed us towards John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” This is a well-known verse. When I was a kid, this was the first verse we memorized in my Sunday school class, but when something is so common we can completely miss the significance of it. God created the world and everything and everyone in it. Even though we have rebelled against him and placed things above him, he still loves the world. We see this in scripture when we read that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). While the death of Christ was sufficient to save everyone, God does not force anyone to be saved. Jesus is a gift that must be received as a gift!

The cost of God’s love.

The gift of Jesus comes from God to each and every one of us. God by no means had to give us this gift of salvation. We don’t deserve it. His love is deep and reckless, but like all gifts that we give, this gift of salvation was not free. Not only was it not free, but it was the most expensive and costly gift that has even been given. God knew that when he sent his one and only son to Earth that our salvation was going to cost him his life. It can be hard to remember that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. He was someone’s son, brother, and friend here on earth, but ultimately he was God’s only son. When we try and think about giving up someone we are so proud of and love so deeply for people who don’t deserve it, we can probably feel just a smidgen of how truly difficult that would be. Yet, Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ loved you and gave himself up for us.” Our salvation was not cheap. God gave us his absolute best because he loves us that much.

God’s love is reckless.

“For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The love of God is deep and costly, and it knows no bounds; it is reckless. Barry didn’t mean it in a negative way. God is very free with his love. He is extravagant and over the top with his love. He sent Jesus to come find us. He constantly pursues us. However much you think God loves you, he loves you even more than that. His love is reckless and it frees us from all guilt and condemnation. Barry pointed us to Psalm 103:12, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” As hard as that can be to comprehend, it’s true! His love knows no bounds, and this should leave us awestruck and amazed, completely overwhelmed by his incredible love.

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)