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)

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

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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