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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.

Advent - Charity Suffereth Long

Advent - Charity Suffereth Long

By Jacob Butts

For us, Advent is a time of remembering. It is a time of waiting in expectation, or a word I'd like to think has more weight: hope. It is a reminder to us that waiting is a part of life, and while it can seem frustrating, the pain, suffering, and injustice that comes along with it ultimately will never last. Its evil reign will end. For God is good in ways we cannot comprehend. He will have complete justice.

If anyone has gotten to know me in the past year you would have heard me complain about something. For some closer to me, you heard something new every week. For that I greatly apologize. This was one of the worst years of my life. I dealt with physical, mental, and emotional pain, and this is all an understatement.

I don’t say this to be prideful but to point out a fundamental truth: suffering is real and it really sucks. By extension, suffering in waiting is also real and painful.

Therefore, if God is good and He is just, and if He has proven Himself as good and just time and again, then I must trust He will still be good and just when things go wrong. When I call out to Him in suffering and He doesn’t answer immediately, then He has either called me to something and I have disobeyed and He waits until I obey. 

Or the answer is no or not yet... wait.

I believe my frustrations stem from both, but chiefly the latter: "wait". For if I know I was called to Indy (a long story I'd be glad to tell anyone) and if I know God is good, then my present suffering is the in-between, and it cannot be the resolution. No, He will not leave us here. Even if we pass away He will still bring us back. Nothing will separate us from Him.

There are a couple verses in 1 Corinthinans 13 that are usually associated with marriage, but in fact, it was Paul's response to a church in Corinth who were disobeying the teachings of Jesus. Paul listed these attributes to say, "be like Jesus in this way:" The NIV translation goes like this:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

What should be noted is the last and often forgotten attribute of Jesus: always perseveres (or endures). I recently discovered the King James translation of that attribute, "Charity suffereth long.” I personally find this translation to be more accurate. Charity was a word in our English language we once used to describe a person's (or God's) unconditional and generous love. Charity is not just patient, kind, and generous, but it suffers long. It knows waiting and suffering can be one and the same. Sometimes I wonder if the question is not why am I suffering, but can I suffer well? Can I suffereth long?

Then how do we suffer well? I believe the answer is in the advent: Hope.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! Godʼs dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:3-5 NIV

God is good. He is coming again to make all things new. Take hope in that, brothers and sisters.

Advent - An Orientation of the Heart

Advent - An Orientation of the Heart

By Samantha Wittgen

Personality tests flatter me, calling me a “Protagonist,” meaning that I am often both proactive and hopeful—the helper in a story or conflict. Off-screen, I know what that means: I am enticed by the idea that things could be better.  I wait, assuming that in the future when I have that car-job-house-relationship-family-financial-status-redemption, I will be more satisfied.  

Merriam-Webster defines waiting as “staying in a place in expectation; looking forward expectantly.”  The Hebrew word for wait, qavah, means “the tension of enduring; to look eagerly.” These two definitions speak to the essence of waiting. It includes eagerness and expectation, a forward focus while staying in the current position for a time.  Waiting, although uncomfortable, is not bad. It is simply an orientation of our hearts and thoughts.

Qavah. I remember this summer waiting for a job.

Qavah. I have friends hopefully, expectantly, desirously waiting to have a child. 

Qavah. People are waiting for phone calls, answers that may never come.

Qavah. There are entire communities waiting to be heard, waiting for justice.

Richard Rohr, priest and author, speaks about waiting, calling our position in waiting liminal space, which he defines as,

“a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them.  It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are finally out of the way.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.”

Your story of waiting may include doubt, patience, anger, or joy. In this place, this liminal space, this qavah, I hope you can cling to the promise that God remains with you. As we continue walking together through the season of Advent, the season of confidently waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, my hope is that we will also confidently orient our hearts towards Truth. Let’s be people who eagerly await Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.