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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.

God's Love in Marriage

God's Love in Marriage

By Barry Rager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy Ministry: "Maria"

Mercy Ministry: "Maria"

By Sydney Gautier

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

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

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

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

You are so loved.