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South Fellowship Church

About Aaron Bjorklund

I am the Creative Arts Pastor here. That means I oversee our worship ministries and our communications team. I also serve on our Directional Leadership Team here. I love this place and I love the team I work with here!

What To Say When You Pray | Week 4 | Wednesday

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

“Kingdom”, it’s not something most Americans understand aside from the movies. We don’t live in a nation with a king. It might be helpful for us to explore what this kingdom is; after all, Jesus teaches us to pray for its coming.

One of the most helpful definitions of the kingdom that I have encountered is from Dallas Willard, Christian philosopher, who said that the kingdom of God is “the range of God’s effective will.” The first time I read that definition I had to stop and think. The kingdom is where God’s will is active. When we pray this prayer, we ask for his authority and rulership to overthrow wherever it isn’t currently.

What would the world look like if God’s kingdom was in full effect? That is what we are asking God to do, and that is what God invites his children to bring into the world. One idea that has helped me to think about God’s kingdom is the idea of culture. I grew up overseas in Africa, and the culture is so different from America. The language, the jokes, the social cues, and the values of Africa are nothing like that of most Americans. The same is true of the Kingdom of God. When we pray this prayer, we want God’s culture to overshadow the world’s culture.

Our passage today is found in one of Jesus’ most famous sermons about the nature of his kingdom. To fully understand what we are asking for when we pray this prayer, we must learn the kingdom’s culture. That can be done by learning the character and teachings of the king. We can start learning the customs, language, and rules of the kingdom of God by listening to and obeying the way of Jesus. Only then can we see the benefits of his Good reign in the world.

Part of our aim as followers of Jesus and the prayers of this prayer is to learn the kingdom’s culture. Only then can we become productive citizens in that kingdom. When you read the scripture, ask yourself about the heart of King Jesus. You can also ask, what are the social cues/rules of the kingdom of God that I see in every scripture passage? For example, some of the strange cultural practices of the kingdom are, the first shall be last, the humble shall be exalted, and there is strength in our weakness. These ideas feel foreign to our world; that is because they are, they are native only to the kingdom of God.

What To Say When You Pray | Week 4 | Wednesday2022-01-22T19:22:34-07:00

Friday Extra

 

 

Here is a conversation between Alex and Aaron about this past Sunday. It’s sort of a bonus devotional.

Friday Extra2022-01-21T11:49:12-07:00

What To Say When You Pray | Week 3 | Thursday

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.”

This week we venture into one of the most familiar texts in all scripture. That familiarity may cause us to miss some of the subtleties and tensions. If we take the time to read the scriptures meditatively, we begin to discover all sorts of new things. Questions start to arise; intrigue lives beneath the surface of our reading. Today we will look at the request “hallowed be,” which is ripe with curiosity.

The phrase “hallowed be” is imperative in the Greek language. That means it is a command or petition. When we pray “hallowed be,” we ask God to be hallowed. Is God not already holy? How can the holiest one become more holy, and more importantly, who are we to tell God what to do? What could be missing from God’s holiness other than our understanding of it? In other words, the only thing missing from God’s holiness is that not everyone sees him as holy.

In light of my meditation on this prayer, I will sometimes pray it like this; “our father in heaven, may you be seen and appreciated as holy be me and everyone.” I find it interesting that Jesus challenges us to pray for God’s help in hallowing his name. This is a prayer for God’s reputation as good, beautiful, kind, worthy, and holy.

Have you ever overheard a conversation where someone spoke poorly about someone you love or respect? Defensiveness may swell in your chest for the person you care for. The prayer, “hallowed be,” may come from a similar emotional space. We want others to see and appreciate the goodness of our Father, but we cannot always change their minds, so we ask our Father to make himself hallowed. This can also be a prayer for our hearts to hallow God. When we have doubts or fears about his nature, we might pray that God would make himself hallowed to us.

As with each other phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, this one invites us to be a part of the answer to our prayer. Today, pray what Jesus tells you to pray, “hallowed be your name.” Now ask him, what he might want you to do today to help his name be more hallowed by people you interact with. You may want to pray something like, “Father, how can I make you be seen as good and holy by someone today?”

What To Say When You Pray | Week 3 | Thursday2022-01-20T13:07:45-07:00

What To Say When You Pray | Week 3 | Friday

Today’s Daily Devotional is a short video from Alex.

What To Say When You Pray | Week 3 | Friday2022-01-14T10:12:25-07:00

What To Say When You Pray | Week 2 | Wednesday

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6a)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Do you notice the common thread between these two texts? Jesus speaks of doors in both sections. In the first, Jesus tells his disciples to close the door. In the second, he challenges them to knock on the door. The strange contrast gives us insight into the nature of private prayer.

Jesus is talking about a physical door in the first passage. In most ancient Jewish homes, there would only be one small room with a door. That door represented privacy and seclusion. The second passage seems to be more metaphoric. Together the images suggest a better chance of open communication behind a physical closed door

Prayer behind a closed-door demands a more honest faith; the ceiling cannot be impressed by your eloquence. Either your words terminate in the room, or they reach the ears of God almighty.

Where is your closed door? Remember, the physical closed door is a metaphor for private prayer. Your “closed-door” might look more like a walk alone or silent drive. The point is to find a place to speak and hear unfettered by impression and distraction.

By Aaron Bjorklund

What To Say When You Pray | Week 2 | Wednesday2022-01-12T11:33:02-07:00

Advent Week 2 | Thursday

Where is our Priest?

‘and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD : even he shall build the temple of the LORD ; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. ‘ Zechariah 6:12-13

This week we are exploring the implications of this passage. For this week, we are focused on the subject of Jesus as Priest. As with many prophecies, they have layers of meaning. Yes, Jesus fulfilled this text, but there is still meaning in it for us today. We live in the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. What does this ancient prophetic voice have to say to us?

Zechariah tells us that there is a ruler who will also be a priest for us. For most of us, kings and priests are not offices that we encounter in our lives. Even if they were, we may miss the unusual idea that a king could be a priest. In Israel, priests were one thing and kings were another; they had different roles. But this passage is not the only one to speak of a king-priest. Hebrews 7 teaches us that Jesus is both king and Priest. He rules and he functions as an ambassador between God and humanity. The question is, how is this prophecy still being fulfilled for us today?

Notice that Zechariah tells us that it is the Priest’s responsibility to build the temple. That is curious to me, and I don’t often think of a priest creating the place of worship. Yet, that idea reminds me of another text. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” You see, Jesus is our Priest, and he is building US (the church) as the temple. Jesus is not absent as a priest-king; instead, he is actively building his church to be a place where both we and the world can encounter him.

In this season of Advent, we contemplate the darkness of the world, and we anticipate the coming light of Christ. Take a moment to reflect on the reality that you are the temple where light has come, is coming, and will come more and more. God is not far off; he is building in you and all of his church, a temple for his light. Ask him to shine in you!

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Advent Week 2 | Thursday2021-12-09T08:55:13-07:00

Advent Week 2 | Day 2 | Who is this priest?

THE PRIEST’S CROWN IN THE TEMPLE | Zechariah 6:11-12,13b, Isaiah 44:28, Jeremiah 29:10, Ezra 1:1, 4:23-24, 3:10-13, 5:1-2, and Zechariah 3:8 (NASB)

Also take silver and gold, make an ornate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘The Lord of armies says this: “Behold, there is a Man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the majesty and sit and rule on His throne….Now the crown will become a reminder in the temple of the Lord. (Zechariah 6:11-12, 13b)

Later I will speculate on what Zechariah’s original audience might have envisioned when they heard the above words. But, to make it worthwhile, I’ve examined  key events and prophecies leading up to the above prophecy.

It is I who says of Cyrus ‘he will carry out all My desire.’

…And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’

And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” (Isaiah 44:28 excerpt)

“For this is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’” (Jeremiah 29:10)

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia (Ezra 1:1)

Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord…they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord…Yet many…who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice…while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping…and the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:10-13 excerpt)

Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes’ decree was read…they went in a hurry to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by military force. Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem was discontinued…until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:23-24 excerpt)

When the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel then Zerubbabel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 5:1-2 excerpt)

Now listen, Joshua, you high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a sign: for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

Most of the above scripture references and historical information are contained in the book of Ezra. Ezra was a priest and scribe who accompanied the brave, pioneering 42,360 Jewish returnees to Jerusalem who intended to rebuild the Temple and secure the city after their 70 year Babylonian captivity.

In chapter 1, Ezra detailed the Persian king Cyrus’ edict to rebuild the Temple – an event prophesied both by Isaiah and Jeremiah before the first Temple was destroyed and before Cyrus was born. In Chapter 3 Ezra described the building of the Temple altar and laying its foundation along with the first sacrifices and celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. The highly emotional and very loud rejoicing and wailing that took place alarmed their neighbors who then brought a successful lawsuit and military injunction against them to prevent any further work on the Temple. The court case dragged on and resulted in a delay of 6 years as recorded in Ezra 4.

In chapter 5, Ezra named the key leaders who got the Temple work back on track rather than waiting for the final verdict. They were the two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel, the Jewish governor, and Joshua, the high priest.This team inspired the returnees to complete the rest of theTemple in just 4 years.

Zechariah, a priest who received a multitude of messianic prophecies from God, also engaged in two prophetic encounters with Joshua, the high priest. In both of these incidents Zechariah named a future chosen one named “The Branch” who would build the Temple of the Lord.

It was clear Joshua was not a combination of High Priest and true King. His crowning stirred no expectation that Zechariah intended to crown a king in defiance of Persian law. This is especially clear with the words “Now the crown will become a reminder in the temple of the Lord.”

The returnees who listened to and watched Zechariah as he interacted with Joshua would have likely regarded these prophecies as hope for their coming Messiah/Priest/King (but would not expect it to be 500+ years) and further mystified by Zechariah’s reference to “The Branch” building the Temple since they had just finished building the Temple.

Are there prophecies that mystify you and make you hunger for immediate fulfillment? Thank God He still keeps surprising all of us with His unfathomable plans. 

by Kathleen Petersen

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Advent Week 2 | Day 2 | Who is this priest?2021-12-06T20:55:12-07:00

Jesus as Shepherd | Micah 5:2-5

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The prophecy we are focused on this week is found in Micah 5:2-5. I encourage you to read it each day for reflection and reference. These prophetic texts are multidimensional; they carry meaning through the ages. Today, we are focused on the significance of this prophecy for God’s people during Jesus’ life. After all, Jesus is one of the most significant fulfillments of this prophecy. In other words, we are asking the question, “how would this passage have been understood in the days of Jesus?”

When an Israelite read a passage that mentioned a ruler coming from Bethlehem, it would have immediately given them an idea. They would have thought of King David. David was from Bethlehem, and he was their history’s greatest king. David had military victories that brought peace; he had been a shepherd, representing the good old days. Then Jesus is born, and he fulfills the prophecy by showing up to this insignificant town of Bethlehem, but the rest of the expectations are shattered. In John 10:11 Jesus says, “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” This self-sacrificing Shepherd was not what they had in mind. They wanted the Goliath-killing Shepherd. Jesus’ ministry and death would not have been a part of how they expected the prophecy to be fulfilled.

What do we do when the answers to our prayers show up in a form that we don’t expect? Advent is an opportunity to wrestle with our expectations and to learn to lay them down at the more beautiful, albeit unexpected, answers to our desires.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Jesus as Shepherd | Micah 5:2-52021-11-30T12:36:39-07:00

SINGING TRUTH TO POWER | Micah 5:2-4 (J.B. Phillips)

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah,
Almost too small to be counted
Among the ranks of Judah,
From you will come forth for me
The future Ruler of Israel!
He springs from a line of ancient times,
From the days of long ago.
Therefore, the Lord leaves them to themselves,
Until the time when she who is in labour
Has given birth to her child.
Until the rest of his brethren have returned
With the children of Israel.

Then he shall stand as their Shepherd
Firm in the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall come in and possess the land,
Because he will be great
To the very ends of the earth.

Micah 5:2-4 (J.B. Phillips)

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of two other Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Hosea. The messages of all three were delivered in a time of increasingly prosperous urbanization in both Judah and the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah interacted with the priestly and ruling classes in urban Jerusalem while Micah remained in a farming community 25+ miles southeast of the city.

Envision a relatively unsophisticated Micah, like King David, playing a lyre and singing the messages he received from God. Poetry set to song engages both heart and mind. For example, this snippet from “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, is embedded in the memory of many who first heard it almost 58 years ago.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains

Imagine trying to translate those lyrics into ancient Hebrew. Likewise, any translation of ancient Hebrew poetry into contemporary English will lack some of its original impact. Also, the music from any instrument Micah might have used wouldn’t have been recorded. So it’s impossible to assess the original effect on Micah’s audience of rural people, powerful rulers, and their hired prophets. However, the following words must have echoed true to those who were viewed as insignificant by wealthy, urban elitists:

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah,
Almost too small to be counted
Among the ranks of Judah

Micah also delivered God’s promise that a humble, shepherd leader in the tradition of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David would rectify the disenfranchisement of those country farmers and widows who were being stripped of their ancestral lands by the powerful, corrupt leaders of that day.

Then he shall stand as their Shepherd
Firm in the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall come in and possess the land,

Further, Micah’s poetry gave his audience hope that one day this Shepherd/King would be recognized not only by Judah and Israel, but throughout the earth.

Because he will be great
To the very ends of the earth.

The musically poetic intensity of Micah’s words likely encouraged his hearers to memorize and sing them as they looked forward to their fulfillment.
Do you have a favorite, traditional song about our Shepherd King’s birth? Encourage your heart by singing it sometime today.

By Kathleen Petersen

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SINGING TRUTH TO POWER | Micah 5:2-4 (J.B. Phillips)2021-11-30T08:46:22-07:00

Opposition Doesn’t Stop Us Now | Acts 25

Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” Acts 25:10-12

There are many things about God’s economy that are counterintuitive. Things like “the first shall be last,” “love your enemies,” and “consider others more important than yourself.” It is counterintuitive because our fallen nature doesn’t naturally operate like that. God teaches us to operate differently from our nature; he, too, works differently than we expect. The final chapters of Acts give an example of that. What we find in these closing chapters are oppositions to Paul and his message.

Paul finds himself in multiple jail cells, standing before various judges, and ultimately shipped to Rome to be tried in the highest court. The unexpected part of all of this is how God uses each step to advance the message of salvation. Paul preaches to influential political leaders; he shipwrecks on an island of an unreached people group and preaches to them. Finally, he finds himself in prison in Rome but he preaches openly without hindrance (Acts 28:30-31). Read in isolation, these chapters don’t show us the pattern. But if you compare this to other texts, it seems that God delights in working this way. God seems to revel in the opportunity to advance his goodness despite and through opposition. When he does, he proves himself to be the King of Kings.

If you look at your circumstances and doubt that God could work through them, maybe that is when he wants: to work mightily. Listen to the song “Battle Belongs” By Phil Wickham and remember that God is at work beyond our weakness. He works beyond our capacity, and he moves beyond the barriers.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Opposition Doesn’t Stop Us Now | Acts 252021-11-17T10:43:14-07:00
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