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The True Gardener | 1 Corinthians 3:6-8

 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8

God gives the growth. Paul repeats it because it’s that important. Though we are involved in the sowing and reaping process, it is God who is the true gardener. It is he who changes hearts and lives. No manner of striving and working on our part can yield the results that God can bring. And yet, he invites us into the process still. But not without the reminder that it is he who ultimately causes the growth. I believe this should cause us to take a deep sigh of relief. It does not all fall on us. Yes, we work and obey and participate. But we can, with joy and peace, recognize on whose capable shoulders the end result falls. He alone is worthy of all the glory and honor for any kingdom growth.

A number of years ago I saw very clearly how it was God and God alone who could change a person’s heart. Someone we deeply loved was choosing the path of adultery. Our hearts broke and we, along with many others, began fervently praying for this person to see their sin and turn from it. Many attempted to talk this person out of their choices, to no avail. I remember one Sunday morning a familiar worship song began to play at our church: “Jesus Paid It All”. As it came to one particular line I could barely sing. “Lord, now indeed I find Thy power and thine alone can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.” In that moment I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, “Pray. Keep praying. I’m the one who melts the heart of stone. Not you.” Miraculously, this person repented and chose to reconcile with their spouse. I believe it was a direct result of many prayers and God’s direct intervention, not solely the many pleading and truth-telling conversations. Perhaps you can think of a similar situation in your life or someone else’s. The story does not always have a redeeming end, but God is at work and you can recognize that his power is able to melt a heart of stone, praise be to Jesus! Take a moment to thank him for that today. As you reflect, you can take a listen to Jesus Paid It All.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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The True Gardener | 1 Corinthians 3:6-82019-07-25T12:09:24-06:00

From the Eyes of the Fearful | Matthew 25:24-30

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:24-30

I think sometimes the “worthless” servant gets a bad rap. We tend to simplify the story too much and think, “Well, come on, how hard would it have been for the servant to just invest the money instead of hiding it?” But when we take a closer look, we realize that it took a lot of guts to do what the faithful servants did. It was a risk to invest the talents. No wonder the servant who hid his talent acted as he did. He was afraid of losing it! But in attempting to protect the master’s property he ended up not only losing it but being condemned. He acted in fear and in false understanding of who his master was. That fear drove his actions rather than allowing trust to drive his actions as the faithful servants had.

The story reminds me of something that Jesus said earlier in Matthew (16:25), “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Investing our time, our talents, our lives, our very souls will cost us something and it will demand trust in a good Master. However, hiding it in an attempt to keep it will only cause us to lose it. What a paradox. Jesus’ Kingdom seems so upside down sometimes, doesn’t it? Yet, his Kingdom is good and he is the Good Master whose rule does not instill fear. Fear of losing is a lie. Joy in gaining because of trust is what Jesus’ followers can experience.

How have you typically viewed the “worthless” servant? Can you identify with his fear? Or his false narrative of the Master? Today, reflect on the truth of the Good Master’s invitation to his Kingdom and pray against any propensity you have to live and act in fear. A great song to lead you in this is Fear Is a Liar by Zach Williams.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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From the Eyes of the Fearful | Matthew 25:24-302019-07-22T16:35:09-06:00

Humbling Ourselves | Luke 18:9-14

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10

If only the Jesus way were easier. Our sin-affected souls naturally compare and are prideful. Humility is the harder choice. But it’s the better one, because it leads to freedom, forgiveness, joy, and peace.

If I’m honest, I’ve often wanted to skip the process and get to the results. I want the end goal but not the hard work of humbling my heart. Why is it so difficult? It could be we don’t see our sin (or more accurately, don’t want to see our sin). We might be afraid. Perhaps we think it’s too hard to do.

Part of what guides the heart toward humility is a recognition of brokenness. I believe the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this process as he reveals truth and moves us to action. One experience I will never forget occurred at a marriage conference. The topic of the morning was about a wife submitting to her husband, but the teaching was paired with the importance of submitting our lives to the Holy Spirit. That need reached the depths of my soul and I knew then that the only way I’d be able to submit willingly to my husband was to humble myself to the lordship of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The couples dispersed in the lawn outside to discuss the session. In a moment of clarity and conviction, not concerned with what anyone else would think, I pushed knees to the earth as I recognized my brokenness, humbled myself, and asked the Holy Spirit to aid me in submitting to Christ and to my husband. What joy and peace flooded my heart in that moment and in the days to follow. I also felt led to confess my brokenness and obstinance to my husband. I found even further relief and joy as I did what it says in James 5:16: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5: 16)

Have you had an experience(s) in humbling yourself before God? What was that like for you and what did you experience as a result? Today, try a new posture to represent the humbling of your heart. Perhaps kneeling or facing palms up. Perhaps you also take the brave step to confess your sin to a trusted friend or pastor.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Humbling Ourselves | Luke 18:9-142019-07-22T16:35:09-06:00

What Is The Kingdom? | Matthew 6:7-13

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:7-13

Recently at South we’ve talked a lot about the Kingdom of God. It’s been fascinating for me, as one who has grown up in the church, to be challenged in my thinking about the Kingdom. In my experience, typically one would respond to the Gospel by a simple prayer which seemed to be a ticket guaranteeing entrance into heaven. Done. Great. What now? Is my acceptance of the Gospel merely a means to an end or has my understanding been missing something bigger, better, richer?

As my understanding of the Kingdom of God has been fleshed out even more in recent months through study at South, I’ve been blown away by the depth and the power and the invitation of such a Kingdom. It’s not this simple thing we do and prayer we say and then we walk away. It’s a life we are invited into. It’s repentance, true repentance that Jesus calls us to. A turning away from the old life. A stepping in to the new one. A kingdom where life is completely different. Where enemies are to be loved. Where forgiveness is paramount. Where worry has no place. Where gaining one’s life comes through losing it.

As we dig into the devos this week, let me remind you that Jesus’ Kingdom is dynamic. It is real. It is now. It’s an invitation to repent of our sin and live in His way with His heart.

Today, take a moment to repent of the ways you have simplified or ignored the Kingdom of God in the past. Ask Jesus to forgive you for disregarding His Kingdom or willfully choosing to live in the Kingdom of this world. Now, with your palms up as a symbol of surrender to His good ways, pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it slowly, asking in faith that the Holy Spirit would continue to fan a flame inside you, one that is growing and burning for His purposes and for His kingdom alone.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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What Is The Kingdom? | Matthew 6:7-132019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

For God | Titus 3:4-7

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7

When I first read Skye Jethani’s book, With, last summer, I could not put it down. It spoke to me and convicted me in ways that no other book ever had. As I turned each page I could hardly wait to reread it.

The concept that most directly resonated with me was living for God. For the majority of my life I have stacked my accomplishments, good behavior and works up to such a level that demanded God’s attention and subsequent reward. However, I couldn’t see that’s what I was doing. I was just doing all the right things. Living the good Christian life. Not until recently have I been able to face my faulty (and sinful) motivation square in the face.

Coming to grips with the way I had been living has not been easy, but it has brought much freedom. I love that Jethani’s book doesn’t leave me face down in my guilt. He offers hope of a better life with Jesus. Not consumed with living for him. No, living with him. Rather than being frustrated and disillusioned, there is an invitation to fill my deepest desire of being with him and knowing him intimately.

Where have you attempted to earn God’s favor and approval through your actions? Your sacrifices? Your performance? Confess those ways to Jesus. Ask him to show you what life with him looks like. As you drift off to sleep tonight, recall the truth that he came to abide with us, his spirit is in you and with you, and you are his.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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For God | Titus 3:4-72019-07-22T16:35:11-06:00

Reflecting A Creative God | Genesis 1:26

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.” Genesis 1:26

I used to think I wasn’t creative. Probably because I thought you had to be an artist to be considered creative. Now, almost eight years into being a mom, I’ve realized that yes, yes I am creative. In fact, creativity, I’ve come to believe, is a necessity for the sane mama’s tool kit.

I don’t think any other child has helped grow my creativity more than my third. My wild child: Lucy Katherine. She lives on her own planet. One that is filled with dreams and adventures and fun. Here are some ways my creativity muscle has been stretched in recent weeks: making up imaginary friends who will beat my child (yes, child #3) to the bathroom if she doesn’t get there first, choosing my words and attitude in the face of a raging tantrum, and pretending folded piles of clothes are animal skins that need to be quickly stored in our cave (dresser drawers) before the hunter finds us!

I was thinking today how our God is a creative God. We haven’t even tapped the edges of His creation. His canvas is vast and His imagination unending. When I tell myself I’m not creative I’m essentially calling God a liar. He made me in His image. I am not Him but I am like Him. I have qualities like His. And I can lean into those God-given moments of creativity and think-on-my-feet mom improvisation today. And I can praise Him for a mind that can imagine, create and enjoy!

Do you think of yourself as creative? Where can you press into creativity today? Look for unconventional ways God has placed his creative/creating image in you today. Enjoy and create! Just as he does.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Reflecting A Creative God | Genesis 1:262019-07-22T16:35:12-06:00

Clarify The Voices | Romans 8:1-2

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Can you imagine the public shame and embarrassment of having your sinful act exposed before the crowds? Men were not dragged into the streets on account of lying or gossipping or lusting. But this woman was brought out for all to see and judge. All eyes on her, stones ready, voices accusing. The woman and her sin seen as one. What would Jesus’ response be? The religious leaders wanted this to be the end of her life, a deserving punishment for a shameful sin. But Jesus wanted it to be the beginning. Jesus does indeed acknowledge the women’s sin; he doesn’t turn a blind eye to it or suggest she’s good to continue in it. But he moves beyond that to extending lavish grace and the invitation to live in his better way.

Their voices were a chorus of accusation and condemnation. His voice was calm, laced with compassion and forgiveness. They sought to kill. He sought to restore. Though you weren’t there that day to hear their voices, pause to pay attention to the voices in your own head. Do your thoughts carry condemnation or restoration? Are they bringing destruction on you or leading you to new life? Maybe this weekend you determine to jot down thoughts that come to your head and then question those thoughts – see if they are in alignment with the Spirit of truth and peace or if they are destructive voices of accusation. Take your thoughts captive to him today and listen to where he might be calling you to live in the full reality of the forgiveness of your sin.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Clarify The Voices | Romans 8:1-22019-07-22T16:35:13-06:00

Pray With Thanksgiving | Mark 12:13-17

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:13-17

Whatever the case, today you have an opportunity to soak in a practice of thanksgiving. Regardless of how this story in the gospel hits you and whatever your political allegiance, may you engage your heart in gratitude today. You can use this prayer or create your own.

Lord God, you are the creator and sustainer of all things. You are over all things and above all things. From you all things have their life and being. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank you for the very breath you gift me with each and every day. I recommit today to give you my whole self: my mind, my heart, my body, for these are yours already. I thank you for the resources you have blessed me with. I pray for those in leadership in my community and country to use the money given in taxes for kingdom values. Thank you for freeing me from worry about where my provision comes from; I trust you to provide for my every need. May I continue to respond with repentance and thanksgiving as I look for how you are at work in the world around me.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Pray With Thanksgiving | Mark 12:13-172019-07-22T16:35:14-06:00

Your Impact is Presence | Acts 4:5-13

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:5-13

I grew up in a very humid climate where a curling iron was not practical. So I never learned to use it. Recently I asked my sister-in-law to teach me the basics of using a curling iron. It dawned on me later that I could have easily looked up a YouTube video on my own. In this age of information, abundant knowledge is available at our fingertips. How often have I turned to my phone for directions, a recipe, or instructions rather than bother an actual person? But what I got out of my sister-in-law’s curling iron tutorial was much more than simple instructions. We were together in person so we shared a fun memory and I could tell she enjoyed walking me through it step by step. I also had the opportunity to ask questions, receive feedback and practice with her. Plus, we had a fun time with my daughters who served as “hair models.”

Presence wins over information every time. Think about Peter’s life and actions before he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was impulsive, fearful, and wavering. Now as the presence of the Holy Spirit is within him, he speaks boldly, heals in Jesus’ name, and spreads the influence of the gospel far and wide. The presence of the Spirit is a gift and its impact is far reaching. In verse 13 it says the Jewish leaders recognized that Peter and John had been with Jesus. It doesn’t say that they recognized that Peter and John had all the information about Jesus of Nazareth. No, it was evident that they had been with the Messiah. They had learned from him and walked with him. How could they tell? Just like we start to act like the people we spend most time with, I believe it was the same with these men. Being with Jesus had changed them and now the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives was directing their actions and words. Not in a controlling way, but in an empowering and emboldening manner.

How about you? How do people know you’ve been with Jesus? Does the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life directly impact the way you live it? Think about your presence in the life of someone who is not living in the way of Jesus. Imagine yourself sharing the gospel of resurrection with them. What about your presence with that person makes your message compelling?

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Your Impact is Presence | Acts 4:5-132019-07-22T16:35:15-06:00

Weeping to Witness | John 20:11-18

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18

Mary wept in deep personal sorrow over Jesus’ death. He was her teacher and beloved friend. The one who had liberated her from inner torment and given her boundless freedom from demonic possession. Her tears had likely flowed in gratitude then and they flowed now as she grieved the loss of her Lord.

When she finds out his body is missing her greatest hope would only be to recover it for a proper burial. But at the sound of her name on his tongue she gets much more. She doesn’t get what she seeks: a dead teacher. She gets so much more: a living gardener. Bringer of life. Nurturer of souls. Cultivator of abundant life.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for her to hear her name spoken? Mary. She immediately responds by embracing him and not letting go. Jesus turns her tears into new life. A new hope. And a new purpose. She is charged with the task of bringing the incredible news of this miracle to the disciples. Her weeping turns to witnessing.

Today, take a small container with you on a walk by a stream or river. Stoop down beside the water and scoop some of it up with the container. Now pour some water over your other hand or on a nearby plant. As you watch the water being poured out think of it being your sorrows, your tears poured out. Praise Jesus for saving you from the destruction of sin and turning your mourning into joy. Think about his life being the well of eternal salvation where no one who comes to him will thirst again. He is the living water, absorbing all our temporary tears.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Weeping to Witness | John 20:11-182019-07-22T16:35:16-06:00
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