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South Fellowship Church

About Kathleen Petersen

This photo was taken in my hometown of Broken Bow, NE where reading was the way to explore faraway countries and the mysteries of history. Later I found the pages of the Bible were part of that adventure. I love digging around for scriptural nuggets of God’s truth with our devotional team and being amazed how many facets of meaning we discover. Thanks for reading!

Building Materials Revealed

In our culture of self-promotion, it has become difficult to determine how to rightly glorify (or publicize) the life and ongoing work of Jesus in our lives. Here’s what the apostle Paul said about our part in building a spiritual legacy that pleases God:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV

This passage is sobering. Like Paul, we rightly want to see as many people enter the Kingdom of God as possible. But, like the Corinthians, we might be tempted to think that reducing entry into the kingdom to a brief “sinners prayer”, then hastily lowering the bar for obedience with such phrases as “we are all broken people”, will build his Kingdom at warp speed.

Paul indicates that “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” This paints a picture of the test each of us will face regarding our approach to obedience. The building materials “gold, silver, precious stones” indicate the quality God is aiming for as he gives us materials to build his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The term “the Day” refers to God’s end-time judgment of the work we do in this life.

If we adopt a cavalier attitude toward obedience to God’s word and his ways, and teach others to do the same, we will still enjoy an eternity with God, but will not have the heavenly rewards he wants us to have. Paul doesn’t elaborate on those rewards, but indicates we don’t want to miss them. He also emphasizes a fire ceremony is reserved for flammable works of “wood, hay, straw” – likely, sinful or useless/marginal attitudes and behaviors that some of the Corinthian believers were permitting in their lives.

Take another look at the classic children’s story of The Three Little Pigs and think about what kind of building materials are available to you and how God wants you to use them.

Building Materials Revealed2022-09-24T10:09:18-06:00

Could God Be Foolish For Using His Spirit?

My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NET Bible

God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:10 -15 NET Bible

As Paul began this argument against placing our faith in worldly wisdom and reasoning, he made a solid case for the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in the enlivened spirits of the Corinthian believers. He reminded them that their faith was launched, not by an elaborate mental computation, but by the Holy Spirit’s unseen power.

In the Western world, we have long favored the ways of Greek philosophers – placing high value on reason and stacking up facts – to inform ourselves before going forward with important life decisions. Before I gave my life to Jesus, I had a Sunday School amount of knowledge about who Jesus was. I also spent considerable time trying to read the Bible – especially portions of the Old Testament – but found my attempts to understand the text to resemble a bicycle ride through deep mud.

About this time, my Washington D.C. landlady invited a Holy Spirit filled evangelist into her home. He was sent by God to cut through my intellectual morass. After an hour of conversation and questions about the evangelist’s life, he got up to leave the house. Before he walked out the door he suggested I ask Jesus into my life. He then invited me to kneel and repeat a prayer after him.

When we got to the words of the prayer where I was to confess that I was a sinner and acknowledge that Jesus died for those sins, I recall distinctly objecting to those words. But I repeated them anyway. Then, without really understanding what was involved, I asked Jesus to come into my life and be my Lord. At that moment an image of Jesus on the cross flashed into my mind. My second impression was that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was still alive. Thirdly, I sensed Jesus was tangibly with me in that room.

As I opened my Bible the next day, the deep mud had vanished and the scriptures became amazingly clear.

My answer to the question “Could God be foolish for using His Spirit?” is an obvious “NO!” I could have spent decades trying to understand the amazing work of Jesus on the cross – misinterpreting his act as one of martyrdom – slogging through scripture with my limited intellect and ultimately casting the Bible aside as useless. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit’s power cut through my intellectual objections in an instant.

As Western Christians we are constantly offered ‘self help’ and ‘you can be anything you want to be’ philosophies. Keeping our default setting on the power of the Holy Spirit in order to “live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus” is a challenge. Are you starting today with a long list of ways to figure out your next steps? Stop and ask the Holy Spirit to recalibrate your heart and guide you through today’s decisions.

Could God Be Foolish For Using His Spirit?2022-09-21T05:57:45-06:00

Misplaced Loyalty Displaces Unity

In the 50+ years I’ve been a Jesus follower, a variety of English speaking Christian influencers have held prominence, attracting reverence and a following among evangelicals and charismatics: Billy and Franklin Graham, Benny Hinn, James Dobson, Henry Nouwen, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Bill and Vonette Bright, Beth Moore, N.T. Wright, Richard Foster, Jim Wallis, Steven Furtick – just snippets from a long list. Loyalties to the vision and teaching of these influencers can be just as strong as those described by the apostle Paul in the first century:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? (I Corinthians 1:10-13a ESV)

This 2,000 year gap between Jesus’ advent and the Christian luminaries named above illustrates our human tendency to pledge allegiance to and sometimes slavishly follow tangible, charismatic leaders – or we ascend to superior-spirituality and boast we follow “Jesus only”. Why do we tend to pick a favorite leader, and why could this be a problem?

The “why” is simple. As humans we crave, even need, tangible leaders of impeccable character. The problem is that all human leaders have weaknesses that tarnish character. Therefore caution is required to guard against giving human leaders the kind of trust reserved for God alone.

So what is the solution for Jesus’ followers, so we can move toward the unity Paul encouraged in the Corinthian church? I suggest our first caution is to be reluctant to burden church leaders with inordinate responsibility and power. Therefore we each must cultivate the willingness to discover and operate within our own individual gifts the Holy Spirit has granted us as members of the Body of Christ.

Think about this admonition found in a later chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV)

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul again elaborates on church unity:

And he {God, the Holy Spirit} gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

Jesus is real, he’s alive, he’s the head of his body – exalted over his church for all time – worthy of our deepest loyalty. Paul’s Ephesian outline,:describing committed, faithful Christian leaders with the mature body of Christ operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, promises the unity Paul envisioned. This is true for churches throughout all time.

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal whether you’ve drifted into unfruitful or excessive loyalty to gifted Christian leaders/influencers not operating within your church body. If this isn’t a problem for you, keep focused on Jesus, serving the Lord and his church with the gifts he’s given you. If an unfruitful loyalty surfaces, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how that unadjusted allegiance hinders fully serving Jesus within your local body while giving proper honor to the leaders who care for your soul. Hebrews 13:17. 1 Thessalonians 5:12.

Misplaced Loyalty Displaces Unity2022-09-15T14:14:22-06:00

Just Sing

The first audio amplifier was unveiled in 1912 by a Yale PhD physics and electricity scientist, Lee de Forest. Since then, the modern world has become increasingly accustomed to overamplification – not only of sound – but practically all media. A restricted group of superstars, with awe-inspiring talents, accompanied by spectacular shows, have dominated our visual and listening bandwidths for over a century. Today it’s difficult to imagine a world without such things as full-room screens, stunningly complex audio systems, and sophisticated, portable, entertainment devices.

In 2003, the LA Times published this lament by performing arts critic Lewis Segal:

…when we do encounter live music, we expect it to match what we accept as the norm: the presence, detail and intensity of recordings. We’ve come to prefer processed music to the real thing.

With all this musical mega-talent at our fingertips, can ordinary Christians with substandard singing voices like mine glorify God satisfactorily?

If you’re fond of statistics, the word translated “sing” appears 400+ times in scripture and 50 of them are commands to sing to God. What attitude should those of us without musical gifts have when we sing? I conjecture that even in our imperfect state, God designed us to sing and intended our singing to have remarkable benefits in our relationship with him. Do we need a four-octave, pitch-perfect voice to obey these commands? Quick answer: No.

Does God ask us to do something he doesn’t do?

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

Let’s go further…did Jesus sing? Scripture records remarkably few examples:

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:30 NIV

and

…he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Hebrews 2:11-12 ESV

The movie The Greatest Story Ever Told was released in 1965 with Max Von Sydow playing the role of Jesus – what a sad face – and that image is Von Sydow displaying his most cheerful look in the movie. It’s doubtful anyone watching the majority of movies portraying Jesus’ life would envision Jesus singing anything. The exception is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who depicted a singing Jesus in their 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Did that musical change the perception of Jesus to one of a frequent singer? Questionable. Portrayals of Jesus singing are perplexingly rare.

So if you’re an ungifted singer like me, don’t lose heart, Jesus didn’t major in music. Your obedience to the singing commands will be accepted by our gracious God.

You can also anticipate an eternity to glorify him with singing.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 ESV

Today memorize or review a familiar scripture or vital theological theme set to a simple tune. Here are some resources: Psalms set to music and other scriptures set to music. And also remember you have two other reliable avenues of obedience – singing during congregational worship and this verse for those who are truly unable to sing:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Psalms 100:1 ESV

Just Sing2022-08-13T13:59:44-06:00

Our Universal Condition

About 15 years ago one of our family members accompanied a coworker from another country to receive treatment at Denver’s National Jewish Health Sleep Center. The coworker hadn’t been able to sleep for over a year. As a result, he had developed severe disorientation leading to mental health issues. Besides the insomnia this man experienced, the Sleep Center treats at least six other major sleep conditions (including ones such as narcolepsy/sudden sleep) that have negative impact on health.

Researchers have determined that 7 to 9 hours of daily sleep is required for all adult humans. How each one of us gets that sleep varies. (I take naps when my night gets cut short.) Some of you have first hand experience with sleep disorders that have caused chaos or diminished energy either in your life or the lives of loved ones. Regular sleep and proper rest are a blessing from God.

Here’s the first mention of sleep in scripture:

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib. (Genesis 2:21-22)

God’s work while Adam was in this unconscious state made Adam’s life complete. What a benefit! Here’s another insight from Solomon elaborating on God’s purpose in hard wiring humans to need sleep:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

The ability to sleep peacefully comes from deep trust and dependence upon the One True God who genuinely cares for us. After we have done what He has called us to do – no more and no less – we can, like every other human who has ever lived, relinquish control as he manages the world in our absence.
So tonight (maybe sooner) just before you drift off, thank the Lord for his gift of sleep. Then consciously leave your cares with him for that 7 to 9 hours.

Our Universal Condition2022-07-27T12:40:47-06:00

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”

My title today is a quote from our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was well known for his joie de vivre ‘exuberant enjoyment of life’. I’m tempted to think he might have had a premonition of the impact of our social media landscape and the inevitable and damaging comparisons it has brought into our culture. But comparisons are not new. Here are the observations and advice of Solomon, the ancient Jewish King, recorded in Ecclesiastes 8.

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. (vv. 14-15 NIV)

Grumbling about evil in the world around us, complaining, comparing – ‘woe is me’ ‘why me,’ and reminiscing about the good old days being dramatically better than today. All these strategies – or I should call them bad habits – erode our ability to cherish and celebrate the gifts God gives each day.

Here’s another ancient insight from the Apostle Paul who became well known for the intense persecution he suffered.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

Anytime an economic downturn, like the one we are now experiencing, begins to pick up a head of steam, it’s tempting to abandon legitimate celebration. Both Solomon and Paul point out that some circumstances are beyond our control, and injustice and wickedness are unfortunate features of life in this broken world. So I encourage you to meditate on the strategies employed by these Biblical sages.

Look at your surroundings and ask God to reveal to you something special he has given you to enjoy right now. Invite friends and family members to share what you’ve got while you’ve got it. Read all of Ecclesiastes 8 if you have time. Remind yourself that Jesus is your king. You have his wisdom at your fingertips and can daily celebrate his coming kingdom no matter your circumstances.

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”2022-07-24T14:23:45-06:00

My Cup Overflows

…you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (ESV)

Do you sometimes read a familiar passage and glimpse something new? Here’s a short video I saw recently: her cup overflows.

What did you see: a sticky stain and a horrible mess to clean up – a waste of an expensive beverage – a patient parent unafraid to allow a child to learn? Maybe all of these?

Psalm 23:5 not only speaks of God’s ability and intention to provide everything we need but of his patience and grace toward us when we either don’t do it right the first (or tenth) time or we mess up entirely and have to start over. He’s got an overflow of patience to see us through.

Discovering ways God speaks to us through our daily quest for nourishment is a rich biblical topic. Here’s how God provided for the prophet Elijah, a Sidonian widow, and her son during a time of extreme drought and famine.

‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said.’ …She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.
I Kings 17:13a & 15 (NIV)

How rich are those words, “Don’t be afraid.” Do you envision future material shortages and allow yourself to fear that God is unable or unwilling to provide for you?

Here’s yet another example in a servant’s description of the kind of wine Jesus provided when the wine supply ran out at a wedding.

Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. John 2:10 (ESV)

What do you say to God’s impractical abundance? Are you his child? Are you his servant? How does he provide for his servants to succeed?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

As a way of reminding yourself that God wants to pour you an overflowing cup, ask him to show you how to go “over the top” with a meal this weekend. Yes, you may include honored guests!

My Cup Overflows2022-07-20T17:27:15-06:00

Protection for the Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage: a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.

In 1977, just one year after the infamous hijacking of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, I started my two week pilgrimage to Israel aboard an El Al flight from D.C. to Tel Aviv. I stayed with friends in Herzliya and Jerusalem while I explored places of biblical and historical significance. Every part of the country was under perpetual high alert for terrorist attacks but, for some reason, I felt safe.

Israel has always had perilous hotspots. In Jesus’ day one of them was the road going up from Jericho to Jerusalem (parable of the Good Samaritan). In the days of the Temple, all roads going up to Jerusalem had certain dangers. When faithful Jews made pilgrimages through the mountains surrounding Jerusalem for the three required festivals, they would sing the 15 songs of Ascents or Pilgrimage found in Psalms 120 – 135. Jesus would have sung these songs every year as his family traveled from Nazareth to worship in the holy city.

Psalm 121 (CSB) reminded pilgrims that the LORD was their Protector whatever route they took.

I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
your Protector will not slumber.

Indeed, the Protector of Israel
does not slumber or sleep.

The LORD protects you;
the LORD is a shelter right by your side.

The sun will not strike you by day
or the moon by night.

The LORD will protect you from all harm;
he will protect your life.

The LORD will protect your coming and going
both now and forever.

It seems to me the second verse is key when engaging in unfamiliar or dangerous travel.

My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s made heaven and earth…if he’s the one who leads me, there’s no place he isn’t sovereign. Furthermore, my ultimate destiny is already settled when I’m trusting him.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14 ESV)

Take a look at the first two minutes of this video showing the road from Jericho to Jerusalem that Jesus walked just prior to his crucifixion on his way to the festival of Passover. Then, envision an unfamiliar place you believe God wants you to visit – or a spiritual destiny where he is leading you. Read Psalm 121 above and trust the LORD to protect you as you travel.

Protection for the Pilgrimage2022-07-21T13:22:08-06:00

Are You a Pilgrim?

Pilgrim: a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons.

In the summer of 2015, my husband and I traveled a thousand miles by car in Norway. We started in Bergen and zipped around the fjords, mountains, and through tunnels to end up in Trondheim. While traveling, we stayed in several AirBnBs. The last one was a modern farmhouse 50 miles from Trondheim. We were curious about two extremely weathered buildings on the property and found they were reserved for pilgrims who had walked almost 400 miles on the St. Olav Ways pilgrim trail route from Oslo to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

We conversed with one German pilgrim who confirmed that several wooden churches we had seen on our car trip were part of her journey. Ancient Christian pilgrim routes like St. Olav Ways have recently become more traveled – not just by Christians, but by those looking for some kind of spiritual experience.

Formal pilgrim walking journeys to sacred places are part of ancient European Christian history, but also include well traveled paths to shrines throughout the world. Some examples are the Temple in Jerusalem, the Kaaba in Mecca, Kumano Kodō in Japan, Machu Picchu in the Andes, Mount Kailash in Tibet, or Haridwar along the Ganges. Pilgrimage seems hardwired into human experience.

I’d like to think the following pilgrimage is one Christians should emulate:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 ESV)

In amazing obedience to God, Abram became a pilgrim from Haran to Shechem and eventually the Negev – walking over 600 miles. Here’s another part of that pilgrimage:

Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17 ESV)

The pilgrimage directions given to the prophet Micah and by Peter are not only about who to walk with but what to do and what to abstain from on the way:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (I Peter 2:11 ESV)

And, the writer of Hebrews penned a poignant reminder about the sacred destiny of Christian pilgrims:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14 ESV)

Meditate on one of these verses as you go on a walk sometime in the next few days. Ask God to infuse that walk with his presence and give you a new perspective. Ask him to give you a way to make it a sacred journey. Here are perspectives from Arthur Blessitt and Ann Sieben who each have spent substantial years walking thousands of miles through many countries as Christian pilgrims.

Are You a Pilgrim?2022-07-09T16:44:12-06:00

Helicopter Parent

This week our topic has centered on Middle Eastern creation or origin stories including the Genesis account. Although an origin story may be an ancient one or a modern one influenced by scientific discoveries, no origin story claims it was directly witnessed by a human.

So how do we determine if one account or another is authoritative? Where should Jesus’ followers rank the Biblical account? At least we should regard Genesis 1-3 as a revelation of God’s character. Here’s the opening statement in Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV):

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The image “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” shows a facet of God’s character that is peppered throughout scripture. Here’s one example:

like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft. (Deuteronomy 32:11 NIV)

The Hebrew word translated “hovers over” in Genesis 1:2 and in Deuteronomy 32:11 is “rachaph” meaning to hover, to brood, to be tender. This is Our Creator in his helicopter parent mode.

That same or similar concept appears in several other places (1) the cloud that accompanied Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness, (2) the Cherubim over the ark of the Covenant, (3) the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and (4) the Glory of the God of Israel.

All these descriptions point toward a highly involved and personal God – one who has given us our very being and sustains us. Failure to understand God’s hovering care can lead either to independent leaning on our own understanding or apprehensive passivity. Are you trending toward one or the other as you start today? (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Look at this video of an eagle involved in her eaglet’s first flight and meditate on God’s desire for you – knowing his tender care enables you to soar above issues that may seem insurmountable.

(1) Exodus 33:9, Numbers 9:19, Numbers 10:34, Numbers 14:14, (2) Exodus 25:20, Exodus 37:9, (3) Isaiah 31:5, (4) Ezekiel 10:18-19, Ezekiel 11:22

Helicopter Parent2022-07-02T19:00:51-06:00
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