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Risking, That I Might Grow | Philippians 3:3-9

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:3-9

When I was a 4th and 5th grade teacher, my school always took part in the Ameritowne curriculum. It was a wonderful way to teach students a little financial and economic savvy, culminating in a visit to Ameritowne, where students had jobs, ran the town, and created or sold goods and services. It was a blast, to say the least!

As part of the curriculum, my students had to take a “Risk Analysis” to discover if they were low, moderate, or high risk takers. Many of them discovered that it was one thing to talk a good game, and something else entirely when they had to put those words into motion.

There is no such thing as a risk-free life. I think God made this a reality intentionally. There needs to be some risk, some tension in life to move us from point A to point B. Risk is the vessel by which we grow both personally and spiritually. Some risks are relatively easy, while others are much harder, and feel more like a death to desire.

Spiritual growth is not a passive activity. It takes intentionality and risk. The potential for making a mistake is real, but even in those mistakes we grow. Risk itself is inescapable. To choose not to risk is to actually choose to risk an atrophy of the soul.

Paul, in this chapter, has a pretty cushy resume. In some ways, Paul really did have it all. He was born to the right family, had the right job, and did all the right things. Yet, when God got a hold of Paul, he had to make a choice. Stay in his comfort zone, or risk all he knew to have more of Christ?
Paul’s choice is ours. While we may not have to give up everything we have, we are asked to choose between constantly playing it safe, or risking what we have for what is even better. Will we just talk a good game, or will we put our money where our mouth is?

For 2021, what are you willing to risk in order to grow spiritually? Perhaps you need to stretch yourself and give more. Maybe you need to spend more time serving, reading or in prayer. Maybe the risk is to not have so much on your plate. Think and pray over what you can risk this week in order to grow.

By Sheila Rennau

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Risking, That I Might Grow | Philippians 3:3-92021-01-14T10:24:18-07:00

When Love Abounds | Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

What images come to your mind when you hear the term, “Prayer warrior?” I personally think of some sort of Rambo-like person with steely-eyed resolve, eye black on, who fearlessly runs before the Lord on behalf of another. It’s a funny image, but I don’t know if it is all that far from the truth on a spiritual level. Though I realize the greatest prayer warriors are just ordinary people on their knees before God, this image reminds me of the intentionality they have when they pray for others.

I am honored and humbled by the fact that some of my friends view me as a prayer warrior. They know, no matter what time of day it is, that they can send me a prayer request, and I will be on my knees for them immediately. Honestly, this is a deep privilege and joy for me. I can think of no better way to love those in my circles then to stand beside them before our Father in prayer. I think this is not only the mark of a good friend, but Biblical as we “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,” and to “bear each other’s burdens.”

Paul’s love for the Philippian church abounded through his prayers. In verses 9-11 of chapter 1, Paul pours out his heart before the Father on behalf of Philippi. This was not a distracted or wimpy sort of prayer, but one that had teeth. It petitioned the Father for spiritual growth, deep understanding, a desire to see them live blameless lives, and for them to live a life that pleased God through the development of righteous character in their lives. Paul prayed this way because his love and appreciation for Philippi was deep, rooted, and sure.

In our circles, how does our love manifest itself? How does our love abound for those in need? Do we pray for those we love? Are those prayers detailed and intentional, or more passive? There is no shame here, only an opportunity to grow in our love of God and others.

This week, though you may not feel your prayers are polished—that’s okay, choose one person to intentionally lift before the Lord daily. Check in with this person, if possible, and see how God has been working in them. Make special note of how this discipline also transforms you.

By Sheila Rennau

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When Love Abounds | Philippians 1:9-112021-01-08T09:55:32-07:00

Hindsight is 2020- Community | Philippians 1:7-11

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:7-11

Together is a beautiful word. Perhaps this is because, from our origins, God has created us in His image to be a communal people. It was not good for man to be alone in the Garden, nor is it good for us to be alone today. Simply put, we need each other.

But in the recent pandemic this need has been severely tested. Where once we were free to enjoy a plethora of community groups and activities, we now find ourselves isolated and unable to safely spend time with those that matter. This has physical, emotional, and spiritual implications. It’s hard. While technology helps keep these ramifications at bay, there is just something special about being in proximity to those we love and hold dear.

I think about my own longing to see friends, and to once again be able to safely congregate at events that matter to me. I miss those outings and I can’t wait to get them back! But, as I wrestle through my own emotions, I can’t help but think of Paul. Placed under house arrest, far away from not only his friends, but also unable to expel the fervor he had for spreading the Gospel to those who needed it most, Paul lacked community. He missed those he loved, just as we miss those we love.

The letters and gifts were nice, but what Paul really longed for was them. Paul didn’t have the technological advances that we have today. To get a letter or a gift took months—no Amazon Prime for him! Yet, notice the love and passion he has for those in his circle of influence at Philippi. They had “a special place in his heart.” They didn’t just hear about his troubles and send well wishes, they participated in his suffering and his work, and this bonded them in a special way, much like soldiers in a war bond because of their shared trial. Paul’s trial was their trial too.

It is essential to the human experience to have community. Though we are currently more separated, we can still do our best with what we have to reach out. What can you do this week to reach out to those in your community? Call, text, Zoom, or send a note to someone who matters to you. Let them know how much you appreciate their role in your life.

By Sheila Rennau

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Hindsight is 2020- Community | Philippians 1:7-112021-01-08T09:46:02-07:00

Object of Gratitude | Philippians 1:1-6

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6

Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers or T-shirts that read “Salt Life”. This tagline identifies a brand for those who have a love for the sea and fishing. They have become quite the trend—at least in my neighborhood. I often wonder if the Church could start a similar movement of apparel with the tagline “Shared Life”. After all, that is a founding principal that unites us in Christ, as seen in Acts 2.

The believers of the Early Church shared all they had, but what they shared most was their common faith, love and gratitude for each other. I think Paul may have had this in mind when he sat in that Roman cell and penned his letter to the Philippian church.

Paul was grateful to the believers in this church because they shared his work of spreading the Gospel. He was grateful not only for the good work that God had begun in them, but more so for their great love.

Four years ago, my family and I were “church homeless”. Moving to a new part of the city left my family and I without a church home and place to connect. We gathered in fellowships all around our city, but no place ever really felt like home. Then one day we “stumbled” upon South’s website. Coming to this fellowship we found a community of people who truly sought after Christ, lived out their faith practically, welcomed not just the elite but all people from all walks of life, and served the community with the tenderhearted compassion of Christ. Because of the shared life exemplified in the body of South, my family found a church home that allows us to serve, and better equips us to be the Church wherever we go. This stirs not only gratitude in our hearts for each person at South, but a great and unifying love. It is a love that carries over into our lives as we befriend those in our community. I, personally, now have many friends in my community whom I would not have seen or thought to befriend before. Like Paul, I have the privilege of praying for them and for South daily, praising God for each one with great joy.

Take a moment today to think of a friend you might not have today were it not for Christ. Send them a message of gratitude and love.

By Sheila Rennau

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Object of Gratitude | Philippians 1:1-62020-12-28T08:50:59-07:00

Silence Turns to Trust | Psalm 32:7

You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble

and surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

The Christmas season is often loud. There is the noise of frenzied crowds shopping, the joyful strands of Christmas music, the excitement of friends and family as they gather, and the squeals that emanate from children as they open their gifts on Christmas morning. It is a busy, though joyous season, that doesn’t afford much time for stillness and quiet.

Few are the moments of true silence. And yet, if most of us are honest, the silence disturbs us. Alone with ourselves and our thoughts, we can easily become intimidated. But it is these moments of Selah, or rest, where we pause and reflect on God’s presence, goodness, and grace in our lives, that seem to give us the strength to carry on and lead us to a deeper trust in our Savior.

David surely learned this lesson. His life was constantly on the go; not because he was busy, but for survival. Calamity was all around David. But there were moments, though few and far between, where David would rest. He would pause from the fray and seek God. As he did, he penned many beautiful psalms like the one above that reflect his trust in the Almighty. Looking back on his life, he discovered God to be both trustworthy and true, his strong tower and most of all his hiding place.

Have you ever seen little kids who are afraid? Where do they go? They run to a trusted parent or guardian for solace, or hide under the “safety” of their covers. What David describes here in this beautiful psalm is that God was his hiding place. He trusted God so much that when trouble struck or something gripped his heart with fear, he would run to the Father. Like a child under covers, David felt sure and secure wrapped in the presence of the Lord. God had proven Himself time and time again to come through, to provide, and to work all things for David’s good and God’s glory that it created an unwavering trust.

But David didn’t realize these truths in the middle of his fleeing and the chaos in his life. He realized these things in the silence, and we will too. It is in the silence that we can sense God’s closeness and more easily hear His whispering voice. Take a moment of Selah today and listen for the whisper of the Father.

By Sheila Rennau

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Silence Turns to Trust | Psalm 32:72020-12-17T14:21:25-07:00

Love All | Luke 2:22-35

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:22-35

As we turn our hearts and minds towards the final bend in the Advent season, love, I wonder if maybe the Beatles were right after all; maybe all we really need is love. Not a saccharine, Hallmark kind of love, but rather a true, sacrificing, agape sort of love. Simeon might surely agree. He’d waited all his life for a love like this, and now as the Christ child entered the Temple, Simeon’s wait was finally over. So overwhelmed was he, that he couldn’t help but erupt in praise,

“I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is the light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

In one utterance of praise, Simeon reveals that this Love, though the glory of Israel, was not just for Israel. This love was far too good not to share. This Love was meant for all the nations of the world!

Think about that for a moment. Think about the people in our world today, right now in 2020. We live in a time and space where humanity is radically divided. The number of people you may agree or identify with are likely far less than the ones you don’t. Where God intended differences to unite us, humanity far too often allows them to blind us. But consider salvation. Salvation is the great unifier. It binds us all to the same Savior despite race, religion, political, sexual, or economic ideation. It unifies us in our brokenness and need, and in our future destination as redeemed children of God. It is the gift we all desperately need.

As 2020 quickly approaches its end, we turn our eyes to a new year on the horizon. Some things may remain the same, but there is also a growing hope for change and restoration. As we carry the light and love of Christ into a new year, ripe with new dreams, hopes and possibilities, let’s take some time and ask ourselves a few questions. Who was the Christmas story for? How was it different from the old stories? How do I replicate Jesus’ love for me? Choose one thing you can do to help show the love of Christ this season. God’s love is far too good and far too important not to share with a hurting world around us. For more information visit, https://adventconspiracy.org/devotion

By Sheila Rennau

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Love All | Luke 2:22-352020-12-17T14:02:59-07:00

Great Witness | Acts 8:26-40; Ephesians 2:14

Please read Acts 8:26-40 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Ephesians 2:14 

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

Witness: To have knowledge of (an event or change) from personal observation or experience.

I’ve grown-up in church all my life. To tell you the truth, I can’t really remember much about life before I began attending at the tender age of 5. In my time and experience within the walls of the church and Christian school, I have heard countless sermons and talks about witnessing. For a long time, I was really confused about my role in evangelism and witnessing, and if I am honest the notion terrified me. I often panicked and worried about saying the wrong thing or doing something silly that would drive someone away from Jesus instead of toward Him.

It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that I realized that God never commanded us to save people. He only asked us to share what we have witnessed—to share the story of what Christ has done in and through us. This thought has made all the difference in the world. I don’t need complicated words or theories, I just need to share how Jesus has personally worked in me to change me. Like the farmer in Matthew 13, we go out and sow seed. Where it falls and the responses of the soil are not for us to worry about. As 2 Timothy 2:4 encourages us, we need only to be ready in season and out of season to share what God has done in us.

This sharing can come in many forms. We can speak to crowds, but for most of us Christ is shared in the office, over coffee, as we parent, going through the drive-through, or standing in line at the grocery store. It begins with praying for those around us to have hearts that are stirred and prepared to hear the Good News. I guess St. Francis of Assisi was right when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.”

We all have a story to share and our own creative ways in which to share it. Remember, witnessing is just sharing what you have seen and personally experienced. It is seen in the everyday mundane ways we live our lives and it is spoken in boldness. How can you be a great witness to those around you today? Maybe it is in a meaningful conversation, or maybe it is as simple as holding the door or leaving an encouraging note. Get creative, share your story, and shine your light.

By Sheila Rennau

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Great Witness | Acts 8:26-40; Ephesians 2:142020-11-19T13:48:26-07:00

Now Wait | Joshua 5:8

And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. Joshua 5:8

I think waiting just might be one of the most painful things we do as humans. Prone to impatience, waiting is not only difficult for us, it’s seemingly unnatural. When the time period of waiting is elongated, patience begins to wane. We all just want to get to the “good part,” be it in a story or in life. I am sure this is just as true for you as I know it is for me. It is a frustrating prospect to be still, especially when forward motion is once again halted.

I can only imagine that the nation of Israel must have been thoroughly frustrated at finally crossing the Jordan, only to have to stop and have yet another delay. But, God’s timing is always perfect, and His plans are always sure. Even in the waiting, He can be trusted. Israel needed to learn this lesson, and so do we. The delay was not a punishment or some power-trip God was playing. God had called the nation of Israel to separate themselves from the other nations through the process of circumcision.

This process is painful enough for infants in our day, but even more so for the grown men in Israel’s. Before Abraham’s descendants could enter fully into the promise, claiming all God had in store for them, they needed to be set apart and distinct from other nations. This was painful, but they also needed the gracious gift of time to heal and rest, physically, before they charged into battle. Waiting was part of the process.

All of us have gone through a season of pain, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Our Western view says to suck it up, get back to work, and to rush the process, but a healthier alternative is to take the gift of time given to us and to wait, rest, and heal. Processes that are rushed often end in disaster. But when we allow Time to do the work God has given it to do, we can be the very best version of who God designed us to be.

Is there a difficult conversation that you need to have, or possibly a difficult task that you need to do? I would encourage you to take it to God in prayer, then to take the first step toward real healing and lovingly bring up that subject or courageously begin that task.

By Sheila Rennau

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Now Wait | Joshua 5:82020-11-12T14:25:23-07:00

Forward with Perspective | Joshua 4:1-9

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9

In today’s passage, the children of Israel created an Ebenezer (stones of remembrance), to tell of God’s goodness to them in leading them to the Promised Land. For approximately 14,600 days the Israelites had walked through the desert. While they never did get to enter the Promised Land because of their complaining and disobedience, their children did. Just as God parted the Red Sea, in a magnificent show of strength and power to help Israel escape Egypt forty years prior, God once again parted the water to bring Israel to their new home. To commemorate this auspicious event, the LORD commanded the Israelites, though Joshua, to take twelve stones from the Jordan, one for each tribe, and create an Ebenezer—a memorial to remember generation after generation what the LORD had done.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of an Ebenezer, but the concept never became real to me until I had an opportunity to create my own. In my own personal life, and not too recent past, I walked through my own wilderness season. Due to an unexpected job loss and injuries sustained from a car accident, my world was turned upside down. I went through a crisis of career, identity, finances and hope, wondering if life would ever be normal again. The pain and sheer exhaustion I felt permeated not only my body, but also my mind, emotions and soul. For 1,243 days I walked in what felt like circles, wading through circumstances as sticky and thick as mud. Then, as only God can, in the middle of a pandemic when jobs are scarce, I got a call offering me a job in my chosen field. This gift has not only helped my family, but has lifted my heart to a new place and allowed me to see God with fresh eyes. To commemorate this joyous news, I created homemade thank you cards to all the people and organizations that prayed and supported me. From the paper used for said cards, I took a scrap and created a piece of art with a memorable verse that had sustained me through the hard times. It sits on my shelf, and every time I see it I remember what God did—what seemed impossible that God made possible.

This week, think through your own journey. Perhaps create an Ebenezer of your own while being encouraged by the song “Do it Again.”

By Sheila Rennau

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Forward with Perspective | Joshua 4:1-92020-11-05T16:27:06-07:00

Walking with Strength and Courage | Joshua 1:6-9

 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:6-9

Be strong and courageous. Three times this command is spoken by the LORD to Joshua. But why? It might help to look at his circumstances to understand what God commands, why He commands it, and how good God is in Joshua’s life.

Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, Joshua’s mentor and friend, who walked by Joshua’s side for 40 years through the punishment of the wilderness, is dead. The time to enter the Promised Land has finally come and the mantle of leadership has been passed to Joshua. A million people are now under his care. The land is a land Joshua has never fully seen; flowing with milk, honey…and enemies. This conquest would not be a cakewalk. This was, after all, the land of giants. There was much work to be done, many people to fight, and it will take more strength than Joshua possesses. In the midst of all this turmoil and angst, God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous, not in and of himself, but in the Lord’s power.

Joshua was essentially being commanded to be at peace. God knew the task would be difficult, even at times impossible. But God promised Joshua His presence. Joshua had nothing to fear. As God was with Moses, so God would be with Joshua.

Right now we are facing some scary things as a society. The current pandemic, failing economy, raging wildfires and uncertainty around our elections has set many on edge. But in the midst of such upheaval and pandemonium we can be strong and courageous like Joshua, knowing and experiencing God’s peace right now in the moment that we need it. God has promised to walk with us through the fire and through the flood. We can face the future, no matter who sits in the White House, how this pandemic or economy turns, or how bad the blazes rage, knowing God is and always will be on His throne. He sees, hears, cares for, and loves us. We are commanded to have strength and courage too,

Take something heavy from around your house and lift it up. Do the same with a light object. Use them remember that no matter the weight of the burden, God is lifting it with you and giving you the strength and courage to do so. This week, consider reading Psalm 68 to remind your heart that God is with you every step of the journey.

By Sheila Rennau

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Walking with Strength and Courage | Joshua 1:6-92020-10-29T11:17:25-06:00
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