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South Fellowship Church

LOOKING FOR THE CATACLYSMIC?

Haven’t you sometimes wished, hoped, and prayed God would do something unmistakably earth-shaking to bring people to Himself…especially loved ones who seem so deaf to His voice? Let’s look here:

Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land. At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27:45-54 NET)

Let’s unpack this passage. Total darkness covered the whole land for three hours, there were two loud cries by Jesus who was in the last stages of crucifixion (crucifixion suffocated the entire body), an earthquake shook the entire region including the temple (earthquakes happen around Jerusalem about once in 125 years), rocks split apart and the thick temple curtain was torn in two…as the religious leaders watched, tombs opened, and, after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ followers who had died appeared fully alive and talking with friends who knew they had been dead. Even the Roman centurion and his soldiers were shaken to the core. Those are just a few mind blowing details that emerged around this scene…the hor d’oeuvres and main course of the world Christian movement.

So why wouldn’t everyone who witnessed these events simply fall on their knees to worship Jesus? Further insight comes from a future and even more imposing scene that Jesus showed to the Apostle John.

And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the eminent people, and the commanders and the wealthy and the strong, and every slave and free person hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the sight of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17)

These people will have hardened their hearts to God. Even though they will have front row seats, they won’t want anything to do with Him. Not even catastrophic convulsions will push them into His loving, protective arms. If you know Jesus, this is hard to fathom. But Jesus is honest with us – not everyone wants to cozy up to Him.

Let’s return to the three event focus of the Church’s yearly calendar; the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This disarmingly simple depiction of humanity’s salvation is surrounded by a rich setting of cataclysmic events. Those who cannot be impressed by the sheer weight of amazing happenings God orchestrated around this central juncture of human history show a hardened heart.

Allow Jesus to keep your heart soft as you imagine yourself in Jerusalem experiencing the overwhelming events around His death, burial and resurrection – signs He’s provided to draw our attention to His sacrifice for us. Soak in those signs of His powerful love.

LOOKING FOR THE CATACLYSMIC?2022-04-17T20:32:17-06:00

Faith, Hope, Love, & Risk

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus by night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds . Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
(John 19 38-42)

I have long wondered about these two men who cared for Jesus’ body and gave it a princely burial. Joseph and Nicodemus each had “back story”. It seems like they were trusted friends.

According to Matthew 20;57-60, Joseph was a rich man from Arimathea who used his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. According to Mark; 15;43, he was “a prominent member of the Council, was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, but went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” Luke describes him as a,”good and upright man who had not consented to the Council’s decision and action. Luke;23;50b.

John 3;1-2 describes Nicodemus as a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, who came by night and engaged in a lengthy conversation with Jesus. He believed that Jesus was a teacher who came from God because of the signs he performed. In John 7;51, he speaks out in the Council, reminding them that their Law doesn’t condemn a man without first finding out directly from that man about what he is doing.

I’ve tried to imagine Joseph and Nicodemus overcoming their fear of the Jewish rulers out of their belief in and grieving love for Jesus. Even overcoming their natural repugnance at receiving, carrying and wrapping up Jesus’ beaten, bloody and crucified body. And then, after laying Jesus’ body in the tomb, rolling the stone in front of it, leaving to participate in the Passover Sabbath.

But now they have an insurmountable problem; Jewish Law says that a person who has anything to do with a dead human body becomes unclean and is prohibited from associating with other people. They would have to quarantine for 7 days, then go through a certain purifying process before they can be accepted again into their family and community. What these two disciples of Jesus have done will not remain secret, because now they can’t participate in the Passover meal with their families.

I wonder if Joseph and Nicodemus had any idea that they held in their arms the true,” Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”, and makes them truly clean?

We have the advantage of holding in our hands the scriptures that tell us what are, for those people, first time happenings. We can say, “It’s Friday, but Easter Sunday’s coming”, but they hadn’t experienced that when they walked away from the tomb and left Jesus’ body there. We don’t get to know the rest of Joseph’s and Nicodemus’s stories . We can imagine, but we don’t know.

I have a story, you have a story, we, as part of Jesus’ church, have a community story. We live in a resurrected Jesus, with an indwelling Holy Spirit and a Father in heaven. What am I, what are you, what are we willing to risk in loving and doing with our Lord. Read John 17 as a reminder of Jesus praying for us. Read 1 Corinthians 13 as a reminder of what faith, hope and love are.

Faith, Hope, Love, & Risk2022-04-17T20:30:22-06:00

First-hand Witness

“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” -Mark 15:40-16:8

Notice how women are mentioned all over Mark’s account of the resurrection. Women have been caring for Jesus for years. And now, Mark notes how it was women who cared for his dead body and women who discovered the empty tomb.

Mark was getting most of his data from first-hand accounts and recording them to spread the news within the first century. If you were telling a story you wanted people to believe in this era, you would not have included women. Their testimony was suspect. However, Mark seems to go out of his way to fill up his second-hand account with first-hand female characters.

Why do you think this detail matters?

We live in a culture where women have more value than they once did. Yet, there are still ways women and others are treated as lesser. This story of resurrection re-humanizes women as Jesus honors them for their nurturing servitude and partnership in spreading the gospel.

Just as Mark emphasized the worthiness of women’s partnership in the gospel, we too, can uphold others as being worthy of resurrection life.

Who do we see as unworthy of receiving the good news of resurrection? Take a moment to confess this before God and ask him to open your heart to reawaken your compassion for this person or peoples.

First-hand Witness2022-04-17T20:29:02-06:00

The Other Side of the Story

This week we are doing this daily devotional a little differently. First, I am going to ask each of you to read a part of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection story in each of the gospels for yourself. The Easter sermon used the Mark passage but it is helpful to look at all of them. So, first read Matthew 27:50-28:8, Mark 15:40-16:8, Luke 23:49-24:11 and John 19:38-20:2.

As you read these accounts, what stands out to you? Did you see something in this reading you had not noticed before? Are there words or phrases that you notice were used in multiple accounts? Does one of the accounts have information that is not in any of the others? Do you have questions that are not answered? Do you have a feeling of wanting to read farther? If so, is it because where I asked you to stop reading, does it give you an unsatisfying, hopeless ending to the story? Think about how the women and the disciples were feeling, thinking and processing everything they had observed and experienced in the days we read about. Pray about what you have observed, and ask God to reveal to you what He wants you to know about these scripture passages.

The Other Side of the Story2022-04-17T20:27:08-06:00

Not The End

If you attended one of our easter services you may have learned that resurrection isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. The pursuit of eternal life has been the subject of Hollywood productions as well as wealthy individuals. We are all drawn to the idea of living long productive lives. That longing may be embedded into God’s design for us. We were meant to be eternal creatures and resurrection is the promise of that.

This year, rather than celebrating Easter and moving on with regular life, we want to let Easter be an invitation to a deeper journey. We will be starting a new series called eastertide this coming sunday. In this series we will explore Jesus’ as he encounters people after his resurrection. We will see all the ways that he invites us to live in this new world where death is defeated.

Take a moment to pray. Ask God to stir in you a longing for the life that resurrection brings. Ask him to help you grow in that life more in this spring.

Not The End2022-04-17T20:25:28-06:00

Where’s Your Safe Place?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:1-4 NIV)

I’ve mentioned before my frustration at how compressed scripture is. Years pass in a verse or two or maybe part of a chapter. The dailiness of our lives and the emotions that fill them as we grow from infancy to adult to old age just don’t happen that briefly.

When I read the stories of people in scripture, I often try to enter into their experiences and feelings. A phrase here and there catches my attention and I relate to something with them. This week I entered into Hagar’s experiences in Genesis 16: 6b-9 and 13. Hagar is a slave who is mistreated by her mistress Sarai until she runs away. The angel of the Lord lets her know that the Lord knows her misery. She is to go back and submit to her mistress. In verse 13, Hagar gives the lord the name that means, “You are the God who sees me.” In Genesis 21, Hagar and her son are gotten rid of by Sarah’s orders. God hears both Hagar and her son crying and opens her eyes to see his provision.

As a child I was passed around amongst several family members. I was useful because I could work hard. The last couple that took me, verbally abused me. It was there that I learned to conceal my feelings.

Looking back, I see now how God kept me from running away and protected me. His provisions enabled me to stick it out until I could legally move away. It takes a long time to see some things as “gifts” for a lifetime.

Suppressed emotions eventually come out. Mine started to boil over when I was about 39. I felt the need to be in control of how my family and I appeared as Christians to the outside world. My attitude, words, and actions were damaging the relationships with people I loved most.

One morning, after my family were off to work and school, I had a temper tantrum that precipitated from pulling a stuff-filled cabinet drawer out too far causing the contents to dump all over the kitchen floor! I screamed. I remember suddenly feeling a sensation of being held gently, but too firm to struggle loose. I knew it was Jesus holding me. No words, no condemnation, just held. I felt safe! I have had other occasional episodes of temper tantrums, but they are still kept safe in Jesus, so they won’t cause damage elsewhere.

The above scriptures are life-giving to me, because God knows me so completely that I don’t have to hide from him. Jesus has experienced it all so I know I can safely bring my emotions directly to God’s throne and receive loving mercy and enabling grace.

What about you? Do you have a safe place where you can express your emotions
without causing damage to others? Go to Jesus. Talk to him. Listen to him. Trust him.
Perhaps write a prayer or a psalm to let God know your feelings.

Where’s Your Safe Place?2022-02-25T08:53:03-07:00

Landmines In The Road

And she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman (Hagar) and her son (Ishmael), for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:10-13)

Those familiar with this story usually have sympathy toward at least one of the characters. Armchair moralists have engaged in analysis of this story for centuries. The harshest criticism seems to be reserved for Sarah. However, in this passage, God supported Sarah’s directions. Puzzling, isn’t it?

Where did things start going wrong regarding God’s original plan to give Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) a son? Let’s start here:

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. (Genesis 12:10-16 NIV)

Further in the narrative, God sent plagues to Pharaoh’s household before Sarai was selected from his harem to consummate marriage. When Pharaoh realized the plagues happened because Sarai was Abram’s wife, he sent Abram packing along with Sarai and all the gifts Pharaoh had given him, including the Egyptian slave Hagar.

If I could read Genesis 12 through Sarai’s eyes, I see a woman who reluctantly lied to save her husband’s life, who was sexually objectified, and who was fearful for her future. I see a husband/wife relationship with broken trust in the aftermath. I see no attempt by Abram to acknowledge what he had put his wife through, and therefore, emotional landmines potentially lay in the road ahead. But on to the good news:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him (Abram): “This man (your servant, Eliezer) shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4 ESV)

Ten years after this promise was delivered, Abram and Sarai understandably wondered how and when God would act. Because Sarai was well beyond childbearing age, she assumed the ancient version of surrogate parenting might be the answer and Abram (unlike his reaction in Chapter 21) did not consult God before proceeding with a solution that seemed reasonable at the time.

So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. (Genesis 16:3 ESV)

If this situation were repeated in our modern world (where adoption, IVF, and surrogacy options have become available), a psychologist might anticipate a tangled web of emotionally explosive triggers that could ensue: Abram and Hagar had the strong attachment to the child (and the child to them) that biological parents possess while Sarai could never achieve that connection. Once Isaac was born and Sarai’s most cherished dream fulfilled, all the emotionally triggered landmines were laid and every move this family made held a potential seismic explosion.

God didn’t sanitize this narrative about Abraham and his family. He allows us to view tensions resulting from misunderstandings, missteps, and unprocessed emotions experienced by heroes of the faith. God wants us to know He isn’t flummoxed by our mistakes nor can our ultimate salvation be thwarted.

Is a messed up family situation beyond redemption? Have you been praying without much hope for your family or someone else’s? Meditate on this narrative in Genesis and renew your outlook on how the Holy Spirit might be leading you to pray.

Landmines In The Road2022-02-25T08:51:31-07:00

Emotions, Good or Bad?

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8 NIV)

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. (Psalm 22:2-3 NIV)

Most of us learned at an early age to believe some emotions were good and acceptable to express, and while others were bad or unacceptable. But in fact, emotions are not good or bad, they just are just expressions of our feelings. How we react to them – the actions we take as a result of our emotions – are when moral judgements can apply. For example, it is perfectly normal and healthy for a bride and groom to feel joy, happiness, and excitement on their wedding day and to express it by smiling, laughing, and kissing each other. It’s also completely normal to feel sadness, grief, and loss and to express it by crying when we attend the memorial service of a loved one. But it would not be appropriate to hurt a loved one in a physical way because we are feeling grief, anger, or loss.

Every emotion each of us has ever felt is expressed somewhere in the 150 poems of Psalms, and most are mentioned many times. In Psalm 13, David expresses frustration with God’s timing, a desire for circumstances to change, and a request for God to rescue him. In Psalm 4, David describes in his prayer a sleepless night and God’s answer to his current distress. David has a conversation with God about his future, his request for guidance and instruction by God, and a request for help in Psalm 25. Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 express joy and praise to God for his beautiful and intricate creation and God’s amazing desire to have a relationship with men. In Psalm 37, David writes on many of God’s promises and what we should and should not do as a result.

Many Psalms are written as if we are allowed to see a conversation between the psalmist and God. Others describe the psalmist pouring out his heart, his pain, and his need to God. I believe the Psalms show us that our emotions are valid, real, and God-given. We are to bring our emotions to God in prayer. God is a safe place for us to express our emotions – whatever they may be – happy, sad, angry, peace, frustration, anxiety, trust, calm, or pain. Read one of the Psalms listed above. Use it as a springboard to talk to God about your emotions, about how you should express them, and what He would want you to do with your emotions.

Emotions, Good or Bad?2022-02-25T08:48:04-07:00

Emotions Are Real

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. (Genesis 21:8-16)

This story is charged with emotion. Sarah finally gives birth to a miracle child and suddenly becomes jealous that Isaac is being overshadowed by Ishmael. Abraham is deeply saddened by the idea of sending his firstborn son away from him. Finally, Haggar is twice abused, once given to Abraham as a surrogate, only to be sent away with only a bit of water. Her cry finally expresses her despair, “I cannot watch the boy die.”

The scriptures do not deny or diminish emotions. Instead, the feelings of the characters are expressed fully. This alone is comforting. Emotions are real, and God seems very comfortable interacting with the humanity of feelings. Imagine if the scriptures only told stories about emotionally happy perfect people. How could anyone identify with that?

The question for us is, why do we often struggle to deal with our emotions if God doesn’t? Why do we hide, deny, suppress, and avoid the painful feelings of our lives? The operative word in that question is “painful.” It is often difficult to engage our own emotions well because they hurt. Here is the thing, the scriptural authors revealed the characters’ emotions for a reason. When we see a person’s honest emotions, we can begin to identify, learn from, and grow from their example. It’s easier to know how to interpret a life when you have the complete picture of the emotions involved. Don’t you want that same advantage in your life?

Emotions offer us essential information to interpret and live our own stories. If our primary aim is to avoid painful emotions, we inadvertently muddy the waters of decision-making. Today, ask God, “how do I really feel?” Ask him to help you discover, acknowledge, and learn from your own painful emotions. Your story might make more sense if you do.

Emotions Are Real2022-02-25T08:46:01-07:00

How Do You Really feel? Week 1

South Fellowship Church has selected a series on Emotions during the season of Lent to ground us in our humanity and help walk us through how to process several core emotions with God. We’ll explore stories in Genesis to see how emotions have always been a part of the human experience. For example, Genesis 21:8-21 gives us a glimpse into a real woman’s experience with rejection, deprivation, and despair. Yet, her encounter with God made all the difference.

Our emotions are just as real as Hagar’s and where we go with them can affect everything around us. An emotion is simply a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstance, mood, or relationship with others. This emotional wiring in all of us is God-designed and helpful for understanding and responding to the world around us. Join us for the next seven weeks to journey through emotions – seeking to better understand and process them in healthy ways.

  1. Get Honest … Look at the emotions wheel on the back of this guide and share which emotion you like the most and why. Share which emotion you like the least and why. How do you feel about having an entire sermon series on emotions?
  2. Change Mind … Listen for what Jesus wants to say to you about the full range of emotion.
  3. Walk Anew … How might Jesus want you to enter this sermon series?
How Do You Really feel? Week 12022-02-25T08:53:27-07:00
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