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South Fellowship Church

Advent Devotional 2016

Heaven Hears | Jeremiah 23:5

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Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s a declaration that heaven hears.

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Read Jeremiah 23:5

Life can be difficult – that’s an understatement. We live in a broken world, and this means life will inevitably be impacted by sin and by the realization that things are not as they should be. Many people walk through seasons of loneliness and heartache. Others suffer great loss and hopelessness. Nevertheless, followers of Jesus are called to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). If you’ve walked through a difficult season, you know just how hard it is to be sorrowful while rejoicing. The confidence that heaven hears is the only thing that gives followers of Jesus the ability to rejoice and hope in the midst of a broken world.

The prophet Jeremiah pointed to a day when God would hear and respond to the longing of every human soul. He wrote, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). At Christmas, we celebrate that King Jesus has come and Scriptures declare that Jesus now reigns with justice, righteousness, and wisdom. On this journey of Advent, we’ve seen that God hears us in exile, in conflict with the enemy, and in our longing for eternity. God not only hears the deepest cries of our soul, he responds by sending his son – Emmanuel. Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s a declaration that heaven hears. Our greatest longing has encountered his greatest gift!

Now, even in the brokenness of the world, it’s safe to hope. Christmas reminds us our prayers don’t bounce off the doors of heaven, they pierce the heart of God. The immovable and unchanging One is moved by the longings of His creation. While God doesn’t answer every prayer in the way we hope he will, he does answer, and his answer is Jesus. His answer is to remind us we are loved by the Almighty. His answer is to declare that he is restoring all things. His answer is to embrace that he is with us. Because of Jesus, we can have peace in the midst of turmoil, hope in the midst of despair, and joy in the midst of sorrow. Truly, the hope and fears of all the years were met in him that night. It is safe to cry out. It is safe to rejoice. Emmanuel has come!

The Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, declares, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth / The everlasting Light / The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.” Rejoice because heaven hears. God has heard the hopes and fears and answered our greatest cry with his greatest gift – Jesus.

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By Ryan Paulson

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Heaven Hears | Jeremiah 23:52016-12-24T05:00:28-07:00

Heaven Hears | Seated | Revelation 4:1-11

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Having been raised to life, he is the only one worthy enough to take the throne, to receive glory and honor and power forevermore.

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Read Revelation 4:1-11

Look what happens when the door to heaven is finally open and God gives us a glimpse inside. In this vision, God invites John to come and see the throne room of heaven, and what he sees is other-worldly. An iridescent throne flashing in a kaleidoscope of color. He experiences the rumbles of thunder and the warmth of blazing torches, while observing the most beautiful, crystal clear water unmoved, completely at rest. Then, looking a little closer, John sees strange but familiar creatures all proclaiming the holiness and infinite characteristics of God to a mysterious “him – who sits on the throne.”

When John wakes up, he must have been immensely curious – wondering about the throne and the creatures and the words uttered on endless repeat. But especially about the “one – seated on the throne” (Revelation 4:2). Later in the same book, John mentions another vision of the throne. This time, he sees a Lamb standing between the creatures and the throne (Revelation 5:6). The Lamb reappears at the end of Revelation too, but this time on the throne (Revelation 22:3). All the creatures – the lion, the ox, the eagle, the man, the elders with their crowns – will bow down to the Lamb who sits on the throne and proclaim him to be the holy and infinite God.

Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as the mysterious one – seated on the throne. It says, “after making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus Christ became the lamb – sacrificed for the purification of sins. His death was the acceptable substitutionary punishment for sin because he was the only one divine enough to accomplish it and human enough for it to work. Now, having been raised to life, he is the only one worthy enough to take the throne, to receive glory and honor and power forevermore. God has heard our cry. Jesus has taken his throne. Victory has been won. The lamb is seated. It is finished.

Join in the chorus of heavenly hosts and worship aloud, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

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By Yvonne Biel 

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Heaven Hears | Seated | Revelation 4:1-112016-12-23T05:00:42-07:00

Heaven Hears | Sustains | Luke 1:26-33

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To think this baby boy, who coos and sleeps and makes funny faces, is upholding the world.

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Read Luke 1:26-33

Imagine Mary visited by the angel Gabriel, standing in the presence of God. For her to be ‘greatly troubled’ certainly seems like an understatement. Then, to learn the angel is sent by God to her, to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. She must have been one brave girl to find out that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, the salvation of Israel!

As the child begins to grow within her, she goes through all the normal things mothers do. She carries the child feeling him move, kicking and punching. And as mothers do, she wonders about the child she carries. But, the Son of God, Creator of the universe, who sustains all things lives within her. How could she wrap her mind around this? After she gives birth to Jesus, she wraps the little boy in rags and holds him in her arms. Looking into the eyes of baby Jesus, reality begins to dawn. She, the created, holds the Creator.

This tiny infant staring up at his mother is the Son of God. In John 1:1-5, we read an amazing description of who Jesus is. It speaks of Jesus being eternal. He’s always been, and he’s always been God. As a person of the trinity, he’s been with God, creating and breathing life because he is life (John 14:6). He shines into the darkness, and the darkness can’t overcome him because he’s the light of the world (John 1:5). He brings the Kingdom of God to Earth because he is Messiah. To think this baby boy, who coos and sleeps and makes funny faces, is upholding the world. As we reflect on baby Jesus during the Christmas season, our confidence is in him, sustainer of all creation, brought to us from heaven, in complete humility. While powerfully upholding the world, he allows his creation to gently hold him.

Imagine what it would have been like to hold baby Jesus in your arms. Take a few minutes to sit and consider Jesus as a new born baby boy. Note the impressions you have from your time of contemplation.

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By Rich Obrecht

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Heaven Hears | Sustains | Luke 1:26-332016-12-22T05:00:51-07:00

Heaven Hears | Exact Imprint | Colossians 1:15-20

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If we want to know God, we can look to Jesus.

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Read Colossians 1:15-20

At the Denver Mint, tourists can participate in the process of making a penny. Inside the giant machine is a metal carved stamp invisible to the eye. When each person pushes a button, the machine imprints a coin with the stamp’s carving. In America, we have coins with images of U.S. Presidents on them. In the Roman Empire, coins would have the imprint of Caesar.

God uses a similar process of imprinting to make himself known to us. We were created in God’s image as a way of knowing God, but when Jesus comes, he is said to be “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Not only that, he is the “exact imprint” of God (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was not only a human being, he had all of the character of the Godhead in Him. As Jesus came to earth, he was fully God and fully man.

God gave the clearest picture of himself possible when He sent Jesus to the earth as a man. It might seem impossible to know God. It might seem like he’s far away. The Israelites would have felt this too. They couldn’t see God. They only had shadows of him. But, when Jesus Christ finally came down from heaven, he made it possible for finite man to finally see what the infinite God is like. God made himself visible to mortal eyes in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived God’s holy character. His kindness showed God’s love. His healings showed God’s care. And Jesus said, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” – in body and spirit (John 14:9).

Unlike staring at the imprint in a coin, Jesus Christ doesn’t just represent the likeness of God, he is the full manifestation of God himself. If we want to know God, we can look to Jesus. We can behold the nature and grandeur of the eternal Father by spending time with Jesus. And this shows us the character of God. Jesus is proof that God doesn’t want to remain far off and hidden from us. He desires that we see him, know him, and experience him first-hand.

Jesus has the exact characteristics of God and you can see some of these same characteristics appear in other children of God. List some of the characteristics of Jesus you love most and praise God for how Jesus shines through people you know.

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By Donna Burns

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Heaven Hears | Exact Imprint | Colossians 1:15-202016-12-21T05:00:09-07:00

Heaven Hears | Radiance of Glory | John 1:14-18

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 Jesus carried 100% grace and 100% truth wherever he went.

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Read John 1:14-18

Some people in this world carry a room-changing presence. A person of great stature or intentional body language can masterfully command attention. Another person filled with joy can splendidly illuminate a room. Others have the surprising ability to disarm you with just one glance steeped in genuine compassion. There is something about these kind of people. They seem to carry a weight of influence – a weight of glory.

Hebrews 1 describes Jesus as having the “radiance of God’s glory.” Yet, he lived in an earthen vessel like you and me. He had human skin while carrying the weight of God’s glory, fully God and fully human. It’s fascinating to imagine what this might have looked like or felt like. But glory is one of those words that escapes us. It’s hard to define or nail down because it’s mysterious, elusive, and ethereal. That’s also what makes it so glorious and why people walked away utterly amazed after meeting Jesus.

So, what was it about Jesus that made his presence elicit such a response? For the woman at the well, it was his perfectly unified simplicity. In that moment, his perfection of love was palpable – through the simultaneous reality of offering both grace and truth. Jesus carried 100% grace and 100% truth wherever he went. Just stop and think about this for a moment. There is a weight when you encounter someone who is 100% truth – but without grace this weight is cruel. There is also a weight when you encounter someone who is 100% grace – but without truth it’s disingenuous. Jesus was both at the exact same time. That weight would have been glorious to encounter first-hand in the flesh. Thankfully, we can experience this glory every time we go to Jesus in confession and repentance. We can know the weight of his glory by encountering his perfectly unified simplicity of grace and truth.

Imagine the radiance of Jesus’ glory appearing in the form of 100% grace and 100% truth. As you follow Jesus, pray for this same glory and Jesus’ character to radiant through you into the world today.

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By Yvonne Biel 

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Heaven Hears | Radiance of Glory | John 1:14-182016-12-20T05:00:13-07:00

Heaven Hears | Prophets | Isaiah 9:2-7

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We long for comfort, stability, and safety – but maybe that isn’t what we need most.

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Read Isaiah 9:2-7

Throughout the history of the Israelites, prophets shared God’s messages – good and bad. Good messages of victory or relief from oppression and bad messages of trouble and exile. The words of the prophet Isaiah were given during the onset of great loss and exile. His words echoed of a coming savior. Yet, their troubles weren’t over after returning from exile. Prophets continued to speak of a Messiah, but Israel continued to be ruled by evil and oppressive regimes.

Now, we’ve all had expectations about gifts we wanted. We’ve all dreamed of certain toys or new realities. And, we’ve gotten excited for a day when our dreams would come true. But, we’ve all probably also felt the hit of reality. When on that day, we got something that didn’t meet our expectations. Rather than getting what we wanted, we received what we needed.

This was what happened when Israel’s Messiah finally came. Rather than freedom from their oppression, he offered freedom from sin’s oppression. Rather than returning them to days of glory, he taught them to be servants and live in humility. They didn’t get what they wanted.  They got what they needed.

The Messiah was revolutionary but not in the expected way. Many people walked away holding on to their misguided desires for a political king. The same is true of us today. What we want may not line up with what we need. We long for comfort, stability, and safety – but maybe that isn’t what we need most. We must remember that what we need can’t be supplied by our own hands. New “things” and new “techniques” won’t fill the vacuum in our soul. Although we may want them to. Only Jesus, the true Messiah, can come to heal our brokenness in exactly the way our soul truly needs. Christmas reminds us that heaven hears our deepest needs and meets them in the work of Jesus.

The gift of Jesus is one of the best revelations of God and his character. List out the characteristics of Jesus the Messiah mentioned in Isaiah 9:6-7. Identify the one you need Jesus to be for you today, and ask him to show himself in this way.

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By Rich Obrecht

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Heaven Hears | Prophets | Isaiah 9:2-72016-12-19T05:00:38-07:00

Heaven Hears | Emmanuel | Hebrews 1:1-4

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Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s about God revealing his truest nature and character!

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Read Hebrews 1:1-4

Since the dawn of creation, humanity has strived to define God. Different cultures, throughout the ages, suggest various ideas about what God is like. The Hebrew people, even with their Scriptures, struggled to get a complete picture of the divine. At times, they believe God to be angry and vindictive toward his creation. At other times, they describe God as being longsuffering and steadfast in his love. New Testament writers say, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.” The Torah, or Old Testament law, was a shadow of a reality yet to come. No wonder the ancients had a hard time understanding what God was like; they only had a shadow, not a complete picture.

However, as New Covenant believers, we get the whole picture, and we have the privilege of knowing God in a complete sense. The Scriptures make this clear in Hebrews 1:3, stating, “[God’s] Son… is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The author of Hebrews claims that we have the fullest picture of God in Jesus. Jesus is what God is like. And, Jesus doesn’t come to appease God, he comes to reveal God. From behind all of the shadows, all of the partial pictures, and all of the mysteries, emerges Jesus. Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s about God revealing his truest nature and character!

If it’s true, as the Scriptures state, that God is like Jesus, then what do we learn about the nature of God from this revelation? We learn God hears the cry of his people and longs to rescue all of humanity. Matthew’s gospel describes the birth of Jesus by writing, She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:21-23). Jesus comes born as a baby in the corner of a powerful empire to be ‘with us.’ Heaven hears because Jesus is God with us. Jesus is God with us in our pain and our joy. He is God with us in celebration and sorrow. He is God with us in faith and doubt. When we think about God, the gift of Jesus means God is not distant. We have the utmost confidence that God remains ‘with’ his creation, and we can express the deepest longings of our soul, knowing heaven hears.

As you enter the last week of Advent, listen once more to the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Pay attention to the the repetition of the name Emmanuel and contemplate what is looks like to live the “with-God” life.

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By Ryan Paulson

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Heaven Hears | Emmanuel | Hebrews 1:1-42016-12-18T05:00:28-07:00

Heaven Hears | Giving Hope | Luke 2:8-14

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 Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s about God breathing hope.

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Read Luke 2:8-14

In the narrative of Jesus’ birth, Luke records the angel’s declaration to the shepherds in the field, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Now, in order to grasp the gravity of this scene, it’s helpful to know some about the life of a shepherd. Back in the first century, shepherding was a lowly profession which meant shepherds were second-class citizens. A shepherd wasn’t allowed to testify in a court of law because their word couldn’t be trusted. Shepherds knew discrimination and the pressures of society’s pecking order. Yet, God comes to the lowly and discriminated to pronounce “good news of great joy for all people.” Imagine the hope in this statement.

One famous but anonymous quote says, “Man can live about 40 days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” The need for hope is a part of being human, and hope is a gift from God. Luke’s gospel reminds us that Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born, it’s about God breathing hope.

When God speaks into the desperation of humanity, he delivers hope and hope exhibits great joy. The angel’s declaration reminds us that God longs for his people to walk in vitality and life. And, not just for some people – for all people. God breathes hope, not just into those whom society would deem as worthy, but into all of humanity. There’s no discrimination or favoritism in God. He showers hope in the form of joy down on all of his creation. God gently delivers this hope in the form of a baby lying in a manger. Jesus is the hope of the world.

As we journey toward Christmas, we remember Jesus is able to birth hope into any life and in every situation. Certainly the shepherds would testify to this. Hope is the secure confidence in the future God has promised. Hope is the assurance of the joy that is available today. Hope is basing our lives around the truth that God is restoring all things. But, hoping in God doesn’t come naturally to fallen humanity. John Piper writes, “We must preach hope to ourselves, and preach diligently and forcefully, or we will give way to a downcast and disquieted spirit.” In the midst of this world, filled with oppression and pain, Jesus comes. As the Christ child is born in our lives today, His announcement is the same, “I bring good news of great joy for all people!”

God’s hope is for all people – rich and poor, near and far, friends and enemies. This means, you can offer hope to someone who feels hopeless, too. Take a few minutes to write a note, a text message or an email to offer someone else hope and encouragement.

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By Ryan Paulson

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Heaven Hears | Giving Hope | Luke 2:8-142016-12-17T05:00:45-07:00

Heaven Hears | Light into Darkness | John 1:1-13

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it’s possible to miss the invitation to live in the fullness of Light himself.

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Read John 1:1-13

Light may be one of the most powerful elements in our universe. Scientists and brilliant minds through the centuries have recognized its incredible momentum and have attempted to harness its power. Not only does light travel over 185,000 miles per second, its energy actually generates life. It’s no wonder God made light first. Then, he used it to create and sustain a world filled with spectacular color, energized creatures, and a marvelous diversity of plant life.

It’s by no accident Jesus is named the Light of the World. He created it because he is light. Just imagine the Trinity brainstorming together how they might creatively express themselves. Their conclusion was to shine; to breathe life and to energize a new world filled with living creatures who might share in the same fellowship of light and life. When John says, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9), he wasn’t lying. Jesus, the origin of light, was going to appear in the likeness of the very world he created.

Yet, many still remain in the dark – metaphorically speaking. Although we practically live and breathe and have our being from the origin of light, it’s possible to miss the invitation to live in the fullness of Light himself. We attempt to hide from his presence, in fear and shame, refusing to receive the invitation to live in his glow. Instead of shining as children of Light, we tuck ourselves away in our own darkness, afraid to let him expose everything. That’s the intimidating nature of living in the light. It demands that our darkness is drawn, illuminated, and purified. But, that’s what we’re created for – to bask in the pleasure and union of God’s Light – fully purified and free to run in and with Light himself.

Around the holidays, light is used in stunning display to shine through the dark hours of winter. Take time to drive around and appreciate the lights, remembering that the gift of Light himself shines his light into the darkness of this world. Let your experience be an offering of worship as you enjoy and celebrate Jesus – the Light of the World.

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By Yvonne Biel 

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Heaven Hears | Light into Darkness | John 1:1-132016-12-16T05:00:03-07:00

Heaven Hears | Invited Through Belief | Romans 4:2-8

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God’s gift of Jesus is waiting for every soul who desires it.

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Read Romans 4:2-8

God answers humanity’s greatest cry with the greatest gift of all time – himself. God opens heaven, motivated by love, and generously offers us the best gift we could have ever asked for – reunion. But, herein lies the crux of the matter. God gives. But, how will we respond? God took the risk. He put his love on the line when he offered the gift – with no guarantee it would be received. And, God’s love didn’t require either.

God’s gift is freely given and freely received. If we want it, it’s ours. God’s gift of Jesus is waiting for every soul who desires it. And the way we receive it is by faith. Just as Abraham walked with God by faith, stepping into the promise God made him, we can step into the promise God gives us. By faith, we can receive the gift of Jesus when we believe the gift was intended for us, and we can demonstrate our belief as we walk with God in this new reality. God’s greatest gift of Jesus is available at any moment as well as God’s greatest invitation – to live by faith.

Throughout all time, God has offered this gift of reunion. Some have chosen to receive it and reap its benefits. Abraham believed, and he walked by faith. By faith, his lawless deeds were forgiven. By faith, his sins were covered. By faith, the Lord did not count his sin against him. This was his righteousness. We, like Abraham, are invited to believe. We can receive the gift of Jesus as the substitution for our punishment and begin to live freely with our slate wiped clean. When we do, we can stop beating ourselves up. Instead, we can claim the same blessing of a life fully forgiven, fully made right, and fully reunited with our Creator and Lord.

This message may feel like the best news you’ve ever heard. It may also sound like a repeating gong. Either way, living a faith is an ongoing challenge. We can believe even when we have lingering doubts. Write out a prayer by finishing this sentence: Lord I believe (fill in the blank) … Help me in my unbelief.

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By Yvonne Biel 

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Heaven Hears | Invited Through Belief | Romans 4:2-82019-01-23T22:39:53-07:00
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