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South Fellowship Church

Joy in Praise | Luke 2:14-15

Read Luke 2:14-15

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” “Have a holly, jolly Christmas.” “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Merriment is all around us. We decorate with large letters spelling out “Merry Christmas” and “J.O.Y.” We throw large holiday celebration, and we determine how to make others happy with specially chosen gifts. It’s fascinating to observe how Christmas tends to make us obsessed with happiness and joy.  For those not in the Christmas spirit, we tell stories of the Grinch and Uncle Scrooge to convince them that they, too, should join us in a pursuit of Christmas joy. The emphasis on those who rob Christmas of joy tells us something about what we’re longing for. We even try to help those who channel their “inner Grinch,” and we tell stories of how negative emotions or a refusal to love simply ruins the holiday spirit.

We’re all on a search for happiness. And many people long to experience an extra dose of joy arising from the spirit of Christmas. But ironically, although we want happiness, we struggle to experience happiness simply by trying to be happy. Unfortunately, we can’t churn up joy instantly. Joy can only be an overflow of what we’re cherishing in our heart. Joy flows out of what we love and what we praise.

In other words, joy results from what we worship. And, whether we realize it or not, we’re always worshipping something.

If we’re honest, we may find ourselves struggling to experience true happiness this Christmas, too. We may focus on loving loved ones; loving new things; loving the sights, the smells, and the sounds of fond childhood memories. And it can be true that, as we savor and praise the spirit of Christmas, we experience joy and happiness in the process. However, the dilemma is that praising the holiday spirit will eventually fail us. The sights and smells and sounds will be put away. Our new gifts will lose their luster. Loved ones will continue to fail us.

Yet, when our praise flows from the true source, holiday festivities become icing on the cake as we praise the unfailing source of our joy. This holiday was never designed to generate worship of a seasonal spirit. The true source is not a “spirit” as in a “general atmosphere,” but a Spirit who is the person of Christ. From His Spirit flow joy, salvation, freedom, and purpose.  Just like the angels respond with singing about the “good news of great joy,” this holiday began as a celebration of the birth of a little Jewish boy in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago — and it’s turned into the greatest celebration of merriment and happiness in our calendars today. True Christmas joy is the result of Jesus coming to rescue us from the trap of sin and death. He comes to punish sin and conquer death, and so we sing along with the heavenly realms, “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!”

Reflection and Response

Advent is a time of joy and a time to sing praises for what the Lord has done for us. Write your own song of praise to the Lord today celebrating what he has done for you! 

By Yvonne Biel  

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Joy in Praise | Luke 2:14-152019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00

Joy in Jubilee | Luke 4:16-21

Read Luke 4:16-21

It was a radically different law from any other they had ever heard. God told his people to take every seventh day for rest and worship. He then told them to give the land a Sabbath rest every seventh year during which no crops were to be planted or harvested. In Leviticus 25, God explained his plan for Jubilee. Jubilee was to take place every 49 years. All debt was forgiven, slaves were to go free, and the people were to return to their family’s land even if it had been mortgaged away from them. It was to be a year of great liberty and freedom.

Fast-forward thousands of years to Jesus in a Jewish synagogue, unrolling a scroll and reading from Isaiah 61. The words he read and then claimed to fulfill were words of Jubilee. Jubilee was not a foreign concept to Jesus’ audience, but by this time in Israel’s history, it seemed like wishful thinking. Not only were the people under the rule of the Roman Empire, but they also lived in a culture in which poverty and captivity were seen as a sign of God’s distaste. When Jesus came to earth as a child, he was sent to declare true Jubilee: Christmas Jubilee.

The declaration Jesus made on that day was not for a one-year Jubilee, but an everlasting jubilee. Christmas is a yearly reminder that Jesus’ life is a proclamation of good news. The year of the Lord’s favor is this year — and every year that follows!

Perhaps you find it difficult to experience the beauty and power of Jesus’ declaration of liberty. It could be that you don’t identify with being poor, captive, blind, or oppressed, but in many ways, you are. Stepping into the joy of “Christmas Jubilee” requires that we remember our need for this liberty. True liberty was given to the world when Jesus came, and we can still step into it today.

Reflection and Response

Sometimes we have to remember our need for jubilee before we can receive the joy of jubilee. In what ways are you in need of a “Christmas Jubilee?” Confess today what you would like to be free set free from — and confess that from which Jesus has already begun to set you free. 

By Aaron Bjorklund  

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Joy in Jubilee | Luke 4:16-212019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00

Joy in Justice | Psalm 37:1-9

Read Psalm 37:1-9

The more I hear about the state of our world, the more I’m thankful that I trust in a just God, the lover of justice. It’s very difficult to hear about harsh realities from all over the world — and even right here in our own neighborhoods. The injustices in this world seem so immense. We often have a difficult time imagining what we could even do to alleviate the smallest oppressive act.

In Psalm 37, we begin to see God’s roadmap for us in this time of oppression, injustice, and hate. We’re exhorted to stop fretting and to stop being jealous of those doing wrong. “Fret” is an old word, likely originating in  the 14th century. The verb form in English originally took on the meaning, “to devour, feed upon, or consume.” This is the perfect word for our times, and it appears three times in this passage! Isn’t it ironic that fretting and jealousy end up consuming us – both our time and our mind?

The godly advice from David continues. He says, “Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever” (Psalm 37:27). We’re urged to trust in God, dwelling with intimate faith. God is to be our delight, and to him we are to commit ourselves. We are to be still and wait patiently for God. We are to steer clear of anger and wrath. David says those doing evil won’t inherit the land — a blessing promised by God. Some pretty good advice, I think. In the end, we realize that God is going to act. He’ll deliver. And, as physical inhabitants of the Kingdom of God on Earth, we’ll be agents of God’s just work.

As the time of year approaches when we celebrate the coming of the King of Peace, let’s remember the way of life God has taught us through Jesus: to love God with our entire being, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This fallen and broken creation will always be swirling with injustice and evil. It won’t stop until Jesus returns. Yet in this season and all others, may we proclaim the liberty we find in Christ to all who will listen!

Reflection and Response

Did you know that the most repeated phrase in all of Scripture is “Do not be afraid?” When do you tend to be afraid? Today, admit your fears in regard to the injustice of this world. Know that, when you call fear out, it loses power because Jesus comes to silence our fears. And one day, he will come again to make things completely right. Allow him to silence your fears by bring them before him today. 

By Rich Obrecht  

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Joy in Justice | Psalm 37:1-92019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00

Advent of Joy | Isaiah 61:1-11

  1. PREPARE

Isaiah 61 is a rather dense chapter, but it’s overflowing with jubilant imagery. This piece of prophecy offers a new picture of joy and celebration on the backdrop of pain and suffering. Centuries after they were written, these same words were spoken by Jesus as he launched his ministry on earth. Jesus claimed to be the prophet of whom Isaiah spoke, a prophet who would bring “good news of great joy.”

2. READ ISAIAH 61:1-11

As you read through this passage, picture the faces of prisoners in exile being set free. Imagine ruined cities being rebuilt. Envision the rejoicing as men, women, and children as they celebrate their new life robed in brand new clothing.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

 because the Lord has anointed me

 to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

 to proclaim freedom for the captives

 and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

 and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

 instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

 instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

 instead of a spirit of despair.

 

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

 a planting of the Lord

 for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins

 and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

 that have been devastated for generations.

Strangers will shepherd your flocks;

 foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

And you will be called priests of the Lord,

 you will be named ministers of our God.

You will feed on the wealth of nations,

 and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame

 you will receive a double portion,

and instead of disgrace

 you will rejoice in your inheritance.

And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,

 and everlasting joy will be yours.

 

“For I, the Lord, love justice;

 I hate robbery and wrongdoing.

In my faithfulness I will reward my people

 and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their descendants will be known among the nations

 and their offspring among the peoples.

All who see them will acknowledge

 that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

 

I delight greatly in the Lord;

 my soul rejoices in my God.

For he has clothed me with garments of salvation

 and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,

as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

 and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the soil makes the sprout come up

 and a garden causes seeds to grow,

so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness

 and praise spring up before all nations.

3. RESPOND

Advent is a season of anticipated joy. During Advent, we look forward to the joy of celebrations. We look forward to being with friends and family. We look forward the festive foods and beverages. We anticipate joy to come. As you prepare for Christmas, think through what you would like to celebrate. 

By Yvonne Biel  

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Advent of Joy | Isaiah 61:1-112019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00

Comfort in Might and Mercy | Matthew 2:1-6

Read Matthew 2:1-6

The wise men ask an interesting question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Perhaps the wise men wondered why the star led them to a small peasant town, instead of a capital city like Jerusalem, to see a king. Maybe they wondered why this king was born in an animal manger instead of a palace. When the wise men found Jesus, they must have pondered, “What child is this?” They must have been amazed at the angelic hosts and the shepherds sent instead of loyal subjects. Yet, even if they were perplexed, the wise men still responded with joy, worship, and gifts. Since then, centuries of people have continued to wonder about this baby born in Bethlehem, the city where David was anointed king.

In Matthew’s references to Old Testament prophets, he not only declares the birthplace of the long-awaited redeemer of Israel prophesied 600 years before, but he also uses two metaphors to describe this baby. Jesus will be both a mighty “ruler” and a “shepherd” tenderly tending to his people.

With a similar wonder, an unknown writer considers the following about Jesus:

“He who is the Bread of Life began His ministry hungering in the wilderness. He who is the Water of Life ended His ministry thirsting on the cross. Christ hungered as a man, yet fed the multitudes as God. He was weary, yet He is our rest. He prayed, yet he hears prayers. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, yet He redeems sinners. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd. He died, and by dying destroyed death.”

We can have comfort because he who is our strong deliverer also has a tender heart. His arms sustain the universe, but they also gather lambs. He is the beginning and the end, fully God and fully man, the everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.

Reflection and Response

Read the prophecy from Micah 5:2 and wonder at how this prophecy was directly fulfilled centuries later in the person of Jesus. Spend a few moments today worshiping God by singing “What Child is This?” a Christmas carol derived from a longer poem by William Dix called “The Manger Throne.” Use this carol to ponder all that Jesus Christ is — the promised, long-awaited Messiah, coming in might and with mercy, to you.

By Donna Burns  

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Comfort in Might and Mercy | Matthew 2:1-62019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00

Comfort in Beholding | Isaiah 40:9

Read Isaiah 40:9

Seared in my memory forever are the first moments of seeing each of my children after they were born. Each of these times, it was as though the world stood still, time stopped, and love invaded my life in a way I didn’t know was possible. The weeks following any given child’s birth, I can remember Kelly and I just staring at our baby. It was like we had a new hobby: staring contests with the object being our new baby. Like people sit around a campfire listening to its crackling and staring at its magnificence, we looked at our children, staring intently — hoping not to miss a single sound, movement, or potentially funny glance. There’s something captivating and mesmerizing about the miracle of life.

There’s a comfort and energy in the act of beholding. That may be why the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9, emphasis mine). Isaiah’s command is to behold – to look intently and absorb. Mary understood this calling. After recording the birth of Christ, Luke wrote, “But Mary treasured all these things up, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). One gets the picture of Mary taking time to stare into the marvelous mystery – seeing past the baby and into the fact that she was holding the savior of the world. She stopped, she pondered, and she treasured. She beheld, and it changed her!

The Advent season is a time of beholding. It’s designed to force us to pause and look squarely at the person of Jesus – to see the baby born in a manger, coming to be the King of the world. It’s a truth that many know and believe, but rarely behold because we don’t pause long enough to hold the mystery.

Beholding takes time; it doesn’t happen immediately. Beholding takes intention; it doesn’t happen by accident. Beholding takes interaction; it doesn’t happen from a distance. Since it doesn’t happen immediately, accidently, or from a distance, for many of us, it doesn’t happen at all.

Advent speaks into our shallow, fast-paced life and beckons us deeper. It challenges us to stop, to ponder, and to treasure in our hearts “the Godhead veiled in flesh, / the incarnate Deity, / pleased as man with man to dwell, / Jesus, our Emmanuel!”

Reflection and Response

Advent echoes the cry of Isaiah: “Behold your God!” Spend a few minutes savoring your God today by listing the attributes you love most about God. Speak or write these words, and then let the words sink into your heart by beholding what you’ve just expressed.

By Ryan Paulson

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Comfort in Beholding | Isaiah 40:92019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00

Comfort in the Promise | Luke 1:68-79

Read Luke 1:68-79

It’s amazing to me the things I remember from my childhood. One thing I remember was my dad telling me never to make promises I didn’t intend to keep. This life lesson sounds a bit like Ecclesiastes 5:5: “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” I’ve taken this to heart over the years, especially when my children were growing up. Not only did I make sure I didn’t build up false hope in them, but I also told them this truth just as my dad told me. Some things bear repeating.

During many years of oppression, the Israelites longed for a season of comfort. There are ample stories in the Old Testament describing their time waiting for the Messiah. Through the centuries, their trials and troubles at the hands of their oppressors gave them more and more reason to hope for deliverance. All these hopes were continually rolled forward to the day the promised Messiah would come and assure their deliverance.

God delivered on his promise to his people, the Israelites. But the deliverer who came from above wasn’t one to deliver them from their oppressors. No, he came to deliver them from themselves. They were looking for someone to push the oppressor back, but Jesus came to deliver them from the even darker abyss of misguided worship and misdirected devotion. In place of this darkness, Jesus came to bring abundance of joy, peace, and unquenchable love. Indeed, Jesus came to adopt us and invite us into covenant relationship with the Living God. Even as we have our own struggles and rough patches, we continue to realize God’s promises – not as a distant promise, but as a comfort for today.

Reflection and Response 

God has already come through on many of his promises. As you read through this section of Isaiah 53-54, praise God for his faithfulness to these promises – especially because his faithfulness caused him pain. “For he grew up before him like a young plant…. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.… Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him.… He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors…. ‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment, I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 53:2a, 4a, 7a, 10a, 12b; 54:7-8).

By Rich Obrecht  

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Comfort in the Promise | Luke 1:68-792019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00

Comfort in the Valley | Luke 3:2-9

Read Luke 3:2-9

Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to play fantasy football. In doing so, I’ve learned an interesting thing about fantasy sports: you’re always at the mercy of real players and their real performance. You can attempt to predict how well a player will perform and decide who will start and who won’t, but after you select which players to include for a given week, it’s out of your hands.

The promises God made through prophets are a bit like playing fantasy football. We can try to understand what God’s up to, but we’re ultimately at the mercy of his actions. Our hope for success in life rises or falls depending on how much we trust God to perform as he said he would.

Now, fast forward from Isaiah’s prophecy to the time of John the Baptist. The people of Israel felt they were in a valley, looking for God to show up as he said he would. They had heard the ancient stories where God seemed actively involved in the lives of his people, and they were looking forward to the day when God would free them from the tyranny of other nations. When Luke references the prophecy of Isaiah 40, he’s pointing to this promise. God was the one who would make the mountains low and straighten the crooked places (Isaiah 40:4).

The only problem with John’s message is that he seems to change the rules of the game, pointing them to a new kind of fulfillment. The people wanted God to flatten the mountains of political tyranny, but instead, God flattens mountains of meaninglessness and confusion. He makes straight the road to a life consistent with His heart. The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction wasn’t just about a nation descended from Abraham. It wasn’t just about freedom from current political oppression or societal suffering. It was about the people of God bearing good fruit in every way, for all nations and all generations to see.

Reflection and Response

Christmastime can often magnify the valleys we feel – the areas where we feel lonely, discouraged, or absent of meaning. Use this time to consider those who are hurting this Christmas season and intercede on behalf. Today, reach out to one of those people with a phone call, text message, or brief visit.

By Aaron Bjorklund  

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Comfort in the Valley | Luke 3:2-92019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00

Comfort in Relief | Psalm 85:1-2

Read Psalm 85:1-2

Are you feeling tested by overwhelming cares and losses this advent season? Are international news, bosses, broken cars, sinful habits, or relationships taking their toll and producing tension in your daily life? Daily concerns like these seem to compound and carry us to a place we don’t want to be. But we’re not alone. Israel found herself exiled in a foreign land as a consequence of turning away from God. The young virgin Mary found herself in an extraordinary, inexplicable pregnancy in a culture where she could be stoned for illegitimate conception. We may find ourselves tangled in the tinsel and troubles of traditions in a culture carried away by consumerism and materialism. Our hearts and souls cry out for relief. Our bodies and minds seek release from daily turbulence.

Yet our God has given us a book filled with his precious stories revealing his character and promises. God’s words bring comfort to every sorrowful and suffering saint. When we read his Word, we remember that God is sovereign. He has foreseen, foreknown, and foreordained all things. Our God is all-powerful. He made the heaven and the earth and walks on the wind (Psalm 104:3). God cares: he knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30) and collects our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). God pardons our iniquity: Psalm 85 says all of their sin was covered, and so is ours. God promised a redeemer — and he delivered. Jesus came to earth as a baby, and he grew into the God-man to fulfill, once and for all, God’s need for atonement for the sin of every tongue, tribe, nation and people.

These words can bring us comfort. But even when relief comes and tension is released, there may still be consequences. The aftermath of war, disaster, crisis, or pain involves rebuilding. And rebuilding involves change, rescheduling, and work. Thankfully, God promises to be with us through it all. He will never leave us, and he will never slumber or sleep. God has been true to his promises — and he will be true in the rebuilding efforts, too.

Reflection and Response

God is our strength and our consolation. He is the hope, desire, and joy of every longing heart. By his own sufficient merit, he will bring us all to his glorious throne. Use the second verse of the Christmas carol written by Charles Wesley to continue your prayer for comfort today. This time direct your prayers toward others who are experiencing daily turbulence.

Born Thy people to deliver,/ Born a child and yet a King;/ Born to reign in us forever,/ Now Thy gracious kingdom bring./ By Thine own eternal Spirit,/ Rule in all our hearts alone;/ By Thine all sufficient merit,/ Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

By Donna Burns  

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Comfort in Relief | Psalm 85:1-22019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00

Comfort is Coming | Luke 2:25-35

Read Luke 2:25-35

As we enter this story today, we find a man waiting for consolation. Have you ever been there? Perhaps you’ve been waiting for some answers or waiting for someone to show up and offer some relief. If so, you can empathize with Simeon as he sits in the waiting room of life. On top of his own story, he follows a long legacy of those who have been waiting, too. Generations upon generations before him have been waiting on relief from their constant fight for freedom under generations of oppression.

Yet, suddenly, right in the middle of the waiting room, comfort appears. Simeon’s comfort first comes with a promise. Luke says, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). What a lucky guy! The Spirit came to comfort him and reveal that the story is not over. In fact, this promise means big changes are on the horizon. Nevertheless, the waiting period wasn’t over for him. Simeon continued waiting – until comfort came as a little tiny person.

As Simeon takes the precious newborn in his arms, you can almost feel the comfort welling up in his soul. His long-awaited comfort had come! His eyes had seen the faithfulness of God first hand. His hands had touched the promise of God fulfilled. And his heart leapt for joy. This account of Simeon’s life is now our comfort. And, just like for Simeon, our comfort first comes in the form of a promise and then, one day, in the form of a person.

Reflection and Response 

Today, use the first verse of this old Christmas Carol by Charles Wesley as a prayer for comfort. Jesus is not only Israel’s consolation; he is your promised comfort, too. Pray for God to comfort you today through this song that has been sung for over 250 years:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,/ Born to set Thy people free;/ From our fears and sins release us,/ Let us find our rest in Thee./ Israel’s Strength and Consolation,/ Hope of all the earth Thou art;/ Dear Desire of every nation,/ Joy of every longing heart.

By Yvonne Biel

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Comfort is Coming | Luke 2:25-352019-02-09T12:06:32-07:00
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