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South Fellowship Church

Advent Devotional 2018

Walking in the Spirit | Galatians 5:21-23

Read Galatians 5:21-23.

As I walked to school with my friends, we’d talk and dream about gifts we hoped to get for Christmas.

Invariably, the conversation would change to what it’d be like if Christmas was every day. What if every morning we woke up to gifts and they were gifts we actually wanted, not gifts parents typically give, like socks and t-shirts? The pace of the conversation would pick up, we’d get all the more excited, and then someone would see the school. The conversation would quickly die down and reality would set in. We all knew that day wouldn’t be another Christmas morning.

While such childhood conversations and dreams are unrealistic, we as believers have fruit being born in us daily as we journey in our faith, walking in the Spirit. And we need these gifts every day: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Who wouldn’t want those? Who wouldn’t want to share them? These fruit are given to us in our relationship with Jesus and they’re not private gifts. No, these gifts are seen by all around us.  

Christmas is a joyous time of year for many. As we celebrate Christmas with family and friends, I’m sure conversations will include gifts hoped for and whispers of gifts to be given. Almost certainly, we’ll talk and sing about how Christ came to be with us and how his birth led to his sacrifice for us and our redemption. May we not only daily recognize and appreciate the gifts generously given by the Spirit, but also liberally share them with those around us. In this way, our childhood dreams of Christmas gifts every day are realized, both given and received!

REFLECT AND RESPOND

Notice ways the fruits of the Spirit show up in your day today and in this Christmas season. Take initiative to let others know how much you appreciate the gifts of the Spirit they are sharing as well.

 

By Rich Obrecht

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Walking in the Spirit | Galatians 5:21-232019-07-22T16:35:31-06:00

Dwelling in Us | 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Spirit in us. We know the story. Jesus came to accomplish something – to establish his kingdom in this world and to work in the hearts of individuals. Words from Jeremiah echo the promise that “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

Shortly before Jesus indicates the completion of his task, “It is finished,” he told his followers of the Comforter he would send to help and be with us forever (John 14:16). Paul’s words paint additional details for his readers: we are temples of the Holy Spirit, being built together into a dwelling where God lives by his spirit. He lives in me and in us.

If you are like me you may be asking, “Is there evidence of the Spirit’s work in and through me?” While this is a natural question in the West, in Eastern cultures the question might be, “Do people see evidence of fruit in us?” The texts support both ideas, but for those of us from the West, it may be helpful to consider that although Jesus indeed loves me, he does much of his work through us, the collective body of Christ.

The fishermen among the apostles, who Jesus made fishers of men, did their work as a group. During this Advent season the Spirit works in and through us as a family, community and church so that we and others can be filled to the fullest of Christmas joy.

REFLECT + RESPOND

Early Jesus followers had the conviction that their bodies had become the new temple, housing God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Imagine that, the sacred space where heaven and earth overlapped was now humanity. Consider how much dignity and worth that exuded to people who had been walking in darkness.

 

By Harvey Shepard

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Dwelling in Us | 1 Corinthians 6:19-202019-07-22T16:35:31-06:00

Dwelling Among Us | John 1:14

When my kids were younger, we’d dress up and play make-believe games where superheroes conquered bad guys and princesses ruled over the extravagant castles. We’d dress up in character, make forts, and enjoy the afternoon in another world. But after the playtime was over, we’d get out of our costumes and go back to “normal.”

Christmas is the time when we dwell on how God has pursued humanity to the point of becoming human. As Eugene Peterson phrased it in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Essentially, God decided to dress up in a body – the infinite became the finite infant. But what strikes me is that Jesus never went back to “normal.” We tend to think of Jesus’ time on earth as the only time he was human. We imagine that after he ascended to heaven he changed back to his preincarnate state – but that’s not the case. Jesus never changed out of his humanity. He never ditched his body and stopped being the God-man. Certainly his body was changed at the resurrection (just like ours will be), but he is in his resurrected glorified body in heaven right now. He is still human!

That God would not only take our frame, but keep our frame, is astonishing. What love, grace, and mercy. And what sacrifice. If that doesn’t affirm the goodness and dignity of humanity, I’m not sure what would. As Charles Wesley so poignantly stated, God was “pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” Incarnation was a price God himself paid because of love and it was an act so audacious that it still causes all of the heavenly realm to stand in awe (1 Peter 1:12).

REFLECT + RESPOND

Take some time today and ponder Jesus’ scars still on his hands, feet, and side today in heaven. They are a display of his love for you.

 

By Ryan Paulson

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Dwelling Among Us | John 1:142019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Fullness of Spirit | Galatians 4:6-7

RELAX + REFOCUS

Close your eyes and allow your mind to be still. Turn your palms downward as you let go of all distractions and cares. Now turn your palms upward as a physical posture of opening yourself up to receive the living word  from your Abba Father.

READ

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:6-7

REFLECT + RESPOND

What are some of the images of the Spirit of God that come to mind? What is he like? What does he do? How has your understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit changed over the years and through what means? Ask the Spirit now to teach you and grow you through our study of the scriptures this week.

FAMILY ACTIVITY IDEAS

Draw what first comes to mind when they think of the Holy Spirit. Discuss your drawings together.

By Ellen Rosenberger 

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Fullness of Spirit | Galatians 4:6-72019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Redeeming Family | John 1:11-13

Read John 1:11-13.

Family. A word that holds promise for some, but a world of pain for others. Family. Where our sweetest joys can be found, as well as where our deepest scars can exist.

Many of us are carrying burdens and hurts from strained family relationships. We may desire to be in close relationship with family but may realize that desire is not reciprocated. Or perhaps we’ve been hurt too often and there doesn’t seem to be any hope for reconciliation. Why does family strife hurt so much. Why do we place such high hopes upon family and why can we feel such deep sorrow over familial estrangement? I believe it goes back to the garden where perfect relationship flourished between man and woman. But sin tarnished the design of family. Brother killing brother. Families split over pride, jealousy, and anger – so totally opposite of how our loving God purposed for his creation to live and work together in peace and right relationship.

Our hearts burn for a return to what was: relationships built of truth, peace, and intimate engagement. Yet, we live in a world where that is often not a reality. Even Jesus can relate to the pain and disappointment we may feel in our families. He was rejected by his own brothers who did not place their faith in him and even betrayed and denied him. He knows what relational pain feels like.

But there is hope. At Christmas we remember there is hope. God is redeeming this world and he is redeeming family through Jesus. As we’ve reflected on this week, we are adopted into a new family. An eternal family. And our new family will live together in peace, without sin or tears or pain or disunity for the rest of time.

REFLECT + RESPOND

Does a certain family relationship seem impossible for Jesus to redeem? Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your prayer for that person. Would you be willing to commit to praying for that person each day this coming week?

By Ellen Rosenberger 

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Redeeming Family | John 1:11-132019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Accessing Destiny | Psalm 2:1-8

Read Psalm 2:1-8.

Presently, we see global rulers who negotiate through whatever means necessary. We watch as those in positions of power and governmental authority try to set themselves apart to gain influence and harness human control. But to what end? In Psalm 2, the Psalmist depicts God sitting in the heavens mocking the prideful hearts of the rulers of earth. In reality, it is God who possesses the ends of the earth and has the authority to give out nations as his inheritance.

When God opens the invitation for us to become his children, this includes receiving what is rightfully his as inheritance – authority and dominion. Paul says, “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16). Humans have always been designed to receive dominion (Genesis 1:28). And Christmas reminds us Jesus is coming to redeem dominion and to invite us into his royal inheritance once again. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” (Isaiah 9:6)

When Jesus enters as a child, he exists in human form and begins to take back his rightful authority of the earth through subversive means. Now, through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne and we, as his children and co-heirs, inherit what is rightfully his. Christmas means our destiny is redeemed. We no longer need to fear the rulers of this earth, but we can trust God to give out his inheritance with goodness and justice and perfect peace. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7).

REFLECT + RESPOND

A redeemed destiny is reason to worship. Join in the song Unto Us by listening in Hillong’s version on youtube found below.

 

By Yvonne Biel 

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Accessing Destiny | Psalm 2:1-82019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Forming Christ in Us | Galatians 4:19-20

Read Galatians 4:19-20.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, the younger son takes his share of the estate and squanders all of his wealth. He gets to the lowest possible point, starving and desperate. At that moment, he comes to his senses and decides to return to his father. Yet, he is convinced his father will never accept him as a son after his poor choices, so he decides to ask to be a hired servant. Incredibly, when the father sees the young son approaching, he runs to him and embraces him. The younger son, despite his mistakes, brokenness, and sin, was not accepted as a hired servant, but was welcomed home as a fully loved child.

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, came into this world as a human, living a perfect life, dying on a cross for our sins to offer us new life. By faith in him, we become children of God and begin to be transformed by Jesus from the inside out. Transformation comes as the Spirit shapes us into people who live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This Christmas, we celebrate that Christ was born, that we might be transformed. Not just behavior modification, but rather true transformation as Christ is formed in us.

Reflect + Respond:

Take a moment to really ponder these song lyrics: “I’m no longer a slave to sin, I am a child of God.” What would it look like for you to no longer live in constant fear and worry, but instead to live in freedom in Christ and his deep love for you?

 

By Billy Berglund 

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Forming Christ in Us | Galatians 4:19-202019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Offering Adoption | Ephesians 1:5

Read Ephesians 1:5.

My story of adoption starts in Calcutta, India. My birth mother had me when she was around 14. I don’t know much about her background, but I do know I was found in the streets of Calcutta by one of Mother Teresa’s nuns.

Growing up I hated being adopted. I hated being different, the only non-white person in my family. I was desperate to fit in. I had developed an anguish in my soul towards the India that I hated so much and I didn’t want to be recognized as different, just as an American.

My family, of course, loved me and told me I was chosen. But there was still an empty place inside of my heart that made me feel unknown. It wasn’t until college that God revealed his beautiful love and grace to me in an unexpected way. I was asked to go on a missions trip to India for 4 months. I immediately said no, but after a lot of prayer, I decided to step into an adventure that forever changed my life and views on adoption.

One day, as I was walking in a small village, a guy came up to me begging me to take his beautiful, bright eyed, black haired baby girl. I looked into her eyes and finally understood what it meant to be adopted. I saw this little one, desperate to be loved and taken into a loving family. So innocent and unable to speak for herself.

This experience broke my heart because I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t take her, but I knew in that moment how much God saved me, how He saw me, how He chose me to be part of my family. In that moment I realized just how much God loves and cares for us. God knew my story; he had a plan for my life.

REFLECT + RESPOND

Ponder the connection between Rachel’s adoption story and your “adopted into God’s Kingdom family” story. Imagine going through this Advent season as an orphan; offer a prayer of thanksgiving to your Abba Father for sending Jesus to earth so you could be his child.

By Rachel Cookston 

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Offering Adoption | Ephesians 1:52019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Becoming Children | Isaiah 40

Read Isaiah 40:1-20

“Behold our God!” Isaiah marvels at who God is and what he’s done. There is no God like him. He is OUR God. It is he who created the world (v. 12-17) and revealed his glory (v. 8). It is he who sits above the circle of the earth to rule (v.22) with wisdom (v.28) and with might (v. 10). He does not grow weary (v. 28). His people have received from his hand (v. 2) comfort (v.1), guidance (v. 28), and forgiveness (v.2). He renews the strength of those who wait for him (v.31).

During Isaiah’s day the idea of a close, caring and personal God was revolutionary. False gods were to be appeased and avoided. There was no assurance of their favor or relationship. Other major world religions continue to this day to be based on performance and fear. Followers are never sure if they have done enough. The One True God, Yahweh, is driven by intimacy for his creation. He loved us so much he became one of us, to bring us into fellowship with him.  He has secured our belonging to him forever. He chose us. We can be confident of our identity in Christ.

This Advent, let us marvel at the humility of God, becoming one of us, so we could become his family, his sons and daughters. Jesus even calls us his brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:50). Isaiah describes God our Father with pictures of tenderness: “he gathers us in his arms, he holds us close“ (v. 11). “He speaks tenderly” (v. 2).  

REFLECT + RESPOND

Listen to the Isaiah 40 passages in Part 1 of Handel’s Messiah and marvel at our Father God. Play the video below to listen to Isaiah 40:9.  Revel in the intimacy that you are his child. Hear him speak tenderly to you today.

By Donna Burns  

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Becoming Children | Isaiah 402019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00

Regifting Christmas | Romans 5:17

11Read Romans 5:17.

Have you ever regifted a present? Or have you received a gift you were pretty sure had been regifted? Whether you’ve given or received a regifted present, it probably felt awkward; after all, the gift was originally intended for someone else.

What if a regift could be a great gift? What if it’s the best gift? Receiving a regifted Christmas present can feel awkward. But when we really ponder the Christmas story, we find that it’s all about God regifting, in the most beautiful, non-awkward way. The Apostle Paul wrote, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5). The gift of Christmas is: humanity invited to become children of God. However, it’s a gift already given thousands of years ago. Adam and Eve were created as God’s children and designed to enjoy relationship with their creator. They walked and talked with God until they sinned and ruined the communion he created them to enjoy. Their relationship with their creator became fractured.

But God was not content in allowing his creation to live separate from him. Each Christmas we celebrate the reality that God is regifting the invitation to become his children. What Adam and Eve lost in the garden, Jesus begins to regain in the manger. Paul made the point by writing, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). The greatest gift ever given, that humanity squandered, is once again being offered through the life of Jesus the Messiah. It’s life, hope, righteousness, and sonship, that is regifted to humanity through the birth of Jesus.

REFLECT + RESPOND

Take a moment today and reflect on the regift of Christmas – the gift of sonship. It’s such an extravagant gift, God gives it twice!

 

By Ryan Paulson 

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Regifting Christmas | Romans 5:172019-07-22T16:35:32-06:00
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