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South Fellowship Church

Jesus Prayer | Luke 18:13

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Luke 18:13

“Lord, have mercy!” What does it mean to us when we call out in this way? Many people use this as a catchphrase, an exclamation used after being startled. But what does it truly mean? The definition relates to compassion or forgiveness given by someone with the authority and power to punish. That sheds a little light on the word, but in the context of this tax collector, what does it entail? There’s a lot to learn from this little snippet of scripture within its context.

As much as paying taxes nowadays is an experience we’d rather not have, and how much we might dislike the people having this role, tax collectors during the times of Jesus were despised. Their lot was to garner tax monies from the local populace. As long as their leadership was satisfied with the taxes brought to the coffers of the kingdom, the collectors had the freedom to pad what they gathered from the people, sometimes to excess. Imagine the IRS doing that to you. I’m thinking you’d be displeased.

The person referenced in this passage is speaking to God, humbled to the degree his eyes were cast down, and could only ask God in this way for mercy. God certainly had the power and authority to punish this person. But, in their obvious stance and perspective of humility, observed in derision by the Pharisee, they knew to ask for mercy. The point of this passage is to illustrate trust in God and not in self, with the tax collector demonstrating the unswerving trust in God.

For today, if your thoughts happen upon mercy, or you find yourself saying something like “Have mercy,” or “Lord, have mercy,” stop and pray the short ‘tax collector’ prayer, and ask God for mercy towards you, a sinner, and remember to reflect the sharing of mercy to others.

By Rich Obrecht

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Jesus Prayer | Luke 18:132019-07-22T16:35:09-06:00

Humbling Ourselves | Luke 18:9-14

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10

If only the Jesus way were easier. Our sin-affected souls naturally compare and are prideful. Humility is the harder choice. But it’s the better one, because it leads to freedom, forgiveness, joy, and peace.

If I’m honest, I’ve often wanted to skip the process and get to the results. I want the end goal but not the hard work of humbling my heart. Why is it so difficult? It could be we don’t see our sin (or more accurately, don’t want to see our sin). We might be afraid. Perhaps we think it’s too hard to do.

Part of what guides the heart toward humility is a recognition of brokenness. I believe the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this process as he reveals truth and moves us to action. One experience I will never forget occurred at a marriage conference. The topic of the morning was about a wife submitting to her husband, but the teaching was paired with the importance of submitting our lives to the Holy Spirit. That need reached the depths of my soul and I knew then that the only way I’d be able to submit willingly to my husband was to humble myself to the lordship of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The couples dispersed in the lawn outside to discuss the session. In a moment of clarity and conviction, not concerned with what anyone else would think, I pushed knees to the earth as I recognized my brokenness, humbled myself, and asked the Holy Spirit to aid me in submitting to Christ and to my husband. What joy and peace flooded my heart in that moment and in the days to follow. I also felt led to confess my brokenness and obstinance to my husband. I found even further relief and joy as I did what it says in James 5:16: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5: 16)

Have you had an experience(s) in humbling yourself before God? What was that like for you and what did you experience as a result? Today, try a new posture to represent the humbling of your heart. Perhaps kneeling or facing palms up. Perhaps you also take the brave step to confess your sin to a trusted friend or pastor.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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Humbling Ourselves | Luke 18:9-142019-07-22T16:35:09-06:00

Exalting Ourselves | Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

When we think of self-exaltation, we often think of someone like this Pharisee: blatant, obnoxious, maybe a little braggy. But exalting ourselves, more often than not, takes a more subtle form. It can look like name-dropping, social media posting, or even just taking over a conversation. I had a friend who, whenever anyone shared information about their life, would launch into a story about their experiences. They didn’t really listen to the initial story but used it as a platform to show everyone else how interesting or knowledgeable they were. We all probably know someone like this but we also have to reckon with our own tendencies to self-exaltation. After all, it’s not a temptation that only affects other people.

Exalting ourselves typically springs from a deep need and insecurity. I think my friend’s pattern of self-exaltation came out of a deep desire to be known and appreciated by other people. Trying to convince others of how talented, qualified or interesting we are reveals a need for connection, love, and acceptance. A need for belonging. A need deeply rooted in our wiring as relational beings made in God’s image. Exalting ourselves to God, like the Pharisee, demonstrates a need to be okay before God and loved by him. Also, a need deeply connected to how we were created.

These needs are indicators of good desires, but we all face the temptation to meet these needs in a mis-ordered way. Instead of recognizing our need before God in humility, we try to satisfy the need by pushing our own accomplishments and righteousness onto God and others saying, “Don’t you see how great I am? You have to love me now!” But friends, that’s a trap. In no way will the need for connection, belonging, and love be filled by forcing someone to accept you. That’s not what love truly is. The need will only increase. So what do we do? We can start by identifying our needs and how we are trying to fill them, and, like the tax collector, ask God to fill that need.

Think about where and when you are tempted to exalt yourself, whether to God or other people. What need are you trying to fill? In what specific ways are you trying to fill it? Now imagine yourself bringing your need to Jesus. How does he respond? What does he say to you? How can Jesus begin to fill that need?

By Jessica Rust

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Exalting Ourselves | Luke 18:9-142019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Trusting in Ourselves | Luke 18:9

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at  a distance. He would not even look up at heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 NIV

Two men came to the temple to pray. One came in complete honesty and humility. The other came trusting in his own ability to be justified before God. The tax collector asked for God’s help. The Pharisee thanked God he was not like other men, other sinners. He trusted in his own will and actions to make himself right and acceptable to God.

When I was in Junior High, I knew many people who built themselves up by putting other people down. It was hurtful to be that person always being torn down. During this time, I had an assignment to read The Outsiders. I believe God used this book to help me see that people often put others down because they are insecure and they tear others down to build themselves up.

Have you ever done that? I know I have. Every time I have interrupted another person while he or she is telling me their story or their pain. Every time I had to have the last word in a conversation, and did not actively listen to another person, but had to get my point across. Perhaps you also have put yourself and your abilities above hearing or helping another person.

The truth is we will never measure up to God’s standards in our own power. Trusting in ourselves and our human ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to try and make ourselves worthy in God’s sight will never work. Making ourselves look better or more righteous by putting other people down leaves us empty, alone and feeling unworthy. “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord,” Proverbs 16:2.

Like the tax collector in this parable, God calls us to surrender ourselves, and our abilities to him. He desires that we be honest with ourselves, and with him. Above all else, God desires to be in relationship with us and that requires open and honest communication with him. God does not need or desire for you to do “good things,” constantly comparing yourself favorably with those around us. Instead, God wants you to “pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord,” Lam. 2:19b. This week think about the words you use in your conversations. Confess to God anything he reveals to you that was said in a boastful or self-centered manner.

By Grace Hunter

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Trusting in Ourselves | Luke 18:92019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Two Men | Luke 18:9-10

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-1

Jesus’ parable sets up a comparison between two men. Two men in the same place, at the same time, praying. There are two postures of the heart, two attitudes in the head and two actions with the hands. Which one do you resonate with? James Boice says, “The parables break through mere words and make us ask whether there has indeed been any real difference in our lives. Isn’t that what we should expect, since the parables come from the lips of Jesus? No one was ever better than Jesus at getting through pretense to reality.”

The two men were opposites spiritually. The Pharisee was respected and revered; the Publican, despised and disrespected. Their prayers were opposite too. One was about himself and the other, a plea to God for mercy. One man felt spiritually rich and prideful, the other humble and poor in spirit. The Pharisee was boasting, the Publican begging. One couldn’t see his blind spots, the other saw his sin. Can you think of other ways they were the same or different?

The two men received different results. Jesus lands an unexpected ending for those listening. The despised sinner was the one justified and went home free and forgiven. The Pharisee was very religious but he was lost without Christ. Do you know Jesus as your Savior – the one who gave his life for your sins? We may think we are good people because we do good things but God says we have all sinned (Rom 3:23).

Which one do you relate to, the Publican or the Pharisee? Why? Are you trusting in your good works or are you trusting in God’s grace? Are you standing on your own two feet or bowing at the feet of Jesus? Different times in our lives we could most likely relate to either man. What reality is Jesus’ comparison showing you? If you relate to the Pharisee, pray for a spirit of humility using Ephesians 2:8-9. If you relate to the Publican, pray Psalm 51:17 with confidence that no matter what you’ve done God hears your cries for help and forgiveness.

By Donna Burns

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Two Men | Luke 18:9-102019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Kingdom is Alive

Jesus opens each of these parables the same way, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” He describes the kingdom using these parable stories so that we can picture what the kingdom is like. This week we have explored each of these illustrations about the kingdom. We learned that the kingdom won’t ultimately be overrun by weeds. We learned that even the smallest seed of the kingdom can grow into a huge tree of hope. We learned that the kingdom is alive and expanding through the dough of the world.

Jesus seemed to think that it was important for us to know that his kingdom is alive and unquenchable. Today I want to offer you a simple prayer practice to help you meditate on these aspects of God’s kingdom.

Find a place where you can spend a few minutes with focused attention. Close your eyes and imagine the world all around you completely enveloped in darkness. Imagine the room you are in: dark. The building you are in: dark. The street and city and state: completely dark. Now, pray this portion of the Lord’s prayer, “Lord, let your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”

As you pray that prayer picture a spark of light moving into the dark room. Picture the light swirling around the room illuminating it gradually. Pray the prayer over and over. Each time you pray it, picture the light filling a dark corner of the room. Picture it entering your body and illuminating a dark corner of your soul. Picture it breaking out of the room and illuminating the building you are in. Picture it expanding beyond the building and into the street.

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It is alive and it expands and permeates everything eventually. It may start small but it is a force to be reckoned with.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Kingdom is Alive2019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Kingdom Is Unstoppable| Matthew 13:33

He told them still another parable: “the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

Jesus used parables to explain the kingdom of God. He tells a story of how a wheat field grows along with weeds until harvest time. Then he gives the example of the small mustard seed growing into a tree which can support life for many animals. Now Jesus uses yeast as an example of a living, growing, ever-expanding organism that is capable of permeating everything it touches.

In this short parable about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us that a small amount of yeast is capable of causing growth in large amounts of flour. Each of these “seeds” are small, but the wheat seed is larger than a mustard seed, and each grain of yeast is the smallest of all. Each individual grain of yeast is very tiny, about 1/1000th of a millimeter. The amount of flour described is equivalent to about 26 pounds of flour and could make about forty loaves of bread. When yeast is mixed completely with warm water, flour, and sugar, it begins to feed and grow, and produces carbon dioxide. If given enough time, it causes the dough to double in size. Once the yeast is mixed into the dough, it is no longer visible, but its action is quite impressive.

The kingdom of heaven is similar both in our lives and in the world around us. Once the Holy Spirit is invited into our lives, he begins transforming our hearts, influencing our thoughts, our motivations, and our actions. At first it may be difficult to see changes in our lives. But as we continue to read and study the Bible, as we pray and talk to God, as we serve and minister to and for others, the changes in our lives become more evident. We certainly have seasons in our lives when it seems that no spiritual growth is happening. Be patient; give God time and space to grow your heart into the person he wants you to be. Yeast does not work instantly; it takes time, food, and space to grow into bread that can nourish us. So too does spiritual growth, and the growth of the kingdom of heaven. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it,” Isaiah 55:11.

By Grace Hunter

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Kingdom Is Unstoppable| Matthew 13:332019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Kingdom is Growing | Matthew 13:31-32

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

I’m not much of a plant person. I like plants, but I haven’t mastered the skill of keeping them alive. In spite of that, we have an orchid in our living room. My husband is the one to keep it alive, so every now and then, when I glance over in the plant’s direction, I’m shocked at how much it’s grown! What started out as a tiny shoot is, little by little, growing into a flowering plant almost without me noticing.

In two sentences, Jesus gives us a similar picture of the unstoppable growth of the Kingdom with the parable of the mustard seed. A mustard seed is only one or two millimeters in size. Smaller than small. Yet that tiny seed grows into a tree! The small size of the initial seed doesn’t stop the growth, and it doesn’t dictate the effectiveness of the growth. And even more than that, it provides something useful and beautiful: space for new life to flourish.

Planting the seed does more than grow something just for the sake of growing something. The results are a beautiful tree that benefits other creatures. So, too, the Kingdom of God doesn’t just exist for the sake of existing. The Kingdom is the manifestation of God drawing all things to himself and reconciling them to him. It’s renewal and restoration. Each of us being a part of the Kingdom isn’t just for us to claim our citizenship; it’s to represent the Kingdom and the King, bearing active witness to the renewal and restoration that represents the Kingdom and inviting others to participate in the Kingdom themselves.

Where have you seen the growth of the Kingdom becoming good for the world? Think about examples in your own heart, in church history, or in our church and community. Thank God for the amazing growth that can come from small beginnings!

By Jessica Rust

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Kingdom is Growing | Matthew 13:31-322019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

Kingdom In Conflict | Matthew 13:24-30; Psalm 73

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  Matthew 13:24-26

esus repeatedly says, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” Instead of giving a bullet-pointed message on the mission, vision, and values of his kingdom, Jesus tells stories and offers pictures to illustrate his kingdom. In today’s passage, Jesus uses the image of a field full of seeds and weeds. Thankfully Jesus explains the field is the world, the good seeds are people in his kingdom, the enemy is the devil, and the weeds are the evil ones (Matthew 13:37-38).

So, what can we conclude about Jesus’ Kingdom?

Kingdom people have incredible potential. Agriculturalists tells us there are close to 50 kernels in one head of wheat and 17,000 kernels in just 1 pound. When God sows, his seeds give birth to loads of reproducing and life-giving sustenance. Kingdom people produce that kind of multiplying effect in the world.

There is an enemy who tries to thwart the Kingdom. This field is full of conflict because an enemy purposefully infiltrated it with weeds. God seems to allow this enemy to try his best to destroy the harvest while God works to preserve its potential. Here we learn God’s not oblivious to evil in our life, nor does he cause it.

Jesus’ Kingdom will win. When the servants ask the sower to remove the weeds, he tells them to let the weeds grow. Although we may worry over the evil among us, God demonstrates his power over the devil by harvesting an incredible crop despite the unfortunate circumstances. Jesus’ Kingdom will always be in conflict until God finishes his harvesting plans, but if we’re with Jesus, we’ll celebrate his victory together.

Until then, it can be frustrating when God sends rain to nourish both the good seeds and the evil weeds in our world (Matthew 5:45). When we start to wrestle with this Kingdom in conflict, it’s appropriate to lament – to let out our feelings to God like David does in Psalm 73. Today, take a moment to share openly with God about the evil infiltrating your personal world and how you need Jesus to nourish you as a seed growing in the middle of evil weeds.

By Yvonne Biel

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Kingdom In Conflict | Matthew 13:24-30; Psalm 732019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00

What Is The Kingdom? | Matthew 6:7-13

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:7-13

Recently at South we’ve talked a lot about the Kingdom of God. It’s been fascinating for me, as one who has grown up in the church, to be challenged in my thinking about the Kingdom. In my experience, typically one would respond to the Gospel by a simple prayer which seemed to be a ticket guaranteeing entrance into heaven. Done. Great. What now? Is my acceptance of the Gospel merely a means to an end or has my understanding been missing something bigger, better, richer?

As my understanding of the Kingdom of God has been fleshed out even more in recent months through study at South, I’ve been blown away by the depth and the power and the invitation of such a Kingdom. It’s not this simple thing we do and prayer we say and then we walk away. It’s a life we are invited into. It’s repentance, true repentance that Jesus calls us to. A turning away from the old life. A stepping in to the new one. A kingdom where life is completely different. Where enemies are to be loved. Where forgiveness is paramount. Where worry has no place. Where gaining one’s life comes through losing it.

As we dig into the devos this week, let me remind you that Jesus’ Kingdom is dynamic. It is real. It is now. It’s an invitation to repent of our sin and live in His way with His heart.

Today, take a moment to repent of the ways you have simplified or ignored the Kingdom of God in the past. Ask Jesus to forgive you for disregarding His Kingdom or willfully choosing to live in the Kingdom of this world. Now, with your palms up as a symbol of surrender to His good ways, pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it slowly, asking in faith that the Holy Spirit would continue to fan a flame inside you, one that is growing and burning for His purposes and for His kingdom alone.

By Ellen Rosenberger

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What Is The Kingdom? | Matthew 6:7-132019-07-22T16:35:10-06:00
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