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South Fellowship Church

Join in Corporate Worship

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV

December 1984, I traveled with many young people I had known from my church youth group to Urbana Illinois for a college missions conference called “Urbana ‘84”. At that time Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a college campus ministry, put this mission conference on every 3 years. Several famous Christian speakers including Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliott and Luis Palau attended. We students listened to these inspirational speakers, visited the exhibit hall and had one on one conversations with representatives of many different mission organizations. The idea behind Urbana ’84 was to get the 18,000 college students who attended, fired up and involved in the various opportunities for spreading the gospel throughout the world.

I attended a state university, so this was a unique opportunity for me to spend a week among other fellow Christian college students. My mind was expanded to think of the various ways we can all be involved in missions.

For me, the greatest impact was in our corporate singing. Most of us would arrive 30 minutes early at the large arena (holding 17,000 people), just so we could ensure we could get a seat and so we could participate in the corporate worship. This conference was so big not everyone could fit in each session; (1000 people had to watch on TV in overflow rooms). The singing, the blending of harmonies, the a cappella voices of 17,000 people singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” is an experience I will never forget and probably will never experience again this side of heaven.

The corporate singing was the highlight of this conference for me. Something a bit intangible happens when we sing together. It can happen with 5 people, 20, 100 or 17,000. But when we worship and sing together, we, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as [we] sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in [our] hearts to God,” Colossians 3:16. As we experience God’s presence, we are involved in teaching and learning God’s truth together when we sing together.

I encourage you to join in corporate worship this Sunday. Don’t focus on hitting the correct note; instead, worship God together with others, declare His goodness, praise Him for what He has done, and express your faith in His ability to work in our lives in the future.

Join in Corporate Worship2022-08-13T15:06:46-06:00

Worship as Warfare

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
‭‭Joshua‬ ‭6:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Worship is more than singing. And, worshipful singing is more than a beautiful sound.

When we minimize worship to a few pre-planned songs on Sunday mornings, we strip corporate singing of all its power and authority.

Take the walls of Jericho for example. God specifically instructed the band to lead the battle against Jericho – not as just a mysterious miracle but as a teachable moment. That day the people of Israel had to surrender their best laid strategies, their independent longings for control, and their national reputation in God’s story.

In one day, they marched together seven times around the city walls as a symbol of unity and completion.

Worship became their weapon – not because it held power in and of itself but because of the process of surrendering their lives corporately and completely to the one in whom they worship.

Our corporate worship holds the same potential.

We can mark off territory for God through worship as we surrender more of ourselves to him. It’s the most powerful display of giving God full authority over our hearts and lives!

Singing together is not just an act of bringing a multitude of voices together to make a melodic sound. Singing together marks off greater territory for God’s kingdom in our hearts, our families, and our communities. Today, sing throughout your house to mark off territory for greater Kingdom influence.

Worship as Warfare2022-08-13T14:43:34-06:00

Just Sing

The first audio amplifier was unveiled in 1912 by a Yale PhD physics and electricity scientist, Lee de Forest. Since then, the modern world has become increasingly accustomed to overamplification – not only of sound – but practically all media. A restricted group of superstars, with awe-inspiring talents, accompanied by spectacular shows, have dominated our visual and listening bandwidths for over a century. Today it’s difficult to imagine a world without such things as full-room screens, stunningly complex audio systems, and sophisticated, portable, entertainment devices.

In 2003, the LA Times published this lament by performing arts critic Lewis Segal:

…when we do encounter live music, we expect it to match what we accept as the norm: the presence, detail and intensity of recordings. We’ve come to prefer processed music to the real thing.

With all this musical mega-talent at our fingertips, can ordinary Christians with substandard singing voices like mine glorify God satisfactorily?

If you’re fond of statistics, the word translated “sing” appears 400+ times in scripture and 50 of them are commands to sing to God. What attitude should those of us without musical gifts have when we sing? I conjecture that even in our imperfect state, God designed us to sing and intended our singing to have remarkable benefits in our relationship with him. Do we need a four-octave, pitch-perfect voice to obey these commands? Quick answer: No.

Does God ask us to do something he doesn’t do?

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

Let’s go further…did Jesus sing? Scripture records remarkably few examples:

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:30 NIV

and

…he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Hebrews 2:11-12 ESV

The movie The Greatest Story Ever Told was released in 1965 with Max Von Sydow playing the role of Jesus – what a sad face – and that image is Von Sydow displaying his most cheerful look in the movie. It’s doubtful anyone watching the majority of movies portraying Jesus’ life would envision Jesus singing anything. The exception is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who depicted a singing Jesus in their 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Did that musical change the perception of Jesus to one of a frequent singer? Questionable. Portrayals of Jesus singing are perplexingly rare.

So if you’re an ungifted singer like me, don’t lose heart, Jesus didn’t major in music. Your obedience to the singing commands will be accepted by our gracious God.

You can also anticipate an eternity to glorify him with singing.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 ESV

Today memorize or review a familiar scripture or vital theological theme set to a simple tune. Here are some resources: Psalms set to music and other scriptures set to music. And also remember you have two other reliable avenues of obedience – singing during congregational worship and this verse for those who are truly unable to sing:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Psalms 100:1 ESV

Just Sing2022-08-13T13:59:44-06:00

Singing – A God Designated Pathway to Joy

For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Death of the Son.” A psalm of David.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5)

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:10-15.)

Because singing is the focus of this week’s devotional writing, the four psalms above mention singing and the joy, praise and rejoicing that can result from singing. These are a small sampling of the different reasons for a psalm (facing a situation, or recognizing sin), to whom the psalm was directed (for the director of music) and sometimes particular tunes, (The Death of a Son) or (in some other places in the Psalms) the instruments or voices by which to perform them. What it indicates to me is, that though these psalms can be used for private worship and encouragement, they are intended to be used in corporate worship, also.

I grew up singing hymns and choruses which often came from one or more verses in the Psalms. As I read through the Psalms, I hear in my mind, “Thy Loving Kindness is Better Than Life”, “Create in Me A Clean Heart, O God”, “O God You Are My God”.

I have found that I can memorize verses in scripture easier if they are set to music. Melody and rhythm are aids for instructing me. Perhaps this works for you, too. If you have a hymnal, refresh your mind with some of the hymns you have enjoyed. Or check out some of your favorites on YouTube. One I particularly enjoyed was “Create in Me A Clean Heart, O God”  or country version  by Maranatha Singers.

Singing – A God Designated Pathway to Joy2022-08-13T12:58:59-06:00

Invitation to Rest With Jesus

Are you listening to me? Really listening? “How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a boozer, a friend of the misfits. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Matthew 11:16-19) MSG

Next Jesus unleashed on the cities where he had worked the hardest, but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way. “Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you. And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you.” (Matthew 11:20-24) MSG

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work. (Matthew 11:25-26) MSG

I have also learned from Matthew, chapters 4-10, the context for what Jesus was talking about in Matthew, chapter 11, that led to his invitation in 11:28-30. All that Jesus did and taught, and the increasing resentment of the religious leaders, helps me understand and welcome Jesus’s invitation to be, “yoked” together WITH him, learning the, “unforced rhythms of grace” in my everyday life.

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. The is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. (Matthew 11:27) MSG

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30) MSG

In April 2005, I had the privilege of being the main speaker for our South Fellowship Women’s retreat, and I spoke on Matthew 11:28-30, using the more familiar “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

As the term “yoke” is unfamiliar to most of us, I researched and learned:

  1. Yokes are intended to hold a pair of animals side by side in order to make it easier to pull something than it is possible for one animal to do.
  2. As each side of the yoke is custom made for the animal that wears it, the yoke cannot be worn by any other animal without causing pain to that animal.
  3. Young calves are paired and trained to work together as they grow. By the time they are full grown, they will have had up to 15 custom made yokes created for them.

I am still learning, sometimes through the consequences of trying to overload my days, or by making decisions without waiting to hear Jesus say to me, ‘Yes’ ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ before he and I move together. Sometimes he simply tells me to “stop, sit and listen” to him conversing with his Father in Matthew 11:25-26, and John 17, and to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-17. These are some of the scriptures that I take rest in.

Take some time to read for yourself Matthew 25-30. Sit and listen as Jesus tells you tenderly that he longs to live “the unforced rhythms of grace” in your everyday life WITH him.

Invitation to Rest With Jesus2022-08-02T13:09:24-06:00

Sabbath and Rest

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV

I am challenged by this week’s topic – Sabbath and rest. I watched a video by Walter Brueggmann on keeping Sabbath. He would define keeping Sabbath as – setting aside one day a week in which we do not focus on productivity, where we stop “work”, where we rest, slow down, listen – so that we can receive from God. I find this difficult to do (as I imagine many of you do too), and I was challenged to see if it might be possible for me to change my schedule, my habits, and strive to do this for myself.

I found many passages in the Bible that talk about the benefits we can enjoy if we set aside a Sabbath day.

” ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3-4) NIV

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2) NIV

These passages speak of delighting ourselves in God, in his word, in keeping a day of rest. The Jewish people were told to keep Sabbath as a sign to the world that they were God’s people: it was a defiant act; it declared to the world that God would provide; the Jewish nation did not need to work 7 days a week. We have the same God; He will provide for us as well.

Read Isaiah 55. Look at what God asks us to do and what He promises to do for us. Use this chapter to read, slow down, listen and receive what God is saying to you about how you keep Sabbath.

Sabbath and Rest2022-07-30T11:24:19-06:00

The Challenge of Stopping

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord . Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” – Exodus 31:12-17

If you had to choose one spiritual struggle Americans have more than any other, it might be that of the Sabbath (rest). Capitalism has driven many a person into workaholism. Why is it so difficult for us to rest? Many people struggle not finding their identity in what they accomplish. “We live to work rather than work to live.”

The text above outlines God’s command to his people to observe the Sabbath. In his ministry, Jesus would later explain that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27). This day of rest was God’s gift to humanity. It was intended to remind us that life isn’t only about what we produce. It was designed to help us remember that we don’t make the world spin. These truths are a massive gift to the soul.

I have struggled to observe any kind of Sabbath for much of my life. I always thought my hobby was working. I enjoy working. I love the work God has given me. If I’m honest, some of the reasons I enjoy working are that I get affirmation from people for my work. I feel more valuable in the world because of my work. This strategy for life is sustainable until one can’t keep up anymore because of burnout or a mistake made, or because someone better at this job shows up. If your whole identity is wrapped up in your ability to outperform everyone, every day, forever, your soul is in a precarious position.

Sabbath is a gift from God to humanity to remind us that the world’s weight is on his shoulders, not ours. It’s a reminder that he loves us even when we produce nothing. If you take a day off, the world keeps spinning, you keep breathing, and God sustains it all.

One way I have learned to practice the Sabbath is to play disc golf. I realized that working wasn’t a good hobby, so I decided to embrace this simple sport as a real hobby. Disc golf isn’t productive. No one cares if I am good or bad at it. I will not make a career out of it; ultimately, it’s a waste of time. It is for these reasons that it is valuable to me. When I play a round, I enjoy the physical exercise, God’s creation, and the reality that God loves me even when I’m not in the office doing something.

Try wasting some time this week. Let God speak to you through the process. “Perhaps” your shoulders are not strong enough to hold up the world; let sabbath remind you of that.

The Challenge of Stopping2022-07-30T11:00:23-06:00

Entering the Presence of God

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” – Psalm 4:8

God loves to offer his children rest and peaceful sleep. It’s a repeated theme throughout the scriptures (Psalm 95:7-11, Matthew 11:28, Hebrews 4:1). This kind of peaceful rest comes by entering the presence of God, because God’s rest is an extension of himself.

It is in God’s presence where we feel and deeply know God’s unconditional love. When we enter God’s rest, he eases our anxieties, he illuminates what’s true, and he welcomes us with belonging and identity. In God’s presence, we can hear God more clearly and we can sleep more peacefully. This is wonderfully good news!

Here’s the bad news. The writer of Hebrews discusses the theme of rest in the negative sense. Based on the resistance and rebellion in the Israelites, the author concludes, “we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). Interestingly enough, this author is suggesting we can know who is not walking by faith because they have failed to enter a state of rest.

Many who call themselves Christians have heard the good news of salvation. Many have accepted the truth that they are sinners in need of extravagant grace and believed in their heart that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem their wrongdoings. Unfortunately, many still fail to enter God’s rest. They fail to enter God’s presence to receive the fullness of his loving kindness.

If you make your faith a transactional gift of eternal life, but fail to enter God’s presence of unconditional love, you may need to heed Hebrews warning and return to God’s presence today. Use this liturgy for resting to begin your return journey today.

Lead me to your rest, dear Lord. Lead me to your rest.
Lead me into being and becoming, laying down my urgent tasks.
For even you rested on the Sabbath.
Lead me away to quiet places, leaving the company of friends and family.
For even you withdrew to solitary places.
Lead me to be still and know you are God, loving you more than created things.
For with you, I lie down in safety, my weary soul can breathe.
Lead me to your rest, dear Lord. Lead me to your rest.

Entering the Presence of God2022-08-06T10:02:41-06:00

Our Universal Condition

About 15 years ago one of our family members accompanied a coworker from another country to receive treatment at Denver’s National Jewish Health Sleep Center. The coworker hadn’t been able to sleep for over a year. As a result, he had developed severe disorientation leading to mental health issues. Besides the insomnia this man experienced, the Sleep Center treats at least six other major sleep conditions (including ones such as narcolepsy/sudden sleep) that have negative impact on health.

Researchers have determined that 7 to 9 hours of daily sleep is required for all adult humans. How each one of us gets that sleep varies. (I take naps when my night gets cut short.) Some of you have first hand experience with sleep disorders that have caused chaos or diminished energy either in your life or the lives of loved ones. Regular sleep and proper rest are a blessing from God.

Here’s the first mention of sleep in scripture:

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib. (Genesis 2:21-22)

God’s work while Adam was in this unconscious state made Adam’s life complete. What a benefit! Here’s another insight from Solomon elaborating on God’s purpose in hard wiring humans to need sleep:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

The ability to sleep peacefully comes from deep trust and dependence upon the One True God who genuinely cares for us. After we have done what He has called us to do – no more and no less – we can, like every other human who has ever lived, relinquish control as he manages the world in our absence.
So tonight (maybe sooner) just before you drift off, thank the Lord for his gift of sleep. Then consciously leave your cares with him for that 7 to 9 hours.

Our Universal Condition2022-07-27T12:40:47-06:00

Lost and Found – Celebration

By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. (Luke 15:1-3) MSG

Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it on your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Come celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (Luke 15: 4-7) MSG

In my research into the cultural aspects of this parable, I found that most likely a good shepherd, responsible for the care of another’s sheep, would be the one who searched for the one that had gotten lost. Such a shepherd would indeed celebrate with other shepherds who would understand how important it would be to find it.

Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it ? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.
(Luke 15: 8-10) MSG

In this parable, the ten coins, equivalent to ten day’s wages, were probably the household money for part of the month. Of special interest was a description of the house: excavations show that the less affluent lived in houses smaller than a single car garage which were built of slabs of black basalt. Windows were cracks in the walls about 7 feet above ground and the roof was also a slab of basalt. The floor was basalt stones with large cracks between them where dirt and other things could fall in. The woman would need a light and would have a hard time searching to find the coin. Certainly she would rejoice, and her friends and neighbors would indeed celebrate with her when she found it.

The celebrations in these parables were about things of value to people, but Jesus is about valuing and finding people. In Luke 19:10 he says, ”For the Son of Man has come to find and restore the lost.” And he tells them, and us, how much joy there is in heaven and how the angels rejoice over each person who repents and comes to the Lord.

It seems to me that celebrations come in many sizes. Sometimes they are large events: weddings, birthday parties, the celebration of a person’s life at a memorial service, family reunions and various holidays where families and friends gather.

They can also be small events: an unexpected visit or phone call from a longtime friend, FaceTime with someone who lives far away, gathering in the driveway with a neighbor family to hear from the children how their swim meet went, rejoicing with someone via text for an answer to prayer.

In large celebrations and small ones, we can still honor God and each other with grateful hearts and attitudes. This week be alert to possibilities for celebrating daily events as they come up in your life. Offer thanks and praise to God for showing you how to rejoice in each one.

Lost and Found – Celebration2022-08-04T12:41:41-06:00
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