South Fellowship Church

Everyday Spirituality

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

Camping Out with God

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.

(These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies for bringing food offerings to the Lord—the burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings required for each day. These offerings are in addition to those for the Lord’s Sabbaths and[a] in addition to your gifts and whatever you have vowed and all the freewill offerings you give to the Lord.)

So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”

So Moses announced to the Israelites the appointed festivals of the Lord.
Leviticus 23:33-44

God-appointed festivals were designed to remind God’s people of past events and foretell of future events. The entire Festival of Tabernacles, celebrated during autumn harvest, commemorates God’s presence with his people during the wilderness wanderings and also looks to the coming return of Christ when God’s presence returns to be with his people in a particular way once again.

It is prophesied when Christ returns, we will gather at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb celebrating the triumph of the Savior over all things, much like a final harvest festival (Revelation 19:7-10).

This festival begins with the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) which ushers in ten days of penitence for the people to prepare for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This holy day commemorates the annual moment when the high priest would enter the presence of God in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 23). The Feast of Tabernacles is considered the holiest of days in the festival and begins five days later to celebrate the final harvest day and foreshadow the final harvest of souls.

Just as God instructed them, Jews continue to set up shelters on the Feast of Tabernacles and dwell in them for seven days. Notice how God specifically instructed them to pull from luxuriant trees and build beautiful booths. As they look forward to feasting in the fullness of God’s presence, God wanted his people to long for his presence in a playful and beautiful way. God purposely invited his people to camp out every year to remind them of how he too, longs to dwell with them.

In what way can you enjoy God’s presence in a playful and beautiful way? Could you go camping or create an event with beautiful hospitality? Use your creativity to enjoy God’s presence today and remember how much he longs to dwell with you.

Camping Out with God2022-07-24T15:45:08-06:00

Party, Celebrate, Feast, Play

“‘The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present an offering made to the LORD by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’” The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the LORD a lamb a year old without defect, together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil–an offering made to the LORD by fire, a pleasing aroma–and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.’” Leviticus 23:5-14 NIV

On the fourteenth day of the first month the LORD’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Numbers 28:16-18 NIV

Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste–so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Roast it and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents. For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the LORD your God and do no work. Deuteronomy 16:1-5 NIV

Party, celebrate, play, be festive – what sorts of scenes do you imagine? Do you think of good food, friends, family, neighbors, games, children, holidays, long conversations, respite from normal work, vacations? Our bodies are designed for rhythms. We need a regular rhythm of work, rest, play and sleep.

The first Thanksgiving celebrated in America by former Europeans was a harvest festival celebrated with Wampanoag people in the fall of 1621. It took place over several days and they wanted to give thanks to God for a successful harvest and for surviving a difficult first year in New England. They shared meals, played games and celebrated God’s provision of food for them for the coming winter.

The Israelites had a similar festival – it had two names – Passover or First Fruits. This annual celebration was designed to ensure that the Israelites would remember that God provides. First, God provided deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Second, God provided for the needs of the nation of Israel – daily food, clothing that didn’t wear out, and everything else they needed while in the desert for 40 years. Third, God provided them with the promised land – the food, the home, the future it would provide for the nation of Israel for hundreds of years. Passover or First Fruits was celebrated in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, it would be in March or April in our calendar. Sometimes it was called First Fruits because it took place when the very first of the barley harvest was gathered. The Nation of Israel was told to bring the very first stalks of their harvest – the first of God’s provision of food for the coming year – as an offering to God. This was a recognition, an acknowledgement, a thanksgiving to God for that provision of a harvest, for that provision of food for the coming year.

The Israelites – just like the Pilgrims – celebrated God’s provision – with a party, a celebration, a holiday from work, a time to gather with friends, family and neighbors. It was a time to play together, talk together, give thanks together, and talk of the future.

Does your family have an annual celebration, festival, party, or gathering? Do you play certain games, eat special foods, or have traditions that you do every year? Take some time this summer, to reflect, remember, and thank God for His provision for your family, for the special foods that are a part of our summer parties.

Party, Celebrate, Feast, Play2022-07-24T15:26:11-06:00

Rhythms of Celebration

If you have tried to read through the entire Bible, you may have struggled with the book of Leviticus. It is a book full of rules and regulations detailing temple worship. Many might consider this book the most boring book of the Bible. Ironically it is in this book that we will explore the subject of fun and celebration. Leviticus outlines many feast days and festivals. Today I want to focus on a party that surrounds the Peace Offering.

The Peace Offering (Leviticus 3) was meant to be a sacrifice and a feast. The worshiper, the priests, and the poor, widow, and orphan would have shared the meal. This is different from some other sacrifices, which were burned up completely.

The Hebrew word for peace is the word shalom, which means both ‘peace’ and ‘wholeness.’ It’s the idea of everything being put right. The celebration, especially with the needy, would have been part of putting the world right.

How might you make a Peace Offering of your own? Perhaps one of the best things you can do to contribute to world peace is to throw a party. Invite someone in need to that party and enjoy. These sacrifices were costly to the worshiper. Treat the expense of the party as a spiritual practice of bringing peace to the world.



Rhythms of Celebration2022-07-24T15:00:41-06:00

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”

My title today is a quote from our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was well known for his joie de vivre ‘exuberant enjoyment of life’. I’m tempted to think he might have had a premonition of the impact of our social media landscape and the inevitable and damaging comparisons it has brought into our culture. But comparisons are not new. Here are the observations and advice of Solomon, the ancient Jewish King, recorded in Ecclesiastes 8.

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. (vv. 14-15 NIV)

Grumbling about evil in the world around us, complaining, comparing – ‘woe is me’ ‘why me,’ and reminiscing about the good old days being dramatically better than today. All these strategies – or I should call them bad habits – erode our ability to cherish and celebrate the gifts God gives each day.

Here’s another ancient insight from the Apostle Paul who became well known for the intense persecution he suffered.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

Anytime an economic downturn, like the one we are now experiencing, begins to pick up a head of steam, it’s tempting to abandon legitimate celebration. Both Solomon and Paul point out that some circumstances are beyond our control, and injustice and wickedness are unfortunate features of life in this broken world. So I encourage you to meditate on the strategies employed by these Biblical sages.

Look at your surroundings and ask God to reveal to you something special he has given you to enjoy right now. Invite friends and family members to share what you’ve got while you’ve got it. Read all of Ecclesiastes 8 if you have time. Remind yourself that Jesus is your king. You have his wisdom at your fingertips and can daily celebrate his coming kingdom no matter your circumstances.

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”2022-07-24T14:23:45-06:00

My Cup Overflows

…you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (ESV)

Do you sometimes read a familiar passage and glimpse something new? Here’s a short video I saw recently: her cup overflows.

What did you see: a sticky stain and a horrible mess to clean up – a waste of an expensive beverage – a patient parent unafraid to allow a child to learn? Maybe all of these?

Psalm 23:5 not only speaks of God’s ability and intention to provide everything we need but of his patience and grace toward us when we either don’t do it right the first (or tenth) time or we mess up entirely and have to start over. He’s got an overflow of patience to see us through.

Discovering ways God speaks to us through our daily quest for nourishment is a rich biblical topic. Here’s how God provided for the prophet Elijah, a Sidonian widow, and her son during a time of extreme drought and famine.

‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said.’ …She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.
I Kings 17:13a & 15 (NIV)

How rich are those words, “Don’t be afraid.” Do you envision future material shortages and allow yourself to fear that God is unable or unwilling to provide for you?

Here’s yet another example in a servant’s description of the kind of wine Jesus provided when the wine supply ran out at a wedding.

Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. John 2:10 (ESV)

What do you say to God’s impractical abundance? Are you his child? Are you his servant? How does he provide for his servants to succeed?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

As a way of reminding yourself that God wants to pour you an overflowing cup, ask him to show you how to go “over the top” with a meal this weekend. Yes, you may include honored guests!

My Cup Overflows2022-07-20T17:27:15-06:00

Tension at the Feast

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalms 23:5

Have you ever wondered why in this text God doesn’t destroy or just get us far away from the enemy? Instead, he throws a feast “in the presence of my enemies.” The promise of God is not to remove us from every danger and difficulty; it is to be with us through them all. I think this verse is an invitation to complete trust. It isn’t normal to feast while in danger.

When your mind senses danger, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. We know this body response as “fight or flight.” Heart rate, digestion, breathing, and many more body functions are inhibited to allow you to escape or defend yourself from danger. The enemy’s presence near this feast might be a justification for sympathetic nervous system response. How are we supposed to digest this feast when a threat looms in front of us?

The opposite of the fight or flight response is the parasympathetic response. Your body releases endorphins, and the brain lights up in your prefrontal cortex. When someone is in parasympathetic mode, they are at peace, joy, and rest. This Psalm describes a person in danger at peace and rest. It speaks of the tremendous safety we can find in the presence of God. Imagine being able to joyfully digest a feast in the middle of a war zone. That would require a host who is so strong and comforting that you can be at rest despite the circumstances.

Do you feel at peace right now? Do you feel joy and rest? If you do, take a moment to thank God that you can feast in the presence of your enemies; if you don’t feel that now, perhaps you can turn your meals into a spiritual practice this week. Ask God to give you peace as you eat. Ask him to help your body experience the parasympathetic joy of trust each time you eat. Perhaps, if life is tough right now, find a way to create a special meal to celebrate God’s trustworthiness through every season.

Tension at the Feast2022-07-20T17:18:25-06:00

Comfort Food

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NIV

Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law; Psalm 94:12 NIV

Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me. Psalm 86:17 NIV

Comfort. This is a lovely word. It conjures visions of mashed potatoes slathered with butter, a huge vanilla ice cream cone, a soft, cozy down comforter, an incredibly soft pillow, or the embrace of a loved one when I feel sad or am mourning. What comforts you? Take a moment and picture that thing, person, or experience.

David composed Psalm 23, and he is uniquely qualified to use these beautiful words to describe how God comforts us. David was a shepherd as a boy and as a teenager. Later he was Israel’s anointed king. David describes God as our personal shepherd. In John 10:11 Jesus says, [He is] “the good shepherd.” He goes on to say, “[He] lays down [His] life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15).

David describes walking through the valley of death, not being left there, but walking through it – with his shepherd, his God, by his side. Then he tells us that the shepherd’s tools are a comfort to him – David, the sheep. David tells us the shepherd has a rod and a staff with him. My NIV study Bible says that the rod was used as an instrument of authority, for protection from predators and danger, for counting, guiding and rescuing the sheep. The staff was used for support, and for effectively bringing wandering sheep back into the fold. How are these tools a comfort?

1. The shepherd is WITH the sheep; sheep can’t be left alone; they must be under a shepherd’s care at all times or they can’t find food, protect themselves from danger, or find their way – as they tend to wander. God is WITH me.
2. The rod was used for discipline – to teach wayward sheep to come back, and to protect them – to keep robbers, and wild animals from carrying the sheep off for food. God CORRECTS and PROTECTS me.
3. The staff is there for support, to hold up, to help when the road is rocky, and it is a sign of authority. God SUPPORTS me, and has authority over me – HE is SOVEREIGN and in control.

Comfort. Remember what or what person represents a picture of comfort? Now, picture God as your comforter, as your protector, as your teacher, as your shepherd, as your parent – holding you close, guiding you, correcting you, holding you up, and walking with you. God is all of this and more.

Comfort Food2022-07-20T17:14:39-06:00

He Feeds and Restores My Soul

The Lord is my Shepherd {to feed, guide and shield me}, I shall not lack.
He lets me lie down in {fresh, tender} green pastures. He Leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my soul (life).
(Psalm 23:1-3a) Amplified

And He humbled you and allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you recognize and personally know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
(Deuteronomy 8:3) Amplified.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3) NKJV

I wait {patiently} for the Lord, my soul {expectantly} waits,
And in His word do I hope. (Psalm 130:6) Amplified

Certain words in the above scriptures bring, in some cases, new perspectives, and in others, vivid memories. This is why I like to use different versions of the bible. In the the verses from Psalm 23, “He lets me lie down,” has a different feel to me than “He makes me lie down,” and the addition of “fresh, tender,” to “green pastures” calls up a memory of walking barefoot in dew wet grass in the early morning.

The Deuteronomy passage reminds me of times in my childhood when money was scarce and food was simple and repetitive. We lived for a time on a dry land farm where we didn’t have much in the way of vegetables or fruit. Because we had chickens and cows, we had eggs and milk, cream and butter. Most breakfasts included oatmeal, and our bread was often biscuits. Sandwiches would be cold biscuits with whatever was available to put between them.

Psalm 37 encourages me to trust and be nourished by memories of how God has been faithful in providing for my physical needs, and especially needs that I’ve had when grieving loss.

Psalm 130:6 points out that growing in the Lord takes time, and that scripture is rich with his words of hope and restoration for my soul.

How about you? Do you have favorite scriptures that are “green pastures” and “still, restful waters for your soul”? There are so many scriptures that can draw us closer to our Father in Heaven, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit living inside us – to bring to our memory help in times of need. Listen to the song, You Restore My Soul.

He Feeds and Restores My Soul2022-07-20T15:30:17-06:00

Dinner in the Desert

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
Psalm 23:1-3a

Psalm 23 drops us into a desert scene. The desert is not a place of abundance. It’s a place of great need and a place of just enough. In this desert, we meet a shepherd and a poet. The shepherd leads his sheep with compassionate care through the difficult terrain. The poet likens himself to a helpless sheep yielding to the shepherd’s guidance during a season of great need.

When we enter poetry like Psalm 23, we find ourselves caught up in this imagery as well. We, like this poet, long to have our needs met, especially in seasons when provision is scarce. We yearn for our deep hunger to be cared for by someone who dearly loves us, who can see beyond our immediate needs, and who can lead us to a healthy future.

During desert times, we learn to trust the one who leads us. We learn to trust in the provision of the good shepherd. The one who guides us to places where we can graze, even if they are only tufts of grass. The one who guides us to a place of refreshment, even if they are only muddy pools of water from last month’s rain.

Jesus wants to eat with us in times of abundance and in times of scarcity. He wants to provide for our needs no matter which season we find ourselves in. Today, spend time in gratitude looking back at when God has provided for you in abundance and in scarcity.

Dinner in the Desert2022-07-20T15:21:34-06:00
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