fbpx
South Fellowship Church

Stand Alone Sermon

Participating By Entering In

First this: God created the Heavens and the Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, and inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.(Genesis 1:1-2) MSG

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, but stripped Himself of all privileges and rightful dignity, so as to assume the guise of a servant, in that He became like men and was born a human being. (Philippians 2: 5-7) AMP

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, at once he saw the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit like a dove coming down [to enter] into Him; And there came a voice out from within heaven, You are My Beloved Son; in You I am well pleased. Immediately the Holy Spirit [from within] drove Him out into the wilderness (desert). And He stayed in the wilderness (desert) forty days, being tempted [the while] by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him. (Mark 1:9-13) AMP

I enjoy study and the tools I have to make it possible: Along with multiple versions of scripture, I enjoy dictionaries, concordances, commentaries, maps of bible lands, and cultural study bibles. Yes, even Google, and the websites available to my cell phone. A problem for me, though, is how chaotic my study area looks with books piled on books, notes everywhere and, especially, my frustration with websites that intersperse information I want with multiple advertisements between paragraphs of what I need.

As the word study this week is “chaos”, my 1946 dictionary definition: a condition of utter disorder and confusion, as the primordial state of the universe describes (Genesis 1:1-2) And: extreme confusion and disorder, describes my study area and my frustration.

What steadies and encourages me is that God brought order out of the chaos in the beginning, and then, Jesus was willing to enter into participation with us to experience the same confusion and disorder we do. (Philippians 2:5-7) He, too, was tempted like us in the small, daily things. (Hebrews 4:15) Even after Jesus comes up out of the water, and the Holy Spirit, like a dove, (perhaps a reference to Genesis 1:2), comes down and enters him, Jesus is still sent to the wilderness to experience extreme temptation by Satan in the large things that also tempt us.

I love John 13-17 where Jesus shows the disciples how to serve each other, gives them a new commandment to love one another, describes his obedient relationship with his Father, and promises the Holy Spirit who will live inside us to remind us of all Jesus said and more, and to give us the inner power to obey Jesus’s commands, Then Jesus prays for not only the disciples who are present, but for us who come after them. Jesus also tells them honestly that they and we will have trouble in this world. He never promised easy; he only promised “with” (to be with us).

Jesus calls us to participate with him by entering into each other’s lives in the chaos that we all deal with sometimes. We can do it by service, time spent listening and especially faithfully praying for those whom we know are going through a wearying time of any sort of disorder and confusion.

Participating By Entering In2022-07-02T19:56:07-06:00

Helicopter Parent

This week our topic has centered on Middle Eastern creation or origin stories including the Genesis account. Although an origin story may be an ancient one or a modern one influenced by scientific discoveries, no origin story claims it was directly witnessed by a human.

So how do we determine if one account or another is authoritative? Where should Jesus’ followers rank the Biblical account? At least we should regard Genesis 1-3 as a revelation of God’s character. Here’s the opening statement in Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV):

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The image “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” shows a facet of God’s character that is peppered throughout scripture. Here’s one example:

like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft. (Deuteronomy 32:11 NIV)

The Hebrew word translated “hovers over” in Genesis 1:2 and in Deuteronomy 32:11 is “rachaph” meaning to hover, to brood, to be tender. This is Our Creator in his helicopter parent mode.

That same or similar concept appears in several other places (1) the cloud that accompanied Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness, (2) the Cherubim over the ark of the Covenant, (3) the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and (4) the Glory of the God of Israel.

All these descriptions point toward a highly involved and personal God – one who has given us our very being and sustains us. Failure to understand God’s hovering care can lead either to independent leaning on our own understanding or apprehensive passivity. Are you trending toward one or the other as you start today? (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Look at this video of an eagle involved in her eaglet’s first flight and meditate on God’s desire for you – knowing his tender care enables you to soar above issues that may seem insurmountable.

(1) Exodus 33:9, Numbers 9:19, Numbers 10:34, Numbers 14:14, (2) Exodus 25:20, Exodus 37:9, (3) Isaiah 31:5, (4) Ezekiel 10:18-19, Ezekiel 11:22

Helicopter Parent2022-07-02T19:00:51-06:00

Breath Life

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. – Hebrews 1:3

I remember studying Shakespeare in a high school language arts class. The first passage I ever read was from Hamlet. I felt like what I was reading was well written, even though I had no idea what it meant. The language was so different from what I was used to. I knew Shakespeare was famous for his work, so I worked hard to understand. What I found was that my understanding was like a muscle. The more I read and worked at it, the easier it was to understand. Eventually, I could read large sections of Hamlet and appreciate the meaning and the masterful literature simultaneously.

Reading the bible is similar to reading Shakespeare. It’s a muscle that you learn to use. Over years of meditation, you begin to have eyes to see the truth of God in the pages of this sometimes confusing text. You learn interpretive skills that enable you to unearth beautiful truths more efficiently. One of those skills is to learn to see the world through ancient Hebrew eyes. Today we are looking at the Hebrew word “Ruah” (Spirit, breath, wind).

God’s Spirit is his animating presence in the universe. He animates us; he animates all things that live and move. For a Hebrew, the same invisible animating force that moves the trees (wind) moves us (breath). At first glance, this may sound like a primitive understanding of life, but is it? The passage above tells us that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Even physicists struggle to understand the most fundamental particles of the universe and how they are animated and sustained. Perhaps the Hebrew perspective of Spirit is more scientifically helpful than we think?

God’s Spirit animates the world around us. He animates you and me. Without breath, there is death. Without Spirit, there is death. Stop right now to take a deep breath. That breath of oxygen that keeps you alive and moving is, in one sense, God’s Spirit sustaining you. Take another breath and thank him for life. This Spirit that sustains life itself, desires to animate your life in a way that brings restoration to the world. Perhaps you can practice a spiritual discipline of breath prayer. As you breathe in, ask God to fill you with His animating strength. As you exhale, breathe out all lethargy, indifference, and brokenness.

Choosing an undistracted rhythm of prayer in solitude is key to connecting with a God who is unseen. And the result of this intentional rhythm is delighting God’s heart as well as tasting sweet delight in it too. But rhythms of intentional private prayer don’t find their way into our life automatically. Often it takes choosing a particular place to pray and create space for this intentional rhythm. Where can you hide away today to pray to your Father who is unseen?

Breath Life2022-07-02T18:42:03-06:00

Order Out Of Chaos

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:1-3 NIV

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, `I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” Jonah 2:1-9 NIV

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters,” (Genesis 1:2). In Hebrew, the rhyming phrase is “tohu v vohu”. In the context, “tohu” implies chaos or uninhabitable, and “vohu” empty or desolate. These words paint quite a picture of a chaotic, desolate, empty wilderness – the earth BEFORE God filled it with plants, animals and humans.

The word “vohu” is used in 2 other places (Jeremiah 4:23, & Isaiah 34:11) to describe the coming destruction of Israel by the Babylonians, and the destruction of the earth in the end times. The word “tohu” is used many times in the Old Testament, usually describing chaos, futility or confusion. Genesis 1 & 2 describe creation – exactly how God fills the earth and the skies and the waters with plants, with animals, and with the first two humans. The Bible is unique in its telling of creation because God brings order out of chaos, creativity out of desolation – filling the emptiness. It is God who made the earth livable and inhabitable by all living things (Isaiah 45:11-12, & 18).

(Psalm 69:1-3) says, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.”

What sort of chaos are you experiencing today? How does God bring order into our world today?

Jonah, in the middle of a fish, after running from God said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry,” (Jonah 2:2). God entered into Jonah’s chaos and answered his prayer. I encourage you to invite God into your chaos. Ask him to order your world, to fill it with life-giving activities, people, and plans. Look at the rest of Psalm 69, or Genesis 49:15-21, or read the book of Ruth to see how God entered into the chaos of David’s, Joseph’s, Ruth’s and Naomi’s lives. God wants to be invited into the chaos of your life too, and He will bring order and remember, “it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails,” (Proverbs 21:19).

Order Out Of Chaos2022-07-02T09:49:56-06:00

A Counter Story

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2

Stop and imagine this scene. Let your mind’s eye develop a picture of what this would have looked like. Place yourself in the scene to feel what it might have felt like for the earth to be formless and empty, dark and deep, with only a sense of a divine spirit existing over it all.

Yesterday, Ethan described the common thought of creation in early Mesopotamia. These creation stories in mythology pictured chaos, violence, and gods waging war to prove their strength and divinity. However, Hebrew thought introduced a new creation story where the divine spirit brought forth life, order, beauty, and goodness.

Where the world believed humans were created out of chaos, the Hebrews believed God ordered human existence. Where the world believed the divine spirit caused violence and death, inciting fear in mankind, the Hebrews believed God’s spirit animated life and offered tender loving care.

The simple invitation today is to remember the magnificent creation story. Look around as you go throughout your day and note any evidence of chaos as well as evidence of the Biblical creation story.

A Counter Story2022-07-01T20:25:27-06:00

Curtail Evil or Let it Slide?

For the last few decades, some highly visible Christian leaders and organizations have provided a steady supply of scandals that make other Christians cringe.

Why do too many of us turn a blind eye to obvious evil and let it slide? Though we still battle our own sin, God calls us to holy battles that are his. Avoiding conflict isn’t a choice he offers. With this in mind, let’s take another look at King Saul and the Amalekites:

Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. This is what the Lord of armies says: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, in that he obstructed him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and completely destroy everything that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:1-3 NASB)

Why such extreme measures? First, the Amalekites were despicable, corrupt people – but there’s more to God’s call here. Tim Keller’s explanation of God’s purpose in curtailing their evil is helpful. Listen to minutes 6:29-8:44 of his sermon on I Samuel 15.

Here are selected verses from the chapter showing Saul’s self-evaluation of his response to God’s specific orders and Samuel’s confrontation of Saul:

So Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 15:13 NASB)

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop, and let me inform you of what the Lord said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak!”
So Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were insignificant in your own eyes, that you became the head of the tribes of Israel? For the Lord anointed you as king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are eliminated.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Instead, you loudly rushed upon the spoils and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord!” (1 Samuel 15:16-19 NASB)

Samuel reminds Saul that he was once an unimportant person, even in his own estimation. God had chosen Saul to lead the nation and subsequently to lead a specific mission against the Amalekites. After becoming king, Saul became arrogant. He viewed himself as fully obedient, but in reality practiced selective obedience and blame shifting. Saul deceived himself not only by failing to fully curtail the evil of the Amalekites, but by taking a bonus payment of the Amalekites’ best stuff.

If we are to avoid Saul’s failure, we must follow Jesus.

…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29 ESV)

Saul’s partial obedience, greed, and self-deception are a warning to us.

Have you observed a situation in the Church, or even in yourself, where evil is covered over and unaddressed? Do you fear harm will result if you challenge the status quo maintained by Christians who seem smarter or on a higher level of authority than you? If you don’t want to risk challenging evil, are you afraid of what will happen if you expose yourself or someone close? Do you think remaining “neutral” is possible? Who are you ultimately accountable to?

Taking action against evil can get complicated because human relationships are at risk, and we also fear that our own sinful behavior disqualifies us from having a voice. If God is asking you any of the above questions, go before the throne of grace and ask for wisdom and power to think and act in the way and with the heart of Jesus.

Curtail Evil or Let it Slide?2022-06-27T09:17:11-06:00

Count the Cost

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. – Romans 12:1

Whenever you make a choice, you exchange one outcome for another. The option to obey the way of Jesus is no different. By choosing his way, you are sacrificing something. It costs you something to obey.

My parents lost everything they owned twice when they were forced to evacuate the country or Rwanda during the political and military upheaval. This high cost came with their obedience to God’s call to be missionaries. It can be dangerous to obey. Christianity isn’t a guarantee of an easy life and an eternal party. That is why it is helpful to count the costs of the following Jesus. You don’t get extra spirit points by ignoring these costs. Instead, I challenge you to consider costs seriously.

If being a follower of Jesus can be difficult, why would anyone want to do it? The answer to that question is so important. Remember, at the beginning of this post; I told you that every decision was an exchange. Yes, we must learn to count the cost of obedience, but we must also weigh that cost against the goodness and beauty of God’s Kingdom and his rule. God’s way is what we were designed to live in; without it, we will never be fully human. So yes, count the cost but also the weight of blessing for those who walk with Jesus.

Perhaps you formalize the counting of costs this week. Find some time to list some of the blessings you have and ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice those things if you were to be asked. What is difficult to surrender? What is easy to surrender? Talk through it with your good Father.

Count the Cost2022-06-27T08:57:59-06:00

Who’s King?

But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
1 Samuel 15:22

Saul’s disobedience was massive. 1 Samuel 15 marks the rejection of Saul as Israel’s King. Samuel said to [Saul], “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” (1 Samuel 15:26)

What made this such a big deal?

1. Saul heard the voice of God. “Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:1-3)
2. Saul disregarded the voice of God. “Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. They were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” (1 Samuel 15:7-9)
3. Saul manipulated disobedience to look like obedience. “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:20-21)
4. Saul abdicated, which required someone else’s obedience. “Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites… And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:32-33)

Like Saul, we answer to a higher king. We may not hear God speak to us through prophets or priests in the same manner Saul did, but when we claim to follow King Jesus and make him the Lord of our life, we agree to listen and obey him. He is the King. We are not.

Ask King Jesus, “What’s the most important thing you want to know today?” Write down what he says to you. Whether you are making big decisions like where to move or what job to take or small decisions like what food to eat or what person to invite over, talk with your King and let him take the lead.

Who’s King?2022-06-26T18:10:42-06:00

What is your Heart Attitude toward God?

In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:1-3

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” I Samuel 15:22-23 NIV

To obey is better than sacrifice.

If I want to be a follower of God – then God wants, desires, and requires my heart. My NIV study Bible has a note on Psalm 4:7 that explains, “heart in Biblical language (is) the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thought, motivations, courage and action – ‘the wellspring of life’ (Prov. 4:23).” When I take this into account, then obedience to God, to His rules, to His laws, to His personal instructions to me – involves my heart, my whole being, my mind, my soul, my emotions and my actions.

What is my heart attitude when God has asked me to do something? Is it like Saul’s? When I read about Saul in I Samuel chapters 9-16 a pattern emerges. Sometimes Saul does what God asks him to do, but often he does it in a partial way, or assumes a role not his own, or he modifies the instructions given to him. It seems to me that Saul often thought, well, God said to do this, but I think doing it my way – in my own timing – is good enough.

When we look at David, we are told he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). The Lord told Samuel at David’s anointing, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart,” I Samuel 16:7b. David was not perfect, he made many mistakes, but one key difference between Saul and David was that when corrected, David repented, and asked God for forgiveness and restoration. Psalm 51:16-17, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Jesus often spoke of the hardened or empty hearts of the religious leaders during His ministry. Ezekiel 36:26 tells us God, “will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Micah 6:8 tells us what God desires of us, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

How is your heart toward God? Read these passages, study them, listen to what God is telling you about your heart. Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:12-13, Psalm 40:6-8, Hebrews 10:5-10, Micah 6:6-8, Ezekiel 36:24-31.

What is your Heart Attitude toward God?2022-06-26T17:46:21-06:00

Practice to Obey

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1)

Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, ”Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call you; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. (1 Samuel 3:4-5)

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!”… Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel a third time and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me,” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
(1 Samuel 3:6a and 7-9)

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening.” And the Lord said to Samuel: “See I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”
(1 Samuel 3:10-11)

He (Samuel) was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son,” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide it from me.”… So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. (1 Samuel 3:15b-17a and 18)

While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him. Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do.
(Hebrews 5:7-8) The Message Bible

Obeying was hard for me as a child, particularly as some of the people were doing the exact opposite of what they told me to do. I often heard, “Don’t do as I do; do as I say,” and, “Are you listening to me?” It seemed to me that grown-up people could do whatever they wanted, but I couldn’t. What I didn’t know then is that it takes practice to learn to listen well and obey rightly.

I read 1 Samuel 1-4 to remind me of Samuel’s birth and early history as a boy ministering at Shiloh under Eli the priest. Samuel learned to listen for Eli’s voice and respond to his call. When Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel and told him how to respond to the Lord, Samuel was ready to do so, because he had practice in listening to and obeying Eli.

I have learned much about listening, obeying and practicing over a lot of years, but each season of my life from childhood until the age I am now reminds me that I will always have to practice. Sometimes it’s people I have to listen to and do what they tell me; but always it is listening to God and how he desires me to learn and grow in loving him and loving people.

By the Holy Spirit enabling me, my heart’s desire is to say with Paul:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14) MSG

How about you? Psalm 139 reminds us how completely God knows us in our uniqueness. Where do you need to listen to God and what might you need to practice doing in obedience to him? Take some time to read Psalm 139. Ask him to show you what he desires for you. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey.

Practice to Obey2022-06-26T17:13:50-06:00
Go to Top