Knowing God | Jeremiah 29:13

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…   Jeremiah 29:11-14a NIV

How do we know God? Jeremiah tells us to pray and seek him with all our heart. Where can learn about God’s character? Looking at the person of Jesus, the way he lived his life, and studying his word, the Bible is one way to learn, understand, and internalize who God is. Praying to God and asking for insight, for instruction and listening to his answers is another way to learn who God is.

In the past year, I have lived in the psalms and been blessed by learning to pray through them for myself, for others, and to praise God. Psalm 103 is a great place to start to study the character of God. Read through Psalm 103. Once you are done, go back and read it again looking for key words and phrases that reveal to you who God is. Make a list of those key words and phrases. Read through Psalm 103 again, slowly, praying the words, talking to God, thanking him for forgiving us, satisfying our desires, being compassionate, being merciful, and not treating us as our sinful nature requires. Thank him for this truth, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” Psalm 103:8.

Soak in the meaning of, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,” Psalm 103:11-12. Thank Jesus for his sacrifice, so that you and I can come into the presence of God. We have access to God – at any time. We can know God. We can look forward to always being with God in his everlasting kingdom. Use verses 1-2 and 20 -22 to praise God, speak truth to him, bless him for all of his blessings to you.

In Jeremiah 29:14 God promises we will be able to find God if we seek him and pray to him. Take him at his word. Use his words for your prayers and get to know God’s character in a new, deeper, and more meaningful way this week.

By Grace Hunter

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Knowing God | Jeremiah 29:132019-10-17T15:08:56-06:00

Desiring God | Ephesians 3:14-19

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

Who am I? Where did I come from? And where am I going? These are the questions of life that desire a response. Many people, philosophies and religions offer answers. Have you resolved these questions for yourself? Does your answer give you identity, a sense of purpose and direction?

Paul of Tarsus had answers to these questions. He knew who he was, where he was going and what he was doing. He expertly lived the law of God but was knocked off a horse by a blinding light so he could experience God. Even though he had purpose and identity figured out for himself, God aligned his life with Jesus, gave him an identity in Christ and a purpose spreading the good news to all the known world of the time. Ephesians 3:14-21 is a prayer of Paul’s for all people to know God and experience relationship with him. Are you like Paul, thinking you know all about God and have all the answers? Maybe. But, like Paul we need to also experience him to have purpose, identity and intimacy in him and with him. Our experience with God forms our opinion about him and affects our intimacy with him. Pray these verses in Ephesians for yourself and others.

In the late 1960s, early 1970s there was a revival in America. Those who experienced Jesus were sometimes called Jesus Freaks. I was one of those. You could say I had a relationship with Jesus but not much knowledge of him. It has taken a lifetime of intentional Bible college, Bible study, reading, instruction and prayer to know more about God. Even though we can seek him and experience him our whole life, we humanly cannot know all of him. But doing so gives us purpose and identity, now and for eternity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Trinity) invite us into the fullness of their relationships and the depth of their love.God created us for a reason, to know him and enjoy him forever. We were designed to live with God and grow in intimacy with him. He loves us and has a process to make us to be like him. As you listen to this song Run to the Father remember what you know about fullness in him and experience intimacy of life with him.

By Donna Burns

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Desiring God | Ephesians 3:14-192019-10-17T15:06:29-06:00

Default View of God | Ephesians 3:14-19

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

There are many things we have default reactions to in life. My wife, when startled, yelps. One of my family members would fall flat on the ground when startled by someone. While these examples might curl our mouths into a grin or smile, default reactions and positions in life are there regardless of whether we recognize them. When we really consider our position on God, for example, I’m pretty confident we’d find we have a default view of who we feel God is.

I grew up with an ‘angry God’ view, which I had for a large portion of my life. While living in this view created obedience in me, the reasoning behind it was way out of place. Devotion to God from a stance of fear was wrong.

While my view has shifted from fear to love, after gaining a fuller understanding of who God is and what his desire for me is, I thought it would be interesting to hear what my young granddaughters thought (the oldest is six, middle one is soon to be four). So I asked my daughter to record their responses when asked to describe God. My oldest responded first with the comment that God loves us, and would like us not to sin. My middle granddaughter responded that God loves her, and she loves God. How sweet it was!

While we hear things like this and say how cute it is, how is it that we don’t respond out of this same love rather than a position of fear? If your default view of God is indeed rooted in love, hallelujah! Praise God! If fear, not awe, is your default view of God, what would it take to shift that to one of love? For me, studying the scriptures with help from people and books (all of which were way smarter than me) provided the environment for the formation of knowing God truly. As you contemplate your view of God, and you find it to be fear, perhaps a journey is in order. A journey towards the God of love with your fellow believers. Maybe asking God for courage in taking the first steps, and inviting family and friends to journey with you, or to be an encouragement along the way.

By Rich Obrecht

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Default View of God | Ephesians 3:14-192019-10-17T15:03:17-06:00

Give and Receive | Romans 1:11-12

 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:11-12

Paul reminds us how we are strengthened and refreshed as we practice both giving and receiving well in community. For today’s soak practice, we want to challenge you to do something outside your normal routine of giving and receiving.

Consider what you could give away that you’re not used to giving. What do you have in terms of time, talent, or treasure that you could give away today? Perhaps it’s a monetary donation that’s over-and-beyond what you’re used to giving. Perhaps it’s paying for the person’s meal behind you in the drive-thru. Perhaps it’s dropping by a friend’s house to give them your time and listening ear. Perhaps it’s serving your neighbor by mowing their lawn or offering to pick something up from the store for them. Perhaps it’s using a talent you haven’t used in a while to bless another person from church (singing, encouragement, drawing, knitting, etc.). Perhaps it’s taking a few pieces of clothing or a meal to a homeless person on the street.

Consider how you might receive well today. Sometimes we can be so good at giving and having people depend on us that we’re out of practice at receiving well. How might you posture yourself to be ready and aware of receiving others’ time, talent, and treasure with a heart of humility and gratitude?

Journal about how these out-of-the-ordinary moments of giving and receiving made you feel. Express whatever feelings arose – feelings of discomfort, confusion, concern, warmth, encouragement, satisfaction, or refreshment?

By Yvonne Biel

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Give and Receive | Romans 1:11-122019-10-10T09:48:12-06:00

Learning to Receive | Romans 15:24

 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. Romans 15:24

Every year, especially recently, I’ve found Christmas to be a wonderful experience. I deeply enjoy giving gifts to my wife, children, and grandchildren. I find giving gifts to my grandchildren stirs memories of my own childhood, recalling the fun and joy I felt at receiving gifts.

As I grew up, the joy I felt at receiving gifts seemed to subside, and I began to feel more joy and happiness in giving gifts.Certainly, I appreciated the gifts, thoughts and love behind them, but it didn’t hold the same sense of joy as it did when I was younger.

Acts 20:35 says “It’s more blessed to give than receive”, and that’s still true. Giving gifts is certainly a blessing! Jesus tells us in John 3:16 the extent of God’s love for us and the deep-rooted gift to us, providing for us the ultimate in giving. Giving is indeed a blessing! But one thing to always remember: there’s a receiver with every gift.

The delight I see in my granddaughters when they receive their gift is something I’ve lost over time. I experience this in day-to-day life, where I’ve become less willing to receive a gift from someone, including asking for help with things I can’t always do myself. My pridefulness steps in and I can’t bring myself to ask for help, attempting to ‘muscle through’ and get it done on my own. This ought not so to be! I’m depriving someone of the blessing of helping, giving me a gift that I need, and feeling blessed for it.

Perhaps it’s time to recount the joy in receiving a gift of help, accepting the blessings intended, and allowing the opportunity for others to be blessed in their giving. As you go through your day, keep your eyes and ears open for ways to share blessings with those around us when you’re in need. If they offer, accept the gift. If they don’t, ask them. Give them the opportunity to receive the blessing!

By Rich Obrecht

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Learning to Receive | Romans 15:242019-10-10T09:39:18-06:00

Contributions to the Kingdom | Acts 11:20-21

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  Acts 11:20-21 NIV

Acts Chapter 11:19-30 tells of the early church using its resources for the kingdom of God. Believers had scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. As the church leaders in Jerusalem learned about these new believers, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to evaluate their maturity and determine if he could help them grow. He found a group of believers experiencing God’s grace, and so he went to Tarsus, found Saul, and the two of them teach, lead, encourage, and disciple the church in Antioch for a year. Then a famine came to Judea, and the members of the church in Antioch, each according to his ability, decided to send Saul and Barnabas with their gift of money to the church in Jerusalem.

These verses in Acts demonstrate many ways we can use our resources for the furtherance of the gospel in God’s kingdom. First, Barnabas was sent to another area to teach. He takes Saul with him, and the two of them teach and lead together. Believers grew in their faith, and when another group of believers, in another city are in need, the Antioch Christians demonstrate their spiritual maturity by generously giving money to the believers in Jerusalem who do not have enough to eat.

I believe we are all called to be involved in kingdom work. We all have a responsibility to grow and learn in our faith. As we mature, hopefully we will seek out opportunities to encourage other believers and share the gospel with those who we encounter daily, with others in our city, in our nation, and with people in other countries. We may not all be able to go to other countries ourselves, but we can all become involved in ministries that do kingdom work locally and abroad.

What are your resources you could use for God’s kingdom? Could you encourage someone to grow, or lead a small group? Are you a prayer warrior? Do you have an extra room or a basement, or a car a missionary could use while home on furlough? Consider going on a short term mission trip, or support someone else going on one. Find an organization that you believe is involved in kingdom work, and use your resources, your time, talent or treasure to support them. For example: watch this video about how Samaritan’s Purse supported the Bahamas last month.

By Grace Hunter

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Contributions to the Kingdom | Acts 11:20-212019-10-10T09:35:31-06:00

The Resource of My Life | Philippians 2:14-18

Do all things without grumbling or disputing,that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.  Philippians 2:14-18

Happy Birthday South Fellowship! It’s been forty years since this church started. Many, many pastors, elders, teachers, friends and members have poured out their lives as an offering to help this church grow. Our fellowship is a testimony to God working through the talent, abilities, resources, brain and brawn of its members. If you’re reading this, you might be a part of South Fellowship or you might not. Regardless, your life matters because you matter to God. He created you, gave you life, and unique gifts.

Brene Brown’s research found, “When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we created a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God”. He is working and willing his good pleasure in and through us. How can you be like Paul and others who have gone before, pouring out your life for the church’s maturity and growth? Here is a prayer delivered at South’s 25th birthday party celebration. As you think about what resources God has given you, and how you can use them well, pray this prayer today.

‘Lord, I give myself to you whatever the cost may be. Take every aspect of my life and use me for your Kingdom to glorify your name. I’m not here on earth to do my own thing, to seek my own fulfillment or my own glory, I’m not here to indulge my desires, to increase my possessions, to impress people, to be popular, to prove I’m somebody important, or to promote myself. I’m not here even to be relevant or successful by human standards. I’m here to please You. To live like this, I yield myself to you, to know you, to love you, to obey you and to grow in your holy fear. I desire to become a person who understands and lives in reverent awe of You. I’ll do anything that you want me to do, go anywhere you want me to go and say anything you want me to say. Father there isn’t any gift that you have for me that I don’t want. If you want to use me in a way that I’m not use to, I yield myself to that. Today I affirm my love for you, my God and I choose to live and minister in your way. I trust you Lord to do that which I cannot do for myself. Teach me, guide me, empower me to fear your name. In Jesus name. Amen.’ (portions authored by Myers, Jacobs, Schlafer).

By Donna Burns

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The Resource of My Life | Philippians 2:14-182019-10-10T09:23:17-06:00

God’s Economy | Romans 15:23-25

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. Romans 15:25-27

It takes time, money, and energy to survive in this world. Our experience of faith and pursuit of Jesus require the same things, don’t they? After all, we are supposed to serve and give and find time to spend with God. Does it ever seem like there are not enough of these resources to manage both life and faith? That is the challenge of managing resources.

When it comes to our resources, there is tension between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. It is natural to think in terms of the world’s economy. The world’s economy is one of scarcity where resources are limited, and we must cling to what we have. In contrast, God’s economy is one of abundance, and it is filled with counter-intuitive ideas. Jesus said, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Jesus taught that forgiveness is better than retaliation. These counter-intuitive rules of life extend into how we manage our resources as well.

In the text above, we see there are both material blessings and spiritual blessings. The material world feels more significant because our five senses offer us constant feedback about our material needs. The material demands our attention, but it is the spiritual blessings that drive the activities in this text. Spiritual benefits are more critical to the human experience than we often sense. Once we learn material blessing is not the only need we have, we can begin to seek spiritual meaning. That meaning is found in the counter-intuitive relationship we must have with our resources. Surrender of our material resources paves a path to spiritual resources that genuinely satisfy. Worldly wealth is not promised to followers of God, but often healthy relationships with our resources actually make it easier to manage them well.

Take a moment to ask yourself, what is my relationship with my resources? Do you believe that time, energy, and money will give you deep satisfaction? Are you clinging to your resources out of fear that there just won’t be enough to go around? Now, ask God to help you learn to trust him with your resources so that they don’t own you, but you steward them. You can use your hands as you pray. With your palms facing down tell God that you are letting go of your resources as a source of hope. Then, with your palms up ask God to give you the deeper joy found in surrender.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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God’s Economy | Romans 15:23-252019-10-10T09:18:31-06:00

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

What we do every day adds up to what we do with our lives. Routines reveal a lot about a person. Do you have a morning routine, a meal time, drive time, or a bedtime routine? List your daily routines. Ask God to show you how these tasks shape you as you perform them. How have they formed who you are? Your body is sacred and caring for it is a holy act. The body you live in each day is the body you use to worship God. Does what you do every day affect your worship on Sunday, does your worship on Sunday affect your everyday? Transformation uses individual and community spiritual practices. “None of us can be made whole, ‘til we are made whole together”- Lesslie Newbigin.

Tish Harrison Warren, in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, relates the elements of traditional liturgy to our daily tasks. Liturgy is simply the regular practices a church does, for example Confession, Communion, or Passing the Peace. Warren lines up some of the aspects of liturgy and everyone’s ordinary day, such as: 

Eating-reading the word and taking the Lord’s Supper
Sleeping-Sabbath rest
Calling a friend-reciting creeds or choral readings
Brushing your teeth-ceremony

The ordinary liturgy of my day forms me for who I am now and for who I believe God wants me to become. Daily reading, studying and prayer are the building blocks I need for where I want to go and who I want to be in Jesus. How long, when, and where I exercise and rest is life-giving. These hymn lyrics give me hope. “Jesus I am resting, resting in the joy of what thou art, I am finding out the greatness of your loving heart. Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, And Thy beauty fills my soul. For by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole.”

By Donna Burns

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Liturgy of the Ordinary2019-10-04T10:56:43-06:00

Habits of Worship | 1 Corinthians 9:27

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

In yesterday’s devotional, we made the assertion that the body can be a Holy Partner. God designed our body to assist us if we learn to submit our bodies as instruments for righteousness. We even began to explore how spiritual disciplines can help us in that training process. In light of that, read through the passage above thoughtfully.

What does it look like for a person to leverage the body’s tendency towards habit forming? How can habit forming become a powerful tool for your spiritual journey? Paul tells us that he disciplines his body to keep it under control. The question is, under control of what?

We are creatures with many parts. We are mind/emotion, body, will, and soul. As humans, we often want to change who we are. We think that it is our will that enables us to change. After all, our free will is what gives us the option to change. It’s well put in the book Soul Keeping where John Ortberg recounts a conversation he had with Dallas Willard;

“The will is very good at making simple and large commitments like getting married, or deciding to move someplace,” Dallas explained. “But it is very bad at trying to override habits and patterns and attitudes that are deeply rooted in us. If you try to improve your soul by willpower, you will exhaust yourself and everyone around you.”

Ortberg, John. Soul Keeping (p. 37). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

This is such an important truth to learn. The question is, how can the body aid us with this challenge. Well you see, the will is good at deciding to commit to spiritual practice. The body is then good at internalizing that practice to the point where it becomes a habit (transformation). If we begin to understand all of the parts of ourselves and how God designed them to work in harmony, we begin to truly understand what it looks like change. If you want a wonderful resource about this, read the book Soul Keeping by John Ortberg.

This week, Choose one physical practice that can help you train in the way of Jesus. For ideas, you can go here.

Find a rubber band that fits snugly around your wrist. Every time you notice that rubber band stop and practice what you have committed to. Finally, switch the band to the other wrist so that it becomes more present to your consciousness. Do this throughout the day and see if it helps you remember to practice more frequently.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Habits of Worship | 1 Corinthians 9:272019-10-03T14:28:48-06:00
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