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South Fellowship Church

Leaving a Legacy Like Anna | Luke 2:36-38

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38

I heard a preacher say once that humans never drift toward the way of Jesus. As I have grown and interacted with more people, I believe that to be true. Generally speaking, we drift away from the things of God rather than towards them. It takes intentionality to move against the tide of culture and flesh.

In this story of Anna we find a woman who has been intentional with her time. She has focused on God for decades and the resulting life is beautiful. So the question is, what kind of life do you want to live? When you are advanced in years, what would you want to be known for? Actually answering questions like that are the first steps towards intentionality.

Take the next 10 minutes and write down the things you want to be known for. You can fill in sentences like this: ______ Is known for their kindness and generosity. Once you are finished, I want you to close your eyes and focus your mind on a future day where you are living that way. What kinds of things are you doing? What kinds of activities take up your time? Intention begins with vision, so imagine it.

By Aaron Bjorklund

Leaving a Legacy Like Anna | Luke 2:36-382020-08-27T15:02:02-06:00

Withdrawing Fearfully or Witnessing Fearlessly | 1 Peter 3:15-16

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:15-16

I’ve heard this passage quoted as justification for using the Bible to verbally bludgeon someone into Christ’s Kingdom. Somehow, I don’t think this is what Peter’s referring to. The quoted portion is always, “always be prepared to make a defense,” and not the ‘how:’ with gentleness and respect. This seems to be another example of scripture being misused. The most important word here seems to be ‘hope,’ which is hard to demonstrate when sharing the Gospel without gentleness and respect.

On the other hand, we’re not to refrain or withdraw from sharing out of fear, either. This passage calls us to be ready to share anytime to anyone. Examples in situations where fear might have dominated, but didn’t, are Peter and John standing before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) and Stephen sharing his message from the Spirit with the religious leadership in God-filled wisdom (Acts 6:8-7:60). While Peter and John declared their allegiance to Jesus by sharing their message rather than not, Stephen drew parallels between the priests’ denial of Jesus to the Exodus Hebrews and he died because of it. These are two courageous examples for us in our tumultuous times about sharing the Gospel message with others despite any fear.

What does the earthly future hold for us? I sure don’t know. This Earth is on a trajectory matching what we’ve read about: that the beginnings of this journey will include violence and natural disasters (Matthew 24:7-8). It will also include the suffering of the saints, yielding a revelation of true Kingdom followers as a falling away and betrayal happens (Matthew 24:9-10).

Considering what we’re seeing and hearing these days around the world, it’s not hard to see where these passages are being fulfilled. Now is the time for Kingdom courage to prevail in our sharing! Perhaps as you pray, ask the Lord to reveal someone to share with (friend or stranger) and the courage to be bold for the Kingdom out of a heart of love and respect.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” – C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

By Rich Obrecht

Withdrawing Fearfully or Witnessing Fearlessly | 1 Peter 3:15-162020-08-27T14:59:41-06:00

Worrying Constantly to Worshiping Intentionally | Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9

Consider the journey of a life-long widow. As a young Hebrew woman who lost her husband, it would have been the duty of her brother-in-law(s) and family to care for her, but there is no record of this. Although we don’t have details of Anna’s journey, we could imagine moments when she felt alone, overlooked, unloved, seemingly unnecessary, and perhaps anxious for how she will manage in a patriarchal world.

But, instead of playing the victim card, we see Anna leaning into a life dependent on the Holy Spirit and filled with worship. We’ve all known aging people who’ve become bitter and cynical with their lot in life, but Anna in her final years isn’t complaining about how she felt abandoned or wallowing in her shattered dreams. No! Anna is living intentionally on mission. She is fixing her gaze on her God through spiritual practices and hoping in the Messiah’s coming. We too, can rejoice in the Lord and worship him while we await his second coming!

Unfortunately, human Christ-followers can get bogged down into believing we are victims of our circumstances – especially when the devil plants thoughts in our anxious minds. We wonder if we’ve been abandoned or unloved by God. We get flustered looking around us for hope or some sense of security and control. We panic when we can’t seem to fix our own problems.

These anxious thoughts are the strategy of the Evil One to get us to think we are out-of-control and need his help. But, the truth is that Jesus is always in control. Jesus has already conquered sin, death, and the grave, and is coming again to make all things new. Put Philippians 4:4-9 into practice today by turning your anxious thoughts into hope-filled rejoicing in Jesus’s return. Turn to Revelation 19:11-22:5 to remind yourself to worship the one who is to come!

By Yvonne Biel

Worrying Constantly to Worshiping Intentionally | Philippians 4:4-92020-08-27T14:07:53-06:00

Wandering Aimlessly or Waiting Expectantly | Lamentations 3:25-26

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:25-26

 I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

The prophetess Anna impresses me so much. For 84 years she waited with confidence and conviction that God would deliver on His promise to her to see the Messiah. Her faith in this promise was akin to that of Abraham, David and Elijah. Waiting can be hard for anyone, but waiting for 84 years is both a testament to her faith and, moreso, to God’s faithfulness.

We live in an instant culture where waiting is something of a lost art. Far too often waiting is seen as a curse rather than the blessing it was designed to be. Romans 5:4-6 reminds us that it is patience that develops character, and character that develops hope.

Yet if we are really honest, waiting makes us chafe. It feels so useless. Yet, true waiting is not a waste of time. It is the confidence in Isaiah 60:22 that at just the right time and in just the right way God will act according to His great plans and purposes.

I hold great esteem for author and theologian, Andrew Murray. In his book, Waiting on God, he writes in speaking of God’s goodness, grace and work in our lives, “We hinder Him either by our indifference or our self-effort, so He cannot do what He would like to do. What He asks of us in way of surrender, obedience, desire, and trust is all included in this one word: waiting-waiting on Him and waiting for His salvation. It combines the deep sense of our entire helplessness to work what is divinely good and our perfect confidence that our God will work it all in His divine power.”

Waiting is not useless. It is aimless, numb, debilitating wandering that is truly useless. Wandering has no direction and can leave us feeling stuck in a whirlpool vortex of hopelessness. But true and blessed waiting is to keep our eyes solely fixed on our blessed Savior and follow Him into the unknown, with the confidence that He alone will provide in ways we can’t imagine at just the right time.

Whether you are young, or advanced in years, we are all waiting for something. The wait doesn’t come any easier with age, but our confidence in God’s faithfulness should grow. Is there something in your life that you have given up hope on? How can you rekindle that flame and begin to wait on God again to fulfil His promise in your life this week? Confess it before Him today and start again.

By Sheila Rennau

Wandering Aimlessly or Waiting Expectantly | Lamentations 3:25-262020-08-27T14:05:42-06:00

Anna, the Prophetess | Luke 2:36-38

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23 NIV

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-24, 36-38 NIV

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

His Word shall not fail you, He promised

Believe Him and all will be well

Then go to a world that is dying

His perfect salvation to tell

This beautiful hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” describes much of Anna’s life. Anna, meaning gracious, is the same Hebrew word as Hannah, who was another woman of prayer and devotion to God. Luke gives us a short, two-verse description of her life – which illustrates the fruit of the Spirit in action. We are given a snapshot picture of a woman, a widow, who spent her life in God’s presence and worshiping God.

As Joseph and Mary approach the temple to dedicate baby Jesus, Simeon recognizes the baby as Israel’s salvation and declares this to his parents. Anna is described as a prophetess. Because of the time spent in God’s presence, fixing her gaze on him, she also recognizes Jesus as the redemption of Israel. Anna then tells everyone about the child that has come to Redeem Israel.

Anna was faithful in her worship of God. She was patient, waiting for the Lord’s redeemer. She spent her days praying and fasting, while in the temple – the most holy place in all of Israel. She is placed alongside Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (II Kings 22:14) and the daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:9) as a prophetess of the Lord. Luke 2:38b says,“she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

What does it mean to you to fix your eyes upon Jesus? A. W. Tozer said, “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” Listen to this version of the hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. While you are listening, think about ways you can fix your eyes upon Jesus. Perhaps you could take a walk and pray asking God to show you where you need to refocus on him. Ask him to show you who you should be praying for today, and in what way. You could spend time reading Psalm 103 and worshiping him for his unfailing love for you. Perhaps journaling, or drawing is a way for you to spend time in God’s presence. For many of us, listening to praise music, brings us into God’s presence. Explore ways to spend time in God’s presence and fixing your eyes on Jesus this week.

By Grace Hunter

Anna, the Prophetess | Luke 2:36-382020-08-27T14:02:53-06:00

An Unexpected Equality | Acts 10:44-48; Ephesians 4:4-7; James 2:1-4

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Acts 10:44-48

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Ephesians 4:4-7

 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4

In reading all the passages listed above, a common thread becomes readily apparent: we’re all equal in the body of Christ. We’re not even supposed to look at those we don’t know and place them into some sort of ‘box.’ The Acts passage reveals the surprise experienced by Jewish believers already resident in God’s Kingdom. This surprise helps us realize they felt The Way was theirs and theirs alone. Imagine the depth of that surprise. I’m so glad Peter ventured to Cornelius’s home, following God’s will despite not fully understanding the message he received!

This equality message has been heard repeatedly by believers worldwide for generations. We talk about it with each other and all know the message having not experienced the surprise described in Acts 10:45. And yet, this understanding of the Gospel hasn’t quite made it from our Kingdom life discussions to our lives here on Earth as Kingdom dwellers.

I’ve met with a snippet of this surprise in my own life during my first international missions’ trip in 2009. I heard, sadly, for the first time in my life, someone speaking to Jesus in a language other than English. It struck me right then and there that God’s Kingdom was more and bigger than I ever understood or imagined. At the time, I’d been a Jesus follower for a good while, and had heard this Kingdom equality message almost that long. A lot of weight seemed to fall away from me during that experience. The weight of unrecognized selfishness was gone: The Holy Spirit freed me of that burden! I can’t imagine what my Kingdom life would have resembled had I been freed of this sooner.

It’s hard not to think we’re ‘ok’ regarding Kingdom equality and that we’re in tune with it. I would challenge us all to really delve into our beliefs and understandings of this topic, and realistically evaluate where we’re at. I personally find my prayer time to be very revelatory around things in my life needing realigning or getting back on the rails. As you assume your own posture of prayer before our God, ask for divine revelation for areas of equality blindness. Listen quietly, hands and hearts open. If something’s revealed, repent and surrender. Perhaps opening your heart to God’s Kingdom sense of equality will spill over into the life you’re living now.

By Rich Obrecht

An Unexpected Equality | Acts 10:44-48; Ephesians 4:4-7; James 2:1-42020-08-20T14:33:07-06:00

An Unexpected Gospel | Acts 10:28-43

He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:28-43

It must have been shocking for Peter to see God’s plan for the gentiles unfolding. Since almost the beginning of time, there were separations between nationalities. Now, God seemed to be opening a door to embrace unity and equality. It was a paradigm shift that the world had never seen. It was so unexpected for Peter that half of his “gospel” sermon to this gentile household seems to be self-talk. It is as if Peter is thinking out loud trying to work through all that he is processing. Eventually he does get to the story of Jesus, but it takes him some time.

The reality is, we still struggle to embrace the unifying nature of God’s heart for humanity. The gospel is still shocking in this way. It’s good news for ALL people and whenever we find ourselves angry or frustrated with someone or some group of people, we must remember that God’s grace is good news for them too. We don’t fully understand the gospel until we can embrace its power for everyone.

Take a moment and pray a prayer of confession. It is very natural, in our human weakness, to develop an us vs. them attitude. Confess that tendency in you. Ask God to break down any barriers in your heart towards others. Ask God to give you his eyes for EVERY person.

By Aaron Bjorklund

An Unexpected Gospel | Acts 10:28-432020-08-20T14:30:30-06:00

An Unexpected Hunger | Acts 10:24-27

The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. Acts 10:24-27

When Peter arrives in Caesarea, he doesn’t just find Cornelius, he find his whole household! This group of people are waiting expectantly to hear some kind of news- they don’t know what, exactly, but they know that it matters. And whatever it is, they are ready to receive it!

We can learn so much from the spiritual hunger of Cornelius and his family. They knew this news Peter had to share was significant, even life changing, and they dropped everything to hear it and respond! Are there times in your life you’ve experienced this kind of hunger? How hungry are you now? Our desire to learn about Jesus and grow with him may look different in different seasons of our lives but the important thing is remaining willing to respond to the invitation to know more.

However, even as I say we should learn from Cornelius’ example, I want to add a caveat: while it is good to be inspired by the spiritual hunger of others, and it can often be a source of encouragement, beware of turning someone else’s walk with Jesus into a game of comparison. Jesus isn’t interested in how you measure up to your pastor or brother or Bible Study friend. He is interested in your heart.

Like Cornelius and his household, we can aspire to grow in our hunger for the Lord. Engage in worship where you’re at today, and examine where in your life you are hungering to learn or grow more. What steps can you take to grow in those areas? One step might be to learn something about the Lord from someone very different from you today, like a child, a neighbor, or someone of a different ethnicity.

By Jessica Rust

An Unexpected Hunger | Acts 10:24-272020-08-20T14:28:17-06:00

An Unexpected Vision | Acts 10:9-20

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:11 NIV

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Acts 10:9-19 NIV

The book of Acts unfolds the incredible story of how the gospel spread from Jerusalem, to all of Israel, and then to many parts of the Roman empire. In the beginning, the message was given to Jews, but Gentiles heard the gospel also. In Acts 9:43 we see that, “Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.” This was unusual for a Jewish believer at this time. Because a tanner spent his day working with animal skins, his job was considered unclean and so was often despised by Jews who were concerned with remaining ceremonially clean. Yet, Peter was living with an “unclean” tanner in Joppa.

In Acts 10:9, we read that, “Peter went up on the roof to pray.” He was posturing himself to talk to God and to listen to him. This reminds me of the story in I Samuel. “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. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening,’” I Samuel 3:8b-10.

Peter showed a willingness to associate with an “unclean” person by staying with Simon the Tanner. Next, he prayed and God gave him a vision about clean and unclean animals. During the vision Peter is instructed to eat animals Jews considered to be unclean. Peter said, “‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,’” Acts 10:14-15. Peter pondered the meaning of the vision, then invited the gentile visitors into the house, and traveled with them to Caesarea to share the gospel with Cornelius the next day.

Peter’s vision and Samuel’s calling were unexpected, but both postured themselves to listen to God’s leading. We need to do the same. This week spend some time in prayer – using a psalm as a guide. Psalm 25 and 37 are conversations that include prayer requests, praise, worship, and answers God gives to the psalmist. Try reading and praying through one of these psalms. Pause to listen to what God is telling you from his word.

By Grace Hunter

An Unexpected Vision | Acts 10:9-202020-08-20T14:26:17-06:00

An Unexpected Message | Acts 10:1-8

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. Acts 10:1-8

There are quite a few people I want to meet when I someday make it to Heaven, but in my top 10 is a Roman Centurion named, Cornelius. Man, that guy was cool! I love how Scripture describes him as devout, God-fearing, and generous—three words I hope can be used to describe me as well!

It’s interesting to note that this man was Roman, which means he was a Gentile, and not just any Gentile. Cornelius was a centurion in the Italian Regiment. Not knowing much about military things, I did a little research and discovered that most legions were made up of about 6,000 men, and regiments accounted for one-tenth of a legion, which is 600 men. A centurion would have been over what’s known as a century, which is 100 men.
Essentially, this means that Cornelius was moving up in the world. He had power and a bit of prestige, and yet that is not what he is remembered for. Being a centurion was only his day job; he didn’t let it go to his head. His legacy was in how he loved the Lord and gave generously to all. The Newsboys got it right when they sang in their song, “Cornelius” that “His kneel is real.”

What strikes me most about this passage is that God calls Cornelius out! In a vision, God lets Cornelius know that He has heard his prayers and seen his gifts to the poor. What a wonderful comfort and conviction that nothing escapes God’s notice! He sees, hears, and knows all. But notice also that God gives Cornelius a directive: Go send for Peter.

Because Cornelius has a heart tuned-in to God, and longs to please Him, he obeys immediately. He sends trusted and devout men to go to Joppa and find Peter.

Cornelius didn’t do the right things to get something from God. He did the right things because he had a pure heart, and as Jesus promised, blessed are those with a pure heart for they will see God. At a time when faith would have cost Cornelius not only his job, but also his life, we find him giving his all for the One who gave him even more.

Examine your heart and motives in your service to Christ. Is your kneel as real as Cornelius’? Take some time to do an inventory of your heart and motives.

By Sheila Rennau

An Unexpected Message | Acts 10:1-82020-08-20T14:23:55-06:00
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