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Archive for December, 2009

The story is told of a French soldier returning to his home after the Napoleonic wars.  Weary and alone, he steadily traveled, passing through village after village seeking shelter and the hospitality of his countrymen.

He was saddened to find the devastation of war had broken the spirit of the villagers.  High taxes, poor crops, and uncertainty had stolen their sense of love, trust, and community.  And so our lonely soldier traveled, trying to make his way home, and trying to make these war torn villages more like home as he went.

His luggage was peculiar.  He didn’t carry the rifle that had helped him survive the hard fought battles he had seen.  He didn’t carry a knapsack full of clothing.  Not much could be found in his old wagon, but a large metal pot and a special box with something priceless inside.

One day, he wondered into a village in the region of Lyon and made his way to the town square which housed the local well.  His presence was met by the slamming of doors, the closing of shutters, and mothers calling their children in early from their playing.  The soldier simply whistled and walked on. 

Upon arriving at the well, he filled his metal pot with water, placed it on an old fire pit in the town square, and lit a nice fire underneath.

A miserly old man passed by and scoffed at the soldier.  “Don’t know why you’re stopping here,” he said, “And definitely no need for a cooking fire.  There ain’t a bite to eat in the whole region.  You’ll starve like the rest of us if you stay too long.”

“Oh, I’ve everything I need right here,” the soldier replied.  “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with the rest of you.”

With that, he opened the box and pulled out a velvet bag and from the bag he removed one small stone and plopped it in the water.  The soldier leaned over the pot, breathed in the aroma with a satisfactory groan, and gave the pot a stir.

Well, it didn’t take long for the entire village to hear word of a stranger cooking up something odd in the center of town.  Many of the villagers began to make their way toward the square, while many others began to peer out of now unshuttered windows.

As the soldier gave the broth a taste and licked his lips in anticipation of a scrumptious meal, hunger began to overtake the villager’s skepticism.

“Ah,” the soldier said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup.  Of course, some flour would sure thicken up the broth.  It’s hard to beat a thick and rich stone soup.”

It wasn’t long before a villager returned with a cup of flour and offered it to be added to the pot.

“Excellent,” cried the soldier, “You know I once had stone soup with minced spices and a bit of garlic.  It was fit for a king.”

No sooner had he spoken the words than two housewives appeared with garlic and spices to add to the simmering pot of deliciousness.  And with that, the soldier gave one more sniff of the pot, yawned quite loudly and decided to go and rest under a tree while the stone soup gently cooked.

It was all the villagers could do to resist stealing a spoonful of soup smelling so wonderful with the fresh garlic and spices wafting in the air.  As the soldier slept a farmer made his way to the pot with some carrots he had hidden away in his cellar.  He was followed by a boy who had been sent with an onion.  Not long after that, the local butcher came bustling into the crowd with a sausage he decided could be spared for such a grand event as stone soup.

As the soup bubbled and the list of ingredients grew, the soldier rested until dinner time when he promptly jumped up, rushed over to examine the soup, and determined it to be the taste of perfection, if only it had a pinch of salt.

Moments later containers of salt came at the boiling pot from four different directions.  It was all the soldier could do to keep the soup from being ruined by over zealous salters.

That evening, an entire village of once broken and disconnected people enjoyed a mighty feast on the lawn of the town square.  They laughed and danced and remembered the old times with such fondness that, for the first time in a long time, they had a pleasant hope about tomorrow.

You can only imagine the offers that were made to purchase that magical stone from the soldier, but he refused to sell, and on the next day he loaded up and traveled on. 

Steadily making his way home from the war, he went, making war torn villages more like home along the way.

It can be quickly seen that Stone Soup is a metaphor for life, leadership, and generosity.  As you contemplate the impact of that metaphor on your vision for a new year, I encourage you to ponder three truths revealed in the story.

  1. As a child of God, you are a soldier traveling through a war-torn land on your way home.
  2. You have been commissioned to make this ravaged earth look more like home.
  3. Every pot of soup you start, you do for His glory.

Grace and peace and a Happy New Year to you all!

Podcast

Check back soon for this week’s Stone Soup podcast.

Links

Check out the church website for additional information about life at EFC.

Parents — don’t forget to head over to the WorldChangers page to access ways to connect Kid’s Church to your kitchen table.

On the Radar – Church Holiday Schedule

  • Wednesday, December 30 – No Church Activities
  • Thursday, December 31 – New Year’s Night of Worship — and talent show!  Email me at efcsweetwater@aol.com to sign up.

Revelation Bible study is taking a Holiday break.  We will resume our eschatological exploration Tuesday, January 5, 2010.

The Drum Circle will be getting back on rhythm in 2010.  Drop me an email if you are interested in learning to play hand drums.

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, January 3, is the first Sunday of the New Year — and the decade.  We look forward to a great start to this year and a great morning of worship with you!

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  • Jesus was punished that we might be forgiven.
  • Jesus was wounded that we might be healed.
  • Jesus was made sin with our sinfulness that we might become righteous with His righteousness.
  • Jesus died our death that we might share His life.
  • Jesus became poor with our poverty that we might become rich with His riches.
  • Jesus bore our shame that we might share His glory.
  • Jesus endured our rejection that we might have His acceptance as children of God.
  • Jesus became a curse that we might receive a blessing.

Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

6 And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.

7 Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.

For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Podcast

Podcast unavailable for 12/20/09.

Links

We hope to have a video of our amazing Children’s Christmas Pageant up soon.  Thanks a million to everyone who helped make the pageant such a wonderful celebration of the birth of our King.  Check back soon for the video link.

Discover more about Emmanuel Fellowship Church of Sweetwater.  Click the link to access our website.

Parents — don’t forget to head over to the WorldChangers page to access ways to connect Kid’s Church to your kitchen table.

On the Radar – Church Holiday Schedule

  • Wednesday, December 23 – No Church Activities
  • Sunday, December 27 – Last Sunday of 2009
  • Wednesday, December 30 – No Church Activities
  • Thursday, December 31 – New Year’s Night of Worship — and talent show!  Email me at efcsweetwater@aol.com to sign up.

Revelation Bible study is taking a Holiday break.  We will resume our eschatological exploration Tuesday, January 5, 2010.

The Drum Circle will be getting back on rhythm in 2010.  Drop me an email if you are interested in learning to play hand drums.

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, December 27, is the last Sunday of the year — and the decade.  We look forward to ending the year with a wonderful time of worship and a special message as Pastor Eric shares with us the miracle of “Stone Soup.”

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We asked quite a few “why” questions yesterday as we contemplated the birth of our Savior.  I hope and pray the message gave you some good thoughts to consider.  The purpose and plan of God to offer His Son as a sacrifice for mankind demonstrates to us that Jesus truly is THE way to salvation, not simply a way to salvation.

Another “why” we encounter during the Christmas season is the question, “Why do we have a Santa Clause?” 

It’s a very good question.  Who is the big guy in the red velvet suit anyway?  And does he prefer milk or Coca Cola with his cookies?

It is my humble opinion that Santa Clause never intended to hijack the meaning of Christmas.  If anything, the meaning of Santa got hijacked somewhere along the way.

I invite you to read my historical fiction account of “A Christmas Without Options” and discover what history and tradition tell us about the real significance of that jolly old soul.

Podcast

Click here to listen to Pastor Eric’s message “God’s Perfect Sacrifice.”

Links

In yesterday’s message we listened to the song “Such a strange way to save the world” by 4 Him.  Click the title for a reprise.

Parents — don’t forget to head over to the WorldChangers page to access ways to connect Kid’s Church to your kitchen table.

On the Radar – Church Holiday Schedule

I am looking forward to our children’s Christmas pageant next Sunday.  They have been working very hard to present the beauty of the Christmas story to us.  I love to catch the whispered hums of my little ones as they rehearse their songs throughout the day.  We will also be distributing a Christmas gift to all of our congregation this Sunday—something the worship team has been hard at work on for a month now!

This is going to be a very special morning for us as a church family.  I hope you will invite your family to experience this wonderful day with us.  And, please be in prayer for Pastor Lolo as she works with the children to put the finishing touches on the pageant this week. 

  • Wednesday, December 16 – Hayride, Caroling, & Chiminea Christmas Party — Leave from the church at 6:30.  Click here for more details.
  • Saturday, December 19 – Ladies’ Cookie Swap & Ornament Exchange.  Click for instructions.
  • Sunday, December 20 – Children’s Christmas Pageant
  • Wednesday, December 23 – No Church Activities
  • Sunday, December 27 – Last Sunday of 2009
  • Wednesday, December 30 – No Church Activities
  • Thursday, December 31 – New Year’s Night of Worship — and talent show!  Email me at efcsweetwater@aol.com to sign up.

Revelation Bible study this Tuesday from 12:00 – 1:00 pm in my office.  Everyone is welcome to join in, just bring your Bible and a lunch box.  Keep up with the progress at The Watchman’s Gaze.

The Drum Circle will be getting back on rhythm in 2010.  Drop me an email if you are interested in learning to play hand drums.

You Heard it at EFC

Been trying to remember one of those awesome songs we sang?  Here is our worship list from yesterday, for those of you who just absolutely need a copy for yourself.  You can usually find them for purchase on itunes.com.

  1. “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”
  2. “I’ve Found a Love” Bethel Live version
  3. “I Adore You” Jesus Culture version
  4. “How He Loves” Kim Walker version

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, December 20, is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent.  Come celebrate with us as our children lead us in their Christmas presentation!

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So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  (Luke 2:4-7 NIV)

Photo: Aschwin Prein

“Because there was no room for them in the inn” is one of the most recognizable phrases found in the Bible.  It is quoted in Christmas pageants and family Bible studies all around the world as the celebration of the birth of Jesus approaches.

What do we know about that inn in Bethlehem?  Does the Bible have anything else to say about the humble sight that would welcome the King of Heaven to dwell on the earth?  Who did it belong to?  When was it built?

If you turn back in the pages of your Bible, you find a curious reference in Jeremiah 41 to a place in Bethlehem in which some travelers made a stop while they were fleeing to Egypt.

… And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt to escape the Babylonians … (Jeremiah 41:17-18 NIV)

It is an interesting reference to a little known location near Bethlehem that has no bearing on the story being told in Jeremiah 41.  Like so many passages of scripture, it is a small nugget planted within the text to shed light on a much bigger picture.

As we study the reference to “Geruth Kimham,” an amazing picture begins to unfold for us.  A picture of blessing and covenant and what can happen when a man chooses to leave his past and walk in relationship with a king.

Geruth Kimham is not a city near Bethlehem, it is a residence that was established near Bethlehem as a place for travelers to find shelter.  The Hebrew words are literally translated as “the lodging place of Kimham.”  We would refer to it today as a hotel, in the pages of the Bible you would find it referred to as an “inn.”

This man, Kimham, who established an inn near Bethlehem, has an interesting appearance in the story of King David.  After the rebellion of Absalom, David returns to Jerusalem to be reestablished as king over the nation of Israel.  David is accompanied on this return trip by many of the men who provided for him when he fled from Absalom to avoid a civil war in the streets of Jerusalem.  One of those men, Barzillai the Gileadite, has a very special place in David’s heart, and David desires to richly bless Barzillai.  We read the account of their conversation in 2 Samuel 19, where we find Barzillai refusing the offer of King David and sending a substitute in his place.

“Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother. But here is your servant Kimham.  Let him cross over with my lord the king.  Do for him whatever pleases you.” The king said, “Kimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever pleases you. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.”

So all the people crossed the Jordan, and then the king crossed over. The king kissed Barzillai and gave him his blessing, and Barzillai returned to his home.  When the king crossed over to Gilgal, Kimham crossed with him.  (2 Samuel 19:36-40 NIV)

Here we find another one of those significant pieces of information hidden away in the details of a story.

King David blessed the man Kimham, whose only right to receive the blessing was that he didn’t say “no” when the invitation was extended.  In a moment in time, when others refused, Kimham said “yes.”

We don’t know what Kimham had to sacrifice to say “yes” to King David, but we can gain an amazing glimpse of what he gained.  Apparently Kimham was given land near David’s home town of Bethlehem.  Kimham evidently established a resting place for travelers who were passing through the region of Bethlehem.  And, it would seem, that a young man and woman, traveling to be counted in the Roman census, would travel to Bethlehem and find no room in the inn.  But, they would seek shelter in the stable behind the inn.  And the King of Heaven would be born in a stable built by a man who’s only recorded action was that he said “yes” at the right time.

The story of the Inn of Kimham amazes me.  It speaks to us on so many levels.  Did Kimham have an ounce of understanding the stable beside his inn would welcome the birth of the Messiah?  Did David perceive his generosity toward Kimham would establish the birthplace of his great, great, great (etc.) grandson?

Do we have even the slightest glimmer of an idea of the power of our acts of willingness and generosity?  Even today, stables are being built all over the world that will welcome the King of Glory into the hearts of men.

Your life, your actions, your “yes” will echo through human history.  May it be a sweet sound in the ears of all who hear. 

Podcast

Click here to listen to Pastor Eric’s message “Sacrifice and Relationships.”

On the Radar – Church Holiday Schedule

  • Wednesday, December 9 – Lifegroup Christmas Party / Youth Christmas Party
  • Sunday, December 13 – Third Sunday of Advent
  • Wednesday, December 16 – Hayride, Caroling, & Chiminea Christmas Party
  • Saturday, December 19 – Ladies’ Cookie Swap & Ornament Exchange
  • Sunday, December 20 – Children’s Christmas Pageant
  • Wednesday, December 23 – No Church Activities
  • Sunday, December 27 – Last Sunday of 2009
  • Wednesday, December 30 – No Church Activities
  • Thursday, December 31 – New Year’s Night of Worship

Revelation Bible study this Tuesday from 12:00 – 1:00 pm in my office.  Everyone is welcome to join in, just bring your Bible and a lunch box.  Keep up with the progress at The Watchman’s Gaze.

The Drum Circle will be getting back on rhythm in 2010.  Drop me an email if you are interested in learning to play hand drums.

You Heard it at EFC

Been trying to remember one of those awesome songs we sang?  Here is our worship list from yesterday, for those of you who just absolutely need a copy for yourself.  You can usually find them for purchase on itunes.com.

  1. “Joy to the World”
  2. I’ve Found a Love” Bethel Live version  
  3. Freedom Reigns” by Jason Upton  
  4. When I think about the Lord” by James Huey  

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, December 13, is the third Sunday of Advent.  We will continue our series on Sacrifice by looking at the sacrifice God made on our behalf.

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For the old man’s daughter, it would be a life without options.  She had not chosen which household she would be born into.  She had not chosen how her father would live his life.  She had not chosen slavery, nor prostitution, but it was the life that awaited her.  Hers’ was a life without options.

“Oh God,” she would cry in the still hours of the night, “is there anyone who can save me?”

On the other side of the village, beside the warm glow of a crackling fire, a young man lay face down on the hard stone floor.  His was a life without options.  Born into a family of wealth and extravagance beyond the imagination of most, he was accustomed to privilege.  He had lost his parents to the plague at an early age and had been required to mature quickly in order to manage the vast estate and resources of his family.  Though he was now alone, the legacy of faith and righteousness his mother and father had instilled in him was a constant companion.

“Oh God,” the young man whispered into the cold, dark night, “All that I am is Yours.  How can I serve the Christ child, the One who has saved me?”

It had been a brief three hundred years since the King of Glory had conquered death and brought hope to mankind, and the message of his gospel was alive, even in Patara, Lycia, at the Southern tip of Turkey.  The message was living and it burned in the heart of this wealthy orphan.

And in the crisp air of this Turkish night, two prayers mingled together.  Voices, like wisps of smoke, made their way to Heaven in a strange melody.  Desperation and discontent danced.  The need of each would be the answer to the other.  Poverty would be met by provision, and both would discover the power of purpose.

Young Nicholas arose from his fireside prayer.  Heaven had answered, and he knew what to do.  A quick visit to the storehouse, and then to the stable, and he was off — mounted on his white steed he blazed through the village under a canopy of starlight, a sack draped across his back.  The sting of the cold night air was countered by the rush of blood that intoxicated him.  His face was hot, his breath was short, his eyes watered as his horse rode on.  Panic and joy formed two storm fronts in his heart and erupted in thunderclaps of laughter as he continued his ride.

She had no options, therefore he had no options.  He nudged his stallion though the twist and turns of the muddy village streets as the weaver’s house came into view.  The weaver was a good man, but not a wise man.  He had raised his three daughters alone after the loss of his wife, and the fire four winters ago had left them with nothing and no opportunity to rebuild.  He wept each night, not so much from the hunger as from having to watch his children wither from the effects of his poverty.  And so he felt he had no option, he must sell his oldest in hopes of providing for the younger two.

He wept.

She wept.

And Nicholas rode, weeping and laughing.

The faint smoke of a smoldering fire could be seen rising through a tattered hole in the roof.  Nicholas spurred on his mount, faster and faster.  He could not help being heard, but he must not be seen.  He was galloping now, feet planted in the stirrups, his back bent as he whispered praises to God in his horse’s listening ear.

They blazed past the fire-charred weaver’s home, and in one motion Nicholas heaved the bag over his shoulder and toward the hole in the roof where a chimney once stood.  With a shout of “Christkindl,” or “Christ child” as we would understand it, he was off, still laughing, still crying, so much more alive than he had ever dreamed possible.

And the bag — that bag filled with gold coins — that bag would offer hope of a new life for a young woman hours away from the auction block.  That bag must have sprouted wings, or been met by a winged messenger, for its path was too perfect.  Its landing was too soft as it flew through the hole in the roof and settled quietly in the stocking of the young woman, the very stocking she had hung to dry by the fire that night.

Prayers of desperation changed the course of history that night, as they danced their way to heaven and brought life to the giver and the receiver. 

For the young woman, the stocking of gold became her dowry.  She became eligible to marry and marry she did, to a good and kind noble man, and the legacy of her descendents was changed forever.

The young woman had younger sisters, each of whom would cry out to the Lord and each of whom would receive a gift from Nicholas that would save their lives and alter their history.

And the weaver, he wept no more, for his daughters did not go to bed hungry.

As for Nicholas, he continued to live a life with out options.  A life of radical obedience and unhindered generosity.  And the heart pounding rush of giving a gift would continue to erupt in thunderous laughter.  He laughed not only in giving, but in suffering, as he was tortured for his faith.  His captors desired to see him renounce Jesus, but all they heard was the sound of laughter.  He laughed as he confronted heresy in the leaders of his church.  Some sought to deny the glorious divinity of King Jesus, but all they heard from him was the sound of laughter.

Photo: Patryk Specjal

He learned to laugh from giving, and laughter became his gift and his strength for living.  He would laugh in the face of friends or in the face of enemies, with shouts of “Christkindl,’ or “for the Christ child!”

And thus, through the course of history, some came to know him as Chris Kringle.  Some came to know him as Saint Nicholas.  Children in our lands have heard him called Santa Claus.

An orphan boy, whose heart found warmth in the fire of God.  He had nowhere else to go — he had no options.

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