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At Christmas time, we’re used to reading the story of a birth. Just maybe not this birth.

“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said,“So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.– Genesis 38:27-30

What a bizarre story found in this tucked away corner of the Scripture. One son waves hello, gets a scarlet thread tied around his wrist, and then disappears. The other son… (continue reading at www.treasuretheordinary.blogspot.com)

 

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…with liberty and justice for all.

Liberty and Justice are two of the most noble concepts a person could ever hope to wrap their mind around.  They are everything our immigrant grandparents came to the United States for, they are everything our forefathers fought for, and they are all we have ever known.

Each of us has faced our own set of challenges, obstacles, and prejudices in life, but most of take for granted the amazing grace of living in a society that values liberty and justice.

The book of Nehemiah tells a beautiful story of what can happen when a community sets their hearts to build together, but there is another building story tucked inside of this book.  Right in the middle of this amazing story about rebuilding a wall around Jerusalem is a story about a different kind of rebuilding, the rebuilding of the people who will be protected by those walls.

Nehemiah 5:1-19 (NIV)

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”

3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”

4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.”

12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”  Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!”

At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

What we see here is a cry for justice.  The citizens of Jerusalem are saying, “What is the point in rebuilding a wall if we are still slaves behind its protection?”

This story of rebuilding a wall is particularly relevant to the current social revolution of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

To be honest , I don’t really get Occupy Wall Street.  As near as I can tell, it is an expression of frustration against corporate greed and lack of accountability in our financial sector.  And at that level I can relate to the frustration.

But the entire movement, from the beginning, has lacked a clear voice, and so, at times, it comes across as a whine for socialism, or an expression of jealous greed.  It has even manifested itself in racism toward Jews and a push for complete anarchy.

The confusion of the Occupy Wall Street movement comes from the fact that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants; it just knows it doesn’t want what it has, and, at that level, it ends up sounding like a spoiled child.

What we see in Nehemiah chapter 5 is similar to how people feel who are part of Occupy Wall Street, except that the frustrations expressed by the Jews in that day were extreme and most obviously legitimate.

Nehemiah 5:4-5 (NIV)

4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

And look at Nehemiah’s response.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 (NIV)

6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them…

Here is the key: Injustice should make us angry, and it should lead us to action.

As I have read about the Occupy Wall Street movement , one of their hallmarks are the slogans they put on their protest signs.  These guys are professional sign makers.

I want to point out three signs that I call: Wrong, Right, and Radical.  And I want you to consider how these three ways of thinking are impacting your life.

Look at this sign:

WRONG!

“We are the 99%” is one of the huge battle cries of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is a claim that the problems in America should be blamed on 1% of the population who are greedy and keeping the rest of us in poverty.

The first major problem with this claim is that it is simply wrong.

At the bottom of the sign, it says, “Look it up.”  And when you do look it up, you begin to discover how overwhelmingly wealthy we are as Americans.  In the United States, the poverty line is approximately $22,350.  If your household makes less than this, you are considered in poverty conditions in our country.

But do you know where that places you in the world?

According to the Global Rich List, an annual income of $22,350 puts you among the top 10% of the wealthiest people in the world.  And check this out.  A combined household income of $50,000 would make your family among the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world.

So back to our 1% boy…

Do you see his shoes?  Do you see his pants?  Do you see his clean finger nails?  This average American boy is among the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world.

What is wrong about his sign is that he is using it to say, “The problems I am facing are someone else’s to fix.”  As long as any of us are looking for someone else to fix our problems, we will stay in a mindset of poverty.

No one is holding you down.  No one is holding you back from being who God has created you to be.  But, if you are waiting for a handout to get there, you just became your own worst enemy.

Here is the next sign.

Ouch, that one hurts my feelings.  But this sign is RIGHT.

Now, I do not believe America has failed as a society, but we have been damaged as a society.  And this sign is right because of the words, “So-Called.”  Anytime someone hides behind the label of Christianity and uses that label as an excuse for greed, selfishness, or hatred, they are wounding their society and they are making a mockery of the teachings of Jesus.

It may not be a secret that you attend church on a Sunday morning, but what does your version of Christianity say in the workplace?  In the handling of your finances?  In your home?  In private?

A half lived faith does a whole lotta damage to our world.

Let’s take a look at one more sign.

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

This is a quote from Albert Camus, a 20th century novelist and philosopher. And that, my friends, is the definition of radical.  It is one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read.  And, in the Occupy Movement, it is being used in exactly the wrong way.  What a heartbreak!

The Apostle Paul says it this way:

Romans 12:2 (NIV)
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

If you want to see justice in our land, begin by taking responsibility for your actions by doing these three things:

  1. Confront the wrong ways of thinking in your heart.  Filter them through the truth of God’s word.
  2. Accept what is right.  Allow yourself to be challenged by hard truths.
  3. Live radically.

If we would apply ourselves to these truths, I believe we would see true justice and liberty flow like a river through our land, and we would most certainly become ONE NATION UNDER GOD.

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As I made my way around the church Wednesday night, meeting people, answering questions, directing traffic, and hugging necks, I was blessed by the sounds I heard all around me.  I could hear the sound of babies in the nursery, the sound of children worshipping, and the sound of teenagers gathered in small groups asking hard questions in their search to understand more about God.

Parents were coming and going, most of them on their way to Lifegroup.  Doors were opening and closing.  Heals were clicking and clopping down the hallways.  It was the sound of life, the sound of messes getting cleaned and problems being solved, and it was beautiful.

Right in the midst of it all, rising above the clamor, I could hear voices.  I could hear the voices of those who had dedicated their night to teaching all of these young, hungry, noisy hearts about the love of Jesus.  I could hear the voices of love, the voices of patience.  I could hear the voices of those who spoke with a hope that their words would impact the lives they were speaking into.

My friends, the sounds of ministry occur because of the vision of those who willingly give their time and energy to love others.  People just like you and me who have resolved to honor God by serving others.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I encourage you to make sure you seize an opportunity to appreciate the people in your life who minister to you and your family.  Make sure you don’t let the month go by without letting them know their loving actions make a difference.

Take the time to say “Thanks!” to each of the fabulous ministers in our church (Pastor Lolo, Pastor Loran, Mrs. Denise, and Pastor Mindy)– the people who lead the way in making the ministry of Emmanuel Fellowship Church so special!

  • T – Take a moment to express your appreciation.  Don’t let it be a passing remark.  Pause, look them in the eye, and let them know you notice the work they do.  Let them know how their service has impacted your family.
  • H – Honor them with your words and actions.  Do not allow the consistency of their service to be taken for granted.  Consider the investment they have made to minister to you and your family and remember to treat them with a spirit of gratitude.
  • A – Ask if they could use a hand.  When you notice a need, be quick to meet it.  Take a few extra seconds to make sure they have everything they need to love and serve your family in the best way possible.  Take the initiative to serve those who serve you!
  • N – Nudge your children to respect and help their teachers and pastors.  A short conversation on the way to church and a positive handoff into the classroom can position your child to be a great influence.
  • K – Keep your pastors in your prayers!  Nothing is more important than a ministry team that is prayed for by their congregation.
  • S – Send them a token of your appreciation.  A card or a gift can be a powerful tool to refresh a heart.  Your investment into them will, no doubt, yield a rich reward of continued ministry to your family.

Follow these links for more great resources for Pastor Appreciation Month:

 

 

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Fasting can be a mysterious concept, and you may be reading this today with several questions about what fasting is, what it does, and how to go about it.  Richard Foster says in his book, The Celebration of Discipline, “The central idea of fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”  He also goes on to describe just how many heroes of the faith fasted in the pages of Scripture:

“Abraham’s servant when he was seeking a bride for Isaac, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Hannah when she was praying for a child, David on several occasions, Elijah after his victory over Jezebel, Ezra when he was mourning over Israel’s faithlessness, Nehemiah when he was preparing the trip back to Israel, Esther when God’s people were threatened with extermination, Daniel on numerous occasions, the people of Nineveh – including the cattle (involuntarily no doubt), Jesus when he began his public ministry, Paul at the point of his conversion, the Christians at Antioch when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission endeavor, Paul and others when they appointed all of the elders, and on and on it goes.”

That intense spiritual activity that Foster is referring to is most typically prayer and intercession and usually includes extended periods of time spent listening for the voice of God.  The voluntary denial of normal functions can include a variety of activities.  I’ve outlined a few for you:

  • Food:  Whether it’s a partial fast (not eating certain kinds of foods or at certain regularly scheduled times) or a complete fast (abstaining from all foods altogether), this is the most common form of fasting.  A common method for a first time fast would be to go without food from sundown to sundown the next day.  [Note:  Make sure your body is healthy enough to do this.  If you are not sure, talk to your doctor beforehand.]
  • Media:  Another version of fasting that can be highly effective at helping to direct our attention to the Lord is to give up all forms of media.  This would include television, computers, social networking, smart phones, etc.
  • Social Activities:  Many people find that withdrawing for a set amount of time from interaction with people is a wonderful way to focus on their relationship with the Lord.  These are often labeled as “spiritual retreats” and are just simply a time to remove yourself from normal conversation with those around you and get alone with God.  This often works best if you travel to a location away from home and stay in a place where you can have solitude and quiet.

The most important part of fasting is to make sure you keep God in the center of it.  It should have nothing to do with making you look spiritual and everything to do with sharpening your ears to hear God’s voice and heightening your commitment to obey what He tells you.

May God’s grace cover you, as you seek Him this week.

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Super Size, Value Size, Whata Size.  It has become the nature of American consumer that when we place an order, we want to go big with it.  We all want to get the most bang for our buck.

But, real life is much more complicated than ordering off of a fast food menu.  How do I go big on the menu of everyday living?

Jesus may not have frequented fast food establishments (though He was the originator of the super-sized happy meal), but He understood the principles that can make life much bigger and more full than the smallness we often relegate ourselves to.  In Luke 6, He tells us:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  — Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

Jesus says you are the determining factor of the size of your life.  When you measure generously toward others, you measure generously toward yourself.

I pray you find freedom in this remarkable teaching from our Lord Jesus.  As you walk in forgiveness and generosity toward others, may it lead you to experience the fullness of life our Lord desires to pour into your lap.

May you experience the joy of a King-Sized life today!

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My apologies that the Monday Morning Review has lagged to the Tuesday Evening Review, perhaps even the Wednesday Morning Review. I hope everyone was able to satisfy their Monday morning cravings in other ways.

If you missed Sunday morning, I want to echo Pastor Loran’s advice to find a Haiti mission team member or members and pick their brains. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. The testimonies and reports shared during Sunday’s services were absolutely incredible. I want to take a moment to thank all of the Haiti team members for all their hard work, not just during the mission trip, but also in the fund raising and other preparations in the months leading up to the trip. Also, thank you to all of the EFC members who helped to make the trip possible. And last, but certainly not least, to the other Pastor Loran for putting together such an awesome team and trip. I know lives were changed in Haiti and right here in Sweetwater.

Podcast

I don’t know if the Haiti testimonies and/or Pastor Loran’s sermon will be available in this week’s podcast, but if it is, you can click here to listen.

On the Radar

EFC Volleyball @ Sonic.  Wednesday, July 27, come join us at Sonic for food, fun and volleyball from 7-9pm.

Kids School of Worship (Jammin’ with Jesus) is right around the corner. Sunday, July 31-Wednesday, August 3. The theme this year is “Fruits of the Spirit,” and we still need volunteers to help out with supplies, snacks and manpower. For more information or to volunteer, contact Pastor Lolo.

EFC Fantasy Football League. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and if you missed out last year on the First Annual EFC Fantasy Football League, now’s your chance to get in on all the fun. You can contact league commissioner Curtis Ward to find out how to play.

Discipleship Training: How to Study the Bible. Coming August 7 & 14, 6pm at EFC.

Mother’s Day Out information is available online!  Emmanuel Fellowship Church is excited to host a Mother’s Day Out program beginning Fall 2011 for children ages 1-5.  There are only a few spaces remaining for the Fall semester.  More information and downloadable registration forms are available by clicking HERE.

Links

Follow EFC on facebook. If you don’t already, you’re missing out on the daily EFC dish.

In keeping with the Discipleship Training theme How to Study the Bible, here are a few very helpful online Bible tools:

And, as always, a shamless plug for my very own Bible blog, Beauty of the Bible.

Family Connection

Check out these resources to connect with our ministry to children and youth.

You Heard it at EFC

    •  “Friend of God” by Israel Houghton
    • “You’ll Come” by Hillsong United
    • “Higher” by Worth Dying For
  • “Saviour King” Hillsong

 Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, July 24, we continue our summer sermon series entitled, “Prayers that Shook the World,” with Jim Cargile.

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Somewhere along the journey of life each one of us takes a picture of ourselves.  And in that snapshot, we magnify our faults.  We memorialize a moment of failure, a moment of weakness, or an insecure or awkward stage of life.

At some point in time, someone said something, pointed out a fear, or made a judgment about you — and it stuck.  In fact, it is still sticking.

As much as we try to hide, it seems impossible to get away from the flaw-filled person we see in the mirror.  We are all wounded by the damage we have received, and even more, we all fear the damage we can cause.

As personal as our story may be, we are not the only ones who feel this way.  It is a wound common to us all.  Tucked away in the pages of the Bible, we find a man who shared our common pain, our common fear.

Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.  (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 NKJV)

I see three simple, yet powerful connections between each of us and the life of Jabez.  Through acknowledging these three truths, we could each find ourselves breaking the cycles of our past and enjoying the grace of God for our lives today.

  1. We all carry scars.  However hidden or personal our story may be, we are all united by the simple fact that we are not alone.  Everyone around us finds themselves trying to make sense of their life.  We all carry scars of the pain we have received and the pain we have caused.
  2. We all carry fear.  The most damaging impact of the scars we carry is the haunting fear that the pain may not be over, that our past may wound us again in the future.  We carry the fear of being hurt again and the fear of hurting others in the same way we were hurt.  If left unanswered, our fears will box us into a small and unsatisfying life.
  3. We all carry hope.  It is what moves us forward.  Somehow, somewhere, someone has to have more to offer than a life lived in cycles of fear and pain.  Hope invites us to take risks and embrace a life of meaning and purpose.

This was the story of Jabez.  He carried the scars of the wounds he caused as a child and the fear of the name given him that he would continue to cause pain all the days of his life.  But somewhere in the midst of the scars and fear, Jabez nurtured hope, and his hope caused him to cry out to the God who created him, “Bless me, indeed.  Enlarge my territory.  Let Your hand be upon me.  Keep me from evil.  Keep me from causing pain.”

A powerful and faith filled prayer.  A prayer we still connect with on a very deep level.

If I were to summarize my personal connection with the prayer of Jabez, it would be: “I don’t want to keep hurting from the same old wounds, and I don’t want to be the link that causes my pain to become my children’s pain.”

Do you have a personal connection with the prayer of Jabez?  How does his cry touch your heart?  What does it stir in you?

May you be blessed indeed!  May God enlarge your territory, your sphere of influence!  May the hand of God be upon you.  May God keep you from evil!  May you and those you love be free from pain!  Amen.

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