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[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=jumper+cables&iid=5256076″ src=”3/6/d/d/Close_up_of_d6eb.jpg?adImageId=8927657&imageId=5256076″ width=”234″ height=”234″ /] The frigid temperatures have wreaked havoc on the battery of my little ’91 Accord.  I was recently greeted with the familiar clicking sound that told me there wasn’t enough juice to get the engine to turn over.

No problem.  Right?  I’ve got a set of jumper cables.

Now, being the positive person that I am, imagine what would happen if I were to only attach the positive cable to my battery when I go to jump it off.  All that positive energy wouldn’t have any way to transfer into my battery to get me moving again.

And this is where the life lesson is learned.  The positive cable needs the negative cable (I prefer to call it the ground cable) to complete the circuit. 

How many times do we try to hook ourselves to only the positive cables of life, just to discover it’s not giving us the juice we need to get going?  The key is, just like my Accord, we must also be grounded in order for our batteries to operate.

We can’t run away from the negative elements of life.  We can’t despise those things that keep our feet on the ground because it is the realities of life that allow the positive cable to do its thing.  Just as a kite needs a string holding it to the ground to allow it to soar to incredible heights, the grace of God is best experienced in a grounded life.

The challenge of an over-positive, Pollyanna perspective is it can lead us to pretend problems don’t exist, or to ignore the very negative situations that must be dealt with.  We must come to understand faith is not a crutch by which we ignore reality; rather, faith is the ladder allowing us to access a greater reality and see it positively impact the world in which we live.

The facts that surround us are subject to change.  Faith is based on the unchanging truth of God’s Word.  My checkbook ledger changes every day, my health report changes, but the truth of God does not change.  And God’s unchanging truth has the power to change my current circumstances.

So, my friends, plug into that positive power supply, keep your feet on the ground, and watch the grace of God do amazing things in your life today!

Podcast

There is no podcast for the January 10, 2010 message.  Sorry, it was a “had to be there” kind of message.

Family Connection

Parents, be sure to check out the Worldchangers website.  We align our Bible curriculum from the nursery all the way up to our youth.  Access the Family Connection page on the website to bring you children’s Bible lesson home to the kitchen table. 

Links

I began yesterday’s message by humorously browsing through my vehicle road side emergency kit, but being stuck in a real emergency isn’t too humorous at the time.  Does your family have a plan to handle the unexpected events of life?  Here are a few links for emergency preparedness.

A crisis is only a crisis when we are not prepared for it.  If we prepare ourselves, then a crisis becomes merely a situation.  I’d rather make it through a situation than a crisis!  My personal plan of action, and one I recommend to friends is to keep FOOD on hand for a week (don’t let your pantry get empty); keep some CASH on hand (invest in a fire safe box); and keep GAS in your car (don’t let it get below half a tank).

On the Radar

Lifegroups, RAMP, and worldchangers all start up again for the Spring Semester this Wednesday evening!  Log on to www.efcsweetwater.com for more info and make plans to join us this week!

Our youth will be attending the Julian Drive concert here in Sweetwater on Thursday, January 21st.  Log on to www.efcyouth.com for more info!

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.

Our church will be helping the Ministerial Alliance serve the needy of our community during the month of February.  We will need a coordinator for this outreach, a driver who can pick up groceries in Abilene with a flatbed trailer, a team of volunteers to help sack groceries for two hours on Tuesday, February 16th, and a few more to help distribute the groceries to those in need on Thursday, February 18th.  If you are interested in being a part of this service project, please log on to the Emmanuel Fellowship Church website and click the SERVE icon.

Make plans to join in the after church Fellowship Meal Sunday, January 31.  It’ll be a great day of fun and family time.  More info (and even recipes!) by logging on to one of the most delicious churches in Sweetwater, Texas and clicking the FELLOWSHIP MEAL icon.

Discover more about Sweetwater, Texas!

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. “Grace Like Rain” by Todd Agnew
  2. “Your Glory” by Mindy von Atzigen
  3. “Your Love is Like” by Rick Pino
  4. “Mighty to Save” by Matt Redmand

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, January 17, 2010, we will get back on track with our Vision 2010 sermon series and take a deeper exploration of a church that “Mends.”

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Pots of Stone Soup are springing up all over the Big County.  From the local fish and chicken eatery to schools and home kitchens, friends and family are cooking up the adventure!

Here is a recipe for Stone Soup submitted by a dear friend, Ron Smith. 

 Ingredients

  •  Any pot that is handy
  •  Enough water to fill pot
  •  A fire starter and extra kindling (just in case)
  •  One special stone
  •  A variety of special soup ingredients, from common to totally unique (These may be gathered from a variety of sources and locations. Don’t turn down anything without very good reason.)

 Directions

  • Start a fire in a convenient, or sometimes in an inconvenient, location. Simply starting the fire is the important initial action.
  • Place pot on fire.
  • Let water begin to simmer. (If absolutely necessary, let pot come to a boil.)
  • Gently place one special stone in heated water. (Sometimes tossing the stone vigorously in the pot works even better.)
  • Gradually add additional ingredients. Don’t fret too much over what order or in what quantity they go in originally. Just make sure there are many ingredients.
  • Stir pot frequently. Don’t get lazy here just because the aroma, taste, and texture are already good. Stirring often is an absolute must for a successful dish.
  • Taste test occasionally, making sure all ingredients are included in their uniquely agreeable proportions.
  • Garnish with a healthy dose of love and serve continuously until all are filled.
  • Move to a new location and start recipe again.

You can discover more of Ron Smith’s writings at www.freshfocus.wordpress.com.

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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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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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Is Jesus first place in your life?  The initial response for a Christian would be a resounding, “Yes!”  And it would seem very much like the right answer.

But, Jesus did not come only to be first place in your life.

I believe many of us have prioritized Jesus out of our lives by making Him first.  We give Him the first 15 minutes of our day.  We may even give him the last 15 minutes of our day.

But, what do we do with all of the hours in between?  Where is Jesus as 10, 2, and 4?  I want to suggest to you that first isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not all there is.

Jesus number 1 jpgHere is a picture of first:

Do you see any problems brewing with only placing Jesus first in your life?  Second is pretty happy.  It gets to hang out right next to Jesus.  But, what about third?  And look how far fourth is away from Jesus.  Whoever or whatever fifth is doesn’t get much contact with Jesus at all.

Let me propose a different configuration.  When you allow Jesus to take up residence in the center of your life, He is able to influence every aspect of who you are and what you do.  Just like the hub of a wheel, it is the hub of your heart that provides support to every area of your life.

Christianity is an invasive force.  Jesus wants to invade your business.  He wants to invade your marriage.  Jesus wants to invade your Friday nights and Monday mornings.

Four Spokes of LifeThere are four key spokes to the wheel of our lives:

  • Personal life – who I am and the basic choices I make
  • Social life – how I relate to others
  • Business life – what I do to generate income
  • Political life – how I view the world around me

It is very possible to claim Jesus to be first in your life and allow Him little or no impact on these key areas.

What happens when Jesus is not the center of our life?  We become the center of our life.  And when we are the center, our faith becomes just another spoke on the wheel.  It’s a good spoke, but it’s just a spoke.

When faith becomes a spoke, rather than a hub, it doesn’t influence the other spokes.  Truth be told, we begin to influence it more than it influences us.

me center jpgWe become the filter that processes life.  We tell everything where to line up.  And we determine how much influence each spoke has on us.

How well do you think we hold up to that pressure?  We don’t.

What happens to a wheel that loses its hub?  It collapses.

There was a time in my life when Jesus was just another spoke on the wheel, a time when I was the center of my own life.  Eventually, I came to realize there is all the difference in the world between knowing Jesus as a good guy and receiving Him as your Lord and Savior.

Where is Jesus in your life?

He could be in a good place.  You could even say He is first.

But, is He the center?

Links

Click HERE to view the story of Laura, a 10 minute glimpse at establishing Jesus as the center of your life.

Parents, Click HERE to access this week’s Family Connect page.  It’s another opportunity to bring what happens on Sunday morning to the kitchen table on Monday night!

On the Radar

We are looking forward to EFC’s first choir leading us in worship during the Christmas season.  Contact Pastor Mindy if you are interested in joining the choir.  No experience necessary.  Our first choir rehearsal will be Monday, November 16th!

Pastor Eric and his son, Keegan, leave Thursday on a mission trip to Eastern Europe.  They will be traveling to Croatia and Poland as Pastor Eric teaches in several church leadership schools and preaches in local churches with Prepare International.  Keegan will be getting his feet wet on the mission field and being an “armor bearer” for his dad.  Please pray for this trip and these two travelers as they help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Europe!

Brazil Mission Trip — Pastor Mindy and Pastor Lorin leave in December for a mission trip to Brazil!  They will each need to raise over $3,000 for trip costs.  For more info and to find out how you can support their trip, click HERE.

Revelation Bible study this Tuesday from 12:00 – 1:00 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.

You Heard it at EFC

Been trying to remember one of those awesome songs we sang?  Here is our worship list from yesterday.  You can usually find them for purchase on itunes.  Click highlighted songs to hear on youtube. 

  1. “Arise, King of Kings”
  2. “Grace Like Rain” by Todd Agnew
  3. New This Week — “I Adore You” by Jesus Culture 
  4. “You Won’t Relent” by Misty Edwards 

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, November 15, is our Missions Sunday.  Pastor Mindy will be bringing the message!

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spaghetti

Discipleship never tasted so good!

The kitchen table has always been a place of joy for my family.

Sitting together around the table, we seize the opportunity to discuss our day.  We solve problems together and role play solutions to the great dilemmas of life, such as what do you do when a boy in class keeps calling you an old lady.  (Our solution was to acknowledge him by name and ask how he was doing today — we figured he just needed a little attention.)

No other venue offers such an excellent opportunity to learn how to make a bid for a conversation, how to hold everyone’s attention when telling a story, or the ever important how to control the volume level of an excited dialogue.

Life happens at the kitchen table.  Valuable lessons are learned somewhere between the passing of the peas, sharing the last cookie, and not forgetting to clear your place.

Of all the benefits of the kitchen table, I believe its greatest potential is the opportunity it affords for spiritual discipleship.  We discuss the practical application of our faith at the kitchen table.

As far back as I can remember, we have played versions of Bible Trivia while eating dinner together, continually inviting our children to know and understand the Word of God.  Recently we stumbled upon a simple, yet amazingly powerful version of Bible Trivia that has upped the level of discipleship at the von Atzigen table.

“Where in the Bible does it talk about…?”  This is the simple question that is asked, and then my jaw drops as we go around the table and I listen to my children recite Old Testament Bible stories and relay the teachings of Jesus or the letters of Paul.

This simple question allows them to analyze what they have learned in their years of Vacation Bible Schools and Kids’ Church and then apply those lessons to the question at hand.

Right now our questions are simple.  “Where in the Bible does it talk about swords, scrolls, water, or honey?” have been some of the questions we have tackled.

But, a day will come when the question applies to a more serious topic.

  • Where in the Bible does it talk about broken hearts?
  • Where in the Bible does it talk about forgiveness?
  • Where in the Bible does it talk about God’s healing?
  • Where in the Bible does it talk about wasting your gifts?
  • Where in the Bible does it talk about what you are going through today?

If they can answer the question with lambs, princesses, and crowns today, then maybe they can answer the question of life tomorrow.

The book of Deuteronomy gives us some practical instructions for discipling our children.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates… (Deuteronomy 11:18-20 NIV)

And at the kitchen table, talk about them at the kitchen table!

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FWIS cover 2 - Onesimus jpgWho is Christianity for, anyway?  Who do its rules apply to?  Who do its promises apply to?

Are there those in this world who are above the Christian faith?  Above laws, consequences, and accountability?  Are there those in this world who are beneath the Christian faith?  Those who are too dirty?  Those who are too broken?  Those who are too shameful?

Are there those in this world who have already used up all of their grace?  Those who have squandered their last chance?  How many times can a man be forgiven before he is unforgivable?  How many bridges can you burn before there is absolutely no way to get back home?  How useless can one life become?

His name was Onesimus, and if he were standing before you today, these are the questions he would be asking.

He is the kind of guy who, when you spend fifteen minutes with him, suddenly your life doesn’t seem so bad.  Suddenly your marriage doesn’t seem so crappy.  Suddenly you are proud your children didn’t turn out like him.

Do you know people like that?  People who make you think your life isn’t as bad as it could be?  Do you feel like you are one of those people, like you give everyone else hope because at least they are not you?

Colossae mapOnesimus was a slave in the city of Colossae during the first century.  While Jesus was preaching and teaching in the village towns around the Sea of Galilee, Onesimus was miles away crying himself to sleep every night after a day of back breaking labor.

We can only speculate as to how Onesimus became a slave.  It is very likely he was born a slave and lived his entire life as the property of another man.  Maybe he was captured in war through no fault of his own and brought to Colossae to live his life in slavery.  Maybe he was a prisoner, sentenced to a life of slavery as a result of his own foolish choices.

I can’t tell you the “how come” of this man’s life, just as I can’t fully explain the “how come” of your life.

I just know who he was when I was introduced to him.  He was a slave.  And you know what else is said about him?  He was a useless slave.  Does it get any worse?  It is bad enough to be a slave, but you are at the bottom of the barrel when you are a useless slave.  This was Onesimus.

For those of you who grew up on the farm, he was the chicken that didn’t have any tail feathers.  Even among the simplest of animals on a farm there is a pecking order.  And even among the chickens, there is a chicken that eats last, and when she goes for the leftovers, all of the other chickens attack her.

Onesimus was like a young man I once met at a gas station.  As I visited with him about his life, I discovered he was in the local high school marching band.  When I ask him what he played, he looked down, grinned and said, “The air tuba.”

The what?

Apparently he couldn’t play the tuba, but they needed more people in order to look like they had a band.  So, they handed him this bulky instrument and told him to march around on the field, but not, under any circumstances, was he to blow into that thing.

Do you know what it’s like to play the air tuba?  Hands full.  Lots of activity.  No purpose.  No music in your life.  All dressed up — with no horn to blow.

Believe it or not, Onesimus is a man we find in the pages of the Bible.  We discover part of his story in the book of Philemon.  There we read Onesimus is a useless slave, but his story gets even worse.

Apparently, Onesimus becomes fed up with his life as a useless slave, steals from his owner, and runs away.  A useless, runaway, thieving slave.  I know what you’re thinking, “I’d rather play the air tuba than live a life like that.”

But, as is the case with great Bible stories, that is not all there is to Onesimus’ life.  Just as this is not all there is to your life.  His story continues, and so does yours.

Onesimus stole from his master and fled as far away as possible.  Evidence points to the likelihood he made his way to Rome.  He wanted to go where no one could ever find him.

But, you just can’t hide from God.  Somehow, somewhere, in the great metropolis of Rome, Onesimus met a man we refer to as the Apostle Paul.  Paul was a prisoner in Rome at the time, and Onesimus, as a runaway slave, must have found it very difficult to make a living in this capital of the world.  He eventually made his way to working among prisoners just to find enough food to survive each day.  And there, as a servant to prisoners, Onesimus, the useless thief and slave, found his freedom.  In a prison in Rome, Onesimus met Jesus.

And everything changed when Onesimus met Jesus.  Everything can change when you meet Him as well.

So, what are the life lessons we can glean from the remarkable story of this useless thieving slave who met Jesus?

The first lesson we learn is:

Life Is Not Fairtop 10 percent

And the truth is, you don’t want it to be.

The average American makes approximately $26,000 a year.  Do you know where that puts them in the scope of our world? 

According to this Global Rich List, the average American is the 569, 942,529th richest person in the world.  The average American is among the top 10% of the richest people on earth.

In the United States, you are considered at poverty level if you are a single person with an income of $11,000 a year.  Do you know where you fit on a world wide scale?  You would be in the top 13% of the World’s richest people. 

87% of the world’s population lives below U.S. poverty standards.top 13 percent

Life is not fair.

I am not fair with my children.  I don’t give to each of my children equally, and I’m sure my sons are very glad, because I don’t think they would have wanted to wear a cheerleader outfit to school last Friday like my daughter did.

I love all of my children, but I do not give them all the same of everything.  No, I give them what they need.

My friends, you have been crying out, frustrated and angry, because you feel like life has given you a raw deal.

  • Why did I have to be born into this family?
  • Why did my parents have to be the ones to get a divorce?
  • Why did I have to be given this body?
  • Why was I the one who got abused?
  • Why was I the one who got addicted?
  • Why was I the one who caught the disease?

Life is not fair, but the beginning of your story does not have to be the end.  Life is not fair, but you are not alone. Life is not fair, but life can be very, very good.

Life is not fair, but it is not God’s fault.  He is not to blame.  God loves you, and God is for you, not against you.  He can turn your lump of coal into a diamond, if you will choose not to collapse under the pressure.

Every day I live my life in the company of heroes.  Sometimes the greatest hero in the room is the person who mustered the courage to get out of bed that morning; the one who battled past depression, pain, or disappointment to face a new day.

Many of you are heroes because you have managed to stay alive this long.  You are heroes because of the way you have raised your children with little or no support.  You have made it this far, but your story is not over, and it gets better from here.  It is time to raise our goals from survival to victory!

The next observation I want to make from the life of Onesimus is:

There Are Some Bridges You Just Can’t Burn

The key we must understand here is that sometimes the first step forward is a step back.

Onesimus had it made, he had escaped.  He had left behind the life of a useless slave.  He had met Paul.  He discovered Jesus.  Finally, everything was going well for this young man, and then his newfound father in the faith said those horrifying words.

“Onesimus, it is time for you to go back.”

This is the reason the book of Philemon is in the Bible.  It is a letter Paul gave to Onesimus as he sent him BACK to his owner.

Sometimes the road forward leads us back through familiar territory, but here is the key.  Though we may head back into the same place, we are not the same!  We have changed.  We will bring life to any circumstance God calls us to walk through or minister in.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, we read:

…yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.  I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.  But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.  Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.  — Philemon verses 9-16

You can’t keep running from your past.  The more you run from your past, the more your past becomes your future.  Jesus died on a cross so you could make peace with your past, not run from it.

It is possible the next step of healing in your life may feel very much like a step back, but it is the step back that will lead you forward.

History tells us Philemon received Onesimus back into his house.  He obeyed Paul’s instruction, accepted Onesimus as a brother, and even granted Onesimus his freedom.  When Onesimus deserved death because of his actions, Philemon gave him his freedom.

Onesimus pic jpgAnd there is even more to the story.  Let me introduce you to someone church history refers to as Saint Onesimus.

In this picture, Onesimus is holding a letter in his left hand.  That letter wasn’t his death sentence as he headed back to his master.  It was the beginning of his new life.

Church history records another disciple of Paul named Timothy became the bishop of the church in Ephesus and led the church of Asia from that great city about 100 miles from Colossae.

There is a list of the Bishops who followed in line after Timothy; and the next name listed is Onesimus.

Onesimus, Bishop of Ephesus, who sat upon the Episcopal throne where he oversaw the Body of Christ.

Onesimus?  The slave Onesimus?  Leading the church of Asia?

This is the Beauty of the Bible.  This is the glory of Christianity– that, whoever you are, the story of the Jesus is for you.  The story of healing, hope, opportunity, and restoration.  The story of victory is for you.

My friend, what will you do with the days you have been given?  How will you respond to the marvelous grace of Jesus Christ?  I invite you to rise above your circumstances and live in the potential God has established for your life.  You don’t have to be the Bishop of Asia for your life to be counted a success.  No, our Lord measures by a different standard.  But, your life can be eternally significant if you follow with courage the invitation of God.

Rise up.  Let your story be told.

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Prayer - Little Girl“But, I just don’t know how to pray.”

It is true that prayer can seem rather daunting at times, or we find ourselves getting stuck in knowing what direction to take in prayer.

In honor of the 1st Birthday of The Sweetwater Prayer Center, I offer a collection of the Apostolic Prayers of the New Testament.  These are prayers taken directly from the pages of the Bible. 

I invite you to meditate upon these prayers offered up by those who pioneered the first steps of the faith we find so dear.  Allow them to sink into your heart.  Let them pass over your lips as you speak the very words of Scripture in prayer.

 

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”  — Acts 4:29-30

 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  –Romans 15:5-6 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Romans 15:13 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.  –2 Corinthians 1:3-5 

(I) do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.  –Ephesians 1:16-19 

(I pray) that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.  –Ephesians 3:16-19 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  –Philippians 1:9-11 

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.  –Colossians 1:9-12 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  –1 Thessalonians 5:23 

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  –2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 

Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.  We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.  May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.  –2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 

 Scripture quotations taken from New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995

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Matthew 6 v 14 and 15 jpg“But I just don’t know if I can ever forgive what was done to me.”  I’ve looked into the tear filled eyes of many as they have spoken those words with a quivering voice.

But, what if I told you that you didn’t have to forgive WHAT was done to you?  

WHAT was done to you was wrong.  WHAT was done was unjust.  WHAT was done should never have happened, and I pray it never happens again. 

You are not expected to forgive WHAT has happened to you in your life.  The key to forgiveness is that we must find the grace to separate the offense from the offender.  When we are able to untangle the two, then we make the choice to forgive WHO it is that hurt you.

WHAT was done is the action that was committed against you.  WHO did it is the actor that was used to bring the pain.  In the process of forgiving the person, we must look beyond them to see the true source of the offense that has occurred in our life.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, and though the WHO that hurt you may have been in flesh and blood form, that person was only a tool in the hands of an enemy.  It is the enemy of your soul who has come to lie to and steal from you.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider our own forgiveness and the grace we received from the life and death of Jesus on the cross.

In Colossians 3:13, Paul tells us:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

When we reflect upon our own salvation, we realize that God Himself separated the WHAT from the WHO in our lives.

WHAT we did was paid for through the death of Jesus on the cross so that WHO we are could be forgiven by the grace of God.  What an amazing gift!

Now it is our turn to give what we have so freely received as we release WHAT was done to us to the justice of God and allow even it to be paid for on the cross.  We then make the decision to forgive WHO it is that our enemy used to commit the act against us.

You can make the choice to forgive today by praying a prayer such as the one below.

Father in Heaven, Thank you for the forgiveness I have received from you.  I repent of holding unforgiveness in my heart.  Just as You forgave me, I make the choice to forgive_______________.  I release what was done to me to Your justice.  I ask that Your grace would cover _______________ and free them from the lies of our enemy, releasing them to a life of joy and healing in Your goodness and blessing.  Amen.  

Podcast

If you would like to learn more about the choice of forgiveness, you can click HERE to listen to the entire message of “Give Forgiveness” by Pastor Eric.

Links

I opened yesterday’s message with the miraculous story of Chris Carrier and the power of his choice to forgive.  Read Chris’ full story by clicking HERE.

You can also read more about the power of forgiveness as it brings healing to the nation of Rwanda.  Follow these links to read a news story from CNN and discover a power testimony from World Vision.

At the conclusion of yesterday’s service, I referenced a great series of videos on youtube entitled “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.”  Here’s a clip of Mark Gungor and his humorous revelation about the male and female brain.

On the Radar

Brazil Mission Trip — Pastor Mindy and Pastor Lorin leave in December for a mission trip to Brazil!  They will each need to raise over $3,000 for trip costs.  For more info and to find out how you can support their trip, click HERE.

The Freedom Weekend is quickly approaching.  Have you signed up?  Make plans to join us November 6 – 7 for an amazing weekend of discovering the healing and joy found in Christ Jesus.   Space will be limited, so sign up early!  For more information, a schedule, and registration information, click HERE.

Happy Birthday to the Sweetwater Prayer Center!  This week marks the one year anniversary of the Prayer Center (and the 11 year anniversary of our church).  I encourage you to make visits to the Prayer Center a part of your weekly routine.  Schedule in opportunities to soak in the presence of the Lord.  You can register and get the 24 hour access code the Prayer Center by clicking HERE

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. “Happy Day” by Tim Hughes
  2. “Your Love Never Fails” Jesus Culture version-This song totally rocks! 
  3. “I Repent” by Barry and Michelle Patterson
  4. “How Marvelous” Chris Tomlin version

Sunday Preview

Next Sunday, October 11, is our final week of “Live Like You Were Dying.”  I invite you to join us as we culminate this series by discovering how each of us can “Embrace Eternity.”

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