Countless Wonders

[God] does great things past finding out, yes, wonders without number.

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When devotional writer Aletha Lindstrom needs a lift for her spirits, she thinks of her favorite poetry book title, Who Tells The Crocuses It’s Spring? That prompts her to ask other questions like, “Who makes the trees turn all those beautiful colors in the autumn? Who splashes rain in shining puddles? Who makes the stars shimmer in the night?”

Such questions ought to stimulate our own grateful meditation. Centuries ago, Job exclaimed that it is God who “does great things past finding out, yes, wonders without number” (Job 9:10).

It is God who reminds the sun to rise at its appointed time every morning. It is God who keeps the earth steadily rotating at tremendous speed. It is God who feeds the sparrow and dresses the lilies in their splendor. It is God who guides the feathered flocks southward in the autumn and then brings them north again in the spring.

Argue if you like that all these wonders are simply the operation of the laws of nature. But just as civil law is the expression of human will, so natural law is God’s wisdom as it works in keeping with His will.

As we see the wonders of creation all around us, let’s worship the One who designed them.

–From Our Daily Bread

Education Starts at Home

The father shall make known Your truth to the children. Isaiah 38:19

It’s time for the lazy days of summer to give way to the busy days of fall. Time again for school to start. Getting youngsters ready for school can leave parents gasping for breath.

But there’s more to getting the children ready than filling their backpack and getting them to the bus on time. They must also be prepared spiritually. Before they hit the books, they need to know that the most important things they will ever learn come from the Book: the Bible.

There are many ways this can be done. One family takes time before school to have Bible reading. While Dad and the kids eat, Mom reads a chapter as they work through the whole Bible. Another family uses the time to read and discuss shorter passages—Dad taking one child, Mom the other. Some parents use the night before to share scriptural truths.

If you have school-age children, the pattern you develop for teaching them God’s Word is important. No matter what their school situation is—whether home-school, Christian school, private school, or public school—the main responsibility of spiritual training belongs to the parents.

Before anyone else has a chance to educate our children, we need to teach them about God.

— from Our Daily Bread

The Pastor’s Pen: Remembering Our Christian Heritage on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, revering the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It is also an opportunity for us to remember our heritage as we honor those that came before us. 

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Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries/memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades.

The date of Decoration Day (originally May 30th) was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any former battle.  On the first Decoration Day, former Civil War General, current U.S. Representative, and future President of the United States, James Garfield, was the key-note speaker at Arlington National Cemetery. It is estimated that about 5,000 people decorated the graves of the 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers buried there.

Unfortunately, Garfield also became the second U.S. President to be assassinated, giving him the second shortest tenure in office (6½ months).  However, he accomplished many presidential firsts. 

“(Garfield) was the only one in U.S. history to be a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time. He was the first to use a front porch campaign and, during oneof these speeches, he became the first to speak in 2 different languages.  At his inauguration he accomplished 3 more firsts. He was the first President to view the Inaugural Parade from in front of the White House and the first to have his Mother attend. He was also the first President to die before the age of 50 (He was 49)” – James A Garfield: Man of Many Presidential Firsts

My personal favorite first is that Garfield has the title of being the lone President of the U.S. to have served as a minister prior to becoming a resident in the White House living quarters. Not only that, but his background is very similar to Little Flatrock Christian Church, as his date of birth reflects a connection with the early days of this congregation.

“Garfield has the distinction of being the only President of the United States to have worked as a clergyman prior to becoming President. He was born on Nov 19, 1831, in a log cabin in Orange Township, Ohio. His parents, Abram and Eliza Garfield, joined a denomination known as the (Christian Churches)/Disciples of Christ in 1833 when James was two years old For more information, see “President Garfield’s Religious Heritage & What he Did With It” by Howard E. Short

The biographical sketches of Garfield tell us that he made his confession of faith on March 3, 1850, and was baptized the next day. He wrote in his diary, words that were used then and for many decades afterward: “I was buried with Christ and arose to walk in the newness of Life.”  In addition, Mr. Short’s document from 1983 provides one more insight.

“Garfield seemed exuberant in his new faith. He wrote many…phrases in his diary. He showed the beginning of a broad concept…when he wrote about his botany studies: ‘It teaches us to lookup through nature to nature’s God and to see His wisdom manifested in the flowers of the field.’”

Interestingly enough, one of the four references to God in the Declaration of Independence states: The “laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them”. This does not seem to be a coincidence that Garfield used such similar language as our forefathers did 75-80 years earlier. This young American had not fallen far from their God-fearing tree.

As we celebrate Memorial Day this upcoming weekend, let us never forget that this country was founded on godly principles and sustained by godly people. James Garfield was one of these members of our Christian Heritage. The future President concluded his initial Decoration Day speech by saying,

“What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!”

“From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell…there go forth today to join these solemn processions loving kindred & friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them. And here are children, little children, to whom the war left no father but…the FATHER above.”

Calvary Love by Amy Carmichael

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I find myself taking lapses for granted, “Oh, that’s what they always do,” “Oh, of course she talks like that, he acts like that,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can write an unkind letter, speak an unkind word, think an unkind thought without grief and shame, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I do not feel far more for the grieved Savior than for my worried self when troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can rebuke without a pang, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,” or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace; if I forget the poignant word “Let love be without dissimulation” and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I take offense easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my sinless Savior trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I crave hungrily to be used to show the way of liberty to a soul in bondage, instead of caring only that it be delivered; if I nurse my disappointment when I fail, instead of asking that to another the word of release may be given, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I do not forget about such a trifle as personal success, so that it never crosses my mind, or if it does, is never given room there; if the cup of flattery tastes sweet to me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If in the fellowship of service I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are caused to feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in, but are ungenerous (to myself, for myself), then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I refuse to allow one who is dear to me to suffer for the sake of Christ, if I do not see such suffering as the greatest honor that can be offered to any follower of the Crucified, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my interest in the work of others is cool; if I think in terms of my own special work; if the burdens of others are not my burdens too, and their joys mine, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I wonder why something trying is allowed, and press for prayer that it may be removed; if I cannot be trusted with any disappointment, and cannot go on in peace under any mystery, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

From the book If by Amy Carmichael

The Collision of God and Sin

…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree… —1 Peter 2:24

The Cross of Christ is the revealed truth of God’s judgment on sin. Never associate the idea of martyrdom with the Cross of Christ. It was the supreme triumph, and it shook the very foundations of hell. There is nothing in time or eternity more absolutely certain and irrefutable than what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross— He made it possible for the entire human race to be brought back into a right-standing relationship with God. He made redemption the foundation of human life; that is, He made a way for every person to have fellowship with God.

The Cross was not something that happened to Jesus— He came to die; the Cross was His purpose in coming. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The incarnation of Christ would have no meaning without the Cross. Beware of separating “God was manifested in the flesh…” from “…He made Himto be sin for us…” (1 Timothy 3:16 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The purpose of the incarnation was redemption. God came in the flesh to take sin away, not to accomplish something for Himself. The Cross is the central event in time and eternity, and the answer to all the problems of both.

The Cross is not the cross of a man, but the Cross of God, and it can never be fully comprehended through human experience. The Cross is God exhibiting His nature. It is the gate through which any and every individual can enter into oneness with God. But it is not a gate we pass right through; it is one where we abide in the life that is found there.

The heart of salvation is the Cross of Christ. The reason salvation is so easy to obtain is that it cost God so much. The Cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened. But all the cost and pain of the collision was absorbed by the heart of God. — by Oswald Chambers

The Door of Reconciliation

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. — 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

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Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, there’s a door that tells a five-century-old tale. In 1492 two families, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds, began fighting over a high-level position in the region. The fight escalated, and the Butlers took refuge in the cathedral. When the FitzGeralds came to ask for a truce, the Butlers were afraid to open the door. So the FitzGeralds cut a hole in it, and their leader offered his hand in peace. The two families then reconciled, and adversaries became friends.

God has a door of reconciliation that the apostle Paul wrote passionately about in his letter to the church in Corinth. At His initiative and because of His infinite love, God exchanged the broken relationship with humans for a restored relationship through Christ’s death on the cross. We were far away from God, but in His mercy He didn’t leave us there. He offers us restoration with Himself—“not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Justice was fulfilled when “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us,” so that in Him we could be at peace with God (v. 21).

Once we accept God’s hand in peace, we’re given the important task of bringing that message to others. We represent the amazing, loving God who offers complete forgiveness and restoration to everyone who believes.

— from Our Daily Bread by Estera Pirosca Escobar

Advent Is Radical

“I’ve never looked forward to Advent as much as this year,” a pastor friend recently said to me. With ongoing news of global tensions and suffering many of us feel tired and off kilter. As Christians, we remind ourselves that “God is still on his throne.” But as the world brims with heartbreak, it’s easy to wonder, “Has God has taken a hiatus? Is God really in control?”

In the weeks before Christmas, many of us set up a wreath and light candles in anticipation of Jesus’ birth. Advent, the Latin word for “arrival,” reminds us that God stepped into human flesh. Emmanuel. God is with us and for us.

Advent reassures us that God hasn’t abandoned us or our fallen, broken world.

The prophet Isaiah expressed hope for God to deliver his people during a period of turbulent divisions. As the Northern and Southern kingdoms fought bitterly, leaving them vulnerable to enemy attacks, and eventual ruin, God promised them a Savior: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Today, our communities and world face turbulent fighting and bitter divisions. The recent U.S. presidential election has left many of us divided and fearing for the future. Images of Syrian refugees fleeing genocide flood us with grief and powerlessness. Already, many of us are overwhelmed in our own personal lives, too. Like Isaiah, we long for God to move.

Advent reminds us of the extravagant lengths God has gone to rescue us and restore our world.

As Christmas approaches, we remember Israel’s hope for the coming Messiah—to save, forgive and restore. All over the world, church communities light candles and read Scriptures virtually on Sunday mornings: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1)

Advent calls for us to remove the distractions and get into God’s presence to face the reality of our lives and world, no matter how ugly. The Spirit whispers for us to pour out our hurt, confusion, resentment, anger, fear and anxiety. (1 Peter 5:7) God searches our depths, turning our faces toward eternal light. (Psalm 139:23-24) And we realize how desperately the world needs Emmanuel.

Advent guarantees that God has the upper hand even when the opposite seems true.

Living in between two worlds — heaven and earth — Jesus’ spirit reminds us not to lose hope. Although we wrestle through painful circumstances, personal failures and traumatic world events, Emmanuel has come.

Scripture assures our residency in heaven though our fallen, broken lives contribute to our fallen, broken world (Philippians 3:20-21). And our enemy (the devil) prowls the earth, seeking to kill and destroy (Peter 5:8-9).

God is present in every form of suffering and depravity — painful relationships, chronic illness, addictions, deaths of loved ones, unemployment, financial strain, children who turn from God. The Bible reminds us of His faithful words, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)

God is with those suffering war, genocide, starvation, displacement and every other horror known to our human brothers and sisters. We can be sure God opposes those who commit evil and will make all things right with justice.

The more we know Jesus, the more we realize that our lives are interwoven with those around us. Just as Frederick Buechner writes: “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Seeing others’ desperate circumstances through Jesus eyes gets to the depths of who we are: Will we become stuck asking: “Why, God? Why?” Or will we step out, in the security we have in Him, asking: “What, God, what would you have me do?”

Emmanuel calls us to love God and our neighbors to our greatest capacity. Living by faith means stepping out in courageous acts of compassion.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

…May we set aside arguing…(and) get serious in our prayer lives, our ministry, and the practical support of widows, orphans, immigrants, refugees and every other marginalized person in our nation.

In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Rich Stearns, World Vision president, wrote: “We must never lose our capacity to feel outrage when human beings are so callously slaughtered, and then we must turn that outrage into action.” He urges us to pray, give and raise our voices in support of those suffering war and famine.

The baby born to a virgin in a manger, over 2,000 years ago, guarantees that God is for us, not against us. God sees. God cares. Emmanuel has come to redeem us and our fallen, broken world. And we can be assured that He is in control of everything present and all to come.

— from Amy Buckley in Relevant

Joy to the World

For two of my friends, this yuletide season will be a difficult one. They’ve both lost loved ones during this period, and the festive season reminds them of the painful absence. Sometimes it’s hard to feel joyous during Christmas.

While this season would hardly seem complete without the singing of “Joy to the World,” how can we sing for joy when our heart is grieving in pain? The song was penned by Isaac Watts, not as a Christmas carol but as a reinterpretation of Psalm 98—a psalm that calls the earth to praise God in view of His coming reign. The lyrics contain rich themes of Jesus’ coming to dwell among us as a human being, so most hymnals list the song as an Advent carol.

And, indeed, the fact that Christ came in the flesh is grounds for true joy. Preacher Charles Simeon termed it as the “most marvelous occurrence that ever the world beheld.” Consider this: The King of Kings wasn’t born in a palace, but in a lowly stable. And He became accessible to regular folks like you and me.

Why did He come? The Lord “remembered his promise to love and be faithful” (Psalm 98:3). He came to save (Psalm 98:1), announce His victory, and reveal His righteousness (Psalm 98:2).

When we think about Christmas and face it with tears—like my friends, we still have hope: Jesus is coming again. The baby who was placed in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes, and we will enjoy His blessings forever (Revelation 21:4).

As you hear and sing “Joy to the World” this season, may the lyrics bring you joy, for “The Lord is come!” “The Savior reigns,” “He comes to make His blessings flow,” and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Yes, joy to the world—for our Savior has come!

—Poh Fang Chia from Our Daily Bread