Bethlehem . . . out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” Micah 5:2

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“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.

We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth” (Mic. 5:4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.

Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (Matt. 28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.

By:  Amy Boucher Pye from Our Daily Bread

Present Tense

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After “turkey day” came and went last year, a pastor challenged church members to ask one another not “How was your Thanksgiving?” but “How is your Thanksgiving?” After all, giving thanks should be an ongoing act.

That doesn’t always need to be profoundly deep, either. A.J. Jacobs, author of Thanks a Thousand, once asked a philosophy-professor friend what he was grateful for. The shockingly simple reply? “Sometimes I’m just grateful I have arms.” That odd but spot-on answer shows the importance, Jacobs says, of being “thankful for things so omnipresent that they can escape our notice.”

So … how is your Thanksgiving?

Redeeming the Season

He made the moon to mark the seasons. Psalm 104:19

Leisa wanted a way to redeem the season. So many of the autumn decorations she saw seemed to celebrate death, sometimes in gruesome and macabre ways.

Determined to counter the darkness in some small way, Leisa began to write things she was grateful for with a permanent marker on a large pumpkin. “Sunshine” was the first item. Soon visitors were adding to her list. Some entries were whimsical: “doodling,” for instance. Others were practical: “a warm house”; “a working car.” Still others were poignant, like the name of a departed loved one. A chain of gratitude began to wind its way around the pumpkin.

Psalm 104 offers a litany of praise to God for things we easily overlook. “[God] makes springs pour water into the ravines,” sang the poet (v. 10). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate” (v. 14). Even the night is seen as good and fitting. “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (v. 20). But then, “The sun rises . . . . People go out to their work, to their labor until evening” (vv. 22–23). For all these things, the psalmist concluded, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33).

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In a world that doesn’t know how to deal with death, even the smallest offering of praise to our Creator can become a shining contrast of hope.

— from Our Daily Bread

From the Pastor’s Pen

The wedding bells were ringing loud and clear this past Saturday as this writer and preacher had the privilege and honor of participating in the wedding of Martin and Sara.

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This couple, along with their families, had spent countless hours preparing for their special day with much emphasis placed upon coordinating and calculating every conceivable (and often inconceivable) possibility. However, the most essential item in all of this planning is another word, that is the most important item in ALL relationships: communication!

As a matter of a fact, a certain wedding counseling “professional” usually begins his first session with the following statement:  What are the 3 most important items in a long and successful marriage?   

The answer is… 1) Communication    2) Communication    3) Communication!

Interestingly enough, this ‘C’ word is also vital in our relationship as a follower of our Lord.  Our Savior longs forus to communicate with Him.  In the gospels, with an assist from the Thompsons’ Chain-Reference Bible, we find that Jesus’ disciples were constantly telling Him about different things happening in their lives. Check out a few of those that were listed:

Their Perils – MT 8:25;   Their Questions – MT 24:3;   Their Sicknesses – MK 1:30;

Their Difficulties – MK 6:35-44;    Their Victories – LK 10:17;    Their Bereavements – JN 11:21-23

Our job is not only to communicate the Good News to all we meet (MT 28:19, 20), but it is also to communicate WITH the Good News!  The Good Shepherd had this to say regarding His relationship with His Flock: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and…MY SHEEP KNOW ME”(John 10:14, emphasis added)

How can we know Jesus if we fail to communicate with Him? It must begin with a purpose of relationship from deep within our desires!  The Good News is… HE is the Good News.  And He wants and waits for you and me to respond.  

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”   (Revelations 3:20)

Let us all desire this type of relationship with Jesus as we communicate and try to understand one final ‘C’ word… Commitment!   To do so, let us bring our discussion to a conclusion with a few words from the Apostle Paul regarding an additional wedding analogy.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (EPH 5:25)

Christ WAS and IS committed to us.  Let us communicate with Him!

Sincerely Communicating with Jesus,

Pastor Pat

Ash Wednesday: Season of Lent Begins

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

— from Psalm 103

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Traditionally, this was the time each year when Christians set aside the 40 days (not including Sundays) that lead up to Easter for prayer, reflection, and spiritual renewal.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of putting ashes on the forehead to remind Christians of the importance of humility, that we are but dust.

Forty days symbolized the time Jesus spent fasting and seeking God in the wilderness. Following His example, Christians were to dedicate a time each year to search their hearts and lives, purify themselves from sin, and seek God in a fresh way.

But the world has turned this time of spiritual renewal into a celebration of carnality and sin. Now, in some places, more attention is paid to Mardi Gras, the time of revelry just before Lent begins. The streets of some cities become scenes of unbridled hedonism and sensuality.

How much more important it is to remember all that Jesus did for us, and reflect on our lives. This is a time to be humble, but grateful as well. We can rejoice that God knows our nature. He remembers that “we are dust,” and He has told us that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Today, spend time in prayer and quiet reflection. Allow God to search your heart, and reveal hidden sins, and habits that need to be changed. Then confess your sins. Be honest with God. Realize that you can trust Him, and be intimate with Him.

If you have confessed your sins, you can be confident that you have been forgiven. How wonderful to have your heart right with God! To be freed from the burdens of sin.

— from Inspiration Ministries

Be of Good Cheer

Near the end of every January, stories circulate about “Blue Monday,” supposedly the year’s most depressing day. Factors include broken New Year’s resolutions, Christmas debts and cold weather. But this phenomenon actually originated as a PR gimmick. U.K. marketers invented Blue Monday as “the best day to book a summer holiday,” and a psychologist they enlisted to help later admitted the saddest-seeming day became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

January may lack the excitement of December, but it doesn’t have to be a letdown. Christmas is over, but Jesus isn’t! No matter the season of the year or our season of life, Christians always have reason for joy: God’s promises of forgiveness and eternal victory. As Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (KJV).

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Do we have a celebration planned for you! You’re ALL invited this Sunday for loads of Christmas fun. Begin with a delicious breakfast brought to us by the Amos family at 8:00 a.m. (and you know they can cook!) at which a SPECIAL GUEST will stop by for pictures. Stay for Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., following by the youth Christmas program at 10:15 a.m. The youth group are planning their Christmas party the same evening with a white elephant gift exchange at 4:30 p.m., and then ALL are invited back to the sanctuary for family movie night at 6:30 p.m.! Enjoy showings of The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life (plus snacks). Celebrate the season with us!

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.”