Becoming Less

By: Marcy Barthelette
 
On my Sunday morning walk, (before church) I was struggling a bit with a topic for this week. I was searching for something large that might impact a lot of people, when that tiny voice in my head spoke, “Maybe the message isn’t meant to be great. Maybe it isn’t meant to reach lots of people. Maybe the message is for just one person and maybe that person is you”. Whoa…did I hear that right? Had I been so focused on the words and the stories that my personal time with God was being shortchanged? For it’s on my solitary walks that I have time to really see the beauty of His creation and understand why there needs to be less of me.

He must increase, and I must decrease. (John 3:30) CEB

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (NLT)

This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. (MSG)

I’ve chosen to use three different versions of this scripture to hopefully define it best. The first is a simple statement while the second expands a bit. But the third translate it into terms that are more applicable to the world today. These words appear at the end of a short story told by John when his disciples complain that the other man, Jesus, is attracting a larger crowd to be baptized. And John explains that he has always told his followers that he was just a messenger for the Messiah, one who had come to the prepare the way. And then he refers to the bridegroom (Jesus) winning the bride (the church) and he, John, is the best man who stands beside the groom and shares his joy in his new bride.

I ask myself how often I am willing to step aside and give the honor of center stage to another. How often do I want to claim the credit for a job well done? I know in my heart that I can do nothing of any worth without Jesus by my side, without God and the Holy Spirit infusing my soul with thoughts and actions that mirror their love toward others. And yet, I sometimes just really want to show everyone that “I can do it all by myself”. Does that sound anything like a two-year-old you may have known in your lifetime? And how often have I foolishly insisted on doing it my way and fallen flat on my face?

I know that acknowledging this major shortcoming of mine will not make me an instant success. All our lives we’ve been encouraged to do more, be more, accomplish more. After all, that is the American recipe for success…work as hard as we can, make as much money as we can, and buy as many things as we can. But money and things alone cannot bring us true contentment. There will always be a large void in our lives if we don’t include God in our master plan. And then we must remember that His master plan may differ from ours.

I know that He is always with me, it’s been proven during a host of difficult moments and bad decisions. And I know that He will always forgive when I get that overpowering urge to forge ahead and try to leave Him behind. He’ll be there to pick me up when I fall, he’ll brush me off, give me a warm hug, pat me on the back and send me off to try again. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just do what He asks of me before I get myself into trouble, but then He is God and I am human.

In reality, all that I can do is put one foot in front of the other like a toddler learning to walk. I can wake to prayer in the morning and fall asleep talking to Him at night, and in between, I can do my very best to study His word, step aside and let His plan fall into place, for it is His plan that is best for me and for this world. Now, if I can just get over myself and follow His lead!

  Lord Jesus, when I am tempted to claim a higher place, remind me that you weren’t ashamed to become a servant and wash my dirty feet. Ray Pritchard (Faces Around the Cross)

 


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Garbage into Gold

By Marcy Barthelette

Compost is one of those nasty sounding words….you know, one of those words that aptly describe the things in life that we would rather hide under a bushel basket! But gardeners know compost as black gold. It’s an almost magical ingredient that brings oceans of color to our landscapes in spring, summer, and fall as well as an abundant harvest to supply and enliven our culinary adventures throughout the growing season.
To get started, you can simply find an out of the way corner in your yard and start your pile. If you want to keep the compost contained, you can choose from an assortment of bins in varying sizes or you can build a wooden bin to accommodate your specific needs. For the limited gardener with limited space, small indoor containers are available that can adequately supply your potted plants.
You can apply compost at any time during the season, but fall will give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Spread an inch of compost over your prepared ground, cover it with a good leaf mulch and let it “simmer” all winter. When spring arrives, you’ll be ready to plant. If your quantity of compost is limited, apply it in the spring to jumpstart your plants but remember that compost always continues to decompose and, therefore, needs to be replenished annually.
The first rule of feeding your compost is that it must have a Vegan diet and it prefers well-spaced large meals over frequent snacks. Never add animal products or by-products! Your compost needs a balanced blend of green and brown refuse and your kitchen can yield countless products that will provide necessary nutrients. Chop your ingredients into smaller pieces to speed the process and save those scraps for several days, even up to a week, before adding them. Outdoors you’ll find plenty to toss in the bin when you complete your yard work. Once again, cut into smaller pieces. Be careful not to include weed seed or diseased plant material. Otherwise, most things are acceptable. Remember balance is the key as well as turning the mix frequently and maintaining proper moisture. Your pile or bin should be located in full sun for optimum “cooking”. Online lists of compatible ingredients will take the guesswork out of your feeding habits.
In its finished state, compost is dark brown in color, is easily crumbled, and quite earthy in smell. It naturally invigorates your soil to help prevent damage from disease, insects, and other environmental pressures. It is your best gardening investment as it becomes a permanent part of your soil structure.
Before you begin your project, take a dive into trusted websites or question experienced gardeners to gather information. Composting is not hard but it does require knowledge and you want to invest your time and resources in the best ways to accomplish your specific goals.
Speaking of garbage, hidden among our positive traits, each of us can find a little trash within our spiritual lives; Ozark pigheadedness, selfishness, anger, jealousy, intolerance. All our traits and experiences, good and bad, are a little like compost. Packed down, shaken up, aerated, and left to season, we can be transformed into the new creatures we were intended to be or we can skip a few steps; maybe use the wrong ingredients, perhaps forget to stir the mixture, or let everything slide out of balance. Just as good compost becomes a living, nourishing part of our soil, spending time in God’s word teaches us to filter out our negative traits and strengthen the positive ones, constantly nourishing our soul.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
Philippians 3:8 (NLT)
  
What ingredients do we need to help carry out the mission of being light in the world? Let’s start with a large dose of love. Add a good-sized chunk of compassion, a willingness to listen, an abundance of kindness, an extra measure of tolerance, and always a sprinkle of “salt” for just the right seasoning. Mix carefully and tend regularly, toss in a generous amount of Son-shine and we’ll be all set to greet our weary world.
Lord, thank You for the fragrance of forgiveness You leave in Your wake. Rick Hamlin

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Lights in Our World

By: Marcy Barthelette
Throughout our 36 years of marriage, Ken and I have strengthened our love of history, the common thread that is always present in our travels. We have found that when you visit the places where locals congregate, they are always willing to share the stories of their roots. And every place has a history, no matter how large or small. You may just have to dig a little bit to find it. As I have mentioned before, I am truly drawn to water; tiny creeks, bubbling springs, tumbling streams, the big rivers, placid lakes, and the constant ebb and flow of the ocean…I love them all! And because the ocean holds such fascination for me, so then does the lighthouse.
Today’s technology can guide a 560´ Ohio-class submarine with a submerged displacement of 18,750 tons effortlessly through the ocean depths with remarkable accuracy. But what about navigation during the time when our world was being explored by those eager pioneers? The Mayflower, which carried our pilgrims from England, is estimated to have been about 90´ long with a weight of 180 tons. We can only imagine the perils they faced crossing oceans in wooden ships powered only by the wind. And when they reached shores far from home, how many ran aground or perished in the dark of night because they only had moonlight to guide them.
As eastern civilizations expanded and populations grew, farmers, traders, capitalists, and dreamers went in search of new ground and upon their arrival in this vast new world, it became obvious that a new navigational tool was needed along the meandering coastlines. The lighthouse was born and, in time, the new country was populated by a network of lighthouses along the oceans and the Great Lakes.
A lighthouse complex consisted of a tall tower atop which rested a light to guide ships away from obstacles by night, the keeper’s house, and outbuildings to store the fuel for the light and the necessary tools needed for repair of the properties. The light was originally powered by candles. Over the years various oils were used to keep it burning, whale oil being choice. Complex lenses were devised to project the light as far as possible. 

In the late 1800s, after more than a century of burning kerosene, electricity made work much less taxing for the lightkeeper. He no longer had to traverse the stairs or ladders with fuel to power the light. Life, however, was still quite solitary as most lighthouses were remotely located. If the keeper had a family, they all had to endure the rigors of living in relative isolation and often faced treacherous weather. Property damage resulting from strong winds and heavy seas made upkeep a constant reality. It was not uncommon for the keeper and his family to rescue sailors who had been thrown overboard in stormy conditions or run aground when the light was not visible. The lighthouse was equipped with a foghorn, but at times it could not be heard above the roar of the wind and the pounding of the surf. I am awed and grateful that these rugged men and women persevered against such formidable odds. Of course, there were many days of sunshine and blue skies when living by the ocean was a true blessing in the midst of their toil.
Technology has taken most of the guesswork and human contact out of the maritime navigation equation. Many of the lighthouses from our past are now tourist attractions that stand as reminders of our roots and we can learn much about those roots from the people living there today. Where lighthouses are still deemed necessary, most are operated electronically. Those sturdy towers from our past stand as reminders of those who have gone before us and they beckon me whenever I find myself near the shore.

 

One of my favorites is the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida. It is an active, working lighthouse located on Anastasia Island and its black and white stripes identify it to everyone who is familiar with the system of markings devised so that sailors could pinpoint their location in daylight. On one of our visits to St. Augustine, Ken talked me into climbing the lighthouse stairs. Understand, please, that I am “blessed” with a fear of heights and I know I have lots of company in that regard. My fear is not severe enough to be considered acrophobia but I still get a healthy jolt when I’m more than about 10-15 feet off the ground. It has kept me from experiencing some adventures that I really would have enjoyed had I been able to overcome it. Making matters worse, this lighthouse has a spiral staircase made of beautiful open-worked steel which meant I could always see to the bottom. This did nothing to inspire my confidence but I was determined not to chicken out. At the top, my legs felt like rubber but the exhilaration I felt when we shared that phenomenal view of the city and the open water made it all worthwhile and I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

My imagination has explored the topic of lighthouses on several occasions and this week turned out to be perfectly timed (another of those God things) because Pastor Dennis spoke to us recently about the darkness in our world. We are surrounded by darkness everywhere we turn but we don’t have to allow fear to consume our future.

Jesus spoke to the people again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t
walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 CEB

We can carry the Light into our world!

There’s a Southern Gospel song, The Lighthouse, written in 1970 by Ronny Hinson, that some of you may recognize. Its words portray our choices vividly:

There’s a lighthouse on the hillside that overlooks life’s sea.
When I’m tossed it sends out a light that I might see.
And the light that shines in darkness now will safely lead me home.
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse, my ship would sail no more.

Everyone that lives around us says tear that old lighthouse down.
The big ships don’t sail this way anymore, ain’t no use in it standin’ round.
But my mind goes back to that stormy night when just in time I saw the light
With the light from that old lighthouse, that stands there on the hill.

Chorus:
And I thank God for the lighthouse, I owe my life to Him.
Jesus is the Lighthouse and from the rocks of sin,
He has shown the light around me   so that I might clearly see.
If it wasn’t for The Lighthouse (tell me) where would this ship be?

The Bible is God’s chart for you to steer by, to keep you from the bottom of the sea, and to show you
where the harbor is, and how to reach it without running on rocks or bars. Henry Ward Beecher


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Prepared?

By: Marcy Barthelette
Southwestern Missourians are pretty good at preparedness. After all, we have an active tornado season, some really raucous thunderstorms, flash flooding to the extreme, and let’s not overlook the ice storms. Who doesn’t have a sizeable supply of bottled water, non-perishable foods, flashlights and batteries, battery radio, maybe a generator, and, of course, the weather app   of choice. We’re ready to hunker down when we hear a siren or receive a warning on our phone and we’ll be able to survive if the power is out or our home is damaged or the streets are like an ice skating rink.
Other parts of our state must deal with flooding on the big rivers in addition to the above list. Folks out west are fighting wildfires and when the rains come, there’ll be mudslides, not to mention an earthquake or two thrown in for good measure. Up north and in the mountains, the blizzards are an ever-present threat in winter, and on the coasts we can add hurricanes. This year has been an active one though they haven’t been as huge as some past years, peak season isn’t over yet, and even the lower category storms can cause massive damage.
He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Last week I alluded to a storm we experienced a number of years ago on Pike’s Peak and it seemed like an appropriate topic to tackle this week. Our son had graduated from Mizzou in 1994 and after a few months, he was settled in Denver. We went to visit the following summer and spent several days seeing the sights with him, including Rocky Mountain National Park and the golden dome of the state’s capitol. From there we moved on to Colorado Springs with the intent of driving up Pike’s Peak.
Our weather was not cooperative, as is usual when we travel, and we began to think we would have to sacrifice our plans. But, on our last day there, we awoke to sunny skies and began our trek. We knew that we would probably not reach the summit because of heavy overnight snow but we would go as far as we could. By the time we arrived at the gate, 16 of the 19 miles of road to the top had been cleared and the crew was still working. So up we went and the drive was lovely. When we reached the 16-mile marker, we were told that another mile had been cleared and when we had climbed to that point, rangers said that the plows were almost to the top if we would like to wait for a short while. Of course, we did and it was all worth it when that sign telling us we had finally reached the 14,000 plus feet of the summit came into view. 
It was somewhat foggy but what we could see of the mountains was awesome! We wandered into the gift shop and restaurant for a souvenir and a bite to eat before heading back down. Altitude has a way of causing your body to relax and your head to nod. We were both feeling the effect and paying little attention to what was happening outdoors but one of us happened to look out the window and what did we see? Sleet!
Of course, our reaction was to grab our things and head down the mountain to a lower elevation and out of the nasty weather. That was probably our second mistake, the first had been our insistence on making it to the top. That sleet soon became a combination of sleet, snow, rain, and hail. Throw in lightning bolts crashing all around us and wind that we later learned was clocked at 80 mph and our little pick-up was completely wrapped in an epic mountain storm. There was no choice but to pull off the road and wait…we couldn’t see a thing. We were both terrified and clung to each other praying fervently to live through this decision of ours. Were we prepared for our consequences? Absolutely not! But the best part of our story was that God was prepared. Even though our faith wavered and became sheer terror, He wrapped us in His blanket of security.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
After about an hour and a half of praying and worrying, (we’ve tried to learn to let God do the worrying since then) a ranger came by, in his very well-equipped vehicle, and told us to stay put and they would let us know when we could proceed on down. As if we would even think about moving at that stage of our adventure. Soon enough the road was clear and we ventured on. In just a short distance, the sun broke through and it looked as if nothing had happened. Every car has to stop at a waystation on the descent from the mountaintop and have their brakes checked for overheating. We decided to step inside the snack shop for some hot chocolate and a break from our tensions. We began to talk with a family nearby and learned they were from Springfield. Imagine that. We were nearly neighbors back home and had all experienced this journey together.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense
to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….. 1 Peter 3:15

The next day we moved on and had planned to go through the Eisenhower Tunnel and into Aspen but blizzard conditions had closed I70 and we found a cute little B & B in Leadville, just under 10,000 feet. Our room had a cozy featherbed that swallowed us in comfortable warmth overnight and the next morning at breakfast, the owners invited us to the town’s 4th of July parade. So we bundled up in many layers and mingled with the townspeople to watch that parade… in the snow, then decided it was time for a warmer destination. Come on now, it was July 4th and we were seeing blizzards! The locals took it all in stride and bragged that they never stored away their winter clothes. Those rugged mountain folks were definitely prepared for the weather.

So the question is, are we prepared for whatever lies ahead? If God is our guide,
the answer is a resounding YES!


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Never Stop Climbing!

By: Marcy Barthelette
 
Ken and I love the outdoors! Each of us has spent a lifetime, individually and then together, engaging in many types of outdoor activities. Our first “date” was a challenging hike with our kids to Missouri’s tallest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls. It begins at the highest point in our state, Taum Sauk Mountain, and is considered moderately difficult with some strenuous sections. It was a breeze in 1983, but when we decided to repeat it on our 30th anniversary, it had become much longer and more difficult than on that first trip. But we persevered and were rewarded with lots of tumbling water (it was April in Missouri) and a few scrapes and bruises.
 

Traveling this beautiful country of ours and witnessing its magnificent vistas has always been our choice for leisure time. Ken hiked and camped under the stars in the incredible Sierra Nevada Mountains during his time in the military, the two of us have explored the treasures of the awesome Rockies and clung to the side of Pike’s Peak during a horrendous thundersnow. We have braved the infamous winds and freezing temperatures on Mt Washington in the White Mountain range of New Hampshire, but the mountains we love best are the comfortable, worn-down Smokies. Maybe it’s because we discovered their beauty later in life and it fit our older personalities or, perhaps because the connection between Appalachia and the Ozarks is so strong. But whatever the attraction, those rounded peaks covered in diverse vegetation keep drawing us back. It’s like coming home and we’ve always said that if anything could draw us away from the Ozarks, it would be the Smoky Mountains.
 
We’ve hiked numerous trails there, been thrilled by the sight of grazing herds of elk, shaken our heads as mama bears with cubs were followed from a very unsafe distance by eager photography buffs. Humans seem to lose all common sense when they spot wild animals. We’ve studied the history of the migration of Scotch/Irish immigrants who settled the beautiful fertile valleys nestled between peaks. They were faith-filled people who hunted the land, fished the streams, raised livestock, and farmed where they could. As eastern populations expanded, they moved further westward, many settling in our own Ozarks because it reminded them of their homes in the Smokies. Thus we are kinsmen.
 
Ken has fished the streams for wild brook trout. We’ve camped alongside tumbling waters and nestled among the hills, but there is one thing we do each time we visit the Smokies. I guess it has become our challenge just to prove to ourselves that we can still do it. It’s one of our very favorite places from throughout our travels; that quarter-mile, very steep trek to the top of the highest peak in Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s called Clingman’s Dome and we have had some truly amazing experiences there. Our first trip offered a vista of tree-covered peaks as far as the eye could see but by the next climb, many of those trees had been decimated by nature’s more cruel forces. We’ve seen the ravages of wind, the destruction of fire, and decimation by insects. But nature always heals itself…it was created to do just that. So each trip we travel to the top to discover whatever those magnificent hills have to offer. On one occasion we were witness to a phenomenon viewed only by a few. It was a very cold and windy day but we bundled up and climbed. From our treetop perch, we witnessed great clouds of moisture rising from the forest on one side, passing over the mountain and then dropping snow on the opposite side. We stood absolutely mesmerized, actually watching snow being made before our eyes. It was so very cool…pardon the pun!
 
But the climb I wanted to share with you happened in May of 2019. We had detoured through the Smokies on our return trip from visiting family in Florida and Ken had been talking about hiking up to Clingman’s Dome from the time we began our trip plans. I was not too keen on trying it at 74 years of age but he had made his decision and I didn’t want to wait in the parking lot. He promised to rest whenever I felt the need and we gathered our gear. At the base of the trail, we encountered a woman in a walker who planned to make the trip. She had family to encourage her and a wheelchair if needed, but she was determined. A short distance up the mountain, we shared a bench with a very overweight man whose breathing was very labored. He said he had some heart issues in addition to his weight but his friend was going up and he was determined to reach the top as well. Their will to make that climb despite all their adversities challenged me to be just as strong.
We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6:11-12 NIV
The hike went faster than I expected and we reached the top before either of our acquaintances. We took lots of photos and then sat down to rest and rehydrate before our descent. At a pause in our conversation, I glanced up to see my giant of a friend appear with a smile so radiant it actually beamed as he plopped beside me in a very ungainly fashion and simply whispered, “I made it!” We talked for a bit and he shared stories of his heart attack and subsequent pledge to lose weight. This brought an extra measure of substance to the accomplishment he had just enjoyed. Then we noticed that people were gathering at the tower rail and pointing at something. The approach to Clingman’s tower is a long sweeping spiral much like a flyway on a major highway exchange. The reason for all the “buzz” became apparent as our little lady in the walker made her way onto the platform amid rousing applause and finally allowed her family to seat her in her wheelchair. There on the top of a mountain in Tennessee, people from all over the world were offering a nod of appreciation or a pat on the back for a challenge well met. A stranger came forward with water for her and her service dog and a grateful family said their thanks. They had used all their water making the climb.  
 
There we sat, three unlikely climbers, at the top of the peak. My struggles were not obvious. I had mostly overcome the physical issues that, added to my advancing age, made that climb a triumph for me. My giant of a new friend was overcoming the stress of the climb but his issues remained very obvious and yet, he was there. And our little lady in the walker, who had been passed by every other climber on the tower? I’m sure they all thought, as did we, that she would never reach the top. We were ever so glad to be wrong. It was truly a blessed moment!
 
I guess my message to everyone is that whatever happens in life, we must keep on climbing. You may have no desire to scale real mountains but there are plenty of challenges in life that require some fancy footwork and lots of perseverance. When life seems like you’re facing one seemingly unattainable peak after another, take some time and talk to God about it, dive headfirst into His guidebook, set your spiritual GPS, and put your trust in His promises. He’ll always get you safely to your endgame, even if there are a few detours and potholes along the road. TRUST HIM!!
 

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An Opportunity to Forgive

By Marcy Barthelette
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning. The nation was awaking to a new day. Workers crowded New York City sidewalks. Commuters were hopping the subway to settle in for their journeys, others were hailing taxis; coffee & newspapers in hand. Thoughts ranged from daytime projects to evening plans with family but all had one singular goal; getting to their destinations safely and on time. It was a Tuesday just like any other when the unthinkable happened. At 8:46 AM, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
 
I was enjoying a quiet morning at home when my husband called to say that he had heard a news flash on the radio telling of a plane accidentally striking the World Trade Center. He asked me to turn on the TV and relay any updates to him at work. The images I saw were unbelievable and I hadn’t recovered from my impressions of the damage from that first strike when a second plane plowed into the South Tower leaving a sky filled with flames and smoke. It was when the third plane struck the Pentagon minutes later that I began to weep uncontrollably for a loss so profound that I could find no comfort. Images depicting the absence of human caring struck my very soul. By now the world knew that these were calculated attacks. How does one human do this terrible thing to another?
 
There first must be a painful experience for there to be a need for forgiveness. Think about that. God knew, when He gave us free will, that we would break the rules. Call it human nature or give it any other name you choose, we will make mistakes. We will hurt others and we will be hurt by others. God’s plan from the beginning was to send His Son to walk on the earth with us, to dine with us, to heal us, to teach us. But He also knew that wouldn’t be enough. There had to be an act of forgiveness so great that it could save us all because we couldn’t save ourselves. And so it was decided that God would sacrifice His precious Son and the Son would accept His assignment. From that day forward there was no sin too big to be forgiven.
 
Years have not erased the sting of the 9-11 attacks, but perhaps they have altered my perspective. Only now am I able to see that horrific event as the painful experience that opened a door to the opportunity for forgiveness. We don’t know if any of those who accomplished this deed changed their minds at the last minute and asked God to forgive them but we do know that, if they asked, forgiveness was offered, just as it was to the criminal on the cross beside Jesus.
 
As I see it, there are three types of non-Christians in this world. There are those who once believed and have turned away from Jesus. There are those who know the basics of Christianity but have never believed because of family tradition, environment, or other reasons. And there are those who have never heard the name of Jesus. The important thing to remember is that God loves everyone one of us and He wants each one to invite Him in, regardless of the path taken before accepting Him. There is no behavior or belief so bad that it can’t be forgiven if we come before God in true repentance. As followers of Jesus, we are offered an opportunity to carry the light of Jesus to the darkest corners of the earth and into the deepest recesses of our hearts. It is our calling to live as He did and show His love to all people and, in doing so, perhaps some will hear His call and answer. Where do we find that kind of love in the wake of an event so horrific as that on September 11, 2001?

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible,
so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Romans 12:17-19

  I will start by remembering those who died that day, those who perpetrated the attacks and those who fell victim. I pray that they knew Jesus in those final moments before death took them. I will remember the families of those who were lost and pray that, if they have not done so, they will hear the still, small voice of God and open their hearts to a personal relationship through the Son. I will remember the sacrifice of all first responders and remain aware that even today they are still suffering and dying from toxic exposures during the weeks that followed the attacks. They and their families will be in my prayers for comfort and grace.
 
I am certainly a flawed human and I don’t claim to have laid aside all malice toward those who hurt us so badly as a nation or even situations with a more personal connection, but I’m working on it. If there was ever a work in progress, I fit the description. My heart breaks every year when I see the images aired once more. It stirs feelings I want to put to rest. Like Peter and then Paul, my forward steps often falter. I find myself taking more steps back. But the opportunity is there for me to forgive and I’m trying because He asks me to and I don’t like being guilty of wounding Him more.
 
He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes. He bore the punishment
that made us whole; by His wounds (stripes) we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
 
Forgiveness frees the giver! I know that sounds contrary to logic but carrying anger is a heavy weight that drags us down and creates a separation between us and God. It also hurts us and the ones who love us. By letting go, we free ourselves of that burden. The person(s) we forgive may never know because they are gone or are unwilling to hear our words. But God will hear us and that’s what truly matters.
 
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Matthew 5:44
 
However you choose to respond to the events of that particular day in our history, remember that any time we feel wronged or under any circumstances when anger or hurt fill our hearts, the door of opportunity to forgive is thrown open wide. Walk through and give those feelings to God. Forgiveness, sometimes slowly and painfully, breaks the chains of anger and frees the giver to take those important steps toward becoming more like Him.

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Painter of Masterpieces

By Marcy Barthelette

Thursday, August 26: Tonight God gave us another gift during our evening walk. It had been a day of especially hard news. COVID 19 cases were up definitively all across Missouri, the news cycle regarding unrest across our nation was certainly not encouraging and a couple of personal interactions had been disturbing. I was feeling quite irrelevant and more than a little helpless. A good brisk walk was just what I needed to clear my head and accomplish an attitude adjustment. Ken commented that there might be another good sunset but I was skeptical. Its beginnings were not impressive.

I had prayed hard that afternoon for clarity in all the troubles facing our world and for some kind of inspiration for my upcoming article. As we walked, something suddenly prompted us to glance over our shoulders. There, draped across the southeastern sky, stood the most incredible rainbow we had ever seen. Soon a second rainbow appeared to its right and finally, the arch extended all across the sky and came to rest above a field to our left. The colors intensified more and more as the sun fell toward the western horizon. We pulled our phones from our pockets and snapped image after image. As we turned to check for approaching traffic before stepping farther into the road, we were greeted by another splash of color across the western sky. I had thought the sunset would be unspectacular that night and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was magnificent! We strolled in awe for probably 15 minutes, snapping photos first of the rainbow and then of the sunset. The gift was breathtaking and rare. The intensity of color and the extensive timeframe made it priceless. I knew that we had just experienced worship far beyond what any words can convey! I couldn’t help feeling a little like Noah must have felt when God made His covenant in Genesis 9:12-15….

And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow

in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures

of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

Science tells us that a rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon caused by reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets that results in a spectrum of color appearing in the sky. Rainbows caused by sunlight always occur on the opposite side of the sky from the sun. A primary rainbow displays red on the outer side and violet on the inner side. Where a double rainbow occurs that pattern is reversed because of the way the light is refracted from the water droplets.

This, of course, is a simplification of the scientific process and I am grateful that men and women were given the gifts of discovery that have enabled the control or elimination of many diseases, the ability to travel into space, to understand the marvels of our natural world and the things we must do to protect it. But beyond all of that is the reality that God enabled all these things, he created everything that exists from absolutely nothing. Though we believe in His miracles, we don’t truly comprehend them. We have a thing called faith that allows us to believe His word that He will always be with us. I was certainly enveloped in His loving arms that evening in a visible display of His love for all mankind.

Though artists try to replicate His masterpieces, there is always a little something missing, so when He sweeps His giant brush across the sky in a perfect arch of amazing hues or breaks the dawn with a flood of light to brighten our days or paints the western horizon in twilight color bold enough to impress even the most skeptical of humans, remember that He promised to always be there and His promises are good.

I’ll end with my absolute favorite verse in all of God’s Holy Word, Jeremiah 29:11, in several different versions:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   Jeremiah (NIV)

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace not disaster,

to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah (CEB)

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you,

plans to give you the future you hope for. (MSG)

What else is left to say?


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Root Out Those Stumps

By Marcy Barthelette

Early in the summer, Ken decided that two small trees needed to be removed from our yard, one was a redbud too near the house and the other a peach that just didn’t produce fruit. One day he went out to simply prune some of their limbs but, once he started, nothing would keep him from cutting both of them back to stumps about two feet in height. He decided to wait for cooler weather to dig the stumps. Along came several cool days and he set out with his arsenal of Ozark tools to complete his task.

We had just been blessed with some meaningful rainfall so the digging proved less difficult. The redbud stump was his chosen target on day one and he began to dig soil away from the roots. The two feet of stump he had left behind provided leverage for wiggling the roots back and forth. He clipped roots to free the stump and after a half-hour or so, he was able to pull the root wad from the hole. A few days later, the peach tree fought him harder and had many more roots that were twisted in every direction but he persevered and, once again, he prevailed. A little grass seed, some straw, and faithful watering have filled those empty spaces and we now have a smooth lawn.

What does this short lesson in stump removal have to do with anything? According to Dictionary.com, a stump is any basal part remaining after the main or more important part has been removed. In fact, stumps can be an unsightly obstacle and cause injuries to body or soul. Once we become Christians, life doesn’t magically discard all the bad stuff. It leaves behind a collection of stumps. Our walk with God is a constant tug of war between our will to follow His teachings as outlined in the Bible and all the distractions around us that reflect the sinful nature of humans. The sins of our former life reside in our minds as stumps that keep us from positive growth. Paul was very familiar with stumps and the first time I read this scripture I scratched my head with wonder. What was he trying to tell us?

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what
I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:19-20 (NKJV)

A later look at a newer translation gave me a much better understanding of Paul’s dilemma. Here’s how the NLT says the same thing.

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

We have all found ourselves in this same situation. We know what is right, but countless temptations lurk around every corner. Back in the 1990s, the familiar acronym, WWJD, seemed to be on everyone’s lips as well as the jewelry, T-shirts, and caps that became part of our everyday wardrobes. What Would Jesus Do became a household phrase in Christian homes and that reminder that we boldly wore encouraged us to ask the question each time we had a decision to make. In today’s world, that reminder may be even more important. Perhaps Paul had his own way of learning the truth:

For I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize I don’t have what it takes. The moment I decide
to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all
of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it,
they take charge. Excerpted from Romans 7:17-23 (The Message)

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope.
Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:24-25 (The Message)

The stumps we tackle daily are no different from the ones Paul faced. Our lives may have an outward appearance that differs from his time but many of the distractions that we face are very similar in nature.

Stumps in the yard create an obstacle we must always workaround. By removing them we create a clean palette where new grass can flourish. Stump removal within our hearts and minds creates a temporary void that is fertile for the development of something positive. Let’s root out those bright and shining distractions that keep us from positive growth and replace them with qualities that are real─not glitzy….or, in keeping with our theme, ugly as stumps!

“When we try to live in Jesus’ footsteps, things get put into perspective. The highs and lows that
used to turn our heads can begin to lose their power. And the quiet, still, unsung moments
can excite our hearts. The joy of Jesus creeps upon us.
Bear Grylls…from Soul Fuel


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Face Your Goliath

By Marcy Barthelette

Our evening walk takes us past a small neighborhood church with a message board out front that always bears a thought-provoking message. “For every Goliath,   there is a stone!”, the latest post, caused me to ponder where this theme could take me. The story of David and Goliath is one of my earliest Sunday School memories and I’m sure many of you share that memory. It’s made of the kind of stuff that stirs a child-sized imagination to amazing heights.

Everyone loves a story with an underdog and to everyone’s eye, David was the definitive underdog, a mere boy challenging an enormous hulk of a man whose nine-foot body was protected by an incredible array of armor. David found himself at the scene of a standoff between an army of Israelites and a much stronger army of Philistines. He was there because he had been sent with food for three of his older brothers and tasked to bring news of their condition back to their father, Jesse, who was a farmer and sheep breeder as well as part of the lineage of Jesus. All of his sons had taken their turns as shepherds but David, as the youngest, was now tending the sheep. A day off from those smelly animals to explore the scene of a mighty battle must have seemed quite the adventure to the young man, but what kind of situation did he find when he arrived?.

Goliath was a giant of a Philistine and he carried an assortment of deadly weapons. For each of forty days, he had come forward and called upon the Israelites to send just one man out to fight him. The winner would be able to claim the entire other army as subjects. David had heard the giant mocking God and so, when he was told of the challenge, David volunteered to meet the giant on the battlefield. King Saul, leader of the Israelite army tried desperately to convince David that a mere boy could not possibly confront Goliath. When he realized that David was determined to try, Saul offered him any armor that he needed but David chose to meet the giant girded only with the armor of God.

Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them

in the pocket of his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

I Samuel 17:40

As he ran toward the giant, he raised his trusty slingshot in the air, armed with one of his chosen stones. His aim was true, it hit Goliath directly in the forehead and dropped him to the ground. The army of Philistines was so shocked to see their giant lying on the ground that they turned and ran. Israel won the battle because one young boy stepped out in faith.

This had probably not been part of David’s plan for the day and he was certainly not saved by his skill with a slingshot, though he may have been quite proficient. The giant was conquered by David’s faith that God would be with him. David knew that he might die but he would do so proclaiming the sovereignty of God the Father. How do we stack up in that situation? Are we willing to stand tall for God even if it means we may die and, for that matter, what sort of Goliaths do we face in today’s world?

The term Goliath has come to be equated with conquering our demons, overcoming great odds, and becoming the victor. We hear stories of a rescuer plunging into the water and saving a drowning child only to lose his own life in the effort. Firefighters enter burning buildings to extract trapped victims and succumb to smoke inhalation. Field medics enter the line of fire to treat wounded soldiers at peril to themselves. We don’t know if these heroes were believers in God but we do know that God is in control of every situation. We don’t always survive the circumstances in which He places us but he is there beside us every step of the way and if He chooses to bring us home to Him, we will go.

So, what are the giants in our everyday lives? Debt? Illness? Fear? Depression? Addiction? Guilt? It’s time to defeat them. Put on the full armor of God and trust Him to be there for you. He has a never-ending pocket of stones to hurl at that giant. Have faith! He’ll take good care of you, either here on earth or, when He chooses,  in His heavenly kingdom.

         It is for us to make the effort; the result is always in God’s hands. Mahatma Gandhi

Faith is the most powerful of all the forces operating in humanity and when you have it in depth

nothing can get you down. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

(To study the full story of David and Goliath, please go to I Samuel 17.)

 


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Surprise!

By: Marcy Barthelette
When we moved into our current home a few years ago I was feeling a little bit of regret over leaving our lovely landscaping at the previous home. We had developed it from scratch and I was more than a little attached to my perennial friends. Our new lawn had a good selection of perennials as well, the previous owner having been an avid gardener herself, but I just missed my personal touch. There always seems to be a sense of loss when moving from one place to another, but we can’t let that dampen our enthusiasm for new adventures to come.

Though I had been able to recognize many old favorites still hanging on in the fall, the spring brought a bounty of surprises. Grape hyacinths were the first to arrive and I’d never had them before so that was a real treat. Daffodils soon nodded their pretty heads. The three giant hydrangea bushes produced a show all their own but there was one area of the yard that just had a neglected appearance. We have a corner lot and the east end of our home faces the busiest of the two streets. It was nothing more than a hodgepodge of plants that had been thrown in the ground with no planning. It was an eyesore for everyone who passed by and I was on a mission to change that.
 
Those lovely grape hyacinths were there and their cheery purple blooms would form the base around which the rest of my new plantings would live. This area doesn’t get a lot of rain because it is away from the prevailing winds and has a large overhanging eave so I needed to make choices that would not only look nice but require less water. The obvious selections included sedums and salvias along with some variegated iris that came with the property and added color when nothing was blooming.
 
Everything was growing nicely but the following spring I noticed some long strappy leaves near the house that I hadn’t planted, nor had they appeared the previous year. I left them to see what might materialize and they just simply died back so I removed the debris and forgot about them. In late July, I noticed a strange-looking head poking through the ground just where those leaves had been. It quickly grew and rewarded us with several lovely pink lily blossoms. Surprise! Each year it has multiplied and this year there were three very prolific stems of blooms. I had to enjoy them quickly because they don’t stick around very long.
 
Their scientific name is Lycoris Squamigera. They are part of the amaryllis family and are sometimes called Naked Ladies (because of their lack of foliage), Spider Lily, and Resurrection Lily, but most of us just know them as Surprise Lilies. They thrive in poor soil and pop up in the middle of yards all over the area. Our neighbor has a row of them across his back yard. He doesn’t even allow their spring foliage to grow. His lawn is always clipped short and nothing is spared by his mower. But the lilies not only survive, they flourish! Neglect is their mantra.
 
You all know by now that I love natural nature, but I also find many parallels with our human world. We often neglect our closest personal relationships but with the addition of some Living Water, we usually experience surprising results. But how do we learn to respond positively to the many surprises in our lives? We all have them; some are large and some are small…we know that things of value often arrive in small packages. They may be wonderful surprises or perhaps they’re devastating. The key is to recognize them as a part of our life plan and pray through them, good or bad.
 
Imagine a small boy who has prayed for a puppy over and over again but the time has never been right. One day, he comes dragging home from a hard day at school and a barking little fuzzball meets him at the door. Surprise! Maybe a couple has tried for years to have a child but all they have to show for it is a chain of miscarriages. Then one day, they are greeted by a red, wiggly, wrinkled, hairless little human who instantly steals their hearts. Surprise! Or someone has been out of work for weeks and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. He has no idea how he can pay that stack of bills on the counter but God meets him at the mailbox with an unexpected refund check that just happens to cover the amount of his bills. Surprise! A mom has prayed fervently for her wayward daughter to rediscover the faith of her childhood and the phone rings. A breathless voice says, “Mom, I just met Jesus in the sunrise”. Surprise!
 
In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
 
We are surrounded by surprises. Sometimes they come in beautifully wrapped packages and sometimes they jump into our laps dragging our favorite shoe, a newly chosen chew toy. Your surprises may be large or they may be small, they may be good or they may seem not so good. Embrace them all, for you see, it’s the times of trouble that help us to experience the Light of His goodness! No surprise there!
….the language of the love of God comes in more colors and shapes and melodies
than we could ever count. Brian Doyle

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