My Name is Marcy

By Marcy Barthelette

Okay… so that’s not news. But I recently had a rather profound thought. Remove the c and the y and replace them with t-h-a and I become Martha. You know, the one everyone frowns upon because she was too busy to sit down and talk with Jesus.

Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me. Luke 10:40b

On the other hand, you can just remove the c and I become Mary, the sister who chose what Jesus referred to as the better part.

Martha, Martha…..Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:41-42  

And when did this mind-boggling thought wander into my brain? It happened one morning when I had laid my devotions aside to read later because I was trying to get my current article for the Gatepost Weekly sent to Casey. It was Christmas week and the church office had shortened hours. I knew she’d be rushed and I didn’t want to be the reason for her to get behind. The article had finally made its way through cyberspace to Casey’s desk and I had settled down to read my morning devotions over breakfast when Ken decided that I needed to hear all the important news stories of the day, and it needed to happen then. At first, I just wanted him to keep the mostly dreadful news to himself but then an unbidden thought occurred; how do I want my loving husband to view me at this moment, as Martha or Mary? Do I want to busy myself with other things (even though it was a study of the Lord’s word) or did I want to give said loving husband all my attention? After all, I still had plenty of hours to do my studying but by pursuing my own thing, Ken might feel that what he had to say was not important. What a conundrum!

Now there are times when Ken is hungry and wants me to be Martha, bustling around the kitchen and not allowing myself to be interrupted by anyone or anything, but this was not one of those times. He was truly intent on having my attention and, for once, my better instincts kicked in. I closed my iPad and listened to him.

These sisters, Martha and Mary, have been a part of my adult world for a very long time. I’ve studied them, written about them, and often wondered which I most resembled. Probably the answer is that I tend to be more Martha, but in my defense and Martha’s, I believe each of us was filled with a strong faith, but sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness of living that we forget to simply stop and listen.

Just think of the opportunities we miss by not listening. News stories, shared over breakfast, may have negligible content, but quality time with someone we love is priceless. The call of a songbird or the mighty rumble of thunder or the soft pelting of raindrops following a prolonged drought, all of these remind me that the world around us has much to offer if we only listen to her words. God’s creations offer a respite from a noisy, crowded world. Nothing relaxes me more than the infinite pounding of the ocean’s surf. It returns with such constancy as to fuel my faith that, no matter what man or woman may do to blur the beauty of His creation, He will always be there for us.

I accept that the letters of my name represent a unique opportunity to try and bring the best of these two women to the world I now live in. In my Martha frame of mind, I can move small mountains with my will to dive in and get things done. I can be a force for good in my home and my neighborhood. But when my mind chooses to relax and shift into Mary mode, I can bring hope and peace to those in my corner of the world. I can listen to their troubles or take them comfort food when they are in difficult situations. By discerning the needs of my neighbors, I can adjust my biblical mentor mentality to suit the need at hand.

Stir up the gift of God which is in you. II Timothy 1:6

Obviously, you don’t need to be named Marcy in order to facilitate the dual personality that I have described. But I hope my little flight of fantasy has fueled your flame of faith enough to motivate a serious introspection of the ways you’d like to let that flame brighten the world. We’re at the beginning of a new year, albeit looking very similar to the past two. It’s time for each of us to take stock of “whose” we are and how we can spread the all-encompassing love of Jesus going forward.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. I Corinthians 12:4-6

While Martha and Mary may have been gifted with two very different personalities, each was eager to please Jesus in her own way. His fire burned brightly through the actions of each woman and we can learn so much from their differing traits. If you’re a doer, please dive in and take the necessary steps to get the work of our Lord underway. If you’re a listener, employ those skills to ease the burdens of those oppressed by the trials of life. If you’re blessed enough to be able to engage both personalities, your burden may be heavier but the rewards will be worth it. Wherever you happen to fall on the Martha/Mary spectrum, dive in and get started doing with gratitude the job you were given.

What is it that you’ve been planning without starting? You don’t have to take all the steps — just the next one.

Bob Goff, Live In Grace, Walk In Love


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A Journey Of Faith

By Marcy Barthelette

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory — this was during Herod’s kingship — a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the east. They asked around, Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2 MSG

I’m a little behind the curve this week. Epiphany was observed in our church this past Sunday and our Youth Director, Evan Reed delivered an inspiring message about worship as displayed by the Magi and how we can incorporate many kinds of worship into our everyday lives. Epiphany is, in fact, observed on January 6, and so I’m squeaking my little message in just before the deadline. Let’s travel back to ancient times for one more chapter in the beautiful journey of Advent.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, a bright star appears in the sky, brighter than anything experts who study the heavens had seen or will ever see. A group of scholars living in a land far to the east of Bethlehem see the star and believe it to be more than just a brilliant light in the night sky. These men have studied prophecies and believe it to be the sign of an important birth, one that is destined to bring sweeping change to the world. And being curious scientists of that day and believers of a higher power, they determine that a journey is in order.

Now, this will be no easy journey and these are men of substance in their day. They travel as comfortably as one can across a hot, barren desert. Camels carry them and servants assist them, but the trip is still quite arduous. They are not kings as some would think, but they are highly respected men and so, when they arrive in Jerusalem, though tired and dirty, their presence causes quite a stir among the populace. Human nature being as it is, men and women question the appearance of a group of strange, yet obviously learned and probably wealthy men in their city. Their rumblings are soon picked up by spies of King Herod, who is always on the lookout for anyone who might suggest questioning his authority. They bring news of the strange men looking for an Infant King to Herod and Herod grows angry and afraid. He calls his advisors together to seek their wisdom and then secretly arranges a meeting with the scholars from the east and tells them he has heard of the Child they seek and wants to worship  Him too. He asks them to find the Baby and bring back news of His location.

They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet wrote it plainly: It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land, no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

Matthew 2:5-6

Herod is certainly not a good man and his purpose in sending the wise men to find the supposed King of the Jews and bring back word of Him is nothing more than a ploy to aid in destroying this new King who threatens his own royal position. The scholars set off, following the star that hovered over the Child. They find Him, kneel, worship him and present their gifts.

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the Child with Mary his mother, Falling to their knees, they honored Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Matthew 2:10-11 CEB

After spending time with Jesus they learn in a dream that Herod plans to kill the Child, so they leave unnoticed and return to their own country by another route.

It’s quite a dramatic ending to our Advent journey. Many questions will always linger in human hearts and minds; how many Wise Men were really on the journey, where did they come from, how could they just take off over the desert, endangering their very lives because of a brighter than normal star? The entire story of Jesus’ life here on earth leaves us with more questions than answers, but I think that was all a part of God’s plan. He wants us to be hungry for answers. He wants us to be seekers. He wants us to accept hardships that help us to learn more about Him. He wants us to just “Let Go” and give it all to Him. No matter how hard we try, we will always cling to bits and pieces of who we think we want to be but ultimately, He will be the one who writes the ending to each of our stories. In the meantime….

Lord Jesus, give us eyes to see you and a heart to believe so that we might glorify you in the bits and pieces of everyday life.
Ray Pritchard, Simple Christmas

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Will We Listen

By Marcy Barthelette

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2:16 NLT

Yes, the day had come! The baby was there, just as the angel had said. He was a tiny, wrinkled newborn, resting in an animal feed trough after his very human journey into our world. He was totally dependent on a young girl who stepped out in faith without a clue what her future held and a man who had nothing to do with this Immaculate Conception but willingly accepted the role of father. Despite the baby’s humanness, the shepherds knew He was something very special and they knelt in worship. The promise of the angel laid before their very eyes. After they had seen the child, the lowly shepherds shared their excitement with everyone in town. They were not at all shy in their retelling of the unbelievable story.

Seeing was believing. They (the shepherds) told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. Luke 2:17

It is now the day after and Bethlehem is awakening. Street vendors are setting up their portable shops, innkeepers are preparing food for the huge numbers of travelers, children are racing through the streets doing whatever children do and the shepherds are stopping everyone who will listen and tell them about the bright light in the sky, the angel who spoke to them, and the tiny Savior they had visited during the night who could bring peace to everyone who would believe. How do you suppose the people of the town reacted? These nasty, smelly men were actually tapping them on the shoulder and, as if that weren’t enough, they wanted them to believe a fantasy. A few may have wanted to believe or, at best, they offered a Good Morning. But most very likely pulled away and crossed over to the other side of the street.

“God had entered the world as a baby. Meanwhile, the city hummed….they were all too busy to consider the possibility.”

Max Lucado, God Came Near

Presumably, the shepherds headed back to their flocks. After all, there were chores to be done. But how were their lives changed as they returned to their mundane existence? Did the sky seem a little bluer, the stars a little brighter, a cool drink more refreshing? We don’t know what their lives were like bec ause we never read about them again. Nor do we hear about Joseph except at the circumcision and the incident when Jesus was lost from his parents, then found teaching in the temple. Their entire story is told in fifty-one verses in the second chapter of Luke. The other Apostles share even less.

Mary continues to be a part of Jesus’ life all the way to his crucifixion but she doesn’t share her emotions concerning the pregnancy or delivery, even the journey to Bethlehem. We are told only that she treasured them.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. Luke 2:19 MSG

Though we are left to imagine the details of Jesus’ birth, the message of the Savior is clear. He came once to live among us, feel our emotions, to let us know that He understands us even when we don’t understand ourselves, but He will come again. And when He does, it will not be as a baby or even just a man. He will come as King and He will take His followers home to their eternity. As we celebrate Advent, we not only prepare for His first coming. We also anticipate the second time he will come to earth. We don’t know when it will happen, but it will come. The question is, will we be prepared? We won’t need to worry about shopping for gifts or planning a big feast. We won’t need to fret over that office party or taking the kids to see Santa. We won’t even need to pack our bags for the trip. Everything we need will be waiting for us at the journey’s end.

So, what will we do in the days following this Christmas? Will we listen to the grubby “shepherd” on the street? Will we feed the hungry and care for the sick? Will we remember what really matters?

Lord, keep us watching and waiting for you. Give us the “shepherd spirit” today to go quickly to Bethlehem and then to tell the world that Christ has come. Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Manger

One more chapter remains in this story of Christmas. It is a tale of wise men traveling the desert in search of a star. Join me next week as we take a look at why we celebrate Epiphany….


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An Announcement from Pastor Phil

Good morning, afternoon or evening depending on when you read this…

There are from time to time in our lives opportunities to share information with others. Now, that’s not any incredible flash of brilliance on my part, but rather an introduction as to the purpose of this article.

As we creep closer to the New Year, we also creep closer to the sort of thing that keeps folks in heavy coats and certain water content falling from the sky. (Note I did not call it what it really is, so you can’t blame me…) This sort of thing has become almost enough to make a person wish they could be out of the weather here and enjoying the warmth of a more southern environment. And so, that’s what Dorothy and I will be doing for the months of January and February as we are heading to Destin, Florida for the winter.

Just because we are doing this “snow-bird” thing doesn’t mean I will be ending the bible studies in which I am involved. The Monday night Men’s group will, along with the FAB group on Friday mornings, continue to meet on campus and I will be doing my portion from Destin via ZOOM. Toney Wood is graciously helping this to take place so the fellowship of being together will continue. It also helps those who might be concerned about getting out if the water content falls from the sky.

Dorothy and I are so looking forward to this opportunity and this new experience. We will return the first week of March and then figure out how to get sand out of all the stuff we seem to need to take with us!

And now for one more announcement to the church. In 2022, I will be turning 70 years old and while this isn’t old, I will be retiring as a pastor in the MO Conference of the United Methodist Church. We have been involved in this church from the early beginnings as I have been sharing with you in “Phil’s-osophy” in the Gatepost. We both anticipate that will not change, I will be retired but not finished serving. I have a great desire to continue facilitating the bible studies mentioned and look forward to the experience of watching the growth that takes place in these studies. Dennis and Sarah are encouraging me to continue to serve the congregation at this place we call Aldersgate and so I will for as long as I can or for as long as the congregation will put up with me. 

The date for my official retirement is June 30, 2022. You have heard me say it before and it rings true with this announcement, “It’s all good”. So don’t be shocked and don’t be too joyful when you don’t see us here for a couple of months, but please celebrate with us as we continue our journey, Dorothy and I, and our journey with you. God bless each of you and as always, I wish you…

Shalom,

Pastor Phil


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Keeper of the Flock

By Marcy Barthelette

Shepherds? What a motley crew! Grubby, dirty, smelly, almost as beastly as the animals they tend….lowest of the low. They care for sheep!

 Day after day they keep their charges from wandering off a cliff or into water over their heads as sheep are known to do. Night after weary night the shepherds corral their wayward sheep and keep them from the grip of dangerous predators, whether they be hungry mountain lions and wolves or human poachers. To say that the shepherd leads a lonely and rather boring life would be a gross understatement by our standards, probably by any standard. So why where they chosen by God to be the first besides Mary and Joseph to witness the birth of the Savior of the world?

That night some shepherds were in the field outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. TLB

As with every character in this very important and seemingly impossible drama, we know very little about these specific shepherds. We know that shepherding was not a particularly respected occupation and that those who accepted the responsibility were not well educated and certainly did not become rich from their labors. They spent the greater portion of their lives in the company of animals. They were of varying ages and marital status and probably never moved beyond their nearly non-existent social circles. But God chose them for an extraordinary adventure and it began on a dark, quiet night when suddenly, the heavens burst forth in incredible light:

An angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:9 NLT

Really! Bright lights and an alien creature, in the middle of the night! These shepherds hadn’t signed up for this.

But the angel said to them. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:10-12 NLT

Wow! How do these wooly guys, wakened from a deep sleep, respond to such a profound revelation. Remember their job is pretty boring, so maybe a little excitement was welcomed. And maybe, because they were not highly educated, they found it easier not to question the message. Scholars may have scoffed, bankers may have laughed, teachers may have cited proof from their written words that this could not have happened. But shepherds? These guys are accustomed to being down and dirty; they had no expectations beyond getting a good night’s sleep. They were willing to take up the adventure.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15 NLT

There must have been some serious discussion following such an announcement. The shepherds may have even wondered why the angel chose them for such an invitation but they were a curious bunch and were eager to check out the story. They also had sheep to consider, so how could they go about this journey? Should they travel in shifts so that their sheep would not be left alone? How many shepherds were in that particular field on this night? How far must they travel; Is Bethlehem just over the hill or farther away? And must they inspect every manger they encounter in the hope of finding a baby wrapped in cloths? Perhaps some scoffed, “We’re not going on a wild goose chase to find a baby in a feed trough because some unknown spirit burst into our sleep with lights and noise and a message about a Savior. Nope, that’s not going to happen. We’re staying here!” Was this, perhaps, the first time humanity disagreed about the validity of the Messiah? Or were these men chosen because they symbolized the future of this baby as the “shepherd” of all mankind?

We’ll never know all the answers. So much was left to our imaginations because God wants us to seek. But we do know that shepherds went to Bethlehem. They went because they were searching, like all of us, for a promise of better things to come. They stepped out in faith because the angel had come to their lonely field on a dark night and filled the sky with the brightness of hope and a promise of peace to those who would believe.

The angels came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason. His most powerful tools are the simplest. Max Lucado, Linger Near the Manger

Follow the journey of the shepherds next week….


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A Happening in Bethlehem

 By Marcy Barthelette
 At that time, the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
Luke 2:1 NLT
 
I’ve lived in small towns, so I feel a bit of a connection to Bethlehem. Life in rural communities is usually laid back, people work hard and sometimes play hard. Everyone knows everyone else’s business and doesn’t hesitate to share. Life just kind of moves along at its own pace until a big event happens. And human events don’t get much bigger or far-reaching than an empire-wide census, such as the one that encompassed Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
We don’t know how many inns are in business at the time but you can well imagine that every family who can spare a room is willing to rent it out for a little profit. Our story, however, has its focus on one particular inn just on the outskirts of town. The keeper and his family, ordinary folk of the day, are working feverishly to provide as many sleeping accommodations as they can possibly squeeze into their dwelling. The kitchen hums with activity, every available woman and girl scurrying to bake bread and prepare sufficient food to satisfy the appetites of hungry travelers. There will be no private accommodations for anyone. It will be shared and shared alike in every sense of the phrase. One long day after another until the census is completed, the chores continue. The innkeeper, his family, and all who work here must be near exhaustion. No one passes up an opportunity to steal a few moments of rest. And so it is on the eve of one especially busy day when our specific household settles for the night.
 
All returned to their ancestral homes to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home… He took with him Mary… Luke 2:4-5 NLT
 
While Bethlehem teems with an energy seldom seen here, a man and woman near the edge of town. They have been traveling for some time to reach their destination and she is nearing her time to birth their first child. Yes, Joseph and Mary have put aside their original questions and fears. Now they are just trying to obey the current governmental decree and register in the census. They’re required to travel to Bethlehem because this is the cradle of Joseph’s ancestry. As they approach, they feel an overwhelming weariness from their days in the hot desert climate. All they want is a place to lie down and sleep for the remainder of the night.
Joseph knocks on the door to the inn and no one answers. He knocks again and hears an angry shout from within, “Go away, we have no room!” One look at Mary and he knows he must keep trying. She is exhausted and extremely uncomfortable traveling at this late stage of her pregnancy. Another knock and this time Joseph hears footsteps inside. The door opens a crack and the innkeeper shows no mercy. “What’s wrong with you, man? Didn’t you hear that we have no room? Now you’ve probably wakened my whole family and most of our guests. Be gone with you! Go!”
But Joseph gestures toward Mary and replies, “Please, sir, we only ask for a small space to lie down. Can’t you see my wife is very advanced in her pregnancy? She needs to rest before this night is over.”
The innkeeper scratches his beard and says, “I suppose you could sleep for a few hours with my animals. There is not an empty space anywhere in this inn but the stable is dry and there is hay for bedding. Just follow that path over there and it will lead you straight to the stable…you can’t miss it. Off with you now, so I can get some sleep.”
A few liberties have been taken in this story, but little is actually told in the Bible, so we are left with empty pages and questions. How do you suppose the innkeeper would have reacted had he found members of royalty at his door, looking for a place to sleep as the darkness deepened? What if the strangers had been garbed in silks and jewels, their wealth and importance obvious? Would he have scurried to move his own family to the stable and offer their room to such important people? He was, after all, just the head of a hardworking family trying to make ends meet. This government-required influx of travelers to his town meant his family would enjoy a bit of prosperity for a while and guests of royal lineage would certainly be willing to add generously to his coffers in exchange for special favors. How would he have greeted them?
But instead, he finds a couple of sweaty, dirty peasants, weary from their desert trek. He likely thought a stable was appropriate for such as these. After all, what could they offer in exchange for lodging?
Of course, the innkeeper didn’t know what glorious happening would take place shortly — in his stable, surrounded by his own animals. The kind of royalty that would enter the world that night was unknown to him. But just down the dusty trail a short distance from his door, the stage was set, the lights (of heaven) would soon go up and an incredible story was about to unfold, bigger than any event ever known to man…
And while they were there the time came for her baby to be born. Luke 2:6 NLT

Next week, shepherds hear the news….


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Another Angel Encounter

By Marcy Barthelette

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

Matthew 1:23 NLT (God’s prophet had spoken)

Mary, how could you do this to me, to us? And now you expect me to believe you haven’t slept with another man, that somehow you just found yourself pregnant? Come on, I understand the science of how this happens. I even know how emotions can run away with us into territory we didn’t intend to explore. Or if someone attacked you and this pregnancy is a result, then tell me. Maybe we can work our way through it. But, please, don’t insult my intelligence with   some incredible story of an immaculate conception. I’m just not buying it.

This is a mild version of what might happen today if an intended bride informed her fiancé about a pregnancy of spiritual origin. Anger, disappointment, maybe even a little revenge are but a few of the emotions a man might feel when confronted with this news. And surely, disbelief would top the list. How could anyone expect a man to fall for such an outrageous story as the one young Mary shared with Joseph?

Perhaps he thought: “How could she think, even in her wildest imagination, that I, a respected man in this community, would consider even for a moment the possibility that our plans for marriage could continue. No, I just can’t do it. I can’t face the humiliation of all my friends and colleagues learning that this woman, who had agreed to be faithful just to me, would do something so cruel as to sleep with another man. And now, when she finds herself pregnant, she thinks she can turn to me and ask that I support this child. She must have lost all sense of reality. I can’t do this. I’ll have to break our engagement and let her find her own way through this mess she has brought upon herself.”

We know so little of this man. His ancestry comprises most of his story. Sixteen verses list his lineage and everything else that we know of him is told in just a few short verses and yet, he was chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus, to protect and guide him through the early formative years, to raise him to manhood. The one word used to describe him throughout various translations is righteous. The word is defined today as morally right or justifiable. I would submit that he was also compassionate and patient. Why else would God have chosen him to guide His only son through the early years of life?

And so Joseph’s narrative continues: “But I know the laws of our people, my right as a man who has been wronged and embarrassed in their eyes. Yes, I have the right to cause her bodily harm and great humiliation, but I have loved her and looked forward to the day when we would be joined in marriage. I don’t want to hurt her so I will end our engagement quietly and not bring any additional grief upon her.”

Following what surely must have been hours of stress and planning, Joseph finally falls asleep and it is a fitful sleep, filled with difficult dreams. As he sleeps, an angel enters his world of dreams with a profound message:

Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. Matthew 1:20 MSG

Joseph awakes and he is certain everything he had hoped for and planned has changed in ways he can’t imagine, but he knows what he must do. He is a righteous man and a compassionate one. He must follow the instructions given him in the dream. He must ignore the taunts from the guys he “hangs out” with and overcome any feelings of distrust toward Mary. He must put aside any thoughts of his own reputation and focus on the task at hand … to stand by Mary’s side, to provide for her and comfort her until that day when her child is born and beyond.

Joseph swapped his Torah studies for a pregnant fiancé and an illegitimate son and made the big decision of discipleship. He placed God’s plan ahead of his own. Max Lucado, 3:16

And he has been given a special part in this wonderful story through the angel’s message. He, Joseph, has been given the honor of naming the Spirit-conceived child….

She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus — ‘God saves’ — because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 MSG

Next week we’ll visit a very busy inn….


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An Encounter with an Angel

By Marcy Barthlette

Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Luke 1:28

We don’t know exactly where she was…God didn’t tell us. We don’t know what she was doing at the time…He left that to our imaginations. We don’t know the kind of life she lived beyond what historians tell us and our own vague notions of a world so different from ours. We do know she was a virgin because only a virgin could be qualified for the journey that lay ahead of her. And we’re told she was very young, anything more is just conjecture. Why did God share so many tales with us through a cast of storied characters and yet leave so many blanks? I think He wanted us to search diligently to understand Him and develop a personal relationship with Him. If He made it easy, anyone could have and probably, would have, done it. But would it be lasting? How many times have we heard the admonition, “Anything worth having is worth working for?” We don’t find those words anywhere in the Bible but I think God sent them straight to the playbook carried in the hearts of moms all around our world.

So let’s take a closer look at Mary through the lens of our imaginations. She’s at her home, bent on hands and knees, weeding the family garden, covered in dirt, and daydreaming of spending time with friends. When an angel named Gabriel appears at her side casting a large shadow over her, she pulls back, startled at the presence of this stranger in her garden. What should she do? Should she scream? Should she run? Today, she would likely pull her cell phone from her pocket and dial 911. But this is Mary’s world and the standard of the day compels her to be subservient to a man. She is confronted by a choice; listen to what the stranger says or flee and, perhaps, pay a very high price. But this man figure before her displays qualities of compassion and says:

Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
Luke 1: 30-31

Mary listens and finds herself thrust into a future she never imagined. You see, this young girl already has a life plan. She is promised to a man from her community, where they will make a home, raise their children, and live a typical life of that time. But the stranger brings news that will change everything, turn her life upside down. Mary is to conceive a child and not in a typical fashion. This seed will be miraculously implanted by God himself and nurtured inside Mary’s belly until it is time for Him to make His appearance.

Mary is overwhelmed at the announcement…how can this be? She has certainly never been with a man and can’t yet grasp the meaning of Gabriel’s news. As he explains her circumstances, she becomes more confident that she can carry out the task set before her, and she agrees to move forward in faith.

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.
Luke 1:37 MSG

And the angel departs as suddenly as he arrived. In his absence, probably a little panic sets in. What does she do about the man she is about to marry, the man she has been promised to for some time, a man who knows her as a virgin, one set aside for him alone? Does she tell him this extraordinary tale of wonder? Of course, in time he will know so perhaps it’s best to just spill the whole story and suffer the consequences, consequences that can lead to stoning and abandonment. Even if he accepts her story, he will surely turn his back on her. What man would want a woman who carries a child from some source other than himself? And if he does walk away from her, how will she raise this child alone in a society that certainly will neither accept nor condone unwed motherhood?

What of her family? How do they react to this unbelievable and startling news? We can only imagine the concern they will have for her, but that will come only after they express their disappointment at her supposed indiscretion. At what point do they believe the story as she tells it and what do they do to help her on her journey? How do they explain her situation to other family members and friends? And speaking of friends, how do Mary’s contemporaries react to her news? It surely is the hottest topic among social circles in her community. Single motherhood is simply not acceptable and for a girl to dishonor her betrothed in such a way is reprehensible. It just isn’t done and yet, she does. When do they all learn or will they ever learn that Mary is on a special mission…to birth the Son of God here on earth as a human?

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1:46-48 NLT

(Join me next week to explore Joseph’s reaction to the news…..)


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Two Simple Words

By Marcy Barthelette

Thank the Lord because he is good. His love continues forever. Psalm 106:1

Thank you. These are two of the earliest words our parents teach us to say and yet, as we grow into a world that is overcome with a “me first” and “me too” attitude, those precious words become lost in the patterns of our lives.

One day recently, as I awoke to sunlight smiling through my windows and as I lay lounging in my oh so comfy bed, I began to think of all the simple everyday blessings that are mine; that comfy bed, clean water spilling from a tap in my kitchen and baths, a fridge full of nourishing food, a sound roof over my head and countless opportunities to acquire things that are designed to make my life easier. More importantly, I recalled names of family and friends who share my laughter and my tears, a church family that nourishes my soul, and the freedom to be in that church without fear. And then I was reminded that not everyone is so blessed. On Thanksgiving Day, and on every day, we are called upon to look after the “least of these” and to be thankful we have the privilege.

Expose your joy to the sunlight today. Someone watching you may need to catch a glimpse of Jesus in you.
Cynthia Ruchti, Mornings with Jesus

This Thanksgiving promises to be a pleasant change from the last two years. In 2019, I was recovering from an injury that left me unable to enjoy the festivities, but I did learn a bit about humility and grace. Last year, COVID kept us from gathering with family, but we made the best of it by Facetiming and sharing photos of our individual family feasts. It was different, yes, but in many ways gratifying and, of course, another lesson in humility. We certainly did not control our situation — God did — and He blessed us with good health and delicious food and the technology to enjoy each other from a distance. We had much to be grateful for.

Lord, help us cherish the efforts made in love by family and friends that create the beautiful moments in our lives. And guide us to rise above trivial annoyances that get in the way.
John Dilworth, Daily Guideposts 2021

 My God has filled my cup to overflowing and I need to say thank you much more often. First to my God in heaven who has provided everything to me. Next are those earthly beings who share in the blessings that are mine and pick me up when I need them. But there are so many more. The church universal and all those servants who bring the name of Jesus to forgotten corners of the earth, who care for people who are hurting and teach them how to provide for themselves. The police, firefighters, and first responders who are always ready to run into danger to aid and comfort those caught in dangerous situations. The humanitarian agencies who have boots on the ground almost instantly when disaster strikes and bring supplies and comfort to those affected. And, of course, the donors who make all that possible. These are but a few and I gratefully offer my thanks to each one.

Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord! Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation! Let’s come before him with thanks! Let’s shout songs of joy to him! Psalm 95:1-2

I’m sure by now you get the message. This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Hopefully, each of us has done or is planning to do something to help someone less fortunate to be able to join the celebration. As we sit down to enjoy turkey and all the traditional family trimmings, let’s be sure to get first things first. Quiet the crowd, bow our heads and say those two very meaningful words, Thank You, to the God who provided every blessing in our lives, and ask him to bless others everywhere with His peace. There is no greater act of worship than a grateful heart, one filled to overflowing with love.

Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude, offered by the saved to the Savior, by the healed to the Healer, and by the delivered to the Deliverer.

Max Lucado, In the eye of the Storm

 

This Thanksgiving, we are once again gearing up for a family feast with real guests, only three guests, but a celebration, nonetheless. We’ll cook our traditional favorites, recall stories about holidays past and end the celebration by decorating the Christmas tree. And that brings us to the most important page in our Christian calendar. On Sunday, we again enter the Season of Advent; we prepare our hearts to welcome the newborn Baby Jesus, the Greatest Gift of all. During these next few weeks, we will be tempted to forego time with God in order to keep up with the busyness of the Christmas season. When that happens, we must ask ourselves what really matters. I hope our answer is to savor those special moments when we can steal away and prepare to welcome the newborn baby, in our mind’s eye to reach out to touch his tiny face and hands and know that he will grow up to be not only our Savior but the healer, the deliverer, the Savior of the whole world. He is there, waiting for us to come and offer our gift of thanks and worship.

Worship is the “thank you” that refuses to be silenced. Max Lucado


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Winter’s Gift

By Marcy Barthelette

I said, Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Psalm 55:6 

The view from my recliner allows a window to the outside world and the past couple of weeks have witnessed major change. Drying leaves drift softly to the earth or on an especially windy day they quickly fall like giant raindrops at the height of a storm, their brilliant colors dimming with age. We, along with our neighbors, are busy on nicer days completing our fall clean-up tasks while kids chase each other about, shouting excitedly, enjoying those final warm breezes as autumn firmly takes possession of the Ozarks. Seemingly, before we breathe another breath, snow will be falling, winter will tighten its grip. Animals will stow themselves away and we’ll begin to burrow in just like those animal friends.

Winter … yes, it’s a time of cold temperatures, many gray days, sometimes accompanied by snow and ice. And, as much as I often dread it, God gifted us with winter as a time of renewal. Everything needs rest. The towering trees that shade our hot summer days need time to spread their roots and soak up nutrients before new leaves begin to sprout. Flowers, too, have delighted our senses with brilliant colors and fragrant scents. Now, they need to rest before they show off their beauty throughout another season. And animals who have mated and raised young throughout the summer or others who will bear their next generation in the comfort of a cozy den will use this time for rest and renewal. Nature’s creations instinctively know why God created winter. We, humans, are less inclined to accept the gift. In 

our busyness, we often overlook the opportunity our minds and bodies yearn for.

Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.

Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God.

I think, perhaps, that in today’s world, our minds and hearts need rest even more than our bodies. Forces apart from our God have taken our focus off Him and tempted us to follow paths that lead to our own destruction. Taking time away from all the distractions, spending more of our lives engaging in family activities, and immersing ourselves in the beauty of God’s creations often does more for our souls than sleep. It reminds us of what truly matters. The simple moments in our lives are often the most meaningful. The quiet times spent in conversation with our Father determine who we are.

Sometimes I view this gift of winter in the same vein as the infamous ugly sweater of Christmas. I don’t want it, but I don’t want to hurt the giver with unkind words or facial expressions. So, just as I try on that sweater and offer a heartfelt thank you to the giver, I quietly accept the colder days of winter as being inevitable, and once I do, I begin to savor the new memories that come with family holiday celebrations, our annual journey to a cabin in the woods with a dear friend, watching the antics of our feathered friends at the backyard feeders and squirrels racing frantically throughout the yard trying to locate the nuts they had “planted” earlier.

He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Mark 6:31

So, once the leaves are raked and the garden put to rest, take time to lounge by the fire with a new book or an old favorite. Break out the board games and perhaps a puzzle or two or more. Gather the family around the table for a rousing good time complete with favorite snacks. Turn off the worries of the world, silence your devices and just dive into family fun time.

And when the snow falls, wrap yourself in a warm, cozy throw, curl up beside a frosty window and immerse yourself in the silent beauty of a winter day. But don’t get too comfy, the kids will be ready to race out the door to build a friendly snowman even before it stops. They’ll be sure to toss a few snowballs or glide down a slippery hillside. And while these snowy pleasures may tire the body, they bring rest to a weary mind and good cheer to the heart. We all need spaces of time to disconnect from the world and be children again. Of course, a good nap on a cold, snowy day, can certainly do wonders for tired old bones. And of course, the best part of winter’s rest is contemplating the arrival of spring over a great cup of hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1


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