Human Faith or Animal Instinct?

By Marcy Barthelette

Do you feel it? The crunch of dry leaves as temperature and humidity levels drop. Do you smell it? The scent of burning leaves from a neighbor’s yard or an occasional wood fire wafting from a nearby chimney. Do you see it? Pumpkins and scarecrows and jewel-toned mums have taken center stage. Do you hear it? The howl of the first cold snap of the season and the chatter of squirrels frantically scurrying about storing food for the coming winter.

Fall has definitely arrived and our yard is a very busy place at this time of year. You see, we are blessed to have both pin oak and bur oak trees, producing both the smallest and the largest of acorns, and they are literally alive with activity. Those little gray bushy tails seem to be everywhere at once, climbing one tree then swinging across and racing down another. In their quest for acorns and nuts, it seems they must burn more energy than could possibly be provided by the nutrients they consume.

Our pin oak produces prolifically every year but the bur oak only has a banner season once in a while, thank goodness! Two years ago, it was so heavily laden, it was a full-time job to collect the acorns as a matter of self-defense. Bear in mind, bur oak acorns are very large, sometimes to the size of a ping pong ball. By the time you add their

 mossy ringed cap, they become quite a hazard in the yard. Not only do they wreak havoc on mower blades but you can easily find yourself in a heap on the ground if you step on one the wrong way. We piled them at the base of the tree thinking it would make the task of gathering easier for our quirky little friends. Yet they, to our great surprise, left them under the tree and went about the business of preparing for winter in their tried and true way, which always includes burying countless acorns in my flowerpots and landscape beds. Springtime brings a flurry of tiny oak trees the critters have forgotten. During the course of that winter, however, the acorn pile beneath the tree began to disappear a few at a time and by spring, little was left but caps and shells.

The squirrels prepared by instinct. They couldn’t reason that we had created that pile of acorns just for them but when the weather became brutal and their stashes were depleted, they ate whatever was available. They behaved instinctually but were also opportunists.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

We, humans, take for granted that our homes will be warmed in winter and we can go to the store to replenish our food supply. We aren’t forced to rely on the efforts of our summer and fall laborers to supply our winter’s needs. At least, not in our times. While we often exercise our instincts in making decisions, we have faith that what we need will be there for us. The big question is, where do we find our faith. Is it found in amassing wealth or things? Can our family and friends be counted on to provide for our needs?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-encompassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:7

I recall thinking as a child that the jars referenced in this scripture were glass jars filled with modeling clay in a variety of subtle hues. So when I heard the verse, I pictured all kinds of interesting creatures and structures that I could create with the soft, pliable clay. When I was a little older, I realized God’s Word described jars that were made of clay, hardened to protect their contents, and in Jesus’ time, all manner of things were stored in them. They might contain spices or grain. One might use them for hard biscuits or sweet treats. They were the equivalent of our glass and plastic containers of today.

 

God uses the metaphor to help us understand what we should be storing in our spiritual “jars of clay”. He fills us with just the right amount of strength to help us pass through troubled valleys. He creates a humble heart that allows us to accept His instruction. He knew we would be reluctant to accept all His decisions for our lives so He provided patience enough to wait for His good timing. When someone around us is in need, he gave us compassion and a generous spirit to share what we have. The qualities God stores in our “jars of clay” are endless. His mercies are endless.

God created our cute and industrious little squirrels with the instinct to gather and store in order to survive a long, cold winter. He gave us faith enough to believe that He will always provide. But He also gave us free will to decide what we will store in our jars. He chose to give each of us the power to decide whether to fill our jars with the sights, sounds, and smells of the world or with the promises of His Holy Word.

Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Ephesians 5:1


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Changing the Color of Your Spirit

By Marcy Barthelette

The farmer sows the word. Mark 4:14 NIV

Ever noticed those big-leafed bushes with the giant balls of color dancing at the ends of their branches, often becoming so heavy they weigh down the branch that tries to support them. They’re called hydrangeas and, whether planted in drifts or as an accent piece, they are quite the showstoppers! Hydrangeas also offer an enchanting phenomenon in the garden. The Bigleaf varieties possess an unusual ability to change their bloom color when we amend the soil around them. Keep in mind, only the Bigleaf varieties can be altered. White varieties, such as Oakleaf and Snowball, will always be white. But give the Mophead and Lacecap varieties of the Bigleaf hydrangea family an opportunity and they’ll reward you with an explosion of your color preference. Just by altering the Ph levels of the soil, you can make it easier or more difficult for the plants to absorb aluminum ions from the soil, thereby affecting the color.

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. All of these functions, in their turn, modify the soil and its properties. (Wikipedia)

Before making amendments to your soil, it’s a good idea to get a soil test through your local Cooperative Extension Service or a commercial soil laboratory and always take any questions and concerns you may have to a gardening professional, especially when dealing with chemicals. It’s also important to consider the plant neighbors near your hydrangeas that may be adversely affected by any changes to the soil makeup.

Bring to your project a small cultivator to loosen the surface, a spreader, a hose, your gardening gloves, and a generous sprinkling of patience. Take care to keep the soil disturbance shallow so as not to damage your hydrangea roots. Spread the amendment material evenly all the way to the dripline, the outermost edge of the plant’s

 growth. If you desire a blue bloom, add a purchased acidifier such as garden sulfur or aluminum sulfate. For pink to red blooms, add lime. Keep in mind that lime can cause leaf yellowing, so it is important to water the area thoroughly after application. Typically blue blooms require acidic soil with a Ph level below 6.0 but to achieve pink shades you will need to encourage alkaline soil with a Ph above 7.0. Don’t be surprised to see some purples emerge if your Ph is between 6 and 7. Remember your color basics, blue plus red equals purple. 

If chemicals aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to consider a natural approach. Coffee grounds, compost tea, vinegar, peat moss, pine needles or pine bark mulch will add acid for the blue tones. Wood ash can be used to neutralize the soil for pink shades. Whichever color or method you prefer, amendments must be added 2-3 times per year, and don’t forget the patience factor in this equation. Changes don’t happen overnight. Add another dimension to your project by amending one side of the plant with an acidifier and the other with lime for a bush that is half blue and half pink. Your non-gardening friends will be amazed at your abilities.

But what about the soil that nurtures our spirits? How do we test it? What additives have we applied? What tools do we bring to the garden? How do we nourish a spirit that puts faith into action and makes mercy a major key to our identity? Where do we go when the road gets bumpy and sometimes the ruts seem too deep to climb out of? What kind of seeds do we sow when we feel on top of the world, seeds of gratitude or seeds of arrogance?  How do we change the color of our spirit?

Are you living a life that qualifies as “good soil”? Is your heart open for His word? Do you pray and allow his love and guidance to permeate your spirit, taking away worry and removing the parts of yourself that are no longer necessary? Everlasting Father, I long to grow your word in my life. Help me work the soil of my spirit. Daily Guideposts One Minute Devotion, May 7, 2021

As for my hydrangeas, I just let nature take its course, and this year I had blue, pink, and purple blooms all at once, I suppose signifying a Ph level at just about dead center. That’s fine for my soil and my hydrangeas, but for myself, I need to examine all that my “spiritual soil” is currently offering so that I can determine any course corrections that may be needed and then make the necessary amendments. Now, let’s see — where did I last leave His Holy Word? Looks like my spiritual soil could use a little amending! 


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Dirty Hands….for Good or Evil?

By Marcy Barthlette

Hands have always conveyed a powerful image for me. As I write, my hands are clean and swift on the keyboard, but a few hours ago, they were deep in the dirt. It’s that time of year when perennials find themselves moving to new homes in preparation for hearty spring growth. It’s also one of the things I like best about perennials, much of the maintenance surrounding them can and should be accomplished in fall when other gardening projects are winding down. Transplanting them now allows for healthy root spread over the winter and gives them a jump start next year. Come spring, we will be cleaning up from winter, planning vegetable gardens, and gathering annuals for a big splash of landscape color. Mowing will be seemingly out of control for weeks and summer activities always color the landscape of our lives.

But now, life is slowing down, finding its comfortable ruts and that’s a relaxing departure from the craziness of camp and vacations, baseball, and swimming. After all, football is predominantly a weekend sport so that leaves lots of hours for dreaming about how the lawn should flow into the coming year. In truth, I’ve been pondering my changes for the past few weeks, envisioning how this area will look if I transfer that plant to another location. I am blessed with a good eye for imagining how things will appear when refigured but I had to wait for cooler mornings and evenings in order to put my plans in motion.

As I write, I have completed all my proposed changes and am elated with the new look. When the plants come into full growth next year, it will be lovely. I’ve spent many hours crawling on hands and knees and have acquired the requisite amount of bruises for my effort. And as for my hands, I’m seldom happier than when I can hold those filthy trophies high in triumph and can share some bulbs or starts with friends and neighbors. A clean and polished gardener can be equated to a skinny chef. It’s hard to be successful in the kitchen without sampling the product along the way and it’s impossible to maintain healthy plants without getting your hands into the action. To this gardener, dirty hands are a measure of dedication. Of course, next year the process begins all over again. I’ll see the landscape in a new light and playing in the dirt will once again reign supreme in our yard. That’s another beautiful attribute about perennials; they adapt quite well to change as long as we provide the needs they crave.

But those who do right will continue to do right, and those whose hands are not dirty with sin will grow stronger. Job 17:9

It would appear that Job had a different approach to dirty hands. Perhaps he was concerned about the way humans claw at each other to reach the top of the power ladder first or the way in which we treat a neighbor who doesn’t look like us. It could be that he was thinking of unkind words spoken in anger or behind someone’s back. Whatever kind of metaphorical dirt covers our hands and our hearts, it needs to be washed clean and only God can do that. He will if we just ask.

Oh, the power of our hands. Leave them unmanaged and they become weapons: clawing for power, strangling for survival, seducing for pleasure. But manage them and our hands become instruments of grace — not just tools in the hands of God, but God’s very hands.  Max Lucado, Just like Jesus

I once compiled a photo essay of hands getting dirty to serve others. There were master gardeners helping to beautify neighborhoods and establish community gardens. Images of handymen making repairs for seniors or working alongside others who were unable to get the job done on their own. A very poignant image showed the hands of a server in a soup kitchen passing sustenance into the hands of a hungry and very grateful recipient.

And there were hands busy preparing bags of non-perishable food goods for starving people in the far reaches

of our globe. These images, among others, solidly proclaimed the message that one picture is worth a thousand words and that dirty hands are often a requirement of helping those around us and around the world.

Don’t we want our church to be known as the hands that dirty themselves doing God’s work? Find your passion and get your hands “dirty”, for “goodness” sake!


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Finding God in the Aftermath

By Marcy Barthelette

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Philippians 4:4

Sunday, September 12, 2021: Today was the day we went back to church — for the second time!

Back in April Ken and I had completed the vaccination process and begun venturing out. It was so wonderful to hug our kids and grandkids again, to join with other believers in an in-person church service rather than watching online, to eat out occasionally, and even to enjoy a couple of camping trips. Then Delta came calling and by mid-July, we were back into isolation. Let me tell you, it was a lot harder the second time. Our little taste of freedom made us reluctant to retreat but for our own safety and that of those around us, we decided it was best for us to lay low for a while and let this wicked new strain of the virus settle down a bit.

On this first Sunday morning physically back in church Pastor Dennis reminded us how our nation came together after watching the World Trade Center crumble to the ground on what we refer to as 9-11. People everywhere were jumping into situations beyond their typical strength and capability just to take care of those who were injured, those who hadn’t heard from their loved ones, those who were dealing with trying to understand, and those who didn’t survive. People who couldn’t physically be there stood by roadsides and waved flags, they flew the flag above their homes and they joined together in prayer and unity. Prayer and Unity! Those words were key to emerging from such a tragedy and moving forward to create a better world for our descendants to inherit.

No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. I Corinthians 2:9

Today we see ourselves in the midst of an epic pandemic while cleaning up after a major hurricane and fighting wildfires in the west that are sending plumes of smoke across the nation. And that’s just a fraction of what’s happening in the US alone. How are we, as a nation, responding? Certainly not as a unified America. Yet, in the aftermath of these tragic events, there is a whisper of God in the air. It comes through the nurse holding the hand of a dying COVID patient. It is present in the smiles of the people when a Convoy of Hope driver pulls into a storm-ravaged city with a truckload of much-needed supplies. It is felt as electrical repair personnel from many states restore power to the people of Louisiana. And around the world, it appears in the form of an American Red Cross volunteer offering a hug and the basic necessities that bring

 opportunity for survival.

Our nation finds its strength in unity with one another and unity with God. We have been known, since our very beginning as a Christian nation, and yet, along the way, we have wandered from our roots, just as the Israelites did in Biblical days. It’s time for us to rally in one accord, to remember who’s really in control, and to let His light shine through in the way that we live. Will it be easy? Absolutely not! But with God, all things really are possible!

It’s time to stop playing the blame game and to get on with living. We can find lots of unpleasantness buried deep in our own hearts that need some serious tending, so let’s stop worrying about things we can’t really change and concentrate on those we can. I’ve heard it often said that the only attitude we can change is our own and I feel certain that I need to take a good hard look at how mine can be improved. How about you?

Where do you turn when trouble haunts you? Who do you blame when everything seems inside out and backward? How do you deal with anger toward God when things go badly? Who do you thank when you feel on top of the world? Think about that. Who do you turn to when all is right in your world? It’s easy to turn to God when help is needed but harder when times are good. Those are the times when we start believing in ourselves more than our God. It is said that a lot more praying happens in lean times than when we prosper.

In 2005, Carrie Underwood launched her country music career with a song called, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. It vividly paints a picture of a young woman driving the road toward home, to mom and dad, with her baby in the back seat. In an instant, she finds herself careening toward oblivion and in that instant, she knows she can’t do this alone and she cries out, Jesus, take the wheel. She miraculously survives the crash and surrenders her life to Him. The chorus goes like this.

Jesus, take the wheel, take it from my hands cause I can’t do this on my own. I’m letting go. So give me one more chance and save me from this road I’m on. Jesus, take the wheel.
Written by Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson

Whether you interpret the lyrics literally or metaphorically, the result is the same. We can’t live this life alone. You may release your wheel in a private and very personal conversation with God or you may find Him working through one of the many people who devote their lives to helping others. Whatever road you’re careening down; a broken marriage, a child lost, a terminal illness, your job given to another; it doesn’t matter. If the excitement of the wedding day is now over or you have given birth to a tiny child, your work has just begun. If you just finished college and are wondering where you go from here, you have important decisions to make. If you’ve just been given a clean bill of health, you now have a future ahead of you. Aftermath occurs following any event, good or bad. The choice is ours, to scoot over into the passenger seat and let Jesus take the wheel or not. He’s always waiting right there, always. He’s there before, during, and after anything we ever experience. So let Him have the aftermath of every good or bad moment and turn it into something beautiful! He promised He would and God doesn’t break promises!

….until you grow old. I am the one, and until you turn gray, I will support you. I have done it, and I will continue to bear it; I will support and I will rescue. Isaiah 46:4 CEB


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Great Expectations….oops

By Marcy Barthelette
Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement. C.S. Lewis
 
While many Americans traveled, barbecued and otherwise recreated over the Labor Day holiday weekend, our home was a beehive of activity. Yes, there were just the two of us at home, but we made enough messes for half a dozen people. I’d been studying our third bedroom (AKA puzzle room) for a long time, deliberating a strategy for organizing that space. It had become a catch-all for, you guessed it, just about anything.

We have a very large storage cabinet that served as a home for our giant analog TV in its earlier life. But since we entered the digital TV age years ago, it has housed a host of family projects. Bottom line, it was too big for that small room, so it was moved to the larger, master bedroom and the contents were sorted and some eliminated.
 
Then, after placing all remaining furnishings in corners to free up floor space, we began the back-breaking task of assembling new matching bookcases. Tools and parts were scattered everywhere! We completed the two smaller units in fairly short order, once we agreed on the intent of the instruction booklet, which left a lot to be desired.
 
After a dinner break, I decided I wanted to, at least, arrange all the parts for the first taller unit to get an early morning start. One thing led to another, and I just couldn’t walk away without attaching a few pieces. Never mind how tired we were or that our knees rebelled vehemently against any more bending, kneeling, or crawling on the floor. I had to make a little more progress before bedtime. And, as you probably already realize, that was a perfect recipe for failure. The top board was inadvertently placed backward and had to be removed, whereupon one of the connecting dowels came loose and when I attempted to reattach it, I placed it in the wrong hole. When I couldn’t push it in, I resorted to the hammer and tapped too hard. The dowel plunged through the side piece, splintering it in a very prominent position. I don’t forgive myself easily for making careless mistakes, but Ken came to the rescue, and we glued and clamped the piece back together as well as can be done with splintered pressboard. Work came to a halt for the night, leaving me an abundance of time to contemplate my immense failure of the day.
 
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1
 
Failure is a phenomenon known to every human who has ever lived. Notably, Thomas Edison is said to have failed a thousand times before the electric light bulb became a reality. However, he considered his “failures” as mere steps in the process. And Michael Jordan is quoted as saying he lost over 300 games (more than many NBA players have court time in), missed over 9,000 shots (more than an average NBA player ever takes), and missed twenty-six game-winning shots when handed the ball with the expectation of success. Yet these two men are considered two of the best success stories of modern human times.
 
Of course, our little tale of organizing our puzzle room can’t begin to compare to the aforementioned achievements, but the point about failure is that it can be a very efficient teacher. When we learn from our mistakes and move on to a better way of thinking or doing, failure has been a productive tool. A good night’s sleep is a great asset as well. The morning after my epic failure, I turned that nasty-looking patch job into a corner where no eye will see it except our own, and that of the Heavenly Father, because he knows all our failures before they even happen. If only we could forgive and forget as quickly and effortlessly as He does.

Of course, our project just kept growing because when you move one thing, another piece of the “puzzle” needs to be adjusted as well. Ken sweltered in the hot shed looking for just the right boards to complete every little detail and I did a lot of the bending and crawling, but we made it. Our room is organized and much more spacious. What am I doing now? I’m looking for my next project, of course, and I’ll take all the lessons I learned from the failures of this project into the next.
 
Remember that failure isn’t part of your identity; it’s simply part of your journey. If you have failed at something recently, jot down some of the lessons you learned from it and use them to persevere toward your goals.
Tony Dungy, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

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The Ultimate Fixer

By Marcy Barthelette

No one fixes broken things better than God. Author Dan Walsh

We’re walking down a street and Ken sees the glitter of metal and he is compelled to check it out. He picks up everything; nuts, bolts, screws, washers; you name it. He takes it home to store in one of his many jars just in case it’s needed in the future. And he doesn’t stop there. When a neighbor sets out items tagged with a FREE sign, he just naturally gravitates toward whatever treasures might await his transforming hands.

My husband has been a fixer since he was a young boy. He relished rescuing broken things, taking them apart to learn how they worked, and reassembling them to continue a productive life. At about thirteen, he tired of the household chores that he deemed “girl’s work” and he negotiated with his mom to be in charge of fixing anything around the house that was broken or needed replacement parts. It was the perfect arrangement for him and his family, relieving him of the dreaded “girlie” chores and keeping the home in good running order.

I, on the other hand, tend to prefer replacement over repair when I feel the “injured” item is beyond any reasonable expectation of becoming reliable again. The difference between our two very differing perspectives is the criteria for declaring an item a candidate for repair. I believe in giving almost everything a second chance but fifth or sixth chances just don’t enter my mindset. Even when his projects prove themselves unable to be used for the purpose they were intended, he strips them down and salvages any parts that may be usable,
and adds them to his collection of well-labeled and well-organized pieces that may someday give new life to another project.

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Galatians 1:15

And with that said, it’s obviously a good thing that God still has control of this world because I am a very broken vessel and according to my approach toward multiple chances, I would have been cast on the trash heap a very long time ago. Unlike that repaired item that I no longer trust to do a job and not let me down, He offers me a fresh new page in the book of my life each and every morning. I can choose to grab that opportunity and soar with it or remain bottled up in my own little world longing for perfection, not only from myself but from everyone around me. You know what, that’s just not going to happe  n, so perhaps I’d better start learning to repair things that are broken. Perhaps I need to take a serious look at the way I treat others and maybe there are things I can change in my approach to them that will change their response to me. But if it doesn’t, I need to offer them my forgiveness and another chance. And if I’ve been neglectful of my behaviors, it may take a few more of those chances before they are ready to accept the newly repaired me.

But here’s the meat of the story. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, that was man’s idea. God took what was perfect—His Son—and broke Him, in order to make us whole. Gwen Ford Faulkenberry

God uses us in our brokenness to help bring healing to others. He doesn’t require that we be perfect or even well repaired, just willing. And, by the way, when something breaks down in the midst of a project and Ken is able to fix it from his precious stash of oddly assembled spare parts, I am very grateful for his steadfastness in saving everything and always believing that anything can be repaired. I am blessed that he was chosen to be the human conduit to my “Ultimate Fixer”.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes, we are healed. Isaiah 53: 5 (NKJV)


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A Tiny Spark

By Marcy Barthelette
 

Be slow to speak … it takes only a few inflammatory words to destroy a relationship forever. Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

My husband sat on the floor in the midst of an animated group of youngsters in a church we attended a number of years ago. He was tasked with delivering the kids’ message which usually became an object lesson. On the particular Sunday in question, he came armed with a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. When everyone settled (sort of), he proceeded to squeeze a large amount of the toothpaste onto the paper plate. And then he asked for a volunteer to put it back in the tube. There’s at least one kid who always raises a hand when a volunteer is being recruited and that day was no exception. The hand that Ken knew would jump into the air didn’t fail him and a very determined young man set about trying to shove that toothpaste back into the tube. A few minutes and a considerable mess later, said volunteer conceded that it couldn’t be done.

And the object of this lesson. Words, once uttered, can never be taken back.

We all can recall sitting in a circle as kids and engaging in the game of Whisper or Telephone as some knew it. One person whispers a sentence into the ear of the next person and so it goes around the circle until it reaches the last person who then must repeat what he or she heard. And, if we think about it, we can also remember that the message received by the last person seldom resembled what the first person had whispered.

I would suggest that the same can be said of gossip. We usually don’t mean to pass along misinformation, but we don’t always remember exactly what we heard from a friend an hour ago, a day ago, or last week and so the information changes just a little bit. But when that misinformation passes through several people and each one adds their own interpretation, the result can be devastating for the person or situation being discussed.

We’ve all heard of the Great Chicago Fire. It happened in October of 1871 and burned for three days killing an estimated 300 people and leaving 100,000 others homeless. The fire burned more than three square miles of the city, destroyed some 17,000 structures, and carried a damage estimate of two hundred million dollars. During that same period, another fire ravaged an area encircling Peshtigo, Wisconsin. This blaze consumed 1.5 million acres and left only one building standing in the town of Peshtigo. Because of the rural nature of the area, the number of lives lost is uncertain, but it was considerable. And more recently, we hear too many reports of massive forest fires in our western states. Sometimes lightning is the culprit but too often a careless smoker tosses a still-lit cigarette from a car or a camper walks away from hot coals that only require a breeze to become flames once more.

Gossip shares a lot of similarities with fire. It often begins with one very small, an innocuous spark that grows exponentially when offered fuel and an adequate breeze. We humans are very adept at adding unkind fuel and providing plenty of wind to generate a very large blaze.

You must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. Matthew 12: 36-37

Consider cautiously whether or not you really want to share your thoughts with others, especially if they could be hurtful to someone and, if you have been entrusted with confidential information, tuck it close to your heart and guard it as if it were your own secret. Never forget that just one spark landing in dry tinder can destroy everything in its wake. Do you want to be that spark?

Make sure “just between you and me” stays that way. Deflect gossip about a person with uplifting and edifying words about them, and never say anything you wouldn’t want that person to hear. The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge by Tony Dungy, Nathan Whitaker


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Are You Preparing

By Marcy Barthelette

 

God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus. Max Lucado

Summer is winding down and my landscape beds have been looking quite untidy and, though it’s a little early for ratty-looking plants, I have found myself trimming back unwanted and dead foliage. Fortunately, the August heat has backed off a bit and early mornings provide a great window of opportunity to make some serious inroads into my fall preparations to help ensure a healthy landscape next spring.

Gardening success is no accident. A substantial list of preparations is necessary for both spring, fall, and even winter. And if I’m, to be honest, I left a lot to chance in the early weeks of this season. We had that crazy winter and then a very late spring that was blessed with lots of rain. That meant that we weren’t able to get new mulch out because the ground wasn’t solid enough to support the delivery truck in the back yard and though I enjoy God’s bountiful rain, when I don’t hand water my beds, I often miss the subtle changes that signal something may be amiss, such as an insect infestation or a destructive fungus growth. And, oh my goodness, did those weeds get ahead of me.

 

As the rain slowed and I found myself out early most mornings to water, I slowly began to regain some control over the abundant weeds and the grass encroaching at my perimeters. All too soon, I found myself knee-deep in mounds of dying foliage, but my work made Ken’s mowing easier as those troublesome daylily leaves bit the dust and no longer wrapped themselves around his trimmer. I still have a few things showing off their colors. My impatiens responded well to a good shot of Miracle Grow. Those two pots are overflowing with dancing coral blossoms and rich, green foliage. My Boston ferns have nearly taken over the front porch. And an assortment of sedums throughout the yard will show off in a week or two and they are so popular with butterflies and all manner of insects. I’ll add a few mums for bright fall color and the next thing we know, it will be time to rake leaves, the oaks becoming mulch to add acid to the plants that require it. Preparation!

In spite of my lackadaisical approach in spring, it’s been a pretty good gardening season. I’d recently been pondering the writing possibilities associated with my fall gardening experiences and then on Sunday morning, I listened to our daughter’s home church online where their pastor addressed the topic of making preparations and I knew where this whole thing was going. Just as I must prepare the soil, trim back the plants so they can develop stronger roots for future growth, and add a layer of protective mulch for a long winter’s sleep, so must we constantly make preparations for our time in eternity.

And how do we do that? We can begin by preparing our “soil” with good nutrients by studying God’s word. We add strong, hardy “plants” in the form of family relationships and good friends. Water those relationships thoroughly from the Living Water. Protect our investments of time with a thick layer of the Holy Spirit and sprinkle in a generous amount of prayer and worship.

We tend to prepare for things we care most about so we need to be sure the things we care most about are worthy. We tend to turn to God in times of trouble, but we may need Him more in times of plenty because that’s when we often forget Him and try to go it alone.

Don’t see your struggle as an interruption to life but as a preparation for life. Max Lucado

The word “prepare” is a verb, an action word. It’s time to take action. We don’t know where this life will take us but if we fill ourselves with all the qualities God wants us to have, if we listen carefully to His instruction and communicate with Him on a very regular basis, we can be assured about where the next life will lead us, right into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father.

So you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:44

So as you go about collecting bottled water, first aid supplies, and non-perishable foods in case of a storm or make reservations and explore special places to see on an upcoming vacation or arrange a carpooling schedule for your kids’ extra-curricular activities, remember to “prepare” your hearts and minds for a future at home with God.


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Building a Temple One Stone at a Time

By Marcy Barthelette

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit lives in you? I Corinthians 3:16 CEB

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. And, before I could read for myself, my mother read to me. When I was very young, Mom and I walked over a mile each way to the library so that there would always be books in our home. We lived in a very small house on a very sparse income, but there were always books at our fingertips  because of Mom’s love of reading.
 
As I grew older, my love of reading expanded to include creating new reading material of my own. Writing seemed a natural outgrowth of my fascination with the written word. Then life happened and the reading and writing were set aside. But as I matured, a lovely collection of books began to grow in my own home. There were times in my life when I could indulge my love of reading and times when the living of life interfered, but the books were a constant presence.  

It was only in recent years that the possibility of writing once again tickled my imagination, and I really wasn’t sure what to do with this rebirth of an old love until the fall of 2015 when Pastor Sarah asked if I would write a few articles for the new magazine-style newsletter appropriately titled The Gatepost. And so it began, an article here and another there. Before I knew it, other contributors to the newsletter had commitments that limited their time, and I was writing two to four articles every month. I especially liked the Spotlight pieces focused on individual member families. I met so many interesting folks and was able to place faces with countless names I’d heard during my years at Aldersgate.

Then along came COVID and technology took front and center in our worship experiences. I wondered what I could do personally to help keep our family connected, so when Casey Freeland spoke with me about writing an article for a new weekly electronic version of the Gatepost, I dipped my feet in the water. Okay … the truth is I needed the work. I was drowning emotionally as I read and listened to the news swirling around us. For years I had begun my day with devotions by many writers and now I sought tidbits of subject matter among those authors. I listened to online messages and almost always came away with a brief thought that led to a seemingly insignificant incident in my past and the words started to flow. Those little devotions were my lifeline.

As life would have it, our isolation lasted longer than most of us would have imagined and writing a devotion every week has become a very important aspect of my life. Here at home, I had very little personal contact with others, but by reaching out with God’s words, I hoped to be able to offer a small blessing to readers who might be having a tough time or bring a chuckle to someone needing a little joy. And wouldn’t you just know, it has gotten me through some less than stellar experiences and filled my heart with hope.

I guess what I’m trying to express is that we all have skills and can find opportunities to implement them. Each of us is effectively a Temple of God. We demonstrate that in the way in which we treat others, the way we live our lives when no one appears to be looking, the way we care for the resources given so freely to us with only one string attached; He wants us to love Him as He loves us. Of course, it’s wonderful when we can gather with family and friends to worship in like-minded faith, but much can also be gained by sharing our personal “temple” with whoever happens to enter our sphere. You could say it takes a village or perhaps a large temple (a building) built of smaller temples (you and I) scattered throughout the landscape of life.

You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundations of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord … being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

 

I recall that day when Casey very casually mentioned that she had posted my devotion on the church blog. I thought, “What church blog, I didn’t know we had one.” So I checked and, sure enough, right there on the internet were the words God shared with me. Anyone in the world can read them if they so desire. I’m in the company of writers who are much more skilled and experienced than I but if any word in those devotions touches the heart of just one person, anywhere, my task is considered well done. It isn’t about who or how many, it’s about the one person, somewhere who really needs to hear the still, small voice of God and then becomes a stone in the greater temple.

And I must close these thoughts with a quote that expresses my love of all living things…

Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

 Robert Louis Stevenson


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Be Careful Where You Turn

By Marcy Barthelette

Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the way is good and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

The year was 2010 and it was hot in Missouri that August, really hot! It was hot over most of the eastern half of the country. We hadn’t seen rain for several weeks. For some crazy reason, we had planned a three-week vacation encompassing the Shenandoah Mountains, some time in DC, a short stop at Gettysburg which became longer, a few days in Providence, Ken’s childhood home, and a tour of the remaining New England states except for Maine. Our overnight stops were mostly reserved in advance, and we had assembled a lengthy list of attractions to visit.

In the midst of all this, a grandson was playing baseball at the Cal Ripken Complex in Aberdeen, Maryland. We had one free day to make the two-hour drive from our DC hotel to Aberdeen. We rose early to hear rain beating against our windows, but the forecast gave some hope for clearing in Aberdeen, so we trekked up the unfamiliar highway, found our family, and sat in their hotel suite all day. And I do mean all day. The rain never stopped, all the games were postponed, and we headed back to DC by late afternoon after a nice visit with the kids but no baseball.

Travel down I 95 was pretty light so we would get back to our hotel before dark, a very good thing as we were not comfortable driving in the busy and unfamiliar city at night. We decided to exit the highway to refuel our car and our bodies at some point along the way, but as we drove down a road that we had thought would lead us to gas and food, we saw no signs or businesses. Before we knew it, we were approaching an armed gate and signage for a secure government facility. There was no turning around….we were in the soup, so to speak, as the gate opened slowly! And if we thought it was hot in Missouri, it was about to get a lot hotter somewhere in Maryland.

Once inside the gate, we were directed to move the car to the side and were approached by a large man in military uniform and armed with weapons. Ken tried to explain that we had made a wrong turn but that wasn’t cutting it. This soldier didn’t want to hear about our mistake, he wanted only to know our intention. Ken then shared his military service information, including his security clearance level, but that did not impress our intimidating guard. Frankly, I was terrified! I thought they were going to take us to jail and throw away the key. Ken was much more self-confident than I, but his bravado didn’t make any points in this situation.

Finally, after a half-hour or more of grilling, the “gentleman” soldier gave back Ken’s ID and sent us on our way with a stern warning not to return, as if we wanted a repeat performance. Upon re-entry to the interstate, we checked the exit signs and discovered that the one we wanted was very close to another which clearly stated, “NO ENTRY!” We were less observant than we should have been, and we paid a price for our carelessness.

Life often tempts us to follow paths that can be harmful. They’re often made appealing by promises of some amazing reward at the other

 end. After all, we thought we would find gas and food somewhere on our wandering path. We need to be cautious when choosing which path to follow. Do we take the easy, more traveled one that might lead us to make mistakes, or do we take the less traveled, yet tried and true path that will ultimately bring us face to face with God.

Like most of us, I’ve taken a few of those wrong turns and needed to be rescued. Truth be told, It will likely happen again. I’m certainly far from perfect. But I have His promise that if I come to Him with my failures, He will forgive. What have I ever done to deserve that? Absolutely nothing! Jesus did it all for me and for you over two thousand years ago and the promise has never changed. Take up His cross and follow Him. He’ll keep us on the right path if we can manage to keep out of our own way and let Him take the lead.

In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.

 


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