HE WAS ALWAYS THERE

By Marcy Barthelette

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

In the beginning…..wait, that was my lead-in to the Lenten season last year. In those few weeks, we followed Jesus from the celebration of his birth through the pain of the cross, then the triumph of his Resurrection. But maybe the beginning wasn’t in a stable, maybe we need to let our minds travel back much further to a time that didn’t yet exist. Imagine, if you can, that everything we know is gone; there is only space. The universe, or whatever we choose to call it, doesn’t exist. There are no mountains, no lakes, no plants or animals, and no humans. But God speaks and at the sound of His voice, heaven and earth begin. There is no real form to this new earth. Genesis paints a canvas of darkness and meaningless swirls of water.

Then suddenly God summons the light and the darkness gives way to a bright new day!

But the waters of heaven and the waters of earth still mingle until God speaks again and separates the two and calls the space between them “sky.”

Next, He chooses to add land to the canvas and follows it with plants, all kinds of plants capable of bearing seeds and reproducing themselves. Then he sees a need to separate the light from the darkness and so two great lights are planted in the sky, the larger one He calls sun and it provides bright illumination and warmth by day. The smaller, less dominant one, becomes the moon and, along with a myriad of stars, they become the beacons of the cooler night.

Now it’s time to populate this new earth with birds and sea creatures, then every kind of animal, each one fruitful in reproduction.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” Genesis 1:26

Did you catch that? He didn’t say he wanted humans to be like Him. He used the terms “our image” and “to be like us.” We tend to think of Jesus as a tiny baby who just appeared in Mary’s womb out of nowhere. That verse from the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible, God’s Holy Word, refers to a plural deity. Jesus was the Word and He had lived with His Father in heaven from the beginning of everything. Those terms “our” and “us” offer new depth to the words “in the beginning.”

Thousands of years later, as God contemplated the behaviors of his humans, he was not surprised that our world had spun completely out of control. He knew all along that we would need a pathway to redemption and he had the perfect plan. He would send his own son to earth, not as a king or a conqueror, but as a completely dependent human infant.  

And though Jesus knew every accusation that would be hurled at him and could already feel the sting of the whips on his back and the prick of the thorns on his brow; though he knew about the nails that would pierce His hands and feet, he came anyway. He came because he loves us and wants each of us to join him in heaven one day. We can’t, even in our wildest imaginations, begin to grasp the magnitude of that act. Knowing what he sacrificed, what he endured, can we imagine rejecting his offer of love and redemption?

In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1  


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Helleborous orientalis, Lenten Rose

By Marcy Barthelette

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come

to the Father except through Me. John 14:6

It was time! The holidays were just a memory and winter had brought its promised encounters with snow and ice and frigid temperatures. But on this particular day in late January, the sun was brilliant, the sky a vivid blue, and the air held a respectable warmth for perusing my front landscape bed in search of life. Plantlife, you say, in January? And there she was, barely visible beneath the bed of leaf mulch we’d provided in late fall. The dark green spotted leaves, leathery in appearance and harsh to the touch because of the spikes at the edges of each leaf, were still alive, though scorched and wind-tattered. Under their protection, I found the object of my search, a cluster of buds waiting to open. They’re sturdy buds, frail bits of fluff wouldn’t stand a chance in our Missouri winters. But she has remarkable capabilities, much like those of her namesake.

In the scientific community, she is known as Helleborus orientalis, or more commonly, Lenten Rose. Her name is derived from the bloom time that typically occurs during the Lenten Season, appropriate because next week, we commemorate Ash Wednesday and begin our annual journey on the road to the cross.

The Lenten Rose has no scientific relationship to the rose. It is, however, related to the buttercup, tracing its roots, pardon the pun, to the genus Helleborus, containing about twenty species in the family Ranunculaceae. In its native Turkey, it could be found growing in more shaded areas and established into large clumps. Here in Missouri, it likes shaded to partly shaded ground with protection from harsh winter weather, in which case it will retain some or all of its dark green leaf color year-round. If it is not protected or our winter is particularly harsh causing its leaves to die back, its perennial traits will bring it back again as spring warms the air.

The blooms may open anytime from late January to early April depending on the severity of the winter, but those tough, leathery leaves keep my springtime hopes alive each year because I situated my Lenten Rose well. When the right time arrives, the blooms will nod their five-petaled heads atop sturdy stems and provide beauty for as much as eight to ten weeks. Colors vary from greenish-white to pinks and purples. They offer a miracle in the garden and renewed hope that spring is just around the corner. Isn’t that what Easter does for us?

Think about the similarities: Jesus’ early life was quite obscure. He didn’t make a big production of who He was. Such is the cycle of the Lenten Rose. She sits quietly in the bed and strengthens her roots while all the other perennials show off a riot of color. Jesus worked alongside His father as a child and continued to provide what He could for the family until His thirtieth year. When the other plants go to sleep for winter, the Lenten Rose continues to sport her green leaves and when we turn our thoughts to preparation for Holy Week, she is struggling through the coldest part of winter’s onslaught. The previous year’s leaves are certainly damaged but new ones are appearing. Jesus enters Jerusalem to the sound of worshipers welcoming Him with waving palms and shouts of Hallelujah! Lenten Rose is poking buds through the leaf mulch and preparing to show her finery.

But then Jesus’ accusers come forward. They mock Him and torture His body nearly beyond recognition. And the Lenten Rose must face more days of winter weather which often causes some damage to the outside covering of her buds. Like the Lenten rose, Jesus must pass through a dark, cold winter of hatred, jealousy, mockery, and torture. But then, at the culmination of it all, after being nailed to a cruel cross and dying to save us, He rises! Once more, He is in His place in heaven, ready to hear us, to comfort and forgive us, and to love us with an unbridled love. And the Lenten Rose? Her strong, sturdy buds open and she shows us the beauty inside. Even then, her nodding blooms bow down. She honors the Lord in her humility. It is only when I raise her face to the sun that I can see her true beauty.  

Oh yes, I have snowdrops and crocus, daffodils and tulips, each one more showy and colorful than my Lenten Rose and I treasure them. But it is the Lenten Rose that gives me something very tangible to remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for me. She doesn’t sleep through winter like all the others, she endures it, just like He endured the cross.

Here in Missouri, the weather is always surprising us with its twists and turns, but Jesus and the Lenten Rose are ready for all of it. Don’t you want Jesus to walk with you through all the winters of your life?

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. Deuteronomy 31:8

 


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The Bullies at Our Feeder

By Marcy Barthelette

The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. Psalm 145:9 ESV

Being the outdoor enthusiasts we are, Ken and I love to make our yard attractive to lots of critters. That means planting perennials, shrubs, and trees that will provide food and habitat as well as winter cover. It also means providing food during harsh winter weather. Our oaks provide lots of acorns for squirrels and other critters who find their well-hidden stashes. Our holly bushes create a safe place for birds and mammals to hide under and within. And when the snow falls, we keep a couple of bird feeders full as well as provide suet. We feel blessed when bright flashes of red indicate the cardinals have found our smorgasbord of seeds. The cute little nuthatches entertain us with their trumpet-like call as they work the tree bark from the top down. They always work upside down to separate insects from the bark. Then there are the juncos who gather in good-sized numbers on the ground at the base of the feeding area and engage in clean-up duty. In between, we entertain various finches, wrens, and sparrows. In recent years, a few doves have accepted the invitation to a hearty meal.

My favorite is the red-bellied woodpecker. No one I’ve ever talked with can understand the name. The large bird has a bright red stripe on top of its head but none on the belly. There is a slight wash of pink but no true red. Its body is a mass of black and white striping, making it a very splashy-colored bird. Though it’s classified as a mid-sized woodpecker, its ungainly form makes eating from a feeder an act of true determination. They are too large for the feeder perches and often cling to the feeder upside down to garner the much-coveted seed. When they attack a suet cake, their bodies cover the entire feeder. Even though they are very inventive when it comes to extracting food from the feeders, they don’t intimidate smaller birds or hog the seed.

Our backyard comes alive when snow is on the ground and the feathered friends can’t forage as they normally would. We so enjoy watching their funny antics. For a while, at least, the bird buffet is a most friendly and communal experience.

And then, out of nowhere, swoops a great crowd of blackbirds. I refer to them as blackbirds because I’ve learned that several types flock together and make it more difficult for amateur bird enthusiasts to identify the species. I typically call them Grackles but they may well be Starlings. One truth supersedes species identification. These large and intimidating birds are bullies at the feeder. Their sheer numbers scare the smaller birds away. They overtake every perch and refuse to allow anyone else to eat. Their table manners are atrocious. They’re not happy to hog every perch, they also throw seed to the ground so that all their friends can eat the overflow. All the other birds are forced to wait from the cover of trees and bushes until they leave and when they do, the feeders are likely to be empty. I get so tired of accommodating these raucous, ravenous bullies that I often give up feeding the birds. That isn’t fair to our other feathered friends who bring so much enjoyment to our lives, but I wonder why I should put the seed and suet out if a huge flock of bullies is only going to take it all for themselves. And then I remember those Grackles and Starlings, whichever they may be, are God’s creations too. And while they are certainly disdained for their total decimation of croplands, they also create those phenomenal skyscapes that we sometimes witness when thousands of them flock together. In the icy cold of a winter storm, they’re probably just as hungry as our other more agreeable little feathered friends. Yet, I am reluctant to feed them.

Do I treat my fellow humans the same way? Are they hungry as well? Do I see people as undesirable & not do all I can to feed them both literally and figuratively? And what, if anything, can I do to help alleviate that need?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it. So, why then, can’t I stop judging people by the tone of their political rhetoric, the color of their skin, their level of cleanliness? In short, why can’t I overlook their bad table manners that often resemble the bad habits of my backyard bullies? Because I’m human and I need lots of help from someone who is much larger and stronger and more capable than I am.

Help me, God, to humble myself and see all your creations, human and otherwise, as you see them and to love accordingly.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. Rick Warren


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A Change of Plans

 By Marcy Barthelette

Lord, when you rearrange my life, help me to trust in you.  Dr Kari Vo, Lutheran Hour Ministries

We, humans, do a lot of planning. I am famous for my planning skills….well, I call it skill. Most of my family sees it as worrying. Does it really matter how we describe it? We plan because we are concerned that things won’t turn out the way we want them to unless we make a long to-do list. And if by chance we are known for spontaneity, then often we are considered scatter-brained or frivolous. I think that planners like myself can learn a lot from Joseph, the same Joseph who, just a few short weeks ago, starred in our production of the Nativity.

Joseph had a life plan in place. He was a hard worker from what we know of him. He was an accomplished carpenter and a solid member of an everyday community in his time. He was engaged to marry and start a family of his own. All of these were admirable qualities and made him respected among his peers. And then, in a moment, it all came crashing down with the news that his bride-to-be was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his! How does a man deal with such a trauma?

God placed a lot of trust in Joseph and He gave him plenty of opportunities to walk away from the responsibility that was about to be laid on his shoulders. Joseph wrestled with the notion of taking that option and the laws of the day would have supported that decision. But Joseph took the high road. He took Mary as his wife, honored her commitment to bear the Son of God, and when Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken, he packed up his little family to travel the long dusty trail to Bethlehem, even though it was nearly time for the baby to be born.

And after the Holy Birth, Joseph heard of King Herod’s plan to kill all the baby boys of the land and he took Mary and Jesus to another country, where he knew no one and had no work waiting for him. He stayed there many years, protecting his family until he was told that it was safe to go back. He followed every instruction sent to him by God. Joseph was a responsible man and a caring provider. Even though all his carefully made plans had been foiled by the events of history, he never gave up being a Godly man.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23

I would venture to say that Joseph’s ability to “go with the flow” surpassed that of many people, myself included. As I mentioned, I like to plan ahead. Last week, Ken and I had to face some changes in our plans. Late each January, we join a friend of ours in her timeshare cabin at Big Cedar Wilderness Club, a resort situated adjacent to Big Cedar Lodge, and share all amenities. Last year we didn’t get to go because of COVID so this year’s trip meant a lot to us. We’d had no vacation for two years and only a few short camping trips during the pandemic. This venture was a really big deal! We were supposed to have spent 12 days lounging by the fire, pigging out on comfort food, and hiking the surrounding area to burn off all those vacation calories, but old man winter posed a serious threat to our ability to return home on checkout day. So, even though we fought the idea of leaving early, it seemed prudent to do exactly that. We began packing all our belongings on a 66º day in anticipation of ice, sleet, and snow that was forecast to begin in about 36 hours. Only in Missouri! Were we happy with our decision? Absolutely not! But safety took priority and we arrived home with a few hours to pick up essentials for storm prep, unpack and settle in before the winter fun began.

Lord, when I can’t see what you’re doing with my life, help me to trust You to lead me. Amen.

Dr. Kari Vo, Lutheran Hour Ministries

As I wrote, during the storm, we were grateful for a warm, cozy home and plenty to eat. We could enjoy the beauty of the snow from indoors and not fret over experiences missed because our plans were changed. Does this event rival the trials that Joseph faced? Of course not, but it does illustrate how God’s intervention often interrupts our lives. Yes, I’ve experienced the confusion of an unplanned pregnancy and we, as a couple, have known the discouragement of a job loss and the nightmare of relocation thirteen hundred miles away in order to secure a new work opportunity. We’ve also learned to deal with a health diagnosis that left us wondering how we would manage. But all these events were just detours from the laborious plans we had made, detours that God knew about long before they occurred. He was always prepared to lead us through those valleys.

There will be big events in our lives and we can make as many to-do lists as we want, but in the end, God’s will always surpass ours. We would do well to follow Joseph’s example and keep our eye on all the little things that make up this thing we call life. By doing so, God will prepare us for the big events and, while our efforts may seem insignificant at the time when they are woven into the rich tapestry that becomes our earthly legacy, God’s plan becomes clear to us: Regardless of what situations we find ourselves in, He will share them with us, side by side, hand in hand.

So, instead of initiating [your] own plans and asking God to bless them, let God lead your heart. Let Him direct and empower your steps and bless your journey together. That’s His greatest wish: To do life with you.

Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel


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The Prodigal Son…or Daughter

By: Marcy Barthelette

When I was younger, I got a little testy at the telling of the story of the prodigal son. In fact, I always identified with the older brother. After all, the one who stays and completes all the hard work should be allowed to celebrate those accomplishments….right?

Father, I want right now what’s coming to me. Luke 15:12

It’s hard for us to grasp the significance of the younger brother’s request because we don’t live in a time and place where properties were passed down to the eldest son and other siblings were only willed a portion of the father’s estate, according to his whim. This brother knew he would not be the one to carry on his father’s legacy, however large or small the estate may have been, so he thought it might be a good idea to enjoy life while he had an opportunity. So he boldly, and perhaps foolishly, demanded that his father give him his share immediately and he set off to live his new life of fun and frivolity. We can only imagine how he spent his newfound wealth but we do know that the oldest profession was very much alive and wine flowed profusely in the local gathering spots. It can be supposed that gambling would have been involved and any other competitive venture would likely have been attractive, especially at this man’s young age and level of restlessness. For a time, he felt on top of the world, but as we know, he eventually ran out of funds and possessions and sunk into profound poverty. He was so hungry that he accepted  work caring for swine and even sunk so low as to be willing to eat the pods that were fed to the pigs except that no one would give him any. It finally occurred to him that the servants at his father’s estate were much better off than he. But how would his father receive him after all the mistakes he had made? He knew he had no choice but to return home and commit himself to servanthood in the hope his father would take him in.

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. Luke 15:20

Wait a minute….the father didn’t scold his errant son! What was he doing? He ordered the servants to bring clean clothes, a family ring, and new sandals. And then, of all things, he announced a party and requested that a prize-winning animal be set to roast. His joy at seeing this son was overwhelming and he wanted to share it with everyone. But the older son did not share his father’s enthusiasm. He was angry and, yes, jealous, because his brother had wasted all he was given while he, the faithful brother, had worked alongside his father every day and never even been offered a celebration in his honor.

His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found.’ Luke 15:31-32

Newsflash everyone…I am a sinner! Just like the younger brother who took his birthright and squandered it on wine and women, and the older brother who was unwilling to offer grace and forgiveness, I fall short every day of what my Father in heaven expects from me. So how do I want Him to deal with my failures and indiscretions? Would I rather be turned out of my former home to live as a servant or welcomed with a grand party and abounding love? That’s a no-brainer, is it not?

As an adult, I’ve realized that He, God, used this parable to assure us that He is always there, always eager to forgive and grant mercy, no matter how little we deserve it. It isn’t really about the young man who went astray or even the older brother who was unforgiving. It’s all about our relationship with God, the Father.

Even when we try to live a good life, we make mistakes, but there is nothing we can do that is so bad that we forfeit our God-given birthright. All He requires is that we return to Him, acknowledge our sins, and change our ways. That’s quite a promise so what would make anyone turn away? And what would make us not strive to live up to our potential? The answer, of course, is Satan. He’ll lead you down a twisted trail of misdeeds while telling you that following him is a lot more fun than following the rules for good living. Next time that sneaky old Satan creeps into your heart and offers a very tempting invitation to join him on the “wild side”, tell him to scram, beat it, buzz off…just go away!

Remember the Prodigal Son—or daughter and make the obvious choice.

Choose today whom you will serve…..but, as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15 NLT

 

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Letting Off Steam

By Marcy Barthelette

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. Luke 11:9

Many years ago, I helped my mom can the vegetables we grew in our summer garden. Perhaps I should say, I helped her prepare the vegetables for canning. You see, we had this old pressure cooker that Mom wasn’t sure she really trusted, so when the contents had been added and the cooker was building up the necessary steam to properly cook the vegetables, I was admonished to leave the room, just in case. I really didn’t know what “just in case” meant until one day when the valve blew off that pressure cooker and we spent most of our day cleaning up the resulting mess. Believe me, I was very glad Mom had advised me well. Had I not obeyed, I could have been badly burned or cut by flying glass. That was the last time we ever used a pressure cooker in that kitchen. As a matter of fact, I still have a healthy enough respect for them that I haven’t been willing to try the newer and, supposedly, much safer models.

The use of steam to accomplish manual labor has been recorded as early as the first century AD but steam really came into its own as a power source in the late sixteen and early seventeen hundreds. Initially used to pump water from underground mines, it was later harnessed to power various types of factories and found its way to steam-powered ships and locomotives. My imagination has always been drawn to the era of steam. What kid from my generation didn’t dream of adventures fueled by the hissing of a steam locomotive racing across the desert in an old western with bandits in hot pursuit? I’ve read vivid stories and watched enchanting movies in which steamboats huffed and puffed their way up and down the mighty Mississippi and steam locomotives traversed our nation at speeds unheard of before their invention. I’ve ridden the existing narrow gauge railways of the west through incredible gorges and across seemingly never-ending plains. Perhaps my eye even caught a glimpse of one of those bandits from the past. I reveled in the thrill of seeing that huge cloud of steam billowing into the air when the engine needed to release her pressure. The excitement of climbing aboard a steam-powered train has never left me, though it has been a few years since my last venture.

One theme remains constant when using steam power. You reach a point when some of the steam must be released in order to keep from blowing up the engine. Just as our pressure cooker exploded because of a failed valve, so can a ship a locomotive, or a factory. And, obviously, the resulting damage can be devastating.

We humans can build up a great head of steam as well. Today’s fast-paced world expects us to be the best at everything we attempt. When we allow that steam to build with no release, our bodies and minds may not be able to deal with the pressure, and physical or mental illness may result. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
I Peter 5:6 NIV

The key is to keep our spirits healthy by giving all the junk to God. If you’ve read my work before, you may have seen the words, “God wants to hear from you.” He does. We needn’t worry about embarrassment because He already knows everything. He doesn’t ask us to inform Him, He wants us to realize that we’re carrying around “steam” that needs to be released. He won’t mind if you rant and rave a bit. 

Just be honest and get it off your chest. And the real key is to leave it there with God. Don’t pick it back up and try to deal with it by yourself. Release the pressure. God is your steam vent. Give it to Him, leave it in His very capable hands, and thank Him for always being right there beside you.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. I Peter 5:7 NLT

Just as I cover my pot and pans with steam vented lids to keep the liquid from boiling over, I must remember to release all my extra “steam” to God daily and let Him deal with it. I mustn’t be timid but enthusiastically thrust all those unwanted cares upon Him. It makes me a much nicer person and without all that junk on my mind, I can turn my thoughts to planning another steam-powered trip back to a “calmer and safer world.” Or not!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.
Philippians 4:6 NLT

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One Perfect Egg

By Marcy Barthelette

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. Philippians 3:12 NLT

I have spent a good chunk of my adulthood searching for the solution to preparing the perfect fried egg. I’ve seen short-order cooks using rings on their grills but I can’t find a ring that will keep all my egg solution contained. Perhaps it has something to do with the consistently high temperature of a restaurant grill to make the egg cook evenly and perfectly.

I had given up serving fried eggs to guests because every attempt looked like something the garbage truck ran over. Then one day, as I wandered through housewares at Walmart, I saw it. Appropriately named, it was the One Egg Wonder! A perfect little 41/2 inch skillet complete with a steam vented lid, a must in my world of pots and pans. I wasn’t sure I could work with this tiny pan, even on my smallest burners. But, lo and behold, it was perfect! Just spray a tiny bit of oil on the surface, set the temperature at medium-high, and add an egg. I top it with a little celery salt, then the lid and let it steam until it reaches our preferred doneness. That’s all there is to it and I cook one perfect egg after another. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve declared my love for that wonderful tiny pan. Not only are the eggs perfectly round, but they have minimal fat added to them and they slide right out of the skillet wherever I want to put them.

I began to wonder what I’d do if my lid were broken so I went back to get a second pan and there were none to be found. We have located the skillet with a lid but no steam vent. So, of course, I exercise extreme care not to damage the one I have. Perhaps my efforts seem a tiny bit extreme as has been my fixation with perfection. After all, there is no such thing as perfection in our very imperfect human world. Yet, many of us strive for it and we often demand perfection from those around us.

When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are. Donald Miller

What would our world be like if we stop looking for the flaws in people, the chinks in their armor, the tiny details that make them less than perfect in our eyes? In God’s eyes, we are all perfect children because He made us that way.

So how does the human mind turn off its quest for perfection? Maybe we need to give our hearts more sway in our everyday behaviors than we give our minds. Maybe we need to stop overthinking everything we do and thus lower our expectations of perfection. Maybe we need to stop believing we deserve certain rewards and remember that if we really got all that we deserved, we probably wouldn’t be remotely pleased with the result. Jesus didn’t deserve to be beaten and tortured and nailed to a cross, but it happened, nonetheless. He accepted His fate because He loved us.

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. Bryan Stevenson

And Jesus continues to love us today, warts and all. No matter what we’ve done or how unclean we have become, He loves us. I always appreciate when Pastor Sarah thanks Him for accepting us as we are but isn’t willing to leave us where He finds us. He always wants to draw us closer, hug us tighter, and provide generously in every way. Perfection is only found in heaven. Until that day comes, we can only strive to be the best people we can be with the help of the One who is perfect. 

But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

I Corinthians 13:10 NLT

My steamed eggs have reached a certain level of excellence. I can count on being able to serve them without flinching or making excuses. Now, could someone please offer some advice for my omelet endeavors?

I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for, perfection is God’s business. Michael J. Fox


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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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