Directionally Challenged?

By Marcy Barthelette

Pay attention to how you use today—so you stay the course to where you are destined to go.

Christine Caine, Unshakable

It’s an incredible spring day in the Ozarks and we decide it’s perfect weather for a hike, not too cool but not too warm yet. We grab a daypack, add some sandwiches and extra water, a hat and sunscreen, a compass, and maybe an extra pair of socks in case we slip in a still very cool stream. Wet socks develop painful blisters. We head for a trail we hiked many years ago, a pair of adventurers hoping to enjoy some great views, catch a glimpse of wildlife here and there, but not too wild, and get some nice shots of “wild” flowers just showing their pretty faces. Oh yes, there is also a waterfall at the halfway point and it should be running nicely due to a wet spring.

We reach our trailhead and are a bit surprised to see that the trail is listed as strenuous in places. We don’t recall that being the case when last we hiked it but we were just a few years younger then. To make matters worse, no trail maps are available. Following a few minutes of a brief discussion, we convince ourselves that we are up for the challenge and head out on the trail.

An hour or so into the hike that was fraught with mud, potholes, roots, boulders, and a nearly obliterated trail, we began to understand the warning. But being the seasoned hikers we are, we persevere. Another hour passes, the trail still has us guessing and we haven’t come to the waterfall. We begin to wonder if we took a wrong turn and I dig for the compass, but it’s nowhere to be found. I turn the pack inside out but no compass appears. This is no time to panic. Ken spent thirty years in Boy Scouts, three more traveling all over Europe, and has had lots of orienteering practice. He’s adept at reading sun and shadows as well as having an amazing sense of direction. He will get us out of this predicament even if that means backtracking to the trailhead.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to note that while Ken and I are quite comfortable finding our way through a forest of trees or a tangle of boulders, city roadways create a nightmare of confusion for us. I can’t count the times when we have been completely turned around when attempting to traverse a network of roads designed and built to facilitate ease of travel. There are too many landmarks when we don’t want them and not enough road signs when we do. Often the structures that surround us are too tall to allow a clear view of the sun thus creating one big shadow. Maps are never up to date with highway construction, even the electronic versions. And, yes, we do have GPS but it sometimes errs as well, or, perhaps it’s operator error. Suffice to say, we try to circumnavigate cities as often as possible.

Truth be told, our lives are certainly in need of direction too. If we’ve chosen well, the Bible will serve as our compass, pointing us in the right direction, toward Jesus, who is our true north.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

Oh, and that waterfall we were searching for. We began to hear it just a few twists and turns from that point where we doubted our directional skills. It certainly measured up to our hopes. Water cascaded with reckless abandon over a succession of falls leaving us breathless. And for Ken, it was rather breathtaking when he slipped on a moss-covered rock and nearly fell over the falls while straining to get his best photograph. With a prayer of gratitude that Ken was able to proceed and a leisurely lunch with our feet in the cool clear water above the falls (the temperature reached 80+ on our perfect spring day), we reluctantly decided it was time to head on down the trail. The second half was much better marked but no less tricky, and after about five hours, we arrived back at the trailhead, very tired and sporting a few new bruises. While satisfied that we’d been able to make the trip, we learned something about our physical limitations and will stick to less strenuous trails in the future. And we’ll remember to double-check our supplies and to coordinate all our adventures with the one who steadfastly watches over us and provides excellent directions.

Lord, show me how I need to adjust my course toward You today and keep my focus on living for you in the now.

 Christine Caine, Unshakable


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Finding Your Groove

By Marcy Barthelette

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1b

The air feels almost electric with the excitement of the hour! The invocation has been offered, the national anthem sung and the pilots of the day have thrilled the audience with their low altitude flyover. A hush falls over the crowd as an invited guest steps to the microphone and shouts, “Drivers, start your engines.” Some forty race cars roar to life and line up in their predetermined order. The pace car leads them around the track, then slides off to the infield. The flagman leans over the start line at the ready. As the first car passes, he waves the green flag and they’re off, ready to spend several hours just to see who can claim today’s trophy.

Yes, it’s Sunday afternoon in late April and Ken is glued to the NASCAR race, live on TV when our stations carry it or online later when they don’t. Yes, he will give up the race for special events but if nothing deters him, he will be keeping up with his favorite drivers. Racing has been in his blood since his teen years when he worked with the set-up crew at the track in Seekonk, Massachusetts, and rubbed elbows with all the local drivers. He proudly describes a stop during a vacation many years ago to take his own drive around the track in Indianapolis. He has always loved to drive and I think he secretly would have loved to race competitively, but as so often happens, life gets in our way.

One of the terms race announcers often use is “finding the groove.” You’re probably familiar with the phrase as it applies to life but NASCAR gives it a whole new meaning. It isn’t an attitude or a feeling, it’s a literal groove on the track. It’s described as the best route around the track. It’s a faster, more efficient way for drivers to shave precious seconds off their lap times and they all want to find it. The groove can be identified by the wide black stripe that begins to circle the track as the race progresses. NASCAR tires differ from everyday highway tires in that they are completely free of deep treads. They’re called “slicks” and they are designed to wear down. Each racing team may carry up to fifteen sets of tires per race depending on individual track regulations. Each track sets its own tire cap and believe me, the teams use a lot of them. As the tires wear, they leave their distinctive layer of rubber behind, creating the groove. Weather can determine the condition of the groove and the effect it will have on car handling. Keep in mind that most NASCAR tracks are oval in shape and the drivers are often running 200 mph. If the air temperature is high, the track temperature is even higher and the groove becomes sticky and drivers are more able to navigate their turns without sliding. If, however, the racing day is cold, the groove becomes hardened providing little grip for those slick tires, thus lowering driving speeds and causing more spin-outs.

Another point to consider is that a track may have multiple grooves, offering drivers more options but possibly more opportunities to crash. Moving from groove to groove or driving side by side in different grooves leaves openings for cars to drift, often causing multiple car pile-ups. Choosing to go high on a multi-groove track can find the driver against the wall. A bumper tap by another driver can make that wall position very uncomfortable. Going low can result in being shoved onto the inside area of the track, the apron, by a fellow driver who wants to win just as badly. On some tracks driving on the apron is not allowed and results in a penalty and loss of position. With all this strategic positioning going on, there’s no shortage of excitement at the racetrack.

You’re probably asking yourself why I am so “off track” this week, but I would suggest that I’m not. Just as NASCAR drivers seek to find their groove, so do we. When we recognize God as our Heavenly Father and Jesus, our Savior, we are always in search of our own groove. The path is spelled out in the Bible and highly illustrated in the way that Jesus lived His life on earth; teaching, preaching, healing, and just interacting in ordinary ways with everyone around Him. He liked hanging out with the people and they liked hanging out with Him.

You were running the good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth. Galatians 5:7

And we, like NASCAR drivers, can find ourselves in trouble when we choose the wrong groove. When we wander from our chosen path, we can find ourselves stuck in a sticky situation or sliding down a slippery slope. The good news is, that we don’t necessarily end our journey in a multi-car pile-up. By making a course correction, asking for  

forgiveness, and making the effort to improve, we can continue in God’s groove and, eventually, find our way to the “Promised Land.” The choice of which groove to follow is ours.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever…. I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. I Corinthians 9:24-25, 27b


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Alleluia!

By Marcy Barthelette

Sunday, April 17, 2022, Easter Journal Entry   

What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me. Psalm 116:12

It began in the pre-dawn darkness as I slept deeply, awaiting the day. I felt it, its sweet scent wafted over me. A peacefulness embraced me, love enfolded me and I knew I was a forgiven child of God. I awoke to the awareness of Easter morning. Alleluia! 

There was no sunshine, but Ken asked if I had been awakened by a tremendous bolt of lightning followed by a rolling clap of thunder. I had not, I had been wrapped in total peace. Perhaps my peace was delivered by that lightning, perhaps it was the rising up of Jesus from the grave. Did you feel it? Alleluia!

He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come see the place where they laid him. Matthew 28:6

I thought it compelling that lightning had been a part of our early morning experience because later Pastor Dennis addressed the gleaming brightness of the men at the tomb, a brightness so great it compared to lightning. Their message? We have completed the season of Lent. All the preparation, all the introspection, all the pain, all the loss. And now, He lives again. Alleluia!

I’ve often heard the question; “Why did Judas do it? Why did he betray our Lord? Well, someone had to do it to fulfill the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah’s time on earth. Judas was the chosen one. Jesus had to die in order to save us and someone had to be the bad guy, the stand-in, so to speak, for each of us. Judas is our representative, for we have all been tempted by the glitter of our world. Each of us, before Jesus lived and still today, as well as tomorrow, has had a part in his torture and death. We have all fallen short.

But here’s the good news. He forgives! Alleluia!

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. I Corinthians 1:18

As Ken and I settled in to watch the Sunday service online, we were excited to welcome the angelic voices of Casey and Hannah as they brought the Easter message alive in song and they tugged at my heartstrings as their beautiful words permeated every fiber of my being. I am so grateful they are always ready to share their gifts.

Pastor Sarah offered her beautiful words of prayer, the requests for healing brought to her by caring followers. Her concern for each and every one of them is evident in her voice. Her prayers, too, are a gift, one she shares so willingly.

Pastor Dennis re-enforced the promise of the resurrection once again and through his spoken words, we find the hope of Easter morning. His enthusiasm tells us that he is a totally dedicated servant and we can always count on him to share our good times and the not-so-good ones.

As our service ended, the praise band offered a rousing response to God’s invitation to us; one phrase was especially meaningful…..

You called my name and I stepped out of that grave! Again I say, Alleluia, Alleluia!

We all started out in that grave, but Jesus opened our hearts and minds to prepare us for the continuation of His work. Our church family is blessed with many willing hearts, many willing pairs of hands, and many talents and gifts they are just waiting to share. Jesus has made his journey to the cross, He has born our stripes, He has died a horrific death just for us, and He has overcome death to return and live with His Father. I want to be a part of His family.

What can you ( I ) do today to step into God’s invitation to love others like He does?  Bob Goff


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The Day Time Forgets

By Marcy Barthelette

The maker of the stars would rather die for you than live without you. Max Lucado

Only silence could be heard from the tomb but they hadn’t long to wait. It was Saturday of Holy Week. The Last Supper had been served, the betrayal was complete, the suffering of the cross had ended and the body was buried quickly in honor of the Sabbath. Yet only silence is heard. There are no accounts of how the mourners spent that day or of the crowds that had surrounded Jesus before his death. We don’t know how they spent Holy Saturday. It’s a day that seems lost to time.

I wonder where we would have found Barabbas on a Saturday he didn’t expect to see. Did he wonder about the man who died in his place? Did he ever realize what had happened on that day or did he continue his life of crime?

Where did Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother, Mary, go to mourn, and did they seek solitude or comfort one another?

What of the disciples? Did they begin to realize the impact of Jesus’ gift to all mankind or did they secretly gather in groups to share their doubts and questions? They’d been at his side for three years when he accepted that cross, yet they still knew so little of who he really was.

I put all my hope in the Lord. He leaned down to me; he listened to my cry for help. He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied my legs. Psalm 40:1-2

For years, my husband has wondered about what Jesus was doing in the tomb. He has spent a fair amount of time contemplating the possibilities. Was he pacing with the anxiety of the coming day when he would rise again? Was he busy planning a huge celebration? Was he resting to regain his strength from the unimaginable rigors of the torture and crucifixion? Like everything about Holy Saturday, we will be left contemplating.

Instead of questioning the happenings in Jesus’ day, perhaps we would do well to use that time to search deeply within ourselves. Holy Week is a potpourri of emotions, ranging from exhilaration to despair and then to forgiveness and unending hope. Saturday is a quiet time to breathe, inhale the stillness and accept the gift offered to each of us. We didn’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it, but it’s ours. Breathe deeply in the scent of the living Jesus. Let Him illumine your candle to light our dark world.

There is treasure to be found in the sacred space that comes as you breathe in that place of quiet surrender. Don’t rush through the space called “Between.” Katherine Walden

Over the years of my life, it seems more often than not that winter doesn’t begin to release its hold and give way to spring until we endure the pain of the cross. If all is right in our world, Easter should dawn brilliantly to usher in the newness of spring because the resurrection has come. But here’s the thing: we must accept the pain and promise of the cross before springtime can enter our hearts. Have we truly come to grips with the significance of the cross?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Carry the cross for Him this week and rest in the quiet peace of Saturday so you’ll be ready for the celebration of a glorious Easter! Happy Easter, everyone!

Dear lord, I will lift the cup of salvation heavenward this Easter. Thank you for filling it with Jesus. Amen
. Andi Lehman, Society Of Saint Andrew Lenten Devotions 

 


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Welcome to the Neighborhood

By Marcy Barthelette

Let God move into your neighborhood—so you can move on in every area of your life.

Christine Caine, Unshakable

That house next door has been sitting vacant for a few months now. Real estate agents have shown it a number of times to prospective buyers but no sale has happened to date. Lots of questions come to mind when we find ourselves wondering who the next homeowner will be or if the current owner will eventually give up trying to sell and decide to rent the home instead. When a car parks in the driveway, it’s natural to peer out the window to see who might be looking. Is it a young family with active children or empty nesters just getting started on the next phase of life’s journey? Perhaps it’s a retired couple wanting to just enjoy those “golden years.” Maybe it’s a single parent with a whole passel of kids. Are there any pets waiting impatiently in the car? And here’s one for you….is it someone with long hair, a scruffy beard and a flowing robe with sandals on his feet? No, I’m not talking about a 1970s hippie. I’m asking what you’d think if you saw Jesus, the Son of God, looking at that house next door? What thoughts would rush to your mind if you learned that He just might be your new neighbor?

Would you be ecstatic at the thought of living right next door to Him? Would you rush to make a casserole and some brownies to take over as a neighborly welcome? Would you plan a party and invite the whole neighborhood to meet Him? Would you gladly invite Him into your home, offer Him a cup of hot coffee or a cold glass of lemonade and share a conversation with Him?

Or would you move away from the window, hoping He didn’t see you? Would you hide away in your home so that you wouldn’t need to confront Him? Would you worry that your house wasn’t big enough or fancy enough or clean enough to entertain Him? Did the supplies in your kitchen seem inappropriate to serve someone of His stature? Are your clothes not nice enough, the kids not well-enough behaved or would you be just plain worried that you couldn’t measure up to His expectations?

If you’re thinking any of these negative thoughts, you’ve been talking to the wrong people, reading the wrong books, and traveling down the wrong road. Imagine that house next door is really your heart and Jesus is contemplating what it would be like to dwell there. Imagine the miracles of every size and nature that could potentially become an everyday part of your life. Imagine the unimaginable beauty of His forgiveness and grace. Imagine a future where He has your back in every situation. And then ask yourself, whose child am I?

A thousand years from now, will it matter what title the world gave you? No, but it will make a literal hell of a difference whose child you are. Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven

Next week is Holy Week. On Sunday, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. In the early part of the week, we’ll see Him chasing out money-changers from the temple and being questioned by religious leaders. On Thursday, we’ll observe The Last Supper, setting the stage for all that is to follow. On Friday, the dark hours of betrayal, torture, and crucifixion will consume our thoughts. No one knew then what was to come on Sunday, but we do. He tried to tell His closest friends and followers but they didn’t understand. We have the benefit of hindsight, but the question remains; will we live our days responding to the cultural noise and chaos surrounding us or will we welcome into our neighborhood and our hearts the One whose promises have true meaning? Will we recall the words of our praise band last Sunday as they sang; “Your love is so much sweeter than anything I’ve tasted, I want to know your heart.”

It’s a good time to consider how we want to live out our days here on earth because the decision we make determines how we spend eternity.  

The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14 MSG


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Look Out Mr. Robin

By Marcy Barthelette

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life …..Matthew 6:25

BAM! There he is again. It’s a common sound at our house in early spring. The male robins are making their presence known. It’s a well-known fact that when male birds see their reflection during mating season, they will likely attack the perceived intruder. Now Ken says that the spring-cleaned glass is just a tempting invitation into our living room, but whatever his reason, the robin certainly gets our attention when he bags against the glass. So far, there have been no broken windows, but we’ve seen a few birds walking funny and probably nursing a giant headache.

We’ve always been told that robins go away for the winter and that when they return, we can count on spring being just around the corner. It is true, they are somewhat migratory, but many stay flocked together in nearby wooded areas where they are able to forage for winter’s treasure trove of dried berries and seeds. When the temperature hits the upper thirties, they emerge again, making people think they’ve traveled a long way for a warmer winter season. In truth, they handle the cold quite well and that upper-thirties temperature motivates their favorite food to spring into action. Robins favor earthworms over just about anything in your yard so if your soil supports earthworms, the robins will be there too.

Once the hunt for worms begins, the robin turns its thoughts to nesting and when mates have been chosen, three to five eggs are laid in a nest made of mud, grass, and sticks. They love the long slender dried daylily leaves left in my beds from the previous summer. They nest in very open areas, yet while the trees are still bare, they seem to favor that small, protected area just above our downspouts. We’d much rather they nest in the trees where they belong and our yard has ample trees, so Ken tears down the nests almost daily to keep them from laying eggs there. He doesn’t want to disturb the nest once eggs are laid so he must be persistent to stay ahead of the robins.

They eventually get the message, head for the trees and we’ll have several nests during the season for each adult pair will raise two or three broods and they don’t re-use a nest. Eggs hatch in fourteen days and the offspring will fledge in another fourteen days, though a little help from mom and dad is still appreciated. The female bird tends the babies while the dad keeps a close watch on the skies for predators who will gladly make a meal of the baby robins and sometimes even the adult birds become prey to a larger bird. The male and female robin will remain monogamous for the summer season and, because robins often return to a successful breeding ground, sometimes they remain together for another summer. They do not, however, mate for life. While some birds may live to a ripe old age, in general, the population of a flock turns over about every six years.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your lives? Matthew 6:26

So why all this talk about robins? Well, robins act instinctually and don’t spend their time worrying about “things.” When the earth is warm enough for worms to become active, instinct kicks in and the robins begin their search for food. God has provided berries and seeds for them to survive the cold winter and now he beckons them to the fresh meat that slithers underground. He provides nesting material and new babies to care for as soon as a breath of spring arrives. And the adult robins, well, they just keep doing what robins have always done. So why can’t we take a lesson from them? Why do we continue to worry about everything? Where is our faith in the one who created us in His own image?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33 


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Tapping the Source

By Marcy Barthelette

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 CEB

Buds are swelling, birds are singing, and tiny sprouts are nosing upward. The promise of spring fills the senses. All creatures are aware and on the move. A few weeks ago, the sugar maple trees of Missouri, yes, we have them, were waking to their hope for spring. When our temperature ranges below freezing at night and above freezing by day, Missourians find their optimal opportunity for tapping the maples for their sap and turning the resulting liquid into a tempting delicacy, maple syrup. My husband can share tales of his experience tapping trees and making syrup in north Missouri some years ago. Let’s just say, they were successful in the end, but they did require a little help from a professional who had all the right equipment.

It’s a little late for us to expect our maples to produce but in New England, where the sugar maple is the royalty of their tree population, both for the syrup produced in spring and the dazzling colors that bring fall leaf peepers in droves, the time to tap is between late February and early April.

Maple syrup is a major export for our New England states and, while Vermont is most closely associated with its production, other states look forward to late winter as the birth of a new sugaring season. It’s a tradition that dates back to colonial settlement.

The greater the range between the daily low and high temperatures, the better the sap flows from the sugar maple. New Englanders like to see the overnight low still in the twenties and the daytime high reaching forty degrees. Excitement builds as supplies are gathered, the trees are selected and drilling begins in preparation for the taps. The exercise of sugar mapling is not for the faint-hearted  or the impatient. Many taps must be properly installed and they require regular monitoring. When buckets or other containers are filled, they must be emptied into larger storage containers and then the liquid must be cooked down before it spoils. Cooking is a lengthy process and this is where the patience comes in. Most of it is done outside over a wood fire, your kitchen is not the best place for this messy job. And you know the old story about the watched pot never boiling, well, this pot must be watched carefully. It’s actually a long shallow box harboring contents that must be kept at a specific level and specific temperature until reaching that exact moment on the road to becoming syrup. Then the liquid must be transferred to smaller, more manageable pots that can finish off the process more efficiently. And just to give you an idea regarding the size of this operation, most sources agree it will require an average of about thirty gallons of raw sap to make just one gallon of that fine maple syrup so many folks enjoy.

If the anticipation of all that sweetness has you wanting to try the process for yourself, start early for next year’s season. Check first with the Missouri Department of Conservation for all the rules here in Missouri and for helpful tips to get the job done correctly and with decent results. Collect all your materials and be ready to go in mid to late February, whenever old man winter starts loosing its grip. Make it a family affair but just remember, you must be a hearty soul to go out into the cold of late winter to tap trees, collect countless buckets of sap and cook down syrup over a wood fire, so if that isn’t your thing, go online and order that good old Vermont maple syrup mailed directly to your door and let someone else “enjoy” the process.

Our trees are an incredible gift that, if you pay close attention to their swelling buds, offer the first promises of spring. They provide continuous beauty and shade in summer and their jewel tones of autumn are breathtaking. Winter is their time of rest but all the while they lay in wait, they are preparing to begin the process all over again. When it seems nothing is happening, the trees have secrets going on beneath their bark that we can’t see. Aren’t we a lot like that as well? Don’t we tend to hide our talents and abilities under the guise of not being enough?

But we have a personal source we can tap for strength and comfort whenever we need. The only rules are that we try to live as He has instructed us to live and keep in touch with Him on a regular basis. He’ll provide the tools to get the job done if it’s a job that He is asking us to do.

So whether or not you choose to include tapping maple trees as part of your future, return daily to the only source of soul comfort and tap it generously.

Look to the Lord for his strength; seek his face always. I Chronicles 16:11


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Bridges…Scary or Comforting?

By Marcy Barthelette

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. I Peter 5:7

I have a confession to make. I am afraid of heights and I’ve missed out on any number of opportunities over my life because of my

 paranoia. In my defense, I have quite a bit of company. According to studies, between three and five percent of the world’s population suffers from some level of acrophobia, an intense fear of situations that involve heights.

My family can attest that I fall within that description. When Ken and I visited the Statue of Liberty, I had to stop at the mezzanine level because I nearly hyperventilated going up the first set of stairs. In Gatlinburg, TN, Ken, and the kids decided we should ride the cable car up the mountainside. I objected strenuously but finally decided to try it. When we launched off the platform, Ken was certain I was going into cardiac arrest. And worst of all, my whole family loves roller coasters, but I stand by and watch. No one is going to talk me into that.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath you are the everlasting arms

Deuteronomy 33:27a

 

My fear of heights spreads into another area that gets a little sticky as we travel. Obviously, when traversing the country, from time to time, we encounter a bridge. Some are very high, some are very long, and we occasionally find a one-lane terror. The finest example of the one-lane bridge, in my estimation, is the historic Beaver Bridge in Beaver, AR. It is the only open suspension bridge in the state and is on the historic register. Now, this bridge is not high off the water, but it’s only one lane. And even though ARDOT provides good signage, my mind can conjure a host of scenarios in which man can make a mistake and if there is a car coming toward you, there is no place to go except to back up and hope there is no one behind you. So, despite its amazing beauty and historic significance, I’d rather skip it.

Some years ago, I visited Royal Gorge—now that is a very high bridge in Colorado. In fact, it’s the highest suspension bridge in the US and it’s for pedestrians only. I couldn’t even have a car under me to make a fast exit. The floor consists of 1292 wooden planks atop a steel frame, so I’m imagining rickety and rattling. It was one of those days when I was feeling extra adventurous and decided to give it a try. I stayed dead center of the bridge floor and did not look down and I actually walked halfway across, did a 180, and walked back quickly. And then my rubbery legs nearly collapsed under me. But I made it!

Last but certainly not least are two bridges near Cairo, IL, one spans the Mississippi, and the other crosses the Ohio River. Those are two big rivers, two tall bridges with long approaches, and lots of muddy, churning water beneath. When we plan a trip east, my first thought is can we possibly avoid those bridges and, if not, can I survive another crossing? So far, we’ve been lucky or blessed.

Obviously, most of us would prefer not to return to the days of fording rivers with a horse and wagon, nor would wait for a ferry to appeal to the masses of people traveling from Point A to Point B on any given day. Therefore, we need bridges to carry us across bodies of water and because I love to see interesting and beautiful places all over our country, I’ve had to learn to cope with my fears. The more exposure I have, the less fear I experience.

There is one bridge that doesn’t frighten me. It gives me comfort and hope. That bridge is named Jesus. Before His birth, no one could speak to God except the holy men, the priests. But on that day when Jesus died, the curtain between God and man was torn in half, no more intercessors were needed. We were offered a one-on-one relationship, conversations on a first-name basis. It’s a long and sometimes tumultuous journey through this life and we sometimes lose our way.

 

Remember. It is man who creates the distance. It is Jesus who builds the bridge.

God Came Near— In the Manger

When we find ourselves over treacherous waters, we need a reliable bridge to get us to the other side, one that offers comfort and doesn’t instill fear. Come on along, let’s take a journey together on that bridge, but don’t try and drag me on any roller coasters, because I’m just not going!

As our praise band sang so eloquently last Sunday morning:

I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God! 

Except where roller coasters, and sometimes bridges, are concerned! Surely, He understands.


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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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