Keeper of the Flock

By Marcy Barthelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the journey of the shepherds next week….


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A Happening in Bethlehem

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

Next week, shepherds hear the news….


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Another Angel Encounter

By Marcy Barthelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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An Encounter with an Angel

By Marcy Barthlette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Two Simple Words

By Marcy Barthelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max Lucado, In the eye of the Storm

 

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

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


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Winter’s Gift

By Marcy Barthelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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If You Must Criticize

By Marcy Barthelette

“The truth hurts,” but not so much when offered in love.

My husband never meets a stranger. He perfectly illustrates the old saying, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.” In fact, recently we were camping with our daughter’s family and were ready to take dinner from grill to table when we realized Ken wasn’t there. Our granddaughter quickly pointed out that he was talking with strangers again, so we promptly sent her to the neighboring site to retrieve him. No matter where we go, Ken can always find someone to chat with for a while. He has such a reputation that when we see a conversation beginning, the rest of us groan and roll our eyes, knowing that whatever we happen to be doing will be delayed for a while.

All that talking and listening has equipped him with valuable insights about the people around him. During his state park career, he made a point of learning about the people who worked in each of the facilities he served. Maintenance and office staff typically worked in the park nearest their home and those staff members knew their park, but Ken didn’t. The superintendent was often the new kid on the block, so it was important to listen to his staff in order to make himself aware of their specific skills and also any family issues that might need to be respected. The information they offered helped all of them to work more efficiently. He also made a point of inquiring as to their hobbies because things they loved to do in their leisure time could lead them to being placed in a role that no one even knew they possessed the skills for. I know few people who are able to assess an emergency better than Ken and then react in a way that will facilitate a better outcome for everyone involved. His ability to methodically assess conditions and predict how an individual may react to situations has served him and others very well. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years about preventive behavior.

One of the most rewarding parts of his position in parks was to guide summer youth workers coming to the parks through government programs. Many of them had little guidance at home and limited opportunity to interact with adults outside the home. He enjoyed watching them grow under his leadership and at the end of every summer, each participant was required to attend a mock interview to help prepare them for a very competitive workplace. He scored them on everything from appearance to language and use of vocabulary. He taught them the things that didn’t elicit a positive response from the potential employer as well as what was typically expected from an interview. He helped them understand how to greet the interviewer confidently and dress effectively for a good initial impression. They learned that the brand on your clothing was much less important than cleanliness, a good appearance, and a positive attitude. Believe me, some of them came to the interview requiring abundant constructive criticism and Ken delivered it with care.

Some of us are reluctant to accept constructive criticism and I often find myself included in that group. Sometimes we react differently when a spouse offers criticism as opposed to a friend or a total stranger. But it’s important that we employ the same skills we use on the job to the family and friends relationships in our lives. It’s often easier to listen politely to a stranger than to patiently hear what a person close to us has to say about our job production or personal behavior.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. I Thessalonians 5:11

That’s where Ken shines. When someone is struggling with an assigned task, he takes the time to look at every angle, to consider which skills a person has that might better qualify him or her for a new position, one in which success would be more likely than in the job currently held. He then opens the conversation with kindness and praise for the good things the person has accomplished and offers options to move the person into a new position that could lead to greater satisfaction for everyone in the workplace. All of us are more likely to respond to criticism positively when we feel respected and appreciated. The same principles apply to both work and personal environments. They even extend to volunteer programs in churches, schools, parks, etc. The next time you find yourself wondering what to say when someone needs correction, think first about ways to build that person up and not tear them down. If you must criticize, do so in love.

Before you speak the truth in love, consider where a person seems to shine, what gifts he or she can bring to the job (or family). Be ready to present options that will maximize the individual’s potential and expand God’s kingdom.
Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

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When God Says No

By Marcy Barthelette

I say this because I know what I am planning for you. I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future. Jeremiah 29:11 New Century Version, NCV

It was probably sometime in 1986 when our kids were experiencing those tumultuous teen years that we decided it was in their best interests to relocate. Understand, we didn’t ask their opinion. Ken and I simply decided that if they chose to pursue a college education, it would be beneficial to live in a school district that offered more in the way of preparation than the tiny district they had called home for several of the more important years of their lives, at least in their opinions.

At that time, we called one of the most beautiful settings in all of Missouri our home. Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park offers the crystal clear waters of the East fork of the Black River tumbling over giant Precambrian boulders and creating a myriad of pools that delight swimmers of all ages. Nature’s water slides outshine anything man has ever created for water recreation. Beautiful hillsides surround the stream and beckon the adventurous genes in every experienced or would-be hiker. The park boasts an enormous bounty of wildflowers and wildlife, many found only there or in very few places. Its very unique ecosystem is studied by scientists and nature lovers from far and wide. We had all flourished in this environment but it seemed to be our time to move on.

And so, the interview process began, and Ken felt really confident that he had this move in the bag. He had spent four years at the Shut-ins, a long time for a superintendent to stay in one place back then, and he was a good friend of the District Supervisor for the intended new assignment. But guess what … the answer was no. We were devastated! In hindsight, we realized that park was not a location we really wanted but we carried around our disappointment like a badge of honor until the next opening presented itself and we jumped on that one too. This time the answer was yes but though Ken accomplished a lot during our short stay and learned vital skills for the future, the park was not a good fit for our family and we really began to question our haste in moving. Finally, the superintendent position at Montauk State Park opened. It turned out to be just the right park at the right time. All of our kids graduated from high school during our tenure there. The park provided great part-time jobs for them and they all made good friends, enjoyed the sports program and other extracurricular activities. We loved our time there and always feel as if we’re coming home when we go back for a camping visit.

Sometimes the best things come to us by following a labyrinthine path, one which seems never-ending when we’re in the midst of it. We’ve always felt that God was in control of our moves from place to place, though there were occasions when we momentarily questioned His decisions. In the end, He always knows best and we can save ourselves a lot of grief by accepting His “NO” as just another fork in the road.

If God must choose between your earthly satisfaction and your heavenly salvation, which do you hope he chooses? Max Lucado

God’s ultimate concern is that we hear His calling, accept His will for our lives and live according to His teachings. And that brings us right back to His “gift” of free will. It lies at the core of everything we say and do. Our world offers more temptations than we can begin to count and often they’re disguised so craftily that we just can’t help ourselves. All the glitter around us seems so alluring and just when we’re about to take that dangerous step that could jeopardize our relationship with Him, God decides this is the time to just say “NO. I want my child to really think about this.” When everything is going wrong and you just can’t seem to get back on track, step back a bit and take a good look at what’s happening. Is the decision you are about to make really good for you, or will it just make you more appealing in the eyes of the world? God may be trying to tell you something that will impact everything in your future. It just might be a good idea to pay attention to His “NO.”

Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed. Proverbs 19-21 CEB 

 


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An Appropriate Answer

By Marcy Barthelette

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word at the right time! Proverbs 15:23

We were standing side by side at the pharmacy and she looked totally spent. Our prescriptions weren’t ready and so I opened a conversation with her. She’d been caring non-stop for an ailing husband over a long period of time and felt helpless and exhausted. I tried to lighten her burden with a few moments of friendly dialogue but her weariness was clearly too profound to be affected by the mere conversation. My prescription soon arrived and, as a conversation ender, I told her that I hoped her husband would soon be better. She answered, “That isn’t going to happen.” I’m sure my breath caught for an instant, but the words, “I wish you peace” just rolled off my tongue and, for the first time, she almost smiled. She then thanked me and told me that was exactly what she needed to hear.

I know that response didn’t come from me. I’m the one with no filter on my mouth … no, I don’t swear, but I do often speak without thinking through my responses. Those words had to come from God through me. He used me as a conduit to comfort another person. That was a humbling realization and it made me wonder how many opportunities I had missed because my mind was too busy with other things to let my heart take control.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 NIV

You know how it is, you’re driving down the freeway and a thoughtless driver cuts you off at an exit. The spontaneous reaction is anger and frustration. Maybe you can’t even say an audible word but your actions convey your message quite clearly. Your child comes bouncing in the door after school asking a million questions and begging for a snack but you mentally shove those pleas aside because you’re in the middle of a good book or stressing over something job-related, especially now that so many people are working from home. Your spouse blows through the door, tired and hungry, asking what’s for dinner and your response is something like, “Really? Couldn’t you at least say hello first?”

These situations may seem to pale in comparison to the lady in the pharmacy, but if we address those we care most about with indifference or greet a careless traveler with anger, is it likely that when push comes to shove, we’ll be open to a proper God nudge. If it were only God’s choice, he’d just clean up our hearts and make us responsive to the needs of others. But God’s nudges are a two-way street. He nudges but we have to be ready to absorb that nudge and act on it. I could have said to the woman, “Take care,” and walked away but that nudge was so strong that I had to wish her peace. I had no idea it would produce such a profound effect, but God did. I didn’t even have time to question my response. God knew her need and telegraphed it to my heart. And, wonder of all wonders, I was listening at that moment.

I can only recall a few instances when I felt so strongly after receiving a God nudge, a nano-second impulse, that I simply obeyed. There was no time to question the impulse … I was told exactly what to say and my heart responded. How many more times has He tried but my heart just didn’t hear?

I wish I could say that my lesson was well learned that day and that I have listened to every nudge since, but the truth is I still respond without a filter when a situation or individual catches me off guard. I typically regret my response as soon as it leaves my mouth. I’m going to try and work harder on that particular personality trait. Maybe one day, God will honor me with another important nudge and my heart will be listening. In the meantime, I’ll try and respond to all those around me in a voice that echoes His Word.

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


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Moving Into God’s House

  By Marcy Barthelette

Your potential is the sum of all the possibilities God has for your life. Charles Stanley

I love moving. My history attests to that statement. If my count is right, I have lived in twenty-three different houses, enjoyed one vacation home, and tested many different types of camping equipment. I relish the hunt for a new place, though I confess that I don’t enjoy home purchase closing procedures; they often drain the joy from the process. I delight in drawing blueprints of where my furnishings and accessories will fit into new spaces. The challenge of logistically bringing all the pieces together gets my juices revving. I even enjoy just dreaming about a new place, drawing floorplans, and as I age, I look at ways to make my footprint smaller, live in less space with less stuff, and just enjoy God’s creation all around me. Tiny home living fascinates my imagination and I’ve drawn plans for very small dwellings, challenging myself to find space for all the things I need along with some of my favorite creature comforts, always increasing my living area by incorporating lots of outdoor space.

I’d love to begin the search for a new home today. My mind is definitely up to the challenge but my body may not be as willing to cooperate. So, I’ve been going about the business of making small changes in my current home. Decluttering has been a major goal in recent weeks. We’ve emptied closets and drawers, pantry and laundry room, searching for anything that needs to leave. Those items have been bagged and donated to worthy causes. Then comes the task of finding innovative new ways to store away the things that don’t need to be seen and effectively displaying treasures that offer clues to who we are. In a way, we are moving without changing our physical address. We can attain a feeling of newness without the hassle of packing, unpacking, and dealing with movers. We can create new small areas within our home to accommodate our hobbies and interests and we can improve our outdoor space with new appointments that reflect our love of nature.

Moses prayed: Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Psalm 90:1

Several times recently, I’ve heard it said that we should move into God’s house and I’ve pondered what that would look like. A physical move here on earth involves collecting and filling many boxes and, if needed, contracting a moving company, contacting the Post Office to make the address change, arranging to disconnect one group of utility services and connect another, cleaning and polishing two residences, one for yourself and the other for someone new. We leave a well-used comfortable environment to arrive in unfamiliar surroundings. Yes, we become somewhat familiar with the neighborhood just by spending a few moments here or there during the process, but it takes living in that new home to really get acquainted with it and with the people surrounding us. Familiarity typically equates with comfort, of one sort or another.  What will it be like moving in with God?

I’m asking Yahweh for one thing, [David] wrote, only one thing: to live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty, I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet secure place in a noisy world. Ps. 27:4–5 MSG

How will our new living space look and feel or will there be a designated space at all? Will our bodies require food and water or will there be nobody as we know it? We are told there will be no pain but is that because our bodies no longer exist? We know everything will be different but we’re not sure exactly what that means. So God has given us the opportunity right here on earth to take those first steps toward moving in with Him. He sent His Word to us through believers of the past and He expects us to spend time with the Word in quiet contemplation. He keeps the line of communication always open. We can call upon Him at any hour and expect to be heard. Prayer is such an easy thing and yet we try to make it hard. Just to immerse ourselves in conversation with Him — that’s all He asks. He provides for our needs, not necessarily our wants, but always our absolute needs. Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize the difference. Once again, we return to the inevitable freedom of choice that is a constant in our lives. Will we choose correctly and move into a space that offers comfort from the chaos of the world or will we stumble blindly in the darkness around us, never feeling the hand of God at work in our spirits? Of all the moves we will make in our lifetimes, this is the only one that really matters … this move determines our eternity!

LORD, I love the Temple where you live, where your glory is. PSALM 26:8


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