Don’t Judge a Book (or anything) by its Cover

By Marcy Barthelette

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Revelation 21:5

Ken found it atop a stump outside the building that housed maintenance vehicles and equipment at the district office he worked out of in central Florida. It was a puny little thing with only two or three leaves remaining, but he brought it home to me anyway. After all, we lived in the sunshine state and I had a pretty impressive green thumb, so why not give it a try?

I took one look and instantly wondered what this typically intelligent husband of mine must have been thinking but then I remembered, with gratefulness, that tender side of him that never wants to give up on anything that demonstrates even a hint of life remaining. He likes to pick through trash to find small appliances that can be refurbished and put back into productivity. And he can’t pass by a discarded mower or trimmer that someone has left at the curb with a “Free” sign attached. He never fails to pick up nuts, bolts, screws, washers, or other pieces of metal from the streets, and his perseverance has saved us in many situations when we needed just the right piece of precious metal that he found tucked away in a jar right where he’d stored it.

He doesn’t give up on people either, especially kids. Just before we moved to Florida, he had spent a year working as a teaching assistant. Many hours were devoted daily to very repetitive work with children who had learning problems. Ken is not trained in special education, but he has a knack for reaching kids who have difficulty learning, many times influenced by environmental challenges. He has the patience to get past the worn clothing, the grimy fingernails, and the attitudes that often accompany a child who isn’t learning properly. He shows them respect and finds inventive methods for stimulating an interest in learning.

I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen

to be within the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor,

we’re participating in something truly sacred. Mr. Rogers

At that same time, there was a young boy in our church who didn’t like to read. His family couldn’t afford special tutoring for him and the school he attended hadn’t been able to spark an interest. He liked Ken and they started reading together for a half-hour or so any Sunday that both were available after church. By the time he graduated high school, that young man had turned some corners educationally and was reading much better. As he matured, he decided to go west and live with his dad and he continued to keep in touch with us. Ken insisted that he pay attention to his spelling, punctuation, and capitalization as he wrote. At first, he was reluctant to care. After all, no one was grading him anymore, but then he realized how much it meant to Ken that he treat even a simple email as correctly as he could. He’s married now, has a wife and child, a good job, and a great life in the wide-open country where he is best suited. It helped that someone took an interest in him as a young child who couldn’t read well enough to get through his educational years without some assistance. We treasure his continued friendship today and always look forward to hearing how his life is developing.

Nothing is impossible; the word itself says “I’m possible!” Audrey Hepburn

And that plant, the scraggly one that Ken brought home to me in the spring of that year in Florida. Well, I planted it in a safe space near the foundation of our home, removed any leaves that didn’t survive, watered it, and watched over it daily. By fall, it was two feet tall and before Christmas, it rewarded my efforts by producing twenty-something big, beautiful poinsettia blooms. They really can grow outdoors in the southern half of Florida if you make sure to cover them on the occasional night when the temperature drops to frost level. You see, you just never know what may become of a plant or a person when you take a risk and demonstrate in very real ways that they are a valued and important part of your life and a key piece in the bigger picture surrounds them.

We really can make a difference to the world around us. It will be risky but remember: Christ is within us.

You will never out-dream God. He will give you resources according to your aspirations. He will lead,

protect, bless, and encourage you. Maybe it starts today.  Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel


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Moving Is Not For Sissies

By Marcy Barthelette

It was not your typical dinner table discussion, but with three kids aged 12,14, and 15, dinners were commonly anything but typical. On this particular evening, we had just announced that Ken was transferring to a different park and we would be moving halfway across the state of Missouri. Our lovely daughters were screeching every manner of threat from living with friends to applying for a foster home (they didn’t quite understand the system), anything to avoid leaving their very important friends. Did I mention, we had only moved to this location five months earlier. It stands to reason that if they made “lifelong friends” in their current school, they could do it again in the new school. But they were having none of that. Our son was a bit more reasonable but there was skepticism on his part as well.

Both our girls played volleyball and practice was set to begin at the new school two weeks before our anticipated moving date. To soothe their disappointment at having to go through the agony of relocation, I elected to precede Ken and our son in this move. That meant I had to pack everything in advance and leave the guys with limited resources that would be loaded onto the state’s moving van two weeks later. Then, with countless precious belongings loaded into our relic of a station wagon, the girls and I set out. I think the shocks were bottomed out with our load, so progress was slow, but we arrived and set up housekeeping with our sleeping bags, a microwave, a 13” TV (we had a very weak signal & little time to watch), and enough clothing to get through as long as I could locate a laundromat. Park staff provided a refrigerator that was not in-cabin service at the time and a stove so I could cook a few items with the pots I had brought.

Our oldest would be playing varsity ball, while our youngest was on the JV, necessitating different practice times, one in the morning, the other in the evening. Of course, it was hot in August, so afternoon practice was out of the question. The school was 24 miles, one way. Need I say that I could almost put that old station wagon on autopilot by the time they started classes.

All this happened back in 1987, but that trip and all those practice runs are etched in my mind as clearly as if they happened yesterday. I mention those days because we are often asked to make decisions that impact the people we love in ways that seem negative at the time. Ken and I had been a bit nomadic for a good portion of our lives but kids, especially teens and pre-teens, develop deep bonds which they find amazingly traumatizing to sever. I have little doubt that our decision to accept that relocation has prompted certain patterns in our kids’ lives has been carved out for themselves. They’re all content to stay in one place a lot longer than we were.

But here’s the thing, if we love and support each other and always look to God to get us through these life adventures, He won’t let us down. He’s always there, no matter what our decisions may be and if we make a few less than stellar ones along the way, he’ll set us back on track if we go to Him in prayer and ask.  

With man, it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God. Mark 10:27

And, by the way, by the time school started both girls had found new best friends and had forgotten all of that dinner table drama from a

 a few weeks earlier. We did promise that we would stay in that school district until each of the kids graduated. Our youngest was starting freshman year so we made a nearly four-year commitment. Our next transfer opportunity presented itself a few months before her graduation. Ken accepted that position on the condition that he could remain in residence in the current park until her graduation and manage both parks simultaneously. His supervisor agreed and he spent nearly four months traveling back and forth between duties at the two parks and overseeing the renovation of our new home. Meanwhile, we managed to keep up with senior class activities including Project Grad, choral competitions, and college orientation. It was well worth the effort and we’d repeat it all if given a do-over (and we were thirty-five years younger).

Whether life-altering or not, decisions come with certain challenges, but we can meet them when we place our faith and trust in the one who can do all things.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13


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Half a Bubble Off

By Marcy Barthelette

Construction details have comprised a large part of our lives for the past few years. It began in our own home when we decided to upgrade the shower in our master bath. It appeared to be a very manageable task for the two of us. Ken has considerable experience in plumbing and electrical work plus basic construction knowledge. I am quite adept in the finishing aspects of remodeling and am willing to get dirty in the trenches. However, we started to realize that we were looking at challenges when the measurements of all the basic shower parts had changed through the twenty-something years since our home was built. We trudged on through the reconfiguration of walls that were not square or plumb, the remediation of mold, and considerable insecurities about upgrading old plumbing until finally the shiny new shower was installed and the finishes were complete.

Then came the remodeling of two existing buildings for the Christian County Library, of which Ken has served as a trustee for nearly 13 years. Though he wasn’t physically involved in the upgrades, he kept a watchful eye over all the goings-on and there were plenty of issues to solve, many involving walls that had settled into a state of being unsquared and not plumb. Following those renovations, two new libraries were built from the ground up, and even then, some floors were not completely level, nor do all walls manage to be absolutely square and plumb, even with all the technological advances in construction.

You may have heard the term, “half a bubble off”, which refers to the bubble in levels used to assure that walls are perfectly level and plumb, level referring to the horizontal line and plumb to the vertical aspect. Half a bubble off converts to serious structural problems if one continues to build with only casual respect for that level.

Likewise, if you’re a camper, you probably know that if your trailer or RV is not properly leveled, the refrigerator will not run efficiently nor will water drain properly or other features perform optimally. This can result in costly repairs if ignored over a period of time. Newer and fancier models will do the leveling for you with the touch of a button, but we still have an old-school model that requires manual leveling. When setting up our camper, our goal is to be no more than a quarter bubble off when our level is set in the freezer compartment of the camper refrigerator. When the bubble tells us we are not within tolerance, that means adding leveling blocks under the appropriate wheels until the desired degree of leveling has been achieved.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. 1 Peter 2:5  

There are certainly days when my life feels at least half a bubble off. Even without the difficulties presented by COVID, the accumulation of little annoyances that occur in everyday living can create a mountain of stress and even cause serious health issues. So, just as a construction crew must start by becoming intimately familiar with a detailed set of blueprints, we also need a blueprint for living. We must start with a strong foundation, the Word of God. Then we must add excellent quality building blocks that nurture a straight and true path of faith, love, and servanthood. It is there that we find true peace and joy.

The winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

Matthew 7: 25

We’re getting our little camper outfitted for our first trip in a year and a half, and the excitement is building. Wherever we go throughout this camping season, our camper bubble will stay right in our console, readily available to assure that we are within the proper tolerance to keep everything working properly. As we travel, we’ll also apply our “life level” by praying for safe travel for ourselves and others. We’ll greet our temporary neighbors with the light of God’s love and try to keep smiling even when one of those neighbors gets cranky. And most of all, we’ll truly enjoy the beauty of God’s creations, the human ones in all their various personalities and the natural ones that will comprise the panoramic vista that is our home away from home. Our permanent foundation is the same wherever we may be, and we will strive to add sturdy, level building blocks all along the way.

The Bible is God’s chart for you to steer by, to keep you from the bottom of the sea, and to show you where the harbor is, and how to reach it without running on rocks or bars. Henry Ward Beecher

 

**It’s time, once again, to thank each of you for following my writings. I hope they are God-inspired and that my words may always be His words. If they have helped someone along life’s way, He gets all the credit. Thank you sincerely for your supportive comments, whether posted on the blog, otherwise sent electronically, or offered in person. Each one means so much to me and reaffirms your commitment to Him. We both thank you! Every day, may you feel the loving touch of His hand!

 


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Hop On the Roller Coaster

By Marcy Barthelette

For behold, the winter is past; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11-12

If you’ve lived in Missouri any time at all, you know that our weather tends to be a little tricky! You’ll often hear the words, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for a day (or an hour) and it’s bound to change!” Missouri weather is best described as a roller coaster ride. I live in a family of coaster enthusiasts, so I can certainly identify with that analogy, even though I do not share their enthusiasm about riding coasters.

This past week was an exercise in Missouri weather 101! We were enjoying beautiful spring breezes, the trees were beginning to leaf out, perennials were ready to bloom, and, overnight, we plunged into the deep freeze. Orchard owners, truck farmers, nursery crews, box store garden center associates, and home gardeners everywhere were scurrying to protect tender growth.

I have too much landscape area to cover it all, but I topped several new transplants, as well as the major players at my front door, with pots turned upside down and covered with heavy towels for insulation. And then all I could do was hop on the coaster and take the plunge. Thirty-six hours later, we had seen 2½ inches of snow come and go over a period of about 6 hours. That was a cold shock for all the plants but then the sky cleared, paving the way for that projected freeze. Most of the plants made it through the first night of record cold, and those that had been covered saw no damage. But the second night of below-freezing temperature left some things looking pretty ragged.

Life takes us on some arguably wild coaster rides as well. One day, we may be on top of the world. Our family is well, the job is going great, the offer we made on that new home was accepted. But, a day later, we may get a scary diagnosis, or the boss may inform us of a downsize affecting our livelihood, or something goes awry with that home contract. Countless scenarios can throw that coaster car off its track. The good news is, we are being held in the hands of God. He never promised us life would be an extended celebration, without challenges and free from worry, but He did promise to be right there with us, in the very thick of all our troubles.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 

As for my perennials, the only serious damage occurred to the hydrangeas and an aging azalea. The hydrangeas will make new leaves and provide foliage cover for the hostas, but they probably won’t bloom as a result of their icy setback. The fate of our azalea is still to be determined, but all the others have recovered nicely and are beginning to grow again. The columbines are showing off in all their colorful finery and the iris are ready to burst. The clematis are budding, and all the early and late summer bloomers are looking strong. God surely held his creations in His hands as the unseasonable cold settled over them, and He will carry you through your roller coaster rides too. Just get to know Him, become best friends with Him and He’ll see you through all your deep valleys and celebrate all your mountaintops.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love ….. Zephaniah 3:17


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What Will You Reap?

By Marcy Barthelette

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

I’m sure it was just about this time last year that I was expounding on the topic of dandelion proliferation and here we are again. Ken and I have labored hard each spring to take control of our yard from the yellow menace. Don’t get me wrong, the yellow flowers are lovely and intricate, but the resultant seedheads are nothing but discouraging. They are one of the best illustrations I know of beating all the odds. They can endure extreme weather, heavy foot traffic, animal leavings, and just about anything else. Those seeds are determined with a capital D. They grow in cracks in the sidewalk, in the poorest soil on the planet and they give their very best performance in my landscape beds. We have sprayed and dug and crawled on hands and knees to just pull them out and nothing lasts for long.

This year, for reasons beyond my comprehension, we have taken no dandelion removal actions and they are flourishing. There’s an old saying that we reap what we sow and while we didn’t intentionally scatter those dandelion seeds all over our yard, we may as well have because we did nothing to prevent their dispersion and all of our past hard work is for naught. Hence, we will reap another very undesirable display again in the fall.

Weed the garden of your heart. God’s law is the recipe for a healthy society.

Dandelions are not the only seeds that produce undesirable results. When did you last spread seeds of anger and what came back in return? How often do you sow seeds of distrust and what is your reward? How often do you hide your skills and talents and find yourself facing a blank canvas? How often do you frown and find frowning faces staring back? Have you hoarded your resources and deprived another person of a hot meal to eat or clean water to drink? And what about that new person you just met, will you take the next step to begin a friendship?

There is grace for bad seeds sown.

We sow all kinds of seeds in our everyday lives, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t begin to tap into the possibilities that await just outside my door, starting with those pesky dandelions. We need not let our failures become our downfall. Regardless of the seeds we’ve sown in the past, we can always change the dynamics of our garden. There is no better time than right now to start sowing some really good seeds!

Rock bottom is the best place to find grace. Grace is not appreciated when we’ve

 never failed and ineffective until we admit wrong.

 Quotes are attributed to Dennis Walton, pastor of Crossway Fellowship Church.

 


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Up A Creek

 By Marcy Barthelette

I recall a day many years ago when a friend and I decided to go on a peaceful little float trip. Neither of us had ever been in a canoe but we were young and adventurous, and we had heard about a beautiful stream in south-central Missouri that was a favorite with canoeists, especially in spring and early summer. It’s called Jack’s Fork and it flows into the Current River. Both rivers are known today as the primary streams that comprise the Ozarks National Scenic Riverway.

Most novices would choose the broader, calmer Current River for a first outing, but we were not among the smart ones. When the rivers are running a little high, they can both be a bit challenging, but Jack’s Fork is steeper and more rugged. To our inflated youthful egos, it seemed like a walk in the park. The sun was shining brightly and we had all our supplies well secured. The water was at a nicely elevated early summer level and crystal clear. We bravely pushed off and began our trek.

He said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Mark 4:35b

What a gorgeous day it was to be on the river. There was a new adventure around every bend, and we met every challenge, if not with finesse, at least we made it through without mishap, meaning we stayed upright. We enjoyed our lunch lounging on a gravel bar listening to the gurgling of the water and absorbing the warmth of the sunlight. Could anything be better?

Of course, in those “ancient” days, we had no weather app at our fingertips and, and in that remote river valley, there would probably not have been a signal even if there had been an app. So, as the day progressed and the sun disappeared behind mountains of angry gray clouds, we became a little concerned. When lightning crackled through the valley, our concern became fear and then the sky opened its flood gates. I’ve seen some very heavy rains in my time on this earth, but the rain that afternoon was epic and there we were in the middle of a river in an aluminum canoe. We could choose to press onward though we couldn’t see much beyond the bow of our canoe. We could wait it out on an open gravel bar and present ourselves as open targets for those powerful lightning bolts. Or we could hide under the trees where there was limited protection from the driving rain but a serious chance of being hit by trees splintered apart by that same lightning. None of those choices held much appeal.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

Mark 35:37

I’m sure we must have felt much as the disciples did when they encountered a “furious squall” while sailing across a lake. And can you believe, Jesus was actually sleeping through it all? When, in terror, they woke Him and questioned his concern for their welfare, He simply stilled the waters and asked them why they feared.

He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 35:39-40

 

Don’t we face a multitude of storms in our short lifetimes? And how do we handle those storms? Do we try to push forward on our own strength, or do we turn to the true source of all strength?

Just like the disciples sailing across their lake, we survived our storm on the Jack’s Fork. Obviously, God had plans for us. He has a master plan for each of our lives, we just have to let go of our independent nature and let Him have control.

I’m surprised I ever ventured out in a canoe again, but it became one of my favorite recreational activities. I even spent eight years of my life working and living at a camping resort that specialized in all kinds of river activity. It was the best job I ever had. Oh, yes, there were risks to living near an Ozarks stream, but the benefits greatly outweighed those risks. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

And let’s not forget the point of this little tale. The storms of life can creep up on us unaware just as that approaching storm was hidden from view by the steep bluffs of the river valley. My friend and I were loudly reminded of one very important lesson that day on the Jack’s Fork. When the storms of life find you up a creek, with or without a paddle, invite Jesus into the boat with you. He’ll get you safely to the other side.


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Come Just as You Are

By: Marcy Barthelette

Easter won’t really come for me until I know that every day, in all my comings and goings,

the Christ of Easter is present in my life. Kenneth Chafin, author

As I write, it is still Easter in my heart, and Easter, for me, equates to springtime and new beginnings. Now that the days are longer, I can savor the warmth of the sun and revel in the beauty of tulips and daffodils and blooming trees. The birds share my joy in the sights and sounds of spring as they contemplate where to build a nest and raise a family. Squirrels are busy retrieving acorns from last year’s stashes and bunnies chase each other around the yard with little regard for human presence.

There are a few neighboring kids out playing and I hear the occasional lawnmower or weed-eater, but our street is relatively quiet today. In other words, life is really pretty normal, all things considered. Except, that is, the reason we celebrate the season just ended. Jesus was born in a cave in Bethlehem and some thirty-three years later, he was laid to rest in another cave in Jerusalem. It seems he leads a very ordinary life until he was thirty, but those last three years were just one unending series of miracles. Even when the tide of opinion turned, a miracle was still very much in the making, a miracle that held the potential of offering eternity to each and every person on earth.

This past Sunday, if you attended the 11:11 service at Aldersgate, either in person or virtually, you witnessed the baptism of two young girls. Their joy and excitement were evident as they publicly answered Jesus’ knock on the door of their hearts. A new journey was birthed in them.

Next Sunday, I will have the privilege of watching my granddaughter celebrate her decision to follow Jesus and I am grateful for the technology that allows me to be a part of that moment in these times when crowded places are still a risk. Rachel has grown up in church. Since she was first born, she has been surrounded by loving people who have nurtured a love of God in her. To hear her say that she gave her heart to Jesus touched my heart deeply, but it was no surprise. However, her journey through this world will be no less fraught with temptations than a child who has not known that love.

You may recall that Jesus’ own disciples had given up on Him. They thought he was dead and that all His promises had been just empty rhetoric. They were so wrapped up in their own grief they didn’t recognize Him as He walked alongside them. They were eventually enlightened and celebrated His resurrection. But if His closest friends could doubt Him, even for a brief moment in time, where does that leave us?

We all live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We are on the

long Emmaus Road journey together. Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Cross

The miracle of Easter is that God’s love and forgiveness are available to everyone because Jesus hung on a cruel cross and died. We know the story didn’t end there on that cross or even in a borrowed grave. As promised over ages of time, He was resurrected on the third day, promising life to all who would hear Him and accept His will in their lives. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, there is still hope. We only have to put aside the ways of this world and follow Him.

One of my recent devotional readings told of a tiny baby offered in baptism on Easter morning. She made no sound of a   complaint as the water touched her head and when the sacrament was completed, the minister carried her to a flower-draped cross and lifted her high. Could there be a better expression of the Easter promise than the dedication of a tiny new life to His care?

So think about your life, wherever you happen to be. Come to Jesus just as you are. He is waiting for you.

Father, we thank you the tomb is still empty because Jesus is alive today. Let faith rise to banish our

fears. May those who doubt, doubt no more.  Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Cross


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Easter Flowers

By: Marcy Barthelette 

You’ll see them scattered in cleared areas or in woodlands, in seemingly deserted places along rural roadsides. We call them daffodils, but the locals in many small communities know them as “Easter flowers”.

 Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come… Song of Songs 2:12a

They may appear to be growing there naturally, but in truth, they were planted, probably many years earlier, by settlers entering the Ozarks from the eastern communities they left behind. These hardy adventurers brought the equally hardy bulbs with them and scattered them around their new homeland. Daffodils are very long-lived and also quite prolific, so mounds of them may cover the ruins of a barn long since fallen and now rotting to nourish the soil. Or they may outline the memory of the front porch of a cabin that has turned to dust. Wherever you find them, they are an indication that someone once lived there and that someone cared enough to bring beauty with them to a new home. Daffodils can flourish without human care for a hundred years or more, so the next time you see them in a place that looks for all the world like the middle of nowhere, ask yourself about the folks who once called that land home.

I have my own daffodil story. On April 7, some 37 years ago, I had been adding the final touches in the church where our wedding was to take place. We lived in a remote area where there were few specialized services and we certainly didn’t have a wedding planner or an unlimited budget. The two of us had pulled together all the details. I had just finished working with flowers that I’d obtained in a nearby town when Ken walked into the church with armloads of fresh daffodils that he had gathered from an unused residence at the park where he was assigned. What a lovely surprise my soon-to-be husband offered that day! I had been busy with final details and hadn’t noticed the swollen buds, but Ken had kept a watchful eye on them, praying their blooms would open at the optimum time and they did. We scattered daffodils down the center of every table in the fellowship hall where our reception would be held and throughout the sanctuary. That church was alive with bright yellow daffodils and it was beautiful, a precious gift of springtime.

Though it begins in the dark, cold days of winter, the season of Lent culminates in the promise of spring, of new life, and therein lies the symbolism of our Easter celebration. Since we began our Lenten journey, we have traveled with Jesus from His birth to the unfolding of Holy Week. We saw Him transfigured; we’ve celebrated some of the stories of His human life. We’ve learned that our true identity is in Him and we’ve accepted the importance of inviting Him to dwell within our house. We’ve cheered with the crowds who welcomed Him to Jerusalem and even applauded when he scattered the money changers and all those involved in evil dealings from the temple. We questioned, as did Peter, why the master should stoop to do a servant’s duty, washing (our) dirty feet.

And by mid-week we see a trusted friend and disciple betray Him for a few coins, we witness many of the same people who cheered His arrival in Jerusalem just days ago now clamoring for His death. We humans are very fickle beings, and a few carefully placed agitators can turn the tide of opinion very quickly. It happened to Jesus and it can happen in any situation. We see it all too often. We must guard our hearts and minds from doubts raised by unbelievers.

Our God lives and He sent His Son to give life to each of us. We know the truth. He bore the humiliation. He endured the pain. He allowed himself to be nailed to a cruel cross and died a horrific human death. He took upon himself every sin that had ever been committed or ever would be. He, who was totally without sin, bore every sin. He bore mine and He bore yours. Every time we have raised our hammer to drive in the nail, He has offered grace. He has offered forgiveness. He has offered redemption. He transcended death and offers the same to us. How can we not accept a gift of such incomprehensible proportion?

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Luke 23:34

Those daffodils that graced our tables 37 years ago were a gift from God that signaled a new beginning, a new family being born that day. Like any family, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we have always known God was traveling down that road with us and that we have always been a part of a much larger family.

On this Easter, may we remember that daffodils, Easter flowers, are a sure sign of spring. And spring brings with it all the earmarks of a new beginning. Jesus died and rose again to prove His love for us and to offer us the promise of a new beginning, a clean slate. The question before each of us is this: How do we receive that gift?

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the

sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the

spring rains that water the earth. Hosea 6:3

 

 And my answer to Him comes in the words of a beloved old song that says it all so eloquently, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”


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Please Wash My Grimy Feet

By Marcy Barthelette

If asked to choose a favorite place for vacation, I’m hard-pressed to decide between the mountains and the beach. Each holds a different but very deep fascination for me. Today I’m in a beachy frame of mind, perhaps inspired by our very cold winter blast. I’m particularly attracted to the white sugary sands and shimmering turquoise water found on the gulf coast. The car is barely parked before my flip flops are discarded and my toes are dipping in the warm sand. I can walk for miles with my feet in the surf, the waves continuously rolling to shore and then subsiding. The relentless ebb and flow calm my soul like nothing else can. I think God gave me this gift to show me just how constant his love is.

The breakers tumble some distance out from shore and then flow in carrying all kinds of treasures, abandoned shells, polished chunks of colored glass, sand smoothed driftwood, and countless other objects. As the waves pull away from the shore, tiny crabs are uncovered and scramble to bury themselves before a shorebird scoops them up for lunch. And hermit crabs scurry across the dry sand toward their holes hoping to avoid a similar fate.

The little sandpipers scramble back and forth with the ebb and flow. They crave the tiny morsels that surface with wave action, but they just don’t like to get their feet wet. Seagulls fly overhead begging for a handout and I truly love watching the pelicans dive for a fish. They fly just above the surface and when they spot a likely meal, they dive with such force you would think their giant beaks would break. But they surface and stretch their necks up high to swallow their catch whole before resting on the surf. On a lucky day, I may gaze over the water to find dolphins jumping a bit offshore, feeding on a school of something that was carried with the current. There’s always something to see and learn about. While the tidal patterns are constant, they offer up an endless variety of creatures and treasures to study and enjoy.

All too soon, the time always comes when I must traipse back across the dry sand dunes with wet feet and reclaim my flip-flops. And this is the bad part. It’s hard enough to leave that beautiful shore but now my feet are covered in sand and I can hardly wait to find one of the many sprinklers provided in parks and at hotels for washing dirty feet.

Jesus came to a world of dirty feet! Our journey through life is much dirtier than we think.
Ray Pritchard

So isn’t it easy to understand that trudging through desert sand in open sandals must leave one’s feet feeling really grimy? In Jesus’ day, it was custom to always wash the feet when entering a home and where servants were present, they did the washing. But when Jesus wrapped the towel around himself and knelt to wash the dirty feet of his disciples, they didn’t understand this breach of protocol. Masters never stooped to such menial tasks, but Jesus did. We all know that Peter objected, as was a common reaction for him, but Jesus explained that if one had a bath in the morning, only the feet needed to be cleansed at the close of day.

A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet. John 13:10

As was usual for our teacher, Jesus, his explanations were sometimes quite confusing. But I think this one is simple to grasp. When we are baptized, we are bathed completely and our sins are washed away, but each day we walk through our world in “sandaled feet” where all manner of dirt and grime tries to grab hold of us. By end of the day, our bodies and minds need to be cleansed of that daily layer of filth. We need to come to God and accept responsibility for the mistakes we have made during that day. Our feet need to be washed. And doesn’t it feel good to place your feet in warm water when they’re really tired, grungy, and aching? 

If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet.
John 13:14 CEB

Likewise, if He has been willing to cleanse away all our grime — wash our feet — shouldn’t we be willing to forgive others for the “grime” in their lives — wash their feet?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your blood that washes my sin away. I ask you to wash my dirty feet so
I might walk closely with you today. Amen. (Faces Around the Cross, Ray Pritchard)


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March Madness

By Marcy Barthelette

A close friend of ours is an enthusiastic fan of collegiate basketball. Thus, she gets a little absorbed at this time of year in the phenomenon known as March Madness. Her now-deceased husband coached junior high and freshman basketball and they, as a couple, developed a keen love of the sport and enjoyed teaching kids the fundamentals on which to build a future, both on the court and off. His position required countless scouting trips and they were known to have watched as many as 200 games in different cities during any given year.

 

Our friend grew up in Wisconsin and has a condo there. She has spent summers there for a number of years and goes back south in the winter. Last year she flew up in March to share some exciting B-ball with her sister, also an avid fan. But guess what? COVID came calling, the tournament was canceled, and she ended up staying in Wisconsin until just before Christmas. She’s staying with her son’s family at present and gearing up to watch non-stop games for the duration of this year’s NCAA tournament. It still won’t be the same as those days she spent sharing the fun with her sister, but at least the games will be played.

I’m sure there are many fans among you who will also be watching and offering your unsolicited opinions regarding players, coaches, and referees and I hope you all have a great time.

This was a time when there may have been a little March Madness going on in Jesus’ day. I seem to recall a visit he made to the temple and upon finding it overtaken by opportunists, he unleashed a display of uncharacteristic anger toward the men we refer to as money changers. Why were they there and why did He become so angry?

Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple.

He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. Matthew 21:12

It had already been a busy week. Jesus and his disciples had enjoyed a hearty meal in Bethany and been met by throngs of followers, cheering and laying palms at his feet upon his entry to Jerusalem. After a time of rest, he made his way to the temple complex where huge crowds of Jews were gathering to celebrate Passover. As was the custom in those days before Jesus’ death laid the groundwork for direct communication with God, worshipers sacrificed animals as a release from their sin. People had traveled to Jerusalem from many neighboring nations and needed to purchase animals to offer in sacrifice. Thus, the city streets and temple complex teemed with merchants seeking to make their living selling those animals and anxious travelers ready to buy them. Those from foreign countries also needed the proper currency with which to shop so they turned to the money changers, much as we would seek proper currency through customs officials when entering a foreign country.

Keep in mind that all of this is happening in God’s house and on the grounds surrounding it. All were guilty; the buyers who created a demand for sacrificial animals, the sellers who provided them, and the currency specialists who made the transactions possible.

 They had turned the temple from a house of prayer into a noisy, money-grubbing circus.

(Faces Around the Cross, Ray Pritchard)

Jesus was incensed and had to do something to eliminate the “madness”. His violent reaction goes completely against his gentle character and yet, sometimes it is necessary to clean house. He did what he had to do. His anger drove the evil-doers away and as quickly as it had begun, the temple became a place of prayer and learning once again. Jesus’ anger subsided and he immediately began to teach those left behind.

And He was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you

 have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17

  
We all need to do a little house cleaning from time to time. That might require a certain amount of righteous anger or tough love, emotions we try to avoid. Sometimes they are needed, but the key is to offer guidance with love. Jesus did just that. When discipline was required, he was right on top of it. But he always followed it with loving kindness and a fruit-filled teaching opportunity, even as far as the lesson of the cross.

A plaque at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. contains this quote from Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Good words to ponder as we journey with Jesus to the cross. Are we bystanders as life passes by? Or will we care enough in Jesus’ name to get involved? (Faces Around the Cross, Ray Pritchard)


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