Mended By the Potter’s Hands

By: Marcy Barthelette

But the Jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Jeremiah 18:4

Sometimes I work for hours on a drawing and it just doesn’t look right. Frustration and doubt creep in. Should I scrap it or keep trying? I hate to throw away the work I’ve already done but I don’t want to waste more time on something that will eventually land in the trash. Decision made! The trash can has a new addition.

No doubt we’ve all embarked on projects that ended in the trash. When I make an error while drawing with ink I can sometimes rethink that portion of the project and cover the mistake without detracting from the final result. Sometimes, however, the error is so very conspicuous that nothing can rescue the work. Ink is permanent and my only recourse is to trash the much-anticipated drawing. That always hurts but is a fact of my chosen medium.

Did you notice in the opening verse, the potter was unhappy with the jar he was turning so he simply crushed it, and with a little manipulation, it was a workable piece of clay again? Who knows how many times a potter crushes his or her work to start over and make something lovely or useful or if they’re very talented, both lovely and useful.

I’ve stood amazed, alongside a potter’s wheel watching as a new creation takes form. And then a subtle shift, a finger touches a weak spot in the wall of the vessel, and a would-be masterpiece slumps on its side. The patient potter collects the clay and works it in his hands until it achieves the form he wants and he begins the process again. I admire how quickly a potter recovers from a disastrous experience at the wheel. But it makes sense, they’ve only lost a little time and, hopefully, learned a lesson or two along the way. A chunk of clay is very forgiving, allowing the potter lots of second chances.

I am not the potter, not the potter’s wheel; is not the value of the shape attained as dependent upon

the intrinsic worth of the clay as upon the wheel and the Master’s skill? Stephen King, The Stand

We, humans, are not unlike that lump of clay, supple and malleable, sculpted by the hands of the Master Potter. Think of the great value God places on you, enough that He is willing to re-sculpt you over and over again to achieve just the masterpiece He wants you to be. That’s a pretty awesome concept.   

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. Psalm 139:14

There is a cherished Japanese art form called kintsugi. I won’t go into great detail about the history of the process (you can read all you want online) but essentially the Japanese word kin means golden and tsugi means to join, together they become a tool with which to beautifully mend a broken treasure. Historically, many of Japanese families’ ceramic wares are passed from generation to generation and when one is broken the family incurs a tremendous loss. Therefore they searched for centuries to find a way to repair their broken pieces of pottery and eventually produced a lacquer similar to modern clear-drying glue. Lacquer in the joints, once applied, must be thoroughly dried before a dusting of silver or gold is then added, tracing each crack and adding to the history of the piece. There is no wish to hide the imperfection but rather to celebrate the flaws as features of natural or organic beauty.

You weren’t a mistake, and you’re not overlooked. You’re known and loved by the most powerful force in the universe.   
(Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel)

You see where this is going. We are all flawed vessels. We’re a mess of cracks and broken pieces. But the Master Creator is able to mend all those flaws, making us new again. It’s a never-ending process until that day when He welcomes us to eternity, a masterpiece created by His own hands.

But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8 CEB


Lessons From An Unexpected Source

By: Marcy Barthlette

He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

We recently returned from a two-week stay in a cabin at Big Cedar Lodge with a good friend. It’s an annual event that we eagerly anticipate. She provides the lodging and we provide transportation and food. It’s a good arrangement for all of us and a great break from the winter doldrums. This year was a little different than past experiences. We typically enjoy quite a few nice days, times when we can be outdoors enjoying all of creation. Sometimes it’s even been warm enough for paddle boating and often we have found ourselves competing against each other on the mini-golf course.  

But this year, old man winter had other ideas. You may recall recent storm warnings of 8-12 inches of snow. We were the bulls eye of that warning band. And, before we had time to recover from all that snow, there were new warnings of multiple rounds of mixed precipitation. I really don’t relish those because they can mean anything from ice to sleet to snow. And that’s pretty much what we got. We were blessed in that our power stayed on and we had ample wood to keep a warm fire going all the time. I felt for the many folks who couldn’t say the same.

But the loveliest blessing of all came in the form of a majestic red-shouldered hawk who chose to perch just feet away from our deck for long periods of time searching for a good meal on the ground below. His total concentration was focused on survival. He sensed a storm was coming and that his body needed solid food in order to stay warm and healthy. He wasn’t bothered by other birds or animals or even distracted by curious humans.

We were fascinated when he turned his head 180° increasing his field of vision. How many times have I wished for eyes in the back of my head? He practiced enormous patience, waiting for just the right morsel. He perched totally still through snow and sleet until that morsel made the mistake of moving beneath the tree. And then, he amazed us with his agility, his quickness to flight when something was sighted. He dived so fast, we almost missed his descent. The poor little critter below didn’t stand a chance.

In the animal world, creatures are driven by the instinct to survive. They must always be alert to their surroundings, whether searching for food or nesting material, being alert to the presence of predators, or sensing when the weather can turn treacherous. I wonder if I exercise the same level of focus and on whom or what do I direct that focus.

If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that too often I dwell on frivolous matters. When a storm threatens, I don’t have to hunt for my food outdoors, I just go to the local grocery store and when they don’t have an item on my list, I obsess over why it isn’t there. When the checkout lane is long, I grumble. When a driver pulls in front of me, I may have a choice word or two to sling her way. In short, my focus is misplaced.

When an item is out of stock, I need to find a replacement. When the line is long, I need to turn to the man behind me carrying only two items while corralling an irate child and let him go ahead of me. And when that woman nearly runs me down in the parking lot, well, maybe it wasn’t really that close, I probably need to remember that she’s in a hurry to stock up too. My total focus should be on emulating Jesus in all I do.

That beautiful bird illustrates some of the qualities Jesus asks us to practice and I don’t mean hunting mice to eat. My hawk friend was unbelievably patient and tolerant of nasty weather. He knew the rules of his game and he persisted until he was successful. He was totally focused on his mission until it was completed. How often can I say the same? Our mission is clear. We have a rule book to follow and we have a helper who will be with us all the time. As far as I know, He probably doesn’t look like a bird, but He will shelter us under His protective wings and provide for our needs.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  
Psalm 91:4   


A Kayaking Odyssey

By: Marcy Barthlette

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Philippians 3:12

A few summers ago, our daughter had acquired an inflatable kayak, easy enough to transport in their camping trailer, and she set out on a little adventure in a state park setting. Our son-in-law and granddaughter dropped her off with definite plans for a pick-up downstream within the anticipated float time. As it turned out, that estimation was based on normal water levels but the stream was quite low at the time. She found herself dragging the kayak more than paddling and who knew how heavy an inflatable kayak could be?

When she had not reached her takeout point two hours after the anticipated arrival, her family became quite concerned. They went back to their campsite to see if maybe she had walked back there while they were away but there was no sign of her presence. The next step was to report her missing to the park ranger’s office, whereupon an all-out missing person search began.

Meanwhile, our daughter had floated into the takeout, a little worse for wear, and went to a truck she thought was theirs but it was not. The folks, however, did get her back to her campsite only to find the rest of the family missing. They soon reappeared and all was well though everyone was pretty tired from all the excitement. And, of course, our family had another tale to tell at every gathering. You may be seeing a pattern here.

Fast forward to this past Christmas when Ken and I were searching for an ornament to add to our granddaughter’s collection from us, and what did Ken see but a tiny blue kayak ornament. Obviously, that kayak just had to be on Jeni’s tree so we finished our shopping and proceeded to the checkout. Ken had three ornaments hanging from his fingers and several other items in his arms. Need I explain that the kayak slipped from his fingers onto the floor where the tip broke off. We searched and searched for the missing piece and couldn’t find it so Ken went back to look for a replacement. Every customer in the ornament aisle helped him try to find one. Meanwhile, when our clerk cleared all the other customers in line, she asked me what ornament we were looking for and when I told her, she said she had just straightened all the ornaments the night before and that was the only kayak left. At that moment Ken walked up with a couple of other possibilities in his hand because he couldn’t find another kayak. But they just weren’t right.

Once again, the search began for the missing piece. We thought we could glue it back together and make it look new. Everyone in line

 joined the search….not one person complained about having to wait. The Christmas spirit was alive and well in that place. And, would you believe, about fifteen feet from where he’d been standing when the ornament fell, he found it. The break was clean. We knew we could fix it. And besides, this whole story is about imperfect situations. The float trip had been imperfect, yet all ended well and we all had something to tease Jeni about. The poor little kayak ornament took a mighty tumble and yet, it was repaired to look like new (well, maybe not quite but it became a great metaphor for a misspent) float.

And you know, that tiny blue plastic kayak is a lot like us, imperfect and yet very us able. Perfection is a trait that we can’t achieve on this earth and yet, we have so much potential. How will you use yours?

…but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.
Philippians 3:13b


Penny for Your Thoughts

By Marcy Barthelette

Everything we do starts between the ears, in our minds, with our thoughts Tim Tebow, Mission Possible

In turning to the internet, that endless source of information most of us read with a bit of skepticism, I found that most recent studies have concluded that the brain of an average thirty-year-old will process about 6200 thoughts per day. This theory is based on brain scan tracking done at different times of day over a two-day period. Participants were tracked at rest and watching movies. Quick transitioning of movie scenes seems to trigger “thought worms” or detectable patterns of brain activity—just like thoughts that emerge spontaneously. A new “worm” is generated by each new thought allowing researchers to recognize the end of one thought and the beginning of another.

These persons averaged 6.5 thoughts per minute so if they sleep an average of 8 hours and no sleep thoughts are considered, they are awake 16 hours and the formula would be 6.5 x 60 x 16 = 6240. Bear in mind, we are talking about young adults. Those of us who are more seasoned may not cognitively process as many of these thoughts as a younger mind could.

Think about what you think about. Your problem is not your problem but the way you see it. Max Lucado, Anxious For Nothing

It’s always fun to mine for a little trivia, but the truth is we don’t really know how many thoughts our brains process every day. Even science admits that more conclusive study is needed. But we do know that our brain is a three-pound universe that is bombarded with arrows from Satan’s bow. Our days are filled with suggestions and innuendo that try to lead us down the garden path to destruction. A negative comment is made about our appearance and we begin to wonder how we can change that impression. Someone starts a rumor about job layoffs and we spontaneously begin to worry about being called into the boss’s office. The doctor’s office calls to inform us of a diagnosis and we slip immediately into worry mode. The list of negative torpedoes never ends, unless we choose to focus on the positive.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 NLT

Imagine the control tower of a busy airport. Hundreds of planes take off and land daily. They’re lined up in traffic patterns and must depend upon the person on the other end of the radio in that control tower to provide the correct data to keep them from crashing into one another with disastrous results. No one lifts a plane off the runway without expressed permission of the air traffic controller nor does one land without it.   

Likewise, if hundreds of thoughts are buzzing around our heads at any precise time, we can choose to invite positive thoughts into our brains. Test each thought against the requirements of Philippians 4:8. If it meets the challenge, act on it. If not, let it die.

You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport. You occupy the control tower and can direct the mental traffic of your world. Max Lucado, Anxious For Nothing

I suppose if I could find a wealthy benefactor willing to pay me a penny for my thoughts, assuming I’m thirty years old again and based upon a theory of having 6240 thoughts per day, I could earn $62.40 per day totaling $436.80 a week. I could then use those funds to continue Jesus’ ministry in the world by helping others. However, my imaginary benefactor does not exist and I will, therefore, need to harness random positive thoughts and put them into action. Hopefully, a sizeable percentage of the thoughts hurtling my way will be destined for endeavors that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

Your challenge is not your challenge. Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge. Max Lucado, Anxious For Nothing 

You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport. You occupy the control tower and can direct the mental traffic of your world. Max Lucado A 4 N

(Thoughts circle above us. If one lands, it’s because we gave it permission)

Guard your thoughts and trust your Father. Satan wants to leave us in a swarm of anxious, negative thoughts. He is always messing with our minds.

Your challenge is not your challenge. Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge.

(All reference from Anxious For Nothing by Lucado)

Research the number of thoughts per day each person has on average.

Cleveland Clinic… (info contained here is considered untrue)

Your brain determines every aspect of your life and without your brain, there is no self and no awareness of the world.

Your brain is a 3-pound universe that processes 70,000 thoughts each day using 100 billion neurons that connect at more than 500 trillion points through synapses that travel 300 miles per hour.

The signals that travel through these interconnected neurons form the basis of memories, thoughts, and feelings.

Other resources agree that it is about 6200 per day

In a 2020 study, 184 participants with an average age of 29.4 were involved. Brain imaging scans were used to track when new thoughts began when at rest or watching a movie. Tests were performed at different times and on two different days.

These persons average 6.5 thoughts per minute so if they sleep 8 hours and no sleep thoughts are considered, they are awake 16 hours and the formula would be 6,5 x 60 x 16 = 6240. Participants in test are shown movies because transitioning events trigger “thought worms” or detectable patterns of brain activity—just like thoughts that emerge spontaneously.

Each new thought generates a new “worm” and researchers can recognize when one thought ends and the next begins.

The study may also find that a brain at rest will have fewer thoughts while during busy or tense times, the brain might feel jam-packed with racing thoughts.


Flawed Yet Mercifully Found

By Marcy Barthelette

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. Romans 7:15

I recall being in a Sunday School class a few years back when this scripture was read by a young man who had difficulty reading it even with advanced practice. Ken and I looked at one another and just shrugged. What in the world did he just say? I think most of the class thought he had misread it. It was only recently, when I read the same verse from The Message, that it made perfect sense to me.

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…it happens so regularly that it’s predictable. Romans 7:15 & 21a)

The scripture goes on and on, basically repeating the same message about wanting to do what is right and always being tempted to make a bad decision. We all know that temptation lies just around the corner in wait, hoping to reel in an unsuspecting participant.

And Paul, the author of the scripture, was no stranger to bad deeds. He was born near or shortly after the birth of Jesus and grew up in his Jewish family. He was recognized early on as being intellectual ahead of his peers and trained zealously under the Pharisees and, indeed, became a leader in the group. As such, it was his duty to persecute Jews and he did so with relish. While he was well-educated, he is not thought to have been a member of the elite crowd. He had to work for a living and found his livelihood in tent making. His skill took him to many communities enabling the persecution of countless Jews. And remember, he enjoyed it!

Until that is, he encountered God on the road to Damascus. He was en route to the city for the express purpose of taking Jewish prisoners.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground  and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Acts 9:3-5

Whoa! This is serious business. A flash from heaven and a voice from seemingly nowhere who claimed to be  Jesus. In the message, Saul was told to go into the city to learn what he should do, but when he tried to move, he was blind and his companions had to help him make the journey.

Meanwhile in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias was instructed by the Lord to go to a place appointed in a dream to find the man from Tarsus, Saul, and restore his sight. Ananias was arguably dubious toward this idea because he had heard that Saul was headed into town to round up Jews and take them to prison and he told the Lord of his reluctance. But the Lord said:

Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name. Acts 9:15-16

Once Ananias placed his hands on Saul and affirmed that Jesus truly had sent him, Saul regained his sight and was baptized, whereupon his preaching ministry commenced. He preached that Jesus is Lord in every town or city he visited. He no longer sought to punish Jews for their disobedience nor flaunted his lavish education of the law but, instead, sought to introduce as many Gentiles to Jesus as his time would allow. It’s very possible that his tent-making skills gave him access to the common people. It would be easy to attract a crowd to just sit, talk, and casually introduce Jesus. He made many enemies as a result of his teaching and often lived a harsh life but he never gave up the message that no matter who we are, Jesus is waiting to welcome us into the family of God.

After his baptism, Saul became known as Paul, and there is a great deal of discussion about why this occurred but that’s a subject for another time. Though Paul was a completely devoted disciple of Jesus and is credited with being second in importance only to Jesus in the New Testament and with having written or provided resources for thirteen of the twenty-seven books within that portion of the Bible, he always wrestled with the concept of right and wrong, as witnessed by the confusing scripture at the beginning of this story. Now we get to the really good part:

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:24-25

What a message and what a promise! God wants all of his children to come to him, even the ones we may deem unworthy. If a guy like Saul could do a one-eighty and become Paul, a force for good, yet still need to wrestle the human forces within himself, who are we to say no when Jesus calls us to Him? It doesn’t matter how flawed we have become, where we’ve been, or how far into the well of despair we’ve fallen, He finds us, reaching His hand of mercy down into the well to pull us out. All we have to do is reach up!


A Raccoon Tale (or) It Takes Two

By Marcy Barthelette

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip (or a persistent raccoon) a quarrel dies down. Proverbs 26:20

As you can see, I had difficulty deciding on a title for this little tale. Read on and you’ll soon see why.

I can’t help but chuckle when I recall a tug-of-war I fought with a thieving little raccoon many years ago. Our family was camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were just settling in when we noticed a racket in the back of the car. The hatch was open so we could retrieve all our equipment and a hungry little raccoon had found its way in. Perhaps I should refer to it as brazen because five people were milling around the campsite setting up our tents and cooking area. You’d think that would deter even a raccoon. Not so. This little rascal’s nose had caught the scent of the box of doughnuts we’d picked up to go with our freshly cooked breakfast the next morning. He sat perched on our gear debating which way to run and get out of the mess he found himself in now that I had interrupted his escape. In haste, I decided not to give him a choice and reached for the package. The battle was fierce and immediate. Neither of us was willing to let go of those doughnuts as my family howled with laughter. When my sensibility finally returned and I asked myself what I was going to do with those doughnuts when I won the war, which was doubtful, I gave up. The doughnut thief scampered quickly into the trees with its treasure and my family has had a hilarious tale to recall at every reunion. I’m always happy to provide them with comedic material.

Ken and I have had many raccoon experiences during our years together. We got the ball rolling quickly on our honeymoon at a remote beachfront campground in Florida. The critters appeared in abundance any time food was available. They circled round us and between our feet hoping for a morsel. I must say I feared they would jump on the table and make off with everything we had. All in all, they were pretty well-behaved, though a major nuisance.

Living in state parks for years added many raccoon encounters to our history but I remember once in particular when Ken was out patrolling and came upon a pair of them raiding a trash can. Normally he would have frightened them away, at least temporarily. When they get wind of something tasty, they don’t give up easily. And quite often you’ll see them quarreling over something wonderful they have discovered. But this time, an amazing scene was unfolding. Trash cans in the park sported a spring-loaded, supposedly animal-proof lid, but this pair worked it like pros. Then, while one held the lid open, the other searched for edibles and tossed them out. When they’d accumulated a stash of critter delicacies, the searcher climbed out, his partner in crime politely closed the lid and they proceeded to share their loot.

Ken was amazed at the efficiency with which these animals worked together, especially when they would typically snap at each other and chatter in anger just like children arguing over a toy. How often do we adopt that same manner of warfare when we find ourselves in disagreement with another person or group? How often do we respond in anger to a negative statement from a co-worker? How often do we mistake constructive criticism for negative criticism and take exception to a spouse’s remarks? And have we allowed a critique from our supervisor to simmer and fester until we can no longer work with that person? If you’re like me, you can answer “YES” to all of those questions. Now the dilemma is, how do we change that attitude?   

The answer could be as simple as saying nothing in response to gossip, a negative comment, or a perceived assault on our pride. It takes two for an argument to develop unless we want to argue with ourselves. However, I’ve found that when I think I’m arguing with myself, it’s really God I’m questioning. And that is a battle I’m not going to win. By learning to think before we speak or post a comment on social media, we can develop much better relationships and enjoy a lot more peace. Aren’t we all looking for a little peace in a world that is filled with chaos?  

It was a foregone conclusion that I was not going to win a battle with a raccoon whose nostrils had already been kissed by the sweet scent of sugary doughnuts. Not going to happen. So why did I respond with a mighty tug-of-war? I didn’t think at first because I wanted the last word, even with a raccoon. Pretty silly, huh!

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. II Timothy 2:23-24

The moral of the story; it always takes two (humans or raccoons) to maintain a quarrel. Be the peacemaker if you can. Likewise, two can usually complete a task faster and with better results. Be a helper when you can.


Hope Was Born

By Marcy Barthelette

By now, most of the trappings of Christmas are just a memory. We’re back at work or school, doing household chores and carpool duties, games, and extracurricular activities. It’s strange how we tend to overlook a very important aspect of the story we so recently re-enacted. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Wise Men, Magi, traveled far from their homes and at great peril to their lives. They had only a star and their knowledge of the heavens to guide them, yet they set out on a journey to find a child who had been prophesied as the King of the Jews.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Matthew 2:1-2

Who were these men really? So little is explained about their background. They must have been scholars of their time because they knew about the stars that populate the heavens. They had studied predictions concerning the birth of Jesus so they were literate. In fact, they were a class of priests who appear to have existed during Daniel’s lifetime as references in the book of Daniel point to his having served as head of the Magi in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar. They served as political advisors, professors, and philosophers in the fields of medicine, history, religion, and astronomy. In other words, they were very well-educated men.

What then, inspired them to leave their comfortable positions to wander the desert following a star for the better part of two years? Their status surely allowed for more comforts on the road than ordinary folks like Mary and Joseph enjoyed, but still, the desert is hot by day, often quite cool by night, and water is not always readily available for drinking or bathing. So imagine yourself in long, heavy robes and only sandals on your feet, keeping company with camels, and searching for a child you’ve only read about. These guys were very committed to their quest. They truly longed to see the child, Jesus, who was said to have come from God in heaven to save the world.

We learned last week that they were way-laid by King Herod, who also searched for the child but for very different reasons. All these characters played roles in a drama orchestrated by God from the beginning of time. God knew that man would need to be saved from himself and the plan seriously rolled into action on the night Jesus was born. The Wise Men, or Magi, along with the shepherds, represent seekers. They all wanted to see the baby and were willing to travel where He was to meet Him.

You’ve surely heard it said, “wise men still seek him.” The Magi set the example for the “seekers” of today, an example of perseverance, devotion, awe, of worship.

Christ never turns away from any heart that is open to him. Those who seek him will find him every time.

Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Manger

And today, as over the ages, He meets us wherever we are. He hopes we will invite Him into our hearts, however, broken or fouled they may be. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect or clean. He asks us to seek Him and invite Him in. It’s that simple. Are you ready?

The manger invites, even dares us to believe the best is yet to come. And it could all begin today.

But if it doesn’t, there is a reason. No day is accidental or incidental. No acts are random or wasted.

 Look at the Bethlehem birth. A king ordered a census. Joseph was forced to travel. Mary, round

as a ladybug, bounced on a donkey’s back. The hotel was full. The hour was late.

The event was one big hassle. Yet, out of the hassle, hope was born.

Max Lucado, Because of Bethlehem

And those who sought Him found the greatest gift of all! We can find it too!   



What Was Herod’s Problem?

By Marcy Barthelette
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the Wise Men, and he learned from them the time when the first star appeared.
Matthew 2:7

King Herod ruled over Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. During his forty-one-year reign, he established himself as a builder. That is not to say that he wielded a hammer but he ordered the construction and restoration of large churches and other public buildings including the second temple in Jerusalem. He also acquired another reputation along the way, that of a ruthless barbarian. He is known to have killed his own sons because he learned of a plot to overthrow him. He killed anyone who stood in his way of getting or keeping what he thought should be his.

Every story has to have a villain, even the birth of Jesus, and King Herod fits that description to a tee. The man is mean, hate-filled, vengeful, the nasty adjectives could go on and on. Any way you look at it, Herod was one bad dude. So when he called the Wise Men to meet with him, he wasn’t totally honest with them. He was old and sick and desperate to assure that he didn’t lose his position of importance.

Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him too.” Matthew 2:8

He could have accompanied them, but then he would have had to look Jesus in the face and pretend to worship him. No, it was a better plan to send the Wise Men ahead to do his dirty work for him. And, of course, they went and followed the star which led them to the home where Jesus’ family was living at that time. When they had worshipped Him and presented their gifts, they followed a warning delivered in a dream and traveled a different route back to their homeland because there was a danger in returning to Herod.

Upon hearing this news, Herod was mightily angered and he did what he always did. He ordered not just Jesus killed, but every male child under the age of two, based upon the calculation of when the star had first appeared. He ordered a massacre of innocent children to save his own comfortable position. He feared a toddler!

What would cause him to do that? Well, you see, Herod was not a stupid man and he was surrounded by scribes who were able to define and translate documents of the time and they had warned of the predictions of one who would come to save the world, a Messiah who was called King of the Jews. That was Herod’s title and he wasn’t taking any chances that some upstart would overthrow him.

I see him, but not here and now, I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel….a ruler will rise in Jacob…Numbers:24:17,19 (paraphrased)

God took measures to be sure his Son would survive the wrath of Herod. As was his style, he used angels to deliver his messages, in person and in dreams, to the characters in his drama. He’s always moving people and things around the universe so that His plan can come to fruition. And like a chess match, it sometimes takes lots of strategic moves for everything to fall perfectly into place before “checkmate” becomes a reality.

Many little boys were sacrificed to his tirade and fear, but one would not die. And that was because he had to live in order to die another day. This, too, was a fulfillment of earlier prophecies.   

It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. John 11:50

These words are from Caiaphas and were uttered as Jesus went about his adult ministry and, at the same time, leading government officials were plotting to kill him. Everything happens for a reason and only God knows those reasons. What was Herod’s problem? The simple answer is Jesus. Herod wanted nothing and no one to detract from his sovereign rule. Jesus was a problem that he thought he could overcome, but God had other plans. He had tried to get Herod’s attention with messages from the Torah and visitors from the east. Herod wasn’t listening and because he chose himself over Jesus, he died a lonely and lost old man. We have a choice as well.

Because of Bethlehem, I have a Savior in heaven. Christmas begins what Easter celebrates. The child in the cradle became the King on the cross. And because he did, there are no marks on my record. Just grace. His offer has no fine print. He didn’t tell me, “Clean up before you come in.” He offered, “Come in and I’ll clean you up.”

 It’s not my grip on him that matters but his grip on me. And his grip is sure.

Max Lucado from Because of Bethlehem

We think of Jesus as entering our world unnoticed but for the shepherds. It is said that kings and rulers were unaware of his presence, but Herod was very aware. And though Jesus was only a tiny, helpless baby, the forces of evil were already at work to destroy him. They still are today. But He can’t be destroyed. He’ll always be among us, waiting for us to recognize Him. Hold Him in your heart, not just on Christmas, but every day.

Heavenly Father, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born today. (And every day)

Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Mange



Why Were Shepherds First to See Him?

By Marcy Barthelette

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Luke 2:8

Did you get that? They were in the fields and what do shepherds do in the fields? They live and sleep and eat with sheep. How many of us have laid down at night in the midst of a flock of sheep who have been wandering and running all day long and never bathing? Those shepherd’s nostrils were so filled with the smell of sheep that they didn’t even notice the stench rising from their own bodies. These were the lowest of the low on the social platform of the day. As a matter of fact, they had no social life. They just tended sheep. They were often young and inexperienced in anything but sheep. Uneducated, often illiterate, you get the picture.

And here they were, out in the field, away from all civilization just watching over their flock, keeping predators at bay, perhaps some were laughing around a campfire while others slept. And what happened?

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified….
Luke 2:9

How could they be anything but terrified? Here they were, young men with no life experience. Suddenly the brightest of lights appears seemingly from nowhere and angels fill the heavens with their radiant presence. And please note the word suddenly. There was no warning sign. It just descended upon them and completely enveloped them. Of course, they were terrified.

…but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” Luke 2:10a

What would it take to reassure you not to be afraid if you were suddenly surrounded by angels and a light so bright you were almost blinded by it? Let’s just say you’re on a little camping trip sitting around a beautiful campfire and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. Someone is strumming a guitar while others softly sing. It seems an idyllic evening and here comes a host of angels, not one, but a heavenly host bathed in light. And I wonder when the angel spoke, would we be reassured or more frightened, or are we just so jaded that we would scoff at such a miracle?

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” Luke 2:10b

Whatever our modern-day reaction might be, the shepherds had their own take on things. They became excited. What kind of good news could these messengers have to share with the lowliest of servants that it should be delivered in such splendor? What did they do to deserve such fanfare? And how will this news affect them?

“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David. And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth,  lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12

We know the rest of the story. The shepherds talked among themselves and quickly determined that they must go in search of this baby. Whoever he was, he was certainly of great importance and they did not want to miss such an opportunity. And so they came to be the first to lay eyes on a baby boy named Jesus and they recognized him as the one who could give them life and hope.

Why were these filthy, unwashed, uneducated shepherds the first? Because Jesus’ mission was to care for the “least of these”. He didn’t hesitate to mingle with the unclean or uneducated. He reached out to hurting people, the sick, and the unwanted. He didn’t care about rubbing elbows with the wealthy and powerful. He spent his time feeding, healing, and caring for those who would welcome him and, sometimes, those who didn’t, just because he loved them all. And he still does! 

So consider this: On the night that Jesus’ life began in this world, an inexorable plan was set in motion—leading to the day when he would lay down his life for the world. All of this in the fashion of a truly good shepherd. So an angelic visitation to shepherds in Bethlehem—men who understood feeding and guiding and saving—was the best way for chapter one to begin.
Mel Lawrenz, Christmas Joy

Why shepherds, indeed! The answer is a simple one if we open our eyes and hearts to the message of the manger.

When God wanted to send his Son into the world, he picked the most unlikely girl he could find to be the mother. He picked a forgotten province in the Roman Empire. He arranged for his son to become a part of the hated Jewish race. Then he found the most unlikely hometown and arranged for his son to be born in a stable and take his first nap in a feeding trough.

Jesus was born that way in order to show us how God does business. He doesn’t do business with the proud. He doesn’t run with the rulers of the world. He doesn’t side with the rich. God is at home with the humble, the tired, the weak, and the lowly of this world. He does business with those who fear his name.

Ray Pritchard, Why He Came