Sunday, April 20, 2014

He's Alive!!



HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!





Monday, April 14, 2014

Are Stones Doing Your Job?

We have a lot of rocks here on the ranch. Especially up at the top of the hills. Don't ask me what kind, because I don't know. The hard kind, I would say. Maybe some limestone. Maybe not. All I know is there are acres and acres of them, making it difficult to walk up there. Even the ATV has to work to get over and around them when we go out on our daily search for the sheep.

My mom loved collecting rocks. I still remember a certain camping trip to Colorado where she and my sister hiked up a mountain to see the view, only to come back down lugging a huge rock that Mom just had to have. When Mom passed away last May and I knew we would sell the family home, I brought some of her rocks home with me to put in my yard. They make me smile and think of her, but for the most part rocks simply don't interest me.

But yesterday I gained a whole new appreciation for them.

Palm Sunday reminds us of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. He came riding on a donkey, surrounded by crowds shouting, "Hosanna!" They thought their new king had arrived. A king who would rescue them from the oppressive Romans. Reading Luke 19:38, you get a feel for what their mindset was that day:

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"

They'd seen Jesus do some amazing things so far. He'd healed the lame, the blind, the deaf. He'd raised Lazarus from the dead. There wasn't anything that Jesus couldn't do. Surely he now came to kick the Romans out of town and take his rightful place on the throne. 

Of course we know that was never Jesus's intention. He did come to save the lost, but not the way they thought. And aren't we who weren't even born yet thankful? If Jesus's only mission two-thousand years ago had been to remove the Romans, we would have no hope and no future with God. 

But not everyone was happy about Jesus coming to Jerusalem. The Pharisees in particular. These party-poopers grumbled and mumbled and complained while everyone else is shouting and singing and dancing. Can't you just picture them? Dressed in their fine robes, standing off from the "regular" folks, with scowling, dark faces. 

I've seen "Pharisees" like this. People who don't "get" Jesus or his followers. They don't understand what the big deal is. They laugh at and criticize believers's faith. They deny Jesus's very existence. Some of them even go to battle against Christians and Christianity. They may not be the religious leaders of biblical times, but they are cut from the same pattern.

The Pharisees watching Jesus ride into Jerusalem didn't get Jesus. They didn't see him as a Savior. They saw him as a troublemaker. Anyone who could gather crowds that large and that noisy had to be trouble. It was obvious to them they had to stop things before it got out of control. Their control. 

"Teacher," they said to Jesus, "rebuke your disciples!" (v. 39)

In other words, tell the crowd to shut up! Tell them to stop acting like Jesus is someone worthy of being praised. Stop lifting your hands to heaven. Stop singing and shouting. Stop waving the palm branches. Go home and be quiet. Keep your religion to yourselves. 

Sounds a little like today's world, doesn't it?

But Jesus IS worthy of being praised! He IS worthy of singing and shouting and palm branch waving. He IS worthy of people crowding around to see him and hear his voice. Because he IS God! And if the people didn't shout his praises, something else would.

"I tell you," Jesus replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (v. 40)

Let that sink in for a minute. Cold, hard, lifeless, bothersome rocks will cry out praises to God if we keep silent. The rocks here on the ranch. Mom's collection of rocks. Rocks all over the world. They will step in and do our job if we don't. 

Jesus lived. He died. And He lives again. All because of His great love for you and me. He is more than worthy of our praise! So lift those hands! Shout that blessed name! Tell the world the Good News that Jesus saves!

Let's not let the rocks have all the fun. 

Have a Blessed Easter as we celebrate our Risen Lord! 

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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Canada, Poland, Spain, Philippines 






Thursday, April 3, 2014

Weeds and Sin: Get rid of 'em!

I am not a gardener. In fact, I think I've killed more plants than should be humanly possible. My husband and kids laugh hysterically when I so much as mention the idea of purchasing a potted plant or flower. They know what will happen within a couple weeks to the poor thing.

Lately, though, I've had a bit of luck with green and growing things. When Mom passed away last May, our church sent me a lovely potted plant. The fact that this plant is still alive and thriving eleven months later is just short of a miracle. Mom had ten green thumbs and could grow anything -- and she did! -- so I think this plant somehow knows its purpose was to keep Mom's memory alive in my everyday life, because it refuses to die despite being under my care.

Weeds were Mom's nemesis. On the 3/4 acre plot of ground she called home for more than 60 years, she battled weeds. In her vegetable garden. In her rock garden. In her flowers. Along the driveway. Along the fence. Everywhere, everywhere...weeds! Knowing she couldn't fight them alone, she'd recruit her five kids to help pull the little buggers. We weren't exactly thrilled though. One of my older brothers once declared, "What's the use? They'll just grow back." And he was right. They would indeed grow back, but that wasn't a good enough reason to let them get bigger in Mom's mind. If left on their own, the weeds would eventually take over all that was beautiful and productive.

Being the caretakers of a nearly 400-acre ranch-estate, hubby and I now battle weeds. LOTS of weeds. In the flowerbeds. Along the mile-long paved driveway. And most especially, embedded in the large sections of ornamental buffalo grass where weeds positively are not allowed. There are quite a variety of them, too, including dollar weed, a small, round-leafed weed that spreads on tiny little vines. I've given it the dubious label of insidious. It is simply everywhere!

Aren't they lovely? Not!

Dollar weed --- Ack!!


Hubby provided me with a handy little tool to dig the more difficult ones out of the hard soil. 


But it's only when I get the whole stinkin' root that I feel successful. 

Ta-da!!!

In the hours upon hours I've been parked in the grass pulling weeds lately, I thought about how much sin and weeds have in common. This is the list I came up with:

  • Like weeds, sin can start out small. So small we don't take notice of it until it becomes big and ugly and, yes, insidious, and takes over our lives.
  • Like weeds, sin chokes out what was planted and desired. 
  • Weeds can fool us. Some of them look very similar to legitimate plants. 
  • You have to dig down to the root to get rid of a weed. Same with sin. If you don't get the root, the weed will simply grow back.
  • Tools can help. Your Bible, your pastor, a godly friend. Utilize them all. 
  • If left unattended, the weeds will get bigger and multiply. They will affect every part of your yard and even spread into neighboring yards. 
  • Ask the Gardener for help. He is, after all, the One who planted you. (John 15:1)
I'm getting rid of weeds here on the ranch, but I think I'll take a look at my heart-garden just to make sure it's weed-free too!

How about you? Got some weeds that need pulling?

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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, France, Canada, Germany, India, Belgium, Brazil, United Kingdom, Philippines, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Israel

Friday, March 7, 2014

Is Jesus Your Shepherd?

Being a shepherd is hard on your heart.

We've been the caretakers of a small herd of Barbado Blackbelly sheep since October. But in that short time I've suffered all kinds of worry, and ultimately some heartbreak, over those four-legged creatures. Are they finding enough water? Did they make it through the frigid night? What if a coyote attacks them? On and on. If you follow this blog, then you may remember my post from January 18 about the Great Sheep Escape and how God worked some serious miracles to bring them home. One of those miracles included a little lost lamb I dubbed "Junior." Here we are on that day:

Junior and Me

But anyone who owns animals knows bad things can happen. Cats and dogs get hit by cars. Fish float to the top of the tank and birds fall to the bottom of the cage. We even had a small dog once that was mauled by larger dogs in our neighborhood. Death comes to us all, even the pets we love.

And it happens to sheep who live within reach of predators.

In the past couple weeks, we've lost five lambs. It could be wild hogs, or coyotes, or both. The first lamb missing was Gimpy. He had a gimpy leg, but we'd been watching him and he was on the mend. Next to go were a set of new twins, pictured below. I'd dubbed them "George Lincolnton" because they were born around President's Day. My oldest son was born on Abe Lincoln's birthday, and as a young boy he used to say he was born on "George Lincolnton's" birthday. The fourth lamb to disappear was Junior's lookalike. He had similar coloring to Junior, but was just a bit lighter. I mourned all of them, especially the tiny twins.

Twins George Lincolnton

But when we discovered Junior missing yesterday morning, I lost it. "Not Junior!" I cried. Surely he'd just become separated from the herd. He and his mama had wandered away from the group once before. Maybe he'd done it again, like the day of the Great Sheep Escape. Mama is the tamest sheep out of the bunch, to the point that I've petted her multiple times as I'm feeding them corn. She and Junior were kind of my favorites. I just couldn't accept that Junior had become the latest casualty, so I set off in the ATV to search the 350 acres, believing he had to be somewhere. Even Mama Sheep thought so, because she kept calling him. But after hours of driving around, hollering for him, rattling a sack of corn, looking in every one of their favorite locations, he was still no where to be found.

That's when the hard reality of being a shepherd set in.

A shepherd can't always protect their flock from danger. Sheep, like people, have a mind of their own. Instead of staying in an area where they would be fairly safe from predators, they like to hang out in the hills where the coyotes and hogs roam. They don't understand they are putting themselves in danger by their choices. Choices that make sense to them but are ultimately very bad and very dangerous.

I understand now why Jesus likened us to sheep. As our Shepherd, he wants to keep us safe, but sometimes our choices put us in danger. Danger of attack from the Enemy. Danger of eternal death. We have to listen to his voice, like the sheep listen to The Sheep Whisperer and me when we go out to check on them. We have to heed Jesus's "rules" if you will, in order to keep our soul and body safe. The Shepherd only wants what is best for his sheep, yet we sheep often disregard what Jesus says or what our heart tells us is right and good. We want to do things our way, but often our way is the most dangerous way. Like the coyotes and hogs that are killing my sheep, the Enemy of this world is drooling over you and me. He's just waiting for us to wander away from the Shepherd. And when we do, that's when he attacks.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be a casualty like little Junior. I don't want my Shepherd mourning over me because the Enemy got a hold of me. I want my life choices to align with God's Word. I want to listen to his voice, and know him, and find rest and comfort in him.

That is my prayer for you, too! Jesus will leave the ninety-nine obedient sheep to go out and search for the lost lamb who wandered away, just like I did. But sometimes it's too late. Sometimes the Enemy has already won. Don't be a Junior. Your Shepherd is calling you to safety this very moment. Listen!

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand." John 10:27-28 (but all of Chapter 10 is great!) 


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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are: USA, Czech Republic, Israel, Philippines, Poland, Ukraine (especially lifting you and your country!), Netherlands, Russia, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sex Education Gone Too Far

I am horrified. Absolutely, positively horrified. I just read an article about a textbook that is being placed in public schools that has explicit drawings and text that is beyond anything I've ever seen. Please read this article, especially if you are a parent with a child in public school!!

I remember being in elementary school and having a nurse come in and teach a sex ed class. It happened once a year, much to the embarrassment of we 5th and 6th grade girls. I imagine the school folks timed it so girls who would soon begin to menstruate would have a clue what was going on, and for that I'm grateful. Most parents back then didn't discuss sexual and highly personal things like this with their kids, mainly because their parents didn't, and their parents didn't, and so on and so forth. My mother -- bless her -- didn't talk about these things with me. If she did, the conversation must have been so brief that I have totally forgotten it. I vaguely remember her giving me a book geared for children that discussed the different body parts and their functions, but that was it as far as my sex education went.

And I'll be honest. I wish my mother had done more. Gone farther in her conversations with me. Explained things and made me feel comfortable enough to ask the myriad questions kids that age have about sex. She loved the Lord and she loved my dad, so she would have been the perfect teacher to guide me into womanhood and all it entails sexually. Much of what I knew about the mystery of sex and marital intimacies came from friends, movies and books. Which is definitely NOT where you want your child's sex educational foundation to come from. I wish she would have read the Song of Solomon to me, and Genesis 2:24-25 and talked about how beautiful sex is between a man and his wife. How Adam and Eve enjoyed sex in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world (v. 24). How God blesses the sexual union of a man and wife with pleasure and offspring.

Sadly, now days sex education in the public schools has gotten completely out of control. No longer is it to teach kids the biological functions of their particular parts and the parts of their eventual mate, but it is to indoctrinate them into the worldly view of sex: That sex with many partners is normal. That sex with partners of the same sex is normal. That sex is not a private thing but something that should be splashed on pages of books and magazines and movie screens and Facebook. That sex is not the special, God-ordained union between a man and woman who have pledged themselves to one another, but is more of a recreational sport.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not a prude. I think sex is great! I think the human body is beautiful! Genesis 2:25 says, "Adam and his wife were both naked and felt no shame." There is absolutely nothing shameful or dirty or evil about sex. In the context of God's original plan -- one man and one woman -- sex is truly a gift. It's an expression of love. It's playful. It's sexy (to use a worldly term). Recently I overheard a conversation where an 80ish-year old woman was talking about her amorous Valentine's Day with her 90-year old husband. God bless them, I say! Clearly, you ain't never too old to enjoy God's gift to a husband and wife.

God created us as sexual beings. Not only for pro-creation purposes (Genesis 1:28), but for physical satisfaction and release (1 Corinthians 7:1-4). Unions outside of marriage may accomplish those things as well, but not within the bounds of God's holy blessing. And isn't that the best place to live your life? Within the bounds of God's holy blessing? To choose to have sex outside of marriage is sin. Plain and simple.

There is a real enemy in this world. Jesus called him the "father of lies." (John 8:44). I imagine he is thrilled with the textbook in this article. He is lying to our children and our grandchildren. He is lying to adults who don't see anything wrong with sex outside of marriage. Don't buy it! His lies lead to death. The death of your body. The death of your soul. Sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion. Divorce. Immorality. The list goes on and on.

This textbook may not seem so bad to some. But where is the line drawn? I'm here to tell you...

Sex education has gone too far.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Trust Without Borders

Sometimes God uses simple things like the lyrics to a song to make a huge impact in my life. This song by Hillsong United titled "Oceans" has done that for me the past couple weeks. I can't stop singing the chorus: "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders...Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander..." 

Oh, that God would take me deeper still! That I would not let borders -- or fences, as my post in January declared -- keep me from all the wonderful things He has planned for me. It's a scary world out there, and sometimes I'd much rather stay in my safe, comfortable boat than walk out on the water. Yet holding onto His hand is where my life is centered. Wherever He would call me. Resting in His embrace.

So listen to this -- with headphones on and the volume cranked up!! -- and let God move in you, taking you deeper, fearless, out into the waves of life....... 




You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine.

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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, France, Poland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Netherlands

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Little Lost Sheep Found, Big Lessons Learned

Me and Junior

Oh, the adventure this little fella had yesterday! He's back with his mama now...and his mama and her compadres are also back where they belong. The past few days have been crazy, with all this "missing sheep saga" business.

It all began one dark and stormy night...

Well, not exactly. See, here on the ranch, we're responsible for a small herd of Barbado Blackbelly sheep. These sheep are not pets. They're wild and love to hang out waaay at the back of the 350 acres, up on some rocky hills. Lately they've allowed hubby to get fairly close, as long as he is doling out corn by the handful. I call him the Sheep Whisperer. It makes me smile.

Last week we couldn't find the sheep. That's not that unusual, as they can be pretty elusive. There are lots of hills and valleys and gullies throughout the property where they can hide. After several days, however, hubby called some guys to come help walk the fence line, because it was obvious at this point the sheep had gotten out somehow.

Let me pause a moment here to state emphatically that this is the part of the story where I want to seriously knock some sense into someone's pea brain!

It wasn't long before we discovered that someone had used wire cutters to cut the 8' high game fence that encloses the entire property, pulled a section back, and left a gaping hole plenty big for a herd of goofy sheep to wander through. Which is precisely what they'd done. The sheep were gone, gone, gone.

I was devastated.

"Why, God?" I kept asking. Lately I'd been feeling like God wasn't listening to me. Like he wasn't hearing my cries for help in a lot of areas. I didn't know why, and I didn't know quite what to do about it. In my quiet time the next morning, I remembered the passage of scripture in 1 Samuel 9:3-20 where Saul (later King Saul) is looking for his dad's missing donkeys. God knew where those donkeys were, and in the course of time let them be found (v. 20). It reminded me that God knew where our sheep were. They were lost to me but not to him. So I prayed, "Lord, you see those sheep. Please bring them home." Had he heard my cry for help?

Around noon, Sheep Whisperer and Jesse, a guy who works on the ranch occasionally, decide to drive over to the larger ranch where the sheep originally came from, thinking they might head in that direction. They hadn't been gone but a few minutes when I get a text from hubby saying, miracle of miracles, our sheep are in the road just down from our gate! They were wandering the county road, snagging mouthfuls of grass as they went. Numerous people, including sheriff's deputies, had been down that road the past two days with no sightings. What are the odds of the sheep being in the middle of the road, just down from our gate, at the precise moment Brian and Jesse decide to go for a drive?

The next five hours were spent trying to herd sheep that did not want to be herded. Me in a Jeep, hubby on foot, Jesse and several other guys in trucks and on foot, a few sheriff's deputies (who weren't all that helpful) and one amazing stranger in a truck, worked to get those dad-gum, stubborn, ridiculously skittish sheep onto the neighbors property (because our gate has a cattle guard) so we could then get them through a section of fence that we purposely cut for that reason.

Let me just stop and say, it is nearly impossible to make wild sheep go where they do not want to go. They were in and out of neighboring properties, crossing the road with cars coming and going, in the middle of the road, on the side of the road, running north, running south. Yeesh!

In the midst of all this chaos, one of the babies, Junior, got separated from his mama. We'd lost sight of the herd at this point, so Junior had to come home with me. He stayed in our guest bedroom -- where else! -- while I went back to work. Meanwhile, hubby and the gang are finally able to get the sheep onto our property. Hooray!!

But what about Junior? It would be dark soon, and I didn't want to keep him overnight. I jumped in the Jeep with him cradled in my lap and went looking for his family. I found the herd fairly easily traveling along the fence line that separates our employer's land from her dad's land. They were extremely skittish and on the move. Carrying Junior up high so he could see them, I followed the herd for a bit. They stopped and watched me, and Junior started making soft noises. I thought, "Great! This is going to be easy!" Just a little further and I'd put him down so he could run to his mama, bringing a happy ending to the whole crazy ordeal.

Except Junior did not know about my plans. When I put him down, he ran the wrong way! I bolted after him, the herd bolted down the hill and out of sight, and Junior managed to get through the fence and ran onto our employer's dad's property -- 700+ acres. If I didn't catch Junior, he'd never make it.

Here is where I need to confess something.

I yelled at God.

A lot.

As I was running after that little lamb, crying, stumbling over rocks and weaving through trees, I let God know exactly how I felt about Him letting Junior go the wrong direction; about someone cutting the fence and letting the sheep escape in the first place; about all the trust I'd given him only to have all these trials and tribulations come our way this past year. In those frantic, broken moments, I literally cried out:

"Jesus, pleeeeeeeeeze!!!!!"

That two-word prayer pretty much encompassed everything going on in my life at that moment. From the lost lamb to the desperate need for a job for our son to the lost souls I've been praying for for years. I think it was my cry for God to just hear me!

Breathless from chasing the lamb, I called hubby to come help. Miraculously the cell phone reception worked -- it usually doesn't out here in the boonies -- and he arrived in a couple minutes. The little lamb knew the Sheep Whisperer's voice and stopped near a tree. While Brian distracted him from a distance, I snuck up from behind the tree, praying like crazy. "Jesus, keep that lamb still so I can grab him!" And you know what? Jesus kept that lamb still so I could grab him! The picture above was taken a few minutes later.

Determined to get Junior back to his mama, we set off in the ATV to find the herd again. Searching, searching, with the sun sinking toward the horizon, we finally spotted them headed to the back of the property. Sheep Whisperer grabbed his bucket of corn and started calling them while Junior and I circled around from the other direction. But the sheep weren't buying it today. They'd had enough of people and vehicles and kept moving away.

"Lord, we need some help," I prayed.

Junior, who'd been silent this entire time, started making little bleating sounds. I inched closer to the herd, they inched farther away. I held Junior up a bit, hoping he'd catch sight of them, although I have no idea how good a 3-week old lamb's eyesight is. His little sounds got a bit louder. The herd stopped to look. Then came the most wondrous sound ever!

"Baaaaaa." Mama sheep was calling her lost baby!

"Baaa," Junior responded in his wee little voice.

"Junior?"

"Mom!"

Mama came racing down the hill. I ducked behind some tall wild grass so she wouldn't see me, holding Junior up above my head. I wasn't taking any chances of him going the wrong way again, so I hung on to him while he and Mama baa'ed back and forth. When she was close enough for me to be certain he wouldn't go the wrong direction, I held my breath...and let him go.

Oh, how I wish I'd had a video camera on their sweet reunion. Junior ran to Mama. Mama ran to Junior. They sniffed and nosed each other for a good long time before Mama turned and went back to the herd with Junior at her side.

I, for my part, sat there behind the tall grass and cried. All my prayers for those crazy sheep had been answered. I (and lots of other people) had prayed God would bring them home. He did. I prayed like a mad woman when Junior escaped. God put him back in my arms. I asked God to let us get Junior back to his mama. They are together even now. Using the lost sheep as his backdrop, God made it abundantly clear to me that he does indeed hear me. And not only does he hear me, he cares very much.

"I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live." Psalm 116:1-2

Lost sheep can absolutely be found.

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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Malaysia, Poland, United Kingdom, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Romania, Netherlands, South Korea



Saturday, January 4, 2014

No Fences in 2014

Last year I told you about a little orphaned deer who somehow found herself living with a herd of goats a few miles from the ranch where we work. Here is the pic I took that day:


Not long after I took that picture, the farmer who owns the goats sold the herd. But he must have a soft spot in his heart, because he kept one mama goat and her kid to keep company with the deer, who obviously couldn't be sold along with the rest of them. Here is a picture of the little family I took just the other day:


She's grown, and so has the kid. Hubby and I look for them each time we pass the farm on our way to town. When our boys come down to visit, they look for them too. It always makes me smile when I see the three together. Like I said in my original blog Not One of Our Own, these goats allowed someone different into their world. They accepted her even though she didn't look like them. It truly is a picture of how all of us need to be a little more goatish when we meet people who are different. 

But there is one thing that is sorta sad about her story.

Because this little deer believes she's a goat -- I am convinced of that! -- she has no idea that she could easily leap over the fence that has her boxed in. She's never seen anyone jump a fence, so it's not something she would even attempt. She has no idea of the freedoms that await just on the other side of those barbed wires. The company she chose to keep -- the goats -- definitely became her family, but they've also, in their very nature of being goats, prevented her from learning the skills her mother and deer family would have taught her. It's a safe life, to be sure. There's no fear of her being hit by a car or, hopefully, no fear of hunters. She'll live out her days as the spinster aunt of that ornery kid who tried to headbutt her when he was younger. 

Yet I can't help but wonder what life would be like for this little deer on the other side of that fence? What would happen if she left her comfort zone and leaped into the life she was meant to live as a deer? 

I don't want "fences" to keep me from living out the glorious life God has planned for me. I don't want to stay in my comfort zone and miss out on some truly wonderful blessing that would have come had I taken that leap of faith. My fences may not be wire with sharp barbs, but they are just as real. 
  • Fear of failure is one of the biggies. I've struggled with this my entire life. Self-doubt kept me from doing a lot of things I now wish I would have tried. And it still has a hold on me at times.
  • Another fence is worry. I come by worry honestly. My mother was the World's Greatest Worrier. Although I try not to let worry eat away at me -- worry about my kids, our health, our finances, etc. -- I wake up a lot at night, worried. Yes, I pray about them, turn them over to the Lord and trust Him to take care of us...but the worry never completely goes away.
  • Procrastination is another fence of my own making. I think this sometimes goes back to my fear of failure. If I don't attempt something, then I won't fail at it. But...that's failure anyway, isn't it?

So even though I'm not one to make new year's resolutions, I'm claiming the phrase, "No Fences!" for 2014. I don't want anything to keep me back from experiencing God's richest blessings for my life. Not fences of my own making, or fences that someone else might unknowingly (or knowingly) put up. God doesn't fence us in. He's given us freedoms and talents and blessings beyond measure. It's up to us to take that leap of faith and go after them. 

How about you? You wanna jump the fence with me this year?

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This week's prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Russia, China, Ukraine, Germany, United Kingdom, Indonesia, South Korea, Poland, Australia, Canada, Philippines, Slovenia, Netherlands, France, Malaysia 

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Angel's Story: Part 3, The Conclusion

What was it like to be an angel on that first Christmas? Our story's conclusion...

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I was going to see the Lamb! I practically shouted with joy! 

Gabriel and I made our way back to earth. We passed over the same land, water and grassy field where we'd been moments before. Only the sheep stood there now. Soon a small village came into view. The streets were crowded with people, even at this late hour. I guessed they had all come to worship the Lamb.

Gabriel took me to the edge of town. I looked about for the palace. All I saw were simple houses and a place where animals were kept. 

"Why are we here?" I asked, confused. "I thought we were going to see the Lamb."

"We are," Gabriel replied. We stopped at the entrance where animals lived. The sound of lowing cattle met us.

I turned to Gabriel, thinking he must be mistaken. "Here?"

He nodded again. "See His star?"

I looked to where he pointed. A brilliant light shone down from the black night directly onto this place. I didn't understand. Why would the King of kings be in a smelly, dirty stable? Why would he leave the riches of heaven and come here?

Gabriel motioned me inside. I took hesitant steps into the dimly lit space. I was surprised to find the shepherds from the field there. They knelt in front of a small wooden structure. I noticed a young woman sitting on a blanket on a bed of straw. She looked tired but happy. Her eyes shone bright as she spoke softly with the shepherds. A man stood nearby. I got the distinct feeling he was alert to every noise and every movement, as though watching, guarding.

I followed Gabriel as we moved closer to the humans. They couldn't see us, for which I was glad. I was confused about what was happening and didn't want them to know it. We stepped into a circle of lantern light, and I gasped at what I saw before me. 

A tiny, brand new baby lay in a manger, wrapped in cloths. His eyes were closed, and he slept peacefully. 

I looked at Gabriel. "The Lamb?" I whispered in shock.

"Yes. Our Prince." He looked at the baby. "The Savior of the world."

I gazed at the small, helpless lump of humanity. I didn't recognize him at all. Gone was the Prince of heaven, to be replaced with a creature who could do nothing for himself, let alone the entire world. I glanced at the lowly shepherds, ragged and dirty, worshipping him. At his mother and earthly father who clearly did not live in a palace but were forced to take refuge with animals.

It didn't make any sense. None at all.

"How can this be?" I asked. "Where is his throne? Where is his palace? Why should God leave the riches of heaven to come to earth in this manner?"

Gabriel shrugged. "In what manner should he have come? As a Warrior God, forcing the people of earth to worship him?"

I frowned. "No." God doesn't want anyone--angel or human--forced to worship him. "Tell me then. Why is the Lamb here, like this?"

"For them," Gabriel said simply, indicating the shepherds. "And for others like them. Had the Lamb come to earth with an army of angels and set up his kingdom in a palace, many humans would have come and bowed before him. But they would not have come with a pure heart seeking a Savior. And that is why the Lamb came: to seek and to save the lost. To do that he must dwell among them and know life as they do. He must face the same temptations, the same trials and, ultimately, the same death. But when he is raised to life again, then they will know that he is their King. Then those whose hearts are open and receptive will bow down in true worship."

I understood then.

God had asked the Lamb to sacrifice himself for all mankind. He left the perfection of heaven, knowing he would be born in a barn to a humble couple with lowly shepherds as the only worshippers. He knew he wouldn't live in a palace or be honored as Lord. He knew the people of earth would eventually reject him and kill him. 

Yet he came anyway! He came because of his great love for mankind. He came because he wanted the people he loves to be free from the bondage of sin. He wanted them to live a life of joy and peace with God. And He wanted them to spend eternity in heaven with Himself and the Father.

I looked at the baby again. He was awake now, silently studying the faces around him. Then he looked at me, and I fell to my knees.

"My Lord and my God," I whispered.

His tiny lips lifted in a smile. I smiled back. 

While Mary, Joseph and the shepherds laughed and cooed over the smiling baby, I stood, ready to return to heaven.

I knew God had things firmly under control here on earth.

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Jesus left the glory of heaven to dwell on earth for one reason: You! His love for you is beyond anything you could ever imagine. It is full and complete. It is everything your heart and soul desires. If you don't know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, my prayer is you will take time this Christmas to truly seek him.

Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

~Michelle

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Angel's Story: Part 2

What was it like to be an angel on that first Christmas? Our story continues....
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Heaven seemed different without the Lamb.

As though the very light of heaven had dimmed somehow. It hadn't, of course. God is our Light and His presence is always near. 

But still, an emptiness that could not be filled persisted. 

We angles went about our work as usual. We sang praises to God. We took care of heaven's business. With God's permission, Gabriel shared with us about his mission to earth to prepare the way for the Lamb. Angles didn't often appear to humans, even though many of us are serving and working throughout the earth at all times. He told how he spoke with the young woman--Mary--whom God chose to carry the Baby in her womb. I was pleased to hear that Mary understood what an honor was being given to her. I was also pleased to hear that the man who would be her husband was righteous and humble. It would take a man like that to be father to the Lamb! 

One day God summoned us all before the throne again. It troubled me to see the Lamb's empty throne. I hoped God would tell us the Lamb was coming home. 

When all were present, God smiled. "Today is a blessed day for the people of earth," He said. "Today Salvation will come to the world. The Lamb will be born unto a virgin."

 Angles around me cheered. I knew I should be happy for the people of earth, but my shoulders slumped. It seemed as though half of eternity had passed since the Lamb departed heaven, but He hadn't even been born as a human baby yet. He wouldn't be coming home anytime soon.

"I am sending Gabriel to announce the birth to my people. Some of you will join him in the celebration."

An angel stood beside God with a scroll. He began to read off names. I held my breath, waiting. Name after name. Angel after angle came forward until a very large group circled Gabriel. Finally, just when I began to give up hope, my name was called! 

We left heaven and traveled through the stars and planets. God's handiwork truly was beautiful. Gabriel led us to earth, across water and land, until we finally came to a wide-open grassy area. It was dark, but I could see several men relaxing around a fire. A herd of sheep stood nearby. 

I looked around, waiting to see the crowds of humans who would receive Gabriel's message about the Lamb's birth. Surely all the kings of the land and the important leaders should be here, ready to pay homage to the King. 

But Gabriel didn't wait for anyone else to arrive. He showed himself to the men in the field, who seemed terrified when they beheld Gabriel.

"Do not be afraid," Gabriel said to them. "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all 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 the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Gabriel turned to us and suddenly the men in the field saw us too. 

"Glory to God in the highest heaven!" we said, lifting our voices as one. "And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

The men stood wide-eyed. When they couldn't see us anymore, they talked among themselves excitedly.

"Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about!" And they set off, leaving their sheep unattended.

We started our journey back to heaven.

I felt...disappointed. Why had we delivered the most wondrous news to a tiny group of lowly shepherds? Why hadn't the kings of earth been there to hear the message? Why hadn't we been allowed to announce the Lamb's birth to the entire world?

Before I could stop myself, I came up alongside Gabriel.

"I don't understand," I said. "Why are we leaving? All the men of earth should be told about the Lamb. They should all be summoned to his earthly palace to worship him."

Gabriel studied me for a long moment before he spoke. "Come," he said, taking me by the hand. We separated ourselves from the group of angels returning to heaven and went in the opposite direction, back to earth. 

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"To see the Lamb. Then you will understand."

I couldn't help but smile. I was going to the palace to see the Lamb.

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Watch for An Angel's Story: Part 3, the Conclusion.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Angel's Story, Part 1 of 3

What was it like to be an angel on that first Christmas? 
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Excitement tingled in the air. I and all the angels of heaven, as well as those serving on earth, had been summoned to present ourselves before the LORD. Something big was happening but no one knew what. I hurried to take my place among the multitude, anticipation making it hard to stand still. When we'd all assembled--ten thousand times ten thousand and more!---Gabriel stepped forward and stood near God's throne. The Lamb sat on a throne on God's right. He looked peaceful, serene.

God rose from his seat and everyone grew quiet.

"Today the prophecy I gave my servant Isaiah will be fulfilled." His voice thundered through the heavens.

A hushed murmur rose from the crowd of angels. We knew God spoke of the covenant he'd made with a human named Isaiah, one of God's chosen race, the Hebrews. Isaiah was obedient and faithful, and God had placed upon him the responsibility to be His voice throughout the ages to the disobedient Jews. Through Isaiah, God promised to send a Messiah, One who would save the entire world from sin. God's patience with mankind continued to amaze me. They deserved the same fate as the people in Noah's day, but God promised never to destroy them again. Instead, He set in place a plan of salvation that even I didn't fully understand.

Seeing Gabriel standing beside God, I wondered if perhaps he was being sent to save the human race. Gabriel would be a good choice. He was strong and mighty, and God had sent him to earth on other occasions.

But just when I expected God to call Gabriel forward, the Lamb stood.

A collective gasp went through the crowd. Surely not the Lamb!

"I am sending the Lamb to be a sacrifice for all mankind," God said. "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life with us."

"No!" angels shouted all around me. "Not our Prince!"

God raised his hand for silence. "It must be so. There is no other way."

I looked and saw Michael and his army draw their swords. Relief swept through me. The Lamb would be protected. No harm would come to him.

But God instructed them to put their weapons away. "The Lamb will go alone. He will become human. He will be born of a virgin, and he will grow in wisdom and stature. After a time, however, the men of earth will reject him and kill him."

A terrible hurt rose inside me. I'd heard humans talk about something called sorrow and I knew this must be what they meant. The pain grew deeper than anything I'd ever known as I watched my beloved Prince--heaven's treasure--depart God's presence. I didn't understand how God could allow this to happen, but I trusted Him to know what was best. He had never failed us before, and I knew He would not fail us now.

I felt a strange wetness on my face and was surprised to find tears dripping from my eyes. I looked and saw others around me wiping wetness from their faces too.

I hadn't known before.

Angels can cry.

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Stay tuned for Part 2: The angels come to earth to announce the arrival of the Messiah!

Friday, November 15, 2013

In His Own Image

My Mom used to tell me I look like my Dad. Brown eyes, brown hair, skinny. Well, at least the brown eyes are still true. Ha! As I get older, I'm kinda proud that I look like my Dad. Family resemblance makes us feel connected to one another. Even though I used to long for green eyes, I'm glad I have brown like everyone else in my family.

But I look my other Father, too. And so do you.

"Then God said, "Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Genesis 1:26

 "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." Genesis 1:27

We are created in God's own image! Humans don't look like we do just by chance. It was by design. Everything about us -- from our brains to our skin to our bones to the tiniest cell in our body -- was created with purpose. We are truly amazing creatures!

But even though God made it abundantly clear that He formed us, there are those who simply refuse to believe. Lately there are stories in the news declaring that life came from Mars (http://www.space.com/22577-earth-life-from-mars-theory.html) and outer space.  There's the theory that we came from an ape-like ancestor and single-celled organisms, and Darwin's theory is still taught in schools. Oh, here's a good one: the Aquatic ape theory (http://youtu.be/uTe9qVEAcXk). Hilarious!! This article gives the complete story of evolution beginning with how the universe was formed. After reading it, I can honestly say it's far easier to believe in God than this amazingly far-fetched theory. I understand the importance of science, but when "progress" in science takes you farther and farther away from God, then you have a real problem. And ultimately you have a choice: Are you going to believe God or man?

I find it incredibly sad that so many, many people deny their Creator. What is so terrible about believing that God formed you with His own hand? What's so awful about believing that He loves you so much that He created you with a plan? Wouldn't it be so much better to know you were specifically designed for a purpose rather than believing you were here just by chance?

Life is such a beautiful gift. From the very beginning to the very end. God, our loving Father, designed it that way. I'll leave you with this beautiful video of a set of twins who have just been born but are not aware of it yet. It's like a little peak into their life in the womb. So incredibly precious.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=592c93b2ed2c" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

(Watch it here if the embedded link doesn't work.)

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This week's Prayer Shout Out countries are:
USA, Russia, France, Germany, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Ukraine, South Korea, Argentina, Poland, Panama, Spain, Netherlands, Malaysia, Bangladesh

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Read Your Bible: Confessions of a Cliff Note's Kind of Girl

I was a Christian long before I was a Bible-reader. I didn't start reading my Bible on a regular basis until I was in my 30's. Sure, I went to church and heard it read and preached. I'd gone to Sunday school my entire life, memorized verses and knew the books of the Bible pretty well. When I needed some encouragement, I'd flip around until I landed on a verse or chapter that spoke to me. But to read it daily...nope. Why? Excuses. I didn't have time in my busy mornings. I was too tired in the evenings. Etc. etc. You know the drill.

A few years ago I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. It took a while, but I finally made it through. I was amazed at how much more I understood about God and the history behind Christianity after that! I read it through again, and am working on my third time through now. I will never again read the Bible in a "hit or miss" kind of way.

Back when I was in college, I was a lousy student. I mean lousy and lazy. Shortcuts and midnight cram sessions were the only thing that saved me from flunking out entirely. My poor parents. I know they were disappointed. Sigh. When it came time to read a book for a class, I inevitably bought the Cliff Notes and skimmed through them, hoping to glean just enough information about the story to pass the test. Because that was all I wanted. I wanted to pass the test. Period. I had no desire to know what the book was about or what motivated the characters. I simply had to pass the test.

Can Bible reading be a little like my college lit career?

Yep. Sometimes we want to glean just enough of the Word to get us through this crazy life and into those pearly gates. After all, does it really matter if we know about all that boring stuff that happened in the Old Testament? Do we have to know everything the New Testament says as long as we believe the stuff it says about Jesus?

Well...in a word...YES!

Why?

Think of the Bible as you would a novel. When you pick up a book or load one onto you Kindle, you start reading on page one, right? And then you turn page after page, going deeper into the story. Think of how many, many details you would miss if you skipped around, trying to piece together the story from the bits and pieces you've read and the comments your friend made about the book. It's pretty much the same for the Bible. There is so much in it, that it's really impossible to grasp the whole story without reading it from cover to cover. Bits and pieces may help me pass the test--and get into those pearly gates--but I'd miss so much of what the Author wanted me to know about the story.

So, take the advice of a Cliff Note's kind of girl: Read the Bible from Genesis 1 and work your way to the end. You will be amazed at the details and order God wrote into His story.

And I'm here to tell you, the movie definitely isn't as good as the book. ;)

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This week's Prayer Shout Out Countries are:
USA, Russia, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Canada, China, Italy, South Korea, Philippines, Ukraine, Macau

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Write Your Own Obituary

I have to chuckle at how many of you probably clicked the link to this blog thinking I've lost my mind. LOL. No, no, I'm as sane -- or as insane -- as I've always been. And no, I'm not dying and writing my obit. At least, I don't think I am.

What I am, however, is sobered by the deaths in the news this week. A teacher murdered by a 12-year old student who then killed himself. Another teacher, 24-years old, beaten and stabbed to death by a student. A 12-year old girl who took her own life because she couldn't take the bullying anymore. A head-on collision on a local Interstate that killed both drivers. A WWII plane crash that killed two people. On and on. Every day, every hour, every minute, you can turn on your TV or your computer and see news stories about the untimely death of average people.

Of course we all know and love people who have died. Old age, cancer and other diseases destroy our bodies. Death is a part of life. It isn't something anyone can avoid, and many of us won't have a clue that it's knocking on our door the day it arrives. Car accidents, shootings, and a whole host of other events can bring an end to a life in a matter of moments.

So, this brings me to the title of this post. Knowing that life is not something you can cling to, what do you want your obituary to tell the world about you when you die? Because you will die someday. For some, it will be today. For others, tomorrow. None of us knows for sure. All we can be certain of it will happen one day.

I keep the obituaries of my Mom and Dad in my Bible and read through them every so often. Sometimes it strikes me as odd that a person's life is condensed into a few paragraphs in the newspaper when they die. Daddy and Mom each lived 85 years on this planet. Can a few lines about their families and careers really give us an understanding of all that their lives encompassed? Of who they were down deep?

No. There's just no way a few lines of print can ever achieve that. But there is a man in the Bible whose obituary, if you will, was even shorter, and yet when I read it I know everything about him that was important.

"When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. All together, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away."  Genesis 5:21-24

Enoch walked faithfully with God.

That pretty much sums it up, don't you think? I mean, what more is there to say? That he was a farmer, or a carpenter, or a grape grower? That he enjoyed reading, music and jokes? We know who his father was. We know he had a lot of children. But does any of that tells us the heart of the man, of what made this man tick?

Enoch walked faithfully with God. To me that means he was an obedient son to his parents. He was a faithful husband to his wife. He loved his children and taught them about God. He helped his fellow man. He worked hard and enjoyed the life God had blessed him with. It means he loved God with all his heart, soul and mind.

My hope and prayer is that when it comes time for my obituary to be written, my life can be summed up in five words: Michelle walked faithfully with God.

How about you? What do you want your obituary to say?
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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Philippines, Russia, Malaysia, Canada, China, South Korea, Ukraine

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When Bad Things Happen Anyway

Elisha was a man of God.

If you're not familiar with Elisha, let me give you a little recap. He was a prophet in the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Kings. He was a farmer plowing a field when God told the prophet Elijah to go find him so he could continue Elijah's work once Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Kings 2:1)

Elisha left his field, kissed his mama goodbye (what a good son!) and went off with Elijah, just like that. For years and years afterward he was God's faithful, obedient servant. 

In 2 Kings 4:1-7 he helps a widow save her sons from her dead husband's creditors. When she tells Elisha she has nothing in her house of value except a tiny bit of oil, he says 'send your sons to collect empty jars from everyone you know.' They do and from the tiny bit of oil, all the jars are filled. "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts." 

In 2 Kings 4:32-37 Elisha brings a dead boy back to life by laying down on the cold body. As he lay there, the body grew warm. After Elisha stretched out over the boy a second time, the kid sneezed seven times and was restored to his family.

Elisha is the guy that saw the chariots of fire in 2 Kings 6:17. The city where he was staying was about to be attacked by a king who was angry with him, and his servant was in a panic. "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" he says in verse 16. The servant looked out and saw the hills "full of horses and chariots of fire." Don't you love that? 

There's no doubt about it. Elisha was a man of God. No harm should have ever come to him, right? I mean, he's out there doing God's work! Like Elijah, Elisha deserved to be whisked away to heaven in a whirlwind. Right?

Wrong.

2 Kings 13:14 says, "Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died."

Suffering?? Illness??? How can that be? Elisha was God's man in Israel! How could God allow His faithful servant to have an illness so terrible that he suffered from it? An illness so terrible that it killed him? Didn't God love Elisha? Did Elisha have some secret sin he was being punished for?

 HOW COULD GOD ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?!

I think the answer to that question is the same answer to other questions we've all asked:

How could God allow His own precious Son to suffer a horrific death on a cross?
How could God allow the disciples to suffer persecution, imprisonment, and painful deaths?
How can God let little babies die? 
How can God let bombs and bullets kill innocent people?
How can God....?????

The answer is simple yet-oh-so complicated: Because God's ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9) He has a plan in place that we can't see or know. (Jeremiah 29:11) Nothing comes as a surprise to God. Not Elisha's illness. Not Elisha's death. Not your suffering. Not mine.

"Elisha died and was buried." 2 Kings 13:20

Bad things happen in this world. Jesus--who was arrested, brutalized and murdered--said they would. (John 16:33) Rain falls on the just and the unjust, he said in Matthew 5:45. Suffering, illness and death do too. I doubt Elisha thought his life would be trouble-free when he set off with Elijah, but that didn't stop him. And it can't stop us. Why?

Because the reward for the faithful in the end is too great. Because God promises no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death. (Revelation 21:4) Even on his deathbed Elisha was still serving God. He helps the king of Israel win a battle against an enemy. (verses 14-20) He didn't give into his illness and suffering.

If you're going through a difficult time, take heart. God is on His throne Nothing can change that! He will never leave you or forsake you. Trust Him with everything you have. 

If you'd like me to join you in prayer, post a request or send me an email to: michelleshocklee@michelleshocklee.com. 

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This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Philippines, United Kingdom, South Korea