Friday, May 20, 2016

Fiction Friday: Until the Day Breaks by Paula Scott

I love reading a great book, don't you? I also love recommending a great book! Today is your lucky day, because I'm going to tell you about a book you must read! If you enjoy history and romance, this book is for you.

Until the Day Breaks by Paula Scott is a powerful tale of love, passion, war and faith. Set against the backdrop of California's tumultuous history, a young woman finds her loyalties tested beyond limit and her desires torn beyond measure in 1846 California. Paula's mesmerizing style of writing will carry you away, allowing you to experience the setting and characters in such a way you won't want to put the book down. The historical details are intricately woven into the tale, and my imagination easily produced a picture of a California I was not familiar with. Paula is a 5th generation Californian, so she definitely knows her stuff.

While I don't want to give you too much of the story, here's a little appetizer to tide you over until you get your own copy of this amazing book:

Rachel, a devout Protestant, is summoned to California where her father lives. He has embraced the life of a Californian, marrying a young Spanish woman, and securing his place in the gent de razon, the ruling class of California. Although she is engaged to marry a minister back in Massachusetts, Rachel learns her father has betrothed her to Roman, a proud Catholic Spanish soldier willing to die for his homeland. Neither she nor Roman want the marriage, yet neither can they deny the passion that stirs their hearts for one another.

With the threat of war looming over them, danger lurks in the most unlikely places. Who can be trusted? Roman and Rachel ultimately face the choice we all come to in life: will they trust God for their future or take matters into their own hands?

Until the Day Breaks is available now! Just click the link.


Friday, April 15, 2016

The Gardener, the Vine, and Why Pruning is Necessary

When most people think of vineyards and wineries, images of the lush hills of France or Napa Valley come to mind. Famous wine regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne are known even by folks like me who aren't exactly wine connoisseurs. Dry, hot, dusty Texas probably isn't on the wine-radar of most people who enjoy a glass of the fruit of the vine from time to time, but here in the Texas hill country, vineyards are everywhere! Seriously. Around  the quaint town of Fredericksburg, you can't throw a stone without hitting a vineyard. We drive past at least a dozen when we go to Georgetown on weekends.

Personally, I love the beauty of a vineyard far more than I love the product produced from its grapes. A well-tended, well cared for vineyard is a work of art. Row after row of perfectly formed vines loaded with fat, juicy grapes. Gorgeous!

Yet grapevines don't naturally grow in nice, neat uniform rows. Left untended, a vineyard quickly becomes a mess. Overgrown vines trail everywhere and weeds fast outgrow the plants, eventually choking out the fruit all together.  

Jesus used the illustration of a vineyard to teach us a vital lesson. In John 15:1-3 he says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so it will be even more fruitful." 

Grapevines begin with one main stem. From that, branches sprout and grow into vines. As any master gardener knows, branches must be pruned and shaped if they are to stay healthy. Pruning may seem like it hurts the plant, but in reality it is helping the plant grow stronger and produce better fruit. Unhealthy, non-producing branches must be cut off in order for the main plant to thrive. 

So why would Jesus compare himself and us to a grapevine? Because the visual lesson really hits home when you see yourself as a branch growing on the main -- true -- vine. Are you a branch that is healthy and producing good fruit? Or are you in danger of the Gardener's clippers because your fruit is rotten, bug (sin) -infested, or maybe you aren't producing fruit at all? 

What exactly is good fruit? Look at Galatians 5:22-23:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Proverbs 12:14 says, "From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward."

Good qualities like love and patience don't always come natural to us though. They have to be cultivated by the Gardener. And more often than not that takes pruning. Ouch! But, oh, it is so, so worth it! Sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way in order to truly take them to heart and apply them to our lives. I speak from experience. I've been pruned until I wanted to cry "Uncle!" But on the other side of it, looking back at who I was before the pruning, I'm ever so thankful God cared enough and loved me enough to help me grow, not as a wild, unruly plant going my own way, but as a beloved branch who tries daily to produce good fruit. 

But what happens to the branches that aren't producing good fruit and are ultimately cut off from the vine?

"Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6)

Friends, Jesus wants us to be part of him. "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (v. 5) But Jesus is also very clear about what happens when we choose not to be part of him. When we choose to go our own way, following our own beliefs, making our own choices based on worldly knowledge rather than Godly knowledge, we will be cut off from him. Yet as long as you have breath in your body, you have the opportunity to choose Jesus! To choose what is right and good based on biblical teachings. To be part of THE Vine, producing good fruit! 

Boy, it doesn't get any better than that! Let's be fat, juicy grapes together, okay?

I'm suddenly thirsty for a big ol' glass of grape juice! 

This week's Prayer Shout Out countries are:
USA, China, Poland, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, Kenya, Spain, Romania, France

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Our Guilt....His Grace

I have many emotions and thoughts every year as Easter approaches. I've gone from a child who anticipated colored eggs and jelly beans in a pretty Easter basket to an adult who fully and shamefully recognizes a very disturbing truth: MY sin put Jesus on the cross. I am as guilty as the person in the crowd who shouted, "Crucify him!" I am as guilty as the man who hammered the nails into Jesus' hands and feet and jabbed a spear into his side. As the man who formed a crown of thorns and crushed it onto Jesus' head. My guilt is no less than Judas' or Pilot's or the High Priest's. Every person who has ever lived is responsible for the cross.

But Jesus knew he would die that day. He knew when he left the perfection of heaven to come to earth as a tiny baby that he was destined to experience a horrific death on a cross thirty-three years later. And he did it willingly. He took our punishment upon himself. He stood in that dark place between us and God so that we would be made clean and righteous, acceptable and worthy enough to be in the presence of a Holy God for all eternity.

The love and grace he poured out on us that day is unimaginable. Un-explainable. Un-graspable. It is beyond anything we will ever experience in our lifetimes. You will NEVER be more loved than you were on THAT day. You will NEVER be offered more grace and forgiveness than you were offered on THAT day. When Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 for all future believers, he prayed for me! And for you, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

That grace and love is still available today! All you have to do is admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior. But Jesus didn't die so we can continue living in our sin. We can't believe in Jesus yet keep on living in the same sinful way. To choose sin and yet claim to belong to Christ is saying his death was meaningless. True repentance is to turn from sin. Walk away. Leave it behind. Just as Jesus told the woman living in adultery to "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11), we must do the same. Go, my friend, and sin no more. That's what I'm trying to do. Some days I fail miserably, but Jesus' grace is always there, ready to pick me up, wash the filth from me, and carry me forward.

My prayer is you and yours experience the grace and hope and freedom that came through Jesus' amazing sacrifice on the cross all those years ago. It isn't just for Easter. It's for life!


Have a blessed Easter!
The cross in the woods across from our house.

"The Old Rugged Cross"

Friday, February 26, 2016

Redirection: When God Changes Your Plans

Merriam Webster defines redirection as "to change the path or direction (of something)." Sound familiar? Let me see a show of hands of anyone who has experienced redirection in their life. Mine is waving, high and proud. I imagine yours is too.

Life is full of redirection. Sometimes they are good. Sometimes not so much. I look back on my life and see many times when things didn't work out the way I thought they would or should. Some were by my own making, others I had no control over. But almost always, on the other side of it, I see why the redirection had to happen. It wasn't always obvious right away. Sometimes it takes years to understand, and in some instances we may never know why life went in a completely different direction than we intended.

As a follower of God, I sincerely believe he has plans and purposes for our lives. I don't think he has every minute of every day planned out for us. We are not puppets in his hands. But Psalm 139:16 tells us that "all the days ordained for me were written in your book." God knows the day we'll be born and the day we'll die. He also knows everything in between and it matters to him. What we do with our lives matters.

So when redirection comes, especially the kind we have no control over, we have to trust that our Heavenly Father is up to something. I've experienced this and I know how scary it can feel. When my husband lost his job in 2008 after being with a company for over 23 years, we didn't know what the future held for us. We would have never imagined that four years later we'd accept a dream job that allowed us to live, work, and play on a 400-acre ranch in the hill country.

Our son is experiencing redirection right now. He joined the Army with big plans only to have a shoulder injury bring everything to a halt. We don't understand why God allowed this to happen, but we are trusting him to redirect Austin's path and give him a hope and future wherever that path leads.

This week I was reading in the Book of Acts. Paul and Timothy are going from town to town, region to region, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. I'm sure they had plans and dreams and ideas of where to go and who to see. But in Acts 16:6-8 we see redirection:

"Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas." 

Redirection at its finest. What awaited Paul and Timothy in Bithynia? We don't know, but Jesus knew and redirected them. Has that ever happened to you? Don't go there, go here instead. Don't marry that person, marry this one. Don't take that job, take this one. Even diseases like cancer force redirection. Like Paul, we have a choice when we are redirected. We can choose to embrace it and trust God with our future, or we can fight against it, mourn what we feel we are losing, and even derail everything by ignoring it all together.

I am learning to trust redirection. It isn't always easy. It isn't always fun. I can be a bit stubborn sometimes, but God is a patient Father, thankfully. And I can say with complete confidence that no redirection ever hurt me. Yes, they tested me. Yes, they stretched me. But I have always, always come out on the other side better for it and even thankful for the new direction.

If you are experiencing redirection, hang in there! God has great plans for you!

This week's Shout Out countries are:
USA, China, Spain, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine

Saturday, February 20, 2016

RIP Supreme Court Justice Scalia

"Justice Scalia is being laid to rest today. This Scalia quote has made the rounds quite a bit this week, but it's one of the more profound and pertinent things said by a man who said 100 volumes worth of profound and pertinent things. I think it's worth reflecting on again:

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools...and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ's sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

In this way, Justice Scalia was certainly a bigger fool than most. May he rest in peace." (~Matt Walsh)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ted Cruz: Things the media won't tell you

If you know me, you know I am not politically minded. I don't trust most politicians, even those I like. I am a simple person. All I want in a President is someone I can trust! Trust to do what is right and good and noble and honest. To love this great country and make it better, not worse. To make decisions based on sound information and moral values. I want the person who wins the election to understand that without God, we are nothing.

We voters have an important decision to make in the coming months. The past eight years have been some of the worst for our country because people voted for a man who gave great speeches. Problem is, there was no substance behind the pretty words. It will take decades to undo some of the disastrous polices he's put in place.

We need someone we can respect. We need someone our military can respect. We need someone who understands the Constitution and the foundations our country were built on. I am not a Ted Cruz fan. Honestly, I don't know all that much about him. I've said I'd like to have Marco Rubio in office, and that is still true. But this video about Ted Cruz may have changed the direction my thoughts were going. I watched the entire thing and I will say....THIS is the kind of man I want in the White House. I doubt I'd agree with everything he's done in his professional career, but of all the candidates seeking to be our next president, I believe Mr. Cruz would make an excellent, and dare I say, trustworthy president. I encourage you to watch the entire video, whether you are a fan of Ted's or not. (BTW, I think the whole "Ben Carson" flap from the Iowa caucus was blown up by the press, as usual. Seems to me some over-zealous campaign folks got their info wrong, but in today's world of lightning-fast social media, mistakes like that are huge. I like Ben, but I'm not holding Ted's integrity hostage because of that mistake.)

One thing I do know for certain. We all need to be in prayer about this election. Serious prayer.

This week's Prayer Shout Out countries are:
USA, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Kenya, Poland, Ukraine, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, Romania

Thursday, February 4, 2016

In the Beginning...

February is known as the Month of Love. I've been loved my whole life. My parents loved me. Family and friends love me. Twenty-nine years ago this April I married the love of my life, the bestest hubby in the world! When I gave birth to two amazing little boys, my understanding of human and God-love grew exponentially!

But let me tell you about a different kind of love affair...

I love my Bible. I mean, I love my Bible. I love my Bible!

Get it?

God's written word has become like breath to me. I can't live without it. I can't function without the life-giving nourishment it gives my soul. If I try to begin my day without getting into the Word, I get the feeling something important is missing. And more often than not, I'll have a really icky day. Not because of the things that happen necessarily, but  because of my own attitude and thought process toward whatever comes my way. It's just so much better to start out the day with a word from the Lord, ya know?

I didn't always feel this way. Growing up in a Christian home, we had plenty of Bibles around. I often saw my Mom reading her Bible, and when my Grandma moved in with us my Senior year, I found comfort in passing her open door to see her sitting in her Lazy-Boy recliner reading the Word. But very seldom did I pick up my own Bible to read. Very seldom did I turn to God's word for answers to life's problems. I was a married woman with children before I fully understood the powerful resource I had within my grasp. Now I cherish God's word! Like many of you, I have an abundance of Bibles to choose from:

  • A white-covered King James version given to me by "Mother and Daddy" on June 30, 1971
  • A Children's edition of the Living Bible given to me by our church Christmas 1973
  • The Living Bible given to me by "Mom and Dad" Christmas 1980. I would graduate from high school and head off to college a few months later. I'm sure my parents hoped the Word of God would go with me!
  • For Christmas 2001, my sweet husband bought me the New International Version Bible. Funny, he accidentally bought a Large Print, but I'm so glad! My eyes ain't what they used to be, so the larger print is awesome! This is the Bible I read every morning. I have so many, many scriptures highlighted or underlined, with notes written off to the side, some with meaningful dates. If our house ever caught fire (Lord, never!), that Bible would be the first thing I'd grab! It is literally my life. 
  • In 2003, hubby gave me The Message Bible, which is a way-cool version. Makes things so, so clear sometimes. 
Every Bible, no matter the version, is God's word to us. It's a story of His great love for mankind. So many, many lessons are within those pages. So many, many lives touched by God's amazing grace. I honestly don't think I will ever tire of reading my Bible. Seriously. I learn something new every single time I open it!

But I came to an interesting conclusion while reading in the Book of John. Despite the fact that the Bible contains 66 books with 1,189 chapters and somewhere around 31,000 verses....

...there are only TWO verses that really, truly matter when it comes to our faith. Twenty-seven words, to be exact:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1

Those two verses sum up everything we need to know about God. In fact, you can whittle those sentences down even further:

"In the beginning GOD!"

"In the beginning was the WORD!"

God is the Creator of everything. He has always been and will always be. And John 1:1 makes it abundantly clear that Jesus--the Word--is God. John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Those two truths -- God is the Creator and Jesus is God -- are the very foundation of our faith. They are what we build everything else upon. Without those two principals firmly rooted in your heart, the rest of the Bible probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

If you aren't a regular Bible reader, I encourage you to become one. God speaks through His word. Let Him speak to you today!

This week's Shout-Out countries are:
USA, UK, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Georgia, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Africa, Slovenia

Friday, January 1, 2016

No Resolutions....Just Gonna Live Life


My hope and prayer for you is that 2016 will be one of the best years of your life! True, some years hold more problems than we can bear: heartache, pain, sorrow, illness, financial woes, relationship woes. But one thing I've learned as I've aged is that each of those situations can be overcome when you have Jesus Christ in your life. Allowing Jesus to be Lord doesn't mean you'll never experience bad or sad things. It simply means you don't have to bear them alone. He is willing and able to carry you, heal you, restore you, provide for you, etc. How do I know? Because I've experienced it! Life can be messy and downright mean sometimes. To the point there is no way to make it on your own strength. So before the year gets underway, if you are struggling with life issues or maybe you've never invited Jesus to be Lord of your life, today would be a GREAT day to let Him have control of your future!


Wow! Hard to believe yet another year has come and gone. 2015 was a good year for us. Lots of changes, but good ones. Our oldest son graduated from college in December -- Whoop! -- and is now busy sending out resumes. Our youngest son joined the Army in November -- Whoop!! -- and is in the throes of Basic Training. We are beyond proud of both of them and pray God's perfect will for their futures!

What will the new year look like? Much like the previous year, I imagine, but with different changes sprinkled in here and there. I've never been keen on making new year's resolutions, mainly because I don't stick with them very long. A month or so at most. Weight loss. Eating healthier. Spending more time in the Word. All the usual suspects.

So instead of starting the new year with a list of "to do's," I thought I'd instead start with a list of "right now's." More like a list of blessings and Hoorah's than a list of "get 'er dones or else feel like a failure." Below is my Top Ten List. Feel free to share your own in the comments.

  1. I have a Savior who loves me unconditionally.
  2. My Bible is my favorite book!
  3. I'm married to my very best friend. We will celebrate 29 years of marriage this year!
  4. My two sons are becoming amazing young men with amazing futures. Trusting God to make His plans and purposes fulfilled in their lives. 
  5. All four of us are healthy. 
  6. I'm down 15 lbs from where I was last year at this time. 
  7. We are making healthier food choices most of the time. 
  8. We have a really good job that allows us to work together on a beautiful ranch in the hill country. 
  9. Despite a mound of bills, we always have everything we need and many things we want. 
  10. I am loved by family and friends. 

I hope you'll make your own list. Focusing on the positives definitely helps when the negatives come up, as they tend to do.

I'll leave you with a favorite passage from Psalm 139:23-24. It seems appropriate for the beginning of a new year. Kinda makes you want to start out with a clean slate.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

This week's Prayer Shout Out countries area:
USA, Germany, China, Taiwan, France, Kenya, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, India, Romania, Portugal, Luxembourg

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Angel's Story: Part 3, The Conclusion

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


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.

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!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Angel's Story: Part 2

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

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 angel 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.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Angel's Story, Part 1 of 3

What was it like to be an angel on that first Christmas? 

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Watch for Part 2 tomorrow: The angels come to earth to announce the arrival of the Messiah!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Run YOUR Race

A bicycle race took place in our area yesterday. The day was sunny and overly warm, but that didn't stop hundreds of cyclists from pedaling mile after mile through the Texas hill country. Down one country lane and up the next. Past detour signs and spray-painted arrows on the road marking the way. Only one person eventually came in first, but I have a suspicion most of the participants were simply happy to have competed and completed the race.

So the past few days I've been pondering the parallels between living life and running a race:

  • A route is marked out by those in charge. They know where the finish line is and the best way to get there.
  • A prize awaits the winner.
  • There are hazards, distractions, and all manner of obstacles between you and the finish line. 
  • It often takes years of training and hard work to win the prize.
  • You can't run someone else's race. 
  • You need the right equipment if you want to win. 
  • If you get lost, you should retrace your steps and get back on the right path. 

God has already marked your race route. From the moment you were conceived, he knew you and he knew how your life would turn out. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb...All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139: 13,16) God has a plan and purpose for each of his creations. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) There is work to do -- and races to run -- that God has already prepared. It's up to us to be in relationship with him so we don't waste our time running the wrong race.

God has an eternal prize waiting for us. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." Every person on earth is running a race, but only a few will actually win. Jesus himself said, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:14) The promise of eternal life in the presence of God is the prize we should all be striving for.

When obstacles get in the way, keep going. We may have to hurdle obstacles both large and small in this life, but we can't let them trip us up. "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" Paul asks in Galatians 5:7. Notice he asks "who?" Other people will often get in your way of the prize. Satan, too, will try everything he can to thwart you in your race. Keep Truth in front of you and kick everything else out of the way!

Winning a race takes perseverance. Olympic athletes train for years and years before they get a chance at the prize. While salvation through Jesus Christ happens the moment we confess our sins and accept him as Lord in our lives, most of us still have a lot of life to live and races to run before we reach the pearly gates. "...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Perseverance, baby!

I can't run your race and you can't run mine. Comparing ourselves to others is futile at best, dangerous at worst. Each of us is unique. Each of us, as the scriptures above prove, has a race marked out for us. While I may secretly wish my race looked like someone else's, I really have no idea the struggles, hurdles, and pain they've gone through to get to the point where my path crosses theirs. "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many...God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." (taken from 1 Corinthians 12:14-31) As with a body, different parts preform different functions. The body wouldn't be complete without each one.

God will equip us with what we need to win the race. Having the best equipment goes a long way to helping someone win a race. God has provided everything we need to win our prize. "Put on the full armor of God...the belt of truth buckled around your waist...the breastplate of righteousness...your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace...the shield of faith...the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (taken from Ephesians 6:10-18) A racer set on winning the prize will never, ever leave home unequipped.

Sometimes we lose sight of the finish line. Even racers with the best intentions get lost. Especially when there are lots of twists and turns and detours on the route. When a racer is lost, one of two things has to happen. Someone needs to go find him, or he needs to turn around and go back to where he took a wrong turn. Jesus, in his great love and compassion, reminded us that a Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep to go find the one that is lost. "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:1-7) But rather than waiting for someone to come find you, wouldn't it be better to head back on your own once you recognize your wrong turn? "When he came to his senses..." the prodigal son went home. (Luke 15:11-32) Get back on track! The prize is just ahead!

Racing is not easy. It takes hard work. It takes training. It takes keeping your eye on the prize. You have to stay on the marked route and not get distracted or lost. But once you cross that finish line...


Let the celebration begin!

This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Africa, France, China, Hong Kong, Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Singapore

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sonograms, Tumors, and Why Abortion is NEVER the Right "Choice"

The most recent damning video released against Planned Parenthood and its practice of harvesting and selling baby body parts is beyond horrific. I cried and cried and cried at the image of the tiny little boy, lying in a medical dish of some sort, while listening to a former abortion worker describe the horror of seeing and participating in cutting open the face -- the FACE!!!--- of a tiny little boy probably very  much like the one shown in order to harvest his brain.

There are not enough words to describe the disgust, the anger, the heartbreak I feel watching these videos. Like you, I am fully aware that abortions happen every single day. Like you, I've read articles or heard speeches or even watched a video or two about why abortion is wrong. But never has it been so real. Never has it been so despicable. Never has it hit me to the point of deep, deep grief for the precious lives that are being treated like scientific experiments.

Let me tell you a story...

Way back in the fall of 1992 we were thrilled to learn we were expecting our second child. Having been through this before just a couple years prior with our first son, I had no reason to think everything wouldn't be completely normal with this pregnancy. At six weeks along, I went for my first doctor's appointment. My sweet mother-in-law accompanied me so she could keep my toddler, Taylor, occupied while I went in for a sonogram. I couldn't wait to see the tiny pulsating "blob" on the screen and maybe hear its heartbeat. Laying on the table as the nurse smeared cold gel on my flat stomach, I wondered who was inside of me! Was it another boy or a maybe a little girl this time? Time would tell. This appointment was strictly about confirming that yes indeed I was pregnant and to get the ball rolling.

Dr. Kaplan, with his South African accent, chatted with me as he swirled the sonogram device across my abdomen. After a while, though, he quit talking. He stared at the screen intensely as he kept running the little device over the same area. When he began to frown, fear started to rise in my heart.

Something was wrong. I could tell just by looking at him. Was my baby all right?

Finally, he moved the device way over on my side, nodded, and then went back to the troubling area. After what seemed like eternity, his eyes met mine.

"The good news is you are pregnant," he said, swishing the device on my side again, where the familiar little bleeping blob resided.

Pure relief flooded me. My baby were there, safe and sound. But just when I started to relax, he moved the device back to the top of my stomach.

"But I'm afraid this," he said, pointing to a large, dark area, "is a problem."

"What is it?" I asked, completely baffled.

"It's a tumor."

I can't remember how the rest of the conversation went exactly, but suffice it to say it was not good news. The tumor was directly behind my uterus. It was the size of a plum. Dr. Kaplan calmly laid out my options:

1. Terminate the pregnancy, remove the tumor, and go on with life.
2. Wait until the first trimester was over and then do surgery. It would require lifting out the uterus with the baby inside through a huge incision to remove the tumor. There were, of course, risks involved. I could lose the baby. The tumor could grow and spread while we waited. Recovery would be horrendous due to the large incision on a growing belly. The baby could suffer damage. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I don't say this to pat myself on the back like I'm some kind of saint or something, but I never ONCE thought about myself and the dangers to my person. My thoughts were 100% for my baby. Termination of the pregnancy was not ever an option. God planted this precious life inside me for a reason. He created the little boy or the little girl with His own hand. Yes, I was frightened about how all this was going to turn out, but killing my baby before it ever drew a breath was unthinkable.

The next weeks were filled with anxiousness but also with trust in God and a whole lot of prayer! We had all our family and close friends praying. I'm sure the words, "Not my will but thine" passed over my lips a multitude of times.

The day for our second sonogram arrived. Brian and I went to the doctor alone, leaving Taylor with Grandma Shocklee. There would be serious decisions and plans to make regarding the surgery and moving forward. When the doctor began the sonogram, Brian and I fully expected to see the dark mass, maybe even bigger. I think the doctor expected that too. But as he swirled the sonogram device over my still fairly flat stomach, what we saw is still imprinted in my memory.

A perfect little person, facing us on the screen, literally DANCING! Not big enough to require being tucked in the normal fetal position yet, this little person's arms and legs were moving like crazy. He seriously looked like he was dancing. We heard his heart beating. We saw his little hands and arms and legs and feet.

He was 13 weeks gestation. The same age as millions of babies when they are aborted.

It was Dr. Kaplan's turn to be baffled. He looked and looked for that tumor, but it wasn't there. I think he was an atheist, but when I shared that people had been praying for this very thing, he seemed a little impressed.

On May 22, 1993 our Austin James Shocklee arrived 3 1/2 weeks early but perfect in every way. He's grown into an amazing young man with God-given gifts and dreams. Our lives would not be complete without him. While I would have been justified in the eyes of the world to have an abortion due to the danger to my own health, I would have missed the miracle that God wanted to do. Not only did He remove the tumor, but He gave us a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

I realize my story does not look like others. Our baby was very much wanted and planned. But an unplanned baby is still just as precious. An unplanned baby is still a baby. An unplanned baby was created by God, so it is IN FACT a PLANNED baby!

No matter the circumstances of a pregnancy, one thing remains absolutely certain. Abortion is NEVER the right answer. Never.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A God-Stirred Spirit

There is a verse tucked away at the end of the first chapter in Haggai that, I believe, if we got down on our knees and prayed for this very thing, it would rock our nation. Our world! Revival would happen in every heart, in every home, in every church.

Before I quote the verse, let me give a little background. Haggai was a prophet of the LORD. He and the exiles had returned from Babylon where they'd been held captive for years and years. If you know your biblical history then you know that the Babylonians destroyed King Solomon's beautiful temple before taking the Israelites captive. Now, the children of God have returned to their beloved city and are beginning to rebuild their lives.

But, like most of us, they focused on rebuilding their own homes first. Certainly they needed a place to live and sleep and be, and God no doubt understood they needed to take care of personal business. But eighteen years have come and gone since their return. When are they going to start work on God's house? "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" God asks in Haggai 1:4, revealing his impatience with their selfishness. Rebuilding the temple, God's dwelling place, was not their priority. And if rebuilding the temple was not a priority, it kinda makes sense that ultimately GOD was not their priority.

(Definitely begs the question: Where are MY priorities?)

"You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is ever warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them in a bag with holes." (Haggai 1:6)

Life, God seems to be saying, will always use up our energy. We will always have bills, always need groceries, always get hungry, always be tired. There will always be problems to deal with. Are those good enough reasons to neglect the LORD? To neglect the LORD'S house?

Something had to change if the LORD'S temple was going to be rebuilt. The Israelites were too self-centered, too tired, to manage it on their own.

And that leads me to the verse that holds the key. The power.

"And the LORD stirred up the spirit  of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God." (v.14)

The government, the pastors, and the people. All stirred by God to move!

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we asked God to stir up our spirits the way He stirred the spirits of those folks? Can you imagine how many lives would be changed? How much kingdom work would get done? How much evil would be thwarted? Apathy would be non-existent. Desensitization would be reversed. The orphan would be fed. The poor would be clothed. Churches would be fully funded because everyone would tithe as they should. Huge changes could take place, all because God stirred the spirits of His children.

Beginning today, I am going to pray for that very thing! That God would stir up my spirit, and your spirit! That He would stir the spirits of our pastors and spiritual leaders. That he would stir the spirits of our government  leaders, including those who want to be the next President of the United States. We need men and women in leadership who are stirred up! We need men and women who will listen to God and obey Him (v. 12).

Will you join with me and pray for a mighty stirring throughout the world? Beginning in our own hearts!

This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Japan, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, China, France, Canada

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hold Planned Parenthood Accountable!

There are no words strong enough to describe the horrific, depraved practice Planned Parenthood is undertaking. That is, the illegal sale of human body parts. Precious little baby body parts. Torn from their mother's womb in the name of Women's Rights. Abortion is murder. It is the taking of an innocent life in the most horrific way imaginable. It is the mutilation of a human body. Yet abortionists are not satisfied with simply destroying life. They want to maximize the profit to its fullest, disgusting potential.

Help stop this shameful, diabolical practice. Watch and share the video.

God bless the precious, innocent souls being sacrificed for monetary gain.