Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Feeding Sheep

The sheep barn...where I spent many hours as a teen on our family farm. We fed sheep, cleaned pens, carried hay and gave vaccinations. We also trained lambs for the fair and cared for orphans. There are some good memories and as we visited my dad the other day, I was reminded there are still some lessons to learn.

As I listened to a small fraction of his ewes (female sheep) I was encouraged my kids are not the biggest noise makers in the county!! I had blocked out the volume of annoying noise a bunch of hungry sheep can make...this clip doesn't compare to what it sounds like in real life.

Their bleating about drove me crazy, but as I observed I knew there was something for me to learn. I watched the sheep react to my dad walk through the pen...they were hungry and they knew he was their shepherd. He would feed them and care for them like he always has.

At this point I recalled the conversation between Jesus and Peter that we find in John 21...three times Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep and care for His lambs. Jesus isn't talking about a woolly flock out on the hill, but His people. I'm guessing not many of my reader friends actually care for these animals either, but we all need to care for our Shepherd's sheep.

Whether you own a barn or not, you have hungry sheep in your circle. They may not join together and make noise at a certain time each day, but they are longing for and in need of the Living Word you have to offer. Matthew 4:4 says, "Jesus answered, 'It s written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Friend, I encourage you to look around you and see who is in need of some spiritual food. Pray and ask God to show you what sheep He needs you to feed today!

My kids took this encouragement literally and we now have 5 orphan lambs to care for. This was my son's idea so when Grandpa dropped the lambs off I didn't even go to the barn. I wanted him to take responsibility for what he wanted and needed to do.

Later that night it was time to get the milk ready and J.D. and Joy disagreed on how to mix it up. One thought it was so much milk replacer and water while the other thought it was a different ratio. I was frustrated and thought here we go so much for responsibility. I reminded the kids these lambs were little and this was important not just for this feeding, but for the lambs' lives.

So they did what you and I need to do...they called the one who knows. Grandpa gave them the right measurements and they were on their way. I was reminded that in a spiritual sense things are quite similar...all sheep need the same type of feed, but they do so in different amounts and proportions. All of God's lambs need His Word, but only He knows what each one needs specifically. As we share, speak, teach and feed His sheep may we remember to ask Him what they need.

Finally a couple of other thoughts as we thinking about feeding sheep in a spiritual sense...if we're a Mom, our children must be our number one priority. My dad has 2 grandsons working with sheep this year and he's also helped some of his neighbor boys get started. He's more than willing to help them, but one thing I've noticed is he always takes care of his flock first. God may call us to reach out, help and teach others, but we must keep first things first. We must be sure we are drinking from the living Word ourselves and then care for those in our home before we reach out to others.

One last thing for those of you feeling called in to ministry a word of advice...start small. My dad has been raising sheep for over 30 years...he now has close to 200 ewes, which means in a couple of weeks he'll have close to 400 lambs. But as I walked through the barn the other day my mind went back to my childhood days when a neighbor gave us our first orphan lamb. A lot has changed since then and my dad has learned much in that time. I'm guessing he'd say there's no way he could do what he's doing now when he first started. Experience has been a great teacher and as he's learned his flock has grown.

Friend, as you and I diligently feed the sheep God brings to us I believe He'll do the same. He knows what we are capable of and better yet, He knows who we need to feed. The number isn't important, but their nourishment is! May you and I be ones who "do your (our) best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

I hope this is a task we will take seriously and do a world that needs the Word and often distorts it may we be diligent and responsible to handle it rightly! Remember the power it holds and work it can accomplish!

"For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

"The law of the Lord is perfect, 
refreshing the soul.
The statues of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. 
(Psalm 19:7-8)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Get off the fence!!

 On the farm, fences and gates are important - they keep cattle in and kids out. Through the years our kids have liked to stand by the gate and watch the cattle. They've also liked to stand on the fence and see what's happening on the other side. They've learned about animals and life on the farm by doing this. They've also observed their dad and seen things they will some day need to do. Our oldest is 13 and now he often finds himself on the other side of the fence...he's feeding cattle he was once afraid of and driving tractors he used to just ride in. He's growing up and as he matures, he gains responsibility and gets new opportunities. He no longer just stands on the fence like he once did. He would never admit it, but I'm sure there are (or at least were) times it was a bit scary to cross the fence and do what he'd only seen done before. With experience has come confidence and repetition has brought more knowledge.

So why do I tell you about my boys and our fences and life on the farm? Well because maybe it's time for you to get off the fence too. God's been whispering that to my heart and I have a hunch that I'm not alone. Perhaps somebody else is a bit like me. Like my boys, we've stood at the fence watching and learning, maybe not even aware that we were waiting, but now God's encouraging us to enter the field as well. We can feel unequipped and scared just like my son. We might struggle with fear and doubt and find ourselves thinking - "What if I can't? What if I'm not smart enough or good enough? What if I mess up?" Or we may take the step, try it out and realize - "It's work and it's hard. It's so much easier watching someone else!"

I'm guessing God's not asking you to feed cattle, drive a tractor or operate a skid loader, but is He calling you to step out of your comfort zone, to do something new? Is He whispering to you, "Open the door of your heart and let me in."? Is He leading you to surrender a bad habit? Or be obedient? Or submit to your husband?

Friend, we can put up a lot of walls and gates and fences in our heart and mind, but we need to break them down and follow where God leads. This is true when it comes to matters of our heart, our thought life and the actions He calls us to. Lately, I find myself sitting on the fence rather than knocking it down or crawling over. Just like my boys I see what's out there and God's telling me to go, but I stay. Sometimes I give myself a pep talk after God's sent another confirming message and prepare to take that step, but then something stops me. Other times I take a couple of steps, even get in the tractor so to speak, but doubt creeps in or I see the work instead of the blessings that follow obedience and I stop.

 It doesn't have to be like this...friends if you are walking with the Lord and abiding in His Word, you too or growing and maturing - new opportunities and responsibilities will come. If you are praying and seeking Him, He will call you out. If you and me are building our relationship with our Heavenly Father, Elohim the God who created us, He will show us what He created us to do.

In a sense my boys do all these things with their dad and they are often eager to do the next thing, they look forward to being like him and doing what a man does. Oh that you and I would approach God's opportunities in a similar way...let's be like Him and do what He asks!

How do we do this you ask? That is a great question!! One I've been pondering myself! It is a choice. Not an easy one, but a doable one. We have to chose to get off the fence and trust the One who is leading and promises to walk with us! 1 Kings 18:21 says, "Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.' But the people said nothing." You may read that verse and think, "Jill I'm just sitting on the fence, I'm not worshiping Baal." I had that thought myself, but God's showing me when I'm not following Him, I am worshiping someone else - myself. We must not put our comforts, wants and desires before God's leading. I know easier said than done!

Another verse that offers encouragement as I think about this is Hebrews 10:23. Here the author says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." Another version says without wavering. All too often I find myself holding on to the fence I'm standing on when God is asking me to hold onto my hope, the truth and His hand! If our hands or our heart are gripped to the fence they can't be where they are created to be!

And finally a verse that is a bit convicting - "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." I don't think these words from Revelation 3:15-16 need much explaining. Friend, God knows and sees our actions, our heart and our hesitation! Will you join me in getting off the fence today? Let's not be like my little Jesse in this pic with hands over our ears denying what God is telling us to do. May we be women who hear God, obey Him and follow where He leads!

What fence are you standing on? Where is God asking you to go? Feel free to share and I will pray for you as I pray for me! Blessings to you friend and thanks for stopping by! It's a joy to journey with you! Remember God, our perfect parent, will never ask us to cross a fence to do something we can't do. He's equipped you, called you and will be with you - Follow Him!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Learning about Love

Love...a concept I've struggled with through the years. Growing up, I knew I was loved - I was taken care of, supported and encouraged. Our family wasn't real big on hugs or saying, "I love you," so I had a hard time expressing it. I came to know Christ as my personal Lord and Savior at the age of 23 and in the years that have passed love has been something I still struggled to grasp and express. I know God's love is incomprehensible, but I've dug into God's Word to learn a bit more.

Our local Titus24U group took some time studying this topic and sharing our insights, experiences and struggles. Love is something the world talks about, but God does! Love is something we all need and what we as believers can share. Love is a big, broad, important topic that I believe we can always learn more about and do better with. I pray this study will help each of us do just that! Feel free to print it off and I invite you to share your insights, thoughts and questions in the comments. But before we begin, something new...words from me you won't just read, but hear. I need to record something in a few weeks, so thought practice would be good! (Clearly after watching this it's a good thing I'm practicing!! My son has already informed me I close my eyes way too much...I agree with him and I'm not sure why that is! Think I was avoiding looking at him trying to make me laugh.) So anyway here's a little intro for our topic...sharing this as I believe God loves me for who I am not what I do or how I look on video!

First of all a few questions to get you thinking -

What is love?

Where did you learn about love?

If you could share one thing you've learned about God's love, what would it be?

Opening Prayer
Lord, we come to you now and are grateful for your love. It's a love that is deep and high and wide. A love that never fails. I love that I didn't earn and don't deserve. Father, your love is so different than the worlds as I work through this study help me understand it more so I can share it better. God, I ask you to meet me in the pages of your Word. Speak to me. Tender my heart and humble me so that I can receive all you have for me. Thank you for loving me, help me love more like YOU! In Jesus' Name, Amen

Love - Merriam Webster defines it like this - "a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person" or "attraction in a romantic relationship". When I dug deeper and tried to find a biblical definition I found this - "purposeful commitment to sacrificial action for another" ( and from the notes in my study Bible - "Ultimate expression of God's loyalty, purity and mercy extended to His people to be reflected in human relationships by brotherly concern, marital fidelity and adoration of God." Clearly, there is a contrast between God's definition and the worlds. On which do you form your definition of love?

A Bit About God's Love
Look up the following verses and pay attention to what each one says about God's love.
Psalms 136:1-2
Psalms 136:26
John 3:16
Romans 5:8                                                    
Romans 8:37-39
Ephesians 2:4-5
Ephesians 3:16-19
1 John 2:5

What truth about God's love speaks to you today?

Friend, may we remember God's love isn't earned and can't be lost. It will never fail and will always endure. God's love came with a cost and brings eternal life in heaven and abundant life on earth. His love requires our response and exceeds our understanding!

Learning from Leah
Read Genesis 29:31-35
Here we read the story about the birth of Leah's first four sons. What can we learn about God's love through her story?

What insight do we get into the love of man through these verses?

Personally, I had never really slowed down to read these verses and look for a lesson in them, but I'm struck by what 5 verses can teach me. Have you ever felt like Leah? Unloved and unnoticed. I have. Friend, I think this is a reminder that we were created for love, it's something we yearn for and I'm grateful that even when man doesn't notice me, El Roi sees. God doesn't just see us, He loves us. Another thing that jumped out at me was how Leah's desire changed with baby number 3...did you catch that? She's no longer desiring Jacob's love, but is willing to settle for his attachment. When we are not "feeling" love from man, may we remember to run to God and receive His love! It's bigger and better than any person can give and is always available with no strings attached.

Learning from and with Peter
Read John 21:15-19

What important event took place before the discussion we read here?

What do we learn about love in this familiar passage?

Put yourself in Peter's do you feel? How would you respond?

Again this is a short passage, but it contains import truths! Love is gentle and necessary for forgiveness. Love may be tough and it requires a response. Jesus didn't just want to hear Peter's "Yes", He expected to see it. Peter could demonstrate his love for Jesus by obeying His instruction. He was told to feed the sheep. Friend, you and I can do the same! John 14:21 says, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will them and show myself to them." Which brings us to the final piece of our lesson...

Looking at Me!
Read the following verses from 1 John and note what they say about love.

Friend, I would love to sit and visit with you about what touched your heart as you read these verses. It's not possible, but I do invite you to share in the comments. A few things that have stuck with me - God is the source of love. Love is a commitment and a command. God's love is accepted, not earned. Love is a choice, not a feeling. Finally, the thing that has hit me hardest through the whole study...God's love for me should result in my obedience to Him. I have a ways to go, but am thankful for the motivation!

If you want to keep going, below you will find a short assessment you can work and pray through. I pray Satan will not condemn you, but if there's room for improvement I'm asking God to show you what that is!!

A Self-Check
Who or what do I love? Is God my first love?

Is there anyone I don’t love?

Do I love the world? (Physical pleasures, Material things, Status or Position)

Do I believe God loves me? Do I receive, embrace and trust that love?

Do I speak love or show it? (Love is more than words.)

Do I love with my time, talents and treasure?

Do I love my family? (Both Physical and Church)

Am I more loving than I was a year ago?

How could I love better? Who do I need to love more?

How can I show my love for God? What is He commanding me to do?  Will I obey and put my love to work?

Closing Prayer
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the time spent in Your Word. I'm grateful it is living and active. I pray for discipline and discernment as I try to apply what I've learned. Help this to be more than knowledge in my head, but instead transformation in my heart. I ask you to lavish Your love on me Lord and then help me be a vessel in which You share your love with others. Father, may I be like Peter and not just say, "I love you", but also do what You ask. Father God, help me remember that Your love never fails and really it is all that I need. I'm grateful, and in needed of, Your perfect and sufficient love. Lord, use me to love others so that they see You and experience Your love. Father, You are good, You are holy and You are loving. Thank you. In Jesus' Name...Amen

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It's not just for her...

In my morning devotions, I read Psalm 30 and the whole chapter had my attention, but as I read verses 11 and 12 thoughts turned to my friend, Wendy Blight. Today is a big day for her...her new book/Bible study, "I Know His Name," is being released. To learn more about it, click HERE. This is a project she began a few years back and includes countless hours of work. And I'm guessing even a few tears. Really, it goes back farther and deeper than that...years ago Wendy was attacked by an armed man and experienced things no woman ever should. She dealt with pain and battled fear, but God through His Word and Holy Spirit brought freedom, wholeness and healing.

So it's no surprise these words made me think of her...

David says, "You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sack cloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord, my God, I will praise you forever."

I've read Wendy's story and heard it too...there's no doubt God has turned her wailing into dancing. He has given her joy after an experience that left her wondering if she'd survive, let alone be happy. He did this for a she would praise Him and not be silent. She's doing that as she's sharing her words with readers across the world. 

After reading David's Psalm I too praised God for the work He has done and is continuing to do through Wendy. I lifted her new book to Him and prayed for all who will be pointed to His Word through it. 

I finished my prayer and after the pause, a new thought entered my mind. God was whispering to my heart, "Jill, those words are not just for her. Think about what I've done in your life. Remember the pit I pulled you from? Don't forget the wounds I've healed. The pain I've helped you overcome. The transforming work I've done in your life and heart. I've taken your sorrow and replaced it with my joy. You can praise me and speak for me too."

Friend, these final verses in Psalm 30 are for you too. It's great and Biblical to celebrate our sister's success, but we need to strive for our own as well. It's important to see the work God has done in another, but we can't forget what He's done for us. We can and should speak words of encouragement to the ones we love, but use the same strategy for yourself, one God loves. 

That doesn't mean you need to write a book about your life or author a Bible study, but we do need to speak up and share our story and shine His light. We must proclaim who God is and testify about the work He does. 

As I read others share their gratitude with Wendy about her obedience and faithfulness, I'm reminded of a quote from Henry Blackaby, "Anytime someone thanks me for being obedient and writing 'Experiencing God' I respond, 'What do you think God could do if you said yes and obeyed as well?'" 

A day that involved celebrating for a friend has also included a bit of conviction for myself. You see there are things God's asked me to do and I'm dragging my feet and I'm not being disciplined, which means I'm being disobedient. Just like Psalm 30 isn't just for my friend neither is God's grace, power or plan. 

Friend, He has work for you and for me. He's given us a message and a story that nobody else can tell. An audience too. Be faithful and obedient and do what my friend did...sacrifice, draw near, search the Scriptures and speak up. You'll be blessed, others will witness and God will be glorified. What a way to praise Him!!