11 Years!

I don’t know if I’ve ever reposted one of my daughter’s blog posts, because we share many of the same readers. This one was too good not to share and I’m very proud of her insight and wisdom. Congratulations, Katie and Jason on anniversary #11- great is God’s faithfulness!

Graham's in His Grace

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, there all pretty blog worthy because I want to remember, “Where was I at and what was I thinking during that time?” And yet you can only write so much. What do I highlight? Focus on? How do I balance the good with the downright ugly times? We’re celebrating 11 years of marriage and while I value transparency I don’t want to come off cynical.

We certainly do not have this marriage thing figured out. I mean I almost did not want Jason to seat me at his brothers wedding because we were at serious odds a few hours prior. I know, I’m so extreme. Listen, I love hard and fight hard. I’m intensely devoted and can be easily wounded. And yet this picture.

Oh how deceiving photos can be. Granted we had signed a peace treaty till we could get…

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Back to the Basics

I Thessalonians 5:16-24 NLT

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.

Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Don’t stifle the Spirit.

Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things.

Hold on to what is good.

Stay away from every kind of evil.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

First, let me acknowledge that often in my faith walk I miss the obvious. I have a tendency to make following Jesus more complicated than He intended. No doubt it is difficult to be a disciple, we are called to deny ourselves, but it is not complex.

Recently, I’ve had some minor bumps in the road. It began with a little flu bug four weeks ago. It was brief and I thought a good reminder of the blessing of health that I typically enjoy. Then I fell off my bike. I recently started biking and have been striving to get some miles under my belt on the trail with the hopes of doing a three day biking event next October. When I fell I happen to land on my right arm of course, because I’m right handed, and suffered a medial elbow ligament sprain, as well as some strains to the tendons surrounding my elbow and wrist. This is not only painful, but renders lifting and twisting nearly impossible with that arm.

After a week I decided I needed to get back on the bike. I calculated I could prop my arm up and squeeze enough on the brake without too much pain and be able to come to a stop safely. I set a date with a friend for the next morning, “rejoicing” in the fact I had only missed one week. That night I had a cyst that I’ve had for 2 years go angry on me. Suffice it to say, the location made it impossible to ride my bike the next day…or week…I’m still waiting.

Two observations I made in the midst of these minor afflictions. I don’t handle pain and limitations very graciously. I’ve lost my patience, cheerfulness and goodwill several times in the last several weeks. I apologize to Charles and everyone who has had to forebear me. Second, God is good. Truly, good. His mercy is new every morning.

In reading and pondering 1 Thessalonians chapter five several times recently it occurred to me how very clear and basic Paul makes following Christ, no matter what is going on in your life. These instructions are not dependent on mobility, health, location, maturity or intellect. They only require a willingness to obey. Paul knows that our salvation needs to be “worked out” daily in the practice of gratitude, praise, prayer, study of the word and perseverance. It is the quintessential, we do our part and God does His.

We rejoice. We choose to take joy in knowing God and His provision of salvation. We thank, in the midst of situations where gratitude would be the last natural response. Or, to put it culturally, gratitude when we wouldn’t post a #blessed on our social media. We pray, whether we sense God’s presence or silence. We pray to our Heavenly Father who we are confident hears and values our prayers. We don’t suppress, quench or grieve the Spirit of God by feeding the flesh (sin) or starving our spirit (lack of reading God’s Word).

Don’t despise prophesies” is the negative of “Do love teaching and preaching” of scripture, with the following admonition to test for biblical integrity any instruction. Then hold onto it.

Stay away from evil needs no explanation, but serious consideration. Evil can have an innocuous appearance, such as gossip and coveting. God detests both of these.

Finally, even when we falter, and we will, there is reassurance that God who is faithful will complete the work He has begun.

Philippians 1:6- NLT

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

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Reading is Not Believing

The Word of God is an amazing thing. It is supernatural, divine, holy, inspiring, and changes the way I think. Hebrews 4:12 says it is “active and alive, penetrating, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I love reading scriptures, meditating on and contemplating them. I love praying the word of God. I love reminding other believers what the Bible says. 
But, the Bible it is not easy. Not when it comes to living it. It is truth and life. It is satisfying and sanctifying, but definitely not easy. If it were effortless Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would not have used words like “striving, struggle and suffering” so often. 
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.” ‭‭ Philippians‬ ‭1:27-30‬ ‭NLT‬‬
“So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect (mature) in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:28-29‬ ‭NLT‬‬
“You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.” ‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬
I can clearly see how the Bible requires tough choices and actions when I’m talking to my friends about their lives. It seems obvious, I mean every Christian knows that following Christ means laying down our desires and will, right?  Luke 14:27- “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” I really can’t understand why they would even hesitate.
Today I was reminded that I often struggle applying God’s word, especially when it involves a sacrifice or pressing of me. I was reminded that reading and agreeing with scripture is not the same as believing. Believing occurs when we act on God’s word. 
This revelation occurred not because of great suffering such as Paul experienced, but as a result of small sacrifices that loomed large in my mind. I committed to a short term mission trip several months ago and now that it is approaching I changed my mind. I don’t want to go. There, I said it! Now you know how carnal and immature I can be. Actually, I can be worse, but never mind…I’m pressing on. I could give you a list of ALL the reasons I don’t want to go. In fact, I will.

1. $2500.00- Need funding, must send letters to friends and family, I hate asking.
2. Visa, forms, pictures and vaccinations required.$$$

3. 3rd World country- long flight, cramped in coach, security, customs. 

4. Do not feel proficient for task.

5. Don’t want to use foreign bathroom facilities in bush.

6. They want us to wear a SKIRT over our scrubs as not to be offense to local believers. Seriously, I don’t mind taking up my cross, but a SKIRT? 

7. Don’t want to be away from home, family, or comfort.

In the midst of my, “Why did I say, “Yes” anxiety attack and the emotional struggle going on in me I was confronted with reality. God’s word kept coming into my mind, “Will you carry this small cross of inconvenience and follow me?” “Will you press on?” “Will you deny yourself a little?” 
Will I be content to mentally ascribe to His word, prescribe it to others and fail to truly believe? No I will not. I belong to Him and He is faithful and true. Phillipians 1:6- 
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” NLT

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Liking Jesus, Loving the World

I’m ending my year long hiatus from blogging by writing about something that has been troubling me. What is wrong with the church? Our church, your church, the church in North America? 2016 has been a painful year in our church. Not the “normal” kind of pain that occurs from membership loss, illness or death in the body of Christ. Although we have experienced that and it has been sorrowful, the kind of pain I’m referring to is deeply discouraging to my spirit. It is the agony of abandonment. Several of our leaders and long time friends, people I considered my brothers and sisters in Christ  have walked away from our church, their family and friends to pursue their “happiness” and find themselves. Somewhere along the way they laid down their cross. 

Matthew 16:24-“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” NLT

Or perhaps, like many others they never actually picked up their cross. Maybe they liked Jesus, but loved the world. There are others in the Bible that liked Jesus, but walked away. 

The rich young ruler liked Him so much he sought out Jesus ‘ perspective on eternal life. Then he walked away when Jesus uncovered the real love of his life- money. 

Luke 18:22-23 -“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.” NIV
I believe Judas liked Jesus, he spent three years with him day and night. How could he not? Yet, he betrayed Him for his own earthly agenda.
Herod had great respect for John the Baptist, forerunner for the Messiah. It says in Mark 6:20, “…Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” Herod heard John’s message “gladly”. Yet, he jettisoned it in a second for his own pride and reputation.
Jesus clearly teaches his disciples many will receive His message and “like it”. 
Matthew 13:20-21 -“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. ” ESV

It is as easy as clicking that icon on FB or Instagram. It requires no commitment or self denial, just a sentiment. 
Maybe my friends and former church family members initially received the message of Jesus with joy. Maybe they hit the “like” icon. But now, the stress of life, disappointment in relationships, or their obvious attachment to the world is revealing the true condition of their heart. Perhaps they are like the prodigal son in Luke 15, who saw his father as a resource to be cashed in, so he could pursue what would really make him happy. 
I know that we all struggle with sin and worldliness. It is a constant gravitational pull, otherwise, there would be no need to “resist the devil”. (James 4:7) I have been trapped in previous times of sin that undermined my testimony and devotion to God. By His grace, I was delivered. 
What I am writing about and what is so discouraging in those that I love is an abandoning of biblical faith, calling wrong right and pursuing their desires at the expense of the most sacred aspects of life in Christ they previously committed to. It’s death. Death to their witness, death to their family unity and ultimately death to their intimacy with God. I don’t think it is exclusive to our church. But for all who claim to have relationship with Christ and have received the word with joy, but now are living in pursuit of self realization and this world, I pray they will as the prodigal son did “come to their senses” and return to the Father. 


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Call Me Needy

Luke 7:36-38 “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.” NIV
For much of my adult life I have contemplated what Jesus would have me “do” for Him. In 1986 my husband Charles and I went to Ft. Worth to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain formal education to prepare us to “do” mission work outside of the United States. In pursuit of fulfilling the requirements of our denominational international mission board we needed two years stateside pastoral ministry experience. We were interviewed and accepted at a church in Florida, just five miles from where Charles grew up and ten miles from where I lived from age thirteen up. Basically our BACKYARD. Charles threw himself into being a pastor. I jumped in with both feet to be the pastor’s wife, albeit slightly unconventional pastor’s wife, I didn’t have training and I didn’t have a clue. After the required two years we sensed that God had led us away from international missions to continue to serve in our old stomping grounds. We have fumbled and stumbled more times than not through the years, but God has remained faithful. 
My desire to “do” something for Jesus sought expression still beyond the pastoral duties of hospitality, teaching and serving in various capacities at my church. Over the years I’ve engaged in prison ministry (complete with Bible study and exercise classes), home Bible study small groups, one on one mentoring, mission trips, mission/medical/ dental trips, workplace Bible studies, pregnancy care center and homeless ministry. Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians (2 Thessonians 4:11) to “Make it your goal to live a quiet life: minding your own business and working with your hands…” either seemed impossible to me (Probably the quiet part and minding my own business.) or just not “spiritual” enough. So I continued to search for something more. However, I just could not seem to find my sweet spot ministry wise the way other people did. 
The passage from Luke this morning brought me insight. The Pharisee’s invitation to Jesus to come to his house was all about him, Simon. I believe he wanted Jesus to validate him, to make him look good. It wasn’t about getting to know Jesus better. Or honoring Jesus, otherwise he wouldn’t have eschewed the customary foot washing. It wasn’t about gaining insight into salvation or the kingdom of God, he was clearly wedded to his own system of righteousness. It wasn’t about seeking intimacy with Jesus, he had his “friend” pride to cling to. He needed nothing.
To the immoral women it was ALL about Jesus. She had to be near Him. She had to let Him know she loved and honored Him more than anything. No hidden agenda, no self righteousness, nothing to offer Him but her perfume and tears. All raw, pure neediness.
In my efforts over the years to find a special ministry that I could call “mine”. I think I slipped subconsciously into Simon’s mindset. How can you, Jesus, make me look good? How can You validate me as a person, a Christian, a believer, a do gooder? I want to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” for my sake, to approve me. I want people to look at me and think I’m special, not needy, broken and sinful. 
I have come to the feet of Jesus many times over the years in tears of repentance and neediness. I have sensed His forgiveness and love again and again. His Word has spoken to my heart, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” I am confident that even in the midst of relapsing into my “performance based, all about me ministry” attitude, Jesus loves me and has compassion for my broken, sinful self. He urges me on to engage in the works He has prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), works that bring Him honor and glory, not me. Works that might possibly be mundane or ordinary, like washing of feet, but recorded for eternity.
I love this quote from Brennan Manning’s book, All Is Grace, a friend of his Dominique had pursued revealing Christ in the most ordinary of ways by listening to people and showing them small acts of kindness. These words were found in Dominique’s journal on the final day of his life.

   “All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me. I can truthfully say that I have no interest in anything but the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my word and witness. If he wants it too, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is his concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that.”
I want that to be the lived out final entry in my “journal” of life. God help me.

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Compassion- More Than a Feeling

Luke 7:12-13 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (NIV)
I love the compassion that radiates from Jesus as reflected in this passage. “His heart went out to her.” The New Living Translation interprets it, “His heart overflowed with compassion.” As I let that one verse sink into my soul it says so many things to me.

Jesus is sympathetic to us in our sorrows from small to large. Certainly we understand that he is sympathetic to the great losses in our life. But, it doesn’t have to be the death of a loved one. It can be the death of a dream, a reputation, a opportunity or a relationship.

We have a Lord who was a man of sorrows familiar with deep grief. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Isaiah 53:3 foresaw our Savior would experience loss, rejection, and pain. This is not some abstract calculating God that is observing our struggles from a distance. Don’t buy the lie from our enemy that Jesus doesn’t care, because He does care at the deepest, most profound level.

I am partial to the New Living Translation because it says “his heart overflowed with compassion”. Jesus’ heart overflowed because His heart is FULL of compassion. It might seem that I am clearly overstating the obvious here, but my point is this: what is overflowing from your heart? If it is not love, mercy and compassion, ask Jesus to heal your heart.

Jesus acted on His compassion. He didn’t just feel bad for the woman. He didn’t merely express sympathy. He acted. I know we won’t in all likelihood raise people from the dead, but are we expressing our compassion in tangible acts of caring? Too often I find myself thinking that feeling badly for a person’s plight is sufficient. Compassion must move us to action. In fact, I believe from looking at Jesus’ example that sympathy resulting in action is biblical compassion. We have westernized the definition of the word “compassion” to mean emotions of pity, sympathy and sorrow.

Finally, and this insight is gained from verse sixteen of this passage- “They (the people who saw this miracle) were all filled with awe and praised God…” Death eventually came again to the widow and her son. The ultimate goal and outcome of the miracle is eternal and it is the revelation and praise of God. Because in the end the chorus will be as it is written in Revelation 15:3-4 “And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

Our compassion in action like Jesus’ will ultimately redound to God- His glory over all the nations forever and ever!

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Do You Doubt?

Luke 7:18-19 The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” 
These two verses make me alternately ache and take comfort. I see John the Baptist, formerly known as “wild man of the wilderness” fearlessly proclaiming the message of repentance, now desperately seeking an answer. John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, to prepare the hearts of the people. He told them they couldn’t just say they were sorry and receive forgiveness. They must prove repentance by changes in behavior. 
Luke 3:11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Luke 3:14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” 
John called people out on their sin, sometimes by name as in the case of Herod Antipas the ruler of Galilee who had married his brother’s wife. That one got him thrown into the slammer. He wasn’t a coward or fly by night follower. 
The Bible says John was strong in spirit. Jesus said in Matthew 11:11 “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist…” He was bold, brave and human. From the prison cell where Herod had thrown him, John began to think and wonder. He probably reflected on scripture regarding the Messiah, scripture he knew by heart, scripture Jesus had read in the Temple and declared He was the fulfillment of. (Luke 4:18)
Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” Isaiah 42:7, “You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
So John sits, waits and thinks in a dark, dirty, dank hole of discouragement called prison day after day. Finally he sends word to Jesus through some of his disciples, “Are you the One?” 
Oh my! I can feel the angst in his question. Caught in the middle of proclaimer and prisoner, John struggles. Everything his life has centered on called into question because God wasn’t acting like John thought God would act. The Deliver isn’t delivering. He isn’t even making prison calls of reassurance to bring John up to speed on the latest greatest strategy. He isn’t there! John is alone to wonder.
Have you ever been there? Where everything inside and outside of you seems to say, “Jesus is not the Messiah Deliver. Don’t trust. Don’t believe. You are a fool.” Or perhaps the more subtle subversive thought, “He doesn’t care” continues to beat through the defenses of your faith. 
I have always found it interesting how Jesus in His holy and wholly mysterious way responds. He doesn’t leave immediately to go see John and reassure him everything is going to be okay and yes, He is the Messiah. He doesn’t even directly answer John’s question. He points to the evidence of His authority in the miracles He has performed and says, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In other words, I know this doesn’t make sense. I know I’m not what anyone pictured a Messiah would be. But, I AM. Look at the evidence. Hang on, John. Your deliverance is at hand. Not the way you think it will be or should be, perhaps. But, full and complete deliverance.
He says the same to you. Hang on. Keep the faith. I AM. And He doesn’t say it casually or callously. He knows your pain, anxiety and loneliness. He experienced it too.

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