Memories Not Money

Happy New Year!

I just got back this afternoon from spending time at my father’s home spending some time with him.

This year I determined to give my children and grandchildren “memories not money”! (My youngest daughter couldn’t go because her son was ill. – We missed her terribly.) I took them to visit my father – stay in his home, which they didn’t remember doing, see it all decorated for Christmas and sleep in the attic like I did. (It’s a nice attic.)

We drove up to Boone, NC to have lunch with Franklin and Jane and some of their family then got a tour of Samaritan’s Purse. They had never been there and it had been years since I was there. It has grown!! Very impressive.That evening we had dinner with Franklin’s eldest, Will, and enjoyed him.

The next day we toured The Biltmore House – all decorated for Christmas. It was a mob scene – you almost couldn’t see the house for all the people! It had been years since I was there. Lots of changes and new rooms open. I got a copy of “The Lady on the Hill” – all about the preservation efforts by the Cecil family to keep it going – and robustly. Interesting, to say the least.

We had an ice storm so the kids got snowed in at “Daddy Bill’s”. Fun.

They loved exploring around the house – seeing all the little cubby holes and “secret” places. A kid’s place for sure. They hiked the mountain – it’s different in the winter with a frozen pond and streams. They had so much fun discovering the place for themselves, and I know my mother was looking down enjoying them enjoying the place she built for her family.

My son took me out for a lovely lunch at a “ta da” restaurant in Asheville. Some of the best food I have ever put in my mouth. We had a really nice time.

We visited with our “Korean” cousins. One of the girls was hospitalized briefly in Asheville, so Noelle and I bombed in to see her and caught a glimpse of even more cousins.

My youngest brother and his wife flew in on the 31st. We hadn’t seen each other in years. And drat! we did not take a photo.

I saw a niece and nephew as well as a great nephew and his wife, celebrating their 3rd anniversary. And others…

So…mission accomplished. Memories not money!

Christmas Brought to You by Martha Stewart

I posted this six years ago…it is still good!

Does your house look like this? The carols are playing on the stereo. There is a blazing fire on the hearth – with extra split logs neatly stacked nearby. Snow is gently falling outside. All the Christmas cards and packages have been addressed and mailed early. The smell of cookies baking – not burning – fills the house. The carolers are outside as a sleigh carrying children slowly glides by – harness bells jingling on a starlit night. All the handmade gifts are wrapped to perfection under the tree where all the lights are working. The children are neatly dressed in velveteen with white collars. Even the dog has a red bow around his neck. Your in-laws will arrive soon as the family gathers with smiles and warm hugs. And you smile to yourself that have money leftover! 

If we are honest we have stood in the grocery line and thumbed through Martha Stewart’s magazine with wistfulness. She tells us that we can make everything by hand; the soufflé won’t fall; the packages are wrapped like masterpieces; we can look rested and be ready two weeks early. So that you can relax by the fire with your hot tea and homemade scones to listen to the carolers outside your spotless windows as you welcome family and friends to your hearth.

Good grief! That is not real life!! At least not at my house. The holidays arrive whether you are ready or not. We are bombarded with messages to spend and do until we feel that anything less than “all” isn’t enough. Our culture – even the church – has bought into the advertising message that families love to gather and they all get along – even the dog behaves!

Christmas isn’t about cookies, magic, shopping or snow. Somewhere along the line we have lost Christmas.

Have you noticed that real life happens on the way to Christmas? We talk about peace and joy. But few of us really experience it especially at Christmas. The lights are on the tree but not in our hearts. There is no silence in your night.

Have you noticed that problems and heartache don’t take a holiday? Christmas just adds to an overcrowded schedule and budget.

C.S. Lewis said, “Long before December 25th everyone is worn out – physically worn out by the weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think of suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making, much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”

I want to ask, what does faith have to do with Christmas? That may seem like a ridiculous question after all it is the celebration of Christ’s birth.

What does faith have to do with Christmas in the real world as we sit in heavy traffic going over our long list of things that have to get done or perhaps sitting in a hospital waiting room or looking in disbelief at your foreclosure notice.

Perhaps you are dreading the season. Your family has one missing from the table this year and your heart is sad. Perhaps the ones that will come to your house don’t get along and that brings stress. One will come drunk or stoned. Perhaps you are not worried about decorating or wrapping packages because you are all alone this year. You have tried you best to shop on a thin budget; it is tiresome and you are weary of trying to be “creative”. And the gifts you carefully chose will be returned the next day. Perhaps you have terrible memories of the holidays and you are just hoping to hang on until January 2nd just to get through it.

What does faith have to do with Christmas in today’s culture? Christmas is for healing, about new beginnings. Christmas is about hope. I cannot teach you hope – I can only live out my own hope in the light of what the angel told a Middle Eastern man in a dream long ago. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1;20-21 NIV) That is the hope we have – forgiveness of sin, freedom from our burdens, God’s presence with us in our day to day lives, peace in the midst of the struggle.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

 

Strangers…But Sisters

Push is coming to shove now…Christmas is just 2 weeks away and I have birthdays before and after and a 3-day trip. How will I ever get ready?

My neighbor had a lovely party Saturday night. Her house was beautifully decorated – as was the whole neighborhood. Yes, I did get my house somewhat decorated – my oldest daughter helped bring the smaller tree from the attic so it could go by the front door as well as 3 pretty red lanterns with “automatic” candles inside.

On Saturday, we had 2 inches of snow so it was very Christmassy. The houses were all decorated – lights twinkling from every window. The “town” Christmas tree was all lit up and everything looked so festive. As I walked out the door, I could hear voices coming from every corner. And as we left, I could hear each one call “Merry Christmas!” Almost like in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Then yesterday I was ordering Christmas gifts on-line but was frustrated with one website – it wasn’t doing what I thought it should so I called their 800 number. A very pleasant woman offered to help me with an online order, because that would give me a better discount than if I simply made a phone order. I was all for that! 

We chatted a bit and she indicated her husband was a minister. I told her I was ordained, too.

When It came time to give my credit card information, I gave the name on the card: Ruth B. Graham. She took it down and then said, “You have a famous name.” I replied, “I have a famous father.” She didn’t comment. But she continued to ask for information. Shortly, she tentatively asked me, “Are you by any chance related to Billy Graham?” I told her he is my father. She was so pleased – she had been a counselor in his Cleveland crusade years before. She loved him and my family.

In our conversation she indicated she has two grown children who are “prodigals”. The church has not been kind to her husband – he is in a new church now – not as senior pastor – but the senior pastor is good and her husband enjoys working with him. The transition hasn’t been easy.

As we wound up the order, I asked if I could pray for her. She agreed. I prayed for her two children and her husband. I told her to tell him not to get discouraged; God would honor his faithfulness to His Word.

What an unexpected gift for both of us! I was just ordering from a stranger…an ordinary act – she was just taking orders from strangers who called in. An ordinary day.

But we had a divine encounter! While we started as strangers we finished as sisters!

Only Jesus can do that!

Front-Row Seat

The Christmas carols are playing…I mailed packages this morning…I lit a pine-scented candle, I baked cookies yesterday to give to friends…it’s beginning to feel like Christmas! My neighbors have decorated their houses…

I haven’t – yet. The pressure is on!! I’ll get my outside decorations up before this weekend when all my neighbors gather for a party.I like to savor Thanksgiving just a bit longer – part of Thanksgiving is the anticipation of Advent. Certainly one of the things I am MOST thankful for is the coming of Immanuel.

We celebrate God breaking into human history in a remarkable way. God drew near to us. That is astonishing. No other religion has God reaching down to man – all other religions have man trying to reach their god by good works and sacrifice. Not Christianity. It is God coming to us because He loves us. He wants an intimate relationship with those He created. Wow! The only way to do that was for Him to come to us – face to face.

No wonder Zacharias was “troubled” and “feared” when the angel, Gabriel, suddenly appeared to him in the Temple while he was going about his priestly duties. That had to be unexpected for Zacharias and, not a little bit overwhelming.

Yes, the Jews anticipated Messiah’s coming for a very long time but they had not heard from God for over 400 years. Not a word. Not a prophet’s voice heard. Nothing. God was silent. There was a faithful remnant that kept waiting and expecting but I doubt many expected His coming to be announced to Zacharias that day.

It’s funny how God does the unexpected.

Gabriel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to have baby boy. This baby was going to be the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah.

Zacharias asked this great angel how could he believe the angel. I doubt he’d ever seen one much less talked to one. Zacharias was practical – he and Elizabeth were old. He doubted what Gabriel was telling him. The sign of the truth of this message was that Zacharias would not be able to speak until the baby was born.

That had to be frustrating. He couldn’t tell all his friends and neighbors about the experience he had with the angel. He couldn’t talk to Elizabeth about the plans for the baby…

But in the silence in their home there must have been a sweet communion. Words are not necessary for communication. They must have felt God’s awesome presence and joy. And no doubt, awe-struck.

Why had God chosen them? What would their son be like? The angel told them a bit about him. He would be great in God’s sight. He would not drink alcohol and he’d be full of the Holy Spirit. His purpose was to turn many back to the God of Israel in preparation for the Messiah’s coming. He would have the spirit and power of Elijah, one of Israel’s greatest prophets.

What an awesome privilege to get a front-row seat to the coming of the Messiah!

 

God’s Representative

This morning I was reading my Daily Light – as I have since I was about 12 years old. It is the King James Version because that is what I grew up with – the familiarity of the words brings comfort.

I read of God’s glory. God’s glory is so dazzlingly bright and magnificent He cannot be seen by human eyes. Moses asked to see God’s glory but God told Moses that “no man can see me and live.”

In Scripture it talks about the “likeness of the glory of the Lord.” It cannot be described. St. John had the same issue as he wrote the book of Revelation. What he saw was so fantastical, he couldn’t describe it. It truly overwhelmed him. As it did the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel.

 I can only imagine it would be like looking at the sun – but 1000 times brighter.

God knew we frail humans could not stand in or look at His glory. So He sent an exact representation in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in II Corinthians, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.”

God the creator created the sun and moon just by speaking them into existence. He wanted to light the world which was empty and shapeless. This great creative God whose Word is creatively powerful has touched our own frail human hearts with His light.

Why? “To give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.” God wants us to see Him, but He knew it was dangerous, so He sent one who reprints Him to a “t”.

Take time to think about that!

And this exact representation came in the form of a baby. Mind-blowing! If God wanted to show us His glory why did He send a helpless baby? Would not a light saber or army or powerful creature work better? No one would take a baby seriously. Power and majesty do not bring a baby to mind. A baby is vulnerable. Helpless. Approachable.

Perhaps that is part of God’s glory – humility.

 

Gratitude

With family arriving, laundry to be done, meals planned and fixed, loose ends tied together, children under foot, good smells emanating from the kitchen, noise and messes it must be a family gathering.

For some it is time of dread. Family relationships are strained, quarrels have never been settled. Jealousy arises. Fighting breaks out. Or someone is holed up in another room drinking too much. This, too, can be family gathering.

For some it is tinged with sadness. There is an empty place at the table. By death. Or a move. Or divorce. Or sickness. Or any number of losses. This Thanksgiving will be different.

 Different is different. We can’t try to make it look like it used to be, because it isn’t. It is different and we adapt.

One good way to adapt is to be grateful for everyday. Even on the bleakest days, there is something we can be grateful for. Like breathing – being able to breathe is a blessing.

There used to be an old hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” The chorus went like this: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done.”

What blessings will you count?

I know, after my surgeries last year, it is a blessing to be able to get out of bed on my own. Simple but very true. And again, since my surgeries, my good health is a blessing. My children and their children are blessings. They now bring me joy! It wasn’t always the case but, as I told someone the other day, I have lived long enough to like my children! That is a HUGE blessing! But the best blessing of all is knowing I have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus!

I encourage you take time to count your blessings this Thanksgiving and every day. Perhaps start a gratitude list.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

The Age-Old Existential Question

Back in the 70s many on college campuses were asking the critical questions we all must answer: Why am I here? Wh

at is my  purpose? Is there a purpose bigger than just to eat, live and die? They looked for self-fulfillment. Many young people were asking the right questions but looking in the wrong direction for answers. They turned to sex, drugs and Transcendental Meditation.

That’s when the sexual revolution and women’s lib started. The answers folks came up with didn’t seem to satisfy. They pursued all sorts of things going farther and farther from the truth. We cannot satisfy our quest apart from God.

Blaise Pascal said,“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

[This is from page 75 of Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (New York; Penguin Books, 1966).]

Basically, he is saying there is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us that can only be satisfied by a personal relationship with God.

In my Bible reading this week I was reading I Corinthians 8 verses 5 and 6. “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live: and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.”

Those two little verses pack a lot of existential truth. It tells us where we came from and why we are here. We are here because God placed us here. God is the Creator and Jesus is the Keeper. We exist for Him. So we do not live for ourselves but for Him.

If that is true, does my life reflect it?

 

What a Legacy!

Today is my father’s 99th birthday! We will be celebrating his 100th year all year with memories of all God did in those 100 years. It is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness and grace.

It is such a blessing to be his daughter. I am reminded so often by those that come up to speak with me. This morning I went to the grocery store and many came to tell me how much they loved him. Usually it is followed by how they came to a personal relationship with Christ through his ministry – whether in person in a vast arena, or on television, or in a movie, or by way of radio – so many lives touched and changed by the Gospel.

Yes, it is a blessing. And I feel loved by virtue of their love for him.

Like being in Ireland last month – everyone I met had a Billy Graham story. They remembered the historic meetings in London and Belfast. Their grandparents or parents took them or made them listen on the “telly”. I felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket of love.

What a precious legacy I have!

Just wait till we all get to heaven. What a day that will be!

We’ll all be wrapped in God our Father’s great love.1950s with my parents

 

 

1950s with my parents

 

 

Persecution of Christians

This coming Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Persecution of Christians is on the rise – 250,000,000  (250 million) Christians experience some form of persecution. Did you know that in 2016, 90,000 people were killed because of their faith in Christ? That doesn’t include beatings, rapes, house burnings or intimidation.

Open Doors is an organization that has the World Watch List that ranks the top 50 countries where the most severe persecution takes place. It is not a surprise that North Korea is the #1 place that targets Christians – Somalia is #2.

This Sunday, please ask your pastor to emphasize the persecuted in his morning prayer. We cannot sit idly by as our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering in unimaginable ways simply because they profess faith is Jesus. We are all of the same body of Christ. We have to do something!  We can all pray.

I pray for God’s mercy to reign and His grace to enable. And I pray for those who are doing the persecuting that through the witness of those they target, they will see Christ in a powerful way and come out of the darkness.

Join me on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in praying for our brothers and sisters.

 

Broken People

I just got back from a ministry trip to Ireland. My oldest grandson went with me and he thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He is into medieval history and the “Game of Thrones” and much, if not all, of that show is filmed there in Ireland. I’ve only seen one show and that was on the plane coming back!

It is a lovely country. The people are friendly and warm. I have friends from my last two visits to the island that are so dear. We had great fun driving around northern Ireland. They tend to talk over each other and it’s hard to choose which one to listen to! They are like chattering, happy birds.

I spoke 6 times in 6 days and had 4 hotels. Countless books to sign – on top of the jet lag. I’m afraid the last night I was so exhausted I wasn’t able to form my thoughts in an organized way. That’s when God takes over. And He did.

On that last night…the last person to come speak with me was a lovely lady with silver hair – gorgeous complexion. Her husband had been unfaithful for years, she felt marginalized by the Church and no longer attended church or fellowship events with her friends. She felt ashamed and terribly wounded. She felt shut out. My heart ached for her.

But boy! I could relate. I think the Irish church is where we were back in the 80s and 90s. They just don’t want to deal with the messy stuff. But it’s there whether they want to see it or not. In every Irish pew sits a broken heart. That’s true world-wide, no matter the country. People are hurting and unfortunately, the Church isn’t very helpful and, in many cases causes more damage. That was the case for this dear lady.

I encouraged her to find like-minded friends and, if need be, go to another church that would be more encouraging to her. But I know it is so hard to start again by yourself.

If you think of it, please pray for her. Her name is Elizabeth.

Good ministry took place. They were keen to hear about brokenness and how God uses it in our lives. So often we think broken or flawed, means useless, throw away. Not in God’s economy. Brokenness qualifies us. He doesn’t expect perfection and our goodness is not what He requires.

It is a privilege to touch people’s hearts and lives with the grace of God.