Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Drawing encouragement from Billy Graham

This week, we have joined countless others in  remembering and giving thanks for that great man of God, Billy Graham.  He has influenced me in many ways through the years, but none more than in his encouragement to read the Bible.

In a writing class taught by author, Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind series), I first heard this story, which he recently repeated in a blog post. While writing the autobiography of Billy Graham (Just as I Am), Jenkins asked Graham “What form does your searching the Scriptures take?”

Graham’s response: “Wherever I am in the world, in someone’s home, my home, a hotel room, here in my office, anywhere, I leave my Bible open where I’ll notice it during the day. Every time I see it, I stop and read a verse or two, or a chapter or two, or for an hour or two. And this is not for sermon preparation; it’s just for my own spiritual nourishment.”

Jenkins shared in class that he looked over and sure enough, an open Bible lay on Graham’s desk.

This story impressed me powerfully. If this great man Billy Graham needed this spiritual nourishment, how much more would I? And what would be my response to the question, “What form does your searching the Scriptures take?”

It has taken many forms during the years. In my early years of walking with the Lord, I often read Decision Magazine, the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic organization. In it Graham said this, “I used to read five psalms every day-that teaches me how to get along with God. Thin I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”

I followed that advice for years, so no matter what else I was reading, I included Psalms and Proverbs.

For many years, I used a Bible reading guide loosely based on the New Common Lectionary. Other years, I read continuously through the New Testament.

This year, I’m doing something different. I found a plan for reading through the Bible in a year that doesn’t involve being stuck in Leviticus for a couple of weeks. It has an epistle, law, history, Psalms, poetry, prophecy, and gospel reading each week. I’ve done it for two months now and love this flow. I’ll provide the link to the printable plan at the end of this post.

It doesn’t really matter what form your searching the scriptures take. It only matters that you’re searching them.

Graham said, “The Bible can change our lives as we read it and obey its teaching every day.” Reading the Bible has certainly changed my life. I will often open its pages and find a word that speaks to a situation I am dealing with on that very day. “His powerful word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey” (Hebrews 4:12).

I am so thankful I had opportunity to hear Graham preach in person and I'll never forget sitting in a darkened hometown theater as a teen watching his movie The Restless Ones. The title track to the movie captures who God is in my life today, He's Everything to Me. I, like many, many others owe Billy Graham much. 

HERE is the 52-week printable Bible reading plan. If you feel so led, share it with someone else in memory of that servant of God, Billy Graham.

Jerry Jenkins wrote a wonderful tribute to Billy Graham this week that includes the story I first heard him tell in class as well as many other wonderful memories. It is HERE.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Waiting and wonder

Whenever we visit coastal Georgia, I bike over to one of my favorite stretches of marsh to see what might be moving. On a recent trip, I'm pedaling along and then spot this guy. I get off my bike and creep up to him just in time to catch him eating breakfast (a little pixilated, a blow up on an iphone)

At times, I can sit on that marsh bank for what seems like forever and nothing seems to be happening. It feels like only me and miles of grass. But I know that’s not true. I know all around me life is stirring. I just can’t see it. Clapper rails are nesting, blue crabs are scurrying, and small fish are weaving their way through the grass maze.  

In the same way, it can seem even though we’ve prayed, nothing is happening―miles and miles of sameness. And yet, God is moving. In fact, Bible teacher, Priscilla Shirer, says, “God is at work right now doing something for you that you can’t do for yourself.”

We have to keep waiting and believing.

Then, it can be like my heron and his fish. God allows us to see something spectacular. God doesn’t have to do it, but He does. He pulls back the curtains and gives us a peek into the mysteries of His ways. He is always at work, always has our best interests in His heart, and in those impossible problems we can’t begin to solve, He’s already there.

So, if it’s been a long time, and nothing seems to be happening, take heart. A blue heron sized wonder may be just around the corner.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over” (Lamentations 3:22-24 The Message).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When you're stranger than you know

Jerry and I took our seats at a table by the restaurant’s front window. As we waited on our lunches of chicken salad, I enjoyed taking in the quaint d├ęcortea pitchers, paintings, and signs with various messages. My gaze landed on one sitting on a mantel.  It hit home, almost as if it were meant for me. It read, “You are stranger than you know.”

Often, I’ll think I’m being a normal person, but then I realize like all writers, my nature makes me a little weird. After all, I make up stories all day. That in itself should qualify me for some degree of strangeness.

I go to sporting events and spend more time taking in the people around me than what’s happening in the game. You never know when you might find a good character.

I find myself in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden, I’ll take a step back and realize I could use it in a book.

The fictional world in my mind pops up at the most inconvenient times. You don't want to know.

When someone asks me about my story, I usually give some lame answer because I’ve experienced the truth of the adage if you talk too much about your writing, the story can get away from you.

People ask me what I’ve been doing all day, and when I tell them I’ve been getting rid of  –ly words, a normal task for me, they stare at me, glazed.

I am stranger than I know. “Look at that sign,” I said to Jerry. “It’s true.”

 “It is true.” He smiled, put his hand on mine, and added, “You are stronger than you know.”

I took a closer look at the sign. I had misread it. The word was stronger not stranger.

Hey, but maybe, I’m stronger because I am stranger. Being different can make us have a firmer resolve, a more steadfast commitment to the purpose God has for us.

Last week, I watched an interview with one of the Olympic skiers. When she first started she couldn’t get enough of the drills. Down the slope and right back up again for more. Everyone else was whining and complaining. Not her. They thought she was strange. Our passions set us apart.

Perhaps, we’re all a little stranger than we know when it comes to what ignites our hearts. It’s okay. It makes us the unique people we are. It can make us strong.

And God can use all of this for His glory.

“Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adorationwhat a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something” (Psalm 139:14-15).

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Groundhog and Hope

Whether you call him a groundhog, a whistle pig, a woodchuck, or even a marmot monax, he still let us down this year.

Both Punxsutawney Phil and Georgia’s own General Beauregard Lee have predicted six more weeks of winter.

Groundhog Schmoundhog.

With such a cold start to the year, my shingles, and so many having the flu, we were hoping for an early spring. We needed an early spring.

The General has a certificate from a faculty member at the University of Georgia designating him a Doctor of Weather Prognostication and Georgia State awarded him the Doctor of Southern Groundology, so you would have expected better. But no, no, no. Take away the fancy titles and what you still have is a big fat rodent.

Jerry and I delivered food to my sweet girl who has been afflicted by the flu. When leaving her house, I spotted a yard full of yellow crocus blossoms. I made Jerry stop the car so I could take a picture.

If the groundhog is right, and we’re staring at six more weeks of winter, we need to cling to all the bright hope we can, keeping the promise of spring ever before us.

In our lives, it can sometimes feel as if the bad stuff is about to overwhelm, that it will go on forever, but focusing on God’s promises helps us keep perspective. He is still on the throne. His promises are still true.

In the eternal scheme of things, He will bring ultimate restoration. He will redeem not just a few things, but He will make all things new.

Meanwhile, we take comfort that even through arctic days, God is at work bringing renewal from the cold, hard earth and also from the hard places in our lives. Winter won’t last forever. The world is already starting to bloom, again.

And I might add, no thanks to the groundhog.
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