Sep 29, 2011

Wait, Hope, Watch, Read

There have been some "red light indicators" that something needs to change in my life. I had stepped out of ministry in the year 2000 to deal with some sin in my life and started working a secular job to support my family. In 2006 I started transitioning back into ministry by working bi-vocationally. What that meant was I worked a secular job during the week days and did ministry during the evenings and weekends; and occasionally during the day for funerals and preaching engagements.  

In January 2011, the “rope” that had been pretty stable for the last 10-11 years had been gradually fraying and the result had been responding wrong to situations (or at least differently than I would like to). I work hard at responding right even in difficult situations, and treating people with respect. Things had been building up for the past 2 1/2 years, and the stress had been hard on all of us; especially with loss of co workers, jobs, benefits, and large pay cuts.   

Cathy and I had the past 2 years praying about how long I was to stay at the construction company that has provided work for me for over ten years since I stepped out of ministry.

Then, in February of 2011, I submitted my resignation effective at the end of the month. Although I have been approached by a couple of companies asking that I would submit a resume, I didn’t have a job to go to (… we did have some money in the bank and a God who has always provided abundantly for us). There were a few practical things to take care of such as health insurance for the kids and purchasing a vehicle (I had both as part of my salary package). 

What I hadn’t done over the past 10 years was to ask God if I was to go back into “full-time” ministry or not. I get a fair amount of requests to preach outside the USA; I’ve basically run from this call from the Lord.  

The next step was for me was to take the next “30 days” (March of 2011) and seek God’s purposes as to what I am called to do. What that meant was: No job searching. No resume posting. No fretting. 

The plan instead was to use the time to meditate, rest, seek, listen, and pray, spend some time with Pastor’s Prayer Groups, private retreat, and time to get healthy and to seek purpose and direction for River of Hope Ministries; specifically purpose, direction, and preaching. But the main focus was to Wait, Hope, Watch, Read   - The whole point was to spend time with Him.

And here we are, the end of September, seven months later and still watching waiting, watching, and reading; all the while clinging to hope in His ability to always come through. There have been many ministry opportunities including preaching, teaching, writing, and a mission trip and for each opportunity I am grateful for the restorative nature of God.  

But, after seven months of praying and seeking God and His will for my life, I will be the first to admit “I am not skilled to understand what God has willed, what God has planned. I only know at His right hand stands one who is my Savior. (See video clip below).

And so here comes October and I continue to wait, hope, watch, and pray “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6).  

Knowing that God will make a way where there seems to be no way. And, that if I will not believe, surely I will not be established.(see Isaiah 7:9B).  

“For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)  

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Sep 22, 2011

A Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian walk into a sugar company in South America...

I realize that this has all the makings of a great joke, but let me tell you what happened in South America this past month. I was invited to attend and participate in a dedication ceremony at a sugar plant in Skeldon, which is a small town in eastern coastal Guyana, near the border with Suriname.

I went to the sugar plant along with Pastor Mohamad Alim Mursalim (our host in Guyana) and Pastor Rob Ramphal (one of the members of our team).

The sugar plant was the “Guyana Sugar Corporation”, best known by its acronym GuySuCo. It is owned by the Guyanese government and it is the country's largest cultivator and producer of sugar, a commodity which is responsible for approximately twenty percent of Guyana's annual revenue and forty percent of all agricultural production.

The sugar plant was having some production issues and asked for some representatives of the three major religions of that area to come and pray for divine intervention because of the economic implications the problems were having. The plant had its workers gather in a large warehouse as a Muslim Imam, a Hindu, and a Christian each took time to call upon their God to help. I was asked to pray representing Christianity.  

The representative from GuySuCo (who is a Hindu) said that although they didn’t know who the true god was, they did hold some common beliefs. They knew that there was a Creator; someone who was above all of this; someone who was in control of all of this. And they knew that they had to stop what they were doing and pray to this unknown god. They were asking for prayers of intervention, thanksgiving, and dedication.

As I stood there in the warehouse pondering what to say, I realized that others had been in this similar spot before; many of which are recorded in the Bible. One person who came to my mind was Elijah when he took on the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah; that’s 850 prophets vs. Elijah. You can read about it in 1 Kings 18.

He too was called on to represent his god; the only true God before representatives of other religions. He too was being looked at as one who would speak for God. He too had to be at the same place as other representatives called out hoping that their god (or gods) would answer.

Each of us; the Hindu, the Muslim, and the Christian, took our turn and prayed and called out to our god (or gods) hoping our god (or gods) would answer and have favor.  The Hindu called out to every god who he knew, hoping that one of them would listen. The Muslim Imam, after giving a proselytizing message, prayed to his god.

I simply prayed in the Name of Jesus in faith, knowing that God’s word is true, that He is the One true God, and that He always hears us when we pray.  “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 NKJV)

I would like to report that just like the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18, my God answered with such drama that all who were present fell to their faces in worship. If I did report that, it would be a lie. But, neither did the other “gods” answer in such a fashion.  And it didn’t shake my faith in any way. I still stand on my faith that the God of the Bible is still the One True God. 

“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 NKJV)

This song is by "Heart of the City" and speaks of the One Trues God

For more information on Heart of the City's ministry:

Sep 15, 2011

Swimming with Snakes

I was in South America with a team doing ministry in Guyana and we had some free time on our hands, so we decided to go swimming in a river that had “black water”. We had taken a boat ride down the Corentyne River (between the countries of Guyana and Suriname) to Orealla, Guyana. A few days before I had swam in the Atlantic Ocean, which was my first time in any ocean, and so I was looking forward to another new swimming experience. 

Blackwater rivers are considerd some of the cleanest natural waters in the world and have a unique color. On the immediate surface the color is clear. A few inches below the surface, the water color is amber (like Betadine). At about three feet below the surface, the water is bright red (like blood). At around four feet below the surface, the water is the color black (like ink). The water was cool and refreshing. When I tasted the water, I found it to be sweet, almost like sugar water.

We were told that piranhas live in the waters which kind of killed the desire to immediately jump in. Piranhas are a South American freshwater fish that typically live in schools and have very sharp teeth that are used to tear flesh from prey. They have a reputation as fearsome predators.

After our host from Guyana assured us that the piranhas that live in the water would leave us alone; we decided to take this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and take a swim (what were we thinking?). 

A couple of guys had jumped in the water and swam back telling us how great the water was compared to the HOT waters of the ocean we had swam in the day before. So I jumped off a log as a friend of mine stood waiting for his turn to dive in after me. I swam for a short time when at once I felt my friend’s body swim alongside me. I need to tell you that when we had swam in the ocean the day before, several of us would swim under the water and come alongside an unsuspecting victim. I thought that this is what my friend was doing so I came to the surface to catch my breath just in case he wanted to wrestle me under water.  

When I came to the surface, I saw that he was still standing on the log; I was the only person in the water. And I freaked out! I freaked out because I knew that also living in these waters were anaconda snakes.   

An anaconda is a large, non-venomous snake found in tropical South America and is one of the largest snakes in the world. It can reach a length of 30 feet (9 meters) and weigh up to 550 pounds.  Constrictors are not venomous snakes, but instead wrap their bodies around their prey and squeeze until it stops breathing. It then maneuvers its prey into its mouth and powerful muscles contract in waves to crush the meal and push it down to its stomach. The green anaconda can stay underwater for as long as ten minutes without coming to the surface to breathe.

Something was lurking in those waters seeking whom he may devour.

If it wasn’t an anaconda that brushed against my leg than, I was told, it might have been a crocodile. Or, it might have be an “arowana” fish which is a large, elongated, eel-like fish that is carnivorous and can grow to be three feet long. Either way, I was out of the water in record time! I prompted my friend to jump in BEFORE I told him what I found in the water. I had enough and left the water and sat on a log.

When there were five others in the water, I decided that my chances of getting “attacked” were greatly diminished and we all proceeded to go back to taking turns having a contest to see who could make the biggest splash.

I may have been a little frightened, but I can say that I went through it. I was brave enough (in my mind) to have gone into the waters (covered with bug bites) knowing that there were piranhas in the water. In the future, I will take a closer look to see what is below the surface waiting to devour me.

The Apostle Peter wrote in the Bible; "Be sober, be vigilant; because  your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Peter5:8). We all need to take a closer look as we step out in our day to see what is lurking, waiting to devour us.

Sep 8, 2011

The New Hand

Her name was “Mimi”, and I had just finished preaching an evangelistic message and people had come to the front for prayer. She walked with a limp and one of her hands was deformed.

I had seen her two days before as we went through the city inviting people to a three night crusade that would serve to become a new church plant in a rough part of town. Mimi had converted to Christianity a few months ago and asked us to pray for her swollen hand. She’d had a stroke that affected the left side of her body. But it was her left hand that was causing her the most discomfort. The stroke had left her hand “paralyzed” and swollen and almost useless. And so we stood in the street and prayed for her.

Mimi came to all three nights of the meetings, and each night she asked for prayer; and each night someone would pray for her like we did in the street that afternoon when we were handing out invitations.

When I was still on the platform up front during that final night,  I motioned to several on the team to go over and pray for this woman. Three of the team came over, introduced themselves to Mimi, and then proceeded to pray. Once again, compassionate hearts cried out to a holy God to intervene and have mercy and to heal Mimi.

And then it happened; I SAW her hand shrink!  I SAW Mimi bend and use her hand! And she did too and let out a shout!  Mimi had received a healing from the Lord!  On the platform, two members of the worship team also confirmed that they too had seen Mimi’s left hand shrink and saw her hand move; it hadn’t been my imagination!

Jesus, when He was on the earth, had laid hands on and healed people; the Bible is filled with those stories.

Jesus said; “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

“And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.” Mark 3:1-5

I have had the privilege of seeing many medically documented miracles in my life as a Christian, each one just as astounding as the other. When Mimi received her healing, it was further proof that His words were true.

Sep 1, 2011

Welcome Grandson

Cathy and I have been married together for over 30 years! We have 6 adult children, two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, one granddaughter, and one grandson! That’s thirteen of us including Cathy and I. Quite a quiver full!

And that includes the newest member of the family, my grandson Emmett Eugene Oestreich who came into this world Monday, August 29, 2011 weighing 7 lbs 14 oz and is 20 ½”. Emmett is the first born child of my oldest son Jonathan and his wife Bonita. He is named after Cathy’s father who went by the name “Gene”. 

Jonathan with Emmett
Emmett means "industrious, strong worker".
Eugene means "well born, of noble birth".

What a precious gift! I have GREAT confidence that Jonathan and Bonita will be great parents. Both of them are educators and connect well with people.

What a privilege it is to be a part of this couple’s new great adventure of life as they now are parents. I am so excited to be a grandpa of another grandchild!

Grandpa Tom
I stared at Emmett as I held him.  I looked deep into his face as I tried to figure who he looked like. Ten fingers and ten toes; we counted them. He has hands that look like Jonathan’s hands did when he was born; long, delicate (in a masculine way), ready to take life as it comes to him.

Did I mention that we have 6 adult children, two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, one granddaughter, and one grandson! That’s thirteen of us including Cathy and I. Quite a quiver full!

And, every time a need has arisen over the years, God has been faithful to provide.  Why? Because His Word says; “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25 NKJV)

Grandma Cathy with Emmett
God said in His Word for us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). And that includes what we eat and drink and what we wear.

He is immensely jealous to provide all that we need because of His great love.

How about you; do you know this God? Do you know that you are loved; really loved? Believe it or not you can. God is waiting for an opportunity to love you.

But don’t take my word for it; take His – the BIBLE.

Unsure where to start? Drop me a line
I would love to share with you how you too can know this love.  

Or call 1-877-2GRAHAM (1-877-247-2426) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.