Monday, January 31, 2011

Fighting for the Family

Dear Friends,


Stuart and I have been married 52 years.  What a gift!  All these years to love and serve the Lord, each other, our family, and the family of God!  We thank God for half a century of such privilege.

I wrote a book 29 years ago called “Fight for the Family.”  Using the analogy of Nehemiah building the walls of Jerusalem, I began by explaining that the wall had fallen down around the Christian family in the 1980s as surely as it had fallen down around the family of God – the remnant of Israel that remained in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah, who was a slave, obtained permission from the King to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls.  He began the rebuilding process by going out at night and surveying the damage.  He circumvented the walls around the city.  He then gathered the leaders and addressed them.  Read his words of encouragement to the remnant…to the Israelites who were willing to do the hard work necessary to rebuild their homes:

“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them (the opposition).  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes’” (Neh. 4:14, NIV).

In other words, fight for your families!

The Christian concept of the family is under incredible attack.  The walls have fallen down and all that remains of many homes – even those built on Christian foundations – are heaps of rubble.  Today, as soon as anyone who cares about the family bends down to pick up a brick and begin the repairs, the opposition appears, just as it happened in Nehemiah’s day.

As I was writing this book, I quoted Nathan Ackerman, a psychiatrist, who said pessimistically:  “I am a psychiatrist who has devoted a lifetime to studying emotional problems of family living.  I have pioneered in the field of family therapy.  From where I sit, the picture of marriage and family in present day society is a gloomy one.  Family life seems to be cracking at the seams and an EFFECTIVE MORTAR is nowhere available.”  This was penned 50 years ago!

I want to tell you there is an effective mortar!

It’s called love…the love of God that we can experience and enjoy in our hearts when we invite Jesus Christ to invade our loveless lives and live within.

Stuart and I can bear witness to the fact that as we have allowed His love to control our lives AND BECAUSE OF HIS endless patience with us, we have increasingly learned how to be patient, kind, and unselfish.  (All virtues we both lack!)  But then for this we have Jesus!  The Scriptures say that “God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  We run out of our own human love.  But we never run out of God!

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul describes agape love – love God style.  Love is patient, and patience is longsuffering.  We don’t suffer well or long.  But God is longsuffering and we have that power available to us when the Spirit of God indwells our lives.  Kindness is doing good to the other person while waiting out a difficult spell in a marriage.  Love is kind and waits well.

We are still learning how to do love’s hardest work – that of forgiveness.  Ruth Bell Graham used to say that “marriage is made up of two good forgivers.”  We have learned to try and be the first to say “sorry” and to encourage and support one another.  We believe that selfishness destroys marriages and that only the transforming power of Jesus can help thoroughly selfish people (like us) to love anyone else!

Love doesn’t covet, says Paul.  It doesn’t want things that other people have like bigger houses, cars, clothes.  Love is content with the things it has and isn’t always wanting, wanting, wanting what it doesn’t have.  The content in contentment is found in Christ!  Coveting material things that others possess can cause tension and problems in a marriage.  I have found that the better I know God, the more I am content with whatever things I have or don’t have!

Love never fails, Paul tells us.  It doesn’t mean that love never fails to get a response.  Sadly, we know that isn’t true.  It means love never fails to go on loving, whether it gets a response or not!  What an incredible 52 years we have had as we have partnered together and God has kept our marriage firm with His wonderful mortar of love.

Even though for years we have actually lived apart for the sake of the Gospel (in fact I seem to have lived my life always missing someone!), our love has deepened and grown and the mortar has held!

So in Nehemiah’s words, “don’t give up.”  Do what he did.  Take a trip around the walls of your marriage and when you see the cracks and danger signs, get to work and fight for yourselves, your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.  Fight for your family!

Yours in His love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Life of Spiritual Fruitfulness

Dear Friends,

Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? ~ Isaiah 5:4

In Israel great events were usually described in poetic form that they might be more easily remembered and repeated by everyone and a lasting record of them might thus be preserved. Isaiah composed a poem about a vineyard on behalf of God. It is a love song, a lament of unrequited love. The house of Israel is likened to a vineyard - a metaphor frequently used by the prophets. Few possessions were dearer to a man in that culture than his vineyard. None demanded more care and persevering toil. The song reminded God’s people of the love and benefits bestowed upon them. There was the favorable situation of the “horn of a hill” (Is. 5:1). There were the hedge and the tower for protection. The tower had a place in the base for the husbandman to live at harvest time, and the top served as a lookout for enemies who would spoil the fruit (see vv.2, 5). Yet in spite of all this, the vineyard produced sour grapes. “What more could I have done?” Jehovah cried.

Our lives are like a vineyard. Those of us who live in the Western world have been hedged about; we live in the most fruitful of hills. What is more, we have a place within our personalities that is like the tower in the vineyard. God can come within that place and abide. He rightly expects sweet fruit from our lives, so why do we produce sour grapes?

Do you have an acid spirit? Why do you imagine the Husbandman came into your life? To attend to your whims and caprices, or to prune your life for spiritual fruitfulness? When God asks, “Why the sour grapes?," He expects an answer. Let’s be certain it’s a good one.


In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, January 24, 2011

Refresh Your Women's Retreats

Dear Friends,

Are your women’s retreats in a rut? The same women, same traditions, same locations? It’s time to step outside those routines and experience a fresh perspective!

Women invest a lot of time and energy into their families, churches, communities, and work. They sacrifice their own needs for others. A retreat helps them recharge, feel encouraged, and be spiritually fed. But our women’s retreats can become so routine and stuck in tradition that we’re not facilitating the freshness we want to occur in women’s lives. Try one or more of these ideas to revitalize your next retreat.

What a Difference a Day Makes


Getting away for 24 hours is wonderful, but some women aren’t willing or able to leave their families and job for that long. Consider a one-day retreat that lasts only eight hours. Retreat means withdrawal, so even a shorter break can be a rest from the routines of everyday life. When you plan a one-day retreat, you’ll include more women, keep costs affordable, and make planning simpler for you and your team.

An Experience You Won’t Forget


Most groups design their retreats around a speaker, expecting everyone to follow the same schedule and respond to a single person and her message. But when women experience what they’re learning, biblical principles stick with them up to nine times longer! Consider out-of-the-box activities that can be debriefed with discussion and Scripture. Do a ropes course together and then dig into the topic of trust. Embark on a one-day service project and talk about putting faith into action. One group went on a dog-sledding trip—it challenged women physically and then helped them consider challenges God had in store.

Make it Relational

Women like to talk! When people connect, learning becomes more effective and helps build Christian friendships. Don’t ask women to sit and listen for hours on end. Instead, have them get into groups and go for a long walk with three simple questions to prompt their discussion. Mix women up at meals and provide an icebreaker. Play board games that allow for conversation.

Throughout your retreat, plan for plenty of discussion in small groups, with no more than five women per group. This allows everyone to go deeper, grow closer, and build more lasting relationships.

Smarter, not Harder


Why reinvent the wheel when there are retreat resources that have already been tested and fine-tuned? Take advantage of creative ideas and practical tools such as planning timelines, supply lists, schedule suggestions, promotional and registration items, and more. Network with other retreat directors by sharing in online discussion boards. Involve new women to join in as you plan—and be 100 percent open to the new ideas they bring. The more others are involved, the more likely they are to invite friends and create an excellent retreat for everyone.

Step out of those retreat ruts and revitalize the women in your church. Freshen things up and be refreshed yourself!

Happy Planning,

Susan Lawrence

Women’s Ministry Consultant

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Have You Made a Mess of Your Life? Experience God's Grace!

Dear Friends,

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” ~ Isaiah 1:18

Isaiah was a great prophet. His messages brought comfort to the few among God’s people who were true believers. He constantly reminded them of the “covenant of grace.” At the same time, he brought a message of severe warning to those who refused to listen to the doctrine of life. When the Lord called His rebellious people to “reason together,” He did not call them to debate, but rather to agree with His verdict. He wanted them to acknowledge that their actions had not been in accordance with reason.

All sin is unreasonable. The people’s sin is described as scarlet in contrast to the stark whiteness of snow and crimson as opposed to the whiteness of wool. When yarns were dyed crimson in biblical times, the process required two baths or double-dying. When Christ forgave my sin I was very conscious that grace invited not a dialogue but a reasonable confession of the “double-dyed” mess I had made of my life. God wanted me to agree with His verdict and submit to His decision concerning my sin. I felt like a small ship whose wool had been dyed crimson by wrongdoing, and I was pretty red-faced about it all.

What joy to enter the “covenant of grace” and experience the whiteness of the soul that coming to God brings! Have you come to the point of accepting God’s verdict of your life, or are you still arguing your case?


In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting Women off the Guilt Trip!

Dear Friends,

One of the great things about blogging is being able to pass on information that can help us all as we influence the women in our lives. Women are experts at putting themselves on guilt trips. Juggling work, mothering, ministry – you name it, and at one time or another we’ve felt guilt about it. I want to share more expert advice from GROUP’s women’s ministry when it comes to helping women get off the guilt trip – hopefully, you’ll practice some of the tips yourself when the guilt trip temptation hits.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Amy’s struggling. She’s made some bad choices and done things she knows she’s not supposed to do as a Christian. Her hidden guilt is tormenting her. But she’s too ashamed to let anyone in church know. So when you ask her how she is, she puts on a smile and says, “I’m fine…”

Do you know Amy? She goes to your church. She’s one of many women who are suffering in silence. Sometimes for years. Why? Amy’s afraid of appearing as a failure as a Christian and is tormented by guilt for losing self-control. She may withdraw, or she may get increasingly involved in church activities to cope with her struggle. She may even be you.

Guilt. It’s a “g” word women can so easily give more power to in their lives than the big “G” – God! Eat too much – feel guilty. Say angry words – feel guilty. Buy things we can’t afford – feel guilty. Watch a movie we shouldn’t – feel guilty. Tell a lie to get what we want – feel guilty.

Too ashamed to tell anyone, our hearts and minds fill up with remorse. Guilt begins to consume our thoughts until it’s hard to feel God’s love. We may have a hard time believing God loves us at all.

But the Bible says that nothing can separate us from God’s love. No worries, no fears, no wrong choices – not even guilt. Amy knows this Scripture, but right now she has trouble believing it. With no place to talk about her struggles in church, she’s started looking for programs outside to help get her life back in control.

Self-control is one of the most prevalent issues women struggle with today. Diet, exercise, and life-coaching businesses are flourishing. Women desperate for answers rarely find adequate resources and support inside the church. But living a victorious life of self-control is dependent on living from a heart overflowing with the knowledge of God’s love. And that doesn’t come from self-imposed restrictions like eating pre-packaged foods. It starts with developing the ability to Believe.

Believe

Scripture says everything in our lives flows from what we have in our hearts. Not out of our minds, wisdom, success – or our failures. Amy needs to Believe in her heart that God loves her. She needs opportunities to grow in faith while tackling the difficult issues of self-control. Here are a few ideas to help you give women like Amy the love and truth they so desperately need to be free!

Bring the outside in! Zumba, addiction groups, spa retreats, or diet vacations in church? Why not? Look at the programs your church women are attracted to and consider offering similar programs inside the church. Add prayer, Bible study, and faith-filled friendships, and you’ll have God’s guarantee for success!

Focus on fun. Romans 13:14 tells us to clothe ourselves with the presence of Jesus to help us resist satisfying our selfish desires. So why not host a “dress for success” party? Let women trade a discouraged, guilt-laden wardrobe for a joy-filled one!

Resolve to get women involved. Most women don’t like to work out in the gym alone. And they definitely don’t work out as hard! So help women connect in friendships for self-control success!

Help Amy trade a guilty conscience for the consciousness of God’s love…and Believe!


To discover more about this dynamic and thriving women’s ministry, visit Group Women's Ministry.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Christian Women's Ministry - Reaching the Younger Generation

Dear Friends,

JBU is fortunate to be able to partner with GROUP’s Women’s Ministry so that we can bring those of you working with women the latest in ideas, resources, and help for your team. One of the biggest issues facing women’s ministries nationally right now is how to reach the younger generation of women – our mother’s women’s ministries are no longer reaching them. We hope you find the following helpful as you think about how you might reach the younger women in your lives and ministries.

In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Mia is alone in her apartment, sobbing. Two months earlier, at a campus worship event, she made a decision to believe in Jesus. Soon after, her friends deserted her and convinced her she was “no longer fun to be with.” She tried finding friends at her new church, but most of the women didn’t seem interested in getting to know her as they already had friends. Now she wonders if she has to go back to the bars to find the friendships and fun she longs for.

Mia is looking for a friend at your church. As a new Christian, she desperately needs to find a friend. But she’s young, and the women’s ministry seems to be geared more toward older women. So she feels intimidated, unwelcomed, and unsupported in her faith.

There’s a young woman in the Bible who had a much different experience. Mary, after a supernatural encounter with the angel Gabriel, felt alone and desperately needed someone to hold her hand, look her in the eyes, and tell her that the decision she had made to trust God was the right one. So she went directly to her relative Elizabeth’s house. Why? Elizabeth was older than Mary, but Mary knew Elizabeth was spiritually wise and loving, would befriend her, and could give her a safe place to strengthen her faith for the journey ahead.

Mia desperately needs an Elizabeth too. She needs the friendship of a woman who’s a little further down the road of life. But in a recent research study by Group Publishing on the state of the church, young women like Mia said they found the women’s ministry programs at their churches “intimidating” and “dated.”

Are younger women missing from your ministry? Ninety-six percent of women’s ministry leaders surveyed reported that reaching women under 30 is important, but 30 to 40 percent report that only a small amount (five to ten percent) of the women who attend retreats, Bible studies, and social events are in this age group. Twenty percent of leaders even report that no younger women attend their retreats!

Are there lonely, intimidated Mias in your church? How can you make your women’s ministry more attractive and welcoming to younger women? Befriending younger women like Mia is the first step, and these simple tips will help you get started.

Befriend

To befriend a younger woman, you first have to reach out. How? Here’s what younger women say they want:

Casual social events – Saturday morning hikes, movie nights, coffee chats…social get-togethers that focus on relationship building.

Small group activities – Younger women want to be in smaller groups where their friends are. They like the intergenerational aspect of mixed groups with older women, but they also want friends their own age to be there. Discussion and prayer are more important to them than hearing a speaker.

Variety – Younger women want more variety in meeting times and types of interest groups. They are more likely to join small group activities with a specific focus, like volunteer service, book clubs, recreational activities, and other common interests.

More fun! – To make your groups more attractive to younger women give them fun names like, Flicker Chicks instead of Movie Group. And don’t forget to up the fun factor in your event invitations. Here’s a great one: Calling all girlfriends! It’s time to grab and work on our abs at our next Girl’s Night Out. Guaranteed results. But no pain, no gain…so come and laugh till your sides hurt!

Befriend the younger women in your church, and give them a place to find the friendships, faith, and fun they’re looking for.

For more information on this research visit Group Women's Ministry.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dependence Upon God

Dear Friends,

A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7


My friend and I had been talking about the way adversity forces us to trust God. “I’ve lived twenty years with a thorn in the flesh,” my friend remarked. “How do I learn dependence now that the thorn is out?” We agreed that pride and fleshly energy take over so easily when the need to depend is removed. If we feel strong and confident apart from God – watch out!

Yet all of life will not necessarily be one long chapter of accidents. What about the times “the thorn” is removed or we find ourselves between thorns? To depend even when the sun shines is a real test of maturity. It helps to pray a lot. Prayer gives us a sense of our inadequacy at all times and this helps us lean on the Lord.

To be reminded of His Person reminds me of my person, and that will surely help me to depend! Isaiah, seeing God high and lifted up, saw himself low and cast down (see Is. 6)! A season of prayer will help us to stop saying “Wow is me” and make sure we say “Woe is me”! Physical thorns can be a real problem, but the thorn of selfishness will be in our fleshly nature until the day we die, and should keep us in constant dependence on the Spirit of God to make good His strength in our weakness. This way we will GLORY IN HIS POWER and not in our own strength.

In Him,


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Give Yourself a Spiritual Makeover

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

In this season of new year's resolutions, let us not forget the importance of living life with an eternal perspective. To help us with that, here are some fantastic insights by our dear friend and author, Laura Leathers.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine



It is the breaking of a new day, the threshold of a new year. The word threshold according to Webster’s means: the entrance or beginning point of something. There is something refreshing about the beginning of a new year. It’s a time to look ahead. What does this year have in store for me, my family, my friends, my church, the nation, and our world? What will be the celebrations, the anniversaries, the birthdays, and yes, even the heartbreaks?

Many people spend the last few days of December or the first few days of January setting goals and making New Year’s Resolutions. However, if you are like most people, after the second week, the goals and resolutions have been broken. What if we took a different perspective and began each year by asking the following questions: What is God’s plan and purpose for my life this year? Will I be able to trust God with the new challenges I will be facing? What do I need to do to draw closer to Him?

Life is to be lived with an eternal perspective. Begin by establishing a spiritual theme or goal for each new year. This is a new concept for me. Several years ago, my friend and accountability partner, Becky, and I met one day for coffee. We were discussing things that she had written in her Bible. In the front she had a list of about 20 years’ worth of “spiritual themes.” The theme for each year actually rhymed with the year. When I asked her why, she said she did it to keep her focus on one particular aspect of God’s character or even something she knew that God wanted her to change in her life. It gave her life God-focus and centered her on His purposes for the year.

I knew this was something I had to do. I was tired of setting a long list of resolutions that were the same things every year. This new idea had an eternal perspective and focus. I accepted the challenge and began to form my spiritual theme for the next year. Here are a few things I have learned about setting a spiritual theme and writing my resolutions.

Breathe a Prayer

The first year I was honestly more focused on setting a theme that rhymed than on what God wanted to teach me and how He wanted me to grow in my relationship with Him. However, because of God’s grace and faithfulness, He took my theme and blessed it. My theme was God’s Word is True is 2002 – Claiming His Promises, Precepts, Power, and Presence. I wanted to begin this journey by going back to the foundation of a Christian’s life.

Begin with a Verse

The next step was to find the Scripture verses for the year’s theme. These were my verses for 2002: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isa. 43:18-19).

One of the ways you will find your verses for the new year is through consistent daily Bible reading. The verses just seem to leap off the page. There always seems to be a major prompting that says to me this is it.

Two years ago I began to pray about my spiritual theme for the next year. I had a message to prepare in January and I decided to do it on Hannah from 1 Samuel. My theme for 2003 became Call unto Me on Bended Knee. A word study on the word “call” took on a new and deeper meaning for me. The Scripture verse that stood out over and over again was, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).

My prayer journal began to grow with additional verses. I learned to actually use these verses in my prayers.

Blessings Beyond Belief

“The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land He is giving you” (Deut. 28:8). The Lord wants to bless you. Blessings come when we are obedient. We miss blessings when we’re disobedient or we aren’t looking for them. The greatest blessing I have received from this new endeavor is to see my daughter making this a part of her life. One day she will look back at the front page of her Bible and see her years of spiritual themes. Her journals will reflect what she has learned. One can only wonder how God is going to use this to mold and shape her life.

Boast Only in God

After the Christmas holidays, I go back through my journal and briefly review the year. Were there days I forgot to focus in on my spiritual theme? Absolutely! However, one thing I’ve learned over and over again is that God is faithful even when I am not. That’s why anything that happens in my life is not something I can boast about. Psalm 34:2 says, “My soul will boast in the Lord.”

What were the blessings? What heartaches did I go through and how did God see me through these situations? He was faithful, therefore, I shall boast in the Lord! What were the notes and praises of gratitude? My heart sings and I shall boast in the Lord! What were the God-stops where I knew only God could have orchestrated everything that happened? Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than I could ask or imagine,” therefore, I shall boast in the Lord! Why? The rest of Ps. 34:2 says, “…let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” Our lives are to give a testimony and exalt the name of Jesus and His work in our lives. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Begin to Write

It’s hard to remember what I did yesterday, let alone a month ago. Journaling is important when it comes to setting a spiritual theme for the year. First, it provides a written record spiritually, physically, and emotionally of your life. Second, it tells where I was and how far I’ve come in my relationship with God. Hopefully by the end of the year, you have learned to trust Him more and your love relationship with Him has deepened. Third, a journal leaves a written legacy to your family. These have been some of my heart’s desires: resolved to allow God to teach me how to love Him with all my heart, soul, and strength; resolved, to pray for a powerful passion for His Word and to boldly proclaim it; and resolved, to fear God and to tremble before His Word.

In the devotional book Diamonds in the Dust, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote, “His plans for you this year may outshine those of the past. His blueprint is hot-off-the press and He’s prepared to fill your days with reasons to give Him praise. That’s why you can begin the year with hope and expectancy.”

It’s up to you to join Him there and say, “Lord, I hereby resolve to allow You to teach me this year. What is our spiritual theme?”