Thursday, March 31, 2011

Your Everlasting Father

Dear Friends,

And His name will be called . . . Everlasting Father.  ~ Isaiah 9:6

Christ - the Everlasting Father!  This is what Jesus of Nazareth was talking about when He claimed deity.  In the unity of the Godhead, He claimed equality with the Father.  I had never thought of Christ as a “Father forever” until I read this verse!  I do not comprehend how the Son can be the Father, but neither do I need to.  The thought, however, brings me wondrous comfort.  I understand that Christ will do for His children in eternity what a perfect earthly father will do for his own as long as he lives.  The father image is used figuratively as both a protector and benefactor.

One of the problems we are wrestling with today is the breakup of the family structure.  We live in a “world without fathers.”  Many children lack a father who provides care, concern, and a protective nurturing relationship that draws an appreciative “Abba Father” -  “my own dear Daddy” - from them.  We need to preach biblical fatherhood, using the model of our Heavenly Father.

One day as I was speaking at a single parents’ gathering, three women, all in their thirties, came up to me.  All were alcoholics and one had a daughter who was involved with drugs.  All were in tears.  “Do you give hugs?” one asked wistfully.  I put my arms around her in response!  Then I sat down and told them about their Everlasting Father and assured them that “underneath (and all around) are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27)!

In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are You Feeling Stressed?

Dear Friends,

Near Queenstown in the South island of New Zealand an old bridge spans a deep gorge through which a river rushes with prodigious force.  It was on this bridge that Jill and I recently watched people engaging in a peculiar craze called “bungee jumping.”  A “bungee” is a length of elasticized cord which is attached to the jumper’s ankles.  The jumper then launches himself or herself off the bridge into the air trusting that the bungee will stretch but not snap.  Tens of thousands of people have risked their necks in such an adventure and lived to tell the tale, but recently a nurse assaying to do the same escaped within an inch of her life when the bungee frayed and she hit the ground with a glancing blow.  Bungees are supposed to stretch and not snap.

As I watched the bungee jumpers, I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said, I know, don’t say it I’m a typical preacher who can’t see anything without thinking of an illustration!  Describing the particularly difficult time he was having in his ministry he said, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8).  He was far from denying that life was stressful but he was adamant that he was not about to go under.  “Hard pressed” certainly “but not crushed;”  “perplexed” absolutely “but not in despair.”  Actually what he said in Greek was something like “whelmed but not overwhelmed,” or if you prefer, “stretched but not snapped.”  There was something of the bungee in the venerable apostle!

Now it’s no joke being “whelmed” or “stretched”, and life and ministry are the places it happens all too often.  That’s the bad news, but the good news is, like Paul, we can be “stretched” without “snapping,” or be “whelmed” without being “overwhelmed.”  But how?  That’s a question I’m often asked.

Well how did Paul cope?

1.  He came to the conclusion that stress is normative.  Ministry involves engaging the “god of this age” in a mighty struggle for the hearts and minds of those whom he has blinded and blighted.  It would be ludicrous to imagine that such a struggle could be won without spiritual capital being exhausted and physical resources being depleted.  Stress comes with the territory; being stretched is part of the calling!  To recognize this and to embrace it goes a long way in surviving it.  The tension that comes from resenting or resisting the stretching only adds to strain and exacerbate the stress.  To think that we should not be subject to such unpleasantness can engender feelings of frustration and self-pity, which do nothing to help and much to hinder.  But to recognize that Paul was stretched, not to mention the Lord Jesus Himself, helps us recognize that our expectations of immunity from such things is na├»ve to say the least, and to embrace the experience as not out-of-the-ordinary for Christians can take away much of the sting.

2.  Paul was convinced that stress could be positive.  He told the Roman believers, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.  And hope does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:3-5).  I am well aware that excessive stress can be totally debilitating, but there can be no doubt that in the divine way of doing things there is a place for the right amount of stress to help us grow and mature.  In the same way that the athlete develops endurance from training and stamina from being stretched, so the believer develops spiritual qualities through divinely ordained stress, which serve to further the work of grace in our lives.

3.  Paul regarded stress as productive.  He was not being at all morbid when he exclaimed, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10), adding “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Cor. 4:12).  He was rejoicing in the fact that when he bore up well under stress, this demonstrated that he was a man called of God and empowered by His Spirit in such an obvious way that people would be attracted to what he had to say and come to faith.  Let’s face it, everybody experiences stress but not everybody handles it well, and when Christians do, as they should, they stand out as something special and stake a claim to authenticity.  Death may be their portion - but life is what others are gaining through it.

4.  Paul was quite certain that stress is creative.  Granted our first inclination is to see stress as destructive, but listen to the apostle’s words, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).  The “light and momentary troubles” to which he refers are, of course, the stresses and strains of which he spoke earlier.  But far from bemoaning them he sees them as the means of creating for him “eternal glory.”  Without stating exactly what he means, he points away to the glory to which all believers aspire and to which all those who minister point men and women. Therefore, it is most appropriate to be reminded in the midst of stress that God uses it to store up for the stressed ones that which will abide forever.

So there are four ways in which the great Apostle responded to stress, which may prove helpful to us in our day, too.  Of course, getting adequate rest, being sensible about saying “no”, taking time off and having fun occasionally all help, but underlying all our living must be the spiritual principles that have stood the test of time and will bear fruit in eternity.  These are the things that will enable us like bungees - and the Apostle - to stretch and not snap.  

Blessings,

Stuart Briscoe 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drawing Your Strength from God

Dear Friends.

And His name will be called . . . Mighty God. ~ Isaiah 9:6

All of us need a hero.  The modern term for hero is model.  Isaiah told us that the child to be born would be called the Mighty God - a hero of a God, strong, and powerful.  This tells us we have a God we can rely upon with assurance.  He is so mighty that He has defeated both the Devil and death.  We know that the last enemy is death; it would catch us all, but God has been pleased to battle on our behalf and has swallowed up death in victory.  When Jesus died, death swallowed Him up for a while, but when He rose again, He swallowed up death once and for all (see 1 Cor. 15:54)!

He is my Hero and my mighty Model, and I must learn to draw my strength from Him!

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercies,
To multiplied trials He’s multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we’ve come to the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.


In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Keeping Magic Alive in Your Marriage

Dear Friends,

Marriage expert, Louis McBurney, has been a frequent writer for Just Between Us magazine over the years. Because attending to our marriages is so important, I wanted to pass on his wise counsel on getting the magic back in your marriage.  I pray this will be a marriage tune up for you and your spouse.

Recently, my wife, Melissa, and I were going through our wedding album.  As we sat in front of the fireplace and looked at the photos of ourselves as 23-year-olds, we caught our breath.

Who are those kids? we wondered.  And what on earth were they doing?

We spent the next hour going through the wedding photos with lots of laughs and pleasant memories.  When we were done, we felt glad that after 41 years we're still together to share such a moment.  We're keenly aware of how unusual that's getting to be.
  
Melissa and I work with couples, many of whom have trouble remembering what brought them together and what happened to their joy.  How did the magic go out of the romance?  How do we get it back?

A different dance
  
So where do we go from here?  In our work, Melissa and I usually see couples who are very aware of their miserably ineffective relationship.  Each can describe in accurate detail the "dance" they do. She says, "Why are you late this time?" (not really a question).  He replies, "What does it matter to you?" (also not a question).  Their defensive attacks and counterattacks continue until one leaves.  The script is well rehearsed and the outcome sadly predictable: detachment and loneliness.
  
Yet the old dance doesn't have to continue.  Either person can change it by learning a new step. Here are seven steps to help you begin again, to renegotiate your marital contract if it needs some revisions.
  
1. Commit to change.  This may be the hardest part when you're both discouraged and about ready to throw in the towel.  Take some time to look at the consequences.  While separation and divorce might provide initial relief, reality will eventually settle in and the complications will overcome the relief.  Stop to count those costs: financial, emotional, relational, even parental—the scar it leaves on your children is probably the highest cost of all.  Leaving the relationship is really just an exchange of problems—many times, bigger ones.  But choosing to stay and committing to change because of the good you've experienced together and what you've invested in each other's lives will likely bring rewards to your marriage.
 
2. Identify hurts, but don't blame.  Individually, list events or patterns that have created hurt for you and how you interpreted them.  For instance, we knew one husband who remembered vividly his bride's tears about leaving her mother as they drove away from the church on their wedding day.  He believed she was enmeshed with her mother and that he'd made a fatal error.  On the other hand, she remembered being totally fatigued and emotionally exhausted for a couple of days after the wedding circus, but had no recollection of wanting to go back home to Mom.  Yet that event created resentment in the young man that set a negative tone from the beginning.  Our marital histories are laced with similar experiences.  We're all guilty of feeling hurt because we've interpreted an event in the worst possible way, such as, I'm not loved or I married a monster.  When you can share these not to establish blame but to find understanding, they take on a different tone.  Forgiveness can follow.
  
3. Trace the roots.  Sometimes those painful patterns become more understandable when you discover their childhood roots.  Look at your families of origin objectively.  When you quit being defensive, you'll probably laugh at the unique, peculiar styles you've always accepted as the way life should be lived, just because you grew up that way.  These myths die hard and set you up for confusion and discomfort.  Gender roles, decision making, conflict management, parenting styles, religious beliefs, celebration rituals, and dealing with illness are just a few that may create disappointment.
  
Melissa and I began to discover these myths early in our marriage.  Just to name a few: I rearranged her kitchen the first week in our first apartment because she didn't have things in the "right" places.  (Boy, did I learn quickly!)  Then Christmas came and she expected to open presents on Christmas morning.  (Can you believe that?)  The thing about these "myths" is that they make such a powerful emotional impact, but don't actually matter one iota.  Let go of them—have a good laugh as you see how foolish it's been for you to let those differences rob you of enjoyment.

4. Define your current needs and expectations.  Where are you today as individuals?  Yes, you've both changed since the wedding, but take a fresh look at what you'd like to experience together starting now.  Chances are you've tried to tell each other these things off and on for some time. It's amazing how resistant we can be to really hearing each other.

Frequently, Melissa and I hear couples talk about their needs for being accepted, feeling loved in a certain language, having a comfortable space, being listened to rather than ignored or put down, achieving mutual sexual satisfaction, and allowing each other's differences about life's little never-minds such as toilet seats and clutter.  The bottom line is often the desire to feel safe, cherished, and respected.

5. Design new behavior.  Changing old scripts is a challenge, but once you understand the "whys" of the old dances, it's easier to find different, more effective steps.  Talk together about some behaviors you'd like to see in your relationship, and then pick out one or two to work on first.  They might be as simple as putting the milk back in the refrigerator or dirty dishes in the sink.  Start small; you don't have to solve all the world's problems—much less your own—in the first week.  Some victories in the small things will encourage you in the bigger ones. Remember to give each other grace.  Old patterns don't disappear instantly.  You've had a lifetime of honing those to perfection.  Don't be surprised or too disappointed when they persist.
  
6. Decide to be accountable.  You can help each other change primarily by praising each other. Reinforcing the new, preferred behaviors by frequent "at-a-boys" or "way-to-go's" is far more effective than pointing out the failures!  If you're really brave, you may risk asking your mate to remind you if you slip.  That can be dangerous, however, particularly if you've been firing darts of criticism as part of your old warfare.  An occasional truce table discussion of how you're feeling about the process can help to reaffirm the commitment.  So can calling in some outside help with a friend or a professional counselor.
  
7. Celebrate your new relationship.  As you begin to see success in your renegotiated, all-new-and-improved marriage, have some high fives.  Set some attainable goals and go out for dinner to rejoice in the change.  You've done a great thing.  Don't minimize the smallest victory.
  
By taking these steps, you're investing in a future of intimacy and enjoyment that will affect your family for generations—and bring you laughter and smiles when you're looking at your wedding book on some far distant night in front of the fire.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wonderful Counselor

Dear Friends,

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor. ~ Isaiah 9:6

Our Lord Jesus Christ is called Wonderful.  In Christ are hidden invaluable wonderful treasures (see Col. 2:3).  Christ is called Wonderful, because He has inconceivable methods of assisting us!  He is a wonder of a Counselor!  The counsel He gives will be above the counsel of ordinary men.  It will be the counsel of Yahweh, because He is Yahweh.  Isaiah 28:29 tells us of “the Lord of hosts,/Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.”  The child who shall be called such wonderful names will give exceptional counsel to a confused world, said Isaiah.  “Never has man spoken as this man!” echoed an astonished multitude in the Messiah’s day!

We have to learn to get our counsel from God.  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly” says the psalmist (Ps. 1:1).  Before we telephone in despair to a friend, spill our physical and emotional pain in the doctor’s office, or shout our problem from the housetops in the frantic hope that help will appear, we need to go to God!  Are you worried?  Go to God!  Depressed, sick, frightened?  Go to God.  Are you dejected?  Go to God.  My friend who helped me to find my faith did the best thing for me; she taught me to look to God for counsel.  She herself was so knowledgeable that it was hard for me to look elsewhere.  But she was wise enough to teach me that she was not as wise as my wonderful Counselor.

A young pastor’s wife wrote a troubled letter to her mother, who was also a pastor’s wife.  Her mother withheld her reply.  “She knows where to go,” she said.  “Jesus is a wise Counselor - He will be able to help her far better than I.”  Wise words!

In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor

Monday, March 14, 2011

Still Learning to Forgive


Dear Friend,
Forgiveness is a struggle for all of us at one time or another in our lives. Perhaps one of the greatest stories of forgiveness is an experience Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place had after she was released from the concentration camp. I not only want to encourage you as you read her story, but also don’t want us to forget the amazing stories of great women of God from the past like Corrie ten Boom!

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe  
Executive Editor

 
It was in a church in Munich where I was speaking in 1947 that I saw him - a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat, the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.

Memories of the concentration camp came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment of skin.

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"

It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there. But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein - "again the hand came out - "will you forgive me?"

And I stood there - and could not. Betsie had died in that place - could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it - I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses."

Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling."

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then. *

*Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine, Copyright©1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

God Offers You Help in Your Time of Need

Dear Friends,


And the government will be upon His shoulder. ~ Isaiah 9:6

The image in this verse reflects the custom of carrying long, heavy, frequently used keys over the shoulder.  The symbolism is extensive.  The very act says “authority”!  The priest who exercised such authority had command of the royal chambers and a right to admit or refuse people to the Royal Presence.  Referring to Eliakim, High Priest of Israel, Isaiah says, “The key of the house of David/ I will lay on his shoulder;/ So he shall open” (Is. 22:22).  John, in Revelation 3:7, describes the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus as our High Priest: “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.”

God invested all priestly authority in Jesus Christ, His Son.  It is Jesus who has the keys!  The government is upon His shoulder!

And what does all this mean to you and me?  It means Jesus Christ has command of the Royal Chambers - and the right to admit us into the Royal Presence.  That is why Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The Scriptures say we have a High Priest (see Heb. 4:14).  You can know you have such a High Priest if He “has” you!  Has He forgiven your sin?  If not, He has the right to refuse your entrance to the King’s chambers; but if so, then you can be assured that when you draw nigh to the throne, there will be grace to help.

In Him,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor



Monday, March 7, 2011

Spiritual Disciplines for Today

Dear Friend,
Oh, we’re the worst offenders, aren’t we ladies?  We hope the women in our church will connect with God on a daily basis forming intimate bonds with our Creator, but between writing, Bible studies, teaching Bible studies, staff meetings, counseling, overseeing functions, attending functions, taking that call from Betty who needs extra attention, spiritually tending for those under our care, we forget about the presence of God.

Musicians know that you can’t play Rachmaninoff without practicing scales every day.  A spiritual connection with God that feeds you so that you can serve others starts with everyday life.  The resurgence of the spiritual disciplines gives us tools for this connection, but often we don’t know how to use them or teach them in a practical way to the women in our church who have demanding bosses and even more demanding kids.  What is the secret to practicing scales in our spiritual lives?

Turn your inner monologue into dialogue.  I’m talking “pray[ing] without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  Talk to God in the car, in the grocery store, or during your Pilates class.  God-direct those frustrating thoughts during a staff meeting or during a traffic jam.  Petition God during a traffic jam for friends you know are hurting. It doesn’t have to be a deep theological prayer, only a dialogue that keeps you aware of the presence of God.

Find creative ways to get in the Word every day.  David says, “In my heart, I store up your words, so I might not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11, NET).  Living in the United States, there is a plethora of opportunities to read through the Bible: accessing daily devotionals during your lunch break, or listening to the Bible during your commute, or while cleaning the bathtub.

My husband and I currently do The Message Remix, which arranges the Bible with the Old and New Testament portions every day, breaking it up with options to read through the Scripture in a year, two years, or four years.  If you choose this route, two tips: (1) don’t beat yourself up for missing a day. You’ll make it up.  Get back into it the next day.  (2) Don’t worry about understanding every nuance and meaning.  There are times to dig deep, and there are times to let the fresh water God offers wash over us.  Reading through the Bible in a year doesn’t have to begin in January.  Start on your birthday or next Monday, and have a God-celebration with a special meal, a prayer time, and a list of three things you learned through the process.

Another path is daily devotionals, such as Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest or The High Calling’s online devotional by Eugene Peterson.  These tend to be shorter and ideal for busy lives.  They can be read at meal times or while you relax in the bath in the evenings (although always watch out for computers near open bodies of water!).

Make it family time.  While your children may fight you over the loss of video-game time after dinner, it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate to them your priority of God and the chance to draw your family closer to Him.

Schedule a one-meal fast periodically.  Fasting is perhaps one of the most confusing of the spiritual disciplines.  While it can be misused as a manipulative deal-making tool, it can also serve as a time of sacrifice in order to delight in God and seek His will.  We find numerous examples in the Bible of God’s people seeking His will through fasting (Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2; 14:23).  Fasting is coupled with prayer and often with serving the Lord.

Because of lunch meetings and kids’ expectations, fasting can be tricky.  Schedule time in advance, blocking time in your day for meeting with God.  Don’t overwhelm yourself with a large commitment at first.  Fast one meal instead of the one day most attempt.  Use that hour to pray when you would be eating. Don’t worry about what you will pray.  If you run out of things to talk about with God, put on some music or find your favorite Psalm.  As the afternoon goes by and your stomach growls, use that as small reminders of Christ’s sacrifice for us, breaking His body and spilling His blood, and of the hope we have in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Be willing to sacrifice.  While the above represent measures toward commitment to God through spiritual disciplines that can be maintained in everyday life, remember: God calls us out of our comfort to serve Him.  You may need to sacrifice something in your life, whether blog time, a TV show, or even attending every church and community function.  My husband and I set our alarm clock earlier than we would prefer in order to spend daily time reading the Bible and praying because evenings for us go haywire.

Often in our fast-forward and niche-scheduling society, we forget that we are called to sacrifice, and we forget to teach sacrifice to women who are looking for quick answers.

For me, finding time to practice piano everyday requires discipline, but creativity alleviates the stress.  If I can’t devote myself for hours or even one hour to the piano, I dedicate five minutes, perhaps while waiting for the spaghetti water to boil, to run through scales and Hanon exercises.  Our spiritual life calls for the same type of thought.  We may not have hours every day or every week, but we can dig out time for intimacy with God if we desire.

Blessings,


Heather Goodman
Contributing Author

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hope is Just a Prayer Away

Dear Friends,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. ~ Isaiah 9:2

Are you living in the darkness of divorce, death, depression, or difficult circumstances? Are you in need of a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? Isaiah promises that even in darkness, even in death itself, there is good ground for hope, for the power of God is able to restore life to His people even when they appear to be already dead!

Have you given up seeing light brought to bear in a “dark” church situation?  Are there factions splitting people apart from each other into dark debates and despondency?  There’s a great light shining!  There’s a great light because a great Savior came.  “Among them hath the light shined” (Is. 9:2, KJV).  Among whom?  This prediction was fulfilled when Christ preached along the Galilean seacoast (see Matt. 4:16); the light brought promise of deliverance for Israel. A new day had come!

The Savior is a great source of comfort to us too.  Many live in the darkness of divorce or in the shadow of death.  Some watch a loved one slowly disintegrate before their eyes.  Others, in seemingly “perfect” circumstances, live in the deepest darkness of all - depression that nothing seems to penetrate!  Listen to the Good News!  There’s light at the end of the tunnel - look up and see Jesus standing there!  Hear what He says: “I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Walking in His Light,


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor