Monday, July 25, 2011

Have You Picked Up Your Towel Today?


Dear Friends,

The phone rang.  It was a close friend who also happened to be a single mom.  She was wondering if I could watch her little girl for the day.  My initial response was no.  My girls were starting a new school, I had to catch up on “ministry,” and we had after-school plans.  Surely, I couldn’t fit in an all day babysitting commitment on top of that. I apologetically told her no, I couldn’t do it that day.

Immediately the whisper came, “Pick up your towel.”

“But, Lord,” I reasoned, “You know what my day is like and all I have to do.”  Again: “Pick up your towel.”

I knew I had to call Nancy back and tell her that I would be happy and available to watch her toddler.  After all, isn’t that what servanthood is all about?  We are never too important, nor is our day too hectic, to do the menial task.  Real servanthood requires us to serve others, to be at the disposal of others and to do so quickly, willingly, and generously so that they might benefit and grow.  It’s an abandonment of our own self- interests; it calls for a complete giving whatever, whenever, without reservation, recognition, restriction, or reluctance.  That surely didn’t exemplify my attitude at that moment!

The more I think about serving others, the more I am reminded of the visual Jesus left us in John 13 of washing His disciple’s feet.  Have you ever washed someone’s feet?  This past summer, washing my daughters’ feet after a day of carefree, barefooted play became a nightly ritual.  I had never washed my older kids’ feet before.  What I discovered as we gathered around the basin, with the soap and towel in hand, was that my children’s dirty, dusty feet weren’t even remotely attractive.  In fact, their feet were quite ugly and handling them was, indeed, very humbling.  Touching my girls’ toes and washing off the grime was not the most pleasant of experiences.  But I did it because I love them¾and because I didn’t want them going to bed with those dirty feet!

While gently washing off the day’s remnants of play, I was sobered at the realization that this is the model Jesus had set for us in our relationship with others.  In Jesus’ day, to wash the feet of others was a slave’s job.  Because the roads of Palestine were dusty and dirty and the people wore open-faced sandals, it became necessary for servants to wash guests’ feet as they entered the house.  So for Jesus to take up a towel, kneel down, and wash His disciples’ feet was quite a shock.  It was out of the ordinary.  The disciples watched, amazed, as Jesus redefined leadership by taking a towel, and washing their dirty feet.  Knowing that both His hour of humiliation and hour of glory were near, He emptied Himself, showing His disciples the full extent of His love for them.  Instead of being filled with pride, He picked up a towel. In that simple, selfless act Jesus showed His disciples what love and humble service was all about.  And He set up a model to be followed: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn. 13: 14, 15).  Richard Foster says in his book, Celebration of Discipline, “The spiritual authority of Jesus is an authority not found in a position or in a title, but in a towel.  As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service.”  The “towel” is the symbol of servanthood.

Years ago, when my husband was an associate pastor, he set up and took down the coffee table (among other tasks) for Sunday services.  It was a task that only required a few extra minutes.  To his surprise, he was asked by someone in church leadership to stop messing with the coffee because he shouldn’t be doing that kind of thing.  After all, he was a pastor!  But in that simple act he was following Christ; He was picking up his towel.  Granted the towel wasn’t glamorous and didn’t put him up on the platform for all to see, but nevertheless it was an important act of service.  More importantly, He was modeling the art of servanthood.  He was demonstrating that he was not beneath the menial task.  I wonder how many onlookers would have instructed Jesus to stop what He was doing, complaining that He was above foot washing?  (We know, Peter was one.)  

Amazingly, Christ washed His disciples’ feet with the same hands that created them.  Jesus used His heavenly privileges for the sake of others.  He was not too important to do the unlovely or undesirable task.  Christ always thought of others, showing the way to greatness and challenging us to follow.
    
I wonder what towel the Lord is asking you to pick up today?


In His service,


Shelly Esser 
Editor

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Holy Substitutes

Dear Friends,

At most places I speak, I am asked to address leaders and followers alike about the present urgent need of personal reality that sustains and empowers us to live well in sometimes impossible situations.

On Christian campuses (one of the hardest places to live in the present reality of the living God) I will say something like: “This wonderful Christian school is one of the hardest places to stay in vital touch with the Lord. We have so many holy substitutes. It’s so easy to be friends with Jesus’ friends rather than friends with Jesus!” I see acknowledgement in the eyes of the students or in their body language as they quit being bored and sit up a little bit straighter!

We all do it, of course – teacher and student alike. We substitute aids to spiritual reality for the reality itself. Here in the West we are drowning in holy substitutes. There are devotionals, computer courses, CDs, DVDs, and radio messages meant to be aids to a deeper relationship with God, and yet, there is a danger that they are taking the very place of that relationship! Being an author myself, I hate to think I am contributing to this problem! Does what I write leave readers knowing how to connect with the Lord themselves? Does what we record for radio lead people to dare to wrestle with concepts and be alone with God to a deeper and greater degree than ever before?

“How should I pray?” one will ask. “I’ve forgotten, settling for a few words from a devotional or a fix from my favorite radio preacher.” Others have said to me: “I can’t wait to meet with my Christian mentor in the morning.” Not, “I can’t wait to meet with Christ!” Often, I have had people ask me, “Would you mentor me, Jill?” I usually answer, “No, Jesus will mentor you, but I will meet with you a few times to show you how to let Him do that. And once in a while, we can meet to share the lessons He is teaching us both.” We must not become holy substitutes for the Holy Spirit! Or people will lean on us instead of on Him!

I am aware that I may well be working myself out of a job. In fact, I present messages about how to go deeper with God, how to read the Bible, and how to hear His voice. Please, God, let my efforts to encourage people to connect with the dynamic of the Spirit never become a holy substitute for the real thing.

We must first personally substitute all our own great resources for the real deal. I need to do the work I need to do in order that He can do the work He needs to do within me. I want to help people toward a moment-by-moment conscious awareness of His hand on our shoulder, His love in our life, His breath in our spirit, and His grace in our soul. “God and God alone,” as the song says it. I must make sure that all our God-inspired resources lead people to take the responsibility to nourish their own interior life.

So, walk into the throne room early in the morning, all by yourself, and just talk! Learn to listen, too…to discern the still small voice of God above the cacophony of noise around you. Don’t just watch other do it – you do it!

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, July 18, 2011

Do you feel stuck?



You likely haven’t heard the name Jennie Allen before, but remember it, because soon you’ll be hearing it often. Jennie Allen is a raw new force that is changing the way Bible study helps women deal with deep, personal issues while reaching out to an invisible God. A Bible teacher from Texas, she has signed with Thomas Nelson Publishers to create seven Bible studies and two trade books.

Jennie knows the problems she teaches about. She daily faces a deep struggle with being anxious, lonely and afraid. “It’s a war,” she says. “The kind of war that happens inside of you, the kind that nobody sees. God versus me and all my junk.”

The realization that she isn’t alone in this war, the conviction that everyone is fighting something, led her to create studies that will help others in their hidden struggles. She’s willing to bare the messy parts of her soul in order to help others.

“We will be dealing with hidden sin,” she says. “God wants to do something with that. But until we recognize that we are stuck and in need of Him, we will miss what He has for us.”

Jennie’s vulnerability and authenticity shine through in Stuck, her first Bible study, which includes eight DVD teaching sessions, plus other resources. Coming out in September, it will help women address the private struggles of heart and mind which are often masked by a happy face.

For the next three months, Jennie will be sharing exclusive thoughts and hopes with you, the Just Between Us readers.

So who is Jennie Allen? Jennie says she’s just an average woman – but simple, direct and true. A woman who has been given the gift of asking the right questions, she adds – questions that center around a relationship with God. She holds a Master’s of Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, but it’s not her education but her passion that draws women to her. She challenges deep Christians and offers a safe haven to unbelievers – all those who are seeking God with their hearts.  She lives with her husband, Zac, in Austin, Texas, where they are raising four children and working in ministry together.

“I want to take us all to a place we struggle with,” she says. “To our inner wrestling and our inner feelings. To a place of surrender.”

If you consider yourself stuck, come with Jennie on a journey. A journey where you’ll be honest with yourself and honest with God. After all, He knew the answers before you even knew the questions. Come explore what God means to your mind and your heart. Come explore your soul reflected in God’s love.

Have you ever felt stuck?
Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free, will release in September 2011. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recognizing the Enemy


Dear Friends,

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. ~ Genesis 3:1

Satan is called the “serpent” in Revelation 12:9, 14, 15 and 20:2.  In one frightening chapter of Genesis we catch a glimpse of his powers.  He is seen to be cunning, articulate, a liar, a deceiver and destroyer, and an enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Eve’s mistake was to take him on!  She was no match for the serpent; neither are you and I.  The second Adam, Jesus Christ, met Satan and withstood his temptations (see Matt. 4:1-11).  He overcame and destroyed him at the cross.  Because of Christ’s victory, true Christians have the same power to overcome.

We are promised discernment to match Satan’s cunning, truth to counter his lies, and weapons to fight the unseen battle of the spirit (see Eph. 6:12).  If we take on the old serpent in our own strength as Eve did, there is no contest.  But that is more easily said than done!  I like the story of the little boy who told his Sunday school teacher that when Satan knocked on the door of his heart he sent Jesus to answer it!  Very wise!  The serpent is stronger than all our best intentions but God is stronger than all the serpent’s worst designs!

Do you not believe in Satan?  Then you really have been deceived!  The Bible plots his diabolical footsteps from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20.  Jesus believed in him and showed us how to counter his subtlety with triumphant truth.  The serpent may have been more cunning than the beasts of the field and the man who was set over them, but he is not more cunning than God and His Christ who caught and cursed him with eternal doom (see Rev. 20:3).

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, July 11, 2011

Soul Food


Have you ever felt hunger pangs while you’re walking through a grocery store?  Food is all around you, and yet you’re starving?  Ministry wives often find themselves spiritually hungry, even in the midst of the grocery store called church.  You can attend Bible studies and dutifully listen to sermons and still find yourself feeling empty.  What causes a person devoted to God, diligent in ministry, and busy caring for God’s children, to run dry?  Over the last 26 years, I have occasionally found myself in a spiritual famine.  My spirit growled, even while I was serving soul food to others.

Sometimes you can miss the signs of spiritual hunger, while others pick it up in your irritability, resentfulness, negativity, and overwhelmed attitude.  I’ve discovered a variety of ways to feed my soul in the midst of ministry.

The Drink.  Schedule disciplined, in-the-mood-or-not, time alone daily with God.  Are you busy?  Sure you are.  Is it hard to wake up early when you’ve ministered late into the previous night?  Yes it is.  Can you still be a Christian and not read your Bible every day?  Of course.  Can your body go without drinking water for a day or two and not suffer?  Doubtful.  Your time with God is for you.  He can renew you as you spend time with Him.  I’ve found no substitute for time alone with God.  You must be the one to give yourself a spiritual drink every day to nourish your soul.

The Appetizer.  Unload the burdens you’re carrying to God.  We lug around a lot of guilt, burden, and concern for people that we try controlling ourselves.  Before we can be refreshed spiritually, we need to clean out our inner refrigerator.  

The Main Course.  Prayer!  Is it hard to pray regularly?  Do you sometimes feel like your prayers are not even heard?  If you believe those things, you’re missing out on the meat of a strong relationship with God.  Prayer is talking to Jesus.  It’s telling Him your desires, your longings, your frustrations, your secrets, your burdens.  It is the main course  the most important aspect of your relationship with Him. 

Fresh Seasonings.  Spend time with godly friends.  Find someone who makes you laugh.  Carve out time to be with people that care about your walk with God.  Pray with another woman in ministry about your personal needs.

Side Dish. Pour yourself into a new Christian.  Sometimes we stagnant in our walk with God because we’re not discipling someone else.  Take what you know and mentor another woman.  It will refresh you spiritually.  Once I was discipling a woman with an Italian background, fresh and hungry to grow.  While learning the books of the Bible, she got excited to read about the “Italian” prophet called “Malachi!”  Those smiling moments renew your soul.

Mold in the Fridge.  Let’s be honest, people hurt us.  There are times when the criticism, disappointments, or workload leave us feeling resentful.  Just as mold creeps into an unguarded fridge, spiritual spores sprout in the private spaces of our souls.  A lack of forgiveness poisons a heart toward God.  Give the hurt up to God so He can use it in your life.

Dessert. People in ministry sometimes believe they don’t need spiritual dessert.  We teach, train, preach, and pray for everyone else.  But sometimes, we need some sweet stuff!  Take opportunities to grow from others’ teaching.  Attend a Bible study, form a support group with other ministry wives, read inspirational books, take yourself on a private retreat.  The rich part of our experience with God is attainable! Indulge!

Don’t Eat Alone.  I’m amazed at how often ministry couples eat alone spiritually.  We’re surrounded by people, yet we feel lonely.  Many couples don’t ever find the time or energy to pray together.  Your spouse can become your soul mate.  Share the things God is teaching you with each other.  Ask each other, “What is God doing in your life?”

Chances are you’ve heard all this before, but when the tennis or golf pros are in a slump, they always go back to the basics.  Sometimes, the best lessons in life are those that remind us of the things we already know, but have forgotten to practice.  Staying close to Jesus is not as complicated as we make it out to be.  James wrote, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  So pull up to the table.  It’s time to eat.

Blessings,


Nancy Nelson
Contributing Author

Monday, July 4, 2011

Try Some Holy Fun!

Several years ago my mom, sisters, and I attended a huge women’s conference in the Chicago area.  We were looking forward to a weekend away for spiritual refreshment and fun.  A few minutes into the main session, we began to smell something terrible.  The familiar odor proceeded to get stronger as the session went on.  We exchanged looks among ourselves, trying to ignore what was going on in back of us until we heard the clunk of a tin can.


Unbelievably, a woman had just finished eating a can of tuna!  What’s worse, she got out a second can and proceeded to finish that off, discarding the empty can next to the other one under my sister’s seat!  Now, throughout the rest of the conference, it wasn’t just the smell that was troublesome, but the constant clunking of tin cans every time the woman moved her feet.


I can understand having a snack, but a can of tuna in the middle of an auditorium filled with thousands of women?  Somehow, it was very difficult to sing praise songs!  We tried to compose ourselves.  Needless to say, we laughed the entire way home and still chuckle every time we think about that conference!


Had I not had the upbringing I’ve had where it was modeled to enjoy life, we might have left feeling upset at that experience.  Instead, we chose to see the humor in it and laugh about it.


When was the last time you had a really good belly-aching, tear-dripping laugh?  Or just some plain old fun?  For that matter, what is your theology of fun?  Perhaps you’re thinking it’s not spiritual to have fun, or that it’s not important in a Christian’s life, so you don’t make the time.  I believe God created fun and humor because He knew that we would need the soul medicine it would provide in a fallen world.


There’s something that God built into creation that is enjoyable.  Imagine the fun God must have had when He created all the animals.  Next time you’re at the zoo just look at all the zany creatures; there can be no doubt that we have a fun God and that there is a purpose for laughter in our lives.  Since we are created in the image of God as Genesis 1:26 says, then having a sense of humor is part of how we’re wired.


Growing up, fun was a lifestyle.  My mom was always doing crazy things to help us enjoy life, and I have tried to carry that gift into my adulthood.  Ministry and living in today’s culture can get so heavy and laden with burdens.  Fun gives us a break so we can carry on in the midst of them. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that to be able to laugh is good medicine for our beaten down souls.  I believe fostering fun is about trying to celebrate life in the midst of everything we do – work, relationships, life’s circumstances, and ministry.  If you look around, there is always something to laugh about or enjoy.  Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  We have the “time to weep” part down, but unfortunately not the “time to laugh.”


If you have a hard time discovering fun, surround yourself with those people who live life joyfully.  My life has been lavished with people who enjoy life.  And they are contagious!  Even when there has been nothing to laugh about, God has helped me to find the humor in some small thing. 


God’s design for fun is further demonstrated in Genesis 2:2-3 which says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.”  Imagine declaring a day of no work as “holy.”  We don’t often see fun, play, or leisure as “holy” do we?  So what is that weekly day of rest to be about?  It’s a day for abstaining from work and, instead, being concerned with worshipping God and attending to proper relaxation of mind and body.


Fun is simply having a sense of humor or lightness; taking a recess from the responsibilities of life through recreation and relaxation.  It’s making time for ourselves and others.  Play and rest need to be given a proper place of dignity because we have been designed by God with a need to play. 


How can we enjoy life when it seems like a never ending stretch of work?  All work and no play makes for a very heavy existence.  God fashioned us with a need for enjoyment and fun.  He not only gave us a weekly day for our bodies to rest and relax, but on top of that He declared it “holy.”  So give yourself permission to have some holy fun! 


In His service,


Shelly Esser