Monday, July 30, 2012

It's All About Relationships


Dear Friends,

Many years ago my granddaughter asked me if she could interview me about “English Tea Time” for a school project.  It made me think for a second!  It takes a granddaughter’s homework or a trip to a tea-drinking country to remind me of a special tradition that is part of my heritage.

Being a child of the Second World War, I remember when the bombs fell night after night and we huddled in the air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden.  My mom would make a saving cup of tea, and she, my older sister, and I would drink it slowly, savoring the companionship it seemed to engender in our hole underground!  It occupied our frightened moments and gave us something to do!

Every day after the war, when I ran in from school in England, my mother would have a pot of tea ready with hot baked scones and cake.  We would sit and connect with each other before homework, walking the dog, or tennis lessons.  If you would ask me how significant this tradition has been to me, I would say very significant, because I realize it made us stop and talk.  We would pause in the middle of the day, look into each other’s eyes, and touch base.  We’d ask, “How was your day?  How are you doing?  Are we all right, you and me?  Do we need to say sorry to each other?”  We would listen to each other, and then when the tea was gone in the lovely English china tea pot, we would go our ways and do our own things, so much the better for the sweet touch of interest and love over a cup of tea!

It’s not about the tea though.  In the end, of course, it’s about relationships.  It reminds us that people matter more than schedules, more than programs.  Relationships are what so much of life is about.
Then I remember—grown, married, and in full-time youth ministry based in the beautiful Lake District—going back to Liverpool to break the news to my recently-widowed mother that we were emigrating to the United States to live.  The car journey to Liverpool seemed to go by far too fast as I wondered how on earth I was going to tell her.

My mother had an inordinate fear of flying, and once I had told her, we both knew she would never come and see us.  We both knew this was goodbye to her beloved grandchildren.  We cried for a long time when I told her, and then my mother said, “Let’s have a cup of tea.”  We dried our tears and found sweet relief doing something familiar and something together.  Then after I drove home, I made a cup of tea and drank it by myself to calm my hurting heart.  I knew alone back in Liverpool, my sweet mother was doing the same.

Then this side of the Atlantic after we immigrated, it was a joy to continue my tea time with new friends.  I learned the new traditions from our American church family as we settled in.  It was a joy to welcome people into our new home and say, “Please come and visit and have a cup of tea!”
Now many years later, I am realizing how easy it is to get out of the habit of this saving pause at all times throughout the day!  It’s part of my upbringing and heritage though, and I am remembering.  After long days, Stuart and I enjoy heart-to-heart dialogue over a hot cup of tea.

You may ask in what ways is this tradition unique?  I don’t quite know.  Perhaps it’s unique because drinking tea spans the centuries, the globe, the economic divides, and generations!  I have been to India where we sat with our Indian friends and drank chai.  Then onto Kazakhstan were we enjoyed tea with Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Tajiks!  Then to Russia where we sat and drank tea with people from the Arctic Circle and Azerbaijan!

It’s a time to look at one another in the face and ask, “Are you being helped by all these words?  Does it make sense?  Can I explain more clearly how to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?  How not to burn out?  How to balance marriage and family?”

The essence of tea or coffee time is the old tradition of giving time to those I love, not giving things.  As the summer months continue, I will try to keep space to stop our frantic rushing around, look each other in the eye and just talk.  We’ll share our heartaches, joys, and love and pray over a good “cup a” as we say in the UK.  Go on, put the kettle on!

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine  


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is the Reach of God in My Life?


Dear Friends,

C.S. Lewis said something to the effect of: When you read a new book, you should read an old one.  I have tried to follow this advice, one such book being, Life Verses: The Bible’s Impact on Famous Lives: Volume Two by F.W. Boreham, where the author tells the spiritual journey of William Penn, a Quaker, philanthropist, and founder of Pennsylvania.

Son of Admiral William Penn, the younger William was a contemporary of the Puritans.  While both John Milton and John Bunyan influenced Penn, it was Thomas Loe, a simple Quaker preacher who spread the gospel in the British Isles as Penn grew up, who was used by God as the catalyst to revolutionize Penn for good and for God.  Three times their paths crossed, and God used this simple preacher with fire in his bones and the love of God in his heart in Penn’s life.

The first time Penn heard the Quaker preach was in Cork in Ireland.  His father, hearing that the preacher had the town flocking to his meetings, invited him to the estate to speak to his household.  As the 12-year-old Penn looked around, he saw a servant deeply moved.  He looked at the Admiral, and to his amazement, saw tears running down his father’s face.  He wondered greatly about the God that lived in and through Loe’s uncompromising preaching and its powerful effect on the people that day.

The second time Loe was used in Penn’s spiritual journey was a turning point for him.  I can think of pivotal sermons that have winged their way through my defenses and found a resting place in my heart, setting my sails in another direction that I had never thought I would go.  Like sitting in the great Harringay Arena in London as a student, listening to a young evangelist from America named Billy Graham calling the youth of England to find out the plan God had for their lives and do it!  The Lord used that night to turn my attention to a world outside mine that needed reaching for Christ.  Can you pinpoint any such words that the Spirit of God used to take you deeper into the mysterious workings of God in your soul?  Has God paid a visit to your life as He did to William Penn’s?  It does us good to take note of our past directives and trace the Spirit’s footsteps.     

All of us being unique creatures will have our own special way of understanding what God is saying to our soul.  The way it happens doesn’t matter, but that it happens, does!  Each in our own different way needs to come to a point of no return when we say to God, “Anytime, anywhere, anyhow!”  Dr. Stoughton, commenting on Penn’s conversion, says, “Conversion must not be considered simply as a change of opinion.  It penetrated his (Penn’s) moral nature; it made him a new man.  He was raised into another sphere of consciousness.”

I thought about the way that some of us evangelicals too easily report on “conversions.”  “So many accepted Christ,” we say.  But what do we mean?  Is there evidence of life following, that these people have been “exceedingly reached and wept much”?  Have they been internally sorrowed for the sin that nailed Jesus securely in place till He accomplished our saving?  Has the Spirit done His convicting and convincing work, and have they like Penn, in their own way, renounced any hopes and dreams they had ever cherished in order that they would overcome the world?

Have we been guilty of teasing people into the Kingdom of God by telling them it’s all about a lot of fun, when it’s all about a lot of faith?  Do we sooth their apprehensions of paying a price—any price—by talking about an easy believism and a costless Christianity?  Are we more intent on leaving a good impression than serving them truly by risking rejection or ridicule for the tough things that need to be spoken?  

Christ let all His glory, honor, and status go in order to do the will of His Father in Heaven, in order that we could be forgiven.  We need to be overwhelmed anew with the cross of Christ and the price He paid as He “exceedingly reached and weeping much” renounced His dreams and embraced our nightmares, visiting our helplessness with His redemption.  Once that work is done in all our hearts, a powerful ministry can begin.

Let us dare to preach a message like Penn and live and love our lives away for God!  Let us ask ourselves, “What is the reach of God in my life?  Was there a part of me one day that decided He had enough of me?  Did I decide I was doing enough, speaking enough, praying enough, serving enough?  Did I say thus far and no further?”  Will we dare whisper, “Reach deeper, Lord, reach further.  Reach down until I know You at a depth I’ve never known You before”?

Out of such yearning can come a fresh vision and renewed commitment to Jesus and His cause that will result in those around catching fire.  Once we are exceedingly reached ourselves, we will see God reach others at a life-changing depth too.

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine 


    

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Joy of a Volunteer


“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” ~ Phil. 2:5-9

Dear Friends,

Volunteering has fallen on hard times.  Jesus volunteered, no one made Him jump over heaven’s walls.  No one bribed Him to leave His comfort zone and ask for trouble.  No one hired Him.  He didn’t have to ask what the benefits of the job were: would He have healthcare, be able to have vacations, be allowed to go and see His family during the summer and at Christmas?

The Father didn’t say, “How much do I have to pay you to go down there and sort out this unbelievable mess?”  No one twisted His heavenly arm.  He came.  He volunteered.  I can do that!  We can all do it!

I have chosen to live the life of a layperson in the church.  When we came to our church in 1970, I volunteered.  As a pastor’s wife for thirty years, until my husband Stuart stepped down from his senior pastor role, I put in as many or more hours as a paid member of the church staff.  As a volunteer, I built and led a women’s ministry that affected hundreds of women and developed into a worldwide ministry.

At not a few points along the way, I was offered a paid position.  There was not a right or wrong way to respond to this.  There was only “His way” for me!  As I prayed about it, I was clearly led to do the job offered, but to do it as a volunteer.  It has been a great journey of faith for me.  And one thing has happened as a result.  I found it has inspired and challenged thousands of men and women to do the same!  To volunteer.  All of us can volunteer to serve Jesus full-time!

There are obviously times to accept a “professional” post in ministry if the opportunity is presented.  But there are more often times when it does not harm to ask God if He wants you to be a volunteer with no comeback at the end of the day, but the joy knowing that you have done His will!

When I would ask Him about the opportunities that would come my way, He told me, “Do it this time as a member of the Body of Christ for Me, without remuneration.”  These were my instructions.  No one else’s, just mine.  I obeyed.  No one bribed me, no one twisted my arm; I doubt anyone knew about it.  I volunteered.  And God provided all that I have needed and more.

You can do that too.  Let God give you your assignment for Him whether it is a remunerated position or not.  Whether there is anything in it for you or not.  Let God give you your unique task.  It has been such an adventure for me, I would not have missed it for the world!

This mode of ministry means you depend on Him for direction, protection, and affection!  You are accountable to Him for the precious hours in the days He lends you, and you have to spend a lot of time with Jesus alone to get your marching orders straight on a daily basis.  No one is going to give you a “to-do” list.  You get that from your heavenly Father every morning of your life in “the deep place where nobody goes,” as you sit on the steps of your soul and talk to Him firsthand.  That’s what Jesus did when He was a volunteer.  Can you imagine anything more thrilling and fulfilling?  What a joy and privilege.  So my dear volunteers for Jesus, let us press on following the example of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.       

Serving God together,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine 


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Learning Humility


Dear Friends,

Pride always has to take the credit for a job well done, a victory achieved, a soul saved, a Christian helped.  Pride always has to take the credit and never the blame.  If something goes wrong, it is always someone else’s fault.  Pride would rather choke than say, “I’m sorry.”  Yet, we can achieve so much more as long as we don’t have to take the credit!

So how can we deal with our tendency toward pride and arrogance?  How can we learn to let agape love rule our service and relationships in the church?

Spend Lots of Time in Worship

Isaiah looked through the doorway of heaven one day and saw the Lord high and lifted up, sitting on a throne.  “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6:5).  The best way for us to stop saying, “Wow is me!” is to spend lots of time seeing the Lord who is high and holy.  Then we will find ourselves saying, “Woe is me.”   

I was intrigued to hear Isaiah talk about his lips as his being “unclean.”  To me, he is the golden-lipped prophet!  Yet as he worshipped, he felt dirty and in need of cleansing.

Spend time with God.  See the Lord high and lifted up, glorious and holy.  If that doesn’t cure your pride, nothing will! 

Listen to Yourself, Look at Yourself

Listen to yourself talk, and then stop talking when it’s all about you.  Ask lots of questions about other people.  Stop talking about your kids and ask about theirs.  If there are single people in the group, remember that they have a family too!  Ask them to share their photos.

Use the Bible as a mirror of your soul. James says, “For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like” (James 1:23-24).  Look into God’s Word and see yourself clearly.  See the blemishes, but don’t walk away and forget.  Try to improve things you see in “the mirror.”

Years ago I took care of our three-month-old grandson, Drew, for a day.  The baby was upset much of the time, and I found it difficult to keep him happy.  At last I found the answer.  I held him up in front of the mirror in my bedroom.  This worked wonderfully!  Drew saw himself and cooed and talked to the mirror until his parents came back.  I told Judy about it, explaining that as long as he saw himself, he was quite happy.

“Oh , Mom,” my daughter replied, “he is at the age where he doesn’t recognize himself.  He thought it was another baby!”  My daughter is a psychologist, so far be it from me to argue with her!  But the incident gave me a good illustration.  Like Drew, we look into the prefect law of liberty, the Word of God, and see ourselves reflected there with all our blemishes.  Most of us don’t really realize that we are seeing ourselves, and so we go away and do nothing about what we have seen.  If we can allow God to show us our pride and arrogance, our rudeness and selfishness, and ask Him to change us into His image, then the mirror will have done its good work in our hearts.  So listen to yourself and look at yourself!  Then fix the blemishes you notice!

Humble Yourself

If we don’t humble ourselves, then God will humble us!  So dare to invite God to keep you humble.  Now let me tell you, this is an exceedingly dangerous prayer to pray!  I have learned from experience what it’s like to have God humble me—and it’s not always a pretty picture!  Yet I still dare to ask God to do what it takes to keep my head the size it should be, and He still delights to oblige.  The Bible says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God” (1 Peter 5:6), and I would add, “You had better do it, or God will do it for you!”

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine