Monday, February 15, 2016

Ministry in Difficulties

Dear Friends,

I was thinking about the book of Philippians where Paul was sitting in a cold, dark jail cell.  He declares that because of his chains, he has had this marvelous opportunity to advance the gospel.  He may as well have said “in spite of” my chains.  Paul considered himself a prisoner not of Rome but of Jesus Christ.  He was here as an ambassador to represent his Lord and Savior.  Hadn’t the Lord said, “I will show him (Paul) how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16)?  God had also promised Paul that he would one day take the gospel to Rome, the heart of the empire (see Acts 23:11).  When something hard happened to the apostle Paul, his instant reaction was, “How can I use this as a platform to explain the gospel?”

Paul had no idea how he was ever going to get to Rome.  But he knew that one way or another, God would get him to the heart of the empire.  And what would happen when he got there?  Perhaps Paul envisaged a great crusade in the Coliseum.  I doubt it though.  He didn’t know how this trip to Rome would actually happen and probably thought it could happen only if he were a free man.  But Paul had a wonderful habit of seeing an opportunity to minister in every difficulty.

Paul, therefore, looked at his chains as a positive.  “These are chains of blessing,” he would have said to himself.  In fact, he didn’t just say it to himself; he said it to his friends: “These chains on my wrists have turned out to be chains of blessings for others.”  What an attitude!  And Paul wants them to learn the lesson too.  In another letter, Paul tells the Christians to make sure they learned to “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16).  He wanted them to begin practicing the art of ministry.

Whether we find it easy or difficult to take the opportunity to make Christ known when we’re in tough situations may have something to do with our personalities.  It may be harder for some than others.  I am a negative sort of person to begin with, while my husband Stuart is the positive part of the partnership.  He would see the doughnut; I would see the hole.  And if perchance Stuart would see the hole, he would spell it WHOLE.  But faith can turn even a melancholy person into a positive one.  To discover this was a huge encouragement that helped me see even confining situations as a chance to practice this spiritual art.

As we meet Paul in prison, most likely in Rome, there is little encouragement for him on the horizon.  He is preparing to defend his life in a Roman court.  He is to be put on trial for his faith, and he is not really expecting to win his case.  However, he is quite at ease, as his faith tells him that if God wants him around a bit longer for the good of the young believers, he will be released.  If not, he will walk through the front door of heaven and be with Jesus.  He can’t quite make up his mind which he prefers.  He reckons he’d rather have heaven, but he’s quite content to stay a while longer on earth for the sake of his beloved Philippians.  “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” he writes in his letter (Phil. 1:21).  You can’t beat an attitude like that.

A Christian has two great opportunities: to live and to die.  Do you think of living and dying as two grand slam opportunities?  Well, it all depends on whether Christ is in your life.  And if Christ is in your life, then death is your gain!

Back at the ranch, or rather at the jail, Paul was making the most of things.  He was busy using his unusual opportunities and exercising the spiritual art of ministry.


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Monday, February 8, 2016

Flying into Our Father's Arms

Dear Friends,

A train was rattling along the track from one city to another. It carried a full load, and the journey was a long one. In one car the boredom was alleviated slightly by the entertainment afforded the passengers by a small child who flitted from one person to another, smiling and chattering away. She was a personable and sociable little girl, and the passengers began to wonder who her parents were. It was hard to tell, as she gave her attention to each and every one in turn. The passengers, however, were not left wondering for long. Suddenly the train whistled and entered a long, dark tunnel. The little girl flew across the car, straight into the arms of her father!

When trouble comes, the world needs to see us flying into our Father’s arms. People are desperate for that example. We need to show them there is a place to hide when we suddenly enter the long, dark tunnel, and they need to hear from us that the arms we run to are loving ones.  In our refusal to charge God with a spiteful spirit, we publicly profess our belief that God is good.

I have watched in amazement as an expensively dressed businessman, on the way to his state-of-the-art office in downtown Tokyo, placed a bunch of bananas on the branch of a tree outside his high-rise office building. That bunch of bananas was still there at the end of the day. No one touched them because everyone knew that this was someone’s effort to appease the spirits that they believed lived in that particular tree. To believe in gods that wish you harm and that must be appeased by a bunch of bananas seems ludicrous to us, and yet we are in danger of the same attitude ourselves. Even believers—like Job’s wife—can fall into the trap of believing they didn’t give God enough bananas (or money in the church offerings), and that is why trouble came. The God who is revealed in Scripture is not a God who must be pampered and appeased, but rather a God of love and hope who promises to be all that we need Him to be, when we need Him.

Nobody knows what is around the corner of tomorrow. But one thing we can know: God will be waiting there for us. He is a God of comfort, a God well acquainted with grief and suffering.  A God who knows what it is to have the forces of hell do their worst. Because God inhabits our future, He is never surprised by the magnitude of the troubles waiting for us. We may be surprised, but our heavenly Father never is. He who is bigger than any catastrophe is fully capable of looking after His children in the midst of catastrophe. He is so worthy of our trust!


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Knowing Jesus is All You Need

Dear Friends,

“You can’t say Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you’ve got,” said Mother Teresa. This wonderful woman, she gave her life to the dying and destitute in India, could say that. Jesus was indeed all she had! She knew the truth of Jesus’ words, “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25).

Baruch was assured that his life would be saved in the coming disaster, “I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life” (Jer. 45:5). His life was the most important thing in the world. Passion, position, or possessions mattered little in the end. God promised him his life, and that was all. In other words, He said to Baruch, “It’s not a fair world, Baruch, but at least you can be glad you have your life!”

God promised to save Baruch’s life and nothing more. He uses a phrase that describes his life as “a prize of war,” the booty a victorious army extracts from its victims. The word describes someone stripping prisoners of war of all their belongings before taking them off into slavery. I watched the Serbs stripping the Albanians at the height of the Kosovo crisis, I understood a little of the meaning of this word. Even the people’s passports and their legal identification, along with their landholding deeds and valuables, were stripped from them at the border crossings.

God warns Baruch that this will happen to him, but He promises that he will escape with his life.  Baruch was to experience what the apostle Paul was to know years later.  “Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:8-10).  Reduced to grace, down to God alone, God was going to be “God enough.”

Now it was Baruch’s time to respond to all of this divine attention. I believe there comes a time when God confronts us all with the choice that Baruch had at this point. Jeremiah had come to his grand submission in Jeremiah 10:23, saying, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” So I believe Baruch repented of his pride and his ambition, made peace with Jeremiah, and set off at his side to finish the fight and keep the faith.

Would we have had the wonderful words of Jeremiah if Baruch had not surrendered his everything to God? If he had left Jeremiah and returned to the palace and his other work? I, for one, am grateful that he passed the test and soldiered on!

What a shout of joy the watching angels must have sounded at that moment!  They knew that God is never limited by age, gender, culture, nationality, wealthy, poverty, education, or lack of it.  Only our pride, prejudice, sheer selfishness, and refusal to submit to the call of God in our lives can limit what God can do through us!


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine