Resting In God

Here’s a song which has blessed and helped us recently, by Martin Smith, called Waiting Here For You. In all the hectic rush of our days, we find we need to constantly be aware of God’s presence, His rest, and to relax into the Lordship of Christ, lifting our hearts to Him.

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Spring Is Here

Spring has definitely arrived here in the Oise and it’s beautiful. There are bluebells…

…and spring lambs…

…and the oilseed is flowering brilliantly (the Church you can see is that of Rémérangles, where we are staying):

Here is a view of the three dominant landmarks of Clermont, from left to right: the ruined castle, the Church and the Mairie (town hall):

Near Bresles, a larger village close to us, is one of many hills which has the name of Mont César (or Camp César sometimes); here is the view from near the summit:

These hills are the sites, real or (perhaps often) alleged, of camps or forts built by the Romans. The forests of the Southern Oise are simply breathtaking:

To celebrate Joanna’s birthday we visited Compiègne, a town to the East of here. The forest comes up to the Southern edge of the town and there is a wonderful viewpoint back to the town:

Later that day we went to Pierrefonds…

…where there is an extravagant fairytale château:

Just in case you think it’s all play and no work, we had an interesting afternoon of training recently for the festival which the Church in Clermont is putting on next weekend (6/7 May). Chris got into the spirit of the occasion…

We are encouraged by all that God is doing here, but the spiritual situation is very much like this:

A green shoot of life and vitality, growing strongly, in a sea of spiritual death and decay. We need more shoots, more life, springing up all over the Oise, the Somme and all of France. God is moving — keep praying!

Do It Again, God

We’ve been exploring our surroundings here in l’Oise, especially the big spiritual “hole” between Clermont and Amiens to the North, stretching from the Oise to the Somme départements, where there are lots of people, but no evangelical Churches.

The people are in lots and lots of villages and a few small towns. Places which are hard to reach with the message of Jesus’ love, in which it is hard to plant Churches.

A couple of days ago I discovered a worship group which I’d not come across before: Elevation Worship. One of the songs from their latest album, There is a Cloud, struck me:

The first verse and chorus are:

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet

I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

The spiritual walls in France can seem very resistant, sometimes it does seem they will never fall. But they are falling, because the battle is won, God moves mountains. In those plateaux de Picardie, God is already moving in the hearts of women, men, girls and boys by His amazing Holy Spirit, drawing them to Jesus. To human minds, there may sometimes not seem to be any way, but God makes a way where there is no way!

God has done amazing things in France, He is doing incredible things now in France. And I believe, I’ll see You do it again — yes, Lord, here!

Clermont

We are here in the Oise to work with a small church in the town of Clermont, population 10,500 (2014). Here is the main street in the old part of the town:

There is a mix of better-off and poorer areas in the town, not all of it looks quite so attractive!

The church was only planted in September last year, so is very young, but is going very well. There are no other evangelical churches in Clermont.

We attended our first service yesterday afternoon (5pm). Here is the outside of the premises used for the services:

The church is called La Source, meaning The Spring, reflecting the Spring of Living Water we have in Jesus!

Can you guess what the premises are used for during the week?

Yep, it’s a weight training gym, in French une salle de musculation. Weight training is very popular here and there are a number of similar places in the town. The owner is part of the church.

We enjoyed meeting our brothers and sisters and we all had a great time together, with worship, testimonies and a message.

The church emphasises doing fun things for the community of Clermont. The next fun activity will be a board games evening this coming Saturday:

Settled In The Oise

We had a stress-free journey back to France on 29 March and found our new temporary accommodation easily: a gîte (holiday cottage) in the village of Rémérangles, about 15 minutes from the small town of Clermont in the Oise département.

The gîte, shown above, is comfortable and we quickly made it home. It is part of a working farm, right in the centre of the village. Chris would love to have a go with the farmer’s “boy’s toys” but sadly he doesn’t leave the keys in them…

Here’s the view south from the edge of the farm out over the countryside:

Here we are on the plateaux of Picardie, with wide open views. Clermont marks the start of the forested valleys of the Oise, which extend southwards towards Paris. You can just see the line of forest on the horizon in the photo above.

Below is the village church on the left and the rather splendid Mairie (town hall) on the right: not bad for a village of just 215 inhabitants (in 2014)! Below is the main street.

The Unexpected: 2

So, the unexpected then. We went to Amiens, expecting to look for and find long-term rented accommodation. A flat, a house, nothing special, not a palace, just enough for what we believed God wanted us to do there: share our lives with the people we would meet and share Jesus with them along the way.

After eight weeks, we had not found anywhere. The last couple of weeks it seemed to become increasingly clear that we were not going to find anywhere. There are human, natural, reasons for that. But the biggest reason seemed to be that God did not want us to stay in Amiens, at that time anyway.

What? Had we heard wrong? Were all the things labelled Amiens which fell into place in our lives a mistake? Was God saying one thing whilst we were hearing another? Nope, I don’t believe so.

We returned to London at the very end of February, knowing that Amiens was not the place for now. Maybe later? Who knows? God knows! There was a germ of possibility for spending a short time in another place, which we would explore to see if God opened a door.

Back here in London, then, a couple of days after finishing reading Acts again, as described in the previous post, I went out for a walk round the streets and parks. A pray-think-listen walk.

As I walked, I thought about what God had shown me about Acts, how He worked through the unexpected (to His people, never to Him!). For no particular reason, I thought I’d review the crisis times in my life since I became a Christian.

So I delved back into my memory to find the times when it had seemed to me that my life was at a real crisis point and thought about what had happened. Work crises, personal crises, ministry crises.

What I found was really interesting. It seemed to me that in each case I had been living my life according to a plan that I had worked out. At some point, the plan stopped working: the crisis point. My life moved on again, got back on track, when God brought along the unexpected: something which was never part of my plan and would not have happened without the crisis.

Obviously, some of the examples are rather personal. But let me share one from my work life. I had been working for myself as a computer consultant for maybe a few years. Things had been building up and the work level was OK, but then it seemed to plateau. The new work and new clients were not there. Money became very tight indeed. It was a really worrying time. My nicely worked out plans for my young business were failing fast.

Things got to the point where I could see no alternative but to stop working for myself and get a job. Ugh, bad news as far as I was concerned. OK, so I began applying for jobs. Very quickly I found that I was too old (a little over 30!) for many opportunities and I did not have paper qualifications for the jobs I had the experience for (in computing). The fact I could do the job with my eyes closed didn’t matter, the employer needed that piece of paper. Grrr!

Crisis time! I haven’t got enough consultancy work, nobody will employ me, what can I do? Where are you, God? What’s going on?

What happened? Two things. The first was that totally out of the blue, in a completely unexpected way, I got a new consultancy client. Not just a client with a little bit of work, but lots of work. And different work: design, training and database publishing, the last of which involved a lot more computer programming. A new direction. I was safe… phew!

The second thing that happened was that out of the increased amount of computer programming I was doing came an idea to publish a magazine for programmers. To cut a long story short, that worked out very well indeed, to the extent that I eventually gave up consultancy to concentrate on the magazine. It gave me a level of financial security that made lots of other things possible (including, eventually, going to France).

So, my careful human plan failed. I came to a crisis point. At my crisis point, God brought along the completely unexpected. And actually, the two-stage pattern of an immediate unexpected and temporary way forwards (my new consultancy client), followed by a longer-term and more significant unexpected way forwards (the magazine) has been repeated in my life.

All of this obviously made me think very hard about where we are just now in terms of God’s call on our lives to work for Him in France. We had a plan, it seemed to be the plan that God was leading us into. The plan failed — no flat or house in Amiens at the moment. We have a crisis point — what happens now? Does God really want us in France?

The first unexpected thing is that in a couple of days we are off to spend seven weeks in Clermont, in the Oise département, working with missionary friends of missionary friends who are planting a Church there.

What then? Who knows? God knows! I’ve tried very hard not to keep running lists of possibilities through my mind, I’ve tried hard to stop making my own plans. I think I should plan less (not that planning of itself is bad, but planning God out of the equation is not the way to go…), expect God to bring me to crisis points, see these as opportunities and not disasters, trust Him more… and expect the unexpected. Trust that God will show up and move things forwards in an unforeseen, amazing and powerful way.

Is it easy? No, very far from it. Is it painful? Absolutely. Do I often feel like doing a Jonah and running away? Definitely. I try and remember what God said to Joshua: be strong and very courageous. God can do this, I can’t, so I’m just going to have to keep relying on Him…

The Unexpected: 1

Last week I finished reading the book of Acts again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, but there always seems to be something new which God shows me as I read. It is perhaps my favourite book of the Bible.

This time, what struck me was how many times God’s purposes, the Kingdom of God, moved forwards through what was completely unexpected to His people, the Christians.

Think about the day of Pentecost to start with. The disciples knew that they should expect something to happen: Jesus had told them to wait for power from on high. But I don’t think that they expected what God did on that day, I don’t think they had any idea that it would be so violent or dramatic!

What about the great persecution which broke out after the death of Stephen? Whilst some might have guessed that they would not have things easy for very long, I doubt that the Christians realised just how God would use this time.

There are many more examples: if you haven’t raad Acts recently, why not dive right in? There is so much to learn.

Our tendency as Christians is to plough on with our strategy, our ideas, our plans, our activities. We assume that it is through all these things that we have worked out and will put into action that God will work and His Kingdom will advance.

Maybe, sometimes, that will happen. Most of the time, though, I think the Bible tells us that it is God who advances His Kingdom through the ways and means that He chooses, which on the whole are unexpected to us.

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Because God loves every person in France