With Good Teaching And Good Leaders, The Church Will Be OK, Yeah? Mmmm

I’ve just finished reading Nehemiah again. The final part, describing how Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that people have returned to their old ways, turned away from good things he put in place and ignored his good teaching, is rather heartbreaking.

Why did this happen? Was Nehemiah a good leader? I’m sure he was. Did he (and others) teach good stuff? I’m sure they did. What was the problem then? I would venture to say that the good direction the people had been given and the good teaching the people had heard did not, in too many cases, actually get into their hearts.

So with the Church today, do we think that good leaders giving a good example, and good teachers teaching solid Bible-based stuff, is enough to make sure the people in the Church keep following Jesus and doing his will?

If the example and the teaching never makes the transfer into people’s hearts, then no, it is absolutely not enough.

Too often leaders and teachers think that just talking at people will do the job. It won’t. I’m as guilty as anyone, having done my share of leading and teaching over the years.

Maybe we all need to talk at people rather less and share our lives and hearts with them rather more. Maybe we need to think an awful lot less about actions that are designed to make students and think an awful lot more about a way of life that will succeed in making disciples.

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Hotter

Today was indeed hotter: 40 Celsius in the shade on our balcony at 8pm tonight. Thanks to leaving the shutters closed all day and having the fan on when we got home, inside it only reached a mere 30 Celsius.

Grammer test tomorrow… what fun!

Heat, Hurt, Humility, Hate

It’s hot. Really hot. Blazing sunshine all day and still 35 Celsius in the shade just after 8pm. Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter. It means that we are perhaps not quite so enthusiastic in our lessons; although my class has the benefit of being in a slightly cooler basement room!

We are hurting with the rest of France for those who have lost loved ones, friends, colleagues and neighbours in the awful tragedy of Nice just a few days ago. It was good to take part in a minute’s silence today at school and to follow that with a prayer time for those affected.

We are humbled by the pain that so many in France have had to bear over the last years: if you search for “terrorist attacks in France” you will see that there has been a significant increase in the last few years. It is perhaps too easy for Christians to say that we know that this is but one expression of the nature of a fallen world in rebellion against God, it sounds somehow too pat, too simple. Better perhaps to weep with those who weep, to show love and compassion wherever possible.

Just the night before the Nice attack we were in Versailles with some French friends, watching a thrilling and amazing late-night fireworks display, along with thousands of others. How susceptible such events are. On Sunday we spent time with visiting friends from London in central Paris: the tourist honeypots were thronged with people. Should we stop all gatherings of people, in the name of security? Surely not.

None of us can fully comprehend the hate which drives some to make such horrific attacks. But Christians can show love in the face of hate, acceptance to those who feel rejected, compassion and tenderness to those who hurt (for whatever reason). We can tell how our friend Jesus was insulted, abused, misunderstood, rejected, persecuted, hated, despised, unjustly accused, criminalised, ridiculed, spat on, tortured, then subjected to an excruciating exectution. Why? Because he loves us.

He loved the soldier who drove the nails into his hands and feet, the men and women who shouted and spat at him, the bewildered followers, the man who promised to follow him even through death and then denied him totally. He loves me who continues to wound him by my mistakes and wilful disobedience. He loves you, whoever you are. Yes, he loved the man who drove that truck, just as much as he loved Mary who wept at the cross. He loves those who maybe even now are planning death and destruction somewhere in the world. He loved and loves each and every one, exactly the same, and offers complete forgiveness to each and every one of us who calls on him in truth.

So, for Christians, we should perhaps not try to analyse or apportion blame, but simply to love each person, in prayer and in action. It was encouraging that in our prayer time today at school after the minute’s silence, we prayed for our Muslim neighbours in France. They are hurting, trying to understand why it is claimed that something awful has been done in their name. They are afraid of how the people in their street, their block of flats, will look at them and think of them. If you have chance, find a practical way to show Jesus’ love to these hurting neighbours.

And please, keep praying for France. Pray for a breakthrough, that the love of Jesus would flood this country and the kingdom of God would significantly advance. Pray for revival here.

Thankful…

Summer is definitely here: our little 1 euro thermometer in the shade on the balcony is reading 32 Celsius and it’s 7:27pm.

What a day! A really pleasant long lunch chez nous with French friends, full of chat in French, which is wonderful for our improvement end encouraging too that we can communicate! Chris Froome is still wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, Andy Murray has won the mens’ singles at Wimbledon (again), Lewis Hamilton has won the British Grand Prix (again)… and the team of our adopted country are predicted to win the Euro 2016 final tonight. Allez les bleus !

After France won the semi-final on Thursday, the horn-blowing and shouting on the street outside went on for a full 45 minutes. If they win tonight, it certainly won’t be shorter!

Yesterday morning I decided to get up at a reasonably early time and go for a walk up La coulée verte (a wooded and green pathway which runs for 14km from Massy nearly to the centre of Paris) while it was still moderately cool. I managed to get away at 8:35am (not bad for a Saturday). I usually use these walks as praying-walks. The photos are from this walk: nice, isn’t it?

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On the outward leg, I decided to do something which I used to do a lot when I was a student: go back to some chosen point in my life and then thank God for all He had done in my life since then. In my student days, when life was periodically quite challenging, I used to find this really helpful. So, yesterday I started in my mid-teens, before I became a Christian, and finished (just over 6km later) by thanking God for what He’s going to do in the future.

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It was not an exhaustive time of thankfulness, but it was so very refreshing. It was great to remind myself of all the times God has stepped in and fixed stuff, of the times I thought He’d got it wrong… but events then proved that it was me who had got it wrong (D’Oh!). Times when God brought good things out of bad circumstances. Times when He showed that He knew the clear way through, when all I could see were blockages. Thank You!

The return leg of prayer was much easier.

If you’ve never tried this, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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Flashbacks: From 2014

I’ve been reading back through some of my notes made over the time when we were working out how God wanted us to come to France and what it might all look like. Here are some items from the latter part of 2014. For something to make it into my notes, I need to have felt quite strongly that this was something God was telling me, so they are not idle speculations but strong burdens.

23 July 2014

In prayer this morning had a real sense that God is now preparing the people who will work with us in France, He is beginning to call, to get ready, to work in lives, to hone skills, to instruct Pastors and Elders and Leaders to be ready to let these people go into God’s service. Hallelujah!

25 September 2014

“Speak into my heart, Jesus.”

“If you ask me to speak into your heart I will. But don’t expect my words to be comfortable words. I will speak fire and wind and raging storm into your heart. I will challenge you to the total depth of yourself, of your entirety, as you have never been challenged before. So, shall I speak?”

“Speak into my heart, Jesus.”

12 December 2014

With regard to France, felt God encouraging me today that He does have a specific plan for us that is specific to us: it’s not His plan for someone else, it may not look like His plan for anyone else at all, but it’s His plan that He has determined and put together for us. So we should not worry or fret that what happens, the directions, the actions, the places and times, the people and organisations, may be different to what we see God doing with others: that’s for them, God’s plan for us is for us.

Roasted Cauliflower Leaves

Time for a little light relief! On the theme of buying veggies from the market again. I adore cauliflower: cauliflower cheese is one of my all-time favourite dishes which I could happily eat till the cows come home.

Now, when you buy a cauliflower if has the remnants of the leaves on it, protecting the creamy white florets. When you buy one from the market here, there tends to be more of the protecting leaves, so having trimmed them off to get at the florets, you’re left with a big pile of leaves and stems.

Once again, I thought “Isn’t there a way I can use all this?” And indeed there is. I sliced the thicker stems in half lengthwise, cut up the core a bit, then tossed the whole lot, leaves and stems, in some olive oil, salt, pepper and spices (I used Quatre épices ground spice mix: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger).

Plop it all in a roasting tin and then into an oven at 200 Celsius for about 15 minutes for the magic to happen. The leaves go brown and crispy, the stems and core go soft. The whole thing is utterly gorgeous. I’m never throwing all that deliciousness away again!

Brexit Impacts

Well, the referendum result was a surprise for many people, including us. Assuming that Britain does indeed exit the European Union (which at this moment is far from certain), there are significant implications for us and lots of other Christian workers from the UK living and working in EU countries.

I tend to discount politicians’ promises that people like us will not be affected, since in reality the normal rules and laws take over. If there are any special provisions, they are, I think, likely to be short-term only.

So a major thing is that if/when the UK is no longer part of the EU, we will need visas to live here. The major thing is what’s called a carte de sejour, a residence permit. They can last from 1 to 10 years before they need to be renewed. The process of getting one involves a lot of paperwork and can be frustratingly difficult, depending on where exactly you live in France (some areas process them faster than others). It is a major headache, not at all trivial.

After living here for 5 continuous years, we could apply for French citizenship, but that would be post-Brexit. Both the UK and France allow dual nationality, so we wouldn’t lose our UK citizenship.

Another possibility is to obtain citizenship of another EU country. For example, I have an Irish grandmother so could apply for Irish citizenship… if we could find out if her birth was properly registered in Ireland (which it might not have been, it appears).

Another thing to think of is our driving licences. As EU citizens, we can use our UK licences in France for as long as we like. When we cease to become EU citizens we can’t drive on our UK licences (for more than a year) but might be able to exchange them for French licences. I hope we don’t have to take French driving tests!

Then there are savings and property and other financial matters. Should we keep these in the UK, or not? Should we sell our property in the UK (which was intended to provide rental income). Moving money from the UK to France is likely to become more expensive. What about UK pensions?

Please pray for wisdom about all these decisions for us and many others in similar positions.

Is the EU perfect? Of course not! But the benefits it provides really are very substantial, not least to the work of advancing God’s kingdom.

However, we all need to remember that nothing, but nothing, is ever a surpise to God: He is sovereign and He has a plan already worked out. Also, as Paul wrote to Christians in Philippi in the midst of their own turmoil:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)

Whatever happens in our earthly countries of residence or origin, our real home is elsewhere!