Flashback: Spring/Summer 2014, Moving Forwards

After all our research into international mission agencies, and coming to the conclusion in May 2014 that God was leading us to work with a French denomination or organisation, rather than an international agency, we were finally able to move forwards.

movingforwards

We were pretty sure that God wanted us to spend a year learning French properly, in France. And we were pretty sure that He wanted us to do that at the Les Cèdres Christian language school at Massy, in the South-West suburbs of Paris. So in June 2014 we contacted Les Cèdres and began a discussion about going there to study.

Everything turned out to be very straightforward and we were able to eventually get ourselves booked onto a 12-month intensive course beginning in January 2016, and also fixed up with accommodation in a tiny studio flat 10 minutes walk from the language school.

All of this was very encouraging for us, as it helped to confirm that we were moving forwards in the path God had planned for us. Back in April 2014 we very much felt God was telling us to simply trust Him, to trust Him simply, and stop trying to work it all out for ourselves. Simply trust… trust simply. Thank you, Lord: got it!

Church As Team

In a football team, it is the job of each player to be completely aware of where all the other members of your team are on the pitch.

team1

You have the ball. Should you take it up the field yourself? If you do, and someone comes in to tackle you, will there be any team-members nearby you can pass the ball to? Will they in turn be able to pass it? Or maybe you’d be better to pass the ball right now. How? Forwards, sideways, or backwards (where there might be more of your team)?

We need to be completely aware of all the other members of our team, our local Church: where are they, what direction are they running in?

Who can help me? Who can I pass the ball to? Who needs some help? How can the team succeed (rather than me get my moment of glory)?

We don’t tend to think of Church as Team. We think of leadership teams or welcome teams or tea/coffee teams, but not of Church as Team or Home Group as Team. I think we ought to think about this concept rather more and see how it applies to the local Church.

Aroma And Light

Aroma.

Like just-baked bread, freshly-made coffee, rich Bolognese sauce for pasta blipping gently on the stove.

Lying in bed in the morning with the smell of bread wafting up the stairs as the bread-maker finishes its cycle, coercing me into getting up.

Inviting, drawing us in, almost irresistible. “I want some of that!”

How can we be just like that, as Christians? Drawing others in, like a fresh aroma?

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

We are the aroma of Christ. We don’t need to try to be, we are, says God.

We are the light of the world, says Jesus:

You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others (Matthew 5:14-16)

We just need to believe it and live it. Live as the light, live as the aroma.

While prayer-walking some months ago up on the hill overlooking the valley in which the housing estate God has called us to as a
Church sits… I catch the smell of the vegetation brought to me on the fresh wind. I’m not sure what the plants are, but the smell is pleasant and full of life.

Yes, we are the aroma of Christ. But think how much more widely the aroma spreads when it is carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit.

Clear-Out Time

Bank Holiday weekends are a really good opportunity to have a clear-out, so we have been taking full advantage of the May Bank Holidays!

clearout

A few weeks ago we went through our garage and got rid of a massive amount. Nearly all the garden tools went to our local Community Garden (leaving just a few for our future tenants), lots of DIY tools went to friends and the Church’s Shedless Men DIY project (DIY is definitely not Chris’s thing…). And a whole heap more went to the local tip (sorry, Waste Transfer Station).

Oooo, that was nice! Empty shelves, empty cupboards, worktops not stacked high with stuff.

And the kitchen. I’m constantly amazed how many jars and tins and packets I can find with a best-before or use-by date of between one and ten years ago! More empty shelves… And a resolution: if I’m not 100% sure we’re going to eat it, I’m not buying it any more!

This past weekend we tackled the loft. After we got married and I moved into Joanna’s flat, we had to get my little terraced house ready to sell. Which meant clearing out the loft. Joanna learnt some important things about me at that time, one of which is that I inherited from my parents a tendency to squirrel things away, “just in case…” My Dad built a mezzanine layer in our garage for those “just in case” things. I put mine in the loft. Joanna couldn’t believe her eyes: four, yes four, old vacuum cleaners, in their boxes, none of them working. Piles and piles and piles of magazines. And much, much more. The heap of stuff outside the house to be disposed of was so high it completely obscured the front windows.

Never again, I vowed. Ahem. So, Saturday saw us ploughing through our loft and wondering why on earth we ever kept this and that, and that of all things! The pile wasn’t as big this time, but it was big enough. Joanna has made a trip to the local Charity Shop today and has a visit to the tip scheduled for tomorrow.

Oh, and various bushes and trees in the garden have had their ambitions seriously scaled back (we don’t have a big garden at all, but if you leave a bush for long enough it becomes a tree!).

It feels good to have cleared out. Really good. There are still more cupboards and drawers to go, but we’re making good progress.

It gives us a real feeling of preparing for a new phase, a new adventure. Clearing the decks, moving on from the past. That was then, but this is now.

Which brings me to a favourite worship song, written by Luc Dumont, but here sung by a young lady whose name I don’t know. It’s called J’irai, I will go…

Here are the words of the chorus, in the original French and then a rough English translation:

Donne-moi le courage
De quitter mon rivage
Et de marcher sur tes eaux
Le courage d’être libre
Et d’oublier le passé
Le déposer à tes pieds
À tes pieds

Give me the courage
To leave behind my shore
And to walk upon your waters
The courage to be free
And to forget the past
To put it down at your feet
At your feet

It takes courage to launch out into the new, the challenging, the exciting but also scary. Courage I can only find in Jesus.

It takes courage to leave the past behind, to forget it, to leave it very specifically at Jesus’ feet. Courage I can only find in Jesus.

In both cases, it really is worth it. There are many things in my life I have got wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong. People I’ve hurt, especially Jesus. But I can leave it all at Jesus’ feet and move on.

For me, clearing out the garage, the loft, the garden, my warehouse, is very symbolic. The past is done, the mistakes are forgiven, the failures too. It’s time to be FREE!

free

 

 

It’s All About You, Lord!

Coming back from our prayer time at Church this morning, this song popped into my heart (not one we’ve ever sung at our Church I don’t think):

Singing as I shaved and showered (you have to careful singing while you shave!), it came fresh to my heart that everything we do is (or should be) about our God, about His Glory, about His Kingdom, about His Name.

It’s not about us, not our glory, not about our group or Church or denomination, not about our fame or renown but about the Fame of our Lord God!

Let’s make His name famous! Let’s make every effort to push His Kingdom forwards! Because He, He alone, is worthy of all praise.

He, alone, is worthy to receive the sacrifice of our lives, our selves, in totality. In Him and in Him only is fulfilment and peace and joy; never in our goals and plans and selfish desires. Only when we release ourselves, surrender ourselves, totally to Him.

Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we declare to You that You are Alpha and Omega in our lives, in our Church, to You we give all the praise, for You alone are worthy.

En français:

Tu es Alpha et Omega
Nous T’adorons, Seigneur
Tu es digne de louange

Nous Te rendons la gloire
Nous T’adorons, Seigneur
Tu es digne de louange

Here’s an audio version in French:

Flashback: More Courage, Less Caution!

Some notes from my Bible reading at the end of January 2014, in Joshua. I’m in Joshua again just now, so it’s interesting to see how God continues to speak.  Joshua 1:1-9 reveals some good principles for God’s work at any time:

“Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross … into the land I am about to give to them … I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised … No one will be able to stand against you … I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. … Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey … do not turn … to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book … always on your lips; meditate on it day and night … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There is a constant theme of courage. When we launch out in courage, in God’s will and plan, God moves! How can we expect Him to move if we are cowering in fear, unwilling to trust Him?

townscene

Allied to this is a quote from J Oswald Sanders which I first came across back in January 2014 (in the prayer letter of some friends):

“A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the Kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.”

Yes, yes and again yes! Oh how often the advance of God’s Kingdom has been held back by over-cautious Christians, afraid to launch out, content to become ever more inward-looking and ever less focussed on the millions who do not yet know Jesus!

So, for Joanna and me, what is in our hearts is to have more courage and less caution so we can see the enemy pushed back and the Kingdom of God advance strongly in France. What about you, in your patch of the vineyard?

A Significant Birthday

I had an important birthday recently: 40 years ago this March I became a Christian. I remember very clearly walking out of the room where it all happened into a corridor and knowing that things were different. It was only over the next days and weeks that I properly understood exactly what had happened.

From that moment, everything changed for me. My non-Christian family thought I’d gone bonkers but that it would soon blow over. It hasn’t yet!

Over those forty years the most amazing thing to me has been God’s incredible patience with me and His grace. I’ve made so many mistakes, disobeyed Him so many times, lived for years at a time deliberately and knowingly flouting His will, lived a half-hearted Christian life much too often… I could go on and on. But He has always been there, He has never let go.

There’s a song by French Canadian singer Luc Dumont which for me expresses this extremely well, called Malgré Tout (Despite Everything in English):

Here are some of the words:

J’ignore combien de fois
Dans mon cœur, je t’ai trompé
J’ignore combien de fois
Ton humble cœur, j’ai attristé

Pendant si longtemps
Ma vie ne fut que manquements
De plus en plus loin de mon but
Je m’éloignais de Jésus

Malgré tout, tu m’as pardonné
Malgré tout, la croix tu m’as donné
Malgré tout, tu as su oublier
Tout cela, malgré tout

The first verse in English is (roughly):

I don’t know how many times
In my heart, I’ve cheated you
I don’t know how many times
Your humble heart, I’ve grieved

Malgré tout, despite everything, for more than forty years now, You have stuck with me, Jesus: thank You, thank You, with all of my heart.

Praying Together

On 21 January 2014, Joanna and I had our first evening of prayer as a couple for France. Since then we’ve been praying together for France one evening a week, which has been an immense blessing to us, drawing us closer to the country and its people, over more than a year now. Recently we have been starting our France prayer evenings with a time of song worship in French, which encourages us in God and in our language learning!

Very soon after we began going out together we decided that we wanted to pray together regularly, so we started what we called “D&P” once a week, standing for “Dinner and Prayer.” We can thoroughly recommend this as a really great way to have a date! It certainly helped us keep our relationship centred on Jesus as we grew together, both before and after we got married. One of the benefits is that it gives us a regular time to talk through lots of things in God’s presence.

If you’re part of a couple and are not yet praying together regularly, please do give it a go: it’s fantastic!

Flashback: A Distant View

From the end of 2013 these thoughts have been coming back to my mind every so often and have been very helpful. From my teens I’ve been interested in mountaineering and I used to read every Himalayan expedition book I could get my hands on in the library! So the images I describe here have been embedded in my mind for a very long time.

Imagine you are a mountaineer, part of an expedition bound for the Himalayas, aiming to make a bold first ascent of a high and challenging mountain. You are making your approach the old-fashioned way, taking several weeks to walk in from the foothills.

Imagine you are standing on the crest of a ridge of these foothills. The air is clear and you are looking North. In the far distance, on the horizon, you can see a line of sharp, pointed, snow-covered mountains, reflecting the sun in a truly dazzling sight.

With difficulty, you manage to find the peak your expedition will be ascending. Wow! It looks so exciting, so beautiful; the idea of climbing it sends a delicious thrill over your whole body.

That’s how it felt for us when we began to dream about what God could do in France. To be part of a real move of God which would see a significant advance of His Kingdom in France was thrilling. And in all honesty, at that distance it’s easy to focus on the thrill and forget the hard work and setbacks that will be ahead…

As the days of the approach march are ticked off, and the foothills become higher, you can no longer see the mountain you are going to be climbing. It’s hidden behind the smaller ranges. Life becomes a daily rhythm of valley, pass, valley, pass, trudging on.

Again, in the middle of trying to work out how we might actually get to France and how it might be possible to work for God there, it was easy to let the goal, that glittering mountain, recede from our consciousness. Not that we’d forgotten, it was just not so much in our thoughts.

One day, however, you crest yet another ridge and suddenly, it’s there. Your mountain. Still some way away, but its shape and ridges are clearly visible. And its size is apparent, too. Ouch. It’s big! It looks hard, very hard. Can we really climb this?

For us, as the weeks pass by (alarmingly quickly, now), the scale and difficulty of what we believe God is calling us too become much, much more apparent. And much, much scarier. Is this really possible?

And so you come to the final march to Base Camp, at the foot of a massive glacier, about 3km from the base of the mountain. Its South Face rears up in front of you. Huge, precipitous, awesome in scale and difficulty. Every now and then an avalanche starts from one of the hanging glaciers on the face. The sound of the avalanches takes some time to travel the distance to where you are standing.

That’s your route: the South Face. But, being so close, you can also pick out the lines that others have tried. You can begin to see how to create a route to avoid the avalanche tracks. You can plan where the first few camps might be. And where your summit party might exit the face to attain the summit. It’s possible. We can do this…

In our mountain-climb, we find it so very helpful to think one stage at a time. Can we make this step, does it seem realistic? Well, yes, it does.  What about the next step? OK, yes. And so on and so on, step by step, stage by stage. The whole task, the whole mountain, still seems totally crazy. But this step? Yes, we can.

What makes it all realistic, of course, is that the Leader of our expedition is Jesus. As Paul said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The challenge is to continue to be excited by the Mountain, not defeated by fear.

Here I Am / Me Voici

A song fragment which is in my heart this morning:

Here I am, Lord
Seeking Your presence
Here I am, Lord
Seeking Your power in my life
Here I am, Lord
I just want more of You in me
I just want more of You in me

And a French version (not a direct translation):

Me voici, Seigneur
Je cherche Ta présence
Me voici, Seigneur
Je cherche Ta puissance en ma vie
Me voici, Seigneur
Je veux plus de Toi en moi
Je veux plus de Toi en moi

In song: English, and French.

 

Because God loves every person in France