Jésumised

Petit à petit…

When we engage in regular and consistent meetings with not-yet-believers and the bible, encouraging them to put into practice what they read in a specific way, God does something amazing! Bigger than moving mountains, He transforms their life. My dear friend Youkang and I have joined our DBS’s (Discovery Bible Studies) to keep a better weekly consistency, and after two months we’re really starting to see the results of our prayers and efforts. We have finally moved into the new testament and have begun reading about Jesus (we spent over 4 months in the old testament setting Him up!) with 6 other men and women. After the last meeting, my friend Elsa who has been coming for a while texted Youkang and I and said,

“Salut Brad and Youkang, I have a request: I feel like I want you and Youkang to pray for me, and I’ll pray with you, for me to recognize Jesus. Does this sound ok for you?”

!?!?!?!? Does that sound ok?!?!? That sounds AMAZING! I told her that Youkang and I and others have been praying for her already. She texted back, “Haha, with that kind of focus, I think I might be Jésumised by the end of the year. Je vais vous appeler les agents secrets de Jésus!”

It’s my prayer that she in fact will be “Jésumised” by the end of the year. But it gets better. We asked her to lead the study the next week, and were met with resistance. She said she feels like facilitating the study would be taking a much bigger step towards Jesus, and she knows that every step she takes close to Jesus, it will require her to step further away from the other parts of her spirituality (this is paraphrased). In other words, she recognizes that believing in Jesus is not simply saying, Jesus is God, but it means she must die to all the other spiritual influences in her life, and let me tell you, there are many, from new-age animism, to buddhist influences. What incredible insight! This is one of the reasons I love the DMM model. It insists on the full gospel! Nothing is sugar coated or soft-balled. The same God is God of both the old and the new testament. She is counting the cost. And yet… God is drawing her in, laying a foundation on a Rock, petit à petit.

“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out of my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life loses it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”

God

 

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A Year in Review

Recently, I’ve been trying to process things that have happened since we got here. Including all we’ve been through. Much of it, because we were so in the thick of it, never made it onto the blog. But I’ve been challenged to look back and see all that God has done in the last year.

  • First, we made it safely over. It’s easy to over look these kinds of things.
  • When we arrived, in spite of what everyone told us, we found and were approved to move into an apartment extremely quickly. We also had a relatively easy time getting a bank account set up and everything that went with it. God lined up everything ahead of us, as He does.
  • The first Alpha course, started by Tim Arlen, the former pastor here, was an incredible success, with between 10-14 people not connected with the ICCP showing up each week. I had the privilege for playing music those evenings and praying for them during the discussion time, and many relationships were formed during that time. Through that time 5 people ended up coming away saying they had connected with Jesus in some way. 3 people from that course are now being discipled by either me or Youkang in Discovery Bible Studies.
  • Hudson adjusted quickly to his first school experience, all in french. He made friends and enjoys going, which was a huge relief for us and answer to prayer.
  • By God’s grace, we managed to put on a massive Christmas Carol Concert, and broadcast it live on the Facebook feed. The gospel was shared in english and french.
  • I began meeting people in the city. Through Mattleen, who I met via the Alpha course, I was introduced to Linda’s incredible Thai food restaurant.
  • The worship team and I began having our biweekly DBS at Linda’s restaurant, and she took notice. Eventually she confessed that her life was in a terrible place, and the music team was there to comfort her as she felt with being recently divorced.
  • I started another DBS with Linda and her friend Remi. Eventually another gal named Elsa who I met at the Alpha course joined us. Through this bible study, and the work of others along the way, Elsa has begun rapidly growing in desire to know Jesus.
  • Linda has turned out to be extremely connected, and invites new people to the DBS seemingly every time we meet. She just recently connected me with PP (pronounced Pay Pay) who I met at her restaurant when she called and said she needed help because she over booked the restaurant. So I now have experience as a waiter as well – but more importantly PP has expressed desire to join us in our discovery bible studies.
  • God used us to touch many people’s lives in one-on-one meetings.
  • We held a prayer night weekly at our house that fostered a closer bond with others in the community.
  • God connected me with Youkang and I encouraged him to take a look at the DMM model of missional living. I gave him the book, Contagious Disciple Making, and now he is now leading a DBS in french with some of his friends. We meet each week to talk and and catch up and encourage one another.
  • The church went through a transition from Pastor Tim’s leadership to an elder led model, which through my lack of experience and wisdom caused me to work far too hard. God gave me a forced sabbath through the need for surgery. I never imagined I would undergo surgery in a foreign country. None the less, it saved us a massive amount of money over having it in the US. More importantly, it started the process of me taking inventory of my emotional and spiritual life and well-being.

These are some of the milestone moments over the past year. And these only include our work here in France. Many of you know that we had two scares with family in the US immediately after Christmas. My grandmother underwent heart surgery for a murmur and my niece contracted an ultra rare blood disease that almost killed her. Through that we in faith sent Hannah back across the Atlantic to be with her family. God healed my grandmother, and He healed my niece Madyson.

In all this there have been many trying times. There have many doubts. There have been many nights of frustration and loneliness. But God is shaping us and moving in us to accomplish His will for us here. I can say now that I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I don’t feel that way everyday. In all honesty, I’m inpatient, and I want results yesterday. Hence this exercise. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture to be reminded of all that God has done. So consider this blog my Ebenezer for 2016/2017.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” 

1 Samuel 7:12

 

 

Some Kind of Revelation

Revelation:

noun
1. the act of revealing or disclosing; disclosure.
2. something revealed or disclosed, especially a striking disclosure, as of something not before realized.

3. Theology.

  1. God’s disclosure of Himself and His will to His creatures.
  2. an instance of such communication or disclosure.
  3. something thus communicated or disclosed.
  4. something that contains such disclosure, as the Bible.

I love Webster’s second definition of the word revelation. It’s like being told a secret that changes your life. My own life has changed since we left the US, and continues to do so. One of the things that is being revealed to me is the love of God. That statement seems too simple, I know. But let me explain. Since we geared up for this adventure, I read all kinds books on discipleship, church planting, missional living, etc., and most if not all of them had some kind of forward impact in my life, prompting more movement and an increased outward focus on loving the world around me. What happens though for some of us is we get out of balance. As I write this, I’m thinking of the paradoxical implication of the statement I just made: that is, can you ever love the world around you too much (I mean in a sacrificial Christ-like love)? Of course not. The difference is, Jesus retreated often to be alone with God the Father. And there in lies the difficulty. Alone. I shared a little about how my life had become unbalanced in the last blog. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get re-balanced, as I’m discovering.  Life slows for no one, and the fact that my surgery isn’t healed, forcing me to somewhat lay low still, combined with the incredible heat of the summer months, combined with the fact that my kids aren’t at school, means it’s really hard to find time alone. Lately I’ve been trying to get up early. I fail most days because it’s hard to sleep. A lousy excuse I tell myself, but nonetheless, it keeps me from getting up.

Yet still, I have been experiencing God’s love in some newish ways. The first of which is a fresh reminder that God loves me for who I am, not what I do, good or bad. This is the unconditional part of his love that I think is so difficult for us to understand and fully comprehend. I am seeing it in all kinds of new places. Being reminded of it in songs and music and the world around me. I’ve been trying to take a true sabbath, not just a day off, and I’ve been seeing God’s love pop up in all sorts of ways. Here’s one small example. I was doing a DBS with my friend Youkang to help prepare him for the same study he would lead the next day with 3 of his (and mine to some extent) buddies. We were going through Genesis 3, and this act of pursuing love stuck out to me that I had never noticed before. Whilst Adam and Eve hide from God after they do something he asked them not to, He goes looking for them. This is totally unnecessary. He’s God! He doesn’t have to go searching for them. He already knows where they are, and what they did, and why they did it, etc. Yet, instead of judging them from “on high” looking down on them, He goes to them. He doesn’t even make them come to Him! Think about it. The people he just created screwed up all life on the world in one single act forever. Don’t you think he might have been a little upset, or rather raging mad? If any act deserved the wrath of God, that seems like a pretty good time to use it, to me. In my less than pure mind, I see God saying “Satan” like Seinfeld says “Newman” after discovering he planned some devious ruse against him.

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But seriously, God pursues His creation, even when that creation is deliberately hiding from Him. Show me another God in any other belief system that pursues His creation in love and understanding when the creation has offended Him. I dare to say it doesn’t exist. Even after he “finds” them, He asks them what they’ve done. He could easily humiliate them further by telling them how much they’ve screwed up and belittle them, but He simply says, “Because you have done this…” He maintains their dignity, and chooses to speak to them as a loving parent. He simply gives them the consequences of their actions.  I can’t overstate the significance of the fact that God goes and looks for his lost creation. And we see it in the very, very beginning of the bible. It’s prompted in me a renewed desire to search out God’s love in the old testament. It’s been really exciting honestly. I haven’t really read any of the old testament in over a year. And so much has changed in my life that I’m seeing and understanding things I’ve never understood before. I think sometimes as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves thinking we need to defend the old testament to others when they ask us hard questions about it. One thing I have learned through the discovery bible studies I do is that the bible needs no defense. Truth is truth, and it’ll defend itself much better than I ever could. What I’m realizing is it’s all in asking the right questions. When you come at it from our own selfish, modern, “enlightened”, western mindset, it really is a handicap to understanding God in the old testament. Through the studies the participants ask some really difficult questions, and I don’t often answer them, but I’ve found that often when we ask the right question, it makes sense of what is written. The hard part is asking the right questions, being willing to wrestle until it makes sense, and not giving up on the belief that the God of the old testament is the same as the God of the new. This is important because there is a whole lot about God in the old testament, and if we really want to understand him fully, we can learn so much from it. So, bring on the revelation!

 

The temptation is to want it to end

I’ve read through quite a lot of devotionals, and I always find myself disagreeing as much as agreeing with them. Often times it’s just simply that I’m not in the same place as the person speaking. It’s also safe to say compassion and empathy are not my gifts, but I’m a work in progress. However, these last three weeks have found me with much in common with words of Streams in the Desert, And many of you know what we’ve been going through this year. But for me, these last two to three weeks have been brutal.

I’m not sure why this latest surgery hit me so hard. You might assume it’s because I’m in a foreign country, but that really isn’t it. It could be because it was and is still painful, but that’s not it either. If I dig deep, I think the reason I have struggled so much more with this surgery has to do with the cumulative effect of everything that’s happened in the last year. Or rather the last two and a half years. Many of you know I had surgery for a broken elbow in 2015. When that happened, I was in a different place mentally than I am now. I wasn’t stressed emotionally or spiritually. I didn’t have a church depending on me at some level. I wasn’t trying to establish consistency with bible studies in the community with unchurched people. I was getting plenty of rest; there weren’t 5 bars outside my inner-city windows. On the contrary the struggle with this latest surgery comes on the heals of poor management of my emotional and spiritual well-being. This surgery, unlike the last, happened in a place emptiness. Last time I was full (maybe I wasn’t, but relative to what I am now, I may as well have been). Last time I was prepared. I had good practices and a solid foundation. The trial was an inconvenience at most. Sure there was the scare about my fingers not working and all that. But that was never a scare to me. I had full assurance of God’s call, so whatever happened in the lead up just seemed like preparation for God’s delivery on His promise. I didn’t realize I had gone this far away from who I wanted to be, let alone who God wants me to become.

Of course no one plans on having surgery twice in two years. Otherwise I would have chosen a different insurance policy. Hindsight is 20/20 but sacrifice is something I’m getting a little tired of. When we were called to this, sacrifice was expected. I prepared myself as best I could, and I believe well. I’ve been ready for this last year. Until now. I really, really, wasn’t ready for this. I’ll spare you the details of my recovery process, but suffice it to say, it’s humbling, daily life-altering, painful, uncomfortable, and well honestly humiliating.  Initially I just wanted it to go away. Be healed and move on. Just get it over with. I think God has much larger more important things in mind however. This time, there were mere drops in the tank when this bombshell struck and I didn’t even know it.

Immediately after surgery, I had to go back to the hospital for some green skin. I still organized and administered the church service that week… somehow. I remember asking God about it and knowing that I was supposed to. But then I lead the next week as well, without asking Him about it. And I probably overdid it, or at least the effects of everything that had transpired in the last year was weighing down on me, like playing dog pile as a child at school. It’s bearable and fun and then all of a sudden you realize there’s way too many people on top! There were certainly a few very overweight issues I’d been neglecting. And when they jumped on, fat from lack of attention and discipline, the weight was crushing.

So the Monday before last, I had a little bit of a break down. For the first time in my life I think I experienced what it means to be the wrong kind of overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t lead another church service in that state. So I called a few trusted people and took the weekend off. I gave it up, for a short time. Immediately I felt the beginnings of relief. One of my mentors recommended a book, and this book has been forcing me to take some inventory, which is much needed. That is no surprise, I knew I needed this and was really looking forward to a retreat put on by our organization that would force and allow me to spend a lot of time alone with God. Unfortunately because of my recovery I can’t go. But that isn’t the real issue and this book is highlighting that. The issue is I’ve fallen into the trap of overextending myself for God and have been neglecting my own relationship with Him. I’ve found satisfaction in what God is doing, rather than in Him alone. So I continued to busy myself with things to get and see results. No result, no satisfaction.

There are many reasons for this. Some are very legitimate. Some aren’t even my fault. But ultimately God has shown me that this time is extremely important and valuable for me, that is: my slow and arduous recovery from surgery. I have accepted it and no longer am I asking it to end, but rather that I would be internally healed first and physically healed whenever God is ready. My real problem is inside. That’s what needs to be fixed. If physically I am healed today, I don’t honestly think it would be the best God has for me.

Which brings me to a related story. Yesterday, one of the nurses that changes my dressings each day asked if she could pray to heal to heal me. Now… a little background. In France, spirituality is far from non-existent. Many people believe in the spirit world. And not surprisingly many people have a convoluted idea of who or what God is, taking religious ideas and personal experiences and mashing them together to form a self-created spirituality. There are also some very disguised occult practices that have a somewhat accepted usage among many people. For example, Reiki seems to be common place. Anyways, this nurse asked me what I do and I told her, which is difficult because I’m still not really sure what I do or how to describe it (“I am here to make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus” isn’t a generally accepted response). She responded that she dances for Jesus and loves God. Sounds fine. But I remain skeptical. My french and her english aren’t good enough to determine what she really thinks of Jesus. I had Jehovah’s Witnesses a few months ago tell me we believe in the same Jesus. They then told me Jesus was my brother, the bible is unreliable, and Hannah and I will remain married in heaven. So you just never know. Jesus here doesn’t mean what it means in the bible. More than half the country connects with catholicism, which can be right and theologically sound, but it often times has superstitions and meaningless or even dangerous cultural traditions attached to it here. For example, I witnessed a French Pénitent, which is a procession where someone wears a pointy hat that disguises their face and does a walk of shame carrying a cross through the city to receive forgiveness for a sin they committed. It looks like a KKK procession to Americans, but isn’t that ominous on the surface over here. However, under the surface it’s at best a very elaborate form of 1 John 1:9. At worst it distorts the free forgiveness that is available to us all simply by asking God, and gives that power to forgive in God’s name to a person or ritual. Abuse of power? Old testament second commandment? I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of that thin line. But back to the story. I told her, as long as she prays to Jesus, she could ask whatever she wants. So while she prayed for me, I prayed against any demonic activity and especially that my pain would not be transferred to her (one of the workings of reiki), and figured that Jesus is powerful enough to make this mean something to her and still work out his plan in my life (this has also since allowed me an opportunity to talk about these kind of spiritual things with a few other people who are aware of Reiki and not yet believers, allowing for some good conversations. More about those later). But… my point in all this is that people are wanting to pray for my physical  healing. I know now, as I said before, this isn’t the problem and I’d rather retain the physical discomfort for the sake of fixing the internal problems. Yes I just said that. The way I see it, some day I leave this body behind. But everything on the inside comes with me and must get dealt with when I meet Jesus face to face. Suffice it to say, I’d rather deal with it now.

So if you feel like praying for me, please pray for my spiritual and emotional recovery. I know the physical will come in it’s time, but I’d rather come out of this healthy on all fronts than physically healed and internally sick. Also pray for Hannah, she has to live with me. 

Where Have you Been All My Life?

Those words may not be your exact feelings in regards to this blog, but we can pretend, right? But seriously,  where have I been? Where have we been? Sometimes, living in a foreign country doing what we do is just absolutely ridiculous. It’s inexplicable. I can’t even describe it. Suffice to say, I just haven’t had the head space. I’m not sure I do now. But it’s been way too long so I have to put something here. I feel bad about the lack of pictures so this blog is going to have a bunch of them! In no particular order (seriously, there are like 5 months here) here are some things I’ve found interesting.

 

Sisteron

La Citadelle de Sisteron is a pretty impressive structure. Too bad we weren’t able to go in

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Supposedly Picasso is buried in the garden of this Chateau in the small village of Vauvenargues just on the north side of Sainte Victoire.

Citadelle de Sisteron Wall

The outer wall of the Citadelle. The boys found something to climb on.

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Roman Amphitheater in Arles. It’s still weird to me that this thing is only a 45 minute dive away. Weirder still to think this is some people’s front yard. 

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Menton in February. Definitely worth a second trip.

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The bay of Menton. So far the closest we’ve come to Italy.

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Nice has one of the coolest parks we’ve ever been to. This giant structure is a whale. There was also a pirate ship and a fortress. Makes a city trip with children substantially more fun!

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Knights getting psyched for battle. 

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Surreal to walk through this ancient cobbled road with Tarascon Castle in the distance.

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The Roman Theater in Arles. Those marble columns are like 30′ high!

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Bottom level of the Amphitheater. If these walls could talk!

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Second level of the Amphitheater and my lovely wife.

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The inside of the Amphitheater is still used today!

Pastries

No one does pastries like France. A whole in the wall in Menton

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When a country focuses heavily on art even the graffiti is cool. Step up LA.

Côte d'Azure

I’m not sure it’s possible for the Côte d’Azure to be overrated. Stunning in February.

So there you go. Pics! Finally. Hopefully this will become more of a regular occurrence. We’ll see.