There is no Resurrection without Death

Kind of a morbid title, but fascinating at the same time.  And it’s such an incredible biblical principle. I’m only just now realizing how much it pervades every aspect of our lives.

I’ve been reading through Isaiah recently, which really means I’m happily absorbing the first chapter still after three weeks. As someone with a developing love of the poetic, I find Isaiah captivating. Here’s a really cool example in Isaiah of the principle above with some vivid imagery.

Isaiah 1:24–26
[24] Therefore the Lord declares,
              the LORD of hosts,
              the Mighty One of Israel:
        “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
              and avenge myself on my foes.
[25] I will turn my hand against you
              and will smelt away your dross as with lye
              and remove all your alloy.
[26] And I will restore your judges as at the first,
              and your counselors as at the beginning.
        Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
              the faithful city.” (ESV)

Context: the first half of the chapter is Isaiah spelling out how corrupt Israel has become. Look at the 4th line. Get relief from what? What could anyone possibly do to God? Is God tormented or physically hurt by anyone? No obviously not. So what is he talking about? He’s saying that all the surrounding nations are looking at Israel and mocking Him because of it. How so? When the nation that is supposed to stand for justice, charity, hospitality, protection for the widows and orphans, etc., acts continuously contrary to those ideals, the surrounding nations see that and conclude that Israel’s God is either weak or doesn’t care, and thus the things he stands for aren’t important. They in effect say, “Why not kill my neighbor, steal his wife and land, and live like a king and do whatever I want? Israel is as corrupt as we are, and their God is supposedly the real God and stands for justice, but they aren’t punished, so obviously there is no reason to try and uphold justice, there is no reason to try and make peace with my neighbor, or welcome the foreigner in my land. Nothing will happen to me if I don’t, so why deprive myself of what I want? Their God is just like ours.”

And so, the most high God endures the mocking caused by His own representatives’ actions. How does He respond? He says “I will turn my hand against you” – that is to say remove his protection from them – “and (here’s where it gets really good) will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.”

As a former engineering student this is such illuminating word painting! A smelter is used to separate and purify metals by adding heat and a carbon reacting agent. Science. So what happens is you take your metal and put it in the smelter, then tremendous heat is added and eventually a carbon reacting agent, such as charcoal in the old days. We know that when we heat things up chemical reactions takes place more readily, that’s why we wash dishes in hot water. Introducing the carbon causes the oxygen (the impurities) in the metal to bind to the carbon creating carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, thus purifying the metal down to its base element, such as gold, silver, or iron. But where did the oxygen come from? Oxygen is in the air, and over time, when it comes in contact with metals, it most often causes some form of oxidation which is science-speak for… rust. Are you getting the picture that God has set for us? He’s saying in verse 25 that regarding Israel He’s looking at a giant lump of metal, and He knows there’s pure gold (it’s true that gold doesn’t rust at normal temperatures but bear with me) in it somewhere, but it’s been so oxidized and rusted over time that it’s elemental composition has changed, and the only way to get it back to it’s former beauty is to inject ridiculous amounts of heat and chemicals until the metal is literally changed back into it’s pure form and all the excess is burned away. An alloy is a metal in itself, it’s just not a pure one, so God is saying, “I don’t like what you have become.”

At the end of 26 we see the result of His smelting process – Israel shall be called (by their neighbors) righteous and faithful, restoring God’s rightful reputation as the God who cares about righteousness and justice.

For me, verse 25 really illustrates my point. The base metal was dead so to speak. It had been alloyed into something else that no longer resembled the original. Without putting it to the fire, thus causing the “death” of the alloying metals and compounds, the base metal could never be “resurrected.” This is an unfortunate reality of the life we live, that is; I can’t get positive change of character without the painful death of something else within me.

We all have things we want changed. I often want to be more disciplined for example (this is most often not followed up with real-life effort). The reality is, I can’t be more disciplined and remain lazy, right? These two things can’t both be true of me at the same time. If I legitimately want to be more disciplined, I must sacrifice (to use a very christian-y word) my desire to sleep in an extra hour if I’m going to get up one hour early. So the positive discipline for me in terms of getting out of bed only comes with the death of sleeping in.

In other words, most of us (I assume) want to be closer Jesus. So then this principle forces us to ask the question, “what am I willing to give up to get the closeness I desire?” Maybe it’s the death of a habit. Maybe it’s a mindset towards someone else. But how often do we think of change this way? Do we realize that there won’t be any positive change until there has been death first? In fact there can’t be! One might think this flies in the face of God meeting us where we’re at – the “come as you are” principle – but that principle only applies when we are humble and willing to change. The context of “come as you are” is our broken state, not a self-righteous one. God always opposes the proud (James 4:5, 1 Pet. 5:5, Prov. 3:34), which incidentally should lead us to the broken state, but that’s a different topic. I think, at least for me, the reality is God has already met me and now he’s saying it’s time to move. It should affect the way I pray, the way I love my family, the way I serve others. It should affect everything. How often I’ve found myself thinking thoughts like, “If only this person did this, then things would be right.” “If only I had a little more of this, then things would be better.” So lame.  These thoughts express an immature (but understandable!) desire to improve life without giving anything up. Thankfully, God happens to be quite jealous for us, and His Spirit lives in us! This is good news if the goal is to be more like Him. It’s bad news if the goal is an easier life.

 

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Let Them Lead

This year, it’s a major goal of mine to pass off the groups and leadership I have to other people. This is both scary and exhilarating. It’s scary because I’ve built up ideas about how the things I lead should continue, and I understand that they probably won’t work out as I think they should. However, it’s very exciting because when I pass off the leadership to others and enable them to lead, they do good things I wouldn’t think of doing.

A wonderful example of this happened recently, when I invited one of the bible studies I lead to decide for themselves when and where they wanted to meet. In a beautifully bizarre turn of events, God allowed an air conditioner fan to break. This AC unit was owned by a restaurant located near the apartment of one of the attendees of the study. The noise the AC unit makes is so loud that she eventually decides to go talk to the restaurant about the problem. They reassure her that they are working to fix it and offer her free couscous in the meantime. However, the problem doesn’t go away.

A week or so before this happened, she had offered her apartment as a location for us to meet for a dbs. Since the fan was not fixed yet, she decided her apartment was unsuitable for us to meet in, but instead of telling us, she went to the restaurant and unwittingly proclaims her own devotion to Jesus as follows: she tells them that she was supposed to have a bible study at her apartment but because of the noise, it is unsuitable for us all to meet there now, and she requests that we be allowed to have our bible study in their restaurant, since it is quiet there. The restaurant owner agrees so long as we purchase drinks and voila, the bible study moves into the public sphere, the restaurant owner meets someone who is reading the bible in a non-threatening way, and everyone in the study now has spiritual conversations in the public sphere, rather than in private!

IMG_0009

The restaurant where we met. Delicious food and some of the best mint tea I’ve ever had! 

As it turned out, the only place for the restaurant to seat 6 people together was at a table separated from the rest of the restaurant, so not nearly as many people overheard conversation as I would have hoped. But none the less, a few more did than would have been the case had we met for the study in an apartment or at the church office or any private space for that matter.

Moreover, had I said, “We should have the study here or there,” we would have never had the study in the restaurant we ended up at.

As I write all this, I’m very much in the learning phase of this process. For example, I know a great passage for the next study, but I have asked another person to search out a passage for the group to read. Everything in me wants to skillfully (so as not to upset anyone) tell them that the passage I found is the best! Mine is better anyway, so it’s best to just leave the leading of the studies to the “experts” right? No. If I do this, it undermines the person who I’ve charged with searching out the passage of any legitimacy to what he may have found. Moreover, maybe God wants to do something in his life and prepare him for leadership? Maybe God wants to reveal something to me through a new passage I hadn’t thought to look at! So I must not short-circuit God working in this way by continuing to take back the reigns of leadership in the group. This is always a challenge, but it’s one I hope to master! I imagine the real joy is found in seeing others carry on the work we’ve started, and in my case, because they are locals, they’ll probably do it better than I ever could have anyway.

Selective Hearing

This past summer we went back to the states for a few months. As I often do, I paid attention to common threads and themes of the trip while we were there. One theme I really hadn’t anticipated was the concept of hearing God. I was surprised at how many believers looked at me strangely when I would say, “God told me this or that.” Their eyes seemed to say, “you mean you read that in the bible and that was the application, right?” “No I mean I heard his voice speak to me. This is what He said.” I think part of the reason this was a surprise to me was because this didn’t start while I was in France. I’ve been hearing God audibly for a long time. But apparently that is not the norm. Nor do I brag about it or think it’s anything special. In reality, I have always expected it. Why shouldn’t I? Every person in relationship with God I read about in the bible has conversations with him. Why should I be different? It’s the same God, right? If anything I’m jealous of other friends here. I have one who not only hears Him audibly, she gets visions! I mean what could be cooler than having God himself paint you a picture?! I guess he kind of already did that in creation. But still.

Ultimately, I’ve seen that God will and wants to speak to us, and does it in ways that fit us, that we need most. So in spite of me thinking I would like him to appear before me, I get a quiet voice. I see this concept play out all the time when working with people God is calling into relationship with himself. He doesn’t speak to them the same way at all, but often in drastically different ways. However, the result is the same, they discover him.

I will say however that hearing God wasn’t something I was always good at… I’m not sure I am now.  I’ve learned there is a direct relationship to hearing God and obedience. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wiseman” and “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man.” That’s at the end of his big sermon in Matthew. Fairly straight forward. Hear and do = be wise. Hear and don’t = be foolish. So what does that have to do with hearing God, because those verses are about what we do with what we hear, when we hear it – not about the inability to hear him. Proverbs says:

[8] The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin. (ESV)
Proverbs 10:8

So a wise person receives commandments (let’s rename them “instructions”) but a fool comes to ruin. Maybe the fool gets instructions too, but if he or she does they aren’t listening (following the instructions), so they may as well have not received them.

So together we have: the person who hears and does what Jesus says is wise. The wise receive instruction.
The person who hears but doesn’t do what Jesus says is a fool. The fool doesn’t receive instruction.

My point is maybe (often?) we don’t hear God because we haven’t done the last thing he asked us to do? Or let me take this one step further. Why would God speak to us audibly (where we could perhaps question where it came from and find all kinds of excuses not to listen) if we won’t do what he’s already said and put into writing, i.e. the bible?  You can’t question the words in front of you… well you can but that’s a different conversation. So we have to do what he says in order to receive new instruction I think.

However, let’s say you you haven’t been knowingly neglecting something he’s asked you to do. What I’ve found in my own life is simply to ask God to speak and wait and see what he says. I think I often look for God to answer some specific issue I’m having and he’s answering a different issue or problem I didn’t know I had. It’s not that He’s not speaking, it’s that I’m only listening for one thing. It’s like I’m asking God, “Do I eat pizza or a burger for dinner?” And he answers, “You already ate dinner.” And I think, “ok but which should I eat?” At this point I’m not listening. If I want him to keep speaking, I have to respond to whatever he says or reveals. My answer should be, “You’re right help me to be content. Anything else?” The more I follow through on what He says, the easier it is to hear his voice. If I ignore it, it may get louder for a time, but then it dwindles. It’s as if God is saying, “alright I’ll give you what you really want, it isn’t what I have to say, so I won’t speak anymore.”

In preparation for going over seas, I did this thing called a “holy spirit challenge.” In effect what I did was any time I thought God might remotely be asking me to do something, I tested him and did it. I did not do it blindly, but would wait for either conviction or confirmation. We see this all throughout scripture. People ask God for proof, and he seems to always give it to them. Just be careful that you aren’t seeking proof because you don’t believe – He knows your heart. So I did this holy spirit challenge for a while. Sometimes I succeeded, other times I over-tested and missed opportunities. What was fascinating to me was how often I confused God’s voice with other things. However, the result of the experiment was that as I continued to listen and attempt to discern His voice from others, I became semi-ok at hearing it, and I learned to pick it out from others. Things would happen and I would see God’s blessing on someone else or me as a result of my obedience. So it strengthened my ability to hear him.

There is a similar phenomenon in music. Many people aren’t able to hear harmonies to sing straight away or to pick out and sing the individual harmonies happening within a choir performance. But most people can be taught to sing harmony so long as they have a shred of musicianship and want to learn, They can be taught to hear them. Or learning to pick out a certain instrument in a symphony. These are all things I learned and developed over time and now they tend to be simple (sometimes harmonies are still difficult!). But it was a process that took time and effort. Hearing God is the same. We have to learn what God sounds like, the kind of things he says, the things he says about himself.

So that would be my challenge to anyone. Tell God you want to hear him and commit to doing whatever you hear him say. If it comes through the bible, great! If you think you hear his voice audibly, look for confirmation, then don’t hesitate to do it. The confirmation can often come through scripture, like a verse will pop to mind that is in line with what I think I’m hearing. This is an obvious reason to read your bible!

I believe God wants to be heard by us. But he doesn’t force himself on us. So start with the obvious stuff. Are we listening to the things he’s already asked us to do? If so, ask him for more, and see if it doesn’t become easier to hear his voice as you follow and do what he says. I know he is capable of speaking to us in a way that we will understand. Don’t get caught up in the way he is speaking, whether by voice, or scripture, or picture, or dream, or creation, or intuition. The  Spirit, whose job it is to reveal truth, will do it in the way most effective for you. The better question is, when we hear him will we respond?

 

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

 

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