MARCH 2002Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16 NIV)
We were sent a tape of a man called Eugene Smith preaching on the above text recently. He asked the very simple question 'Why wasn't God ashamed to be their God?' If you examine the lives of the people this verse is talking about, you quickly find that they did some rather dubious, even colourful, things in their lives! In fact, if we had been their friends, there would probably have been some times when we would have been uncomfortable to own up to our friendship in public! But God is not ashamed to be their God. Why? Well, the answer is in the first half of the verse. They had each been given a vision from God. A vision and a calling to live in relationship with God. A vision and a calling to be significant people in the plans and purposes of God. A vision and a calling to prioritise the life to come over the life here and now. They lived out their whole lives in that spirit and with that priority. Some of them ultimately died with their vision unfulfilled because God"s plans are always bigger than our lifetimes. And that is why God is not ashamed to be called their God. They failed - often. They misunderstood - most of the time. But they embraced whole-heartedly that which God revealed to them of his plans and purposes and how he wanted their lives to fit into them. They made the conscious and continual choice to prioritise this over everything else. They longed for a better country. They lived their lives by its values. They invested their time and resources in preparation for it (Luke 12 :33f). They refused to be distracted by the glitter of 'The Now' from the glory of the 'To Come'.
A good message isn't it?! What made it particularly significant for us was that the person who sent us this tape was the lady who (bravely!) led the Sunday School class which Sharon and I attended in our teenage years - I think that was probably a very difficult assignment! But she has been faithful over more years than I like to count in praying for us, encouraging us and supporting us. And God is still using her to bring his truth into our lives and to bless us. We take this opportunity of honoring her faithfulness and committment to our spiritual growth. May the Lord reward her! May those of us who have similar difficult assignments, particularly with young people, be inspired to continue to love, serve and pray for those God has put us in relationship with and to trust him to grow our 'investment'. And many of you are just like her - constantly in prayer for us, ever interested and concerned for us, and for that we thank you.
So what has been happening in the March family over the past few months? Well, we spent a very quiet Christmas on our own but we were blessed over the New Year with a visit from John and Maggie Goddard, our friends from Burton. Maggie is in her second year at Moorlands College and they are seeking God's will for them for 'life after college'. It was great to be able to talk 'God stuff', 'college stuff' and 'Burton stuff' together! So we are now 'up to speed again' with all things Dorset!
Our normal day to day routine continues - Sharon's English teaching and my handy-man exploits. I've actually been helping an English guy who is converting a barn into a house. It is great fun! I've been learning how to put up plasterboard, how to lay concrete floors, how to knock holes in walls for windows etc. Brilliant! On the studies side my first course 'Introduction to Theology' has finished and I am about to start two new courses 'History of Christianity over the first 1000 years' and 'The Question of God through the Scriptures'. I have also put together a trial website for AFOM (l'Association Francophone Oecuménique de Missiologie - The Francophone Ecumenical Missiological Association) of which David Bjork is a council member.
We are also excited about some great invitations that we have received for next few months;
- There is a conference called "Discovering God's destiny for our nations" organised by RELaY (a European network which promotes Reconciliation among Christians, the re-Evangelisation of Europe, the formation of Lay leaders, and the mobilisation of Youth for the Gospel) David Bjork is leading a 6 hour track on 'Reconciliation' and has invited me to work with him on this. The conference takes place March 6th -10th in Bratislava, Slovakia. We are stopping off on the way for David to meet up with two groups of "Campus Crusade for Christ" workers in different cities in Poland.
- Please pray for travel, good health, for me as I talk from the front again - something I haven't done for a very long time now. For Sharon and the boys as they stay at home. We haven't spent any time apart at all since coming to France, and it will be very different for us all.
- Sharon and I have also been invited to deliver two seminars on 'cultural relevance' at an Anglo-French, Protestant-Catholic, Charismatic conference called "Unissons-Nous" which takes place in Normany, France 1st - 4th August. We are very much looking forward to the experience of worshipping and fellowshipping in that setting. Please pray for us as we speak to all those who decide to come along. We feel very inadequate and believe all we can share is our testimony. Please pray God will use this as He wills. Please pray also for Sharon as she helps with translation.
We are really looking forward to being involved in these events and would ask for your prayers that God might teach us many things through our meeting other Christians from Europe, East and West. We believed these invitations to be from God and agreed to be involved but, being practical, we wondered how we would be able to pay for the conference fees, travel and accommodation costs which mount up. But we praise God that a few weeks ago we were given a totally unexpected gift that will cover all my costs for Bratislava. Thank you Lord!
We have also been pleased to discover a cheap flight service between Dijon and London Stanstead. BUZZ Airways have just 'taken off' here with very cheap fares, so Sharon plans to visit her Mum 3rd - 9th April.
We were also looking at the possibility of visiting our church in Burton over the summer, as by then it will be 2 years since we were last there - hard to believe! The conference in Normandy takes us more than half-way, giving us the chance to take the ferry across from there. We looked into possible accommodation and it appears that the house in Burton which we used to rent may be available. We are really hoping that this will all work out and that we will be able to spend August there. We would love to spend time in our fellowship again and give something back to those who faithfully do so much for us. It means too that family will be able to visit. As you can imagine the boys are excited at this possibility!
The boys are all doing well, although Ben and Caleb suffered from the recent severe 'flu bug and resulting chest problems. They were ill during the holidays though, which meant no time off school but very little activity for two weeks. We praise the Lord they all went happily back to school, and would ask for your continued prayers for them. We're sure we're not the only parents who lie awake at night sometimes, wondering about their offspring - their future seems very unclear to us, never having lived through the things they are being called to. They have few friends, not a lot of outside interests, no fellowship to speak of - but our call was a family one, and we know that God's on their case as much as He is on ours, and He has their lives as much at heart as He has ours.
Our accommodation has been a great challenge to us in many ways. We have a few 'damp' problems, old windows and recently had (yet again!!) a blocked up toilet and a septic tank which had to be emptied. The biggest room in the house is the bathroom!! Sharon has struggled with all this and with the lack of a kitchen - we have no worksurface - but felt challenged recently to think about things in a different light. It seemed God was flagging up the theme of 'the desert' time and time again. Our priest reminded us that instead of viewing the desert as a place where there is a lack of things, rather we should think of it as a place of continual discovery. We ought to be focusing on following the source of life - for those in the desert, water - ready to pack up what we have - the bare essentials - and move on when we have to. The desert is not only a dry arid place but also a continually changing landscape. Change we're not very good at!! Ironic that we should hear this message around the same time as the tape we were sent about being aliens and strangers here! This helped remind us of a word we received years ago from Psalm 84 v 5
"Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage."
Our prayer is that we will be those of whom God is not ashamed, those whose admit they are strangers and aliens here, those who long for a better country.
Grace and peace,
JUNE 2002Dear Family and Friends,
Grace and peace to you all! Okay, 'nightmare quote time'. I'm reading a book in which the author talks about how people encounter the power of Christ entering their lives in various ways. For evangelical spirituality through crisis conversion and doctrinal affirmation, for charismatic spirituality through experience, for liturgical spirituality through ritual and sacrament - then he goes on to say;
"However, neither individually nor collectively do any of these ways reliably produce large numbers of people who really are like Christ and his closest followers throughout history. That is a statistically verifiable fact."
That quote really stopped me in my tracks. I wish that he were wrong, but in my heart of hearts I think he is probably right. Why is it that the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit doesn't seem to be transforming very much in those of us who claim to have an intimate, passionate love relationship with the God who created the universe?
Dallas Willard claims that behaving like Christ can only authentically flow out of being like Christ. Thus "What Would Jesus Do?" should rather be "How Did Jesus Live?" If Christ himself, our perfect example, needed to use the spiritual disciplines in order to perfectly express his human-ness in relationship to the Father, then why has the contemporary church largely put them to one side? For human beings the spiritual and physical should work together. In the disciplining of our bodies, our spirits grow. Willard lists the following spiritual disciplines;
|Disciplines of Abstinence||Disciplines of Engagement|
(about ones good deeds, qualities)
I believe that Willard has written a prophetic book for the contemporary church. I think he has the courage to say things that we needed to hear and the wisdom to point us towards difficult but necessary solutions.
As Michael W. Smith so eloquently said;
'For the world to know the truth,
There can be no greater proof,
Than to live the life, live the life.'
There can be no greater proof,
Than to live the life, live the life.'
Or, put another way, authentic discipleship is intrinsically evangelistic. God grant all of us the grace and discernment to take a long hard look at ourselves and our churches and see whether we are "living the life" authentically and discipling others to do the same. God help us all.
News Update:This is the bit where we let you know how God has been leading us and providing for us in answer to your prayers.
The RELAY conference went very well. The teaching times on reconciliation which David and I did were very well-received and people really seemed to benefit from them. You can download my notes from this website. Go to the March Archive/Ministry page.
David's notes are available on his website (click here).
The last few months have seen significant events in the life of our parish. Didier announced at church in Vitteaux last Sunday that he is moving into a Dijon parish this September. This means he will be more involved in teaching at the seminary in Lyon. Sadly our newly-increased parish of Villy-Vitteaux will now be joined by another 20-odd churches based around Précy, meaning that the new priest (who has been appointed for one year only) will be over them all. The average age of priests continues to rise, and this is how it affects us practically. On a positive note, it means that gradually lay people have to take increasing responsibility, but they are reluctant and feel ill-equipped to do so.
It is the season of change!! Even the weather has distinctly "hotted up". We have managed one barbeque courtesy of David, Diane and a few kilos of sausages!! This Sunday was a lovely day where we saw the first communion of the children Sharon has catechised over this year, with that group now dispersing. We have also had our last adult English class for the year and received lovely gifts. They have asked us to continue next winter session.
This sense of change has extended to a spiritual as well as a practical level, and we have been aware of a growing sense of being unsettled over recent months. As we have shared with some of you, we feel strongly that we will either develop meaningful, close relationships and begin to disciple people here in the village, or move on. Not again! was our initial thought, but we recognise that in God we have no rights, and want more than anything else in the world to be where He wants us to be, doing what He wants us to be doing.
Sharon had met a few times with the lady responsible for the catechism and practical training of lay people in the diocese (Elisabeth) over the winter. In order to get to know her and her husband (Francis) we invited them for a meal. We didn't expect anything of it, however we soon developed a great rapport and began to share deeply with each other about our spiritual journeys. It was amazing to realise how our experiences were parallel - living by faith, Bible college etc. They are Catholic and fine Christians, they went to Bible college in Switzerland and Francis is a deacon in the Catholic church (an ordained position which he has for life). His rôle is to reach out to the community, particularly to the needy.
They, together with some friends in their village, form part of a small association 'Amitié et Partage' (friendship and sharing). A Christian lady bequeathed to them a house, a small hall and a large field with the hope of providing some kind of spiritual centre and community resource. Most of the group (like Elisabeth and Francis, who are working part-time to support themselves and three studying children) are very busy. They have felt for some time they needed to appoint a couple to live in the house, look after the hall and the grounds and give spiritual direction to people who use the facilities. After our initial meeting they asked us!
Whilst the association itself is not Christian, most people who are part of it are - there are even a few Protestants among them! They have the vision for regular childrens' and young people's evenings, meetings between folks of different ages and maybe prayer groups, as they have set aside a lovely little outbuilding as a prayer-room. Part of the reason for seeking people out was the recognition by those involved that they needed to 'sharpen up' the spiritual edge to what they are about. Until now much of the focus has been on renovating the property. There is still quite a bit of work needing to be done, particularly in the house.
Please pray with us and share with us anything you feel God might give to you about this. Any proposed involvement would not start before 2003 so we have plenty of time to seek God. It would involve major changes for us in all sorts of ways, but whilst the invitation came completely out of the blue for us, nothing comes as a surprise to God!
Back to the present!! The boys are in their last few weeks of school, and have had their class photos taken. We are still amazed at how well they have done, and thank you for your prayers for them. Ben moves up to secondary school after the summer, and faces that with some trepidation (as do Mum and Dad!) but on the whole is more confident. He has his results back and was first in his class as was Joshua!. Caleb corrects all our pronunciation mistakes and is great at football. His best friends are all girls, since he is the only boy of his age, and will hopefully move up to be with Joshua in 'the big class' after the summer.
Upcoming Events:As many of you will know my father is seriously ill as his cancer has returned. I am flying over the 13th to 18th June to see Mom and Dad - we thank God for a gift to enable me to do this. We do praise God that they have received tremendous support and practical expressions of love and concern from far and wide, but please continue to pray for them, and for the family.
We would very much appreciate prayer for the 'Unissons-Nous' conference in Normandy the 1st to 4th August. Please pray that God would give us his message for the people as we take 2 seminars on the subject of 'cultural relevance'.
We are delighted to be spending the 4th to 29th August in Burton. Our previous landlord is kindly letting us stay in our old house as it is vacant over the summer. We have also been honoured by Burton Community Church with an invitation to take the Sunday services over these 3 weeks. Please pray that God would give us a message to bless these people who have so blessed us. We are so looking forward to fellowship and fun with those we haven't seen in such a long time, as well as some rest and relaxation (together with a few trips for second-hand clothes shopping if Mum can sneak it in!!).
Thank you all again for your prayers and support, we greatly appreciate it. May you all know God's richest blessing over this summer. Please feel free to email us or even drop us a line!
Grace and peace to you all from the March Family
Dear Friends and Family,
I read recently that St. Augustine wrote;
"we come to God by love and not by navigation."
What he meant by this was that all the spiritual 'charts' and 'maps' which form our evangelism and discipleship methodology are only helpful and effective to the degree that they help us come to love God. As St. John of the Cross wrote;
"God's ultimate question to us will be, 'How much did you love?'"
I think what I'm saying is that recently God has been calling us back to basics. He has been reminding us of the essence of the Christian life - an intimate, passionate love relationship with God. Everything else in our lives is much less important than this relationship. Logically speaking how could anything else possibly equate with a personal relationship with the one who created the universe and even now holds it in existence! As Christians we all say that we believe this. However, we constantly need to review our lives and priorities to make sure they match up to our beliefs. We need to ask ourselves hard questions about whether our use of resources, whether our use of time, whether our pre-occupations, goals and dreams are really in harmony with our expressed belief that, "the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God". In discipleship terms, living an 'examined' life.
May the Lord grant you and us the grace, discernment and wisdom to examine our lives and to embrace at the centre of our beings St. Paul's own conviction;
"I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ."
(Philippians 3:8 NIV)
Summer ReviewWe had an "interesting" time over the summer! We were dogged by car problems and three unsuccessful repairs before we left Villy. We finally broke down 'definitively' on arrival in Normandy. But God was definitely with us in placing us in a gîte next-door to a breakdown-van driver! He and his wife were an amazing blessing to us and helped us get the car to a local garage. After a 5-day rest and major surgery the car was passed fit to travel!
During this time we took part in the "Unissons-Nous" (Let us unite) conference. This was a very interesting time. We also met some great people who we hope to see more of in the future. Our workshops seemed to go well although small in numbers, and about 50 people subsequently visited our website to find out more about us/download the notes (You can find them in the March Archive, in the Ministry section). Sharon also translated for David Bjork in the main teaching sessions and she did very well. Her Scottish accent was much loved! David's teaching was truly Spirit-led and we believe spoke significantly into the lives of people there.
At the end, the conference organisers gave us a gift which paid for the car repairs - for which we praise the Lord and ask for His blessing upon them!
We then headed across the channel to Burton. We had a great time meeting our friends and taking part in the life of the church. It was SO good to have fellowship there! My mini-series on Haggai is also available for download from our website (Archive/Ministry section).
It was also great to be able to have Sharon's Mum, my Mom and Dad and even my sister Sarah and her family come to visit us during our stay. Again God provided wonderfully for accommodation and people really helped us out amazingly - the Lord bless them! After a happy, but busy time, we returned to Villy en Auxois at the end of August, very glad to be back in our quiet little valley!
Back to SchoolAfter a week or so to get ourselves sorted out the boys went back to school. This was a big change for us as Benjamin moved up to Secondary school (College). This means that he gets the school bus at 0730 and returns at 1730 - quite a long day when you are 11! However, he has coped very well with the change and the school seems to be good. It is still a small school (350 pupils) and has a nice atmosphere. He is happy to have started learning German (for some reason he didn't want to do English!) and so is on his way to becoming tri-lingual! We are becoming more 'tuned in' to the French system - having to buy paper (we didn't realise there were SO many sizes, formats), pens and pencils (2B or not 2B?), books and everything else he might need!
Caleb joined Joshua in the class for the older children at the Primary school in Villy. They have both settled in well and seem to be doing okay with their work. Their teacher said they were both working hard and were 'adorable' - little does she know...!
Sharon is also poised to restart her English teaching. They have asked her to almost double her hours as they are introducing foreign languages earlier and earlier into the Primary curriculum. She will now do 20 lessons a week which will definitely keep her busy pottering around the countryside! Sharon's increased workload will mean that I won't be able to do much handyman-ing as I won't have any transport. But I will obviously need to take on more of the household duties and getting meals ready etc. I will however be able to continue my theological reading and study and have a pile of books waiting for me! Brilliant!
SupportOn Saturday (28/9) we had the privilege of meeting a French couple who are about to go into full-time Christian work. David and Diane Bjork have accompanied them in the faith for 20 years.
This couple have felt God's call to give up work and join an organisation called "Fondacio". It is a Catholic lay ministry organisation which grew out of the Charismatic Renewal 25 years ago. It is now active in 18 countries with 3,500 workers! Fondacio's core activities are evangelism and discipleship. They run summer camps for families, adolescents and older people and are also very committed to relief projects in developing countries. It was very encouraging to meet these quality people and hear about the great things that are going on. At a meeting in David and Diane's church in Dijon they gave a presentation of their calling and prospective ministry with the goal of raising their required financial support - something not very common in French church culture!
After this meeting Sharon and I reflected on our own financial support. We were very grateful to God as we realised that we have never had to do such "deputation" work. God has wonderfully blessed us with such faithful supporters as yourselves. We have lost very few supporters over the years, and those we have lost God has replaced. We thank God each day for our supporters and those whose prayers strengthen our lives and we pray God's blessing upon you all.
However, as is our regular practise, we want to give people the freedom to withdraw support, if circumstances have changed, or if they feel led to invest in other Kingdom work. If you feel you are no longer able to pray for us please contact us and we will remove your name from our mailing list - whilst thanking you and blessing you for all your prayers on our behalf. Similarly, if you wish to withdraw financial support please feel free to do so, but if you could inform us of your decision we would be very grateful. Conversely, if you would like to regularly receive this newsletter, or begin/increase your financial support, please contact us and we can put you on our mailing list and send you the appropriate forms. This regular activity is one of the ways that we can practically affirm our reliance on God to provide our needs and also to help you reflect on what God is calling you to do with the resources he has given you stewardship over. May the Lord guide you clearly.
We thank those of you who are praying with us about our possible involvement with 'amitié et partage'. We are still in contact with Francis and Elizabeth, but as yet nothing has happened further. Neither can we say that we have clearly heard from God yet. We ask you to continue praying with us on this matter, that our friendship with them would grow and develop. We are also happy to have met Père Bernard Card, our new priest. He is much more decisive than Didier! He is only here for a short time, but is aware of our situation and background and is happy for involvement in church and catechism to continue.
We also told you in our last letter of a sense of being "unsettled", of being unsure whether Villy is the place for us to put down roots, or merely a temporary "inculturation" phase. We have to say that we have had nothing definitive from God, again we ask you to keep praying.
Our accommodation situation remains difficult in our tiny one bedroom flat (a temporary 'emergency stop-gap' which has now lasted 16 months!) We have heard rumours that a 4 bedroom house in the village may possibly be put on the rental market. Whether this will happen, or be in our price range is anyone's guess! Please continue to pray. Our housing situation obviously ties in with our needing to know where God wants us to be.
Let me close by again asking for your prayers on our behalf, and also by challenging you to do all that you can personally to build unity in the scandalously divided Body of Christ.
Grace and peace to you all from the March family