March News September 2008
“ My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” 2 Co. 12:9
Dear Friends and Family,
I am currently reading Ratzinger's amazing book “ Jesus of Nazareth ”. In this book, he reminds us of Peter's confession of Christ, which was followed immediately by Christ's revelation that His chosen way was to be the way of the cross.
Peter's response was to take Christ aside and to try to dissuade him from this path. In Peter's mind the ministry of the Messiah was about power, success and the overcoming of all adversaries, not about weakness, suffering and seeming failure.
Christ responds to Peter's attempt at dissuasion with a brusque rebuke that reveals how far Peter's human concept of the Messiah was from God's heart.
Ratzinger claims that this 'Peter spirit' is still very much present in contemporary Christianity. We expect and even demand of God that our churches and ministries be seen to be powerful and successful in every domain - in resources, in personnel, in finance, in terms of influence, etc. We revolt at the way of weakness and of the cross - it is too much of an affront to our human spirit. Like Peter, we try to 'take Christ aside' and tell him that He's got it wrong, that things really shouldn't be this way.
I try to keep a 'weather-eye' on the Christian satellite tv channels. I am afraid that if these accurately reflect contemporary Christian culture, then Ratzinger is right. Everything is geared up for power, success, breakthrough, blessings, anointings, financial multiplication - we rarely hear anyone talk of the way of the cross, of brokenness, in short, of Christ's strength being made perfect in our weakness.
Jesus' response to Peter was a brusque rebuttal which must have hurt. Subsequently Peter had also to be broken by the experience of denying Christ three times. It was only after being thoroughly broken in his humanity that Peter was capable of becoming the first leader of the Church of Christ - a leader who saw thousands respond to Christ through his preaching and who was used by God to perform amazing miracles, even raising the dead. And yet who ultimately, like his Lord, experienced the shame of a public execution at the hands of the Roman authorities.
The path to usefulness lies only through brokenness and weakness - what hope for a Church that refuses to embrace it?
BIG ChangesIn the past days some major changes have occurred in our lives and ministry.
For almost a year Sharon has felt a desire to be involved in supporting our parish in administration. An enormous parish in terms of geopgraphical area - which the above map shows. Although our priest is responsible for 46 villages, ours is a very poor parish, and does not have the resources to employ an administrator. Over the past year, Sharon and I have prayed and sought God asking Him to make it clear whether this was something she was being called by Him to do.
When Sharon shared in a casual conversation with Father Jerome that she hadn't had any news about teaching again this year, he responded immediately with "Well, we could use you in the Parish!". Within two days they had set up a contract for one month and Sharon had started work!
Although it was originally only administration work that Sharon thought God was leading her into, Father Jerome said the other day that "This job may well develop into something that you Protestants might call a pastoral assistant!".
Although the Parish will try to pay Sharon something, it will only be at the minimum wage rate and that for only a few hours per week. However, we felt that we should not make this a factor in discerning what God would have us do. This step has major implications for our financial situation - which was already not brilliant.
Like you we are experiencing spiralling costs, this linked with an income that has fallen gradually over recent years - due to both € / £ exchange rate changes and also the loss of a few supporters. This new direction is, at least from a human perspective, a crazy step for us to take.
You will therefore appreciate that it has been a very hard struggle for us to come to a decision. We have had many sleepless nights, a lot of prayer and even tears, before we reached the place where we have chosen (once again!) to step out in faith. To follow God's call to 'jump off this cliff' hoping and trusting that He will catch us.
In 13 years of financial precarity God has been faithful. We have yet to miss a meal, we have yet to go bankrupt - for which we do Praise the Lord and bless His name!
Our request to you - those who have faithfully stood with us over these years - is that you might continue to pray for us. So far God, has answered your prayers on our behalf, and that way beyond our expectations. Here are just a few areas in which you have joined with us and seen prayers answered:-
- That we might complete Bible college and discover God's call on our lives.
- That we might move to France.
- That we might be accepted in our village and be able to develop friendships and be involved in village life.
- That the boys would adapt well to French life, be successful in their schooling and thrive.
- That we might be accepted within our parish and be invited to use our gifts in serving our French brothers and sisters in Christ in so many different areas.
And so on and so on...
We do believe that this new opportunity to be invited to serve at the heart of parish life is a further answer from God to your prayers. Please continue to pray both for Sharon and Father Jerome and the work of the parish offices, please also pray for Sharon's spiritual input into the life of the parish. Apart from this new work Sharon will continue her leadership of the parish choirs and will also take a children's catechism group this year.
Please also pray for God to release the finances we will need to be able to survive - not only to us directly, but also to the parish, in order to bless them as they prepare to take this step forward with us.
There is a possibility that Sharon might continue to be able to do some teaching work on the days when she won't be working for the parish - this would help make up some of the financial loss but this work is not yet in place
Please also pray for me that I might know clearly what God is calling me to do - be it paid manual work, further study, or even ministry in some way.
Sorry that this prayer/news letter has been a bit different from the usual format, but we felt it was important to share with you in detail about this latest and quite significant change that we are going through.
Just to fill you in briefly about how we are doing generally - the summer was a good time for us. A holiday with friends was great!
The boys are now back at school and all seem quite happily settled in. Joshua still has all his wisdom teeth after the operation to remove them was cancelled and is yet to be rescheduled. Sharon will visit the UK to host a French Mission Evening in our church in Burton on September 18th, and Stephen is hoping to follow up with a visit in the spring for a teaching weekend.
Again we thank you for your continued support of us and the somewhat strange ministry to which God has called us. May the Lord bless you all for your faithfulness and generosity.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
March News June 2008
But We See Jesus…
Dear Friends and Family,
In chapter 2 of Hebrews the author outlines the glorious original state of man. Man was the culmination and climax of God's creative work. Man was granted supremacy and rule over the whole of the created order.
Things come crashing down with the tragic reminder of the current, desperate state of mankind. «Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him». This is the terrible truth about life as we experience it. Mankind's existence is diminished. We struggle against a creation that is rebellious to our authority, that refuses our rule. Both man and the creation suffer in this struggle. Both man and the creation long and groan for this discordant struggle to be resolved (Rom. 8vv22-23).
But the author doesn't leave things there. He explodes the mood of depression and despair with the exultation «But we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honour!» . Jesus' glorification after his resurrection is the foretaste of what God holds out to us through his offer of salvation. Jesus is the proof that God has not abandoned man to his pitiful, broken state. The fractured relationship with God and with creation can be restored. Things can and will be resolved. There is hope. God will accomplish his plan and «bring many sons to glory» (Heb. 2v10).
Sometimes we get lost in the humdrum of day-to-day life. Problems become too hard. The lack of any measurable achievement becomes too painful. At times like these we need the clarity of outlook that only comes from looking to Jesus. Jesus is the one who shows us the truth about our existence. Jesus proves the reality of our significance. Jesus shows us the glory of our future.
Our lives may be a struggle with brokenness - broken people living in a broken world. But we see Jesus…!
Points for Praise and Prayer:Studies in Hebrews - As you can tell, the work of preparing materials for Burton Church on the first 6 chapters of Hebrews has been bearing fruit in at least one life! So praise God that your prayers are being answered! These materials - a verse by verse commentary and small group study guides - are being made available for download from our website, or paper copies can be posted out to anyone without a PC or internet access - just ask!
ALPHA - We are now ¾ of the way through this course. It has been very interesting and our friends have said how much they are appreciating it. Please pray that the rest of the course would be equally fruitful in all of our lives.
Parish Life - Please pray for all the people who will have their lives touched by our parish this summer - visiting holiday-makers, wedding parties, baptisms etc. Pray that they will meet with Jesus and that they might become aiuthentic disciples of Jesus Christ.
Jonah Project - The Hebrews studies, along with ALPHA, along with gardening jobs, have made it impossible to give time to completing the Jonah project. But please continue to pray that in God's time this manuscript might be finished.
Mowing Mayhem - A warm and wet (lagging it down, even!) May and June have meant that Stephen has been behind a mower quite a lot! The great growing conditions mean not only more mowing work, they also mean that our vegetable crops - carrots, onions, tomatoes and potatoes - are also doing well. Double bonus! But seriously, given our limited income, being able to get a few more hours' work per week and growing some of our own food really helps to balance the budget - so praise the Lord!
Work - For this past year Sharon has been out all day, four days a week in school time, but was actually only paid for 18 hours' work - the rest was unpaid travelling time. The reality of having to drive so much has had consequences - to say nothing of the petrol costs. Whilst she hasn't had to have time off work, she has had 50 physiotherapy appointments over the winter and 4 cortisone injections in her shoulders and neck - driving 400 kilometres a week isn't helping.
Having prayed about it over the past few weeks, we feel that the time has come to look out for a change. We trust the Lord for all things! So Sharon is now actively looking for a new job. There are lots of things to take into consideration- and the most important is knowing that we can trust the Lord to supply what we need. Deuteronomy 7v 2 says 'these forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.' It is not up to us to decide. Please pray with us, for God's will to become clear, as Sharon's contract comes to an end on August 31st.
Boy's Studies - God is faithful! As we look back over the year, it seems no time at all since we were concerned for Joshua going off to lycée, and here we are at the end of another school year!
Ben is due to sit his French exams on June 20th and 30th. Please pray that he will do his best. He and Joshua are at home now.
Josh spent last week working in the diocese of Dijon. All of his year group had to do some work experience, and he chose to be involved with the local Christian aid agencies and voluntary, charitable organisations. He really enjoyed his time with them, and we praise the Lord for the positive experience he has had and for the other Christian adults he met who were very welcoming. He has decided to continue with his original plan of following a literary course next year.
Caleb is enjoying the end of year school trips - he has visited the biggest science centre in Paris, had an architectural tour of Dijon, and was sad when a planned day-long cycle trip had to be cancelled because of the pouring rain and high winds - Stephen, on the other hand, as the parent-helper, was rather relieved!!
Summer Storms - We are really hoping the wet and cold weather will disappear soon! Last Tuesday night a sudden cloudburst brought flooding to Villy. Whilst we weren't affected, we spent much of the following day helping others - shovelling dirt and stones off the roads, emptying flooded cellars and taking photos to send to insurance companies. Many of the vineyards to the south of us were completely destroyed by hail.
So, whilst we don't look to be heading for a drought, this summer could be difficult in other ways. Rising petrol prices, general loss in 'spending power' and dissatisfaction with the current government have led to a period of lightning strikes in many areas of society - trains, hauliers, health workers - and that was one week!!
Generally speaking people seem to be very concerned, and are trying in the historically, French-approved, fashion to make sure that the government realise it. Someone once said that the French don't do 'evolution', only 'revolution!' Change is difficult, and government reforms are painful, especially when, as in the UK, things look set for a 'downturn.'
So far we have no news of our request for French nationality. As the time to begin filling in all the forms for new residency papers approaches, please continue to pray with us for a postitive outcome to this situation.
On a brighter note, the Cook family will be coming to visit us and are once again braving our company for a week's holiday near Chinon. We are looking forward to that very much, and are thankful that the boys are still happy to come with us.
Joshua will be 16 on August 23rd - and has to have his four wisdom teeth out on the 25th! Please pray that this would go well and that he would be sufficiently recovered to go back to school at the beginning of term. Thankfully David and Diane are still happy to have the boys! So next school year sees all three of them in the same places - no changes this time around!
Again we thank you for your prayers and your support. God bless you.
The March family
March News April 2008
Doing God's Will Without Sharing God's HeartDear Friends and Family,
Some of you may know that I am currently working on a new manuscript - a life application commentary on the book of Jonah. One of the most striking lessons in this incredible book is this - it is possible to do God's will without sharing God's heart.
Jonah the Jew is commissioned by God to preach to the feared and hated Assyrians. He is so outraged by the idea that he heads to the very edge of the known world to try and escape. Through the most terrifying and horrific experiences, even «hellish» actually, Jonah is brought to a place where he admits defeat and agrees to do God's bidding.
At Nineveh Jonah undertakes what is the most successful preaching assignment in the whole Bible. An eight word sermon and the whole city of 120,000 people turn to God in repentance! How does Jonah feel about this miraculous outpouring of God's grace? - He is so angry he is suicidal.
Jonah did God's will, but his reaction reveals that in his heart he didn't share God's love for lost Gentiles.
I am challenged by this lesson. The spiritual tradition of my heritage is an activistic tradition. We encourage and value engagement, effort and activity in the Christian life. The story of Jonah warns me that activity needs to be an expression of our love for God in order to be authentic. Loving needs to come before doing.
If we share God's heart, then we will be drawn automatically into engagement with others in all kinds of activity that expresses our love for God and makes that love tangible to others. But activity without love is just empty.
Although Jonah was God's instrument in reaching the Ninevites, he gets no credit for their salvation - his reaction shows that he never wanted it to happen.
My prayer, for all of you as for myself, is that our love for God would deepen and grow and that all we do would be an authentic expression of that love.
Grace and peace be with you all.
Prayer and Praise Points:Health: We are all quite healthy and well. Sharon's shoulder problems seem to have been finally sorted out after several Cortisone injections and some manipulation. So that is a big relief for her. Also Ben's skin treatment has been a great success and his acne is almost completely cured. We do thank God for these answers to prayer. The boys are all still growing rapidly. Ben is about 6'3" and hopefully slowing down now! Caleb is in a major 'sprout' and has passed his mother by. Sharon is now officially «mini-mum»!
Work: Stephen has had unbroken work throughout the winter, helping to refurbish a canal lock-house and also do maintenance work on a group of holiday cottages in a nearby village. This has been a major answer to prayer and the extra income has enabled us to keep up with the added costs of having two boys living away from home Monday to Friday. We do praise God for his amazing provision for our needs. Sharon continues to do her English teaching and had an annual inspection last week which went well. It appears that there will also be work available for next year - should that still be what God wants her to do.
School: Ben is doing very well. He has just had his mock exams in French for his baccalauréat. He sits the real French exams in June. Please pray for him with these exams. He then has one more year of studies before sitting the rest of the «bac» subject exams in June 2009. He is still keen to study Engineering at University, but will have to do a two year «prepa» course, in order to sit the entrance examination first.
Joshua is also doing well at lycée. He has to choose which «bac» he will sit. His results are so good that he is being encouraged to go for a «Baccalauréat Scientifique», please pray for him as he makes this choice. He hasn't as yet any clear idea of what job he is heading towards. He is still passionate about Chinese and still loves drawing, but he has also considered teaching.
Caleb is also doing well at school. Having lots of fun - too much perhaps sometimes! He is particularly good at Computer studies and Music, but again he has no clear idea of what he wants to do ultimately.
Church: Our involvement with the larger parish continues. Sharon's work helping the various choirs is going well. Around 25-30 people now come to her monthly combined choir practices. Father Jerome is communicating his passion for liturgy and his desire for excellence in worship to the congregations and this is bearing fruit. Liturgy done well is just so rich and wonderful!
Stephen is still well occupied running the parish website and more and more people seem to be visiting it.
Relations between the larger parish and our village of Villy seem to be improving. Something for which we do praise and thank God!
Our Bible study group marked the time of Lent with a weekly study going through the beatitudes. This was challenging for Stephen theologically - the beatitudes are not easy to understand! - but we hope it was also positive for us all in terms of our discipleship.
We also continue to take an English couple through ALPHA. We have completed 6 sessions and the course is helping our friends think through where they stand in relation to the Christian faith. Please continue to pray for them.
Home Church: Rev. Duncan Ridgeon and his wife Pauline from our home church in Burton visited us in February, which was a great time for us!
Duncan was also able to briefly meet with Father Jerome the priest of our parish.
The church have appointed an new liaison team to continue to keep links «live» between us and the fellowship.
Stephen has also been asked to have some input into the teaching ministry in the church, in particular to prepare some small group materials on Hebrews chapters 1 to 6. These studies will complement the main Sunday preaching programme in June which will work through these same chapters. Please pray for the Spirit's inspiration and guidance as Stephen works on these studies.
Life in France: In the recent local Council elections Sharon was approached and asked to stand. She felt it was right to say yes and let her name go forward. She was subsequently elected first round, coming in third position!
Please pray for Sharon as she undertakes this new rôle within the community. Pray that she would be a useful and wise member of the 11 person council. We do praise God that in the initial meetings things seem to be going well, with the group working together in a good atmosphere.
Please pray also about our French nationality application. Still no news. If we don't have a positive response by October we will have to go through the whole renewal process again as our residency permits expire. Also, in December, Ben will be 18 and will have to apply for his own residency permit, if our nationality application fails. It would be a lot less complicated if we were just awarded French nationality!
Jonah Project: As mentioned at the beginning, Stephen is in the final stages of a book project on Jonah - tentatively entitled «Jonah - The Epistle of Wild Grace». This was something that Stephen felt clearly led of God to do, and it has been a major blessing to him in preparing it, and has even blessed several others with whom he has had opportunity to share the material. Please pray that Stephen would know what God wants him to do with the manuscript upon completion.
By the time this letter reaches you, we hope to be in Scotland in order to spend a short time with family. We haven't been back together for almost two years! We are really looking forward to it, and may even have the chance to see some of you. Again we thank you for your continuing support in so many ways.
May God bless you,
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb