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#JesusChallenge: Day 6

Following Jesus is wonderful. He is with us and strengthens us in the darkest times. But following Jesus also requires a level of sacrifice. In the West we have developed a culture of instant gratification where sacrifice has to be avoided at all costs.

However, sacrifice is the very foundation of our faith. Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could have access to the fullness of life he promised. He also said that if we are to follow him we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Matt 16:24), though self-denial is something almost unheard of in our culture and time. Jesus also said that in this life we will have troubles and afflictions, but that he has overcome to the world (John16:33). It is all about perspective.

Elijah was one the greatest prophets of Israel. Through the power of God he performed many signs and wonders but it cost him everything down to his very reputation. Near the end of his ministry he throws his cloak around Elisha, as a sign that his mantle and legacy had been passed on to Elisha. Elisha was a farmer with many responsibilities but he does not waste time. In 1 Kings 20:21 we read this:

“So Elisha left him (Elijah) and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. The he set to follow Elijah and became his attendant.”

When he receives the call to follow he does not come up with a plan b, or a way of keeping his assets as something to fall back on to. He burns his ploughs and leaves his entire life behind to follow a call. Now this must have been very sacrificial for him to do. No plan b meant no ploughs. No trade. No money. Self-denial.

As we embark on this new adventure moving to Brazil, we are aware that sacrifice must be involved, that we need to burn our ploughs and follow. It has been hard, and there is more to burn actually. But we pray it will open the way for God to do miracles in our lives and the lives of others. We have come to believe that it is impossible to experience everything that God has for us without sacrificing and surrendering our all.

I don’t know your context and I know that not everyone is called to do what we are doing. In fact, I know for sure that some people are called to stay exactly where they are to bless people in their work place, university etc. But we are all called to live a sacrificial lifestyle. We are all called to burn our ploughs and follow Jesus with our crosses on our backs. What does that mean for you? What does a sacrificial life look like for you at work, uni or school? How would it change you relationships? How would it change you activities?

The cross of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, led to life. Elisha’s burning of ploughs led to a fruitful ministry. On the other side of sacrifice there is growth, life and promise. Whilst we don’t sacrifice with that in mind, it is encouraging to know that God honours us when we choose self-denial and sacrificial living.

Today I have been reminded that this walk of ours, this journey of faith, includes sacrifice. It includes the pain of sad goodbyes. It includes the smoke of burning ploughs. It is messy and never easy. But I am also reminded that in taking that road we will be honoured and that on the other side there is life and promise. May we all choose to sacrifice that which is precious for the sake of knowing Jesus. The apostle Paul writes:

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

When we choose a sacrificial lifestyle we gain Christ himself. It must be worth it all!

“Lord Jesus, help me to burn my ploughs, to carry my cross and to follow you with abandon. Help me to deny myself for the sake of knowing you more deeply. May you be first in my heart. Amen.”

 

#JesusChallege: Day 5

If I look back on my own journey with God so far I can so clearly see the hand of God in so many moments. There have been many lows. Times when hope was scarce and darkness surrounded. Other times have been times of growth and fullness. At the moment, as we transition from what has been to what will be, there are also ups and downs, with days of certainty and a few of doubt.

However, today as I asked Jesus to speak to me I was aware of his grace. His patience with me, even when I was getting it wrong. His forgiveness when I messed it all up. Today I am reminded of the many second chances I have had. My heart was full of gratitude for what God has done in my life, changing my story and bearing with me. Today, I am thankful.

I would also encourage to take a moment of look back. Identify the times when God’s grace upheld you and when his forgiveness made you whole. Look back… you may find that God’s grace was evident even when you did not notice at the time. The old hymn by Johnson Oatman Jr. sung so many times in my childhood tells us to count our blessings…

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

Today I am learning to remember the times Jesus held on to me, even when I wandered away. Today I am learning that gratitude is a key feature of an abundant life. Today I am reminded to thank God for his grace.

“Jesus, thank you for Grace! Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 4

Today at “House 244” (the CMS community house we are living in here in Oxford) we gathered as a community to share prayer needs and pray for one another. There were about 7 of us there and we each shared what is going on in our lives at the moment, some of the challenges as well as blessings. It was a really special time of prayer. It made me think how important it is for us to have other people to share our journey of faith with. It made me appreciate this season more as well, and the privilege to have a community around us as a family.

It can be really hard sometimes to go through stuff on our own. When I was 17 years old, having moved to the UK, I found myself all alone in big scary London. I attended English classes and worked in central London. Nothing glamorous… I cleared tables at a busy Italian restaurant in Covent Garden and coveted the food leftover in people’s plates. Money was so tight that after I had paid for my weekly rent and bus pass there was very little left (£8.50 to be exact). Sometimes I had to steal potatoes from work as I could not afford dinner.

After eating my microwaved potato with vast amounts of margarine, I would often retreat to my tiny room above a funeral company’s morgue. Quite often I would cry myself to sleep, as cried out to God for hope. In my poverty and loneliness, I was so aware of God being there. However, I did miss having people to journey with. I missed having people to talk to, people who could pray for me. Those were very lonely times.

You know, God is always with us but we also need people to do life with… people with whom we share deeply. People who are allowed into the more vulnerable areas of our lives.

In Luke 24 we read about two disciples who are walking away from Jerusalem. Away from the epicentre of the shocking events that led to the death of Jesus. They were puzzled and bewildered. However, they were together. Here is an extract of that passage:

“13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognising him.”

As they talked to one another. As they shared deeply about their failed hopes and fears, Jesus himself joined them on the road to Emmaus. He walks with them. He talks to them. He makes things clearer. He explains what is going on. He is present in their painful journey. Likewise, as we journey with others and share deeply with them, Jesus will often come and walk along with us.

Today, I was reminded of the importance of having people with whom we can journey. Because when we do so, when we intentionally share about our faith, struggles and blessings, Jesus joins us on the journey.

Who are you journeying with at the moment? You may have many friends and people in your life, but my question is specifically about your faith journey. Who are the people of faith with whom you can deeply share with? If you do not have anyone at the moment maybe you should consider asking someone to be your companion. It will really help. In my own journey I have had people who have walked and still walk with me, even in the most painful moments. Plus, something powerful happens when we journey together with other believers: Jesus is present, even though we may not recognise it straight away!

As Christians we also have a responsibility to walk with those who are lonely. There are many people in your life who are probably really struggling and could so with a friend to journey with. Today I felt challenged to intentionally seek people to journey with, as well as challenged to be aware of those who are lonely.

“Lord Jesus, I thank you that you are always with us. Please, help us to be good companions. To allow people to journey with us and to intentionally choose to journey with those who are lonely. Please help us to recognise your presence with us, even in the most painful moments. Amen.”

 

 

#JesusChallenge: Day 3

#JesusChallenge: Day 3

This challenge to focus on Jesus has been about reminding myself, with God’s help, of why I believe. The reason why is not a thing but a person. As Christians we are called to do seek justice, love others, and try to be a transformative influence for good wherever we go. But we often get caught up in being Christian, going to church, being nice and following a few rules. However, if we lose sight of Jesus. The reason why we believe what we believe and do what we do. It can become mechanical. A lifeless tick list of dos and don’ts. This falls short of the fullness we are called to live and experience.

Why are we Christians? Why do we go to church often? Why do we commit our time, finances and energy being part of the community of those who follow Jesus? If we are honest most who profess a faith in Jesus often forget why. This means many of us, need to be reintroduced to Jesus. The man-God who walked the earth, healed many, raised the dead and himself was raised from the dead. We need to be reacquainted with his power, with the reality that he is ALIVE and has told us that WHOEVER believes will do event greater things than these (John 14:12)!

Today I am challenged by this truth! How would my own life and ministry change if I lived with this reality in the forefront of my thinking? He is alive and he wants to partner with us to bring about his kingdom. Wow! If we believe that than all things are possible for those who believe indeed. The problem is, we often water this truth down. We would never deny it, but we come up with all sorts of rational explanations as to why it’s different for us. But if Jesus is alive today, and if he has a plan and a hope for you and I, than life looks different.

In John 15 we read this:

4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 

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Ok, so it is clear that we need to remain in Jesus. But what does that even mean? You know what? I don’t know… any attempts from me will probably result in the production of a legalistic list of things I need to do. But one thing is also clear, the secret is in Jesus. Staying close to him seems to be the key. What would that look like for you and I? How, when, and where do we feel closest to Jesus? The answers to these questions may give us clues as to what remaining in Jesus means for you and I.

I seem to meet God when I meet people, through conversations and fellowship over the dinner table. For you it may be by going for a walk and admiring nature, or reading a book. Whatever it is… we need to “go do it”! The promise is that if we remain, if we get our nourishment from Jesus, than we will be fruitful. So not doing it means we miss out on fullness!

Maybe like me at times you have felt fruitless. Maybe your life consists of meetings, and forms and an ever increasing to do list. What I am learning is that we need to make time. We need to create room for Jesus in our lives. To return to that place when God seemed so real you could almost touch him.  I am learning that Jesus’ promise is available to me (and you!). That fruitfulness will come when I make room. All our endeavours come to nothing (at least in the sense of true fulfilment) away from him…

“Jesus help us to return to that place (physical or otherwise) where you seemed so real that everything was made new. Help us to live a life that is based on the fact that you are alive! Help us to move away from a Christianity of things we have to do, to a faith based on a personal relationship with you Jesus, not only with the institution that bears your name . Help us to remain in you when things are good or bad. Forgive us when we water you message down to being nice and feeling good. Help us to follow you with a cross on our backs. Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 2

As the challenge to spend time with Jesus continues I have taken myself away from the busyness at home for a walk by the water (the perks of living in Oxford). In my walk as I prayed for Jesus to be the focus I was again reminded about the book of Joel.

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision!” (3:14)

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I was puzzled by what “the valley of decision” means. Having read a little more about it, it refers to the time when God will gather all nations to deal once and for all with the brokenness of the world. In this place God will judge the wickedness of the world. But in that fearful day “the Lord will be a refuge for his people”. (3:16)

What is clear is that God will put an end to wickedness and restore all things back to what he intended them to be. This fills me with hope and gratitude. Because I know that one day all of the sorrows we face will be dealt with by God.

Today someone asked me… what are the Good News we have to share with the world? The Good News is that because of the cross, because of what Jesus has done for us we have hope for tomorrow. But we also have hope for today! Jesus said that he came to give us life and and life in abundance. I believe this is not just for the future, but also for the now.

I feel challenged to live in a state of hope, in the knowledge that God will ultimately have victory over wickedness. I am learning to appropriate myself to a narrative of hope and to reshape my own life according to it. I am learning that good will prevail over bad, and that Jesus’s cross speaks a better word for my life now, and for the future.

Today you may be walking the darkest valley, you may be going through some really difficult stuff… but please remind yourself that God is good that he has your life in his hands.

“Lord, thank you for your promise to deal with our brokenness and with all the atrocities we see in our world. Please give us the faith to live in a state of hope, knowing that you are in control and that we can have hope today and tomorrow. Help us to live abundant lives of generosity and love. Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 1

Today, in the first day of my challenge to spend time with Jesus, I came with a sense of gratitude but also anxiety. This “no-plan-b thing” can be tiring and take its toll on you… particularly  when, like me, trusting does not come naturally. On top of that, my heart (like yours probably) has also been full of sorrow and concern for the state of the world and the nation, the hopelessness affecting so many in less fortunate places, angry elections, and of course the problem of terror.

As I asked God to share with me what was on his heart, I opened my Bible and started reading from the book of Joel. In chapter 1, Joel describes a situation beyond hopeless that affects his nation. Fear, desolation, and despair are in many ways similar to our own experience in our world today.

And like many around the world today, Joel cries out to God to have mercy in a time of utter hopelessness. The image he uses is of locusts devouring fields and pastures leaving little left. From that place he cries out to God for help.

You know… God’s response seems a little odd from a human perspective. He asks his people to fast and pray (2:12). As the prophet Joel puts it:

“Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (2:13) 

Now, I don’t know about you, but when the situation is desperate I sort of really want God to actually do something. To fix the problem… or to help me come up with a solution to the problem. But God for some reason sees right past the issue. He knows our tendency to use things and people only while they are convenient to us. He knows we are prone to wanting quick solutions. So God demands a relationship with us… he wants our hearts.

The ancient people of Israel had the habit to give up their good clothes and put on sackcloth when they fasted. What God says through Joel is that he does not want them to surrender their garments (just what is outside), he wanted them to surrender their hearts! He did not want to provide superficial solutions, he wanted to be in relationship with them.

In Joel chapter 3, God promises that out of that relationship he would repay the years eaten by the locusts.

There is hope when we are connected to the Father. There is a way out. The way out is surrender… the way out is a living relationship with God.

The challenge this week is to spend time with Jesus asking him to share his heart with me. Today I learned that in times of fear and hopelessness God calls his people to be closer to him. The challenge of today is surrendering my heart to God.

“Lord Jesus, help me not to use you for quick fixes. Help me to surrender my heart so that I can be used by you to bring transformation to a broken world. Help me to stay close to you. Amen.”

 

The focus is Jesus…

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Recently, we have been reading a very good and challenging book by Pete Greig entitled ‘Dirty Glory’. In it Pete Greig writes about his journey of faith leading one of the largest Christian movements of our time, 24-7 Prayer. He writes:

“The vision is Jesus. Everything else is secondary – even the mission is less important than the man.” (p 54)

We feel very challenged by this. Often as Christians, and for us as full-time missionaries, the mission and the work become and the focus of what we do. Running programmes and serving in church, helping others, going to conferences, speaking in churches, and doing everything we can to be better Christians, can sometimes distract us from the importance of knowing Jesus in the power of his resurrection in the intimate place.

I must admit that amidst the busyness of moving house, starting missionary training and getting busy with all sorts of things, sometimes Jesus is the last thing on my mind!

Over the years I have developed a habit of creating “to do” lists on my computer. A permanent item for each day is… “pray”. It’s there as a reminder and as a desire. I pray everyday, even if just before bed or as I drive somewhere… but this sort of prayer is not always the sort that leads me closer to Jesus as it can become just an activity. This sort of prayer does not always flow out of a place of desire to get to know God more. It’s often a list of requests and items of thanks, but not as often is it a time where I just want to know what the Father has to share with me. The things that are on his heart.

In reading ‘Dirty Glory’ we have been reminded that Jesus is the focus. The work we are hoping to do in Goiania is secondary to the fact that we are called to be in relationship with the Father. We have been reminded that in order to be effective in what we do, we need to first be. We have been challenged to put Jesus first.

So in the coming days we are going to challenge ourselves to spend time with God. Waiting and listening…. asking him to share his heart with us. This will not be an item on our to do list, but a time to work on our relationship with Jesus. From 5th June we will post here (for a week) how that time is going and, if you feel like it, you can also join us in this challenge. The challenge is spending a few minutes each day talking to Jesus, working on our relationship with him, and listening for his heart (his hopes and dreams) for our lives.

Pete Greig writes:

“The vision is Jesus. Not Christianity. Not prayer, mission and justice. Not worship-leading or church-planting or evangelism. If you love Jesus you’ll do that stuff: you’ll pray and worship and go to church and preach the gospel – but in doing all those things, don’t lose the why, don’t get lost in the crowd.”

If Jesus is the vision… then we need to get to know him more. My prayer is that somehow Jesus will become the complete focus of my life. That I will be unapologetically be obsessed with spending time with him more than working for him. Instead of looking for people to help and introduce to Jesus, we will try to look for Jesus in the people we meet so that in everything we do we do it to be closer to the person in whom ‘live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28)

Challenge accepted!

 

Plan AAA Starts

Plan AAA starts now…

This last Sunday (23/04), we were prayed for by our friends at St Andrew’s Church. It was an emotional time for us, but we felt so loved by everyone. It was a sweet time together over lunch after the morning services. At the end, someone said to us: “There is No Plan B, but there is Plan AAA (triple A)… Access All Areas!” Indeed we would like God to have access to all areas of our lives, so that we too can experience ALL the things he has in store for us in Brazil!

Nicolas had his first day ay his new school on Tuesday. He was so excited he could hardly sleep the night before. As a Christian school they start each day with prayers, and the parents are also invited to a prayer meeting on Tuesdays. We plan on getting to know a few people and to encourage Nicolas to make the most of his time at Emmanuel.

We have moved into House 244!
After many days of packing and letting go, we have arrived in Oxford with our hearts are full of excitement for the weeks to come. Training has started and this week has consisted of many meetings and inductions and  tomorrow we will be shown around Oxford city centre.
We keep looking at each other in complete amazement at what God has done to get us here!
However, to get here we faced many battles in the last days in Wycombe. From health problems relating to Debora’s C-section, to kids getting sick and being taken to A&E, to our bank account being targeted by fraudsters! Through everything we kept reminding ourselves of the fact that God is victor and that we are safe in His hands. We fool ourselves if we think the enemy will stay quiet when we respond to a call of God on our lives… and although it is frustrating at times, we must press on! The prize is worth the cost!
Please pray for:

  • Good health
  • Levi to successfully complete his Master’s Course
  • Debora to cope well with the new routine
  • Nicolas and Olivia to continue to thrive
  • God to be the focus (we can easily get distracted by the transition and lose sight of why we are going).
  • Thank God with us for his provision. We have now reached 80% of our required funds!

In Between

This Spring everything is changing. As one season in our lives comes to an end, we are in this strange place “in between” what has been and what will be. It is a time of uncertainty and a time of waiting, but it is also a time of shaping of character and realignment. We believe God is doing something special in us even though we do not always understand what it is, and the more time we spend “in between” we realise that this journey is less about what we will do in Brazil or our ability to work for God, and more about God’s shaping of us as people… it is more about who God is and who we are, and how those two things work together.

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At this time as the Church throughout the world prepares for Easter, we are reminded that before Easter there was a time “in between”. Two long nights stood between Good Friday and Easter Day. That “in between” period was painful, uncertain, confusing and lonely. However, in those two nights and three days God was redeeming, providing and saving. As the disciples wondered how to make sense of it all, God was finishing the job once and for all. Whilst many thought death had triumphed, Jesus was conquering its power and shattering the gates of hell. As it happened, that time in between, was the most important moment in the whole of time. God had redeemed His creation.

God works in the time “in between”… it is not wasted and it is necessary.

So here we stand. In between. Nothing is clear yet, but all is certain. If we trust that God has the best for us and that he will always be true to his promises, then all is certain. As in the lyrics of a song by Graham Kendrick, Crucified Man:

I have buried my life in the cold earth with him
Like a seed in the winter, I wait for the spring
From that garden of tombs Eden rises again
And Paradise blooms from his body and never will end
He’ll finish all he began
Creation hopes in a crucified man

The Christian Hope was shaped in the “in between”. Our salvation made available in the “in between”. We are the “in between people”, those who wait for that which only God can do. Like a seed in the winter waiting for the first Spring day, so we too will wait, trusting that God will make a way.

So what is happening in this season in between?

New Baby

On 6th January we welcomed our second child, Olivia, through planned caesarean section. Debora and baby are doing well and we are now rediscovering the joys of a new baby in our home! Nicolas (6) is loving having a sibling and loves to spend time with his sister. We had the desire for a second child for a long time and feel so blessed to have her in our lives. It is also such a blessing to have a placid and calm baby at a time of change and transition such as this.

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Church Visits

We have been really encouraged to be invited to a few churches to share about our hopes to work in Brazil. We have visited a couple of those already and will be visiting a couple more in the coming few months. It is great to share and feel that our sense of call resonates with others and to hear people and churches express their desire to stand with us.

One of those churches is St Michael and All Angels, Hughenden who have invited us to share our vision for Brazil on May 14th. We have been really moved to hear that their Vicar and Church Wardens have started a sponsored diet in aid of our work. They have so far received pledges in excess of £1400 pounds! It is so great to have such support, thank you! We look forward to hear how they are getting on with their diets when we come to visit.

We are also thankful to St Andrew’s Church where Levi has been working as Curate, for their commitment to us and their amazing support at this time. We will really miss them!

Move to Oxford

After over 10 years in High Wycombe, as Levi’s curacy comes to an end and we start our training with Church Mission Society, we will be moving to Oxford around Easter time. We are leaving our lovely home and giving away our belongings. This again has been an exercise of faith but it has also been releasing! It is so easy to accumulate things even without realising. As we mentioned before, God is more interested in who we are and forging our character, and we feel this detachment from material things is part of His work in us. So it has been liberating to part with stuff and realign our focus on what is important!

We will be moving in time for our training, starting 24th April. We have been told we will have 3 rooms (2 bedrooms and an office) in the house used by Church Mission Society’s Mission Partners in Oxford. There will be other people living in the house and we are looking forward to living in community. We have not done this before but hope that our practice of hospitality over the years will have prepared us a little for what is to come.

Nicolas is also very excited about the move. He has surprised us with his conviction that Jesus has called him into mission as well. He was very upset when he realised the flyers produced did not include his picture! He will be attending Emmanuel Christian School for one term and starts his new school the same day we start training. He visited the school before half-term and loved it. We are praying he gets settled in quickly.

After the end of the required training at the end of June, we will remain in Oxford for an extra month. This is because Levi will be doing a CELTA Course (TEFL) to prepare for our work in teaching young people out in Brazil. Most of those on the streets or at risk would not be able to afford English lessons, so we hope to offer lessons as a way to build relationships etc.

What is going on in Brazil?

The church we are going to work with has expressed how they are looking forward to our arrival. The church pastor is always in touch and has assured us that he and the church are praying for us. They are hoping we will help the church in becoming more focused on the community and to engage with the city’s poor in more effective ways. One of the things they did ahead of us arriving was to take down the church gates, which gave the impression the church was not a welcoming place.

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IV Baptist Church – Goiania (church without its old gates)

As the country’s political situation deteriorates with huge corruption scandals, a slow economy and violence and crime numbers at historical highs, the country’s poor are the last on the agenda. Whilst politicians try to save themselves from corruption investigations and companies are struggling to continue their activities (particularly small businesses ), the poor are left to their own devices. It is in times like this that people turn to drugs and crime, so we feel excited that God has called there for such a time as this.

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People taking drugs on the streets, some are very young children.

We have raised around 43% of what we need for our work in Brazil. We are praying more churches and individuals will choose to support us. Thank you for praying for us and also for all the support we have received through gifts and in other ways. We also pray for you and please do get in touch if you need any prayer, we would love to stand with you!