Fallen Stones – Rebuilt

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When we first arrived in Villy en Auxois, our new friends soon showed us a ruined chapel in the woods above the village. No-one seemed to know much about it, although some said it was dated to the 15th century and possibly associated with a leper colony.

There really wasn’t much to see. The roof was gone, the walls mostly collapsed, in a few more decades it would disappear totally.

However, after a couple of years, a small group of people started to talk about the possibility of restoring it.

To be honest, I wasn’t that hopeful. The chapel didn’t have any great architectural interest – it was after all, just a modest 15th century funerary chapel for a local leper community (at least that was the understanding).

However, research was done and it transpired that the chapel was a lot older than previously thought. In fact the unearthed lintel showed an inscription which stated that Jean de Vienne, Amiral de France, Seigneur de Franche-Comté, had restored the chapel in 1346  – so its origins were pushed backwards dramatically. Indeed it seems most likely that it was originally constructed between 500 and 800 !

So instead of a chapel that had stood for 500 years, we had one that had stood for 1,500!

This discovery prompted feasibility studies and grant applications, and finally the colossal amount necessary to restore the chapel 300,000 € was granted.

Work went on and was finally completed in 2013. An inaugural re-dedication mass was finally held on Saturday 16th August 2014.

My wife and I were present at that mass. Indeed, my wife had been asked to organize the mass and lead the singing. I ended up operating the sound system.

Two Protestant Evangelicals present and intimately involved, in a Catholic community’s re-dedication mass of a chapel that had been ruined and unused for around 300 years!

I cannot tell you how significant that felt for us, two people who have felt God’s call to come to France to offer ourselves in humble service to our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.

We can only pray that it is a prophetic sign that God is about to restore and revive the spiritual ruin of this nation.

There is a passage in the Bible that has become very precious to me.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” Ezekiel 37:1-3 NIV

God has brought my wife and I to this ‘valley of dry bones’ – local churches are struggling due to a lack of priests, they have ageing congregations and little in the way of resources.

God’s question is moot, ‘Can these bones live?’

Ezekiel’s response to God was wonderful,

I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

This is the only possible response a human being can make. For all things are possible for God, but we cannot presume to know His specific will, we can only pray, trust and hope.

God tells Ezekiel that He is going to bring these bones back to life and instructs him to prophesy to these bones, to tell them what God is going to do to them!

As Ezekiel does this he starts to hear a rattling sound, bones moving together, re-assembling.  Tendons, attach, flesh grows, finally skin covers these bodies, but they are still cadavers, still lifeless.

Then God says to Ezekiel to prophesy breath to these cadavers.

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

Perhaps on Saturday 14th August 2014 we heard a rattling sound. Perhaps we saw tendons, flesh and skin appearing. And it was wonderful. But we await the coming of the breath. We await the coming of the life of God, the reviving Spirit; the One who will cause a new people of God to come to life, to stand up, to begin to love and serve the Lord.

Well, that’s what I’m praying for…

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Blood Which Speaks a Different Language

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Paradise to fratricide. In just four short chapters the book of Genesis presents to us the heart-wrenching story of human decline.

From an idyllic environment, life in paradise in communion with God, to the murder of one brother by another.

The first son of man, Cain, kills his brother Abel.

Abel, whose name means ‘Morning Mist’ disappears in like manner. Burned away by his brother’s anger at God’s acceptance of Abel’s worship and rejection of his own.

However, although Abel is dead, his blood still speaks.

God says to Cain,

Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’ (Genesis 4:10b-12 NIV)

Abel’s blood cries out to God for vengeance and for the punishment of Cain’s sin.

Reflective Christians will see here a stark contrast with another ‘Son of Man’ who, instead of taking the life of another in a fit of religious anger, will offer his own life, in love, to save others.

Like Abel’s, Christ’s spilt blood also cries out to God.

However, it speaks a very different language.

The blood of Christ cries out to God to forgive, to pardon, to cleanse, to accept, to restore, to heal.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6 NIV)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25 NIV)

Jesus’ blood speaks an altogether different language to that of Abel, a much better word.

Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24 NIV)

 

“Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel : it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all” (Joseph Ratzinger “Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week”, p187)

 

The Encouragement of Struggling

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From everyone who has been given much, much will be required,

and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

Christian discipleship is not a fair game; we do not play on a level playing field.

Some people start out with many factors which give them an advantage.

Others find the odds against success stacked horrendously against them.

This would be unjust of God and unfair towards us , except for the fact that God’s evaluation of us at the end, will take all this into account.

All spiritual progress, all discipleship success will be measured relatively against the advantages we were given, or the obstacles we faced.

Which perhaps explained why Jesus was able to accept people whose lives were less than optimal in terms of their purity and holiness.

It also explains his warning to the comfortably religious ;

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mark 10:31)

This spiritual reality has some serious consequences.

It should give us pause for thought.

Whenever we are tempted to be complacent about our spiritual maturity, our advancement in the Christian life, we should remember this reality.

How much of any progress is merely the result of the advantages we have received? The prayers that are being prayed on our behalf? The environment in which we live which encourages and supports us?

Conversely, when we see fellow Christians struggling, falling into sin, failing to advance, beset by sins they do not manage to overcome – we should at least wonder if perhaps this isn’t due to factors beyond their control.

C.S. Lewis summed this up well;

“If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easily to you – beware!

Much is expected from those to whom much is given…

But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgur jealousies and senseless quarrels – saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion – nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it.

You are one of the poor whom He blessed.

He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.

Keep on. Do what you can.

One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap heap and give you a new one.

And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself:
for you have learned your driving in a hard school.

Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last”
( C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity Book IV, chapter 10 )

Facing East – Victoriously

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On Sunday morning we got to church very early; the Église Paroissiale de la Nativité de la Vierge Marie, Sombernon, France.

My wife, Sharon, was playing the organ and so had a half-hour practice with the choir before mass began.

It being a lovely winter’s morning, I went for a wander around.

I happened to end up at the cemetery.

The sun rising in the East showed very clearly the East orientation of many of the graves.

Which reminded me that this is an ancient Christian tradition that burials face East because that is the direction from which Christ will return.

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27)

On a frosty, sunny, winter’s morning, that symbolism rocks!

Our King’s coming back!

And we’re coming back too baby!

You can plant my body facing East (which I would prefer), West, North or South – heck, you can plant me upside down!

Just don’t imagine, even for a moment, that I’m going to stay there!