Something I’ve Been Pondering

So these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking to myself more and more about one question. One thing that I’ve been working through, and trying to develop an explanation as to why I answer the way that I do.

The question? How would I respond if God were to look down at me, while He was seated on His thrown, and ask me if I would be willing to take the spot of someone who did not know Him, so that they could enter His Kingdom and I would inherently receive their punishment.

Now I know that this is not how it works, and everyone is responsible for their own actions, and must be held accountable for what they do. And I’m certainly far from perfect, let alone being a worthy sacrifice on behalf of someone else. But what if God were to ask this of me?

In this last week and a half, I’ve been trying to open my eyes more and more to see how God wants me to be, what He wants me to do, and how He wants His mission here in France lived out.

I had a great discussion with my fellow bearded Irish friend – Mally McLoughlin – about inspiration vs. aspiration, and this relates so well to the original question.

Inspiration, or to inspire, is defined as being able to fill someone with the urge, or ability, to do or feel something. This is related to how we can make others feel, but it leaves out a key element – Hope. 

Aspiration, or to aspire, is defined as just this. It’s to direct one’s hopes or ambitions towards achieving something. In other words, it’s living by example to give others the ability to see something different within you, and having them aspire to something greater.

In comes Faith in Jesus Christ.

When people who haven’t yet come to know Jesus see the way that we as followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to live, we are actually aspiring them to direct their hope towards Jesus.

When we lay down our lives, desires, and pride, and take up our crosses to follow the Lord, we are reflecting the true Light into this world.

Brennan Manning writes:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

How are we going to be a witness to our community, and reflect Jesus’ love and light, when we deny Him by our lifestyle?

How can followers of Jesus be anything but overwhelmed by His great love?

Let that sink in for a few.

How can each of us be living a better life for God, and not be content with mediocrity?

Now, time to go back to the original question I posed.

My immediate response was that I would, without hesitation, lay down my life so that others could live. But it wasn’t until I really thought about it that I understood why.

I believe that my soul purpose, along with every other Christian, is to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We were literally created to Worship the Lord. Now Jesus modelled how we should live, what we should do, how we should treat others, and what it means to love your friends. He took this so far as to laying His own life down, being a PERFECT sacrifice, and showed how far He is willing to go for us to know Him.

Now, while my sacrifice would be anything but perfect, I feel that it does represent something. It represents how far I am willing to go to bring Glory to God.

Don’t read too far into this, and think to yourself, “is he comparing himself to God and saying he could be a worthy sacrifice?”

I’m absolutely not.

God is infinitely more than I will ever be.

What I’m saying is that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be ready to lay our lives down if it is for God’s glory. We should be ready to give everything we have, everything we are, and everything we’d like to be, just to give glory to the One who’s love has no bounds. We should never stop trying to bring Glory to Him who created us.

He loves us infinitely more than we could ever imagine, and more than you or I could ever exemplify. All He wants is for us to come to know Him.

Just some food for thought.

Blessings and Aloha,

Austin

 

Helping Those Around Us

Being in an international setting and working with the International Church gives you a little bit of a different perspective on things. It not only gives you a little more insight into what’s happening around you, but also gives you a look at the needs of the community from a different perspective. Our main mission with what we do out here, and as Christians, is to help people Meet the Lord, Grow in the Lord, and Share the Lord. My approach to this is to help out in any situation that I encounter, with the hope that people will in turn see the Light of God shining through me. With that being said, I had an amazing experience happen a few nights back that was obviously God at work.

After our Catalyst group had concluded and we were getting ready to head back to our apartments, I realised that my normal train line that I take was finished for the night, and that I’d need to find a different way back to my neighbourhood. I left Genesis and walked up to a different station, to find a man on crutches struggling to go down the escalator, and another man trying to help him along. I called out to the guy helping him to see if they needed any help – I think I actually said “Ça va mec?” (kind of like you alright mate?) – to have him retort with a look of “No, I could really use some help right now.” I walked up to the two to lend a hand with getting him safely onto the escalator, when a third man saw that we could use some more help and walked over to us. After one of us was in front, on the side, and in the back, we safely got him down the 2 escalators and flight of stairs to help him get to his train. The gentlemen and I who were helping him out were able to have a little bit of a conversation as we were lending a hand, and they were asking about what I do here and joking about how I look like someone who wouldn’t normally stop to help – surprise!

I was able to talk about how I work at the Church and Genesis, and help people practice their English as well. The original man who was lending a hand had to leave to go to his platform, but as he was leaving he turned and said to me “God Bless.” It was pretty awesome! Following this, the other man wanted to know more about what I did at the Church and Genesis, and I found out that he was also a musician who worked at a jazz club here, and wanted to work on his English. I invited him to Genesis, and he seemed really stoked on being a part of what we have going on. He then left, and it was just the man on crutches and myself.

We walked over to the train, and after helping him on, he then said that he wasn’t actually French and wanted to switch to English if that was all right with me. We began having conversations about what we did in life, and he began to talk about how he lives on the streets and doesn’t have a job. It was then that the conversation naturally flowed into Faith and what I believe, and this is when I was able to share Christianity with him.

We talked more and more, and as I was helping him to get out of the train station, I had an urge to ask him if he’d ever accepted Jesus as his Saviour. I asked him about what he believed, and eventually got to the question of whether or not he had ever proclaimed Jesus as Lord and believed in his heart that God raised Him from the dead. Without hesitation he looked at me and said, “He is. I believe.” I asked him if that was his first time ever saying it out loud, and with a tearful eye he nodded his head and said yes. At this time, we had made our way out of the train station and were up all the flights of stairs, and I had to leave to go catch my final train home. Before I left, however, he let me pray for him and I was able to give him my rain jacket to keep him warm and dry. It was nothing short of amazing to say the least.

This entire situation was a great reminder to me, that no matter where we are or whom we are with, we are called to be ready to give a testimony of God in our lives on a moments notice. God has all of us exactly where He wants us, and puts us in every situation for a purpose. Without missing my train, I wouldn’t have had to go to the other station. Without engaging with the man helping him, I wouldn’t have been able to start a conversation. Without starting a conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to reflect the Light of God into all 3 of their lives. Without reflecting the Light of God, I couldn’t have been able to lead this man to the truth of Jesus Christ, and he would have still been wandering in his sin. It’s amazing to see things like this happen first hand, and a true testimony to how great things occur when you simply listen to God. Wherever you are in the world. Wherever you are in your walk. When you listen to God and abide in Him, He has tremendous things for you to do alongside Him.

Approaching Missions

When I first moved to Paris, I wasn’t necessarily sure as to what to expect as far as cross-cultural ministry. I’d been overseas before, having lived in multiple European cities, and having traveled to Africa, but I hadn’t yet been a part of an established ministry center.

After being here seven months on the ground, I can tell you that my approach and viewpoint of cross-cultural ministry has completely shifted. God has continued to show me time and time again how He wants to shape the culture over here, and what I can be doing to come alongside Him in His plan for here.

Before embarking on your internship, my advice would be to prepare yourself in every way possible before getting on location. Here are a couple ideas of what you might want to do to prepare yourself for your internship.

1.    Prepare to be stretched in ways you thought weren’t possible. Cultures operate in a different way than what you’re accustomed to, and having an open mind and willingness to try new approaches will always open doors.

2.    Understand that you’re not coming to do your mission; you’re coming alongside the Lord and His mission. Your motives and mindset should reflect this.

3.    Get into the practice of being regularly in the Word and in Prayer. Spending time daily with the Lord will help your relationship with Him grow. A firm commitment from you will only help to further your intimacy.

Once you’re on the field, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.    Don’t become over-focused on your goals, to the point that you tune out God and what He is trying to tell you just so you can achieve what you want to. By doing this, you not only ignore God, but ignore why He called you to join Him on His mission.

2.    Your time on location is not about you. Not about what you can tell others you have accomplished. Not about elevating yourself above others. Approach it with humility, and make sure you do everything you’re asked to do to the best of your abilities.

3.    Remember to respect the Sabbath. Take that weekly time to explore God’s wonders and beauties, and you’ll find yourself trying new and exciting things, not only resting, but gaining a deeper understanding of how God is at work across the globe.

Whether you’ve been called to serve overseas, in the States, or where you currently are, we are all His servants. When you walk out your door in the morning, you need to be ready to give an account of what He has done, regardless of your position on a map. Faith is the first step that we make within ourselves, and our Faithfulness is what’s seen on the outside – what sets us apart from the crowd. Regardless of what is happening in the world, God has amazing plans for furthering His Kingdom, and living boldly in our daily lives will help make that difference.

Easter Sunday

Let me start by saying that I absolutely love Easter time. The attitudes of everyone, believers and non, just seems to be all around chipper. Easter, here in Paris, is referred to as Pâques (pronounced like ‘pack’ for those of you wondering).

My day started out great! I had a pretty busy week and weekend thus far, and was sure that Sunday was going to be a great celebration.

The past 2 Easters, I’ve played the Easter ‘Sonrise’ Service for Kailua Community Church at zero-dark-thirty on the beach, so stepping away from it was rather different. Admittedly, I missed waking up before the roosters, and going to meet up with the Worship team on the beach. There’s something about seeing so many people gather in a place together to celebrate this marvellous event that is utterly indescribable. Getting to play worship on this day was something that I will always love and remember.

When I arrived at Trinity, I wasn’t necessarily sure as to what to expect. Would there be a larger Church congregation than normal? Would it be smaller? To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing the entire service went off.

I decided to not play this year for Easter, just so I could focus more on the worship and message, and not be over-focused on all of the other things that needed to come together to do the service the right way. Sometimes, it’s good to take a momentary ‘step-back’ from your ministry to be reminded as to why you do it.

The worship was amazing. The focus of all the songs was how we are alive because He is alive. How we are redeemed because of what He endured. How we have redemption because of His great sacrifice. How we are able to celebrate, because He is alive and well in Heaven pleading for us.

The message was amazing. We talked about Thomas and how he was doubting the resurrection, and how he said he wouldn’t believe it to be so until he was able to touch the wounds with his own hands. Once he saw Jesus, however, he knew that he was alive and well as Jesus told him to come and do just as he stated he needed to in order to believe. Truly, a great message from Pastor Al.

Service concluded with a few baptisms, where 3 men openly declared their faith and were able to undergo this representative demonstration in front of the whole Church body (See the above photo).

Baptism is such a beautiful thing to me, as it is an open and blatant declaration of your faith in front of the body of believers. It reminded me of my re-baptism back in Africa, and how it is such an amazing feeling to declare your Faith publicly in Jesus Christ.

After our service concluded, I had to go up to Gare du Nord (station of the North for the non-French readers) to pick up my sister and brother-in-law, as they were arriving from London. They’ll be here for a week, and I’m really looking forward to getting to spend some time with them and catch up with where they are in their lives. They’ll also – hopefully – get to see some firsthand ministry things that I’m involved in here in France, and see how the Gospel is being shared out here.

This week is shaping up into a really busy one – as I’m booked just about every minute of every day this week. When thinking of this week at a glance, I’m reminded of how I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and am really stoked for all of the ministry work that I’ll be helping with this week. Bonus points if you can name that verse without looking it up!

I hope to do another post sometime this week, but we’ll see what it shapes up to look like!

I hope you all had a Joyeuses Pâques, and are continuing to celebrate that our King is Risen and alive!

Until next time!

Blessings and Aloha,

Austin Wood

 

A Father’s Great Love

Have you ever stopped to think about how small you really are? Like, really stopped to think about how small you are in comparison to everything else? Start by picturing your body. Then your home. Then your city. Then your entire country.

Now picture you, on a pinpoint on the globe. Then think of all the other planets. Next, our galaxy. Compare your entire personal being, to the immensely large galaxy.

We are a tiny little aspect in comparison to the vast complexity and overall size of our surroundings.

I found the above photo on my computer, which was taken on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii last Autumn. At first, I thought, “Well that’s a pretty sweet picture!” I started to compare it to how God placed all of the stars in the sky, and knows each and every one of them by name. Looking back at it, I now have a little more insight into what this photo also represents. Following my finding, I thought that this photo would be a great representation of how small we actually are.

Think about this: we are a species that will talk about how great we are, what we have accomplished, and how ‘awesome’ it is what we are capable of. It’s thoughts like these that begin to eliminate the aspect of how truly great God is. These thoughts act as a deterrence against being willing to step off of your ‘high horse’ and in turn give the glory to God.

From a Christian’s perspective, we have come to a point where we have acknowledged what God has done by sacrificing His only Son for our salvation and benefit. But have you ever really pondered what that meant, and what He truly did?

Go back to your initial thoughts of how small you really are, then compare it to the photo. Have you ever thought about how God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that we as humans – and how infinitely small we are – decided that we were worthy of such a sacrifice? God could have easily created another species and started over completely from scratch. He could have said, “Nah, I don’t like them. I think I’ll completely remove Earth from existence, and not worry about them any longer.”

Why would He decide that we are worth the struggle? Why are we worth such a high price?

The answer is love.

I’m not talking about some generic, romantic-movie kind of love either. I’m talking about pure, genuine, true love. We were created in God’s image.

God was willing to sacrifice Himself, in order that we could live with Him. He’s the redemption we have, the light at the end of the tunnel, the hope for a new life.

When I look at this photo, I don’t just see a really cool star cluster in the sky. I don’t just see the Milky Way. I don’t just think “wow, God really made a lot.”

I think about how small we really are, yet how much God was willing to sacrifice just to have us with Him. We are His portion. He is our prize.

The next time something gets you down, distracted, or bothered, just remember how small you really are in the Universe. Think about how your situation will come to pass. About how it’s such a tremendously small hiccough in relation to everything else.

God certainly didn’t, and still doesn’t, need us. He wants us. He is chasing after us in a way that is not found anywhere else, and all we have to do is turn to Him. All you have to be willing to do is turn from the thought of “I can do this on my own” to “I need Him to help me through this.” He’s already paid the price. He’s just waiting for you to receive it.

I hope this post gives you some ‘food for thought’ on this wonderful Friday.

 

Blessings!

Austin

Meet the France Team!

Hello and welcome to my blog! I thought it’d be a great idea to start out by giving you all some background as to what it is I do, where I live, and an insight into the team here across France!

For starters, if you hadn’t already gathered, my name is Austin and I am currently living in Paris, France. I currently work with an organisation called “Envision”, which is a group of interns and residents that partner with the local churches here in France to help spread the Gospel and fill in where needed. My current plan – Lord willing – is to be here for at least 2 years. If you had asked me 2 years ago about what I’d be doing after college, I couldn’t have told you, even in the slightest, about where I’d be now. It’s amazing how God works in such mysterious ways, to bring people from all walks of life, together to help further His Kingdom. I truly couldn’t imagine doing a different thing in life, but this post isn’t about me, it’s about our entire France team!

The above photo is a mix between long-term C&MA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) workers, and Envision Residents (those of us here for a substantial amount of time). We just recently had our Annual Prayer retreat in Munster – close to the France/Germany border for those who are geographically challenged like myself – where we discussed the current ministries that we are a part of and how we could use prayer in our respective fields.

I’ve met the majority of these people before, but it was so awesome to hear all that they are a part of and see how God is working in all of their lives across France. Some deep things were shared at our Prayer retreat that I wouldn’t even dare to share here, but just know that prayers against the enemy trying to diffuse all the work that we’ve been putting in would be greatly appreciated.

Our teams range from locations such as Bordeaux, Toulouse, Limoges, and Paris (Where I’m currently at). Most of our ministry time is spent engaging the local community and being people who act as mirrors, as we reflect the love and light of Jesus. To hear about the various ways that we all do this is quite awesome, and some outreaches include a coffee shop (Toulouse), Church Planting (Toulouse, Limoges, and Bordeaux), Urban Ministry (Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Paris), and Community Partnership (All locations).

Without revealing too much information due to confidentiality, I’d like to give you some insight about the various locations. Here we go!

The Bordeaux team talked about how even though they are a small group who gathers weekly in a hotel room, they are passionate about spreading the Gospel and finding a building where they can properly demonstrate the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Bordeaux is a rather dark place, but it is no match against the power and light of Jesus.

Toulouse is a really awesome place! I think, and I could possibly be wrong, but it is one of the largest cities here in France not including Paris. They’re currently working on setting up a coffee shop in the city, where they will be able to engage everyone who walks through their doors and be demonstrative of the love that Jesus calls us to show. They also partner with a North-African ministry, where they break down Bible stories and tell it in the native language of those who attend, as well as partner with a few surrounding Churches to ultimately work for the advancement of the Kingdom. This has the potential of being a future Envision site as well – how cool! Their coffee shop should be opened here in a few weeks, and hopefully will be a great place for the light to shine!

The Limoges team is all about Church planting and working with community partners in order to build up the future generation of believers and see more communal engagement with the Gospel. They have a church building that they work at, but are always searching to find more people to bring in and share the light with.

Finally, the Paris team, where I am, is all about urban ministry and community outreach. We do this through our community centre here – Centre Genesis – where we hold English classes, French classes, Bible Studies, Life groups, and our weekly Saturday Night events. I’ve also had the pleasure of leading the last few of our monthly Worship Nights, where we have seen a great amount of community engagement. While we’re not at Genesis, we spend our time helping out at Trinity International Church, where we’ll help with things like Worship, Organisation, Retreats, Young Adult ministries, and even the Children’s service. Centre Genesis has been continuously seeing growth, and through the hard work and dedication of the staff, interns, and residents, we are continuously pushing forward to impact our surrounding community with the Gospel in a positive manner.

France, and even Europe in general, is an extremely dark place spiritually. Through Faith, listening to our calling, and coming together to work with God on His mission here, we are pushing back the curtain and helping people find the Saviour that they’ve been looking for.

I hope this brief article helps to give you a little bit of insight into the France fields, and I hope that in future articles that I can dive deeper and more specifically into areas that we are thriving in, and areas that we could use more prayer support in.

When we all come together as a united Church body, the things that we can do are astounding. Please keep France in your prayers, as well as the other sites across the world, as we continue to push forward to have every person in the world know exactly who Jesus Christ is.

I look forward to talking with you all soon, and we are all incredibly blessed by having so many people across the globe support all that we do.

 

Blessings and Aloha,

Austin