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Sunday, November 12, 2017

John 8:21-29 Jesus Predicts His Death


Learning to listen to Jesus:
I did not come to do my will, but to show the way to eternal life, life with us.
This life is about learning to love, learning to listen. I always listened to the Father and always did what He wanted me to do. For many on earth, this sounds like a prison. That is a lie. If your Father is perfect, perfect obedience leads to perfect love and perfect freedom. What is a prison is sin, and you cannot avoid this prison by being independent and autonomous. The true freedom comes from love.
You have been created to dance in our love, to flow in our grace, and to shine of our love in this world. Learn to deny yourself - to abandon this false idea of freedom wrapped in selfishness and lack of love. Learn to wrap yourself in our love, and to let us guide you in what to say and what to do - this is the freedom you have been created to live. Let our light shine in you, and manifest it to the world. This is the very purpose of the creation of each human. Accomplish your destiny.

Link to daily devotional texts for the year: http://studymaps.org/Gospels/index.html

Monday, October 23, 2017

John 3:31-36 He Who Comes from Above

(for the pdf version, click here)
Jesus, please teach me on this text:

I came to bring life, and life in abundance. For this to happen, people had to receive my words and my witness of the Father’s love.
Many people don’t want love, because they think that belongings from the earth will give them happiness. What gives happiness is not things but joyful relationships - that is the shalom we want to bring.
Whoever welcomes us, we teach how to love and be loved, how to develop holy and joyful relationships, and this brings peace and joy. Blessed are the poor, and the poor in spirit. When you realize your need of being loved, your need of help, you are in a better position to receive my testimony. 
The ones who are fed with rich foods and a deceptive sense of security will rarely come to us. It is more difficult for a rich person to welcome the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. You cannot be filled and hungry, your cannot be dull and passionate, you cannot think you got it all and seek for us.
Life, real life, eternal life does not come from belongings. Belongings last so much and then break or get old or disappear. Eternal life comes from relationships, and first from the relationship with me and the Father. We sent the Spirit to enable you to be with us and to communicate with us all the time, in all situations. That is the purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit. I came to model life in God on earth. I had eternal life in me because the Father was in me and I in the Father.
In the same way, remain in me and I in you, and eternal life will remain in you. It is so simple, yet for many it is complex because they want to control and master. The life that is eternal is not controlled, it can only be received with simplicity. You receive our life when you realize you need it and are ready to follow to the rules of our love. Our rules are pretty simple: do to others what you would like do to you, love your neighbor, imitate the way we deal with you in your ways to relate to others. We forgive and are gracious, therefore forgive and be gracious. Our love is poured in you so that it can spill over and bless others also. We are not selfish, so don’t be selfish.
The one who does not believe in me will neither obey me. The one who believes in me will listen to me and do what I say. Faith and obedience are tightly connected. Paul understood it when he says that his ministry was to bring the Gentiles to the obedience of faith. As he said, faith comes by hearing and hearing comes from my words of life.
The life of faith is to learn to tune into my voice, to listen to me and to do what I show you. You then learn to welcome my words and develop dialogs of life with me. I have so much to teach you about our love, about the kingdom of God. Learn from me, for I am humble of heart. I don’t crush a bruised reed or a smoldering wick. 
Yet, the one who rejects my words and disobeys our love, the wrath of God will remain on him. We cannot let people reject love and find eternal life, that would be an absolute contradiction. The one who does not forgive, we will not forgive. The one who keeps his wrath against his neighbor will experiment the wrath of God. This teaching remains.
Humans think they are clever in imagining that everyone will have eternal life, not realizing how stupid this would be. 
We created each of you with the freedom to choose, between life and death, between love and power, between generosity and selfishness. Choose and accept the consequences of your choices. Our desire is for each to choose life, and to have it in abundance. Yet, we never force anyone, even us - even with all the power at our disposal. Your world is built on our love, and can survive and flourish only through this love. It is not a weak love, but a passionate and vibrant love. Our love can overturn empires and mountains. This love is at the foundation of all our creation. Learn to welcome this love at the foundation of your being, and to let our love guide all your thoughts and actions.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Jesus raises a dead daughter (Mark 5:35-43)

What do we do when it seems that no hope is left?
How do we react when people despise or ridicule our hopes?

This is the heart of faith. The heart of our relationship with God is the key here. Either we decide to see with the eyes of the world, to let the mockers pull us away from our relationship with God, or we come to God with our shaken hope that needs to be revived or redirected.
We cannot live without hope, it is part of the fabric of humanity. When all hope disappears, true humanity vanishes and sadness destroys.

The synagogue ruler, Jairus, came to Jesus with the last remnant of hope for his daughter. He came to Jesus as the last one who could help. Jesus accepted to come, yet it seemed too late.
The news was already coming that Jairus’ daughter had died. Yet, Jesus did not pay attention to this piece of news and instead pressed on. This attitude, when it is not bathed in an intimate relationship with God, can announce foolishness and unnecessary added pains. Yet, when it is forged in the midst of a real walk with God, learning to listen to His voice in all we say and all we do, with a tender and obedient heart, then nothing is impossible. Even death has to bow down in front of  the all-surpassing love of God. This was the case with the daughter of Jairus. Jesus would bring life where there was no more hope, he would bring laughter where only pain and tears ruled.
Three years ago, one of my colleagues, Gavin, was stretched by God to believe in the impossible, praying for a man that seemed death. Was he dead, was he not? What was sure is that everyone around was crying and wailing, like in the story of Jairus’ daughter. Gavin came, pulled by two of the children of this man, and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit he prayed for him, and saw the man raise to life and glorify the name of Jesus. Out of this miracle a church came to life. You can read about this story here:
http://engagemagazine.com/content/ask-my-name
Does it mean that we also can see such miracles in our lives today? Yes.
Does it mean that all we want to see will happen? Probably not.
Here, humility is key. So often, we confuse our hope and God’s voice. Pride can lead us to be angry at God for not doing what we wanted him to do, for mistakenly believing it was God’s voice who spoke of miracle. Then, this same pride will tell us to stop trying to listen to God and rather limit ourselves to go to church and forget about these impossible miracles, or in some extreme cases to altogether reject faith in God. If you observe what happens in such journeys, it is often our humility that is lacking. Humility implies that we recognize we can make mistakes, that we are learning and therefore that failure is part of the landscape.
Are we ready to let the Holy Spirit shape our hopes and to follow His leading? Or do we rather want the Spirit of God to just breathe life in our dead projects? God’s Spirit is like a free bird, like a light breeze that blows but cannot be controlled by us. Either we learn to recognize where the Spirit is leading, or hopes will often be broken and destroyed. The one lesson we are invited to learn in this world is to discern the direction of the Spirit and to follow His direction. Then, hopes will receive life, struggles will bring beautiful fruits.

As humans, we don’t want failure and we don’t want to be told what to do. Yet, if we want success, long-lasting success, we will have to learn to bow down with our own will in front of the living God and to receive guidance from Him. Then, as a tree planted by the streams of water that brings its fruit in its time, all we do will succeed. This is the crazy promise that God gives in texts like Psalm 1.
Are we ready to learn to develop this intimate and obedient relationship with God, so that we see miracles of God’s love bloom on our path?
Do we want to see joy wipe the tears of many Jairus during our lives?
Do we want this strongly enough that we take the steps to learn to bow down our wills, to die to our selfish desires and let God breathe His life-giving Spirit in us?
This is the full sanctification that Jesus came to earth to announce and to embody. This is the listening attitude to the Spirit of God that he came to teach us.
Out of this comes the resurrected life that is our hope and promise in Jesus.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jesus Heals a Lonely Sick Woman (Mark 5:21-34)

Is the doctor the first person we turn to when something goes wrong in our body?
Do we have someone who loves us enough to care for us, even when we are not doing well?

We tend to see ourselves as machines, and the doctors as the repairmen for these bodies. We still have ways to go if we want to have a ‘holistic’ approach to our health, learning how our 'inner' life and our 'outer' bodies are intimately connected.
The truth is, our major health problem is that we want to do whatever we want, and then ask a doctor to fix it without making any comment on how we have handled our body in the meantime.

Our real disease is deeper and yet simpler. We are trying to control our outside world without God. We do what we want, without first learning to align our will with God’s will, without letting God tell us what are his better plans of love, without listening to Him. For the fools, their own plans always taste the best. And in this domain, we are quite a large group of fools.
When it comes to our bodies, we don’t have control over them, and often look for someone to fix this. The doctors then become our little gods, that we will obey completely, as long as they don’t ask us too personal questions - often the real questions that would bring the real answers and more long-lasting healing.

In some western countries like France, we can go to the doctor today without paying a cent, which looks like divine generosity, but can become sheer foolishness. My father worked in France, in the 1980s, as a doctor for the social security, proposing to the state reimbursement policies. When the proposal to have free health care came, he fought against it, arguing that even a very small amount paid for each doctor appointment would help avoid people coming without real need. Like many, his advice was not welcomed and the advent of free medecine came to France.
In such countries, doctors end up with many people who don’t really need them, and can’t help first those who are in real need. Queues are longer, taxes are higher, and medicine then becomes a very imperfect idol that hides deeper problems. If doctors are very good helpers, they are very poor gods.

Today we read the story of this poor woman, who went to the doctors when she had this very problematic flow of blood, a flow that prevented her from even eating with family, according to jewish purity laws.
She gave all her money to doctors, yet she felt rather worse. Then, better than these doctors, she heard about what was happening to people touching Jesus and regained some hope. She wanted to have her flow of blood fixed, and did get healed when she touched Jesus. It seemed that for her the story of her suffering was over.
Yet, Jesus had much better in store for her, a more long-lasting healing.
He had been contacted by Jairus, the father of a very sick little girl, who was very concerned for his daughter.
The woman with the flow of blood had nobody caring for her, she had only doctors as long as she had money, but nobody else. When Jesus searched for her in the crowd, when he found her, it was for a purpose. Jesus was to there to invite us in healthy relationships, first and foremost in a healthy relaitonship with the loving Heavenly Father.
Jesus' first word to the healed woman was: daughter. She, who had nobody caring for her, found in Jesus someone who cared for her, showing a gracious fatherly love. Then, Jesus praised her faith, rather than his miraculous power, and spoke words of love. "Your faith has healed you, go in peace."
This peace, shalom in Hebrew, was not about the absence of war but rather a harmonious relationship with others. With this healing, with this encouragement of Jesus, this woman was encouraged to find again peaceful relationships, as she could again be welcomed in the community. Her physical impurity was removed, she could now have a harmonious life, she could be loved an love again.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mark 5:1-20 Jesus Heals a Man with Unclean Spirits

Are unclean spirits still roaming around in our world today?

If it is the case, how could we recognize it and what can be done? In the story, why did the people send Jesus away? (v. 17) Why did Jesus not allow the freed man to come with him? (v. 18-20)

I invite you, if you have the time, to first read this Gospel story of Mark 5:1-20, and to pray about it. Ask Jesus if there is something he would like to teach you about it, and listen for the words or images that you then receive in your heart. You can also ask him the questions I mentioned above, as a pathway to welcome his answers.
As C.S. Lewis rightly presented in his book 'The Screwtape Letters,' impure spirits are still messing up with many in our world today. It is just that, in the 'Western world,’ there are more spiritual oppressions than possessions.
In order to know what to do, we can learn many lessons from stories like this one in Mark 5:1-20.
A first lesson is that the impure spirits were leading the man to tombs and to harm himself. Still today, many young people are trapped in morbid attractions toward death or wounding themselves. If we look at what is considered today ‘teenager books’ in bookstores, we find many stories of vampires, ghosts, and other death focused subjects.
What if, at least in some cases today, there was a need of deliverance from an impure spirit? What if the stories of deliverance in the Gospels were still needed for us to understand how to handle key present situations?
A lesson we can pick from this story is that the impure spirits are trying to lead people toward focusing on death and destruction - a destruction of others or of self.
In this story, Jesus takes authority with simple words, and commands the impure spirits to go away.
Last week, I was speaking with a young man who could pray and help a friend to be delivered from an impure spirit, with simple words, and without any shouting. The friend helped could then find freedom in a domain where he felt trapped and unable to move away. The friend could then act freely and leave behind his harmful behavior.
In the same way, we have to learn to recognize when we are in such a situation and to pray in the name of Jesus. We can then discover with simplicity how much Jesus still delivers today from impure spirits.

Yet, if I may put a word of caution here: it important, for those who want to pray for someone else's deliverance, to be free themselves.
How do we recognize if we are spiritually free? Through the quality of our relationship with Jesus. Through the ability to communicate clearly with Jesus in prayer (John 10:27), remaining in Jesus' peace during the day - this peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).
If you are not there yet, I encourage you to ask the Lord if there is anything that hinders a deeper communion with Him, and begin to turn away from any such hindrance with God's help - that’s the joyful path of repentance, a path leading to more freedom in Christ. Perhaps you will need to ask a mature Christian to pray with you or to go to a revival service in a church where the preacher leads people to entire sanctification. This sanctification helps us become temples of the Holy Spirit, where the Spirit that was in Christ dwells in us and guides us simply.

In the story, why did the people send Jesus away? (v. 17)
They sent Jesus away probably because they did not like what had happened. They were not happy of the many killed pigs, a big financial loss. The freed man had less value in their eyes, they did not see it as a positive result. In the same way, many people today value more money than people's happiness. We ourselves have to honestly ask in prayer: Lord, are there areas in my life where money or possessions are more important than you or relationships with others? It is often more common than we would like to acknowledge. As Jesus highlighted, we cannot serve both God and money (Mt 6:24).

Why did Jesus not allow the freed man to come with him? (v. 18-20)
In the end of the story, Jesus sends the man back. It can appear heartless and harsh. Yet, if we look at history, the testimony of this delivered man was so powerful that after Jesus' death and resurrection, this was one of the first regions that welcomed openly and joyfully the faith in our risen savior Jesus, becoming a 'Christian region’ already in the first century.

God's ways are better than our ways, and what seems sometimes logical is not always the most fruitful direction. As Isaiah wrote so eloquently from the Lord:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesn't return there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. (Is 55:8-11)

Jesus said: you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32) And this truth is nothing else than Jesus himself, who also said to his disciples: I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6).
Let us welcome Jesus' loving presence and guidance in all we are, in all we think, in all we do and in all we say.
He will help us to be free indeed, and in turn, we will be able to minister his presence to others and help many to be free to love and rejoice in God's wonderful creation.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Purpose of Parables - Calming the Storm (Mark 4:33-41)


People always look for power and control, while God always look for relationships and love. 
Jesus' teaching is not about giving us more control, but about inviting people deeper in relationships of grace and peace. 
To teach without parables, to make things simple is a naive idea. How do we define simplicity? Do we use terms of control or terms of relationships? Jesus' teachings were very simple in terms of relationships, but extremely challenging in terms of control. 
Jesus was challenging people to have a tamed inner world (see for instance Matthew 5:21-30), and that is extremely difficult for people who try to master what is going inside them. For a childlike person, this is very simple. What is at stake is to challenge people to come closer to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, to take the risk of learning to listen to his guidance and to follow him. This does not lead to easy or simple situations according to the world. Yet, if we follow him, he will guide us through the storms of life. It is what our Father taught to David, when David sung: even if I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 
When the disciples where on the boat, quite a few of them were accomplished seamen, used to handle well a challenging weather. Yet, they also knew that sometimes the sea is beyond their human control. This stormy trip helped them realize that even when the situation is beyond their capacity of control, Jesus is here and can help. Even in the domains where they felt they were masters, they needed to learn that they have to depend on him, to ask for his help, to listen and to follow him. Most people in this world are ready to call for help only when they perceive that they are in trouble, when they are in unknown situations. Yet following Jesus has to develop in all the areas of life, to become like a child that recognizes the need of relying on a parent to move forward in all domains. This is at the exact opposite of the luring voice of the world, which calls us to self-sufficiency, and to get rid of all external authority. Yet this call to depend on the Holy Spirit, on Jesus' guidance, is the joyful path of the disciple. 
We have to learn to listen and to obey the loving voice of Jesus in all we do, and to discover that he has mastery even over the wind of our personal storms. Even when we think he is not there - that he is asleep, we can come to him and ask for his help. Let us learn that Jesus, the Word of God, is not far away in the sky, but is at our right hand when we call him with humility, ready to listen to his voice and follow him. That is what we learn in the Bible (see Romans 10:6-8), that is what we learn in Jesus' school of prayer. That has been and always will be the path of his disciples.

(for more graphics like this: studymaps.org/Gospels)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From Atheism to Faith in God: 9. First Discovery of the Christian Faith

Biography, Part 9: Graduation, Military Service, and First Discovery the Christian Faith

As I Finished my Grande Ecole, I had in the last year an internship and research work of 6 months in the robotics department of the CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique), the [French] Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, the equivalent in the US to the Department of Energy. This is a very renowned research structure, that Reuters ranked in 2016 as the most innovative research institution in the world  (link here). My research there had to do with artificial intelligence, more precisely with image processing and precise recognition of limits between objects (sub-pixel contour detection).
I graduated from my engineering school in June 2013, thinking in my heart that it was the last time I would be in school for my whole life. How mistaken I was! As a kid, I first hated school, but through the years I came to slowly accept its usefulness.

As a Frenchman, I then started the then mandatory military service (this French requirement disappeared three years later, in 2016). As an engineer, I could become a reserve officer in the French army. After three months of training, I became aspirant, second lieutenant and then finished as a lieutenant at the end of the 10 months. This was a brief yet very interesting time, helping me to see how an army functions, how obedience plays a key role in the efficiency of the structure and how trust is also fundamental. I could also see more clearly the variety of French persons and levels of education. If some were very educated, some soldiers needed to have a green spot on one shoe to help them recognize the left from the right, and some did not know how to read. This was somehow shocking to me.The three months of officer school took place in Tours, in the branch of the infantry named ‘train’ (responsible for transportation and for placing signalization for army movements and for contaminated zones). Then, I was for seven months in a regiment in Fontainebleau, responsible for the computer department.

During my military service, I asked if I could do some teaching, and I ended up giving math classes to the non-commissioned officers who wanted pass the test to become officers, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I also taught the son of the colonel in maths, helping him get his high-school diploma (baccalauréat in France).Through this time, I realized that I really enjoyed teaching. It started for me by helping other students during my ‘classes préparatoires’, then offering to my brother François and nephew Éric to spend the summer 2010 to prepare for the classes préparatoires. This went well, and I was very happy that both Éric and François later succeeded in these challenging studies. My nephew Éric joined the school of public works, and my brother François entered the most renowned French engineering school, Polytechnique. During my studies at Mines ParisTech, I also gave math classes to high school students.What I realized is that helping others succeed gave me a deep joy, a sense of being useful. This opened a path for me to continue to coach or mentor one-on-one up until now as I write, already for 30 years today in 2017.

In the CEA robotics department, at the end of my degree, I had met a young woman, Anne, who was finishing a Ph.D. in robotics. I liked her very much, but shy as I was, I did not dare to speak with her. During my military service, I wrote a story about a young swan and a tree that I sent to her, asking if I could meet her. She responded that she would be happy to invite me to one of the meetings she went to. Of course, I did come.What I did not realize first, was that the group she was part of was a Christian group, having meetings in two domains: psychology and religion. The psychology meetings, I found interesting, although a little bit complicate.The school of thought of these meetings, and its leader Daniel, could be loosely connected to Lacanian psychoanalysis.The religious meetings were mostly with Catholics, and because I wanted to be close to Anne, I did come. I was not interested at all in Christian spirituality, yet I found the group very respectful and kind to me.In the first meetings, I tried to make jokes on someone I perceived as weak but realized that nobody laughed, which puzzled me. I slowly realized that it was a safe place, that I did not need to humiliate, and that nobody humiliated me neither. This was new to me.
Anne liked me as a friend but did not have sentiments for me, something that was very painful to me. In the next three years, I would share a few times with her my sentiments, but she always responded clearly to me that it was not reciprocal. 

One day, as I was walking, it is like if an explosion happened in my heart, and I began to cry uncontrollably, seeing in my minds the humiliations that I tried so hard to forget in the past. It is like if the frustration of desiring without being desired in return opened this old and painful wound. I was then 25 years old, and I had not cried since I was 12. It is like if my toughening up when I was 12 had made me unable to really love, and now this wall in my heart was shattered in pieces through pain and tears.
I was afraid of becoming crazy and then decided to start a psychoanalysis with the leader of the group Anne belonged to, Daniel. This proved very helpful to me but presented some challenges.
Daniel helped me learn to interpret dreams and to deal with these repressed feelings of humiliation that had come back to my memory. Yet, when I tried to mention other sources of psychology that I studied before, like for instance books on dreams, I received from Daniel a very negative feedback, discouraging me from reading broadly on psychology schools as I did before. Daniel was also the leader of the religious group, in the Catholic tradition, and this presented another challenge - meeting him in this group and having him as my psychoanalyst. On my side, since Anne liked him very much, I first did not think anything of it, but later I would realize it was not wise for me to have this combination.

Since I liked Anne and could see her in the religious group, I did come frequently to the Christian meetings, like a weekly prayer and weekend meetings. I ended up learning key elements of the Christian faith, like the prayer ‘our Father’. 
I remember that I tried to pray this prayer, without much faith, in the evening, and noticed a very positive result: I got asleep very quickly and peacefully. In the past, I always struggled to get asleep, battling often for hours, with the frequent smell of sweat on my pillow. As a scientist, my experimentation with prayer was positive: I said the 'Our Father' before going to sleep and then had a very good night of sleep. As a good scientist, I logically decided to repeat the experiment, and thus began for me the first steps in the domain of prayer. For the first time in my life, I realized that belief in God was not only thinkable but now made sense. It was just a start in the discovery of the Christian faith, yet it was both a very meaningful and encouraging start. 

I then started the process to be baptized as a Christian, which I will describe in the next post.