Heroes of the Faith: Abel – Now Faith Is …

If you were asked to define faith, what would you say? Faith is something we exercise? Something we jump into? Many people would say things like that, but they would be wrong. Faith is not something we do, it is reliance on something Jesus did for us.  

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews defined faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for’. (Heb.11:1a).

HopeSinking

The word hope has changed greatly since Bible times. The modern use of the word is wishing for something uncertain: ‘I hope it doesn’t rain.’

The Bible meaning of hope is sure, trusting in something reliable, anticipating good things to come.

My hope is found in nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
(hymn by Edward Mote 1797-1874)

Hebrews also says faith is ‘the conviction of things not seen.’ (Heb.11:1b). Jesus came into this world so we can be sure of things beyond what we can see. There will be a time when we do see, but until then we trust him. 

The people commended in Hebrews chapter 11 didn’t know about Jesus, they lived before he came. But they trusted in the promise of God.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb.11:13)

Barry_Black Senate Chaplain

At the White House National Prayer Breakfast, Barry Black, the first African-American Senate chaplain, preached

Black’s mother, a sharecropper’s daughter who had a limited education but unlimited vision, had challenged him and his siblings with a promise of 5-cents for every verse they memorized.

“One day I memorized 1 Peter 1:18-19,” Black recalled. “I was only ten years of age. [The verses read,] ‘We are redeemed not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ,’ And even at ten I had sufficient analytical skills to know that the value of an object is based upon the price someone is willing to pay.”
Black continued, “And when it dawned on me, a little guy in the inner-city, that God sent what John 3 calls the only one of its kind, ‘His only begotten son,’ to die for me, no one was able to make me feel inferior again.”

AbelCain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel confuses some people. They don’t understand why Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel was commended because of his offering.
In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. (Gen.4:3-5)

Read the story carefully: Cain brought only some, Abel brought the best and the first. Cain thought anything would do, Abel was more faithful. Jesus is the firstborn, Jesus is the sacrifice, Jesus is the Lamb.

… Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead … (Rev.1:5)
… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Heb.9:22)
John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) 

If we put our trust in anyone else we cannot be safe. 

Abel left a legacy right down to today.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. (Heb.11:4)

Does your testimony speak of Jesus? Faith in anything else is sinking sand. We need to tell others.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons from Esther: Cleaning Up

Esther_Chapter_9-3_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

The last two chapters of Esther tell of the time when the king’s edicts are carried out, and the festival of Purim is inaugurated. The Jews killed thousands of their enemies, including all ten of Haman’s sons. In Susa they didn’t manage to kill everyone on the day, so Esther asked the king for permission to continue for another day!

All this killing is a problem for some people. It’s hard to reconcile with the God of love found in the New Testament. But beware – you can’t pick and choose which bits of the Bible you like and which you will ignore. It comes as a complete package and we shouldn’t shirk our duty to wrestle with these things.

There are also differing opinions about whether Esther is a true story or a parable written to teach a particular lesson. But whichever side you come down on, you still have to deal with all the killing.

Esther_Chapter_9-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Why were the Jews authorised to kill so many people throughout the empire? As I covered earlier in this series, Haman was plotting to have them wiped out. You might call it self preservation. And why kill everyone who was against them? Because anyone left could start gathering opposition again, and the Jews might face the same situation in years to come.

There are times in the Old Testament there are tribes who opposed the Jews. God always gave them a chance to change, but eventually the Jews were told to wipe them out. (See the fall of Jericho, Joshua 6:1-21; and Saul and the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 15)

What do you need to wipe out of your life? Is there a temptation you can’t resist? Are there things from your old lifestyle which draw you into sin now you belong to Jesus?

One man confessed that he couldn’t have just a couple of drinks with his old friends when they went out together. He realised that when he got drunk it was a bad witness of the change in his life he spoke about since he became a Christian. He had to give up alcohol all together.

We should be getting rid of those who threaten us, not by killing them but by stopping associating with them. We should be getting rid of things which hinder our Christian walk. Things which may not be a problem for someone else, but for you they are. What do you need to kill completely?

Do you have some serious thinking to do?

[Based on a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church. Illustrations by Sweet Media]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons from Esther: Living Victoriously part 2

Last week we looked at the difficult decisions taken by Esther as she threw herself on the mercy of the King. The King’s response was a foreshadow of Christ’s victory for us.

Christ’s victory offers us his Kingdom and family
Esther_Chapter_8-1_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman. (Esther 8:1-2)

Our previous status no longer matters. We belong to the King and derive our status from him. 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

Christ’s victory doesn’t exclude us from the reality of life
Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.” (Esther 8:7-8)

While we are still in this world, we have to cope with the trials of this world. God gave man freedom to choose and so often he chooses wrongly, and we all suffer the consequences. The difference is that those who belong to the King have his power and support. 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

The rules of the game cannot be changed.

Christ’s victory doesn’t mean we don’t need to battle
… saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods, (Esther 8:11)

The previous edict still stood, encouraging the people to attack the Jews, but now there was another edict commanding the Jews to defend themselves and retaliate against anyone who threatened them.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph.6:13)

The battle is daily so we need to be prepared and equipped. 

Christ’s victory means we are free to celebrate
Esther_Chapter_8-6_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. (Esther 8:15-16)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor.15:57)

What do others see in us? Do they see victorious living? Those who seek to shun sin rather than accept it? Those whose final goal is beyond this life? Those who live knowing the victory is already won? 

Where in our lives do we need to see victory? 

It’s never too soon to become the people we are going to be. 

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons from Esther: Living Victoriously part 1

Our studies in Esther have brought us to the point where Esther is going to expose Haman and ask the King to spare her people. She has had to work hard and make some difficult decisions. We have to do the same if we are to win a spiritual victory.

The goal of our spiritual victory is life

Esther_Chapter_7-1_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request.” (Esther 7:3)

Esther knew only the King had the power over life and death. We have to realise where to find life and turn our attention there. Learn to identify the thieves and turn away from them. 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

We need a spiritual victory because our enemy is sin

And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. (Esther 7:6)

The king was unaware who was his enemy – he thought Haman was his most trusted advisor. We need to know who our enemy is and how to fight it. The truth will set you free – but are you prepared to face the truth?

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– (Romans 5:12)

We also need to lay aside the pleasures of sin and acknowledge the harm they are doing us. 

We find a spiritual victory when God’s wrath is dealt with

Esther_Chapter_7-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated. (Esther 7:9-10)

We find a spiritual victory when we realise how serious our sin is and know that nothing less than a death will pay the price. The necessity for a death is hard to accept. 

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)

That death could only be the death of God’s own Son, Jesus the King. Next week we will see what that death achieved, foreshadowed by what the King did for Esther.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons From Esther: Godincidences

A Godincidence is an event that could have been a coincidence, but all the evidence points to God being in control of circumstances. How often do we miss the move of God in our lives because we’re not paying attention?

In the book of Esther, the Jews were under threat of genocide, instigated by Haman, the King’s chief advisor. Queen Esther was trying to save her people, but instead of rushing to plead for their lives, she took her time. She gave God time to work.

Esther_Chapter_5-4_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

She invited the King and Haman to a private banquet, and at the banquet asked them to come again tomorrow. What difference could a day make? That night the King couldn’t sleep. He lived in his own world and seemed unaware of what was going on. He ought to sleep well. But on that night he couldn’t sleep.

Godincidence: The King didn’t realise the Jews were to be exterminated because Mordecai the Jew was still working at the palace. 

The King called for the chronicles of his reign to be read to him. He was reminded that he owed Mordecai his life.

Esther_Chapter_2-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:21-23)

Godincidence: The King’s sleeplessness enabled him to find out Mordecai saved his life. 

Suddenly the King had a high opinion of Mordecai, and when he heard that Mordecai had not been rewarded, he decided to honour him. The next morning he called for one of his advisors.

Godincidence: Haman is in court when the King wants to honour Mordecai. 

Haman is commanded to put one of the King’s own robes on Mordecai and parade him through the city on one of the King’s own horses. It must have seemed to Mordecai that his end had come, when Haman turned up at his house. Like in the Nazi era if SS officers turned up at a Jew’s house. 

Esther_Chapter_6-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

We looked last week at Haman’s pride, and his hatred of Mordecai. Imagine how he felt when the King commanded him to honour Mordecai. There was a massive shift overnight in the King’s attitude to Mordecai and the Jews, ready for the next banquet.

Do we look to see the invisible hand of God in our lives?  God is at work in our lives. Miracles happen every day, in small ways we might not even notice. Watch out for the Godincidences.

[Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons From Esther: Pride Goes Before a Fall

Esther_Chapter_3-10_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Because of his hatred for Mordecai the Jew, who refused to bow down to him, Haman tricked the King into signing a decree to kill every Jew in the kingdom. When Mordecai found out, he asked Queen Esther to plead with the King. But Esther didn’t rush things. She invited the King and Haman to a private banquet. This made Haman even more puffed up. 

Esther_Chapter_5-4_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow.” (Esther 5:10-12)

A lot can happen overnight. The King couldn’t sleep that night so he called for the chronicles of his reign to be read to him (maybe they were so boring they would make him sleepy!). He found something in there about Mordecai. Next morning, Haman was at court early. 

When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” (Esther 6:6)

But the King wasn’t thinking of Haman, he was thinking of Mordecai. All the wonderful things Haman suggested, thinking they would come to him, went to Mordecai. Not only did Haman have to see Mordecai honoured, but as the King’s chief advisor, he had to perform the honouring!

Esther_Chapter_6-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Jesus taught humility, to think of yourself less than others and allow others to raise you up if they want to. Don’t seek honour, then you won’t be disappointed. 

When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’

Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’

Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)

[Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lessons from Esther: God’s Timing

Our time, Chronos time, is measured in days, weeks and years. God’s time, Kairos time, is set in eternity. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right, or opportune time. The moment is right when God says it is.

Sometimes when in our Chronos time God seems to be silent, we must watch and pray for God to break in with Kairos time.

Esther_Chapter_4-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

I wrote last week about Haman plotting genocide on the Jews. Mordecai found out and sent a message to his niece Esther, who was queen, asking her to plead with the King.

[Esther’s message to Mordecai said,] “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:11-14)

Esther_Chapter_4-4_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Why doesn’t Esther tell Mordecai to wait and see if the King will call her in over the next few months?  There are eleven months until the edict is to be carried out. She realised that this was the moment, in God’s time, ‘for such a time as this’.

Sometimes God calls on us when it’s not a good time for us, but we need to trust in him. For Esther, Kairos and Chronos come together. In response to Mordecai she calls the people to fast, and fasting always goes with prayer.

It was the same when Mordecai was put aside. Why didn’t Mordecai go off in a huff because of being overlooked? He trusted that it would come in God’s time. God has been faithful in the past, we can trust him for the future.

Don’t put it off, whatever you’ve been called to do.

Use this verse during the week ‘for such a time as this ‘ and look for Kairos moments.

[Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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