You Must Follow Me

Roller coaster

Christian life can be a bit like a roller-coaster. Life is great on the way up and cresting the top, but in between we have the downhill parts. How can we cope then?

All of us have downhill parts in our lives. Even Peter denied Jesus when he waited outside the trial. Why? Peter was destined to lead the church after Jesus’ ascension, but at that moment, when he was being challenged with knowing Jesus, he was scared, defensive, and tired.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

God uses all things in our lives to benefit us, just not always in a way we can see. God has a greater plan.

Marathon

To use another metaphor: Christian life can be a marathon. When marathon runners hit ‘the wall’, they just want to stop, but they need to keep going, to finish the race. When life gets difficult, we may feel like giving up, but with God’s help we can keep going.

Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus asked him, ‘Do you love me?’ three times. They were tougher questions than they appeared:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

We all make mistakes, but love is words + actions. Whether we’re talking about loving Jesus or others, we need to show it by what we do. We all have an inside life versus an outside life. The way you portray yourself online in places like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is probably not a true reflection of who you really are.

Ask yourself: How is my relationship with Jesus? Am I feeding others? We should be modelling Christ, for example in Random Acts of Kindness.

How can I be a better follower?
Focus on him
Take responsibility for your response
Pray
Support others on your team
Be passionate and persevere

Swansea City AFCThere was an ardent Swans supporter (Swansea City football team) who entered the London Marathon to raise money for charity. He found out that the Swans had an important match in Swansea (south Wales) on the same day as the marathon. He was desperate to be at the match, but there wasn’t enough time after the marathon to get there. He even considered how much it would cost him to hire a  helicopter. But in the end he sacrificed the match because he was committed to serving others. We need to get our priorities right. We need to follow Jesus above all.

[based on a sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Precepts and Promises

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

g0135163

The precepts and the promises of our Lord are inseparable. In the King James Version of the Bible, the last verse above starts ‘And lo,’ giving rise to the expression, “The ‘go’ and the ‘lo'” – every time God says ‘Go’ (the precept) he always says ‘Lo’ (the promise).

Abraham

Abraham was called by God to leave all he knew and go to a new life, but God gave him some mighty promises.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Gen 12:2)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Heb 11:8)

God promised to make Abraham a great nation, a great name and a great blessing to the world.

Moses

God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and free the Children of Israel, and promised him he would be with him.

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. (Ex.3:10-12)

Moses was an unwilling servant but God had an answer for all his excuses (Ex 4:1-17)

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (Ex.4:13)

Every time he raised an objection, God promised to provide for him.

Joshua 

Joshua was nervous to take over from Moses the leading the Children of Israel, but when God called him, he promised to be with him.

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:5,8,9)

You and Me

In the same way, God calls us, every one of us, to go and share the Gospel – as we saw in the first scripture – but he promises to be with us always.

Sometimes the Lord’s command is not what we expected. When Jesus delivered a man from demon possession, the man expected Jesus would want him to follow, but he didn’t.

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:18-19)

What is the Lord asking of you?

There are some things he asks of all of us:

  • Come and follow me
  • Leave your comfort zone
  • Stay and tell your family and friends

As with the Bible characters, God also makes promises:

I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt 28:20)

for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:9)

[adapted from a sermon by Gaynor Maclean at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We are an Incarnational People

He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him… When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:4b,5,12-17)

FootWashing

At the end of the meal Jesus set his robe aside, took water and a towel, and washed the disciples’ feet. They didn’t understand at first. Jesus was teaching them that he was the Servant King and he was modelling for the disciples the way they should act towards each other and those outside the faith.

We are called to model Christ.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”John 20:21-23

Here are three ways we can model Christ: initiative, involved, invested. 

1. We must take the initiative to connect with other people, and not wait for them to come to us. Three examples: Poker, pantos, and parties. 

A new vicar tried putting on lots of events at the church but the community didn’t come in. Then he found out that the pub across the road was always packed on Thursday night for the poker club, so he took off his dog collar and joined. They taught him to play and got to know him and eventually some of them came to church. Instead of inviting the community to come, he went to meet them on their terms. We’re called to be the uncomfortable ones. 

Another minister joined the local theatre group and took part in the annual panto. Eventually the panto was staged in the church hall, and the whole community came and were exposed to the church.

When there is a work outing or a dinner, don’t stay home because it’s not what you like to do. Go and meet the people where they are. 

2. We must get involved: Princess Diana and Mother Theresa both reached out to help the poor and disadvantaged, but there was an important difference. Princess Diana visited the slum but that night she slept in a hotel. Mother Theresa went to the slum but she slept in the slum – she became involved in their lives.

Don’t just go to the local school fete, although that’s a start, run a stall there or help to set up and clean up afterwards. 

We need to go from me to us

3. We must be invested: A local MP visited a food bank, but he came in his BMW and smart suit and went away after the tour. The local councillor lived on the estate and had a stake in the community. 

We must go from they to we

We are called to bridge the gap between God and the community. Don’t just talk about God, let God be incarnated in our lives. 

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:22b-23)

[adapted from a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Incarnation

John’s Gospel looks at the life of Jesus in a different way to Matthew, Mark and Luke. He is looking for deeper meaning, and he begins this gospel with an astonishing passage: John 1:1-18. 

Christ appears to the disciples (Flikr)

There are a lot of things we could draw out of this passage, but what I want to concentrate on this time is that the difference between Christianity and other religions is: God took the initiative. 

God didn’t just visit, he became flesh. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)

This raises questions about the nature and purpose of God and the implications for us. 

At a summer fete, some boys went into one tent which was set apart from the others and found it to be full of food. They were sent out because it was the VIP tent. The VIPs visited the fete but they didn’t have to mingle with the ordinary people. God didn’t act like a VIP, he got involved, he joined in. He laid aside his majesty. 

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil.2:6,7)

Can you grasp that? Who do you say Jesus is?

God is not distant 

The Police had a ‘hands in pockets’ day when the bosses go out on the beat with the rank and file. It changed how ordinary people perceived the police. God is not removed from our experiences.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) 

God is not disconnected 

Church theology used to be that his mind was made up. This was changed by the holocaust. How could he allow it, how could he not be moved? God experienced it in Jesus, so he empathises. 

God is not dispassionate 

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa worked among the poor in Kolkata (Calcutta). An American missionary asked to come and watch. When there was a delivery of secondhand shoes, Mother Theresa swapped her shoes for the worst pair. She wouldn’t wear a better pair than those she served. 

London Marathon Matthew Rees

The end of the 2017 London Marathon saw Matthew Rees help struggling runner David Watt across the line. Twitter lit up  with the news because it touched people’s hearts.

Words of encouragement are not enough, you need to walk alongside them, as God moves you.

God is now incarnate in his people. We are called to be part of his plan. What is the implication for my life? [See next week]

[adapted from a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

When the Bible Disagrees

As Christians we should be reading our Bibles, yes? Our theology should be based on what the Bible says. We have either worked out what we believe from what we read, or listened carefully to sermons and Bible studies and checked out the conclusions. 

Crown of thorns heart

But what happens when the Bible disagrees with something we firmly believe? 

This dilemma is being faced by increasing numbers of Christians today, particularly over issues like gender identity and sexuality. As society gets further away from God’s word, some Christians are compromising rather than taking a stand.

I am finding more and more Christians with strongly held beliefs which I consider to be unbiblical, and it makes for very awkward conversations if the topic comes up. I don’t want to offend them or fall out, and often I am not prepared at that moment for a detailed discussion. The sad thing is, neither are they.

As a Christian makes the decision to believe something with which the Bible disagrees, they do one of two things: They either cling to a few verses (sometimes a very few) which they feel support their view, or they discount the Bible entirely as unreliable or outdated. But above all, they close their mind.

When these subjects come up, not only is the time and place often inappropriate for a detailed discussion, usually the other person is absolutely unwilling to have that discussion.

I don’t want to discuss my views about various thorny subjects, maybe I’ll do that in future posts. This time I want to look at closed-mindedness.

I don’t claim to understand everything about Christianity, and I don’t claim to have everything right, but I am willing to discuss any issue, listen to your point of view and seriously consider it. There are issues about which I have changed my mind over the years, because someone, in person or in a book, explained a different interpretation of the scriptures that made more sense than my previous view.

I am always willing to listen, and willing to discuss my understanding of something alongside yours. When you refuse to discuss things, it looks as though you dare not have your beliefs examined because you know they are wrong.

The Bible is an amazing book. It’s central message can be plainly understood by anyone, of any level of education or none. Yet it’s deeper truths are worthy of years of study. There is a way through these thorny issues, but sometimes it takes a while to study and work it out. You might need to have help. Please don’t be too closed-minded, or scared, to find out.

You won’t be told what to believe, we don’t need blind faith, there are books, courses and internet articles to help you work it out. There are some wacky ideas out there, so be careful. Think seriously about what is said, check it out for yourself against the Bible, and pray, and you can come to a sound conclusion. You may agree or disagree with someone else’s opinion, but you will have thought about it and be able to defend your position from the Bible if anyone asks you.

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I Am Yours and You Are Mine

When lovers say this to each other, it’s a relationship of equals. A human being on either side, committing themselves to each other. Making promises, and finding comfort in each other’s commitment. 

I Am Yours and You Are Mine

When we say it to God in some of our Christian songs, it’s a whole different thing. It’s not a relationship of equals at all, and God doesn’t commit to us the same way we commit to him. 

We are weak and flawed. We make promises and fail to keep them. The only way we can be faithful is by submitting our life to him. How does that square with bringing God down to our level as a friend we can claim ‘he is mine’?

God said the same thing to Israel when he made them a people.
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:7) 

This means God will be God but look on you with favour, and you will be people who worship God and live according to his laws. He has granted us permission to call him Father, with all that implies, but never forget that he is Almighty God. 

The same applies when we talk today about ‘My Jesus, my Saviour.’ I think sometimes there is far too much familiarity in the way we talk about, and to, Jesus. Yes, he is my Saviour, in that he saves us individually and we come to him on our own, no matter how many people help and encourage us. Yes, he died for me, for each of us, not a job lot. 

But he is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6). Our relationship with him is subservient, no matter how loving he is. We must never lose that awe, that reverence for who he is. 

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Who Do You Say I Am?

Easter was only a few weeks ago, but the Easter story is one of the most important things we will ever hear. One of the stories around Easter is the road to Emmaus, found in Luke 24:13-35.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him…
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (vv.13-16, 27, 30-31)

The_Road_to_Emmaus by Bloch_Carl_

The Road to Emmaus by Carl Bloch

In a spiritual way we too can experience the Emmaus road:

1. They had lost someone dear 

Not just grieving a death but they had lost their way in life. They no longer had Jesus with them to guide them.

A man and his daughter walked up Penyfan mountain. They started down by a different route when a thick mist came down, a common occurrence on Penyfan. It was easy to lose sight of other people and the path. They thought they knew where they were going but it soon became clear they were on the wrong path, which led around the mountain, not down. We can live lives like that, where we lose our way. Where we find ourselves in unexpected places. The man and his daughter met someone who gave them directions, and then the sun came out and burned off the mist so they could see the way.

We all need a clear sense of direction. 

2. They had lost hope 

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. (v.21)

Their hope had been buried in the tomb with Jesus. They knew the messianic prophecies and had hoped Jesus was the one who would rescue them. With his death all hope was gone. 

We all have hope in other things: abilities, possessions, money, human leaders. Sooner or later they let us down. We need a sure hope that will not fail.

3. A question of faith

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (vv.25-26)

How will you respond to Jesus? Jesus asks the question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ 

There is historical evidence for the historical Jesus. He really lived and died. But he wasn’t just a man, and his life and death have eternal consequences. Will you keep looking until you find the sure hope you’re looking for? Will you listen to the Easter story and believe it for yourself? 

The present time is often spoiled by regrets from the past and worries about the future. Your unchangeable past and your inevitable future can only be changed by Jesus. 

[adapted from a sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church)

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment