Living Faith

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.

Terry Tempest Williams

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Godliness

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness… (Titus 1:1)

Godliness

The gospel shapes our lives – it’s about understanding, which transforms hearts, and that leads to transformed lives.

The Bible is not about me, it’s about God, his character and purpose. In the story of Moses and the burning bush, when Moses protested that he was inadequate for the task, God answered his protestations with ‘I am’.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. (Titus 2:11-15)

The gospel teaches us to live godly lives. The gospel is to be preached to believers so we can learn. What does gospel-shaped living look like?

HumilityWe forget who we were. There is too much talk, especially on Facebook, about ourselves. Gospel humility is thinking of myself less and others more.

 

JoyThe gospel is the best news anyone can hear. God is generous with his grace. When you have Jesus, you have everything. Therefore we have joy.

 

HopeAbove all, hope of eternal life. We are joint heirs with Christ. There are towns and villages teaming with people who think they have everything but are still unsatisfied. Whatever our circumstances, we have hope.

Take careful thought, treasure the gospel. Only the gospel can change our lives.

[adapted from a talk at Libanus Ladies Conference, June 2016]

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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Self Reliance

WWJD-Armband

The acronym WWJD can be found in lots of places, especially on wristbands, to remind Christians to stop and think What Would Jesus Do? There is another wristband which says FROG – Fully Rely On God, but putting that into practice is not so easy to do. God will not prepare your dinner or choose your clothes, so at what level should you rely on God? Yet if you interpret this in only a spiritual way and it can make very little impact on your actions.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

These verses don’t mean God will tell you every move you should make and what every decision should be. Just like in the army, there are Standing Orders – commands that you should be obeying by default. Stop and think about that for a minute. Should you ask God if it’s all right to be kind to someone? Should you ask God for guidance over whether you should cheat on a test? No. God has given us the guidelines to follow in our daily lives.

Holybible

But sometimes there is something God wants you to do. Trust him to tell you when the time comes. Many Christians mistakenly lean on this verse from Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer.29:11)

Read the whole chapter and you will find that this is not a generic promise that believers can appropriate. If God says to you, ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ this means, ‘I know where you fit into my plan,’ not ‘I have planned every step of your life.’ God has plans, and sometimes he uses us as part of them.

The Bible teaches us God’s standards, and how to go about kingdom living, but you should use the intelligence God has given you and plan your own life within those guidelines. Be confident that if you are submitted to him he will make it clear when there is something he wants you to do, or somewhere he wants you to go. Until then, make your own decisions – use your God-given self reliance.

What Would Jesus Do? Fully Rely On God’s Standing Orders!

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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New Year Intentions

Think.jpg

At the turn of the year we are driven to look back and analyse the outgoing year and make plans for the coming one. These are usually called Resolutions, and they famously only last a few weeks. Another word would be Goals, which are a bit more grounded, but it is easy to set goals that we haven’t thought through enough.

Yesterday I was sent an email inviting me to a webinar about setting Intentions. I don’t attend webinars, but the subject made me think. They say the roads of hell are paved with good intentions, so you might say they don’t last either, but the change of name gave me pause for thought.

The dictionary was not very helpful in figuring out the difference:
Resolution – the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action
Goal – the result or achievement toward which effort is directed
Intention – an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.

I think it was just the change of label that made me stop and think. Something I Intend to do suggests I have thought about it in some depth. I can set a Resolution or Goal on impulse, even though that’s not supposed to be done that way. But I asked myself, ‘What do I Intend to do, seriously, next year?’

I’m going to do some serious thinking and work out what is feasible as well as some detail on how I will go about carrying out my Intentions. Can I suggest you do the same?

Ann-Marie-Thomas-head-shot-80x90-300dpi-Web-Gravatar_thumb.jpgAnn 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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Hidden Insights in the Christmas Story

Nativity scene

Genealogies of Jesus
Two different genealogies for Jesus appear in Matthew 1 & Luke 3. To Jews, what tribe you belonged to mattered, so you needed to know your genealogy, but why else would the writers put them in there?

Eve’s offspring
After the Fall, God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen.3:15). The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38 lists his line backwards all the way to Adam. This shows that he was Eve’s offspring, and thus fulfills the prophecy that he would bruise the serpent’s head, when he died to pay for our sins.

Abraham’s offspring
God called Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation, but also told him his offspring would be a blessing to all the earth. Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen.12:1-3) 

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 traces Jesus’  line from Abraham. This shows that he was Abraham’s offspring, and through his death and resurrection he was a blessing to all mankind, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

When God made a covenant with Abraham he told him his offspring would be uncountable. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen.15:5-6)

Incidentally, because Abraham believed and it was counted as righteousness, he is the ‘Father of the faithful’, and therefore we who believe are his children, making his offspring uncountable.

The Wise Men and the Star

Nativity crib_detail_3 wise men
When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) How did they know what the star meant, and why did they care about a king of the Jews?

The wise men were from Babylon, which was a pagan country. But 600 years earlier, Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon and educated for high positions in the government. They kept their faith, and so the prophecies of a Messiah were introduced into Babylon, and the wise men were waiting.

The Wise Men and the Journey
As soon as the star appeared, the wise men set out to follow it, but they came all the way from Babylon. There was no way they could have arrived at the manger just after the shepherds, as all the nativity plays show (for convenience). And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:9-11a)

By the time the wise men arrived, Jesus was a child, not a baby, and they were in a house, not a stable. That’s why King Herod ordered all babies under two to be killed.  Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16) Herod worked out how long it had taken them to make the journey.

The Wise Men and the Gifts
The carol says ‘We three kings of Orient are’ and the traditional nativity play has three kings (or wise men). The Bible does not say how many men there were, and it does not say they were kings. The idea of three comes from the three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11b) But why those gifts?

Here’s an explanation from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by James Montgomery Boice:

Gold: It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule. The wise men knew Jesus was the King of kings.

Incense: Incense was also a significant gift. It was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father.

Myrrh: Myrrh was used for embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ’s ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold his suffering.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that the message of God’s love and salvation is so simple, even a child can understand it, but you can dig into it and never get to the bottom of all the things it can teach us. Have a very blessed Christmas!

[adapted from teaching by Michael Thomas]

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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Change of Perspective

Hebrews chapter 11 lists the heroes of the faith, from Adam to Samuel, and chapter 12 starts with, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, which is very daunting. The thought that all these amazing people are watching us can make us realise how far we fall short of their example. But let’s look closer at their example. 

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

The example that the writer wants us to think about is not their achievements but their perspective. They were looking to what God had in store for them, which was more important than any suffering now. A better city, a better country, a better kingdom – the kingdom of God.

The Parable of the Rich Fool
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
PrideAnd he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

In Jesus’ culture, a Rabbi could be asked to judge and advise, but Jesus refuses to do it and warns against covetousness. He is not saying that it doesn’t matter if your brother defrauds you or that you shouldn’t make provision for the future. He is saying that you should be careful where your perspective lies – where you put the greatest importance. You need to be rich towards God.

Do not be anxious Head in hands
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…
And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you…
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:22-34)

This has baffled many people over the years. Of course we need to think about food and clothes. Of course we need to make plans. God doesn’t present us with food and clothes every morning when we’ve done nothing to obtain them. So what did Jesus mean?

He didn’t say we shouldn’t plan, he said we shouldn’t be anxious. When you are anxious it occupies your mind. God and his kingdom is what should occupy your mind. Make your plans, work for your wages, but think of him first.

[based on Discipleship teaching by Michael Thomas]

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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King of Kings

This article is taken from the Reachout Trust Newsletter for Nov/Dec 2016:

Its that time of year when churches are finalising their plans for Christmas events. Congregations across the country are becoming alternately enthusiastic or nervous as we are challenged to invite a friend to a carol service, nativity, or social, to be told about the ‘true meaning of Christmas.’ People may be heard complaining about the commercialism, insisting Christmas is ‘all about the children’ – or even about Jesus. What do we offer that stands out, is different from those things folks regret about the season?

Nativity scene

Mark begins his account of Jesus, ‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (Mk.1:1) Jesus is good news any time of year, but high points in the church calendar bring him closer in people’s minds, and opportunities to share the good news are more abundant. What could the world possibly offer to match this great good news?

Matthew begins his account of John the Baptist, ‘In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt.3:1) Where Jesus is, there is the kingdom. Christians are a kingdom people. Our message isn’t just a saving out of, but a saving into – into the kingdom of heaven. It isn’t simply about a manger, but about a throne, occupied by the king who overcame on behalf of those lost in sin. As heaven’s citizens we have every reason to declare the nearness of the kingdom, the advent of our king.

In a world that rejects organised religion, yet happily embraces anything that is occult, supernatural, ‘spiritual,’ that offers purpose beyond the now, we have a king whose coming was foretold centuries before his advent (Isaiah 53; Mt.2:1-6); whose ministry saw heaven’s kingdom break into a fallen world with spectacular effect (Mt.14:13-23); whose death and resurrection brought peace with God and salvation (Ro.5:1-11).

Those who seek after righteousness trust him (Mt.1:19-24); the wise seek him (Mt.2:10-11); the faithful are constant in waiting for him (Lk.2:28-29); the discerning are amazed by him (Lk.2:46-47); the humble proclaim him (Lk.2:15-17), and declare that, though the world is a desert place, nevertheless life has now come (Lk.3:4-6; Jn.3:16).

We are not simply inviting our family, friends, and neighbours to a carol service, we are inviting them to meet a friend like no other, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to finally encounter and embrace the truth that leads to eternal life (Jn.3:36). This is the message we bring. In the midst of winter, we seek to light a candle and shed light and truth into lives lost in sin and error. In a desert place we work to bring life, to lift heads, to mend hearts, to inform minds, and to reach souls for the kingdom, for the coming king.

Whoever governs in this world, Jesus is on his throne. The Mormons say he was elected, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist he was created, but the Bible insists he is King from all eternity and one day at his name every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philip.2:10-11).

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Whoever you are, we pray you have a blessed and hopeful Christmas, filled with the good news of King Jesus.

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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