Little Things Mean a Lot

22

Is your wedding ring just another ring or does it mean more than that?
Is wine important? It might be important at a party, you wouldn’t want it to run out half way through. But what if it was a wedding party? How embarrassing would that be? Suppose you came from a culture that placed a huge emphasis on hospitality. If the wine ran out you would be shamed in front of the whole neighbourhood. When Jesus turned water into wine he saved the whole family from that shame, but even that was not the real significance of his action.

The story of this, Jesus’ first miracle, is in John 2:1-11. John uses the miracle to show more about Jesus, not just the miracle. Not everyone at the wedding was aware of the miracle. Jesus didn’t make a big show of it, he taught some important things, but just to a few people.Jesus_turns_water_into_wine

In verse 4 Jesus says to his mother, ‘My time is not yet come.’

Jesus wants us to think about what is his time, that will come? Jesus didn’t do this miracle to help Mary out. He was teaching Mary and the disciples and those who were in on it. How do we react when Jesus doesn’t do what we ask him to do?

Mary tells the servants to do what he tells them, confident he will do the right thing.

In verse 10 the master of the feast says, ‘You have saved the best till last.’

How many miracles have you missed this week? Are we looking with the eye of faith? God is at work but we miss it.

Jesus wants to say something about who he is. The best is yet to come.

Verse 11 ‘This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.’

This echoes a messianic prophecy:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord , “when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:13‭-‬14)

Jesus is saying ‘I am the Messiah’

This reveals the glory of Jesus. To the Jews only God had glory. Jesus is the Saviour and will come again.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 11:40)

We will share in his glory 

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:29-31)

The disciples put their faith in him, so as we read this we can put our faith in him.

Don’t lose your expectation
Don’t lose your perspective
Don’t lose your faith

[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 four 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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The Five Year Road to Glory

Don’t turn away from this post because you’re not a novelist: this is great advice for all of us. Copied from Randy Ingermanson’s site.

Randy Ingermanson

The Road to Glory for Novelists

How do you reach your goals in fiction writing as fast as possible? Is there a shortcut that will get you there quicker? What’s the secret to finding the road to glory for novelists?

This is the time of year when people make those dreaded New Year’s resolutions. Some of them stick, but we all know that most of them don’t. Why?

The problem is that we all want a quick success. We all want a five-day rush to glory.

I want that. You want that. We all want that. It’s not a crime.

It’s just a mistake.

There is a road to glory, but it’s not a five-day trip. It’s not a five-week trip either, and generally not a five-month trip.

But a five-year road to glory is quite possible. If you make a five-year plan right now, and if it’s the right five-year plan for you, then in five years, you will be amazing.

So if you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, think long-term, not short.

The Five-Year Road to Glory

You should be asking now how anyone could possibly sprint for five years.

Short answer: you can’t.

The road to glory is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

And the road to glory is not paved with good intentions. That would be the road to hell.

The road to glory is paved with good habits. A set of things you do every day, every day, every day for the rest of your life.

And it’s easy to make the mistake of trying to set up all those good habits right now, when the good feelings from New Year’s Eve are still with us. Just set up fifty excellent habits that will put you on the road to glory.

But that’s not going to happen. It’s hard work to build a habit. Extremely hard work. It takes about three weeks of doing the same thing every day before that habit sticks. You can’t possibly build fifty habits all at the same time.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about creating a habit of writing every day. That’s a great habit to have. It’s one of many you’ll need on the road to glory.

And what are the others? What is the list of habits you need in order to ride the road to glory?

I wish I could give you a simple list, but that would be simple-minded.

Every writer is different. Your list is not my list and my list is not yours.

But here’s the thing. You don’t have to know the whole list right now.

All you need to know is the next one on the list.

One at a Time

Start with the writing-every-day habit that I blogged about just lately. If you didn’t start that habit two weeks ago, read that blog post and start now. Do it for a solid month.

And during that month, be thinking about what the next habit should be. Maybe it’ll be daily exercise. Or a daily reading plan. Or daily flossing. Or daily something else. It could be anything that will make you a better, stronger, smarter, more productive, more amazing writer. You have a whole month to figure out that next habit. Pick a dynamite one.

When next month rolls around, start that new habit. Maintain the old one, but start the new one. And remember, keep it ridiculously easy for the first three weeks. After that, you can ramp it up if you need to. Building a habit is hard, so make the actions of the habit as easy as you can when you’re starting out. Eventually, those actions may get quite demanding, but by then, the habit will be in your blood and in your bones.

A Habit of the Month

One new habit, every month, for the next five years.

Call it the Habit of the Month club.

That’s my prescription for the road to glory. It’s the slow road, yes, but it’s the one most likely to get you there.

If you choose your habits well, build them carefully, and maintain them conscientiously, in five years, you are going to astonish yourself by what you’ve achieved.

My habit this month is to get up every morning at 6:30 AM. I have particular trouble getting out of bed in the morning. It’s not about the earliness of the hour. It’s just as hard to roll out at 6:30 as it is to roll out at 9:00. Once I actually roll out, I don’t have any trouble getting moving. But it’s that three seconds of putting feet on the cold floor and sliding out from under the warm covers. That’s hard. The best solution seems to be to do it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Sure it’s awful, but do it fast and get it done. So that’s my Habit of the Month, this month.

I’m on Day 3. In a month, I hope to be solid on this, so I can move on to something more fun.

That’s my plan.

What’s yours?

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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Bah Humbug?

It has been thought for a long time that Christians took over a pagan festival to create Christmas. That’s not all we have made use of. We take other things and adapt them.

Father Christmas

For example, Santa Claus is adapted from St Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra in modern Turkey. He used his money to give to his parishioners in secret to help them through Christmas. He was made a saint, yet opinions changed and his sainthood was downgraded in the 1960s. 

Mince pies used to be large oblong and stable-shaped and the spices were meant to remind us of the gifts of the Magi from the East. In the days of the English Civil War, eating mince pies was stopped by the church as idolatrous.

In the 17th century the church decided they could only sing one carol which was sound enough in doctrine. Of course, a lot more quality carols have been written since.

Today we often see Christmas as a battle between the Saviour and Santa.

Bah Humbug

We need to be careful that the church may become the ‘bah humbug’ of Christmas.

People in the first Christmas story made mistakes but God used them anyway. The Magi were pagans, outsiders. They made a costly journey, prompted by God without being aware. They arrived and made a wrong assumption:a king would be born in a palace. But God provided the star again and graciously redirected them. Sometimes as we get near we can rush into things without thinking.

My pastor is chaplain of the local Rugby Club and heard a player singing Silent Night (but only knew the first line!). Pastor didn’t criticise but welcomed his singing, which led to a good conversation, and then he came to the carol service where he learned the rest of the words and heard the gospel. 

When Joseph heard Mary was pregnant he decided to divorce her, the righteous thing to do, but God redirected him to a more gracious path.

How do we respond to others who are celebrating Christmas in their own way?

Do people think we are the ‘bah humbug’  of Christmas or that we know how to celebrate?

Do we turn our nose up at inappropriate gifts or rejoice in the intention behind it?

Lots of people who don’t believe in Christianity do wonderful things at Christmas. In the supermarket the container for Food Bank donations is overflowing. In Swansea we have the Mr X appeal, where people buy an extra child’s gift and donate it for distribution to the poor.

Angel means messenger. Will we be messengers this Christmas?

Hidden Christmas Timothy Keller Recommended book: Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller 

[Adapted from a Christmas sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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Whose Hand on Your Shoulder?

The One Show presenters

Heard on the last One Show BBC TV programme before Christmas: The presenters went to the church next door and asked the vicar for his message to the viewers this Christmas. His message was very short but so much to the point. I’m paraphrasing:

A mother sat by the bedside of her dying six year old son and a vicar put his hand on her shoulder and said, ‘I know how you feel.’

The mother jumped up angrily and said, ‘You don’t know how I feel, don’t give me platitudes.’

The vicar said, ‘Last year my eight year old son died. I do know how you feel.’

God loves us so much that he gave his only Son at Christmas and Easter. He knows how you feel. Who better to have his hand on your shoulder?

May God bless you this Christmas and draw you closer to him.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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Your Third Word

This post is based on a Bible study, which I unfortunately forgot to note so I could credit them. Apologies.

I Am _____

God introduced Himself to Moses with just two words: “I AM.” Typically that phrase needs a third word to complete the sentence. But because God is everything and everyone and everywhere that He needs to be in every moment, His name doesn’t need a third word.

You and I, on the other hand, need that third word to anchor our identities to specific, tangible, descriptive terms. But completing the “I am ___” sentence is not as easy as it sounds.

We fill in the third word blank all the time with automatic and subconscious nouns and adjectives, but we seldom stop to question whether we’ve gotten our third words right.

Different Perspective

Here are some third words I hear all the time, both from my mouth and my mind: Unqualified. Stupid. Strong. Driven. Screwed-up. Loyal. Stuck. Hurting. Overwhelmed. Blessed. Capable. Disappointed. Broken. Hopeful. Jaded. Content.

Which of those do you identify with? Circle them mentally.

What word of your own would you write in?

How does all this compare with God’s assessment of you?

These are enormous, confusing, and brave questions. And getting them right will take a lifetime. But I challenge you not to ignore them. Dig deeper into who God has called you to be, ask the tough questions, and allow God to define you. Give God the final say on your third word. Only there will you find your true self.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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Living as a Citizen of God’s Kingdom

For the last two posts we have been looking at God’s plan for our lives. First we looked at Jeremiah 29:11 and saw how it cannot be applied to us. Second we looked at the Beatitudes and how they describe how we should live. This week, in conclusion, we are looking at God’s Kingdom.

Holy_Bible

Kingdom

When we think of Kingdom we think of a place, like the United Kingdom. When we think of God’s kingdom we tend to think eschatologically, of that day when Christ will rule unchallenged on earth. But Jesus said:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew 4:17)

How is God’s kingdom near? It is not a place, or a promise, but an action. It is God breaking into our universe and moulding times, places, people, and events for his purpose. The clearest expression of this is Jesus’ life and ministry. The expression of that action today is the people of God.

The kingdom is near in the person of Jesus.
The kingdom is here in the fact that God’s people, indwelt by God’s spirit are here.

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ values for his people. It implicitly rejects the values of the world. It is difficult to live among people who reject God’s values and not to be influenced by the airbrushed lives of the ‘beautiful people’. We appreciate, value, and are drawn by others’ lives and can too easily fall into line with them. They are appealing because we tend to associate those values with fulfilment.

Jesus shatters this illusion and sets up an alternative set of values that he assures will truly fulfil us.
Jesus’ values are not in pleasure but in longing,
     not in satisfaction but in hunger,
          not in popularity but in commitment to an unpopular cause,
               not in competition but in helping others to find peace with God and each other.

Only those who throw the full weight of their confidence on God as a King who acts in and for them now can ever locate the courage to live the startling lifestyle Jesus lays out for his disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is for people who have chosen to be Jesus disciples and freely submitted themselves to the king. In it Jesus explains to his disciples of every age what living as a citizen of heaven’s kingdom involves. Abandoning the ways of the world to adopt a diametrically different set of values and commitments.

Return to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah was a timid man. He was not the prophet ‘type’ and felt much as we do when we consider what God is calling us to.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”(Jeremiah 1:4-6).

What made him a prophet was not his own character but God’s provision.
But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

Conclusion

God has a plan, but it is much bigger than you and your life. You must plan your own life under his guidance, always being available to be used by him in any way to further his plan. To do this you need to live the way he has directed in the Bible and adopt the values of the Kingdom.

[adapted from a sermon by Michael Thomas]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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How Do I Fit Into God’s Plan?

Last week we looked at Jeremiah 29:11 and discovered that this is not a promise we can take for ourselves. We ended with some questions.

If God doesn’t have a plan specific to my life what does he have?
Is there a plan at all?
How do I fit into that plan?

Signpost

This is God’s plan:

making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:9-14)

In order to fit into that plan we need to live as God wants us to live.

Why give a saved people code to live by?

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.
So we do not cast off restraint, and so we are blessed.

Proverbs 30:7-9 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
So we don’t forget or dishonour God.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

The rule of God extends over all – but finds special focus in his concern for his own. Not all keep his law but blessing comes to his own by living the values the world despises, but which God holds dear.

The Beatitudes are the basic values the world is meant to, but doesn’t, live by.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)

Blessed

Ashrey is the word used in the Old Testament to talk about blessing.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Blessings will come as a future reward in material goods.

Makarios if the New Testament word and the emphasis is our present state. Adopt these values and know God’s presence in your life.

Interpretation

The beatitudes are variously described as:

1. A salvation message– live this way to get right with God. PROBLEM? What about sin? Jesus calls us to repent, not to do better.

2. Kingdom truth – one day, in God’s kingdom, we will live this way. PROBLEM? It excuses us when we fall short.

3. The message is exclusive to the church – PROBLEM? Jesus was addressing Israel not the church. Further he is king over all, although he has special concern for those who are his own.

4. Synthesis – this message involves (A) what repentance involves (turning to God’s ways) (B) what Kingdom life will be one day and (C) God’s ethical standard for today.

5. Description – the sermon describes the way in which we are freed to live when we commit fully to the kingship of Jesus. When Jesus is near we are free to obey.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. (Matthew 5:1)

The Beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount are for people who have chosen to be Jesus’ disciples and have freely committed themselves to the King. Then they become part of God’s plan.

Next week we will look a little at God’s kingdom and what it means for our lives, and return at last to Jeremiah where we started.

[adapted from a sermon by Michael Thomas]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four 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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