Roads part 2

This is the second part of the sermon by my husband Michael Thomas. If you haven’t read the first part go here.

road

Egypt

As believers, as we do determine to follow after God, we soon find it isn’t, even now, an easy road. We have each other to deal with. When the world does us harm we consider it a privilege to suffer for and with the Lord. We remember Jesus saying, ‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ (Jn.15:20) But who hasn’t been hurt by church? damaged by God’s family? Just as Joseph, who was, himself, not without fault, became victim to his brothers’ jealousy, so we must come to terms with the fact that the people around us, even the people of God, may harm us when we expected them to help.

Like Joseph, we may find ourselves suddenly in a deep, dark place, confused by what has just happened, on a journey we never planned to take, sold out by those we trusted, in a prison, with a deep sense of injustice having been perpetrated by those we have faithfully served. We are on the road to Egypt, the road no one wants to take because it seems so full of peril, danger, and harm, so far, surely, from what we thought were God’s purposes. Canaan, the fulfilment of his promises, deliverance, life, abundance. Where is all that now?

Canaan

The road to Canaan for the people of God may well lead us through the perils of Egypt, but what was intended for ill, God turns to the good. Paul reminds us, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’ (Ro.8:28 KJV)

The road to Canaan may lead us through desert places, but do we trust him that his promises are sure, or are we even now glancing back at Egypt? Have we the faith and perseverance to continue to call on God, even as the world crowds in around us, even as family lets us down, even as we are called on to live day-by-day, not knowing what the future holds, but confident he holds the future? Do we have an eternal perspective? Can we say, with Paul, ‘Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’

Back to Babylon

Much more dangerous than the bad times are the good times. History teaches us that a Christian in an armchair, with a full larder, a soft bed, a familiar religion, and good neighbours, soon forgets his God. In those fruitful times, in those days when blessings rain down, do we, like Israel, quickly forget that Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.‘ (Js.1:17)

A people who forget their God soon find themselves back on the road to Babylon, to exile in Babylon. Here is the danger for the believer, the temptation to fall back in step with the world and its ways. Remember the times, the many times, when Israel thought to serve the God of Abraham with the religious practices of the pagan society around them? The high places, the sacred gardens, the Ashera poles, the desperate compromises.

There is a trap into which we are prone to stumble during the comfortable times, the confusion of decency with Christianity…Decency avoids hurting people’s feelings. It looks for compromise and reconciliation.

‘They are my neighbours,’ says decency, ‘good people, how can I criticise, how can I refuse their invitation to join in with them? These ways are good enough ways, what harm is there?’

But there are times when we may have to hurt people’s feelings, when compromise is wrong and reconciliation impossible. The road back, the road back, compromise is the road back to Babylon, to exile, but we too often find ourselves on that road.

Back to Canaan

Remember how Paul wrote about our being, ‘by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgression…’ (Eph.:2:33-4) Like the father of the Prodigal, God is filled with mercy for the returned exile. Perhaps this is you today. Maybe you have come to realise that you are not, as you thought, living like royalty, but living like the common heard, eating swill and thinking it a banquet. Like the Prodigal’s father, God waits earnestly, at the head of the road, watching for your return.

Calvary

The older brother in that story of the Prodigal threw his toys out of the pram, rather than take responsibility and rejoice with dad that his younger brother was back. Being a Christian comes with the responsibility to be gracious towards with the weaker brother, to be grateful for all the Father has given and promised us, to be patient as we await our inheritance, when Christ comes again. This is the cross Jesus challenges us to take up every day:

‘If anyone would come after me,’ he said, ‘he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his very self?’ (Lk.9:23-25)

In another place Jesus said, ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (Jn.16:33)

Pentecost

Just in case anyone runs away with the idea this is all about the great bye-and-bye, we still have the road to Pentecost to walk. Pentecost, where the promises of God began to be realised among the saints. When the promised Spirit came down on the people of God and they went out and turned the world upside down. Paul describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as, ‘a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.’ (Eph.1:14)

This is the right and should be the experience of all who, having heard, come to him in faith, confess their sin, seek forgiveness and redemption, and are now included in that great body of people, the saints of God from every people, place, and time. ‘No more foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…’ (Eph.2:19)

There is this idea, especially prevalent among former cult members, that your journey begins when you kneel at the foot of the cross. That there are, behind me, so many wasted years. But God was with Abraham in Babylon, already speaking to him.

God was with Jacob, even as he fled to Haran, standing atop a ladder, promising, ‘I am Jehovah, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.’ (Gen.28:13-14)

God was with Joseph, even as he was led away into servitude in Egypt. What his brothers meant for harm, God turned to good.

God was with Israel, hearing their cry. He was with Moses, even as he fled to Midian and wrestled to be free of his destiny as the leader of God’s people.

God was with his people, in the desert, in battle, in their troubles and travails long before they reached the promised land.

God was with them as they went into exile, speaking to them through prophets, warning them of false prophets, schooling them in how to live, even as they were far from Canaan.

There are no wasted years from his perspective, all are finally bent to his will, to serve his eternal purposes. The Lord has promised, ‘I will restore the years the locust as eaten.’ (Joel 2:25)

Damascus

Even today, God is calling us out of the world, into his purposes. Will we, like Paul on the road to Damascus, need to be knocked off our horse, like Jacob, be wrestled to the ground, before we bend the knee and acknowledge he is Lord?

Emmaus

Will we, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, think seriously on these things, open even in our doubts, to the possibility we might yet meet with him along the journey?

Or will we, like Abraham, hear the call and answer with a simple act of obedience, trusting our lives, our eternity, to him?

The Table

However we come, our journey is not at its end. There is work to do, a cross to bear, a message of life to tell a dying world. We look forward to that time when he will appear and, as the Good Book promises, ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Rev.21:4)

Until that time, we are invited to gather at his table to remember his sacrifice, to know his presence with us even now, and to remember the great and glorious eternity he has won for us.

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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Roads part 1

This is a sermon given by my husband, Michael Thomas. I thought it so good and thought-provoking, I wanted to share it. Because of the length, it’s in two parts. Part 2 next week.

Signpost

I wonder how you got here this morning, which route you took. I imagine it was a familiar road, the one you take every Sunday. Perhaps, as you sit and think about it now, you don’t even remember the details of the journey. Perhaps the only reason you can be confident you took it at all is that you are here at your destination. That lapse of concentration in the midst of the familiar is a common enough experience. Distracted by our thoughts and plans, we travel a road so apparently familiar we barely know we are on it.

It was the Spanish born, American philosopher, George Santayana, who famously remarked, ‘Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.’ I want to share this morning some things God has been showing me about the roads we take in life, roads we perhaps didn’t notice we were travelling until we benefited from the gift of hindsight.

Eden

We have all walked the road out of Eden. This is one of the hardest concepts for people to grasp, but the Bible tells us that we were all ‘in Adam’ when Adam sinned. Paul unpacks this idea for us in Romans 5 and its well worth your time spending a little time in this key New Testament chapter. It helps, perhaps, to think that the seed of Abraham was already in Abraham before ever that seed became a reality in this world. So it is that, when Adam walked out of Eden, we walked with him. We were ‘in Adam.’ Paul carefully explains the consequences of that journey, ‘the result of one transgression was condemnation for all men.’ (Ro.5:18)

The world is the way it is because we all travelled that road out of Eden. That journey has put us at odds with the God who made us, apparently frustrating the purpose of God in creation, at war with ourselves, and with each other. Paul, again, describes us as, ‘by nature objects of wrath.’ (Eph.2:3) and is it any wonder? He goes on to write, ‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgression…’ (Eph.:2:4) We will look at that again later.

Babylon

Then we have the road out of Babylon, the road travelled by Abraham, the father of the faithful, when he heard and obeyed the voice of God. As I witness to a good friend and neighbour, as I listen to his questions and witness his struggle to understand, I am convinced God has a hand on his life, is calling him. I doubt he has yet stopped to ask himself why these questions are so important to him. Perhaps that will form the next stage in our conversation. The French polymath and theologian Blaise (bless) Pascal said we all have a God-shaped hole in us. The North African theologian Augustine confessed to God, ‘You have made us for yourself, and we cannot rest until we find our rest in you.’

God is, today, calling people out of this world, out of Babylon. Just like my neighbour, they don’t yet realise, perhaps, but there must be a response, this road must be walked if we are to find our purpose, fill the God-shaped hole that has us hunger for answers, find the rest this fallen world can never deliver. Like Abraham, we must decide whether we will answer that call to go where God will lead. Perhaps that is you today. Maybe you are asking questions, seeking answers. Have you considered that, in your questioning, you are hearing the voice of God? Calling you out of Babylon, calling you out of the world, and into his purposes?

Haran

Of course, it seems inevitable not everyone readily answers God’s call. How many times do we find people raising their heads and starting to ask questions about eternal things, only to duck down again into their busy lives, to lose themselves in the me, the here, the now? People go their own way, follow their own plans, and find themselves on the road to Haran. Like the sly swindler Jacob, who lied about his own identity, and stole brother Esau’s birthright, they are fleeing the consequences of their fallen, sinful lives, sure of a fresh start, convinced the past will not catch up with them. Like Jacob, they make a life for themselves, get a job, marry, have children. When it comes to God, they try not to think too much about it. Perhaps a little religion at Christmas and Easter, weddings and funerals.

This is where cults find recruits. When we are away from the Lord, yet we still restlessly seek significance and meaning, along comes a cult to give you some piece of wreckage dressed up as exclusive insights, secret knowledge, empty hope to cling to and keep you away from the Lord.

Canaan

If we are wise, we will finally find ourselves on the road back to Canaan. Like Jacob, determined to make peace with our past, to finally do business with God.

‘Oh, but I have messed up so badly. I have lied, and cheated, betrayed those who loved me, deceived those who trusted me. If you knew my heart you would want nothing to do with me. How can I go back?’

Because we go back to the God who promises, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’ (Is.1:18) We may flee our past, run from our sins, seek fresh starts, but finally this world offers no hope to the fugitive. The peace we so earnestly desire is found in Canaan, in the sure promises of God to bless the penitent, to receive the humble sinner who acknowledges their sin. Is that you today? Are you fleeing from the God who is already there in Haran even before you arrive? How can we flee such a God? Come back to Canaan, where God always intended you to be. Come back into his promises, and purposes.

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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Do More

Schindlers List

In the 1993 film Schindler’s List, at the end of the film when Schindler is leaving he bursts into tears at the thought that he could have done more. He could have sold his car and used it to buy the freedom of another Jew. His friend comforts him, pointing out how much he had already done.

There is an old hymn from the Baptist Hymnal.

I’ll Wish I Had Given Him More

By and by when I look on His face,
Beautiful face, thorn shadowed face;
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
More, so much more,
More of my life than I e’er gave before
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.

By and by when He holds out His hands,
Welcoming hands, nail riven hands;
By and by when He holds out His hands,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
More, so much more,
More of my love than I e’er gave before,
By and by when He holds out His hands,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.

In the light of that heavenly place,
Light from His face, beautiful face;
In the light of that heavenly place,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
More, so much more,
Treasures unbounded for Him I adore,
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.

God has a place for each of us in his plans, but we sometimes lose sight of that. From time to time we need to offer ourselves anew.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

How is it people see things so differently? Others saw a random crowd of people. Jesus saw the hearts of the people. Distressed sheep, scattered sheep, battered and bruised. They should be at rest in the Father’s pasture.

Compassion is feeling what others feel.

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)

In the following verses the metaphor switches to harvest.

Harvest

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37‭-‬38)

In our church Harvest Festival service we brought three different things:
1. Shoe boxes packed with gifts for Romania, to be delivered to children who don’t have what our children have.
2. Non-perishable food (boxes, packets and tins) for the Food Bank, which helps people who don’t have enough money to pay their bills and eat.
3. Money, to use wherever it is needed. The shoeboxes need money for transport, the Food Bank can buy items that aren’t donated, and there are loads of other places the money can be used.
They are all ways of reaching out to people with the love of God and so to reach them with the gospel.

Jesus was moved to compassion more by the ravages of sin.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

The devil prowls around all of us, but those who don’t belong to Jesus have a much harder time. Sin leads to despair. Jesus came to save his people from their sin.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

It was his mission and it is our mission.

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

We must see the divine intention on every human face, through the hopelessness. There is no hopelessness for the Christian.

We need to see what he sees, feel what he feels.

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (John 4:35)

This world is in a terrifying situation for those who are without Jesus. We must do as Jesus would do.

The last word in this passage is to pray.

“pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

  • The harvest is plentiful
  • The harvest is precious
  • The harvest is perishing
  • The harvest is a priority 

When we live as Christians we express Christ in an unconscious way even without speaking.

God wants each of us to be co-workers with him. We need to do more.

[based on 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

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Thinking It Through

An extract from a letter from John MacArthur:

John MacArthur

More than once I have been asked why my sermons focus so much on biblical interpretation and not as much on personal application. In a similar vein, verse-by-verse Bible teaching and an emphasis on doctrine are sometimes criticized as being irrelevant and impractical.

My response to that is simple—and may sound familiar to you because I communicate the principle at every opportunity. The meaning of Scripture is the Scripture. If you don’t have the true meaning of the text, you don’t have the Word of God. That’s why exegesis (a linguistically and historically sound interpretation of the text) is the absolute and primary essential in every sermon.

So my priority and driving passion is to make the truth of Scripture known. I want to help people know what God’s Word says. I’m confident that if I can help men and women understand the implications of the Bible—to feel the full weight and meaning of divine truth—the Holy Spirit will guide them in the application of that truth to their individual lives and circumstances.

He used the word exegesis, which means going to the passage and determining what it says and what it means. The opposite word is eisegesis, which is when we make our mind up about something and then try to find scriptures that support it. It’s easy to do when you’re writing a sermon and looking for scriptures to support your points, but we can all be guilty of deciding what we believe on a subject without reference to the Bible.

A Jehovah’s Witness talking to my husband online said he went to a Christian meeting and one of the things he wasn’t comfortable with was people raising their hands. But, he said, it was good to see people expressing their freedom, and he quoted Galatians 5:1:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

He had misinterpreted the verse. It doesn’t refer to people’s freedom of worship or even freedom of conscience, it is about freedom from sin. The yoke of slavery is the law. Christ sets us free from the law and the punishment of sin. Even though he writes his law in our hearts, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to obey, which is a totally different thing.

Holybible

Two other words to think about are orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Orthodoxy means the correct doctrine or belief. Orthopraxy means correct practice. We need to make sure of our orthodoxy in order to have orthopraxy.

One of the attractions of joining a cult is the certainty. They tell you what to think about everything. When my husband and I were Mormons we were told that we shouldn’t ask questions, and that doubt was a sin. As Christians, doubt can be a healthy enquiry, and questions are how we delve deeper to understand and make beliefs our own.

Let’s move away from discussing faith for a moment. When you talk to non-Christians it’s better to use the word philosophy or world-view. Everyone has a philosophy, whether they consciously think about it or not. Your philosophy or world-view determines all your actions.

For example, the way you treat homeless or poor people will be affected by your view of them. The Christian view is to help all people, more especially those who are disadvantaged. The American dream, which says that a man can be anything he wants to be, has a downside in that if a man is down and out, it must be his own fault for not trying hard enough. Which is why Barack Obama had such resistance to his healthcare program. If people can’t afford healthcare it’s their own fault.

Is your philosophy well thought out or is it weak? Are you working to understand more and think through the implications of what you understand or are you lazy and sometimes act the way non-Christians do because because you don’t know what you think?

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph.3:14-19)

Paul prayed that the church would be strengthened inwardly and that they may understand and know the love of Christ. Although this understanding surpasses knowledge, it is the knowledge that comes first, and look what comes next: they will be filled with all the fullness of God!

Perhaps we should pay more attention to scripture.

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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We Need to Talk About Optimism

I normally write about my faith, but occasionally there is something else that needs thinking about. I stumbled across this article on LinkedIn and was so impressed I decided to share it here. It is by David Mattin, writer, future thinker and global keynote speaker.

We need to talk about optimism

It’s time to reclaim the word from techno-utopians — and build a more nuanced model of optimism that really does help us make the world a better place.

Back in May, Ev Williams — founder of Twitter and Medium — gave an interview to the New York Times. Speaking about some of the more troubling aspects of Twitter, he said this:

‘I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place. I was wrong about that.’

That’s huge.

I think it’s the first time that any tech titan has openly questioned the idea that the technologies being built in Silicon Valley automatically and inevitably make the world better.

In fact, that statement gets to the heart of maybe the most pressing conceptual problem facing the entire global technology community today. All the founders, tech oligarchs, innovators, coders, designers, everyone. That is, the problem of optimism.

A dream of freedom

Why is optimism the problem?

The early web was founded on optimism, by a generation of 1960s Californian hippies high on the idea that they could come together to make the world radically better.

Those early pioneers dreamed a vivid dream of individualism, liberation and self-expression. They saw cyberspace as the unsullied utopia in which those counterculture values could find their most perfect expression. And those values fueled the people who wrote the Whole Earth Catalogue, founded Wiredmagazine, founded Apple, and wrote the first tracts about the open web.

We can draw a direct line between those early days and Google’s ‘don’t be evil’ or Facebook’s mission ‘to make the world more open and connected’. A direct line between then and now.

These days if you roll in Silicon Valley, attend TED conferences or are part of the Davos set, it’s compulsory to call yourself an optimist. Pretty much every single person who steps on a TED stage has to say I’m an optimist. That part of the counterculture inheritance has become so mainstream that it’s now ubiquitous.

The New Optimism

But along the way, something has happened to that early, counterculture model of optimism. Something important, and wrong.

Over the last 20 years, the TED crowd have replaced that human truth with a McVersion of optimism. A version that says progress is inevitable, that human affairs inevitably improve over time, and that people are essentially good and all we have to do is set them free to be their true selves and everything will be fine. We can call this very recognisable set of Silicon Valley ideas the New

Optimism. The tech giants that now surround us have made the New Optimism their religion. And why wouldn’t they? In their hands, these ideas present themselves as apolitical and universal human truths (and hey, who wants to be seen as a pessimist?). In fact they are a covertly self-serving ideology that is helping a new global elite class gain unprecedented power over our shared future. When Google and Facebook insist on the New Optimism, what they’re really saying is: ‘Listen, you don’t really need politics, or other forms of social power, or all that old-fashioned stuff. You are inherently good, and all you need is each other, connected by us, and everything finally will be well.’

Note the ‘connected by us’.

Millions of us have been persuaded to believe in the New Optimism, too. But across the last 12 months, it’s been impossible not to look again. Uber and 50 years of employee rights. Facebook and democracy. Amazon, Whole Foods and fair competition. Twitter and democracy. Twitter and basic human decency!

Just like Ev Williams said (in so many words): we need to rethink our model of optimism. And we can do that by looking back to the optimism of the early web pioneers.

The case for double-sided optimism

The thing is, we’ve forgotten something about that generation of early web pioneers. Their childhoods were marked by the fallout from the most violent, destructive event in human history. So yes, there was optimism. But it was an optimism that comes alongside — and in response to — its opposite: an open-eyed acknowledgement of the human capacity for destruction and ultimate horror.

That generation were determined to come together to build a better world because they knew they had to. They knew that there is no such thing as automatic progress. They knew that making a better world is a lot more complex than just riding technological advance and expecting the best.

You can see that double-sided optimism in any of the key cultural documents of 1960s hippiedom. Go and re-listen to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

It’s that double-sided optimism we need to recapture now.

We can make things better. But only if we go forward with our eyes open. We’ve seen amazing progress in almost every dimension of human affairs across the last century. But that progress is fragile. We need to be its constant and vigilant guards.

There are bad actors. The idea that ‘people are essentially good’ is empty to the point of meaninglessness. We need to manage these new freedoms. It’s great we can now all share ideas online. It also creates some radical new problems for our democracies as they are currently constituted.

And this is just the beginning. We’re still in the early days of a profound technological awakening. The new technologies that we’re building have the potential to do immense, borderline-miraculous good. They will also imbue us with new capacities for irrationality, violence and destruction.

What does it look like to move forward with all that in mind?

When it comes to the web, Drupal CMS founder Dries Buytaert’s proposal for an oversight committee for consumer-facing algorithms would be a good place to start. It’s an idea based on the observation that it’s probably unwise to let a few massive platforms – Google, Facebook, Amazon and so on – amass huge and unaccountable power over billions of people. The old saying absolute power corrupts absolutelyoriginally referred to kings. Maybe it’s time we looked at it again, but this time in reference to the Silicon Valley tech titans.

So here’s a new rallying cry: embrace double-sided optimism! If we’re really interested in making the world a better home, it’s the way forward.

David MattinDavid Mattin is Global Head of Trends & Insights at TrendWatching.

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 Jesus’ Baptism

Matt 3:13-17

Christ baptized by Philip Medhurst

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. V13

Jesus made a deliberate decision to be baptised, which is why I don’t agree with infant baptism. But equally, as an adult you shouldn’t be baptised to please others or because you’re pressured into it. It must be your decision, knowing what you’re doing.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  V14

Baptism is part of dealing with our sin. John the Baptist recognised his own need for forgiveness. Have you ever tried to run into the wind? You don’t make much progress for all that effort. It’s the same when you’re going against the call of God. What is hindering you from getting baptised ?

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. V15

Jesus was decisive in discipleship. He didn’t need baptism but he wanted to be obedient. Discipleship is falling into line with what God is calling you to do. The Ethiopian said to Philip, ‘What hinders me from being baptised?’ Now he understood, he didn’t see any reason to delay.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; V16

Baptism is a delivery from death. It was John the Baptist’s custom to have candidates stay in the water and confess their sins. Jesus came straight out of the water because he didn’t have any sin to confess.

The Holy Spirit coming like a dove reminded them of the ark and the dove, when Noah confirmed that the judgement of God was over.

and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  V17

This was a defining endorsement from above, and echoed the verse in the Psalms:

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2:7)

God opens heaven in blessing after baptism, even if you don’t see a dove. There is no better place to be. God is well pleased when we obey.

[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

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My Father Is Working

John 5:2-17 Healing at the pool of Bethesda.

The_pool_of_Bethesda

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. (John 5:2-3)

The people were concentrating on the pool, waiting for the water to stir and ready to rush in. They didn’t notice Jesus. But Jesus noticed one man in particular. The invalid who couldn’t reach the water was thinking about something else. He attracted Jesus’ attention.

One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:5-9)

Notice that the man obeyed Jesus immediately and without questioning. He was told to do something he knew was impossible but he didn’t hesitate. Was God already working in his heart? Is God working in the heart of someone you know?

Why didn’t Jesus heal everyone round the pool? If he was going to heal only one, why did he choose that one?

Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” … So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (John 5:17,19,20)

‘My Father is working.’  The Son does what he sees the Father do. Jesus was in such close communion with the Father that he could see where he was already working. As we learn to grow closer to God we will be able to see where he is working. 

When Jesus performed the miracle, what did the religious leaders think?

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” (John 5:10)

Their attention was on the petty rules they had made up to surround the law that God had given. They didn’t stop for a moment to think about the miracle and rejoice in what God was doing. Where is your attention focused? 

church

A very small congregation in the north of England met in a community hall. Next to them was a group studying meditation and spirituality. The church leaders were praying to ask God how to reach out to the community, but were also wondering how to get rid of the meditation group. They tried singing loudly and playing tambourines to drive them away. One day the meditation teacher asked to speak to the church leader and they went for a coffee.

She explained that she had been thinking a lot about light and dark and feeling she should concentrate on the light. As she meditated on it she wondered where the light came from and that turned her thoughts towards God. She said that while she was meditating on God he told her to talk to the church leader and ask him for a Bible. The church had been praying about how to reach the community and God was already at work in the group next door. The group leader met regularly with the church leader and became a Christian. She continued to lead the meditation group but she encouraged them to meditate on the light and then on the God who sent it. Some of her students left but the rest eventually became Christians, increasing the size of the small church by over a third.

We are all called to go and spread the word about Jesus, and it can be hard sometimes. Look for where God is already working. Ask him to show you so you can work with him. 

[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

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