Psalm 23


I was recently asked to preach on this Psalm. It’s one of my favourites, and I thought I would share my notes with you. I hope you find them interesting. Usually when reading the Bible, it would be a mistake to focus too much on individual words unless you’re reading it in the original Hebrew. However, this Psalm is so well known, and the truths are repeated in the rest of scripture, so I think we are safe to dissect the passage and still understand what the author was trying to say:

Psalm 23: 1-6

God’s Shepherding

This Psalm was written by David, who had been a shepherd. The themes would be very relevant for him, because our relationships with God are a personal thing (isn’t that amazing!) One thing I love about this Psalm, is that the author started to write in in the third person, referring to God as ‘The LORD’ and ‘He’. About half way through, this changes, and he starts to talk to God, using ‘You.’ This happens to us, doesn’t it? We start to read the Bible, or think about God, or what he might want, and gradually, hardly noticing, we start to actually talk to him directly.

Verse 1

When I was little I was very confused by this Psalm, as it begins: ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.‘ I understood that God was the shepherd, but not why I wouldn’t want him! Later of course I realised it meant ‘I shall not want for anything else.’

The LORD is my shepherd: LORD denotes Yaweh, “I am” the eternal God (written in capitals). We can never know God  so he kindly gives us analogies we can relate to.

No uncertainty—the LORD is my shepherd (not ‘I hope so’)

Personal, God cares about individuals—the LORD is my shepherd.

Cows know owner (I learnt a lot about cows before writing my farm books). They know owner because listen to his voice. We are like sheep to their shepherd.

Present tense—whatever has gone before doesn’t change what is now. We all have things we regret, but God is interested in the ‘now’ of our lives. WE tend to worry about our past, and be anxious about our future. But the Bible tells us that God will cancel out our past because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and none of us can know what the future holds. It is the ‘now’ that matters. Are you being kind today, being humble, being fair?

Because the LORD is my shepherd, I therefore will not need anything else. I don’t think this can mean physical things, because some Christians are starving, or living in war zones. I think it means that if we have the spiritual side of our lives sorted out, then we can trust that everything else is part of God’s will—if we suffer, or go through pain, then it won’t be for nothing, it will be part of the bigger picture, part of God’s eternal plan. God is enough. Sometimes we need to remember that, to focus on God more, to try and see today in the light of eternity.

My animals expect me to feed them. Do we expect to receive from God? Do we come to church expecting to hear God’s voice?

Verse 2

Spurgeon said the ‘green pastures’ represent Scripture. They are where we rest, they show God’s abundant love for his people—always fresh, abundant, never exhausted. We can read the Bible over and over, and so many times we find something new, it speaks to us in a new way, we understand a little more of God.

He maketh me lie down—God doesn’t want us to be always struggling, striving away at life. He wants us to come to him, give up our worries, rest in his promises. It will be alright, because God is our shepherd.

Still waters are like the Holy Spirit, who sometimes works quietly: a dove, not an eagle. Sometimes/often we don’t notice what God is doing, we don’t see his Spirit working in us or in others. But those waters are there, still waters run deep, afterwards we sometimes look back, and realise that God was at work, things did work out right.

God leads us. We aren’t driven along, we are given someone to follow. (Chickens cannot be ‘driven’ but they will follow if I have food!) Jesus leads us by his example, we can see how to live by looking at how he lived. We see God in other people, and that is an example for us to follow too. It’s much easier to copy than to decide for ourselves (like the chickens wandering all over the garden) so we need to choose carefully who we will copy. WE have to allow ourselves to be led.

Sometimes we want to know the whole route, all at once. But usually God leads us step by step. I need to be asking each day, ‘What does God want of me today?’ Sometimes Christians get in a muddle about this, they agonise over ‘being led’. A little like the joke of the man who needed saving and prayed to God, then ignored the police/firemen/lifeboat that came to rescue him! We ask God to lead us, but he has given us a brain, surrounded us with wise people—following God does not have to be via a thunderbolt!

Verse 3

God ‘restores’ our soul because it needs restoring! We get it wrong, we do/think/believe the wrong thing, over and over. God restores us, again and again. ‘Restores’ is an active verb, God keeps on restoring us.

He restores my soul. Not me, not yoga, not a holiday! God does it, because he is our shepherd—he wants to take care of us. We need to remember to pray, to ask him to restore us, to let him guide us, to accept his forgiveness.

He leads me in paths of righteousness (or ‘right paths’). We should be obedient, follow what we know is right. WE don’t pick and choose which commandments we will follow, we obey all of them. We belong to God, we need to behave accordingly. We MUST be kind, be humble, be just.

Verse 4

We don’t run, or slip or struggle our way through the valley of death, we walk. It is a calm thing. We don’t walk alone, God is with me. We don’t wander aimlessly though the valley of death, we walk through it, death is simply on the way to where we are going.

Corrie Ten Boom told a lovely story about when she was young, and was frightened of dying. Her father reminded her, that when they caught the train, he would give the young Corrie her ticket right at the end of the journey, just before she needed it—the rest of the journey he kept it safe for her. He said that God is the same with death, he doesn’t make us ready until we need to be ready. . . If we’re scared, we’re probably not going to die today! God gives us what we need when we need it. This Psalm reminds us that when the time comes, God will be there.

When I had brain surgery, my walk to the operating room was terrifying, but I felt ‘wrapped in warm cotton-wool’—God was with me in a whole new way, because that’s what I needed at that time.

It is only the shadow of death we walk through, God removed the actual permanent death when Jesus rose. The valley is often a peaceful place—when my Dad died, it was a peaceful, Godly thing, a becoming more soul and less physical.

I will fear no evil, not because evil doesn’t exist, but because God is stronger, and he is there, protecting me. Most of our fears are in our head: the interview, the being alone, the being ill, the missing the bus—these things are rarely as bad in real life as we fear they will be! When we walk with God, we don’t need to fear evil, he has it sorted, we can trust him. God is with me. All the time.

The rod and staff which are used to keep the flock in order: for discipline, they are the things that comfort when things are tough. Knowing that God is in charge, is mightier than anything we will ever face, is to have true comfort when we need it.

Verse 5

‘You prepare a table for me’: one translation has ‘furnish and decorate’ a table—God doesn’t skimp when he does something for us. He treats us as special. We prepare a special table for Christmas, or a party—it shows that something is special. The Psalmist is saying that God treats us as something precious, something worth celebrating.

‘You prepare a table’ implies something normal, not rushed—a meal is eaten slowly, in a calm way. God is preparing something we can enjoy, we don’t need to feel tense about it.

In the presence of my enemies’ for David, his enemies were very real—they wanted to kill him! This verse was literal for him. I don’t really have physical enemies, but I do have fears, anxieties, temptations, and they are very real to me. I think this verse shows that even though those things exist, God still treats me as something precious, and the way God treats me is what I should be focussing on, not the negative things.

‘You anoint my head with oil’ signifies that we are made special. A king was anointed with oil, a priest was anointed with oil, it signified something special, a change. We need to allow God to anoint us, to change us, to make us something special.

‘My cup overflows’ shows that God gives us more than we can even hold! God gives generously. Look at how many acorns an oak produces, how many eggs a chicken lays, how many pips are in an apple: way more than are needed! God gives to us extravagantly.

Verse 6

“Surely goodness” when I was a child I thought ‘surely goodness’ was a special type of goodness! But it means that ‘because of all this, then for sure goodness and mercy will follow me. Certainly these things will be in my life.

We can almost imagine them as two angels, watching our back, all the time. All the days of my life—so, the bad days as well as the good days, those two angels will be there.

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. We live there, not a visit, but living as children who have every right to be there. Forever.

 

I hope you feel encouraged today, whatever your day might hold.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

 

 

 

 

A Christian is Someone Who Leaves a Washroom Cleaner Than When They Entered


I always struggle a bit in January—do you? I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sunlight, or the residual tiredness after Christmas, or just something weird that happens in my brain; January for me is full of scowls and negative feelings and wanting to cry. It has been even worse this year, partly because I have been hurt by my church and because it’s January, I have been focussing on it more than is healthy. It was something small, not even worth mentioning here (because you will think me silly) but for me, it mattered.

Now, this happens a lot in churches—has it happened to you? The trouble is, churches are just people, and everyone is busy, and trying to prioritise their time, and frankly, we only tend to notice the person playing the music, or operating the sound system, or unlocking the fire door each week, when they mess up. We don’t remember to thank them, but we’re quite quick to give input if we feel they could improve! We also tend to announce what we want to happen, and are sometimes insensitive to what others might want or need.

But I was still hurt. My brain told me not be stupid, it was tiny thing, not important. But the child in me raged and felt bitter, and wanted to leave. I need to be noticed, and I often feel invisible.

The solution to this, for me, is found in a little book tucked away at the back of the Bible: 1 Peter. In chapter 2, Peter talks about how kind God is and it calls us to be like living stones. It says that in God’s eyes we are ‘chosen and precious’. We might not be noticed by our peers, but God sees us. God thinks we’re precious.

The writing goes on to tell us to allow ourselves to be ‘used in building a spiritual temple’. A stone on its own is of little use, but as part of a building it becomes magnificent. I have to let hurts dissipate, I can’t be useful on my own, I need to be part of the larger Christian body. (That’s me told then!)

It talks about offering a sacrifice that’s acceptable to God. But what is that? In the olden days, people offered animal sacrifices, but God doesn’t want that today. In other parts of the Bible, it makes it clear what God does want. He wants us to do what is just, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. Justice is about being fair and wise. Walking humbly isn’t about banging people over the head with what I believe. And being kind? Well, that’s sort of obvious. We all need people to be kind to us.

Which is why the title is what it is. I think perhaps Christians (me) need to think a little more carefully about how they’re being kind to others. A Christian is the person who holds open a door, who helps with the washing up, who leaves a public toilet cleaner than when they entered. Probably no one will notice, but God will—and he thinks you’re precious.

Thank you for reading
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

 

Driving from Atlanta to Edisto Beach


We left Atlanta and drove all day. We had decided to book an Airbnb, and were feeling a little nervous, as although our children (and most of the world) have used Airbnb, we never have ourselves, and we were a little unsure as to what, exactly, we had booked. We had found a location, Edisto Beach, which was a nice distance from Charleston, and had vacant properties. However, we discovered that the website we were using had generic photos, a selection of shots from several properties, and not specific photos of the actual condo we would be renting. So actually, we had no idea whether we were heading for a shack or somewhere nice! Husband assured me that if was terrible, we could sleep in the car and head for a hotel the following day. I wasn’t sure a night in the car would be quite as much fun as he was suggesting.

We drove along major roads, where there were many signs for places to eat. When you check on Google maps, some of these are a fair distance from the actual road. One eatery that was often advertised, and was near to the main road, was Waffle House, so we decided to stop and try it. I like pancakes, and waffles are similar, and we had eaten several times at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) and liked it. We thought Waffle House might be similar. It wasn’t—or at least, the one we stopped at wasn’t.

The local area and car park seemed distinctly dodgy, so we parked within sight of the restaurant. I popped to the washroom while Husband asked for a table. The washroom had rusty appliances, dirty floors, and broken locks on the doors. I decided to use my ‘in dirty place’ rules, and only eat hot food that was freshly cooked.

Joined Husband, and warned him not to order anything too fancy. The table was in the restaurant, right next to the open kitchen, so we could watch them while they worked, which was interesting, but not reassuring. The kitchen had possibly been cleaned. . . maybe some time in the mid-nineties. We ordered coffee and plain waffles. Neither could really be messed up, though I wasn’t sure how the batter was prepared. The waitress was very friendly, and gave us the check (bill) with the food. The amounts didn’t quite add up to the total. The waitress saw Husband checking the bill against the prices on the menu and told us, with a smile, that oops! she seemed to have given us the wrong check. She rewrote another one, which tallied with the prices on the menu. We paid and left, neither of us was ill. It was a learning experience. To be fair, other waffle houses might be clean and efficient—if you’ve ever eaten in one, do add a comment at the end. But we weren’t enticed back.

Leaving Atlanta seemed to take ages, but eventually the roads began to run through countryside. At one point we followed a long road, mile after mile, through a forest. There were ‘no stopping’ signs at regular intervals, and when I looked on Google maps—to see what was beyond the trees on either side—it was all fuzzed out. It was clearly some kind of military or government installation.

We bought petrol in tiny places which were in the middle of nowhere (with very dirty washrooms!) and passed seemingly random mailboxes at the edge of roads that had no obvious inhabitants.

We stopped in Allendale for a burger at Hardees. Most people (everyone other than us) was black. Allendale looked like an interesting small town, with remnants of previous affluence, though looked like it was struggling a bit today.

We drove past fields of cotton, fluffy white puffs bursting from crunchy pods on dead-looking plants. Some had already been harvested, and was waiting in round bales, like giant swiss-rolls, waiting to be collected. The weather was hot (at last) and the air was full of tiny flies.

Gradually, the places we drove through became poorer. We passed burnt out cars, and people living in trailers, and uncollected rubbish. We began to worry about what kind of ‘condo’ the Airbnb would be—would it be a dirty shack? On a main road? In a swamp? We had the address of an office, and we had to collect the key before 5pm, so we were feeling tense as we drove along increasingly slow roads (the last 100 miles was on 2-lane roads, through towns with stop lights and railway crossings).

We arrived at the Airbnb office at 4pm. The outside looked fairly basic (like a shed) but inside seemed organised, and the people working there were friendly and efficient, which inspired confidence. They gave us a bag of clean linen (we had agreed that we could make up the beds ourselves) and the keys and directions. I asked if there was anything we should be wary of, and they said no. ‘Oh good,’ I said. ‘I thought there might be alligators!’ ‘Ah, well yes, you might see a gator,’ they said. ‘But no poisonous snakes, or anything like that?’ I asked, hoping for reassurance. ‘Well, it is snake season,’ they said. I didn’t ask any more questions—they were not giving the right answers.

We followed the directions to the condo, which is on Edisto Island. It is amazing! It is in a swamp, but it has been drained, and a golf-course and holiday homes have been built. The essence of the swamp remains, so there are trees dripping with Spanish moss, and pools of water (with ‘beware of the gators’ signs) and the houses are all on stilts. Our condo is up in the trees, and we look down on pools of turtles sunning themselves, and deer wandering around the golf course, and great white birds swooping overhead. I love it, it’s so much nicer than a hotel in a city.

I will tell you more in my next post.

Thank you for sharing our adventures. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

Thank you for reading. If you enjoy my travel blogs, you will love my travel book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary. Available from an Amazon near you. It makes a great gift for anyone who enjoys travel.

UK Link: Here

 

US Link: Here

 

Is Steve Chalke a Heretic?


Steve Chalke

When I was a teenager, a young trainee pastor at Bible college came to lead a youth weekend at our church. The main thing that I remember is that he talked about sex, and it was one of the few youth weekends I attended that was not boring. His name was Steve Chalke.

Several years later, I heard of Steve Chalke again when he set up a charity, aimed at helping homeless people, which morphed (the charity, not the homeless people) into Oasis Trust. I was therefore interested when recently, during dinner with a friend, they mentioned that Steve Chalke had been ‘thrown out’ of the Evangelical Alliance. Was such a thing even possible? I had (wrongly) assumed that the Evangelical Alliance was a union for anyone who called themselves a Christian, a place to share ideas and resources, and which organised events which might prove helpful to said Christians. I had not realised it was possible to either ‘belong’ or be ‘thrown out’. What, I wondered, had SC done which merited being thrown out of this esteemed organisation? Had he murdered someone, eaten babies, kicked a dog? No! He had, apparently, become a heretic.

I heard a few whispers about the apparent downfall of SC. I heard that he had turned his back on evangelical Christianity, that he questioned the crucifixion, and even went as far as to call the death of Jesus “child abuse”. I wondered if I was hearing things properly. Searches online were varied, and it was hard to find the truth. I decided to buy his book, The Lost Message of Paul, and decide for myself.

The book is, to be honest, challenging. It begins with an introduction, when SC explains that he is rethinking his faith, and says he is hoping for an informed debate. It seems somewhat ironic to me that the reaction of established Christianity is simply to rebrand Chalke as a heretic and to exclude him from the Evangelical Alliance—but perhaps the debate happened before I was aware of this, and there were other reasons for his exclusion. I again checked online, but he is still the pastor of a church, still working amongst some of the neediest people in our society. I listened to an online interview, and he was still saying that he believes in one God, still believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so what is the reason for his exclusion? Maybe he really did eat a baby.

The book gave some insight as to why people find his ideas difficult—I find them difficult myself. The book basically gives good insight into the culture in which the Bible books were first written, and then questions whether we have properly interpreted what the words are saying. My understanding is that SC now questions whether the idea of ‘original sin’ is correct (the idea that when man sinned in the story of Genesis, that sin was then passed down to every person in every generation that followed, hence separating them from God). He makes the point that Genesis is a Jewish book, written in Hebrew, and yet Christians never ask Jews today what their understanding is, we never think about what the words would have meant in Hebrew.

Much of his explanations are very interesting—did you know that in Hebrew, you cannot have a word for an emotion? So, when it talks about God’s anger, it actually talks about God’s nose, because when you’re angry you snort through your nose? But that word could also be translated as passion, or fury, or great sadness?

I felt that SC’s views here (if I was understanding them correctly) were flawed. I never taught any of my children to do wrong, and yet they all did, so my experience suggests that people are born ‘sinful’ and the rest of the Bible seems to support this. If we are all ‘sinful’ then how can we approach God, who has no sin? Surely before we can approach, we need to be washed, there needs to be some kind of repentance? But his argument is persuasive, it cannot easily be dismissed, and gives pause for thought. (Or, of course, you could just chuck him out of your club.)

SC also builds a case for refuting Hell, or that people will be eternally damned. He says that this idea was first introduced by the Renaissance poets and artists (like Dante) and were not based on the Bible at all. SC does think that there will be judgement, but that it will not be an eternal suffering, more of a refining fire that will prepare us for our eternity with God. One example is when Jesus talks about Hell, and the gnashing of teeth, which SC says should never have been translated at all, as the word Jesus used (translated as ‘Hell’) was an actual place, used as a rubbish tip, where wild dogs lived (and gnashed their teeth) and that Jesus is asking, would you rather live with God, or in that place?

There is too much in the book for me to cover everything here, and I found many of the ideas troubling, though also that many fitted with my understanding of God. One of the main points made by SC was that God does not create people for eternal suffering, in other words: Hell, as usually defined, is a human invention and does not exist in the form we imagine. SC says he cannot accept that God, who is defined as Love, could create people knowing that they will eventually be destined for eternal suffering.

SC makes the point that if you asked Paul, or any of the early apostles, how they knew that they were saved, they would look at you blankly, and reply: “Because I am a Jew.” The Jews believed that, simply because they were Jewish, they were chosen, they were ‘saved’. SC argues that when Jesus died and rose again, this grace of God, was automatically extended to non-Jews, in short, that all people were now ‘chosen’ and therefore ‘saved’. He points out that when Paul writes that ‘through one man, all have sinned,’ we have no problem accepting that this means that due to the actions of Adam, who represents the first human, all people now sin. However, when, in the same passage, Paul then says that through the actions of Jesus, all are now saved, we start to add caveats. We say things like, ‘but it only applies if people have faith’ or ‘but people have to believe in the New Testament, and ask God into their lives, otherwise it doesn’t count.’ But that is not what is written. It is written as an equation—Adam sinned, so all sin: Jesus rose, so all are saved. It is, I feel, a compelling argument.

I find that I am left with a lot of questions after reading this book. SC has written a second book, and I will read that and see if it offers some clarity. There are things I disagree with, but some I find it difficult to define quite why I disagree. There are other points which I would like, very much, to be correct, but have not yet decided if it is wishful thinking or true. SC is undoubtedly a talented speaker/persuader, but that does not necessarily mean that he is correct.

Would I recommend this book? Well, that rather depends on who you are. If you don’t feel that you know everything about God, and that there is more to faith than perhaps you have discovered, then you might find this interesting. However, if you think you have faith and God pretty much ‘sorted’, and really you want to read things that backup rather than challenge your views, then perhaps you should avoid this book. SC writes that he hopes his book will start a discussion. My feeling is that it probably will (I for one am bursting to discuss his views with other people!) but unfortunately for SC, I suspect that he will not be part of those discussions. He has stated his views, people will now either agree or disagree with them, but as with most leaders, I expect the only feedback he receives will be negative. It is also quite likely to be voiced by people who have not read his book and have simply heard vague quotes. I do not know whether what SC wrote is correct, but I’m glad he wrote it because I think it’s good to sometimes question what we believe and explore other ideas. None of us knows all there is to know about God, he is beyond our understanding; but we can strive to understand a little more. What do you think?

Thank you for reading.
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

If you prefer to read a slightly lighter book, then have a look at my latest novel, Ploughing Through Rainbows.

A feel-good family saga, set on a farm, the story explores how parenthood never ends. It’s a lovely book to relax with, or to buy for a friend. Available as both a Kindle book, or as a paperback, from an Amazon near you. Don’t forget to have a look, UK link below:

UK link here

A hilarious family saga set on a farm. Being a parent has no end-date, as Susan discovers when her adult sons begin to make unexpected choices in life.
A warm-hearted, feel good novel that will make you smile.

How We Use the Bible…


Hello, thanks for popping back to read this post, which continues from yesterday’s post about how the Bible was compiled. As we saw, the Bible was assembled gradually, and it was relatively recently that the Bible we have today came into existence (even though the books were written thousands of years previously).

Firstly, I find it interesting that our holy book was assembled using logical criteria. This is the way that God chose for people to learn about him, and it was put together logically. I think that sometimes today, churches rely too much on ‘supernatural’ inspiration —we want God to show us things miraculously. Yet the Bible was put together by a group of people making sensible decisions. When we read the Bible, we find this is consistent with how God often led his people, in both the Old and New Testaments. People tended to win wars/save nations, mainly by logical strategy, and less by miracles. We want God to “zap the answer to us” and yet, it seems, God has given us brains and he expects us to use them. Should we move house/rebuild the church/go and preach in darkest Peru? Perhaps, after prayer, we should think about all the pros and cons, and then make a sensible decision. You might see writing in the sky telling you the way, but that would be rare.

When we are disputing something, we need to be careful about saying: “It’s clearly written in the Bible that…” In my experience, people only say this when someone else has obviously NOT seen something as “clearly written” and has formed a different belief. If it was CLEARLY written, then there would be no differing of views amongst people who claim to believe the Bible. We should remember that the Bible was written originally in Hebrew and Greek, we are probably reading a translation, we will certainly be reading it in a different age and culture. Meanings can get lost, we can misunderstand things. A little humility when discussing the Bible would be good.

The Bible does not claim to be infallible. Some religions, such as Islam, believe that their holy book was dictated by God, so it cannot reliably be translated into other languages (because you always change the meaning slightly when translating things). However, the Bible was not dictated word-for-word by God. There are seeming anomalies between some of the books. This in my mind makes the Bible more authentic, because if people were going to sit down and write a ‘holy book’ they would make sure it had no mistakes! The Bible, however, was written by people who had witnessed God working, and they wrote their accounts, and they remembered some details differently—which doesn’t make the account untrue, it simply shows they were real people, writing what they honestly remembered.

What about the books which were rejected? Is only the Protestant Bible correct? This is tricky. I recently listened to a sermon about the book of Jude (which is included in the Bible). Jude refers to ancient Hebrew books, which we have since lost, but which Jude himself obviously regarded as ‘scripture’. Jude was a brother of Jesus—you would think he might know what was ‘holy’ and what wasn’t. Personally, I have no idea.

And that’s the thing really, the point of why I am writing this. We want everything to be sorted, we want God to be nicely tied up, to be sure we see the whole picture, know everything there is to know. But we don’t. God has not chosen to tell us everything. The Bible is, I believe, inspired by God—but we should be careful how we use it. Those early Christians were, absolutely, followers of God—they died for their beliefs. But they had a slightly different Bible to us. They relied on God, not texts, and God used their belief to explain the texts they had, so they could come to him.

Can we believe the Bible? It is the book which I believe God has given to people, to help us to know him. It is not an absolute, definitive, set of rules; we should be careful when we are applying it to others —people have used the Bible in the past to justify slavery and wars and all sorts of injustices. Be careful when you quote bits of it. Almost anything can be justified using selective editing of key verses:
Do I believe in reincarnation? No! (Can I find Bible verses which seem to support reincarnation? Yes.)
Do I believe some people were created to be slaves? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support slavery? Yes.)
Do I think we should be dishonest and scheming? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support gaining things through cheating? Yes.)

But if we read the Bible, honestly searching for God, then we will find him. I did, and I know other people who have…why not read it and decide for yourself?

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow today?

Who Compiled the Bible?


I was challenged recently when I quoted a bit of the Bible, and someone asked me when it was written, and when it was included in the Bible. I had absolutely no idea, so did a little research. If you know more than me, and can correct any of the following, then please do—otherwise, this is where the Bible came from:

The first 5 books of the Bible were thought to have been written by Moses, and are called The Pentateuch. They were probably established as ‘scripture’ by Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are what the Jews today still mean when they refer to the Torah. (These books were in existence way before Ezra and Nehemiah, but the early Jews pretty much ignored them until the prophets reminded them they were important.)

Then, about 200BC, the writings of the prophets were added. Later, the book of Psalms was also included as ‘scripture’.

Now we come to the time of Jesus’ birth (about 5BC —historians have discovered things since we set our calendar dates!) It was very important at this time for the Jews to have a clear understanding of what their holy books were. Jews were beginning to move away from Palestine, and they wanted to know exactly what defined them as a race, what their core beliefs were. So, in Palestine, when Jesus was alive and referred to ‘Scripture’ he would mean the 39 books we now have in our Old Testament. (Though the Jews combine some of the books, so I think they have 24–but they’re the same content.)

However, further afield, other Jews included other books as part of their scripture. The further away from Palestine they lived, the more books they seemed to include (some had as many as 15 extra books in their ‘scripture’). Books translated in Egypt make up the Septuagint, and this contains hidden books (known as Apocrypha which means ‘hidden’). Some of these books have since disappeared, and we don’t know what was in them.

So, what about the New Testament? Well, after Jesus left, the people who believed in him, began to separate from the Jews into a new religion. They still regarded the 39 books to be scripture, their holy books, and when in the New Testament letters they refer to ‘scripture’, this is what they meant. However, gradually, people began to write other things. People who had seen and listened to Jesus began to write accounts of his life and teaching. Later, other people interviewed them, and wrote their own accounts. The early church began to decide what it believed (such as whether non-Jews could be Christians) and the leaders of the early church wrote letters, teaching the church. Letters were called ‘epistles’. People within the church basically chose which of these letters and writings they regarded as sacred. So, there were the letters written by Paul, as well as letters written by Thomas…and the ‘Shepherd of Hermas’ …and the ‘Apocalpse of Peter’ …and the ‘Epistle of Barnabus’…and so on. Some of these writings contradicted what Jesus had taught, and some had a definite bias. Gradually, over several years, the early church began to accept some writing as being from God, and disregard other writing.

Then, in AD325 (so rather a long time later!) the church decided to state, once and for all, which books should be included as ‘scripture’. They formed a committee (because churches, it seems, have always liked committees) called the Council of Nicea. As far as I can tell from my research, they didn’t actually decide very much.

In 381, the church had another try. They formed the First Council of Constantinople and set out clear criteria for which books to accept, and which to reject. The criteria for inclusion was:

*The book was written by a first-hand witness of Jesus, or someone who had interviewed witnesses (such as Luke).
*The book was written within 100 years of Jesus (which meant, if it had been wrong, people alive at the time would have said so).
*The book should be consistent with the other books of the Bible.

This Council decided which books should be part of the Bible. They chose the books we have today, including the books of the Apocrypha.

In AD 400, St. Jerome assembled the books of the Bible, in Latin. It was called ‘The Vulgate’.

In the 16th century, a man called Martin Luther was studying the Bible, and trying to discern what it meant. He decided that actually, the Apocrypha should not be included as Scripture. The church formed another committee (the Council of Trent) who decided that Luther was wrong. This is why today, the Catholic Bible contains different books to the Protestant Bible.

Okay, that’s the end of the history lesson (interesting, huh?) So, what are the implications? This is getting too long, and I want to talk about it properly, so I will write another post tomorrow.

Bye for now. Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
Why not sign up to follow her blog today?
anneethompson.com

Being Loved


I was reading Matthew 22 today, and there is a parable in the first 14 verses which seemed a bit odd. Jesus is talking to the leaders of the day, the Pharisees, and he tells them a story about a king throwing a party, and all the invited guests refusing to come. I understood that analogy – the invited guests were the Jews, and many of them were messing up their gift of a relationship with God.

So, in the story, the king sends his servants out into the streets, and they invite everyone who they meet to come to the party. I understand that bit too – after the Jews (well, some of them) messed up the whole ‘people having a relationship with God’ gift, Jesus made the gift available to other people (the ‘dirty gentiles’ – that’s most of us!)

But then there’s something which seemed very odd. In the story, the king arrives at the banquet, where all those people who have accepted the invitation are sitting, enjoying the party, and he sees someone who is inappropriately dressed. The king is so angry, he throws out (in effect, banishes him to hell). Now, what does that mean? Surely, if you invite people who live on the streets to a party, you have to expect them to be inappropriately dressed? This seems a little unfair.

I did some research, and this is what I think it means: God invites everyone to come to him. Like in the parable of the prodigal son, he is a loving father, he will do everything possible to meet us where we are, he wants to save us. (Remember, in an earlier blog, I explained how when the son says: “I have sinned before man and before God,” he is actually quoting what Pharaoh said when he wanted the plagues to stop – he wasn’t sorry, he just wanted things to get better. But the father met him anyway, and that love, that willingness of the father to save the son even when he was continuing to behave badly, was enough for the son to realise that he couldn’t earn his way back, he simply had to accept what the father/God was offering.) So what does the bit about the clothes mean?

Well, I think, that yes, God wants everyone to come to him, and he has done everything necessary for us to know him. However, we also have to accept that. Now, apparently, in the days of Jesus, a king would have provided appropriate clothing for a guest (a bit like when you turn up at a posh restaurant, and they have ties for you to borrow because you didn’t realise there was a dress-code). I guess the clothes would signify the willingness to change, to become what God wants us to be, to let him alter us. Therefore, although we can all come, unless we let God change us through his love, then that is not enough. If we truly are responding to God’s love, rather than using it as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card, then we will let that love change us. We will be pleased to wear the garments appropriate for a party. If we don’t, we have missed the point. Which would be worse than never acknowledging that great love in the first place.

I think that’s what it means anyway. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Thank you for reading.
Take care this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels, which are available in bookshops and Amazon.
Anne writes a weekly blog – why not sign up to follow?
anneethompson.com

Psalms – Next book in my Bible Blog


In my read through the Bible I have reached Psalms. I didn’t find it a very easy book to read through, as each Psalm is like a poem, and if I wasn’t in the right mood, it was hard to connect with what the psalmist was writing. Lots were written by David, when he was fighting for his life, so he was in a different situation to most of us. It’s quite difficult to hope all your enemies will die horrible deaths, if you don’t feel you actually have any enemies. However, there is still lots to glean from reading them.

This book is made up of songs, which we tend to read as poems (and is actually divided into five separate books). I used the books by Michael Wilcock to help me understand them, and if you want to study individual psalms in detail, I would recommend it. (It’s part of The Bible Speaks Today series, ISBN 9780851115061) He describes the Psalms as being like “a photograph album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience.” I rather like that description.

As I read through, there were three main themes which struck me: The absolute power and sovereignty of God, the importance of remembering what God has done in the past, and the realisation that we are very temporary. These themes are repeated and intermingled throughout the Psalms, and I think they’re important. (There is also a lot of poetry, but I’m not a great appreciator of poetry, so that side was a bit lost on me.)

If you have ever faced a potentially terminal illness, you will have faced the fact that you might die soon. This is probably not a bad thing to realise, especially in our culture, which tends to hide away from death. We need to acknowledge that we have a ‘use-by’ date, and that our life is relatively fleeting. I guess for the psalmists, who lived in an age when dying in battle was likely, when diseases were mostly incurable, and when life expectancy was short, knowing that you would die one day was much more relevant. But it’s something we all need to consider. Not because we want to be gloomy, but because then we will have some urgency to how we choose to live our lives. What exactly is important? What really matters? (Probably not the designer handbag, nor being a best-selling novelist, or the CEO of a major company!) In Clara – A Good Psychopath? Clara makes the observation that all the writers of the Bible were pretty weak people, who made lots of mistakes, and they’re all dead now anyway. And yet, their lives had meaning and significance, simply because they followed God and HE gave their lives significance. Their lives were worth something, because HE was worth something. I think this is what the Psalms remind us. Unless we look to God, it’s all pretty meaningless in the long term.

Which leads on to the importance of remembering. I don’t know about you, but I am fairly fickle when it comes to praise and worship. I remember, right after I had brain surgery, when I was so grateful to God for his support, that I wanted to tell everyone I met about it. Talking about how great God was, happened naturally, it was sort of bubbling up inside of me. But I’m not like that now. Most days I’m a grumpy middle aged woman who has a crisis when the cat brings in a mouse. Therefore, remembering is important. We need to stop, regularly, and remember what God has done. The Israelites were told to remember being rescued from Egypt, long, long afterwards – in fact, generations afterwards. Remembering what God has done for us is important, especially when life is tough. If life is like a series of mountain peaks and valleys, then remembering how we felt on the mountain will help us to get through the valley.

Finally, the Psalms deal with the absolute power and sovereignty of God. The God who created the heavens, who formed the mountains, the power of the waves – there is no other. When we’re in the doldrums, it’s good to lift our thoughts upwards, to think about who God is, to remember to worship him. Which challenges us to think about how we do that. Do we make time to pray regularly? Do we bother to kneel down when we pray? Do we make space for the God we claim to worship in the busyness of life?

So, Psalms was not a favourite book of mine, and is one I would rather dip into when I’m in the mood, than to read from beginning to end. But reading it has, I think, helped to change me, just a little.

*****
anneethompson.com

Thank you for reading. The UK Amazon links for the books mentioned are below.

Psalms by Michael Wilcock:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Message-Psalms-1-72-People-Speaks/dp/0851115063/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523950840&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bible+speaks+today+psalms

Clara by Anne E. Thompson:

The Sword Pierced Heart (a story reposted for Easter)


 

The Sword Pierced Heart

by Anne E. Thompson

I watched my son die today. My beautiful boy, beaten, battered and left to die. And my heart broke. I held my cloak close and I remembered the weight of him as a babe, like a boulder on my hip, wriggling to be free, to run and jump and climb. Those legs will run no more. Those limbs, I was so proud when they grew. I remember when he grew as tall as me, then taller even than Joseph. I remember watching him, stretched out as he ate, those long limbs seemed to go on forever. “I grew him,” I used to think with pride. Those limbs will not sprawl relaxed in my home ever again.

I watched his hands, the hands that used to pat me cheekily on the head when he’d grown tall. Those strong hands which laboured with wood, which helped me carry heavy loads, which lifted young children playfully. They are no longer strong. I saw them bang nails through the flesh, felt that I heard the sound of bone shattering over the thump of the hammer, heard his ragged breath as they forced the cross upright. And I wondered if I too might die. But I watched. I am his mother and I would not leave him alone.

When they tried to take me home, when they told me to shield my eyes, avert my gaze, I did not. For he was my son. I would never leave him alone, not at such an anguished hour of need. Others watched. Some women were there, terrified and hanging back. Not me, I am his mother. I stood with John, where he could see me. What could they do to me that was worse than this?

Others watched who hated him. They mocked and spat and called abuse. It could not hurt him now, I thought, let them shout. “He trusts in God,” they called, “Let God save him now,” and they laughed, even as he died they laughed. Yet even God deserted him by the end and that was hardest to bear. He called out with a loud shout, asking why God had turned from him.
“My God,” he called in anguish, “why have you forsaken me?”
But I was there. I did not leave. I saw them crucify him, naked upon a cross. No mother wants to see her grown son naked, but still I did not look away. I was there at the beginning, I would stay with him until the end.

The soldiers took his clothes, for fabric is costly and even that of a criminal should not go to waste. Most they tore and shared between them but not his tunic. They cast lots for that, not wanting to spoil something precious. Yet my son was precious and they destroyed him.

It began last night. They woke me from my sleep and warned me there was trouble. He had been arrested, taken from a meal with his friends and questioned by the temple authorities. They feared the invaders, so he was then referred to a court of Godless law, a place that feared no God. They told me that he was scourged, beaten with whips that removed chunks of flesh as they struck. He was mocked and abused, then brought to this place.

I came, stumbling through streets full of people, full of noise and smells and fear and hatred. I came to this place, this Godforsaken hill beyond the city wall and I saw my son, my boy, diminished, shrunken somehow. I saw that what they had told me was true, smelt the repugnant stink of excrement mingle with the metallic stench of blood. I heard the shouts of abuse, the curses of the guards, the screams from the prisoners, the wails from friends. And him, like an oasis of calm amidst the turmoil, suffering but at peace.

And he saw me. Those dark eyes that as a baby had watched me intently when he fed. Those eyes that twinkled merrily when he teased me and became serious when he wanted to explain something important. Those eyes, red rimmed with exhaustion now, turned to me. Even hanging there, with parched mouth and dried lips, he spoke to me. His voice was hoarse, for he had refused the wine they offered, but I heard him well. A mother knows her child’s voice. I stood with John and my son told me that this was to be my son now and he was to care for me as a mother. Even in his torment he cared for me, fulfilled his duty as my son. Still I would not leave.

Then it ended. The sky had turned as black as my world and he drew his last breath. It was finished.
Those who had mocked became silent, some cried, some beat their breasts in despair. The blackness of the sky frightened them and many fled, wondering at what they had done.

Then I left, I let them lead me away. My soul was broken and my heart beat even though I bid it stop. My boy was gone, my firstborn, special baby, was no more. I carried that knowledge like a rock within me, I would have rather died in his place. How can I live, continue with my life knowing he is gone? There would be no more sunshine or laughter, nothing matters now. The core of me was gone. I could not even cry.

Afterwards, I could not rest and I heard strange stories. They said the soldiers pierced his side, to check there was no life in him. His blood had separated so they took him down, a solid corpse that had no life.
A man came and took the body, they said they followed and knew where he lay, in a tomb that was guarded. They told me of strange things, of the temple curtain torn in two, of dead men walking and boulders breaking open. I do not know. I only know my boy is gone. That is all that matters.
It should not have been like this. It was so recently that people praised his name, sang and danced before him, treated him like a king. It should not have ended like this.

And yet, I recall a song, it comes persistently to mind, sung often in the synagogue. It speaks of one forsaken by God in his time of need, scorned by many. He belonged to God from before he was born, then suffered at the hands of many. They sung of bones poured out like water, a heart of melted wax, that is how my boy would have felt. They sung of hands and feet pierced like his and enemies gloating over him. They sang of lots being cast for clothing and of God’s ultimate victory. They sung of remembering him for ever, not just now but families of every nation, even those presently unborn. For he has done it.
Is this my son’s song? Were the words written for him? He spoke of his death often, he tried to warn me that he would die. But not like this, not before my own time has come. No mother should bury her child, it goes against what is natural and right. Though, he showed no fear, he knew what his end would be. And he told me there was more.

As I turn now to sleep, I wonder at his words. Will he truly return somehow and will I know?

Has he finished what he was sent to do?

****

If Mary was a young teenager when she learned she was pregnant (which would fit with the age girl’s became betrothed in those days) then when Jesus died aged thirty-three, she would have been about forty-seven. How does a woman of that age cope with the things she was forced to witness and how much would she have understood at the time? I am about her age, I have sons, contemplating their dying is too horrible for words. I am sure she loved her boy as much as we love ours.

Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. We learn in the Bible that Jesus, who never sinned, who never did anything wrong, died to save the world. What does that mean? You can learn more at:https://anneethompson.com/how-to/378-2/

However, many people were crucified, some probably unjustly accused. So is it the death that was important or was it that God became separate? I think that this is the key issue here, the part of Jesus that was God left him. That was more terrible than crucifixion. That is what each of us deserves and what we do not have to suffer if we choose to come to God.
If we want to know God, we can, even if that means changing our minds. You may not believe in God but God believes in you.

The song which Mary recalled in the story was Psalm 22. It has some striking similarities to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was written about one thousand years before the event. (wow)
It begins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It finishes: “…..future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.”

xxxxxxxxxxx

Thank you for reading.

If you liked this, why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Harvest Thoughts (yep, I do know it’s only March!)


I have some ideas for Harvest. Yes, I know it’s ages away, but things in churches move very slowly, and unless I start making noises now, it will suddenly be upon us. My reason for wanting to do something stems from last Harvest, when I arrived at church, saw someone had made a pretty display of fruit and branches, and thought, “Oh, it’s Harvest!” And that was it. Harvest meant nothing to me any more, and I’m not sure it’s meant to be like that.

Harvest used to be quite exciting. When I was in infant school, we all took in tins and packets of food, and the teachers decorated shoe boxes. We had a special service, which I remember nothing about except that there was this heap of food in front of us, and we sang the same songs each year – you know, the ones about farmers, and hunter’s moons, and fields being ploughed. I’m not sure I had ever seen a field being ploughed, and I had no idea what a ‘hunter’s moon’ was. But that mound of food was so enticing. We didn’t have much money in those days, and to see packets of biscuits, and fruit, and tins of chocolate pudding – all the things that never appeared in our own home – made the service very interesting. Then, when we were in the ‘top class’, we were allowed to walk around the council estate where I lived, carrying the shoe boxes of produce, delivering them to the old people’s homes. All very exciting.

But things have settled since those days, and now that I don’t teach, Harvest has become bit of a non-event. Which is not, I feel, how it should be.

Now, I’m not sure that Harvest itself is particularly important in its own right, but I do think festivals and traditions in general are hugely important. I have been reading though the Bible, from start to finish, and as I ploughed through all the laws and instructions in the early books (not, if I’m honest, thrilling reading) I became aware that people were designed to have festivals. We need physical things to remind us about God, traditions to make sure we remember things that are important. Which led me to think that perhaps I am missing an opportunity with Harvest, perhaps it needs to have more importance in my year.

Originally, I think that our Harvest Festival was based on the Jewish festival of ‘Booths’ or ‘tents’. The Israelites were told to make little shelters, using boughs from trees, to decorate them, and to camp in them for a week. How much fun would that be! My kids would’ve loved to do that every year, they used to love making camps. For the whole family to camp in the garden or lounge for a week, to remember what God had given us, would’ve been something they’d have really enjoyed. The Israelites were told to use the festival to remember their escape from Egypt, and later, to use it to remember to thank God for what he had given them – and it was held at harvest time. Even pagan civilisations have celebrated harvest time, the time when the barns were full of food ready for the next year.

So, how can we, with our mobile phones and busy schedules, celebrate harvest in a meaningful way? How can we have a significant Harvest Festival?

The main elements seem to be decorating a space, sharing food, and making an offering to say thank you to God. I have some ideas about these (which I have not yet ‘shared’ with my church – so I will keep you posted on which ones actually come to fruition).

I recently went on a course on how to make table decorations and arrange flowers. Not really my ‘thing’ but most people were very enthusiastic. Perhaps therefore, we could run a similar course at the church. We could invite a demonstrator, people in the village could come, and everyone could spend a couple of evenings making decorations and flower arrangements. These would then be used to decorate the hall (and taken home by the people who made them after the festival). People from the village would also be sharing in Harvest, the church would be leading the community in a festival of thanks.

The food could be a ‘pot-luck’ supper. The whole community could be invited to the church, we could set up long tables with white cloths, in the space that has been previously decorated. We could provide some basic food – perhaps french stick loaves and slices of gammon – and everyone who came could bring one dish to share. It might be a slightly strange menu, but for a supper, I think it would work fine.

At the side, would be two tables. One is a ‘thank you’ table. On here, people put symbols of things they want to thank God for. Maybe photographs of pets or people or things. There would be a time when we say a simple prayer, thanking God for the things represented on the table.

There would also be an ‘offering’ table. People would put on there things that they want to offer back to God, a ‘sacrifice’ for want of a better word. Perhaps if someone can sew or knit, they might put a pair of gloves on there. If they paint, they might give a picture. I could give some of my books. The emphasis is on giving – giving something back to God. Something which has cost us, either time or money or both. Something of value. There would also be a box, for those who want to give money.

Of course, in Old Testament days, all the things offered for sacrifice were burnt or eaten by the priests, which doesn’t seem appropriate today. It might be better to sell the things, and send the money to Tearfund. We could either save them until the Christmas Fair, and have a stall, a “Thank You Stall”, where people could ‘buy’ the items by making a donation which would then be sent to Tearfund; or we could sell them at the Harvest Supper. But I think Christmas is a better option. It makes harvest a ‘giving back’ time, and the value of the items is the value of what the giver has given, not the value that might be raised by selling them.

The building would then remain decorated for the service the following day. At our church, the main thing God has given us is people, who have then moved into ministry in different places. I think it would be poignant if they were all invited back, and asked to give a five-minute sermon on giving thanks. It would remind us of what God has given to our church, it would mean that they could invite their families and old neighbours to share in the celebration, and it would be fun – seeing old friends is always fun.

So, there are my plans. Now to let them settle, share them with other people, and see which ones are from God and which ones are just my ideas. I will let you know in the autumn what actually happens!

***

Thank you for reading.

 

Anne E. Thompson writes a post every week. You can follow her blog at anneethompson.com
Anne is an author, and has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her books in shops and on Amazon.

 

 

 

xxxxxxxxxxxx