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

Nahum

Nahum is one of those little books which you sort of know is in the Bible, but can never find when you want to, and always end up looking in the Contents page. It comes between Micah and Habakkuk – not that this represents when the books were written. It is all about the fall of Nineveh (which you will have heard of from the story of Jonah).

Scenes on walls, in the city of Nineveh – found when the ruins of the city were discovered.

Nahum was apparently originally written as a poem – possible as an acrostic poem (each line beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet). This has been somewhat lost in our modern translations, though some of the descriptions do read more like poetry than history. It is thought to have been written either just before the downfall of Assyria (making it a prophetic book) or just after (making it a history book) – so dated about 615/612 BC. Most people seem to think it was written after the fall of Thebes (which was 663 BC) and before the fall of Nineveh, and it certainly sounds like a warning to me, rather than a poem about what has already happened.

It seems that although the people of Nineveh had listened to Jonah and changed their ways, about 100 years later, they were back where they started, ignoring God and oppressing people and generally being bad. Nahum says they are going to be destroyed, and sometimes the descriptions are shockingly graphic (again, not something we ever studied in Sunday School – I would have remembered!)

The basic message, for today as much as then, is that God is holy, and will not tolerate evil forever. He is slow to anger, and he wants people to change and return to him, but he is a just God, and if people continue to ignore him, he will destroy them. God loves justice, and everyone will be judged. Sometimes, when we watch the news, it feels like God has gone to sleep, that awful things are happening and there is no justice. I especially felt this when I saw photographs of the children in Syria being torn apart by the war. However, this book reassures us, that God will act, when the time is right.

Art from Nineveh.
The art was discovered in the remains of the destroyed city, and are now in the British Museum.

Next week I’ll tell you all about a trip to ‘Spoons and the Tate. Why not sign up to follow my blog, so you don’t miss it?

anneethompson.com

Carved in Stone, Thrown to the Lions, and Defaced…

I told you in my last last blog all about how the ancient Egyptians thought that if something was carved in stone, it was true forever, and how therefore if they didn’t like part of history, they simply never recorded it – because then it never happened. They also applied this to statues, so if they didn’t like someone they chipped the face off (hence ‘defaced’).

Scenes on walls, in the city of Nineveh – found when the ruins of the city were discovered.

There was lots of stuff in the British Museum which at first glance (to me) looked completely boring, but when I listened to the explanation of what I was looking at, was very interesting. We saw things like the wall tiles from the city of Nineveh (of Jonah in the whale fame).

An interesting story was the defeat of Lachish, by a chap called Sennacharib. Sennacharib was a great warrier, and there were walls of carved stone, showing the triumphal defeat of Lachish, people being taken as slaves, the king bowing down to Sennacharib – a huge ego stroke, in other words. Except, Lachish was a small, weak, city. Conquering it was not such a big deal for someone as powerful as Sennacharib – so what wasn’t he saying? What was missing from the engarvings on the palace walls? Well, this is the time that Sennacharib was holding the city of Jerusalem in seige, and in fact, one panel lists all the plunder taken from the temple. After the defeat of Lachish, the plan was to return to Jerusalem, finish the job, and lead away King Hezekiah in chains.

But in the Old Testament, we read that God sent an angel, who went to where the army was camped outside of Jerusalem, and killed 185,000 men. When the people of Jerusalem woke up and looked out, there were thousands of dead bodies. However, although we have the Assyrian records – which show that Sennacharib sent an army of 200,000 men as the advance army to Jerusalem – there is nothing else recorded. Nothing. He simply reminded everyone of his triumph at Lachish, and had it carved in stone. Because if nothing was ever carved about Jerusalem, it never happened…(You can read the story in Isaiah 37.)

Lions were a symbol of strength in Babylon.
The tiles would be baked in furnaces, so the colour remains even today.

My favourite part of the tour was the stuff relating to Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar. Now, in the early part of Daniel, we read that his friends were put into a fiery furnace, as a punishment. When we looked at the artefacts from the time, this made perfect sense, because Nebuchadnezzar was keen on coloured clay wall tiles – and these would all need to be fired in furnaces – so they would be readily available for the odd execution when needed! Many of those tiles depicted lions, and we learned that lions were a big deal to those Babylonians, and represented great strength. They would certainly have captured them, and kept them for viewing, so again, Daniel being thrown into a den of lions makes perfect sense!

There was lots more that we saw and heard, too much really to take in. I need to do a second tour – or buy the book from the museum bookshop and walk round by myself. It really was, hugely interesting.

Thank you for reading. Hope you have an interesting week.
Take care.
Love, Anne

anneethompson.com

PS. I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson!”

The paperback version is currently available for £9.99, but as I will need to buy copies for book fairs, I will need to cover my postage costs, so this price is for a very limited time (I think it will be around £12 in the future, but I wanted to let you, my blog readers, know that they can buy it for the cheaper price, until March). It is also available as a Kindle book.

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

https://www.amazon.com/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549015525&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

The India link is here:

https://www.amazon.in/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549015429&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

The UK link is here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1549014970&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

Deleting the Family Tree…

We began our tour in a large room full of Egyptian stuff. I didn’t know much about the Egyptians, and wasn’t sure how much I wanted to know about the Egyptians – but actually it turned out to be very interesting.

We were on a Bible Tour at the British Museum, and although I wasn’t completely sure what that meant, I figured I might learn something useful. We met our guide next to the stairs, picked up a folding chair (which I was later very grateful for, as the tour involved a lot of standing for those people who didn’t have chairs) and off we set – to the Egyptian room.

The ‘Family Tree’ of Ramesses – with all embarrassing relations deleted!

Before we could begin our tour, we needed to learn a fundamental truth about Egyptian psychology, which was that “If it isn’t carved in stone, it didn’t happen” and therefore anything unpleasant or embarrassing about their history, they simply deleted. So, when we looked at the Egyptian equivalent of a family tree for Ramesses (that well-known Pharaoh) there were lots of names missing. They weren’t missing because he didn’t know who his ancestors were, they were missing because those ancestors were embarrassing. (Now, wouldn’t we all like to do that!) As I said, anything ‘carved in stone’ was thought to be eternal, therefore anything not there, could be ignored, as if it never happened.

Having learnt this snippet of Egyptian psychology, we then began the tour proper – which was to look for evidence, beyond the writing in the Bible, that would support the events described. So, as the whole ‘Israelite slaves being saved by a God who sent plagues so that Pharaoh is defeated and those slaves can leave’ would be somewhat embarrassing to the Egypyians of the day, we were never going to find evidence, carved in stone, that would remind them of that piece of history. However, there were other clues, circumstantial evidence, that supported the Bible claims.

Senwosret was probably the Pharaoh who put Joseph in charge of all the agriculture.

In about 1875BC, Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt, and while he was there, he told the pharaoh what his dreams meant, and was then put in charge of all the food. So, when there were 7years of plenty, they saved food, and when this was followed by 7years of famine, they could eat the stored grain. Now, we know that the pharaoh of the day was deemed to be responsible for everything, he was almost a god, and therefore a famine, of any length, would be his fault. This would make the pharaoh of the dreams very worried when Joseph told him the meaning of his dreams, and he would want to act.

Egyptian records, show that Senwosret took complete control of all the agriculture during his reign as pharaoh, which was a strange and significant thing to do. We also know that when he was buried, he shared his tomb with his vizier (the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a prime minister). There is a carving, which states this vizier was “ruler of all the world” – which is exactly what Pharaoh described Joseph as, in the Bible account. Pretty interesting, huh? You can see statues of Senwosret in the British Museum today (he wasn’t a looker).

The oppression of the Israelites, when they were treated as slaves, probably began during the reign of Ahmose. After him, came Thutmose, and he had a very powerful daughter (very unusual in those days) who even ruled for a while and had statues made in her image, in the form of a pharaoh. It would make sense if she was the “daughter of Pharaoh” who fished the baby Moses out of the river, and then raised him in the palace.

Thutmose III
Who was probably the Pharaoh during the Exodus, when all the Israelites left Egypt.

 

Later, there was a very powerful pharaoh, called Thutmose III. He ruled during the high point of Egyptian history, was well known for his building projects and so on. We know that Moses was over 80 when he started negotiating with Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave, so the timing fits. Then, half way through Thutmose III’s reign, everything begins to go wrong. We don’t know why (because there is nothing ‘carved in stone’ about it) but we do know that the next pharaoh was not his son, that all his power seemed to stop half way through his reign, and, even more significant, the pharaoh after him made it a priority to go and conquer other nations so they could capture new slaves. Sounds convincing to me, I reckon Thutmose III was probably the Pharaoh from Exodus (even if Hollywood thinks it was Ramesses!) You can see his statue in the museum, but someone has bashed away his belt (which was how the statue of a pharaoh was identified) and added the cartouche (the oval that contains the pharaoh’s symbols) of Ramesses on his chest. Because if it’s ‘carved in stone’, it must be true…

There is loads more to tell you about the museum, especially the ‘evidence’ for angels killing whole armies – but I’m out of space. I’ll tell you next week.

Bye for now,
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?

Micah – A New Year’s Resolution

Did you make a new year’s resolution for 2019? Do you plan/hope to improve something? It’s good to pause and take stock sometimes, to check how we’re living is how we want to live.

Micah is a book which I have often heard quoted, though have never read from start to finish before. It was written about the same time as 1 Kings, which is a history book, whereas this is a prophecy. It tells the people what will happen – that they will be taken into captivity – though it doesn’t say when. They were later taken captive by the Babylonians, and remained captives for much longer than they expected. There is also a snippet in Chapter 5, which foretells the birth of Jesus, and is often quoted (fairly randomly and out of context in my opinion!) at Christmas carol services.

However, for me, the most beautiful part of the book is chapter 6 and verse 8. This tells the people – and us – what God requires. Being a Christian, deciding to follow God, is not about rules or religion or rituals. Micah writes:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This should be our code of conduct. Not grabbing what we can from the world, but being fair; not judging other people, but being kind; not declaring that we understand the Bible and other people are wrong, but being humble and following where God leads us. I think this is a good principle to try and live by this year, as we take stock and look forwards. It reminds me of something my cousin recently shared on Facebook, which I felt says it all, really. I will share it with you (I don’t know who originally wrote it, so I can’t credit them).

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motive.
Be kind anyway,
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

I hope your new year is happy, and that you live it well.

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

Bible Blog – Jonah

Reading through the Bible is taking way longer than expected! This is partly because there is more there than I realised, and partly because I often don’t understand what I’m reading, and have to spend time doing a little research. There are stories which I knew well, others which I’m sure I’ve never read, and some which leave me with this huge “What???” feeling.

The book of Jonah, however, is one which I felt I knew well. When I was a child, aged about 12, a man called Mr Goss did a series of five sermons on Jonah at our church. They are the first sermons I ever really listened to, and I still remember some of the things he said. (On a different note, I heard recently that Mr Goss’s life went wrong after this, he made some bad decisions, ended up in prison, and died young. I hope the people who knew him remember that he was also a gifted preacher, and some of what he did with his life was good and worthwhile. This is an especially poignant thought when reading Jonah, which is all about people making good and bad decisions – because we all do both. Yet God is bigger than our mistakes.)

The book of Jonah was written about the same time as 2 Kings (a history book) and Nahum (another prophet) so roughly 615BC. Both Jonah and Nahum are about Nineveh, a city which was part of the Assyrian empire (and today would be part of Mosul, in Iraq). You probably know the story:

Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh, to tell them they are evil and God is going to destroy them. Jonah decides to run away, and goes on a boat in the opposite direction, towards Tarshish. There is a big storm, Jonah is thrown overboard, and swallowed by a big fish. The fish vomits him out on dry land, and Jonah goes to Nineveh. The people repent, God doesn’t destroy them, Jonah is angry.

I have a few thoughts about the story. Firstly, why did Jonah try to run away? Did he fear the people of Nineveh, or was he frightened he would look silly? I can relate to both of those feelings. Then later, when he’s in the belly of the fish, and life is looking hopeless, he cries out to God. This still happens today; very often people wait until everything is going wrong, there is no hope, before they cry out to God. He is often our last resort.

The book of Jonah is all about second chances. Jonah tries to run away from what he knows God wants him to do, and yet later, after the fish vomits him out, we read that God spoke to him a second time, telling him to go to Nineveh – he gets another chance to do what he should have done in the first place. Later, the people of Nineveh, after they have listened to Jonah, turn back to God and God doesn’t destroy them – he gives them another chance. I think this reflects so much of what I have read in the other books of the Bible, about a God who always sees the wrong that people are doing, and yet he gives them another chance. God wants people to change and come to him, he doesn’t want to destroy them.

I find the character of Jonah to be very interesting. He was clearly a very passionate man, someone who acted on impulse, very hot-headed. Even so, God chose to use him. Perhaps it was that passion, that depth of feeling, which made him an excellent speaker (because whatever it was that he said to the people of Nineveh, it was enough to change a whole city including the King). Being passionate was both Jonah’s greatest strength and his biggest weakness. We all have weaknesses (some more than others). If we let God help us, he can turn those weaknesses into strengths, which is pretty amazing really.

Caster Oil Plant
This is probably the plant which Jonah sat under.

The book of Jonah doesn’t really finish (in my opinion) it just sort of stops. After the city is saved, Jonah goes off in a sulk, and builds a shelter, which a plant grows over, shading him from the sun. Then the plant dies, and Jonah is livid. God says that Jonah has no right to be angry about the plant, which Jonah did nothing to create, and compares it to the whole city of souls which God wanted to save. Then it stops. We have no idea if Jonah realised he was wrong, or simply stomped home again. I have never really understood the bit about the plant – it just shows that Jonah was a pretty awful person (in my opinion). But perhaps he changed.

I will continue reading through the rest of the Old Testament – near the end now.

Thank you for reading.

Have a good week.
Take care,
Love, Anne

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: