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.
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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:

Was St. Paul a Psychopath?

When I was researching JOANNA, I discovered what it meant to be a psychopath. Born with an under-developed frontal lobe in the brain, a psychopath was destined to live their lives unable to experience emotional empathy, unable to feel guilt, unable to love. I listened for many hours to psychopaths talking, I read copious studies by neuroscientists, and I even managed to find two mothers of psychopaths who were prepared to talk to me. By the time I came to write JOANNA, I knew how a psychopath would think and behave, and I could imagine what it would be like to live with one.

However, the whole time I was writing JOANNA, striving to make an interesting story that would also show the reader everything I had learnt, I had a nagging doubt. If someone was born a psychopath, were they doomed? What did the disorder mean from a spiritual point of view? Psychopathy is a mental disorder, not an illness. It cannot be cured. It is a genetic condition, it cannot be prevented. Whilst the vast majority of psychopaths are not killers, and are never convicted of any crime, they will still be difficult people to live with. They will still be ‘bad’ people. So, what does that mean in terms of Christianity? Could a psychopath be a Christian?

Now, I believe that whilst God can, and does, sometimes heal people of physical disabilities, in the vast majority of cases, he does not. So a blind person who becomes a Christian will be a blind Christian. A Downs Syndrome person who becomes a Christian will be a Christian who has Downs Syndrome. God can use those situations, but he rarely changes them. As psychopathy is a physical condition, I think it unlikely that God would necessarily heal a psychopath. So what would a psychopathic Christian look like?

I began to read the Bible with this in mind. I knew that a psychopath would be unaffected by physical cruelty towards others. They would be ambitious for their own advancement, and possibly a leader within either the established religion or start their own. They would have no obvious emotional ties, and be quite capable of rejecting anyone who they felt was holding them back, even if that person had made huge sacrifices in order to follow them. They would have no fear, and be able to walk into dangerous situations, even if they knew it was risky. In fact, as thrill-seekers, psychopaths will often do things which they know hold high risk. Psychopaths are often eloquent, and their lack of fear makes them excellent public speakers. There is something mesmerising about them, people cannot help but listen to them (look on YouTube for clips of Charles Manson or Ted Bundy speaking – you will not be bored).

But what about God? Could a psychopath follow God? Well, a psychopath’s main motivation is to look after themselves. So, if they had an experience which proved to them beyond all doubt that God existed, they would definitely decide to follow him. They would do whatever was necessary to ensure they were on the ‘winning side’. They would not risk their soul, not if they knew, absolutely, that God was real.

Now, when we read the accounts about Paul, he shows many of these traits. Was he a psychopath? We do not have enough information to make that statement, and certainly some of his writings suggest that he was not. But I think it’s possible. I wanted to try and explore this further, so I wrote CLARA. As I wrote, I used the knowledge I had gleaned about psychopaths, and I very much had the character of St Paul in mind as I wove the story. The character of Clara is not St. Paul – but I think you will notice some similarities.

CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
ISBN 978-0-9954632-5-7
The Cobweb Press

I hope it is also a book you will enjoy, though at times it makes for uncomfortable reading. It is exciting, but there are funny moments. It shows how someone who is very bad, can achieve something that is very good. Are you prepared to be challenged? This is not a cosy portrayal of Christianity, and some people will find the ideas disturbing.

Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, it is available at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). Payment instructions will be sent with the book – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

 

 

 

If you prefer to buy from Amazon – it is available as a Kindle book in most countries – the UK link is below:

****

anneethompson.com

***

The Book of Job : Bible Blog 13

I have now read to the end of the book of Job. It comes right after Esther, which I think is a really weird book (although very important historically for Jewish people, who still celebrate Purim today). I found it uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly, Esther is very much a pawn. She is first used by Mordecai, who sends her off to enter a harem (not what I would want for any female I cared about). Later, she is pretty much used at the whim of the king, even though she does manage to use this to her advantage (and save the whole Jewish race). The second problem I have with the book is that when the Jewish people are saved, they then violently kill all their enemies. Chapter 9 is pretty gory (which was never really mentioned when I was in Sunday School!)

However, if Esther is one of my least favourite books of the Bible, my favourite is probably the book of Job. Which is surprising, as until recently I did not understand it, and probably disliked it as much as I now dislike Esther. If you have never read it, properly, from start to finish, do it this week. It isn’t an easy book to read, and the themes seem strange and complicated, but the message is huge.

In summary, Job is like a piece of theatre. It is an ancient story, and was told for generations, to show why God is worshipped. The dating of the book is difficult, and there is some evidence that shows it may have been written even before Moses’ times. It was a story that was told, some scholars think that even King Solomon used it, and it is thought to have been originally written in Arabic (so some of the translations are unsure). Job himself is thought to have been a real person, possibly a descendent of Nahor (Abraham’s brother). He is not part of ‘the promised race’, so it’s very interesting that this book is included as part of Jewish scriptures, and given equal weight to their other holy books.

The story is about Job, a good man, who worships God (which is significant, as he was a gentile). He is rich, with a family, and God allows just about everything to go wrong for him. So he loses his family, and all his possessions, and finally his health. Most of the book shows him, wretched and in despair, and we read the dialogues between him and his friends. His friends tell him that the calamity is due to his own evilness, that he has sinned against God, and therefore everything has gone wrong. Job defends himself, and says he has always been true to God, and it isn’t fair, because there are rich, happy, successful people who are evil. Then God speaks. God shows his might, his absolute power, his authority over everything. Which is why people should worship God. He is worthy of worship. Mankind is insignificant, so how can Job protest? Job, and his friends, repent, and God gives Job more than he had at the start of the story.

I love this story for several reasons. Firstly, I love the language of the last few chapters, when God is speaking. It talks about dawn holding the skirts of the earth, describes storehouses of snow waiting to fall; such beautiful imagery. I also like the main theme, that God should be worshipped because he is God. Our religion can be a useful way to achieve this – but sometimes it gets in the way. Sometimes the singing, the sermon, the Bible study can detract from what we are meant to be doing, which is worshipping God. We do not worship because we’ll be given peace, or blessings, or help through troubles. We worship because God is worthy. That is all. This is something we need to learn, and constantly remember. God is worthy, and that is all.

If you imagine a power-rangers type movie, where there are huge forces fighting for power, would you not want to be on the team of the power that will win? Don’t you want to be allied with the right side? That is what this book is about. It does not promise health or wealth or anything else, it just points out that God’s side is the best side, and so we should be on that team.

Now, I will admit, some of the text is a bit awkward. This might be because it is a translation.

There are some difficult ideas too, so Chapter 40 seems to be describing a dinosaur, and Chapter 41 has a pretty accurate description of a sea-living dragon, complete with fire-breathing capabilities. So what does that mean?

Some scholars have tried to explain this by saying they are mistranslated, and actually describe hippos and crocodiles. But if you read the texts, to my mind, this is a cop-out and not what is written. A crocodile does not breathe fire, and a hippo does not have a straight strong tail (like a brontosaurus).

My theory (based on nothing other than a desire to believe that dragons may have once existed!) is that there is no reason why early man would not have discovered fossils of prehistoric creatures. If they uncovered fossils of huge, fierce, dinosaurs, would they not have reasoned that these creatures existed? The world was pretty small in Bible times, people didn’t travel very far, so to believe that somewhere undiscovered, were huge animals, was not unreasonable. God was then using these beliefs when giving examples of his might (which was not untrue, because God did create the dinosaurs, even if Job had never encountered one). This is consistent with other Bible passages, where God used the beliefs of the day to explain something – such as the sun moving across the sky (whereas we now know that the earth moves around the sun). God has always met people where they are, and has made his explanations understandable for people, even if their own basic beliefs have been wrong.

So, there it is, my reasons for loving the book of Job. I used Matthew Henry’s commentary for help with the difficult bits. Now onto Psalms, and I will refer to a book by Michael Wilcock while I’m reading.

Thank you for reading. Take care.
Anne x

*****
You can follow my blog at:
anneethompson.com

I have written several novels, and one non-fiction book. My latest novel has recently been released, and although it is fiction, the overriding theme reflects the one in Job.

CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
ISBN 978-0-9954632-5-7
Published by The Cobweb Press

Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, I can sell copies at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send me a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). I will then send a book, and enclose payment instructions – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

Thank you for reading.

Bible Blog 12 – I Finished Chronicles

I have now read to the end of 2 Chronicles. Some bits were boring, but I’m glad I did it, as it gave me a real overview of that period of Jewish history, and also an insight into the character of God. The books are basically lists of kings, giving their name, who their father was, and any major events. They finish each brief biography by saying that everything else the king did is recorded in different books. (We have some of the other reference books, in Kings and some of the prophets – like Isaiah. Others are lost.)

The thing is, as you read, you see how the kings kept on ignoring God. There would be a good king, the temple would be repaired, the laws upheld – and then his son would take over and we would read, “… who did evil in the sight of God”. It was a recurring theme. A king would take over, he would introduce new ideas about where/how to worship God and introduce other gods, the people would follow his lead, God would allow bad things to happen (like defeats in battle or famine or illness). Over, and over, it kept happening. Then, at last, there would be a king who tried to return to the rules God had given in the past, he would rebuild the temple, get rid of foreign gods, tell the people to observe the Passover. And God would forgive the people. Over, and over, whenever they returned to him, God gave them another chance.

This was interesting. As a mere reader, an unattached observer, I became fed up with the Jewish people. When, yet again, a bad king took over and the people followed him and ignored God, I was very irritated with them. As I read those words, “who did evil in the sight of God,” I found I was groaning. Oh no, surely not again. Then, when after a few generations, someone turned back to God, realised things were wrong, tried to do the right thing, I kind of wanted God to say no, stuff it, you didn’t learn last time, now it’s too late. Because that’s what I would do, after so much deliberate wrong-doing, after they continued to ignore what they knew from the past, after they stopped following God yet again. I would run out of kindness, tell them they’d blown it. But God didn’t. Every single time they came back to him, whatever had gone before, God accepted them.

You really have to read the whole of 1 and 2 Chronicles to get a feel of what I’m saying, which takes some discipline, but at the end, you are slightly amazed by the patience of God. It’s like a pre-runner to the story of The Prodigal Son, where a boy is shockingly rude to his father, shames him publicly, messes up big time – and then the father takes him back as soon as he returns. Such love. Love way beyond what I am capable of, almost beyond what we can even understand. This is my God.

*****

anneethompson.com

xxx

When You Don’t Know What to Do…….Bible Blog 10

I found another little gem in 2 Chronicles. There I was, ploughing through Chronicles, which is mostly a repeat of everything I’ve already read in Kings, when I came upon this in chapter 21. I’m not sure if I missed it in Kings, or if it isn’t included there.

The story concerns King Jehoshaphat – who has already been told off by Jehu (a seer) but is now trying to do the right thing. His problem is that a whole ton of enemies are approaching, including his so-called allies, and he’s heading for a brutal defeat. So, he prays. He basically comes to God, and says, “We don’t know what to do, but we’re looking to you to solve the problem.” Ever felt like that? I know I have.

In fact, the whole nation comes to God – it says they came with their babies, and children, and wives (the men would be expected to be there anyway in those days). They came, and prayed to God, because they didn’t know what to do. Not because they had a clever plan they wanted God to carry out for them (so, not like the prayers we often pray). They came because they were stuck.

God answers, and tells them not to worry, He will be with them. Even though they have ignored God multiple times in the past. Even though they have sometimes worshipped other gods. Even though they do not have a great history. God says, because they have honestly come to him in their time of need, he will be with them.

Then – and this is interesting – they worshipped him. They didn’t actually know what the plan was. And all the enemies were still marching towards them. But they chose that moment to worship, simply because they believed God was with them, and they trusted him to somehow sort it out.

The next day, they go to the place God told them to go, and then (this made me laugh) they tell the choir to stand in front of the army and sing praises to God. (I can just imagine that, the church is being attacked, and we tell the music group to stand at the front!)

Anyhow, the story ends with all the enemies basically killing each other, so Judah is safe. But isn’t that a great story? Hidden amongst reams of boring lists. I’ll let you know what else I discover on my read through the Bible.

Thanks for reading. Have a nice day.

Anne x

You can find my other Bible Blogs at: https://anneethompson.com/christian-tearfund-materials-and-poems/