A Psalm of Ascent–Psalm 133

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A psalm of ascent was sung by the people coming together in worship on the way up to Jerusalem. It was literally an ascent because Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level, but it was also an ascent in thought as they turned their minds to God. The psalmist says as we go up, God comes down to meet us.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Ps.133:1)

Have you ever been to a class reunion? Was it good or bad? There can be joy in meeting old friends, seeing how everyone is older, what they are doing. Or maybe some people are just nosey, wanting to get revenge or brag.

In the 2015/16 season Leicester City football team became Premier league champions. They beat teams who are normally top of the league because of their team spirit.

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In the church we should nurture a growing unity between us day by day, knowing God’s purpose for our lives. The Jews gathered at Jerusalem three times a year. We should come together not only three times a year but daily.

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! (Ps.133:2)

Oil is God’s anointing, God’s blessing. At the anointing of Aaron, the oil flows down from his head onto his robes. Anointing is messy. All that oil running over his beard down over his expensive, crafted clothes. Doing life together is messy, but so worthwhile.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. (Ps.133:3)

Dew is God’s provision. Mount Hermon is famous for heavy dew. God will bless everywhere – the two mountains are miles apart but God does miracles. This is an eternal blessing of life for evermore. Wonderful things can be done when there is unity.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)

Paul said to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. Are we making every effort?

We find it hard to lay aside our pride. Keep forgiving, keep forgetting, keep putting others first. In order to worship together, we lay down some of our preferences for the sake of unity. In our fractured world unity is what we have to offer. Here is unity across the divisions.

One

Though the skins that are stretched over us
have shades enough
to mark a path from coal to snow
in micron increments,
we are one.

Though the fine lines of our features
are freehand enough
that even smiles
are signatures of difference,
we are one.

Though the cultures that encode us
are cryptic enough
to make each one of us a mystery to the other,
we are one.

Though the polarities that plague us
can have power enough
to make sparks fly
every time we come together,
we are one.

Though the stories that have shaped us
are self-penned enough
to fill a library with the secrets we each hide,
and though the route maps we rely on
may be rough enough
to make finding common ground
a roller-coaster ride;
though the distinctives that define us
may be deep enough
to aggravate and irritate and painfully divide,
and though the languages we vocalise
are localised enough
to keep a truckload of translators tongue-tied,
we are one.

Many: but one.
Different: but one.
Awkward: but one.
Reluctant: but one.
Taught: to be one,
bar none.
May our maker
make us one.

From Spoken Worship by Gerard Kelly

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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A Psalm of Pilgrimage (Psalm 84)

This psalm was originally part of the trip to Jerusalem for festivals in the temple.

Temple Jerusalem reconstructed

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Psalm 84:1-4)

Some people use this psalm to encourage people to come to church and to justify elaborate decorations in church buildings, but it is not about church, not about the wonder of the building.

The wonder of meeting in church is meeting with God, although God is not restricted by a building and will meet you wherever you go. Church is important and meeting together is important, but it’s just one place where we meet God. 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7)

During the Second World War there was a poster: Is your journey really necessary? We should ask ourselves the same question about our life journey. Where are we heading? Our purpose is not to pilgrimage to a holy site but to journey towards God.

What is your desire? Is God the focus of your life?

Pilgrims_from_Canterbury

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3)

We can be so easily distracted. A man was taking part in a triathlon when he heard his mother call his name and fell off his bike because he lost focus!

When was the last time you were lost in your spirit with God?

When a Welsh person leaves Wales they experience Hiraeth. It is one of those words that doesn’t translate easily, but it encompasses all the feelings of longing for home. Do you feel like that about drifting away from God?

This psalm encapsulates a time of excitement,  joy and anticipation going to the temple.

Turning off the route to explore is OK when we’re on holiday, but we need to stick to the route on our spiritual journey. Our destination is to get as close to God as we can.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

We are being transformed, stage by stage. We don’t get it all at once, but God has promised.

When walking we get weaker but journeying with God we get stronger the closer we get to God. Keep your eyes fixed on him.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:10-11)

Do you ever wonder if maybe there is something better, that you may miss what he has for you? There is nothing better than God. Don’t look for something more appealing. Don’t get distracted.

Walk with integrity.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Maybe you need to take time to check your spiritual journey.

[based on a sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Knowing God (Psalm 145)

The Jehovahs Witnesses have a display stand in the street with the headline ‘What does the Bible really say?’ A lot of people have no idea and even some Christians don’t know their Bible very well. 

Holy_Bible

Outside a building site was a sign ‘Caution site entrance.’ It seems sometimes that the same sign is in people’s minds about heaven. It might be dangerous so we had better be careful. 

We urgently need more information to be able to act correctly when it comes to the things of God. Psalm 145 tells us about the character of God.

The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (Psalm 145:14)

We all fall. People will say, ‘Pull yourself together’, or, ‘Read a self help book’ (the US market in self help books is $11 billion). We can’t do it on our own.

The character of God v3-6

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. (Psalm 145:3-6)

Meditation means to think deeply about God. Do we take time to think about God?

Relationship with God v8, 15-16,18-20

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 145:8)

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. (Psalm 145:18-20)

money

A man bought snacks in a supermarket costing £3 and he gave the cashier a £10 note, but she gave him £17 change. It was tempting to keep the money, but he pointed it out to her and she insisted he gave her a £20 note. The manager had to be called before the cashier finally accepted that she had given the man too much change. This is like grace – we are given too much, too many blessings that we do not deserve.

We tune into other things during the day (a survey found that on average people check their phone 120 times a day). We look at Facebook to see what our friends and family are doing. We need to tune in to God.

There is a hard verse in this Psalm:

The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. (Psalm 145:20)

God is a just God and is with those who are in pain, but this life is not everything. This Psalm reveals the whole character of God, not just the nice things. 

What should be my response?:

  • How can I call on him more consistently?
  • What good habits will I establish?
  • What bad habits will I stop?

[based on a sermon by Gareth Hill at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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A Psalm of Lament

Psalm 79 is a communal lament. The writer of Psalm 79, as in other psalms of lament, complains to God.
How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? (Psalm 79:5) 

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Does God allow us to complain? Don’t think you always have to present a good face to God. He knows your heart. All of us have come to a place in our lives where we say, ‘God, what are you doing?’ He is gracious and will listen.

In the TV series West Wing, in the episode Two Cathedrals, the President rants against God. He tells him all the good things he has done so why is this happening? He finishes with ‘I’m done with you.’

In contrast, the Psalmist laments while he holds on to God and who he is. He recognises that God’s judgement is valid because of the people’s sin, but he queries the length of the sentence. ‘How long O Lord?’ is a recurring theme through the Psalms. 

V1-4 reminds God of the state of the nation.
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. (Psalm 79:1) 

Jesus asked people, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ even when it was clear they were sick or crippled. You need to ask him.

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V5-8 asks for restoration for his people.
Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:8)

Tell him what you need.

V9-12 reminds God of his promises.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! (Psalm 79:9)

Tell him, and you, what he has said and done in the past.

V13 makes an appropriate response.
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.(Psalm 79:13) 

The writer makes a promise that if God restores the people they will serve him faithfully.

Vicar Chad Varah felt moved to provide a service of those who would listen to troubled people, but he told God he couldn’t do it where he was, it needed to be run from a city centre church. Then he was called to a city centre church! With God moving in his life, he obeyed and set up the service. This is the story of the founding of the Samaritans.

God has done so much for us. Even when we have cause for lament, we need to cling to him and serve him faithfully. When church leaders call for prayer for the nation few people turn up. If we want to be part of what God is doing we need to be committed.

[based on a sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Why Won’t You Come to the Party?

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When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
So the servant came and reported these things to his master.
Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you,none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'” (Luke 14:15-24)

Jesus told this story to illustrate some of the responses to God’s invitation to the kingdom. In the beginning God created a nation who were especially invited to belong to him. Since Jesus came, everyone is invited. So why do people not respond to the invitation to God’s party?

Some have the wrong impression. They have never been into a church, or had a serious discussion with a Christian. Their idea of Christianity is made up of rumour and the media. As my mother used to say of new food, ‘You won’t know until you try it.’

Some can’t be bothered. If they ever think about Christianity or church, they can’t raise enough interest to make the effort. Or they think it will make a huge change in their life, and they don’t want to change. We have to persuade them of the benefits of making the effort. He is worth bothering for.

Maybe people aren’t aware they have been invited. One evening a man was disturbed by the loud music of a party in the flat above his. Eventually he texted the woman in the flat upstairs and asked her to turn the music down. The volume gradually crept up again and he texted a less polite request. When it got to past 11pm, he lost his patience and went upstairs and knocked on the door. He told her that she should have more consideration for her neighbours. The music stopped at 11:30pm.

The next day he was returning from the shop when he discovered an envelope caught under his doormat. It contained an invitation to a flat warming party the previous evening. All the neighbours were invited, and the invitation said the music would stop at 11:30pm. Instead of complaining, the man should have been part of the fun, but he didn’t know he was invited.

Also, in these days of the ‘me’ generation, people have decided that religion is optional, and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as long as it suits you. They don’t know there is only one way to be reconciled to God, and the invitation is open to everyone. Make sure they know.

[based on a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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From Joseph to Jesus: My Testimony

I have been writing thoughts about my Christian faith for some time, but I don’t think I have ever shared my conversion story.

Neil

Before I was taught by the Mormons in my teens, I only knew what I had learned at Sunday School as a small child and in R.E. lessons in school. Like many people, I thought that a Christian was someone who tried hard to do good things, read the Bible, and prayed to God. I learned from my Mormon friends that Jesus had paid for the fall of Adam, so that we are all born sinless and are held accountable only for the sins we ourselves commit. Because Jesus died for my sins, I could work to be acceptable to God and hope one day to be judged worthy of heaven. It certainly sounded right, and I looked no further.

I was introduced to the Mormon church via a card through the door offering a free copy of the Book of Mormon. I had been asking a lot of questions about God and the purpose of life, so I sent it off. The book was delivered by two Mormon missionaries when I was out, so my mother made an appointment for them to come back and speak to me. Through their teaching, and visits to the church, my whole family was eventually baptised in March 1968.

18 Bride and Groom

It was through the church that I met Michael and we both had many happy times as Mormons. Our family started there and we found the church most helpful and supportive as we struggled with the usual difficulties encountered by young parents. Together we had gone to the temple and had been “sealed for time and eternity” and together we continued to enjoy the “blessings” of temple worship.

There were, of course, down times. However the church was always there for us and we have much to thank them for. Indeed it seems natural to ask, if it was so good why did we leave?

I didn’t know that what I had found was not the real thing, but a counterfeit, a deception. It took me 18 years before I finally had the courage to admit that my faith wasn’t working, and that all my efforts to please God only left me feeling inadequate.

When we became dissatisfied we really did not understand why. We just knew that something fundamental was missing from our spiritual experience. It was only as we began seeking with a determination we had never known before that we saw how radical would have to be the change in our lives if we were to go on with God.

A Christian friend asked us to read the book of Romans in the Bible, in a modern English version, and with no Mormon commentary. There we discovered the grace of God. I realised that the one thing I had never done in my life was to submit in obedience to Christ and ask Him to be my Saviour. I had believed in Him for 18 years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon Church. They had effectively put themselves between me and God.

When I set out to read the book of Romans I was looking for a solution to the problems of my faith in the Mormon Church. I wanted to get right with God so that I could be a better Mormon. I certainly got more than I bargained for! Now I was faced with a dilemma. Could I give up some things that had been very precious to me, had been my whole life for 18 years, and leave all my Mormon friends? Or could I compromise and stay when I knew their teaching was false? You know, Jesus promised us abundant life, but He never promised it would be easy.

Baptism

So many people think obedience is about the Ten Commandments and that sort of thing. Really it is about attitude. What really is the most important thing in your life? When I thought about it like that, there was no other choice I could make. I chose Jesus and the true gospel, and left the Mormon church. And I can honestly say that I have never regretted it. My life since really coming to know Jesus bears no comparison to all those previous years when I only thought I knew Him.

My husband Michael says,

“Coming from a system that saw obedience to law as the way to God we were brought to rejoice in the fact that ‘a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify’ (Rom.3: 21). The assurances of God’s word were, and are, a blessing to us beyond anything we could hope for or ask for. We know that through faith in Jesus we have eternal life as a present possession and a guaranteed inheritance (John 5:24).

I suppose the biggest surprise was that Christianity, far from being the hopelessly confused and frighteningly confusing religion painted by the Mormons, actually makes sense. In all its expressions and in every aspect it is a beautifully harmonious faith. If it is seen by the power of the Spirit, seen for what it really is, it is irresistible, and for honest seekers a love affair is inevitable.”

So there you have it. I used to be a Mormon until I discovered the gospel of grace. That was over thirty years ago, and it hasn’t been easy. Life throws things at everyone, Christians included. But it has been easier to deal with life becausae I have Jesus in my life. I recommend it to you all.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Nanny McPhee and the Road to Emmaus

No, it’s not a new sequel film, but a strange coincidence. What happened on the Emmaus road is explained very neatly by Nanny McPhee.

The_Road_to_Emmaus by Bloch_Carl_

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:13-16)

These two disciples had left all the others in Jerusalem (and missed out on the news of Jesus’ resurrection), and set off home. Why did Jesus come to them?

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31)

In between these two quotes from Luke 24, Jesus explained the correct perspective on all that had happened, including the scripture references that spoke of him. Why did Jesus leave them?

Nanny McPhee

The answer is found in the 2005 film Nanny McPhee, written by and starring Emma Thompson, about a magical nanny who comes to help a widower and his unruly seven children. At the beginning, the children want her to go away and leave them alone, but at the end, they want her to stay. This is what she says:

There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.

[With thanks to Thomas Rees at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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