YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - JUNE 2017
Babies and toddlers are fascinating, aren’t they? It is a great deal of fun just to watch them struggling to overcome the challenges of life. Will that tasty mouthful actually make it all the way to the mouth? Will all that twisting and rocking result in any forward movement at all? How many different wrong ways are there to put that piece in the jig-saw, before the right way is found? I mention these few examples, and there are many others we could add, because they put me in mind of the progress that we might each like to make on our spiritual journey – but there’s a difference. Once we have learned about talking, or eating, or walking, those skills become second nature to us, so that we don’t forget them. We do them all the time. Our spiritual progress is a little harder to define, and it is perhaps a bit risky to take it for granted, the risk being simply that we stop making progress, without noticing that we have stopped.
One basic method of making spiritual progress is to pray, which is another word for conversation with God. Contrary to some contemporary opinion, this is a sign of maturity, not madness. But it is not helpful to think of prayer as one size fitting all. Every baby finds its own way of crawling or talking. So it is with prayer: each of us will find a way that suits our own temperament and pattern of life. The only mistake you can make with prayer is to avoid it, which is rather like cleaning and repairing your car, but never actually driving it on the road. There is a simplicity about prayer that may fool us into thinking it is only for children. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that an adult life without prayer is a life with an essential part missing. I am by no means the first one to have had this thought – our two Archbishops have issued a call to the nation to engage in prayer between Ascension (May 25th) and Pentecost (June 4th). Perhaps it might be helpful if I offered a few pointers as to how this could be done, although the number of ways to try praying is equal to the number of people alive today. It’s individual, unique and there for you to experience on your own terms, in your own way.
Controlled breathing can help, as can the deployment of smiles or generosity. Think of others before yourself, or look for a sensory focus of some kind, to encourage stillness. Don’t give in to bad news, but look for signs of God at work in the world, sometimes in human creativity, and develop the habit of thanks. Use your own words or those written by others, but also treasure silence. Above all remember that God is with you, so listen carefully. I hope some of these ideas are helpful.
Best Wishes to you all, Rev. Steve
YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - MAY 2017
It has not struck me before, but in May there are many commemorations in the church calendar of leaders or teachers in the church, in various parts of the world and at various periods of history. They include the following: Athanasius of Alexandria (May 2nd), English Reformation Martyrs (May 4th), Julian of Norwich (May 8th), Dunstan of Canterbury (May 19th), Alcuin of York (May 20th), John and Charles Wesley (May 24th), Augustine of Canterbury (May 26th), Josephine Butler (May 30th). In their own time each of these men and women responded to God’s call to play a particular part in the direction of the church as it sought to follow God’s way in the world. But these individuals were not a race apart. Each of us has a responsibility to listen to God guiding us, and then to follow in obedience along the path to which we are called. One thing that makes that quite difficult is when circumstances suggest we should change our plans. At a moment of such uncertainty there is often a temptation to cast doubt on our original call, to deploy an unhealthy scepticism.
Such a moment happened right back at the beginning of the church’s life, when there was a need to replace one disciple who had died. Up until then, despite Judas’ occasional critical comments, everyone had assumed he would continue as a disciple. But events proved otherwise. Did that mean Jesus’ call to him in the first place was a mistake ? No, I don’t think so. As the 11 remaining disciples reflected on what had happened, they probably recognised in themselves the same risk of misunderstanding. They went through a selection process for a replacement, Matthias, and got on with the ministry and work of the young church, in continuing obedience to God. Through this experience my guess would be that they all had their spiritual ears sharpened, and their sensitivity to God’s leading substantially refined. They also learned by experience that God’s will was greater than the limited scope of human imagination. It might be very healthy for us to remember, when we commemorate Matthias on May 15th, that God is not frustrated by our false starts, re-evaluations or changes of plan. The history of God’s people has abundant examples of them being led through difficult circumstances in faith, though not without surprises.
There is an old prayer which speaks of us as victims of the “changes and chances of this fleeting world”. Those are beautiful words, and they point us towards the “eternal changelessness” of God, which does not mean that God is a statue, but that he is always faithful, in every circumstance you and I may meet. Is that not a precious thought to carry with you into tomorrow?
Best wishes to you all, Rev. Steve.
YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - APRIL 2017
Easter falls right in the middle of April this year, so this issue of the magazine gives me another opportunity to talk about resurrection. That idea is the basic essential of the Christian faith, and to do without it is rather like building a brick wall without mortar, or trying to run a car on air and water. Without the fact of the resurrection there is no strength or power in what you believe. So I make no apology for dwelling in this letter on Jesus’ return to life, and on his promise of that same gift to each of us.
Some have wondered about the accuracy of the Bible accounts of the resurrection. Why are there minor inconsistencies? Surely the writers were biased? Wasn’t there too long a time gap between the events and their recording? Wasn’t the whole event faked or imagined? Perhaps Jesus wasn’t really dead in the first place? And there are all sorts of other questions a rational mind could ask. But the truth is that the best explanation for what the four gospels say is that they are describing something that really did happen. If the writers had invented it, then surely they and the early church would have removed the minor inconsistencies? Jesus could not have been buried alive, because of the severity of the crucifixion. The nature of the resurrection appearances strongly support the idea of a new kind of body. There are no other historical events from the same period with the same amount of documentary support, compiled from the testimony of so many eye witnesses. And there are plenty of other arguments to be offered in support of the basic historical fact that Jesus did rise from the dead. But the story doesn’t end there.
The best way to verify the scriptural claims is not by deduction or analysis, but by personal enquiry and encounter. If you are considering the purchase of a major item of any kind, then most of us base our choice in part on the trustworthiness of the seller. The same should be true when we consider the faith on which we base our life. And the best way to decide if Jesus is trustworthy is to seek to encounter him for yourself. There is within each of us an instinct to encounter God, and the best way to put that to the test is to pray, not in a showy public way, but in the privacy of our own heart. God knows our pain and our fears, because Jesus, His own Son, shared them on the cross when he laid down his own life. The life changing part of that event is that the sacrifice was for each of us, and its effectiveness was proved by the resurrection 3 days later. Any honest approach in prayer will not be ignored by God. May this Easter be once more a time when we taste His trustworthiness, in the joyful celebration of Jesus’ return to life. May that resurrection life continue be yours now and always.
Best wishes to you all. Rev. Steve.
YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - MARCH 2017
Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, falls on March 1st this year. From then until Easter the church marks a time of self-denial. The colour of the church furnishings is purple, a colour of penitence, and the whole tone of readings, prayers and singing in church fits with that mood of fasting and prayer. In our prosperous and over-comfortable lives perhaps all that seems strange and remote, as if we were all temporarily pretending to be monks or nuns in some kind of ascetic pantomime. I believe there is much to be gained from practising a holy Lent. Let me explain why.
In the first place the season encourages us to reset our priorities closer to the way we might wish them to be. I’m imagining the Lenten fast as a kind of spiritual reboot of our attitudes and appetites. In the second place there is a complementary reminder to give more of a place to God in our lives, which could mean by prayer or reading. In saying this I am reminded that the whole thing is intended to be rather private, not an activity where we show off to those around us how holy we can be. In the third place there is great good in declaring by our habits that we still understand the simplicity of the good things in life, given freely to us by God. Finally we may find ourselves more aware than at other times of the needs of those around us. Without blowing a trumpet at all, it is not hard to find ways to support those less well off than ourselves. We should seek them out.
Through many centuries of the Christian Church it has been the habit of the church to use the season of Lent to prepare candidates for Baptism, or Christening as it is sometimes called. At this service the candidates receive three important symbols, the cross, the water and the candle, which signify God’s promises of victory over suffering, over death and over confusion. They carry strong echoes of Jesus’ own baptism on the banks of the River Jordan at the hands of his cousin John, for it was here that God the Father spoke about Jesus, His Son, in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even today Lent is a most appropriate precursor to the dramatic events of Holy Week and the overwhelming joy of resurrection at Easter. Perhaps you have been christened as a youngster but have since then attended church only occasionally. Those baptism promises are still valid, for God made them, but it may be now that you might consider confirming your faith in God at a service of Confirmation. This can be done in our local church, this year on April 30th, to be conducted by the recently appointed Bishop of Tewkesbury. Please contact me if interested.
Best wishes to you all. Rev. Steve.
YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - FEBRUARY 2017
We are more than a month into the New Year, and there may already have been an opportunity to take stock of how 2017 is going for us. To some degree we can prepare for what awaits us, because experience tells us what we are likely to face. But experience also tells us we are fools if we think we know everything that is coming. So perhaps there is re-assurance in the way many aspects of our lives are unaffected by the turning of the years. There is comfort in a repeating pattern.
Through the whole of 2016 I offered to all of us an opportunity to take a journey through the Bible from cover to cover. This was done by dividing the Old and New Testaments into 12 monthly sections. If you have completed the whole of the journey, you will have read, as I have, well over 1000 pages of bible text in 12 months. Maybe you began well but stopped part way along? Maybe you were not sufficiently motivated even to start. The offer is still there, and, as I said 12 months ago, it is a very healthy thing to do. So whether or not you read any or all of it last year, this year could also include regular reading of the bible. There is a folder at the back of each church which contains the 12 monthly sheets. Please take them to make your own copies, and return them afterwards. The same sheets are also still available on the website. If you contact me I can email you copies for each month, if that is more convenient. Let me explain why I think this kind of thing matters more than we might imagine.
Among the big questions of life is this one: “What is life’s purpose?” Please don’t imagine that I can offer a full and complete answer, but at least I can point in a helpful direction. The bible says that the purpose of life is to know God, which is an idea expressed in personal rather than intellectual terms. It means being closely involved with the character and motivations of God, rather than simply knowing things about God. It means working together patiently on a lifelong project, rather than thinking you know the language to use in an occasional encounter with a distant relative. It means a permanent place of rescue and security in a storm, a place where condemnation or blame are rare. It is the place where peace, unavailable elsewhere, is always on offer. Therefore every day should include a time when we focus on getting to know our God a little better. If we miss those times, then I suspect there is a sense in which that day has been spoiled or wasted. One of many places where we can meet God is in the pages of the Bible, and we are all on that same journey.
May God be with you all, as together we take daily steps on the shared road, in prayer or in reading, or in any other way that that best suits our temperament and circumstances. Rev. Steve Taylor.
YOUR VICAR'S LETTER - JANUARY 2017
As far as the church is concerned, the season of Christmas continues right through January, with the significant feast of Epiphany falling every year on January 6th. It is largely through commercial pressures that Christmas has moved forward into almost the whole of December, but I think that does detract a little from the proper sequence of the church seasons. There is a lot to be said for doing as many nations in Europe do, and delaying the giving of gifts until Dec 26th. It is also helpful to focus separately on Advent and Epiphany.
The word epiphany means “revelation”, “clarification”, “understanding”, “encounter” or “the day the penny dropped”. It is actually quite a hard word to translate from the original Greek. But the experience of an epiphany is something we all know about. It is the moment when you have been looking at the bus timetable for a few minutes before you suddenly get what it is telling you. It is the time when you take a dictionary to research an unfamiliar word, or you are following a map, but don’t understand the detail it shows until you actually put boots on the ground. It is the experience of lifting fog, receding tide, replacing the blown lightbulb, that time when something partly hidden is revealed in all its detail, when a story told by someone else is made your own for the first time, because you have seen it for yourself. It is a moment of apprehension mixed with relief, of joy and peace, of growing confidence.
The Epiphany celebrated in the church calendar is all about the growing understanding of who Jesus was to be, in his own community and across the world, for his own and every nation. The best known metaphor of this growing awareness is the journey of the Wise Men, however many of them there were. They left their comfortable home, undertook a long and hazardous journey, and eventually gathered in a humble stable way beyond their comfort zone, to meet a family who were seriously unprepared for celebrity guests. And why did they do all this? They were led by a star, behind whose brightness they detected God at work. None of us knows the events that await us, either personally or nationally, during the coming year, but a small dose of that same persistent faith and trust will stand us all in good stead as 2017 unfolds.
We have a confirmation service planned in April with Bishop Robert, the new Bishop of Tewkesbury. If you would like to consider being confirmed, please get in touch with me.
May God be with you all in the New Year. Rev. Steve
YOUR VICAR'SLETTER - DECEMBER 2016
This letter gives me an opportunity to offer to everyone in the benefice my sincerest best wishes for a peaceful and happy Christmas. The season is always very busy in every church and in each community, but it matters a lot that we also find some time of peace in the midst of all the rushing around. I should also take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has helped with the wide variety of activities that go on from week to week in each of our 6 churches. My particular thanks go to the churchwardens of the benefice for the care and consideration you give to the responsibilities you have taken on. There is also a long list of others who offer practical assistance and advice, all of which is most valuable. However small you may think your own task is, please consider yourself thanked. I also would like to offer a particular word of thanks to our organists, who give generously of their time and expertise. However many or few services you play for, your skills are much appreciated.
The change in the seasons means that by Christmas the hours of daylight lengthen and the prospect of spring draws ever closer. The traditional date for Christmas may well have something to do with following the winter solstice, but I can’t myself see much reason for believing that Jesus was born on a different day. In the same way, I don’t particularly mind which year he was born in. What does matter is that he was born, probably quite painfully, into a life which by modern standards might seem quite harsh and challenging. Even his first few months of life were beset by huge difficulties, as he and his family became refugees from their homeland. He was quite bright, no doubt, but never had a university education. He took on a skilled manual trade, learned from his Dad, but left that in his adult life, to travel and teach the length and breadth of Israel. On the occasions when he visited the capital city he would rub shoulders with soldiers, judges, doctors, lawyers and all sorts of other high fliers in society. But he never forgot his roots in a Galilean village, even at the moment of his death, at too young an age, on a Roman cross. It is truer than we sometimes realise, that this one man, who was also fully God, knows our pain and our weaknesses, and loves us despite them. He also offers to all of us the surest way through them.
May the humility of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the joy of the angels and the peace of the Christ-child be God’s gifts to us and through us at this Christmastide.
Season’s greetings to you all, Steve.
A journey through the Bible – Part 12 – December
The Minor Prophets
The last 12 books of the Old Testament are “minor prophets” simply because they are short, not because they are unimportant. In fact their writings cover a wide range of themes over a long period of history, and reflect the writings of the 4 so-called major prophets.
Hosea: an appeal to God’s people to be faithful in times of testing;
Joel: a promise of restoration and renewal after a time of apparent disaster;
Amos: an appeal for justice in the midst of a time of apparent prosperity;
Obadiah: a prophecy of victory for the people of God over their enemies;
Jonah: the story of Jonah who learned lessons about obedience and God’s authority;
Micah: a prophecy of hope despite the weakness and disobedience of God’s people;
Nahum: a poetic celebration of victory over the enemy city of Nineveh;
Habakkuk: an encouragement to patience in the face of God’s apparent delay;
Zephaniah: a prophecy of punishment for faithlessness, followed by restoration;
Haggai: a promise of peace for a renewed people, as Jerusalem is rebuilt;
Zechariah: prophecies concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming messiah;
Malachi: a call to faithfulness and renewal after the temple is rebuilt.
This book was written late in the first century, at a time when Christians were beginning to be persecuted for their faith. It consists of a series of prophetic messages hidden within a variety of pictures, often quite dramatic. The main theme is that God will ultimately defeat all enemies, including death and Satan. This message is often interwoven with a symbolic portrayal of the work of Jesus as the Messiah, and finishes with the creation of a new Heaven and a new Earth for God’s faithful people. The book was probably written by the followers of the apostle John.
Letters to the seven churches of Asia: Chapters 1-3;
The scroll with seven seals: Chapters 4-7; The seven trumpets: Chapters 8-11;
The dragon and the beasts: Chapters 12-13; Visions of God: Chapters 14-16;
God’s victory and judgement: Chapters 17-20; The New Heaven and Earth: Chapters 21-22.
A journey through the Bible – Part 11 – November
The prophet Ezekiel lived in Babylon around 600 BC, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews. His message was addressed to those in exile and those remaining at Jerusalem. He was a man of great faith and imagination, writing much of his work in a visionary style. He emphasised the need for renewal of heart and spirit, together with individual responsibility.
Messages of Doom on Jerusalem: Chapters 1-24; God’s Judgement: Chapters 25-32;
God’s Promises to his People: Chapters 33-39; A Vision of the Temple: Chapters 40-48.
This book was written when the Jews were suffering persecution under a pagan king. It offers encouragement in two main ways, by stories of resistance and visions of hope.
Daniel and his friends: Chapters 1-6; Daniel’s visions of the future: Chapters 7-12.
This book offers much practical advice to the young church for Christian attitudes and conduct, on topics ranging from wealth and poverty to temptation, wisdom, conversation, pride and patience.
This letter was written to Christians in the northern part of Asia Minor to encourage those who were facing persecution for their faith. The bulk of the letter deals with the responsibilities of Christians during times of suffering.
This letter deals with false teaching in the church, and how best to combat it.
This letter also deals with false teaching, principally the mistaken idea that Jesus was not fully human. The church is encouraged to show practical love for one another.
This short letter also contains warnings against false teaching.
This short letter is to a church leader named Gaius, warning against further false teachings.
This is a further appeal for the church to stick closely to the original gospel and to avoid error.
A journey through the Bible – Part 10 – October
Jeremiah lived during the late 7th and early 6th century BC. His ministry involved frequent warnings of impending catastrophe because of sin, warnings which he saw fulfilled when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. He predicted the destruction of the city and the eventual return from exile. There are 3 main sections to the book:
Prophecies to the late kings of Judah: Chapters 1-25;
Events in Jeremiah’s life, from his scribe Baruch: Chapters 26-45;
Prophecies against surrounding nations: Chapters 46-52.
This book is a collection of 5 poems, each lamenting an aspect of the fall, destruction and ruin of Jerusalem. In spite of the mournful nature of the material, there is also a thread of hope in God.
Timothy, a young Christian from Asia Minor was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father who became an assistant to Paul in some of his missionary work. In this letter Paul gives Timothy some important advice. He warns Timothy to avoid the belief that the physical world is of no importance with salvation only available to those who overcome it by special knowledge. There is also advice about church administration and organisation, together with the responsibilities of leadership.
The main theme of this short letter is personal advice to Timothy on the theme of endurance. He is especially warned not to become involved in vain and futile arguments.
Titus was a young Christian from a gentile background who became an assistant to Paul in Crete. There is much advice in this letter about how to lead various groups in the church, and how to avoid serious error, misconduct or division.
Philemon was a church leader from Colossae, who owned a slave named Onesimus. This slave had run away, then met Paul and become a Christian. In this letter Paul seeks a reconciliation between the two men by means of some advice about forgiveness.
A journey through the Bible – Part 9 – September
This book contains the thoughts of a philosopher on the meaning of ordinary life, showing a particularly pessimistic view of many things. He confesses not to be able to understand the ways of God, though at the same time he encourages his hearers to enjoy the good things God gives. The presence of this book in the Bible is evidence that biblical faith is not just for the good times in life. Some have said that this book may also be connected with the sayings of King Solomon.
Song of Songs
This is a collection of six songs of love between two lovers, which has often been seen as a metaphor of the love of God for His people. The Hebrew Bible attributes it to Solomon.
This book is attributed to a prophet who lived in Jerusalem towards the end of the 8th century BC. The first section (Chapters 1-39) contains warnings about the vulnerability of Judah in the light of moral weakness and neighbouring armies. Isaiah foretold a time of peace when a descendant of David would sit on a perfect throne and rule in complete justice. The second section (Chapters 40-55) relates to a time when most of Judah had been taken away into captivity in Babylon. The prophet proclaims that God is about to set His people free and take them home. God has a plan for his people to bring good news to the world, through the mission of the Servant King. The third section (Chapters 56-66) are addressed to the remnant of Judah who had remained in or near to Jerusalem and needed reassurance that God would fulfil His promise to restore His people.
Paul had learned that there were false teachers in the church in Colossae, near Ephesus, so he wrote this letter to protect them from error and to warn them of possible mistakes. He insists that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, and that any extra rites or ceremonies are not necessary. He spells out the implications of this complete salvation for the individual believer.
The Nature and Work of Christ: Chapters 1-2; New Life in Christ: Chapters 3-4.
This letter was written by Paul to the church in the capital of Roman Macedonia, from which Paul had to flee due to opposition from the local Jews. The letter encourages the young church, giving thanks for their new faith, and answering various questions they had put to Paul, especially about the future. Paul tells the church to carry on patiently in faith, awaiting the return of Jesus. He also has important things to say about morality and conduct. 5 chapters.
In this letter Paul again deals with doubts about the future, in particular correcting the misunderstanding that Jesus had already returned. Detail is given about the opposition that the Church could expect to face in the end times. 3 chapters.
A journey through the Bible – Part 8 – August
Psalms 90-150 (Books IV and V)
The psalms were used by Jesus, quoted by the writers of the New Testament and became the treasured book of worship of the Christian Church from its beginning. They serve many different purposes as individual songs, but, taken together, they present a comprehensive portrait of the relationship between God and His people over a long period of time. Most of human experience is contained within them. These are the final two of five separate collections or books.
This book is a collection of moral and religious teachings in the form of sayings and proverbs. It deals with issues of morality and everyday life, encouraging common sense and good manners in the context of family, community and business. The framework of the whole book may be taken as a portrait of God’s Wisdom, and it is often said that the majority of the sayings can be traced back to King Solomon.
In praise of Wisdom – Chapters 1-9; Solomon’s sayings – Chapters 10 – 31.
As the church spread from Jerusalem it was not long before many non-Jews heard and responded to the gospel. A debate arose as to whether such people needed to accept the Jewish faith, a view which Paul opposed quite strongly. This letter to the churches in Galatia, a Roman province in modern Turkey, was written to bring back to true faith and practice those who were being led astray by such false teaching.
Paul’s authority – Chapters 1-2; Grace – Chapters 3-4; Freedom – Chapters 5-6.
This letter to Ephesus, a busy city in Asia Minor, modern Turkey, takes the form of a detailed sermon on the topic of unity. This makes perfect sense, bearing in mind the multi-cultural nature of the city in Roman times, and the fact that the young church was drawing converts from within and beyond the Jewish faith. Several figures of speech are used to show the oneness of God’s people in union with Christ: the human body; a large building; a faithful marriage. Everything is seen in the light of Christ’s love, sacrifice, forgiveness, grace and purity.
Christ and the Church: Chapters 1-3; The believer’s new life: Chapters 4-6.
This letter was written to the first church that Paul established on European soil, in northern Greece, and at a time when he was in prison. His first reason for writing was to thank that church for gifts they had sent, but he takes the opportunity to reassure them so that they may have confidence in God through their own troubles. He warns against selfishness and pride, and maintains an emphasis throughout the letter on unity, joy and perseverance.
Paul’s circumstances: Chapter 1; New Life; Chapter 2; Warnings: Chapters 3-4.
A journey through the Bible – Part 7 – July
This is the story of a good man who suffers total disaster. He loses all his children and property, and is afflicted with a repulsive disease. Then the author shows how Job’s three friends and Job himself react to these calamities. The friends insist that what happens to Job is a punishment for his mistakes, but Job will not accept this, and longs to be justified by God, boldly offering a challenge in his prayer to God. Eventually God responds with a vision of His glory and power, then restoring Job to property and good standing in his community.
The introduction: chapters 1-3; The first dialogue: chapters 4-14;
The second dialogue: chapters 15-21; The third dialogue: chapters 22-27;
The final statements: chapters 28-37; God’s answer: chapters 38-42.
Psalms 1-89 (Books I, II and III)
The Book of Psalms is the hymn book and prayer book of the Bible. It was composed by different authors over a long period of time, to include the hymns and prayers used by the people of Israel in their worship, and was eventually included in their scripture collection. The psalms were used by Jesus, quoted by the writers of the New Testament, and became the treasured worship handbook of the Christian Church from its very beginning.
Book I – Psalms 1-41; Book II- Psalms 42-72; Book III- Psalms 73-89.
This letter was written by Paul to deal with problems of Christian life and faith that had arisen in the church that Paul had established in Corinth, in the southern part of Greece. The city was noted for its thriving commerce, proud culture, widespread immorality and variety of religions. Paul’s main concerns are with divisions and immorality in the church, questions connected with sex and marriage, church order, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection. With remarkable insight he shows how the good news about Jesus relates to each of these questions.
Divisions in the church: chapters 1-4; Morality and family life: chapters 4-7;
Christians and pagans: chapters 8-10; Church life and worship: chapters 11-14;
The resurrection: chapter 15; Concluding remarks: chapter 16.
This letter was written during a difficult period in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church. Some members of the church had attacked Paul and his teaching, so he uses this letter to appeal for reconciliation. He explains the reasons for his strong reaction to the criticism levelled at him, and expresses great joy that this strong approach has brought about repentance and healing. He also appeals to the Corinthians to be generous to other churches less well off than they are, and asks for them to remain faithful to his preaching.
Paul and the Corinthians: chapters 1-7; Generosity and authority: chapters 8-13.
A journey through the Bible – Part 6 – June
This book continues with the history of the kingdoms, concentrating mostly on the kingdom of Judah. The book begins with the reign of Solomon and continues to the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC. The narrative complements earlier history books dealing with the same period. It can be divided as follows:-
The reign of Solomon: Chapters 1 to 9 The southern kingdom: chapters 10 to 36
This book continues on from 2 Chronicles, telling the story of the gradual return from exile in Babylon of the Jewish people. The book takes its name from the leader of one of the returning groups, a gifted teacher of the law. The history is particularly interesting, as it connects closely with neighbouring cultures. The rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem is included too. 10 chapters.
This book continues the story of the return and rebuilding, under the authority of the governor Nehemiah, a man of great vision and strength. A notable feature of this book is the record of Nehemiah’s deep dependence on God and his frequent prayers to him. The walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt, not without opposition, the whole law is read and the covenant is renewed. 13 chapters.
The events of the book of Esther, which take place at the winter residence of the Persian Emperor, centre on a Jewish heroine named Esther who, by great courage and devotion to her people, saved them from extermination by their enemies. The book explains the background to the Jewish festival of Purim. 10 chapters.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to prepare the way for a visit Paul planned to make to the church at Rome. His plan was to work among the Christians there for a while and then, with their support, go on to Spain. He wrote to explain his understanding of the Christian faith and its practical implications for the daily lives of Christians. The book contains the most complete statement of Paul’s message. After the introduction, the theme is stated as follows: “The gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith, from beginning to end.”
The theme is subsequently developed. All people, separated from God through sinfulness, are put right through faith in Jesus Christ. It is belief in Christ that brings peace and sets the believer free by God’s Spirit from the power of sin. Then Paul deals with the place of the law of God in this new faith, and the questions about how Jews and Gentiles fit together into the church. He believes the Jews will not always reject Jesus. Finally Paul deals with a number of aspects of ordinary life for the believer, including service to God, the duty of Christians to worldly authority, and questions of conscience. He ends with personal messages and words of praise. 16 chapters.
The need for salvation: chapters 1 to 4 New life in Christ: chapters 5 to 8
Israel in God’s plan: chapters 9 to 11 Christian conduct: chapters 12 to 15
A journey through the Bible – Part 5 – May
This book continues the history of the kingdom, following the story of David’s son, Solomon and his successors. Each ruler is judged according to his loyalty to the ways of God, with idolatry and disobedience being severely punished. Prominent in this book are the prophets who begin to speak warnings to the people and their kings. Especially notable is Elijah and his conflict with the prophets of Baal in chapter 18. The book may be divided as follows:-
David dies and Solomon ascends the throne: chapters 1 and 2
Solomon’s reign, including the temple: chapters 3 to 11
The divided kingdom: chapters 12 to 22
The history of both kingdoms continues in this book, until their capture by invading armies. These national disasters took place because of the kings and their people in both kingdoms. The resulting destruction of the city of Jerusalem was one of the great turning points in Jewish history. The book can be divided as follows:-
The prophet Elisha and the fall of the northern kingdom: chapters 1 to 17
The last kings of Judah and the fall of Jerusalem: chapters 18 to 25
This book is a selective retelling of some of the events from the books of Samuel and Kings. The purpose is to show that God had not abandoned his people, as many might have believed, and also that the origins of temple worship relate more to David than to Solomon. The first 9 chapters consist of a detailed set of genealogies, stretching right back to Genesis. There is then a brief account of the death of Saul, followed by 18 chapters about David and his reign.
This book is written by the same hand as the gospel of Luke. It is in many ways the most interesting book in the whole Bible for a Christian, as it shows the growth and spread of the church from the very earliest days through a period of around 30 years. It also covers a rather wider geographical spread than other books in the New Testament, due in part to the wide ranging purpose of the author. The book shows how the Christian movement began among Jews and spread to become a faith for the whole world. He was also keen to show that Christians were not a subversive threat to Roman authority. An important feature of this book is the activity of the Holy Spirit, who comes with power upon the believers in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, and continues to guide and strengthen the church and its leaders throughout the events reported in the book. The early Christian message is summarised in a number of sermons, and the events recorded in Acts show the power of this message in the lives of the believers and in the fellowship of the growing church. The book may be divided into 3 sections:-
The early church in the Holy Land: chapters 1 to 12
Paul’s missionary journeys: chapters 13 to 20
Paul’s imprisonment: chapters 21 to 28
A journey through the Bible – Part 4 – April
This peaceful story is set in the violent times of the judges. Ruth is married to an Israelite, but when he dies she shows loyalty and devotion to both her mother in law and her adopted people. In the end she finds a new husband and thus becomes great-grandmother to David, Israel’s greatest king.
The first book of Samuel records the transition in Israel from the period of the judges to the beginnings of the monarchy, a story that revolved around 3 men: Samuel the priest and last of the judges; Saul, Israel’s first king; David, whose early adventures are included here. The theme of this book is that faithfulness to God brings success, while disobedience brings disaster. The book shows mixed feelings about the monarchy, because God himself was regarded as the true king of his people. However, in response to the people’s request, God chooses a king for them, though things don’t quite go according to plan. The book can be divided as follows:-
Samuel as a judge in Israel: chapters 1 to 7
Saul becomes king: chapters 8 to 10
Saul’s early reign: chapters 11 to 15
David and Saul: chapters 16 to 31
This book is the history of David’s reign as king. It is a vivid account of how David, in order to extend his kingdom and consolidate his position, had to face enemies within the nation and from other nations. He is shown to be a man of deep faith and devotion to God, and who was able to win his people’s loyalty. Yet he is also shown as sometimes ruthless, and willing to commit terrible sins to serve his own desires and ambitions. The life and achievements of David so impressed the people of Israel that, in later times of national distress, when they longed for another king, it was for one who would be a “Son of David”. The book can be divided as follows:-
David reigns over Judah: chapters 1 to 4 David’s early reign over Israel: chapters 5 to 10
David’s mistakes and difficulties: chapters 11 to 20 David’s later years: chapters 21 to 24
This is the last of the gospels in the New Testament, and was probably the last to be written. It has less of a narrative structure to it, as the material contained in it seems to have been more carefully selected than in the other gospels. Jesus is presented as the eternal word of God, who became a human being a lived among us. The book says it has been written so that readers might believe, and in believing might have life. A striking feature of John is the way everyday things, such as water, bread, light, sheep, vine or fruit are often given a spiritual significance. The language is poetic.
The book can be divided as follows:
Prologue and beginnings: chapter 1 Jesus’ public ministry: chapters 2 to 12
The last days in Jerusalem: chapters 13 to 19 The Resurrection: chapters 20 to 21
A journey through the Bible – Part 3 - March
This is the last book connected closely with Moses. It is organized as a series of addresses given by Moses as the people rested in Moab after their journey of 40 years through the wilderness, and were preparing to enter the land God had promised them. During these addresses Moses reminds the people how God has led them, reviews and comments on the various rules they have been given, including the ten commandments. Towards the end of the book Joshua is commissioned as the next leader, not long before Moses dies. The great theme of this book is that God has saved and blessed his chosen people whom he loves; his people are to remember this, to love and obey God, so that their blessing will continue. The book can be divided into 5 sections:-
Moses’ first address : chapter 1 to chapter 4;
Moses’ second speech : chapter 5 to chapter 26;
Instructions for entering Canaan : chapter 27 and chapter 28;
The covenant renewed : chapter 29 and chapter 30;
Moses’ last words and his death : chapter 31 to chapter 34
This book is the story of the people of Israel crossing the River Jordan and settling in the land of Canaan, under Joshua’s leadership. It can be divided into 3 main sections:-
The invasion and conquest of Canaan : chapter 1 to chapter 12;
The division of the land : chapter 13 to chapter 21;
Joshua’s final words and deeds : chapter 22 to chapter 24
This book mostly contains stories from the lawless period between the invasion of Canaan and the establishment of the monarchy. They centre on the exploits of a series of national heroes, such as Gideon and Samson. The book is written in a narrative style, and relates a number of dramatic events, in which individuals and the people as a whole learn vital lessons in their journey of faith.
A journey through the Bible – Part 2 - February
This is the third book closely associated with Moses. The title is connected with the tribe of Levi, who served as priests in Israel. The book contains rules for how worship should be done and how priests should live. The main theme of the book is how God’s people should stay a holy people. It has 27 chapters and can be divided into 4 main sections:-
Laws about offerings and sacrifices : chapters 1 to 7;
The ordination of Aaron and his sons : chapters 8 to 10;
Laws about what is to be regarded as unclean : chapters 11 to 15;
The Day of Atonement and laws about holy living : chapters 16 to 27
Most of this book is written in the style of a book of rules. Jesus would have known it very well.
This is the fourth book of Moses, which follows God’s people in their wandering through the wilderness on the way to the promised land. There is a great deal of hardship and struggle as they learn to depend on their God. The book has 36 chapters and can be divided into 4 main sections:-
Preparations to leave Mount Sinai : chapters 1 to 9;
The journey to Moab : chapters 10 to 21;
Events that take place in Moab : chapters 22 to 32;
The approach to the promised land : chapters 33 to 36;
Most of this book is written in a narrative style, but there are a few sections of rules as well.
Mark is the earliest and shortest of the gospels, and many scholars believe it is based largely on the experiences and memories of Peter. The language of this gospel is quite unsophisticated, as if it were more like an eyewitness account than the other 3 gospels. It has 16 chapters, and can be divided into 3 main sections:-
Establishing who Jesus is : chapters 1 to 5;
Establishing why Jesus came among us : chapters 6 to 10;
Jesus’ death and the cost of being a disciple : chapters 11 to 16.
This gospel says nothing about Jesus’ early life and seems to concentrate on a simple narrative, without any extra bits and pieces, such as theology or quotations from prophecy. It shows fewer signs of editing than the other 3 gospels.
A journey through the Bible – Part 1 – January
This is the first book of a set of 5 that are particularly important for the Jewish Faith. Genesis has 50 chapters, and covers about 50 pages in most Bibles. The title of the book means “creation”, and is usually reckoned to be written according to the tradition established by Moses. It can be divided into 5 sections:-
Creation and early history : chapter 1 to chapter 11 v.26;
The story of Abraham : chapter 11 v.27 to chapter 23;
The story of Isaac : chapter 24 to chapter 26;
The story of Jacob : chapter 27 to chapter 36;
The story of Joseph : chapter 37 to chapter 50.
Most of what you read in these chapters has the style of a narrative story, though valid questions can be raised about the historical accuracy of the tale, particularly the first section.
This is the second book usually reckoned to reflect Moses’ authorship. It has 40 chapters and covers 45 pages in most Bibles. The title means “departure”, “escape” or “rescue”. It can be divided into 3 sections:-
Slavery in Egypt : chapter 1 to chapter 12;
Escape from Egypt and journey to Sinai : chapter 13 to chapter 19;
The giving of the law of God and its development : chapter 20 to chapter 40
The first half of the book has the style of a narrative, while the second half is more often in the style of a code of rules for worship and for life, though even here there are some passages of storytelling.