Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Doesn't sound too good, but it is good news. To be black-lined is to be mapped across to the grade in the new system which is equivalent to your former grade in the old system (in the pay modernisation process we have just undergone). Colleagues (not in our team) have been red-circled (which means that their resulting grade is lower than their previous grade - effectively a pay cut, delayed for three years while they try to 'grow their jobs'). I believe that a (small) number of members of our team have been double green-circled (their new grade is two steps above their previous grade).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Shouldn't I be saying 'no'?

Uphill struggle - carrying too much weight - and I've been asked to do something else!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Still trying to get things done

Basically, overwhelmed. I don't want to procrastinate, but simple arithmetic dictates that not every task can be completed to-day. The old way was to keep on saying that the less urgent tasks can be done to-morrow, but then to-morrow comes around, and those delayed tasks are just waiting to bite me. Now, I'm trying to juggle the many tasks which are trying to grab my attention - and somehow select the next task to be tackled on the basis of some sort of priority rating (or just to choose a task which can be done for the sake of doing it, and ticking off one item from the list).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gulping in air

I feel as if I have just come to the surface, and have a few moments to breathe in oxygen, before plunging back to the deep, to grapple with sea monsters.

New responsibilities are to be welcomed (even against the backdrop of continued uncertainty regarding the outcome of the pay modernisation process). And I'm trying to develop systems for coping with these new responsibilities. It isn't easy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Getting things done

Greater responsibility means more pressure to get things done. Become interested in David Allen's philosophy. People describe his approach as 'bottom up', which appeals to me; I've always been (even when I didn't recognise it) a 'bottom up' sort of person. It's one of the axes in the Myers-Briggs personality indicator - Sensing would correspond with 'bottom up', while Intuition is more 'top down'.

So, I'm reading the book, and trying to put it into practice. And finding all sorts of interesting tools to help me. And trying to integrate these new ideas with the tools which I already have - Microsoft Outlook on my desktop PC, and iambic Agendus on my Palm. All the while having to actually get things done (split infinitive for emphasis).


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Real work

I spent an hour (possibly more) this morning creating a print queue on the college server which we look after.

Not really a story - but it is good to be getting back into harness (and taking on new responsibilities).

Monday, November 06, 2006

What happened?

Apologies to anyone who has been reading this blog for the past few weeks, and is surprised at the disappearance of several posts. I woke up in the middle of Friday night, and thought what might happen if the wrong people saw some of what was written therein.

A daily blog is inevitably raw; if I write about what is happening to me now, then my feelings may still be running high. This is the value of an easily accessible medium - one may, in the traditional phrase, let off steam. It may also be a danger, however, if material composed in anger remains visible. Matters put behind one may be resurrected.

I intend (currently) to persevere nevertheless. The past weeks would have been less bearable without my daily attempts to write something down. I'm sorry that I could not retain the record, but I still think that Saturday's quick removal of the whole story was unavoidable.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Carpe diem

Once, Jesus had the opportunity to heal a man on the sabbath, but was opposed by some pharisees. He could have said to the man, "Come and see me to-morrow." Surely it wouldn't have made a huge difference to the man, and would have kept happy those who wished to defend the sabbath. But, of course, he didn't.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Jim Packer, in Keep in Step with the Spirit, mischievously comments that there exists no contemporary account of holiness, so he will perforce write his own. He begins by suggesting that the New Testament view of holiness has two components - the idea of being set apart, and the idea of being morally pure. Coincidentally, I read this passage from Matthew's gospel this morning (Matthew 10:34-39 Msg):
"Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me.
"If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me.
I've always found Jesus' statement disturbing. Is he against families? Jim Packer proposes a paradox: the detachment implied by our being set apart for God enables us to be more loving towards family members, neighbours, friends, etc. Possibly. There is a state called codependency which is regarded as unhealthy; maybe if we are firmly dependent upon God, we can be more real towards our fellow human beings.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Still struggling

This weekend, I wondered if the troubles of the past week might have been a punishment for my less than enthusiastic response to Awakening UK. I was challenged by what happened to the official who responded to Elisha's prophecy of deliverance thus (2 Kings 7:2 Msg):
The attendant on whom the king leaned for support said to the Holy Man, "You expect us to believe that? Trapdoors opening in the sky and food tumbling out?"
to which Elisha responded:
"You'll watch it with your own eyes," he said, "but you will not eat so much as a mouthful!"
There doesn't seem to be a place in the Christian life for honest scepticism (which is what I thought that I was expressing).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Drawing lines in the sand

How do we move forward? Something unfortunate has happened. Maybe it was avoidable; maybe it wasn't. There is a certain amount of anger in the air - maybe on both sides. There have been problems - nagging problems, which I haven't been able to solve - whose presence may have contributed to this particular conflagration.

Who was to blame? Am I (to some degree) at fault? Do I need to change? Do other people need to change (recognising that whatever I think, it is they who must decide the direction of their lives, and how they live them)? Does the situation need to change?

How do I move forward? If I withdraw, behave more coolly, what will be the consequences? What, exactly, does forgiveness mean in this situation?

Is a more radical departure called for? Should I be seriously looking for another job? In the same instituion, or elsewhere?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Psalm 55:12-14 (Msg)
This isn't the neighborhood bully
mocking me—I could take that.
This isn't a foreign devil spitting
invective—I could tune that out.
It's you! We grew up together!
You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.

Just possibly

This will get through ... How quickly we unlearn things! It's probably less than a month since I last wrote in Graffiti 1 (Palm's original writing system) and already it feels 'wrong'. Is new always better?

Monday, September 04, 2006


Was at Awakening 2006 at the weekend. What was it? A concert? A service? A worship event (whatever that is)? I was disappointed. The weather was awful (a not improbable circumstance in this country). My wife did find value in Ruth Graham's testimony. And, yes, it was OK; just that, basically, she and Mark Stibbe told us of occasions when God met with them. Great! I'm happy for them. But why did I stand in the pouring rain? I wouldn't have minded a meeting with God.

If I want to meet with God, I find a quiet corner, open a bible (which usually means, start up a bible reader on my PDA), read, and pray. Crowds do not help.

I should say, though, that the highlight of the afternoon was definitely the session by Ian White and High Voltage. I probably shouldn't be singling out any one performer for praise, but the assurance of the 11 year old drummer (Harrison White) was truly amazing.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where are we?

There is a verse which has always (since I first heard it (or, rather, sang it) in Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem) had a certain resonance for me:
Jeremiah 8:20: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
(I have linked to The Message, and quoted from The Authorised Version.)

Here in the UK, we are definitely sensing that the summer is over. There is a chill in the air, leaves are changing colour. Soon, we'll be getting up in darkness, eventually getting home from work in darkness. The verse doesn't bite the way it used to. Then I was lamenting my singleness; now I have a family - that makes a huge difference. Life is difficult, but I don't feel, as I did then, that it lacks purpose.

There, I started with a doleful verse, and I seem to have cheered myself up!

Monday, August 28, 2006


I have a son, who is 6 years old; he has plenty of energy, which he doesn't always expend in the most constructive of ways. But, of course, he is my son, and I love him.

I thought that I'd have a look in the Bible for places where God's relationship with us is likened to that of a parent's with his (or her) child. And since I've been reading recently through the book of Malachi, that's where I started. And I came across Malachi 3:17. God says, "I treat them with the same consideration and kindness that parents give the child who honors them." Not quite the unconditional love that some speak of. We should expect respect from our children (seeking, of course, at all times to deserve it).

Monday, August 21, 2006


For various reasons, I've been thinking about conflict - and how to resolve conflicts. I'm not considering deep-seated enmity, rather how people who love each other, but differ on how to tackle a certain problem area, can find common ground, and move forward. But as a commentary on how even long standing disputes can sometimes be ended by the application of kindness, here is the happy ending to a story from the Old Testament (preached on by our minister just yesterday), (quoting 2 Kings 6:23 (Msg), but the link takes you to the whole story):

So he prepared a huge feast for them. After they ate and drank their fill he dismissed them. Then they returned home to their master. The raiding bands of Aram didn't bother Israel anymore.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Law and Grace

Just been reading a poem by Iain Crichton Smith, entitled The Law and the Grace. It makes me think of how the Scots do religion - the minister in his black gown - a sense that God is frowning.

Does God sometimes smile? But is it always through the gloom and the rain?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

First love

When John warns the Ephesians that - you walked away from your first love - I have had a picture of someone whose initial enthusiasm for the faith has worn off - the honeymoon period is over. But I learnt this morning that most scholars believe that the love referred to is for one another - that the members of this church no longer love each other as they used to.

Love for God, love for Jesus, love for my brothers and sisters in the faith - all, of course, are interlinked. And feelings do rise and fall. Also, initial impressions don't always last. I find myself coming back to the need to think of love, not as an emotion, but as determination - to go on loving - to go on desiring the best for the beloved.

But what about realism? What about discovering that the effusive welcome one received when one joined a particular church doesn't go deep? What about common sense?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Tender loving care

A phrase from this morning's reading caught my attention. In Deuteronomy 10:15 (Msg), Peterson has Moses say:
it was your ancestors who God fell in love with
I guess that it is difficult to render a Hebrew thought in English, and not being a Hebrew scholar myself I have no particular insight, but the image appears to be of a man falling in love with a woman, and marrying her. And perhaps it is fair to observe that in the human situation what starts as an emotional attachment needs in the long run to be bolstered with vows - a declared intention to go on loving, come what may.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Love as faithfulness

Just checking in briefly. And recalling a talk given to Aberdeen Christian Union wherein the speaker commented that the Hebrew word hesed, which in the Authorised Version of the bible is often translated loving kindness, carries the idea of loyalty. It is an operation of the will, not an emotion. So if God says - I do this because I love you - he isn't necessarily saying - because I think you're a nice person (or people) - he is affirming that he has decided to love us - his love towards us is fixed because, yes, he has chosen us (which might have been because he likes us, but I doubt it), but more, simply, because he has decided to do so. He has made a decision, and he isn't going to change his mind.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Commanding love

Thinking about love, and in particular God's command that we should love him:
Deuteronomy 6:4,5 (NIV): Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
What does God mean when he tells us that we must love him? I can't tell you to love me. I could ask you, or I could try to earn your love. I would think it presumptuous to tell you to love me. Of course, it's difficult to have this discussion in English. Hebrew has how many words for love? And Greek, of course, famously, has four (as expounded by CS Lewis in 'The Four Loves'). I suspect that the kind of love which God seeks from us is more an act of will than an emotion.

Does it help to think of God as a jealous husband? One who has chosen us, who has claimed us, who requires us to be faithful. We love him, who first loved us.

Friday, July 21, 2006


The ten commandments were given to the people of Israel, redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Naively, I would think of these rules as indicating the people's side of the bargain. They were to obey God, but not in the sense of a servant doing the day-to-day bidding of a master or mistress, or a robot controlled by the transmitter in its creator's hand. The ten commandments were a framework, a broad set of rules, defining what it meant to be a citizen of the new dispensation.

We have moved on, haven't we? It would be difficult to summarise Jesus' attitude to the laws of the Old Testament. In one respect he made them even more difficult to follow, internalising their requirements. 'Thou shalt not kill', but you must not even harbour angry thoughts towards your brother. Elsewhere, though, he seems to relax their hold - the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

I think that I grew up believing that the ten commandments were absolute. Thousands of years old, perhaps, but still with an iron grip. I don't know, however, if that is the attitude of Christians to-day, or the church. I wonder if we can be inconsistent though - ignoring one commandment when it suits us, and trotting out another when we wish to make a judgement.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Signs of the covenant

If you and I reach an agreement, we shake hands. If we want to make it a bit more formal, we create a document, and sign it. The old covenant had its signs. To signify that you had become a member of the covenant people (if you were male), you were circumcised. Beyond the initial sign, as a member of the covenant people, you took part in rituals - sacrifices, festivals. As I believe Isaiah pointed out somewhere, however, it was possible to be scrupulous (and enthusastic) about maintaining the outward symbols of the relationship, while inwardly ignoring its fundamental requirement - obedience.

The new covenant, the covenant of grace, also has its signs. The initiation rite is baptism (an obvious difference appears immediately - a day after your baptism, there may be no visible evidence of what has happened, whereas circumcision leaves a scar). I submit to baptism to signify (among other things) that I am joining the community of believers. As I continue in the faith, I participate in its activities. I would suggest that communion (or the eucharist) is the action (more than any other) which signifies the renewal and continuation of my acceptance of God's promise.

Of course, different denominations do communion differently. As I find myself once more in the Church of Scotland, I am aware that the way that things are done does influence the way that I think about the whole thing. The CofS takes communion just three or four times a year. It becomes (has, for me, therefore, always been) impossible to think of communion as sustaining my daily (or even weekly) life as a Christian. Indeed, I lived through presumably my formative years as a Christian without being allowed to take communion - I 'joined' the church aged eighteen. I sometimes wonder if those with authority in the church ever think to decipher the messages they send by the rules they apply.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The new covenant

OK, I'm floundering here. The old covenant is easy to understand, but, as it turned out, impossible to implemement. Human frailty means that people will always fail to keep their side of the bargain. So, what is the new covenant which replaces the old one? Is it the promise in Jeremiah of hearts of flesh to replace hearts of stone? Is it the giving of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to become better people, worthy of God's blessing?

When I become a Christian, I accept Christ's sacrifice to deal with past sins. But what of future sins? Under the old code, there was an ongoing system of sacrifices, to deal with sins. If I, at the end of the day, confess my sins, do I automatically know God's forgiveness? Can I be sure that I have been forgiven?

Monday, July 17, 2006


From the 100-Minute Bible (5 The giving of the Law):
God made a covenant with the people of Israel; he would care for them, and they would obey his commandments.
I suspect that, for many of us, subconsciously perhaps, this is still our agreement with God. We shall do our best, to keep his laws, to help other people, and in return, we expect him to look out for us. If something bad happens to us (or someone we know, or know of), our first question is 'why?' And, for myself, I wonder if God is punishing me for some wrongdoing. And when we hear of natural disasters, we comment on the injustice - why were these people singled out?

Of course, I'm touching on a huge, and difficult topic. I just want to consider one tiny aspect of the question. Do we (believers, Christians) live under the old covenant (we do our part, God does his), or have we grasped the new covenant? Or do elements of the old covenant still apply under the new? Does God punish wrongdoing? Do we experience what some people call chastisement? Does God deal with us as a parent deals with a child? And if God is prepared to deal severely with us, to purge us of wrongdoing, should parents have freedom (and backing) on occasion to deal severely with their children?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Was God watching over me?

This morning, I deleted a user's local email folders. Over a gig (1 gigabyte) of data, almost certainly irreplaceable. I didn't mean to, of course.

But for this particular user, some months ago, I set up a backup procedure, which meant that these folders were backed up last night (I certainly hope they were - now I'm not quite sure). When I started writing this entry, I thought that I had managed to retrieve the files from a recent backup, but, sadly, it looks as though the backup hasn't run since March of this year. So, I have lost possibly 3 months' worth of emails.

Maybe I should be leaving God out of this debacle. It's been a disaster; it could have been worse. My fault, I suppose, for not taking an immediate backup before doing anything with someone's data.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I'm at work. Quite frankly, I wasn't getting much rest at home, and if I hadn't come into work to-day, I wouldn't (as I think I mentioned earlier) have been able to speak to my acting manager before he goes on holiday. Our son is still not well; indeed, my wife isn't 100%, so, conveniently, she is at home. I do wonder whether, when Tony Blair (I always hold him personally responsible) says that he wants both parents to be at work, he considers the possibility that sometimes family members are ill - even one family member being ill puts a stress on the system - the simple, bottom line is that one person being ill means that somebody else has to look after that person - but that somebody else isn't regarded as being ill, so they have a finite number of days which they are allowed to use for the purpose - so, I imagine, Mr Blair has worked out a way to limit the number of days that a person is going to be ill in a year - otherwise, things, eventually, are going to break.

So, in this particular nuclear family, we have three members below par.

I have learned that the email upgrade (which I also mentioned earlier) is being postponed again. On the whole, I am relieved. Perhaps this news represents what my wife would call 'an answer to prayer'. The removal of just one source of stress has to be welcome.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Well ...

Son's dental problems turned out to have a benign cause - there are teeth coming through, causing a certain amount of pain. But he's 'no weel', and neither is his dad.

The difficulty for me is that at work there is an impending crisis. This weekend, an upgrade is being performed on our email service, which may mean that some people won't be able to access their email on Monday. So they'll contact their User Support Team, of which three senior members will be on holiday (good / bad timing). If I'm not back at work to-morrow, I shan't have an opportunity to speak with my acting manager. I suppose that I've got a pretty good chance of being back at work by Monday, but it isn't likely to be pleasant diving in without a bit of time to prepare. I don't know if I am to be personally in charge (if I'm there), or sharing the leadership with a colleague. Either way, this is not a good time to be off sick.

Cue some thoughts about God's power being made perfect in weakness ...

Monday, July 10, 2006

You took the words right out of my mouth!

And the moral dilemmas continue. I'm off work to-day, with a sore throat. My son has been complaining of a sore mouth, and has an appointment to see the dentist. Because he's also generally unwell, I'm driving him and his mother (and our daughter) to the dentist's surgery, instead of expecting them to make a somewhat arduous bus journey. Needs must ...

Sunday, July 09, 2006


A question - possibly rhetorical - if we try too hard to be unselfish, might we put ourselves under so much stress that we, eventually, break, thus spoiling the point somewhat?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

But ...

What I have just written is more or less what I was taught as a youngster, and what I've been more or less (sometimes, notably less) happy with since then. For example, as a teenager, I read somewhere that you could only properly experience salvation when you came to an end of yourself. You had to try to 'go it alone', and fail, before you could honestly say that you'd called out to Jesus and been saved. I know that this sounds silly, but it was a real problem for me as a teenager. And you can see how it might follow from a misunderstanding of the principle that God saves those who have accepted that they are unable to save themselves.

I have seen the same argument applied to addictions such as alcoholism. It is the experience of many that before they can begin to find healing they have to 'hit bottom'. And that on the way down there may be occasions when they try to turn from the drink (or whatever), and fail, because they are doing so partly as an effort of will. Alcoholics Anonymous recognise the need to acknowledge a Higher Power; Christians may call that Power, 'God', and say that they are saved by God, and not by their own efforts.

Again, I feed back into my own experience, to a particular meeting when I was, I guess, 18 years old, struggling with all sorts of issues. The meeting took place, significantly, not in my own church, but in another of the same denomination, in the same town. I can identify the speaker - I'm not sure that I should. His intention (I guess), was that we should become Christians. Later, a conversation took place with my own minister during which my minister indicated that he was hurt by the suggestion that I needed to 'become' a Christian; wasn't I already one by virtue of attending his church?

Anyway, I can remember little of what the speaker said (except, possibly, some biographical information; this was probably where I first heard his life story), except the climax - the punchline, if you like. He asked us (rhetorically) what we would say when we met Jesus in the afterlife. Would we say, "I did my best"? I sat there, thinking, fair enough. "Wrong," he thundered. We should throw ourselves abjectly at Jesus' feet and claim nothing but his blood for our salvation. I paraphrase, but this is pretty well what was said. And, of course, theologically, he's right. But psychologically? I have never since been able to say, "I did my best," without thinking that I should be saying something else. It seems to destroy any point of trying at all. Shouldn't we just sit back and be saved?

I went forward at the end of the meeting. Sadly, the counsellor who dealt with me didn't understand that I had come to an end of myself, and was acknowledging my need of salvation. I came away, eventually, with a short bible reading course to do (ironically - I was already doing daily bible readings with Scripture Union). Actually, I didn't come away with anything. I gave them my address, and they sent me by post a series of leaflets which were, in effect, encouraging me to read the bible. And they contacted my minister, hence the conversation alluded to earlier.

What I am trying to say is this. We are all different. We have all walked different journeys. Your experience is not necessarily my experience. And, perhaps unfortunately, it is the most dramatic experiences which get remembered. But just because my experience has lacked drama, it isn't any less real. You may have needed to experience utter degradation; you may have slept rough (actually, I did sleep rough once, because I thought that only those who had nothing, not even a roof over their heads, could be saved); but that doesn't mean that degradation is a necessary step along the way.

Again, I suppose, it's case of - thanks be to God for his indescribable gift ...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


And the last thing I want to do is to come up with a seventh. If you will forgive me, what I intend to try to do is to use this blog as thinking space. What I write may (certainly will) be incomplete, unclear - more a succession of thoughts than an exposition. Some years ago, I was staying at Carberry Tower, and came across in the library a book called "Markings", by Dag Hammarskjold. I may regard that book as my inspiration.

I am doubly inspired, now, to have read in the related Wikipedia article that Hammarskjold's book talks about an "inner journey", because, coincidentally, Jim Packer has been using a similar phrase, the "inward journey", to describe the life that we live to God and ourselves, as opposed to the life we live to the world around us, and to other people, in the very passage of "Keep in Step with the Spirit" that I was reading as I ate my macaroni cheese and chips (comfort food, I know).

So much for the bread - where's the meat in the sandwich? Romans 3:21-31 is the crucial passage where Paul turns from his litany of human woes and failings to put forward God's answer. I would say that it isn't until the 5th chapter that, gloriously, we hear the trumpets resound, but here, in the 3rd chapter is, perhaps, the first statement of a theme which is to be developed further. The old way has failed. What was the old way? I suppose - obeying the law. I'm reminded of the young man who said to Jesus that he had faithfully kept all of the commandments, and yet Jesus observed that something was missing.

So what is the new way? Is it that we, finally, admit that we cannot do it ourselves? Do we arrive at a moment (like when an alcoholic hits bottom, and finally accepts that he has a problem) when we turn to God, and cry, "help"? Does it matter if we understand how God is able to help us? Isn't it more important that we simply realise that he wants to help us?

Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!

Monday, July 03, 2006

A short overview of Paul's letter to the Romans

We're all bad, hopelessly bad. But God has provided a way for us to become good. Ah, but here's the rub - we become good by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. Except that if you ask four different Christians just what that means, you'll get four different answers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

In a meeting
There seems to be a floor cleaner trying to break in ...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Just trying out the new blog editor; a bit shocked by to-day's weather ...

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

mo:blogging - actually getting quite a lot out of Jim Packer's "In Step with the Spirit".

Friday, June 09, 2006


I have so many tools to use to update this blog, but nothing to write ...

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, June 04, 2006


This isn't terribly likely - a CAC Boomerang over Seattle (in Microsoft Flight Simulator).

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And now for something ...

Another approach – Blogger for Word – maybe this will get us going again …

Friday, May 26, 2006

Techie stuff
VPN is worklng!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Why are we waiting
In Prestonpans?
But the API doesn't support titles
So why mandate one?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fresh Start
Hoping for a renaissance - palmblogging again.

Friday, May 12, 2006

This isn't really working

I would love to be sharing on a daily basis deep insights gleaned from my study of the bible, but in practice I don't seem to have anything significant to share, and it's difficult to find the time and energy to do it properly.

Maybe Visor Thoughts will find itself a new direction ...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Ezra was too embarrassed to ask the king for an escort; instead he prayed and fasted for three days. Nehemiah, on the other hand, thought that an escort would be a good idea.

Providentially, as I walked the final stage of my journey to work this morning, the rector came by in his 4x4, and offered me a lift. I, gratefully, accepted. During the ensuing conversation, however, I thought that I should let him know that we (my family) may be leaving his church in the not too distant future. This isn't an easy decision. If it does happen, then it's better that our rector knows about it sooner than later. If it doesn't happen, then I guess that I could have spared him some grief by not saying that it could happen.

I am, undeniably, a people-pleaser. I can't help it. My number one priority is to keep people happy. But there is no way that I can make everybody happy.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Prophet, priest, and king

In Ezra 5, we have references to two prophets - Haggai and Zechariah. Zerubbabel, I guess, is a close to a king as the Jews were allowed, and Ezra himself was a priest. Scope for interesting thoughts about leadership.

I have enjoyed recent readings focusing on this period of Jewish history. It has a more modern feel than, for example, the Exodus. To-day's reading describes a bureaucracy we would be proud of to-day. Who had authorised the rebuilding of Jerusalem?

Monday, April 24, 2006


Have started reading Ezra, and have been told that worship was one of the two core practices which he championed (the other was obedience to scripture). Many times, I have heard that worship is really 'worth-ship', but what does it mean that we have to do?

Principally, in my experience, worship is what we do when we sing hymns in church. Simplistic? Unfortunately, as a result, our view of worship, and whether or not it is a satisfactory experience (for us - I wonder what God thinks), gets tied up with whether or not we relate to the style of music.

And hymns acquire baggage. Sunday's sermon included a lovely illustration, of a bairn in Primary 1 making a mess of his painting and going up to the teacher and asking for another sheet of paper. As the minister commented, life isn't like that. His message, however, was that by his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus enables us to start again. What I am having difficulty holding together are the undoubted theological truth of this message, and at the same time the practical truth of life, that we are prisoners of history. Especially conscious of this now, as I find myself contemplating joining the parish church of a small(-ish) community, remembering the last time that I belonged to the parish church of a small community.

Monday, April 17, 2006


If only it were this simple.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I've been reading the story of what happened when the religious authorities finally got hold of Jesus, and how they then put it to Pontius Pilate that the man should be crucified. And I've been thinking about the choices which people made. The religious leaders had clearly decided that Jesus needed to be got rid of. There was no question of acknowledging him. The phrases 'king of the Jews', and 'son of God' had become accusations. Other people were also faced with making choices. Pontius Pilate could, in theory, have stood up to the mob, and set Jesus free. Peter, in the high priest's courtyard, decided that it would be simpler if he didn't own up to being one of Jesus' followers.

I find choosing difficult.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Proverbs 31:9; nothing to add, really.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Proverbs 30 starts with a challenge. The atheist says that, since there is no God, he (the atheist) can do what he likes. But the believer counter claims. This argument can sometimes be internal. A part of me says - there is no God, why do you waste your time praying? But there is a reply - I prayed about that issue, and look what happened!

Thursday, April 06, 2006


This morning I read Proverbs 29:1 (I should have read the whole of Proverbs 29, but neither time nor my spiritual digestion would permit). Yesterday, I read this in TractorGirl's wiblog. Right now I have an awful feeling of life closing in, of being on the verge of breaking. This proverb doesn't help, particularly. Perhaps Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish builders gives a more balanced view.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I should be blogging Proverbs 28, but I thought that you'd rather look at one of Dave Walker's cartoons:

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I should say that the gentleman in this cartoon could easily be me. I would much rather put my feelings somewhere nobody can see them than express them (to some extent, I have arrived at this state through bitter experience). Blogging is nice, because I can tell the whole world, but nobody I rub shoulders with on a daily basis ever reads what I write.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cause and effect

Haggai's thesis seems to be that the people of Jerusalem have missed out on blessing, because of their lack of enthusiasm when it came to rebuilding the temple. He makes the connection clear - chapter 2, verses 15-17 indicate that little effort on God's house means poor crops, while verses 18 and 19 paint a happier picture - work hard on restoring the temple, and your crops will do well.

Is it really that simple?

Monday, April 03, 2006


Things were better then. Even in my lifetime, were things better then than they are now? I don't really think so. But it is difficult to avoid an all-pervading sense of depression. Though we are, in theory, materially well-off, we, in a sense, struggle to survive. We work, not to improve our lot, but to prevent ourselves from sinking back into the mire. We seem to have little control.

Yes, get to work! For I am with you. I'm afraid that sounds a bit like the taskmaster berating his donkey - yes, you're with me, answers the donkey, but I seem to be the one who's carrying the load.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Having discovered that this blog is ranked 864,509th in the world on Technorati, I don't know whether to celebrate or be disappointed. But it doesn't do any harm to do a bit of self-assessment.

Except that what are my options? Start liking parsnips?

Friday, March 31, 2006

Too extreme

I think that it would be truer to say that:

what I think about parsnips
Image by Dave Walker.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


As Good Friday approaches, Zechariah reminds us of the impending sacrifice. I am inescapably conscious just now of having to deal with stress, which seems to comprise a number of issues each contributing its layer of angst, rather than a single identifiable cause. And it becomes difficult to subscribe to the view that becoming a Christian will consign all of your problems to history.

Lay your burdens at the cross - it would be nice - if only I could dump this Huge Bag of Worries on the grass, towered over by a wooden edifice - but I guess that, confronted by the sight of Jesus' suffering, I would be more shocked and in awe - perhaps I would forget what I was carrying on my back.

Actually, the verse I meant to link to was this one.

And, just in case anyone is in any doubt:

what I think about parsnips
Image by Dave Walker.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Somebody is trying to tell me something

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

And another prophecy - familiar sounding - but interesting that recognition only happens when the spirit has been poured out. We're often told that it is God's Spirit who opens people's eyes to the truth, but we usually behave as if it is our own efforts.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I guess that this speaks for itself

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A question

Should we give up chocolate for Lent? God's answer seems to be, "Who are you doing it for?" And he goes on to say (and I hope that Eugene Peterson doesn't mind me quoting directly; this is Zechariah 7:9b,10 The Message):
Treat one another justly.
Love your neighbors.
Be compassionate with each other.
Don't take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.
Don't plot and scheme against one another -- that's evil.
I think that this is a message which we're familiar with from Isaiah.

And, good news at last!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


My dentist put in a filling this morning - my brain has turned to mush. And it isn't helping that to-day's passage - Zechariah 5 seems to me somewhat opaque. OK, God doesn't like thieves and liars. Jesus told a story about a man who knew that God doesn't like thieves and liars. And the BBC reckons that exposing estate agents as thieves and liars makes a good story. A little sad, though, when you read the story to the end, to find out that the people who suffered as a result of the BBC's story were the individuals whom the companies scapegoated, and who, presumably, didn't have the advantage of a second job as a TV reporter to fall back on.

The bottom line is that we all find ourselves in situations where it is extremely difficult to do the right thing. We are all, to some extent, thieves and liars. And Zechariah chapter 5 doesn't offer us much hope.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?

Springtime is the time of hope. Snowdrops bravely showing their white bells; crocuses spiking through the snow; soon there'll be daffodils, and tulips. I love snowdrops. One of the images stored in my brain is of a bank covered with them, which I saw one year when there wasn't much else to rejoice about.

But does life cycle like this? Or do we settle into a mud-and-water-filled rut, going nowhere, desperately trying to survive? No, I don't despise small beginnings - small beginnings would be better than no beginnings at all.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A hero

Nehemiah seems to have been a hero. He cared, he rolled up his sleeves, he finished the job. Good for him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

An example

Under Nehemiah's leadership, the people of Jerusalem became exclusive, restricted the use of church premises, banned Sunday shopping, and refused to allow mixed marriages.

I listened to a sermon once where the preacher asserted that he never preached on Nehemiah (except on this occasion, when he had no choice), because he didn't like the book. I bristled at his approach to holy scripture, but I can see where he was coming from. On the other hand, have we got it right? We accepted Sunday shopping (although in our household it seldom happens, because it is known that it upsets Daddy, i.e. me) - it seemed legalistic to be in opposition to what people wanted - but has our quality of life improved? I'm always struck by the way that Eric Liddell is revered for the stand he took against running on a Sunday, and yet nothing is said about the simple fact that no Christian (that I know of) would seriously try to make the same stand to-day.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Friday, March 10, 2006


Is it really good for the soul? It was part of the great celebration that followed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. A formal confession of sins is generally a part of the Anglican service at the church we attend. I notice that it happens early on in the service. I guess that we are expected to arrive with a sense of our unworthiness, not to wait to be challenged, for example, by the preaching.

Sometimes I wonder. Some years ago, I approached a friend, and asked if we could talk. My intention, which I carried out, was to let him know about a problem I was experiencing - a kind of confession. The meeting, effectively, ended our friendship. I don't know whether it was his reaction, or simply my knowing that he now knew something about me which I was ashamed of, but I hardly spoke to him again. I sometimes read the problem pages in magazines, and people ask - should I confess? Often, the answer is, reasonably - no - because to confess would likely do more harm than good.

We do need to be honest with God. I think that we need to do it privately.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


It isn't easy, reading and trying to understand the bible. I'm also reading Velvet Elvis, some of which I like, and some of which I don't like. But, in one regard, I agree wholeheartedly with the author - if you try seriously to read the bible, you'll find yourself engaging in one amazing wrestling match.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


As well as could be expected, thank you, Karin; just a matter of hunkering down for the long haul.

Nehemiah had to deal with a subtle temptation, reminding us that someone else had to face a time of testing. I don't know whether, as Christians, we encounter severer trials in the season of Lent. Probably not, but it is a time when we are more aware that we have a cunning enemy, who will do his best to divert us from the path we have chosen to follow.

Thank God that we also have a friend, who picks us up when we fall.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Turning from the enemy without to injustice within. Perhaps the church needs to turn from continually striving to gain recruits to thinking about how it deals with those who already belong.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Man of action

There are a number of bible stories which I simply do not like. One is the story of David and Goliath. What is the basic message? That we should all be like David - walking out alone, and lightly-armed, to face down the giants which threaten us. Those of us who shuffle along, mostly terrified of what might be just around the corner - we're failures. Just a wee bit of courage, or faith in a God who won't let us down at the crucial moment, and we should be out there, heads held high, every demon vanquished.

Life's not like that.

I don't know what to think of Nehemiah. I've learned that doing projects is not my strongest suit, and here we have - a project. And a man who approaches his task in the right way. He reconnoitres, he assesses, he (presumably) comes up with a plan, he shares it with his executives, and they get on with it. He makes me sick. With envy? With the feeling that his effectiveness highlights my uselessness?

It's snowing outside. Wonder if I'll have a problem getting home.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Years ago, I was struggling. I was trying to read the bible every day, following one of the sets of notes produced by Scripture Union, but seemed always to be trailing behind. Faced with the prospect of devouring two or more readings in a day just to get back to where everyone else was (or so I assumed), I was tempted to give up entirely. The solution turned out to be a new discipline. I would read the reading for the day on the day it was intended for. No trying to work out where I'd got to. Just go straight to the page for to-day's date. The surprising thing was, from then on, I seldom missed a day's reading.

Since then, it has been a personal rule - if I fall behind, just pick up again, not where I left off, but where I should be. Possibly I found the One Year Bible difficult because I didn't want to apply my rule to this project. How could I - if I skipped passages, how could I say, at the end of the year, that I'd read all the way through the bible? And so I experienced again the misery of being always behind. I even tried to read ahead, but felt guilty, that I was doing something I wasn't allowed to do.

This morning, I broke my own rule. I read yesterday's reading in Encounter with God. And I read it in the bus, not at home. Why? Partly because I think that the current block of readings, from Nehemiah, make a good Lenten study. And partly because the notes have been written by someone I know. Perhaps 'know' is putting it a bit strongly. I knew him at University. He was, I think, in the year below me. And then I met him again, in Dundee. He was by then a minister in the Church of Scotland. I was deeply touched because he said to me that he was glad to see me. And now he is the minister of a certain church in Aberdeen, which I (and he) attended as a student. He has the unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Rev Willie Still. Dominic, if you're reading this blog, I salute you.

And thank you for suggesting that the book of Nehemiah has two themes - appropriately for this season - restoration and remembrance. We tend to think of Nehemiah in terms of repairing, or rebuilding, the walls of Jerusalem. I think that Dominic is indicating to us that we should see Nehemiah's task as, more fundamentally, restoring the people of God.

And, lesson number one, how does Nehemiah start? He prays.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Having eaten too many pancakes last night, what am I going to give up for Lent? Biscuits? Or should I follow the example of the dentist's receptionist this morning, who said that she was planning to give up work (though, apparently, her boss wasn't too keen on the idea)?

I'm not a great one for times and seasons. I can't think of a way of writing this down so that it won't offend someone, but, for me, every day matters, not just those that happen to fall within a certain season, or have a name attached to them in the Christian calendar.

Perhaps it's significant that on this, the first day of Lent, I didn't have time this morning to read the bible.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Let's be upbeat. We have reason to be.

Monday, February 27, 2006


The notewriter for Encounter with God helpfully points out that the verb used in Peter's exhortation to be humble literally means to put on an apron, and suggests that Peter may have been thinking back to the occasion when Jesus washed the disciples' feet.

When Jesus came to Peter, and started to wash his feet, Peter was indignant. He reckoned that Jesus' intended action was inappropriate. Jesus was the master. But when Jesus explained that what he was about to do had to be done, Peter rushed to the other extreme, and wanted Jesus to wash his whole body. Jesus, patiently, said to Peter that only his feet needed to be washed. Perhaps Jesus was referring to our need on a daily basis to be cleansed of our sins; day by day we confess our sins, and receive forgiveness. Perhaps for all of us, even those who have grown up believing in Jesus from their earliest days, there needs to be a particular moment when we acknowledge our fundamental sinfulness, and our need to be saved. Another reference from John's gospel, to the bronze snake, may serve to picture this life-changing event.

My intention here was (when I started) to talk about the difficulty of interpreting the requirement to be humble, but I seem to have been sidetracked. Perhaps another day.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Live generously

I hope you will forgive me, Karin, for borrowing your tagline; I think that it is an appropriate summary of Peter's exhortation.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Where is Jesus?

Many years ago, I was a student, and the Christian Union were running a mission. I remarked to a friend that it would help enormously if I could just see Jesus - meet with him face-to-face. My friend took me to see the evangelist, who told me that, because Jesus has ascended to heaven, I cannot expect to meet him in the flesh on earth. I don't think that he said much more, but I went away satisfied.

Peter says (in 1 Peter 3:22, The Message) that Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He's standing right alongside God, and what he says goes. Am I still satisfied with the evangelist's reply? I guess that I have to be.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I guess that at the start of 1 Peter 3, the territory we are going through is that of ethical instruction following on from an appreciation of our status as redeemed followers of Christ. Many years ago, I read a book by Watchman Nee, entitled "Sit, Walk, Stand", which was an exposition of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The three verbs correspond to three sections of the epistle. We sit - acknowledging what God has done for us through Christ. We walk - living lives which reflect what God has done for us. We stand - defying the devil, using the armour which God provides (the famous passage starting at Ephesians 6:10).

Historically (by that I mean our own personal histories), we often do things in a different order. We start by following (or trying to follow) Jesus. We read the Sermon on the Mount. We are maybe even taught the Ten Commandments, and told that these are the basic rules for good living (I believe that I was). We try to live good lives. We want to do what is right, for all sorts of reasons.

One person whom I have said very little about, mostly because I have very little understanding of what he (or she) does, is the Holy Spirit. There is an old chorus, which starts "He lives!" and concludes "You ask me how I know he lives - he lives - within my heart". It's a good going chorus, and I used to sing it a lot, without really grasping what I was singing. Or rather, I was continually questioning the words - it's a bit strange, singing a confident, brash song, while there's a voice gnawing away inside - does Jesus live in my heart?

So, now, I suppose that I would say: the Holy Spirit is Jesus living in my heart. But that's just a different form of words - it still begs the question. It's probably the main reason why I got so anxious when people talked about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues. It seemed to me that this was what my Christian life was missing. I didn't experience the presence of Jesus in my heart because I hadn't been baptised in the Holy Spirit. Except that even when people laid hands on me, I didn't feel any different. I certainly didn't start to speak in tongues.

A wise Christian leader (whose photograph, sadly, I saw some years later in a newspaper because he was a registered sex offender) at the time comforted me with Paul's words in Romans 10:9: So you will be saved, if you honestly say, "Jesus is Lord," and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death (this is how the CEV renders the verse - in those days we were probably reading the Good News Bible, or TEV).

So in my experience, the Holy Spirit is a shadowy figure. I don't deny that without him (or her) I could not live the Christian life. It's just puzzling to me, from time to time, that I don't feel the push or pull of his (or her) guiding hand. Maybe I do, but I have no reference to enable me to say - yes, this is the Holy Spirit. I envy the Pentecostals and charismatics who enjoy actual experiences which confirm to them that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

So, passing quickly over Peter's advice to wives, I (as a husband) am advised (1 Peter 3:7 The Message):

The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God's grace, you're equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don't run aground.

I (humbly) think that Eugene Peterson has done a good job here. Other translations describe wives as the weaker partner (NIV) or the weaker vessel (KJV). Perhaps in our society it is no longer true to say that women are at a disadvantage. Whatever our view, there is a challenge implicit in Peter's words. And it is good that he recognises the importance of family life. Husbands, may God help us to accept the challenge.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A gem of a letter

Since this entry is being composed offline, there will be no links to the online bible. I wish to refer, nevertheless, to a couple of verses in 1 Peter. I believe that these two verses sum up the first section of the letter, in which Peter (assuming that he is indeed the author) sets out the fundamentals of his (and our) faith. So here they are:

1 Peter 2:24,25 (TNIV) "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

One of the perennial frustrations of being a Christian (for me) is finding a clear statement of what a Christian is. I tend to assume (because it is what I was taught) that it is generally accepted that you become a Christian when you acknowledge your sins and receive forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. If you've read Pilgrim's Progress you'll recognise the point where Christian loses his burden (which is probably after he goes through the wicket gate). And before you all descend on me, yes, I can see even now that this is just one viewpoint, and that there are others.

What I am driving towards, however, is that although we are told, if we want to understand what it means to be a Christian, to read the gospels, I don't think that we find it spelt out anywhere in the gospels that Jesus' death had anything to do with our sins. You can read Paul's letter to the Romans, to be harangued at length (and in depth), but I have been entranced by Peter's succinct and penetrating exposition of what, in essence, this business of being a Christian is all about.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The crux of the matter

Christ died for our sins. But if you've grown up in a Christian family, how do relate to that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Yes, but where do I fit into this?

Something irks me. People say how good it is to read the bible, how helpful, and then dredge up some promise that was made to somebody in the Old Testament, and apply it to themselves, without asking - what right have I to do this? Which makes it particularly refreshing to start reading 1 Peter, which is addressed to people like us, who haven't even met Jesus. I know - people say, "I've met with Jesus, and he's changed my life" - but what do they really mean?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Soul food

I am reminded of how damaging it can be to read the bible too much. Many years ago, I was doing a correspondence course, and had to read through the book of Esther in one sitting. I would prefer not to go into details about what happened subsequently, but basically my thinking about a situation I was in became horribly skewed. I think that I took the impromptu thoughts which occurred to me as I read, and because they arose while I was reading holy scripture, I assumed that they must be right. I abandoned common sense, and behaved awfully (as it happened).

I think that we have to take on board Jesus' quotation from the Old Testament: But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 (KJV). If we stuff ourselves full of bread until we can't possibly eat another mouthful, we must expect indigestion.

Monday, February 13, 2006

You'll be getting fed up with Balaam by now

He gets a bad press in the New Testament. I've selected just one of a number of references which place Balaam pretty definitely amongst the bad guys.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Balaam, continued

I'm forced to stick with Balaam for another day, and to try to answer my own question. If I'm on God's side, then perhaps I could interpret the incident with the donkey as God trying to teach Balaam a lesson. Perhaps God knew Balaam better than we do, and reckoned that his earlier instruction to Balaam needed some reinforcement.

Does God speak to us to-day? If he does, how does he do it?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Whose side was he on?

Balaam appears to refer to God as my GOD. Whenever I've read this story, he's come across as a God-fearing man, whom God messes around, telling him to do something, and then sending an angel to block his way. Is God really as tricksy as he is depicted here?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


One of my favourite passages in the bible is Jesus' invitation to rest. It seems to me that we so quickly lose sight of these words. Jesus is unequivocal - come to me and rest. Why do we allow the purveyors of God (as I believe Stewart Henderson calls them somewhere) to dupe us? How often do we hear the message - you're not trying hard enough? Even when it isn't spelt out, it's often implied.

Jesus says - come to me and rest. We obey him most truly when we rest in him - in his love, in his grace, in his protection, in his wisdom, in his guidance, in his provision, in his tender concern.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


This morning, I read the story of the bronze serpent; Jesus refers to this incident during his conversation with Nicodemus. I suppose that what really appeals to me about this story, and Jesus' application of it, is that it is unequivocal. If you've been bitten by a snake, just look at the bronze representation of the snake and you will be healed. If the world has you in its grip, then just look at Jesus (ah, but what, exactly, does that mean?) and you will be set free.

Eugene Peterson renders Jesus' words: everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. Here, surely, we have blessed assurance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The still small voice

How can you hear a still small voice when there's a great big voice saying you have to get through 5 chapters to-day? (Talking of still small voices - by the wonders of technology I am sitting in my office listening to the slow movement of Schubert's String Quintet broadcast by Radio 3.)

Yesterday (technically at 2 o'clock this morning) the great journey - one bible in one year - came to an untimely end.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Matthew 24 narrates a complicated conversation. Maybe the disciples' question: "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" confuses two happenings, and Jesus just wasn't interested in separating them. It seems to me that sometimes Jesus talks about what happened in AD 70, and that sometimes he talks about what is yet to happen.

How, as Christians, should we expect to be viewed? As I write, the world of Islam is upset over some cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. Not long ago, Christians in this country were upset over a programme broadcast by the BBC. I did not watch the programme, nor have I seen the cartoons. Jesus predicts that his followers will be vilified. These are complicated matters.

What impresses me is the seriousness of Jesus' words. He doesn't foretell an easy road.

Friday, February 03, 2006

It gets difficult

The entry I would have posted is here; Blogger was down, for some reason.

I'm getting just a bit angry about this project. In some ways, I'm getting the hang of it. If I spread out the day's readings, it's easier, and I'm probably getting more benefit. If I try to read all 4 passages on the journey into work, I may have a sense of achievement, but also mental indigestion. But (and it sounds terrible) I dread the week-end, because I know that I shall fall behind.

I don't look forward to hearing Sunday's sermon, even though it's supposed to cover the week's readings. How can one sermon possibly begin to answer the myriad questions jostling for attention? I could do with ongoing support. I could make more use of the One Year Bible Blog, but I would rather read the passage before seeing the commentary, and, because the One Year Bible Blog is always up-to-date, I can't guarantee that that will happen.

So I have to think about what to write. These notes are a kind of self-help. But do people really want to read the anguish that some passages cause? People suggest that to read through a gospel is a wonderful experience. I suppose that they consciously avoid identifying with the rich young ruler, or the improperly dressed wedding guest. Compared with the majority of people in this world, I am materially well-off. And I don't know whether, in the day of judgement, my deeds will stand up to scrutiny (if that's the meaning of the man being without the clothes he should have been wearing).

Maybe God wanted me to write about staffs. Encounter with God had me reading this morning about Aaron's staff which budded, and then we read in Exodus 17:8-16 about a battle whose outcome depended upon Moses holding his staff high in the air. But what hope do these stories offer to the ordinary Christian? Aaron's staff budded because he was chosen, and the other tribal leaders weren't. At least, the choice was who would be leader, not who would go to heaven, and who would end up in hell. But what of the people fighting the Amalekites? They succeeded or failed, not because they fought well, or bravely, or cleverly, but because somebody else was keeping his hands in the air.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Provision and challenge

Quails, manna, a branch to make water drinkable, water from a rock; God provides for his people. Are they grateful? Apparently not.

If God can supply food and water for more than 600,000 people wandering in the wilderness, should we worry, individually, where the next meal is coming from? Life can be hard, embarrassing, exhausting.

Perhaps we need to step back occasionally. God will provide.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chilling words

Matthew 21:43 (NIV): Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. I started reading this morning of the people of Israel on the brink; the Red Sea before them, the avenging Egyptians behind. It is, I believe, commonplace to regard the crossing of the Red Sea as the birth of the nation of Israel. They were to be a people with a mission, as our rector preached on Sunday. They were to be an example to the other nations. The rector went on to suggest that the followers of Jesus are tasked with the same mission - to be different (in a good way, I guess).

But Jesus' words to the chief priests and the elders of the people seem to indicate that Israel has failed in her mission. He is speaking to the religious authorities, not to the people in general. What would he say to-day - to the rulers of to-day's Christian church - to the ordinary people of to-day's Christian church?

When Jesus challenged the religious authorities to state their view of John's baptising, they replied "we don't know." Did they really not know? Do we know?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Surgical strike

There is something very 21st century about the Passover. I can imagine a squadron poised, ready to attack, smart missiles armed. But if we, in the 21st century, believe that God disapproves when we go to war, how do we regard the events described in Exodus 12 and 13? It makes dramatic reading. The Passover meal is a reminder that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand. As Christians we believe that Christ on the cross has delivered us from the power of evil; we have been set free. Of course, it was Jesus himself who suffered on the cross; he did not inflict suffering.

On our journey, the cross lies ahead. The mystery with which we grapple to-day is of a God who was prepared to cause unimaginable suffering in order to set his own people free.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Why does God send plagues on Egypt? To punish them? To demonstrate his power? To whom?

At least partly, I guess that he wanted to show the Israelites how powerful he is. It happens that this morning, courtesy of Scripture Union's Encounter with God, I read from the book of Numbers how the Israelites, reacting to the reports brought back from the so-called Promised Land, were frightened, too afraid to take possession. I don't know where I would have stood in that debate, but you would have thought that people who had watched the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the thunder, and the hail, would have had greater confidence. What God did to the Egyptians, he could have done again to the Amalekhites, and others. Or did they sense that this time God was expecting them to do the job themselves?

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Nearly a month into 2006, I am beginning to get an idea of the rhythm of this daily progression. Weekdays, I make use of bus journeys to and from work, and also breaktimes, particularly lunchtimes. Week-ends are a different story, and it can be difficult to achieve the desired quota on Saturdays and Sundays. A pattern, therefore, of catching up during the week, is beginning to emerge.

This week, I've been debating whether I should attempt to go ahead towards the end of the working week. Indeed, I could make it my aim to be routinely a day (or more) ahead, lessening the likelihood of becoming seriously behind. The picture, naturally, is of a group of walkers. I could be in the vanguard, or even strike out on my own. I think that I know the way, but not necessarily the dangers of the trip. I could try to stay in amongst the main group, in theory benefitting from the companionship of other journeyers. Or I could be tail-end Charlie, often my place on real walks. I am a reasonably strong walker, and I believe that taking up the hindmost place enables me to round up stragglers, and prevent the situation of someone being left behind.

I felt uncomfortable reading ahead, as I was able to on Friday. I think that it is valuable to be able to come to the end of the allotted day's readings, and be able to relax. If I seek to be ahead, then the pressure is never fully off. I could always be further ahead. So, I resign myself to what is becoming an established pattern. By Thursday, I am probably on track, but by the following Monday, it becomes again an uphill struggle.

So, here I am on Saturday morning, having yet to start on to-day's reading.

Friday, January 27, 2006

It gets personal

Yesterday, I took a decision. I had prayed about it, I had discussed it with my wife, and implemented the decision. Then I read Proverbs 5:7-14, and felt convicted. The passage is rather long to quote here, but the closing verse, I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly, will give you a flavour. Perhaps my prayers were less focussed than they might have been, because another matter had claimed my attention. Perhaps God's intention was not to condemn, but to warn - but why would he issue a warning after the event? Perhaps his meaning is - be careful. Perhaps the step I had taken was not of itself disastrous, but it was taking me into dangerous waters (mixing my metaphors a bit), and I needed to be aware of what could happen. Perhaps I have an over-sensitive conscience, already on edge because I had been weighing up the pros and cons of this decision.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cause and Effect

It seems that I was a little premature announcing my arrival at the last verse of Genesis. I have since been reading a coda, taking us to the end of Joseph's life, and including Joseph's famous saying to his brothers: (Genesis 50:20) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Or did God plan the famine, for the purpose of raising Joseph from the dungeon to the palace of Egypt?

And what are we to make of Jesus' assertion in Matthew 16:28: I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Did he mistakenly believe that he would return (as Christians to-day believe that he will one day return) within the lifetimes of some of his hearers?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The first milestone

We have reached the end of the book of Genesis. And what a mighty fine peroration it ends with! Jacob blessing his sons - the names, of course, being the names of the tribes of Israel. And the human touch, where Jacob insists on blessing Ephraim, the younger, with a greater blessing than Manasseh, the first born.

Passing over the first born seems to be a theme in Genesis. Isaac is preferred to Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; and Judah over Reuben. At a certain stage of my life, I became quite paranoid about this, being myself the first born of three brothers. It doesn't help that somewhere in the New Testament Esau is blamed for losing his birthright, whereas the story here suggests that Jacob both took advantage and deceived. Perhaps Esau didn't value something which he should have cared about, until it was too late, but I would have liked to see, somewhere, direct condemnation of Jacob for what, surely, amounted to theft. Or is the bible not as clear in its moral stance as we would like to think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Jesus accuses the Pharisees of making their rules and traditions more important than doing what God requires. It has always seemed strange to me that nowadays the followers of Jesus are expected to go to church, thus aligning themselves with the Pharisees' obvious successors? What distinguishes the hierarchy of to-day's mainstream denominations from the religious authorities of Jesus' day?

Monday, January 23, 2006


Everybody loves food. Yes? In our household, food is surrounded by rules. Some food is good; some food is bad. A person might be allowed to eat a piece of bad food provided that they follow it with a piece of good food. I suspect that there is an emphasis on cleaning teeth, because it wipes away the traces of food - good, but, more importantly, bad. I believe that our son is afraid of food. A typical conversation:

Son: I'm hungry.
Dad: What would you like?
Son: What am I allowed?

When the disciples confronted Jesus with the people's lack of food (in Matthew's gospel), he, in turn, confronted them - you get them food. Impossible, replied the disciples. Then Jesus proceeded to feed the five thousand. Or did he? One of my primary school teachers believed that what happened was that the people shared the food they had brought along. It wasn't a miracle. Or, he would have said, it was a miracle, but, I would say, if so, it doesn't challenge our view of the world. Jesus isn't the only person in history who has changed people's minds. Should we place Jesus and Bob Geldof on the same level?

But if it was a 'real' miracle, how did it happen. Did Jesus produce the food from the folds of his robe? Did the loaves and fishes somehow multiply? Some kind of supernatural process - if we'd looked into the basket, would we have seen each loaf become two loaves, and each of these loaves become two loaves, and so on - and the same for the fishes?

Or do we treat the story as magical? Maybe it didn't happen. Maybe Matthew's gospel is to be read like Harry Potter - a clever work of fiction. Maybe it's exaggeration. Or maybe something, to us, incredible, happened.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

What are we looking for?

An overview of an important religous book? It could be argued that the bible isn't a book, it's a collection of books. So what do we gain by reading through them all in the course of a year? Is it pride? So that I can boast? Or is it that I want to have read the bible for myself, perhaps to decide whether my teachers have been telling the truth? Am I automatically going to get a balanced view by reading through the whole bible, instead of focussing on selected texts, according to Sunday's preacher, or the church lectionary, or my bible reading notes?

Certainly, reading through Genesis at this rate confers a broad sweep - the story-telling shines through. It's pleasant just to read it as a story - not always trying to find a lesson. Again, there's the sense of pieces of a jigsaw fitting together. Countries previously explored as separate entities understood as belonging to a single continent.

A work in progress.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A meditation

Reading Psalm 16, I am conscious of a certain danger. As we rush through the bible intent on meeting our daily targets, are we truly reading as we read?

What is David trying to say? That God is great? That God, in modern parlance, rocks? Yes, but why? "You will not let your holy one see corruption," familiar to those who know Handel's "Messiah", gives a warm feeling inside, but what does it mean?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The Pharisees aren't happy with Jesus. They accuse him of working on the Sabbath. In most parts of the UK, Sunday working has become the norm - not for the people who follow the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 routine, but for shop assistants, bus drivers, restaurateurs. But when I was a student the Christian Union made a point of advising us that our lives would be improved if we didn't study on Sundays. Does that mean that the CU were behaving like Pharisees?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Coming back to earth

Martyn certainly made Saturday night an unforgettable experience. There seem to be so many interpretations of the bible; I reckon that Martyn's songs echo biblical themes. Perhaps he is one of to-day's prophets.

But we've a long way to go until we actually encounter these prophets (in the Old Testament). I find it quite difficult, skipping from Genesis to Matthew and back again. And it's harder at week-ends, because there isn't an obvious time to sit down and read. In Matthew, we've moved on to some miracles; somewhat unsettling. I have to be quite simple and clear - the kind of events described here, where Jesus just has to take someone's hand, and they are cured, do not belong in my experience. Maybe they do happen to other people, but they haven't happened to me, and (sadly), this raises an element of doubt as to whether they happened then. Even if I do believe in them, it has to be on a different level, saying something like - I suppose that these things did happen, because otherwise the gospels are untrustworthy, but I can't accommodate them into my thinking - my understanding of these miracles is abstract, not concrete. Sorry to be negative, but this is a fundamental issue. We are taught (at least, I have been taught) that it is a moral imperative to believe, which cuts across our normal processes of consideration.

No doubt, to be continued.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

From the trenches

The White Church, Comrie. Between acts. Martyn should be on in a few minutes. An interesting drive here. Anticipation. (Note: this post will probably take a day or so to appear.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Close relations

Abraham married his father's daughter (Gen 20:12); Nahor (Abraham's brother) married his own niece (Gen 11:29); Isaac married his uncle's granddaughter (Gen 22:20-23); and here's Jacob marrying his first cousins! The bible is often touted as a handbook for living - I hope that this lot isn't to be regarded as an example to follow. But it is nice to see Jacob getting his just deserts - after tricking his father and Esau, he in turn is neatly tricked by Laban.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Using AvantBlog

I would really like to maintain this journal "on the go", so I'm trying again with AvantBlog ( This post is just a quick test to see if it works.

A psalm a day

Well, not quite, obviously - 150 psalms - 365 days - looks more like a third of a psalm a day.

Surely, life-enriching. And comforting, especially to-day's reading from Psalm 10, which reminds us that God is on the side of the oppressed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

This is difficult

What is the impact of the Sermon on the Mount? I sometimes wish that I hadn't been brought up as a churchgoer, that, maybe in my late teens, or twenties, I could have read the Sermon on the Mount, and heard it as, I guess, Jesus' hearers heard it on that day in the first century (if, indeed, Jesus did preach it as a sermon, and it isn't somebody's compilation of Jesus' teachings). If there is a single theme, I guess that it is that what we think matters just as much, perhaps more than, what we do.

It isn't enough not to have murdered anybody, an insult counts for just as much. It isn't enough not to have gone to bed with somebody else's wife (or girlfriend?), a glance may be culpable. It doesn't count for anything to have given a fortune to charity, if it was done with the intention of impressing the general public. On the positive side, Jesus advocates a life of trusting God in everything (but what does he mean in practice - God doesn't issue minute by minute instructions). And we shouldn't be judging other people.

I don't know. I could examine my life, verse by verse in the light of the Sermon on the Mount. I could stop right now; this has happened to me before when trying to read through a gospel; I get so far, and I just have to stop, because I've read something which demands closer attention. This is a real crisis - do I call it a day, and say that I need more time to consider the challenge of what I've already read - or do I press on, hoping that things will become clearer as I proceed?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Parallel journeys

Or Parallel Roads. Definitely becoming a predominant theme. Especially because we're taking not one journey through the bible, but rather 4 simultaneous journeys, through the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs. Which makes it quite impossible to provide a comprehensive report in every blog post.

Somehow, the early chapters of Genesis are holding my attention the most (maybe because the first reading is always from the Old Testament journey - which maybe, right now, isn't the best way to be tackling things - the Sermon on the Mount, surely, doesn't belong in second place). One thing that I've noticed, regarding myself, is that my rate of reading has slowed. The initial tendency to race through the pages, thinking "I know this already", has gone, and in its place there is an inclination to savour the words, letting the descriptions conjure up pictures, allowing the scene to be formed in my mind's eye. I'm thinking of Abraham bargaining with the Hittite elders, for a burial place for Sarah, the text reminding us over and over again that everything is being said 'in public'. Or Abraham's servant watching Rebekah tend to his camels, wondering, "Is she the one?"

Of course, I'm not ignoring the central, major statement of Jesus' teaching. It so happens that Scripture Union's Encounter with God readings are also working through the Sermon on the Mount, at a rather more leisurely pace, giving me some cause for thought.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Just testing

Using a different email client, to see if this one avoids the problem (putting in line breaks which are expressly not wanted). Maybe if this post is OK, I'll leave it in. Don't know how many words I need to use to know if the problem has been solved. This is probably enough.
Sent using iambic Mail demo.
Visit for more!!

PS Sadly, I had to edit out the line breaks ...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Two paths

Church this morning. At the back of the church, a box of copies of Hodder's The Bible in One Year. The sermon, mostly on Genesis 1. This is where it began (more or less). But, I was keen to get started on January 1. And Tyndale's One Year Bible is better resourced. I tried to find out from Hodder the readings for the the first couple of weeks, so that I could have read from an ordinary bible until these hard copies arrived. But they didn't answer my email.

I'm maybe making a mountain out of a molehill here. I'm finding the eReader version of Tyndale's One Year Bible an excellent way to make good progress. In theory, I could spend time each week sorting out the readings from Hodder's programme (which looks broadly similar, to begin with, anyway), and then read them on my Palm (using, for example, GMP Soft's superb Bible With You). Or I could carry the hardback of Hodder's Bible in One Year in my rucsac. I believe that, rather, having started I shall finish, and stick with Tyndale. It should be fun, walking an almost parallel road. I shan't be in church every Sunday, and some Sundays I shall be helping with Kidz Klub, so it maybe makes sense to regard the weekly sermon as a bonus instead of relying on it to keep me going. I have a tremendously sad memory of when I attended a church in Aberdeen which was famous for its bible teaching. The minister was preaching through Romans chapter by chapter (having previously spent years preaching through Romans verse by verse), and I was in my mother's house, and I was going to miss one sermon, and was desperate.

Paradoxically, Sunday isn't a good day for finding time to sit down and read. I may have to catch up to-morrow. But I have managed to read the account of Abraham's meeting with three men, one of whom appears to be God. They're going to see whether the people of Sodom are really as bad as they've heard. And Abraham tries to persuade God not to destroy the city, if just ten good people can be found (he starts with fifty, then beats God down to ten). I'm somewhat shocked by the ordinariness of the encounter. In other places, God is so awesomely 'other'. Here, he's just a person. Does this foreshadow Jesus coming among us?

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Jesus cautions us against doing our good deeds (alms-giving, prayer) to be seen by men. Maybe I'd have been better to have tackled this project (read through the bible in one year) without telling anyone, but I appreciate the support of you guys. Knowing that you're out there helps me to keep going.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Black and white thinking

I've just been struck by the harshness of the writing near the beginning of Proverbs. Wisdom is saying something like: you've chosen not to go my way, so you're doomed. I'm reading a book just now about religious addiction, and realising how at certain times in my life I have probably been a religious addict. But finding the right balance isn't easy. I wonder if someone like Jeremiah might appear to us to be unbalanced.

But I'm getting ahead of myself - I guess that it will be months before we meet Jeremiah. Currently it's just Abram and a strange twilight ritual involving several carcasses, a smoking firepot, and a torch.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Technical difficulties

Having left my work PDA at my mum's, I've resurrected my old HandSpring Visor. I tried loading Olive Tree's version of the One Year Bible, but it crashed several times, and doesn't seem to offer a bookmarking facility, so I'm back using eReader, which is working fine.

I'm even writing this comment on the Visor, finding Graffiti 1 just a mite awkward after TealScript on the Tungsten, and Graffiti 2 on the Zire. But all this techie talk is covering something up - I have nothing to say. We've started the Sermon on the Mount, which many would say forms at least part of the basis of their personal morality, but which I struggle with. I suppose that people just assume that Jesus was exaggerating when he suggested plucking out eyes as a cure for pornography addiction, or cutting off hands to cure a violent temper. So much interpretation.

Was Jesus pointing out the impossibility of living by the rules by our own efforts, and pointing to a solution to be put forward elsewhere? Should we wait until we've read Paul's letter to the Romans before attempting a practical response to Jesus' teaching? But surely the Sermon on the Mount stands by itself?

I don't know what to think. For what it's worth, I believe that Jesus' primary target was hypocrisy. He had no time for people who judged the actions of others, while harbouring intentions equally culpable, but hidden, in their own hearts.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Completing the jigsaw

It's like a jigsaw. Previously, you've only done the interesting bits - the people, or maybe the train. Now, you've resolved to do the whole thing - including the sky. There is a certain satisfaction in seeing how things are connected.

Jigsaws don't always have huge artistic merit. I must admit to not really knowing what to think about these long-lived ancients. It seems that the baddies stand out - Nimrod who seems to be a common ancestor of the Babylonians and the Assyrians - and Ham, father of Canaan. Ham's crime seems to have been that he saw his father, Noah, naked.

There's a lot of ground to cover each day.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I am a great believer in the subconscious: that our brains process things while we're not aware; which raises the question of how long to wait after reading the passages before trying to make a comment.

One real problem is familiarity - especially reading the early chapters of Matthew for possibly the fourth time in as many weeks. I don't think that I am paying proper attention to what I'm reading if I'm saying to myself wearily, "not again."

Monday, January 02, 2006

What went wrong?

I guess that we consider it human nature: if someone tells us not to do something, then that's the one thing we want to do? Not that craven respect for authority is always right.

I don't know if trying to read Genesis and Matthew simultaneously is such a good idea. Matthew refers to prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Wouldn't it have been better to have read these books first? Not before Genesis, obviously.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


God made heaven and earth, as it says at the beginning of Genesis. Not so sure what Matthew is affirming about Jesus - that he is a king, maybe? Why else would his genealogy be so important? And Psalm 1 is full of confidence, that the good person will prosper, and that evil will fail. We'll see.