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 (http://www.dentedreality.com.au/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 www.iambic.com 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.