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?