Wednesday, 16 November 2011

What do you believe about God?

I saw this chalked on a pavement ( U.S. sidewalk ) near me. It made me think. What do I really believe of God? In my tradition we are taught to remember the mysterious nature of God but in other traditions there is an emphasis on His accessibility.

Maybe spend some time thinking how God has directly intervened in your life and call to mind what you learned about Him from this experience.

Avoid Christian ‘slogans’ however worthy they may be. Be very personal and totally candid.

I will give you something from my life. When I was at my lowest ebb God used the most unlikely people to help restore me. Ironically the first person was gay and sadly later wandered away from God. The second person was not a believer and was...wait for it..a woman. Yes, an old reconstructed bachelor like me assisted by a woman!!

This has helped me see that God does not see people as we do; nor does He interfere with our free will even if it means allowing people to from Him. It has taught me also that even when I despair and can see no way out God can intervene miraculously.

What have you learned about Him?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Home is where the heart is

The other day I was walking along the River Wey between Guildford and Godalming. It was a beautiful Autumn afternoon. I came across this house right by the river; absolutely charming, in beautiful countryside, though you could be at your desk in the City of London in not much over an hour. When I was young I lived in grand houses. Now I live in a humble studio flat. I know however how much work goes into maintaining a house and also the misery that can come from the wrangling over who will inherit them. I remember these word of St John Chrysostom.

Some people see the houses in which they live as their kingdom; and although in their minds death will one day force them to leave, in their hearts they feel they will stay forever. they take pride in the size of their fine houses and the fine materials of which they are built. They take pleasure in decorating their houses with bright colours, and in obtaining the best and most solid furniture to fill the rooms. They imagine they can find peace and security by owning a house whose walls and roof will last for many generations. We by contrast know we are only temporary guests on earth. We recognise that the houses in which we live serve only as hostels on the road to eternal life. We do not seek peace or security from the material walls around us or the roof above our heads. Rather we want to surround ourselves with a wall of divine grace; and we look upwards to heaven as our roof. And the furniture of our lives should be good works, performed in a spirit of love.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Carrot and stick

Last week I went to a ploughing match where tractors and, more interestingly for me, shire horses showed their skills in ploughing. I saw what I had not seen before- donkeys ploughing. Shire horses keep on a pretty straight course and only really need steering and ‘woa Dobbin’ to turn at the end of a furrow. Donkeys I noticed were not so co- operative and had to be guided the whole way along the furrow which is probably why they are not used much in ploughing.

I thought that for Christians it is lucky that God does not have to direct us in the same way.

We do not usually have to be prodded or hit with a whip. We can be directed by God in all sorts of ways, mostly gentle, and some quite mysterious and unexpected.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you. Psalm 32 8/9

In 1491 a young Basque knight, Ignatius Loyola, lying injured in bed after a wound in battle and unable to move from his bed, began to discover and codify the way in which God communicates to us through our emotions and feelings. His writings became the Spiritual Exercises and became the foundation of what is known as spiritual direction.

Some believe that God only speaks to us through Scripture but Scripture itself talks of God talking through dreams, strange circumstances and the quiet voice as He did to Elijah. On one occasion He even communicated through a donkey ( Numbers 22.28 ) I suppose the trick is to be listening for His voice and be obedient then He won’t need to raise His voice.

Monday, 22 August 2011

And end to gentility

The picture you see saddens me greatly. This cafe, in my area, sells great food cooked by a very Godly woman. The boards I am pretty sure are to protect from looting.

I have just spent two weeks listening to the media, secular and religious.

What I have noticed is the disparity between what the ‘learned’ have been saying and what the rioters themselves have been saying. The former have blamed the police, government cuts, family break up, poverty and ‘Broken Britain.’ The rioters seem to be saying ‘we knew the police would not be able to cope so we did it.’

I was in teaching for quite a while and I saw the slow erosion of the authority of teachers which I now see happening to the police: hamstrung by politically correct rule makers who often do not live in the inner city, government and middle management inventing more and more paperwork and officers becoming more and more fearful of reprisal by what my friend calls the ‘mind police.’

I recently tried to complain to the police about an issue. Three letters were ignored and then eventually a courteous officer came and said I should not personally try and intervene in dealing with the anti social behaviour I had complained about. He did not suggest either that the problem would be addressed by the police.

I do believe that the rioting came about partly because the presence of the police in London is now so low key as to be ineffective. England is now a very changed place yet the police seem geared to a genteel public that no longer exists.

Here is one thing scripture says. St Paul is talking about the last days. I am not predicting the end of the world but I do see the lawlessness St Paul talks about in the London I know.

For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. 2. Timothy 3.2

I would apply this to dishonest politicians, unscrupulous bankers as well as rioters by the way. I will be glad when the boards are taken down from Pellicci’s.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The doctor will see you now

I was sent this birthday card recently. The punchline is party with the 5th doctor. Sometimes I get so casual about reading Scripture that I miss its real power but the other day the words from the commentary jumped out at me and I realised their profundity. It was from Chrysostom' commentary on Romans 10.
' But he who has Christ, even though he may not have properly fulfilled the Law, has received the whole. For the end of the physician's art is health...He who does not know how to heal, though he may seem to be a follower of the art, comes short of everything: so it is in the case of Law and faith..For what was the object of the Law? To make man righteous. But it did not have the power for no one fulfilled it..but to this end Christ gave a fuller accomplishment through faith.'

Basically the Law failed to make people good.
Now we hear a different version of this. If people's conditions are improved they will become better people. O really?

I live in a traditionally poor part of London. Much of that extreme poverty has gone. Are people better?

In my area two people were killed in a firebombing over an argument over goods of ten pounds. People no longer talk to one another as their ears are stuffed with headphones. Cyclists threaten to plough me down on the street. Basically, people appear more selfish, less considerate and more arrogant. As the Law has failed to make people nicer so has improved living conditions. Evil as our Lord said comes from people's hearts. The only cure comes not from the doctor but from a change of heart. Christ can give that change of heart.

Monday, 28 March 2011


I have been reading a biography of Richard Branson the man who built up the Virgin business empire. I love reading the stories of tycoons; their energy and the inventiveness I find very alluring. At the time of writing his auto-biography Branson was 60, the same age as me. I have no business empire and in fact struggle to stay afloat often. It is only by God’s good grace I am was not put in the poor house long ago!

Branson is a brilliant business man and old fashioned showman. He breaks all the rules; he has no real core business but sets up new and diverse companies all the time. He makes blunders but has the brutal honesty to see what these are and learn from them. He can see himself in a detached way and take criticism and advice. He is creative in business. I once flew Virgin to the States and found a pair of socks in my passenger’s kit to ward off the draught under the seats. Great attention to detail.

The book however is cloyingly self congratulatory and the other rich and successful he quotes as being his ‘good buddies.’ The rich always have ‘friends’ while they remain rich.

However, what is the net result of all his activity? Without judging the man the line in Ecclesiastes seems apposite. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil, which he may carry away in his hand. The Christian, however, stores his treasure his in Heaven where no thief can break in and steal it or insects destroy.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Perfect Crime

Last night I watched Woody Allen’s film, Crimes and Misdemeanours. A rich Jewish professional man has an affair with woman. The woman threatens to confront the man’s wife unless he leaves her. His rabbi suggests making a clean breast of it to his wife whereas the man's brother offers to use his criminal contacts to make the problem disappear. The man opts for the latter but is then overcome by remorse and remembers his religious upbringing when he was told that the eyes of God are everywhere. The police only make cursory enquiries and the man hides behind his professional respectability. The police believe his innocence. He literally gets away with murder.

Woody Allen presents us with a bitter irony which is a constant theme in the Psalms. The wicked often go unpunished.

Although the Jewish religion is probably most akin to the Christian religion we see in this instance in the film Judaism’s limitations. It offers a moral framework but not a solution to those who sidestep this framework.

In Christ however is the solution. The guilt is taken on His shoulders. The crime does not go unpunished but the solution is beyond our understanding- an innocent man is punished instead of the criminal. As the thief on the cross observes, the wicked deserve their punishment. Only the killing of the unblemished lamb of Christ brings complete atonement.

The man does not turn himself in. He has too much to lose in the sumptuous life he clings to. He manages to find a way to live with himself.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


This is the second time I have used a photo of this pig in my blogs. Perhaps I am getting like Lord Emsworth in PG Wodehouse’s Blanding Castles who is more interested in his pigs than people. I have to say this splendid chap is an Old Spot and a most friendly fellow.

When I was in Greece visiting Byzantine churches we were away from the city and our tutor gave me some pods from a tree and she said that they would be like the sort of thing the Prodigal Son would have fed to the pigs had he taken that job on his father’s estate.

I reread the story of the Prodigal Son the other day and I was most impressed with the honesty of the boy. Perhaps we would have liked something more like this repentant attitude from the bankers recently rather than the obfuscation we were often offered.

Which one of us does not fantasize about winning a fortune? Many who enter the lottery probably do so to have what the son briefly enjoyed. On my wall there is a list of people to pray for. To be honest they are mainly ‘elder brothers’ ie those who are committed to their Christian work. There are a few ‘prodigal sons’ ie those who have rather got lost. I have to say my prayer for the former is more enthusiastic than the latter. Reading of the joy of the father in the story perhaps I need to get a better balance in my prayers!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Tongue tied

Sometimes as we get older as Christians we fall into the danger of becoming ‘sophisticated’ and think we are above some of the basics of the faith. I once went back to my old Anglican church and found them being very dismissive of a street evangelist. Yesterday, I went to see an open air campaigner evangelising in Leicester Square in Central London who uses a simple flip chart and paints. I thought about what John Chrysostom wrote-

Nothing is more frigid than a Christian who is indifferent to the salvation of others....Love means to want the best for others about the law of love, and the joy of obeying this law. Of course many people are shy about talking to others; in their case actions motivated by love will be a most eloquent testimony. But those who are not shy will want to express their joy at every opportunity. There is no need to use fine words or elegant phrases; even the most uneducated people can convey joyful love by the spirit which accompanies their words.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Making a pig of yourself.

The other day I was going to a soccer match when a group of rival supporters got on the train. Their behaviour was loutish. They turned their attention to a young Italian woman who did not appreciate their advances. One started touching her and one made racist remarks. She had the sense to leave the carriage. I tried to convince them they needed the next stop which would have got them late to the ground and hopefully lost but they tumbled me and abused me as well. I alerted the police on leaving the train but they were not interested.

What I noticed about the men was how unaware of how awful their behaviour was. 'Ignorance is bliss' the old saying says.

Later I found this quote by Samuel Johnson.

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.

I was watching the film A Beautiful Mind about the mathematician John Nash who eventually got the Nobel prize but suffered badly with mental illness. Being a human being, especially with gifts like Nash, means struggles: a lot of study and work, being misunderstood, rivalry with others, disappointments and the risk of failure. As the book of Ecclesiates says Dreams come with much business. ( 5.3 )

You might be pleased to know my team thrashed the visiting team.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


.................we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient; but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4. 18

Monday, 10 January 2011

smoke screen

One of my weaknesses is to have a cigar last thing at night. I used to smoke heavily but feel pretty good about having given up but I just hang on to one vestige of that past pleasure. A while back I went to Romania. I was staying with a family and I thought it wisest not to smoke in front of anyone. On the last evening I was taken to the station and while we waited for a train I thought I am going to have a smoke. The people seeing me off were young Christians on the evangelical end of the church. They started to give me a hard time quoting the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit. I happened to look behind me on the platform and there was one of the saddest sites. There was a pile of rags encasing a poor human form barely recognisable as human.

As the self righteous diatribe went on I wanted to ask them how they could ignore Jesus in the form of this sad man on this railway platform while ‘straining at gnats’ about my smoking. I don’t think my cigar smoking will keep me out of Heaven but ignoring the poor and hungry will. Matthew 25.35