A Purposeful Habit 4

Reading the Bible.


It is hard to speak about private daily devotions, because they are, just that, private. In some ways it is an intimate thing. It is better to be doing it than talking about it. Sometimes sharing on the subject can be singularly unhelpful. When hearing about the person who gets up at 5am and reads through the whole of Jeremiah, one of the Gospels and Psalm 119, before spending two hours in prayer, for lists of people in their prayer book, you are tempted to say “Oh come on, get a life”. They are not usually people who have been up half the night dealing with a vomiting child, struggling to get a teenager out of bed, living with a flatmate who left the kitchen in a tip, coping with a husband on the drink, caring for a demanding elderly relative or someone who has to work night shifts.  These testimonies are given with an encouraging intention but the effect is demoralisation. You might just want to give up. So we are treading on thin ice, walking over glass here. It’s just a shame that we find it so hard to talk or enquire about. In all my Christian life no one has asked me “How are you finding your daily reading of the Bible, Crawford?”  I wish they had. There again, I guess I might have told them just to mind their own business.

I have been a Christian a follower of Jesus for as long as I remember. So it’s maybe quite strange and even shocking, (it’s shocking to me) that it is only in the past year or so, that I have finally learned something about the practice of daily bible readings. Something I should have known years ago. It was not that I was never taught, more that I was never listening.

With the strong influence of Scripture Union, Churches and other organisations, I have tried to follow schemes compiled to help us find a way through the bible. Often these would be supplied with helpful notes and encouragements to think through the passage as well as to see how this impacts our life with pointers for prayer. But I always found the imposition of this kind of discipline from outside hard to deal with, which probably says more about my stubbornness than anything else. The critical point came when I would embark on a scheme with very good intentions and then fail and fail again and it led to a spiral of discouragement and resignation.  That way of doing things clearly works for so many people, maybe be most Christians. I don’t know. But they didn’t work for me.

It was when a wise pastor told me, while in my teens, that the Christian life was an integrated life and not a disconnected deconstructed series of activities with boxes to tick, that the light dawned. A “quiet time” could be useful, but not if it became just another thing to do. Something to gain points and help make you feel better about yourself. That, like much of what this pastor said was liberating and I felt a tremendous freedom and a new delight in reading God’s word. Yet in this freedom there still needed to be some discipline, some order, some plan, some direction. It was easy to find yourself in the books of the bible that you liked, parts that suited your temperament. For me it was the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s “happier” letters to the Thessalonians and Philippi. I didn’t go naturally to Romans or Ephesians, avoided Hebrews and pretty well ignored large swathes of the Old Testament. It was also easy to pick out nice helpful bits here and there, often quite out of context.

So over the years my bible reading has at best been sporadic, reading to prepare for something: preaching, leading a group, giving a talk, a children’s’ holiday club, working on material for a song, or anything that took my fancy.   Please don’t get me wrong. You do learn so much when you are trying to teach others. Sometime you only fully grasp a truth when you are trying to communicate with others. But the practice of daily bible reading, unconnected with any preparation or activity, for me, was a very hit and miss affair and there was no pattern to it.

So what has changed and what made the difference?


Well a number of things. Coming to the church we now belong to, was one of them.  It was not the reason for coming, (that is another story) and in a way there was nothing especially different about it, but it was under the ministry of David Robertson that I found a new focus on the Bible as God’s word. It was not that the Bible was not central in the churches where we had previously belonged.  It was.  But here, for me, it took on a new dimension. It was moving up a gear. It was being pulled nearer to where I should have been. It was having my ears syringed. It seemed that the whole of the church’s life was soaked in the whole of God’s word. It was never an add-on.

Another was reading a book by Sinclair Ferguson “From the mouth of God”, which I can’t commend highly enough to anyone who wants to read the bible. It is straightforward, easy to understand, follow and demonstrates with great clarity why we can trust the Bible, how we read it and how we can apply it to every aspect of life.

Another was a comment by Dominic Smart in a monthly letter to his congregation in Aberdeen. It was that reading the bible should be first before anything else. Hearing what God has to say should be before listening to anyone else.

Another was something Billy Graham said in a video, following a campaign some years ago, when he described his daily practice of reading a psalm each day to re-orientate himself with God, and reading the Proverbs to relate to the world we live in.

Another was something from a book, I didn’t read, but which was quoted to me, on meditation and the serious contemplation of Scripture.

So this is what I try and do:


I try, each day, to make God’s word the first thing that enters my mind: before reading what other people say about it, before listening to, or reading the news, before hearing the musings of clever people or the prattling of a radio commentator, before social media, before listening to music, because music itself speaks to you. Before all these I want to hear God’s voice.

So I read through books of the Bible, generally a chapter a day, with the intent of covering and continuing to cover the whole: a gospel, one of Paul’s letters, one of the prophets, a book of history or wisdom or from the Pentateuch. Then I read a Psalm, working consequently through the ancient songbook and finally I read a chapter from the book of Proverbs which is helpfully divided into 31 so you know where you are in the month. The practical wisdom alone in the later speaks right into the day whether it is work or any other activity.

Then I get outside for a walk: for the the fresh air, to meditate, to let the words, the thoughts, the pictures, the poetry, the wisdom soak into my being and to wonder at the reality of God’s presence and  bask in his love.

That is what I try to do but even as I write this, it sounds almost formulaic, prescriptive and the very thing I was railing against earlier in this piece. But I know that the experience, the reality and the blessings that pour from this purposeful habit, however that habit is integrated in a life, cannot be measured.

Crawford Mackenzie


Bartlett and the Bible

Glynn Harrison has written an extraordinary article in the new edition of “Solas”  “The long shadow” http://www.solas-cpc.org/wp/solas-resources/solas-magazine-launch/ with a very telling insight into the impact of the sexual revolution on our society, from a Christian world view. It is a challenging critique of how the church has failed to respond to this revolution, been caught napping and generally been unable to speak the good news into it. “Our culture has a good sense of what we are against, but what are we for?”  With some noble and notable exceptions, the church has, in the heat of the debate, been found wanting. There has been a deficit in intellectual integrity, a deficit in creativity, a deficit in articulation and a deficit in humour. In contrast the sexual revolution, which was a revolution of ideas, held all the cards and knew how to present the case: the use of the media, being one of the principal planks of that presentation.

For me, nothing exemplifies this more than “Bartlett and the Bible” a scene from the television series “The West Wing”. Jed Bartlett is the president of the USA and throughout the series he exudes a quality of humanity that somehow you do not expect in a politician, far less in the leader of the “free world”. You cannot but warm to him and take to the way he acts, how he responds to his aids and his family, how he seems to genuinely care for the people and takes the responsibility of his office so seriously and even how he shows his failings. It is very endearing. He comes over as such a genuinely good man that people often say they would vote for him if his name was on the ticket. Many have even tried to persuade Martin Sheen, who is a real person, to do just that to stand for president.

The scene in question can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CPjWd4MUXs but there is hardly any need to supply the link as you would have to be a stranger to YouTube or social media not to have come across it.  It is a very clever, funny and accomplished display by the president of the United States of America where he wipes the floor with the priggish upstart of a radio presenter, in what has become an iconic put down. At a stroke he exposes the inconsistency, hypocrisy, sheer stupidity, and the censorious and unloving attitude of the conservative biblical right. It’s a great laugh and so often as I have engaged with a facebook discussion on the subject it has been brought in to the thread to prove a point and it does just that. It is the killer punch which finally finishes off the argument. There is no more that can be said. The argument is won and lost.

But take a moment to look at the clip, for it is a perfect example of how the media can be used, not simply to make a point but, to close an argument. Ged Bartlett is a fictional character and the scene has been invented in someone’s mind. The dialogue has been written. It is not a real discussion. In fact it is not a discussion at all more of a monologue in which the president berates the limp presenter with a series of quick fire questions.  He does not allow her space or even the opportunity to answer the questions. The implication is clear. There are no answers. Any fool would see that.  He roundly castigates, viscously mocks and abuses her verbally, in way that would make any misogynist proud. It is a blatant display of merciless bullying by a powerful man, while his staff and advisors stand pathetically bye, sheepishly silent, unwilling or unable to take him to task. It ends when he completes the ritual humiliation by forcing her to stand, as everyone must do, in his presence. It is from every angle an appalling display yet I have heard nothing but applause for it and the way people continue to share the clip shows that they see nothing wrong with that aspect of it.

Leaving the bullying and the abuse to the side, the fact that there is no space for a response, a challenge or even offering answers to the questions, shows how propagandist the piece really is. Given the space and the opportunity, which any fair minded person would, there are very obvious responses that could be made. There are answers to the questions too. Timothy Keller at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency gives a perfectly reasoned and convincing response to the charge of inconsistency and others have done so too. But in the media world, these voices are hardly ever heard and it is left to a few to speak out, to challenge the omnidirectional flood of thought, to stick a head above the parapet and face the torrents of abuse and even death threats that come with the territory.

Glynn Harrison’s challenge to the church is simply to tell the good news into this long shadow. “The good news that God has not left us alone. In scripture he not only reveals who he is, but he shows us who we are: he speaks our identity to us.”. That will need resourcefulness, intellectual integrity commitment, creativity and courage, but more than anything, belief in it.

Crawford Mackenzie

Why I still go to church

black watch

The questions comes up, of course, because so many of my friends, my family, people I love and care about, folk I admire and respect, don’t.  Some flirted with church in their formative years but got bored of the petty politics, struggled with the institution, were turned off by the back biting and hypocrisy, felt excluded, marginalised, betrayed, and overwhelmed with the sheer absurdity of belief that they left for the sake of their own sanity.  I find I share an awful lot in common with them and have a fair bit of sympathy with their position.  I sometimes wonder why I never joined them.  But I haven’t and I won’t and I can’t. Because….

Because the church is much more. The bonds are stronger than friendship.  The ties are thicker than blood. It is bigger than family.  The local church might seem like a collection of misfits and oddballs, rough diamonds and smoothies, saints and martyrs (“the martyrs being the ones who have to put up with the saints”*), people we get along with and people we don’t.  It is made of people of different age groups, different cultural backgrounds sometimes speaking different languages, people who don’t share the same outlook, standards, interests. All of this must point to the fact that something else is going on here.  That something else is God.  It is God’s church and so he does the choosing. He brings us together. He does the deciding. He does the planning.  He does the perfecting. It is his business and he does it and will do it in his way and in his time.

Because we live in a world that is full of fantasy and illusion, false God’s and paper kings, soaked through with a powerful pervasive philosophy that says that what we see and hear and can touch is the real world. It bombards our thoughts, bends our minds and coerces us into believing this is true. So we need to find ourselves somewhere else where we can be brought into the real world.  Where we can regularly make contact with what is really important. With what is more important than life or death. And that somewhere else is the church. That is why the call to worship “We are here to worship God” is pivotal. It is a call away from the false realities to the true reality and of his purpose of salvation and redemption and glory. In his presence the other world with its great show, its charms, its promise, its money, its power, seems so pathetic, so foolish, so small and so sad.

Because, in church, I am reminded of where my true identity lies.  It is not in being a man, a father, a grandparent, an architect, a dabbler in painting, music and DIY, a Scot, a European a White Anglo Saxon Protestant Christian.   My identity is not in my interests, my family, my roots, my sexual orientation, my ability or disability, or in  my race. My identity is in Christ.  I don’t need to wonder “Who am I?”  But I need that regular reminder of this knowledge which is found in the strange setting of a group of ordinary people meeting together, bowed in worship before the one true God.  I need to know again that I am a sinner, who has been accepted by God because of Jesus, with nothing to bring but empty hands accepting his grace.

That’s why I still go to church.

Crawford Mackenzie

* Quoted by Eugene Peterson in “The Wisdom of Each other”   Zondervan

Independence: a Slovak’s view


The white paper might be a help to us when it comes to making the big decision, but it is always good to hear from others outside, especially if they have had some real experience of what independence has meant for them.

I met Jan at a garden party following the wedding service of a special friend in Žilina a northern city in Slovakia.  His English was impeccable but he was keen to improve and he wanted to do that by learning some Scottish idioms in dialect. As usual my mind went blank and all I could come up with was “yerawrit big min” from Glasgow, “Fit Like?Foo ur ye aye daein’?”  from Aberdeen and the legendary  “Twa pehs an’an’inyin’in’an’a.” from Dundee. He practised these and went around the party muttering them under his breath while everyone else gave him a wide berth.  We corresponded by email afterwards and had some interesting discussions on politics, language and nuclear power (he and his wife were both nuclear scientist). On one occasion I asked him about the independence issue. In light of the Czech  Slovak  experience, did he think it would be a good thing for us in Scotland?  His answer came back, simple and straight to the point  “Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!” . So now I know.

Crawford Mackenzie


I have always thought that independence was an honourable aspiration and something to celebrate when it was achieved. I remember, as a boy, sensing the excitement and interest when Ghana achieved independence from colonial rule in 1957, the first sub Saharan country to do so. Others followed. Zambia became independent in 1964 and while I remember little of that event, was able to visit that amazing country in 1985 and later in 2010. Despite many intractable problems there was still a real sense of celebration and pride that they had finally broken the chains of their colonial masters.  Last year I visited friends in Slovakia and when language allowed, asked how they felt about their break up with the Czech Republic.  The overwhelming view was that, while the economic difficulties were grave, still it was a good thing. “We are able to be friends again” said one.

So when it came to considering independence, I warmed to the idea.  I wanted to believe in it and I still do. There seems something good about being grown up, being able to stand on our own feet and more importantly take responsibility for our own decisions and actions and stop whinging and blaming someone else for our ills. But Scotland is not Ghana nor Zambia nor Slovakia. It isn’t Norway nor is it East Timor.  England has not colonised Scotland, we speak the same language, our families, friends, business, professions, scientists, academics, musicians and poets crisscross the border. Our histories are intertwined. Scotland’s golden period followed the union of the crowns and only in the past century have we begun to feel the poorer partner. The union seems to have been good for us.   And when it comes to emotion and passion, the things that seem to matter most are football, “bank” holidays, “For sale” signs which turns homes into commodities, using “shall” instead of “will”  and the south easterly bias of the weather reports.

What has finally disillusioned me and cooled my enthusiasm is the way the debate has been conducted over the past year. I have become less and less convinced that the leadership of the “Yes” campaign actually believe in it themselves. There has been an astonishing loss of nerve. Real conviction seems in short supply. There has been so much back tracking so many questions fluffed and unanswered. I am almost coming to believe in the perverse notion that the aim of the campaign is to be deliberately muddled and confused so that people vote against it and some semblance of pride can be retained.  They will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. “At least we tried” they will say. Like David Cameron’s very palpable sigh of relief when the commons voted against intervention in Syria

The most confusion, however, surrounds the word itself.  Politicians and pressure groups know how to reinterpret words to their own advantage so that it can mean something different from what you thought it did.  I thought I knew what marriage meant. Now I don’t. I thought being independent meant being in total charge of your own affairs. Now it seems to mean being dependant on another country, sharing a currency and a bank of last resort, being subject to a monarch of another country, submitting to a military authority based on the use of nuclear weapons and being subservient to the multinational giants who will always dictate the terms. It doesn’t look like independence. It looks like being fully dependant in all but name. It is like being an adult but still living at home with your parents on call, ready to lift and drop you, pick you up, dust you down and bail you out when you are in trouble. That is not independence so I think I will vote “No”

Crawford Mackenzie

Who do you think you are?

One of the most difficult tasks in starting to write a blog is the whole business of preparing a profile, writing an “about me” page, describing who I am, what my background is, my family my experience my interests etc.  It is an impossible task.  It is like writing your own obituary but fortunately that is for someone else if they can be bothered. My pastor of recent years often began a tribute during a funeral service with the words “How can you sum up the life of one person?” And the answer is you can’t. It is impossible. Obituaries and tributes, memorial services and the like, always seem to me to be such poor pieces. They are never enough. They cannot ever adequately give true worth and proper value to the person who has gone and they sound so final.  The life has past, now we move on.  It is cut and dried and even when people say they believe in life after death, it is as if there is none. It is as if heaven is a non-life where the person has no role other than to sleep forever. There is something in that attitude that screams out at the soul “It cannot be true”

Yet it is hard to avoid the enormous pressure to summarise distil and define, a person so that they can be categorised in much the way that music is classified, in genres.  If you like this, then you will like that. If you think like her, then you will be like them. It is particularly sad when people feel they have to define themselves and find their identity in something like their profession or their race or their class or in something as mean as their sexual orientation.  For me, when I think about who I am, when I consider where my identity lies, I know that  it is not in being a man, a father, a grandparent, nor is it in being an architect, a dabbler in painting, music and DIY, nor is it in being a Scot, a European a White Anglo Saxon Protestant Christian.   My identity is not in my interests, my family, my roots, my sexual orientation, my ability or disability, or in my race. My identity is in Jesus Christ. That is who I am, someone who God has created and someone who knows and has experienced the reality of his love through Jesus Christ. That’s the bottom line and all the rest are peripheral and secondary. They may have influenced me, they may have shaped me in some way and made me something of what I am, but they are not me and they do not define me.

Forgive me then if you find my “about me” page a little  cryptic.

Crawford Mackenzie