Monthly Archives: January 2018

A Magical Evening’s Flying

Well, after the wonderful night flight I did back in November, I went ahead and trained for my Night Rating to add to my Private Pilot’s Licence. I’ve already been flying on my new Rating, with my daughter Ellie – who absolutely loved the night flying – but I also wanted to go up again for some practice flying in order to consolidate my night training. Plus, I just love it!

I’ve tried to do more night flying since just after Christmas, especially wanting to take up my son David (who is also a Pilot), to let him have his first night flight, but the weather has been completely unsuitable for any kind of flying lately, let alone Night Flying, which needs a certain set of weather conditions in order to be viable*. But this week I was fortunate to have picked an evening where there was a ‘window’ of perfect flying weather, so off I went.

Here’s the aeroplane I fly, Piper PA-38 Tomahawk G-RVRL (“Romeo – Lima”), on the South Apron at Exeter International Airport, Devon, UK, which is where I fly from:

(Note: All the photographs in this post are fully zoomable; just click them to get the larger image)

I got there deliberately early so I could preflight the aeroplane in the daylight. I had her booked for a three-hour slot but that was fine – I wasn’t ‘hogging’ the aeroplane – as nobody else seems to want to do night flying at the moment. I don’t think they know what they’re missing… Anyway, ‘official night’ in the aviation world begins 30mins after local sunset, so I had plenty of time to inspect the aircraft and get her ready. For instance, in the above picture, the wing flaps have been lowered so that I can examine their condition, the hinges and control linkages, and check them for correct and symmetrical operation. You don’t just jump into an aeroplane and go flying! I have seen many Pilots – some of whom should have known better – simply check the oil and fuel and then off they go. But not me. I have a reputation for being an extremely safe Pilot and I want to keep it that way. I always perform a full (what’s called a) ‘Check Alpha’ on every aeroplane I fly. Every detail is checked, from the flaps to the fuel to the fire extinguisher to the first aid kit; my life depends on that aeroplane working properly and I leave nothing to chance, especially at night.

So, after preflighting the aeroplane, I started her up and ran the engine for a few minutes to warm it up a bit. As dusk fell and ‘official night’ drew closer, I performed all my power checks and pre-takeoff vital actions at my parking spot, so I’d be ready to go on time. This is the view from the Captain’s seat (the left hand seat) across the South Apron, just after sunset. Perfect for flying: good visibility, high cloudbase, and virtually no wind.

So, performing a night take-off, I climbed away from the airport and set course for Torbay, one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the local area. All these pictures were taken with my phone’s camera, and the light was pretty dim; the phone has made the pictures make it look lighter than it actually was. But then that’s better, because then you can see what’s there…

Here’s the view from over Dawlish, looking south with Teignmouth in the foreground and Torbay in the distance. The dusk sky was absolutely beautiful, as you can see:

Looking over to the north-northeast, the lights of Exeter are visible in the growing twilight. The Exe estuary is just visible as a lighter blue patch to the right of the picture.

A few minutes later, coming up on Torquay. Torquay is the ‘capital’ town of Torbay, in the area known as the ‘English Riviera’. You can see the Marina and harbour bottom centre, with the lights of all the boats lined up at their moorings. The next town around the Bay is Paignton, and the pier is easily visible, all lit up over the water.

Directly ahead, and on the opposite side of the Bay, is the fishing port of Brixham. Paignton Pier is visible to the right, and if you know where to look (on the zoomed photo) you can just see the beginnings of the flash of the lighthouse at Start Point. As you can see, despite it being dark, the visibility is tremendous, being able to see all the way to Start Point, the southeastern tip of Devon.

A bit of a different view, now; looking out to the east and over the English Channel. Each of those small white lights shows the position of a ship or boat on the water. And of course it’s darker in that direction.

A couple of minutes after I took this photo, I inadvertently flew into cloud. At night, it’s so dark up there that you can’t always see the clouds before you’re into them. Suddenly, you can’t see the ground anymore, and you are surrounded by a silver-grey flickering, billowing mist, illuminated by the flashing wingtip strobe lights on the aeroplane. But this is easily remedied in that you go straight on to instruments (which, at night, you’re doing for much of the time anyway) and do a gentle, level 180-degree turn out of the cloud. After only 90 degrees of turn, I was clear of the cloud anyway – it must have been only a small one – but in order to prevent any further cloud incursion, I descended 300ft or so in order to be sure I was completely clear of the cloudbase. This illustrates the sort of quick decision-making, forward thinking and real-time tactical planning that is essential in all flying, but particularly at night.

Over the middle of Paignton, now, this slightly blurry photo is of the main crossroads on Torbay Ring Road, known as ‘Tweenaway Cross’. The famous tourist attraction, Paignton Zoo, is just below the orange area at the bottom of the picture (the orange area is a supermarket car park (Morrisons)). Note how the little remaining light from the sky reflects off the aeroplane’s wing…

The night was completely dark not long after that shot. Although the moon was up, it was only just over half-full and didn’t really illuminate all that much on the ground, if anything.

Thoroughly enjoying myself, I was struck once again by the wonder of flight, and night flying in particular. This was the sort of flight where I simply didn’t want to come down!

It’s almost surreal, and, if you think about it, almost counterintuitive. Here we are, tanking along at what amounts to nearly a hundred miles an hour, over half a mile above the ground, and I can’t really see where I’m going, and yet it all works. Incredible! I suppose there’s nothing to actually run into up here; even other aeroplanes are easy to spot because, like mine, they have lights on them and also I have a radar service from Exeter Radar – kind of like an extra pair of eyes, if you like. But tonight, apart from a few airliners being directed in to Exeter, I’m the only aeroplane up here. It’s all very quiet and quite beautiful.

Heading back up towards Exeter from Torbay, I flew over Newton Abbot, and took this picture of the Penn Inn flyover, part of the South Devon Expressway. This is a long-awaited road that has transformed the transport links in this area, and it has been open for just over two years. Prior to the opening of the Expressway (also known as the Kingskerswell bypass), road users from Torbay and all the areas beyond had to queue through the town of Kingskerswell, adding at least half an hour to their journeys. This road has opened up the area like nothing else. And here’s what it looks like at night:

Finally, here’s a photo of the final approach into Exeter’s Runway 26, with all the lights and whatnot. This photo was taken back in December by my daughter; because I was by myself on my latest flight, I couldn’t have taken a photo myself at this point, having my hands full with the landing and all. Features to note are the approach lights (the yellow lights laid out like a Christmas tree) which help the Pilot line up properly with the runway, the green threshold lights, showing the start of the runway, the main flarepath lights which show the runway itself, and the short row of four lights to the left of the runway. These are what’s known as ‘PAPI lights’ (Precision Approach Path Indicator) and they show you if you are on the correct glideslope. Two white and two red means you are on slope, like in the picture. If you are too high, more of the lights turn white; if you are too low, they turn red. So four reds is way too low, four whites is way too high. Part of the night rating training is to learn how to land without the approach lights, and/or without the PAPIs, to help the trainee learn how to land at night in the event of failure of those particular lights, and also to learn how to land at aerodromes that do not have those kinds of lights (not all do). However, if the main runway lights are unserviceable, you’re talking diverting to another aerodrome because those lights really are essential for a safe landing. The others are just trim; they make things easier but they are not essential.

So, there we have it. An absolutely magical flight for me, some lovely photos (although flying at night does make it harder for the Pilot to do photos; better if he has a camera-armed passenger!) and a safe landing at the end. In fact, it was one of the best landings I have ever done, and in the dark as well! I think it’s going to take me at least a week to lose these euphoric feelings that happen when I fly, and especially at night. Walking back across the airfield from the aeroplane to the flying club, I was actually laughing out loud with the sheer joy of it all. Thankfully it is a huge, dark airfield, and there was no-one nearby to hear 😉

Once the nights get lighter, and night flying falls off the end of the airport’s opening times, I will be daylight flying again right up until the autumn. I will really miss night flying at that time; I really love it and to be honest there’s nothing quite like it. So I am going to get in as much night flying as I can before the cutoff around Easter!

Love it!

Header picture shows the Teign estuary all the way from Teignmouth to Newton Abbot, and the glorious sky beyond.

*Ok, I will explain: in night flying, I still have to fly under what’s called ‘visual flight rules’ or VFR. This means I still can’t fly in cloud (although sometimes I might inadvertently enter a cloud – like in this story – because you just can’t see them at night). For that reason, not only does the weather at Exeter have to be good enough for VFR flying, but also the weather forecasts at my planned diversion airfields, and the en-route weather to those airfields. Why is this more exacting at night than it is in daylight? Well, it’s because, in daylight, if you have a problem at your home aerodrome (say someone’s pranged an airliner and blocked the runway, or there’s a terrorist incident or something that closes the airport), in a pinch you can just land in a field if necessary; it’s called a precautionary landing. At night, you can’t even see the fields. As you can see from the photos in this piece, even when it’s still twilight, everything that isn’t a town or road is simply black and you can’t see what’s actually there. And so, in case such an aerodrome closure event occurs, you have to plan to be able to fly to another major airport that has runway lighting; in my case that would be Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff or Newquay-Cornwall. Or, if Dunkeswell are doing night flying, I could go there (it’s only ten miles away). So you see the planning and weather briefing has to be much more detailed for night flying. Of course, that’s all part of the training…

Talking of precautionary landings, one wag once told me that if you have to do one at night, you switch on your landing light (it’s like a small car headlight) and take a look. If you don’t like what you see, you switch it back off again… 😉


The Fight

This entry is part 23 of 38 in the series Fiona

It’s fifteen months ago today since my lovely wife Fiona left us to go to her Heavenly reward. A year and a quarter. My goodness.

I have to say that I feel like I personally died, figuratively, several times over the time leading up to her loss. By nature, I am an ideas man; a fixer, a problem-solver. I can fix anything. But I couldn’t fix Fiona. When you can’t fix something; you can fix everything else but not the thing that’s most important, it leaves you thinking you can’t fix anything else. Here’s a quote from a chap on the Channel 4 series ‘Escape’, who had lost his daughter at the age of one month old – “When you come up against a challenge you can’t win; you just physically can’t fix – I couldn’t fix her – no-one could – and that’s the thing that makes you wonder if you can do anything ever again.” I can so identify with that. This was something I couldn’t fix, and that’s hard for me to accept. In this post, I would like to try to describe what it’s like to engage in that terrible fight with cancer, and how I coped with it. I’m sorry to share this even at all, but I figured the message of hope it contains more than makes up for the darkness!

The Fight

Over the three and a half years of Fiona’s illness, my heart was battered so many times by so many colossal blows, like standing in the sea and being smashed by a series of huge waves: Fiona’s early pains in mid-2013, where, being a professional in the medical field, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on; the shocking diagnosis itself in early 2014 and feeling the ice water of terror running through my bloodstream (an experience I would not recommend); seeing Fiona waste away under the terrible effects of the chemotherapy; not knowing from one day to another what was going to happen; how long we had left. The uncertainty. The worry. The anguish. Seeing the girl whom I love beyond any other mortal person fighting the fear, the pain, the symptoms. Seeing her weaken and not be able to do the things she wanted. Living for all that time under the death sentence that is pancreatic cancer, not knowing whether or not she would be healed, knowing that the only human chance for her to be made well would be to have a brutal operation that could well remove the tumour, but an operation in which one patient in twenty dies on the operating table. An operation which she could not have, in any event, because the tumour was wrapped around too many important blood vessels thus making the tumour inoperable. An operation which, even after all that, gives only a 50% chance that the cancer will not return (I had a friend who actually did have the operation, and he died last year despite it). Living each day knowing that her condition could (and eventually would) suddenly deteriorate and that each day could be her last. Living with this constant companion of horror, of fear, of – as I said – the death sentence. It’s like being on death row together.*

Can you imagine the kind of psychological and emotional pressure that this creates for the patient, for her family, and for someone like me who was her prime carer? The weight of the constant vigilance for certain signs and symptoms that might indicate a serious infection (due to the chemotherapy suppressing the immune system), and the responsibility for making sure she gets the proper care in that event? In my lifetime, I have personally saved several people’s lives, from that of a girl I was going out with (before I met Fiona) in early 1982, whom I saved from being hit by a truck, to a friend in my car when I was driving and we were nearly forced off the road by a rogue trucker, to my own father in whom I diagnosed a serious, acute, life-threatening illness and got him to hospital just in time. But Fiona’s life I saved several times, particularly on one especially memorable occasion when my daughter Ellie called me home from work because her Mum was really ill, and I got home and took one look at her and knew exactly what was going on. Without our intervention right there and then she would have died within a couple of hours, that was how serious it was – a condition called ‘neutropenic sepsis’ – a systemic infection which simply runs rampage because the immune system can no longer fight that infection effectively. It just goes to show how amazing our (working) immune system is; every couple of hours there are infective threats like this dealt with silently and unobtrusively by our body’s defences, and we don’t even notice it! But when someone is immunosuppressed – that is, the immune system is degraded for whatever reason (in this case, the chemotherapy) – the chances of a lethal infection are quite high.

Another time, she was on a new chemotherapy regime and she had what’s known as an ‘adverse drug reaction’, a name that speaks for itself. Her heart rate went tachycardic (very, very fast, in this case getting on for 190-200 beats per minute) and if I had not called it, she would have died there and then. And this kind of thing takes its toll. What this stuff does emotionally and psychologically to a person, to a family, is beyond description. Unless you have personally lived through this sort of thing, you have no way of knowing what it will be like – it’s different for everyone – or how you will cope.

(Warning: This next section contains a couple of mildly medical pictures. If you’re squeamish, you might want to be careful 🙂 )

Well, each of us copes in different ways, and one of the ways in which many carers, partners and relatives care is by doing things to help. So long as the help is welcome (remember that the patient may not want to feel dependent on others, so there needs to be sensitivity here) then this is a good way to feel you are doing something positive. Helping with shopping, transport, cleaning, cooking, washing, writing to officialdom, and of course just being there when needed. I have the useful ability to be able to come instantly, fully awake at any time during the night, and that was really useful if Fiona had bad chemo side effects at night, so I could check her signs and symptoms with a clear head, and decide whether or not medical intervention was needed.

Also, although I am not medically-trained, I am, as I said, a professional in the medical field. For 12 years, I was in medical research, and I have now worked in pharmaceuticals for over twenty years, and for all my adult life I have been a trained First-Aider. For that reason, the nursing staff in the chemo ward were happy to train me to service Fe’s PICC line, which is a simply amazing bit of kit.

Allow me to explain. A PICC line is a ‘peripherally-inserted central catheter’ and is simply a plastic tube that goes into a vein in the patient’s arm just above the elbow…

…and continues right inside into the chest cavity, exiting in the superior vena cava, which feeds directly into the heart.

This allows us to administer things to the patient easily, like antibiotics, saline drips, fluids, and of course chemotherapy, all of which can be administered via the same route and without having to make any extra holes in the patient, which is of course painful, uncomfortable and not without risk, especially when administering chemotherapy. The PICC line also allows us to take blood samples directly as required, again without causing pain or discomfort to the patient. It’s all very clever and very useful, improving patient comfort no end.

But the PICC line needs to be ‘serviced’, and that means flushing it with saline and anticoagulant once per week; also the skin around the insertion site needs to be cleaned and the dressing changed weekly. Normally, this would mean a visit to hospital, or at least staying at home so that the District Nurse can come in and do the honours. But being able to service the PICC line ourselves, without ‘outside’ help, meant that we were free to go off on holiday (or even just service the PICC line at home when we wanted to, rather than wait in for the Nurses), and simply take the PICC line servicing kit with us – dressings, saline, syringes, sterile wipes, blood sampling tubes and what have you. I would say that, for us, this was the main specialised way in which I could help and free up a lot more time simply for us to be together. I have no doubt that others reading this may be able to use their specialist skills to help their loved one in a similar way.

Another part of the fight, though, was the pain of seeing my lovely lady wasting away. Fiona always had all the right curves in all the right places, but chemotherapy plays havoc with the body in so many ways, and one of these ways is the loss of appetite, and sometimes the inability to keep food down.  And so, Fiona lost a lot of weight over those years, as well as having much of her hair fall out. Notably, though, in many ways this allowed Fiona’s inner light to shine out all the more strongly. So far on my blog, I have posted pictures only of the healthy Fiona. I have not posted pictures of her as she was during her illness, because seeing those pictures brought back the memory of the horror and pain of those times. But now, thanks to talking these things over with my grief counsellor, I can look at those pictures more easily.

So today I have posted pictures of her, radiant, even with little hair and sometimes much thinner than she was.

So, why am I writing all this? Why all this talk about the literally life-changing illness that cancer is? Why describe all the horror, the adjustments, the changes?

Because in all this, in all the despair and hopelessness, I want to testify to the closeness and comforting Presence of Jesus. In all this stuff, all this horror, He was constantly there, letting us feel His Presence, letting us feel His peace, such that people commented on how ‘brave’ we all were. But this was the ‘peace that passes understanding’; the supernatural peace that comes when you know God has got everything under control, even if the eventual outcome is probably not the one you would have wanted. It’s not so much that God necessarily changes our circumstances; it’s more that He helps us get through them. Some would say, ‘Why use God as a prop? Most people cope without him!’ Well, I am not sure they do. How do we know that God is not the One Who provides the strength for people to cope even when they do not acknowledge Him? God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45); why not also His Grace, albeit unasked, to cope with our circumstances as they happen? Surely God draws near to the broken-hearted, no matter what their faith background, because that’s just what He’s like. Christians by no means have a monopoly on God’s favour; they are simply more aware of it than others.

As I have said before, I have a steady confidence that death is no longer the end**. I believe that I will see Fiona again. I also believe in God’s healing power and His ability to work miracles. I tried on two occasions to raise her after she had died, on the proviso that if God did choose to raise her, He had to do it without bringing the cancer back with her. But it was not to be; she has gone to be with Him and I am content with that. As I’ve said before, I would not now, even if I could raise Fiona from the dead from her ashes – which is something that I have not the slightest doubt that God could do – I would not want to bring her back. Although my heart was broken over and over again over the three years fighting the cancer, and in finally losing her, I would not ever want to pull her away from what she has now.

You see, God’s hand has been in this all along. In the midst of the suffering, terror, anguish, pain, horror and death, One has walked beside me Who has been through all that Himself. Jesus is no stranger to human suffering. But after all He went through, He was raised back to life. I believe that not because the Bible says it, but because I personally have experienced Him walking with me in everyday life. And if that’s true, then He is simply the forerunner, the downpayment, of the life after death – a new kind of life which is unimaginable to us now – and the demonstration and guarantee that death is indeed not the end. Knowing this changes a person’s entire outlook on life and death, and everything that goes in between.

It also gives us hope, which I believe is absolutely vital when fighting an illness like this. Hope is what keeps you going; hope is what you can hold on to even when the future looks impossible.

When you are first given the diagnosis, and there is little medical hope, still there is the chance – however slight – that something medical might be possible. New research is always coming up with new ideas and treatments, sometimes even actual cures. I should know; I was a professional in the field of  medical research for 12 years. This is not wishful thinking; this is what medical science does. We are always coming up with new things.

When medical science gives us no hope, still there is the hope that God might well perform a miracle. My readers know that I believe in this sort of thing; I have been supernaturally healed of things in the past, and I have been involved in others’ healings too. I have seen and experienced these things at first hand. That guarantee that death is not the end, that I mentioned above? The same Power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and living right now in my heart and in yours (Rom 8:11). For God, all things are possible, even healing incurable conditions. Remember that for something to be a miracle, you have to have something that’s impossible for us to do ourselves. And that is in itself a real hope.

But sometimes the answers to your prayer are not the answers you hoped for. In this case, Fiona died. But still I have that hope – that I will see her again – because of the supernatural assurance I have in my heart of the Love that will not let me go; nor will He let go of Fiona. Again, this is not wishful thinking. This hope is founded on my own real experience of a real Jesus, in real life.

Finally, I want to share also this stunning testimony, which again reinforces my claim to my supernatural hope. I have a friend in America called Steve. Steve has been praying for Fiona and our family since hearing of her diagnosis in early 2014. Here’s what he wrote to me in response to my email informing him of Fiona’s passing on that day fifteen months ago:

“God woke me up this morning at 5:35am my time (about 11:30am your time), which is unusual. I felt He wanted me to pray, so I got ready and went for a walk. I felt an unusual burden to pray for Fiona this morning from 6:15 until 7:15 this morning. I felt led to pray for God to anoint her with His grace, and to help her finish her race well, to wrap her in His presence, and to strengthen her spirit – and yours.

 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. He is so wonderfully present, so kind, so engaged.

“I grieve with you, my brother. I am grateful for the times and the words and the faith that has passed between us over these last years.

 “I celebrate with Fiona, my sister, who receives her reward today.”

Steve didn’t know it at the time, but 7:15am his time was 1:15pm our time; the precise moment when Fiona died. Even at times like that, God’s hand is so obviously present.

Even though we can’t see it at the time, God’s hand is indeed on everything that we do. He takes a minutely detailed, utterly fascinated and absolutely loving interest in every detail of our lives, not in a creepy way, but in a getting-involved sort of way. I want to encourage you today in that I want you to know that nothing that you are going through, nothing you are doing, have done or is happening to you, nothing can separate you from the Love of God in Christ.

This has been my experience:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 8:37-39

 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Ps 46:1 (KJV)

If you are going through a fight like this right now, be encouraged. God is so much closer than you think. He cares, and He holds you in His arms. And nothing and no-one can change that.

Header picture shows a radiant Fiona at Godshill, Isle of Wight, in July 2015.

*I know that my family, Fiona’s family, and our friends and colleagues all suffered too, each in their own way. And it is not my intention here to downplay that suffering in any way. But I am writing this only from my point of view, which is the only point of view that I can report on accurately. We each take these things, and process them, in our own way. I do not feel it is either my prerogative or my duty to make assumptions on what others were and are feeling. That is their story.

**That death is no longer the end has profound ramifications. Absolutely profound. Rather than spoon-feed you, I’ll just let you think about it for yourself. Ask yourself this question: “What attitudes would change in my life if death is no longer the end?” If you think about this in any great depth, the results will change your life. It did for me.

But Jesus Isn’t White – and Why it Matters

This is a great post by one of my favourite bloggers – Christy Wood – and I found the article to be very gentle, well-balanced and thought-provoking.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what Jesus looks like; it’s Who He is that’s important. But some of our skewed, modern mental images of Him can sometimes predispose us to think of Him in terms that just are not realistic, and thus can influence our attitudes towards our fellow humans. I will let you think of your own examples of this.

Meanwhile, this article by Christy really is outstanding and I highly recommend it.

Back when my husband was a youth pastor, one of his favorite object lessons was to print a bunch of images of Jesus and lay them on the floor. He would ask the teens to choose a picture that they resonated with and stand by it. He found some really crazy Jesus’s as well as more traditional ones.

Sweet Jesus in white robes, surrounded by children.

Tough Jesus, arm wrestling Satan.

Gentle Jesus, holding a lamb.

Powerful Jesus, calming the storm with one outstretched hand.

Bad Ass Jesus, with his sleeve rolled up showing a “love” tattoo on his muscular arm.

Hot Jesus, tall and handsome with a confident stride.

There were some similarities in the Jesus pictures, most noticeably His apparent ethnicity. In almost every image, Jesus had fair to medium skin tones, long hair, and light eyes. He appeared to be tall, thin, and good looking with definite European features.

But here’s the problem. Jesus isn’t White.


Why do I love that so much? I think it’s because I can trash my mental image of Jesus along with my churchy, Christianese ideas of who He was. I’m super excited about starting from scratch!

While the Bible doesn’t give us a clear snapshot of what Jesus looked like, we definitely get some clues from Scripture as well as from history.

Jesus was a Jewish man in the 1st century. So, He looked Middle Eastern, with dark hair and eyes, and a medium to dark skin tone. Historians agree that 2000 years ago, the average human was significantly shorter than we are today. It’s likely that Jesus was just over five feet tall! And, don’t freak out, but there is absolutely no evidence that He had long hair or even a beard.

Jesus grew up in Roman occupied Israel where the cultural norm for men was short hair. I think people confuse the fact that He was a Nazarene (meaning He grew up in Nazareth) with being a Nazirite (someone who took a specific vow that included not cutting your hair). Jesus was not a Nazirite, so He probably had shortish hair….definitely not the long feathered locks we see in many traditional images.

As far as beards go, the only Biblical reference to a beard is a prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard…” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John mention soldiers slapping Jesus in the face before they crucified Him, but that is all. No beard pulling.

Does your mind feel boggled yet? 


It gets better. We know that Jesus was a carpenter before He started His 3+ years of ministry…or we think we do. “Carpenter” in our language means someone who makes things out of wood or potentially builds houses. I’ve seen many movie scenes with a tall, slender, European Jesus making wood shavings. But there is a problem with this picture. Israel doesn’t really have trees and they don’t build with a lot of wood.

When we were visiting Israel in 2015, I noticed this fact almost immediately. Historic and modern buildings are built from stone (along with things like chairs and mangers).

It is more likely that the real Jesus was some kind of stone mason. There goes slender, wimpy looking Jesus. If the real Jesus hauled around stones for a living, he probably had some decent muscles…which explains him easily flipping tables in the temple. ? (Matthew 21:12-13.)

A prophecy in Isaiah 53:2 says that “…he had no form nor majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus was just an average looking Jewish man. He blended in well. So well in fact, that he was able to slip into the crowd and disappear on more than one occasion. (Luke 4:30, John 6:15, and John 10:39 for example.) Jesus was so ordinary looking that sometimes people didn’t even know who it was who healed them (John 5).

Why does this matter?

It matters because Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and everything about Him points us to the Father. The truth is that the All-Powerful God of the Universe chose to come to earth as an ordinary man, a very ordinary man. His humility blows my mind and makes me catch my breath.


It matters because if our mental image of Jesus is totally wrong, maybe other things that we believe are wrong too. Maybe there is a lot of tradition mixed up with our truth.

It matters because too often we modern Western Christians seem to think we have a special insight into Christianity, and we need to remember that we are just Gentiles. We don’t have a full grasp of the Bible because we don’t have a full grasp of the Jewish culture. (Wow, did I feel that when I visited Israel! It was so good for me!!)

I want you to throw out every image of Jesus you have ever seen, and instead picture a short, stocky Middle Eastern man with dark hair wearing neutral colored robes and sandals on his dusty feet. His looks might be average, but the things He says and does are radical! And that beautiful, ordinary, incredible, unremarkable man is also God in the flesh. He came to show us the invisible God, die for the sins of the world, and restore our relationship with our Creator. And that’s amazing news!!

Why does an accurate picture of Jesus matter to you?

Here’s the link to the original article

Go And Sin No More – Or Else!

Grace Gives You Wings!

A woman, caught in the act of adultery, is brought to Jesus for judgment. She’s as guilty as sin. In the eyes of the law, she is condemned to die.

But with wisdom that silences her accusers, Jesus saves the woman’s life.

“I don’t condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” This was not a threat, but a declaration of freedom. “Leave your prison of sin.”

When you sin you will have many accusers. Your conscience will accuse you. The law will accuse you. The judge and jury will accuse you. But Jesus will never accuse you. Instead, he speaks in your defense. “Charge this sin to my account, and let the accused go free.” And God the Judge announces in a voice that will not be overruled, “Case dismissed!”

Such good news is hard to believe. “But your honor, you don’t know what I’ve done. I’ve done some bad stuff.”

And the court of heaven replies, “No, you don’t know what Christ has done. He who knew no sin became sin so that you who were never righteous might become righteous.” It’s a divine exchange, his life for yours.

This is what grace looks like. Grace breaks the bonds of sin and removes the yoke of guilt. Grace lifts us from the clay and sets us on the rock. Grace draws our gaze heavenward and gives us wings to fly.

“If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2: 1 (NKJV)

(Ellis, Paul. Stuff Jesus Never Said (Kindle Locations 630-635). KingsPress. Kindle Edition)


I recently read a great Facebook post by Jeff Turner, where he speaks about getting our priorities straight when besieged by so many social media pressures and bandwagons to jump on to.

My own personal motto is to do as I see Father doing (Jn 5:19) and if He’s not doing, then I’m not interested. This is the keynote ‘slogan’ of my blog, in fact. I learned some time ago how to prioritise things for the Kingdom’s action in my life, but it is refreshing to see the same principles being expounded by modern-day prophets like Jeff.

But anyway, over to Jeff:

“Anyone out there still worried about Joseph Kony? Anyone? No? Surely you remember him though, right? No? You mean, the African warlord that turned everyone on social media into an activist in 2012 doesn’t even register anymore?

“Huh. Who saw that coming?

“You see, social media has afforded us with a convenient way of feeling like empowered activists who are really doing some heavy, hard hitting work, but, alas, what it’s actually done is turned us into a school of halibut, who move instinctively wherever the crowd moves, but who are almost incapable of independent thought or passion. When we aren’t being fed a cause to be passionate about, we don’t have one. Fortunately for us, though, the internet doesn’t let a week go by where it does not introduce us to a new cause demanding our complete and total devotion. We change our profile picture, display our hashtag holiness for the world to see, and are then on about something else by Saturday night. This not only keeps us from ever actually devoting ourselves to something real, it also leaves the causes of the week, which may actually be legitimate, largely unaffected, since we have been trained to only become involved superficially.

“Friends, you cannot be truly devoted to every cause social media shoves in your direction, and you don’t need to feel bad about that. If you thinly spread yourself out over every need that exists in the world, none of them are getting your full attention, and so nothing is really being done. You can’t stop and weep over the corpse of every raccoon, opossum or armadillo you pass on the highway, or you’ll never get anywhere. You don’t have to be cold and indifferent to the suffering of roadkill, but you also can’t become so emotionally involved that you can’t drive a half mile without pulling your car over. You have to find *a thing, or maybe two, and give yourself to those things. That’s how you progress and make change. You have to be ok with other people not being ok with you not being a zealot for what they’re zealous about. You have to not allow yourself to be guilted into jumping on bandwagons you know you won’t stay on anyways, and you certainly should not be jumping on them for the attention it gets you.

“I discovered a long time ago that I have a message I’m passionate about, and that is what I need to keep on about. If I’m drawn away by every trending issue, I will lose the thing I actually care about. I can agree that your passion is good, and your cause noble, and I can even find ways of addressing those issues using my own medium and methods. I do not, however, have to become consumed and swallowed up by a collective calling for the head of Joseph Kony, the firing of a pizzeria manager for failing to be nice to a customer who then blogged about it, or whatever.

“You have to be passionate about what *you are passionate about! Don’t settle for the fake. And don’t just do what everyone else is doing, if you don’t feel it in your gut. Study the issue out and discover for yourself if you care about it. *Then, by all means, give it your everything.

“Just some random thoughts for this evening. Peace.”

Thirty-Four Years

This entry is part 22 of 38 in the series Fiona

Today would have been Fiona’s and my 34th wedding anniversary. Half a lifetime ago, I married the most beautiful girl in the world, and for me it had been love at first sight. I can’t adequately express how blessed I am to have been married to this magnificent lady for nearly 33 years, before I lost her to cancer in October 2016.

We had a particular song, which was a lovely little number called ‘Where you go, I will go’, which we thought of as ‘our song’, and I featured it on my blog this time last year to celebrate what would have been our 33rd wedding anniversary. I want to feature it again today, because I still believe it. And it’s still Our Song.

Where you go, I will go.

Where she’s gone, I will go, eventually.

And there we will meet again.

Where you go, I will go
Where you lodge, I will lodge
Do not ask me to turn away, for I will follow you
We’ll serve the Lord together, and praise Him day to day
For He brought us together, to love Him and serve Him always


Header photo shows Ellie, Fiona and I with our gorgeous German Shepherd, Zeus, at Meadow Lakes Holiday Park, St. Austell, Cornwall, August 2013, where we were staying in our caravan. This was where we were holidaying when we first noticed the symptoms of the cancer.

Zeusy was a huge dog, but he wasn’t as big as the camera angle makes him look in this picture!


Confused by the Bible?

My online friend Dave Carrington posted a real gem on a Facebook group we are part of, and I wanted to share it with you.

As background, let me explain that many Christians, myself included, were always taught that when reading the Bible, we should ask the Spirit to tell us how that particular passage* relates to us today, and how to apply it in our daily living. While this is an admirable sentiment, it can be extremely confusing because the Spirit may not be speaking through that particular passage you have been given/randomly turned to/whatever on that day, and so we have to try hard to wrest some sort of meaning from the passage even though that’s not really on today’s menu. As I have said before, the point at which any given Bible passage becomes the Word of God is when the Spirit makes it real and relevant to us now, and sometimes it might be that He’s just not saying anything through that particular passage at that time. In those circumstances, either ask for guidance or simply go and read something else. The truth is that while the Bible is indeed an incredible book, or indeed library of books, it is not a magical grimoire of spells and incantations to enable us to summon our god like some sort of spirit. And it can be confusing for some people when the things they expect from a ‘plain reading’ of the Bible simply don’t happen. You see, God is a person, not a book, and certainly not a vending machine, and He speaks as He wills; we can’t force Him ito our schedules! In these times, Christians are indeed re-awakening to the significance of the Bible, but under the much more relevant aegis of sensible, intelligent and spiritual interpretation under the Holy Spirit, and discarding the old ‘one size fits all’ approach. It’s so much better, because God gets more of a chance to use the Scriptures to speak to us personally, rather than generally.

So with all that in mind, let me pass you over to Dave for him to flesh out those ideas:

“There are things in the Bible 1) that have eternal significance to a universal audience. There are things 2) written to specific groups for specific reasons at specific times. There are things 3) that are historical alone, and things 4)that are not at all literal but allegorical in nature.

“Of course we can learn and gain certain wisdom from ANY of these by the Spirit of God- BUT when we don’t understand the base difference in these writings, we will a) be confused about our own life, b) confused about our relationships with others, c) confused about the nature and character of our Loving Creator/Father, and d) trying to apply things to our situations that have absolutely no application in our life whatsoever.

“If you’ve been taught that everything in the Bible applies to you currently or is somehow tied to future events in your life… then you have been taught in (confusing) error. And if so… you are not alone.

“Sometimes we don’t know just how confused we are until the scales are removed from our eyes and we can see TRUTH that SO greatly changes our vision awareness & perspective, that we are now able to see things that were always ‘there’, but were blocked (in our awareness) by things not meant to be there at all.

“Holy Spirit is moving some obstructional things that have hindered our vision and were never supposed to be there… so our awareness can be changed to behold the things that are; The things that are true.

“The Awakening. It’s here. You’ll see.”

– Dave Carringer

*Note: ‘Passage’, not ‘portion’. I really can’t stand it when people refer to a Bible passage as a ‘portion of Scripture’, like it’s a cake or a bag of chips…and like there’s not enough to go around…

An Excellent Series on the Bible

I was a regular reader of the blog ‘The Evangelical Liberal‘, written by a chap called Harvey, although he hasn’t published much for a while. Anyway, I have found that I agree with much of what he writes; in fact, I find that he often actually puts down on [virtual] paper the exact same things I am thinking, but I have to admit that he expresses them much better than I do!

Fairly recently, Harvey has published a series on the Bible and the way we read and interpret it.

You know I prefer to do things that I see Father doing (John 5:19). I believe that in this day, God would have us read and believe the Bible through the ‘lens’ of His Spirit; this is as it always should have been. And I believe that of all the ‘Great Deceptions’ that people claim will happen, none is greater than the rubbish that is spouted by many people who call themselves Christians (and I am no judge of that) but abuse the Bible terribly, corrupting its message to others. Fair enough, they can believe what they want, but to impose those beliefs on others too, usually for monetary profit….think televangelists, and you will know the sorts of people I am talking about.

And, after pulling the Bible apart, as it were, do we find that the Bible is still useful? Is it true that if one part of the Bible is wrong, you might as well throw it out or use it as a doorstop?

In this series, then, which is reblogged here with his permission (thanks bro!), Harvey examines, in a number of articles, the ways in which we look at the Bible. Please do listen to the Spirit as you read this blog. And if you hear Him speak, as always, do not harden your heart.

Rethinking the Bible – an intelligent introduction to the series

Bible posts Round-Up – where he provides links to articles he has written before on various Bible issues

The Bible – The Good Book, or a very bad book? – a “…look at the worst stuff in the Bible and the terrible uses Scripture has sometimes been put to”

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? – A fascinating article on a fascinating subject

Is the Bible inerrant? – This is the real crux. Is the bible ever wrong?

The Bible – truly perfect and perfectly true? – Ideas on perfection

The Bible – a question of interpretation? – Making sense of it all

Sola scriptura – is the Bible really all we need? – Is the Bible alone sufficient?

What does the Bible really say about inerrancy? – An epilogue giving an analysis of the ‘inerrancy’ proof-texts

Paul and Women

One of the huge scandals in some of today’s churches is the way in which women are handled. One aspect of this is the way in which the words of St. Paul have been used to stop women obtaining office in the established Church. And, in setting those rules, Church leaders have robbed their congregations of fully half of the real resources of their churches.

This is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on in one form or another for centuries. And it’s not going to change overnight. But things are indeed changing…

In this piece, my friend Tim Chastain of ‘Jesus Without Baggage’ writes a superb piece on how Paul’s writings have been, and still are being, misused.

The Many Women Leaders in Paul’s Circles Don’t Seem to Represent Christian Patriarchy

Those who embrace Christian patriarchy and restrictions on women in church often refer to 1 Corinthians 14 for support:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Another favorite passage is 1 Timothy 2:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Patriarchist usually attribute both passages to Paul, but Paul almost certainly did not write 1 Timothy and the passage in 1 Corinthians might be a scribal gloss. However, our purpose here is not to dismiss the passages but to compare their use to Paul’s actual experience with women in his ministry.

Women church leaders in the New Testament

Priscilla the Teacher

Paul’s letters (and the book of Acts) introduce a number of women who are leaders in the church. Perhaps the best known is Priscilla (Prisca) who is half the leadership team, Priscilla and Aquila. According to Acts 18, Paul first met Priscilla in Corinth; she and her husband had left Rome during the Jewish expulsion. Later Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila sailed for Ephesus.

Paul continued on from Ephesus but Priscilla and Aquila remained. When Apollos came to Ephesus preaching an incomplete version of the good news, Priscilla and Aquila pulled him aside and explained the good news more fully. We next find Priscilla mentioned in the final greetings of 1 Corinthians: ‘Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.’ This is the only time Paul ever mentions Aquila before Priscilla.

Finally, in Romans (his last letter) Paul says: ‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.’ They had apparently returned to Rome. Paul calls them his co-workers—both of them. It doesn’t sound to me that Paul was concerned about Priscilla’s leadership roles.

The Women Paul Knew in the Roman Church

In his final greetings to the Roman Church (Romans 16), Paul mentions a number of people—including a lot of women besides Priscilla. They include the Apostle Junia who was, according to Paul, outstanding among the apostles, and [was] in Christ before I was’.

Early Church Father, Chrysostom, wrote of Junia:

[T]o be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title apostle.

There was also Mary, ‘who worked very hard for you’; I doubt she was known for her cooking and teaching of children. And Paul says: ‘Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord…Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.’ As with Mary, I doubt they were celebrated as great cooks but rather were known for their leadership.

The Church at Rome seemed to be filled with women leaders, and Paul did not object—and he does not mention that they should be silent in the church.

In the same chapter Paul introduces Phoebe the Deacon—who apparently delivered the letter to the Roman church. The term ‘deacon’ technically means ‘servant’ but seems to be much more than that in the church context. The term for Phoebe is the very same term applied to Apollos, Mark, and Timothy.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Paul was actually quite progressive in his day regarding leadership of women.

Paul and the Gifts of the Spirit

Paul makes a remarkable statement in Galatians 3:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul nowhere suggests that any group of believers (Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female) is restricted from any category of ministry. We are all one; no group is superior to any other group, but not every individual serves in the same way. However, Paul does tell us how believers find their place in the church.

1 Corinthians 12:

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge…to another faith…to another gifts of healing…to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit.

Paul adds:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

No restriction to any gift is based on being Jewish, Gentile, slave, free, male, or female. In fact, remember:

  • Junia the Apostle
  • Philip’s daughters who were Prophetesses
  • Priscilla the Teacher, and
  • Phoebe the Deacon

Women in Paul’s circles were active in leadership. I believe those who teach that women cannot be church leaders are gravely mistaken.

Here is the link to the original article

Header picture shows the brilliant Dawn French in her role as Vicar ‘Geraldine Granger’ in the classic British sitcom, ‘The Vicar of Dibley’

Matt Distefano on Universalism

One of the more controversial ideas in Christendom at the moment is that of Universalism – that everybody gets ‘saved’. It’s certainly not a new idea; there is in fact good evidence to suggest that it actually formed a major part of early Church doctrine. Personally, I am myself a ‘hopeful Universalist’, a bit like C. S. Lewis was. That is, I would like to think that God is big enough to be able to ‘save’ everybody, in some form or another.

Whatever our views on the subject, it is sadly true that many of the idea’s detractors have taken the ideas of Universalists and twisted them to mean what they were never meant to mean. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in religious discussion, but I am prepared to believe that this is more due to a breakdown in communications rather than deliberate misrepresentation.

For this reason, I would like to share a piece by Matthew Distefano, whose work I have mentioned before in my blog. In this article, he gently attempts to set straight the record on some of the points that some of his objectors have raised.

What about justice? What about Hitler? What about Scripture? It’s a really good article and definitely deserves to be read.

Clicking the picture below (that’s Matthew, by the way) will take you to the article on Patheos (opens in a new tab).