Saturday, September 24, 2016




It was great growing up in the Vale of Leven (“the Vale”) during the 60s and 70s. Perhaps it more aptly could have been called “Smollettsville” on account of the Smollett family owning vast tracts of land there back in the day. Indeed, the Vale of Leven town of Alexandria was named after Alexander Smollett, and Renton was named after a daughter-in-law of Jane Telfer Smollett in 1762.

As a kid I used to pick strawberries for Patrick Tobias Telfer Smollett at his Cameron House on the southwest shore of Loch Lomond. He died in 1997. During the late 60s he kindly let me build a pigeon-hut as a young teenager on a piece of his land at the old ruin of Tullichewan Castle. Kilt-clad he would stop his car and come over for a chat whenever he saw me tending to my pigeons. A gentleman. I read a book written by one of his ancestors, one Tobias Smollett. The book, written in 1748, is called “The Adventures of Roderick Random.” There was a road in the Vale called “Random Street” apparently after this novel. Of course, like most of old Alexandria, this street has disappeared forever.

I read “The Adventures of Roderick Random” on a trip to Hawaii my wife and I made back in 2012. Forget about flight movies, I couldn’t put this book down! (Actually, it was a Kindle version.) Anyway, here was this red-headed Scotsman, back in 1748, getting himself into all sorts of exciting, humorous, and romantic adventures. I was riveted to the story while lying soaking up the tropical sun on the golden sands of Waikiki Beach. The bit where the gold-digger Random attempts to visit in person the rich, and as he thought, very beautiful woman in her stately home is particularly hilarious. All is not as it seems. Surely Robert Louis Stevenson got the idea for his “Treasure Island” after reading about Random’s exploits in the Caribbean after he was press-ganged into service on the high seas. Apparently the great English novelist Charles Dickens tipped his hat to Tobias Smollett. Wow!

I finished the book on the flight home from Hawaii wanting more, much more.

On a trip back to Scotland from Australia, I visited the Tobias Smollett monument which, though it used to stand in front of the Renton Primary School, still stands in (the) Renton.
My very good friends, Graham and Jacqui Black visited his grave in Livorno, Italy where Tobias died and was buried in 1771.

(The following is my review of the book on US Amazon):

The Adventures of Roderick Random is a great read! Written in the mid-1700s by a man from the same town in Scotland in which I grew up (Vale of Leven). Smollett has a beautifully descriptive and poetic turn of phrase, is witty, and has an acute eye for human foibles and our fallen disposition. This is Stevenson's Treasure Island and Scott's Rob Roy rolled into one! This novel is surprisingly modern, not in language (which nevertheless is exquisite), but in its vivid description of human nature when faced with feast or famine. Loved it!

Friday, September 9, 2016


I Remember

Do faces and places stick in my mind like flies to a strip of flypaper hanging in an old butcher’s shop? How do I remember what I remember? How many megabytes or gigabytes of memory do I have? Why do some memories fade as I grow older? Some things I can’t remember while other things I can’t forget. Why do songs and smells sometimes trigger memories? A lost love? A lost loved one?

Our Maker created us with the ability to remember things, including Himself: ‘Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”’ Ecclesiastes 12:1. However, rather than remember, unless He converts us, we go through life trying hard to keep a lid on our knowledge of God (Romans 1:18). Yet it is hard not to remember Him, because He gives us so many reminders of Himself. Everything we smell, taste, touch, hear and see is revelation of the Creator. We exist because He exists. We remember because God remembers.

However, when it comes to God, is our flypaper too full of flies for any memory of Him to stick? Or are we not, as the Bible says, simply suppressing the knowledge of God, just as we try to do with any bad memory? He made us in His image, yet He had to send His Son into the world to remind us what He looks like! ‘The Son is … the exact representation of His being’ Hebrews 1:3. ‘Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like’ James 1:23-24. We have forgotten what God looks look like, and, we can so quickly forget what we ourselves look like. What’s wrong with us? Well, it is only when He converts us that we remember what God and we ourselves really look like.

Understanding what Christ did on the cross has been referred to derogatorily as ‘butcher shop theology’, wherein the Old Testament Temple sacrifice of every animal culminated in the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross as a substitutionary atonement. However, in Christ’s ‘butcher shop’ there hangs no flypaper clogged up with flies. For the believer, it is as when God had finished with sending His plague of flies on Pharaoh and his household: ‘Not one remained’ Exodus 8:31a. Not one fly. God is very exact!

I remember when I was converted in my early thirties being amazed that I could remember so much of what the Bible taught. I had never been that interested in God’s Word until then, but had read bits and pieces here and there and had heard stories as a child at school and in the Boys’ Brigade. Nothing had seemed to stick. But it all came flooding back to me! That putrid strip of flypaper hanging in the centre of my mind was taken down and thrown out along with my sins! I was transformed and my whole mind was renewed. No flies on me! For, ‘God made Him who had no sin to be sin [i.e., a sin-offering] for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ 2 Corinthians 5:21.

I remember that it is Christ that saves me and not I myself. I remember what I look like, a sinner saved by grace alone. Dear reader, ask God to remove that old flypaper strip from your mind. Remember Him.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Meeting Jesus at Glasgow Airport

I read a book called “Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport” (Richard Mouw). The scene when I was departing Glasgow airport to return to my adopted Australia reminded me of this book that addresses how Calvinists live in accordance with their worldview.

My wife, two brothers, a sister, and their partners, and a nephew and I were all sitting in a circle in bucket seats having a coffee before my wife and I were to take to the skies after spending a month with them in Scotland.

I’m usually nervous about flying (and/or roller-coaster rides!), so I welcomed the conversation I had with my eldest brother as a nice distraction. The dialogue went deep. I felt as if I should have been engaging with the others too, but my big brother had my almost undivided attention. He wanted to get the (Dooyeweerdian) point across that theology and its propositions is not God, but only one of many pointers to God. In other words, we can become guilty of confusing a signpost for the actual destination, an analogy for the reality.

I asked my brother if the Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (i.e., the famous “This is Not a Pipe”) painting illustrated what he was driving at. The point being that an actual pipe and a painting of a pipe are two different things. We discussed how God reveals Himself by way of analogy, i.e., through the things He has made and also what He has said in written revelation, the Bible.

We sipped on our coffees as airport announcements interrupted our verbal interaction. As the precious minutes ticked away, lest I missed his (or Dooyeweerd’s) point, he put his hand on my arm and referred to the Bible passage where Jesus said to Martha after her brother Lazarus had died, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” My brother said that Martha was thinking in terms of theology, i.e., propositional truth. She knew about the resurrection that will take place at the last day. This is what the Bible teaches.

However, Martha was missing the point, a major point. And, so that I would not miss it too, my big brother began yanking on my arm while saying the words Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection…” Jesus was saying that He is not a theological proposition, a painting of Himself, a signpost, a mere analogy. He was saying, I AM the resurrection!”

Wow! I felt as if I really met Jesus at Glasgow Airport.