Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Guidelines. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

The Liberal Democrats’ researchers have been busy. They’ve discovered that, in the last 8 years, 1,018 new criminal offences have been created. One threatens six months in gaol for anyone allowing a concert to take place in a church hall without a proper license, another prescribes a heavy fine for anyone assisting a woman in childbirth without being a registered doctor or midwife, and 113 of them are to do with travelling on the roads.

Many of us don’t need Parliament to make us feel surrounded by prohibitions and restrictions. There is an inner voice which tells us off and whispers reprimands for a wide variety of different types of behaviour. Sometimes the voice sounds strangely like one of our parents or an early authority figure; sometimes we think (wrongly) it’s God speaking; sometimes it’s the voice of the accepted norms among the people we mix with; sometimes the voice has become so familiar, we hardly know it’s there or even think it’s our own.

Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for those in his time who gave rules power (Mark 2.27). His life was geared towards setting people free and the only rules he offered were designed to open his hearers up to new possibilities in life, not to shut them down.

Some inner voices are important – they offer us appropriate guidance about what is right and what isn’t. But others pander to our fear of letting go of past authority figures and becoming ourselves. They could, if we let them, hold us back from discovering new possibilities in our lives.

On their way are robotic cones that can be programmed to move on their own at any particular part of the day. For example, if workers arrived at 6 a.m., the cones could move from the shoulder to block off the lane at that time, then return to the side of the highway at the end of the day. The robots are placed at the bottom of the cones and are small enough not to greatly alter their appearance. Well that’s OK then! At least we won’t lose the familiarity of their delightful shape and colour – it’s bad enough that we might be shunted into line by a cone with a mind of its own.

Being told where to go and what to do is not something many of us like. It can make us unreasonably angry to be ordered about, especially for no apparent reason, on the roads and elsewhere. It feels an infringement of our independence. When there are usually many more complicated and significant threats to our freedom, it’s easy, and possibly helpful, to vent our frustration on the more trivial limitations which are imposed on us.

The need to be in charge of our own destiny is something most of us experience. Indeed the biblical story about the behaviour of Adam and Eve in the Garden indicates that it’s always been part of human nature. Taking the fruit against God’s orders was symbolic of a desire to leave nothing up to God. Jesus suggests that real life is not to be had in holding on to our freedom but in letting it go. There is ultimately safety and joy for those who let themselves be guided and directed by God.(Mark 8.35)

Perhaps today we might reflect on our experiences of being told what to do by others. Maybe a greater readiness to allow ourselves to be guided in unplanned directions will bring its rewards. Possibly too, discovering the value of responding this way in the big things will mean we’re not so irritated when we feel pushed around in less important ways.

Fewer than five per cent of the 5 billion hatchery-reared salmon freed worldwide each year live to adulthood. “The fish need lessons on how to swim in the wild,” said Culum Brown, of Edinburgh University. “They should undergo a look-and-learn method of survival training.” Many of the fish - bred in captivity to boost fishing stocks and help re-establish endangered species - die within days of being released.

He suggested putting an experienced fish into a hatchery-reared shoal and placing a predator behind a transparent and porous screen.The inexperienced fish would see the escape responses of the 'streetwise' fish and so learn to spot and deal with a predator.

Looking and learning is something human beings do too. At any time, someone might be watching at us and, consciously or not, copying our behaviour. This is an important responsibility and one that Jesus recognised too. The consequences of leading someone astray, he suggested , are more serious than having a heavy millstone hung round the neck and being thrown into the sea. .

We are not normally aware of the influence we might be having on others and there are plenty of other reasons for trying to behave with integrity and generosity. But perhaps today, it might be worth checking that there’s nothing fishy about any example our conduct might be setting.

The Pied Piper of Great Totham in Essex is a red-faced police inspector. Accidentally switching on a “Follow Me” message caused traffic to build up after 5 law-abiding motorists obeyed the sign and tagged along behind his car. “No harm was done,” said one of the drivers, “I just feel a bit of a fool”.

Most of us feel a compulsion to follow the instructions of those in authority. The people in Jerusalem in the week of Jesus’ death were similarly susceptible. Jesus warned them against being too willing to accept some of the Pharisee’s profoundly unjust behaviour*. Perhaps it was some of them doing what they were told to that led them to cry “Crucify him” in the courtyard of Pilate.

Authority in our generation is not easy to locate. In our pluralist society, there are a wide variety of different sources of influence to choose between and most of us choose different ones for different areas of our lives. Perhaps today it is worth thinking through whether there are any which we are blindly following. Friends, the values of society and instinctive assumptions can all, if their guidance proves unreliable, make us look foolish, or worse.

*Matthew 23

pn(j,k)=P{XN+L,S=K/Xn,s=j},jE kn,kE Kn+1.

This is the formula produced by two Swiss academics to guide contestants who want to do well in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. They emphasise that all ultimately depends on knowing the answers but the formula, together with the charts which go with it, following the principles of “stochastic optimisation”, will tell players when to use each lifeline and what the level of risk is if you are unsure of the answer. In the end though, as they admit, if you haven’t got the answer within you, no external strategy will help.

There are many guidelines available for doing well in life, some more complicated than others. Religious people, philosophers, astrologers, dieticians, life coaches, and many others all have their advice to give, much of it valuable. Such formulae are all very well but to really help, the encouragement from outside needs to be matched with inner conviction and determination.

Christ’s teaching is probably the most widely followed of these models for living. An additional attraction is that the basic formula (love God, love your neighbour, love yourself) is backed up by God’s offer to love us and to come and give us that inner encouragement and strength. That’s what was happening in the birth of Jesus and still happens through his living Spirit.

Perhaps today it might be worth reflecting on the formulae for good living that inspire us, and seek the inner strength to put them into practice.