31 October 2012

Sandy storming in

Hurricane Sandy has caused devastation and continues to bring more trouble as it heads into Canada. Why do disasters like this happen? We consider some of the common views held by people of faith and by those who see no need to believe in any deity.

Hurricane Sandy in New York
The Caribbean islands and coasts and then the north-eastern coast of the USA took a major hit when Hurricane Sandy swept in. It has now weakened to post-tropical cyclone status but continues to drop large amounts of snow and rain as it heads north into Canada. Winds, although much reduced, remain dangerous and damaging.

Our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Sandy. Loss of life has been relatively low, things could have been far, far worse. But for families who have lost loved ones this is no real comfort. The losses in terms of property and flood damage and infrastructure are, of course, immense. Rebuilding will take a long time, countless homes and businesses are without power. There's no denying the scale and seriousness of this storm.

Global warming - We are living in changing times. Not only was this a powerful storm, it was also the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Nothing this size has ever been seen before. The storm surge flooded considerable areas along parts of the US coastline.

What are we to make of all this?

Although no single event proves or disproves the reality of global warming and climate change, this record-breaking storm adds fresh evidence to that already accumulated. It makes it that bit harder to deny that the climate has altered, that bit harder to conclude we are doing no harm by pouring large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sandy should, at least, give us all pause to think and reconsider the evidence.

Considering faith - And what should people of faith make of Sandy's devastating effects? No doubt there will be voices from some supporters of Islam claiming that the storm is Allah's retribution upon  the 'Great Satan'. But most Muslims will not think of it in this way or say any such thing, instead feeling sorrow and sympathy towards fellow humans suffering pain and loss.

Atheists, on the other hand, will take the view that such things happen from time to time. It's regrettable and very sad, but it's how the world works. It's up to us to do what we can to avoid problems - don't build on flood plains, create structures that will withstand earthquakes and violent winds. Don't live at the bottom of steep slopes or close to volcanoes. Commendably, many will help to rescue and support those who are hurt or suffer loss.

But what about those of us who follow the teaching and example of Jesus? The majority may not give a second thought to wondering why such things happen. They too will feel sorrow and sympathy and many will pray for those affected by the storm. Others, however, will give serious thought to the question, 'Why?'

In particular, a common thought following any natural disaster is, 'If there is an Almighty Creator in charge of everything that happens, and if this mighty and powerful person is good, why are such things allowed to happen? Why was the world not created to be a safe place?

Some will see disasters as the consequence of sin coming into the world. Others may see it just as the atheists do - this is the way it is.

Another way - I believe we can do much better than this. I was drawn to express my views recently in a comment exchange on another blog. In the next few days I plan to take my comment and expand it as an article here. Watch this space. (Posted 2nd November, Why is life dangerous?)

Meanwhile, here's an earlier article that seems relevant. It records some thoughts we had during a meeting soon after the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

See also:

30 October 2012

A new look for the main article

This is the first post in a new format. A change of font and a focus on the current article will refresh the blog and make it easier to read. There are also several other ways to see 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

The old style blog
From now on I plan to offer articles in this new font and display them in their entirety.

Here's a sample of the old font.

I'm also widening the text area as screen widths have continued to increase and can usually accomodate the new size.

I'll only display a single article (in the past I've offered three truncated articles). Some adjustments and simplifications to the right hand column have further simplified the layout and the images will be larger in future.

I posted my intention to make this change several weeks ago, hoping for some feedback. But it's not too late! Leave a comment to tell me whether you think the new style is an improvement or not.

Dynamic views - There are several other ways to view the site, maybe you'd like to experiment with them. These are alternatives to the normal view so find one you prefer and bookmark it so you can revisit whenever you like. Or bookmark several if you like more than one.

  • Classic - See the current article in full, scroll down for previous posts.
  • Flipcard - An album of images, hover to flip them, click them for the full article.
  • Magazine -  Looks like a magazine page with articles arranged in blocks.
  • Mosaic - Pick a picture.
  • Sidebar - Titles on the left, article on the right.
  • Snapshot - Like a set of photos, hover and click for an article.
  • Timeslide - One photo, several extracts, and all titles month by month.

Mobile devices - There's a separate version of the blog for mobiles.

Sign up - Don't forget that you can also receive the blog posts by email or read them in an RSS feed. The 'Subscribe' tab has all the details.

See also: Changing the websiteEnjoy the viewA new look for 'All about Jesus'

29 October 2012

Biblos

< Bible Gateway | Index | No later items >

Biblos is a complex tool with extensive facilities for Bible research including dictionaries, commentaries, interlinears, concordances, versions in original and modern languages, word studies, parsing information and more.

The Biblos home page
The Biblos web-based Bible tool manages to do a very great deal. The only problem with this breadth of coverage is that it can be tricky to find your way around. But most users will find just a few features that they use regularly and will soon become familiar with those. In other words, don't be put off by the complexity of this tool but focus on learning the parts you need.

Home page - Here's some of the stuff you can find right away on the home page.

  1. Along the top, a row of national flags allow you to choose a language other than English.
  2. Below the flags are drop boxes for Bible book, chapter and verse, Bible chapter outlines, and to select a translation or commentary or original language version or a whole host of other things. The chapter outline autoupdates as you change the book or chapter, a nice feature.
  3. Next is a search box with options for topical, library, Strong's number and multilingual search.
  4. Below that comes a toolbar with 23 icons for all manner of options including advanced search, reading plans, devotions, biblical weights and measures, apocryphal books and more.
  5. And then there are two more toolbars and a set of tabs.
  6. Finally, a set of 28 large icons provides further ways into the data.
Below all of this the home page continues with masses of additional material. There's just about everything you might need for a detailed study of any verse, word, idea or theme in the Bible.

Let's try it out - Starting from the home page I've just used the drop boxes in row 2 to select John 14:1. I immediately see multiple English translations of the verse in the main column with cross references to the right. Further down are concordance links for the key words in the verse and extracts from several commentaries and word studies.

Part of John 14 in an interlinear display
Next I click the Greek icon in row 4 and right away I see a page of Greek interlinear. Biblos has unhelpfully forgotten I was in John 14 and shows me the interlinear for Matthew 1. Hmm.

Back to the drop boxes in row 1 and I'm soon back in John, but that was not as smooth as it might have been.

But the interlinear is well done (click the image for a larger view). There are five lines. First come the Strong's numbers with transliterated Greek words below and the original Greek in line three. The Strong's numbers and the transliterated Greek are clickable and bring up definitions, concordance entries and more. The original Greek is not clickable, sadly, neither is the English equivalent in line four. Line five offers useful parsing information (part of speech, case, tense etc).

Serious research - Biblos is a good place to do serious bible study for free and online. It contains everything you need in one place, but there are several ways into most of the information and this results in a cluttered and confusing interface.

For looking up a word or two in Strong's, studying a few verses in depth, or translating short passages from Greek or Hebrew it's probably all you need. Biblos can even meet some unusual requirements, for example it can display the Old Testament in Septuagint Greek and the New Testament in modern Hebrew or even in Aramaic.

Reading online - I can't recommend Biblos for Bible reading online. Bible Gateway is a much easier and cleaner way to do this in a wide range of languages and versions. But in a web browser with Biblos open in one tab or window and Bible Gateway in another it's quite possible to use the two together to look up details and definitions while reading.

< Bible Gateway | Index | No later items >

26 October 2012

Loving more fully and widely

This is a second contribution to a chain blog on the topic 'one another'. We look at a verse from Romans in which Paul writes of debt, love and the law. It's amazing how much we can draw from just one verse.

British currency
So far in this chain blog we have, between us, looked at the phrase 'one another' from many different angles. The posts have been marvellously complementary.

But in this post I have felt the Spirit nudging me to do something entirely different.

We're going to see how much we can draw from a single occurrence of the phrase 'one another'. I think Romans 13:8 is the particular example I should take.

Here it is in context, verse eight is in italics...

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

There's a wider context too, that we need to bear in mind. Paul first writes about civil government, making it clear that goverments are there because the One who is Authority puts them there. They have a function and a purpose, we must submit to them.

Then come the verses above.

And finally Paul writes that time is short, we need to act now while we still can. Jesus is returning - soon! We need to be found ready and obedient and already covered by him. Romans 13 is relevant in its entirety. We should read this chapter often and let it sink deep into our hearts and minds!

But in verse eight, Paul makes three statements.

  • Don't let any debt remain.
  • Continue to love one another
  • This fulfils the Law

What does he mean? He is not simply saying that I should pay off any debts I owe. He is saying that I should allow no debt to stand. He is saying I should pay my own debts but I should also, if necessary, pay yours. The important thing about debt is that it is paid, the effect is the same no matter who pays.

Jesus paid my debt so if I want to be like him I will pay yours. And Paul is not writing merely about money, he has just explicitly used the words respect and honour as well. These things apply to one another as much as (or more than) they do to governments.

There are to be no debts amongst us, not only because we pay them off but because we forgive them. When I lack the means to pay I become dependent on your willingness to forgive. Jesus is our example in this. He is the ultimate debt payer and forgiver. We are called to be like him in our dealings with one another.

Will I pay my monetary debt to you? Will I forgive your debt of money to me? But also (and often harder) will I pay the respect and honour I owe to you? And will I forgive you if you disrespect and dishonour me? This is the nitty-gritty of not allowing any debt to remain.

If I continue to love you I will indeed pay and forgive in all situations where debt might remain. Love will cause me, compel me to cover every kind of debt. If not, do I have love at all?

And it goes further yet! Paul writes that there is one debt that should stand, the 'continuing debt to love one another'.  Love is not just for today but also for tomorrow and for tomorrow's tomorrow. I owe you love and that is a debt I cannot pay off. Love goes forward without ceasing. 'Faith, hope and love remain', writes Paul, 'And the greatest of these is love'. Love remains, even in the kingdom of heaven, especially in the kingdom of heaven.

So, just as love is the fulfilment of Torah, so love is the fulfilment of civil law and indeed every kind of law. If I truly love I will not be able to commit any sin at all. The fact that sin remains is just a clear sign that love is not yet complete in me.

Let's go forward in our lives understanding that love remains and is greater than anything else. And let's remember who 'one another' means. It's not limited to the church.

Jesus made it pretty inclusive. What begins with brothers and sisters becomes all encompassing. Love the Father, love one another, love your neighbour, love your enemy. My love is to extend out and become fully inclusive, not in any way for club members only. 'One another' is just a starting point, the nursery slopes of loving.



This post is the fourteenth link in a chain blog, started by Alan Knox, on the topic 'One Another'. Please have a look back through the other links and comments to join in the topic. You can even join in the chain – read the rules below to participate.

 Links in the 'One Another' Chain Blog
  1. Chain Blog: One Another - Alan Knox
  2. Linking One Another - Swanny
  3. What Does It Mean to Love One Another? - Chuck McKnight 
  4. The treasure of 'One Another' - Jim Puntney
  5. This is how the world shall recognise you... - Kathleen Ward
  6. Accepting one another in love - Chris Jefferies
  7. One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church - Greg Gamble (also see part 2)
  8. Individualism and 'one another' - Pieter Pretorious
  9. All Alone with One Another - Jeremy Myers
  10. When it's OK for Christians to compete - Joshua Lawson
  11. Jesus Christ: the Corner Stone for One Another - Peter
  12. Be Superficial With One Another - Jon Hutton
  13. The Unmentionable One Anothers - Alan Knox
  14. Loving more fully and widely - Chris Jefferies
  15. The one another weapon - Dan Allen
  16. Corporate one anothering (Part 1) and (Part 2)- David Bolton
  17. The last revival - Tobie van der Westhuizen
  18. Love: a 'one another' comic - Dan Allen
  19. I can only love you if... - Rob
  20. Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Chain Blog Rules
  1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment on the most recent post stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
  2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both this post and the other link posts in the chain).
  3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

25 October 2012

Bible Gateway

< Online Bible tools | Index | Biblos >

The Bible Gateway is a simple but impressive collection of online Bibles in many languages. If you want to read and search the Bible on your laptop, tablet or phone, it may be all you need. It's free, fast, and effective and comes with helpful extras like reading plans and devotionals.

The Bible Gateway website
Today we're going to take a look at The Bible Gateway. The main purpose of this free website is to provide online Bibles - and there are a lot of them. At the time of writing, there are thirty-four English translations as well as many more in a wide range of other languages. Take a look at the full list.

A clickable list of Bible books is available for each version, as an example, here's the list for the Knox Bible. But the normal way into the Bible Gateway is through its search facility.

Searching - The homepage has a search box under the site banner. The search box is accompanied by a drop down list of versions. Simply type a search term, choose a version, and press 'Enter' or click the search button. You can skip the version choice if the default is OK (and you can change the preferred default version in the system's settings).

What can you put in the search box? You can type a topical query such as 'love' or 'one another' (put exact phrases in double quotes) and then press 'Enter' or pick from a list of suggestions.

Or you can enter a chapter such as '1 Cor 13' or '1 Corinthians 13' to read it in its entirety. The display provides links to move backwards and forwards a chapter at a time.

Alternatively you can enter a specific passage, for example 'John 14:3-8' or even 'Matt 14:20-15:3'.

Other features - The Bible Gateway doesn't offer Bible study tools. It is intended primarily as a resource for Bible reading and text retrieval.

To this end it offers audio versions, commentaries, reading plans, dictionaries and versions of the site for use on mobile phones.

There is also a Bible Gateway app and various other tools, check the list in the left-hand panel.

Conclusion - If you want to read the Bible online, check out unusual versions, or search for a particular passage, Bible Gateway might be all you need. It's simple to use, quick to load, flexible, and only a web browser away. There nothing to install and nothing to pay, just load the website and begin reading and searching.

< Online Bible tools | Index | No later items >

24 October 2012

Halloween

Halloween is upon us again. But what is behind it? What are it's origins? We take a look at this autumn festival and see that under the surface it's a curious mix of pagan and early church thinking and tradition.

A traditional Irish celebration of Halloween
It's that time of year again. Small children will be 'trick or treating' - knocking on doors or ringing doorbells and demanding treats. If adults did the same it would be called 'making a demand with menaces'!

I don't wish to spoil anyone's fun, but where does this strange custom come from? Few people today will really know what Halloween is all about.

A little story - Earlier today I was passing some houses in the town when I heard someone calling. When I looked I saw a mum with two girls, they had a table set out, laden with various kinds of cakes decorated with worms and other seasonal designs. They explained that they were selling these Halloween cakes to raise money for a cancer charity - a really worthy cause.

I bought a square of chocolate cake with a 'bloodworm' on top (a length of strawberry lace) and on my way to the Co-op I thought about the combination of Halloween and a charity collection.

Church and pagan festivals - Halloween used to be written Hallowe'en which is a shortened form of 'All Hallows Evening' or, in modern speak, 'Holy evening'. It's the evening before 'All Saints Day' so it was also known as All Saints Eve'. It's probably a combination of an ancient harvest feast with a festival of the dead, rooted in the pagan British and Gaulish festival of Samhain. We don't know for sure, but the ghoulish aspects of Halloween probably spring from these roots.

The early church adopted the date and many of the traditions but gave the annual event a new name and purpose as part of the church calendar. This is how they handled other inconvenient pagan festivals too. The celebrations of the shortest day and new year became Christmas, the fertility festival with it's egg traditions became Pasch or Easter, a time of renewed life.

Recently the Halloween festival has been imported to England from the USA, but they in turn had it from the Irish and Scots in the nineteenth century.

Problems - Reusing pagan festivals and traditions may have been convenient, but it has brought a great deal of confusing baggage into church life. Personally, I feel it was a major mistake. Part of this confusion is the modern Halloween, now a thoroughly secular  annual event.

The trouble with that is that the spooks and witches and monsters are based on dark, spiritual powers that are best avoided altogether, even in play. The world may pooh-pooh such a view and regard me as foolish and a superstitious spoil-sport. So be it.

I prefer to have as little as possible to do with all false traditions and pagan origins. I know that Jesus was born, died and rose again. I know there are spiritual forces of both light and darkness and I know that light always banishes darkness, not the other way around. For me, these truths are enough, I don't want the pagan and worldly add-ons.

How to deal with it - To the extent that these events have become secular I cannot avoid them. And although I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, especially for children, I hold them lightly and as much at arm's length as is possible. I'm happy to give presents to my grandchildren, but they're from me - not from Father Christmas. And sometimes I send cards, but only to offer people peace and wholeness in the coming year.

Halloween may be fun, but I don't like the platform it stands on or the traditions it involves. But making and selling cakes to support a charity is a good effort and I will always do what I can to support and encourage things like that. Well done!

What are your thoughts and feelings about Halloween? Do you like it, hate it, tolerate it, or feel indifferent? Why?

See also: 3 reasons Christians must celebrate Halloween

21 October 2012

Online Bible tools

< No earlier items | Index | Bible Gateway >

There are many ways to read and study the Bible. Since the invention of printing this has included paper versions of the Bible as well as commentaries and tools of all kinds. Today we can also use software for Bible reading and study, both locally installed and online.

The Malmesbury Bible
Frank Viola has been writing brief reviews of Bible software, but has decided not to include web-based Bible tools because 'people can test out the free online programs on their own'. (See the comments to his post on WORDsearch.)

Even though the websites are indeed readily available, I think it's worth commenting on them. This will help anyone considering using tools of this kind.

Local or cloud? - First, let's just consider the main differences between local software that you install on your own computer, and tools provided remotely through a web interface.

  • Web-based tools are often free to use. Installed software is sometimes free, but must often be paid for.
  • Installation takes time and uses disk space (sometimes in large amounts). Web tools need no installation.
  • Web tools are available wherever you can access a browser - at home, on your phone, at work, in the local library, at a friend's house, etc.
  • Web tools are updated remotely, there's no need to upgrade the software locally (often at additional cost).
  • The software runs on powerful servers, not on your own local computer. For this reason a smartphone can work just as fast as a desktop workstation.
Searching the Bible for a phrase might take your phone a long time, but the request is sent to the server where the search is done on powerful hardware; only the result needs to be sent back to the phone.

Because of this and for other reasons there's a growing trend for data and applications to be stored and managed in 'the cloud'. This phrase encompasses the remote servers that store user data as well as the software.

Today, many people are running remote web versions of email, office applications, managed photographic storage and display, mapping tools, display of documents and much, much more. Bible software has also made the leap to the cloud for the same reasons.

Reviewing Bible tools - In the next post we'll take a look at 'Bible Gateway', a site that offers many online versions of the Bible along with simple search and some other facilities. Then we'll look at more in further posts.

As a help, here are links to Frank Viola's reviews. I'll move the list to a post of its own later, and update it with my own and other reviews as we go along.

For more background also check another article from Frank, 'Bible Software Programs'.

Do you have a favourite online Bible study tool? If so, send me a comment about it and I'll try to include it in this series.

< No earlier items | Index | Bible Gateway >

18 October 2012

Changing the website

It's time to change one or two things about this blog, and it would be good to have some suggestions from my readers. I'm considering changing the way articles are displayed, and I've already modified the range of other blogs I link to.

The Journeys blog in October 2012
I like to check how well the blog is working from time to time.

If necessary I can make some changes. I don't like to change things often as it may cause some confusion, but sometimes a few improvements are necessary.

Recently I added quite a few additional items to the 'Other Blogs' section in the right-hand panel. In a later section of this article I'll explain why.

Current article - But first, I'm considering another change and I'd like to know what you, dear reader, think about it. At present, the default page includes extracts from the three most recent articles and you have to click a 'Read more' link if you want to see an entire article. I might change this.

How would you feel if instead, I displayed just the first article but showed it in full? That way you would never need to click 'Read more...' to see the current article. I'm considering displaying it in a larger font too, any comments on those changes? Of course, you'll still be able to read older articles from the 'Article Archive' which I might move to a more prominent position.

I've noticed a few other blogs doing it this way; I think it works rather well and is easier to read. There are other possibilities as well. I could, for example, make the extracts much shorter, perhaps leaving out the images, and provide many more extracts per page.

Blog links - Now back to those links to other blogs. In the past I have mostly included blogs about the Way (what you might call 'Christian' blogs). But I'm interested in many things and would like to share more of them with you too. I've therefore added more links to blogs on science, the environment, space, history and astronomy and will probably add more again.

I'm currently displaying the ten blogs with the most recent new posts, newest at the top. At peak activity times, this seems to cover about an hour or two. During the night it will be a bit longer, say three or four hours or so. There's a 'Show All' link at the end of the list that you use to see the older items.

Please leave comments to let me know what you think of these changes; if you have any objections please say what they are and let me know why you object. In a week or so I'll make the changes whether or not there have been any comments, but if there are comments I will consider them carefully first.

It's your chance to influence 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

Are there other things you would like to see changed? If so, do let me know. I can't promise to implement every suggestion, but I will consider them all carefully.

See also: Enjoy the viewA new look for 'All about Jesus'

16 October 2012

Debating science and faith

Science and faith sometimes appear to be at war. But is that inevitable? A conference in Switzerland is examining these issues and draws together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers.

The Whirlpool Galaxy
A conference is underway as I write, a conference with a difference. The whole affair is very refreshing and encouraging and exciting.

It brings together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers to discuss the nature of science and faith, and focusses on the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

The conference is being held in Switzerland and is called 'The Big Bang and the interfaces of knowledge: towards a common language?' The aim is to explore questions around the interface between science and faith and whether a common framework of knowledge might be possible.

You can download the programme as a PDF file (165 kB) or read brief details online from the website of the organisers, Wilton Park in collaboration with CERN in Geneva. There's also a very useful BBC News article about the conference 'Big Bang and religion mixed in Cern debate'.

Here's the introduction from the full programme...

The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for explaining the genesis of the universe. To date it has the wide support of the scientific community because if offers the most accurate and comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observations. It leads to a dating of the universe as 13.7 billion years old.

The purpose of this conference is to enable scientists from a range of disciplines to dialogue with philosophers and theologians from the world religions about the nature of the Big Bang Theory. What understandings might scientists and theologians share in common? How are their paradigms shaped and developed? Is it possible to develop a common framework or language?

Why is this conference so exciting? Simply because it's an unusual opportunity to discuss and (perhaps) reconcile views that are often perceived to be irreconcilable. And it's exciting because the conference involves experts who would rarely meet together. When a record of the meeting becomes available it will make very interesting reading and should spark further debate in the wider community.

We might borrow the words of Pontius Pilate and simply describe the topic of this meeting as 'What is truth?' Pilate was caught in a dilemma between religion and politics. The dilemma this meeting is discussing is quite different - it's examining two different kinds of truth.

How do you see the debate? Is it possible for science and faith to agree about anything at all? Are the two views truly irreconcilable or do they actually threaten one another? Is there an unbridgeable gulf between the two?

See also
  • Relationship between religion and science - Wikipedia, undated - Encyclopaedic article on the topic with further references.
  • Science and faith archive - Patheos, undated - A collection of links and book titles on the topic, updated from time to time.
  • Science and faith - again - Journeys of heart and mind, 22nd August 2012 - How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?
  • Science and faithJourneys of heart and mind, 7th January 2012 - Can I have faith and accept science too? Is that an unreasonable position to hold? Recent discussions on Jesus Creed have provoked me to write on this topic again.
  • Science and faith - war or peace? - Journeys of heart and mind, 25th April 2010 - The origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution - these are some of the topics that seem to be endlessly debated across the science/faith divide. Why does this happen, what are the root causes of the sometimes strongly-worded arguments? Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look.
  • Science and faith: The conflict - The Telegraph, 16th March 2009 - A new film opening at the Cambridge Science Festival this evening attempts to demonstrate that the divide between religion and science is not as great as it has been portrayed.

15 October 2012

Bible Tools - Index

(See indexes on other topics)

For anyone wishing to read or study the Bible there are many good tools available to use online or install locally. To help you decide which to investigate further, this series of articles briefly reviews some of the offerings and explains their capabilities and scope.

Bibles and toolsThis list below includes my own articles about online tools and Frank Viola's material on locally installed software.

Groups of sixty to eighty

< Groups of six to twenty | Index | Dunbar and 130-160 >

Groups of around seventy are good for workshops, perhaps with an invited speaker or a small team. It's an excellent number for training and for networking, but much too large for deeper, family-like relationship.

A group of around seventy
Numbers larger than twenty lose the sense of family. Although it's possible to know everyone in a group this size, it's not possible to be intimate with so many.

This is too large a number for a circle, most likely there will be rows of seating and an area at the front for speakers.

But there are ways in which such groups are rather useful. It's a good size for training purposes with one person or a small team presenting material and opportunities to ask questions. A group this size can also divide up to discuss aspects of what has been presented or to develop answers to questions.

It's unlikely that groups this size will meet regularly; they are more likely to be called or invited to meet for a specific purpose and then disband. Think in terms of workshops with a well-regarded invited speaker. These may be one-off occasions, or they may be annual events, but they are certainly not weekly and the expectation is that the people composing the group will be different every time. Because of this, such meetings are often good opportunities to meet new people, some of whom may become long term contacts or even close friends. This networking aspect is a valuable feature of groups this size and above.

The main exception to this will be a small, conventional church where the size is not a deliberate choice. Many, if not most, conventional churches are keen to increase the size of their meetings by drawing in additional members. Growth in numbers is often regarded as evidence of success. A size of sixty to eighty is rarely intentional, it's seen merely a point to pass through on the way to greater things.

Even in the time of Moses, seventy was a number for a particular purpose (Numbers 11:16). The elders would no doubt have taken back what they heard to share more widely with the entire community. But it's only fair to add that seventy was also a symbolic number in ancient Israel.

Jesus selected a group of seventy-two followers for a specific task (Luke 10:1-2). He sent them out in pairs and on their return they may well have talked together about their experiences. However, this was not a group called to meet, but a group called to go out.

In the early church, groups of sixty to eighty may have met from time to time, either on a city-wide basis or when delegates met regionally to share information and pray together.

Expect to be part of a group of this size from time to time, usually with a defined and specific function. But don't expect to settle in a group of sixty to eighty regularly, it's more effective to meet in groups of twenty or fewer where there's scope for family-like intimacy and close friendship.

Questions:
  • Have you been involved in meetings of this size?
  • How many of the other people do you know well?
  • Was the meeting led from the front? Were there break-out sessions? If so, did these seem more personal than the main meeting?
  • If you meet regularly in a group this size is there an intention to grow larger? Why?

See also:

< Groups of six to twenty | Index | Dunbar and 130-160 >

12 October 2012

Jesus is the pattern

What are the best methods for making disciples and planting churches? Are there techniques we can learn, best practices to follow? Becoming a beekeeper is a good analogy. What can go wrong and how do we get it right?

Learning beekeeping
Ross Rohde asks some good questions at the end of his most recent blog post. Ross describes three patterns guiding the way we work. He invites his readers to choose one of the questions and respond. I recommend Ross's article, refer to it for more detail. Also take a look at Felicity Dale's post 'Principles or techniques?'

Question and answer - I've chosen the question, 'Do you think we can do ministry Jesus style just by following the pattern ourselves or treating it as one more technique? Is the pattern itself enough?'

My answer is that doing what Jesus did is not enough. The gospels contain plenty of examples of what he does, and those examples form a clear and striking pattern. But underlying the pattern and the examples is a fundamental cause.

If we can identify the cause that drives and motivates Jesus and adopt that as our own we will be well on the way to doing what Jesus did. It's not just a matter of copying specific examples, it's a matter of understanding the underlying principles.

The beekeeper - An example may help. A beekeeper collects honey, stores it in jars, and sells the honey to make a living. Let's suppose we want to become a beekeeper. One strategy would be to watch a beekeeper at work, note down the pattern of behaviour we see, and then follow the pattern.

He has wooden boxes in his garden, painted white. He has bees inside the boxes. He wears white overalls, gloves, and a hat with netting over it. He opens the boxes and takes out honey. He puts the honey into jars and labels them. He sells his honey to the local shopkeeper. That all seems quite easy!

Right, let's get started! We buy some timber and nails, knock up a few boxes and paint them white. Then we head out into the garden with a net to catch some bees. After a few hours work we've collected quite a few bees and we manage to get most of them into one of the white boxes. How long should we wait for the bees to make some honey? Hmm, we'll give them a week...

Next week we open the box. There is no honey to be seen, but there are quite a few dead bees.

What went wrong? We didn't understand the principles of beekeeping. If we recognise our ignorance we have a chance to do so much better. How can we get the knowledge we need? Let's go and ask a beekeeper!

Apprenticeship - The beekeeper chuckles at our story but commends us for making the attempt. He offers to train us in beekeeping. Expecting a college course we are surprised when he tells us that instead we are to come and work with him. Over the next year we watch what he does, ask questions, listen to what he tells us, and get a chance to try all the necessary tasks while he watches us and corrects our mistakes. We are apprentices. Not only do we learn to look after bees and make jars of excellent honey, we also have a lot of fun together and become close friends of the beekeeper. We are apprentice beekeepers.

It's just the same with Jesus. It's not about copying a pattern, Jesus is the pattern! We must follow Jesus because he is the expert and we are apprentices (disciples). We would be seriously mistaken if we thought we could simply follow a method. A method is the same series of actions repeated every time. Here are the actions we must repeat again and again if we are following Jesus.

  • Watch and do
  • Listen and speak
Jesus says that he does only the things that he sees his Father do. He says only the things he hears the Father say. So watching, listening and obedience must be key to all we do (as with any apprenticeship).

So let's stop following mere patterns of behaviour, formulas and techniques. Instead let's begin by watching and listening. Then we can start doing and speaking what Jesus shows us and says to us. When I know him well in my heart and mind I will always be watching and listening, then I will be able to carry his life and love and purpose into the world.

If there is any pattern for us to follow it is Jesus himself.

From the archives - More articles on listening.

10 October 2012

Worship in the tracery

We are made in Yahweh's image and as he does all things well, so should we. In fact, working well and to a high standard can be thought of as a form of worship. We take a look at this in terms of mediaeval workmanship.

York Minster's stone traceryA few days ago I posted about York Minster and provided links to a small collection of photos of this famous building. This time I want to focus on one of those images and consider how worship can involve doing things well.

Right at the outset it's worth saying that true worship is 'in spirit and in truth'. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and he is also the Spirit of Truth because Jesus is Truth in person. If I worship in and through Yahshua (Jesus) I will indeed worship in spirit and in truth because that is who he is. But can a building be worship?

No it can't, but the act of building it may be. We are made in Yahweh's image and part of that image is creativity. He is creative and he made us to be creative too. It comes out in so many ways, we see it in art and literature, in business, in science and technology. His creativity far exceeds ours and we worship because of that greatness, revealed partly in what he has made. This universe is so far beyond anything we can make. Our creativity is limited to merely rearranging small parts of what already exists; he created it all from nothing.

In terms of quarrying and selecting fine stone, intricately carving it to an overall plan, and assembling it into a beautiful window, a mediaeval craftsman could do an excellent job or a less careful one. He would of course have been paid for his work, but he might also have done his very best in order to glorify the Almighty. To this extent his work would be a form of worship.

If we viewed this lovely window from inside the Minster we would not notice the quality of the stonework but instead we'd be struck by the gloriously luminous stained glass work. Paul writes in Colossians 3:15-25 that whatever we do should be done as if we're doing it for Jesus, in his name, and giving thanks to the Father.

Few of us are called to make beautiful stonework or luminous stained glass. But whatever we are called to do we can (and should) do to the highest standard possible, no matter how humble the task. We can glorify the Creator by doing our very best in everything. He has set an example of work well done and we are meant to follow him in that as in all things.

Another UK blogger, Rhoda, makes the same point very effectively in her post in September called 'A Verse to Memorise - Working Wholeheartedly'. In fact her blog is called 'Living to Please God' and working wholeheartedly is a key part in doing just that.

08 October 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
This is a repost of something I wrote in June. It seems appropriate to use it as link six in a chain blog started by Alan Knox on the topic 'One Another'.

Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen understood these principles. The quote below is a meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

Here's a challenge. Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

See also

  • Henry Drummond wrote an essay called 'The greatest thing in the world'. It's on love and is available as a free download. Highly recommended.
  • Greg Gamble's list of 'The One Anothers' as basic rules of engagement for believers.



This post is the sixth link in a chain blog, started by Alan Knox, on the topic 'One Another'. Please have a look back through the other links and comments to join in the topic. You can even join in the chain – read the rules below to participate.

 Links in the 'One Another' Chain Blog
  1. Chain Blog: One Another - Alan Knox
  2. Linking One Another - Swanny
  3. What Does It Mean to Love One Another? - Chuck McKnight 
  4. The treasure of 'One Another' - Jim Puntney
  5. This is how the world shall recognise you... - Kathleen Ward
  6. Accepting one another in love - Chris Jefferies
  7. One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church - Greg Gamble (also see part 2)
  8. Individualism and 'one another' - Pieter Pretorious
  9. All Alone with One Another - Jeremy Myers
  10. When it's OK for Christians to compete - Joshua Lawson
  11. Jesus Christ: the Corner Stone for One Another - Peter
  12. Be Superficial With One Another - Jon Hutton
  13. The Unmentionable One Anothers - Alan Knox
  14. Loving more fully and widely - Chris Jefferies
  15. The one another weapon - Dan Allen
  16. Corporate one anothering (Part 1) and (Part 2)- David Bolton
  17. The last revival - Tobie van der Westhuizen
  18. Love: a 'one another' comic - Dan Allen
  19. I can only love you if... - Rob
  20. Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Chain Blog Rules
  1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment on the most recent post stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
  2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both this post and the other link posts in the chain).
  3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

06 October 2012

York Minster

(Click the photo for a larger view)

York Minster from the city wall near Monk Bar - Photo taken 4th October 2012
This cathedral church, the seat of the Archbishop of York, is the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe. It dominates the city centre and is here clearly seen from the ancient city walls.

Like all mediaeval cathedrals, York Minster was constructed to reflect the glory of the Most High. In its day it would have been completely awe-inspiring to the ordinary working people, a building seemingly as far beyond their humble wattle and daub dwellings as heaven is from earth. (More photos of the Minster.)

Although we are not affected by the architecture in quite that way, we can still appreciate the enormous sacrifice of expenditure, care, hard work and exquisite craftsmanship involved in creating the Minster. It does, indeed, represent a form of worship, though not the worship 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23-24) that we are required to bring. It's an external work of praise, men and women doing their best for the Almighty, great but not our ultimate calling. What he really seeks is an internal work of praise, hearts that love him intimately and will follow him wherever he leads.

What does this image say to you? There are no wrong answers. (Add a comment).

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

03 October 2012

Surprises open us to change

< Where he treads I must follow | Index | No later items >

Here is a second set of answers to some questions about how Papa is dealing with his people in our generation. You might like to consider your own answers which may be quite different from mine. See what you think.

Full of surprisesThis is part two of of a series in which I'm sharing my answers to some questions posted on the 'Missional Challenge' blog. See the first part for the background.

Here are the next three questions, then we'll work through them one at a time.

  • How is God coming to this generation?
  • How is that different than any other generation?
  • Are you under God’s authority? How do you know?

How is God coming to this generation? - That is a huge question, and the answers we find are going to be game changing. If we get this wrong we will constantly struggle because we'll be working against the grain of everything he is doing. If we get it right we will be in tune with his purpose and swept along effortlessly by the wide, deep river of living water.

Also, it would be foolish to think we will all hear the same thing from him. It's entirely possible I might be right for myself but wrong for you. Caveat emptor! It's also possible I might be wrong for you and wrong for myself.

But here's my best effort to express the way I see this right now. I think he's coming to this generation in ways far outside our normal expectations. He is blessing people from every kind of church background - whether you're Catholic or Orthodox, Baptist or Anglican, Messianic Jew or Lutheran. I'd go further. He's blessing Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Christian Scientists. He's blessing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, even Agnostics and Atheists. His heart is always to bless and the Holy Spirit needs only the tiniest crack of obedience to begin his work.

I just don't think we can overestimate his grace and willingness to overlook error. Let's face it, if he didn't come to find lost sheep, we would all be permanently... well, lost!

We'd better begin to expect the unexpected, because he is always full of surprises. That is how he is coming to this generation.

How is that different than any other generation? - I don't think it is. He's always surprised us. He surprised Abraham and Sarah with Isaac. (He surprised Abraham with Isaac twice. Think about it). He surprised Jacob's sons with Joseph. He surprised Jacob with a dislocated hip, Moses with a burning bush, a divided sea, manna and quails. He surprised Saul with David and Solomon with wisdom... Need I go on? He surprised Saul on the way to Damascus. We should never be surprised to be surprised!

All of that means that any rules I come up, methods, structures, hierarchies may at best be rendered inappropriate by the next surprise to come my way. And at worst they were already inappropriate. Nothing I plan or design or set in motion is of any real kingdom value. Only the things that the Father, Son and Spirit plan, design and set in motion are of real use. Doing it my way can only make things worse.

I think the church at large has so far failed to grasp this simple but fundamental truth. To that extent, how he is coming to this generation may be different. I have the sense that he's sowing the seeds of this understanding in the hearts of people here and there, and that the growth these seeds produce will change much in the way we are and in what we do (and don't do).

Sometimes we think in terms of modernism, post-modernism and so forth. I dare say Papa deals with us differently according to our thinking and culture, but what I wrote above remains true. He will always find ways to surprise us. I think he likes to catch us off guard. Perhaps he can better reach us when we're a little off balance.

Are you under God’s authority? How do you know? - Sometimes, yes. Often, no. I have the opportunity to be under his authority at all times. But sometimes I allow myself to fall under the authority of others, or worse I seize the reins myself. I think I'm (very gradually) getting better at it. I sense that I notice more quickly when I do come off the rails. I'm more aware of the dangers and more eager to avoid them.

When I'm in the right place I'm usually aware of it - he shows me things - he speaks with me - I can walk in silence with him - there is a deep peace in my heart - I'm untroubled by problems and issues.

But I'm rarely (if ever) aware of the many times I do it my way. Sometimes I spend days, weeks or months, even years struggling along before it dawns on me that I'm alone. He's still at the centre of his purpose, I've wandered off on some side-mission of my own devising. When I do realise my mistake it's most often because I suddenly realise he's not there. I don't mean he abandons me, but he's far off because I've abandoned him. I think he comes to find me and I think 'Why am I struggling with this when the King is here?'

I hope this answers the 'how do I know' question as well.

Were these the sort of answers you expected to read? If not, why not?

< Where he treads I must follow | Index | No later items >

02 October 2012

Doggerland

The book 'Britain Begins' tells the story of the landscape and people who lived in these islands from the end of the last great ice-age (when they were still part of mainland Europe) right up to the end of the Saxon period. It's a great read.

Part of north-west Europe 10 000 years agoI'm currently working my way through 'Britain Begins', Barry Cunliffe's latest book. Sir Barry Cunliffe is a well-regarded archaeologist working at Oxford University. In fact he's Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University's Institute of Archaeology.

In the book he traces the origins of human occupation in what is now the British Isles, though at the time of the early settlements some 10 000 years ago, most the North Sea was an extension of the North European Plain and Britain was part of the European continent.

Part of an illustration from the book (right) shows some of the Atlantic coastline of Europe around 30 000 years ago, along with the ice sheets in grey and today's coastlines in orange. (Doggerland in my title refers to the central part of what is now the North Sea. It was an area of rolling hills and river valleys.)

Although the ice retreated almost completely from Britain by 15 000 years ago, sea levels remained low for some time and migrating hunter-gatherer communities would have been able to live in the new landscapes right across areas that are now the English Channel and the North Sea.

What a fascinating insight into a time before history began. Although we don't know the details of life in those days, Cunliffe is able to draw a lively picture in a general way. He writes of the separation of Ireland...

The return to temperate conditions beginning around 9600 BC set in train the processes that created the British Isles familiar to us today. The first stage was the separation of Ireland from the mainland. This occurred around 9000 BC as the deep river valley, scoured out by the flow of meltwater from the Scottish ice-cap, was progressively flooded by the rising sea until the last land bridge between the north of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides was broken through. The deeper waters of St George's Channel and the North Channel, now below 50 fathoms, mark the course of this original valley.

It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Cunliffe condenses a great deal of scientific and archaeological data into a cohesive description of Britain from the final stages of the ice-age to the time of the Norman Conquest and the end of Saxon rule. The book is accessible to the interested layman (like me!) but will also find a special place on library shelves in schools and universities.

If you're interested in the history of these islands - buy a copy!

01 October 2012

Powerless!

A power cut was soon solved once the engineer was called. At first he arranged a temporary fix, then he brought in a team to make a permanent repair. Even in this ordinary event there's an analogy for a spiritual issue.

Power engineers at work
Yesterday was an interesting day. I was working on a blog post when I became aware the laptop screen had dimmed and I'd lost the internet connection. It dawned on me that we might have had a power cut and when I checked, sure enough we had.

Donna headed off to an all-day meeting and I began work in the garden where I'm dismantling our old greenhouse. Coming back in later I found the power was still out... hmm... Nearly an hour now, on the very rare occasions that we have a cut, it usually comes back within ten minutes or so.

I went next door to ask if they had power - they did! This might be bad news, perhaps something was wrong with our distribution box. I went the other side and they told me that yes, they had lost power too. Not just us then.

I phoned the distribution company and they took my details and said they'd send someone out. The engineer quickly confirmed that the problem lay with the main supply in the street. It was going to take some time to fix so they brought a generator, set it up in my neighbour's garden, powered up the system and connected both houses. What a relief, life could continue as normal.

During the afternoon a team arrived to dig up the grass verge outside the house, after some effort they found the faulty section of cabling and replaced it. I admire the way they work with live cables - rather them than me! We were soon back on mains power and the generator was removed.

I'd also like to say 'Thank you' to all the guys involved. They came out promptly on a Sunday morning and stayed much of the day to get the problem corrected. They were friendly, efficient and worked hard. From my initial phone call to replacing the turf everything was done well.

The incident made me think about living with power and living without it. They are very different experiences! Almost everything we do in our daily lives requires electrical power, from the mains, from a vehicle outlet, or from a battery. Without electricity, modern life would simply grind to a halt.

As so often, physical truth illustrates spiritual truth. Without the power of Jesus in my life I would be ineffective in every spiritual endeavour. Like electricity, it's easy to take him for granted. Like electricity, we soon remember our need of him when he seems to be not there.

There was power in the mains cables in the road, but it wasn't getting as far as my house. Church life can be like that - the power is out there but it's not getting as far as my house. This is a fault condition. It needs fixing.

Is power sometimes missing in your spiritual life? What do you need to get reconnected? Maybe a prayer is like a spiritual phone call, maybe the first thing is to ask for help. Until I phoned, nothing was going to happen and the power would still be down. It takes an expert to solve electrical power loss. It takes an expert (Jesus) to solve spiritual power loss.


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