30 March 2013

Artist and musician

Ben and Hannah Dunnett create delightful greetings cards, art prints, posters and music CDs. We rediscovered all of these during and after a visit to St Michael's Without, an Anglican church in Bath. The grace, peace and beauty of the images and the music are also evident in the people at St Michael's.

One of Hannah Dunnett's cardsSome time ago I was delighted to find that Cornerstone Cafe and Books in St Neots was stocking some really great cards by Hannah Dunnett.

I bought several of them for friends and soon found the Dunnett's website where Ben and Hannah provide more information and sell their material online. Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. When I wanted to buy one of Hannah's cards again more recently I was sorry to see they were no longer available at Cornerstone.

But just last week when we were visiting Bath, Donna and I decided to have a coffee at St Michael's Without in Broad Street. And there we found a selection of Hannah's cards again!

I'd like to make you aware of Ben and Hannah's beautiful work because it deserves to be much more widely seen and heard. Not only is it all available to order and in a growing number of retail outlets. But Ben and Hannah have made everything available online, pictures and music too. You will need to buy their products for the full quality, but you can also enjoy it for free.

I predict that having tasted it, most people will end up buying prints or CDs.

Hannah's cards - Hannah paints stylised designs with words from the Bible in sweeping curves. She makes these available as greetings cards, high quality art prints, and posters. The picture above is a design called 'God of all Comfort'.

Because of the carefully chosen words these cards are not just beautiful in their own right, they also bear the stamp of a loving Creator. From the picture above we read, 'I will sustain you, I will give you rest, I will carry you, [I] will be with you, I call to you'. And there is much, much more. Words of great comfort from the One who is quick and ready to bring great comfort.

Ben's music - Ben is a music teacher and examiner. He writes some delightful melodies and is clearly a gifted pianist. If the two worship albums and the children's album are anything to go by he's also very talented in laying down individual tracks to build up a full backing for songs.

You will find everything here from reflective, gentle melody to robust rhythms good for dancing, and great lyrics provided by Hannah.

St Michael's Without - I simply can't close this post without saying more about this lovely Anglican church in Bath. Everything about the place is delightful. The interior has been modified to make a quiet space for coffee, cakes, books and a comfortable place to sit. The website soon makes it clear that the people are delightful too.

They are evidently active in the local community in many ways. They seem to be conscious of the need for gentleness and peacefulness in everything. They are careful and deliberately slow in making changes trying to 'avoid the rush which undermines friendship'. They pray about everything in love.

If you are visiting Bath, try to make the time to drop in to spend a little while experiencing the peace and the fragrance of this lovely place and the people who make it what it is - a little piece of heaven right here on earth. Just like Hannah's pictures and Ben's music.

Questions:

  • Are there ways you can be a little piece of heaven for those you meet today?
  • Might there be 'difficult' people in your life you could make an extra effort to bless?
  • How does Hannah's artwork and Ben's music make you feel?
  • Does it help you find the peace you need to become a blessing to others?

See also:

Procession in St Neots

This year's Good Friday procession makes me wonder if there might be better ways of reaching people in the town. Rather than trying to engage people in what we are doing, can we find ways of getting them to engage us to ask what we are doing and why?

Good Friday march in St Neots
Every year, Churches Together in St Neots holds a Good Friday procession to the Market Square where a combined service is held.

We'll return to consider how this impacts the local community in a moment, but first I'll describe the occasion.

This year the numbers were significantly lower than usual, perhaps because it was a bitterly cold day. The group of believers gathered outside St Mary's, walked to the church gate on Church Street, turned left into the High Street, and gathered in the Market Square.

The procession involves a simple banner stating who is walking (Churches Together), and a wooden cross as an emblem and statement of the events being remembered, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The walkers are silent because it's a solemn occasion, and there's a police presence because the walk takes place on the road rather than the pavement.

Once assembled in the Market Square there is a conventional church service with hymns, Bible readings and several short messages delivered by leaders from some of the churches represented.

Impact on local people - I didn't walk in the procession although I have done so in previous years. Donna was keen to walk and I took some photos and then joined the meeting in the Market Square.

I wanted to support Donna by walking with her but felt that Papa was guiding me not to. I've been rather uneasy about the walk in previous years; this time I felt more strongly that it was not the right thing for me to do. My sense on this is that by walking we are creating a minor inconvenience to the majority of people in St Neots. Most are not believers and I don't want to be remembered as a person who just gets in the way and holds up the traffic.

The purpose of the walk is partly to witness to those around that we are followers of Jesus, and partly to reach them with the good news he brought. But I feel sure that it is not be very useful and may even be counter productive. Better, perhaps, to try to engage with people in a less traditional and more effective way.

There are other things to consider. What do people make of the banner stating we are 'Churches Together'. I wonder if, rather than suggesting we are united, this doesn't confirm to many that we are a set of separate organisations. It doesn't really emphasise that we are one church, but rather that we are several.

The solemnity of the entire event, although understandable, is not likely to seem attractive to everyday people. To connect with the population we surely need to be more fun, more colourful, more interesting and more relevant.

Some alternatives - I certainly don't intend to criticise. I'm glad that there are people in the town who are willing to turn out on a cold day like this, to stand up and be seen, and to make the truth known to anyone who will listen. But I suspect few pay any attention.

Most people think they already know roughly what Christians believe and they don't see us as attractive or interesting. They typically presume us to be fuddy-duddy and irrelevant to the ordinary lives of ordinary people.

But there are alternative ways to reach people that are much more effective; alternatives that will play on the natural curiosity that is common to all people everywhere.

A few years ago there was a passion play in the town, and that got a lot of attention and made a real impact. I'm glad to see that there's a plan to repeat it in 2014. It's a colourful event full of action and interest and sound and colour. Many people followed the play from place to place in the town and watched.

Another alternative focusses on free hugs and the many other similar activities we can try. Once again these engage people's interest. As far as I could tell not a single person stopped to watch or listen to today's meeting. A few people watched very briefly as the procession passed by. But joining in with the free hugs a few weeks ago I was struck by how many people wanted to ask about it and listen while we explained.

Instead of trying to engage people it may be far better to do something unusual and intriguing so they will want to engage us. We need to spend less time and effort doing what people expect us to do, and put far more time and effort into doing what they do not expect.

Questions:

  • Imagine yourself as an unbelieving onlooker. Which would you find more interesting, a clearly religious meeting in the middle of your town or someone giving away labelled fruit?
  • What could you do locally to encourage people to come and ask you questions?
  • Which will people find the more approachable, a group of forty or a group of two?

See also:

26 March 2013

The colour of the robe

Visiting Bath Abbey left us with a conundrum. When the Roman legionaries dressed Jesus in a robe and mocked him as a king, was that robe purple or red? The Greek text is fairly clear with a small caveat and I'm left wondering if it was, in fact, a rather dark red, perhaps a centurion's cape.

Stone tracery in the roof of Bath Abbey
Donna and I spent a couple of days in the city of Bath recently. While we were there we looked at a number of interesting places including the Roman baths, the famous Georgian architecture, and the Abbey.

The Abbey had some beautiful panels, the Bath Abbey Diptychs. They are presented as pairs, one painted and the other made in needlework.

One of them had a lovely, red, fabric background and the text referred to the scarlet robe put on Jesus by the Roman troops when they mocked him as a king.

This got me thinking, surely the robe was purple, not red? When we got home Donna checked and it seems the robe is sometimes described as scarlet and sometimes as purple.

So what happened? - After Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman troops for crucifixion, they stripped him and then dressed him in a robe and a crown of thorns. Matthew says the robe was scarlet (Matthew 27:28). Mark says it was purple (Mark 15:17). Luke doesn't mention the event at all. John says it was purple (John 19:2).

So what colour was this robe? There are several plausible reasons for the differences.

The Greek is quite clear. Matthew uses κοκκίνην (kokkinēn), Strong's number 2847, literally 'scarlet' or 'crimson'. This kermes dye is obtained from an insect that lives on the holm oak tree. Matthew and John use the word πορφύραν (porphyran), Strong's number 4209, which usually means 'purple' or 'purple garment' but may also mean 'deep violet', 'deep scarlet', 'deep crimson' or 'deep blue'.

So one possibility is that the three gospel writers are in agreement and the colour was a rich, dark red of some kind.

Alternatively there may be some doubt about the colour, eye-witnesses might have seen or remembered it as either purple or red, particularly if it was a heavily dyed fabric and therefore dark.

Meaning and availability - Another point worth making is that purple was a colour that denoted wealth and high status. The Roman emperors wore purple so it denoted rule, power and kingship. Scarlet on the other hand might represent sacrifice, blood or death. Both seem appropriate, one representing Jesus as King of kings, the other as High Priest. Red and purple were both components of the Jewish priestly robes, along with blue and gold.

We can also ask ourselves what dyed garments the soldiers might have had available. Soldiers wore a white tunic under their armour, but coloured material was expensive and was not worn by the ordinary legionaries. Purple fabric was even more expensive and it's most unlikely they'd have had access to it.

Centurions, however, wore a red cape; might the soldiers have used one of these to dress Jesus as a king? It's certainly possible. A much cheaper dye suitable for these red capes would have been madder.

What's more, using a centurion's cape would have made the mockery deeply shameful as well. It's not unlikely Jesus would have remained naked with just the cloak over his shoulders, the woven thorns on his head and the reed in his hand as the soldiers taunted him. Then they dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to die. They stripped him again before nailing him to the cross, and shared out his clothes as he hung there. In this way Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled (see Matthew 27:27-35).

For me, the idea that the colour might have been deep and could be described equally well as purple or scarlet makes perfect sense. So too does the possibility that a Roman centurion's cape was used.

Questions:

  • Have you ever wondered about the colour of the robe? I hadn't until now.
  • Does the deep red using madder seem a probable solution to you?
  • Do you think the colour is symbolic?

See also:

20 March 2013

Elon Musk at TED

Elon Musk is an extraordinary entrepreneur. He is behind SpaceX and several other ground-breaking companies. Interviewed here for TED he explains how he has achieved such success. It seems that it essentially depends on beginning with sound principles, aiming high and taking risks.

This rocket is landing, not taking off!
Sometimes a truly extraordinary event or person comes along and changes everything. Elon Musk is one of those people.

He was a co-founder of PayPal and sold his share in the company for a considerable fortune.

Wanting to devote his life to things that would solve major issues for the human race, he went on to develop a company building electric cars to reduce our need for fossil fuels (Tesla), a company to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight (SpaceX) and a solar power company  (SolarCity) to eliminate the fossil fuel industry.

Elon Musk hopes to make humanity a multi-planet species by making it possible to colonise Mars.

How does he do it? - Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Talks, interviewed Elon to find out what makes him tick and exactly what it is that has enabled him to succeed repeatedly. Chris would also like to know whether the essential factors can be identified and encouraged in others. Can Elon Musk become a sort of 'template' or guide for success with extreme projects?

The answer is, quite possibly, 'Yes'. The keys seem to be to aim high, take risks, base new ventures on the underlying principles and work up from there. It's also useful to pay close attention to negative feedback from friends.

Watch the interview for yourself. It is short, fascinating, and informative.



Questions:

  • What most astonishes you about Elon Musk's achievements?
  • What is the most interesting part of his thinking? What is fundamental?
  • How might you use the underlying principles in business, church, politics, education... ?
  • What are you waiting for?

See also:

16 March 2013

Obey, obey, obey

Our own efforts are not enough, we need to be obedient to the Creator. Not only that, we need to understand that he is involved in all of life, not just the part we might think of as 'church'. We should all follow the same basic principles, yet he deals uniquely with us as individuals.

Hand made furniture
Felicity Dale posted about how she started writing, and I left a comment. But now I think I should expand on parts of the comment here on my own blog.

One of the issues with church as we have known it is that we are inclined to work very hard at making it better.

We aim for better organisation, better teaching, more entertaining speakers, more professional music, more and better books and leaflets, exciting events, and so on.

So what could possibly be wrong with making things better? Well, nothing really. Better is indeed... better! But that's not where the problem lies.

His ways and our ways - The real issue is that we work out ways of making it better according to our own wisdom and knowledge. And all the time Papa might be watching what we do, appreciating our zeal and hard work, while all the time lamenting the fact that we are not doing his will, but our own.

His ways are his ways, not necessarily like our ways at all. Better in my opinion may even be worse in his.

We need to become a more obedient people. We need to hear more clearly, take what we do hear more seriously, and turn hearing into action. Something that is held to be almost self-evident in many parts of the church today is that men should take leadership roles and women should be quiet and submissive. But Felicity has been hearing very clearly (and so have I and many others) that this is not really what Papa is saying. It's generally based on a particular way of reading a handful of verses in the New Testament and on historical attitudes in society as a whole.

This latter point about society is part of a larger issue that needs to be resolved in our hearts and minds, and that is where church fits in society.

Holy and secular - You see, church is not separate from the rest of life. We often think in terms of church on the one hand and the world on the other. We 'go to church' on a Sunday morning and do and say and hear and see holy things. And the rest of the week we live our 'ordinary lives' and go to school or work or care for the home and devote our attentions to money, shopping, looking good, having fun, watching TV and doing a thousand and one other 'important' things.

But in truth there is no holy and secular, there is just life as a whole and society as a whole and Christ in and through his people bringing light and flavour into all of it, into all the aspects mentioned above and many, many more. Alan Hirsch makes this point very clear in 'The Forgotten Ways'.

The thing is, Papa is involved in all of life, he is indeed the source of all life. And if he is involved in all the aspects mentioned above, so should we be. If we are truly in the Son and he is truly in us, how can we avoid his involvement in every moment we are alive? And in any case, why exactly would we want to? If my heart is open to hear him he will continually tell me where to go, who to speak to, how to behave and what to believe.

Obedience - Understand that Felicity's writing, and Alan's are the results of obedience. They did what the Holy Spirit called them to do. It was already in the Father's heart and plan for them to write. He has things in his heart for you to be doing too - what are they?

And best of all, rather than all following the same understanding and the same ideas, we all follow the same principles but the detail varies. Papa's path for you will be different than his path for me; he deals with us individually. We should not see ourselves as factory-produced items, all made the same within very tight tolerances. Instead we are are all hand crafted, individually fashioned by the master craftsman.

Factory-made furniture is manufactured from laminated board and timber pre-cut and fastened with plastic blocks and metal screws and fittings. Craftsman-made furniture is hand sawn from selected timber of good quality and jointed in traditional ways. The maker is sympathetic to the pattern of the grain and turns imperfections into beautiful features. The surface is carefully sanded to a smooth finish and polished with real waxes or oils.

I commend Alan Hirsch's books to you, and Felicity and Tony's, and Neil Cole's too. There are a thousand clues to Father's ways of showing us his purpose in all these books.

But I commend the still, small voice of the Spirit to you even more.

Here's what we need to do, all of us who are willing and able.

  1. Tell Papa you're sorry for your failure to listen and hear.
  2. Tell him that you will listen from now on.
  3. If you don't know how to hear, ask him to teach you. Then expect him to find a way to do it.
  4. Decide to obey everything you hear from him.
  5. Just begin doing it!

Questions:

  • Have you read Alan Hirsch's book, 'The Forgotten Ways'?
  • Is the Father's wisdom greater or less than yours?
  • Do you suppose Father wants us to do his will or our own?


See also:

13 March 2013

If there's a Creator...

If there's a Creator, why is suffering permitted? Perhaps we are looking at life in the wrong way, it's not about ease and safety. It's about living a more free and abundant life, about loving one another, about knowing the Creator intimately. Life is not supposed to be me-centred, it's other-centred.

A royal doll's house
Haven't we all heard this question? 'If there's a Creator, why does he allow suffering in the world?'

Or it might be, 'Why did he let my wife/husband/child/parent/friend die?', or ,'Why didn't he stop a terrorist incident?'.

Why are there earthquakes, why is there disease?

It's a question that comes from a great missing of the point. Our Father didn't promise us lives without trouble. Indeed, Yahshua specifically told his followers that they would face severe trouble in the world.

He himself faced ridicule, scourging, and a ghastly death. Why would we expect to suffer any less? And if we who have trusted in him and follow him face hardship, danger and loss, why would those who have not trusted and followed expect a better deal?

The fact is, he did not necessarily come to bring us health and happiness and security in this life, he came to set us free and pour into us the essence of a new life - a life that will never end. We begin to live the new Kingdom life now even while we still struggle daily in our old, temporary lives.

We rarely think about the alternative to a universe in which suffering is allowed. The alternative would be no free will, no self determination. Only chaos (in the mathematical sense) makes life possible.

Why is this so hard to grasp, so hard to come to terms with?

Perhaps it all depends where we are standing as we review the situation.

The view from this world - Looking at it from the perspective of this life alone it is natural for people to want comfort and security. If we expect to die and pass into an empty obscurity, why would we search for anything else but benefit now? More money, more fun, better health, more happiness, more time, less work, more to eat but a slimmer body, less working out but better fitness, less effort but more achievement. Are these reasonable goals? No!

As long as we think of heaven as a place of lazy happiness and easy joy we are trying to find the wrong reward. And if the truth be known, we are still wanting to enjoy that reward in this life.

The view from the kingdom of heaven - But Christ did not come to reward us. We did not (and cannot) earn a reward. We are too often like children opening a wrapped gift and saying, 'But I didn't want a key, I wanted a doll's house. This comes from a failure to understand from a grown-up perspective. Which is best for us, a doll's house now or the key to our Father's house so we can freely come and go?

We need to learn to live our lives from this new perspective. It's not healing now, or food now, or safety now that truly matters. By comparison with receiving the heavenly and eternal healing, food and safety and having them in the here and now are of little value.


Heaven invades the world - And if this is all true, why do we see people healed when we pray for them? Why did Yahshua tell his followers, 'Ask anything in my name and it will done for you by my Father in Heaven'?

One of the greatest joys and privileges we have as believers is the gift of being able to come to the Father in the name of the Son. It is one of the means by which the kingdom of heaven invades this physical universe in which we live. Other ways include direct communication through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through dreams and visions, in prophecy and teaching, words of comfort and wisdom, and above all the growing knowledge believers have of the Father's heart and nature.

Some will say, 'But it doesn't always work!' This is true, sometimes we pray for healing and there is no perceived change. It might be due to lack of faith in the heart of the one who asks or of the one who is prayed for. But it might also be because we have not clearly heard the Father's will and purpose. It may be because we give up instead of persisting in prayer. And sometimes it may even be because the hard experience is essential for our eternal well-being or for someone else's.

We need to become like Yahshua who said, 'If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. But even so, Father, let your will be done here, not mine.'

Isn't this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, 'Let your bodies be made spiritual sacrifices'? We must lay down our lives daily. Lay them down and not take them up again. Lay them down and leave them for Papa to use and bless in his own way and at a time of his choosing.

And while we are here, in this world, it is our responsibility to help other people whenever we have the means to do so. We must pray for the sick and feed the hungry. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Questions:

  • What does it mean to you, personally, to 'let your body be made a spiritual sacrifice'?
  • How do you answer someone who says that unanswered prayer shows you lack faith?
  • Has anyone ever said that to you or someone you know?

See also:

11 March 2013

The gun of self defence?

How do you comment on American gun law if you are not American? On the whole I think it may be best if you don't, so instead here is something gun-related, in a way. Hopefully it will amuse but also provoke thought, though not necessarily pertaining to guns.

Armoured Roman legionaries
March's Synchroblog is on the subject of guns, specifically how we think and act as followers of Jesus.

There's a list of all the contributions at the bottom of this article. Here's the opening statement from the Synchroblog website...

Like many hot political topics, the issue of gun control is a big one for Christians. People are all over the place on the issue–from passionate pacifists to dedicated NRA members.

Well, I don't know about that. You see I live in the United Kingdom where we have very strict gun control. Except in Northern Ireland, even the police are not allowed to carry arms, never mind the general public. Yes, the police do have stocks of arms and ammunition but they cannot take them onto the streets except in cases of an emergency such as an armed siege, a shooting incident, or a terrorist attack.

Opinion in the UK - Gun laws are not hotly debated here. Public opinion is strongly against the possession of firearms. The annual rate of death by shooting is 0.07 per 100 000 of the population, about forty times lower than in the USA. Police deaths by gunshot are also extremely rare.

So if I'm asked whether gun control works I'd have to say, 'Yes, it does'. At any rate it does for us in Britain. I'm simply not qualified to enter the US debate, but I do enjoy posting on the synchroblog. So in amongst all your serious discussions on gun control I have decided to have a little fun. I hope you'll forgive me because it is a serious matter, I realise that (and I will read the other synchroblog contributions). But hey, it's good to lighten up a little sometimes.

Even if I felt it was acceptable to give an uninvited foreign opinion (and I don't), what could I add to the debate? Nothing, really. You guys will have to work it out for yourselves, I'm not going to comment. Of course, if the presidential system doesn't work out for you there's always the possibility of inviting the Queen to take you back as her subjects. Then you'd have to hand in your weapons.

The full armour - But, I had a thought. How would it be if we looked at the full armour of Elohim and added a gun - just experimentally? What would that look like?

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the vestplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of the Almighty, and the gun of self defence. (Ephesians 6:14-17, NSDV)

NSDV? Oh, sorry, that's the New Self Defence Version of the Holy Bible. It's not widely available so I quoted from it for you. It's mostly quite similar to the NIV (UK) version.

So let's do a Bible study.

Useful and defensive - Note that the belt and the footwear are purely for practical purposes. The belt represents truth and just as truth supports useful arguments, so the belt also supports useful devices. It's a veritable military tool-belt for holding all sorts of special equipment - night sight goggles, radio, ammo for the gun of self defence, that sort of thing.

The vestplate and the helmet are defensive and fixed. In other words they are worn and don't need to be held. Naturally it will be a bulletproof vestplate, that is very important.

The shield is also defensive but is strapped to the forearm so that it can be readily positioned between you and any incoming flaming arrows. It doesn't need to be bulletproof, just flaming arrowproof.

That just leaves us with the sword and the gun. They are offensive in nature and therefore fundamentally different from the defensive items we've considered so far.

Offensive? - The sword is the sword of the Spirit. That is to say it is the sword of the Spirit of Christ. Notice that it is only good for close work. You need to be close enough to the enemy to love them. The Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) provides an extraordinary advantage in close combat. He is capable of disarming the opposition by cutting them down with love, joy and peace, also patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control and self defence. No. Hang on. Let me check my notes...

Oh yes, that's it. Self control is from the Spirit, but not self defence. Sorry, slight slip on my part. I was a little ahead of myself.

And so we come to the gun of self defence. Notice that all of the other parts of the armour, including the sword, are provided by the kingdom for your personal use. As soldiers of Christ you may (and should) take advantage of all of them, they are free of charge, part of the standard kit, and guaranteed to work when needed. Using these you will be kept safe and enabled to advance ever further against the enemy - even if he uses flaming arrows.

But the gun of self defence you must provide yourself. It wasn't available two thousand years ago when the armour was designed and issued. But now many believers have found that defending themselves with this long distance weapon enables them to make a lot of noise, and never need to bring the sword of the Spirit into play.

Some problems - There do seem to be some disadvantages, however. For a start, it's incredibly easy to shoot yourself in the foot. (A safety catch is provided. Use it!) And some have said that self defence is wrong, that instead we should let Papa defend us. Another common issue is getting a flaming arrow in the chest while busy reloading the gun of self defence. The bulletproof vestplate can't stop those, you need to hold the shield of faith in the right place to be safe from flaming arrows. It's tricky to manouvre the shield while rummaging for ammo and loading the gun.

Some kingdom soldiers are beginning to abandon the gun of self defence again and they do actually seem to be doing better that way. Some have even taken to going the extra mile when asked. Some have been experimenting with blessing the people that oppose them. And a few have been seen offering their shirt when only their cloak had been demanded. It's a bit odd. Could it be said to be a cloak and dagger form of warfare? No, I suppose it can't really, can it? It's more cloak and shirt warfare.

See the questions below for some thoughts on self defence and the church.

Questions:

  • Forget the gun, what about self defence? Has there been too much self and too much defence in church life?
  • How might less of me and more vulnerability to others transform church?
  • And how might less of me and more vulnerability transform sharing the good news?
  • Are there things you could do in your own life that would be like putting down the gun of self defence and depending only on the other items of armour?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

09 March 2013

Leading, Matthew 1:1-17

Leaders in the church, Part 4
< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

The basis for all church leadership is not in what we do, but in who we are. Jesus himself is of the royal line of David, he is king because of his family connection and he is King of kings because of his even stronger family connection as one person in the triune nature of the Most High.

A decorated family tree
Matthew 1:1-17 - 'This is the genealogy of Yahshua'...

Right at the beginning of the New Testament is a statement that should make us sit up and think about leadership. It's not about what Jesus would do during his three years of ministry, fundamentally it's all about who he is. And the same is surely true for us.

The foundation for any kind of church leader is who they are, not what they do. Jesus' claim to be the promised, anointed One is based on his inheritance. He is of the line of kingship, descended from David, not depending on conquest or appointment or influence through political manoeuvring. And he is descended from the father of the race, Abraham.

A greater line - As will become clear later during his three years of travelling and sharing the good news of the kingdom, he has a third line of relationship - with the Father and the Spirit. So he is of the kingly line through David,  of the chosen nation through Abraham, and has an inseparable presence as part of the triune nature of the Almighty. He could not come with a greater recommendation or from a higher source.

But take note of some of the other characters in the genealogy. Abraham we've already noted, there is Isaac who prefigures the Son to be offered up by a loving heavenly Father, and he is of the line of Judah from which Judaea takes its name.

There is Rahab, a non-Jewish prostitute and her son Boaz who redeemed Ruth, and Solomon, the one who was wise enough to ask for wisdom. And last of all there is Joseph who was not Yahshua's father but who turned out to be a mere building contractor yet a great stepfather. No man was his ancestor except through a woman, Mary.

Let me repeat that. No man was Jesus' ancestor except through a woman. The entire male genealogy consists of nothing more than step-ancestors!

Not a matter of ancestry - If this tells us nothing else it should tell us that following Yahshua depends not on our inadequate human ancestry but on our relationship with the Almighty. It depends only on a willingness to turn back to the Father and receive the gift of being hidden in Christ. This is not a matter of leadership as the world sees it. Instead it's a matter of humility and acceptance and love. If a man or a woman is to lead it can only be because Jesus himself has chosen and equipped them.

These first seventeen verses of the New Testament therefore set the scene for leaders and leadership. They are foundational. Leaders are to be humble, chosen by the King alone, not necessarily of high birth. There is no inherited leadership. No hierarchical leadership. There are just people willing to play their part whatever the cost. Just like Jesus!

If you want to follow Jesus don't ask, 'What did he do?' Ask, 'Who is he?'  If you want to be a leader don't ask, 'What have I done?' Ask 'Who am I?' If you want to follow a leader don't ask, 'What have they done?' Ask, 'Who are they?'

Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing'. (John 15:5)

Questions:

  • What have you done and achieved in your life? What does it amount to?
  • Who are you? (Who are you in yourself, in Christ, in your heart?)
  • Are you a good model for those around you? Are you following Jesus?
  • If people follow you will they end up in a good place?

See also:



< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

06 March 2013

A joy, not a burden

Leaders in the church, Part 3
< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

Having examined the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail, we can work through the rest of the verse more easily. We are to be a joy to those who are watchful amongst us, being a burden to them would be counterproductive and unhelpful.

Watching and alert
Working through the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail showed that the translation might be 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them.'

The rest of the verse explains why we should trust them and the result of doing so. (Hebrews 13:17 - Greek interlinear)

Those who 'lead the way for us' are pioneers, and like all pioneers they are alert, even wary. The Greek word ἀγρυπνοῦσιν (agrypnousin, Strong's 3982) suggests watchful awareness.

This watchfulness is applied to our lives (ψυχῶν, psychōn, Strong's 5590) as we follow in their footsteps. ψυχῶν is translated 'lives' more often than 'souls'. It's used, for example, in Matthew 10:39, 'Whoever finds their life (ψυχὴν) will lose it and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it'.

Watchful pioneers - These watchful pioneers are alert not just on their own account, but especially concerning the lives of those with them. They have a strong sense of responsibility and a duty of care. Think of this verse in terms of a young church recently planted and you'll get the idea.

If you are a more experienced believer helping half a dozen new followers of Yahshua you will be concerned about every aspect of their lives and keen to see them grow up into the fullness of the stature of the Messiah. You would share the sense of duty and responsibility described in this verse. You would want them to grow true and strong until they, in turn, could go out to make disciples.

It's the same sense of duty and care that drove Paul to write so many letters to the churches he had planted.

Moving to the last part of the verse, note that the word 'work' in the NIV translation is not there in the Greek. The word ποιῶσιν (poiōsin, Strong's 4160) means to do or make something. If it's work at all it's in the sense of assembly or construction, but more likely it merely refers back to the doing. 'That they may do it with joy and not with groans'.

The verse in English - Putting the entire verse together we might translate it something like this.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them. They look out for you with a sense of duty so let them do it with joy rather than groaning. There'd be little value for you in that.'

There is no sense in this verse to support any form of hierarchical leadership structure. Rather, it describes an organic, flowing process involving a following of those who have gone further and leading to increasing maturity in the body as a whole.

Jesus came to bring life, more abundant life. He does this by setting us free from ourselves and enabling us to live in and with him, daily. We can all be helped along the way by associating with those who have travelled further, responding to their watchfulness and hearing what they say.

There's little value for us in being troublesome. That will simply slow our own progress. Is that what we want?

Questions: 
  • Does this translation make more or less sense to you than the traditional versions?
  • Is there someone who personifies this 'leading the way' role in your own life?
  • Are you watching over others? Is is a joyful experience or a cause of groaning?

See also:


< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

04 March 2013

Penzias, Wilson and some noise

The universe, Part 5
< From the beginning to atoms | Series index | No later items >

Penzias and Wilson discovered an unknown microwave signal that turned out to be evidence for the origin of the universe. The story involves inconvenient pigeon droppings and more than a little serendipity. It ends with a Nobel Prize for physics and fame.

The Holmdel Horn Antenna
In part 4 of the series we saw how the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) provides the earliest visible image of structure in the universe.

This time we're going to follow the curious story of its accidental detection by Penzias and Wilson.

The Holmdel microwave antenna in the image is at Bell Labs in New Jersey and was built in 1959 for early radio experiments with the Echo satellites (reflective balloons in earth orbit).

The horn antenna was being used by Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson in 1964. They were building sensitive, low noise, microwave radio receivers for use with the Echo satellites and had a serious problem with unexplained radio noise. They ruled out several possible causes, including a build-up of pigeon droppings in the horn, but nothing they could think of seemed to reduce the frustrating noise. Eventually they concluded it was not noise, but a genuine signal from an unknown source.

The noise explained - Another physicist, Robert Dicke had been searching for a signal just like the one that had caused Arno and Penzias so much trouble. Dicke had failed in his search but he heard about Penzias and Wilson's results and recognised it as relic light from the early universe, the elusive CMBR! The Penzias and Wilson paper and another by Dicke and three others were published together in July 1965. There's a lot more about this story in the book 'Genesis of the Big Bang' by Ralph A Alpher and Robert Herman who remembered the events well.

This is an interesting example of the way science progresses. Dicke, like George Gamow before him, had predicted the CMBR based on cosmological theory. Now that it had been found, the credibility of the theory was greatly strengthened.

Dicke was soon able to observe the CMBR himself, and later the COBE satellite would observe it in much greater detail, finding small irregularities in temperature. These too had been theoretically predicted.

When experimental results bear out theoretical predictions like this, scientists can be confident the theory is on track and more likely to be reliable.

WMAP, Planck and other instruments have refined the detail still further and strongly support the current Standard Model of Cosmology known as the Lambda-CDM Model..

Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1978 for their discovery.


Questions: 
  • Which interests you the most, the science itself or personal stories like this one?
  • Can you imagine the amount of dedicated effort involved in doing science?
  • Do you sense the determined search for truth in the hearts of dedicated scientists?

See also: 


< From the beginning to atoms | Series index | No later items >

03 March 2013

Ecotricity - greener, greener, green

Ecotricity builds wind and solar generating systems. They also supply green energy to commercial and domestic customers in the UK. Starting from small beginnings they have made a significant impact in the market and continue to grow rapidly in capacity and popularity.

Turbine blades transported by road
Ecotricity was started by Dale Vince who built a small windmill generator from reclaimed components for his own use.

Friends asked him to build similar generators and eventually he made a much larger one for a local farmer.

He then wanted to build something even larger to connect to the grid, but hit all kinds of difficulties and additional costs imposed by the larger companies and distributors.

Through persistent effort he managed to negotiate a deal and since then Ecotricity, the world's first green electricity company, has built many more large wind turbines and wind farms.

Innovation - Dale has had many interesting and innovative business ideas and has never been willing to take 'no' for an answer. He raises extra finance by issuing bonds, his company also sells wind and solar generated power to end users and offers (at slightly higher cost) a 100% renewable deal.

They have a policy of not having shareholders; instead, profits are ploughed back into building additional generating capacity. The company encourages new customers to sign up so as to use their power bills wisely, in other words to help build additional capacity. Their customer service is exceptionally good, polite and helpful.

More recently Ecotricity has also developed a green gas plant, generating methane by biodigestion of waste. Dale has built record breaking electric vehicles, both a motorcycle and a high performance car that recently set a new world land speed record for electric vehicles.

Caring for the planet - Surely we have a duty to care for the planet on which we live? Dale Vince is certainly doing his part to reduce environmental damage. If you live in the UK you could help simply by changing your electricity and/or gas supplier to Ecotricity.

In other parts of the world you may be able to help in other ways. We can all do our part by reducing our use of energy, by walking or cycling instead of driving, by flying less often, by taking the train, insulating our homes, turning down the thermostat, showering more quickly - the list is long.

But many small actions by large numbers of people add up to a significant difference.

Making the switch - You can switch to Ecotricity online (if you use this link I'll get a partner contribution from the company). If you prefer to speak to them by phone call 08000 302 302 and quote 'SCI1' and I'll still receive the contribution.

Questions:

  • Have you heard of Ecotricity before?
  • Are you doing all you can to reduce your household and business energy use?
  • Are you using green sources of energy where available?

See also:

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