31 December 2011

Systems of measurement

Everyone is familiar with measuring things, but two American authors have taken systems of measurement to what might be a logical conclusion. Their paper is a good read for anyone with a little science background.

Measuring devices
When we think of measurement most of us think of rulers, tape measures, kitchen and bathroom scales, filling up with petrol or how much paint to buy to redecorate the lounge. And it's true - all of these things involve measurement.

But when we talk about a system of measurement we are referring to a coherent, complete and consistent set of defined units that will allow us to measure anything. The best known system of measurement is the SI standard that has been officially adopted by every nation apart from the USA, Liberia and Myanmar. Amongst older systems of measurement the CGS, Imperial and Avoirdupois (mass units only) are some of the best known. And historically there have been many systems going way back to ancient Babylonian times and before.

But we can work in a much more fundamental way (though for practical reasons we normally choose not to). A recent paper by L Hsu and J Hsu from the Universities of Minnesota and Massachusetts shows how this can be done. They define everything in terms of time though they point out that any other fundamental unit could have done the job. In passing it becomes clear why time and space can be combined as space-time and how some fundamental constants are more fundamental than others.

This system is what is known as a natural system of units.

Fascinating stuff. Anyone can read the paper as it's not particularly complex, though school level physics and maths will be needed to follow the detailed reasoning.


30 December 2011

Prophecy to the breath

Part 8 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

And now Ezekiel is commanded to pray to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The power of the wind
Ezekiel stands and marvels over the bodies lying around him (bodies which so recently had been no more than dry and jumbled bones). And  Yahweh commands him to prophecy again.

Then he told me, 'Speak to the breath, son of man, tell it prophetically, "Here's what Yahweh Almighty says - come, breath, come from the four winds and breath into these dead bodies so they can come alive."' (Ezekiel 37:9)

So what is going on here? Let's take it step by step and notice the details. It is absolutely fascinating.

Yahweh speaks to a man (Ezekiel) and commands him to speak to the breath (or spirit, or wind, or life). He is not called to speak to the bodies, he is called to speak to the breath.

Breath, spirit, wind and life are closely connected in Hebrew thinking. Breath and spirit are the same word - 'ruach', and anything with breath/spirit has life. Whatever does not have breath/spirit is dead. When we breathe we create a feeble wind, while the winds that can bend trees and raise dust from the ground are clearly far more powerful.

There is an underlying thought here that the winds can provide the necessary breath/spirit to fill these bodies and bring them to life. And the breath comes 'from the four winds'. In other words it comes from anywhere and everywhere. We cannot pin the Holy Spirit down, he comes and goes as he chooses.

The church in our day seems often to be limp and lifeless. At least in the West we are not seeing great, sweeping moves of new believers. It is happening in some eastern lands just as it happened in Jerusalem after Pentecost when three thousand were baptised and added in a single day. (Acts 2:41)

Why are we in the west left out? Perhaps it's because the churches are at best like dead bodies, and the people at worst like dry scattered bones. We need to plead with the Lord to renew us by sending his Spirit to transform us and reinvigorate us. The church in the West needs an Ezekiel to hear Yahweh and to obey him in calling the Life and Spirit of Christ to re-enter the scattered bodies.

We should all be calling out to our Father in heaven to send an Ezekiel (or even a band of Ezekiels) to call the life and breath of his Spirit to return in power and to fill us so that we begin to live again.

Why is it necessary to speak to the Spirit rather than to the churches? Might it be because the churches are dead?  Earlier in the chapter Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones, they were dead too. So what was the difference? Notice that both times Ezekiel spoke as he was commanded by Yahweh - and that is the key.

Our primary duty will always be to listen and do what we are told, to watch and do what we are shown. This is how Jesus himself lived while he was here in the world, he knows how hard it can be and how effective it is. And he called us to follow him.

< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

29 December 2011

The abundant results of prayer

Part 9 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< We bless you from... here! | Index | Grace outpouring >

Soon there is ample evidence that trusting, expectant prayer brings results. The community at Ffald-y-Brenin begin to hear extraordinary stories from their neighbours up and down the valley.

A poppy in PembrokeshireRoy and the others at Ffald-y-Brenin have been discovering the value of simply praying for blessing on local people, places and businesses. Now they start to witness the results of this prayer.

There are some remarkable stories and Roy shares from them in the next section of the book.
Before long we began to see the fruit of these prayers in quite miraculous ways. A man who rented a small stable in the community and did agricultural repairs had not been finding things easy. After we began blessing the valley in the name of Jesus his business suddenly began to take off. He had to take on larger premises and employ people and was able to buy his own house.

The lambing season came and more miracles emerged. We had been blessing the ewes to be strong and healthy and productive. One of our farmer neighbours told us how he'd been absolutely stunned by the number of quads and triplets being born to his ewes. His normal hope was for many twins. The ewes were just about coping, but his wife was run off her feet supporting the rest of the lambs with bottle feeds!

He wasn't the only farmer with a story to tell. Another one stopped me in the lane and said, 'Come and look in this field with me.' Just beyond the gate was a massive bull. He carefully walked round the bull with an arm stiffened in front of him as if to ward off an attack. The bull was staring at him and slowly turning and facing him as he walked round. The farmer invited me to join him. I declined. He insisted. I closed the gate and refused again. Now he was stuck in the field with the bull and had an obstinate onlooker.

He managed to divide off a cow and her calf and invited me to consider how excellent the calf's rear end was. Being no expert on bovine hindquarters I merely murmured some niceties. He had to spell it out for me. The calf was clearly, given the breadth of its rear, going to be a superb bull. It seems that farmers pray that at least once in a lifetime they will have a calf like that one.

He still clearly felt I wasn't grasping how good this was. 'I had one like this last year as well. It's utterly unnatural.' I told him that we had been praying that the blessings of God would fall on the cattle, on the herds of the locality. Another seed was planted in another life as God's blessing unfolded in the life of a farmer in this green valley in Pembrokeshire.

But there was more. A lady who lives out in the wilds at the head of the valley runs a farmhouse bed and breakfast. Suddenly she was awarded AA landlady of the year for Great Britain and was busy at awards, on publicity trips and in TV studios. Even now we tease her and tell her we're having a plaque put up at Ffald-y-Brenin, which will claim we are friends of the award-winning Lilwen MacAllister.

This remote valley was seeing material and spiritual blessing. The chapel had not had a baptism for a good few years, but after we prayed the prayer of blessing a dam seemed to break. One very cold day, muddy underfoot, we were able to witness about seven people being baptised in the open-air baptistry, fed by the local stream.*

When we pray in expectant faith we can't second guess the outcome. Our Father in heaven knows what is needed and pours out more than we could ever hope or expect. We often can't anticipate either the direction or the scale of his response.

Roy, Daphne and the others at Ffald-y-Brenin asked only for a blessing on the people, the farm animals, the land, and the local businesses. But they had no idea what form this blessing would take until their neighbours began to tell them.

And I'm quite sure that if you also pray from the place where the Lord lives among you and call on him to bless your neighbours, sooner or later extraordinary stories will reach you in the same way. So don't be afraid to ask. And after you have asked, expect the unexpected!

All too often we pray very specifically for this or that perceived need, usually for ourselves or for our close friends and family. And then we're disappointed when we don't see the results we had expected. I wonder how we often fail to notice the unexpected good things that he does provide?

If you read the whole book you will see that Roy also prays very specifically - not infrequently for healing. But he began with the unspecific prayer for blessing. In the rest of the chapter he explains more about the underlying heart and mind attitudes that help or hinder effective prayer. More on this in the next post.

Read a brief review of the book (includes several ways to buy a copy).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

< We bless you from... here! | Index | Grace outpouring >

26 December 2011

Recycling Christmas tree lights


In China, waste Christmas tree lights are converted into chopped copper and brass for reuse and plastic feedstock for slipper soles.

Christmas tree lightsChina has become a powerhouse for recycling, and they're now making great strides in terms of cleaner, more environmentally-friendly recycling.

The insulation on junked electrical cable used to be burned off so that the copper could be extracted for refining and reuse. But today, in China, the plastic insulation is recovered and sold as a feedstock for shoe sole manufacturers. Even the water used in the processing is reused in the plant, nothing is dumped back into the environment.

The factory described in this article and video on 'The Atlantic' website takes in unwanted Christmas tree lights, sells copper, brass and plastic feedstock,  and consumes only electrical energy and a modest amount of water which is returned to the atmosphere as vapour.

That is a shining (groan) example of how waste can, and should, be handled. The biggest downside I can see in this is the energy cost of shipping the material halfway around the world rather than disposing of it locally.

23 December 2011

Atlas detector built in Lego

A Lego model of the huge ATLAS detector at CERN has been built by Sascha Mehlhase. The model itself is intricate and took a lot of work to design and build.

ATLAS in Lego
ATLAS has been in the news recently. It's a huge particle detector at the European particle physics lab CERN on the Swiss/French border. It's been in the news because it has found encouraging evidence for the Higgs boson, a much sought-after fundamental particle predicted by the leading theory of particle physics, the Standard Model. That model stands or falls on the existence or absence of the Higgs.

The detection of the Higgs is fundamental in every sense of the word, but it is not yet secure. The evidence from ATLAS is not yet adequate - a strong hint rather than a definite find. But ATLAS will collect more data next year and that should be enough to decide for sure.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a vast machine and ATLAS (just one of the LHC's detectors) is itself a very large and expensive multi-storey construction.

Sascha Mehlhase has built a model of Atlas entirely of Lego bricks, quite an achievement in itself. The design and construction took more than eighty hours work and contains nearly ten thousand bricks.

21 December 2011

Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

Sometimes the Holy Spirit pours his truth into our lives like a flowing stream. That's exactly what happened to me recently as I visited Coventry. I went because he told me to go and said that he would speak to me there. But he did even more than he promised. Isn't that just typical of his grace?

The remains of the old visible through the newAs I was preparing to visit Coventry, the Holy Spirit began surprising me with thoughts and I started to write them down. There was more revelation as I visited the old and new cathedrals; much that I saw prompted further thoughts. And finally, after I arrived home there was a third flow of spiritual truth.

The major themes I have identified are...

  • The centrality of Christ, his majesty and glory.
  • Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation.
  • New and old in terms of church. They are connected. We need to remember the old but live in the new.
  • The old was brought down by intense fire.
  • The new is a different kind of structure.
  • Jesus expresses himself through the new.
  • The new touches the world and should transform it.

What follows is taken from the notes I made on the day. The notes themselves are in italics, the rest is comment added later. I have not expanded all of the notes, there is simply too much for one article. I may revisit these notes, perhaps under the seven headings listed above.

Before the journey to Coventry

The contribution you can make to one church is to encourage people in having good, welcoming attitudes to all believers.

The idea that there is only one church has been much on my mind, and it was immensely helpful to have this guidance. It's not for me to demand or build unity. Instead, I must encourage everyone to accept others with different understandings and vision. Oneness is not about everyone being the same, it's about hearts of love touching through the differences.

Remind them that we're all brothers and sisters.

The 'wheel' emblemEven the emblem I gave you speaks of unity. There's a centre where all the spokes meet, and the periphery is held in place by every spoke. I AM the centre. My people are the spokes, each of them in contact with me. The periphery is out there in the world, far from me, their only connection to the centre is through you. Pray that they, too, will become spokes.

Read more about the 'wheel' emblem and its origin. There's a call to prayer here too; that's something I must not ignore or forget.  Father, remind me - often.

My expectation had been clear. The Lord would speak to me when I reached Coventry, but at this point I was still at home and he was already pouring out so much. I was astonished!

In the old cathedral

The old still remains, but it's empty.

The pillars have all gone.

There is no roof, no protection.

The windows are empty.

This is a place of memories, but few people are here to remember. Most of them are here to look.

The architect says that the new should grow out of the old.

In the new cathedral

A canopy connects the old and the new.

The new west front reflects the old cathedral in its expanse of glass.

The old is clearly visible throughout the new, it is not forgettable and not forgotten.

The view is very different depending whether you are looking towards me or away from me.

I am far more weighty than you might think.

The cathedral has an enormous tapestry portraying Christ, it is so large that it weighs more than a tonne. It's hard to imagine a tapestry being so heavy, and it is even harder to imagine the full majesty and glory of Christ himself. I think he wants me to focus both on his nature and on my inability to comprehend his nature.

This building speaks of life, a progression from the cradle. It's all about reconciliation and has contributions from people of all faiths.

This is an echo of what he showed me before I left home. Reconciliation is a prerequisite for unity. Jesus is our reconciliation, not only with the Father but also with one another. Oneness with the Most High and oneness with one another both depend on the reconciliation that only Jesus can bring. We cannot do without Christ, yet we need nothing more.

Back at home

The old building was brought down by the intense heat of the fire. It cracked and flaked stone, melted lead and glass, and consumed timber.

Fragments of the old stained glass remain.

The old and familiar, the very things we lean upon and think we need, these are all burned up by the intense fire of the Spirit. The old must make way for the new. Yet the old is still more than just a memory. Parts of it remain lest we forget.

Everywhere in the new are expressions of his love, glory, grace, peace, presence, and oneness.

There's a strong theme of reconciliation throughout both old and new.

Old and new are intimately connected.

These seem to be important ideas and should not be forgotten.

The old was brought down by an act of war, but the war was external - it was not a war between old and new.

The inner roof is not attached to the walls.

The technologies of old and new are quite different.

The builders of the old would have found the new literally incredible.

They would have been astonished and unable to comprehend how it could have been achieved.

There's an emphasis in some of the memorials on working selflessly together for a greater good.

There is a swastika on the bronze effigy. See how visitors have polished the swastika and the nose by touching them. Touch is so important.

Touch is transforming, turning dullness to brilliance. We need to touch Christ, we also need to touch one another.

The old cathedral is part of an old town and an old society, now gone apart from a few buildings. The new cathedral is part of a new town and a new city - the university, the shopping centre and so on.

The new fabric is already showing evidence of decay and shabbiness - especially outside.

Although there is a new move of the Spirit coming in church life, the new will go the way of the old unless there is maintenance and repair. It will be needed continuously.

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

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