30 September 2008

Great Doddington - A white lily

After talking about forgiveness for a while we listened to a track from a Bill Johnson CD in which he tells a story about his (fictional) history as a pen thief. It had us in stitches! But it also spoke to us about the depth and breadth of forgiveness that we have in Christ.
A white lily
We talked a bit more about condemnation and righteousness and then Jody read Romans 5:1-21. Rachael shared a picture of the Lord's house. There were a lot of people there, having a party, but they didn't know him. They were busy putting up decorations for their party but because they didn't know Jesus they couldn't see him and they didn't realise he was quietly watching them. As they put up decorations and lights and speakers he was following and quietly taking it all down again.

Some of the people didn't realise what was happening and just went round and round redecorating places they'd already done before. Some noticed that what they had done been mysteriously undone, those people turned round and saw the Lord and began to relate to him and have a conversation with him.

Chris thought that we need to do what Yahshua does. We are called to be like him, we are called to do what he does. When people see us and talk with us they need to see him and hear him.

Jody prayed that we'd take him into our whole life, into our family life, life with our neighbours etc. She asked for wisdom to say his word, the right word, at the right time.

Jody also saw a white arum lily, huge but perfect with beautiful, waxy petals. She saw that each of us is perfectly formed and very beautiful, and she understood that we are be ourselves like that during the coming week. People will be drawn to his beauty in us. She shared a word from the Lord, 'You are to go out and invite them in. You are not to reject the world but you are to go out into it and bless them.'

Rachael also spoke out his words, 'The place where I am is like a raging forest fire. It purifies you, and it leaves behind the ash. Go out into the world and share the love and life that is in you - it will not come back empty'.

We shared the bread and wine together, his body broken for us - but in another sense we are his body now. He is building us although we have been broken. There's a kind of symmetry here - his body was whole and became broken, but now we who are his body and were broken are becoming whole. It is a mystery.

In old covenant times the Jews believed that the life of an animal was in the blood, so when the blood was let out in sacrifice, it was the life that was being poured out. So when we share the wine representing his blood, we also share the wine in its other meaning representing his life. And because in reality too we have a share in his blood poured out for us, so we also have a very real share in his life.

29 September 2008

Up, up and away!

Yesterday was a very special day. Elon Musk's company, SPACEX, launched a small rocket and carried a dummy payload into Earth orbit. So why is that special? Falcon 1 launchHere's why - it's a major change from government funded space programmes to private spaceflight. SPACEX is a privately owned company, and they achieved this all by themselves.

I was so excited that I mailed a congratulatory message to the company, here's what I wrote...

To everyone at SPACEX and Elon in particular. Well done everybody, this is a great day for spaceflight and space exploration. In fact it's a major turning point that will go down in history. On Sunday 28th September 2008 private individuals running a private business have a space programme!

From this day forward, spaceflight is no longer the domain of governments and big business alone. Cheaper orbital access is coming with the Falcon family and in a few years with Dragon - first for cargo, then for astronauts. This is fundamentally different from major aerospace companies launching communications and weather satellites. Why? Because they are in it to use expensive technology developed by or for government programmes. The days of cutting edge at high price are coming to an end, to be replaced by routine at budget prices.

SPACEX - you have changed the world... er, I mean space!


The company - Elon Musk had already run several highly successful startup ventures including PayPal. He has spent some of the proceeds on innovative technology startups like Tesla Motors and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

SpaceX has designed and built Falcon 1 from scratch, it is intended to be cheap to operate, mainly reusable (the first stage is designed for recovery, the second stage is expendable), and simple. Simplicity is really the key, a simple design is likely to be both cheaper and more reliable than a complex design.

The successful flight - After three launch failures, the fourth attempt resulted in a smooth ride to orbit. Falcon 1 has shown it can do the job and the next flight in early 2009 is expected to loft a Malaysian satellite.

This will begin a revenue stream for SpaceX and put the company on track for eventual growth. Meanwhile, 2009 should also see the first flight of Falcon 9, a much larger and more powerful launcher.

Meanwhile, although the first success placed only a dummy payload into orbit, it did so accurately and without incident. The icing on the cake was that the second stage engine was successfully restarted while in orbit, something SpaceX hoped to achieve, but not necessarily on such an early flight.

The future - Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and perhaps Falcon 9 Heavy will meet the same requirements as other launchers already in the market place, but they'll do it at perhaps a third of the price. This suggests that SpaceX may be a name to watch, they might be able to clean up, taking over a large part of the space launch business.

Not only that, the company is building a cargo delivery craft, Dragon, which will launch on Falcon 9 and is also expected to fly in 2009. And a passenger version is already under development and may fly in 2010, carrying up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

As if even that is not enough, the launch manifest for 2011 has a Falcon 9 booked for Bigelow Aerospace who plan to orbit their third inflatable habitat, Sundancer. It will be the first privately developed and launched craft capable of use as a manned space outpost. Bigelow already have two development systems in orbit, Genesis I and Genesis II, both are still in operation and returning images and other data at the time of writing.

In other words, SpaceX and Bigelow taken together represent the beginnings of private, manned, orbital spaceflight. Now that really is exciting!

See also: Dragon readies for launch

28 September 2008

Golden threads

Connections between believers are like braided bands (actions, conversations, thoughts etc). Most of the threads are made of ordinary brown or grey cord, but woven in among them is a golden thread which is the Lord's presence. KingfisherWe need to ignore all the worldly threads and search out the golden one!

As we grow, do more and more threads of gold replace those worldly cords? They should! The bands hold us together and the golden thread, weaving this way and that, touches each of the worldly threads, again and again.

I think this idea came out of one of our meetings, though I can't be sure. Whatever its origin, I jotted it down as something to develop as a blog post. So here goes.

The idea is that as we live in relationship with one another, much of the traffic between us is the stuff of normal life. We talk about family issues, our children, our jobs, places we have visited, things we have done. We talk about the weather, politics, what we have grown in the garden, recipes we have tried, the car, the dog, TV, a new song at church. This is normal. It's the conversation of the world.

But in amongst it there are threads we did not put there. Threads that have come from heaven.

It's not just a matter of words, the same is true of what we do or fail to do. We express ourselves to one another by our actions as much or more than by what we say. Whether in word or in deed, such golden threads were visible most clearly in the life of Yahshua as he interacted with his followers and with the religious and government authorities of his day.

Fishermen - Let's look at a few examples. The first one is very simple, Yahshua was walking beside Galilee and saw two men casting a fishing net. He must have seen this often before, yet on this occasion he said, 'Come with me - I'll make you fishers of men'. And they just dropped their nets and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20). In amongst the everyday things of walking along the shoreline, casting nets, and friendly conversation comes this golden thread moment. There is a spark of otherness here, a flash of spiritual life. The Master speaks the words the Father gives him, and the hearers respond as he knew they would. Words like this do not come from human intellect, they come straight from the mind of Yahweh.

These moments are like the blue flash of a darting Kingfisher seen out of the corner of your eye - gone again before you can pay proper attention to it. Although you didn't see it clearly, you know that something significant happened and you hold your breath in wonder.

Loving enemies? - Here's another example, from Matthew 5:43-48. 'But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'

Once again we sense a golden, heavenly thread. There's an other-worldliness about the idea of loving our enemies. How could that arise in ordinary, worldly conversation? It's the wisdom of another place, sheer foolishness to humans. Yet if we live this way it reveals us to be the children of the Most High!

New testament letters - The four gospels are full of such threads, and Paul and the other writers explain the principles in their letters. See for example Ephesians 3:7-13 where we learn that 'the gift of the Almighty's grace' is involved. Paul says he explains 'unsearchable riches' - how can anyone share what is unsearchable? Only when a higher power acts where we cannot. How otherwise could anyone make a mystery plain? How can Paul's sufferings be for the Ephesian's glory? Do you see strands of heavenly gold here? They are inexplicably woven into the lives both of Paul and his Ephesian readers.

So what of our lives today? - Yes, these golden moments still happen for those who have faith in Yahshua. The Kingdom of Heaven touches believers in just the same way it did in New Testament times. The illogical logic of eternity, the foolish wisdom of the Most High, these invade our hearts and minds and change us forever.

It's merely a matter of moving our attention away from the mud beneath our feet, the earthy worldliness of the river bank, and looking up to see the living water flowing in the river, the Temple which is its source, and the Glory of the Almighty that surrounds us. He is with us (Emmanuel) and he fills us, there are golden strands running everywhere in our lives. And we recognise them every time we catch the flash of one of those golden moments.

Sometimes it's a sudden insight, sometimes it's a word spoken in a meeting, sometimes it's a certainty or an assurance that wells up in the most difficult circumstances. But the golden threads are always there.

Just read Paul's words as he writes to the church in Philippi 2000 years ago (Philippians 2:13-16). They're just as true for us today as they were for the Philippian believers.

The Almighty is at work in you to bring about his good purpose in your lives. Do everything without grumbling or arguing so you may be blameless and pure and become Yahweh's own offspring without fault in a twisted, ruined age. You shine like the stars in the heavens as you offer to others the word of life.

23 September 2008

Great Doddington - The equation

This evening we shared some news about our families and friends, especially Abigail (who remains ill) but also Matthew who is starting Bible college, and of course our own children too.

Russian dolls seemed like a good illustration of life's problems to Jody. She pointed out how a Surface plot of an equationproblem that may be small in itself can get layered over with more and more stuff in our minds until it appears huge. She finds herself dragged down by an awareness of her own failures. Life is often hard, even distressing, and we wonder, 'Why can't the Lord just make it all come right?'

Chris thought of the verses in Ephesians 3:14-19 where we read that we are 'rooted and established in love'. It's like the trees on the banks of the river that flows out from under the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12). They are fruitful, their roots go deep underground, they are drawing living water from the river. They have everything they need although the roots through which it's supplied are hidden from view.

Rachael had a picture in which she saw little children doing simple sums, and then a professor working with complex equations, and she saw that each must do what is appropriate and suitable for them. And then she saw an equation and understood its meaning.

if J > Ey then X + J = V

where J is Jesus, E represents his enemies, y is any number, X is humans - his people, and V is victory.

This is what it means. If Jesus is greater than his enemies raised to any power, then his people plus Jesus equal infinite victory! Rachael said, 'If Jesus is greater than any number of his enemies', but the maths she described actually means, 'If Jesus is greater than his enemies raised to any power'. How cool is that?

Jody saw something that looked like the Grand Canyon, it had a lake at the bottom. The Lord told her, 'As you see this small lake, know that I am large and powerful enough to fill this canyon to overflowing to water the desert and turn this red rock into green pasture.

21 September 2008

Bedford - Sheep in the field

After some hasty rearrangements we met around lunchtime, chatted in the garden in the late summer sun, and shared a meal.

Uli read part of Luke 10 White sheep?and wondered about peace concerning the medical work she and Rupert are planning. It's clear that Bedford hasn't received them, and the way forward isn't yet clear.

Patrick reminded us that Father has his place for each one of us. Then he read from Proverbs 16 and 17. Some of these verses seemed especially significant to us. Proverbs 16:1 'To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue', and Proverbs 16:9 'In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps'.

Rupert read 2 Samuel 5 and we thought how David intended to fight the Philistines but still asked the Lord, 'Shall I go..?'

Chris had a word about a bus journey, prompted in part by something Uli had said. 'You are travelling on a bus journey for the first and only time. You know the destination, but you don't yet know the route. But I know the route and will bring you safely to the correct destination.' Uli was encouraged that the Almighty promises a safe arrival, but sometimes feels unsure she's heard his answer correctly. How do we know we didn't just imagine it? Thinking about this we understood that when we have peace about something, then we can be sure.

Next, Rupert mentioned how Jonah was swallowed by the whale. What seems to have failed may have another chance. What seems dead may live again!

Uli remembered a story told by a friend. When we see sheep in a meadow they stand out because they are white. But later, after the snow falls and we see the same sheep again we think how very dirty they look, not white at all! Our righteousness is like the white of the sheep, but Yahshua's righteousness is white like snow and makes ours look very grubby.

19 September 2008

Who moved our spacecraft?

Some spacecraft have trajectories that are slightly unexpected. Something has speeded them up or slowed them down - but what? Current methods of analysing and predicting spacecraft behaviour involve many factors, but the figures just don't add up. Something strange and unexpected is going on.

The major factors that affect spacecraft motion are gravity and rocket propulsion. Spacecraft and indeed all bodies in the solar system, The Rosetta spacecraftfrom dust grains right up to the the largest planet Jupiter, move through a complex gravity field. Each body is tugged upon by every other, and the strength of pull depends on the masses involved. The mathematics is very complex and for more than two bodies involves iteration.

The second major factor comes into play whenever a manoevering engine is fired, this clearly changes the trajectory (which is the purpose of the engine of course).

The velocity of a spacecraft can be measured very accurately by examining its radio signals. Changes in velocity cause a change in frequency. But the calculated trajectories don't always match up with the measured ones.

There are many other subtle factors that affect a spacecraft. Pressure from solar radiation, loss of gas from the spacecraft's systems, impact by small particles, relativity effects, loss of speed due to passing through the outermost fringes of a planetary atmosphere, magnetic and electrostatic fields, and more.

But effects such as these are quite well known and can be allowed for. Yet the figures still don't quite add up. And nobody knows why.

The effect was first noticed decades ago as the Pioneer probes passed into the outer Solar System. They were travelling ever so slightly slower than they should have been. At the time this didn't cause much surprise, it was put down to some minor effect that nobody could identify and, like all these effects, it was far too small to affect the mission. Several possibilities were discussed at the time, none of them were accepted enthusiastically.

But it's happened again, and again, and again with other spacecraft.

At last a pattern is beginning to emerge. All the affected spacecraft have made close planetary passes to help shape their trajectory (gravity assists), while other spacecraft have not been affected. John D Anderson, Curator of Aerodynamics at the National Air and Space Museum in the USA, has been looking very carefully at the evidence. Anderson and others working with him have now come up with a mathematical formula which may enable them to predict the size and direction of the effect, it seems to work for all the effects seen in past spaceflights and they're waiting with bated breath to see if it accurately predicts the effect for Rosetta as it made its second fly-by of Earth last November (they haven't seen the data yet). There's another opportunity in November 2009. (John Anderson's scientific paper is "Anomolous orbital-energy changes observed during spaceflight fly-bys of Earth", John Anderson et al., Physical Review Letters, Vol 100, p 091102. There's also a report in New Scientist, 20th September 2008, pp 38-41).

All of this is quite fascinating, both to spacecraft engineers and to physicists; it really does seem as if something may be slightly wrong with our theory of gravity or there's some other effect at work that we are not yet aware of. Either way, prepare for a major new discovery in physics. But either way, don't hold your breath. Finding the underlying mechanism could take quite some time (years or decades, perhaps even longer).

18 September 2008

Eaton Ford - Lazy or diligent?

We began with a hot drink and a chat about events during the last week. Once again the main topic was next year's youth camp, important aspects are to make sure that Father is glorified in all we do and say, to have some plans for earlier events that could help us meet young people and their parents in Eynesbury, and to consider how best to bring new believers into the church in St Neots. Nearly ready for harvestWe have had one enthusiastic response and one unclear response from the two churches we have approached informally so far.

Jim mentioned that we are all supposed to feed the other sheep that belong to the Shepherd, we are not meant to feed our own organisation with a supply of his sheep. Sheep are not a commodity, we are a family.

Chris read Proverbs 10:4-5, he'd come across these verses while reading privately before the meeting. He said that in his own life he feels he's been a lazy son, but it's never too late to start and now is the time. Yahshua said the fields are full with the harvest (John 4:35), if we are diligent and wise we'll be busy gathering those crops.

Jim has been reading about the period of time between the old and new testaments, a time when Israel had no revelation and no real sense of the Lord's purpose. He thought how he would hate to have no revelation or purpose in his own life. But Jesus came and everything was changed, and his Spirit is with us and speaking to us daily. What a privilege we have!

Sean emphasised the importance of loving our neighbours. He read out Romans 13:8-14 where Paul writes that the time has come to wake up from our sleep. He had read this passage recently and it had been on his mind. Like Chris, he feels that he has been, if not lazy, then at least asleep. We talked for a while about how the church in the UK seems to have been asleep during our lifetimes. Christians seem to be mostly inactive in our day. It's as if night has come, everyone is asleep so it's natural for us to yawn and slumber too. But we need to wake up!

We talked about how everything must be done for Father's glory, we dare not take any of that glory for ourselves. Then Chris shared a picture of a house, it was like looking down at the plan of the house. He realised that the house is Father's living temple built of the living stones of his people. It's the house in which he lives, where his Presence rests. There were many rooms in the house and each room was like a different part of the church - the Baptists, The River, Open Door, the Methodists, St Mary's in Eaton Socon, and so on - each one like a separate room. As he looked, Chris saw that not all the rooms had internal doors. Sometimes a room had an external door, but no connection to the other rooms. And the Lord said, 'What an inconvenient house!' He also told us that he will open up doors between the rooms, he doesn't want a house like that, it needs to be changed to make it more useful.

Jim saw it a little differently, he was encouraged because we are going to go into the town and open up doors for young people to come in and have life in its fulness. We prayed for doors to open up right through the estate, doors to open for the Good News. We asked this in love.

Jim also mentioned that we need the Holy Spirit to give us openings on the estate that we can develop, ideas that can be presented to others as projects, at least four half or whole days of activity on the estate. And we need something for Brampton too.

We discussed this and jotted down six preliminary ideas, but Sean felt a little unsettled in his heart. He reminded us that the Lord will provide the things for us to do, they may not necessarily be the things we think up for ourselves. So as we go forward we need to be open and expectant.

16 September 2008

Great Doddington - Our weakness, his strength

While we were chatting at the beginning of the meeting we thought that we often grow weary of our circumstances, but it's good to remember that we're only in the world, not of it. A plane in the airSometimes life seems like being on a plane that flies round and round but never arrives at its destination.

Jody referred to Psalm 28, we read that his purpose is to bless us (v 8-9).

Chris mentioned that there's no hope in us, in the people who are in need, or in the financial system; there's only hope in Yahshua. He is our hope! Jody read Psalm 41 in which Yahweh protects and blesses the weak.

And then Jody shared a picture of a red velvet bag tied with a twisted silk cord. The top had opened and a very large pearl had fallen out. Jody told us that the Lord says, 'You are like that pearl - precious to me'.

Rachael thought about the plane flying around and said that it might seem to be going round and round when seen from above, but it might also be flying higher and higher if we could see it from the side.

Chris read two passages, Luke 6:20-26 and Luke 12:49-53. They contrast strongly with one another. Jesus came to bring comfort, peace and joy - but also division and distress. Which we receive depends, not on our circumstances, but on our hearts.

Rachael prophesied, 'Look, you know you can just reach out and touch me whenever you want. You don't have to join a long queue that winds round the corner and down the next street. You can just reach out and touch me.'

We also thought about the cycle of life. From a fruit come seeds, these fall and grow and produce trees. The trees produce more fruit, exactly the same so many more seeds fall and grow. Seeds change everything! One fruit can turn a grassy field into a whole forest.

Rachael shared a picture of a large bed with a beautifully embroidered cover. Father asks us, 'Why are you sleeping on that pile of straw covered with an old rag when you could be in the bed I've already provided?' She also thought of the words of an old Diana Ross song, 'Reach out and touch'.

Finally, we had the thought that we are privileged as his people, but there are so many unprivileged who don't know him. We are his body in the earth, we have to allow him to reach out through us - to the people all around us. This is also our prayer, to be used like this.

15 September 2008

Rape and pillage

When a nation is defeated in war, the victors take whatever remains. Bluefin tunaIn the last fifty years the human race has waged war on the environment, but the environment has pretty much lost the war and we're now taking what remains.

I assume you can see the terrible flaw in our thinking (or lack of it).

It was true of the ancient empires and city states and it's still true today - in all out war the victor takes anything that remains. Sometimes it's slaves, sometimes it's property, sometimes it's the lives and welfare of the defeated population, often it's all three, but when victory is complete it is always very bad news for the losers.

The BBC published an article today about the plight of the bluefin tuna, it's a good article, everyone should read it, but it's only the tip of the environmental iceberg. It seems the tuna is now in real danger of extinction, the very existence of the 'tiger of the sea' is precariously balanced and yet we are still overfishing it.

Big trouble - The fact is that the environment is in big trouble. The knowledge that we all depend upon it for our daily lives has not yet impacted us nearly enough. But it will do - you may depend upon it.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, even the very land we stand on is in danger. Mankind has won a great victory over nature, but has not properly considered that nature itself is our only provider. We have all but killed the goose, the supply of golden eggs is just about ended.

Cod - Here's another cautionary tale from the sea. Cod stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks off Newfoundland have been depleted, and despite measures to reduce catch levels or even ban fishing altogether, they have so far failed to recover (article section from Wikipedia).

But it's not just sea fishing that's at risk, here's a shortlist of some other factors to consider.

Climate - there's now strong evidence that the earth's climate is changing in response to rising levels of carbon-dioxide and other gases. Ice in the Arctic Ocean is vanishing year on year, sea levels are rising, glaciers are retreating all over the globe, storms are becoming more frequent and more violent, extremes of temperature and rainfall are more common.

Pollution - of the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land is better in some respects, but is worse in many others. The long term prospect remains poor.

Fresh water - sometimes too much (flash flooding) but often too little (droughts, dry reservoirs, falling levels in aquifers, spreading deserts).

Deforestation - there has been some recovery in north-west Europe, but much loss of tropical forest. This loss seems to be accelerating.

Easter Island - There is a stark warning in the story of this barren land in the Pacific. Once forested and fertile, it was home to the Rapanui people who carved the vast, stone heads or 'Moai'. The civilisation here was at one time advanced, writing was invented independently, farming technology was an important part of the economy, timber and stone were both in use for building and for artistic or ceremonial use. Yet now there are almost no trees and the civilisation has vanished. Why? Because they over-exploited their natural resources. This is the tragedy of the commons in action.

We also face the same tragedy. Genesis 1:26-28 calls on us to manage the earth and all that is in it. The Hebrew verb 'radah' can be translated 'dominate'. And although managing something involves taking charge, it also requires wisdom and stewardship. The Rapanui conquered and dominated their island but they did not care for it as good stewards. What will tomorrow's historians write about us? And in what sense did the Rapanui truly 'dominate' their island? They are certainly not dominant now.

12 September 2008

Too many social networks!

There are too many social networking sites out there, each one different, many with interesting content.

Each one requires me to enter my profile details again, has a different menu structure, unique facilities, and specialist functions. We need something better.

Let me explain. For a while now I've been a member of Facebook (which I like and use regularly) and MySpace (which I don't like and rarely visit now). I'm also a member of various mailing lists and several specialist social networking sites, mostly to do with church.

For each one of these systems I have to enter my profile details all over again, but in a slightly different way. I have to learn a new and different way of working, a new set of menus and functions.

I was prompted to post this blog item when a friend emailed me details of a community building tool (Oikos) and asked me what I think about it.

There's a real problem here - it will be resolved eventually for sure, but meanwhile it will make life harder and harder for us all. The problem is that there are so many of these systems and the number is increasing dramatically all the time. There are even sites that offer 'roll your own' facilities (like Ning, and Oikos). I need more systems like I need a hole in the head!

What do we really need? - We need one system that lets us put in our user profile once, and then party with as many subgroups as we choose. In my case that might be a general organic church group, a local area christian group involving believers from every background and opinion, an astronomy group, a techie web software group, a history group, a group for my workmates, a photography group, and perhaps half a dozen others.

Facebook can do that already. And in a different way, so can Ning. We'll come back to Facebook and Ning later.

I predict that in the short term groups will proliferate, and they'll proliferate until people become heartily fed up with accessing so many. From then on a few will grow larger and larger at the expense of the smaller ones. The few are already growing in size, but we're still in the proliferation stage with new social networking sites coming on line daily - perhaps thousands of them daily, certainly hundreds.

One approach might be an agreed system for syndicating profiles around different systems. That would certainly help, but the navigation and feel of the systems would still be different and we'd have to learn our way around each one. There is at least one standard out there already and some systems are supporting it.

So - back to Facebook and Ning. Both systems offer a solution but they do it in very different ways.

The Facebook model - here we see an overall system that lets you join, select friends, and also select groups.

In practice most users will have a circle of friends composed of work colleagues, family, college friends, large or small geographical groups (my town, my state, my street - whatever), and people who share a common interest.

Many users will join groups on specific interests (I'm a member of several local groups, church groups, astronomy groups and so forth). These will include some Facebook friends but also many Facebook 'strangers'. The shared interest will normally be enough to keep the group buzz going, the conversations and shared resources will always be of interest providing they remain on topic.

All the groups work in the same way, use the same navigation, and have the same sort of arrangement on the page. As a user I can navigate very easily from a group to a friend's page, to my messages, to a group on another topic, all pretty much seamlessly and without having to login to a different website or learn a new style of operation. Joining a new group is not a big deal.

This is good!

The Ning model - Here the emphasis is on the groups, not on the friends. Using Ning, you or I can roll our own social networking site and invite interested parties to join up. We can run our own 'Facebook'.

At first sight this merely makes the proliferation of online social networks even more severe, it's easier than ever to create a new one!

But Ning has a real advantage here, if you sign up to several Ning-based systems your personal profile is shared between them. What's more, they all work in the same way. They may look a little different (colour, graphics, and to some extent layout), but they all share structure, navigation, and features. Ning sites are like Lego models, they look different but they're made of the same kind of parts. If you know how Lego works you'll have no problem recognising a Lego construction, using it, or altering it.

This is good too!

Ning or Facebook? - Which is best? In the end they're pretty similar. Ning is Facebook groups. Facebook groups are Ning social networks. If Ning added a feature to let you choose and interact with specific people outside the social networks it would be just like Facebook. And if Facebook allowed you to access a group as a separate website it would be just like Ning.

The two systems emphasise slightly different aspects but could so easily grow to be much more alike. One underlying difference is that you don't need to be a Ning member to join a Ning-built social network. Anyone with internet access can join in. But not everyone is on Facebook, not everyone wants to join Facebook. So a Facebook group is inaccessible to a whole section of the internet community. From an individual's perspective this may not appear to be a problem, but for someone planning to build a social network it may be a serious issue.

Which of the two will win out? It's much too early to say. Both have grown very fast indeed and show no sign of stopping. Both make it easy to set up a social space for a specific purpose. There are plenty of other systems and organisations out there, Yahoo, Google, or Microsoft in particular could muscle in on the act very quickly if they chose to stake a claim.

What does the future hold? - Here's my best guess.
  • In the short term, more proliferation but with continuing market share going to Facebook and to a lesser degree Ning. Facebook has, I think, more mass-market appeal than Ning.
  • In three years time expect to see more and more of the small players fall by the wayside, while Facebook, Ning, and one or more of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft clean up.
  • Long term, expect two or three dominant players to emerge. One will take 75% to 95% of the share, one or two others will fight over the rest.
  • Expect the unexpected. There might be a major corporate takeover or two. One of the smaller players might come out with something innovative and grow from less than 1% share to become the major force in this space.
  • A major open source contribution is likely. This has happened in other areas of computing with Linux, Apache, Open Office, MediaWiki, and the GIMP.

There will be a shakeout, that much is certain. It will make life easier for everyone but at the same time restrict our choices. We've seen the same process with operating systems, word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers and more. History repeats itself. The end result is always one major player and a small number of niche alternatives.

11 September 2008

Eaton Ford - Camp planning

Jim was unable to make it this evening, but Sean and Chris spent some time talking about church in a general way, Campingand then Pete arrived to join us.

We were able to make some progress with planning for the youth camp next year, and Donna sat with us to listen and contribute some useful thoughts and questions.

We prayed briefly at the end of the meeting, and agreed to meet again next Thursday when Pete will bring some of his helpers so we can meet, discuss, and pray about the coming camp in much more detail.

10 September 2008

Great Doddington - Skylight and Passover

It was good to meet, share the bread and wine together, and nibble bread and cheese before going our separate ways.

We began by chatting together about recent event in our lives. Chris described a picture of a large and airy room with no door, we were all there in the room. There was a window in each of the four walls, Blue sky, sunshine breaking throughlooking out of the first window all that could be seen was a bleak, gloomy view with heavy, grey clouds. Looking out of the next window, the scene was exactly the same. The third window showed the same view too and then looking through the fourth and final window - the view was the same again, grey, dull, and heavy.

But up above was a skylight, and through the skylight was a beautiful blue sky, and we knew that soon the blue area would move to the part of the sky where the sun would be, and the light would illuminate the scenery outside the windows. So often we see the grey, heavy, drab view in every direction and forget to look up towards the skylight.

Rachael saw a picture of foam, really light and frothy foam, the kind that can just blow away in a light breeze. She realised that the Lord is light, not only of the visible kind but also he is light in 'weight'. He is mobile, like foam that is able to be carried on the lightest movement of air.

Jody spoke about Passover and the Day of Atonement. She reminded us that the Passover bread was unleavened, made without yeast for speed and cooked in haste. Jesus paid the price, making atonement for us once and for all.

We prayed for friends and relatives, and although some of us had been heavy-hearted during the week, our spirits and hearts were lifted as we spent the time with him tonight. It's so good to know that he is here with us.

08 September 2008

FAMILY - A new life

I'm a grandpa for the third time! Debbie and Steve have a baby girl. Aidan (aged two) is slightly confused, he thinks he has two new sisters, one at home and another at the hospital. My other daughter, Beth, also has a two-year-old so the next generation is well under way.

It was amazing to see this little person for the first time, so tiny, utterly dependent on her carers, not aware of the difficulties and dangers of life, primed to feed and grow and also to learn and learn and learn. She can only achieve her full potential if she is nurtured carefully; she needs to be fed, kept warm, and given all the contact and love she can absorb. Then she will grow in size and in ability until she becomes an adult and can leave home to begin an independent life of her own. But those days lie far, far ahead.

Meanwhile she is a precious gift to her family, a constant source of amazement, and a constant cause of work. Not that she will make demands - yet! But she has needs of which she is unaware although her family notice them daily, hourly, minute by minute. She will keep them busy even in her unawareness, and later when she can see and think and speak she will keep them busy with explicit demands and requests.

They won't let her down, they'll be there when she needs them. Mum, Dad, brother Aidan, grandparents too, aunts and uncles and cousins - all of them will help when necessary. Little Sara has landed on her feet even though she doesn't know it yet. There is nothing better or more needed than family. There can be no adequate substitute. Where there is family there is security, comfort, and above all love. For family love is the motivation that supplies all the rest.

(There are more photos online.)

05 September 2008

Just do it!

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We're in the early stages of planning for a youth camp for St Neots in 2009. We didn't decide to do this, it is just happening to us - and it's great! The riverbank in St NeotsWhy is the church sometimes so sluggish in getting things done? We'll come back to that question later, but first you should hear a little news.

Last Monday (1st September) we had a meeting to pray, discuss, and think about young people in St Neots. Jim, Sean and I were joined by Ben and Pete. After introductions, Pete told us about his background and explained about the camps he runs for young people in the Bedford area. By the end of the evening we had the beginnings of a plan, Pete had been proactive and booked space for a hundred young people next summer. We were astonished and encouraged. 'Just do it' is an effective way forward!

So, back to our question, 'Why is the church sometimes so sluggish in getting things done?'

It all comes down to an inability to 'just do it'. What prevents us? The answer to this lies deep in our understanding of what church is. The New Testament writers often refer to the church in a particular place, sometimes it's a city or town, sometimes it's a house, but significantly it's rarely anything between these two extremes.

Paul could write to the church in Corinth or Ephesus, but if he was writing today and addressed a letter to the 'Church in St Neots' or the 'Church in Cambridge' who would read the letter? Would it be delivered to the largest Anglican Church in town? Or would it go first to the Catholics, or the Baptists, or the United Reformed Church? Middle sized organisations of that kind were unknown in Paul's day, when he wrote to the church in a city he was writing to a single entity consisting of all the believers in that place.

But when he mentions the church that meets in Nympha's house or the church that meets in Priscilla and Aquila's house he knows exactly what he means. Not a gathering of 200 or 300 believers meeting in one place, but a small group meeting in an ordinary home. Clearly, a number of these small groups cooperated as the church in the city.

When we meet in large groups of several hundred we need a system of management and we need committees or a hierarchy to make decisions. Proposals have to be approved, resources must be made available, and discussions held to agree the details. This may take significant amounts of time. When we meet in a home decisions can be made there and then as we pray and share our thoughts and receive guidance through the Spirit.

Yahshua did not spend a lot of time planning. Instead he reacted to whatever he saw or heard. He always reacted in love towards the Father or towards the people he met, or both. Sometimes he reacted in anger, usually his reaction came in the form of teaching, questions, or action of some sort, but kindness and grace were present in everything he did - always. Everything he did was for the Father's glory, he healed the sick, he revealed the truth, he comforted the distressed and the broken-hearted. Not only did he bring good news, he was good news. Indeed he is The Good News. The good news is the news that the Messiah has come and brings healing and reconciliation.

What he did we are called to do too. If we plan less but begin to react to whatever we see and hear he will work in us and through us to glorify the Father. Acts of heavenly kindness and grace will replace acts of earthly mind and will. This is a hard lesson to learn because it runs counter to intuition and common sense, but it's a lesson we must learn if we're to become more fully fruitful and effective in the Kingdom.

This is not to say that larger organisations cannot react quickly or spontaneously in response to specific issues, just that they find it much harder than small groups.

We need to learn to be like the Master, to be good news wherever and whenever possible. Not merely to speak the good news, but to live it individually by responding right away in love and grace.

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04 September 2008

Little Paxton - Prayer walking

We met at Jim and Pam's for coffee and an initial chat, then headed to Eynesbury to prayer walk the area. It was useful to spend some time there, Mallard Laneto notice the grassy areas that would be suitable for a small tent, or a bouncy castle, or a band to play. It was dark while we were there and we could see plenty of potential for groups of young people to gather and cause trouble. We even saw a broken house window.

After walking for a time we stopped and stood in a group to discuss and pray together. It was a time of prayerful conversation, or very informal prayer, and it was good.

During this time Chris mentioned how helpful it would be if there was a home here on the estate where we could meet. Jim pointed out that there must be Christian people living here, maybe within yards of where we were standing; several of us remembered people we knew who did indeed live nearby.

Just as we finished this thread of conversation, a woman crossed the street and called out, 'What are you doing?' Perhaps it seemed odd to find a group of five adults talking here after dark (Sean, Ben, Tash, Jim, and Chris). As soon as she came close, the woman recognised Jim and then Sean as well! 'What are you doing here?', she asked.

Jim introduced us to Paula and we explained about the plan for a youth camp, but we didn't mention the idea of a house on the estate that we could use for prayer. She immediately said, 'Why don't you come over to my house for a cup of tea?' We were actually quite reluctant at first, but she insisted so we followed her across the street to her home - just a few yards.

We sat and chatted over hot mugs of tea, we met Paula's son and her husband, and then we went back to Jim's before each heading home again.

Isn't the Lord good? isn't he amazing!!

03 September 2008

Great Doddington - Playgrounds and a flag

During this evening's meeting, Rachael saw two playgrounds, they were typical children's playgrounds with all the usual equipment. One of then had a notice that read, 'If you want to play, you have to pay', Empty playgroundand it was full of children. The other playground had a similar sign but it read, 'This playground is free'. But there were only a few children playing there. And then she saw that there was a small gate between the two playgrounds and some people were moving from the paid playground to the free one.

Jody saw a flagpole with a huge flag fluttering in the wind. As she looked it changed into a myriad different colours, as if all the flags of the world were mixed up but coming to the fore one by one.

Rachael received the single word 'unravelling'. She understood that the Lord is unravelling us as we live our lives. He moves us forward in his plan, sometimes it may not be a comfortable process, but in the end we need to be unravelled so that we can be remade in the image of the Son.

Jody spoke about judging ourselves, and then Chris shared a picture of ice floating on the ocean. The ice was massively jammed and because it was so tightly packed none of it was able to move. As he watched, he saw that the ice was melting. Yahshua is melting us and we will become free to move!

01 September 2008

Eaton Ford - Talking about youth

This evening we met with a specific agenda and several extra people. Jim, Sean and Chris were here as normal, but we also welcomed Ben and Pete who both have a particular interest in youth work. St Neots articleBen runs a young people's group in Little Paxton, Pete runs youth camps every summer.

We spent a lot of time talking, and a number of very interesting ideas and thoughts were shared. Pete told us about his background and how he came to be involved in youth work. Chris explained about the problems in St Neots that had started him thinking and praying, Ben explained his plans for a tent meeting in St Neots.

The amazing bombshell of the evening was provided by Pete who, in faith, had already reserved 100 places for St Neots young people for a camp at the end of July 2009. This is awesome news and had us all smiling and rejoicing. It's going to take some planning and effort, but it seems that Pete will handle the camp details and management, our role will be to find the people who will fill those 100 places.

This was an unusual meeting in every way!


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