23 December 2008

Great Doddington - Forks in the road

After reading Genesis 42 we thought about forks in the road. Joseph had a great future given to him through his dreams, but his road forked and he unexpectedly ended up in Egypt. Which way now?

Joseph's brothers were not favoured sons, but they were nonetheless sons of Jacob - wealthy, and special. And there was a fork in their road too.

We listened to a Glen Campbell song. Then we considered how we have to come to a point of surrender in our lives. We really do need to 'let go and let God' as they say.

Like Joseph, our present circumstances don't matter, the Lord's grace is sufficient for us. He told us, 'Your life and mine are like two strands being spun into one yarn that can never be undone'.

21 December 2008

The Drew Marshall Show

Drew Marshall presents a Christian chat show in Canada. He has the most amazing guests and some truly extraordinary conversations. The Drew Marshall Show
And most of them are available online, not only live but as a library of MP3 files for download.

I encourage you to go and listen.

As a starter you might like to try one or more of these...

Drew has such a wonderful, relaxed, jokey yet serious manner. He puts everyone at ease and his guests just settle down and talk openly and easily. Despite his chilled manner, Drew asks some very direct questions and expects straightforward answers. This is radio interviewing at its best.

But to see the full breadth of the interviews you need to go to the show's website and browse around a bit. Once there, click the 'Listen' button just below the banner and you'll find a page for each year. Each of these pages is filled with interview notes and links to MP3s, you'll need to scroll and scroll to see it all.

The files are added to the website once a week, six or seven days after each show goes out.

Hint: Do you have to drive to work every weekday? Many of us do. Download some of the MP3s, load them onto an MP3 player or cut them to CD and listen as you drive. The journey will fly by, I guarantee it.

17 December 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

The heavily corroded remains of an intricate and strange looking mechanism were found in 1901 in a Mediterranean shipwreck. The calendar dial of the deviceSixty years later after painstaking cleaning and study, it emerged that the device was a mechanical analogue computer for predicting the movements of the sun and moon in the sky. Various replicas have been built based on the known features of the mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism makes it abundantly clear that the Greeks were advanced, not only in their scientific knowledge, but also in their mechanical technology. Reports from ancient writers like the Roman author, Cicero, describe mechanisms such as Antikythera. But until the corroded remains were recovered and studied these written accounts seemed fanciful. Surely the ancient world had nothing this advanced?

More recent studies have used high resolution X-ray tomography, and better reconstructions have become possible.

One of the later reconstructions can be seen working in the video below. If you view the video from You Tube you can switch to a higher resolution.

The X-ray tomography data has opened up a new window into the workings of the device. But it has also enabled historians to read a considerable amount of Greek text from the metal surfaces. This text consists partly of labels on the various scales and displays the mechanism used to present the positions of planets, calendar dates and so forth. The remainder of the text is a guide on how to use the device.

A great deal can be learned from the inscribed text. The names of the months varied from place to place in the ancient Greek world and this means we can determine its place of manufacture or intended use to be the central Mediterranean, not as originally supposed the eastern Aegean.

A longer and more technical video is presented on the Nature website (select the high resolution version and watch it in full-screen for the best view). There are also links to the Nature paper by Freeth, Jones, Steele, and Bitsakis, and a Nature news story (though there's a fee for the full text of these).

Wikipedia's article on the mechanism provides more detail for the average reader and has an excellent list of references, links, and suggested additional reading. One of the links is an article from New Scientist giving a good deal of background.


14 December 2008

Jesus' early years

Bill Heroman has suggested a group blog where verses from the gospels are taken and questions asked about 'the hidden years', the period of Jesus' childhood and adolescence before he appeared before John for baptism.

I think this is a great idea!

Bill provides a first example on his blog. Here another one from me.

Scripture: Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).

Spark/questions: What things did she 'treasure in her heart'? (Luke 2:22-52) Did she sometimes talk about these things to the young Jesus? If so, how would it have affected him as a young child, as an older child, as a young adult? To what degree would the knowledge she held affect his upbringing? How did it alter the way she thought about her young son? Was this a factor in her appeal to him when the wine ran out in Cana? (John 2:1-5)

13 December 2008

Central darkness

A delicate and rather tricky subject came up recently on a mailing list I belong to. It was the topic of Islam and the meaning of the term 'jihad'. Light breaking through dark cloudOne of us posted a message suggesting that Islam does not support violence and that if we approach Muslims with fairness and kindness we would find the great majority of them to be peace loving people of goodwill, people who might be able to receive the good news of life in Christ if only we would set aside our fear of terrorism and religious war.

I replied, 'I believe we need to be
very cautious here. I'd be the first to recommend peace over war, love over hatred, gentleness over forcefulness, but there is something deeply dark about Islam.'

The original message post suggested we read the article 'Jihad' Not a License to Murder. As you will see if you read it yourself, it's a review of a book called 'A Deadly Misperception'.

I ended my reply with the following words,
We know that we serve the King of Kings, we know that the Father IS love. Certainly, it is love that will win the day in the end, not violence. We must pour out good things on those around us just like Jesus did. We must bless, not curse. But we should not accept anyone who comes with a different message. Be gentle, yes, always! But also be wise.

What was I getting at? What did I mean by 'something deeply dark'? Let's take a look at two aspects of Islam, what it claims and what it does. But before we start I want to stress that I have nothing in my heart but goodwill towards all people, everywhere, whatever they believe, whatever they do.

Love, sin, and forgiveness - I agree with the person who raised the subject on the mailing list. We must show love and respect towards Muslims whenever and wherever we meet them. We must accept all people at face value, not because they are Muslim or Hindu or Christian or Jewish (or of any belief) but because they are people. This is more true for a Christian than for anyone else. Yahshua told us and showed us that we are to love the Almighty with all that is in us, that we are to love one another as he loves us, that we are to love our neighbour just the same way we love ourselves, and that we are even to love our enemies. So on what grounds might we not love a Muslim?

We have all sinned, nobody walking this earth today or in the past can claim to have lived without sin except for one, Yahshua, Jesus, Isa, however you choose to name him. All have sinned and all will have to stand before the one who sits on the heavenly throne.

Will a person be forgiven or condemned? A Muslim cannot know until the judgement day, but if you have repented of your sin and fallen in sorrow and shame at Yahshua's feet believing he is who he claimed to be, if you have trusted in him and no other, he reaches down and raises you to your feet as a new creation. He forgives you, declares you to be free of sin, accepts you, and welcomes you. He also fills you with his presence so that he lives in you and changes you.

This changed life enables the believer to do things that would previously have been impossible. Loving your enemies is one of those things - Yahshua is love in person, because he lives in me I can love with his powerful love instead of my own feeble love.

So I must love all people even if they wish me harm, indeed even if they do me harm. This is utter foolishness to the world.

So what did I mean when I wrote, 'There is something deeply dark about Islam'?

First, I do not say there is something dark about a Muslim, but about Islam. There's a big difference, a Muslim is a person, Islam is a religion. So what do I mean by 'something deeply dark'?

What Islam says - Islam makes many claims and statements and most of them seem harmless enough. But there is one claim that Christians can never accept, and that is that anyone except Yahshua has preeminence.

Islam makes it very, very clear that Isa, though a great prophet, was a lesser prophet than Muhammad. They explain this by claiming that the New Testament writings have been corrupted since they were first penned. Muslims believe that Isa (Jesus) did not claim to be the Almighty dwelling in human form, this was an error added later. Muhammad is the last prophet, the Great Prophet, earlier prophets (including Isa) brought partial truth but Muhammad brought the full truth and the Qur'an (as recited in Arabic) is error-free. Translations are approximations to the meaning and can never be entirely error-free.

Yahshua said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' And John wrote, 'This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: the Almighty is light; in him there is no darkness at all.' (John 8:12 and 1 John 1:5)

So we see that Yahshua is light and if we follow him we'll have his light as a guide, and that Yahweh is light without even a hint of darkness. We can see that in the same way the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) must also be light. Only light can illuminate our hearts and lives as he does. There is only one light, made known in three persons.

If we are not walking in the light, we are walking in darkness. Everyone who is not following Yahshua does not have the light and is walking in darkness. And who would want to draw a veil of darkness across our minds to prevent us following Yahshua? Why, the accuser, the enemy, the Prince of Darkness - who else?

Yahshua also said, 'The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!' (Matthew 6:22-23) A follower of Islam, denying that Yahshua is the light, is walking in darkness. See how this can change in the most dramatic way.

Quoting another member of the mailing list,
The Spirit of God will always point men to Christ. So if God is
revealing Himself to men through Islam, or any other religion it
will be evident by that alone.

The history of Islam - There is no space here to cover the history fully, it would take many books. Good places to start for anyone wanting to know more would be the Wikipedia articles on Islam, Muslim history and Muslim conquests. It is the spread of Islam that I want to mention briefly here.

Christianity spread by entirely peaceful means in its earliest phases. Believers were often imprisoned or killed for their faith, but they spread by sharing the good news, not by waging war on those around them. Yahshua criticised Peter for using a sword, and that is the pattern we should continue to follow.

There have been times when so-called Christians have used warfare to spread their control and influence. The Crusades in mediaeval times and the Spanish Inquisition are the most obvious examples of violence of this kind. But true followers of Christ would never use such methods! Knowing that Yahshua preached and practiced love towards enemies, how could we ever think that spreading our faith by war or torture could possibly be right? No, the people who did these things were not walking in the light!

And what of the early spread of Islam? Muhammad used warfare against his enemies, taking control in Yathrib (now Medina) and finally conquering Mecca. After his death, his followers continued to use warfare to conquer further cities and nations.

True followers of Yahshua are people of peace, loving all without distinction. Due to misunderstandings, false teachings, and trusting in worldly power rather than in grace those who claimed to follow Jesus have often fallen far short of his command to bless and love.

The same cannot be said of the followers of Islam where violent means are sometimes justifiable. Christianity has sometimes spread by the sword and should hang its head in shame. Islam has often spread by the sword and sees nothing wrong in that. In this way it swept across the whole of once-Christian North Africa. And the trend continues today. Islam aspires to bring the entire world under it's sway and some elements are willing to kill and maim by delivering bombs or raiding cities. We have seen it again and again and again - New York, London, Madrid, Mumbai.

There is a deep darkness hidden in Islam, it is more than just an absence of light. There is something lurking there that always tries to crush the light when he is brought near. Why is it that in the West, Muslims are allowed to build mosques but in Muslim lands Christians are persecuted? Why is it forbidden to share the gospel even in a 'secular' state like Turkey? Why is a Muslim punished (even sometimes with death) for converting to another faith?

Jihad? - Oh yes, there's the little matter of the meaning of the term 'jihad', also part of the original mailing list message and discussed in 'Jihad' Not a License to Murder.

Dictionaries are compiled by researching words as they are used in print. Or to look at it another way, a word means whatever people mean by it. Words also drift in meaning over time. 'Gay' used to mean no more than happy, colourful, joyful, and fun-loving but in today's dictionaries it has shifted considerably.

So what about the Arabic word 'jihad'. It has two meanings, the underlying sense is of a struggle, striving to achieve something, not giving up. It is sometimes used by Muslims to mean the internal struggle to live a holy and pure life, but it is also sometimes used by Muslims to mean warfare against the non-Muslim world. To claim the word has only the first meaning is simply unsupportable. Like all words - it means what people mean by it, no less and no more.

11 December 2008

Little Paxton - Jim and Chris

Sean couldn't make it tonight so there were only two of us (and Jesus, of course - he is always with us).

We talked together about church life and encouragement.

09 December 2008

Great Doddington - The ham of God

Rachael read the story about the ham of God by Anne Lamott. There's a transcript of Anne talking about the story, it shows how even the most unlikely and unexpected events can be used by him if we are just open enough to see. It shows how sometimes he may give us something for someone else so that we need to relate together to get the best outcome.

Like Anne, sometimes we can go from desert to rain in the blink of an eye!

We also thought about hidden writing using unknown letters. Try as we will we simply cannot see the meaning. Father says that even though you can't see the meaning, yet there is a meaning.

Chris pointed out that we are merely 'on loan' to one another, we are a blessing to one another.

Rachael saw people in a huge circle, dancing and playing harps, pipes and other instruments. They were dancing around the walls of a town like Jericho. It seemed to her that it is sometimes the relationship of the people to one another that brings the walls down. It's important to keep on dancing.

08 December 2008

Science? Technology?

Hang on, there's something unusual here. There's a shiny stone in the ashes. He picked it up and blew off the dust, it seemed unusually heavy in the hand, Malachite, copper oreit was a strange shape, and its colour was unlike any rock he'd seen before.

He spat on it and rubbed it with his finger, then took it over to the brook and washed it. This was something special, he was was going to keep it. He slipped it into his leather pouch.

He thought about the fire. It had been fiercely hot where the wind had blown through a gap in the hearthstones, he'd noticed that last night. Fires were usually orange in the centre, this one had been a bright yellow, almost too bright to look at and much too hot to get close. Perhaps the extreme heat had somehow created this object? What else had been different?

Science or technology? -
What's going on in this little story? When is something science? When is it technology? What's the difference? Does it matter? There's popular confusion about these two words, not helped by the fact that some of our most respected sources are as confused as the general public.

But there's a perfectly clear difference between the two and it's really not hard to explain. We don't even need a scientist or a technologist to help us nail this one; a good place to start would be a dictionary. The Wiktionary definition offers two current meanings for the word 'science'.

1 - The collective discipline of study or learning acquired through the scientific method; the sum of knowledge gained from such methods and discipline.

2 - A particular discipline or branch of learning, especially one dealing with measurable or systematic principles rather than intuition or natural ability.

For technology, Wiktionary gives

1 - ... the study of or a collection of techniques.

2 - ... a particular technological concept - the body of tools and other implements produced by a given society.

We can see right away that science is to do with knowledge whereas technology is concerned with techniques. The difference is that science seeks to understand what is while technology has a purpose and wants to make use of what is.

Two things immediately follow from this. There can be no technology without prior science, and technological advance usually opens fresh opportunities for science.

Making a discovery - Let's take another look at our little story. During the Late Stone Age (the Neolithic) somebody must have noticed that a shiny material was left behind in the ashes of last night's fire. This is science, initially it's just a matter of observing what happens. Maybe copper had been accidentally extracted from pieces of ore many times before but very little attention had been paid to it. Only a particularly inquiring mind would notice and begin to wonder.

What if? - The next step is to test the possible causes for what we have observed. This is a scientific experiment. The man who found the special pebble might try to create a hot fire deliberately by altering the layout of the stones and the amount and kind of wood. He might play around with different kinds of stone. He might discover that he could make a fire hotter by rearranging things. He might also find the heavy, lustrous material only appeared when a very hot fire was combined with a particular kind of hearthstone. By trial and error and keen observation he might become quite proficient at producing copper.

Finding out how things work is science, using the knowledge to make copper on demand is technology. It would be worth making because people always like unusual objects, he'd be able to trade lumps of this stuff for food, stone tools, and other things he needed.

Science is a matter of observing, making hopeful guesses, testing ideas, and narrowing down the truth by ruling things out. Technology is a matter of seeing the value of something and finding practical ways of achieving it. Science may lead to new technology, and technology may lead to new industry. And existing technologies and industries may enable further scientific progress.

Long before copper was first extracted by fire, technologies based on wood, stone, skin, fibre, bone and other materials were well advanced. Homes could be built from mammoth tusks or branches cut from trees, the frames covered with sods of earth or foliage. Baskets, woven fabrics, and simple pottery were used for practical purposes and for decoration. And hunter-gatherer technology was well advanced with good strategies for finding edible roots, fruits, shellfish along with bows, stone-tipped arrows and spears and more.

Why does it matter? - We often say 'science and technology' in a single breath without thinking about the difference. Studying sub-atomic particles is science so we're tempted to think that a particle accelerator is science too. But the accelerator is technology. Because astronomy is a science we think that the Hubble Space telescope is also science, but it's not.

This confusion becomes a problem when we oppose science because we are anxious about technology. Science informs us about the universe in which we live, technology makes changes that often affect us in practical ways. It is never harmful to understand something, but it may be harmful to make use of it. The internal combustion engine is a great example. Understanding combustion, the expansion of gases, or the structural strength of materials does not in itself do either harm or good. But the technology of an engine can be used to power an armoured vehicle or an ambulance. It can be used to make war, deliver a car-bomb, or rescue a sick person. And as we all know it may also have unexpected side effects such as causing global warming, city smogs, and respiratory diseases.

We will all agree that a certain level of effort is useful, without science and technology we would still be living without clothes, without houses, without fire, and without medicine.

But blaming science for issues with technology is counterproductive. It's not what we know that gets us into trouble, it's what we do with what we know. But it's also true that our current technology has done untold harm. It has enabled unsustainable growth of population and comsumption of resources, we are now between a rock and a hard place.

The main issues with science are deciding how much of it we can afford and where to focus the funds and effort. There are also some regulatory issues, science depends on experimentation and experiments may raise moral issues. We sometimes disagree over what is acceptable.

The main issues with technology are how it will be used and how it will affect society and our environment. Meanwhile, neither science nor technology can address the great questions of purpose. Why are we here? Why is the universe here? What is the purpose of love? Moral issues, questions of right and wrong, value judgements, all of these must be handled in some other way.


  • Your home is full of the results of technology. Can you identify some of them?
  • Can you make any guesses as to the kind of science that underpins those technologies?

See also:

04 December 2008

Eaton Ford - Out in Society

We thought about the Christian life out in society. We are indeed 'jars of clay', we see the Almighty's glory in Jesus face - a treasure indeed! Jesus shared his life with us, we need to share our own lives (which is really his life) with those around us.

We read from James 2, especially verse 8 that tells us loving our neighbour is a 'royal law'.

Jim saw people waiting on a platform for the train and sure enough the train arrived - but it didn't stop.

02 December 2008

Great Doddington - A broken mirror

We had the thought that when a mirror is broken, each piece still reflects him. Nothing is lost. This seems to be a picture of the church.

This will be our last Tuesday meeting, in future we will meet on Mondays as Rachael will not be free on Tuesdays.


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