30 April 2009

Little Paxton - Eating the scroll

Sean wasn't able to join us this week, so Jim and I sat in the garden and chatted. We enjoyed the view and the balmy evening. Jim's back garden overlooks a footpath, Part of a scroll of Isaiahand beyond this a large stretch of the Paxton Pits Nature Reserve; what a beautiful, peaceful place.

We talked broadly about the terrible state of Britain today - young people who are more and more doing whatever they want, not respecting other people, uncaring, and often selfish - parents who have largely been responsible for this behaviour by not raising their families properly, broken homes, single parents struggling to cope, living on benefits, having no self respect - the economy in a dire state, mostly due to a borrow and spend mentality encouraged by the banks and a consumer-driven society.

We hold all these things before the Lord in prayer. He is the only place we can turn! We don't want to see people suffer, we want to help wherever we can, but the problems are too big and are way out of control.

Jim read out Ezekiel 1 which had greatly impressed him when he started the book on his own earlier in the day. It is an amazing display of Yahweh's power and glory. It seems strange, almost unintelligible, yet it speaks volumes about the Almighty.

Chris remarked on the parallels between Ezekiel and Revelation. There is the scroll with words of lamenting and woe, it tasted sweet like honey but turned the stomach sour (Ez 2:8-3:4, Rev 10:8-11). And there is mention of shepherds and sheep in Ezekiel and the Lamb on the Throne in Revelation (Ez 34, Rev 5:1-14, 14:1-5). There's the fallen Jerusalem in Ezekiel and the new Jerusalem in Revelation. Then there is the water flowing out from the Temple gate, the River of Life, and the trees on the riverbanks for the healing of the nations (Ez 47:1-12, Rev 22:1-5).

And we also considered that amazing passage about the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and how the vision is being played out today in the coming together and remaking of the church. The end result will be a mighty host of the newly alive, ready to function and serve. Now that is indeed something to look forward to!

28 April 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is about to hit the streets (or at any rate, a computer screen near you). The Wolfram Alpha query screenCreated by Stephen Wolfram and his company, Wolfram Research, it will look superficially like a search engine but is fundamentally different in nature.

Like a search engine it comes with a text entry box where you can type in a query, like a search engine it goes away and thinks and then spits out results on a webpage. But what goes on behind the scenes and the nature of the returned webpage couldn't be more different.

Wolfram Alpha depends on two earlier developments from the same stable. Mathematica is software that enables mathematical manipulations to be entered, processed, and displayed on a computer, while NKS (which stands for 'A New Kind of Science') is an alternative to the normal tools used by scientists to model the way the universe works.

Using both of these innovative tools, Wolfram Alpha takes a free text query, decides what the user wants to know, looks up the relevant information in its enormous collection, processes the information to create an answer to the original query, and builds a webpage on the fly to display the response. The webpage may include text, images, graphs and charts etc. The end result is a tailored report that might have been written by an expert. Indeed, in many ways Wolfram Alpha is an expert!

Steven Wolfram is an extraordinary person. He is, frankly, a genius - one of a handful of truly great minds in our own time. He looks at things in new ways and comes up with fresh insights, testing them, proving them, and then publishing them. Here, in his own words, is how he's spent his life so far.

Major periods in my work have been:

• 1974-1980: particle physics and cosmology

• 1979-1981: developing SMP computer algebra system

• 1981-1986: cellular automata etc.

• 1986-1991: intensive Mathematica development

• 1991-2001: writing the book, 'A New Kind of Science'

(Wolfram Research, Inc. was founded in 1987; Mathematica 1.0 was released June 23, 1988; the company and successive versions of Mathematica continue to be major parts of my life.)

You can see right away that he is not a man in a hurry. He is not afraid to spend five years or more on a single project. Learn more about his background and work from Wikipedia.

Not everyone agrees with Wolfram's work on NKS, a range of reactions are included in the Wikipedia article on the book.

In the end, 'wait and see' may be the best advice for both Wolfram Alpha and NKS. As far as Alpha is concerned, we'll all get a chance to try it and draw our own conclusions when it's released. Hopefully that will be next month (May 2009).

Meanwhile you can watch video of Stephen Wolfram demonstrating the new technology at Harvard on 28th April.

For news about the new tool, take a look at the Wolfram Alpha Blog which will be updated regularly with further announcements and background information.

27 April 2009

Great Doddington - Unexpected life

This was another great meeting, full of rich thoughts and the touch of the Spirit. What a privilege to be present!Flowers on bare wood

At first we drank tea or coffee and shared news of family and friends. As we talked and prayed, several Bible texts were mentioned, in particular Psalm 31 ('let your face shine on me' - verse 16), Numbers 6 ('the Lord make his face shine upon you' - verse 25), and Psalm 37 ('he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn' - verse 6).

Sherrelea prophesied, 'Do you not know? Have you not heard? You will soar on wings like eagles, you will walk and not be faint.'

Chris had a picture of a tree and shared it. So many trees lose their leaves in the autumn and are bare all through the winter period, then in the spring they produce fresh, new leaves. But the tree in the vision remained bare after all the other trees had come into leaf. It looked dead. But then beautiful flowers burst out of the dead wood and the branches were smothered in pink blossom. And only then did the new leaves begin to grow. Sometimes when nothing seems to be happening the Lord can touch us just like the barren tree and a new season starts unexpectedly in our lives.

Rachael saw an old water mill though it wasn't turning because the water had been blocked off. It was flowing along the river, but not to the wheel. Father said that the wheel on its own is nothing and produces nothing, and the same is true of the water. But he said, 'When my water of life reaches people, my power reaches them and fills them'.

Barbara read Mark 11:22-26 and then prayed for salvation for one of the people we have had in mind. We must ask and believe, and have hearts filled with forgiveness.

Jody had seen a TV program about Nepalese tribespeople collecting honey from wild bee colonies on the sheer face of a forest cliff. These bee colonies were enormous. The method used was to lower someone on a rope to get them close to the nest, and then they would use a knife on a long pole to cut out part of the honeycomb. The idea was to catch the falling honeycomb in a basket suspended from a second rope.

The people know to take no more honey than the bees can cope with so that the bees will be able to survive the winter and collect honey again the following year. In the same way God has given us all we need in our current position. Father reminded us, 'Don't worry about the supply, don't worry about tomorrow'.

Glenn expanded on this idea, the bees coming back are like the next stage in our life. We have no children, later we have children, and eventually grandchildren. Glenn read Lam 2:11,19, and he thought that whatever we go through we have to defeat it because of our children. Our attitude should be, 'How dare the enemy attack my children?'

Chris saw treasure lying on a path, and Father said, 'Some people trip on the treasure and curse it, some step over it without even noticing that it's there, and yet others see it but think that it's worthless. They think if it was real treasure it wouldn't be lying there on the path. But you, my people, have seen the treasure, recognised its worth, and have made it your own. You have found the treasure.'

24 April 2009

Eaton Ford (day) - the hills

Lift your eyes to the hillsWe shared news and thoughts about the various friends and family members we regularly pray for.

Once we had done this we spent some time in prayer before moving on to more general thoughts.

Jules read Psalm 121 which is quite short, but really very encouraging. The first two verses read...

I lift up my eyes to the hills -
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,
The Maker of heaven and earth.

We though about our own situations too. Roger explained that he'd attended the PCC meeting in Offord d'Arcy, and told us how he had felt about it. We shared some thoughts on meetings at home, and particularly hoped that Roger and Ruth might have an opportunity to host such meetings themselves.

23 April 2009

Eaton Ford - Japan

Sean told us about the trip to Japan he'd made with his son Joe who is learning Japanese. Cherry blossom, Mount Fuji, and ShinkansenThey spent some time in Tokyo and also in Nagasaki which Sean felt is a beautiful city.

Apparently you can't buy a car in Japan unless you can house it off-road, so car ownership is less common than in Britain and city traffic is not as congested as it is here. Public transport is good. They travelled by train while they were there and were impressed by the punctuality, the politeness of staff, and the respect that people show one another.

We talked about meeting at home in small groups and the sometimes subtle differences between church home groups, the cells of a cell church, and a network of house churches. Jim felt there is a real need for a group to feel like a family.

We also discussed holding another Moggerhanger-style meeting. If we do, Jim thought it would be useful to ask each group to share something about the style of their meetings, how they got started and so forth.

Jim explained that in the River Church's life group they had looked at Psalm 19. Verse 105 is especially striking, 'Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path'. The psalms have themes, for example comfort is the theme of Psalm 23. It's important to recognise we have light for the journey.

Chris mentioned Job 23 which he'd read recently. It's clear that Job wanted a chance to meet Yahweh so he could put his case before him. The problem for Job was that Yahweh was unavailable. Wherever Job searched he was nowhere to be found. And the 'thick darkness' Job speaks of is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. This darkness (or hiddenness) prevents the contact Job so craves. Yet we learn from Paul that we are now 'hidden in Christ', in other words we are now on the other side of the veil of hiddenness, and that explains why the world cannot understand us. What a privilege we have!

Jim ran with this thought, reminding us that we know where we're going because Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. His love is so deep, so high, so long and so wide! HalleluYah!

20 April 2009

Great Doddington - We're nothing special

Right at the start we talked about friends and family who needed prayer. We also discussed the need Britain's Got Talentto help our neighbours without neglecting one another in order to do it.

Chris mentioned that it's not really about us at all, it's all about Christ. And although we know how grubby and ugly we really are, even so - he loves us!

Jody explained how they'd visited Fountains Abbey as a family and although the foundations and much of the walls remain, the whole place is being reclaimed by nature. Grass is growing between the pillars, and it's absolutely glorious! She said that it's just like Christ in us, we are becoming absorbed into him. We need to allow his living nature to overtake and overwhelm our dead nature.

She also mentioned Susan Boyle, the newly discovered singer made famous by the TV show 'Britain Has Talent'. This amazing woman has no great natural beauty, but when she sings it really does come from the heart. In this she is a picture of us as believers, we are nothing special in our ordinary day-to-day lives, but there is something very special in our hearts.

Jody shared a picture of something that looked like blueberry jam with a slice of white bread floating in the middle. But instead of jam it turned out to be black tar! Sherrelea was reminded of a bird floating on an oil slick, unless somebody rescues it it will eventually sink. She felt that the Lord has brought us together in this little group to support one another and rescue one another from the blackness. And like the bird in oil, the rescue demands more than just picking us out from danger, it also requires patient, gentle, careful cleaning, feather by feather. And we need protecting while we recover and regain our strength before we can be set free.

Jody prophesied, 'You are new wine to be poured out for a new purpose to show the world who I am and what I will do. Despite the credit crunch, and war, and distress of all kinds, I have come to bring you (and them) to be in the light and love - to share - to take and share. Don't put it in a cupboard or under a blanket, take my joy forward. Be my servants.

We listened to a track from Nicky Roger's first CD, 'Colour Scheme'. The song 'One Thing' reminded us that Jesus is the 'One and Only', and he is the one, the only one who matters in our lives.

16 April 2009

Eaton Ford/Little Paxton - Cup of tea!

This was a very unusual evening. We began by visiting the hospital to see a friend, but discovered that he'd already been discharged. A nice cup of teaIt was a wild goose chase!

Then we spent some time at John's house in Eaton Ford and met one of his work colleagues, Pete. We spent the time chatting about old times, events that had happened at work, trips abroad. It was fun and very entertaining.

Finally, Jim and I returned to Little Paxton and finished the evening in discussion and prayer over a cup of tea.

Eaton Ford (day) - News from family

Once again we began by sharing news of friends, family and others with needs. Some are ill, some need work, A letter containing newssome have difficulties or unhappiness or loss of some kind.

Roger read Psalm 37 and we noted that the Lord has several instructions for us here.

Verse 3 - Trust in the Lord, verse 4 - Delight yourself in the Lord, verse 5 - Commit your way to the Lord, verse 7 - Be still before the Lord.

Paul read Matthew 11:25-30 which includes the words, 'Come to me ... and I will give you rest', echoing the theme from the psalm.

We ate lunch together and enjoyed talking , and finally Roger read 1 Cor 11:23-26 and we shared bread and wine together.

13 April 2009

He is risen!

There's a delightful little story going around as one of those email circulars, a friend sent me a Jewish rock-hewn tombcopy of it recently.

The story goes that when Peter and John arrived at the empty tomb, they saw that the grave wrappings had been thrown in a heap, but at the other end of the tomb, the napkin that had covered Jesus face was neatly folded.

There was a convention that when a man ate his meal, the servant would watch. If the master threw his napkin down untidily this was a sign that he'd finished and the servant would begin to clear the table. But if the master folded his napkin this showed he intended to return to finish the meal later.

So the folded napkin in the tomb was significant because to Yahshua's followers it meant, 'I am coming back in a short while'. It's still a great story even though it may not be true. But what is true (and is important) is that Jesus did rise from the grave and that he will indeed return!

Here's a link to the full version that's been doing the email rounds. This article repeats the full text of the story and then explains why it's not really true.

I also found a post on an internet forum that quoted some great notes from Athol Dickson. You'll need to scroll down quite a way to find it, so for convenience I've included it in full below. (Athol Dickson is an acclained Christian author, winning the Christy Award in 2006 and again in 2008.) Not only does he explain that the story is incorrect, he also explains and expands on other aspects of the graveclothes and draws out a good deal of valuable insight.

Lent Among the Folds
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beginning with the end in mind I pondered the empty tomb on this first day of Lent. I remembered an email someone forwarded to me recently, one of those sentimental legends people pass around the Internet. It starts with one verse from the Apostle John’s eyewitness description of Jesus’ empty tomb: “He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” (John 20:6-7) Focusing on that last detail, the folded cloth, the email says:

“In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, "I'm done". But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because… The folded napkin meant, ‘I'm coming back!’”

It is a nice little story, but I’ve made something of a study of Judaism, including Jewish traditions and cultural practices at the time of Jesus, and never have I heard of such a tradition. So at first I was skeptical. We Christians often try to read too much symbolism into Jewish practices. For example, you will hear it solemnly pronounced at churches around Easter time that the baked brown stripes and rows of little holes in those unleavened wafers Jews use in their Pesach seder (a Passover supper, or service) symbolize the wounds on Jesus’ body when he was crucified. But those stripes and holes only came about in modern times when people started baking matzo mass-production style in factories. Unleavened bread in Jesus’ time would have had neither stripes, nor holes. So we need to use some common sense when we read or hear these kinds of quasi-Messianic theories about Judeo/Christian symbolism.

Still . . . the little story did get me thinking about the folded cloth in the empty tomb, and a certain ancient Jewish dinner table. Since at least the time of Jesus many Jewish families have used a folded napkin in the Pesach seder to hide the afikomen, which is a broken piece of unleavened bread hidden away until the end of the meal, when it is “found” and eaten. We know it was this last piece of bread—the broken afikomen quite possibly retrieved from a hiding place within the napkin folds—that Jesus held aloft and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” We know this because the next words in the Last Supper account are, “After the supper…” and the Talmud tells us this broken piece of bread was the last food eaten in the seder.

Only three days separated the empty tomb from the moment the disciples witnessed Jesus comparing his own broken body to the afikomen taken from the napkin folds. It makes sense that the folded cloth in the empty tomb would symbolize what Jesus had just accomplished, his broken body risen from the folds of the earth, rather than evoking a second coming thousands of years in the future as the little story above would have us believe. Foremost on Jesus’ mind as he folded his burial cloth would have been the disciples, the people for whom he had just risen from the dead, the people who must now be taught the meaning of the cross and empty tomb. If the gesture of that folded cloth was connected with a dinner table tradition at all, it was not just any Jewish master’s supper, but the Master of all Master’s own Last Supper. Jesus was not thinking of his second coming; he was reminding his disciples to “take, eat, and remember me.” Or so I thought.

Then I remembered the Lord never does just one thing at a time.

It is a sign of God’s omniscience that He accomplishes countless good things with a single word. And in perfect keeping with this fact, God’s “word,” the Bible, often speaks of many things at once. So I began to wonder if that folded cloth might be about both of those Jewish dinner table traditions, the Pesach seder / Last Supper, and a typical Jewish master’s signal to his servant. With that in mind, I remembered this: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) There they are together in one verse: the gospel and the second coming, and both of them connected with the Last Supper. If the bread and wine proclaim the Christ’s death in our place until he comes again, perhaps the folded cloth does the same, pointing to the meaning of the Gospel and to the promise Jesus will come again.

My Lenten meditation was producing fruit. I began to ponder other possibilities, and of course, the Bible being an endless divine self-revelation, several came to mind.

I have not read Sigmund Brouwer’s book, The Carpenter’s Cloth, but I understand it says carpenters and other manual laborers in first century Palestine, as today, kept a cloth handy to wipe away their perspiration as they worked. Being illiterate for the most part, they could not leave an invoice or a note to their customer when a project was finished, so it was a common tradition to signify a completed contract by leaving that cloth on or near the work, neatly folded. It was a tactful way of saying, “I’ve completed the work.” Jesus was a carpenter after all, so the folded cloth might have come naturally to him as a fitting gesture that his Passion was complete. This ties in nicely with the fact that the afikomen was the final piece of bread, and with Jesus’ own words on the cross, “It is finished.” But when the workman sends that signal, he also sends another. The workman’s folded cloth also asks for something. It tells the one for whom the work was done, “I’ve finished my part, now it’s your turn to deliver payment.” We can never repay Jesus for giving his life in place of ours, nor does he expect it. But he does expect our faith to lead to Christian love—to righteous action—otherwise we have no faith at all. Jesus was very clear on this: “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15), and of course we have James writing these famous words on the same subject: “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:26).

Once I really started looking, I kept finding more. John tells us the head covering was neatly folded while the rest of the linen that covered Jesus’ body was only “lying there.” If that means only the cloth around the head was folded, signifying completion, while the cloth from around the body was wadded or disheveled, it might relate to these words, which Paul wrote about the very moment when Jesus rose from the dead: “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead….” Might the contrast between that neatly folded head cloth beside the disheveled body cloth signify that Christ’s “body” on earth, the church, must respond to what the head has done? While for Jesus “it is finished,” we still have work to do on earth. Surely Jesus knew his followers in later years would cherish Paul’s abiding metaphor for the church as his body. Surely Jesus also knew that some of us would look back on those two cloths in the empty tomb and connect them with Paul’s metaphor, and be reminded in yet one more way that “Faith without works is dead.”

I found another, more mundane explanation in Adam Clarke’s great old commentary: “The providence of God ordered these very little matters, so that they became the fullest proofs against the lie of the chief priests, that the body had been stolen away by the disciples. If the body had been stolen away, those who took it would not have stopped to strip the clothes from it, and to wrap them up, and lay them by in separate places.” Matthew Henry agrees with Clarke: “Any one would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen.” In other words, that folded head cloth might have been Jesus’ way of saying, “No one stole me away. On the contrary, I rose up alone. I walked out alone. I alone did this, for I alone could do it. I am Almighty God.”

Still meditating on the layers in the folded cloth, I realized John has some kind of fascination with cloths and clothing. In an earlier part of John’s gospel, he writes of the resurrection of Lazarus, using language very similar to his description of the cloths that Jesus left behind. He tells us of Lazarus’s face cloth and the “strips [note the plural] of linen” that Lazarus had upon his body. When John gets to the crucifixion, again he writes of a cloth that covered Jesus. Strangely, out of all the details he might have mentioned at the outset of this all-important portion of his story, John chooses to begin with soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ underclothes. He takes pains to tell us the garment was “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” It is as if he wants us to compare Jesus’ clothes in a before-and-after kind of way. He wants us to notice that Jesus wore one seamless cloth before his death, and many pieces after. But why? Why should this “disciple whom Jesus loved” describe Jesus' underwear of all things, instead of starting the crucifixion scene with his dying rabbi’s suffering? Why take the trouble to tell us very specifically Jesus wore something “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom” before the crucifixion, but left behind many separate pieces afterwards?

Before Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the tabernacle / temple was the site of countless animal sacrifices for the sins of God’s chosen people. This sacrificial process was overseen by a high priest. The first century Jewish historian Josephus tells us this high priest wore an undergarment that was “…not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back." (See Antiquities of the Jews, book 3, chapter 7, sentence 4.) In other words, the Jewish high priest wore something seamless, woven in one piece. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us the tabernacle (which later became the temple in Jerusalem) symbolized God’s dwelling place in heaven, the animal sacrifices were symbols of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the high priest symbolized Jesus, the ultimate priest, who entered God’s actual dwelling place in heaven to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The rituals at the Jewish tabernacle and temple were living prophesies, intended to prepare the Jewish people to recognize their Messiah when he came. Hebrews also tells us Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect and final, unlike those of the high priests. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no more need for Messianic prophesies, because the real thing has been done. So the contrast between the single, seamless garment Jesus wore closest to his skin as he offered the final sacrifice, and the many cloths he left behind afterwards, symbolizes the fact that there is no more need for the temple, or the sacrifices, or the high priests, or the seamless garments they wore. The ultimate high priest has offered the ultimate sacrifice, which is all anyone will ever need from now on, and forevermore.

In close relation to that, yet another possibility occurred to me. I remembered Numbers 4:5-15 where the Bible says whenever the tabernacle was moved, all of the mysterious, prophetic items within it from the Ark of the Covenant to the Bread of the Presence were to be covered from sight with some kind of cloth. Only when the tabernacle was set up again and those items were again out of sight behind curtains could the covering cloths be removed. We know the main purpose of the tabernacle from God’s own words in Exodus 25:8: "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” It was built for prophetic symbolism as I already mentioned, but the purpose of the symbolized Messiah was to establish intimate fellowship between us and God. We know this, because John used the very words of Exodus to describe Jesus’ mission: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” But look at the next thing John says of Jesus in that same verse: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

To see the glory of the One and Only, the Lord Most High . . . what an extraordinary claim.

Any Jewish student of the Torah will tell you it's impossible. The purpose of the cloths in tabernacle days was to hide even the symbols of the Lord from unclean human eyes, lest the people be literally consumed by God’s perfect holiness like moths flying too close to a purifying fire (as were Nadab and Abihu). There was a time, as the Lord told Moses, when no one could see His face and live, but Jesus came to change that, and Jesus did change that, as John says very clearly: “we have seen his glory.” There was a moment when John saw a hint of Jesus’ glory. But I don’t think that’s what John meant. The glory John described as “the One and Only” was not just the risen Christ, but also the fearfully holy Creator of Everything, somehow (we can never know how) made visible and touchable. Remembering his warnings to Moses thousands of years before (“cover the Ark”, “you must not see my face”) the God who was Jesus took time to fold that face cloth so those who knew his Torah would notice it, and think about it, and perhaps come to understand some small portion of the wonderful fact that it was no longer necessary.

I enter Lent this year acutely aware that I once hid from God instinctively. But the need for coverings between God and me is over. Jesus died, and the temple curtain hiding the Ark of the Covenant was split from top to bottom (another covering cloth divided, of course). Jesus rose again, with his holy face uncovered. And Jesus can lift away all the other barriers between me and my Creator, if I will just believe.

Just as there is no end to God, so everything Jesus said and did means more than I can ever fully know. In fact, I’m still far from understanding everything there is to know about even one detail: that little folded cloth. But beginning with the end in mind on this first day of forty in the wilderness of Lent, I have come to see the empty tomb as far from empty. It is filled to overflowing with eternal riches, so it is not the end I had in mind at all, but the best of all beginnings.

Posted by Athol Dickson

"One thing I have asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple."

12 April 2009

Thought for the day

Esther 10 - Rivers of living water

The first three verses are extant in Hebrew and are included in the Bible, Hebrew scrollbut there is a further section which we only have in Greek (translated from the Hebrew in ancient times) and this is found in the Apocrypha.

In the Greek version is a verse that reads..
'And Mordecai said, "All this is God's doing. I remember the dream I had about these matters, nothing of which has failed to come true: the little spring that became a river, the light that shone, the sun, the flood of water."'

And a little later..
'Yes, the Lord has saved his people, the Lord has delivered us from all these evils, God has worked such signs and great wonders as have never occurred among the nations.'

We can identify with this! Yahweh is as good today to us as he was to Mordecai and Esther in their own time. He is faithful, what he has promised he will do. He is trustworthy and true. He sent his son to reveal the Father's nature to us, Yahshua came so that we might know the Father! This is true life, to know the Son and through him the Father and to be filled with their life so that we can worship in Spirit and in Truth. When Mordecai mentions the stream that became a river, the light that shone, the sun, the flood, he is talking about specific things. But the words resonate with deeper meaning for the church, don't they?

Yahshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What more could we ever need? Let's walk together in his victory. HalleluYah!

This demands sacrifice, I have to give up being me so that his life can flow out through me. If those rivers of living water don't flow through me and out into the world I will bring him no benefit. If I am a source of my own light instead of being a part of his great Light I am without real value.

I cannot serve him my way, I can only serve him His way. Have your way, Lord, in me.

ARCHIVES - From the meeting notes archives...

A year ago - We need to be out in the world meeting people and reaching them and this An archiveinvolves meeting them where they are. Being wrapped up in 'church' affairs, keeping the building clean, polishing the woodwork, managing things is not what it's all about!

COMMENT: It's interesting to see how this has developed. If anything we are now even more aware of the need to reach out, and one way we hope to do this is through a youth camp.

Two years ago - We are not called to do the impossible, everything we are called to do is achievable. We can do all things in Christ.

COMMENT: So we don't need to be anxious, he doesn't ask us to do what we cannot do. But, we'd better make sure that whatever we do, we do 'in Christ'.

Five years ago - Val saw an autumn leaf in the wind and explained that we are like that. We are completely free to go where the wind takes us. The Holy Spirit moves us where he wants us to be.

COMMENT: We can see this has been true. Nobody can prevent us responding to him, he chooses where we should go and makes sure we get there.

09 April 2009

Little Paxton - Camp

This was a quiet and relaxed evening, only Jim and Chris were there.

We discussed the plans for the Youth Camp A tentin July and its pre-meeting on 25th May. We still have no venue and are hoping to take this forward soon. But the choice of venue is out of our hands, we need to discuss it with someone else who is not available at present. We are not nervous, but we are depending on the Lord to provide whatever we need and lead us in the right direction.

Jim read Luke 22:24-27 and we talked about how, if you want to become great, you must choose to be weak. We discussed how the church belongs to Yahshua, not to us. This is a point made by Wolfgang Simson repeatedly, he knows how important it is. The church is not ours to rule or plan or build, not ours to order. It is Christ's - he gives the orders, we carry them out.

Chris was interested in Matthew 21:33-46, this passage came just before the passover meal shared by Yahshua and his disciples. He tells them the parable of the tenants and then he says, 'He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.'

This is an intriguing saying. Jesus is the stone.

If we fall on him we will be broken. We believers have fallen on him, we fall on him for his mercy, grace, and forgiveness. And he does indeed break us! In becoming believers, if we are serious about it, we are challenged to change our ways. We can no longer go on being the people we were, we are utterly broken.

But if Yahshua falls on a person, that person will be crushed. We usually think of 'crushed' as destroyed, snuffed out, but there is another possibility. Perhaps we could say that Christ 'fell on' Saul on the Damascus Road. Saul was crushed, not in the sense of destroyed, but in the sense of having a completely new and different perspective. His views, opinions, and certainties were crushed and he had to begin again.

Eaton Ford (day) - The napkin

As we usually do, we began by considering the people we need to pray for, then spent some time praying and listening Folded napkinto the Spirit.

We heard about the story of the 'folded napkin' that Chris had received in an email just this morning. It's a delightful story, but there seems to be little evidence that it really happened this way.

The story goes that when Peter and John arrived at the empty tomb, they saw that the grave wrappings had been thrown in a heap, but at the other end of the tomb, the napkin that had covered Jesus face was neatly folded. There was a convention that when a man ate his meal, the servant would watch. If the master threw his napkin down untidily this was a sign that he'd finished and the servant would begin to clear the table. But if the master folded his napkin this showed he intended to return to finish the meal later.

So the folded napkin in the tomb was significant because to Yahshua's trainees it meant, 'I am coming back in a short while'. It's still a great story even though it may not be true. But what is true (and is important) is that Jesus did rise from the grave and that he will indeed return!

One of us also had a picture of snow flakes falling. Each little flake was melting almost as soon as it touched the ground and at first it would be easy to conclude that the snow would never be able to settle. But snow is persistent and eventually the tiny, fragile flakes will win and the ground will be covered and everything hidden in a blanket of pure, white snow.

And the Lord says, 'The snow will prevail - like me!' He changes our lives little by little, one small touch of his purity after another. In the end we will be visibly changed. Sometimes we feel we will never get there, but he says we will.

06 April 2009

Great Doddington - Fresh bread

As we met and chatted over coffee, foremost in our thoughts were our children and the urgent need for employment in one family in particular.
Fresh bread in the morning
Glenn told us about meeting people during a church outreach on the streets of Rugby, offering to pray for needs and talking about the hope we have in Jesus. There were some difficulties with the town centre security staff who tried to stop the street work going ahead.

Barbara shared her concerns for elderly folk with various degrees of loss of sight who have been suffering frightening hallucinations. We talked about this for some time as well as praying both for the old folk and for Barbara herself in reassuring and encouraging them.

Then our thoughts turned to the attitudes that sometimes exist in church organisations. It's incumbent on all of us to deal very humbly with one another, to accept and not reject, to comfort and not to frustrate, to encourage and not to criticise. Chris mentioned how he'd listened to online audio of Wolfgang Simson saying very clearly that the church does not belong to us, it belongs to Christ. We can do things our way if we want to, but we cannot expect the Lord to bless it. To see success we must follow the King.

Sherrelea read from 2 Cor 10 and reminded us that we all belong to Christ whoever we are and whatever our gifts and abilities may be. How badly we need to get our priorities the right way round! It's not enough to be pleased with ourselves, the only thing that counts is whether Jesus is pleased with us!

Chris shared a picture of still water in the form of a very murky pond. The water was very dirty, stagnant and filthy. But because it was still it provided a faithful reflection of the sky above, blue with puffy, white clouds and the sun shining brightly. And the Lord said that when we look at the pond we can see the murky filth or we can see the beautiful sky. It is simply up to us to focus on whichever we choose.

Jody prophesied, 'You are like the aroma of fresh bread in the morning or the fresh greenery in the garden. Look and listen! You can hear the birds singing, children's laughter. Know that I am in these precious moments with you, remember that I am the Lord. Remember the scents, smells, and sounds and know that I've placed these things in your hearts as memories. Memories to remind you that I am with you.'

She continued by reminding us how Moses mother had given up everything (her son) by placing him in the water amongst the reeds (Exodus 2:1-10). She had to take the risk in order to have any hope of his survival. And the Lord said, 'You have felt like that mother too, and just as I delivered the child into a place of safety and wealth, so I will also take those things you give up that were precious to you, and I will put them into a place of safety also. The things that are most precious to you are precious to me too. But you are the one who has to let go.'

Sherrelea also prophesied, 'I will give you rest and help. Trust me, come to me, rest with me, trust me. My burden is light, my yoke is easy.' Then she described a picture the Spirit showed her of a person lying in the road, unable to get up. And she knew that, like the man in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus will always pick us up in our helplessness. He says, 'I will carry you.' He will not leave you lying in the road.

Glenn pictured Jesus speaking to Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). We've often heard the words Jesus spoke to him, '...[so] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.'

On the one hand we are reaching up to the Lord, but with the other hand we are to reach out to the others around us. Jesus has accepted us, we have received his non-condemnation (forgiveness).

He said to us, 'Let go of the anchor that holds you down. Let go! You will no longer feel the weight and dragging of that anchor. You are not condemned, you are accepted. So reach out with both hands, not just with one.'

05 April 2009

'The Shack', blasphemous?

More than seven million copies of William P Young's book, 'The Shack', have now been sold around the world - and it's still selling well.

Most of those who've read it have found it helpful in opening their eyes to the love and nature of the Father. But some have found the book disturbing in various ways. One cause for concern has been Young's depiction of the Trinity.

In a recent blog post, Candice from Kansas writes

So many people I know have read The Shack, but I'm opting not to because I can't get past the blasphemous depiction of the Trinity. I've heard people say, "It's only a fictional book", as if that makes it all okay. I've also had a friend tell me recently that reading it "changed her life". Which is it? A harmless work of fiction, or a palatable twisting of truth?

I would begin by gently asking, 'How can you have an opinion on the book's depiction of the Trinity if you haven't read it for yourself?' All you can do is base your opinion not on the book itself but on someone else's opinion (in this case a review by Dr Gary Gilley). If my only knowledge of 'The Shack' came from reading Dr Gilley's review I would certainly be a little anxious about it too. But having read the book first I would have to say Dr Gilley is quite selective in his choice of quotes. I don't really recognise the book or Young's intentions in the words of the review.

Candice, if you do read 'The Shack' for yourself (and I hope you will) may I also suggest you listen to a radio interview with Paul Young in which he tells how and why he came to write the book? I'd be most interested to hear what you think.

Maybe later you could post again on your blog and share your own thoughts about the book and its author. Tell us what you think is good and what you think is not.

I don't believe this book is either 'a harmless work of fiction' or 'a palatable twisting of truth'. I think it's something far more wonderful and amazing, the Lord himself opening his heart to hurting, helpless, humans. Paul Young didn't write it for publication, but Father had other ideas. The full story is there in Paul's interview.


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