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).


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