20 November 2012

Stars, whales, and worship

Here's an amazing mashup from Louie Giglio involving stars, some whales, and Psalm 148. I found it yesterday on another blog and want as many people as possible to see it.

I was going to post again today on the topic of heaven. But two items from the web have caught my attention and I feel they should take precedence. We'll look at one today and the other tomorrow.

First is an amazing video involving some stars and whales and based on Psalm 148. This was sent to Dave deVries by his daughter and he decided to post it on his blog. I thought it was so special that I want to share it with my readers too.

It made Dave smile, it made me cry, what will it do to you?



Did you watch it? Isn't it amazing?

Louie Giglio is involved in the Passion Movement, writes books and music (some of them very widely known) and is also a manager of sixsteprecords. He is clearly an excellent and engaging public speaker as you can see from the video.

Questions:
  • Are there other people you know who should see this?
  • What other natural singing can you think of that might have been added? (Hint - if you can't think of anything go outside into a garden or park and listen.)
  • How did you feel when you watched the video?
  • Do you sing enough when you're on your own?

See also:

19 November 2012

Other species in heaven

Is heaven a place to which we go after this life is over? If so, who gets to go, just humans? We take a look at our closest relatives and ponder where to draw the line between human and not human. If drawing a line is impractical, might there be something wrong with our understanding of the nature of heaven?

Reconstructed Neanderthals
Here's an interesting idea, something I haven't seen discussed before. If it has been, I missed it.

(Note: If you are a creationist you may not like what follows. The article is not intended to be provocative but you might prefer not to read the rest.)

Many believers in Jesus would say that heaven is a specific place to which we go after this life is over (assuming we have faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour). And many of those same people would also say that only people go to heaven - in other words there will be no cats, dogs, snakes, pigeons or earwigs in heaven.

There are many reasons for thinking heaven may not be exactly what we imagine it to be. But let's leave that aside for the moment and accept that it's a place for retired saints, and animals are not allowed.

The big question is this... Where do we draw the line between humans and non humans?

I hope we can all agree that the major races of people are indeed all human. Negroid, Asiatic, Caucasian, North American Indian and all the rest. Broad divisions and minor differences, we are all one species, Homo sapiens. If we can't agree that - we are in trouble!

Various species - Modern humans are the only species remaining today, but other types of  hominin (human-like primates) existed in the past.

Modern humans - Fossil evidence suggests that modern humans (Homo sapiens) have been around now for perhaps 200 000 years, and most definitely for at least 50 000 years by which time our ancestors were showing evidence of modern human behaviour.

But other fascinating fossil and sub-fossil discoveries have been made, some of them rather recently.

Red Deer Cave People - These may or may not be a different species from us. They lived until 11 500 years ago in China. Research is continuing but attempts to recover DNA have so far failed and other evidence is not yet conclusive. They are known to have used fire and cooked deer meat.

Flores man - This species (Homo floresiensis) was very small and is only known from the Indonesian island of Flores. The most recent specimens date to only 12 000 years ago. They were also toolmakers like us, stone tools have been found with their remains.

Denisovans were recently discovered (2008). They are known from a few minor bone remains in a Siberian cave. DNA analysis shows clearly that they are related to Neanderthals and interbred to some extent with the people who populated the Pacific islands. They survived until about 41 000 years ago and had a common ancestor with both modern humans and neanderthals around a million years ago.

Neanderthals - Quite similar to us, Neanderthals have been known from skeletal remains for many years. They are sometimes regarded as a separate species from us (Homo neanderthalensis) or sometimes as a subspecies (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis). Neanderthals lived in Europe and Asia from 600 000 until 30 000 years ago or perhaps even as recently as 25 000 years ago.

Neanderthals seem to have had behaviour strikingly similar to our own. They probably had language, they made tools, wore clothes, hunted large animals (even the giant mammoths), they wore jewellery, cared for invalids, used fire, painted cave walls and observed rituals for the dead.

Genetic evidence shows that there was limited interbreeding between our ancestors and Neanderthals.

Homo erectus - This hominin may have been the ancestor of  Homo sapiens (us), Homo neanderthalensis and the other groups listed above. They lived from 1.8 million until at least 300 000 years ago and may have remained even longer, perhaps overlapping with us and certainly with Neanderthals. Homo erectus lived in Africa, Europe and Asia, made stone tools, and ate meat as part of a mixed diet.

Homo ergaster - Another possible ancestor, perhaps of Homo erectus as well as the other groups, Homo ergaster lived in Africa from 1.8 million years ago. These ancestors, too, had an advanced stone tool culture.

Overlapping species - It seems that several different hominins were living on the Earth at the same time although we are now the only remaining kind. If we assume that sapiens, floresiensis, denisovans, and neanderthalensis are different species (as many scientistists do), then we have at least four species co-existing. We might even add the Red Deer Cave people which would make five. In many cases there was overlap in geographical range as well, and there was a modest amount of interbreeding between modern humans and both Denisovans and Neanderthals.

The question then arises whether all four (or five) will be present in heaven. Of course, it's possible to argue that all these groups are subspecies of Homo sapiens. In that case we might call them all 'human' and the 'heaven problem' might seem less of an issue. But many scientists studying these groups would say that they are different species of human.

The ancestor species, Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, are also usually regarded as human and it's just possible that a population of erectus remained recently enough to have overlapped with us. Will erectus be present in heaven? How about ergaster?

The question, as I mentioned, is where to draw the line. So in case you haven't drawn that line yet, let's continue along our family tree and see what comes before Homo ergaster.

Earlier hominid ancestors - The ancestor of Homo ergaster, Homo habilis, was another tool user living from 2.33 to 1.4 million years ago. With long arms and a brain only half the size of modern humans, we can be certain habilis was a distinct species. This early hominin died out long before our own species developed.

An earlier genus of hominin, Australopithecus gave rise to the early Homo line. They are represented by several species living between 4 and 2 million years ago. They walked upright, their brains were around a third of the size of ours. They used simple tools (as do chimpanzees and gorillas).

Chimpanzee and australopithecine lines separated around 5.4 to 6.3 million years ago (possibly earlier). Sahelanthropus may perhaps represent a late common ancestor. It has a brain size about a quarter of ours, more or less the same as a modern chimp.

The sub-family Homininae includes humans, chimpanzees and gorillas.

The family Hominidae includes the Homininae as well as orangutans which split off from them some 12 million years ago.

Simians include all the Old World monkeys and apes (the Hominidae and gibbons) as well as the New World monkeys.

The order Primates includes the Simians and the Prosimians (lemurs, lorises, bushbabies, and tarsiers). The order developed about 85 million years ago from ancestors that were early tree-dwelling mammals.

The Euarchontoglires superorder includes primates as well as rodents, lagomorphs, treeshrews, and colugos. Yes, rats are our distant cousins.

The Eutheria (placental mammals) include Euarchontoglires and all other mammals apart from non-placental types such as the monotremes and the marsupials. The group has it's origins at least 160 million years ago.

Where do we draw that line? - So now that tricky question again. Where do we draw the line? Which (if any) of these creatures will we find in heaven? It's not so easy, is it? Most believers might say modern humans are in and chimpanzees are out. But what about Neanderthals, what about Australopithecus?

Creationists will see the entire argument as foolish. Their view is that all extant species were created as they now are and Homo sapiens is distinct and special. But 150 years ago some would have excluded Negroid peoples as somehow 'sub-human'. They were useful as slaves but would have no place in heaven. Mercifully such views have been swept away, but we should not forget that opinions of that kind were taken perfectly seriously not so long ago.

Non-believers will accept the biology but have no place for the idea of heaven. For them, too, there is no problem.

But setting aside non-believers and Creationists, what do those in the middle think (non-Creationist believers)?

Could it be that there is nothing wrong with the biological understanding of species and evolution, but there is instead something wrong with our idea of what heaven is? We'll take a look at that next time.

Questions:

  • People used to talk about 'missing links' in the fossil record. The record for human development is much more complete now. Do you think missing links are still an issue?
  • If humans evolved from earlier ancestors, where would you draw the line between human and pre-human?
  • If life evolved, does that render faith impossible? If so, how?
  • How do you understand the creation passages in Genesis? Is a literal view plausible? Is a literal view necessary?
  • What is heaven?

See also:

16 November 2012

Like a torch

Because we contain a source of power (Jesus living within us), we can illuminate the darkness and see clearly. The Holy Spirit gave me a picture of a torch, here is the picture along with its meaning and application in our lives.

Light from a powerful torch
While Jim and I were praying on Thursday the Spirit put a picture in my mind. I saw a torch shining a light onto the floor.

And as I watched I noticed that the light beam through the air was not visible, but the spot of light on the floor was clearly visible, in fact it drew my eye away from everything else. It was the most clearly visible thing I could see and I could also see the details of the flagstone floor - but only where the light fell.

And then He gave me a prophecy. Father said, 'You are like a torch, you produce light from the source of power that is within you, but the light you produce cannot be seen until it reaches and shines upon an object of some kind. Wherever the light shines, you can see clearly.' I felt that the word 'you' was plural, that it was spoken to both of us, that it's meant for others to hear too. That's why I'm sharing it now on the blog.

Jim incorporated these thoughts into his prayer and I just felt so grateful that I had been shown something simple and at the same time useful.

What can we draw from this simple picture of a torch?

Each of us is like a torch - We are stand alone creatures, self sufficient in so many ways. Yes, we are in an environment consisting of the physical world around us, but we are like islands in some ways, complete in ourselves and isolated. Most of us, if we so choose, can live self-contained lives in which our inner thoughts impinge little on those around us. We are like torches that are switched off.

However, we do contain a source of power just as a torch contains a battery. The Spirit of  Christ is within you if you are his apprentice. Jesus himself resides in you and provides all the power you need for whatever he wants you to do. You have the power necessary to be a light in this dark world because the One who is Light is in you.

Of course, you need to be switched on. Light only comes from you if you are prepared and willing for that to happen!

An invisible beam - The beam of Christ-light that shines from his people is completely invisible. It only becomes visible when it reaches across the void and touches a person or a situation. And even then, the light doesn't show itself as light.

Like a torchbeam, it reveals clearly whatever is already there. The effect of light is not so much in its presence but in what it reveals when it is focussed on a target. There's a very bright spot in the centre, while further away there's a more general, dimmer glow. And just as a torch can be pointed in any direction, so Jesus can direct the Light onto a particular situation or into the life of a particular person. The beam is moving all the time although we rarely give it a thought.

When you use a torch, you don't hold it still, but you sweep the beam about to illuminate the whole scene. You rarely shine a torch behind you, but direct it forward into the place you will go next.

We should be just the same spiritually.

Spiritual illumination - What we have to do is allow the light to be directed wherever Jesus chooses. Only then will it reach the places where it is especially needed. And how can we do that? There's only one way, we must aim the beam wherever he tells us to aim it. The Holy Spirit was given partly to guide us and when we trust him he is very effective in doing so.

So pray for guidance, expect guidance, and receive it when it comes. When the light is focussed on the right place you will be able to clearly see much more detail. The worst thing for any situation or condition that needs to be changed is for it to remain in the dark. In the darkness there's no way to see any detail, and it's entirely possible the problem will  not even be noticed.

The guidance may come in the form of a hunch or a nagging feeling, it may come through prophecy or an interpreted tongue. It may come because there is no peace to be found by looking elsewhere or it may come in a vision or a dream. And finally it might come as a spoken voice, though this is probably quite rare.

We can see this in action in the Bible.

  • Joseph has a dream - (Genesis 37:5-7) This dream angered Joseph's brother, but it foretold events far in the future. For the full story read Genesis 37:2-36 and Genesis 39:1-42:9.
  • Ananias visits Saul - (Acts 9:10-19) Ananias would not have gone willingly to visit a violent persecutor like Saul. But that is where the Spirit called him to go. The light of Christ had already shone on Saul with devastating effect. Now it was to shine on him again through Ananias. Read the rest in Acts 7:55-8:3 and Acts 9:1-22.
  • Peter visits Cornelius - (Acts 10:11-13) Peter falls into a trance and hears a voice. Read the entire story in Acts 9:43-11:18.
  • A change of plan for Paul - (Acts 16:6-10)  This time the Spirit hinders them from following their own plans but also provides a vision.

Notice how the Spirit focuses the brightest spot on the heart of the issue. Peripheral aspects would also have been illuminated, but not so vividly, but those broader lessons were also important. For example, the bright spot for Ananias would have been 'go and visit Saul'. The general issues would have been such things as 'if I send you you need not be afraid', 'I will often surprise you' and 'my ways are not your ways'.

These are powerful examples of guidance, but it can often be far simpler on a day by day basis. The Holy Spirit often hinders or encourages us by seeding uncertainty or peace in our hearts. Where there is peace, we are often on the right track and it may be fine to continue in the same way. But where there is uncertainty or turmoil it is best to pray and proceed with a cautious, open mind.

The light of Jesus shines into our lives and the situations around us and brings clarity, purpose and effectiveness. Praise him that this is so!

Questions:

  • How often are you guided by the Spirit, and how often by your own planning?
  • Can you think of ways to enhance spiritual guidance in your life?
  • In the four Bible examples above, how would things have worked out if the people involved had not be willing to listen to the Spirit?
  • Where did the brightest parts of the beam and the peripheral areas fall for Joseph, Peter and Paul?

See also:

14 November 2012

Blog post links and questions

There are a variety of ways to make blog articles more useful and interesting. These include the addition of a question section and a links section. Questions stimulate thought and discussion. Links make an article part of a wider network on a particular theme.

Typical 'Questions' and 'See also'
I've begun regularly adding 'Questions' and 'See also' sections at the end of blog posts. Both are intended to make the articles more useful.

An invitation to respond - I've noticed how some other bloggers include open questions at the end of their articles and it's been really helpful.

For one thing it encourages me to think for myself when I've finished reading. It's so easy to read something and then move straight on, but the questions interrupt that automatic urge to see what's next and instead provoke me to think through the implications of what has been written.

Sometimes I leave a comment purely because one of the questions has helped me to agree or disagree with something the author has written, or has taken me beyond what is mentioned in the article.

A list of links - I've also noticed 'See also' sections in some blogs, but this seems less widespread than the inclusion of questions. However, from now on my intention is to provide links in the 'See also' section for every post.

Some bloggers only post links to their own articles, but I'm going to try to link to other blogs and websites too. Expect to find links to other relevant blog articles, Wikipedia articles for topic overviews, recent articles from news organisations, and other stuff that seems relevant from time to time. For completeness the list always includes the links provided in the main body of the blog post.

It's my hope that readers will use the links to explore a trail from one blog post to another, not just within my own blog but much more widely.

I encourage other bloggers to pick up this idea and run with it. If enough of us engage in this rich linking all our blog articles will act as entry points into the wider discussion. It would be very helpful to our readers and it would also bind us into a wide and deep community of writers, commentators and commenters. Along with chain blogs and synchroblogs it would help us transcend the boundaries of individual blogging.

Organic Wine - Some time ago I set up an area on this site called 'Organic Wine'. It has its own tab below the banner. The idea was that this would list links to specific topics that are important to me, specifically around the subject of church in general and organic church in particular.

I haven't kept this up-to-date recently and I hope that the lists of links in articles will be a more flexible way of achieving the same end - linking to relevant material elsewhere in the blogosphere.

We'll see how it goes. If, over a period of time, the new linking arrangement seems successful I may freeze the 'Organic Wine' feature permanently and eventually take the dedicated tab away.

Previous, Next and Index - I have always added these links to the top and bottom of articles where they're part of a series. These links always refer to other posts on 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

When I write a series on a particular theme it's particularly useful for readers to be able to skip to the previous and next articles in the series. It's also useful to see a list of the entire series on a single page (the index). Doing it this way also means the series does not need to be continuous, I can intersperse stand-alone articles that have nothing to do with the series.

To see this in action, here's a list of the series index pages on this blog.

Questions:

  • Do you find the 'Questions' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you find the 'See also' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you think I should continue with 'Organic Wine' or not?
  • If you're a blogger, do you think you might begin cross-linking in a similar way?
  • Are there other ways we could make blog articles more useful to our readers?

See also:

13 November 2012

The end of the world?

How long can we go on treating the Earth as an endless provider? There are limits to our resources and we're in the middle of an explosive increase in their rate of use. Are there too many people on this planet? What will happen if we go on like this?

Too many people using too many resources?
Well, maybe not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it.

Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters around the globe make us ask the question, 'Why?' We want to know why things like this happen. It's a natural enough question. It's tempting to think it's not our fault, that disasters happen randomly.

Storms like Sandy do indeed happen randomly, but their frequency and severity are increasing because of human-induced global warming. But where will it all lead? That depends, and it depends on you and on me.

The size of the problem - To get to grips with this we're going to need a broader and more thorough view of the damage we are currently wreaking on poor old planet Earth. Indeed, we've already gone beyond the planet by making a good start at messing up low Earth orbit, now so littered with everything from flakes of paint to spent rocket stages that it could easily become unusable.

We need to grasp that we have not only messed up but that we are continuing to mess up faster and faster. And the almost inevitable result will be an enormous population crash from disease, lack of food, ecological collapse, war, severe climate change or some other catastrophe, or more likely a perfect storm of several major issues in synergy. And the longer we go on doing little to make things better, the more serious the disruption will be.

It's comforting to think that somehow, sooner or later Papa will reach into our world and repair it. But it's more likely that he foresaw the mess and is waiting for us to fix it; he gave us the responsibility and he's warned us repeatedly. But we weren't listening. And we're still not listening.

I'm 65 next birthday and have begun to think of my life as something that will soon be winding down and ending. This is natural, of course. But I am also starting to think of human society as we know it in much the same way. And, not unreasonably, we can even see the universe itself like that if we choose to.

The way forward - We're in a far bigger pickle than most of us realise. And our biggest problem (because to a large degree it causes all the rest) is overpopulation. That's the dark picture painted in outline.

After the crash there may be an opportunity for something new and better. But that is not something to consider right now. Instead let's begin work right away. What is needed? Why, the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It doesn't sound much of a solution to global warming, does it? But if we truly loved one another we would not be willing to leave such a mess for the next generation. And if we had a little more self-control we might walk and cycle instead of taking the car, demand fewer gadgets, waste less food. If we were really patient, kind, faithful and gentle how might that affect the way we behave?

What we can do - We do have a choice. If we start now we can make some major changes. It's far too late to prevent global warming but it will warm faster and to an even more dangerous level if we delay still further. I would identify population growth and industrial growth as our largest enemies. They are the root cause of pollution, carbon dioxide release, loss of habitat and natural diversity, species extinction and the rest.

The alternative is to carry on as we have done before, stopping our eyes and ears to the signs of looming disaster. Let's leave it for another generation...

Let's be clear. Advances in technology can help us but we will need to be careful about our choices. Where technology can reduce wastage and support more people for less impact that is a good thing. But we need to use this good thing as an opportunity to reduce our impact, not as an excuse to increase our numbers and consumption.

In the longer term there is only one route for further expansion - outwards. There is still room for growth in space - perhaps on the asteroids, Mars, or the Moon. But Earth is more than full already.

We're demanding far too much of our planet. Stop it! Now!

Questions:

  • What do you think will happen if our population and consumption continue to grow?
  • Many small changes make a big difference. Are there ways you could save a little energy, food or other scarce resource?
  • Are there ways you can apply pressure to your local or national government to be less concerned about growth and more focussed on reducing our impact?
  • If we don't act today, how long should we wait?

See also:

12 November 2012

Am I a member of the church?

Most people understand the word 'church' to mean a building, an identifiable subset of the believers in a town or district, or an activity that happens at a particular time or place. None of these definitions matches anything we find in the Bible.

Is this church?
In conversation with a friend yesterday, I heard once again that I am not a member of 'a church'. I didn't record the exact words but the sense was that I'm unusual in not belonging to 'a church', that it's a bit quirky and perhaps not a good thing.

And the day before yesterday I was listening to another conversation about 'a church' buying a building.

Of course, it's certainly not the first time I've heard these things, and I'm sure it will not be the last! But it's worth thinking this through again. What is 'church'? What is 'a church'? And what does it mean to 'belong' to church?

Organisations - The idea goes that there may be several churches in a small town. St Neots has about 30 000 inhabitants and in the UK some 1.5 % of people are involved in church activity. That suggests about 450 church members in St Neots.

There's an assumption here, so widespread and commonly held that we barely notice it. The assumption is that church is an organisation and that the people belonging to it are going to meet in a particular place once or twice a week. Clearly there may be several such organisations in a town and each may meet in a separate place.

Only one church - But Jesus was clear that there is only one church. He said, 'I will build my church'. That is singular - one church. A common way around this is to think in terms of 'the church universal'. True - there is one worldwide church and it necessarily meets in many places. But a problem with that idea is that the New Testament authors wrote of the church in a town, Ephesus or Rome for example. Yet we do not anywhere read about a church in Ephesus or in any other place, it's always the church. It seems clear that Paul thought in terms of one church that met in various homes, towns and provinces.

He does not think in terms of two or three different organisations in Ephesus called church (though the people probably met in several homes). Nor does he anywhere distinguish different 'churches' on grounds of doctrine, teaching, founder or understanding. On the one occasion he does mention this he regards it as a very bad practice that needs to be nipped in the bud.

'I hear', he writes to the church in Corinth, 'that you are saying that you follow Apollos or Paul or Jesus'. He sees this as a terrible precedent, a horrid disfigurement of Christ's body, he insists the practice must end immediately (1 Corinthians 1:9-17).

Church in the biblical sense is clearly a community, not a building or an institution. The Greek is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) which means, literally, the 'called-out' ones. We are called out from the world into the community of the King. As we live (and meet) together we are part of this one community.

Being a member - So, in what sense am I not in a church, not a member of a church? And in what sense does a church need a building of its own?

If we think in terms of the Baptist Church, The Methodist Church, the Anglican Church, River Church, Open Door Church and the range of other 'churches' in St Neots then I am not a member of any of those. And Paul, I suggest, would have vehemently argued that we should all come to our senses and recognise that Christ is not divided.

Instead, I am a member of the church in St Neots, a statement Paul would have understood and surely applauded. It would be a mistake to suggest that because I'm not a member of this part or that part I am therefore somehow not a part of the whole. On the contrary, by being a member of a selected part I would be separating myself from every other part.

I have good, useful contact every week with a variety of people from several of the 'churches' and from none. We talk together, pray together, read together, sometimes we sing together, and we are being built together day by day into one body here in St Neots. I need and want nothing more. Jesus calls me to nothing less. I am a member of the church here in St Neots, the town where I live.

Questions:

  • In light of 1 Corinthians 1:9-17, how do you justify denominations?
  • If you disagree with my views in this article, where do you think I have gone wrong?
  • How do you explain Ephesians 4:1-6 and Ephesians 4:11-16?
  • What did Jesus mean by 'unity'? (See John 17:20-23)

See also:


* Note: I think the conclusions are somewhat rigid but the arguments are worth considering.

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