26 January 2015

A man with a mission

Actually, a man with a whole series of missions. Elon Musk has done some extraordinary things in his life so far. He has affected the lives of most of us; if you've used PayPal he's affected your life. Here's a summary of his major achievements. A glance through the list below will give some sense of the scale of this man's ambitions.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk
Blastar - At the age of twelve, Elon Musk sold the computer code for a video game called Blastar for $500. He had already taught himself programming and created the game. Very few of us have sold software at the age of twelve. I wonder what he did with the money?

Zip2 - When he was twenty-four, he started the company Zip2 with his brother, creating an internet guide for the newspaper industry. Four years later the company was sold to Compaq and Elon made $22 million as a result.

PayPal - Musk started an online finance and payment company called X.com that merged with Confinity a year later. Their main product, PayPal, was the major focus and was acquired by eBay in 2002 - Musk left with $165 million in his pocket.

SpaceX - Elon Musk put $100 million into starting his next company, SpaceX. In 2009, after several failures, the first successful private launch to Earth orbit flew and the company survived. Musk has said that one further launch failure at that point would have finished SpaceX.

But the company is still operating - building and flying ever-better vehicles and selling the flights commercially. A NASA contract to fly cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has helped support these developments with Dragon, and a crewed version is in the pipeline. The Falcon Heavy rocket is due to make its first test flight in 2015/16, and methane-burning engines for a much larger rocket are under development.

SpaceX is currently valued at about $10 billion.

Tesla - This company builds electric cars and was founded in 2003, Musk joined the venture as chairman in 2004. Following the financial crisis in 2008, he then became CEO and Product Architect and has steered Tesla into the release of three car models with more in the pipeline, he has also offered to supply power-chains to other car makers and allow them access to Tesla's patent portfolio.

Solar City - The idea was Musk's, but the company was founded and is run by others. However, Elon Musk is the largest shareholder. Solar City installs domestic solar power systems free of charge, recouping the investment by taking a share of the proceeds from selling the power produced over a fixed time period.

Tesla and Solar City are cooperating to use electric vehicle batteries to balance out grid power, storing spare capacity by day and drawing power back at night.

Gigafactory - The Gigafactory, part of Tesla, is intended to turn out large numbers of cheap batteries for use in electric vehicles, for power storage for the grid and for other purposes. The initial goal is to reduce the cost of batteries for Tesla vehicles, and the plant is currently under construction.

Hyperloop - Musk proposed the Hyperloop as a new form of transport infrastructure, initially to link Los Angeles and San Francisco. Partially evacuated tunnels and air suspension would allow pods to travel with little resistance and at higher speeds than aircraft. Third parties are designing pods, while Elon Musk plans to build a five-mile test track.

Satellites - Recently, Elon Musk has proposed repeating SpaceX's rocketry and spacecraft success with cheap and reliable satellite design and production. He plans to create a facility for this in Seattle, and co-operate with Google and others in building large numbers of internet-providing satellites in low Earth orbit. Google has become an investor and partner as part of this process.

Mars Colony - Musk has long-term plans to live and die on Mars. The Mars Colonial Transporter will be designed and built to carry 100 tonnes of cargo to Mars at a time. It would also be capable of carrying 100 passengers. The plans involve creating a self-sustaining colony on the surface of Mars, with a population of at least 80 000.

19 January 2015

The opposite of envy (Repost)

I've decided to repost this article from August 2012. It's one of the most popular posts on the blog, so if you haven't seen it before, read on...

A phone call sparked some thoughts about envy and its opposite. Envy is such a negative and destructive emotion. The opposite of envy is rejoicing with one another. We need to cultivate joy in our lives.

I had a lovely telephone chat with a friend yesterday. We've only met once, and briefly at that. But we've corresponded occasionally over the years on various topics around life in general and life with Jesus in particular.

One thing that we talked about today was the topic of envy. And as we talked I tried to work out what would be the opposite of envy. I decided it must be rejoicing with one another.

If I envy you for your car, your wife, your wealth or good health, your education or some other blessing in your life, I am saying that I would prefer to have that thing myself, I would like to be in your place.

But if I rejoice with you over your car, wife, wealth, good health, education, or other blessing, I'm expressing gladness that you have that thing.

The Bible has a good deal to say about envy. Old and New Testaments agree that envy is a very bad thing. Here are a few examples.

  • 'A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.' (Proverbs 13:40)
  • For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
  • they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. (Romans 1:28-29)

The word 'envy' appears twenty times in the UK version of the NIV.

The value of joy - Let's think about rejoicing instead. Let's practice rejoicing with our brother or sister in the good things they have received. Even if I have little and you have much, why would I not rejoice with you, why would I be jealous instead?

Envy is a shrivelled, mean-hearted emotion, crabby and resentful. It drives people apart. But rejoicing with one another builds bonds of peace and closeness. Envy causes a souring of relationships and blocks communication. But rejoicing with one another causes relationships to flourish like well-watered gardens and opens new depths of rich communication. Rejoicing is good for the soul, good for the mind, good for our sense of well-being.

Rejoicing builds up where envy tears down. Rejoicing cements together where envy tears apart. So it's easy to see that rejoicing makes it easier for Jesus to build the church whereas envy makes it much harder. We are a temple built of living stones held together by bonds of peace; rejoicing and love are the two major bonding elements.

May I urge you, if there is any bitterness or envy or jealousy in your heart, pray for it to be replaced with joy. And wherever you detect bitterness or envy or jealousy in your brother or sister, pray for them that joy might grow in their hearts instead. And where possible, pour love and good things into their lives as these may help the process along.

Light is a good thing, darkness is disabling, but light banishes darkness. In the same way joy is a good thing, envy is disabling, but joy banishes envy. Our hearts should seek joy just as our eyes seek light. The heart that seeks joy will find it - first in Christ, then in his Spirit, then in all the good things of life, and finally even in facing hardships and difficulties and pain.

In the world of music - You might like to listen to Beethoven's famous 'Ode to Joy' theme from his ninth symphony.

Notice how quietly it begins as a simple melody, but then spreads eventually through the entire orchestra and grows in excitement eventually bringing in all the instruments and voices.

It's such a great illustration, joy may begin quietly but it's lively and thoroughly infectious.

The final word - Let's give Paul the final word on rejoicing.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

18 January 2015

Want to join a permanent revolution?

Perhaps you're already a revolutionary. Or maybe you'd like to be. If you are interested in church life, and want to live the revolution, then The Permanent Revolution Playbook by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim could be just what you need to help you get started.

The new book
The new book
Alan wrote The Forgotten Ways in which he analyses the ingredients of powerful and disruptive movements. He finds six essential ingredients and explains how they can (and must) work together to provoke rapid church growth. My own guide, Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC) covers the same ground but in an abbreviated and introductory way.

One of the ingredients is what Alan calls the 'apostolic environment'. Like all six ingredients (the six forgotten ways), the apostolic environment is essential but not, on its own, sufficient. But it is critically important and has to do with the gifts of service listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST).

Alan and Tim wrote a book about APEST, examining the five gifts in great detail, the book is excellent and is called The Permanent Revolution. Now they have brought out The Permanent Revolution Playbook to help small teams process the information to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses, to pinpoint where and how they excel, and to better understand how to work together to see the revolution take hold.

The book is available as a paperback and in e-book form. They also provide a sample that you can read online and I highly recommend taking a look at that.

12 January 2015

Ecotricity is growing - fast!

Good news for Ecotricity; bad news for the Big Six. And it's well-deserved news; people are voting with their electricity bills.

An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
Ecotricity is one of the smaller British electricity and gas suppliers. At the beginning of 2014 they had some 85 000 customers, at the beginning of 2015 they have... wait for it... 150 000! Will they make it 300 000 by the end of this year? It's possible.

The Big Six (Britain's six largest suppliers) have lost 2 million customers in the same period. People are moving to Ecotricity and to the other smaller suppliers because they are fed up with poor service, high prices, complex pricing plans, and paying extra for pay-as-you-go schemes. Government regulation has levelled the playing field a bit, but Ecotricity goes well beyond the guidelines and has done better than any other supplier.

This innovative and plucky little company ploughs its profits into building more wind and solar generating capacity. It has kept its prices unchanged for the last two years, and scores record low figures for customer complaints. Add to that the fact that the electricity is completly green and the company is founded and run by a rather cool dude, and it all adds up to the best and greenest way to buy energy in the UK. I've been with them since September 2006 - and I'm still more than happy with the quick and friendly service.

13 December 2014

Every chapter is necessary

The recently published book, Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity, contains twenty-six chapters. Each one discusses a positive aspect of church, something that is an essential part of the whole. Reading from the book last night I was deeply impacted by Chapter 22 from Kathy Escobar; the chapter is entitled A church that restores dignity where it's been lost.

She writes
Jesus calls [Lazarus] out of the tomb, but then he looks to the people around him - his community, friends, and advocates - and says to them 'unbind him'. Unbind him. Unwrap him. Take off his graveclothes.

I think God calls us to participate in this uncovering-unwrapping-unbinding with each other through healing community.
Kathy Escobar's chapter
Kathy Escobar's chapter
And it struck me that although church is much more than the sum of its parts, all of the parts need to be actively present. There is a synergy, a sparking of abundant life that comes from the interdependence of the parts. Church is a person, the Bride of Christ.

Like all people, you and I are much more than the sum of hands, ears, spleen, heart, lungs and all the rest. But if any of these were missing we would either die or be unable to fully function. And it's just the same with the church.

Just consider some of the other chapter themes. The church cherishes Jesus Christ, exhibits personal holiness, counts every member as key, assembles for mutual edification, and knows eternal life is free. Imagine all of those being true in a church that fails to restore dignity where it's been lost. It would be a church without the active compassion necessary to unbind those who so desperately need it.

Or consider a church that clings to scriptural truth, is most notable for its love and is united in Christ but doesn't follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This would be a church that failed to hear where to go and what to do and did everything in its own strength.

Or what about a church that was composed of peacemakers, viewed itself as a people, restored dignity but failed to proclaim the gospel clearly?

The chapters of this book all stand alone and can be read alone. But they often overlap so that there are echoes and glimpses of them in one another. Yet taken together, with no part missing or inactive, they describe a holistic church, a wholesome church and a church that is alive and active and effective in the world. There are other aspects that are not explicitly covered in the book, prayer for example. But these are implied throughout in a variety of ways.

Church is as complex as any living organism, and just like a living organism it is not only complex but also multi-faceted, and astonishingly well constructed. The church is also alive with the life of Christ. And every part contributes!

01 December 2014

Simple Church is now available

The twenty-four author, collaborative book Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available to buy online and in bookshops. You can buy it direct from the publisher, Redeeming Press, or you can order it online from Amazon in both the USA and the UK. I was given the opportunity to write the third chapter, A Church That Follows the Lead of the Holy Spirit.


Simple Church, the paperback
Simple Church, the paperback
Here's a review I wrote for Amazon.

What has one purpose, but twenty-four authors?

This book does!

The editor, Eric Carpenter, has put together contributions from around the globe; and every single chapter describes an aspect of church life seen from the perspective of oneness and harmony. The book succeeds in its stated aim of filling a much-needed gap, expressing what the authors believe church can be, and doing so in a wholly positive way.

I am one of the authors, writing chapter three on following the lead of the Holy Spirit. But I have to tell you that I am blown away by the scope, insight and depth of the other twenty-three chapters that I did not write. The book contains sections on glorifying and enjoying the One we worship, living radically, building the body, impacting the world and proclaiming salvation. The focus throughout is on inclusive, positive and straightforward ways of living out what we believe. If you're looking for an uplifting read that will challenge and encourage you, this could be just the book for you.

It's refreshing to read a book so empty of criticism, yet full of insights and passion. Turn these pages and you will find personal stories, good analysis, and original thoughts. Expect to be changed and encouraged as you read, be prepared to laugh in some places, to cry in others, and to come away with fresh understandings and a determination to live more completely in the unity that is already ours in Christ.

Read this book, I don't think you will regret it.

And here's another review, this time from Jeremy Myers.

Lots of Christians talk about church unity, but usually what they mean is, "If you believe like we do and act like we do, then we can be unified."

This book seeks to look at several things that all people of all (almost all, anyway) forms of church can be unified about. Though most of the 24 authors of this book practice various "simple" or "missional" forms of church, this book is not for those sorts of Christians only, but for everybody who hopes and prays along with Jesus "That they may be one..."

The book is divided into 5 areas in which Christians can be unified: (1) Glorying and Enjoying God, (2) Living Radically as followers of Jesus, (3) Building up the Body of Christ, (4) Impacting the World through missions and service, and (5) Proclaiming the freeness of salvation.

The 24 authors of this book come from a variety of backgrounds and church experiences, with many of them coming from or currently serving on the mission field overseas. Several of the authors have published other books, and almost all of them have blogs about church, theology, missions, and following Jesus. By way of full disclosure, I am one of the contributors to this book, but have been challenged and blessed by every chapter in it.

If you buy the book and review it for us on Amazon, you will receive the unified and most heartfelt gratitude of twenty-four authors. With most books you'd do well to get the gratitude of more than one!

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