Another way – write.as

The focus moves from advertising, costly payments and central control to an absence of these things

There’s more than one way of doing most things, and write.as is an alternative way of writing stuff online. Whether you want to create a blog, a story, or just private notes, write.as is well worth a look.

It’s part of a long standing move by some web users away from the commercial world of Google, Facebook, Twitter and so on, towards a very different model of which Wikipedia is the best known example. The focus moves from advertising, costly payments and central control to an absence of these things.

If you like freedom, privacy and simplicity, you’ll find all three at write.as . I suggest you take a quick look around, you can begin with a simple page I put together in less than five minutes – write.as/chrisjj

Marble Machine – Wow!

What an amazing device

I came across this marble machine today, somebody posted the link to Mastodon, I watched it once, and absolutely had to write about it here. What an amazing device. It does lose its marbles – well, a few of them anyway towards the end.

The astonishing Marble Machine

What is Mastodon, I hear you cry? It’s sort of a bit like Twitter, but is an open, free and distributed system. Wikipedia, the fount of (almost) all knowledge knows what it is. (Wikipedia even knows about the Marble Machine.)

Eradicating coronavirus

By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated

There’s lots of good advice out there about combatting the Covid-19 disease as it continues to ramp up around the world. Official figures at the time of writing are ten million infected and half a million dead; the true figures are almost certainly far higher than that. But those numbers are rising daily – who knows where we’ll be this time next year.

A virtual model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (image copyright Wikimedia)

There have been successes in eliminating human diseases in the past, smallpox in 1977, and polio (close to extinction but still persisting at low levels in Afghanistan and Pakistan). In both cases, progress was achieved by use of vaccines that provide lifetime immunity.

Is this possible for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19? The simple answer is that we don’t know; many vaccine candidates are being developed, but it will be some time before we find out how effective they will be, nor do we yet know how long immunity might last.

A vaccine would help, but we do have some other ways to attempt eradication. Countries like New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam might give us a clue. By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated so that only importing it from an external source can bring it back; we have seen this happen several times.

So here’s a strategy that is worth considering

  1. Use restrictions on movement and contact to reduce the size of the infection in a defined area. This has been done many times already in areas from whole nations to small districts. We know it works.
  2. Test and trace while cautiously lifting restrictions, re-imposing them quickly wherever there is a local resurgence.
  3. Once the defined area is free of virus, allow life to return to normal except for travel into the area. Use strict quarantine measures to contain new imports.
  4. When two or more adjacent areas achieve step 3, their common borders can be opened.

Such a strategy has the potential to rid larger and larger parts of the globe of Covid. Would it be easy to do? No, it would be hard work, costly and it would demand constant vigilence as well as coordination by a body like the World Health Organisation. And we won’t know if its possible unless we make the attempt. Would it be worth it? Almost certainly if we can get something like this agreed internationally and adequately funded. Less wealthy nations with limited health care resources would need monetary and practical help along the way. The economic costs of eradication would be very large, but the ongoing annual costs of living with Covid-19 will be larger still.

Maybe it’s too early to start a Covid-19 eradication programme, but it’s certainly time to begin conversations about one.

Is church unbalanced?

If we learn to cooperate with one another … we will catch a view of [Jesus’] nature and so will the world around us

Part 6 of a series – What are we doing?

The good and bad of services | Index | No later posts >

So – Is church unbalanced? What a question! And what do I mean by unbalanced, anyway?

Let’s put it it like this. I’ve been talking most of my life about five things that seem to me to be of the utmost importance. I’ve been trying to live and grow in these five things, and I’ve always wanted to express them and share them widely. But I’ve found few who will listen, and even fewer who understand at a heart level. Here are the five things briefly described; as you read the list consider their effectiveness within church and beyond church (out in the world).

A rose with three petals missing is barely a rose at all
  • The church should spread and multiply everywhere
  • The church must speak truth into its own culture and into the culture of the world around it
  • The church should stir up desire in people’s hearts and minds, and help them find the way to live and move in truth and light
  • The church needs to nurture and encourage people, especially when they face pain, danger, hardship or doubt
  • The church should communicate in effective, memorable ways

Although the church is working in some of these ways, it doesn’t seem well-equipped to move equally in them all. What’s the problem and how can it be resolved?

Alan Hirsch, one of my favourite authors, explains this very clearly in a short video. It takes less than 11 minutes to watch, but they will be 11 minutes well spent. Can I encourage you to watch and listen as he explains where these five things come from, how they are all essential, and where they should lead us? He has analysed and expressed it all very clearly, but if you’re new to this stuff you’ll need an open and listening heart for the pattern to emerge and gel.

Alan Hirsch – 11 minutes on APEST

All of this is especially relevant to the series of articles on what we are doing in church life and how we might make some changes. We really do need the mind of Christ; our own minds alone are not up to the task. If we learn to cooperate with one another so as to allow Jesus to express himself in us and through us corporately, we will catch a view of his nature and so will the world around us. Being church on our terms will not take us any further than we have already gone, being church on Jesus’ terms will transform everything. What have we been missing?

I’d like to develop some of this in further posts. But finally, please note that Alan begins by saying, ‘One of the dimensions of movements is APEST’. We’ll discuss some of the other dimensions in future posts too.

Additional resources

The good and bad of services | Index | No later posts >

The good and bad of services

A meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit.

Part 5 of a series – What are we doing?

Message to a friend | Index | Is church unbalanced? >

In part 3 of this series, ‘Like a waterfall’, I shared a vision and some words from the Spirit about how the water in a river is constrained by the banks and bed of the river, and how a waterfall allows complete freedom for the water to respond to the attractive force of gravity. In this post I’d like to share some thoughts about church services and how they affect church life.

A photo showing people in a typical church service
A typical church service (image from Wikipedia)

Pretty well all denominations hold regular services, usually on Sunday mornings and often Sunday evenings and a weekday evening as well. They are called services because they serve someone. You could argue that their function is to serve the Father and/or Jesus through corporate worship and praise, or you could take the view that they are occasions where a minister serves teaching and guidance to the congregation who act as a (mostly) passive audience. Services follow set patterns, from a loosely defined prayer/hymn sandwich, to a set of rituals, and traditional and familiar practices like preaching or singing, prayer from the front and so forth. But if we turn to the New Testament we find nothing like this.

It’s true that Jesus and his disciples met together a lot, they travelled the road as a group with many other followers and hangers on, and they ate together and talked a good deal. Sometimes Jesus spoke with the inner twelve alone – often asking them questions, so it was conversational teaching. At other times he spoke to larger crowds. He provided wine when it ran out at an embarrassing moment, he healed sick people, spoke to people, sometimes he touched people physically, and yes – occasionally he went to the Synagogue. But there’s very little here that looks like a 21st century church service.

There are more clues in Acts and Paul’s letters. People did meet together, but the descriptions we get are of participatory meetings with no particular person making decisions about timing and no discernable programme. Certainly, if there was a visitor like Paul present, he might share news or even teach, but this seems to have been done on an ad-hoc basis as and when it seemed useful. We read of people praying, prophesying, teaching, singing, worshipping, speaking in unintelligible languages, interpreting what was said, praising, giving way to one another and so forth. There’s nothing here we’d recognise as a service. People were sharing whatever the Holy Spirit urged them to say at that moment.

So let’s think about the benefits and issues of church services on the one hand, and on the other, meetings with no agenda where people listen to the Spirit and share freely whatever he provides. Which seems most like a waterfall? Which seems most like a fixed channel? If the Spirit urged you to pray, or share a vision, or begin a song, or start to teach – which kind of meeting would offer the most comfortable opportunity? Paul wrote that we should do things decently and not in disorder. But he didn’t write that we should decide the pattern, sequence, songs and speaker beforehand! Somewhere between 100 AD and the Middle Ages, dynamic church life in the Spirit was replaced with restrictive and pre-set formats and traditions. The waterfall became a river!

What are the benefits of a ‘waterfall’ meeting? Simply this: a meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit. I say ‘opportunity’ because it’s also possible for us to have an unruly free-for-all in which we all do what we think best without waiting for the Spirit to guide us. Paul warns against this. But if a group of his people agree to be silent together and listen and then express whatever they are given, there will be a sharing of spiritual life with a focus and purpose that is astonishing. We have to trust one another to act gently and kindly, to see, hear and share what we are given moment by moment, to give way to one another, to wait for one another, and to focus on the Master, not on ourselves. And then there is the potential for a meeting in which he speaks and we listen in awe and amazement. Pictures and words, Bible verses and songs, unknown languages and their interpretation, prayer, prophetic words and teaching, worship and praise will merge as he leads us and guides us. We will know when he has finished, the end of the meeting will come naturally and with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. All of us will know that something special has happened and we will go away deeply encouraged, with a sense of direction, and the knowledge that this was another special time in the presence of the King. And yes, it will have been a ‘service’ in the deepest sense of that word, for he has served us and we have served him and his presence was clearly evident and amazing.

Will this fruitful kind of meeting come easily? No it won’t. It will take practice, and it may be difficult at first. GK Chesterton famously said, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried’. The same might be said of ‘waterfall’ meetings – we need to be willing to try and try again until we learn how to let the Spirit lead us together in this way; but we do need to try! The benefits will far outweigh the difficulties. I’ve been in many meetings of this kind over the years, from tiny groups of just two or three people, up to gatherings of more than a hundred.

Here are a few hints that may help if you want to try this with friends.

  • Don’t sit in rows, sit in a circle; if there are many people you might need several concentric circles, but you need to see one another. Don’t have a ‘front’, have a centre.
  • Give Jesus your full attention, and examine the things that just pop into your mind – thoughts, words and phrases, emotions, images.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Use these times to focus on Jesus and his presence in the meeting.
  • Give way to one another. Many short contributions will be better than one or two long ones.
  • Don’t have a leader. Somebody might begin with a welcome and to point out the emergency exits or share other important practical details, but then they should sit down and become part of the corporate process, listening and sharing like everyone else.
  • Allow plenty of space, have a gap in the circle so people can come and go – several gaps if the circle is large. Have space for people to stand, walk about a little, or dance.
  • If possible, don’t set a time to end the meeting. Everyone will know when it’s finished.
  • Allow time at the beginning for people to mingle and chat. Consider eating and drinking together, anything from tea and coffee to a pot luck meal. And allow time to mingle and chat again at the end if you can.
  • There is no ‘right’ format. The purpose of meeting is to be one in Christ, to hear from his Spirit, and to share what each is hearing or seeing. Be open, be flexible.
  • If you haven’t met like this before, it may be best to begin with smaller numbers, perhaps twelve to fifteen at most.
  • Don’t prepare what to do or say in advance. Instead come with nothing and be prepared to see and hear and share moment by moment while you are together.

Message to a friend | Index | Is church unbalanced? >

Message to a friend

It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around

Part 4 of a series – What are we doing?

Like a waterfall | Index | The good and bad of services >

I recently had a conversation with my friend Steve* who had just read my earlier article about Ezekiel, ‘Dry bones in the valley‘. He sent me an email about his thoughts and I sent a reply. Immediately I’d sent it I felt a strong sense that the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to post my reply to the blog as well; so with Steve’s permission, here it is:

Hi Steve,

Thanks for taking the time and effort to reply with your thoughts and feelings. It’s not work for me, it’s fun, it helps us know one another better, it’s a joy and a pleasure. We write about things we only skim over when we chat because our conversations are newsy and more about catching up – and that’s good too, I always look forward to our chats.

There are two journeys here – your personal journey, and the journey of the church. When I wrote the articles about Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones I was writing to and about the church. I felt at the time and still feel today that the church is sleepwalking and not really listening to what Father is saying. It’s a dry, dusty and fairly lifeless place to be when compared with the early church or with any of the great revivals in the last 2000 years. Church hurts people, disappoints people, dries people up spiritually, channels them into limited thinking and limited behaviour; that’s not what Jesus wants for his people! And it’s mostly because we focus our energies on programs, Bible studies, pre-programmed music, meetings, buildings to own or rent, prayer groups, money raising, mission planning, leadership training. Life is not in those things, real life is in Jesus.

But of course that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel has nothing to say to you personally, Steve. Papa will speak into your life as he does into every follower of Jesus. You feel – understandably – like Ezekiel must have felt by the river, before he had his vision about the valley of bones. I know you identified with the sense of captivity, loss, bleak prospects, endless struggle, and a feeling of hopelessness and no future. And those were the feelings of Ezekiel that the everlasting Father put his hand on. A gentle touch on the shoulder is easily overlooked, you might barely notice it. Yet it speaks volumes because it says, I am here, I am with you, I understand how you feel, I will come with you, have peace in your heart, you are not forgotten, I love you, you are my child, I am your Father and your friend, I haven’t abandoned you, I am here.

And as your brother standing nearby I can see that Papa has his hand on you. I’m a witness that he is touching you, Steve. I’ve seen you change, you are responding to his touch even though it’s not come in quite the way you expect or long for. The trip we made to Siddington was part of his touch, this conversation about the valley of bones is part of it, too. Having your children spend extra time with you is part of it. The practical and brotherly presence of another friend in your life is part of it. The new jobs you’ve been finding are part of it. The changes in your thinking about yourself, and about church, they’re part of it. Andy and Ellie are part of it.

His hand is on you and he will continue to show you stuff and use you. Even though you sometimes might not notice! 🙂

I’ve just been listening to Phil Wickham singing ‘All I am’. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too, it seems relevant.

You wrote, ‘I wish Father was more active and willing to power through for me instead of letting me learn through the journey‘.

Maybe learning through the journey teaches us more deeply, but he does power through as well when we are stuck. I think perhaps Siddington was an example of that.

You wrote, ‘I’m in a position where my passion’s dying due to not knowing if my actions in the church are what God wants for me anymore‘.

I was in that place, too. But the problem is not in you, the problem is in the church. If you were amongst a group of people who all just wanted to hear and respond to Jesus and only Jesus, you would find yourself being used – in your gifting and in a thousand other ways as well. It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around. Believe me, Steve, if you were back in the early church you would be thriving and alive and contributing and passionate. And a little bit worried that Roman soldiers might kick the door in and arrest you! Church was alive back then – no buildings, no programs, no leadership training, no worship bands, no money raising – but very much alive and thriving and passionate.

You wrote, ‘I found it easier to walk a fair way out of the mess and sweep it all to the foot of the cross and ask God to deal with it…    but now what?

Ah, yes, now what? You asked him to deal with it, now you have to let him do just that. You can’t, but he can. You didn’t, but he will. And it’s very clear to me that he’s made a start already. I know that’s the truth because I’ve been part of the process.

A roller coaster, not very exciting until it starts moving! (Image licencing)

You may not feel it and you may not see it yet – but the ‘Now what?’ is already under way, Steve 🙂 You are on a journey with Jesus and who knows where he will lead you, but he’ll be right with you all the way. His ways are not our ways though, so expect the unexpected. He is turning the entire world upside down, and that includes your life!

Hang in there bro, hang on tight ‘cos it’s a roller coaster ride. We’re on Jesus’ roller coaster just sitting there thinking, ‘Nothing’s happening, where’s the excitement?’ Wait and see!

* Names have been changed.

See also: Valley of dry bones – Index

Like a waterfall | Index | The good and bad of services >

All lives matter

The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

The Black Lives Matter protests are completely understandable. There’s no point beating about the bush – The death of George Floyd was wrong. All deaths are tragic. Accidental deaths are regrettable. Deaths caused by carelessness are reprehensible. Deaths caused deliberately are unspeakably offensive.

Street artist painting a picture of George Floyd

It’s clear that George Floyd died at best through carelessness and at worst by deliberate action. Either is completely unacceptable.

However, all lives matter, and when protests involve the pulling down of statues and the throwing of bicycles and other objects at people, the protesters risk causing injury or death unintentionally. And with Covid-19 still out there, the opportunistic virus will spread amongst people in a demonstration and that will result in unintended deaths as well.

I agree that we should protest what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May. I’m protesting here and now in this article. But we also need to do everything possible to avoid further loss of life.

I’m not telling anybody what to do or what not to do. But I am pleading with everyone, please consider the unintended consequences of both action and inaction. The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining me in signing the petition at Change.org.

Falcon 1

Things have come a very long way in less than 12 years!

Here’s a bit of history for you – SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS) having safely delivered two NASA astronauts, bringing the number of crew on the ISS to five. The rocket used to put Crew Dragon into orbit was SpaceX’s workhorse – Falcon 9.

But you already knew that, right?

Well, on 29th September 2008 I posted an item about SpaceX’s first successful launch to orbit using their Falcon 1. Things have come a very long way in less than 12 years!

In the next few days I’ll try to write a piece about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flight – watch this space (pun not intended).

The Corona of Christ

He decided to expand His one and only Son into many sons!

Milt Rodriguez has posted a great article with this title on his blog ‘The Rebuilders’. I heartily commend it as it has some useful thoughts on the church and on Christ while focussing especially on the glory of the Almighty.

Milt writes:

God still wanted an expression, an outflowing expression of the love for His Son.  The expression would need to be corporate because God is corporate:  Father, Son, and Spirit and yet one God!

So what did He decide to do?  Well, the answer to that is beyond all logic, theology, and human understanding.

He decided to expand His one and only Son into many sons!  Yes, that’s right.  He decided to make His one and only Son into a corporate Son. 

I encourage you to read Milt’s post in full.

David Bolton’s music

I found his quiet, contemplative, gentle style rather lovely

Earlier this evening I came across a blog article by David Bolton in which he explains his musical journey in terms of composing and singing songs with his own guitar accompaniment.

At the the bottom of the article he has added a playlist. I found his quiet, contemplative, gentle style rather lovely and I’d like to share it with you here. I hope you’ll enjoy listening as much as I do.

That said, the article is worth a read as well; so don’t make a dash for the music without coming back to read about it later. There’s a lot of other good stuff on his blog too, if you have time to explore a bit.