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Part of the Grand Canyon is in Australia

Way back  a thousand million years ago when the super-continent Rodinia existed

Well, OK, it’s not that the canyon itself is partly in Australia, but the rock formations through which the canyon was formed are partly in Australia.

How do we know? Many of those rock layers with their very distinctive and unique sequences and chemical compositions have also now been found in Tasmania, the large island just south of the Australian state of New South Wales. It’s the oldest rocks of the Grand Canyon series that have been discovered in Tasmania. The rocks have always seemed unrelated to other rocks in the same part of the island, but they look like the oldest canyon rocks in many of their details and make-up.

Rodinia
Rodina, a super-continent with Australia adjoining Laurentia.

The solution to this puzzle can only be that part of Australia was once a single piece of continental crust with the rocks of the Grand Canyon. That would have been way back  a thousand million years ago when the super-continent Rodinia existed. Since then, the continents have broken apart, moved around, run into one another, and broken apart again. The breakup of Rodinia separated the early rock grouping into pieces that became part of modern North America and Australia.

This is not a new theme in the history of the continents. In a much more recent episode (the opening of the Atlantic Ocean) an ancient mountain chain was torn in two; the parts now form the Appalachians in North America and the Scottish Highlands on the edge of Europe.

But this new discovery helps scientists put more detail into the very early story of continental crustal movement and break up. Thanks to Jack Mulder and others for publishing the discovery and New Scientist for sharing the story more widely.

Early steps towards life

Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate … this is already quite life-like.

I have a really exciting story for you today, especially if you are interested in the origin of life and evolution.

RNA
A section of double-stranded RNA

A recent article in the magazine Science reports that Thomas Carell, a chemist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, has outlined a process that can generate all four of the building blocks of RNA from compounds and conditions present on the pre-biotic Earth.

Why is this significant?

To understand, we need to grasp the importance of RNA. Its cousin, DNA, is the molecule used by most living things on Earth to store the genetic information that controls their form and function. RNA is also capable of storing genetic information, and some viruses use it in exactly this way. RNA is also essential in all living forms because it acts as a go between in the production of proteins from the DNA genetic material. RNA is less stable than DNA and copying errors are more likely. For this reason, DNA is a better long-term genetic store than RNA, but RNA is more dynamic. Think in terms of DNA as a library of printed recipe books, while RNA is like hand-copied notes on scraps of paper that enable the recipes to be taken to the kitchen.

But RNA has additional tricks up its sleeve. No only can this molecule store genetic information, it can also catalyse biochemical reactions, including the synthesis of simple proteins. RNA is a bit of an all-rounder, and it’s not so hard to imagine that quite soon after being randomly synthesised by Carell’s process, RNA molecules might be formed as the dissolved RNA bases came into contact with tiny rock templates that could act to stabilise the process.

RNA also has the potential to self-replicate. Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate (albeit with occasional errors). This is already quite life-like. Now image the population growing in places where the Carell process was providing reliable supplies of the four bases. Some of those RNA molecules will have errors, sooner or later an error, or a combination of errors will provide a version that replicates more efficiently, or gets trapped inside a lipid membrane that protects it from breakdown, or catalyses the production of a protein that makes the RNA more efficient in some way. If all of those things happen you have something that might be regarded as an early living form – an enclosed lipid membrane with a self-replicating genetic system that can mutate and evolve. Nothing more than that would be needed to kick of an expanding array of related forms.

Voila!

The story as I describe it here is not complete and likely incorrect in many ways. I accept that. But though it’s a simplistic view, it’s also likely to be broadly correct as a bare outline. Over the next few years and decades I expect much more detail will become clear, especially detail about what is or is not possible. And I expect to see many of the steps to be experimentally demonstrated. Watch this space…

Gentleness takes courage and strength

You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated.

RiverOuse
River Ouse, St Neots

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in a lobby area in the community centre in Eaton Ford, part of the market town of St Neots between Bedford and Cambridge. River Church meets here and I was visiting, staying with a friend who plays in the church’s worship band. The band was setting up and getting themselves ready for the meeting, so I had half an hour to spare before people would be arriving. I sat, stilled my mind, and spent some time listening to what the Holy Spirit might say to me.

And this is what I received:

Speak out, but look up. Look out and speak up. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your mouth, but always let the Spirit live in your heart.

Welcome my Spirit and bear fruit in your lives; are you not my people? Let my love, joy and peace rise up. Don’t follow one another, but follow me. Don’t follow convention, but follow Truth. Don’t follow directions but follow the Way. You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated, they are the simplest of things – gentleness towards the people in your lives – peace in your hearts – gracious and loving attitudes – a deep hope rooted in my presence, not in your circumstances – a humbleness that shuns position and fame – joyful hearts dancing freely in my presence – relentless patience – kindness that looks for no reward – innocent hearts.

Become empty of what you are and do and I will inhabit you. Haven’t you heard me knocking? I don’t want your abilities – I want you!

Thinking about this afterwards, I was intrigued that what had started out feeling like a word to me alone had, very quickly, become something spoken to others too. I wondered if these were words I should share during the meeting. I have many friends at River Church and some of them might need to hear this message. And as people began to arrive for the meeting and greet one another and find their seats I carried that idea with me as I joined them. But though I was ready and willing to share, and there were opportunities, it didn’t seem the right time.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that these words are for all my friends, near and far. That I should share them here and those that need to see them will  be guided to read them. So that’s what I’m doing.

If these words bless you in some way that would be great. But I think there is also a challenge in the words. I believe Papa is calling me to move ever more gently through this world; and perhaps he’s calling you to do that too. Don’t be misled into thinking that gentle is the same as weak: it is not! Sometimes it takes enormous courage and strength to be gentle. Sometimes the only way to reach a person is through gentleness, humility, and patience.

But if you have read as far as this, please ask yourself how you should respond. Is the Spirit speaking to you also through the words he gave me?

Watch the video below to see how Jorge Pina ‘operates from a place of rest’ in meeting people. There’s real wisdom here.

Walking the Swiss bisses

We were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista

Every summer we go away somewhere different for a week – Donna and me along with two daughters, their husbands, and our four grandchildren. This year we stayed in a ski chalet in Haute-Nendaz in western Switzerland, just over the border from France.

Although prices are high in Switzerland, there are many wonderful compensations in terms of mountain scenery, clean streets and clean air, friendly people, and the walks. I had expected walks with big and tiring changes in elevation – and we certainly did our share of walks of that sort. But the bisses: what a wonderful experience!

Looking at a bisse
Looking at a bisse

I must admit, I had no idea what a bisse was when we drove from Geneva Airport, around Lake Geneva, and then south-west to Nendaz. I hadn’t even come across the word ‘bisse’. But we soon found a leaflet of local walks and discovered that several of them followed the local bisses. A bisse is an irrigation stream running gently downhill, almost following the contours of the mountains and hills. As a result the bisse paths are gentle and easy walking for the most part, and they wind around the slopes through woodland and meadow. The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular; following the path through woodland and then coming out into the open again we were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista.

The view from a bisse
The view from a bisse

All the way, the path is accompanied by the sparkling water hurrying  down its channel, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, and sometimes disappearing into a large pipe and reappearing beside the path again a little further on. Some of these paths follow one bisse gently uphill and then pick up a different one for the return, making a lovely, circular tour through the countryside.

Further reading

A bowl of cacti

She gave me a beautifully arranged little bowl with a variety of colourful, healthy-looking cacti in it.

CactiLast time I saw my sister, Ruth, she surprised me with an early birthday present. She gave me a beautifully arranged little bowl with a variety of colourful, healthy-looking cacti in it. Lovely!

So – did she grow them painstakingly from seed? Or did she buy them fully grown and re-pot them in this beautiful arrangement? Or perhaps she bought the little earthenware pot already planted up.

To see what she did, scroll down for a larger picture…

Down

v

v

v

Down some more…

v

v

v

v

Here is the answer…
Cacti
She crocheted them, pot and all! How clever! How unexpected! And what fun. Thank you, Ruth!

The work of the Spirit

the Holy Spirit … runs deep in [the] forgotten ways. He is … the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus.

What follows is an extract from JDMC, the first section on the Holy Spirit (page 37).

Cover-tinyThe work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned briefly in the previous part of JDMC, ‘Six – More than community’ (p 33). It is not explicitly presented in The Forgotten Ways, but it is certainly implied on every page. In the first edition of JDMC I closely followed the structure of Alan Hirsch’s work, but in this revision I have decided to add extra sections including this one about the Spirit.

I want to guard against any suggestion that JDMC is merely presenting an organisational mechanism for rapid missional spread. It’s much more than a worldly method or a management technique. Instead it is the pattern set by Christ himself, and therefore the Spirit of Christ is present throughout and waiting for us to hear his guidance and encouragement as we do the work the Master has entrusted to us. To depend on human technique alone won’t cut the mustard – far from it! One of the forgotten ways is keeping Jesus central, following only him, adding nothing in addition. This utter dependence on Christ surely implies and demands a dependence on his Spirit – how could it possibly be otherwise?

We need to recognise that this new life we live is not just about what we do, nor is it entirely about receiving from the Spirit. Jesus wants our co-operation. If there was no need for the work of the Spirit, why would Paul warn us not to quench him? (1 Thessalonians 5:19) And if there was no need for human effort and will, why would he tell us to strive? (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Timothy 4:10)

So in this additional part of JDMC I want to highlight some of the ways we can recognise and value the Holy Spirit’s activity as we attempt to remember and activate the six forgotten ways. I also offer some advice on spiritual listening at the end.

To be clear, this section should not be seen as an additional ‘forgotten way’. It isn’t that at all. But the work of the Holy Spirit surely runs deep in each of those six forgotten ways. He is, as already mentioned, the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus. If we are the body and Jesus is our head, then the Spirit is like a nervous system – fundamentally centred in the head but with sensory and motor connections to every part of the body. When we resist him and are disobedient, part of the body is effectively paralysed. And if the body acts without the Holy Spirit it is sleepwalking and ineffective.

If all of this sounds hard – it is. We have to learn to die so that we can begin to live in Christ. It’s not that we have to work hard to be more like Jesus; rather we have to let go of all our own goals and desires and effort and planning and let Jesus live his life in us. He will tell us and show us what to do, when to do it, and how. The Holy Spirit is no less than the Spirit of Christ, he is our guide and walks with us in every situation. He is the heart and mind of the Messiah expressing himself through his people.

Talk together about the ways the Holy Spirit has interacted with you in your lives as you follow Jesus. Are there some encouraging stories you can share?

– o0o –

In 2015 I released the second version of JDMC, a discussion guide for Alan Hirsch’s ‘The Forgotten Ways’ in which he analyses the basis of movements throughout church history and identifies the essential ingredients for such movements to start and to be sustained.

(You can download JDMC in full, there’s no charge.)

Water and the Spirit

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace?

In Acts 1:5 we read Jesus’ words to his followers, ‘John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’.

The photo shows a man who has just been baptised by full immersion in water; maybe you have experienced this too, or maybe not. As you will know (or can imagine) this experience affects people in a variety of ways.

Baptism

Before baptism you are dry, afterwards you are drenched from head to toe. Being plunged into water takes your breath away, it makes you screw up your eyes. It’s exciting, a significant change in your life, you’ll remember it for as long as you live, and it’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed. Baptism is an outward expression that you’ve decided to follow Jesus in every way you can, and that, like him, you have been buried and returned to a new and fuller life.

The entire process speaks of this other kind of baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit. and this, too, has a major effect. But unlike water baptism with its temporary impact, baptism in the Spirit is permament.

So what are the effects, the impact, of baptism in the Holy Spirit? As with water, you are plunged into a strikingly different element – not water this time, but the Spirit of Christ. You will be fundamentally drenched in his character and his power, you will be a citizen of his kingdom as it impacts this broken world. Baptism in the Spirit should take your breath away – utterly. It will cause you to screw up your spiritual senses through complete overload! There is an exciting and significant change in your spiritual life, you will always remember it and you will never be the same again. It’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed, you are redeemed, made new, and empowered because it is now Christ who lives in you and you are expressing his heart and his purposes. It’s evidence of a new life.

And how do we measure up? Do we remain permanently affected by the presence within us of Christ’s Spirit? Or do we treat spiritual baptism like water baptism? Is it something that happened in the past but no longer has any direct effect in the here and now? Is it something we remember, but have stopped experiencing?

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace, sharing the good news of the peace and joy now available to all? I only needed to be baptised once, but the effects of this spiritual baptism are meant to last forever.