Starting again…

For those dedicated users of our Bible Reading Plan, you will now be coming to the end of the scheduled readings. That means you will have read the whole of the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice, since starting the planned readings. So what do you do now? Start again!

This weekend, we begin all over again in Genesis. The more we read the Bible, the more familiar we become with its sequencing and message. In this respect, the shorter reading each day in our Bible Reading Plan helps to connect the main reading with other parts of the Bible dealing with the same subject.

Remember the days when as a child you went to sleep with an open book on your head, just in case there was a sort of osmosis that might happen and the book’s content would miraculously transfer from the pages into your brain? It doesn’t work. There’s simply no substitute to paying attention to what you read. Many people also find it helpful to make their own notes about what they read, as they read. It will help memory recall. Repetition helps in that way too. So the best thing to do when you finish reading the whole Bible is to read it again…and again…and again!

Commute time turned into…work time

What have you done with it?  Well, perhaps you didn’t notice you had it. We’re talking about that precious commodity: time. We all only have 168 hours a week, and we’re told a lot of us spend a major proportion of it sleeping! But for a large segment of the working population another huge use of our time has been spent travelling to and from work: commuting time. But over the past year, the pandemic changed that. “WFH” crept into texting language. Work from home became a reality for many more people.  For some it has been welcome, as it provided more flexibility.  For some it added untold additional mental stress, as it came with extra home duties, including perhaps being an unpaid teacher of sorts.  How that has changed our valuation of those noble folk who follow a calling to be full-time teachers! Much more could be said about such related aspects.

Here, we just want to focus on how for many people the cessation of a need to spend time commuting has introduced new possibilities. As the world entered into the period of the pandemic, economists feared that there would be enormous global economic recession. Some industry sectors have indeed been very harshly affected, especially those related to entertainment and non-essential retail trades. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, in other sectors productivity has in fact improved. Part of the reason is that workers have turned commute time into work time. Some businesses may also have been able to cut costs associated with accommodating workers in office buildings, but it is the time issue we’re thinking about. This is where we find an extension of Parkinson’s Law: as we have more time available, we find more work to fill it!

Before our minds go off on an unproductive tangent, let’s just refocus and remember this is a church website, and we are looking for spiritual opportunities. 1 How much time did you formerly spend going to and from meetings of your church? In many large cities and towns, church congregations have tended to move further and further away from their initial centre, as property prices and the needs for good education and other family priorities led people to relocate some distance away from the church’s building. The venue for meeting didn’t move as the people moved, so the result was a commuting church. For some, that meant (pre-pandemic) the time actually spent meeting with the church was only half of the commute time! Also, for workday meetings, those in families often had to leave youngsters at home to do school homework, so numbers attending church meetings mid-week inevitably were lower. Video-conferencing has changed all that! It has given us back the opportunity to be at the church meeting without paying for it in commuting time, and it has enabled far more people to attend. Of course it is not the same attending by video-link as it is when we can shake hands, and even enjoy a coffee together after our spiritual priorities have been met. But have we invested the commute time profitably?

More to the point perhaps, what have we learned from the experience, and how are we hoping to ensure benefits are not lost as the world bounces back? 2 Will we just bounce backwards with them, or can we see how to “bounce forward”. Now we know better than ever how important it is to be close to people, will we go back to getting in our cars to do that, or will we refocus more locally?  Will we look for opportunities to be close enough to fellow church goers so that a long commute can be avoided? Will our Christian testimony among near neighbours result in others being drawn to share our faith as they get to know us better from more frequent local contact and our greater contribution to local community activity? Will we continue to find strengthening through online prayer times, that are better informed as we see one another more frequently and understand needs better? Or will we just contribute to more carbon dioxide emissions until we can afford a new electric-powered car?

We are at an inflection point, a pivot point. It is easy to simply resume where we left off pre-pandemic and recommence the commuting church experience. For some of us that might be the only, or even the best, solution. For others, fresh fields of opportunity could lie ahead. The old picture of the man trying to keep a foot on the boat and another on the dock illustrates the difficulty of a pivot point. Perhaps we can almost hear the command of the Master: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” 3. Let us consider our direction prayerfully, with attention to the Master’s instruction book and roadmap.

Bounce back…or bounce FORWARD

The writer of the Bible book, Hebrews, was very concerned about the direction his readers were going. They had become Christians, and now faced a period of significant difficulty. They reached a pivot point. Would they bounce back to their previous religious practices?  That option had the comfort of possibly again experiencing the acceptance of society, and the familiarity of meeting expectations of others. But that is not what they were urged to do by the Bible writer. 1

Instead, the objective was to “bounce forward”.  That meant relying on their faith in God, not their acceptance by society. It meant not quitting, but rather quietly relying on God who would never leave them, nor forsake them. 2 It meant expressing faith in what could not be seen, but yet was as much a reality as what they could bump into!

The Epistle to the Hebrews rides through biblical history, faces up to the present challenge and points upward. It places the reader, not alone in a world that opposes them, but among a vast company of God’s worshippers. It extracts them from the mundane problems of a hostile world and brings them into experience of spiritual blessings in heavenly places. 3 Please read the whole epistle, and take in this amazing theme.

We are about to emerge from the pivot point of a pandemic. Are we thinking we should just bounce backwards, and again be satisfied with what we experienced before? Or are we among those who can’t wait to “bounce forward”, to take all the positive learnings and additional possibilities that have accompanied a prolonged period of reflection and ingenuity, and employ these more fully as we are liberated from both the strictures of the recent past and the sometimes false comforts of what preceded it?

Worth reading

Here is an anthology of poetry that will appeal to Bible-loving Christians. Check it out here:

Some of the content has appeared in previous publications, and like all good poetry its repetition will simply further imbed its value, impressing it on heart and mind. Reading for the first time is like opening a window. Scripture references are provided that show how divine inspiration of the Word of God almost inevitably bears spiritual fruit. Read the Foreword to confirm the value of poetry in reinforcing the truth of Scripture. Check out the last but one verse on page 104, and follow its guidance! You will find topics and specific challenges in these poems that will halt you in your tracks, and may bring you to your knees, or cause your mind to rise to higher things.

Choice or Chance?

Atheists may note that world religions do not even agree on how earth history is dated, and they will also say that any loving god would never permit the world conditions we see around us, typified by natural disasters, painful inequality and awful suffering, often resulting from disease. They deny human culpability, and reject God’s existence because their imagined god is one who would necessarily intervene to prevent all such harm and danger and, instead, miraculously provide a life of happiness for all (interestingly, it is atheistically inclined governments that have intentionally killed the most people!). Effectively, they instead bow willingly to another god: chance.

The God of the Bible is nevertheless proceeding through time (however we disagree about measuring it!) to provide eternal salvation at His expense for all people who willingly comply with His terms. Choice, rather than chance, completes the picture. A logical concept of this real God must conclude that, en route to His goal, we are actually living in the best possible universe to achieve it. If there were a better scenario, this truly all-knowing and all-powerful God would indeed have employed it. Fairness is provided by eternal blessings that outweigh the unwanted but necessary and time-limited adversities; He also displays He is a God of both justice and love; see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

(Extracted from article in NT Issue 3 2020)

Choice or Chance?

Life on Mars

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For what it is worth, here’s a personal opinion (Geoff’s) about the amazing developments in the space program achieved in the last week.

Several reasons may be proposed for spending a very large fortune on exploring Mars. These reasons range from the apparently selfish motive of gaining access to minerals and other resources, or practising necessary steps towards travel to further and better points in space, or giving expression to human creativity, ingenuity and plain-ordinary inquisitiveness. But we need not kid ourselves that these are the major reasons. The most fundamental purpose is to find out if life existed there (the primary reason cited by the European Space Agency: see link 1 below). We only really need to consider two possible answers to that question, because it either did, or it did not! However, even if no evidence of past life is found on Mars, then further vast fortunes will simply be deployed in trying to find it elsewhere. In the minds of some, the answer can only be “yes, life does exist elsewhere”. So, a quick answer based on the current expedition results is not likely to be a final one.

We can argue in both directions: either the fact that everything that has been tried to date has revealed no evidence at all of actual life elsewhere, and the more we find out about our own solar system the less hospitable other “nearby” places seem. Or, we can argue that in the billions of billions of other possible locations, an atmosphere at least as favourable as our own must surely exist somewhere else. Latest estimates are in the range of 6 billion potential candidates for Earth-like conditions, and that’s just in the 400 billion stars of our Milky Way Galaxy, and there are billions more galaxies! (Psalm 8:3,4) But an average human lifespan is far less than 40 million minutes, so we need a lot of super-speed computer assistance to do our research and narrow down our search. And, as the Bible predicted, knowledge is indeed increasing (Dan.12:4).

If we are pragmatic, we will admit that even if we knew of another location outside our own solar system that provided for our physical needs, currently it would not be particularly helpful knowledge. For instance, if we watched the Mars landing, we would know that just getting the pictures back from there to Earth took 11 minutes of our time. Getting a person there, rather than just a digital message, takes more than 6 months. But the nearest alternative environments to our lovely Earth are light years away. Proxima-B in the Centaurus constellation is the nearest candidate, and NASA (see link 2 below) tells us it is 4.2 light years away, or say 73 thousand years of travel for us at the current fastest rocket speed (i.e. Voyager). Not a candidate for emigration!

Let’s cut to the chase. What some scientific minds are thinking is that if we found life on Mars, it would make us “confront the myths” about how and why humanity exists here. By myth is meant a widely held but false belief. Peter’s words on that subject are germane (2 Pet.1:16); Christians are opposed to belief in myths and fables. As of now, the allegation of believing in myths could more reasonably be made against those who “believe” in a billions to one chance of life existing elsewhere. By contrast, what Christians believe in is well-attested in the most abundantly documented history available (the New Testament). Its acceptance of the supernatural is based on first hand witness accounts. Its belief in God is the most reasonable of explanations for why, against all odds, life as we know really does exist here (and it’s surely reasonable to use what we can see and feel and read as a starting point, rather than imagination – see Acts 17:27). After all, if the visible natural world were not governed by very precise known laws and orderliness, it would have been impossible for us to get a vehicle on Mars anyway. And if there is a design and a law, then Christianity’s belief in a Designer and Lawgiver are again reasonable conclusions (and perhaps supported by the law of entropy, which reveals a weakness in the idea that a long succession of mere chance events will produce orderliness). If you would like to see what those with PhDs in the relevant disciplines say on this aspect, please contact us for a suggested reading list.

Would Christianity be disproved if life existed other than on Earth? No! First, because Bible-based Christianity makes no such claim. Indisputably, new types of life are discovered on Earth (503 new species in 2020 alone!), so why make its physical location a deciding matter? Christians believe God has revealed what we need to know about His creative acts, primarily as they concern humanity, and that is enough. The message of Christianity is that, of all life forms, God has chosen that humanity should express God’s image, and be given the ability to believe or disbelieve in God (as well as many more attributes not given to other creatures: Col.3:10; 2 Pet.1:3,4). However, Christians also believe God has created beings unlike ourselves, with powers different and greater than ours (the angelic realm of beings, that are certainly not confined to Earth). We should not let the atheist’s false concept of an imaginary and limited mythical god cause us to be deflected from a study of who God really is, what God is like, and what this Creator who arranged for us to have communication and reasoning capabilities has communicated to us (Heb.1:1-4; 2:5-16). What would disprove Christianity would be if it could be shown, not that other created beings exist, but that God had become their Saviour, not ours. The way to avoid a futile search for life, is to first find the wisdom of God our Saviour (Prov.8:34,35; 1 Cor.3:20)

  1. http://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Exploration/Why_go_to_Mars

2. https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/features/cosmic/nearest_star_info.html

What Are You Thinking About?

If you would like to tell us if you have questions about any relevant Bible subject, we’ll be happy to respond.  We may be able to schedule in a talk on the subject at one of our church teaching sessions, and/or provide an audio recording covering the topic.  Certainly we can research a wide range of resource materials we have available, and provide a brief outline of main points for consideration.
We’ve received a suggestion that we add an FAQ page to our website, so please keep your questions coming and we’ll work on building a helpful page to meet the most frequent information needs.
Over to you!

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