Dion's random ramblings

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2009 Global Day of Prayer - every nation on earth participates!

We arrived in Hong Kong on the 28th of May to prepare the last few things before the Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday (31 May 2009).

This year is the first time in the 9 year history of this mementos event that every single one of the world's 220 nations registered events to form a part of the day of prayer. I feel that this is a truly historic and significant event in history - what humbles me most is the thought that this incredible movement that will involve well over 400 million people worldwide was started by a Methodist lay person (Graham Power) on the Southern tip of Africa - you can read the whole story of GDOP in Graham's book 'Not by Might, nor by Power'.

The first Global Day of Prayer event (then called Transformation Africa) was held at Newlands Rugby stadium in 2001 when Graham Power felt convicted by the Lord to call together all the Christians in that city for a day of repentance and prayer (in keeping with 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land".

The events that take place across the globe started as the dateline hit 31 May (the start of Pentecost begins in Tonga and Fiji and then moves through the time zones to Hawaii - a total of about 20 hours of daylight). During this time people gather in events ranging in size and character. Some of the events are quite similar to the first Newlands event - they are large stadiums in which Christians gather to worship, pray around specific prayer pointers, and be inspired and united in cause to seek God's blessing and transforming power for their cities and nations. In other places where this may not be possible people meet in Churches, some meet in homes, and in some places in Africa and India there are massive open air gatherings (the largest reported gathering was in India where over 500 thousand persons are reported to have attended a single event). Most nations have numerous events taking place - for example in South Africa there are 347 towns and cities that have registered events of various sizes.

The only request from the Global Day of Prayer organisers is that the events are eccumenical in nature (i.e., that they represent a broad scope of Christian heritage). The reality is however that GDOP does take on a different character in each geographical region (in North America it tends to be predominantly supported by mainline evangelical Christians, in South Africa it is much the same, in North Africa it is predominantly Orthodox believers, in Latin America there is a mix of evangelical and Catholic Christians, in Asia it is the mainline and evangelical Churches etc.) Second, the organisers ask that the Prayer for the world be said at each event at some point during the proceedings (I have put a copy of the prayer below for your interest - I would encourage you to pray through it today so that even if you're not joining in a large event perhaps you and your family might join the hundreds of millions of Christians in praying for renewal and transformation of the earth?)

We have been anchoring the Global Day of Prayer from different geographical locations for the last few years (last year was in Israel, this year we're in Hong Kong and China, and in 2010 we shall be returning to Cape Town, South Africa, where it all began in 2001). We set up a studio at an event (such as the one in Hong Kong this afternoon) and then bring in live feed from events and gatherings across the world that gets broadcast on GodTV for a period of about 8-12 hours. It is wonderful to catch a glimpse of the Christian Church in its variety and uniqueness across the globe! This year the primary feeds will come from Brazil, Hong Kong and the Ivory Coast with other inputs from Russia, North America and South Africa.

Please join me in giving thanks to God for His grace and mercy, thank God for the many faithful believers who have been fasting and praying for the last 10 days, for the many millions that will gather to pray for the world today, and for the many hundreds of thousands that will participate in the '90 days of blessing' that follow today. Please also thank God for Graham, his faithfulness, courage and sacrifice in bringing to Global Day of Prayer to reality and for the impact that his courage and love has had on the lives of so many individuals and communities across the globe as they have sought and found God's blessing.

Here is the Prayer for the World:

"They lifted their voices to God with one accord..." - Acts 4:24

Almighty God ? Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Together with believers all over the world,
We gather today to glorify Your Name.
You are the Creator of heaven and earth.
There is no one like You, holy and righteous in all Your ways.
We submit to Your authority as the King of the universe.
We pray with one voice to enthrone You in our hearts
and to honour You before the world.

Lord God, You alone are worthy of our praise and adoration.

Our Father in heaven,
Thank You for loving the world so greatly.
You gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ,
to die on the cross for our sins
so that we could be reconciled to You.
We are grateful to call You Father and to be called Your children.
Nothing can separate us from Your love.

Thank You Father, for adopting us into Your family because of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You alone are worthy to open the scrolls of history,
for You were slain and have redeemed us to the Father by Your blood.
We confess that You are Head of the Church
and Lord of all heaven and earth.
May people from every tribe and language become Your followers
so that Your blessing brings transformation among all peoples.
Let Your kingdom be established in every nation of the world
so that governments will rule with righteousness and justice.
And may Your Name be great, from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Jesus Christ, You are the Saviour of the world and the Lord of all.

Father of mercy and grace,
We acknowledge that we have sinned
and that our world is gripped by the power of sin.
Our hearts are grieved by injustice, hatred and violence.
We are shamed by oppression, racism and bloodshed in our land.
We mourn all loss of life in murder, war and terrorism.
Our homes are broken and our churches are divided by rebellion and pride.
Our lives are polluted by selfishness, greed, idolatry and sexual sin.
We have grieved Your heart and brought shame to Your Name.
Have mercy on us as we repent with all our hearts.

God of mercy, forgive our sins. Pour out Your grace and heal our land.

Spirit of the living God,
Apart from You, we can do nothing.
Transform Your Church into the image of Jesus Christ.
Release Your power to bring healing to the sick,
freedom to the oppressed and comfort to those who mourn.
Pour Your love into our hearts and fill us with compassion
to answer the call of the homeless and the hungry
and to enfold orphans, widows and the elderly in Your care.
Give us wisdom and insight for the complex problems we face today.
Help us to use the resources of the earth for the well-being of all.

Holy Spirit, we need Your comfort and guidance. Transform our hearts.

Lord Jesus Christ,
Because You were dead, but are now risen,
and the Father has given You a Name above all names,
You will defeat all powers of evil.
Tear down strongholds and ideologies that resist the knowledge of God.
Remove the veil of darkness that covers the peoples.
Restrain the evil that promotes violence and death.
Bring deliverance from demonic oppression.
Break the hold of slavery, tyranny and disease.
Fill us with courage to preach Your word fearlessly,
and to intercede for the lost faithfully.

Almighty God, deliver us from evil.

King of Glory,
Come and finish Your work in our cities, our peoples and our nations.
We lift our voices in unison with believers from Africa and Asia,
from the Middle East and Europe, from North and South America,
and from Australia and the Pacific Islands?together we cry:

Lift up your heads, O you gates! Be lifted up ancient doors so that the King of glory may come in!

As Your deeds increase throughout the earth,
and as Your blessings abound to all the nations,
they will seek You, asking, ?Who is this King of glory??

Together we will answer:

He is the Lord Almighty! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Come fill the earth with Your glory as the waters cover the sea.
The Spirit and the Bride say:

Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Learning to love - the last, the lost and the lonely

Since we are created in the image of God, our nature will be most perfect when it reflects God's nature.  The Bible tells us (and my experience bears out) that God is love - so, that means if we can learn to be loving in the way in which God is love we will be able to bless others, transform our sphere of influence and find personal fulfilment.

Yesterday I recorded this show for Radio Pulpit - http://www.radiopulpit.co.za

It's entitled 'Learning to love the last, the lost and the lonely' you can download it here:  http://www.spirituality.org.za/files/RadioPulpit/Forster27May09.mp3

It is 6.9MB (mp3)

Have a blessed day!  If you enjoy the show please consider dropping me a line here with some feedback or comment, and also please consider voting for the show on the radio pulpit website http://www.radiopulpit.co.za (you can find the link under the links on the left hand side of the page).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Preparing for the next two weeks... Busy times, but good planning and lots of love!

In the previous post I wrote about the great ride that I did this morning. It was a 40km ride in the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountains (all on Lourensford farm). Here's a google image of the route (on the left). And if you have Google Earth installed on your machine you can open this file to see the exact route (and how slow I rode in most parts!) Lourensford_ride_05_Apr_09.kml

I enjoy these times - first, the exercise does me a world of good! I can feel my leg strengthening with each ride. And of course it also helps me to release a lot of stress. Second, it is an opportunity to bear a subtle and worthwhile witness to Christ among a group of guys who have not been in contact with Christianity or the Church in some time. Each time I ride I always seem to end up riding with a different person who opens up, shares some of their hopes, dreams, aspirations and struggles, and I have a chance to offer a listening ear, an open and affirming heart, and of course the hospitable love and hope of Christ. I have spoken (when I have breath!) with guys about their marriage relationships, we've talked about struggles at work, the death of loved ones, and in some instances just had a good laugh.

These are valuable opportunities for ministry, and their valuable times for me to grow and live out my calling to serve Christ and those whom Christ loves.

In an earlier post (last week) I wrote about managing stress, struggle and hardship from the perspective of neuroscience (the science of the brain). You can read about that perspective here.

That post came from the recognition that I have a deep and significant need for an active, lived, spirituality - a relationship with Jesus that helps me to gain some control over myself, and some perspective on my life.

Today's ride was necessary - over the next two weeks we shall have quite a busy time in the Forster household!

Later this week I shall be leaving for Hong Kong for the Global Day of Prayer (which takes place on 31 May 2009 - this year EVERY SINGLE nation in the world will be involved! So do look out for us on GodTV where we will be anchoring our broadcast from the Hong Kong GDOP stadium event. It is estimated that approximately 400 million Christians from the world's 220 nations will participate on Pentecost Sunday! What a remarkable thing to think that a Methodist lay person, Graham Power, initiated the world's largest prayer gather. We hear so many wonderful stories of communites that have been united and transformed through their participation and preparation in the GDOP. Out of this have come millions of projects (mostly concentrated on the 90 days of blessing that follow Pentecost) which have built schools, fixed hospitals, created jobs, and done a host of other social transformation projects!) Indeed, I give thanks to God for this incredible event, and for the small part that I play as chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer.

So, do check back here (and also follow my twitter stream @digitaldion) for photos, news, and updates on GDOP and the Call2All conference from Hong Kong.

I will arrive back from Hong Kong on the 5th of June, and then Megie (my darling wife!) leaves for Korea for the central committee meetings of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for her! We almost ended up there together since Graham Power (whom I serve as chaplain) and our team were to be there (Graham is the director of the arrangements committee for the next Lausanne Congress on World evangelization, and I serve on the Theological Working group). But, because of other pressures back in South Africa we decided not to go (it would have meant two weeks away from the office). But, Megie, who is the project manager, is going.

So, spare a prayer! From the 6th-13th of June I'll be flying solo with the kids. Fortunately I have no travelling to do during that week. And, I've managed to shift my evening meetings and find some good friends who'll help with fetching the kiddies from school.

It is important to create an environment for our children in which they feel (and know) that they are cared for, that their lives are a priority, and that their needs come first in our family. Yet, at the same time it is important for me as a husband to create every opportunity for Megan to show her full gifting and potential in the great work that she's doing!

So, this weekend has been almost entirely spent on family things. We've made sure to get as hands on as we can with our kids and their programme for the weekend. Megan and I have also made quality time to be together (something that is important when I travel so much). We watched two movies together and enjoyed each other's company on both Saturday and Sunday evening.

At the end of the day I have come to realise that the best joy in life comes from very good planning, and enough space for spontaneity and quality!

We love each other, we love our children, and we love the opportunity that we have to serve Christ in different ways!

PS. today we went to the 'Spur' for lunch, and who should we run into? Gus, Heather and Zach! Such special friends! This week Gus will be doing his final assessments for Ordination, so please do spare a prayer for him!

Have a great week, and remember that your work can be worship if you choose to do everything to the glory of Christ and the blessing of others.

Another perfect ride!

This picture was taken about half way on the climb up to the neck between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. A perfect ride on a perfect day!
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Friday, May 22, 2009

On being a fanatic....

Here are two quotes (one from an activist, one from the Bible) that have challenged me today!

If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large. William Wilberforce,

(British abolitionist and social reformer. 1759-1833)

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11

Why you're unhappy, and what you can do about it!

Here's another post on the brain... Please don't give up reading this as soon as you see that it's about the brain!! In this post I have attempted to share some explanation for why you do some of the things you do, and why you feel some of the things you feel. And, I hope that when you understand how powerful your brain is in shaping your conscious mind that you will begin to take deliberate measures to manage your mind. It is possible, and it will make your life a lot better!

The inspiration for this post came from a hilarious skit by Bob Newhart... In the video Bob Newhart acts something like a Rogerian Gestalt therapist with a woman who suffers from claustrophobia. Each time she expresses her fear he simply yells at her to 'STOP IT' (i.e., stop being afraid). Of course that is not good psychotherapy practise! But, it did stimulate some thought about whether one is able to understand and control one's reactions to experiences and internal struggles that one may face?

I think you can (to some extent at least!)

The human brain is the most complex of all of the organs of the human person. We understand very little about its actual functioning, although we are able to understand some of the more basic electrical and chemical processes that can be related to certain actions and feelings. In some senses we're able to understand the processes of the brain without truly have a handle on the brain itself.

The simplest explanation for explaining how the brain functions is to say that it is an organ that is designed to ensure survival. The brain is a in fact a fairly primitive organ that has evolved in complexity throughout the ages - yet at its very base it has the same basic purpose - ensuring that you (and we as a species) continue to survive. In order to to this the brain has three basic functions.

1) The brain receives input from the senses (we see things, hear things, feel things, smell things and taste things).
2) The brain processes the input that it gets from the senses and then decides what to do with it.
3) The brain sends messages and instructions to different parts of the body to respond to the exogenous and endogenous inputs it has received.

The receptive part of the brain is a complex science all of its own. Each of the senses is routed primarily to a certain area of the brain where it fires up the dendrites and we can measure electromagnetic activity in that particular area (or at least we can measure a dominance of magnetic activity in a particular area). For example sight is directly connected to the lower brain - interestingly the eyes are the only part of the brain that is visible to other persons! The nerves in the eyes are directly connected to the brain and in fact form a direct primitive function of the brain. The right eye is connected to the left hemisphere and vice versa. I chose vision as the example for input stimuli since vision takes up to 1/3 to 1/2 of brain function. When I share the few points about the primal functioning of the brain it will become clear why this is the case. However, it will suffice to say at this point that vision is not a function of the eyes, rather it is fundamentally a function of the brain!

The simplest way to explain this is to say that we don't 'see' everything that our eyes take in. There is common experiment that brain science lecturers us to show this to their students. It is known as the pictorial superiority effect. The students are shown a video of a group of persons standing in a circle throwing a ball to one another. They are then asked to count the number of times the ball is passed between two (or more) of the participants. What happens in the brain of the observer is that their reticular activation sensor is activated to only process the persons they're watching and the movement of the ball. In the video a person dressed in a guerilla suit walks into frame, walks between the persons and then moves out of frame. When one asks the viewers what they saw almost none of them will report seeing the guerilla! Surely a guerilla among a group of people playing with a ball should be something noticeable? Well, in this case it is not. The brain has 'tuned out' that particular stimulus input because it either does not fit the frame of reference for what the brain expects to see, or simply because it is not necessary to complete the task that was set (counting how many times particular persons pass the ball to one another).

So, how does vision work?

  1. Stimulus received through the retina and is transduced (i.e., turned into an electrical pulse so that it can pass along the nerves into the brain)
  2. From the retina it is sent to the Lateral Gerniculate nuclease in the middle brain, there it is sorted before it is processed.
  3. Next the signal is passed on to an area that is known as Broadman 17 version 1 (in the back of the brain in the occipital lobe to be precise) where it is parsed out (i.e. sent to shapes, faces, objects area of the brain?) There is, for example, a section in the brain that detects horizontal lines, a section that detects colours, another that detects faces and so on?
  4. Finally it is sent to the area of the brain where it is judged, edited and sent as a response for action or emotion.
We must remember that the brain does not deal with reality! It deals with survival as I said earlier. It will take an input, edit it and then rework it to cause the rest of the brain and body to process it towards survival.

So, what are these 'survival' instincts in the brain that I have been referring to?

Well, once again as with all aspects of the brain they are fairly complex, but they can be roughly explained using some analogous examples. In this case the example refers to primitive life - in days of yore (and here I'm not talking about before the advent of cell phones or microwaves... I'm talking even before the advent of the wheel!) the primary concern of very human person was mere survival.

Sometimes my daughter, who is 9, is rather surprised to discover things such as the fact that eggs don't come from grocery stores, and that there is a direct genetic link between the hamburger she's eating and the cows we saw grazing in the fields... Survival was tough! And so the brain was designed (if one could use that word without causing too much of a storm) to help humans survive.

The three basic survival instincts (that are a link between the functioning of the brain and primitive human life) are:

  1. Can what I am sensing eat me? OR can I eat what I am sensing? This has to do with short term survival of the individual or family unit and naturally has to do with sustenance and safety.
  2. Can I mate with what I am sensing? OR does what I am sensing want to mate with me? Don't start laughing (or blushing) now! The brain is hard wired to find a mate in order to procreate to sustain the species in the longer term.
  3. Do I recognize what I am sensing? This is a slightly more complex phenomenon, but it has to do with learning. For example, if I have been burned by fire I my brain will recognize it and make the link with pain and so caution me to stay away from it. But, this is also just a basic function of spatial recognition (i.e., I can remember where I live, I know where to find water and food, and I know the difference between humans and other life forms...)

Now amazingly these simplistic analogies can help us to understand quite a lot about human behavior. These primal urges are hard wired into the very primitive parts of our brain (over which we have very little conscious control) and so a great deal of joy and pain can be associated with trying to work out these simple things in a much more complex contemporary world. For example, the loss of one's job can be directly related to the need to survive through having the means to gain sustenance (even if it is a McDonalds burger that you're buying at the Mall!) Or, it explains why contemporary advertising and action movies always seems to have three common elements... Fear of death (survival), beautiful people (the intrinsic urge to mate), and simplistic repetition of concepts to enforce behaviour (i.e., a catchy slogan or jingle that the brain can recognize and process without much conscious effort).

So, if you took some time to consider what some of the elements of your life are that are making you unhappy I'm sure you would find that they stem either of an external (exogenous) circumstance or event that enters through your senses, or some endogenous (internal) struggle within yourself that gets sent to the brain (such as a 'hunger' for something, or the 'fear' of something, or the inability to recognize meaning or a discernible direction or pattern to your life).

The simple answer to most of these struggles is to begin by changing either the context or the content of your life.

If you live in a threatening relationship, find yourself under unmanageable stress, or are not having your most basic needs adequately met it is probably an indicator that you should plan to find some other context in which to exist. That's context stuff.

If that is not possible then you need to get more of what I have devoted my life to, spirituality and faith, the content of one's life (what regulates and consciously engages our senses and shapes our minds, thus managing our responses) is a valid and necessary aspect of every human life! I don't know a single person who is free from fear, hunger (even in it's subtler forms), the need for survival and a longing for some sense of higher order and purpose. Do you? This is the content stuff.

What do you think? Can spiritual exercises like meditation, prayer, regulated disciplines like exercise, fasting, service of others, etc., help to overcome the 'primal' struggles that we face in our brains? If you have an example to share that would be wonderful!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Exposing people to the transforming love of Jesus WITHOUT the evangelical stereotypes!

I love Jesus! I love the ways of Jesus! I have experienced the transforming and liberating power of the person and way of Christ in my own life and I have seen how it transforms persons and communities.

The Jesus I know is loving, just, inclusive, caring, affirming, understanding, compassionate and life giving! I long for more people (and systems) to be transformed by the truth and power of Christ!

Sadly, however, Christians have not done too well when it comes to exposing people to the love of Christ. We have tended to be overbearing, judgemental, 'holier than thou' and sometimes just plane weird about our faith!

One of the other HUGE problems with traditional evangelism is that it tends to be more interested in 'souls' than it in people - pretty much like the high school boy who makes notches on his bedpost for all the girls he's kissed. Jesus is not that way. Jesus longs to engage whole persons, and to find ways of transforming all of who they are. Jesus brings life, life that heals bodies, creates justice and establishes news ways of living with others.

A further problem with conventional evangelism is that it operates on the principles of propositional truths - in other words, it says things ABOUT the person, nature and character of Christ and then challenges people to make a decision to accept or reject these truths without having experienced them. The postmodern mindset does not deal all that well with 'absolute' truths that have not been experienced. There are simply too many things, people and powers that try to convince us of their competing truths.

Ed Silvoso once summed up these two notions in this way:

Preaching the truth without love is like giving someone a good kiss when you have bad breath. No matter how good your kiss is, all they will remember is your bad breath!
I think that statement is quite true for many attempts at evangelism I have heard about - we expect people to that Jesus is love, when they do not experience that love, or even see it in the Church. We tell people that Christ is merciful and just, and sadly they are exposed to judgmental and unjust Christian communities... The list could go on and on.

Well, I have recently come across a model of facilitating an encounter with the person and nature of Christ that is transforming my ministry! This is a method that does not require an extensive knowledge of the Bible. Neither does it manipulate people or simply try to reach their 'souls' - rather it seriously attempts to encounter them with the love and grace of Christ!

It is called 'L10T' (Luke 10 Transformation). Here's a great video that explains this approach to 'evangelism'. I have been involved in developing the model and the videos for it. There is a great DVD series that one can do with one's Church, cell groups, or even just watch by yourself. (The quality is not great - I tried to keep the video file size to 6 MB, so please do contact me if you require a higher quality version).

Here's a summary of the model.

Here?s a link to download the powerpoint slides that have the headings, scripture verses, and they also have sections on the ?Luke 10? transformation principles.

Briefly stated, the Luke 10 paradigm shift is significant. One of the mistakes that we make in the contemporary Church is that we tend to approach persons in the following manner:

  • Preach to them, if they respond,
  • Minister to them, then once they respond to our ministry,
  • we become their friends (i.e., fellowship with them, get them into 'small groups'), and finally,
  • if they respond appropriately to all of the above we then we ?bless? them (e.g., make them members of our Church, baptise them or their Children, do their marriage ceremony, offer them financial support, allow them to hold ministry positions in the Church etc.).

The reality is though, that in our contemporary post-modern culture, very few people respond to being 'preached at'. Amazingly, when you read Luke 10 (where Jesus sent out the 72 disciples to do ministry he took exactly the opposite strategy)...

Jesus said when you enter into a city, find a person of peace and bless him - so blessing comes first.... If we can find tangible and real ways to share God's love and blessing with people by addressing their felt needs, this is a much more effective witness than 'preaching'. So, for example, in South Africa we feed people (without preaching), we simply feed them because God would not want them to be hungry, and they feel 'blessed' when people feed them.

Then Jesus said when you've blessed the person of peace, stay in his house and eat with him - that?s fellowship. We need to find ways to engage with people on their level and in their primary location (e.g., instead of trying to first bring people into Churches, lets get to know them and love them where they are. Whether that be in a school, or an office building or their home). Relationships are key to facilitating faith, after all, what God gives us in Christ is not 'doctrine', but the truth of transforming love in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Then having fellowshipped with persons we minister to them, this is where we pray for persons to be healed, for them to find wholeness, for the marriages and children to be whole etc. Ministry flows out of a relationship of trust (point 2 above) and an experience of God?s blessing (point 1 above). People are open to being ministered to, and to receiving God's grace, when they trust us, and they have already experienced God?s blessing.

Finally, as a last step one will ?preach? - this is the discipleship phase, not the evangelism phase. I have experienced that this is much more in keeping with 1 Peter 3:15 (give an account of the hope that lives within you...) than it is 'preaching'. In Luke 10 Jesus instructed the disciples to share the truth only once people had been blessed, included into a community, and experienced God?s healing, love, and provision.

Anyway, this is the methodology of ministry that I apply in my ministry. So, I operate according to 5 ?new? paradigms of being Church and being a Christian, but my functional methodology is the Luke 10 methodology (Bless, fellowship, minister, then preach)... This has been quite a change for me since as a Pastor I was accustomed to always preaching first. However, I have come to recognise that the ?old Church? methodology is no longer as effective in the post-modern context.

If you would like to read more about the theology and biblical perspective that shapes this form of ministry you can see the following link that I wrote on my blog about a year ago...

I would encourage you to watch the video above, download it (you can use 'kissyoutube') and share it! If you're interested in getting the DVD material to run it with your group, or in your Church then please email me. I'll gladly put you in touch with the folks who are distributing it.

So, what do you think? Is this a tool that could be useful in your setting? Can you spot any problems we may not be aware of? Any advice or help you could offer would be very much appreciated!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How computers can replicate (but not replace) scientists...

Strong Artificial Intelligence formed a large part of my doctoral research - yes, I've heard most of the jokes about being an 'artificially intelligent' doctor... And, the good news is that most of them are true! ha ha!

I proposed a hypothesis, among other things, based on a mathematical model for the exponential growth of representational and emulative intelligence in machines (showing an exponential increase in computing capacity from data retention, to information processing, to knowledge management, and then to intelligence and finally sentience). In order for this to take place Moore's law would need to be exceeded (which has happened), and we would need to harness the accuracy and computational power of artificially intelligent machines to create even more intricate and powerful machines (much to complicated for a human person to create in the limited space of our lives, and with the clumsiness of our knowledge and skill). These are likely to be quantum computers, or possibly some form of enzyme based biomechanical machines...

The long and the short of it was that we could see the rise of truly intelligent machines by as early as 2029 (as per Ray Kurzweil's suggestion).

Well, some of this is already taking place in credible scientific research. Simply linear (and some more complex parallel) emulative processes are already being reproduced using super computers. However, as this post below suggests, whilst computers can perform comparative tasks between existing models, they are not yet at the place where they can fathom the creative mustre to develop new models by themselves... But, who knows, that may not be too far off! All that we need is to find some realiable self agregating code that gathers knowledge, tests it through a simple Turing test (in comparrision to other valid data - of course both of these processes are already possible), and then agregates and adjusts its code base for increasing accuracy and complexity. If a machine can do this faster and more accurately than a human person it may just be able to develop more stringent and previously unfathomed models of knowledge and perhaps even wisdom!

But for now, here's what is possible:

In his first column for Seed magazine, my Institute for the Future colleague and pal Alex Pang looks at efforts to create software that doesn't just support scientific discovery, it actually does new science. From Seed:
Older AI projects in scientific discovery tried to model the way scientists think. This approach doesn?t try to imitate an individual scientist?s cognitive processes???you don?t need intuition when you have processor cycles to burn???but it bears an interesting similarity to the way scientific communities work. (Cornell professor Hod) Lipson says it figures out what to look at next ?based on disagreement between models, just as a scientist will design an experiment that tests predictions made by competing theories.?

But that doesn?t mean it will replace scientists. (Cornell graduate student Michael) Schmidt views it as a tool to see what they can?t: ?Something that is not obvious to a human might be obvious to a computer,? he speculates. A program, says Schmidt, may find things ?that look really strange and foreign? to a scientist. More fundamentally, the Cornell program can analyze data, build models, and even guess which theories are more powerful, but it can?t explain what its theories mean???and new theories often force scientists to rethink and refine basic assumptions. ?E=mc2 looks very simple, but it actually encapsulates a lot of knowledge,? Lipson says. ?It overturned a lot of older preconceptions about energy and the speed of light.? Even as computers get better at formulating theories, ?you need humans to give meaning to what the system finds.?
Why We're Not Obsolete: Alex Pang in Seed
From boingboing.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think that sentient machines could be a threat to humanity? I once postulated that perhaps the extinction of the human race was part of God's evolutionary plan for the redemption of the cosmos... It would seem that humanity has two radical problems. First, we have a tendancy to displace God from the centre of the universe (so much popular theology goes around humanity, the needs and will of humans and the actualisation of human desire)... Surely that can not be right!? Second, humans are clearly a destructive force in the greater scheme of cosmic reality. We fight, we consume, we destroy and generally seem to be quite bad for the cosmic ecosystem.

Of course the converse argument is that the Gospels show that Jesus died for BOTH humans and the cosmos... But, I could be wrong (or right)! What do you think?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Absolute perfection!

So, today I went back to the University of Stellenbosch's business school for some more classes towards my SMDP. I enjoy being a student again.

However, I have been deeply challenged by a comment that a friend of mine, Alan Storey, made at a lecture I gave two weeks ago. I was speaking about the lack of membership statistics for Methodist Churches in SA when he asked why we needed them so much? He went on to say (as I've shared elsewhere on this blog) that sometimes we want figures so that we can try to 'manage' and 'control' things that are not realy measurable (for example how could I Church with more members be deemed more successful than a small community in which a marriage is healed, or a bereaved widow finds new meaning in life... Such things cannot be quantified).

I love what I am learning at the business school - it is an entirely new, and so quite exciting. But there have been elements of 'positivism', 'determinism', 'reductionism' to the course that have been quite unsettling. Business strives for a certain kind of perfection... I can't quite put my finger on it. But it is almost the kind of perfection that meets the approval of the masses - what is best for the majority must be right for all (increasing marketshare, surveying customer satisfaction, probing trends etc.)

However, in my life I have experienced a different kind of beauty and perfection. It is the perfection of uniqueness, of being special because you're not exactly the same as everyone else... I find this in my little mircale boy Liam. Liam was born 3 months premature and so has a few health and developmental concerns. I have given up answering honestly to the question ' how is Liam doing?' Even when he is ill, as he was this last week, he is as close to perfect as I could ever have hoped for! His little limp and his 'special' left hand that we encourage him to use as much as his 'normal' right hand are absolutely perfect - he may not be perfect in the business sense, or in comparisson to others of his age, but then neither am I! I have never quite fit the small space that society has shaped for me...

However, what I can say with all of my heart is that Liam is perfect, absolutely perfect! He is perfect in God's eyes, and he perfectly fills my WHOLE heart! There is no sense in that. It cannot be measured or adequitely compared. I cannot even explain it... All that I know is that I experience it to be true...

And, I continue to praise and thank God for God's goodness and grace. It is perfect grace for imperfect people like me.
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Inspiriation, courage, and Biblical encouragement during times of financial crisis

My friend Dr. Wessel Bentley has just released his new book - 28 Days of Prayer during Financial Crisis.

I had the wonderful privelage of reading through his manuscript before it was published. Friends, this is a book that will offer a great deal of inspiration, encouragement, and sound advice from the Christian scriptures. What is particularly encouraging in this book is that it is not simplisitic, it certainly is not another 'prosperity' book, and it comes from someone who has lived through some challenging times himself!

You can order Wessel's book here.

Here's a little piece from Wessel himself.

Dear Friends

I am happy to announce that my new book "28 Days of Prayer during financial crisis" is in print and available from Africa Upper Room Ministries.

What is this book about? Well, first I need to make it explicitly clear that this is NOT a Prosperity Theology book. It is a resource providing a 4-week journey in recognizing God's presence, even during global financial crisis. It offers some points for consideration on how we view ministry, management of what is at our disposal and, most of all, the ability to speak honestly to God about that which creates fear and anxiety in our lives. I have incorporated much of what John Wesley said about money and trust that this will provide encouragement for the road ahead. Order forms can be downloaded from the sidebar to the right.

God bless.

Rich blessings with this one Wes! I pray that it will touch and bless many people!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A source of joy and relaxation!

Let me introduce you (formally) to my mountain bike, 'The Canaanite' - it is a Mongoose Canaan Comp. I've owned it for a few months now and love spending time riding in the mountains around my home - it clears my head, gets me fit, and helps me to cope with stress!

Yesterday I did a 30km ride on Lourensdord and Vergelegen Farms (about 500 metres from where I live). It was fantastic! I wish I had more time to enjoy the outdoors, but I had to work. And, of course, there is also the joy of spending time with my family)....

So internets, meet Canaan, Canaan, meet the people of the internets... They're nice people you know!
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Happy Mother's day from Paradise!

First, a blessed mother's day to my mom, and to Megie my wonderful wife!

Courtney was on a Girl Guide camp at 'Mooihawens', so after I finished preaching at the early serive at Coronation Ave we drove out to collect her. It must be one of the most magnificent drives in the world! It is along the coastline.

This photo was taken at Kogel Bay (pronounced 'Cool Bay') which is a surfer's haven just 20 minutes from our home. It's a perfect day here today! We're going out for lunch in a little while.
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Friday, May 08, 2009

An emerging Church conversation with Rev Steven Lottering

My journey into the 'emerging conversation' continues! Yesterday I had the great joy of recording an episode for my show, The Ministry and Me (on Radio Pulpit) with Rev Steven Lottering.

Steven is a good friend, and the pastor of the Methodist Church congregation where my family and I worship - Coronation Ave Methodist Church in Somerset West.

Steven has a very balanced and informed perspective on the emerging conversation - it is balanced by the fact that he is a pastor of a healthy Church, and informed by his searching to find ways to effectively engage more than just the members of his congregation! He always seems to have an eye on the world around him to see how the Church can serve society.

It was great to be with Steven. The lead broadcast of this episode will be aired on Radio Pulpit on Wednesday 13 May 2009 at 9.00 (CAT).

You can catch a sneak preview of the show here: 'Is the Church dying or simply changing? A conversation on the Emerging Church with Rev Steven Lottering' (6MB MP3).

If you've found the program useful, please do drop me a line, and please cast a vote for it here.

Rich blessing!


For a few more posts (audio, video and a paper I delivered in the UK, please click here).

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

When God's grace breaks through...

Today was another one of those days in which I experienced a deep sense of awakening to God's grace.

Let me start with a brief explanation of two concepts that will help you to understand my approach to faith and life in Christ better. In a very basic sense theology shows two approaches to consciousness of God.

There is the perenialist approach which can be likened to a river bed - in some seasons the river does not have water flowing between its banks. The banks are visible and the evidence of water having flowed there is visible, yet the water table has dropped and so the water itself is presnt beneath the surface, perhaps bubling through in a spring here and there, but to a large extent it remains hidden from view. My experience of God's grace is like this in many senses - I know God is present and active, the evidence is there, but perhaps I am not perceptive enough to see God clearly at work beneath the surface of my everyday life. However, every now and then God's grace breaks through and bring real life.

The other broad approach to God consciousness is called the constructivist approach. The approach is much more deductive than inductive - in other words, one constructs the experience of God's present grace by creating some kind of framework, schema or discipline. This is what prayer, Bible study, Sunday worship, fasting, acts of mercy and a host of other spiritual disciplines allow us to do. We facilitate an awareness of God's active presence by means of certain constructions of meaning.

I often rely on the constructivist approach to faith and spirituality to find and make meaning within the mundane and necessary tasks of my daily life. I pray frequently and in a disciplined manner, I give sacrificialy of my income, I fast weekly (and am currently on a 40 day partial fast - only eating one meal a day for 40 days). These things make me conscious of God, of others, and of myself. For example, for the last 10 days I have only eaten on meal a day. It reminds me that there are many persons who do not eat at all, that there are some who can only eat once a day, and that I far too frequently eat food for the wrong reasons - consuming much more than I need in a world where some have none. This simple act shapes my daily life, it fills me with compassion and it drives me to action. So, in response to my hunger I pray, I strategise to ensure that I find ways to feed as many hungry people as I can, and I gain control over something that can so easily control me.

All of this came home is a particularly significant way today! One of the joys of being conscious is that it gives one freedom! I have the freedom to look for God wherever God is present. I look for God in meetings, in times of conflict, in situations of stress, in creative engagements, and among diverse and different people. I found God in the talk that Eddie Andrews (the Western Province and Springbok Rugby player) gave at our office worship today. I found God at 'the Ark city of refuge' where our trust is helping to fund food, education and rehab. I found God in my family. I even find God in the posts to this blog.

And, at the end of the day I am grateful that God is active, present, and can be found. It just take a little bit of intention and some simple discipline for the miracle of God's grace to break through!

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Back to business school - value added return on equity...

In just over a week I go back to Stellenbosch business school for the second week of the Senior Management Diploma program.

I enjoyed the week tremendously! I gained so much insight into what it takes to manage one's resources in order to gain the best possible returns for what you invest (whether that be your time, your money, or the skills and creativity of others). I also came to realise that ministries, and charities could benefit with some help in order to get the best possible results from the gifts of time and money that people put into them. I've frequently thought how differently I would manage my Church's resources, and of course the resources of the seminary (if I were to be back in either of those ministries). After all, at the end of the day the desire to see the world transformed is a task that requires commitment, care and hard work!

I have applied a number of the principles that I was exposed to in the strategic management and financial management components to help our two trusts to be more disciplined and effective in working with the precious funding we have to address the many needs in our community. We are already starting to see a greater impact on our capacity to help more people, and transform more lives as a result.

It was this humerous image below that got me thinking about working with what you have in order to get the best possible return going forward!


The Mt Holly Mayor and his friend made some signs for a fellow named Ed who is out of work. Ed says the signs are working!

My pal, and frequent Mt. Holly tourist, Todd Norem (noremipsum.com) created these media appropriate and proven effective outdoor boards for his client Ed who reported at least a 800% increase in gross income on days his media ran.
See other signs at the link. Pan Handling Competition is Running Hot in Minneapolis
The original post comes from boingboing.

What do you think... Is there a ANY place for business principles in ministry? I know that the converse is also true! At a workshop with my friends Steven Lotering and Alan Storey last week I was reminded that NOT everything needs to be measured and quantified! Some of the most significant gains in the Kingdom of God can not be put into numbers... Alan also reminded me that sometimes we try to quantify things because we want to 'manage' and 'control' them to our own ends... I was challenged by these thoughts... But, at the same time I have seen so many Churches and ministries that are so much less than effective because they lack leadership, good management and some simple policies and procedures!

I'd love to hear your thoughts (and particilarly those who came into ministry from a business background).

A cynic's view of Europe - Maps from a different perspective!

Ever since my friend Alan Storey helped to open my eyes to the distortion of geography that we have lived with for centuries I have loved looking at 'alternative' representations of the world. I say that our maps are distorted, because as you'll see in this post of mine they are shaped by political and economic powers, rather then true geographic land mass.

Anyway, this was a rather cynical, yet thought provoking perspective on Europe.... it comes from boingboing...


ArtWerk drew this map of Europe, titled "Where I Live." Be sure to read the lively debate over at Flickr, both in the annotated notes and the comments.

A perfect day in my 'back yard'!

In the 5 years we lived in Pretoria, Megie and I wished that we could spend a Sunday afternoon chilling on the beach. Well, that wish has been granted since moving back to the Cape! Days like these are a gift! There is almost now wind, very few clouds, and very few people at the beach...

After seeing Gwen & Rhys off to the airport we did a little work and then bought the kids to the beach for a bit of a run around and relaxation...

Great times!

PS. This photo is taken from the surfer section of Strand beach towards Gordon's bay in the distance.
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Saturday, May 02, 2009

The blessing of family!

Megie's sister, Gwen, her husban Rhys and their little boy Christopher are visiting with us this week. It is so great to be with them! I have realised just how much we miss having family close by since moving back to Cape Town.

Today we came for a bite of lunch just up the road from our home, at 'Nice' on the Stellenbosch road. It is cold and wet outside, but the fireplace in here is wonderful and warm!

Yesterday was an amzing day as well. It rained cats and dogs for most of the day. When there was a gap in the clouds (at about 2pm) I decided to go for a ride on my mountain bike. I rode up Silverboom Kloof road to the top of the Heldeberg, at the top I found an incredible dirt trail and rode around on the Helderberg Mountain for about 2 hours (in the POURING rain!!!) it was slippery, muddy, and just incredible! Man, I love where we live! When I got home my lungs were burning, my legs were numb and all the stress of the last week was gone!

This morning I went with my friend Graham Power to choose a mountain bike for himself. He has a larger budget than I do, so it was great to help him buy the bike I would love to own! I can't wait for him to get his bike - he has a great farm in the Karoo where we can go ride, and he is also well connected with a number of the wine farmers in our area, so we should be able to ride on some of the farms that aren't normally open to mountain bikes.

Well, the long weekend is almost over! The next month is incredibly pressed (I'll be in JHB a few times, back to Hong Kong and Mainland China, and then to Korea as well). So, I am enjoying this free time! It allows my spirit to catch up with my body and mind!
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