Sunday, 24 August 2014

What's Missing? - Teaser 9

What letter is missing from this set?

   e, f, h, i, l, ?


Think about them as capitals


Coming soon! Watch this space

Sunday, 13 July 2014

How Far Away is That?

I came across this useful rough rule of thumb for calculating the distance to a far-off object.

Suppose you're walking in the countryside and see a village ahead of you.

You can see a church.  Close your left eye, stretch out your arm and point, lining up the tip of your finger with the church.

Now close the other eye instead.  Suppose your finger now points to a house somewhat to the right.

You know, or can estimate, that the distance between those two buildings is 300 m.  You can then immediately say that you're about 3 km away from the village.

How does that work?

Actually it's a simple example of the principle of parallax, the displacement in the apparent position of an object when viewed along two different lines of sight.

It depends on the fact that, for most of us, the distance between our eyes ("a" in the diagram) is about one-tenth of the distance from our eyes to the tip of our finger ("b").

The triangle lrf in the diagram is similar to the triangle chf.  So, the village is about ten times as far from you as the distance between the church and the house.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Welcome to Kenza

Kenza Lilly El Mostain was born just before 10 pm on 30th May, weighing 7 lb 14 oz (3.58 kg).  Kenza means "treasure" in Arabic.  She is our 8th grandchild!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Another Sequence - Teaser 8

What's the next letter in this series?

   H, H, L, B, B, C, N, O, F, N


1834 — 1907




These are the first letters of the English names of the first few elements (based on their atomic number): Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine, Neon ... and, of course, Sodium.  Dmitri Mendeleev, born on 27 January 1834, published his Periodic Table of Elements in 1860.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Hazards of Gambling

A recent item on the ACM RISKS Forum by Martin Ward argues that all gambling necessarily involves the destruction of value. This is a convincing, purely economic argument, even leaving aside the moral argument, that gambling is essentially theft.

Martin quotes chapter 14 of John Nevil Maskelyne's 1894 book Sharps and Flats:
It must be obvious to any one who will take the trouble to think over the matter, that chances which are fair and equal are a question of proportion rather than of actual amounts and odds. At first sight, however, it would appear that if a man stands an equal chance of winning or losing a certain amount, nothing fairer could possibly be imagined, from whatever point of view one may regard it. I venture to say, nevertheless, that this is not so.

Suppose for the moment that you are a poor man, and that you meet a rich acquaintance who insists upon your spending the day with him, and having what the Americans call 'a large time.' At the end of the day he says to you, 'I will toss you whether you or I pay this day's expenses.' Such a proposition is by no means uncommon, and suppose you win, what is the loss to him? Comparatively nothing. He may never miss the amount he has to pay; but if you lose, your day's outing may have to be purchased by many weeks of inconvenience.

A bet of a hundred pounds is a mere bagatelle to a rich man, but it may be everything to a poor one. In the one case the loss entails no inconvenience, in the other it means absolute ruin. It must be granted, then, in matters of this kind, that proportion is the chief factor, not the actual figures. If you are with me so far, you are already a step nearer to my way of thinking.

Let us proceed a step further, and see how it is that a bet is necessarily unfair to both parties. The simple fact is that no two men can make a wager, however seemingly fair, or however obviously unfair, without at once reducing the actual value to them of their joint possessions.

This can be proved to a demonstration. We will take a case in which the chances of winning are exactly equal, both in amount and in proportion to the wealth of two bettors. Suppose that your possessions are precisely equal in amount to those of a friend, and that your circumstances are similar in every respect. There can be, then, no disparity arising from the fact of a bet being made between you, where the chances of winning or losing a certain amount are the same to each.

To present the problem in its simplest form, we will say that you each stake one-half of your possessions upon the turn of a coin. If it turns up head you win, if it falls 'tail up' your friend wins. Nothing could possibly be fairer than this from a gambler's point of view. You have each an equal chance of winning, you both stake an equal amount, you both stand to lose as much as you can win, and, above all, the amount staked bears the same value, proportionately, to the wealth of each person. One cannot imagine a bet being made under fairer conditions, yet how does it work out in actual fact? You may smile when you read the words, but you both stand to lose more than you can possibly win! You doubt it! Well, we shall see if it cannot be made clear to you.

Suppose the turn of the coin is against you, and therefore you lose half your property; what is the result? To-morrow you will say, 'What a fool I was to bet! I was 100% better off yesterday than I am to-day.' That is precisely the state of the case; you were exactly 100% better off. Now, the most feeble intellect will at once perceive that 100% can only be balanced by 100%. If you stood a chance of being that much better off yesterday than you are to-day, to make the chances equal you should have had an equal probability of being 100% better off to-day than you were yesterday. That is obvious upon the face of it, since we agree that these questions are, beyond dispute, matters of proportion, and not of actual amounts.

Then we will suppose you win the toss, and thus acquire half your friend's property; what happens then? When the morrow arrives you can only say, 'I am 50% better off to-day than I was yesterday.' That is just it. If you lose, your losses have amounted to as much as you still possess, whilst, if you win, your gains amount only to one-third of what you possess.

The plain facts of the case, then, are simply that the moment you and your friend have made the bet referred to, you have considerably reduced the value of your joint possessions. Not in actual amount, it is true, but in actual fact, nevertheless; for whichever way the bet may go, the loss sustained by one represents a future deprivation to that one far greater than the future proportional advantage gained by the other. The mere fact of one having gained precisely as much as the other has lost does not affect the ultimate result in the least. The inconvenience arising from any loss is always greater than the convenience resulting from an equal gain.
Maskelyne also covers the moral argument:
The absolute immorality of gambling — the desire to obtain money to which one has no right — in any form is beyond dispute; and the sooner this fact is generally recognised, the better it will be for the world at large. There are some, of course, in whom the passion is ingrained, and from whose natures it can never be wholly eradicated. But everyone should clearly understand that the vice is as reprehensible in proportion to its magnitude as that, for instance, of either lying or stealing.

Friday, 15 February 2013

That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer

An interesting reminder that we're just not very good at assessing risk: That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer.

We exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control ('That would never happen to me — I’m careful') and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

How Many Presents from my True Love?

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
So how many presents did I receive all together?

This can be solved using the differences method, which is nicely explained by Ken Ward.

In the table below, n represents the day of Christmas (starting from 0, the day before I start receiving presents), p(n) represents the number of presents I receive on that day, P(n) represents the total number of presents received so far, δ1 is the first difference (the difference between successive terms of P(n) — which is p(n) of course), δ2 is the second difference (that between successive terms of δ1) and δ3 is the third difference.


As the δ3 values are all the same, the equation we're after is a cubic polynomial.  That is, it's of the form:

[1]P(n) = an3 + bn2 + cn + d

Now we can do some substitution.  We can see immediately that

P(0) = 0a + 0b + 0c + d = 0 ⇒ d = 0

And now, from the next three terms, we can create 3 simultaneous equations:

[2]P(1) = a + b + c = 1
[3]P(2) = 8a + 4b + 2c = 4
[4]P(3) = 27a + 9b + 3c = 10

We can eliminate c, first from [2] and [3] and then from [2] and [4] to produce:

[5]6a + 2b = 2
[6]24a + 6b = 7

From which we can deduce that (24 – 18a) = 1 ⇒ 6a = 1, or a = 16.

Substituting that back in [5], we find that 1 + 2b = 2 ⇒ 2b = 1, or b = 12.

Finally we can use [2] to determine that 16 + 12 + c = 1, or that c = 13.

Now we can substitute these values back in [1] and tidy up a bit:

P(n)= 16n3 + 12n2 + 13n
= 16n(n2 + 3n + 2)
= 16n(n + 1)(n + 2)

So, by the 12th day of Christmas I will have received 16.12(12 + 1)(12 + 2) or 2.13.14 = 364 presents. Not bad going.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Grace Reigns

Grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life.
Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things.
Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ.
Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun.
And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom.

(John Stott, commenting on Romans 5:21.)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Satan - The Ruler

The third chapter of Warren Wiersbe's book, The Strategy of Satan, summarized.

C The Ruler

Satan is described in the Bible as a ruler.

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

What was David's greatest sin? You might say, "Committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed in battle." But David committed another sin that had even greater consequences.

Because of David's adultery, just a few people died including Uriah and the baby that was born. But because of David's other sin, 70,000 people died! When David confessed his sins of adultery and murder, he said, "I have sinned." But when he confessed this other sin, he said, "I have sinned greatly."

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, "Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are."

But Joab replied, "May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" 

The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah. But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him.

This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.  Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing."

The Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, "Go and tell David, 'This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’" So Gad went to David and said to him, "This is what the Lord says: 'Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me."

David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead.

And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem.

Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. David said to God, "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O Lord my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people." 

Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.
(1 Chronicles 21:1-19)

1 Satan's target – your will

Satan's goal is to control the will. David was not deceived; he had his eyes wide open when he rebelled against God. David was not suffering; in fact, his kingdom was in great shape. Had David been deceived or had he been suffering, we might have had reason to sympathize with his decision; but this was not the case. Satan attacked David's will directly and won.

Your will is important because it helps to determine your character. Decisions mould your character, and decisions chart the directions of your life. We may want to blame circumstances or feelings, or even other people; but this is only an excuse. It is our will that directs our life.

The Christian life is basically a matter of the will. The Holy Spirit wants to instruct our minds through his word, inspire our hearts with true holy emotions, and then strengthen our will to do the will of God. You grow and serve God by praying, "Your will be done."

A dedicated Christian prays whether he feels like it or not. He obeys the word of God regardless of his own feelings. He has a consistent Christian life and a steady ministry that is not threatened by changing circumstances or feelings.

For example, we are commanded to love one another. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us, and this is primarily a matter of the will as we try to do that with the Spirit's help.

Satan is "the ruler of this world," and you and I are rebellious aliens living in his territory. Because we are citizens of heaven, we obey heaven's laws and submit to heaven's Lord. Satan wants us to worship and serve him; he wants our will submitted to his will. What weapon does he use to tempt us?

2 Satan's weapon – pride

David was feeling important when Satan approached him with the suggestion that he number the people. The previous chapter records a number of great victories that appear to have inflated his ego and enticed him to rebel against God.

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness he also tried to appeal to human pride.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." (Matthew 4:8-9)

Pride glorifies man and robs God of the glory that only he deserves. It's a weapon that Satan wields with great skill. It's one of his chief weapons. Even in the church, if he can get a pastor proud of his preaching, or a church member proud of their experience and skills, then he has a foothold from which to launch an attack. Let's remember Peter's words:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:5-6)

3 Satan's purpose – to make you independent of God's will

God made man to be dependent. We depend on God and even our fellow man just to stay alive.

The essence of sin is to seek to be independent of God. It is to make ourselves the Creator instead of his creatures. It is to believe Satan's lie: "You will be like God."

If Satan can get you to act and think independently of God's will, he can then control your will and control your life! You will think that you just are acting freely, which is part of Satan's deception, but actually you will be acting under orders from the ruler of this world. You will be under his control.

Whenever you or I act in disobedience to God's will, we are displaying pride. It might seem to be trivial and unimportant, but everything in our lives is important to God.

So how can we learn to be totally dependent on God?

4 Our defence – the indwelling Holy Spirit

Pride is such a strong weapon and Satan is such a strong adversary that only the stronger power of the indwelling Holy Spirit can make victory ours.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Working out our salvation means to bring the Christian life to completion, to accomplish in character and conduct what God has planned for us. God has a definite plan for our lives and the challenge for us is to cooperate with him in fulfilling that plan.

Finally, remember that in the battle against Satan, the only way to conquer is to surrender – to surrender to God.

That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:6-7)

Friday, 22 June 2012

Satan - The Destroyer

This is a summary of the second chapter of Warren Wiersbe's book, The Strategy of Satan. Again, he discusses (a) his target (b) his weapon (c) his purpose and (d) the Christian's defence.

B The Destroyer

A second way the Bible describes the devil is as the destroyer.

They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11) [Both Abaddon and Apollyon mean destroyer.]

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:1-10)

1 Satan’s target – your body

As the serpent, Satan deceives; as a lion, he devours.

Job is the prime illustration of this kind of attack. Satan did a thorough job of attacking Job’s body and all that related to it. He lost his children, his flock, his herds and his wealth, his health. His friends sat in silence with him for a week, because they saw that he was in great agony. Even Job’s wife suggested, “Curse God and die!”

When we read the Gospels, we learn that Satan, through his demonic helpers, attacked and sought to destroy the bodies of various people. One man was made dumb (Matthew 9:32,33). A woman was bent over and disabled (Luke 13:11-17). He even attacked a child and tried to get him to destroy himself in the water or the fire (Matthew 17:14-18).

Why does Satan want to do this to Christians? Mr Wiersbe suggests several reasons:

To begin with, your body is God’s temple.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

God is invisible; the world cannot see him. Jesus Christ has returned to heaven and cannot be seen. But we Christians can be seen, and it is our conduct in the body that glorifies and exalts the Lord.

Not only is your body God’s temple, but it is also God’s tool.

Romans 6 encourages us offer the parts of [our bodies] to him as instruments of righteousness. (The Greek word translated “instruments” can also be translated “tools” or “weapons”.)

God often uses the various parts of our bodies, empowered by the Spirit of God, to get his work done in this world. And Satan will try to hinder God’s work by attacking God’s worker and putting his “tools” out of commission.

So we mustn’t underestimate the importance of our bodies. We must also take care of them; if we are careless about our health and safety, we are playing right into the hands of the destroyer.

The third reason Satan attacks your body is because your body is God’s treasury or investment.

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

When God saved us, he put the treasure of eternal life within our bodies. We have the very life of God within us! God didn’t give us this great treasure simply to protect it – a clay jar is not the safest place for a treasure! He gave it to us so that he might invest it through us in the lives of others. Satan can rob the world of spiritual wealth by attacking the bodies of believers.

Finally, Satan attacks your body because it is God’s testing ground.

Paul says: I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)

Your body is important to God. We must care of our bodies and use them for God’s glory. Anything in our lives that keeps us from doing our best must be abandoned. Just as a mechanic takes good care of their tools, so the believer takes good care of the tools of his body.

2 Satan’s weapon – suffering

Satan wants to make believers suffer. Again, Job is the obvious example to consider. When Job looked around, his situation was painful. Looking within, it was even more painful. Looking up, it seemed that God had forsaken him, although Job maintained his faith in God and was honoured at the end.

It is important to note that God was always in control. Satan could not go any further than God permitted. This is a great encouragement to us: We know that whatever suffering may come in our lives, God has ordained it and is in complete control.

Bear in mind, though, that there is more than one kind of suffering in the life of the Christian. We experience natural suffering simply because we are human. Romans 8 teaches us that the whole creation is groaning because of its bondage to decay and we Christians are groaning with it.

God sometimes permits his children to suffer that he might discipline them. Our heavenly Father loves us too much to permit us to be rebels, so he disciplines us that we might conform to his will. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

Then, God uses suffering to test and perfect our faith. In the gospels we read how he sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee in their boat. When the disciples got away from the land, a fierce storm arose and almost sank the ship. They were not in the storm because they disobeyed the Lord, but because they obeyed him.

So not all suffering is Satanic in origin. But there is a kind of suffering that is Satan’s weapon and that is what Job experienced. It is how we respond to this suffering that determines whether Satan can gain his purpose.

3 Satan’s purpose – to make you impatient with God’s will

The only place in the New Testament where Job is named is James 5:11: We consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Satan’s purpose was to try to get Job to be impatient and give up. Job did become impatient with himself and his critical friends, but he never lost his faith in God. Though he did not understand what God was doing, Job knew that he could trust God and that God would vindicate him in the end.

Patience is an important Christian virtue. Unless we have patience, we can never learn many of the truths that God wants us to learn, truths that will lead us into a deeper life and a more fruitful ministry.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Faith and patience go together. If we really trust God, then we will wait on him to accomplish what he has promised.

Satan tempts us that he might bring out the worst in us, but God permits it that he might bring out the best in us. Job knew this; he was able to say [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

4 Our defence – the imparted grace of God

We don’t know Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but whatever it was, it was enough to make him pray three times. There is nothing wrong with praying when difficulties come. God did not answer Paul’s prayer in the way he wanted, but he did meet the need. He said, My grace is sufficient for you. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Only by the grace of God can we have the patience that we need when Satan attacks the body with suffering.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

God’s grace is God’s provision for our every need. God is able to give grace for suffering to us in the same way he did with Paul and Job.

So what should you do when Satan attacks your body with suffering and tries to make you impatient with God’s will? Warren Wiersbe suggests four things:

1. Immediately submit yourself to God. If you rebel, you will give Satan another foothold in your life. Tell God exactly how you feel, but also tell him that you love him and trust him, come what may.

2. Thank God for the trials. This does not mean you enjoy the suffering, but only that you rejoice because you are suffering in the will of God, and you know that he is in control. We can be sure that Satan hates it when believers thank God in their trials.

3. Spend time in the word of God. As it tells us in Acts 20:32, the Bible is the word of his grace. God’s gracious promises will strengthen you and you’ll find the encouragements you need each day.

4. Look for ways to glorify Christ. Remember, Satan wants to use your body to disgrace the Lord; God wants to use your body to glorify him. Patience in suffering always glorifies God.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Satan - The Deceiver

Warren Wiersbe starts his helpful book, The Strategy of Satan, by concentrating on four roles that the devil assumes, four ways in which Satan tries to attack believers.  In each of those four areas he discusses (a) his target (b) his weapon (c) his purpose and (d) the Christian's defence.  This is a summary of the first chapter.

A The Deceiver

In several passages, the Bible describes the devil as the deceiver.

He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"  The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"  "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

1 Satan's target – your mind

When Satan wanted to lead the first man and woman into sin, he started by attacking the woman's mind.  This is made clear in 2 Corinthians: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Why would Satan want to attack your mind?  Because it is through your mind that God communicates with you and reveals his will to you.

Several New Testament passages emphasize the importance of the mind. For example:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

God renews our lives by renewing our minds, and he renews our minds through his truth.

This truth is the word of God.  Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

If Satan can get you to believe a lie, then he can begin to work in your life to lead you into sin.  This is why he attacks the mind, and this is why we must protect our minds from the devil's attacks.

2 Satan's weapon – lies

It is important to notice the steps Satan took in getting Eve to believe his lie.

  • He questioned God's word.  Indeed, has God said ...  He did not deny that God had spoken; he simply questioned whether God had really said what Eve thought he had said.  Perhaps you misunderstood what God spoke.
  • He denied God's word.  You surely shall not die!  It's a small step from questioning God's word to denying it.  Of course, neither Adam nor Eve had ever seen death.  All they had to go on was the word of God, but this was all they needed.
  • He substituted his own lie.  You will be like God!  Adam and Eve were already made in the image of God, but Satan tempted them with an even greater privilege: to be like God!
How did Eve respond to Satan's approach?  We get the impression that she wasn't very sure of what God had said and so was open to Satan's suggestion that God was keeping something good back from mankind.

3 Satan's purpose – to make you ignorant of God's will

Satan attacks God's word because God's word reveals God's will.  Apart from the word of God, we have no sure understanding of the will of God.  The will of God is the expression of God's love for us.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

God wants us to know his will and to understand it.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

For the Christian, God's will is not a duty; it is a delight.  He delights to discover the will of God and then obey from the heart.

If Satan can make you ignorant of God's will, he will rob you of all the glorious blessings God has planned for your life.  You will make bad decisions, get involved in sinful activities, and build the wrong kind of life.  You will also influence others to go wrong!

4 Our defence – the inspired word of God

Only the word of God can reveal and defeat the devil's lies.  You cannot reason with Satan, nor (as Eve discovered) can you even safely converse with him.  Man's wisdom is no match for Satan's cunning.  Our only defence is the inspired word of God.  Our Lord made good use of this weapon when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

If you and I are going to defeat Satan's lies, we must depend on the word of God, which presents us with several challenges:

Do we take the time to get to know God's word?  The word of God is available to us in many translations.  We have the Holy Spirit within us to teach us the truths of the word.  There is a multitude of Bible study helps available.  In local churches, there are pastors and teachers who preach and explain the word.

Do we try to memorize God's word?  Jesus didn't have a concordance with him in the wilderness!  He reached back into the books of Moses, selected Deuteronomy, and quoted three verses from that book to silence Satan.

Do we meditate on God's word? Is our attitude anything like that of the author of Psalm 119:
  • How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)
  • I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.  My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. (Psalm 119:147-148)
  • The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:72)
Here is someone who would rather have God's word than food, sleep, or money!  He took time to meditate on the word of God and enrich his soul.  It is this kind of a Christian who is able to use the word of God to defeat Satan and his lies.

Do we use God's word?  We should aim to be so saturated with Scripture that when we face a decision or a temptation, with the help of the Holy Spirit we automatically remember the Scriptures that relate to that particular situation and know how to apply them.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Restricted Rights at the Early Learning Centre

Unlucky if you've just bought Mrs Potato Head or Mr Happy.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

True Worship

Truth — not music, not bare passion, and certainly not ritual — deserves the place of prominence in worship.

God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

God is spiritual in his very essence and therefore he must be worshipped with spiritual worship: worship in the energy of spirit; worship that engages and employs our entire spirit, not just the motions of our hands and the words we form with our lips; not bare ritual; but a true expression of the heart and soul.

Jesus makes a deliberate contrast between the worship God seeks and the typical kind of worship that is dominated by human tradition, obscured by empty ritual, and buried under meaningless layers of pomp and ceremony.

"Worship in spirit and truth" is a much abused and widely misunderstood principle today. Jesus is not calling for the kind of shallow passion that responds to the music and the atmosphere. He's not saying we should aim at working ourselves into a frenzy of feeling and passion devoid of any rational content.

Authentic worship is concerned with truth, not bare passion.

It's a common misconception today that worship in the spirit requires us to empty our minds of anything rational.

We can use music and atmosphere to build raw passion to a crescendo. And lots of people think that's the purest form of worship: when you are so overwhelmed with emotion that your mind is unattached and unengaged in any kind of rational thought. In fact, music is so important to the process that when you use the word "worship" today, most Christians assume you are talking about music.

But notice that Jesus gives truth, not music, the place of prominence in worship: God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.

That's loaded with implications. "Truth" here stands in contradistinction to bare ritual. It also contrasts with raw passion. Jesus is saying that sound doctrine, a clear conscience, and a true heart are infinitely more important for authentic worship than the place where we worship, the forms with which we worship, the style of our music, or any of the other things people usually want to talk about and fight over whenever the subject of worship comes up.

What's important in worship is what you believe, not what tribe you belong to. Authentic worship is about how you think of God, not just how you "feel" when you sing about him. It's about lifting up your spirit and opening your heart before him, not merely raising your hands and closing your eyes.

Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28)

(This is a cut-down and lightly edited version of an original post by Phil Johnson.)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Don't Worry 17 - Share it with Other Believers

17. Share it with other believers

In the last post in this occasional series (some time ago now!) I recommended seeking Christian fellowship as an antidote to worry, even if this seems counter-intuitive at the time.

I could go further: why not share your concerns with other believers and ask them to pray?  As British people we find ourselves very reluctant to do this but it can be a great help to know that someone else is aware of the struggle that you’re facing and is praying for you and supporting you.

Paul, even though he was an apostle, often requested others to pray for him, conscious of the help this gave:  I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  (Romans 15:30)  Pray also for me.  (Ephesians 6:9)  And pray for us, too ...  (Colossians 4:3)  Brothers, pray for us.  (1 Thessalonians 5:25)  Finally, brothers, pray for us ...  (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  (James 5:16)  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  (Galatians 6:2)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Matthew Henry Reworked - Zecharaiah 10:12

I will strengthen them in the LORD and in his name they will walk, declares the LORD. (Zecharaiah 10:12)

God will keep his people strong and enable them to carry out the work they do for him without difficulty

I will strengthen them in the LORD, strengthen them for their walk and work, as well as for their warfare.

It is the God of Israel who gives strength and power to his people. It is he who strengthens all their powers and abilities for spiritual work, strengthens them above what they are capable of by nature, and enables them to overcome their tendency to sin.

How are Christians enabled and invigorated to do their duty?

I the LORD will strengthen them — in the LORD, in the Messiah. He is Yahweh our strength, as well as Yahweh our righteousness.

Strength is stored for us in Christ, and from him it is given to us. It is through Christ strengthening us that we can do all things, and without him we can do nothing.

His strength is to be used for this purpose. Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God, as you have done before. (Psalm 68:28)

How should Christians make use of the strength that God gives them?

They will walk in his name.

If God strengthens us, we must be active, we must carry out all the duties required of us as Christians, we must be active and busy in the work of God, we must be hard-working — losing no time, and letting slip no opportunity.

But we must always walk in the name of Christ; we must do everything under his authority and in dependence on him, with an eye to his word as our guide and his glory as our goal.

To us, to live must be Christ; and all that we do or say must be in the name of the Lord Jesus; otherwise God's strengthening grace is useless.

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:17-19)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

R C Sproul on Creation

In our time a considerable number of theories have arisen denying that the creation, as we know it, took place in twenty-four hour days. Common to these theories is the acceptance of the dominant scientific view that the earth and life on it are very old. Many consider the biblical account to be primitive, mythological, and untenable in light of modern scientific knowledge.

This crisis has resulted in several attempts to reinterpret the Genesis account of creation. We are reminded of the sixteenth century, when Copernicus and his followers repudiated the old Ptolemaic view of astronomy. They argued that the center of the solar system is not the earth (geocentricity), but the sun (heliocentricity). It was a sad chapter in the history of the church, which had believed for more than fifteen hundred years that the Bible teaches geocentricity, when it condemned Galileo for believing and teaching heliocentricity. Both Luther and Calvin opposed Copernicus’s views, believing them to undermine Scripture’s authority.

Actually the Bible does not explicitly teach geocentricity anywhere. Scripture describes the movements of the heavens from the perspective of someone standing on earth: the sun moves across the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west. We use that same language today. The church thought that because the Bible uses this kind of descriptive language, it was therefore teaching something about the relationship between the sun and the earth. This is a clear case of scientific knowledge correcting the church’s interpretation of the Bible.

There are two spheres of revelation; the Bible (special revelation) and nature (general revelation). In the latter, God manifests himself through the created order. What God reveals in nature can never contradict what he reveals in Scripture, and what he reveals in Scripture can never contradict what he reveals in nature. He is the author of both forms of revelation, and God does not contradict himself.

The church has always taken the position that all truth meets at the top, and that science should never contradict Scripture. Scientific discoveries, however, can correct the theologian’s faulty understanding of Scripture, just as biblical revelation can correct faulty speculations drawn from the natural order. When the scientific consensus on a particular point is on a collision course with the unmistakable teaching of Scripture, I trust Scripture before I trust the speculations and inferences of scientists. That is consistent with the history of the church and Christianity. We believe that sacred Scripture is nothing less than the Creator’s truth revealed.

We have a problem not only with a six-day creation, but also with the age of the earth. Is the earth a few thousand years old or billions of years old (as scientists today insist)? Although the Bible clearly says that the world was created in six days, it gives no date for the beginning of that work. It would be a mistake to become embroiled in too much controversy about the date of creation.

In a Massachusetts college I taught Introduction to the Old Testament to two hundred and fifty students. Because the class was so large, we met in the chapel. Once I opened the old pulpit Bible to Genesis 1, and at the top of the page I read “4004 B.C.” I did some research to see how that date had been determined. In the seventeenth century an archbishop, James Ussher, made some calculations based on the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and other chronological clues in the Old Testament. He even pinned down the day of the week and the time of day when creation occurred. I hasten to tell my students that we must be very careful to distinguish between the text of Scripture and additions to the text. In defending the biblical authority, we are not obligated to defend a theory based on the speculations of a bishop in times past.

If we take the genealogies that go back to Adam, however, and if we make allowances for certain gaps in them (which could certainly be there), it remains a big stretch from 4004 B.C. to 4.6 billion years ago. We also have the problem of the antiquity of the human race. It seems as if every time a new skeleton or skull is discovered, scientists push back the date of man’s origin another million years.

Scholars have proposed four basic theories to explain the time from of Genesis 1–2:

1.the gap theory,
2.the day-age theory,
3.the framework hypothesis, and
4.six-day creation.

The gap theory was made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible (1909), which more than any other single edition of Scripture swept through this country and informed the theology of an entire generation of evangelicals. It became the principal instrument for propagating dispensational theology throughout America. In this Bible, Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and verse 2 reads, “And the earth became without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Other Bibles read, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Verse 2 describes what most scholars consider to be the as-yet-unordered, basic structure of the universe—darkness, emptiness. Then the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters (v.2) and God says, “Let there be light” (v.3). Thus came the light and then the creation of the heavens, fish, birds, animals, and so on.

The Hebrew word in verse 2 translated “was” is the very common verb hayah, which ordinarily means “to be.” Hayah means “to become” only in special circumstances, which are not present here. The Scofield Reference Bible translates verse 2 as “became” instead of “was” in order to facilitate the gap theory. As a result, only verse 1 refers to the original creation. Verse 2 then refers to a cosmic catastrophe in which the originally good and properly ordered creation became chaotic, dark, and fallen. After this period of darkness (the “gap”), God recreates the universe which could have been created billions of years ago, followed by a gap of billions of years (including the “geologic column” of immense ages), after which God returned to his distorted creation and renovated or reconstituted it relatively recently. The gap theory has also been called the restitution hypothesis, meaning that the creation narrative in Genesis is not about the original creation, but about the restitution of a fallen creation.

An entire generation was fed this theory through the Scofield Reference Bible. However, Scripture nowhere explicitly teaches that the original creation was marred and then after many years reconstituted. The broader context of the whole of Scripture militates against the gap theory.

According to the second approach, the day-age theory, each “day” of Genesis 1 may be an age. After all, one day in the Lord’s sight is like a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8). Also, expressions like “in the days of Noah” and “in Abraham’s day” can refer to open-ended periods. The Hebrew word yom, translated “day” in Genesis, can mean something other than a twenty-four-hour period, as it must in Genesis 2:4, which refers to “the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Accordingly, each “day” in Genesis 1 may refer to a thousand years, and perhaps even to millions of years. This will at least ameliorate some of the difficulties we have with those who argue for a gradual evolution of life-forms on this earth.

However, the day-age theory, like the gap theory, ignores the immediate context as well as the large biblical context. It ignores the fact that each of the six days of creation consists of an evening and a morning. If yom here means something like ten million years, then we need to give the words evening and morning the same kind of metaphorical meaning. From a literary, exegetical, and linguistic perspective, the day-age theory is weak. As a Christian apologist, I would not want to defend it.

The day-age theory tends to accommodate a theory of biological macroevolution that is incompatible with the Bible and purposive creation—the creation of all living things by the immediate agency of the sovereign God. Macroevolution teaches that all life has developed from a single, original cell, and that this happened through a somewhat fortuitous, chance collision of atoms, without an intelligent planner or Creator orchestrating the emergence of these species. Those who favor the day-age theory often link themselves with a position called theistic evolution, which grants the basic premises of biological evolution, but says that God, not chance, guided the process of evolution.

Macroevolution differs from microevolution. While the former teaches that all living things have developed from one original cell, the latter teaches that, over period of time, species undergo slight changes in order to adapt to their environment. Microevolution is not in dispute, either biblically or scientifically. Macroevolution has never been substantiated by observation or experiment, and it places its faith in an endless string of extremely improbable, yet beneficial chance mutations.

A frequent argument for macroevolution is the principle of common structure. All forms of life are made up of the same basic substances: amino acids, proteins, DNA, and that sort of thing. Because all living things have similar constituent parts, the argument goes, they must have developed from common ancestors. A common substance or structure, however, does not necessarily imply a common source. The fact that all forms of life are made of the same basic building blocks neither negates the possibility of evolution nor substantiates it. One would expect an intelligent Creator to have made all life-forms with a similar design—one that works on this earth.

When teaching a university course to thirty upper-level philosophy students, I asked who believed in macroevolution. Almost all the students raised their hands. I then asked them to explain why they believed in it. Their only argument was “common substance, therefore common source.” Most said they believed it because they had been taught in school, and they assumed their teachers knew what they were talking about.

Macroevolution, in the final analysis, is not a question of biology or natural science, which rely upon experimented verification, but of history, which tries to interpret evidence left from the past in a coherent fashion. The discipline of paleontology, which studies the fossil record, claims to put evolution on a scientific footing, but it performs no experiments to substantiate evolutionary processes. It simply lines up similar fossils and infers that one creature must be related to another by common decent.

In the recent past in Russia, leading international scholars who favor macroevolution met. While comparing notes, they found that the weakest evidence for their theories is the fossil record. I remember reading the Royal Society’s bulletin at that time and thinking, “What other source matters?” The fossil record is the one that counts, and yet that is the one that militates against their theory. I read an essay recently in which a professor argued for macroevolution on the basis of certain geological formations. He argued for an old earth on the ground that stratifications in the rocks contain fossils, which indicates a uniformitarian process that took millions of years to produce the whole formation. He then determined the age of each stratum by determining the kinds of fossils contained in each. This is a blatant example of what logicians call begging the question. It is circular reasoning to date the fossils by the rocks, and then date the rocks by the fossils. That just will not work.

We now have good evidence that stratification of rocks proves the antiquity of nothing. Within days after the Mount St. Helens explosion had subsided, scientists discovered that the cataclysmic upheaval of that volcanic explosion had laid down exactly the same rock stratification that had been assumed would take millions of years to develop. In other words, Mount St. Helens proved that catastrophic upheavals can produce the same empirical data as twenty million years of gradual deposition. We will not get into uniformitarianism or catastrophism here, except to say that they have been attempts to accommodate macroevolution. This tends to support and popularize the theory of theistic evolution, and it also uses the day-age theory of Genesis—a dangerous thing to do.

The third approach, called the framework hypothesis, was originally developed by the Dutch scholar Nicholas Ridderbos. He argued that the literary form of the book’s first few chapters differs from that of its later chapters. Certain basic characteristics found in poetry are missing from historical narrative, and certain characteristics found in historical narrative are missing from poetry. For example, the book of Exodus, with its account of the Jewish captivity in Egypt, has genealogies, family names, real historical places, and an unmetered literary style (i.e., lacking a particular rhythm), making it clearly prose and historical narrative. After the account of the exodus, the book’s author inserts the song of Miriam, which is in metered rhythm and is therefore clearly poetry. The literary structure before the song manifests all the characteristics of historical narrative, as does the structure following the poem.

Therefore, it is usually not difficult to distinguish between poetry and historical narrative in the Old Testament. But the opening chapters of Genesis, according to Ridderbos, exhibit a strange combination of literary forms. On the one hand is a discussion of the creation of a man and a woman who are given names that thereafter appear in genealogical accounts. In Hebrew literature this clearly signals historicity. The Garden of Eden is said to be set among four rivers, two of which we know were real rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. The style of writing is not metered or rhythmic, as Hebrew poetry normally is. All this indicates that the opening chapters of Genesis are historical narrative.

There are some anomalies, however. We find trees in this garden with strange names: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and “the tree of life” (Gen 2:9). Had they been apple or pear trees, there would have been no problem. But what does a tree of life look like? Is the author of Genesis telling us that a real tree was off limits, giving it a metaphorical meaning as the tree of life? We are also introduced to a serpent who speaks. Because of these two features, some have argued that the literary structure of the opening chapters of Genesis was self consciously and intentionally mythological, or at least filled with legend and saga.

Ridderbos contended that the beginning chapters of Genesis are a mixture of historical narrative and poetry, with part of the poetic structure being the repeated refrain, “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gen 1:5), and so on. Ridderbos concluded that Genesis gives us not a historical narrative of the when or the how of divine creation, but a drama in seven acts. The first act ends with the statement, “So the evening and the morning were the first day.” The author of Genesis, then, is trying to show that God’s work of creation took place in seven distinct stages, which incidentally fit remarkably well into the stages identified by the modern theories of cosmic evolution.

Therefore, the framework hypothesis allows one to step into a Big Bang cosmology while maintaining the credibility and inspiration of Genesis 1-2. This is not history, but drama. The days are simply artistic literary devices to create a framework for a lengthy period of development.

In America Ridderbos’s work was widely disseminated by Meredith Kline, who for many years taught Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, then at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and then at Westminster Seminary California. Because Kline endorsed the framework hypothesis, many people, particularly in the Reformed community, have embraced it, provoking a serious crisis in some circles. Some Reformed pastors today hold to a literal six-day creation, while others hold to the framework hypothesis, and yet they otherwise hold to the same system of orthodox theology.

For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four-hour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days.

Original post: What Is R.C. Sproul’s Position on Creation?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Severe Weather Warning - 2 Feet of Snow

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Information Overload

I went to an interesting lecture organised by the London Central Branch of the BCS last week, by Ian Price from Grimsdyke Consulting and the Information Overload Research Group.

He started off by comparing Churchill's 1953(?) vision of the future work/life balance with the reality now. Apparently Churchill predicted that the "working man" would soon need to work only 4 days a week because of productivity increases, and hence would have plenty of leisure time. ("You've never had it so good" — or was that Macmillan?).

Of course we know that the picture today is very different. People are tied to their laptops and BlackBerrys in the evenings and at weekends. They feel the need to continually monitor and respond to their email even when "relaxing" or on the move. Tony Blair is quoted as saying, "Today my Blackberry is everything to me, so much so that one day Leo asked me: 'Dad, who do you love more, me or the phone?'"

He outlined the effects of this addiction. Up to 12% of payroll costs are spent on inefficient use of email. Reading just-arrived emails interrupts our flow of work and sometimes completely sidetracks us for long periods. And such interruptions even seem to have a negative effect on our IQ. Further time is wasted because of the temptation to use social networking sites or to play games when we should be working. People read their email in the bedroom and bathroom — even while driving. (BMW has teamed up with BlackBerry so that you can now monitor your emails from the driving seat.) People feel inadequate and insecure if they're not on the phone or dealing with email when they're in an airport lounge.

It is recent technological advances that make more-or-less instant communication possible, of course. The speed of person-to-person communication did not change much, perhaps, from the use of clay tablets in around 3,000 BC to that of internal company memos in the 1980s.

I was disappointed in Ian's analysis of the reason for such addiction. He turned to evolutionary theory and suggested that the need to know snippets of information stems from man's Stone Age past. Knowing the latest gossip would put you at an advantage within your tribe — which only goes to show that you can use evolution to prove more or less anything you like about human behaviour. He didn't seem to notice the significance of his later remark: "Our wiring hasn't changed over 100,000 years".

However, he did make some useful suggestions about how to deal with this information overload — which is why I thought this post might be useful. (We've got there in the end! Thanks for staying with me so far.)

Organisations should set rules for the use of email (and enforce them):
* There is no such thing as an urgent email. (Emails may not be read; they aren't guaranteed to arrive. Why not pick up the phone or go and talk to someone?)
* Don't use email as the first resort for internal communications. (Have a meeting first, and then send an email to summarize.)
* Don't email out of hours. (If the CEO writes emails on Sunday afternoon, he puts pressure on others to act in the same way.)
* Don't use email for negative feedback or "flaming". (I'm sure I'm not alone in having a weekend ruined because of a negatively-phrased email — even if was unintentionally so.)
* Don't use email for complex debates. (Set up a wiki instead.)
* Only copy people on emails if it's absolutely necessary.

He also helpfully suggested how individuals can avoid many of the problems that excessive use of email brings by:
* Tackling emails only in focused bouts, two or three times a day.
* Being ruthless with deleting and filing.
* Aiming to see the bottom of your inbox at the end of each day. (Leaving lots of emails to deal with another time only fills your mind with useless clutter, and you'll feel guilty about not dealing with them sooner.)
* Turning off all new email indicators.
* Closing down your mail client when doing something else.

And, finally, Ian suggested some tools that might help:
* (for Outlook) xobni
* AwayFind
* (for gmail users) Priority Inbox

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Outlook 2007 Rules Not Firing Automatically

I use rules extensively in Outlook at work to sort and filter emails as they arrive, so it was a bit frustrating that they stopped working a day or two back. They ran OK with the "Run Rules Now..." option, but wouldn't fire automatically. (By the way, we use Microsoft Exchange Server and I use Cached Exchange Mode to reduce the effect of connection problems.)

After a fair amount of searching I eventually found an article at TechRepublic that provided the solution. This suggested that the rules might be corrupt and recommended recreating them to fix the problem. The process is quite simple and, whether my rules were actually corrupt or not, it fixed the issue:

  • Select Tools then Rules and Alerts... to open the Rules and Alerts dialog.
  • Select Options.
  • Select Export Rules....
  • Navigate to an appropriate folder and choose a file name. Select Save.
  • Cancel the Options dialog.
  • Select all your rules, and click Delete. Select Yes to confirm.
  • You should now have no rules listed. Select OK.
  • Exit and then re-start Outlook.
  • Select Tools then Rules and Alerts... again.
  • Select Options.
  • Select Import Rules....
  • Navigate to and select the file you just exported, then click Open.
  • Cancel the Options dialog and select OK.

... and all should be fine!