Blue Angels

The Blue Angels are the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. They were established in 1946, making them the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world, after the French Patrouille de France. Sixteen officers and one hundred ten enlisted personnel are the team that makes up the squadron.

Recently the Blue Angels flew at the Los Angeles County Air Show, held at Fox Field in Lancaster, California. Given that Lancaster is located near Edwards Air Force Base, and given that Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop, among others, build and test their aircraft there and frequently take off and land from runways in nearby Palmdale, residents of the Antelope Valley are accustomed to both seeing and hearing planes overhead. Sonic booms are not uncommon. But when the Blue Angels arrived about a week before the start of the air show, however, the noise level rose to a new high. I was frequently startled last week by the sound of jets buzzing low over my house and making my windows rattle.

For the past year, thanks to budget cuts associated with sequestration, the Blue Angels have been grounded. Their appearance on Friday, March 21, at The Los Angeles County Air Show, was their first public demonstration since April 1, 2013. But for me, it had been nearly four decades.

The last time I had seen the Blue Angels perform was when I was in high school in Fallon, Nevada. There’s a Naval Air Station in Fallon: sort of odd, given that Fallon’s in the middle of a desert a long way from any ocean. Also odd: my dad, a member of the Air Force, was stationed there.

Why was a sergeant from the U.S. Air Force stationed at a Navy base in the middle of a desert? My father was trained in radar, and the radar site at the Naval Air Station was run by the Air Force, not the Navy. So they needed a small contingent of Air Force personnel.

In previous years, at various Air Force bases, I’d been privileged to see the Air Force’s acrobatic team, the Thunderbirds, perform. The Blue Angels flew the same sort of acrobatics. And at the time, the two different acrobatic teams even used similar aircraft: the Blue Angels flew the McDonnell F-4J Phantom, while the Air Force’s Thunderbirds used the McDonnell F-4E Phantom.

A few years later, while I was in college, I worked a couple of summers on a kibbutz in Israel, where I regularly witnessed still other F-4 Phantoms flying, though not in air shows: they were the primary fighter used by the Israeli Air Force.

Israel is a very tiny country, about the size of New Jersey, and the kibbutz I was on was located on the border with Jordan, and also near the Golan Heights, bordering Syria. The Phantoms’ sharp, banking turns above the kibbutz that kept them in Israeli airspace were accompanied by an odd, strained groaning that I had only ever heard before in those air shows, when those planes made their tight rolls and turns in acrobatic maneuvers. In Israel, it was just normal, daily flying that kept them from creating international incidents.

This past week, when the Blue Angles were flying over Lancaster, they were using F/A-18 Hornets, the current primary fighter jet used by the U.S. Navy. The Thunderbirds, in contrast, are currently flying F-16Cs.

Over the next few years, however, those F/A-18s will be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II, the joint strike fighter which is being built by Lockheed for all three branches of the American armed services: the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. Each branch’s version of the F-35 will be slightly different. The Air Force version will do conventional take offs and landings. The Marine version can perform short take offs and landings, similar to the old British-made Harrier Jump Jets. The Navy’s version of the plane will be designed with the necessary additions enabling landings and take offs from aircraft carriers.
Altogether, the three services will purchase nearly 2500 of the airplanes over the next two decades. Additional numbers will be sold to our NATO and other close allies, such as the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Turkey and Israel.

Once again my middle daughter has a job at the local minor league baseball stadium that is within walking distance of my house. But her first time at work this season was not for a Jethawk’s baseball game. Instead, she worked at the meet-and-greet party for the jet pilots of the Blue Angels, who shook hands and signed autographs for anyone who showed up at the baseball stadium. Jacob Nelson & The Tone Wranglers gave a concert, and after the sun went down there was a spectacular fireworks show. My daughter loves her job.

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Our Galaxy

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Rocket Science

SpaceX has now launched the Falcon 9 nine times. The latest happened Friday, April 18, 2014.

The first launch of a Falcon 9 occurred on June 4, 2010. It did not carry a Dragon capsule, but rather what was called a “test article” which simulated the size and weight of such a capsule. It successfully went into orbit. The rocket had one noticeable anomaly on launch: it rotated on its axis as it was leaving the pad. That was potentially catastrophic, but thankfully it reached orbit successfully.

By the time of the next launch on December 8, 2010, the rotation issue had been solved. This second launch was the first test of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Everything worked flawlessly and the Dragon successfully orbited the earth for three hours before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The next launch, on May 22, 2012, took a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, where it docked successfully. After spending a few days hooked to the station, it departed and safely landed in the Pacific Ocean near California.

On October 7, 2012 the first operational flight of the Falcon 9 and its Dragon capsule took cargo to the International Space Station—and returned materials back to the Earth. The Dragon is the only spaceship currently operating that can take cargo both up and back down from the space station. The other cargo ships can only deliver cargo; they can’t bring anything back: they are Orbital Science’s Cygnus (Designed and assembled by an American company using European components for the cargo ship and Russian engines to launch it), the European ATV, the Japanese HTV, and the Russian Progress. After any of Dragon’s competitors are unloaded they are repacked with trash and then sent off to burn up in the atmosphere.

Besides taking cargo ships to the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 also hauls other commercial payloads into orbit. On one such flight which took off from Vandenberg AFB last year, SpaceX made an attempt at recovering the first stage through a powered descent. No one had ever tried such a thing before. They were not entirely successful and the first stage still ended up crashing into the ocean, though slower than normal.

For the latest launch this past Friday, Space X added 4 twenty-five foot long fold-out landing legs to the first stage. Since this was all still experimental, they brought it down over the ocean.

At stage separation, the first stage was traveling at Mach 6, about sixty miles in altitude and sixty miles downrange. The goal was to bring it back to the ground—well, ocean—in one piece. The company explained that they anticipated only a 30 to 40 percent chance of success.

I can’t help but wonder if their prediction was like the sort that Star Trek’s Montgomery Scott “Scotty” would make whenever Captain Kirk asked him how long it would take to get the warp drive back online.
In one of the movies Captain Kirk finally asked, “Do you always double your estimates for how long it will take to repair something?”

“Aye. How else do you think I can maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?”

Not too many hours after the launch, the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, tweeted “Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good! Several boats enroute through heavy seas.” That was followed sixteen minutes later with “Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal.”

So SpaceX succeeded in doing on this latest launch what they expressed they had only, at most, a forty percent chance of accomplishing—and something that no one else has ever succeeded in, or even tried. And what many people said was impossible.

The now proven ability to recover and reuse the first stage of their rocket will significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight: imagine the difference in the cost of driving if you had to replace your car every time you commuted to work, versus how it is now, where you can keep reusing the thing and only have to refill the gas tank or recharge the batteries. Likewise for a rocket: the cost of fuel is minimal; not having to build a new rocket every time would thus save a bundle. Eventually, SpaceX intends to recover the second stage in the same way, meaning that all the pieces of the rocket would be recovered and reused. No more throwing away fifty million dollar rockets after only one flight.

Sooner than you might expect—assuming SpaceX is ultimately successful—spaceflight will become cheap enough that anyone can do it. Then the dream of being able to vacation in orbit or elsewhere in the solar system will become possible for anyone, not just the incredibly wealthy.

SpaceX has also now created a significant challenge for all their competitors in the launch business,

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When Jesus returned from the Jordan River, the power of the Holy Spirit was with him, and the Spirit led him into the desert. For forty days Jesus was tested by the devil, and during that time he went without eating. When it was all over, he was hungry.

The devil said to Jesus, “If you are God’s Son, tell this stone to turn into bread.”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say, ‘No one can live only on food.’ ”

Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. The devil said, “I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. Just worship me, and you can have it all.”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:
‘Worship the Lord your God
and serve only him!’ ”

Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on top of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. The Scriptures say:
‘God will tell his angels to take care of you.
They will catch you in their arms,
and you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’ ”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’ ”

After the devil had finished testing Jesus in every way possible, he left him for a while. (Luke 4:1–13)

Luke’s Gospel, like Matthew’s, describes Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. One detail that Luke reveals that was missing from Matthew’s account of the event comes at the end of the temptation. Luke reveals that the devil left Jesus “for awhile.” The implication was that Satan tried again, later.

The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus was tempted in every way, just like us. Luke tells us that he was tempted during the full forty days, not just by the three temptations listed. The gospel give us merely a selective summary of Jesus’ experiences, not an exhaustive account.

We are not tempted just once in our lives. We are not even tempted only once for the same sin. We spend our lives being tempted time and time again, usually over the identical issues. When we’re told that Satan had left Jesus “for awhile,” we understand what that means. Like us, Jesus would again be faced with temptations from the devil. Our temptations may not be constant, but they are never-ending and normally come without warning, at the worst possible times.

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No One Made You Do It

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” (Mark 7:14–23)

Whenever the comedian Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine was caught misbehaving, he would shout, “the devil made me do it!” Jesus response to such a claim would be, “no he didn’t.”

We human beings are quick to find excuses for what we do wrong. We want to blame our parenting, the television, the web, and the friends we hang out with. We’ll blame our circumstances. But the reality is, what comes in from the outside is not what makes us do wrong. It’s what comes from inside of us. Not all people with bad backgrounds, who play violent video games, become criminals. Two people may be raised in the same circumstances, but while one becomes a criminal, the other becomes a pastor. Our appetites are what drive us, not what we choose to satisfy those appetites. If we weren’t already hungry, we wouldn’t try to eat. If we didn’t hate, we wouldn’t gossip. Porn doesn’t fill people with lust. Lust makes people look at porn. The way that woman looked didn’t make you think those thoughts. You had those thoughts and that’s what made you look at her like that.

Jesus used food to illustrate that what comes into us from the outside doesn’t pollute us. Mark commented that Jesus’ words prefigured what would become explicit later on: the dietary regulations of the Old Testament no longer mattered, since food didn’t actually cause uncleanness. Instead, it was only what came out of people that was unclean.

Jesus warned his hearers, as he warns us, that we have no one and nothing to blame for our misdeeds but us. The devil didn’t make us do it. Violent games didn’t make us do it. TV didn’t make us do it. We made us do it. And we did it simply because we wanted to. You can only be tempted by what you already want.

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Being Prepared

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:1–13)

The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins was about being prepared. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins with lamps who went out to meet the bridegroom so that they could lead him to his bride. They had oil for their lamps, but only half of them carried extra.

Notice that all the virgins, both wise and foolish, fell asleep as they awaited their delayed bridegroom. Jesus’ point was not that we should be on constant alert. Rather, we need to always be ready.

The foolish virgins who did not bring any extra oil, ended up excluded from the wedding that followed. Paul writes that the wisdom of the world is foolishness while what seems foolish to the world is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:20-21). In Jesus’ parable, the wise virgins are those who burdened themselves with what seemed to the foolish virgins unnecessary extra baggage. There was no reason to anticipate running out of oil.

Parables are not allegories, with each bit in them standing for something else. Rather, there is a “moral to the story.” The moral to the Jesus’ parable is simple: Jesus wants us to be prepared to wait for him a long time, however long that might be. And while we wait, he expects us to live according to his law of love.

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Habitable Earth Cousin?

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Bear with me. I’m toying with some oddities in Scripture and wondering if they somehow go together. This is what is called speculation. Blue sky thinking. Brainstorming. And I’m doing it in public.

I know, right?

Just before the people of Israel enter the Promised Land, God shows it to Moses from the top of Pisgah:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. (Deuteronomy 34:1-5)

On the Mt. of Transfiguration, the apostles see Jesus transfigured, and they see Moses and Elijah.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 16:28-17:8)

So what happened there? Are they only witnessing a change in Jesus’ appearance? Or are they “seeing the Son of Man coming into his kingdom”? That is, are they seeing into the promised land of the eternal kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven–from their perspective, still in the future–where Moses and Elijah happen to be?

When the witch of Endor brings up Samuel, is he a ghost–or is what Saul witnesses something akin to what the Apostles saw with Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration?

When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

“There is one in Endor,” they said.

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

“What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night. (1 Samuel 28:5-20)

Was Samuel a ghost? Or was he like Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured? Was this a vision, or a visit to the eternal kingdom? What does it mean that Samuel was disturbed by being brought up? What is actually going on? Can these odd and difficult to make sense of events be linked in some way?

Is it possible that Moses saw the promised land as it would be when Israel was living in it, or as it would be in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven? Did Jesus take his three disciples up Mt. Tabor and give them a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven? Especially given the context where he explicitly announces, just before the story of the transfiguration occurs in the text of Matthew—that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

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Good News

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26)

The Pharisees had thought long and hard about who deserved to go to Hell. They had come up with an obvious list of crimes: for instance, murder.

But Jesus indicated that it wasn’t a question of who deserved judgment. The question was, is there anyone who doesn’t deserve judgment? Jesus explained that even the best people of all still deserved God’s condemnation. Everyone has been angry with someone. We’ve all called people “fools” or worse. The word rendered “fool” simply means, “empty headed.” Calling someone “stupid” or “idiot” is not okay just because we didn’t call them “fool.” You’re just being worldly–that is, legalistic, you know, like a lawyer or a politician. Jesus’ point was that it was wrong to insult people at all. Doesn’t fit in with the whole loving people which is the whole point of the Bible (Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, Matthew 7:12, Colossians 3:12-14).

Then Jesus turned up the heat. Even if we’re not angry with someone, there might be someone who is angry with us, so we’re still in trouble with God. We’re simply never free of guilt.

Jesus wants us to understand that we all deserve God’s judgment. No matter how well behaved we are, we still fall short of perfection and there is nothing we can do about it. But God has a solution. He came up with a way for us to avoid his judgment: by punishing someone else in our place: Jesus Christ, his Son. Thanks to Jesus dying on the cross, God forgives us of all our bad deeds and even our bad thoughts, which are legion. He knows we’re bad. So he took care of the issue:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

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