They sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”

But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”

They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
(Mark 12:13–17)

Jesus asked a question that his critics refused to answer: “Why are you putting me to the test?” Both Jesus and they knew the answer to his question. They tested him in the hope that he would prove to everyone what the Pharisees already believed: that he was a false Messiah, an anti-Christ.

Jesus’ critics were not looking for the truth. They thought they already had it and they were simply trying to get everyone else around them to agree that they had the truth and that Jesus did not. It is one thing to test something in order to discover the truth. That sort of testing is a good thing. But how often have we heard someone ask a question that we knew was designed not to elicit information, but rather to embarrass, to play “gotcha!”

Jesus wants us to seek the truth. God doesn’t mind if we want proof. Gideon used fleece (Judges 6:39). In Malachi 3:10 God said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (NIV)” Testing in itself is not a bad thing. It is only the intent of the testing that can be a problem. We may test to discover the truth, but not to attack God’s character.

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Straws. We all experience episodes of them stacking up on our backs. This past summer was full of them. Especially July. First, my youngest daughter returned to a classroom for the first time in two years. She had been on independent study. The transition back to the classroom has been challenging for her; it didn’t help that the other students in the class apparently don’t take education quite as seriously as I do, since on the day before the Independence Day holiday, everyone in the class but my daughter failed to show up. Admittedly the special class she is in is a small one: only seven students counting her. Still. She was upset about being alone and begged me to let her come home and began escalating (she has significant mental health issues.) Thankfully the principal happened to be right there and did a great job of talking her down. Since then, she continues to adjust to the routine, with relatively minor outbursts.

Straw. My youngest daughter suddenly decided to give me a hug. Normally that is a good thing and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, my cellphone was in my hand at the time and she knocked it out. It landed on asphalt and the screen shattered. I hurriedly picked it up as she asked me “Is your phone okay?” I told her “it’s fine.” I didn’t want to tell her what had really happened because she would be devastated. Unfortunately, the next day she picked up my phone and noticed the shattered screen—and became as upset as I expected. She perseverated on it for days, repeatedly telling me how sorry she was and how bad she felt about it. I kept reassuring her that it would be okay and that “those things happen.” And it wasn’t really such a big deal. The phone is two years old, the power button hasn’t been working for the past year, and so it was time to replace it anyhow. This just hurried the process.

Straw. The sewer line—the pipe that runs from our house to the city sewer system in the street—clogged up. I went and rented a snake—a power driven router. It was very heavy—close to a hundred pounds and not easy to get in and out of my van. I’ve had this happen before: after all, the house I live in is 34 years old, and so I wasn’t worried about it. Unfortunately, the on-off switch—a foot pedal—was somewhat twitchy and fussy. I got my wife to come out to push it down while I fed the snake into the drain. Doubly unfortunately, the snake came to a sudden halt somewhere in the middle of my lawn and simply would not pass. I spent three hours trying to send it through to no avail. I finally gave up and called a plumber, who charged more than double what the rental for the snake was. He worked hard—with a better snake that had more power and a variety of bits—and managed to clear the blockage. He talked about our likely need of having to replace the sewer line and scared my wife with the cost estimate—between eight and twenty thousand dollars. But he also recommended we start dumping some copper sulfate down the drain every month in order to kill off and dissolve any roots that might be trying to infiltrate the pipes and causing the blockages.

I did a bit of research and discovered that it isn’t impossible to replace the sewer line yourself. The biggest expense would be renting the backhoe to dig the trench for replacing the pipe: about two hundred fifty dollars per day. The pipe itself is four inch diameter PVC that is available at Home Depot for around forty dollars per twenty-foot long section. Given that I’ve dug up by hand and fixed a leak in the pipe that brings water into my house, I figure I should be able to fix the one that takes it back out. And rather than thousands of dollars, it will cost me only a few hundred—assuming it comes to that.

It was later that day, after the clog was cleared, that my youngest daughter told me that one of her friends had been over recently and had flushed her feminine hygiene product—and its wrapper—down our toilet. So I’m thinking that might have been responsible for this particular problem. When my daughter’s friend comes over again we’ll be carefully explaining to her that pads and their wrappers should never be flushed down a toilet. But this wasn’t the first time, of course. We’d had a similar problem with tampons when we had a French foreign exchange student stay with us a couple of years ago. Apparently the plumbing in France is designed to handle such things. In southern California, not so much.

So, three straws in less than a week. But the straws were not finished. At the end of the week I saw my oldest daughter fly back to New York. She’d been here for five weeks during her summer break. I suppose that was a fourth straw. And then she called me about a problem with a traffic ticket she got. Sigh. Straw number five.

Nevertheless, despite all these straws, my back is merely strained, not broken. And I’m probably a long way away from the last straw.

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Orion: The Next Spaceship

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

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Quantum Teleportation

Source: JPL/Cal Tech

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Per aspera ad astra is a Latin phrase variously translated as “Through hardships to the stars,” “A rough road leads to the stars,” or “To the stars through difficulties.” The last week of October certainly brought that phrase to my mind.

On Tuesday, October 28 Orbital Sciences Corporation attempted to launch their Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station on their Antares rocket—a rocket that uses forty year old Soviet-era engines and Ukranian fuel tanks, plumbing and sensors. Given that they’ve had an engine explode on a test stand, its failure and explosion less than twenty seconds into the flight is perhaps not a complete surprise. Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident.

More sadly, co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed and pilot Pete Siebold was serious injured when the Virgin Space Ship Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo, exploded shortly after release from its White Knight Two carrier ship, just after its hybrid motor was started. It was the first in-flight test of a new version of the hybrid motor, using a different fuel combination from previous flights. Although initial speculation was that the crash might have been due to a problem with the engine, the NTSB recently announced that the feathering system—part of the recovery and landing structure—had apparently malfunctioned.

As so many have said since these two accidents, rocket science is hard. And the loss of vehicles and people in the conquest of space is unfortunate, but it should not shock us or make us question the wisdom of spaceflight.

In the early years of aviation, loss of vehicles and loss of life were not uncommon. For instance, just days before Charles Lindbergh made his successful transatlantic flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21, 1927, Charles Nungesser and François Coli attempted to cross the Atlantic from Paris to New York in a Levasseur PL-8 biplane. They left Paris on the 8th of May, 1927 and were never heard from again.
I live in the Antelope Valley, just south of Edwards Air Force Base. If you’ve ever seen the movie or read the book, The Right Stuff, you know just how dangerous being a test pilot can be. The desert sands where SpaceShipTwo crashed are littered with the remains of dozens of aircraft that killed dozens of test pilots over the last fifty years.

Without the sacrifice of aviators from the Wright Brothers until now, modern air flight would never have happened. Thanks to all the test pilots, traveling by air is now the safest form of transportation ever developed by human beings. If you were to fly in a commercial jet every day of your life you would end up dying of old age, rather than from an accident.

Spaceflight is following a similar trajectory. The first attempt by the United States to launch a satellite into orbit was a spectacular failure—the rocket blew up only seconds after its engines fired. Between then and John Glenn’s flight four years later into orbit on top of an Atlas rocket, multiple test flights of the unmanned Atlas had ended in spectacular explosions.

The first person known to have died on a spaceflight was Vladimir Komarov when his Soyuz 1—the first flight of a Soyuz with a person onboard—crashed into the ground when its parachute failed to open properly. That was on April 27, 1967. On June 30, 1971 Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov were killed in Soyuz 11: a cabin vent valve accidentally opened when the descent module separated from the service module during re-entry. They asphyxiated. They are the only people to have actually died in space (above 62 miles up).

Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Dick Scobee died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986. Rick D. Husband, William McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon died when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry on February 1, 2003.
Michael J. Adams died during X-15 Flight 191 (a suborbital flight) when it went into a Mach 4.7 inverted dive and broke apart at about 65,000 feet on November 15, 1967.

Soviet Cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko died on March 23, 1961. He was in training in a special low-pressure chamber with a pure oxygen atmosphere. He dropped an alcohol-soaked cloth onto an electric hotplate and fire quickly engulfed the chamber. Theodore Freeman (October 31, 1964) and Elliot See and Charles Bassett (February 28, 1966)were killed during training flights in T-38s. Gus Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee were killed on the launch pad in Apollo 1 when a spark from defective wiring created a fire in their pure oxygen atmosphere. Clifton “C.C” Williams died on October 5, 1967 during a T-38 training accident. Robert Lawrence, named as the first African-American astronaut for the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, died on December 8, 1967 when his F-104 jet crashed at Edwards Air Force Base. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (the first human to orbit the Earth) died in the crash of a MiG-15UTI jet trainer on March 27, 1968. Sergei Vozovikov drowned during water recover training in the Black Sea on July 11, 1993.

More than 110 people have died in rocket explosions during testing or attempted launches since the first satellite was fired into orbit in 1957.

Rocket science really is hard. And those who are involved in the process know and accept those risks and believe it is worthwhile. Consider: around 33,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in the U.S. 265 people died in aircraft accidents in 2013. Around 200 people die by drowning in their bathtubs annually. Life is risky—but we believe the benefits of cars, airplanes and bathtubs outweigh the risks. The benefits of space travel, likewise, outweigh the risks—and are worth the sacrifices.

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He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. They were astonished at His teaching because His message had authority. In the synagogue there was a man with an unclean demonic spirit who cried out with a loud voice, “Leave us alone! What do You have to do with us, Jesus—Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet and come out of him!”

And throwing him down before them, the demon came out of him without hurting him at all. They were all struck with amazement and kept saying to one another, “What is this message? For He commands the unclean spirits with authority and power, and they come out!” And news about Him began to go out to every place in the vicinity. (Luke 4:31–37)

Mark tells the same story about the demon possessed man in the synagogue. After the demon recognized Jesus, Jesus told the demon to “be quiet” and to “come out of him,” which the demon then did without another word, without complaint, without asking where to go.

The people were amazed by Jesus’ power. And yet, all Jesus did to the demon was tell it to go. Why did the demon obey? Because of who Jesus was. The power that Jesus has to expel demons, to heal the sick, to preach and teach, and to die for our sins came from his Father, who was and is God. We take Jesus for granted, too often. We sometimes fail to fully comprehend the significance of our relationship with God. Demons will not listen to us, but they will listen to Jesus. Therefore, in confronting evil, the key is to recognize that the conflict is not between ourselves and the evil that stands before us, but rather the conflict is between evil and Jesus. When we give the problem over to him, he can overcome it. We do not have the strength to overcome our evil desires. But Jesus does.

In our lives, Jesus power may mean that our problem goes away and never troubles us again. But it may simply mean that Jesus gives us the strength to endure it. Whichever Jesus grants us, our victory is no less complete. We can be happy with Jesus in our lives when we give him the mastery over us.

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Nations will go to war against one another, and kingdoms will attack each other. There will be great earthquakes, and in many places people will starve to death and suffer terrible diseases. All sorts of frightening things will be seen in the sky.

Before all this happens, you will be arrested and punished. You will be tried in your meeting places and put in jail. Because of me you will be placed on trial before kings and governors. But this will be your chance to tell about your faith.

Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong. You will be betrayed by your own parents, brothers, family, and friends. Some of you will even be killed. Because of me, you will be hated by everyone. But don’t worry! You will be saved by being faithful to me.
(Luke 21:10–19)

On more than one occasion Jesus encouraged people not to worry, whether it was about finances, clothing, food, or even persecution. The answer to worry that Jesus gave in all instances was the same. We don’t need to worry because God is with us. We know that he will give us the strength to endure whatever hard times might come. As the Psalmist wrote so long ago, even though we walk through the deepest darkness, God is always with us (Psalm 23). We are never alone. God is not unmindful of what we’re experiencing. He knows what we want, but better yet, he knows what we need. “It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2 NKJV). Worrying has never made anything better.

We shouldn’t give into worry. It is a liar. It is not our friend. It cannot help us, it cannot fix our pain. It is a wet blanket on a cold day, a broken wheel on our wagons. It cannot carry us, it cannot feed us, it cannot sustain us. It will only take and give us nothing back. Worry will not stop the sunrise. It will not ease the nightfall. And when enough tomorrows come we’ll be able to see better. And worry will seem less necessary. God will give us what we need, whether it is the perfect answer before our accusers, or the food to sustain us in our hunger.

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“Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness—how deep is that darkness!

“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.” (Matthew 6:16–24)

Some people suffer from SOS: shiny object syndrome. They are easily distracted by whatever attractive thing happens to catch their eye. It is a common human failing, of course, an example of our general inability to properly distinguish between what’s best for us, and what will entertain us at this instant. We want to get rich quick. But the quick too often turns out to be nothing more than a shiny bit of glass.

Jesus asked those listening to him during his Sermon on the Mount to consider what motivated their behavior. Why do they do what they do? Are they doing good for God or are they doing good only for themselves? Were they motivated by the desire for the quick payoff? Were they good because of what the neighbors would think? Were they good because of what benefit they could derive from it? If so, Jesus argued that they really weren’t being good at all. Instead, they were simply working for their own selfish ends. They were working for a payment.

Serving God means being concerned with someone besides ourselves. In fact, our own benefit shouldn’t enter into the equation at all. True righteousness means focusing on others and forgetting entirely about what we might get out of it. We cannot be truly righteous if we’re concerned with what we’re going to get out of it too.

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