Trouble’s Coming

“I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling. They will ban you from the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they haven’t known the Father or Me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you may remember I told them to you. I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you.

“But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and not one of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ Yet, because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.”
(John 16:1–7)

So much of what Jesus told his disciples ran counter to what they had always believed to be true about the Messiah. They were becoming increasingly distressed and discouraged. But then Jesus offered them some wonderful news.

Jesus never gave his disciples false hope. He only gave them realistic hope. He told them that the Holy Spirit would come to them. Though the Holy Spirit wouldn’t arrive until after Jesus had left, it would actually be better than having Jesus around. Jesus, as a human being, had taken on “the form of a servant.” He had “emptied” himself (Philippians 2:5-11). But the Holy Spirit would not become a finite man. The Holy Spirit, fully and completely God, would take up residence in each and every Christian. They would never be apart from or separated from the Holy Spirit. Jesus had to eat, he had to sleep, and he had to die. Jesus could only be in one place at a time. But the Holy Spirit would never leave or forsake them: they would be filled with all the power and knowledge that God had to give them.

We may wish that we could have been alive when Jesus was on Earth. But in many ways, we are better off today because we now have the Holy Spirit—the Counselor—that Jesus sent to all of us who believe. Rather than being in his limited, incarnated state, God in all his fullness and power lives in us forever.

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The Holidays

For many people the holidays—that time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day—are times of great stress. I understand that. We have meals to plan and make, gifts to get, cards to send. It is a lot of extra things that disrupt our normal routines.

My middle daughter is a person of routine and order. She does not like any kind of change whatsoever. My wife, during her time in college, worked part time with autistic adults. Her clients generally did not do well with any disruption to their daily and hourly activities: they expected to have the same food for breakfast every day, and they expected to see the same staff members every day; they lived extremely regimented existences. While my middle daughter is not quite that extreme in her hatred of change, she still does not do well with any disruption. Nearly every summer my wife and I enjoy hosting a foreign exchange student. We began doing this before we had any children and we are still in contact with our first high school student who visited us from Japan. Frighteningly, she is now forty years old. We’re not quite sure how that happened.

My youngest and oldest daughters always enjoy the exchange students, with the exposure to new customs and languages, the pleasure of showing the student the sights of southern California and being reminded again of the wonder of where we live by getting to see it through the eyes of a stranger.

But my middle daughter can’t stand it. She doesn’t like the alteration in her routine; she doesn’t like the extra person in her house.

It doesn’t keep us from inviting a student to stay with us a few weeks each summer, anyhow. It’s kind of like piano lessons. The child may not like it now, but someday she’ll be glad for the exposure. At least we hope so.

In any case, the holidays have that same effect on most people: everything is upended. The holidays mess with our schedules: we have days off work, we don’t always sleep the same hours. The holidays disturb our budgets: extra food to buy, and then there are all the presents. That’s why such things as Christmas clubs or savings accounts and layaway were invented, to make it a bit easier to fit the economic disruption into our already tight budgets. For others, it’s time to pull out the plastic, which creates the stress of what will come in the mail after the New Year begins and the knowledge that months may go by in overtime and scrimping to pay for the excesses of the holiday. In January, many people will vow to not do this to themselves again next year, but every year, the same pattern will repeat. Most of us are no good about keeping any of our New Year’s resolutions.

I suspect, however, that the source of the greatest stress for most people is the appearance of family members that we’ve spent most of the year not having anything to do with because we really don’t have that much in common with them except that we happened to marry their son or daughter. Or else it’s the former teenager, now grown and off on his or her own, that decides to return with a spouse and grandchildren that we haven’t seen since the same time last year.

And while we feel love and affection—perhaps—for these family members, we do not live with them or near them because we really don’t want to live with them or near them. We’re glad they are not our neighbors or roommates anymore. But the holidays force us to come together. And even if we lack the drama and dysfunctions that afflict so many families, there is still a certain amount of stress among even the happiest of extended clans.

And frankly, the level of dysfunction in families never ceases to amaze me. As a deacon in a church for over a quarter century now, I’ve seen any number of messed up households. Some arguments are of the minor sort, where an offended family member holds a grudge for decades over a minor perceived slight, such as a lack of enthusiasm for a handmade gift, or a disagreement over politics or an unkind word. In contrast, other families suffer from the sort of problems one might see on the Jerry Springer show or Doctor Phil. I suspect many people watch such shows just to be reminded to be thankful: we may have problems, we may not always get along, we may have stress—but thank goodness we aren’t like those crazy idiots on TV.

For all the added stress, for all the occasional drama, for all the physical, emotional and financial turmoil, for all the Uncles and Aunts that act goofy or whom we find slightly disturbing, I think most of us actually like the holidays and enjoy them.

Otherwise, why would we keep doing this to ourselves year after year?

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Duty

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:1–10)

The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. He told them they already had enough. Even the smallest amount was enough to throw mountains into the sea—that is, to forgive those who had sinned against them over and over again, just as God forgave us and put our sins in the deepest ocean (Micah 7:19).

Jesus then countered the notion that God somehow owes us anything. Sometimes, when people suffer, they list all the things they’ve done for God and demand to know how they could possibly deserve their pain. Others may try to bargain with God, promising more church attendance or Bible reading if only he’ll fix their problem. With his parable of the master and his servants, Jesus pointed out that such bargaining or resentment is wrong.

Jesus died for our sins when we were still his enemies. We have done nothing and can do nothing to make ourselves worthy of his salvation. We remain always unworthy of God’s love that he has lavished on us. At best, we merely do our duty. We never do anything worthy of praise. As Paul said, we have nothing to boast about except for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14).

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Narrow Gate

He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’

“Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.’

“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
(Luke 13:22–30)

As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem to be crucified, he was asked about who would enter the kingdom of God. Those who asked him assumed that all the Jewish people would make it. What they wondered was which sinners were going to be excluded. But Jesus explained that the kingdom had a narrow door that not everyone would find. Being Jewish wasn’t enough. Admission was limited. Not everyone would make it through just because they were descended from Abraham. And once the feast of the kingdom began, that door narrow door would slam shut.

To their surprise, Jesus told them that some of those entering the kingdom of God wouldn’t even be Jewish. Gentiles would make it into the kingdom! Jesus wanted those listening to him to understand that entry into the kingdom was not based on their birth. Instead, entry was based upon their relationship with Jesus. Striving to get in doesn’t mean that we get in based on how hard we work. Rather, it means that it is based on learning where the door is and then going through it. Any of us can get into God’s kingdom simply by entering it. All we have to do is walk through that narrow door.

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Filch

Lynch mobs are never a source for justice. The rioters, the looters, the protestors, those screaming that justice wasn’t done—the truth will never be found by them and doesn’t really matter to them, anyhow. It was never about truth, it was never about justice, it was only and always about the narrative.

Lynch mobs. They are all the same: certain in the rightness of their conviction–and never to be satisfied unless they see some punishment.

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Testing

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

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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Hardships

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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