Dark Matter

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Jesus and his disciples went to Jericho. And as they were leaving, they were followed by a large crowd. A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting beside the road. When he heard that it was Jesus from Nazareth, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Many people told the man to stop, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over!”

They called out to the blind man and said, “Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.” The man threw off his coat as he jumped up and ran to Jesus.

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man answered, “Master, I want to see!”

Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”

Right away the man could see, and he went down the road with Jesus. (Mark 10:46-52)

It’s easier to heal a blind man than to transform a heart. But Jesus did both. Jericho served as a gateway to Jerusalem. On its outskirts, was a blind man known as Bartimaeus. When he learned that Jesus was coming by, he started doing what he always did with everyone who came by: he lifted his voice and begged, mouthing the words that such a beggar would always mouth: “have pity on me.”

By addressing Jesus as “son of David,” the blind man was acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah and the rightful king of Israel. When Jesus asked the beggar what he wanted, Jesus already knew what it was. But he wanted him to say out loud what was hidden in his heart.

Bartimeaus knew that Jesus could give him something more than mere coins. So he asked Jesus for what he knew he could spare. What was Bartimeaus’ reaction to gaining his sight? He “went down the road” with Jesus. The Greek word implies more than simply walking a ways with Jesus. The word is used of those who become disciples. It meant that from that moment on, Bartimaeus became one of Jesus’ followers. Bartimaeus was with Jesus for the rest of his life. So today, we who claim Jesus as our Savior go “down the road” with him. We are rightfully amazed when a blind man can see. But we should be even more amazed when a man decides to become a follower of Jesus.

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His mother and brothers showed up but couldn’t get through to him because of the crowd. He was given the message, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are the ones who hear and do God’s Word. Obedience is thicker than blood.”

One day he and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.

Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!” (Luke 8:19-25)

Without trust, there can be no obedience. Jesus’ mother and brothers didn’t believe him to be the Messiah. They looked at how Jesus lifestyle and all they could see was a problem. They believed that Jesus was behaving in an irrational way. They were concerned for his health and welfare. Jesus used their concern for him to point out that belief involved hearing and then doing God’s word.

But his disciples were not any better than his family at the doing of God’s word. Although they were obedient when it came to getting in the boat and heading across the lake, when a problem came up, they were as quick as his family was to doubt him. Neither Jesus’ family nor his disciples trusted him. Hearing God’s words and doing them depends upon trusting them.

There was no thought in the disciples’ minds, when they awakened Jesus about any hope, any way out. Instead, they merely informed him that they were doomed to drown. Their situation overwhelmed their ability to see who Jesus was. Of course, their inability to see past their situation did not prevent Jesus from doing what had to be done. The disciples had no faith, no expectation, no hope. Jesus acted anyway, because Jesus’ ability to save is not dependent upon our ability to believe that he can do it. Jesus does what is necessary regardless of our panic.

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Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:1-8)

We can make God unhappy. By the time of Noah, God regretted the creation of human beings. So he resolved to destroy them for their wickedness. What was their wickedness? Not loving God and not loving other people is the best way to summarize it. But then God noticed Noah, and he discovered that he really liked Noah. So instead of wiping out all of humanity—he just wiped out most of it.

Questions regarding the identity of the “daughters of men” and the “sons of God” has resulted in a lot of discussion. Some have imagined angels marrying women and having children. Instead, Jesus commented that at the end of the world, when he returned, it would be like Noah’s time: life would be going along normally, with people marrying and giving in marriage, when destruction suddenly struck them. The “daughters of men” therefore are just human women and the “sons of God” are just human men. Luke’s genealogy, after all, pointed out that Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:37). “Nephelim” were giants. It’s the same Hebrew word that will later be used in the Bible to describe Goliath, the Philistine warrior slain by David.

God is not without feelings. He is not just a force. He feels as strongly as we do, we who have been created in his image. What we feel is what God feels. And our pain becomes his pain.

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Solar Power

The city of Lancaster, California has become very friendly to solar power generation. This is not much of a surprise, given that Lancaster is located in the high desert and has 281 sunny days out of 365 days per year. Since solar power can be generated only when the sun is up, and at highest efficiency when skies are clear, Lancaster is as ideal a place as any in the United States for making use of sunlight to generate power.

There are several advantages to solar power generation. First, and foremost, of course is the simple fact that once the solar panels have been purchased and installed, the generation of the power is entirely free: there is no OPEC to jack up the price of sunshine.

Unfortunately, the upfront cost of solar panels and their installation is quite high. To purchase a set adequate to generate enough power for the average home, you’ll have to come up with something on the order of thirty thousand dollars. If you’re paying two hundred a month for your electricity, more than ten years will pass before you fully amortize your cost—and that’s not counting the expense of maintenance and repair.

And even with solar power, you still cannot dump your local power company entirely, since your panels will only work during daylight hours. Come sunset, you’ll need them to keep the lights on—unless you can afford the even greater expense of the enormous battery packs you’ll need to store some of the energy generated while the sun was up. Of course, remaining hooked to the grid isn’t necessarily a problem, since you will most likely generate more electricity from your solar panels than what you will use during the day. Thus, the electricity you generate will be sent into the power grid and your local power company will give you credit for that power: your meter will actually run backwards while the sun is up, so that instead of a bill from your electric company at the end of the month, you get a check.
Nevertheless, the upfront costs of your solar power system remain ridiculously high, and for most people that high initial expense is the barrier that keeps them from ever adopting solar power.

Thankfully, buying your solar panels outright is not the only way to go solar to lower your monthly electrical bills.

About two years ago solar panels were erected over all the parking lots in all the schools of the Lancaster School District, providing not only covered parking for the teachers, but also electricity for the classrooms. Thanks to solar power, the school district is now saving millions of dollars a year on their electric bills. And they did it without having to pay a cent upfront for it.

How did they manage that?

There are several solar power companies currently competing on the open market, the best known of which are Solar City, Verengo, and Vivint. They offer solar panels for free to homes and businesses in exchange for agreeing to purchase the power generated by those panels for a set period of time—usually twenty years. And they sell that power for thirty to fifty percent less than what the local power company charges.

In the case of the Lancaster School District, that adds up to significant savings. Unsurprisingly, the private schools in the area soon followed the Lancaster School District in signing up for solar power. Then the neighboring districts made the same choice, along with the local community college, and the local Kaiser medical center. The same thing is happening elsewhere in Southern California, too, though not quite to the extent we see in Lancaster.

The maintenance costs for maintaining these solar power systems rests with the solar power company: if their panels aren’t generating power, they don’t get paid, so they have a strong incentive to keep them up and working, at no additional cost to the customer.

Many local homeowners have joined the Lancaster School District in switching to solar power. And the Lancaster City government has given significant incentives to homebuilders in the area, so that most new homes are now built with solar power already installed.

So two weeks ago I signed up to have solar panels added to my house. They will be attached to my back roof (that’s the side receiving the most sunlight during the day). Hidden that way, no one will ever know we’ve gone solar. But my pocket book will know. My electric bill will drop by at least thirty percent—and sometimes by as much as fifty percent.

I’m not one to be motivated by the thought of “going green” or “saving the planet” or reducing my “carbon footprint.” But saving money? Reducing my expenses? That’s something I can get into.

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My graduate work at UCLA was difficult no matter how you might care to look at it. The subject matter was obscure and mostly useless: Semitic languages—specifically, Akkadian (two dialects: Assyrian and Babylonian; written in cuneiform, a writing system consisting of about 600 polyvalent logographic symbols), Aramaic (three dialects: Imperial, Biblical, and Syriac—and two separate alphabets); and Hebrew (Modern, biblical, and a closely related Canaanite dialect, Ugaritic, written with a cuneiform alphabet). On top of that, I managed a year of Ancient Greek, a couple of quarters of Ancient Egyptian and two full years of Sumerian. Not to mention having to learn French and German, since a master’s degree in my field required a familiarity with one modern European language and the PhD required a familiarity with a second. There was also a course in epigraphics where I somehow managed to also study some Phoenician and become fluent in Moabite (no great feat: all that survives of the language is one short text, which happens to be very similar to Aramaic; once you’ve read that text, you’ve learned pretty much all the Moabite that still exists).

I was usually taking between fifteen and seventeen units at a time and it was not uncommon for me to be studying four different languages at the same time. This was not as confusing as one might think: I never once got mixed up, though admittedly I occasionally had trouble coming up with the words I needed for the class I happened to be in. For instance, I remember once in a German class needing to say something and only being able to remember how to say it in Hebrew. But I knew it was Hebrew, not German.

At the same time I was torturing myself in this way, I worked thirty to forty hours a week at the Burbank Airport driving a shuttle bus to and from a parking lot. And remarkably, during the three years of graduate work, I somehow met my future wife and dated her. Many of our dates consisted of late nights at Denny’s eating French fries and drinking coffee while we both studied—she was studying to become a school teacher.

Now, think about the time requirements for this madness: five days a week in class at UCLA for fifteen to seventeen hours per week, commuting time to and from UCLA, home and work I was spending two or more hours a day just driving to where I needed to be. Obviously I was still young and foolish.

Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation and I became close friends over the course of the three years of graduate study. I averaged just a bit over four hours sleep a night during the school year, though I managed a bit better during the summer and holiday breaks. Somehow I avoided falling asleep for any extended period while I was driving, though it was a close thing.

When my wife and I got married, we took a two week honeymoon in a cabin next to Lake Tahoe. I spent the first week of that honeymoon mostly sleeping: I had a lot of sleep to catch up on and it had been years since I’d had a vacation.

I have learned since then about the dangers of sleep deprivation. We tend to think of sleep as wasted time—I know I did when I was at UCLA. I had hopes that coffee would somehow keep me from feeling exhausted but I learned it was completely ineffective for that. Sleep deprivation can cause depression, heart problems, high blood pressure and weight gain. Sleep is not a luxury, it is not laziness: it is necessary and I was crazy to keep the sort of schedule I kept. It’s a wonder I survived, let alone successfully graduated and got married to my wife of now thirty years.

I had hopes that once I had completed my graduate work my days of going without adequate sleep would be behind me.

I forgot to reckon with children.

When they were infants, they would require attention at the most unpleasant hours of the night and so I became reacquainted with the feeling of graduate school, stumbling through my days.

Since they have become teenagers, they mostly stopped awakening me in the middle of the night—until my youngest began manifesting the mental illness that she still suffers from.

Now, she is generally well-medicated, but she still has mild episodes that are problematical, and she requires more care and supervision than a normal teenager would, given that her overall maturity level is that of a child of somewhere between eight and twelve, even though she is seventeen.

During much of the day, I have to help her with her school work: she’s on independent study and only goes to her high school once a week for testing. This means sometimes my writing work has to be done during the early morning and late evening.

But now I’m aware of the dangers of inadequate rest. I no longer view sleep as time wasted. I recognize that it is as important as eating right, exercising, and work. Despite the temptation to stay up longer or get up earlier, I have trained myself to never get less than an average of seven hours of sleep per night. I refuse to reignite my relationship with my old friend, sleep deprivation

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Remembering Tomorrow

This is what the LORD says:
“I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity.
The wealth of the nations will flow to her.
Her children will be nursed at her breasts,
carried in her arms, and held on her lap.
I will comfort you there in Jerusalem
as a mother comforts her child.”
When you see these things, your heart will rejoice.
You will flourish like the grass!
Everyone will see the LORD’s hand of blessing on his servants—
and his anger against his enemies.
See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his swift chariots roar like a whirlwind.
He will bring punishment with the fury of his anger
and the flaming fire of his hot rebuke.
The LORD will punish the world by fire
and by his sword.
He will judge the earth,
and many will be killed by him. (Isaiah 66:12-16)

Why can’t we be happy today like we will be tomorrow when God makes everything okay? As human beings, we can only respond to what we can see, whether it is the pain of the moment, or our anticipation of whatever we think is likely to happen tomorrow. Pain overwhelms us more than joy ever can; the suffering we experience goes deeper than our pleasures, affects us more deeply. No one goes into counseling to uncover repressed memories of happiness. No one endures flashbacks of good times, or finds their current circumstances circumscribed by memories of ecstasy gone by.

The words translated “earth” and “world” in context refer to the lands of Mesopotamia, the “world” of the Assyrians and Babylonians. God promised the Israelites that he would avenge their pain against these tormenters who had destroyed their homeland and taken them away into captivity. God’s promises of tomorrow were intended to bring joy in the midst of today’s problems.

Only with God can we come to a place of optimism, of recognizing that the future memories we will have of eternal bliss can deeply constrain our experiences of today. Likewise, the satisfaction of God’s yet-to-be certain judgment on our enemies should be able to render aid to us as we endure their blows today.

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Death of a King

While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon.

“‘Yet hear the promise of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the LORD says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your fathers, the former kings who preceded you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, “Alas, O master!” I myself make this promise, declares the LORD.’”

Then Jeremiah the prophet told all this to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out—Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in Judah. (Jeremiah 34:1-7)

There’s good news and bad news. Which would you rather hear first? Zedekiah’s sons would be executed in front of him. Immediately afterwards, he was blinded and then he was hauled away to Babylon in chains. Meanwhile, the city of Jerusalem was torched and burned to the ground, along with God’s temple. All this God had told Zedekiah before it happened, warning him that unless he changed his ways, this is how it would turn out. Instead of heeding God’s words, given to him by the prophet Jeremiah, Zedekiah had resisted God’s will and attempted to achieve his own will by rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar. The outcome was just as God had predicted.

But, despite his poor choices, despite resisting God’s will, despite the terrible suffering he endured, the promise God gave him was fulfilled. God did not let Zedekiah die by the sword. Instead he died peacefully—but far from home. And as the last king of Judah to ever sit on David’s throne, when he died he was mourned by the people of God.

The outcome of Zedekiah’s life was because of the choices he made. God is in control of the universe, but he exercises that control through the choices we make.

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Black Holes

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“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, live in Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy forever, and foreign armies will never conquer her again.

“In that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. Water will fill the streambeds of Judah, and a fountain will burst forth from the Lord’s Temple, watering the arid valley of acacias.

But Egypt will become a wasteland and Edom will become a wilderness, because they attacked the people of Judah and killed innocent people in their land.

“But Judah will be filled with people forever, and Jerusalem will endure through all generations.

“I will pardon my people’s crimes, which I have not yet pardoned; and I, the Lord, will make my home in Jerusalem with my people.” (Joel 3:17-21)

At the beginning of his prophecy, Joel predicted that the land of Israel would be devastated by a locust plague. It arrived like an invading army. Perhaps the locusts served as a picture of the Babylonians, God’s punishment for Israel’s disobedience.

Though the Babylonians and their allies, Egypt and Edom, served as God’s instruments of judgment, they slaughtered the innocent, not just the guilty. So God promised he would punish them, too. This happened within seventy years, when the Persians conquered Babylon and much of the rest of the Middle East. The Persians then issued a decree ordering that both Jerusalem and the Temple be rebuilt and that the Jewish captives should go home.

God then promised that he would live with his people forever. God fulfilled this promise with his New Covenant—a covenant that would be written on the hearts of his people. God intended to make his people his temple, the place where he really could live with them forever. As Paul the apostle would later write, his people are now God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in their midst.

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