Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How Campbell's Hero's Journey Works

The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, pointed out that stories and myths generally follow a specific formula which he called, the Hero's Journey.

Brandon Root, of Spiteful Critic, has done a fine job pointing out how this works with some recent movies:

Hold On, I’ve Seen This Before: How Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, and Harry Potter are Actually the Same Movie

By way of GeekPress.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Neurosky: Reading Your Mind

Mind-computer interface:

The video is from the Washington Post. The article is here.

Neurosky's website is here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First Extragalactic Exoplanet Found?

New Scientist reports that a new planet may have been found orbiting a star in the Andromeda Galaxy, two million light years away.

LRO/LCROSS Launched On Time Today

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched on time today at about 2:32 PM (Pacific Time), together with the smaller lunar impacter, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS. LRO will map the moon in greater detail than has been done before, while LCROSS will smack into a shadowed crater on the moon's south pole to see if it can find some water ice. This is the first lunar probe launched by NASA in over ten years. It is the initial step in the goal of putting people on the moon permanently.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sending People

The Space Shuttle will once again be leaving for the International Space Station on Saturday morning, assuming the weather and equipment cooperate.

I get puzzled by many things. One question that I’ve never really quite fathomed goes like this: "Given the success of the unmanned space probes, such as the twin rovers on Mars, or Cassini and Huygens at Saturn and Titan, or the Hubble Space Telescope, what is the point of sending people into space? People are expensive. They have to be fed, and they require complex life support systems. Can’t we get enough science just from our unmanned probes? They only cost a fraction of a human crewed system, they don’t eat, and they don’t need life support."

While it is true that unmanned spaceships are less expensive, and while it is certain that they have been marvelously successful, I’m not sure why some conclude from that, that we have no reason to be sending people out there, too.

It’s like asking your neighbors, after they come back from their summer vacation, “Why did you waste all that time and gas actually going to see the Grand Canyon, when lots of people have already been there and brought back perfectly good videos and photographs? You really thought you could do any better than everyone else who has gone there before? Think how much you’d have saved if you had just ordered a DVD off of Amazon! No traffic to fight, no bad weather to stand in, and you wouldn’t have had to worry about you or your children falling into that big hole. Quite a dangerous place, after all.”

Those who think sending people into space is wasteful apparently believe that robots are the equal of humans, or perhaps even better than humans. So I have to wonder, would they likewise suggest to your boss that you be replaced with a machine? After all, a machine would be a lot cheaper in the long run. The machine won’t get sick. It won’t expect to get paid. It won’t take coffee breaks. And it would never think of wasting all that time on a trip to the Grand Canyon.

I just don’t understand how someone can imagine sending robots is enough. Don’t you believe that a human being on Mars might be a bit more versatile and a bit more valuable than a small wheeled vehicle that can travel only a few dozen feet a day? Not to denigrate the robot, but why do those who ask the question seem so pleased to underestimate human capabilities?

Humans are a bit more adept than machines, and more easily adapt themselves to the unexpected. And even with our machines that we send into space, they are hardly autonomous. They require a lot of careful handling by a team of scientists back on Earth, who work feverishly night and day to try to keep things working, who not infrequently have to try to puzzle out what might have gone wrong a hundred million miles away and hope that their radioed commands will save the day. If there were people on the other end, it wouldn’t be nearly as difficult. “Hey Joe, could you try plugging that cord into the power supply? It seems to have fallen out.”

I love computers and use them every day; but I’m painfully aware of their limitations. When I search my hard drive or the web for a specific file, I’ve got to be very careful about how I word my request and how I spell everything. Otherwise, I am simply not going to get what I’m looking for. How intelligent is your computer at home, after all? Do you really want to leave the exploration of the universe up to that thing on your desk?

Why go to watch the Super Bowl in person? Isn’t seeing it on TV just as good, or even better than being there in person? Why would you be excited if you won free tickets to see the game? If you went to the game in person, you’d have to sit on hard benches, sit in the sun or cold or rain, struggle with parking, pay an arm and a leg for bad food and tiny drinks, and have to put up with the noise of a stadium filled with people. And then you’d just be squinting down at the ant-like figures on the field far below, in desperate need of binoculars just to figure out what was happening. So just stay home, where you can stretch out comfortably on your nice soft couch, with close up views, and instant replay, and all the munchies you need.

It is, quite frankly, not nearly as stirring to watch R2D2 stride across an alien landscape as watching a human being do it. Our memories of Neil Armstrong taking that first small step should be enough to remind us that there is much more to exploration and space travel than just the science. Odd how that part of the equation doesn’t figure in to those who question the need for people.

And if all the people who have already signed up to ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is any indication, most of us would jump at a chance to go into space ourselves. Virtual reality and video games and movies and TV are fine, but we’d really like to experience it. We kind of like reality, I think. Isn’t it a good enough reason to send people into space just the simple fact that we want to go?

But, if you think watching the Super Bowl on TV is good enough, then please send me your tickets. I’ll be happy to endure all the hassles of reality in your place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Of all the mistakes that we make in reading the Bible, I think that the most common sort is to take passages out of context. Sometimes it is relatively innocuous, as when we use the words of Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me” and then use them for the purpose of evangelizing the lost. In context, the passage is directed at Christians for their repentance. Other times, pulling a passage out of context can be amusing, as the story of the unemployed woman who concluded that God would give her a job soon, because when she opened the Bible at random, her eye fell on a whole book of the Bible called “Job.”

Much less amusingly, I’ve noticed that some Christians misuse passages of the Bible in order to pound on people that they don’t like. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as rendered in the King James Version has been a classic seized upon to condemn many: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Even if you can’t find anything in the Bible that forbids the behavior, if you don’t like it, just throw that in the person’s face and watch them squirm. Tell them that just because something they are doing looks bad, they stand condemned. Unfortunately, only the King James words the passage that way. The NIV translates it simply as “Avoid every kind of evil” while the TNIV says, “reject whatever is harmful.” Even the KJV wording, if understood in context, is simply explaining that people should abstain from evil whenever it appears.

But understanding it as it was intended is simply not as useful for those concerned with outward “appearances.” But as I recall, it was the Pharisees who were quick to condemn for how things looked to the neighbors. They often criticized Jesus for the company he kept, and for doing or saying things that were at odds with proper appearance. Imagine how tongues wagged when that prostitute washed Jesus feet with perfume and her tears, while kissing them and wiping them with her hair! If the popular understanding of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 really meant what so many think it does, then Jesus himself stands condemned. The first clue that we’ve misinterpreted is when our interpretation results in such an obvious absurdity.

Another classic in missing the context is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Read by itself, it seems that Paul is explaining that there are some people, due to their reprehensible behavior, who have thereby been excluded from heaven. In verse nine he writes that “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God” and then he lists who he means by that: “sexually immoral,” “idolaters,” “adulterers,” “male prostitutes,” “practicing homosexuals,” “thieves,” “the greedy,” “drunkards,” “slanderers” and “swindlers.” He concludes by stating a second time that the people he has just listed will not “inherit the kingdom of God.”

Therefore, so the popular argument goes, if you are gay (just to pick on one of the sinners in the list), you simply can’t go to heaven. So there. Odd how the other sorts of sinners are usually ignored in the enthusiasm to pick out that one particular sort of sinner as an example, but I digress…

Fortunately, the rather hopeless interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is dependent upon ignoring the context of Paul’s words. In verse 11, Paul adds “that is what some of you were.” You see, some of the people to whom Paul was writing his letter were sinners that he had stated could not inherit the kingdom of God. So Paul points out “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul affirms that while some of the Corinthians were wicked people, they were also redeemed wicked people. And Paul doesn’t say that by their efforts and good deeds that they had earned a ticket to heaven. Their redemption was something accomplished by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

It is worth pointing out that in the same letter to the Corinthian church, Paul again uses virtually identical language, but with a different target: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."

Thus, Paul’s point in both passages is the same. Rather than saying that certain sorts of sinners are by definition excluded from heaven, he is simply saying that unredeemed humans don’t inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is redeemed humans that inherit it. Otherwise, following hopless illogic, one would have to argue that no human beings go to heaven, since Paul very explicitly says that “flesh and blood” can’t go there.

One comforting thing: our imperfection in how we interpret the Bible, our ease in pulling passages out of context, our very real failings, do not prevent God from working through us. Look again at the passage about Jesus knocking at our heart's door in Revelation 3:20. It was that very passage, used by my Sunday School teacher when I was seven, that led me to accept Jesus as my Savior. Even out of context, God can still use his word to his advantage. God is still God, no matter how human we may be.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Paul writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) It is a famous passage, that we’ve read many times before in both good and bad places along the road of life. The frustrating part of the verse, however, is that it provides no mechanism for how to fulfill it. Sure, we’d all agree that getting tired and worn out—discouraged—from working hard for Jesus is something to be avoided. But the question on my mind, whenever I feel such discouragement is, “Okay, how?”

It’s like the passage in James’ letter, where he talks about faith versus works and tells us that faith without works is dead. James gives an illustration of what he means by faith without works being empty. If you found someone in need of food and clothes and simply told them, “Hey buddy, you should get some clothes on and get yourself something to eat” you’d have done nothing worthwhile, unless you actually give him some bread and a new shirt.

So, Paul warns us that we’re not supposed to become weary in well-doing. I doubt anyone would disagree.

But how do you pull that off? How do you keep from becoming discouraged after spending years at something only to see little or no progress? Or after facing repeated financial crises? How do you keep from not thinking it must be your fault, since, after all, you’re the one that is living your life? If God were really in it, wouldn’t there be lives transformed for the better? Wouldn't something work out in some spectacular fashion? Why instead, despite all our efforts, when we look in our souls, all we see is not a glass half-full, but a glass plumb empty.

Being weary from well-doing is incredibly destructive. It saps the will, turns the heart negative, makes it impossible for the eye to witness even one positive event, to discern even one benefit to one’s continued existence.

How to avoid the bone crushing, dust-filled empty wasteland of weariness from doing good, from pounding endlessly at a cliff of granite without the smallest crack or chip appearing? Frankly, becoming weary in doing good seems nearly inevitable. Simply telling us not to become weary is like telling the runner not to get tired.

Even if one sees great blessings, weariness is going to creep up on you. What if the church magnificently prospers, the money rolls in, the sinners repent, broken lives are repaired, the damaged and hurting are made well again? What if one sees tremendous results? Will the sense of weariness fade away? Won’t the end of a long, productive week still bring a sense of exhaustion? Can’t discouragement and the sense of emptiness trouble such a successful individual just as much as the one who feels all his labor has been in vain? Does outcome really matter, or is it the work itself that induces the weariness?

Notice that a warning against becoming weary is addressed to those who work at the good, regardless of the outcome. Jesus told his disciples during his sermon on the mount that they were to seek God and his righteousness. One should notice that the wording is not completely dissimilar to the Declaration of Independence’s promise that we have a right to pursue happiness. There’s no promise we’ll actually find it; only that we get to chase it. Seeking God, seeking righteousness may not be guarantees of finding what we’ve been looking for. The author of Hebrews concludes the listing of the greats of faith by pointing out that many worked hard for God, suffered much for God and then never received anything that had been promised by God (Hebrews 11:39).

Such realizations from scripture and life don’t particularly help me not feel weary in doing good. Again: if we’re not supposed to feel weary or to grow discouraged, then how, practically speaking, do we manage? Oddly, Paul seems to suggest elsewhere that the answer is paradoxical. In his letter to the Romans he writes “... we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Paul argues that for the Christian, suffering produces perseverance which carries with it character and hope. This is counterintuitive. It seems unlikely. In fact, isn’t it our experience mostly that people quit when the hard times come? Didn’t Jesus give a parable about that once, something about seeds tossed along the road? (Matthew 13:18-23)

Ah, but that then supplies the answer, doesn’t it? Patience and self-control are both fruits of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22. And the difference between the “good” soil and the not so good soil was that when troubles and such came along, the seed that wasn’t in good soil withered: it quit. It’s not that the other seed didn’t have the same troubles, but it just kept growing anyhow.

James likewise writes that the testing of our faith produces perseverance (see James 1:3-4, 12). Meanwhile Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:6 that God has given us everything we need for our lives as Christians. And among those things he has given us is “perseverance.”

So, after all that, there’s no magic elixir to find, no spiritual Red Bull that you can get that will rev you up and keep you from getting tired or discouraged. What you have is actually a lot better: God living inside of you, finishing the work in you that he has prepared for you to do (see Ephesians 2:10). Tired or not, you’ll keep on keeping on, because that’s simply what we as Christians do. Our weariness does not lead to quitting. Instead:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Roman Morality

I occasionally run across those who like to use the Roman Empire as a warning. It reminds me of a poster I saw once: “Maybe the reason for being is to serve as a warning to others.” The short form of the dire message I here goes like this: “the Roman Empire fell because of moral decline.” Next, my instructor will make comparisons with some hideous offence that he or she sees in America today, followed by the warning that if we don’t straighten up and fly right, we’ll go the way of the Romans.

I’m still trying to figure out when the Romans had any morality that they could abandon. For instance, before he seized power, Julius Caesar boasted of slaughtering over 100,000 people in just one of his trips into Gaul. Not 100,000 on the battlefield either. Julius Caesar’s body count came from razing villages, where he hacked off the heads of children, women, old men, and the disabled. When he got home, there were no newspapers decrying his abuse of human rights. Instead, this slaughter was celebrated by everyone in Rome as a part of Caesar’s greatness. There were speeches praising him, triumphal celebrations, and murals and statues were made to show in gory detail how Caesar and his troops had raped barbarian women and sliced barbarian children's heads off.

All that, and Rome's greatest days were yet ahead of her.

Meanwhile, the political corruption in the Roman Republic (which continued in the time of the Empire that followed Caesar’s death), would have made Enron executives green with envy. Bribery was a normal cost of doing business. Government posts were openly sold to the highest bidder. Politicians switched sides weekly, depending on who was paying them at the moment. Votes were bought and sold over and over again. Some citizens in Rome made their living simply by selling their votes.
In his early days, Julius Caesar received a nice post as governor. The pay for such a post was modest. And yet somehow, in the year or two he was governor, he went from being the equivalent of several million bucks in debt to having a vast fortune of millions. He didn’t manage that by the wise investment of his paltry salary. He stole, he took bribes, he plundered the people he was supposed to be governing.
Emperors had to watch their friends, wives, and children carefully and most of them still wound up dying from either poison in their food or a misplaced knife. And then when the wife or child took the dead emperor’s place, the other children, sisters, brothers, mothers, uncles and aunts, had a tendency to turn up dead very quickly.

And then there’s the issue of marriage and sex; these two things were not closely related among the Romans, and marriages were made and unmade quickly and repeatedly. Marriages and sexual liaisons were made for material gain, or to solidify a political pact. Caesar’s soldiers referred to him affectionately as “the bald adulterer” and sang songs warning towns they were entering that the men should lock up their wives and daughters and mothers because Caesar was coming.

The bottom line is this: there was no decline in Roman morality. It was bad to the bone from its earliest beginnings until the day it ceased to exist. Not that their morals were much better or worse than those of any other nation that one would care to study. People, especially people in power, tend toward corruption, greed, and vice. And yet their nations still endure and prosper.

As to American morality, there are those who will argue that in America we've fallen into wickedness and hedonism and that we got what was coming to us on 9/11 or from Katrina. This strikes me as really odd. How can it be that there are those in the US who agree with the Islamo-fascists’ opinion of us? Do we really think someone who cuts off people’s heads or blows themselves up so they can kill children on a bus has great insight on issues of morality? Can terrorists offer us legitimate and thoughtful critiques of American morality?

So when the British sacked Washington DC and burned the Capital and the White House during the War of 1812, that was because we’re sinners? And the bombing of Pearl Harbor was that really because of our moral decline?

I tend to think that our morals have improved over the years. I just ask myself, would I rather be a black man living in Selma in the 1950’s or today? Did anyone talk about or worry about spousal abuse or child abuse in the 1950’s? Think it didn’t exist then? Think again. It’s just that no one considered it an issue needing any attention.

Or how about this: is an America with or without slavery a better place? Do we think the Romans ever worried about killing civilians when they fought wars? Had they, or anyone, prior to the twentieth century developed the concept of war crimes? How about the Geneva Convention? I’m doubtful that Genghis Khan would have even been able to understand our disgust at those pictures from Abu Ghraib.

When someone tells me that America is in moral decline, when someone tells me that the world is going downhill, when I start to feel depressed by the bad news on TV, I just pick up a history book and take a look. It reminds me that things have been far worse.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Grains of Sand Like Stars

Go to the beach and sit down on the sand—or if no beach is nearby, find a child’s sandbox. Pick up a handful of sand and bring it up to your face so you can see the individual grains; let them trickle through your fingers. Look up and down the beach at all the sand and imagine trying to count every last tiny mote of it.

Then, come evening, lie on your back and stare up at the black sky dusted with gleaming pinpricks and realize the unfathomable vastness of the universe: there are more stars in that sky above your head than there are grains of sand on all the beaches and in all the sandboxes in all the world.

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least 200 billion stars. If but five percent of those stars have planets, that means that 10 billion solar systems exist beyond our own. But given that current technology would not allow us to find solar systems like our own, it is likely that the percentage of stars with planets is far, far higher. And yet, that’s just the stars within one galaxy. The observable universe contains at least 100 billion galaxies averaging the size of our own Milky Way.

What does all that mean? That the number of planets in the universe is probably far vaster than the number of stars. And even odder to think about: if even only one percent of those planets are capable of harboring life, and if only one percent of those have intelligent beings on them who can look up at their night skies and wonder about what they are seeing—the number of civilizations in the universe will be uncountable billions.

There are 86,400 seconds in a day. There are about 31and a half million seconds in a year (if you figure at year at 365.25 days). If you were to start taking a photograph of each star in just our galaxy, and took a photograph once every second, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with no time off for sleeping or anything else, it would take you over thirty-one years just to photograph the first one billion stars. To get photos of all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, given that there are 200 billion of them, would take you over six thousand years: the length of all recorded human history. Then you’d still have another hundred billion galaxies to go, just in the visible universe, each with its 200 billion stars.

One can devote an entire lifetime to the study of a single subject, for instance Russian literature. And one could specialize further and devote oneself to the work of just one Russian author, say Dostoyevsky. Or maybe you’d like to devote yourself to the study of Russian history, perhaps twentieth century Russian history (I took a year long course in that in college as an undergraduate). Most of us in high school or college took a course in World Civilization, which covered the entire history of our planet in a single year. Not much detail in a class like that. Now imagine trying to cram the history of multiple civilizations into your brain: the billions that maybe lie scattered across our skies.

I marveled at the grains of sand trickling through my fingers one sunny summer day not long ago, while the waves were roaring in the background. And I couldn’t help imagining how they represented worlds scattered across endless oceans of night, each with waves and sunny beaches that I would never know.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4 that “we know that suffering produces perseverance.” On the face of it, his words seem to make little sense. In my experience, for most people suffering tends to produce quitting.

Our human reaction to trouble sometimes makes about as much sense as the man just hired to a new job. The first day he’s excited, goes about his work with enthusiasm, and heads home happy. Same with the next day. But on the third day, he starts wondering, “You know, I haven’t seen any sign of a paycheck from all this work. I thought I was supposed to be getting paid like fifty thousand dollars a year, but my bank account’s still just as empty as it was three days ago. I check my mailbox every day and there are no checks, just more bills. What gives? Why do I keep coming?” And so he asks himself the same questions the next day and the next. Three weeks go by and still nothing. On the twenty-ninth day of the month he wakes up, looks at his alarm clock, and just shuts it off. “They say I’ll get paid at the end of the month but here it is with only one day left to go and still nothing. No sign of that pay check! Why go on?”

It is so easy for us to become discouraged in life, to imagine that the current struggle is an indication that somehow all our suffering has been pointless. Naaman had to dip himself seven times into the Jordan before his leprosy left him (2 Kings 5). Do you suppose after six dips without a change he was wondering whether there was any point in dipping himself yet again?

Someone once wrote that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. But if you’re pounding on a rock with a sledge hammer trying to break it, what happens if you stop one blow short of making it shatter? What about the Israelites who walked around Jericho over and over and the walls just kept looking as strong as ever? (Joshua 6)

Perseverance in the face of obstacles and trouble and repeated failure is not insanity. Suffering can produce perseverance if we can recognize that suffering is just the road to hope. Suffering is not an end to itself; it’s a journey. Why quit before you reach the goal? Is the goal unworthy?

Remember something else. They don't build statues to those who say, “It can't be done,” “it’s not worth it,” or “why don’t you quit?” There aren’t any monuments memorializing Job’s wife who told him “curse God and die” when everything hit rock bottom for him (Job 2:9). They don't build monuments for those who tried to stop people from being great, who told the struggling artist that “surely you can find something more productive to do with your time.” They don't name streets after those who don’t take risks.

When the first colonies are built on the moon and distant planets, the only thing that might be named for Senators William Proxmire and Walter Mondale, senators who did everything in their power to try to stop NASA and cut its funding, will be the latrines. Assuming anyone remembers them at all. But cities and statues named after Werner Von Braun, Neil Armstrong and John F. Kennedy will be common, don't you suppose?

There is no glory for those who play it safe, who always want to be careful, who never risk anything, who quit. God did not call us to an easy life, a life where everything happens quickly and without trouble. If you think God’s will means life runs smoothly and you’ll never hurt, then you’ve not been paying much attention to life or the Bible.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Paul begins the eighth chapter of Romans by commenting that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Although that was true of God, it never stopped people from commenting, “You know Paul, you showed such promise as a young man, but now, look at you: never sure where your next meal is coming from. And we haven’t forgotten about your little fiasco there in Damascus when you had to slip out of town by way of a basket. Maybe you should think about making some changes in your life? Perhaps re-visit some of the choices you’ve made? Have you thought about getting yourself a real job since God’s not blessing your current efforts? I’m not saying you’ve committed any real major sins—though you do talk about some “thorn in the flesh” that God won’t relieve you of. So perhaps you should focus some energy on that—you know, work on improving your prayer life?”

I’ve had a lot of people over the years criticize me for doing what I think God wants me to do. Most of them have used spiritual sounding arguments to prove that I have gone off track. “Where’s God’s blessing in your life?” they would ask. And what did my critics mean by God’s blessing? It usually boiled down to one of the following: money, recognition, and numbers.

I read through the Bible once a year. I’ve been doing that since I was sixteen. I have yet to find where God’s blessing, or God’s notion of success, can be determined by any of those physical things. Frankly, in my experience, most Christians’ notion of success is identical to the non-Christians’ concept of success. The thought is widespread in the Church that unless numbers are large, income is huge, and buildings are enormous, then God is displeased and we’re doing something wrong.

Odd how the world’s concepts of success are usually draped with the skinned carcasses of genuine spirituality. You know, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Job’s friends were certain that good things came to good people, bad things to bad people. Therefore, one had to follow all the rules just so in order to get Santa Claus—um, God—to deliver. Oddly, their theology exactly matched that of the Devil:

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:10-11) Doing God’s will, according to the Devil, was financially beneficial. Therefore, if God took that perk away Job wouldn’t perform for God anymore.

Let’s review:

Paul was called by God, hands were laid on him, and the church sent him out to minister to the Gentiles (review Acts 13:1-3). And yet this is Paul’s description of what his life was like after that: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)

Things really went badly for Paul once he left Antioch. So, was Paul not doing what God wanted him to do? Had he and the church made a mistake? Was Paul guilty of a hidden sin? Was Paul not praying right? Had Paul’s lack of attendance at the latest seminar on church growth been his undoing? Maybe he needed brother Wonderful’s latest book and video series?

In Romans 8:35-39 Paul writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In verse 36 Paul quotes from Psalm 44: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” That’s an interesting choice. The author of Psalm 44 was asking God why everything was going wrong for Israel, pointing out that if they’d abandoned God and gone off and started worshipping idols, then bad stuff happening might make sense. But instead, they were not only doing what God wanted, following him closely, but “for your sake we face death all day long.” They were suffering for righteousness sake! So why wasn’t God making things better? Why wasn’t everything working out? Why weren’t they successful?

When the world’s idea of failure happens, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us anymore. That’s Paul’s whole point in Romans 8. And Paul is not just preaching to us; he’s also preaching to himself. Having experienced shipwreck, arrest, beatings, and stonings, it would be natural for him to sometimes think that God didn’t love him. It would be easy for people to look at his life and tell him that he was mistaken about God’s will for him. But that would be wrong. Paul was actually entirely successful.

Why? Because success is simply doing what God has asked us to do, regardless of the consequences.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


In the abstract, trusting God is an easy thing to do. In real life sometimes it can be tough. Life is a struggle; it has lots of good times and some bad times. How do we remind ourselves in the swirling dizziness of life, as we are buffeted and beaten about the face, that everything will be okay, and that God really does love us and know what he’s doing?

God never tries to justify himself to us. Why should he? He’s right to think that if we love him, we will trust him.

Consider: if I go out late at night, my wife trusts me because she knows me and loves me. I do not have to justify myself, give answers for every action I take, every place I go, every word that I say. If I step on my wife’s foot, she does not assume I purposely stomped on it because I wanted to cause her pain. If she finds me snoring some afternoon in my office, she does not conclude that I’m a lazy goof-off.

Likewise, as we think about God and the bad things that happen to us, trusting him is something that should come just as naturally. But all too often the storms of life lead us to start doubting that God really knows what he’s doing, or really cares about what happens to us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


In the course of my now more than half century of life, one of the things I’ve noticed is the difficulty I sometimes experience in bringing to mind how God took care of me in past crises—especially when I'm in the middle of a new one. I believe that part of the reason for that has been my failure to rehearse the past events. Time erodes memories, both good and bad. I find that if I can force myself to relate in my head the positive things God has done, to think about past problems and how they turned out, that it helps a lot in any current problem. Then I reread the first half of Psalm 77, which reflects that sort of experience and approach:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:1-12)

Using Pulsars for a GPS in Space

Bartolome Coll and Albert Tarantola have proposed using pulsars "To Define Space-Time Co-ordinates." In essence, a GPS system for spacecraft in the solar system and beyond. The summary of their paper, published at arxiv.org, is summarized this way:

Fully relativistic coordinates have been proposed for (relativistically) running a "GPS" system. These coordinates are the arrival times of the light signals emitted by four "satellites" (clocks). Replacing the signals emitted by four controlled clocks by the signals emitted by four pulsars defines a coordinate system with lower accuracy, but valid across the whole Solar System. We here precisely define this new coordinate system, by choosing four particular pulsars and a particular event as the origin of the coordinates.

The full paper may be downloaded from the arxiv.org site.

Via Geekpress.com.