Orion in the January Night Sky

OrionAt this time of year the dominating star group is the constellation Orion rising in the east in early evening. Look for a large, vertical near-rectangle of four stars about half-way up toward the zenith from the southern horizon.

This near-rectangle is about twice as tall as the width of your fist seen at arm’s length. It’s standing on end, with a nearly perfectly straight row of three stars in a diagonal line right in its center, Orion’s most distinctive feature. It has a bright red star in its upper left corner named Betelgeuse and a bright blue-white star in the lower right corner named Rigel.

The three stars in a line inside the rectangle form the belt of Orion and some even fainter stars in another line, pointing down from the belt form Orion’s sword. The red star Betelgeuse represents one of Orion’s shoulders. A line of faint stars curving off that shoulder, and up over the top of the rectangle forms a raised arm.

OrionArtAs pictured here, Orion is the gigantic hunter of primordial times described in Greek mythology. One story says Orion challenged the gods by claiming that he could kill every wild animal on Earth. Some versions then say Artemis shot him with her arrows; but others say that Artemis produced a great scorpion which killed him. The gods raised him and the scorpion to the skies, which of course is the origin of the Scorpio/Scorpius constellation.

The nearby constellations of Canis Major and Canis Minor are visualized as Orion’s hunting dogs.

However, Orion was talked about by anciencient people long before the Greeks came along. The Bible mentions Orion three times. The book of Job chapter 9 verse 9 describes God saying, “He is the maker of the Bear and Orion”. Then in chapter 38 verse 31, God questions Job’s wisdom by asking , “Can you loosen Orion`s belt?” The prophet Amos records in chapter 5 verse 8 that God is “He who made the Pleiades and Orion.”

The evidence is that stories about Orion have been handed down from the earliest civilizations. In ancient Aram, the constellation was known as Nephila, and Orion’s descendants were known as Nephilim, the pre-flood “giants in the earth” of Biblical fame.

The stars were associated with Osiris, the god of rebirth and afterlife, by the ancient Egyptians who were descendants of Noah’s grandson, Mizraim. The Giza pyramid complex, which consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, is said to be a sky-map of the Belt of Orion. Even farther in the past, the Babylonian star catalogues name Orion, “The Heavenly Shepherd”. Other Babylonian stories called Orion “The Brilliant One” or the “Bearer of Light”.

From this name is derived several modern words including ORACLE…someone you go to to seek enlightenment…also ORATION…a formal speach intended to convince or enlighten. To the Hebrew contemporaries of the Babylonians, the “Heavenly Shepherd” was their picture of the messiah. Thus, the meanings of Orion have to do with bringing light and guidance.

Getting back to astronomy, the Orion Constellation includes some interesting stars and objects. Betelgeuse, Orion’s right shoulder known alternatively by its Bayer designation “Alpha Orionis,” is a massive red supergiant star nearing the end of its life. When it explodes it will even be visible during the day. It is the second brightest star in the Orion constellation, but was mistakenly classified as the brightest because it is a variable star and was experiencing a tremendous increase in brightness at the time it was classified. The actual brightest star in Orion is Rigel forming Orion’s left leg.

Hanging from Orion’s belt is his sword, consisting of several stars ending with the Orion Nebula (M42). This is a spectacular object which can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star; using binoculars, its swirling clouds of stars, luminous gas, and dust can be observed. Another famous nebula better observed with a telescope is the Horsehead Nebula, just below the left-most belt star. It contains a dark dust cloud whose horsehead shape gives the nebula its name.

 

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Communion’s Greater Meaning

I was inspired to examine the meaning of Communion when someone told me her husband didn’t care for it…that Communion seemed like just a religious ritual, a ceremonial remembrance of the past. His feeling is understandable when we consider that we contemporary Christians aren’t much into religious ritual, and Communion stands alone as something like a ritual.

communion-cup-and-bread-with-textSo I began looking at Communion in the context of the Last Supper described in the Gospels.  As we know, each of the Gospel writers was inspired to include different details in their version but all proclaiming the same message. John’s Gospel doesn’t include the Last Supper. Matthew and Mark identically describe the blessing of the bread and wine but make no mention of it as a remembrance. Only Luke includes the phrase “do this in remembrance of me”, which is confirmed as being true by Paul in 1 Corinthians. But the fact that two of the Gospel writers didn’t stress the idea of a remembrance encouraged me to think there is something more that God is telling us through Jesus’ celebration of Passover.

With that in mind, let’s read Matthew’s version in Chapter 26:26-28 which reads,

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

When I was a young Christian, I read this passage and thought Jesus was saying something new, giving us an analogy to describe the reason for his death on the cross. What Jesus was actually doing is something ancient. Since the time of Moses, the Jews celebrated the Passover meal with a scripted series of observances called a seder.  It included four ceremonial cups of wine, with each cup having a specific meaning. The third cup was immediately preceded by the blessing of bread with specific ceremonial blessings for the bread and the wine. The cup Jesus blessed was almost certainly what the Jews traditionally called the cup of redemption which Jews understood as a remembrance of the Hebrews’ deliverance by God from Egyptian Bondage. So here is our redeemer, Jesus, performing the ceremonial blessing of the cup of redemption for His disciples, saying that the Passover remembrance that the Jews had celebrated for all those centuries had been only partially understood. Yes, it was a remembrance of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh, but it was also a prophetic vision of a messiah who would deliver them from a far worse tyrant, the bondage of sin and death. The disciples were transported out of remembrance mode and into “what’s about to happen tomorrow mode.” They recognized that they were participating in God’s plan, not just in the past, but in the present and future.

So here we are in our present day looking back at the Last Supper and we tell ourselves “Surely for us it’s a remembrance of the past”. But there’s more. After partaking of the third cup, Jesus says in Matthew 26:29,

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus shared the cup of redemption with his disciples, but he holds back from drinking the fourth cup. His disciples would have thought it strange if the fourth cup wasn’t included in the ceremony. The Gospel of Luke gives us this insight:

“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

The Jewish tradition about the fourth Passover cup is that it signifies completion. They believed there would be a future time of peace and final deliverance from persecution and conflict. We of course recognize it as the day when Jesus returns to rule His Father’s kingdom. Jesus was fulfilling the third cup, but the fourth cup was deferred for a time in the future. Therefore, we are not just commemorating the past when we take Communion. We are bringing to our thoughts the entire panorama of God’s plan throughout history and into His future rule and reign on Earth.

As followers of Jesus, we remember and honor the past, but we live expectantly in the future. We are being called to remember, not just the past, but the future. Jesus was mobilizing his followers to participate in the coming kingdom. What we call “communion” is a call to action to prepare the way for Jesus’ return and future reign.

How Regulations Are Made

regulations

Last month’s Missouri Conservationist included an article that perfectly illustrates what has gone wrong with government. Please don’t misunderstand. I believe in conservation, but I am against unelected officials making laws. Here’s how regulations are made at the Missouri Conservation Department according to their own publication.

  1. Proposed regulations are brought to the Regulations Committee.
  2. The Regulations Committee researches the cost to implement. (It’s unclear how those costs influence their decision.)
  3. If the regulation improves the enjoyment of natural resource, the proposed regulation is sent to the Conservation Dept Director.
  4. If the director approves, the regulation is sent to a four-person Conservation Commission.
  5. The proposed regulation is posted in the Missouri Register on the Secretary of State web site. If no comments are received, it becomes law after 30 days automatically. If comments are received, the Conservation Commission reviews the comments and makes final decision.

Notice that no elected officials participate in making these laws. There is no requirement to justify the cost to taxpayers. The proposed regulations are posted in a place that the average citizen rarely visits. Although citizens can raise objections, unelected officials decide the final outcome.

Every executive branch, state and federal, operates this way, and all of their decisions have the effect of law. Every level of government ought to be prohibited from operating in this manner. Executive departments, whether it’s Conservation or the EPA or the IRS, should follow the same procedures to create law that ordinary citizens follow. Submit a proposal to your legislator to be presented to Congress and voted into law by elected officials who are constitutionally authorized to create laws.

Such a requirement gives citizens leverage and allows them to reverse bad laws through their elected officials. Executive law-making lacks the accountability that separation of powers was designed to foster.

That’s why I am an advocate of the Convention of States intiative recently passed through the Missouri Legislature. This process will allow us to propose a few simple but binding constitutional ammendments to prevent the overreach of the executive branch of government. Visit our Facebook page “COST” and get involved in shaping America’s future.

 

Attack Of The Enemy

dcc7f9ab4aa58476d23fb78514b3fc80Are the bad things that Christian’s experience – health issues, ministry setbacks, financial difficulties, and divisiveness – all attacks by Satan to confuse and defeat believers? And do those attacks increase as Christians walk more closely with the Lord because Satan becomes more worried when believers become stronger?  That’s a belief that has been circulating around the church. I find it very troubling, because it is not what I read in the Word.

Scripture warns us about the Enemy saying, “Your enemy the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  The phrase “may devour”, suggests that Satan is looking for those who are vulnerable. I propose that the ones Satan “may devour” are likely the weak and defenseless rather than those who seek the shelter of the Most High.

Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, Satan’s got nothing if God is on your side. That seems clear enough, but could it be that Satan can still trouble and deceive believers in spite of the fact that God wins in the end?

Paul seems to have covered that in 1 Corinthians 10:13 when he wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man…” In other words, we all are subject to the same whisperings of the Enemy. However, Paul elaborates, “God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” In other words, a follower of the Lord has been given the means to overcome. If you fail, it is neither God’s fault nor the result of Satan’s power over you.

Perhaps the problem is that Christians are rarely if ever taught the primary source of evil. The first man and woman lived in ease and fellowship with God, but their own sin changed everything. Genesis 3:17-19 explains the curse God placed on the creation saying, “Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” From that point on, hardship became the new normal. Although the Enemy may have instigated that first sin, mankind would continue to experience hardship even if Satan was taken out of the way.

So why do we want to blame the Enemy for our troubles? Perhaps some don’t know any better, not understanding about original sin. Perhaps blaming Satan is easier than taking personal responsibility for our wrong decisions. There may even be occasions when God allows the Enemy to make trouble like we read about in Job. But here is what I believe with all of my heart. Worrying about Satan is no way to live and prosper. I put my confidence in the Lord and in the promises He has given to sustain those who believe Him and follow His commandments.

Journalism, Science, and Climate Change

5academicsAlthough promotion of ideology is not the journalist’s true mission, few objective observers would question the liberal bias of most of today’s news media. The role of journalism, and why freedom of the press is enshrined in our Constitution, is to be skeptical. Journalists protect the public by holding politicians’ feet to the fire by questioning actions and reporting consequences. Journalists were the watchdogs of the public interest back in the day when journalism viewed itself as a safeguard rather than cheerleader. Where did journalism go wrong? Maybe it began with science.

I found an intriguing article on my Twitter feed from Creation Evolution Headlines (CEH). CEH writes, “When science journalism was advanced in the 1920s, it had a choice, says Michael Schulson in the Pacific Standard. Reporters were filled with the spirit of progress that was in the air. Scientists were viewed as pioneers moving into a new world.” The choice that journalism had was to be a watchdog or a cheerleader for science. They chose cheerleader. It wasn’t an obviously wrong or unethical choice. Science was becoming increasingly technical and specialized, and journalists could offer a valuable service by interpreting the scientific language and making it more accessible to the general public. It was a small step from explaining science theories to advocating them, sometimes beyond what they deserved.

Here is an example. I was watching the Science Channel as their journalists tried to explain the origin of water on earth. Since many scientists believe the earth started as a molten ball of rock, there was no way for liquid water to exist on the planet. Since establishment science refuses to acknowledge the possibility of creation or intelligent design, they discount the idea that the planet could have been designed to be inhabited with ample water. Therefore, the program’s writers spent twenty minutes explaining how all the water on earth came from comets dislodged from the Kuiper Belt. Finally, someone admitted that it would take millions of stray comets to deliver all the water in our oceans, but they stopped short of saying it was a ridiculous idea. They stopped short because the ridiculous idea was a fairly mainstream scientific one, and scientists are never to be questioned… and certainly not to be thought of as ridiculous.

When journalists report uncritically about the speculative ideas put out by scientists, they leave the public vulnerable to manipulation because many scientific ideas are loaded with philosophical baggage. Climate change is one such idea that is promoted largely by leftist ideology. Their philosophy is that government must control human activity, and their leverage is that the world will end through climate change unless we all give up our freedoms to central control. Instead of applying reasonable skepticism to the claims of climate change advocates, science journalists have become such proponents that they ruthlessly suppress the many climate scientists who present evidence refuting man-made climate influences. And so, the general public goes along with the global program of wealth redistribution and technological regulation because a fair hearing isn’t given to dissenting views.

The advocacy role of journalism had its earliest beginnings in the creation/evolution controversy decades ago when a few news reporters exploited the the conflict between evolution and creation and framed it as science versus religion. The journalism establishment then began promoting scientific speculation indiscriminately in every area of science without questioning the underlying assumptions of each new assertion. As a result, journalists have become advocates in every area of reporting, forcing individuals to pick and choose their favored bias for reporting. If you’re a conservative, watch Fox News. If you’re a progressive, watch MSNBC. The result is polarization rather than rational discussion and resolution, the direct result of journalism that editorializes rather than reporting events in an analytical way to encourages the public to evaluate and make informed decisions.

So the next time you watch the Science Channel, be your own skeptic asking yourself the questions that the journalists won’t ask. When you hear someone present a well-reasoned objection to climate change dogma, don’t just dismiss the person as a “denier” or as paid off by the petroleum industry. Dig deeper yourself, because journalists seldom do.

Bloom Where You’re Planted?

willrogers163083Imagine this. Jesus finds two fishermen casting their nets and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” and they drop their nets and follow Him. Then Jesus runs into another fisherman, John. But instead of following Jesus, John says,”I believe in your ministry, Jesus, but I operate a profitable fishing business and have a life and responsibilities. I’ll stay here, but I’ll serve you by telling all my clients the good news.” Is this John a follower of Jesus? The obvious answer is “of course not.” Staying behind is pretty much the opposite of following no matter how you spin it.

We had a conversation at church recently during a discussion of David Platte’s book, “Follow Me”. The essential message of “Follow Me” is that a salvation prayer is not enough for you to be a follower of Christ. Instead, we should all–every single Christian—set aside our lives in order to know and proclaim Christ, for this is what it means to follow him. However, losing your life does not align well with the demands of our complex, materialistic culture. We believe we must work full-time to make ends meet, so we are drawn to rationalize what Jesus asks us to give.

Our pastor led the discussion with some good questions. Would you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you say that you view Jesus as Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not? What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Nobody jumped up to volunteer answers. These were not shallow questions that you could answer in superficial ways. I could sense a tension building in peoples’ minds, certainly in mine. Of course I’m a follower of Jesus, but I also had a career and family to care for at times in my life.

That tension between thoughts of staying and following led someone to ask, “Can’t we just bloom where we’re planted?” It was said in such a sincere, pleading way that our pastor was lured into the compassionate answer, “You can be a teacher or a construction workers or a janitor, as long as you love the Lord and grow in righteousness.” It was a kind answer meant to deflect the tension among the people, but was tipped excessively toward accommodation rather than truth. Churchgoers seem to believe that they can live a self-absorbed life as long as they adhere to moral standards or feel emotionally connected to Jesus. We call ourselves followers, but we don’t actually move. Plants don’t make good followers.

I can only tell you from my life experience the difference between being merely a believer and being a follower of Christ. When I was a young man and a new believer, I was driven by my responsibility as a husband, father, and provider. I was absorbed with my career as the means to provide for my family, but I was also a believer. I knew that there was more to being a follower of Christ, but I only had time to be a part-time disciple. As my understanding grew, I branched out to teaching in church and other limited ministries. I liken that stage as being an appprentice learning to do things like my master, Jesus. But still I was dissatisfied until the season came when I gave up my career and preoccupation with survival and launched the Orion Center. To my way of thinking, that’s when I became a true follower of Jesus, having taken action to increase His kingdom rather than my own.

The key in my story is that I always had a heart-felt desire to follow Jesus. In contrast, the American church’s emphasis on salvation instead of Jesus’ lordship, gives many people in the church a different understanding. They are saved and striving to live moral lives and enjoying church life, but they have never been taught that there is something more, that Jesus expects them to follow all His commands and not just the moral ones. That attitude has facilitated the rise of casual Christianity, a religious system that bears little fruit and offers little satisfaction even to casual Christians. Some even wonder whether an unfruitful believer is even truly a believer, since Sripture tells us that faith without works is dead.

Fortunately, nobody has to live this way nor live in doubt. Every believer can position their lives to eventually break away from the world system and set a new course under the Lord’s leading. Are you a follower of Jesus? If your answer is no, the solution is something like repentance. Change your course and purpose yourself to a new direction whose primary goal is serving Jesus.

One Of Us Is Crazy

The recent Presidential election has been anything but presidential, illustrating the most extreme emotions between the loyalists of both parties. The losers in American elections don’t usually riot after even the most divisive campaign, but something has changed. We may not like to think about it in these terms, but we are essentially experiencing a religious civil war in America.

Our best hope is that the more mature side of the culture conflict will step up to be the peacemakers. Here’s a one-minute video on the subject we produced at Orion Center.