Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hannah was Thankful for Answered Prayer
(1 Samuel 1:1-20)

Hannah was first of the two wives of Elkanah. The second wife was Peninnah. Elkanah greatly loved Hannah, but she was barren, unable to give children to Elkanah like Peninnah did. Still, Peninnah was jealous of Hannah because of Elkanah’s favoritism.

Even with Elkanah’s love and attentiveness, Hannah was sad. She longed for a baby. Hannah even endured Peninnah’s teasing for being barren.

Each year, Hannah traveled to the city of Shiloh to worship, make sacrifice to the Lord, and ask the Lord for a child. Hannah vowed that if the Lord gave her a son, she would give him for service to the Lord. The priest Eli watched Hannah praying and crying, thinking she was drunk.

After Hannah explained to Eli, he told Hannah to go in peace with his hope that God would grant her prayer. Hannah was greatly encouraged by Eli. The next morning, she worshiped again and then returned to her home. Hannah persevered in prayer. As a difficult situation lingers, it can become hard to pray; yet Jesus taught us to persevere as Hannah did.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
--Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

God gave Hannah the desire of her heart—a baby boy. She named him Samuel. Just as she promised, Hannah took Samuel to Shiloh after he was weaned. Apparently, Hannah did not give her decision a second thought. She willing followed through on her commitment.

Is prayer a priority in your life? Where do you pray? How do you pray? Ask God to give you the earnestness and faith of Hannah in your prayers to Him.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

David’s Efforts to Worship and Give Thanks
(1 Chronicles 13; 15:1-4, 11-12, 14-28; 16:1-43)

King David made two attempts to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The first attempt failed because David did make sure that the ark was shown the proper respect required by God.

Later, in the second attempt, David made sure that everyone respected the ark and that all of God’s rules were followed. First, David prepared a place for the Ark. Next, he reminded the people of God’s laws regarding the ark. The tribe of Levi was chosen by God to carry the Ark and to be priests. God chose them because they were the only ones who stood with Moses against the people who worshipped the golden calf. The Levites were consecrated to God and assumed priestly responsibilities. It was their responsibility to maintain the holiness of the temple; therefore, they were the only ones qualified to carry the ark.

Next, David prepared and organized the people for worship. Note that congregational worship requires leadership and preparation. Our church leaders help us to worship God. Being a musician himself, David knew the value to expressing praise through music and poetry. Take a moment to think about those people in your congregation that contribute to your worship experiences. You may even want to send a note of thanks to them for playing an instrument, singing, or leading in congregational worship.

David made sure that offerings were given, that the peopled were blessed, and that they all participated in fellowship. These three things are important elements of worship. In Old Testament times, the worship leader stood and loudly proclaimed a blessing with outstretched hands. In the prayer, he asked for God’s blessing, protection, and mercy. As the name Yahweh was proclaimed, the people gained a strong sense of their belonging to God.

Take a few minutes to read the song of thanksgiving and praise that is given in 1 Chronicles 7-36. Thanksgiving is a natural response of worship. True worship focuses on God’s actions and recognizes His attributes. What causes you to praise God? What encourages you to give God thanks?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elijah Prayed and Knew that God Would Help
(1 Kings 17:1-24; 18:1-2, 41-46; James 5:17-18)

Elijah was a prophet of God in Israel about nine hundred years before the birth of Jesus. In Elijah’s time, Israel was divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah, with the city of Jerusalem retained as the seat of government for Judah. The northern Kingdom of Israel was ruled by King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, originally from Phoenicia. Ahab allowed within Israel the worship of another god other than Jehovah—in other words, a false god. The god’s name was Baal, the god of the Canaanites. What’s more, Queen Jezebel, a priestess of Baal.

Needless to say, the Israelite prophets were pretty upset about the whole Baal situation, but none was more upset than the prophet Elijah. Elijah’s name in Hebrew is “Eliyahu,” meaning “my God is Yahweh” (my God is Jehovah). We are not certain whether Elijah was his birth name, or whether he was given the name because of his loyalty to Jehovah. Elijah prayed to God and Elijah listened to God. He did what God told him to do and went where God told him to go.

God had Elijah tell King Ahab that there would be no more rain. God then had Elijah hide from Ahab and God took care of Elijah while he hid. After three and a half years of drought and famine, God sent Elijah back to a very mad King Ahab.

Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought, but Elijah responded that Ahab and the kingdom’s idolatry were ultimately the cause of the problem. Elijah had prayed that God show the people the error of their ways by holding back the rain. Since one of Baal’s powers was over the weather, bringing a drought to the kingdom showed just how powerless Baal truly was.

Elijah told the people it was time for them to stop dividing their attention between Jehovah and Baal. They should choose once and for all. Elijah proposed a contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. To sacrifices were prepared. Whichever sacrifice was consumed by fire, that was the true God. Elijah stood alone against almost 1,000 worshippers of Baal. Baal did not respond to the hours of dancing, cutting, and calling of the prophets of Baal. Then Elijah called upon God. God answered with fire that consumed both the sacrifice and the altar. Following this demonstration, the people recognized the truth and made short work of the prophets of Baal.

Elijah then told Ahab to prepare because rain was coming. Elijah knew that Jehovah would send the rain, but it was not instantaneous. Elijah’s servant checked six times with no visible response to Elijah’s prayer. But with the seventh time, the answer came.

Elijah prayed and the rain stopped; Elijah prayed and the rain fell. Elijah asked God for help and God responded. Try making a list of requests for God’s help. Note what you hear from Him and how He answers your prayers. And be sure to thank God for His faithfulness in hearing you.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Vatican Joins the Search for E.T.

I’ve got a quickie, today. And it’s an interesting one. It seems that the Vatican has come a long way since it put Galileo Galilei under house arrest for his writings on a Universe in which Earth was not at the center.

On the occasion of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Science organized and held its first Study Week on Astrobiology. The event took place from Friday, November 6, through Tuesday, November 10.

In view of the discoveries of extra-solar planets and, Vatican officials have responded that the question of extra-terrestrial life is interesting and deserves serious consideration. At the event, experts offered information on planets discovered outside of our solar system and also discussed how life may have started on Earth. When asked whether aliens would present a challenge to church teaching, officials responded that the search for alien life did not conflict with the faith because nothing can put limits on God’s creativity.

To learn more about the Study Week, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the International Year of Astronomy 2009, check out these links:

Overview Booklet on the Study Week on Astrobiology
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2009/booklet_astrobiology_15.pdf

Pontifical Academy of Sciences
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/index.htm

International Year of Astronomy 2009
http://www.astronomy2009.org/

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The “Cassiopeia A” Puzzle May Be Solved

Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A is one of the youngest in the Milky Way Galaxy, located about 3.4 kiloparsecs (11,000 light-years) away. The expanding cloud of material is now about 10 light-years across. The cloud is very faint optically, only visible in long-exposure photographs. However, it is a very bright radio source.

The supernova remnant was officially discovered in 1947 by radio astronomers from Cambridge, England. It was first named Cassiopeia A and later cataloged as 3C 461. The radio source was not visually confirmed until 1950.

The age of the supernova is not certain. Based on the cloud’s angular expansion rate, astronomers calculate that the expansion began around AD 1667. Interestingly enough, it is possible that the supernova may have been observed on August 16, 1680, by British astronomer John Flamsteed (1646-1719) when he recorded what he described as a sixth magnitude star “3 Cassiopeiae.” Some suggest this may have been shortly after the supernova event, because the expanding cloud of material would have been very bright immediately following the supernova event.

The fate of the star which became a supernova remnant has long been a puzzle to astronomers. They thought it might have become a black hole or a neutron star, but did not known for certain.

Astronomers could not see the core of the remnant until 1999, when NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory first imaged the collapsed star. But even with this new information, astronomers are still questioning. The amount of energy it radiates was either much too small for a neutron star, and there were no pulses observed in the radiation and it had a low magnetic field (so not a pulsar/neutron star). The astronomers found a carbon atmosphere, which was also puzzling. The recent thought is that the hydrogen and helium from the remnant were falling back onto the star’s very hot surface (with temperatures up to 1 billion Kelvin, or 2 billion degrees Fahrenheit), allowing it to perform fusion on these and change them into carbon.

The latest studies suggest that this is what a neutron star looks like when it is very, very young. As it gets older, it will cool quite a bit, eventually stop burning the hydrogen and helium into carbon, and develop a hydrogen atmosphere. To learn more, check out this link:

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/main/index.html

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Andromeda

The constellation Andromeda is one of the six predominant evening constellations in the month of November for the Northern Hemisphere. The others are Cassiopeia, Phoenix, Pisces, Sculptor, and Tucana.

Greek Mythology

Named after the princess of Ethiopia in Greek mythology. Andromeda is sometimes called “the Lady in Chains,” “the Chained Lady,” or “the Chained Woman.”

In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Ethiopia. Cassiopeia had bragged that Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids, the nymph-daughters of the sea god Nereus. To punish Cassiopeia for her arrogance the main god of the sea, Poseidon, sent the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia. In desperation, Cepheus consulted the Oracle of Zeus, who told Cepheus that the sea monster would not stop until his daughter Andromeda was sacrificed to Cetus by chaining her to a rock on the coast of Jaffa (today called Japho or Joppa; in Hebrew Yafo; in Arabic, Yafa).

Fortunately for Andromeda, she was saved from this grim fate by the hero Perseus. Having just returned from slaying Medusa, the Gorgon, Perseus used the severed head of Medusa to destroy Cetus by turning the sea monster to stone. Perseus then set Andromeda free and the two were married.

Observing

Andromeda is visible in the northern hemisphere from August through January. It can be seen directly overhead on November 10 at 10PM local time.


In the above sky chart, Andromeda is bordered by Cassiopeia to the north, Lacerta to the west, Perseus to the east, and the constellations Triangulum, Pisces and Pegasus to the south. Image Credit: Your Sky, by John Walker (http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/)

The four brightest stars in Andromeda are:


Alpha Andromedae - traditionally called Alpheratz (or Alpherat) and Sirrah (or Sirah). This is a binary star with an overall apparent visual magnitude of 2.06. Before the formalization of constellation structures, Alpheratz was also considered a member of the constellation Pegasus called Delta Pegasi. Alpheratz forms the asterism called the Great Square of Pegasus.

Beta Andromedae - traditionally called Mirach. Mirach is 200 light-years from earth and has a visual magnitude of 2.1.

Gama Andromedae - traditionally called Almach. Almach is actually multiple stars having contrasting colors.


Delta Andromedae - called Sadiradra, a 3rd magnitude star

Deep Sky

The most prominent deep sky object in Andromeda is M31 – Messier object 31. It is a spiral galaxy which is more commonly known as the Andromeda Galaxy, because it appears within the constellation Andromeda. This is one of the most distant objects visible to the naked eye, approximately 2,500,000 light-years away from Earth. In a dark sky, M31 can be seen as an elongated fuzzy patch near Mu Andromedae, roughly opposite of Beta Andromedae.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cornelius and Peter asked and God Answered
(Acts 10:1-33)

Ever had a dream that seemed so real that it still affected you after you awoke? What if you were living at the time of the New Testament and received a vision from God calling to you act on faith? Would you believe? Would you commit to whatever you were called to do? These very questions were pondered by the Apostle Peter and a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Cornelius lived in Caesarea, a city in Israel near the Mediterranean coast, mid-way between the present day cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Cornelius and all of his family where devout and feared God, yet they did not know Jesus. One day, while Cornelius was fasting and praying, an angel of God visited him in a vision. Rather than simply revealing Jesus to Cornelius, God called on Cornelius to act on faith by sending servants to find Peter in the town of Joppa, known today as Yafo or Jaffa.

The day after Cornelius’s faith got a workout, the same thing happened to Peter. While he was praying, he became hungry and fell into a trance. God gave Peter a vision, presenting him with many food possibilities that all were considered unclean by Jewish law. Peter refused them, but God warned Peter to not call unclean anything which God had made. Peter was given this vision three times, just to make sure that he got the point: nothing that God made was unclean. Shortly after the vision, to give Peter one more nudge, the Holy Spirit told Peter that messengers were looking for him and that he should go with them. Like Cornelius, God was calling on Peter to act on faith.

The next day, Peter traveled with the messengers back to Caesarea. Though Jewish tradition said that Jews were not to associate with a Gentile, let alone entering the home of a Gentile, Peter went straight into Cornelius’s home and told him and his family all about Jesus. Through the prayers of Cornelius and Peter, and through their exercising of their faith, Jesus was preached to the Gentiles.

In our prayers, we may ask God to use us for His glory, but do we realize what He may ask of us? And when God does respond to our prayers, will we be ready to exercise our faith?

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Astronomy is for Everyone, Part Four

Welcome back to our series on getting started right in amateur astronomy. Last time, we looked at telescopes. This time, the mounts…

Telescope Mounts

The mount of a telescope is just as important as the telescope itself, if not more so. A telescope is of little use if it cannot be kept steadily aimed at the object of interest. There are two main types of telescope mountings: equatorial and altazimuth.

Equatorial Mounting

The equatorial mounting is designed to be set up in a certain way in a specially prepared location. In its simplest form, the equatorial has two axes at right angles to each other. It is an all-purpose mounting, generally used for serious work. Some equatorials have setting circles, which make it possible to aim the instrument automatically at the right point in the heavens.


Above is a German Equatorial mount attached to a pier. Image Credit: Author

Altazimuth Mounting

The altazimuth mounting is simpler to operate than the equatorial mounting. It allows two motions of the telescope - up and down, an "altitude" motion; and horizontal, an "azimuth" motion. This is a good general-purpose mounting. It can be made light, portable, and easy to take down and set up.


Above is a Dobsoinan Altazimuth (a "Dob") mount. Image Credit: Author

Here are some helpful mounting terms:

Altazimuth - A mount in which the telescope is allowed to pan around in the horizontal plane (azimuth) and pivot up and down in the vertical plane (altitude).

Dobsonian Altazimuth – Also just called a “Dobsonian” or a “Dob,” it is a modified form of altazimuth mounting that has become popular in recent decades for short-focus reflecting telescopes. It is named after John Dobson, an American amateur astronomer. The Dobsonian mount is noted for its low cost and portability.

Equatorial - A mounting which directly counteracts the Earth's axial spin and makes it easier to track objects while you are observing. One axis (called the polar axis) is aligned so that it points directly at the north celestial pole. The other axis of the mounting is called the declination axis. It allows the telescope to move up and down in declination (north and south of the celestial equator).

Fork-type Equatorial - also called a fork mount, it is a design which has become widely used for catadioptric telescopes.

German Equatorial - the most popular type of equatorial mount design.


Above, a fork mount. Image Credit: Author

In our next installment, cameras (film and CCDs)…

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Monday, November 02, 2009

 The Thirty-Meter Telescope is Coming in 2018

Near Pasadena, California, a team of scientists, engineers, and project specialist are busily planning and designing what will become, upon completion, the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth. Their project is the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), and it will enable astronomers to study objects in our solar system, stars systems elsewhere in or Milky Way Galaxy, neighboring galaxies, and forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe—in essence, looking back to the beginnings of the observable Universe.

Begun in June 2003, the nonprofit TMT Observatories Corporation has as its partners, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), the University of California (UC), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). While these are the current partners, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) was also a partner at the early phase.

The TMT project is the result of three earlier large-telescope projects that were merged: the California Extremely Large Telescope (CELT), which was a partnership between Caltech and UC; the Very Large Optical Telescope (VLOT), led by ACURA; and the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT), which was a partnership between the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) and the Gemini Observatory.

The TMT will integrate the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere, enabling the TMT to study the Universe as clearly as if the telescope were in space. The TMT builds on the success of the twin Keck telescopes, using a 30-meter primary mirror composed of 492 segments. This will give TMT nine times the collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes.

On July 21, after extensive studies, the TMT Observatories Corporation announced that the slope of the volcano Mauna Kea, Hawaii, had been selected as the site for the TMT. Construction is expected to begin October 2011. If all goes on schedule, the TMT will see first light in 2018. For more on the TMT and its partners, check out this link:

Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)
http://www.tmt.org/

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jesus’ Teachings on Prayer
(Matthew 4:23-25; 5:1-2; 6:5-13)

What is prayer? In the most basic sense, prayer is talking to God. Through prayer, we can thank God and listen to God. We can express our worship of God, our gratitude, and our dependence. When Jesus was asked by His disciples about prayer, this is what He told them.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
--Matthew 6:5-13

When praying, Jesus told His disciples to avoid the showy manner of the hypocrites and the mindless repetition of the heathens--non-believers. Jesus also stressed the privacy of prayer and the precision of prayer. Prayer is not intended for an earthly audience. The purpose of prayer is to build our relationship with God. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples emphasizes five characteristics: the supremacy of God, the work of God, the provision of God, the forgiveness of God, and the protection of God.

When we talk to God, we should show reverence. Jesus’ use of the word “Father” indicates an intimate, close relationship and recognition of authority. Jesus’ use of “Holy” acknowledges that God is One who is set apart, different from us. While any posture can be used in prayer, we should understand that kneeling, bowing our heads, and closing eyes communicate reverence to God and show recognition that God deserves our respect.

By praying for God’s will to be done, we submit to follow God’s plan wherever it leads. Whether we acknowledge it or not, God works around us, in us, and through us.

While God knows what we need, He wants us to acknowledge His provision. God meets our physical needs. Jesus’ reference to “daily bread” can represent all of our basic needs, including food, water, and even the air we breathe. In addition to the physical, God also meets our spiritual needs. We ask for His forgiveness to restore relationships. Seeking forgiveness unites us with God and others. We also can ask God to guide us so we live in ways that maintain that relationship.

Whether the need is small or large, God can meet it. Do you truly trust God to meet your needs?

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