By Scott Harrup | February 14, 2014
The Genesis record lists some amazing life spans among the early descendants of Adam and Eve. These people lived for hundreds of years. Methuselah, described as 969 years old when he died, is the oldest in the bunch.
If someone today had lived for that long, their childhood years would predate William the Conqueror’s foray into England and the resulting Battle of Hastings in 1066. Even relative “youngsters” in Genesis (Enoch, for example, whom God took at the age of “just” 365) would enjoy lives stretching from early Colonial America to today.
The only comparable lifespans I knew of were in the plant kingdom, so I was surprised to learn of recent research into the longevity of some forms of microbial life. If those studies are accurate, they suggest possible lifespans that would render Methuselah’s death an early loss during middle age. A species of the lowly hydra (Hydra magnipapillata) is now believed to survive for as long as 1,400 years. You can read about these tiny geriatric superstars here.
Of course, the research emphasizes that hydra would only live this long under controlled laboratory conditions. In the fresh-water streams, rivers and lakes that are their natural homes, hydra would probably meet with some form of catastrophic injury or lethal predation in much shorter time spans.
Even under controlled laboratory conditions, despite any cutting-edge medical care I might enjoy, if I live past 100 I’ll be a tottering bag of bones. But I’ve daydreamed sometimes of what it might be like to live for two, three, four or more centuries. How many college degrees could I pursue? How many careers? What could I accomplish if I retained a respectable amount of strength and mental clarity from century to century?
Then I remind myself — this life is the merest speck preceding the life to come. Consider these observations and promises from God’s Word:
“You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:10,11, NIV).
“Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
“Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:22).
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).
“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
By Scott Harrup | February 12, 2014
Amazon has released its newest list of “100 books to read in a lifetime.” You can peruse their review board’s nominations here.
I was intrigued and quickly clicked through the list, noting with some satisfaction that I have read a number of the selections (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, to name a few).
The list is alphabetical rather than hierarchical, supposedly to demonstrate that “no book is more important than another.” I have to admit to brief inner chuckling over that quote by someone who had spent months trying to identify 100 books I should read in my lifetime.
Whenever a group of experts attempt to identify a “best of” list, the results are sure to spark controversy. But one omission from this list seems more than a little shortsighted.
Regardless of what value you attach to the world’s key religious texts, whether or not you adhere to a Judeo-Christian worldview, or how you feel about claims regarding the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Bible has to be the one Book that has most powerfully shaped Western society.
And yet, no mention of the Bible by Amazon.
I can imagine some of the problems the selection team anticipated. If you name one religious text, how many others do you need to include to appear balanced? If, as member Sara Nelson said, the goal was to find books that “don’t feel like homework” or “eat your vegetables” books, the Bible may have been perceived as requiring too much study and carrying too didactic a tone.
No, I’m not advocating letters of protest or a boycott of Amazon. Personally, I disagree with the selection board’s omission firmly but without the least rancor.
But let me let you in on a little secret. The Bible absolutely should be a book you read in your lifetime. Going a step further, I’m convinced the Bible is a book you should read throughout your life. Just once through, cover to cover, will barely get you started.
And here’s another tactic you might employ in your personal reading: Enjoy some of the titles from Amazon’s list, and while you’re reading their recommendations see how many biblical allusions you can identify in those books. (Each of the titles I noted above from my reading list includes some level of biblical reference. One teacher offers an analysis of The Great Gatsby’s biblical themes here.)
By Scott Harrup | February 10, 2014
Yesterday afternoon, during my Sabbath siesta after church, I trolled YouTube in search of (drumroll, please) watch-making videos.
Before you write me off as certifiably loony, give it a try on a hectic day when you need some serious stress reduction. You would be hard pressed to find a better avenue for deep relaxation (by “relaxation,” I mean “just-shy-of-a-coma metabolic levels”) than HD close-ups of microscopic mechanical assemblies ticking away to a background of soft jazz and overdubbed with suitably European-accented narration.
The most intriguing videos feature some of the world’s most exclusive watchmakers. Believe it or not, there are watches being made today that sell for upwards of a million dollars. Even more unbelievable, to me at least, there are customers willing to pay that kind of money for these timepieces.
What drives the cost of a watch into the stratosphere? The human effort invested in its construction. A watch can demand thousands of hours from a team of experts at a world-renowned horologic corporation, or monopolize a year or more from an individual award-winning watchmaker.
One technician explained (in subtitled German) how she might spend a week polishing a single component to a mirror finish under a microscope. Two Swiss watchmakers working alone only take on a few orders at a time, spending a year or more laboring on just one watch.
Much of the work performed on these timepieces is hidden from the owner’s view. Intricate engravings cover surface areas measured in square millimeters, surfaces later sealed within cases of precious metals or exotic alloys. Even a watch face with a window into the inner workings only reveals a few parts. Yet, all of the components are polished and custom shaped, down to individual screws and cogs, some to tolerances of just a few thousandths of a millimeter.
If expert watchmakers are a dying breed, I suppose it makes sense to attach significant value to weeks, months, or even years of their lives.
I know I’ll never own any of the watches I admired in between yesterday’s naps, but I see a life principle I relate to. Like the watchmakers who focus all their energy on their tasks, I think of the dedication of teachers and parents and pastors and other mentors to those whom they serve. How do you put a dollar figure on that? Each one of us can exercise that same principle when we find ways to help others and enrich their lives.
The watchmakers who were interviewed clearly enjoyed a degree of professional satisfaction. But just how much fulfillment can you experience when polishing and shaping a piece of metal one-tenth the size of your fingernail?
On the other hand (or wrist), when you polish and shape a child’s life, or reach out in compassion to a friend or co-worker, the reward is beyond measure.
By Scott Harrup | February 7, 2014
At one of my favorite second-hand book haunts, I recently found Typewriter Battalion, a collection of dispatches by journalists reporting from the frontlines of World War II. Today we would say they were “embedded” with Allied troops in Europe and the Pacific, although I’m not sure reporters today are as exposed to enemy fire as these writers.
Walter Cronkite wrote the introduction, and the book includes his observations from 26,000 feet over Germany during an Allied bombing raid on Feb. 27, 1943. Ernie Pyle, William Randolph Hearst Jr., and other well-known reporters from the era fill the book with their “I was there and survived” narratives, although Pyle himself made headlines when The New York Times reported his death by Japanese machine-gun fire on a small island west of Okinawa. (Read that report here.)
There is something uniquely compelling about a first-person perspective. The details may be limited to that one person’s experiences, and later histories often fill in the blanks with a panorama of background documents and expert analysis. But the punch-in-the-gut reality of someone describing what has just happened to them brings history alive.
Which is why, I’m convinced, so much of the Bible offers a first-person perspective. Yes, there’s plenty of historic overview as well, but over and over again a prophet will just bellow out God’s truth, or the apostle Paul will frame a life-changing principle within a document that becomes so much more than a letter.
If you haven’t revisited some of the Scriptures’ “I was there” dispatches lately, give them a fresh read. Ask yourself what it was about those life experiences that has jarred audiences for millennia. You might be surprised at the answers.
By Scott Harrup | February 4, 2014
In my office at home, a crumpled paper gift bag on the floor holds a pile of plastic canisters. The small black cylinders were once familiar at a glance to most people. Today, they are somewhat of a novelty.
My mystery items are repositories for undeveloped rolls of 35mm film. Thanks to digital photography, film is teetering on extinction. I might as well be preserving the eggs of the dodo or carrier pigeon.
“Every couple of weeks this year,” I have told myself on many a Jan. 1, “I’m going to drop off a roll to be developed.”
The Saturday of Martin Luther King Weekend, I finally worked up the motivation to take a roll to a local drug store. First surprise: The cost to develop film has about doubled since I last went through this archaic ritual. Second surprise: Wow, has our family changed since 2002.
Lindsay is pictured participating in an elementary school musical. She turns 22 this month. Austin is captured asleep on my chest as I read in a lawn chair during a weekend visit to a park. He’s 13 now, and the only time he’s on my chest is if we’re wrestling and he’s figured out a way to flip me on the ground. Connor’s just 5 and has a gentle smile and a thatch of cute and unruly hair as he sits in a wheelchair a fraction of the size of the one he uses at 17.
I had more hair and fewer wrinkles in these portraits from the past. But let me say for the record, Jodie is age-proof and as beautiful today as she is in every photograph.
Two additional developed rolls have resurrected images from 2004 and 2005. Other rolls may be as much as 20 years old. If they have preserved their chemical record of our family history without deterioration, I’ll be in for more surprises.
In a nutshell, my reaction to these once-forgotten images is one of deep gratitude. Because in every picture, though unseen to the untrained eye, the love and bountiful blessings of God abound. He’s the reason for every smile as well as for every ounce of strength needed to meet life’s challenges. I like to recall His promise to another dad several thousand years ago.
“For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Genesis 18:19, NIV).
By Scott Harrup | November 8, 2013
[In honor of Austin’s 13th birthday, I’m reposting one of my favorite entries, which originally appeared in January 2008 when Out There was just getting started. Happy Birthday, Austin! You make me proud.]
I have an early morning tradition with our youngest son, Austin. He’s 7, and since he was 4 we’ve spent a lot of mornings getting up before the rest of the family for “buddy time.”
I brew some coffee and pour myself a mug. I heat up some milk for Austin and add enough of my brew on top to brown it a little and make him feel like he’s sharing the coffee with me. Lately he’s decided he prefers hot chocolate, so the menu’s changed.
There’s no big ritual. We sip our drinks and talk about random subjects. We usually have about 10 or 15 minutes tops before I need to get the rest of the family moving. We wrap it up with a simple prayer for Austin’s upcoming day at school.
I’m amazed, particularly on dark winter mornings, how Austin will groggily insist he’s ready to get out of bed for our minutes together. Only on a few occasions has he asked if he could sleep in a little longer.
And he only grasps the surface of how much those morning minutes mean to me.
Which reminds me how much God enjoys it when I spend time with Him. And that’s pretty mind-boggling.
By Scott Harrup | October 31, 2013
Halloween has practically become a national holiday. Americans now spend nearly $7 billion on creepy costumes, candy by the bushel, and increasingly elaborate home decorations. Kids especially take to the day as a chance to dress up and put their neighbors’ generosity to the test. Our family likes to hand out the Kids Edition of the Pentecostal Evangel to trick-or-treaters. (Good news/bad news — this week’s issue sold out before I could take a stack of remainders home. But you can still read the issue online at pe.ag.org.)
I believe people’s fascination with scary entertainment is tied to a natural desire to minimize fears and experience real peace. We make up tales about “the bogeyman” to offset our concerns over genuine threats to ourselves or to our loved ones.
In contrast with our flawed attempts to calm our own fears, the Bible is filled with God’s promises of genuine peace. Life doesn’t have to be scary when we take God at His word and trust Him to guide us through each day’s potential anxieties.
“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165, NIV).
Have you found time today to discover a promise or two in God’s Word to restore your calm in the midst of today’s storms?
By Scott Harrup | October 28, 2013
Dr. Carol Taylor spoke in chapel last week at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center. Taylor, president-elect and CEO of the newly consolidated Evangel University here in Springfield, Mo., shared insights on Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead.
One of Taylor’s key points: Our attitude can make us blind to God’s glory, even when that glory is right in front of us.
Consider John 11:45-47,53: “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. … From that day on they plotted to take his life” (NIV).
People in the first group, apparently in the majority, had the kind of reaction one would expect following the resurrection of a man who had been dead for four days — recognition of the divine at work. In contrast, the reaction of the minority, the “some of them,” seems inconceivable. They go to Jesus’ enemies to tell them “what Jesus had done.”
Notice that? The second group didn’t deny Lazarus had died and had been miraculously resurrected. The man’s illness and death would have been indisputable in a small, closely knit community like Bethany.
And there is no indication the Sanhedrin doubted the report given to them. But their reaction? “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Let’s kill Him.”
There is a form of doubt one rightly exercises when only some of the facts are in and the evidence for a claim is slim. But there is also a radical, belligerent doubt. A doubt that says no amount of evidence can influence me away from my tightly held antagonism toward a given set of facts. The truth is there, but I refuse to acknowledge its existence.
Jesus, the living Truth, met this variety of doubt head-on among His enemies.
I’m no enemy of Jesus, but I still struggle with doubt. Not in the big issues, such as God’s existence, Christ’s divinity, or whether a providential plan is at work in the cosmos. Rather, doubt creeps into the moments of a day, into my questions regarding a particular set of circumstances.
Taking a cue from Lazarus’ sisters in John’s narrative, I offer “If only…” prayers to God. “If only You would do A, B, or C, God, then I could really trust You.”
There will always be challenges in life, issues that remain unresolved, situations that stay stubbornly in place. That will be true even as God continues to work in and around my life, often behind the scenes in ways I cannot discern but that powerfully shape my today and my eternity.
I want to radically confront my doubts and discover God’s radical glory.
By Scott Harrup | October 17, 2013
During some Netflix time together, Austin and I recently discovered Monsters Inside Me, an Animal Planet series about parasites. It is not a show for the squeamish, or particularly well suited for dinner viewing. I could feel my sandwich losing its flavor with each scene.
The episode we watched the other night featured rare worm infestations that nearly killed their victims. In each case, the worms started out as microscopic larvae that invaded their victim by way of an intermediate host. In two cases, the worms found their way to the victim’s brain and caused significant damage.
Followers of Christ deal with “brain-eating” invaders of their own. A momentary temptation matures into a thought pattern and comes to life in a destructive choice. What started out small and hidden grows into a broken marriage, ruined reputation, or lifelong regret for the pain and loss inflicted on others.
The apostle James describes this process in his epistle: “A man is tempted to do wrong when he lets himself be led by what his bad thoughts tell him to do. When he does what his bad thoughts tell him to do, he sins. When sin completes its work, it brings death” (James 1:14,15, New Life Version).
But Scripture gives us more than a description of this mind-threatening problem. Other passages list effective countermeasures that lead to a healthy mind and a fulfilling life.
“Let the sins of the sinful stop. But build up those who are right with You. For the God Who is right and good tests both the hearts and the minds” (Psalm 7:9).
“I will give honor and thanks to the Lord, Who has told me what to do. Yes, even at night my mind teaches me” (Psalm 16:7).
“Test me and try me, O Lord. Test my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2).
“The mind of the one who is right with God thinks about how to answer, but the mouth of the sinful pours out sinful things” (Proverbs 15:28).
“You will keep the man in perfect peace whose mind is kept on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not make himself unclean with the king’s best food and wine” (Daniel 1:8).
“Jesus said to him, ‘“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”’” (Matthew 22:37).
“If your sinful old self is the boss over your mind, it leads to death. But if the Holy Spirit is the boss over your mind, it leads to life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Do you feel like temptation is trying to “worm” itself into your mind? You don’t have to fall prey to its destructive influence. You have a divine Friend who waits to respond when you pray for His help.
By Scott Harrup | September 30, 2013
During a Virginia summer evening, perhaps in 1968, I was playing King of the Hill with the neighbors’ kids. The hill was really more of a depression in their yard, but provided enough of a slope for us to tussle on the grass and try to maintain a winning position near the top.
Our clambering attracted the attention of some yellow jackets, whose nest was buried somewhere in that patch of lawn. I was near the bottom of the hill when the disturbed colony poured out of the ground, stinging our increasingly frantic group.
Some 45 years later, I retain a memory of tiny black silhouettes against a twilight sky dive-bombing me from every direction. I was crying hysterically by the time I ran home. Mom treated a dozen or more stings.
I was too young to distinguish species of flying insects. Anything with wings became a “bee” for me. (I was also too young to say “yellow jacket.”) For the next few weeks I grew terrified if even a housefly buzzed too close.
At the time, Warren Cornell’s hymn “Wonderful Peace” was popular at our small Assemblies of God church in Franconia where my parents pastored. The chorus goes like this:
Peace, peace, wonderful peace/Coming down from the Father above!/Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray/In fathomless billows of love!
Comforting words, to be sure, except to my fear-tinged toddler mind the chorus rang out:
Bees, bees, wonderful bees/Coming down from the Father above!
Perhaps fellow parishioners took my spontaneous crying as youthful, repentant soul-searching. All I could see was that cloud of yellow jackets coming in for the kill.
Dad finally coaxed an explanation from me, and promptly composed a new chorus he would play cheerfully at double speed on his ukulele at home.
Coming down, down, down/Coming down, down, down/The honeybees are coming to the ground!/Coming dowwwwnnnn/Coming dowwwwnnnn/The honeybees are coming to the ground!
You can say almost anything with a big enough smile and convince a kid life really is not so frightening as it once seemed.
Yet, that truth took hold in a strange sort of way. Sometimes a bees/peace connection echoes in my mind when I encounter a major stressor. I see the oncoming “bees” of life that want to knot up my stomach and raise my blood pressure. Concurrently, I’m reminding myself God desires my trust and wants to give me His peace. When I pull back from the moment and breathe a prayer, He consistently gives His assurance.
Peace, peace, wonderful peace/Coming down from the Father above!