Out There

A blog by Scott Harrup


Talking or Typing?

By Scott Harrup | September 13, 2014

Yesterday morning I reread a Bible verse I’ve probably come across dozens of times. But it jumped out at me as the perfect life theme for any aspiring writer. See what you think.

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NIV).

To apply this to my writing life, I start at the end of the verse and work backwards.

It is easy to build an imaginary writing craft with “mere talk.” I’ve dreamed for years of writing novels. My oldest notes on my first idea for a book are from college. I’ve written a lot more notes since then, and a good chunk of that book is in rough draft form. But until it’s completed, it still qualifies as little more than “mere talk” and will not earn me or my family a dime.

On the other hand, during all those years since college, I’ve written thousands of pages working in a variety of Christian publishing staff positions. Most of those years have been spent on the editorial team of the Pentecostal Evangel, this blog’s sponsor. “Hard work” on tangible writing and editing assignments has supported Jodie and our three children (and a few pets along the way).

We writers are great when it comes to talking about writing. Besides that first idea for a book, I’ve talked over the years about five other book ideas. They’re all swimming in my head and noted on my hard drive in various bits and pieces. I’m glad God provided plenty of writing employment to allow me to pursue my dreams and expand my skillset without bankrupting my family.

Looking again at that verse from Friday’s Bible reading, I feel as if the writer of Proverbs has reached out through the centuries to give me a kindly kick in the virtual seat of my pants. Now it’s time to see how much of that “mere talk” I can translate into profitable “hard work.”

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Blue No More

By Scott Harrup | September 8, 2014

“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down,” Karen Carpenter sang years ago.

I’m not a big fan of Mondays. If I’m not careful, I can start pondering Monday about halfway through Sunday and allow those mental mutterings to begin ruining my Sabbath. But there are some easy steps you can take to turn any Monday around.

1. Try the old song’s suggestion to “count your blessings.” This isn’t a list of luxuries so much as a review of fundamentals. Be grateful for the health you enjoy (ignore, for the moment, any illnesses, handicaps or injuries). Offer a prayer of thanks for every loved one in your life. Be sure to underline things on your list you might take for granted most days, like enough food to eat, a roof over your head, and the clothes you’re wearing. If you’re having a rough day on the job, push all those hassles out of your mind and be thankful you are gainfully employed.

2. As loved ones and co-workers on your list come to mind, choose one or two and give them a quick phone call. Just let them know you’re thinking of them and praying for them.

3. Determine to smile at and offer a simple greeting to every person you meet today (within reasonable limits, of course). Simple relational efforts multiply your own joy.

4. If you’ve had a hard time fitting Bible study and prayer into your life, make an easy exception today by reading just one short psalm and concluding with a short, reverent prayer. If that process only occupies a minute or two today, see if you can find another minute or two tomorrow.

5. Ditto with diet and exercise. If your sedentary job has hijacked your commitment to fitness, take a brisk 10-minute walk in your neighborhood tonight. If your eating habits have fallen into the “snacks in front of your favorite evening TV show” routine, try shifting supper tonight toward a healthy salad and some fresh vegetables. See if you can do that two nights in a row.

You can probably think of additional steps that would add some light to Monday’s shadows, or help you face the doldrums of any other day. Be imaginative, be creative, and start with simple steps.

And if you’re feeling nostalgic, don’t write off Karen Carpenter’s “Rainy Days and Mondays.” Cathartic lyrics might be just the inspiration you need to make a difference in your day.

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Too-Deep Thinking

By Scott Harrup | September 5, 2014

Awhile back I signed up by email for “Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening,” “C.S. Lewis Daily” and “Today’s Bible Reading” from Bible Gateway. I highly recommend all three. Each morning I first read the Old and New Testament passages and then the quick thoughts from Spurgeon and Lewis.

From today’s Spurgeon selection: “Let me not strive to understand the infinite, but spend my strength in love. What I cannot gain by intellect I can possess by affection, and let that suffice me. … My Lord, I leave the infinite to thee, and pray thee to put far from me such a love for the tree of knowledge as might keep me from the tree of life.”

So much truth in so few words. The apostle Paul gave a compelling picture of love’s supreme place in the believer’s life (1 Corinthians 13), and insisted that any amount of theological knowledge or grand moral deeds could never make up for love’s lack.

Spurgeon reminds me that focusing on love for God (and, certainly, for others) becomes the mental and emotional salve needed when life’s hard questions crop up. I take the “infinite” in this context to include the manner in which God’s immeasurable qualities connect with the finite but unpleasant realities of life.

The old chestnut from Philosophy 101 paradoxically questions, “If God is both all-powerful and all-good, how can evil exist?” Secular philosophers try to construct a logical nuts-and-bolts set of semantic parameters that outline and constrain the definition of an infinite God. In the process, they lose sight of His revealed truth.

When I come up against life’s painful realities, I shouldn’t try and identify them as contradictions of God’s goodness or love. Rather, I should more desperately hold to God’s goodness and love as the only truly effective antidotes to those realities.

Are you facing cancer, divorce, poverty, or depression? Am I still trying to answer questions about my son’s cerebral palsy, my wife’s and daughter’s struggles with long-term health needs, and our family’s various “big picture” challenges?

You and I have the privilege and joy of drawing closer to our Heavenly Father in love and opening our lives to His solutions in His time. Our waiting seasons will vary, but the resources He offers to us during our varying interims do not.

As we leave our “tree of knowledge” questions at the foot of the Cross, may we cling even more firmly to the Tree of Life made accessible through Calvary’s tree.

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By Scott Harrup | August 25, 2014

I was in the eighth grade and living with my missionary family in Nairobi, Kenya, when I experienced the one earthquake large enough to get my attention. Tiny tremors happen all the time just about anywhere you live, but the April 5, 1978, quake was one of Kenya’s more powerful at 4.7 magnitude.

As yet another reminder you can find almost any piece of history on the Internet, I located that quake’s record at earthquaketrack.com. You can see it charted here in the second satellite image as an orange circle over Nairobi.

Thirteen years old and struggling with an embarrassing case of acne, I was woefully evaluating the latest damage to my face using a mirror on the wall in my dad’s home office. I watched in unbelief as the mirror began to shake. Then I realized the entire house was shaking. I ran, panicked, into the living room to join the family.

Our home was built of heavy fieldstone and gave the impression of immovable permanence. Yet, when the quake hit, it quickly became apparent looks are deceiving.

The tremors did not last long, but in the middle of the event it felt like an eternity. I felt absolutely helpless, realizing that no matter where I might run there was no place immune to the conditions our entire city was experiencing.

And then, quiet. Our home had suffered no damage that I can recall. At school the next day I heard stories of falling dishes and at least one cracked wall. By then, it all seemed like a shared adventure we could laugh about.

The Nairobi earthquake of 1978 still lingers in my mind as a reminder of how little control I have over life. That’s a good thing to remember, because it makes me turn in faith to the One who controls not only my life but the grand course of time and space as well.

Is that control absolute? No, otherwise I could blame all my mistakes on God. But His wisdom is absolute, and He invites me to find my security and guidance in the truths He has shared abundantly in His Word.

That truth is stronger than any earthquake. As the Psalmist noted:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV).

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Enemy Agent

By Scott Harrup | August 22, 2014

I’m reading Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends. Macintyre has established a writing niche examining the history of World War II-era espionage in three other well-received books. His latest work focuses on the life of Kim Philby, the most notorious double agent in British history.

Philby was already an established spy for Russia during World War II while he served Britain’s MI6. As Philby continued to be promoted in British intelligence during the 1950s, he accelerated his work of undermining Western attempts to defeat communism. The information Philby leaked to Moscow may have cost the lives of thousands of men and women who sought freedom for their homelands from Soviet rule.

I find Philby’s early years as a communist spy particularly interesting. When Joseph Stalin terrorized the Soviet Union with his paranoid mass arrests of perceived foes, several of Philby’s handlers and associates were called back from England to Moscow. Despite their loyalty to communism, they faced imprisonment, torture and execution.

None of this phased Philby. He held to his political convictions and loyally spied for the Soviets until he was forced to flee to Russia in 1963 (or, as Macintyre suggests, allowed by the British to do so to avoid the risk and embarrassment of a public trial).

There is much to criticize within the moral quagmire of spycraft, regardless of the political framework or government agency behind it. But the 20th century’s record of communist oppression is clear (read a chapter or two of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago or Tortured for His Faith by Haralan Popov to get an idea). Philby dedicated his life to betraying his homeland — with its admittedly flawed government but with its clear commitment to both secular and religious freedom as well.

Sadly, I believe a little bit of Philby rises up in our own lives whenever the enemy of our souls successfully whispers a lie. Sin wreaks endless destruction on this planet, seeking to thwart God’s good plan for each of us. Yet, even as we observe first-hand the pain sin brings to those we love, we still make allowances for our own ungodly choices.

Macintyre has no underlying theological theme I can observe, but I’m taking to heart this latest Philby biography as a personal cautionary tale.

Topics: People, Books and Films, History | No Comments »

Look and Listen

By Scott Harrup | August 15, 2014

Throughout history, the deaf have read lips to decipher speech. In one of my favorite movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the camera-equipped computer HAL 9000 reconstructs a conversation between astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole while observing their lip movements through a window.

Researchers at MIT are taking that concept to a mind-boggling level. Their project analyzes images of just about anything within a video to decipher the sounds taking place during filming. To create what they call a “visual microphone,” the scientists use high-speed footage and a computer algorithm to recreate sounds from the environment by closely analyzing vibrations on various pictured surfaces.

The research team’s demonstration video shows how they gained a secondary recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by measuring vibrations invisible to the naked eye on the leaves of a potted plant in a room where the song was played. Similarly, a potato chip bag on the floor renders a copy of the song even when a camera films it through soundproof glass.

Cited benefits of such technology include the ability to unobtrusively measure a newborn’s pulse by simply taking a picture of her wrist. Disturbing potential applications, of course, could fill a book.

Because the research can be adapted even to video footage with much slower frame rates, just about any moving image can yield massive amounts of previously invisible data from the surrounding environment. You might want to think twice about submitting your home videos to a certain TV show or placing clips on your Facebook page.

Whether or not the NSA might apply such technology in my direction, I’m reminded of the influence my words have on my environment without the aid of any surveillance equipment. If a potato chip bag or potted plant is vibrating when I raise my voice, what is the impact on the ears and heart of a person I’m addressing? Especially if that person is a young child or elderly or someone dealing with a personal crisis.

Will my words bring peace into that environment, or add to existing pain and agitation?

The writer of Proverbs notes both the potential blessing and bane of our word choice. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV).

In light of that dual reality, I pray each day with the Psalmist, “May the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

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In God’s Time

By Scott Harrup | August 4, 2014

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14, NIV).

A few weeks ago I reread this verse during my devotions. It resonates with some long-term prayer requests in my life.

I’m struck by some of the waiting periods described in Scripture. Abraham journeyed for about 25 years across Canaan as a nomad before God gave him Isaac, the son of promise. Joseph spent 13 years in slavery and prison before his promotion in Pharaoh’s palace. Moses herded sheep in the desert 40 years before God directed him back to Egypt to lead the Children of Israel to freedom. He spent another 40 years on a seemingly endless trek to the Promised Land, then died before that destination was reached.

The apostle Paul faced imprisonment under one Roman governor who then casually extended the prison stay as a political favor before leaving office. The succeeding governor fully believed in Paul’s innocence and yet acted on a legal technicality to send Paul in chains to Rome.

But the flip side of that last story points back to a key truth in all the earlier ones. Paul’s impassioned dream was to take the gospel to Rome, the central city of his time in history. The years in prison became a difficult means to a glorious end. The same principle proved true for Abraham once he witnessed the miraculous birth of Isaac, for Joseph once he took his place on an Egyptian throne, for Moses once he knew he had safely brought the Israelites to Canaan’s border and could trust God to take them into the land of promise.

The Psalmist doesn’t merely tell us to “Wait for the Lord.” He certainly could have taken that tack. After all, if one believes in the absolute goodness and power of God, the command to wait for God to do the right thing at the right time should be a given.

But the Psalmist takes the additional step of telling us to “be strong and take heart.” Our faith in God’s timing should point us to inner strength and calm during the interim between our request and His revealed answer.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

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Upside Down

By Scott Harrup | August 1, 2014

“It’s a mad house! A mad house!” Charlton Heston’s George Taylor cries out in the original Planet of the Apes film. Despite its evolutionary frame of reference and fictional twisting of reality, the movie wonderfully captured the angst of someone overwhelmed by a world in which all of life is terrifying and inscrutable.

There’s plenty of real-life terror and inscrutability to go around. Multitudes struggle to make sense of everyday existence in war zones in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and other nations. Smaller pockets of fear and confusion mark regions in Africa where the Ebola virus has broken out most recently. The next tornado or hurricane or flood is sure to wreak havoc in its targeted town or city.

And yet a war or epidemic or natural disaster isn’t required to engender anxiety. When a new stressor suddenly appears on your standard list, it can feel as if life has turned upside down. The completely unexpected, absolutely surprising crisis can render sleep impossible, make appetite a forgotten impulse, and transform the simplest tasks into herculean feats.

For the follower of Christ, it is helpful to remember that life really is upside down compared to God’s original plan for creation. Since the arrival of sin and its attendant consequences, much of the good God intended for all of us is countered by our poor choices, the choices of others, or the catastrophes of life.

God’s answer? The gospel. Reconciliation to our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ establishes a beachhead of peace and purpose in the midst of pain and chaos. In an upside-down world, that kind of restored order appears backwards to those who have yet to experience it.

People accused the first Christian missionaries of turning the world “upside down” (Acts 17:6). In reality, the apostle Paul and his fellow ministers were trying to reveal a means of renewing life’s correct orientation.

Explore those possibilities yourself with an open-minded reading of the Gospels, and your upside-down world might just right itself.

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Voluminous Volumes

By Scott Harrup | July 28, 2014

The original film version of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) includes this snippet of dialogue between Frank Sinatra’s character, Maj. Bennett Marco, and Col. Milt, played by Douglas Henderson:

Col. Milt: [gesturing toward a pile of books] You read them all?

Marco: Yeah, they also make great insulation against an enemy attack! But the, uh, truth of the matter is that I’m just interested, you know, in, uh, Principles of Modern Banking and, History of Piracy. [picking up books] Paintings of Orozco. Modern French Theater. The … Jurisprudential Factor of Mafia Administration. Diseases of Horses and novels of Joyce Cary and … Ethnic Choices of the Arabs. Things like that.

Marco is on medical leave from the Army due to an unexplained psychological breakdown, later revealed to be the result of communist brainwashing techniques applied while he was a prisoner of the Chinese during the Korean War.

I was born more than a decade after the Korean War, and the only brainwashing I’m aware I’ve endured has been from the advertising industry, but I identify with Marco when it comes to selecting a book to read.

After a full day of work, with many days including time spent on a second job, the simple task of picking a book to browse at bedtime can feel monumental. I’ve kept just about every book I’ve bought since college, so there are plenty of subjects and titles from which to choose. Unlike Marco, I start far more books than I finish, which complicates the process further.

Regardless of how successful I am in completing some section within a partially consumed tome, I reflect on other aspects of my evening reading process and count my blessings. A few examples …

• Most nights, Jodie is sitting next to me engrossed in a book of her own. Twenty-eight years of marriage have filled my life with more joy than I can quantify.

• The books in my library were never subjected to government review in a totalitarian state. Who knows how much of my library the Nazis would have consigned to the flames? How many titles might have earned me a prison sentence had I lived in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era? Even today, I’m sure my Bible commentaries could land me in hot water in nations where those who share my Christian faith are an oppressed minority.

• Used books can be purchased in these United States for mere pennies on the dollar, literacy programs for every age abound, and our culture promotes education for everyone.

So, tonight when I stand in front of my shelves, I’ll probably be scratching my head again over which title will best transition my thoughts from the workaday world to eight or so hours of repose. As on countless other evenings, my readings may carry me through several volumes of disjointed content.

But I’ll read all of it gratefully.

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Not-So-Sweet Dreams

By Scott Harrup | July 25, 2014

One of my most frightening dreams is the “being chased while stuck in molasses” nightmare. Someone or something is coming at me, and I try to run; however, no matter how frantically I scramble, I can’t get my legs to move faster than a labored walk.

Closely related to that dream is the “paralyzed in bed” variety. In sixth grade, a really nasty dream was still hanging on as I was waking up. I became aware that I was dreaming and desperately wanted to get out of bed and end the nightmare. I tried to lift an arm, even a hand, anything to get my body moving. By the time I could swing my legs to the floor, I’d become so frightened by the struggle I half ran and half stumbled across the house to my parents’ room. Dad was on a trip, and Mom woke up startled at my panting, bug-eyed entrance.

I came across a brief online Scientific American article today that describes some of the chemical processes in the brain that influence how much of a dream a person remembers. Two examples of vivid dreaming in the Bible came to mind, with very different levels of dream memory described.

Genesis 41 records two dreams of an Egyptian pharaoh, both of which were interpreted by young Joseph, son of Jacob. Pharaoh’s dreams sound an awful lot like nightmares to me, at least the part about seven lean cows eating up seven fat ones. Interestingly, Pharaoh remembered his dreams in detail, so the neurological processes mentioned above must have been divinely optimized.

Daniel 2 describes a dream by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, this time with the king claiming amnesia regarding the dream and just a lingering sense that all was not right with the world. That too is consistent with the Scientific American article. I’ve awakened plenty of times with a vague sense of dread but no way to connect it to any oneiric images. Of course, the context of Daniel 2 suggests Nebuchadnezzar likely feigned forgetfulness in order to reveal as charlatans the mystical advisors in his court.

We use “dream” in another fashion, connecting it with our most cherished life goals. With that focus in mind, I leave you with a verse from my Bible reading this morning: “Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

Nothing nightmarish about that scenario.

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