Out There

A blog by Scott Harrup

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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.

Topics: Books and Films, Bible | No Comments »

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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Farewell, Ken

By Scott Harrup | July 16, 2014

The staff of the Pentecostal Evangel just returned to the office after a bittersweet experience.

Editor Ken Horn has officially retired, and we shared a heartfelt lunch with him at a local restaurant to wish him and Peggy Godspeed and every blessing as they embark on this new chapter in their lives.

If you want to get a picture of the kind of man we will miss, pay a visit to pe.ag.org and read any number of his archived Vantage Point editorials. Or any one of his cover features or international ministry trip reports.

I’m blessed that Ken has never been just my boss. He’s always been, first and foremost, my brother in Christ and close friend. That he was always an excellent boss and a mentor was just icing on a very rich cake.

So, now our team somewhat glumly counts down the minutes of the final hour of this day with the realization that Ken will be a temporary visiting presence his final day tomorrow.

There follows a string of Monday staff meetings with his chair empty. A string of editorial pages without his picture. An empty and too quiet office.

The flip side of this dismal coin is that Ken and Peggy have not announced any plans to move. Our team can easily stay in touch.

And that team? Thankfully, today is not their last day. I have the continued blessing of their rich friendships in the weeks ahead.

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Rock Bottom

By Scott Harrup | July 11, 2014

I finished reading the Book of Job again today. Even if you’re not a regular Bible reader, you’ve probably heard the name.

Job’s the guy who has become synonymous with life’s troubles. If the old Hee Haw song “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me” ever applied to anyone, it fit Job. And that’s only if you’re willing to place a little comic relief between yourself and the book’s pages.

Reading Job without such a buffer zone is tough going. At the beginning of the book, Job loses practically everything in life except his own life. His wealth evaporates. His children die. His body succumbs to a disease that covers him with oozing sores and wracks him with fever.

Some “friends” show up to try and help Job come to grips with what he’s facing, and that’s when the book gets really interesting. Drop the “r” out of “friends” and you get a picture of the deeper character of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu.

Their compassion for Job goes only so far as his verbalized woes fall in line with their “God in a box” personal theologies. As soon as Job’s laments jar their pietistic ears, they shift from “We’re here for you, Job!” to “How can you possibly say that, you reprobate?!?”

You could easily fill a shelf with books and commentaries written on Job. I’m just going to note a few quick takeaways.

1. As uncomfortable as it can be, I need to put myself in the place of Job’s friends. Sure, I want to always see myself as Job, the suffering hero and spiritual giant. But I’m way too prone to direct my own “God in a box” explanations at others who are going through pain. I need God’s help to avoid that path and come alongside others in genuine compassion.

2. When I’m struggling to voice to God my own pain and need, I can take heart from Job’s many anguished prayers. No, he wasn’t perfect by any means. But his honest grappling with God never changed his relationship with God or caused God to give up on Job. That’s why God placed the record of Job’s prayers so prominently in Scripture. They are proof positive we can come to our Heavenly Father in absolute naked honesty.

3. Context is everything! You’d be amazed how many little quips about God and His creation that end up on Scripture calendars or posters actually fall in the middle of long and hateful diatribes from Job’s “comforters.” In following God, as these passages well illustrate, we can so easily fall into the trap of leveling little truisms at each other in attempts to defend any number of bogus assertions.

4. Finish reading Job, and you run into the Psalms. Yes, I know the placement of the Bible’s books is not deemed an act of divine inspiration so much as an act of various historical committees. At the same time, I don’t believe it’s mere human accident that billions of Bibles have been printed with these two components side by side. Psalms reminds us that no matter what happens to us, life is to be lived in songful praise to God and with the attendant joy such praise brings. Like Job, the Psalms can be gut-wrenchingly honest about life’s pain. But keep singing!

If you’re at rock bottom today, take heart. You may need to lay it all on the line in honest painful prayer, but don’t flinch. So long as you refuse to allow rebellion to trump reverence for your Creator, you can be sure He is with you and will bring you through.

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Fireworks

By Scott Harrup | July 7, 2014

Another Fourth of July has come and gone. Another fifth of July as well. In our home, we celebrate the first day with gratitude for this wonderful nation, and the second day with gratitude for another year of God’s blessing on our marriage.

America turned 238, and Jodie and I celebrated our marriage turning 28.

I attribute much of the health of our relationship to the many lifelong partnerships we have been blessed to observe and emulate. As well, I turn regularly to the greatest book on marriage anyone could read.

To me, the Bible is the ultimate marriage manual because it offers solid principles as well as clear life examples from the Author’s omniscient point of view. In this case, omniscient refers to genuine unlimited knowledge rather than a writing trick.

You can find a wealth of passages that describe how people should relate, both inside and outside the bonds of matrimony, and a staggering array of life stories revealing how those principles play out in life.

Marriage and family take center stage early on in the Bible. As a little mental experiment, the next time you begin a “through the Bible in a year plan,” take some time to tally how many family stories crop up in Genesis. How many husbands and wives are mentioned, how many parents and kids, how many family arguments and reconciliations. Trust me, Genesis is just the warm-up for all the stories to follow.

Jodie and I joyfully married in 1986 with several firmly entrenched beliefs: God had brought each of us into the other’s life, we each had become the other’s closest friend, and each of us would strive to be the other’s most valuable ally in meeting all the life challenges we would surely encounter.

Those principles hold true to this day.

Every Fourth of July, I pray our nation will persevere — not just surviving, but thriving as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In a similar vein, I pray that only death with part Jodie and me, so that we will live out “one marriage, under God,” with all His attendant blessings on our home and children.

If that is your prayer for your nation and home, I believe we share a bright future.

Topics: Family Life, Bible | No Comments »

Unbroken

By Scott Harrup | July 3, 2014

I learned today of the passing of Louis Zamperini. The Olympian and World War II veteran was the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best-selling biography, Unbroken. Angelina Jolie is directing the Universal movie of the same name based on the book.

Unbroken follows Zamperini’s life in unflinching detail. Particularly the years during World War II when he survived a plane crash in the Pacific, 47 days adrift on a lifeboat, and then two years in Japanese captivity.

I read Unbroken in 2012 while working on an article for the Pentecostal Evangel’s Summer Olympics edition that year. Like two other great Olympic runners of the last century — Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame, and former U.S. House of Representatives member and sub-4-minute miler Jim Ryun — Zamperini was a committed follower of Jesus Christ. His story of encountering redemption at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949 was, for me, one of the most moving portions of Hillenbrand’s gut-wrenching book.

Zamperini lived out his faith in a manner most of us would find almost impossible to emulate. Because he was convinced Christ had forgiven him of his own sins, he was determined to share that forgiveness with the Japanese guards who had tortured him. He traveled to Japan in 1950 and personally forgave every guard he could find. For years he tried to make contact with Matsuhiro Watanabe, known as “The Bird,” the most notorious of the Japanese soldiers who had abused him. Watanabe, who became a successful businessman in the decades following the war, refused to ever meet with Zamperini. Watanabe died in 2003.

Zamperini has at last completed his own 97-year race of life. Had Watanabe been willing to hear and accept what his former prisoner had to tell him, they would be enjoying an amazing reunion. But whatever Watanabe’s final decision in life regarding God’s offer of salvation, Zamperini had made no secret of his grateful acceptance of that offer.

Because of Jesus, Louis Zamperini is not only “unbroken.” He is forever alive and whole before the throne of God.

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

Splinters

By Scott Harrup | June 26, 2014

Our family used to gather regularly at my grandparents’ home in Virginia. Granddad and Grandmom (Obie L. Harrup Sr. and Esther L. Harrup) lived near the shore of the Potomac River at Hallowing Point (which typically shifted to “Halloween” Point in my child’s mind).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, uncles, aunts and cousins all enjoyed sumptuous meals together followed by patches of conversation, occasional disorganized slow-pitch whiffle ball games, or walks to the river for a possible boat ride or just to sit on the pier.

My cousin Bill Munsie and I opted for that final activity during one gathering. If memory serves, it was an Easter Sunday dinner in 1971. Passing by the main pier, we moved down the riverbank a short distance and began climbing on an older, decaying pier no longer in use.

I slipped and scraped up against a pylon. To my dismay, I discovered a splinter had pushed into my thin, first-grade, “I stink at kickball” left leg.

Going back to the house, I alerted Mom to my mishap. For the next number of excruciating minutes, I became the center of the family’s attention. I was seated on a chair near the large living room window where plenty of sunshine could illuminate the extent of my injury. Some form of household antiseptic was retrieved and applied. My short pant leg was hiked up higher to make room for whatever medical attention would be required.

The trauma reached its peak when Granddad seated himself down in front of me. He was not a particularly tall man, but had a larger-than-life aura about him and, at about 200 pounds, a wrestler’s low-center-of-gravity heft.

He assured Mom he could squeeze that splinter out of my leg.

“Give this boy a bullet to bite,” he said. Then he planted a meaty thumb to either side of the entry wound and pressed down. It felt as if he shoved that splinter all the way into my femur.

The splinter was not about to come out. My tears soon convinced Mom I needed a reprieve. She assured everyone we would attend to the splinter later.

Later, as I recall, was a month or so. Mom had figured the splinter might work its way out or dissolve. She kept the site under observation and regularly cleaned it.

But the splinter had other plans. Coming from that pier, that piece of wood was probably weather treated with some exotic chemical bath. Who knew how many rotting fish and decaying algae colonies had washed up against it. In time, a boil appeared an inch or so above the splinter. That part of my thigh became feverish.

Now there was nothing for it but to take me to the family doctor. He promised he could preclude all pain with a spray-on surface anesthetic. He was wrong. When he managed to get the splinter out, it proved to be about three-fourths of an inch long. It had pushed almost straight into my leg. I’d practically been harpooned.

Forty-plus years later, I still have two tiny scars in my left thigh. They look like twin impacts from a pellet gun.

My long-ago pier adventure reminds me to this day how important it is to address life’s unpleasant issues, particularly in relationships, quickly and thoroughly. Leave a “splinter” of resentment in place, and next thing you know a boil is festering in your spirit. You can probably offer a metaphor of your own.

The apostle Paul cautioned against the effects of prolonged nastiness between followers of Christ.

“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26,27, NIV).

Don’t give the devil a foothold, or a splinterhold.

Topics: Family Life | No Comments »

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