Out There

A blog by Scott Harrup

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Word Choice

By Scott Harrup | April 4, 2014

I enjoy following science and technology news, so was interested in a National Public Radio All Things Considered story broadcast during my drive home yesterday. The report featured new research in mapping the human brain, research aimed at identifying how the brain develops during pregnancy.

Researchers are creating a high-resolution map of an infant human brain, a computer-generated image that is already providing hints about the origins of brain disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Our son Connor has severe cerebral palsy resulting from brain bleeds at birth, so I applaud anyone researching ways to improve prenatal and neonatal health.

But the thought nagged at me during the earlier portion of the NPR story: Where are they getting the brains? A minute or so later, I had my answer. The brains under study were from aborted fetuses.

I always find such news chilling.

Today, reading a related story on scientificamerican.com, my chill factor ratcheted up a notch.

Where the NPR story honestly reported that “researchers used brain tissue from four aborted fetuses, a practice that the Obama administration has authorized over the objections of abortion opponents,” the Scientific American piece offered this bit of news: “Researchers created the map using healthy prenatal brains from a brain bank — a collection of donated human brains.”

Can’t you just see those babies in utero signing their organ donor cards?

I believe the abortion industry in the United States is a national tragedy. But to find that tragedy whitewashed so glibly compounds the depravity.

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Dead and Buried?

By Scott Harrup | March 25, 2014

My 2007 Father’s Day gift from my brother and sister-in-law was Tod Benoit’s book Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die? The subtitle, “Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and Noteworthy,” only describes the smallest portion of the book’s contents.

Each of the entries — which are alphabetized under such categories as “Baby Boomer Icons,” “Sports Heroes” and “Original Women” — offers a succinct biography of the person featured. Only the final paragraphs of an entry deal with the person’s demise and burial location.

Thumbing through the book the other day, I found the central concept paradoxical. The book really was not so much about death as about life.

Tonight over supper, I watched a documentary about the recently exhumed remains of England’s Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field more than 500 years ago and whose skeleton was discovered in 2012 under a parking lot in the city of Leicester. Interwoven with the archeological and forensic studies undertaken to verify the identity of the recovered bones was plenty of commentary on Richard’s life and reign.

My book and my evening television entertainment both point to our natural tendency to contemplate death in the context of the life preceding it.

I believe there is a deeply spiritual motivation behind this all-too-common human behavior. At our core, I believe all people at least suspect that death is not final. Followers of Christ, in studying the Bible, are absolutely assured this is true.

Perhaps the most reassuring promise of this reality is from Jesus himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25, NIV).

A life lived in the context of faith in Christ as Savior is really just getting started when physical death inserts itself. Death is an interruption, nothing more, in the life God has brought into fellowship with himself through His Son.

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If-Then

By Scott Harrup | March 21, 2014

A hypothesis followed by a conclusion forms a conditional statement. Such statements regularly crop up in math and logic and are building blocks of deductive reasoning and mathematical proof.

Conditional statements typically follow an “if-then” pattern. For example, “If a human population consists of 50 percent males, then it consists of 50 percent females.” Mathematically, such a statement can be expressed with variables, such as p ➞ q, which would read “if p then q.”

The strength of an argument or proof will vary with the strength of the component conditional statements. Mathematicians and logicians regularly attack formal arguments, find weaknesses, and disprove conclusions that appeared true on the surface.

The Bible includes some very powerful if-then statements that have stood the test of time and are in no danger of modification.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5, NKJV).

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Even when “if” or “then” does not appear as a word, the line of reasoning is still clear.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and [or “then”] it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

“[“If”] You will seek the Lord your God, and [or “then”] you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

Here is one of my favorites, a promise that connects with pretty much every corner of life.

“If God is for us, [“then”] who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32).

If we live in right relationship with God, then no one can countermand God’s purposes in our lives. As evidence of that truth, the apostle Paul points to Calvary. If God has already taken the unfathomable step of sending Christ to die for us on the cross, then God is already committed to blessing our lives in whatever manner is required to care for us and equip us to serve Him.

If you take those promises to heart, then you can’t help but live with blessing and fulfillment each day.

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Move Over, Methuselah

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).

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Topics: Bizarre, Bible | No Comments »

Top 100?

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.

The Bible.

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.)

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Chronocash

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.

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First-Person Perspective

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.

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

Family Album

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).

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Topics: Family Life, Faith | No Comments »

Buddy Time

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.

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Life Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

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?

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