By Scott Harrup | May 24, 2013
As Moore, Okla., begins a painful recovery following this week’s devastating tornado, residents and journalists navigate a delicate pas de deux. In the wake of such loss, the media coverage is both needed and dreaded. News outlets promote awareness and assist relief efforts; reporters who question victims on the heels of a catastrophe can seem naïve, or even unfeeling.
Wolf Blitzer’s CNN interview with a young mom drew harsh criticism from Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern, apparently for falling into the naïveté trap. You can read Stern’s piece here.
Stern took Blitzer to task for remarking to the mom in reference to her family’s escape, “I guess you got to thank the Lord, right? … Do you thank the Lord? For that split-second decision?” The mom replied politely, “I’m actually an atheist.” Awkward laughter. The interview continued.
Blitzer’s brief allusion to God opened for Stern a host of questions about divine activity in the midst of a natural disaster, with Stern’s analysis leaning toward the absence of any such activity. For Stern, “Thanking the Lord for deliverance just doesn’t make any sense. Any God powerful and attentive enough to save survivors’ lives should also be powerful and attentive enough to stop the catastrophe in the first place.”
Stern and I would likely offer very different answers to the question of God’s existence, but I find three compelling points in his piece.
Stern appears to land within the philosophical framework of the atheist mom, but his questions resonate with theists. Anyone contemplating God’s omnipotence while affirming His love runs into the paradox of why something bad ever happens. “If God is both all-powerful and a loving God, why does Sickness A or Tragedy B or Birth-Defect C occur?”
I’m convinced much of that paradox is artificially created by our inability to comprehend divine power. We lay out a series of if/then statements based on incomplete definitions of the divine, and then we paint the world in deterministic hues that render just about any concept of God’s love contradictory.
The Bible’s remedy to that conundrum is to redirect our attention to the human scale. God sent His Son Jesus to live as a Man among us so we could interact with the divine within a human frame of reference. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection offer the bridge between our flawed and finite lives and God’s infinite and inerrant existence.
Stern protested Blitzer’s brief theological injection as a lack of journalistic judgment; I find in this exchange a wonderful model for how American journalism should operate within our diverse and free society. Blitzer posed a question premised on the existence of God, and did so out of compassionate concern for the woman. The woman politely outlined her frame of reference denying God’s existence. The interview continued unhindered by any conflict between those positions.
Freedom of the press presupposes freedom of thought and expression. If an atheist reporter had been on the scene interviewing a woman of faith, the conversation could just as easily have gone in the other direction.
“I guess you got to feel lucky, right? … Do you feel lucky? For that split-second decision?”
“Actually, I’m a Christian. I believe God protected our family.”
Awkward moment of light laughter. The interview continues without a bump.
You might be surprised I find at least some common ground with Stern in his concluding statement: “If it makes you feel better, go ahead: Say a prayer. But if you want to help tornado survivors recover, open up your wallet and do something that will actually help.”
Yes, Stern wrongfully implies prayer in itself does not “actually help.” We’ll have to maintain our differences there. But the larger idea, whether or not Stern realizes it, comes straight out of the Book of James.
In writing to early Christians, that apostle cautioned against any expression of theistic compassion that failed to include concrete action. For James, offering a prayer would have been beneficial, but never enough.
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ [this could include praying for them] but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, NKJV).
Followers of Christ need to do more than pray for the recovery of Moore, Okla. They should heed Stern’s advice and open their wallets as tangible proof of their beliefs. Convoy of Hope, a wonderful ministry based here in Springfield, Mo., is already onsite in Moore. You might consider a donation to them or another like-minded outreach.
By Scott Harrup | May 3, 2013
I see a lot of James Patterson titles on best-seller lists and occupying prime shelf space at Barnes and Noble; many of his books include a co-writer. Other top novelists such as Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler and Mary Higgins Clark also multiply their output by publishing with the acknowledged help of collaborators. They could all take notes from Edward Stratemeyer, if he were alive.
You may never have heard of Stratemeyer, but it doesn’t matter; you very likely have read his books or seen TV adaptations of his stories. Stratemeyer was the creative force behind the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, some of the best-selling young adult books of all time. Lesser known today, but also attributable to Stratemeyer, are characters like Tom Swift and the Bobbsey Twins.
Stratemeyer founded the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate in 1906, and he and his hired writers would create multiple stories for a series using the same pseudonym. I grew up thinking there was a real “Franklin W. Dixon” behind the Hardy Boys adventures I enjoyed. No such person existed.
For most of my life, I have read another Book that came about through a collaboration unique in all of human history. In communicating His love to the human race, and His offer of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, God used a series of human writers over a period of about 1,500 years to pen the Bible.
The Bible’s writers operated through an unparalleled level of communication with the Holy Spirit, allowing them to perfectly communicate God’s message, all the while couching that message in ways unique to their own God-given writing style.
In describing this aspect of the doctrine of scriptural inspiration, the Assemblies of God notes: “We understand inspiration to mean that special act of the Holy Spirit by which He guided the writers of Scripture. Such superintendency made full allowance for the divergent backgrounds, abilities, and personalities of the writers, and applies to all they wrote as it is found in the canon of Scripture.” (See “The Inerrancy of Scripture” position paper of the Assemblies of God.)
A best-selling author’s motives are largely financial when collaborating with another writer; God undertook history’s greatest writing project for one self-sacrificing reason — that through the death and resurrection of Christ, lost people could be saved.
If you haven’t spent some time in His Book lately, today would be a great day to revisit its pages.
By Scott Harrup | April 29, 2013
Ray Bradbury would have applauded this recent headline from Popular Science: “Apply for a One-Way Trip to Mars.” A news story limited to science fiction a few years ago is now reality, although the outcome remains unknown.
In Bradbury’s 1950 classic The Martian Chronicles, the red planet is a backdrop for a series of stories examining some of life’s deepest questions about personal identity, family, prejudice and religion. Whatever you think of Bradbury’s conclusions, his prose is as beautiful as it is thought-provoking.
For our 25th wedding anniversary, Jodie gifted me with a Bradbury anthology that includes The Martian Chronicles. Here’s a sample:
“A government finger pointed from four-color posters in many towns: THERE’S WORK FOR YOU IN THE SKY: SEE MARS! and the men shuffled forward, only a few at first, a double-score, for most men felt the great illness in them even before the rocket fired into space. And this disease was called The Loneliness, because when you saw your home town dwindle to the size of your fist and then lemon-size and then pin-size and vanish in the fire-wake, you felt you had never been born, there was no town, you were nowhere, with space all around, nothing familiar, only other strange men. And when the state of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, or Montana vanished into cloud seas, and, doubly, when the United States shrank to a misted island and the entire planet Earth became a muddy baseball tossed away, then you were alone, wandering in the meadows of space, on your way to a place you couldn’t imagine.”
If the Mars One project is successful, participants will certainly grapple with issues of personal identity, relationships, religion and Bradbury’s other themes. But “The Loneliness,” I believe, will be the biggest challenge. Particularly if the first few people to arrive have an unpleasant enough experience that no one else wants to join them. This is, after all, a one-way ticket to a destination more desolate than the Sahara and colder than Antarctica. Imagine being marooned on a distant, desert planet and growing old with just three other people. Imagine becoming the last survivor and being “gifted” with an extra-long life as an extraterrestrial Robinson Crusoe.
Stories like Bradbury’s and news reports such as Mars One’s cause me to reflect on our amazing world and all the blessings surrounding us. I’m all for pushing the boundaries of science and exploration, but I’m in the camp with the majority of explorers who would insist on a return to their home planet.
Spring rain, wildflowers, the gentle crash of surf during a beach vacation, family picnics, a stroll in the park, Thanksgiving and Christmas reunions …
That’s just the beginning of my list of “things I’d miss on Mars.” You could easily write your own.
“Those who live at the ends of the earth stand in awe of your wonders. From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy. You take care of the earth and water it, making it rich and fertile. The river of God has plenty of water; it provides a bountiful harvest of grain, for you have ordered it so. You drench the plowed ground with rain, melting the clods and leveling the ridges. You soften the earth with showers and bless its abundant crops” (Psalm 65:8-10, NLT).
By Scott Harrup | April 15, 2013
“Procrastination,” humorist Don Marquis said, “is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”
Working at the Pentecostal Evangel, this blog’s sponsor, I encounter overlapping deadlines every day. Each week an issue of the magazine is going through the edit loop, another is in preliminary layout, and one or two others are close to being printed. Articles are always due in the weeks ahead.
Other due dates are not always so obvious; but they are just as real. As spring kicks in, I’m dragging the lawn mower out of the garage to meet deadlines imposed by rapid weed growth around our house. Should I ignore a car-washing deadline for long enough, a compassionate fellow shopper will finger-write “wash me” through the accumulated film of dirt while I’m parked at Wal-Mart.
Perhaps the best-camouflaged deadlines are those involving multiple sub-deadlines and stretching into future decades. For me, parenting fits that bill most clearly. In 1992, I stared into the pink, squinting face of our daughter, Lindsay. She was only minutes old. I knew in the back of my mind I was responsible to prep her for an independent and fulfilled adult life. But, hey, I had at least 18 years before she shipped off to college.
Lindsay opted to attend Evangel University here in Springfield as a commuter student, so she hasn’t shipped off anywhere yet. It feels like just a few long blinks have gone by since the days when she was bundled in my arms; these days she’s snuggled under the arm of her “very good friend” Timothy in our den while they watch seemingly endless Star Trek iterations archived on Netflix.
Did I miss any of those sub-deadlines along the way? Probably. But Jodie and I began our parenting journey knowing we had more personal limitations than we could list. We committed Lindsay’s life to God before she was born, and covered her with our prayers countless days along the way. Because of our confidence in God’s ability to make up for our shortcomings, we were brave (crazy?) enough to bring two sons into the world. Connor’s and Austin’s sub-deadlines have been screaming by for 16 and 12 years, respectively.
Perhaps this Monday comes to you bearing “gifts” of unwanted deadlines. Possibly, one or more of those due dates are close enough to elicit a twinge of doubt as to whether you will meet them. Others may be hovering on the horizon, lulling you into a false sense of security.
Whether you face a timing crisis or need to motivate yourself to take long-term action, your key to success is the same.
“Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, Voice)
By Scott Harrup | March 8, 2013
Philip K. Dick’s 1956 sci-fi short story “The Minority Report” describes a future where law enforcement can predict crimes before they occur, and arrest and punish the pre-perpetrators.
John Anderton of Precrime uses information provided by three mutants, who speak gibberish that is somehow transformed in a computer into legible descriptions of crimes to be committed. The mutants can see up to two weeks into the future. Steven Spielberg adapted the story to film in 2002, casting a young, athletic Tom Cruise to play Anderton, despite Dick’s description of a 50-year-old, balding, out-of-shape police officer.
In their book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Viktor Mayer Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier reference Dick’s story when they report on current technology that seeks to predict and prevent crimes. An excerpt from the book posted online by Popular Science notes:
“Already we see the seedlings of Minority Report-style predictions penalizing people. Parole boards in more than half of all U.S. states use predictions founded on data analysis as a factor in deciding whether to release somebody from prison or to keep him incarcerated. A growing number of places in the United States — from precincts in Los Angeles to cities like Richmond, Virginia — employ “predictive policing”: using big-data analysis to select what streets, groups, and individuals to subject to extra scrutiny, simply because an algorithm pointed to them as more likely to commit crime.
“But it certainly won’t stop there. These systems will seek to prevent crimes by predicting, eventually down to the level of individuals, who might commit them. This points toward using big data for a novel purpose: to prevent crime from happening.”
To punish someone for something they haven’t done seems ludicrous on one level, but most of us are willing to accept the concept if we believe the accused was prevented from carrying out a long-planned crime. There’s not much of a public outcry, for example, if someone goes to prison for assembling explosives and diagramming the best way to detonate them with maximum loss of life.
In the aftermath of large-scale human tragedy, we may even regret some fiend didn’t die earlier. Perhaps you’ve imagined what the world might have been like if Hitler had been killed as a German soldier in World War I long before he masterminded the European conflict in World War II with its concentration camps and gas chambers.
I find it inspiring that God, in spite of all that He knows about us individually and collectively, doesn’t look for ways to pre-punish us. On the contrary, the Bible records His plan throughout history to provide redemption in response to our absolutely nontheoretical guilt.
Instead of seeking to punish us before we can sin, even though He knows we will, God sent His Son to die for us. Our debt is already paid. The only remaining question: What will each of us do with that gift?
By Scott Harrup | March 1, 2013
Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, is completing Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing for Harvard University Press. Writing for Slate Book Review, Kirschenbaum shared some of his research concerning the first novel ever written on a word processor.
That distinction goes to Len Deighton’s 1970 World War II novel, Bomber. The word processor used was nothing like today’s compact notebook or even desktop computers. IBM’s MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter) weighed 200 pounds. Deighton had a window removed in his home in 1968 the day the MTST was hoisted in with a crane.
Bomber’s structure was perfectly suited for word processing. Deighton centered the novel’s action around a single raid by the RAF in June 1943, and examined the raid from the points of view of dozens of characters. He had to keep the details of the action straight regardless of the perspective from which he wrote.
Kirschenbaum notes: “Deighton prepared for the writing with thousands of hours of research, including site visits to the locations depicted in the book, stints in the military archives, scores of interviews, and a cross-Channel flight in a restored German Heinkel III. He kept meticulous notes, all of them color-coded and cross-referenced. Meanwhile, the walls of his London home were papered with maps and weather charts of Europe, which he used to storyboard the unfolding action, placing tape and tags to mark the positions of different aircraft over the course of the book in order to ensure narrative continuity.”
Early in the book’s development, Deighton typed initial chapter drafts, marked them by hand with editorial changes, and had his assistant, Ellenor Handley, retype subsequent drafts. The MTST allowed changes to be made in the text as it was being written.
I have a copy of Bomber in my library, but over the years have only read small portions of the book. With a greater appreciation for the book’s place in literary history, as well as the logistics of its design, I hope to get back into it in the near future.
Deighton’s work reminds me of the Bible’s interwoven narrative. Think of it — a central, redemptive saga stretching for millennia and told from the points of view of men and women of different eras and cultures. And all of it done by hand!
No human author could have kept all that material straight. As the apostle Peter explained, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV).
The end result is a book that continues to inspire billions of readers and to shape the course of history.
By Scott Harrup | February 25, 2013
According to the fairy tale, a poor beggar named Aladdin frees a powerful genie imprisoned in a lamp and gets to wish for anything as his reward. Throw in a magic carpet, a beautiful princess, fabulous treasure, and a song or two, and you have a Disney cartoon.
Whimsical storyline aside, who doesn’t identify with Aladdin? We all play a mental wishing game, piling on imaginary wealth and influence and eliminating all problems and responsibility.
It can be tempting to allow an Aladdin frame of mind to invade our times of prayer. A number of New Testament promises, when taken out of context, even appear to justify the practice.
Give some thought to how you approach statements like the following:
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14, NIV).
“Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16).
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23).
As with any passage of Scripture, context here is everything. John 13-17 is a detailed record of Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper. Jesus was not promising His disciples unlimited wish-fulfillment through prayer. He was promising God’s faithful presence and action in the disciples’ lives after Jesus returned to heaven.
From the disciples’ point of view, Jesus’ announcement that He was going to leave them was tragic. They couldn’t imagine life without Him. Jesus wanted them to understand that life without His physical presence was really going to be better than anything they had experienced up to then.
Once the cross was behind Him and His resurrection became an eternal reality, Jesus would be present in a spiritual sense all the time. And, because of His sacrifice, the disciples and anyone else who accepted Him as Savior would enjoy total fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit as well.
The end result? Guaranteed answers to any prayer offered “in Jesus’ name” — in other words, prayers offered in the authority of Jesus himself. But we have to remember that Jesus always prayed in humble obedience and with God-honoring motivation.
Let your prayer life explode with possibilities beyond anything Aladdin might have wished for. Catch a vision of how God wants to use you to minister to people around you and see them come to Christ. A soul rescued for eternity is of greater value than any amount of treasure.
By Scott Harrup | February 22, 2013
According to an article at scientificamerican.com, very large goldfish have been found in Lake Tahoe. The source of infestation? Irresponsible aquarium owners.
The accompanying photo shows a University of Nevada-Reno researcher holding a goldfish the size of a bass. I looked at the picture and immediately thought of a childhood book, A Fish Out of Water.
Authored by Helen Palmer, the story follows the misadventures of a boy who purchases a goldfish named Otto. The pet store owner tells the boy he should only feed Otto a pinch of fish food. Naturally, as all young boys are prone to do, the protagonist sees the warning as an irresistible challenge. He dumps major quantities of food into the tank, then scrambles to find ever-growing bodies of water to contain the ever-growing Otto.
I can relate. I’m tempted to look askance at life’s prohibitions, wondering if the rules really are for my good or might be keeping me from having more “fun.” My kids deal with the same temptations.
Problem is, even minor infractions of life’s rulebook — my preferred reference being the Bible — have unforeseen consequences. Aquarium owners who dump little goldfish into Lake Tahoe may feel they are excused because they aren’t cruelly flushing the unwanted pets down the toilet. But the article outlines some pretty serious ecological damage from introducing an invading species.
Lake Tahoe’s giant goldfish are a good reminder that I can never predict the results when I ignore even the small rules for biblically wise living.
By Scott Harrup | February 15, 2013
Asteroid 2012 DA14 skimmed by Earth today and missed us by a hair, in astronomical terms, moving across Southern Hemisphere skies at a distance well within the orbits of a lot of communications satellites. Because the asteroid’s path was accurately tracked, it could be verified as a miss long before its arrival.
But today also brought a surprise impact in Russia’s Ural Mountains from a completely undetected meteorite. The meteorite was not nearly as large as DA14’s 150-foot diameter, but it hit the atmosphere fast enough to create a massive fireball and explosion over the city of Chelyabinsk that injured more than 1,000 people — mostly from flying glass as windows shattered in the blast.
Isn’t that like life? We see the risk of a crisis approaching and take prudent steps to avoid it, then we’re blindsided by an entirely different situation. Of course, if DA14’s trajectory had guaranteed an impact with Earth, there would have been nothing our current technology could do to avoid it. The science community was just happy to report that the mathematical models for the asteroid’s orbit proved to be accurate.
I can plan carefully and avoid a lot of life challenges, but I’ll never be assured of absolute success. Nor will I see every obstacle or setback before I reach it. Without God’s intervention, my life would have been a wasteland long ago. Two space rocks in the news today have me reflecting on the folly of hubris, the value of humility, and my constant need for the Creator’s guidance.
By Scott Harrup | February 15, 2013
Valentine’s Day was also Day 4 of Spiritual Emphasis Week with Pastor Dary Northrop at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center.
Pastor Northrop shared from John 6 the narrative of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Of course, “the 5,000” only accounted for the men. Very likely, the hungry crowd was well north of 10,000 people, with women and children.
I’ve been thinking about what Pastor Northrop had to say regarding the boy whose lunch Jesus multiplied in order to feed the multitude.
“Did the boy eat from his lunch that day?” Pastor Northrop asked. “Or, did he eat from the lunch God made from his lunch that day? He may have eaten more than he actually brought.”
For me, this feeding miracle offers one of the most compelling calls to personal faith in all of the Bible. I want the kind of faith to take root in my life that will loosen my grip on the tiny reserves of “stuff” God has given me. Like that boy, I want to discover anew that when I give anything back to God, He can multiply it infinitely.
I just need that “lunch-bag faith,” day to day, to give it all up and freefall into God’s grace.