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).
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.