Out There

A blog by Scott Harrup

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iHuman

By Scott Harrup | October 10, 2014

This news item read for me like science fiction when I ran across it yesterday. iHuman Patients is one of a new generation of computer programs used to train medical students. On-screen 3D-rendered virtual patients present a variety of symptoms, can respond to questions, and can submit to a multitude of cyber-generated tests.

Apparently medical schools have been using some form of computer training for years. I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve boarded plenty of airplanes with pilots who received at least part of their training in simulators. But I still feel like “computer game” diagnosis is incongruous with the medical profession. After all, I’m putting my life in the hands of my doctors. (But that only re-raises the issue of putting my life in the hands of simulator-trained pilots. Here we go again.)

Interesting point from the article — simulated patients are intended to broaden access to medical training and help to forestall the anticipated shortage of doctors in the next few years. As well, such training is aimed at sharpening skills and reducing the number of misdiagnoses.

But I’m still leery. In order to truly learn to help people, I think you have to connect with real people and their real problems. You can only go so far with simulations.

I can’t imagine a seminary student interacting with some software’s avatar to learn about pastoral counseling. Maybe that’s around the corner, I don’t know. But it would be a move in the wrong direction.

Personally, if I’m going to be a resource for comfort or counsel to people around me, I’m going to do a much better job of it by prayerfully committing myself to the Holy Spirit’s leading. He knows what our deepest needs are. No computer simulation can match that.

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Change

By Scott Harrup | October 2, 2014

When I was growing up in the 1970s, our family lived in Sierra Leone and then in Kenya. At times it felt as if our missionary assignments had taken us to a different planet. The changes could be difficult on a kid’s emotional equilibrium.

I remember one incident in Nairobi, Kenya, that helped me realize how vulnerable I was even to life’s simple changes. Dad, in a random burst of inspiration, rearranged the furniture in our living room. At 50, I’m no longer sure what moved where. It was probably nothing more than the couch and recliner switching positions. But I remember the inexplicable angst that snagged at my gut.

Unsure how to express myself, I meekly asked Dad something like, “Could you tell me when you’re planning to move the furniture next?”

Living in a metropolis practically on the other side of the globe from where I was born, I had subconsciously held onto innocuous tangible patterns to give myself a reassuring frame of reference. When someone changed one of those patterns, I fought off a nagging sense of panic.

This week I’ve been editing the Nov. 30 issue of the Pentecostal Evangel (this blog’s sponsor) with a cover story about change. Author David Argue reminds us to hold ever more closely to our unchanging God as we encounter life’s inevitable changes.

What changes are you facing? Are they as minor as someone unexpectedly rearranging the furniture in your home? Are they as significant as a shift in a career, a loved one moving across the country, a financial reversal, or an injury or illness that threatens to sideline you?

In the midst of your change, God remains constant in His love, in His wisdom, and in His personal focus on you.

The very universe — from the countless atoms colliding in your smallest breath to the most massive stars hurtling through the cosmos — is in flux. But the Creator of that universe is the one eternal constant.

Trust Him.

Topics: Family Life, Faith | No Comments »

Dead-End Workaround

By Scott Harrup | September 30, 2014

I enjoyed the following thoughts from Charles Spurgeon today. Perhaps you will too.

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“A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

Life is a precious thing, and in its humblest form it is superior to death. This truth is eminently certain in spiritual things. It is better to be the least in the kingdom of heaven than the greatest out of it. The lowest degree of grace is superior to the noblest development of unregenerate nature. Where the Holy Ghost implants divine life in the soul, there is a precious deposit which none of the refinements of education can equal. The thief on the cross excels Caesar on his throne; Lazarus among the dogs is better than Cicero among the senators; and the most unlettered Christian is in the sight of God superior to Plato. Life is the badge of nobility in the realm of spiritual things, and men without it are only coarser or finer specimens of the same lifeless material, needing to be quickened, for they are dead in trespasses and sins.

***

Spurgeon’s commentary brought to mind an editorial from years back by good friend Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope and former editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. Perhaps his thoughts here will offer you encouragement.

You might feel today more like the proverbial “dead lion” than some energetic pooch. Take heart. If you are a follower of Christ, the life God has placed within you can only take on greater strength and wisdom and purpose as you dedicate yourself daily to Him.

If you appear to have run into a wall and all progress seems stalled, take a step back and ask God if you’re going in the right direction. Look for new opportunities from Him, dig deeper into His Word for daily wisdom, and remind yourself that nothing about your life is wasted as He moves you toward eternity.

Topics: Faith, Bible | No Comments »

Talking or Typing?

By Scott Harrup | September 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topics: Bible | No Comments »

Blue No More

By Scott Harrup | September 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Too-Deep Thinking

By Scott Harrup | September 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topics: Faith, Bible | No Comments »

Quakin’

By Scott Harrup | August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enemy Agent

By Scott Harrup | August 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look and Listen

By Scott Harrup | August 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In God’s Time

By Scott Harrup | August 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topics: Faith, Bible | No Comments »

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