Sunday, December 30, 2012

"God Told Me To Do It!"

By Tony Harriman  • 

On my back porch the temperature gauge is reading 77°.  I think this is the warmest Christmas Eve I ever remember enjoying in Alabama.  I'm sitting here in a short-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of lightweight sweat pants; any more than that would feel cumbersome.  The sky is blue with a handful of lazy clouds out for a drift in the gentle breeze that is caressing the leafless trees.  Way up high in the sky a crow is making its way to the horizon for a date with who knows what.  Though the grasses on the gentle hills around our home have put on their brown winter coats, they are allowing the green clover to show itself off probably for the last time this winter.  The solstice arrived a few days ago, ushering in an excellent opportunity for the doomsday preachers to find yet another date for the end of the world.

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Max, our beloved family dog, is lying close by my side looking like he's trying to decide whether to have one last squirrel chase before spring, or to just take a nap.  He never catches the squirrels; I don't know why he bothers.  All in all, things couldn't look further from the end of the world; they look more like the dawn of days of wine and roses.

The trouble with the landscape is that it can often be a deceiving backdrop for reality.  Because of the curve of the earth, at sea level a person can only see in a 15-mile radius from where they stand; beyond that, everything drops behind the horizon.  When you think about the size of the earth, 15 miles is not very far.  Fifteen miles yonder can lurk a line of tornadoes with enough power to carry your entire belongings, house included, to the sea, or a thunderstorm packing enough wattage to take out your power for a day or two.

There is so much peace cascading onto the canvas around here right now, that were it not for the "blessing" of the worldwide news agencies spilling into our living rooms and smart phones, we'd hardly know there was any trouble in the world at all.  Once we do become aware of how rough of a time many of the planet's inhabitants are having, it's hard to imagine how there can be any peace among the heavenly onlookers at all.  But then I guess that's why Jesus said He offered a peace that man cannot understand — we simply don't have the software installed between the ears to actually "get it."

Off in the distance a pileated woodpecker is sounding off and digging his wooden holes; I can't see him, but I know he's there.  I once took the time to identify to which bird that cry belongs, and his snapshot pops into my mind every time I hear him call.  There are lots of woodpeckers in the forest, but only one that sounds like that one.

In our society are people, thankfully, who make a career of studying the natural world and its inhabitants; they can tell us without a doubt what's out there.  If we're interested enough we can spend time with these people and learn how to identify the "voices" of nature for ourselves.  We can learn which sounds belong to which respective birds, insects and animals.  We can become educated by listening to recordings and watching videos, and eventually we may grow to be extremely proficient at identifying species.  In fact we can become so learned in the art, that some of us might one day teach classes and offer courses.  And all of that would be possible … never once having walked through the forest or even having gone outside our front door.  These days we can do just about anything through the use of the Internet.  By this basic process of education a person can learn a foreign language, and teach others that language, never once visiting the country where that language is native or even spending time around anyone else who speaks that language.

Though most of us can carry a tune, relatively few of us can actually read music.  And in a bizarre twist of things, a person may know very well what note or action is represented by this or that symbol on a sheet of music … but might never have the ability to actually play the music for themselves, perhaps because of some disability.  In a strange twist, Beethoven was in his forties when he began to lose his hearing, but continued to compose long after his ability to hear the notes had left him completely, relying totally on the memory of the tones produced by this or that instrument playing the various notes he wrote on the staff paper.

I was interested to learn once that Christopher Reeve (of Superman fame) once taught his son to ride a bike for the first time.  "So what?" you say, "Anyone can teach someone to ride a bike."  What made this story interesting for me was that Mr. Reeve taught his son to ride the bike AFTER Mr. Reeve had been paralyzed from the neck down.  His son relied totally on the instruction spoken to him … and he learned to ride.

So, I guess my point is that it's not necessary to have any useful "hands-on" experience with the knowledge floating around in your head or on your tongue, but if you do know a little bit about it, chances are you can teach that knowledge to someone else; and so on and on and on, till the world is full of people who know everything there is to know about the starry sky and all its wonders … without ever having once left the planet.

When it comes to things of the Spirit — things that cannot be handled, tasted or touched — the same rules seem to apply.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it's like this.  Let's say we want to study things that are holy.  First we have to decide what might be holy, then pursue that course.  For some, another language must be learned -- among many Christian people I know, the language of Heaven is that which was spoken in the 17th century and recorded in the King James Version of the Bible.  For others the holy words may be found in ancient languages spoken by Abraham and his kin, or by Moses and Aaron, maybe Daniel the Prophet.

Freddie, one of our favorite cats, just jumped up on my table looking for something to rub against.  He's been eyeing my mouse for a while, and I'm not sure if he understands it's not real.  Sorry for the distraction.  Oh, and here comes the neighbors' huge Great Pyrenees that has adopted us on a semi-full-time arrangement.  I don't think he cares about the mouse, he just wants to be petted; he's such a baby.

Let's talk for a moment about the Creator behind the creation we live amidst.  I suppose a person could take all kinds of classes about the Creator.  I imagine we can learn about what He made; how He made it; what He has to say about what He made and what He'd like us to do with it; how we might find Him, etc., etc.  We can read books, watch videos, and listen to recordings of what people think He might sound or look like, and what He means when He says this or that.  I suppose we can become quite good at identifying Him in the distance ... but never actually lay eyes on Him … or hear His voice for ourselves.  We might find that if we want to know what He's saying, we'll have to ask an "expert."  Given time, we might even become experts ourselves and grow to be quite proficient at telling others how to manage their lives according to what the Creator has outlined, based on what we're learning from this or that expert we're reading from at any given moment.

Many people will tell you that the Creator God speaks to them all the time.  When you ask them what His voice sounds like, they'll tell you that He generally speaks to them in their own voices, in their own language, and with intonation they would use themselves.  God usually tells these people which decision they should make, but only after they have given Him a handful of choices.  There is normally no new information offered by the voice of God in their heads; no winning lottery numbers; no new recipe for an unfamiliar food; no address on a Street called Straight where they might find someone waiting for their instruction.  The voice of God either shuns them away from, or reinforces, an opinion they are forming about a portion of Scripture.  Some people simply hear God's voice of reassurance telling them that He loves them or that He is watching out for them.  Some of these people are locked up behind a series of heavy-duty doors and windows, because one day the voice in their head told them to do something really strange, like set off a bomb in an abortion clinic, or drown their young children in the bathtub, take a sniper rifle and shoot at passing cars on the freeway, or fly an airplane into a building.  You might be surprised at how many institutions house more than their fair share of these kinds of people.  Many of them, when they are asked why they carried out this or that attack, calmly explain that, "God told me to do it."

Perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to judge this latter set of listeners, because throughout early Old Testament history, the Children of Israel were given similar bizarre instructions regarding the handling of humanity.  As they went through certain lands they were to leave no one alive, not even the livestock.  If their children disobeyed they were to be stoned to death.  The same for Sabbath-breakers, adulterers and witches.  Although the story had a happy ending, even Abraham was told BY GOD to take his son, Isaac, up the mountain and kill him as a sacrifice to the God of Heaven.  Abraham didn't have to complete the horrible task — but he would have, had an angel not stayed the knife in Abraham's hand.  If you or I heard that voice giving us those instructions today, we would likely cringe from the thought, thinking that we were crazy.  But why?  What makes you or me different from Abraham?  We're all human.  The Bible teaches that God doesn't change — the same yesterday, today and forever.  So how shall we decide which instruction is from Heaven, and which from our own inclination?  Many people explain their allegiance to certain Bible principles based upon reason: "If the instructions don't fit my picture of God, well, I just ignore them."  And what we wind up with is a movement of believers who obey all Ten Commandments … excepting one.  While another denomination might find that they obey all Ten Commandments … but nine.

When someone arises saying God told me to commit this or that atrocious act, how shall we judge according to the Spirit?  That's not just a rhetorical question — I'm being serious.  These people come out of the woodwork and "speak according to these words …" regarding stealing, adultery, homosexuality.  They want to take the lives of those not living according to their understanding of the Word of God.  The Middle east is presently full of this type of attitude.  Because these moralizers don't attend my particular brand of church does not seem a safe way to decide whether or not they are acting for God — does it?  And doesn't it seem strange to you that warriors on both sides of the battlefield, playing field and boxing ring are praying to the same God for victory.  What's up with this strange attitude?  It's no wonder that non-believers get sick and tired of the bizarre behavior of religious folk.

"Ha!" you say, "All that craziness is beyond my horizon; I don't have to be concerned about the whackos on the other side of the world, or across the country, or even across the state.  None of that affects me."  Hmmm, think again, Miss Swan; the next phone call with bad news could be coming to you sooner than you think.  If you are a person of prayer, now would be a good time to seek protection from those who only have the ability to protect you, and your children, and your spouses, and who only can protect those who every day are risking their mortal lives to protect you (you know who they are).

Well, forget all that.  The sun is shining; the breeze is wafting; the dogs and the cat are now lazily snoozing.  What could possibly be wrong with the world in which we live?  Eat, drink and be merry ….

And that's just my take on it ….


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Evolution Is Possible — Right?

By Tony Harriman  • 

It seems reasonable to believe that, given enough time, a river can completely redirect its course, and that the sea can completely dissolve even the tallest and hardiest of cliff faces.  If we live a normal lifespan, we might see with our own eyes these changes take place before we depart.  Eventually, the ground and its foliage will stroll right across the abandoned roadway — anywhere in the world.  The Sahara Desert, if left to itself, would one day completely cover up the surrounding civilization.

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So what's the problem with Evolution Theory?  If the landscape can change over time, why can't we believe that living creatures can change, too?  Why is there such an argument raging about the origins of species and celestial bodies?  Well, part of the problem is that, upon whichever side of the argument a person may dwell, some people just have a hard time living with an opinion other than their own roaming the world.  On a more down-to-earth realistic level, you can sympathize with students from both sides of the debate — Creationist or Evolutionist — because neither side is able to prove one iota of their argument beyond the pages of academics.  The Creationist cannot cannot go back to the beginning and record the sea filling with life through the lens of his video camera, any more than the evolutionist can take a few snaps of the lizard turning into the bird.

To my mind it seems highly unlikely that Moses would have dreamed up the idea that God simply "spoke" things into being, and that He took only six days to cover the land around Eden with life sufficient to eventually populate the entire earth.  The idea is so absurd to some minds, that an alternative solution would have to be found — at any expense.

If a man were to be given the job of inventing a suitable beginning for life on earth, he would likely light upon the observation that everything comes from, and is made up of, something else; because that's the way a man gets things done — he builds houses, planes, cellphones, computers, pencils and bow-ties out of stuff that he already has at hand.  A man gets nothing out of thin air.  From the north of England comes an expression which reads like this: "You don't get owt for nowt."  The original spelling is a little different, but that's how it's spoken.  The idea, of course, is that if you want something, you have to give something.

That a man should be able to invent such a notion as stuff being "spoken" into being, not ever having been in some form or other to start with, does itself seem highly unlikely.  The idea that a Creator can get things done without the aid of a human being does not fit the job description of any of the gods that were on the schoolroom chalk board at any time close to the beginning of history.  Even many of the gods in the church paper today are reliant on humans for protection against bad-mouthers, as ridiculous as that sounds.

I once heard someone say that all this scientific knowledge we've gained in the past century or so hasn't done us a bit of good.  I would respectfully disagree; the things we've found out about the universe in which we live leave a person in awe of whoever put all this incredible math into one working machine.  It seems to me that ignorance is not a friend that we should keep too close.  Am I right in remembering the two creatures under the coat of Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present as being "Ignorance" and "Want"?  And wasn't Scrooge admonished to beware these two, especially the first?  Make of that what you will, but I think you'll agree that there's some wisdom there.  Ignorance may be bliss, but sometimes it can also be very painful.

You've probably heard one or two analogies like these:

"The idea that the marvelous complexity of life on earth sprang from pond scum is as likely as Webster's Unabridged Dictionary being the result of an explosion in a factory producing Alphabet Soup."


"The chances of the incredible math at work in the universe being totally random are about as likely as a fully functioning Boeing 757 being the result of an explosion in a scrap yard."

You get the idea.  Of course, both of these unlikely scenarios above are "possible," given enough time — but not "probable."  Anyone who's ever had to prepare dinner (I don't mean just open a can and plunge in) will realize that a process is needed for each part of the meal.  It would make no sense to put whole eggs in the frying pan, cover them with oil, then turn on the heat and expect to produce a couple of fried sunny-side-ups.  If you've ever watched Hollandaise Sauce being prepared from scratch (not out of a packet), you will quickly see that there is no other way to do this — Hollandaise Sauce is never going to grow on trees.

Once or twice in my life I have made an attempt at figuring out the Rubik's Cube.  Frustration quickly settled on me, because I saw that the solution was possible: all the colors were neatly arranged when I had this infernal thing handed to me.  But, in spite of my best efforts, things got steadily worse.  I imagine that somewhere in more than half the homes around the world is a drawer containing at least one unfinished Rubik's Cube.  You've probably once or twice landed on a YouTube clip of this or that ten-year-old who can solve the problem in less than twenty seconds.  "Yay!" you say as you quickly move on to something more interesting.

The people who witness the completion of the Rubik's Cube could argue that, given time, anyone can learn to sort out the puzzle.  And I would have to agree.  But let's add this ingredient: try doing it in the dark.  It's possible that once every million years or so you'll get it right; but it's not probable.  And this is just the Rubik's Cube; try inventing the human genome without a mind to think it through.

Order requires intelligence for structure.  That order, or "Law" is what keeps the atom safely under control on the planet.  On the sun, where the conditions are different from those on earth, that atomic law is bypassed by another law (the name of which I forget for now); simply put, the atoms are completely dismantled by pressure — pressure provided quite adequately by gravity due to the enormous size of the sun.  The incredible heat from the sun is handed to us by the release of energy contained in the countless atoms that make up its mass.

I personally believe that the people who were the main proponents of Evolution Theory in the 1800s would never have supported the idea had they been given access to the information we have learned from our studies under modern microscopes.  Not all doctors have religious inclinations, but those who are able to see past the biological injustices at play in the world, are able to see a definite intelligent hand in the construction of the human frame.  The microscope is a lot like a detective, removing all the "What-ifs" and "Suppose-sos" from the investigation.  The microscope doesn't tell us everything, but it definitely reveals some very clear fingerprints; unless, of course, you don't happen to believe in fingerprints.

Some things are true whether you believe them or not.  On the other hand, some things are just plain incorrect, no matter how you feel about them.  I heard someone once say that whatever you believe, that's what's true for you.  To which I respond, you can believe all you want that our planet is the center of the universe, or that the earth is flat and supported by a bottomless pile of turtles.  But at the end of the day, your belief is not going to change the facts.  In the medical/psychological world we have a name for believing in things we have no proof for: Schizophrenia.  Some people would say we have another name for believing in things that we cannot see: Faith.  I'll leave it to you to decide if you should or should not be wearing a straight jacket.

I don't personally believe that God is very much concerned that you believe the human race evolved from monkeys, though he might take issue with you considering the image of God to be like unto a chimpanzee swinging from tree to tree.

It doesn't rock my boat to realize that someone has a view of origins which differs from mine in every regard; and I don't think you should lose sleep over it, either.  No matter how hard you believe it, Creation cannot be proven any more than can Evolution; that's why they are both called "Theories."  Be big enough to accept the fact that, for some things, you'll just have to wait and see.  I have a notion that all will one day be revealed; though I have another notion which suggests that at that time our attitude will likely be akin to, "Scarlett, I … really don't care."

Oh … that river … the one changing course, is not changing its chemistry; only its address.  The only random at play in the world is that of relocation.  Below the surface, the math, to the eye of appearance, is totally constant.  Though appearing in various forms (liquid, solid and gas), a water molecule is only ever composed of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O — 1 oxygen atom and 2 hydrogen atoms).  If you change that formula just onnnnne intsy little bit, you wind up with a completely different compound; it might still be liquid, but it would likely be unsafe to drink or swim around in.

As a closing thought, we should make a mention of another consideration on the kitchen table: that of what has become known as Intelligent Design (ID).  ID proposes that there does appear to be some random at play in the universe, but that there are also some other observations, such as animal physiology and biology, which cannot be reasonably explained by the processes put forth by Evolution Theory.  The proposal of ID is steadily gathering opponents from the scientific community, because modern science does not allow for supernatural explanations of observed phenomena.  ID proposes obvious involvement of a creator, but not necessarily one who is interested in anything religious, though most of the people involved with what has become known as the Discovery Institute believe the creator was the Christian Deity.

At the end of the day, a person will have to decide in which battle they wish to engage — or not.  Personally I don't think there is any point in trying to prove something which is unprovable in my lifetime.  If God doesn't seem too interested in proving Himself, why should I try to do it for Him?  God seems to just leave fingerprints all over everything we can see so that we can tell He was there.  But we have a dreadful time catching up with Him.

Let's say it again: Evolution is "possible," but not "probable."  Leave it there.

And that's just my take on it ….


Friday, December 14, 2012

"On Earth, Peace — Good Will Toward Men"

  •  By Tony Harriman

"On Earth Peace, Good Will Toward Men."  The words still echo down through time.  Often, our earliest memories of the Christmas Season are the lines we rehearsed for the school plays and recitations, or the Advent hymns we sang during assembly.  It's a sad thought, but it's likely that were there no celebration of the Christmas Season, the Birth of Christ would likely have been lost sight of in the Western World long ago.  Growing up in England can be a very bland experience for the person who has an interest in spiritual things, but come December everyone is given an excuse to exercise their hopeful genes and look, at least for a while, toward the God who gave His Son — the ultimate Gift — for the redemption of Mankind.

Whatever your motivation for enduring the trappings of the Christmas Season, it would be a mistake to miss the opportunity for gift-giving.  Dickens’ Scrooge is an excellent metaphor for the spirit in each of us that illustrates, quite brilliantly, the tendency to withhold more than is meet. Camouflaged behind a disdain for giving people that which they don’t deserve is a spirit of supremacy that each one of us strives, often quite desperately, to restrain. By contrast, Dickens’ Tiny Tim illustrates beautifully the spirit of wishing upon others that which the well-wisher does not seemingly possess himself: the blessing of God. Scrooge was able to change things with his means; Tiny Tim was able to do exactly the same with his few humble words.

Fame and fortune are fickle friends and often come nowhere near the homes of most of us.  So we find ourselves doing the best we can with what little we’ve got.  A mother once told her son, “No one can afford to have children; you just find a way to get by once they arrive.” And therein lies the germ of a much bigger truth, that often we simply have more than we need, and, with careful planning, wouldn’t be hurt a bit by sharing.  If you're saving for a rainy day, now would be a good time to buy an umbrella, 'cause the horizon's looking kinda dark.  Oh, and get two while your at it; your neighbor over there can't afford his own.

Through the years the ministry with which I am associated has adopted and maintained a spirit of giving. For those of you who know how we function it will come as no surprise to learn that we have given away more publications than we will ever sell — more than 40 million. And, to a very large realistic degree, that suits us just fine. Most of the people to whom we minister really have no idea how much danger they are in. Remember the story of the Titanic? It was a fine, crisp April evening.  Dinner was ready and everyone but the lookout was safely situated somewhere warm and cozy.  Well, you know the rest of the story; within two hours of the bump and shudder, the whole pile of metal, with all its fancy trimmings, was two miles below the surface of the Atlantic. Isn't this the way most of us navigate through life?  We do our best to avoid the known dangers, those we can easily see, while always en route to the disaster lurking just around the bend or over the next wave … or just beyond the horizon.

Our jobs here in the office take on a two-fold measure. On the one hand we go out and minister to the people who live in the real world; those who perhaps struggle with very tangible hopelessness on a daily basis.  And on the other hand we attempt to minister to those who come to us. Never a day goes by without a call from someone dealing with a crisis of some kind; a life-threatening illness; a family grief; perhaps a crisis of faith.  Right here, imagine the worst thing that’s happening in your life, and realize that this is the kind of real life tragedy we try to help people through — every day.  Your troubles are not unique; they have their own peculiar sting, but most of the troubles on the planet are recycled ones.  Are you hungry?  Others know how that feels.  Lonely?  You are not alone.  Can't find a job?  Move over so someone else can fill out an application.

Often on the other end of the line is someone dealing with a question of Bible understanding: "What does this verse mean?"  We are occasionally a temporary sounding board off of which an idea may be bounced, just so someone can hear how it sounds when it comes back. The occasional Conspiracy Theory floats in and we might help a person determine if this idea is worth holding on to, or if they should dig a little deeper.  We don’t know everything, but we do hear stuff that’s floating around out there, and we can often politely point people in a direction where they can find out more.  No one of us "Knows it all," but hopefully we each know a little — right?

This year has seen trials and troubles of every kind and to every people. For many, this Christmas Season will be the first they will have to spend without their spouse; their parent; their child; their sibling.  It's interesting to me how keenly the loss is felt during these December weeks.  Does anyone really know why there is a tendency toward tears during this time which should be known for great rejoicing?  You can’t be everywhere, for everyone, but you can call someone's name in prayerIs there good Biblical counsel for weeping with those who weep?  Don't talk — just be.  Your shoulders may not be strong, but they may be the only support offered.

Tiny Tim, have the closing word for us.  “God bless us, everyone.”

And that's just my take on it ….

Friday, December 7, 2012

"A Secret Society?"

  •  By Tony Harriman  

Usually, when you think of the term "Secret Society," your mind conjures up images of Masonic rituals,  Coven sacrifices, the Illuminati, the Ku Klux Klan or other such mysterious or dangerous congregations.  You don't normally think of Christians as belonging to a "secret" club.  Unfortunately, though, in some parts of the world it is still dangerous to publicly express religious interest.  In the Middle East, China or some parts of Asia a Christian is not a welcomed member of society.  In those societies, the Christian must wisely remain somewhat hidden.

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The following thought has agitated me recently, and I'd like to give it wings.  I have wondered how the world might look if every member of the Christian Community across denominational lines were given the gifts with which the original first-century disciples were endowed; You know: healing, resurrection, exorcism, preaching, teaching, etc.  That might be a hard package to keep hidden, don't you think?  And if you had such gifts, would you even WANT to keep them to yourself?  Can you imagine ever again living a hum-drum life?

"But hold on," you say, "Are you thinking that if you could do that, and anyone gets sick, you're just gonna take the next train out to heal them?"

Well, maybe.  But if every church member had the gift, don't you think that you could find someone a little closer at hand to take care of the job?

Right now Christians are not so easy to spot in a crowd.  Granted, some members are stuck in a clothing style from another century, but they pretty much look like everyone else: two arms, legs … you get the idea.  Someone in the cheap seats pipes up and says, "You can identify them by the things they don't do."  Perhaps.  But let me suggest this, if any single one of those Christians in the crowd had the gifts listed above, you'd be able to recognize that person, not by the things he or she didn't do, but by the things they DID do.  Wouldn't you agree?

"So we're just going to get the gift, then go out and heal all the sick people.  Is that what you're saying?  Someone dies and we just show up to bring 'em back?"  

Well, if I had the gift of healing, I'd probably find it difficult to park myself on the couch with beer and crackers watching Jerry Springer, don't you think?  Can you imagine ever again having trouble getting out of bed in the morning?

"But if we lived in a world with no sickness, no death, we wouldn't long for Heaven."  

Really?  Is that all you need to keep you here in this broken-down world?  No need for a health system or undertakers?  You'll turn a blind eye to all the vice and heartbreak going on behind closed doors.  All you want is a bit of money in the bank, a job, a home, three meals a day and two weeks' vacation a year, and you'll be settled for eternity.  Well, good luck with that.  You sound a bit like the person singing the song in "My Fair Lady:"

"All I want is a place somewhere — far away from the cold night air — a place that we can share — oh, wouldn't it be luverly."

It seems to me that if human beings truly were created in the image of God — lightning rods for His Spirit — then it won't matter what religious software is running between our ears.  A willingness to be a channel for God appears to be the only handwriting left off of the Baptismal Certificate, and is probably the only ink actually needed to explain the job description.  I imagine it must take a lot of restraint on the part of God to resist the desire to burst out of a person and fix something awful.

"Tony, you sound far too simplistic for my liking."

Well, I apologize for that.  But like I said above, the missing ingredient of the gifts of the Spirit agitates me.  Perhaps I've seen more than I care to of the pain and heartbreak of this world — not just in my own life, but in the life of everyone I know and beyond.  Perhaps I'm fearful of the world awaiting my kids.  Yes, I'm familiar with the text which indicates that perfect love casts out fear.  But I don't yet have that perfect love, so here I am looking forward to a better world while I take care where I put my feet in this one.

This is going to sound heretical, and in another century I would have been hung for suggesting such a notion, but I imagine that people with the above-mentioned gifts of the Spirit would have little time — or, perhaps, need — for attending church.  These people would be too busy walking beside their own local "Pool of Bethesda" searching for people to restore.  Hmm, you're right, it is a strange notion; perhaps I'll just leave it out of the writing.

Oh … Secret Societies — get back on track, Tony.  It does seem to me like Christianity shouldn't be something you have to ask a person about, as if you were asking what he or she prefers for breakfast or lunch.  It seems to me that a person full of the Spirit would be easily identifiable to any other person filled with the same Spirit.  Just like when you go to Europe and get around a tour group visiting Paris, London or Rome; German-speaking people eventually gravitate toward each other, as do the French, the English, Italians, etc.  As soon as they open their mouths, it becomes clear how you can communicate with them.  A Spirit-filled individual will have a speech and a presence about them that might be completely unobserved by the general populace.  It's likely that Jesus would have been lost in a crowd … until He stopped … and started speaking.  Though, interestingly enough, even the Roman guards (likely not full of the Spirit), who were well used to people trying to stir up the population, could tell that this Man was not like the rest of the crowd.  That observation is worth parking on for more than a moment.

Secret Societies seem to live on the fringes of society; JUUUUST inside the law, but only just.  Secret Societies don't want just anyone in their services observing their rituals.  Secret Societies are tolerated only as long as they aren't out stringing up the Catholics or the Jews or the Africans.  We have learned to be disgusted by these behaviors — at least most of us have.  As long as we remember that these people were once here, we can somewhat assure that they don't return to power.

My Christian walk has been an interesting one.  I have met people in the congregation whose only purpose in life is not to heal, but to tell the rest of the world how right they are about what they believe, and how wrong everyone else is.  This kind of person is of the sort that if you share the same belief as he or she does, then they believe it and understand it better than you do.  This kind of person cares little for the feelings of others, especially those sharing the same church roof.  I have met people who have spent hours every day studying the Scriptures and books about the Scriptures; but some of these people possess the nastiest of dispositions, all you want to do is keep away from them.  There have also been some of the sweetest people I have ever met, who are usually not so familiar with Book/Verse and side of the page this or that particular text resides.

A knowledge of the Scriptures can be a very useful tool in your armory — but that knowledge is not the armory, any more than a shotgun is an arsenal.  It appears that Jesus was less interested in how well His disciples understood the Scriptures than He was in their willingness to go out and willingly share that which they had been freely given.  Doesn't that strike you as interesting?  It does me.

Once or twice in the Scriptures is a record of Jesus performing a miracle of healing, and telling all the witnesses to be quiet about it.  I'm afraid that request would be a tough one for me to obey.  If one of MY children should die and be restored to life, I think that would have to go on the "Praise List."  And if I should be delivered from leprosy, you can put money on me being found in the congregation — any congregation — the following Sabbath.  When Jesus' disciples were filled with His Spirit there was no way that fact was going to be kept secret.

"But the pouring out of the Spirit of God was only temporary.  The Spirit is not in the world today.  We must wait for the promise of the Latter Rain."

Yes, I've heard that.  And I honestly believe that notion should bother you, like it bothers me.   What portion of Scripture shall we extract to prop up our reality?  I have attended countless "annointings" of sick people who didn't get better.  Those of us in the room called upon God to heal each unfortunate soul.  We quoted the Scripture which asserts that "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much."  And the sick still didn't get better.  It took me a while to realize that there isn't a man (or woman) on the planet that is able (or ever has been able) to fulfill THAT requirement.  The only Person that can fill the shoes of the "righteous man" is the same Man that was the only individual qualified to cast that first stone at the adulteress.  But occasionally it seems that prayers are answered; the sick do get better.  Why didn't they have to "wait for the promise of the Latter Rain"?  What uncommon privilege was theirs?  Were they healed by chance?  Did their deliverance come as a surprise to God?  Did it have nothing to do with God — at all?  Why did the Spirit work here and not there?

Well, of course, we don't know — exactly.  Some things we'll just have to wait and have them explained to us.

The Spirit of God does appear, for the time being, to be somewhat of a well-kept secret, but I have a notion that this condition of things is about to change.

As a closing thought, perhaps we should consider that one of the best evidences we have that Jesus is not on the planet today is the fact that YOU don't know where He is.  You might more easily keep secret the whereabouts of Jesus than you could keep hidden a blaze in a fireworks factory.

On the other hand, though not here in person Himself, there appears to me to be nothing secret about the Society of Jesus.

And that's just my take on it ….

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Walls to Climb — Fences to Sit On"

By Tony Harriman  •

In a world without fences would be an interesting place to live, and I suppose we should include walls in the thought.  There are probably many more, but I can think of two sizable walls in our world: Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain, and the Great Wall of China.  The best theory put forth for the purpose of what was known as Hadrian's Wall was to keep out the barbarians — the Scots.  The Wall spans the entire width of the northern portion of England, and much of it survives to this day.  The vast Great Wall of China, so historians tell us, was designed to keep out various nomadic and warlike peoples seeking trouble wherever they went, most notably: the Mongolians.  Those who have been there tell us that the Great Wall of China can be seen from outer space; I'll have to take their word for that, but I'll be happy to check it out … as long as I don't have to pay the bill.

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Some walls, like the Berlin Wall, were designed to keep people in.  Although the Wall was constructed around free West Berlin, in effect the Wall prevented citizens of Soviet-controlled East Berlin and beyond from defecting into the West.  The Wall kept the people inside the Communist world behind the Iron Curtain.

Some fences keep bad dogs out; some keep bad dogs in.  And we're happy for both — mostly.  Some fences, like those found in zoos, keep the wild animals from tearing up the visiting public; while others are placed to protect the wildlife from poachers.  Most barriers have a purpose.

Walls and fences are constructed around prisons and detention centers to prevent inmates getting out and causing havoc among the rest of society.  I have sometimes found myself guilty of wishing there were walls and fences like these around some of the nations that spawn and engender hate groups bent on the destruction of anyone not believing the way they do.  But I have a hard time defending the concept, since there are many other people living in those nations that don't wish evil upon the rest of us in the free world.

Throughout all of Great Britain are dry stone walls made up of the rocks gathered from the land on which the walls themselves were built; they were built to keep valuable livestock from getting lost and wandering onto a neighbor's property.  The walls did a pretty decent job of keeping animals in, but did nothing to keep predators out, so if a wolf (once incredibly prevalent in Britain) or a fox got in among the sheep, the prey had no way of escape.  An interesting tidbit here is that a large number of the fields surrounded by the walls have a public right-of-way going through them, so that members of the public may enjoy almost all of the British countryside.  This concept is foreign to Americans, but very much missed by English people living in the USA.

In my short Christian walk, I have occasionally landed on the concept of the Law of God being a "hedge," or "wall" around those people who honor and keep that Law; a wall which keeps those within the wall safe from harm.  I'd like to take a moment and peel back some of the layers of that thought.

To dive right in, what harm might this "wall" or "hedge" keep someone safe from?  Surely the reference cannot be to anything physical.  The original "keepers" of the Law, the Israelites, suffered constant abuse at the hands of their oppressors.  "Only when they were disobedient," you say.  Really?  How will you demonstrate that?  Are we to believe that there were none in days of old who chose to honor the Law of God?  No Moses?  No Brother Job?  No nice young Joseph?  No Elijah?  All of these appeared to have been very special to God, wouldn't you say?  Half of the four were taken to Holy Heaven.  And shall we say that no physical harm befell them?  Even when the Israelites WERE obedient, shall we imagine that no one ever got sick, or died of old age?  Surely when Jesus was here it could have  been argued that if anyone could keep the Law properly, it was Him — No?  And did no evil befall the Son of God?  "He had to be sacrificed," you say.  Yes, but was it necessary for him to be slapped so hard that he should cry out, "If I've done evil, bear witness of that evil"?

Take a quick trip through the pages of time and see many of the faithful who have been fed to lions; burnt at the stake; crucified; slaughtered and burned in the Nazi ovens.  Will you be so self-righteous as to say that these had not the faith that "I" have.

So what shall we say that this Holy Law keeps us safe from?  Well, try this: it keeps us safe from self-inflicted pain; pain that comes from stealing, unfaithfulness, lying, cheating.  Add to the list that which perhaps brings the deepest heartache that a man can experience; that of trying to charge our batteries from a power source for which we are not fitted.  We were designed to be energized by the Breath of God — His Spirit.  This Spirit appears to be unlike any AC or DC we can imagine.  Trying to live any other way would be like trying to live solely on multi-vitamins.  This Spirit, which has neither name nor apparent origin, seems akin to that energy which emanates constantly from the sun; the same sun that is chased across the sky by mindless vegetation which has been programmed to feed off the free solar energy pouring down from the heavens.

No matter how much you dwell behind this wall, or fence, one day you are going to physically die.  Even now you are wasting away little by little.  Every year sees the loss of cell integrity throughout your physical frame, from your head to your feet.  But remember this: God cares less for your body than He does for your soul.  yes, you need your physical body to develop your soul, but in the world of the spirit, there is not so much need for a temple like the one you have now.

It seems, then, that the Law of God is designed to keep your soul safe behind the wall; but the wall will not keep you safe "physically" from your enemies.

Stories of God's protection are abundant on the lips of those who survive.  But what else do you expect?  What shall we say of the hundreds of thousands whose voices are silent, having been washed away by the tsunami?  What testimony has been borne by those buried and perished beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers?  Are we to believe that these many souls had not the faith to be saved?  Those who survive rarely attribute the saving of their lives to some act of faith on their part, and are often bewildered as to why they should have been spared in the first place.  The many records of those who did go down in faith have been sealed by their executioners, and shall we be brazen enough to suggest that such a fate awaits not my life?  There are people living today who have seen such inhumanity on the planet they believed they would never see.  Just because the pain hasn't yet come by your door is no cause for you to believe that it never will.

A little side turn here — sort of.  In past posts to this Blog I have mentioned one of our dogs, Lucy, who was a wanderer and a thief.  This was the dog that would return home from who-knows-where with a boot, a fluffy toy, a used diaper, a dead chicken — whatever.  We had no idea how far she wandered; certainly further than our immediate neighbors, because I tried on occasion to return the things she had stolen, without success.  Well, a week ago she returned home with a gunshot wound; it could have been something else, but to us it looked like what it was.  The wound was bad enough that it would have cost hundreds of dollars just to go through the first layer to find out what the real internal damage was.  The option we chose was to have her put to sleep.  Though the decision was painful, it was reasonable; patching her up would not have been a fix for her nature.  Lucy didn't care about fences; she could go over or under any obstacle in her quest to steal something that was not hers.  Sure, we could spend a fortune and build a fence that could keep in ANY animal, and keep out ANY predator, but Lucy's heart was always pining for that greener stuff on the other side.  We miss her, and try to think only of the things we loved about her.  But living outside the fence ultimately caused her death.

It doesn't appear to me that the Law of God is something designed to keep ANYTHING in or out.  A man or woman is free at any time to pass right through this invisible fence, either way.  The only thing the wall does is keep safe the soul of anyone WILLINGLY behind it.  That which cannot be seen or handled — our souls — will never be harmed by those who have no respect for the wall.  And don't be surprised when you see an intruder behind the fence.  Someone once said that churches are full of intruders, only seen properly when the light shines.

Though I really don't like them, I tolerate walls and fences — for now.  But I must admit, I am looking forward to a world which has no need for such divisions.  Bring it on.

And that's just my take on it ….

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The Sound of Music"

By Tony Harriman  •  

Anyone who knows me even a little bit will realize that I am somewhat of a music-lover.  I enjoy music in my life; all kinds of music.  Well, perhaps not all kinds, but certainly a fair smattering of music from around the globe.  For many years, every time I have visited a foreign country, I have tried to bring back a CD containing some of the traditional local fare of music; not what's currently in the pop chart, but the kind of music the locals think of when they try to "picture" in their ears what their country's music sounds like.  In my collection I have music from, to name few, Greenland, Slovakia, Malta, India and the Caribbean.  Some of it I like better than others, but I appreciate it all.

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Growing up as a child in London, I and my little playground buddies were very familiar with the music of the Beatles, and many Beatle tunes and lyrics are still very familiar to me.  You have to imagine that, as a child, I had a very simple picture in my mind as to what the lyrics meant.  I didn't, for instance, paint any of the songs with a "Dark" paintbrush; that is to say that Eleanor Rigby was a song about the characters being named; Penny Lane was a song about a road in Liverpool (which I have actually visited), etc., etc.  So when these songs are played in my hearing today, my mind takes a quick journey through time and lands in a world where ALL of the people I have loved are still very much alive and well; things all of a sudden are painted with "simpler" brushes; any pain I might have to deal with can be fixed with a little antiseptic and a Band Aid.  These are the images that fill my head when the music plays.

Many of us have had the experience where we find ourselves singing along when the playing of a song floats into our ears.  It's almost impossible to not join in with a chorus that is familiar to us.  We might not know all the right words, but singing along, even in our heads, is something that can be easily done while we are also engaged in any number of other things.  That's interesting to me.

The appreciation, or distaste for, music is a very subjective emotion; and I think "emotion" would be the right word.  Not all music shares the same devotees, and that's okay; we don't all enjoy classical music, or folk music, pop, rap.  There are lots of different styles of music, and if the type you like doesn't exist — well, then, just create it; it's waiting for you to give it life.

This short writing is not meant to be a critique of the many different styles of music, or a condemnation of the lifestyles of many musicians, so if you're looking for information to use in a Pop-bashing Seminar, here would be a good spot to exit.

However, I would like to share an observation that I've thought about for a while.  It goes something like this: Music is everywhere — whether you want it or not.  Just about every public place is offering up some form of music or muzak.  Often times it's called elevator music, because it's even playing in the ….  Well, you get the idea.  Turn on the radio and you expect to hear music playing, but it's even playing behind the ads.  Turn on the TV and it's the same.  Next time you're watching the commercials, if you have such a notion, count how many commercials are advertising products without the use of music to carry them along.  Walk through the shopping mall with your ears open; Sit and listen in any one of a thousand waiting rooms.  Then I challenge you to look around and count how many people do NOT have some device plugged into their ears.

I don't for a minute think there is any dark intent on the part of the people who "manage" public trends, but, seriously, if someone in charge of "controlling" the masses hasn't recognized the potential of music for preventing people from "thinking," then they have missed a serious opportunity.  I have friends who see the inroads of Communism and Socialism in the agendas being put forth by various politicians around the world, but don't seem to have noticed that a potential exists of our own creating.  If the Communistic powers-that-be can simply stop the people from "thinking," then half the job of takeover is done.  I hate to hear myself saying this, because I really do enjoy the presence of music in my life, but from time to time I would like to hear a little more silence, so that I can take the time between my ears to sort out some of the bigger issues like how to keep my kids safe; how I can plan for the future.  Simply put, I'd like more space to think about things that matter.  I'm not so interested in a constant diet of boyfriend, girlfriend, party time, wife running off with the truck and the dog, drinking beer and going fishing, as important as these may be to the people affected.

All the while a song is playing with which we are familiar, we have very little choice but to sing or hum along.  Even if you know nothing about it, the spaced repetition of the song guarantees that you will at some point be familiar with the basic melody.  And once that happens, your thinking will be limited any time you are out in public.  I know it sounds radical, but a simple test you might consider applying to yourself is to try and calculate any math formula in your mind — not on paper — while you are exposed to music in public.

At the time of this writing, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl is lying unconscious in a hospital bed in Birmingham, England, having been shot in the head by people who are afraid of a blog she shares with anyone who cares to read it.  The blog criticizes the interference of the Taliban in the affairs of Pakistani public education, among other things.  The Taliban see no need for the education of young girls, and they are afraid of this brave youngster — because SHE … is not afraid of them.  Forgive my candor, but given the time to "think," any one of us might be stirred just enough to try to find a sensible, enduring way to put an end to this foolishness being dished out by emotionally insecure Middle Eastern and Asian males.  But for now our heads are full of our favorite sport, our favorite politician, our favorite country, our favorite music, and on and on and on.  As long as it doesn't really matter, THAT seems to be what we are being geared to think about.  The health of our minds, our bodies and our souls are given very little attention by most of us.  If we wait for the mainstream media to start looking out for the things that REALLY matter, we'll have to wait until the trend becomes profitable, because right now there appears to be very little profit in reporting on anything that amounts to more than a hill of beans.

Perhaps I should take a page out of my own criticism, and put into practice the advice above: if it doesn't exist — create it, just like making that music we want to hear.  Perhaps we shouldn't have to wait until someone gets off the couch and does something that matters.  Perhaps it can start with you — with me — whoever.  'Cause if someone doesn't wake up, we're all gonna drown in the sewage being pumped into our eyes and ears.

This short post started out as a piece on music, but has developed into what amounts to the possible exposure of a conspiracy to shut down the human mind from asking questions.  Not sure how I feel about all that.  That's not where I was headed at all.

The United Negro College Fund adopted a slogan a few years ago which ran like this: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," to which I say a hearty "Amen!"  Once it's gone, it's gone, and it will never come back.  One day we're all likely to get old and, in spite of our best efforts, feeble.  While we have a mind is clearly the best time to use it — right?

And that's just my take on it ….

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