Friday, August 31, 2012

"Your Wish Is My Command?"

By Tony Harriman  •  

If God were to answer my prayers just the way I wanted, what a wonderful world we all would live in.  No one would ever get sick; there would be no more accidents; no more hunger; no more drought.  In fact, the way the world would run would be an absolute utopia.  And I dare say, if God were just a little more like me, He'd get things running smoothly in a heartbeat.  All this planet-and-people-wearing-out stuff, that would stop immediately.

Many of us have, at many times, wondered why God hasn't answered our prayers in the specific way we asked.  I mean, we are fully up to speed with the need of the situation; we know all the details; we've laid the dilemma out before the Lord.  He'll be able to see in the twinkling of an eye that we're praying in the right way.  But  … what's that … someone else got the job?  I'll have to replace the car that can't be fixed? The sickness won't go away?  My loved one died?  I must not have prayed hard enough.  Maybe my life is too screwed up for God to answer my prayers — maybe He doesn't even notice me.

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It's hard enough down here having to fix our own gutters and broken-up cement walkways.  But when our heavenly insurance policy won't pay up … well, that's too expensive a lottery ticket to just toss away.

It seems so often that we are only too happy to have God living in some corner of our lives, when He's watching over our affairs and loved ones.  We'll pay our tithes, give our offerings, attend church and participate in lesson studies and evangelistic meetings.  But let God "screw up" just once, and we're outta here.  We've given too much of our lives to this movement for our efforts not to be noticed.  Sickness, sadness, accident or disaster are not on my prayer list; so God, you take care of those for me, thank you very much.

Well, I hope you've managed to picture me with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.  As much as I feel it would be wise for God to see things the same way I do, I'm smart enough to know that it's probably not going to work out that way.

Can you imagine how the world would look if God were to answer every one of your prayers in just the way you requested?  At first you'd start with the reasonable prayers: let the world be enlightened with glory from Your throne; clean up the hearts of human beings; fix the things that are wrong with the natural world; show us how to end pollution.  You know, all the top-of-the-list sensible requests.  Once we'd got all the high-stakes business taken care of, we'd start to move down the line a little: clean up my neighborhood; spruce up my house; keep the weeds out of my yard; stop the wasps from building homes under my deck and behind the window shutters.  Then we'd start to get specific: keep the mosquitoes away; keep the frogs and crickets a little quieter at night; stop the neighbor playing that awful music at one in the morning.

The refinements one can make to a prayer list to be given to a Being Who can fix it just the way you like it appear to me to be endless.  Fallen man has this strange frame of mind that tells him everyone will be happier with things just the way "I" like them.  Our spouse will be reprogrammed to snore a little quieter; be a little more sensitive to my needs; dress a little differently; be a little taller — shorter; style their hair in this or that particular way; weigh this much less — or more.  Our children will be so mentally and socially adjusted that they will listen only to the kind of music I enjoy; read just the kinds of books I like; drive the way I do; watch only the kind of TV I'm interested in; pick the boyfriend/girlfriend of which I approve.  Before long we would stand in front of the mirror each morning and start making genetic adjustments to our own appearance: a little more hair; a little less gray; more muscle here; less fat there; legs a little longer, or shorter; this area a little bigger; that area a little smaller.  And on and on and on and on.

I don't doubt for a moment that God can make our day in a thousand different ways.  So why doesn't He?  I have no idea.  Could He be too busy with other things?  Unlikely.  But there is definitely some program running that won't allow things to play out just the way I think they should.  My opinion on the way the earth turns doesn't appear to make the front page of the "Daily Universe."  I imagine it barely gets into the Personal Column, but that's about as far as it goes.

Someone wrote a song once which I think was entitled "Thank God for Unanswered Prayers."  The idea being played out in the song is that there was a time when I felt this was the way for things to work out; now God … handle it … Amen!  But later on, looking at the way things likely would have turned out, the bigger blessing came from God choosing to ignore our desperate plea.  I have a feeling there's an awful lot of wisdom spilling into our ears while this song is playing.  Picture it: half our life spent praying for this or that; the other half being spent praying for this or that … to be undone.

We have a mandate from Jesus to pray to the Father in His name.  If there were no need of prayer, Jesus would not have counseled us to do it.  Jesus prayed to the Father.  He taught us how to pray.  We are to pray for things we need.  We should pray for each other.  Pray for our leaders.  And leave the results with God.  We have no clue what will prosper or pick up speed; maybe it all will.  Maybe none of it will bear any fruit at all.  But prayers made to God seem to me to be like requests for money made to rich people; we make the request because this person has the power to fulfill the need, and if the response should be in our favor, there is cause for rejoicing; if not … well, we'll deal with that when we come to it.

Some years ago I found a small leather plaque at an outdoor market in England which I have kept with me along my journey.  It reads like this:

"Let us then be up and doing
With a heart for any fate.
Let us learn to labour and to wait."

The humble art of agriculture has been so far removed from the mind of the average person, that we have very little patience for the natural development of just about anything.  And thus we have no time, nor sense, for the things of the Spirit to work themselves out.

It perhaps is no accident that the word in the Spanish language for "hope" is the same word as "wait" — Esperar.

I have a sense that, on the other side, when we get our fifteen minutes of "Why," we'll have opportunity to see how much more miserable we could have been if things had worked out just the way we thought they should have.  And also why some of our prayers … were totally ignored.

And that's just my take on it ….


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Ultimate 'GPS' System"

By Tony Harriman  •  

When you think of the word "lost," a whole series of thoughts come to mind: "I lost my keys;" "We lost the cellphone signal;" "We took a wrong turn and now we're lost;" "The ship is lost at sea;" "Lost in love;" "We lost the game;" "The dog went chasing after another dog, now he's lost."  These and many others help us to understand our relationship with something we once enjoyed or once had, or could have had; now it's gone, perhaps only for now — perhaps forever.

When you step into the world of religion, "lost" can take on a whole different meaning.  In Christianity, lost is something to be avoided at any cost.  Lost is a phenomenon the Christian devotes his or her life to the saving of, if it be possible.  Lost is that sheep the shepherd goes out to find.  Lost is the soul that strays from the straight and narrow.  Lost is the one who goes into the grave without Jesus in his or her life.

But what are these lost ones … lost from?  Are we part of some game being played, and we're the pieces?  Are we the wager?  Are the lost dealt some kind of losing hand that never has a chance of winning?

It's a little risky, but I'm going to air out some thoughts for which I currently have no conclusion.  Perhaps in trying to find the right words, something will get clearer for me.  Supposedly this is good therapy — for something.  Here goes:

From our earthly perspective, it is easier to get lost than to stay on any kind of course.  The more the road weaves or the terrain changes, the more likely we are to lose our sense of direction.  "Keep your eye on the sun," I hear someone say, "Get a bearing and keep that heading."  That philosophy is fine until you get into a place like England or the northwestern USA, under almost total cloud cover much of the time, where east looks exactly like north, south and west.  Navigating through mazes was once an extremely popular pastime for the upper classes in Europe, and the inability to know your direction could turn out to be a near-fatal setback.  A person can be at a great disadvantage if he or she cannot see the sky.

From God's perspective, nothing has been lost from His attention — ever.  It doesn't matter how deep you go, or how high you climb; or, Brother Jonah, how far away your ship is sailing.  If it were possible for us to get stranded somewhere on the other side of the galaxy, we would then be able to accurately say that we are lost, since we have no chart to get us home.  However, our coordinates would not be unknown to God, the only One with a map of everything that has ever existed.  We might say that God has the ultimate GPS system (we should probably call it a "Universal" — "UPS" system, since it's far more than Global), and every — every — microscopic droplet has its own activated DNA/RFID tag programmed into that system.  God has no trouble locating even a hair that might have strayed from your head … anywhere … anytime.  Now, that's a big thought — for us; but not for God.

When we say a person is lost, what in the world do we mean by that?  The Bible says Jesus came to seek and to save the "lost."  Did He find them?  If He did, can they still be lost?  If He didn't find them, why didn't He?  How can someone be "lost" when they have been found by God?  Sounds like double-talk, doesn't it?  "Semantics!" I hear someone whimper from the cheap seats.  But I ask you, if the answer to a simple question doesn't lie on the surface, what on earth is the meaning that Jesus is trying to get across?  In the parable, the shepherd found the lost sheep.  In another parable, the lady found the lost coin.  In yet another, after finding the jewel, the entire field was bought.  The only questionable parable appears to be the one where the fig tree is given one more year to bring forth a fig, and if barren after that — chop!  The parable is not given the ink to develop itself, so we have to make interpretations that suit our inquisitive minds.

Who are "the lost"?

Let me do some thinking aloud:  Perhaps the lost are those who are going about their business from day to day like that numberless group of people who were killed at the flood.  The Scripture record is that the antediluvians (those who lived before the flood) took care of their affairs without a clear comprehension of what was about to tumble from the sky.  Sure, they'd heard the banging and cutting going on during the building of the Ark, but any warning of what the Ark would be needed for fell largely on deaf ears.  Perhaps this mindset fills the majority of us on the planet; we scrape by day after day, year after year, largely unaware of the Main Event approaching the galactic horizon, namely, the Second-coming of Christ.  It seems that much of the Christian world gives little air-time to the very event the early believers lived for — the return of their Lord.

Here's a scary thought: those who were closest to Jesus were the ones who ran the farthest when He was taken by the mob to Pilate and Herod — with the exception of John, who somehow managed to avoid an inquisition like that which Peter later regretted.  These men who had seen so much demonstration from the heavenly realm were likely bewildered as to why Jesus would allow Himself to be taken like that.  But were they lost?  They may have lost sight of Jesus, but He had not lost sight of them — right?  After the resurrection, Jesus took great steps to convince these bedraggled-in-spirit traitors that there was a place for them in His Kingdom.  He even walked all the way to Emmaus in order to strengthen the faith of two outer-edge disciples, only one of whom we have a name for.  If you'll check it out you'll find that Emmaus is a 7-mile walk from Jerusalem.  Perhaps more interesting is that when the three travelers arrived in Emmaus, two of them walked all the way back to Jerusalem, filled with the excitement of the knowledge of their risen Lord.

Were these disciples lost?  Well, they had definitely lost their way somewhere along the road, but with the exception of Judas, all were given an opportunity to get back on the path that led to life.  They jumped at this second chance, and each remained faithful till the day of their death.

So, are we to say that faithfulness is what prevents a person from being lost?  That would definitely thin out the genetic pool that will make it through the Pearly Gates.  But faithfulness to what?  Suppose you live in some section of the world that knows — or cares — very little, if anything, about the Christian and his ways?    Shall we consider the possibility that God has completely lost track of the Chinese mountain people?  Could the fundamental Muslim be so entrenched in his ways that he has dropped completely off the celestial radar? Is anything like that even remotely possible?  I doubt it.  Remember, "God so loved the world that He gave His only …."  Jesus didn't come into the world to save the righteous (if there is such a person); He came to heal those who needed a doctor.

I have believed for a long time (and the belief appears to be getting stronger with time) that the worse we are — I mean the more sinful and troublesome we are — the closer God gets to us, not to hurt us … but to save us.  I get a picture in my mind of this bright red "X" that lights up on the radar screen once we get in range.  The call goes out, "Man overboard!  All hands on deck!"  Every effort is made to get the drifter into the safe, dry lifeboat.

There's another word we'll have to kick around another time: "saved."  Who are "the saved"?  And how do they get that way?

I'm not sure any of these questions are any clearer than they were.  maybe in your mind they didn't need to be asked in the first place.  Perhaps you're right.  For now this conversation is sounding far too preachy and intellectual.  And that really doesn't suit me — at all, so I'm going to hang this up here.

I completely lost track of time for a while there.  Whole lotta losing going on.

Just my take on it ….


Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Naturally Speaking"

By Tony Harriman  •  

When it comes to a matter of taste, planet earth offers lots of choices:  food, clothing, music, decoration, lifestyle, landscaping, etc., etc.; the list goes on.

Right now I'm sitting on the back deck enjoying the sights and sounds brought in by all the natural elements of the Southern United States.  The turn of the season is just over the hill, and before we know it, fall will be here with its cooler temperatures.  There is a stillness in the air which has to be lived to be appreciated, so any words I might assemble here would be a waste of time.

The stillness of nature is somewhat of an illusion, because below the surface some of the most incredible math unknown to man is busily playing its music.  The osmosis and photosynthesis of nature is virtually a non-stop highway providing for myriad forms of life.  Most of us don't have the time to study out how the planet "works" — what makes it tick — we have to rely on the studies of others, and that's okay.  It's interesting, though, the things you pick up along the way and store in some corner of the mind regarding how things function in the natural world.  For instance:

I read somewhere once that the average fully-grown tree, through the process of osmosis, will draw out of the ground and send forth into the atmosphere through its leaf system more than one-hundred gallons of water — per day!  It's easier to picture that process in some parts of the world rather than others, but that's what the brainy folks tell us.  I also once learned that oxygen is a by-product (some call it a waste product) of photosynthesis.  So I suppose we should be grateful to the green vegetation that it doesn't make a use for the oxygen through some ecologically-friendly oxygen-recycling process, since we air-breathers can't live without it.

But whatever is going on under the microscope, on the surface nature can be a very peaceful place.  But not necessarily peaceful for everyone.  Some years ago I was living in a small country community just outside London; I loved it.  But one day a young lady moved into the community from New York City and she had the hardest time settling down into the quietness that was spilling out everywhere.  I mean, outside at night you could have heard a pin drop at fifty paces; on a moonless night there was darkness like many people have never experienced, except, perhaps, those who live in North Korea (you'll have to check that out).  This young lady was most uneasy with the dark and stillness.  She had been used to a city "…that never sleeps."  There were no bright lights providing safety from some imagined threat or other.

Many years ago I was introduced to the concept of the Sabbath rest.  A day when the Creator of everything we can think of and more gave permission to His human creation to take the day off.  I'm talking about the original Saturday Sabbath rest — the one that was given at the end of the Creation week, not the more modern Christ-Resurrection Memorial Sunday.  These two days are not the same; one was given by God, the other was ordained by man.  I don't suppose God is too terribly troubled that the latter has a place on our calendar, but I imagine He is somewhat disappointed that we don't get the rest that He originally ordained.  That's a topic for another discussion.

I've wondered how the day might play out if Jesus were to one day step out of the darkness with which we have surrounded ourselves and wish to spend the day with us — individually, with me or you or whoever.  Just one day out of our lives would be spent in the presence of the Creator.  I've wondered if He would like to spend that day on some city street corner watching the hustle and bustle.  Perhaps.  If He had something to tell us He would like for us to remember, I wonder if He wouldn't take us where there are fewer distractions, namely, out into what Bible writers referred to as "the wilderness" — the countryside.  Well, I honestly imagine it would depend upon the individual in question.  Because as much as I enjoy the greenery around my home, I have been guilty many times of wandering about the place with my thoughts immersed, not in the creative glory of God, but in how I might transform that ugly area over there into something easier on the eye.  A person living in the city would likely not have that distraction.

Perhaps we'll talk about country living versus city living some other time.

It's so much easier to discuss the concept of "What Would Jesus Do?" once you have removed the possibility of personal taste, in other words, take the "you" out of the equation.    Perhaps the slogan would better be worded as, "What Would Jesus Like Me To Do?" because there are a thousand different ways to get something done that aren't "wrong."  Hundreds of languages on the planet can use a whole different way of describing a thing or an event.  What is it about us that persistently tells us "mine" is the best way?   Isn't it interesting that 7 billion unrighteous souls can each find their own self-righteous way of behaving.  I guess you can say there are 7 billion+ ways of doing it wrong.

I believe that many things may be learned about the nature of God by observing the nature God has made.  The simplicity yet complexity of the organism of the planet is awe-inspiring, and reveals (at least it does to me) that there is very little random being played out at all.  No, I take that back; we do see a lot of random, but it's not at the level of the very big, or the very small.  The rocks strewn around and the untidy bedrooms and garages are mostly on the in-between human level, where man has a level of control.

The places on the planet where things have room to grow might be known as the areas that "give."  The man-made towns and cities of our world, needing to be constantly supplied, would better be known as the places that "take."  Man adds very little, if anything, to the mechanism of nature; on the contrary, man mostly exploits the land of the planet, then moves on.  So if you want to learn about man, go to where you can see his handiwork; if you want to learn about God, go to where you can see His.

Recently I have taken some time to learn a little more about the ecology of the planet, and right here is an excellent place to drop in a thought that lit up for me.  Visiting an arboretum gives you an opportunity to study vegetation, not ecology, since none of the plants are in their natural environments.  Visiting a church gives you an opportunity to study doctrine and religion, not God, since none of the lessons can be studied in context.  I see the head of a wiggly worm, so I'll ask Pandora to quickly shut the lid.

Now, all this is not to say that God is more interested in veggies than He is in Man.  Since God sacrificed for mankind the one thing that was more important to Him than anything else — His Son, shouldn't we conclude that there is nothing more important to God than Man?

What more can God do?  He made us; provides for us; sacrificed for us; is coming back for us.  Maybe we'd finally be happy if He would just move over and share with us the Throne.  Now there's a thought.

And that's just my take on it ….

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"A Matter of Influence"

By Tony Harriman  • 

One of the major differences between driving a vehicle in the USA and driving in the UK is the path the driver takes to get from point "A" to point "B."  In many of the more modern cities in the USA the roads are laid out almost completely straight at right angles in a grid-like fashion.  If you stand at the top end of 1st Avenue in Harlem, New York, you can look down the street and see (if you have good enough eyes) all the way to Houston Street in The Bowery.  That's a distance of six and a half miles.  There are other examples, but this one works well.  By contrast, with the exception of a stretch of the A15 in the North Midlands of England, almost all the roads in the UK weave from beginning to end.  The motorways between cities are a little better, but not so in town.  Some of the smaller villages and hamlets are no real challenge to anyone who can turn a vehicle around, but get into London, and … phew! … you could spend the rest of your life getting from Piccadilly Circus to the Elephant and Castle.  I kid you not.

Part of the reason London is the way it is, is that the city is composed of fifty historic villages which, over many, many years, have grown across each other's front and back yards.  London's roads were originally established around some ornament of architecture or other: a church; a water fountain; horse trough, or whatever, and once paved, the plot of the road remained.  Drivers through London today find themselves constantly working the steering wheel.

Constant course correction on any type of journey is a must.  Why?  Because of changing circumstances; in the London example — a change in the direction of the road.  But it's not just the east, north or south of the road that dictates the behavior of the driver; even a slight change in the level of the road requires a correction at the steering wheel.  The slightest of breezes across the path of the vehicle can cause a major shift in direction.  Anyone who's ever flown across the continent may remember that a head or tail wind will lengthen or shorten your trip, because of resistance or assistance caused by the wind.

I read about a curious phenomenon once upon a time years ago:  If a ship, sailing on the calmest of seas, should be visited by a common seagull, and that seagull should land on the passenger guard rail of the ship, then that seagull would cause the ship to list to such a degree that an adjustment would have to be made to the rudder.  Admittedly, the adjustment would be incredibly slight, but if left uncorrected, the ship would not arrive at its intended destination, no matter how true the original course.  Needless to say, the greater the length of the journey, the greater the chance of getting off track.  Right here is played out a better argument for the Big Bang Theory than is played out in the favor of Evolution Theory, both of which, by the way, are totally at odds with each other.  Food for another discussion — some other time.

During the few short years of my life I have cut down more than a handful of trees; some large; some small.  Most of the trees have landed where I intended; some seemed to have a plan to do otherwise and that was all there was to it.  Usually those in this latter group take the more time to clean up, having caused somewhat of a disaster.  There is a point in the tree-cutting process where you have at least some control over trajectory, and that is … early on.  If the tree is mainly up and down, then usually just a nudge is all that's needed to cause it to behave somewhat predictably.  In other words: drop where you want it to.  But some trees may be so misshapen at the top that it doesn't matter how big of a wedge you cut in the base, what little we know of the physics of gravity is going to bring that tree down where it tendeth.  If all the weight is leaning out to the left, that's the way it's going to fall.  You can tie a rope around the tree and pull it more or less where you want it, and in most cases that's all you need to do.  Some people won't cut down trees during windy weather, and this is generally a good rule.  But the wind can sometimes help you drop the tree in a place that it would not normally fall.  Gotta be kinda skillful for that, though, because, since we can't predict where the wind will list, it might not blow right when you need it to.

One might think that these simple observations have nothing to do with our lives in general.  But I think otherwise.  No matter our age, we generally have a course plotted for some portion of our lives.  As children, we have very few needs; as long as we're fed, cleaned and napped, all is well.  As we grow, we develop a plan to get our hands on that particular toy or item of interest, in the playpen or on the beach — doesn't matter; if we want it, we want it, and that's it.  We get older, the toys change, but pretty much the mentality stays the same.  Just the playground that gets bigger.

One of the greatest illusions common to man is that we believe we have absolute control over our course through life.  What I mean by that is that we have a goal, that's what we want, and that's where we're headed — everybody get out of the way.  But things rarely turn out the way we planned; it's just the way life goes.  I often tell people the last time I felt I had a pretty good grip on life was the day before my oldest child started walking.  Since then life has been pretty much how I imagined life with children would be: a long series of unexpected events.  There is no across-the-board handbook for parenthood.  We pray for wisdom, patience and a decent portion of good health, and then we launch out day by day.

A little brain diversion here (sort of): Suppose you could dig a perfectly straight hole through the earth from New York to Sydney, and then you jump into that hole.  What might you expect?  Well, here's how the theory goes: at the beginning of your journey you will be descending at an accelerating speed which is dictated by the force of gravity (I forget all the math — doesn't matter).  As soon as you reach the center of your journey you begin to decelerate as you start to go up.  And you keep on going up because of the velocity you have developed from initially being pulled down by the force of gravity.  When you eventually reach Sydney (and you will reach Sydney), your journey will have taken you forty-two minutes.  And here's the really interesting sidekick to this math in action:  If you were to dig a hole from New York to Los Angeles or London or Paris or Moscow, and if it were possible to jump into that hole and travel through that hole without scraping the sides, your journey would take you — forty-two minutes.  The math is so calculable that the duration of the journey may be very accurately predicted.  This same math allows scientists and astronomers to drive satellites and probes through the solar system without hitting anything.

The bottom line: we go through life constantly navigating either around some phenomenon or toward one.  The people we meet act like the breezes, always affecting our path, always causing us to make a decision; sometimes a correction; sometimes not.  The people we love — and the people we don't — make our path to be winding … or not so, and there really is nothing we can do about that.  Perhaps it would be well for us to realize that as much as people have an effect on us, we also have an effect on them. We apply the Balm of Blessing or the Balm of Pain simply by our very existence in the life of another.

Right now your path may be a rocky one.  Here you are stumbling from one sorrow to another.  Over some aspects of your life you have no control whatsoever.  One day all this pain will end; our Heavenly Father has guaranteed that.  You may not feel very brave at times.  Nevertheless, keep going.  I'm reminded of a few words spoken by … Winston Churchill, I think it was … he said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

If, by some fortunate set of circumstances, you find yourself living a charmed life, and you have everything you need and more, do take time to look around and see if there is some poor wretch who might benefit from your outstretched hand of offering.  If your situations were to be reversed would you not be praying for some generous soul like you to step into your life?

And never, under any circumstances, underestimate your influence.

Just my take on it ….

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Thanks, But No Thanks, for the Memories …"

By Tony Harriman  •

I've thought long and hard about what memories I should like to keep throughout eternity; and I have to be honest, there are a few, but there really aren't many.  Even during my best of times, somewhere out there many poor souls were suffering under some burden or other.  As a child, while I was celebrating a birthday, eating cake and tearing open presents wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, some poor urchin somewhere on the planet was one morsel of food away from perishing.  As I slept long in my cozy bed because I had nothing better to do that particular morning, some unfortunate wretch somewhere on the planet was throwing wet cardboard boxes together to make a home on the hard ground.

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Without a doubt, I am grateful to God that He doesn't appear to regret my existence, and I shall be happy to one day stand humbly in His presence.  But I imagine there will come a day when He will be happy for me to lift up my head, quit whining, and live like He intended me to live — noble, elevated, intelligent.  Yes, forever grateful — but not spending my days weeping over what I was delivered from.

I have no desire to remember how pathetic my behavior has been on this planet.  Seriously, some of you reading this have known me a long time and can testify to how selfish I was as a teenager.  I have a cousin still in my orbit who knew me when I lived in London as a child.  Talk about a child who kept alive the art of eye-rolling ….

Recently the drinking water filter under the sink in our kitchen gave up the proverbial ghost and offered up water which was … shall we say … less than wholesome.  Because of the old-fashioned manner in which the filter had been plumbed in, I had to completely install an entirely different system (and that's cutting a very long story very short).   A week after starting the venture, I finally got all the parts I needed (to say nothing of the time necessary for the unreasonable parts of the job) and enjoyed the first glass of some of the finest water I had tasted in a long time.

The thing about filters (those that filter out the things we shouldn't ingest) is that they make wholesome that which otherwise would be harmful to us, by capturing and containing the ingredients that would normally be hurtful.  There are, of course, many levels of straining.  Some products are not much better than an average coffee filter, while others (usually quite expensive) remove even micro-ingredients from the solution being filtered.  Some filters, such as some high-end charcoal filters, will remove just about every molecule from the water with the exception of the H20 itself.  It's amazing.

There are other kinds of filters designed to screen out what's known as "noise" from the electromagnetic spectrum, be it what we know as sound or light.  These kinds of filters are intended to clean up what information gets to the end user.  In my mind's eye I can see a switch on an old DJ record deck I used to use; it was a switch for what was known as a Scratch and Rumble Filter.  Kids today would have no clue what that meant.  And that's okay — who cares? — right?  There are also filters for use on a camera that will produce a picture that is entirely red; others designed for blue pictures.  The list goes on, including many of those that can be found on motor vehicles.

Somehow, in the Great Out There, God and holy angels are able to have their senses constantly bombarded with the presently existent evil and not be hurt by it.  Perhaps they have, in a sense, filters installed which prevent the dirty particles from getting to their vital systems.  These would have to be some serious filters, beyond anything we mere humans could invent; because if we could have — we would have, don't you think?  If this picture of a filter system is anything near the reality, I imagine that this will be the only way I could possibly agree to retaining any of the memories that make up who I am.  To have to start each day with all the memory of the pain on this planet — even during my own short lifetime — would not seem like much of a blessing to endure throughout eternity.  To have to live in Paradise, with fully-functional headgear and all the known (and beyond) senses working at maximum efficiency, with the hard drive still loaded with all this crud, would not be my idea of bliss … unless my vital systems can be shielded from it.

But maybe — and this is a big maybe — maybe I and others like me will simply serve as inoculants in some celestial fashion.  I'm reminded of a sentiment I once saw on a poster … goes something like this: "Perhaps the only purpose of my life will be to serve as a warning to others."  Maybe I will have the awful privilege of shining as a cosmic lighthouse, eternally warning travelers to keep away from the rocks.  Time will tell.  I have a sense that even in that capacity I would be happy; though right now it doesn't seem like it would be much fun.

The human mind is probably nothing at all like an electronic computer — except in principle.  In other words, there needs to be long-term memory, short-term memory, and there needs to be a system of logic in place for processing all the information entered into the computer.  Human beings invented the computer based on observable science; the idea didn't drop out of the sky.  Where our minds would benefit from being more like a computer is in the realm of anti-virus capabilities.  Evil and wickedness are full of malicious code designed to bring us down, or cause us to crash.  Once a part of us gets stained by these entities, it's not long before the whole operating system gets corrupted.  Everything may look fine on the surface, but the malware in the machine is now benefiting someone else.  Antivirus software — the Bible, in the world of the Spirit — is a must in this day and age.  Without it there is no safety whatsoever.

A little by the by here: if you completely fill a new hard drive with all the information it can hold, it will make no measurable difference to its weight when it was empty of data.  The same goes for the human brain; a person can read an entire book and more, and will do nothing to increase the weight of the brain — at least as far as we can tell.  So what does all that mean?  No idea.  Just thought I'd throw it in.  Maybe it will mean something later on.

For now I am thoroughly convinced that there is very little I should like to remember on the other side of all this.  I would like to remember the ones I love and why I love them.  I'd like to keep fresh in my mind the times when God stepped into my awareness and changed something for the better.  I feel I would like to remain appreciative of the many blessings I have received from observing some of the simple things of nature, though on the other side, I'm not sure how much benefit there will be in comparing the Kingdom of Heaven as "Like Unto …," since we will have a front row seat observing exactly how the Kingdom of Heaven is.  We'll have to wait and see.

I'm not sure how much I will be required to remember forever;  But if I have a choice, I'd be happy to let most of it go.  If God needs permission to wipe away everything that causes tears, pain, death, sickness and sorrow, then He has my permission — wipe away.

Just my take on it ….


Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Living On the Edge"

By Tony Harriman  •  

It appears to me that the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a man who stood by the sea looking out.  All his life he had lived by the sea.  Each morning and evening he came and stood by the sea and walked along the shore, thoughtfully reflecting on the water’s curious properties.

The man loved to watch the children play in the sand at the water’s edge, building sandcastles and splashing around in the refreshing surf.  He was fascinated by the way the sun reflected off the surface of the water, giving the impression of being covered with countless diamonds.  Each day, at different times of the day, the sea would recede far from the land, then return, making his daily strolls sometimes short, sometimes longer.  He didn’t care how long the walk took; the day just didn’t feel complete until the journey had been enjoyed.

In the distance the man could see immense ocean-going vessels which constantly traveled back and forth to and from who knew where.  Each day he saw smaller craft on the water, closer to the shore; some pulling water skiers, some carrying pleasure-cruisers.

From time to time the man caught a glimpse of creatures in the water — some large, some small — though he really couldn’t make out what he was seeing, and the moments passed quickly.

Once a week the man visited friends at a nearby beach to enjoy the sights and sounds of the sea together.  Twice a year the man took time to ride the ferry to a nearby island, just for a day trip to visit family.  The ferry stopped running in the early evening, and he was always home before dark, in time to take his evening stroll by the water’s edge.

One day a friend, who owned a sail boat, invited the man to sail with him for the day.  The man agreed, and mid-morning the next weekend the two of them loaded up and sailed away.  It was a calm day.  What a time they had sailing the gentle waves and enjoying the warm ocean breezes.  They dropped anchor and had lunch together.  The stillness was enjoyable to the man, who usually enjoyed the water tumbling constantly onto, and away from, the shore.  

They sailed some more, then dropped anchor again.  The man’s friend invited him toward the back of the boat.  With curiosity the man stared at the various articles of equipment laid there.  The friend handed the man a glass face mask which had a pipe attached—a snorkel and mask.  The man was offered a life jacket, which he put on.  The friend put on a similar set, plunged into the water and invited the man to do the same.  The man had never swum before, so instead of jumping in, he carefully stepped down the ladder into the water, always keeping his head above the surface, since he hadn't yet put the mask on.  Always staying close to the boat, the man bobbed around in the water.  The life jacket easily kept him afloat, but he wasn't sure he could get comfortable with the experience of being in the water.

The friend showed the man how to put on the snorkel and mask, then invited him to put his head below the surface.  Cautiously the man put his head under the water and was met by a sight that took his breath away; not a good thing to have happen under water.  The boat had dropped anchor at the edge of a vibrant coral reef.  Not far below the surface of the water was a world of beauty — the likes of which the man had never seen.  There were fish and creatures of so many sizes, colors and variations; they looked as though they belonged on an artist’s palette.  There was vegetation he had never seen before, or had ever imagined existed.  The light from the sun burst downward from the surface, going in all directions and dancing like it were alive.  Everything in the water shifted constantly, seemingly reluctant to settle.  But the man and his friend were in the water, so they, too, shifted with their surroundings.

For most of the afternoon the man and his friend floated on the top of the water looking down into this new-found world. As time passed, all feelings of discomfort passed quickly away.  The water seemed to be the perfect temperature.  With very little effort they were able to stay close to the boat.  The friend showed the man how to lie still in the water, and as they did this, many curious creatures swam close to them, adding to the enjoyment of their time in the water.  Eventually it was time to leave, and they both reluctantly made their way back into the boat.  Staring back at the unimpressive surface of the water, the man could never again see its plainness, since his imagination unfailingly carried him far beyond the boundaries placed by his vision.

The man’s eyes had been opened to a world and an experience of which he had never dreamed.  For years he had enjoyed the water and its many personalities from the shore and from the ferry, but this was something beyond his wildest imaginings.  He went on to learn that most of the life on our planet lives below the surface, hidden from eyes that are ignorant of its existence.  More of our world is covered with water than with vegetation, yet many of us living here have no clue what life exists just beyond our reach or comprehension.  The seas and oceans are wonderful, curious entities which for centuries have facilitated travel to and from every continent on the planet.  But these vast bodies of water have many secrets which are revealed only to those curious enough to put their attention below the surface.

It seems to me that the Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto this picture in words.  Many of us enjoy the countless blessings offered us each day from the Father’s hand.  We have an appreciation for that which may be clearly and easily seen.  But we frequently miss the reflections off the surface, and the creatures which occasionally emerge from the depths.  There appears to be much more to the heavenly realm than can be seen at a first glance.  Just like when we look up into the night sky, so much more may be seen when the clouds part.  And once we apply magnification, well … the sky's the limit.

I suppose we should look for the friend with the vessel who will take us out and give us the opportunity to stick our heads below the surface.  Seems like there's a much larger experience waiting for us.

Just my take on it ….



Monday, August 13, 2012

"Good Times — Bad Times"

By Tony Harriman  • 

It's interesting to me that we have a tendency to measure how good we've been by how much (and how little) bad stuff is happening to us.  Of course, we don't put it in those words.  Our reaction to bad stuff usually plays out like this: "Oh, dear God, I've tried to do everything right.  I eat right; I give faithful offerings; I study the Bible just as much as I have time for."  And this information is offered up to God because … something bad has happened … and now it's been going on for a while … and you'd like to get past it.  What we mean by this rehearsal is that God should have noticed you've been a good girl or a good boy, and surely He's made a mistake by letting this calamity come by your door.  And since He apparently hasn't noticed how good you've been, you're going to take a moment to let Him know, so that He can make the bad stuff go away.

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My personal view?  I think it's pathetic that evil and misfortune should be allowed to run riot on the planet as much as it is.  I know LOTS of good people who, in my opinion, have much more than their fair share of grief.  I also know a lot of less-than-righteous people who I feel should get a much bigger slice of the trouble pie.  But it's probably a good thing I'm not in charge of handing out circumstances.  Anyone remember the song, "If I Ruled the World …"?  The singer is looking for every day to be the first day of spring and endless sunshine.  I suppose that would be great if he were the only person living here.  Because … what if you don't like spring, or endless sunshine.  What — no rain?  No harvest?  No snow?  No trouble? — Well, yes to that part; I guess we could all handle a little more peace in our lives.

Very few of us rejoice when we discover we left the sunroof open during that shower we slept through, or when we slice our hand opening a box with a knife, or when we arrive home to find the house ransacked by burglars.  It's interesting how many people on the planet have a first reaction of, "There must be something wrong in my life for this to have happened to me."  That may not be your reaction, but you know plenty of people who definitely see things that way.  Having the car stolen, or discovering your purse has been lifted from your shoulder bag — these disasters are very revealing of the character.  I have often said, "You want to find out who you really are?  Get involved in a messy divorce."  I would add to that concept: let someone abduct your child, and you will see just how close to the surface the beast within you is sleeping.

It's hard for a fallen human being to really know what's best for others.  We often think we know what's best, but we really don't, which is why we keep voting into some office or position people whom we think are going to do what I think is best, and then hate on them when they do something I think is off the wall.

Commercial songwriters generally write songs they think are going to sell, and that's about it.  They write songs they think people want to hear.  If you have nothing better to do one day, turn the radio on and listen to the diet of lyrics that are handed out to listeners.  Most of what you'll hear is designed to appeal to everything below the neck.  I know that seems judgmental, and I hate to sound that way, but that's about the bottom line.  Perhaps none of the music will appeal to you; but add up the lyrics that talk about anything that matters, and you won't need more than the fingers on one hand.  And, interestingly enough, those few meaningful songs are the only ones likely to survive the test of time.

I thought about saving space here for a list of my favorite singers and songwriters, but … some other time.

Some of the most successful songs tell stories about running out of time.  And about how a person will deal with even more trouble, if he or she can have just a little more time.  It's interesting to me that time is never really seen for what it's worth until we have very little of it left.  Time, like health, is considered of more value than money or treasures … when you're just about out.

I'm not sure what it is that causes many Christians to view God just like some people see Santa Claus.  Somehow they view a system in Heaven just like the North Pole's Naughty and Nice list — you do good things and you'll be rewarded with nice toys; do bad things and you won't get … "Nuthin' but bad."  But a look behind the scenes reveals the Devil causing the trouble for Job and his family, not God.  As a result of what?  Righteousness!  And if only good things were the reward of good deeds, then Jesus would never have been treated the way He was.  It would make very little sense to condemn someone who had just raised your child from the dead.

So what's the point of all the bad stuff?  I don't personally think there is any point to it — right now.  Bad stuff appears to me to be a by-product of living in a wound-down, broken-up world.  Just like labor pains and birth are a result of a completed pregnancy.  Childbirth is definitely easier on the father than on the mother; but the father suffers a different kind of discomfort, knowing that he can do nothing to ease the pain of the mother.  Food for a great study there.  Not today, though.

Those of you who know me a little bit will remember that I believe in compost.  Oddly enough, composting is one of the most complete processes of recycling that exists, and it functions universally — everywhere we have a microscope and a telescope to see.  I choose to believe that God, through the compost pile, is showing us that none of the disgusting stuff that comes our way is ever without value.  And I firmly believe that only God can take the circumstances of our lives, as dark and as painful as they are sometimes, and turn them into something that will in the end only be seen to have nourished us somehow.  It may not seem like much of a blessing right now, but neither does the experience of childbirth offer much to be happy about, either — until it's over.

Hang in there; God hasn't forgotten your address, and He hasn't gone anywhere, either.  Your worst trials may be behind you, leaving you in a position to help carry some other broken soul through the fire.  Remember: nothing wasted — if you survived, you are now able to bear living testimony of that survival.  And hope will live on.

Just my take on it ….

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Friday, August 10, 2012

"A Question of Support"

By Tony Harriman  •

Right now is Olympic Season.  You know how it goes: countries from all around the globe send competitors who are at the top of their game to the Olympic Stadium, Arena or whatever to bring home the Gold, Silver, or at the very least … Bronze.  Most of the athletes return home with only tears, but also with an experience that will last them a lifetime.

"London 2012."  Just the sound of it makes a Brit proud to be a member of the host nation.  Sure, it would be nice if Britain got more gold medals than anyone else, but I reckon the nation would be glad if we got just one: Andy Murray for Tennis.  It would be really nice if we could bring home the cup for Wimbledon one year, but an Olympic Gold will do for now.  Forgive my playful facetiousness; talk to most Brits and they'll tell you they are sportsmanlike enough to cheer for whoever is playing well.  If we could, we'd be happy to adopt Roger Federer — even Bjorn Borg, if you can remember that far back.  John McEnroe?  Not so much.

But here we are at the Olympics watching the best of the best do their thing.  For many evenings during these Games my family and I have been on the edge of our seats watching the swimming, floor exercises, high dive and track events.  Apparently, one of my faults is to applaud those who do well but are not who we want to win.  "Shhhh!" my girls tell me, "Don't cheer for the Swiss or the Jamaicans or the Belgians!"  My positive response to a good play is totally involuntary.  A good touchdown pass is a joy to behold; any one of David Beckham's goals is a thing of beauty, and a good passing shot from either side of the tennis net is worth the price of admission.

This view of mine makes me a poor opponent.  I have played goalkeeper for many soccer teams in my time, and have always had a hard time not praising the effort and finesse of the player who sent me picking the ball out of the back of the net.  I enjoy playing tennis, and I like to compliment a good move coming from the other end of the court.  It's just the way I like to play.

Back in London it has been interesting to watch this spirit playing out among some of the younger gymnasts.  At the top of the bill have been the usual Americans, Russians, Romanians, and a few Chinese this time around.  It just seems to me like the US girls and guys have been quick to encourage the other teams' efforts.  A surprising attitude, considering everyone's going for Gold.

Let's take a step sideways for a moment.  My family and I attend the services of several different churches, mainly because we have friends and family scattered across many miles.  In another universe I imagine I could have pursued the career of Psychology, because I really enjoy people-watching, and I often have the tendency to laugh (under my breath sometimes) at the behavior of others.  In any given group of church people (of all ages) there are those who find it easy to encourage and praise those who have done a good job — at whatever — or are doing the best they can.  If ever there was a place where we need to be encouraged to keep on keeping on, it's here on earth.  Unfortunately, there is also an equal and opposite gaggle of geezers who do very little but criticize the feeble efforts of those whom they deem unworthy of praise. It seems to me that this latter group would do well to take a leaf from the folder of this year's Olympic team.

I mean, seriously, this spirit of always knocking down others is really getting old.  This attitude we expect from politicians, not from those "Bound for the Promised Land."  Are we so threatened by those in the other pews that we have to constantly question their methods or blacken their motives in order to make our own look saintly?  Are you so unsure of your claim to the prize, that you feel you must frown at all those on the same road heading for the podium?  If so, you really shouldn't be so concerned; there's plenty of gold for all at the destination just ahead.  Relax a little.  There's good Biblical counsel for the praise of others.  Better you do it, than they should praise themselves.  At least, that's the principle laid out before those on the straight and narrow.

"Oh, but it's sinful to lift up the egos of others!"  I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say that.  Seriously, if you don't know the difference between flattery, and praise for a job well done, then you really need to go back to kindergarten.  It reminds me of a nice turn of words I heard once; they went something like, "Lady, if you don't know the difference between a backside-whupping and child abuse, you really don't need to be having kids."  And that's about how it is.  Some of us just don't know the difference.  It's pretty sad when the best praise some people can give is to keep quiet.

On a positive note, I personally believe that these kids across the water will lose nothing by showing their appreciation for the other teams.  In fact, I reckon they just went a notch higher in the estimation of all things that mean anything on this planet.  I suppose if you're going to err, err on the side of mercy.  After all, a dead opponent can't make any improvements — right?  If you want to go higher in your game, encourage your opponent to do better, and be quick to praise — not flatter — his or her best efforts.  You should especially adopt this approach with your team mates — as quickly as possible — if you ever expect to get anywhere worthwhile.  Oddly enough, it appears that we people are the rungs in our own ladder that leads upwards.  The way we treat others is the way we can expect to be treated; so be careful how you tread on those rungs.

And perhaps when it comes to all things religious, it's probably a good policy to not look too far down the nose at those who maybe don't quite see it your way, or haven't yet elevated to your level of study.  Some people have a family … and a job — sometimes two jobs; and then there are the people who are busier living the life of Jesus than getting a diploma in the Person of Jesus.

Just my take on it ….

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