Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Can You Feel the Force?"

By Tony Harriman  •  

Isn't it funny how slogans used by advertisers and retailers have a way of sticking with you? "Where's the Beef?" "No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night;" "Can you hear me now?" to name just a few. With that thought in mind I'm reminded of a certain evaporated milk company in England that hit on a winner when they asserted that their product was "As versatile as an egg." Many of us Brits still recognize the slogan when it's bandied about today, but might not be able to pin it to the product it was originally advertising. That's the case with many of the old slogans; they make their way into everyday language, while the original intention loses all meaning entirely. Food for a great study there, but that's not where I'm headed with this.

I want to focus on the "versatility" aspect of the product. And the particular product I have in mind right now is Electricity. Perhaps in our present world there is nothing quite as versatile as … electrical energy; I'm speaking of the domestic kind, the kind that arrives in our homes through wires.

Think about it: virtually every home in the developed world has electricity pumped into it.  This invisible power courses across the land, under or over practically each and every byway, across our lawns and into our homes.  Access to this power is granted through relatively small, but conspicuous, outlets on just about every wall in our homes and businesses.

And the power sits … quietly … awaiting some venturesome soul to plug in and put the energy to work.  What do you have there?  A floodlight?  A toaster?  A boombox?  Hi-def TV?  Maybe just a lowly nightlight?  Doesn't matter; plug it in; let's get this party started.

Think broader: perhaps we'll use the power to light up a neon sign with which to advertize our wares.  Maybe we'll plug in and illuminate our window displays.  Maybe we'll guide the planes in by lighting up the runway.  None of this power is free, mind you. No usable electricity currently falls from the sky into our transformers.  And until the work of Mr. Tesler is taken more seriously, we'll have to continue to feed the power companies on a monthly basis for the privilege of lighting up the neighborhood.

As each year passes, it seems we find more and more ways to try to drain the bottomless battery of its power using various devices: cell phones; computers; surround sound systems; ovens; dishwashers, and on and on and on.  With the exception of the math dictating AC or DC, we don't change the power … we just change the appliance — the unit to which the power is applied.  The demonstration of domestic electricity comes in myriad forms.

Electrical energy is used almost everywhere in our daily lives.  You want to take digital photos? There's power for that.  MP3 player?  Same.  Nuke a bowl of soup?  Ditto.  You want to surf the Web?  There's an app for that (to use a more modern slogan which will likely be quickly absorbed into the vernacular).

The power courses through our walls totally unnoticed until something gets plugged in.  Unless there is a problem with grounding, or a short-circuit somewhere in the home or business, we can remain completely unaware that the energy is available.

Power generators are constantly being built into moving devices, some as big as cars, trucks, ships and planes, or even the International Space Station.  An aerial nighttime view of our world shows a constant pulse of electronically-generated red and white moving from city to city.  Lighted civilization shows up almost everywhere on the planet, with the exception of Antarctica, Central Australia … and North Korea (so much for Communistic progress).

Much safer than it used to be, electricity has come a long way, Baby.  Domestic electricity was early thought to be "of the Devil" — one of the highest orders of spiritualism; as was the telephone.  The idea of pumping power across the land or transporting someone's voice through a wire to show up a hundred miles away in your hallway were strange notions.  Some parents today still wonder about these two subjects when the respective monthly bills arrive, as do a handful of religious groups.

The image above is, of course, a man-made one; but could a spiritual comparison be drawn?  Is there any equivalent power/energy/force that travels the known world awaiting some brave soul to plug in and light up?  Since I enjoy drawing spiritual lessons from the physical world in which we live, my personal conviction has developed so that I see a very grand lesson being spread across the tapestry for us to learn something about the Heavenly Realm.

There are many verses throughout the Scriptures that give some indication that the Spirit of God works differently with a variety of people.  Some people are able to heal, others are given the ability to teach, preach, speak foreign languages etc., etc.  In every case the illustration is that these various people are given something they didn't have before they plugged in.  To mix the meal with the metaphor, notice that not everyone is a light bulb, or a microwave oven, a computer or a copier.  Not everyone becomes something that cools, or that heats.  But do notice this: everyone becomes something useful as a tool in the hand of God for the salvation of souls — and ONLY for the salvation of souls.

I suppose if you wanted to find a distinction between those people who have been given a gift from God, and those who have painstakingly developed their own skills, take a look at who is being glorified by their gifts.  Does the gift produce an income which helps only to increase the size of a collection of valuable cars?  Does the power help only to heighten the pile of gold in the vault?  Jewels in the crown?  Things in the garage?  Stuff in the den?  If you can picture Jesus getting delightfully lighted up by the gathering of treasure to bury in a field, then I invite you to look again at the life of the Biblical Jesus, and the promise He left regarding what would be the general lot of those who followed Him.

Perhaps you've been part of a congregation that tells you how you should look when you're filled with the Spirit.  And since you usually don't FEEL that way, well, you just have to ACT that way, whatever that way is.  If you listen to that kind of teaching long enough, before long you'll spend more time thinking about HOW you should behave, and less time looking around for the outlet to which you ought to connect.  It's a lot like the various would-be theologians who tell us that "This is the way to live without sin!"  Some of them have talked that way for a long time — years and years and years.  But one day, after you've listened for a looooooong time, you ask, "Does this method actually work for you?"  The response is usually a very general, "I'm on the way up, Brother.  The Lord hasn't finished with me, yet."  In other words, no, it hasn't worked for them.  And it appears to me that it hasn't worked as successfully as they would like because the focus has been more on what they shouldn't do, and less on plugging into the power that would enable them to be useful in the hand of God.

So many of us are reluctant to even consider the possibility of allowing God to work through us.  Who among us will ever feel worthy — really?  But, come on, draw some encouragement from the choices Jesus made at the beginning of His public ministry; bypassing the noble schools and esteemed synagogues, He walks one day by the sea and gathers up a third of His devoted entourage from the fishing boats.  Peter, Andrew, James and John would not have been your choice for teammates in the Greatest Work that Was Ever Done, right?  I honestly believe Jesus is teaching you and me a lesson here.  He doesn't seem to care who you are; just be willing to get plugged in.  And when you ARE plugged in, then your ministry for the salvation of souls is going to be incredibly effective.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that your work as a seed-sower will take on a whole different meaning; more power will be given to your drive train, shall we say.

Perhaps the way to plug in is through prayer.  Jesus spoke of God being willing/eager/keen/highly desirous that man should be given the gift of the Spirit, and the way a man should go about getting this Spirit is to ask for it.  Simple as that; no pilgrimages to some far off land; no shutting yourself up in a cave.  Just ask for it.  When you do get connected to this incredible, limitless power, I imagine some things might get burned right off of you; but it's doubtful that you'll lose anything of value.  We might argue that the entire Christian movement has its being today because of that first stroll Jesus took by the Sea of Galilee.  Those first disciples received the power, and nothing could stop the vibrations.  The ripple is still going, and going, and going — just like that little pink bunny.

Here's how I see it: whatever your religion/persuasion or school of thought, if you honestly ask God — I'm talking about THE GOD who made us and everything around us — If you ask Him to course through you to do the things that please Him and that tend toward the salvation of souls, then I honestly believe He will honor that request.  You might even add to your prayer that He is welcome to work inconspicuously through you, just so long as your life can be useful in the big picture.  You might actually be surprised at how much can be done with you.  No offense meant, but even a lowly mop is often quite useful in a kitchen; I'm sure you'll agree.

Here's a slogan you can take with you: "What Would Jesus Do?"  Amplify the thought and ask, "What would Jesus like ME to do?"

Go for it — plug in.  Then go light your world.  There's an awful lot of darkness out there.

And that's just my take on it ….


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"God Is In Control!"

By Tony Harriman  • 

A time or two I've been driving and have spotted a bumper sticker stating, "God is my Co-pilot."  I guess I really never paid much serious attention to the sentiment … until a car passed me on another occasion emblazoned with the idea, "If God Is Your Co-pilot, You Should Switch Seats."  This kind of traffic banter makes us smile from time to time; but it also gets us thinking.

Many of us would like to think that God has His hand on the wheel of our lives, exercising total control.  But we're not sure who to blame when things go terribly wrong.  Was it my fault?  Did I take the wheel when I shouldn't have?  Does God not care about me anymore?  Make a stupid choice, and you have only yourself to blame.  But what about things that are out of your control?  The insurance companies are in agreement with each other regarding the calamities of the natural world.  Something bad happens and they all join the chorus: "It was an act of God," as if God happened to be pacing the floor in some celestial laboratory experimenting with the laws of physics, and, "Oops, My bad.  I'll send a crew to help you get that cleaned up."

The person who believes in God rarely finds any real assurance as to why this or that awful event made its way into the news.  And it seems to me that the expression, "God is in control," is most often settled upon when we have no reasonable solution for some terrible thing that has happened.

• A string of tornadoes hurtles across the southern states of the USA, scattering homes and lives across the countryside.  "God is in control."

• A hurricane blows in and takes out half of Louisiana.  "God is in control."

• An earthquake buries a huge portion of the Chinese population.  "God is in control." 

• Airplanes are purposely flown into our skyscrapers.  "God is in control."

• Yet another child (an infant) is diagnosed with Leukemia, and given only months to live.  "God is in control."

• One more crazed lunatic with a gun goes on a rampage, leaving a pool of blood in his (or her) wake (thinking of the 16-year-old Los Angeles girl who didn't like Mondays).  "God is in control."

The catalog of pain goes on, and I'm sure, like me, you've assembled your own "Wish List" of things you'd like to see the back of.

Have we ever stopped long enough to actually ask ourselves … what exactly is it that we think God is in control of?  The words fall off the tongues of souls with listless eyes, staring into space as they consider the scale of the carnage with which they are surrounded.  But is God in control of the hurricane?  The earthquake?  The pilot?  The disease?  The gunman?  Or do we feel He only has control of how far the disaster may spread? What exactly is it that we feel God is in control of?  If you've never asked yourself that question, I reckon that one day you probably should.  And hopefully before you walk out of the church doors for the last time.

I have friends and loved ones who had to bury their family members long before time, and I have heard them say those very words, "God is in control."  The belief they have settled upon is that God laid their loved ones to rest, possibly to save them from something awful down the road, something that may have cost them their soul.  Well, that may indeed be the case; but I have a sense that if the will of God were to be truly exercised, the sick would not have died — but lived — all of their natural days, and the strength be given to resist the temptation that would cause them to toss in their soul as a losing wager.

When Jesus was here on the planet I expect things could have turned out very differently beside the tomb of Lazarus.  The announcement might have gone something like: "It's good that Lazarus should die like this; he was a good man and will surely come up in the resurrection of the righteous."  But that's not what Jesus said, is it?  His words were totally contrary to what the family of Lazarus was expecting.  In accordance with their belief, what they said to Jesus was, "If you had been here, this wouldn't have happened."  Sounds a little bit like the kind of blame we hear being cast around today.  "Where was God?" shouts the accusation of the newspapers.

When we try to sort out how we understand God's part in the affairs of man, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.  What I mean by that is this: If we say that God is in control of every aspect and choice of our lives — good and bad, we run up against the ability of man to exercise free will.  But if we say that God is in control of only the outcome, then we find ourselves supporting the doctrine of predestination, which, by the way, only a relatively small handful of human beings actually believe.  I suppose at the end of the day a lot more time should be given for the discussion of the difference between "causing" something to happen, and "allowing" something to happen.  In my book there's a big difference between pushing the runaway vehicle over the cliff, and getting out of the way, making no attempt to stop it.  Perhaps we'll talk about that some other time.

There is a possibility that God has taken a giant leap back from what some might call "interfering" in the lives of us earthlings.  Just like when parents hear the words from their children, "I can do it; I don't need your help."  There comes a moment in the life of the child when a parent must have permission before they make an attempt at fixing something which has gone horribly wrong.  A dutiful parent watches the match-up … but stays respectfully on the sideline … until some serious Band-Aid application is needed.

Even Old Man Job witnessed events that received no assistance from God.  Each disaster played out till it could go no further; and only then, when the lie of the devil had been laid to rest, did God restore to Job what he had lost — and more.  Perhaps this Old Testament mini-movie is illustrating to us that God leaves certain things alone … until he can restore ALL things.  Perhaps (just thinking it through) God cannot fix things for ALL of us, so He fixes things for NONE of us.  Deep down I don't believe that, but I have to be honest enough to consider the possibility.  That concept might help us understand why we don't see the general moving of the Spirit of God on "Main Street."  What I mean is that I'd like to see the "Holy Healers" come out of the church doors and get into the hospital wards.  If Jesus were here today, I expect we would find find Him wandering the unhallowed halls of our medical institutions — on a very regular basis.

As a teenager I was introduced by the town magistrate to the expression, "God helps those who help themselves."  I can see some wisdom in that thought, but I believe the reality goes a little further: "God ESPECIALLY helps those who CANNOT help themselves."  With that thought in mind, I have a sense that God works for us in ways for which we have no label.  A loving Being Who can see the future would, in my opinion, delight to spend "time" comforting those He loves who are under demonic duress, even if they don't appreciate or comprehend how bad things would be were He not there.  Very few of us remember how much we needed our parents when we were in diapers.

I have a friend (let's call him Brian) who was set up and locked up for something he says he didn't do.  With no foreseeable release date in sight he is left to mull over the question of "What's all this about?  Why am I here?  God, why have You allowed this to happen?"  These are not unreasonable questions to ask, are they?  I feel sure that the Hebrew Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob/Israel, had many an opportunity to ponder a similar fate.  Joseph was despised by all his brothers but one; he was sold as a slave to pagan Egypt; he was falsely accused by his owner's wife; he spent the next however long locked up as a common criminal.  But there was something about Joseph that changed the hearts of those who were around him; people knew instinctively that "God was with Joseph."  Though they didn't fully understand what they were witnessing in this Godly man, there came a day when they sought Joseph's much-respected counsel, and the entire nation of Egypt was saved by God THROUGH JOSEPH from a looming famine.  In a short screenplay, Joseph went from the pit in the wilderness to a palace in the kingdom of the ancient world's superpower.  Because of the presence of God in his life, Joseph was as much a prince in the pit as he was on the throne.  Joseph's own testimony?  "God sent me here to save lives."  Hang in there, Brian.  God hasn't forgotten your address.

Perhaps it's wrong to say that God is in control.  Maybe He has less to do with what's going on than we think.  Now, I really don't believe that.  I have a tendency to believe that the powers of darkness at work on our planet are kept constantly moving along by the light of God's presence that relentlessly dispels their evil odor; just like the dawn and the east wind … constantly pushing away the darkness and keeping the air moving … and bringing life.

Perhaps our own choices prevent God from working in our lives.  There is nothing that can separate us from the LOVE of God; but perhaps our submission to evil tendencies separates us from the POWER of God — the power of God that works in and through us.  Perhaps practiced evil works as a force field around us, requiring God to keep a safe distance from us — safe for us, I mean.

If God is in control of anything right now, surely He is in control of just how far the devil may go in his affliction of the human family.  The devil, because of our choices, may have a large amount of control in our lives down here, but truly, God has control of our eternity.  And we should probably never forget that reality.

And that's just my take on it ….


The Story of Redemption - Narrated by Tony Harriman


Steps to Christ - Audiobook

Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing - Audiobook

Christ's Object Lessons - Audiobook

Up a Tree with Christina Bee - Audiobook

Leave the Thorns Alone - Music CD