Monday, December 19, 2016

"Ignorance" and "Want"

By Tony Harriman

"A Christmas Carol" has to be one of the best surviving allegories on the market today. So many lessons to draw from the characters.

"Ignorance" is one of the creatures below the robe of Dickens' character, "The Ghost of Christmas Present" — the creature to beware of most — alongside another creature: "Want."

This is just a small observation, but I have seen that the study of the Sciences and the study of Religion have been two separate fields of interest mainly because of the ignorance of each toward the other. I have learned that many scientific minds are NOT engaged in a war to keep God hidden and banished from the text books. Many of those scientific minds are simply seeking to reconcile what they believe with what they see.

A human mind that can comprehend the vastness of the Cosmos, and perhaps can see the fingerprints of a Grand Designer, has a very difficult time confining his God to a box in which only one language is spoken; only one kind of people is accepted; and Who only shows up when called upon, like a genie who jumps out of the bottle when it's rubbed.

If it could be true that scientists are not looking for God, then it is more true to say that religionists are not looking to understand the science of the world in which they live. For the religionist, too much in the scientific world smacks of witchcraft or sorcery. This is part of the reason Jesus was accused of casting out demons through the power of the master of demons. Jesus worked outside of established understanding. He didn't perform miracles through witchcraft or sorcery or any other kind of Hocus Pocus; He used the same power which was evidently available to human beings—because His followers went out and did EXACTLY the same things when He commanded them to do so.

Ignorance of ANYTHING causes the mind to care very little about the thing. Think of that in terms of medical science, astronomy, geology, and perhaps most of all: Ecology. The less we know about these things, the less we seem to want to know, and the less we care. But these things matter. These things urge us toward the answers to the questions we ask most: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?

The world right now is full of stocking-stuffing attention-getters that are well equipped to divert us from finding out about things that matter. The medical world continues to frame knowledge of its findings in language foreign to the average mind. Math and physics are still frequently taught by teachers looking down their noses at their pupils. Biology and all of its siblings are ever-so-gently being pushed off the list of things to study that matter. Language sciences and poetry have been hijacked almost totally by a bizarre gaggle of songwriters who want to tell us how much they want to love their Mister or Miss Right Now. The average mind doesn't have time, space or interest to devote to things in a foreign language, so usually dwells on the mundane, or commonplace.

Planet Earth is a mess right now, held in a strange stranglehold that is taking up our entire attention. Most of the planet's inhabitants have no clue where their next meal is coming from. A smaller group lives from paycheck to paycheck, while another, much smaller group, DECIDES who gets to eat and who doesn't.

More than once I've been told, "Look, Jesus didn't have running water to His house; He didn't have indoor plumbing in any sense. And electricity? Forget about it."

It's true, the people in Jesus' day didn't have those things—and much more. But look at what was done by the followers of Jesus for the progress of mankind AFTER Jesus left. For 4,000 years the people of earth had lived in ignorance of so many things. That ignorance caused humanity to give credence to the likes of witch doctors, astrologers and alchemists. It took a while, but all that and more changed when the Spirit of Jesus got into a person.

It didn't take long, though, and humanity was once again baptized and held under the water by the Dark-Age religious folk. These folk went on a quest to burn the witches and convert the heathen—or kill the heathen in the process.

An ignorance of the Christian Bible kept priests and popes safely and warmly tucked in their beds for centuries. But then came Christian Protestantism, a movement more suited to study and inquiry of the world outside the Church Confessional. At last! The believer in God was encouraged to study the works of God. Protestants translated the Bible from the dead Latin language into languages that people actually spoke (modern-day medicine men and women could take a cue from that observation), and gave the average person a window into the thing that mattered most—instruction from Heaven itself! The average mind learned from those translations of the Bible that Jesus drew many lessons from the Book of Nature, and that the ways of God and of Heaven could be understood as the seeker after God studied the things which were being continually opened to his or her senses. Man developed microscopes, telescopes, and machines to calculate huge portions of mathematical data—data which is not intimidating or mysterious to the One Who created it.

Bottom line:

If you honestly believe it matters—whatever it is—help us understand it. Our ignorance of that which is really simple is not helping anything. Because "What the world needs now is love, sweet love" of things that matter, and that tend toward making things better.

Recently I returned from a trip to Cuba with somewhat of a heavy heart for the people who were forced to live in what we in the Western World would call "substandard conditions." They endured restricted access to fresh, running water; clean public toilets; hand soap, and the like. I have shared my burden for the Cuban people from time to time, and have been disappointed on occasion to meet the ever-present self-righteous prig who can't help but counter my observations with another: "So what? Most of the world lives like this." These prigs are easy to identify; they say things you might never expect to hear from the mouth of Jesus. If you can imagine Jesus avoiding town, uttering the words, "So what? Everyone gets sick, hungry and has demons," then you will be very comfortable in the company of the prig.

The world understands "Want." "Want" causes the belly to growl, the shoulders to shiver. But "Ignorance," on the other hand, is crafty. We really don't know what we don't know—ignorance of heat will cause many of us to sit in the cold. But some people DO know, and we just wish you'd put what you know into a language we can understand. We don't need or WANT to know everything, but we DO want to know about things that matter. Things like how to take better care of ourselves, and how to better take care of the world we live in. We're not asking much.

Once again, though, history is held in chains by the religious folk who are out there shouting, "My god is greater than your god. My god helps my football team more than your team. My god helps my business more than yours. And, of course, "My god helps me make better bombs than yours." These religious folk come in all shapes and sizes. And many of them speak English.

Humanity is tired of ignorance. And we're tired of being held in the past as we mop up religious mess after mess across the face of the earth.

What's the answer? Teach us about things that matter, and perhaps we'll finally have the opportunity to get our heads out of our own noses.

We're due—totally!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Miscarriage of Injustice in Cuba

By Tony Harriman

Miscarriage of Injustice in Cuba ... 

I'm going to continue my report on Cuba, and begin with an account that I will never be able to share by voice.

(To read more posts regarding my trip to Cuba, move your mouse to the right and scroll down to "Blog Archive").

When human beings are separated by language there is a belief perhaps on the part of all of us that we do not share the same head space with our fellow beings, that maybe we aren't all affected by the same things.  What remained of that notion for me came crashing down one evening when my Cuban companions and I visited the family of a young couple in the neighborhood.  

Earlier in the day I had been invited to join a small group that was to visit a family that coming evening who had recently experienced a loss.  I wasn't exactly sure what kind of loss; details had either been unheard by me, or misunderstood due to my sad lack of Spanish vocabulary.  Just before my small group left for the meeting the power went out in the area and stayed out until early next morning.  The countryside neighbourhood started to fill with people carrying flashlights and people pushing bicycles.  We arrived at the home and were welcomed warmly.  Several church members, many with flashlights, had gathered with the family to sing and pray and offer a shoulder of solace.  

The more I listened, the more I realized that the young wife had, within the past couple of days, experienced a miscarriage and lost the child she had been carrying—with perhaps the worst possible timing.

The young husband was there along with all the parents.  Early on there were no tears, no strong sense of grief.  My first thought was that perhaps these Cuban people are gritty and tough and don't hurt the way the rest of us do in the Free World.  We sang.  We prayed.  We offered testimonies of praise.  When it came time for the young wife to say a few words she thanked everyone for coming, and shared with us her hope of the resurrection.  As she spoke her voice grew quieter, and began to tremble.  She didn't weep, but her voice and her eyes were full of tears, and it was obvious her heart was breaking.  She spoke of the angels on that resurrection morning bringing children to the arms of their parents, and she hoped this would be true for her, too.  This brave young mother-to-be had lost her child toward the end of the ninth month of her pregnancy.  All the joy, discomfort and anxiety had been experienced.  All the usual preparations had been made during the past nine months.  She had all the baby things that were available to the Cuban people — gifts from family at home and abroad.  The home was ready.  The clothes were ready.  The hearts were ready.  The only missing ingredient was the child itself.  In that small family room I, too, had a heart full of tears for this loss, and felt the sadness that is common to man.  

I later learned that the mother-to-be took the clothes she had gathered for her expected newborn and gave them to a sister in the church who needed them more than she did.

I'm not sure how much bigotry and self-importance there remains yet in my heart, but in that flashlit evening in a 60-square-foot corner of the planet in a place called Cuba I felt much of this spirit leave the building.  Until the day of this writing I have had not the strength of voice to share this experience with the many people who have been interested in my trip, so you are one of the first to read about it.  It's funny, but I find that I have also a sad lack of the English vocabulary that prevents me from adequately describing the effect of that event on the world in which I live.

Next I tell you some of my observations of the island country of Cuba.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cuba Book Project

By Tony Harriman

Project Cuba — Where to Begin ...

Where shall I begin to tell you the tale of my recent visit to Cuba?  Perhaps I shall start with my pre-trip expectations.  In following posts I'll share my experiences with the Cuban people.  In this post I want to share with you what the basic church situation is in Cuba, and I want to tell you how simply we can make a difference.

(To read more posts regarding my trip to Cuba, move your mouse to the right and scroll down to "Blog Archive").

What I knew about Cuba really didn't amount to much.  I knew Cuba was a Communist country led (for most of my life) by Fidel Castro.  I knew that Cubans spoke Spanish.  I knew (from talking to my Cuban friends in Miami) that most of the people living in Cuba wanted to leave.  And that was about all I knew.

My pre-trip plans involved taking as much as I needed, and nothing more.  The idea of having my Bible or laptop confiscated by the Gestapo at the airport was not appealing.  My carry-on contained mainly socks and underwear, no liquids or gels, no foods, and nothing overtly religious.

I did have one small experiment traveling with me: In my checked baggage I included an entire case of my company's publication "Buscando la Paz Interior" (BLP).  BLP is the Spanish version of my company's "Finding Peace Within" (FPW).  FPW is made up of the book "Steps to Christ" and twenty Bible studies.  In English or Spanish this is an excellent devotional aid.  I had 72 copies of BLP in a half dozen Ziploc bags.  At a glance a screener at the airport might have mistaken these bags for packets of illegal drugs.  I wanted my books to be seen so that I could know if it would be a problem carrying the books into the country like this.  The reason I wanted to know that was because my company is willing to supply thousands of copies of BLP to be carried in to the country by a large group of local church members on an evangelistic trip later this year.

The end of this part of the story is that all my things went through the entire airport system without any trouble at all, and when I retrieved my luggage on the way out everything was intact, books'n'all.  Had I been lucky?  I wondered.  I wasn't out of the airport yet; there was still a way to go.  But the rest of the way out to the meeting area was just as trouble-free as the rest of the trip had so far been.  Where were all the police and men in black hats and raincoats?  Everybody was moving around the airport, inside and out, in a very laid-back fashion.  Even the airport inspectors, who seemed to be all young ladies dressed in short skirts and tight tops, were very casual.  Truth be told, though you might not have recognized it, I was probably the most uptight person in the place.  If government agents were waiting to pounce on me and take me to some Gulag somewhere for interrogation, they were staying well hidden.  Probably hiding in the many shadows.  Better stay alert, I thought.

Another reason for my trip to Cuba was to find out how difficult it would be to send evangelistic books to the Island Nation.  Though the past couple of months had seen access granted for the first time in fifty years for Americans to travel to Cuba, I had heard stories of Christian persecution and the confiscation of Bibles and devotional books, and it would have made no sense to ship books to people who would never receive them, or might even get locked up because they had received them.  I intended to land in Havana and begin asking questions of shippers and importers regarding getting large quantities of books into the country.

My first call was to the Church Union Office in Havana and establish a dialog that would give me a person and an address to ship books to.  I don't speak Spanish fluently, so I have to rely on translators any time I visit a Spanish-speaking country.  In this manner I met and spoke with the Ministerial Director and the Youth Director for the Church who told me that getting large quantities of books into the country was not a problem, and was not illegal.  They told me they receive large containers of books and Sabbath School materials from time to time, which surprised me.  Cuba is a well-kept secret from Americans, so we really don't know how to make things happen down there.  But the Union people also said that anything they receive they have to pay for; nothing comes to them free of charge.

My ears pricked up at that news.

My company has been in business for nearly 30 years.  Throughout that time we have printed in excess of 40 million publications in more than 100 languages.  We have conducted free distributions of our books on six continents from Australia to Greenland, east to west, top to bottom around our world.  We waited patiently for the Iron Curtain to come down, then we went with more than a million publications across 11 time zones in Russia.  We did the same thing in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and every other former member of the Soviet Union.  It was exciting.  We've taken free books to every country in Europe, Mediterranean islands, Caribbean islands, Pacific islands.   We've blanketed South and Central America.

But we've never done any real work in Cuba.  We've sent the ocassional packet of a couple of books to a handful of Cuban residents; sometimes the books got through, sometimes they didn't.  But we've never had the opportunity that we have now to send large numbers of books into the country.  Doors are open for American trade and commerce.  At least, they are open for now.  Who knows if the next president will be as open-minded to maintaining diplomatic ties with a Communist nation just 90 miles off the Florida coast.  Time will tell.

Let's return to the Union Office: As I shared my tale of wonderful worldwide distributions, I could see the story really meant nothing, until I offered to send books to the Cuban people at no charge.  Eyes opened wider and each of us moved closer to the front of our seats.  We talked thus:

Q. How many members do you have?  

A. Thirty-two thousand.  

Q. Where are they located on the island?  

A. All over the forty-two thousand square miles.  

Q. If I send books for each church member, how will we get them to the church members?  

A. A youth rally is planned for next year; every church member on the island could receive a book at that time.  

Q. Next year?  Why such a long wait?

A. If you send the books now, we might wait as much as six months before they come out of Customs.

Q. Why so long?

A. Because the Customs official has to open every container and every box and check the contents.  Nothing happens quickly in Cuba.

Q. If every church member had a book for themselves and one to give away, would they be willing to do that?

A. Oh, absolutely.  This would be a dream come true for them.

I learned that the church members are very close in spirit (I'll tell you more about that in additional posts).  The members are busy in their personal ministry for the spiritual well-being of non-members.  Of the 32,000 members, most of the adults have active studies going on with friends and family.

I wondered how realistic it would be for me to plan to send a few thousand books by sea cargo to meet the evangelistic group from America in early December.  Not realistic at all, since the anticipated delay, even for a small shipment, is many months.  So there is not enough time to make this happen.

So here's the bottom line of our meeting: my company, Inspiration Books East, will print and ship to the Union Office in Cuba sixty-five thousand copies of our book "Buscando la Paz Interior."  One for every church member to keep, and one to give away.  We will include the Church contact information in the book.  The books will be for free distribution only.

We're going to raise the money to do this.  a figure of $65,000.00 is being floated around right now.  This figure will cover the costs for this initial distribution (inland and overseas) and will provide a springboard for the next stage of distribution which will include another Spanish publication of ours: "Quienes son los Angeles?"  In English "Who are the Angels?" (WAA).  WAA is made up of excerpts from Great Controversy dealing with the existence of angels in our world, and who might and might not be a visitant from Heaven.  WAA is an excellent study on the state of the dead.  $65,000.00 is not a lot of money for Americans to raise.  

If you want to and can help (and I hope you can), do one of these:

• Send a tax-deductible donation to:  

Project Cuba
Mission World
PO Box 352
Jemison, AL 35085

(make checks payable to Mission World and mark Project Cuba)

• Log in to PayPal and make a donation to: (Elmira is the little lady who manages our PayPal account.

• Call our office @ (205) 646-2941 and make a credit card donation over the phone.

• Email us at  Give us your contact information, and we'll contact you, if you prefer.

• There's also a GoFundMe Project set up for your convenience.  Click the image below and go straight there:
 Go Fund Me - Cuba Book Project
Your gift, large or small, will go to an incredibly good cause.  Trust me, there's a whole lot of "doesn't really matter" going on in our lives every day.  But this one DOES matter.  Cuba needs lots of work on so many levels: social, political and religious.  And, of course, no one can fix everything.  But if you aren't afraid to step out of your comfort zone I encourage you to take the 45-minute flight from Miami to Havana, spend a few days outside of the city of Havana, and have your world expanded.  I guarantee you'll see somewhere where you can make a difference to someone.  If you return home without a conviction of where you can be useful, I will be very surprised.  Click to make a difference:.

I've left out of this post all the details of my experience with the Cuban people.  In the next post I'll tell you some stories that will warm your heart, and sometimes break it.

Signing off for now.

Blessings to you all,

Tony Harriman

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Just an Observation"

By Tony Harriman

It’s just an observation, but when Jesus personally sent His followers out to work the works of God, miracles took place: the sick were healed; the dead were raised; demons were cast out. There’s no record of followers being paid for their efforts, or of them getting rich from working these works of God. No one had to invest a small fortune in “learning” how to work the works of God. They simply went out and “did” marvelous things “in the name of Jesus.” The training from Jesus was wrapped up in a handful of words: “Go out and do this …!”

So what in the world happened? Today a person has to go to school and seminary to “be taught,” not how to work the works of God, but how to be a pastor and manage church affairs and business — the person is taught to be an "Administrator." When the learning is over, the “pastor” is qualified, not to be a healer, a raiser of the dead, or a caster-out of demons, but he (or she) is qualified only to “talk” about what wonderful things Jesus did and said while He was here. Or perhaps they are now qualified to dazzle their audiences with the grasp of deep prophetic utterings or vast prophetic timelines. The lack of power is matched only by the size of the debt left to be paid for the privilege of learning how to “talk about” what Jesus did and said — in three languages.

If you can’t see a huge shortfall here, then you’ve clearly never spent time reading the Gospels and the Book of Acts, where real human beings lost their lives for working the works of God. Once you land on the writings of Paul, it becomes obvious that most of the space in the rest of the Books of the Bible is going to be taken up “talking” about the past and what Jesus did while He was here, and (at least in the writings of Paul) what the intellectual problem is regarding sin and the heavenly Sanctuary.

I know, and have known, many good pastors (across denominational lines) who lament the lack of the Spirit in their lives and in their churches, and who see no clear indication from Heaven of how to fix the problem and get plugged in.

Are our schools and seminaries only to be places where a person can learn how to give a polished speech on the necessity of clean living? Can a person be taught to shout loud enough so that the entire congregation can clearly know how lost each one of us is? Shall any one of us settle for paying to be taught that, in actual fact, the original meaning and translation of that verse doesn’t actually say what it says today?

Seriously, we know what a mess the world is in; what we need are solutions — that work! Most of us understand (unless we are seriously deceived) that if any of us shall inherit eternity, it will be by a miracle beyond the kind we can generate for ourselves. Perhaps, then, one answer to our dilemma is to stop focusing on the problem — whatever it is — and start looking up for a solution.

Maybe there are no solutions. Maybe we just have to deal with things the way they are. And obviously doing the works of God is not all that is necessary for the salvation of the soul; didn’t Judas go out on more than one occasion in the name and power of Jesus doing the works of God … healing the sick and casting out demons? Yes, that Judas, the one that betrayed the Son of God in the Garden.

Like I said, though, it’s just an observation — which might not amount to much. We know how to make observations; what we need is to be shown — not told — how to get plugged in to the Spirit of Beneficence.

Hmmm … but, the schools, the schools .... Yes, the schools.  The Schools of the Prophets.  The Schools of the Rabbis.  One of the objections (and perhaps one of His greatest qualifications) regarding the ministry of Jesus was that He HADN'T attended the revered schools of His day; He HADN'T learned the Letters, at least, by the reckoning of the priests. And, yes, the disciples spent a lot of time (though perhaps not years before they were first sent out) at Jesus' feet; but when He sent them out, it wasn't to train people to sit at the disciples' feet, or to JUST "talk" about what Jesus had "said" to them.  There was so much more to their ministry.

I'm reminded of the LifeLock Identity Theft Protection commercial. The security "guard" looks so very official and impressive. But his job is merely to inform his employers that there is a problem; he does nothing ABOUT the problem. When Jesus sent out His disciples, their job was to "tell" what wonderful works Jesus had done, AND to "do" similar works. At one point Jesus informed His followers that they would eventually do GREATER works than those which He had done. The disconnect here is so outrageous that in order for one to call oneself a Christian, one has to completely reinvent the definition of Christianity. 

For a modern interpretation of Christianity to make sense, the Sermon on the Mount has to be all but erased from the record of Scripture, or at least confined to the idea that Jesus really couldn't have meant what He said, and the original intent was "Blessed are the rich;" "Blessed are they who are well spoken of;" "Blessed are the warmongers." The list goes on, but you get the idea. I have a sense that Paul would approve of the present scholarly debate, but I also have a sense that the original disciples (one of whom Paul was not) wouldn't recognize Christianity even a little ... as it is practiced in the world of Christendom today.

And just a gentle tongue-in-cheek observation: I can't imagine how inconvenient it would be for a person to have the power to raise back to life one who had been murdered, only for the former-corpse to quickly identify his or her murderer.  I suppose the order of business would be to quickly eradicate the person who had the power to raise the dead, lest dirty deeds be exposed. 

Perhaps we've lived without the power of God for so long, we've actually convinced ourselves that this is the will of God.  Perhaps.

And that's just my take on it ....

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Greatest of Influences

By Tony Harriman

When we think about the people who have had the greatest impact or influence in our lives, we usually don’t think of just one person.  There's more often what we see as a team of individuals, all unknown to each other, who have worked on our behalf.  What’s intriguing to me, though, is who first springs to mind when we are posed with the question of who has had the greatest impact.  Intriguing because the chances are, that’s the person who has caused you to make those final choices that have truly helped you become who you really are.

Most of us want to mull over the question, because we begin to look through our minds for the person who we think has had the greatest effect.  Was it a parent?   A teacher?   A friend?  Co-worker?  Philosopher?  Religious teacher?  When you take time to think about it, the question is not an easy one to answer.

The people who have had the most influence in my life are few in number, so this short writing really may not be of interest to many people.  Most of the people who know me well will be unsurprised by what follows.  Maybe I’m writing this so that I don’t forget where I came from, and who I used to be—and who, without these influences, I might have become.  And perhaps, more importantly, I simply don't want to forget these special people.

Let me take a few moments and tell you about my own experience of changes:

I was five years old before I found out that my mother had been married once before and that I had a sister who was five years older than me.  I couldn’t have been happier when she was introduced to my life, and I was thrilled when she came to live with the only family I had known.  At the time we lived in a two-bedroomed flat in South London.  Up to that point I had been an only child, and, had things gone on that way, likely would have grown to be even more selfish than I am.  But no, very quickly I learned to share everything I had: bed and bedroom, bathroom, parents, toys.  I was young enough to not really think about what I was “sacrificing” at the time; the gain, to my mind, eclipsed any loss I could have dwelt upon.  This young lady experienced life five years ahead of me, so even though I didn’t think about it at the time, I had the opportunity of seeing how I might respond when my time came to “grow up.”  Of course, much of what I learned about life from my sister wasn’t truly realized until much later.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change a thing about her or our circumstances.

John Bunyan —

A few years later, one Easter when I was nine years old, my Mother gave me a paper-wrapped gift of a book, just a small book, but a book that required the stretching of the mind, both in language and in metaphor, to grasp its meaning.  The book was the original English version of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  My mother had bought me this book and encouraged me to read it, because she could see that my feet were tending in a way that would not lead to either peace or happiness.  My young self was making poor choices in friends and pastime.  I had very little interest in things academic; in fact, I had very little interest in just about anything.  Psychologists would say I was a classic case of a child raised in a troubled home.  Alcohol and tobacco were frequent visitors to our home, and they brought all the troubles that generally travel with them: arguing; suspicion; yelling; never enough money for a working-class family.

Though John Bunyan lived hundreds of years before my time, his influence was still tugging on this bedraggled member of the human family.  His language was not easy to be understood, so I had to pause long enough to let his thoughts sink in.  His metaphors caused my mind to think in a manner that saw things that might not lie readily-seen on the surface.  I have since learned that much of the world we live in is unseen, but that its influence is felt nevertheless.  As a child I had no real religious education, and really felt no lack, though I had an interest, sort-of, in spiritual things; and I have since learned that "religious" and "spiritual" are not the same thing.

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was written shortly after the King James Version of the Bible was printed, but because the Bible had not yet made its way onto every shelf in every home, Pilgrim's Progress didn’t contain chapter number and verse every other line.  Had it done so, I might not have been as interested in it as I was.  I still have the book my mother gave me, and I still read it.  I also have a dramatized version that I have listened to countless times, and did so as recently as a week ago.

Bunyan’s influence is still appreciated in my life, and I see no waning of interest in the near future.

Mark Twain —

The next biggest influence (in time, though not necessarily in importance) was from another book my mother gave me as a birthday present when I was twelve years old.  This book was Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  This was my first introduction to Mark Twain, and his version of the English language I found to be most entertaining.  The characters in the book are rich and diverse, and the one I most wanted to be like was Huck Finn.  The idea of rafting the mighty Mississippi without much of a care in the world was a universe away from the troubled world I lived in.  Mark Twain, being the brilliant writer that he was, weaved into this story, not just adventure, but values; values that I didn’t have; values that placed friendship above the supposed needs of the individual; values that placed a price upon the head of a man—a black slave named Jim—that could be esteemed of far more value than could be counted in money.  When Huck decided he’d rather go to Hell than betray the only person who had ever really done right by him, well, I do believe I had some mighty fine software installed right there, software that I still don’t have to dig very deep to find.  This software causes me to drive an extra minute, pay an extra dime, and climb an extra step in order to put my business with people who have taken the time to treat me with courtesy and kindness.

Though Twain, too, was from another century before my own time, his influence is still very hard at work in my life.

John Shepherd —

What followed was a very long, dry period of just getting by, socially, economically, even spiritually.  Then when I was twenty-one years of age I was deputy manager at a restaurant complex: Ye Olde Rose Inne in Wokingham in Berkshire, England.  Up to that point this was the most stimulating job I had ever worked.  The complex had three restaurants and four bars which were handled on a full- and part-time basis by 80-90 members of staff.  As deputy manager, my job was to make sure that all the staff had everything they needed—before and after the doors opened to the public.  I'd love to re-live so many of the details, but suffice it to say, I was responsible for keeping the wheels of the machine greased, and I loved it.

The man I worked for at this complex is the person who springs instantly to my mind when I think about the people who have had the most impact on my life.  Mr. John Shepherd was very ordinary.  He was shorter and smaller in stature than me, but what he lacked in size and strength, he made up for in experience and uprightness.  Though he didn't smoke (a strange thing at that time for a publican), he did enjoy a small drink with a few of the regulars in the smallest, coziest bar in the place.  He was very capable of doing any of the jobs on the property; he could cook, clean, pour drinks, serve food ... whatever might be needed, and from time to time he exercised those abilities.

Occasionally we had to deal with members of the staff who were "fiddling" —stealing money or products, the absence of which wasn't really detected until times of stock-taking.  Our management team (there were seven or more of us) was answerable for "business done" to higher-ups—the Area Execs and Regional Directors, so a day of reckoning always beckoned.  In any business that handles products there are many ways to "cook the books" when things get out of whack, and many business people take that route, promising to make it up once they get things straight.

One time when we discovered that we had been royally ripped off by certain of the crooked staff among us, I was introduced to a side of Mr. Shepherd that I had not yet seen.  Instead of trying to cover anything up,  Mr. Shepherd immediately called upon the arm of our company responsible for weights and measures, and alcoholic gravities and the like to find out how much we had been ripped off and where to go from here to fix things.  Mr. Shepherd was the first person I had met who truly wanted to know how bad things were, so he could figure out what to do.  He had no desire to cover anything up.  This was a strange attitude for me ... and I liked it.

Setting things straight can be a painful, embarrassing process—for everyone involved.  Through this and other experiences Mr. Shepherd taught me that nothing gets better by continually trying to cover things up, and until someone takes an honest look at the situation—as bad as it may be—nothing can be done to fix the problem.   I found this attitude to be one that suited me perfectly, and have leaned on this mentality ever since.  I can sadly say that I have been unable to fix every problem that has attached itself to my life, but at least I feel like I had a fair understanding of the situation at the time.

Perhaps Mr. Shepherd springs first to mind because he was so much not like me at the time.  He had his feet planted squarely on the ground, whereas I had virtually no anchor ... and no compass—moral, spiritual or otherwise.

Spiritual Awakening —

In my twenty-sixth year I had a spiritual awakening.  The sister I had found just a few lines up in this writing was taken from my family by a run-in with cancer.  She was thirty-one years of age when she stepped out of our lives.  All of us—friends, family and everyone in between—were devastated.  Perhaps for the first time in our lives we were confronted with the fragility of our mortality.  Surprisingly, my first reaction was to blame God for his "mistake."  Were there not others more worthy of losing their lives?  What had she done to deserve this?  I was angry with God.  What was surprising to me about this reaction was that I really had no idea who God was, and there I was blaming Him for something I had not seen Him do.  It was confusing ... and eye-opening.

Needless to say, Heaven was very silent concerning my complaint about this order of business.  I wasn't struck dead for blasphemy.  No lightning bolt silenced my insolent tongue.  What did happen was there was born in me a growing curiosity regarding things in the spirit world.  Who was this God I had ignorantly confronted?  What kind of a world does He live in?  Who are these people we call angels?  And, of course, top of the curiosity list: what happens to people when they die?  Where had my sister gone?  Could she see me?  Could she interact with me?

Once again, the first person on my list of people who've had the greatest impact on my life ... was back on the list.  My loss of her had caused me to reach up and out. Here she was once again changing my life, this time from beyond the grave.

Initially my world fell apart.  While something inside me was born, at the very same time I started to die.  For the longest time I was slowly shrinking away inside a facade.  Brokenhearted, broken spirit, no real reason to live.  My parents resorted to the alcohol that had faithfully supported them for most of their adult lives, so there was no help there.

The urge to launch into recalling a long series of unbelievable events is strong, but that's not what this piece of writing is about—not really.  So let's pick up here:

I didn't get "saved" in the traditional sense.  What I did get was an introduction to the God who claimed to have created all of the world we live in.  Those questions that were awakened in me were somewhat addressed in what we call the Christian Bible.  And here began the journey with the Person who, by far, has had the biggest impact on my life.

I suppose, concerning my understanding of God, for most of my life I had been an agnostic: I believed the world had come from something or someone; there was far too much beauty, order and math in the natural world for me to believe there wasn't a designer of some kind.  But I was fuzzy on the details.  English people really don't have religious conversations, so any interest I might have had as a youngster soon got lost in the business of life.

I've never seen God.  Never heard His voice.  Don't know what language He prefers to speak.  Don't know what color His eyes are, or what His favorite color is.  Beyond the brief description of what God is like — kind, long-suffering, merciful, loving, and more — I really don't know much about Him at all.  But I can discern His handiwork in everything we have a microscope or a telescope to see; His mathematical fingerprints are all over the scenery ... in the very close ... and in the very far.

I discovered in the Bible a pen pal, a Father, from Whom I enjoy one-sided descriptions, not so much of who He is and where He lives, but of how well He knows my name, where I live, and what my aspirations are.  This Being we call God appears to live outside of time and place, and uses no ink in trying to describe to us a reality we have no way of understanding.

It's true, I have never "sensed" God, but I have had the experience of "knowing."  Through a series of very personal experiences God has been made "known" to me in a manner beyond the senses, just like when you sit in a familiar room, close your eyes, and "know" where things are in the room. You couldn't prove your experience to anybody else, especially if that somebody else had never been familiar with the same room.  Imagine the amount of times you might have sleepily, but safely, wandered into the bathroom at home during the dark of the night, then compare that with how different your experience has been in a darkened hotel room.  Yes, I've walked into a few strange walls a couple of times myself.

The Bible speaks of God having a Son, Jesus, and of God giving that Son for the redemption of the dying human race.  I have become familiar with all the human answers for why Jesus had to die, but I can honestly say I don't understand it.  Surely One Who is all powerful, all wise and all knowing could fix things without having to resort to this horrible act of barbarism.  But I am convinced, because of the greatness of the One in command, that if there was a better, more efficient, more effective way for the human race to be saved ... that's the way things would be working.

Not All the Answers —

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn't contain all the answers.  Perhaps it contains all the answers I need to know, but God has caused me to think further, and to ask questions regarding the world we live in, why things work this way, and if there's a way to get something done that will be more agreeable to my personality and abilities.  What's out beyond that horizon?  Why are there so many languages?  Why so many stars?  What kind of light appeared on the first day of Creation when the sun didn't appear until the fourth day?  Is the universe some kind of giant timepiece—a clock?  Some would say, "What's the meaning of life?"

God has had a tremendous impact on my life, one that keeps on vibrating.  And perhaps without all these other influences in my life I wouldn't have so much interest in being less selfish, or have a desire for things to be better, or have any wish to behave in a more noble manner.

The pain and sadness that creep into my life and into the lives of those I love are no greater nor lesser than anyone else's.  My tears are just as real and stinging as yours. But what makes such a big difference in the way I manage my corner of life on earth, is that I don't have to do it alone; there is a shoulder, bigger than mine, that I "know" is there.  Though I cannot see them, I "know" there are arms long enough to wrap entirely around me.  And I "know" that things will not go on this way forever; the God who made everything right in the beginning will put everything right in the end.

I thank God for the people who have stepped into my life, and I thank God for being interested enough to step into my timeline and to help me recognize and appreciate those people.

And would it not also be fair to include my mother who especially had a tremendous influence in my life?  How would my list look had not my mother given me life and love in the first place?  Suppose she had not given life to my sister?  Or had not given me that first book?  Or the second book?  All of a sudden our list of influential people takes on a very 3-dimensional look, doesn't it?  

If you've got this far in the reading of this piece, I thank you for your time, and I would just encourage you to consider the people who have made a difference in your life.  If you can, while you can, thank them for being who they are.  And, if you wear one, tip your hat to a God who has had an interest in you for longer than you know.

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