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Testing one, two, three

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beep, beep, beep.

Designed to call the populace to attention, the signature beep, beep, beep of the Emergency Broadcast System soon became just another annoyance in modern life, initially inspiring alarm -- alarm that undoubtedly contributed to an entire generation's fatalistic outlook on life.

I admit, I always listened long enough to hear "This is a test. This is only a test." and then continued on with my day, having long ago memorized the rest of the script. The aural tones would continue without me, lasting anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds. Heaven only knows what I would have done "in the event of an actual emergency."

The system had its place in our world, a decidedly dangerous place, with enemies within and without, eager to do us harm. And there were stringent rules in place for its implementation and for testing the system regularly.

Part of the script identified the broadcast station, whether on radio or television, "in voluntary cooperation with...."

Interestingly enough, if voluntary cooperation couldn't be arranged, or if the station had antiquated equipment, non-participant stations were required to go off the air for the duration of the test and in the event of "an actual emergency" would have remained off air for the duration of the emergency.

The world remains a decidedly dangerous place, with enemies within and without eager do us harm. The EBS, in various permutations, was used from 1963 through 1997 when it was replaced by the Emergency Alert System, which localizes announcements for tornadoes or flash floods and is equipped to notify the entire population in the event of a national emergency. This system also requires frequent testing but lacks the interminable aural test pattern, using only the initial attention-getting tones followed by a narrative indicating whether or not it is a test or that an actual emergency exists. A test of the nationwide system, which has never been activated in an actual emergency, is reportedly set for Nov. 9, 2011.

Tests have their place. Especially as technology continues to evolve, but they are seldom an enjoyable experience, whether medical, scholastic or spiritual. But they do give us vital information. They reveal any weak spots and they prove whether or not we know what we say we know.

Tests reveal if it is time for remedial math or remedial lessons in compassion. After all, humans are more apt to be compassionate toward one another if they themselves have tasted affliction, loss or deprivation. It has been my experience that the poor are far more generous than the rich, digging deep to put even just a little something in the free will offering bucket or going through their own meager stores to add to the pantry donations. They're also often first in line after a fire or a tornado, with "extra" blankets worn thin but still serviceable.

Blood tests tell a doctor many things about a person's general state of health, revealing anemia or a serious infection. Once the malady is identified, appropriate remedies can be applied.

Faith tests gauge the condition of the heart of a man. Perhaps he harbors secret resentments, hurt one too many times to forgive, even just one more time. Jesus spoke about the woman who had been forgiven much and who, therefore, loved much. I suspect she also freely forgave.

Perhaps he harbors a secret envy. Paul speaks about contentment regardless of your circumstances, a lesson he says "I have learned..."

Whatever the heart deficit, and we all have them, they are revealed through testing and the Lord has at hand the appropriate remedies.

As to whether or not we truly know what we say we know, I must confess, there were precious few A+ test papers displayed for all the world to see with my name on them. Apparently, I knew only enough to get by.

When the hard tests of faith come -- those trials that try men's souls, whether in the form of grief, loss, or unrelenting pain -- I recall Jesus' admonition to pray found in the story of the persistent widow. She sought justice daily from a judge who feared neither God nor man. The judge relented, not because it was the right thing to do, but because of her persistence. I've always considered Jesus' closing question in Luke 18:8 , "However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" as a sort of plaintive plea. I'm rethinking that. Today, I see it as more of a challenge. Will we continue to press close to God in prayer? How will we answer the hard question, "Am I still not God or am I not still God" today?

I admit it. Tests are hard. And faith tests seem to come in the form of a "pop quiz." I suppose we could opt out. In school they called it "dropping out." In medicine I suppose they call it "giving up." But if we opt out spiritually, where do we go from here? In the words of Simon Peter, recorded in John 6:68, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Life is a test. But it is a test with purpose. Believers have placed themselves into the hand of the master who will try us -- and test us -- repeating the necessary lessons until they are well and truly learned.

"I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. Then they will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God.'" Zechariah 13:9 (NIV)

I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.


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