I woke up too early. It was still dark. The longest day of the year was already slipping away into a distant memory, so the light that normally seeped around the edges of the bedroom curtains wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure what time it was, so I looked at my bedside watch. It has a dial that lights up when I push a little button. Aaah – it was late enough that I didn’t have to try to get back to sleep again.

Then I went to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. The clock on the kitchen stove was 5 minutes slower than my watch. Which was right? I turned on my smartphone, because it constantly goes to the internet to find the correct time. It proved the stove’s clock was right. I realized it had been too long since I checked the accuracy of the time on my bedside watch.

Our lives are like that. We need to recalibrate by going back to a source we can trust to see what’s right. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” That’s Psalm 119 verse 105, from the longest chapter in the Bible. And that chapter is about the Bible. The writer shows many values of God’s word. Here are two of my favorites:

  • “Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions” (verse 29). The more I am reminded of the truth, the harder it is to wander.
  • “I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word” (verse 28). Using God’s word as a source of encouragement is perfect for those times when I wake up to early to talk with anyone about my sorrows.

Explore the chapter for yourself. Which is your favorite verse?

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Different Pencils

First published March 2, 2012.

Sharpening a pencil with a knifeI enjoy making birthday cards by hand. I use colored pencils. I always sharpen them with a small Xacto knife, to maximize the lead from each pencil. If I used a pencil sharpener, I would not notice the different types of wood that make up each pencil. Even though my colored pencils all the same brand, the wood of some is harder than the wood of others.

We are all made differently. Even though we know that, deep down we expect people to think and act the same as us. But we need to give each other lots of room to breathe – and exercise the gifts that were designed into who we are.

I met with a pastor friend last weekend, and he said another pastor did not understand why people liked to communicate with phone text messages. That pastor’s view on the subject went far enough that he was in the zone of judging people who texted. (That was dangerous territory – since communicating via text message is a significant avenue for the majority of people under the age of 40.)

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes: “In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.”

Sensitivity. That’s the best way to treat others. We can’t go wrong if we honor others more than ourselves.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Faulty voices

We were fresh out of college and went off to the big city. Our first real jobs were exciting – and stretching.

My buddy invited me to join him for church one Sunday. He was part of a televangelist-focused megachurch. The main preacher loved the spotlights and glory that came with his position. The wall behind the stage was covered with all manner of crutches and braces from people who may or may not have been healed through that ministry.

That preacher was not the kind of guy I liked. His wife single-handedly kept Mary Kay in business. His ego was big enough to fill the arenas he headlined, and I’ve never appreciated massive egos. A few years later, his expense account came to light, and there were several areas of his spending that (in my opinion) did not honor God. I was frustrated about those who sacrificially gave and unknowingly built that preacher’s empire.

But my buddy was growing in his relationship with God. He went to church almost every time the doors were open. He was reading his Bible with great enthusiasm. And he still follows Jesus.

Paul had a few things to say about this. In Philippians, he writes, “… others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely … But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” In 1 Corinthians, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.”

Though the messenger may have been flawed, God is big enough to overcome the weaknesses of the message-bringer. Let’s not focus on who is doing the speaking but rather on God’s message.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Totally different values

We forget. I forget.

Almost all over this planet, we are surrounded by the message that the richer you are, the better your life will be. Everywhere we turn, we hear and see messages that we need to:

  • have our dishes washed by a better machine
  • drive a newer car
  • eat tasty food prepared by someone else
  • have more time to relax
  • work less for greater gain
  • have bigger closets to hold more contemporary clothes
  • send our kids to a better college
  • have a beautiful garden that someone else tends
  • feel insulated from fluctuations in the markets
  • travel to exotic places to experience new things
  • feel like we know more than most people around us
  • know that we worked hard to get to our position

God says no.

“Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.” (James 1:9-11)

God honors poor believers because they need Him. Often they know their need and are willing to ask God for help.

When we are rich and everything is going smoothly, we don’t need God.

It’s interesting that James uses the modifier “believers” when he mentions poor and not when he mentions rich. That may be the key to the blessing – I don’t know.

But we need to remember our position. Even if we are blessed with an abundance of resources, we need to know that they may not last. And let’s look to God for honor and not people.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Why variety

We love variety. Maybe it’s a first-world thing – I know that my friends in rural Kenya do not suffer from quite the addiction to variety that I seem to have. However, I know that God loves variety as well. Think about it – He created seasons. The perfect spring day is so vastly different than a day in the the dark depths of winter. His creation reflects variety in so many ways. Flowers alone have such a vast assortment of textures and colors that gardeners (and observers of their art) never get bored. Even in sparse dry desert spaces, the variety of rocks is incredible.

But the biggest spectrum of variety is experienced through the humans God created. I love visiting the airport or riding on the subway, just to enjoy observing the heights, widths, colors and shapes of people – and the sounds those people make. The longer I live, the more humans I get to know. Learning about a person through time spent with them is a great way to go below the surface to experience even more of the variety of God’s creation. Two of my best friends are very different than me in a lot of ways. And that adds to the depth and richness of my life.

Here are a few ideas to add some variety to your life:

  • Go home a different way.
  • Try a different kind of music.
  • Eat at a restaurant you have never been to before.
  • Join a new group and make a few new friends.
  • Use your other hand to write a letter.
  • Or just write a letter.
  • Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a long time.
  • Go for a walk after dark.
  • Turn off the TV tonight and talk with a friend.

Add your ideas in a comment!

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)