All posts by Paul Merrill

About Paul Merrill

Observing the shiny bits of life since I can remember.

Why He died

Sometimes when I think about Jesus dying on the cross, I get overwhelmed. What did I do to deserve that great sacrifice? Why could such a horrible thing happen to such a wonderful person?

For the last two years, my family and I have been part of an Anglican church. We remember Jesus’ death on the cross every Sunday by sharing communion, a symbolic meal of bread and wine. Some Sundays I am really moved by remembering Jesus’ sacrifice – even to the point of tears. Other Sundays, I can’t seem to connect. (We all have cycles of distraction and focus.)

The account of Jesus’ death and coming back to life is so important that it’s in four books of the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each telling highlights some of the ways Jesus suffered: people mocked him, they gave him sour wine when Jesus said he was thirsty, and the soldiers gambled to win his clothes. Also, crucifixion was an extremely brutal way to die. (Today, the states that support capital punishment try to end a criminal’s life in as short a time span as possible. Not then – it took hours.)

One part of Jesus’ death that brings me back to the whole reason for His taking such abuse and torture is what Jesus said while he was hanging on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus lived and died so that I can be forgiven. No matter what I did or will do, Jesus sacrificed so I can be whole, restored and complete. Jesus has the power to cover all the wrongs I do. A criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus appealed to him, and Jesus readily accepted him.

May we ask him too. He wants to hear us.


Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Burning hearts

While I’m traveling, I asked some friends to answer a question: What’s the story related to Jesus that is most compelling for you? Today’s post is from Paul Merrill.

It was just three days after Jesus had been killed. Two of his followers went for a walk to be with other followers. They were passionately discussing all the earth-shaking events surrounding the loss of their friend and leader. (This story is in Luke 24.)

Suddenly, a guy started walking along with them. He didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about. And they didn’t recognize him, so they explained the events surrounding Jesus’ death.

They talked together for a long time. It’s comforting to me that though they didn’t know the Scriptures about what was going to happen to Jesus, He was patient enough to explain it to them. He talked in a way they understood. Yet he did not use soft words to ease them into the truth – as usual, he talked without any candy coating: “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.”

I love that. They had a hard time believing the Scriptures! I don’t always believe. I need Jesus to explain things to me.

I’m not sure why God kept Jesus’ identity from them for a while. Maybe it’s a picture of how God sometimes reveals Himself to us slowly. We want to see all of God now, but God knows that’s not what we need.

I love how they finally recognized who Jesus is when He broke bread. Eating together was such an important part of their relationship that they knew how He broke bread. That’s a good reminder to me that I need to spend a lot more time with friends breaking bread together. And talking.

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” I love that burn.


Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Like a kid

Miguel lives more than a day’s drive away. We don’t get to see each other very often. We’re good friends from way back. So we try to catch up every once in a while via Skype.

About six months ago, life wasn’t treating him very well. Business was down and it was really discouraging. I said I’d pray – you know, like friends do. But to make it happen, I put a daily reminder in my phone. Every day at 11 am, I get a little reminder that says, “Pray for Miguel.” So I did.

Some days, I’d pray for a minute. Some days, for a few seconds. Some days, I’d think, “Oh yeah,” and continue doing whatever it was I was wrapped up in.

We checked back in a few weeks ago, and Miguel’s mood and business were both better.

After we finished our call, I remembered Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I was asking God to help Miguel, like a kid would. I had less faith than a kid – I knew that such things are big and difficult, but I also knew that God is bigger than Miguel’s problems – and my problems.

A few days later, I remembered that God had answered several other recent prayers. A buddy in North Carolina got a job really quick, after he asked for prayers. (I said I’d pray, so I checked back to see how things were – that’s when I found out.) We got a renter for our basement apartment, after another one fell through. Friends in their 50s bought a house for the first time. I didn’t pray about that one, though I knew they were praying.

Prayer is not a magic bullet. God doesn’t always fix every problem we bring to Him.

My grandmother prayed for her alcoholic son till the day he died. She wore out her knees, praying so much. For almost 20 years, I’ve been praying for a situation that hasn’t changed. Yet.

I don’t know why God answer some prayers so clearly and others not. Either way should drive me to trust Him.

Like a kid.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Old gloves

old glove being repairedI have this pair of old gloves. My parents gave them to me when I was in high school. They were not top-quality back then, but they still work fine. However, I’ve had to stitch up the seams about a million times – even this week.

Our culture functions around the concept of planned obsolescence. When a part of something is broken, it’s cheaper to get a whole new something than to fix it. God doesn’t work that way. I’m thankful for that! If I were worthless when part of me was broken, I wouldn’t be here – a thousand times over. But God loves me and as a result, He fixes me over and over. He lets me keep serving Him, even after I mess up.

Here are a few encouraging verses from the Bible about how God has a very different set of values than the world that surrounds us:

Job 34:19: He doesn’t care how great a person may be, and he pays no more attention to the rich than to the poor. He made them all.

Matthew 10:29-31: What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Isaiah 55:8: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

2 Peter 3:8: But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

Thanks to the God who is not bound by our little realities.

And happy new year.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

A feast for the wrong reasons

Deception is never the best place to start, when you want something good to happen.

She wanted something good so badly that she would do whatever it took. The prospect of a huge family rift was not enough to stop her. (Maybe she wanted it so much that she didn’t even think of that.)

Rebekah knew that her son Jacob was second. He wouldn’t get the inheritance his older brother was due, unless she fooled her husband. So she convinced Jacob to let her cook a delicious feast, after which her old nearly-blind and probably hard-of-hearing husband would bless her son – a blessing meant for his older brother Esau. (You can read the story in Genesis 27.)

Esau was a hunter and knew how to cook an incredibly tasty dish. Jacob had other talents, not of the outdoor variety.

Think about the conversations that may have resulted between husband and wife, father and son, and the twins. “Tension” is a mild description of what happened in each tent and around the campfires. The rift from that meal fed anticipation for someone to bring peace.

God blessed Jacob anyway. He built a nation in spite of that deception. I am not saying that deception is good, but rather that God can do great things in spite of how we don’t do everything perfectly. The weight of striving for perfection can be heavy. But understanding that God can do amazing things out of the ashes of our mistakes can take away a lot of worry. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28).

So let’s love God and live in His freedom.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)