More about distractions

Jon and I both struggle with distraction. His recent post on being distracted got me thinking further (once I focused a little and pushed a few distractions out of the way).

What did Jesus do? He had to deal with a lot more distraction than I do, since he was extremely popular. Three incidents show his struggles with trying to get something done and being pulled away.

  1. Jesus was on his way to heal a man’s daughter. A sick woman reached out to touch his robe. She felt that would be enough to bring healing. He stopped. We learn that he was willing to put aside his agenda to deal with another need. How often are we willing to set aside our agenda to help someone?
  2. Jesus was at the point in his life where people were chasing after him for healing all the time. He knew that he had to get away to pray. We need to do the same when life presses in so much we can hardly breathe.
  3. He was preaching to a packed room. Lots of noise came from the ceiling and bits of roof started falling onto the listeners. Talk about distraction! Four buddies of a paralyzed man wanted to see him healed so much that they cut a hole through the roof of that house to get him to Jesus. (We never learn of what the house owner thought of this.) This one – Jesus simply did what was necessary – he stopped his preaching and healed the guy. We should put aside our plans to do what’s more pressing.
  4. Jesus was spending a long time in the wilderness, connecting with his father. Satan came along with some major distractions. Jesus fought back with Scripture. Let’s keep the Bible in our hearts.


Who is this man?

The storm is getting worse by the minute. The small boat they are crossing the lake in is taking on so much water that it’s about to sink. He’s asleep in the back, even though water is splashing across his robe and the boat is rocking wildly. Who is this man?

They wake him up. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” He gets up and tells the storm to be still. Deathly calm spreads across the lake. The clouds disappear and sun comes out. Who is this man?

I invite you to find out more about this man, Jesus. This story may be familiar to you. It is to me, but I’m learning new things about him by going through the four books in the Bible that are dedicated to his life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each one provides a different perspective on the life on Jesus, taking the viewpoint of each writer. Matthew includes details that are important to the Jews, who were expecting a savior, the Messiah. (He shows them that Jesus is that Messiah.) Mark gives a fairly short account, not even including the story of Jesus’ birth. Luke writes his account to a friend, Theophilus. John writes to those who were skeptical.

I have been reading these accounts slowly and am finding out new things about Jesus each day I read. Even if you have read these books 300 times, you will find something new about Jesus. Or if you’ve never read them, begin with Mark. Before you start reading each time, ask Jesus to show you new things about himself.

You don’t have to read slowly. Dedicate a free afternoon to reading as much as you can. You’ll get the view from an airplane, rather than from the walking path.

Dive in!

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Bittersweet fun

A new person that came into the group, and she fit a certain stereotype to a T. Her clothing reflected a style that passed out of vogue about 20 years ago.

I was powerless. I knew a friend in that group would completely agree with my judgment and be equally amused. So after a tiny hesitation, I texted my friend. We exchanged a knowing smile.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:12. Though this is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, I still seem to have a hard time applying that concept to my life.

A very simple way to stop myself from stepping across the line is to ask, “Could I say that directly to the person I am talking about?” If the answer is no, then I should not say it to anyone else.

It was such fun to share my judgment and laugh about that person – for a brief moment. Then I was overwhelmed with a wave of guilt.

The Fashion Violation Lady will never know about my little text. But God did. And that’s where forgiveness comes in. “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Then, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). So once I ask for forgiveness, it’s gone.

And I learned my lesson. Hopefully for at least a few days.

Things get really complicated when we say things we regret to a person face-to-face. Then the damage is harder to undo. It may take significant work to dig ourselves out of a hole. For the future, ask for protection ahead of time: “God, help me love others today!”

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)


Hope is the best way to live and breathe. Hope is also the name of Jon and Nancy’s daughter, but you knew that already. (And there’s a great story behind her name.)

Hope is big in the Bible. Something close to 189 mentions of the word turned up when I did a search. The strongest use of hope I can think of is anticipation of the future. We hope that something will happen. According to Paul, we “have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” It’s amazing to think of being reunited with God – being face-to-face. If you are not familiar with the Bible, this is a huge deal. That reunion is the day when, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

There’s big long-term hope and smaller short-term hope. It’s hard to hang onto long-term hope if your short-term hope is gone, and vice-versa. I find it comforting that even if my short-term hopes are not working out the way I planned, I still have long-term hope to hang onto. And that hope is based on God, not on some thing. I am thankful that I don’t have to understand why things happen or why they don’t. Some things are easy to figure out and others are a complete mystery. Most of the time, life falls into that mystery category.

So as we dive into this new year, I am hopeful for you. I am hopeful that you will have some of your mysteries solved – and in good ways. I am hopeful that you will understand more of who God is and about his love for you.

I’m hopeful for the same things for me. Thanks, God.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

God does not do things the way you do

God often uses ways totally different from the ways humans normally operate. John was a prophet who came before Jesus and prepared the way for him. Yet if he were alive today and living his normal life, most Christians would categorize him as mentally ill and homeless. “For food he ate locusts and wild honey.” He lived in the wilderness. I’d guess he did not take regular baths, so his smell might have been fairly pungent. John’s message would not be popular either: “Repent of your sins and turn to God.” Repenting is admitting you are doing bad things and want to change, and most people don’t like to admit they’re doing wrong.

Yet in Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.”

Flowers are beautiful and span an amazing range of styles, shapes and colors. God put his creative powers to work when he crafted their many designs. Yet flowers last only a few days. Why did God lavish his energy on something that is so ephemeral? Again, his sense of economy is different than ours.

A small fly is incredible. We have not yet been able to make tiny robots that can zip around for hours, powered by things we don’t like to think about.

However, the object God lavished his most creative powers on is you. Remember that he created you for good things. It’s easy to look at the small picture and groan about how our lives are going or how things aren’t working out the way we planned. Consider how God has a bigger understanding of what is best for us. We can’t understand or know what’s best for us. But he does.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy what he’s doing.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)