All posts by Paul Merrill

About Paul Merrill

Observing the shiny bits of life since I can remember.

Always lead?

always lead on bike shoesMy bike shoes have it all wrong. And the major message we hear today is wrong too: “Being a leader is the only way to succeed.”

Jesus has a different idea. He wants us to follow.

As he was calling people who would spend the most time with him, Jesus didn’t ask what degree they had. He didn’t interview them and ask for their ten-year goals.

He simply said, “Follow me…”

God also has a different idea of who He wants us to be. It was time for Israel to have another king. God chose the family of Jesse, a man who had eight sons. Jesse knew who would be the best candidate – anyone but his youngest, David.

Samuel was the guy God chose to pick the right son. God primed Samuel ahead of time: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel paraded all his sons before Samuel, but none were right. David was out herding sheep – Jesse did not even consider him. Samuel asked Jesse to send for David. “This is the one.”

Later into his time on this planet, Jesus went on to say, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He did not say, “some of you who want to be my disciple…” or “most of you who want to be my disciple…” but “whoever…”

Then at the end of his time on the earth, as he was about to be killed, Jesus asked Peter, “Follow me…” (Peter was the guy Jesus appointed to head up his followers after he would be gone.)

If we want to learn from Jesus and get closer to him, we must follow.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.


Our minds love to go back to things, over and over. We obsess about what we did wrong, what we should have done, what we want to get or who messed with us.

record player playing a record

The image that came to mind is a record player. The needle traces a groove from the edge of the record to the middle – usually for about 20 minutes. The more a record is played, the more the grooves get worn out – and the deeper the grooves become. The record starts to sound distorted; eventually, the background noise overwhelms the music. If the needle gets pushed in the wrong direction, a new groove can be made, causing the needle to always jump out of the groove it’s supposed to be in.

At the other end of the spectrum are helpful grooves. A carrier pigeon knows where home is, even from thousands of miles away.

In Philippians 4:8, Paul gave us a great way to get our needle from the wrong groove to the right groove: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

If we always dwell on our failures or obsess about what we want and can’t have, we’re filling our minds with the opposite of things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

What If we work together to get onto good grooves. Here are just a couple ways:

Memorize verses from the Bible. If we memorize those good words, they will sometimes come back to remind us of helpful truths at just the right time. Start with Philippians 4:8.

Find a friend to help you get off your bad grooves. Text them when the bad grooves start and ask for prayer.

May we find the right grooves!

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

A good gift

On the first Friday of each month, Paul Merrill writes in this space. As Jon was reading the post for this month, he realized that both Swansons and Merrills are in an interesting place. We write here about following Jesus. And for both families, that following is calling for faith.

You’ve read about Jon’s journey away from pastor into part-time chaplain.

Now read Paul’s story:


My wife’s contract was not renewed. After five years of working at a dream job with a famous Silicon Valley company, their “no remote workers” clause was no longer avoidable.

Similar to the loss of a loved one, she has already been through some of the stages of grief: shock to sadness to acceptance to a tiny bit of excitement. There are all kinds of possibilities.

So we’re waiting on God for what’s next.

Looking back, we’re very thankful for God’s past provision, over and over. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

She was planning to take a 6-week sabbatical from the company this summer – but didn’t expect it would come in this particular way.

God has a good plan. We’ll wait to see what’s in store.


When we write, Paul and Jon, we don’t have any special knowledge of the future. We live lives in real time. Which is why we both are deeply involved in faith development. Which means daily dependence on God.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Who’s the fool?

The fool is anyone who ignores God. David said it first, not me.

We’re all foolish, to varying degrees and in different ways. But to live a life that’s worth living, we need to listen to God – His gentle whisper.

Life is noisy in the extreme. Messages constantly shout at us from every source to do anything but what God wants. Even when we know what God wants, we suppress that gentle whisper.

The prick of conscience telling us to do the right thing hits and we ignore it.

Is there hope?


Just say yes to that small voice, one little battle at a time.

I had a victory yesterday evening. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to pull a stick out of someone else’s eye using a small anonymous note. I knew I was right and he was wrong. I savored in advance the feeling of my little judgment bomb wreaking its destruction. And who knows – maybe he would change! Perhaps his decision to change based on my note-bomb would have a huge positive impact on others around him.

Or not.

I realized the joy of my victory would be very short-lived. And that the negative feelings my note would bring to that other guy’s heart could be much longer-lived.

Before I pulled the trigger, God gently reminded me that I am guilty of the very same wrong, only on a smaller scale. And who was I to be the one to point out the wrong? God is the judge. And he does a much better job than I.

It was a close call – I was almost the fool. And I’m sure there will be other opportunities to fight a similar battle – and hopefully win.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Better to know

Every day throws challenges at us.

One simple idea has helped me get perspective on some of the trials I’ve been facing – and processing the trials that friends have been facing:

Pain is normal.

Our culture tells us the opposite, all the time. Whenever we watch a movie, all the problems are solved in about two hours. For a TV show, it takes even less time to reach resolution.

We are told:

  • Spending money will fix almost any problem.
  • If we just had a new car, we’d be spared the headaches of getting it fixed – at least for a little while.
  • If we just had a little more money, we wouldn’t have to worry.
  • Trusting in medical science will cure our aches and pains.
  • If I just had a week on the beach, I’d feel so much better.
  • If my kid didn’t have that problem, it would be so much easier.

But if you look at the Bible, every person who was right in God’s eyes didn’t have a pain-free life. In fact, many had a lot of pain. Take David… he hid in caves to keep from getting murdered (1 Samuel 24 – particularly in verse 11).

I realize that the experience of pain is vastly different from person to person. (I think I’ve been on the receiving end of pain far less than many people I know.) But we all have to deal with pain every day. (See Genesis 3:17-19. I don’t think God was referring only to Adam when he said that.)

The sooner I accept the fact that pain is just part of life, the sooner I will stop trying to make it go away. If I go through it, I will learn a lot in that journey. And be able to help others facing similar pain.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.