All posts by Paul Merrill

About Paul Merrill

Observing the shiny bits of life since I can remember.

We can’t see

I recently met a man who suffers from PTSD, as a result of experiences in the Vietnam War.

I can’t begin to understand the depth of pain he knows and feels on an ongoing basis. The aches and pains in my life must be child’s play to him.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:11: “No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit…”

For me to try to speak to his pain or put forward a solution would be foolish. There are trained professionals to counsel those who suffer pain. But in many cases, their effectiveness is limited, either due to the lack of adherence to solutions put forward or to the depth of the injury that caused the pain.

(If someone gets an arm cut off, there is only so much a doctor can do.)

And I can’t see the “why” for that trauma.

Solomon, the man God described as the wisest man to have breathed this air, said in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “…people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

I take comfort in the two words in the middle of that truth, “God’s work.” God is working. He is working in ways I can’t see. He is working toward goals I can’t understand. He is working in a timeline that is way longer than my little lifetime.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

coffee cup

Things to help us remember

Two coffee mugs are part of my daily life.

Those mugs remind me of my two sisters. Each sister gave me a mug as a gift. (They know I love coffee.) Many times when I lift one of those mugs to my lips, I remember that sister and pray for her and her family.

God knew that we would forget. He told Joshua to ask His people to put a large pile of 12 stones on the banks of the Jordan River so that Israelites could remember how God gave them the new land on that side of the river (Joshua 4).

It’s easy to forget that there were two piles of stones that Joshua had his priests build in that same chapter of the Bible. Jon wrote about that other pile of stones. But I’m writing about the more obvious set of stones – the pile on the banks of the Jordan. It was for the children of the people who saw God part the waters of that river.

I’m too often like a child. I forget all the good things that God has done for me, like giving me sisters (and a brother) that I love. And I forget to pray for them.

So the simple act of using those special mugs reminds me of the ones who gave me the mugs.

As we start this new year, think of one simple thing you can add to your life that will remind you to spend a few extra moments talking with God during your day.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Black Friday

How much is...Yes, today is Black Friday – the day Americans are urged through a massive push of advertising from every source imaginable to buy stuff we don’t need at amazing prices.

True, there’s the idea that we need to buy Christmas gifts for those on our list, and buying those gifts on Black Friday would save us a bit of money.

And then we see deals on stuff we have been looking at but not really considering. “I mean, it’s less than half the regular price! For that, I can afford it.”

You might think I’d head in the direction of asking you to give to a charity instead – or to think of the way-below-minimum-wage workers who make all that stuff. (And ministries like World Vision help people who fall into the latter category – at least a little. China is hostile to most Christian missions, so you’d have to settle for India or Cambodia, both of whom make some of that “stuff.”)

But no.

All I ask is that you – and I – take a few minutes to thank God that we live in a place where we have so many freedoms that we have the luxury of buying things we don’t need. And then take a few more minutes to think about how we can share that excess.

So yes.

I guess I’m looping back to the idea of giving instead of taking.

Compassion is another ministry focused on kids – some of the most vulnerable people in the world. My wife and I have sponsored two kids for several years. One even graduated from the program. For very little money each month,we sponsored him long enough to see him enter his society (in Tanzania) with the tools to support himself and eventually, maybe, a family too.

Black Friday? No. Give Friday.

(Paul Merrill normally writes here every First Friday, but instead of writing in December, he’s writing on the last Friday of November.)

Humility hurts

Over and over, I’ve made mistakes that have landed me in a place of having to admit that I am wrong. And it hurts to be seen as weak or inadequate. Our culture fights against being seen as less than a super-strong person with nearly every voice we hear.

Another way we have to butt up against humility is by living in a situation that we know is wrong – but one we can’t change.

Microsoft makes me crazy. Many of the ways their software interfaces work are like being forced to write left-handed – and I’m right-handed. Yet every day of my work week, I use Microsoft software for much of how I accomplish my job.

Jesus lived in a time when the government was less than perfect. And yet he asked his followers to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s – in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke!

No matter what happens next week in the USA, those of us who reside here will have to live under a government that has policies and approaches to governance that we will not be happy with. But in humility, we need to pray for our leaders, understanding that God has allowed them to be there.

Humility also means correction. When my kid wants to run out into the street while chasing a ball, I have to grab his arm hard to prevent him from getting run over by a car. Similarly, God sometimes corrects me in painful ways.

Maybe God will use a little pain in our lives to make us be more like Jesus. Or to give us opportunities to become people that will help others better deal with their pain.

And maybe I am learning some good things by using Microsoft products – or at least to stop grumbling about it.

Paul, Jon, and Nancy
Paul, Jon, and Nancy actually in the same place.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Forgetting the solution

Getting bogged down in the grind if daily life is so easy. The stresses of doing our best at work, maintaining healthy relationships, paying the bills, being a better partner, figuring out how to help out a friend in crisis or sometimes just having the energy to keep swimming in the stream of life are all challenging.

Jesus knew that. One of my favorite places in the Bible is Matthew 6. Jesus was talking to a crowd. He knew that worries were part of each of their lives, so he didn’t just narrow his focus on the one person in the group who struggled with worry.

“I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. … Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

Some of my days seem like they have end-to-end problems. I skate from one small crisis to the next. And I know that my problems are really small compared to so many people in the world! But those worries can still consume me.

So when those minutes, hours or days hit me, I need to step back and remember my Father who loves me. He has carried me this far, and he will carry me through this day too.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)