Category Archives: following

Waiting again

Heather and I are at a place of waiting again. We are trusting God for what’s next in several areas of our lives.

It’s not easy, nor is there lots of fun in that aspect of our journey.

I’m reminded of family car journeys, when the kids ask, “Are we there yet?”

The kids are wanting the destination to be here and now, but the parents know it’s physically impossible to get to the Pennsylvania border any faster than traveling at the speed limit will allow.

So the parents try to distract the kids in every way they can think of. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.

When all else fails, they stop for ice cream.

This analogy breaks down in places. God doesn’t distract us from thinking about how we want to get to our destination now. And we don’t know which border our car is heading toward.

But ice cream fits. God has given us some tasty moments to savor along our way. We’ve been able to enjoy many beautiful sights.

And our car is working fine.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

Because we don’t know what’s next, that’s our opportunity to depend on God. We would appreciate your prayers as we wait to get to the border.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.


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.)

Psalm 1.

(First published July 13, 2011)

When you pick up a book of poetry or a book of song lyrics, you have to work.

You cannot read Gerard Manley Hopkins or W.H. Auden or Bono the same way you read Malcolm Gladwell or Donald Miller. With poems, you have to stop often, read out loud at times, look in your heart for images and understanding.

The book of Psalms is a book of poetry. It takes time to read and reread. But that what keeps people going back.

Here’s a reflection of the first of the psalms.

Psalm 1

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, now, does it

if a person wanting to live a blessed life

gets all his advice from people who are against God

or walks along a path that leads away from God

or sits on the sidelines being snarky all the time.

Instead, think what would happen if she decided

to focus on God’s words

like words from a lover

and day and night reflected on them.

It’d be like a planting a tree right by a river,

roots well watered,

branches bearing great fruit.

The things people like that do, they prosper somehow.

A person who is against God isn’t going to grow this way.

Without the water of life, you end up more like chaff,

the hull on the outside of a grain of wheat,

blowing away in the harvest wind.

At the end of everything, when considering how life was lived,

the ones who chose to be wicked

will find their legs collapsing under them.

And the ones who joyfully wanted “sinner” as their pursuit

will find no room in the “righteous” section.

Those who trail along after God

find protection along the way.

Those who are committed to avoiding that path

will find themselves among the ruins.

Why I quit running.

FullSizeRender (5)I was doing great. As of July 22, I had run at least a mile every day for 425 days. In a row. On July 23, I didn’t run.

I wasn’t injured. I didn’t forget.  I made a choice.  I switched my focus from running every day to training for a marathon.

I asked a friend about coaching me for the marathon, which is just 10 weeks away. I showed him my running history and my current approach. I told him about what works for me with motivation and what doesn’t. I outlined everything I could think of about my physical and mental attitudes and behaviors around running.

And in our first conversation over dinner, my new training coach said, “you are going to have to think about a day off.”

I smiled.  I immediately started thinking about all the people I’ve read about who have maintained running streaks through all levels of marathon training, including people who have run marathons every day.

The next morning while running, I realized that I needed to release the streak. Not because of the rest day, though that is important. Not because of the struggle I have with maintaining two training goals at the same time, though that is real, too. It’s because I have to learn to trust a coach more than I trust myself.

He’s run three dozen marathons. He’s coached young runners for years. I asked for help because I understood that the low standard of running every day wasn’t getting me ready for running 26.2 miles in one day. I couldn’t self-coach.  I needed to start training. 

And to argue with the first thing he suggested would mean that I would question everything he suggested.

So I quit running. For four days. Now I’m training.

And I’m guessing that this isn’t just about running.

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.