Something to Think about is a daily (more or less) commentary on life. The Author, Howard Merrell's, goal is to help us think Biblically and Christianly about the issues of life, from the mundane to the sublime.
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Palau is a little place. Both by land mass and population it is one of the smallest nations in the world. Small though it may be, there are a diversity of people here. This morning I attended a Kindergarten program in honor of United Nations Day. Children from half-a-dozen nations participated. Part of the what the children, many of whom come from families unreached with the Good News of Christ, learn is the Word of God. As my nation finishes up a divisive political campaign it is good to be reminded that the Good News of God's love knows no national or ethnic boundaries. The lines on the map mean nothing to the Lord of the Universe. Let's cross those lines whenever we can.
Here I am on the back side of the world. What an arrogant statement that is. Who am I to declare my spot on the globe the front? But this morning, 8,000 mile from home, that's how I feel. I just got word that my neighbor died. Kathy and I had only been married for nine months when we moved in at 2106 S. Carpenter Drive. It was the first real house we lived in together. It's been our home for the past forty-three years. We raised our boys there, and have been privileged have our grandkids visit. And for all those years Gene was our neighbor. Sometimes when I would tell people where I lived, I'd tell them that I lived next to Gene. They'd kind of look puzzled and then say, "Oh, you mean Fatty." If you knew Gene you'd know why he had received that nick-name. I never used it. There was much more to him than his significant circumference. Gene was one of those guys who carried a lunch box and wore a hard hat. He sacrificed and worked hard to build a nice home. He suffered the bitter cold and snow of Korea, and saw some of his conrades claimed by that cruel conflict. He was a loyal--some would say fanatical--union member. Though he was a big man, he was one of the little guys that he wanted to get a fair shake. He extolled the virtues of Ford. Until his dying day he wanted to be back behind the wheel of his red pickup or, even better, his blue Cyclone. In spite of extra cars and other junk in the yard, Gene was a good neighbor. Good neighbors are there for one another at times like this. I regret that I can't drop in to visit with his family, and swap stories, but as I say, I'm on the back side of the world. I'm here, in part, because of a story Jesus told one time. You probably remember it. We call it the story of the Good Samaritan. A legal expert was trying to pin Jesus down. He wanted to know, "Just who is my neighbor?" He wanted to know this so that he could know who he didn't have to help. "Who can I, in good conscience ignore?" You read the story, maybe a couple of times. I think you'll see that by taking the person who this Jewish leader was least likely to regard as a neighbor, and giving him the GOOD NEIGHBOR gold star, Jesus was saying that all people, everywhere are my neighbors. So, I came here from what my neighbors, here, would regard as the backside of the globe, to be a good neighbor. I concluded that there is some good I can do here. Some partners have made it possible for me to be here. It's what neighbors are supposed to do. We take the blessing God has entrusted to us and share it, sometimes next door, sometimes around the world.
PS: I'm very glad that God gave me the privilege of sharing the Good News with Gene. Because Gene trusted in the Lord, I expect to be his neighbor again. I want to do the neighborly thing toward you, and share that good news. Here is a simple video presentation of the message.
By no stretch of the imagination can one conclude that the Bible is opposed to planning. The book of Proverbs is full of counsel about the wisdom of having a plan. We read about the Lord Jesus, that there was a plan written down ahead of time (Hebrews 10:7). Knowing that helps us make sense of Jesus' determination to go to Jerusalem. In fact we here Jesus speaking of that whichmust come to pass. The Apostle Paul's letter are full of plans. Yet, Scripture clearly speaks against being future oriented in a way that detracts from the here and now. Proverbs 27:1 tells us that we ought not boast in tomorrow, because we don't know what tomorrow holds. James applies that counsel to some business men, who lived and conducted business as if they could reach out and control the future. Jesus simply puts it this way, "Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34). Don't presume on tomorrow's opportunities, and don't wallow in misery that is yet to come. Wisely make a plan, and live in the only time in which we can live--not the past, nor the future, but now. "Live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:12).
Is there a contest for ugly trees? I know there is one for uglydogs. If there is a hideous topiary award I think I might win. It took me about two days to make this tree this ugly. It was too big. It's close to the house and garage so some chaos-metics were in order. It is hard work to make a tree this ugly. Dangerous too. My task involved ladders, rope, saws of various descriptions, including one on a twelve foot pole, a truck, and a come-along. I kinda figured that since I spent all this time and effort making this box elder this unattractive that I ought to come up with something really profound to say about it. Alas, I'm all out of profundity. Maybe it's because I'm tired. So, I'll just say, I'm thankful that I didn't fall or lose a finger. No limbs--either mine or the tree's fell on my house. The job is done. I'm hopeful that spring will bring green that will cover the wooden scars. That's about it. So from beside the fire--thank you tree--under the Alleghany Highland's sorriest looking tree, that's Something to think about.
Jim Denison asks an interesting question, "What would God say about last night's debate?" He's not assuming the mantle of a prophet, but looking at what God has said in the Bible, and applying that to what he heard. His bottom line conclusion is that God would be grieved because of the division of our nation. Quoting Lee Drutman of the New York Times, Denison points out that "Rather than being one two-party nation, we are becoming two one-party nations." It might even be worse than that, but before I comment on that, consider the tendency we have to cherry-pick an event like last night's debate. We come into the room looking for "facts" that make the other side look bad, while we listen for that which supports our prejudice. Interviews I heard this morning confirm that "confirmation bias" is alive and well. Actually, our situation might be worse than two one-party nations. Out in the realm of those who had no place on the stage, are the voices who say neither of these candidates represent us. Considering where the current political system has led us, their complaint has merit. "Is this the best we can do?" is a question that has been heard a lot lately. One man I heard in an interview spoke of being apathetic, add to that crowd the apoplectic, and there are a lot of folk filling in the spaces between the candidates. We as Christ's followers are called to be "salt and light." In our current situation I think that has less to do with the political process than it does with the process that leads to the political process. God's people need to be thinking based on a Biblical worldview. We need to do so so effectively that others around us will see that way of thinking as valid. This is in no way an expression of defeatism. I have read the book. In the end my side wins. What I'm suggesting is that we ought to have a greater focus on my platform, as compared to any platform of any political party. How can I affect my family, my friends, my community. The early church was completely disenfranchised, yet they changed the world. I'm not recommending abandoning the political process. I am suggesting that putting too much hope in it is not wise.
If you put your ear to the Bible, you can often hear the sadness. Psalm 81:13 is one example. Can you hear the pleading, the sorrow in the Lord's voice as He declares, "Oh that My people would listen to Me." Those are not the words of one who just wants to get his own way. That lament comes from a heart that wants what is best for His wayward people. A couple of verses before we read these sad words, "My people did not listen to My voice. . . . So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart" (Ps 81:11–12). "Gave them over," you find those words three times in Romans 1:18-32. We mistakenly think that Romans 1 is referring to some particularly evil group of people--a place where wickedness is so bad that property values plummet. Or, we figure it is about some particularly wicked time, perhaps even a prediction of the final falling away before the Lord returns to bring things to a final conclusion. I don't think so. I think what Paul is describing is the condition of people, apart from God's grace ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Like our first ancestors we continue to believe the lie and grasp for that which we think will make us better, but which, instead, gives incalculable misery. You have to focus your listening. Somehow you have to cut through the din of racket that fills our world wall-to-wall, but if you do, you'll hear a loving, sad voice, "Oh that My people would listen to Me." It is the voice of a loving Father to his wayward children. He wants them to flourish. He knows they will wither and die if they persist in going their own way. To force us would be contrary to the nature of love, so He pleads. LISTEN!
If John Donne were a 21st Century American, he might very well write, ". . . search not the internet to know for whom the siren wails. It wails for thee." A relative of mine works at UNC Charlotte, friends of mine live in that community. What is going on in Tulsa and Charlotte is not unrelated to reality here in the quiet community I call home. I'll not argue for one version of the facts over another. Actions--probably actions on both sides of the horribly complicated situation are being driven not by facts (alone), but by perceptions--perceptions only partially fueled by facts. The rest of the space is filled with inappropriate conclusions, generalizations, prejudice, fear, and anger. The perception that a portion of our population is being dealt with unjustly, by the very people they should be looking to for justice, has to be recognized and dealt with. The perception that we cannot trust law-enforcement personnel to make good faith decisions, rather we must demand 24/7 video footage so we can make up our own mind is problematic and must be addressed. We often miss the point of the Good Samaritan storythat Jesus told. The story comes at the end of a dialogue between Jesus and a man who was "put[ting Jesus] to the test," and who had a desire to "justify himself." His opening question to the Lord was representative of the "I'm better than these other folk because I keep the law" mentality of the religious leaders we often meet in the Gospels (Look here for another example.) Jesus both pointed out how utterly misdirected the man's system of righteousness was, and the impossibility of him doing, through self-effort, what he needed to "do to inherit eternal life." The expert on the law was asking the question, "Who is my neighbor?" in order to narrow the field. It is hard to love my neighbor my neighbor as myself. I need to make the group who are my neighbors as small as possible, hopefully limiting it to others like me. That way, since I'm loving others who are just like me, it won't be hard for me to love them just like I love me. I figure as the man heard Jesus begin to tell about the man who was beaten and robbed that he asked, "Yes this is a veryinteresting story, but what does it have to do with my questions?" At the end Jesus reaches across the greatest cultural divide that existed in First Century Judaism and says, "You see that Samaritan, on the far side of the cultural landscape? He is your neighbor. The implication being that everyone else, between me and him is my neighbor as well. In looking for self-generated righteousness the legal expert wanted to know, in essence, "Whom can I leave beside the road, walking by without a concern, secure in my path to eternal life--whom can I treat as a non-neighbor?" Jesus shocking answer basically meant, "Nobody. There is no one who comes into contact with you that is exempt from this obligation. We agree on the mandate to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. You even acknowledge that you need to love your neighbor as yourself. Here is where we disagree. You see everyone who is different from you as a non-neighbor. I am saying they are."
I can't pick up every roadside casualty in world, but in my little spot on the globe Good Samaritan opportunities present themselves quite frequently. Is my behavior toward my neighbor leading toward, or away from what is going on in Tulsa and Charlotte? The siren's wail serves as a reminder.