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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Normally, when people ask where I'm from, I answer with a measure of pride. "I'm from Virginia." That's not easy to do today. Perhaps you have followed the news from Charlottesville VA, home of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and a place of Southern charm. Of late, the news has been anything but charming. There is a statue in a Charlottesville park of General Robert E. Lee. The General, and Traveller, the horse he is riding, are undeniable parts of Virginia and US history. The cause for which Lee fought, whatever his personal views may have been, was a cause that denied liberty--in the most absolute sense--to millions of people. We can, and should rejoice that slavery in the United States was abolished. In recognition of that, the park where Lee's statue sits was recently named "Emancipation Park." And so, the stage is set for a conflict of dueling rights. "We have a right, even an obligation, to remember our history." "I have a right to go to the park without seeing a man who oppressed my people honored as a hero." "We have a right to speak freely, especially here in Mr. Jefferson's home town." "We have a right to oppose you, to point out that some whom you regard as heroes, were our oppressors." "We will not be silenced." "Neither will we."
One of the ugly skills of evil is the ability to so twist virtue that it becomes self-destructive. I can hear the Council of Hell chuckling as they spin their plan. "We'll take their rhetoric defending freedom and use it to enslave them. It is a demonic sport that is played out well beyond Charlottesville. City councils, police, and courts are mostly made up of people of good will. They want to do what is right, but this kind of evil presents cases where those tasked with keeping law and order, while, at the same time respecting liberty can't win. "Freedom of speech" that only protects the speech of those with whom the majority agrees is not really freedom.* Yet allowing the kind of hateful rhetoric, and offensive public display that is likely to produce a tragedy like the one that took place in Charlottesville Virginia hardly passes as protecting the public. Open your window and you hear the cries, "Somebody needs to do something!" Indeed, and that someone is you and I. One of the clear teachings of Scripture is beautifully summarized in the words of our Lord,
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12, NASB)
Using the Lord's gift of Himself as the chief example, the Apostle Paul reminds us to, "count others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3, ESV). Each of us needs to stop being so insistent on "my rights," and start being more concerned about loving others. Much of what is wrong in our world will not be cured by more police and better laws. It will be made better by kindness shown to others. I may have a right, but I must consider my neighbor before I exercise that right. Perhaps I can't stop evil from putting on a show, but I can refuse to be a part of the audience. If enough of us do that, the evil plan will suffocate in the vacuum. I challenge the news services to start. I remember Paul Harvey who used to report on some senseless crime, "Of course, he would want me to give his name." Period, silence, next story. Instead of rushing to be the first to report a group of idiots carrying tiki torches, why not set the standard by being the first to hit the mute switch?
The answer doesn't involve somebody. It must start with ME!
(*I state without equivocation that the speech of the white supremecists who showed up at Charlottesville is vile. The question is, "Can the law make them stop saying it, without at the same time infringing on the rights of others to say what they think?" Not everything that is legal is right, nor can/should everything that is wrong be made illegal.)
I think the last time anybody threatened me with bodily harm was back when I was a freshman in high school. Since then I guess I've never been important enough to threaten. Until the other day, that is. Kim Jong Un says he is going to incinerate me, or something like that. It may have lost something in translation. The Supreme Leader, the Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, says he'll have a plan to bomb my home, by next week. Wow, from a nobody to somebody worth shooting with an ICBM. I'm really kind of flattered.
You may think I'm out of line to make light of Dennis Rodman's buddy and his bellicose ranting. I figure if God can laugh at this sort of bluster, it ought to be OK for me have a chuckle. In spite of my humor, this is serious. My neighbors out here in the Pacific, where America's day begins, don't seem to be too worried. We are taking responsible action, which at this point isn't much, and we're trusting the Lord. Earlier today I posted some more serious thoughts on a blog I maintain. If you didn't already see the post you may want to click here. A friend of mine who lives in South Korea mist of the time reminded me earlier today, that there is risk involved in living anywhere. Especially when we go to a place to do the Lord's work, we shouldn't be afraid. That courage does not come from knowing that nothing bad will happen. I can't know that, because I have no guarantee that it is true. I do know that my Lord has promised to never leave or forsake me. He told me to not fear him who can only kill the body, but to fear Him who can destroy body and soul (Matthew 10:28).
I don't figure I have much to fear from Mr. Kim, but I know that his oppression of the people of North Korea is great. I pray for them, and I encourage you to.
Wherever you are in this world, evil abounds. Sin and death reign. God's people have the message of peace. Instead of worrying about what the Korean dictator might fire at us, let's do all we can to send out the Good News.
I heard an interesting article on NPR this morning. A group of scientists did a study on what kind of canine mothers raise the best guide dogs. The dogs that assist sight impaired people with mobility have to be smart, obedient, and well-behaved, so if we can produce more dogs with that disposition it would be great. It turns out that the dogs who coddle their pups tend to produce the poorest guide dogs. Dogs are different than people, and successful people need traits that aren't all that useful to a companion animal and vice-versa.Still it is an interesting concept. I'll only allow myself one analogy. Parents matter. Mom, dad follow the guidance God gives us in His word. Be steady. Persist in offering thediscipline and instruction of the Lord. Love unconditionally.
My grandson is a drummer. I'm not a musician, but I know from what other musicians say, and just from being able to tell when someone is good at something, that he is really good at it. I'm not into the type of music that his band plays, but I know that, as he puts it, It has to be "tight." I would describe They Will Fall's music as chaotic, but it is a very carefully planned chaos. In order to keep it together, they generally use a "click-track." A steady rhythm click, click, clicks in Christopher's ear to keep him on track, not to mention with "the track." In a recent Facebook post, Christopher commented, "I've noticed in myself after playing to clicks for years now that I've lost a lot of feel as a musician. I've lost a little bit of the ability to read the other musicians. It's easy to become a robot and forget that music is supposed to provoke emotion. . . . [S]ometimes it's refreshing to just rely on each other's individual artistic voice and not rely on a Macbook Pro to dynamically lead through a set." Though, as I said, I'm not a musician, I identify with the balance this sharp, young man talks about. My style is to take my ear-bud out and just respond to what is going on around me, fly by the seat of pants, just let it come, and live in the moment. If I let that tendency rule, though, I find, at the end of the day, that my "to do list" has become a record of all the things I didn't get done. If go into by-the-agenda mode, I walk by hurting people without helping, "click, click," and though others are rejoicing, I am oblivious to their joy. "click, click, click." The Apostle Paul we meet in the New Testament was an incredibly disciplined man, yet he was aware of, and responded to, those around him. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15, NASB95). The Lord Jesus, though clearly dedicated to a Divine timetable--“He had to pass through Samaria.” and, “When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem;” (John 4:4, Luke 9:51, NASB95)--took time to reach out to children, was aware when a woman in need touched Himin a crowd, and reached out to her.
Lord, I have things to do, things I believe You want me to do, and others are depending on me to accomplish, yet, I know, Lord, that all around me others are rejoicing, hurting, discouraged, exhilarated, weary, or bored with life. Don't let me ignore them. Help me remember that the most important things aren't things at all. They are people. People for Whom You, Christ, died. Keep me balanced. AMEN
I've thought a lot recently about a poem I read back in high school. I'm fairly sure that Andrew Marvell's intentions were not--how does one put it?--all together honorable, toward "his Coy Mistress." Still four lines from the poem have stayed with me for half-a-century, now:
But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Events have conspired, of late, to make me acutely aware of times passage, and the eroded landscape it leaves behind. My little brother had a birthday. Two of the youngest senior citizens I know were just confronted with the reality of mortality. My younger grandson is now fourteen. Though you'd never know it by looking at my lovely wife, in a week and a day we celebrate our Forty-fifth Anniversary. Just this morning I talked to a friend considerably younger than me; we discussed his retirement. It was the second serious conversation I've had this week about age and mortality. I'm surrounded by people younger than me, not only the students at Pacific Islands University, but the staff. Some of them are younger than my sons. As if that wasn't enough video footage of the winged chariot rolling, unhindered along. The subject matter this week, for the class I'm teaching was heaven. Finally, though I started the week with good intentions, here it is Fridayand I'm just now giving you something to think about.
It's not nearly as poetic, but the following has some of the same sentiment and is more my style than the verse of the Cavalier Poet.
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to slide across the finish line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, and shouting GERONIMO!!!"
Whether you prefer the version from the literature book, or the doggerel from the Internet, there is something to be said for the sentiment. As a fellow preacher reminded us Don't waste your life. I could say more, but I think you've got it.
Go live Life. Love Jesus. Like the great apostle "finish your race.
I remember one of the many times I was caught with my foot in my mouth. It was Sunday morning and I was teaching Sunday School in the little building in which we worshipped back in those days. From where I was standing, I had a clear view of the front entrance to the building. A pastor friend of mine, from the next town, and his wife, came in. I figured they were on their way out of town on vacation, so I jokingly asked, "What's the matter Bob (not his real name), did they throw you out. The look told me, and later conversation confirmed, that the answer was "Yes." No doubt my friend had made some mistakes, but the shabby treatment he received after his sacrificial service was totally undeserved.
Not long ago a pastor colleague announced his intent to retire after a lifetime of ministry in one church. Knowing the difficulty that the "next man" often has when following a long-term pastor, my friend asked the man who was taking his place if there were "anything he could do for him?" "Yes," came the reply, "You can paint my house." My wife told me about a relatively young pastor. I don't know why he left his church, other than it wasn't for some kind of immorality. Sounding almost like a line out of an old Western, the leadership of the church told the young man that he had ten days to leave town.
On the evening before He was crucified, Jesus told His followers, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, by the love that you have for one another" (John 13:35). The examples I gave don't stand alone. If you ask around you can find plenty more. But I hope you won't. It's not a new syndrome. Nineteen-hundred years ago, John wrote, "I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9–10, NASB95).
I wrote recently that we could do with some more Epaphrodites. Likewise, we'd be better off with far fewer Diotrophenians. My late Father-in-law used to say about some folk that when they were around the Devil could take the day off. May their mean tribe diminish.
I had forgotten that Uncle Ray and I shared the same name. I always knew him as "Uncle Ray." His full name was Howard Ray Hargrove. He was Luther Howard Hargrove's eldest son, and I was the oldest grandchild, so we both ended up with Luke's--that what he went by--middle name. I'd like to think I've kept it a good name. I know my uncle did. He was my mom's little brother. He was the last of her family. All my aunts and uncles are gone, now. That's how life is down here. Time relentlessly erodes even granite, and we humans are much more fragile. James reminds us that we "are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (Jas 4:14). Uncle Ray restored old cars, he looked better than new long after others of that vintage had been crushed and recycled. Keeping an old human young isn't as easy. I remember when I was a youngster my family would travel five-hundred miles to the south to visit extended family. We'd always stop to see Uncle Ray and Aunt Jennie Lou. I don't think there was a single time that we went to their house without having a batch of home made ice cream. Uncle Ray was seventeen years older than me, so, when as a little guy, I'd visit Grandpa and Grandma's house he was still living at home. Before he joined the Army he worked on the farm with his dad. He took delight in trying to get me to "walk like a farmer." According to him, I never got it right. The last time I saw Uncle Ray was a few months after Aunt Jennie Lou had died. She was the epitome of Southern charm and hospitality and clearly the love of his life. I had never talked to my Uncle about the Lord. Talking about Aunt Jennie Lou and her kindness and grace led naturally to a discussion of that which matters supremely. I look back on that conversation with encouragement. I figure in a while I'll go for a walk with my uncle. We'll both walk like farmers. He'll approve. We'll both laugh. We'll find a comfortable place, and we'll crank out a great batch of heaven-made ice cream. I figure even in heaven it'll be better if you actually turn the crank. Some people have a bucket-list. I'm developing an after-the-bucket-list. Ice cream with Uncle Ray is definitely on it.