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.
Readers can subscribe to Something to Think About, STTA, by clicking on the subscribe button at the bottom of the column to the right.
One advantage to living on this tiny outpost of the USA, is we get to begin holidays before most of you. (Heaven for the impatient.) It's Valentines Day here. Kathy reminded me a few minutes ago as I munched my morning cereal. Kathy has been my valentine for most of my life. In some ways, Kathy and I have started over. Our life was remarkably stable for four decades--same job, same church, same house. Now, even our changes get changed. I am glad that one of the few constants that continues is that Kathy loves me. Thank you, Hon. In a couple of hours, Kathy and I will be on a panel in a special chapel service, here at PIU. We'll be asked Valentine-ish questions. I hope our answers will contribute to setting these young people on a path that will help them find the kind of joy that Kathy and I have been privileged to enjoy.
In our temporary home on, what for us, is the other side of the world, Kathy and I generally awake to the sound of roosters. You'll note that is plural. I'm not talking about one proud male welcoming the sun, or arrogantly assuming that it rises at his command. No, I'm guessing there are well over a hundred of the birds next door. Not only do we awake to their announcement, "Cock-a-doodle-I'm-cock-of-the-roost . . . the-baddest-chicken-in-this-yard!" cries, but often we go to bed to it, and for reasons, yet hidden from me in chicken psychology, all during the day there are periods of intense racket. Using human logic, I figure one of the guys, who lost his cellphone and therefore doesn't know it's the middle of the day, let's out with a crow, which then demands a response from a neighbor, and so the auditory cascade begins. I don't speak Chicken, so I really don't what they are saying, but I can provide some context. Each bird is caged, or tied to a tether, so he cannot reach his neighbors. Everyone of them live with only a few desires:
They want to eat. Their owner gives them what they need. He wants them to be strong for what is ahead.
They desperately want to get with a hen. As far as I know that desire is frustrated in order to sharpen their lust for the one other thing they want.
Each of those birds has a marble-sized brain filled with an all-consuming desire to kill every other rooster on the place. When we look at what is ahead, we know that they will have their opportunity.
The chickens next door aren't being kept for eggs (I do know that roosters don't lay eggs), nor are they being raised to eat. The fowl next door are gladiators. They will die in fights arranged for the amusement of those who watch. Another striking feature of my temporary home is the near total absence of birds other than chickens. I've told you in the past about the Brown Tree Snake. It should not be here. The progenitors of the pests who eat every bird and egg they can swallow were brought here by another group with death on their minds. Apparently, a couple of snakes hitched a ride with the military during World War 2. In this cacophonous environment, marked by the by-products of death, a world where the beautiful is consumed by the ugly, and where those bent on death announce their intentions as loudly as possible, is there any hope? Most mornings I hear the soft call of a dove. Exactly how this gentlest of birds has avoided the predation of the serpent invader, I don't know. It's soft "coo" gives me hope. That, and for the past several days I hear the sounds of hammers, saws, and grinders. A short-term missions team is here doing some projects on our little campus. Pacific Islands Universityexists to push back against the darkness. We believe that if we send out women and men who see this sin-cursed, death-infected world through a Biblical lens, that they will be agents of change. They are part of that army who knows that the battle is not won by those who crow loudest, nor by those with the most agents of death on their side. Our message is one of peace in the midst of conflict, life in the face of death, light that overcomes darkness, and hope. Hope. HOPE. It's a message and a cause that is worth our best effort.
I can just about hear it now. "Moses, are you sure this is the way?" I hope you guys won't hate me for this, but if Mrs. Moses had asked this question I wouldn't think it unreasonable. In fact, I figure that more than one of the Jews on the trek to the promised land, must have wondered, "Does God know the way?" It's not a blasphemous question if we don't ask it in a blasphemous way or with derisive intent. There were more direct routes to the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. If you have any idea where you are going, you may have noticed that you aren't on the most direct route, either. God didn't book you in first class, in fact, you might be stuck beside the road with a flat tire, at this very moment, and you wonder, "Does God have a clue?" A friend recently shared a message from Deuteronomy 8. One of the realities he pointed to was that part of God's purpose for the people of Israel was to "humble [them], test . . . [them], to know what was in [their] heart, whether [they] would keep His commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2). The next verse even says that He let them be hungry. Talk about cruelty. My friend pointed out that all through the Bible we find God humbling and testing His people. Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 10, Hebrews 5:8, & 12 are several examples.
There is a balance we need to see. It was not only God's intent to toughen them through difficulties that they could bear, He protected them from dangers too great for them.
“Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”” (Exodus 13:17, NASB95)
I can hear some of you, "The Lord let my brother die in a car wreck," and, "I lost my health in. . . . " Where was the Lord then? When you read those Romans 8, and Hebrews 12 passages you'll notice that there is some disagreement about destination. We think we know where we want to go. Our Lord knows for sure where we need to go.
Back in Sunday School we used to sing,
"My Lord knows the way through the Wilderness. All I have to do is follow."
It has been about two weeks since I shared anything to think about with you. The subject of this STTA is the reason. Few of us who have hung around for any length of time think that we can live our lives in stasis, "a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress" (Merriam-Webster). Besides that I've seen enough science fiction TV and movies to know that stasis is not a good state. Generally, though, we live with the illusion that the change in our lives will be manageable. I'm growing old, but at a rate slow enough that I can adjust day-by-day. My health changes, but with modern medicine I treat this, take a pill for that, and still muddle ahead. Children leave home, parents die, friends change jobs, but normally these changes are like tweaks--the bulk of our lives stay the same; the differences are not all encompassing. Sure we see in the news that there are people whose whole lives are disrupted--the refugees, the victims of horrible tragedies, or those who face maladies for which we, even with all our technology, have no solution. Those are other people, though, they exist in some realm that is extra-ordinary. The change that comes to we regular folk is handed out in palatable doses. It's packaged with easy hand-holds. It comes to us in such a way that at the end of the day we can say, "I've got this." No I don't, and I doubt you do either. I don't want to appear to put myself in the group of people, like those I mentioned above, who are dealing with change that comes so hard and fast, that it produces blackout G-force. Over the past month, though, I have seen and experienced change to an extent I know, not just theoretically, but experientially, that there is no throttle in my hand that I can use to control the ride. I'm like one of those early test-pilots. Strap in, Let her fly, grit my teeth, and hope for the best. There are several factors that have made the changes in my life of late register higher on the Change-force Meter than any time in recent memory.
I was already involved in preparation for making a change when my change was changed. Here I was buying plane tickets, trying to get things buttoned down back home, thinking ahead about returning to a place of service several thousand miles from home, when--hard-right, accellerating all the while--my "orders" were changed. I was already involed in a life-adjustments--setting up housekeeping in another country and culture for four months, serving the Lord, being a missionary. These provided enough stretching that I was able to feel a bit noble. I mean, me being retired and everything. Then the change I was already comfortable with changed. Is that in the employee manual?
The change that came barreling down on Kathy and me came for an ugly reason. It's because my friend is sick. He is one of those servants experiencing needle-pegging plan-revision.
The new change threw me into a realm where I knew I didn't have control. Not only did I not know the lines for the new play, I found out rather quickly that the script was still being written, and the audience was already restless waiting for the curtain to rise.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking for sypathy. Perhaps I'm just passing the tenth story on a twenty-story plunge, but I'm doing OK. Maybe it's the adrenalin, but this aspect of walking with the Lord seems clearer to me. Trust is pushing aside self-suffiency. Yieldedness is taking over territory once claimed by two word descriptions that begin with "my." The illusion that I'm in the driver's seat is harder to maintain. While I don't necessarily like all of that, I do know that it is as it should be, at least most of the time, some of the time, OK, I'm still working on it.
If you are curious and want to find out about the changes in my life, you can find out more here and here. I'll warn you upfront, as these kinds of things go it's really pretty boring, tame stuff. I guess, though, when you compare it to the way my life has mostly been--pretty predictable--it is enough to get my attention, just like I hope this is enough to give you . . .
Perhaps it is appropriate that with the New Year still in its infancy I am focused almost exclusively on the future. I don't want to sound all virtuous or anything. It's not that I'm all that forward looking, rather calendar and circumstance have conspired to make the next seventy-two or so hours full of preparation for what is next. My wife and I are packing for, making arrangement to accomodate, taking a long--very long--trip to, and saying our good-byes because of a four-month assignment that came suddenly and unexpectedly. Just prior to this future-focus phase, I was blessed by a brief visit from my son and his family. Since he has now been out on his own longer than he was a part of my household, his visit caused me to look back into the past a good bit. It's enough to produce chronological whip-lash. Poised between the past and the future I have a couple of observations to make. I find the greatest satisfaction in watching the success of those in whom I have most deeply invested. Likewise there is great disappointment when those in whom I have poured my life don't turn out so well. Investing in others is risky. I find it well worth taking the chance. Therefore my greatest hope for the future is to invest in others today. At the end of this year I'll be dead or a year older. I'll gain some stuff and loose some some (I hope the loss is around my midsection). Will I have done anything of real value?
A teaser headline that came up on my Facebook wall reminded me of a conversation I had the other day.
"The Beatles: Facts and Scandalous Trivia You Need to Know"
Really? If I don't know these things I might go hungry, or shiver in the cold, or my wife might leave me? A friend and I were talking about this matter of need a few days ago. He teaches Sunday School to a group of first-graders. As the gift-a-copia of Christmas was on the near horizon, the topic of a recent lesson was, "What do we really need?" You probably have a pretty good idea. High on the list was the latest electronic gadget. I have more sypathy for those who "needed" a bike--at least it will cause them to exercise. On it goes. To get a lesson on 21st Century need--of course not to be confused with a word that rhymes and begins with "gr"--just watch one of the house hunter type "reality" TV shows. Two people need four bedrooms. How have so many of us survived so long without granite counter-tops? Just listen to the show; they are necessity. Listening to the house-shoppers, it is easy to see why kids in primary school have warped views of what they need. We have taught them well.
The Bible is not opposed to people having nice things, but when we come to think that we need them, we are well on our way to the things having us. It's a form of idolatry. This is Something to Think About, so I'd encourage you to think about it. The following will give you some material for your thought-mill:
I've never been all that impressed with New Year's resolutions. I have noticed that they generally have a very short shelf-life, and I always wonder what is special about January 1. Why not start that diet on December 3 or February 27? Having said that, if the passing of the old year gives you incentive to start doing something that you ought to do, go for it. I think the operative word in the sentence above is "doing." Too often we live our lives in the realm of "gonna." I'm gonna lose weight. I'm gonna start having a quiet time with the Lord. I'm gonna quit that bad habit. Etc, etc. If you have a list tacked on a bulletin board in your mind that says, "Stuff I oughta do and am gonna do, as soon as I get a round-tuit." Pick something on that list and actually start doing it. If you must, start doing it on January 1. I'd encourage you, though, to do it now. As Yoda might say, "Resolve not. Do!"
From a time not so long ago and a Galaxy quite near . . .