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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Again and again lately, both personally and vicariously, I have been reminded that those things that really matter are not in my control. If I sit down and think about it, I see that really nothing is. I recently got on an airplane. Well-wishers told me to travel safely. I know what they mean. It is a wish that flows from kindness, but the farewell wish always strikes me as strange. What can I do to be safe? I suppose the fact that I don't try to open a hatch and jump midflight is something. In reality, though, I sit down, buckle up and the whole thing's out of my hands. My health? I try, I'm going to go exercise in a bit, but I know lots of really fit folk who die in all sorts of ways. My wealth? I have cash in my wallet that is just paper, money in the bank that is no more than code on a computer, and house and investments that could vanish in a puff. I could go on, but let me tell you what tipped off this line of thinking. An email subject--maybe some of my fellow pastors received it as well--"77 Ready to Use Graphics to Increase Giving." Really? Do I print them on paper, project them on a screen, or subliminally inject them into rich people's minds? I didn't even open the email. I'm sure they are very nice pieces of art. No doubt they have been market tested and there are numbers to back up the claim. I guess I was just struck by the Svengali-ness of the subject line, when taken at face value. "You see all those people out there in church? I can make them do whatever I want them to do. If I show them these pictures they'll give more money." My mind goes in several directions on this one. Is this how we ought to help people decide about their investment in God's work? Is this what we have really come to? Preachers used to teach about what God's Word says about stewardship; now we show pictures. I know these thoughts are tinged with cynicism. My main thought though is all about realizing my weakness. The actions of others are one of the classes of things that are beyond my control. Not onlyare they, in a reality sense, they should be, in an ethical sense. Unless you are my child or employee or student, or some other relationship like that, I don't have a right to tell you what to do. Even when I am in charge, my authority has limits. I'm not in control. On my better days, that compels me to trust the Lord more fervently. It's a good thing when I realize that I'm out of control.
For all of the criticism of Facebook, many of us find it to be a tool that is genuinely useful in maintaining friendships. The social-media program helps me maintain contact with "real world" friends, and has even enhanced some relationships I have that, as of yet, have not ventured out of the cyber world. Like many of you, though, I’ve almost quit accepting friend requests. It's not that I've become unfriendly or grown adverse to meeting new people. My reluctance to clicking "accept" has to do with the rash of Facebook hacking. My account and many of my friend's Facebook personas have been seized by people with nothing better to do. One way the viral activity spreads is through sending friend requests. So if I get a request from Nozzle Ditrim, before I accept it, the responsible thing for me to do is to check my friend list to see if Nozzle is already on my list of friends. If Mr. Ditrim is already my friend, that's a pretty good indication that someone has gotten hold of old Nozzle's account, and intends to use it to spread something nefarious. Since I don't always have time to check, I often don't respond. I don't figure that Ditrim much cares. He's got a tough hide. But when Sweet Polly, new account and all, sends me a request I ignore it can be bothersome. It's sad that bad people are messing with a good--at least for some--medium. It's far worse, however, when out in the real world we go into protective mode and fail to make new friends, or maintain old ones, because it might lead to pain. I've got news for you. Friendship is always painful. Sooner or later it will hurt, but it's worth it.
Lately my concept of working with, on, for, and through a team has been stretched. My collaborative skills needed expanding. I've never been anti-teamwork. It's just that:
I come from an individualistic culture.
Back in high school, while I enjoyed being on a team, the wrestling team is really a collection of individual achievers.
Most of my life was spent in a career when I was the only full-time worker at the church where I served.
In other words, I've had a lot more experience with go-it-alone, than I have with go-team.
Now, I find myself in a situation where a lot of what I need to get done is stuff that I can't do. I am surrounded by people both way more capable than I am, and yet people who need something I can contribute to make their work more effective. Sometimes it is collaboration; They bring A, I contribute B, and the resulting C is far bigger than either A or B. On other occasions I am a catalyst; very little of what I have done is seen in the final product, but something from me has made that end-result possible. I'm impressed with the power of cheering, or encouragement. I'd say I'm the recipient of more of that team-spirit than I give out. It's not as much fun--on either end--but challenge is a powerful part of working together. Others around me will get in my face. "I don't think that's right," or, "I don't think that's your best." When you combine all of that with the fact that I'm surrounded by folk who live and breath a lifestyle much more community oriented than the one I'm familiar with, you can see why the concept of team is growing in me. I'd suggest that working as a team is a paradigm you should give more attention to. If you do think about it, it'll be the result of one more element of teamwork in action. Teammates help one another consider . . . .
I appreciate taking giant leaps. I totally believe in the God of miracles. Even in the ordinary realm of getting from one place to another, as much as I dislike standing in line, being X-rayed, and asking myself a million times if I have my passport, I really like getting in a plane and getting out thousands of miles away a few hours later. Right now, my prayer list contains requests for a couple of things that fall in the shock and awe category. Yet, while I pray for, wait for, even expect--on my more faith-full days--the amazing, I need to not despise the mundane. Again, "Blessed are the Balanced."I (OK, the point could be made that people who have enough sense to not stand on beach balls, especially if they weigh a couple of tons are truly blessed, but cut me some slack.) I look at one of the times in Bible history that was weighted down with miracles, the months surrounding God's deliverance of his people from Egypt, yet in the midst of Divine plagues, paths through the sea, pillars of fire and bread from heaven there was the totally ordinary exercise of walking. How did the people of Israel get from Egypt to Canaan? On the one hand, the answer is, "It was through a series of miracles." In another way, though, it is entirely accurate to say, "They walked." I'm working to balance on those two realities, and I'm not doing it with nearly as much grace as a large pachyderm doing a circus trick. Here are some of the realities, as I see reality that I'm seeking to hold in the right tension. I can't turn loose of either end:
God expects me to do my very best today < > My best is insufficient.
God generally uses human instruments < > All those human instruments, including me are terribly inadequate.
The miraculous is not miraculous to God, and the mundane is full of God's hidden (to me) hand of providence.
I ought to be properly concerned, but I should not worry.
If you see me wobbling, you are seeing correctly. I identify with the man who proclaimed, "I do believe!" but before he drew another breath asked, "Help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). I don't know, but I figure some of you have the same struggles. It's not only something to think about; it's something to pray about. Let's work on it together.
Like many of you, last night I watched the news about the horrible tragedy in Manchester England. News this morning is that the British authorities think they know who perpetrated the act of terror. Whether they actually did it or not, ISIS has shown its character, by claiming responsibility for the murders of nineteen and the injury to nearly sixty more, many of them children. I feel in my heart the urge for revenge. I'm sure that this desire to balance the scales is far stronger in England. Their nation, their people, and their children were attacked. Again, the national peace and security of a great nation has been compromised. We shouldn't ask, for whom the alarm sounds. It summons us all. What, though, should our response be? My comments are not intended as an agenda for our security agencies or armed forces, but as a mental/spiritual agenda for the rest of us. A song we used to sing in my youth says it well.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; Forward into battle, see his banner go!
While the song has been used in military settings, it was not written for thatpurpose. Tim Challies shares the words of the author, Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould,
Whitmonday is a great day for school festivals in Yorkshire, and one Whitmonday it was arranged that our school should join its forces with that of a neighboring village. I wanted the children to sing when marching from one village to the other, but couldn’t think of anything quite suitable, so I sat up at night resolved to write something myself. “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was the result. (here)
Soon after the Salvation Army adopted the song as their favored anthem. It is a great reminder to all we followers of Christ during these times of global threat. Jim Denison reminds us that
We must pray for spiritual victory against our spiritual enemy. Radical Islamist groups seek nothing less than global conquest for their religious ideology. As followers of Jesus, we are on the front lines of this spiritual conflict. We must pray daily for spiritual awakening in the Muslim world and especially among jihadists. This battle will be won on our knees. (emphasis added)
Denison is a good watcher of and commentator on the world scene. I encourage you to read the rest of his post,"Terrorist attack in England: 3 facts". It is clear that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12). While governmental and military action is appropriate, we dare not allow ourselves to believe that this is the final answer. It is not. On the day Jesus was crucified, the greatest injustice and moral atrocity ever perpetrated was taking place, yet our Lord's response was to pray that His Father would forgive them. A few years later a young Rabbi, doing all within his power to finish the job his wicked predecessors had begun, was knocked flat on the ground where he had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ. I recently met a young man from an almost exclusively Muslim land. He is a new Christian. We discussed how he might be a witness to his people. Pray for him, pray for others like him, some of whom are risking their lives to be light in the darkness. Pray for those who are involved in seeing that the Gospel is made known in lands where ISIS is recruiting new terrorists. Pray that God in his unlimited ability to confound our predictions of doom will bring a turning to Christ in these lands where people are taught to hate Christians. "Onward Christian Soldiers . . ." Onward and upward . . . on our knees.
Roger Ailes has been one of the most powerful forces in media for the past several decades. The motto of the news empire that he oversaw is "Fair and Balanced." Ailes died this morning. Clearly there is room for argument, especially with revelations that surfaced at the end of Ailes's life, as to whether his career modeled that motto. I'll leave that discussion to others more "pundit-y" than I. I am confident, though, that Ailes entered a realm where fairness is beyond dispute, and balance is Divine. Hebrews 9:27 declares, "[I]t is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." The early chapters of Romans give us a great deal of information about the standard of the judgment God administers:
God's judgment is rightly directed. It is against "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." We should not take false comfort in that, however, since Romans goes on to say that all have "sinned and fall short" (3:23).
Impartiality is often held up as the standard of human justice. With Godit is clearly achieved. In Romans 3:9-20, words like "all," "none," and "no one;" and pronouns like "they" predominate. Chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3 make clear that no group gets a pass. Jew and Gentile, religious and secular, educated and unlearned, all stand on level ground before God's tribunal.
Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense in a human court. God, though, bases His judgment on what we know (Romans 2:12-16). It is as if the Lord will play the surveillance recording in our heart. As verse 19 says, "every mouth will be stopped." We'll know that there is nothing we can say.
Most important to us, while God's judgment is sure, His grace and mercy are without limit. After establishing that all are guilty, the Apostle Paul goes on to show that just as all are guilty before the Lord, salvation is made available to all through faith in Christ (here).
I have conducted many funerals over a lifetime of ministry. I always did so knowing that I was not privy to the eternal destiny of the one being memorialized. When commenting on the afterlife of someone I have never met, like Ailes, that is even more-so. I do know that the God of the Universe will do what is right. Roger Ailes sought to inform, teach, and persuade us for decades. His death, like the end of every life, is a lesson we should heed. It's . . .
One of the ways that Pacific Islands University seeks to serve the communities around us is to have an annual Ministry Equipping Conference. (Hopefully, we'll soon have news about the 2017-18 M.E.C.) Our intention is to do what the name implies--provide God's people with some tools that they can use in accomplishing the tasks God has called us to. It's an endeavor that shouldn't be limited to institutions of higher learning. In Ephesians 4 we read,
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11–12, NASB95)
The Lord didn't give these gifted individuals to do the work--at least not all of it--He sent them to equip the entire body for the mission. Hebrews 10:24-25, talks about the people of God, the church, assembling together. It may come as a surprise to some to read that the purpose of this gathering together is not to enjoy the awesome music or be dazzled by the production. It is to "provoke one another to love and good works" (King James). According to 1 Corinthians 12 the church is like a body--various parts functioning in cooperative unity, each part enabling every other part to function more effectively.
Leverage: It's a term that high-rollers use. I invest a little bit, but use my insignificant contribution to gain access to a whole lot, so my small investment has a much larger impact than it possibly could by itself. It has been said that rather than trying to do the work of five people one is wise to find five people to do the work. Equipping others to serve. It is a task of teachers, pastors, parents, leaders--really all of us.