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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"What'ya doing, Bob?" I could see something going on from my apartment I'd walked by a time or two and saw a rectangular hole being dug. By the time I got around to asking, a second hole had been started. For all intents and purposes, the hole looked like a shallow grave for a very short, wide person. Bob told me, though. "We're planting trees." Here on the campus at Pacific Islands University, indeed all over Guam, the rhino beetles are killing the palm trees. Bob and his buddy are planting new ones, next to some old ones. When the bugs win, and they generally do, the new ones will be big enough to take the place of the dead ones. The Spanish say, "A man plants an olive tree for his grandchildren." coconut palms grow faster than olive trees, but the commitment is the same. Digging a hole to plant a tree is no easy matter, here on Guam. Bob used a jack-hammer to break up the coral. He's hauling in dead vegetation to enrich the soil. It'll be five to ten years before those palms impressively sway in the trade winds. I told Bob, "I like your style." Can I guarantee that ten years from now this school will be alive and well? No, I can't, but I can say for sure that it won't be if we don't have that tree-planting spirit. Do I know what my life will be like in a month, a year, a decade? Absolutely not. I can be sure, however, that if I don't dig deep so my life can anchor on the rock, it won't survive.
[W]hen someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
In John 10 we read, At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon" (John 10:22-23).
Obviously, there was no Christmas celebration, yet. So we can be sure that Jesus was not out, involved in that great American, winter exercise, looking at the Christmas lights. It is probable, however, that Jesus was viewing the lights. Could it be that this was reason for his stroll through Solomon's portico in the Temple complex? He was and is human. He would appreciate the artistry of well-placed lights, just like the rest of us. The Feast of Dedication is known by a couple of other names, one you are sure to recognize. Craig Keener comments on this feast, "[T]he eight-day celebration of lights in the temple was beautiful." In fact it is sometimes called the Festival of Lights. Most of us know it as Hanukkah, the celebration that Jews are celebrating as I write. (Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 10:22). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)
It is a simple children's presentation, but you can get the basics behind the celebration here. A few years ago, in part because I was having difficulty coming up with a new idea for a Christmas series of messages, I preached a series on Hanukkah. The events commemorated are a story of bravery and dedication. Making a day's worth of oil last more than a week is the kind of thing that our great God does. To make this very personal, right now I find myself in a ministry where I'm looking to God to stretch, multiply, or in some other way step-in to make meager resources go well beyond what one would normally expect. Those of us involved in this venture are called on to deliver heroically. I think as the Lord looked at those lights in the Temple, His appreciation was for more than the aesthetics of the display. I think He took pleasure in knowing that on the very spot where He walked a group of warriors decided that they would not stand for the place dedicated to the worship of the one true God being desecrated. Some of those men gave their lives, so the temple could be cleansed. There was no doubt in the Lord's mind where He was headed. He would soon give His life.
Christ "gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14, emphasis added)
"[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, emphasis added).
I won't be celebrating Hanukkah, but I will be remembering the courage and dedication of those who fought that the worship of God might be pure. I'll remember my God's ability to do the impossible. I want my life to show that I am dedicated to my Lord, and I want my life to shine as a light in this dark world.
In his Theology text, Millard Erickson gives a simple diagram of the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. I recently created my version of it for some sermon notes.
This resume of Jesus is powerfully presented in Philippians 2:1-11, where we are told that the kind of self-giving attitude that we see in Christ's incarnation should be ours (v. 5). Among the amazing truths found in this passage is one that always leaves me shaking my head in amazement. When I look at the side of the diagram that depicts God the Son's humiliation I see that He is the one who initiates the actions. He didn't regard the privileges of Deity as something to be selfishly held to. He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. He obeyed. Yet on the other side of the diagram, He is the one Who is acted upon. God (the Father by implication) exalted Him. God gave Him a name above every name.
At the crisis moment of His humiliation, we don't see Jesus strutting around like an over-confident, spoiled child who knows that it will work out. No, He prays, "If it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me" (Matthew 26:39). "Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (John 17:5). He trusts.Thereisasenses--out there beyond my ability to grasp--in which the situation was out of control for the Son of God, but He did what He tells us to do, "Seek first the Kingdom of God . . ." (Matthew 6:33). So, the God of the universe prays. He prays a prayer, not unlike one that will be offered by millions of children today. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep."
There is more to this Christmas story than we know or understand.
(Those of you who follow the news will recognize that either I'm late, or I sat on this for a couple of days. It is the latter. I realize that this is sensitive. I hope it isn't needlessly offensive.)
I received a text message today. It shared the news that Garrison Keillor was the latest famous guy to be accused and summarily fired over allegations of sexual misconduct. I'm not even going to try to count. Suffice to say that in recent months some of the biggest names in entertainment, the news world, and politics have fallen. Others, against whom convincing accusations have been made, have thus far avoided the ax, but for how long? The current climate is clearly more open to hearing the accuser than at any time in the recent past. We can rejoice over that. Too often, and for too long the same power that was used to abuse those who were not in positions of power, was wielded to keep those victims from bringing the abuse perpetrated on them to light. For what it's worth it's not a new problem. On the other hand: Was it during the Clarence Thomas hearings, when Anita Thomas accused the, now, Supreme Court Justice of sexual harassment, that this statement first became popular, "It's not the strength of the evidence, it's seriousness of the accusation"? Have we entered a time in which no male in any kind of public position could successfully defend himself against a serious accusation? I don't know. It seems that the mood of the public is such that one need not even try. I have no way of knowing whether Garrison Keillor deserved to be fired or not. His comment is telling, though, "I’m 75 and don’t have any interest in arguing about this.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/29/business/media/garrison-keillor-fired.html) Some would say that it doesn't matter if some innocent guy gets clobbered. It's about time for the shoe to be on the other foot. For too long those in positions of power have taken advantage of those who had little, if any, recourse. It's only right that power be given to those who follow in the train of those who were powerless. I imagine that there is a new breed of public relations specialist--experts at crafting statements that carefully skirt around matters of guilt or innocence, instead making sure that their clients are the first to condemn the actions of accused colleagues, whether accusations are real or imagined, because it is the seriousness of the accusation that matters. If anyone has Solomon's email address, I would appreciate them forwarding it to me. Until I hear from the sage, though, let me point out some flaws in the current system, and offer a couple of suggestions that might move us in the right direction. We absolutely should empower those who are treated wrongly, sexually, and in other ways, to be able to come forward and tell their story to the right people. Our Lord has a long history of sticking up for the weak. When the abused are throttled into silence the abuse and sin is compounded. Yet, we dare not act as if every accusation is gospel truth. The Bible gives a high standard for receiving an accusation (1 Timothy 5:19). Though scripture champions the cause of the underdog, it cautions against perverting justice to even the score (Exodus 23:2-3). Today's campaign against sexual abuse is taking place more in the newsroom and around the water-cooler than in the courtroom. Popular opinion is not a good standard of guilt and innocence. Just look at some of the fashions of the past, and examine the roster of those who have been elected to be public. The majority can be wrong. Our goal should not be to make up for past wrongs to others, by what we decide about entirely different people today. Rather our response should be to repent of past wrongs and commit ourselves to seek justice in the present--it's not about evening the score, it's about doing what is right.
I admit, I'm not capable of offering an artistically credible review of the movie. I just know that when Kathy and I saw the movie Wonder, it made me question how I treat those who are different than me, and at the end it made me want to cry and cheer at the same time. It's been a while since I've been moved the way the rather simple story stirred my soul. Go see the movie. I don't think you will regret it. STTA (Something To Think About).
Where I live, It's Friday morning. I celebrated Thanksgiving, yesterday, with a wonderful group of students, staff, alumni, and guests, here at Pacific Islands University. Through the wonders of technology, I was able to be present at the table with my family on the US Mainland, just a few minutes ago, as they sat down for their Thanksgiving meal, at my elder son's home. Being in two days at once, and a couple of things that came up on the internet this morning remind me of the value of time. A friend used an old expression, that I heard many times from old-timers back in Virginia, "You're burning daylight." Generally, when I heard the statement, it came from an older man, addressed to some teens or young adults. The meaning/implication of the words is that this is no time to be goofing off. There are important things to be done. Then I read an email from a man about fifteen years my senior. He talked about others, in the generation before him, who had had an impact on his life. As I read his note I could feel the clicking of the cosmic clock throbbing in my bones. Which brings me back to Friday. It's already Friday here, and it's just a couple of pieces of pie and a turkey sandwich away for many of you. Is it a black Friday? There is nothing wrong with seeking a bargain. In fact, in many ways, it is virtuous, but the materialism and greed that mark the day are another matter. Maybe your's will be a blue Friday. There is a tinge of that in my heart. It was good to see Kathy on the screen a few moments ago, but in other ways it only made me miss her more. I think of a friend who has been separated from his wife for nearly a year, and another couple spending this Thanksgiving in the cancer ward. While we are thankful, the reality is that this is a world filled with pain and difficulty. Just this morning a good plan that I had ended up in a crumpled heap. It's not a metaphor. The remains are in the trash. My broken plan is no big deal. It'll be remedied. For many, earth has no cure. I look out the window, though, and I see a bright blue sky, with fluffy clouds floating along. I think it's a good day to plant some seeds. This Friday is neither black, nor a somber blue. It is bright with hope. The same God to Whom I gave thanks with my friends yesterday, and, via the internet, with my family today, is the God Who gives hope.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
I hope you have been thinking about something more than Something to Think About, because I haven't offered much grist for your thought-mill, lately. Out here way past what most of you consider West, it's Thanksgiving. I can smell the turkey cooking. As soon as I finish this I'll join my friends at church for a Thanksgiving morning service. I can truthfully say that I am thankful. I am challenged, though, by the unknown poet of Psalm 107, to ask myself, "Why?" Millions of people will recite today, "God is good, all the time," but I fear that most will not wrestle with the fact that God is good, even when He's not being good to me. Don't tune me out just yet, I haven't forgotten Romans 8:28. In this Psalm, though we read of hunger, thirst, wandering, sickness, imprisonment, storms, distress, and depression. Much of the language lays the cause of this at the feet of God. Is God good? The Psalm begins with this statement:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
It is not a statement of "good to me," but of God's character.
As I give thanks today, will my gratitude be anchored in an appreciation of who God is?