Merrell: Jesus’ comforting love is all around us
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Ron Merrell, who used to write jokes for Jay Leno monologues, was dead serious. No one-liners, no punchlines … no kidding.
The Teaching Pastor of Heights Church in Prescott looked uncomfortably distraught as he took the stage to give his Chapel talk Monday morning at Grand Canyon University Arena. This is the comic-turned-preacher who climbed a ladder three years ago to make a point, but now he looked downright low.
There was a serious reason.
The Worship team had just finished singing “Jesus, we love You, oh how we love You,” over and over in passionate harmony with another large crowd, and Merrell – a master of multifaceted messages who likes to preach with props – had something very somber he wanted to share from his heart.
“It’s one thing to sing those words, ‘Jesus, we love You,’ and there’s those times where you actually mean it – it’s coming from somewhere very real and deep in the center of your soul. And I love those sorts of moments. I was overwhelmed with how much I love Jesus just in the last 10 or 15 minutes,” he began.
“But there’s been this kind of heaviness, this burden on my heart for the last week or two that’s specific to you in here today, that you would know deep in your heart of hearts just how much Jesus loves you.
“You are not alone today.”
He said it again for emphasis.
“You are not alone today.”
He talked about how the devil wants us to feel lonely.
He talked about the loneliness epidemic of the last 30 years despite the internet and social media.
He talked about the difference between being alone and being lonely – how you can be comfortable alone and uncomfortably lonely in a group of people.
He talked about how loneliness splits us off from God and from other people.
He talked about how the loneliness of some people in the audience might have them thinking about ending their lives.
Finally, he talked about what he hoped his talk might accomplish:
“I’m desperate … that somehow between Jesus and the people of Jesus that He would fill that gap that loneliness is creating.”
Then he prayed over the audience, asking God and/or anyone listening to close the loneliness gap for people who need the help. But that wasn’t the end of the message – multifaceted, remember?
As if he had just hit a button that transformed his demeanor, Merrell signaled the start of the monologue-ish portion of the program by pointing to his face and saying, “This is what you get when you cross Howie Mandel and Voldemort.”
Then he told, with perfect comedic touches, a hilarious story about his peaceful time alone in a movie theater being interrupted by the woman sitting next to him. (It’s just past the 30-minute mark in the Chapel replay.)
Now he was teaching just as effectively by mixing laughs with lessons.
“I know there’s times when you and I want to be alone, but we never want to be lonely,” he went on. “We never want to have that sense of isolation or disconnect. And if we’re just really tuned in to how present and close Jesus wants to be to you, then I think that some of the loneliness and the isolation begins to disappear.”
Just as he felt moved to address the loneliness he fears among students, Merrell said he is equally moved by the loneliness Jesus must have felt in his final hours before being crucified, spelled out in Chapter 14 of Mark. The Gospel of Luke notes that Jesus was so distraught about the way he was abandoned by his friends, he sweated blood, a medical condition called hematidrosis.
That means, Merrell declared, that Jesus understands our loneliness that much more.
“Don’t tell me that He doesn’t understand loneliness and isolation and disconnect. He certainly does,” Merrell said. “Maybe that’s why God makes it so clear over and over in Scripture to remind me and you … ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
But no Merrell message would be complete without humor … and props, of course. He brought some of the furry friends his 5-year-old daughter, Leilani, has – “She has 14,784 stuffed animals, I’m pretty sure” – to demonstrate how God puts people in our lives to show His presence.
“Some of these are just freaky,” he said as he pulled the animals out of the plastic bag. Looking at one, he added, “What is that? If I was green and furry, that would basically be … me.”
He described her “very long selection process” each night in choosing which stuffed animals get to sleep with her. It made this point:
“These stuffed animals become a tangible reminder that she’s safe, a tangible reminder that someone is there for her. Followers of Jesus, if you’re doing OK today and you are not experiencing a season of loneliness, maybe Jesus wants to use you to remind people in a tangible way that Jesus is there for them.”
Paul also made that point in Philippians 2:1-5:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
Humility pulls people together and pride pulls them apart, Merrell said, and he had one final story from his junior high school days to show how that can play out. A couple of his friends split off from the group and sat in the lunchroom with two unpopular boys, ignoring the ridicule their bold move evoked.
A short time later, one of the bullied boys shared a letter explaining how he wasn’t close to God but still had prayed for a friend … on the very day Merrell’s friends decided to show their radical love. Now, the boy said, he also wanted to discover what this Jesus is all about.
“Jesus loves you more than you can possibly imagine,” Merrell concluded. “Give that love away today to someone that desperately needs it.
“That’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what we should do for others.”
● Chapel replay.
● Next week’s speaker is Riccardo Stewart of Redemption Church.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
GCU Today: Chapel: Don’t take your heart lightly