Merrell brings relationship with Jesus to a head

Ron Merrell uses a sculpted head to demonstrate his message about having a relationship with God.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Garrett Ohrenberg
GCU News Bureau

A Chapel talk by Ron Merrell usually features a prop. It was stuffed animals last year. Pitchers of light and dark liquids and a ladder before that.

This time, the Teaching Pastor of Heights Church in Prescott brought a sculpted head – a statuesque and pretty grim-looking head.

“That is so hideous, and it looks a little bit like me,” he said, evoking the giggles the former standup comic's wit tends to evoke.

Like his previous talks at Grand Canyon University, it was part of a 30-minute journey across mounds of metaphors and through windows of word pictures as he traversed the true meaning of using God’s strength and not depending on your own.

Merrell began, detail by self-deprecating detail, with what it’s like for him to go to the gym and lift weights.

“My max on the bench press is a pack of Starburst,” he said.

But he was making a point: Other people can bench heavy weights, but they aren’t heavyweights when it comes to the rest of their lives.

“The reality is, even the strongest person physically can still struggle spiritually,” he said. “Even the strongest person physically can still struggle emotionally. Even the strongest person physically can still struggle mentally. And the enemy wants us in a perpetual state of struggle.”

Drummer Brandon Cruse of the Worship team performs before Merrell's talk.

The word to remember, Merrell added, is “stronghold” – the strongholds in our lives that don’t lift us up but instead weigh us down.

Paul addressed them in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Time for a history lesson: Merrell explained how, in ancient times, the “stronghold” was a place for people to go if their city was being attacked. But instead of protecting them, it was basically a trap, which is how “stronghold” became equated to “prison” or “tomb.”

“It kills me because I have seen it in my own life and I know that it’s taking in so many place of yours, where the enemy puts all these temptations around us and we bite on those things,” he said.

Merrell listed many ways in which the enemy tries to establish a stronghold in our lives.

“We think, ‘OK, that’s going to provide some temporary relief from life, from the emotional pain that I carry, from the mental stuff that’s constantly going on inside my head.’ And so we run to those things, hoping to find some relief, only to find that, gosh, it was relief for a moment but now I’m kind of addicted to it, I’m kind of imprisoned by it.

“And if that is left undealt with, you guys, that stronghold will become a place of death for you.”

The biblical definition of stronghold, he believes, is “a fortified attitude or ideology or way of thinking that sets itself up against God.”

Examples of strongholds, according to Merrell: deceit, lying, fantasies, rationalizations, bitterness, resentment, hate, unforgiveness, self-pity, unconfessed sin, jealousy, gossip, a critical spirit, unbelief, rejection, addiction, compulsions, unworthiness, pride, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, hypocrisy, laziness, rebellion, stubbornness, divisiveness, lack of teachability, fear, people pleasing, manipulating, control, sexual impurity, idolatry, worldiness.

“That’s probably just scratching the surface,” he said. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg ... of all the different ways and angles that the enemy can get in, get us hooked and then really lead to some full-on destruction in our lives.”

Merrell put headphones and a blindfold on the head, which represented God, then added a piece of tape over the mouth to signify how we sometimes treat God.

In his own experience, Merrell has found that he sometimes would break out of a stronghold on his own, only to relapse. Or he would find himself trying to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with God:

“‘God, OK, if you just kind of allow me to stop doing this, I promise never again to (fill in the blank).’ I was just kind of operating from a human perspective on the whole thing.”

Your way out, Merrell said, is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“He is your hope,” Merrell said. “There is hope.”

Then it was time for the prop. Merrell asked the audience to make-believe the head represented God, and he proceeded to put things on it to symbolize how “we want to have a relationship with God but not that much of a relationship with God.”

First, a pair of headphones – we don’t want God to listen to some of our conversations.

Then, a blindfold – we don’t want God to watch some of the things we do.

Finally, a piece of tape over the mouth – we’d rather not hear from God in those circumstances.

“This has been so many chapters and seasons of my life,” he said, “and I can tell you that none of those seasons where I interacted with God this way ever went well.”

Merrell also put the headphones, blindfold and tape on his own head to show another way that we often keep God out of our lives.

Merrell took it one step further: He put the headphones on his own head, then slipped the blindfold over his eyes and affixed the tape to his mouth to demonstrate “doing your own thing.”

“You know as well as me that that sort of behavior is not relationship,” he said.

All we have to do, Merrell added, is establish that relationship with Jesus. Here, in his view, are three trades He will make with you to help you break out of those strongholds:

  • Truth for lies. “I believe at the root of most of the strongholds that are established in our life is some sort of lie.”
  • Grace instead of shame. “So many of the strongholds that get root in our life and then lead to some pattern of behavior eventually come with some sort of shame.” It might be shame that only you know about, but if it’s public it can snowball – and the enemy loves that.
  • You can be real instead of fake. We try to “fake it” with each other … and with God. But we can be real with Jesus because He knows what it’s like to be human.

If we do those things, Merrell concluded, we can look at Jesus and say this:

“You don’t shake your finger at me or wag Your head at me. You wrap Your arms around me and say, ‘I know. I know the struggle. And I love you anyway.’”

It's the only way to lighten your load.

● Chapel replay

● Next week: Thanksgiving Chapel

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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