Prized Possession

I’m a sucker for a good image.

There are pictures saved on my phone right now that exist in my world solely because I enjoy looking at them. I won’t use them as my lockscreen or set them as my cover photo on Facebook or anything like that. They have no great meaning in my life. But if I’m sad or bored, I’ll look through my pictures and find them and smile.

I have a photographic memory. Details will stick out in my mind when I remember things, like the color of someone’s shirt or the number of pens on a desk. This also helps me remember what people say because I can remember how much sunlight was coming in the window behind them or how chipped my nail polish was when I looked down at my hands. (Three and a half years ago in my Philosophy of the Mind class, our professor, Dr. Hoyt, told us that there’s a study that proves people who doodle when they take notes tend to retain more information. As a doodler, I found this comforting, but as a person whose memory seems to work that way most of the time, I shouldn’t have been surprised.)

I’m a visual learner. If you tell me how to do something, there are plenty of ways I can mess it up between what you tell me and how I perform your instructions. But if you show me how to do something, I can compare what you did to what I did and make my own notes. I can see and remember.

It’s probably no surprise that my favorite literary element is imagery. I love it when someone chooses just the right words and weaves them together well enough to form a picture in my mind.

James 1:16-18 (NLT) reads, “So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”

Verse 17 is one of my favorite pieces of scripture in the Bible because it evokes this image of God that I truly love. It makes me think of God in heaven surrounded by various sources and colors of light, looking down on us with pure love and smiling. It’s an image that comforts me.

These three verses have a lot to show us. The beginning of verse 17 says that God only gives what is good and perfect, and I think that’s difficult for a lot of people. Humans are creatures who like to blame and properly place fault. We like to know where our troubles originate so that we can know who or what to be mad at. I think that’s why God so wrongly receives blame when something’s not right in our lives. We blame our heartbreaks, our financial ruin, our bad health, our daily struggle on Him when if it wasn’t for Him, there would be nothing left of us.

Life can be painful. And I’m not trying to get into whether or not God’s the reason behind bad things like hurricanes or cancer or any other travesties. I’m simply saying that God can use the pain that comes from those travesties for a purpose. I’m also saying that it’s not right that we blame God for all the bad stuff but hardly ever credit Him for the good stuff.

If there’s anything good in your life, it’s a gift from God. It’s a gift born out of unchanging love for the purpose of making you happy, of making you glad you’re alive. Even if it’s just one thing, it’s reason enough to thank God. When we go back to the root of it all, He’s the cause of every bit of positivity and every smile in our lives.

Verse 18 begins by saying God chose to birth us by His Word. That can be taken two different ways, Him creating us physically through His Word and breath and Him recreating us spiritually though the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Either way (or both ways), the point is that God chose us.

I’m a loud, blunt, sarcastic know-it-all. The fact that God chose to create and then recreate me proves His intrinsic, unconditional love.

I have many flaws, and I’m sure you have some too. Everyone does. We’re not a perfect species. Our time on this earth is filled with slip ups, unsavory moments, and ugly truths. But James tells us at the end of verse 18, “And we, out of all creation, became [God’s] prized possession.”

God could love something more dazzling or more loyal or smarter far more than He loves mankind, but He doesn’t. We’re His favorite.

James starts this section of scripture by telling us not to be misled, which must mean something or someone will come along and try to persuade us that we’re wrong. Yes, there’ll be plenty of people and things that’ll try to shake your faith. But they’ll only shake you as much as you let them.

We must exercise our faith in order to maintain and grow it. Hold on to God’s promises. Read and remember scriptures. Pray about everything – your troubles, your doubts, others and their problems. Communicate honestly with God. All of this builds your relationship with God and your faith in Him. When all else fails, remember what James tells us: Everything good is from God, He chose us, and out of everything, we’re His favorite.

By Carrie Prevette

Life to Die For

For the past few weeks, God’s been leading me back to a certain point, and I’m not entirely sure why, but I know it’s for a reason. Maybe it’s for me or maybe it’s for one of you and I’m just the messenger. Regardless, after thinking about it during Alan’s sermons, during Focus on Sunday nights, and when I write the blog every week, I do believe now is the right time to talk about it. I’m not going to promise that this post will be a huge revelation, but it’s just been on my heart lately.

Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24 (NRSV), “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Jesus also says in John 10:10 (NRSV), “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Two fairly common scriptures, right? But at a glance, there’s a contradiction here. One says we need to lose our life for Jesus while the other says that Jesus came to give us abundant life. To the world, that would seem problematic. And maybe to some believers that would seem problematic.

We’re so used to it being all about us. We hear it all the time, but when you stop and think about it, to some extent, it makes sense that we would think that. It’s my life, my decisions, my actions, my preferences, my perception. It’s not illogical for someone to think their life is all about them.

That’s not to say that it’s okay for people to take outside situations and other people’s problems and make it all about them. That’s a different issue altogether. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s understandable for someone, to some extent, to think it’s all about them.

But as much as we may be used to it and as understandable as it is, we’re wrong. It’s not all about us. It’s about God.

We say that all the time, and I would have no trouble whatsoever believing that someone is tired of hearing it. That being said, there’s a big difference between saying it and hearing it and actually living it.

I taught at Focus about a month ago, and I asked the teenagers what it meant to die to ourselves daily, and I got some great answers such as “being selfless” and “going beyond ourselves.” Those are very good answers, especially from such young believers, but it’s more than that. It’s giving up what we want. It’s realizing that while we are free to make our own decisions, we should consult God first and follow His advice, even if it’s not what we want to do. It’s stopping our mouths from running off at someone to think about how much God loves that person or to pray for them. It’s trading where we want to be in life for where God wants to take us. It’s giving up our life for the life He wants for us.

That sounds terrible, but once we go a little deeper, it’s not. We think it’s a compromise of who we are and that we’ll end up miserable. God made you who you are for a reason. He created you to like and dislike certain things, to feel certain ways, to view the world the way you do. And He didn’t make you that way just to turn around and change all of it. In giving your life to God – really, truly, entirely – you aren’t compromising who you are or what you want. You’re handing your seat at the control panel over to God, who loves you, knows you, and knows what life you’ll enjoy the most.

I’m glad I’ve given God control of my life because I can assure you that if my life had gone the course I’d planned, I’d be absolutely miserable right now. I wouldn’t have the friends I have, I wouldn’t have the security I have, and I’d be way more in debt than I am. Mostly, I wouldn’t be as close to God as I am. Yes, I’ve “suffered” by giving up certain things or not getting what I want, but I am so much better for it.

I’ve lost my life for God, but I have more life now than I could ever imagine.

When we lose our life for God, we broaden our horizons. Our eyes open up to opportunities, our hearts open up to people, and doors open up for us. We’re still the same people we were, but we’re so different. And all of that leads to abundant life.

Romans 6:6-11 (NRSV) says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

It seems weird to say that we gain freedom by pledging our lives to something, but it’s what happens when we give our lives to God. The abundance that He gives us goes beyond our mortal lives here and spills over into eternity with Him. But before we gain the abundance, we must lose our lives. Leave the sin and follow the Savior. Losing our lives to God is the last transition from our old selves to our new ones.

On Sunday, Alan said, “It should be impossible for us to go back knowing how great God is,” and that’s so remarkably true. We’re quick to remember the old, fleeting feelings of our sin and quick to forget that our walk with God has both mountains and valleys and never plateaus. The truth is that our worst days with God are far better than our best days without Him. And if you’ve yet to experience that, if you find yourself doubting that, I suggest you start by losing your life to God today. You’ll be surprised how alive you’ll start to feel.

By Carrie Prevette

Pharisees and Tax Collectors

I remember sitting in Sunday School back home sometime around my freshman year in college. I remember talking about loving our enemies.

The teacher asked, directing the question at no one in particular, “Do you pray for your enemies?”

Immediately, a few particular people came to mind, and these people had really hurt me. (Christians who spent their time making me feel like scum and judging me for not being exactly like them.) As it turns out, I had been praying for them. I said, “Yes.”

The teacher, who has always believed me to be only a kind, lovely person, smiled and replied, “Carrie, you’re not really helping my example. When you pray for them, what do you pray?”

“I pray that they would see how wrong they are.”

Not that God would open all of our eyes and reveal His truth and His heart to us. Not that He would heal them that they may heal others and not harm them. Not that God would help them or bless them or fill their lives with hope and peace and love. None of that.

I wanted God, who can do anything, to show them that I was right and they were wrong. My prayers sounded exactly like those of a five year old.

Part of it was that I legitimately wanted them to learn that their actions were both unbiblical and hurting people. They intended to help God’s Kingdom but were actually having the opposite effect. But I think more than that, I wanted a heartfelt, genuine apology from them without having to make the first move in order to get one.

My deeper understanding of the situation and the hurt I felt led me to a place of bitterness, judgment (Isn’t that ironic?), and arrogance.

In Luke 18:9-14, we find Jesus talking to people who have rode in on their high horses. He tells them a parable of two men at the temple, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he’s not like other people and tells God about all the things he does for Him. The tax collector, who couldn’t even bring himself to look up to heaven, asked God to be merciful to him, the sinner that he was. Jesus says in verse 14, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (NRSV).

If our prayers consist of comparing ourselves to others, they’re wrong from the start. God understands our hurt and all of the side effects of it, but it’s a different thing altogether to bring a third party into our relationship with Him.

No matter how much harm they’ve done to you, don’t look down on others; God loves them too. They’re made in His image too. Don’t judge them because they’re living their lives differently than you live yours.

It’s really a matter of getting over ourselves. We always hear about how God loves us; if He had a wallet, our pictures would be in it; if He had a fridge, our drawings and report cards would be up there for everyone to see. And it’s all true. It’s all incredibly true. But what we don’t think about is how God loves everyone that much. He loves the rude man at the DMV just as much, the stupid woman at work just as much, and the family member who is always on your case just as much. And He loves your enemies just as much as He loves you.

He doesn’t love them for the damage they do. He loves them in spite of it.

And before you get mad about it, remember that He loves you in spite of a lot of things you do. We’ve all thrown proverbial punches in our time. Remember that while it’s not fair, that we all have been thankful for how much God’s grace overrides fairness. To ask for fairness, we’d be giving up a lot that we actually want.

Your relationship with God regards only you and God. While He cares about our spats and cuts, He wants to heal and help, not play referee in the little games we create and find ourselves in. Praying for your enemies to prosper will change your outlook towards your enemy and possibly their outlook towards you. You’ll be leaving any vengeance and consequences up to God. We need to stop putting people down and stop looking down on them. Being hurt or being conceited doesn’t make someone better than anyone else.

By Carrie Prevette

Over a Wall

This post is going to be a little unusual because it’s not going to be based on this past Sunday’s sermon.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Sunday’s sermon because I really did. I love our guest preacher, Maggie. Her sermon was great, and I want to take a moment to applaud her. Much like Maggie, the sermon was very encouraging, and she executed it wonderfully.

The reason this post isn’t based on Maggie’s sermon is because I’ve already done a post very similar to what Maggie preached on Sunday, and as of this moment, I feel there is little to nothing that I could write here that I haven’t previously written or that Maggie didn’t say. And I felt like you, dear readers, deserve much more than a recycled post from me.

Last week, I was browsing on Facebook, and I came across this Bible verse that struck me. It struck me because I liked it and because I didn’t remember it at all from anywhere. I actually looked up the scripture elsewhere to make sure it wasn’t like the scene from Pulp Fiction where the guy quotes a scripture that is completely inaccurate.

I found that this verse is legitimate and I found that it reads slightly different depending on which translation you use.

Psalm 18:29 (NLT): “In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.”

Psalm 18:29 (NKJV): “For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall.”

Psalm 18:29 (NRSV): “By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.”

And the image I saw that quoted the verse read, “With my God, I can break barricades,” but it didn’t cite a translation.

This psalm is written by David, who would turn out to be a military man. It started with Goliath and continued through the years. Back in those days, when a country went to battle, the king went with them. So it’s not altogether surprising that He would credit God with his successes in battle.

What I admire here is David’s confidence in God. He’s so sure of where his power and skill come from, and he doesn’t hide it. He declares it loudly and repeatedly. If you read all of Psalm 18, you’ll find that the entire thing reads strong and empowered yet somewhat affectionate like verse 29 does. David doesn’t necessarily speak in circles, but all of what he says is in the same vein.

This psalm is written pretty early in David’s military career, back when David was still the David that everyone loves to talk about. Before he pivoted in his devotion to God, before he lusted after Bathsheba, before he faltered. So this is a sort of innocent David that we’re hearing from, but David never refutes or regrets what he says here. Even when he wasn’t the leader of God’s team, David never said, “Oh, I had it wrong. It was me, not God, who did all that.” He never revoked his praises to God.

Yes, David became a great leader and a great fighter, but he believed that the source of it all was his God.

Everyone is good at something. I know people who are good at gardening, others who are good at singing, people who are good at video games, some who are good at managing money, and the list goes on and on. So I have no doubt that you are good at something. Are you giving God the credit for your skills?

Everyone fights battles. I know people who are struggling at work, people who are overcoming major injuries, some who are fighting depression, others who are trying to mend relationships, and so on. So I have no doubt that if you aren’t currently fighting a battle, you’ve either just gotten past one or will be in one soon. Are you giving God the glory for the success you’ve had?

Psalm 18:29 shows us David’s unwavering faith. He truly believes that with God, he can get past any army or obstacle, and that’s beautiful. It’s inspiring. Of course, David had his doubts and lapses from time to time because David was human, but that’s not the case here. He’s so sure of God’s abilities.

Another thing I love about this verse is that although David meant what he said literally, we can take his exact same words and apply them to our spiritual lives. No matter what comes against us or tries to stand in our way from reaching the full life God has for us, we can not only overcome it, but conquer it.

Take David’s example and words to heart. Let them influence you to believe in God to get you through what you’re going through, and let them be a guide for the structure of faith and thankfulness that you have in your own life. Because with God, you can crush an army and you can leap over a wall.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – If you want to check out the blog I wrote that closely relates to what Maggie talked about on Sunday, here’s the link to it: The Chatterbox: Who Said That?. I’m pretty sure this is the one I’m thinking of anyway as it deals a lot with one and one’s story. This post is also closely related in terms of self-acceptance and individuality if you’d like to check it out as well: Made to be Great, Change for the Greater.

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