James: Definitions and Accomplishments

Last month, our youth finished a study called Identity, which discussed ways that people define and identify themselves instead of doing so through God. It was a series for teens, but it could’ve easily been taught to adults.

Truth be told, our teens are just when the defining starts. What’s your style? Who do you hang out with? What do you do? These questions pop up when we enter out teenage years, but they don’t really go away. As adults, we still get more pep in our step when people compliment us. It’s still difficult to determine who we let into our lives and who we let stay. Everyone’s curious about what you do. In college, it’s, “What’s your major?” and in the world thereafter, “Where do you work?” and “What do you do there?”

Since these are all important aspects of our lives, it’s easy to let one of them become the most important part of our lives. Instead of it being an icebreaker question or something you mull over when you log in to Facebook, it becomes how you see yourself.

As a little sibling, I’m proud of James for not defining himself by his older brother, Jesus. Neither of my siblings are the Messiah, but I’m still known to many people as Derek’s sister or Sunnie’s sister, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for James.

But James doesn’t start his letter off by saying, “Hey! This is James, Jesus’ brother,” He starts by saying that he’s a servant of God and Jesus Christ (James 1:1). He doesn’t define himself by his earthly credential but by his spiritual credential, his relationship with God. James had his own identity and didn’t need to latch onto someone else’s.

The last lesson in the Identity series I mentioned earlier was on accomplishments. I taught the lesson, which I originally thought was ironic since I haven’t accomplished that much. My life looks drastically different compared to what I’d hoped and dreamed it would be. I’m in more ruts and jams than I would like. I don’t have the job or living situation I wanted. This whole writing thing is more of a hobby right now than a career. But I realized this made me just the person to present this lesson.

I thought when I asked a group of about 12 teenagers what success means that I would get at least one typical answer, something like a salary amount or property ownership or job title. I thought I’d get a more modern version of the American dream. You know, an answer like most adults would give. But no one gave me a typical answer. Not a single teenager said what I was expecting them to say. They told me it was different for everyone because everyone’s idea of happiness is different and that success was being happy.

James says this of success and accomplishments in 1:9-11 (NLT), “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.”

James isn’t saying anything against rich people but against rich people who define themselves by their earthly wealth instead of recognizing it as a gift from God. And he’s saying that we and all we achieve for our own glory and sake will pass like a flower in a field.

I said earlier that my life is different than I had once hoped it would be, but I do love the life I have. I’m happy, and I have accomplished some things, small as they may be. So what’s the deal? What’s the catch? How can I not meet my expectations and still be happy?

It’s because I’m less focused on me and more focused on God.

Pre-college Carrie was sort of selfish in that it didn’t occur to me until all the college applications were sent in and being looked over that I hadn’t thought about what God wanted. I’d only thought about what I wanted. Sure, my intentions were pure. All I wanted was a good education and to have fun for the next four years. I got both of those, but in a much different place than I imagined. I found them in the place God had for me.

I’m prone to letting my accomplishments define me because my accomplishments make me feel proud and happy, and by defining myself by those achievements, I get to feel that all over again whenever I achieve something.

I also get to feel depression and self-loathing whenever I fail. Plus I compare myself to whoever did succeed, which only ever makes me feel about ten times worse.

I’ve got the feeling that someone else out there, maybe even someone reading this post, knows too well what I’m talking about.

What are you defining yourself by? Is it your accomplishments? Your role at work or in your family? The way people see you? Your hobbies or the things you like?

Unless you’re defining yourself by God and what He says about you, you’re missing it (and probably shortchanging yourself too).

Be bold enough to have faith in God and Him alone (James 1:6-8). Be bold enough to believe what He says about you and to believe what He’s telling you and showing you. Be bold enough to take and love God as He is – a perfect, loving being who may challenge us but will never hurt us or lead us astray (James 1:13-18).

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – If we’re Facebook friends or if we’ve talked basketball lately, you know that I’m a huge Jeremy Lin fan. I love him as a player and even more so as a person. I showed the youth this video of his when we were going over that final lesson of Identity, and it really hits on the same things I’m trying to get across here. I encourage you to check it out; it’ll only take a couple of minutes of your time. It’ll give you the perspective of someone who’s achieved a lot of success before and is living in the wake of it now. From what I’ve seen and read on and by Jeremy, he used to define himself by his accomplishments too or was at least tempted to do so. So if you’re interested in it or can relate to what I’ve talked about here, I recommend this video: Linsanity 2.0 – Redefining Success.

Go and Give

Sunday was Vision Sunday at Abstract, which is a Sunday when Pastor Alan talks about the vision Abstract has always had, gives an overview of our history, and discusses our vision and goals for this year.

As a member of Abstract, I like Vision Sunday because I enjoy remembering how God has used people to further His Kingdom and to see the directions He’s leading us in as a church. As the church blogger, Vision Sunday puts me in a weird spot. People who attend Abstract and read the blog know that my posts usually relate in some way to the previous Sunday’s sermon, but what relatively few people know is that there are also many blog readers who don’t attend Abstract. Some are friends of mine who are curious about what I have to say. Some are people who are browsing the internet and happen upon this blog or who did so and have since subscribed to it. So I’m in an unusual position of wanting to satisfy all of my readers while not simply repeating the last Vision Sunday post. But not to worry; God’s worked this out.

Alan said something early in the sermon that struck a real chord with me. What’s sort of interesting about it is that I’ve heard him speak along these lines plenty before, but for some reason, it sat really differently with me this time. Alan was talking about attending and volunteering at another church prior to starting Abstract. This church is huge and was growing weekly, but it wasn’t where Alan was supposed to be. Alan said that he thought, “This is amazing for these people, but this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Isn’t that something? A movement of God being enjoyed by a servant of God, yet it wasn’t right.

It reminds me of Philip in Acts 8. (I encourage you to read the entire chapter as my summary for the sake of time and content leaves out an interesting story within the story and is much less colorful.) Philip is preaching in Samaria, and everything is going great. Conversions and miracles are happening, and Peter and John come to see and help. Then as all this is growing, God tells Philip to go south. Philip is obedient and does just that. He ends up in Ethiopia, where he meets a man of much authority under the queen. Philip explains and delivers the Good News, and the man becomes a believer and is baptized.

God told Philip to leave an entire city that was moving toward the Kingdom of God and prospering to go meet one man. It would’ve been easy for Philip to disobey God and stay where God was obviously active, but he didn’t. It was a great spiritual awakening for many in Samaria, but Philip wasn’t meant to stay, and because he listened to God, a soul was saved that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT) reads, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”

You’re important. You’re important to God and His Kingdom. There’s a role here somewhere that only you can fill. You can reach people that I can’t in a way that I can’t. Your life and how you let God shine through you is unique. The way God designed your mind and personality was done with love and purpose to set you apart and make you the only version of you that there ever will be.

You have a gift. I don’t know which of the many spiritual gifts it is, but I can guarantee you’ve got one of them. If you don’t know which one it is, find out. Try different things. Try being a greeter at church or serving food when your church has a meal. Help out with a kid’s ministry or a nursing home ministry. Start a Bible study or join a prayer group. Look at ministries and programs outside of the church. You’ve received a gift so that you could give to others. Do so.

Figure out where God wants you. Try different places. Pray. Read your Bible. Seek advice from those you deem wise and/or close to God. And remember to follow God’s heart, not your own. You may be having fun in your Samaria, but there could be something far greater waiting for you in your Ethiopia.

I want you to feel empowered and encouraged. I hope you’ll listen to God and be ready to do whatever He asks of you. Mostly, I pray that you would understand how loved you are by God (and me) and how crucial you are to God’s plan.

By Carrie Prevette

Call in the Guards

Sunday’s great speaker, Dave, is not the first person to be surprised that I know who “Pistol” Pete Maravich was. I’m also fairly certain that he won’t be the last. I do want to say, to Dave’s credit, that he was surprised I know who Pistol Pete was because I’m young, which is completely understandable. What isn’t understandable is when people, unlike Dave, are surprised when I know such tidbits of information about sports because I’m a woman.

Believe me, it happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had something about a game or player mansplained to me like I’m clueless. Then there are conversations that turn to debates and even arguments because a guy won’t hear me out due to the fact that I’m a woman and surely don’t know as much as him about something stereotypically masculine. And if I had a dollar for every time it’s been implied or stated that I only like a player because he’s attractive, I could probably afford lower level tickets to watch the Hornets play instead of my familiar nosebleed seats.

For fear that people will read this and misunderstand me, I want to clarify: most men that I talk sports with, including all the ones I talk sports with on a regular basis, don’t treat me this way. Most men will discuss sports with me like I’m a person who shares a common interest. (Imagine that!) But I’ve had enough men speak down to me when speaking about such things that when yet another one does, it’s met with the all-but-patented Carrie Prevette anger and eye roll.

Yes, I know all about the heart trouble Dave spoke of on Sunday, and my heart’s biggest trouble is anger.

This may surprise people because I don’t come off as a particularly angry person, or at least I don’t think I do. With my friendly disposition and humor, I think I usually strike people somewhere along the lines of “happy” or “sassy.” I don’t say anger is my problem because I’m inherently mad or displeased or anything of the sort. I say it’s my problem because it gets me in trouble and leads to bitterness really easily.

I don’t always handle my anger well. I take things to the extreme at times. I yell. I act in a way that will make me sad or maybe even miserable later just to make someone else feel bad in that moment, which is exactly as stupid and childish as it sounds.

I’ll give you an example. As I write this, my car is at a garage getting fixed by a mechanic, and I haven’t had it for two days now. (The guy fixing my car already had a busy schedule when I dropped it off.) My mom didn’t think it would take as long as it has to get my car back, so she made other plans during my lunch hour today, meaning she couldn’t come pick me up. I was mad because I like leaving for lunch every day. It gets me out of a building I already have to spend eight hours in. My mom offered to move things around so she could get me, and I honestly don’t think she would’ve minded doing so. But because I was mad, I wanted her to feel bad like I did, so I insisted in a voice that didn’t exactly hide my feelings that it was okay (because it technically was) and that I’d just bring my own lunch to work.

Yes. I ate lunch today in the last place I wanted to because I was too petty to let my mom make amends for something that wasn’t even that big of a deal in the first place. Do you see where anger gets me?

Anger also leads to bitterness. If I let my anger sit instead of letting it go or letting it out, that’s what it turns to. My bitterness comes with snarky comments and few to no apologies. I become self-centered and mean and hurtful all because I wanted to spend more time with my anger. As I said, it’s my heart’s biggest issue.

Maybe your heart trouble is different. You could be a slave to lust or old pals with conceit. You might have history with being judgmental or feeling righteous. Whatever your heart trouble is, know that we all suffer from it in one way or another.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) reads, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

Matthew 15:19 (NLT) reads, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

If you read each of those verses individually, they seem very different. The first makes the heart sound precious, and the second makes it sound vile. But if you read and apply them together, like a set, you find something deeper.

Since the Bible’s most infamous couple ate the forbidden fruit, effectively leaving paradise to enter sin, all human hearts are susceptible to sin and destruction. We still choose what to do just as they chose, but their actions reconditioned the human heart and changed the human experience. But as difficult as it may be, the choices are still ours to make.

The point of guarding something is to protect it from both inside and outside forces. Think of a medieval setting. The king’s guards stand at the door to make sure no one can get in and harm the king, but they also escort out anyone who is already inside and who is being harmful. Or think of the guard position in basketball. They’re the first line of defense when the opposing team has the ball. On offense, they’re supposed to be good at ball handling and passing and have a high level of awareness to be able to make plays. They have to orchestrate as much as they can to be sure that the ball gets to the basket without being swatted away or stolen along the way.

We’re naturally protective of our hearts against outside sources. We don’t want it to get broken or stolen. But we’re much less critical of what’s already in our hearts, what naturally grows there. We write those dangers off. We use them to define ourselves (“It’s what gives me my rebellious spirit!”) or our views of the world and people around us (“Yeah, I get that from my mom.”).

So if we take the truth we find in Matthew and pair it with the advice we get in Proverbs, we’re left with a difficult task. It’s easier to stop things from entering our hearts than it is to rip away what’s already there. It leads to change, and even if we’re comfortable with that, do we have what it takes to reach that end?

Probably not on our own.

But aren’t you glad we don’t have to face life and its challenges on our own?

As with all things, God’s eager to help. He can move and remove. He can strengthen and assure. He can provide accountability. He can be what we need to get through our change. All we have to do is ask Him and rely on Him.

By Carrie Prevette

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