The Root

“Money makes the world go ‘round.” Figuratively speaking, that seems true.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” True.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness.” Not on its own, but it has the potential to in an indirect way.
“More money, more problems.” Probably true, although it doesn’t seem like it.
“Money is the root of all evil.” Inaccurate.

The inaccuracy in saying that money in and of itself is the root of all evil offers some comfort to us. This comfort derives from a couple of different places. For people who don’t have a lot of money, it makes us feel better about not having much of it. For more optimistic people, it makes us have a little more faith in humanity, as if money is the problem and not the people who have it.

However, it’s people who are actually the problem. Let’s look at another sort of currency system – trade. Before people gave money for goods and services or when money is rare and low, people will swap their goods for someone else’s goods. History has proven that people can’t even handle that. Peace treaties all over the world are made and broken because someone gets greedy and doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain. So relationships, be it between individuals or countries, are torn apart.

There’s a short story by the fantastic Ron Rash called “Back of Beyond.” It’s about a region and a specific family during an economic depression. The main character owns a pawn shop, and his business is really one of the very few that are prospering because people are going so far as to steal other people’s things to get cash so they can either buy meth or buy the ingredients to make meth themselves. No one really has much money, so it’s not about keeping up with the neighbors or using money as an idol on its own. These acts are driven by addiction, selfishness, and greed.

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10, NLT)

We don’t even extend this verse the courtesy of finishing it before we twist it around.

The issue with money, like so many other problems that pop up in our lives, is our hearts. Money is a necessity, but we develop such a liking towards having it or using it that money takes the throne in our lives. It becomes the end to which all of our means strive for. It changes our moods, motivates us, and validates us (or so we think). If we let money affect us to the point that we legitimately love it, we’re bowing to the Almighty Dollar.

The love of money is a form of idolatry. Since God is supposed to be foremost in our hearts and lives, it follows that trouble comes when we give that coveted, prestigious position to another god. Thus “money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Many terrible habits or events can come from loving money. Not from earning money. Not from needing money. Evil comes from enjoying money more than enjoying God.

Paul explains quite beautifully that this love of money, this “craving,” is what has made many people stray from their faith in God. Because their faith then rested in money. It’s what they worked for and hoped for above all else.

Which is also the general context around this scripture. Paul is writing to Timothy, the incredibly young pastor of the church in Ephesus, to tell him not to listen to anyone and everyone coming to him with different doctrines that contradict the doctrine that Timothy is preaching and knows to be true. Paul identifies these people as corrupt troublemakers who will put on an act of godliness as a way to gain riches. It is this desire to be wealthy that leads people to do such things. (To read Paul’s words, go to 1 Timothy 6:3-10.)

And they’ve “pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

This isn’t typically how we view people who pursue or flaunt wealth, is it? Yeah, they may have different problems than the rest of us. They may have some issues that can’t be fixed by the amount of money they have, but isn’t that true of all of us? “Sorrows”? How do they have so “many sorrows”?

Simply put, they don’t understand what they’re missing.

Wonderfully put, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NLT)

The NRSV translation states that last bit as “so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

True life? That’s the life found when our love for God is greater than our love for anything else.

People who make money their god miss out on God’s provision, protection, and peace. Money can disappear, be spent, be stolen, but God can’t. And through Him, we leave a legacy around us that is much stronger and impacting than those who live and die for money. To serve God is to give all that you can – time, energy, money – to those who need it. To serve money is to give all you have for a substance that just won’t last. But God is steadfast, and His love is too. When all else fades, God remains.

By Carrie Prevette

Angry Enough to Die

Jonah was mad.

Not at being swallowed by a fish. He wasn’t peeved at being wrapped in seaweed. He makes no marked mention of being surrounded by smaller fish, decaying in the belly of the much larger fish. He isn’t notably upset about the smell or the feel of stomach acid that was miraculously touching him but not consuming him. When Jonah left the fish, he wasn’t angry about being stranded in a fish; he was simply happy to be alive.

Nor was Jonah seemingly mad about having to go to Nineveh. As we discussed briefly last week, Jonah’s trip to the belly of the fish didn’t change his attitude about going to Nineveh. Make no mistake, Jonah wasn’t happy about going to Nineveh. The same threats and problems that existed the first time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh still existed when God told him the second time. The people of Nineveh were the same when Jonah got there as they were before. But Jonah wasn’t mad about going to Nineveh as far as we know.

Jonah was mad at God’s compassion.

God spared not just one or two people, but a whole city of people. He showed them mercy. They were to survive, to see sunsets, to watch their children grow up, to look back – look around – and see God’s grace every day after that, and that really made Jonah mad.

Are you ready to pick up stones and throw them at Jonah? I was.

I’m a pretty loving and accepting person. If someone lives his or her life differently than I live mine, that’s all on him or her. It’s his or her right and none of my business. The way I see it, and from what my Bible tells me, it is merely my place to love them. Because of this, the only people I really judge are judgmental people. So, yes, I was more than ready to hold this against Jonah.

“So [Jonah] complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’” (Jonah 4:2-3. NLT)

This is the same man who survived being inside a fish for three days. He’s the same man who prayed and sought God with what he thought to be his dying breath. And God saved Jonah. But now we see Jonah telling God to kill him if He plans to extend that same grace to the Ninevites. Jonah’s opinion of the Ninevites was low. So low, in fact, that Jonah thought them undeserving of God’s love.

But a murderer is just as undeserving of God’s love as a prophet who turns away from God. A person who tortures others is every bit as unworthy of God’s love as a man who would rather die than not see God’s wrath poured out on someone else. Was Jonah more worthy of God’s love and forgiveness that Nineveh? No, but Jonah thought so.

God’s reply to Jonah is what made me drop the proverbial stones I had gathered and was poised to throw at him. “The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’” (Jonah 4:4, NLT)

Jonah goes to the eastern part of the city and makes a shelter to sit under while waiting to see what God would do. God makes a large, leafy plant grow that shields and shades Jonah, and Jonah is happy and thankful for it. God has a worm come overnight and eat the plant to the point that it withers. The next day, with no plant to cover him, Jonah endures harsh wind and sun, and he wishes again to die.

“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’
‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’
Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’” (Jonah 4:9-11, NLT)

The plant that grew wasn’t planted by Jonah or tended to by Jonah. It was a gift of grace from God. Being a plant, it came and went quickly. So if God is giving from His immeasurable heart, and if He’s the one who’s working on or toward something, shouldn’t people who are capable of eternity be of a much greater concern?

Jonah was trying to tell God how to be God. And no one is better at being God than God is. That’s why love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are extended to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are because God loves and cares for everyone equally. What we define ourselves and others by means nothing to God. God only sees people in need of Him, people to love – prophets and Ninevites alike.

By Carrie Prevette

Reaching Nineveh

This time when God said for Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he did just that. When God told him to do that before, Jonah ran and rode and swam the opposite way and right into the belly of a ridiculously large fish. In that fish, Jonah discovered just how much he didn’t want to die and rediscovered his love for God.

So the fish barfed Jonah up on shore after three days, and as Jonah stood with seaweed wrapped around him, undigested fish fins stuck to him, stomach acid and salt water dripping off of him, God told him once again to get up and go to Nineveh.

Jonah got up and went to Nineveh. No shower or wardrobe change. No different state of mind. Jonah was smelly, unkempt, and didn’t want to go. He was (probably) still afraid of being tortured and dying, and maybe he was a little bit bitter about having to go to Nineveh despite the trouble he went through to avoid the errand. But Jonah went. More secure in his relationship with God and having more faith in God, Jonah went to Nineveh.

My dad always said that life is full of doing things you don’t want to do. For example, I didn’t want to get student loans, but I had to in order to go to college. I didn’t want to take a job I needed, but I had to when I couldn’t get one I wanted. I didn’t want to get up and go to work on Monday, but I had to since I’ve got bills to pay, including student loans, which got me the degree that got me my job. And although this isn’t an extensive list of things I have to do but don’t want to, I’m sure you can relate and probably have a few things in mind yourself.

None more so than Jonah, right? But to Jonah’s credit, you can’t really tell it from reading chapter three by itself. “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” (Jonah 3:4, NLT)

Jonah’s boldness is really encouraging here. We know that Jonah – a smart, capable man – is not this bold on his own because Jonah’s first instinct and action was running away from it. Had this degree of boldness been active in Jonah without help, the book of Jonah would start at chapter three and the first half wouldn’t exist. Jonah’s boldness is born of his faith in a faithful God. His ability to be bold comes from worshipping and having a relationship with a God intense enough to design and form a fish to swallow Jonah but not eat him. Jonah’s boldness came from his strength in God.

One would think that the Ninevites would react badly to Jonah’s proclamation. Scoff or laugh, beat him, make an example of him. Surely Jonah thought that, although it’s not in the text. That’s not what happened, though. “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” (Jonah 3:5, NLT)

The dreadful people of Nineveh didn’t need a second warning from God. They stopped what they were doing and went into repentance mode. They fasted, and I imagine that the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a powerful empire, had plenty of good food. They put on burlap, not because it was fashionable and comfy but because it was just the opposite. Changing the outside from flashy and lavish to basic and minimal. The texture and thickness would’ve caused them a lot of discomfort, making them hot and itchy (and causing other problems through the combination of the two). It’s the concept of repenting through suffering.

The king hears Jonah, and instead of saying he and everyone else is crazy, the king does something remarkable. “…he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’” (Jonah 3:6-8, NLT)

The king joined his people. He believed and recognized the character of God. He believed He could and would destroy them. He identified God as powerful. He also believed God could be compassionate.

Not only did he tell his people what to do physically, the king told the people to put an end to what caused God to be angry with them. He told them to change inside and out, and it was a change he was going to make with them.

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)

Just as the king suspected it: powerful and compassionate. No destruction, no desolation. Forgiveness.

The same forgiveness we see in our lives. Oh, I’ve never murdered anyone or taken land, but I’ve killed moments and stolen joy. I’ve wounded people and added bitterness to the world. God’s had to forgive me for a lot, just like the people of Nineveh. He’s replaced hurt with healing, replaced bitterness with blessings. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re missing out on an offer that is still extended to you. It’s not too late, and you’re not too far. If God can reach Jonah in a fish and Nineveh in its sin, He can absolutely reach you.

By Carrie Prevette

From Within the Belly

This is the blog post where you find out how much of a dork I am.

Sunday’s guest speaker, Dave Caswell, told of his dismay when he discovered that the second chapter of Jonah was poetry. He is, evidently, not a fan of poetry.

But that’s okay. I’m a big enough fan for the both of us.

I can’t pinpoint when I started liking poetry, but I know I began to embrace that enjoyment in the sixth grade. I’d like to give a special shout out here to my sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Reece, for letting me select the Shel Silverstein poems for our poetry unit. It allowed me to really embrace poetry and to realize I was good at it. By “good at it,” I mean that when I write poetry, which is seldom, it’s sort of mediocre, but I can analyze a poem to death, break it down and separate its parts.

Dave mentioned a poem he really understood in high school that he didn’t entirely remember. He mentioned a part of a line and the name “Prufrock.” I looked for this specific line, and I can’t seem to find it, but there is a lot of talk about eating and drinking in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. (I’m going to keep looking for that specific line, though, because now I’m curious.) I stopped Dave before he left church to tell him I knew of Prufrock, and I ended up telling him about 90% of what I know about Eliot (not much), telling him who my favorite Romantic is (Percy Bysshe Shelley) and how excited I was to get his complete works for Christmas this past year (thrilled).

Finding out there was a poem in the middle of this largely unfamiliar scripture made me happy and eager to read it and then write about it. And hopefully I can make it interesting for those who may read this who don’t like poetry.

Since this scripture is all the more a piece of literature, I’m going to use my favorite translation, the New Revised Standard Version, for all direct quotes. (For fellow English nerds, the NRSV is my favorite overall translation because of its tone and diction. It’s easy to read, but it’s also a pleasant read.)

In the last verse of chapter one, we’re told in the most casual way that a large fish ate Jonah, and he survived in the belly of that fish for three days and three nights.

Then chapter two says, “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me, weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’ Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:1-10).

There’s a lot in Jonah’s prayer, and each part attaches seamlessly to the next. So instead of going through every bit of it, I’m going to hit the parts that stick out to me.

Jonah thought this was it for him. Jonah didn’t think he was going to survive the belly of the fish. (Who would?) The images of waves and depths and floods show the physical turmoil of Jonah. He also says he felt his life “ebbing away,” which references both the sea and the life leaving him.

Jonah feels separated from God. Being cast “into the deep” and “at the roots of the mountains” are visuals of being low and isolated. Jonah even goes so far as to say that he was driven from God’s sight. He says he was in “the belly of Sheol,” which means he was in the underworld. There isn’t much of a feeling of closeness to God until the end when Jonah remembers God and resolves to worship God despite all of this.

Jonah’s reverence for God has been renewed. Every image from the sea to the mountains to the earth closing around Jonah points to God as a large force that is in control. Jonah finally realizes that it is not where he’s running but who he’s running from that matters here.

Ultimately, it takes Jonah almost dying and feeling like he certainly will to be afraid of not losing his life so much as losing God. He’s afraid he won’t be able to see the temple, which is a symbol here for God since in Jewish tradition that’s where God is. And as Jonah thought he was dying, he thought of God and how loving and loyal God had been to him. It starts off as a pining sort of remembrance and turns into a beautiful, steadfast tribute.

There’s a song by Disciple called “My Hell,” and the chorus goes, “This was my Hell, living without You here. / Even Heaven is Hell if somehow You were not there.” It’s the idea that even the loveliest place is terrible if God’s not there, and I think Jonah would agree. And maybe Jonah realized in the belly of that big fish that the opposite is true too: How bad can a place be if God is right there with you? If you’ll notice, there’s not one mention of Nineveh or its people in the second chapter of Jonah, and I personally believe that’s because the fear of going to Nineveh with God beside him paled in comparison to being anywhere without Him.

On Sunday, Dave said, “Everything we’re involved with as human beings should point us to God.” Through his running, Jonah’s compass to God broke. It no longer mattered who God was or where Jonah was going so long as it wasn’t where God wanted him to be. It was in the fish, facing death that Jonah’s compass to God was reoriented and fixed.

Last week, I sort of asked if you could relate to Jonah the Runner. This week I ask if you can relate to Jonah the Broken.

I’ve felt distant from God before through the fault of no one but my own. It’s the worst feeling. I felt like my prayers disappeared in the air around me, never reaching God’s ear. I felt scummy and hopeless. I felt like a failure, and my self-worth was non-existent.

How did it get better, you ask? It’s pretty simple. I kept choosing to turn to God. I could’ve stopped. That would’ve been easy, but it wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be. I went through the motions with all the heart I had, not just for the sake of going through the motions, but trusting that God hadn’t given up on me and determined not to give up on Him. I prayed and worshipped and went to church and read my Bible because I had to reorient my compass to point me to God.

I get the feeling that Jonah could relate to that. If you can too, I encourage you to go to God. Run to God instead of from Him. He’s always pursuing us, but we also need to pursue Him, to choose Him, to make our love for Him greater than anything else in our lives. That might take some work on our part, but that’s okay. To quote the song “Hard to Please” by State Champs, “It only matters if it’s worth it.” So is it worth it? And just think, it could be worse. At least you aren’t being eaten by a big fish.

By Carrie Prevette

Before They Make Me Run

Fun Fact: Other than the incident with the whale (or “big fish”), I don’t know anything about Jonah. I can’t really explain why but I’ve never felt compelled to learn more about him or his story. That being said, there are probably many words I could use to describe this blog series about Jonah, but I’m going to choose the words “interesting” and “exciting.” I look forward to learning about Jonah and exploring this book along with you.

Jonah was a minor prophet, meaning he’s one of those little books crammed in the back of the Old Testament. His four chapters are sandwiched between Obadiah and Micah, and the four chapters themselves take up a little more than the space of a page in my pocket-size Bible.

So what separates Jonah from his peers? Why have we heard of Jonah but not Amos or Habakkuk? For starters, they didn’t survive being eaten by a large fish. That’s pretty special, but their stories, while wonderful in their own ways, aren’t the same as Jonah’s.

“The Lord gave this message to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.’ But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3, NLT).

So Jonah’s not off to a very good start. God gave him a pretty short To Do list: get up and go to Nineveh. Jonah completes half of that. He gets up, alright, but he darts to Joppa, where he books passage on a boat for Tarshish, which is (as you could guess) nowhere near Nineveh.

Let’s step back for a second and look at all the components here. There’s God, who despite all of this is on mutually good terms with Jonah for the time being. There’s Jonah, who loves God but would evidently rather go literally anywhere but Nineveh. And there’s Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, about which the introduction to the book of Jonah in my NLT Bible says this: “Not only was Assyria the most powerful empire in that day, it was also ruthlessly violent with its conquered enemies. Israel was soon to enter Assyria’s path of destruction, and so it is unlikely that many Israelites would have accepted Jonah’s task.”

Jonah’s aversion to Nineveh wasn’t a personal quirk of his but more of a general desire to live. That’s one of the parts of this story that people leave out to make this story kid-friendly. Jonah ran, but he ran for his life. Imagine God telling you to go to ISIS headquarters and tell them God’s judgment is upon them. That’s a similar scenario to Jonah’s.

A huge storm came while Jonah was afloat to Tarshish, and the other sailors yelled for their gods to help and threw what they could overboard. They found Jonah asleep below deck and yelled at him to wake up and pray to his god. They figured out that the one who was the cause of the storm was Jonah and questioned him. When he said he worshiped the God who made both land and sea, the sailors were scared and started to freak out. Jonah knew if they threw him in the sea that the storm would stop so he suggested it. At first, the group didn’t want to but soon realized it was the only thing they could do. When they threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped immediately. Stunned by God’s power, the sailors offered a sacrifice to God and vowed to be His servants.

I’ll let you in on a secret. One of two things usually happens when you run from something. You either run right to it or run to something worse. Sometimes you run into something worse on your way to whatever you’re running from.

Let me give you an example. I’m currently reading The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. (Allow us to pause here a moment out of pure respect for Vonnegut. Not many, if any, people know that I just adore Vonnegut and his writing. Slaughterhouse-Five impacted my life immensely and is easily in my top ten, maybe even top five books.) In this book I’m reading, a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord basically traveled through a rip or portal between Earth and Mars. He’s sort of part of the universe now. He doesn’t really have a body but can materialize. He can go anywhere (like other planets and galaxies), can read minds, knows the future. He meets a man called Malachi Constant and tells him his future. Scared, Malachi does everything he can to avoid his fate or change it, alters his life and relationships. But after it all, his destiny is the same, and he meets it in even worse shape than he would have had he gone with it instead of fighting it. He gets there, but now his social life is gone, his money is depleted, and his company went under.

Jonah was in a boat similar to Malachi’s fictional one. Jonah’s situation involved a literal, tangible boat, one that took on water in an inescapable storm.

I don’t believe that Jonah’s sprint from his calling surprised God one bit. I believe He knew it, foresaw it, and crafted the entire sea scenario to get more people saved and to prove to Jonah that He cannot be out-ran.

God doesn’t give up on us. He knows the life we could have, the ways we could grow, the impact we could have in His name, and He refuses to shortchange us. His love and pursuit of us never end.

God didn’t give up on Jonah. Nineveh held more than power-hungry killers. It held experiences and lessons for Jonah in particular. God wasn’t just going to let Jonah sail away from that. He probably understood Jonah’s fear, but He knew that what awaited was so much greater if Jonah could just get there.

Are you fleeing like Jonah? Jonah’s fear was justified, and yours probably is too, if to no one else but you. Change and callings, duties and destinies can be terrifying. Someone else could probably have done Jonah’s job, but they couldn’t have done it the way Jonah did. The same goes for you. There’s only one you, only one person on the whole planet who can do what you do like you do. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself running from your calling. And remember that we serve a relentless, powerful, and loving God.

By Carrie Prevette

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