The Woman at the Well

It’s hard being a woman. Women are expected to be and do everything with little to no reward or recognition.

Take the workplace for example. Women earn $0.79 for every dollar a man makes (some stats show $0.77, but from what I’ve read, $0.79 is more accurate on average. Also, women of color typically earn even less than that). Studies show that men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on their past performances. If a mom works full-time, she’s told someone else or something else – be it a relative or sitter, the school system, television, etc. – is raising her kids. If she’s a stay-at-home mom, people try to make her feel insignificant, like she doesn’t do much.

Our personalities are treated largely as secondary by society and a sad amount of individuals, yet there’s a lot of policing in this area. Passive women are walked over; assertive women are called names and are disliked. A woman is supposed to be normatively feminine enough not to be considered “butch” and stereotypically masculine enough not to be considered “girly” or she’ll be mocked. And it’s worth noting that the word “girly” and the phrase “like a girl” are still used and perceived as insults despite efforts to change that.

Society’s biggest concern about a woman is her looks. From retouching on ads and magazine covers to fat-shaming and skinny-shaming to people on the internet who photoshop women to look smaller to companies and industries that thrive off of women wanting to look a certain way, we’re led to believe that no matter what we look like, we don’t look right. Despite all of this, we’re told to love our bodies and that we’re beautiful just as we are. But when a woman puts the messages behind her, loves her looks and exudes that empowerment, she’s called “arrogant” or “conceited” and is regarded with disdain. (And I’d like to point out that this particular group of issues affects men too, not just women.)

In history, comments made by women were accredited to “Anonymous” for the most part. In literature, a woman will use her initials or a pseudonym to get more notice or a larger readership and used to have to do so to get published at all (i.e., the Bronte sisters). In an Eastern religion (Confucianism, I believe), scriptures basically tell parents to give boys toys that are both more fun and safer than those played with by girls. And Aristotle, who is regarded by many as a great scholar and philosopher, believed that it took a female fetus twice as long to develop a soul as it did a male fetus.

We’ve got a long way to go for gender equality in 2016, but we’ve already come leaps and bounds from when Jesus met the woman at the well. As a feminist, this scripture makes me smile, so I really like that I get to give you my perspective and analysis on it.

John 4:1-42 is the full scripture of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. For a better grasp of the story and this post, I recommend reading all of it because I’m simply going to summarize it here.

Jesus goes through Samaria and stops to rest at Jacob’s well. There was a woman there, all by herself, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water. She’s hesitant. Jesus offers her an everlasting water, which she’s very interested in. He tells her to go get her husband, and she tells Him that she has no husband. He says He knows she’s telling the truth because she’s been married five times before and isn’t married to the man she’s currently living with. She calls Jesus a prophet and asks a question about the difference between what the Samaritans believe and what the Jews believe, and she says she believes the Messiah is coming. Jesus then reveals that He’s the Messiah, and the woman runs to tell the townspeople.

There are a few things that are evident here about the woman, who remains nameless. The first is that she’s smart. She knew better than to trust a random Jewish man who approached her when no one else was around to witness what could happen, especially when she knew no one liked her and that people probably wouldn’t believe her if anything bad happened to her. She knew the difference between what Samaritans and Jews believed. She also knew the origin of the well, and she knew the Messiah was coming. She knew plenty.

We know the woman was pretty much alone. Having had five husbands and then living with her boyfriend, she wasn’t entirely alone, but we can tell from the fact that no one else really wants to be around her at the well that she doesn’t have much companionship.

We know that the woman was honest. She could’ve lied to Jesus about her marital status but didn’t. Had it been anyone but Jesus, the stranger probably would’ve responded better to a lie.

The woman’s intellect and honesty lead us to believe that the woman knew why she was alone. She knew her actions were sinful, and she knew that pretty much everyone tried to shame her for her actions, but we have no reason to believe that the woman was ashamed of herself. The text never says why she went to the well alone. It could’ve been because she was ashamed, but it also could’ve been because she didn’t want to put up with the people around her. All we know for sure is that she went to the well by herself and was okay with that. So okay, in fact, that she wanted the water that Jesus offered, the water that would perpetually and eternally quench her thirst.

When Jesus tells her all about her romantic experiences, the woman immediately marks Him as a religious man who can see truths of the lives of others, which in most cases would be a prophet. And since He already knows everything about her, she probably didn’t see the point in dragging it out. Since she was a smart woman who’d been rejected by religion, she asked a religious question to a religious man who wasn’t judging her.

The tone of this scripture depends on what translation you read, but I’ve never read a translation where Jesus was rude to this woman, where He judged her, or where He talked down to her. The rest of the world wanted nothing to do with her, and Jesus treated her with kindness and respect.

Do you see yourself in here yet? Because I do. An otherworldly love given without second thoughts to someone who no one else seems to want. To someone who doesn’t deserve it. To someone who is doing just fine on his or her own, thanks, and doesn’t really need any help.

I think if we all think about it, we can all feel the dirt beneath our feet as we hold our buckets and jars, our heads tilted at this oddly compelling stranger standing before us because that’s us standing there at the well.

This woman was a victim of a patriarchy far worse than ours as well as a sinner, and Jesus met her right where she was. Broken, bitter, ashamed, hurting, whatever she may truly have been, Jesus met her in the middle of her mess with love and grace.

Her reaction? Run and tell everyone, even the people who shamed her to the point of avoidance. Signs of a turn around right away.

Yes, it does my feminist heart good that the first missionary was a woman. It also makes my heart happy to see the love of Jesus have such an immediate, lasting impact because I can certainly relate to that too.

Know that wherever you are, Jesus wants to meet you there. He knows who you are and where you’ve been, and He still wants to offer you living water that’ll end all thirst and a love that never runs out. He’s standing at your well asking if you’d like a drink.

By Carrie Prevette

 

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The Fourth Commandment

I love not having anything to do on Sundays. Resting on the Sabbath is no problem for me. I ordinarily just go to church, eat, sleep, and watch T.V. For what it’s worth, I’m a fairly lazy person, so this isn’t hard for me.

If you’re an active person, resting on Sunday may not come as easily to you as it does to me, and that’s okay. Because ultimately, the whole point is that what you do on your Sabbath isn’t labor.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT).

So no labor. But what about those who have to work on Sundays?

The most important part of the Sabbath is not the day of the week that we observe it. The seventh day is important because that was the day God rested after creating everything and because the number seven is symbolic of completion and wholeness (i.e., the seventh day of the week is the last day of the week, signaling its completion). If we have the option to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, we should because it is the seventh day. Life doesn’t always fall neatly into seven-day increments, though. The most important part of the Sabbath, whenever one can observe it, is that it is a day dedicated to God. This follows with the theme of the commands that precede it.

We do not get gold stars for not working on Sundays nor do we get gold stars for simply going to church. If the Sabbath is to be dedicated to God then we have to engage with God and the conversation about Him.

When the worship band plays, don’t just think about whether or not you like the songs. Think about what the lyrics are saying, and if a song resonates with you, express that to God, whether it’s by singing or dancing or raising your hands or meditating quietly. There’s no one way to worship, but we do need to worship.

When they’re taking up tithes and you are able to give, give. Whether you view it as a form of worship or sacrifice, do it for God by giving to God.

When someone prays aloud, don’t just stand there and listen to them. Talk to God by praying.

During the sermon, interact with the message. Personally, I take notes, and if it weren’t for this blog, I doubt I’d ever look back at most of them. I write down the points the speaker is making, but I also write down scripture that fits the message that wasn’t used and my own perspective on the scripture and points being made if they differ from the speaker’s.

An example of this is my post on the woman at the well. The way I see her and her story is different from how Alan views it all. We read the same scripture, but our life experiences (specifically, his as a man and mine as a woman) create different lenses through which we see and analyze the text. Thinking about these different perspectives and writing about my own was a way for me to interact with the message and the scripture.

This interaction with God and His word is what He wants from us and, I believe, what He ultimately commands us in Exodus 20. Not time when we’re with Him and ignoring Him, but time when we engage with Him.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always take the advice I’ve given here. (I believe it’s Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who says, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”) I don’t always do or want to do these things, but if I want to observe the Sabbath and dedicate my time to God, I need to focus on Him, be mindful of Him, and interact with Him.

This is the importance of the Sabbath, whenever that may be for you if not on Sundays: dedicate your time to God. Not that we always want to or that we always find it easy but that God is always deserving of our best efforts and our affections.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- For more on resting and spending time with God, check out this post of mine from quite a while back. I hope you find it useful.

The Tenth Commandment

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT).

This is the tenth and final commandment, and it’s difficult to keep. The old adage goes, “The heart wants what the heart wants,” and I think the spirit of that is true. The issue is really a matter of who rules the heart.

Let’s take the issue of a man desiring his neighbor’s wife. We’ll call this guy George. His neighbor will be Connor, and Mrs. Neighbor will be referred to as Marla.

George is at a point where he’s ready to settle down. He wants to find a woman he truly loves and marry her, maybe have a couple of kids with her. George has been dating, but he hasn’t found the woman he can see himself developing laugh lines with and sitting in rocking chairs with in their sunset years.

Truth be told, he really wants to be married to Marla. She’s friendly, always says hello to him when she sees him and laughs at his corny jokes. She’s easygoing. She’s quirky; she likes sci-fi movies and has a cactus garden. She likes to bake, especially pies. She baked a lemon pie for George when his dog died. If George was married to Marla, he thinks, he’d shower her with attention and kisses and wouldn’t care who noticed.

And Connor? George doesn’t feel very strongly about him. He seems like a recovering snob, like he’s trying not to be the jerk he probably was as a younger man. He doesn’t drink often, but when he does, he drinks red wine, which he told George the only time he’d ever seen Connor drink, at a Christmas party a few years ago. And he’s never really seen Connor be overly affectionate towards Marla except for a kiss or two on the cheek and an arm wrapped around her every now and then.

What George doesn’t know is that Marla is uncomfortable with PDA, so Connor isn’t overly affectionate because she doesn’t like it. Marla may bake, but Connor cooks. He makes her favorite meal when she has a rough day at work. He was a little bit of a jerk growing up, but it’s because he was socially awkward and, for many years, didn’t have close friends. Marla helps him with that. And Marla may be polite to George and think his jokes are funny, but she doesn’t really like him because she thinks he’s conceited due to the fact that whenever they do chat, he only talks about himself.

George is idolizing marriage, especially marriage with Marla. George wants what Connor has with her, but George isn’t Connor. His relationship with Marla wouldn’t be the same. God brought Connor and Marla together because they love each other and work well together. The same could not be said for her and George.

Or let’s say George and Connor are neighbors and both are single, but George has a really nice car as a result of his really nice job. Connor sees the level of respect and adoration people look at George with, and he’s jealous. He wants that sort of approval from others. Then Connor is only serving himself, and his heart belongs to the god of appearances.

Or maybe one wants the other’s house or style or cheerful disposition or functioning relationship with his parents. We all want many things others have that we don’t.

We want because we aren’t content with what God has given us.

God gives to each of us as He sees fit. We’re different people with different relationships with God and different problems. God provides for all of His children, but because of our personalities and vices, that provision doesn’t look the same to everyone.

We shouldn’t covet what God has given our neighbor because God’s gifts for each person are tailored to each individual, and God wants that person to have what is best for that person, not what’s best for his or her neighbor. Making peace with that comes from knowing God, trusting God, and being thankful for what God has provided for you. Just as God has given to your neighbor, He has given to you your own unique gifts of provision. That is not only worth contentment, it’s worth celebrating.

By Carrie Prevette

The Sixth and Seventh Commandments

“You must not murder” (Exodus 20:13, NLT).

Pretty straightforward. Even if I wanted to add to it, I couldn’t.

I’ll explain in case anyone reading this is on the fense about becoming an axe murderer or something of the sort. The greatest gift God gives us other than salvation to save our souls is life itself. The opportunity to experience God and His love, to know people and walk through life with them, to watch sunsets and listen to your favorite song and drink hot chocolate when it’s cold outside, to to see and interact with the rest of God’s creation. Sure, life’s not always good, but it’s a gift even when it doesn’t feel like it. Who are we to decide others aren’t worthy of it when God’s the one who gave it?

If you ask Jesus, though, there’s more to it than that. He says in Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT), “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

In saying this, Jesus identifies the emotions and attitudes that can lead down a road that may result in murder. So maybe it’s not as simple as not taking someone’s life. Maybe it’s also about not taking someone’s enjoyment out of life.

I’ve never slit anyone’s throat, but I’ll cut someone down with such ease that it’s scary. I’ve never suffocated anyone, but I’ve sucked the wind out of many sails. I’d never dream of killing anyone, but I know how to kill a mood, a moment, someone’s confidence, someone’s hope.

We should help the impoverished and oppressed because they are closer to losing their lives than we are, and we are called not only to not harm people but to help them. In another sense, we should do this because these people have a worse quality of life. If we have received life more abundant, we are to pass that along instead of promoting death.

“You must not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, NLT).

Also seemingly simple: Don’t sleep with someone you aren’t married to. It creates pain, distrust, bitterness, and other things that harden hearts and create gaps between each other and between people and God.

Again, Jesus expands upon this and identifies the root of adultery. Matthew 5:27-28 (NLT) reads, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

I took a class in college called Philosophy of Love and Sex, and I loved that class (and it wasn’t just because I had/still have a crush on the professor). One thing we discussed was how sexual media and entertainment are. When asked how we felt the first time we saw a pornographic image, we had to think back, and for many of us, it was an advertisement of some sort. Pornographic images aren’t always overtly so and aren’t contained just to actual pornography. We are exposed to it all the time in everyday life.

Lust is the difference between seeing a Hardee’s commercial and committing adultery. It’s also the difference between thinking that one actor from your favorite show is cute and sinning in your heart. A video of someone’s mouth or finding someone other than your spouse attractive are not in and of themselves sinful. The lust that we have for them, which comes from what we lack or are searching for, is sinful.

Lust is what causes people to physically commit adultery. No one randomly sleeps with someone they aren’t married to. We either crave intimacy or want someone else’s body or prefer the way someone treats us or want revenge. We are lusting after something or another when we commit adultery.

What do murder and adultery have to do with each other apart from the fact that both are sins? Jesus answers that for us in Matthew 15:19-20 (NLT) when He says, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you…”

The problem with murder and adultery (as well as a few other sins) is the heart. A heart that wants any of this is not a heart that is pursuing God and His purpose for that individual’s life. And these big sins that come from the heart are a result of smaller, more common emotions that go unchecked and grow. That’s why Jesus said these sins are so much easier to commit than we think. But if we keep our hearts set on God, these sins will not be able to take root.

By Carrie Prevette

Great Risk

I had a writing professor who told my class that when she started getting rejection letters from publishing companies for her writing, she used the letters to decorate her bathroom walls.

Because being rejected isn’t fun. Being vulnerable isn’t fun.

Being vulnerable is a part of being a writer. We spend time with the words and characters and images, and when we present the stories they make, we present part of ourselves. Criticism isn’t fun either, but it’s welcomed because it lets us know there’s potential, that there’s at least a good start. Rejection, however, just makes us feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough.

Even if you’re not a writer, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been vulnerable before. We all dread rejection.

This is the position Ruth finds herself in when we meet up with her in chapter three. Naomi tells her to wash up and put on perfume and her finest clothes. Then she tells Ruth to go to Boaz when he’s asleep, pull the covers off of his feet, and lay there at his feet until he wakes up.

In Ruth’s position, I would’ve remained single because there’s no way I would’ve done this. This sounds creepy and risky and unlikely to woo anyone.

Thankfully, Ruth’s not like me. She does exactly as Naomi tells her. And when Boaz wakes up surprised and asks who she is, Ruth replies, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer” (Ruth 3:9, NLT). As our guest speaker, Alicia, explained on Sunday, this is a reference to the blessing Boaz prayed/spoke over Ruth in chapter two and sort of a proposal, not an allusion to sexual activities.

This is it. This is the intense moment we’ve been building up to. Imagine what Ruth’s heart rate was probably like as she laid there. She is probably the most vulnerable she ever was or would be. Depending on how Boaz responds, she could be embarrassed, have her reputation ruined, lose her job, maybe even be blacklisted from surrounding fields as well. In addition, a woman proposing to a man would’ve been abnormal. Boaz could’ve felt emasculated and gotten mad at her. Ruth put it all on the line.

Boaz responds with, “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” (Ruth 3:10, NLT). This is not the response I would give (plus, I’d probably kick the person at my feet when I woke up), and I don’t think it’s the response most would give then or now. But Boaz is touched by Ruth’s loyalty to her family, and he knows how virtuous she is. He said there was one man of closer relation to her, that he would talk to him to see if he was interested in marrying Ruth. When Ruth went home in the morning, he sent her home with six scoops of barley.

I’ve yet to meet someone who’s won every risk they’ve taken. Failure and rejection happen. It can keep us from taking more risks.

Risks taken in faith seldom yield no reward or benefit. And if you’re led by God to your risk – seeing as how God knows everything – it’s almost a guarantee. Just as Naomi knew what to do and directed Ruth, our all-knowing, omnipotent God directs us.

Being unsure isn’t fun. Taking steps when you don’t know where your foot will land isn’t easy. The good thing is that we don’t face it alone. If our step misses, if we’re rejected, if there’s no reward, we’ll still fall in the love and grace of God. He’ll never leave us, especially at our most vulnerable or confused, especially when we need Him most.

By Carrie Prevette

Let the Story Unfold

I originally wasn’t even going to apply to Western Carolina; I’d barely even heard of it at the time. Then they sent me an application in the mail. I filled it out because I thought it’d be a good back-up school. I ranked it fourth out of the five schools I applied to. I was rejected from my first two and decided against my number three.

If Western hadn’t sent me an application, I wouldn’t have applied. If I had been accepted to a school I preferred, I wouldn’t have attended Western. And if Western didn’t break the record for the number of accepted first-year students, I would’ve been placed in one of the dorms reserved just for freshman.

But I was put in Buchanan, an all-girls dorm at the time. I was placed on the ground floor, two doors down and on the other side of the hall from a girl called Becca. Becca’s older sister went to Western as well and lived on our hall. She was part of an organization on campus, members of which Becca had met before. So when Becca got accepted into WCU, she asked to room with one of the girls she’d met, putting her on the ground floor of Buchanan as well. That’s how I met one of my best friends.

Becca and I spent our first semester in the organization of our hallmates. A couple of weeks in, another freshman invited her roommate, Ayana, to join us. And Ayana clicked with Becca and me immediately. We hung out together outside of the group and would gravitate towards each other when in it. And when one of us decided to leave the organization, the other two did as well for the exact same reasons. That’s how I met another one of my best friends.

It’s been almost seven years since all of this, and the three of us are still every bit as close as we were then. None of us can imagine our lives without the others nor do we want to. No part of our meeting was a coincidence. God knew we would need each other. Much like Frodo and Sam, Carrie wouldn’t have got far without Becca and Ayana.

Ruth finds herself on a path full of blessing instead of coincidence in chapter two.

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem after leaving Moab, and since it’s just the two of them without any sort of male spouse or relative, Ruth says she’ll go find a job picking up leftover grains in a field. Very Rosie the Riveter, right? No guys around to provide so she’ll do it herself. And Naomi tells her to do it because she knows it’s the only path to provision.

Ruth finds a job working in a field owned by a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s late husband and evidently a great man to work for. His employees like him, and it’s easy to see why. After getting Ruth’s story from the foreman, Boaz goes to Ruth and tells her where to glean from, that he told the young men to leave her alone, and that she can drink from the young men’s water supply (which would be opposite of how it usually worked and make her more of an equal to them).

Ruth is overwhelmed. She says she’s just a foreigner, which Boaz tells her he knows. He says he also knows what she’s done for Naomi and prays God would bless her.

Boaz tells her to dip her bread in wine at lunch and gives her so much roasted grain to eat that she can’t finish it all. Then he tells the young men to let her pick right from the sheaves without stopping her and to drop some barley on purpose. Ruth went home with a full basket, the leftover grain, and an invitation to come back until the harvest was over.

As we discussed in last week’s post, Matthew 1:5 tells us how the story of Ruth and Boaz ends: with a branch on Jesus’ family tree.

We can see the blessings because we know the ending. But I’m sure being a Moabite woman providing for two people didn’t seem like such a blessing at first. But then the story unfolded, and Ruth discovered that God was blessing her through Boaz and his kindness.

Boaz didn’t focus on Ruth being a Moabite. He focused on what she had done, how she was different, her redemption. And he blessed her.

That’s exactly how God is. The things that we think disqualify us from grace aren’t what God focuses on. He focuses on our redemption, whether we already have it or want to accept it from Him. Your past isn’t bigger than God’s love. What you’ve done, what you’re capable of doesn’t even compare to what God and His grace are capable of.

Ruth let her story unfold. She didn’t sit by and wait for things to change. She lived her life, did what she had to, and let God’s will happen.

Are you letting your story unfold? Are you waiting or are you doing? Are you letting God’s will happen to make your life better, to take you where He wants you to be? To get from the bad to the good or from good to better, we have to trust in God and keep going just like Ruth did.

By Carrie Prevette

Letting Go

Everyone should read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you’re at all interested in war or peace, truth or fiction, or really just in a human’s humanity, I strongly encourage you to read this book.

The Things They Carried shows the physical, mental, and emotional weight and items that the soldiers carried. Some things they brought to the war from home, and other things they brought home from the war. There’s also a detailed description of the uniforms and weaponry they carried everywhere in Vietnam. From grenades to pictures to Bibles to guilt to death, the reader sees everything these men carried.

As we address this week’s bumper sticker, “Let go and let God,” I ask you this not to belittle the heart or content of The Things They Carried, but to apply the theme of carrying things to all of us: What are you carrying?

As Dave spoke Sunday, he identified four major things that we hold on to: comfort, needs, fears, and control. Maybe you don’t struggle with all of these, and maybe your struggle with one leads directly to your struggle with another. Or perhaps you struggle with each of these in phases. Regardless, these four items are popular things to carry, and they aren’t always simple.

I’ll give you an example. When I think of control, my initial reaction is that I don’t have an issue with it. The health class I took in college focused on stress management, and it showed me how pointless it is to stress about things I can’t control. It helped me to worry less about things that are beyond my control or that aren’t my fault. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally stress about such things, but I do so a lot less than I used to.

On the other hand, I do like controlling things I can and want to control. That’s one thing I enjoy about being a writer. I control the words, the length, the tone. If it’s creative writing, even better. I get to play God and create and control everything from characters to whole universes. Nothing happens that I don’t want to happen. I also like to paint. And if you’ve ever watched at least two or three episodes of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, you’ve probably heard him say that when you paint, it’s your world. It can look however you want it to. I like having that kind of power; I like being able to control the scene. So maybe I do have a control issue after all.

I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to like control or comfort. Nor do I think it’s wrong to take care of our needs or to be afraid. I think there’s a problem in dwelling on these things or keeping them from God.

Looking at all of scripture, there aren’t many times that God tells someone to do something that he or she is totally comfortable with right away. Jonah booked passage on a ship going the opposite way. Jeremiah played the youth card, making excuses on account of his age. Mary was nervous about being a pregnant, unwed woman. There are more, but I think that’s enough to illustrate the point. When these people stepped up to their roles in the Kingdom and did what was asked of them, they were uncomfortable and unsure. They had to let go of their comfort to let God work through them.

It seems pretty natural to hold on to what we need. That way we’re sure that we have it. And if we don’t already have what we need, we pursue it. Because why wouldn’t we? The result of this breeds a lot of worry and not a lot of faith.

Jesus says in Luke 12:6-7 (NLT), “What is the price of five sparrows – two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

I’m not telling you to stop doing what you need to do to survive. I’m telling you to let go of that worry because God can and will provide. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we need because God loves us and looks after us if we pursue God first (Matthew 6:25-34).

1 John 4:16-18 (NLT) tells us, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

John identifies our ultimate fear here as failing God to the point of punishment and maybe even eternal punishment due to living without love.

But what does this have to do with tangible or everyday fears in our real, current lives? My biggest fear is clowns, and I mean that. Nothing fills me with terror like the thought (heaven forbid I ever see the sight) of a clown adorned for a child’s party with any kid of weapon. What does that have to do with what John’s writing about?

Let’s look at the components of what helps us overcome our ultimate fear as identified by John. As followers of God, we are so filled with the pure and powerful love of His that, one, our love grows deeper and more perfect to the point that, two, we live like Jesus.

The life of Jesus is marked by many human qualities, but fear is not one of them. Jesus got angry, He did things He didn’t want to do, He cried, and He was sassy, but He was not once afraid. He was filled with a perfect, empowering love. Why should He have been afraid? He had the strongest connection and relationship with the Creator. The angels could’ve been by His side as soon as He spoke the word for them to come.

This is the life, love, and confidence we can have through God. It strengthens us to the point that we fear nothing. We don’t fear failure or heights or spiders or axe-wielding clowns because when we face such things, we do so with the love and power of God.

Lastly, I think we can all understand wanting to be in control. If I do something, I know it’s getting done. It’s simpler. We then don’t have to depend on others and be let down. It may get messy, it may not be easy, but it’s worth it.

But is it? My hands are known for being incapable while God’s are masterful. My record is spotty, and God’s is immaculate. The plan I once had for my life was vastly different that the one God had for me, and I can say with total honesty that I’m glad my life didn’t turn out as I had once wanted.

Still, I sometimes try to grab the reigns. I try to make my problem less problematic before I give it to God. But God can handle any and all of my issues, no matter how big and bad they are. What does it say about my faith in Him that He’s my last resort and not my first choice? Not much.

These are the things we carry. These are the things we should let go of and let God take care of. Holding on to these things does nothing more than hold us back. Freedom in God means living with open hands. We shouldn’t be bound by our comfort, worry for our needs, fear, or desire for control. Unshackled people with open hands are more ready to give and receive blessings, to do for God while He does for them, to be who He needs them to be. And we should be such people.

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

Advent with Abstract: Hope

I imagine her sitting and praying quietly, her hands folded together in her lap. I imagine her thanking God for the day and for all of her days. I imagine her praying for those in the Temple and the community.

Her stomach growls, but she ignores it. It comes with the territory of fasting. Done praying, she gets up and moves around. At her age, she counts it a blessing every time she’s able to stand. She’s been doing this for years, and she feels it in her joints but not her heart. She sees the Temple is sort of busy today, and it makes her smile. She notices Simeon talking with a young couple and is compelled to walk towards them. She is both curious and obedient. She smiles at the parents but is quickly overjoyed by the child.

She knew in an instant. It could’ve been the softness of the baby’s face or the way he smiled. Maybe it was how he looked at her because she knew someone had looked at her out of love like that before. Somehow, she knew.

Anna knew she was looking at the Messiah.

Out of the whole Bible, we only have three verses with Anna, Luke 2:36-39. In those verses, we find out she’s the widowed prophet daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher who fasted, prayed, and never left the Temple.

I want to give Anna her moment in the spotlight here (although I feel sure she’d ask me not to) because I don’t think Anna gets enough credit or recognition. She was widowed for most of her life, and she was completely fine with it. All she wanted or needed was God; she didn’t even leave the Temple anymore by the time we meet her. She was always seeking God more and more. She was a prophet, which would’ve been remarkable for a woman in a Greco-Roman society. Evidently her family was so well known that Luke felt the need to sort of say, “Phanuel, tribe of Asher? That’s his daughter.”

Anna was so distinguished and devout, but she was also hopeful. The last we see or hear of Anna, she’s telling everyone who was eagerly waiting for God to save Jerusalem that she’d seen the face of their salvation. No one would do that if he or she weren’t also expectant and hopeful.

God’s people found themselves oppressed (again) and looking for a savior. They knew the prophecies, and they were ready for someone to come and fulfill the old words and free them. Anna was blessed enough to look the rescue squad in the eyes as he yawned and cooed.

As I see it, we’re also held down, although not like the Jewish people were. We’re enslaved by our flesh and thoughts, oppressed by our addictions and habits, under the thumb of our desires. It’s captivity masquerading as freedom.

Our true hope and freedom lay in the same place as the Jews’ did: Jesus.

No matter what sort of destruction you’re in, Jesus can remove it from you. The history you have with it, the pain it causes you, the grip it has on you as it tries to pull you back down – none of that stands up to Jesus and wins. It doesn’t even compare. He’s the freedom to walk away from bitterness. He’s the hope that it really will get better. He’s the promise that the future is brighter and better than we could imagine. He’s the hope that all former things pass away.

When Anna saw Jesus, she saw her years of praying and fasting, years of hearing skeptics and comforting believers paying off. She saw what she’d been hoping for.

What does hope look like to you? A reconciled family or a new addition to the family? Maybe it’s a date on the calendar marked “one year clean today” or a check with your name on it made out for just the amount you need to get by. It could be an acceptance letter or a call for an interview. What do you see when you think of hope?

Whatever you see, it’s just the surface. It’s the form hope takes, not the hope itself. If we look harder, we’ll see the hope is Jesus. Anna didn’t see just any baby. She saw who the baby was. She saw hope manifested as a baby. Don’t look at your hope as just any blessing or gift. Look at it as where your longing and expectancy meets Jesus’ love.

By Carrie Prevette

A Torn Veil

I’ve talked about my dad on this blog a few times, and now I’m going to talk a little bit about my mom.

Many of you have met my mom, so you know this firsthand: my mom is the sweetest woman on this planet. (She’s the woman who buys Alan orange juice regularly.) She is kind and patient and tolerant. She’s very strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’ll take me the rest of my life to know the Bible as well as she does. She’s my biggest supporter. If you ever want to be encouraged or if you ever need a compliment, talk to my mom. Alan has told me two or three times that I should be more like my mom, and he’s probably right. The world would be a better place for it.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say something about how similar a mother’s love is to God’s love. I’d be able to make a much larger payment on my student loans this month if I did. That being said, my mom’s love reminds me a lot of God’s love. My mom sacrifices a lot for me. She gives up her money, time, and preferences to help me or suit me. Sacrifices not nearly as big as God’s, but notable all the same. And she loves me unconditionally. I asked my mom when I was little if she would always love me, no matter what. She told me she would, and she has kept her word. I’ve given my mom ample reason to not love me in the past 23 years, but not once has her love wavered. Oh, she’s been extremely disappointed in me and downright upset with me many times. But she’s never stopped loving me, and that is a true reflection of God’s love.

As we’ve been discussing the past few weeks, God is both powerful and loving, and there is no better example of both than the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

I find the final moments of Jesus on the cross and the first moments right after alternatingly mighty and beautiful. You may be sitting there thinking, “That’s a little twisted, Carrie. I’m not going to lie,” but hear me out here.

According to Matthew 27:50-53, it was quite an experience. Jesus’s spirit was released and the earth opened up. Tombs opened up, and people rose from the dead.  The veil in the Temple ripped completely.

Other accounts say the sky darkened, almost like it was nighttime. I imagine a wind rushed by, down the streets of Jerusalem, turning leaves over on the trees, hard into the faces of Jesus’s accusers. As the earth shook, people looked around in shock and terror.

I find all of that powerful. And I find it beautiful (in a poetic way, I suppose) that all of it was the divine and natural reaction to the world losing the greatest man it would ever know.

When it happened, it was a big deal. Everyone knew something huge happened even if they didn’t know exactly what it was.

The veil being torn is a big deal. I won’t go as into it as Alan did Sunday, but I do feel the need to speak a little bit about it for the readers who weren’t there. Before the death of Jesus, there was one day every year when there were animal sacrifices made for everyone’s sins. And the priest would enter the most sacred place in the Temple, called the Holy of Holies, which was sectioned off by a think veil (or curtain), and pray for the people.

We think that’s nice and awesome that the veil was ripped, but Matthew’s readers would’ve been positively stunned by it. Of the four gospels, Matthew’s is by far the most Jewish. It’s important to know your audience when writing, and Matthew knew his well. He opens his book with a family tree filled with important people in Jewish history and brings it to a close shortly after saying that a crucial part of their beloved Temple was both unnecessary and ruined.

The average person’s access to God until that point sounded a lot like commercials you see for a really good sale.
“One day only!”
“While supplies last!”
“Limited time offer.”

God was tired of that and rightfully so. He wanted each of us to have unlimited access to Him and His mercies. He wanted to prove that He was bigger than that lovely Temple.

He wanted to make each of us temples. Beings who house the love and power of God. He doesn’t care what the temple looks like, how grand or pretty it is. He simply cares about the inside, how clean it is and its availability.

That’s a great representation of God – powerful enough to destroy the pride and joy of a city and loving enough to give us access to such a force. Big enough to cause an earthquake, loving enough to shake us and wake us up.

By Carrie Prevette

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