Abiding in the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5, NRSV).

When Alan started reading this scripture on the Sunday he announced our name change, I thought he was going to say that we were becoming Abide Church (which I personally like better than Vine Church, but oh well).

There’s a lot of abiding going on here, and there are layers to the word “abide” that I think help us go deeper with how we, the branches, connect to Jesus, the vine, and God, the vinegrower. I’m going to discuss two of the definitions of “abide” and how they play into the branch/vine/grower relationships.

The first definition of abide, and the most obvious one, is: to continue in a place, to endure without yielding. This sounds really easy. We say we live in Jesus and He in us, and it sounds pleasant. A beautiful, bountiful grape vine being kissed by the sun.

Conditions aren’t always ideal, though. There are droughts and storms. We might wither or get blown away. Branches could detach from the vine. Much like when cold bitterness sets into our hearts and turns us from God or when we doubt God in the conditions we find ourselves in and seek nourishment elsewhere.

It’s not always easy to stay connected to the vine, to endure spiritual hardships without wavering, which is why Jesus emphasizes the benefits of it in John 15. We don’t have to worry about the vine clinging to the branches. God is faithful and loves us; He won’t let go of us. The vine is much stronger than the flimsy, brittle branches. Our hearts are the ones that are prone to love and leave. Our minds are the ones that forget. So Jesus reminds us of the fruit– the luscious, tastey fruit– that comes from us abiding in Him, of life and fruit abundant.

The second definition is: to accept without objection. This speaks to the pruning. We sprout in certain areas when and where we shouldn’t. Not that we necessarily mean to; more often than not, we don’t even realize that growth has happened or is bad until God comes to prune it.

And our first reaction is to object.

“I can quit anytime, so it’s not a problem,” or “I don’t see why this is an issue,” or “Wait, God. Let’s talk about this.”

It’s difficult for us branches to abide whatever the vinegrower wants. We want to stretch and grow wild, filling in the spaces we think we’re meant to take up. If we could only see past the pain of the pruning and trust the vinegrower, we’d find out that we can stretch even farther and take on a bigger, more productive shape through His guidance. We would find that we have more space to bear our fruits.

I love a good image, and I appreciate a good metaphor, and Jesus gives us both of those in John 15:1-5. He teaches us to be steadfast and to endure, to trust in God. There may be pain in the pruning, and we may struggle to stay connected to the vine, but if we abide in Him and He in us, our fruits will grow plentifully and strong.

By Carrie Prevette

Advertisements

What’s in a Name

I’ve talked before of why I love Abstract Church, but I’ve never discussed why I love the name.

It may surprise you, and I hope it does, if I’m being honest, that my biggest insecurity is my intelligence. I keep company that is usually smarter than me. When I was in college, if I felt like I was the dumbest person in the class, I wouldn’t answer questions or speak up. Even when a professor encouraged me to talk more, I wouldn’t because I didn’t want people to think I was as stupid as I thought I was. When I was a kid, I worried that I wasn’t going to be smart enough when I got older to be funny in a clever way.

I’m an art enthusiast. I took seven art classes in high school. I paint. I have a poster of a Picasso painting on the door to my bedroom. I have a shirt that is an Alice in Wonderland version of Starry Night and another shirt that depicts smiley faces in the styles of various artists.

And as I’m often told by my brother, and I’m sure several other people would agree, I’m weird. It’s something I embrace and wear as a badge of honor.

These three elements combined are why I love the name Abstract Church. It was different and artsy, and I knew exactly what it meant without having to ask. Really, I was shocked to find out how many people didn’t get what our name was about given how much of scripture tells us we’re called to be different from the world, set apart, peculiar. I’ve always felt really cool saying that I attend Abstract Church.

Pastor Alan announced Sunday that when our church moves to its new location, we will be changing our name to Vine Church.

In complete transparency, I’ll admit that I don’t really care for the new name. I do like the scripture the name comes from, which is where Jesus tells the disciples (and us) that He is the vine and His followers are the branches that bear fruit through Him in John 15. The ironic thing is that I feel a disconnect with this new name. I get the scripture reference (although I’m not sure newcomers to the faith will), but the name by itself does not resonate with me, doesn’t make me feel at home. And I want it to, which is why I prayed during the final prayer on Sunday that God would open up my heart to this.

The beautiful thing in all of this is that God’s plan doesn’t need my approval, and I’m very glad for that. God’s plans for this church are far grander than I could imagine, and changing the name of the church is a step in that plan. I may not understand why it has to be this way, and I may not like it at this moment, but that doesn’t deter from how much I believe in God and this church and His plan for this church.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother saying all of this, but I wanted to use this as an example of trusting in God’s plan even if one doesn’t find the plan appealing at first. I also needed to post something here for our readers who don’t attend Abstract because, at some point, the blog will transition with the rest of the church to Vine Church. I don’t want anyone to be confused about the name change when the blog officially joins the transition.

Thank you for your continued support of this blog and this church. We look forward to the plans that God has for us.

By Carrie Prevette

Devoted

Back when Israel was ruled by judges, there was a famine, and a man named Elimelech moved from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons. After settling into Moab, Elimelech died. Both sons married, and both wives were Moabite women. Roughly a decade later, the sons died.

At this point, Naomi was pretty much alone,  not having a husband or kids around, and she heard that life in Judah was good again. So she and her daughter-in-laws packed up and headed to Judah. But on the way, Naomi told them to return to their mothers, speaking blessings over them for their kindness. They said they didn’t want to, but Naomi told them to return as she was out of sons for them to marry. One kissed her goodbye, but the other did not.

“But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi…. [She] replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’ When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more” (Ruth 1:14, 16-18, NLT).

I kept thinking about a scripture for the New Year blog post, and I kept coming back to two scriptures, one being this one from Ruth.

The devotion Ruth demonstrated towards Naomi is one that we as humans often reserve for other humans.

And trust me, I am the last person who needs to be talking about this and the first who needs to hear it. I pre-order albums by bands I like without having heard a single note or lyric because I just really like the band. I’ll watch a movie or a show just because I adore an actor who plays in it. And I’d rather not even think of how much money I’ve spent on shirts and jerseys of certain teams or players. I understand – probably better than anyone – this weird sense of an almost sacred devotion to other people.

Unlike my devotion, which is probably more pathetic than anything else, Ruth’s devotion was hopeful and encouraging. I don’t know what Ruth’s relationship with her own mother was like, but we have no reason to believe it wasn’t good. Given how loving and kind Ruth was, I’m inclined to think her mother was the same way. So Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was strong because she chose her over someone else she loved.

What’s really remarkable about Ruth staying with Naomi was that she was a Moabite leaving Moab. Everyone regarded Moabites with disdain. They were seen as barbaric and dirty and awful. Their lineage is traced back to when Lot left Sodom and his daughters conceived with him. They had a history of being oppressive enemies of the Israelites for a very long time. Ruth was taking a big step in leaving both a place that was familiar and free of prejudice towards her. She was really leaving her comfort zone.

In this new year, whether you’re glad it’s here or are starting it with a feeling of hopelessness, we can all aspire to have Ruth’s devotion, but instead of directing it towards another person, we should demonstrate it towards God.

I know it’s hard to choose God over something else. I’m not going to act like it’s not. It’s a product of the fall of man. We naturally want to put people and things that we can see and touch and immediately and definitely behold the greatness of above a God we sometimes have to look for and who doesn’t always lead us to such seemingly great places.

But we can step out of that fondness and familiarity, that sense of happiness and safety, and step into a deeper understanding and a deeper relationship with God. Not because the year is new, but because it’s a time when there’s a big sense of starting over and betterment. It’s a good thing to start at any time.

The other scripture I kept coming back to was John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (NLT).

But I’m a big fan of the NRSV translation of this verse, which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

This is where your love and devotion to God lead you – rich, satisfying, life abundant. Oh, it’s challenging, but anything worth having is. Life abundant never comes easy, but it’s certainly a reward worth fighting for. And with God, it’s a guarantee.

By Carrie Prevette

One Another

One of the most difficult things about running the blog of a church is demonstrating the way I see and perceive God, scriptures, the world around me without flooding the screen with my own personal opinions. I don’t want that to happen, so to actively attempt to avoid that here, I’m keeping this post as short as I can.

I wasn’t going to write a post for this week because I didn’t know how to turn Alan’s lovely pre-election sermon into a good post-election blog post. But I do feel a need to say something, so here we are.

There is a clear divide in America. Regardless of who you voted for (if you could and did) or which side of this divide you seem to find yourself on if you’re not on the line itself, the division is clear.

And I do not want to talk about the division here.

I want to talk about a way to unite us: love.

I know I talk a lot about love, but I believe that’s exactly what we need most right now. And not just in America, but all over the world.

1 John 4:11 (NRSV): “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NRSV): “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Colossians 3:14 (NRSV): “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Proverbs 17:17 (NRSV): “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”

Proverbs 10:12 (NRSV): “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”

These are just a few scriptures, but I think my point, and most importantly, God’s point, has been made. God overwhelms us with love so we can give it out to others.

I pray that you would be surrounded by love, that you would find it everywhere you turn. And when we encounter negativity, division, and hate, I hope we’ll all respond with love.

Please know more than anything that you are loved. By me, by Abstract Church, and above all, by God.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- If you would like to listen to Alan’s sermon, which I strongly encourage you to do, you can do so here: http://www.abstractchurch.org/sermons/.

The Ghost

I have a habit of not expecting shows to live up to their hype and being proven wrong. Stranger Things was no exception. Everyone who had a Netflix account, it seems, was talking about it. Going into it, all I knew was that I hadn’t heard a single bad thing about it and it looked a lot like The Goonies, so I was interested.

I watched it with my brother over the course of two Sundays. We watched the first half one day and watched the second half one week later. It almost physically pained me to wait that long.

But because some people may not have watched or finished it yet, I won’t go into any details about the show. I just want to say that when Pastor Alan said he had a mini-series planned that would be using the Stranger Things font, I was immediately interested. (I’m also interested in discussing the show if someone else would like to do so.)

The truth of it is that we do treat the Holy Spirit (or the Holy Ghost, whichever you’d prefer to call it) as a stranger thing. It’s something we don’t understand, so we avoid it to the point that it becomes a little taboo in general. And I think a large part of the reason is because we have something to compare the other two parts of the Trinity to. God is an authoritative figure and a figure of power. We can all relate to that in some way, for better or for worse. Jesus is the most human component since He was actually human, and we can relate to Him the most. The Holy Spirit is abstract. We can’t put our finger on it and have nothing tangible and consistent to compare it to. It empowers us and convicts us and pushes us, and since those manifest themselves differently in each our lives, we don’t know what to make of something that does it to all of our lives equally.

The Holy Spirit is evident in both the Old Testament and the New, but for the sake of time, I want to focus on the power of the Holy Spirit because I think it’s the most prevalent quality of the Holy Spirit in our lives and one we don’t often think about.

Acts 2:41-47 (NRSV) reads, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

As we discussed last week, peace and harmony don’t happen all the time even among people who share the same belief systems. So the Holy Spirit’s power here is shown in bringing people together. I have never seen anything that so perfectly demonstrates harmony through selflessness. Not just getting along but being altogether on the same page. We don’t read that some sold their possessions and others thought they were idiots for doing so. We don’t see that one said to another, “Ew. I don’t like him, and I’m eating lunch with someone else from now on.” No, the Spirit was empowering them and enabling to look beyond themselves and strengthen other people in doing so. It empowered them to be more like God. As a result, the number of believers kept growing and growing.

And all this and other miracles being done via the apostles is equally as impressive. Don’t get me wrong; I understand and respect the role of the apostles in the history of the church and as leaders in our faith. But we know these guys. We know how much they struggled learning what Jesus was teaching them and seeking the will of God and acting in faith, and here they are performing actual miracles. It’s not on their own strength or merit; it’s a result of the Holy Spirit.

Inspiring, isn’t it? A bunch of people with no formal education and different backgrounds coming together and doing incredible things.

The crazy thing is, it’s just as available to us. The Holy Spirit can guide and lead us individually and collectively just as easily as it did those fortunate souls in Acts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, NRSV).

The Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift and reveals to us how to use it. It is the giver and the instructor. God wouldn’t leave us hanging. He wouldn’t expect us to figure it out on our own. No, He sends a part of the Trinity, part of Himself, to help us along.

There are many gifts because there are many different kinds of people. If we are all different parts of the body, and we all have different purposes and individual relationships with God, it follows that we would have different gifts. It demonstrates the uniqueness and fairness of God as well as how beautiful and intricate His plans for each of us are.

The Holy Spirit empowers each of us in the same ways through knowing each of us intimately. It gives each of us a gift, the knowledge of how to use it, and the boldness to do so. To be an entity that we avoid, it longs to know us, to aid us in growing and knowing God better. It’s time we start seeing it as such.

By Carrie Prevette

Closed Doors

We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.

But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”

Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).

“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.

So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).

This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.

Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.

Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).

Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.

In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.

What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?

Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I huff and pout and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?

Because He’s God.

Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.

Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.

Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

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

 

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑