Joseph the Dreamer

Let’s talk about underdogs. Not the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl. Not the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. Not even Floyd Mayweather or Conor McGregor, each somehow an underdog depending on who you ask since Vegas’ odds heavily favored Mayweather but many people thought him too old and out of practice to win. We’re not even going to discuss the greatest underdog story of my generation– the Tune Squad from Space Jam. There’ll be no long post about how they prevailed with Michael Jordan’s leadership and Lola Bunny’s skills. We’ll not dwell on how the Monstars were ruthlessly beating them until they drank water at halftime when Bugs Bunny made them believe it was Jordan’s secret stuff or how Bill Murray came into the game in the final seconds and devised an effective defensive play despite him saying they’d have to look to Jordan for a plan because Bill “[doesn’t] play defense.” No, we’ll not focus on that game right now. Let’s talk about biblical underdogs over the next few weeks, and we’ll start by talking about Joseph.

I am thrilled that I get to talk about Joseph. He’s my favorite person in the Old Testament, and he has an incredible story. In my notes for the sermon that accompanies this post, you’ll find that I drew little hearts by Joseph’s name at the top of the page. Seriously, I have a lot of feelings about Joseph.

Jacob loved Rachel and worked for her family to earn her hand in marriage for seven years. The family tricked him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, first. Jacob worked an additional seven years to marry Rachel. Jacob has kids by Leah and kids by Rachel, one of which was Joseph. Because of this and because he was the child Jacob fathered in his old age, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, which Jacob didn’t even try to hide. He gave Joseph a coat of many colors and gave all his other sons nothing.

Joseph’s brothers were understandably not cool with Joseph’s preferencial treatment. Joseph had two dreams that these same brothers would bow to him, and they were upset to the point that they talked about killing him and throwing him in a pit. They decided that was a little rough, so they just threw him in a pit until they eventually sold him into slavery.

A man by the name of Potiphar bought Joseph. Joseph eventually made Potiphar and his estate so prosperous that he was appointed over everything so that all Potiphar had to really think about is what he ate. One day, Potiphar’s wife tried to take Joseph to bed with her. Joseph declined, but Mrs. Potiphar kept pushing until one day when Joseph ran out of the house to escape her and, in doing so, left his coat behind. The wife told the other servants and her husband that it was Joseph who pursued her. Potiphar believed her and had Joseph sent to prison.

In prison, which Joseph pretty much ran despite being an inmate, Joseph interpreted the dreams of a man who worked for Pharaoh. So when Pharaoh had a dream that needed interpreting, Joseph was the man. He told Pharaoh that his dream meant there was going to be seven years of abundance and prosperity followed by seven years of famine and advised that they should store the excess. So Pharaoh put Joseph over that, and Joseph became the second most powerful man in the land. And when the famine came, Joseph’s brothers came asking for food, which was the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams.

I really hope you’ll take the time to read Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-47 because it’s as colorful and exciting in its entirety as Joseph’s coat.

The reasons I love Joseph so much play a hand in why he’s considered an underdog. Joseph found himself in terrible circumstances, and those circumstances were usually through no fault of his own. Joseph could’ve easily gotten discouraged, but he didn’t let it all get to him. He held on to God’s promise for him and never lost his faith. He trusted God and prospered wherever he was at. Joseph beat impossible odds and never once gave a hint of doubt.

It took years for Joseph’s promise to come true, but he held on to it. We don’t read in any place where he was mad at God or questioned God. Even at his lowest, Joseph remained confident and hopeful.

I don’t know what point you’re at or what your lowest point looks like. I don’t know what people have said to you or how they’ve treated you. And I have no clue what your comeback will look like, but I do know that if you hang on, if you hold on to God’s promises and have faith, you’ll rise to your highest points. But you won’t see those promises fulfilled if you give up.

Look at Joseph as an example. Keep your eyes on God and trust in Him. Don’t cling to the words of people who aim to discourage you. Believe God, who works for your good. As the poem “LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS” by Shel Sileverstein says:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS,

The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS

Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me–

Anything can happen, child,

ANYTHING can be

By Carrie Prevette

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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

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

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 Eighth and Ninth Commandments

“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” Shakespeare wrote these words to come from the mouth of Hamlet sometime between 1599 and 1601. While Hamlet meant it as a personal dig towards someone else, it was also a generally true statement (and an ironic one coming from Hamlet) that is just as true around 417 years later.

I’ve lumped the eighth and ninth commandments together not because I’m lazy but because they can be traced back to the same theme and virtue: honesty.

Exodus 20:15-16 contains these two commandments, and it reads, “You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor” (NLT).

Stealing involves honesty in the obvious sense that when we steal, we do not obtain the object by honest means. We take it even though it was not given to us and we did not earn it or buy it.

In a much more subtle way, stealing is a product of dishonesty because it means we are not being honest with ourselves or with others. It can stem from an insecurity we don’t (or don’t want to) deal with, like jealousy or dissatisfaction. In not being honest about it and dealing with it, even on our own, we decide we’ll just take what we want or don’t have. We think it’ll take care of our problem, but stealing isn’t a true remedy for the issue.

Or we steal just because we don’t want other people to have something. This comes from bitterness or anger. And I believe that in this sense, we steal things that aren’t tangible. We steal hope, joy, peace because we don’t have them, and we don’t want others to have them either. Misery does love company, so much so that it’ll create more of it if it has to.

Testifying falsely, or lying, is probably the purest form of dishonesty because it means we know the truth and are purposefully disregarding it. And while people should not value the opinions other people hold of them, lying about someone creates a false persona of that person that can directly affect his or her life.

I work at a bank. I used to work at a clothing distribution center during the summers between spring and fall semesters in college, and this was the only work history I had on my resume when I applied for the job at the bank. Let’s say my co-workers had talked junk about me and circulated rumors, essentially creating and spreading lies. Let’s say they did it so much that my previous boss heard this stuff and believed it. Now, suppose whoever was in charge of hiring someone to fill the position at the bank called my previous boss and asked about me and all he or she heard is that I’m a greedy cheat who isn’t very nice. What kind of recommendation does the former boss give? Do I get the job where I have to be friendly to everyone and be honest?

What we say about other people can have real implications, some serious and some not. Regardless of the consequences, we aren’t called to tear people down or hurt them. We are called to love them, and in doing so, lift them up.

Honesty and truth are very important to God, so much so that Jesus identifies Himself as the truth (John 14:6). Being honest affects us because it’s the difference between dealing with our issues and making them worse. It affects others in that it can afford them opportunites and encouragement or it can harm them. And it can affect our relationship with God because He deeply values truth and authenticity (i.e., John 4:24), and He knows the truth even if we aren’t comfortable with telling it. These two commandments go back to honesty and truth because those qualities make our lives and the lives of those we interact with better.

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

The Fifth Commandment

I’m well aware that I won the parental lottery. If you’ve ever met my mom, you know that she’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. She’d give you the world if she could. Everything I know of kindness, I’ve learned from her. My dad was the one who disciplined me when I misbehaved, and in this regard, I’d say that he was more stern than strict as he was unwavering but not unfair. He taught me life lessons. All of that said, he wasn’t a particularly serious man because I inherited my sense of humor from him.

My parents were (and are) supportive of me. They encouraged me to be smart, to be myself, and to do what made me happy. They always worked hard to provide for their children. They raised their daughters and their son the same way, showing preference for no one and no gender. There has never been a time that I doubted that they loved me. And when my dad died, I was upset, but I was also very grateful for having such an incredible dad.

Every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I think of those who don’t have such excellent parents. To see everyone else celebrating theirs must be difficult. It wasn’t hard for me to honor my parents, which isn’t to say that I always did. But I can see how the fifth commandment would be difficult for those whose parents weren’t so great.

God commands us in Exodus 20:12 (NLT), “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

This is the first commandment God gives us that regards how we treat other people and how we interact with them. This makes sense since our parents are the first people we know. They provide for us. They shape us. They train us for and teach us about the world. It makes sense that we would honor them because they’re the reason we’re alive and one of the main reasons why we are how we are. This also expands out to how we interact with other people and how we treat God.

My mom is so good at sending me on a guilt trip that she once did it without actually doing it. She scolded me in a dream I once had. I’d been pretty rude to my sister for a couple of weeks. We’d been getting on each other’s nerves and bickering. In my dream, my mom called me out on it, saying I’d just been so mean to my sister lately. I felt so guilty when I woke up that I started being nicer to her that very day.

My dad told me to look at things from other people’s perspectives. I (mostly) remember waking up in the middle of the night once when I was quite little and asking my dad if I could sleep in the bed with him and my mom. I’ve been told that there was more than one occasion when my brother and I both did this, and although I don’t remember that part, it must’ve happened that night because I vividly remember talking to my dad about my brother when we got up. In the living room, which was lit only by the television screen, my dad told me to think about what it must’ve been like for my brother, how he must’ve woke up in the middle of the night and found my bed empty (we’ve been roommates since the day I was born), and how scared he must have been. So (I’m assuming) he made the same pilgrimage to my parents’ room that I’d made earlier that night, and my dad made me consider why that was.

From listening to my parents and obeying them in both of these instances and many others, it was engrained into me to be nice to others and to try to understand why they’re doing certain things or behaving certain ways. Honoring them taught me how to honor others.

And because I know how to honor my earthly parents, I also know how to honor my Heavenly Father.

I know from listening to my parents how to honor them. In college, I learned that they like to hear from me if I’m not physically with them. I called home about once a week and tried to come home once a month. When I was a child, I learned they wanted honesty and truth. I learned how to make them feel loved, what they expected of me, and how much it hurt them when I disappointed them.

My relationship with God is the same way. I read the Bible and see what He wants from and for all of His children, and through prayer and guidance, I can learn what His tailored desires for me and expectations of me are. I know to express my love to Him through true worship, obedience, and sacrifice. And the biggest way to honor Him, which is actually the limb that all of the afore mentioned branches extend from, is to spend time with Him.

We look at this verse as a commandment for children, but the truth is that’s only where it starts. As long as we have a mother and/or father, we are to honor them. By doing that, we also honor our Heavenly Father, who is most worthy of it. If we’ve been made new in Christ, that should be our main goal.
By Carrie Prevette

The Third Commandment

I remember Duke’s exit from the NCAA Tournament this past March relatively well. Mostly, I remember my anger towards South Carolina and the game in general. I remember terrible calls and time ticking off the clock at what felt like an alarming rate. I also remember thinking that those guys, some of whom I knew would be gone to the pros next season, deserved a longer song at the Big Dance and a better ending than what they got.

Here’s what I remember most: In the final moments of the game, there was a foul involving Luke Kennard. Despite the fact that Luke was the one who somehow ended up on the ground, the officials called a foul on him. If my memory serves me well, this call caused him to foul out of the game. They showed the replay of it a few times, and when the call was made, you could read Luke’s lips as clearly as if you’d been standing right beside of him. In a moment when many would’ve excused a profanity or two and when God’s name could’ve been said in vain without most people giving it a second thought, Luke exclaimed, “What in the world?!”

Duke fans present at my house were either stunned by the call to the point of silence or were indignant. My brother, who’s a UNC fan, simply read Luke’s lips aloud and said, “What an innocent man.”

Luke is a devout follower of Christ and is very open about his faith. Whether by habit or from conscious effort, Luke did not disappoint in the heat of the moment on college basketball’s biggest stage. When just about anyone watching the game wouldn’t have thrown stones had he broken it, Luke kept the third commandment.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7, ESV).

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20:7, NLT).

Of all the commandments, I looked forward to discussing this one the least. It’s the one I’m most conscious of frequently breaking. Idols can sort of sneak up on you or blind you, but it’s much more difficult to be unaware of what you’re saying.

As Alan said Sunday, the Hebrew word for “vain” means “to make empty.” I also like the NLT version of this verse because I think the word “misuse” fits well here too. To throw around God’s name so casually, it becomes meaningless. If we profess to love, worship, and serve God, it also becomes misused.

The third commandment doesn’t exist because God’s a stickler for diction nor is it born out of our concept of conceit or vanity. It was given because taking God’s name in vain demonstrates that God doesn’t mean that much to us after all, and if we claim otherwise, that makes us hypocrites.

That’s a hard thing to hear, isn’t it?

The world doesn’t have a reverence for God and His name, but we should if we call Him Lord. There should be a difference in us that manifests itself in many ways in our lives, including our speech.

James writes, “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:7-10, NRSV).

James understood the hypocrisy of the tongue extremely well. He addresses the issue of our words in a much broader sense than God does in Exodus, but the point is the same: It isn’t right that we say one thing and turn around only to demonstrate another with the very same mouth.

Paul also writes about the difference that should be evident in us and how that should be reflected in our words. In Ephesians 4:21-24, 29-30 (NLT), Paul writes, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God– truly righteous and holy… Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”

Taking God’s name in vain and misusing it hurts God because it shows we don’t care, which also causes sorrow to Him and the Holy Spirit, who’s the mediator in all of this.

Paul identifies bad language as part of our sinful nature and part of our old life, who we were before we came to believe in God. Not that God’s name is bad or foul but that to use it in an everyday way or to use it in regards to anything that isn’t good and holy is a bad thing directly connected to our language. So if we are new creatures living new lives in Christ, this sort of language shouldn’t be in our mouths.

All of this scripture portrays the power of our words. James calls out the difficulty with our tongues. Paul says any language that isn’t good and encouraging is of our sinful ways. And God tells us all the way back in Exodus that misusing His name will not go unpunished, which draws attention to how serious this is. This is because what we say can hurt others, hurt God, and hurt ourselves. God doesn’t want to be hurt, and He doesn’t want us to hurt anyone. To avoid this, we need to recognize the power of our language and be conscious of what we say.

By Carrie Prevette

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.

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