Giving and Receiving

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:1-8, NRSV).

There’s a lot to unpack here. It’s a short story, and the actual story itself is pretty simple, but what this scripture means in its context for us has a lot of parts to it.

Peter and John were disciples, apostles, and Church leaders, but on this afternoon, they were no more spectacular than you or me. They were simply believers who were filled and led by the Spirit on their way to pray. When they got to the temple, they saw a man asking for help, and they had something to give him. It wasn’t what he asked for, but it was what he needed.

Peter and John gave because they had received. They’d never been healed from being lame, but they had received powers and gifts through the Spirit, and they received blessings to pass on to others. Peter said he was giving what he had, and Peter didn’t have because he was set apart from everyone else; he had because God gave to him.

This is what we are to do too. Jesus came to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) so that we can give to others out of that abundance. We are filled so that others won’t remain empty. We aren’t dragons hoarding the gold that is God’s goodness. We have so that we may gladly give (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

And this is a Jesus level miracle. It’s no small feat. Acts 3:10 (NRSV) says that the people who recognized the formerly lame man “were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” And this is Peter we’re talking about. Peter, who only had a problem with boldness when he denied Jesus three times and had to face him again. Peter, who was on fire for God and had a fiery temper. Peter, who was just as flawed as he was magnificent.

That’s why I am so encouraged by this scripture. If someone like Peter can so positively impact the world around him for kingdom of God then there’s no reason you or I can’t as well. It wasn’t about Peter; it was about him allowing God to use him.

There’s a lot to learn from the man at the Beautiful Gate as well. He could’ve taken his blessing and left. He wouldn’t have been the only person in scripture to do so. But he chose to rejoice and praise God, to go into the temple and praise and pray. This should be our reactions to God’s blessings as well.

God is constantly exceeding our expectations. He certainly did for the man at the temple gate. The man was expecting money, not a miracle. Lack of money was a problem, but it was a result of the main problem: his physical condition. So instead of solving one problem, God solved them all. I think this man would agree with the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find / You get what you need.”

It’s a lot for such a small piece of scripture, but I think it’s what we all need to take to heart from time to time. Each of us, as imperfect as we are, can do astounding things through God. When God exceeds our expectations and when He blesses us, we should thank Him and pass on our blessings to others. In doing so, it strengthens our relationship with God and helps us and those around us.

By Carrie Prevette

Empowering and Decreasing

In Acts 2, we read of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the apostles and over one hundred other people, who were from various parts of the world and who were waiting. In a powerful moment, they were all speaking other languages and hearing their own.

It was startling and bewildering to those on the day of Pentecost. It’s the same all these centuries later. I don’t envy the apostles and the early Church for having to learn about and understand the Holy Spirit for their own sakes and in order to teach others about it. Even now we struggle to understand and make sense of the Holy Spirit because there are so many schools of thought and interpretations on it. And not understanding makes us uncomfortable, and discomfort creates avoidance almost to the point of taboo.

What does the Holy Spirit do? How does what happened on Pentecost affect us today?

The Holy Spirit is one third of the Godhead, and it is our connection to God. Jesus is the one who tore the veil so that we could commune with God, and the Holy Spirit is the way by which we commune with God. It convicts us, guides us, and teaches us.

The Holy Spirit empowers us. It takes us from where we are to where we are supposed to be. It makes us stronger in who we are, specifically who we are in Christ. It’s like it takes a big, bold marker and emphasizes our lines, colors, and shades. It changes the parts of us that need to change and enhances the parts that are good and vital to who we are and how we can impact the world for the kingdom of God.

Paul said that he was all things to all people so that he could win some to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Odd as it seems, this isn’t a result of Paul’s personality being watered down or changing so much as him using his position. Paul had a unique situation. He was Roman and Jewish, meaning he could reach both the oppressors and the oppressed. It also meant he could preach to Jews or gentiles. Paul was educated, a reformed Pharisee, but he had a certain charm that appealed to the common person. He had a bad past, but he was doing so much for God. There wasn’t someone Paul couldn’t reach because of who he was.

This can be confusing when we’re told, “More of God, less of us.” John 3:30 (NRSV) reads, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This makes sense in general. If God is love, goodness, hope, joy, there should be more of that. But how can we be empowered only to decrease?

When John the Baptist says this, he’s addressing a crowd, saying he isn’t the Messiah, but he’s the one who was sent ahead of Him. This statement is in reference to the significance of John and his humility. He’s saying he’s not nearly as important as the one who is coming after him. It has nothing to do with diminishing what makes John who he is. It serves to elevate Jesus.

This verse and concept do not reference who we are. It doesn’t mean that who we are is awful and must not be shown. It’s about allowing God to shine, to be the focal point of our lives and the filter through which we interact with the world. We can do that while still keeping the qualities that compose us.

The Holy Spirit may have stunned or confused those gathered on Pentecost, but it also ultimately liberated them. They now had a constant connection with God and a means to connect with other people spiritually. They became themselves, only starker. Their identities and roles in the kingdom were being made clearer while God was at the center.

It works the same in our lives. It’s not that we suddenly have all the answers and confidence, but we can navigate scriptures and the world in a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit to reach those answers and that confidence. It’s a freedom to both know and to discover, to be steadfast and to reinvent, to empower and to decrease.

By Carrie Prevette

Waiting

I don’t think there’s anyone who enjoys waiting. Some people may not mind it, others may be good at it, but no one has ever said, “You know what I really want to do today? I’d love to wait.”

I do think a small part of our issue with waiting these days is that we hardly ever have to be patient. Regardless, the phrase “waiting room” makes me exhausted. When I think of standing in line, I can almost hear the sighs and complaints, my own voice among them. I say, “I can’t wait!” a lot when I’m excited about something, not because I can’t but because I really hate that I have to.

But this is what Jesus wanted the apostles to do after His resurrection. He came to them multiple times and ways over 40 days to prove to them that He was, in fact, alive. “Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 1:4-5, NLT).

The apostles are told to wait. They know the Holy Spirit is coming, but they don’t really know what that means, and they don’t exactly know when it’ll happen. All they know is that they have to wait.

In Psalm 27, David is rejoicing in his salvation, declaring God’s power and love, and he ends with saying in verse 14 (NLT), “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” In a Psalm that is ultimately about trusting in God, David advises to wait.

This is similar to Isaiah 40:31. The KJV translation of this verse says “they that wait upon the Lord” will have renewed strength, rise, not tire. The NRSV says “those who wait for the Lord….” The NIV reads “those who hope in the Lord….” And the NLT reads “those who trust in the Lord….” This demonstrates that waiting on God is interchangeable with hoping in Him and trusting in Him.

So that is what we must do. God wants us to be ready for our blessings or our next steps, so until we are, we have to wait. Our hope for our lives and futures are not misplaced if they are in Him, who renews who our hope and makes it a gift and a reality.

We are to trust in Him because there is none more worthy of our trust. No one loves us more, and in loving us the most, God gives us the best. We may not be ready for it when we want it, but if we continue to grow in Him and pursue what He wants of us and for us, we will be waiting actively, and the best that He wants for us will eventually be ours.

The next step for the apostles and the Church was the Holy Spirit. But the time for it was not while Jesus was here on Earth with them.

I’ve always felt bad for the apostles because they’re the only ones who had the truest pleasure of knowing Jesus and had to live without Him between His ascension and the Holy Spirit’s arrival. But those few days of waiting prepared them for the Holy Spirit. The waiting made them ready.

I don’t know what your next step is. I don’t know what blessing you’re looking for. I do know, though, that waiting is both difficult and worthwhile. Your better days are coming. Your rescue is coming. New mercies are coming. A new season is coming. Deeper faith is coming. You’ll be ready when it comes if you continue to strengthen your relationship with God in the meantime. His love will see to it. You just have to wait.

By Carrie Prevette

Searching

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?'” (Luke 24:1-5, ESV).

What an excellent question. Why do we look for life among death?

It wasn’t just these ladies who went to the tomb. We all do it. We look for answers, for meaning, for life, and we always look first in places that only bring death.

We look to money. Maybe we think, in a roundabout way, that we can buy our way into heaven by giving a lot of money in tithes or to charities. At the very least, we think it’ll provide us with enough happiness and opportunities down here that we’ll be considered blessed, that others will envy us. Maybe that’s true, but those blessings pale in the light of God’s love and blessings.

Success won’t earn us a place in heaven either. It’s not like there’s an all-star team that God selects only the best for. We all want to be successful in our own ways, by our own definitions, at our own things, and we think that will afford us a lot. Contentment, inner peace, the affection of others. But success doesn’t fulfill us. Only God does.

We turn to other people. We put friends, spouses, celebrities, other humans on pedistals and expect that sort of love to give us what we’re looking for. We long for their attention and strive to make them happy, often hoping they’ll have this same love for us. That is a kind of love, but not a redeeming love. It’ll provide no enduring sense of salvation for us, let alone actual salvation. For that we need the love of God.

We try all these things and so many more, but they’ll always end in death. None of them provide us with life or life everlasting. We’re all searching, but unless we’re searching within God, we’re looking for life among the dead.

The gateway to God, this ability to search Him for whatever we’re looking for is possible because Jesus wasn’t there when the women came to His tomb that day. “‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…'” (Luke 24:5-6, ESV).

He had risen, and He still is risen. He’s alive to give us life, to give us all the things we search this world over for. If we’re looking for life, we should look where there is life, and as the empty tomb tells us, that is Jesus.

By Carrie Prevette

Redemption and Reward

My dad taught me how to play Crazy Eights when I was a kid (think early double digits, not child prodigy). I learned later that the version I know, which my dad learned when he was out in California, is vastly different than the version North Carolinians know and play.

Anyway, I’m actually pretty good at it. I could even beat my dad about half the time. I can’t beat my brother at a lot of things, but I beat him pretty consistently at Crazy Eights. And at the risk of him reading this post and using this information to somehow remove me from my Crazy Eights throne, I’ll tell you my secret.

My secret is that I play crazy. I keep the game twisting and turning as often as my hand will allow me. For example, let’s say we’ve been playing spades and a competitor lays down a three of spades. Let’s also say I have a seven of spades in my hand and a three of hearts. I’ll play the three and change the suit. (Note: this may also depend on whether I have any special spade cards that could skip the next person or make the person draw cards. It also depends on whether someone’s getting ready to run out of cards.)

Relatively seldom does this affect me negatively. I can usually manage to keep manipulating the game in my favor. There’s a lot of other variables – I could play into my competitor’s hand or have to draw several cards, both of which have happened plenty of times – but it mostly helps me control the game by making it seem like I have very little control.

I like to think it was a mentality similar to this that Boaz had when he met with Ruth’s kinsman redeemer at the beginning of chapter four.

The two met at the town gates amongst the town leaders. Boaz mentions the land of Elimelech’s that Naomi is selling first and asks if the man is interested in buying it.

Of course he would be, and Boaz knew that. Who would turn down land when it could earn them money? Not a very helpful card in Boaz’s hand. Boaz was an honest man, so he would’ve played this awful card even if he didn’t have to. However, he did have to since he had to be completely transparent in front of the town leaders. He had to be rid of all his cards at the end of the game and wouldn’t want to get caught cheating.

Boaz played his bad cards first so that when he played his best card, the game would be over.

“Then Boaz told him, ‘Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family'” (Ruth 4:5, NLT).

This is so brilliant and coy of Boaz because all he’s doing is stating facts, but he’s doing it in a way that will deter the potential redeemer. First, he includes the fact that Ruth is a Moabite. Boaz isn’t holding this against her nor is he using it against her. But the fact remains that we don’t know how the other relative felt about foreigners, and we don’t know if Boaz knows either. It’s possible he includes this detail simply in the spirit of honesty, but it’s also possible that he included it to make the man not want to marry Ruth so that Boaz could.

The second reason is one that I had never realized until Sunday. Boaz gives the scenario of Ruth having kids with this man, kids who would inherit Elimelech’s land, taking land from this guy’s other kids. In doing this, Boaz plays on the man’s desire for the land. However, this scenario seems unlikely as Ruth was barren. She’d been married for ten years and not had a single child. Now, this guy didn’t know this, otherwise he would’ve called Boaz’s bluff. He would’ve countered his card and could’ve married Ruth and won.

But he didn’t know. “Then I can’t redeem it,’ the family redeemer replied, ‘because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it'” (Ruth 4:6, NLT).

Boaz married Ruth and redeems the land. The story could end there, and we could talk about how blessed Ruth was. She went from being a foreign widow gathering grain to the wife of the man who owns the land. She endured.

God didn’t want Ruth’s story to end there, though. Ruth had a child, Obed, who was David’s grandfather and part of Jesus’ lineage. God redeemed Ruth and through her was a path to our own redemption.

We do not earn our redemption with God. It does not come to us in degrees and levels. It’s something God offers to all of us, and all we have to do is tell Him we want it. Because through redemption, we receive God’s grace, mercy, peace, joy, and hope. We are benefitted by Him, but He is our grand reward.

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

Ruth’s Redemption

It’s interesting to think about redemption on God’s terms instead of our own. We often think of redemption as something we earn. We work towards forgiveness from others for our wrongs. If we mess something up, we strive and do what we must to do better the next time.

Thankfully, that’s not how God does redemption. We don’t have to do anything to redeem ourselves with God other than admit we need His love and forgiveness and ask for it. When we fail, we don’t find ourselves back at the beginning to avoid our past mistakes; we look up where we are to see a scarred hand reaching down to lift us up. With God’s version of redemption, we never move backward, always forward.

When I think of Ruth, I don’t think of redemption, although I suppose I should.

At some point, we’re all weighed down by our own history, even if it’s something we can’t help. Whether it’s a decision you regret or if you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks or you can’t believe you ever treated someone in such a way, it’s familiar territory for all of us. And I imagine that’s how Ruth felt in the presence of her in-laws. Even though they were the foreigners in her land, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruth was ashamed (at times) of being a Moabite.

Moabites weren’t friends to the Israelites, historically speaking. There was a lot of blood and betrayal, even far after Ruth’s time. The book of Ruth takes place during a time of peace between the two nations. Still, the famine must have been bad to drive Naomi and her family there, where her two sons married two Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth.

And after the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, when she said she was going back home, when Ruth truly wanted to go with her, Ruth was many things– brave, desperate, loyal, and hopeful.

It’s clear to us that Ruth did not fit the stereotype of a Moabite– heartless and unfaithful– but the people where she was going might not give her the chance to prove herself, to redeem herself from her people’s heritage and mistakes.

But God had such big plans for Ruth.

Look at Matthew 1 with me. At first this looks like the most boring read ever, but if you look closer, you’ll be fascinated. Verses 1 and 5 (NLT) say, “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah… Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).”

Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Matthew’s Gospel is very steeped in Jewish tradition and alludes to a lot of Jewish history and scripture, and his audience would have raised their eyebrows at this. One, the society was very patriarchal, so it was daring of Matthew to include four women in this genealogy, including Ruth. Two, they would have recognized Ruth as a Moabite and found it interesting to list a member of such a troubled and disliked people when Matthew could’ve just listed her Jewish husband.

God placed a Moabite woman in the middle of the Messiah’s genealogy and led someone to shout her out in scripture. Talk about redemption.

Yes, Ruth clung to Naomi, but she also clung to God by refusing to go back and serve her old god. She held on to love, faith, and most of all, God. And God blessed her beyond measure.

Regardless of where you’re from or who you’ve been, God extends love and redemption to you. But for you to grab that gift, you have to release whatever you’re holding. Stop clinging to your past, your failures, other people’s perceptions of you, and take hold of God. And I hope you do so with the boldness of Ruth.

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑