From Within the Belly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Carrie Prevette

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Psalms: Thirteen

If you’ve ever heard me talk about the book of Psalms, you’ve heard me say that I love the honesty of the psalms, particularly those of David since I’m familiar with his story. David is so transparent in what he writes and how he speaks to God. If he’s happy or mad or worried, it’s as clear as the words on the page.

People often say that it’s bad or even sinful to question God, but I disagree, and evidently, so would David, a man after God’s own heart. Seeking answers, David often petitioned God. And knowing that God knew what was in his heart anyway, why wouldn’t he?

This honesty and need for answers is where we find David in Psalm 13. “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, ‘We have defeated him!’ Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me” (NLT).

The next time you feel bad about feeling bad, revisit this psalm and know that it’s okay. I don’t believe David really believed God had forgotten him, but we can tell from the scripture that he did feel that way.

Last week, we discussed Psalm 11, in which David writes, “But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth” (verse 4, NLT). So David goes from “God knows because He actively watches us” to “God has intentionally turned His back on me” pretty quick. This is the same man but a different mindset.

But that’s so relatable, right? How many times do I flip-flop between God being great and God leaving me to fend for myself? How easy is it to get pulled from one end of the spectrum to the other, from feeling His presence and love to feeling like He just doesn’t care anymore? It’s no fault of God’s. Really, it’s on our end with how we perceive whatever we’re going through, but it happens.

In the next part, David asks for God to answer him and says in verse 3, “Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” This tells us a lot about where David’s at when he writes this. He doesn’t just have an issue with God or something like that. He isn’t finding joy like he did before. He’s not just displeased or upset. He’s probably depressed.

The word “depressed” sort of gets thrown around a lot, so I want to clarify what I mean. David is beyond sad or mad; he’s deeply upset. So upset that there is seemingly no way to change how he feels. This is relatively common. Everyone gets depressed. When someone feels this way for more than two or three consecutive weeks, that person is considered clinically depressed (or so I was told in my psychology class a few years ago). From what I know of David and from how this psalm ends, I doubt David was clinically depressed, but I do think he was depressed when he wrote Psalm 13.

But let’s look at how David ends this psalm. “But I will trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me” (verses 5-6).

No, you didn’t miss anything. This is actually the same psalm, and this section is exactly how I know David is going through something temporary.

A man resigned to doubt and a man who would’ve seen his current situation as his lasting one would not write what David wrote. He wouldn’t boast of God’s unfailing love or recall his rescue by God’s hand if he truly believed God didn’t care about him. He certainly wouldn’t proclaim God’s goodness through song if he didn’t expect Him to restore his joy. No, David knew how he felt, but he knew who God is just as well. David knew his circumstances wouldn’t last but that the love and provision of God would.

I find David to be one of the most relatable and inspiring people in the Bible, and Psalm 13 is a good example of why that is. He struggled just like us. He felt how we felt and maybe took it out on God like we sometimes do. His spiritual life affected his decisions and emotions. But through it all, David kept his faith. He never gave up on God or God’s plan, even if he felt like he wanted to. So let’s find the hope that David did where David did: in God. And when we struggle as David did, let’s return to his words in Psalm 13 and find comfort there. If misery loves company, it couldn’t find better company than with one you know makes it to better days.

By Carrie Prevette

The Humble and the Broken

Sometimes we lose sight of what the church really is and always has been.

A lot of people either have opinions of Christians that are too high or too low. Being a Christian doesn’t mean someone’s a saint. If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, be it through this blog or in person, you’ll know that’s the truth. Being a Christian also doesn’t mean that someone is the scum of the earth. I know people who’ve had bad experiences with Christians, and they let that affect their view of all Christians. While we may not be perfect, not all of us are terrible people either.

The church is supposed to be a sanctuary. It’s a safe haven for people who need rest, help, and healing. Sure, we may turn it into other things, but that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a home for the humble and the broken.

I know 30-some posts doesn’t seem like that much, but it feels like it is, and I’m actually going to use some scripture I’ve used before. In my defense, it’s one of my favorite pieces of scripture (so my mind kind of goes right to it when the opportunity presents itself) and it’s just as relevant now as it was the first post I used it in.

Luke 7:36-50 finds Jesus in yet another spat with a Pharisee. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner at his house. Jesus likes dinner parties and the Pharisees were sort of baffled by and curious about Jesus in the beginning, so the situation isn’t too surprising. A woman with a bad reputation makes her way to the dinner, despite not being on what I’m sure was an exclusive guest list, and more specifically, she makes her way to Jesus.

She weeps at Jesus’ feet. Then she wipes up her tears with her own hair. She kisses His feet and puts perfume (or ointment depending on which translation you read) on His feet.

Simon doesn’t like it one bit. “…wah, wah, wah. If you were who you say you are, Jesus, you would’ve jumped and ran when she touched you. Blah, blah, blah…”

And Jesus being the hero He is jumps to her rescue. He tells a parable of two debtors, one of whom owed ten times more than the other. Neither could pay, so the lender cancelled both debts. Jesus asks Simon who will love the lender more. Simon supposes it’d be the one who owed the most.

Jesus tells Simon he’s correct then points out how everything the woman has done is what Simon should have done according to the customs of welcoming someone into one’s home in those days but failed to do. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (7:47, ESV). Despite the whispers of the other people at the table, Jesus tells the woman she is forgiven and saved and to go in peace.

Put yourself in the woman’s shoes for a minute. You go to this dinner that you’re not invited to and you know no one except Jesus will be happy to see you, but you need to go. This could be your only chance. When you get there, you interact with Jesus in very intimate ways – tears, skin, hair, perfume. Then Simon brings up your reputation. So much disdain and disgust in his voice. Not that you didn’t see all this coming, but it only softens the blow so much. Maybe you look down as he says it or maybe you just look at Jesus. After all, He knows. He knows what you’ve done and what it took for you to get here. He also knows why you’re here.

I imagine Jesus’ demeanor was calm but His eyes had a glint of anger and defensiveness in them for a moment.

So Jesus comes to your defense. Instead of pointing out what you’ve done wrong, He talks about what you’ve done right. He explains, since everyone else is clueless, why you’re doing all of this. Because He gets it. He knows, and He understands, and He’s not rejecting you.

When He tells you that you’re forgiven, He speaks in present tense. He doesn’t speak like you used to sin and you won’t anymore. He speaks like you’ll mess up again, but when you do, forgiveness will still be there. He knows your past, but He directs you to the future. Then He tells you you’re saved and to go in peace. He offers you peace, and for once, you actually feel it.

Now, I told you to put yourself in the woman’s shoes, but for some, I didn’t have to. You didn’t need to put yourselves there because you’ve already been there.

The specifics might not be the same, but in a vaguer or general sense, that’s you. You know the whispers, sideways glances, and judgmental tones. You’re familiar with the shame and embarrassment of someone saying it out loud. And it’s bad, but sometimes it’s not nearly as bad as what you say to yourself or put yourself through.

If you’re like me, you love Luke 7:36-50 because when Jesus defends the woman, it’s like He’s defending you.

When Alan first told me the concept behind his sermon for Sunday (which this post is based off of for those of you who weren’t there/haven’t listened to it), I told him that it’s a cycle.

Everyone breaks. If you don’t, you’re either a robot or a superhuman, and you should tell someone (but not the government). We all have tough times and periods of time when we just stop trying to win because we just know that we can’t win. Psalm 147:3 (ESV) says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The word “brokenhearted” can easily be replaced with just “broken” here. God formed us and put us together once, and He’ll do it every time as needed if we ask Him.

But when things turn around, it’s important to stay humble because we remember where we’ve been and that we’ll eventually be broken again. We didn’t pull ourselves together. God put us back together. The humble are the ones who sympathize with the broken. They may be well now, but they remember what it’s like to not be well. And they don’t take a bit of credit for their rise because everything miraculous about it is God’s doing.

So that’s why the church exists for the humble and the broken. Because we need God and we need somewhere to belong, and no one belongs anywhere more than God’s loving arms.

The Church shouldn’t claim to be perfect because we’re not. I can’t speak for every member of the Church or even every member of Abstract Church, but I’ve never claimed to be perfect. However, I know firsthand that some people give off that impression. And I would like to say that if any member of the Body of Christ has made you feel inferior or undeserving, I apologize. Because you’re not any more unworthy that the rest of us. We all receive grace and are made worthy by the blood and love of Christ.

He’s the only reason and the only way. We can’t earn it, and no, we don’t deserve it. He gives it to us anyway. He gives it to all of us equally. It’s called grace. It doesn’t matter what He’s saved you from; it only matters that He’s saved you. It’s unfair, but I’m glad it is because on my own, I don’t deserve any of the blessings, mercies, and gifts God’s given me. None of us do. We’re all just broken people being healed by the One who made us.

By Carrie Prevette

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