Before They Make Me Run

Fun Fact: Other than the incident with the whale (or “big fish”), I don’t know anything about Jonah. I can’t really explain why but I’ve never felt compelled to learn more about him or his story. That being said, there are probably many words I could use to describe this blog series about Jonah, but I’m going to choose the words “interesting” and “exciting.” I look forward to learning about Jonah and exploring this book along with you.

Jonah was a minor prophet, meaning he’s one of those little books crammed in the back of the Old Testament. His four chapters are sandwiched between Obadiah and Micah, and the four chapters themselves take up a little more than the space of a page in my pocket-size Bible.

So what separates Jonah from his peers? Why have we heard of Jonah but not Amos or Habakkuk? For starters, they didn’t survive being eaten by a large fish. That’s pretty special, but their stories, while wonderful in their own ways, aren’t the same as Jonah’s.

“The Lord gave this message to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.’ But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3, NLT).

So Jonah’s not off to a very good start. God gave him a pretty short To Do list: get up and go to Nineveh. Jonah completes half of that. He gets up, alright, but he darts to Joppa, where he books passage on a boat for Tarshish, which is (as you could guess) nowhere near Nineveh.

Let’s step back for a second and look at all the components here. There’s God, who despite all of this is on mutually good terms with Jonah for the time being. There’s Jonah, who loves God but would evidently rather go literally anywhere but Nineveh. And there’s Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, about which the introduction to the book of Jonah in my NLT Bible says this: “Not only was Assyria the most powerful empire in that day, it was also ruthlessly violent with its conquered enemies. Israel was soon to enter Assyria’s path of destruction, and so it is unlikely that many Israelites would have accepted Jonah’s task.”

Jonah’s aversion to Nineveh wasn’t a personal quirk of his but more of a general desire to live. That’s one of the parts of this story that people leave out to make this story kid-friendly. Jonah ran, but he ran for his life. Imagine God telling you to go to ISIS headquarters and tell them God’s judgment is upon them. That’s a similar scenario to Jonah’s.

A huge storm came while Jonah was afloat to Tarshish, and the other sailors yelled for their gods to help and threw what they could overboard. They found Jonah asleep below deck and yelled at him to wake up and pray to his god. They figured out that the one who was the cause of the storm was Jonah and questioned him. When he said he worshiped the God who made both land and sea, the sailors were scared and started to freak out. Jonah knew if they threw him in the sea that the storm would stop so he suggested it. At first, the group didn’t want to but soon realized it was the only thing they could do. When they threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped immediately. Stunned by God’s power, the sailors offered a sacrifice to God and vowed to be His servants.

I’ll let you in on a secret. One of two things usually happens when you run from something. You either run right to it or run to something worse. Sometimes you run into something worse on your way to whatever you’re running from.

Let me give you an example. I’m currently reading The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. (Allow us to pause here a moment out of pure respect for Vonnegut. Not many, if any, people know that I just adore Vonnegut and his writing. Slaughterhouse-Five impacted my life immensely and is easily in my top ten, maybe even top five books.) In this book I’m reading, a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord basically traveled through a rip or portal between Earth and Mars. He’s sort of part of the universe now. He doesn’t really have a body but can materialize. He can go anywhere (like other planets and galaxies), can read minds, knows the future. He meets a man called Malachi Constant and tells him his future. Scared, Malachi does everything he can to avoid his fate or change it, alters his life and relationships. But after it all, his destiny is the same, and he meets it in even worse shape than he would have had he gone with it instead of fighting it. He gets there, but now his social life is gone, his money is depleted, and his company went under.

Jonah was in a boat similar to Malachi’s fictional one. Jonah’s situation involved a literal, tangible boat, one that took on water in an inescapable storm.

I don’t believe that Jonah’s sprint from his calling surprised God one bit. I believe He knew it, foresaw it, and crafted the entire sea scenario to get more people saved and to prove to Jonah that He cannot be out-ran.

God doesn’t give up on us. He knows the life we could have, the ways we could grow, the impact we could have in His name, and He refuses to shortchange us. His love and pursuit of us never end.

God didn’t give up on Jonah. Nineveh held more than power-hungry killers. It held experiences and lessons for Jonah in particular. God wasn’t just going to let Jonah sail away from that. He probably understood Jonah’s fear, but He knew that what awaited was so much greater if Jonah could just get there.

Are you fleeing like Jonah? Jonah’s fear was justified, and yours probably is too, if to no one else but you. Change and callings, duties and destinies can be terrifying. Someone else could probably have done Jonah’s job, but they couldn’t have done it the way Jonah did. The same goes for you. There’s only one you, only one person on the whole planet who can do what you do like you do. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself running from your calling. And remember that we serve a relentless, powerful, and loving God.

By Carrie Prevette

Go and Give

Sunday was Vision Sunday at Abstract, which is a Sunday when Pastor Alan talks about the vision Abstract has always had, gives an overview of our history, and discusses our vision and goals for this year.

As a member of Abstract, I like Vision Sunday because I enjoy remembering how God has used people to further His Kingdom and to see the directions He’s leading us in as a church. As the church blogger, Vision Sunday puts me in a weird spot. People who attend Abstract and read the blog know that my posts usually relate in some way to the previous Sunday’s sermon, but what relatively few people know is that there are also many blog readers who don’t attend Abstract. Some are friends of mine who are curious about what I have to say. Some are people who are browsing the internet and happen upon this blog or who did so and have since subscribed to it. So I’m in an unusual position of wanting to satisfy all of my readers while not simply repeating the last Vision Sunday post. But not to worry; God’s worked this out.

Alan said something early in the sermon that struck a real chord with me. What’s sort of interesting about it is that I’ve heard him speak along these lines plenty before, but for some reason, it sat really differently with me this time. Alan was talking about attending and volunteering at another church prior to starting Abstract. This church is huge and was growing weekly, but it wasn’t where Alan was supposed to be. Alan said that he thought, “This is amazing for these people, but this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Isn’t that something? A movement of God being enjoyed by a servant of God, yet it wasn’t right.

It reminds me of Philip in Acts 8. (I encourage you to read the entire chapter as my summary for the sake of time and content leaves out an interesting story within the story and is much less colorful.) Philip is preaching in Samaria, and everything is going great. Conversions and miracles are happening, and Peter and John come to see and help. Then as all this is growing, God tells Philip to go south. Philip is obedient and does just that. He ends up in Ethiopia, where he meets a man of much authority under the queen. Philip explains and delivers the Good News, and the man becomes a believer and is baptized.

God told Philip to leave an entire city that was moving toward the Kingdom of God and prospering to go meet one man. It would’ve been easy for Philip to disobey God and stay where God was obviously active, but he didn’t. It was a great spiritual awakening for many in Samaria, but Philip wasn’t meant to stay, and because he listened to God, a soul was saved that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT) reads, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”

You’re important. You’re important to God and His Kingdom. There’s a role here somewhere that only you can fill. You can reach people that I can’t in a way that I can’t. Your life and how you let God shine through you is unique. The way God designed your mind and personality was done with love and purpose to set you apart and make you the only version of you that there ever will be.

You have a gift. I don’t know which of the many spiritual gifts it is, but I can guarantee you’ve got one of them. If you don’t know which one it is, find out. Try different things. Try being a greeter at church or serving food when your church has a meal. Help out with a kid’s ministry or a nursing home ministry. Start a Bible study or join a prayer group. Look at ministries and programs outside of the church. You’ve received a gift so that you could give to others. Do so.

Figure out where God wants you. Try different places. Pray. Read your Bible. Seek advice from those you deem wise and/or close to God. And remember to follow God’s heart, not your own. You may be having fun in your Samaria, but there could be something far greater waiting for you in your Ethiopia.

I want you to feel empowered and encouraged. I hope you’ll listen to God and be ready to do whatever He asks of you. Mostly, I pray that you would understand how loved you are by God (and me) and how crucial you are to God’s plan.

By Carrie Prevette

Gifts that Differ

I woke up on November 13 excited for the day ahead. Yes, it was Friday. The weekend, full of free time and possibilities, was approaching. Mostly, I was excited because my favorite band, One Direction, was releasing their new album, Made in the A.M., and I was finally going to listen to it in its entirety. It was new music, another gift from four of my favorite people before their hiatus next year, that caused me to actually enjoy waking up that day.

When I went to bed that night, my excitement for something small and harmless had been replaced by concern and hurt from world events. France, Beirut, Japan, Lebanon, Baghdad, Mexico. Terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Death and destruction. Physical and emotional wounds around the world.

If you look at my Facebook page, you’ll see a French flag laying over my profile picture. It’s not because I’m aware of the Paris attacks and none other, although I do truly hate that the attacks in France are getting far more attention than elsewhere, but that’s not France’s fault or the victims’ faults. It’s not because I care more about France than any of the other countries hurt last Friday. For me, it’s a symbol. A tiny, week-long symbol of love and support for my fellow human beings who are in great need of love and support.

A friend of mine answered the backlash about the overwhelming response to the Paris attacks instead of all the recent tragedies. She said very honestly and eloquently that she did feel bad for everyone and that she was praying for everyone, but the incidents in France affected her more than the others. She had just gotten home in the past few weeks from Paris. It’s nothing against Japan or Lebanon or anywhere else. It’s not about race or culture or anything like that. Her heart just has more of a connection with Paris.

And that’s okay.

I don’t know if God’s trying to tell me something or use me to tell someone else, but there have been three distinct times in less than a week that God has shown me this: We are called to care. We are always, without a doubt, called to love and care for others. But we won’t always play large, active roles in every cause and every case.

I’m one of the youth ministers at Abstract, and I love it. I love teenagers, and I enjoy teaching them and listening to them and hanging out with them. I like investing in them and encouraging them. I’ve known since I was a teenager myself that I want to work with youth. I feel called to do it.

My family used to be heavily involved in a nursing home ministry. We would attend church services there and help at other events. It was nice and sweet and most of the people were kind, and it’s a great, necessary ministry, but it’s certainly not my calling. I don’t have a huge drive or passion for it. I don’t mind helping out with it at all, but I can’t imagine myself constantly doing so or leading in that sort of ministry. That’s not for me.

But aren’t both ministries important? Aren’t they both helpful to individuals and the entire community? Aren’t both groups of people loved immeasurably by the Father?

Our first instinct is to help as many different causes as we can. The homeless need help, domestic violence victims need help, starving children need help, veterans need help, cancer patients need help, and so do many other sorts of people. So we want to help them, all of them, but when we try to do it all, we spread ourselves too thin. What starts as a labor of love turns into simply more labor.

We want to be God’s hands and feet in this world. We want to be the salt of the Earth. What we don’t often realize is that we can be those very same things if we focus our gifts, time, and energy on a few things instead of everything.

Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV) says, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

My callings – writer, youth minister – are mine because they fit with who I am. I’m good with words, and I’m not too bad with grammar and punctuation, so I write. I feel the need to tell people who are going through difficult times what God can do for them, and I like encouraging new believers and helping those who are just starting to grow in their faith, and I understand young people, so I teach teenagers.

Maybe you’re good at cooking, so you volunteer at soup kitchens. Or you like organizing, so you plan outreaches or clothing drives. Or you have a loved one who served in a war, so you visit veterans. Whatever you’re good at, I can assure you that there’s someone out there who needs it. And while we should pray and help those who need it, regardless of what our callings are, we shouldn’t get so caught up in doing everything that we forget what God told us specifically to be doing. It’s not to say that we can’t help or pray or donate to worthy causes. It’s just to say that we shouldn’t take on so much that we lose sight of God or neglect Him.

So I want to encourage you all to do two things. First, find what God wants you to do, and pursue it with all your heart. You can do others things too, but don’t abandon what role the Creator wants you to play. Second, pray for everyone. As I see it, the world’s in a pretty fragile state, and even if we can’t go to the edge of it all and make it right, we can talk to the One who can.

By Carrie Prevette

Like John

I would like to start this week’s blog by officially and wholeheartedly congratulating everyone who was baptized on Sunday. I’m so happy for you, and I’m excited to see what God’s got planned for each and every single one of you.

I was baptized when I was nine. It was in what I suppose you would call a creek. The water was cold, and I was nervous. I can still picture it well. The grass was turning green. The sun was out and warming the earth, breaking through the leaves and branches of the one tree on that side of the creek. There was a small gathering there to celebrate with those being dipped in the water, and a small group of singers stood in the shade of tree and sang before we started. It was very old-timey and very nice, reminiscent of the baptism scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou. (If I’m not mistaken, the picture that my dad kept of his soaked, post-ceremony family is still taped to his bedroom mirror.)

I was thrilled when Alan preached on John the Baptist on Sunday because John is one of my favorite people from the Bible. John was very minimalist. He didn’t have a lot because he didn’t need a lot. John was very natural, and by that, I mean that his food and clothes came from nature. (I imagine if John were alive today that he would be a tree hugger and a vegetarian and that he would wear shirts made from recycled materials and TOMS.) On top of all that, John exhibited many qualities that I greatly value. He was honest, self-aware, humble, and confident. And he must’ve been extremely in-tune with God because he immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah when it took everyone else forever to figure it out.

That being said, John’s not in the Bible very much, probably due to his short lifespan. There are few passages that involve John, but I’ve somehow managed to find a favorite. It’s not when he leapt in his mother’s womb upon hearing Mary’s voice. It’s not when he baptizes Jesus or when he sends his disciples to Jesus for some affirmation. It’s when everyone’s trying to figure out just who John is.

John 1:19-27 (NLT) says, “This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, ‘Who are you?’  He came right out and said, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
‘Well then, who are you?’ they asked. ‘Are you Elijah?’
‘No,’ he replied.
‘Are you the Prophet we are expecting?’
‘Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?’
John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
‘I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
“Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!”’
Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, ‘If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?’
John told them, ‘I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.’”

Here we truly see who John is. From the way he talks, we can tell a lot about John. He’s blunt, but not inconsiderate. He’s bold, but he knows his place. He’s entirely aware of his role and what Isaiah called him in the prophecy, and he’s not denying it or backing down from it. At the same time, he points them all to a man they don’t yet know who is much greater and much more important than he is. He openly and gladly speaks about it.

I love watching people talk about something or someone they love. They instantly become adorable. They smile and they get this particular twinkle in their eyes. Sometimes they talk faster, and sometimes they gesticulate more. Their energies change, and it becomes so clear that they’re happy. All they’re doing is talking, but they’re happy because they’re saying out loud stuff that they’ve thought repeatedly or kept to themselves.

Nowhere in the scripture does it say that this happened to John, but I believe it did a little. I believe his face lit up and his eyes sparkled for a moment. The corners of his mouth may even have turned upwards when he spoke. But I know John was happy to talk about Jesus because he spoke lovingly and highly of Jesus and spoke more when talking about Him.

I particularly enjoy what John says about him not being worthy to untie Jesus’s sandal. I find it beautiful. To tie (or untie) someone’s shoe (apart from a helpless child) seems so lowly. Feet in general seem lowly and kind of gross. It wouldn’t be difficult for dirt and grime to find their way onto a pair of sandals. I also imagine they would smell pretty bad. So by saying he isn’t worthy to untie the straps on Jesus’s smelly, dirty sandals, John is really lowering himself. A man so outrageous, powerful, and influential so far below this other, unknown man? That’s saying a lot.

But John was absolutely right. And the rest of us are just as worthy.

There’s a lot we can learn from John and a lot we can do to become more like him. John knowing his place and his role in the Kingdom of God is part of what makes him so fantastic, and it’s something that we can also achieve.

But that would’ve been easy for John, right? He had this huge, awesome calling: the forerunner for Christ. He knew he was going to make a difference in the world. And he was content with the lifestyle he had. That all sounds great.

What if we’re not called to do anything big or go anywhere exciting? What if what we feel called to do seems small, borderline meaningless?

Squash such thoughts right now. If you’re looking at things that way, you’re looking at them with human eyes, not godly eyes. There is no small job with God. They’re all equally important. And if you want a call to go do something grand, there’s a possibility you’re doing it for your glory and not God’s, so be careful.

I can’t tell you your role. I can tell you what I think you’d do well at, but that’s not necessarily the same thing. To figure it out, you’ll have to talk to God. Seek Him and listen to Him.

And I hope that whatever you do, you do with the confidence and passion John had. I hope that when someone mentions it, you heart swells with joy and the overflow appears as a light in your eyes and a smile on your face. I hope that whatever you do, you know it’s important, and that you’re making a difference in the world.

By Carrie Prevette

Your Calling and The World

I love the story of Peter and John healing the man at the Temple gate. If you want to read the story for yourself, you’ll find it at the beginning of Acts 3. Peter and John are on their way to the Temple when a crippled man at the gate (which is called Beautiful) asks for alms. Peter tells the guy, “I don’t have any money, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” So Peter takes the man by the hand, helps him up, and the guy’s feet and ankles are healed and receive strength. Then he jumps up and goes with Peter and John to the Temple, praising God all the while.

Great little story, isn’t it? And everybody wins. The crippled man gets to walk for the first time in his life, Peter and John get a gold star for furthering the Kingdom of God, and God gets all the glory.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it sounds like your standard Bible story.”

Perhaps that’s true. I mean, it’s not unlike other Bible stories. And it’s okay if you find nothing about this story striking. There are plenty of other Bible stories for you to enjoy. But let me tell you why I enjoy this one.

First of all, it involves Peter, and I love Peter. I can relate to him a lot. Second, this takes place post-crucifixion, and it’s a great depiction of how the disciples have grown and developed. They went from being a group of seemingly random, confused men to passionate, empowered leaders. Third, Peter’s words to the man are honest, bold, and kind. It’s probably the first time in the man’s life that a stranger has spoken to him in such a way instead of as an inferior. Fourth, Peter’s example of helping the man up is something we all need to take note of. And finally, it all happens outside of church.

I’m aware that most miracles took place outside of church, but for whatever reason, it really hits me with this one. Maybe it’s because I know that the Temple is their destination, so I also know they aren’t in there when the miracle occurs. But there’s something about these men walking on the street, without Jesus standing right beside them, and performing this act that’s phenomenal to me.

It’s because we let our faith start and stop at the church door more often than not, and that’s clearly not what happened at that gate.

No one does the world a bit of good by only putting their beliefs, faith, and convictions into practice on Sunday mornings. We don’t need people to just sit around and discuss the Bible or listen to other people do so. We need people to actually do as it says.

It’s like when a Christian artist (or as I prefer to think of them, an artist who happens to be Christian) appeals to a secular audience, whether it’s by touring with a secular artist or working on a song with them, and the “Christian” community loses its mind. It makes no sense to me. To start with, it’s just music; calm down. I understand completely and entirely that music can be a place of solace and that it’s powerful and important, but there’s no need to get so bent out of shape about whether a band is playing in a church or a bar. The point is they’re playing, and more importantly they’re playing the very same music they normally play. Secondly, they’re doing more good for the Kingdom by playing to non-Christians. Yes, Christians need encouragement and celebration, but others need the love and grace of God. Tell me, which need is greater? And tell me, why can’t we have both? What’s wrong with a Christian and an Atheist sitting beside each other in an arena and enjoying the same music? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

What good would it have done us if the apostles only spoke to those who believed the very same as they did?

What good would it have done us if Jesus hadn’t gone to places that got His hands and His reputation dirty and spoke to the outcasts, the nonreligious, and the people who were rough around the edges?

What good are we doing by letting our faith sit in a church pew surrounded only by other Christians?

But before you go out into that world all bright-eyed and hopeful, you’ll need to know what exactly you’re supposed to do while you’re out there.

That’s a bit harder to figure out. Some of it you can get from reading the Bible, like loving others and helping those in need. I think we can all get on board with those, and we should actually carry them out. You’ll have to figure out the rest of your calling on your own.

Slightly scary, but the good news is there are elements that guide you to finding your calling.

The biggest clue is found in your talents. Your talents are given to you by God, so it only makes sense that He would want you to use them for His glory.

For example, I’m not a terribly good cook. God would get minimal glory (if any) out of my cooking, especially on a grand scale. And that, my friends, is why I am not a professional chef and why I don’t cook the breakfast Abstract serves on Sundays. (A quick shout out to those who are involved with making and serving the breakfast on Sundays because you’re all great. My stomach and I would be sad without you.)

But really. Don’t play guitar? Don’t try out for the lead guitarist spot in the worship band or any band for that matter. If you get nervous talking in front of crowds, don’t become a preacher or a motivational speaker. If you don’t like teenagers, don’t get involved with the youth ministry and don’t become a high school teacher.

God may not call you to do exactly what you want to do. The Apostle Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, always wanted to travel to Spain and preach there. While theories exist that Paul may have gone to Spain at some point in his life, there’s no evidence that he did actually get to go there. As far as we know, he never got to go where he truly wanted, but you never hear Paul complain about it.

Why is that? God didn’t give Paul exactly what he wanted, but He did give Paul something that would make him happy and fulfill him.

Which is what He’ll do for you. No, He may not call you to be a missionary in the Bahamas, but that doesn’t mean your life won’t be fantastic. As Alan has said the past couple of Sundays, “It may not be perfect to you, but it’s perfect for you.”

And really, if our hearts’ truest desires are to serve God, does it really matter where we are or what we’re doing?

But trust that God won’t call you to do something that doesn’t bring you joy.

I’m actually pretty lucky. I know God’s called me to be writer because not only do I love it, but it’s the only thing I’m really good at. (Well, that and sleeping, but I digress.) It wasn’t that hard for me to find my calling.

You probably have many more talents than I do, so it’ll likely be more difficult for you to figure out your calling. When you do, take it out to the world.

As a fair warning, there will be times when you doubt your calling. It’s sad but true. You’ll be criticized. Your parade will be rained on. Thing won’t always turn out the way you plan. You won’t always get recognition. At times, you won’t feel or see God moving even though He very well could be. Between Satan, people, and your circumstances, there will be times when you think, “Obviously this path isn’t for me.”

Word to the wise, don’t decide that on your own. Stay in touch with God. Don’t shut Him out. Don’t disregard His input. If you’re where you need to be, He’ll tell you that you are, and believe me, God’s confirmation is greater than any obstacle you could ever come up against.

By Carrie Prevette

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