Reaching Nineveh

This time when God said for Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he did just that. When God told him to do that before, Jonah ran and rode and swam the opposite way and right into the belly of a ridiculously large fish. In that fish, Jonah discovered just how much he didn’t want to die and rediscovered his love for God.

So the fish barfed Jonah up on shore after three days, and as Jonah stood with seaweed wrapped around him, undigested fish fins stuck to him, stomach acid and salt water dripping off of him, God told him once again to get up and go to Nineveh.

Jonah got up and went to Nineveh. No shower or wardrobe change. No different state of mind. Jonah was smelly, unkempt, and didn’t want to go. He was (probably) still afraid of being tortured and dying, and maybe he was a little bit bitter about having to go to Nineveh despite the trouble he went through to avoid the errand. But Jonah went. More secure in his relationship with God and having more faith in God, Jonah went to Nineveh.

My dad always said that life is full of doing things you don’t want to do. For example, I didn’t want to get student loans, but I had to in order to go to college. I didn’t want to take a job I needed, but I had to when I couldn’t get one I wanted. I didn’t want to get up and go to work on Monday, but I had to since I’ve got bills to pay, including student loans, which got me the degree that got me my job. And although this isn’t an extensive list of things I have to do but don’t want to, I’m sure you can relate and probably have a few things in mind yourself.

None more so than Jonah, right? But to Jonah’s credit, you can’t really tell it from reading chapter three by itself. “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” (Jonah 3:4, NLT)

Jonah’s boldness is really encouraging here. We know that Jonah – a smart, capable man – is not this bold on his own because Jonah’s first instinct and action was running away from it. Had this degree of boldness been active in Jonah without help, the book of Jonah would start at chapter three and the first half wouldn’t exist. Jonah’s boldness is born of his faith in a faithful God. His ability to be bold comes from worshipping and having a relationship with a God intense enough to design and form a fish to swallow Jonah but not eat him. Jonah’s boldness came from his strength in God.

One would think that the Ninevites would react badly to Jonah’s proclamation. Scoff or laugh, beat him, make an example of him. Surely Jonah thought that, although it’s not in the text. That’s not what happened, though. “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” (Jonah 3:5, NLT)

The dreadful people of Nineveh didn’t need a second warning from God. They stopped what they were doing and went into repentance mode. They fasted, and I imagine that the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a powerful empire, had plenty of good food. They put on burlap, not because it was fashionable and comfy but because it was just the opposite. Changing the outside from flashy and lavish to basic and minimal. The texture and thickness would’ve caused them a lot of discomfort, making them hot and itchy (and causing other problems through the combination of the two). It’s the concept of repenting through suffering.

The king hears Jonah, and instead of saying he and everyone else is crazy, the king does something remarkable. “…he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’” (Jonah 3:6-8, NLT)

The king joined his people. He believed and recognized the character of God. He believed He could and would destroy them. He identified God as powerful. He also believed God could be compassionate.

Not only did he tell his people what to do physically, the king told the people to put an end to what caused God to be angry with them. He told them to change inside and out, and it was a change he was going to make with them.

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)

Just as the king suspected it: powerful and compassionate. No destruction, no desolation. Forgiveness.

The same forgiveness we see in our lives. Oh, I’ve never murdered anyone or taken land, but I’ve killed moments and stolen joy. I’ve wounded people and added bitterness to the world. God’s had to forgive me for a lot, just like the people of Nineveh. He’s replaced hurt with healing, replaced bitterness with blessings. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re missing out on an offer that is still extended to you. It’s not too late, and you’re not too far. If God can reach Jonah in a fish and Nineveh in its sin, He can absolutely reach you.

By Carrie Prevette

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James: Fire and Water

Up until adulthood, I’ve been good at every stage of my life. Although I don’t recall, evidence suggests that I was good at being a baby because I’m good at whining, crying, fussing, eating, and sleeping. I was good at being a kid because I loved to play and watch TV, and in retrospect, I was pretty selfish and ungrateful as most kids are. When I got to college, I was good at being a college student.  I’d go just about anywhere for free food, and I would prepare myself for studying by napping and procrastinating. Out of everything, I was probably best at being a college student.

But I was also really good at being a teenager. I was awkward and obsessive about certain things. And I could get smart and backtalk with the best of them.

I’ve since honed the qualities that created that in me to now make myself sassy, sarcastic, and funny. Back then, I thought I was funny and so did some of my friends, but mostly, I was sort of mean. The way I talked, I sometimes hurt people, and I could even do so without realizing it. The sad thing is, though, that when I did realize it or had it pointed out to me, I was either apathetic or defensive.

I had a huge problem with my tongue, so you can imagine how much reading James during that time hit home with me.

James 3:2, 5-12 (NRSV) says, “For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle….How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”

The book of James has a very special place in my heart because it incorporates many things I appreciate – imagery, bluntness, and good content. Not only does James have all of this, but it’s all wove together.

If you’ve never had a big tongue issue, you may think James is being dramatic about the fire and the poison. If you’re like me (and maybe James as well since he’s so familiar with this), you know he’s right.

Even if you haven’t burned others with your tongue, you’ve been burnt. I’m sure that somewhere down the line, someone has been rude or spiteful or unkind to you with his or her words. You may or may not have let on, but it hurt. Whether you are starting fires or trying to put them out, we can all see the tongue’s flame well.

If you know your Bible well or if you’ve really kept up with this blog recently, you’ll know that what James defines as a tongue problem, Jesus defines as a heart problem. In Matthew 15:18 (NLT), Jesus says, “But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you.”

That isn’t the only thing about what James is saying that relates back to what Jesus said in the book of Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:24 (NLT), Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other…”

Two things trying to live in one heart like two things coming out of the same mouth. That we speak praises then curses is a sign that our hearts have some bad stuff in them or that our hearts don’t completely belong to God.

I mentioned this in passing last week, but I’d like to speak more on it here – God is always after our hearts. He wants to be the one that holds them, but He also wants them to be in good shape for our own sakes and the sakes of the people around us. He wants to be our source of life and for us to share that life with others. He wants us to be springs of fresh, flowing water that will reach people who desperately need a drink. And that can only happen when our hearts are found in Him.

When James talks about the tongue and how powerful and destructive it is, he is identifying a very real issue. It’s a result of a much larger issue, though, and that issue is the state of the heart.

I challenge you to analyze three things. First is your heart. Who is its master and what is its condition? Is it God’s? Is it joyful or bitter? Second, listen to your words. Are they refreshing or harsh? How would you feel constantly taking them in? And third, look at your actions. Our actions say the most about us, so if they are faulty, it is the ultimate tell that something isn’t right. If one was to watch you, would he or she see a life and love that only come from faith and joy in God? Be honest with yourself. What are you like?

What we are by nature is fire. If left to our own preferences and devices, we want to burn and hurt. What God wants to turn us into is water that will give life to those around us. In a world of salt water, He wants us to be the fresh that quenches everyone’s thirst. That transition can only happen if we give our hearts completely to God and let that heart come through in our words and actions.

By Carrie Prevette

Pity and Disappointment

I originally wondered why I felt compelled to wait and combine the past two sermons into one blog post, and it became very clear to me fairly early on Sunday. What Alan presented as two separate sermons, I view as one complete sermon divided into two parts.

In the first week, Alan said it is those closest to us who leave us bitter. In the second week, he labeled those who create bitterness Destroyers and identified some of the ways they instill bitterness. This past Sunday, in week three, he discussed family.

Now, I love my family very much. And no one makes me bitter like my family does.

Alan said that he occasionally picks on his little sister, Allie, who is a professional dancer, whenever she isn’t dancing and performing and therefore isn’t working. Being a fan of Allie as both a person and a dancer and being a little sister myself, I sympathize with her a lot whenever Alan mentions her in sermons. But when Alan told us that on Sunday, I could relate to Allie all too well because I’ve been victim to my brother saying awful things about my unemployment as well.

Last summer, after I graduated from college, I looked for jobs and couldn’t get one to save my life. No nearby publishing companies were hiring, and the local newspaper basically forgot about me after they said they’d contact me. Since I couldn’t find a job I wanted, I began searching for a job anywhere. And in the meantime, I got to listen to my brother mock my unemployment to me (“I mean, you’ve got all day to do it. It’s not like you’ve got to go to work or anything.”) and to other people (“She just stays at home and sleeps all day. She doesn’t do anything.”).

I was incredibly hurt by this. Truth be told, it upset me to the point of tears more than once. I spent four years and a lot of money to get a piece of paper called a diploma that proving to be completely pointless. I couldn’t get a job anywhere, despite trying my hardest to find one. And on top of feeling like a failure, my brother came right along and willingly, gladly, rubbed my insufficiencies in my face.

But Derek didn’t know I was feeling that way. He was simply upset and bitter about having to go to a job he hated when I didn’t. Bitterness breeding bitterness.

I have more stories like that, moments when it felt like he was pushing me down as if gravity and life weren’t doing a good enough job of it. What’s even worse is I’m positive he has just as many stories with that same moral and theme about me.

It’s as old as Cain and Abel, as dark and depressing as Esau and Jacob. Whether we want to be or not, whether we intend to be or not, we’re all Destroyers.

Cain’s unprecedented bitterness and its consequences were caused by two people: himself and his brother. Cain was very lackadaisical in his giving to God. Instead of giving his best, he gave what he could scrounge up. I would say that’s pretty neglectful and pathetic. He certainly messed up there, right?

And then he was compared to his brother.

I hate being compared to my siblings. It hardly ever makes me look good. In all the many ways that people talk about and stereotype being the youngest (a spoiled child, a glamorous gig), no one ever talks about how you’re the last act of the show, therefore you better be a good one. After all, no one wants to be or see Nickelback following The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

Out of the three of us, I would say that I’m probably the closest to being the Problem Child. Sunnie’s very secluded and not terribly spontaneous. Derek keeps busy and sticks to a somewhat vague routine, and he’s less independent than my sister and me. I’m sort of the wild card. Spontaneous, more rebellious, smart-mouthed, and without much here to keep me tied down, I’m more likely to go on an adventure or to question something or to back-sass the wrong person. People are more likely to encounter me than my sister and more likely to dislike me than my brother. If my mom was one who worried, I would be the reason for her worry.

I would argue that had Cain not been compared to Abel, he wouldn’t have killed Abel. If God had said, “Hey, you’re not giving me your best. Do better,” Cain probably would’ve been mad, but not murderous. But because He said, “You’re not giving me your best. Do better. Be more like your brother,” Cain became mad and jealous and thought he wouldn’t have to listen to people or God sing Abel’s praises if he wasn’t around anymore.

God was trying to show Cain the right way to do things, but Cain misinterpreted it. He saw God’s correction as a sign of love for his brother, not as a sign of love for him. He let his bitterness beat him.

Anger and jealousy are huge, common doors for bitterness. If we let them in and don’t show them out, they’ll gladly make themselves at home. As they settle, they turn into bitterness, but not before attracting more anger and jealousy.

Esau had every right to be angry. I get a little mad on his behalf every time I hear or read of how Jacob stole his blessing. How could people so close to him hurt him so? I pity him.

When Esau loses his birthright, or rather, practically gives it away for almost nothing, I have no pity for him.

Pity is a funny thing. We claim we don’t want it, but we really do. That’s why we’re so picky about who we give it to, yet it sounds sort of demeaning to hear that someone has pity on us. It is food for bitterness. The more we hear of how people are sorry for us, the more we think of how we were wronged, and to us, it justifies our hard and horrible feelings.

We like being justified. We don’t like being called out, disagreed with, or changed.

Bitterness is a hard habit to ditch. It’s edgy. It makes us feel better, but not entirely well. And it will never let us down; it will never disappoint us.

Disappointment is the root of all bitterness. It is Point A if bitterness is Point B. There are a few different ways to get from Point A to Point Be: Anger Avenue, Jealousy Trail, Resentment Road. No matter how you came to bitterness, you’re already familiar with disappointment.

In our bitterness and staying true to it, we think it’s the only thing we can count on, the only thing that won’t let us down, and that’s not true at all. God’s mercy, grace, and love won’t let us down.

Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that God’s mercies never stop and that they’re new every day.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that God told him that God’s grace is sufficient.

The entire Bible tells us that God’s love always has been and always will be there.

God has an answer for everything. Mercy instead of justice, grace instead of fairness, and love instead of bitterness. He wants to give it to us and asks that we give it as freely and generously as we’ve received it.

Show mercy, grace, and love to your Destroyers because you’ve done your share of destruction too. Deep down (or perhaps on the surface), we all want those three things, and we’ve all been undeserving of them at some point or another.

No one is better than anyone else. God cares for us all equally. He loves you, your Destroyers, and those you destroy all the same. He wants to give us His love, grace, and mercy as much as He wants us to give it to each other. And we would do well to accept as much of it as we can.

By Carrie Prevette

A Torn Veil

I’ve talked about my dad on this blog a few times, and now I’m going to talk a little bit about my mom.

Many of you have met my mom, so you know this firsthand: my mom is the sweetest woman on this planet. (She’s the woman who buys Alan orange juice regularly.) She is kind and patient and tolerant. She’s very strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’ll take me the rest of my life to know the Bible as well as she does. She’s my biggest supporter. If you ever want to be encouraged or if you ever need a compliment, talk to my mom. Alan has told me two or three times that I should be more like my mom, and he’s probably right. The world would be a better place for it.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say something about how similar a mother’s love is to God’s love. I’d be able to make a much larger payment on my student loans this month if I did. That being said, my mom’s love reminds me a lot of God’s love. My mom sacrifices a lot for me. She gives up her money, time, and preferences to help me or suit me. Sacrifices not nearly as big as God’s, but notable all the same. And she loves me unconditionally. I asked my mom when I was little if she would always love me, no matter what. She told me she would, and she has kept her word. I’ve given my mom ample reason to not love me in the past 23 years, but not once has her love wavered. Oh, she’s been extremely disappointed in me and downright upset with me many times. But she’s never stopped loving me, and that is a true reflection of God’s love.

As we’ve been discussing the past few weeks, God is both powerful and loving, and there is no better example of both than the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

I find the final moments of Jesus on the cross and the first moments right after alternatingly mighty and beautiful. You may be sitting there thinking, “That’s a little twisted, Carrie. I’m not going to lie,” but hear me out here.

According to Matthew 27:50-53, it was quite an experience. Jesus’s spirit was released and the earth opened up. Tombs opened up, and people rose from the dead.  The veil in the Temple ripped completely.

Other accounts say the sky darkened, almost like it was nighttime. I imagine a wind rushed by, down the streets of Jerusalem, turning leaves over on the trees, hard into the faces of Jesus’s accusers. As the earth shook, people looked around in shock and terror.

I find all of that powerful. And I find it beautiful (in a poetic way, I suppose) that all of it was the divine and natural reaction to the world losing the greatest man it would ever know.

When it happened, it was a big deal. Everyone knew something huge happened even if they didn’t know exactly what it was.

The veil being torn is a big deal. I won’t go as into it as Alan did Sunday, but I do feel the need to speak a little bit about it for the readers who weren’t there. Before the death of Jesus, there was one day every year when there were animal sacrifices made for everyone’s sins. And the priest would enter the most sacred place in the Temple, called the Holy of Holies, which was sectioned off by a think veil (or curtain), and pray for the people.

We think that’s nice and awesome that the veil was ripped, but Matthew’s readers would’ve been positively stunned by it. Of the four gospels, Matthew’s is by far the most Jewish. It’s important to know your audience when writing, and Matthew knew his well. He opens his book with a family tree filled with important people in Jewish history and brings it to a close shortly after saying that a crucial part of their beloved Temple was both unnecessary and ruined.

The average person’s access to God until that point sounded a lot like commercials you see for a really good sale.
“One day only!”
“While supplies last!”
“Limited time offer.”

God was tired of that and rightfully so. He wanted each of us to have unlimited access to Him and His mercies. He wanted to prove that He was bigger than that lovely Temple.

He wanted to make each of us temples. Beings who house the love and power of God. He doesn’t care what the temple looks like, how grand or pretty it is. He simply cares about the inside, how clean it is and its availability.

That’s a great representation of God – powerful enough to destroy the pride and joy of a city and loving enough to give us access to such a force. Big enough to cause an earthquake, loving enough to shake us and wake us up.

By Carrie Prevette

Temptation, Lies, and Destruction

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is take lower level classes as a senior in college. I took a 100-level class for my Philosophy and Religion minor, and I took a 200-level class for my Literature minor. They made my work load lighter and easier to say the least.

The English class I took was British Literature and Criticism (I called it “Brit Lit and Crit”). Basically, we covered research papers, which was admittedly useless in the last semester of my academic career, and all of the famous, dead, white guys a lot of people dread to read.

One of those guys was Milton. We read a few pieces of Paradise Lost, which is about the Fall of Mankind, Eden, and Lucifer. I don’t think the newbies in the class understood the liberties that Milton took in making the story of the fall his own. There’s more about Lucifer and his squad, Eve’s feelings on her role in the grand scheme of the garden, etc., and you won’t find that sort of stuff in Genesis. When I overheard a girl say, “You can just read the Bible instead,” I felt bad for her in regards to how difficult the rest of her English classes would be if that was what she really thought.

I still haven’t read all of Paradise Lost. It’s one of those that I own but haven’t gotten around to yet. From what I have read of it, I do like Milton’s additions and flourishes. They’re thought provoking and make the characters more rounded and interesting. Milton’s take on the fall provides more information on why Eve ate the fruit – how she was feeling and why she was feeling that way, the fact that she did find a talking snake peculiar, and just how cunning and smooth Lucifer is.

I like it because I imagine the temptation had to be strong and crafty for Eve to disobey her Creator, which is exactly how it’s presented in Paradise Lost.

When I think about it, the first temptation was probably the hardest. Imagine the confusion of Eve and the persuasiveness of Lucifer. She went from “Whatever, talking snake. God said no,” to “Hmm. This fruit tastes sweeter than it looks,” in just one conversation.

Satan’s first attempt at temptation was award-winning, and he’s had nothing but time and energy fueled by hatred to perfect his craft.

Temptation isn’t his only livelihood. There’s also lying. Lies played a part in the fall, so Satan knew their power from the start. He knew that when said the right way and at the right time, his lies could hold us back from going down the right path or send us speeding down the wrong one, beat us down so that getting up seems impossible or set us up on such a high pedestal that everything else fades away altogether.

Then there’s destruction. Heaven itself was divided and torn over Satan. If you flip to the last book of the Bible, you’ll find that he’ll leave many things in ruins. At no point between the two events has he taken or will he take a vacation.

Using these three elements, Satan hopes to stop you from living the great life God has for you.

Just as God’s designed an outstanding, amazing life for you, Satan’s developed a plan to try and stop it. Roadblocks and misdirection and strongholds all along the path. Aches, insecurities, doubts, and desires strategically placed to turn you around or make you stop entirely.

It’s the same dilemma Eve faced long ago. Who are we going to believe? What are we going to pursue?

It’s so much easier when we put it like that, right? “Don’t do this,” or “Obviously, do that.” But there’s a big difference between theory and reality in this case. The temptation is pulling at us. The lies are convincing. The destruction can be subtle. It’s easy for me to say one thing when the context of how badly I want something or how truthful it felt or how messy it really is can’t seem to be put into words.

I’ve heard people give Satan too much credit, and I’ve heard people not give him enough. The truth is that Satan is very good at what he does, and what he does is never good. Another truth is that Satan is only as good at his job as we let him be. He only has power if we give it to him.

Those temptations to turn back to the substance that enslaved you to itself and left you alone? They’re compelling, but they’ll ease off if you cling to God.

That voice that whispers how disgusting you are, how irrelevant you are, how you should give up every time you look into the mirror can be silenced if you keep searching for God and finding your worth in Him.

The shambles your life has become can become a masterpiece. You just have to keep your eyes and ears on the Master.

It all takes practice, but that’s what life is for. Practicing for eternity. Taking time to learn what’s right and then taking time to get it right.

I often say that I think John 3:17 is just as lovely (if not lovelier) than John 3:16. It tells us that Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but that He was sent so that we would be saved. God isn’t condemning you for giving into temptation or listening to the lies or continuing down a destructive path. That’s not His goal or His mission. He wants to save you from it because He loves you, and He hates what all of that is doing to you.

God can make it better. He can help you avoid all of the hurt and terror that Satan wants to put you through. If you stay with Him, you’ll be more than alright; you’ll be great. And there won’t be a single thing Satan can do about it on his own.

By Carrie Prevette

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