Daniel the Faithful

I was led to believe that Sunday’s sermon was going to be on Jeremiah, and I was really looking forward to it because of all the sermon’s I’ve ever heard, I’ve never heard one on Jeremiah. Then Dave preached on Daniel, who I have no animosity towards but was really miffed at on Sunday simply because he isn’t Jeremiah.

As Dave introduced Daniel, I realized that Daniel was an uber human, which is not very relatable to me. And as I listened to how smart and wise Daniel was, how attractive he was, and how heroic he was, I found myself thinking very loudly, “Daniel, Daniel, Daniel!” in the style of Jan on The Brady Bunch.

Daniel may seem like a topdog, but his underdog story involves some very big cats.

In Daniel 6, we find that he is one of three presidents over leaders in the kingdom. Verse 3 (NRSV) says, “Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom.” It’s not surprising or hard to believe that the other presidents and leaders were unhappy about this and pretty much planned a political coup.

They tried to find some sort of fault with Daniel. “But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him” (v. 4).

There it was. They had their answer. Faithful. Faithful almost to a fault. I imagine a guy just leaning back in his chair and letting his hands fall on the table in exasperation as he says, “There’s nothing. We can’t touch him. What are we going to say? ‘Oh, he’s too reliable.’ ‘Oh, he’s too faithful.'” Then someone else says, “That’s it! What if we show the king that he’s more faithful to someone else than he is to him?” Verse 5 says, “The men said,’We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.'” They go to King Darius with their plan in hand and convince him to sign an ordinance saying that, for 30 days, anyone who prays to anyone or anything but him would be thrown into the lions’ den.

Daniel knew about this, but it didn’t stop him from kneeling in front of his windows that faced Jerusalem and praying three times a day. So he was found and brought before the king, who did not want to condemn Daniel to the den but eventually had to.

The king went to the lions’ den first thing the next day. “When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?’ Daniel then said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.’ Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (v. 20-23). The king had those who accused Daniel thrown into the den along with their families. All of their bones were broken in pieces before they reached the bottom.

The takeaway here is not to have friends in high places but to have the best possible friend in the highest place.

Daniel was so close to God that I can’t help but think of them as friends. Friends are faithful to each other. Daniel didn’t ditch God because of a new ordinance just as God had never left Daniel before and certainly didn’t leave him in the lions’ den. Daniel shouldn’t have walked out of that den, but God rewarded Daniel’s faithfulness by showing His own.

My sincerest hope is that you don’t feel like you’re in the lions’ den, but if you do, please remember that God is faithful even when we’re not. He’s working on you and for you, and if you put your faith in Him as Daniel did, you’ll make it out alive and well.

By Carrie Prevette

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Joseph the Dreamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS,

The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS

Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me–

Anything can happen, child,

ANYTHING can be

By Carrie Prevette

Closed Doors

We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.

But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”

Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).

“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.

So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).

This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.

Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.

Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).

Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.

In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.

What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?

Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I huff and pout and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?

Because He’s God.

Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.

Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.

Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Psalms: Sixteen

When I was in high school, I was known for two things: my love of Duke basketball and my love of Jesus, and it was probably in that order.

It would’ve been hard to not know that I was a Duke fan in high school. I literally had enough Duke shirts to wear a different one every day for a month. My friends knew not to call me during games. I had pictures taped up in my locker of myself with Duke players that were taken when I met them and the 8×10 team picture displayed in the front of my binder. The teachers I had that were basketball fans talked sports with me, and those who were UNC fans picked on me in a friendly way. When one of my Spanish classes did Secret Santa, my friend Matt told me he wished he had my name for it because all he’d have to do is get me something with “Duke” on it.

You could tell I was a Duke fan from looking at me, but you could tell I loved Jesus from talking to me. I took my relationship with God very seriously. So when I reached the point of applying to college, praying for God’s guidance was natural.

This was a crucial point for me and in my relationship with God. I didn’t get into my first choice school, Duke University, which was probably for the best. I told God to not let me be accepted if He didn’t want me there because we both knew I would go there anyway if I could. I ended up attending Western Carolina University, never visiting once prior to orientation. And while my heart still pines for Duke on some level and probably always will, I wouldn’t trade my four years at WCU for anything in the world. The people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned, the ways I’ve grown, and my fondness for the mountains are invaluable to me and never would’ve happened if I’d gone to Duke. The plot twist of me attending Western Carolina strengthened my trust in God and His guidance.

I think we speak so much about the guidance of God that it’s become almost cliché when the benefits of God’s guidance are actually underrated.

And I think that David would agree with at least the latter part of that. Let’s join him about halfway through Psalm 16 (although I encourage you to read the entirety of it) where he says, “I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:7-11, NLT).

One could argue the when David writes “night” that he literally means night, but let’s look at it here as more of a symbol. Nighttime is dark. Without any sort of tool that sheds light or adjusts your vision, you can’t see in darkness. Not being able to see is one thing, but it’s not knowing what’s around us or what’s coming due to being unable to see that’s scary. So if we take the word “night” in this scripture to mean in the darkness when one can’t see ahead, it takes on a new meaning.

David is saying that God is guiding him at all times and that is why he praises God. It’s also why he trusts God, why his faith in God is so strong. David knows there’s nothing he’s going to face without God and nothing that can defeat him when God is with him.

Not that the faith we find here isn’t good at face value, but it reads a lot like faith that is tried. This is faith that has experience and knows, as if second nature, to trust God.

Experience is a great supplement to faith, and by that I mean that my faith has grown and been reinforced through my experiences. Experience is not a substitute for faith, though. While it may enhance your faith, it cannot replace your faith because experience has already happened with certainty whereas faith looks to an uncertain future.

If we pray for God’s guidance, whether it’s new to us or not, God will guide us. It might not be to the paths that we want to take and it may be to a road that we can’t see very far along. That’s where faith comes in, and although faith must be worked out like a muscle, it must have a foundation to start with. So whether you’re a new believer or a longtime friend of God’s, He wants to guide you and help you reach what’s best for you. If you do it enough, it’ll become second nature to you as it was for David.

Has my life turned out as my 18-year-old self would’ve wanted? No, it hasn’t. But it has turned out better than I could’ve hoped, and that is only because I asked God for His guidance and had enough faith to take Him up on what He presented to me. The very same can happen for you. I won’t tell you that it’ll be easy or that it’ll always be fun, but I can tell you that it’s worth it and it strengthens your relationship with God immensely.

As uncertain as the future may be, we know that if God is guiding us, we can also be unshaken and rejoice. We can face what we don’t know with peace because we do know that God is with us and won’t leave us. And when we stand in the light on the mountain, we can look back in the dark of the valley and celebrate the grace and goodness of God.

 By Carrie Prevette

 

Psalms: Eleven

To be so simple, hope is sort of complex. It’s simple in that we all want and need hope and that we can all experience it. It’s complex in that it isn’t always constant and consistent.

I’ll give you an example. Every year, Western Carolina University holds the Spring Literary Festival, which is when a lot of writers come to the campus to speak and read some of their work. It’s basically Christmas for English majors. Most English professors cancel class so students can go to an event instead. It also means that students are exposed to a wealth of talent and experience for four days, which is completely invaluable, especially to aspiring writers. Plus, the local (and lovely) bookstore, City Lights, sets up a few tables outside of the theater or auditorium so you can buy the authors’ books if you like what you hear. It’s a phenomenal time, especially if you’re a literary nerd.

Nick Flynn came to speak my sophomore year. Flynn is an incredible writer and a kind, interesting person. After he read and spoke, he signed autographs, and when I went to get my book signed, he talked to me a little bit about what I studied and what my aspirations were. When I told him that I wanted to be a writer, he encouraged me, and he said to remember that a lot of writers aren’t published and distinguished until their late thirties or forties.

So there stood Nick Flynn – a man who, as far as I’m concerned, is living the dream – telling me – a 20-year-old girl who’s only really good at writing and loves it – that it could be 20 more years before my stories and words could reach the world.

I wasn’t hurt by his words at all, but I was a little bummed out. Call it innocence or call it optimism, but I felt a little underestimated. Regardless, I didn’t feel hopeful.

Now at age 24, I find Flynn’s words extremely hopeful and comforting. In fact, of all the things anyone’s ever told me in regards to writing, Flynn’s words sound out the loudest and the clearest. I’ve grown to treasure them and the pleasant exchange they’re encased in.

As I said, hope is both simple and complex, and I believe that to be shown plainly in Psalm 11.

David starts in verses 1-3 (NLT), “I trust in the Lord for protection. So why do you say to me, ‘Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety! The wicked are stringing their bows and fitting their arrows on the bowstings. They shoot from the shadows at those whose hearts are right. The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?’”

I don’t know the circumstances behind this psalm, but the situation doesn’t sound too good. Maybe it was a wave of persecution that was set to fall on David or a personal vendetta or something else altogether. Whatever the case may be, David seems to be sticking around when other people would not. They’re telling him to bail, to get out before it gets worse, but David doesn’t. He plans to stay because he firmly trusts in God.

David goes on to explain in verses 4-7, “But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth. The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked, punishing them with scorching winds. For the righteous Lord loves justice. The virtuous will see his face.”

This is David’s rebuttal to all of the people telling him to head out of whatever this bad situation is. He says that God’s still watching over everyone, no matter how bad things have gotten. His point is that God sees and God knows, and He’s going to fight by David’s side because David is in the right. David has hope where others do not because He’s putting his faith in something that everyone else isn’t. Where their lack of faith has left them hopeless, David’s faith has made him hopeful because he knows the outcome doesn’t rest in his hands.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? God has been there for him before, so He’ll be there again and again. After all, God is faithful even when we’re not, constant even when we’re erratic.

But doesn’t applying this to our own lives complicate things?

When it comes to our faith, it’s easy to lose sight of hope and forget the times God’s brought us through. And even if we don’t forget, it’s easy to feel like this time’s different or maybe our luck is running out. But God is greater than luck, and He isn’t some meter or allotment that can be depleted. And even if this time is different, God is not. He’s the same, His abilities are the same, and His love for you is the same.

Wherever you find your hope, hold onto it. Hope is a jewel, especially in the state the world is in today. But know that whatever gives you hope, it cannot and does not compare to the hope found in God. David stuck to his beliefs, and made it out of that troublesome time and the next and the next. It wasn’t easy, but it happened because of who he was placing his trust in. It was the same God that wants to help you now. And isn’t that at least worth a shot?

By Carrie Prevette

James: Faith Alive

“Am I alive or just breathing?” is a line from one of my favorite songs by a band called TEAM. I find the entire song “Am I Alive” beautiful, but this refrain really strikes me whenever I listen to it. It’s about asking yourself if you’re just going through life in the literal sense and merely surviving or if you’re doing the things you love and really experiencing the world around you. It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 10:10 when He says that he came to give us life more abundantly. And when I thought of this week’s blog, it was the first thing that came to my mind and wouldn’t leave.

James tells us that faith without works isn’t even breathing, it’s dead.

I’ve often said that a relationship with God is like running on a treadmill. You either keep going by moving forward or you stop and get pulled back. In my experiences, you can’t really take a break from God. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to step away for a bit and then come back and pick right up where you left off. Faith is a muscle. It has to be used and worked to stay in the shape it’s in or to grow. If it goes unused, it loses its strength.

Seems pretty simple, right? In order to keep and grow the faith we have, we have to use it, to exercise it. But how?

There’s prayer, for one. Let’s not discount or underrate prayer. It’s our primary form of communication with God, so it’s a very clear way to put faith in Him. By praying, we exercise faith that God is there, that He’s listening, that He cares, and that He can do something about whatever we bring to Him. Prayer is a huge way to exercise faith.

Then, as James points out, there’s works.

James talks about faith and works going hand in hand in 2:14-26. A lot of people misinterpret what James says in 2:14 (NRSV), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” And in verses 17-18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” And in verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” Some people take this to mean that works alone without an already existing faith can earn salvation and redemption.

Doesn’t that cheapen God? Honestly, doesn’t it make it sound like God is someone who can be bought and with our ideas of righteousness and goodness at that? God’s not interested in what we have to offer, nor is He surprised by what we bring to the table. He created us and basically gave us all that we’re offering back to Him. If He was after what we can give Him, what we can use to “earn” anything from Him, He would’ve just kept it for Himself.

No, as always, God is after our hearts. And it is the heart we put into our works that show and grow our faith.

Take what James says in verses 15-16. He writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with well-wishes or prayers or encouraging words on their own. He’s saying if we have the means to help someone, to legitimately improve their situation on a real and practical level and choose not to do it, that doesn’t show a heart full of love and faith. It doesn’t show that we have faith that God will use that moment to turn things around for that person. It doesn’t show that we have faith that people will help serve in God’s method to answer the prayers we offer Him for the individual’s case. After all, we could act in a way to help answer such a prayer and we’re not even doing so ourselves.

Alan said Sunday that a faith that works is a faith that transforms. That doesn’t mean that your faith just transforms you and your life. It transforms those you interact with, and it transforms every part of the world that you touch.

Let’s look at faith at two different levels and as two different definitions. The first is belief. To have faith means to believe something or someone. If I say, “I believe in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith in His existence for sure, and maybe depending on how I act or the context of the conversation, it also means that I have faith in His abilities. The funny thing is, even though I’m stating that I believe in God, the sentence somehow says more about me, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the vagueness of the word “believe.” Or maybe it’s that belief in God is a pretty basic thing. Growing up in the South, almost everyone native believes in God’s existence as much as their own, and we often hear people from various places in the world be sure enough or willing to admit belief in the existence of God. James says in 2:19 (NIV), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So faith in the sense of belief, acknowledging existence or power, alone isn’t that impressive.

The second level and definition is confident. To have faith in someone or something means to have confidence in him/her/it to do something. If I say, “I’m confident in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith that He can and will do something. The structure of this sentence is the same as the other; I am the subject and God is the object. The sentence itself doesn’t change the meaning. Yet this second level and second sentence tells more about God because He’s the recipient of my confidence. “Confident” is a more specific word that requires more faith. What is impressive isn’t that I have confidence; it’s who I have confidence in that matters.

Are you stuck somewhere between belief and confidence? Is your faith alive, just breathing, or actually dead? How much work are you doing for God?

Faith produces works because it spills over in our lives so much that it causes us to want to do more. We feel compelled to show people instead of just telling them. And we instinctively want to make our faith and place in the Kingdom of God active. No, works will never earn us salvation, but they are certainly a product of it.

By Carrie Prevette

Faith for Pain

Our associate pastor, Scott, gave a beautiful sermon on Sunday about pain and growth. He spoke of the birth of his son, Jackson, and the many health issues Jackson has had in the short amount of time He’s been alive. (Jackson’s not even a year old.) Jackson has spent most of his life in the hospital, although he’s home now, and that means that Scott has had plenty of trips to the hospital and an abundance of opportunity to get mad at God.

Scott didn’t see this as God picking on him or punishing him like some would. He saw it as an opportunity to lean on God and trust that it’d all work for His glory. I’m sure Scott was many things during this difficult time – upset, exhausted, ready for good news. But through it all, he was also faithful.

The man who could’ve lost his son is almost the same man who stood in front of the congregation Sunday and advised, “Don’t waste your pain.” I say “almost” because this Scott is more tried-and-true, stronger, than he was before.

You probably have a story like Scott’s. Maybe not one as universally bad as almost losing a child, but I’m sure you have a story of a time in your life that was dark and, at least in your eyes, potentially earth-shattering.

I’ve wrote about my dad’s passing several times on this blog because that was my darkest time. When my dad went to the doctor because of back pain, I had no idea that it was cancer and that I only had two months left with him. I wandered the world (well, my world) concerned about him but blissfully unaware that I was soon going to lose the man who passed on to me a lot of my personality traits and who always loved and believed in me.

I was merely 20 when he died and not even a mature, capable 20. I’d never imagined my life without my dad, so I was stunned and scared. Heartbroken. How could the world keep spinning and functioning without Charles Prevette’s presence? And what was I supposed to do? Who was going to relay the adventures of Othello, our adorable dog, to me when I was at college? Who was going to make sure I was taking proper care of my car? Who was going to tell me corny jokes and funny stories? Who was I going to watch action movies with or get into pointless arguments with? Who was I going to watch sports and yell at the refs and players with? Who was going to tell me how proud they were of me all the time?

I’ve had people ask me how I did it, how I made it through. I’ve given advice to friends in similar situations to the one I was in. All I know to say is that I wouldn’t have made it on my own. I had family who shared my pain, friends who wouldn’t leave me for the world, and a God who I leaned on so much that I practically laid down on Him. I knew I had to live the rest of my life without my dad, but I tried not to focus on that. I focused on getting through day after day, even moment after moment, without him with the help of those I love.

We read in Lamentations 3:22-23 (NRSV), “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NRSV), “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

He writes a few chapters later in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV), “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

David writes in Psalm 63:7 (NLV), “For You have been my help. And I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.”

And Psalm 147:3 (NLT) reads, “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”

God tells us in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT), “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

We’re given all these lovely promises and more by God, so why not take Him up on them? Seriously. Take Him at His word. I dare you to. I dare you to give faith a chance. Be crazy enough to believe Him.

When I think of faith, I think of that scene in Indiana Jones when he has to cross a chasm on a bridge he can’t see. The viewer can see if from other angles, but from where Indy’s standing, there doesn’t appear to be anything to help him cross. Sweaty and nervous, he steps out anyway.

There was something there to catch his foot when he stepped although he couldn’t see it. Likewise, God is there to catch you. He could be sitting right in front of you, obvious to everyone else but you oblivious to Him. He could be seen by no one but be there all along. Regardless, God is there to love you and watch after you and embrace you, even if you fall into Him. You just have to trust Him.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – The Bible is a goldmine of inspirational, hopeful verses. I’ve listed a few above, but I would love to know what scripture has been a light for you through the dark. Feel free to share the scripture in the comments. It may help another reader like it helps you.

Promises

Promises are porcelain treasures. We love them and want to keep them. We’re careful when we handle them, and we’re careful about who we let handle them. We don’t pass one out to everyone. If we look at them and see a crack, our hearts sink. They might as well be ruined because they’ll eventually break. And when they do break, so do our hopes. We’re left with pieces and powder, dust and chips, and not a lot of faith left in the one who did the breaking.

I don’t have the best track record of keeping promises, and I’m sort of ashamed of that. I now only make promises I know I can keep or will truly try to keep, but I’ve let a lot of people down by breaking promises to them.

I can also say that it’s no fun being on the receiving end of a broken promise. High hopes turn to letdowns, and in that void, there’s a lot of room for bitterness, anger, and depression. We start to feel like we don’t mean that much to whoever hurt us, or at least that our feelings don’t.

Like Alan said Sunday, there are several aspects of having a relationship with God that seem too good to be true. We feel that we have to earn salvation because we’re not used to free, inclusive gifts. We feel that we have works and obligations to fulfill in order to find favor with God because that’s how we’re used to winning favor with our fellow man. Sometimes we’re skeptical or forgetful of God’s promises because our earthly experiences have taught us to do so in regards to any promise.

Life has taught us to take some things with a grain of salt for fear of them seeming or being too sweet, and someone else’s promise is one of those things.

Numbers 23:19 (NLT) says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NLT) says, “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23 (NLT) says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”

God will never break His promise. It’s simply not who He is; it’s against His nature to do so. He’ll never tell us what we want to hear if it’s untrue. He won’t turn on us one day or change His mind. He means what He says, and what He says is true and will come to pass.

Our old nemesis, doubt, cannot live in the same place as faith.

When we doubt God’s desire or even His ability to keep His word, we doubt Him as a being. We doubt that He is who He says He is. We doubt His nature.

Sometimes we don’t trust God enough with something to even pray about it.

We say things like, “It’s not that big of a deal. I can handle it,” or “God’s got other things to deal with. I won’t bother Him with something so small.” Maybe we mean those things, but often it’s a matter of us wanting to control the situation or not believing that God will come through for us.

Our doubt always says more about us than it says about God.

The beautiful thing is that God is faithful even when we’re not. Our doubt doesn’t affect God’s ability to keep His promises. Our capacity to believe and hope doesn’t change who God is. His faithfulness should breathe faith into us, but even if it doesn’t, it won’t change anything. He’ll love us and look out for us all the same.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. — I found this picture a while back, and this seems like the right time to share it with you all. I believe this image to be accurate. And my prayer is that we’ll all trust God enough to give us what we truly want that we won’t let what we think we want stand in our way.

trustme1

Shapeshifter

There’s a guy in Asheville who turned my whole weekend around on Saturday, and he doesn’t even know it.

I have no clue who he is, although we chatted in such a way that my sister thought we did know each other. All I know about him is that he works at Farm Burger, he ran the cash register on Saturday, he is a redhead, he has a mustache that was actually kind of nice and wasn’t creepy, and he was kind. And he was a really big blessing to me.

I started out happy and excited on Saturday, but it changed. At every turn, I was being ignored or forgotten about, and I know that sounds exaggerated, but I promise it’s not. No one listened when I talked, and I had to repeat myself a lot because no one cared to listen the first time. So we were at the Asheville Comic Expo, which was very busy and filled with people, and I felt like a ghost that was trying to tag along.

Now, I’m a big girl with bright red hair. I look very different, and I take up a lot of space. I’m also very loud and opinionated, qualities that individual people and society as a whole tend to critique me on. So you can understand why I think it’s hard to flat-out ignore me without trying to on some level.

It wasn’t until someone actually looked at me and saw that I was just about ready to cry very publically, despite the fact that I hate crying in front of people, that anyone even realized something was wrong, let alone bothering me.

I know this probably sounds like a little kid whining that no one’s paying attention to him or her, but it was more than that. I felt so insignificant to everyone and everything around me; I doubted that I mattered, that my presence made any sort of difference at all.

We went to lunch at Farm Burger, which was new to me and completely crowded. I was feeling the contrast of being ignored and being big, so I felt bad about myself and bad about being in the way. I’m also a tad claustrophobic, so I started hyperventilating a little. As we moved forward in the winding line, I calmed down and started to feel a little better, like maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

When I got to the front of the line, I was prepared to just order and move on, but when I asked the cashier how he was doing, he spoke honestly about how they were busy and how he sort of wanted it to calm down a little. He sounded overwhelmed, and I could relate, so I told him about how dreadful the back of the line was compared to the front. I think it was just the case of two friendly talkers who needed someone to talk to. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I think he made me feel better because he was nice enough to act like he cared even if he didn’t, and out of everyone in that place, he vented to me. Even if I didn’t matter to anyone else, for a moment, I mattered to him because he seemed to feel better after our interaction. I know I did.

Doubt is one of the worst monsters because at some point, it comes after us all, and it comes with different faces to attack us. It’s a shapeshifter.

We doubt if we matter. We doubt our choices. We doubt ourselves. We doubt if God’s listening to us. We doubt if God loves us. We doubt God and His promises.

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Where doubt cripples us, faith heals us. Doubt harms and faith helps.

In our spiritual lives, we’re constantly practicing one or the other. Either we’re believing in God for something or we’re telling Him we don’t quite think He’s up to the task.

When Jesus invited Peter for a little stroll on the waves in Matthew 14:22-33, Peter stepped out in faith. When he got out of the boat, his mind, his eyes, and his heart were all set on Jesus. He’d seen Jesus do so many wild and weird things that, for a moment, walking on water seemed as normal as walking down the street.

Then the wind caught Peter’s attention. He began paying attention to the storm around him instead of his God in front of him. Doubt poured on deck, and our pal Pete began to sink.

Peter’s walk on the water and our walks with God were/are totally dependent on whether we have faith in God or whether we doubt Him.

If we believe in God, we need to act like it. We need to pray about things and speak encouragingly when we talk about them. Our mindset needs to be positive, and if any doubt tries to seep in, we need to pray that God would remove it.

Praying does no good if we don’t have faith.

I know a girl whose parents got divorced, and a few years later, she told me, “I pray they’ll get back together, but I know it’s not going to happen.”

I actually chuckled (rude, I know) and replied, “Then what’s the point of praying?”

If we have enough faith to believe that God loves and listens to us, if we have enough faith to pray, why not have faith that God will answer our prayers? Why not have faith that He’ll give us our hearts’ desires?

Doubt is a huge monster, and it pursues us all. It’s hard to beat regardless of the form it takes, but all it takes to defeat it is prayer and faith. Yes, it’s hard to take down doubt, but when it goes down, it goes down hard.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- I’d also like to thank the cosplayers at ACE who were dressed as Jack Sparrow, Robin, and Aang because they also made me very happy.

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