The First Commandment

When Alan started talking about toasters on Sunday, I thought he was going to talk about the toaster– the Golden State Warriors toaster.

Back in March, a fan brought a toaster with the Warriors’ logo on it to shooting guard Klay Thompson for him to sign. Although a couple of other players signed the toaster as well, all that really matters is that Thompson signed it because his reaction to being asked to sign a toaster was priceless, as seen below.



Signing a toaster is weird and funny, right? But since signing the toaster, Thompson and the Warriors have an overall record of 30-something and 2 and a perfect record at home, and this run includes the 2017 NBA championship. The toaster has become a legend, and since it’s sort of taken on a life of its own, Thompson invited the toaster guy to the Warriors’ championship parade, and yes, he brought the toaster.

So as Alan spoke of his own normal, non-mystical toaster, he said that he didn’t always need it, that he used it and then put it away. But the Warriors toaster has been at work, in a sense, for about three months now, so some toasters are more important than others.

Alan did have an excellent point, though, as far as every other toaster in the world is concerned. We use the toaster when we need it and put it aside until we need it again. And that’s often how we treat God.

“Then God gave the people all these instructions: I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other God but me” (Exodus 20:1-3, NLT).

This commandment seems simple enough. God is the one our hearts should turn to and who should receive our praise.

Then we move past the surface of this commandment. Do we look to God in our times of trouble? More importantly, do we look to Him when everything is fine? Do we seek Him for answers? Do we praise Him even when we think He hasn’t done anything for us lately? Is He always on our minds? Is He the reason for our pursuits because He is our ultimate pursuit?

Our biggest struggles with the first commandment are with consistency and exclusivity, and those two connect in a big way.

God is consistent. He is reliable and constant. He hasn’t lost any capabilities. He hasn’t changed who He is. He’s the exact same as He was when He spoke the commandments. He is steadfast.

I am not. I may seek His counsel on one issue in my life and not consult Him on a different one. I’ll believe Him to work miracles one day and take matters into my own hands the next. I’m not as faithful as God is, and I take comfort in knowing He loves me anyway, but the reality is that my heart wanders.

When it wanders, it wanders into the arms of another god, even if it doesn’t mean to. The other god wines and dines me, whispers sweet nothings in my ear. It looks longingly into my eyes as it brushes a strand of hair behind my ears. It gives me presents and compliments me while I’m ignoring God, who’s trying His hardest to reach me and show His affection for me. The other god leads me to believe that it’ll always be there for me and makes me forget that God always has been.

What God knows and what I find out is that something isn’t right. Conversations with the other god are dull as it only sometimes listens and never speaks to me. It attempts to show it cares but in shallow ways. It offers feeble solutions to my problems and doesn’t try very hard to comfort and console me when something’s wrong.

God always accepts me back when I wise up and return to Him.

God gave us this commandment because He loves us and wants a relationship with each of us. God created humans because He wanted companions. Not that He needed us but that He wanted us. He likes us and likes having personal relationships with us. And because our hearts are prone to wandering and loving one more than another, this works only when we have no other gods.

God also gave this commandment so we could avoid getting hurt. No other god can love us or do for us like God can, and it’s only after we try loving them the way we should love God that we learn this. Our hearts wander, but they hurt until we come home.

Idolatry is a hard habit to break and we can be sure that we’ll never be as faithful to God as He is to us. The good news is that He loves us and wants us anyway. Were salvation based solely on our abilities to keep this commandment, everyone’s afterlife would look grim. So I’m thankful that God looks at me, at all of His children, with love despite our faults, and perhaps He says about us what Atticus says about Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “… she knows I know she tries. That’s what makes the difference.”

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

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

Through Suffering

My dad always told me that he thought the reason he was put on this planet was to raise his three kids and watch them grow up. (Personally, I believe he was selling himself short because he did so much more than that.) So when he died when I was only 20, technically an adult but not practically, I wasn’t only hurt, I was confused. How was I fully grown? I was still in school. I was old enough to vote, but I wasn’t old enough to drink. I was clueless about insurance, taxes, and other adult things. I still needed my dad. If his purpose was to raise me and help me, why did I lose him before he was finished?

I soon realized that even though my dad died decades before either of us thought he would, it was for a reason. If for no other reason, it was because my dad needed relief from his pain and God knew I’d be able to handle it with His help. About a year and a half later, I found out there was more to it than that.

A friend of mine told me that her grandfather had stage four lung cancer and that he didn’t have much time left. I told her that was exactly what I’d gone through with my dad. The more we talked, the more we discovered the similarities between my father and her grandfather. The situations were too similar to be a mere coincidence. This had God’s fingerprints all over it.

I listened to her talk about her grandfather and how much she loved him. It was beautiful. Her face lit up and she got a big smile on her face. I also listened to her talk about how hard it all was. Because I had been in her position before, I was able to give her advice and tell her how I dealt with it. She was kind enough to listen to me in return.

If she’s reading this, I’d like to officially extend my sincerest thanks to her. Not only did she give me a reason to talk about my dad, but she also helped me make sense of losing him.

She helped me realize that I would encounter situations like ours, although not always quite as similar, for the rest of my life. And while what happened to me was tragic, good could still come from it because now I could help others get through it. Both my friend and I handled the passing of our loved ones really well, and I’m proud of us, but not everyone handles it so well. Plus it’s always nice to have the option of talking to someone who’s been in your situation before, so if I could be that for anyone, I’d love to.

I can see why people think that being a Christian means you’re going to have this perfect life, although that’s definitely not true. It’s kind of a result of thinking of God as this omnipotent genie who gives you unlimited wishes. God’s all-powerful, right? And He loves you, right? So why wouldn’t He give you every single thing you ask for?

That’s fair. But what some people don’t realize is that God isn’t just interested in making all of us happy. That would mean that He serves us, and that’s incorrect. God is interested in each of us living the greatest life possible and us doing so as great people. That requires Him acting in our lives and a lot of growth on our part.

Growth never comes from comfort.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know why everything happens, that I have all the answers. That would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. But I will tell you that I believe every hardship or setback we endure is for a reason, regardless of whether we know what that reason is or not, and that those awful times are an opportunity for us to grow as people and as believers.

Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV) says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I took a pottery class in high school, and it left me with about ten mediocre pieces of pottery and a whole new way of looking at this verse. Being a human, I was used to being the clay. I understood the clay’s struggles, the pains of being centered, pulled, and sculpted. But for one semester, I was a potter, and I saw the pains and frustrations that came with it. If you don’t use enough water, your hands start to burn. You sit hunched over, which can get uncomfortable. You can never get all the dirt out from under your nails. Sometimes it’s really hard to center the piece. When you pull the clay up, it can be really uneven or too thin. If you make the slightest unintentional move with a tool, you can ruin a piece. But the most frustrating part is when something goes wrong right at the very end and you have to start all over.

That semester taught me that it also hurts to be the potter sometimes.

God is undoubtedly a much better potter than I am, but that doesn’t mean some of what He has to do to us doesn’t hurt Him as well.

God doesn’t just sit back and watch when we go through dreadful times. He isn’t laughing manically or wearing an evil smirk when they happen either. You going through a rough time doesn’t mean that God’s doing it for fun or that He doesn’t want to help you. He loves you too much for that.

Maybe you think that you can’t take much more. Maybe you think that it’s all worse than you imagined it could ever get, and you’re at the point of giving up. If you’re at the point where your faith is almost gone, hang on just a little bit longer. God is faithful. If He said He would make a way, He will make a way. If He told you He’d fix it, He’ll fix it. If He told you that it will get better, it will. Take God at His word. Hold on to His promises. At our lowest, there’s not much that we’ll trust and hold on to, but I can assure you that it is safe to hold on to God and what He’s told you. Trust God even if you don’t trust anything else.

Your bad times are necessary to get you to your greater life. That might not always make sense, and it certainly doesn’t feel awesome. But your suffering doesn’t go unnoticed, and it isn’t pointless. God will never put you through something that you hate for no reason at all.

By Carrie Prevette

The Chatterbox: Turning Off the Noise

Pastor Alan Parsons said Sunday morning in the final sermon of The Chatterbox, “The best way to preach is by example.”

The words struck me because I’ve had a feeling recently that I was going to have to give some background on why The Chatterbox has meant so much to me.

On Sunday, Alan went on to talk about how difficult his week was and how he had listened to the Chatterbox and let it discourage him. And I would like to take a moment to commend him for speaking so honestly. It was something that most people don’t have the boldness to do. Alan also went on to attest to how everything changes when we hand our situations over to God and listen to Him instead of the Chatterbox.

Now I suppose it’s my turn to demonstrate the very same thing.

The weekend of the first Chatterbox sermon, I was depressed. I wasn’t just sad or bummed out. I don’t remember the last time I had felt as purely awful in my heart and soul as I felt that weekend. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but I’m typically pretty loud and happy. That Sunday, I was quiet and I couldn’t even really bring myself to smile.

I felt entirely pointless. I thought about everything I do, and I couldn’t think of a single way that I wasn’t replaceable. The ways I volunteer at church, my job, what I do around the house, everything. I started feeling like all I did well was get on everyone’s nerves and take up space. I started questioning God, asking Him what I was even doing here because I could not see what function I was serving in the grand scheme of things.

The ironic thing is I’m usually the one trying to encourage other people and let them know how loved they are by God and by others, telling them that they have a huge purpose in this world. But no matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t seem to believe it about myself, at least not in that moment. I wasn’t just listening to the Chatterbox. It was the only station I thought I could pick up.

I can guarantee you that there wasn’t a single person who needed to hear about how much God loves and accepts them more than I did that Sunday. So I’ve been drawn to this series because I needed to hear it and because I fully believe that everyone needs to hear it.

Isn’t it amazing how God orchestrates everything?

The reason this series helped me turn off the Chatterbox is because it forced me to hear what God was really saying about me. It showed me reasons to love God and praise Him. It shifted my focus from being on my misconceptions and disappointments to being on God’s love and greatness. And honestly, it’s hard to listen to the Chatterbox when all you see is how perfect God is.

I was reminded of God’s truths about me and promises to me, and I was reminded that they’re just as present and accurate even in the moments when I don’t believe them.

I’ve said it plenty of times before (I’m sure I’m not the only one), and I’ll say it again: God is faithful even when I’m not.

Isn’t that remarkable? The one who’s bringing everything to the relationship is completely loyal to the other. I’m the one that messes up. I’m the unworthy one. I’m the one who needs Him just to make it through the day. You would think that I’m the one who would cling to Him, regardless of my changing world or whatever circumstances I find myself in. But it’s the other way around. God’s the one who’s always there for me, whether I ask Him to be or not. He picks me up, helps me out, listens to me rant or cry or babble away. He’s my Savior, yet He’s the one that’s head over heels in love with me. I give up on God more often than I care to admit, but never – not for a second – has He given up on me.

Nor has He ever given up on you.

I’m lucky that my depression lasted only a few days. Some people go through it for years. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe while you were reading about my experience you found yourself thinking, “Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about. I feel that way every day.” And people always say to those who are struggling that things will get better. I say it myself. I’ve actually had one girl tell me that people say that all the time, they’ve been saying it for years, but she still feels empty. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times, and you’re probably tired of it. But let me tell you, it will get better. I know it will.

“But how do you know that?”

I know it will happen because God is faithful.

God knows you’re struggling. God knows that there are times when your faith isn’t just running low, it basically doesn’t exist. There are moments when you turn from Him and seek help or shelter elsewhere. But the thing about God is that even though He knows you’ll do it to Him, He won’t do it to you. He’s right there with you. He’s not leaving you, He’s not giving up on you, and He isn’t done with you.

Hebrews 10:23 (NRSV) says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”

Don’t give up. God certainly won’t. And imagine how much better you’ll do if you work with God instead of working against Him or being apathetic about Him.

When you truly want to turn off the Chatterbox, and you can’t find a single other thing to praise God for, praise Him for just being there. Maybe you don’t see Him. Maybe you wish He would be more active. Regardless, don’t doubt for one minute that He’s with you, and don’t doubt for one minute that He loves you. And remember that even the smallest bit of praise can begin to shut off the Chatterbox.

By Carrie Prevette

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