Daily Bread

“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12, KJV).

Much like Oprah, I love bread. Toasted, warm wheat. Fluffy or flakey biscuits. Sticks of bread covered in salt and/or garlic (and preferably served alongside a salad at Olive Garden). Brown and served with some butter to spread on it. I’m starting to make myself hungry, so I’m going to stop now, but I think you get my point. Bread is good.

Bread is also pretty fundamental. Some restaurants serve bread as a free appetizer. Back in my day, when we learned about the food pyramid in health class, carbs and grains (i.e., bread) made up the biggest section, holding up the rest of the pyramid. And when we say, “That’s your bread and butter,” in regards to a craft, it means that it’s part of the foundation of what your doing and that you’ll be doing it frequently.

Jesus petitions God for bread because it’s critical to His survival. It was what He physically would’ve needed. He could’ve asked for a side of marinara sauce or asked that the bread be served as a side to a meat and two veggies, but He didn’t because they weren’t as necessary.

It’s not to say that we shouldn’t ask for what we want. It’s to say that we should put our needs first. This seems like common sense, but I work at a bank and can tell you that people don’t always do this. God doesn’t want us to have a bare minimum life, but He wants to provide what we need first and foremost. He wants to bless us, but that doesn’t make Him a genie meant to fulfill our endless wishes.

Jesus calls it “our daily bread” not only because we need to eat daily, but because we should seek God and His provision daily.

Before my first car died and I had to get another (RIP Bartholomew. Gone but never forgotten), I didn’t have a car payment every month, so I had more expendable income. I was also on my mom’s car insurance instead of having my own, so that was even more money that I had to play with. I was by no means wealthy, but I didn’t feel the need to pray to God every day for provision. But now that a pretty decent chunk of my monthly paycheck goes toward my car and car insurance, I do seek and thank God for His provision daily. And don’t get me wrong: I know that the fact that I can afford the things I’m complaining about in this example makes me more fortunate than a lot of people, and I’m very grateful for what I have because I know I wouldn’t have it without God’s provision and blessings.

My relationship with God has to be a daily thing. If I call Him my Lord and Savior, if I rely on Him and look to Him and am thankful for Him, I need to do and express those things daily. Not because of what might happen to me physically. God loves me and is faithful even when I’m not. It’s about what that could do to me spiritually. Before long, one day turns into one week turns into one month, and I haven’t talked to God once. It creates space between me and God, which leaves room for other, more destructive things to come into my life.

In the same sense, damage is done to us when we withhold forgiveness from others. Both hold us back from our best.

In Luke 7, Jesus is eating at Simon the Pharisee’s house when an uninvited woman comes in and washes Jesus’s feet with her tears. She dries them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them. Simon gets mad, saying that if Jesus was who He says He is, He’d know He was being touched by a sinner. Jesus tells him a short parable of a creditor who forgave two debts, one ten times as much as the other. He then asks the Pharisee which would love the creditor more. He says the one who owed more, and Jesus tells him that he’s right.

“Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47, NRSV).

Like this woman, we’ve been forgiven of so much. Every single one of us owed a debt we could not pay. Then Jesus stepped in and paid it all for us.

How could we who have required so much forgiveness not extend it to others?

And the love that we feel for the God who forgives us, we’re not to store it up and hide it for ourselves. We’re to let it show and spread. God sees it, and others see it, and they see it through our actions and interactions. And that love and strength that we receive from God is evident in nothing more so than our ability to forgive.

People hurt us. People owe us. But there can never be a debt as big as the one God forgave us.

At this point in the Lord’s Prayer, we start getting into things that affect our everyday lives. It addresses our physical lives– asking God to provide what we need to survive and forgiving the people around us– and our spiritual lives– seeking God daily to know Him more and to find forgiveness. It’s about the things that run over from our relationships with God into our relationships with everyone.

By Carrie Prevette

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Angry Enough to Die

Jonah was mad.

Not at being swallowed by a fish. He wasn’t peeved at being wrapped in seaweed. He makes no marked mention of being surrounded by smaller fish, decaying in the belly of the much larger fish. He isn’t notably upset about the smell or the feel of stomach acid that was miraculously touching him but not consuming him. When Jonah left the fish, he wasn’t angry about being stranded in a fish; he was simply happy to be alive.

Nor was Jonah seemingly mad about having to go to Nineveh. As we discussed briefly last week, Jonah’s trip to the belly of the fish didn’t change his attitude about going to Nineveh. Make no mistake, Jonah wasn’t happy about going to Nineveh. The same threats and problems that existed the first time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh still existed when God told him the second time. The people of Nineveh were the same when Jonah got there as they were before. But Jonah wasn’t mad about going to Nineveh as far as we know.

Jonah was mad at God’s compassion.

God spared not just one or two people, but a whole city of people. He showed them mercy. They were to survive, to see sunsets, to watch their children grow up, to look back – look around – and see God’s grace every day after that, and that really made Jonah mad.

Are you ready to pick up stones and throw them at Jonah? I was.

I’m a pretty loving and accepting person. If someone lives his or her life differently than I live mine, that’s all on him or her. It’s his or her right and none of my business. The way I see it, and from what my Bible tells me, it is merely my place to love them. Because of this, the only people I really judge are judgmental people. So, yes, I was more than ready to hold this against Jonah.

“So [Jonah] complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’” (Jonah 4:2-3. NLT)

This is the same man who survived being inside a fish for three days. He’s the same man who prayed and sought God with what he thought to be his dying breath. And God saved Jonah. But now we see Jonah telling God to kill him if He plans to extend that same grace to the Ninevites. Jonah’s opinion of the Ninevites was low. So low, in fact, that Jonah thought them undeserving of God’s love.

But a murderer is just as undeserving of God’s love as a prophet who turns away from God. A person who tortures others is every bit as unworthy of God’s love as a man who would rather die than not see God’s wrath poured out on someone else. Was Jonah more worthy of God’s love and forgiveness that Nineveh? No, but Jonah thought so.

God’s reply to Jonah is what made me drop the proverbial stones I had gathered and was poised to throw at him. “The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’” (Jonah 4:4, NLT)

Jonah goes to the eastern part of the city and makes a shelter to sit under while waiting to see what God would do. God makes a large, leafy plant grow that shields and shades Jonah, and Jonah is happy and thankful for it. God has a worm come overnight and eat the plant to the point that it withers. The next day, with no plant to cover him, Jonah endures harsh wind and sun, and he wishes again to die.

“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’
‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’
Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’” (Jonah 4:9-11, NLT)

The plant that grew wasn’t planted by Jonah or tended to by Jonah. It was a gift of grace from God. Being a plant, it came and went quickly. So if God is giving from His immeasurable heart, and if He’s the one who’s working on or toward something, shouldn’t people who are capable of eternity be of a much greater concern?

Jonah was trying to tell God how to be God. And no one is better at being God than God is. That’s why love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are extended to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are because God loves and cares for everyone equally. What we define ourselves and others by means nothing to God. God only sees people in need of Him, people to love – prophets and Ninevites alike.

By Carrie Prevette

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

Bitter Bullies

As strange as it sounds, I’ve known since I was a youth that I wanted to work with youth. There are several reasons. It keeps me young at heart. It makes me feel like I’m having an impact on not only young people, but also the future of the Church. Mostly, it’s because I really do love and want to help teenagers.

When I was a teenager, I just wanted someone to be there for me. Someone who obviously cared about me and taught me why God was so great. And I got that.

I want to be that for teenagers now. I want to show them that God loves them and so do I, that society is wrong about them and for them, that they’re both the future and the present leaders of the Church and our world. And I want to tell them all of the things I wish someone had told me at their age.

I’ve told the teenagers at Focus at least once (probably more) that the way other people try to pressure you and bully you does not get better as you get older. I certainly wish someone would’ve told me that.

When I entered the workforce after graduating from high school, I expected it to be a more mature and respectful environment, and it was arguably the rudest awakening I’ve ever received. I found myself surrounded by people older than me who had the maturity of middle schoolers. People who tried to throw their weight around or intimidate me. Even now, I’ll encounter someone who will try to bully me or pressure me into doing something they don’t want to do simply because they don’t want to do it and they think it’ll work.

Adult bullies don’t shake you down for your lunch money or trip you while you’re walking by. They mentally beat you down and try to make you feel awful about yourself.

Obviously no one in their right minds would let such people into their lives willingly, so they’ve got to put on a bit of a show at first. They look like nice enough people. They seem like the sort of people you would want in your life. Then they slowly show you who they really are.

I’ve had friends like this before. I had a whole group of them at one point. At a time when everything was new to me and I needed friends, they welcomed me into their group with open arms. They seemed like they were fun, supportive, loving people. And who doesn’t need that in their lives?

Naturally, I hung out with them every chance I got. And everything was fine for about two months, and then I started seeing them for who they really were. They were judgmental, as if the world in general wasn’t already a judgmental place. They didn’t accept me for who I was and made me feel very uncomfortable when we disagreed on the most trivial of things. I felt like I had to keep hanging out with them, and I dreaded it. I hated it. I wanted out, and I took the first chance I got to leave, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Technically, I can’t say for sure that these people wanted to see me hurt because I don’t know their intentions. But I can say that it felt as if they did, and that’s bad enough.

I honestly believe that everyone who enters our lives does so for a reason. God didn’t put them there on accident. Some are positive energies in our lives, and they’re the ones we should keep around. Others are negative, and those are the ones we should learn from and move on.

The negative ones leave a particular sort of bitterness, one that comes from both them and us. On one hand, they shouldn’t have treated us so horribly or made us look so bad. On the other hand, we were the ones who let them in. How could we do such a thing?

Anyone who can beat you up and then leave you beating yourself up is a grade A bully.

This bitterness is hard to get past because in order to do so, we have to forgive ourselves, and in my experience, there’s almost nothing harder to do than that.

We have high-expectations for ourselves. There are certain things we don’t want to think we’re capable of and other things that we should be able to do without fail. When those standards aren’t met, our opinions of ourselves plummet. We let ourselves down, and it’s a hard thing to let go of.

But you know what? I’ve let God down far worse than that, and He’s forgiven me with no problem. Who do I think I am to pass judgment where He didn’t? Are my standards higher than His? Are my ways better than His or my wounds deeper? Certainly not. I sort of need to get over myself a little.

That’s not only hard to hear, but also hard to do. So much of this world perpetuates and feeds bitterness that it’s hard to get rid of it even if we reach the point that we want to. So how do we do it?

Pray. Pray for God to soften your heart, help you see it from the other person’s perspective, and take away your bitterness. Talk to that person. If you don’t have a sense of closure, the bitterness could come back. Ideally, you’d also apologize. This would work best if the person you were apologizing to was aware of your need to do so, so if they aren’t aware, an apology may not be necessary, but it’d be nice all the same. And forgive. There’s no end to bitterness without forgiveness.

Praying, talking, apologizing, forgiving – all of these things have a healing power to them. And it’s a power that works on both ends. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Don’t let your bitterness hold you back any longer. Let God free you from it. Let Him heal you and those around you. Let Him turn your bitterness into happiness.

By Carrie Prevette

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