Persecution and Growth

While the opening chapters of Acts empower and equip the apostles and other believers, the following chapters demonstrate why that was necessary.

The first recognizable theme of chapters 5-8 is suffering. At every turn, it seems, the apostles are told to stop preaching the Gospel, to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. These weren’t idle irritations as they were arrested and stood before councils. They were flogged, which served as a consolation for the elders and authorities who wanted to kill them.

The authorities’ irritation at the apostles was due to how much they disliked Jesus, but their persecution was justified under Roman rule not because of their beliefs but because they didn’t want an uprising from the believers.

Because despite the public pursuit and persecution of the apostles, the Church was growing rapidly.

This is the context in which we are introduced to Stephen. There is an ongoing paradox here of persecution and growth, and Stephen proves to be the highest point of tension within that paradox.

Stephen was wonderful. He was full of grace and power. He was eager to do for God. He had charisma and his face was like an angel’s.

Not everyone was smitten with Stephen, though. Some people plotted against him and said he was speaking blasphemy. Stephen faced a council, and his case was damaged by false witnesses. They asked Stephen what he had to say for himself, and he went into what can be considered both a defense of the faith and a history of it. He ends by calling the council “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” and he said they “received the law as ordained by angels, and yet [they had] not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53, NRSV).

You would think that Stephen would take this time to make himself a more sympathetic, non-threatening character. Instead, Stephen uses this time to insult the people who are already wanting loud-mouth Christ-followers dead. Stephen believed what he said to be true, and we have no proof in scripture that the last minutes of his life were plagued with regret for what he said. The fact remains, though, that this did lead to the end of Stephen’s life because they stoned him.

While Stephen was being stoned to death, an ambitious and devoted man called Saul stood by monitoring the situation as everyone’s coats laid at his feet. Saul approved of them killing Stephen.

Then the floodgates opened.

The first three verses of Acts 8 are chaotic and disheartening. The persecution spread from the apostles to all believers, and people were dragged out of their homes to be thrown in prison.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

The rest of Acts 8 shows the growth and preserverance of the Church despite the danger of proclaiming the faith. Believers preached everywhere they went. Word of mouth was incredible. People came to listen and believe in groups. And believers were eager enough to share that they would go out of their way to witness to even one person, as Philip did when he left thriving Samaria to meet who turned out to be the treasurer of Ethiopia.

The point of all this summarizing and what we learn from this chunk of scripture is that God is always at work. Even in our suffering. Even when the world around us is crumbling and makes no sense. When we’re scattered. When we’re hurting. God is always working for our good.

It doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t make our issues or troubles go away. It doesn’t even increase our understanding. But I refuse to believe that I’m the only one comforted by this.

The God who made you is pulling for you. He loves you. He believes in you. And He’s doing everything He can for you. All we have to do is ask and believe. I know that’s not always easy, but God will never leave us disappointed if we keep our eyes on Him.

The early Church was not perfect. It experienced new ground, new people, and a new era, and they had to learn how to navigate all that. As relentless as the persecution was, had the Church not been focused on God and the message of Jesus, they would have been easily snuffed out. But because they focused on God, they survived and prospered.

If you’re in a difficult season or if you’re spiritually weak or frustrated or confused, I hope you can find the same hope that I find in Acts 8. The Church’s story wasn’t over, and neither is yours.

By Carrie Prevette

The Ghost

I have a habit of not expecting shows to live up to their hype and being proven wrong. Stranger Things was no exception. Everyone who had a Netflix account, it seems, was talking about it. Going into it, all I knew was that I hadn’t heard a single bad thing about it and it looked a lot like The Goonies, so I was interested.

I watched it with my brother over the course of two Sundays. We watched the first half one day and watched the second half one week later. It almost physically pained me to wait that long.

But because some people may not have watched or finished it yet, I won’t go into any details about the show. I just want to say that when Pastor Alan said he had a mini-series planned that would be using the Stranger Things font, I was immediately interested. (I’m also interested in discussing the show if someone else would like to do so.)

The truth of it is that we do treat the Holy Spirit (or the Holy Ghost, whichever you’d prefer to call it) as a stranger thing. It’s something we don’t understand, so we avoid it to the point that it becomes a little taboo in general. And I think a large part of the reason is because we have something to compare the other two parts of the Trinity to. God is an authoritative figure and a figure of power. We can all relate to that in some way, for better or for worse. Jesus is the most human component since He was actually human, and we can relate to Him the most. The Holy Spirit is abstract. We can’t put our finger on it and have nothing tangible and consistent to compare it to. It empowers us and convicts us and pushes us, and since those manifest themselves differently in each our lives, we don’t know what to make of something that does it to all of our lives equally.

The Holy Spirit is evident in both the Old Testament and the New, but for the sake of time, I want to focus on the power of the Holy Spirit because I think it’s the most prevalent quality of the Holy Spirit in our lives and one we don’t often think about.

Acts 2:41-47 (NRSV) reads, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

As we discussed last week, peace and harmony don’t happen all the time even among people who share the same belief systems. So the Holy Spirit’s power here is shown in bringing people together. I have never seen anything that so perfectly demonstrates harmony through selflessness. Not just getting along but being altogether on the same page. We don’t read that some sold their possessions and others thought they were idiots for doing so. We don’t see that one said to another, “Ew. I don’t like him, and I’m eating lunch with someone else from now on.” No, the Spirit was empowering them and enabling to look beyond themselves and strengthen other people in doing so. It empowered them to be more like God. As a result, the number of believers kept growing and growing.

And all this and other miracles being done via the apostles is equally as impressive. Don’t get me wrong; I understand and respect the role of the apostles in the history of the church and as leaders in our faith. But we know these guys. We know how much they struggled learning what Jesus was teaching them and seeking the will of God and acting in faith, and here they are performing actual miracles. It’s not on their own strength or merit; it’s a result of the Holy Spirit.

Inspiring, isn’t it? A bunch of people with no formal education and different backgrounds coming together and doing incredible things.

The crazy thing is, it’s just as available to us. The Holy Spirit can guide and lead us individually and collectively just as easily as it did those fortunate souls in Acts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, NRSV).

The Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift and reveals to us how to use it. It is the giver and the instructor. God wouldn’t leave us hanging. He wouldn’t expect us to figure it out on our own. No, He sends a part of the Trinity, part of Himself, to help us along.

There are many gifts because there are many different kinds of people. If we are all different parts of the body, and we all have different purposes and individual relationships with God, it follows that we would have different gifts. It demonstrates the uniqueness and fairness of God as well as how beautiful and intricate His plans for each of us are.

The Holy Spirit empowers each of us in the same ways through knowing each of us intimately. It gives each of us a gift, the knowledge of how to use it, and the boldness to do so. To be an entity that we avoid, it longs to know us, to aid us in growing and knowing God better. It’s time we start seeing it as such.

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

 

Call in the Guards

Sunday’s great speaker, Dave, is not the first person to be surprised that I know who “Pistol” Pete Maravich was. I’m also fairly certain that he won’t be the last. I do want to say, to Dave’s credit, that he was surprised I know who Pistol Pete was because I’m young, which is completely understandable. What isn’t understandable is when people, unlike Dave, are surprised when I know such tidbits of information about sports because I’m a woman.

Believe me, it happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had something about a game or player mansplained to me like I’m clueless. Then there are conversations that turn to debates and even arguments because a guy won’t hear me out due to the fact that I’m a woman and surely don’t know as much as him about something stereotypically masculine. And if I had a dollar for every time it’s been implied or stated that I only like a player because he’s attractive, I could probably afford lower level tickets to watch the Hornets play instead of my familiar nosebleed seats.

For fear that people will read this and misunderstand me, I want to clarify: most men that I talk sports with, including all the ones I talk sports with on a regular basis, don’t treat me this way. Most men will discuss sports with me like I’m a person who shares a common interest. (Imagine that!) But I’ve had enough men speak down to me when speaking about such things that when yet another one does, it’s met with the all-but-patented Carrie Prevette anger and eye roll.

Yes, I know all about the heart trouble Dave spoke of on Sunday, and my heart’s biggest trouble is anger.

This may surprise people because I don’t come off as a particularly angry person, or at least I don’t think I do. With my friendly disposition and humor, I think I usually strike people somewhere along the lines of “happy” or “sassy.” I don’t say anger is my problem because I’m inherently mad or displeased or anything of the sort. I say it’s my problem because it gets me in trouble and leads to bitterness really easily.

I don’t always handle my anger well. I take things to the extreme at times. I yell. I act in a way that will make me sad or maybe even miserable later just to make someone else feel bad in that moment, which is exactly as stupid and childish as it sounds.

I’ll give you an example. As I write this, my car is at a garage getting fixed by a mechanic, and I haven’t had it for two days now. (The guy fixing my car already had a busy schedule when I dropped it off.) My mom didn’t think it would take as long as it has to get my car back, so she made other plans during my lunch hour today, meaning she couldn’t come pick me up. I was mad because I like leaving for lunch every day. It gets me out of a building I already have to spend eight hours in. My mom offered to move things around so she could get me, and I honestly don’t think she would’ve minded doing so. But because I was mad, I wanted her to feel bad like I did, so I insisted in a voice that didn’t exactly hide my feelings that it was okay (because it technically was) and that I’d just bring my own lunch to work.

Yes. I ate lunch today in the last place I wanted to because I was too petty to let my mom make amends for something that wasn’t even that big of a deal in the first place. Do you see where anger gets me?

Anger also leads to bitterness. If I let my anger sit instead of letting it go or letting it out, that’s what it turns to. My bitterness comes with snarky comments and few to no apologies. I become self-centered and mean and hurtful all because I wanted to spend more time with my anger. As I said, it’s my heart’s biggest issue.

Maybe your heart trouble is different. You could be a slave to lust or old pals with conceit. You might have history with being judgmental or feeling righteous. Whatever your heart trouble is, know that we all suffer from it in one way or another.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) reads, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

Matthew 15:19 (NLT) reads, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

If you read each of those verses individually, they seem very different. The first makes the heart sound precious, and the second makes it sound vile. But if you read and apply them together, like a set, you find something deeper.

Since the Bible’s most infamous couple ate the forbidden fruit, effectively leaving paradise to enter sin, all human hearts are susceptible to sin and destruction. We still choose what to do just as they chose, but their actions reconditioned the human heart and changed the human experience. But as difficult as it may be, the choices are still ours to make.

The point of guarding something is to protect it from both inside and outside forces. Think of a medieval setting. The king’s guards stand at the door to make sure no one can get in and harm the king, but they also escort out anyone who is already inside and who is being harmful. Or think of the guard position in basketball. They’re the first line of defense when the opposing team has the ball. On offense, they’re supposed to be good at ball handling and passing and have a high level of awareness to be able to make plays. They have to orchestrate as much as they can to be sure that the ball gets to the basket without being swatted away or stolen along the way.

We’re naturally protective of our hearts against outside sources. We don’t want it to get broken or stolen. But we’re much less critical of what’s already in our hearts, what naturally grows there. We write those dangers off. We use them to define ourselves (“It’s what gives me my rebellious spirit!”) or our views of the world and people around us (“Yeah, I get that from my mom.”).

So if we take the truth we find in Matthew and pair it with the advice we get in Proverbs, we’re left with a difficult task. It’s easier to stop things from entering our hearts than it is to rip away what’s already there. It leads to change, and even if we’re comfortable with that, do we have what it takes to reach that end?

Probably not on our own.

But aren’t you glad we don’t have to face life and its challenges on our own?

As with all things, God’s eager to help. He can move and remove. He can strengthen and assure. He can provide accountability. He can be what we need to get through our change. All we have to do is ask Him and rely on Him.

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.

Undead

I’ve mentioned this before in a very early blog post, but I love The Walking Dead.

I was reluctant to start watching because I discovered Norman Reedus in The Boondock Saints as Murphy MacManus, and it honestly made me, the hipster that I am, a little upset that everyone knew him and knew him for a role other than Murphy. (And while I’m talking about Norman, I’d like to wish him a belated happy birthday since it was yesterday.)

I entered the world of The Walking Dead about two years ago, right before season four started if I’m not mistaken. I took my brother’s DVDs of the first three seasons back to college with me and finished them all in about two or three weeks. It was my motivation to do homework; if I finished my homework sooner, I could watch more episodes before going to bed. I quickly saw the fascination with the show and with Daryl Dixon. (I do love Daryl and his character development throughout the show, but my hipster heart is still sad over Norman’s fame despite being glad that everyone is finally recognizing his acting abilities. Ah, the fangirl paradox!)

The Walking Dead adds a complexity to the zombie apocalypse that other shows and movies in my experience, limited as it is, do not because there is so much more to it than people versus zombies. Some people are terrible. Zombies can be weaponized or made harmless. Is everyone who is living just prolonging the inevitable of becoming a zombie? Should they be more hopeful than that, believing that they can beat the apocalypse? Being dead isn’t fun, but what’s so great about living when it’s primarily distrust, desolation, and desperation?

Is that what people think when they see us? “What’s so great about being a Christian if that’s what it’s like?”

Galatians 2:20 says that if we’re believers in Christ that the life we live is no longer for ourselves, but it’s Christ living in us and through us. We were dead and brought back to life by Christ. We aren’t the same. We aren’t who we were. We know the difference, but do onlookers know? And if they do see a change, is it a good one? Does it accurately represent Christ?

I’m not saying that you should care what other people think of you. I wholeheartedly believe you shouldn’t. I’m simply asking if our lives show the Jesus we say is inside of us. Does the world see a love, peace, hope, and joy that can’t be found anywhere else? Do we look refreshed or rotten? We know the world should want what we have, but do they?

When someone looks at my life, do they see a revived, redeemed person living in love or do they see a dried up soul going through the motions and calling that living?

I know this week’s post is a lot of questions and not a ton of answers, but I think these questions are vital. Growth requires some reevaluation, and these questions seem like just as good a place to start as any.

Believers are the undead. We’re spiritual zombies so to speak. But instead of looking like corpses, true followers of Christ look livelier than anyone else. As well we should if the only One to ever defeat death is our power source. He came that we would have life more abundantly (John 10:10), and when He shines through us, that becomes very apparent.

By Carrie Prevette

Spiritual Monsters

My biggest fear has always been clowns. I don’t mean the ones that are made to look really creepy, although I don’t like those either. I’m talking about clowns that you book for children’s parties.

It’s usually hard to explain this fear to people who don’t share it, but the truth is that it’s the makeup. The high eyebrows, the crazy hair, the huge and constant smile all create the look of someone who’s insane (and might murder you) and would look happy doing anything (like murdering you).

I now know many people who share this fear, but when I was little, I didn’t know a single real person who was terrified of clowns like me. In addition, people never told me they understood or that I wasn’t crazy. In fact, they often laughed at me or brushed it off like it was silly and no big deal. So for years, I felt irrational and alone.

Some people avoid haunted houses at Halloween because of monsters like ghouls or zombies or axe-murderers. I avoid them because of clowns. (And it’s worth stating that I also avoid some McDonald’s commercials for the very same reason.)

We all have our monsters, and we all have our spiritual monsters.

When I was in AP English, we read Lord of the Flies, and we had to write an essay on a theme from the book once we were done. The paper that our teacher handed out that told all of the themes had over 30 different ones on there. I chose to write on fear of the unknown. I can’t recall how long the essay had to be, but it seemed like an impossible task when it was assigned. But I soon discovered that I had more than enough material to work with to write my essay because fear of the unknown is a big theme in that book.

Likewise, Fear of the Unknown can be a big theme and a big monster in our own lives. If we’re uncertain about many things or even one thing, it can keep us from accepting a calling or reaching out to someone or leaving something or someone detrimental to our relationship with God. It stops us from moving forward.

Another monster is Unequipped. We think we don’t have what it takes to do whatever it takes to move forward. If we need to pray more, we may struggle because we don’t have the time. If we feel like we need to donate, we may not have the money or the means to do so. We feel like we’re not enough or that we don’t have enough.

Moses felt that way; he stuttered. So did Jeremiah because he was very young. Peter denied Jesus three times after he told Jesus he would never dream of doing such a thing. Paul called himself “the chief of sinners,” and he didn’t have to campaign very hard given all of his deeds from his old life.

They thought their issues meant they weren’t right for the job. They thought they didn’t have what it took, but when they finally moved forward despite what they thought, great things happened.

Maybe your monster is Temptation or Waiting or Worry or Apathy or something else altogether.

Maybe your monster seems small to someone else, but to you, it’s big and horrifying and leaves you with nothing but dread. Regardless of what the monster might be, it’s stopping you from going further in your relationship with God.

And our monsters are no match for God.

When we deal with our monsters by ourselves, we’ll always lose, but when we join up with God, we’re unstoppable. And He’s not going to send you to face your monster without wanting to go with you.

Whenever we try to face our monsters by ourselves, we forget our biggest ally. To go further with God, we must do so with Him, and we have to rely on Him to get us past whatever’s standing in our way because what’s a monster to us is nothing to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Our Journeys

There’s something about a trip that really excites me. Whether I’ve been to the destination before or not, whether it’ll only last a few hours or whether I stay for days. I just like going places and seeing things and meeting people or meeting up with people. And I love the ride there. Listening to music in a car and shouting the words or having conversations with someone and seeing all of these people who are on the road with you, who are on their own journeys. Scenic views and snack decisions at gas stations and maybe kicking your shoes off in the car. I find it all very exciting.

Jesus’s entire ministry is one big journey, but in Luke 7:11-17, Jesus and His crew go to a town called Nain, where they happen upon a funeral procession. The funeral is for a young man. Jesus approaches his mother, who’s a widow, and tells her not to weep. Then he tells the dead man to rise, and he does. He starts speaking, and everyone in the crowd is scared. Then they glorify God.

Dramatic and impressive, right?

We have a woman who is looking at the beginning of a lonely road. She’s lost her husband and now her only son. In terms of hope, she’s dead. She probably feels like her world’s ending.

Then we have a guy whose world has literally ended. We don’t know much about this man – not his name, his age, or his cause of death. What we do know is that he must have been loved because there was a crowd traveling with his body to its grave.

It’s fairly safe to say that this journey, this trip to this man’s final resting place, started off badly. But then Jesus steps in, and everything changes.

The guy wakes up like he was only asleep. He starts talking like it’s an everyday thing. (Personally, I would love to know what he said. Did he say he was thirsty? Did he ask where he was? Did he comment on whether or not he saw heaven? I’ll file it under “Things to Ask When I Get to Heaven.”) As much as this man’s journey began badly, it ended happily.

If you ask me, this is classic Jesus. I see this as something that could happen any and every day. Not necessarily someone having breath put back into their lungs and sitting up in their casket, but certainly changing from death to life on their journey.

Alan said on Sunday that it’s about our ending, not our beginning, and he’s absolutely right because we all start at the same place. We all start with a life of sin destined for death. It doesn’t matter what your poison is because we’re all poisoned. And it doesn’t matter how much poison you have in your system because even one drop of it is enough. All of our journeys start off badly.

And if we stay where we are, if we don’t move forward, that’s where it’ll end. If you are in a bad place and never do anything to change it, you’ll stay there.

In the words of Relient K, “We all struggle with forward motion.” It’s easy to get stuck in a certain mindset, a routine, an emotion, or a season of life. But if we don’t make any sort of move to get out of whatever ruts we find ourselves in, our journey will be a circle and we’ll end where we began. Circles don’t move you forward, they only move you around.

Jesus can change your journey in an instant. He can take you from death to life so simply and beautifully that you’ll never be the same.

Maybe your journey has already taken a turn for the best. Maybe it hasn’t. If it hasn’t, I hope and pray that it does. Because journeys are beautiful and fun, and I think you would really like the change of scenery at your new destination.

By Carrie Prevette

Seasons

I’m pretty done with summer. As a person who usually runs hot anyway, the past two or three months have been uncomfortable to say the least. I’m ready for fall, for the entire three or four weeks we’ll have where it actually feels like fall and not winter. Yes, three weeks where it’s not terribly hot or terribly cold. I’m eagerly awaiting the season change.

While I’m waiting for the seasons of weather and nature to change, others are waiting for their seasons of life to change.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV) reads, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

That pretty much covers it, doesn’t it? I can’t think of a single aspect of life that Solomon didn’t cover here.

For me, this scripture is usually a comfort. Whenever I think about the hard times I’m going through, I recall this scripture and think, “It’s okay. It’s just a season.” I think of how seasons flow into one another so seamlessly, and I remember that whatever I find myself in, I will eventually find myself out of it.

But what if we get stuck? What if we find a rut in one of those seasons and we just sort of stay there?

Unlike seasons of weather, the seasons of life don’t have a specific date or point where they switch, and they don’t all last the same amount of time. Your season to kill may only last a month, but your season of love may last a year before changing. So before you write yourself off as being stuck, consider that maybe your season is just lasting longer than you would like.

That being said, I do believe it’s possible to get stuck in a certain season, and that could very well happen to anyone.

We’re always presented with choices and opportunities, and if we’re in a season (more than likely a bad one) and we take our eyes off of God or make choices that drive us away from Him instead of towards Him, we’ve lost any sort of momentum that’ll pull us out of it. God’s hope and love are what guide us from one season to another, and if we lose sight of those, we may just be left where we are until we find them again.

During Alan’s sermon on Sunday, three different Disciple songs came to my mind, and I’m going to share them with you because I think each discusses a key part in changing seasons.

The first song that came to mind was “Thousand Things.” It’s a song about finding God in everything, and the chorus goes:

‘Cause, Lord, if You showed me a thousand things
Brand new about You every day
I still would never see the fullness of Your glory
And, Lord, if You gave me a thousand years
To try and count up all the ways
That You have shown to me that You are just not enough
You are too much.

Believe me when I say that God won’t leave you. He never has, and He never will. So if you feel like He has, it’s your perception that’s changed. I assure you that He’s there. It may not feel like it or look like it, but He is. You’re the most precious thing He’s ever created. He’s not going to leave you when you need Him most.

We’ve discussed the idea of God’s grace being enough a lot here lately, and I don’t believe that’s an accident or a coincidence. I think God’s really trying to teach someone this. God’s grace is pure and abundant and powerful. It shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued. And if we look, we’ll find it everywhere because God is everywhere.

That leads me directly to the second Disciple song, which is titled “Worth the Pain.” I want to point to two different parts of the song here. There are two lines in the chorus that proclaim, “It’s worth the pain / God’s in the rain.” The bridge of the song says:

There’s grace
When you’re at your wits end
Begging for it
He’ll take you by the hand
There’s grace.

This song means a great deal to me because it helped me cope with a really difficult time in my life. I was struggling with school and my father had cancer. And it showed me that even when it’s all dark and troublesome and pouring rain, God’s there. It also reminded me that rain isn’t always a bad thing. It can be refreshing, and it helps things grow.

If you’re struggling, remember that the rain you’re experiencing now is growing you to not only outlast the problems you face now, but it’s also preparing you for conquering other things you’ll eventually face. And even though it’s not fun, there’s a purpose, and God is there. He’s right there in it with you.

The last song that came to mind was “Lay My Burdens,” and it is about exactly what you would think it’s about. It’s about someone who is tired and tired of carrying his/her burdens. Exhausted, this person turns to God to lay down the burdens, to rest, and to be revived.

Sometimes a season in life just wipes us out, and sometimes it starts to weigh us down. It doesn’t make sense that we insist on carrying around things that harm us, but we do. We let it drag us down and pull us around in pointless circles.

What if we stopped letting it control us and let God take control? Instead of carrying that baggage and trouble into the next season of life, lay it down at God’s feet. And while you’re there, pick up some of His love, peace, and joy. It’s all plentiful, but I’m sure you’ll find that it’s all very lightweight.

I trust that you’re ready for the next season for your life, and I hope you’ll take the lessons you learned in this season with you. Remember that God won’t leave you, that His grace will always be readily available, and that God wants to take your burdens from you to fill your life with only the best things. Yes, there is a season for everything, but you’ll never have to go through a single season alone.

By Carrie Prevette

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