The Tenth Commandment

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT).

This is the tenth and final commandment, and it’s difficult to keep. The old adage goes, “The heart wants what the heart wants,” and I think the spirit of that is true. The issue is really a matter of who rules the heart.

Let’s take the issue of a man desiring his neighbor’s wife. We’ll call this guy George. His neighbor will be Connor, and Mrs. Neighbor will be referred to as Marla.

George is at a point where he’s ready to settle down. He wants to find a woman he truly loves and marry her, maybe have a couple of kids with her. George has been dating, but he hasn’t found the woman he can see himself developing laugh lines with and sitting in rocking chairs with in their sunset years.

Truth be told, he really wants to be married to Marla. She’s friendly, always says hello to him when she sees him and laughs at his corny jokes. She’s easygoing. She’s quirky; she likes sci-fi movies and has a cactus garden. She likes to bake, especially pies. She baked a lemon pie for George when his dog died. If George was married to Marla, he thinks, he’d shower her with attention and kisses and wouldn’t care who noticed.

And Connor? George doesn’t feel very strongly about him. He seems like a recovering snob, like he’s trying not to be the jerk he probably was as a younger man. He doesn’t drink often, but when he does, he drinks red wine, which he told George the only time he’d ever seen Connor drink, at a Christmas party a few years ago. And he’s never really seen Connor be overly affectionate towards Marla except for a kiss or two on the cheek and an arm wrapped around her every now and then.

What George doesn’t know is that Marla is uncomfortable with PDA, so Connor isn’t overly affectionate because she doesn’t like it. Marla may bake, but Connor cooks. He makes her favorite meal when she has a rough day at work. He was a little bit of a jerk growing up, but it’s because he was socially awkward and, for many years, didn’t have close friends. Marla helps him with that. And Marla may be polite to George and think his jokes are funny, but she doesn’t really like him because she thinks he’s conceited due to the fact that whenever they do chat, he only talks about himself.

George is idolizing marriage, especially marriage with Marla. George wants what Connor has with her, but George isn’t Connor. His relationship with Marla wouldn’t be the same. God brought Connor and Marla together because they love each other and work well together. The same could not be said for her and George.

Or let’s say George and Connor are neighbors and both are single, but George has a really nice car as a result of his really nice job. Connor sees the level of respect and adoration people look at George with, and he’s jealous. He wants that sort of approval from others. Then Connor is only serving himself, and his heart belongs to the god of appearances.

Or maybe one wants the other’s house or style or cheerful disposition or functioning relationship with his parents. We all want many things others have that we don’t.

We want because we aren’t content with what God has given us.

God gives to each of us as He sees fit. We’re different people with different relationships with God and different problems. God provides for all of His children, but because of our personalities and vices, that provision doesn’t look the same to everyone.

We shouldn’t covet what God has given our neighbor because God’s gifts for each person are tailored to each individual, and God wants that person to have what is best for that person, not what’s best for his or her neighbor. Making peace with that comes from knowing God, trusting God, and being thankful for what God has provided for you. Just as God has given to your neighbor, He has given to you your own unique gifts of provision. That is not only worth contentment, it’s worth celebrating.

By Carrie Prevette

The Second Commandment

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you know I address idolatry quite a bit. If you’re new, you don’t have to take my word for it; you can look through the Idolatry tag and see for yourself. I’ll try to be succinct here not because the material is unimportant but because I don’t really want to repeat myself to the point that you, dear reader, are bored with me.

So let’s talk about idols. Not tall statues cast in metal that are believed to be inhabited by a god. Not something we sacrifice for and offer to because we consciously think it’ll serve us better than God does. No, let’s talk about modern idolatry.

I’ll go first, in honesty and full disclosure. I spent almost two hours watching the NBA Awards on Monday night and have looked up prices on Finals gear and for jerseys and shirts of two different NBA players earlier this week. I have spent no time reading my Bible. When I was bored Tuesday night, I thought about watching an episode of The Joy of Painting or starting a painting of my own, but it never occurred to me to spend time in prayer. And just the other day, I was lamenting that there isn’t a Bruno Mars greatest hits album I can buy instead of having to hunt down all of the individual songs I like, yet I don’t listen to worship music outside of church when I’m picking the tunes.

I know it’s not exactly the same as physically bowing down before something, but I am mentally because they’re people and things that occupy my mind to the point that God is crammed in the back and wedged in a corner somewhere. I’m not sacrificing food or drink, but I’m sacrificing my time and money, both of which are limited for me. I’d never claim any of these idols to be what I worship, but my actions prove it even if my mouth won’t speak it.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generation of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands” (Exodus 20:4-6, NLT).

God tells us not to make idols because that’s exactly what we do. The commandments were spoken at a time when people made statues that were then turned into idols through rituals. The statues themselves weren’t bad, but people made them into a spiritual problem. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with liking a certain sports team or band or with loving your spouse or with earning a lot of money. There is a problem with loving these things and people more than we love God, with focusing on them and pursuing them to the point that we worship them and reject God.

I think we romanticize jealousy. And I get it. If someone is jealous, they have to at least care, if not love. There are many other ways to demonstrate that care or that love, but jealousy is a definite way to get the message across. We all want to be cared for and to be loved, so many times we interpret jealousy as a positive thing. We forget about the anger or hurt that fuels it. We don’t think of how the one who’s jealous feels neglected. We don’t consider the consequences that come with jealousy.

When God says He’s jealous, He means the good and the bad aspects of it. We sing about Him being jealous for us with smiles on our faces, but there are no odes to the consequences of God’s jealousy. It’s very intense and almost scary, and it definitely makes me feel even more justified in not wanting to have kids lest they have to feel the weight of my sins.

This is a perfect picture of God: so filled with love for us (us!) that He’s jealous when He’s not on the receiving end of our affection. He asks us not to make idols because it hurts Him when we do. But we aren’t always aware of what we’re doing, and perhaps that’s the first step in the remedy – mindful worship, being aware we’re worshipping God and putting him first. Our hearts were made to love on thing the most, and if that’s God, everything else with fall into its rightful place.

By Carrie Prevette

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

Distractions and Idols

One of my favorite professors once told my class on the first day that he didn’t want us to have our phones out in class because distractions make people stupid.

Five years later, I still agree with him.

Dr. Hoyt’s whole point was that we weren’t stupid, but that all the texts, links, and apps that our phones offered us could steal our attention and make us stupid as a result. Which is true because the act of me paying attention to my phone instead of the instructor of a class I’m paying for is stupid as well as remaining ignorant on information I know I’ll be tested on.

I believe spiritual distractions make us spiritually stupid.

This week’s bumper sticker – “Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.” – alludes to idolatry, specifically money. It’s by far and away the weirdest form of materialism I’ve ever heard. It speaks of pride in an eternal possession which somehow cheapens it. I think it’s funny when used sarcastically, but without any context, it sounds a little bratty.

Suddenly, what we have in heaven is compared to what we have here. Heaven feels like it comes with a price tag or like it’s been sealed tightly under dirt waiting for someone to come along with a shovel and some patience. It feels less like a celebration of God and His loving grace. It becomes more like a trend or collector’s item than a paradise for our weary souls.

The bumper sticker takes a gift from God and turns it into the focus of our attention. It distracts us. Jesus said in John 10:10 that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and I do believe he does all of those things to our focus as well as to us.

At the bottom of my tithe checks, on the memo line, I always write my favorite scripture about money, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, which reads, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (NLT).

The NRSV states that last part as “so that they make take hold of the life that really is life.”

All of this goes hand-in-hand with the rest of John 10:10, where Jesus says that He came to give us life more abundantly.

Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 6 about making money an idol, how it can distract us from doing good or looking to God first. And he speaks of how a life of looking to God does store up eternal treasure, but he says that this is done when we turn our attention away from the blessing or the distraction of money and turn it towards God.

The bumper sticker is a Catch 22. It speaks of treasure stored in eternity, but in making that the focus, it becomes the idol.

The truth is, it’s easy to talk about money this way. As long as currency has existed, it’s easily been made an idol. Power, greed, etc. But the issues of spiritual distraction and idolatry can apply to pretty much anything. Success can be a distraction if it’s causing you to neglect your relationship with God, if it’s all you want or think about, if a fear of failure drives you. Marriage can become an idol if you’re too focused on your spouse or fighting and bickering without seeking God’s help. It can also be an idol if you’re pursuing marriage more than you’re pursuing God. Even striving for happiness can distract us if what we’re doing doesn’t align with what God wants us to do. Anything, regardless of how seemingly innocent or helpful, can be an idol or distraction if we allow it to come between us and God.

Enjoy the blessings and gifts of God. More than that, spend them on others. If you have a lot of money, enjoy it, but give to others. If you’re successful, celebrate, but help others succeed. If you have an abundance of joy, don’t hide it, but try to bring others joy as well. God gives to us abundantly so that we may give to others from the overflow, and we can only have that abundance if we keep our focus on God.

By Carrie Prevette

Come, Follow

The most difficult thing about life after earning my degree in English with one minor being in Literature has been reading.

Well, the difficulty is really in dealing with the first couple of days after I finish a book I enjoy. I realize now that a lot of what I loved about my classes as an English student were the discussions, whether they were about books already in existence or stories that were being written. And at the time, everyone in the class was reading the same material, so we were all literally (or at least we were supposed to be) on the same page. And we would talk about themes and what scenes we thought were important or what our feelings or thoughts about certain parts were. It was very nice to have an outlet like that for all of the emotions I felt when I finished reading a book or story or poem. And now that I’m not surrounded by people who read the same books as me, that outlet is gone, and I miss book discussions more than any normal person could understand.

I remember when I was a senior in high school, my AP English teacher, Mrs. Taylor, told the class that if we could find proof in the text of whatever we were reading, we could argue that point. And that was when I first began to love book discussions.

What makes the story of the rich, young ruler in Mark 10 so fascinating is that we don’t have a lot to go on in terms of how he actually was, so we have to go by his actions, which can be interpreted differently. I’ve read this story before and totally disliked this guy. I’ve also read this story before and felt sympathetic towards him. I want to do something a little crazy here and look at this scripture while assuming the best of him. This is in part because I think it’s too easy to see him as a bad guy when evidence may suggest he’s not all bad and because it almost makes the end result a little sadder.

Mark 10:17-18 (NLT) reads, “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good.’”
Each of the four Gospels has a different theme, or rather, they each provide a different lens through which to see Jesus. In Mark, which is also the oldest of the Gospels, Jesus is a mysterious figure who doesn’t broadcast his status as the Son of God.

One could argue that the young man had heard of Jesus and how He did all these crazy, miraculous things and thought, “Hey, I’ll it a shot. He seems like he knows some stuff,” and Jesus called him out on it. But the fact that the guy knelt after he ran to Jesus shows that he needs answers and that he’s serious. Since crowds seem to have been common back in those days and Jesus wasn’t exactly shouting, “I’m the Messiah!” through a megaphone, there’s a possibility that the man could’ve discerned who Jesus was or at least believed whatever he had heard about Him.

Mark continues to write and Jesus continues to speak in verse 19, “’But to answer your question, you know the commandments: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve obeyed all of these commandments since I was young.’”

This is where we start to dislike the guy, right? We call him arrogant or a liar. We think he’s too proud. Maybe he’s all or none of these things, but since I’m assuming the best of this guy right now, let’s say he was being honest. Maybe a little hurried or even rude to move the conversation along by declaring such a thing, but still.

Of course, that’s not the real point here. It’s what we get caught up on, but what this implies combined with how he feels is what’s really important. There’s nothing in the scripture that specifically says that the young man felt validated by Jesus telling him to follow the commandments. He doesn’t start to walk off, shouting over his shoulder a thanks to Jesus for proving him right or anything. If the ruler had thought that his mission was complete, he would’ve been happy and left. I would say that him sticking around was because he knew there was more to it. From a religious standpoint, the Mosaic Law was king in Jerusalem at this point in time. It was taught, preached, and attempted to be followed. So by searching Jesus for eternal life even after claiming he followed the commandments, the young ruler was saying that there was more to salvation than a religious checklist or rule book.

Verses 21-22 read, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

It all dwindles down to this one point. Regardless of how moral, desperate, or proud this guy may or may not have been, whether he was awful like we often think or a pretty decent person like we’ve tried to see him as throughout this post, this moment is important and final. Jesus tells him to sell his stuff, donate the money to the poor, and follow him.

And this man, who not one minute earlier was in hot pursuit of eternal life, walks away from it.

It’s not about the man’s ability to follow commandments or how much stuff he has to sell. If so, Jesus would require these things of all His followers, and problem children like myself would never get the chance to enter heaven. It was about the young ruler’s heart and how committed he was.

The young ruler was more committed to his possessions and money than he was to God and eternal life. And he was honest about it. He didn’t hide behind a smile or say, ”You got it, Jesus,” and then never follow through with it. He left Jesus knowing that this commitment would never happen.

We’re always quick to judge the rich, young ruler, to chuckle or scoff at him as he walks off with his head hung low, but this scripture acts like a mirror for me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve ran to God in desperation only to not commit to Him in the end. He’ll tell me to pray more or be more kind to others or to invest more time and energy into my relationship with Him, and I might do it for a few days, but then I’ll stop. I’m more committed to sleeping or my bitterness or some other small thing that simply does not compare to God.

And Jesus looks at me, at all of us, with the same genuine love He looked at that rich, young ruler with.

Unlike the young ruler, I don’t want to just give up on God. I know that all the actual work for my salvation was done by the Godhead, but maintaining a relationship with God falls fully on me. It’s a matter of how committed I am because God is faithful even when I’m not, and He is good and loving to me even when I’m not to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

The Root

“Money makes the world go ‘round.” Figuratively speaking, that seems true.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” True.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness.” Not on its own, but it has the potential to in an indirect way.
“More money, more problems.” Probably true, although it doesn’t seem like it.
“Money is the root of all evil.” Inaccurate.

The inaccuracy in saying that money in and of itself is the root of all evil offers some comfort to us. This comfort derives from a couple of different places. For people who don’t have a lot of money, it makes us feel better about not having much of it. For more optimistic people, it makes us have a little more faith in humanity, as if money is the problem and not the people who have it.

However, it’s people who are actually the problem. Let’s look at another sort of currency system – trade. Before people gave money for goods and services or when money is rare and low, people will swap their goods for someone else’s goods. History has proven that people can’t even handle that. Peace treaties all over the world are made and broken because someone gets greedy and doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain. So relationships, be it between individuals or countries, are torn apart.

There’s a short story by the fantastic Ron Rash called “Back of Beyond.” It’s about a region and a specific family during an economic depression. The main character owns a pawn shop, and his business is really one of the very few that are prospering because people are going so far as to steal other people’s things to get cash so they can either buy meth or buy the ingredients to make meth themselves. No one really has much money, so it’s not about keeping up with the neighbors or using money as an idol on its own. These acts are driven by addiction, selfishness, and greed.

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10, NLT)

We don’t even extend this verse the courtesy of finishing it before we twist it around.

The issue with money, like so many other problems that pop up in our lives, is our hearts. Money is a necessity, but we develop such a liking towards having it or using it that money takes the throne in our lives. It becomes the end to which all of our means strive for. It changes our moods, motivates us, and validates us (or so we think). If we let money affect us to the point that we legitimately love it, we’re bowing to the Almighty Dollar.

The love of money is a form of idolatry. Since God is supposed to be foremost in our hearts and lives, it follows that trouble comes when we give that coveted, prestigious position to another god. Thus “money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Many terrible habits or events can come from loving money. Not from earning money. Not from needing money. Evil comes from enjoying money more than enjoying God.

Paul explains quite beautifully that this love of money, this “craving,” is what has made many people stray from their faith in God. Because their faith then rested in money. It’s what they worked for and hoped for above all else.

Which is also the general context around this scripture. Paul is writing to Timothy, the incredibly young pastor of the church in Ephesus, to tell him not to listen to anyone and everyone coming to him with different doctrines that contradict the doctrine that Timothy is preaching and knows to be true. Paul identifies these people as corrupt troublemakers who will put on an act of godliness as a way to gain riches. It is this desire to be wealthy that leads people to do such things. (To read Paul’s words, go to 1 Timothy 6:3-10.)

And they’ve “pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

This isn’t typically how we view people who pursue or flaunt wealth, is it? Yeah, they may have different problems than the rest of us. They may have some issues that can’t be fixed by the amount of money they have, but isn’t that true of all of us? “Sorrows”? How do they have so “many sorrows”?

Simply put, they don’t understand what they’re missing.

Wonderfully put, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NLT)

The NRSV translation states that last bit as “so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

True life? That’s the life found when our love for God is greater than our love for anything else.

People who make money their god miss out on God’s provision, protection, and peace. Money can disappear, be spent, be stolen, but God can’t. And through Him, we leave a legacy around us that is much stronger and impacting than those who live and die for money. To serve God is to give all that you can – time, energy, money – to those who need it. To serve money is to give all you have for a substance that just won’t last. But God is steadfast, and His love is too. When all else fades, God remains.

By Carrie Prevette

James: The Rich and the Ailing

Only five chapters long, yet every time I read James, I latch onto something new.

I’ve never really thought of James as a book about love, but as Alan finished the series about James on Sunday, I felt very loved by God. So for the final blog post in this series, I hope I can pass that along.

In the first six verses of chapter five, James speaks pretty harshly towards rich people. He speaks of hard times to come, of their nice clothes being rags and their money having no value. He says their treasures are evidence against them, tells them to listen to the workers they’ve mistreated and cheated, and even says they’ve killed innocent people.

Pretty bad, right? Not really scripture that makes you want to become a CEO or have nice things. However, I don’t believe that’s James goal or purpose here. In fact, I don’t think James has any real issue with money itself.

Something else that struck me about James in this series is how often his thoughts or language mirrors those of Jesus. Call it being brothers or him being a devout follower or them being on the same spiritual page. Whatever reasoning you choose, it makes for deeper, cohesive reading.

This particular section of James reminds me of Jesus and the rich man in Luke 18:18-24. Jesus says in verse 24 (NLT) that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” I highly doubt there’s a sign on the pearly gates that reads, “No rich people allowed,” so what is Jesus getting at? What is James getting at?

Jesus and James are identifying money as an idol. They aren’t saying making so much money a year or owning a certain kind of car or having particular hobbies excludes you from heaven and qualifies you for a specific set of spiritual hardships. They are saying that someone who has a lot of money is prone to depending on it and loving it more than God. We all have our vices and idols; money happens to be a popular one.

Idols keep us from God and His blessings because God wants all of us, not whatever leftover energy and heart we want to give Him. With God, it’s all or nothing, and James is warning us.

James goes on to write in 5:13-16 (NLT), “Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”

We could all use a little healing, couldn’t we? Not much may be clear about this world, but that much is.

James talks about a physical healing, but I believe what he says is just as applicable to other forms of healing as well.

Several years ago, I went through a difficult time emotionally and spiritually. I was repeatedly hurt by a group of people, and it left me sort of confused and frustrated in my walk with God. He and I had a lot of stuff to sort through in the wake of it, which was hard but therapeutic. But what was most therapeutic was talking it over (and over and over again) with my best friends who were believers and going through the very same thing as me. I couldn’t have asked to be surrounded by more supportive people, and the way we talked and vented and loved each other helped us heal together, and I firmly believe that God could’ve done that Himself but chose to use them.

There’s an Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

William P. Young said, “I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.”

God wants to use us to heal people, to show love and compassion instead of judgment and disdain. He wants us to pray for each other, to confide in and confess to people we trust to aid in our healing and not our hurting.

James doesn’t write this because it sounds nice and church-y. He writes it because it’s practical.

And as much as I believe in people healing people, I know our relationships can become idols if our first and foremost relationship isn’t with God. Without Him, we’re lucky if we ever heal. With Him, our pain has purpose and our healing is inevitable. Just as He is love, mercy, and kindness, He is also healing. Without Him, it’s all imitation.

By Carrie Prevette

Silly Little Gods

Hello. My name is Carrie, and I have an obsessive personality. It is possible for me to merely like things, but I usually love things. If I listen to one song by a band and really, really like it, I look up their discography and the band members’ information shortly after. If I really like an actor, I look them up on IMDB. If an episode of a television show I like is on, I’ll watch it even though I’ve seen it countless times (which is why I can quote Friends, Family Guy, and SpongeBob so easily). I read three books by Colum McCann in less than one year from discovering him and fully intend to read more by him. He’s only one example of a few authors I adore.

As you can imagine, it’s quite profitable for me to love something or someone. I don’t really want to think about how much money certain people have because of me.

It’s always been fairly evident to me that this is just how I operate, and it took me a while, but I finally made my peace with it. The fact that I obsess over things used to make me feel isolated, but then I realized that there a lot of people who obsess over things, although maybe not as much as me or maybe even more. Yeah, I’ll watch any movie with Tom Hardy in it or preorder an album by The 1975 in a heartbeat, but there are people who chain smoke and other people who legitimately cannot put down their cell phones to interact with people in front of them.

We all have things we obsess over. We all have things we worship that simply aren’t worth it.

And we know they’re not worth it because when we see other people worshipping their gods, we think about how crazy they are.

“I don’t understand why he’s so into that football team. They’re not even that good,” said the guy who can’t get off of Facebook.

“Alcoholics are so sad and pathetic,” said the woman wearing her favorite, expensive makeup.

“I would hate to see her credit card bill. She’s always shopping,” said the man who’s planning on skipping lunch and working overtime today.

But our gods never look silly to us. In fact, they often don’t even look like gods. We just think they’re these cool gifts from God, which is true, but we don’t realize that we’ve made them so much more than that.

It’s evident to me that, as a whole, people are looking for God. They might not know that’s who or what they’re looking for, but they are. We’re all looking for something to fill and fulfill us. We’re looking for something to give this life meaning, to make us want to keep on living.

A lot of people recognize that God is the One who will be all of that for us. Good for us, right? I’m sure if you’re quiet enough you can hear the applause we’re getting for being so correct.

But wait. Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Yeah, we believe that God is the answer, but we don’t usually take Him as He is for all that He is.

What I mean is that there are parts of God that maybe seem a little less than awesome to us. There are pieces of God that we pick out and put away because we don’t really like them. Maybe it’s the fact that He’s so powerful. Or how He tells us that we can serve Him and only Him. Or how He tells us to love absolutely everyone. Maybe it’s that He tells us to leave the judging to Him instead of doing it ourselves. Then again, it could be something entirely different.

Regardless of what quality or qualities it is, what happens is we ignore those parts of who God is and we act like they don’t exist.

We think we’re just living blissfully and serving an awesome God when really what we’re doing is watering God down and worshipping an inaccurate representation of God.

We have this image of who we want God to be and we try to make Him just that, but that’s not how it works. He’s not a doll for us to dress up or down however we want. He isn’t a painting where we can make Him look however we want. He is the Creator of everything, and He’s not going to change no matter how much we want Him to.

It’s very unfair for us to only accept parts of God, especially since He loves us exactly as we are.

Think about it. There are parts of you that don’t fit God’s standards, but that doesn’t stop Him from loving you as you are. The difference is, we can change, and if we give God the chance, He’ll change us.

God is perfect. There may be moments when we feel hurt by Him or even ignored by Him that cause us to not see it that way, but He is perfect. He doesn’t change because He doesn’t need to. If we are having problems seeing it that way, the issue is on our end, not His.

God is so much more than we can imagine and understand. That’s just how it is. He is an infinite God, and we have finite minds. God is so intimidating, which makes some of us uncomfortable. We want a God who is personable, who we can really talk to, who really gets us. I would argue that is one reason why Jesus, who is God, came to Earth. He came not only to save us, but to get even closer to us. God walked among us in human form. Trust me, He understands us.

We also want a God who won’t punish us, but the catch is that if God didn’t punish us, He wouldn’t truly love us. We want the love and affection without the pain and consequences, but that can’t happen. True love will always leave you better off for it. A lot of times, that means being held accountable and facing up to what you’ve done. God’s love is no different. Yes, He’ll forgive you, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. When we need forgiveness, regardless of what it’s for, we’ve hurt someone. If we’ve hurt no one else, we’ve hurt God. And that certainly deserves some form of punishment.

When we learn to see God as He really is, we get the full effect of who He is and having a relationship with Him. Omnipotent and loving. Powerful and gentle. A God of war and a God of peace. A God who gets angry and jealous and a God who holds us in such high regard that He came to die for us. A God who is sometimes quiet when you want Him to be loud and a God who would never dream of leaving you.

By Carrie Prevette

Idol Blog Series: Part 3

The only bone I’ve ever broken has a pretty gruesome story behind it.

My family heats our home via woodstove, and we’ve done so for years. Until he passed away, my dad was the one who would acquire the wood for it, whether he went out and chopped it himself (which was usually the case) or if a friend helped him out. My brother and I usually helped him cut it, move it, and stack it. One winter, when I was 15, my brother and I were splitting and stacking wood in front of the basement door while my dad was tossing it down the hill to us. I was a little nervous that he was going to accidently hit me, so I turned around to glance at him really quickly. Being the idiot that I was and still am, I did it in the middle of swinging a mallet to hit a wedge into a piece of wood. I don’t remember if I hit the wedge at all, but I certainly remember hitting my thumb.

I jumped and howled in pain. I thought I’d just smashed it. My dad asked if I was okay. I began to say, “No,” when I looked down at my thumb and saw it was bleeding profusely. I did as my dad told me and ran inside to my mom. She cleaned it off, but we noticed that it wouldn’t stop bleeding. After keeping it in cold water for a while, we realized not only that it wasn’t going to stop bleeding, but also that the bottom of my thumbnail had popped out from under the skin. So we went to the emergency room.

As it turned out, I broke the tip of my thumb, so there was nothing they could do to really fix it. I had to wear a splint for two or three weeks. In regards to my thumbnail, it was going to fall out.

But first, it had to be pushed back in.

I wish I could sit here and tell you it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, that I took it like a champ, but it was so painful. I grimaced and groaned while it was happening. When the doctor was done and my thumb was still sore from the whole experience, I sobbed.

The point of me telling you that lovely story is to make the point that sometimes we must endure a terrible amount of pain to really be healed.

The same is true with our idols. In order to serve God and God alone, to be healed of our heart’s habit of serving other gods, we’re going to have to endure some really painful experiences.

The Israelites learned that really fast. Their first test after following God and following Moses out of Egypt was a pretty big one. They had just been chased by Pharaoh’s men, horses, and chariots across the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s men and property were floating in the sea and the Israelites’ pulses were dropping back down to normal as they headed out to Shur. There they spent three days walking around in the wild and not finding a single drop of water. Then they came to Marah, and they finally saw water.

I imagine the Israelites were not only relieved, but happy. They ran for their lives between two walls of sea only to realize that was the last time they’d even see water in a few days. And here, finally, is some water.

To quote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Water, water everywhere / Nor any drop to drink.”

Before the children of Israel could get their cups out to fill them up and gulp down the water, they discovered that the water was bitter. As rough as life already was, it would’ve been even worse to drink the water.

Talk about a test and perhaps even a moment of panic. If there was ever temptation for the Israelites to turn to their idols, whom they felt had provided for them before, it would’ve been then.

I can hear them now. “We narrowly missed drowning and now we’re perishing. What kind of provision is this?”

“Why did He bring us out only to let us die in the wilderness? Hardly seems fair. What’d we do to deserve this?”

“My old gods would’ve had sorted all this out already.”

The first scare in our attempt to serve God is arguably the worst. God told us He’d take care of us, but in that moment we wonder where He’s at or if He’s capable of coming through. Then we recall our idols. They came through for us. Always there when we needed them, always satisfying us.

But in reality, idols give us just enough to make us think all of that. They never give us real fulfillment, just appeasement and comfort masquerading as fulfillment. It’s enough to make us look nowhere else, but not enough to keep us from longing for something more and something better.

The gods we serve aren’t enough to kill our longing from wanting to find and serve the One True God.

The Israelites complained to Moses; Moses talked to God. God showed Moses a piece of wood, and when Moses threw it into the water, it changed. It became sweet.

Their problem was solved by talking to God.

All they had to do was practice turning to God in their moment of need. Is it really that difficult? Harder for some than others, I’d say, once you get started. To start believing in God above everything else – everything that’s worked before, everything that’s stuck by you – is most difficult.

After sweetening the water, God established an ordinance and issued the children of Israel a challenge. “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statues, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NRSV).

God’s basically saying, to them and to us, “If you’ll let me be your one and only God, I’ll heal and take care of you.”

God always seems to have a way of reassuring us when life’s less than perfect. If leaving our idols were easy, they wouldn’t be our idols. So God will be there – through every step, bump, and fall – to help us keep our hearts set on Him and pursue Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Idols Blog Series: Part 2

I have one of my favorite professors from college to thank for turning me into a Rolling Stones fan. I took “Philosophy of the Mind” with Dr. Hoyt my sophomore year to fulfill a requirement for one of my minors, and it was a great decision because it was one of the best classes I took at Western. At the end of class one day, Dr. Hoyt told us there was a song by the Rolling Stones that discussed 1950s housewives taking valium, called “Mother’s Little Helper.” If you know me well, it won’t surprise you at all that I was very interested. So right after class, I went back to my room and looked up the song, and of course, I loved it. After a while, I listened to more of their songs, and now I actually love the Rolling Stones. (The fact that young Mick Jagger was very attractive doesn’t hurt either.)

Our wonderful pastor mentioned the song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” two or three times on Sunday. (Any sermon that references a Stone’s song will be a favorite of mine.) The point he was making was when we look for something or someone other than God to fulfill us, we won’t find satisfaction.

As I mentioned in the last Idols blog post, the things we turn into idols weren’t made to be worshipped. We build them up to idol status, but their faulty and imperfect nature remains the same despite how much faith we put into them. We see them as being better than they are, so when they fail us, we’re heartbroken.

But it’s not exactly easy to de-idolize something.

Tony Nolan, one of my all-time favorite preachers and people, said something similar in a sermon. I was at Winter Extreme in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with my college group from church when I heard the sermon. He was talking about what we hold onto instead of letting go and holding onto God. He gave the example of exchanging a penny for a much bigger bill (I think it was a $20 bill, but I’m not entirely sure). He said that’s what it’s like when we exchange whatever we’re holding onto, whatever we love the most, for God. He said, “I know what you’re thinking. ‘But Tony, this is worth a lot more to me than just a penny.’”

Maybe it’s just me, but when I talk about my idols to people who don’t have the same idols I do, I start to feel really stupid. If I’m being honest, my biggest idols are usually bands. Only a few of my friends like the same bands as I do, but I don’t think any of my friends like them as much as I do. So if I’m talking to someone about this band, they usually just let me ramble and say something like, “Okay. That’s nice.” They don’t light up and bubble over with excitement like I do. They don’t really engage in conversation with me, so it’s more like me giving a monologue about this band to someone who doesn’t really care. So I’m left there thinking, “Wow. I look and sound so stupid right now.”

Other people may see my idols as a penny, but to me they’re worth millions.

Why is that? Ultimately, I serve idols that make me happy. Different idols produce different kinds of happiness, but it’s the result of all of them. Being successful produces a deeper happiness for me than the feeling I get when I go shopping, but both make me feel good. My happiness means a lot to me (as it should), and I keep the people and things that make me happy close to me. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. But idols are a result of keeping something that makes you happy too close to your heart.

God has so much more to offer us than mere happiness. He gives us joy that never fades, unconditional love, more mercy than we can ever know, a purpose for living, and so much more. To trade what I know makes me happy and comfortable for the unknown and unfathomable plans and ways of God feels like a gamble, but I know it’s not.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with loving people and things that make you happy or that have always been there for you. God’s given them to us for a reason. They’re a gift of His love. They are meant to point us back to Him, but sometimes we spend too much time looking at the gift instead of Who is giving it.

How are we supposed to dethrone an idol? There’s no need to eradicate whatever it is from your life completely (unless you feel that God’s telling you to do so). You just need to make it less of a priority in your life.

The next time you need a pick me up or help or an escape, instead of turning directly to an idol, turn to God first. Spend a moment in prayer or reading a passage from the Bible. It doesn’t have to be anything long, and it could even be something you’re already familiar with. Talk to God about it, and give Him the chance to talk to you and provide for you. How is He supposed to bless you if you never even give Him the chance?

So easy, right?

Not always. We’ve become so used to our idols, so comfortable with them, that they’re now our first reaction. We must make a conscious decision to start putting God first.

Jesus told us that’s what we’d have to do. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NRSV).

As the Rolling Stones said in another song, “You can’t always get what you want.” We may think we’ve found just as much fulfillment in whatever it is we’re worshipping as we have in God, but we’re wrong. If the god we think is perfect for us and the God that actually is aren’t the same, we have a decision to make. God has a jealous nature. He said not to put any gods before Him and not to make anything into a god to put before Him (Exodus 20:3-5). We can’t serve two gods; we have to pick one. Do we serve this idol that gives us a shallow version of what we think we want or do we serve God, who gives us what we really want and need?

Sometimes following the will of God means giving up what we love. People have been giving up the most important things in their lives to pursue God and His dreams for them since the events we read about in the Bible were considered current affairs.

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Carrie, I appreciate the concern and all, but I just can’t give this up. You say your idols are worth millions, but my idol is priceless. I can’t live without it. It’s my whole world. It’s more than that; it’s my whole life.”

Go back and read Luke 9:24 again. Jesus says if we’ll lay down our lives for Him, we’ll be saved. He knows it’s no easy task, giving up our loves and obsessions. Scour the Bible from beginning to end, and you’ll never once find where anyone said that serving God was a piece of cake. However, you’ll find countless places where it proves that it’s worth it.

By Carrie Prevette

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