Redemption and Reward

My dad taught me how to play Crazy Eights when I was a kid (think early double digits, not child prodigy). I learned later that the version I know, which my dad learned when he was out in California, is vastly different than the version North Carolinians know and play.

Anyway, I’m actually pretty good at it. I could even beat my dad about half the time. I can’t beat my brother at a lot of things, but I beat him pretty consistently at Crazy Eights. And at the risk of him reading this post and using this information to somehow remove me from my Crazy Eights throne, I’ll tell you my secret.

My secret is that I play crazy. I keep the game twisting and turning as often as my hand will allow me. For example, let’s say we’ve been playing spades and a competitor lays down a three of spades. Let’s also say I have a seven of spades in my hand and a three of hearts. I’ll play the three and change the suit. (Note: this may also depend on whether I have any special spade cards that could skip the next person or make the person draw cards. It also depends on whether someone’s getting ready to run out of cards.)

Relatively seldom does this affect me negatively. I can usually manage to keep manipulating the game in my favor. There’s a lot of other variables – I could play into my competitor’s hand or have to draw several cards, both of which have happened plenty of times – but it mostly helps me control the game by making it seem like I have very little control.

I like to think it was a mentality similar to this that Boaz had when he met with Ruth’s kinsman redeemer at the beginning of chapter four.

The two met at the town gates amongst the town leaders. Boaz mentions the land of Elimelech’s that Naomi is selling first and asks if the man is interested in buying it.

Of course he would be, and Boaz knew that. Who would turn down land when it could earn them money? Not a very helpful card in Boaz’s hand. Boaz was an honest man, so he would’ve played this awful card even if he didn’t have to. However, he did have to since he had to be completely transparent in front of the town leaders. He had to be rid of all his cards at the end of the game and wouldn’t want to get caught cheating.

Boaz played his bad cards first so that when he played his best card, the game would be over.

“Then Boaz told him, ‘Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family'” (Ruth 4:5, NLT).

This is so brilliant and coy of Boaz because all he’s doing is stating facts, but he’s doing it in a way that will deter the potential redeemer. First, he includes the fact that Ruth is a Moabite. Boaz isn’t holding this against her nor is he using it against her. But the fact remains that we don’t know how the other relative felt about foreigners, and we don’t know if Boaz knows either. It’s possible he includes this detail simply in the spirit of honesty, but it’s also possible that he included it to make the man not want to marry Ruth so that Boaz could.

The second reason is one that I had never realized until Sunday. Boaz gives the scenario of Ruth having kids with this man, kids who would inherit Elimelech’s land, taking land from this guy’s other kids. In doing this, Boaz plays on the man’s desire for the land. However, this scenario seems unlikely as Ruth was barren. She’d been married for ten years and not had a single child. Now, this guy didn’t know this, otherwise he would’ve called Boaz’s bluff. He would’ve countered his card and could’ve married Ruth and won.

But he didn’t know. “Then I can’t redeem it,’ the family redeemer replied, ‘because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it'” (Ruth 4:6, NLT).

Boaz married Ruth and redeems the land. The story could end there, and we could talk about how blessed Ruth was. She went from being a foreign widow gathering grain to the wife of the man who owns the land. She endured.

God didn’t want Ruth’s story to end there, though. Ruth had a child, Obed, who was David’s grandfather and part of Jesus’ lineage. God redeemed Ruth and through her was a path to our own redemption.

We do not earn our redemption with God. It does not come to us in degrees and levels. It’s something God offers to all of us, and all we have to do is tell Him we want it. Because through redemption, we receive God’s grace, mercy, peace, joy, and hope. We are benefitted by Him, but He is our grand reward.

By Carrie Prevette

Great Risk

I had a writing professor who told my class that when she started getting rejection letters from publishing companies for her writing, she used the letters to decorate her bathroom walls.

Because being rejected isn’t fun. Being vulnerable isn’t fun.

Being vulnerable is a part of being a writer. We spend time with the words and characters and images, and when we present the stories they make, we present part of ourselves. Criticism isn’t fun either, but it’s welcomed because it lets us know there’s potential, that there’s at least a good start. Rejection, however, just makes us feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough.

Even if you’re not a writer, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been vulnerable before. We all dread rejection.

This is the position Ruth finds herself in when we meet up with her in chapter three. Naomi tells her to wash up and put on perfume and her finest clothes. Then she tells Ruth to go to Boaz when he’s asleep, pull the covers off of his feet, and lay there at his feet until he wakes up.

In Ruth’s position, I would’ve remained single because there’s no way I would’ve done this. This sounds creepy and risky and unlikely to woo anyone.

Thankfully, Ruth’s not like me. She does exactly as Naomi tells her. And when Boaz wakes up surprised and asks who she is, Ruth replies, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer” (Ruth 3:9, NLT). As our guest speaker, Alicia, explained on Sunday, this is a reference to the blessing Boaz prayed/spoke over Ruth in chapter two and sort of a proposal, not an allusion to sexual activities.

This is it. This is the intense moment we’ve been building up to. Imagine what Ruth’s heart rate was probably like as she laid there. She is probably the most vulnerable she ever was or would be. Depending on how Boaz responds, she could be embarrassed, have her reputation ruined, lose her job, maybe even be blacklisted from surrounding fields as well. In addition, a woman proposing to a man would’ve been abnormal. Boaz could’ve felt emasculated and gotten mad at her. Ruth put it all on the line.

Boaz responds with, “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” (Ruth 3:10, NLT). This is not the response I would give (plus, I’d probably kick the person at my feet when I woke up), and I don’t think it’s the response most would give then or now. But Boaz is touched by Ruth’s loyalty to her family, and he knows how virtuous she is. He said there was one man of closer relation to her, that he would talk to him to see if he was interested in marrying Ruth. When Ruth went home in the morning, he sent her home with six scoops of barley.

I’ve yet to meet someone who’s won every risk they’ve taken. Failure and rejection happen. It can keep us from taking more risks.

Risks taken in faith seldom yield no reward or benefit. And if you’re led by God to your risk – seeing as how God knows everything – it’s almost a guarantee. Just as Naomi knew what to do and directed Ruth, our all-knowing, omnipotent God directs us.

Being unsure isn’t fun. Taking steps when you don’t know where your foot will land isn’t easy. The good thing is that we don’t face it alone. If our step misses, if we’re rejected, if there’s no reward, we’ll still fall in the love and grace of God. He’ll never leave us, especially at our most vulnerable or confused, especially when we need Him most.

By Carrie Prevette

Let the Story Unfold

I originally wasn’t even going to apply to Western Carolina; I’d barely even heard of it at the time. Then they sent me an application in the mail. I filled it out because I thought it’d be a good back-up school. I ranked it fourth out of the five schools I applied to. I was rejected from my first two and decided against my number three.

If Western hadn’t sent me an application, I wouldn’t have applied. If I had been accepted to a school I preferred, I wouldn’t have attended Western. And if Western didn’t break the record for the number of accepted first-year students, I would’ve been placed in one of the dorms reserved just for freshman.

But I was put in Buchanan, an all-girls dorm at the time. I was placed on the ground floor, two doors down and on the other side of the hall from a girl called Becca. Becca’s older sister went to Western as well and lived on our hall. She was part of an organization on campus, members of which Becca had met before. So when Becca got accepted into WCU, she asked to room with one of the girls she’d met, putting her on the ground floor of Buchanan as well. That’s how I met one of my best friends.

Becca and I spent our first semester in the organization of our hallmates. A couple of weeks in, another freshman invited her roommate, Ayana, to join us. And Ayana clicked with Becca and me immediately. We hung out together outside of the group and would gravitate towards each other when in it. And when one of us decided to leave the organization, the other two did as well for the exact same reasons. That’s how I met another one of my best friends.

It’s been almost seven years since all of this, and the three of us are still every bit as close as we were then. None of us can imagine our lives without the others nor do we want to. No part of our meeting was a coincidence. God knew we would need each other. Much like Frodo and Sam, Carrie wouldn’t have got far without Becca and Ayana.

Ruth finds herself on a path full of blessing instead of coincidence in chapter two.

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem after leaving Moab, and since it’s just the two of them without any sort of male spouse or relative, Ruth says she’ll go find a job picking up leftover grains in a field. Very Rosie the Riveter, right? No guys around to provide so she’ll do it herself. And Naomi tells her to do it because she knows it’s the only path to provision.

Ruth finds a job working in a field owned by a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s late husband and evidently a great man to work for. His employees like him, and it’s easy to see why. After getting Ruth’s story from the foreman, Boaz goes to Ruth and tells her where to glean from, that he told the young men to leave her alone, and that she can drink from the young men’s water supply (which would be opposite of how it usually worked and make her more of an equal to them).

Ruth is overwhelmed. She says she’s just a foreigner, which Boaz tells her he knows. He says he also knows what she’s done for Naomi and prays God would bless her.

Boaz tells her to dip her bread in wine at lunch and gives her so much roasted grain to eat that she can’t finish it all. Then he tells the young men to let her pick right from the sheaves without stopping her and to drop some barley on purpose. Ruth went home with a full basket, the leftover grain, and an invitation to come back until the harvest was over.

As we discussed in last week’s post, Matthew 1:5 tells us how the story of Ruth and Boaz ends: with a branch on Jesus’ family tree.

We can see the blessings because we know the ending. But I’m sure being a Moabite woman providing for two people didn’t seem like such a blessing at first. But then the story unfolded, and Ruth discovered that God was blessing her through Boaz and his kindness.

Boaz didn’t focus on Ruth being a Moabite. He focused on what she had done, how she was different, her redemption. And he blessed her.

That’s exactly how God is. The things that we think disqualify us from grace aren’t what God focuses on. He focuses on our redemption, whether we already have it or want to accept it from Him. Your past isn’t bigger than God’s love. What you’ve done, what you’re capable of doesn’t even compare to what God and His grace are capable of.

Ruth let her story unfold. She didn’t sit by and wait for things to change. She lived her life, did what she had to, and let God’s will happen.

Are you letting your story unfold? Are you waiting or are you doing? Are you letting God’s will happen to make your life better, to take you where He wants you to be? To get from the bad to the good or from good to better, we have to trust in God and keep going just like Ruth did.

By Carrie Prevette

Ruth’s Redemption

It’s interesting to think about redemption on God’s terms instead of our own. We often think of redemption as something we earn. We work towards forgiveness from others for our wrongs. If we mess something up, we strive and do what we must to do better the next time.

Thankfully, that’s not how God does redemption. We don’t have to do anything to redeem ourselves with God other than admit we need His love and forgiveness and ask for it. When we fail, we don’t find ourselves back at the beginning to avoid our past mistakes; we look up where we are to see a scarred hand reaching down to lift us up. With God’s version of redemption, we never move backward, always forward.

When I think of Ruth, I don’t think of redemption, although I suppose I should.

At some point, we’re all weighed down by our own history, even if it’s something we can’t help. Whether it’s a decision you regret or if you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks or you can’t believe you ever treated someone in such a way, it’s familiar territory for all of us. And I imagine that’s how Ruth felt in the presence of her in-laws. Even though they were the foreigners in her land, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruth was ashamed (at times) of being a Moabite.

Moabites weren’t friends to the Israelites, historically speaking. There was a lot of blood and betrayal, even far after Ruth’s time. The book of Ruth takes place during a time of peace between the two nations. Still, the famine must have been bad to drive Naomi and her family there, where her two sons married two Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth.

And after the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, when she said she was going back home, when Ruth truly wanted to go with her, Ruth was many things– brave, desperate, loyal, and hopeful.

It’s clear to us that Ruth did not fit the stereotype of a Moabite– heartless and unfaithful– but the people where she was going might not give her the chance to prove herself, to redeem herself from her people’s heritage and mistakes.

But God had such big plans for Ruth.

Look at Matthew 1 with me. At first this looks like the most boring read ever, but if you look closer, you’ll be fascinated. Verses 1 and 5 (NLT) say, “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah… Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).”

Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Matthew’s Gospel is very steeped in Jewish tradition and alludes to a lot of Jewish history and scripture, and his audience would have raised their eyebrows at this. One, the society was very patriarchal, so it was daring of Matthew to include four women in this genealogy, including Ruth. Two, they would have recognized Ruth as a Moabite and found it interesting to list a member of such a troubled and disliked people when Matthew could’ve just listed her Jewish husband.

God placed a Moabite woman in the middle of the Messiah’s genealogy and led someone to shout her out in scripture. Talk about redemption.

Yes, Ruth clung to Naomi, but she also clung to God by refusing to go back and serve her old god. She held on to love, faith, and most of all, God. And God blessed her beyond measure.

Regardless of where you’re from or who you’ve been, God extends love and redemption to you. But for you to grab that gift, you have to release whatever you’re holding. Stop clinging to your past, your failures, other people’s perceptions of you, and take hold of God. And I hope you do so with the boldness of Ruth.

By Carrie Prevette

Coexistence

The first time I saw a coexist bumper sticker was when I was a freshman in college. Growing up in a small town in the Bible Belt, I’d never seen one before because there wasn’t (and still isn’t) exactly a lot of spiritual or religious diversity there.

I hope I live my life and write with enough honesty and transparency that people would know that I agree with the message of this sticker. I do have an issue with it, but my issue is vastly different than Alan’s.

On Sunday, Alan said his issue with this sticker is that he thinks it makes all religions seem equally true and correct. And while that’s a valid perspective and I’m not trying to belittle that perspective, it’s not how I see it. My initial reaction was that this was a weird takeaway. I’ve never once thought that to be what the bumper sticker was getting at; I’ve always thought it simply meant that all people, regardless of what they believe, were human and deserving of respect. Then I thought that maybe that’s because I’ve had the luxury of being secure in my faith.

Then I realized that’s wildly untrue. I question and analyze my beliefs and the depth of my faith. I took religion classes in college, including one that was taught by a professor who was clearly a critic and a nonbeliever and other classes taught by professors who didn’t believe fully in Christ or at all. I had textbooks on Christ and the early church that were written by or that contained writings by people and scholars who didn’t believe in God. I had these classes with a wide range of people, including Atheists and aspiring ministers. And we always looked at things from scholarly perspectives, but some schools of thought were very skeptical of Christianity as a faith. So I took classes that seemed like “Christian” classes in the course descriptions, but it was an environment that could easily create frustration or doubt, and for me, it sometimes did.

I also took a class on Eastern religions, which was one of my favorite classes. I kept a book from that class that contains texts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism as well as other religions. I loved reading these texts because I found them interesting, but I also found early on that they strengthened my faith as a Christian.

I’ll give you an example, and this is actually when I realized this was happening. We were studying Hinduism. Hinduism is kind of an umbrella term for any religion or doctrine apart from Christianity that existed in India when the British invaded. So while Hinduism does include may gods because of this, Hindus are not usually polytheistic because they often worship only one of the many gods. Someone may worship a god who he or she believes created the universe or a god so intimate that it inhabits something people ingest and enters the bloodstream. I distinctly remember thinking how lucky I am as a Christian that I don’t have to choose because my God is everything. He created the universe, and He knows me so well that He knows the number of hairs on my head. He sent His Son to die for everyone, but He also has a personal relationship with me. He’s a mighty lion, and He’s the gentle lamb.

So I’ve looked at my beliefs and my religion in numerous ways and have spent a lot of time thinking about what I believe and what the Bible says about it. But if you’d shown me a coexist bumper sticker even at my lowest, most confused or doubtful moment, I wouldn’t have thought that every religion was correct.

And although I don’t believe all religions are correct, I do believe it’s okay in terms of existence for people to have other beliefs and faith than me. No that it’ll get them into heaven, but that it doesn’t make them less deserving of the right to believe what they do or any less deserving of God’s love or mine.

My issue with the coexist bumper sticker is that coexisting is the bare minimum of what we should do because God calls us to do so much more – to love.

The coexist bumper sticker does a good job of leveling the playing field for people, not necessarily religions. We are all here. We all exist on the same Earth at the same time, and therefore, we must learn to exist together because we’re already here together. No one is better, and no one is lesser.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” -Romans 3:23, NLT

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” -John 3:16-17, NRSV

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28, NIV

Yes, the blood of Jesus saves all equally and registers every recipient of His salvation in heaven. But beyond that, especially when looking at the previous verses, it’s clear that God naturally sees all of us with the same amount of love in His eyes.

So if we as Christians are to be like Christ, aren’t we then also called to do the same?

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into this world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” -1 John 4:9-11, NRSV

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” -Romans 12:9-10, NLT

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” -John 13:34-35, NLT

To coexist is the least we can do – to exist in the same time and place peacefully. This should not be a generally difficult or monumental challenge.

Jesus tells us to go even further. He tells us to love others. Not to just put up with them or to accept them, but to love them. Genuinely. Unconditionally. As they are.

Please understand, I get how hard it can be to love people who see things differently than you. And I’ve yet to find a scripture, in the Bible or any other religious book, that says it should or will be easy to love such people. Jesus’s love is uncommon, so our love should be uncommon, and nothing uncommon can be done by us mere humans without overcoming obstacles. But isn’t love the most worthy objective of all?

By Carrie Prevette

Longtime Love

Imagine being there in the beginning. Watching God ordain night and day. Hearing Him speak forth mountains and animals. Witnessing mankind being made. Imagine hovering there and breathing it in.

Imagine watching mankind fall. Feeling your heart fall with them. Their innocence, gone. Their troubles merely starting. The hope and peace and joy you felt fade as your dazzling creation trekked away through sin and self-inflicting pain.

Imagine them trying their best and waiting expectantly. So many of them. Hearing them pray. Watching them obey. Knowing that they believed (and rightfully so) that the ways of sacrifice would one day change. Knowing (sadly) that their expectations didn’t match what would become reality.

Imagine the bustle in heaven. Angels flying off to bring messages. Looking at Mary and Joseph lovingly. Seeing how different they were compared to how they would soon be.

Imagine being born. Laid in a manger and being surrounded by animals that you heard being spoken into existence. Living in Creation instead of watching it. Knowing it intimately before but now being a part of it. Being in the form of something you witnessed being formed. Looking up at the stars and moon you saw being separated from the sun and daytime.

Imagine loving something so much that you’d look past all its failures and faults – past, present, and future – in order to become that creation to save them.

That baby in a manger was love a long time coming.

God’s love is a love that doesn’t give up. No matter how far gone mankind was or what we’d done or how much we tried to run from God, He still loved us to the extent that He was willing to send His own Son for us. A human manifestation of part of the Godhead. Selfless, noble, pure, devoted love.

The scene that we picture when we read of the birth of Jesus is a pleasant and peaceful one. I in no way want to detract from that itself, but that scene should also be looked at for what is was on a timeline. Humanity was a sinful mess. When they fell, it was hard and the first of countless falls. They couldn’t redeem themselves. And that’s why Jesus came. He was more than the hope of the Israelites. He was the hope of all humanity. The joy we greet the Christmas season with as believers comes from realizing that.

How obvious is the love of Christ to you this Christmas season? Do you see it around you? Are you looking for it? If you have it, are you handing it out to others as generously as you have received it? What role is the love of Christ playing in your life right now?

I pray that you find yourself surrounded by the love of Christ soon if you don’t already. Because if it weren’t for the love of Christ, we wouldn’t have the hope, peace, and joy that He offers. These things aren’t just pretty words to throw around every December; they are gifts from God that make life easier. Gifts that come to us as a result of the greatest gift that we could’ve ever asked for and never deserved: Jesus.

By Carrie Prevette

One Another

One of the most difficult things about running the blog of a church is demonstrating the way I see and perceive God, scriptures, the world around me without flooding the screen with my own personal opinions. I don’t want that to happen, so to actively attempt to avoid that here, I’m keeping this post as short as I can.

I wasn’t going to write a post for this week because I didn’t know how to turn Alan’s lovely pre-election sermon into a good post-election blog post. But I do feel a need to say something, so here we are.

There is a clear divide in America. Regardless of who you voted for (if you could and did) or which side of this divide you seem to find yourself on if you’re not on the line itself, the division is clear.

And I do not want to talk about the division here.

I want to talk about a way to unite us: love.

I know I talk a lot about love, but I believe that’s exactly what we need most right now. And not just in America, but all over the world.

1 John 4:11 (NRSV): “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NRSV): “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Colossians 3:14 (NRSV): “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Proverbs 17:17 (NRSV): “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”

Proverbs 10:12 (NRSV): “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”

These are just a few scriptures, but I think my point, and most importantly, God’s point, has been made. God overwhelms us with love so we can give it out to others.

I pray that you would be surrounded by love, that you would find it everywhere you turn. And when we encounter negativity, division, and hate, I hope we’ll all respond with love.

Please know more than anything that you are loved. By me, by Abstract Church, and above all, by God.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- If you would like to listen to Alan’s sermon, which I strongly encourage you to do, you can do so here: http://www.abstractchurch.org/sermons/.

Peacemakers

There are many dualities within the Christian faith. God gave the Mosaic laws and then provided a Way for imperfect people to stand a chance at keeping them. Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is both God and man. There are faith and deeds (and navigating the true ways those two connect). Then there are the themes of war and peace throughout the scriptures and the doctrine.

For a large part of the Old Testament, people and countries go to war. Such is true of any time or tale with kings and kingdoms, but it is very evident that these wars, be it in cause or effect, are tied to God and faith.

In the New Testament, we see less physical war and more spiritual war, as is perfectly demonstrated when Paul writes of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-17.

Edward Leigh Pell said, “The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of peace, but you cannot establish a kingdom without war. And the army of Christ is still on the fighting line. The moment we enlist in His service, we find ourselves face to face with forces of evil which call for all the fighting spirit we have and more. And what we lack, He will supply.”

The kingdom of Christ is a peaceful one. One trip through the Gospels makes it very clear that Jesus promotes peace and encourages us to be peaceful.

This is reflected in what Paul writes in Titus 3:1-11.

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:1-2, NRSV).

This is coming from a man who spent a fair amount of time in jail. So at the risk of people thinking Paul is being hypocritical, I want to clarify what Paul means here. He’s saying to obey laws that don’t contradict our faith and to object peacefully if the law is counter to our faith. When Paul was told by officials to stop preaching, he didn’t comply because it went against his beliefs. When he was taken to jail, he didn’t fight authorities or resist or make matters worse. He went peacefully.

Paul also says to show “every courtesy” (NRSV), “true humility” (NLT), or “perfect courtesy” (ESV) to everyone, meaning that the politeness and niceties we show should be full and consistent with everyone we meet.

Now, I work with the public, so I understand how difficult this is, but as hard as it is when there are or are not imminent consequences, we should be good and show humility for their own sakes because that’s a sign of God in our lives and because it’s worth passing such notions and actions around.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (Titus 3:3-8, NRSV).

Such a beautiful, hopeful picture. I’d say the full accuracy of it surely passes our understanding. What Paul writes here is the heart of our faith: that God is love and righteousness and that those qualities working in tandem offer all of us hope and salvation. It’s such an even playing field because none of us are good enough on our own. Not a single soul. God knows that, knows it better than anyone and loves us all anyway. Nothing I’ve done or could do is capable of earning God’s love because humanity is that sinful and because I cannot earn what’s already been freely given.

And this follows well with what Paul wrote before. By extending humility to everyone, we can better understand God’s perspective, and that can lead to seeing others as God does. Which generates empathy and love. It’s not to say that it becomes easier or that it’ll happen with everyone all the time. But it can happen, and it changes you.

“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

As peaceful as the kingdom of God is, it’s not without its disagreements. The early church, consisting of people who knew Jesus personally, disagreed on certain things. There are far more Christian writings than what are included in our Bible, which I’m sure didn’t go over swimmingly with the authors of said excluded documents. So Paul is by no means dismissing the possibility or eventual reality of conflict arising between believers. He is simply saying to avoid them, and when they’re unavoidable, handle them well.

There is no way for all believers, or even all people (in a more broader perspective), to stay in harmony with all things all the time. That’s simply unrealistic. It doesn’t mean, however, that we should go looking for ways to create division or even celebrate it. To do so would not be the spirit of peace or the heart of Christ.

We may war against evils and principalities, but it doesn’t mean that we should war with each other. Jesus called the peacemakers children of God, meaning that peace is an inherent part of God’s character. Even if we can’t all agree, we can certainly all get along. We just have to be willing to try.

By Carrie Prevette

Inclusion

I had a gentleman named Daryl Hale for two classes in college, and he was one of my favorite professors. Apart from being a great educator, he was a great person. He taught Philosophy and Religion, and he tried to persuade me to switch from a minor in this field to a major. He reminded me a lot of my parents. While he no longer looked like a hippie when I had him, for some reason, one could tell he was a hippie. Maybe it was the fact that his facial hair consisted only of a mustache and it didn’t make me cringe (It usually does). He also had an Eric Clapton concert ticket taped to his office door.

The first class I had with Daryl, who had a doctorate degree but encouraged us to call him by his first name, was a class called “The Historical Jesus.” It looked at Jesus, His life, His teachings from Christian texts, texts from other religions, and secular texts. We looked at scripture from the Bible for probably half the semester, so on all accounts it was clear that Daryl knew about Jesus and the Bible, but he didn’t speak like a typical believer nor a total non-believer.

As it turns out, Daryl doesn’t attend church, but he’ll read his Bible on Sunday morning every now and then.

In Daryl’s hippie days, in the 60s when he was a young man working on his grandfather’s tomato farm, Daryl had long hair. I’ve seen a picture. It wasn’t shaggy or needing a trim or mid-length; it was impressively, way-past-the-shoulders long.

Daryl went to church and was told that he was going to hell because he had long hair.

Untrue and not biblical. Unnecessary and hurtful. It’s hard to blame Daryl or anyone in a similar situation for an aversion to church.

Evidently this awful behavior dates back to the beginning because it’s exactly what Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. False teachers were saying that it was wrong to do certain things when it wasn’t, making salvation more exclusive than it is.

The truth of it is that everyone won’t get into heaven, but the hope and promise of heaven is available to everyone. There’s nothing you or I or anyone can do that could make God not want to offer us salvation. That would make Him biased and His love conditional, and that simply isn’t God.

Paul goes on to say in verses 6-12, “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (NRSV).

Training isn’t easy. It’s learning and growing and pushing ourselves past familiar territory.

I worked out for the first time in forever on Monday. Nothing monumental, just some cardio. And you know what? I got a blister on the bottom of my foot. Training my body to get in better physical shape has already been uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Discomfort, in this sense, means improvement.

Paul says here that while being in physical shape is good, being in shape spiritually is far more important because it follows us into our next life, eternal life. And our spiritual training in turn gives us hope because it points beyond our earthly time.

And this training is applicable to everyone, which is why Paul says to teach it to everyone and not to let age (or anything else for that matter) stand in their way. He’s so emphatic about it that he encourages us to be examples of godly attributes, which only come through training.

Paul closes the chapter by writing, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 14-16, NRSV).

Throughout the life of this blog, we’ve discussed gifts a fair bit. Everyone has a gift, and God gives us opportunities to use our gifts for Him. I have a gift of writing well, so I write the blog. Some are musically inclined, so they play in the worship band. Some have cheerful, inviting personalities, so they volunteer as greeters. Some have audio/visual skills, so they work in the sound booth and run slides on Sundays. I could go on, but I think you get my point. If you’re good at something, God has a purpose and plan for you to do it for Him.

Despite what false teachers throughout history have taught, God is an inclusive God, giving gifts to all and offering salvation to everyone. No length of hair, marital status, background, or personality type could make Him love you less and shortchange you. This is why we can all use spiritual training. No matter where we are, we’re all striving to get where we need to be, and God wants more than anything to help us all get there.

By Carrie Prevette

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