The Eighth and Ninth Commandments

“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” Shakespeare wrote these words to come from the mouth of Hamlet sometime between 1599 and 1601. While Hamlet meant it as a personal dig towards someone else, it was also a generally true statement (and an ironic one coming from Hamlet) that is just as true around 417 years later.

I’ve lumped the eighth and ninth commandments together not because I’m lazy but because they can be traced back to the same theme and virtue: honesty.

Exodus 20:15-16 contains these two commandments, and it reads, “You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor” (NLT).

Stealing involves honesty in the obvious sense that when we steal, we do not obtain the object by honest means. We take it even though it was not given to us and we did not earn it or buy it.

In a much more subtle way, stealing is a product of dishonesty because it means we are not being honest with ourselves or with others. It can stem from an insecurity we don’t (or don’t want to) deal with, like jealousy or dissatisfaction. In not being honest about it and dealing with it, even on our own, we decide we’ll just take what we want or don’t have. We think it’ll take care of our problem, but stealing isn’t a true remedy for the issue.

Or we steal just because we don’t want other people to have something. This comes from bitterness or anger. And I believe that in this sense, we steal things that aren’t tangible. We steal hope, joy, peace because we don’t have them, and we don’t want others to have them either. Misery does love company, so much so that it’ll create more of it if it has to.

Testifying falsely, or lying, is probably the purest form of dishonesty because it means we know the truth and are purposefully disregarding it. And while people should not value the opinions other people hold of them, lying about someone creates a false persona of that person that can directly affect his or her life.

I work at a bank. I used to work at a clothing distribution center during the summers between spring and fall semesters in college, and this was the only work history I had on my resume when I applied for the job at the bank. Let’s say my co-workers had talked junk about me and circulated rumors, essentially creating and spreading lies. Let’s say they did it so much that my previous boss heard this stuff and believed it. Now, suppose whoever was in charge of hiring someone to fill the position at the bank called my previous boss and asked about me and all he or she heard is that I’m a greedy cheat who isn’t very nice. What kind of recommendation does the former boss give? Do I get the job where I have to be friendly to everyone and be honest?

What we say about other people can have real implications, some serious and some not. Regardless of the consequences, we aren’t called to tear people down or hurt them. We are called to love them, and in doing so, lift them up.

Honesty and truth are very important to God, so much so that Jesus identifies Himself as the truth (John 14:6). Being honest affects us because it’s the difference between dealing with our issues and making them worse. It affects others in that it can afford them opportunites and encouragement or it can harm them. And it can affect our relationship with God because He deeply values truth and authenticity (i.e., John 4:24), and He knows the truth even if we aren’t comfortable with telling it. These two commandments go back to honesty and truth because those qualities make our lives and the lives of those we interact with better.

By Carrie Prevette

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The Sixth and Seventh Commandments

“You must not murder” (Exodus 20:13, NLT).

Pretty straightforward. Even if I wanted to add to it, I couldn’t.

I’ll explain in case anyone reading this is on the fense about becoming an axe murderer or something of the sort. The greatest gift God gives us other than salvation to save our souls is life itself. The opportunity to experience God and His love, to know people and walk through life with them, to watch sunsets and listen to your favorite song and drink hot chocolate when it’s cold outside, to to see and interact with the rest of God’s creation. Sure, life’s not always good, but it’s a gift even when it doesn’t feel like it. Who are we to decide others aren’t worthy of it when God’s the one who gave it?

If you ask Jesus, though, there’s more to it than that. He says in Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT), “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

In saying this, Jesus identifies the emotions and attitudes that can lead down a road that may result in murder. So maybe it’s not as simple as not taking someone’s life. Maybe it’s also about not taking someone’s enjoyment out of life.

I’ve never slit anyone’s throat, but I’ll cut someone down with such ease that it’s scary. I’ve never suffocated anyone, but I’ve sucked the wind out of many sails. I’d never dream of killing anyone, but I know how to kill a mood, a moment, someone’s confidence, someone’s hope.

We should help the impoverished and oppressed because they are closer to losing their lives than we are, and we are called not only to not harm people but to help them. In another sense, we should do this because these people have a worse quality of life. If we have received life more abundant, we are to pass that along instead of promoting death.

“You must not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, NLT).

Also seemingly simple: Don’t sleep with someone you aren’t married to. It creates pain, distrust, bitterness, and other things that harden hearts and create gaps between each other and between people and God.

Again, Jesus expands upon this and identifies the root of adultery. Matthew 5:27-28 (NLT) reads, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

I took a class in college called Philosophy of Love and Sex, and I loved that class (and it wasn’t just because I had/still have a crush on the professor). One thing we discussed was how sexual media and entertainment are. When asked how we felt the first time we saw a pornographic image, we had to think back, and for many of us, it was an advertisement of some sort. Pornographic images aren’t always overtly so and aren’t contained just to actual pornography. We are exposed to it all the time in everyday life.

Lust is the difference between seeing a Hardee’s commercial and committing adultery. It’s also the difference between thinking that one actor from your favorite show is cute and sinning in your heart. A video of someone’s mouth or finding someone other than your spouse attractive are not in and of themselves sinful. The lust that we have for them, which comes from what we lack or are searching for, is sinful.

Lust is what causes people to physically commit adultery. No one randomly sleeps with someone they aren’t married to. We either crave intimacy or want someone else’s body or prefer the way someone treats us or want revenge. We are lusting after something or another when we commit adultery.

What do murder and adultery have to do with each other apart from the fact that both are sins? Jesus answers that for us in Matthew 15:19-20 (NLT) when He says, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you…”

The problem with murder and adultery (as well as a few other sins) is the heart. A heart that wants any of this is not a heart that is pursuing God and His purpose for that individual’s life. And these big sins that come from the heart are a result of smaller, more common emotions that go unchecked and grow. That’s why Jesus said these sins are so much easier to commit than we think. But if we keep our hearts set on God, these sins will not be able to take root.

By Carrie Prevette

The Fifth Commandment

I’m well aware that I won the parental lottery. If you’ve ever met my mom, you know that she’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. She’d give you the world if she could. Everything I know of kindness, I’ve learned from her. My dad was the one who disciplined me when I misbehaved, and in this regard, I’d say that he was more stern than strict as he was unwavering but not unfair. He taught me life lessons. All of that said, he wasn’t a particularly serious man because I inherited my sense of humor from him.

My parents were (and are) supportive of me. They encouraged me to be smart, to be myself, and to do what made me happy. They always worked hard to provide for their children. They raised their daughters and their son the same way, showing preference for no one and no gender. There has never been a time that I doubted that they loved me. And when my dad died, I was upset, but I was also very grateful for having such an incredible dad.

Every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I think of those who don’t have such excellent parents. To see everyone else celebrating theirs must be difficult. It wasn’t hard for me to honor my parents, which isn’t to say that I always did. But I can see how the fifth commandment would be difficult for those whose parents weren’t so great.

God commands us in Exodus 20:12 (NLT), “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

This is the first commandment God gives us that regards how we treat other people and how we interact with them. This makes sense since our parents are the first people we know. They provide for us. They shape us. They train us for and teach us about the world. It makes sense that we would honor them because they’re the reason we’re alive and one of the main reasons why we are how we are. This also expands out to how we interact with other people and how we treat God.

My mom is so good at sending me on a guilt trip that she once did it without actually doing it. She scolded me in a dream I once had. I’d been pretty rude to my sister for a couple of weeks. We’d been getting on each other’s nerves and bickering. In my dream, my mom called me out on it, saying I’d just been so mean to my sister lately. I felt so guilty when I woke up that I started being nicer to her that very day.

My dad told me to look at things from other people’s perspectives. I (mostly) remember waking up in the middle of the night once when I was quite little and asking my dad if I could sleep in the bed with him and my mom. I’ve been told that there was more than one occasion when my brother and I both did this, and although I don’t remember that part, it must’ve happened that night because I vividly remember talking to my dad about my brother when we got up. In the living room, which was lit only by the television screen, my dad told me to think about what it must’ve been like for my brother, how he must’ve woke up in the middle of the night and found my bed empty (we’ve been roommates since the day I was born), and how scared he must have been. So (I’m assuming) he made the same pilgrimage to my parents’ room that I’d made earlier that night, and my dad made me consider why that was.

From listening to my parents and obeying them in both of these instances and many others, it was engrained into me to be nice to others and to try to understand why they’re doing certain things or behaving certain ways. Honoring them taught me how to honor others.

And because I know how to honor my earthly parents, I also know how to honor my Heavenly Father.

I know from listening to my parents how to honor them. In college, I learned that they like to hear from me if I’m not physically with them. I called home about once a week and tried to come home once a month. When I was a child, I learned they wanted honesty and truth. I learned how to make them feel loved, what they expected of me, and how much it hurt them when I disappointed them.

My relationship with God is the same way. I read the Bible and see what He wants from and for all of His children, and through prayer and guidance, I can learn what His tailored desires for me and expectations of me are. I know to express my love to Him through true worship, obedience, and sacrifice. And the biggest way to honor Him, which is actually the limb that all of the afore mentioned branches extend from, is to spend time with Him.

We look at this verse as a commandment for children, but the truth is that’s only where it starts. As long as we have a mother and/or father, we are to honor them. By doing that, we also honor our Heavenly Father, who is most worthy of it. If we’ve been made new in Christ, that should be our main goal.
By Carrie Prevette

The Third Commandment

I remember Duke’s exit from the NCAA Tournament this past March relatively well. Mostly, I remember my anger towards South Carolina and the game in general. I remember terrible calls and time ticking off the clock at what felt like an alarming rate. I also remember thinking that those guys, some of whom I knew would be gone to the pros next season, deserved a longer song at the Big Dance and a better ending than what they got.

Here’s what I remember most: In the final moments of the game, there was a foul involving Luke Kennard. Despite the fact that Luke was the one who somehow ended up on the ground, the officials called a foul on him. If my memory serves me well, this call caused him to foul out of the game. They showed the replay of it a few times, and when the call was made, you could read Luke’s lips as clearly as if you’d been standing right beside of him. In a moment when many would’ve excused a profanity or two and when God’s name could’ve been said in vain without most people giving it a second thought, Luke exclaimed, “What in the world?!”

Duke fans present at my house were either stunned by the call to the point of silence or were indignant. My brother, who’s a UNC fan, simply read Luke’s lips aloud and said, “What an innocent man.”

Luke is a devout follower of Christ and is very open about his faith. Whether by habit or from conscious effort, Luke did not disappoint in the heat of the moment on college basketball’s biggest stage. When just about anyone watching the game wouldn’t have thrown stones had he broken it, Luke kept the third commandment.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7, ESV).

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20:7, NLT).

Of all the commandments, I looked forward to discussing this one the least. It’s the one I’m most conscious of frequently breaking. Idols can sort of sneak up on you or blind you, but it’s much more difficult to be unaware of what you’re saying.

As Alan said Sunday, the Hebrew word for “vain” means “to make empty.” I also like the NLT version of this verse because I think the word “misuse” fits well here too. To throw around God’s name so casually, it becomes meaningless. If we profess to love, worship, and serve God, it also becomes misused.

The third commandment doesn’t exist because God’s a stickler for diction nor is it born out of our concept of conceit or vanity. It was given because taking God’s name in vain demonstrates that God doesn’t mean that much to us after all, and if we claim otherwise, that makes us hypocrites.

That’s a hard thing to hear, isn’t it?

The world doesn’t have a reverence for God and His name, but we should if we call Him Lord. There should be a difference in us that manifests itself in many ways in our lives, including our speech.

James writes, “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:7-10, NRSV).

James understood the hypocrisy of the tongue extremely well. He addresses the issue of our words in a much broader sense than God does in Exodus, but the point is the same: It isn’t right that we say one thing and turn around only to demonstrate another with the very same mouth.

Paul also writes about the difference that should be evident in us and how that should be reflected in our words. In Ephesians 4:21-24, 29-30 (NLT), Paul writes, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God– truly righteous and holy… Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”

Taking God’s name in vain and misusing it hurts God because it shows we don’t care, which also causes sorrow to Him and the Holy Spirit, who’s the mediator in all of this.

Paul identifies bad language as part of our sinful nature and part of our old life, who we were before we came to believe in God. Not that God’s name is bad or foul but that to use it in an everyday way or to use it in regards to anything that isn’t good and holy is a bad thing directly connected to our language. So if we are new creatures living new lives in Christ, this sort of language shouldn’t be in our mouths.

All of this scripture portrays the power of our words. James calls out the difficulty with our tongues. Paul says any language that isn’t good and encouraging is of our sinful ways. And God tells us all the way back in Exodus that misusing His name will not go unpunished, which draws attention to how serious this is. This is because what we say can hurt others, hurt God, and hurt ourselves. God doesn’t want to be hurt, and He doesn’t want us to hurt anyone. To avoid this, we need to recognize the power of our language and be conscious of what we say.

By Carrie Prevette

The Fourth Commandment

I love not having anything to do on Sundays. Resting on the Sabbath is no problem for me. I ordinarily just go to church, eat, sleep, and watch T.V. For what it’s worth, I’m a fairly lazy person, so this isn’t hard for me.

If you’re an active person, resting on Sunday may not come as easily to you as it does to me, and that’s okay. Because ultimately, the whole point is that what you do on your Sabbath isn’t labor.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT).

So no labor. But what about those who have to work on Sundays?

The most important part of the Sabbath is not the day of the week that we observe it. The seventh day is important because that was the day God rested after creating everything and because the number seven is symbolic of completion and wholeness (i.e., the seventh day of the week is the last day of the week, signaling its completion). If we have the option to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, we should because it is the seventh day. Life doesn’t always fall neatly into seven-day increments, though. The most important part of the Sabbath, whenever one can observe it, is that it is a day dedicated to God. This follows with the theme of the commands that precede it.

We do not get gold stars for not working on Sundays nor do we get gold stars for simply going to church. If the Sabbath is to be dedicated to God then we have to engage with God and the conversation about Him.

When the worship band plays, don’t just think about whether or not you like the songs. Think about what the lyrics are saying, and if a song resonates with you, express that to God, whether it’s by singing or dancing or raising your hands or meditating quietly. There’s no one way to worship, but we do need to worship.

When they’re taking up tithes and you are able to give, give. Whether you view it as a form of worship or sacrifice, do it for God by giving to God.

When someone prays aloud, don’t just stand there and listen to them. Talk to God by praying.

During the sermon, interact with the message. Personally, I take notes, and if it weren’t for this blog, I doubt I’d ever look back at most of them. I write down the points the speaker is making, but I also write down scripture that fits the message that wasn’t used and my own perspective on the scripture and points being made if they differ from the speaker’s.

An example of this is my post on the woman at the well. The way I see her and her story is different from how Alan views it all. We read the same scripture, but our life experiences (specifically, his as a man and mine as a woman) create different lenses through which we see and analyze the text. Thinking about these different perspectives and writing about my own was a way for me to interact with the message and the scripture.

This interaction with God and His word is what He wants from us and, I believe, what He ultimately commands us in Exodus 20. Not time when we’re with Him and ignoring Him, but time when we engage with Him.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always take the advice I’ve given here. (I believe it’s Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who says, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”) I don’t always do or want to do these things, but if I want to observe the Sabbath and dedicate my time to God, I need to focus on Him, be mindful of Him, and interact with Him.

This is the importance of the Sabbath, whenever that may be for you if not on Sundays: dedicate your time to God. Not that we always want to or that we always find it easy but that God is always deserving of our best efforts and our affections.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- For more on resting and spending time with God, check out this post of mine from quite a while back. I hope you find it useful.

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

Closed Doors

We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.

But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”

Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).

“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.

So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).

This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.

Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.

Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).

Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.

In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.

What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?

Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I huff and pout and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?

Because He’s God.

Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.

Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.

Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Reaching Nineveh

This time when God said for Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he did just that. When God told him to do that before, Jonah ran and rode and swam the opposite way and right into the belly of a ridiculously large fish. In that fish, Jonah discovered just how much he didn’t want to die and rediscovered his love for God.

So the fish barfed Jonah up on shore after three days, and as Jonah stood with seaweed wrapped around him, undigested fish fins stuck to him, stomach acid and salt water dripping off of him, God told him once again to get up and go to Nineveh.

Jonah got up and went to Nineveh. No shower or wardrobe change. No different state of mind. Jonah was smelly, unkempt, and didn’t want to go. He was (probably) still afraid of being tortured and dying, and maybe he was a little bit bitter about having to go to Nineveh despite the trouble he went through to avoid the errand. But Jonah went. More secure in his relationship with God and having more faith in God, Jonah went to Nineveh.

My dad always said that life is full of doing things you don’t want to do. For example, I didn’t want to get student loans, but I had to in order to go to college. I didn’t want to take a job I needed, but I had to when I couldn’t get one I wanted. I didn’t want to get up and go to work on Monday, but I had to since I’ve got bills to pay, including student loans, which got me the degree that got me my job. And although this isn’t an extensive list of things I have to do but don’t want to, I’m sure you can relate and probably have a few things in mind yourself.

None more so than Jonah, right? But to Jonah’s credit, you can’t really tell it from reading chapter three by itself. “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” (Jonah 3:4, NLT)

Jonah’s boldness is really encouraging here. We know that Jonah – a smart, capable man – is not this bold on his own because Jonah’s first instinct and action was running away from it. Had this degree of boldness been active in Jonah without help, the book of Jonah would start at chapter three and the first half wouldn’t exist. Jonah’s boldness is born of his faith in a faithful God. His ability to be bold comes from worshipping and having a relationship with a God intense enough to design and form a fish to swallow Jonah but not eat him. Jonah’s boldness came from his strength in God.

One would think that the Ninevites would react badly to Jonah’s proclamation. Scoff or laugh, beat him, make an example of him. Surely Jonah thought that, although it’s not in the text. That’s not what happened, though. “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” (Jonah 3:5, NLT)

The dreadful people of Nineveh didn’t need a second warning from God. They stopped what they were doing and went into repentance mode. They fasted, and I imagine that the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a powerful empire, had plenty of good food. They put on burlap, not because it was fashionable and comfy but because it was just the opposite. Changing the outside from flashy and lavish to basic and minimal. The texture and thickness would’ve caused them a lot of discomfort, making them hot and itchy (and causing other problems through the combination of the two). It’s the concept of repenting through suffering.

The king hears Jonah, and instead of saying he and everyone else is crazy, the king does something remarkable. “…he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’” (Jonah 3:6-8, NLT)

The king joined his people. He believed and recognized the character of God. He believed He could and would destroy them. He identified God as powerful. He also believed God could be compassionate.

Not only did he tell his people what to do physically, the king told the people to put an end to what caused God to be angry with them. He told them to change inside and out, and it was a change he was going to make with them.

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)

Just as the king suspected it: powerful and compassionate. No destruction, no desolation. Forgiveness.

The same forgiveness we see in our lives. Oh, I’ve never murdered anyone or taken land, but I’ve killed moments and stolen joy. I’ve wounded people and added bitterness to the world. God’s had to forgive me for a lot, just like the people of Nineveh. He’s replaced hurt with healing, replaced bitterness with blessings. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re missing out on an offer that is still extended to you. It’s not too late, and you’re not too far. If God can reach Jonah in a fish and Nineveh in its sin, He can absolutely reach you.

By Carrie Prevette

Go and Give

Sunday was Vision Sunday at Abstract, which is a Sunday when Pastor Alan talks about the vision Abstract has always had, gives an overview of our history, and discusses our vision and goals for this year.

As a member of Abstract, I like Vision Sunday because I enjoy remembering how God has used people to further His Kingdom and to see the directions He’s leading us in as a church. As the church blogger, Vision Sunday puts me in a weird spot. People who attend Abstract and read the blog know that my posts usually relate in some way to the previous Sunday’s sermon, but what relatively few people know is that there are also many blog readers who don’t attend Abstract. Some are friends of mine who are curious about what I have to say. Some are people who are browsing the internet and happen upon this blog or who did so and have since subscribed to it. So I’m in an unusual position of wanting to satisfy all of my readers while not simply repeating the last Vision Sunday post. But not to worry; God’s worked this out.

Alan said something early in the sermon that struck a real chord with me. What’s sort of interesting about it is that I’ve heard him speak along these lines plenty before, but for some reason, it sat really differently with me this time. Alan was talking about attending and volunteering at another church prior to starting Abstract. This church is huge and was growing weekly, but it wasn’t where Alan was supposed to be. Alan said that he thought, “This is amazing for these people, but this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Isn’t that something? A movement of God being enjoyed by a servant of God, yet it wasn’t right.

It reminds me of Philip in Acts 8. (I encourage you to read the entire chapter as my summary for the sake of time and content leaves out an interesting story within the story and is much less colorful.) Philip is preaching in Samaria, and everything is going great. Conversions and miracles are happening, and Peter and John come to see and help. Then as all this is growing, God tells Philip to go south. Philip is obedient and does just that. He ends up in Ethiopia, where he meets a man of much authority under the queen. Philip explains and delivers the Good News, and the man becomes a believer and is baptized.

God told Philip to leave an entire city that was moving toward the Kingdom of God and prospering to go meet one man. It would’ve been easy for Philip to disobey God and stay where God was obviously active, but he didn’t. It was a great spiritual awakening for many in Samaria, but Philip wasn’t meant to stay, and because he listened to God, a soul was saved that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT) reads, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”

You’re important. You’re important to God and His Kingdom. There’s a role here somewhere that only you can fill. You can reach people that I can’t in a way that I can’t. Your life and how you let God shine through you is unique. The way God designed your mind and personality was done with love and purpose to set you apart and make you the only version of you that there ever will be.

You have a gift. I don’t know which of the many spiritual gifts it is, but I can guarantee you’ve got one of them. If you don’t know which one it is, find out. Try different things. Try being a greeter at church or serving food when your church has a meal. Help out with a kid’s ministry or a nursing home ministry. Start a Bible study or join a prayer group. Look at ministries and programs outside of the church. You’ve received a gift so that you could give to others. Do so.

Figure out where God wants you. Try different places. Pray. Read your Bible. Seek advice from those you deem wise and/or close to God. And remember to follow God’s heart, not your own. You may be having fun in your Samaria, but there could be something far greater waiting for you in your Ethiopia.

I want you to feel empowered and encouraged. I hope you’ll listen to God and be ready to do whatever He asks of you. Mostly, I pray that you would understand how loved you are by God (and me) and how crucial you are to God’s plan.

By Carrie Prevette

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