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

Seek and Find

Our guest preacher, Peter, spoke very nicely on Sunday about looking for God. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you may remember that I’ve discussed this a few times before. But I want to speak a little on it here for the newcomers and because it’s sometimes helpful to revisit things. This post won’t be long by any means, but I want to leave you with something to read or think about. And I thought it’d be nice to end 2015, which was a very lovely year for me, with a blog post.

I took a class on Eastern religions my senior year in college to complete my Philosophy and religion minor. One of the religions we covered in that class was Hinduism. “Hinduism” is basically a large umbrella term the incoming British use to categorize everyone who wasn’t a Christian when they arrived in India. So Hinduism isn’t monotheistic because one can worship more than one god as a Hindu and it slams together different people who worship different gods. Some Hindus worship gods who are huge and helped create the world according to their theology. Others worship very intimate gods who inhabit food or drink and are in someone once the substance is consumed.

People probably think I’m crazy when I say that this class helped me grow in my Christian faith, but it’s the absolute truth. That class made me marvel at God in such unique ways. For example, where Hindus pick and choose if they want to love a huge, universe-making god or a god who knows them personally and can be alive within them or both, I don’t have to decide because I worship one God who is both big and personal. I worship a God who is everything.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a spiritual person, but I believe we can find God in everything. I always tell people there’s a silver lining in everything if you look hard enough.

Truth be told, I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life. I won’t deny that for a moment. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered or struggled. I’ve been through things that I thought would end me, but I’m still here because I found God even when it was hardest.

In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV), God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you want that to be true, but you just don’t know. Maybe you can’t wait for the new year because you need some kind of new beginning to start over or give you hope. Maybe you don’t want to look for God because you’re scared that you won’t find Him and that you’ll be left disappointed once again.

What do you have to lose?

I can’t promise you many things, but I can guarantee that God is always going to be there. God will always show up, whether it’s in a monumental way or a surprising way. So if you think that finding God is a gamble, I’m here to tell you it’s the safest bet you’ll ever make. If you truly want to find Him, He’ll be there. He’s always there. We just don’t always realize it.

If you put your heart into God and put God into your heart, if you seek Him, you’ll find Him every time, without fail. It’s a matter of where your focus is, where your eyes are. If you’re at the bottom and you’re looking down or beside of you, you won’t find hope. You’ll just see misery. But if you look up, you’ll see where you want to go and you’ll be driven. If you look up, you’ll find God and every blessing He wants to bestow upon you. If you look to Him, you’ll rise to where He wants you to be. It may not happen immediately, but it’ll happen. The saying goes that the heart wants what the heart wants, and if your heart wants God, it’ll find Him.

By Carrie Prevette

The Seeker

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m usually done with Christmas as soon as Christmas day is over.

As of December 26th, I’m typically not in the mood for it anymore. The day designated for Jesus’ birth has passed, the presents have been given out, the music and movies are over (for the most part). I have no more of a craving for candy canes or eggnog than I do on May 15th. For me, when Christmas is over, it’s over.

If that’s not you, that’s cool too. I won’t try to stop you from celebrating and having a good time. Keep doing your thing.

Anyway, my reason for saying all this is because although it’s after Christmas, this is a Christmas-y blog post, and if you’re someone like me, I hope that won’t hinder you from reading it.

Alan started his sermon on Sunday by asking, “What is a seeker?” What I really wanted to do was raise my hand and say, “It’s a quidditch position.”

But a seeker, at least in the context Alan was creating, is one who tries to locate, reach, or find something or someone.

The story of Christmas is filled with seekers. God sought a mother and father for Jesus. Mary and Joseph sought answers. People of all sorts – shepherds, wise men, old men, prophets – looked for Jesus. Herod looked to kill Him. And the Jews, who had been searching and waiting their entire lives, finally received a Messiah.

It’s a great example of how we’re all seeking something. Maybe the search has been long like that of the Jews or one of panic like Mary and Joseph’s. Maybe it’s been a venture to the unknown like the wise men’s or something out of your normal life and limits like that of the shepherds. Regardless, we’re all seeking something.

I think it’s safe to say that what we’re all really searching for, no matter how it manifests itself, is happiness.

We think love and romance will bring us happiness, so we search restlessly for it in clubs, online profiles, and church events. We look down on friendship and companionship because although they won’t leave us lonely, they aren’t as glamorous and they aren’t the same.

We think money will ultimately make us happy, and in order to get it, we work overtime and/or save money for no real reason. It’s nice to know it’s there. Or it’s nice to do things, and you can’t do too much or have too much fun without money.

Or social status is our door to being happy. We change the bold lines and colors that make us who we are to something faint that can float around and blend in anywhere. And everyone will like us. And then for some odd reason, that’ll make us happy.

I’m going to step lightly out on a limb here and say that you’re still looking. Either you haven’t found your manifestation of choice, and you’re still determined to find it, or you did find the manifestation but not the happiness, and you’re still seeking that.

Here’s the simple truth: if it’s not God, that’s not it. If what you’re pursuing isn’t God or isn’t okay with God (as in it goes against His plans for you or His commandments), it’s not what you need to be seeking. And if you’re what you’re pursuing isn’t God or isn’t okay with God, don’t expect your search to stop here. This isn’t the end of your unhappiness. You’ll keep seeking until you find God and His perfect will because that is true happiness.

When you look at the seekers in the Christmas story, they all got what they wanted except for Herod. That’s because everyone else’s desires lined up with God’s. It was all part of His plan. Herod’s heart and goals were selfish and terrible and held no concern for God in the least.

“Carrie, I have been seeking God and trying to do what He wants, but I’m not getting anything. I’ve gotten no results. I’ve got no idea why I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’ve got no clue where God’s at in all of this.”

There’s something that keeps coming up in Alan’s sermons that God clearly wants everyone to know and remember, and that point is this: just because you can’t see or hear God moving doesn’t mean He isn’t.

This blog is a perfect example of that. When I first started writing these posts, there were very few readers. It was mostly friends of mine from church whom I originally thought were reading out of some feeling of obligation. It took longer for the blog to grow than I expected, and it was a little disheartening. I didn’t see how any of it was making any difference to anyone. I knew it was a way for God to reach people, but as far as I could tell, God wasn’t reaching anyone through it.

I know now that wasn’t and isn’t true. I don’t know how many people read this blog regularly, but I know some people do. I’ve received so many compliments while doing this that I wouldn’t even know where to start in relaying them all. There are several subscribers, some of whom I know and some of whom I don’t. There are hundreds of views, some of which are from people in other countries.

I cannot begin to tell you how much every last bit of it means because it was just four months ago that I thought it was pointless.

God was moving even when I didn’t see it. He was preparing hearts, getting my words right, lining up topics so that it could all come together beautifully and actually make an impact on someone instead of just being something someone read online that one time.

So don’t give up. If God’s not leading you somewhere else, don’t go somewhere else. You don’t know what’s coming. If it’s God’s will, whatever is coming is going to be great.

Continue to seek God and His will. To do anything else will leave your heart hurting and your hopes empty. We were all born with the inclination to seek something. Just be sure it’s the only One worth seeking.

By Carrie Prevette

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