Letting Go

Everyone should read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you’re at all interested in war or peace, truth or fiction, or really just in a human’s humanity, I strongly encourage you to read this book.

The Things They Carried shows the physical, mental, and emotional weight and items that the soldiers carried. Some things they brought to the war from home, and other things they brought home from the war. There’s also a detailed description of the uniforms and weaponry they carried everywhere in Vietnam. From grenades to pictures to Bibles to guilt to death, the reader sees everything these men carried.

As we address this week’s bumper sticker, “Let go and let God,” I ask you this not to belittle the heart or content of The Things They Carried, but to apply the theme of carrying things to all of us: What are you carrying?

As Dave spoke Sunday, he identified four major things that we hold on to: comfort, needs, fears, and control. Maybe you don’t struggle with all of these, and maybe your struggle with one leads directly to your struggle with another. Or perhaps you struggle with each of these in phases. Regardless, these four items are popular things to carry, and they aren’t always simple.

I’ll give you an example. When I think of control, my initial reaction is that I don’t have an issue with it. The health class I took in college focused on stress management, and it showed me how pointless it is to stress about things I can’t control. It helped me to worry less about things that are beyond my control or that aren’t my fault. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally stress about such things, but I do so a lot less than I used to.

On the other hand, I do like controlling things I can and want to control. That’s one thing I enjoy about being a writer. I control the words, the length, the tone. If it’s creative writing, even better. I get to play God and create and control everything from characters to whole universes. Nothing happens that I don’t want to happen. I also like to paint. And if you’ve ever watched at least two or three episodes of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, you’ve probably heard him say that when you paint, it’s your world. It can look however you want it to. I like having that kind of power; I like being able to control the scene. So maybe I do have a control issue after all.

I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to like control or comfort. Nor do I think it’s wrong to take care of our needs or to be afraid. I think there’s a problem in dwelling on these things or keeping them from God.

Looking at all of scripture, there aren’t many times that God tells someone to do something that he or she is totally comfortable with right away. Jonah booked passage on a ship going the opposite way. Jeremiah played the youth card, making excuses on account of his age. Mary was nervous about being a pregnant, unwed woman. There are more, but I think that’s enough to illustrate the point. When these people stepped up to their roles in the Kingdom and did what was asked of them, they were uncomfortable and unsure. They had to let go of their comfort to let God work through them.

It seems pretty natural to hold on to what we need. That way we’re sure that we have it. And if we don’t already have what we need, we pursue it. Because why wouldn’t we? The result of this breeds a lot of worry and not a lot of faith.

Jesus says in Luke 12:6-7 (NLT), “What is the price of five sparrows – two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

I’m not telling you to stop doing what you need to do to survive. I’m telling you to let go of that worry because God can and will provide. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we need because God loves us and looks after us if we pursue God first (Matthew 6:25-34).

1 John 4:16-18 (NLT) tells us, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

John identifies our ultimate fear here as failing God to the point of punishment and maybe even eternal punishment due to living without love.

But what does this have to do with tangible or everyday fears in our real, current lives? My biggest fear is clowns, and I mean that. Nothing fills me with terror like the thought (heaven forbid I ever see the sight) of a clown adorned for a child’s party with any kid of weapon. What does that have to do with what John’s writing about?

Let’s look at the components of what helps us overcome our ultimate fear as identified by John. As followers of God, we are so filled with the pure and powerful love of His that, one, our love grows deeper and more perfect to the point that, two, we live like Jesus.

The life of Jesus is marked by many human qualities, but fear is not one of them. Jesus got angry, He did things He didn’t want to do, He cried, and He was sassy, but He was not once afraid. He was filled with a perfect, empowering love. Why should He have been afraid? He had the strongest connection and relationship with the Creator. The angels could’ve been by His side as soon as He spoke the word for them to come.

This is the life, love, and confidence we can have through God. It strengthens us to the point that we fear nothing. We don’t fear failure or heights or spiders or axe-wielding clowns because when we face such things, we do so with the love and power of God.

Lastly, I think we can all understand wanting to be in control. If I do something, I know it’s getting done. It’s simpler. We then don’t have to depend on others and be let down. It may get messy, it may not be easy, but it’s worth it.

But is it? My hands are known for being incapable while God’s are masterful. My record is spotty, and God’s is immaculate. The plan I once had for my life was vastly different that the one God had for me, and I can say with total honesty that I’m glad my life didn’t turn out as I had once wanted.

Still, I sometimes try to grab the reigns. I try to make my problem less problematic before I give it to God. But God can handle any and all of my issues, no matter how big and bad they are. What does it say about my faith in Him that He’s my last resort and not my first choice? Not much.

These are the things we carry. These are the things we should let go of and let God take care of. Holding on to these things does nothing more than hold us back. Freedom in God means living with open hands. We shouldn’t be bound by our comfort, worry for our needs, fear, or desire for control. Unshackled people with open hands are more ready to give and receive blessings, to do for God while He does for them, to be who He needs them to be. And we should be such people.

By Carrie Prevette

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Distractions and Idols

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

Five years later, I still agree with him.

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

I believe spiritual distractions make us spiritually stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Carrie Prevette

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

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