Making Sense of the World

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James 4: 1-12…Submit Yourselves to God…”What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?

I both love and hate being on an airplane. I love looking out the window at the world below. It gives a perspective of life that can’t be gained unless looking down in such a way. The picture above was taken a month ago over Utah. All those snowy peaks I could never see from the ground, but from above, I see God’s grand work. Yet, I hate being on a plane because of how cramped and out of control it makes me feel. I fill up with anxiety, and I have the dreadful feeling of not belonging there. Isn’t that exactly how a spirit-filled person feels living on this earth, too? We stand in awe of God’s work and the majesty of life, but our soul knows this place is not our home. We are the “double-minded” that James speaks of in today’s word. We want to be friends with the reality of the world and what we see and where we live. Yet, the Spirit convicts us to understand and acknowledge the evil all around us. As Johnny Cash once said in his song, “In Your Mind” – “You’ve got one foot on Jacob’s Ladder, and one foot in the fire, and it all goes down in your mind.” James tells us the solution…submission. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Grieve. Mourn. Wail. Stop cheating on God with your worldly lust and desires. “You adulterous people.” Wash your hands and purify your hearts, you sinners. James doesn’t hold back.

How do we make sense of the world? Most of us do so by looking backwards. We select moments and people from the past where we felt something good…and we focus on it. “If we could only get back to how it was,” we tell ourselves. God’s human timeline only moves one direction and it’s forward. Looking forward with open eyes is scary. Death lingers out there. Chaos. So, child-like, we move forward while at the same time mentally staying in our recollections of past goodness. We hold those things like a security blanket as we plod forward into the unknown. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” That’s how to make sense of the world…to be lifted above it. Set apart from evil. Love. There the fruits of the spirit are experienced. Relationship with and trust only in our Lord.

The world is never going to make sense to children of God. We can try all day and night for the rest of our earthly lives, but no sense will ever be made of it all. Give it up. Christ has won the war, so these battles – “fights and quarrels” – only serve to do harm, both to us and to those still seeking. As crazy as it all gets, and as much as our worldly instincts tell us to fight, that’s not what Christ commands. We are to absorb…as the body of Christ…the same as Jesus absorbed. We are great warriors, but not anything remotely resembling the earthly example of such. Spiritual warfare is won by love, because God is…love. Nothing else. God’s love swallows sin and darkness. Love is not conformity to the world, but instead, it’s eternal truth. We stand firm within it…not the world. When evil sees us standing where we were created to stand, it runs from us. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When the world is in trouble it always turns to God. Even those who deny their soul and God, will eventually bow to their King, Jesus Christ. Our souls turn to God like little children who’ve done wrong turn to their parents for mercy. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.” Will you be saved or destroyed?

Yesterday, I was deeply moved by an image I saw on social media. A young man who had accidently killed a popular local chef with his car during a wild party binge, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. When I saw his reaction to the sentence in the photograph, my soul instantly connected to his. Here’s the image…oaktreedevotional33

I’ve never met this man and I wasn’t there, but I know exactly what he’s doing in that moment. His heart is pleading with its maker. My soul mourns for him deeply, because I can feel his anguish like it’s happening to me right now. My eyes are tear-filled just typing it. It makes absolutely no worldly sense for me to feel mercy for this young man, right? That’s crazy. But I’m torn up over this image. THAT is exactly what I’m supposed to feel. It’s how Jesus mourns for us. All of us as guilty as this man. His soul is begging and pleading for mercy. It won’t find it here. But I’m 100% certain this young man will walk in the kingdom with me. I can see it in the truth of his anguish. Our Lord has already forgiven this man, and if he submits himself to God, he’ll be given the same fruits of the spirit we’ve been given. He might wind up saving many souls the next 30 years in prison as a light. I feel it.

How do you make sense of it all? Do you conform to the pattern of the world, or are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? Romans 12:2. When your mind is renewed…you, too, will see what I see in the face of that young man.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Super Bowl Crown

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1 Corinthians 9: 24-25…“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Charlotte, NC is one of those types of places that everyone that was born there is very proud of where they come from. At least they are from my generation born in the 60’s and 70’s and before. Mid-size cities are often this way, such as, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and other similar sized places. We want people to know our city exists too and that it’s a great place to be. I’m not sure of the psychology behind that, but I’m willing to guess that it’s akin to Napoleonic complex because of being rivals with nearby larger cities. Charlotte has grown such now that it’s losing that quality, but for those of us who are natives, we’re extremely proud when good things happen to it. Which leads me to the Carolina Panthers NFL football team.

We (Charlotte) were awarded an NFL team that began play in Charlotte in 1996. The first year was spent playing in Clemson, SC until our brand new stadium in Uptown Charlotte was completed. Uptown instead of downtown is another story all together, but it goes right back to that striving to be unique and special. The very first event held in what is now called, Bank of America Stadium, was a Billy Graham Crusade. Billy of course being one of those proud Charlotte natives, and he is also a fan of our football team like the rest of us. If you listen to past messages of his you’ll hear his love of NC and Charlotte come forth quite often. 20 years later that stadium and the city of Charlotte will be hosting our very first NFC Championship game between the Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals. It’s kind of a big deal.

I love the game of football both college and pro. I loved playing the game with my friends as a kid. I didn’t so much love playing organized football, and the giant kids that played against us that must have lived by a nuclear power plant. That’s when I discovered there was a limit to my love of football. Ha. That said, I’ve been rabidly obsessed this year with the Panthers best season in our history. Going into the championship game we have 16 wins against 1 loss. It’s been a beautiful sight to behold. When I attended the playoff game last weekend with my family, I began to wonder if me directing all of this passion at the Panthers was a correct posture from a Godly standpoint. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope bordering on idol worship. Often times, the most seemingly harmless activities are the things drawing us away from relationship with our Father. Is that what is happening to me? It’s a very serious question.

So I began to put this against what the Apostle Paul wrote comparing the spirit of earthly competition with the spiritual responsibility that comes with eternal salvation. Competition and games existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles the same as it does now. He mentions racing in the quoted verse, and later he mentions boxing if you go on reading the chapter. Paul does not condemn these things, but instead he uses them as an example for us to adhere for a much higher purpose. “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

This led me to honestly assess my life from the stance of am I as “sold out” (I really dislike that Christianese term but it fits here) for Jesus as I am the Carolina Panthers? Not that many years ago that would have been a for sure no. But I’m a much different man in my transformation than I was 5, 3, even 1 year ago. My life revolves around Jesus now in all phases. Even football, because I’ve never even considered this to be an issue before, but now the spirit has brought it to my attention. This is what happens when the spirit of the living Christ dwells within us. It was brought to me to consider for a reason. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy all of this creation and the other humans God has created and the great things mankind does, but we must at all times remain with both feet on his narrow path. Eyes forward. If the Panthers lose this weekend I’m going to naturally be disappointed as to what might have been, but my life will instantly go on. I’m in my own race. I’m seeking the crown that is eternal. The Super Bowl crown will fade to dust when mine still shines with his glory as I lay it at the feet of my Savior.

Billy Graham, if he is able in his condition, I’m sure will be watching the game this Sunday. I’ll be there with my family once again, making the 1200 mile roundtrip trek to be in that moment with them. The picture above is one that I took just a few weeks ago while at his library in Charlotte. It’s a signed helmet from Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, to Mr. Graham, “his friend.” It’s a great moment for the team and for the city of Charlotte and all that love it. But I’ll also have these words from Billy in my mind as I temper my enthusiasm with spiritual reality…“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

I’ve grown much closer in likeness to the Lord over these many years, but I still have much more growing to do. How about you? Are the things you give your deepest passions to surpassing the passion you give to serving and growing in Christ? Serious question indeed.

Gary Abernathy