The Mercy Cross

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(Photo taken by me at Greyfriars Kirk – Edinburgh, Scotland – July 2016)

Lamentations 4: 5-11…”Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps. The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment without a hand turned to help her. Their princes were brighter than snow and whiter than milk, their bodies more ruddy than rubies, their appearances like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.

The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed her foundations.

This devotional blog goes all over the world. It’s been read on every inhabited continent on earth. Brazil, Italy, India, Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Canada, United Kingdom, Haiti, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, Ireland, France, Angola, Japan, Bosnia & Herzegovina…the list goes on. Not in the millions, but by the ones, twos, and threes. The inspiration of this site is Mark 4:20, which is posted on the home page – “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

I have faith that God uses what he puts into me that comes out here, as seed sown across his creation. I pay no search engine fees, I request no extra features, and I don’t know any tricks. It is God that leads these words to where they wind up. How I would love to visit all the places my site has gone. To meet those souls on the other end. We’re all in this together. All entered through the narrow gate. So, I ask you on this post this most important question – Do you understand what the cross has spared you from? Do you honor and remember? “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Here in these first few months of 2017 I’ve been taking a couple of different academic angles to deepen my understanding and awareness of Christ. The cross. The resurrection. My salvation. One is an intellectual angle by studying the works of C.S. Lewis. The other is by studying the Old Testament and the path that leads to Jesus on the Cross. All supplemented by daily readings of Psalms and Proverbs, which I’ve done in a repeating pattern for nearly 3 years. The latter I do as Godly bread  that fills my soul, instead of filling with the world’s deceptions. It works.

Those studies led me to Jeremiah and then to Lamentations. It matters not whether Jeremiah also wrote Lamentations. The content stands terrifyingly alone. A small portion of which I offered as today’s devotional. I considered my country of the United States in comparison. I considered your countries. Our sin reaches the heavens the same as those to whom the wrath was poured out on. Are we different somehow? Only in the one way – the Cross.

“With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.”

Mothers. Cooking. Their. Own. Children.

Jesus, on the cross, His body broken and His blood poured out – for us – to pay the price. The same price that Jeremiah horrifyingly witnessed before the Messiah came to save. Do you get that? We deserve no less than Jeremiah’s people. It’s our rightful portion for the crimes we commit. With nails driven into his flesh and bones, Jesus Christ took God’s full wrath meant for us.

I would urge you to read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. Read all the prophets. It’s not enough for me to write it here in a report. You can only feel it truly while inside His word in sincere relationship. Allow Him to teach you what it means.

And then sow more seed.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the Right Place

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James 1: 22-27…”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. 

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A little over a week ago I was standing on a hotel deck by a fire pit overlooking beautiful San Francisco, California. Directly across from me in the distance was the island that was home to the infamous – Alcatraz prison.  It paints the perfect illustration for this devotional entry. Are you living in the right place? My family and I were staying in a gorgeous hotel that was created by transforming its former occupant, the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory, into luxurious 2 and 3 bedroom units in the city.  It was heavenly, and yes, the chocolate is still everywhere, too. I certainly felt like I was living in the right place while staring out at Alcatraz and considering what it must have been like locked up there instead. It’s a metaphor of course, and both are worldly prisons of different types, but in a simple way, it provides a good visual for the topic. To not be imprisoned by my fellow man, I have to choose to obey his laws. If I do not, I wind up in a place like Alcatraz. Your spiritual existence holds even greater stakes.

When we choose to accept the gift of salvation – choosing to place our guilt on the cross with Jesus – we are agreeing to be reborn so that we may exist in His holy presence. Washed clean. Absolved. One of Billy Graham’s main points throughout his entire ministry was that the cross should be offensive to us. It should revile us. Why? Because it’s our  sin nailed up in torturous agony. It’s our punishment. He took the bullet for us. He made the path that we cannot make ourselves. He provided us the right place to live. James is talking about what that means in his first chapter.

Where are you living? I often find myself being tempted back into previous states of mind, or pulled into new directions leading me away from the home Christ has made for me. Just last night I was having a great conversation with 2 old friends and we were rehashing stories from many decades ago. We sure had fun together. I cherish all those memories of laughter and bonding. It would be very easy for me as a human just to stay that person I was back then. To not grow. To not transform. Just stay that guy and be that way. But in reality, that guy was a miserable train wreck always one step away from total disaster. I was free to have all that fun, but my soul was locked up in a place far worse than Alcatraz. Lost and rotting away. Directionless. Pointless. The relationships I am honored to have from it all the only saving grace. The stories…they are all nailed up on the cross with the rest of my sin. It’s not that it was all bad, because that’s not true whatsoever, and we were loyal brothers to each other…that’s always the best of goodness. But the actions that I alone am responsible for…they add up to quite a mountain. I’m thankful each moment of each day that I was rescued. That Christ found me worthy enough to come get me. To pull me out of all my misery, wash me off, and give me a true life. An eternal life. To show me the right place to live. Placing a beacon of light within me that won’t allow to go back even when my mind is tempted to go there. The light pulls me back to the mirror James talks about. The mirror that reflects who I really am. Who God made me to be.

There is a modest house that sits mere steps from the front door of the church I’ve attended for well over 10 years. I park my car on the other side of the fence that separates the property often. I did just that yesterday. When my youngest daughter was going to preschool there many years ago, she would say (almost daily) that she wished we lived in that house so we could be so close to church. She said that because she spent a great portion of her early life before elementary school in the church. It felt like her home. It was the right place for her to live as far as she was concerned. I look at that house frequently. Yesterday I arrived for pre-service rehearsal (I’m a drummer in the praise band) and parked in my usual spot. I noticed as I looked at the house that there was a Halloween-like skeleton decoration hanging from the wall facing the church. I didn’t know what to make of that. I took it as a sign to keep away.

The reason this house fascinates me stems from the fact that it is indeed so close to our doors, but as far as I know, its occupant has never stepped foot inside. That truly bothers me. If we can’t reach them, how can our mission work spread beyond that house? We have all kinds of services and activities that minister to the people of the surrounding community, which is in dire need of them, and they take full advantage. Praise God. But that one house refuses to budge. I’m pretty sure every pastor of the church (United Methodists rotate) has attempted to get them in. I did just that myself a few years ago. I am not the knock-on-doors type, but one day I took a bible I bought with my own money and went and knocked on the door. I wound up having a conversation with a woman that lived there on her front porch. She didn’t invite me inside. I gave her a simple invitation, presented her the bible as sincerely as I could as a gift, and the end result of the effort was her saying – “Well, we all do our own thing, right?” Which was her polite way of saying…”Buzz off, Jesus boy.”

I look at that house from the viewpoint of the same way I looked at Alcatraz from the splendor of my renovated chocolate factory. I’m standing in this magnificent glorious place (God’s House) and just across the way is a prison. Now at the Ghiradelli location, I can’t go get the prisoners and invite them to live in the right place with me. Fairmont is in the business to make money, and I can’t afford to pay the fee for all of these hypothetical prisoners. (Alcatraz long ago stopped housing real prisoners). But when I’m standing in real glory, my church, I most certainly can go invite others to come join me. It’s up to them to decide. The price of admission is free, because the cross that they will find paid the price for them. But even though…free still isn’t good enough for so many. They would rather just keep looking at the mirror that will keep lying to them. The one that will let them forget who they are.

When we allow ourselves to exist away from God, whether physically or mentally (pride, jealousy, envy, and all the classics) we are not living in the right place. The safe place. The true place. His place. So I’ll conclude with the same question – Where are you living?

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

How to Find Promised Peace

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Galatians 5: 19-26…”The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

This is vital scripture to the soul reborn in the Spirit. It’s written by the Apostle Paul to the early church of Galatia, which is now modern day Turkey. Considering the central role Turkey is now playing in the ongoing saga in the Middle East, it’s interesting to compare what Paul wrote to them versus what is now present. But this isn’t a political post. If I wanted to go that route with this particular lifted scripture, I could break down all worldly politics and social movements to expose the evil that they are. Maybe another day. This is about you…and me…and the church.

When I read scripture I seek out clear and simplified instructions like these. I’m a direct person. Tell me exactly what you want from me. But God’s ways don’t match our ways, and so, we are given parables, and examples, and history, and prophecy, and the mystery remains big enough to fit all of us within its hold. But I sure love it when it’s broken down in easy to understand form. This is Paul telling us clearly what the fruits of life without God are, which end in death, and what the fruits of the Spirit are, which lead to eternal life. It is critical to understand the second to last sentence in the scripture I posted. Why? Because of how he wrote it and how those of us living now experience it. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

We have a choice to make in that regard each day and each moment. Our souls have been reborn, but we (as living human creatures) are still transforming like a caterpillar to a butterfly from dying flesh to eternal spirit. In short, we consist of both, and all of the above listed traits are still within our capability. How many great men and women of God are fallen by sexual adventures? How many by selfish ambition? For as long as we are still flesh, we are still capable of producing and being victim to its fruits. It’s very important to understand that, and it’s Paul’s dire warning he’s giving. “Keep in step with the Spirit.” It’s a choice. It’s not an automatic impulse. As your faith grows and your spiritual maturity rises, those fruits become natural impulse, but they are still a choice. We have to train ourselves to keep in step with the goodness written on our heart, and to withstand the worldliness that provides constant conflict in both our hearts and minds.

So how do we find promised peace? By posing the question that way I just put myself into the role of teacher, and that’s not what I am, as noted several posts back in my reboot of this blog. I’m more of a friendly Sherpa…an experienced guide…sharing what I’ve learned to work for me. That doesn’t mean as I take you up the mountain you might not be equipped right, and you’ll fall off a cliff if you try it exactly like I do. I need you to understand the difference. The Holy Spirit is your teacher. I’m a Sherpa. So, in that way, let’s look at the question.

When I’m on a vacation, or a sabbatical, or some type of adventure, I tap into those fruits of the Spirit so much easier than I do while living my normal life. That is just the way it is. I’ve recently returned from 4 days in the San Francisco, California area, and the fruits of the Spirit were present and abundant emerging from my being. Free flowing. The picture above was taken by my wife of me in Muir Woods, just north of the city. The atmosphere amongst the tallest trees on earth has to be about as close to a heavenly experience as we are capable of in this dimension. It swallows you in goodness. Promised peace? I was loaded with peace. Loved my fellow man, loved all creation, and loved the creator with all my heart and soul. Easy peasy. How do we translate that to normal life?

Death to self. That’s what we’re in the process of, and while on vacation or away from our earthbound obligations, it’s much easier to let “self” sink to the depths, and allow your eternal soul to soar. But then we come home to the stresses of our lives…careers, marriages, children, family, death, disaster, politics, people tugging at us to do what they want…all of those things that bring “self” back up and into defensive posture. We seek false idols that promise relief, we lash out in bitterness and hateful speech, we sow discord, get jealous or envious of those around us, and we reach for addictions to mask our pain. In short, we go right back to the fruits of the flesh. All of us do this in one way or another. We long to break the cycle but we don’t know how. RELATIONSHIP. That is the way out. Relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Relationship starts with prayer. Sincere, honest, confessional, acknowledging, thankful, selfless…prayer. Submission. That’s where promised peace begins to take root. If you’re reading this today and you do not have a regular prayer life, I guarantee you that your life is overflowing with the fruits of the flesh. You might be saved, for I don’t know the mysteries of God, but you’re not transforming. Go to your knees in prayer and begin that relationship. Jesus taught us how to pray. Do that and build around it.

Next up…study. Get your face into scripture on a daily basis. People like to say, “Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” Yes. It does. The Bible. And if you’re reborn of the Spirit but not partaking from its sustaining bread, then your faith and knowledge will forever remain smaller than a mustard seed. God’s word is your shelter, protection, encouragement, promise…your life. With modern technology we’ve brought many curses on ourselves, but it also gives many blessings. We have access to God’s word in thousands of languages and translations. It’s a free app on your smart phone. Filled with study plans, reading guides, devotionals…everything you could possibly dream of. Free. Get in there.

Action. If you’ve given your life to Christ, began routine prayer life, and are engaged in devoted scripture study, I can guarantee you what’s coming next…action. The first book in the New Testament after the Gospels of Jesus? Acts. God is going to start pairing whatever unique gifts you’ve been loaned with the fruits of the Spirit, and put you to good use. That is unavoidable and it should be relished as confirmation of your faith. Do you know why most of the non-Christian world regards us in a negative light? Because most of us are claiming the benefits of salvation and Jesus to be our own, but we are only giving the world back the same fruits of the flesh they have. Because we claim our free gift, take it back home and put it in a locked drawer, and resume our life as it was. That’s deadly not only to you, as Paul warns, but deadly to those around us that we are called by responsibility to be lights pointing towards Jesus. If we want the fruits of the Spirit to take over our own lives, we must first give them away.

Peace. Prayer, Study and Action = Peace. That’s a simplified formula from your friendly Sherpa. Perhaps for you it will work slightly or greatly different. It’s a big creation with infinite moving parts. All are called to different tasks. But that simple formula can only lead you to good outcomes and places. It will lead you to peace. As I’ve grown in transformation I’ve learned that exact process is how I dig myself out of holes I fall into. If I’m angry, depressed, tempted, tried…I know to go back to prayer, study and action (giving away). When I do so, peace follows…beautiful, calm, comforting, hugging, smiling…peace. Just like in the picture above standing in that redwood tree. I know it’s all going to be okay. The kingdom is coming.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

The Flickering Light of Hope on the Frontlines of Hell in Mosul

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Psalm 27: 1-3…”The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

I read something tonight on the Facebook page of Reverend Franklin Graham that has compelled me to do something I’ve yet to do on this devotional site – use someone else’s words as the message. My words after reading this are silent. They do not belong in this testimony. I’m fully aware of what has been taking place in Iraq and Syria these last many years. I’m aware of the utter horror of it all. But this testimony comes from within the horror…within the chaos/darkness/evil…no word does justice…of man’s darkest capabilities. My prayers go out nightly for those in this…what is it even…this unraveling of man’s very soul. They have for a long time now. But nothing has ever been shown to me in my safety in the west quite like this. You must read it if you claim the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior. You must know.

This letter was written by a staff member of the Samaritan’s Purse Field Trauma Hospital on the ground in Mosul, Iraq. A land that time after time in God’s word continues to surface. It was integral to Assyria. It is Nineveh. One of the very first acts of ISIS after taking the region was to destroy the tomb of Jonah. Blew it up. That was a message sent.

Here are the words…

—My first day at the emergency field hospital just east of Mosul, Iraq was very much like my last day. Mortar strikes on civilians, children bloody and broken, black bags to hold the dead. The slow, solemn walk, cradling a ten year old in my arms, counting the steps to the morgue. Laying someone’s son down on cold gravel, reading his name one last time on the death certificate taped to the body bag.

Time of death 18:17.

Patient #855.

I’ll never forget the sounds of his dying. The rattling and the gurgling. I’ll never forget the songs we sung over him, the prayers strangled by grief and sorrow. The tear stained cheeks and our righteous anger. I’ll never forget the faraway look on his precious face. I’ll never forget his face. What was left of it.

Many of us were strangers a week before, two days before. Strangers taking care of other strangers. One set from the west, a land of peace and prosperity, one set from northern Iraq, a region ravaged by terrorism and war. And now here we all were, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, translators, construction workers, administrators, and HR reps. One and all hearts turned inside out and taking care of the dying while other new friends fight for the living in mobile operating theaters a few hundred feet away.

That last night may have been the worst. The toddler with ribs exposed from mortar wounds. 9 children in one day. But there were other days, other nights when I thought my heart might die. The toddlers with their feet shot off. The whole families targeted by drone strikes. The burnt and blackened restaurant patrons, victims of a suicide bomber. One night in particular I carried five children to the morgue. It leaves you breathless, concussed. The mortar of sorrow, a direct shot to the soul.

I’m processing, I’m free bleeding my heart and thoughts here so I don’t explode and because I don’t have the luxury of denial. I cannot separate my belief in a good and sovereign God and the suffering of innocence. If there is no reconciling the two than I am lost. We all are. Especially Christians, fools to be pitied of all men.

But what we found there, behind those blast walls, with the ceaseless drums of artillery fire, the strangled song of the whine and wail of one ambulance after another, was that hope is not a thing you wish for, it is the only thing afloat in a raging sea of chaos. It is what you hold on to, what holds on to you so you do not go under the relentless waves of grief. And we found that you hold on to each other. And you pray like gasping for your last breath. And you plead with heaven, even when heaven is silent. And you raise your broken hearts together in a pitiful little petition, more whimpers than words, and you beg, unified in grief, “Jesus please…..”

The Bible says that suffering produces hope. A comical, sadist thought when the belly is full and the sun of our futures never sets, always shines on our glorious destinies. But when the night never ends, when the morgue is full, when evil seems to be laughing in every shadow, on those nights you somehow see it. Suffering produces hope in this way: when terrorism and hate and the cancer of evil spreads over all that is good with a blight of darkness, the light still does not go out. There is a flame in the hearts of those who have known the love of God. There is a song of praise that is not stalled on their lips, is not silenced. There is a light in the inner places of those who have heard the Word of Life and believed. This is the flower of hope that grows in the garden of souls by heaven’s Holy seed. This is the hope that springs eternal, because it has always existed, always will exist apart from the human stain, in the Holy heart of God.

Suffering produces hope in the same way bomb blasts produce the broken bodies of children. It is the inevitability, the cause and the effect of universal laws. But only one will remain. Hope will swallow grief one day because Love will conquer all. But Hope is inevitable in us only when we trust, against our own instincts, in the goodness of God and allow ourselves to be taken deep into our own human frailty, far past vulnerability to the point of despair. And in that wasteland of our utter uselessness, in that wilderness of our unraveling, God is there, He is faithful, He alone, as He has always been, is holding the universe together and simultaneously holds us in the palm of His hand.

That is the only hope: that God holds His own in the palm of His hands while they yet suffer. And that the insatiable hunger of the mouth of Hell cannot devour the ragtag, broken band of believers called the church.

In the picture above I hold in my hand a 50 caliber bullet taken from the body of a pre-teen boy. An ISIS sniper shot him because their’s is an ideology of fear. They target the weak, not just because the weak are a low-hanging fruit, but because most of us are weak. Most of us are trying to live our simple lives in peace. ISIS needs capitulation. They need submission. A sniper bullet in the side of a child reminds us the world is not at peace and things are not simple. It reminds us that suffering isn’t a concept, that no abstraction paralyzed this young man. It reminds us that we are fragile and vulnerable. It reminds us that to walk the way of love our hearts will be obliterated by suffering.

And so against all hope we hope, that Love will one day conquer all. But not human love. Only God’s selfless love, for with it carries His perfect all-powerful justice and the promise and ability to make all things new. Godspeed that day. Especially for the precious children of Mosul.

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Does God Love His Creation Unconditionally?

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John 3:16…”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The above is the most famous scripture in the New Testament. That’s the message. It’s everywhere. “For God so loved the world…” But does God love His creation unconditionally? That was a question put before me earlier today.

The above picture was taken back in February of this year by me at E.H. Sloop Chapel in Crossnore, North Carolina. I was on sabbatical in the area, and I’d heard of the work of this chapel and school, and about this fresco pictured,  and decided to check it out. It’s a fresco by, Benjamin F. Long, IV, titled – “Suffer the Little Children.” It’s relevant to this discussion because of what I experienced when viewing it. I had entered the chapel on the other end of the building and I proceeded straight for the altar. It was completely void of other people at that time. Just God showing me what he wanted to and me following the prodding. The first thing I did was kneel on the first step and pray. When I was finished, I looked up above and saw Psalm 121 -“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?  My help comes from The Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  I nodded in agreement, as the Spirit was giving me one of those hugs that it so often does in moments like those. Then I stood and turned around.

My eyes took in this enormous and magnificent piece of ordained artwork. But they were quickly drawn to the bottom left hand corner onto the dark haired child with bangs. His eyes were looking directly into mine as they are any viewer of this work. But there was a twist. That child was me. As I stood there gawking alone in this chapel, it was as if myself rose from its two dimensional limitations and became whole to greet me. The child looks exactly like me at the same age. My mouth was gaping. And in my head and heart, the Sprit was impressing loudly on me – “You’ve always been His.” I’ve strayed far and wide in life, but my first memories are of children’s bible studies in my neighborhood around 4-5 years old, and this experience took me right back to then. “You’ve always been His.” The kid in the picture is standing back, looking at us and not Christ, and seems to be asking, “Is this guy for real?” I was given an answer to that in E.H. Sloop Chapel.

Does God love us unconditionally? When that question was posed, I raised my hand, “Yes.” I was then instructed I was wrong, and that the correct answer is, “No. God doesn’t love us unconditionally. Scripture provides condition after condition.” I don’t agree. All I see in scripture is a God that is nothing but a bottomless sea of unconditional love. Otherwise, he would have ended with the flood and washed his hands of the matter.

It’s funny, because I’ve been struggling mighty lately with the concept of – Free Will. Because everything is centered upon it. Figure out free will, and the doors start opening one after another in God’s great mystery of creation. In our thinking of such, we go all the way back to the garden. God creates man to be the caretaker of his creation, and then he creates woman to be his partner and companion. It’s the paradise we all wish were our existence. They’re strolling around naked, Adam is naming animals, and all is wonderful. And this is key – God is WITH them in the garden. Genesis 3:8…”Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

God is IN the garden walking “in the cool of the day.” The entire point of the cross is to redeem us to that state to where we can be in the presence of our God. To understand free will, we have to go back to what was before Adam’s fall. In God’s perfect unconditional love, he didn’t create man to be a puppet to His whims. He wanted man to love him because man chose to do so. That’s the law of love. It can’t be forced or fabricated. He had to create the means to choose this perfect existence. Genesis 2: 16-17…”And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ “

And there it is. Man, and woman, have perfect existence in the presence of God. Everything is at their fingertips. No disease, no violence, no sadness, no tears, no death…perfect existence. But God gave them a choice. The tree of knowledge of good and evil. “If you love me, and want to be with me, leave that tree alone.”God had to put that tree there to satisfy unconditional love. I know that sounds ridiculous. It’s literally a condition. “If you love me don’t eat from this tree.” That’s a condition. But it has to be there, or else there is no basis for unconditional to begin with. They would just be programmed that way. Man and woman decide to eat from the tree of good and evil. They decide to disobey God. Free will.

God could have ended it right there. Right? We have no idea if we are just one tiny little speck of God’s massive creations expanding to universe after universe. We don’t know. But we have to assume that after that decision in the garden, God could have just wiped it away as if it never were. He didn’t. He never has. If that’s not unconditional love, I don’t know what is. From that point forward of free will given to man being used to turn on his creator, it’s been nothing but disaster after disaster…all caused by free will. And a God that refuses to give up on us, continuing to call out to us – “Let me save you. I love you purely. Please come home.” No matter what God did, man continued to choose that one tree. Time after time. Read the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Listen to God speak through them to man. It’s terrifying. But even so, it always comes back to God’s sentiment of, “I should fully destroy you because it’s exactly what you deserve. But I won’t. I will spare enough of you to continue on.” UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

I can’t speak for our Lord. I made the mistake of adding my thoughts 2 paragraphs ago as being His, and he messed up my writing program. True story. I had to get rid of it and start again without that. But I can speak to how I feel the process might have looked like – God, having tried everything and realizing man wasn’t going to turn, finally decided, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That’s Jesus Christ. That’s why He came. That’s who He is. God. God’s perfect unconditional love coming to earth to live one perfect human life. And in doing so, reconciling us (all of us) back to Him and the conditions of the original garden. It’s a GIFT. Not a condition. We must believe that our Lord did this. All that do so will not perish but have eternal life. Is that a condition to the gift? God tells us it is not. It’s a reaction to the gift. The correct reaction.

So what about all that came after the resurrection and Jesus leaving the earth? What about Romans 6 where Paul describes “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ?” This…When the Shepherd (Christ) comes for his lost sheep (us) and the sheep accepts his gift of salvation, we are given an all-new life. Our true life. We are born again by the Spirit of God placed within our soul. That’s exactly what happened to me. Old Me, the one that God blew into my nostrils and gave me earthly life, is still dying as was determined by the decision in the garden, but the New Me, is eternal. Old Me is still here, dying, capable of the same sinning he always was, but New Me that began as an infant in understanding, is growing and expounding by the day. Killing what was and transforming to what IS. I have no control over that. It’s written on my soul. Compelled by the Spirit in my heart and mind. Anyone that knows me can testify to the changes within in me. There are still plenty of changes yet to come. It’s a process. But it’s not me doing it. It’s the Holy Spirit. I was told, “You’ve always been His.” I am. His. Because of my own free will, I chose to come home.

By the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection – You can make that choice, too! Why? Because our Father, our perfect Lord, loves us all unconditionally. Always has.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

The Company We Keep

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Mark 2: 1-12…”A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ “

The company we keep matters. It matters a whole, whole, whole lot. From my very first memories, until this moment right now, I can recollect a friend placed in my life that in one way or another, led me in the direction of Christ. The first was a neighbor named, Laurie Newsome. We were 4 years old and best friends. The two of us attended a neighborhood children’s bible study together. Those are my first memories of having a friend in Christ. Moving forward, there is a steady stream of various friends that would come into my life. The bulk of all those relationships having nothing to do on the surface with direct involvement in church, bible study, or anything of that nature. But when reflected back on, it’s easy to trace. The kids above in the picture (myself and 3 best friends) playing large roles in that. We were truly brothers.

The scripture I gave today from Mark’s gospel showcases a band of friends just like mine in childhood. A wily bunch of dudes loyal to each other…and crazy. A few years ago I watched a sermon from Pastor Mike Glenn of Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. I love that guy. He has all the degrees, pedigrees, this and that’s you want from a pastor in authority, but when he’s speaking from the pulpit, he delivers in simple ways that are engaging and fun, while still being highly thought provoking and purposeful. In short, he speaks to me. And a few years ago he did a sermon on this scripture that hit true friendship right on the head – those dudes in this scripture are exactly the type of friends you need to have in your life.

At this point in his ministry, Jesus has the juice. He’s got the buzz. Everyone is talking about him and all are curious and excited to see him. There wasn’t even room outside the door to listen to him speak this day. Meanwhile, somewhere in the vicinity lives a paralyzed man. He surely must have been beloved, because normally that figure in the bible is alone somewhere with nobody to help him. But this guy was, or had been, keeping the right company. Because they heard Jesus was coming, and they knew that this was their friend’s best and probably only shot of healing. What follows is a series of events that sounds exactly like something my friends and I would have done back in the day.

4 of them carry this man to the place. Carry. Him. Do you have friends that would carry you even 5 feet? These fellas carry this man who knows how far to get there. That in itself is a tremendous act of love. Only to find out they can’t get anywhere near Jesus. Like the secret service has the area sealed and there is not a snowball’s chance of getting in. Normal people say, “Oh well, dude, we tried. Maybe he’ll come back another time.” Not these guys. You can just imagine the conversation that took place between them. Pastor Glenn is quite hilarious in his rendition. I won’t attempt it. Suffice it to say, somebody came up with the oh-so-insane idea of somehow getting this paralyzed man on the roof of the building, managing to cut a hole in the ceiling large enough to fit him through, and then lowering him I assume by rope down in front of the Son of Man. Not only did they pull off all the above, but they wound up having the entire whacked out plan being recorded for the remainder of time in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was so impressed by this effort, and I love to imagine him stopping in mid-sentence as he notices that a man is being lowered down from a hole in the ceiling above his head and breaking out in laughter, that he proclaims to the man on the mat, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now this tells us that – 1. Whatever had paralyzed the man was due to sin. 2. Jesus wanted everyone in attendance to know that he had been given authority to forgive sin. 3. That if we come to Christ in sincere faith no matter what the weird circumstances were that got us to him, we can and will be forgiven. This all ends with the massive crowd aghast at what they’d just witnessed, and the once paralyzed man picking up his mat, and walking out the door in full view of all. The keepers of the law appalled at the “blasphemy” of Jesus declaring the authority to forgive sin. I’d love to have seen the reunion with the friends once the healed man got back outside. “Dudeeeeeeeeeee! That was unbelievable!!!” They’re all high-fiving and falling all over each other. “I can’t believe that worked!!!!” Laughing, smiling…and so happy their friend is healed. Those guys? That’s the right company to keep.

The teenagers in the picture above were I think in 9th grade when that picture was taken. It was by the basketball court at my home we were usually found hanging out at. I’m the shaggy-haired skinny guy on top of the pyramid. The guy below me I’d met when I was in 2nd grade. He was my first friend in a brand new neighborhood. We met in school and he invited me to sleepover at his house. I was scared to death. Seriously! I can be a little shy at first, and I didn’t know what I would possibly have to say to him for that long. I was still so innocent that my room was full of stuffed animals. (Note of honesty – I STILL keep stuffed animals around me and I’m 50 years old. They comfort me. Sssshh. Don’t tell anyone else that). I knew just from manly instinct that taking my beloved Pooh Bear with me would have been a death blow to that friendship. He didn’t seem like the stuffed animal type of guy. Super friendly, but that wasn’t his gig. So I decided the cool move that would accomplish me “having a friend” along for the ride, but not look stupid was…and I really did this…taking a stuffed Fred Flintstone doll with me. To this day, and it’s now been over 4 decades since…he STILL gives me heck about that. And I of course don’t blame him…soooooo lame. But if we went right back to that moment right now, I’d do it exactly the same way. That’s who I am. You want to be friends with me…you get the real Gary. To his utmost credit, and despite what I’m sure was against his better judgment after something like that, we wound up being the closest of friends all through high school graduation and beyond. In 8th grade I introduced him to the girl that would go on to be the love of his life and the mother of his 4 children. She’s now a well-known internet bible study leader for women. The first time they kissed was in my backyard. We have a lot of history that guy and me.

The 2 guys on the bottom? Oh, they weren’t that important in my life. I only made music with them in a band for the better part of 3 decades. They were my best friends for most of my life to this point. People came and went in the various forms of that band over the years, all of them special and important, but the core of us 3 never changed. It was our band. Our family. Our friendship. Those 4 guys in that picture? They would have carried each other to see Jesus if it meant healing was possible. We were those guys. Though time, families, life and distance separate us now, I still believe in my heart we still would for each other. I know I would. And I’d bring Fred Flintstone with me.

The company we keep? Matters. Cherish those brothers and sisters in your life that love you the same way Christ loves you – exactly as they find you. And sure as the sun will shine…they will make you a better person.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

Delighting in Weakness

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2 Corinthians 12: 5-10…”I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I love the story of Palm Sunday. If I’m being honest, it’s probably my favorite moment in the gospels. I’ll explain why. We are told and assured that Jesus, the word made flesh, experienced every human emotion, every temptation, that we have or ever will. When you consider the scope of that, it’s very hard to fathom, yet that is the provided truth. This means that our Lord felt the same loneliness and fear we all do. The same feelings of exclusion. The same temptations of conformity to alleviate it all. “Go along to get along.” I wrote in my previous posting about the narrow gate and the wide gate. Above the wide gate where the multitudes flow through, surely there is a plaque that reads, “Go along to get along.” It is a compromise of faith that is probably our greatest temptation, when properly laid out in comparison with the millions of others. It is a horrible feeling to stick out like a sore thumb in a way that does not glorify our own egos. In the ways that bring scorn and not praise. We all want to be liked…to be loved. For me, that is the thorn in my flesh…my messenger from Satan that brings torment. But I can’t pull that thorn out, unless I walk through that wide gate of human conformity. Unless I compromise His words to be more pleasing to the ears of others and myself. It’s a devil of a pickle.

Rob Bell, the “pastor” most famously known as Oprah’s spiritual advisor, is the most high-profile example of that kind of “faith.” His stature, his fame, his wealth, his acceptance (false love) by the Godless, is built on a foundation of scriptural quicksand. “You don’t like the reality of Hell? I’ll take it away.” “You don’t like the guilt that comes with wrongdoing? Let’s change the rules.” And recently he decreed, by his own plowing path through the wide gate, that “2000 year old letters have made the church irrelevant, and that to better serve the people of today, we probably need to stop looking to the bible.” (paraphrased but on point). The scripture above, lifted from a letter written by Paul, to be included in that trashing. That’s all I’m going to say about Rob Bell. This post isn’t, nor will any others, ever be about him.

So, that all leads back to Palm Sunday. One brief moment of his entire ministry when he could exhale for just a second and just be loved. John 12: 12-13…”The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Of course, Jesus knew that in just a couple of days, those same people would be demanding that he be killed. That they would even choose a murderous lowlife like Barabbas to live, just to make sure Jesus got the death they clamored to see. But for just one moment, Jesus got to feel the blissful (but always temporary) rush of human adoration. It makes my heart happy for him when I read that…when I consider it. The smile it surely put upon him, as he side-saddled that little donkey up the road.

That’s the same feeling I get when the Holy Spirit “hugs” me in prayer. Do you know that feeling? It’s a tremendous rush. I’ll be kneeling at the altar, tears down my cheeks, rubbing the salty liquid in the wood in front of me, and the Spirit will envelop me in embrace. Jesus…delighting in my total weakness. The body of Christ made strong, by the powerful faith in our weaknesses given over to him. The endurance of those painful thorns in our sides because his love is so much greater.

The people on Palm Sunday were correct in their assessment of Him – He is indeed their king. Our king. But when they found out it wasn’t a kingdom for then and there…”Crucify this blasphemer!” Jesus would answer their anger by explaining that his kingdom is not of this world. They still don’t understand. Still demand the passing through the wide gate.

But for us? The sinners redeemed and given a piece of him to lead us home safely? The sights and sounds of every day life become more painful to endure each day transformation takes us further and further away from belonging to it. I’ve got to the point where I only feel somewhat at peace in just two places – 1. With my wife and/or daughters in rare moments of pure time together. 2. Alone in nature where I feel most closely connected to God.  The rest is just one long bout of homesickness. The pushing of will to do the tasks and things our Lord will have us do and perform. Don’t get me wrong…my heart rejoices in the moments of breakthrough, in the times with true friends, and all the pleasures of life, but now that I know what waits for me next…given example of feeling by those spiritual hugs…that’s where my heart is. I want to go home.

I took the picture above last summer in London watching all the grand pomp in front of the royal palace. That picture reminds me of the Palm Sunday spectacle as they welcomed the true King. The humble Christ on his little donkey. Nothing humble about England’s spectacle, but it’s quite a marvel to behold. In all its wide gate glory. But for this man…I’m just the donkey on this earth. But one day…and for all eternal…he has gone to make a place for me. A donkey no more I shall be.

What gate will you choose?

 

Is the Pope Right? Is it better to be an atheist than a bad Christian?

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Matthew 7: 13-14…(Red Letters – Words of Christ) – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Full disclosure: I’m not Catholic and I don’t trust the intentions of the current Pope. I haven’t since moment one of his mysterious coming about, and I do not still today. For that very reason, because I also don’t trust myself, I pay attention to what he says. We are no different a people today than those that eventually nailed Jesus to that cross. I know this about myself, and I know this about humanity, and so, I keep my mouth shut about the teaching of the Pope. Mostly. Jesus shocked the world as it was with his words…so does this Pope. I might not trust him, but that doesn’t mean at all I don’t listen to what he says and attempt to process the information. End of disclosure.

On Thursday, February 23rd, Pope Francis speaking at a morning mass, made the statement that it’s better to be an atheist, than a scandalizing Catholic. The exact quote is this: “So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. How many times have we heard – all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere – But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.” As he often does, his words have set off a firestorm. I’ve read a lot of the social media comments on the various posts, and they are exactly what we’ve all come to expect in today’s wildly heated rhetoric. “False prophet, anti-Christ, evil, etc.” But……………is he right?

Immediately after Jesus Christ spoke the Golden Rule (common to all religion) as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew –  (7:12) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” – he speaks to the wide and narrow gates. Christ doesn’t randomly order things when he’s teaching. Those two are connected by grand purpose. 1. Here is the one simple rule that all goodness on earth will teach from beginning to end. It sums up the entirety of the Creator’s law. 2. Though you must follow the law, you’re incapable of doing so because of the disease of sin, so I’m here to fulfill the law for everyone. To create the path to life. To save you. Very few will sincerely follow the path I create.

Is it better to believe there is no God at all, than it is to acknowledge that God exists but to not live in accordance to his law? To claim the benefits of the path of Christ, but to not “put in the work” of the Kingdom? The problem with what the Pope has decreed is that our works, no matter how great or small, have zer0 to do with our salvation. And the problem with what those Christians that are like that is…they have never found that narrow gate. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you’ll never see it even if you’re standing directly in front of it. Big glaring arrows point to it screaming – “THIS WAY TO LIFE. GO THIS WAY.” Won’t see it. It’s the same as wisdom’s call in the Old Testament.

“Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.” (Proverbs 1: 20-21). “But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.” (Proverbs 1: 24-27).

“Bad Catholics,” as the Pope puts it, or bad Christians in general, aren’t of Christ, they are of the world’s religious concept of him. When we sincerely come to Christ the Holy Spirit is sent to us. Jesus lives within us. A beacon that will hone in on that narrow gate, and transform our worldly concepts to righteous, eternal life. We begin to become the keepers of His law, not by our own doing, but by the presence of Christ living within us. This process is transformation. The length of the process is anyone’s guess. God will use us as per his plan. I myself, having the spirit and that beacon of light, most certainly am not fully transformed, nor do I know when I ever will be, but do I expect it while still alive on this earth? I certainly do. I can testify that even today as I stand, I’m world’s apart from the man I looked at in the mirror even 5 years ago. The process is noticeable. The successor to Peter should know this the same as I do. So what point is he trying to make? It’s better not to believe at all? I can’t buy that. The slightest bit of faith will draw Christ’s visit eventually. Whether the door is opened and Jesus is let in, is the decision of the person in that moment. And they will know it’s happening. The atheist doesn’t even believe there is ever a door to open.

Let’s take another polarizing world leader for example: President of the United States, Donald Trump. It’s clear to any Christian with the Spirit, that Donald Trump has either not had “the moment,” or he’s very early in the process of transformation. So, toss him in the Pope’s declaration if that’s the case. Because he’s certainly used the imagery and words of faith to rise to his position. Most Christians voted for him. I’ve said little about him since becoming elected. I’m watching. I opposed him very loudly in the Republican primaries. It was a brutal eye-popping experience. If that crowd around him are Christians, then they have a God-given purpose that allows for a lot of things that don’t jive in a Christian nature. They intentionally painted an actual Spirit-filled Christian, Marco Rubio, as a former homosexual that engaged in wild sexual bubble parties. Doing this through their own “fake news” sites. But they’ll never admit that. I saw it. And it hurt Senator Rubio’s campaign tremendously. The type of Christians the Pope refers to ate it up with a big spoon, and sent it back out gleefully. A “bad Christian” can do a whole lot of damage in this world. One could make the argument in this instance for a kind, considerate human atheist, being far more preferable than that type of Christian.

However, I’m watching President Trump intensely. I listen to almost every public speech and announcement he makes. There is certainly still that determined  purpose within him, but I also see change continuing to progress. It’s VERY faint, I’ll grant you that, and you have to know what you’re looking for…but it’s there. A softening here, a rounding out there…subtle…but sincere. For example his revised stance on the “Dreamers.” His heart has been moved. That’s the Spirit. Not him. It will be an interesting study in transformation (or proof that he never was converted) the next 4 years. I suspect that by 2020, you’ll see a MUCH different President Trump than the one you see today. Because I do fully believe he’s a seeker. And I have to take his word that he’s been saved. The proof of that will be in his further transformation. Do I prefer that man over a Godless human? Every single time. Because I know that he’s moving towards the perfect ideals of our creation. So, Pope Francis, while I do understand your point, I must disagree. It’s a reckless statement that causes the very thing you’re railing against – scandalizing.

But who am I to question the Pope? I’m just a man hacking my way through the underbrush of a tiny path. But I sure do see that glorious light in front of me. Do you?

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

Finding Your Happy Ending

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Peace and Hope

Romans 5: 1-5…”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

This scripture leads me to my near 19 year old niece. This weekend, in a moment of wonderful personal triumph, she stood upon a platform as a diver for the University of Houston, and received silver and bronze medals that helped lead her team to their first conference championship in school history. The program began in 1975. She’s been at that school for just a little over a month. My niece, a fiercely private person, wrote on her one social media account that is was “the happiest day of my life.” A happy ending. I’m so proud of her. Because I know the road that led to that podium.

This isn’t an unauthorized biography, so I’ll skip all the details that many of us share of hardship in childhood. The bottom-line is she’s suffered like all the rest of us, but she’s also had a large, dedicated and loving support group surrounding her since birth. As part of that, she’s been introduced to Christ and long ago accepted his invitation. She’s a practicing and devout Catholic, in a family full of Protestants, but it makes no never mind to me. I know her heart, and it belongs to Christ. When that’s the case…we are going to suffer. The question is…will we find it within ourselves to persevere? If you trace the timeline, her athletic woes began to surface about the same time her faith began to flourish. In other words, God began testing her.

My niece was a high level gymnastics state champion of North Carolina at one point. Talent is not lacking in that one. On top of that, she excels at the highest levels academically. She plays to win. Everything. Then came the injuries. Cracked this. Broken that. It all led to a doctor one gloomy day telling her she couldn’t compete in gymnastics anymore. Too dangerous for her injuries. Devastation number 1. Her entire existence was built around the gym. But she plodded forward nonetheless. Her grades not falling. Her determination unaltered. Her faith unquestioned. Then diving was suggested to her. The talents required for competitive diving are the same needed in gymnastics. You just add some water into the equation. Off she went.

She got really good really fast. The scouts started coming around as she progressed in high school. Then devastation number 2. Her mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in the lymph nodes. My niece and her mom are two peas in one pod. She adores her mother. It did not look good at all. Surgery. Chemo. Hair loss. The cancer drill. Still, she kept plodding forward. Nothing slipped, even as the heart broke and the fear struck. I’m happy to say, her mom is in full recovery and doing well for now. It was a scary time that far too many women go through. Many don’t make it.

Senior year. Time to decide on a university. Her grades allowed her much flexibility. Her talent many offers. She’s a valuable asset to any program. She chose James Madison because of the coach. They had a bond from the beginning. All was set. Then James Madison fired the coach. My niece was thrown into turmoil of how to proceed. Eventually, she backed out because she wasn’t getting the program she signed up to join. Recruiting season was over. High School Graduation came, and I watched her receive her diploma, and unlike almost all great students, she had no set plan in place for where she would go in the fall. Then Auburn invited her down. They had no scholarship they could give, but she could be a walk-on to the team. She loved the school, loved the campus, and all of us (the loving support group) were real excited. You could hear us chanting, “SEC! SEC! SEC!” Then…Devastation number 3. She failed her physical exam given by the conference. They are more stringent with walk-on athletes than scholarship athletes, and her past injuries spooked them. Auburn? Kaput.

Still she persevered. Character must have been building like gangbusters if Paul’s outline is correct. Off she goes to the local community college to start her education. She just didn’t stay home for the semester and weigh her options. She kept on with it. I’m sure it’s the Spirit-driven hope she’s been given that did that. Finally, recruiting season opens back up, and the University of Houston came a-knockin’. I now know why they came knocking. They were a piece away from winning their first championship. My niece? The piece.

She started classes in January after winter break, and a little over a month later, she’ll be forever enshrined at that school with her teammates as the first champions ever in the sport. In her always humble words…”So thankful I got to spend the best day of my life with this amazing team. WE ARE CONFERENCE CHAMPS! #gocoogs” Happy Ending.

Until the next test. Which is coming. For all of us. The real happy ending will be forthcoming when it’s time. For those that understand that? All this earthly stuff is just another day to get better in His glory. Amen.

I love you, my sweet niece. Keep on truckin’ 🙂

 

Gary Abernathy

 

Seeking the Kingdom

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The Armor of God – Ephesians 6: 10-20…”Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me (the writer – Paul), that whenever  I speak. words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

That’s quite the exciting imagery Paul puts forth in that letter. Swords, helmets, breastplates, shields extinguishing flaming arrows…the full armor of God! Be ready to stand your ground! It’s the stuff of heroism that fills the imaginations of most people. We want to be that brave soul. The righteous one. Oh my how we fail so utterly at doing and being so. Our world is overflowing with self-righteous zealots, and Paul was one as well before being blinded by the glory of Christ. We summon all we believe to be right into a fiery ball of rage, and we set out to conquer the wrong in this world. That’s the story of the entire timeline of man – the quest of righteous justice in the perceived minds of man. Cain kills Abel and off it goes. Has never stopped. The trail of blood that leads in all directions to the cross.

Before I write these posts, or any of my writings elsewhere, I kneel at my altar steps from where I sit, and I pray that I’m given the correct words so that they may reflect His will, His purpose, and His glory. Paul asked for that prayer, and thus so should we. Why? Because anything that comes from our own mind is automatically tainted with the spirit of that river of blood flowing towards the cross. We all have our motives. My own particular weakness in that regard rests in glory. I want it, but it doesn’t belong to me and it never will. It’s a battle I’m often fighting against. And when the armor is missing a piece or two, that’s where I’m most often attacked. The one who defends the kingdom must be stripped bare of his own will, and covered fully in the righteousness of the Lord. There is no way for us to fill in pieces of that armor ourselves. It’s all his, and when removed, we are right back to the feeble sinner state we began with.

I was watching an old Billy Graham Crusade earlier today, and he spoke to this in that unique way of Billy that breaks down complicated things into simple terms. I love him for that. It’s the gift God gave him that allowed him to reach millions in such an enormously impactful way. This is a direct quote I jotted down from that message in Chicago, Illinois in 1971. Billy Graham…

“Ya know, some of us Christians live as though Jesus is dead. He’s not dead. He’s alive! Oh, you’re going through your troubles, and your trials, and your temptations, and your testings, and your pressures, and you’re under satanic attack all the time…constantly. You know, I think in many ways, in some ways, it’s easier not to be a Christian in this world. Because the devil may leave you alone. The moment you receive Christ as Savior, you’re in for it. Unless you live on your knees and live in the scriptures, and keep your guard up, and your spiritual armor on at all times. Because if you let down even one day as a Christian you’re in trouble. The moment you receive Christ all the world is going one way, and you turn around and start against the tide as a Christian. And that’s hard.”

Yes it is. Very hard. One of the primary confirmations of the truth of Jesus Christ to me is the fact that I now experience exactly what Billy Graham said there quite often. I used to go merrily on my way doing all sorts of things not intentionally seeking harm, but leaving a trail of destruction behind me nonetheless.  A worldly life lived within (mostly) the laws of man, but far outside spiritual law. Receiving Christ convicted me of those sins and forced repentance, and in turn, caught the attention of the devilish pied piper that I had stopped trailing along. Billy said as soon as you receive Christ you’re in for it. No doubt! Every weakness of our existence can and will be used against us. Anger, sexual temptation, pride, envy, jealousy…all the classics. I know I’m important to Christ, because I’m surely important now to the adversary. The armor of God. Can I order that on Amazon Prime?

Unfortunately no. To live in the kingdom in tranquil peace and security, there is no shortcut to be had. We are under a constant state of transformation where piece by piece of that armor is being instilled upon and within us. As each year passes by, I have a few more weapons at my disposal, not so easily knocked down as I was before. Moving from place to place along that narrow path of lessons, testings and temptations. But I’m not fully armored. Some of the shots get through with regularity. In particular when targeting my want of glory or prodding my wrath when I’m distracted into putting down my protection. But…I now know where to seek shelter. I know exactly where to retreat. Into the word. Into prayer. On my knees. Seek my hero. And that’s what it’s all about.

Submission of our will to his authority. Once you figure out you actually can’t be defeated no matter how devastating the attack, then you can begin being armored. The victory is already won, but most of us are wasting our time nonetheless still trying to win it. Our Lord needs us to move on. To submit to that victory so that we can be taught to live in it. When we do that others will follow. Heroes of the Living Christ within us.

My eyes are fixed upon the kingdom. The armor I have been given is on and I’ll gladly receive and seek more as it’s given. But my eyes gaze on that path, even when storms and attacks knock me from it. That’s not me capable of doing that…it’s the Holy Spirit. Praise God. Are you beating yourself up and living in defeat, or are you running to your victorious hero for shelter? You can’t do this alone. The wolves will eat you for breakfast every single morning, and come back at night just to laugh at your condition.

Take this serious. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gary Abernathy