The Peace of God With Us

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Philippians 4: 4-9 Final Exhortations…”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

 

  1. Rejoice. Emphasized again so we are to be perfectly clear – Rejoice! How are we as Christians doing with that one? I can only speak for myself and what I see in others. We fail every day to simply rejoice in the work of the cross and the victory of Christ’s resurrection. We complain, we bicker, we worry, we spread angst…I’m world class at those things. I do however rejoice as well in my Lord daily, but am I fully transformed in that joy? No. I have a long way to go. So do you.
  2. Let your gentleness be evident to all. Do people see you as gentle? For me, I think it very much depends on who is answering and in what setting. By nature, I’m a pretty gentle soul. But I’m also very cunning and have the ability to tear things to shreds that I feel need torn…and there is nothing gentle about it. Is my gentleness evident to all? No. Is yours?
  3. The Lord is near. Do we feel his constant presence in our lives? Me…absolutely. Christ is at the forefront of my thoughts and my actions. Why I still act against instruction I do not know. It’s extremely difficult to discern God’s will in each moment. I often feel as though I’m acting in Godly accordance, but then in my daily scripture study, I’ll find a contradiction to what I thought compared to what God commands.
  4. Do not be anxious, but instead in every situation, pray with a thankful spirit, and present your requests to God. In my transformation, I’ve become very good at this. I’m on my knees most days thanking my Lord just for the moment I’m in…good or bad. For the opportunities to serve him…good or bad. And always seeking his direction. I’m also far less anxious than I once was. How are you in these things?
  5. The Peace of God that transcends all understanding. Is this something when you read it you say, “Yes!” Have you felt that moment where chaos surrounds you and you should be chaotic too…but you’re not? You can’t explain why…but at the height of confusion, you’ve never felt more at ease? I know this. I believe it’s the Holy Spirit that dwells within me.
  6. Whatever is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent, and Praiseworthy. Think about those things. Is this where we place our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions…our hearts? I surely try to. It goes back to learning discernment deeply and intensely. This is the guide. They aren’t always obvious and easy to spot. We have to dig deep for these things. We have to tear past the delusions and illusions…the facades of the world. Peel back all those layers…and we find these things. Do you peel, or do you just accept what the world places in front of you as its or His? Satan is powerful on this earth, and most times it comes with a smile and a friendly hug.
  7. Do we put into practice the things Paul has left for us in word and example? No. We do not. The world would be a completely different place. It would be the Kingdom that is to come. Are we trying and transforming? I am. How about you?

With God’s peace, we are capable of “evolving” far past the existence we think traps us in these human shells. Paul had it through the process of receiving the Holy Spirit, and then putting into practice the strict discipline required to reach such a place. That place…Is the kingdom we all seek that is promised. Few will get there. Paul has left us the directions. What will you follow?

Gary Abernathy

The Harvest

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Be Holy

1 Peter 1: 13-15…”Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ “

This weekend my wife blurted out a sentence that struck fear into me…”Do you want to clean out the garage today?” I know very well what my garage looks like. It’s a storage building for 20 years of being together and 17 1/2 years of being parents. It’s all the boxes, all the decorations, all the junk, all the toys, all the…stuff…that an American family accumulates over time and has no idea what to do with. If our garage was a metaphor it’s this…The spoiled excess of the upper-middle class American lifestyle that fills our souls literally with junk so that we’re so cluttered the thought of cleaning ourselves up is far too much work…so we just sink into rot and decay.” That’s the metaphor. Sorry for being so deep with it. Truth can suck.

So, my wife, like most wives, got her way, and we began the process. Begrudgingly I went along with this exercise in garage humility. The organization plan was to have 3 piles.

1 – Keep

2 – Charity

3 – Throw Away

Overwhelmingly, the throw away pile was the big winner. (2) full van loads of stuff we’ve been holding taken to the local dump, and another full load still to be taken tomorrow, because today is Sunday and apparently the dump observes the Sabbath. When we started, you could barely open the garage door or side door. Fully stuffed. When we finished, not only did the riding lawn mower and giant smoker grill go back in easy, there is ample room for an actual car to be parked in there now. That’s how much was discarded and how little was kept. On a side note, I kept thinking of one of my favorite Billy Graham lines…”Just because you’re born into a Christian family that doesn’t make you a Christian. You could have been born in a garage, but that doesn’t make you an automobile.” What really makes that line funny is his very distinct accent when he says automobile. Classic. But I digress.

Mankind. There are rules God has established. We don’t follow them. None of us. So, the penalty for that is death. After death, there are ample descriptions and visions of where a soul goes being found guilty without redemption at death. I’ll leave that there. Jesus Christ is our redemption. Because we cannot, God sent his Son here to live the life we aren’t capable of living, so that we might live (our eternal soul). If we believe and accept that, we are offered salvation and washed clean of our guilt (sin). MANY accept that invitation by proclamation. However, the heart is lacking. The heart is all that matters in this equation. Peter speaks to that in the above scripture. We were brought out of ignorance and given salvation. Given the Holy Spirit. A truly reborn soul can’t help with the spirit within them to feel the pull of what Peter’s words allude to in their life. The command issued…”Be holy, because I am holy.” Though we fail daily to fully live up to that, our hearts feel our failures, and our soul always seeks rebuke and correction so that we may each moment move towards a truly holy state of being. Anyone you see as a “Christian” obviously not feeling that pull and seeking repentance, has missed something.

There is a great harvest underway. A separating. A division. Just like the piles my wife and I created. There are His that shall be preserved and saved. There are those hanging in limbo not with the Spirit, but hope still remains they will call and Jesus will send the Spirit to rescue them. Then there is the junk to be tossed away. In scripture it’s described as being, “tossed in the lake of fire.” Which is what happens in a harvest. You burn the chaff. There will be far more chaff burned than wheat collected in the final harvest. Christ will sit on his judgment throne and say to many…”Go from me, I never knew you.” How can you be sure to be wheat in that moment?

You’ll know because your entire existence will begin to transform. What you’re passionate about, what’s important to you, how you love, how you view others…it all changes. Not instantly, but also not too slowly either. When you are reborn in the Holy Spirit instantly the process begins of ripping all the junk stored up inside you out…and replacing it with the holiness Peter speaks of. It’s a very ugly process. Be prepared to cry a lot. Be prepared to try to hold onto for dear life the sin the Spirit is ripping from you and having a whole lot of rebuking placed upon you for it. God punishes his like any good parent does a child. It’s a progressive form of punishment. It’s learned pretty quickly that you do not want to go to the hardest forms. If it’s necessary, God will completely break you down to heal you. David being a prime example. I’ve pushed the Spirit to the limits of him getting very serious. It’s not pleasant…at all. Repent. He cannot use us in an impure state. So we will be made pure at any cost.

If that paragraph above is not something you understand immediately when you read it…well…go to prayer. Get in scripture. Plead for the Spirit. It’s all that matters in this small time we are here. When the harvest arrives…chaff will be burned. 100% guaranteed.

Wheat…shall live.

Gary Abernathy

 

Building the Foundation of Eternity

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Matthew 13: 37-43 (Jesus Christ speaking)…”The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be a the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Not many pastors dwell among these words from Christ when speaking to their flocks. If you want to run someone off quick, start explaining things like this and you’ll be preaching to only the few remaining faithful. That doesn’t fit into the church growth model. Into the outreach expansion goals or the exotic mission field desires. So they leave the devil, fire, and blazing furnaces tucked away in the gospel they know most of their flock aren’t going to read on their own anyway. Over time this has led to the worldly image of Christ as nothing more than a friendly hippie with some wise and nice things to say.

Jesus Christ came to build the foundation of eternity – His kingdom. “I came to bring fire and how I wish it was already time,” Jesus said. Luke 12:49. God is the creator. He builds things. When he came to earth, the Son of Man was first a carpenter. He built things. As his ministry began, so did the ultimate and final project – the kingdom. We are in that process now as he is growing us from his seeds that have been sown. We are mixed together with the weeds. How do we know which is which? How are we to be sure?

Examine our hearts. Where do our passions rest? What are the motivations that drive us? What do we fear? Where do we place our hope? If Christ isn’t the driver to the answers of all those questions, it’s a very good chance we’re weeds. Weeds eventually are bundled and tied, then tossed into the blazing furnace. Don’t be a weed.

To be clear, we are all deserving of being burned with the weeds. At the same time, with the work of the cross and the resurrection, we all can become good seeds that will bring about the final vision. However, it’s not enough to accept salvation because it’s free or from a sense of survival, and then go right back to being a weed. A great many are in the field waiting to be harvested without a clue they are actually weeds. Their eyes never in the word that is our daily bread, their hearts steeped in worldly sin, and their passions given to shortsighted earthly ways. Their knees never bent in prayer asking to be taught, forgiven and transformed. To the good seeds…the Holy Spirit guides, rebukes, disciplines, and transforms. For the weeds…they are left to the fickleness and playful torture of the devil, who can rise up and destroy any time it suits his fancy or purposes. This is not written as a condemnation of the reader…it’s written from experienced knowledge. I was once an unknowing weed with the confidence of the saved. The Spirit came to me and woke me up from the delusion I was under. The intent of this writing is to wake you up from the same.

Hurry and stir. The harvest nears each hour.

Gary Abernathy

 

Amnesty – Forgiveness of Sin

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1 John: 5-10…Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness…“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

Americans have three or four of everything. Even most of our poorest citizens are wealthy compared to a large portion of the world. Cups overflowing? You bet. My own home is a 2 story building with closets and drawers all over. There isn’t a single spot to store anything else. Every drawer and every closet filled with stuff. 90% of which my family will never touch again. We make regular sweeps of clothes, toys, furniture and other items, and give them away to charity, and still…the cup overflows. Most Americans live this way even if they don’t realize it.

I was watching an old Billy Graham Crusade from Tacoma, WA in 1983. Within it Billy had this to say about America’s waste: “You could take our garbage in America and feed a great deal of the world. We’re all getting too fat. We’re trying to stop eating and they’re trying to start.” That was in 1983. It’s only become worse 33 years later. In 2016, even our pets live better than most human beings on earth. My dog has a healthcare plan. He literally has better coverage than I do. He eats $50 bags of the best dog food. The one with the buffalo on it. We’ve lost our minds.

We’re sinful not only in our excess and waste, but we’ve also become dismissive and blind to the suffering all around us. In another devotion on this site, “Jesus is the First Responder,” I told of my experience in a Target story where a little girl was lost from her mother and sobbing. I witnessed (2) moms with children stroll right past that little girl without blinking an eye. Where was their instinct to notice a distraught child right beside them? I submit that we all have become blinded in this way here in America to the suffering all around us. We live in bubbles of utter delusion.

The word amnesty has been made into one of the most reviled words in America by media pundits. Day after day, week after week…people paid large sums of money to give their political opinions shout the word amnesty in the same light that we hold the word, holocaust. If you say amnesty in political circles get ready to duck. People recoil in fear first, then they are conditioned to go on the attack and tell you why it’s so horrible. Amnesty in America means the idea of pardoning the tens of millions of illegals living on our soil. No one knows the official numbers of this huge issue. Somewhere between 11-35 million living and breathing human beings are illegally in America. The people want them caught. They want them punished. And they want them thrown out. We’ve fought as a nation about this for a very long time. Meanwhile as we fight with no solution ever implemented, the border has never been more open. Living beings of God continue to pour into the deluded bubble of America. Nobody is stopping it. Apparently we will live with that, but do not dare say – Amnesty. We (as a people) have made this group of people in our minds nameless, faceless and something less than human. That’s not how God sees them.

In the same Billy Graham 1983 message speaking to a crowd mostly under 30, he was trying to impress upon them that God sees each and every one of them as an individual. To that he spoke: “The bible teaches that God loves you as an individual. You’re not just a person lost in a crowd here – You’re an individual before God. You’re standing or sitting before God as an individual. He sees you as if you’re the only person living.” He’s correct. Does the same God not see the millions of illegals in the same way? Did he not send them to our shores for his people to care for? It certainly appears that way. We walk right by them and pretend we don’t see it. Then we shout for their removal. They might take our stuff. The trouble is…God keeps sending more. If we are indeed the people walking in the light and truth John writes of in today’s scripture, how are we to justify our actions? The word amnesty is defined – Forgiveness without penalty. Does this concept sound familiar?

This sort of thing is not a new thing to man. Since Cain and Abel man has been at odds with other men. We separate, we divide, we conquer, we oppress…we kill – all to show our own dominance, doing so completely in defiance of our creator. Speaking on his work in Civil Rights, Billy Graham said this to the young people that night about racism: The story of the Good Samaritan is really a story about the race question. The Jewish people of that day had very little to do with the Samaritans. They were of a different ethnic background. And this is the story that Jesus tells directly to teach who our neighbors are. Our neighbors are people of a different race or cultural background, and we’re to love them. When Jesus went back to his hometown in Nazareth he was well received, until he spoke about the race problem. When he spoke about that…they tried to stone him.” – Billy Graham, Tacoma, WA Crusade 1983

Here’s a sociological experiment I’d like you try – Spend a single day on social media inserting yourself in conversations involving border control and illegal immigration. Take the pro-amnesty stance side of the conversation. Watch what happens. As I stated…duck. They will try to stone you just like they did Jesus. Keep in mind that most of the people you’ll be debating identify as Christians. They count themselves washed clean by the blood of Jesus on the cross. Their debt paid in full by grace. Amnesty. Then they will turn around and stone you for daring to bring up the same concept for fellow human beings. It will open your eyes.

I offer this devotional today not to stir up conflict or create strife. I offer it from my heart with the message….America’s power is bamboozling us. Its pundits and talking heads are doing Satan’s best work. They are teaching us to revile THE central aspect of faith that we all cling to as our one hope – Forgiveness of sins. Consider it.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

 

Green Pastures

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Psalm 23 (a psalm of David)…”The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love with follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Faith = Trust. Trust = Right Path. Right Path = Abundant Life and Peace…eternally. That’s the formula. If we are to be honest, most of us hold a shaky faith and we never move to trust. We can’t complete the first equation. We are stuck in fear behind a rock in the darkest valley. After rescue and we find faith, trust holds the key to all that we dream we could find. Why can’t we grasp that hand? Why did Peter sink on the water instead of just trusting? Matthew 14: 28-31

David in his psalm spells out to us where God wants to take us. Green pastures beside quiet waters. Our enemies (the things blocking us from God) silenced. Refreshed like a perfect blooming flower. Taken to His glorious place we were created to dwell in. Fear abolished from our soul by trusting his perfect wisdom – His Son. Abiding by the guidance of Christ to find true peace and joy. Our cup literally overflowing with goodness and love for all eternity. That’s where the good shepherd, the Lord, wants to lead us. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go? Why did Peter hold onto the world just like we do? It’s a mystery.

My Grandfather died in his 60’s from diabetes. Before a heart attack took him away, he had lost both legs, one at a time, and a once proud man full of life and laughter, had been reduced to rubble. It was a mercy killing at the end. I have much in common with my grandfather. I was cut from his mold…in my sense of humor, my habits of roaming, and my diet…my intense love of food that isn’t the best for us. I’m soon to turn 50 years old. I have a beautiful wife and (2) teenage daughters. There is much life left for me to enjoy. The future holds great achievements, weddings, grandchildren, and wonderful special moments with my bride. Legs and feet would be useful for these things.

A few weeks ago I walked into an empty room at my doctor’s office. I was handed 3 pieces of paper to review before the doctor came in. The results of my blood work a week earlier. The reading wasn’t too bad at first. I had improved in cholesterol since the last time. Then I got to page 2. My fasting blood sugar level had now moved into a diabetic range. The first image in my mind was my legless grandfather in a wheelchair try to hug his 8 year old grandson. I was just a kid that didn’t understand of course, but I still hold a sadness seeing him that way. I knew what he had been. I knew the both love and fear I had of him. My brother and I spent a great deal of time there, and we would sleep at night in the living room of my Grandparent’s house. We had all kinds of games we would play when were supposed to be sleeping, including my favorite, sock baseball. It drove my PawPaw nuts. He would take as much as he could stand before he would come storming out of his room yelling. That was our cue to actually go to sleep. Intimidating as he was though, he never once laid a hand on me except with those of love. He was a great man.

So there I sit with this paper in my hand telling me that before me is the same future. It’s not like I haven’t been repeatedly warned. I like my doctor. He’s a young, enthusiastic guy and he seems to genuinely care. He’s also old enough to know these things don’t usually turn out well. He said as much. I have a window of opportunity to reverse course. “Eventually the pancreas gets fried and there is no turning back from that,” he spoke to me. He told me what to do to lower this blood sugar level before it’s too late. He looked at me with eyes saying he didn’t have any faith that I would do it. He sees this every day. Jesus sees us look at him with the same eyes. Full of doubt and skepticism. “You of little faith,” Jesus said to Peter, “why did you doubt?”

Trust. This is where I am. Will I trust him to take me down the right path and eventually the safe green pastures I should be? It seems so simple. Why hold tight to the world when I can have that? Do you understand? Are you in the same type place? I believe most of us are. The shaky faith we hold we believe is enough. It’s not. We must believe. Truly and trusting…believe. Less…we sink…just like Peter.

We can transform away from this misery. Our life can be overflowing with wonderful Godly abundance. Trust. We must walk to him in trust. Like a child lifted up by his father and placed safely back down on secure ground. We have to let go…

Pray for me, please. I will be in prayer for you. Peter cried out in his fear as he sunk, “Lord, save me!” Cry out. He’ll come.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

Burning Coals

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Proverbs 25: 21-22…”If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

When God began to in earnest put me in, “God Boot Camp,” as I often describe it to myself, the first place my eyes were taken was the book of Proverbs. They’ve been in Proverbs ever since. Day after day, one each day, a repeating cycle of 31 Proverbs teaching me how to get along with the world as a child of God that doesn’t belong in it. A few things maybe I was doing right before boot camp, but for the most part, I’ve had it all wrong my entire life. None more so than Proverbs 25.

In my worldly mind, my enemy was my enemy, and while be it I’ve never been a particularly vindictive man, I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to help or feel sorry for said enemy. I saw them or it with strictly worldly eyes…only seeing the surface my physical capabilities could take in. Solomon’s wisdom is teaching us here that our enemy is but one thing, and it’s never what we can actually see with our human eyes. It’s the roaring lion, the serpent, it’s…Satan. That’s it.

Recently I was traveling from Florida to North Carolina by car while the ridiculously named, Winter Storm Jonas, was in progress on the entire east coast of the United States. The forecasters got this one right and it was a monster winter storm. With cold air and even snow flurries pushing all the way down to Florida, it was a highly unusual cold and miserable morning in Central Florida. I had stopped to pump gas in a tiny town between Gainesville and Jacksonville, and those of us doing so were not prepared for having to stand out in that while filling our cars. As strangers bonding in a winter-war-like fashion, we were laughing and talking to each other about how crazy it was to be freezing like that in Florida. It took about 3 minutes to fill a nearly empty tank. Then we got back in our warm cars. “Oh, how they suffered,” maybe Jesus said with sarcastic humor. I kept moving up the road until I came to Baldwin, Florida, which is where this journey would connect with I-10 East. I’ve traveled this road so many times I could do it blindfolded, and I know full well that the interstate entrance ramp at this particular junction is one of the busiest in the state. There are several truck stops off the exit, so getting on I-10 here is usually a lengthy wait. Because of this, the homeless and poor use that fact to make this a prime panhandling spot.

Due to the terrible weather and it being a Saturday morning, traffic was unusually light. Yet, as I approached the traffic light and entrance ramp, per usual there stood a panhandler. By his side was pit bull mix dog just sitting there in the cold by his friend, with a somewhat determined look on his dog face. As I got closer I noticed this guy was not your standard issue appearing panhandler. He was young, his face didn’t look like a baseball glove, and he at least didn’t appear to be to mentally unstable. What he did appear to be was very cold, as well he should have been. He had a smile and a cardboard sign promoting whatever the reason was he wanted a handout. I didn’t even read it. But I did notice he had his teeth still. Pretty rare in this situation.

The typical worldly reaction in that scenario is to think or say, “Look at this clown, out here begging for other people’s hard earned money, instead of working for it himself.” I’ve said that same thing many times in my life. But I didn’t say that this time, nor did I think it. God was bee lining me right to him. What I was thinking was Proverbs 25. There is my enemy. There stands Satan. Not the young man, not his dog friend, but the things I couldn’t see with my physical eyes. The reasons that put him standing there in the cold that morning for me to come upon. The things that were separating him from God. What am I to do? Heap burning coals on the head of my enemy.

Because there was nobody else there in that moment, I was able to stop in the turn lane, roll my window down, and engage him more than to just toss a dollar at him. He was surprisingly upbeat and friendly. We laughed about the cold and I encouraged him to quickly get out of it. I handed him more money than he would ever expect to get from me, and it lit him up with God’s glory. “Thank you! We (the dog) can go back to our tent and we’re staying in there the rest of the day.” He blessed ME first…both verbally and by his reaction. “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.” Proverbs 25:25. He embodied that verse entirely. God allowed me to be the good news that morning. But both of us rejoiced. We then told each other that God loves the other. Then off I went to continue my journey up the road.

Our enemy we are fighting is not the living thing God has sent us to engage…to be his light for. It’s the things Satan has used to put them there and to keep them held down in his dominion of bleak hopelessness. This is why we are not to judge less we be judged. It’s a very difficult lesson to learn. The world will never teach you that. Ever.

Who do you view as your enemies in life? What do you see in them? How do you react and engage? Chances are, it’s all wrong, and that’s why nothing is changing or getting better. Blessings are not flowing. I’m learning this lesson each day by God’s grace. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is my leader, my teacher, and my friend…nothing else will do. Jesus Christ is my salvation and hope. God is my father and I call him such.

Go to your knees in prayer and ask for the Spirit to teach you how to live for his glory. Your worldview will never again be the same.

Gary Abernathy

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The Things We Keep Buried

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Colossians 3: 5-10…”Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

The Apostle Paul wrote this as part of his letters to the church in Colosse around 62 A.D. while he was a prisoner in Rome. It is written as a warning to keep pure the work of Jesus at the cross and the resurrection thereafter, as the church had morphed into a sort of hybrid religion that no longer resembled true Christianity. It is a detailed account of what we are before receiving Christ, and what we transform into after the death of our earthly self and being reborn in the spirit of Christ. He’s very blunt and explicit in his instruction and they are hard words to hear and read. Very few passages in scripture are as important as what Paul wrote here, but these are the exact same qualities that many of faith choose to ignore as command. However, we must keep in mind who wrote this – Paul, the human being that the resurrected Christ specifically and directly chose to bring the gospel to all the world…to you and to me. This is to be taken as if spoken directly to your face by your Creator.

We are warned here by Paul that there is a coming wrath of God and it will be leveled against the things that are born from sin. But since we have been saved by the blood shed at the cross and reborn, we are now transforming (being renewed) in knowledge and in the image of our Savior. In that, we must die in our earthly self and that life we walked in that will face judgment, and walk in the new self that we now have in oneness with Jesus. Complicated? Sure, if you’ve not been rescued by Christ and the Holy Spirit has not yet come to you. But to those to which this has occurred, it all makes perfect sense. It’s the application that gets lost in translation. Transformation is a process…not a one and done, at least for most. Paul was a one and done, but most likely you are not. I am not. We are transforming from our previous life which is now dead. It’s like a snake shedding its skin. What is left behind is all that Paul listed…all the things that separated us from God and eternal light.

There has been much I’ve lost in my old self as that doomed existence dies and my true life emerges. Much of the sexual immorality, the evil desires, the greed, lust, anger, rage and the rest has washed away, and the Spirit is always pouring life back into me to replace those things. Yet, on occasion, I’m reminded my transformation is yet to be complete. Especially when I take off a piece of the armor that shields me from the enemy and leave myself vulnerable to attack. I’m nearly certain that I’ve never met a fully transformed being and that I probably never will. I believe they are out there and I absolutely believe we can get there before leaving this earth, but we do have an enemy and we are constantly at battle with it.

Buried deep in my gut somewhere is this little ball I’ve discovered. It’s not supposed to still be there. I don’t want it there. Yet there it still is. Its content is a toxic brew of terrible pain, anger, rage, sins of all sorts, and all that was me before my rescue. It’s almost as if this ball is a “greatest hits” of all the traits my previous doomed soul consisted of. The death of my mother and the massive pain that came with that takes center stage in that melody. It’s a platinum hit. Recently, because I took my armor off, that little ball of pain was exploited and it surfaced on me again. My actual brother witnessed this. I’m not sure what happened and why, and after much personal analysis I actually believe it was part of the ongoing transformation process. God was releasing it from me and in confession there must be a witness to it. The deep bitterness I was holding towards the end result of my mother’s life poured out of me in a fit of rage.

God has used that ball in my life for a long time. It’s the motivation that has propelled me to do many good things in life out of the ashes of the wrong. It’s the source of what led me to him and his rescue. But it’s of no use anymore as those things have died. I cried the next morning after that ball came pouring from me to God to please take it from me. I didn’t even know it was still there like that. I didn’t belong there and I pleaded for him to take it. There exists plenty of mystery still regarding God, our salvation, our personal transformations, and the way we are used in God’s glory and purposes. For me, this is one of those mysteries. But I take it back to what Paul says here…”Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” I pray that I do.

What are the things you are keeping buried deep in your gut? What type of control do they have on your actions? Consider Paul’s warning. Put them to death.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

Jesus is the First Responder

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Luke 19:10…”For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

If you are a transforming Christian you know exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke those words. We understand that moment with vivid detail because we were that lost and broken soul reaching out to be rescued. In this story from Luke’s gospel, Jesus had entered the town of Jericho and a huge crowd had surrounded him. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector with a great life, but he had heard of this Jesus and wanted to see him. Jesus knew exactly who he was coming to see that day, but for Zacchaeus, he just wanted to know if something more than the emptiness of his ill-gotten gains existed. He was a short man so he had climbed up into a sycamore-fig tree to get a better view.

When Jesus came upon him he yelled up, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5). Can you imagine? Jesus Christ standing below you as you sit in a tree yelling at you to get down immediately because he’s coming over. NOW! The town people were astonished. “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Zacchaeus was relieved. Humbled. Rescued. “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” said Zacchaeus. Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Recently I was at a Target store near my home and I happened on a first grade girl crying in the main aisle with desperation screaming from her eyes. Before I reached her two grown women pushed their carts right by her without a word. I gently approached her and asked her what was wrong. She was wearing the school shirt of the same elementary school both my own daughters attended. “I can’t find my mom…I don’t know where she is.” I know that moment. I thought of it right then as I stared at this young girl. Lost, broken, confused…seeking so hard to find home but everything is a blur. Then I considered that in that moment with this young lady, I was Jesus. He had come to me when I was in the same condition. He had taken my hand and brought me home safely. He was my first responder. Now here I stand in his shoes.

Maybe I am reading too much into it and she didn’t feel what I sensed, but this girl was very calm with me as if she knew I was good. I was a stranger, a man, in a big store, and all she’s ever been taught to this point is to run from me in that situation (as we all teach our children), but she trusted me right away. I’m certain she saw Jesus through me and not me. Eventually she disclosed that she knew her Mom’s phone number which I found very impressive, area code and all, which was different than the one we were in. I called her mother and told her I would wait upfront near management until she got there. When we saw her “red hair in a ponytail” round the corner, I started waving my arms so she could see where we were. This woman never made eye contact with me. When she got within 10 yards her daughter ran to her sobbing. Mom looked relieved and frustrated but not joyful to have averted disaster. Anyone could have taken that child. She never spoke a word to me. Not even a simple thank you. They quickly whisked away.

Jesus is the first responder to the trauma in our lives. He’s there when this little girl needed a lighthouse, he’s there when Zacchaeus was filled with nothing but emptiness and excess, and he’s there for you in every moment your heart is calling out from within your soul. When the addiction can’t be broken, when the abuse can’t be stopped, when life just can’t be lived straight…he’s there. It leaves us with the choice. Are we to keep our eyes down and pretend he doesn’t exist because it’s too painful and too shameful to look up, or do we go as far as to even climb a tree to find him in our desperation? He is always there but we have to accept him. We have to look him in the eye. We have to sense that he is good…he’s the way home.

Where do you stand? Are you in a tree looking over the crowd for him? Or is your head down like you didn’t do your homework and the last thing you want is to catch the teacher’s eye? Either way you know he’s there. That’s why you’re reading this. Get down from that tree immediately. Jesus is coming to stay with you. Your rescue has arrived.

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

 

 

The Power to Say No

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1 John 3, Verses 8-10…“The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”

So what is the “devil’s work?” What are these things that Jesus came to destroy? For me, it’s been a long list of items, both mental and physical, that controlled, shaped, and mislead me down a path taking me away from who I was made to be. Are we aware the devil has this sometimes very subtle continuous power over our lives? Not when we are living apart from God. When we are in that state, the devil is very quiet. He tiptoes around us so as not to wake up our hypnotized slumber. When our conscious stirs, he’ll whisper very quietly those simple humanist justifications that lull us back into deep sleep. “You need that last drink because nobody else has stress like you.” “You deserve to cheat on your wife because she doesn’t fall at your feet every single moment.” “Stealing from that man was the right thing to do because he has more than you undeservedly.” His whispers hit our sin-filled hearts and manifest our complete destruction.

The only thing that can wake us up from the devil’s work is the voice of the Holy Spirit when he comes to rescue us. The spirit does not tiptoe. “WAKE UP! Your destruction is soon. WAKE UP!” I’ve heard the voice of the spirit. It’s warned me just that way. This is Jesus Christ coming to be our salvation. We have no power of when that voice is going to come and when we will be saved, but when it happens, we had better not ignore the moment. It may only happen that one time. Satan has stolen throngs of souls with sweet and gentle whispers. The Spirit comes with a loud thumping on the door of our conscious. We know he is there. For you, reader, this may very well be that moment right now. This article may be the thumping. Is his voice speaking to your conscious about the sin you’ve been feeding? Answer. That is your creator. That is true life calling to you. That is salvation in the person of, Jesus Christ.

Therefore he (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25

Through the power of Jesus living within us, we have full power and authority to say – No. We can defeat what had been undefeated, and we can destroy sin that was so robust that it defined life itself in our minds. All of those things that cause all the heartbreak, pain, agony, misery and tears of this world. We can say from the authority of Christ, “No, I will not do that and I won’t do your bidding, Satan.” That’s when the devil goes from a whisper to a shout. That’s when the line of good/evil becomes crystal clear in our hearts and minds. Evil no longer hides itself so as to easily deceive. We then have clear choices, and though they still remain for us to be made each day, because we have the unbreakable promise of God to forever hold us, we are able to just simply say…No.

At this point God begins to work miracles within us. We are alive now and of use to him. His peace sits in our hearts even in the middle of the worst storms…storms we will still feel and experience…but differently. The best way to put it is in the middle of those storms, we are no longer the one needing the safety rope thrown to them, but instead, we are the ones throwing the rope. That’s what I’m doing right now…tossing a rope into the raging sea for the hands reaching up to God. I’m not the Holy Spirit and I have no power to save you…I’m a messenger of the hope and promise of God. Grab the rope. Repent, because you are given the power to do so, and join me on this side. Join up with the living. The benefits are out of this world 🙂

Gary Abernathy