A Walk into the Wilderness

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Mark 1: 12-13…”At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

There’s Jesus. He’s a 30 year old carpenter about to begin a 3 year ministry that changes all of human history and its future, and he’s emerging from the waters of the Jordan River. The hand of John the Baptist lifting him up – “He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” Yes, Jesus is the Son of the Most High, but he’s also a human at this point. Imagine yourself in his shoes. “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” Mark 1: 10-11

Have you ever been baptized for real? Not as an infant. But by decision led by the Spirit? For me, it was 3 years ago. 2013. I was baptized as a baby in the United Methodist Church. But God put in my heart a deep desire to make a more conscious decision. A commitment. The image I’ve chosen for this entry was taken from that day in the very spot. Honeymoon Island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Dunedin, Florida. I sat my beach chair up on a non-crowded weekday morning and gazed out over the gulf. It was just me playing the role of both baptizer and the baptized. I’d long since publically declared my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as my salvation. This was a moment with just God and his servant. I walked far out into the shallow waters until I felt it was right. There is a sandbar a good bit offshore, and I walked out to it in chest high water until I could sit.

I was very calm and I prayed in those calm green waters. Then I submerged my entire head in the act of baptism and then emerged back to the surface. Fate sealed. The heavens didn’t tear open when I looked up into the sky. My Father didn’t speak to me in the form of a dove. But, with me, he was well pleased. My heart told me so. Then he sent me into the wilderness.

Funny, it says in Mark that Jesus was with the wild animals. Right after this moment, I was walking back towards shore about waist deep and I turned around just to admire where I was. I saw a large black shadow coming in my general direction. It was a shark. It swam about 10-15 feet in front of me at an angle as I stood perfectly still. As the shark swam away from where I was, I briskly walked back to my chair. I never did panic. From a human standpoint, I figured it was black tip which are common in the area and mostly harmless, and from a spiritual standpoint, if God wanted me to get eaten that day at least I knew where I was going. But the wilderness…

Jesus had just entered his ministry moments earlier. God the Father came to celebrate his baptism. Then he’s immediately sent to the wilderness for 40 days. With Satan. The ultimate on-the-job training. There was no tote back of literature for him to peruse. “Hmm, I like the sound of this chick by the well in Samaria. I think I’ll choose that option as my assignment.” God sent him right away to be hammered by Satan for 40 days. Starved, tempted, mentally strained, and relentlessly tested of his loyalty. He only answered Satan in scripture. Never bargained. Never reasoned. Never waivered. Never caved. Scripture. He passed the test.

It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus. We’d all be in a big peck of trouble. After the shark, and in these past 3 years, my Father has sent me into the wilderness too. I’m there again right now during Lent. My call is not to bear the sins of all mankind so that we may live. I’m just to be a messenger. That’s it. Pretty simple job really. I screw it up all the time. Royally. The sins Jesus would take to the cross with him being the reason. I’m not capable of such and I badly needed rescued. God rescued me that morning in the Gulf of Mexico. Now he cleans me up, he purges me with both fire and love, and he uses me. The single greatest moment of my existence was dunking my head in that water by my own choice.

Have you had that moment? Have you been to the wilderness afterwards? It’s a horrible place, but filled with His grace and His glory. Before my baptism I failed in the wilderness each and every time. It was a 100% certainty that whatever I was trying to defeat on my own, would easily defeat me and would become worse. Every. Single. Time. Then I submitted it all to my King. I began to know victory. Glorious, eternal, life-giving victory. This is gone. That is gone. More still to be purged. So much more.

The Spirit hugs me now when I pray. There is a voice in my ear that tells me not to be afraid. I cry almost daily in worship. I went about 15-20 years of my life never shedding a single tear. Now I can’t shut it off even if I wanted to. My heart is of the living Christ and let me tell you, He FEELS THINGS. Deeply. What is it that’s blocking you from him? What do you think you can’t be forgiven for? I see so many good people’s hearts that are so lost in that same wilderness, but the angels are powerless to attend to them. They sink slowly into the darkness refusing to take the hand of salvation. Why?

If you read this post all the way through then God has meant for you to have his message. He wants to rescue you. Wash you. Purge you. Pull those demons away and give you the peace you’ve never dreamed could come. Speak to him now. Tomorrow the window might close. My prayers are with you.

Peace.

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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