If You Struggle to Believe…

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(Photo taken by me June, 2017 at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrell’s Inlet, SC)

1 Peter 2: 9-10…”But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In much detail, I’ve described my experiences with the Holy Spirit the past 3 years here on this blog. If one is getting to know me by this site only, they may get the impression that I’ve been that certain way my entire life. Completely false. My human life has largely been spent far away from the Father in rebellion, yet my soul has indeed acknowledged the “pings” of his presence for as long as I can remember. God chooses us, we don’t choose him, and when we are ready, the time and place is at his disposal to offer the one thing we do choose to accept or deny individually – Salvation via the Son, Jesus Christ. If you struggle to believe, if you’ve read scripture and it lay dormant on the pages, and your heart is far away from God, but yet you still feel his “ping,” do not be discouraged. I’m of the firm belief that if your soul receives those reminder hints in the midst of your otherwise denial, that you are God’s possession. It’s just not time.

I recently read a great example of this in the autobiography of, Jack Barsky, titled – “Deep Under Cover.” If you’ve ever watched the television drama, “The Americans,” which is one of my all-time favorite shows, Jack Barsky’s story is a real-life version. Born and raised in Cold War East Germany, he was brought up in the atheist-communist system of the Soviet-bloc, and eventually became a spy within the KGB. He spent 10 years undercover for the KGB in America as a computer specialist named – Jack Barsky. A totally assumed identity. He would later defect to the FBI and eventually assumed that identity as his real one. It’s a fascinating book and worth the time. However, there’s a much larger piece to the Jack Barsky story, and it’s exactly what I’m talking about here in this post – God’s hints during the path of our rejection of him until the day of reconciliation.

Jack’s parents were both school teachers and he loved every bit of the process of learning. When he was in 3rd grade an optional class named – Religious Instruction – was added to the school’s curriculum. That by itself I found intriguing to learn, as this was the mid-1950’s during the time of Sputnik and the Space Race, and religion all together was considered as nothing but “opium for the masses” according to strict Marxist doctrine. Total malarkey for simpletons. Nonetheless, they began offering this class on Saturday’s at the end of the regular school day. Jack wanted to check it out. His father said no.

“But, why not?” I asked. “Albrecht” (Jack’s real name), my father said with a glance at my mother. “The stuff they teach in that class is mostly fairy tales. It’s not good for you.”  I looked at him quizzically. “Fairy tales are not good for me? I just finished reading the entire Brothers Grimm, and I like fairy tales.” My father seemed annoyed by my precocious argument and tried to explain further. “The Christian fairy tales make people believe in things that are not good for them. In the past, this has helped the rich to suppress the poor. I don’t want to explain anymore – just believe me, this stuff is bad for you.”

That strange denial only made the class seem more appealing to Jack, as now he saw it as dangerous and was even more curious. So, he and a friend snuck under a half-opened window, and listened in on the teacher.

Indeed, the teacher seemed to be sharing a fairy tale with the students, but instead of using the Brothers Grimm, he used a book called – The Bible. We listened with rapt attention as the teacher told a story about three kings who went on an arduous journey, riding camels through the desert, guided by a bright star, to visit a newborn baby by the name of Jesus.

After being discovered by the teacher and shooed away, Jack went home and engaged his father in conversation once again.

“Dad, do you know anything about the Jesus fairy tale?” His face showed instant disapproval. “Where did you hear about Jesus?” he demanded.

From that day forward, his father required him to come straight back after school. But a few months later while visiting his grandfather during Christmas, which they celebrated purely in Pagan tradition, he happened upon a bookshelf and found a title that caught his eye – Die Bibel. He knew it was the book that contained the Jesus fairy tale. He noted that his grandfather was the “only adult in our family who seemed to like me,” and that he was a kind man. “It seemed strange to me that my father was his son.”

My heart picked up a beat as I turned the pages of this forbidden book and began reading from the beginning. I didn’t see any mention of Jesus. By the time I reached Genesis 10 and 11 and the lineages of Noah and Abraham, I had yawned enough times that I decided to close the giant book. I didn’t open another bible for the next forty-five years.”

From there Jack would go on into his work spying for the Soviet Union in America largely unconnected to Christianity. He later looked back in retrospect that God was protecting him from harm all those years, though he never acknowledged such a thing. After his defection, he achieved a very successful career in corporate America, but his personal life began to crumble. His marriage became dysfunctional and his children had all grown and left home. “I came to the painful realization that I was lacking a spiritual anchor, and there seemed to be no refuge for what had become a lonely soul,” Jack discloses in his personal testimony on the site – http://www.outreach.com

Despondent, Jack wrote in an email to a friend – “All that is left for me is to become the best person I can be. I did not really know what ‘best person’ meant, nor did I know how to get there. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that this email was my first prayer for salvation.”

God knew I was ready, so he answered my (non) prayer. Within three weeks of sending out the email, I hired a new administrative assistant. What impressed me most about this young lady was an incredible peaceful glow on her face and certainty about all things in life. “How is it that you have arrived at such a marvelous inner peace?” I asked. The answer was eye-opening, but at the same time hard to believe: “I take my strength from Jesus,” she said. “How can one take strength from somebody one has never seen?” I thought to myself. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and one month later I was baptized.

 

 

Talk to your Father.

 

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

I Believe in the Good Things Coming

Matthew 7:9-12 (Jesus speaking)…”Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

I had returned to the place where my life had been turned by God’s own hand 3 years prior. There I stood in the shadow of Mt. Pisgah in the “big boy” hills of North Carolina as I call them, staring at the mountain I had climbed in an agonizing vertical way. Chanting as I huffed and puffed in near collapse – “Jesus first, Jesus in the middle, Jesus last.” That was a different day, a different purpose, and a rescue of my soul by my creator. I’ve written of this early on in this devotional if you care to seek back, but today, as I stated, was another day. There would be no Mt. Pisgah. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever climb it again….but if I do, it will be with my wife. No, today was something else entirely. But what?

In the shadow of that great mountain stands another grand formation nicknamed – Fryingpan Mountain. And upon it stands an abandoned old ranger station that used to serve as the perfect watch point to spot possible wildfires in the Pisgah Valley below. Today it’s a rusty relic that very much resembles a very large creation of the erector sets I played with as a boy. It’s not exactly a rock solid fortress, but despite the harsh winds and weather it endures, there it still stands waiting to offer an adventurer a view unlike any other he’ll find. It could also offer him an urgent need of a tetanus shot if he’s not careful. I was going there.

The path to the ranger station leads up an old gravel road the ranger trucks would use. It’s about 1 1/2 miles up a much kinder slope than Pisgah, and generally an easy walk. The month of May was closing out but the weather was still quite pleasant, ranging in the upper 50’s on top, to the upper 60’s where I walked on the path. The jacket I was wearing was quickly removed and tied around my waist. I knew I’d need it later. I had my trusty walking stick I named with the creativity of a 5 year old – “Staffy.” I had bought that stick to get me up Pisgah. He and I have seen a lot together…good ol’ Staffy. So we walked and admired. Yellow wildflowers in bloom, smells of this and that, and best of all, only 1 other person that I knew of up there besides me. I had intentionally given him a big headstart so he’d be coming back down when I was going up. I wanted to be alone up there. That planned worked to perfection. As we passed on the road I asked, “Is the view worth it?” He just smiled and said, “Absolutely.” As I turned a bend, I came to an opening that provided a clear look at Pisgah and I was deep in thought about that day. Staring at the big mountain I asked God, “So, what are we talking about today, my Lord?”

Unlike 3 years ago, there was no turmoil in my spirit. God wasn’t yanking me up a mountain by my ears, and the name of my King wasn’t being drill-marched into my worldly existence. Today was a celebration of the good things He had promised and delivered if I’d only listen. I did. He had. Just a few minutes after I asked that question aloud, I came to a gate that blocked off another old ranger road. It, too, was rusted and decaying, and local kids used the metal and wood to spray paint various messages. The first thing I saw was – “Stay Gold” – except the “G” was on a falling piece of wood and separated slightly from the “old” and I thought it read – “Stay Old.” My sense of humor kicked in and I asked God, “Stay old? Is there another option, because I’d like to hear it?” Then I saw the G. Now THAT was pretty cool. I wasn’t the greatest student as a young man by any stretch, but it was never from a lack of intellect, but always from a place of rebellion. The same kind that got me dragged up Pisgah. But I did read a great deal in those days, and one of my all-time favorite books was – “The Outsiders.” “Stay Gold, Ponyboy.” I knew that fictional character personally in many ways and it was a big influence on me. “Ok,” I said to my Lord. “I can see this is going to be a good day.”

With a smile and peaceful feeling I continued my casual march to Fryingpan Tower until it came into full view. Sitting on a clearing atop the mountain was the giant erector set fire station. I get so excited about things like that. I would assume that technically nobody should be allowed on it. My wife is a master in insurance and would have a fit at the liability isssues alone. Who cares.  I’m going up. The only portion boarded up and blocked off is the actual station room itself. You can climb to the very last landing just before it. The view is phenomenal. As good as Pisgah’s with a whole lot less effort. I sat up there as the wind howled and the cool air demanded my jacket I wisely brought, and for a good long bit…I never wanted to leave. It just felt so nice. To be in God’s right graces. All that has transpired in these 3 years. The things I’ve been taught. Shown. Given. Taken. It’s impossible for me to calculate it all. I was just simply thankful sitting there.

Leading up to Pisgah was when I first became aware of the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t getting it. My heart wasn’t right. My actions not in line with the man God needed me to be. God’s patience was wearing thin. As I slept in my office at home where I normally write on the little futon, the Spirit came and there was no joking about it. The message in essence can be summed up by this – “You’re going to change…NOW.” And events unfolded from that point that gave me no option but to adhere or be ruined. When scripture says God is the Father, and he loves us as such, it’s a real thing. My Father was fed up with my side-saddle faith, and wasn’t going to allow me to fall into ruin. My soul is eternally grateful, though the cure was not at all pleasant or easy. Yet, everything I needed to get through was provided…as promised. And there I sat redeemed in the shadow of the mountain where Gary met his Father.

Funny, for the past 2 years the Spirit isn’t speaking to me like it did when I was blindly in trouble and it was sent to rescue. But I do hear from the Spirit, and all it ever says…very clearly…is – “Great things are coming.” I’ve told my wife this many times when it happens, and I’ve told trusted friends the same. “The Spirit keeps telling me that great things are coming. I trust the Spirit.” So after I reluctantly decided to leave my perch on Fryingpan Tower, I made my way all the way back down the rusty old contraption. When I turned around to take one last look up at it, I noticed a written message on a lower rail. It read – “I believe in the good things coming.” Whoa. There’s more of us out there? You bet there are. We know. Do you?

Great things are coming, readers. You can count on it as gold. God the Father is true to His word.
Gary Abernathy

Palm Sunday – Seeking the Kingdom

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(Photo taken by me @ Graveyard Fields, NC – June, 2015)

Luke 17: 20-21…”Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’ “

I have always loved Palm Sunday. I love the spirit, and I’ve written about it plenty over the years. Though Jesus understands what he’s riding into, the people don’t, and they are so overjoyed to see the humble king riding his donkey into “the kingdom.” The greatest parade in world history. It wouldn’t take long for the crowd to begin to turn, once they figured out what they thought they wanted wasn’t going to happen. We know the rest.

Do you understand the mystery of the kingdom of God? If so, please reply with full explanation, because the rest of us are dying to grasp how to get there. It is “in your midst,” Christ tells us. While on the surface I do understand the concept, spiritually, the divide of the dimensions is a wall that few penetrate. I had a friend ask me yesterday, as we talked about the woes of the world and the influences of society, how do we teach the kingdom (goodness) to our kids? My reply was listing the fruits of the Spirit. All those things that flow from the Holy Spirit living within us. Jesus in our hearts. That’s the kingdom in this dimension as far as I can understand it. And that’s where we (Christians) are to live. If only we could let go of what we know and see. For me, that’s the biggest stumbling block of full transformation. It’s everyone’s stumbling block to full transformation.

C.S. Lewis, in his work, “The Weight of Glory,” dives into this subject. He writes…

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Lewis cuts right to the matter. “Desires not too strong, but too weak.” “Half-hearted creatures.” “Fooling about with drink and sex and ambition.” “Ignorant child in a slum.” Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday bringing the covenant of “infinite joy,” and days later the ignorant children are choosing the thug criminal, Barabbas, to be set free over Christ. Because they couldn’t see with their spiritual eyes who they were looking at, and they certainly couldn’t see past their too weak desires. They wanted their earthly king. NOW. They wanted the Romans gone. NOW. Completely missing the “staggering rewards” Jesus had promised. Blind to it all.

I submit that we are not one bit different, and place us in front of Pilate in 2017 given the same choice, we, too, would overwhelmingly choose Barabbas. Because we are ignorant slum children that can’t see beyond our current circumstances. I understand that’s harsh, but can it be denied?

What are you holding onto that prevents you from existing in the kingdom right now? On this Palm Sunday, and during Holy Week as we lead up to the Cross, that would be an excellent question to stew on as we consider all these things. I will be. Why are my desires too weak? Why am I fooling about with this or that, when I could be there? The Spirit given to me knows only one direction, and to there is where it is always leading. The only thing preventing that – is me.

Tomorrow on Palm Sunday as you smile and enjoy the spirit of the day…Consider these things. Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom!

Gary Abernathy

Resurrecting Consciousness

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(photo taken by me at Calvary Baptist Church of Banner Elk, NC – February 2017)

Matthew 17: 14-20…Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy…”When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’

‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’

He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ “

This particular scripture from Matthew’s gospel gnaws at me on a continual basis. Jesus is not only condemning the lack of faith of his disciples. He’s condemning ours. Mine. The last time I tried, I still can’t tell a mountain to move from here to there and it moves…and I’d sure love to do that. I live in that flats of Florida. A good hiking mountain would be greatly appreciated around here! That of course isn’t the point…

I’m writing today from the place of spiritual pondering…wondering…examining…and not from pure theology. That needs to be clear. These are open-ended thoughts that I consider and pose as questions and theory. Let’s take a fact first – Jesus presents to us that our faith, that we seemingly can control given his annoyed admonishment, gives us unlimited power if we only understood how to draw upon it. In fact, he states emphatically that faith as small as a puny mustard seed gives us the power to move mountains. There’s our fact to work off.

The end game of my pondering here, is trying to determine how to further awaken my eternal conscious that was resurrected by the Holy Spirit after accepting salvation. Just as God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and rose him up, the Holy Spirit breathed upon our eternal soul and awakened it after acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first thing I start to consider is this – Are we created (began) as eternal beings at human conception, or, are we already eternal beings that existed before human conception, and certainly exist past human death? That’s an important question. We don’t know.

If we return back to the fact that I’m not telling mountains to move and they do it, it’s logically assumed that my faith must be even smaller than a mustard seed. I don’t feel like my faith is that small. It feels much greater. I believe. Do I doubt? Yep. Do I ignore? Yep. Do I forget? Yep. But do I believe? I most certainly do. Furthermore, I feel like I know…not just believe. I’ve always felt like I know. There is a holy consciousness that resides within me. And I consider that possibly this is what Jesus is making reference of in his statement. If you were even just a little bit awake, “you unbelieving and perverse generation,” you could do all this and much, much more. Unbelieving and perverse. That’s the NIV translation. However, in the King James translation it reads: “O faithless and perverse generation.” In the Greek it translates – “Through you want of faith.” I think the word – unbelieving – used in the NIV, might be misleading. It’s not our lack of belief…it’s our lack of awareness. The world’s deception has perverted our ability to see clearly.

Let’s look at an example of possible eternal consciousness. My favorite numbers just by instinct have been for as long as I could mouth them – 7 and 33. Both holy numbers. My other favorite number is 58, but I know the reason for that and it’s purely human based…it’s the number of my all-time favorite American football player, Jack Lambert. But 7 & 33 are pure instinct. Why? 43 is another instinctual favorite number of mine that I’ve used a lot in life for no particular reason other than it feels good to me. And earlier this morning, and what really inspired this rambling today, is that I was reading Ezekiel, and came to the part where God instructs him to lay on one side for 390 days to bear the burdens of Israel’s sin. Then God says he is to lie on his other side for 40 days to bear Judah’s sin. Calling him (Esekiel), the “Son of Man,” the entire time. Mind blowing stuff put in full context. When I do the simple math of 390 + 40, we get – 430. And there is my 43. That’s a huge stretch I understand, but it deepens my thought process.

We know that by bloodline we are connected to one created eternal being. Adam. We trace our roots this way. We carry forth characteristics and traits through that bloodline, though still individuals and unique to ourselves. Adam was, at his beginning, what we are striving to get back to. What Jesus restored the possibility of us once again becoming. Given the words of Jesus in the scripture from Matthew, we don’t have to wait to leave these human shells to attain the original status of Adam. “If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you can.” He doesn’t say after you pass from human life. He says…you can. Now. You perverse generation.

The Holy Spirit has resurrected our eternal consciousness. It’s why scripture states, “You do not need anyone to teach you.”

1 John 2: 24-25…”As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us – eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

See how that ties back to what Jesus stated? “You unbelieving and perverse generation?” We are led astray by Satan. The delusion. And that same delusion is why what we could be…right now…is so stunted and small. So how do we “see that what we have heard from the beginning remains in us?”

Keep your snout and eyes in God’s bread – His word. And absorb. Daily. Guided by the Holy Spirit, that is indeed your awakened eternal consciousness.

Sooner or later…I’m moving that mountain.

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

 

 

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

oaktreedevotional47

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