Accepting Twig Status

img_1087John 15: 5-8…(Jesus Teaching) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you will bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

I have a problem. An identity assignment problem if you will. You see, my mind thinks it’s this big beautiful tree with glorious roots diving deep into the soil. But reality says otherwise. I’m a twig. A lowly, fragile, don’t know squat about squat…twig. Sticking awkwardly off the branch going every which direction with the wind, and totally dependent on the branch, and further, the tree, for every need.

The mind says – “What a loser. Jump down in the earth idiot, and become a tree yourself. You just think you need that tree, but that tree is just using that to control you. It’s a rigged game. All the trees are in on it. Jump!” The branch says – “I’ve told you the truth. You know it’s the truth. But the choice is yours. Jump and die, or stay and live.” I look around my surroundings in the beautiful land my tree stands, and I see mounds of fallen trees, branches and twigs. Dead. In big heaps. Storms, wind, age, fire…take your pic. Death is everywhere in the forest. So is life. I surely will stay. I made that decision a long time ago. I believe the branch, and I love and trust the tree. So what is my problem?

The issue here is that until I fully submit to the fact that I’m a stupid twig, I can’t fully turn into the thick and growing branch the tree wants and needs me to be. Perhaps I’m being a little hard on myself here…but that’s how it feels. Maybe I’m like half twig/half branch. With little tiny buds of fruit starting to blossom. But then I stunt them by going right back to dreaming about being the tree. The ground calls out…”Hey stupid twig, are you still listening to those fairy tales? You’re a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?” But I know they aren’t fairy tales. I know the fate those voices will sooner than they imagine will face. It’s right there all around them. But they can’t see it…they just walk around it, talk around it, and squawk about it. Even if I never become anything more than this twig/branch hybrid thingy, the branch, via the tree, have given me eternal life. They have time to be patient with me.

I love them so for that. I want to be more for them. It burns inside me. Grow up, twig…grow.

I took this photo on sabbatical this week in Cades Cove, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountain National Park. It reminded me of those red letters of Jesus…and inspired this pondering. I hope it gives you cause to ponder, too…maybe. My fellow twigs.

Gary Abernathy





Making Sense of the World


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy