What Do Others See in You?

oaktreedevotional64

(Photo taken of my band in 1996 – I’m the guy wearing glasses)

Philippians 1:6…”Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Recently my wife and I sat down with one of her oldest friends that has known her far longer than I have. She was a career mentor and good friend to my wife starting at quite a young age. Lisa (wife) thinks the world of both her and her opinion. Separated by time and distance, we don’t get to spend too much time together with her and her husband, but it’s always a pleasure when we all get together to really chat. This time was no exception. Yet on this occasion, it was me she was interested in learning more about, and the experience left me pondering a very important Christian question – What do others see in me?

When I met the woman that would become my wife and mother to my children, I was the guy in that picture shown above. We met early in 1996. My basic persona if you didn’t know me, was a shaggy-haired rock drummer in a band enjoying success in very small increments. I wasn’t exactly a Hallmark Movie Dream Hunk Prince that a woman would love to show off. In fact, I was pretty much the opposite of that…outwardly. Inwardly, and my wife saw this from the start, I was far more complex and full of dreams and aspirations. Lisa loved that guy, and he loved her right back. We both still feel the same. But to others, I always suspected we didn’t make much sense as a couple. She was this rising corporate business star, and I was this creative/strange type that people like her only happen across if I’m playing the bar they are socializing at in the moment. The night she met me I offered her a ride to late night breakfast, and my small car was loaded with my drums. I made just enough room to add her, and she had fun playing with the chimes from my set all the way to the restaurant. I had no idea at the time what she did in life, I just remember being really drawn to her spirit…the real her…and she was the same with me. We played pool together and got along like we’d known each other from the start. It felt natural. It’s always been that way with us. And we created this bubble of existence that our relationship lives in, that shelters out what other people think and whatever advice they think we need about ourselves. God put us together, we truly believe, and from the earliest moments of our relationship, in unison we put Christ in the center. He began a good work in us.

So we sit down with her friend, and she wants to know how I’ve come to grow into the person I am today. She only knew of me back at that time, but now through my writings and the wonders of social media, she knows more of the true me. Just by how the question was asked, I could tell she was comparing what was sitting in front of her now with the imagery of who she thought I was at the start. She wanted to know how the shaggy-haired drummer grew into this man. “I mean, you’re everywhere now,” she stated. The answer is easy – “Jesus started a good work in me and construction is ongoing.” But that’s not what I said. I had come to the get together expecting to talk about my wife, not me, so it kind of threw me off-guard. So I went on a lengthy history lesson of mentors God put in my path since that time (Pastor’s Chuck, Clark and Ernie), as well as other men like George Woods and Bryan Davis, and weaved a path that led to current me. All of that was unnecessary. I’m still the same guy that gave Lisa a ride to breakfast in my heart. I’ve just lived longer and have experienced a great deal more through His teaching.

Jesus started a good work in me, and Lisa, long before it was ever time for us to be placed together on the same path. When others looked at me then, Christ was unrecognizable, both in deeds and words, but He was surely already there. Anything they see in me now, is merely the progress that has been made by the work of Christ. The process of continual transformation. I’m really happy that her friend sees me now as worthy of what Lisa deserves, but both then and now, Lisa saw it, and I in her, and it really makes a person ponder – What do others see in you? What do we see in others? Here in this moment.

Consider the people that are surrounding your life. Who are the ones that are only window dressing with no substance behind it? Who are the ones that are His even though you, or even they, might not see it yet?

Proverbs 21:2…”A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

What does your heart reveal?

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find Promised Peace

oaktreedevotional53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy

 

 

The Things We Keep Buried

oaktreedevotional18

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