A Love Letter to an Angry World

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(Photo of me in June 2017 @ Brookgreen Gardens, SC – Taking a beautiful walk on a rainy day)

Romans 12: 9-21…Love In Action…

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

August 18th is a special date in my life. A spiritual day. It was the birthday of my late mother, it was the original due date of my first born child (she came early on the 13th), and it was the birthday of my late writing mentor, Bryan Davis. I associate this day with so many joyful memories, and so much dark tragedy. My mom and Bryan influenced my life in many wonderful ways. They also crushed my soul in many different ways. They are both powerful and tragic figures in my life and who I’ve become. My mom found dead by me on a floor after a long suffering time with alcohol and depression. Bryan found by his family in their garage, in a shocking act that will never be understood or explained. Two incredibly dynamic creatures of God. I remember them both on this day…August 18th.

I’m not an angry man. I could be. I have been. I have lots of reasons to dwell inside anger and just revel in the destruction. God saved me. He sent his Son. Pulled me up, poured his light inside me, and made me a new thing. The dying flesh part of me, its heart, still holds onto certain things, and it tries to pull me towards resentment and bitterness. It tries to pull me away from that light. But it can’t. Jesus does not let go. Jesus does not fail. Jesus just keeps teaching me to be all new. To live in victory. For every bitter thought, he pours 10 joyful ones. For every bitter memory, he gives 10 beautiful sites to replace. No, I’m not an angry man. I’m a thankful man, a joyful man, a loving man, and an educated man…by the hand of our Lord.

Paul, in Romans, writes to us what “Love in Action” looks like and plays out. I posted the entire passage for us in this devotional, because it’s important to read and understand. It’s a checklist. To compare and contrast. To correct and encourage. Where am I? Where are we? Does this list sound like my life? If yes, good, keep going and going until fully Christ-like. If no, then why? Am I truly his? Did I really submit? Was I sincere? Why am I not transforming? Take this very seriously, souls that are reading, because if you’re not either at or trending towards the loving existence described by Paul…something is wrong.

This world is quite an angry place. My country, the United States, is angry and confused. Paul’s message is a love letter to an angry world. We, the partners of Christ, are his lights to answer that anger. We are the medicine that heals. Not the poison that kills. We must not take all of the world’s anger upon our shoulders and try to fix it all ourselves. This is neither our job or place. You will bury yourself in grief. We simply must be what Paul has described so beautifully in his love letter. Are we? To the world, those things?

Ponder this today…this special day of August 18th. The picture I posted was on a day earlier this summer that was a total washout on the South Carolina coast. It rained all day. Just miserable weather. Yet, that was the day that God chose to put an umbrella in my hand, and send me off to one of this nation’s most beautiful spots – Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet, SC. That day so far has been one of my favorite days of this entire year. I strolled with that cheap umbrella purchased on my way at a grocery store for hours in the rain. The wonders God put in front of me as the rain poured down around me…filled my heart with pure happiness and joy. I can still feel them inside. I think they’ll be eternal. A little small taste maybe of what is still to come. A living hope that will not extinguish. It was such a wonderful gift from my Father.

I think of that day as a metaphor for weeks like this one in America. When anger and confusion are pouring down around us…from authority, media, our friends and even family. All of it wanting to suck us in with it and join among the reveling in destruction. No thanks. I have an umbrella, and I have a job to do…Love in Action.

I love you readers, wherever you are and whatever nation you are from…you are my neighbor. Let us practice Godly love.

Gary Abernathy

 

Making Sense of the World

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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