The Grateful Series: A Matter of Taste

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(Photo by me at Sue’s Best Burger, Oct 2017, in Blue Ridge, GA)

Job 34: 2-4 (ESV)…Hear my words, you wise men, and give ear to me, you who know; for the ear tests words as the palate tastes food. Let us choose what is right; let us know among ourselves what is good.

As we continue with Part 3 of this series in expressing gratitude to the Father by acknowledging the wonderful senses we’re provided to experience life, I looked to this passage in Job. Referencing our senses of hearing and taste and the abilities they give to discern, the scripture implores us in the same way to actively choose right over wrong, good over bad, in our decision making. “As the palate tastes food.”

The palate is incredibly unique in each individual. While we certainly share common love or dislike with many others over any particular taste, no two palates are exactly alike. Have you ever considered that? Stunning to realize the complexity of His creation in these ways. The list of things that send my tastebuds into heavenly orbit would never exactly match another person. Yet, all individuals have “a taste” for certain items, and from that first initial bite or sip, many other emotions are engaged, the best of which we in America describe as – Comfort Food.

With great gratitude to my Father for the sense of taste, here are just a sample of some of the things I adore to experience. Create your own list and give prayers of Thanksgiving!

Disclaimer: I am not an Aristocratic man of highly refined palate and taste. I’m a southern boy raised on real cooking and great tasting foods. This list will reflect that ūüėČ

1. South Carolina mustard-based bbq sauce slathered on pulled pork and served on a white bread bun. Preferably at a divine placed named, “Maurice’s Piggie Park,” in Columbia, South Carolina. The original one. With the enormous sign in the sky with a smartly dressed pig standing on top. I love that place deeply.

2. Steamed Dungeness, King, Snow, or Stone Crab, dipped in melted butter. One of the greatest (and most expensive meals on earth), is also one of the most simplistic pleasures to be found. There’s almost nothing to preparing, plating and then selling this meal (for great profit), but the reason it’s done is because it’s soooooooooooooo good. Sure it can be a bit cumbersome to get to that meat, and in the case of King Crab, it can also be painful, but slap down a mess of it in front of me and I won’t talk again until it’s all gone. I’ll just look up at you right before I start and say, “See you on the other side.” After that…it is just a fury of flying shells, dripping butter, and a series of pleasurable grunts and moans.

3. Dr. Pepper. No kidding, for a great portion of my life to this point I consumed Dr. Pepper like it was my paid job. I used to joke that my body chemistry consisted purely of the 23 flavors of Dr. Pepper. It was all a beautiful great ride. Until a Doctor one day ruined everything. In a nutshell, if I didn’t stop gulping down the truthfully really bad for you, yet amazingly delicious soda, I was on a fast train to a fried pancreas and early death. Begrudgingly, I put down the sodas and started drinking water like a normal human being. However, I still treat myself on occasion, and the Good Doctor still holds my heart. P.S. I visited the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas earlier this year. My advice if you love the drink? Don’t go. It’s sadly disappointing for what should be a grand palace honoring the world’s greatest soft drink. ūüôā

4. An expertly prepared Strip Steak, either NY or Kansas City cut. I’m always down to chow on a strip steak. Anytime. Anywhere. But all steaks are not created equal, and neither are the cooks making them. To this day, the best Strip Steak I’ve ever had the great pleasure to eat was at Emeril’s in Orlando, Florida. A place that no longer exists. Hall of Fame Chef, Emeril Lagasse, of New Orleans fame, for a time had a great restaurant at Universal Studios Florida. I was there with my kids and wanted something more upscale than park food. I had no idea the most mouth-watering, buttery, juicy, awesome steak I’d ever eat was on the menu. But it was. I’ve been seeking its equal ever since. I’ll gladly keep searching.

5. A fried seafood platter on the Carolina Coast. Flounder, shrimp, scallops, oysters, deviled crab, hush puppies…it’s all deadly. Deadly delicious. The style is officially known as, “Calabash Style,” named after the small NC fishing town that calls itself the Seafood Capital of the World. That of course is silly, but the food is not, and it is served all up and down the coasts of both Carolinas.

6. New York City Pizza. My personal favorite (because you have to have one) is – John’s of Times Square. NYC is a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me the city is – Pizza. I could take or leave the rest, but give me that pizza.

7. The Eastern North Carolina Style Chopped Pork BBQ Sandwich that was served in the Charlotte Coliseum during Charlotte Hornets basketball games. Not the Michael Jordan owned Hornets of now, but the original George Shinn owned Hornets. With Larry Johnson, Alonso Mourning, and Steph Curry’s Dad, Dell. Those Hornets. We went to all the home games back in those early years of the franchise, and oh my…there was a NC BBQ stand outside in the concourse that served up both Western and Eastern styles. The Eastern? Mouth-watering, unbelievably good. North Carolina is one of the 4 pillars of BBQ along with Texas, KC, and Memphis. The state is full of legendary joints. For me to sit here and say the¬†best¬†I ever tasted was from a stand at an NBA game? I could be banned permanently from the state. But I’m telling you truth…it¬†was¬†the best.

8. The Red Beans, Rice & Grilled Smoked Sausage at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, LA. I have had the honor of sitting at the bar at Acme for many lunches and devouring their red beans, rice and sausage. The flavors just pop like a fireworks show in your mouth. If you ever find yourself having a drink or two in the French Quarter any given night, go to Acme the next day for lunch and order this. Fix you right up.

9. Breakfast. Let’s not even bothering to break it down to a specific breakfast food. Just – breakfast. You walk downstairs to the smell of bacon or sausage sizzling in the pan, fresh eggs are about to become something delicious however you like to have them…oh man. I love it all. Breakfast. Just typing the word makes me happy.

10. My Mom’s Baked Chicken. She was a splendid southern cook and had the skills to make all kinds of dishes. But for me growing up, my favorite was her basic baked chicken. I don’t know what she did because I was too stupid back then to pay attention. But whatever it was, that baked chicken was¬†the¬†comfort food of my childhood. I’ll never get to eat it again. She passed away in 2000. But my palate? The memory is still fresh. Thanks, Mom!

 

The Grateful Series: My Favorite Aromas

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Psalm 115: 4-8 (NIV)…But their idols are¬†silver and gold, made by human hands.¬†They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have¬†hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

In the second part of this series seeking to instill gratitude in our hearts that the Father made us the way that he did, I’m going to be honoring the sense of smell. Our creator has blessed us not only with these bodies to function with, but also with 5 wonderful senses that bring those parts to life. Unlike the endless false idols man uses attempting to usurp God, we can see, smell, taste, touch, and have ears to hear. Do we not take this for granted? For those missing one of these senses for whatever reason, they certainly do not take any of the others for granted. But we sure do. These simple list exercises help to instill appreciation and thankfulness for these miracles. I encourage the reader to make their own lists.

My sense of smell is easily my weakest. I’m not sure why, but no one would ever mistake me for a blood hound. However, it does work well enough for me to have a list of favorite aromas and memories of great smells.

It the spirit of gratitude for our Father, here are some of my favorite aromas ūüôā

1. Walking in the doors of Godfather’s Pizza from 1980 to 1984 at Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte, NC. “Wow, that’s intensely specific,” you say? Ha! That’s my favorite smell of all-time. Nothing has topped it yet. Everyone knows how great the smell is when you first walk into a pizza joint, but this one in particular was ridiculously great. At least that’s how it lives in my memories.

2. The Evergreen Trees at the summit of Calloway Peak in North Carolina. Sitting at 5,964 feet, this is the highest mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountain range. After a strenuous, long hike to reach the summit, the first reward is not the incredible view. It’s the aroma. It smells like Christmas exploded in the best possible way. The commercialism evaporated in God’s wrath, and all that remains is the pure and wonderful smell of natural growing evergreen. When you reach that peak you¬†know¬†you’re somewhere super special. Your nose tells you.

3. My wife’s dirty hair. “What???” That’s right, I said it. My wife’s hair when it hasn’t been washed? Dude. It smells fantastic. I stick my snout in there until she swats me away like a pesky gnat. Then I come back for more ūüôā

4. The blooming Jasmine bush Easter Weekend 2019 in Savannah, Georgia. We were staying at an Airbnb on gorgeous Jones Street in Savannah, and upon checking in late at night I could smell something great but I couldn’t see what. The next day I discovered the source. A gigantic Jasmine bush/tree/whatever they are called, in the courtyard of the townhouse. In full bloom. And sending out waves of awesomeness aroma. That bush had strong smell game.

5. Smoldering wood sending smoke wonderfully wafting through the air at any¬†real¬†BBQ place in the Southern United States. It doesn’t matter which type of wood is burning: Hickory, Oak, Cherry, Mesquite, Peach, Apple…it’s all a delight to the sniffing senses. In my opinion, THAT is the official smell of the south. I crave the scent.

6. Freshly cut grass in the summer. Isn’t this a universal favorite smell? Have you ever met anyone that said they didn’t like that smell? No, you haven’t.

7. The aromas of the South Carolina Coast. This goes beyond the obviously great smell of salt air that we all love and identify with as the beach, but also to those unique things about the South Carolina coast that are so amazing. Shrimp boiling or frying, footlong hot dogs being served to your table, the myriad of aromas of a beach boardwalk…I could go on all day. This time next week I’ll be there once again. I always come home.

8. Play-Doh. I was one of¬†those kids.¬†I didn’t eat it, but I wanted to, because it smelled so freaking good to me. I could just bury my snout in the cup and stay there. (Btw, this might be one of the weirdest things about me, but certainly not the only thing). I’m not the only one in this boat I’ll have you know. If you Google, “the smell of play-doh,” you’ll get this description: “Hasbro formally describes the¬†trademarked scent as a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.” See???
They do it on purpose ūüôā

 

 

 

The Grateful Series: 10 Things My Eyes Love to See

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Hebrews 12:28 (NIV)…Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God¬†acceptably with¬†reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Every person in Christ has important teachers that are sent during the journey home. I’m no exception to this, and one of those teachers has been a Southern Baptist preacher in Nashville, Tennessee. The funny thing is? He has no idea I even exist. “Pastor Mike” at Brentwood Baptist has taught me one particularly valuable lesson: Authenticity. Through a friend, I’ve visited his church several times, and I’ve watched countless of his sermons online. It’s a large place, so I’m just another face, but he’s meant a great deal to my growth.

As a Southern Baptist leader, Mike is expected to talk about America’s secular culture and its threats to the Christian community. Too many of his peers uphold that responsibility by snarling and gnashing their teeth at the people not going along with the biblical game plan. Mike doesn’t operate in that fashion. For one thing, he never snarls…at anything. However, I’ve learned to understand his body language and his vocal cadence, and I know when he’s gnashing and¬†who¬†it is directed at: His congregation. Us. The Christians.

Mike spends every sermon series doing one thing – Teaching his people how to be authentic. He understands that snarling and gnashing only gets back in return…the same. For a Christian to be the lighthouse that draws in the weary and broken to Christ, they actually have to BE a lighthouse. So Mike is always building lighthouses. He’s a construction manager more than anything else. God put my eyes and ears onto Mike to teach me a thing or two, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

In that spirit of authenticity, I’m starting what I’m simply calling – The Grateful Series – in which here on Oak Tree we will move through the 5 senses God provided for us to experience his creation, as well as a 6th that we’ll call, “the mixed bag of unique gifts,’ and I’ll list things I’m personally grateful for in that particular sense. It’s my belief that when we are teaching or leaning a new thing, such as authentically being what you claim to be, the only place to start is to go back to the basics. The fundamentals. There is nothing more fundamental in belonging to Christ than to be – Grateful. I’d encourage and hope that you’d make your own lists after reading mine. These type of exercises might seem silly, but they’re highly effective in helping to instill things that will stay in your mind and heart. Gratitude in your heart? That’s a splendid gift to possess.

Here are 10 Things My Eyes Love to See.

1. The way the morning sun coming through our windows falls gently on the skin of my wife. I truly love that moment. It gives a sense of pureness and true beauty. It’s a gift.

2. A fresh and whole Dungeness crab sitting on plate before me. It’s a beautiful blessing and a rare treat from his bountiful ocean. My favorite meal. Concerning my love of this crustacean, I often say to friends and family, “If I ever found myself on death row, the first thing I’m asking for as my last meal…is Dungeness crab.” True story ūüôā

3. The way my oldest daughter navigates with expertise places she’s never been. It’s unreal. I’ve put that girl on the streets of NYC or Boston, and I’ve taken her on backwoods trails and rocky cliffs. She sets a faster pace than me so she’s always ahead, and I love to just walk behind her and watch her go. Once in 2016, I watched her learn the entire London Tube System in like 10 minutes. It’s impressive to see.

4. A chilled, crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio being opened by my wife. When I see this, I know that soon to follow we’ll be having some type of great conversation that twists and turns. We’ll laugh. We might cry. But whenever the wine cork is lifted up from the bottle…a special time with my wife is about to happen.

5. The way my wise-for-her-years youngest daughter looks at me when she is trying to settle my anxiety. For many years I’ve referred to her as “my handler.” She understands me. Makes me better, because she’s so good. If I’m in a tornadic bluster of emotion, or riddled with an anxiety attack of some sort? Call for Marissa. She’ll fix me.

6. A weight scale reading lower than I was mentally prepared to see. Yes, I know this is a bit of vanity to care, but I’m working really hard on my health in general, and it’s great encouragement when you get a surprise reading lower than you thought it would be. I’ll take that sight all day, everyday ūüôā

7. The view from a mountain summit after spending a large amount of energy and spunk to get to that spot. Hiking has become a deep passion of mine in my 40’s and now early 50’s, and I find the visual rewards of the places God has brought me to be some of the most beautiful things I’ll ever see in this life. One of those moments is pictured above. That shadow is me. I had just conquered the longest, most difficult trail I’ve done at this age – Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain, NC – and I was elated to say the least ūüôā

8. The first glimmer of the ocean coming into sight after a long drive to get there. I grew up with a mother who loved the beach. We lived roughly 175 miles from it, and there was no quick interstate to get us there. It was a long haul to a little kid to get to the beach, and she took us a lot. It was all worth it when you’d finally see the ocean coming into view as you turned off Hwy. 17 in South Carolina and headed for the sea. Most of my entire generation of Carolina kids get that same warm feeling when they see the Atlantic. It feels like home. It feels like family.

9. My friends. All of them. Their faces, their laughs, their personalities. I love my friends. And I love to see them coming.

10. Anything in the natural world that reminds me that God actually¬†did¬†create all this, and it’s certainly no accident. You see him in the trees and plant life. In the flowers and bees. In his wild animals. In the clouds. The storms. He’s everywhere. An unimaginable system of chaos becoming perfection.

 

Gary Abernathy

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

 

To Walk Among Giants

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(Photo of me at Muir Woods, California – Spring 2017)

Proverbs 4:23…”Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

What are your ambitions? Your dreams? If you could achieve just one thing to a high level, what would it be? For me, I want to walk among the giants. I want to leave this earth having made a Godly difference in a giant way. I once believed that ambition included fame, adoration, my name…known all over.¬†God relieved me of that belief. When I asked him to make me good soil for his word to be sown (the mantra of this site), the very first place he brought the plow was to my massive ego. He determines my steps, so I don’t know what’s planned for tomorrow, but for today, none of those things are in the cards for me. So can I still walk among the giants?

I study Billy Graham like he’s¬†a laboratory. Same thing with C.S. Lewis. I comb their work seeking the essence of their messages. How do they communicate so effectively, one through speech, and the other through words? But I’m not C.S. Lewis, and anyone that’s ever heard me give a public speech, knows full well I’m not Billy Graham. I’m Gary Abernathy. God had to first teach me that I was made unique as are all his creations. I have a purpose. My job is to fulfill that purpose, and not to emulate the giants…but to walk among them. The definition of giant had to be changed in my mind. So my ego was churned up by the plow (often painfully, sometimes embarrassingly so), and the influence of worldly things that filled my heart were ripped out, and God made fertile soil for which he could begin to plant. “Everything you do flows from it.” I needed a heart transplant, and God’s been in surgery doing that for years now.

Being saved by the blood of Christ, we are eternal beings. Eternal. We are not¬†complete in this temporary state. Neither was C.S. Lewis, and neither is Billy Graham. Acceptance of the gift of Christ, is to sign the waiver for construction to begin on your eternal¬†destiny – perfection. To be fully Christ-like. We are 100% destined to be perfect in the sight of God, and so, we are already giants no matter our skills and purposes, our reach and scope. To begin to comprehend such is the beginning of finding true purpose. God sends this blog out to all corners of His earth. But when it reaches a reader in Malaysia, or New Zealand, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Russia, Peru, Mexico, or all the readers in the USA, it’s not my name being spread, it’s His seeds. We are sowing seeds. Growing giants.

What is flowing from your heart? Anger? Depression? Confusion? Addiction? Worldly influence? “Above all else, guard your heart.” What is being poured into us is what will flow back out. My favorite Billy Graham quote is this one:

“God has given us two hands – one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”

Our choice in this formula is in¬†what we receive. The rest is pure function of how we were designed. Godly in, Godly out. Or, Garbage in, Garbage out. All of us have a certain degree of garbage flowing from us, and it’s our responsibility to test ourselves constantly for it, and to remove the impurities that were received. Tainted seeds die in the ground. Understand? This is not me preaching from the place of perfection, but explaining from the place of having learned and in process of doing.

If I’m to walk among the giants in the purpose of sowing seeds, what flows out from me to you must be of Godly quality. I’m wasting my time and energy if I’m tossing out dead things. Where do you wish to walk? Among the dead? Or among the eternal?

Gary Abernathy – Seed Sower

 

 

 

The Joyfulness of a Man

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(Photo by me on a tight rocky trail in the NC Mountains РOct 2016)

Psalm 16: 9-11…”Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

A few nights ago my family ordered Chinese for dinner, and there were the usual batch of fortune cookies tossed in the bag. I opened mine and it read – “The joyfulness of a man prolongs his days.” Being a man who reads Psalms and Proverbs on the daily, I instantly recognized the sentiment¬†as Biblical truth. Throughout the teaching of scripture, joy is presented as¬†a primary (and eternal) result of God’s gift of salvation. If we truly understand just what it is that’s happened to us in accepting Christ, we couldn’t possibly be anything but joyful. The Apostles speak to that constantly in their messages. Paul giving us the¬†ultimate example as he sings praise in prison chains.¬†Yet, we live here in this world, and it’s forever bringing us back down to its dreadful level. We lose sight of the light as we continue on God’s narrow path. Darkness creeps in on us without warning sometimes. When it is said to – “Put on the Armor of God” – we get this imagery of being a warrior fighting off obvious foes and their seen weapons. In reality, it’s our joy that’s most often left unguarded, and it’s by stealth¬†it comes¬†under attack.

The fantastic singer-songwriter, Lucinda Williams, has a song titled, “Joy,” that I thought of when starting this post. “You took my joy – I want it back.” She’s going all over looking for her joy that an abusive man had taken from her. It’s worth a listen on YouTube. The piece Lucinda is missing is she’s looking for her joy here and she’s never going to find it. We must go to the source. The Shepherd is our joy. Lasting, eternal –¬†joy – only derives from the Spirit. Ask any mega-lottery winner how “joyful” they are a few years into their winnings. Earthly things cannot and will not provide lasting joy.

“The joyfulness of a man prolongs his days,” said my cookie. Proverbs 17:22 says…”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” If you do a Google search of – “What does the Bible say about Joy” – you’ll receive a long list of links. I prefer the website, Open Bible, as they provide all scripture links related to a search topic. This is a good assignment for both believer and non-believer. Do¬†you have a cheerful heart or is¬†your spirit crushed? Learn why to either answer.

I’m just like most¬†everyone else and I do not¬†enjoy being unhappy. For a great deal of my life I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter. I’ve learned, by the gift of the Spirit, that I not only have a choice, it’s already been made for me. If I’m not filled with joy, it’s only because I’ve allowed the world to temporarily take from me what it cannot produce. Misery loves¬†company.¬†I had¬†wandered from the safety of my Shepherd. Many a lost sheep aren’t aware enough to turn back off the path they’ve taken.¬†But we¬†are to run back¬†to the shelter of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is He with an easy yoke and light burden (Matthew 11:30). It is His pure love that provides true joy. His Spirit, living within us, is the only source of – Joy.

How do we gain eternal joy? By continually pouring¬†provided joy¬†outwards. Hint…The source¬†well is bottomless.

Gary Abernathy

WheWMMav The joThe

 

 

 

 

 

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

What Can Be Trusted?

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(Photo taken by me in Savannah, GA May 2017 – Madison Square & St. John’s Church)

Proverbs 3: 5-12…”Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with your firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

I was standing on the balcony of the admission’s building of the Savannah College of Art & Design this past weekend, and across the way was the cross atop the gorgeous steeple of St. John’s Church in Madison Square. I’m like a young boy with these things, in that I still have that youthful amazement when¬†gazing on¬†such glory. In that space of Savannah there is a lot for the eyes and brain¬†to absorb. It’s stunning in¬†its nature, architecture, and history.¬†But it’s the cross overseeing it all. I began thinking about – trust.

The headquarters of the infamous General Sherman are right beside that church. His “March to the Sea” ended in that square. Southerners revile his name, because his “hard hand of war” ruthlessly slaughtered¬†many thousands¬†to demoralize the Confederacy and bring an end to America’s Civil War. Yet, Sherman also liberated thousands of slaves along that same¬†march. There are no good guys in war. Only winners, losers, and the innocents caught up in the game. Slavery in America co-existed with deep¬†faith, and it was God who brought them a deliverer for their trust placed in Him.

Also in that same square is the first “Lodge of Perfection” of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, issued by the “Mother Council of the World” in nearby Charleston, SC. The creepy and mysterious 33 degree Freemasons. Albert Pike, the former Confederate General, who is the only Confederate with a statue of remembrance still¬†to this day in Washington, D.C., and his gang of whatever they are. Trust them? No thanks. But still, I see that cross overlooking their doings, too.

Then there is the Sorrel-Weed House, considered the most haunted in Savannah, a¬†city well-known for its spooks. The house first belonged to a wealthy shipping merchant named, Francis Sorrel. He fell in love with one of his slaves, a beautiful girl named, Molly, and the two of them romped around until being discovered by his wife, Matilda. Matilda leaped from the second story balcony to her death in the courtyard below. A few days later, Molly was found hanging from a noose in the carriage house. It’s said that even now, the two women haunt this home. What a sordid example of man’s most repeated sins – greed and sexual immorality. Trust in that? But yet, there is the cross rising above the home.

The history of this square goes all the way back to the Revolution, and its name is in honor of America’s 4th President, and framer of the Constitution – James Madison. In the square is a statue of memorial for, William Jasper, of the 2nd Continental Regiment of South Carolina, who was fatally wounded in the American and French¬†failed attempt¬†to break the British lines, which began at that square.

So there I stood on that balcony with my oldest¬†daughter, named – Madison – overlooking all of the mind-blowing history of that one small area, and listening to her explain what she does for her work there as a student ambassador for SCAD. Staring at that cross and thinking about trust. She occasionally works sitting at the desk inside the doors of that building welcoming guests and potential students. I joked that she should say to those that need to wait, “Why don’t you go stroll around my square (Madison) and I’ll come get you when it’s time.” More proud of her I could not be, as she soon will enter her sophomore year. Madison is a performing arts major. She kinda likes the drama. I think God placed her in middle of one of the most dramatic squares in American history for a reason. I trust Him.

What can be trusted? We tend to assume that the times we are currently living are out of control, and all that came before might have been bad, but they weren’t as¬†crazy¬†as the present. Wrong. God is always in control as the chaos of man rages wild. That cross looking over this particular square symbolic of His ever present status.¬† In Proverbs, and many times in scripture, we are instructed not to put our trust in our own understanding, but to trust the Lord. There is a plan, and by submitting¬†to his will, we will prosper within that plan. It’s the submitting where man takes issue. And places like Madison Square remind us of the tragedy we leave behind.

Today finds my family in ongoing trials and uncertainty. It also finds us prospering in God’s promise to our rendering trust in Him. In God We Trust. Amen.

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 Рis 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