My Dad, Billy Graham, Spiritual Maturity, and the Power of the Gospel

(My older brother and me circa 1971-ish wearing our new cowboy gear)

1 Corinthians 13: 11…When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

When the occasion arises that I get asked about my favorite childhood memories, the answer I give usually revolves around the experiences I had playing in the woods behind my grandparent’s house. The only time I don’t give that answer is if I sense the asker isn’t really interested in the long version. When I think of me feeling happy at any point as a kid, the very first flash I get is being 5-6 years old playing cowboy in those woods. In my mind, I was indeed a cowboy, and a very good one at that. There was no fear of being alone in the woods for hours at a time. And as far as I know, there was no fear from any adult that I was absent. They knew where I was going, and they knew I’d be back for lunch. Then the cowboy would head back out again. When I would come in for lunch my grandmother would serve it to me at her kitchen table, in a kitchen full of the cigarette smoke that was ever-present in their home. And she’d give me a big glass of sweet tea. And I’m talking old school southern sweet tea. SWEET. Loved that tea. Now for some reason at 5 years old, but being a cowboy, I’d pretend that sweet tea was a big glass of bourbon…like you would get in a saloon. How I even knew to think that is beyond me. Maybe it was from watching Gunsmoke. Maybe it was my mother. Who just so happened to develop a major dependence on bourbon later in my childhood, and eventually became a full-fledged alcoholic. It’s also no mystery as to why I never minded the smell of cigarette smoke, in fact I love it, and by age fourteen I started a habit that I wouldn’t kick for 30 years. I talked like a child, but one familiar with bourbon and smokes, I thought like a child, as I relished make-believe and heroic fantasy, and I reasoned like a child, as I didn’t think anything at all going on was remotely dangerous to my well being. Not the woods, not the creek, not the being alone, not the smokes, and not the pretend bourbon/super sweet tea. But then I became a man…at least…I think.

Who is going to fill those shoes? I’ve asked that question about only 2 men. 1. My dad. 2. Billy Graham. As far as I’m concerned, both were uniquely made individuals the likes of which are never to come again. Billy Graham passed away about a week and a half before this particular writing. He was 99. For all intents and purposes, his ministry has long since been over, but it was still comforting to know that someone like Billy was still alive just in case. When America was in trouble at anytime in the second half of the 20th century or the start of the 21st, they called 5 letters: B-I-L-L-Y. Now he’s gone. Who is going to fill those shoes? He’s unprecedented as a Christian evangelist, and was a perfect storm of God-given, just-right qualities to be welcomed anywhere on earth. The reason he was so effective goes beyond his movie star looks, charisma and charm, and his biblical prowess. The reason is Billy did one thing nobody else does – eliminated the middle man between soul-in-distress and Christ. He simply delivered the Gospel as is and never wavered. The problems of Christianity all stem from one source – man standing between Christ and the rest of mankind placing qualifications on the Gospel. Billy never once did that. And the ministry speaks for itself.

As for my dad…while I was play acting the bourbon swilling cowboy, he was actually a man. Like the only one I knew. He was everything. Gigantic. A level of person I never once believed I could achieve. Most kids feel that way about their dad when they’re young. But he’s definitely a larger than life character. Who’s going to fill those shoes? It sure as heck wasn’t going to be me, I’d tell myself. Told myself that until I was at least 34 years old. That’s the year I found my actual bourbon swilling mom no longer living on the floor of her bedroom. Things changed a great deal for me that year. Technically I was a man of course at 34, and I was a dad myself, too, so all the signs of manhood were there. But in my heart and mind, I was still a kid play acting at life. I had no idea what I was doing or who I really was. That’s when God truly began to mold me. From that moment until now, my life is completely in every way different than it was before. I barely recognize the person that existed from about 14 to 34. He’s not this man now, and he’s not that little cowboy, either.

About a month ago my larger than life dad had a stroke. And today, he’s back in the hospital again with an infection and a slightly fractured back from falling…again. He’s 79. We think he’s going to alright for now. But these aren’t good signs of long term health. Again…Who’s going to fill those shoes?

The only answer? We are.

We are going to fill Billy Graham’s shoes. We are going to fill my dad’s shoes. We must. “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” That scripture is lifted from Paul’s famous chapter describing – love. That thought continues in verse 12 – “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” Billy Graham used to discuss that scripture in Crusades. Faith. We only know a little. A part. But God knows fully our hearts and who we really are. Faith. We place our faith in the promise that we know part now, but we will soon be face to face with Christ and know as he already knows. We must trust that – we – can fill the shoes of the great men and women that have come before. That God determines our steps and equips us with all that is necessary to do the work.

I still love to walk and play in the woods. I’ll be doing so again next week. But these days I’m not a cowboy. There’s definitely no bourbon, and I’m no hero. But…I’m still fearless when I’m walking with God. When he’s teaching me. Communing. Showing. Loving. That once boy, now a man, still feels the same thing – freedom to live. That? Is the power of the Gospel.

Goodbye for now, Billy Graham. See you in the next.

Gary Abernathy

A Time to Speak

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(Hiking near Blowing Rock, NC off the Blue Ridge Parkway – October 2017)

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8…A Time For Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

It’s been a time of silence for me here on this devotional. After having poured out my sins and sharing the process of reconciliation with our Lord by the cross and resurrection, I was put into a season of Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

 The picture I posted above was me last Autumn hiking in North Carolina. What a beautiful day that was with God. I was all alone on this miles long trail. I never saw another human being the entire time until I returned to where I’d left my car. A passerby asked why I had randomly popped out of the woods. Ha! They weren’t aware of the incredible trail that begins behind the roadside pond they were admiring. On that hike I had to cross this one winding creek on multiple occasions. Each time having to figure out how to do it as wisely as possible. Go across reckless and my socks are going to be drenched and ruin the rest of the hike. Try to trust the quite slippery rocks and I could easily fall and hurt myself…with nobody to help. I’m 51 and in moderate shape. I’m not exactly bouncing around like a kangaroo out there! But I LOVED the challenge. God was teaching me wisdom. In the picture I’m using my staff to point to the other side of the creek I need to be to continue. The picture doesn’t accurately reflect the width or depth of the creek. It wasn’t as easy at it appears. Basically, the choice was step into about 2 feet depth of water (deeper than my boots) or trust a series of very wet rocks. I went with the water. Yep. Sock on the right foot got soaked. But I didn’t slip on any rock leading me to fall and break something…like my head. I could have turned back, but I never gave myself that option. I really wanted to get to the pasture that I’d read was ahead. And man…was that ever worth the wet sock the rest of the day.

This time of silence has had many moments like that. It’s also had a lot of not as pleasant moments. The Lord has been showing me things. The good, the bad, and the truly horrible. That leads to lots and lots of reflection. It tests our faith. It tests our courage. Mainly, it tests – our hearts. God only cares about the heart. Proverbs 4:23…”Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

If we are to serve our Lord, our hearts must be in order. If our heart is straddling both the world and Christ, then our work is fruitless. This is the danger of Christianity when practiced by straddling hearts. Accepting the gift, but not accepting the change. What flows from that type of heart results mostly in cruelness to the world. Not His love. Taking personal authority to condemn and judge, while at the same time claiming forgiveness and purity from one’s own mess. I daresay, that’s as harmful to the world as any nuclear weapon. It’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And if it’s not that, then it’s from his enemy. This is what this time of silence has been teaching me.

With no effort by me other than the writing from my heart, this blog somehow to date has been read in over 100 nations on earth. In my mind, that’s nothing short of a miracle. I’m one servant writing in his small office about my relationship with God and hitting “Publish.” The only “marketing” I do whatsoever is to add a picture that I took with my own camera at the top, and to add a few relevant tags to the post. Beyond that, it’s all God. It’s a publishing team of the Lord and…me.  It’s been months and months since I’ve written a new post, but last night I got a notification sound on my phone from WordPress. Someone new signed up to follow this blog. They were from Uganda. I’m in the state of Florida in the United States. That’s a God thing.

There is a time for everything. And now…it’s time to write. Time to work. From my heart fully committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m a sinner and I’m nowhere near perfect. Ask my wife 😉 Ha. But my heart? It’s ready to serve for our Lord again.

To anyone that reads these words anywhere in the world, there are 3 words you need to know: God. Loves. You.

 

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

 

The Joyfulness of a Man

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(Photo by me on a tight rocky trail in the NC Mountains – Oct 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

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday – Seeking the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy

Living in the Right Place

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James 1: 22-27…”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. 

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A little over a week ago I was standing on a hotel deck by a fire pit overlooking beautiful San Francisco, California. Directly across from me in the distance was the island that was home to the infamous – Alcatraz prison.  It paints the perfect illustration for this devotional entry. Are you living in the right place? My family and I were staying in a gorgeous hotel that was created by transforming its former occupant, the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory, into luxurious 2 and 3 bedroom units in the city.  It was heavenly, and yes, the chocolate is still everywhere, too. I certainly felt like I was living in the right place while staring out at Alcatraz and considering what it must have been like locked up there instead. It’s a metaphor of course, and both are worldly prisons of different types, but in a simple way, it provides a good visual for the topic. To not be imprisoned by my fellow man, I have to choose to obey his laws. If I do not, I wind up in a place like Alcatraz. Your spiritual existence holds even greater stakes.

When we choose to accept the gift of salvation – choosing to place our guilt on the cross with Jesus – we are agreeing to be reborn so that we may exist in His holy presence. Washed clean. Absolved. One of Billy Graham’s main points throughout his entire ministry was that the cross should be offensive to us. It should revile us. Why? Because it’s our  sin nailed up in torturous agony. It’s our punishment. He took the bullet for us. He made the path that we cannot make ourselves. He provided us the right place to live. James is talking about what that means in his first chapter.

Where are you living? I often find myself being tempted back into previous states of mind, or pulled into new directions leading me away from the home Christ has made for me. Just last night I was having a great conversation with 2 old friends and we were rehashing stories from many decades ago. We sure had fun together. I cherish all those memories of laughter and bonding. It would be very easy for me as a human just to stay that person I was back then. To not grow. To not transform. Just stay that guy and be that way. But in reality, that guy was a miserable train wreck always one step away from total disaster. I was free to have all that fun, but my soul was locked up in a place far worse than Alcatraz. Lost and rotting away. Directionless. Pointless. The relationships I am honored to have from it all the only saving grace. The stories…they are all nailed up on the cross with the rest of my sin. It’s not that it was all bad, because that’s not true whatsoever, and we were loyal brothers to each other…that’s always the best of goodness. But the actions that I alone am responsible for…they add up to quite a mountain. I’m thankful each moment of each day that I was rescued. That Christ found me worthy enough to come get me. To pull me out of all my misery, wash me off, and give me a true life. An eternal life. To show me the right place to live. Placing a beacon of light within me that won’t allow to go back even when my mind is tempted to go there. The light pulls me back to the mirror James talks about. The mirror that reflects who I really am. Who God made me to be.

There is a modest house that sits mere steps from the front door of the church I’ve attended for well over 10 years. I park my car on the other side of the fence that separates the property often. I did just that yesterday. When my youngest daughter was going to preschool there many years ago, she would say (almost daily) that she wished we lived in that house so we could be so close to church. She said that because she spent a great portion of her early life before elementary school in the church. It felt like her home. It was the right place for her to live as far as she was concerned. I look at that house frequently. Yesterday I arrived for pre-service rehearsal (I’m a drummer in the praise band) and parked in my usual spot. I noticed as I looked at the house that there was a Halloween-like skeleton decoration hanging from the wall facing the church. I didn’t know what to make of that. I took it as a sign to keep away.

The reason this house fascinates me stems from the fact that it is indeed so close to our doors, but as far as I know, its occupant has never stepped foot inside. That truly bothers me. If we can’t reach them, how can our mission work spread beyond that house? We have all kinds of services and activities that minister to the people of the surrounding community, which is in dire need of them, and they take full advantage. Praise God. But that one house refuses to budge. I’m pretty sure every pastor of the church (United Methodists rotate) has attempted to get them in. I did just that myself a few years ago. I am not the knock-on-doors type, but one day I took a bible I bought with my own money and went and knocked on the door. I wound up having a conversation with a woman that lived there on her front porch. She didn’t invite me inside. I gave her a simple invitation, presented her the bible as sincerely as I could as a gift, and the end result of the effort was her saying – “Well, we all do our own thing, right?” Which was her polite way of saying…”Buzz off, Jesus boy.”

I look at that house from the viewpoint of the same way I looked at Alcatraz from the splendor of my renovated chocolate factory. I’m standing in this magnificent glorious place (God’s House) and just across the way is a prison. Now at the Ghiradelli location, I can’t go get the prisoners and invite them to live in the right place with me. Fairmont is in the business to make money, and I can’t afford to pay the fee for all of these hypothetical prisoners. (Alcatraz long ago stopped housing real prisoners). But when I’m standing in real glory, my church, I most certainly can go invite others to come join me. It’s up to them to decide. The price of admission is free, because the cross that they will find paid the price for them. But even though…free still isn’t good enough for so many. They would rather just keep looking at the mirror that will keep lying to them. The one that will let them forget who they are.

When we allow ourselves to exist away from God, whether physically or mentally (pride, jealousy, envy, and all the classics) we are not living in the right place. The safe place. The true place. His place. So I’ll conclude with the same question – Where are you living?

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

Delighting in Weakness

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2 Corinthians 12: 5-10…”I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I love the story of Palm Sunday. If I’m being honest, it’s probably my favorite moment in the gospels. I’ll explain why. We are told and assured that Jesus, the word made flesh, experienced every human emotion, every temptation, that we have or ever will. When you consider the scope of that, it’s very hard to fathom, yet that is the provided truth. This means that our Lord felt the same loneliness and fear we all do. The same feelings of exclusion. The same temptations of conformity to alleviate it all. “Go along to get along.” I wrote in my previous posting about the narrow gate and the wide gate. Above the wide gate where the multitudes flow through, surely there is a plaque that reads, “Go along to get along.” It is a compromise of faith that is probably our greatest temptation, when properly laid out in comparison with the millions of others. It is a horrible feeling to stick out like a sore thumb in a way that does not glorify our own egos. In the ways that bring scorn and not praise. We all want to be liked…to be loved. For me, that is the thorn in my flesh…my messenger from Satan that brings torment. But I can’t pull that thorn out, unless I walk through that wide gate of human conformity. Unless I compromise His words to be more pleasing to the ears of others and myself. It’s a devil of a pickle.

Rob Bell, the “pastor” most famously known as Oprah’s spiritual advisor, is the most high-profile example of that kind of “faith.” His stature, his fame, his wealth, his acceptance (false love) by the Godless, is built on a foundation of scriptural quicksand. “You don’t like the reality of Hell? I’ll take it away.” “You don’t like the guilt that comes with wrongdoing? Let’s change the rules.” And recently he decreed, by his own plowing path through the wide gate, that “2000 year old letters have made the church irrelevant, and that to better serve the people of today, we probably need to stop looking to the bible.” (paraphrased but on point). The scripture above, lifted from a letter written by Paul, to be included in that trashing. That’s all I’m going to say about Rob Bell. This post isn’t, nor will any others, ever be about him.

So, that all leads back to Palm Sunday. One brief moment of his entire ministry when he could exhale for just a second and just be loved. John 12: 12-13…”The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Of course, Jesus knew that in just a couple of days, those same people would be demanding that he be killed. That they would even choose a murderous lowlife like Barabbas to live, just to make sure Jesus got the death they clamored to see. But for just one moment, Jesus got to feel the blissful (but always temporary) rush of human adoration. It makes my heart happy for him when I read that…when I consider it. The smile it surely put upon him, as he side-saddled that little donkey up the road.

That’s the same feeling I get when the Holy Spirit “hugs” me in prayer. Do you know that feeling? It’s a tremendous rush. I’ll be kneeling at the altar, tears down my cheeks, rubbing the salty liquid in the wood in front of me, and the Spirit will envelop me in embrace. Jesus…delighting in my total weakness. The body of Christ made strong, by the powerful faith in our weaknesses given over to him. The endurance of those painful thorns in our sides because his love is so much greater.

The people on Palm Sunday were correct in their assessment of Him – He is indeed their king. Our king. But when they found out it wasn’t a kingdom for then and there…”Crucify this blasphemer!” Jesus would answer their anger by explaining that his kingdom is not of this world. They still don’t understand. Still demand the passing through the wide gate.

But for us? The sinners redeemed and given a piece of him to lead us home safely? The sights and sounds of every day life become more painful to endure each day transformation takes us further and further away from belonging to it. I’ve got to the point where I only feel somewhat at peace in just two places – 1. With my wife and/or daughters in rare moments of pure time together. 2. Alone in nature where I feel most closely connected to God.  The rest is just one long bout of homesickness. The pushing of will to do the tasks and things our Lord will have us do and perform. Don’t get me wrong…my heart rejoices in the moments of breakthrough, in the times with true friends, and all the pleasures of life, but now that I know what waits for me next…given example of feeling by those spiritual hugs…that’s where my heart is. I want to go home.

I took the picture above last summer in London watching all the grand pomp in front of the royal palace. That picture reminds me of the Palm Sunday spectacle as they welcomed the true King. The humble Christ on his little donkey. Nothing humble about England’s spectacle, but it’s quite a marvel to behold. In all its wide gate glory. But for this man…I’m just the donkey on this earth. But one day…and for all eternal…he has gone to make a place for me. A donkey no more I shall be.

What gate will you choose?

 

Is the Pope Right? Is it better to be an atheist than a bad Christian?

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Matthew 7: 13-14…(Red Letters – Words of Christ) – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Full disclosure: I’m not Catholic and I don’t trust the intentions of the current Pope. I haven’t since moment one of his mysterious coming about, and I do not still today. For that very reason, because I also don’t trust myself, I pay attention to what he says. We are no different a people today than those that eventually nailed Jesus to that cross. I know this about myself, and I know this about humanity, and so, I keep my mouth shut about the teaching of the Pope. Mostly. Jesus shocked the world as it was with his words…so does this Pope. I might not trust him, but that doesn’t mean at all I don’t listen to what he says and attempt to process the information. End of disclosure.

On Thursday, February 23rd, Pope Francis speaking at a morning mass, made the statement that it’s better to be an atheist, than a scandalizing Catholic. The exact quote is this: “So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. How many times have we heard – all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere – But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.” As he often does, his words have set off a firestorm. I’ve read a lot of the social media comments on the various posts, and they are exactly what we’ve all come to expect in today’s wildly heated rhetoric. “False prophet, anti-Christ, evil, etc.” But……………is he right?

Immediately after Jesus Christ spoke the Golden Rule (common to all religion) as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew –  (7:12) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” – he speaks to the wide and narrow gates. Christ doesn’t randomly order things when he’s teaching. Those two are connected by grand purpose. 1. Here is the one simple rule that all goodness on earth will teach from beginning to end. It sums up the entirety of the Creator’s law. 2. Though you must follow the law, you’re incapable of doing so because of the disease of sin, so I’m here to fulfill the law for everyone. To create the path to life. To save you. Very few will sincerely follow the path I create.

Is it better to believe there is no God at all, than it is to acknowledge that God exists but to not live in accordance to his law? To claim the benefits of the path of Christ, but to not “put in the work” of the Kingdom? The problem with what the Pope has decreed is that our works, no matter how great or small, have zer0 to do with our salvation. And the problem with what those Christians that are like that is…they have never found that narrow gate. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you’ll never see it even if you’re standing directly in front of it. Big glaring arrows point to it screaming – “THIS WAY TO LIFE. GO THIS WAY.” Won’t see it. It’s the same as wisdom’s call in the Old Testament.

“Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.” (Proverbs 1: 20-21). “But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.” (Proverbs 1: 24-27).

“Bad Catholics,” as the Pope puts it, or bad Christians in general, aren’t of Christ, they are of the world’s religious concept of him. When we sincerely come to Christ the Holy Spirit is sent to us. Jesus lives within us. A beacon that will hone in on that narrow gate, and transform our worldly concepts to righteous, eternal life. We begin to become the keepers of His law, not by our own doing, but by the presence of Christ living within us. This process is transformation. The length of the process is anyone’s guess. God will use us as per his plan. I myself, having the spirit and that beacon of light, most certainly am not fully transformed, nor do I know when I ever will be, but do I expect it while still alive on this earth? I certainly do. I can testify that even today as I stand, I’m world’s apart from the man I looked at in the mirror even 5 years ago. The process is noticeable. The successor to Peter should know this the same as I do. So what point is he trying to make? It’s better not to believe at all? I can’t buy that. The slightest bit of faith will draw Christ’s visit eventually. Whether the door is opened and Jesus is let in, is the decision of the person in that moment. And they will know it’s happening. The atheist doesn’t even believe there is ever a door to open.

Let’s take another polarizing world leader for example: President of the United States, Donald Trump. It’s clear to any Christian with the Spirit, that Donald Trump has either not had “the moment,” or he’s very early in the process of transformation. So, toss him in the Pope’s declaration if that’s the case. Because he’s certainly used the imagery and words of faith to rise to his position. Most Christians voted for him. I’ve said little about him since becoming elected. I’m watching. I opposed him very loudly in the Republican primaries. It was a brutal eye-popping experience. If that crowd around him are Christians, then they have a God-given purpose that allows for a lot of things that don’t jive in a Christian nature. They intentionally painted an actual Spirit-filled Christian, Marco Rubio, as a former homosexual that engaged in wild sexual bubble parties. Doing this through their own “fake news” sites. But they’ll never admit that. I saw it. And it hurt Senator Rubio’s campaign tremendously. The type of Christians the Pope refers to ate it up with a big spoon, and sent it back out gleefully. A “bad Christian” can do a whole lot of damage in this world. One could make the argument in this instance for a kind, considerate human atheist, being far more preferable than that type of Christian.

However, I’m watching President Trump intensely. I listen to almost every public speech and announcement he makes. There is certainly still that determined  purpose within him, but I also see change continuing to progress. It’s VERY faint, I’ll grant you that, and you have to know what you’re looking for…but it’s there. A softening here, a rounding out there…subtle…but sincere. For example his revised stance on the “Dreamers.” His heart has been moved. That’s the Spirit. Not him. It will be an interesting study in transformation (or proof that he never was converted) the next 4 years. I suspect that by 2020, you’ll see a MUCH different President Trump than the one you see today. Because I do fully believe he’s a seeker. And I have to take his word that he’s been saved. The proof of that will be in his further transformation. Do I prefer that man over a Godless human? Every single time. Because I know that he’s moving towards the perfect ideals of our creation. So, Pope Francis, while I do understand your point, I must disagree. It’s a reckless statement that causes the very thing you’re railing against – scandalizing.

But who am I to question the Pope? I’m just a man hacking my way through the underbrush of a tiny path. But I sure do see that glorious light in front of me. Do you?

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

Feeling Ever So Tiny

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1 Samuel 17: 41-47…”Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was a little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’ David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’ “

I’ve recently returned from a great adventure in England and Scotland. My feet strolled the streets royalty have criss crossed, and my heart soared at magnificent works of architecture and achievement, done by human hands for the glory of our God. The origins of Western Civilization rushed at me around every turn, and God’s presence walked beside me on every path. The souls of great humans gone before stared at me from their tombs and haunts, and the ghosts of the lost who took the wrong paths poked at me from their dark spaces beyond my meager present. It was a daily exercise in being overwhelmed.

How puny a creation I must be to even dare to set foot in the works of the greats? Their massive presence filling up the space inside the walls of a structure such as Westminster Abbey. Darwin at my feet, scoffing at the joke that I am, while Chaucer tweaks me to my left getting the inside joke of the hat I brought along with the image of his chanticleer. T.S. Eliot, from his tomb, surely sensing what an idiot I found myself to be, sending my eyes to words of his that read…”Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” I went too far. Way too far. So did David in the scripture above, as the giant Philistine warrior stood disgusted he would even dare to speak. I was in so over my head in the United Kingdom words cannot describe.

Intellectuals greeted me and engaged me. In London, I strolled the city with a man with more knowledge in the dust of his jacket than I possess in my entire lifetime. In Edinburgh, Scotland, I walked with a woman owning a doctorate in Scottish History and specializing in the Christian heritage of the land. Cambridge paired me with an elderly woman so intensely steeped in the Christian heritage of the highest schools of learning on earth, that I barely dared to breathe a word in response so as not to give away my shame of ignorance. Even my restaurant manager in Cambridge, at a lovely place named, The Varsity, possessed a brain so far exceeding my own as he told me stories of the ties between Cambridge and Jerusalem, that I began to wish I had never met him…so maybe, I wouldn’t feel as stupidly tiny as I felt at that moment in front of his establishment.

I am but a speck of dirt in God’s creation.

Or as it is said in the Sayings of Agur in the 30th Proverb, “Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.”

But as with Agur, I know where to find these things. I know to whom Greatness is reserved. I know His Son. He intercedes for me. He sends me. He gives me purpose. He uses me. He loves me. David, too, was a puny speck of dirt. These things do not matter. God matters.

In the picture above, I was strolling the “Path of Scholars” in Cambridge, England. C.S. Lewis, in poor health during his 9 years as a resident fellow at Magdalene College, would walk the same path. Many great names did the same, easing their souls, finding inspiration for great works and important studies. And there I was…the stupid speck of dirt…having the gall to walk the same path. All of us feel tiny in life sometimes. This is a good thing. I wholly believe God had many purposes for sending me there, and that one of them was the continuing process of destroying what was once a large and flourishing ego of self. Thank you, Lord. Continue to purge me and refill me.

Are you feeling small in this world? Invisible? Afraid to speak because your ignorance will show? Know that there is a God. He will deliver you. Transform you. Love you. Call out…
Gary Abernathy

 

 

When the Path Feels Lonely

 

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Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8……A Time for Everything……”There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

At one time early in faith, I was full of idealistic thoughts and impressions of God’s people set apart from the world. Everyone that is child-like in faith is like that. Even though I knew I was wretched, they weren’t, and I viewed all of them as if put up on a pedestal of maybe not perfection…but goodness…righteousness…the right people. I submitted to them. I gave right away to them. I listened. I bought in. Then I matured. I found they were just like me – wretched. I remember the first time I had that revelation. A young husband, young father, new believer…I was serving our church playing music as a then pioneer of contemporary services. I was partnered with this big, wonderful, musical soul who played keyboards, sang pretty badly but with all his heart, and taught me a great deal about playing music on the fly. Our new experimental service was on Saturday nights. My wife and I loved it. She sat with our infant daughter in the sparse congregation, and I served on stage playing a horribly cheap electronic drum kit. We loved our Saturday nights. A new Bob Evans restaurant had opened just down the road and we’d go eat there when church was done. I’d get steak and sunny side up eggs every time. Happy times. Cherished memories. Then our pastor left.

I’d never seen a church power struggle before. I idealistically believed churches were run totally by happy people with nothing but gleeful intents and purposes. Wrong. The teeth were shown, the fangs unleashed, and it was ugly. The new pastor sent was a female with only administration experience under her belt. She was a paper pusher. The situation called for strength…she was the opposite. They ate her up. One night at band rehearsal I was sent to go make copies of the music for the night. I didn’t know where I was going in our large church. Never made copies there before. So I opened a door that I thought was the copy room, but instead was a board room and inside were all those same wolves. They made it perfectly clear I was not welcome and that I was an idiot for thinking the copy machine was there. I slinked out with my head down. That moment has forever stayed with me. Trust broken. Faith matured. Man – sucks.

These paths we walk with God? There is a time for everything. Sometimes…in fact, often…that path is very lonely. There are moments that I feel like nobody at all has any clue what I’m talking about. No idea what I’m trying to say. I can be in a room of 100 people that all know me, and I’ll feel like I’m far away on another planet all alone. A time to be lonely. In the scripture above, we all relish the good portions of that list, but we also suffer the counters to them. This lonely thing isn’t fun. I don’t like it. But that’s the path. There is no Godly option of “Easy Path Only.” Then, as promised, the lonely is replaced by those connecting souls God puts in our path with us for seasons. None of us worthy…none of us good…but we walk in faith together on that path towards Him. And then we part. Back to the lonely trail. Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is always by our side and in our hearts, but also knowing we must experience these things. The same way I needed to know that churches were just like any other place – broken people doing what broken people do. Does that make the church unnecessary? Absolutely not. It makes it irreplaceable. Can you imagine a world where we were no longer even trying to rise up to God’s calling for us? We’ve seen those societies on earth many times. They always end in death and destruction. The church survives because it represents hope.

If you find yourself on the lonely part of the trail, dive into his word even deeper. Hardly anyone dives in at all…another terrible revelation I’ve learned…but we must, and when we’re lonely, like David, we call out to our Father for comfort and understanding. What he will put in your heart, is that there is a time for everything. You are every bit as important as all the characters in scripture, and you’re living God’s continuing story right this moment. You’re the character. Your happiness, your suffering, your triumphs, your failures…this is God’s work in your life. Recorded. You’re David. You’re Saul/Paul. You’re Peter. You. God’s word is not past tense – it’s now. It’s eternal. Timeless. If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t fret, I don’t make a whole lot of sense to hardly anyone right now. <<< That’s a devotional attempt at humor 🙂 But, I make sense to my creator. And this is my story. Keep walking.

Gary Abernathy