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

 

 

The Company We Keep

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Mark 2: 1-12…”A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ “

The company we keep matters. It matters a whole, whole, whole lot. From my very first memories, until this moment right now, I can recollect a friend placed in my life that in one way or another, led me in the direction of Christ. The first was a neighbor named, Laurie Newsome. We were 4 years old and best friends. The two of us attended a neighborhood children’s bible study together. Those are my first memories of having a friend in Christ. Moving forward, there is a steady stream of various friends that would come into my life. The bulk of all those relationships having nothing to do on the surface with direct involvement in church, bible study, or anything of that nature. But when reflected back on, it’s easy to trace. The kids above in the picture (myself and 3 best friends) playing large roles in that. We were truly brothers.

The scripture I gave today from Mark’s gospel showcases a band of friends just like mine in childhood. A wily bunch of dudes loyal to each other…and crazy. A few years ago I watched a sermon from Pastor Mike Glenn of Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. I love that guy. He has all the degrees, pedigrees, this and that’s you want from a pastor in authority, but when he’s speaking from the pulpit, he delivers in simple ways that are engaging and fun, while still being highly thought provoking and purposeful. In short, he speaks to me. And a few years ago he did a sermon on this scripture that hit true friendship right on the head – those dudes in this scripture are exactly the type of friends you need to have in your life.

At this point in his ministry, Jesus has the juice. He’s got the buzz. Everyone is talking about him and all are curious and excited to see him. There wasn’t even room outside the door to listen to him speak this day. Meanwhile, somewhere in the vicinity lives a paralyzed man. He surely must have been beloved, because normally that figure in the bible is alone somewhere with nobody to help him. But this guy was, or had been, keeping the right company. Because they heard Jesus was coming, and they knew that this was their friend’s best and probably only shot of healing. What follows is a series of events that sounds exactly like something my friends and I would have done back in the day.

4 of them carry this man to the place. Carry. Him. Do you have friends that would carry you even 5 feet? These fellas carry this man who knows how far to get there. That in itself is a tremendous act of love. Only to find out they can’t get anywhere near Jesus. Like the secret service has the area sealed and there is not a snowball’s chance of getting in. Normal people say, “Oh well, dude, we tried. Maybe he’ll come back another time.” Not these guys. You can just imagine the conversation that took place between them. Pastor Glenn is quite hilarious in his rendition. I won’t attempt it. Suffice it to say, somebody came up with the oh-so-insane idea of somehow getting this paralyzed man on the roof of the building, managing to cut a hole in the ceiling large enough to fit him through, and then lowering him I assume by rope down in front of the Son of Man. Not only did they pull off all the above, but they wound up having the entire whacked out plan being recorded for the remainder of time in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was so impressed by this effort, and I love to imagine him stopping in mid-sentence as he notices that a man is being lowered down from a hole in the ceiling above his head and breaking out in laughter, that he proclaims to the man on the mat, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now this tells us that – 1. Whatever had paralyzed the man was due to sin. 2. Jesus wanted everyone in attendance to know that he had been given authority to forgive sin. 3. That if we come to Christ in sincere faith no matter what the weird circumstances were that got us to him, we can and will be forgiven. This all ends with the massive crowd aghast at what they’d just witnessed, and the once paralyzed man picking up his mat, and walking out the door in full view of all. The keepers of the law appalled at the “blasphemy” of Jesus declaring the authority to forgive sin. I’d love to have seen the reunion with the friends once the healed man got back outside. “Dudeeeeeeeeeee! That was unbelievable!!!” They’re all high-fiving and falling all over each other. “I can’t believe that worked!!!!” Laughing, smiling…and so happy their friend is healed. Those guys? That’s the right company to keep.

The teenagers in the picture above were I think in 9th grade when that picture was taken. It was by the basketball court at my home we were usually found hanging out at. I’m the shaggy-haired skinny guy on top of the pyramid. The guy below me I’d met when I was in 2nd grade. He was my first friend in a brand new neighborhood. We met in school and he invited me to sleepover at his house. I was scared to death. Seriously! I can be a little shy at first, and I didn’t know what I would possibly have to say to him for that long. I was still so innocent that my room was full of stuffed animals. (Note of honesty – I STILL keep stuffed animals around me and I’m 50 years old. They comfort me. Sssshh. Don’t tell anyone else that). I knew just from manly instinct that taking my beloved Pooh Bear with me would have been a death blow to that friendship. He didn’t seem like the stuffed animal type of guy. Super friendly, but that wasn’t his gig. So I decided the cool move that would accomplish me “having a friend” along for the ride, but not look stupid was…and I really did this…taking a stuffed Fred Flintstone doll with me. To this day, and it’s now been over 4 decades since…he STILL gives me heck about that. And I of course don’t blame him…soooooo lame. But if we went right back to that moment right now, I’d do it exactly the same way. That’s who I am. You want to be friends with me…you get the real Gary. To his utmost credit, and despite what I’m sure was against his better judgment after something like that, we wound up being the closest of friends all through high school graduation and beyond. In 8th grade I introduced him to the girl that would go on to be the love of his life and the mother of his 4 children. She’s now a well-known internet bible study leader for women. The first time they kissed was in my backyard. We have a lot of history that guy and me.

The 2 guys on the bottom? Oh, they weren’t that important in my life. I only made music with them in a band for the better part of 3 decades. They were my best friends for most of my life to this point. People came and went in the various forms of that band over the years, all of them special and important, but the core of us 3 never changed. It was our band. Our family. Our friendship. Those 4 guys in that picture? They would have carried each other to see Jesus if it meant healing was possible. We were those guys. Though time, families, life and distance separate us now, I still believe in my heart we still would for each other. I know I would. And I’d bring Fred Flintstone with me.

The company we keep? Matters. Cherish those brothers and sisters in your life that love you the same way Christ loves you – exactly as they find you. And sure as the sun will shine…they will make you a better person.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

Seeking the Kingdom

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The Armor of God – Ephesians 6: 10-20…”Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me (the writer – Paul), that whenever  I speak. words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

That’s quite the exciting imagery Paul puts forth in that letter. Swords, helmets, breastplates, shields extinguishing flaming arrows…the full armor of God! Be ready to stand your ground! It’s the stuff of heroism that fills the imaginations of most people. We want to be that brave soul. The righteous one. Oh my how we fail so utterly at doing and being so. Our world is overflowing with self-righteous zealots, and Paul was one as well before being blinded by the glory of Christ. We summon all we believe to be right into a fiery ball of rage, and we set out to conquer the wrong in this world. That’s the story of the entire timeline of man – the quest of righteous justice in the perceived minds of man. Cain kills Abel and off it goes. Has never stopped. The trail of blood that leads in all directions to the cross.

Before I write these posts, or any of my writings elsewhere, I kneel at my altar steps from where I sit, and I pray that I’m given the correct words so that they may reflect His will, His purpose, and His glory. Paul asked for that prayer, and thus so should we. Why? Because anything that comes from our own mind is automatically tainted with the spirit of that river of blood flowing towards the cross. We all have our motives. My own particular weakness in that regard rests in glory. I want it, but it doesn’t belong to me and it never will. It’s a battle I’m often fighting against. And when the armor is missing a piece or two, that’s where I’m most often attacked. The one who defends the kingdom must be stripped bare of his own will, and covered fully in the righteousness of the Lord. There is no way for us to fill in pieces of that armor ourselves. It’s all his, and when removed, we are right back to the feeble sinner state we began with.

I was watching an old Billy Graham Crusade earlier today, and he spoke to this in that unique way of Billy that breaks down complicated things into simple terms. I love him for that. It’s the gift God gave him that allowed him to reach millions in such an enormously impactful way. This is a direct quote I jotted down from that message in Chicago, Illinois in 1971. Billy Graham…

“Ya know, some of us Christians live as though Jesus is dead. He’s not dead. He’s alive! Oh, you’re going through your troubles, and your trials, and your temptations, and your testings, and your pressures, and you’re under satanic attack all the time…constantly. You know, I think in many ways, in some ways, it’s easier not to be a Christian in this world. Because the devil may leave you alone. The moment you receive Christ as Savior, you’re in for it. Unless you live on your knees and live in the scriptures, and keep your guard up, and your spiritual armor on at all times. Because if you let down even one day as a Christian you’re in trouble. The moment you receive Christ all the world is going one way, and you turn around and start against the tide as a Christian. And that’s hard.”

Yes it is. Very hard. One of the primary confirmations of the truth of Jesus Christ to me is the fact that I now experience exactly what Billy Graham said there quite often. I used to go merrily on my way doing all sorts of things not intentionally seeking harm, but leaving a trail of destruction behind me nonetheless.  A worldly life lived within (mostly) the laws of man, but far outside spiritual law. Receiving Christ convicted me of those sins and forced repentance, and in turn, caught the attention of the devilish pied piper that I had stopped trailing along. Billy said as soon as you receive Christ you’re in for it. No doubt! Every weakness of our existence can and will be used against us. Anger, sexual temptation, pride, envy, jealousy…all the classics. I know I’m important to Christ, because I’m surely important now to the adversary. The armor of God. Can I order that on Amazon Prime?

Unfortunately no. To live in the kingdom in tranquil peace and security, there is no shortcut to be had. We are under a constant state of transformation where piece by piece of that armor is being instilled upon and within us. As each year passes by, I have a few more weapons at my disposal, not so easily knocked down as I was before. Moving from place to place along that narrow path of lessons, testings and temptations. But I’m not fully armored. Some of the shots get through with regularity. In particular when targeting my want of glory or prodding my wrath when I’m distracted into putting down my protection. But…I now know where to seek shelter. I know exactly where to retreat. Into the word. Into prayer. On my knees. Seek my hero. And that’s what it’s all about.

Submission of our will to his authority. Once you figure out you actually can’t be defeated no matter how devastating the attack, then you can begin being armored. The victory is already won, but most of us are wasting our time nonetheless still trying to win it. Our Lord needs us to move on. To submit to that victory so that we can be taught to live in it. When we do that others will follow. Heroes of the Living Christ within us.

My eyes are fixed upon the kingdom. The armor I have been given is on and I’ll gladly receive and seek more as it’s given. But my eyes gaze on that path, even when storms and attacks knock me from it. That’s not me capable of doing that…it’s the Holy Spirit. Praise God. Are you beating yourself up and living in defeat, or are you running to your victorious hero for shelter? You can’t do this alone. The wolves will eat you for breakfast every single morning, and come back at night just to laugh at your condition.

Take this serious. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

Finding Spiritual Happiness

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Romans 12: 3-8…(Apostle Paul Speaking) “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Peace and joy are the primary ingredients that make up what every human ever to live seeks – Happiness. Merriam-Webster defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.” Isn’t this what our Lord promised in sending the Holy Spirit to us? Romans 15:13 states…”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Throughout the New Testament we are promised these wonderful things…joy and peace. Do you feel them?

The answer many give is: No. We are also promised a rough road to traverse. A cross to bear. A roaring enemy stalking us and setting traps. Do we feel those? Overwhelmingly, yes. Where is our spiritual happiness? If the Holy Spirit is indeed dwelling with you, it’s right there too. Guaranteed. We are just still holding onto to our worldly existence, and peace and joy are not allowed to be brought forth by our own misunderstanding of it all. Contentment is not something we excel at is it? We are taught by culture to want…to envy…to create our own dreams and plans…and to stop at nothing to attain them. We are taught these are the qualities of the justly ambitious and best among us. The exceptional. Who is planting those seeds? Christ or the enemy?

Even in our places of worship contentment is considered a foul word. They must be grown. They must have more. We must keep up with others. What God has provided is never enough. God’s direction is ignored and replaced with man’s direction…who claim to speak for God while they give it. The structures within our churches push their flocks for more and more. Give more, do more, say more, lead more, take up more…do, do, do…for Christ. You owe our Lord this. Lies. That’s the world talking, not our Lord. We are one body of Christ serving many different functions, just as Paul described, and he actually was divinely inspired to speak on God’s behalf. In short Paul is saying, “Do what you do best and don’t try to do too much. Stay within the gifts God has given you for his purposes and glory, and give them your best.” Is that the message you hear in your churches and groups?

In all my years of involvement in the church, I’ve said no to hundreds of things, and yes to only a few. Why? Am I a malcontent, selfish Christian only wanting to do what I want to do? Nope. I’m doing exactly what Paul told me to do. What are the gifts loaned to me by grace? I communicate well through writing, so I write on his behalf…without asking for compensation. I play percussion well so I serve my churches in that way…without asking for compensation…and have done so for nearly 20 years. I’ve been given the ability to recognize suffering and need that comes in my path, and God gives me the ability to offer encouragement. I do that every time I’m led to see it. Without asking for compensation. And God has blessed my family with resources that enables me to share…so I give generously to where I’m led. Those are my gifts, and they are all given to my Lord’s kingdom. No, I’m probably not going to go on a 10 mile walk…because that’s not my calling. I’m not going to agree to lead groups where I’m not qualified to lead them. I’m not going to serve this ministry and that ministry, because my function within the body doesn’t mesh. But do and will I support each and all? Absolutely. The body is one and we all work in unison. Know your role. Contentment follows.

There exists a billion dollar plus industry that caters to God’s people and their desires to find peace and joy…happiness. Christianity in America has largely become the world’s largest self-help seminar. This is why our nation’s faithful confuse and anger so many on the outside. Everyone has a book to sell, a bible study series to peddle, a viral video to expose…and they all have the secret. But nobody is happy. Why? The Holy Spirit isn’t present. No Spirit equals no joy…no peace…happiness nullified. When courageous church leaders and pastors do step up to their flocks and speak God’s true words to them…congregations recoil in horror. “That’s not what our church is about!” “That’s not what we believe!” “You’ve lost your mind!” “You’re pushing political agenda!” No, dear faithful, they are just telling you what God’s word actually says. The Spirit dwelling within them requires they not add or subtract a single word. They are to teach what God has instructed. Period. Want to see a big ol’ controversy in modern churches? Preach the gospel. It got Jesus hung a cross, and it still has the same effect today.

Which leads me back to finding spiritual happiness. Want it? John 14:6…”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Those are the words of Jesus Christ – King of Kings, Lord of Lords. Philippians 2: 9-11…”Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus is Lord of all creation. To find spiritual happiness, as part of that creation, submission to that must occur. God the Father, whose Spirit provides that peace and joy, cannot be reached, but by Jesus Christ. Few will do so. Few will ever sincerely submit. Want to know peace, joy and happiness? Eternal life? Jesus tells us we must enter through the narrow door. The narrow door is truth. Few accept it, most reject it, and all exploit it.

To conclude I offer the words of our Lord from the gospel of Luke. Seek the narrow door.

Luke 13: 22-30…”Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Call on Christ to come rescue you. He will send the Spirit. Listen to Him. Submit. Repent. Live.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

 

 

Building the Foundation of Eternity

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Matthew 13: 37-43 (Jesus Christ speaking)…”The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be a the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Not many pastors dwell among these words from Christ when speaking to their flocks. If you want to run someone off quick, start explaining things like this and you’ll be preaching to only the few remaining faithful. That doesn’t fit into the church growth model. Into the outreach expansion goals or the exotic mission field desires. So they leave the devil, fire, and blazing furnaces tucked away in the gospel they know most of their flock aren’t going to read on their own anyway. Over time this has led to the worldly image of Christ as nothing more than a friendly hippie with some wise and nice things to say.

Jesus Christ came to build the foundation of eternity – His kingdom. “I came to bring fire and how I wish it was already time,” Jesus said. Luke 12:49. God is the creator. He builds things. When he came to earth, the Son of Man was first a carpenter. He built things. As his ministry began, so did the ultimate and final project – the kingdom. We are in that process now as he is growing us from his seeds that have been sown. We are mixed together with the weeds. How do we know which is which? How are we to be sure?

Examine our hearts. Where do our passions rest? What are the motivations that drive us? What do we fear? Where do we place our hope? If Christ isn’t the driver to the answers of all those questions, it’s a very good chance we’re weeds. Weeds eventually are bundled and tied, then tossed into the blazing furnace. Don’t be a weed.

To be clear, we are all deserving of being burned with the weeds. At the same time, with the work of the cross and the resurrection, we all can become good seeds that will bring about the final vision. However, it’s not enough to accept salvation because it’s free or from a sense of survival, and then go right back to being a weed. A great many are in the field waiting to be harvested without a clue they are actually weeds. Their eyes never in the word that is our daily bread, their hearts steeped in worldly sin, and their passions given to shortsighted earthly ways. Their knees never bent in prayer asking to be taught, forgiven and transformed. To the good seeds…the Holy Spirit guides, rebukes, disciplines, and transforms. For the weeds…they are left to the fickleness and playful torture of the devil, who can rise up and destroy any time it suits his fancy or purposes. This is not written as a condemnation of the reader…it’s written from experienced knowledge. I was once an unknowing weed with the confidence of the saved. The Spirit came to me and woke me up from the delusion I was under. The intent of this writing is to wake you up from the same.

Hurry and stir. The harvest nears each hour.

Gary Abernathy

 

Jesus is the First Responder

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Luke 19:10…”For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

If you are a transforming Christian you know exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke those words. We understand that moment with vivid detail because we were that lost and broken soul reaching out to be rescued. In this story from Luke’s gospel, Jesus had entered the town of Jericho and a huge crowd had surrounded him. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector with a great life, but he had heard of this Jesus and wanted to see him. Jesus knew exactly who he was coming to see that day, but for Zacchaeus, he just wanted to know if something more than the emptiness of his ill-gotten gains existed. He was a short man so he had climbed up into a sycamore-fig tree to get a better view.

When Jesus came upon him he yelled up, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5). Can you imagine? Jesus Christ standing below you as you sit in a tree yelling at you to get down immediately because he’s coming over. NOW! The town people were astonished. “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Zacchaeus was relieved. Humbled. Rescued. “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” said Zacchaeus. Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Recently I was at a Target store near my home and I happened on a first grade girl crying in the main aisle with desperation screaming from her eyes. Before I reached her two grown women pushed their carts right by her without a word. I gently approached her and asked her what was wrong. She was wearing the school shirt of the same elementary school both my own daughters attended. “I can’t find my mom…I don’t know where she is.” I know that moment. I thought of it right then as I stared at this young girl. Lost, broken, confused…seeking so hard to find home but everything is a blur. Then I considered that in that moment with this young lady, I was Jesus. He had come to me when I was in the same condition. He had taken my hand and brought me home safely. He was my first responder. Now here I stand in his shoes.

Maybe I am reading too much into it and she didn’t feel what I sensed, but this girl was very calm with me as if she knew I was good. I was a stranger, a man, in a big store, and all she’s ever been taught to this point is to run from me in that situation (as we all teach our children), but she trusted me right away. I’m certain she saw Jesus through me and not me. Eventually she disclosed that she knew her Mom’s phone number which I found very impressive, area code and all, which was different than the one we were in. I called her mother and told her I would wait upfront near management until she got there. When we saw her “red hair in a ponytail” round the corner, I started waving my arms so she could see where we were. This woman never made eye contact with me. When she got within 10 yards her daughter ran to her sobbing. Mom looked relieved and frustrated but not joyful to have averted disaster. Anyone could have taken that child. She never spoke a word to me. Not even a simple thank you. They quickly whisked away.

Jesus is the first responder to the trauma in our lives. He’s there when this little girl needed a lighthouse, he’s there when Zacchaeus was filled with nothing but emptiness and excess, and he’s there for you in every moment your heart is calling out from within your soul. When the addiction can’t be broken, when the abuse can’t be stopped, when life just can’t be lived straight…he’s there. It leaves us with the choice. Are we to keep our eyes down and pretend he doesn’t exist because it’s too painful and too shameful to look up, or do we go as far as to even climb a tree to find him in our desperation? He is always there but we have to accept him. We have to look him in the eye. We have to sense that he is good…he’s the way home.

Where do you stand? Are you in a tree looking over the crowd for him? Or is your head down like you didn’t do your homework and the last thing you want is to catch the teacher’s eye? Either way you know he’s there. That’s why you’re reading this. Get down from that tree immediately. Jesus is coming to stay with you. Your rescue has arrived.

Gary Abernathy