If You Struggle to Believe…

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(Photo taken by me June, 2017 at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrell’s Inlet, SC)

1 Peter 2: 9-10…”But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In much detail, I’ve described my experiences with the Holy Spirit the past 3 years here on this blog. If one is getting to know me by this site only, they may get the impression that I’ve been that certain way my entire life. Completely false. My human life has largely been spent far away from the Father in rebellion, yet my soul has indeed acknowledged the “pings” of his presence for as long as I can remember. God chooses us, we don’t choose him, and when we are ready, the time and place is at his disposal to offer the one thing we do choose to accept or deny individually – Salvation via the Son, Jesus Christ. If you struggle to believe, if you’ve read scripture and it lay dormant on the pages, and your heart is far away from God, but yet you still feel his “ping,” do not be discouraged. I’m of the firm belief that if your soul receives those reminder hints in the midst of your otherwise denial, that you are God’s possession. It’s just not time.

I recently read a great example of this in the autobiography of, Jack Barsky, titled – “Deep Under Cover.” If you’ve ever watched the television drama, “The Americans,” which is one of my all-time favorite shows, Jack Barsky’s story is a real-life version. Born and raised in Cold War East Germany, he was brought up in the atheist-communist system of the Soviet-bloc, and eventually became a spy within the KGB. He spent 10 years undercover for the KGB in America as a computer specialist named – Jack Barsky. A totally assumed identity. He would later defect to the FBI and eventually assumed that identity as his real one. It’s a fascinating book and worth the time. However, there’s a much larger piece to the Jack Barsky story, and it’s exactly what I’m talking about here in this post – God’s hints during the path of our rejection of him until the day of reconciliation.

Jack’s parents were both school teachers and he loved every bit of the process of learning. When he was in 3rd grade an optional class named – Religious Instruction – was added to the school’s curriculum. That by itself I found intriguing to learn, as this was the mid-1950’s during the time of Sputnik and the Space Race, and religion all together was considered as nothing but “opium for the masses” according to strict Marxist doctrine. Total malarkey for simpletons. Nonetheless, they began offering this class on Saturday’s at the end of the regular school day. Jack wanted to check it out. His father said no.

“But, why not?” I asked. “Albrecht” (Jack’s real name), my father said with a glance at my mother. “The stuff they teach in that class is mostly fairy tales. It’s not good for you.”  I looked at him quizzically. “Fairy tales are not good for me? I just finished reading the entire Brothers Grimm, and I like fairy tales.” My father seemed annoyed by my precocious argument and tried to explain further. “The Christian fairy tales make people believe in things that are not good for them. In the past, this has helped the rich to suppress the poor. I don’t want to explain anymore – just believe me, this stuff is bad for you.”

That strange denial only made the class seem more appealing to Jack, as now he saw it as dangerous and was even more curious. So, he and a friend snuck under a half-opened window, and listened in on the teacher.

Indeed, the teacher seemed to be sharing a fairy tale with the students, but instead of using the Brothers Grimm, he used a book called – The Bible. We listened with rapt attention as the teacher told a story about three kings who went on an arduous journey, riding camels through the desert, guided by a bright star, to visit a newborn baby by the name of Jesus.

After being discovered by the teacher and shooed away, Jack went home and engaged his father in conversation once again.

“Dad, do you know anything about the Jesus fairy tale?” His face showed instant disapproval. “Where did you hear about Jesus?” he demanded.

From that day forward, his father required him to come straight back after school. But a few months later while visiting his grandfather during Christmas, which they celebrated purely in Pagan tradition, he happened upon a bookshelf and found a title that caught his eye – Die Bibel. He knew it was the book that contained the Jesus fairy tale. He noted that his grandfather was the “only adult in our family who seemed to like me,” and that he was a kind man. “It seemed strange to me that my father was his son.”

My heart picked up a beat as I turned the pages of this forbidden book and began reading from the beginning. I didn’t see any mention of Jesus. By the time I reached Genesis 10 and 11 and the lineages of Noah and Abraham, I had yawned enough times that I decided to close the giant book. I didn’t open another bible for the next forty-five years.”

From there Jack would go on into his work spying for the Soviet Union in America largely unconnected to Christianity. He later looked back in retrospect that God was protecting him from harm all those years, though he never acknowledged such a thing. After his defection, he achieved a very successful career in corporate America, but his personal life began to crumble. His marriage became dysfunctional and his children had all grown and left home. “I came to the painful realization that I was lacking a spiritual anchor, and there seemed to be no refuge for what had become a lonely soul,” Jack discloses in his personal testimony on the site – http://www.outreach.com

Despondent, Jack wrote in an email to a friend – “All that is left for me is to become the best person I can be. I did not really know what ‘best person’ meant, nor did I know how to get there. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that this email was my first prayer for salvation.”

God knew I was ready, so he answered my (non) prayer. Within three weeks of sending out the email, I hired a new administrative assistant. What impressed me most about this young lady was an incredible peaceful glow on her face and certainty about all things in life. “How is it that you have arrived at such a marvelous inner peace?” I asked. The answer was eye-opening, but at the same time hard to believe: “I take my strength from Jesus,” she said. “How can one take strength from somebody one has never seen?” I thought to myself. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and one month later I was baptized.

 

 

Talk to your Father.

 

Gary Abernathy

 

 

 

I Believe in the Good Things Coming

Matthew 7:9-12 (Jesus speaking)…”Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

I had returned to the place where my life had been turned by God’s own hand 3 years prior. There I stood in the shadow of Mt. Pisgah in the “big boy” hills of North Carolina as I call them, staring at the mountain I had climbed in an agonizing vertical way. Chanting as I huffed and puffed in near collapse – “Jesus first, Jesus in the middle, Jesus last.” That was a different day, a different purpose, and a rescue of my soul by my creator. I’ve written of this early on in this devotional if you care to seek back, but today, as I stated, was another day. There would be no Mt. Pisgah. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever climb it again….but if I do, it will be with my wife. No, today was something else entirely. But what?

In the shadow of that great mountain stands another grand formation nicknamed – Fryingpan Mountain. And upon it stands an abandoned old ranger station that used to serve as the perfect watch point to spot possible wildfires in the Pisgah Valley below. Today it’s a rusty relic that very much resembles a very large creation of the erector sets I played with as a boy. It’s not exactly a rock solid fortress, but despite the harsh winds and weather it endures, there it still stands waiting to offer an adventurer a view unlike any other he’ll find. It could also offer him an urgent need of a tetanus shot if he’s not careful. I was going there.

The path to the ranger station leads up an old gravel road the ranger trucks would use. It’s about 1 1/2 miles up a much kinder slope than Pisgah, and generally an easy walk. The month of May was closing out but the weather was still quite pleasant, ranging in the upper 50’s on top, to the upper 60’s where I walked on the path. The jacket I was wearing was quickly removed and tied around my waist. I knew I’d need it later. I had my trusty walking stick I named with the creativity of a 5 year old – “Staffy.” I had bought that stick to get me up Pisgah. He and I have seen a lot together…good ol’ Staffy. So we walked and admired. Yellow wildflowers in bloom, smells of this and that, and best of all, only 1 other person that I knew of up there besides me. I had intentionally given him a big headstart so he’d be coming back down when I was going up. I wanted to be alone up there. That planned worked to perfection. As we passed on the road I asked, “Is the view worth it?” He just smiled and said, “Absolutely.” As I turned a bend, I came to an opening that provided a clear look at Pisgah and I was deep in thought about that day. Staring at the big mountain I asked God, “So, what are we talking about today, my Lord?”

Unlike 3 years ago, there was no turmoil in my spirit. God wasn’t yanking me up a mountain by my ears, and the name of my King wasn’t being drill-marched into my worldly existence. Today was a celebration of the good things He had promised and delivered if I’d only listen. I did. He had. Just a few minutes after I asked that question aloud, I came to a gate that blocked off another old ranger road. It, too, was rusted and decaying, and local kids used the metal and wood to spray paint various messages. The first thing I saw was – “Stay Gold” – except the “G” was on a falling piece of wood and separated slightly from the “old” and I thought it read – “Stay Old.” My sense of humor kicked in and I asked God, “Stay old? Is there another option, because I’d like to hear it?” Then I saw the G. Now THAT was pretty cool. I wasn’t the greatest student as a young man by any stretch, but it was never from a lack of intellect, but always from a place of rebellion. The same kind that got me dragged up Pisgah. But I did read a great deal in those days, and one of my all-time favorite books was – “The Outsiders.” “Stay Gold, Ponyboy.” I knew that fictional character personally in many ways and it was a big influence on me. “Ok,” I said to my Lord. “I can see this is going to be a good day.”

With a smile and peaceful feeling I continued my casual march to Fryingpan Tower until it came into full view. Sitting on a clearing atop the mountain was the giant erector set fire station. I get so excited about things like that. I would assume that technically nobody should be allowed on it. My wife is a master in insurance and would have a fit at the liability isssues alone. Who cares.  I’m going up. The only portion boarded up and blocked off is the actual station room itself. You can climb to the very last landing just before it. The view is phenomenal. As good as Pisgah’s with a whole lot less effort. I sat up there as the wind howled and the cool air demanded my jacket I wisely brought, and for a good long bit…I never wanted to leave. It just felt so nice. To be in God’s right graces. All that has transpired in these 3 years. The things I’ve been taught. Shown. Given. Taken. It’s impossible for me to calculate it all. I was just simply thankful sitting there.

Leading up to Pisgah was when I first became aware of the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t getting it. My heart wasn’t right. My actions not in line with the man God needed me to be. God’s patience was wearing thin. As I slept in my office at home where I normally write on the little futon, the Spirit came and there was no joking about it. The message in essence can be summed up by this – “You’re going to change…NOW.” And events unfolded from that point that gave me no option but to adhere or be ruined. When scripture says God is the Father, and he loves us as such, it’s a real thing. My Father was fed up with my side-saddle faith, and wasn’t going to allow me to fall into ruin. My soul is eternally grateful, though the cure was not at all pleasant or easy. Yet, everything I needed to get through was provided…as promised. And there I sat redeemed in the shadow of the mountain where Gary met his Father.

Funny, for the past 2 years the Spirit isn’t speaking to me like it did when I was blindly in trouble and it was sent to rescue. But I do hear from the Spirit, and all it ever says…very clearly…is – “Great things are coming.” I’ve told my wife this many times when it happens, and I’ve told trusted friends the same. “The Spirit keeps telling me that great things are coming. I trust the Spirit.” So after I reluctantly decided to leave my perch on Fryingpan Tower, I made my way all the way back down the rusty old contraption. When I turned around to take one last look up at it, I noticed a written message on a lower rail. It read – “I believe in the good things coming.” Whoa. There’s more of us out there? You bet there are. We know. Do you?

Great things are coming, readers. You can count on it as gold. God the Father is true to His word.
Gary Abernathy

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

Resurrecting Consciousness

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(photo taken by me at Calvary Baptist Church of Banner Elk, NC – February 2017)

Matthew 17: 14-20…Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy…”When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’

‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’

He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ “

This particular scripture from Matthew’s gospel gnaws at me on a continual basis. Jesus is not only condemning the lack of faith of his disciples. He’s condemning ours. Mine. The last time I tried, I still can’t tell a mountain to move from here to there and it moves…and I’d sure love to do that. I live in that flats of Florida. A good hiking mountain would be greatly appreciated around here! That of course isn’t the point…

I’m writing today from the place of spiritual pondering…wondering…examining…and not from pure theology. That needs to be clear. These are open-ended thoughts that I consider and pose as questions and theory. Let’s take a fact first – Jesus presents to us that our faith, that we seemingly can control given his annoyed admonishment, gives us unlimited power if we only understood how to draw upon it. In fact, he states emphatically that faith as small as a puny mustard seed gives us the power to move mountains. There’s our fact to work off.

The end game of my pondering here, is trying to determine how to further awaken my eternal conscious that was resurrected by the Holy Spirit after accepting salvation. Just as God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and rose him up, the Holy Spirit breathed upon our eternal soul and awakened it after acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first thing I start to consider is this – Are we created (began) as eternal beings at human conception, or, are we already eternal beings that existed before human conception, and certainly exist past human death? That’s an important question. We don’t know.

If we return back to the fact that I’m not telling mountains to move and they do it, it’s logically assumed that my faith must be even smaller than a mustard seed. I don’t feel like my faith is that small. It feels much greater. I believe. Do I doubt? Yep. Do I ignore? Yep. Do I forget? Yep. But do I believe? I most certainly do. Furthermore, I feel like I know…not just believe. I’ve always felt like I know. There is a holy consciousness that resides within me. And I consider that possibly this is what Jesus is making reference of in his statement. If you were even just a little bit awake, “you unbelieving and perverse generation,” you could do all this and much, much more. Unbelieving and perverse. That’s the NIV translation. However, in the King James translation it reads: “O faithless and perverse generation.” In the Greek it translates – “Through you want of faith.” I think the word – unbelieving – used in the NIV, might be misleading. It’s not our lack of belief…it’s our lack of awareness. The world’s deception has perverted our ability to see clearly.

Let’s look at an example of possible eternal consciousness. My favorite numbers just by instinct have been for as long as I could mouth them – 7 and 33. Both holy numbers. My other favorite number is 58, but I know the reason for that and it’s purely human based…it’s the number of my all-time favorite American football player, Jack Lambert. But 7 & 33 are pure instinct. Why? 43 is another instinctual favorite number of mine that I’ve used a lot in life for no particular reason other than it feels good to me. And earlier this morning, and what really inspired this rambling today, is that I was reading Ezekiel, and came to the part where God instructs him to lay on one side for 390 days to bear the burdens of Israel’s sin. Then God says he is to lie on his other side for 40 days to bear Judah’s sin. Calling him (Esekiel), the “Son of Man,” the entire time. Mind blowing stuff put in full context. When I do the simple math of 390 + 40, we get – 430. And there is my 43. That’s a huge stretch I understand, but it deepens my thought process.

We know that by bloodline we are connected to one created eternal being. Adam. We trace our roots this way. We carry forth characteristics and traits through that bloodline, though still individuals and unique to ourselves. Adam was, at his beginning, what we are striving to get back to. What Jesus restored the possibility of us once again becoming. Given the words of Jesus in the scripture from Matthew, we don’t have to wait to leave these human shells to attain the original status of Adam. “If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you can.” He doesn’t say after you pass from human life. He says…you can. Now. You perverse generation.

The Holy Spirit has resurrected our eternal consciousness. It’s why scripture states, “You do not need anyone to teach you.”

1 John 2: 24-25…”As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us – eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

See how that ties back to what Jesus stated? “You unbelieving and perverse generation?” We are led astray by Satan. The delusion. And that same delusion is why what we could be…right now…is so stunted and small. So how do we “see that what we have heard from the beginning remains in us?”

Keep your snout and eyes in God’s bread – His word. And absorb. Daily. Guided by the Holy Spirit, that is indeed your awakened eternal consciousness.

Sooner or later…I’m moving that mountain.

Gary Abernathy

The Mercy Cross

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(Photo taken by me at Greyfriars Kirk – Edinburgh, Scotland – July 2016)

Lamentations 4: 5-11…”Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps. The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment without a hand turned to help her. Their princes were brighter than snow and whiter than milk, their bodies more ruddy than rubies, their appearances like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.

The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed her foundations.

This devotional blog goes all over the world. It’s been read on every inhabited continent on earth. Brazil, Italy, India, Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Canada, United Kingdom, Haiti, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, Ireland, France, Angola, Japan, Bosnia & Herzegovina…the list goes on. Not in the millions, but by the ones, twos, and threes. The inspiration of this site is Mark 4:20, which is posted on the home page – “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

I have faith that God uses what he puts into me that comes out here, as seed sown across his creation. I pay no search engine fees, I request no extra features, and I don’t know any tricks. It is God that leads these words to where they wind up. How I would love to visit all the places my site has gone. To meet those souls on the other end. We’re all in this together. All entered through the narrow gate. So, I ask you on this post this most important question – Do you understand what the cross has spared you from? Do you honor and remember? “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Here in these first few months of 2017 I’ve been taking a couple of different academic angles to deepen my understanding and awareness of Christ. The cross. The resurrection. My salvation. One is an intellectual angle by studying the works of C.S. Lewis. The other is by studying the Old Testament and the path that leads to Jesus on the Cross. All supplemented by daily readings of Psalms and Proverbs, which I’ve done in a repeating pattern for nearly 3 years. The latter I do as Godly bread  that fills my soul, instead of filling with the world’s deceptions. It works.

Those studies led me to Jeremiah and then to Lamentations. It matters not whether Jeremiah also wrote Lamentations. The content stands terrifyingly alone. A small portion of which I offered as today’s devotional. I considered my country of the United States in comparison. I considered your countries. Our sin reaches the heavens the same as those to whom the wrath was poured out on. Are we different somehow? Only in the one way – the Cross.

“With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.”

Mothers. Cooking. Their. Own. Children.

Jesus, on the cross, His body broken and His blood poured out – for us – to pay the price. The same price that Jeremiah horrifyingly witnessed before the Messiah came to save. Do you get that? We deserve no less than Jeremiah’s people. It’s our rightful portion for the crimes we commit. With nails driven into his flesh and bones, Jesus Christ took God’s full wrath meant for us.

I would urge you to read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. Read all the prophets. It’s not enough for me to write it here in a report. You can only feel it truly while inside His word in sincere relationship. Allow Him to teach you what it means.

And then sow more seed.

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

 

 

 

 

How to Find Promised Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy

 

 

The Flickering Light of Hope on the Frontlines of Hell in Mosul

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Psalm 27: 1-3…”The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

I read something tonight on the Facebook page of Reverend Franklin Graham that has compelled me to do something I’ve yet to do on this devotional site – use someone else’s words as the message. My words after reading this are silent. They do not belong in this testimony. I’m fully aware of what has been taking place in Iraq and Syria these last many years. I’m aware of the utter horror of it all. But this testimony comes from within the horror…within the chaos/darkness/evil…no word does justice…of man’s darkest capabilities. My prayers go out nightly for those in this…what is it even…this unraveling of man’s very soul. They have for a long time now. But nothing has ever been shown to me in my safety in the west quite like this. You must read it if you claim the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior. You must know.

This letter was written by a staff member of the Samaritan’s Purse Field Trauma Hospital on the ground in Mosul, Iraq. A land that time after time in God’s word continues to surface. It was integral to Assyria. It is Nineveh. One of the very first acts of ISIS after taking the region was to destroy the tomb of Jonah. Blew it up. That was a message sent.

Here are the words…

—My first day at the emergency field hospital just east of Mosul, Iraq was very much like my last day. Mortar strikes on civilians, children bloody and broken, black bags to hold the dead. The slow, solemn walk, cradling a ten year old in my arms, counting the steps to the morgue. Laying someone’s son down on cold gravel, reading his name one last time on the death certificate taped to the body bag.

Time of death 18:17.

Patient #855.

I’ll never forget the sounds of his dying. The rattling and the gurgling. I’ll never forget the songs we sung over him, the prayers strangled by grief and sorrow. The tear stained cheeks and our righteous anger. I’ll never forget the faraway look on his precious face. I’ll never forget his face. What was left of it.

Many of us were strangers a week before, two days before. Strangers taking care of other strangers. One set from the west, a land of peace and prosperity, one set from northern Iraq, a region ravaged by terrorism and war. And now here we all were, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, translators, construction workers, administrators, and HR reps. One and all hearts turned inside out and taking care of the dying while other new friends fight for the living in mobile operating theaters a few hundred feet away.

That last night may have been the worst. The toddler with ribs exposed from mortar wounds. 9 children in one day. But there were other days, other nights when I thought my heart might die. The toddlers with their feet shot off. The whole families targeted by drone strikes. The burnt and blackened restaurant patrons, victims of a suicide bomber. One night in particular I carried five children to the morgue. It leaves you breathless, concussed. The mortar of sorrow, a direct shot to the soul.

I’m processing, I’m free bleeding my heart and thoughts here so I don’t explode and because I don’t have the luxury of denial. I cannot separate my belief in a good and sovereign God and the suffering of innocence. If there is no reconciling the two than I am lost. We all are. Especially Christians, fools to be pitied of all men.

But what we found there, behind those blast walls, with the ceaseless drums of artillery fire, the strangled song of the whine and wail of one ambulance after another, was that hope is not a thing you wish for, it is the only thing afloat in a raging sea of chaos. It is what you hold on to, what holds on to you so you do not go under the relentless waves of grief. And we found that you hold on to each other. And you pray like gasping for your last breath. And you plead with heaven, even when heaven is silent. And you raise your broken hearts together in a pitiful little petition, more whimpers than words, and you beg, unified in grief, “Jesus please…..”

The Bible says that suffering produces hope. A comical, sadist thought when the belly is full and the sun of our futures never sets, always shines on our glorious destinies. But when the night never ends, when the morgue is full, when evil seems to be laughing in every shadow, on those nights you somehow see it. Suffering produces hope in this way: when terrorism and hate and the cancer of evil spreads over all that is good with a blight of darkness, the light still does not go out. There is a flame in the hearts of those who have known the love of God. There is a song of praise that is not stalled on their lips, is not silenced. There is a light in the inner places of those who have heard the Word of Life and believed. This is the flower of hope that grows in the garden of souls by heaven’s Holy seed. This is the hope that springs eternal, because it has always existed, always will exist apart from the human stain, in the Holy heart of God.

Suffering produces hope in the same way bomb blasts produce the broken bodies of children. It is the inevitability, the cause and the effect of universal laws. But only one will remain. Hope will swallow grief one day because Love will conquer all. But Hope is inevitable in us only when we trust, against our own instincts, in the goodness of God and allow ourselves to be taken deep into our own human frailty, far past vulnerability to the point of despair. And in that wasteland of our utter uselessness, in that wilderness of our unraveling, God is there, He is faithful, He alone, as He has always been, is holding the universe together and simultaneously holds us in the palm of His hand.

That is the only hope: that God holds His own in the palm of His hands while they yet suffer. And that the insatiable hunger of the mouth of Hell cannot devour the ragtag, broken band of believers called the church.

In the picture above I hold in my hand a 50 caliber bullet taken from the body of a pre-teen boy. An ISIS sniper shot him because their’s is an ideology of fear. They target the weak, not just because the weak are a low-hanging fruit, but because most of us are weak. Most of us are trying to live our simple lives in peace. ISIS needs capitulation. They need submission. A sniper bullet in the side of a child reminds us the world is not at peace and things are not simple. It reminds us that suffering isn’t a concept, that no abstraction paralyzed this young man. It reminds us that we are fragile and vulnerable. It reminds us that to walk the way of love our hearts will be obliterated by suffering.

And so against all hope we hope, that Love will one day conquer all. But not human love. Only God’s selfless love, for with it carries His perfect all-powerful justice and the promise and ability to make all things new. Godspeed that day. Especially for the precious children of Mosul.

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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

 

 

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