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

Delighting in Weakness


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What gate will you choose?


Finding Your Happy Ending


Peace and Hope

Romans 5: 1-5…”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

This scripture leads me to my near 19 year old niece. This weekend, in a moment of wonderful personal triumph, she stood upon a platform as a diver for the University of Houston, and received silver and bronze medals that helped lead her team to their first conference championship in school history. The program began in 1975. She’s been at that school for just a little over a month. My niece, a fiercely private person, wrote on her one social media account that is was “the happiest day of my life.” A happy ending. I’m so proud of her. Because I know the road that led to that podium.

This isn’t an unauthorized biography, so I’ll skip all the details that many of us share of hardship in childhood. The bottom-line is she’s suffered like all the rest of us, but she’s also had a large, dedicated and loving support group surrounding her since birth. As part of that, she’s been introduced to Christ and long ago accepted his invitation. She’s a practicing and devout Catholic, in a family full of Protestants, but it makes no never mind to me. I know her heart, and it belongs to Christ. When that’s the case…we are going to suffer. The question is…will we find it within ourselves to persevere? If you trace the timeline, her athletic woes began to surface about the same time her faith began to flourish. In other words, God began testing her.

My niece was a high level gymnastics state champion of North Carolina at one point. Talent is not lacking in that one. On top of that, she excels at the highest levels academically. She plays to win. Everything. Then came the injuries. Cracked this. Broken that. It all led to a doctor one gloomy day telling her she couldn’t compete in gymnastics anymore. Too dangerous for her injuries. Devastation number 1. Her entire existence was built around the gym. But she plodded forward nonetheless. Her grades not falling. Her determination unaltered. Her faith unquestioned. Then diving was suggested to her. The talents required for competitive diving are the same needed in gymnastics. You just add some water into the equation. Off she went.

She got really good really fast. The scouts started coming around as she progressed in high school. Then devastation number 2. Her mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in the lymph nodes. My niece and her mom are two peas in one pod. She adores her mother. It did not look good at all. Surgery. Chemo. Hair loss. The cancer drill. Still, she kept plodding forward. Nothing slipped, even as the heart broke and the fear struck. I’m happy to say, her mom is in full recovery and doing well for now. It was a scary time that far too many women go through. Many don’t make it.

Senior year. Time to decide on a university. Her grades allowed her much flexibility. Her talent many offers. She’s a valuable asset to any program. She chose James Madison because of the coach. They had a bond from the beginning. All was set. Then James Madison fired the coach. My niece was thrown into turmoil of how to proceed. Eventually, she backed out because she wasn’t getting the program she signed up to join. Recruiting season was over. High School Graduation came, and I watched her receive her diploma, and unlike almost all great students, she had no set plan in place for where she would go in the fall. Then Auburn invited her down. They had no scholarship they could give, but she could be a walk-on to the team. She loved the school, loved the campus, and all of us (the loving support group) were real excited. You could hear us chanting, “SEC! SEC! SEC!” Then…Devastation number 3. She failed her physical exam given by the conference. They are more stringent with walk-on athletes than scholarship athletes, and her past injuries spooked them. Auburn? Kaput.

Still she persevered. Character must have been building like gangbusters if Paul’s outline is correct. Off she goes to the local community college to start her education. She just didn’t stay home for the semester and weigh her options. She kept on with it. I’m sure it’s the Spirit-driven hope she’s been given that did that. Finally, recruiting season opens back up, and the University of Houston came a-knockin’. I now know why they came knocking. They were a piece away from winning their first championship. My niece? The piece.

She started classes in January after winter break, and a little over a month later, she’ll be forever enshrined at that school with her teammates as the first champions ever in the sport. In her always humble words…”So thankful I got to spend the best day of my life with this amazing team. WE ARE CONFERENCE CHAMPS! #gocoogs” Happy Ending.

Until the next test. Which is coming. For all of us. The real happy ending will be forthcoming when it’s time. For those that understand that? All this earthly stuff is just another day to get better in His glory. Amen.

I love you, my sweet niece. Keep on truckin’ 🙂


Gary Abernathy


Seeking the Kingdom


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




When the Path Feels Lonely



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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy




Finding Spiritual Happiness


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






The Things We Keep Buried


Colossians 3: 5-10…”Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

The Apostle Paul wrote this as part of his letters to the church in Colosse around 62 A.D. while he was a prisoner in Rome. It is written as a warning to keep pure the work of Jesus at the cross and the resurrection thereafter, as the church had morphed into a sort of hybrid religion that no longer resembled true Christianity. It is a detailed account of what we are before receiving Christ, and what we transform into after the death of our earthly self and being reborn in the spirit of Christ. He’s very blunt and explicit in his instruction and they are hard words to hear and read. Very few passages in scripture are as important as what Paul wrote here, but these are the exact same qualities that many of faith choose to ignore as command. However, we must keep in mind who wrote this – Paul, the human being that the resurrected Christ specifically and directly chose to bring the gospel to all the world…to you and to me. This is to be taken as if spoken directly to your face by your Creator.

We are warned here by Paul that there is a coming wrath of God and it will be leveled against the things that are born from sin. But since we have been saved by the blood shed at the cross and reborn, we are now transforming (being renewed) in knowledge and in the image of our Savior. In that, we must die in our earthly self and that life we walked in that will face judgment, and walk in the new self that we now have in oneness with Jesus. Complicated? Sure, if you’ve not been rescued by Christ and the Holy Spirit has not yet come to you. But to those to which this has occurred, it all makes perfect sense. It’s the application that gets lost in translation. Transformation is a process…not a one and done, at least for most. Paul was a one and done, but most likely you are not. I am not. We are transforming from our previous life which is now dead. It’s like a snake shedding its skin. What is left behind is all that Paul listed…all the things that separated us from God and eternal light.

There has been much I’ve lost in my old self as that doomed existence dies and my true life emerges. Much of the sexual immorality, the evil desires, the greed, lust, anger, rage and the rest has washed away, and the Spirit is always pouring life back into me to replace those things. Yet, on occasion, I’m reminded my transformation is yet to be complete. Especially when I take off a piece of the armor that shields me from the enemy and leave myself vulnerable to attack. I’m nearly certain that I’ve never met a fully transformed being and that I probably never will. I believe they are out there and I absolutely believe we can get there before leaving this earth, but we do have an enemy and we are constantly at battle with it.

Buried deep in my gut somewhere is this little ball I’ve discovered. It’s not supposed to still be there. I don’t want it there. Yet there it still is. Its content is a toxic brew of terrible pain, anger, rage, sins of all sorts, and all that was me before my rescue. It’s almost as if this ball is a “greatest hits” of all the traits my previous doomed soul consisted of. The death of my mother and the massive pain that came with that takes center stage in that melody. It’s a platinum hit. Recently, because I took my armor off, that little ball of pain was exploited and it surfaced on me again. My actual brother witnessed this. I’m not sure what happened and why, and after much personal analysis I actually believe it was part of the ongoing transformation process. God was releasing it from me and in confession there must be a witness to it. The deep bitterness I was holding towards the end result of my mother’s life poured out of me in a fit of rage.

God has used that ball in my life for a long time. It’s the motivation that has propelled me to do many good things in life out of the ashes of the wrong. It’s the source of what led me to him and his rescue. But it’s of no use anymore as those things have died. I cried the next morning after that ball came pouring from me to God to please take it from me. I didn’t even know it was still there like that. I didn’t belong there and I pleaded for him to take it. There exists plenty of mystery still regarding God, our salvation, our personal transformations, and the way we are used in God’s glory and purposes. For me, this is one of those mysteries. But I take it back to what Paul says here…”Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” I pray that I do.

What are the things you are keeping buried deep in your gut? What type of control do they have on your actions? Consider Paul’s warning. Put them to death.

Gary Abernathy



The Super Bowl Crown


1 Corinthians 9: 24-25…“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Charlotte, NC is one of those types of places that everyone that was born there is very proud of where they come from. At least they are from my generation born in the 60’s and 70’s and before. Mid-size cities are often this way, such as, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and other similar sized places. We want people to know our city exists too and that it’s a great place to be. I’m not sure of the psychology behind that, but I’m willing to guess that it’s akin to Napoleonic complex because of being rivals with nearby larger cities. Charlotte has grown such now that it’s losing that quality, but for those of us who are natives, we’re extremely proud when good things happen to it. Which leads me to the Carolina Panthers NFL football team.

We (Charlotte) were awarded an NFL team that began play in Charlotte in 1996. The first year was spent playing in Clemson, SC until our brand new stadium in Uptown Charlotte was completed. Uptown instead of downtown is another story all together, but it goes right back to that striving to be unique and special. The very first event held in what is now called, Bank of America Stadium, was a Billy Graham Crusade. Billy of course being one of those proud Charlotte natives, and he is also a fan of our football team like the rest of us. If you listen to past messages of his you’ll hear his love of NC and Charlotte come forth quite often. 20 years later that stadium and the city of Charlotte will be hosting our very first NFC Championship game between the Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals. It’s kind of a big deal.

I love the game of football both college and pro. I loved playing the game with my friends as a kid. I didn’t so much love playing organized football, and the giant kids that played against us that must have lived by a nuclear power plant. That’s when I discovered there was a limit to my love of football. Ha. That said, I’ve been rabidly obsessed this year with the Panthers best season in our history. Going into the championship game we have 16 wins against 1 loss. It’s been a beautiful sight to behold. When I attended the playoff game last weekend with my family, I began to wonder if me directing all of this passion at the Panthers was a correct posture from a Godly standpoint. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope bordering on idol worship. Often times, the most seemingly harmless activities are the things drawing us away from relationship with our Father. Is that what is happening to me? It’s a very serious question.

So I began to put this against what the Apostle Paul wrote comparing the spirit of earthly competition with the spiritual responsibility that comes with eternal salvation. Competition and games existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles the same as it does now. He mentions racing in the quoted verse, and later he mentions boxing if you go on reading the chapter. Paul does not condemn these things, but instead he uses them as an example for us to adhere for a much higher purpose. “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

This led me to honestly assess my life from the stance of am I as “sold out” (I really dislike that Christianese term but it fits here) for Jesus as I am the Carolina Panthers? Not that many years ago that would have been a for sure no. But I’m a much different man in my transformation than I was 5, 3, even 1 year ago. My life revolves around Jesus now in all phases. Even football, because I’ve never even considered this to be an issue before, but now the spirit has brought it to my attention. This is what happens when the spirit of the living Christ dwells within us. It was brought to me to consider for a reason. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy all of this creation and the other humans God has created and the great things mankind does, but we must at all times remain with both feet on his narrow path. Eyes forward. If the Panthers lose this weekend I’m going to naturally be disappointed as to what might have been, but my life will instantly go on. I’m in my own race. I’m seeking the crown that is eternal. The Super Bowl crown will fade to dust when mine still shines with his glory as I lay it at the feet of my Savior.

Billy Graham, if he is able in his condition, I’m sure will be watching the game this Sunday. I’ll be there with my family once again, making the 1200 mile roundtrip trek to be in that moment with them. The picture above is one that I took just a few weeks ago while at his library in Charlotte. It’s a signed helmet from Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, to Mr. Graham, “his friend.” It’s a great moment for the team and for the city of Charlotte and all that love it. But I’ll also have these words from Billy in my mind as I temper my enthusiasm with spiritual reality…“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

I’ve grown much closer in likeness to the Lord over these many years, but I still have much more growing to do. How about you? Are the things you give your deepest passions to surpassing the passion you give to serving and growing in Christ? Serious question indeed.

Gary Abernathy