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

What Can Be Trusted?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Abernathy

In God We Trust


Proverbs 3: 1-10…Wisdom Bestows Well-Being…”My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commandments in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

The picture above is one of the two bibles that rest on the altar just steps away from where I write. One of them is my own study bible that originally drew my heart into hearing God’s words for me. The instrument that began to explain in detail to me why he created me. The other is the one pictured that belonged to my wife’s grandmother. A simple and devoutly faithful woman who lived in rural Kentucky her entire life. My wife Lisa holds her in the highest esteem. Her grandmother was God’s bedrock placed in her life as she grew up. The one who instilled the promise of salvation within her as she stumbled her way to eventually finding that promise to be true. When I put together that altar in the process of enormous change in my life to keep me grounded in relationship, and to display to my own family the vital importance of God’s daily presence in our lives, she quietly placed that bible along with mine. One day it wasn’t there and the next it was. When I pray daily, there is a symbolic piece on the altar where I ask to be made good soil for his word to be sown. There is a rock that I brought from the summit of Mt. Pisgah in an exercise of obedience, where I ask for just that…to be given strength to be obedient, and there are the 2 bibles. I place my hands on both, and I ask that his wisdom and knowledge be poured into me, so that it may come back out correctly for his will, his purposes, and his glory. Then I say, “And say hello to Lisa’s grandmother for me.” I do this mostly every day.

I never knew her grandmother. I only attended her funeral. She died from Alzheimer’s disease. I never got to meet this woman my wife holds in such high regard. But I know where her trust was. It was in her Lord. My wife has conveyed this to me repeatedly over the 20 years of our togetherness. Lisa, her mom, and her brother, pretty much fought the world alone as she grew up, with a faces coming and going, and her father abandoning her when she was too young to even know what that meant. But her grandparents provided home base. Grounding. God. I see these people I never met all over the 3 of them even today many years past their leaving the world. They were that strong of Godly presence. It was her grandmother that was God’s vessel for her husband and the three of them.

I want to be that for my family. I want to be so transformed by him that my family for many coming generations will thrive from the rock placed within our blood. I was the least likely and poorest person to pick for such a position. But God has plucked me from my wretched nature and continues to shape me how he desires. It’s an ugly process. Some days I feel like I’m already walking in heaven, and other days I feel like my soul is ripped up into an infinite shred of shame and tears. But as time has moved, my trust has grown strong in my creator. I do not trust my worldly instinct any longer, and when I need a reminder why, God provides it with mirrors into the horribleness of what that worldly instinct created. I recoil at the sight of it when I recognize in the moment what’s going on. As if for a split second, I get to see myself as he does. That altar I put up has a wood surface. My tears flow upon it. Just before typing this they flowed and I squeezed my eyes as hard as I could…as if wringing out a soaked towel. My tears to my hands and absorbed into the wood. I offer them to him in worship. My weakness turned into his strength. And maybe…he can use this soul for something good. Something righteous. Something holy.

In God we trust? Solely. Wholly. He will make our paths straight.

Gary Abernathy


Green Pastures


Psalm 23 (a psalm of David)…”The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love with follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Faith = Trust. Trust = Right Path. Right Path = Abundant Life and Peace…eternally. That’s the formula. If we are to be honest, most of us hold a shaky faith and we never move to trust. We can’t complete the first equation. We are stuck in fear behind a rock in the darkest valley. After rescue and we find faith, trust holds the key to all that we dream we could find. Why can’t we grasp that hand? Why did Peter sink on the water instead of just trusting? Matthew 14: 28-31

David in his psalm spells out to us where God wants to take us. Green pastures beside quiet waters. Our enemies (the things blocking us from God) silenced. Refreshed like a perfect blooming flower. Taken to His glorious place we were created to dwell in. Fear abolished from our soul by trusting his perfect wisdom – His Son. Abiding by the guidance of Christ to find true peace and joy. Our cup literally overflowing with goodness and love for all eternity. That’s where the good shepherd, the Lord, wants to lead us. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go? Why did Peter hold onto the world just like we do? It’s a mystery.

My Grandfather died in his 60’s from diabetes. Before a heart attack took him away, he had lost both legs, one at a time, and a once proud man full of life and laughter, had been reduced to rubble. It was a mercy killing at the end. I have much in common with my grandfather. I was cut from his mold…in my sense of humor, my habits of roaming, and my diet…my intense love of food that isn’t the best for us. I’m soon to turn 50 years old. I have a beautiful wife and (2) teenage daughters. There is much life left for me to enjoy. The future holds great achievements, weddings, grandchildren, and wonderful special moments with my bride. Legs and feet would be useful for these things.

A few weeks ago I walked into an empty room at my doctor’s office. I was handed 3 pieces of paper to review before the doctor came in. The results of my blood work a week earlier. The reading wasn’t too bad at first. I had improved in cholesterol since the last time. Then I got to page 2. My fasting blood sugar level had now moved into a diabetic range. The first image in my mind was my legless grandfather in a wheelchair try to hug his 8 year old grandson. I was just a kid that didn’t understand of course, but I still hold a sadness seeing him that way. I knew what he had been. I knew the both love and fear I had of him. My brother and I spent a great deal of time there, and we would sleep at night in the living room of my Grandparent’s house. We had all kinds of games we would play when were supposed to be sleeping, including my favorite, sock baseball. It drove my PawPaw nuts. He would take as much as he could stand before he would come storming out of his room yelling. That was our cue to actually go to sleep. Intimidating as he was though, he never once laid a hand on me except with those of love. He was a great man.

So there I sit with this paper in my hand telling me that before me is the same future. It’s not like I haven’t been repeatedly warned. I like my doctor. He’s a young, enthusiastic guy and he seems to genuinely care. He’s also old enough to know these things don’t usually turn out well. He said as much. I have a window of opportunity to reverse course. “Eventually the pancreas gets fried and there is no turning back from that,” he spoke to me. He told me what to do to lower this blood sugar level before it’s too late. He looked at me with eyes saying he didn’t have any faith that I would do it. He sees this every day. Jesus sees us look at him with the same eyes. Full of doubt and skepticism. “You of little faith,” Jesus said to Peter, “why did you doubt?”

Trust. This is where I am. Will I trust him to take me down the right path and eventually the safe green pastures I should be? It seems so simple. Why hold tight to the world when I can have that? Do you understand? Are you in the same type place? I believe most of us are. The shaky faith we hold we believe is enough. It’s not. We must believe. Truly and trusting…believe. Less…we sink…just like Peter.

We can transform away from this misery. Our life can be overflowing with wonderful Godly abundance. Trust. We must walk to him in trust. Like a child lifted up by his father and placed safely back down on secure ground. We have to let go…

Pray for me, please. I will be in prayer for you. Peter cried out in his fear as he sunk, “Lord, save me!” Cry out. He’ll come.

Gary Abernathy