"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

No, I Do Not Dye My Hair!!

This is my Mother. This is my Mother with a goat. Does the fact that my mother had her picture taken with a goat surprise me? Not a bit. You just have to know my mother. I guess the only thing surprising is that there is only a goat and not a goat, a giraffe and a pig. Again, you just have to know my mother. Now, before you say anything I need to warn you that I am a mama's boy. And there is one thing you do not do around a mama's boy and that is.....to talk about his mama. My mother is probably one of my best friends as well as my mother. She helped raise me in the Lord and encouraged my love for music so that now I have made one album and play keyboard for one of the larger churches in metropolitan Atlanta. She has been my comfort in dark days and the first to call when things are going great. To put it simply, my mother is a woman of God. There is a verse in Proverbs which puts it plain and simple.

"Gray hair is a crown of Glory; it is gained by living a righteous life." (Proverbs 16:31 NLT)

Thinking back over my life, most of what I have learned has come from people with gray hair; those who have lived a life for more years than I and have learned how to walk closely with God. They have been my encouragers, my supporters, my prayer warriors, and (when necessary) my rear-end kickers. So many times, our society and churches tend to overlook the value of the gray-haired people and, even sadder, often they overlook their own value, too. You have heard it said, "I've been doing that for years, it's time for somebody younger to do it." "Oh, honey, I'm just too old to keep the nursery or preschoolers now." "My goodness, those children don't want an old person like me teaching them. Get somebody younger who they will like."

Hogwash!! The last I knew, God did not give out pink slips or early retirement options. Children, teenagers and adults NEED to have older people around to help guide and mentor them. Who else can help you through the difficulties of marriage when it is going sour? Who else can encourage you through the traumas of raising children either with or without a spouse? Who else understands the loss of a spouse to death? The gray-headed people can, that's who. They've lived it. They know that God can bring you through world wars, through depressions (both financial and emotional), through rocky relationships, through the days when you want to toss your children out the back window and through days when your faith is low and your world is dark. They know and they can help.

My hair is turning gray. Usually it is cut short so that the gray mixed in with the brown is more visible, but as it grows out the darker hair begins to cover the gray. There are a couple teenagers at church who will start teasing/harrassing/annoying me with hollering across the most crowded restaurants - "Look! Mr. Jimmy is dying his hair again! Where'd all that gray hair go? C'mon, Mr. Jimmy, admit it!". Of course, the more I protest and deny, the louder they get (all in fun and love I keep telling myself).

But, I do not dye my hair. I am proud to be turning into a gray-head, because it means that I have been through life experiences and God is weaving me a crown of glory. As I have written before, I am proud to be one of the adults that the teenagers come to when they have problems or concerns and need some advice. They know they can trust me to be straight with them and keep their confidences. They know I'll be honest with them, even when they don't like the honesty. And the cool thing is that they come to this gray-head on their own.

So, I do not dye my hair and never will. I am proud to be a Gray-Head for God. In fact, maybe I'll do T-shirts and ballcaps.....and those little tote bags you hang on your walkers and wheelchairs.... and a whole line of shuffleboard and bocci ball equipment....and probably some rollerblades just for good measure 8-).

And so for today my friends, this is the gospel according to Jimmy.

Be God's!

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Hound Of Heaven

One of the predominant traits of a dog like Murphy is what is sometimes called the "tenaciousness of a terrier". Even as the smallest puppy, he would show me a stubborn streak both in playing and in training. I quickly learned that this was to be a characteristic that would dominate most, if not all, of our lives together. We would play tug of war and that little beast had no hesitation to do his best to haul me across the room and would not give up until I either let him drag me or I simply let go. Or, we would be outside for a walk and there might be a new fallen leaf which he had not smelled. Knowing that he would stand there and sniff for an hour, usually I would haul him back inside, however the next time we left the house, he would head right to that leaf for his smelling time.

Once Murphy set his mind to something, he would not be deterred. Once, a lizard got into the house and I was able to capture it safe and sound under a butter tub (empty, of course) and Murphy was dead set and determined to dig through me, my legs, the broom, a kitchen table and the butter tub to see that lizard. Of course, I released the lizard back out the door and having seen that, Murphy would prowl the yard for days knowing that 'his' lizard was out there just waiting to be smelled.

Murphy was tenacious, he would not give up if he wanted something and he would keep after a project (like digging a hole in the yard right in the middle of my best centipede) until he was completed to his satisfaction. God has often been referred to as 'the Hound of Heaven". After observing and learning from Murphy, I think I finally understand what that statement means.

God is tenacious...He will not give up on any of us. No matter how hard I play tug of war with God over decisions and circumstances, He will not let go of His side of the rope. I may let go of my end and walk off, but God will throw that rope back in my path at some point and the game will begin again. I have learned through many days and nights that His Love is the most stubborn thing in creation. It never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out. That is a quality far beyond human comprehension.

Am I the only one who seems to try and divert God's attention away from things? He may want me to be focusing on a certain devotional, sermon topic, career decision; however, often I will begin to tell God "oh, well, yeah...I see that, but look at what I can do over here! Don't you remember when I spent part of a summer doing mission work in New York?" And the whole time, He waits for my diversion tactics to wind down, then he gently (sometimes not so gently) points my vision back to the present and what He is wanting now. Then, there are the occasions that I try to convince God of the path I should be going and why He should open those doors. Needless to say, that technique doesn't always work and I should have learned that lesson long ago.

This may not be the most doctrinal or theologically sound statement, but I think God must surely be amused at my efforts sometimes. I have always felt God as such a personal part of my life that I tend to think of Him in an almost familiar sense at times. I am totally convinced of His Love for me and that He continues to guide me in my everyday life. I love Him with all my being and we have been like best friends all my life. Even when I rebel and argue and attempt to go my own way, it is such a comfort to know that my God is there waiting and loving me all the time.

A friend told me in a recent email after Murphy passed away that it is no coincidence that God is Dog spelled backwards. I think that is why Murphy tried so hard in his time with me to get me to learn things that I needed to learn about life, love and God. Friends...don't forget how much God loves each of you, regardless of your acknowledgement of Him or not. He is the tenacious "Terrier of Heaven" and His Love is always waiting for you when you finally decide to come home to Him. And, believe me, His welcome beats a wet lick on the nose any day.

So for today my friends, this is the gospel according to Jimmy.

Be God's!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shhhh! God Is Trying To Talk!

"Be still, and know that I am God."
(Psalm 46:10)

My physician has a phrase which he uses just about everytime he sees me. "Now Jimmy, we must learn more about age appropriate behavior." Usually this comes after a sprained wrist from volleyball, a pulled muscle from softball, a sprained ankle from a ropes course, another sprained ankle and no skin on my lower half because of learning to rollerblade. I always hang my head, act contrite and reply, "Yes, doctor. I'll try to keep that in mind."

Bwaa-haaaaa. I am one of those people who do not want to come to my last breath and have regrets for never trying things at least once. Hence, the rollerblades when I was in my late 40's.....an accident just waiting to happen. Finally, I came up with what I thought would be my ideal activity.......scuba diving. I love the water, and fish, and being wet, so I figured that I'd give it a try and take lessons. About a year ago, a local scuba company offered a beginning class, so I signed up.

Thank goodness I didn't have to wear one of those nasty wetsuits in the classes. Those would definitely not be age-appropriate behavior for me! Just a swimsuit was all that required; they furnished the rest. So, with much anticipation I went to my first class on bright summer Saturday.

Let me back up to state that I like to be involved and active in things, even though I can hold my ground as a couch potato with the best. So, my world is always in a somewhat confused state of being the spud or the stud. As a result of that, I have a very difficult time in finding a quiet time or place for God. Now, back to the scuba....

The teachers introduced us to the equipment, showed us how to put it on, adjust everything and we prepared to enter the very large pond. As I submerged myself and began to breathe through the tank, I realized the power that just a flip of your foot fin had in thrusting you through the water. After a few times of practicing techniques, the teacher told us to submerge and just enjoy being underwater for thirty to forty minutes, just doing our thing. They had various items under the water for us to explore, things written out for us to read and several other activities.

The first thing I noticed was the quietness. It was absolutely quiet and still. As my breathing became regulated, you didn't even hear or notice the tank assisting your breath. All you heard was the quiet. As I paddled around the bottom of the pond like a catfish or some other bottom feeding creature, I found myself thinking about God's creation of the earth, the underwater world and the beauty therein. I discovered how to just sit on the bottom and be perfectly still. For those minutes, the truth of the above verse came crystal clear. In order to truly hear and feel God, we must be still and quiet. There on the bottom of the pond, I could feel God speaking in the quietness. It was amazing. Once we came back to the surface, the noises of the world seemed so very loud that I wanted to return to the pond world of quietness.

I've learned to remember that feeling as I try to commune with God these days. The feeling of being at the bottom of a body of water, feeling the presence of the water on my body, but also the overwhelming quietness of the moment. In this loud and noisy world, it is hard to "be still", but that is what God expects of us. How did he finally speak to Elijah? Not in storms and earthquakes and crashing trees, but in the gentle whisper of the wind. We have to come to that place where we can totally submerge ourselves into our God, feel His Presence surrounding our bodies and to enter the overwhelming quietness of Him. Easy to do? Not at all, but, once you begin to make a serious attempt, you'll be surprised at what you may encounter. Or, you can always take a scuba lesson.

And for today my friends, this is the gospel according to Jimmy.

Be God's!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Nice Tribute

Please check out the nice tribute to Murphy at Jan's Funny Farm. Thank you Buddy, Merci, Percy and all of Murphy's other four-legged friends. A special thanks to Jan (two-legged) for her thoughtfulness.


Friday, July 08, 2005

A Day of Loss

"A good man cares for the life of his animals." (Proverbs 12:10 ESV)

As you know, many of the ideas and inspirations for articles come from my dog, Murphy. It is amazing how watching a small dog can teach so many lessons that I can apply to my life. He had no formal training, i.e., he knew a lot of words and commands, just not what they meant. I could say “Sit” and he might sit, but it was just as likely that he would lick my ankle. “Stay” might as well mean that there was a treat hidden in the grass under the tree for all the good it did. But, let me say the word ‘ball’ and he would immediately perk his ears up and head for the backyard because he knew a time of throw and catch was coming. Oddly enough, he never quite understood the word “outside”, but if I said “It is 10:00, Murphy”, he would head to the back door. It could be any time at all, but 10:00 was his key word for a bathroom trip. Like I said, he isn’t the smartest dog in the world, but he taught me a lot through our adventures.

After fourteen years, my best friend and companion, Murphy, has passed away. He had been diagnosed with Cushing's disease and most recently with diabetes and his little terrier body just couldn't handle both of them. He has been with me through the best of times and the worst of times and was always waiting at the back door with a wagging tail and a licking tongue to welcome me home. During the bad times, he would curl up next to me on the bed or the sofa and take care of me as only a dog can. Every so often, he would turn his head to look at me and then give a little lick to let me know he was there. He had been feeling so bad for several days, was but never in any pain or suffering. That last night, I could sense that his time was short and I told him that “it was okay. He could let go and that I would miss him, but I would be okay”. Sometime, during the night, Murphy left my world peacefully in his sleep. There is a large hole now that is filled with pain and sorrow, but I'll be fine in time. There's something special about your first dog and Murphy was certainly something special. He taught me about unconditional love when I needed to learn it. He gave me many insights to life that I needed to learn.

I know it is not theologically sound, but, I would like to believe that Murphy and all of family pets everywhere that have gone on before him are someplace nice, sunny and full of treats, water and love. They are no longer old or sick, but just like we remember them best; running through the grass in the sun, chasing things underneath your feet while you try to cook a meal and pushing your newspaper out of the way so they can curl up on your lap.

As for me, it has been a tough couple weeks now and even though I still hurt inside and miss Murphy, the healing has begun. My niece is making a Murphy Scrapbook for me which will be a treasured possession. I wonder if my new aquarium will provide as many entertaining stories….you never know.

I'll never forget you, Murphy-dog. You were the best.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Fireworks, Filet , Batman and a Chicken Caesar Salad

Sundays are tough days. I play keyboards at a couple services in the morning and teach a Bible Study group between the two. During the academic year, we throw Orchestra rehearsal, Youth Choir rehearsal and an evening service into the mix and it makes for a full day....even longer than I work at my 'real' job. I tend to get frustrated many times because in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, the personal worship just isn't there. It all becomes strictly a job and responsibilities that I just have to do. Today was such a day.

To be honest, my attitude wasn't the best going into this morning. You all know I've been worried about Murphy, plus a member of my family is going through a difficult period and there are some potential changes in my job situation. That's the point at which I found myself this weekend.

But, God is good. He knew where I was and met me at the point of my need. Because of the holiday weekend, we had no afternoon or evening activities at church, so I had some time to spend with friends in a good relaxing time of Christian fellowship and lots of laughter. Fireworks in a neighboring community last night brought a group of us together to eat and watch, even though we did more talking and laughing than watching. Today I had lunch with two friends with whom it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to leave without having your spirits lifted. Out of the blue, a couple other guys and I decided to go see the new "Batman Begins" movie this afternoon, and then I had dinner with a good friend tonight that has no expectations of me except that of friendship. It was a calm and relaxing "adult" time.

As I headed back to my home this evening, my mind was clearer than it has been for quite some time and I was able to begin putting things back into perspective. I was able to make some decisions about Murphy and to actually turn over my job possibilities over to God and to (honestly) leave it to Him. God knows and loves Murphy just as I do and will be in charge of his illness and treatment (thank you Jan for your most encouraging email which led me to this), God is also aware of my family situation and His Will will be done, and my job situation is in God's hands, also. That's the promise made in Jeremiah 29:11. If I will just trust Him, then I know in my heart that whatever happens is His desire for my life. In all honesty, and I realize that folks without the presence of God in their lives cannot understand this, God has never failed me. In the words of Annie Herring:

"Why should I worry,

Why should I fret,
Cause I've got a Mansion Builder
who ain't through with me yet!"

So, a weekend which started with an extremely anxious mind and heart comes to a close with the peace that passes all understanding....the peace that only comes from the knowledge that God has me in His plans and will work things together for my good.

"Thank you, Father, for my quirky, odd and bizarre friends who are a constant source of encouragement and strength to me and to each other. And the neat thing is that they really rarely realize it, they are just being themselves as You created them."

And for today my friends, this has been a most honest and transparent gospel according to Jimmy...who will sleep quite well tonight.

Be God's!

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Dreaded Thing Appeared In My Mailbox

A most dreaded thing appeared in my mailbox recently. A Jury Summons? An Income Tax audit? A subpoena to testify in a multiple murder and drug trial? My University diploma was being revoked due to unuse? No to all of the above. What did I see when I opened the mailbox? A big envelope with the horrid words "Welcome to the AARP".

Yep, Mr. Jimmy is getting older. I know because of the way I sometimes act and sometimes dress, it is hard to imagine...but, still it is true.

I instantly began having back pains, leg pains, blurred vision and felt like I had a craving for Metamucil and early bird dinner specials. All of a sudden, I felt the need to begin filing insurance papers in a logical manner like my parents do, the desire began to drive under the speed limit while craning my neck to see over the steering wheel and to call the children in my neighborhood 'whippersnappers'. I realized that before long I would be known as the strange old man down the street who walked his dog in his bedroom slippers and who had frogs for pets and named each one of them for Disney characters. Small children would avoid my house at Halloween.

After a period of time spent in self-indulgence and (almost) pity, I began to enter a period of self reflection. What have I accomplished in the past 50 years that is so great? This is what I came up with and hopefully as many of you face this same day in the coming years, you won't find it a tragedy, but instead a blessing.

God has blessed me with a good Christian family. My parents, my sister and my brother are all interesting characters in their own right, but we were raised with a love for the Lord and came into a knowledge of His saving grace as a natural part of our household teaching. I would not trade this for all the riches of the world.

God has not yet blessed me with a wife and children; however, He has given me the opportunity to have many children through the Student and Children's ministry at church. I have the chance to play with them, share my faith with them, make midnight Taco Bell runs with them, counsel them, sometimes burn illegal CD's with them, but always hopefully let them see that God is at work in my life and help them find their path into God's Will for their lives. Plus, I get to go home at the end of the day to a nice quiet house and leave the tougher stuff to their parents.

God has blessed me in immeasurable ways through the Single Adult Ministry at my church. From the passing in the halls at church, to the putt-putt games, to the cookouts and firework watching, to the mountain hiking trips, to the Bible Studies where we learn more about each other, to the days of moving each other from place to place. I have friendships through YOU that I am thankful for each and every day.

I have been given a good career. I realize that I have been blessed with this job when so many folks around are not able to find work or are extremely dissatisfied with their place. My secular job has given me the chance to use my mind and my skills for business in a very intellectual and stimulating atmosphere.

Plus, I have been blessed with good health and well-being for these years. Oh, there have been scrapes and bruises (both physical and emotional), but with God's help and with the help of those around me, I have survived. Of course, someday my doctor hopes I will learn the meaning of "age appropriate behavior" and stay off the roller blades and rope courses. But, don't ever think that my life is any different than yours. We all have those days and weeks and seasons of trials, but with God's help we'll make it through.

All in all, my friends, it has been a good ride. A good set, so to speak in musical terms. I would not trade anything that I've experienced, the places I've been and the sights I've seen. Would I have done things differently? I don't think so. Because the man that I am today is a result of what I have been through, and I am quite pleased with whom I have become. And, as I always will tell you, I am nothing without God.

I want to encourage you to look forward to the day when you get your AARP card in the mail. It is a time to realize your place in life, to look back and reflect, but mostly to look forward to the person that God is continuing to form.

And for today my friends, this is the gospel according to Jimmy (the elderly one).

Be God's!

Me and My Guys

I write a lot about the kids I hang out with at church. I found a picture on my computer today while cleaning out files that I thought typified our relationship. Me in a tux, driving to Taco Bell with one kid sticking MY (former) drumsticks up his nose, one kid determined to take our picture and one just along for the ride. Ahhh, good times.