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

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Well, Here We Go Again!

Many of those who know me think I am a 21st century Scrooge when it comes to this time of year. Rarely do I do any decorating of the house for Christmas, I go to a very few holiday parties, and make all attempts to keep a low profile over the next month until Christmas is over. I may play some holiday CD's in the car or in the office, but I can only take it for so long. Most of my shopping is done online and I avoid shopping malls and the mainstream stores like they have the plague. There are plenty of little 'mom and pop' shops around the area and in the north Georgia mountains where very unique and personal gifts can be bought with little or no hassle of traffic and funds. Where possible, I prefer to make gifts and do the best I can to not compare prices of gifts I receive with those I give.

As I explain every year....I am not having a crisis of faith or anything at all. My belief in the birth of Christ is as strong and as important to me as ever. My celebration in the Joy of His birth grows with each year, however, my next statement is the one that most people can't quite grasp. Through the years, the church has ruined far too years of my personal Christmas joy and excitement. Too many musical performances which require too many extra evenings of rehearsal meaning time away from home and family. Too many 'expected to be at' parties and functions the other nights of the week meaning more time away from home. Far too many services and programs where attendance is almost required so that more time is taken away from my own time and space. For several years, the stress and anxiety surrounding the season caused me physical illness and ever since the year I was throwing up in the pastor's new rose bushes the week before Christmas, I have tried to not get caught into that trap again.

In my thoughts, the season of Advent and Christmas is a time when I want to spend time in personal and private reflection about my place in God's work. By focusing on writings by my favorite authors, devotionals and the Scriptures, I want to use this month to reflect upon the past year and where I need to be in the coming year in order to serve Him to my best ability. However, when my time has been demanded and stretched too far, my spiritual side begins to take on the same symptoms as my physical side. This is the reason why I now tend to try and withdraw from all the hubbub facing us.

Being a single guy, I enjoy spending the season with family and some good friends. A good evening at home, fire in the fireplace, candles burning, music playing, catching up on emails with long ago friends, keeping close to my parents, brother and sister, and taking the time to write a personal note in a holiday card instead of the standard imprint for special people in my life. Add in a mug of hot cocoa, having some good friends in for chili or pot luck, and going caroling to those who are shut-in or in need of some holiday cheer .That's what the season is for; drawing closer to God, rejoicing in His Love Gift and sharing it simply and unselfishly with others. I think the church has lost sight of the simplicity of the season (in many cases) by trying to reach out to so many people that they wear out the few faithful ones.

So, don't think of my as Ebenezer, the Grinch or even Oscar...because I am not. I am so blessed with my family, my church, a wonderful group of friends and now a whole new family of bloggers (yes, that means you!). But, as for me....as the picture above captures, over the next few weeks I just want to "Be Still and Know that He is God." I encourage you to do the same.

So for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Be God's!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Plight of an Overly Exuberant Guppy

Remember how I made the statement about getting fish after my dog, Murphy, died? Remember how I wondered if they would be able to teach me any life lessons? After several weeks, I was beginning to wonder if they even had a life themselves. I bought a ten-gallon aquarium and put in some of the standard tropical fish; guppies, tetras, platys, albino catfish and a couple dwarf frogs. All in all, a pretty boring lot even though the colors were nice. However, no tricks, no fetching, no licking my nose after a long day at work, just swimming up and down, all around and eating whatever crossed their paths. They didn't like the morning walks, but they sure did like to get some nasty little brine shrimp treats everytime I walked by. Not eating a teeny brine shrimp is not a life lesson I need to be taught, it just kinda comes naturally.

Then, every couple of days, I would notice a tetra or a guppy lying on the floor behind the tank. Dead, no signs of homicide or suspicious activities...just a dead fish lying on the carpet. As I continued to bury them in the circular water tomb, go to the store for another, there would be another casualty within a couple days. Same modus operandi, same location, same lack of any physical evidence. I tried my best CSI Vegas/Miami/New York tactics, but nothing could be found.

Finally, a weekend came and I was home with the fish all day for two days. I fed them at their usual time and took my usual Saturday morning position in the recliner. I noticed how the fish would circle around the bottom of the tank then make a wild dash to the top to grab a speck of food then go back down to eat. Then, as I watched, it happened. A rogue tetra made his wild dash for a large flake of food, overshot the target and found himself airborne and headed down for a perfect carpet landing. These fish just got a bit too excited and exuberant about their food and never thought of the consequences of their actions. Realizing that these fish have brains the size of a pinhead, I seriously doubt they have very much logical thinking ability.........however, we as humans have this capability.

Voila! I began to think about how we as people let our over-exuberance get us into situations that are beyond our control. As a senior in high school, a few of us got a little over-exuberant and ended up absconding with a schoolbus to make a lunch run to McDonalds. Not a good idea. After the principal and our parents were finished, we would have preferred to be a dead fish on a carpet. That is certainly not the last nor least of my adventures of exuberant behavior, but it will just have to whet your appetite for now.

People get too carried away about food, about hobbies, about money, about possessions, about cars, about where they live, about their appearance and so many other things. These can affect how we interact with our families, friends and coworkers. These can change out motives and actions to the point where we are consumed with the acquisition or use of these things to the point we find ourselves like a fish on the carpet someday. Alone, dried up, and dead for all intents and purposes (well, I tried to not use 'intents and porpoises' in a fish story).

As a Christian, we can also become a bit over-exuberant when we share our faith. Sometimes we use those horrible theological words that no one understands. Often we get too pushy and threaten someone with hellfire and damnation when at the moment they just need some food or clothing for their children. We forget that when Jesus began His teaching, that he dressed like, associated with and ate with the "bad people" of the day. How else could they learn? How else could Jesus meet them at the point of their need? We should do the same here in 2005.

Don't judge the teenager with baggy shorts and long hair who is skateboarding down your street or at the park. I was one of them once myself and found myself being judged solely by my appearance, too. Get to know them, meet them at the point of their need, then when the time is right, share God with them. Don't judge the adult who uses some inappropriate language. Don't blast them away at the first opportunity (after all, how many of us really say "oh pooh" when we smash our hand with the hammer?). Get to know them, love them, then the time will come when you can share with them about how God honors a purer mouth and tongue.

My hope and desire is that my life is a Christian man is one that reflects the uncompromising standards of my faith, yet also reflects the compassion and understanding toward all people created by the God in whom I believe. I'd much rather be a well-fed, living albino catfish swimming in the aquarium of God's Love than to be a dead dried up fish on the carpet of life.

And so my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Me and My Luggage

My friends hate to travel with me. Whether it is vacation, a weekend camping trip, an overnight hike or a musical tour, they hate to see my car pull into the driveway. Why is that? I am not one to travel lightly. Even if it is a weekend trip, there are always those circumstances for which I must plan.

You know, the ‘what if I fall in the pool or lake more than once’ and need extra socks and pants. ‘What if I find a good wireless connection for my laptop’ and I can get some surf time in? So, I usually end up with one bag full of my electronics (Laptop, iPod, Pocket PC, portable DVD player and various chargers and cables), then another bag full of twice as many clothes as I actually need, then another bag with the essentials of travel, like chocolate and potential water balloons.

The point is that I’m known for all the baggage I trundle along with as I travel the highways. Are you the same way? Regardless of how you pack for a trip, we all do have one thing in common and that is the unseen baggage which we carry. We have accumulated it from failed relationships, financial problems, abusive situations, employment problems, broken or dysfunctional families, lack of education and so many other areas far too numerous to name. It is much easier to leave a suitcase at home than it is to leave some of our internal baggage behind.

Now, before you get all excited about this being an expose’ on my life I will just share that I have my own fair share of baggage. I’ve also learned that it does not matter what age we are, we can still add to the stack of luggage we carry and it gets heavier and heavier with each day unless we learn to deal with it. By this time in my life, I’ve got a trainload full. As a Christian, it is easy for me to say, ‘Oh, just turn it all over to God and He’ll take your cares away” (I Peter 5:7), but to be honest, sometimes that just doesn’t cut it for me. My personality is one to take care of things myself and effect the changes I need to make.

One of my favorite vocalists and friends is Kirk Talley who wrote a song several years ago entitled “Past Your Past”. In it he speaks of a young lady who was struggling with a lot of old baggage and could not put it behind her to begin living in today. The song goes on to encourage her (and us);

“You can get past your past. You can walk away from painful memories. Get past your past; you don’t have to be alone. You can stand upon the Word of God; your yesterdays can be gone. Let Jesus bring you past your past and then you can go on.”

Music is the medium that speaks to my soul. Be it good jazz and blues, rock and roll, or contemporary Christian; music can stir me like no other vehicle. Each time I hear this song, I am reminded that I can put my baggage behind and move on into today. First I must ask God’s forgiveness and then I have to forgive myself. It’s hard, it’s scary, it can be emotional and it may require accountability with others, but you can begin to leave your past behind, one tote bag at a time.

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