"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi
From the Mouth of a Child
One of the advantages of living in a fairly small town is that you can go spend the evening at the ballpark and know most of the people who are there. They either go to your church, or live in your neighborhood, shop in the same grocery store or you see them at some of the local restaurants. It is a good way to spend a spring evening when you just want to be outside to just go sit and watch some softball games.Last week, I was at the ballfield to watch several of our church teams play. As the schedule called for, two of our teams will play each other in the upcoming weeks. When this was pointed out, it became a point of discussion between everyone and the good-natured (hopefully) taunting began. During the midst of all the talk and threats, Joe's oldest son, Hunter, came up to him and asked, "Dad, do you mean that two teams from Salem will be playing each other?" Joe replied that this was correct to which Hunter replied, "so, then it doesn't really matter who wins, does it?"That one simple remark from a young boy caused me to think about how much more wisdom he had that many of the adults in the crowd (hmmm....almost said congregation. That's curious). There will be those who take that game seriously and want to win so that it is known that they beat the other church team and beat them badly. There will be those who continue to rub the victory in to an extreme and cause some strain within friendships and the fellowship of a church league. There will be those who take the game far too seriously and question the umpire and coach rulings much more than they would if it were not a team from there own church on the field. However, to be fair, the large majority of folks, players and fans, will see it just as a game and thoroughly enjoy the time of healthy competition. These are two teams from within our own congregation of believers, our own fellowship, so why does it have to matter so much who wins? To go to the next step, all the teams we play are other churches in the county. Spiritually speaking, we are all part of the same fellowship of believers, just meeting in different locations. Why should that be any different than when we play against our own church teams? We are all here to primarily give praise to God, worship Him and lead others to a knowledge and awareness of Christ. We should intentionally be using our ministries as an outreach tool to reach others in our community. Yet, so often, they see two Christian church teams arguing and complaining about parts of the game to the point where their witness and testimony is harmed. We are to be "the Light, a beacon set on the Hill, set apart"; you know the scriptures. Even at church league games, there are people without Christ who need to see that there is a difference in our lives.Hang with me folks, but, going one more step up..... does the Christian Church get so caught up in denominationalism at times that we forget that we are all still on the same team? At times, you'll see Methodists and Baptists, Presbyterians and Assembly of Gods, all trying to compete with each other when, again, we're playing for the same team. Our paths may differ somewhat because one church sings a certain Doxology, another recites a certain Creed or Statement of Faith, one may exhibit more spiritual gifts, one may serve communion more often, but we are all still serving the same God. We're all playing on the same field, so what does it ultimately matter? Should there even be a winner when the Judgement Day comes? Will God reward the Baptists because there are more of them there than there are from another Christian denomination? I don't think so. My Bible says that we will ALL stand before the Throne, not sorted into denominational entities. No one's house will be bigger than another just because you might use real wine instead of grape juice (or in the case of one of my churches whose Pastor called for a communion service at the last minute.... we got Crystal Light Tea in the little plastic cups). We need to just chill out and enjoy the games of life. Enjoy the fellowship with fellow believers in other congregations. Enjoy the walk with God, laugh with Him as He teaches us what he need to learn (for I know He laughs at some of my mishaps), let Him take us where He wants, smell the smells and hear the sounds that He brings our way, just relax in His arms and go with the ride. It will be more exciting than anything you can find at any amusement park. This, my friends, I can promise. When we can come to that day, then I do not believe it will really matter who wins. And this, my friends, is the gospel according to Jimmy (and Hunter).Be God's,Jimmy
The Inconsistency of Consistency
The University held a luncheon today for those of us who have been working here between 25 and 35 years as faculty and staff. That is a really long time! That's like, three apartments, two homes, five cars, two roommates and (don't want to even think about) how many Pop-Tarts for breakfast. Then there is all the hours spent behind the wheel of those various five cars in commuting, how many stupid drivers I have yelled at, how many thousands of dollars in gasoline, four flat tires on the expressway, two breakdowns for either transmission or waterpumps, several (ahem) speeding tickets, and one major wreck. It seems that even though I was coming to the same place every day and going home every day, that there was always something different happening. But, quite a few things haven't changed. There is still the guy walking around town with the long red prom dress, makeup, wig and lots of bling, the same lady pushing the same grocery cart with all her belongs and her little boston bull terrier on a leash keeping her company, the same park and fountains where I've had many a lunch enjoying just being outside, listening to the music in the park and escaping my desk/cubicle/office/window/no window....depending on where I was working at that time. The University has mushroomed in growth and diversity in these years and is now one of the nation's leading research Universities. But, many of the buildings are the same as they have always been; the insides have been restructured, but the facades look like they have for many years. The student body has grown to almost 30,000 now, but they still wear ripped jeans, shorts, t-shirts with logos and flip-flops in the summer (and the really dumb ones still wear the shorts and flip-flops in the winter, too). Their faces still reflect the same hope and anticipation of a future for which they are preparing. I have changed in some ways, yet in others, I am still the same guy who came to work here on the first day wearing khaki pants, a brown striped shirt and tie....eating lunch at Burger King by myself because I didn't know anyone yet and feeling totally overwhelmed at having a "real job" and being an adult. My weight has varied, but is about the same, my hair is a little grayer and not quite as thick, but it is still basically the same brown hair and I still wear khaki pants day in and day out.However, my faith in Christ has grown by leaps and bounds. I have felt His presence in tough meetings where my integrity was being questioned (and He helped me to hold my tongue), He has led me through the dark days of stress and pressure of dealing with tight deadlines and projects without losing my cool so they were finished on time or early, I have known He was by my side when I would talk with a co-worker about their own faith (or lack of faith), when they were going through a divorce or death in the family or when their children were giving them problems and they needed a listening ear. Christ was in my car every day and I could pour out my joys and my worries and cry the whole way home if I needed it. Many of the most worshipful times I have had are in my car with a Praise & Worship CD playing and just me and God chatting.....well, I tend to chat, God usually tends to answer me more to the point.....but, He was there and I felt Him. I guess my point on looking back and looking forward today is that I have been consistently working at the same place for many years, yet with many different things happening. But, one constant throughout all these years is that God was always there when I needed Him. And spending all these years in a secular workplace has given me a new perspective on God, on reaching people where they are and on evangelism that I never had during the time I spent in the full-time Ministry. I have often thought how effective it may be for our Ministers in churches to have to spend a season working in the secular world every number of years so that they can stay in touch with what we 'average joes' are facing. We are promised that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow." (Hebrews 13:8). I have learned how true that statement is. Jobs change, nations change, circumstances change, lives change, people change, but God will never change. This University has been a good place for me in providing finances, benefits, education and good friends; however, most of all it has taught me more about God's practical presence in my life than I may have learned about 26 years in Sunday School. That is reward enough for me. Congratulations to me! (sorry, everybody needs a little self-adoration occasionally).Be God's,Jimmy
That Younger Generation
Today was "Hands on Henry" Day in our county. It's the day when lots of volunteers from all over the county come together for the day and give back to our communities by helping out many of the schools and other agencies in painting, building, landscaping, cleaning out and picking up trash. Approximately 120 teenagers from my church were a part of this effort today. Besides our groups, many other church and civic groups of teenagers and young adults were involved all over our county.As one of the adult chaperones and 'motivators', I had the pleasure and privilege of being at the local YMCA helping to sand and stain a deck and stairwell, plus landscaping and cleaning up the ropes course for the spring and summer. We began around 8:00am and worked until noon when we broke for lunch.Today I saw teenagers take initiative in selecting a job to do. I saw them take pride in doing a job well. Never once did I hear a complaint about how early it was, how un-fun the jobs were, they'd rather be at home with their video games, nothing...nada....no complaining at all. Oh, not that there wasn't plenty of joking around and pranks being played on each other, however, they got their assigned jobs done and done with quality. These groups of students put into practice what Jesus said about loving your neighbor and doing good works in His name. They gave of their time and their enthusiasm to help others who needed assistance. Several senior adult centers and homes now have nice flowers and shrubs to look at. Public parks have the trash of limbs and leaves cleaned up from the winter season. Food and clothing centers have been cleaned out and organized so that many less fortunate than us, can come for assistance. Too often, we see a group of teenagers just hanging around at the mall, in a parking lot somewhere or at the local fast food restaurant and we find ourselves thinking, "What a bunch of slackers. They need to be doing something constructive instead of just hanging out all the time!". Well, I'm here to tell you that for this day, a bunch of teenagers in Henry Country, Georgia made a difference. I could not be prouder of their attitudes of love and giving and feel comfortable to know these young'uns are going to be the future of our churches and of our country. For one, I will think twice before I think such quick judgements about our younger generations. I learned my lesson today.Be God's,Jimmy
Refuge from the storm
"The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him." (Nahum 1:7)Our area has been buffeted by some severe storms over the past couple weeks. Heavy rain, lightning, thunder and even hail has swept through my part of the county, sometimes with almost no warning. Blue skies overhead one minute, then CRACK! the sky is dark, the thunder rolls and the deluge begins. As long as I am inside, the storms don't usually cause me great alarm, however, I was caught on the golf course last summer when one of these storms arose and the four of us were quite concerned for a few moments. How many odds were against us? Standing in the middle of an open fairway, almost underneath a set of power lines with metal golf clubs in our hands. When we saw the first lightning bolt strike in a yard adjacent to our location, all we remember doing was throwing our clubs up in the air and falling to the ground screaming like a bunch of school girls. Finally, it occurred to us that perhaps we should look for shelter. Even though I was with three close friends, I really didn't relish the thought of being flash-fried with them. My idea of death was much more warm and fuzzy and involves being surrounded by nice music, family and friends.
My dog, Murphy, is much the same way. At the first sound of thunder, he immediately switches into 'storm mode'. This consists of bugging his eyes out as far as possible, flattening his ears back until they almost touch behind his head and shivering fast enough to churn butter. At this point, he tries to find a place to get away which usually involves trying to tunnel underneath me wherever I might be. Failing to do that, Murphy will settle for crawling under a pillow on the sofa, underneath the coffee table or finding his favorite beach towel to hide under. So, there I sit in the midst of a storm with a shaking beach towel in the middle of my living room that begins to whine and howl as the storm gets closer and closer. He will not let me pick him up, that just seems to add to his anxiety level, so I just leave him alone and try to calmly talk him through the towel. If I make the attempt to pass a treat under the towel, all I get is a snarl from him. We actually had a tornado alert one night a few years ago and the attempts to get both Murphy and me into a bathtub with a mattress, flashlight and radio was just hilarious beyond description.What is your 'storm mode' when the storms of life begin to buffet you? Are you like Murphy and try to hide and get away? Are you like me and fall face down on the ground screaming like a banshee? Or, as the scriptures suggest, do we take refuge in God, our Stronghold, our Shelter? We face so much these days with illnesses, deaths, job loss, divorces, drugs and crime that there is no place to hide and we cannot ignore these storms. Our human capabilities are not able to weather everything life throws at us, nor are we able to fully comfort those who are going through the trials. Only God. Once again, Only God can do this. Only God can provide us with shelter and comfort. Only God can speak the words which can take away the pain and fear. Only God can provide the power of Love to protect us. Many times we do not feel His presence, and that is normal and expected, however that does not mean He is not there guiding and guarding us all the way through. Then, when we finally come through and awake into the day of sunlight once again, we can look back and see God never left our side. My closing thoughts? It was a very stupid thing to be on a golf course during a thunderstorm, and I wish I could say it would never happen again, except that my friends and I are rather dense. But, this I can say, God will always be my protector and stronghold in the thunderstorms of my life. He has done it faithfully for many years and I have the faith to know that He will continue for years to come (well, unless I insist on playing golf in the rain with friends who have no common sense). "When you pass the the waters, I will be with you;and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.When you walk through the fires of life, you will not be scorched,nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God,the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:2-3)Be God's,Jimmy
I caught him tonight. My suspicions have been on alert for some time now, but I could not prove anything. One by one, small items were disappearing; a mouse pad, a USB cable, a stylus, the box of blank CDs, and at one point, the laptop was missing from my kitchen table. I eventually found it in the foyer closet behind the TV trays where I felt sure I had not left it. There were other subtle changes in and around my desk that made me ponder, but not become overly concerned. At one point, I even discovered that one of my passwords had been tampered with and was no longer valid. Finally, I had to admit that I had been a victim of a hacker and it was possibly an inside job.
That was the dilemma. I live alone and even when I have guests, they rarely go into my study. Most of them are far more technologically advanced than I, so what would be their point? Granted, I do have friends who love a good prank, but the things happening were far below their potential. It was obvious that this was an amateur, possibly a first time saboteur.
The tide began to turn the other night when a friend emailed me that my blog had disappeared. I clicked over to check and they were right. It was gone. File not found. Blank screen with ‘Done’ at the bottom. Trying not to panic, I signed off then back on, however, “Being God’s” was still gone. I finally thought to go to the Dashboard and found it was there and the template and settings were still correct. I republished the blog and back it came from the depths of Blog Hades. There had been a NBDE – a near blog death experience. As I breathed a sigh of relief, it dawned on me who the culprit was. He had been right under my nose (and under my feet) all the time. Murphy! It all became very clear in that moment when I saw him trying to slink behind the kitchen table into the sunroom to hide. His face gave it away with a mixture of embarrassment, guilt, fear and a still slight degree of smugness.
Even though he has a bed and a water bowl in my study, I have always been able to tell he was jealous when I would spend time at the computer. His whimpers that he just HAD to go out, scratching on my leg because he just HAD to have a treat so he would not starve, the rolling on his back with eyes bugging out in the attempt to convince me he has having some sort of attack, anything to draw my attention away from the computer. I assume the final straw was when I set up my wireless router so I could invade his territory – the sofa – with my laptop. This demon machine now occupied my lap so that there was no room for Murphy. He knew something had to be done so he began his deliberate and premeditated acts of removing these items of technology from his house and his pet (which, according to Murphy’s viewpoint, I am the pet).
When I confronted him, he immediately accused Buddy of Jan's Funny Farm. Ever since Buddy challenged him to a bed making contest, Murphy has had a bit of an attitude. I told him that I knew this was not true because all the tests had been returned with conclusive findings. Being an avid fan of ‘24’ and ‘CSI’, I had already done the forensics and the paw prints and fur strands were definitely Murphy’s. After a few more feeble excuses, Murphy finally broke and confessed to the acts of sabotage. He had only felt like he needed to let me know that I was not spending enough quality time with him and, being in his golden years, he was not able to compete with computers, iPods and digital cameras. The sight of a grown dog whimpering and groveling in repentance was more than I could bear. I explained that I had jobs to do that required the use of a computer and those jobs are what bring in the money to support his rather cushy lifestyle. However, I conceded that I would limit my time online and would dedicate more to Murphytime.
The moral? Be kind to your four-legged children. They love you unconditionally and are always ready to please you. All they expect in return is a little scratch behind the ears, the occasional treat, nice evening walks in the park and first dibs on the lap.
If you can find some profound theological implication in this story, more power to you. But, just as a reminder…God Loves You unconditionally and He will always give you all the time you need.
Late Night Musings
**Warning! This post may contain more honesty than you want to know**My therapist told me one time that I had a strong tendency to make sure others were happy and content before I gave myself permission to be the same. In other words, I would settle for less for myself rather than have someone else be upset or uncontent in a situation. During the process of discovering and discussing all this, it was termed the "Messiah" syndrome by my doctor, or as my mother calls it, I am the "public defender for the world".This tendency came back to mind today because of one of the most vivid dreams I have had in years. The details of the dream aren't important, but the underlying reasons for the dream became clearer to me over the past day. In the dream, I settled for things and situations I did not really want because I didn't want others to be "put out of their way". As I reflected today on my last post which discussed "worthiness", I wonder why it is that for most of my life I didn't consider myself worthy enough to be content if there are those around me who have need. I will give and give to try and help others, even to the detriment of my own needs at times. One thing I do realize is that I deal with a lot of unreal unmet expectations of myself and at times that leads to the same unreal expectations I have of those around me. At least by recognizing this, hopefully, I am getting better about it. Well, to be honest, I'm not getting better. I still expect more out of other people than they can possibly live up to because I cannot even meet my own standards most of the time. And, then I am bothered because I am expected to be the "all things to all people" person which I have always attempted to be. Thanks be to God because He has no expectations of me other than to love Him, live for Him and tell others about Him. It is so comforting when I come into His presence because I know that I can let go of (yet) another mask and be the one with a need for once. A need for comfort, a need for compassion, a need for advice, a need to speak with honesty, and a need for total acceptance as I really am. He has never let me down or asked more of me than I could give. I do not have unreal unmet expectations of God and He does not have them of me. So, why do I have them of myself and of others around me? Don't know, but the adventure continues.....Be God's,Jimmy