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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What Has Happened to the Church?

What comes to mind when you hear the term “safe refuge”? I think about a place where the elements of the outside world cannot harm me, where I am protected and where I can rest and regain some internal strength and growth. In all the old movies, when a villain or suspected criminal needed a place of safe refuge, they would always head to the church. There they would find protection from the legal system while their case was being investigated. I don’t know whether that was a law or just a Hollywood thing; that the church was to be a place of refuge and safety.

Then, you would naturally assume that the church is a place where the believers can gather and find rest, fellowship and strength as a withdrawal spot from the hectic world outside the four walls. At the risk of being attacked by the torch-wielding churchgoers of Henry County, I would tend to say that I’m not so sure this concept is true any longer. I’m not talking about any specific church or faith, but of the universal church…. we all have the same symptoms of becoming not a place of refuge, but a place of busyness, discrimination and forgetfulness of our true purpose.

All people, repeat, all people should be able to go to any church, repeat, any church and find acceptance, fellowship and the ability to catch a deep breath before facing the workplace and outside world. They should find the simple truth of God being spoken, which is basically to ‘love God and love others like God does.” “Treat others with respect and love like you want to be treated yourself.” So often we enter a church for a service and are rarely spoken to, given a list of programs that we ought to be attending, hear words spoken that have more syllables than you can utter in one breath with no dictionaries available and then we leave with more volunteered jobs to do than imaginable. All this cuts down on the time we have to spend with our spouses, children, families and friends.

Folks, now before you think I’m bashing the institutional church, please understand that I am not doing so. I just returned from a trip to Louisville, KY where we did “church” in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals, horse tracks and at a snow cone stand alongside the highway. We did the basic truth – we loved God and told others that He loved them, too. No theological words, no strings attached, just pure and simple church defined as a fellowship of believers gathering together even if it was in a horse stable or walking the streets of a tough neighborhood.

It struck me that doing good for others was one of the main teachings of Jesus. As was said about Him, “He went about doing good.” Will that be said of all us church people, or just that they were regular members of the “Church Up On the Hillside”?

To quote another scripture that is one of my life verses: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) Do you serve the building and programs, or the God whom they represent?

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

Never Mix a Relationship and Animal Rescue

One night around 10:00 p.m. there was a knock on my front door. Looking out the side window, I noticed it was a girl who was a good friend and since we were possibly heading toward a higher level of friendship, I made the assumption that this was a good thing. How wrong could I have been? ”Oh, Jimmy, I just saw a little dog on the side of the road that looks like he had been hit by a car. Could you go with me to get him and see if ‘we’ can help him?” she sniffed in her best dog-lover and man-manipulative voice. What choice did I have? My preference was to climb back onto the sofa and finish whatever junk television show I was watching, but there was a relationship at stake here. Plus, I do love dogs and the thought of a hurt puppy out in the dark on the side of the road did bother me a bit. So, we headed out to her car and I noticed her cat’s travel cage in the back with the dreaded cat-beast in residence. The cat-beast hates everyone and greeting me with the usual hiss and snarl and a screech that would curdle your blood.

As we pulled of the road where the hurt puppy was lying, I could see that it was definitely hurt seriously by a likely car encounter. I grabbed a blanket from the trunk of the car and went to pick up poor hurt-puppy. Thankfully, it allowed me to pick him up without any problems and as I got close to the light of the car, I asked manipulator-girl, “oh dear, where are we going to put hurt-puppy with the cat-beast taking up the back seat?” The look I received told me without words how stupid the question was and that I would be sharing my seat and lap with hurt-puppy on the way to the all night emergency vet.

Now, this would have been okay, except that when cat-beast saw me and hurt-puppy getting back into the car, cat-beast went ballistic in a fury of scream, hisses, and some type of spittle substance hurled in my direction. The only thing to make the scene more romantic was in the light of the car; I could notice that a car injury was not the only problems hurt-puppy had. For one thing, it was just one mighty ugly dog and then it was covered with all manner of mangy illnesses that I preferred to not have on my lap or my person. Knowing better than to question the seating arrangement, I tried to arrange the blanket with plenty of material between me and hurt-mangy-puppy while avoiding the claws and spittle of cat-beast.

All this time, the rescue-girl was telling me how to hold hurt-mangy-puppy and to quit complaining about her precious cat-beast. Finally, we deposited the hurt-mangy-puppy at the emergency vet counter (naturally rescue-girl didn’t have any money, so I had to pay for the adventure with my credit card), and the kind soul there promised us to take good care of hurt-mangy-puppy, restore him to health and find a nice adoptive home. I made the mistake of asking if they could find a nice adoptive home for cat-beast and earned a punch in the stomach.

Any religious applications here? I don’t know where except to remind us that God loves us regardless of whether we are a cat-beast, a hurt-mangy puppy, a rescue girl with no money but good intentions or a guy who will no longer open his front door after dark.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Learning To Not Judge A Book

As I am writing this, I am in Louisville, KY with a group of middle and high school students for a week of singing in the evenings, working during the day and total collapse for a couple hours of sleep during the night before we start all over again. It has been a week of fun and laughter, a week of tears and emotions, and a week of depending on God to give us the strength to face the things we wanted to do.

We worked at several different locations in the downtown Louisville area; one was a facility for medically fragile children and also with separate shelters for the homeless. The place that reminded me of the blessings I have (and take for granted) and about “not judging a book by the cover” was a men’s shelter in downtown Louisville. The group of teenagers and adults I was with spent part of the day there cleaning out pantries, freezers and shelves before helping to serve lunch to the men who lived in the shelter and many who came in daily for a good meal.

I met the most beautiful lady there named Priscilla that was the “in charge” lady. Her beauty was far beyond the outward appearance, but showed itself in her eyes and in her spirit. She ran a tough kitchen. The men living and working there did their jobs well and quickly because, quite frankly, they were probably scared to death of Priscilla. I know I would be. She was a fireball of energy and words. She made sure no man was admitted into the lunchroom before his appointed time. She made sure each portion served was exactly the right amount and each volunteer knew exactly what to do and expected their best efforts. Even though she was barking out orders and sending grown men running to do their jobs, she was constantly encouraging our teenagers with compliments and thanking them for their work and their spirits.

However, the true beauty of Priscilla came out after lunch when it was time for us to leave. She gathered our group together and shared her story about years of substance abuse and wrong living that ultimately led to her losing custody and contact with her children at the age of 33. Having tried everything else, Priscilla turned to God and accepted the Love that she never found in substances, men and other avenues. She stood there and unashamedly urged our teenagers to save themselves for the right person and to stay clear of substances that will only lead to disaster. To end her story, she sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and it struck me that here was this woman, beaten down by life, now standing proudly in a faded hallway surrounded by the homeless and downtrodden, singing of the protection and care of God.

Here is a video of Priscilla and some of her story:

Totally unbidden, tears came to my eyes as I realized how blessed I am to have a home, a family, a job and more friends than I deserve. The tears were for Priscilla, her struggles and her triumph. They were for the men to whom we had just served lunch and for their desperate search for life meaning. The tears were also in thankfulness for the young men and women in their teenage years that have blessed my heart this week by following their God to do service in His name with total excitement and enthusiasm. Thank you guys for letting this old man be a part of your lives.

I ask your prayers for Priscilla and for the lives she touches each day in the Louisville Wayside Center.

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