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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ninnies, Nerds, or the Amighty God

It has been said that we are known by the company we keep. The most influential forces on us are from our family and friends, so that we can truly be considered a product of all those we have met. This is the cause for one more step in the simplifying of my life process.
If you are a true Facebook user, you know that at some point your friends list can get totally out of hand. This happens when we accept too many “please be my friend” requests from people we know, people we know of, and people we don’t even know that are suggested based on our other friends. Without thinking about it, it’s easy to end up with hundreds and (even) thousands of friends. As these friends on your list grow and multiply, you find yourself sending birthday greetings to people you don’t really care about, responding to updates that normally would not interest you, and being drawn into chats with people who didn’t care about you in high school, but seem to love you dearly now.
It shocked me several weeks ago to realize I had a little over a thousand people on my friends list. Not that I’m not charming enough to have so many friends, but as I scrolled through the names, noticing how many I haven’t had any contact with for months, I decided (in the Facebook vernacular) to defriend many of them. I’m down to the 400’s now, which is still more friends than I need, but, I’m still working on it.
This can also apply to my Christian walk. I am a product of all the preachers, Sunday school teachers, music directors, and Christian friends that I have ever met. At times, I have taken their thoughts and theological opinions as my own without giving it a second thought. Just as in high school, I believed this way because the cool kids believed this way. Or, I believed this way because the cool preacher taught this way. Or, I’d get involved in this project because it is what seemed expected of me. After many years of this behavior, I found my Christianity becoming a huge point of stress.
As I began the process several months ago of intentionally simplifying my life, this was an area I needed to address. The stress level was so high at times, that I lost a lot of my connection with God. On Sundays especially. I spent a lot of time in thought, in prayer, and in talking to trusted friends about what to do and came up with my plan of action. So far, it is working….. slowly….but, working. I’m regaining my focus and the stress levels continue to drop. I am better about listening to people and accepting their words as God’s words. I try to remember what God wants of me as a person, as a disciple, and stick to His plan; not the plans of others. I’ve tried to narrow down those with whom I associate to those that have a true Christianity of love, joy, and peace. They aren’t the ninnies and nerds that I used to congregate around. I try to do my own reading of Scriptures and sound writers. And, as I said before, it is working. My world is becoming a little calmer, a little more peaceful, a little more God-like.
So, let me encourage you today to think about whom you listen to. Ninnies, nerds, or the Almighty God.
And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Making a Difference

When I was a teenager, there was a lovely place on earth inhabited by wonderful people. This place was called Second Avenue Baptist Church. This church was truly more than bricks, stones, and mortar; more than sheetrock, paint, and ceiling tiles; more than parking lots and picnic grounds. It was a place of safety and refuge for the group of teenagers whom I counted as my friends and (on occasion) companions in pranks and mischief. During the turbulence of the 1960’s, Second Avenue was a place where we students could gather and find a sense of order and purpose when the world outside was telling us that we should be “making love, not war” and encouraging us to “turn on to drugs and turn off to authority” of family and adults.
We would gather several times a week with two married couples who were the leaders of our merry little group and we fell in love with them. They never hesitated to open their houses to us, day or night; always provided fun, food, games, and trips; listened to our teenage angst and mediated our little squabbles; and, most importantly, they showed us God. They taught us of God through Bible study settings, but most importantly, they taught us through the way they lived. My youth group was the most important factor in my life and I cherish those days and memories more than anything else. However, the winds of change began to blow and we began to graduate and leave for colleges and jobs. Then the day came when the world of Second Avenue Church ceased to be. The church building closed and our wonderful world was gone.
The things I learned through the love and care of these adults showed me that God had a special plan for my life. It was on the top of a mountain in northern Alabama where our youth group had spend a Sunday in outdoor fellowship and worship, that I first felt God’s calling in my life in my senior year.
Since that time, I have been blessed to serve on church staffs, as well as to be a chaperone and volunteer leader in youth ministry. The driving force behind my call has always been to be an example to the kids, teach them of God, and (hopefully) have a lot of fun with them along the way. I recently ran into one of my former “kids” who is now out of college and working. We talked for awhile about those days, the temptations he faced, all the late night instant messaging sessions we had about his walk with God, and, of course, all the fun. As our conversation ended, he turned to leave and said back to me, “Thanks, Mr. Jimmy, for always being there for all of us. We know how awful we were at times, but you always stuck by us. That means a lot.”
Folks, that one comment meant everything to me. I realized that maybe for one brief moment in time, I had made a difference in someone’s life, just as the adults had made in our group when I was a student. I realized that all the camping pranks, water battles, wrestling matches, and stomach punches actually meant, “I love you and am glad that you are in my life. You are making a difference.”
As I drove away, the tears flowed down my cheeks as I remembered those good days and looked forward to the many people “my kids” will impact as they grow. No matter who you are, or where you go to church, you can make a difference in someone’s life. Without even realizing it, people are watching us and we are teaching them about God.
And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Even Meerkats Need A Place To Belong

It is a good thing to belong. To a gym, to a book club, to one of those cult bunco groups, to a special interest group (like the Save the Meerkat Foundation which keeps them from being made into the warm meerkat stoles and accessories) or to just belong to an office that is like a family. To belong to a group where you can be open and honest, angry and snarky, laugh, cry, make an idiot of yourself and generally embarrass you and your group in public. It seems that most of my life I have been a part of some type of group that tended to the latter. In high school, I was a band nerd….’nuff said, even though band nerds can have quite a raucous time when left to their own devices.
In college at Georgia Southern, I was a Greek, which led to many hours of mindless and fun adventures. One of my friends dated a girl at UNC-Chapel Hill and would often take a couple of us guys along with him for a weekend trip and would get blind dates for us. I was the lucky guy on one such trip to get the real blind date…as in no vision…. as in can’t see a lick. And to make the weekend more fun, we all went to see “The Poseidon Adventure”, the one movie with virtually no dialogue, so I kept trying to explain to my date that a boat had turned upside down and they were trying to get out. For two hours, I explained this.
Now, I belong to a group fondly called the “Monday Night Supper Club”. The odd thing is that right now we rarely meet on Monday nights, but whenever our various work schedules will allow. However loose our meeting times may be, we are always guaranteed to have a couple hours of leaving the world outside and just enjoy the company of each other. We talk about books read, of songs heard, of friends and family. We complain about jobs, engage in some degree of good juicy gossip and talk about days ahead with aging parents, our own aging bodies and then go off in whoops of laughter because we know that growing up is inevitable. We share good news and sad news; we laugh and sometimes cry with each other. We know each other well because, well, we have the unspoken rule that we let our guards down and just be ourselves at the “supper club.”
As I began with, we all have an innate need to belong somewhere that we are accepted as just us - warts and all. My supper club group may not always be in existence, my college buddies have their own lives now, my other assortment of quirky friends may be in and out of my life, however the one constant group to which I belong is the family of God. He has seen me through days of growing up and seemingly staying in trouble at school or at home. God has led me through the tragedies of having my dad pass away, of losing my best friend to a car wreck and having the best dog in the world, Murphy, to die after 15 years in my life. God has rejoiced with me as I accepted His Son as my Lord and Savior, as I worked in ministry as a profession and as a volunteer then as I began to write columns about my walk with Him, publishing my first book and ultimately leading to my job here at the Times.
By belonging to God, we are guaranteed a guide, a comforter and a friend who will never leave you in need. We are promised that there are physical people around us who can support us when we need it and have a blast with when we need that. God’s group is the best one to join if you can just let go and give Him the chance.

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