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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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.


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