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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The College Years Begin

After several tumultuous years of high school leading up to my senior year and the ‘borrowing’ of a school bus with some classmates for a McDonald’s run instead of the cafeteria lunch, I was looking forward to college and the hopes of a new beginning. College was to be a new adventure, far away from home (I went to Georgia Southern) and only one other person on campus knew me so I figured I could be who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to bust loose and go wild crazy banshee on campus, but it seemed to be an opportunity to begin developing who I thought Jimmy should be. However, when I got busted on the very FIRST day for being in a girl’s dorm after hours (who knew that was not permitted) I was thoroughly humiliated and thought I better be more careful in the Jimmy creation process.

I was a Christian, had been in a great church youth group and felt extremely confident that my faith and belief in GOD would hold me strong through all temptations and diversions that life on the outside of family and friends could offer. So, by the end of my second quarter; I had smoked my first cigarette, learned how much I should not ever drink again and had learned to hold my own in a cussing contest. Yeah, that was a good fraternity to pledge. No, I’m not proud and at the time I offered the excuse to myself (and GOD) that I just wanted friends and, after all, I was of legal age now. Vietnam was in full swing and I was number 142 on the draft lottery….so how did I know I would even be here by the summer. I just wanted to discover myself and make my own decisions. Looking back now, I realize I was probably testing GOD to see how far He would let me go. Well, He let me go as far as I wanted to go and then some.

My rationalization was partly that my first roommate turned out to be quite the heathen and was very vocal in abuse when I would read the Bible or try to do anything of a spiritual nature. Somehow one evening, it turned into a confrontation between me, Rick and several others when they accused me (as a Gentile) of killing Jesus (the Jew). They were drunk as coots; I was not. It was turning into a physical thing very quickly, so I finally went and hid out in my car until it seemed safe to go back into the dorm.

Going away to college was a time of change. Those first weeks and months shook my faith severely. I thought I was a strong Christian, but I had never come up against the true strength of the world. Any time we enter a period of change, be it going away to school, starting a new job, illness, moving to a new neighborhood, marriage, divorce, whatever, we have a chance to prove to ourselves how we handle change and new beginnings. From my experience, it is easy to say how strong we are in our GOD and nothing will come against us, however, that is easier said than done. As the verse below says, we should trust in GOD (totally) so that He can direct your walk and don’t be impressed with our own wisdom ‘cause that’s where you get into the trouble.

Do I have regrets? Honestly, I don’t. All the temptations I faced and either lost to or won over have made me who I am today. I still face temptations and struggle with overcoming them, but I do so much easier now because of many years of learning to trust in GOD.

So, to those students heading to college in a few weeks, I want you to know that I’m praying for you. Trust GOD. Stay close to Him. But, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up when you fall. It will happen, but our GOD is faithful to forgive us, so we must do the same. Just enjoy the ride of college. Too soon you’ll be graduating and entering the real world. That’s not so cool. To others who are entering new phases of life, I pray for you also. And for the same reasons.

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

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7 NLT)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Didn't Want To Go To Church Today

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work in you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)

I didn’t want to go to church this morning. Yeah, I’m probably the only one brave (or stupid) enough to actually admit it, but I know that there are others out there. Knowing that members of my church, and other churches where I’ve been are probably reading this, I hope this doesn’t destroy your image of the spiritual, holy, consecrated Jimmy. Sorry, but today I would have been much more interested in heading to IHOP or Denny’s with coffee and a good book.

The tough thing about being a musician or any other staff person for a church is that you have to be there at o’dark thirty in the morning on Sunday and be all smiley, happy clappy and spiritually “on.” Every. Single. Sunday. Plus, my fingers are old and don’t work so well at first light. Much less the hand-eye-finger coordination needed to play keyboard while it’s still dark outside and the woodland creatures are just beginning to stir. Get the drift? Fifty weeks out of the year, it’s no problem and I’m up, playing and worshiping with all sincerity and genuine closeness to God. Today. Not. So. Much.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to worship and be with fellow believers, that’s truthfully the highlight of my week. I can’t put a finger on it; I just didn’t care about going today. The problem I have with myfeeling and sharing this goes back to the fact that I worry about you judging me. I see so many posts on Facebook and other mediums that indicate that you are so happy in the Lord 24/7/365, quoting your verses and sharing your daily devotion writers, giving the impression that your life is so wonderful….well, that just makes me feel cruddy when a day like today comes and I just don’t want to go. Because you always want to go to church and can’t understand why people like memight not want to go on any given Sunday. I worry about this because I never see the human side of you. I would like to not care, but I do.

However, I finally did have church. About 12 noon. In my car on the way home. Just me and Jesus. And it was good. I reflected on our services and recalled the five new members of our faith family that were baptized. The stirring music, the inspiring and on-point message, the friendliness of the fellowship, praying for a team heading to Zimbabwe this week for Kingdom work. I heard about several community ministries going on in the area. It was a good morning….just not (for me) until noon.

What am I learning from this day in my faith journey? For one thing, that church can happen in a small congregation of twenty people, in a large congregation of a thousand or driving alone in your car as you fly down Hwy. 138 steering with one hand as you raise the other one in praise (along with your Dr. Pepper). Plus, God doesn’t really care about me not wanting to go this one morning, as long as I acknowledge his Presence in my life and do the best I can with what I have been given. And, as long as I don’t forsake the community of believers all together. Finally, from a personal standpoint, may I never write (or post) anything that causes someone else to feel inadequate about their walk with God. May I always be transparent, especially if it causes you to think seriously about how your journey is going. And to encourage you a little.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The War of the Cardinals

“Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.” (Philippians 4:6 NLT)

The war between the Cardinals and the Red Wing Blackbirds are starting up in my back yard. It seems the Carolina Chickadees are on the side of the Cardinals while the Finches are remaining neutral. Yep, I’m watching the daily antics of the privet birds from my perch in my home office window as they do battle over the various feeders hanging from the deck. The privet that grows between our backyard and Camp Creek is the home to, seemingly, hundreds of birds and other creatures of the wild.

The Cardinals have come to live in the privet in vast numbers this summer. I can look out the back windows and see flashes of the bright red males and paler brown-red females. They will come to the feeders, feasting alongside all the other species on their favorite sunflower seeds. They all behave and get along with each other in privet-world. However, this season the newest generation of Red Wing Blackbirds are swooping into the backyard, flower beds, trees, and yes…even into the trees and bushes of privet-world. When they flew into the area, the sun was darkened and the sky looked as if it were alive in motion. Long hidden fears from the movie, “The Birds,” arose to the surface as I first saw them coming. The ground was quickly covered as these blackbirds with the red slash on their wings descended and spotted the feeders hanging around the decks.

Attacking all the other birds, they took over the seeds and drove the cardinals, finches, and wrens, buntings and even the thrashers back into their privet haven. When other birds attempt to come back, the “not wanting to share” birds will chase them away. Wishing that the privet-world birds could arm themselves to defend their food supplies, I watch this daily drama of the bigger and bolder mean birds terrorizing the pretty little nice songbirds. If only the killer hummingbird from last year was still around this summer to take on the blackbird army. That would be a battle worth watching and I’m sure that the privet-world birds would be clapping their wings in joy.

As I watch, I think about the redwing blackbirds in my life. Not meaning the physical birds smirking on the feeders outside my window, but the things that cause me to want to go to the safety of a privet-world. The situations that I allow to steal my joy and suck all the pleasure out of the day are just as dominating and ruthless as those birds that overtake the source of food and pleasure from other birds.

My biggest Blackbird is worry. I can work up a good worry party before you know it. Money, health (mine and that of family and friends), jobs, stress, car troubles, crime; these are the major ones in my worry box. However, I can throw a worry party about things that are absolutely ridiculous. Usually I worry about things that will be worrying me next. I’m retired and trying to make ends meet with only my retirement check and a part-time job, so you can imagine who the guest of honor is these days at my parties. I worry about (in general) what is going to happen tomorrow. I can even work up a good worry about you and what’s going on in your life. As I allow worry to run rampant in my spirit, I am also allowing it to steal my joy – the joy of everyday living, but most importantly, the Joy of my salvation. What are we told in the scriptures? “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.” “Give Him all your worries because He cares for you.” “When you walk through the fires, you will not be burned because I am the Lord your God.” Plus, that whole passage about sparrows and lilies not toiling and spinning, yet God takes care of them. Yeah, I know all that, but I still struggle.

All these and more can bring my mind and heart back to the reality that God is in control of my life…. not me. I can’t hire myself, I can’t defeat crime (shocked?), I can’t guarantee good health, I can’t be assured of money in the bank, and on and on and on. Did you notice the keyword in the above sentences was I? That’s what God wants me to remember. I can’t do anything. God is in control…in His time, not mine. I just have to be faithful and not sin by worrying because that's like telling God you just don’t trust Him enough. Now, what are your blackbirds? Intolerance (yeah, I’ve got that one), temptations of the world (again, got it), impatience with others (sigh), and on and on it goes.

Just as the blackbirds steal the food source from all the other birds, we all have those things that cause us to lose our food source with God. Trust God and come out of privet-world to claim victory against the invaders in your own life. You don’t want to make me have to worry about you, too, do you?

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Of Guilt and Grace

All signs pointed to the kid being guilty. Witnesses, evidence, prior behavior. The kid didn’t think he had done it, but wasn’t sure because he had been under the influence at the time. A confession was finally coerced through intimidation, but there was one man who didn’t accept it. He stood with the kid against everyone else. He stood with the kid through intimidation, jeers, threats and ridicule, but finally proved him innocent. The man was Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of N.C.I.S. Once again, Gibbs followed stood firm for his charge and prevailed against all the worldly influence against him. Gibbs served as a mediator between the kid and the evil Director Vance.

If my life were on the television screen, it would certainly be an entertaining show (except for me). Lying to parents, ‘absconding’ with a school bus in the 11th grade for a joy ride to McDonalds with some buddies during the school day, questioned by police at 2 a.m. about why a few of us were rolling a soft drink machine through the streets of Decatur, picking up a hitchhiker (the last one ever) who held a knife on me as I drove him into the wilds of Bulloch County while my roommate in the backseat tried to spray him in the eyes with Fix-A-Flat, running over Seth McKay’s bare foot with a Ford Explorer (not a good result)….and on and on and on. I want even go into the adventures with Gabe Walker and the rest of the gang.

My point is, looking back at my life; I’ve made, and continue to make, lots of mistakes. And I’ve had to reap the consequences of them. Some painfully physical, some painfully financial, some painfully humiliating. I have been remarkably lucky to not have ended up in court on several occasions, but if I had, hopefully I would have found a good lawyer to mediate for me.

I could have probably made more appropriate choices in my life and not gotten in so much trouble. However, I have no choice about whether I sin or not. That is a guaranteed action in all of our lives. “For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). If I had to stand before God and be held accountable for my, oh so many, sins….I would have no hope. No excuse. No chance of getting out of it. Nada. However, because of God’s Love for us, he sent Jesus Christ to be our mediator. That is, to stand between my pitiful self and almighty God and plead my case….not for innocence, but for forgiveness and a cleansing of the slate. That’s the Grace you hear about so much. Do I deserve it? Heck, no! Do you? Heck, no! But, God does it out of love.

On this day, think about the fact that Jesus is constantly standing up for us before God. “You know that Jimmy, Father? Well, he is quite a sinner, but he believes in us, in me, and in the fact that I died for Him. So, we’ll erase these last things from his record and it’ll be like he never did them.” Be sure to thank Jesus today for standing up for us and for the forgiveness we receive.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What's Wrong With My Junk?

There is an old saying that “one person’s junk is another one’s treasure.” After a recent yard sale and seeing what people were buying from my household rejects, I can see that this must be a true statement. I mean, these were the things from the back of closet shelves, tops of cabinets and shelves, old dirty and worn tools and yard machines, coffee mugs and shot glasses from every casino and tacky tourist town in the country and linen patterns that went out of style in the early 1970s when I was in college. People bought food processors without any blades and tacky silk flower arrangements that should have been thrown away as soon as they were made. They were lining up to buy this stuff…. and actually paying me money. It still astounds me.
Seven hours later, the dregs of the junk were left. The clutter that even the most ardent and die-hard yard sale customer would not buy…not for a dollar…. or marked down to fifty cents…. not when moved to the quarter table…. and they even received a grimace when I offered them for free. As I loaded the trunk of my car with these items to take to a local charitable outlet, I thought over the day and the items that sold and those that did not. Obviously, in this case my junk was also someone else’s junk, too.
There are days that I wake up and realize that I don’t spring out of bed as quickly as I did ten years ago. If I were to spring like that now, my knees and hips would rebel and I would end up in some pretzel-ized position on the floor that would be difficult to explain to the EMT staff when they arrived. I find myself making the “grandfather sounds” when I try to stand up from the sofa or recliner. You know, that kind of groaning “Oy” sound that involuntarily comes from deep within. The aging process is beginning to take it’s ugly toll on me and I am beginning to feel a little junkish myself at times.
Being a single guy is cool when you are in your twenties and even thirties. You can still stay up until the wee hours, maintain brain functions and be productive the next day. You can still get by with driving the cool cars without being accused of having a mid-life crisis. Then come the forties and fifties and suddenly the single guys are often discussed over the Sunday dinner table like we are afflicted with some dreadful condition. Like the dregs of society that no one has wanted; the things left on the quarter table after a yard sale; the unspoken questions of “what do you think is wrong with him?” “Do you think he snorts when he laughs or something?” “Poor guy.” And then the dreaded comment from anyone southern…”Bless his heart.”
Where I am heading with all this is the point that in God’s eyes there are no dregs or leftover junk. It doesn’t matter whether we are skinny or overweight, tall or short, married or single. He doesn’t care about our ethnic background, rich or poor, balding or like Rapunzel in the tower. We are all equal in God’s creation and even though we may disappoint Him when we do not live as He asks, that does not change His love toward us.
So, take joy in your diversity and your eccentricities. You are part of God’s world and he will never love you any less. That’s why God never has a yard sale; He loves everything He has. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

I Gotta Be Me...and not you!

“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.” (Psalms 139:1-4)

Welcome back to another round of my musings and journeys. After the season of Lent and not facing a daily deadline of having to put experiences into words and send them out, I felt the great need to escape from the stare of my blank laptop screen. That taunting screen. It was enjoyable to not have to think so much about what I could share with you and to concentrate on reading and writing for fun. However, after a few weeks, I began to notice something disturbing. The things I learned during my 40-day walk were beginning to fade away and the joy I experienced during those days leading to Easter began to wane (see, I do know some literate words after all). The accountability you gave me was missing from my daily life. The anticipation of what words would come out of my heart and fingers was missing. In short, I missed you and was missing God. If you missed the Lent journals, please catch them on my website www.beinggods.blogspot.com.
Now, we travel on. Part of my nature is to be very hard on myself. My therapist has told me that I have a hard time living up to my own expectations of myself and that leads to, well, quite a muddle at times. This even flows over to my Christian walk. I see Christians who seem so “comfortably Christian” and have it all together with Jesus, and then I look inside myself and feel all doubtful and not so together with Jesus and not like “them,” so that the aforementioned muddle begins. I consider myself a very practical Christian. Love. God. Love. Others. Love. Family. Love. Neighbors. I feel fairly intelligent in theological realms; after all I do have a Master’s in All Things Theological for pity’s sake (giggle). But, I feel so led to be a friend to those around me in the world and community first, saving the Jesus talk for after the relationship is built, that I feel inadequate against so many of the hard-hitting go-getters in the Christian world. I get down. Low. Down. Discouraged.
And then, tonight, God decided to speak to me. You know, He must surely get tired of trying to teach me the same old things over and over, but God is faithful and is very patient with dolts like me. Hmmm, a good book title….Dolts Like Me. But, I digress. The Monday Night Supper Club was meeting for a BBQ supper at Shane’s Rib Shack and I got there a bit early. As I waited for the others, I saw an old friend from years gone by enter the restaurant. It’s always good to see Mike because he’s probably one of the coolest men I know and his testimony is mega-encouraging. Mike struggled with tough choices as a teenager and young man and then found out he had cancer at the age of 26. Thanks to God and the skills of the medical community, Mike is now cured and has found Jesus in a real and personal way. His eyes are bright, his smile is infectious, he still has all his hair (which irks me), and is just a guy that makes you feel good when you are around him. And that’s a good thing. That’s how I want to be, God….like Mike (except for the cancer and bad choices part). Why can’t I have a cool testimony about your work in my life? Later, God brought the above verse to mind and I remembered that He made me just as I am….bruises and all. I can’t be the Super-Christian that Mr. Evangelism Pastor is because that isn’t how God made me. I share God in my way, in my time, in my style and that’s all God expects. Mike shares a fantastic testimony from his experiences just as I share God through mine and you do in yours.
I guess my thoughts tonight would be to not try and be what you think a Christian should be. Be the Christian you simply are. That’s what God wants. You. Simply You.

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