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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ministries for the Young Aren't Necessarily the Best

Trends in churches sometime bother me. As a traditional musician, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the Christian contemporary music era over a decade ago. We should only sing hymns, prayer responses and only use piano and organ in our services…just like Peter and John did in the first century. If the King James Version was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for us all….especially the Scofield Reference KJV Bible. However, now that I am firmly ensconced into the modern day, I am moved by many of the contemporary songs of praise and worship just as I am by the great hymns of faith. Keyboards, guitars, drums, saxophones, and more can lend a worshipful atmosphere to a song like no other instruments (if used with sensitivity and a worship style). Personally, I may still prefer the more ‘high church liturgical style,’ but can worship God in any style in which I find myself. Seriously.

I recently read a book entitled, “Who Stole My Church” that pointed out the problem with the current trends toward children and student ministries in worship and in general ministry, that the older generations were feeling left out, without purpose and wondering who stole their church. The church that had grown up with and supported all their lives was now changed to something they no longer recognized, all without their knowledge or input. Great book which emphasizes the value of communication, prayer and degrees of Christian compromise.

Statistics are often quoted that if you have not accepted Christ by the time you are, say 18 years old, then the likelihood is unlikely you ever will. So, we work harder to reach the younger groups. But, what about the older ones? Many churches put so much emphasis on reaching the young ages that reaching the older people falls by the wayside. The error of this thought became very clear to me this past Sunday.
My mom’s church is quite small and the majority of members are senior adults. This is somewhat prohibitive to a lot of physical outreach ministry, but they set a remarkable standard for their community Vacation Bible School and their support for local and foreign mission efforts. The fellowship is warm and welcoming to guests; loving and caring to their own people. In my opinion, this is a true church….unlike any I know of. A friend of the Pastor was living in the Atlanta area for a period of time, visited the church and was immediately drawn into the fellowship with no drama or pressure to “become a member.” He was fairly open that his background in churches and religion was not pleasant, but it did not prohibit him from taking part and helping anywhere and everywhere he was needed. And the church just loved on him.

As time came, he returned to his home in Canada to the sadness of the church, but they have kept in touch with him and have now welcomed his daughter as a member. The marvelous thing is that he came back this past weekend to pack up furniture to take back to Canada and scheduled his trip just so he could attend church. Why? Because he had given his heart to Jesus and wanted to be baptized in this church that had loved him, loved his family and shown him through word and actions that religion is not a scary thing, but something good. True. Kind. Loving. Warm. So, at the end of the morning worship, Pastor Elmer Goble baptized his friend, Pete Desrochers, into the fellowship of believers known as Bouldercrest Baptist Church. A church of older folks, reaching out to older folks, loving older folks, baptizing older folks and living out the Great Commission every day. Even though Pete lives thousands of miles away from his church, he leaves to drive home with Christ in his heart and a small church here in Georgia praying him on his way.

I ask all of you to pray that Pete can find a fellowship of believers near him in Canada to nurture and disciple him. In love. God’s love.

So, church, don’t make it all about the young people. There are many more Petes out there in our communities who need to know the Lord and experience the fellowship of His people.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shut UP! (oops)

Even if you know my family, you still can’t fully understand the quirky, odd way we sometimes roll. We didn’t just play the ‘Name the State license plates game’ while traveling, it was part of our required answer to give the capital, state bird, flower and (for extra credit) the state slogan. As some of you know, my family’s recently submitted a paper plate festooned with bitten off pretzels forming letters to say “We love pretzels” to ABC’s Good Morning America for their Saturday morning ‘Week in Three Words’ segment. Yes, it aired and I currently have the original We Love Pretzels plate available on eBay. So, it isn’t totally unusual that we began a new challenge this past weekend. However, it is a bit more serious and challenging. It involves three scriptures that tell us as a family (and we as a culture) how to live…in the gospel according to Jimmy. Please read the verses below as you follow along.

One is James 4:11 and the key words are “bad mouth” (MSG), “speak against one another” (NASB), speak evil about or accuse another (AMP), “say cruel things” (CEV) and “slander” (NIV). Our challenge is how long can we go without speaking any word of criticism toward another?

The next verse is found in Romans 12:1 and the key phrases include “don’t jump all over them when they say or do something you don’t agree with” (MSG), “don’t criticize his opinions or pass judgment…or perplex him with discussion” (AMP) and “or judge his disputable manner” (NIV). What can we do to keep our home/job/city/county/country a place of no harshness?

Finally, Romans 14:19 contains “use all of our energy” (MSG), “definitely aim for” (AMP) and “make every effort” (NIV). Can we determine to build up and not to tear down?

Basically, this week was declared a “No Harshness” zone in the Cochran household. We are trying to not criticize, argue or tear down others (politicians included) and a special effort is being made to adhere to the rules. So far…not so great. I am learning to just not speak and stay away from everyone else. Mom is just trying to be nice and use a kind tone when she gets a bit harsh as if we won’t notice. As for David, well, he just growls at us both and says this is stupid. Such is my world. But, in all seriousness, I can begin to tell a difference as we do the best we can. I have learned to think two or three times before I might say something about another person or situation. Not only do the words not come out, but I am finding myself a little less stressed and angry. More on the plus side of my life simplification project.

Think how this would project could impact everyone around us and, in turn, our world. No rampant criticism of others; family, friends, neighbors and politicians. No arguing with others which often leads to anger, potential harm to relationships and to sinful behavior. And can we be encouragers instead of destroyers…or just learn to keep our mouths shut? It all goes back to what we heard as children, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

As my family continues this interesting project in our lives this week, let me encourage you to read the above verses and see how you can seriously apply them to your lives. Please, don’t just read all this and not seriously consider it. We can make a difference….if we just take it in small steps….tiny baby steps.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Dad

“…and God Himself will live with them, and they will be His people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorry or crying or pain. All these things are GONE forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

The promises of God. We all have our favorites and the ones we claim the most. You can buy little books that list the promises. We have bookmarks, wall plaques, highlighted text, email signatures and so on that give us a sense of calm that we know God is in control and watching over us. The above verse isn’t one that I used to think about very much when in discussions about God’s promises to me. But, it is now. Very personally.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of my Dad’s homegoing. People knew him as Bo Cochran, but I know him as Dad, Daddy, Papa and Paw-Daddy (long weird story). Like many fathers and sons, we tussled at times because we are both strong-willed and hard-headed people, but I never doubted his love for me. It was shown by his actions much stronger than any words. Coming home from work and finding a floodlight installed, pulling in the driveway to see my yard cut and trimmed, an occasional paying for my dinner out with the parents, “I think that song you played for the offering today is one of my favorites,” hiring me to work at his company during the summers of high school and introducing me as ‘his boy,’ and so on. Once I wrote an opinion column in the newspaper about him and how much I did love him and he got all weird and mushy-voiced when I asked him if he read it. In Bo-language that was a “yes, I read it and I love you, too.” That was my relationship with my Dad.

I remember him spending hours in the front yard while I tried learning to ride a bicycle. He nailed the first roller skates to a plank for me to use as a skateboard. He brought home a go-cart from work that totally ruined the grass in his backyard…but he never cared. We kids never dared to enter the church sanctuary without waiting on him at the little table in the back hallway. When I joined the church and was too afraid to step out into the aisle, I felt his (extremely) firm hand guiding me from the back until my legs started to work on their own. My dad was always there if I needed him for a push, or a kick.

I don’t think he minded that I became a musician instead of a professional baseball player. He wasn’t particularly pleased when I put away the Butch Wax and let my hair grow long like the Beatles, but he let me….sorta. He didn’t care that I never learned how to change the oil in my car. It didn’t seem to bother him that I was did not have the woodwork and carpentry skills he did. Looking back now, I realize that he was just glad I was me. I think he knew that I was who God made me and it did not good to try and force me into other skills….mainly polishing my shoes. That just never seemed a big deal to me.

So, as I think back on my Dad this week and my life with and without his physical presence in my life, I am glad to claim the promise that he is no longer sick, no longer in any pain, no longer frustrated with his illnesses….those are GONE forever. It is a promise from God that I am glad for and look forward to someday. I hope you can claim this promise yourself.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sometime it's just a shoebox of cow mess

I was sitting in my college Astronomy class one day when my good friend, Louise, came racing into the room all a-giggle with a package that had just come in the mail. “Lookie here!” she squeaked as she careened wildly into the seat next to me. “This is from home and it has got to be some homemade cookies. Let’s eat!” Bear in mind that class had already begun, we were sitting on the front row, and the teacher was glaring at us (as if we cared). Tearing into the brown paper, Louise was going for the box o’treats like a cheetah goes for a young goat. All of a sudden, we realized that a most pungent odor was arising from the shoebox….and it wasn’t chocolate chip cookies from home. As other students around us began to smell the same odor, Lou flung the lid from the box and we both saw the contents. Cow patties. Yep, a box full of mushy, still slightly warm cow droppings. Racing from the room to discard the box, the sounds of Louise reverberated from the classroom. “Those rats! I’m going to kill them all!” Yes, she (and ultimately the whole class and I) were the recipients of a good ole’ college prank.

Sometimes life treats us like that. Opportunities come along that look great and brilliant and we go for them with gusto, only to end up in a pile of mess. Literally and figuratively. In looking back at my illustrious college career and coming forward to my adult years, I thought I’d share some of these for your amusement and, hopefully, to help others steer clear of the shoebox.

My goals heading into college were simple. I was going to major in Medical Research, pledge a fraternity, study hard, behave myself and graduate into making mega-bucks. By the end of my first semester, the medical degree had gone by the wayside, I was my dream fraternity with mixed results (more on that another time…just saying you need to be careful there…), and the studying and behaving were a matter of opinion. By the time I graduated with a B.S in Education (which ruled out the mega-bucks), I was a very happy guy who had made it through with decent grades and the best friends I could ever imagine. There were times of slipping away from God (again, supposedly ‘good’ fraternities aren’t always ‘good’), but He was faithful to bring me back to Him through the support and encouragement of said friends and other Christian organizations (thank you Gamma Chi Phi).

The same rules have applied in my adult life. Things change with or without my permission. One day you have the perfect job, the next day you don’t. One day your boss is a prize, the next day they are a demon from the lowest depths. One day your loved one is an angel, the next day they are a ghoul from the pit of Hades. One day you have a few dollars in a savings account, the next day you are juggling the cable bill or JCPenney. One day God is your closest companion, the next day you don’t feel His presence anywhere around. It just happens. We cannot always be in control of our situations and live in sunshine on the mountaintop singing “Kum Ba Ya.” Valleys and canyons come. Friendships change, people aren’t who you thought they were, and on it goes. It is what it is. But, through it all, God is in control. As a familiar scripture says, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” (Psalm 100:5). I have opened enough shoeboxes of mess to know that God has been faithful to me and I know that He will be faithful to you, my friends. That is the only thing of which we can be certain in these days.

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

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Clowns in prison

I have learned a few valuable lessons in life; don’t try to teach pigs to dance, don’t spit into the wind, don’t mess with any women’s missionary organizations, and…..don’t ever go into a men’s prison as a clown. Especially when you are wearing turquoise capri pants, red and white striped knee socks, a bright blue wig, and long blue glittery eyelashes

When I was in college and new in the ministry, I heard a sermon based upon St. Paul’s teaching that we should “become all things to all people so that by some means some might learn of Jesus.” At the time I was studying to enter the church recreation ministry which was in the days before Upward programs and almost no church gyms or ball fields around metro Atlanta. Our challenge as Christian recreation ministers was to come up with ways to meet the leisure time needs of people both within and outside the church. In the first church where I served, we put a huge emphasis on the community and providing programs for them whether or not they ever attended an “official” Sunday service. Our sole aim was to love the neighborhood and teach them that God loves them, too. And, it worked.

Well, at some point in this, I was asked to help with a worship service at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. So, I threw my guitar in the back of the car, met several other guys at McDonalds and planned it all out. It was without a doubt one of the most meaningful times of my life. Meeting the inmates who wanted to come (and were brave enough to come), hearing them share of their lives and walk with God under these dire circumstances, seeing a small stained glass window in the chapel with prison bars behind, all showed me that this is what the church should be doing in today’s world.

Shifting forward a number of years, I underwent training into the world of official Christian Clown Ministry in Nashville where I learned all the techniques of make-up, illusions, costumes, and how to fit 28 of us into a tiny car. My thinking was it would help me in my quest to become “all things to all people” and provide many avenues for sharing God. It did. Our merry little Christian Clown troupe went to nursing homes, hospitals, children’s hospitals on Christmas Eve, and, yes, to several women’s prisons around the metro Atlanta area. We even traveled to St. Simons, New York City, and Washington D.C. to spread our little red balloons of God’s Love to people and hand out cups of water in Christ’s name.

Then, one day I remembered the days of my Federal Prison services and wondered how the men would react to a clown worship program. So, I contacted a local county prison and asked if we could do a program for the men. They agreed, however, none of our women clowns were allowed and that left me (capri pants and glittery eyelashes) and the other man clown…..a 75 year-old-cowboy clown who was always up for adventure without realizing what he was asking for. Without going into a lot of details in print, we were well received by the prisoners, but not for the reason we were there. There is a possibility that someone heard the story of God, but it might have been during my prayers to please get home safely with my blue eyelashes and clown virtue intact.

Where is all this leading? There are many opportunities around to be a witness and become “all things to all people.” Naturally, you can be a witness in your home, in your jobs and in your schools. But, more than that, be a witness by volunteering to work in a local ‘feed the hungry’ program, with your church children sports programs, with one of the county food and clothing banks, send prayer cards to those you know in special need, help out anywhere you are and wherever you go. Encourage someone you come across who needs a bit of help, call a senior adult in your neighborhood and see if you can pick up something at the store for them, anything. Do it in the name of Christ. Just go share your God wherever you can…..just be careful of the wigs and eyelashes you wear.

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

Finding Christ at college

When we last saw our poor, beleaguered, spiritually tortured Jimmy, he was on a college campus far away from home and trying to rediscover himself and his relationship with God.

After a few weeks of struggling with being away home and family, church and friends, I finally made up my mind to transfer to a college back in the Atlanta area. God was not at Georgia Southern, or at least I was having a hard time finding Him. Bear in mind that I had never had spiritual problems before because I had been tucked away in my comfortable suburban life surrounded by Christian family and friends. I always considered myself as having a strong faith and belief system; however it just didn’t seem to be working out so great now.

I prayed about it and felt sure it is what God wanted me to do. I began getting catalogs from other schools (this was in the day before internets and online searches) and made my decisions…now, it was just time to tell my parents. I headed home for the weekend, hooked up with friends, had a great Sunday at church seeing everybody again then sprung the news on my family over Sunday dinner. That I was planning to go back, pack everything up and move back home for good. Simple. Except…my folks didn’t buy it. They knew there was more to it than I admitted and kept encouraging me to ‘fess up. Finally, after many tears (on both sides) I told all. My folks asked that I go back and try a new beginning to see how things went. To try and find some Christian friends and plug in somewhere. To try and go to church there.

I reluctantly agreed while knowing that it wouldn’t work and I’d still be packing up at the end of the quarter. I honestly prayed all the way back and was feeling better when I finally arrived on campus and tried to open my dorm room door. The key didn’t work. Try again. Still no work. I think I muttered one of my new words when a voice came from behind me asking if I needed some help. A guy was standing there that I had seen around the dorm as a resident assistant which meant he was at least a sophomore….and scary. “Yep,” I admitted hesitantly and stepped aside. The guy wiggled the key just right and the door popped open. He helped me get my bags inside and noticed a Bible lying on my desk.

Him: “So, is that your Bible?” Me: “Yep, it is.” Him: “So, are you a Christian?” Me: “Yep, I am.” Him: “That’s great to hear. We have a dorm Bible Study in my room on Tuesday nights and also hang out a lot at the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministry), eat meals together and do a lot of us. You should come hang out with us.”

Wow! That was a God-wink that came like a slap upside my head. I agreed to come that week and, well, my life has not been the same. I found friends like I had never known before. Through the next four years, I found opportunities for ministry and personal growth like I had never imagined. I was encouraged, strengthened, laughed, cried and somehow managed to eventually graduate college despite these great new (rowdy and crazy) Christian friends and being so involved in Christ’s work not only on campus, but everywhere we traveled.

Things were not all roses from that night on, but I had rediscovered Christ at a time when I needed Him the most. More college adventures will be coming in weeks to come, but I wanted to share with a few good friends who will be leaving soon to begin their college experience for the first time, or for another year. Hang tough to Christ, folks. He IS faithful. He IS concerned about what you face. He WILL give you power to overcome….if you keep your eyes on Him. But, like I said earlier, don’t beat yourself up if you stumble, and you will, because that’s just the way the world operates. I wouldn’t trade going to a public, secular school for anything in the world because I got a good preparation for dealing with the world after graduation. I received the strength needed to deal.

Praying for all of you constantly. And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.