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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Would you go to church in a bar?

  Every Sunday morning (or Saturday, depending on your faith), people all over America gather at their place of worship. Buildings with pretty lawns and landscaping, many with steeples and stained glass windows, people are wearing nice clothes and are neatly groomed.  Sometimes there may be visitors who are invited by members and they have the same appearance and discipline. This is the traditional viewpoint of Sunday morning in church-going America. After all, isn’t this the same way that Jesus went to church in His day?

  Uh, not exactly. We don’t read a lot of examples in the Bible of Jesus going to synagogue every week. We know He did and that He was well educated in the Old Testament and the tenets of Judaism, however, we don’t have a weekly attendance report from His Temple. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, we read more often about His meeting with the “ordinary people” of the area, those who were typically looked down on by the nice church people of the area. Those who were probably talked about as the people left Temple on the way to their favorite restaurants. Prostitutes, tax collectors, common merchants, the blind and lame and many different ethnic backgrounds; these are the people Jesus hung out with on a regular basis.

  In a few weeks I have the opportunity to speak at a church on Tybee Island. The Tybee Church has captured my imagination and my heart for several months now as I’ve watched their live-streamed times of worship, followed them on Facebook and received their weekly email newsletters. I know they are very active in feeding the hungry and other ministries on Tybee. And now comes the coolest part of all. They meet in a bar on Sunday mornings. In fact, they are known more as The Bar Church than they are as Tybee Church. And I like their style. Real people. Real worship. Where they are.

  A local tavern opens up their doors on Sundays for some of the “looked over” people of the island to have a place to worship. Dress is beyond casual; if you aren’t wearing shorts, flip-flops and t-shirts, you will look pretty out of place. There is no printed order of worship brochures handed out, no offering, no pulpit with huge cross in front, no ushers or committees. Just a bunch of island people who want to worship Jesus and reach out to those in that beach island who need to know Him. The Tybee Island community. 

  Their pastor leads worship from a keyboard and occasionally a guitar along with a band of musicians with the occasional child coming up to shake a tambourine or beat on a bongo. No one cares if the rhythm is a little off; the child is helping to worship. If you are lucky, you’ll be there on a Sunday that the children sing during the service. It is a blessing beyond words. If someone wants to share something, the floor is open.

  For quite some time now, I have been looking for something more than the traditional church (and I don’t mean traditional in style of worship, liturgy or music). I mean traditional like my first paragraph. I have felt the need for experiencing true worship with people who are not too proud to admit they make mistakes, screw up in life and may have been involved in things that would shock most people. Like me. God loves these people just the same as He loves the people in the red-brick steepled buildings who are often too proud to admit their imperfection.

  Anyway (and this will be continued after my visit), I was invited to come speak and I cannot wait to meet these people of God who are vastly different from any I’ve known. To see how a unique congregation worships and reaches out to others. To see God meet His people in a bar with a flip-flop wearing congregation.

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

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sometimes a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich

  The entire country, if not the world, has been captivated in recent weeks by a controversy surrounding a chicken sandwich. Oh, the sandwich was not to blame, but the purposes and intents behind said chicken sandwich has led to anger, frustration and retaliation. If I may give my opinion and my opinion alone, I will say that neither side of the arguments acted with the tolerance they preached. The anti-sandwich group was accusatory, judgmental and refused to acknowledge any opinion different than their own. The pro-sandwich group was accusatory, judgmental and refused to acknowledge any opinion different than their own. Neither group would calm down to listen to the other group with any attempt toward reconciliation.
It has been a mess, continues to be a mess, and I’m tired of mess.

  Our country, and Henry County, is currently embroiled in a political election mess. One side wants to have good elected officials and the other side wants to have, well, good elected officials. However, instead of presenting true and positive qualities of the various candidates, many of the political parties and individuals spend their time and money trashing the other candidate and their supporters. Here in our own County, some of our community leaders are routinely accused and harassed by candidates simply for trying to keep the truth in front of the community so we can make logical, educated votes. No one seems to want to get along and have an honest communication anymore. Political favors and back-room promises run rampant in our local and national elections until it is no wonder our voting results are so low. No one knows who to trust or even cares any longer.

  Now, read Proverbs 15:18 - “A hot-tempered person starts fights. A cool-tempered person stops them.” James 1:19 tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

  If we tried our best to follow these two guidelines for living (stay calm, watch our anger and listen before we speak), would it make our community a better place? Probably not immediately, but in time, and with God’s help and blessings on our efforts, I do believe a difference would come. The hardest part would be to not return hateful speech with hateful speech (slow to anger, cool-tempered). Don’t repeat gossip and take everything you hear at face value unless you have educated yourself (slow to speak). Just because someone else has an opinion different from you does not automatically make them wrong. Or make you, right. I have friends who are at the opposite end of the spectrum than I am on religion, social issues and lifestyle….but we talk and communicate with honesty and openness without getting all crazy.

  Folks, I honestly believe that we in our country, and community, are far too intolerant of each other. We judge others too quickly and do not concede that other’s opinions are as valid to them as ours are to us. We jump to conclusions without taking the time to listen….and talk WITH each other. Jesus did not teach intolerance. He taught tolerance and acceptance, tempered by love and compassion for our fellow man. He gave us rules and guidelines, but they are all to be lived with tolerance and Love. Christians are to be the “salt,” the flavoring of this world and to set the standards of God, but, with Love. I don’t see a lot of that any more. And it saddens me. And frustrates me. Think of how Jesus must feel.

  If you have to place the blame, then place it on ourselves. Not the poor chicken. And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.