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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Being Real

  The statement the guy in the store said to me yesterday has really stuck. “Thank you for being so real.” Six words. Common, ordinary, everyday words. Yet, when strung together they have given me lots of pondering time.

  Am I real? What does that really mean? So many times I consider myself fairly stupid for being so transparent in my writing and speaking about my journeys with God and with His Church. There are those who have seen my words as giving doubt to my belief in God, which is totally false and I hope that I never portrayed that feeling. I have (at times) doubted the traditional church, but not the Church itself. I have had doubts about the structure and bureaucracy of the church, but not the work and ministry of the Church.

  I have been censored by a church in the past and asked to remove some of my thoughts from a public social media forum, even though I did not write about specific churches, people or events. Just in general thoughts about events that affected me. Yet, I was asked to remove my reality. Perhaps the fact that I feel the calling to be transparent about my walk is what has bothered some people.

  The whole purpose I started blogging back in 2004 and have written books in the “Being God’s” series is because I feel led to let others know that they don’t struggle alone. I have gone through tough times, yet God has always been faithful to me and people have been encouraged to know that they are not feeling anything unusual or wrong in their spiritual life. God Is Always Faithful. The mountaintops will eventually lead to a period in the valleys, yet we learn AND we lean to come back up the hill. We learn that God is with us in the down times and we lean on Him to stay with us during the struggles.

  Maybe if more ministers were open and honest there would not be those falling away from the church. I know a lot of pastors who are extremely transparent with their congregations and community, while at the same time are encouraging and helpful to those who encounter similar experiences. But, there are some who portray a life of “milk and honey” with God and we get the feelings that our struggle is a result of some sin or falling away. This has been said to me and to others and can prove devastating to one’s spiritual life.

  As I continue to ponder this guy’s comments to me, I figure that being “real” has given me many opportunities to speak and share to those who need a message of hope. And, maybe being “real” is my calling. And in my way of thinking, that isn’t a bad thing. So, I continue to write, and speak, and pray and encourage folks as I go my merry way. God is Great. All the Time. Even when life doesn’t feel so great.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. The supposed “real” one. But, ultimately, I'm just being God's.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Another weekend in the bar

“God protects the simplehearted” (Psalm 116:6)

  I just returned from another great visit to Tybee Island and the creative, wonderful, diverse people who live there. And, if you have read my columns before, you know I am not going as a tourist. I stay far away from the tourists and the hubbub they create. I prefer the marshes on the back of Tybee and being around the locals who truly belong there. That is why I can’t stay away from the Tybee Church….the church commonly known as the Bar Church. Because it meets in a bar.  And they are gracious enough, or possibly desperate enough, to keep asking me back to speak and help with music. And I fall for it, hook, line and flip-flops.

  This is the church with no permanent building or paid staff yet has a larger ministerial staff than many churches here in Henry County. No official membership roll yet is larger in attendance than many churches in the area. All the money they receive goes back out into the island community for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting in the nursing homes and prisons, providing what people need….physically, then spiritually. My thinking is how can we tell people about God if they are hungry, or cold, or living under a bridge, or sick, or so ultimately discouraged with life and thinks that no one cares? The Tybee Church cares. And they show it. From the inside of a bar, a beat-up U-Haul and a whole bunch of people who like to go love on others who need loving on. And they don’t care if they aren’t going to be reimbursed from some expense account in the church budget. Sharing and caring to others about God’s love is the Tybee Church budget. What an interesting concept for a church, huh?

  I met a couple more people at church this past weekend that impacted my life. One was a lady who is in her 60’s and has only been clean from drugs for about five years. On Sunday morning, I saw her standing in the bar, hands raised and worshipping as we sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Tears were running down her face as she told me later because this bar church is the first place she has felt true love and acceptance. As herself. Not the recovering addict, but just herself. No labels. No judgments.

  Another young guy I met and talked with has had a rough time in life. Problems with the law, problems with family, problems with employment, yet he comes every Sunday and puts a quarter (if he has one) in the donation/prayer request bucket and then sits off to the side and watches. And listens. And leaves with strength and hope.

  There are plenty of the people who are not in need of help. They have jobs, and nice clothes and good cars. Yet, they come to church every week bringing food to put on the pool tables and the bar to feed whoever may need feeding. And many people on Tybee need it. All social groups, ethnic groups, economic groups and spiritual groups come together for a brief time on Sunday mornings at Benny’s Tavern to worship God, but to also support and encourage each other. They leave the building to go back to their lives a better person and more determined to share the love of God to someone that needs it. Often without words, but by their life and their actions.

  Please, never think that I am disappointed in my church or in the traditional type church. I definitely am not, but do think that we can all learn something from the way they “do church” in a small bar, on a small island, off the coast of Georgia.

  And, oh yeah, they believed in me enough to ordain me as one of their clergy this weekend. A Minister of Simplehearted Ministries and the Tybee Church. I love them all because of their love for God!

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


Sunday, July 07, 2013

God and teenagers? Really?

  Teenagers today. What a bunch of delinquents. They roam around in gangs, destroying property, sitting around and not getting jobs, asking for handouts from their parents and expecting the world to hand them everything on a platter. What is going to become of this world when they are in charge? Sadly, this is what many people think when they see a group of teenagers walking down the street….sitting around the McDonald’s parking lot….or hanging out at the beach.

  I have been so fortunate in my life to know, without a doubt, that this is far from true. Please take me seriously when I say that the bulk of teenagers and young adults today have a passion for life and a desire to make a difference in the world. And, they have a heart for God and do all they can to share God’s Love to everyone they see. This truth came home to me once again in my church service this week.

  A group of our students and adult leaders traveled to Myrtle Beach, SC to spend a week. Not lounging around the pool, sleeping late and listening to loud music, but these young people spent long, busy days leading day camps for children, sharing their faith to people on the beaches and singing about their belief in God to all who came to listen each day. And they did it because they wanted to. They weren’t forced into it by the church or their parents….they actually wanted to go. To tell strangers about God. And they enjoyed it. Imagine it.

  There is a scripture in I Timothy that speaks directly to them. The writer of this letter is Paul and he is writing to Timothy, a young man that Paul had been mentoring in the faith. He encourages Timothy to not let “anyone look down on him because he is young, but to set an example to the believers in all aspects of his life.” Timothy became a strong leader in the Christian church….and he was young. These teenagers encountered some people on the beach who didn’t really care to discuss God or their beliefs, but it did not send the kids into a whirlwind of despair. They didn’t go back to their leaders and say, “but, they wouldn’t take my salvation frisbee, Mr. Andy. They hated me and I’m afraid to go up to anyone else.” Nope, these teenagers just smiled, wished them a good day and went their way down the beach passing out their salvation frisbees. When one of the children in a day camp decided he wanted to bite a chunk out of someone and generally not behave, he didn’t get a bar of soap in his mouth and banned from the camp for life. Nope, he was gently taken aside and loved on by one of the youth leaders and before long, this child was reciting John 3:16 to the group. And, despite the biters and the uninterested, the group remembered everyone in prayer and wanted God to speak to them someday, somehow, somewhere. Determined little teens, they are.

  It was a good day in church. As Marissa used the phrase this morning….I had a defining moment. I am so extremely proud of my teenagers, both at this church and in churches where I have worked with students previously. They are an awesome force for God and are making a difference in this world. I love them all for who they are and will be praying for them each day as they go back to their schools and friends. Please don’t assume the teenagers you see hanging out at the Taco Bell are no-gooders. Give them a chance and you might be surprised in a very pleasant way.

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