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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Resurrection Day

“The Lord is risen, He is risen, indeed!” (Luke 24:34)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

  Sunday has dawned. The rock is rolled away. The tomb is empty. Jesus is gone. The power of God has won the final battle. He defeated the power of death and the grave. From this day on, the world will never again be the same. A new meaning of the word faith is entering the vocabulary of the disciples and followers of Jesus….they, and those to follow for generations to come, will now believe through faith and not through sight. In a short period of time, Jesus will return to His heavenly home to be with His Father and those of us here in 2014, must now trust and believe not in having Jesus physically with us, but in our hearts through the Holy Spirit and through the evidence we have of His continued existence.

  Christ is risen! I told my family today that one of my favorite Easter memories is of the community Sunrise services we had at my home church (Bouldercrest Baptist) and the Cedar Grove Methodist Minister, Reverend Martha Forrest, would begin with the bold and confident statement – “The Lord is risen, He is risen, indeed!” Her voice would ring through the sanctuary and cause me to believe once again that the Lord is now risen and alive in our lives.

  Christ is risen! His last instructions will come to us in the verse above which we call The Great Commission. It is our responsibility, our obligation, our job to make sure that our neighborhoods, communities, country and world knows of Jesus. Folks, it isn’t a suggestion to us, it is a commandment. We are to go, to train up disciples (followers) of Jesus and teach them of the ways of God and how they should live.

  Christ is risen! Christians all over the world are celebrating today over this fact. But, what happens tomorrow? Do we go back to our normal lives, eating leftover easter eggs and jellybeans, ham, potato salad and put the ‘nice’ clothes back into the closet? Do we continue to remember the story of Jesus and the wonders, tragedies and miracles of the past season? Or do we just put it aside for another year (or at least until Christmas when many head back to church again)
  As for me, I have changed so much during my journey through the Lenten season. As I’ve said before, I never anticipated the results in my life when I began this way back on Ash Wednesday. The process of writing each day has opened my eyes to many changes that needed to happen in my life and I thank God for that and for giving me the strength to do so. I’ve also received many positive comments from you, my friends, which continue to bless me more than you’ll know. You see, I don’t see myself as a particularly good writer; I just put down what’s in my mind and heart. It’s my therapy. But, if folks are touched by something I say or write, then to God goes all the Glory. He is the one who does it through me.

  So, my friends, I am kinda sad for the ending of this period of journaling, but I also know it is not an end of my journey and I hope that it isn’t the end of yours. I am looking forward to the coming days and weeks with expectation and excitement to see what God continues to do in my life and in yours. Please let me know, I’d love to share in your walk! Continue to study God’s word, follow His instructions, and above all….LOVE!

   Thank you all for sharing these days with me. Please remember that these are my thoughts and subject to your opinion, as they are mine. Check in on my webpage occasionally, www.beinggods.blogspot.com and see what I’m up to. It’s been my baby since 2004 and there’s a ton of stuff on there for you to read and learn more about my journey with God.

Thank you again for hanging with me and letting me invade your life for this season.

The LORD is risen! He is risen, indeed! Thanks be to GOD!

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Week Day 7 - The Sabbath

“And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56)

Saturday. The Sabbath. The day of rest. And the whole world is holding its breath from the events of the past week. The one who claimed to be the Son of God, who taught about God and His LOVE for all people, who healed and performed miracles was dead. Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Mary and Joseph was dead. The one who was the advocate for children, for sinners, and the downtrodden, the one who dared to stand up to the Pharisees was dead. And by a cruel, inhumane, torturous means….crucifixion. Beaten, humiliated, spat upon, and killed. Dead. Buried.

  Depending upon which theological track you might go for, during this time in the tomb Jesus either descended into Hell where he preached to the saints from the Old Testament days….or, he was simply dead. Either way, the point is that Jesus defeated Death. Giving the disciples and followers a chance to think upon what had happened. Was it all a mistake or a dream? A time to ponder all the teachings of Jesus during the three years they were together. A time to wonder what they had gotten themselves into. Just because Jesus was dead did not get them off the hook for being followers and associates. They were afraid of the Pharisees and religious leaders coming after them, so what did they do? They hid. Wouldn’t you? I feel pretty sure I would be behind locked doors and under my sofa. Quivering with fear.

  These days also gave those who put Jesus to death a chance to (possibly) gloat a bit. A chance to catch their breath and look forward to getting “their” religion back to normal and under their control. A chance to try and forget this man and the trouble he had caused them for the past few years. A chance to just start to feel pretty smug before, well, before tomorrow morning comes.

  But, most importantly to me, all the key players observed the Sabbath. Whether in grief or in joy, the Sabbath was observed. Can you imagine the silence of Jerusalem and surrounding areas on that Saturday? The quiet glances during their synagogue services. The whispers on the street. The talk around the dinner table? That feeling you have when something has gone so very wrong, but you don’t know what to do because you can’t really believe it happened? The silence and the heaviness that clouded the Holy City of Jerusalem after the death of Jesus. The Law that commanded observance of the Sabbath was being obeyed because, well, it was the Law. Not realizing that all these Laws were about to be burst wide open and would never ever be the same. But, for today, silence. Remembering.

  It’s so important for all of us to remember that Good Friday and Easter are not just dates on a calendar with a seemingly non-important Saturday in the middle. Don’t go back to business and fun as usual today after remembering the events of Thursday and Friday. Sure, Sunday is coming, but this day is a day to reflect and ponder and examine ourselves. A day of silence and rest. It’s Saturday.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jesus. Thanks be to GOD!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week Day 6 - The Friday of Darkness

“And Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And He answered by saying, ‘You have said so.’…..but after this, Jesus answered no more questions so that even Pilate was amazed.“ (Mark 15:2, 5)

  Friday has come. After the Passover meal last night, the plans unfolded for the death of Jesus. He and a few disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer and while there, Judas brought the officials to arrest Jesus. In the early morning hours, as the disciples and other followers tried to see what was happening, Simon Peter found himself denying (even with a curse) that he had no idea who this man was that was being held. Trials began to be held during the day in front of various officials, all of which ended with Pilate turning Jesus over for death by crucifixion. He was abused, tortured and humiliated for hours, finally breathing His last breath in the mid-afternoon of Friday. Today. After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body to be buried in his own family tomb. Joseph was believed to be a member of the elite Sanhedrin and also possibly a secret follower of Jesus. The reason is not important, but here is a leading member of the Jewish legal system burying the body of this criminal of the Jews in his own tomb.

  So many of the events this day are important, but none as important as the fact that Jesus was killed in order that my sins might be forgiven by God and provide an eternal life for me. I like the definition of ‘sin’ as given in the book of James….’knowing what is right to do, and not doing it, that is sin.’ (James 4:17)

  And not only was Jesus killed, but God allowed it to happen because it was part of His plan for me and for you. Again, God allowed His only Son to be killed as part of His plan. Can you imagine more LOVE? That is beyond any of our human capabilities. Plus, Jesus accepted it. He didn’t go kicking and screaming to the cross of death, He went obediently, with acceptance of His Father’s plan and of His role in that plan. Yes, as Jesus, God the Son, He could have called down legions of angels to stop this. He could have caused anything to happen so that He wouldn’t have to die. He could have said, “No!” When Pilate asked Him about the claim to be King of the Jews, Jesus could have shouted out the answer, “YES!” and claimed His rightful Kingdom, but He merely turned the answer back to Pilate by answering “you are the one saying so.”

  As I think about this sacrifice of our Lord today, I try to keep the squizillions of people in the past and in the future out of my thoughts. I am trying to stay focused on the fact that this act of greatest LOVE was done for me. Just me. With all my faults, failures, quirks and problems. He died for ME. And….for YOU. Do we deserve it? No way. We just need to accept it.

Thanks be to GOD!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week Day 5 - Thursday

And Jesus said…”Take this and eat it because this is my body…..take this and each of you drink from it for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people.”  (Matthew   26:26-27)

  On Thursday, the final actions began for Jesus’ death. The Passover meal was served by Jesus to His disciples, Judas completed his act of betrayal in leading the Pharisees and other religious leaders to the Mount of Olives so Jesus could be arrested, Jesus prayed for His Father’s will to be done and the disciples could not stay awake. This evening’s observance is what we now, in the Christian church, know as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. On the front of many altar tables is inscribed, “This Do In Remembrance Of Me,” which is to remind us of the last meal shared between Jesus and His group of ragtag men who would be responsible for spreading the message of God, Jesus and their LOVE for all people to future generations.

  I’ve been fortunate to experience Holy Communion in many different settings. From mainline Baptist/Protestant where plates of crackers and grape juice is passed down the rows by deacons; somewhat more casual settings where a chunk of bread is passed around where folks tear off a piece and then drink from a common cup/mug/glass; and in more liturgical settings where the congregants are served by a minister or priest, you have the choice of intinction, using real wine and blessed wafers, and kneeling at the altar to receive. They are all symbolic of this last meal regardless of the method, the music played or who officiates… in jeans, in a suit or in robes.

  What do we do in remembrance of Jesus? Stop for awhile on this day, Maundy Thursday, to think of this. Do we remember Jesus in our family’s daily routines? Do we remember Jesus while we are on our jobs? When the good times are happening? When the stress and heartache hits? When we are at church (you may be surprised at the number of folks who honestly don’t think about Jesus while they are in church….scary, huh?)? Do we remember Jesus as we drive along the highways, in the books and magazines we read, in the movies and television shows we watch? In the language we use?

  Jesus is about to give His life for me. For you. For our family, friends and neighbors. Do we stay aware of this? Do we do anything at all in remembrance of Him? At times like this, I feel so inadequate because I know that I do not remember Jesus in my “all things.” And I feel so sad that I have to admit this. I mean, here I sit in a nice home writing all these words each day, and I have yet to live up to my own writings. This year’s season of Lent for me has been quite emotional. It always has been, but somehow this year is different. And for some reason, I feel tears welling up. I think this is why God led me on this Lenten journey….to make me more aware of where I am and where I should be. Looking inside myself, putting my thoughts and discoveries into words, sending them out to all of you who may read these, and hold me accountable. Because I know now that you are watching me and I appreciate it. From your comments, emails and conversations. It has been a good journey, I’ve learned much, but I also realize how far I have to go.

  I have prayed for you folks every day since Ash Wednesday and will continue to long after the end of this journal in a few short days. I pray that you will remember Jesus in all you do, as I will be praying the same for me.

  “Take this bread, take this cup, and remember Me. Show your Remembrance by your actions and your LOVE.”

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Thanks be to GOD for His incredible GIFT!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Day 4 - Wednesday

“And the disciples were indignant when they saw what had happened. ‘What a waste,’ they said. ‘This could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.’ (Matthew 26:8)

  On Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning of this Holy Week, Jesus experienced a gift of LOVE. He was once again staying in Bethany and you know the story of how a woman came in and broke open an alabaster jar of humongously expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet, then wiped them with her own hair. The disciples were absolutely flabbergasted and some were furious that she had wasted such an expensive item that could have been sold and helped out the poor. How sweet and thoughtful of them. Based on some of the past history around the disciples, I wonder how much they actually were thinking of the poor and how much they were considering their own Disciple Treasury Box. In fact, Judas, as treasurer, was one of the more vocal objectors. That money could have bought a nice camel down at “Abdul’s Used Camels Lot.” You know the commercials, “Come on in….check his teeth, kick his hooves, thump his hump!” (sorry…got a bit carried away).

  Jesus answered their ranting with the calm answer that ‘…the poor will always be here, but I won’t be here much longer. This lady has come and given a gift that is preparing me for my burial…’  Again, an offering, a task, a contribution given out of pure, true, no-strings-attached LOVE.

  Every church has them. Complainers. Those who find fault in what is being done….regardless.  Those people who just don’t get the point of a ministry of LOVE. Such is the case above. Complaining followers of Jesus. Complaining followers of Jesus about a church staff member. Complainers can’t see the ministry opportunities because of their focus on money and themselves. It doesn’t matter what is being done to honor Jesus, they know of a better way to do it. We’ve never done things like THAT before. From my own experience in ministry, both as clergy and as a lay-worker, nothing can hinder and harm a church more than the complainers. Because, usually the complainers go hand in hand with the…..gossipers (gasp!). Oh yes, I said it.

  And yeah, I’ve done my fair share of church complaining in years past, but thank goodness, I was convicted of this fault years ago, corrected this serious sin and learned to trust my church leaders to do God’s leading for the church. If they are not following God’s leading, then that is their responsibility and they will be accountable; but as a Christian, I have learned that my role is to support and encourage my leaders and not complain or gossip, especially if I have not spoken to those for whom I might have concerns.

  This day, when the disciples continued to struggle with each other during the most critical week of their lives, I pray that we will all stop and think about the greater good of our ministry. Going back to earlier weeks…. examine your own heart for sin, watch your tongue and do all you can to keep yourself, your church leaders  and your church from being harmed and to work together in unity to share God’s message. In LOVE.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Day 3 - Tuesday

“And Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire Law and demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’ “ (Matthew 22:37-40)

  This is it, folks. The summation of Jesus…LOVE. Here is a reason behind His statement of ‘not coming to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.’ During the Tuesday of His last week, Jesus spent time teaching anyone who would listen and continued to challenge the Pharisees and other religious leaders at every opportunity. He worked so hard to make them think about their Laws and the futility of strict obedience and that only through belief in Jesus and God, in the greatest sacrifice about to be made in only a few days, would they be able to enter Heaven. Just being very good and doing good things for others will not get you into heaven. You. Must. Believe. An eternal life of being in God’s presence in the Home being prepared. I’m sure the urgency of Jesus’ teachings wasn’t fully understood by even His disciples. He had already begun to prepare them for His death, and His resurrection, but they just had not caught on yet. They hadn’t even caught onto the whole concept of God’s Love, at least not yet.

  We are taught in the Old Testament that the greatest law was to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.’ This is the Shema, the highest Law for the Jewish people. Jesus has now added a second ‘most important’ commandment; ‘to love your neighbor as you love yourself.’

  Who is your neighbor? The person living next door to you or across the street? True, but your neighbor is, literally, all those who live on the earth with you. Therefore, we should love all people as we love ourselves. As I sat on the podium at church this past Sunday and looked over the congregation, I was struck to realize (again) what a diverse church I am attending. And, how wonderful that diversity is. The verse about the gospel being spread to ‘every nation, every tribe, every tongue’ came to mind as I looked at how many cultures and ethnic groups are represented in our sanctuary on any given Sunday. Well, even more importantly, all these groups are represented each day of the week through our work in the community, state, nation and world. I think that this is what Jesus is trying to teach us. If we truly love our neighbors, then they are welcomed into our churches – NOT because we are of different cultures, but welcomed BECAUSE we are all neighbors and children of God. In my thinking, the church today must welcome diversity if they are going to do God’s work. Diversity in people, in preaching, in music, in staffing, in programs and ministries, in outreach, in mission work, in all areas of the church.  Again, I think this is what Jesus would want us to draw from the above verse.

  On this third day of the Holiest Week, I am examining my thoughts and actions toward all those around me….my neighbors…..God’s children. I would encourage you to do the same, if you agree. Just saying….my opinion and thoughts. If I am able to do even a part of what I have been writing about these past 40 days, may this be the one I embrace the hardest. It’s too important.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Thanks be to GOD!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week Day 2 - Monday

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. “ (James 4:8)

  After Jesus’ highly visible entrance into Jerusalem on Sunday, he eventually returned to Bethany where He spent the night again with His friends – Lazarus, Martha and Mary. On Monday, He returned to the City where He found people doing business in and around the Temple; not the normal type of business that was common for the times and area, but businesses of cheating people, unfair prices, enormous interest rates and all matter of unlawful and unethical activities. The anger that Jesus felt was immediate and was unleashed upon these people by turning over their tables, letting animals loose and driving them out of the Temple. This was the Temple of God. To the Jewish people, God actually inhabited the Temple. Their most Holy Place had been defiled. And it had been allowed to happen by the Pharisees. They gave their permission by turning their eyes in another direction and ‘ignoring’ what was happening in the Temple. God’s House.

  We are told in Hebrews that our bodies (and minds) are the Temple of God. Have we allowed our Temples to become defiled and filled with wrong and inappropriate things? I struggle constantly with keeping my Temple a fit place for God to inhabit. Things I watch on television, people I have hung out with and the conversations we have had, jokes we have told. Letting my anger gain control at times….and not always the “scripturally approved” type of anger. My attitudes toward people that don’t reflect that they are also children of God. And…I’m not even going to start on the whole healthy lifestyle and exercise aspect of keeping this old, aching Temple more physically fit.

  During these weeks, I have worked very hard on some of these problems….not all, not at this time….you know, little steps for little feet. I can only accomplish things if I take them step by step and rejoice in the smallest of victories. But, while it is cleaner….my Temple still has clutter and dirt in the courtyards.

  Just as Jesus cleaned out the Temple on Monday of His last week, I will be making a conscious effort on this Monday…some 2,000 years later to clean out my Temple for God. Letting the Light shine into the dark corners and examining myself closely for continued ways to purify my life. I ask for your prayers in this. I get so discouraged at times because I see many Christians who seem to have such mighty clean Temples in their lives and I feel that I have so far to go. Maybe I tend to be too honest at times, but that is what God is calling me to during this Lenten season. Sometimes I think it would have been a heck of a lot easier just to give up chocolate.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Thanks be to GOD!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Holy Week Day 1 - Sunday

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
Gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

  So, here we are. The final week. Forty days ago, I began a journey through the season of Lent for the purpose of drawing closer to Christ. To God. To myself. The trip did not take the directions I anticipated, not that I had major expectations, but I did not expect some of the major decisions I have made nor did I expect a lot of the changes in my attitude that have occurred (all for the better). And, I did not expect to be able to cover this many days of writing and sharing with whoever may be reading these. I hope and pray that maybe something I have shared has touched your heart, made you laugh or at least made you think about your own relationship with Christ. This time next week, the final victorious entry will be written. Maybe, after that I will keep doing some writing like this for my cyber-world friends….that would depend on what you want. So, let me know.

  Anyway, back to matters at hand today. The prophet Zechariah told us that the King, the Messiah, the Promised One would come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In that day, kings always rode in some type of wheeled vehicle, but this King came in the humblest form possible….on a donkey. Jesus had spent Saturday night in Bethany with his dear friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha, as he would be spending the nights during this coming week. His disciples had been given instructions to go find the donkey and all was set for Sunday’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The King is finally arriving.

  From Bethany, Jesus would have ridden over the Mount of Olives where He would have a fantastic view of Jerusalem and the gleaming gold of the Temple. Crossing over the Kidron Valley on the Xystus Bridge, Jesus would enter the city through the Golden Gate (Susa Gate) which leads into the city directly at the Temple. We know from the Scriptures that crowds, hundreds and hundreds of people, lined the road waving the palm fronds expected for royalty and shouting out, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus was riding into Jerusalem both as a King, as royalty, as well as proclaiming his humanity and humility by riding on a donkey. No doubt, many people were honestly shouting in joy and anticipation of the coming Messiah; others merely got caught up in the excitement.

  How about us? Do we talk about God-things, wear a cross around our neck, stick a fish on our bumper or tell folks to “have a blessed day” because we really mean to celebrate our Lord? Or, because it is a ‘cool’ thing to do? I see teenagers and young adults every day with huge crosses and rosaries around their necks, but some of them do not exhibit the behavior behind the symbols they are wearing. Am I judging them? Nope, just commenting that their behavior and/or language are not appropriate according to the Scriptures, as I understand them. That’s one reason you won’t find a fish on my car bumper. I may not always exhibit a Godly attitude in driving when someone cuts me off or rides my bumper.

  Are we coming into Holy Week crying out “Hosanna” because we believe in the One who comes in the name of the LORD….or because Easter is a cool time of year…and if we only go to church once a year, then Easter is a pretty good time. Kinda like hedging your bets, huh? But, God knows our hearts. He knows our intents. He knows whom we worship.

   Don’t let our praises today turn into the jeers later in the week when the going gets tough. And if we truly follow Christ, things will get tough.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lent Day 39 - Saturday

“As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives and Jesus sent two of them ahead.”  (Matthew 21:1)

  Time to get serious. The final week is coming, commonly known as “Holy Week.” The week that sums up the past 33 years of Jesus’ life. Why He came. Why He lived. Why He taught. And ultimately, why He died.

  Jesus knew that many events must come to pass this coming week and many of them would be a result of His actions. He knew there must be a donkey for His entry into Jerusalem. He knew He would need to continue to anger the religious leaders by cleansing the Temple and teaching there. He knew where things were headed, and being the Son of God…being God himself….He could have stopped them at any point, but He didn’t.

  During my career at Georgia State University, there were a number of occasions where I had to make decisions and put into action events that would make a negative impact on people, including myself. Sometimes it was a termination, other times it was a negative evaluation, at times it was a restructuring and transferring staff into positions they would not be happy with, but it all had to be done for the greater good. Kinda like my hero, Mr. Spock, said, “Jim, the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few.”

 However, there were times, when I could have stopped some actions by acting out of my own selfish wants, instead of what was needed to be done. I certainly do not mean to put my own experiences on the level as Jesus’ decisions during His last week, but I just am trying to get a grasp on the strength of His spirit to allow events to roll on as they did. No human I know has that strength. We are born with a spirit of self-preservation that kicks in when we are threatened and only a few people, mostly military, have an ability to make an ultimate sacrifice. Even then, it doesn’t begin to compare.

Please think about Jesus on this day before He rides into Jerusalem. The Holy City. The beginning of the end, but also a new beginning. Betrayal. Hurt. Denial. Death. Think of the absolute and pure LOVE that Jesus had for you and for me to start this week in motion. LOVE. Beyond compare. Beyond what words can express. The true LOVE of God.

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


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent Day 38 - Friday

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness and come into His presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:1-2)

  Yes, I am still taking flute lessons. No, I probably should not. Yes, I am actually learning something. No, I tend to not practice like my teacher wants. Yes, I really like playing and listening to instrumental music. No, I should never have steered away from piano. Yes, I am glad that David used the phrase “make a joyful noise.”

  I was practicing the other night and was having continued problems with getting any type of clear and lucid tone in any upper registers. After the sound had cracked a couple lenses in my reading glasses, my mom finally came to the door and informed me that I needed to stop before her ears began to bleed. Yes, it was pretty bad. It takes a lot of breath. And I mean a lot of breath and puckering. It doesn’t take long before I am wheezing, dizzy and seeing spots floating all around.  So…when I have trouble with those high notes, I simply go back to that lower octave where I can whup out an awesome “Kum Ba Yah” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It’s so lovely, you feel all warm, fuzzy and spiritually blessed all at the same time.

   Bearing in mind that my sweet and patient teacher has degrees out the wazoo in flute and music and can impress the stew out of me by just playing a scale and I’m happy she even puts up with my attempts to make music out of that skinny piece of metal. So, when I got to my lesson tonight, my teacher patiently listened to my pathetic excuses and then as I attempted those high notes again, she kept thwacking my fingers so that I would put them in the right place. The more I played, the more I got thwacked until I finally began to catch on. And before I left, with bruised and battered fingers, I could actually produce an almost adequate high F. Almost. Adequate.

  Many of us will look at others and compare ourselves to their abilities and come up (in our opinion) lacking. “I can’t pray as well as John, so why should I even try.”   “Gosh, Rhoda is a great Bible teacher. If I could do as well as she does, I would even try it when she is out. But, it scares me too badly.”   “I’ll never be able to sing better than Kathy, so why should I even join the choir?”  Before we know it, everybody we know does everything better than us, so we began to feel inadequate in our service to God. Or, at least, I have in times past.

  The scriptures tell us that “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16). It doesn't tell us that you have to have a college or seminary degree in order for your prayers to be heard. Nowhere does the Bible say you have to use flowery language and big words in order for God to hear what you say. God will hear all your prayers; big words, little words, stammers, stutters and half-sentences. All He asks is that we do our best with what we have. That was the prayer that my parents taught me when I was just a boy…”Lord, let me do the best I can with what I have for Jesus’ sake today. Amen.”

  I may expect to play arpeggios in 12 scales and three octaves on the flute in just a couple months, but I struggle with one scale and one octave. But, God can be praised through my simple sounds on a flute if I am playing for His glory, just as He is when my very talented teacher plays for Him. I will never be as good as she, but God doesn't expect me to be. He just wants me to be me. Jimmy. Just as I am. Stinky flute player and all. So, don’t be hard on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. You are who you are for a reason…..God’s reason. And He knows what He is doing.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lent Day 37 - Thursday

“And Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me and don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’ ” (Matthew 19:14)

  Back when I worked for the library, one of my favorite evenings was when I worked in the children’s room. I’ve enjoyed working with kids since I was just out of college and working part-time in a church kindergarten program and full-time in the church recreation ministry. Not being a parent, it’s fun and enjoyable to me because I can play with them, spoil them and then send them home with their parents. It’s neat to get on their level (meaning the floor) and have a good conversation about stuff and nonsense, but to also draw them into a more serious conversation, too. To treat them as people and not just little weebles or something. But, there is something endearing about looking up and just seeing a head of hair and eyes peeping over the counter at you, and asking where the latest “Fancy Nancy” or “Junie B. Jones” books are.

  Of course my favorite kids were the little boy who wanted to be called Emily Elizabeth, even though his name was Brad. And his mother could not persuade him that he was not Emily Elizabeth. And, then there was the little Asian girl who would come running in once a week, year-round, singing “Joy to the World” at the top of her lungs. The Christmas one….not the bullfrog one. She only knew that first phrase in English and the rest was in Chinese, but she was a cutie patootie.

  As Jesus began His journey toward Jerusalem for the Passover, he spent so much time teaching and telling parables to everyone he encountered. At one point, a group of parents brought their children for a blessing and, being kids, they were probably laughing and playing, so the disciples tried to stop them from getting too close to Jesus. When He saw this, he scolded His disciples with the quote used in the scripture for today. What did Jesus mean about Heaven belonging to childlike people?

  Children are so believing…that’s part of their charm. They’ll believe almost anything you tell them. Believe it with all their hearts. I’ve been guilty in years past of the old “mixing butter and salt makes heat” story, and kids (and teenagers and adults) will usually just fall for the story….until the finale’.  Jesus is making the point that unless you can come to Him and believe with the same strength and purity of a child, then you have not fully caught on to the whole salvation point. Children don’t need all the theological words and doctrines. They don’t need to know about “conservatives” and “moderates” and all that hooey. They’ll become jaded enough as they grow up. They learn all they need to know by the song, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” 

  As adults, we have to believe totally, with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength. Let it permeate your whole being. Let it consume you. Fully trusting. Fully believing. Just like a kid and not like the typical cynical “show me” adults of the world. As I always say…Love God. Love and tell others. Simple.  Are you trusting like a child? Or do you hold a wee bit of ‘yourself’ in reserve in case it gets too hard? As we approach Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem and His triumphant entry on Sunday, I pray that I can have that simple faith-belief like a child.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lent Day 36 - Wednesday

”Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!” ~ Hymn    (Will L. Thompson, 1880)

   For some reason, my life seems to stay in various levels of upheaval. Ever since 2005 when I retired from the University, it seems that I’m always changing jobs, adding jobs, leaving jobs, taking care of the emotional needs of the world in general, selling and building a house for my family and hoping I can make enough money to keep a roof over all our heads, dealing with liver disease and diabetes, doing what I must to manage recurring depression and anxiety disorders (and catching grief from intolerant people because I use meditation and yoga for help PLUS some folks still don’t catch on to why I love and support  the Tybee Bar Church and that alcohol is not served for communion), and on top of it all….my therapist of the past 15 years tells me this week that she is closing her practice and I will need to begin with a new Doc. Of course, she will be referring and giving suggestions, but, still…. Basically, I’m a mess. A very happy mess. A God-loving mess. I have a sign over my desk that says “I have gone to find myself. If you see me before I return, then please tell me to wait.” Often when I am driving home from City Hall, I see myself already going the other direction to take care of some detail that I had promised to do.

  Does your life sound anything like this? I don’t have a lot of crises, but it just seems that I am always busy, busy, busy. And I’m tired. Very, very tired. So, what am I doing about it, you might ask? Well, I am taking big steps to de-stress my life and get back to my project of simplifying my journey. I’m taking big steps and making major decisions for someone who doesn’t like change. But, I am finally feeling good about things. I am feeling inner peace with myself and with God. Because, God is the one who has been dropped out of the picture for so long. Yes, I’ve been too busy with life and jobs and church to give God the place He needs in my life….and that is for me to remember that He is in control and is taking care of me, my family and all the circles that I enter during the day. I do not have to worry about tomorrow, because I know He is taking care of it.

The above hymn is another of my favorites. It is one that comforts me when I am stressed and worried. A song that gives me peace when I am in upheaval over circumstances in which I should not be concerned. Words that can sooth my heart and bring calmness to my spirit when I feel lost.

Jesus is softly and tenderly speaking to me….waiting for me….watching for me. No matter how frazzled I can get, Jesus is standing there gently calming me, putting His arms around me….perhaps, giving me a little chuck under the chin, telling me, “I’m here, Jimmy. I’m always here so that you don’t have to get all stressed out and worried. I know your life inside and out because I made you. I know your concerns, your problems, your joys, your illnesses and I am here to help you through them. Just listen to me and let Me help you. I’m not going to scream out your name over all your hubbub, you don’t need more noise…but, I’ll be right here…waiting and watching….softly and tenderly….calling out to you to come home to Me. Just rest in My arms, Jimmy. I love you like no one else can.”

So, folks, as I end up this last week before Holy Week begins, I am coming to a place I need to be. A place where I can begin to focus once again on God and not be consumed with so much “stuff” that has to get done. As it should be.

I pray for all of you who read this and I really, really pray that you have drawn some comfort and encouragement that you aren’t alone in your struggles. And that Jesus is calling your name, too…..softly and tenderly.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Lent Day 35 - Tuesday

”Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful, may the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave,  lead them to believe,
 and the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.”
(Steve Green)

  I found a box today full of old pictures from church friends and family. This was the church where I grew up as a young boy, left for a season, then returned after college to serve in many capacities. Most importantly, I served as a Christian. I grew as a Christian. I grew as a musician. I grew as a man of God. For the next 30 years, this was my home, both spiritually and physically. This is the church where I first served as a Minister of Students and Recreation. Where I was licensed and ordained. Since 1965, whenever I have the occasion to drive by there, I still feel the same joy and pride and say in my heart, “Hey, that’s my church!”

  It has never been a huge church in numbers, but is the largest church imaginable in their heart for a community, for each other and for world missions. There is a special bond that has bonded us together; those who remain and those who are now elsewhere. Age has never mattered, all generations gathered under the roof and on the property to worship and fellowship.

  Looking through all these pictures, and posting several on Facebook, has caused a lot of laughter and a continued relationship for so many of us. We’ve traveled on mission trips to New York, Washington, DC and St. Simons Island. We’ve participated in sports, nursing home and prison ministry, choirs, dramas, Vacation Bible Schools and so much more. This church was a true neighborhood church for so many years, and even when a number have moved from the ‘hood, this church still believes in the community surrounding and does what needs to be done to minister there.

  I can’t begin to count the number of people who came to be called to the ministry, the mission field, various ministries and other areas of Christian service. And so, this one small church in the southern crescent of Atlanta have people spread out in ministry all over the country…spreading the Word. Serving God.

  In looking at some of my areas of leadership in these pictures; student work, choirs, mission trips and the building of an activities building, I can only hope that the generation that I helped to raise find me faithful to God’s work. I hope they find me faithful to the church and to God’s people. I pray very strongly that nothing I have said or done has deterred them from God’s way for their lives.

  I am so richly blessed by this church and these people. I don’t know many people outside of this fellowship who can still, 50 years later in my case, enjoy each other’s company, laugh together, cry together and be a part of each other’s lives. If you don’t have this, I am sorry and urge you to work toward this. Find the church where you are not only blessed, but can also be a blessing to others. Pray that those you lead will find you faithful and that your legacy is one of God.

  My heart will always belong to Bouldercrest Baptist Church. A beautiful building, a beautiful landscape, and a beautiful people.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lent Day 34 - Monday

 “So that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Philippians 2:10-11)

  As happens to us all at times, Satan has been throwing his best shots at me the past couple of days. Feelings of stress over what I perceive as so much needing to be done, anxiety overwhelming most of the waking day, the pointlessness of trying to keep up with writing daily, a couple major decisions needing to be made, feeling the unreal and unmet expectations that (I think) other people put on me….and that I certainly put on myself. It is just one of those times when I at least know that it is the ‘dark one’ trying his best to worm himself into my life and defeat me. That’s one advantage to age and maturity; at least it becomes easier to recognize than when you are a teenager or young adult. But, that doesn’t make the struggle any easier.

  I have found myself questioning a lot the past couple of days. Not in a spiritual sense, but what good am I doing on this earth? I’m tired…oh, so tired….and, to be honest, I’m continuing to type these thoughts only because I hate the thought of giving up something I promised myself to carry to completion.

  Friends and readers let me encourage you to recognize when Satan is working against the good you attempt to do. It is a rough experience and can easily defeat you. The emotions that he throws at you will wear you down and cause you to question yourself and the good works you do. That’s what I’m feeling today.

  But. There. Is. Hope.  Because I just happened across a scripture this morning that is so powerful and so promising and so great. That is the verse at the top. Our God, Our Saviour, Our Holy Spirit will someday reveal himself to the world and they WILL be bowing down and proclaiming Him LORD. GOD. SAVIOR. JEHOVAH.

  I can do no less each day as I go about my rather mundane world. From past experience, I know that by holding fast to God’s power, strength, and promises to me, these days of provoking by the evil one will pass. But, for now, I struggle. Pray for me as I pray for you as you encounter these days. No one is immune. They will come. But, we have the hope. Peace go with you.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Lent Day 32 - Saturday

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.”
(Matthew 5:12-14)

  Last Sunday at the Tybee Church, Julie Livingston gave the Gospel Lesson from this passage in the Sermon on the Mount. This has always been one of my favorite sections of the Bible, has been the source of many of my soapbox moments and I feel one of those moments coming on. However, Julie used an illustration that simply “wowed” me and brought this verse into simple understanding. She had ordered a votive candle holder made entirely from pure salt. As she spoke, she mentioned that a friend of his wasn’t sure it was all salt, so he licked it and quickly agreed that it was definitely salt. Of course, “Doubting Jimmy” had to do the same thing and, yes, it was definitely a big chunk of pure salt. I was drinking water most of the way home that afternoon.

  Anyway, Julie talked about how we are to make the difference in our world because of the Light of Christ which burns in our lives. As she talked, she lit the candle and the salt holder began to glow with the softest, most beautiful subtle light ever seen. The holder itself was a whitish, orangish color, but when the candlelight began to shine through it, all manner of hues of red, coral, orange, beige and everything in between showed through. It was a beautiful thing. The light inside the salt made the all the difference in the light at the altar.

  We, as the Church, are to be this glowing and beautiful receptacle. The light inside is not from a simple votive candle, but from Christ himself.  We are here to show the world and people around us that there is a difference between us and them. If we live the life that God wants us to live and set the example that God wants us to set, then people will be attracted to our glow and want it for themselves. However, too often, Christians begin to water down their beliefs and faith to “fit into the world.” We begin to accept and even practice behavior, language and moral standards which the Bible speaks strongly against, because, well…we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and we disguise it with “God loves us all.” And, God DOES love us all, but He does not like, nor approve, nor accept immorality and impure actions or thoughts.

In the passage above, Jesus gave us the instructions to be the salt in this world. To be the flavoring. To be the seasoning that makes living better. Just as my french fries are intolerable without a ton of salt, so would this world be without Christians providing the seasoning of God’s Love for all. Even though all of us mess up. Christians as well as non-Christians. God still loves us and rushes to forgive us if we only ask.

There are rules in life. God gave us the rules by which to live. Rules which are not negotiable. Rules are rules. And if we obey the rules, all goes well. But, when we stretch or adapt the rules, well, sometimes we get caught and lose the game or else we have to deal with the repercussions at a future time.

During this season of Lent, I have been very struck by the inconsistency of professing Christians, with myself at the top of the list. Am I setting the standards that God would want, or do I keep quiet for the sake of avoiding conflict? I realized today that I need to continue making changes in my life so that I can be the best salt shaker possible. Regardless of the consequences. So….that’s where I am today. And, yes, I bought a salt candle holder for myself as a daily reminder.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Lent Day 31 - Friday

“For the Lord is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

If you recall, a few weeks ago, I spent a few days up in the mountains of North Georgia with some good friends, just to get away from schools, jobs, traffic, bright lights and the confusion of the everyday world. That was when I soaked my jeans and shoes with gasoline and had to wash my sock, shoes and legs in the Applebee’s bathroom. We stayed in a cabin perched high on top of a mountain with a 360-degree view of God’s creation. From our deck, you could see a lake shimmering through the trees, hear and see birds all around that are different from the ones at home and watch the squirrels and chipmunks playing in the leaves and undergrowth. It was a good thing.

  The one thing that was a source of discontent is that there was no cell service there. Not even one bar. Not a single G in sight. We were incommunicado since there are no telephones in the cabin and, certainly, no wireless signals for email or web-surfing. It’s been years since I haven’t been able to pick up my Blackberry or iPhone and call anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, send an email, check on Facebook, all those things that I’m realizing make up my day. During the night, I did hear a beep from my phone over on the dresser and almost broke a leg scrambling out of bed to see if a signal had been found. Surprising, a momentary signal must have gotten through because several emails and text messages had uploaded, but this morning…back to nothing except a sporadic beep or click indicating a brief moment of connection. Can’t trust it. Can’t depend on it.

  As I was falling asleep one night, one of the last songs I remember playing on my iPod was a nice ballad version of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I realized that it is a wonderful thing that God is the epitome of faithfulness. His presence is with me, everywhere, everyday, no interruptions in service and no problems in connecting (except on my end). I think that at that point in my journey, I needed to realize that. A lot of changes have occurred in the last 30 days. And I needed to be reminded that God is always faithful to His promises to me. When Lent ends and I finish up with this trip, I want these changes to be permanent. I want to stay receptive to God and his workings in my life as I have become.

  You have held me accountable….not necessarily by words, but by the fact that I am writing every day….in the hopes that some of my thoughts may mean something to you. And some of you have commented if I have said or done things opposite of what I have written….for example, during a fierce game of “Mexican Train” one night, I got a bit carried away with my verbal use. Of course, it was close to 2 a.m., and I’m not at my best after 9 p.m., but, one of my friends reminded me of a previous day’s journal. I apologized to them, felt terribly guilty, apologized to the Lord and now apologize to you. Oh, I didn’t let loose with a string of profanity, that’s not it…I just made a few inappropriate comments. But, as I always try to remind you….I’m human, I falter…and do not put me on a pedestal.  So for today, know that God is faithful to you. He is always on your side. Always.  Forever.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lent Day 30 - Thursday

“Make my life a prayer to You, I want to do what You want me to.
No empty words and no white lies; No token prayers no compromise.
I want to shine the light You gave through Your Son You sent to save us.
From ourselves and our despair, It comforts me to know You're really there.” ~ Keith Green

  Once upon a time there was a young boy, a junior in high school, who felt a call of God on his life. At the time, he was sitting in a circle with a group of friends from church on the top of a mountain in northeast Alabama where they had enjoyed a day of worship, sharing and fellowship. At first, he didn’t quite understand the feelings or the changes it would cause in coming years, but the boy simply said, “Sure, God.”

  As years passed, and the boy grew to be a man, he tried to be what he thought God wanted for him. He entered the ministry, served in local churches and (possibly, hopefully) made a difference in the lives of a few people. Along the way, he seemed to continually be just short of the calling on his life. Not quite there. Just beyond the grasp of his hand. “Something seems to be a little out of kilter, Lord,” he would pray. “I’m serving you, trying to do Your Work, but something is just not right.”

  For many years, the man was active in his church, serving as a Deacon, a Minister, a Sunday School Teacher, a musician, a student chaperone and so many other areas….however, just when “things” began to settle into a comfortable place, the unsettled feelings would come. Anxiety. Searching. Wanting, feeling, needing something more.

  And then one day the man realized that the answers had been right under his nose all the time. God gave him gifts. Music. Piano. Keyboards. Guitar. Leading worship. Writing. Sharing my story. And, no pride intended, but the ability to do these well. That God is there in the tiny details of our life, just as in the big and major events. However, as so often happens, the ways and means of life came in and clouded over these simple gifts that the man needed….needed so desperately… to use for his ministry. The love of service through music, and through writing, became harmed and became second place in his life. He was no longer stepping out on faith.

  During the past 30 days, I (yeah, you knew I was talking about me, didn’t you?) have rediscovered so many things about myself, my walk and my ministry for God. I’ve started to make changes in my life to get back to what I need to be doing. I’ve started to think outside the box of my “normal” walk with God. I’ve started to examine new avenues for ministry and worship with a sense of cautious excitement. And today, for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am happy and full of God’s joy. I am content in my spirit and my soul.

  In a way, I’ve come full circle back to that young 17 year old boy who just wanted to serve God and simply answered the call….”Sure, God.” That’s what I’ve said again these past weeks, and then simply stepped back and watched God work. And He Did! Just jumped out at me and said, “Surprise! I’ve been here waiting for you all this time!”  For the first time, in a long time, I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to do. And God gets all the glory and the thanks.

  That’s where my Lenten journey has led me so far and, to be honest, I didn’t expect it. Every year as I make this journey, I learn and experience something new. God is amazing. So, now I ask……where are you in your journey?

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lent Day 29 - Wednesday

Not meaning to be tacky about other churches, but I saw the strangest thing I’ve ever seen back on Ash Wednesday. I was coming home from my sister's home in Dunwoody and passed a large well known church on North Peachtree Road. I had been seeing little signs on the roadside for a couple miles that said simply “Ashes Ahead.” Hmmm. When I got to the church driveway, there was a policeman directing traffic into one of the entrances where I saw the rather large sign with an arrow pointing to the right where there was a line of cars circling the parking lot and coming back to the exit. As I sat in the traffic, I noticed another sign proclaiming, “Ashes to Go. Today 1 - 5 pm.” Whaaat?  And then I saw two ministers on either side of the driveway applying ashes to the foreheads of occupants on both sides of the vehicles, giving a quick blessing and then the vehicles would exit. All in all, the whole process probably took 2 minutes at the most.

After I got over the initial surprise (and humor) at the sight, I began to think…..and this is strictly my opinion. Ash Wednesday is one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar. The services are meaningful and cause me to think and humble myself before God for the next 40 days and hopefully beyond. It begins a time of personal spiritual cleansing and restoration to God. I have observed Ash Wednesday and Lent for many years and believe it to be my favorite season. But, somehow creating a fast-food service line of applying the ashes so that you can get back to your busy life seems wrong to me.

We, as the church, are to create the standard of living for the world around us. You know, we are the salt, the light, the city on a hill. How can we do this if we are not willing to take an hour or so out of our week to observe a time with God? That’s where we get our filling and renewal to head back into the world. “Oh, I don’t have time for an hour service just for ashes today. I’ve got a meeting at 1 pm, groceries to buy, kids to pick up and a ballgame on TV, etc. etc. etc.” Don’t ya think that we owe it to God to give Him our undivided attention and devotion for a time? How can we create the standard for this world if we compromise ourselves and our devotion to God? We already have come to expect our worship services to be geared toward pure entertainment with videos, screaming guitars, mega-sub-woofers booming and fog machines. Before long, we will want to have “Communion to go” and we can get on the road to the lake earlier on a Sunday morning.

It’s no secret that I’m a very traditional church kind of guy. I prefer hymns with piano and organ. I like to be in a traditional Sunday School class. I like the Doxology. I like calmness and order in a service. In other words, I’m pretty much Baptist through and through….well, except for the whole Bar Church scene (don’t spend your time trying to figure me out….it’s not gonna happen). But, one thing of which I am sure is that we as Christians should not be adapting ourselves to the word so that our standards are compromised. If you don’t have time to go to a service, then don’t try for a quickie drive-thru blessing. You need to make the commitment. Kinda like the much-discussed drive-in confessional booth to be named “Toot and Tell or Go to Hell.” Some things just should not be messed with.

Today on this day of my journey, I will be trying to make the stand and not compromise for the sake of the world.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy. Blessed be the Name of the LORD.