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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Better than a dead fish

  Once upon a time, I bought a ten-gallon aquarium and put in some of the standard tropical fish; guppies, tetras, platys, albino catfish and a couple dwarf frogs. All in all, a pretty boring lot even though the colors were nice. Just swimming up and down, all around and eating whatever crossed their paths.

 Then, every few days, I would notice a tetra or a guppy lying on the floor behind the tank. Dead, no signs of homicide or suspicious activities...just a dead fish lying on the carpet. As I continued to bury them in the circular water tomb, go to the store for another, there would be another casualty within a couple days. Same modus operandi, same location, same lack of any physical evidence. I tried my best NCIS DC/LA/New Orleans tactics, but nothing could be found.

  Finally, a weekend came and I was home with the fish all day for two days. I fed them at their usual time and took my usual Saturday morning position in the recliner. I noticed how the fish would circle around the bottom of the tank then make a wild dash to the top to grab a speck of food then go back down to eat. Then…..as I watched….it happened. A rogue tetra made his wild dash for a large flake of food, overshot the target and found himself airborne and headed down for a perfect carpet landing. These fish just got a bit too excited and exuberant about their food and never thought of the consequences of their actions. Realizing that these fish have brains the size of a pinhead, I seriously doubt they have very much logical thinking ability....however, we as humans do have this capability.

  People get carried away about sports, about money, about possessions, about cars, about where they live, about their appearance and so many other things. These affect how we interact with our families, friends and coworkers. They can change out motives and actions to the point where we are consumed with the acquisition or use of these things to the point we find ourselves like a fish on the carpet someday. Alone, dried up, and dead for all intents and purposes (I resisted using 'intents and porpoises' in a fish story).

  As a Christian, we can also become a bit over-exuberant when we share our faith. Sometimes, we use those horrible theological words that no one understands. Often we get too pushy and threaten someone with hellfire and damnation when at the moment they just need some food or clothing for their children. We forget that when Jesus began His teaching that he dressed like, associated with and ate with the "bad people" of the day. How else could they learn? How else could Jesus meet them at the point of their need?

  Don't judge the teenager with baggy shorts and long hair who is skateboarding down your street or at the park. I was that kid at one time. Get to know them, meet them at the point of their need, then when the time is right, share God with them. Don't judge the adult who uses some inappropriate language (how many of us really say "oh pooh" when we crunch our pinkie toe on the bedpost?). Get to know them, love them and then the time will come when you can share with them about how God honors a purer mouth and tongue. 

  My hope and desire is that my life as a Christian man is one that reflects the uncompromising standards of my faith, yet also reflects the compassion and understanding toward all people created by the God in whom I believe. I'd much rather be a well-fed, living albino catfish swimming in the aquarium of God's Love than to be a dead dried up fish on the carpet of life.

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

What can I give?

  Our church emphasis these past few weeks have been on another of those scary words to all Christians, no matter what denomination or affiliation….Stewardship. Having grown up in the church, I’ve heard annual sermon series and seen brochures so that the word is not new to me, nor have I been greatly affected when the Pledge and Commitment cards have been passed out each year. It was always an easy thing to figure up 10% of my income for my tithe and would try my best to stay faithful in giving. I know all the stewardship verses and principles by heart and believe them, however, after so many years, they had come to be almost rote. Almost mindless. Until this year.

  I’ve been in a small group this past month studying about giving back to God and our worship services have been along the same topics. Basically, the same words I’ve always heard, but for some reason this year, it became extremely personal. What am I giving to God? As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been going to church since before I was born and have rarely missed. Even as a child on vacation with my family, we would go to church on Sunday, bring their bulletin back so I could get “credit” in my Sunday School class at home. I give to His church in a financial way, even though as a retired educator, it isn’t a huge amount. I give of my talents…namely music and writing. But, there’s more than that. How much of my “other” time do I give.

  I have always had a heart for missions, both home and overseas. I’ve worked in the inner-city of Atlanta to help feed and clothe those in need; to provide recreational opportunities for children and youth; painted and help build shelter and storage spaces for schools and day-care centers for children in need; shared music and hugs at children’s hospitals; spoken and led worship in prisons for both men and women and traveled all over the country on trips doing Bible schools and construction projects. I’ve served as a Minister of Recreation and Youth in local churches. My problem is that the majority of those are in the past. I don’t do them anymore. Oh, I have used the “I’m too old” card to get out of things, but I have realized recently that God did not give me a pink slip. He did not give me a retirement slip from His Work here, but maybe I’ve given myself one. And, I am feeling quite guilty.

  There’s a song we always sing at Christmas that means much to me.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
But, what can I give Him? I’ll give Him my heart.”

There may be limitations I now have because of age, but God still has plenty for me to do. Even if it isn’t walking along ropes strung in the trees like I have in times past, I still have a responsibility to do what I can. Give what I can. To be a good STEWARD of with what God has blessed me. More than just writing a check. More than singing the songs. More than showing up at church once or twice a week. I need to give what I have that will do God’s Work in the lives of others. As the old gospel song says, “Little is much when God is in it.”

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