"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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I'm a worrier

  I’m a worrier. From the time I was just a young lad until today. I worry. About just about everything there is to worry about. And a whole lot of things that no one needs to worry about. I worry about my health and the health of my family. I worry about money. Will I have enough to pay both Charter and Georgia Power, because; forbid the thought that I should not pay my monthly Homeowner Association dues. Then I would worry about having my name plastered on the Welcome Center marquee for all of McDonough to see.

  I worry about doing a good job for my employer and if I am doing my job correctly…and on time…and with a courteous smile…and being helpful enough to co-workers and if I’m pulling my weight. I worry about being too early for meetings or too late. I worry about how the things I write here, post on Facebook or my website affects my family and my church….because, I tend to be too honest at times and there are some people that find my “gospel according to Jimmy” somewhat quirky, so that gives me more to worry about. I worry about my testimony for Christ and that I’m doing any good, for any purpose, for anyone. When I write, lead workshops or speak to groups, do people take me seriously or merely tolerate me. I worry about that. When I was a small child, I made a sign for our refrigerator at home that said, “I am the best Christian that someone knows.” And it had a picture of my little 3rd grade self underneath. I hope and pray that I don’t blow it and provide a poor example of what a Christian should be.

  Naturally, the world situation, the political mess of our country/state/local governments, insurance fraud, crime, crazy drivers, drugs and most anything that involves people gives me cause to worry…and even though I can do nothing about any of it, I still worry. I especially worry about the state of the Church these days. Not a specific church, but the Christian Church as an entity. Are we sitting back and letting governments and special interest groups dictate our beliefs and behavior? If we continue to sit back and let it happen, how long will the rights of Christians even be considered and we become the criminals. Do you see what I mean when I say I worry?

  I am supposed to follow the guidelines in the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of God, and they tell me several things about worry.

  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)

  “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

  “Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders. He’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out.” (Psalm 55:22)

  So, if I listen to what God tells me to do and, most importantly, trust in God as I should, I should have no reason to spend so much time in worry. If I live the life that God asks me to live, doing the best I can to Love God, Love Others and Live Simply, then all things will fall into line according to His plan for my life.

  That’s what I’m working on these days. Worry Less and Trust God More. How about you?


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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why I Go to Church

   My parents raised me in the church; my mom even left me at the church one Sunday when I was just a wee boy. Just like the prophet Samuel was left at the Temple…but, I didn’t hear God calling to me in the night because she came back pretty quickly and found me wandering the church grounds with the nursery worker. Yet, I continued going every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Thursday and any other time the doors were unlocked. I used to think that my folks had a church key just so they could unlock it and drag me up there. I even got a four-year perfect attendance pin. But, it was a good church, I liked the music and their Wednesday night suppers were excellent. And life was good.

  Through my college years when I could have skipped out very easily, I didn’t. There were a couple churches near the campus that embraced the college students and provided them a second home and a good environment. I switched between the Baptists and the Methodists because if I woke up on time to get dressed and grab a donut or something, I could drive to the Baptist church downtown; but, when I overslept (quite often), the Methodist Church was right across from my dorm and I could dash across the street at the last minute and sit at the back with my other late sleeping friends. Plus, they always had coffee and snacks in the narthex. I enjoyed going to both churches. I had good friends there and learned much to help me grow as a Christian as I entered the post-college life. And, I guess something stuck because I still like to go.

  Why do I believe in attending church? For one thing, it is what we are to do as Christians. Being around other believers gives us strength to face the coming week, gives us encouragement, gives us a place of security and a place to find hope. I have friends who are professing Christians who rarely darken the doors of any church and (in my opinion) they are poorly representing what Christ wants from His Church. Their language, lifestyle and viewpoints are decidedly (again, in my opinion) the opposite of what Christianity is to be. We are encouraged in the Bible to “not neglect the meeting together, as some people do, but to join in encouraging and supporting of each other” (Hebrews 10:25). I cannot imagine not going to church as often as I can for that very reason. It gives me strength for Monday morning.

  For another thing, church is where I learn more about God and what He wants me to do. I learn this through the music, through the message and scriptures, through study and through talking with other people facing the same day-to-day pressures of the world. On the Sundays that I would rather not go, my heart and spirit begins to lift at the first sound of music and continues to rise as I listen to what is said and done. When you neglect this regular meeting of believers, you begin to lose that “still, small voice” of God that gives us our direction.

  And before you say it, yes, churches are full of imperfect Christians. That’s why churches exist…to take a group of imperfect Christians and let them encourage each other, to try and love each other and to give us a Hope for a better tomorrow. I can promise you that there is a church somewhere out there that is perfect for you. Visit around and see what you can find. Just make sure they preach, sing and live the Gospel.


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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Me and an almost blind date

  It all began because I was really bored on a Friday night. Really bored and a lot of Friday nights. Ten years ago, back in 2004, I was young(er), felt my biological clock spinning out of control, had no potential matrimonial targets in sight….well, calling the fine ladies of Atlanta a “matrimonial target” probably didn’t help my case…and figured it was time to do something. Something serious and out of my bubble. So, I signed up for a well-known online matchmaking service. Yeah. Me. Shoulda known better.

  Of course, there were instantly hundreds of potential brides within 25 miles of McDonough all wanting to meet and greet me and stroll off along the beach at sunset with a nice bottle of wine, cheese and crackers. It took me awhile to realize that the website was suggesting my matrimonial matches, not them themselves. So, I perused all my options and waited. And waited. And waited for The One to “wink” at me (their term, not mine). And waited.

  “What’s the deal?” I asked myself. “I’m a prime candidate. I’m basically still young, got a cool SUV, have a good job with a major research University in Atlanta, own my own home in the suburbs, have good teeth and a full set of dark hair (ten years ago), athletic (ten years ago) and am quite fun to be around.” And…waited.

  After a couple days, I found a couple winks waiting for me when I got home. One was a definite “no,” but the other was intriguing and rather fetching. Same age, very similar interests, had all her teeth and good hair, a cool SUV, divorced (no problem), a couple grown children (that’s okay with me as long as I didn’t have to pay for college), professional job in Atlanta, Christian and wanted to stroll down the same beaches with a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers. So, I winked back.

  And, so it began. We emailed and messaged back and forth quite regularly for a few weeks because both of us believed in caution in these types of situations then began a discussion about meeting for a cup of coffee and dessert somewhere. I felt really good about this and we firmed up a date, time and place just a week away.

  About the same time, I “Googled” her (oh come on now, you know you all do the same thing) and found her website and her blog. This was in the early days of blogging, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but found the whole concept interesting. As it turned out, she was a very good writer about living a daily life with God and had some good points about living single in a very married world. Especially in the church. My creative side began to emerge and I thought, “Hey, I could do this writing and blogging thing. I’ve always got lots to say and I didn’t know there was a way to just get it out there and if no one even reads it, it would be good therapy for me.”

  Over the next couple of days, I set up a Blogspot.com account, struggled with a name for my new blog and finally decided on what I always want to do and always keep working toward….and that is…..Being God’s. So, in December of 2004, “Being God’s” was born. And my life and writing has never been the same. It led to being a newspaper columnist, magazine columnist, book author and there’s a possibility working on becoming syndicated. You, my friends, readers and followers share in this blog because you encourage and support me continually. You keep me humble when I write something totally stupid. And, yes, unknowing to you, you provide much of the fodder of which I write. When you find me staring at you over a meal or my desk or a church pew, yes, I am figuring out how to write about you. Yes, I really do have a catwoman, a blind flute player, a Guardian Angel, a Teleporter Dude and all the other characters in my life. And, now in your life.

  So, back to the hot date? Well, she emailed me the morning we were to meet and said she and her husband had reconciled, but thanked me for being a good friend. Friend. Hmmph. Just as well, I guess. I’m not sure she would be the Bar Church type of gal anyway.

This is how it all began and only God knows where I’ll be in coming years. Hopefully, telling His story (and mine) for all you good people. Just check in at www.beinggods.blogspot.com and I’ll be around there.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.  Oh yeah, I need to tell you where that phrase came from someday….but, not now. Stay tuned. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Are you all comfy cozy?

  I’ve written before about times when I’m starting to feel all warm and fuzzy cozy then some type of change (horrors) loom on my horizon. I don’t like change. I don’t relish change. I run from change. Yet, for all my kicking, screaming and denial….change comes. And it usually is a doozie.

  A couple weeks ago, Pastor Greg spoke on “are we comfortable in our faith and our walk with God.” Of course, I sit there nodding in affirmation and praise for this insightful man knowing how comfortable and pleased I am in my spiritual walk. Then…..he lowers the boom on me by finishing up that none of us should be comfortable in our walk. None of us should be so comfortable that we don’t consider new fields and new areas of ministry work. If we are so comfy cozy, then there’s something wrong in our communication with God.

  Whoa! I’m sure that when what he said sunk into my feeble brain, I must have jerked in the seat as if a lightning bolt had zapped me from above. And then, I began to think back over my years in a church and began to see how the hand of God dipped in when He saw I was comfortable, cozy and, even, complacent in my life and ministry.
  The changes had begun when I started visiting and preaching at the little church in a bar on Tybee Island a few years ago. That wonderful, quirky fellowship of believers opened my mind and heart to other methods and ways to minister and the fact that we are all God’s children…red, yellow, black, white, rich, poor, hungry, fat, homeless, mansion, houseboat, good singer, tone deaf…the whole range of creation. And I embraced it!

  Then, many people did not understand how I could walk away from serving as a church pianist after 47 years. But, I had known for a long time that I needed to do it. I wasn’t happy and wasn’t worshipping, so how could I be one of the worship leaders, if I could not worship as I needed to any longer. Now I realize that it was because I had gotten so comfortable. Let’s face it, I am a great pianist. I can sight read like crazy, read chord charts and can do traditional and contemporary with a degree of ease. I play piano, organ, synthesizers, guitar, ukulele and have a love/hate relationship with a flute. Music is my life. Church music is my love and passion, but after this many years, the joy had gone because it had become rote. I had become comfortable and cozy on the bench. So, it was time to back away and learn how to worship again.

  Part of that process has also been to find a church where I could attend, serve and be in a worship setting that touches my heart as well as my creative spirit. There are many churches in the area that fit this description, but I found one that called my name from my first step through the front door. And that church is where I received my lightning bolt of clarity. Maybe I had been too comfortable in a sister denomination for 60 years, or maybe God knew for this next season of my life, my place was to serve in the Methodist church. For whatever reason, for such a time as this, I know this is where I need to be. I know with no doubt that a great adventure is just beginning for me in service.

  So, folks, if you follow my journeys much at all, you know I’ve been at loose ends for quite a number of years. I was comfortable, yet extremely uncomfortable at the same time. I knew it was time for a change, I didn’t want a change, but, once I made the decision with all trust and faith in God being in control, I took the leap and it is a good thing. A very good thing. Proverbs 3:5-6 has stayed in the front of my mind this whole time. I needed “to trust in the Lord with all my heart and NOT depend on my own understanding.” My prayer is that I may never be comfy cozy again….and that neither will you.


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

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Holy is as Holy does

 
 The journey continues....

I try to avoid using “church words” at all costs. They scare me because I’ve seen too many people run the other way when they hear one. You know them….words like “righteousness,” “sanctification,” “justification” and, the big one, “Holy.” That’s the word that has captured my thoughts for the past few weeks. I know the dictionary definition and the definition I learned in both Sunday School and in Seminary, but, now I’m working on what my definition is.

  Am I holy? Just to write those words gives me a shudder, because I certainly do not consider myself in that way. Dictionary.com defines holy as, “devout, having a spiritually pure quality, dedicated or devoted to the service of God.” My mom defines it as, “living your life so that you reflect in every way the life and teachings of Jesus and the one defining quality is how you love others.” I like that.

  Well, I don’t smoke, drink, chew, cuss or kick small animals, go to church every Sunday and don’t surf inappropriate websites, so does that count for anything? I have Certificates of License and Ordination hanging on my wall…do those make me holy? I believe all the traditional beliefs about God and I am not afraid to share my beliefs with anyone, but I do tend to stir the pot occasionally when I write. Well, maybe more than occasionally, but I have always felt that the stuff I feel and experience can’t be just me, so I write to try and encourage and make you think. Whenever I have taught classes or led retreats or speak to groups, I just want people to know that God doesn’t get all theological and “King James-ish”….He just wants us to Love Him, Love others and to Live Simply for Him.

  Looking back over much of my life, I seem to always be on a journey somewhere when it comes to my walk with God. Just when I think I’ve about gotten there, off we go on a different direction. Lately, I have felt the strong urge to become even more devoted to God. More serious about my faith. More compelled to find a place where I am at peace, a place where I can identify closely with my faith family, a place where I can worship, a place where I can study and learn and become….well, more holy. Maybe it will mean “unfriending” a few Facebook friends whose postings might be a hindrance to my growth in Christ. I do know that I will need to be more aware of where I am and where I go. Because of who I am. Because of Whose I am. I constantly come across people from here in McDonough and Henry County who read my columns and have read my books. I need to always live my life for the God I serve and share about and there should be no doubts about that when you see me out and about.

  I have found a couple new passages in the Bible lately that I have written down and have on my desk, both here at home and in my office. They remind me of my role as a Christian and what I should be doing daily. Just one step toward becoming….holy.

  “Learn to do good and seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphans and protect the widows.” (Isaiah 1:17)

  “And this is what the Lord requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Me and my boats

  I’m in a local Chinese restaurant having lunch with a friend and engaging in our normal conversations of enlightenment, spirituality and matters of the cosmos. As we are chatting about the baggage that people haul around with them….you know the stuff that weigh us down as we work, play and attempt to sleep; consuming our thoughts, minds and keeping us from living to our fullest potential. We are still dwelling on things in our past and trying to relive those moments and, somehow, “fix” them so we can be happier. Needless to say, my normal conversations center around things more like puppies and kittens and birds and shiny objects, so I find myself stretching my brain power to keep up with our discussion.

  The Mongolian Beef is good and filling, the day is warm and sunny, and before long I find myself staring out the window and drifting off into my thoughts (which as you and I both know can be a scary place). As I’m drifting, my vision blurs and the colors of all the vehicles in the parking lot begin moving around and, to my amazement, become Junk ships floating in Bohai Bay off the coast of China. The Junks are of all different sizes and the colors of their flags and canopies are amazingly brilliant. I also notice in the midst of this flotilla, that many of the Junks are attached by rope and are pulling a whole string of smaller boats behind.

  I once read a book that was entitled, “That’s Outside My Boat: Letting Go of What You Can’t Control.” I heard the authors on a television talk show discussing how we try to take on more and more things in our lives until our lives (our boats) become so full that we begin to sink. We let so many things into our daily world that our ability to achieve anything is seriously hindered. Through the stories of many athletes and business leaders, the book gives us tips on how to determine “that is not in my boat.” And, you don’t let it into your boat. Period.

  However, in my case, I take things out of my boat, but then put them in another boat that I tie to and still drag around with me. Does anyone else do that? What are in these small boats we pull, you might ask? Past relationships, failed jobs, lack of finances, worries about illnesses that may never happen, concern over the status of the world (which we really cannot control), am I a “good” enough Christian, and on it goes. We don’t sleep well, perform our jobs well, interact with our families and friends well, and we realize we don’t get much out of our relationship with God. He’s not as close as He once seemed. We don’t see God working in our lives as clearly as we once did. And we wonder why.

  Well, my friends, it’s all because of all those boats we(me) are hauling around. We are told very clearly in the Scriptures to

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) and

 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). 

  I am the world’s worst about turning things over to God…but, then picking them back up for worrying after about, oh, ten minutes. We can truly take God at His promise that He will give us peace of mind and heart…because… He. Cares. For Us.

  As my mind drifted back to my lunch and as we headed back to the office, I know that I have to be more faithful to what I write. And, I will. That’s what is in my boat.

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