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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What is real?

  McDonough, Henry County and Georgia, if not the whole country, lost a visionary and a remarkable man recently with the death of Andy Davis. His art through sculpture can and will never be equaled and neither will the passion and creativity he held in his heart and his hands. He touched not only McDonough, but all those with whom he came in contact, and we who knew him are far better for having known him and experienced him. And, being around Andy was truly an experience you never forget.

  As the news began to spread around Facebook and other social media, the first responses were “this cannot be real. It must be a mistake.” But, as more details became known, the reality began to spread over McDonough with a tangible feeling. Our City was no longer the same. But, it was real. As much as we did not want it to be, it was real. I also have friends on Tybee that have lost loved ones in recent weeks and months and their grief and sorrow is real. The world they have known is no longer the same. What they thought was real, has changed.

  As you think about the world about us, it seems that few things are real any longer and it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine reality. False fingernails look real; all manner of plastic surgery and procedures, if done well, can turn back the clock and cause us to look much younger and fresher than we actually are; we wear different types of hair pieces that changes our appearance temporarily; your house may have cracks and holes that can be covered up with some paint so that you wouldn’t know they were there, but the problems are still underneath, so you see a false reality; and on and on. Are those really your favorite musicians singing, or are they lip-syncing? It seems that our world today is intent on disguising what is real with what is unreal.

  So, the question is how do we know what is real or not? Is there anything we can depend on for being real? Life is real, for a season, and then it changes. We age and then we die. Appearances can be real, or enhanced. Our finances can look real on paper, but “not so real” in actuality. Friendships may seem real, but can disappear at a moment’s notice.

  It is my belief that there is only one thing is life that is real….constantly real….past, present and future real and never changes. That one thing is God. The scriptures tell us that “He will never leave us or forsake us,” and that “Jesus is exactly the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” He is the only person and His words are the only thing in this world that will never change. Even though the world around us is changing constantly and things appear real that are only a front, God remains the same.

  If you trust in Him, believe in Him and live for Him, we can be assured that we will live with Him in His Kingdom of Heaven someday. That is a real promise and will never change. But, as long as we live here on Earth, we will need to deal with things that are not real; people that are not real, so we need to make sure that we are rooted and grounded in the one thing that is guaranteed real. God, through His Son, Jesus.

  When the fake fingernails come off, when the botox wears down, when the tattoos fade and sag away, when life takes away those we love, find consolation that God is real. And He loves you forever and always. Really.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Guardian Angel has a heart....sorta.

As usual with Angel's appearance, a sharp crack rattles my sleep. Yet, this time, instead of her normal whiny, grating and phlegmy voice, I am blasted awake by a thunderous female roar of "What In The Hell Do You Think You Are Doing? You ******** Idiot!" (well, she did not actually say asterisk, asterisk, asterisk, etc, but you get that point.

As usual, I snap awake realizing that I am standing in the back yard, in the privet, next to the creek bank which is high and raging because, well, because the rain is pouring down and the thunderous roar of Angel is only matched by the thunder and lightning show in the sky. And, as usual, I am clad only in my "Bad Christian" t-shirt and boxers. And I'm drenched. And angry. And, slightly scared of HER.

"Don't Ignore Me, You Weasel. I Asked You A Question!" she roars again as my head began to pound. "What In The Hell Do You Think You Are Doing??!!" And, it slowly begins to dawn on me what she means. Yet, I try to play it off like the Artful Dodger, Fun Guy that I am.

She is perched on a tree trunk that almost spanks the racing creek, her bent and tarnished halo glistening in the rain. Her spotted and stained, torn robe has been hitched up a little with some honeysuckle vine so that she isn't exposing any of herself. Her one good wing and her one broken and raggedy wing are both shining with water and when the sky lights up with lightning, they both look almost new. In fact, the water is causing some type of freakish glow around her that is giving her a type of beautiful, heavenly, (almost) angelic appearance. Her wet cigarette hanging from her fingers gives a little edge back to her, but I can forget about that.

Like I said, I know why she is here and, as usual, try to launch into measly excuses and reasons and diversions to how Micheal is behaving these days.

I try starting, "Hi Angel, good to see you again...."  "STOP IT AND SHUT UP," comes out of the darkness and I'm not sure for a moment whether it is her or, gulp, the Father.

"You see, Angel, I've been going through a really, really bad time lately and am struggling every day," I start. "I 'm not sure what..."

"Oh, Whine, Whine, Whine! Just cry me a bucket full you ungrateful toad. Oh, I've lost one of my best friends. WHINE! Oh, I'm having a bad day. WHINE! Oh, I'm so depressed. WHINE!"

"But, Angel, my doctor has diagnosed me with PTSD, and..."

"Don't You Think The Father and I Know That?" She continues to screech. "What I Am Here for is to Find Out Why You Were Lying In Bed Thinking about How Many Pills You have in your Cabinet and How Many "It" Might Take to end....to End YOU! Have You Lost Your Freaking Mind?!"

I stand there with no excuse, because it was the truth. I stand there in the pouring rain in my back yard, standing (almost literally) naked before God and my Guardian Angel. And I had no answer.

Her voice softened a little. "Look over your shoulder, you selfish foolish critter. Look at the windows in your home. There is a family in there that loves you more than anything. Look around your neighborhood. You have neighbors who also love you and your family."

"I know, Angel, I know..."

"Shut up and let me finish. It's rare that I get this kind of assignment, especially for you, because you are usually so well grounded. Now, you're just thinking stupid. Think about all the people on Facebook who write you and send you notes of love and encouragement EVERY DAY and pray for you EVERY DAY! And you are all crazy because one freaking person in Father's Universe decides he doesn't like you. Sheesh, You Are So Stupid." There is silence for a minute, then, in a quieter voice I hear, "but you're stupid in kind of a cute way.

"Listen, jerk. With all the crap that Micheal Elliott puts me and those Tybee people through, I don't have the strength to say this more than once. He wears me out. But, put this in your head and remember it... Forever....'cause I don't want to have to come back here again. The Father Loves You! He Loves You! As messed up and crazy as you think you are, and as messed up and crazy as I know you are.....God Loves You.

"He created the doctors and the doctors who can help you through this....trust them on His behalf. Don't be afraid, Father and I are with you. He created friends who have battled the same demon illnesses that you are battling.....trust them and don't be afraid to call them."

By this point, I could not tell whether it was the rain or the tears running down my face, but I knew I felt loved and safe for the first time in weeks and months. I couldn't bring myself to look up at my Guardian Angel, because I couldn't bear to see the Love of God coming from her. And then, she whispered....

"Now, boy. I have one word of advice for you. Get your eyes back on Father where they belong. Simple. Don't look for problems. Just keep your eyes above. I'm here watching out for you along with Father, Son and the Spirit. You are Never Alone."

I could tell she was ready to leave and was expecting some sweet closing when she swooped toward me and swatted the back of my head in true Leroy Jethro Gibbs fashion. "So, there! You've been Touched By An Angel!!" And if you weren't pumped full of anti-psychotic medication, I'd treat you to a beer up on the Square. But, we'll do that later!"  And she was gone.

I stood there in the rain and hollered to the darkness, "Gee Whiz, Angel! Couldn't you at least pop me back in bed and outa this rain?" CRACK! I was back in my bed, and quickly noticed I was still wearing the wet Bad Christian t-shirt and boxers.....except now, the word BAD had been torn off.

And for today my friends, this has been another story of Jimmy and his Guardian Angel.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Jesus and the Hot Glue Gun

  I am somewhat a collector of religious artifacts. A wall of many crosses that people have brought me from all over the world, including the Holy Land, takes up one wall in my bedroom. Some are handmade by master woodcraftsmen, some are simple a couple splinters of wood nailed together. But, they were all gifts and are special to see first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
  I also have several mezuzahs which came from Israel. Some are metal with beautiful stones inlaid, one is inexpensive Lucite with Hebrew art and one is made from olive wood. Two of them have kosher parchments inside with the Shema and other Hebrew documents.

  Recently, a good friend brought me set of prayer beads from Jerusalem made of olive wood. They can also serve as a rosary for our friends of the Catholic faith, but they are also used by Protestants as prayer beads as they bring their adoration, confessions, thanks, and supplications to God. At the bottom is a cross with an inlaid picture of Jesus. It is a beautiful piece of religious art and I always carry it in my pocket. When things get tough, I feel a sense of God’s presence when I put my hand in my pocket and can feel the reminder of prayers.

  Well, the other day when I was emptying my pockets at the end of day, I noticed that the cross (and Jesus) had come unknotted and was missing. Searching frantically through my pockets, the floor and everywhere I could think, I finally found Jesus on the floor under my recliner where I guess he had slipped out of my pocket and under the chair when I stood up. My sausage-like fingers could not get the strands of cord back through the holes in the cross and get secure knots tied. I knew it would just come loose again. So, I resorted to the one item no home should be without. The glue gun. I heated that thing up, used a needle threader to get the strands back through the holes, clumsily tied a couple knots, and....hot glued it on every available surface.

   After I finished this procedure, and my thoughts began to flow, I realized how we often lose Jesus. In this country, it is very difficult to grow up without some knowledge of Jesus, whether you choose to become a believer or not. Jesus is everywhere. So, how do we lose Him?

  We can lose Jesus by just ignoring His desires for us. To love Him and to love others. To share His Name and His love with those around us. We can lose Jesus by allowing the ways of the world to take control of our lives. The television shows we watch, the movies we see, the jokes we tell, the language we use, and so on. All these can become a part of our life so quickly that Jesus is shoved to the back and eventually lost. You can lose Jesus by the friends and associates you choose and the places you hang out. Mainly, however, you can lose Jesus by not staying faithful to His House and to His people. It’s so easy, especially this time of year, to take a Sunday off for a “day at the lake” or to just catch up on sleep or yard work. Then, the next Sunday, maybe we decide to go to a ballgame and before long, we’ve missed several Sundays of fellowship in God’s House with God’s people. And that is where our strength comes from and that is where we can keep Jesus in our lives.

  It would be so much easier if ministers could just hot-glue Jesus onto our backs permanently, but they can’t. It is up to them and to us to encourage each other in the faith. You can be the glue for someone else.

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

Sunday, February 01, 2015

You will live a long life

  I enjoy Chinese food. I enjoy it a lot. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and supper with eggroll and crab rangoon snacks in between. And, of course, one of my favorite parts of the meal is the fortune cookie. A cookie of absolutely no nutritious value houses a key to how your life is going to be unfolding in the future. Like the pearl found in the oyster shell. One glance at the little slip of paper will give you hope for the future in winning the mega-money lottery ticket to owning your own yacht to traveling the world over to having happiness and success for another fifty years.

  I’ve shared before how I visited a fortune-teller while I was in college and her reading was that I would be married, have children, a career with a large salary and a lot of traveling…..and that I would unfortunately die when I was only 50 years old. So far, I not married, have no children, had a career but not the big bucks, and….at last count, I am well past 50 years old. Madame Rosa in Olde Towne Augusta didn’t seem to know a whole lot about my future.

  Since I eat Chinese at least once a week, I have accumulated a lot of fortunes over the years and very few have come to pass or have much to relate to my life. A couple of my favorites are:
  “You have a flair for adding a fanciful dimension to any story.” - If you follow my Facebook page, you probably know this one is pretty dead on.
  “You are gifted in many ways.” - I tend to think this is fairly accurate and give credit to God for those things I can do well.

  Those are probably the only two fortunes that have any degree of relevance to me. Most of them are more like:
  “Work on improving your exercise routine.” - The word, exercise, is not even in my vocabulary.
  “Now is the best time for you to be spontaneous.” - Again, spontaneous is not a word generally associated with me.
  “You and your wife will be happy in your life together.” - see the Madame Rosa story above.

  My point in all this is to say that no cookie or person can possibly know what is coming up in my life, or in anyone else’s life. Not possible. God is the only one who knows our paths and our futures. Psalm 139 tells us that God “knows when we sit down and when we rise up; when we go and when we come. He knows our paths and our thoughts.” Of course, we have the free will to do as we wish, but God will still be involved, because He knows what we are up to and what the results will be. He allows us to go our merry way, making choices good or bad, and loves us even when we make those bad choices. He is our Creator and our Guide.

  The scripture that I rely on the most is in Jeremiah 29:11 where God tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

  This is what gives me hope. A little piece of paper in my cookie may give me a thought and a laugh with friends, but I know in my heart that it is just a piece of paper mass produced in some unknown factory. God’s Word to me is substantial. It will last forever. And you can put that in your cookie anytime!

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

Monday, December 01, 2014

Celebrating Life

  It has never been a secret about how much I enjoy going to Tybee Island. The artsy, creative, friendly and quirky culture there appeals to me like no other place. People ask me what there is about the island that keeps drawing me back and I quickly answer, “The people.”  Through the years, I have been to Savannah and to Tybee for a visit often, but it was as a tourist and a visitor, but now I have gotten to know the people who live there and make the Island their home….and I think they are beginning to accept me as one of them.

  Of course, you will recall that about three years ago, I began going to the Tybee Church, the Church that meets in a bar. Many people here at home, had a serious problem with that, but as I always stated to them, “you need to go experience it, be a part of the worship and the people. It isn’t as much what they do in their service, but what they do between the services in feeding, clothing, sheltering and taking care of their friends and neighbors. Many traditional churches here could take lessons in their social and community ministries.”

  This time I am going for a different reason, however. Oh, I will still be at Church on Sunday morning, but after the services…down on the beach, I will be part of a Celebration of Life service for a young man whose parents have become close friends to me. He passed away very suddenly recently in another state and, due to health concerns, his parents were unable to attend the funeral services and they wanted (and needed) to have a time to celebrate his life with their friends and family on Tybee, Wilmington Island and Savannah. So, what better place for a Celebration than at the beach, on a wonderful little barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Invitations were probably not even needed, because everybody knows everybody and they all rally around each other in times of sorrow or in times of joy.

  The service on the beach will be celebrating the life of this young man at a location he loved and, if we’re lucky, some dolphins will drop by to pay us a visit. He would love that! Afterward, covered dishes will be flowing into the old school cafeteria where we will all sit around and love on the family while talking about life, and death and the joy of being with each other. As is true anywhere on Tybee, the music during the lunch will be live (they rarely do canned music), upbeat and celebratory and the food will be, simply scrumptious.

  I’m sure somewhere in my Licensing and Ordination, I received books and packets of information that covered the guidelines and structure of a memorial service, but, being the rogue Minister that I am, I chose to go off the chart and do just what the family wanted. A pure Celebration of this man’s life. The music, the readings, the people, the prayers, the sand, waves and water…everything will be celebrating. Some may tap their toes and some may wear beads and feathers. And, hopefully, somewhere in this day, healing will begin for this family’s loss. Through memories, laughter, tears, hugs and friends. A true Tybee Celebration.

  My point in all this is to share the blessing it is for me to be a part of this wonderful family of Islanders and to be asked to be an officiant for this Celebration. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

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

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.