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

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.