Much of my money goes to three “T’s”

The first “T’ is taxes. I do not like them. I fuss about paying them. But I understand the reasons for them.

Sales tax, property tax, estate tax, gift tax, gasoline tax, hotel tax, sin tax, export and import taxes, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, Unemployment tax, tobacco and alcohol taxes, and the list goes on.

April 15 every year we Americans are acutely aware of income taxes. I dread it and each year I promise myself that I will keep better records next year in order to lower my tax liability.

I remember my oldest child’s first pay check from a “real” job. He was appalled at how much his employer deducted for taxes. He was upset about the amount and that it was not optional.

Although paying taxes can be painful, I understand the value gained from that source of revenue for our government. I am grateful for the services that are provided from that income. I am thankful for police and fire protection, good roads, good schools, and the myriad of other things that are possible because we dutifully pay our various taxes.

The matter of taxes comes up in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. On one occasion he instructs Peter to catch a fish where he would find money for taxes in the fish’s mouth. Another time Jesus’ detractors tried to trick him by asking if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. His answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

The second “T” is the tip. Tipping is a part of American culture. If you go to a restaurant for dinner, there is an expectation that a tip will be left for your server. Many restaurants even provide a guide for the amount that is appropriate. This is not the custom in all countries of the world. However the service industry in this country is structured where wait staff are paid a very minimal wage (not the federally mandated minimum wage) and are dependent on tips for their income.

Waiting tables is hard work and I always try to be generous with the tip. There are other services that I receive from people who deserve better pay than they are getting. I am glad to ante up for their benefit.

The third “T” that I am committed to is the tithe. The Old Testament of the Bible has a lot to say about giving the “first fruits” to the Lord and instruction is given to “bring the tithes and offerings into the storehouse.” I understand that the context of that statement was different from the church of today. But I believe giving the first tenth of my income to the work of God through the Church is a solid biblical principle.

I learned from my mother that everything I have is because of the generosity of God. Making the tithe my first financial priority is a way of acknowledging the Source and demonstrating my gratitude for what I have received. By “giving to God first” I am also reminded that how I use/spend the remainder is a sacred trust and one that I should assume prayerfully not only for my good but for the benefit of all humankind.

Jamie Jenkins

I just returned from a trip to The Netherlands and Belgium and I saw more museums than you can shake a stick at.

Of course there was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that contains more than 8,000 items of history and art, including Rembrant’s famous painting The Night Watch. Nearby is the Van Gogh Museum that houses the works of that Dutch artist.

A different kind of museum in the beautiful city of canals is the Anne Frank House. This is the place where this young girl and her family hid during the Nazi persecution of the Jews during World War II. During the two years they were in hiding, Anne kept a diary that was later published by her father, the only family member that survived the Holocaust.

As we walked the streets of Amsterdam and marveled at the architecture and the restaurants and shops lining the many canals, we passed a Museum of the Bible which we did not explore.

Throughout our journey museums seemed to be everywhere. Every town and city had its museum of local history and culture. There was the Maritime Museum and more than one museum of cheese making.

Waffles and beer were the boasts of Belgium. It is reported that there are more than 1,000 types of Belgium beer, many of which have their own unique glass. In one of the town squares there was the Belgium Museum of Beer which we did not visit.

In the lobby of our hotel in Amsterdam there was a brochure advertising one of the most unusual museums, the Museum of Prostitution. We passed on that one for sure!

In Arnheim, Belgium there is a museum that commemorated the World War II Battle of Arnheim Bridge. The museum houses many historical documents and artifacts of this disastrous battle for the Allied Troops during Operation Market Garden in September 1944. This event is the story told in the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

We also visited several churches that contained museum type works of art and beauty. The Antwerp Cathedral was an architectural masterpiece where two of Peter Paul Rubens most important works, the Elevation of the Cross and the Descent from the Cross, were displayed. This church built over the site of a 9th century chapel also had a 14th century marble statue of the Madonna.

Bruges, Belgium is a beautiful city but I was a bit disappointed in cathedral. It was undergoing complete restoration and as a result, much of the interior was inaccessible and almost all the rest was engulfed in scaffolding. However, the highlight of that visit was to view Michangelo’s statue of the Virgin and Child.

Ghent is third largest city in Belgium, located where the Scheldt and Leie rivers merge. In the Cathedral of Ghent we saw the 15th century altar piece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which was one of the stolen pieces of art recovered from the Nazis before they destoyed it during the Second World War. This and the Virgin and Child were featured in the recent movie, Monuments Men.

I enjoyed all of the museums we visited but I was a bit saddened by the cathedrals. The architecture of each of them was awesome. The stained glass windows were truly works of art and the many statues and paintings were amazing. I am glad they exist and have protected these wonderful works of human hands. But they seemed more like museums than churches.

Maybe I am being too harsh in my criticism. Maybe if I was thee this coming Sunday I would see throngs of people amidst all those wonderful works of art celebrating Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week for Christians. Maybe. I hope so.

Jamie Jenkins

Tw

There are two things you can count on in life besides death and taxes. The first is temptation.

A well known country music song has this petition: “Please help me I’m falling in love with you. Close the door to temptation. Don’t let me walk through.” The plea for the “door of temptation” to be closed is futile. That door is always open.

Temptation is ever present. No one is exempt. Someone has said that opportunity may knock only once but temptation leans on the door bell. It is not coincidental that the Lord’s Prayer includes the request “lead us not into temptation.”

I believe that people and steel are alike inasmuch as both are uncertain until they are tested. An old proverb says that you cannot prevent birds from flying over your head but you can prevent them from making a nest in your hair. In other words, you cannot avoid temptation but you do have the strength to resist it.

I agree with Henry Eyring’s assertion that “God’s purpose in creation was to let us prove ourselves” and we were given “the opportunity to choose against temptation here to prepare for eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God.” The gift of free will is one of humankind’s distinctive characteristics.

Dr. Charles Stanley, pastor of AtlantaFirstBaptistChurch, bemoans what he believes is reality in today’s world.  He says, “Too many Christians have a commitment of convenience. They’ll stay faithful as long as it’s safe and doesn’t involve risk, rejection, or criticism. Instead of standing alone in the face of challenge or temptation, they check to see which way their friends are going.”

We are entering the third week of the Lenten season. The forty days leading up to the celebration of Easter is a time of introspection and self denial. A time of spiritual reflection and meditation. As we progress through these days it is a good thing to focus on gaining victory over habits and desires that are detrimental to our well being. That includes everything from unhealthy eating to more serious matters of morality. Confronting our weaknesses and disciplining ourselves to overcome them.

However, make no mistake. It is not easy whether this exercise occurs during this special time of the year or at any other moment of our life. Temptation to “stray from the path” of what we know is good and right is always a challenge. Oscar Wilde was wrong that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Rather, good habits result from resisting temptation.

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism he withdraws to the Judean wilderness for a time of spiritual preparation for all that was ahead for him. God’s voice from heaven had proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” His time in the wild allowed him the opportunity to demonstrate how to deal with temptation.

After forty days of fasting he was understandably very hungry. At that point he was tempted to satisfy his own needs, to use his power selfishly, but he refused. Next he was tempted to misuse his privilege and presume on God’s protection in a way that would focus attention on himself. Again he refused. The third temptation was to succumb to the opportunity to have unlimited power “at a price.” For the third time Jesus refused to compromise his principles (Matthew 4:1-11). He not only demonstrated his ability as the Son of God, he left an example for how we should act when faced with temptation.

Two things you can count on in life. temptation AND the presence and power of God to help you resist and overcome temptation.

Billy Sunday said, “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.” I believe it is true that “the person who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy person. For once the testing is complete they will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him” (James 1:12).

Jamie Jenkins

They are siblings. One is an athlete. The other is an artist.

Family members value this brother and sister equally. They recognize that they have different natural tendencies and talents. Not in competition with each other. Not better or worse- just different. Both are encouraged to apply themselves and develop their abilities. 

Society does not necessarily concur with this family’s perspective. The educational system seems to validate the assumption that athletes are valued more highly than artists. When school budgets are discussed the arts are subject to reduction far more often than the funding for the athletic program. Our economic system certainly rewards the athlete more generously than the artist. Huge multi-million dollar contracts for talented athletes are commonplace because of the revenue they generate. At the same time a good case can be made that the “starving artist” moniker is not a misnomer.

It is easy to conclude that one person or one skill is more valuable than another when often it is simply a matter of being different. Actually all are important. I have a friend who can build a house, repair a car, oversee a huge program of activities, excel in certain sports, relate well to people, and succeed as a public speaker. He can do almost anything. Is he more important than persons like me who are more limited in scope?

One of my former co-workers has the wonderful ability to listen to ideas and then take the words and translate them into visual images. I am amazed at that skill. Another colleague designs websites and writes computer programs that enable others like me to sit at our computer terminal with a keyboard and mouse and be productive. I know people who can paint a picture with words so that you can really visualize what they are describing. Is one more important than the other?

Recently I met an individual in Nashville who was planning to come to Atlanta for a business meeting. In discussing the location of their gathering she remarked that she was “directionally challenged.” Fortunately, she said, a friend was coming with her and would serve as her navigator. Of course, she could have used a GPS which is designed by someone to help us get to our destination. Which of these persons is most important?

My wife and I are engaged in a remodeling project at our house. No, we are not doing the work (although the friend mentioned above could). We have engaged a contractor to oversee the effort. He will utilize designers, draftsmen, granite and tile specialists, painters, carpenters, flooring installers, electricians, and plumbers. There will be others who assist with clean up and tasks that require less specialized skills. Are any of them less important than the other?

The physical body is a wonderful example of the value of diversity. The hand, foot, eye, ear, and other body parts all have different functions that are necessary for the efficient operation of the body as a whole. Which of these would you want to do without?

Likewise different people have different gifts that equip them to contribute to the whole. What is true for the physical body is also relevant to the family and to society as a whole.

Only as you accept your part does your “part” mean anything because you become aware that other “parts” are necessary for full and effective functionality. This realization helps us to keep our role in perspective and not feel too self-important. No matter how significant our role is, it is important only because of what we are a part of.

Jamie Jenkins

“Simple courtesy, the ability to compromise, and the willingness to think of the larger good – those things seem to be in short supply. We are reaching the point where the very social fabric is coming unraveled.”

If these words written by United Methodist Bishop Mike Coyner are true, there is reason to share his serious concern for government and church leaders. He goes on to say that “we live in a time when there are too many conflicts, too little cooperation, and too few people who are willing to get along.”

According to the good bishop this climate has given rise to situations that we see and hear in daily news reports. But physical violence is not the only way these attitudes express themselves. Verbal and emotional abuse are also examples of our increasing inability to relate to one another in a civil and respectful manner.

Bishop Coyner notes that the Apostle Paul was distressed when he saw Christian people at odds with one another. He appealed to the folks at Corinth to “get along with each other.” In his first letter to the Corinthians he told them that they “must learn to be considerate of one another” and work to “cultivate a life in common.”
(I Corinthians 1:10)

He offers the following suggestions of how we can reverse the trend of disharmony among people in all walks of life.
• Start by saying “I could be wrong” when expressing your opinions. That simple caveat allows room for the other person to have a different opinion. And it is also the truth – we may well be wrong, even when we have a strong opinion.
• Practice stating opposing opinions without labeling or cynicism. The ability to explain positions with which we disagree means that we have truly listened and learned. It also makes it more likely that we will convince others to consider our opinions.
• Agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable. There is nothing which says we must always agree, but our disagreeing can be civil and polite.
• Don’t go thermo-nuclear on every issue. Most issues are not ultimate, so don’t ramp up the rhetoric on every little thing.
• Allow God to speak for himself and don’t presume God agrees with you on every one of your opinions.

The church leader concludes with these words: “Will these five steps eliminate all of the divisions and violence in our society and all the divisions in our churches? Of course not. But we must start somewhere. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘We must get along with each other.’ We must.”

Jamie Jenkins

One of the first signs of spring is when the redbud trees start to bloom. I don’t know why they are called redbuds because the flowers are pink and very pretty. Anyway, I saw the first one in bloom a week or so ago. When that happens you can count on it, winter is on the way out and spring time is near. About the same time I saw little green shoots coming up out of the ground in my yard and in a couple of days the first daffodils burst forth attesting to the reality that warmer temperatures are on the way.

I am in Orlando, Florida at the time I am writing this. In just a week or two this area will welcome throngs of folks during school spring break. Thankfully I am here before that onslaught. Millions of other people from all over the world come here every year to visit the many theme amusement parks. There is even a Holy Land Experience that attempts to portray life in the time of Jesus in the land of the Bible.

The many fine golf courses in central Florida also attract a lot of people. I am not a golfer. I don’t even own a set of clubs but I understand why someone would come here to play.

In addition to all that is stated above, I suspect there are many other attractions that bring people to this part of the Sunshine State in the spring. I believe the best reason for visiting this magical city and surrounding areas is baseball spring training. There are fifteen teams that have their spring training facilities along the coast and in the central part of Florida. There are another fifteen teams in the Cactus League in Arizona.

My wife and I enjoy watching the Atlanta Braves play other teams in the Grapefruit League. This is a time for teams to prepare for the regular season as the players get into the swing of things after the off season. It is also a time for other players to prove they are ready for the big league.

The Braves lost the first game we attended. The Washington Nationals came from behind to win 16-15. Although the score looks like it, this was not a football game. 31 runs. 37 hits. Seven errors. Braves pitchers issued 11 walks.

To say the least, it was a poorly played game that lasted about four hours. Even though it was not a good game we came back the next day. After all, this is spring training. A time for everyone to do their best and for everyone to have a chance to show what they can do. A time for veterans and newcomers alike to hone their skills and build on their past experience.

In a real sense I think life is like that. Most of “the game” is not life or death. It is a time to show who we are and to learn how to be better. It is a time for growing and maturing. We are given the opportunity to prepare for times when the stakes are high and we need to be at the top of our game.

In the meantime there will be days like that Braves-Nationals game last week. We will not be at our best but we will not despair. We will keep working at it. Hopefully others will be patient with us and we will not be too hard on ourselves.

Welcome to spring training. Make the most of it because the games that count are ahead.

Jamie Jenkins

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games are history. They ended last Sunday with an extravagant ceremony to close out the most expensive games ever. The temperatures that reached springtime level made for some interesting events. Thankfully the feared terrorist attacks did not occur.

As always, some “stars” failed to shine and other athletes took the spotlight. There are many stories of dreams denied and others realized. Records were broken and some of them by less than the blink of an eye. New events appeared in the line-up and controversial judging at the skating competition was once again a part of the story.

NBC televised 1500 hours of the competition and some of it without the perennial host Bob Costas. He had to be relieved a few days to get over a serious eye infection that was hindering his work. I enjoyed much of it but after a while it became repetitious and anti-climactic. Too much of a good thing.

I was especially interested in following the women’s two-person bob sled competition. This was not because I know anything about the sport but because one of the competitors was from Douglasville, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb where my family lived for 12 years. After crashing the sled in one of the trial runs, driver Elana Meyers and her brakeman barely missed the gold medal by 53/100ths of a second. How close can you get without winning?

Gracie Gold was one of the darlings of ice skating. She is the 2014 U.S. national champion and was expected to be on the podium to accept one of the medals for the U.S. in the Women’s Figure Skating competition. However, she failed to achieve that goal. After coming in fourth she was asked if she was disappointed. The teenager replied “I am fourth at the Olympic Games. What are you talking about? Why is that disappointing?”

I like that response. Of course she had hoped to come home with a medal. Of course she had trained long and hard with that goal in mind. But she realized that you don’t always have to be No. 1 to be a champion.

We live in a culture that tells us “win or go home” but winning is not what it is all about. Life is about doing your best. Giving your all. Constantly striving to improve. But you may never beat out all the others in the competition. You cannot always be at the top of the pile. You may never see your name at the top of the leader board.

It is OK to be 2nd or 3rd or whatever if you have prepared yourself and if you have done the best you can. You can learn from “losing” and that can be more valuable than “winning.” Life is an ongoing experience and even when you are at the head of the pack there is still much to learn.

The Apostle Paul said, “I do not count myself to have attained… but I press on ….” When you don’t achieve your goal, you don’t quit but you don’t despair. Just press on knowing that perfection is not the goal. Realizing one’s full potential is what should be the goal. When you have done that being number 2 or 4 is alright.

Jamie Jenkins

Just as you approach a long checkout line at the supermarket they announce that “lane six is open with no waiting” and you are right in front of lane six. You quickly aim your shopping cart into that direction and you are out of there in no time.

You approach the elevators and precisely when you push the button the door opens. You step in and are on your way without a moment’s hesitation.

The weather is terrible as you enter the overflowing parking lot hoping to find a space close to the entrance. You prepare to circle as long as it takes but someone comes to their car parked right at the entrance to the mall. You gladly wait for them to leave and you park almost at the door.

You are about to purchase an item and someone comes just ahead of you and reduces the price dramatically. Since this is such a bargain you buy several.

You are in line to buy cheap seats for the ballgame. A kind woman walks up with tickets for the most expensive seats in the stadium and gives them to you. Yea!

As you arrive at the gate for your departing flight an announcement is made. The flight is overbooked and the airline is making an extremely generous offer for those who are willing to take the next flight an hour later. You have plenty of time and you can use the voucher for an upcoming vacation so you take it.

You hear the winter storm warning and are able to immediately head home. Many people wait a little longer before leaving work or abandoning their plans. You arrive home in minutes and watch as thousands are stranded in their cars in sub-freezing temperatures, some for more than twenty-four hours.

You lose an item of considerable monetary or sentimental value and you are heart sick. Then the seemingly miraculous happens. Someone finds it and returns it to you.

A terrible storm passes through and many of your neighbors’ homes suffer major damage but somehow your house is untouched.

If you have experienced any of the situations described above or something similar, what was your reaction? Did you think, “I must be living right.” Or, “God was looking out for me.” Or did you think, “I was just lucky.”

Was your good fortune the result of divine intervention as a reward for your faith or was it simply the “luck of the draw?”

There are people whose image of God is either One sitting in a giant control room and calling all the shots or a cosmic puppeteer pulling the strings and all human beings are the puppets. In their opinion everything good that happens to them is because they deserve it. It is helpful to remember that “God gives his best- the sun to warm and the rain to nourish- to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.” (Matthew 5:45, The Message)

Some folks believe that every misfortune or bad circumstance is the result of an angry God or punishment for misdeeds. If that is true the biblical prophets, Jesus’ disciples, and many giants of faith were under God’s judgment. If our circumstances are unpleasant we are reminded that “trials and troubles… taken in the right spirit will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Jamie Jenkins

I have heard that building a house is one of the most difficult things a couple will ever do together. I have never done that but I think buying a house might provide competition for the honor. My wife and I are now engaged in another venture that rivals either of those mentioned above.

In 2001 my office moved to the suburbs so we started looking for a house that would eliminate long daily commutes. We began the search with a particular price in mind. It did not take long to realize that we were going to have to raise our spending limit to find anything suitable in the areas where we were looking. Then raise it again.

At the beginning we had high hopes of finding a house that had everything we wanted. One of our friends suggested that we make a list of things that were absolutely essential. Things that we would not compromise on. Would give up only “over my dead body.” Shortly we began to understand that the perfect house was not to be found. Our expectations had to be revised.

After looking at a lot of houses we found one that was close to my office, in a nice neighborhood, and had many (certainly not all) of the things we wanted. After thirteen years in that house we are about to do some upgrading and remodeling. This is a new experience for us but after 45 years of marriage I think we can manage it. At least I hope so.

Our house is 18 years old. Some things are a bit dated. There are changes we would like to make to more adequately meet our current and future needs and improve the appearance. So we developed a list of all the changes that were needed or wanted. A couple of items were higher priorities than others and there was a long list of changes we would like to make.

As we developed plans for the remodeling and upgrading, financial, structural, and functional issues presented themselves and caused us to re-think our plans and re-evaluate our needs. I have heard it said that any building or remodeling project will cost more than you planned and take more time than you expected. I am coming to realize there is a lot of truth to that statement.

As we have pared down the list and gotten estimates for the work, reality has begun to set in. Should we try to coordinate the several projects or should we find one person or company and let them deal with the details? The projected cost raises questions of whether some plans need to be altered or priorities need to be reordered. Is this the right time?

Any house requires regular repairs and maintenance. Periodic upgrades and improvements are wise to insure the comfort, functionality, and value of a home. And all of it comes with inconveniences and cost.

The same is true with the “house” that provides residence for our mind and spirit. We must be diligent to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual self. It is costly and sometimes difficult to establish and maintain healthy practices. But it is even more costly if we do not. Lord, teach us to live wisely and well (Psalm 90:12).

Jamie Jenkins

People who know me know that I like to talk. However, I have been accused of talking a lot and saying very little. There is probably more truth to that than I want to think.

I admit it, I do talk a lot and, OK, I admit that most of it is not very memorable. There are a lot of things I wish I had said. Below are a few of them.

Fill your years with life not your life with years.
– Church Message Board

If you don’t learn to bend, you will eventually break.
– retired Church of Christ missionary

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
– Thomas H. Palmer

Common sense is not so common.
– Voltaire

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
– Paul (Romans 8:38-39)

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
–Helen Keller

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
– John Wesley

He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.
– Samuel Johnson

The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.
– Oprah Winfrey

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
– Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race but to the true and the faithful victory is promised the grace.
– Fanny Crosby (Conquering Now and Still to Conquer)

It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and no deserve them. — Mark Twain
He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
– Confucius

Life is either a great adventure or nothing at all.
– Helen Keller

What soap is to the body laughter is to the soul.
– Yiddish proverb

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
—Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 13:4-18)

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
– Victor Borge

The greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
– Martha Washington

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come yet. We have only today. Let us begin.
– Mother Teresa

When you have the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
– sung by Lee Ann Womack, lyrics by Mark Sanders

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
– Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Pray, but row away from the rocks.
–Indian proverb

Pray as if everything depends upon God and work as if everything depends upon you.
–Francis Cardinal Spellman

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who treat you badly.
–Jesus, (Luke 6:27-28)
God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.
–Chester W. Nimitz

What are some of the things you wish you had said?

Jamie Jenkins

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