I live in a safe and peaceful neighborhood. Our house is in a sub-division of 82 houses with only one entrance and two streets. I live near the rear of the sub-division. The houses across the street back up to the Chattahoochee River. So it is not uncommon for deer to stroll through our neighborhood and across our front yard and enjoy the “salad bar” of flowers.

Although our lot is small the trees, shrubs, and ivy covered fence, make the backyard rather private. Neighbors behind and beside us are fairly invisible due to this green border. My wife, a Master Gardener, has devoted many hours (and more than a few dollars) to establishing gravel paths and flower beds with a colorful variety of flowering plants and greenery. Our backyard is a place of beauty and tranquility. I am not always conscious of that but as I was sitting on the patio early one morning I realized how blessed I am.

It had rained a lot the previous few days so everything seemed to be more vibrant than usual. Birds covered the feeders and flitted about chasing one another through the trees. Several chipmunks scurried about eating the seeds that the birds dropped to the ground. A couple of squirrels were persistent in trying to get to the bird feeders. Fortunately (from my perspective) they failed so they settled for joining the chipmunks foraging on the ground. The only sound was the occasional flutter of wings and the melodious songs of the birds.

The beauty of my surroundings was overwhelming. The gift that God and my wife had provided me was incredible. I am so richly blessed and I was reminded of something I hear often and it sometimes seems trite, but not this particular morning. We are blessed to be a blessing.

As I pondered the grace of God that allows me to live in such a serene setting I became aware of another reality. The birds, chipmunks and squirrels kept a close eye on me and if I made even the slightest move or made any sound the little creatures rushed away. They were fearful because they thought I posed a danger to them. I wanted to tell them, “I am not going to hurt you,” but there was no way to communicate with them.

I wondered how many people live in an environment more like the little creatures of my backyard rather than like the man who sat on the patio. While I enjoyed beauty and peacefulness, how many others are constantly on guard to avoid harm and destruction? Earlier that morning I had read the latest news about the plane shot down in Ukraine, the violence in Israel and Gaza, the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped three months ago by terrorists, the plight of the thousands of unaccompanied and undocumented children arriving at our borders from Central America, and the death of a sixteen month old boy at the hands of his mother’s boy friend.

To say that life is not fair is a gross understatement. As I enjoyed my moment of beauty and tranquility I prayed, “Lord, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.  As you have blessed me, help me to be a blessing to others.”

Jamie Jenkins

 

They are everywhere. You have probably seen them along the roadside or at a busy intersection as you drive around.

I am talking about the people with signs pointing you to places that serve food, rent apartments, prepare taxes, are going out of business, or will buy your gold. (I don’t know about you but I don’t think I would take my gold to one of those stores.)

Sometimes these people are dressed as animals, cartoon characters, the Statue of Liberty, and many other things. Often they are dancing and twirling their signs. Anything to get your attention.

Human billboards have been used for centuries in one form or another. In the early 1800s one common expression  was called sandwich boards. Charles Dickens described them as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board.” The contemporary sign holders carry it to another level.

Sign holders are known as human directionals in the advertising industry. They are widely used especially in areas that have a lot of traffic. The signs will frequently be shaped like arrows in order to direct traffic to the location being advertised.

According to the Los Angeles Times Eye Shot, a Lake Forest, California company claims to have invented modern sign spinning using arrow-shaped signs. Another California company, AArow Advertising, conducts “boot camps” to train its employees, and has also filed patent applications for a number of its “signature moves”.

Demand for human directionals has increased significantly since the introduction of sign-twirling techniques and they appear to be highly effective. For example, The New York Times reported that during one month nearly 8% of the 3,600 people who visited model homes in a housing development in Moreno Valley, California  were directed there by human directionals.

I don’t know if this method of advertising is really cost effective. However, because of the significant increase in the number and variety of human directionals, I suspect they offer a viable alternative and give flexibility that some higher cost methods cannot.

Whatever you or I think about these sign holders/twirlers, there is a principle that the Church might take note of. If a human being pointing the way increases business traffic, the same might be true for leading people to faith.

Before you write me off as some “crazy person” (although there are probably other reasons why you should), I am not suggesting that Christians- or people of any faith for that matter- should dress up in outrageous costumes or engage in ridiculous dances on the street corner. What I am proposing is what I think Jesus offered when he said, “Let your light shine so that others might see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The Church does not do “good works” to “show off.” Rather it is the result of following the One who “came not to be served but to serve.” I think the Church needs to do a better job of telling its stories- not so they will receive praise but to point others to the One who gave his life in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Jamie Jenkins

 

We live in a world where we are aware of events that happen in distant places almost immediately. Technological advances allow us to witness the tragedies and triumphs of people across the globe in real time.

Tornados in the Midwest. Tsunamis in Japan. 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped from their school by a militant Islamic group. Four teenagers brutally murdered and the violent responses in Israel. The death of a 22 month old child left in a hot car in Atlanta.

We are bombarded daily by tales of horror and inhumanity. So much bad news.

But there are times when the world is brought together by different and more pleasant events. The past three weeks have afforded such an opportunity as the excitement of the 2014 World Cup has been shared by people all over the world.

The 20th FIFA World Cup began June 12 and will culminate with the final match on July 13. National teams from 32 countries have competed after being selected through qualifying rounds that began three years ago.

Almost four million spectators have filled the 12 stadiums across Brazil for the 62 matches that have been completed. Billions of people have watched this sports spectacle in countries across the globe.

The finals are scheduled for this weekend with Netherlands and Brazil in the consolation round on Saturday while Germany and Argentina will meet in the championship match on Sunday.

I watched with pride as the team from the United States represented the country well with their level of play. As a result of his outstanding performances, USA goalie Tim Howard, earned high praise and respect. He set a World Cup record with sixteen saves. Quite an accomplishment for someone diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was in sixth grade. His mother said she was afraid people would not be able to get past his physical and vocal tics.

Among other surprises of the tournament was the early departure of soccer (football to most of the world) powerhouses England and Spain. Then two days ago Brazil was beaten by Germany 7-1. It is not surprising that Brazil would have a hard time against Germany after losing their star player, Neymar, to an injury in the previous match, and their captain because of too many yellow cards (penalties) in previous matches. But no one anticipated such an humbling defeat.

During these past three weeks I have celebrated and agonized with people I never met. I have rejoiced at their victories and sympathized with them in their defeats. I hope for more opportunities- athletic events, humanitarian efforts, social gatherings, spiritual and religious experiences- to help us recognize that we are more alike than different.

Jamie Jenkins

I opened my mail one day last week and discovered that lady luck had smiled on me. The letter congratulated me on holding the lucky number for the USA Lottery Sweepstakes and informed me that I had won $250,000. WOW!

There was also a check for $3,974.46 in the envelope. That amount would more than pay for the “insurance, handling and shipping fees” for my winning check of $250,000. All I had to do was call my claims agent, give him the PIN # assigned to me and he would instruct me on what I needed to do to receive my quarter of a million dollars.

It seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The enclosed check looked authentic. It was drawn on the account of a very reputable and recognized international company. But it was a fake. This scam has been around so long that you would think nobody would fall for it.

If I had called my “claims agent” I would have been instructed to deposit the check I received into  my bank account. Then I was to send $3900 to cover the expenses related to delivery of my winnings. The catch is that by time I learn that the check I deposited into my bank account is bogus, the money I sent is gone. I would have been out almost $4000.

This is one incident that proves the truth of the old saying: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

I receive a lot of email offers for discounted merchandise and services. Some of them have presented real money saving offers. Recently one of the companies had iPads at a ridiculously low price. When I passed it on to my son he cautioned me to never buy anything from this company. Minimal research revealed that there were many, many complaints that what was offered was not a good deal. Once again: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It doesn’t take too many experiences like the ones described above to make a person very cynical. It is easy to become suspicious of everything that looks good.

Tomorrow is July 4th. It is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. The day will be marked by patriotic displays of all kinds. Decorations of red, white, and blue will be everywhere.

Amidst the pomp and circumstance of Fourth of July celebrations it is easy to forget the significance of the day. The celebration of our independence affirms some very basic and essential rights for the American people.

Since Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his famous Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence has become the ultimate statement of human rights. It asserts the belief that “all men are created equal”  and  that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Among these are  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It has been said that this passage represents “a moral standard to which the United States should strive.”

I am glad that the standard is set and I believe we are making progress toward the ultimate goal of equality for all people. If that goal seems too good to be true, look again.

Multitudes across the globe suffer under oppressive governments without even the most basic human rights. Military coups and sectarian violence are the order of the day in many parts of the world. We do not live in a perfect society in the United States but the freedoms we enjoy- and often take for granted- are the dreams of millions. From their perspective this “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” seems too good to be true. But thank God it is not a fantasy. Freedom is a priceless gift that must be cherished. Let us be thankful and live responsibly.

Jamie Jenkins

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It’s not ‘my side of the road’ or “your side of the road.’ It’s just ‘the road’ and it’s shared as a cooperative adventure.” That is how travel guru Rick Steves describes driving on the narrow rural roads in Ireland.

After returning last weekend from my first visit to the Emerald Isle I have a first-hand understanding of what Steves meant. My wife and I arrived in Dublin, rented a car, and drove over 1500 kilometers (900-1000 miles) in eight days. We took the motorway (like our interstate highways) for the first leg of the journey (Dublin to Galway) and the last short day’s drive from Kilkenny back to Dublin. But the rest of the trip was on smaller roads.

Throughout our time on the roads we would regularly see a sign that indicated very curvy roads ahead. Occasionally there would be a sign that warned that there were sharp or dangerous “bends” ahead. I thought it would make more sense to simply post a sign once in a while that informed you that there were 100 yards of straight road ahead.

I am accustomed to driving on very curvy roads in the mountains of North Georgia and North Carolina. The difference in Ireland is that you are driving on the left side of the road and the speed limit is 100-120 kilometers (60-75 MPH) on those hair pin curves and most of the time the roads have no shoulders. The yellow line on the edge of the road runs constantly along a huge rock wall or an overpowering hedge row. If the person coming at you crosses the center line- if there is one- you have nowhere to go.

We enjoyed staying overnight in Bed and Breakfast facilities which were wonderful. Not only did the local folks who owned the B&Bs extended exceptional hospitality, they also provided very helpful advice on things to see and do that were not always on the itinerary of most tourists.

Having a car gave us flexibility to follow some of their suggestions and get out into the country away from the touristy areas. Once we left the “main” roads” described above and got onto the small(er) rural roads we found that Rick Steves advice about “the road” was exactly right.

When two cars met on one of those country roads, one driver would find a place to pull over enough for the other to pass and barely scrape the vegetation alongside the road. Everyone was courteous. Not once did either driver stand their ground and make the other give way.

What a different world it would be if that attitude was adopted by everyone in every situation. It’s not “my side of the road” or “your side of the road.” Life is “the road” and we share it in cooperative adventure.

Jamie Jenkins

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There are no Thoughts for Thursday this week because I am on vacation.  I will have some thoughts to share with you next week after I return. 

I have just returned from a huge family reunion. I joined more than 2000 people  for three days. Those of us who had not seen each other for quite a while embraced and shared some of the things that had been happening in our lives. We laughed a lot. We cried a bit. We rejoiced and remembered.

There was a special focus on children, youth, and young adults at this year’s family gathering. Those of us who are older (or should I say more mature?) recognize the need to intentionally reach out to those who are coming after us. It is imperative that we acknowledge  their needs and understand their strengths if our family and all of humanity is going to be healthy.

There was a celebration of new members being added to the family and we acknowledged the loss of some of our dear loved ones.

During the long days together we sang, prayed, heard reports of how our family had made significant contributions to the health and welfare of our fellow human beings all over the globe. Our family is an industrious group of people who are not satisfied with just taking care of ourselves. We believe it is our responsibility to care for others as much as we care for ourselves.

We shared plans of what we would do in the coming year and we agreed to provide the needed finances for those efforts. Feeding the hungry. Housing the homeless. Befriending the lonely. Eliminating death and suffering from malaria. Providing opportunities for quality education. Efforts to offer wholesome activities and experiences for all ages. These and many more causes consumed much of our time and conversations.

While we were together we contributed money to several very worthwhile causes to address human pain and suffering. We also made commitments to other much needed efforts on behalf of our fellow human beings.

There were moments when we acknowledged our failures and mistakes.

As in all healthy families, there were different opinions on some issues. Some folks exercised their rights and expressed their feeling with much passion. In the end we agreed on some matters but left with varying opinions on others. I am sure those discussions will continue and we will probably re-visit some of them when we get together next June.

Much of the agenda for this family gathering dealt with important temporal matters. But our family understands that we are not only physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. So there were times of singing, praying, reflection, and proclamation.

This family reunion was the 148th annual gathering of United Methodists in the northern half of the state of Georgia. Representatives of about 950 churches came together in Athens to conduct business on behalf of the 365,000 people who are members of those churches.  It was a great time.

I thank God for my United Methodist brothers and sisters and I was glad to be among them during this past week. We gathered together but now we have scattered back to our home communities to carry on the work of Christ through the Church. I pray that we will be faithful in sharing the love and grace of God with all whom we meet.

Jamie Jenkins

Experience is the best teacher so I have been told. I think that is probably correct but there is an old proverb that adds an appropriate and accurate caveat: “but the tuition is high.”

Experience is not always the kindest of teachers, but it can be argued that it is surely the best. Archibald MacLeish suggests that the “only one thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience.”

Experience is the only source of knowledge according to Albert Einstein. That includes the pleasant as well as the uncomfortable moments of life. There is something to learn from every effort or decision. Sometimes we get it “right” and sometimes we don’t but every occasion provides opportunity to learn.

When we “succeed” there is always something to learn about why that effort went well or what led to the good decision. Reflection on times that we accomplish what we intended or met the goal that we set can be beneficial for the future.

Many people conclude that we learn more from our failures than our successes. That could be because we seem to fail more than excel. Whatever the reason it is important to learn from our mistakes.

There is real value in making mistakes because you can learn a better way that leads to success. That is not to say we should be given a license to make mistakes. But the freedom to try your best and be OK when you make mistakes is a wonderful way to learn- if you understand that committing mistakes is alright, repeating them is not.

Whether we learn from our mistakes or not is largely determined by our attitude. If we refuse to acknowledge errors in judgment or inaccurate assessments, we are destined to repeat them.

The “if only” complex will also prevent you from learning and moving on. If only I had done this. If only I had not done that. If you hold onto the painful experience and beat yourself up by repeatedly looking backwards at the mistake, you will never overcome the sense of failure and regret. “If only” holds on to the past and therefore cannot move into the future. Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.

A very different approach is the “next time” attitude. Don’t ignore or deny the mistake. Instead reflect on what was done wrong or what was not done and ask what could be a better way next time. This will most likely prevent you from making that same mistake again, or often. Soren Kierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”.

The Apostle Paul learned from his mistakes but was not bound by them. He realized that he was not perfect and he understood the need to “forget about the things behind and reach out for the things ahead.” He knew that God would help him to overcome the past mistakes and would provide opportunities for new beginnings. Consequently he pressed on to reach the goal that God had for him.

Life provides ongoing opportunities to learn and grow. Our experiences can teach us a better way so that we can become the persons God created us to be.

Jamie Jenkins

There are some basic principles to every task- and to life. It is important to practice the basics repeatedly so that they become second nature. You usually lose something when you ignore them or fail to practice them. That is true in every part of life.

One night this week a young Atlanta Braves pitcher learned the consequences when you fail at the fundamentals. One of the most routine aspects of training for pitchers is called pitcher’s fielding practice (PFP). It can mean the difference between a run or a game.

Pitchers work every day on covering first base during fielding practice. Rookie left-hander Ian Thomas got a painful reminder why.

He was late covering first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield in the seventh inning of a game against the Red Sox. The batter beat him to the base for an infield hit that helped start a two-run rally and led to an 8-6 Boston win. Failure to perform a basic function was costly.

There are a lot of basic principles that we have heard and learned in life. Fundamentals. We know them but sometimes we forget them. Even momentary lapses of memory or failure to do what we know can be problematic.

Here are just a few of the basic life principles that I have been taught.

• If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
• Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
• Look before you leap.
• Keep your eye on the ball.
• Follow through on your swing.
• Do the most undesirable task first.
• Love God. Love neighbor.
• Failure to plan is planning to fail.
• Always look before you cross the street.
• Look for the silver lining in every cloud.
• The urgent is not always the important.
• Eat well and get plenty of exercise.
• There is a danger in always playing it safe.
• If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
• Accept responsibility for your actions.
• Don’t be too quick to criticize and condemn.
• Good things come to those who wait- and sometimes that means working while you wait.
• Don’t skimp on the foundation.
• You are accountable to God for every thought, word, action, and motive.
• Be quick to forgive.
• Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand.
• Self esteem comes from knowing that you are a child of God and loved by God.
• The only real failure is not trying.
• Always be thankful.
• No one person has all the truth.
• To the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.

Although I am not as diligent as I should be at putting them into practice, I understand that I lose when I don’t.

Jamie Jenkins

It was a political statement but it has implications far beyond politics. On Election Day last Tuesday Roy Barnes, former Georgia Governor, offered an explanation for low voter turn out. He said the reason many people don’t vote in the primary election is because of the requirement that voters must declare themselves as either Republican or Democrat.

I think he is right. Many people choose to support a candidate on the basis of his or her position on certain issues, personal and professional history, or qualifications rather than the candidate’s political party.

I am grateful for the right to vote and I am in that growing group of people who choose not to be identified by political party labels.

I was born, raised, and have lived all my life in the United States and I am proud of my country. I am a Christian and a United Methodist and I am proud of my religion and my Church. I was born into the Jenkins family and I proudly claim that heritage.

At the same time I express pride in my country, Church, and family I realize that the actions and attitudes that each of them has exhibited have not always been right.

It is all to common for folks to believe if you are not “for” me, you are “against” me. This often results in expressions of disrespect and abuse. The “I am right and you are wrong” attitude does harm to others. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable but all too often that is not the case. Instead the result of differing opinions often lead to harsh and unkind expressions that cast the other person in a very negative light.

Whether in the political, religious, social, or personal realm there is a need for civility and mutual respect. It is a good thing to have strong convictions and it is alright to express your perspective but we should not become angry, demanding, or demeaning toward others.

I believe there are some absolutes. Everything is not relative. But we need to be tolerant of one another, treating everyone with dignity and respect even when there is a vast difference between our positions on issues. I am afraid that tolerance is in short supply these days. President John F. Kennedy said, “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

There are things in our society that cause me to be concerned. I am discouraged and at times frightened about the future of the world. Nevertheless I am mindful that I need to give to every other human being every right that I claim for myself. And trust the outcome to God.

Jamie Jenkins

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