Free Will 1

Have you ever had an “Aha!’ moment? A time when something just leaps out at you and gives you a new perspective, new insight? That happened to me on a recent trip to Israel. I had been there many times but I “saw” something new on this visit.

About half way down the western side of the Dead Sea is an oasis called En Gedi.

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One of my favorite stories from history is set in this desert spot. Saul, the first king of Israel, had been rejected in favor of a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem named David. Saul in his anger pursued David to kill him and David fled for his life.

King Saul learned that David was in the wilderness near En Gedi.  So he took three thousand men and went to look for David. During the search Saul went into a cave to use the restroom, not knowing that David and his soldiers were hiding in the very back of the cave.

When David’s soldiers saw Saul they said, “Now is your chance. Your enemy has walked right in and you can do to him whatever you think best.” So David quietly crawled close to Saul without being noticed but instead of killing him, he cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Immediately David felt horrible for what he had done. David believed that God had chosen Saul as king so he would not allow his soldiers to attack the king. Saul then left the cave. David then called out to Saul to let him know that he had the opportunity to kill him but had refused to do so.

I have known that story for years. I have read it and told it many times. I know that David exercised free will in sparing Saul’s life. He could have killed Saul and been justified in doing so but he chose to let Saul live. In spite of Saul’s determined pursuit with the intention of killing him, David chose to save a life rather than take a life.

Free Will 5

Some people think that every detail of one’s life is determined by events of the past, over which a person has had no sort of control. But David’s action, or inaction,  is a clear demonstration of free will, a capacity that is unique to human beings. The ability to make choices. To do as you see fit.

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume thought that free will (or “liberty,” to use his term) is the “power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will: that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.… This hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” We are afforded opportunities every day, many times every day, to choose how we act or react to a variety of situations. The choices we make every day determine our character.

Free Will 7

I agree with J.K. Rowling. “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” David exhibited a respect for human life and a devotion to God when he chose to let Saul live. The decision he made in this circumstance gives real insight into his character.

Most daily decisions do not carry the same weight as the decision David made in the cave at En Gedi. But every step we make is influenced by each previous step. Each thought or deed builds upon previous ideas or actions. We may choose wrongly and later have to take corrective measures but if we are wise we will be careful in the choices we make and the actions we take.

God has not created us to be robots or puppets. We are endowed with the ability to choose. God help us to choose wisely.

Free Will 3

Jamie Jenkins

 

Note: You can read the entire story of David and Saul at En Gedi from I Samuel 24 in the Bible.

 

 

Laughter 4

There are many situations that cause us to cry. Tragic events and sad occasions cannot be avoided and the tendency for tears should not be stifled. But it is important to keep things in perspective and maintain balance. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.

“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

                                                               (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

Radio personality, Ludlow Porch (his real name was Bobby Crawford Hanson), made a distinction between a humorist and a comedian. He said that a humorist is one who sees life in a funny way while a comedian is one who tells funny stories. People with either of those gifts are extremely important. They help us to laugh.

Laughter 6

I like comedy but don’t watch a lot of the television sitcoms. One reason is because I have some hearing loss and I often miss or misunderstand some of the dialogue. Also cultural, generational, and political differences have a lot to do with humor. Recently I realized there is another compelling reason why I don’t enjoy much of the sitcoms- laugh tracks.

Canned laughter is a big negative for me whether it is on Modern Family, Black-ish, or The Big Bang Theory. I don’t need to be prompted to know when something is funny. Besides, there could not possibly be as many really funny moments as are indicated by the programmed laughter.

Laughter 9

Regardless of my dislike for sitcoms there are many people who obviously enjoy them. That is good  because laughter is good medicine. A wise man once said, “A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing…” (Prov. 17:22 AMP). Dr. Robert Segal says, “When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy.”

 

Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use. One pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.

Laughter 7

My 12 year-old grandson was visiting us a few years ago and one day he said to his grandmother (my wife), “Nana, let’s laugh.” And they did. For the next several minutes they and I laughed until we were exhausted. Deep belly laughs. Take-away-your-breath laughs. Once we started it was hard to stop. When we finally quit laughing I had a sense of cleansing and wellness. It was like we had just completed an exhausting and exhilarating physical workout. It felt so good.

Are you ready? Let’s laugh!

Jamie Jenkins

 

Laughter 8

PATIENCE 2

I am writing this from the airport in Newark, New Jersey. I arrived here about four hours ago from Tel Aviv. The uneventful flight landed right on time and I slept for several hours on the 12 hour flight, which is unusual for me. This trip began two weeks ago with the cancellation of my outbound flight from Atlanta due to what the media called a historical winter storm.

Processing through passport control and customs went smoothly this morning and I was told that I needed to re-check my bag to Atlanta. I was then directed to the Transfer Desk where I learned that my flight had been cancelled due to freezing rain. I was re-booked on a flight that departed five and a half hours later. Just what you want to hear after being up 24 hours.
PATIENCE 1
I am not a good wait-er and I am not always flexible but I tried to take it in stride. After all as the ticket agent said, “We can’t control Mother Nature.” Even if we could I am glad that we are not in control of the weather. As bad as things may be at times, I am sure it would be much worse if we decided when the rain or snow came and if we managed the temperature and climate. What a mess that would be.

So I settled into the “comfortable” environments of the Newark Liberty Airport.

I am sure I do not fully understand the axiom “tribulation works patience” but I doubt that it was intended for situations like my interrupted travel. Whatever the situation, when things don’t go like we planned, the results may be unpleasant or painful but often the unexpected changes result in a wonderful experience.

PATIENCE 4

Unexpected circumstances often provide excellent opportunities to develop and practice patience.  And “patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next” (Romans 5:3, MSG).
Life is not always orderly and predictable. Our path is often through hills and valleys with curves and rough places at times. Detours occur and we may not reach our intended destination on time or not at all. Through it all we have the opportunity to learn and grow. After all, life is more about the journey than the destination. God help us to relax and enjoy the ride.

PATIENCE 5

Jamie Jenkins

 

I thought I would never see it again but there it was. Gasoline under $2 a gallon. That is more than a dollar a gallon less than a year ago. Motorists are saving a lot of money but what are we doing with all the savings?

We can spend it, invest/save it, or give it away.

Giving 5

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver” (Ayn Rand). The same can be said of time. Both time and money are at our disposal. One might seem to have more than another but everyone has the option of how to use them.

Money can be used to acquire “things” that creates a false sense of security and value. Or it can be invested or saved for future needs and opportunities. And, of course, it can be a wonderful resource to assist others. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said it is wise to “get all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

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One recent news story reported that with the cheaper gasoline prices many motorists were opting to buy bigger automobiles that get less mileage per gallon than the smaller cars they currently own. In other words, they have chosen to spend the savings provided by the lower fuel costs.

A person might receive a bonus at work or an unexpected gift comes their way. The first thought may be to remember Benjamin Franklins famous saying, “A penny saved is a pent earned’ and they put those extra funds to work for them in any variety of investment or saving opportunities.

Saving 5Then there is the other option for your “savings.” You can give it away. Most folks don’t have to look very far see places to make a contribution to someone in need or to a church or other reputable charitable organization. It has been said “if you always, give you will always have.”

In a commencement address at Vassar College, Stephen KIng, the celebrated author whose books have sold over 350 million copies, said, “I give because it is the only concrete way of saying that I am glad to be alive… Giving…[puts our focus] back where it belongs- on the lives we lead, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us.”

The Bible says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

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The money we have, whether saving or earnings, can be used in a variety of ways. Lord, teach us to manage the resources wisely.

 

 

Jamie Jenkins

Last Sunday the preacher at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church suggested to his listeners that they have a lot in common with people all over the world. He emphasized the opening words of The Lord’s Prayer are “Our Father.” When we say those words we acknowledge that we are a part of God’s family which includes many siblings who don’t all speak the same language, have the same skin pigment, or practice their religion the same way.

Bishop Woodie White

The preacher was retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie White and he urged us to seek common ground with all of our brothers and sisters.

The bishop reminded us that the measure of one’s love for God was determined by one’s love for others. His biblical text said that if a person “does not love persons whom he has seen, he cannot love God, who cannot be seen.” (I John 4:20-21). No exceptions!

I agree with Bishop White. I wish I had never read these words because as he said, once you have read them you can say you don’t understand them, you don’t like them, or you don’t believe them. But once you have read them you cannot say you don’t know.

I find it hard to love some people, even those who are “like” me. When it comes to people who are not like me, the task is much more difficult. In fact, at times it seems impossible.

C.S. Lewis says it is very simple (Oh, yeah?). He instructs us not to “waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; [but] act as if you do.” In other words when you behave like you love someone you will soon find that you have actually come to love them.

My life would be much easier if the Bible had not told me that if I love God I must love others. Love for people and love for God cannot be separated.

Love One Another 2

Loving in the abstract is not difficult. Loving “up close and personal” is a bit harder and it is not optional for those who follow Jesus. He left us no choice when He said, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35).

OK, I can probably find it in me to love those with whom I share common values and goals. It is not always easy but I can do it. Although it is a struggle at times, I can love my family and friends. It is a different story with a lot of other folks. But when you read the scripture you understand it like Bishop White said in his sermon- “there is no wiggle room.”

Love One Another 1

Oswald Chambers puts it this way: “(Jesus)  is saying, ‘I will bring a number of people around you whom you cannot respect, but you must exhibit My love to them, just as I have exhibited it to you. This kind of love is not a patronizing love for the unlovable— it is His love, and it will not be evidenced in us overnight. Some of us may have tried to force it, but we were soon tired and frustrated’.”

In the late 1960s the Youngbloods, an  American folk rock band, was a “one ht wonder” with their song “Get Together.” The lyrics called on us to “Come on people now smile on your brother. Everybody get together; try to love one another right now.”

Love God. Love people. It is not easy but I am going to try harder.

Love One Another 4

Jamie Jenkins

Approximately 4 million babies were born in the United States last year. if we knew that in the next five years 800,000 of them would die from one disease, we would stop at nothing until we found the solution to that problem.

The situation described above is the kind of scenario faced by parents in sub-Sahara Africa. 1 of every 5 children born in that part of the world will die before they are five years old. A child dies every 60 seconds from the killer disease of malaria. That is over 1400 children every day who lose their lives to a disease that was virtually eliminated in the United States over 60 years ago- malaria. The World Health Organization estimates that 650,000 people will die this year from malaria, most of them children under the age of five and pregnant women.

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The good news: we know how to stop death and suffering from malaria and great progress has been made. Malaria is 100% preventable and 100% treatable. In 2006 a child died every 30 seconds. That death rate has been cut in half in the past 8 years through the efforts of many people and organizations.

In 2006 the United Methodist Church was invited to partner with several other groups with Nothing But Nets, a highly successful program that distributed insecticide treated bed nets to protect people from being infected with malaria. But more was needed.

INM_logo_(horizontal)So in 2008, building on the success of Nothing But Nets, the United Methodist Church established a more comprehensive approach to fighting malaria: Imagine No Malaria. It continues the important task of net distribution and builds on it, adding treatment, education, and communication to bring about a sustainable victory over malaria in this generation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation generously underwrites all administrative costs of the effort so every dollar given goes directly to this ministry.

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Since 2010 Imagine No Malaria has distributed more than 2.3 million bed nets to protect a family while they sleep at night when the mosquitoes are most active. 11,600 volunteer community health workers have been recruited and trained to deliver those nets and to teach people how to properly use them and to instruct them on other preventive measures.

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Imagine No Malaria also provides affordable and accessible medications to the more than 300 United Methodist hospitals and clinics in 16 countries of sub-Sahara Africa. 13 national health boards have been established to oversee the work and to seek additional funding sources.

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United Methodists across the country have contributed $65 million toward Imagine No Malaria’s goal of $75 million by next year. Now we have an opportunity to join them to reach the goal and save millions of lives.

 

Look what $10 can do through Imagine No Malaria::

  • deliver an insecticide treated bed net to protect a family while they sleep to protect them and to kill mosquitos
  • teach the recipient how to use it properly
  • teach the symptoms of malaria and other means to prevent the disease
  • provide early diagnostic kits as well as accessible and affordable medications

Only $10 to save a life. $100 saves 10 lives. $1000 saves 100 lives.

INM TtEXT TO GIVE

To donate:

  • Text MALARIA NGC to 27722 (be sure to leave a space before NGC) and $10 will automatically be donated.
  • Send a check for any amount to the North Georgia Conference, 4511 Jones Bridge Circle, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092 and designate it for Imagine No Malaria.

You can learn more about this effort to eliminate death and suffering from malaria at

http://www.imaginenomalaria.org or http://www.facebook.com/NGCimaginenomalaria or

http://www.facebook.com/imaginenomalaria

We can do more than imagine no malaria. Together we can make it a reality.

Jamie Jenkins

 

Mental Health 3

Americans are very health conscious. Regularly we see and hear reports about obesity, heart disease, and cancer. There is much concern currently over the flu virus that has swept the country.

Medical professionals are constantly cautioning us about one thing or another. A lot of emphasis is placed on certain medical tests, methods of disease prevention, or proper diet and exercise. Strong public campaigns abound for breast cancer awareness, prostate screening, flu shots, and other health related concerns.

It is important that we properly care for our bodies but we need to pay attention to more than our physical wellbeing. Humans are complex creatures and wellness involves a balance of physical, spiritual and mental health.

Churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations emphasize spiritual health and the practice of spiritual disciplines such as personal and corporate worship, Bible study, and service to others. There is an abundance of programs and initiatives to develop strong spiritual beings.

While physical and spiritual (or at least religious) health is a priority in our culture, we fail to focus  as much energy and attention on mental health. We talk about the value of exercise and positive thinking to our mental health but little attention is given, and even less conversation, about depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

Mental Illness 5

Statistics indicate that 1 in 4 Americans experience mental illness every year. Mental health expert and researcher Dr. John Grohol believes that is more likely 1 in 3. That means that 75 million people in the United States experience some form of mental disorder  annually. The National Alliance of Mental Illness indicates that about 14 million adults live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

In 2011 the World Health Organization reported that mental illness — that is, any mental disorder — accounts for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. Yet all we hear people talk about in the media is reducing your risk of these health problems. We rarely hear anyone talk about anxiety or depression.

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According to the U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention,

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.
  • Adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over 50 percent of students with a mental health condition age 14 and older who are served by special education drop out− the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years.

Mental Illness 7

Efforts to address this significant public health issue are complicated by the  fact that there is a stigma associated with mental illness and experts claim it prevents many people from seeking help. Therefore “people coping with mental illness have a lot more to deal with than just the disorder itself. Many people report that the stigma of mental illness, and the prejudices they encounter because of it, is nearly as bad as the disorder’s symptoms themselves.” (www.healthyplace.com)

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What stigma? The following scenario may help answer the question. Imagine that you have breast cancer. Now imagine that instead of NFL football players supporting your illness by wearing sneakers with pink cleats and pink logos on their jerseys, society blames you for your illness. Imagine others looking at you with accusing eyes and whispering about you behind your back when they find out you have breast cancer. Imagine feeling fearful of seeking proper medical help because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job if anyone finds out about it.

People with mental disorders must cope with this type of stigma on a daily basis. But why should they? Mental illness is a disease just like cancer. No one wants to develop cancer. No one wants to deal with mental illness either.

Mental Illness 4

Former president Bill Clinton said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”  God help us to destroy the stigma by addressing mental illness with compassion and working to find cures.

Jamie Jenkins

 

New Year Tweety Bird

I usually start every day pretty much the same. I get up before anyone else in the house and start the coffee maker which was prepared the night before. I make and eat one piece of toast with honey, peanut butter, and banana. I sit at the kitchen table for my quiet time and to read the online “newspaper” on my iPad.

On a normal day I scroll through the news, reading what I choose. Then I come to the comics. If time is short, I go to the comics first. I never miss reading the comics. I eat a bowl of granola while reading the comics. After the comics and the cereal I fix my second cup of coffee and head to the office.

For many years before retirement my office was away from my house but for the past 18 months it is just a few feet from the kitchen. I don’t have to get out of my pajamas to check my email and review  my to do list.

Most days begin the same. The same old person doing the same old thing. Nothing changes or so it seems. The truth is every day is a new day and the routine is a new thing. Although the routine does not change, inside the seemingly unchanging ritual I experience incremental changes that are not visible and knowable immediately.

New Year

My morning ritual may appear boring but it provides the framework for change in my life. Each day I have the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening in my world. It helps me to consider my blessings and my shortcomings. Every morning provides another occasion for me to thank God for the good and to pray for other circumstances that cause pain, suffering, and division. I am able to look inside me and to look beyond myself and ask where I need to change and how can I be a positive change agent locally and globally.

New Year a Good Start

 

Today marks the beginning of a new year. Many people will attend gala celebrations and will make serious statements of resolve about what they hope and plan for during the coming 365 days. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do intend to use my time, talent, and treasure to improve myself and the world during the coming days and months.

New Year Better Man

Someone once said, “Inch by inch everything is a cinch.” I don’t agree completely with that assertion but I do believe that significant and lasting change is accomplished little by little. One does not become a star athlete or an accomplished musician without consistent and intentional discipline. A person gets “out of shape” or physically fit because of their daily regimens. Learning a new language or mastering a new skill comes only by practice and effort. Moral corruption and spiritual maturity are the cumulative results of one’s attitude and actions day by day.
New Year Thank God

I am grateful to turn the calendar to 2015 and greet it with optimism. I begin this new year with this prayer, “God, teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!” (Psalm 90:12, The Message)

 

Jamie Jenkins

Newborn baby

We lived in a  tiny town in Tennessee when our first child was born. I remember that long night in the labor room of that little hospital with my wife. Waiting. Worrying. Wondering Then they took my wife into the delivery room and sent me outside to wait.

After a while a nurse come by with what I thought was dirty linen. I didn’t know that she had our new baby wrapped in those cloths. A few minutes later she came and asked if I wanted to see my son.

I couldn’t believe it was over- or had just begun. The months of anticipation and preparation had ended and now the exciting and frightening journey of parenthood was underway.

In a couple of days we brought our firstborn home to the tiny apartment where we lived while I was in college. Several hundred miles from home. No family nearby. Scared. Excited. What were we supposed to do with this newborn baby? We had no clue.

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Twenty centuries earlier another young couple had a baby in a small out of the way place. Away from home and family. Little resources. Less than desirable circumstances. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had some of the same fears and concerns as we had at the arrival of their firstborn.

It has been forty three years since the birth of our oldest child and I realize that we were not really alone when he was born. God was with us. And through the years as he grew and we tried to guide and guard him, we were not alone. Our efforts at parenting, as inadequate as they were, were complemented by the One who created all of us.

Things have not always gone as we planned. There have been moments of exhilaration and despair. Mountain tops and deep valleys. Things we hoped for have not always been realized and other things we never dreamed of have occurred. Over the course of more than four decades of parenthood I have often asked why. Much that has occurred, both pleasing and puzzling, has left me wondering how it happened this way. Yet through it all I believe God has been with us and with our children.

Parenthood

There have been times that I wished things had taken a different turn and other times I have marveled at the wonderful outcome. But through it all I have trusted that our Heavenly Father watches over us.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph experienced the same kind of emotions as their son grew. How did they feel when the path that they had planned for him was not followed? When he was praised and when he was persecuted? Did they have questions and doubts?

The birth of our first child, and the later births of two other children, changed the course of our lives forever. The birth of Mary and Joseph’s boy not only brought changes to the two of them but ultimately every human being since then.

Thank God for our children. And especially the Child of Bethlehem named Jesus! Merry Christmas!

Jamie Jenkins

Aaron Copeland music quote

I am not a musician and I have no formal musical training but I do enjoy and value a variety of music. Martin Luther and I agree, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”

A few years ago USA Today included Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in a list of “10 great places to be enthralled by heavenly music.” The people that filled the church sanctuary last Sunday night would agree with that claim. The 75 voice Chancel Choir accompanied by a 35 piece orchestra and 27 members of the Georgia Boy Choir offered the 25th Anniversary presentation of The Many Moods of Christmas, a spectacular program of Christmas music.

Tonight my wife and I plan to join friends to “celebrate the season through song” at a Coffee House Concert. I am looking forward to enjoying the coffee and desserts along with friends and members of the community where I live.

Then tomorrow night my wife and I will attend “Jesus and Aretha: The King and Queen of Soul” at Inman Park United Methodist Church. Publicity for this event cautions that we should not “expect the usual Christmas pageant. It’s more meaningful that Hallmark-y, more rock-and-roll than church-y, and lots of fun!” I can hardly wait.

Then on Saturday night we plan to attend the Georgia Boy Choir concert featuring all five levels of boys, a full orchestra, and lots of audience participation including Atlanta’s largest “Twelve Days of Christmas Sing-along.” And next Monday we hope to be present at the Red Clay Theater for Joe Gransden’s Big Band Holiday Show with special guest, Francine Reed.

These events complement what I hear everywhere during this season of the year and affirms Edgar Winter’s assertion that “music is very spiritual, it has the power to bring people together.” Music gives wings to the soul and teaches it to fly. And especially Christmas music.

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The sacred songs of the season are especially meaningful but who doesn’t love to hear and sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. The peppy tunes of Here Comes Santa Claus and Jingle Bells bring a smile to your face and you can’t keep from patting your feet. And you cannot help but become a bit nostalgic when you hear the smooth sounds of White Christmas.

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Friedrich Nietzsche said “without music, life would be a mistake.” I agree but I must admit that when I hear “Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday” on the radio or in a shopping mall for what seems like the 10,000th time, I cringe and wonder if life is really any better because of that song.

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The legendary musician, Ray Charles, said **Music is like breathing. I don’t get tired of breathing and I don’t get tired of music.” Neither do I, Ray. And especially Christmas music.

Jamie Jenkins

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