Archives for the month of: November, 2018

“Without music, life is a journey through a desert.” I don’t know if I fully agree with that statement by Pat Conroy but I do believe music is one of God’s greatest gifts.

I enjoy music. Many different kinds. Secular and sacred. Instrumental and vocal. Although I like music I do not know enough to really appreciate it. My understanding is limited regarding the gifts and efforts of songwriters, composers, arrangers, musicians, and vocalists.

Next to the Bible the hymns of the Church have fed my soul more than anything else.  I cannot imagine a life of faith without sacred music. The solid theology and the strong words of hymn  writers like Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, John Newton, Fanny Crosby, Philip Bliss, and countless others are invaluable. Hymns like Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing have helped to lay sound foundations for Christians of many generations.

Much of more modern Christian music has also inspired me and lifted my spirits. Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, Third Day, Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, James Cleveland, Keith Green and countless others have made valuable contributions through contemporary Christian music.

I listen to Christian music on the outward bound leg of my morning walks and Bible readings on my return home. My morning routine helps get me started on the right track with a more spiritual emphasis. It is secular music in the afternoon walk.

God uses music of all kinds to speak to me. To encourage and inspire me. To challenge and guide me.

Beyond my love for sacred music, blues and jazz are my favorite genres. The list of great blues and jazz musicians from the past and the present includes B.B. King, Etta James, Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Jellyroll Morton, Diana Krall, Bill Withers, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Harry Connick, Jr., Duke Ellington, and Bonnie Raitt.

For a good number of years when I was home on Saturday night I listened to the music of the Ben Tucker Trio on the radio as they performed from Hard Hearted Hannah’s in Savannah. Following them was the Jim Collum Jazz Band and Riverwalk Jazz Live from the Landing in San Antonio.

It has been said that every bad situation is a blues song waiting to be written. B.B. King said, “Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you. I could play the blues and then not be blue anymore.” Wynton Marsalis adds, “Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance.”

Dixieland Jazz is different from the blues. This music is often associated with New Orleans where it originated in the early 20th century and later flourished in Chicago after World War I. When Joe “Fingers” Webster and his River City Jazzmen play the Muskrat Ramble Medley, try as you will but you cannot keep your feet from tapping and a smile breaking out on your face.

Like Dixieland Jazz, Bluegrass music gets your toes tapping and your hands clapping. This form of music is named after the Blue Grass Boys, a band led by Bill Monroe, a Kentucky mandolin player and songwriter, who is considered “the father of bluegrass.” My father thought that Bill Monroe, banjo playing Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt were the greatest.

I am convinced that you cannot be unhappy when you are listening to Bluegrass or Dixieland Jazz.

Aaron Copland said, “To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” Thank God for music that entertains, educates, and inspires.

Jamie Jenkins

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In my quieter moments I realize how blessed I am. When I think about it I marvel at the richness of my life. Each year has grown better than the last.

On this National Day of Thanksgiving there are more things to be thankful for than I can begin to imagine but below are a few.

I AM THANKFUL FOR…

A warm and dry place to sleep at night.

A safe neighborhood.

Good friends.

My good wife of 50 years (come December 28).

My three wonderful children and their equally wonderful spouses.

My two exceptional grandchildren.

The call of God on my life and God’s willingness to let me serve in the Church.

The opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

The privilege and freedom to vote.

People who allow me to disagree with them without demonizing me.

Teachers.

Clean water.

Retirement.

Good health.

Freedom of religion.

A good sermon- and I hear one every Sunday at my church.

A good church choir- and I hear one every Sunday at my church.

The opportunity to travel and experience this great big wonderful world.

The amazing advances in modern medicine.

Music that entertains, inspires, and instructs.

Technology- when it works.

A reliable automobile that gets me where I want to go.

Folks who do what they say they will do when they say they will do it.

People who say “You’re welcome” instead of “No problem” when I say “Thank you.”

Ice cream.

A winning season for the Braves and Atlanta United.

Coffee in the morning.

Volunteers who serve with no expectation of reward.

The forgiveness of my sins and the grace of God to keep on forgiving.

The following Prayer of Thanksgiving was offered during last Sunday’s worship service. I share it with you today.

Gracious God, creator of all things, you have given us much to be thankful for: this place of worship, the blessings of this day, the world around us.

Apart from you we can do nothing. With you we can do everything. By the power of your Holy Spirit we live and serve you at home, at work, and at play.

We remember how much we have, in the face of a world that says we need more. We are reminded of your graciousness as we see those who go without. Yet in the face of little, you give us much.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Give us the courage and the strength to put our hands to plow your fields. As we do, help us to remember the laborers who first shared with us the Good News.

As we prepare to gather with family to give thanks and feast upon the blessing s of a day set apart for rest, Bread of Heaven, Water of Life, fill us until we want for nothing. Pour out yourself for us. Let us take, eat, and see that the Lord is good.

With grateful hearts we give thanks. Amen.

Jamie Jenkins

 

When a friend of mine is driving he will ask his passengers, “If you were going to (wherever they are going), which way would you go?” This is a wise decision since he has a poor sense of direction.

It’s alright to ask for assistance when driving. After all, isn’t that what we are doing when we enter a destination into our GPS? It’s another thing when the advice is unsolicited.  Like “You should be in the lane to the right.” Or, “The light is about to change.” Or, “Better slow down, you’re going to get a ticket.” You know the kind. Nobody likes backseat drivers.

I wonder if God feels the same about people who offer advice and instruction to the Almighty. The Creator offers direction but it is questioned. An alternative is offered but a “better” way is suggested.

Humans are created with the ability to make choices- to think for themselves- but we are finite beings who cannot always see clearly. Our vision is limited but God sees all things from beginning to end. Nevertheless we often offer God advice on what is best for us. In effect, we are backseat drivers on the road of life. We want God to be in the driver’s seat but we feel out of control and so we second guess God’s ability to guide us in the right direction.

I am willing to allow God to be in the driver’s seat but I seem to assume the right to be a backseat driver. To question God’s knowledge and wisdom. To doubt that God knows what is best for me. Joyce Meyer says, “Trusting God is simply believing that He loves you and knowing He’s good, He has the power to help you, and He wants to help you.”

I want to do what God wants me to do, how God wants me to do it, and when God wants me to do it. I believe that God knows and cares about all of the circumstances of my life. I don’t really want to be a contrarian- but often I am. I seek to live like a Child of God and to conduct myself in a manner that honors God but I find it difficult not to be a backseat driver.

The psalmist said, “(God), You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever” (Psalm 16:11, GNT).

I agree with the psalmist. I know it is true! But I guess I am like the man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). With that confession, my prayer and hope is reflected in the hymn by Joseph Gilmore.

Lord, I would place my hand in Thine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Jamie Jenkins

After my weekly post a couple of days ago I have been reminded of one of the great hymns of the church that affirms the fact that faith in God is not a guarantee that one will be free from tragedy. And that disaster does not negate the value of faith. In fact, it is the confidence that God loves us that sustains us in times of loss.

As a follow up to the Thoughts for Thursday post “Even If” I offer the story of the hymn, It is Well With My Soul.

Horatio Gates Spafford was a prominent American lawyer. He and his wife were also close friends of evangelist Dwight L Moody. The Spaffords invested in real estate but they lost it during the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. Earlier that same year the Spafford’s four year-old son died with Scarlet Fever.

After these tragedies they planned a trip to Europe. However, due to an unexpected business need, Horatio stayed behind for a few days while his wife and 4 daughters sail ahead via the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, on November 21, 1873.

Four days later, the ship collided with another vessel. The ship sank in 12 minutes carrying with it 226 passengers including the Spafford’s children. Unfortunately, only Anna survived among his family.

After being rescued Anna sent a telegram to her husband saying, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Not long after Horatio sailed out to join his grieving wife. As he passed near the spot where his daughters died, he penned “It Is Well With My Soul.”

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain)  

Text: Horatio G. Spafford  Music: Philip P. Bliss
Tune: VILLE DU HAVRE, Meter: 11 8.11 9 with Refrain

Jamie Jenkins

Why is my life filled with so much pain and struggle? What have I done wrong to deserve this? If I just had enough faith, this would not have happened! These and other comments reflect a misunderstanding of faith and life.

There are people who believe that faith in God will prevent tragedy and adversity. They espouse the understanding that God watches over God’s people and will shield them from all harm. They have scripture on their side and they quote verses like 2 Samuel 22:3 “My God is my rock—I take refuge in him!— he’s my shield and my salvation’s strength, my place of safety and my shelter.” Or “God is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

There are many more similar expressions of confidence that God looks out for God’s own- and I believe them too. But we have to consider the whole of the Bible and not just select verses.

The Bible contains many strong assertions that God will protect and prevent people of faith from suffering disaster. There are many examples where that is dramatically demonstrated and the faith of God’s followers is affirmed. Stories in the Bible and history contain details of people who trusted God and were spared. The Hebrew Children is an excellent example. King Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a fiery furnace but they were rescued without even the hair on their head being burned.

Trust God and everything will be alright! But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood the possibility that they would not be spared. With that awareness they said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us… But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

The story of Job is an interesting one. In spite of the fact that he had lost many of the things that were important, he refused to stop trusting God. He said, “Even if God killed me, I’d keep on hoping.” What about the Apostle Paul. It has been said that he is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity and he certainly did not have an easy life.

Ok, so faith does not always prevent adversity but God will deliver those who put their trust in Him. Right? Yes but perhaps not exactly as we would wish.

Chapter 11 of The Book of Hebrews chronicles the exploits of many “heroes of faith.” Their mighty and miraculous deeds are listed and the writer suggests there are too many such people and stories to mention them all. But the record shows that there were others who were tortured, imprisoned, stoned, and persecuted in ways too horrible to mention. “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised” (Heb. 11:39-40 MSG).

“When disaster strikes, or calamity becomes the norm, there is no human logic that can explain all of the questions, ‘Why?’  There are things that, quite frankly, seem to make no sense at all.  Much of our human suffering appears arbitrary and senseless…One day every person faces eternity through death; better to believe in God through His son Jesus, and at least have the assurance of eternal life.  The trials of this life are temporary, even though they may seem to drag on forever.  Faith becomes the reality and evidence of what eternity will one day make vivid and real.”**

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “ For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NRSV).

It is important to maintain faith in a loving and powerful God Almighty. To believe that all things are possible if you believe. At the same time one must realize that faith does not guarantee a victorious outcome in this earthly life. The words to a song by Mercy Me captures what I am trying to say.

I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand. But even if You don’t my hope is You alone.

They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain. Good thing. A little faith is all I have right now. But God, when You choose To leave mountains unmovable give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul.”

Regardless of circumstances the important thing is to come to the end of this earthly journey and be able to say, “I have finished my course. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith.” Then you can be assured that you will receive God’s approval and the prize will be worth the journey (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Jamie Jenkins
*”Even If” by MercyMe- writers: Bart Millard, Ben Glover, Crystal Lewis, David Garcia, Tim Timmons

**Why Should I Believe In A God Who Doesn’t Seem To Help? by Craig Blumel

 

 

As a child did you ever have your mouth washed out with soap because you said a “dirty” word? If so, those are not pleasant memories. Chances are pretty good that if you are reading this, you of an age when that is not going to happen again.

I have been thinking a lot about two dirty words lately. Actually there are three words but one of them is hyphenated. Are you ready? The words are “discipline” and “self-control.” They are not the kind of words that result in a soapy cleaning of the mouth but they are not among the favorite words of most folks.

Jennifer Cohen, says that “Self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately be happy.”* While this may be true, discipline is something that most people find easier to impose on someone else than on themselves. It is not easy to exercise restraint over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.

I tend to articulate more easily in verbal rather than written form. One of the problems, though, is that I can go on and on trying to make my point if I sense that the hearer is not getting it or if I am having a hard time finding the right expression. I can rightly be accused of often talking a lot and not saying much.

In an attempt to discipline myself I have taken on writing assignments with deadlines. It started with accepting the responsibility of writing a weekly newspaper column. The editor expected me to have it ready by Monday and it was not to exceed 500 words. The timeline pushed me to get it done and the limited space required that I carefully selected my words. In later years my job included a weekly e-newsletter with some of the same limitations. Thoughts for Thursday that you are reading right now is an effort to continue that self-discipline even though it is not a requirement of employment and there is no compensation.

My daughter and son-in-law and another family came from California to visit over the Labor Day holidays. We had a wonderful time and food was at the center of much of our enjoyment. When I weighed myself after they had gone I realized that I needed to get serious about the weight I had been gaining.

I decided to begin a routine of walking several miles daily. Three or four miles in the morning. Three or four miles in the evening. At least 4-5 times a week. In the beginning I was faithful to the commitment I made to myself. Then other things took too much of my time. One day it was raining. It was hot in the evening. Then it turned cool in the morning. There are so many excuses that make it hard to discipline myself to keep up the routine.

Of course, discipline is needed not only to make you do things you would rather not do. It also serves a preventive purpose. It is imperative to exercise self-control to avoid actions or thoughts that are harmful to us or to others. One of the definitions for discipline in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”

John MacArthur asks the question, “Why is discipline important?” Then he provides an answer. “Discipline teaches us to operate by principle rather than desire. Saying no to our impulses (even the ones that are not inherently sinful) puts us in control of our appetites rather than vice versa. It deposes our lust and permits truth, virtue, and integrity to rule our minds instead.”

One of the most famous studies of self-control is known as “the marshmallow test,” which found that children who were able to resist eating one marshmallow—in order to be rewarded with two in the future—later showed higher academic achievement than those who had wolfed the treat down immediately. The study’s results seemed to indicate that self-control is an innate ability with wide-reaching implications for our lives, but later studies have suggested that our self-control actually changes significantly over our lifetime, and can be improved with practice.**

Self-control is a desirable trait for every person and is essential if one is to live an honorable and decent life. I wish that discipline and self-control were the “one and done” kind of experience but I know it is not. It is a lifelong effort. The Apostle Paul includes self-control (self-discipline) as one of the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) that characterizes followers of Jesus. The good news is that we are not alone in this lifelong exercise. God is present and willing to help us.

Jamie Jenkins

* https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2014/06/18/5-proven-methods-for-gaining-self-discipline/#4367ccb23c9f

**Psychology Today