Good News and Better News… April 17th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Jesus was the Good Shepherd. (Well, I guess He still is, since no one else is qualified or particularly interested in the job.) He spent his whole life trying to find a way to be a caretaker for sheepish human souls.

It began with thirty years of family life–a mother, father, sisters and brothers trying to get along in cramped quarters, being hunted down daily by poverty.

Then, when he felt a stirring in his soul to do more, his desires were struck down by the locals, who insisted he should remain the “carpenter’s son.”

So he moved a little bit down the road to a town called Capernaum, and started a house-front church–Peter’s house. It became very popular–so much so that the folks literally started tearing the walls out.

But then his family got wind of his doings, thought he was crazy and came out to take him home. A little bit of scandal. Suddenly the citizens of Capernaum were not quite as interested anymore.

So Jesus turned to his handful of disciples and said, “Well, let’s take the show on the road.”

He became an evangelist. Since he figured no one in Galilee or Judea was particularly interested, he went to Samaria. He met a woman who helped him build energy and in no time at all there was some excitement and thrilling deeds in the works.

Unfortunately, when he returned back to Samaria shortly thereafter, they wouldn’t let him share anymore because they found out he liked Jews–and they hated them.

He decided to return to Galilee to live off the land and just see who came in. Eventually there were seventy of them–one of those church sizes that is so common today.

Jesus motivated them, sent them out two by two, and their work was so successful that within a few months, Jesus found himself teaching five thousand people–an unbelievable growth spurt.

Jesus had himself a mega church. He was not only leading them but also feeding them. But when he began teaching them about personal responsibility, and the fact that his congregants needed to be on a spiritual journey to have the heart of God toward humanity, they objected. Matter of fact, they got angry, started “splits,” and before you know it, Jesus lost 4,988 members.

He was left with twelve.

That’s a pretty drastic dip. I would think he would have had a tendency to question his technique, method or even wisdom. But Jesus went the other direction. He continued to minister to the twelve disciples, but he focused on three: Peter, James and John.

And although the Good Book says that five hundred witnesses saw him after the resurrection, only 120 were around for the Day of Pentecost.

But Jesus had even shrunk his vision of the three “best friend” disciples down to one.

Yes, on a cool morning by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus stood by the water with Simon Peter and said, “Feed my sheep.”

When it turned out that Peter got a little weary, Jesus appeared on a back road near Damascus and told a chap named Saul of Tarsus, “Stop fighting it. You are meant to be a messenger.”

So even though thousands and thousands of people came Jesus’ way, encountered his message, some even walking away with miraculous healings, he intelligently placed focus on two fellows, who made it their mission to teach the parishioners around them to become disciples–and to change the world.

The good news is that the Gospel is not about building churches and getting attendance. It’s about making disciples.

And the better news is that a contented, fulfilled, excited and creative disciple can reach millions.

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Good News and Better News… April 10th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3273)

I grew up in a church which contended, believed and insisted that baptism was only to be performed through immersion. No “sprinklin’ on the head” for our parishioners. It had to be a full, “ear-washin’, born-again, dunkin’ hullabaloo.”

Our church also believed that communion needed to be served every Sunday, not every once in a while, leaving a congregation spiritually malnourished due to the fact that they had not sufficiently partaken of the wafer and juice.

There were also other fragments of doctrine which were enforced by numerous sermons, as the minister often mocked other ways of thinking, which he deemed heresy.

Even nowadays, every single church on every corner has some pet portion of the Good Book they feel supersedes all others, and sets them apart as the “true Chosen of God” instead of the errant rabble.

Although the mainline denominations, such as the Methodists, will smile at you and promote their flexibility, they still would never think about saying “hallelujah,” clapping their hands, or allowing for the possibility of the miracle of healing in the middle of a service. I guess we need Pentecostals for that.

Every single fragment of a once-noble, unified body of Christ is positive that they are the heartbeat of the Gospel.

Over the years it has become very simple to me–I don’t give a tinker’s damn what people believe. I watch how they act.

Some of the most intolerant, inflexible and mean-spirited people that I’ve worked with over the years seem to possess the most intense Bible knowledge. And other folks, who the righteous would consider to be damnable sinners, have taken the time to wash the shirt on their back before they gave it to me.

Of course, there are all sorts of Christians out there who will tell you that I’m promoting a Gospel of works rather than grace. Actually, all I’m saying is that I can’t thoroughly confirm that grace is at work unless the recipient is gracious.

I’m not so sure people are forgiven if they can’t forgive.

And I definitely don’t see them possessing the Spirit of God when they’re prejudiced against other people.

If you want to find out if a man, woman or child is a Christian, take one morning of your life and work on a project with him or her. Then go back and look at what the fruit of the Spirit is. Because if memory serves me, it is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

When I see those virtues at work, I begin to believe in what people say they believe that they truly do believe.

When I run across grouchy, short-tempered, fussy, back-biting, gossiping and aggravated individuals, I think they are disconnected from their beliefs, even though they seem to be very proficient at quoting scripture.

Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me how you act. And if that has too much “works” in it for you, then go cuddle up to your dead faith.

The good news is that Jesus said “by their fruits you shall know them.”

The better news is that a Gospel that can be acted out is much easier to imitate than trying to mouth holy words.

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Good News and Better News… April 3rd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3266)

Perhaps a good definition for foolishness is to pursue an answer which you already have acquired, hoping that this time you will get a different response.

It’s kind of like when religious people ask, “What would Jesus do?”

I guess the concept is that his desires and inclinations may be such a mystery that we need to go to fasting and prayer to attain them.

Actually, all the church would have to do is ask the question, “What did Jesus do?”

It’s not like his life is a secret. He didn’t withhold his preferences from us. And it’s not like he didn’t lay out a road map for both his personality and his heart–whether it was about politics, where Jesus made it clear that he had no preference–any Caesar was as good as any other Caesar. And in the realm of social matters, Jesus was clear about the existence of the natural order, but if that is altered by human free will, we are not to judge others who choose a different path.

Jesus certainly made it clear that women were equals, though his church today continues to forbid them place and purpose.

So I guess we continue to pose “what would Jesus do?” so that we can slam enough scriptures together, out of context, to make it look like Jesus would agree with us.

What Jesus liked was obvious: humility, endurance, personal responsibility, faith, compassion and honesty.

What Jesus did not like was equally as obvious: hypocrisy, pretense, superiority, laziness, prejudice and over-emphasis on family and culture.

We could make great strides in the church if we ceased pretending that we are bewildered about the mind of Christ. Shoot, the Apostle Paul told us that “we have the mind of Christ.”

So why not use it?

Here’s the good news: Jesus is an open book. (Four of them, in fact–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)

The better news is that when you study his character, you find out that he offers the only path which leads to peaceful coexistence among human beings.

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Good News and Better News… March 27th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3259)

In the midst of the morning prayer at the First United Methodist Church in Port Saint John, Florida, I peeked from my bowed-head position out at the congregation. It was a small gathering.

The church as a whole has been losing folks over the past few years. We could probably do a whole article on that subject, but let’s just work on the basis that there is an “exodus of the chosen people.”

So the denominations step in–Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals and the like–and offer their remedies to try to plug the dike of leaking souls. The answers they come up with are rehashing of former traditions or speculation on how better to use social media.

What they fail to consider is that church is dying because the reason for church has been crucified.

  • Church is for people.
  • People are the church.

When the church does not relate to people, but instead, makes some arrogant attempt to reach God through vain repetition, then people run away to brighter prospects for encouragement and a chance to access their better selves.

People often ask me if I am anti-church. Quite the contrary. I think church is our last bastion of hope to retrieve community among all living creatures.

It’s just that we need to be willing, for a season, to be awkward.

We don’t know what we’re doing.

We don’t know how to reach people.

And we certainly cannot figure out a way to escape our vague practices to translate them into real “soul food” for the everyday consumption of our brothers and sisters.

And for those who have left the church–citing hypocrisy, boredom, indiscretions and scandals–I must say to them: well, it certainly doesn’t bother you that your politicians, your entertainers and your movie stars are riddled with unholiness.

We need people who feel awkward about returning to church to join with those who are awkward about being in church, to laugh and cry their way about coming to church.

Folks, it’s gonna be ugly.

But yesterday morning I watched beautiful, insightful, gentle human beings come together with two strangers and create fellowship in an inspired, clumsy way.

It made me cry–it can be done. But we need to get our heads out of religion and our eyes on the prize of finding new ways to love one another and repent of our foolishness without shame.

The good news? It’s just like when we were learning to date in high school and survived our feeble attempts, to eventually end up in a relationship.

The better news is that if we stop trying to be godly, and just start looking for the goodness that has been placed around us, we literally can become a community of faith that “comes, communes and creates unity.”

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Good News and Better News… March 20th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3252)

If you get a penny for a thought, then sense would cost you hundreds of dollars. It is the commodity the human race haggles for, but often settles for much less dividend.

There are three types of sense: ultimate sense, common sense and human sense.

For the sake of simplicity, let me explain that ultimate sense is, “I’ve got God’s brain.”

Common sense could be defined as, “I’ve got a good brain.”

And human sense, plainly stated, is, “I’ve got my brain.”

None of us have ultimate sense. There are inklings in ancient writings that someday, once we have surrendered to death, all knowledge will be transfused into our eternal spirit. But I secretly believe that the Creator of the Universe will probably hold back a few details for Himself.

Now, common sense is that basic 25 things we learn before the age of five which continue in our adult life if we trust them and pursue them. They make us happy people.

For instance, don’t stick your finger into a light socket (pictured above). Being nice to people, generally speaking, makes them be nice to you. Don’t stick a Q-tip too deeply into your ear. Water boils at 212 degrees, but don’t thrust your hand into it. If you want to be around people, set up a respectable shower schedule.

It is not only common–it is understandable. Most of the difficulty that befalls us is from rejecting common sense. Is it rebellion? Is it stupidity? Is it forgetfulness?

No. It’s when we get overtaken by human sense.

Human sense is that selfish notion that we are unique and require our own set of rules. This makes us ask three ridiculous questions:

  1. What do I lack?
  2. How unfair is this?
  3. Why doesn’t anyone care?

So long before we can get answers, we have to be ministered to and healed of these nasty insecurities which trap us into human sense and deny common sense.

Truthfully, if you want to have a revival in your church, just take three or four months to journey your congregation on returning to common sense, ignoring the selfishness of human sense, which fails to recognize other people or the power of universal principles.

The good news is that God, with ultimate sense, sent Jesus to teach common sense to try to awaken us from our human sense of doom and gloom.

The better news is that if you can awaken the common sense in people again, they begin to believe that God is a possibility instead of a myth.

 

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Good News and Better News… March 13th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3245)

Pictured is the trash can in my weekend motel, which has absolutely no significance except for the fact that I got so involved enjoying the folks at the Roseland United Methodist Church that I failed to take a snapshot of my surroundings to commemorate the event. There’s no hidden message or reference to trash or garbage. Matter of fact, the folks were absolutely delightful, led by an old friend from South Miami, Pastor Cathy.

She is a delightful mingling of the spirit of Mary Poppins with the compassion and tenderness to human beings of Mother Teresa. Simultaneously, she carries a humility that would cause her to rebuke me for comparisons to a jovial Disney character and a Catholic saint.

But what made the people of Roseland so powerful is that they’re still maintaining their humanity. Religion often wishes to drain us of all semblance of ambition and desire in a pious maneuver to transform us into submissive half-angels.

I’ve never been quite sure why we take one of the more endearing parts of the human being–that being the energy to succeed–and baptize it in false humility and solemnity.

Why do we all have to be so bad before God calls us good? Because here’s the truth:

Every human being needs to feel that he or she is important.

If that’s a sin, then may we all be damned. Trying to make God the only important creature in the universe, while insisting that we selflessly give to others while rejecting our own personal desires, is not only fruitless, but anti-Jesus.

Jesus told us “we are the salt of the Earth. We are the light of the world.”

It is our works that people will see, and then glorify God. He said if we’re given much, much is expected of us. He even told us we were his friends because he shared his life with us.

One day, he jokingly explained that we were worth “many sparrows,” and that we would do greater things because he went to the Father, to cheer us on.

The mistake we make in the church is trying to convince everybody how unimportant they are in an attempt to get them to focus on God.

A Jesonian church nurtures such a vision, but in the process, teaches people what really is important:

  • I become more important when I include others.
  • I become more important when I tolerate and appreciate the lives of others.
  • I become more important when I’m not afraid to give.
  • I become more important when I take my talent and multiply it instead of sitting on it.
  • I become more important when I lead with good cheer.
  • I become more important when I realize that I’m allowed to be important, but so is everybody else.

The good news is, once we discover our sinful nature and repent of it, salvation comes into our hearts.

The better news is, Jesus rejoices when we take the message of salvation, go out and become important by doing important things.

 

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Good News and Better News… March 6th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3238)

jesus-politician

They were known as the Herodians.

They were one of three political parties that stumped around in Jesus’ time, completely enveloped in a cloud of self-importance.

Unlike their counterparts, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Herodians had quietly given up on the power of Jewish tradition, scriptural integrity and even the intervention of God. They had decided to seek a more “earthly” solution. In doing this, they proclaimed that Herod was the Messiah and the King of the Jews. This immediately eliminated a need to wait for anything, believe in anything outrageous or follow commandments which seemed to be a dead-end street.

It was the Herodians who actually put the nails in Jesus’ hands.

Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were so frightened of the people that they were never able to come up with a plan to trap Jesus. It was only when the cunning Herodians, with their defiled political thinking, came on the scene, that a plot was put in place to put an end to the “Jesus question.”

I bring up the Herodians this morning because we have a similar situation in America. The church has flirted with politics for years, feeling that it gave them some sort of pass to “big-town thinking.” Yet somehow or another, the religious system was able to keep itself from becoming the whore to Washington.

Then somewhere along the line, we gave up on faith.

We gave up on “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And to a huge degree, we gave up on Jesus.

We started looking for a secular leader to represent us–an imposter–so we once again have come up with a scheme rid ourselves of Jesus.

This is why we’re so confused. It’s why worship has a feeling of vanity and purposelessness to it. Numbers are dropping. The young people are uninspired, and the clergy teeter between fanaticism and apathy.

It is time for us to identify the Herodians, expose them as the quitters they are, and once again give our faith, hope and charity a chance to do its mystery.

Here’s the good news: Jesus is not political.

Here’s the better news: He’s still in the business of loving people and saving souls.

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