Jesonian–Troubling (Part 11)… September 9th, 2017

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Most troubling.

I was a very naive, impressionable fifteen-year-old boy with a volatile battle between carnality and spirituality raging in my soul. I was very enamored with the pastor of my local church.

He had baptized me. In many ways, he had befriended me. And he had welcomed me into the small-town church, which was now growing because young people were bumping up against each other, carrying the fellowship they felt at school into a second Sunday morning experience.

I had also made another friend. He was a young minister from a different denomination–a forbidden one–who was cool, cared about me and loved rock and roll music.

So when I was talking to the pastor of my “every week church” about this young fellow, he suddenly frowned and warned, “Stay away from him. He preaches a social gospel.

I did not know what that meant, nor did I ask. But it sounded really bad. And the delivery was enough to nearly make my heart stop. “Social” could be “socialist,” which was communist. Don’t want any of that. So I cut off all ties with the young minister, much to his chagrin.

For you see, my pastor taught redemption. “The blood of Christ cleanses from all sins.”

And later on in my life, as a young man, I ran across those who preached “the full Gospel.” They believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit and miracles were just as available to believers today as they were in the time of Peter, Paul and Mother Mary.

The bizarre fact is that these three renditions of the Gospel of Jesus–social, redemption, and full–don’t generally get along very well.

It is troubling.

It’s what makes the evangelical church anemic–because it lacks social passion along with personal motivation.

It makes the “social Gospel people” appear to read from a book that in many ways they no longer believe in.

And often the “full Gospel people” contend that without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, you don’t have the presence of God working in your life.

It’s really quite befuddling.

  • Because you can’t start a fire with just a match.
  • Nor can you ignite a flame with kindling.
  • And no fire is possible minus oxygen.

It is the joining of all these forces that makes fire ablaze.

Therefore, to follow Jesus, you must have a social consciousness that shares a redemptive message, believing that God is still in the business of healing and moving by the Spirit.

Why would we want anything less than that? Why would we want to focus on one of these factors of fire, yet end up flameless?

Troubling.

I deeply believe in the social Gospel of Jesus. I believe there’s no need for me to bring my gift to the altar if I am not reconciled with my brothers and sisters. I believe I am to be the salt of the Earth and the light of the world.

But I also believe that when I have obvious, evident weakness, it is the redemption of God’s grace, through the life-saving blood of Jesus, that pulls me through. But once I am redeemed, I am compelled, challenged and exhorted to trust that the same spirit that dwelt in Christ also dwells in me.

My gospel should be full.

And when it is full, redemptive and socially aware, I become of value to myself, mankind and the heavens.

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 24) The Unbroken Circle … October 9th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

It was Meningsbee’s style to arrive at the Garsonville church mere moments before the service was set to begin.

He chose this profile not because he had a flair for dramatics or wanted to bring attention to himself, but rather, desired to communicate that he was arriving with the congregation instead of waiting to greet them.

But a phone call from a very confused deacon, Mack Robbins, had summoned him immediately to the church because of “strange doings.”

Now, the term “strange doings” in a small Nebraska town could range from a fourteen-cent hike on the price of gasoline at the local pumps to somebody wanting to show off a two-by-four that had stuck itself in a tree during a tornado years ago.

But in this case, Deacon Mack was very concerned because fifteen young people from the high school had arrived at the church early with candles in hand and had slowly marched to the front of the sanctuary, sat down lotus style in the front, lit their candles and quietly hummed some unknown tune. (Mack did not recognize the melody, but felt it was not a common hymn.)

Those who were arriving for normal church did not know exactly what to do. Should they be seated? Should they ask the young people what they were up to? Or should they freak out, call their minister and plop the problem on him?

Being good religious folks, they chose the latter.

So when Meningsbee arrived, he saw his entire congregation standing in the vestibule, peering through the partially frosted windows, staring at the circle of adolescent candle-bearers. Collectively, his sheep turned to him, looking for direction from the shepherd.

He whispered, “Why don’t we just go sit down?”

Everyone nodded as if they had heard wisdom from the great King Solomon.

The ninety-five people tiptoed their way into the sanctuary, found seating places and then waited for the Reverend to take care of the bizarre predicament.

Meningsbee perched himself near the front, crossed his legs and then, as if he had sat on a cactus, leaped to his feet, stepped up onto the altar, found a candle, lit it and eased onto the floor with the students.

This was very baffling to the Nebraskans. Was the parson suggesting they do the same? Many of them had not been that close to the floor since the last time they fell and couldn’t get up. So they chose to sit quietly and see where the odd escapade would head.

After a few moments, the youngsters stopped their singing. When they did, Meningsbee took the opportunity to do a little singing himself.

“Michael row the boat ashore, alleluia…”

Meningsbee glanced at the congregation, encouraging them with his eyes to sing along. Some did.

The students listened through one or two passages, and then joined in to the best of their ability. When the song was done there was a moment of silence. Meningsbee spoke.

“It is very important for all of us to return to the last place we sensed something good. Although our questions will never be answered in full, we should remain full of questions. I want to thank you for coming today and giving us the soul of our service. It was Jesus who said that we are the light of the world. You have brought light into our presence. It was David who told us to sing a new song. You have brought us a new song. And it is every intelligent teacher and prophet throughout history who tells us to challenge ourselves. You have sat here, humbly offering your gratitude and expressing your desires. We welcome you. You have made our church today. You are our church today. We thank you. And we want you to know that you’re welcome here anytime–to bring anything you feel–to help us understand the depth of your soul and what’s important to you.”

One of the young men from the circle of visitors spoke up.

“We didn’t mean to interrupt. We thought you would just go ahead and have your service.”

Meningsbee replied, “You see, son, that’s the mistake we make in the church. We think you’re supposed to come in here, learn about what we do, follow the routine and develop a taste for it. That’s not really what church was meant to be. Church is the people coming, expressing what they need, and letting the opportunity of being with God supply it. Don’t ever forget that. And when you come back here again, it’ll be the same way. We don’t exactly have an order of service. We let the service that needs to be provided grant us order.”

The unbroken circle of young folks nodded in approval. The congregation smiled as some cried.

If church was supposed to be a series of beautiful moments of human interaction and revelation, then Garsonville was slowly on its way to becoming a church.

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 2) Front and Center… May 8th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

There was a great glut of human traffic which came to an abrupt halt in the vestibule of the Garsonville Church, as each stalled congregant stared down at their church bulletin, which was only a half-sheet of paper, and mused over the meaning.

It read:

Welcome to Jesus Church!

1. Enter! Take a seat in one of the first five rows on either side

2. Greet One Another

3. A Hymn (Congregation’s choice)

4. Thought Luke 14: 16-24

5. An Effectual Fervent Prayer

As you leave, please drop your offering into the red, heart-shaped box at the back door

That was it.

Through mutterings, groans, misgivings and sighs, the congregation made its way into the church, reluctantly sitting in the first five rows as requested. (Well, three families departed in a huff, and Deacon Smitters perched himself in his accustomed assigned seating near the back door.)

Promptly at eleven, Reverend Meningsbee arrived, shaking some hands and beginning the service. After singing “Wings of a Dove,” as requested by a nine-year-old who was more curious about the title than familiar with the tune, the Reverend spoke.

“Thank you, one and all, for taking a seat front and center. You may wonder why I made this request. In Luke the 14th Chapter, verses 16-24, Jesus tells the story about a man who planned a feast. Of course, we know he’s talking about God. So God has invited people to His feast. They immediately begin to make excuses. They’re too busy, they’re financially engaged, they have responsibilities… Anyway, they turn Him down.

At this point, God says something very interesting. He tells His servants to go out and invite as many people as possible–good or bad–so His house will be full.

Do you realize that every Sunday morning we insult the Heavenly Father by scattering all over this building in little pockets of family, social cliques and pews of tradition, flaunting the obvious emptiness of our sanctuary, never realizing that God wants His house to be full?

We don’t take back seats anywhere else. We don’t go to a concert of our favorite musical artist and sit in the nosebleed section. We don’t go to a restaurant and look for the worst table in the establishment.

But we come to church and think it’s our right and privilege to avoid contact with the altar of repentance, and stay closer to the back door of evacuation.

Not anymore.

If God wants His house full–and He does–since we don’t have enough people to fill it up, we’re going to begin to fill this church from the front to the back. That will give us a sense of being full because we’re all sitting close together, facing the front, unaware of the vacant seats behind us.

This is our first step.

This is our attempt to make this a Jesus Church instead of a church that’s suited to our picky, personal preferences.

So I thank you for being involved in this beautiful experiment. I thank you for your cooperation…”

All at once the pastor was interrupted by a middle-aged man on the third row.

“You do realize, three families left this morning, and there may be more who won’t come back next week?”

The pastor paused, and then spoke in a gentle, metered tone.

“I do. I also understand that the way we’re doing church is driving more people away than bringing them in. I believe those three families will return when they see that what’s happening here is meeting the needs of human beings.”

The questioner shook his head and sat down in disgust.

Meningsbee said a prayer and started to walk away, then stopped in his tracks, turned and spoke to the back of the room.

“Deacon Smitters, we will look forward to you joining us front and center next week. Good day to all of you and God bless.”

The Garsonville Church sat quietly for a moment, as if trying to wake up from a really bad dream.

Undoubtedly the week ahead was going to be filled with vigorous discussion and angry dissension.

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Good News and Better News … February 15th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Good News and Better News Windsor UMC

A carefully constructed bulletin.

Beautiful building.

Decorated altar.

Gorgeous organ.

First-class sound equipment for the praise band.

Prepared minister.

Eager ushers.

Hymns meticulously selected.

Fresh doughnuts.

Delicious coffee.

Ample parking.

Batteries in the wireless mics.

Sunday school lessons.

Nursery workers.

Handicap accessible.

Bathrooms stocked with paper products.

Children’s church.

Carpets swept.

Library open.

Prayers uttered.

Choir rehearsed.

ALL IS PREPARED.

Whosoever will may come.

But they don’t.

Never has there been so much tender-loving care put into the prospect of receiving an audience which refuses to arrive.

It was a bitter-cold Sunday morning in Columbia, South Carolina when I found my way to Windsor.

Absolutely delightful, engaging, intelligent, fresh human beings.

Just not very many of them.

And I guess it would be fine if there wasn’t a general understanding among those attending that something is missing–or rather, a bunch of “someones” absent.

Some of those who fail to attend are former advocates who have left, either through disagreement or just “growing weary in well-doing.”

But many are human beings who have been taunted into believing that there are no real answers within the stained glass windows.

The church has become the standing joke for those who want to poke fun at a group of people they truly do not understand. So there’s a tendency for those who are still warming the pew to turn cold and lose faith.

The good news is that we have the facility to receive our fellow-travelers.

The better news is that while we’re waiting for them to make up their minds, we should work on our own lives, our own joy, our own understanding and our own tolerance.

Jesus was interested in a following that had lips with heart. In other words, what is spoken comes from a place of passion. The beauty of passion is that even if you’re wrong, because you have not hidden your feelings, they can be corrected. And if you’re right, the energy can bring life to those around you.

When you remove heart from lips, you get words that sound dry, dusty and old. But when you add the personal joy and testimony of reality, then the lips can speak the desires of the heart and bring revival.

So to all the good friends I met at Windsor, let me remind you:

While we are waiting for the world to get tired of crazy, let us look to ourselves and overcome our lazy.

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G-33: Propheting… July 18, 2014

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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  • Billowing smoke at the crest of a mountain leaves things a bit hazy.mad as hell
  • Tablets of stone are pretty concrete.
  • The heads of Amorites posted on sticks are not terribly inspiring, but actually, gross.
  • Butchered animals burnt on an altar of worship end up quite smelly.

The Creator needed a more creative idea to reach His creation.

For symbolism may have its charm, but after all, it demands that the person being attracted to the concept have both an interest and some intelligence. And here’s the rub: interest and intelligence are unusual commodities in the human race. We are people who require a more straightforward, human solution.

The Creator, the Father of al, decided to send prophets–human beings themselves and therefore capable of error and misstep, but also valuable because their mortal lips could convey an eternal message.

At first it seemed to be a workable idea. The people were alerted, impressed and even impacted.

But unfortunately, all prophets eventually have to speak unpopular ideas to cantankerous hearers.

So the life expectancy of a prophet dropped suddenly, leaving the job unpursued and frequently unfilled.

Still, it was a better way than killing turtle doves and terminating enemies in the path of the Ark of the Covenant.

“I will have mercy, not sacrifice,” said one of the prophets. Yet the people insisted on killing off livestock.

“I desire to repair the breach.” But people continued to fight instead of searching out reasons for peaceful coexistence.

“Be kind to strangers.” Unfortunately, strangers had little chance for acceptance among a people who deemed themselves chosen.

No matter what the prophets said, the people found fault and eventually realized that not listening to them levied no toll.

We were back once again to Creator and creature, standing at a distance, peering at one another suspiciously.

It was time to make a decision.

 

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Moving On … June 13, 2013

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Du QuoinJust because you find yourself in the position of being a traveling troubadour does not necessarily mean that you’re tickled about moving on.

If you have one ounce of human understanding, you have a tendency to attach to the people you meet, do some bonding and have a spot deep in your soul that wishes you could hang around longer. Obviously, that’s why most individuals settle into a nest, raise some birds and fly around the same batch of trees.

So every time I finish up a show with a new clump of friends, the realization that I must go onward and start over with those who insist that we begin “as strangers” is not only a bit intimidating but also stirs a little sadness in my soul–because I will be absent from those with whom I have just drawn near.

But the gospel was never meant to be placed within a tabernacle and revered around an altar. The message of truth and mercy is a living, breathing organism which finds its energy from renewing and saving the lost.

So there’s always a time for moving on.

When I finished up last night in Sunfield, I climbed up into my van and waved at the folks I treasured for forty-eight hours, stepped on the gas and traveled on. I thought to myself:

  • I have shared my music and heart to the best of my ability and to the completeness of my understanding at this point in my earth journey.
  • I kept it simple so the message can be remembered and cherished.
  • I laughed with those new friends to confirm the power of good cheer.
  • I shed a tear so that God could comfort us.
  • I tried not to be too long-winded, because many words dull the ears and confound the mind.
  • I stayed just long enough to be of benefit–and to learn.
  • And I left–so that the message can be honored instead of me occupying space and demanding notice.

Moving on. It is the miraculous mixture of trusting my talent, the power of the word …  and the souls left behind.

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