Good News and Better News… June 19th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Dislike–deciding to “diss” liking.

In the pursuit of what we call love, and even unconditional love, we’ve reached a point where we just don’t like each other anymore. We have the appearance of Atlas carrying the world on our shoulders because we feel compelled by our civilized natures to be as calm as possible.

We “diss” liking. We claim great affection for souls around us while privately rolling our eyes, communicating that they are annoying.

So when I arrived yesterday morning at the Ruskin United Methodist Church, I was looking for people who like each other. Because here’s the truth–a paraphrase of John the Apostle: I don’t think you can love God if you don’t like people.

It seems that God is really proud of His creation.

I know we portray an anxious deity, constantly perturbed over our sins, but since He gave us the ability and even the permission, I seriously doubt that He will be terribly upset when we occasionally go errant.

The greatest arrogance, the most self-righteousness, and perhaps the sin of all sins, is to believe that human beings are not worth liking.

  • It’s in our government.
  • It’s in our religious system.
  • It’s in our movies.

We are training ourselves to be suspicious, and failing to acquire great moments of human fellowship that just demand a little bit of mercy and grace.

I’m not one to advocate looking in the rear view mirror and assuming that the past was better than the present, but I will tell you, if there was any era when people were given the chance to excel without being pre-judged, then we might want to reach back into that span of time and regain some of that tenderness.

For the good news is, God likes people.

And the better news is, He loves those who like them, too.

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Catchy (Sitting Two)This Young Man … June 18th, 2017

Matthew Ransley was an advertising agent but fancied himself an executive. He was a founding partner in a company called S.E.E.D.S.–an annoying, elongated acronym: “Selling Everything Everywhere, Delivering Success.”

Matthew was very good at what he did. He worked at being congenial but if sufficiently aggravated, could launch into a rampage to defend one of his well-guarded opinions.

It was Tuesday when the phone rang and Mariel, his secretary (though she preferred “executive assistant”) was not yet at work to answer, so Matthew found himself taking the call. It was from Marcus Tomlinson, an attorney—an attorney for the estate of Arthur Harts.

Matthew knew who Arthur Harts was, and had even heard that the old man had died. He listened carefully as Mr. Tomlinson explained about the recent reading of the will and the revelation of the “Make Jesus Popular” addition.

It did cross Matthew’s mind that it might be a crank call. But the attorney established credibility because he seemed to know what he was talking about, including an abundance of information about Matthew and his agency.

“The reason we called you is that we thought that your agency’s name, S.E.E.D.S., sounded a little religious, and in doing a background check on you, we also discovered that you had some interest in matters of faith and such when you were a student back in college.”

Matthew smiled. He remembered. College–a chance to plan your future while simultaneously ruining your life. After graduation he had included every piece of resume-worthy material possible on his application to gain employment.

He had begun a club during his college years, launching a fledgling organization initially called the “Son of One” (he being the only member at the time.) His vision was to create a para-religious/party-motivated/pseudo-intellectual club, which would attract both thinkers and drinkers.

Before too long he achieved a member and they became the “Crew of Two.” Then came another and they became the “Tree of Three.” When a fourth joined, they dubbed themselves the “Core of Four.” A fifth inductee created the “Hive of Five,” and a sixth, the “Mix of Six.” When a seventh young lady cast her lot with the organization, they became the “Leaven of Seven,” where they remained throughout their university years, garnering no new converts.

Matthew assumed this was what the attorney was referring to when he mentioned “some interest in matters of faith.” Honestly, the seven young folk liked to talk about God and politics until the wee hours of the morning while indulging in “the beer and bong.” It was hardly a consecrated conclave, but rather, dedicated to the proposition that all men–and women–are created equally arrogant.

“What is it you want?” Matthew asked. It was too early to chat–or reminisce.

Mr. Tomlinson proceeded to explain that one of Arthur Harts’ dying wishes was to give two hundred fifty million dollars towards increasing the popularity of Jesus.

“How popular does he need to be?” asked Matthew. “I mean, they named a religion after him, and, if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t our entire calendar run by the date of his birth?”

There was a moment of silence. Then Lawyer Tomlinson spoke in metered tones. “Let me just say that I don’t know much about religion, or God for that matter. I am merely performing the literal last request of a very wealthy man.”

“So what do you want me to do?” inquired Matthew.

“What do I want you to do? I guess I want you to tell me that your agency will take two hundred and fifty million dollars and at least try to make Jesus more popular.”

“We could start a rumor that he and Elvis are going to get together and cut an album.”

A pause. “Sounds fine with me,” replied Tomlinson.

Matthew chuckled. It was becoming quite evident that this lawyer was merely going through the motions of fulfilling a contractual oddity. On the other hand, as unusual as the request sounded, the two hundred and fifty million dollars did offer a bit of sparkle. As a founding partner in his business, did he have the right to reject such a lucrative offer simply because it was weird?

The lawyer piped up, uncomfortable with the delay. “Perhaps you could suggest someone else.”

Matthew laughed nervously. “No, I don’t really think I could suggest anyone else. I’m not familiar with any All Saints Agency or God Almighty, Inc.”

“It is two hundred and fifty million dollars. I mean, can’t you do something?”

“Yes,” said Matthew. (He figured it was always better to say yes to two hundred and fifty million dollars. You can revise your answer later, but in the meantime, well, it’s two hundred and fifty million dollars.)

Matthew punctuated his acceptance by adding, “Maybe we could get Jesus to date a supermodel.”

“I think he’s dead,” said Tomlinson, without inflection.

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Jesonian… February 11th, 2017

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Opening my email, I discovered a message from a young man–a friend of mine–who was applying for a job and wanted to use me as a recommendation.

He had forwarded a list of questions from the company and asked me if I would take the time to fill it out and send it to them.

Here are the questions:

  1. Does he or she work well with others?
  2. Is he or she reliable? (prompt, truthful)
  3. What are his or her special skills?
  4. Does he or she take orders well?
  5. Would you hire him or her?

A fascinating thought came to my mind. Even though I would have absolutely no trouble filling out this form for my dear friend, the question occurred to me–could I recommend Jesus for a job? If these same questions were sent to me in relationship to Jesus of Nazareth, what would my candid answers be?

(It’s part of understanding the Jesonian–rather than forming Jesus into our theological image which matches our doctrines, we instead take him on as he actually came, without being embarrassed by his approaches.)

1. Does he get along well with others?

Jesus seems to do well around people who are real, honest, humble, simple, flexible and aware. On the other hand, when he gets around hypocrisy, dishonesty, arrogance and a controlling spirit, he can go into a tirade. Rumor has it that he once threw things across the room because people misused the purpose of the experience.

So I would say, as long as Jesus of Nazareth is in the presence of those who are not afraid of who they are and not making up a false identity, he is a gentle brother and friend.

2. Is he reliable?

Generally speaking, you can count on him to be where he needs to be. Now, whether you can depend on him to be where you want him to be might be a different question.

Case in point: he was contacted to help a dying friend and delayed four days before going. But amazingly, upon arriving, he solved the problem.

Will he fall into lock-step and do what everybody else down the line is doing?

Probably not. But he will complete the task.

3. What are his special skills?

Jesus always contributes his part while encouraging others to bring their talent and faith, and then blends those efforts to a cooperative conclusion. I would say his special skills lie in his uncanny instinct to discern what is needed and provide it at just the right moment.

4. Does he take orders well?

Jesus is very independent–yet when he realizes that information is being offered to him that is wise, prudent and full of common sense, he marvels at it, gets behind that counsel and follows it. Even though he has great ability to lead, he does it from the perspective of his fellow-workers.

5. Would you hire him?

It depends on what the job is. If I wanted somebody to continue to follow a path which has proven to be unsuccessful, unproductive and without merit, Jesus would not be my choice.

If I wanted someone to patiently point out where things can be improved without throwing any attitude or insisting on his predominance, I could not find anyone to parallel him.

Therefore, in conclusion, Jesus probably could not get a job in mainstream America. We want people to toe the line whether it’s right or wrong.

So I sent off the completed form to the company on behalf of my young companion.

I had to smile–because there should have been a sixth question:

Can he or she be trusted?

On that one, I would say I can trust Jesus…with my life. 

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Good News and Better News … October 31st, 2016

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coldwater-back-wall-1From everything I hear in the news media, our country is “angry.”

People are mad.

I’m not really sure what they are so upset about, but I guess that’s why pundits get to dress up and over-explain.

Yesterday when I arrived at the Coldwater United Methodist Church, I met people who are trying really hard to be kind and gentle in an atmosphere of crudeness and despair. Even the pastor of the church is beginning a new phase of her life, expanding the horizons of her ministry–completely and totally by faith.coldwater-set-2

Even though we accept the veracity of the reports about the frustration in our country, the constant repetition of complaint does nothing to alleviate the pain.

But it really revolves around a three-step process:

1. Stop being mad at me.

Yes, I need to stop being mad at myself. Most of the antagonism I feel toward other people is centered in my own dissatisfaction with my choices–especially when it comes to lying. For after all, once we start deceiving ourselves and others, we’re grouchy and fussy because we fear there’s the chance we’ll be challenged or get caught. So the best way for me to stop being mad at myself is to set in motion no lying–and that goes for exaggeration, too.

2. Stop being mad at others.

No grudges.

The grudge is always a piece of pride we fester because we’re not willing to discuss our feelings, fearing that we just might have to compromise. When we no longer insist that other people are “just so stupid that we couldn’t possibly reason with them,” we begin to address the animosity we have with mankind as a whole.

3. Stop being mad at God.

Most Christians would insist they feel nothing but love for their heavenly Father. But since He is our Dad and we are His children, there’s a good chance that occasionally we’ll be pissed off over the household rules–especially since religion comes along and puts the doctrines in stone. You can’t have a relationship with God through religion.

So–no religion.

Religion will not make you closer to God. It makes people prejudiced, self-righteous and nasty.

So I contend that a good portion of what I am called to do is remove the arrogance of anger so that the congregation can manage to forgive themselves, others and God.

That’s the good news.

The better news is: when you have no lying, no grudges and no religion, you find it much easier to relax and enjoy your relationships.

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G-Poppers … October 7th, 2016

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Futility is the soul-gobbling bacteria that carves out the insides of human hope, leaving emptiness.

Yesterday, G-Pop took a little trip over to Bronner’s Christmas Store in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Such a festive time.

Still, it was fraught with inconvenience. Checking out at Customer Service ended up being a rather arduous task, as some mistakes were made by staff. Yet it is difficult to be fussy when Nat King Cole is singing about roasted chestnuts.

Leaving the fantasy world, lunch was procured at a Chinese restaurant. Upon departure, G-Pop discovered that the old black van refused to start. Either the battery was dead or the starter was gone. G-Pop found this distressing because the previous day he’d had repair done on some belts.

He began to feel that odd tingle of futility. Even though he knew that things always work out eventually, being left in the lurch certainly appeared to be unrighteous.

G-Pop forgot the cardinal lesson of Earth journey: No matter what I do, I will do more, so I better enjoy doing it.

Forgetting this abiding notion led to two dastardly conclusions:

1. It’s not fair

2. It’s not possible

So what was G-Pop supposed to do?

Fortunately, there are dual ways of escape from the fracture of futility:

A. If you’re being slowed down, then stop.

In other words, if for some reason you find yourself on the bad end of a deal, it does not help to double down. Go ahead and stop.

G-Pop just sat in his van for about two minutes, considering options. Fortunately for him, he was in the middle of a commercial region, and there was a car dealership across the street. So on to Step 2.

B. While you are stopped, take inventory.

What did G-Pop have?

He had two friends with him–one who was more than willing to go across the street and procure help. Apparently it was a very slow day in Frankenmuth car land, because in no time at all, there were four agents from the dealership gathered around the van, trying to figure out how to fix it.

It was determined that a starter was needed, so one was procured, and fortunately, was so easy to put on that the vehicle didn’t even need to leave the parking lot.

In less than an hour, G-Pop and friends were on their way.

Now granted–it was too expensive, and the dealership people were grinning the whole time because they were making a killing. Sometimes that’s just the price for peace of mind.

For after all, futility is the little piece of arrogance we save back for those occasions when we believe that God is not doing His job.

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Good News and Better News … October 3rd, 2016

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good-news-frankenmuthUnderrated:

The cheese on a pizza.

Sliding on a pair of socks which just came out of the dryer.

A plate of nachos when you’re really, really hungry.

An evening of television without politics.

The Frankenmuth United Methodist Church.

Yes, to the outside observer, the congregation meeting in Frankenmuth seems to be a small, middle-America United Methodist Church. As a society, we’ve nearly given up on such institutions.

I totally disagree.

From the minute I stepped in the door and met Pastor Scott, with his warm, inviting, gentle ways, to when I walked out to climb in my van, I was awarded the opportunity to be in the presence of untapped miracles.

By no means am I trying to tell you that the emotional environment of the Frankenmuth United Methodist Church is suited to the taste of the common person. To him or her it would still reek of religion and provincial thinking.good-news-frankdnmuth-sign

But the potential is there to do great things for mankind. What is missing?

Joy.

Joy is the unity of confidence and gratitude: A confidence based on the fact that we feel valuable, and a gratitude because we know a bit about our own unworthiness.

  • Too much confidence appears to be arrogance.
  • Too much gratitude creates a timid soul.

How do we generate joy?

Joy is when our “face shows our place.”

In other words, it bubbles out. Peter, in the Epistle, declared it “a joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

The folks in Frankenmuth still believe that their “Father, which art in Heaven” is a hard-ass. It’s just difficult to look at Him as “Daddy” when you find His demands unrelenting.

It causes them to be cautious–more fearful than appreciative–and it makes them reluctant to invite others to church because they’re pretty sure their friends would be unimpressed.

The good news is, if the Frankenmuth United Methodist Church would allow for more emotion in their worship experience, they would begin to realize why they meet together.

The better news is: when they are more certain of the reasons for their gathering, others will want to gather around their reasons.

 

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Ask Jonathots … May 19th, 2016

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I heard an Olympic official on a national television news show say, “People will always cheat. It’s human nature.” Do you think this is true?

“To err is human and to forgive is divine.”

This is the classic axiom.

Unfortunately, the proverb has a missing piece. Actually, it should state: “To err is human, but to repent is human also.”

There are two little devils that chase the human heart, trying to turn us into scoundrels.

Ignorance and arrogance.

We only become hapless when we try to combine these two and justify one with the other.

For instance, I may say something stupid, which is completely forgivable unless I try to convince you that it wasn’t stupid at all–you either misunderstood me or you’re not hip to my particular perception of life.

Ignorance is forgivable.

But when it links up with arrogance, not even divinity can salvage such a stubborn creature.

So my problem with the statement provided in your question is that as long as we view cheating as a normal side road taken by humans which needs to be avoided and confessed, we are fine. But when we begin to believe it’s part of our character–an arrogant segment of us that cannot be removed–we not only lose our redemption, but we lose any portion of us to redeem.

So what is the correct profile?

  • Ignorance happens.
  • Ignorance is exposed.
  • Ignorance is confessed.
  • Forgiveness is granted.
  • Knowledge expands.

This is the process that makes a solid human being.

But if we express ignorance, have it exposed and we defend it with our arrogance or insist that what we have done is “no worse than anyone else,” then forgiveness is impossible and knowledge is stalled.

Repentance is not a noble action, but rather, a necessary position that all humans take to make sure that we progress in wisdom and understanding instead of finding ourselves falling back on the failing positions of former times.

So in conclusion, I would say that ignorance happens, and as long as arrogance doesn’t show up, repentance can open the door to forgiveness, which allows knowledge to rule the day.

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