Jesonian … December 23rd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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A baby being born in a sheep stall in Bethlehem of poor Palestinian parents is not difficult to believe. After all, poverty extracts much of the comfort of good cheer.

Maybe the angels seem a little far-fetched to you (but you know how it is with stories about your young’uns.)

Believing that a year-and-a-half later, a troop of astrologers made their way into town to proclaim this child the hope of the world and the King of the Jews does seem highly unlikely–yet there are always people who have their eccentric ways and live them out because they have enough money to fund them.

Comprehending that there could be a leader of a nation who was so insecure that he was frightened of any competition, and scared a young family away, fearing for their lives, does not seem improbable. Matter of fact, it could be ripped from the headlines. One more refugee family ending up in a foreign land where they have neither kin nor kind is certainly well within the grasp of reality.

Having that young boy return to his alleged home town at age seven, carrying all the trappings and mannerisms of the heathen, would certainly make growing up difficult, not to mention the colliding wills of an every-growing collection of siblings.

Thinking that this boy would have no interest in carpentry, but instead, a precocious passion for humanity and the things of Spirit, is not implausible. After all, he’s the ugly duckling, whom we assume might one day become a swan. He grew in wisdom and stature, and even though he was a foreigner, gradually gained the favor of his neighbors.

It’s not difficult to believe that he lost his Papa, his only real connection with the village of Nazareth, and like many young men, launched out to find some purpose, ending up at the Jordan River, interacting with a wild and wooly cousin named John.

You can certainly believe he got baptized, and probably went out into the wilderness for a while, just to find himself, coming back with claims of interfacing with the devil. You might even forgive his youthful explanation, knowing that to some degree, we all wrestle with our demons.

But the story stalls.

He is rejected by his home town, moves to Capernaum next to the Sea of Galilee, encompassed by a sea of apathy, picks up some friends and followers, and starts traveling the countryside. It is hit-and-miss at best.

It is at this point that many folks who consider themselves to be intelligent and reasonable become cynical about a miracle-worker who calms the waves and casts out demons. But to a certain degree, even those sardonic souls might be able to explain away this and that, but still maintain their interest in the story–especially since he begins to hammer away at religion, loses the favor of the crowd and opens the door of the hierarchy to plot against him, find a betrayer, try him, beat him, nail him to a cross and kill him.

If the story ended there, the baby born in Bethlehem had a life that was a complete failure. His friends are scattered in every direction, his movement was about to become a joke–a piece of farcical history.

So this is where faith comes in. That’s right–you don’t really have to use much to this point. You can just glide along with the story, picking and choosing at will.

But the tale that unfolds, spoken of by those who claimed to be eyewitnesses, is that this baby of Bethlehem rose from the dead.

Now … faith is in full function and also full demand.

Did Jesus of Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Jordan River, wilderness, Capernaum and Mesopotamia end his life as a failure, beaten down by his critics?

Or did God, the power of the Ethos and the Spirit of the Universe, choose to resurrect him to give the message one more chance?

It’s a very important decision.

It changes this story from a baby shower to a heaven-ordained miracle.

For as we know, several weeks later, a hundred and twenty people in an Upper Room believed it was true. Twelve disciples gave their lives as martyrs, insisting they had witnessed a resurrection.

And at last count, 2.2 billion humans still living two thousand years later have taken their faith beyond the crib, past the crypt … and placed it in the Christ.

 

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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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5:02 A.M. … August 15, 2012

  • Loser — Part 2
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Death stinks–the smell of dried blood, perspiration and urine, scents that rattle the consciousness to a new awareness of mortality.

Fifty-seven minutes to complete the job. For after all, if we’re going to be good little Jewish boys and girls, we must get this body off the cross, wrap it up and place it in the tomb before six o’clock or somebody will be mad. It seems that the religious system is not satisfied to merely, try, convict, condemn and execute. They also want to make sure there’s not enough time for a decent burial.

A decent burial–what does that mean?

He’s dead. How? Why does the healer lose to the executioner?

It took us thirty minutes to get the nails out of his hands and feet. Even though he was stone cold, respect for his body made us do the labor gingerly, so as to not further tear the flesh. So broken. Nearly drained of blood, yet still his legs are purple and bruised. Wrapped in a cloth, to be thrown in a tomb for future consideration.

I just don’t understand. Why didn’t “love your neighbor” work? Why did it all come down to the masses, who benefited so much from his love, and the disciples, who were so enriched by his life, standing up for him instead of proclaiming openly that “they didn’t know him?”

Sitting here thinking about “blessed are the meek” when it is so obvious that the strong, willful and arrogant have won the day. He warned us not to judge others, yet he, himself, was judged and killed. He proclaimed that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Now he is “lorded over” by the approaching Sabbath, crowding out any moments for reflection and dignity.

Is it wrong of me to say I didn’t want to lose? Can I tell you that I’m disappointed? That I thought I had backed a winner? And now here I am, covered in his blood.

But I have no place to go. I have nothing to believe in. You see, what I have is a God who appears to be without love. I have a religion without mercy, a country without a leader and I am a follower … without a friend.

I try to remember better times in Galilee. I think about the conversations we had while fishing. It was so rich with humanity and tenderness, and now it’s relegated to a thirty-minute race to drop the body off in a cave and head back home–supposedly to honor Jehovah.

But I do remember he told us that a prophet “has no honor in his own country and amongst his own kindred.” Just last night he told us he was going “to prepare a place for us.” And even though our ears were not tuned to the message, on many occasions he warned that he would be delivered into the hands of evil men, but on the third day…

The third day. When would that be? Was he counting today? Or does it begin with the morning? What did he say would happen on the third day?

He would rise again. A quick glance down at the corpse removes any inkling of that possibility.

So who am I without him? Are we all losers? Is losing inevitable? Can I afford to give three more days to find out what his message might have meant?

Interesting. Maybe I could use the time wisely.

So what is this loser from Capernaum supposed to do when his best friend, Jesus,  is brutally murdered and jeered at–as a loser?

I guess, on Day One, I should just sit and heal. What does that mean? Healing is always when we cease to consider our pain and we start to believe in our restitution.

Day Two. Maybe I could just take time to rediscover my vision. If Jesus is dead forever and I am still alive, what can I take of Jesus into my life? Do I just want to go back to fishing? Or am I curious enough to find out what he meant by me becoming a “fisher of men?”

And on Day Three, it will either be disappointment or perhaps … resurrection. Why do they spend so much time in life instructing us on how to win when most of the time we need to know what to do with a losing situation–to turn it around to better ends?  Am I prepared to go to Day Three if it holds disappointment instead of resurrection?

Yes. Because even having the blessing of believing for two days that there might be more to come is well worth surviving the disappointment.

When did we become losers? For a brief time it seemed like we were going to rule the world. And now we don’t even have enough control to bury the dead.

Loser. I never associated that word with my friend. But maybe if he didn’t make himself vulnerable enough to be cast away from success, he would never have truly been one of us.

  • I will heal.
  • I will restore my vision.
  • And I will prepare for resurrection.

My name is John. And I have decided–believing is always preferable to self-pity.

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Where do we go from here?… July 6, 2012

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She crinkled up her nose like she had just sniffed a basket full of sweaty socks at the Y.M.C.A. I could tell by her scrunched-up countenance that I was about to receive a little piece of nasty criticism. She asked, “Why don’t you go to bigger places where you could do more good and help more people instead of coming to small towns with congregations with so little attendance?”

She thought she had invented the wheel. She believed she had discovered a weakness in my effort and had uncovered a fragment of stupidity in my planning. I asked her a simple question.

“My dear, what’s working?”

It stumped her. Because even though she was bound and determined to prove her point, there doesn’t seem to be much in our society that is heavily promoted which is accomplishing anything resembling resolution.

If you turn to the world of politics, there is just too much to prove to produce any power. My dear Lord, you have to convince everybody that you’re a reputable Republican or a distinguished Democrat before you are able to step into the ring and do something to improve the circus. By the time you get done being a pundit for all the platforms of your particular political persuasion, you have used up all the time granted you on the stage of opportunity. Neither one of the political parties have all the answers, and worse, neither are even asking the right questions.

You can feel free to go to religion if you want to, but then you find yourself in the unenviable position of having too much to defend. I will tell you, my dear friends, that I am a person of faith and spirituality, but I have absolutely no intention of trying to explain the Bible. Greater men than me have attempted that feat, and have ended up looking overly pious or have been disproven by the flow of knowledge. I am not going to defend anything. If it can’t stand on its own, then it should suffer from its inadequacy. So I can’t participate in religious ceremony because it just has too much to prove.

Corporations are equally as inhibited and waterlogged. There’s just too much profit to be made. When your latest business meeting is about finding ways to cut employees in order to increase your bottom line, more than likely you will never be considered top of the line. Just too much to profit to have the vision for people and better products.

And I have no intentions of leaping into the forefront of the entertainment industry, which is basically occupied by many pseudo-intellectuals who are more historians than history-makers. They would much rather discuss the subtleties of a scene than risk producing new art that challenges and awakens the audience. Just too much to posture. I never like to be around a group of people who believe they prove their worth by how much they know instead of how much they do.

This is the same position Jesus found himself in when he came out of the wilderness and decided it was time to start his work. There were many, many large towns and countless affluent people looming the horizon. He picked Capernaum. It would probably be the last choice of most individuals who were trying to get a pulse on first-century society. It was tiny, behind the times and certainly out of the flow of the general direction of politics, religion, commerce and entertainment.

So why did he do it? Was it just an attempt to be humble? Or did he know something that other people failed to recognize? Let’s take a look at it from his perspective. If the Jewish religion was going to be decimated in the next seventy years and the Roman Empire would cease to exist within four centuries, there was no wisdom in planting the seeds of your ideas in the format of those who were doomed to be left in the history books. It was necessary to find an environment where the elements of renewal would be received because they were viable to everyday life–not because they were trendy.

Here are the keys to making a difference:

1. Find people who still believe in their talent, but want more. Capernaum was a fishing village. They pulled the sustenance to keep them alive out of the nearby water, and they knew they were at the mercy of nature. These people were prepared to learn more about earth and God. If your coffers are full, it’s hard to believe you lack anything.

2. Find people who use their abilities but aren’t stubborn about tradition, and still seek ways to do it better. One morning, Jesus happened upon Peter and his fishing companions and asked them how they had done during their night’s fishing expedition. They had caught nothing. He told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. At his word, they did–and pulled in the most fish they had seen in years. Had they been conceited, overly frustrated, pious about their knowledge of the sea, or just aggravated with the turns of life, they would have missed out on pulling in 153 fish. That’s right. We get a count.

3. Learn from people who do it better than you. No one is able to swallow pride, so you might want to spit it out instead. But after you spit it out, realize that it’s not nearly as painful to learn and improve as it is to repeat and fail. Check around. See if there’s anyone who knows more than you do and quietly acquire their storehouse of information.

4. Find people who are willing to stop critiquing. America is obsessed with judging things. Having an opinion is dangerously like stopping on the freeway in the middle of seventy-mile-an-hour traffic. You may know why you did it, but it won’t keep people from wanting to smack you. Keep driving, but learn as you go. Don’t criticize. It makes you look arrogant and stupid.

5. And finally, get somewhere with people who understand that they need to be happy. None of us like grouchy folks. We try to be tolerant but they really do tick us off, the thought being: “We’ve got just as much reason to be grouchy as they do. Why don’t they shut up?” If you can find people who understand that happiness is everything, so therefore, choosing to even fake it from time to time while you’re waiting for it to reappear is the safest way to live, you will find yourself in an environment where God feels like He can show up without having to dodging too many complaints.

So–to give a final answer to my lady who thought she was enlightening me with the need to be more famous, I tell her this:

Nothing is going to happen in this country unless the people who live in the grass roots, who don’t have too much to prove, too much to defend, too much to profit and too much to posture, step forward, use their happiness and learn better ways to love the world and use what they’ve got.

Where do we go from here?

One by one, to the next person who selects a smile instead of frowning at all the choices available.

   

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