Good News and Better News… October 2nd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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She was a sweetheart.

During my two presentations at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Clermont, Florida, I got a chance to meet this delightful woman.

She bounced up to my book table and engaged in conversation. About halfway through our exchange, her face got a little more serious and she asked me, “How do we rate? I mean, you go to places all over America. How would you rate our church?”

I knew she wanted a serious answer, yet I wasn’t going to placate her nor was I going to try to place some burden on her heart by pointing out an inadequacy.

“You’re kind of right in the middle,” I said.

She started to smile, then squinted and replied, “Well, that’s not very good.”

After nearly forty-five years of traveling America and sharing in a vari=ety of venues, many of them churches, I will tell you what makes a good church. It begins and ends with the word “generous.”

One of the most chilling statements Jesus offered to his disciples, and to us who would follow his message, was “to he who much is given much is expected.” So it’s a little optimistic to think that you’ll receive eternal salvation while lounging on a heavenly hammock. So here are the three things that make a great church:

1. Generous space.

Sanctuaries are too cramped. They’re confining. This stifles the sensation of freedom. Since your church probably is not filling up the sanctuary for every service, take come pews out. Create room. Make people aware that they have the freedom to extend their legs and arms. Give children a place to crawl.

Clear everything unnecessary from the platform. There should be room for three or four people to stand side by side easily.

If you give air to the room you give air to the people to give air

2. Generous face.

If you’re not going to talk to someone, don’t peer from a distance. It’s creepy. And when you walk up, don’t stay too long, but do make eye contact while you’re there.

We met a fabulous brother named Joe at Shepherd of the Hills. He was not an “average Joe.” He was loving, giving, kind, and made us believe that we had a primal place in his present consciousness.

No one expects you to be a counselor or long-lost friend from high school, but grant folks the dignity to enter your generous space and receive your generous face.

3. Generous grace.

You have no right, privilege or scriptural authority to probe into the lifestyles of those who worship next to you. Share the Gospel of Jesus and let the Gospel do its work. The Holy Spirit is much more adept at convicting people than you are with your gossip. I don’t care what you hear about people. I don’t care what you think about people. At no time do you, I or anyone else have the permission to judge anyone.

It is possible for any church in America to become a Jesonian church–a Jesonian Catholic, a Jesonian Baptist, a Jesonian Methodist, a Jesonian Lutheran, a Jesonian Pentecostal–but it requires you to take on the heart of Jesus instead of pounding your favorite theological nails.

The good news is that Shepherd of the Hills Church has this delightful lady who is not willing to subsist in the middle.

And the better news is, if you make your church a generous space with a generous face, offering generous grace, you will grow.

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Catchy (Sitting Four) Ideas Are a Dime a Dozen… July 2nd, 2017

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The day arrived for the meeting of the minds. Landy rented a small conference room and catered in some delicacies and drinks. The three partners sat at the head of a table like a trio of judges at a Miss America contest.

The Shelley Corporation was the first to present. They had been given the job of producing three slogans. The first was a poster–a man dressed in a plaid leisure suit with his hair slicked back. The caption read, “But Jesus—He will never go out of style.” There was a grunt or two and a threat of applause.

The second poster was a close-up of a Jesus look-alike. The caption read, “Here’s lookin’ at you, baby.” Too commercial and might raise some objections from Hart’s estate (and perhaps from relatives of Humphrey Bogart).

The third one was a cartoon of Jesus playing soccer, kicking in the ball for a score. The caption, in large red letters, read, “Goal? He loves you.”

The partners liked this one least of all, finding it a bit confusing and reiterating to one another that soccer would never be an American sport, anyway.

Next on the chopping blocks came the “You Want to Know Survey Company,” with the results of a questionnaire that had been given to over fifteen thousand registrants. The ten questions were as follows:

  1. Would you enjoy eating dinner with Jesus?

The choices were:

  • very much
  • might be fun
  • never thought of it
  • might give me the creeps

Fifteen percent of the people said they would enjoy dining with Jesus. Fifteen percent said it might be fun. Sixty percent said they had never thought of it and ten percent said it kind of gave them the creeps.

  1. Do you think that Jesus is popular today?

Four percent said “Very popular.” Eight percent said, “Somewhat popular.” Eighty-eight percent said, “Don’t know” or “Don’t care.”

  1. Do you think Jesus would be more popular without his beard?

One percent said, “Maybe.” Ninety-nine percent said, “No.”

  1. Do you think Jesus would be more popular if he weren’t so religious?

Fifty percent said “yes.” Fifty percent said, “Don’t know.”

Randall stifled a yawn. There were six questions to go and he was already bored. If they couldn’t come up with an interesting survey, how could they ever come up with a campaign to promote Jesus to the marketplace?

The questions droned on as Randall began to think about his own experience. He was raised in a church environment, learning about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and Jesus all in the same week. At four years of age, all three seemed equally plausible. By age ten the tooth fairy had fluttered away. At twelve, Santa Claus was “sleighed,” and at sixteen—well, at sixteen, girls came into the picture and Jesus got in the way.

So the crucifix was tucked under the t-shirt, the Bible inserted in the closet with the Scrabble game and the Ouija board, and he was off on the pursuit of hormonal surges, drinking binges and mandatory orgasms. After exhausting all known religions, he formed his own—a delicate blending of humanism, hedonism and Methodism.

Meanwhile back at the meeting, the survey was completed, rendering no results. The only thing remaining was the panel of theologians– four in all. There was one Catholic, one Protestant, one evangelical Christian, and, for some reason, a Jewish rabbi (who was possibly selected to avoid any hint of anti-Semitism).

The Catholic priest spoke first. “If by popular you mean the Savior of the world in conjunction with his mother, Mary, and the intervention of the Saints, then Jesus is already truly the most outstanding figure in all of history.”

The partners nodded an exhausted assent.

The Protestant spoke next. “I think we have to do something to make Jesus groovy to the young people. You know how they came up with ‘Rock the Vote?’ How about ‘Vote for the Rock’?”

This time there was no way Matthew, Randall and Landy could hide their disapproval. After all, he said “groovy.” Matthew, who had long ago lost the ability to disguise his disgust, groaned audibly.

The evangelical literally leaped into the moment. “I think you need to just let Jesus be Jesus, because He said if He be lifted up, all men would be drawn to Him.”

“He has been lifted up,” inserted Matthew. “And Arthur Harts, the billionaire, didn’t think all men were drawn to him.”

“All men who have a heart for God,” replied the evangelical.

Matthew winced. He hated religions jargon. He called it “the God-out.” When in doubt, religious people would always bring God into every situation, so you could never argue with them without seeming that you were trying to disprove the heavens.

Randall smiled and thanked the enthusiastic believer.

That left the Jewish rabbi. “Well, I don’t know why I’m here, exactly, because, you may have heard, we accept Jesus as a great teacher, but we contend the problem is, he’s really not the son of God. I mean, if I were promoting him to Jerusalem, I would just put up his picture with a caption that read, Hometown Boy Is Acquitted.

This brought some laughter throughout the room, but Matthew sprang up to terminate the meeting.

Even though it was a minor disaster, both Landy and Randall still wanted to pursue the project.

Greed. No other explanation.

They had pledged long ago that when two of the three partners were in accord on anything, they would do it. But it looked bleak. The slogans had been drab, the survey droll, and the theologians a drone.

Matthew had one idea. One wild and crazy notion. He got on his computer and looked up six names.

Michael Hinston, whom he knew as Mikey.

Joanna Lawrence, Jo-Jay.

Susannah Lacey, Soos.

Paul Padwick, who tolerated the nickname, Pee-pee.

Mary Rogers, who was now Mary Rogers-Kent, known by everyone as Mother.

And Lydia Lars, who loved Eric Clapton, and so was surnamed Layla.

Along with Matthew Ransley, whom everyone affectionately called, “God-guy,” they formed the Leaven of Seven.

They were his best chance at making some sense of this queer mission.

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 27) Carpet Bombing … October 30th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

You can’t have valleys without mountains. It’s the beauty of the landscape of life.

In the midst of the sludge of mundane activity and the alarm of tragedies, there are everyday decisions which either tickle the funny bone or leave us with a tiny ball of aggravation which tends to growl for weeks after the infestation.

Mike and Maggie had been wed for thirty-two years. They were married at the Garsonville Church. They had served on almost every committee, and faithfully performed the duties of nearly all positions. Although they loved each other dearly, they rarely agreed when it came to matters of what should be done with the sanctuary.

Ten years earlier, they had a huge conflict–long before Meningsbee arrived–about carpet.

Maggie was a traditionalist, a woman whose grandparents came to America from Ireland during the potato famine. She had fiery red hair, now streaked with gray, and possessed a Catholic passion with her Protestant faith.

Her husband, on the other hand, was a progressive–well, as progressive as you dare be in Garsonville, Nebraska. He nearly convinced a majority of the church board to sell the organ to put a down-payment on a project to build a gymnasium, so the local kids could come and play games on Saturday, with the intent that they might decide to stay over for Sunday services out of curiosity.

The measure lost by one vote. Maggie’s.

Even though the two loved each other faithfully, they rarely agreed on God’s will for Garsonville.

So when it was time to purchase carpet ten years earlier, Maggie insisted the only suitable color for the sanctuary was red. She had two reasons. Red carpet was a sign of welcoming and also a tribute to the blood of Jesus.

Mike strongly disagreed. He contended it was “just too red.” He led a group which desired cranberry carpet from Dalton, Georgia. Amazingly, this time, unlike the gymnasium, the “cranberries” won.

So the sanctuary was covered with cranberry carpet, much to the chagrin of Maggie and her crimson cohorts.

Now, recently…

There had been complaints that the cranberry carpet was looking dingy and needed to be cleaned, so it was agreed to find a contractor to remove all the pews so the carpet could be shampooed. It was quite a job.

Several local carpet cleaners bid on the job but it was the Garsonville Bubble-Uppers, a new firm in town, which underpriced the competition and was given the contract.

Arrangements were made to hold services elsewhere for two weeks so the cleaners could have full access to the church and be able to do a great job.

Everyone was elated. Maggie thought cleaning the carpet might make it more red, and Mike was convinced that such a cleansing would restore the original beauty of his cranberry vision.

But no one was prepared for what happened.

One of the young men working with the Bubble-Uppers thought it might be a good idea to add a little bleach to the concoction which was traditionally used by the company. He didn’t inform anyone of his decision–just poured it in.

So they scrubbed the carpets faithfully, only to discover when they returned the next day that the cranberry carpets had been transformed.

They were orange.

Bright orange.

The Bubble-Uppers were very apologetic, and refused to charge the church for their services, but a very shocked and bewildered congregation restored its pews on top of a carpet ablaze with bright fall-colored pumpkin.

Everyone was afraid to say too much about it–they knew there was no money in the budget to get new carpeting.

So for the first time ever, Mike and Maggie came to consolation.

Mike decided that orange was better than red and Maggie was convinced that it was closer to red than that horrible cranberry.

 

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Ask Jonathots … March 31st, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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My fiance was raised as a Catholic and I grew up Presbyterian. We plan to compromise after we’re married by going either to a Lutheran or Episcopal. But I don’t really like the solution. Neither one of us think the denomination makes any difference, but it did get me thinking. What do you think about this dilemma–especially since we want children?

I have always been of the contention that what you believe is much more important than where, when or even how you believe.

I think the problem with a compromise in spirituality is the notion that all outlets for the Christian message actually offer the heart, soul and mind of Jesus of Nazareth. They really don’t.

In the pursuit of finding the climate that suits a congregation, a church often has to place the more intense convictions of the faith on the back burner. It’s not a malicious act, but it is a purposeful one.

So I think it’s possible to visit every denomination for one Sunday or a couple of Sabbaths, introduce your own belief system into their atmosphere, and have an absolutely delightful time. But after a while, they will desire that you acquiesce to their cultural preferences instead of sharing your more basic beliefs.

So I think the decision of whether you go to an Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic or Presbyterian because you think they all believe in the same God is errant. What you want is to go to a church that understands the important values you treasure and leave there with a soul-satisfying experience.

I think many people think of going to church like they got a DUI and now have to do community service. They find it to be a duty, responsibility and now a sentence–to atone for a sinful nature.

I, for one, do not believe that such attendance to a religious service does us much good unless we actually find a way to become emotionally involved.

So my suggestion? The two of you should sit and write down the five things you agree upon, spiritually and emotionally, and then find a church of any denomination that agrees with most of them and grants you the conducive surroundings.

The sooner we understand that church is not about the delivery system of the worship service, but rather, the message and how it impacts our lives and touches our hearts, the better off we will be–and the less likely we will be to leave the institution because we find that Sunday morning family time is much more fulfilling.

 

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Confessing … September 12th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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XIX.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

When I was twenty-four years old, our fledgling music group was invited to Hamilton County Catholic Youth Conference to share our tunes.

The event was spear-headed by a guy named Patrick Daniels, who was the owner and proprietor of the huge, aptly named Patrick Daniels Car Dealership of Hamilton County.

Even though our rough-and-tumble style of music was not well-suited for all the Fathers and Sisters of the order, Mr. Daniels took a liking to us.

Matter of fact, he said if we ever needed assistance in any way, to give him a call.

We did. Need assistance, that is, and also, gave him a call.

I explained to Mr. Daniels that we wanted to rent a car at a very reasonable flat rate so we could do more traveling outside our little circle of influence.

He graciously agreed to do so, and we drew up a simple contract that stated that we would pay $150 a month, or whatever we could afford.

As it turned out, we never were able to afford $150. One month we paid $40, and I think on a particularly good thirty-day period, we once paid as much as $80.

Mr. Daniels didn’t seem to care.

Along the journey, we had a bizarre little accident. A cyclist ran into the driver’s front door, leaving a dent. The gentleman on the bicycle was not hurt, but the door was obviously damaged.

So we continued to drive the car with a blemished exterior, unashamed, but never informed Mr. Daniels of the damage, figuring that somewhere along the line, God, in His infinite mercy, would grant us enough money to fix the mistake.

Before that could happen, Mr. Daniels suddenly called us and told us he wanted his car back. When I asked him why, he became infuriated, talking to me about our lack of payment and also explaining that he was no longer attending church and wasn’t interested in continuing his benevolence.

So I brought the car back and walked out to show him the damage. Upon seeing it, he became enraged, asked me why we hadn’t shared about the situation sooner, and then told me that he had decided to charge us ten cents a mile for every jot and tittle we had placed on his odometer.

We couldn’t afford to pay the monthly lease, so obviously, we could not cough up the money for the door or the added charges for mileage.

I should have told him this. I didn’t.

I led him to believe that I was going to go back home and raise the money from family members.

Perhaps a little part of me thought I might do that–a teensy-weensy portion.

I really just wanted to get out of there, escaping the fiasco.

I never contacted him again.

I heard from a friend that he was criticizing us for being phonies. I figured it would blow over.

It did.

I suppose I could tell you that he went back on the deal and therefore he was partially at fault–but that would just be another lie piled onto the transgression.

Mr. Daniels needed us to be trustworthy at a time in his life when he was doubting everything he once held dear.

We ended up giving him more reasons…to shake his fist at the heavens.

 

Confessing Monte Carlo

 

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Untotaled: Stepping 16 (October 2nd, 1965) 64-0 … May 31, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

Catholic kids had all the advantages.

That’s why, when I looked on our football schedule for the year and saw that Barker Academy was on October 2nd, I was really pissed off.

Being raised in the Midwest, I was not really favorable to Catholics in the first place. I didn’t know why–just something I inherited and was infused in me during my training by my family and community.

I kind of think we hated them because they had money. (It’s ironic that we hate other people for having money as we desperately pursue getting money. Maybe it’s the classic case of self-hatred.)

Barker Academy didn’t have any more players than we did. Matter of fact, we out-weighed them and seemed to have even cuter uniforms.

So when the game started and I lined up in front of a 150-pound kid wearing wire-framed glasses covered with black tape, peeking at me through his battered helmet, I nearly giggled. I was almost double his size and certainly not wearing such ridiculous spectacles.

Yet when the ball was hiked on the first play and I found myself knocked on my backside as the running back dashed past me, forty-five yards for a touchdown, I realized that this little Catholic boy was going to have to die.

I tried everything–overpowering him, tricking him, even tried to trip him a couple of times–all to no avail.

At the end of the first quarter, when we were behind 28-0, fear crept into my bowels. Those ugly glasses that donned his face now seemed to posses the power to destroy.

So in a fit of desperation, on the next play I hurled my body over the line, knocking the kid over, grabbing onto the leg of the running back, only to procure his shoe in my hand as he ran fifty-two yards for another score.

In some desire to prove my value, I carried the boy’s shoe over to the bench to show my coach that I was making a valiant effort. He just stared at me as the referee retrieved the footwear and whistled for play to continue.

I played both ways. That means I was on offense, too. Did I happen to mention that we had none?

It was almost like Barker Academy not only knew what play we were going to run, and had figured out a way to foil it, but had also rehearsed dances and jigs to taunt us every time they threw us for a loss.

Shortly before the first half was over, I ran to the sideline and in deep exasperation, I screamed at the coach: “We need a better defense!”

He gave me that gaze you often see on the countenance of a serial killer, and then rethought his murderous ways, hearkening back to his training of a Bachelor of Education Degree from Ohio State University, and yelled back, “We don’t need a new defense! We just need you to defend!”

It was a good point, though it made me pout.

The second half was no better than the first half. It was the longest two hours of my life, as Barker beat us to a pulp, 64-0.

For the next two weeks, I woke up in a cold sweat almost every night, being chased by those ugly wire-frame, taped glasses.

I know it is appropriate, at this point in a story, to share what I learned from this experience, or to bring it to some sort of hopeful conclusion.

I have none.

The only thing I can tell you is, as I walked off the field, I swore to myself: never again.

 

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Arizona morning

After an appearance earlier this year in Surprise, Arizona, Janet and I were blessed to receive a “surprise” ourselves. Click on the beautiful Arizona picture above to share it with us!

Click here to get info on the "Gospel According to Common Sense" Tour

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Jesonian: Exodus (A Sequel) … February 16, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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crowd exiting“Where are all the people?”

It is the pleading question I hear week after week, as ministers, church leaders, secretaries and music directors stare out at the depleted ranks for evidence of the faithful, probing the pews for the chosen “fews.”

Matter of fact, many proclaimers of the gospel find themselves exaggerating the numbers attending the holy sanctuary in order to maintain any shred of purpose or semblance of clerical ego.

There’s no doubt about it–people are leaving the church.

You could assemble a panel of those of a theological bend to discuss the matter for hours, and come up with all sorts of theories, many of which would have grounding in fact without having any footing in solution.

  • Yes, it is posh to be agnostic.
  • Yes, there is a new indifference masked by the wording of “being busy.”
  • Yes, people are more isolated in their homes than they’ve ever been before.
  • Yes, the Christian movement has done a lot to shoot itself in the ass by being either too conservative or too liberal
  • Yes, we have allowed the “rain makers” to control the message instead of keeping it simple and gently watering the plants that are growing by faith.
  • Yes…

You could go on and on. But truthfully, I believe the main problem is that the Sermon on the Mount has hit the valley–because the thrust is now a proclamation of infinity, when mankind is desperately requiring a voice crying in the wilderness for afinity.

Since we are human beings born on Earth, pursuing the promise of heaven, we need to be careful that we don’t “Pinocchio” the gospel–in other words:

  • comforting people who are wooden puppets by telling them that “someday they will become little boys and girls.”
  • looking at people who have life now and telling them to be overly interested in the life to come.
  • addressing human beings who need to be exhorted to excellence, but keeping them weak on a pabulum of their own sinful nature.

Whether it’s Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal or Lutheran, there is some curriculum teaching that Jesus wants us to focus on “infinity and beyond.” To keep this message in the forefront, you have to emphasize (1) personal weakness so people will be reminded that they need a strong God; and (2) personal salvation, so the elect recognize their weakness and are grateful for a heaven someday.

If you have one ounce of motivation adding up to a pound of desire you will get bored very quickly with this “bad news,” suitable only for the pitiful.

Fortunately, the real message of Jesus of Nazareth was “afinity and be here:

1. Recognize your personal blessing and do something about it.

  • To he whom much is given much is expected.
  • Go the second mile.
  • You are the salt of the earth.
  • Go and do thou likewise.

2. Personal responsibility: “Whenever you’ve done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”

Yes, there is a second exodus. The people of God are running across the “over-read sea” into the desert of social nothingness, wandering around complaining about the provisions available, dreaming of a Promised Land.

It comes down to this: if the church continues to preach “infinity and beyond” instead of afinity and be here, we will eventually follow the model of the European church, which is now more or less a museum in remembrance of dead ideas.

If you want to stop the exodus, you’re going to have to start preaching the gospel. And the gospel of Jesus is very simple:

As I bask and rejoice in my personal blessing I take up my cross of personal responsibility and go out and make a better life and a better world.

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click to hear music from Spirited 2014

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