Good News and Better News… August 21st, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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I had the night off from my gigs.

I decided to take in a church service at a small pioneer work where I’m staying. It is called Renaissance Fellowship. It touts the uniqueness of being a Christian church focused on the arts. Since I’ve been known to have a brain cell or two tuned in that direction, I was titillated.

The church is held at a community center and has about twenty-five folks who attend. The people are typical “church.” About 35% of them are excited, involved, busy scurrying around, and the rest of them have the appearance of folks arriving for a seminar on an unknown subject, with the promise that they might get free passes to a restaurant at the end.

Renaissance suffers from what every church suffers from. In trying to find God, they accidentally kill passion.

The pastor, a young man in his early forties, has a delightful desire and talent for sharing his thoughts. You can tell he is still deeply involved in the pursuit of God and the salvation of human souls, but growing a bit worn around the edges in all the well-doing. It happens to all of us.

But I heard something I liked. I heard rumblings that sounded like possibility.

Even though his message was plagued with too much preaching to the soul and teaching to the brain, I sensed that he’s beginning to reach for the heart.

For you see–human beings are not really spiritual. We aren’t thoughtful. We are emotional.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about work, play, a football stadium or church–the evidence that we are impacted is always an emotional outburst.

So I speak with great clarity to this pastor and tell him to keep reaching for the heart. Go ahead and abandon preaching to the soul and teaching to the mind. No one cares what Abraham, Moses, Joseph or any of the old patriarchs did. If the stories do not relate to family, Wal-mart and the Internet, they will not touch the hearts of American people.

Instructing the brain by pointing out clever pieces of information may once have been a path of probability, but no longer. Our brains are inundated with too much information, and of course, way too many posts on Facebook about nothing.

  • Reach the heart.
  • Touch the heart.
  • And demand a heartfelt response.

It is the only way people are healed. As Jesus said, “If you say to this mountain, be removed, and you do not doubt in your heart, it shall be done.”

The soul, the brain and the body have nothing to do with moving mountains. It is a heartfelt action.

Although I’m sure they are delightful and blessed people, many of the folks at Renaissance were doing their best imitation of being church cardboard cutouts. But becoming a church of artistry will require that the congregation that’s already there–tiny as it is–become emotionally excited with its own faith.

If it doesn’t, they will be just an average church that occasionally puts on plays.

The good news is that the Gospel is an experience of the heart.

The better news is, the pastor of Renaissance Fellowship and his congregation have a great opportunity to become heartfelt.

I have confidence in them.

For you see, the pastor is my son.Donate Button

 

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Catchy (Sitting One)This Old Man … June 11th, 2017

Preface

Welcome to the first installment of our next story, “Catchy.” I will continue to pursue it until it has finished or I run out of ideas, which I hope will be simultaneous. Enjoy.

Sitting One — This Old Man

Arthur Harts was an old man, and being an old man, he had long since forgotten a conviction he held to be true when much younger: old folks should just be ready to die at any time.

He was a billionaire oil tycoon who at one time possessed a reputation of being a playboy, but through the years, due primarily to an aging body, had transformed himself into a philanthropist, and eventually, a somewhat religious fellow.

Eight years ago he had run for President of the United States on what he dubbed the “5000 Plan”–a contention that every man and woman in America should be given $5,000 to begin a business of their own, to stimulate the economy with new products and ideas, and foster what he called “inventionism” amongst the common folk. Amazing as it may seem, those same simple sorts chose not to vote for Mr. Harts, opting to punch the time clock.

So Arthur had spent recent months funding ventures to reach those same individuals with a quasi-spiritual message–combining, as he phrased it, “an ongoing spirit of revision with a heapin’ helpin’ of self-esteem.”

But Arthur was old, and as often happens with those who persist in adding years to their time, his energy waned, his health failed, and well, one night he died in his sleep: the poetic end to a life spent in peaceful pursuit.

Now when a poor man dies, all relatives and friends tend to scatter, not wishing to acquire any of his personal indebtedness. It is much different with a rich man—especially a billionaire. There was a widespread interest in the will and testament of Arthur Harts, including friends, relatives and the collective masses he once stumped for votes and sought to redeem.

So one morning, in a large room with a large mahogany table, a large group of lawyers got together and read a very large document that explained how this man of large influence wished to distribute his large sums of money.

Item #44-A of the testament—a recent codicil–was most intriguing to everyone. It read as follows:

“I, Arthur Harts, being of sound mind (and if I weren’t, there’s not much you can do about it now) wish to leave two hundred and fifty million dollars to a well-recognized, well-selected and well-intentioned advertising company to propel and promote one great idea: find a way to make Jesus popular again. I, Arthur Harts, am not speaking of some anemic attempt to promote a church or religious institution, but rather, in some way to convey to the people of this earth the intensity and intelligence of the person who once walked with us, bearing the name Jesus of Nazareth. There were few more popular than he was when donning a loincloth. So I see no reason why, if he were promoted correctly in our multi-media society, he shouldn’t be just as popular today.”

As the team of bewildered barristers finished reading the passage, there was a hush. Perplexity. How were they supposed to fulfill this bizarre request from this eccentric billionaire?

Perhaps some attempt would have been made to interpret the passage in a different way by evenly distributing the money to the larger denominations of the Christian faith, but time and chance stepped in and the unusual request was leaked to the press. So it would be impossible to ignore Mr. Harts’ wishes, implausible as they may seem.

This is where our story begins–a quandary wrapped in a mystery drenched in an impossibility, garnished with just a little weirdness.

 

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Jesonian… February 25th, 2017

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Completely inundated by a traffic jam of divergent opinions, many of which are directly or indirectly attributed to the thinking of Jesus of Nazareth, I decided to sit down one afternoon this week and spend some time with my good old buddies, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–reading all the “red stuff.”

Yes, I still have one of those Bibles where all the things Jesus said are highlighted in red, granting them the significance of being the thoughts of God.

The purpose for my quest was simple–I wanted to narrow down the three basic topics of Jesus’ mindset. Because when you finish perusing all this material, you realize that he said a lot–and you also quickly conclude that he intended his words to be honored, to the point that he measured the love of his followers by how much they held his teachings in regard.

I finally came up with three. You might have different suggestions. Honestly, there were a lot of great runner-ups.

My three statements of Jesus that punctuate his ministry are as follows:

1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Just about a third of what Jesus talked about has to do with human relationships.

Candidly, Jesus was not terribly concerned about our relationship with God. Instead, he paralleled and intertwined it with our interactions with our fellow humans. So even though “turn the other cheek” was nearly a winner, it fell under “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And “loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…” was included because Jesus closed it out by saying “… and your neighbor as yourself.”

2. Count the cost.

This is about human common sense.

Anyone who believes they can live a life to honor Father God by spitting in the eye of Mother Nature is in for a sorry conclusion. Jesus never suggested that we ignore the signs of the times or even the color of the sky, if it might give us wisdom on whether to bring an umbrella.

In other words, get saved but don’t lose your brain. You’ll need it.

3. Go the second mile.

This is human motivation.

Try as I will to find teachings of Jesus where he advocates languishing in grace or getting sleepy in our salvation, I fell short. He believed that “by our fruits” we will be known. He also said, “if somebody takes your coat, give them your cloak also.”

He contended that the power we have is our ability to continue the race when others have fallen out.

So a third of the Gospel is about human relationships. Another chunk is about human common sense, and the final piece is human motivation.

If we simply return to that glorious format laid out for us in the writings in red, the people around us who desire relationships, common sense and motivation will find the BEST FRIEND they ever had in the world.

Until Jesus is honored as a life coach instead of merely a baby born to die for our sins, we will hemorrhage people from the church.

 

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Dear Man/Dear Woman: A Noteworthy Conversation … December 24th, 2016

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Dear Man Dear Woman

Man: One of the things that’s always fascinated me about Christmas is that Jesus was supposed to be born “the Son of David”–because of his family and all–but Mary was a virgin, right?

 

Woman: That’s her story and she’s stickin’ to it.

 

Man: So if she’s a virgin, does that mean we go through all that lineage of David, and then at the last moment, Joseph doesn’t get to be the Daddy of the Messiah?

 

Woman: That’s right–although there are some who insist that Mary was also the lineage of David. But if that was the case, Matthew and Luke would have traced her lineage to make the point that Jesus was a really, really fine Jewish boy.

 

Man: That is so far out. Why don’t people talk about that more?

 

Woman: That’s easy. Since this is a male-dominated world, and most Christians don’t want to offend Jews by promoting a Savior who didn’t have “David” in him, we choose to overlook the real story, and probably in the process, disguise the humor of God.

 

Man: Well, to me the significance is that God had no intention of making the best friend of all humankind come just from the Jewish race.

 

Woman: And to me, the importance is that God chose to bewilder everybody by pulling off His great blessing by using just a woman.

 

Man: So what you’re telling me is that in the Middle East, where women are considered to be less than men–maybe barely above livestock–they still worship the King of Kings, who didn’t have any Earthly daddy. Just a mommy and God.

 

Woman: That’s right. God will not be manipulated. God is not angry at the Jews, but He also doesn’t consider them to be his “chosen people.” Jesus came to be the brother of all humans–therefore Eastern astrologers, Palestinian shepherds and folks from Egypt knew him as a boy, right along with all the faithful of the Moses crowd.

 

Man: What an amazing story.

 

Woman: I’d go further than that. It’s a classic bluff. The Jewish people struggled with their faith for years and years, so God gave them a new faith they could believe in that had nothing to do with being a Jew, but instead was about learning to become a human being of the whole Earth.

 

Man: Christmas is so cool. It’s so ballsy. Just the faith of Mary and Joseph to stick together, wise men to follow a star, shepherds to believe angels, and God to snub tradition–to birth Jesus solely through Mary.

 

Woman: So I guess that clears the air on what God thinks about equal rights…

 

Man: God is a feminist. He chose a female to be His partner in salvation.

 

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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.

coldwater-jesus-note-3

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Dear Man/Dear Woman: A Noteworthy Conversation … July 30th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Dear Man Dear Woman

Dear Man: You didn’t ask me my opinions about the political conventions.

 

Dear Woman: Well, no, because I know you really don’t like politics.

 

Dear Man: That’s true, but there is one incident that grabbed my attention.

 

Dear Woman: What was that?

 

Dear Man: Thursday night, when the Muslim father who lost his son in the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Kahn, spoke to the gathering.

 

Dear Woman: Yeah, I saw that. Very moving.

 

Dear Man: I know that’s the popular view, but it bothered me.

 

Dear Woman: What troubled you?

 

Dear Man: He came on the stage with his wife. She did not speak for the whole duration of the event. She remained turned toward him in submission, wearing a hijab.

 

Dear Woman: You mean that head covering?

 

Dear Man: Yes, exactly.

 

Dear Woman: It’s just a Muslim thing.

 

Dear Man: I disagree. It’s not a Muslim thing. She stood in submission, did not speak, with her head covered, as he railed against Donald Trump, in support of Hillary Clinton for President. It was a massive contradiction.

 

Dear Woman: I disagree. You just need to be more tolerant. We need to give religious freedom to people–to have their traditions and honor their culture, otherwise our country becomes bigoted and self-centered.

 

Dear Man: I know the spiel. But when a man, who, by the way, was extremely intense, with angry gestures, stands beside a woman who is not speaking, who is looking on adoringly with her head covered…well, I get nervous. I feel it’s good to give spiritual leniency to people, to worship as they deem appropriate, but our country should not allow oppression to exist in the name of God. For instance, we certainly didn’t honor the traditions of the South and give them cultural “roominess” when slavery was at stake. I’m sure they could have made the point that no slaves were rebelling and that everything was working fine, but we still fought the Civil War to relieve the stupidity of a bad culture.

 

Dear Woman: I see what you mean, but I don’t think it applies in this situation. This is part of their religion

 

Dear Man: No. It’s not. It’s part of their tradition. Tradition is the way that people decide to conduct their religion. It has nothing to do with faith. It has nothing to do with a God who created all men equal, and that includes women. What happened on that stage was wrong. If we want to condone it because we’re afraid of speaking up to a religion’s tradition, and demanding equality, then let us call ourselves cowards. But if every Christian church in America suddenly decided that women should not be allowed to speak and had to wear head coverings, we would remove their tax exempt status. We can’t have two different standards. If he wants to support Hillary Clinton for President, he needs to let his wife be his equal.

 

Dear Woman: Maybe he does. Maybe it was just a decision on their part to have him talk because she was nervous.

 

Dear Man: Then in my opinion she shouldn’t come on stage. Standing next to him, turned in his direction, staring at him with her head covered, communicates subservience. Doesn’t the Democratic Party want equality? Or are they just looking for a bump in the polls from an angry Muslim man speaking against Donald Trump?

 

Dear Woman: You realize, nobody agrees with you. Everybody thinks that Mr. Kahn was one of the highlights of the convention. They think that allowing her to appear on stage in the head covering showed tolerance.

 

Dear Man: Tolerance becomes cowardice when everyone is not included. There were many people during the Civil Rights movement who were angry at Dr. King because he came into a situation that seemed to be peaceful, and stirred up trouble. But had he not pointed out the inequity of Jim Crow, the South more than likely would still be arguing about “colored restrooms” instead of transgender ones.

 

Dear Woman: I see your point, and I guess by your standards I’m a coward, but I think that sometimes you just have to leave well enough alone.

 

Dear Man: You see, my point is that “well enough” is never achieved by leaving women out of the equation.

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Good News and Better News … July 4th, 2016

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Good News Effort 1He was Saul of Tarsus, who after a dramatic Damascan conversion, began to travel the ancient empire under the stage name, Paul the Apostle.

He once said, “By grace you are saved through faith.”

Little did he know that this quote would become one of his greatest hits. Matter of fact, the doctrine of grace, which emerged from this statement, is preached every Sunday.

The validity of the statement is powerful. The salvation of our souls is a free gift from God through the love, mercy and sacrifice of Jesus. It blooms the potential of eternal life. But it doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to do with our emotions, brains and bodies through this process called human life.

Because those who live on grace, hoping it will cover a multitude of their annoying practices, do very little to promote the expanse of the Christian message.

This came to me yesterday when I arrived at the Effort United Methodist Church near the Poconos in Pennsylvania.Good News Effort 2

Effort.

What a great word.

It is ridiculous to think that Jesus took the time to preach the Sermon on the Mount about character, bearing fruit, loving your neighbor, avoiding hypocrisy, channeling your lust and respecting the planet if he wanted us to merely lounge on the cushion of grace.

Belief in Jesus does give you salvation, but to live on Planet Earth, we require sanity. Sanity is achieved by accepting the Gospel of Jesus to free us from fret, worry, pride, prejudice, anger and fear. It simplifies our emotions so that our minds can be renewed and we can gain strength.

Religion does not grant us this peace.

Religion wants to give comfort to the convert and condemnation to the world.

It’s when we take grace and blend it with effort that we meld the alloy of faith–certainly trust in God, but also reliance on “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

In the long run, there are two salvations–there is the salvation that is a free gift of God through acceptance of Jesus.

Good News Effort 3And there is a salvation which each one of us, individually, “works out with fear and trembling” as we journey, simplifying our lives with joy and understanding.

I had a monumental time yesterday with the folks in Effort.

They did put up an effort.

They showed up on July 4th weekend, when they could have gotten by with “pew hookey.”

They listened to this stranger expose new ideas about abundant life.

And they allowed themselves to be impacted rather than insisting that grace eliminates any need to learn.

The good news is that we are saved by grace through faith.

But the better news is that we save our sanity by taking the beautiful Gospel of Jesus and putting some Effort into it.

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