Good News and Better News… August 14th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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For some ridiculous reason, I occasionally get embarrassed by being happy. I give in to the pressure to act adult, disgruntled, and get tempted to complain about my problems. This is not my nature–I normally have a bubble in my soul which releases a fresh batch of ooey-gooey jubilation.

Yet this seems to bother those who wonder if I have any sensibility about the pain in the world or the suffering in some country they are barely able to pronounce.

I have been called to “brighten the corner where I am.” I am not in Afghanistan. I am not even in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Yesterday I found myself in Haines City, Florida, at the Lamb of God Lutheran Church with Pastor Joe, sitting and sharing with some of God’s wonderful flock.

I was not sheepish. I shepherded these dear souls through a journey laced with the human essential of good cheer. Say what you will about church but it has one function and one alone: find other human beings on the journey and fellowship with them.

Therefore, the byproduct of every experience taking you into into the House of God should be good cheer. For in the world, you only have tribulation, so we need some place to go where we can be of good cheer. It must be the church.

We must stop thinking that the arrival of Cring & Clazzy was a “breath of fresh air,” but instead, understand that stale air is not acceptable.

We cannot go from sucking in oxygen to inhaling fumes. As a congregation, as people, as children of God, as sane humans, we must stand up and demand good cheer:

  • Good cheer in the singing
  • Good cheer in the liturgy (if you have it)
  • Good cheer in communion
  • Certainly good cheer in the sermon
  • Good cheer in the benediction

And even good cheer when you reach the vestibule and discover that your favorite donut has already been eaten by the kids, who were released too early from children’s church.

I talked to some of the most intelligent, caring people you’d ever want to find. I just wonder whether they have the gumption to demand that the church be what it was meant to be–a safe place where we encourage one another, even so much more as we see the world going crazy around us.

The good news is that the world is full of tribulation, and therefore offers no harbor.

The better news is, we can be of good cheer if we start demanding purpose instead of settling for anemic programming.

 

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Good News and Better News… August 7th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3392)

It is truly amazing how God’s plan for my life works so much better when I make good decisions.

Maybe that’s because God, who gave every human being free will, does not “plan our life.” Instead, he offers wisdom, strength and grace to those who remain humble. I see this every single day of my time on Earth.

Some people are waiting for God to do what He’s already done.

Others take what God has done and go out and do something with it.

I was a blessed man to be granted the opportunity to share at the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Palm Harbor, Florida. I ran across people who were thinking about making good decisions.

One fellow candidly told me that when he walked in and saw that there were guest ministers, he wanted to walk right back out. But he decided to sit down –n a grumpy sort of way–and ended up being thrilled with his choice.

Another fellow was recovering from stomach problems and decided to come in spite of them, and departed exhilarated.

I ran across person after person who explained to me that the facts set before them did not necessarily warrant optimism or faith, but they chose to rearrange circumstances to their better advantage.

Jesus never criticized anyone for showing initiative to change his or her life. In our religion we often connote that too much ambition, or even an overload of passion, is detrimental to Godly humility. In the process, many of those who darken the door of the church are plagued by insecurity.

I am a human who truly has been granted a great opportunity of possibility–I get to go and share my thoughts, my songs, my words and my good cheer, with the aspiration of inspiring others. Did God plan for me to do this? He certainly is grateful for my efforts–and I, for His mission.

The good news is that we have been given the tools, the opportunity and the potential to make fruitful lives.

The better news is that our Father in heaven, from a position of support, is admiring our growth.

 

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Good News and Better News… May 15th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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People are afraid of dying–even God-loving folks.

There are those individuals who insist they have no fear of journeying to the Great Beyond, but that is only because the Angel of Death is not presently circulating in their neighborhood, soliciting souls.

Realizing that this fear of death was in place, Jesus comforted his disciples by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

What a magnificent statement–a balmy breeze of tenderness.

Yet I must tell you, the average religious organization in this country takes the basic fear we have of dying and scares the hell into us. Rather than comforting, they offer another apprehension–eternal damnation.

So now, because we are afraid of dying, and also of hell, we have a great tremor of anxiety over sin.

Am I sinning?

What is sin?

Do I sin more or less than you?

Can I cover up my sin so it doesn’t seem to be sin at all?

Am I more afraid of sinning, or getting caught with my pants in some unexplainable position?

We are supposedly born again, Spirit-inspired people, who are afraid of dying, hell and now sin.

But that’s not enough for the religious ramblers–the trepidation must be hammered into our souls.

So they begin to make congregations afraid of sinners. The notion is promoted that this sin thing can “rub off on ya'” if you get too close to it or accidentally condone it by refusing to judge people instead of condemn them.

In other words, you might be in danger of dying and going to hell because of the sin of loving sinners.

But that must be the end, right? No. There is one last fear stuck into the backpack of every hapless religious camper. Since dying is coming and there’s a hell to be avoided, which means you have to run from sin and the sinner, it’s just best to play it safe and be afraid of living.

We start sprouting nasty statements.

“Let’s not try that.”

“That might not be of God.”

“Let’s play it safe.”

“Until we see somebody else do it, let’s back off.”

“God may be more forgiving than we think, but just in case, let’s take away all semblance of joy in our worship, freedom in our walk and thought to our theology.”

So we have nervous ninnies serving a nit-picking Nazarene.

Consider: Jesus was in a boat when a squall came up on the Sea of Galilee. He was asleep. Matter of fact, they had to wake him up and tell him how desperate the situation was, because he had cuddled into his pillow. He did not rebuke the storm. First he asked the disciples why they were afraid. He told them to “be of good cheer.”

There you go.

Church of the Lord Jesus, why are you so damned afraid, and how about a little good cheer?

Here’s the good news–Jesus wants you to stop being afraid, followed by the better news: less fear, more love, more life and more love of living.

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G-Poppers … April 28th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Jon close up

G-Pop took a few moments last night to talk to his godson.

The young man is personable, with potential dangling from him, similar to a bunch of electrical cords that need to be plugged in somewhere. Like so many of us, he just doesn’t know which cord goes into which socket.

It begins with a simple understanding: 80% of what we think is born in our fear.

G-Pop wishes he could proclaim that our thoughts are grounded in our faith or our devotion, but it’s not true. Faith, hope and charity have no chance until fear is confronted, tracked down and put in its place. So our thoughts scream from this fear.

Now, 90% of what we fear comes from what we see and hear.

If we surround ourselves with fearful people saying fearful things about a fearful world, we should not expect a great fountain of creativity to spring forth from our souls.

For instance, here’s a simple point about gun control in America: the problem is not the gun. The difficulty lies in the fact that what we see and hear about guns always has them with the barrel pointed at a human. If you go to Canada, you’ll see lots of guns. But they’re pointed at deer and moose. The Canadians don’t have a constant programming of seeing and hearing about guns pointed at other human beings.

In America, we would frown on a gun being pointed at an animal, but our guns are constantly pointed at human beings. Therefore, what we see and hear becomes our fear and our fear becomes what we think. And we think that guns are for killing people, not rabbits.

And the final statistic that G-Pop presents is that 100% of what we see and hear should be our choice.

So you will think from your fear.

Your fear comes from what you see and hear.

And if you sacrifice what you see and hear to what the pundits want to thrust down your throat or what your friends insist will make you cool, you will be at the mercy of the fear that is produced by these visions.

G-Pop’s godson is just like all of us.

He needs to learn that our thinking is controlled by our fear; our fear is manipulated by what we see and hear, so if we take authority over what comes into our eyes and ears, we begin to change our fear to faith and our faith can work to produce love.

Three final points set this in motion:

1. Run from strife.

Whenever you see people fighting for the hell of it, get yourself away.

2. Walk away from gossip.

Gossip is just violence in training.

3. Sit with good cheer.

When you find people who are looking for hope, who are smiling through the difficulties and trying to create unity and joy, sit your butt down.

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Good News and Better News… April 24th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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I’m a sucker for kindness.

If you’re going to give me some bad news, do it with a smile. I just don’t buy into this concept that the more grumpy, frowny-faced and serious you are, the better chance you have of passing for a grown-up–or for that matter, making God think you’re truly an observant disciple.

I once wrote a gospel song which had a line about arriving in heaven, which was, “Bursting through the gates, a’laughin’…” (Now whether that will be a chuckle of relief or a belly laugh of victory, I plan on arriving to meet my Father with good cheer.)

So when I came into the doors of Wesley United Methodist Church in West Melbourne, Florida, and saw four beautiful human beings sitting there just smirking, with joy in their eyes, welcoming me–well, I felt good. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

Sometimes I think we believe church is a place where we need to feel bad before we feel good. I’d like to skip that step, if you don’t mind.

Now, the church building itself is wide open, like it wants to wrap its arms around you and give you a hug.

Yet it started the day before at sound check when I got to meet Pastor Doug. He’s one of those guys that when you encounter him, you immediately realize you like him simply because he doesn’t lead with a bunch of suspicion, and he actually appears to have an interest in your life. I got tickled because they were having a spaghetti supper on Saturday night and Doug was going to be imitating Elvis Presley.

Now, can you beat that? A good preacher who loves people and doesn’t mind a nice pair of blue suede shoes.

So the next morning, when it came my turn to share my little piece of myself with these darling souls of the kingdom, I just decided to be joyful and honest. My dear Lord, what we could do in this country if our leadership would be honest and joyful, and if that didn’t work real well, they became joyful and honest.

The people of Wesley UMC allowed themselves to be touched so then they were ready to reach out and touch others. I even had one lady who gave me the “Grace” of a wonderful shoulder rub. I can’t guarantee that you’ll get the same treatment–I mean as far as therapeutic muscle relaxation–but I will tell you this: Pastor Doug has these people ready to enact what the Gospel is all about: Love your neighbor as yourself with a special emphasis on making sure that those who love Jesus double-love one another.

So, for convenience, let me box up my conclusion.

Here’s the good news: you should arrive at church with a heart ready to be encouraged.

And the better news is, if we start preaching the Gospel again the way Jesus taught it–which is mingling our own humanity with mercy for others–then we’re going to have a great opportunity to leave encouraged.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 51) Under the Weather… April 23rd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

Shortly after the premiere of “Eden,” it was as if the community fell under a spell.

People just started getting sick–lots of flu, colds, injuries. An ever-growing list of those diagnosed with cancer during prayer time. A few of the prominent couples in town filed for divorce. It sent a shock wave through the community.

Meningsbee was fully aware that those who live on the prairie are not without the knowledge of the real world, but the decision to stay there was often an attempt to escape it. Sometimes superstition smothered common sense.

Some of the members started talking about “curses.” There were musings that the sins of the town were taking root and that God had removed His favor from them and that everything they tried was laying an egg.

Meningsbee attempted to encourage folks, but a dark slime of depression settled in.

Meningsbee went to prayer. Normally when it came to prayer, Meningsbee liked to listen. If he was in a group of people, they often deferred to him to lead in prayer, but he frequently requested that someone else do it so he could just enjoy.

But sometimes he knew it was important for him to pray–find a good closet, shut the door and turn down all the noise. Just allow his spirit to be free of fear and open to the possibility of solution.

While he was in prayer, he remembered a question that one of the women from the Ladies Auxiliary had posed. “Pastor Meningsbee, how do you know it’s not a curse? It’s not like evil would let us be aware of its plan.”

He thought long and hard on that. People spend an awful lot of time fighting, cursing or chasing the devil. Yet if there were actually a creature who spawned darkness and evil, it was unlikely that people would be able to deter him from his ways.

So where does that leave us? he thought. Exactly. It leaves… us. What do we know we can do? What do we know we can be? What do we know we can think, that will keep the effects of gloom out of our minds and open the door to good cheer?

From that time in prayer, Meningsbee put together a message, which he shared the following Sunday.

After praying for a grim list of sick folk and listening to a hymn sung with no enthusiasm at half-volume by weary people, he offered a simple thought.

“The only thing I can do, the only thing you can do, is control what comes inside us. Because once it is inside us, it’s going to feed us or it’s going to starve us.”

He stepped out into the middle aisle and pointed out five or six different individuals.

“Do you believe that if you eat better, you might just feel better? But if you’re like me, when you get depressed, you want to eat things you know are bad for you, but they temporarily make you feel good.

“And if your mind is clouded and unclear, should you be watching things on television or at the movies that leave you with more questions than answers? For the Good Book tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

“And if you’re pretty sure that life has temporarily decided to suck, should you be sitting around listening to people who have prime, juicy examples to confirm your conclusion? What should you be hearing?

“Now I know some of you think we’re under a curse. I don’t happen to agree, but let’s say you’re right. How should we break the curse? It’s against the law to sacrifice virgins anymore. I don’t think any of us are up for an exorcism.

“God only asks you and me to take responsibility for what we handle. So I don’t know about you. Maybe it’s just a bad time, or maybe it’s a curse. But here’s what I can do.

“I can eat better. I can stop watching trash on TV. And I can listen to people who have a message of hope instead of those who’ve given up. You know what? I feel better just thinking about feeling better. How about you? How many of you feel better just thinking about feeling better?”

Nearly everyone in the sanctuary raised their hand.

“Now, we can’t expect our brothers and sisters who don’t come to church to set a miracle in motion, but if our town needs a miracle we need miracle workers. And Jesus says that begins with faith.

“So if you dear souls have the faith to say to this curse, ‘Be thou removed’ and you do not doubt in your hearts, it will go away. Especially if we start eating better, looking for light and listening for good reports.

“Now I want you to do something we don’t normally do in this church. If you heard what I shared today and you thought to yourself, ‘that’s a pretty doggone good idea,’ I want you to come up here and stand with me.”

The entire congregation stood to its feet in clumps and intervals and moved to the front altar area.

Reverend Meningsbee made his way to every single soul, squeezing their hands and simply saying, “Let’s be well.”

Now maybe the good news was there all the time, or maybe the community was so depressed it was unable to see anything but bleak possibilities. But starting that very morning, Garsonville got healed.

It was their faith that made them whole.

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Ask Jonathots … December 8th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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ask jonathots bigger

What do you think about the idea that people get depressed during the holidays? Do you believe in “Blue Christmas?”

The diagnosis of depression is applied to everything from copouts to extreme physiological disorders. It is a shame that such a legitimate concern is rendered questionable by people who simply want to feel sorry for themselves.

So when we talk about depression, we’re referring to three different regions of human behavior:

  1. Fear of the afar
  2. Fear of our surroundings
  3. Fear borne from a chemical imbalance within

So when dear hearts come to us and say they’re in no mood to celebrate Christmas because it leaves them sad, it is important that we listen to them and decide if they’re expressing some apprehension about the world around them, some feeling of a lack of appreciation by those they interact with, or whether the recent concern about the holidays is aggravating what seems to be an ongoing thread in their lives.

Those who are involved in conspiracy theories or worry about what’s going on in our world can often be comforted with good cheer, a sense of well-being and the knowledge that someone cares for them.

Others who are disappointed by their surroundings or who have been subjected to mistreatment are often healed right before our eyes by a spirit of gentleness and kindness.

And those who have physiological roots for their depression need our encouragement to see a doctor so they can feel better.

So during this holiday season, when you run across people who are expressing misgivings, start with some good cheer and give them a listening ear, and see if that doesn’t lift their spirits.

If it does, you are like the angels on high, who declared “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

But if your attempts at healing still leave them feeling empty, you might use your holiday joy to encourage them to seek an answer and find out the source of their depression within.

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