Good News and Better News… September 18th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Optimism is completely useless in sharing the Good News. It always hopes for positive results which are only determined by the audience and the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, pessimism is a meaningless, funky choice. After all, what value is there in preaching the end of the world while the doggone thing is still revolving?

I think Paul Simon summed it up best in his song, “The Boxer” when he wrote: Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

So if you want to be a bearer of good tidings, you must keep two essentials in mind. These were in play when I went to Tampa Bay to do two concerts, one at the Sun City Center United Methodist Church and the other at Atonement Lutheran in Wesley Chapel. I was hosted by two fine gentlemen–Kevin and Scott–both of whom desire to see something good happen in our time.

But over the years, you learn that passion, deliberation and organization are not enough. Talent falls short, and patience is a virtue which often fails to impress the meandering mob.

Two things to keep in mind if you want to make a difference: make it clear and make it good.

Honestly, if you don’t come with quality, don’t expect to get any kind of ear turned in your direction. So stop trying to do things that are difficult, believing they’ll be impressive in the long run. Find things you can accomplish well in almost any circumstance, and perfect them.

I am not the best anything. I never will be the best anything. But I can always get better at my best.

That’s our job. Make it good. It’s time for us to stop apologizing for what we present under the guise that “since God is in charge, and He loves us all, He’ll forgive a few sour patches.”
Tain’t so, my brothers and sisters. We’ve got to make it good. And then, you’ve got to make it clear.

To do this requires simplifying your message so that everybody in the room, from six to ninety-six years old, knows exactly what you’re trying to say. Some folks will still try to twist your words to their advantage, but there’s not much you can do about that, so don’t worry.

If you want people to believe that “love your neighbor as yourself” works, you need to say it five times and provide three good
examples.

And then do everybody in the room a favor: Don’t try to make another point. Three-point sermons leave two points forgotten and one point confusing.

So my time in Tampa Bay was lavished with lovely, inspiring people who benefitted from my presence because I determined to not be either optimistic or pessimistic, but instead, made it clear and made it good.

So therefore, the good news is that life is not hopeless, filled with ungrateful human beings who are beyond redemption.

The better news is, as Paul Simon said, we need to give them things they can hear and don’t disregard.

 

 

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Good News and Better News… September 11th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3427)

For the first time in a ten-year stint of writing this column–every single day–yesterday I missed posting.

It wasn’t because I was lazy (though I’m quite acquainted with lethargy.)

It certainly wasn’t because I ran out of ideas. My mind dances its way to the next folly and adventure.

It was because of Hurricane Irma.

Everyone will have a story about the storm, but I will tell you. this is one atmospheric disturbance that absolutely despised Internet. She was like an old grandma walking into your room, finding out that once again you were checking out naughty websites, and it was her duty to unplug you.

So I gave in.

There’s the thought. At what point do we give in? At what juncture does “inconvenience” become “impossible?”

Is there a station in our lives when we’re just being bratty and don’t want to do anything, or is Mother Nature literally “shuttin’ down the show?”

I know there are people who are critical of our generation. I’m sure it goes back to prehistoric times, when the grandparents of the present cave-dwellers complained that their children no longer liked to scrawl pictures on the walls.

Yet, I don’t think the folks living on Earth right now are bad people. With all the cosmic clowns dancing across the Big Top of the present circus, we still have not found anyone as rotten as Attila the Hun or Adolph Hitler.

It is a time to rejoice–not because everything is good, but rather, because the tragedies and disasters that have made their way into our lives have not crumpled us.

We have not given up.

We bought sandbags, purchased too many supplies and hunkered down–to survive the best punch that nature could give us.

We are pretty amazing, in our awkward and redundant way.

So I stopped being a fussy big-butt yesterday and allowed myself to just be another creature of nature, learning to submit to the climate that the heavenly Father had provided.

After all, there’s no such thing as a pleasant complainer and no one has ever given a reward to the “righteous bitcher.”

So the good news is that with the grace of God, a little help from our friends, and the support of the Great Cloud, I will post this to you today.

And the better news is, trials remind us of how good a fan feels.Donate Button

 

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Good News and Better News… August 14th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3399)

 

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… July 31st, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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I was sitting in the nursery of the Nativity Lutheran Church in Weeki Wachee, Florida, between services, snacking on some fruit which had graciously been provided by Pastor Giuseppe and glorious souls who have a knack for putting together such compotes, when I was struck–or perhaps just “pwanged”–by a simple revelation.

The world is always moving. It is our job to note the direction.

Just because the pace seems harried, leaving us all in the flurry of busyness, does not mean that we’re trudging forward. Sometimes we go backwards, often it’s just side-stepping right or left. We even become distracted by hitting a wall and continuing to push instead of stopping long enough to find a way around it.

Church is still a beautiful thing–it’s just that in the present march of humanity it seems irrelevant.

For we classify information that comes our way into three categories:

1. Philosophical.

This ranges from our educational system, to reading books, to listening to someone explain the value of a gluten-free diet.

2. Religious.

Once again, this could be anything from a Bible conference to a yoga class to hearing a testimony about someone’s ordeal or joining with others in prayer over some nasty bit of business that’s come along.

3. Necessary.

Every single day of our lives, we alter the gauge on what we feel is necessary for our existence. This explains the tremendous success of Amazon and Wal-mart. These companies have made it friendly to come and buy things we want at reasonable rates, and in the case of Amazon, have them delivered to our door without even needing to leave the comforts of the breakfast nook.

Candidly, if a piece of information is not necessary, we deem it useless. Once something becomes useless, it only receives attention if it can prove–even temporarily–that it has the value of Wal-mart or Amazon.

So something beautiful, like church, which at one time was considered necessary because it initiated relationships, faith, music, cooperation and a sense of community, has now been completely shoved to the rear by the collision of social media and the rising tide of agnosticism.

When I went into the second service I took the realization with me. I discovered that being philosophical or religious bored even those individuals who still remained in the holy sanctuary.

Give them what’s necessary.

When Jesus came to Earth, the common people were slaves to the Romans and subjected to criticism from the religious system.

Jesus told the people they were “the salt of the Earth, the light of the world,” but that they needed to take responsibility for their lives and not wait for either the Romans or Judaism to save them.

He made the message of God necessary. He referred to it as “daily bread.” He told people to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” and to “take no thought for tomorrow” but to live for today.

You will never meet a more promising group of people than I encountered at Nativity. But I will tell them that until the message they share is necessary in people’s lives, a philosophical or religious content will leave folks cold–staying at home and watching television.

The good news is that Christianity can still be about Jesus.

The better news is that he came to give us life–necessary life–and it more abundantly.

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Good News and Better News… July 24th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Sunday morning, bright and early, I headed off with my buddy, Janet, to St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Melbourne (even though the words “bright and early” should never appear in the same sentence.)

Over the years, Ms. Clazzy and I have learned a very important lesson: those who have gathered in a church are not there to see us, no matter how much we’ve been advertised. And they’re not necessarily there to learn about God, either.

They are accustomed to gathering. It is a tradition. Each one has his or her reasons for being there–ranging from preparing the coffee to loving the organ music, to appreciating communion, to getting stuck with usher duty.

So it is ridiculous for the two of us to think that we will come in and move mountains, or even rearrange dirt piles. Our job is simple–and made easier by the kindness of those who assisted us with our equipment and by the tender spirit of Pastor Blaine Johnson.

We are to be grateful for those who’ve attended, encourage what we see that’s positive, and gently address what’s missing.

Without the initial burst of gratitude for what is available, you immediately becomes the eternal brat who is never satisfied unless you get your own way.

Do I wish there were more people at St. Timothy Lutheran Church? I don’t give it a second thought, since there aren’t.

Do I wish I was going to larger churches than St. Timothy Lutheran Church? I don’t give it a second thought, because I’m not.

I am grateful for all the souls before me.

Then there are things that come out which are delightful and positive. There are people who greet you even though they have never seen you before. There is a sense of organization that lends itself to progress instead of chaos. Opportunities.

Yet in the midst of Jan and myself being grateful and reveling in the positives set before us, some missing spaces are obvious. Shall we refer to these as an absence of the presence?

  • An absence of the presence of jubilation.
  • An absence of the presence of radiant joy.
  • An absence of the presence of personalizing the message of Jesus to our own endeavors.
  • An absence of the presence of giggling.
  • An absence of the presence of the hand clapping which symbolizes confirmation of inner glee.

Just quietly ask the question, what’s missing?–and then allow the Spirit of God to offer suggestions.

So while grateful for the congregated and my celebration of the positives, I talked to them about passion–the ability for the heart to stimulate praise instead of relying on the memory.

Did we make progress? Will next Sunday’s service at St. Timothy reflect any of the energy of the visitation?

It’s a foolish question; irrelevant.

Because the good news is that Pastor Blaine and the fine folks of St. Timothy found it in their hearts to invite us to come and share our talents.

And the better news is that God, in His infinite wisdom, leaves it up to each individual soul to determine what he or she will do with what has been seen and heard.Donate Button

 

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Good News and Better News… July 17th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3371)

Church attendance is dropping.

The statement is so widely accepted that no one is objecting, nor considering the ramifications.

We are absolutely terrified if the ocelot become an endangered species, but barely flick an eyebrow over losing an intricate part of our society–the church.

Those who hate the church smile in a bit of wistful glee, and those who still attend look around at the empty room, shrug their shoulders and quietly head to the altar for communion.

If the American church dissipates to nothing, what are we losing?

We are forfeiting a place where once a week we can come and admit that we’re sinners. The humility does us good.

Also, it’s a location where we can rejoice over being forgiven.

Where else in America do you sit in a room and sing with other people?

How about the message? A lesson on the power of good.

It gives us the chance to be quiet. Everything roars around us–and we have a tendency to roar back.

When I was growing up, I was suddenly around kids from other school districts, who became my “church friends.”

It gives me a chance to think about possibilities other than myself.

While I’m trying to stay awake, I have the realization that I’m part of something.

I have to look for a shirt that matches my socks.

I find myself giving.

I also am put in the position to receive.

I’m actually leaving my home for something other than shopping, games, movies and dinner.

I am in a room full of people who will pray for me.

When church is done right, I can question. I can doubt. I can shout.

I can see, hear, feel and touch the gospel.

We certainly should be concerned about baby seals–they are a part of creation.

But if we allow the church to go the way of the dodo bird, we should stop wondering why things are not flying high and straight.

The good news is, there is still a church out there.

The better news is, that church is waiting for our unique input.

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Good News and Better News… July 10th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3363)

There’s only one rule.

Everything else is suggestions based upon respect to that principle.

The one rule is simple: love your neighbor as yourself. It also has a valuable addendum: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, while you’re loving yourself and your neighbor, you’ll probably end up doing something, so start learning to:

Do for two.

Me and you.

So powerful is this rule that it has intelligently been dubbed “Golden.” It is not a thought. It is not a point of discussion. And it is not debatable based on our particular definition of “neighbor.” Matter of fact, it affords us the expansive notion that these others we are to “do unto” include dogs, cats, trees, the sky and the entire cosmos. (He that has an ear, let him hear.)

But this Golden Rule cannot be replaced, displaced or even considered equal with other practices.

For instance, I believe in prayer. Sometimes it’s very helpful in assisting me to love my neighbor as myself. But it is not a substitute.

I like to read the Good Book. It gives me insights on better ways to communicate with my neighbors. But reading is not living.

Going to church offers fellowship and encouragement to pursue the goal–yet attendance to such a worship experience does not guarantee adherence to the ultimate truth.

Jesus did not die for the sins of the world–he died for the Golden Rule. Because without it, the world is beset by sin.

I just thought I should mention this to you today, just in case you were getting caught up in recent spiritual fads and Biblical chicken tracks.

The good news is, there is a rule.

The better news is, when applied, the gold makes us all rich.Donate Button

 

 

 

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