Jesonian… June 17th, 2017

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Leprosy is a loser.

You lose feeling. You lose your fingers and your toes; you lose your friends. You lose interaction with the world around you. You lose control of your life. At least, that’s the way it was in Jesus’ day.

That is why it’s so remarkable that ten lepers got together and overlooked their angst to come up with a plan. They decided to go see Jesus.

I’m not so sure lepers do a whole lot together. I suppose there would be the fear that the infection in your brother or sister might even be worse than yours.

But ten of them planned a road trip. They even included one Samaritan, which all the Jews hated. I guess they gave him a free pass since they shared dying in common.

Ten lepers traveling together caused quite a stir. Everyone was frightened of the disease. Multiply that fear by ten. Therefore, getting anywhere near Jesus must have been a feat, and being granted an audience–the first miracle.

So when Jesus tells all ten lepers to go and show themselves to their priest, they launch off together on a mission of questionable potential. They are not immediately healed, nothing is changed and they’re on their way to see an aged rabbi who certainly possessed no remedy..

But along the way, suddenly each one of them is restored to wholeness, with beautiful pink flesh (or whatever color they originally had). We don’t know how long it took.

But being faithful, and even more aggressive to achieve their mission because of their restoration, they plunged ahead to come in contact with what would surely be a dumbfounded clergyman.

All except one.

The Samaritan–that renegade outsider–decides to turn back to see Jesus and thank him for the miracle. The other nine shake their heads in disbelief. They view themselves “the good ones”–the souls being obedient. They trudge on, praying for their errant companion as he races back to express his gratitude.

When the grateful, healed man from Samaria arrived and worshipped Jesus for giving him back his life, Jesus had a very interesting response.

First, let’s look at what he did not say. Jesus didn’t say, “Why are you here? I told you to go to the priest. Just like you Samaritans to not follow the rules.”

Or, “Because you didn’t do what I said, here’s your leprosy again.”

No–Jesus says something surprising. “Where are the other nine?”

This strikes me as a bit hypocritical, since Jesus sent them on a specific task to show themselves to a religious fellow to confirm their healing. But Jesus not only asks where they are–he mocks the nine for not having the gumption of the Samaritan, to return and express appreciation.

I view this as a warning–a gunshot in the air for all the righteous rowdies in our world who think because they follow some verse of scripture or some isolated command that they are viewed by the heavens as supernally superior. They tell you everything they are sure God finds unfavorable, and cite verses to prove their point.

They are wrong.

Jesus makes it clear–there is something greater than the written or spoken Word of God. It’s called “being led of the Spirit.”

And when the Spirit confirms to you that you’re healed and no priest had anything to do with it, and that the most valuable thing in life is to be grateful, you will bypass the initial command in order to follow the greater calling.

You don’t have to look very far in the life of Jesus to see that the scribes and Pharisees constantly reminded him that he was breaking Jewish law. His response was always basically the same: “You pursue the traditions of men instead of the heart of God.”

A Samaritan former leper broke a rule to fulfill a promise. Because he did, he was praised. And those who did everything by the book were mocked.

If you’re not prepared to go against the rules to fulfill the righteousness of where the Spirit is leading, don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus.

 

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Good News and Better News… February 27th, 2017

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The whir, whistle, hum, song and even roundness of the Earth is totally dependent upon the serene application of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Without such a magnificent axiom, it literally becomes “every man for himself,” with women and children often left out in the cold. It is a principle that tells us how to treat bears, bugs, spiders, cats and Mother Earth.

  • Unfortunately, the business world has no respect for the concept.
  • The entertainment industry ponders darker applications.
  • And the political world courts “church,” while ignoring virtue.

It is literally left up to those who attend services of worship to keep this precious Golden Rule in the mix. Simultaneously, the church as we know it is shrinking as people depart, disappointed.

The church is failing because it’s trying to be religious instead of the voice of our generation. It is awash in theology instead of considering the best angles for dealing with other human beings.

There are two reasons people go to church–two reasons and two reasons only. It is not for the worship of God and the praise of the saints.

  1. They’re afraid they’ll miss something.
  2. They’re afraid they’ll miss someone.

The human race is tribal and basically gregarious.Therefore, we want to gather and enjoy ourselves.

Why do we think people should get into their cars, drive across town and sit for an hour, leaving baffled about their own personal lives, while merely logging heavenly frequent flyer miles?

Until we understand that the church has to be a place of excitement, discovery, intrigue and most definitely creativity–where people are not certain whether they will hear a new opera sung or see magnificent healings–we must understand that our meager offering of a few songs, a sermon and a communion “happy meal” will probably not continue to draw them.

It’s about being together, strengthening one another. We must get rid of the notion that there has to be suffering to attain spiritual grace.

The good news is that people want to be excited and God is prepared to provide the opportunity.

The better news is that people would love to learn, in a consecrated place, how to make “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” the hip philosophy of our time.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 42) Rest Stop … February 19th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

2.3 miles east of Garsonville, on an old country road, was an abandoned roadside rest–long forgotten and unattended, with a broken picnic table, a dry pump and an eroded sign which had once explained the origins.

Over the past two months, every single week, Reverend Meningsbee made his way to that spot before attending church, to take ten or fifteen minutes, just to “get decent.”

Getting decent meant freeing himself of all the hardships, prejudice, bruised ego, disappointments and frustrations of the week, lest he arrive in front of the congregation and pour out his misgivings instead of sharing a parcel of hope.

It had been a strange week.

On top of languishing in memories of his beloved Doris, he also discovered that Jesse, Marty and Hector McDougal were moving from town. They had become the touchstone–the stopping off place–for all the publicity and turmoil that had risen up because of the little boy’s amazing healing.

The family had received notice from a mega church in Idaho which had been spreading its spiritual wings into making movies, and the three were invited to come and live free of charge for a year while the screenwriters, actors and production team shot a film entitled, “Hector’s Baptism.”

They were so excited.

They even had a copy of the screenplay, which Meningsbee perused, quickly realizing that the writers had taken some creative license.

Meningsbee felt sad.

He wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the family–but it’s hard to argue with a year’s worth of free room and board. So he kissed them all on the cheek, prayed for them and two days later they were gone.

That departure was followed by the information that Patrick Swanson, whose congregation had been involved in some sort of wife-swapping scandal, was also leaving and stopped off at Meningsbee’s house to say goodbye.

He and his wife were off to Utah, to a marriage clinic, to restore their vows and commitments.

Patrick had become a Mormon. He looked much different–fresh haircut, crisp white shirt and a sweater vest instead of jeans, shaggy locks and a t-shirt. He was, shall we say, very appropriate.

When Meningsbee reached to give him a hug, Patrick instead took his hand and offered a warning. “Beware the sins of the flesh, my friend. I think you teeter on too much secular input in your ministry, and therefore are robbing your congregation of the full impact of the whole Bible for the whole man.”

Meningsbee felt a flame of anger ignite in his gut but he realized that Patrick would soon be gone, and his advice with him.

Meningsbee was in the midst of these thoughts and many others when a car rolled up next to him.

It was Sammy Collins.

He got out of his car and tapped on the passenger window of Meningsbee’s vehicle, requesting permission to enter. Meningsbee popped his locks and Sammy scooted in, shut the door and took a deep breath.

“Let me get right to it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying. I know we haven’t always agreed, but I believe I’m supposed to come and be your assistant minister.”

He paused. Meningsbee was speechless.

Sammy jumped in. “Well, that’s it. What do you think?”

“How did you know I would be here?” asked Meningsbee.

“I followed you,” said Sammy with a smile. “You didn’t even know, did you?”

“Nope,” said Meningsbee quietly.

Sammy turned sideways in his seat, filled with energy. “So what do you think, Pastor? You sure could use the help.”

“You see, Sammy, the kind of help I need wouldn’t work because it’s inside me. I couldn’t get you in there. Or maybe I wouldn’t want you in there. Or maybe, it just seems to me, that if I needed an assistant minister, God would tell me before he told the assistant minister.”

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Sammy with a twinkle.

“Yeah, but usually not hyper-weird,” replied Meningsbee.

Sammy, undaunted by the rebuke and rejection, opened the car door and said, “Think it over. You’re never gonna find anyone quite like me.”

Meningsbee just nodded, holding his tongue over a variety of responses that immediatly popped into his brain.

Sammy jogged to his car, got in and took off. Meningsbee, fully disturbed and interrupted, decided to head off to church.

He wondered what he would find there. He had to admit to himself that his message last week about the rich young ruler and how the congregation needed to decide if they were going to keep the revival alive or go back to their old ways, was pretty strong. Matter of fact, he had even used the word “damn” right in the middle of the pews, flowers and pulpit furniture.

Arriving at the church, there was a hum in the room. No–a real hum. The organist was playing the prelude and the congregation, uncharacteristically, was humming along with the familiar tune.

There were two apple pies sitting on the fellowship table which were normally not present for coffee time.

Deacon Smitters shook Meningsbee’s hand and held it a little longer than normal.

The song service was more boisterous, the testimonies enlightened and the “amens” aplenty.

No one said a word about the previous week’s service nor whether they were offended, challenged or informed. They just did what people in Garsonville do. They took it all in, let it rattle around for a couple of days, and decided what their best path might be.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

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Ask Jonathots … December 8th, 2016

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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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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 28) He That Has An Ear … November 6th, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

Little Hector McDougal was just fifteen days old when his mama and papa, Jessie and Marty, brought him to the Garsonville Church for an official baptism. The parents were so grateful for little Hector that they could not wait to see him sanctified in all the right spots.

Yet there was some sadness mingled in with their joy. Although Hector was born with all of his digits in place, immediately after his arrival he developed a severe bacterial infection in both of his ears, which left him deaf. No one was sure if it would be permanent, but the hospital certainly wasn’t prepared to offer much hope.

So even though Jessie and Marty had a baby, they had resigned themselves to the fact that he would never be able to hear the praises they so wished to heap upon his ears.

Now, Reverend Meningsbee was not very experienced at baptisms, so he had reviewed the liturgy and pageantry feverishly. He even bought himself a bright-colored tie with Mickey and Minnie Mouse on it, having read somewhere that children were nearly hypnotized by the bright colors.

So you can imagine how surprised the pastor was when he dipped his fingers in the water, placed it on the baby’s head, and the child began to scream and holler like a wounded animal. Everybody immediately turned and stared at the preacher, wondering if he had somehow pinched, shocked, poked, stabbed or wounded the hapless repenter.

Meningsbee just stepped back in horror.

The baby continued to scream with hellish decibels–so much so that Mama felt it necessary to hurriedly leave the sanctuary to tend to her little one. Daddy trailed behind, holding a blanket in one hand and a pacifier in the other.

This left Meningsbee standing there in his Looney Tunes tie, sheepishly looking at the congregation, feeling like he had hexed the young fella.

The screaming continued.

Attempting to be clever, Meningsbee suggested that the gathered sing “Brahms’ Lullaby,” only to realize that nobody knew the words. A nervous, tenuous, but meaningful humming ensued. It did not calm the raging storm which had burst across the brow of Hector McDougal.

As a precaution, a decision was made to rush the little one to the hospital to see if the medical field could somehow remove the screaming curse.

Needless to say, the morning’s worship service was shortened–and considerably less appreciated by the folks who had hoped that their minister would be much more successful on his christening journey.

Stranger still, four hours later the phone rang at Meningsbee’s house and Jessie McDougal, with motherly tears, explained that the little boy had been squalling because he could hear. Apparently it was quite a surprise to him, and set off the onslaught of his throat alarm.

Yes–after testing Hector, the doctors found there was a healing, and he was now able to hear just as well as any other fifteen-day-old infant.

The news spread quickly.

It became known as “the miracle baptism.” Matter of fact, three days later at the Wednesday night “Stay and Pray” service, many of the congregational members contended it was God speaking to the church–to become an international center of healing. They suggested that the whole outreach of the Garsonville Church should be using the sacraments of baptism and communion as vehicles for God to intervene–healing the sick and maybe even raising the dead.

After all, they explained, Meningsbee wanted it to be a Jesus church–and what could be more like Jesus than a “hallelujah healing?”

Meningsbee did not know what to say. He was not sure how they came up with such a conclusion based on Hector’s experience, but he also did not want to dampen their hopes and dreams.

“Folks, it could be that what happened to Hector was meant for Hector and Hector alone. Just his personal piece of God.”

Everyone was baffled at Meningsbee’s ignorance. Certainly God would not give his grace to one poor little boy, and not intend it to be offered to the masses.

Meningsbee persisted.

“I’m just saying, maybe it’s not like Coca-Cola, to be bottled up and served over the counter to anyone with a dollar-fifty who needs a magical elixir…”

No one was listening. Meningsbee was not shouted down. It was worse. He was ignored.

Complicating matters, a news organization–one of them with all the letters in its name–called and wanted to come and do an interview with the church folk, pastor, mayor, city elders and even teenagers, to discuss the strange and bizarre happenings in Garsonville, Nebraska. You see, they deemed that with all the church splits, a suicide, drug overdose and now deaf ears being opened, it was quite a feature story, and the news division felt they could market it pretty well to their listening audience.

Reverend Meningsbee was against it. But the church council saw it as a wonderful chance to share the faith and vision, and show people on the West and East Coast that God truly did favor the prairie.

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“Quite literally the best Christmas stories I have ever read.” — Arthur Holland, Shelby, North Carolina

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 14) His Eye Is On the Sparrow… July 31st, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

It was a merciful Monday.

The phone didn’t ring, no one visited and Meningsbee had a chance to sit alone in the parsonage and muse the happenings in his life.

He kept thinking about that scripture: “God sees the sparrow and we are worth many sparrows.”

He roamed the house talking to himself, allowing the ideas stuck in his head to gain air instead of suffocating in his brain or struggling for dominance.

He sorted through things. He opened the door for some healing.

After the cleansing Monday, he was ready for a terrific Tuesday.

Phone calls came from congregation members, saying how much the service had meant to them and how freeing it was to realize that it’s all right to have doubts–as long as you don’t lie about them or assume they are true.

But then came worrisome Wednesday. It began with a knock on the door. Patrick Swanson was there, accusing Meningsbee of sharing their private conversation about the finances of the church with his new congregation out at the Holiday Inn Express.

Meningsbee was so glad that he had remained faithful to his mute position. He could honestly say that he had said nothing to anyone.

Patrick did not believe him. He explained that he had a mess on his hands, because somehow or another, the church folk had discovered his feelings about the old church and were not very appreciative of his plans.

Meningsbee listened quietly but didn’t respond. It wasn’t his business.

At length, Patrick gave up and turned to walk away, only pausing to say, “Word has it that you don’t even believe in God. Is that right?”

It seemed that this dear brother wanted a fight. But thanks to merciful Monday and terrific Tuesday, Meningsbee was more prepared for worrisome Wednesday.

He replied, “My dear friend, my beliefs are a matter of public record.”

With this, Meningsbee quietly shut the door and resumed his life.

The rest of the week was blessed with happenings and intervals of joyous nothingness. That is, until Sunday morning arrived.

Meningsbee was excited–because last Sunday, he had handed out little notes to twenty-two members of the congregation. When they peered at him, wondering what it was all about, he had replied, “Read the note. It’ll tell you what to do.”

So he quickly dressed, ate a light breakfast and headed out the door, pausing as he gazed at the porch swing.

And there she was–the young girl he had met at the motel in South Dakota, cuddled up on the swing with her little daughter, sound asleep.

“Kitty?” he said quietly, hoping he had remembered her name correctly. She woke up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, eased her feet to the ground, and launched into her story.

She had lost her job and therefore could not afford the motel anymore. She got his address from the front desk clerk, and since he was the only person who had been nice to her, she grabbed her daughter, Hapsy, and hitch-hiked to Garsonville.

She didn’t know what to do, so she chased the last place that she felt love.

Likewise, Meningsbee didn’t know what to do.

He explained that he was on his way to church and invited her. She replied, “If they don’t mind my old, stinky jeans…”

Meningsbee laughed. “I think they’re just old.”

They headed off to his car. Meningsbee held the door and welcomed the two of them inside. He picked up a couple of treats at the Donut Barn on the way.

As they munched, he wondered to himself whether this was a gift from God … or a mis-delivered package.

 

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 12) Obsession… July 17th, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

A damnable itch, festering in the brain, simpering to be scratched.

Meningsbee was enraged.

He was wounded.

He couldn’t decide if he was more angry or hurt.

But on the drive home, grasping a moment of maturity, he decided to keep the events of the failed Bible study to himself. Yes, when asked about it, he would play dumb and refer all questions to the other parties involved.

And there would be questions. The congregation had great faith that Meningsbee would be able to come into the living room setting of Sammy Collins’ home and use his spirit and charm to initiate healing.

Maybe that’s what bothered him the most–a complete sense of failure; a rage over being out-foxed by this common possum, Swanson. How did he ever let himself be in such a vulnerable position that this upstart could make him look foolish and insignificant?

Even though he decided that the mature–or as he called it, the Jesonian–way of handling the event was to remain silent, his brain was inflamed with an inferno of retaliation.

And the more he considered his noble choice, to turn the other cheek and pretend it never happened, the more a self-righteous slime made him feel pious–superior to his adversary. Then an aching anger chased that religiosity, leaving him bound in a week-long fit of overwhelming obsession.

Fortunately, he succeeded in dodging all the phone calls from church members by proclaiming that he would share his findings on Sunday. This seemed reasonable to all of them. Why tell the story fifty times when you could tell it once, and have it done?

But what would he tell?

Even though Patrick Swanson did not ask him to keep their conversation in confidence, he knew that anything he would relate about the plans of this worship leader would come across petty–and of course, be easily denied.

He’d had such great hopes.

Meningsbee had come to Garsonville with the spirit of a servant, but now he was realizing that he still had a mind to be king.

Yes, in his more enlightened moments he was willing to be patient and wait for good things to come his way, but that damnable itch insisted on being recognized.

He got so worked up that he ended up with some sleepless nights that invited a common cold to further aggravate him. Sneezing, blowing his nose and sipping some tea and honey for a scratchy throat, he wondered if he could skip the Sunday service due to illness.

Implausible.

Things had to be handled, and unfortunately, it was his hands.

He didn’t pray enough, he didn’t study anything, he over-ate, over-thought and over-reacted.

He reluctantly dressed for Sunday morning and headed out the door. He had no message.

He had never come to spend time with the Heavenly Father so ill-prepared. All he had inside him was poison. But he drove to the church and stepped to the door.

A few people tried to hug him and he was able to maneuver away by explaining his contagious condition. Fortunately, the congregation easily handled prayers, offering, testimonies and even a song.

Then everybody grew quiet, the building completely still, waiting for Pastor Meningsbee to speak.

He stood to his feet, vacant of inspiration.

He walked slowly, as a man treading to an execution. He turned and looked into the hopeful faces of those who yearned for peace with their neighbors.

Suddenly tears filled his eyes. He feigned a sneeze and grabbed a Kleenex to draw attention away from his sudden emotional outburst.

Catching his breath, he picked up a Bible nearby and held it in the air. He stood there for a long moment, waiting for the Holy Spirit to give him utterance. There was none.

Yet the congregation was waiting.

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