Jesonian… April 15th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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A Saturday many, many years ago, the beaten, bruised and bloodied body of Jesus of Nazareth lay still in the darkness of a borrowed tomb, as his spirit communed with the angels and his mind reasoned over the unfoldings of a truly abundant life.

We are not privy to those thoughts.

Matter of fact, all we know of the life of Jesus comes from four major biographers who borrowed pieces from one another, and each, in his own way, had an agenda to offer insights to please his readers.

There is no autobiography.

So we aren’t sure of the emotion in the words attributed to him. Therefore theologians decipher and agnostics disembowel the remnants of the script left to us of this magnificent life.

Yet every once in a while, we get a deeper glimpse. Such is the case in Matthew the 23rd Chapter, Verse 37-38:

“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets and stone them which are sent unto you. How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

The great debate over the centuries has been whether Jesus was Jewish or whether he came, in a certain sense, to abolish Judaism in favor of the New Covenant.

If you study the writings of Martin Luther, you might begin to believe that the Great Reformer was anti-Semetic. Yet in many evangelical churches, there seems to be a return to Jewish traditions, including them with their Christian rituals.

What did Jesus feel about the Jews?

What was the heart of the matter?

First and foremost, you must understand, for Jesus to include Gentiles and Samaritans in his movement immediately made him an outcast from the Jewish religious community.

Matter of fact, the Jewish Council that condemned him to death granted him none of the courtesy that was normally extended to brethren.

The reality that Jesus did not believe that the Jews were special because they were the “children of Abraham,” but rather put forth the opinion that God “could take stones” and make offspring of Abe, certainly did not put him in favor with those of the Zionist profile.

Yet John tells us that he “came to his own and his own received him not.”

When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he did use the phrase “we Jews.” It is the only time he did, but he certainly had a kindness and favorability for those who lived in Judea and Galilee.

But Jesus was a man of vision–the Gospel would never reach China or the Native Americans if it were left in the hands of the Jews. The Jewish people had already aggravated the Romans to the point that the annihilation and dispersion of their kindred was inevitable, if not imminent. The Gospel would only survive in the hands of the Greeks and the Romans, who would take it to the rest of the world.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that when the early church was trying to force Gentile converts to comply with Jewish practices, the former Pharisee condemned them and called them “Judaizers” for limiting the scope and power of the message.

In the two verses recited above, Jesus announces the fate of Judaism.

It is in a coma.

It is left desolate and abandoned.

It is awaiting a day when it can be awakened and all the promises given by the prophets can be fulfilled.

But for a season, it was set aside in favor of salvation and “loving your neighbor” being shared with the entire world.

Basically, if you want to sum up Jesus’ feelings on Judaism, it’s very simple: Jesus loves them.

He just does not believe they’re “chosen people.”

There are no chosen people–just people who choose well.

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Jesonian… March 25th, 2017

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When John, son of Zebedee, sat down to pen his recollections of traveling with Jesus of Nazareth, he had two goals in mind:

  1.  He wanted the reader to know that Jesus was the only begotten son of God.
  2. He also wanted the reader to understand that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being.

So the same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead often finds himself trapped in squabbles with disciples and Pharisees who totally misunderstand his motives.

Nowhere is this clearer than in John the 7th Chapter, when Jesus is once again thrust in the middle of a squall with his Nazareth family. Since he spent his first thirty years in the household of Joseph the Carpenter, one might think that many of these misunderstandings would have been worked out, and that smoother paths would have been pursued.

But as soon as Jesus decided not to be “normal,” his family dubbed him “weird.”

  • They sought him out to bring him home because they thought he was crazy.
  • They stood idly by when the townspeople of Nazareth pushed him to the edge of the cliff, threatening to cast him to his death.
  • And in John the 7th Chapter, they taunt him about his newfound fame, asserting that if he really wanted to “promote his gig,” he should do it at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, where there would be large crowds.

It is a nasty and bitter piece of resentment and jealousy. Some theologians even think that his family members may bave been paid to intimidate him into going to Jerusalem so that assassins lying in wait could kill him on the journey.

We know that Jesus is still trying to work out his own feelings about this nuclear family, because he speaks back to them just as bratty as they spoke to him.

Paraphrasing, “Since you are common laborers with nothing special about you, you can go to the feasst anytime you want and no one will care one way or another. I, on the other hand, wait on instructions from my Father.”

It is one of those examples where Jesus breaks pattern with the conservative Christians of our generation today. On any given Sunday, almost every minister will tout from the pulpit the importance of our personal families–the beauty of fellowship involved in those relationships. But even with a cursory look, we quickly discover that Jesus loved his family, but not more than he loved his fellow humans.

Cases in point:

When they told him that his family had come to see him, he pointed to the crowd and said, “These are my family–those who do the will of my Father.”

When Mary asked him to do something to provide wine for the Cana wedding feast, he called her “woman” and said that he was not at her bidding, but waiting for the right time.

Of course, in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “If you only love those who love you, you’re no better than the heathen.”

And he goes on to say that if you don’t “hate your mother and father, you are not worthy of the kingdom”–not because he was trying to pull families apart, but rather, trying to break curses, genetic trends and predilections which cause children to become just like their parents, choiceless.

And on this occasion in John 7, he makes it clear that he will not be intimidated by his brothers and sisters just so they can force him to become “one of the clan.”

Later, he does attend the Feast of Tabernacles–but on the bidding of the Spirit, not the coercion of family.

What can we learn from Jesus about family?

You can love them, trust them and listen to them as long as they do not steal your identity and your calling. Then, if they choose to do that, for a while you can just love them–until the day that they finally understand.

Even though Jesus died, rose from the grave and went to heaven without the support of his Nazareth home, we know that at least three of them–James, Jude, and of course, Mother Mary–ended up becoming ardent followers of his message. 

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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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Jesonian… February 18th, 2017

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Christianity is not a religion–it is a lifestyle.

It is based upon the human example left behind by Jesus of Nazareth. Any attempt to build the Kingdom of God on doctrines, practices, rituals, worship, attendance, prayer, Bible study or fasting will flail, because the Kingdom of God is within us.

In other words, until we tap ourselves–our passions, our errors and get our questions answered–there really is no Kingdom of God.

Or maybe better stated, it’s a theory.

To emphasize this, Jesus told us that God is our Father.

Once we realize that He is our Daddy and not the smoke at the top of the mountain, an angry disciplinarian, the Force, or just karma, we can then predict what God’s reaction will be in situations due to His paternal instincts.

  • As a Father, He is certainly not going to plan our lives for us. Any dad who would do that would be considered a first-class asshole.
  • As a Father, He’s not going to give up on us, disown us, or throw us out in the desert with a canteen.
  • But as a Father, He will institute chores for us to perform–and by our faithfulness, evaluate our present mindset.

Jesus came to show us the Father.

We should be studying the life, ideas, tendencies and predilections of the Nazarene. Instead we focus on His arrest, trial and death.

In doing so, we attempt to divert the Christian message from being a revelation of the Father to a pre-destined, pre-ordained human execution in order to acquire blood atonement.

Actually, the crucifixion makes so much more sense when you realize that the Father was hoping his children would be more receptive–but still made a pathway of salvation for all of us through the courage and sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus.

It is not that dissimilar to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, who is thrown into a pit by his brothers, left for dead, only to redeem those same brethren in Egypt after he gained power, rescuing them from destitution.

Nothing good happens in the Christian church until we realize that the entire ministry of Jesus was about showing us the Father.

Even in the midst of the agony of the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

So if you’re wondering why religion is leaving you flat, and church seems redundant and meaningless, it’s because invented ideas have been passed along and given primary importance, while the congregation thirsts for the relationship with their Father promised to them by Jesus.

It is time for us to show Jesus to the community–so he can reveal the Father to all of us.

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Jesonian… February 4th, 2017

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Don’t Be in a Hurry

Jesus of Nazareth spent his twenties hangin’ around his house, living off his parents.

Most good Jewish boys of that day were married and breeding more of the Children of Israel.

I think the reason he didn’t leave home until he was thirty is rather simple: Jesus couldn’t start his work until it was definite that he was the one starting it.

He had too many helpers.

His mother, Mary, wanted him to do little miracles to impress the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Joseph was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t thrilled with carpentry.

Cousin John the Baptist thought he should be the ‘Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.’

Then there were the disciples. Most of them were waiting for Jesus to beat the crap out of the Romans. It was going to be HUGE and make Israel great again.

And the Jewish leaders thought Jesus would really look good dead, so they hired a mob to yell, “Crucify him.”

Everybody’s going to have an opinion on what you should do. So learn from Jesus’ life. Turn down the noise.

And by the way, don’t be in a hurry to play God.

Because even if you tell people you love them, folks are so angry, frustrated and religious … that they just might nail you.

 

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Good News and Better News… January 30th, 2017

 

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I had the privilege of sharing in Lighthouse Point, Florida.

What a fabulous name. Opens the door for all sorts of clever interpretation–especially for a writer who might become overly exuberant.

But what struck me was that we were returning for our third occasion to be sponsored by Pastor Gabe, in yet another of her assigned churches.

She is a dynamic woman. Let me change that. She is an outstanding person–a breast cancer survivor, a minister, an individual with a delightful sense of humor, and also, as I found out yesterday, enjoys watching reruns of “West Wing.”

During a conversation with Gabe, she mentioned that this present church was about the same size as all of the other churches she had pastored.

Kind of small.

Although she did not express any sadness or misgiving about the size, I thought to myself, “We live in a country that thinks the bigger things are, the better they are.”

Although that might apply to hamburgers and ice cream cones, it certainly does not come to play in discussing a church.

For you see, a church is not an organization, a meeting hall, a service or a club. A church does not become more impressive because there are more butts in seats.

A church is a place where those who are seeking maturity can come together to strengthen one another.

Factually, I don’t know if you can do that with more than a hundred people at a time. You can jam fifteen thousand Christians into an auditorium, but it doesn’t mean that a single-mindedness of joy and faith will be produced.

Yes, the purpose of the church is to encourage people to “grow to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Jesus.”

Whenever you gather more than three or four hundred together, you’ve got to have a program with praise band singers and create some sort of atmosphere of worship, hoping that somewhere over the coffee and donuts provided in the fellowship hall, human conversation might somehow ensue. But that’s not who we are.

We need fullness.

In the human experience, fullness occurs when we allow ourselves to feel. So when I go into a church and people are reluctant to express emotion, I know they’ve convinced themselves that they’re in a worship service instead of a fellowship.

We also need to reach a certain measure.

What is that measure? A sense of survival. After all, we will never succeed if we can’t first survive. We learn to survive by hearing the testimony of others–like Gabe, who herself survived the horror of disease.

We realize we are not alone. For after all, there is nothing lonelier than being in a room with ten thousand people and knowing nobody.

And finally, church should grant us stature.

In other words, we know we can grow. Why? Because we just testified to people about our new discovery.

This is the atmosphere that was intended for the church of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • I can feel
  • I can survive
  • I can grow

And what Pastor Gabe, and all of us, need to celebrate is that the church is not noteworthy because of its sanctuary. It becomes the light of the world because it lights up its members.

The good news is that America is doing well because people like Pastor Gabe are on the job, with an attention to detail and a care for fellow-travelers.

The better news is that we in the church become a highly functioning organism when we motivate the souls around us to grow “to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Jesus.”

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Jesonian… January 21st, 2017

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They tried.

They really, really tried.

Once folks discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was interested in love, mercy, peace and God, they attempted to make connection with him by being religious.

They couldn’t understand an itinerant minister who was so against organized theology that he hid out in the hills in the middle of the week, fellowshipping with folks, only descending to the synagogue on Saturday, to find more brothers and sisters.

Yet they tried.

First came Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He began his dialogue with Jesus by saying, “We know you are a teacher from God because you do such amazing works.”

He was a victim of church talk. He didn’t know how to chat like “real people.” He was hoping that he and Jesus could compliment one another and ruminate over the unknown questions of the universe, departing satisfied that they were both educated men.

Jesus ignored his religion and told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again.”

It pissed the old cleric off.

On another occasion, Jesus was sitting at a well in Samaria when a woman with a history of multiple husbands, now living with a man, came to draw water. When, through conversation, she realized that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, she began a religious argument–whether the Jews or the Samaritans were right. Here she was, a totally secular woman with no real understanding of the essence of God. But once she decided she was dealing with a religious adversary, she waxed ecclesiastical.

Jesus ignored her.

He told her to go get her husband.

He told her he had living water.

He told her that where we worship is not important–it’s how we worship that rings our bells.

And we must not forget the rich young ruler, who was so confident in his financial status that he felt the only thing he lacked was assurance that he had procured eternal life. He felt certain that Jesus was the person to ask about the afterlife.

“What must I do to inherit heaven?”

After a few minutes of back and forth, Jesus told him to go out, sell everything he had and give it to the poor. This was not the answer the pious young ruler wanted. So he left, sad.

Any further study of Jesus’ interactions with religious people of his day will give you a comprehensive awareness that all of them–all of the encounters–to some degree were failures.

Because the things that religious people need to do they don’t want to do:

  • Like Nicodemus, they do not want to personalize their salvation to be individually born again.
  • Like the woman at the well, they want to worship but not discover the “Spirit and the truth” of their praise.
  • And like the rich young ruler, they would rather memorize passages than generously give from their substance.

Whenever you bring religion to Jesus, he will challenge it–even attack it.

So do yourself a favor.

Skip the step.

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