Jesonian… April 22nd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Cousin John was creating quite a stir.

He had found himself a wide spot on the Jordan River at Bethabara and was dunking people to cleanse them from their sins. News of the words and deeds of the flamboyant relative/prophet had reached Nazareth, and members of the community were split on their opinions of the events–based upon whether they had any family ties with the locust eater.

There was a lot of conversation in the home of Joseph the Carpenter, since Brother John was a part of the bloodline. Papa had died a year earlier, leaving the household to the care of his eldest son, Jesus. That oldest boy, though loyal, faithful and true, had never found great solace in carpentry, and with the death of his father, had become disillusioned with the daily chores.

After Joseph’s death, he had slipped away for a few days into the wilderness to think, and upon returning was greeted with the reports of his cousin’s outreach.

Some jealousy tried to slip in–for Jesus also felt a great calling to share a message with mankind. Knowing that John had already begun such an endeavor created a spiritual itch in him which he desperately needed to scratch.

In these fleeting moments of jealousy he was tempted to join the critics of his cousin. But ashamed of those inclinations, he decided to instead go to Bethabara and observe for himself.

It was a first step to sanity.

If something good is going on in the world, go hear it, understand it and support it.

So without announcement, he arrived at the encampment of the Baptist. He spent two weeks doing nothing but listening to his cousin, watching the events unfold and noting how John handled the contrary natures of the scribes and Pharisees.

He heard the Voice.

He dodged a huge clump of jealousy and instead developed a deep sense of admiration.

After hearing the Voice, it came time to make a choice.

Was he just going to be a watcher? Was he going to go back to Nazareth and try to be the dead carpenter’s son?

John talked about the Kingdom of God being at hand and the need to repent. Jesus stayed up one night thinking about his own repentance. For after all, there is nothing more sinful than believing you are sinless. He saw his errors. He saw where his discontentment with carpentry often came across to his family as if he had a feeling of superiority.

He knew he was tempted like everyone. He was touched with the same sicknesses that each and every human being experiences.

He wanted John’s baptism. He needed John’s baptism. It was the righteous thing to do–because if there was to be a mission, the first step to usher in the possibility was to make a choice.

Jesus made a choice.

He stood in line, waited his turn and stepped down into the Jordan River with his cousin to be cleansed.

To his surprise, the Prophet prophesied. The burly preacher called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Jesus had only met John a handful of times. There was no private coalition. So he took John’s words into his heart as he immersed himself in the experience of the Jordan River baptism.

He rose from the water, walked to the shoreline and realized it was time for him to begin his own work. What was the best way to do that?

How could he change the noise in the world around him?

He smiled and took off across the countryside, bellowing, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

He borrowed the message of his cousin.

It had been a successful slogan–it was a great place to start.

At that fateful day at the baptism of Jesus, no one would ever have guessed that the Nazarene’s work would spread across the entire planet and that John would historically be viewed as a forerunner.

It was all made possible because Jesus had the sensitivity and wisdom to hear the voice and then make a choice before he went out to change the noise.

 

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Good News and Better News… April 17th, 2017

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Jesus was the Good Shepherd. (Well, I guess He still is, since no one else is qualified or particularly interested in the job.) He spent his whole life trying to find a way to be a caretaker for sheepish human souls.

It began with thirty years of family life–a mother, father, sisters and brothers trying to get along in cramped quarters, being hunted down daily by poverty.

Then, when he felt a stirring in his soul to do more, his desires were struck down by the locals, who insisted he should remain the “carpenter’s son.”

So he moved a little bit down the road to a town called Capernaum, and started a house-front church–Peter’s house. It became very popular–so much so that the folks literally started tearing the walls out.

But then his family got wind of his doings, thought he was crazy and came out to take him home. A little bit of scandal. Suddenly the citizens of Capernaum were not quite as interested anymore.

So Jesus turned to his handful of disciples and said, “Well, let’s take the show on the road.”

He became an evangelist. Since he figured no one in Galilee or Judea was particularly interested, he went to Samaria. He met a woman who helped him build energy and in no time at all there was some excitement and thrilling deeds in the works.

Unfortunately, when he returned back to Samaria shortly thereafter, they wouldn’t let him share anymore because they found out he liked Jews–and they hated them.

He decided to return to Galilee to live off the land and just see who came in. Eventually there were seventy of them–one of those church sizes that is so common today.

Jesus motivated them, sent them out two by two, and their work was so successful that within a few months, Jesus found himself teaching five thousand people–an unbelievable growth spurt.

Jesus had himself a mega church. He was not only leading them but also feeding them. But when he began teaching them about personal responsibility, and the fact that his congregants needed to be on a spiritual journey to have the heart of God toward humanity, they objected. Matter of fact, they got angry, started “splits,” and before you know it, Jesus lost 4,988 members.

He was left with twelve.

That’s a pretty drastic dip. I would think he would have had a tendency to question his technique, method or even wisdom. But Jesus went the other direction. He continued to minister to the twelve disciples, but he focused on three: Peter, James and John.

And although the Good Book says that five hundred witnesses saw him after the resurrection, only 120 were around for the Day of Pentecost.

But Jesus had even shrunk his vision of the three “best friend” disciples down to one.

Yes, on a cool morning by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus stood by the water with Simon Peter and said, “Feed my sheep.”

When it turned out that Peter got a little weary, Jesus appeared on a back road near Damascus and told a chap named Saul of Tarsus, “Stop fighting it. You are meant to be a messenger.”

So even though thousands and thousands of people came Jesus’ way, encountered his message, some even walking away with miraculous healings, he intelligently placed focus on two fellows, who made it their mission to teach the parishioners around them to become disciples–and to change the world.

The good news is that the Gospel is not about building churches and getting attendance. It’s about making disciples.

And the better news is that a contented, fulfilled, excited and creative disciple can reach millions.

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G-Poppers … April 14th, 2017

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Jon close up

Jesus.

What does the name evoke?

G-Pop remembers a time when the mention of Jesus would flood one’s mind with images of mercy, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance and most certainly, love.

But the years have pressed on, and the insanity of religious fanaticism has begun to lump Jesus in with all his errant practitioners and sour-faced sheep.

It may be the greatest tragedy of Good Friday. Not only was he crucified by ignorant rabble, who had memorized scripture but had no Word in their hearts, but he is now re-wounded by those who fail to comprehend that they are imitating the primer of his murderers instead of the mindset of the Master.

G-Pop recalls a phrase Jesus once used: “Except your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Exceed.

Exceed what?

Prayer? No–it can’t be that. Jesus warned his disciples not to advertise their prayer life, but instead, find a closet, shut the door and create intimacy.

Study? Highly unlikely. Jesus accused the Pharisees of parsing every jot and tittle as they “strained at the gnat and swallowed the camel” forgetting the “weightier matters” of God’s message–that being justice and mercy.

Fasting? Once again, both he and his disciples were accused of never fasting, and Jesus told them that if they did, to make sure they literally put on a happy face.

So how did he want his disciples to exceed the religious people around them?

In the humanities.

  • Training themselves to give a damn instead of insisting that they just couldn’t muster the energy.
  • Refusing to judge other people, even though it temporarily makes us feel ooey and goooey with superiority.
  • Realizing that the folks who are considered the least on Earth have the heavenly Father’s eyeball–to see who will come and gently tend to them.

G-Pop points out that as we consider the crucifixion of Christ, we have to ask ourselves, why such a drastic measure? Why kill him?

And the answer is simple. There was a danger that if Jesus lived, or his disciples were still filled with his power and spunk, that religion would not be able to manipulate people into enough guilt to trap them in ceremony–as it robbed their pockets.

“This Jesus, this Jesus, this Jesus must die.”

G-Pop thinks the best tribute we can give to Jesus on this dark day in history is to exceed the Pharisees that walk the Earth today–by using the humor, kindness, gentleness, cleverness and mercy that he taught us to possess.

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Jesonian… April 1st, 2017

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Unconditional love.

The phrase has been so overused that now it is tossed off as a given.

It is a symbol of tolerance, a byline for acceptance; a teary-eyed sentiment conveying that we are truly embraced by affection.

If by unconditional love you mean verifying and legitimizing everything people do, then absolutely not. But if by unconditional love you mean a decision to stay with people and continue to be supportive, even though they are struggling or having problems, then assuredly.

But the definition is a slippery banana peel which needs to be clarified. It takes seven verses from the Good Book in Matthew the 16th Chapter to do so. These define what unconditional love is from the perspective of Jesus, who came to show us the attitudes and mind of the Father in Heaven.

In the 16th verse of that 16th Chapter in Matthew, Peter has a brilliant moment. When asked by Jesus, “Who do you think I am?” he quickly replies, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Jesus steps right into him with praise–and not only praise, but offers the status of a new name, and says that because of his great answer, he will be given more authority.

But just a few verses further, when Jesus is explaining to the disciples where the Jerusalem experience might lead, and that he will be killed by the Jewish elders and leaders, Peter rebukes him. I don’t know–maybe the disciple was high on his own praise–but he says that Jesus is mistaken–nothing like that could happen.

Under the popular concept of unconditional love, we would expect Jesus to say, “That’s all right, Peter. It is a bit difficult to comprehend. But hang in there–you’ll eventually get the idea.”

Under the umbrella of unconditional love, we would not expect, Jesus to call him Satan simply because he didn’t understand what was going on. But that’s exactly what Jesus does.

Because even though it says that “God so loved the world because he gave his only begotten son,” everlasting life is contingent upon us accepting that gift.

We are told that we are saved, but we are also warned that we will have to endure to the end to receive the realization.

The definition of unconditional love from the aspect of the Jesonian is as follows:

“I will love you enough to tell you the truth, because the truth will make you free–and only when you’re free do you really learn to love.”

When you remove the truth from love, what you have is flattery. It may feel the same, but it lacks the veracity to sustain us through the hard times, where our weaknesses will obviously be exposed.

To love someone is to tell him or her the truth. The truth grants the individual the ability to be free of the humiliation of being exposed. And once absent fear, a freedom to love is unleashed.

I am afraid that people who accept unconditional love as a guarantee that they will never be challenged will never truly learn to love.

  • Jesus loved Peter enough to praise him–when it was the truth.
  • He loved him enough to call him Satan when that also was the truth.
  • And even though Peter denied Jesus, Jesus never denied Peter.

Get your definition of unconditional love correct and then you can implement it:

“I love you enough to tell you the truth, so you can be free to learn to love.”

 

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Good News and Better News… March 6th, 2017

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They were known as the Herodians.

They were one of three political parties that stumped around in Jesus’ time, completely enveloped in a cloud of self-importance.

Unlike their counterparts, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Herodians had quietly given up on the power of Jewish tradition, scriptural integrity and even the intervention of God. They had decided to seek a more “earthly” solution. In doing this, they proclaimed that Herod was the Messiah and the King of the Jews. This immediately eliminated a need to wait for anything, believe in anything outrageous or follow commandments which seemed to be a dead-end street.

It was the Herodians who actually put the nails in Jesus’ hands.

Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were so frightened of the people that they were never able to come up with a plan to trap Jesus. It was only when the cunning Herodians, with their defiled political thinking, came on the scene, that a plot was put in place to put an end to the “Jesus question.”

I bring up the Herodians this morning because we have a similar situation in America. The church has flirted with politics for years, feeling that it gave them some sort of pass to “big-town thinking.” Yet somehow or another, the religious system was able to keep itself from becoming the whore to Washington.

Then somewhere along the line, we gave up on faith.

We gave up on “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And to a huge degree, we gave up on Jesus.

We started looking for a secular leader to represent us–an imposter–so we once again have come up with a scheme rid ourselves of Jesus.

This is why we’re so confused. It’s why worship has a feeling of vanity and purposelessness to it. Numbers are dropping. The young people are uninspired, and the clergy teeter between fanaticism and apathy.

It is time for us to identify the Herodians, expose them as the quitters they are, and once again give our faith, hope and charity a chance to do its mystery.

Here’s the good news: Jesus is not political.

Here’s the better news: He’s still in the business of loving people and saving souls.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 43) Broad Shoulders… February 26th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Even though spring was less than two weeks away, the Windy City was still frigid, with sporadic snow flurries careening through the air.

Meningsbee had spent too much time admiring and devouring his deep-dish pizza, and so found himself hurrying the short distance down the street, to “The Illinoian,” a downtown hotel which in its salad days was dressed lavishly, but with the wear chasing the tear, had somewhat lost its flair.

Meningsbee was late to deliver a speech in Ballroom Three, for the “Midwest Evangelical Mainline Church Convention.” It was an annual gathering in Chicago, usually drawing about 5,000 pastors, church leaders, music directors and congregation members who found such seminars to hold some interest. Matter of fact, Bob Harborhouse from the Garsonville Church, had come, and Monique Jennings, the church secretary.

Meningsbee had been invited to speak on the subject of “Innovation in the 21st Century Church.” His first inclination was to decline, but on second thought, was quite grateful for the opportunity to leave Nebraska for a few days.

He was a little concerned about whether anybody would show up in Ballroom Three. After all, Monique had already decided to go shopping and Bob had opted to attend a different seminar on church finance, entitled “The Power of the Shekel.”

So Meningsbee was on his own and a bit out of breath as he stepped off the elevator on the third floor, and was suddenly surrounded by cameras, with a reporter sticking a microphone to his mouth. It was Katrina Middlesex, who was no longer with USBN, but had now joined a conservative think tank from the blogosphere named “The American Way.”

Meningsbee tried to wiggle past the entourage, but Katrina positioned herself in front of the door, prohibiting him from entering. With bright lights in his face and cameras poised, she began to fire questions.

“Do you think its hypocritical for you to be here?”

“Do you think what happened in Garsonville is your fault?”

Then it was the third question that shocked Meningsbee.

“Is it true that you have a problem with pornography?”

He could not disguise his surprise.

So she asked him again, “Are you involved in pornography?”

Frustrated, angry and beginning to feel some indigestion from his lunch, he snapped, “No comment.”

Katrina smiled and slowly backed away, allowing him to enter the ballroom.

Safely inside, he immediately realized it was the wrong answer. He should at least have denied it. “No comment” was an admission that there might be some substance to the question and that he needed to consult an attorney.

It was so stupid.

Meningsbee lifted his eyes to look at the room, peering at a beautiful hall with 300 chairs–speckled with about forty human beings. Worse, they had spread themselves all over the place, as if trying to avoid a contagion.

He took a deep breath and walked to the front of the auditorium, placing his portfolio on the podium, As he did, he saw a note. It read: “Dear Reverend Meningsbee: I’m sorry I will not be there to introduce you. Got all tied up. Just feel free to start on your own, and may God bless you.”

Meningsbee didn’t read any further. Knowing who had left him out in the cold would not make him feel any warmer.

He tested the microphone, which whirred and whistled a bit, causing some of the congregated to giggle, and then began to speak from his prepared text. He wasn’t even five words into his spiel when a hand was raised in the audience. He stopped, acknowledged the individual, and she posed, “Why were all the reporters out in the lobby?”

Another man sitting three rows in front of her threw a comment over his shoulder in her direction. “There was some sort of scandal in his hometown and they wanted to ask him about his involvement.”

Meningsbee stepped in, objecting. “It wasn’t a scandal. It was just people stuff, which they made scandalous.”

A fellow four or five rows over piped in. “Was it sex stuff?”

A lady all the way in the back responded, projecting her voice to cover the distance. “Yes. I think so.”

Meningsbee interrupted. “I’ve come here today to talk about innovation in the 21st century church.”

Yet another hand went up. Meningsbee reluctantly acknowledged the inquisitor.

“Did you use the scandal to advertise the church? That’s pretty innovative. You know what they say–there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Meningsbee was lost. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do.

All at once, another voice. Male, younger–strong.

“If you don’t mind, Reverend Meningsbee,” said the young man, standing to his feet, “I would like to tell them what you did. If you folks are not familiar with the work that is going on in Garsonville, I’ve been keeping up with it through reading the blogs about the movement in the town, and also I have a cousin who lives there who fills me in on all the adventures.

“This gentleman, Reverend Meningsbee, wrote a book called ‘The Jesus Church.’ If you’ve never read it, you should. I know people always say that. In this case, it’s true. Basically, it asks the question, ‘What kind of church would Jesus run if Jesus was in the church running business?'”

People chuckled.

“So,” the young man continued, “the Reverend came to be a pastor in Garsonville, to see if he and the folks there can get together and form…well, I guess ‘form a more perfect union.’ But anyway, let me shut up, and let the parson tell us the whole story.”

The young man sat down, leaned back, crossed his legs and prepared to listen. The other people in the hall noted his position and followed suit.

Meningsbee was able to finish his speech. Afterward, he quickly found the young man, and thanked him for his kindness.

He replied, “Oh, you were fine. You didn’t need me. My dad used to tell me, ‘always travel with a little bit of grease, because most of the time you won’t be the wheel, but lots of times the wheel will need the grease.'”

Meningsbee found out that the young man’s name was Carl–Carl Ramenstein. He was a student at the Illinois Theological Seminary and was due to graduate in May.

“Come and see us,” said Meningsbee.

Carl smiled. “Why?”

The question took Meningsbee by surprise. He was just trying to be polite, but now the astute young man was calling him on it.

“Good question,” responded Meningsbee. “I guess because you’re young, good-looking, level-headed, humble and the Kingdom of God certainly wouldn’t suffer under your efforts.”

Carl feigned surprise. “Are you offering me a job?”

“No, no,” said Meningsbee. “Stale Danish, weak coffee–that’s our offer.”

Carl laughed, paused and considered. He reached out to shake the pastor’s hand, saying, “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I ever need stale Danish and coffee, you’ll be the first place I go.”

They shared a laugh. Meningsbee couldn’t help but be grateful for the intervention of the stranger.

Now all he had to do was figure out how to get out of Ballroom Three without seeing Katrina again. 

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 40) And With All Your Getting … February 5th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Sluggish.

A solemn surrender to sadness.

After many weeks of a revival of human emotion, appreciation and pursuit of the general welfare, the Garsonville community gradually settled back into its traditional format of pending suspicion and growing apprehension.

It was actually rather sudden–a transition that occurred over a two-week period. One moment people were smiling, greeting each other warmly and taking an extra second or two while shaking hands. And the next thing you knew, they were creating distance, staking claim to their turf.

Meningsbee noticed it immediately. When he turned to face the congregation, they had stopped grinning. Now they were peering–that fussy, Midwestern squint, poised to offer disapproval.

He felt alone.

This reversion to blandness, which was so clear to him, seemed satisfactory to the rest of the gang, which had obviously decided that the resurrection in their spirits had merely been a Ferris Wheel ride of intrigue. Now it was time to return home from the circus, to do the chores and milk the cows.

Meningsbee thought to himself that over the years, many preachers from this community had faced this quandary–a burst of enthusiasm followed by creeping and crawling backwards, to a profile of preoccupation.

Those ministers may have decided to ignore the digression and accept the inevitable. Not Richard Meningsbee.

So on the ninth Sunday after the beginning of the town’s jubilation, he stood before the congregation and spoke.

“Rich. Young. Ruler.

“That’s how the Good Book describes him. Not a bad combo, do you think? I don’t believe there’s a person here who would object to being richer, younger or even ruling something.

“It also lets us know that this fella was intrigued by all things spiritual. His journey had taken him through the rigors of religion–following commandments, listening to sermons and abstaining from lying and adultery.

“Then he hears about a young man from Nazareth who has an earth-shaking rendition of God-talk. So the rich, young ruler–being rich, young and a ruler–goes out to see Jesus to ask a question. ‘What must I do to get to heaven?’

“From his perspective, that’s all that remained. He was set up for life with all the wine, women and song the commandments would allow. But he was curious how he could maintain that status in the afterlife.

“So when the boy was dissatisfied with Jesus’ response, Jesus gave him a truthful answer. You all remember that, don’t you? The truth? It used to float by every once in a while. Jesus told him, ‘If you want to go to heaven, go out, sell everything you’ve got and give it to the poor.’

“Was Jesus declaring some sort of war on poverty? Of course not. There were poor people when Jesus showed up and they were still there when he left. Jesus was declaring a war on selfishness. In other words, if you’re rich, you’re young, you’re a ruler and you’re following all the commandments and going to church like you should–and you’re still dissatisfied, the problem just may not be linked to your Bible study and prayer. It could be that you know you’re full of crap, but you just don’t like the idea of being full of crap.

“After all, Jesus only asked him to temporarily donate his wealth. He was young and he was a ruler, which certainly granted him the means to get funky and rich again. But to do so, he would have to admit that money was not the source of his power. The Good Book says he walked away sadly.

“Now, I’m lookin’ out this morning at sad people. Oh, you all would argue with me and insist you’re just fine. You would inform me that the boost of joy and gratitude our community experienced over the past couple of months was a shower of blessing, and now we’re just back to the heat of the day.

“You might even shake your heads and say, ‘Reverend Meningsbee, you just don’t understand us Nebraskan folk.’ But I’ll tell you–there are only three roads you can take.

“You can pretend there’s no heaven and just do whatever the hell you want to. You can pretend that heaven and hell is all there is, and make your reservation at the cooler place. Or you can believe that heaven and hell begin now. How we treat each other. How we approach our work. How we accept other people’s children. And whether or not we think God is smilin’ or frownin’.

“I will not pastor a church that thinks our journey is all about ‘making the pearly gates’ or ‘avoiding a devil’s hell.’ Yes, I will tell you plainly, if you don’t give a damn, then be damned with ya’. We’re gonna keep the revival alive instead of finding our hole and crawling in it.

“If you were that young chap, would you leave sadly? I guess the question is, will you leave sadly today?”

As Meningsbee finished, he jogged down the middle aisle, passing through the narthex, out the door, into the parking lot, jumped in his car, started it and left.

He didn’t want to hear opinions–and he didn’t want to be tempted to soften his words as the bruised filed by him on their way to mediocrity.

He would wait and see how the message of the day would survive the week.

 

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