Jesonian: The Original Millennials… October 11th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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millennials

Using information provided and having a general understanding of the longevity of their lives, we can pretty well assume that Peter, Andrew, James and John were somewhere between the ages of 15 and 25 when they met Jesus of Nazareth.

And since they ended up living in the 1st Century A.D., they are “the original millennials.”

So it’s very intriguing to consider how Jesus handled these young men, who obviously had little interest in religious matters, God, traditions or anything but fishing.

Yes, they were typical young folk:

  • They were fishing for purpose.
  • They were fishing for compliments.
  • They were fishing for ways to avoid responsibility.
  • And in their case, they were literally fishing for fish.

They would never have encountered the Nazarene if he had held meetings at the local synagogue or started a store-front in Capernaum. So how did Jesus handle his millennials?

We find that answer in the Good Book, in Luke the 5th Chapter.

1. He went where they were.

They lived by the sea, so he went to the sea.

2. He worked with what they knew.

Since their business was fishing and they were accustomed to boats, he asked to borrow their boat so he could teach from it, which in turn created a climate for:

3. A captive audience.

Yes, to a certain degree they were trapped in the boat, doing him a favor, but at the same time, hearing the message. Yet Jesus did not stop there and make it a theological encounter. Instead:

4. He profited them in a way they could understand.

After the sermon he told them to take their nets and cast them into the water for a great haul of fish. Thus he proved that the best parts of believing in God are the benefits that come through practical application. Which ended up with:

5. Jesus joining them as they joined him.

And instead of holding a revival at the synagogue or storefront, Peter’s home became their headquarters. It’s much easier to minister to people in an environment where they feel comfortable taking off their shoes.

It is unlikely we will be able to conventionally reach a younger generation that has already given up on the idea of organized religion. Perhaps it is their mission to show us the fallacy of religion without reality.

So if you’re a minister, stop inviting people to church and instead, write a blog reviewing movies, TV shows or video games.

Meet the millennials at the sea, where they’re doing their fishing.

And benefit them by showing them ways to enhance their relationships, children and families.

And then, don’t force them to come to your institution, but instead, set up a way for them to have faith … in their own homes.

 

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Three Ways to Use Your Doubt… October 23, 2014

 

Jonathots Daily Blog

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cliff

 

In the traditional story of Easter, three interesting characters are brought to the stage.

  • Judas, who betrays
  • Peter, who denies
  • And Thomas, who doubts

Unfortunately, the audience viewing the drama is encouraged to believe that all three of these individuals are equally culpable.

Please understand–there is a huge chasm between betrayal and denial, and likewise one existing between denial and doubt.

Betrayal is doubt which has already given up on the idea and is looking for a reason to rationalize its treachery.

Denial is doubt that has never been voiced, but when put under the pressure of persecution, exposes its weakness.

But on the other hand, doubt is what human beings do to flush out the trash and make room for new stuff.

It is a good thing.

There is not a day that goes by when I do not doubt the existence of God. No hour goes by when I do not question my own ability. And no minute ticks away when uncertainty does not stall me for a second or two concerning my resolution.

Trying to dispel these uncertainties through a chatty spirit of positive thinking is not only hypocritical, but futile.

Doubt is the powerful tool that transforms us from nostalgia to action. Use your doubt to:

1. Dispel fake faith.

What is fake faith? Any belief you hold which has not been personally tested. It is the accumulation of knowledge with no experience. It is the fear that if your faith was brought into the heat of the day, it would shrivel up and die.

Probably fifty percent of what we all believe is not only impractical and implausible, but actually inhibits us from living with lighter hearts.

2. Use your doubt to understand others.

Too often we become frustrated with human beings because they dare to speak the confusion that we try to hide behind our fake faith. I have much more compassion for people when I’m willing to admit my own doubts.

3. And finally, use your doubt to learn to be more honest.

  • Doubt is your spirit crying for a moment of truthfulness.
  • Doubt is when your heart desires to remove the clog of unanswered questions.

Thomas was not a denier nor a betrayer. He was a man who was dealing with some pain and rather than drinking it away …  he posed the question.

 

 

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G-44: Blogging… October 3, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Paul writing

Paul was a blogger.

Although it’s commonly accepted that he authored books, what he really penned were entries which he posted to various individuals and congregations, expressing his mood in the moment.

So sometimes we have:

  • happy Paul
  • sad Paul
  • angry Paul
  • theological Paul
  • philosophical Paul
  • bruised Paul
  • attacking Paul
  • judgmental Paul
  • merciful Paul
  • Pharisee Paul
  • and Gentile Paul

Nothing much is achieved in reading the New Testament without understanding this concept. For if you isolate off one of Paul’s posts and attempt to characterize his entire message by its content, you will soon be frustrated by another entry, which seems to be contradictory.

Before you become critical of this grab-bag styling, you might want to consider the audience Paul was trying to reach. First, he worked around the erroneous premise of trying to be “all things to all men so that he might save some.” Here’s the problem with the idea: the Jews seek for a sign, the Greeks want wisdom, the Romans crave power and the Barbarians yearn for an identity. It’s difficult to believe that any singular paragraph, clump of verses or accumulation of chapters could appease all of these sensitivities.

So by the time the first century came to an end, and all of the original folks who ate and lived with Jesus were dying off, the message was suffering from a “clarification crisis.”

Some people favored Paul, some Peter, some Apollos, and others, some no-name who didn’t make the Biblical cut.

Simultaneously, the Romans were gradually getting tired of killing Christians and because of the failings of their Empire, were looking for a fresh motivation. So as time marched on, the Romans embraced this “Mesopotamia Message” as their own, and of course, in the process, swallowed it up with their bureaucracy.

The Romans, being authoritarians, felt that the weakness of the Pauline preaching was that it allowed too much freedom for the individual, without the structure of a governing body filled with superiors.

So this new Roman church was structured exactly the same as Rome itself–with an Emperor, a Senate, tribunals and even, to a certain degree, legions of soldiers.

The ironic result was that a God who came to study man was ignored in favor of men who decided to study God.

Meanwhile, the Barbarians discovered a potent identity. They could defeat Rome and rule the world, such as it was.

So a message which was intended to place the Kingdom of God within the heart of each believer was now placed within the whim of a potentate.

Alas, my friends … leave it to human beings to make things worse when they organize. 

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The Sermon on the Mount in music and story. Click the mountain!

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Paulless… February 1, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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El Paso SanctuarySaint Paul United Methodist Church in El Paso, Texas. My latest tour date.

Saint Paul.

I guess it’s one of those titles they give to you after you’re dead, and they’re trying to apologize for how badly they treated you. Sometimes they even name a frigid city in Minnesota after you.

The reason I like Paul is because he understood both ends of the spectrum of human life. Well … I should say he exhibited them, whether he understood it or not.

It would be unfortunate for our modern world if Earth had ended up “Paulless.” Honestly, Peter and the other eleven disciples were quite content, after the resurrection, to sit in their rocking chairs on Solomon’s Porch outside the Temple, and recall former days when water turned to wine.

It was Paul who was curious about reaching the rest of the world and not just those who liked to have a little “shew” with their bread. Matter of fact, I can guarantee you that Christianity would never have reached the white, bratwurst-eating tribes had it not been for Paul of Tarsus.

But the best thing about him is that he demonstrates that being inspired by God involves a combination of mistakes and discoveries.

  • Because the same Paul who succeeded in getting the gospel message to the Gentiles also spent way too much time arguing with the Jews, who had no intention of changing and ended up sending him to his demise.
  • Yes, Paul, who welcomed women into the ministry as equals, got into a bad mood one day and equated the female of the species as being deceived “weaker vessels” who needed to submit.
  • He taught us about the grace of God instead of a mean, Old Testament grouch, but also over-emphasized a plan of salvation instead of explaining the lifestyle of Jesus.
  • He had the eloquent moment in the book of Philippians, where he proclaimed with great joy, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” while also being tagged with writing complaints about how he was mistreated and not allowed to be an apostle.
  • With great humility he bowed his head and received the welcoming acceptance of Barnabas when the rest of the Christians were afraid of him because of his vendetta against the faith, only to turn around when Barnabas wanted to be forgiving toward John Mark, who had grown road weary, and condemned the boy as unworthy of his calling.

It’s all in there. It is unedited. It is why I know the Good Book is divinely inspired–for a God who plans on saving the world doesn’t need to embellish the story to make everything seem fine.

If the world was Paulless–well, the world probably wouldn’t have Jesus.

It also wouldn’t have the obvious example of a man who was ordained with greatness … and bewitched by moments of insecurity.

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Andrew It Out … April 27, 2013

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fiVe loavesAs I get older I realize it more and more.

The game is not fame. The game is not acclaim. It’s about leaving behind a plain path of understanding concerning your life so that others can study it, follow it and progress the idea.

Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that my Sunday would be spent at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas. Andrew is one of my favorite Bible dudes. He is one of a quartet of fishermen from the little town of Capernaum who Jesus welcomes into his “kingdom dozen.”

Andrew was among the first to discover the message of Jesus.  Here’s an interesting fact: even though he was one of four fishermen, three of them–Peter James and John–became what we refer to as the “inner circle.”

Andrew was not included.

We do not know why. We don’t even know if there is a “why” to it. But there is no incident listed in which Andrew pitched a fit or ended up betraying Jesus because he felt cheated. What we have is a man who found his place, occupied his space, made his case and finished the race.

Andrew did three really notable things.–and as I said, as the years pass, I realize that I want to have more of the spirit of Andrew in me, and not insist on being a Peter, James or John.

1. He came early. Dear God, may I learn that in the matters of spirit, justice and equality, to arrive first and jump on the bandwagon of freedom instead of dragging my feet because my culture and prejudice have taught me to be reluctant. Andrew met Jesus and went with it. How amazing. Come early, folks. It’s not as crowded, and you get to share beautiful moments with something beginning instead of later on just being part of the maintenance crew.

2. He brought a friend. Yes, the Bible tells us that Andrew brought his brother, Peter. Every night when I walk onstage and share my thoughts, I realize that they may never gain international attention, but there is always the possibility that I will inspire the mind and spirit of someone in the gathering who has the capability of doing things much greater than me. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the world is to stimulate somebody else who has the power to change it.

3. Andrew encouraged young humans. When it was discovered that five thousand men needed to be fed, Andrew was the one who found a young lad with five loaves and two fishes and brought him to Jesus. He gave this fledgling kid a chance to be the hero of the day. He gave him a lifelong memory. He gave him a place in the Bible.

There are two ways to become old: you can become old and grouchy or you can become old and hip. If you’re old and grouchy, you think everything young people do is stupid. If you’re old and hip, you look at what young people do, remember what you did, laugh and encourage them in their better choices.

I want to be Andrew. I want to ignore the inner circles of life. I want to show up early, bring a friend and encourage young humans.

If that’s what’s going on at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, they are on the verge of revealing the Kingdom of God.

Andrew: enjoying your portion without needing the whole platter.

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Peter Thomas … April 21, 2013

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I speak boldly in the shadows and whisper in the light

I proclaim the goodness of God, yet pout when it rains

I am a fisher of men, trapped in my own net

I pray for miracles while growing weary in well-doing

I am a voice crying in the wilderness, complaining of a sore throat

I hurl rocks at the castle and quickly run away before the giant eats me

I love my neighbor in theory as I challenge him on the facts

I am outraged by the atheist while frequently ignoring God

I believe in the whole Bible and dust it off each month

I am the beckoned explainer who arrives confused

I am the singer of the hymn and the doubter of Him

I am an insecure expression of belief

I am a concession of faith

I am Peter, the preacher

And Thomas, the tongue-tied

I am both, as ordained to be

For too much faith makes me obnoxious

And an abundance of doubt renders me powerless

I am as God would have me

Sentenced to be an exclamation point

Sitting next to a question mark

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Creedless … August 6, 2012

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I have never been very enthusiastic about reciting things in unison. I will participate from time to time, but it always kind of reminds me of the scene in the movie, The Omen, when the followers of the anti-Christ mime his words back to him through what sounds like a really spooky echo chamber.

But a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a church where they were reciting the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried …”

At this point I stopped speaking with the rest of the sheep. It just seemed strange to me that in this particular discourse, we leap from Jesus being born straight to suffering under Pontius Pilate.  Wasn’t there a life in there somewhere? Weren’t there thirty-three years of dynamic existence, with the establishment of the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, teaching us to love our enemies? Where is that in the creed? Is the high point of the life of Jesus of Nazareth best expressed in explaining to all future generations that he died? What if we taught history that way?

“George Washington was born in Virginia and many years later he contracted pneumonia, was treated with leeches, was weakened and passed away.”

“Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in a log cabin and through the passage of time was shot in the head during a theater performance.”

“Adolf Hitler was born in Germany and one day was found dead in a bunker in Berlin.”

Not only would we have a dearth of material to offer for our history classes, but our children would have no comprehension of the struggle, discovery and journeys of these figures who peppered our landscape with both greatness and evil deeds. The National Education Association would be up in arms.

It makes me wonder why the ministers and congregations are not equally as distressed when Jesus is presented only as a redemptive pin cushion to buffer the punishment for our sins.

No wonder our young humans are choosing to walk away from the religious system in favor of Sunday morning outings at the park with the family. Why go to church? If someone is dead, as a courtesy you put flowers on their grave once a year–which is why people show up for Easter. It’s only polite, you know.

Let me dispel some myths:

First of all, concerning this creed–Jesus did not suffer under Pontius Pilate. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, he absolved Governor Pilate of all responsibility, and laid the cause and blame for the atrocity of the death of Jesus at the feet of that day’s present Jewish religious leaders. If you will pardon my phrasing, I know it’s not kosher to blame the Jews for judging Jesus Christ. They had a bad day. Of a truth, they represented us all, who probably would have been equally as intolerant of someone insisting on tolerance. But it was their watch and they were asleep at the wheel.

Next: Jesus came to earth to show us the Father. For those of you who have been taught that he came to earth to die for our sins, you might want to take another pass at reading his own representation of his mission–because hours before they put nails in his hands, he announced, in the Garden of Gethsemane, to his Father through prayer that he had completed his work.

So what is the cross? It is the greatest act of sacrificial bravery in the history of mankind. It is the final proclamation of love from someone who knew that it was unacceptable to take away the free will-choice of those who wished to kill him. It was an action meant for treachery, which God, as always, brought around to our good.

So the act should be revered and respected for bringing about the salvation which we so frantically attempted to avoid, but it should never be put in predominance over the life, work, heart and mind of Jesus.

Perhaps I mis-titled this article. I called it “Creedless.” I’m not “creedless.” I believe everything in the Apostle’s Creed. It’s just that there is so much more I hold dear, and it is these assertions that make my Christian life meaningful–not the bloody, untimely death of my dearest friend.

Of course, all of this is going to play out. Every one of us will die and find out once and for all what is truly going on beyond our beatless heart. Here are the two possibilities: we will either meet God, our Creator, who certainly can’t be a God of love and also contend that we are so foul that He needed to grab His nearby son to expunge our blackened spot with his miracle blood. No, if there is a God up there, He is, as the Good Book says, Someone who desires mercy instead of sacrifice. So spending all of our time commemorating the death of his son ranges in quality from futile to annoying. As God said to Peter, James and John at the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved son. Hear ye him.”

There you go. It is just very difficult to hear the words from someone who has been relegated to being a prop for propitiation.

On the other hand, if we pass on and discover that there is nothing beyond the great pale, just paler circumstances, to have spent our lives rallying around the tomb of an executed savior will certainly seem useless when available to us was the spirit and message of a man who wanted to teach people to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

So you see, I have chosen what I consider to be a better path. If there is a heaven, God will have love and mercy as He promised. If there is no eternity, if you don’t mind, I will use the example of the life of Jesus, take that love and mercy, wrap it up and deliver it to the world around me.

 

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