Jesonian … April 7th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3635)

Every story is better told and more effective when the facts are allowed to line up in a reasonable order.

Such is true of the Gospel of Jesus.

Theologians spend so much time proclaiming him the Son of God that they lose the fragrance and uniqueness of the Son of Man. In an attempt to make the tale “super” they lose all of the “natural.”

The average person going to church is deluded by an array of facts which just don’t add up to a crucifixion.

One of those great misconceptions is that Jesus was extremely popular. There were certainly occasions when his crowd appeal spiked, but it always revolved around three stimuli:

A. Was he doing miracles?

B. Was he feeding people?

C. Did it look like he was the Jewish Messiah?

Whenever the populace became convinced through these three “signs and wonders” that God was going to save them from the Romans, they rallied around Jesus. Whenever it was obvious that he was intent on sharing a more universal message which included people that were not Jewish, they slipped away.

Let’s look at some facts:

1. Jesus was rejected by his home town, Nazareth, and never able to return again. Not only was he ignored, but threatened with death–dangled from the edge of a cliff.

2. Even though Jesus held a great revival in Samaria with the testimony from a woman at a well, when he returned to the city, he was forbidden to enter by the town fathers because they found out he also ministered to the Jews.

3. When he fed the 5,000 in Galilee, the hordes followed him for a while–until he told them this was not a food pantry, but rather, that his words and life were the message they were supposed to “eat.” They all departed–except for the twelve.

4. Over and over again, interest sparked with the Pharisees, but when Simon, one of their number, invited him to a special meal, the Pharisee snubbed Jesus and treated him like an outsider.

5. After the resurrection, it is recorded that over 500 people saw Jesus–witnesses of the miracle. But on the Day of Pentecost only 120 remained. Kind of a drastic drop-off.

I guess we feel the need to believe that Jesus was greatly appreciated by the people in his generation, and taken to be crucified only by a handful of powerful critics.

It’s just not true.

We are told that most of the time he dealt with twelve disciples–and he focused on three of them, to be the core leaders. We have some idea of the size of a normal following of Jesus when the scriptures let us know that he sent seventy out to share in his name.

If you are trying to give credence to the message of Jesus by pointing out how enthralled the Jewish community and the Roman oppressors were, then you will be sadly disappointed when you read the actual accounts of his mistreatment and the number of individuals who desperately tried to ignore him.

We’re even told that John the Baptist’s disciples did not believe in him.

Jesus had a model. It’s very simple: Develop a hot core of followers and let them radiate the message.

Nowadays we are so eager to build up numbers in the sanctuary that we fail to build up people. Jesus basically spent three-and-a-half years working on twelve human beings.

  • One of them betrayed him and killed himself.
  • Another denied him, and was prepared to leave the work.
  • Yet another one doubted that a resurrection was possible.

Do not despair–Jesus suffered the same slings and arrows of human apathy that you and I encounter every day. He just had a great system. So when he left the planet, there was a handful of people who knew what he taught, knew what he stood for and were prepared to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to give them the power and insight to take the Gospel to the whole world.

*****

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Jesonian … March 17th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3614)

Setting the stage:

Jesus is in the beginning of his ministry. Fresh. Optimistic. Sharing high-sounding principles to what most people might consider a low-brow audience.

One day he is interrupted by the arrival of elders from a near-by town. They are Jewish leaders. The strange thing about the situation is that they have been sent by a Roman Centurion to intercede on the behalf of his servant, for healing.

The elders waste no time. They interrupt Jesus, testifying about the quality of the character of this Centurion.

“He is a friend of our nation. He even built us a synagogue,” they tout.

Most Romans were considered by the Jews to be conquering terrorists–not that different from ISIS in our day. So for the elders of a Jewish town to bear testimony for a Roman Centurion was not only peculiar, but inspirational.

Jesus drops what he’s doing and heads off toward the servant.

Then another strange thing happens. The Centurion rethinks his position. He obviously has a keen mind, and realizes that if Jesus enters his home–the domicile of a Roman–he could ruin his ministry for all time. It would be a disgrace to be in the house of a Gentile, and Jesus would be considered unclean.

So he suggests that Jesus just say the word, proclaiming the healing. The Centurion cites that he lives by commands all the time.

Jesus is astounded. Jesus learns from him, and says he has “never seen so great a faith in Israel.”

So Jesus says the word, and the servant is healed.

It’s a beautiful story. It lets us know several things.

1. The Gospel is not a Jewish Gospel.

2. It is possible for people of all races to get along as long as they show respect to one another.

3. The power in faith is in always simplifying your belief instead of complicating it.

But let us consider a possible scenario:

Such a man as the Centurion certainly, in three year’s time, moved up in promotions. Because he got along so well with the occupied people, he would be very valuable to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. There would be a very good chance he would end up in Jerusalem.

In the Holy City, he would have been given authority and respect, and placed in charge of difficult situations–maybe a predicament like carrying out a capital punishment during Passover week–because we are told that there is a Centurion at the cross.

Just for the sake of discussion–what if it was the same man? What if he arrived at his job early that morning and discovered that he was supposed to escort a prisoner to Golgotha–three of them, actually–and crucify them before six o’clock that night?

What if he was shocked to find that one of them was Jesus, the young man who had healed his servant three years earlier?

What should he do? His heart is torn apart. Yet to try to rig an escape would be complete death for Jesus, himself and many other innocent people.

What is left to him?

The keen mind is set in motion. The Centurion realizes they’ve already taken Jesus and beaten him, and that the Temple guards had cruelly mistreated him. There’s only one thing left for him to do–a single mission to honor the one who healed his servant. He tries to make the end easier.

After all, somebody gave the command for Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross.

Someone allowed John and his mother, Mary, to be near the foot of the cross to listen to his words and encourage him.

Someone kept the soldiers from tearing his Jesus’ apart, and instead, gambled for it–with him possibly winning the prize.

Someone knelt down, and as they nailed his hands, tenderly looked in his eyes, to comfort him.

Somebody asked them to be careful when they dropped the cross in its place.

Somebody grabbed a long reed and put vinegar and medication on it for him to drink when he was thirsty.

There was compassion at the cross.

And if it was the same Centurion, he did the best with what he had, to make things better than they might be.

Maybe that’s the definition of faith–doing the best with what we have, to make things better than they might be.

And when the Earth shook, the skies darkened and Jesus took his last breath, could it have been the same Centurion who looked up at his friend on the cross, and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

*****

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Jesonian … March 10th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3607)

Not every morning supplies a miracle. Weeks can go by without walking on water–or water turning into wine, for that matter.

Truthfully, life is more like dry cereal looking for milk–not much to be excited about unless you brought along your own thrills.

This was true in the life of Jesus, too.

Fortunately, the Gospel writers tell us about the good moments and also the bad ones. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share that sometimes Jesus just hung out, to “tarry” with his friends. And just like us, often his activities were dictated by the whim, intensity and preoccupation of his audience or critics.

In the Good Book, Matthew 19, there is such a situation. Jesus is minding his own business when he is confronted by the Pharisees, who seem to spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter to anyone else. They were especially distressed over the issue of divorce–not because they were against it. The Law of Moses and also the Oral Law, which had been constructed by religious leaders over many centuries, allowed men to divorce their wives simply by leaving a note on the pillow.

The Pharisees felt that Jesus had a different outlook on the subject, so they confronted him about the dilemma.

Jesus made it clear that he believed divorce to be chauvinism. He explained that marriage is meant to be an experience between people of equality, who decide to leave their families to form their own union.

They were very upset.

Yet escaping their probing, Jesus arrives back in camp to discover that his disciples, who had been cut from the same homespun philosophies and bigotry as the Pharisees, were chasing away the women and children. After all, they thought, Jesus was too important to have time for women, who were lesser, and children, who were insignificant.

The feminist in Jesus comes to the forefront. He rebukes his disciples. He tells them to bring the children–which meant the women, also–to him, and he lays hands on the tykes, blesses and enjoys them.

Often we wonder how miracles occur. Miracles happen because people who know how to treat women and children humbly ask for them.

It isn’t about extended periods of prayer, nor ministers on Sabbatical studying the original Greek. Rather, miracles are about people who know how to play with children–people who are aware that a woman is not a “weaker vessel.” When these people pray, God listens.

Jesus treated women as humans. On this week, with “International Women’s Day,” we need to consider what this entails.

Jesus gave women empathy, but not sympathy: You are as good as men, but don’t pull up lame and fall back on femininity when you think it’s to your advantage.

So even though Jesus showed compassion on the woman caught in adultery, he looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Go and sin no more.”

He relished a conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria, but when she said she “had no husband,” he reminded her that she had married five husbands, and was now living with another man.

When his mother tried to interfere with his work, he spoke to her as an equal, not as a son, and said, Back off. It’s not my time.

And when busy Martha was doing all the housework, using the “gift of helps” to feed the disciples and Jesus, he stopped her and said, Your sister Mary has decided to listen to the teaching instead of playing “Harriet Homemaker. Follow suit.”

Life is not about what we do when we’re trying to be spiritual or contemplative. Life is lived in the cracks–those moments that seem insignificant when the world around us has cast a negative vibe and it is our job to bring the light.

Jesus believes that spirit begins with how women and children are treated.

I, for one, think he’s right.

 

*****

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Jesonian … March 3rd, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3600)

The Gospel writers had a really stiff drink to mix to stir together all the ingredients to write the cocktail of the life of Jesus.

First and foremost, let me tell you as a writer, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not books. They are long short stories–an oxymoron. The number of words in each Gospel is about the same as a big short story.

So with an economy of words and phrases, these gentlemen set out to capsulize what is arguably the most interesting life ever lived. On top of that, they had the problem of being infested with some agendas of their own. Each one of them was intent on convincing the reader that Jesus was Messiah/Anointed One/Christ/Son of God.

They were also pretty pissed off with the Jewish leaders. This is reflected in many references. And they certainly wanted to compete with each other in the retelling of the resurrection.

I offer this preface because in a good overview of their works, there are only a few times that each of them include the same stories.

  • Crucifixion
  • Resurrection
  • Feeding of the five thousand

These are in all four Gospels. And in Matthew, Mark and Luke–the Synoptic Gospels–one other particular story is included by this trio of authors.

It seems to be a rather insignificant tale–matter of fact, I doubt if it makes its way into many sermons. But it was very important to Matthew, Mark and Luke.

On a Sabbath, the disciples were walking through a field of wheat and picked some of it because they were hungry. The story-tellers are clear that the disciples take the kernels and grind them in their hands to “get the good stuff to eat.”

The significance? According to the Pharisees, it was permissible to pick the wheat but you couldn’t grind it in your hand and eat it–not on the Sabbath. That was work. Therefore, if you were hungry, you would have to take the wheat home and wait until the next day to eat.

It is the travesty of the religious mind–to manufacture a God who is so displeased with us that He demands we function in uncomfortable contortions to receive His favor.

In this story, the Pharisees complain to Jesus.

Now, Jesus is not a diplomat. He is not determined to offend the Pharisees, but every time he did, refused to pull back from his position.

He told these fellows that King David ate the shewbread that was reserved for holy days and for the priests. His army was hungry. No one died.

Jesus explained that the Sabbath was a time to do good and not evil. It was an occasion to fulfill mankind’s needs instead of heaping heavy burdens on them.

Knowing that the Pharisees would be quite unwilling to criticize King David, he offered this argument while simultaneously insisting the his disciples should be granted the full measure and respect that David deserved.

Then, in the story, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should learn mercy and not sacrifice–otherwise they will spend their whole lives attacking innocent people.

And if that wasn’t enough to fully flummox these religious leaders, he closed off by saying, And by the way, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”

This story was important to Matthew, Mark and Luke. It sniffed of their Master. It smelled like Jesus.

For they experienced and knew that Jesus was a champion for the human race and would not tolerate anyone attacking people, especially if it were being done in the name of God.

Damn it to hell, you don’t pick wheat and then not eat it. It is illogical, irrelevant, irreverent and inhuman. Jesus didn’t come to turn human beings into gods.

Jesus was the personification of God turning himself into a human being.

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Jesonian … January 13th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3551)

Every single week.

As I journey across the country and stop off to do my presentation, I am always greeted by people who want to know my political persuasion. When I reply, “Apolitical,” they smile and begin to probe me so they might unearth my hidden beliefs, and thereby categorize me with either a big “R” or a big “D”–Republican or Democrat. How disappointed they usually end up being when I do not attack President Trump or swear my allegiance in that direction.

Many years ago, I discovered four verses from the Good Book which are so full of common sense and understanding of the human condition that I have embedded them into my own thinking, declaring this passage to be my touchstone.

When Jesus was explaining the Pharisees to the disciples, he said, “They hold Moses’ seat.”

In my lifetime, twelve men have held the position of President of the United States. Jesus’ approach on the matter? Honor the men because they’re in the position–and he goes on to say that we need to be careful to do what they say.

You see, this is where it gets tricky.

Many of my friends who are Democrats feel it’s necessary to resist President Trump, and likewise, my Republican friends demand some blind acceptance.

Jesus’ take? “Be careful.”

For instance, every time I step into my van to drive, I realize I am losing my freedom, suddenly at the mercy of the policemen in the local village who might have a speed trap. If picked up, I lose my ability to be autonomous.

“Be careful.”

Jesus says to “be careful to do what they say,” but then he adds, “But don’t do what they do.”

Not one of the twelve Presidents I’ve encountered in my lifetime would I choose to imitate in personal profile. Fortunately, since we don’t live in a dictatorship, I don’t have to do that. As long as I maintain a respectful cooperation with present laws, America gives me the right to pursue my single-minded goals while following my own philosophy.

With that in mind, I will also tell you that every week I meet a new pastor. He or she has a job. They also have a calling. What they discover is that the job often interferes with the calling, and the calling certainly complicates the job.

So they often end up pastoring a church instead of the church. They learn the mannerisms of their congregations–the quirks, limitations, aggravations and the preferences–and then try to build an institution saluting the lifestyle of Jesus inclusive of these guidelines. It often leaves them exhausted, and sometimes faithless–because believe it or not, people don’t always agree with Jesus, even while they’re praising him. People don’t always concur because they’re too busy being Republicans or Democrats.

So unfortunately, the job of the local pastor becomes that of an arbiter instead of a proclaimer.

They can even forget to give respect to the congregation, but don’t follow their ways. It is the mission of the pastor to shepherd the people to greener pastures. That begins by removing the “R’s” and the “D’s” and the denominational allegiance, and finding the simplicity of the message of Jesus, and keeping it as healthy and pure as possible.

It will take such men and women to bring about a revival.

But in Matthew 23:1-4, Jesus pronounces that it is completely plausible to respect the position of someone without following the leadership.

I do it every week. It doesn’t make me anemic. It doesn’t make me hypocritical. It simply means there are temporary solutions which are offered and can be implemented as long as the greater good is held in supremacy.

To be Jesonian is to follow the heart of Jesus. Part of the heart of Jesus is respecting those who have “gained a seat” in our society.

But most of the heart of Jesus is clinging to your autonomy so that the choices you make in your life are yours and yours alone.

 

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Jesonian … December 16th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3523)

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A day in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Although most theologians would like to focus on the 24-hour period leading up to his crucifixion, the Gospels do offer us other examples. One of the primal outlines is found in Matthew, Chapters 12 and 13. You may feel free to read it–I will not tax your spirit or patience by parsing it verse by verse–but there are six things that become clear from perusing the story line.

1. Jesus was not a theologian.

His disciples walked through a field of corn, and even though it was forbidden by religious edict to eat it–especially on the Sabbath–they partook. Jesus defended them to the Pharisees, who were ready to leap upon the activity to prove the unworthiness of Jesus’ Kingdom movement. During this exchange, Jesus makes a profound statement: “The Sabbath is for man.”

It is geared for us, in order to replenish, rejuvenate and renovate our thinking.

2. Jesus was not a rabbi.

He strolls into a synagogue and disrupts the service by healing a man with a withered hand. He is accosted for this untimely interruption, and replies, “Each one of you will save a donkey from a trench, but you won’t do anything to help this fellow.”

Yes, Jesus was guilty of interrupting the flow of worship.

And contrary to the common patter:

3. Jesus was not a Jew.

Not only did he break the Jewish laws, taunting them in doing so, but we are informed that he was a voice, a spirit and a teacher in whom the “Gentiles could trust.”

Even though his proximity to Jerusalem might generate the assumption that he was a Son of Abraham, he made it clear that he was around “before Abraham.”

Shall we press on?

4. He was certainly not a traditionalist.

The religious leaders believed he was satanic. They swore he was casting out demons by the power of Satan. Of course, none of them could cast out a demon, but Jesus made it clear that he had come to destroy the works of the devil and that they needed to be careful not to mock the moving of the Holy Spirit just because it was inconvenient to their case.

So Jesus is not a theologian, a rabbi, a Jew or a traditionalist. And by the way:

5. Jesus was not a family man.

When interrupted by his mother, brothers and sisters during a time of ministry (because they wanted to take him home, thinking he was crazy) Jesus turned to the crowd and claimed them as his new family.

Yes, Jesus might find it difficult to be in a church service, welling up over allegiance with people simply because of shared DNA.

So as Matthew describes a day in the life of Jesus, when he defies theologians, upsets a rabbi, walks away from Judaism, breaks traditions and sidesteps family involvement, he ends the discourse by establishing who the Nazarene really was.

For the Master sat down and told a story: “The sower went forth to sow seed.”

6. Jesus is a sower.

He’s not concerned about isolating off perfect soil, but merely casting the seed in the direction of any possibility.

A day in the life of Jesus will let you know that his message was human, geared for humans, addressed to humans, human-friendly and human-saving.

He discarded religion in favor of the reality of those souls God sent his way.

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Jesonian … November 25th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3502)

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Aggressive apathy.

Seems like a contradiction–maybe even what they refer to as an oxymoron. How can apathy be aggressive, when by definition it avoids commitment, conflict or even connection?

But when apathy becomes the path to avoid deeper commitment, it will need to be defended whenever circumstances warrant greater involvement.

Jesus fell victim to aggressive apathy on two nasty occasions–when people chose to disregard and disavow the power of his calling.

Please keep in mind that miracles were a part of Jesus’ ministry. It wasn’t all Biblical text and parables. Yet even though there were certainly signs and wonders that followed him, apathy was still in the works.

The first instance was in Nazareth, when he had the audacity to announce the extent of his calling, the purpose of his message and the power of what was about to ensue to his hometown folks.

What did aggressive apathy do? Personal attacks.

  • “Who does he think he is?”
  • “He’s just the Carpenter’s son.”
  • “He doesn’t even have education.
  • “Why should we listen to him?”

When apathy becomes a communal mindset, it will feel the need to defend itself–sometimes violently. For if you remember the rest of the story, they push Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready to throw him off and kill him–simply because he suggested that present circumstances were going to be changed.

In a second incident at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus asked a crippled man if he wanted to be healed. The fellow launched into a litany of excuses and complaints about why it was just not plausible. Jesus heals him anyway–and the man ends up turning on Jesus, and rats him out to the Pharisees, who were angry about a healing on the Sabbath.

In both cases, Jesus found himself in danger.

Once apathy has become the charter of a community or a segment of people, they will aggressively use whatever is necessary to maintain their autonomy of blandness.

Jesus said we should learn from his life–and that also includes his mistakes.

As Christians, believers and even artists, we need to understand that once we offer our gifts and our message, if they are met with lukewarm response, to further labor in the malaise of nothingness is to risk triggering aggressive apathy, leaving us ridiculed, if not wounded.

Later on in Jesus’ ministry, he learns from these mistakes.

When the Samaritan village doesn’t want to let him in to minister, he just goes to another town. And when the five thousand depart because he offered a perspective they found distasteful, he doesn’t do anything to chase them down.

Apathy by its nature is not violent. But it is alive–and any living thing will fight back if you try to kill it.

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