Exceed — October 13, 2011


Sometimes I really miss elements of kindergarten.  That’s why I enjoy my granddaughter, Lily–so I can sit down and color with her, appearing to be a caring grandfather–when really I am vicariously returning to being a little kid.

Likewise, I used to love “Connect the Dots.” It had two aspects that pleased me. First was using my intelligence to trace a line from number one to number two and on to number three–and then to do it as fast as I could, to compete against my friends and  be the first one to reveal the hidden dinosaur from amongst the numbers. 

Candidly, I think we would be better off as adults if we did a lot more “connecting the dots.” For instance, instead of reading the Bible as a duty or as great literature, as if it were spawned from the pen of Shakespeare (even though we don’t have a Stratford-on-Avon-idea of what it means), we choose to understand that one thought follows another and therefore might be trying to show us a picture.

Case in point: the Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, which I have shown you is really a challenge to reveal our own hearts and get simple. Once we’ve arrived at simplicity, we have unlocked the key–more or less split the atom–of what causes us to be powerful. So what do we do with the power? Do we flaunt it? Do we use it to subjugate other human beings? Do we walk around with our noses in the air, acting self-righteous? These are options that the religious community has used over the years to turn their salvation experience into a club for beating others instead of a gentle rope, cast to save the lost and dying. What should I do with the fact that I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world?

Honor reality. There is a reality going on in the world that can not be ignored, prayed away or simply negotiated from being bothersome. I remember the first thing I did after the 9/11 tragedy was to grab a Koran. If these people–or at least, the more militant among them–wanted to be my enemy, then my best defense was to learn as much as possible about their belief system.

Jesus phrased it well in the Sermon on the Mount when he said he didn’t come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. It reminds me of writing a play. Words on paper are quite interesting and even have potential, but you really don’t know how good the writing is or how fulfilling the story can be until the actors put it in context by performing the material.  That’s what Jesus meant. While the theologians of his day were debating the finer points of doctrine, Jesus brought a visual aid and lived it out in front of the people. He fulfilled it.

This is missing in spirituality today.  In an attempt to package God into a more palatable form for the masses, who do not want to consider difficulty or to be challenged to change, we have removed all sense of responsibility for living out truth as a visual example in front of mankind and thus fulfilling righteousness. Honestly? I just don’t learn until I see it in motion.

I often sit in churches and listen to the readings from the Bible and it seems to me that even those who speak the words from the lectern get lost in the middle of the sentence, failing to garner any true meaning. We have a responsibility to fulfill the law and prophets. And then, Jesus goes on to say that we also have a great opportunity to exceed the righteousness of those who already think they know God, but have offered very little comfort to our suffering world.

Yes.  Jesus said “except your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.”  Because … where IS the kingdom of God? Jesus said it was within us. So if what is within us is not becoming obvious in the real world, then we have done nothing more than those who have already failed to practice what they preach.

So how do we exceed--to succeed? I am so happy to report that this is one of the easiest concepts I will ever share with you. Here goes:  whenever you are given a task, ask two quick questions: (1)  now, what is it exactly that you want me to do? and (2) when do you need it?

If you want to fulfill truth and exceed the righteousness you see around you, just do a little more than Number 1 and do it a little sooner than Number 2.  You’ve already been told what the expectation is–and if you decide to do just a little bit more and do it a little sooner, you will stand out in this mediocre world as salt and light.

For example, a friend of mine has asked me to edit a play he has written. So I posed the two questions. What exactly is it you want me to do and when do you need it? His reply was, “Well, I’d just like you to make it better and I need it one week from now.”  You see? So all I have to do to come across like an absolute genius is to put in a few more improvements than he expects and deliver it at least one day early. He will not only be astounded, but he will give me the greatest gift that any human being can give to another–trust.

See how it works? So we’ve connected the dots. If you’re willing to get simple about yourself–not being so pompous and fearful of losing your place–you will be powerful and begin to usher in a new world in your soul, projecting salt and light to others around you. If you use that power to exceed the expectations of the world around you by the philosophy of “Do a little more,” you will end up being a friend of sinners, a companion of God and a trusted human being.

So there they are–all three. Get simple.  Be powerful.  Do a little more.

If you follow those three things in order, you will gain the prominence and place you desire in any business, organization or family situation.  And it all comes from connecting the dots from the thoughts and teachings of Jesus.

  • Get simple.  “I’m not even as good as you think I am.”
  • Be powerful.  “I don’t want to hurt me; I don’t want to hurt you. Therefore, I can’t hurt God.”
  • Do a little more.  Ask the two questions. “What is it exactly you want?” and “when do you need it?” Then, simply go a little further.

Try it.  See if it works. Create a visual to the gospel that you believe in your heart–or be prepared to be evaluated on the results of what you do … anyway.


Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

Powerful — October 12, 2011


It’s what every human being wants, even though some would insist in false humility that they are perfectly satisfied with owning the lower seat.  Yes, we all want a sense of power, control and destiny for our journey.

Matter of fact, if Jesus had presented his material for his Sermon on the Mount, seeking assistance for organizing his ideas, no modern-day speechwriter worth his brackets, commas and syntax would ever have suggested that he begin with the Beatitudes. They all would have thought he was bringing too much responsibility to the hearers before giving them the chance to become sold out on the more appealing proposals.  No, I think any ghost-writing helper for Jesus would have insisted that he begin his Sermon with, “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.” Here would be their conclusion–empower the people and bury the personal difficulty more deeply within the context. But that’s not what Jesus did. He made it clear that if we don’t “get simple” and begin to realize that if our choices don’t determine our success, then we’re at the mercy of nature, other people, or dare I even say?–God.  Get simple–realize that the only way to change the complexion of your own situation is to pop your own pimples.

Now, after completing this successful personal analysis and realizing that our own progression is determined by our decisions, we then reach the point where we can be powerful.  We ARE the salt of the earth and we ARE the light of the world.  Why? Because we have walked into a room filled with mediocrity, and rather than joining in, we have established our own standard. We’ve tasted the soup and rather than eating a bland broth, we’ve selected to flavor it. We’ve entered an enclosure that is totally dark and lit a candle.

And the reason we have done so is that we don’t want to spend one minute of our lives in regret. Regret is what people who could have accomplished much more feel when they’ve given in to the blandness around them instead of reaching into themselves to turn their seed of talent into a fruit of success. When I get around folks who regret something or other, I know that I’m also in the presence of individuals who have decided somewhere along the line to do less than they could have done.

So what makes us powerful?  It certainly is not being granted power. Dare I say that most of the people who have held the position of President of the United States are not only forgettable, but in many cases, they ended up through their mediocre choices, doing more harm than good. Granting power  to us is like giving the keys to a Ferrari to a five-year-old. You can perch him behind the wheel, but he doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to start the car, let alone drive it.

Actually, we become powerful when we decide to take on our own lives without blaming anyone else, get simple, and make three very important choices:

1. “I don’t want to hurt me.” Rather than rationalizing all of our bad habits, fears, insecurities and prejudices, we confront them because we know they’re hurting us–and the only way pain will leave is when we force these ridiculous vices out of our circle of influence.

2. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Once I realize that the relief of pain is so comforting and joyous, I become evangelistic to make sure that you, too, do not have to experience the agony of ridiculous propositions. I will never learn to care about you until I sufficiently care about myself. And I will never care about myself until I realize that my personal pot of gold is located at the end of my willingness to deal with my inadequacies.

3.  “Because I don’t want to hurt me and I don’t want to hurt you, therefore I can’t hurt God.” God is not angered by sin that is acknowledged and confessed. God is not infuriated with those who fail if they quickly discover the error and set in motion restitution. There are only two things that cause God to feel alienated from you:  (a) when you don’t care, and (b) when you’re willing to lie about the fact that you don’t care.

How apropos for Jesus to refer to us as salt–a common flavoring–and light–illumination of the surrounding environment. It’s perfect. And what an excellent time it is to live in this society!  Because I will tell you, this is one of the most mediocre periods I have seen in six decades of living. We have learned to settle for so little that if people would just step the game up in a tiny increment, they would be like a  bright beam in the cosmos.  As Jesus said, people would be able to see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

I am often astounded that we expect our congregations to come in to praise and worship God when their lives do not demonstrate any improvement or sign of progress. What are we praising? What are we worshipping? Jesus made it clear that nobody glorifies God without seeing other people’s good works! If we can’t raise up a body of believers who have decided to “get simple” and discover their own frailties and move them into the realm of improvement, why do we think anybody would be interested in the message that propels us? After all, I do not walk into a dirty house and ask the owners what kind of cleansers they use. It would seem cruel, not to mention stupid. Neither do I walk into a place where people preach a gospel which leaves their constituency dull and unfeeling and inquire as to how I might become a member.

We become powerful when we get simple and set into motion three holy practices:

  • I don’t want to hurt me.
  • I don’t want to hurt you.
  • Therefore, I can’t hurt God.

With that trio of breezes at our back, we can sail on with confidence and feel energized by our beliefs instead of ransacked. The Sermon on the Mount WAS put in the right order–Jesus began with personal evaluation–informing us of the miracle of “getting simple.” And then he followed it with the power we discover through that evaluation and those choices, which begins to remove the hurt so that we can feel pleasure again. I even sense an explosion in my soul as I write this to you because I don’t want to hurt me anymore–and I don’t want to hurt you. And because of that, I know that it’s impossible for me to be separated from the love of God.

So what’s next? What do we acquire after we decide to “get simple” and be powerful?

On the morrow.


Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

Sometimes It Happens — October 11, 2011


Every once in a while as I travel across these United States, a church that has scheduled me will cancel. I am not going to be so magnanimous or foolish as to lead you to believe that a bit of aggravation and a sense of rejection does not pierce through my armor.  I don’t like it.

I work real hard on trying to be a kind soul because it isn’t natural–for my “natural man” is much too anti-social to be of any assistance to those around me. So when this particular fellow canceled in North Carolina because he and his people felt like they needed more “preaching” than music, stories and teaching about the life of Jesus, I took a bit of offense to it. I share that with you because it is absolutely ludicrous to portray that I am anything other than what I am.

I am a person with my treasure in an earthen vessel–which tends to crumble when circumstances don’t necessarily meet my specifications. But I do have rallying forces in my heart and soul that save me from becoming cynical or self-abusive. And I would like to take a couple of days to talk about those reinforcements which rescue me from despair and stupidity. They are laid out very clearly in the first part of Matthew the 5th Chapter, which we have traditionally dubbed the Sermon on the Mount.

I will tell you a truth–if I discovered tomorrow that there was no God and that Jesus was a fairy tale, as a mortal walking on this planet, I would still need a code of ethics, a style of behavior and an internal morality to steer my ship from crashing into the rocks. I feel sorry for those whose religion is based on practice instead of practicality. What could be more miserable than getting the box for the television set without the gift inside it?

And the words of Jesus are the gift inside the box of salvation.

He starts off his great sermon (which I am sure did not include any singing, story-telling or teaching) with the Beatitudes. Now, they have been preached on so many times that they have nearly become mind-numbing.  So let me do you a kindness and sum them up in two words:get simple.

The only sure way to fail in life on planet earth is to insist that complicating matters actually offers any solution whatsoever.  Get simple. And the best way to get simple, according to Jesus, is to always discover a way to be happy. I love it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Bluntly, this is an admission that “I’m not nearly as good as even you think I am.”  I mean, there is an image I have of myself which is always over-wrought, but truly, I am not even as good as you think I am. So let’s remove the pressure. I don’t need to perform to my expectations–or yours. I just need to get simple by giving you an accurate report of where I am at any given moment.

Blessed are they that mourn. Since I know how weak I can be, I allow that realization to make me more tenderized to the needs and feelings of others. People who are incapable of sensing loss in the lives of others will eventually lose the sense of their own loss. Get simple. And because I know I’m not as good as even you think I am, which tends to make me more compassionate about your loss, I can really understand:

Blessed are the meek. Consider this: the more we try to use muscle to achieve our goals, the greater the chance is that we’re going to hurt each other. You have two great friends on this planet earth.  (1) Human beings become bored easily. So even though they may play around with something, when it doesn’t immediately work out, they will cast it aside and you can pick it up for free. That is, if you have (2) the second advantage: patience.  Patience is not sitting around waiting for something to come your way. Patience is making yourself busy with the last thing cast aside, while you keep an eye out for the next thing to be abandoned. 

Let me even get simpler than that–life is really one big garage sale. It’s where smart people can come into the yard of rich people who bought a jet ski and want to sell it for a song because little Emily fell off of it at the lake and broke her arm. You see what I mean?  Get simple.

And all of this works if you are willing to admit that you have a need for information and an infilling of God’s spirit. Yes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The best way to get simple in life is to tell people up front what you know and what you don’t–and when you’re absent knowledge, to allow yourself the advantage of becoming the student.  Get simple.  Do you understand how powerful it is to admit that you are without understanding? Therefore, no one expects you to spearhead and in the process you just might learn something.

Blessed are the merciful. I love mercy. It’s the way we imitate God’s grace after we’ve already established that we aren’t “all that and a bag of chips.”  This is why mercy is not pity. Merciful says “been there, done that.” Pity secretly whispers, “I’m glad I’m not you.”

And after you learn to become a great actor and simulate the characteristic of God’s grace by being merciful, you suddenly discover the beginnings of a pure heart. Indeed–blessed are the pure in heart. I am weary of conservative people, so defiled in their thinking that everything to them is foul and dirty. I’m sorry–sometimes people are trying to be suggestive or mean or insulting–and I just miss it. Why? Because I’m not looking for it. God has cleansed my heart enough through mercy, and I have gotten simple enough that I have begun to expect to see God in situations instead of probing for the devil.

So since I want good conclusions instead of thinking that I am pleasing God by ferreting out all the filth of the world, I become eligible to be a peace maker.  Yes–blessed are the peace makers. I’m no longer looking for a fight. I am no longer trying to misinterpret a glance that someone throws my way. I am not trying to be offended. So it enables me to step in and make peace among those who are still trapped in that complicated lifestyle.

And finally, if you actually have gone into the process to get simple and you know you’re not as good as people even think you are, which causes you to have empathy for their loss, and you can have the patience to understand that the world gets bored and drops really good things that you can pick up, which stimulates you to be really hungry and thirsty to learn more about yourself and the world around you, granting you a pure heart that isn’t always looking for the dark side of the moon so that you can become a maker of peace among those who are always looking for a reason to fuss with one another–then you will have followed the philosophy of “get simple” enough that even when you are rejected because of the stance you take, or made fun of for being too simple, or just temporarily set aside because you don’t seem to have the aggressive goods to make it in the marketplace, you can rejoice and be exceedingly glad–which literally scares the crap out of your critics.

I don’t know what my friend who canceled me thinks that preaching is going to do for people whose lives have become so entangled with religion, rhetoric and responsibility that they are overwhelmed by living and hope to God that dying and heaven will be better. All I know is that we’re here for a while and the first step to doing it right … is to get simple.

And “getting simple” is launched on the day that you turn to the world around you and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m not as good as even you think I am.”

Stand back.  It even gets more exciting from there.  See you tomorrow.


Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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