Grace Period … September 13, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

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leaseI remember how thrilled I was in my twenties when I realized that even though my rent was due on the first of the month, I had five days to pay it before I was delinquent. It was referred to as the “grace period.”

But here’s the problem with that idea: within two months I became convinced that my rent was not due until the fifth. Instead of following the rules of the lease, which said I should pay on the first, I felt my rent could wait until the fifth. Eventually I created my own grace period–I started paying on the tenth and then the fifteenth. In no time at all, I rationalized that I was only one month behind.

You see, grace sounds like a wonderful idea until it’s perverted in the mind of a human twister. Rather than being grateful for the extension of mercy, we have a tendency to redefine and expand upon the original offer.

It doesn’t work in our secular society when we tell people to lie, cheat, deny and avoid doing anything admitting fault, and it does not work in the religious community either, where we generate simpering converts who tearfully espouse their weakness and pray for God to cover their lack.

Is there anywhere or any place where people are still trying to make better human beings?

I will tell you what grace is NOT. From there you can draw your own conclusions:

1. Grace can never be expected. Why? Because the Good Book says that grace is “given to the humble,” and the minute we start thinking we’re picking it up like a paycheck, pride and arrogance remove the value of the gift.

2. It can’t continue to allow us license to be stupid. Once again, the Good Book tells us that we can’t “continue in sin,” hoping that grace will arrive by oxcart, just in time to cover our butts.

3. And finally, grace can’t brag. The minute we start telling stories about how God has supernaturally protected us from our own foolishness instead of silently breathing a prayer of gratitude due to unmerited favor, we not only become obnoxious, but heaven also stops returning our phone calls.

God’s grace is sufficient for us–and therefore is determined by Him, not by the accumulation of our mounting pleas.

I think we would do well to take a season in our society to walk away from grace and encourage people to rediscover the power and majesty of personal responsibility.

  • I don’t think it will diminish grace, because when we are looking to our own hearts, we are humble. God gives grace.
  • When we’re checking out our own motives, we stop fostering foolishness and sin in our lives. Grace is permitted to hang around.
  • And if we will cease screaming and yelling about grace being everlasting, we will discover that the amount sent our way is always sufficient.

I have noticed of late that not many companies talk about “grace periods” anymore. For grace given to a lazy fool is always wasted, always taken for granted and always defined by the sluggard as a blank check … for stupidity.

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Excuse Me… March 14, 2013

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Tree drawing

Excuse me, Tree. When did you bloom? Hours earlier you were barren, devoid of bud, and now, in a full array of leaves.

Excuse me, Blackbird. How did you fly from that second branch skyward, perching on top of the wire dangling in the air?

Excuse me, Ma’am. How do you do it? Tend to your children’s whims, while pursuing womanly dreams?

Excuse me, Brother. I am so sorry for the hot-shots who are so busy discussing billions and billions that they didn’t notice that you were $83.14 shy on your rent this month.

Excuse me, Sun. Where did you go? It has been so cold for so long. Now the warmth gradually returns with renewed vigor.

Excuse me, Book. Would you tell me a story? Your words become feelings, transforming into ideas and projecting them in my mind as visions unimagined by Hollywood.

Excuse me, Rain. What a wonder you are! Somewhere between my head and the earth, you change from a nuisance to nourishment.

Excuse me, God. Where have You been? Much has happened. Did You notice? Is it a plan set before us or merely an atmosphere for human choice? We do welcome You, if You are still interested.

Excuse me, Tree, Blackbird, Ma’am, Brother, Sun, Book, Rain and God. I fear I have been a bit absent–in more than mind. I am back now. I will do my part. Watch me.

You will be proud.

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The Spirit of St. Louis…. June 28, 2012

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It seemed like a good idea.

Good ideas are like athletes. They all seem to be in great shape until they compete in the race against other formidable opponents. Then all of their weaknesses come to the forefront as they surprisingly finish dead last.

I had amazingly accumulated $931.26. Now, these were 1978 dollars. I had set them aside to move my family and my music group, Soul Purpose, from Centerburg, Ohio, to Nashville, Tennessee, where the first fruits of a budding career were sprouting many possibilities. I had just released my first national record album and had my book, The Gospel According to Common Sense, published. It was time to move closer to where the work was bringing benefit instead of finding myself eight hours away from my next possibility.

Everything was going along swimmingly until I floated into Nashville and discovered that our three-bedroom apartment was not going to be ready for occupancy for two weeks. So I decided to take our music group and my family on the road for that fortnight to try to sustain our livelihood–and maybe even expand our momentous treasure. As I said, it seemed like a good idea–except for the fact that the other participants necessary to make this notion complete failed to comply.

We got on the highway and couldn’t get any bookings, and ended up spending our money to survive, and by the time we landed at the last weekend before returning to Music City, we only had $314 left of our initial nest egg. Only one opportunity had been afforded our way. It was on the last Sunday morning and was at a start-up church in St. Louis,

English: Under the back of the Spirit of St. L...

English: Under the back of the Spirit of St. Louis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

being held in a local junior high school and only had forty people in attendance. It seemed unlikely that I would be able to recoup my $931 need from these three-dozen-plus souls.So I cried, laughed and relaxed. This has proven to be a great combination for me. It’s always a good idea to cry first–get all the self-pity drained from the pus deep in your soul, lest it try to ooze out later, at a time when you need dedication instead of sympathy.

Next, I laughed–because if I thought this was going to be the last time I made a foolish decision leaving me in jeopardy, then I truly must be the king of comedy. For after all, bad decisions are just good decisions that were fairly unlucky.

Finally, I relaxed. Or at least did my best impersonation. Perhaps the greatest advantage we have in possessing faith is the childlike quality of nestling into the arms of our conviction and going to sleep, knowing that tomorrow will either bring great surprise and benefit–or defeat. But after all, even defeat requires a good night’s sleep.

Our Sunday morning church was pastored by a husband and wife team, Bob and Martha. Martha was a delightful woman who really did delight in everything. Bob was a thoughtful man who had learned how to be much more appreciative of life because he had been given a terminal diagnoses of leukemia. Honestly, there was nothing particularly special about the service or the time we had at this little congregation of people. Maybe I was tired; maybe I still was fretting a little bit over our financial need. Or maybe it was just forty people who wondered how we had stumbled into their midst.

It was warm but it was not toasty. We were appreciated, but not lauded. It was purposeful, but not terribly spirited. We finished up, an offering was collected for our journey, the equipment was packed away, and I stepped into the school’s bathroom to change my clothes, to journey onto Nashville, where there was an apartment waiting for me–which was now beyond my means.

I was sitting on the toilet seat, fully clothed–not needing to use the facility for its actual purpose, but rather, only as a perch of consideration. As I was musing my plight, I was all at once aware that Bob had entered the room and was standing outside my stall door. He thanked me for coming and told me that he had the offering. I was rather embarrassed to be having a conversation through a bathroom door, yet I didn’t exactly want to open it and emerge from the tiny enclosure to shake his hand with him wondering where it had been. So awkwardly, I continued to listen to him talk through the closed portal.

I could hear tears in his voice as he spoke. I think he took the opportunity to pour out his heart to a stranger because his personal thoughts might be too painful to those closest to him. He said, “They tell me I’m going to die, and honestly, Jonathan, I think they’re probably right. I welcome the prayers of my loved ones and family, and believe you me, I hope they are answered and I can continue to live. But truthfully, I think it’s my time. I don’t know how to tell them that. I don’t know how to tell myself that. But I wanted someone to know that I’m not afraid. I wanted someone to hear me say … it’s okay.”

He stopped speaking. I had no idea how to respond. Here I was, worrying about my lost treasure of money, listening to a man who was about to lose his treasure of life. I remained silent. To contradict his conclusions would be childish. To confirm them would be mean.

He didn’t say anything else, he just slid the envelope containing my morning offering under the door and quietly left the room. I remained seated on the little porcelain throne for a long moment, and then reached down and grabbed the gift. I opened it up and pulled out the contents. Pastor Bob had given the entire morning offering from the church to us. Checks that had been written to himself and the work had been signed over for our blessing.

I quietly sat there and counted the money and was stunned to discover that it added up to $935. I didn’t want to move. God, I didn’t even want to breathe–except that became necessary. The room was so still, so full of the presence of a generous, kind and perhaps even giggling spirit. I was being blessed and mocked at the same time.

“Oh, foolish man you are, who thinks that the power of life and death is solely within your confines and abilities. Stand back and behold the majesty of God and the generosity of another fellow-traveler.”

I drove on to Nashville, procured my apartment and began my life there. I sent a thank-you note to my new friend in gratitude from his confessor. I was overwhelmed. I had been whisked away and flown to the heavens by the Spirit of St. Louis.

Two months later, Martha wrote me a letter and told me that Bob had passed away. He was right–it apparently was his time.

I cried. They were selfish tears. Gone was a new friend who had blessed my life; and departed from this earth was one of those necessary souls we so desperately need, who now revels in his reward.

I had lost an earthly friend to gain a new witness in the heavens. The only thing I can do to honor Bob is to become Bob to the next foolish dreamer who has a really bad idea, craps out and ends up sitting … on the pot.

   

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Taking the Leap… February 29, 2012

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It happens every four years–and I’m not talking about me purchasing socks.

Leap year–the confirmation that our calendar was put together by human committee. (“Oops! We have one extra day! What should we do??”)  Since it is such a special occasion, let me go ahead and take the leap.

In January, 2000, my mother-in-law passed away, leaving behind an inheritance. It was not a lot of money but to us it was a fortune. We wanted to use it wisely. (No one ever gets a large sum of money and says to himself, “How can I squander this as efficiently as possible?”) We took precautions. We took suggestions. We followed the common advice of the day and entered the stock market–and even purchased real estate.

Yes, at forty-eight years of age, I bought and moved into the first home I had ever owned. Up to that point I had rented quite gleefully. And we found a good deal–an amazing deal for the year 2000. I was so thrilled with the house that I set out to become a great “lord of my own manor.” I put in a swimming pool, a circular driveway, a series of attractive deckings and placed a gorgeous gazebo in the front yard–built by good Amish farmers. It was a stunning property.

I simultaneously joined my friend, Janet, in founding a symphony in our town, which ended up doing some amazing things with very little financial benefit coming back our way. Let me clarify that. “Very little,” in this case, is a nice way of saying “none.” And meanwhile, I continued to do what I always have–I traveled the country sharing a message about how God has a reasonable concept for us to be happy. I raised four sons in that house and helped to establish my other two offspring onto paths towards prosperity.

I thought I had it figured out. When I only had one left in high school, I planned to put the house up for sale, redeeming my profits from the investment, paying off all my credit card debt and thereby possessing a nice little nest egg with which to continue my work, as I went back to being a member of “Renters Anonymous.”

But I got talked into waiting until the last son graduated, which placed me in 2007. When he received his diploma, something else came up. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but we basically decided to wait a little longer before selling the house. Once again, I continued to do what I do. I expanded myself by beginning this jonathots column, which is reaching tens of thousands of folks. I started writing a weekly letter to the pastors and church workers I had met, encouraging them in their faith, while giving them a little bit of exhortation and insight.

Then came 2008.

My house, which was once worth more than half a million dollars, was nearly overnight halved in its value. Actually, it ended up not being worth the payoff. So not only did I fail to have enough money to pay off my credit cards through my investment–as it turns out, I didn’t have enough money to pay for the house itself.

I had to make a decision.

Now, I am a firm believer in responsibility–but my first responsibility is to my calling. So I sat down with the bank and told them I was not going to live on the property anymore, and signed it over to a broker who more or less became my free agent to dispose of the house in the best way possible–to cover the indebtedness. And I went out to do what I’m supposed to do.

I got all the belongings that I liked down to a simple unit of travel, and in December 2010, I took off across this country–to see its people, to bless its inhabitants and to learn how to be a better human being myself. Now, the bank, the government and my broker seem to be having great fun figuring out how to trick one another into the best deal possible for each one of them concerning the property once mine. Matter of fact, sometimes when I get little updates, I giggle at their contortions.

Meanwhile, I move down the road. People always ask me, “Where are you guys from?” Well, see … here’s the truth: we have an address in Florida, for mail. But our life is right here–with you.

My needs were always simpler than the requirements that were placed upon me by those who deemed themselves to be more mature than myself. It’s amazing–once you have peace of mind and satisfaction in what you’re doing–how little you actually need.

For I will tell you, it’s not so much about “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That still requires water and sugar. Often, it’s learning how to develop a taste for lemons, while being grateful that you have the freedom, the gifts, the initiative, the talent and the wherewithal to move forward successfully.

I think we’ll become a better country if people are able to tell their stories honestly, without fear. I realize there may be some venture capitalists out there who will hear my story and deem me either a rogue or a vagabond. So be it.

What I have done is simplify my life down to my talent, my passion, my love and seven changes of underclothes. Meanwhile, I get to meet thousands of people and share my heart with them, and maybe just encourage them–that telling the truth without shame and anxiety is the best way …  to take the leap.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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