Reverend Meningsbee (Part 42) Rest Stop … February 19th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

2.3 miles east of Garsonville, on an old country road, was an abandoned roadside rest–long forgotten and unattended, with a broken picnic table, a dry pump and an eroded sign which had once explained the origins.

Over the past two months, every single week, Reverend Meningsbee made his way to that spot before attending church, to take ten or fifteen minutes, just to “get decent.”

Getting decent meant freeing himself of all the hardships, prejudice, bruised ego, disappointments and frustrations of the week, lest he arrive in front of the congregation and pour out his misgivings instead of sharing a parcel of hope.

It had been a strange week.

On top of languishing in memories of his beloved Doris, he also discovered that Jesse, Marty and Hector McDougal were moving from town. They had become the touchstone–the stopping off place–for all the publicity and turmoil that had risen up because of the little boy’s amazing healing.

The family had received notice from a mega church in Idaho which had been spreading its spiritual wings into making movies, and the three were invited to come and live free of charge for a year while the screenwriters, actors and production team shot a film entitled, “Hector’s Baptism.”

They were so excited.

They even had a copy of the screenplay, which Meningsbee perused, quickly realizing that the writers had taken some creative license.

Meningsbee felt sad.

He wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the family–but it’s hard to argue with a year’s worth of free room and board. So he kissed them all on the cheek, prayed for them and two days later they were gone.

That departure was followed by the information that Patrick Swanson, whose congregation had been involved in some sort of wife-swapping scandal, was also leaving and stopped off at Meningsbee’s house to say goodbye.

He and his wife were off to Utah, to a marriage clinic, to restore their vows and commitments.

Patrick had become a Mormon. He looked much different–fresh haircut, crisp white shirt and a sweater vest instead of jeans, shaggy locks and a t-shirt. He was, shall we say, very appropriate.

When Meningsbee reached to give him a hug, Patrick instead took his hand and offered a warning. “Beware the sins of the flesh, my friend. I think you teeter on too much secular input in your ministry, and therefore are robbing your congregation of the full impact of the whole Bible for the whole man.”

Meningsbee felt a flame of anger ignite in his gut but he realized that Patrick would soon be gone, and his advice with him.

Meningsbee was in the midst of these thoughts and many others when a car rolled up next to him.

It was Sammy Collins.

He got out of his car and tapped on the passenger window of Meningsbee’s vehicle, requesting permission to enter. Meningsbee popped his locks and Sammy scooted in, shut the door and took a deep breath.

“Let me get right to it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying. I know we haven’t always agreed, but I believe I’m supposed to come and be your assistant minister.”

He paused. Meningsbee was speechless.

Sammy jumped in. “Well, that’s it. What do you think?”

“How did you know I would be here?” asked Meningsbee.

“I followed you,” said Sammy with a smile. “You didn’t even know, did you?”

“Nope,” said Meningsbee quietly.

Sammy turned sideways in his seat, filled with energy. “So what do you think, Pastor? You sure could use the help.”

“You see, Sammy, the kind of help I need wouldn’t work because it’s inside me. I couldn’t get you in there. Or maybe I wouldn’t want you in there. Or maybe, it just seems to me, that if I needed an assistant minister, God would tell me before he told the assistant minister.”

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Sammy with a twinkle.

“Yeah, but usually not hyper-weird,” replied Meningsbee.

Sammy, undaunted by the rebuke and rejection, opened the car door and said, “Think it over. You’re never gonna find anyone quite like me.”

Meningsbee just nodded, holding his tongue over a variety of responses that immediatly popped into his brain.

Sammy jogged to his car, got in and took off. Meningsbee, fully disturbed and interrupted, decided to head off to church.

He wondered what he would find there. He had to admit to himself that his message last week about the rich young ruler and how the congregation needed to decide if they were going to keep the revival alive or go back to their old ways, was pretty strong. Matter of fact, he had even used the word “damn” right in the middle of the pews, flowers and pulpit furniture.

Arriving at the church, there was a hum in the room. No–a real hum. The organist was playing the prelude and the congregation, uncharacteristically, was humming along with the familiar tune.

There were two apple pies sitting on the fellowship table which were normally not present for coffee time.

Deacon Smitters shook Meningsbee’s hand and held it a little longer than normal.

The song service was more boisterous, the testimonies enlightened and the “amens” aplenty.

No one said a word about the previous week’s service nor whether they were offended, challenged or informed. They just did what people in Garsonville do. They took it all in, let it rattle around for a couple of days, and decided what their best path might be.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

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

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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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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Jesonian… January 21st, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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jesonian-cover-amazon

They tried.

They really, really tried.

Once folks discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was interested in love, mercy, peace and God, they attempted to make connection with him by being religious.

They couldn’t understand an itinerant minister who was so against organized theology that he hid out in the hills in the middle of the week, fellowshipping with folks, only descending to the synagogue on Saturday, to find more brothers and sisters.

Yet they tried.

First came Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He began his dialogue with Jesus by saying, “We know you are a teacher from God because you do such amazing works.”

He was a victim of church talk. He didn’t know how to chat like “real people.” He was hoping that he and Jesus could compliment one another and ruminate over the unknown questions of the universe, departing satisfied that they were both educated men.

Jesus ignored his religion and told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again.”

It pissed the old cleric off.

On another occasion, Jesus was sitting at a well in Samaria when a woman with a history of multiple husbands, now living with a man, came to draw water. When, through conversation, she realized that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, she began a religious argument–whether the Jews or the Samaritans were right. Here she was, a totally secular woman with no real understanding of the essence of God. But once she decided she was dealing with a religious adversary, she waxed ecclesiastical.

Jesus ignored her.

He told her to go get her husband.

He told her he had living water.

He told her that where we worship is not important–it’s how we worship that rings our bells.

And we must not forget the rich young ruler, who was so confident in his financial status that he felt the only thing he lacked was assurance that he had procured eternal life. He felt certain that Jesus was the person to ask about the afterlife.

“What must I do to inherit heaven?”

After a few minutes of back and forth, Jesus told him to go out, sell everything he had and give it to the poor. This was not the answer the pious young ruler wanted. So he left, sad.

Any further study of Jesus’ interactions with religious people of his day will give you a comprehensive awareness that all of them–all of the encounters–to some degree were failures.

Because the things that religious people need to do they don’t want to do:

  • Like Nicodemus, they do not want to personalize their salvation to be individually born again.
  • Like the woman at the well, they want to worship but not discover the “Spirit and the truth” of their praise.
  • And like the rich young ruler, they would rather memorize passages than generously give from their substance.

Whenever you bring religion to Jesus, he will challenge it–even attack it.

So do yourself a favor.

Skip the step.

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Jesonian: The Look of Love… July 26th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Young Robert Downey Jr.

Having just finished rebuking his disciples for trying to chase away the little children, Jesus takes the tots in his arms, lays his hands on them and blesses them.

But more importantly, he tells us that they are the true definition of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Yes, I can always tell when people are truly unspiritual, craggy and have a dying spirit. They’re critical of young humans.

God loves young people.

Matter of fact, in this particular passage of about 20 verses in the Gospel of Mark, we see that Jesus makes this forever clear–because not only does he express great warmth and tenderness to the little children, but immediately afterwards, when a young man arrives, asking questions about how to obtain eternal life, he channels that same affection toward this adolescent.

We refer this chap as “the rich young ruler.”

He is respectful. He is complimentary. But he is dissatisfied.

The things he has been taught have not brought him peace of mind nor a sense of purpose.

The scripture tells us that Jesus looks on him and loves him.

The average churchgoer would think that this is not unusual. Doesn’t Jesus love everybody?

But Jesus didn’t constantly manifest “the look of love.” He was often pissed with hypocrisy, angry with indifference, rebuking self-righteousness, and looking around the room befuddled because people were so unwilling to see other folks healed just because “it wasn’t the right time.”

Matter of fact, this is one of the few times that the Bible tells us that Jesus gave someone “the look of love.”

What did he love about this young man?

  1. The kid was still searching.
  2. The dude was looking for something good instead of something bad.
  3. The young man had faithfully followed what he had been taught to be true.
  4. But he had the sense to search for more.

What a great combo.

But Jesus gave him a gift. He offered a simple principle:

Learning stuff is not enough.

Investing your heart is where to start.

He told the young man that he should take his money and get rid of it–give it away to the poor, and make a new beginning.

For after all, even following our theological interpretation of him being a “rich young ruler,” if he forfeited his riches for a season, he was still young and he was still a ruler. He had plenty of time to make his money back again, and because he ruled over people, he could acquire their taxes and ingenuity. He could learn once again how to do it from scratch, and therefore rediscover his abilities and passion.

He didn’t want to do it. He walked away sadly.

It’s a great story, and it links up beautifully with Jesus blessing the children.

The young humans that surround us are the hope of finding the better parts of our message and applying them emotionally–not just spiritually.

Jesus looked on him and he loved him. He realized there was still a chance.

All the young fellow needed to do was accept that religious stuff was not enough–our heart is where it must start. 

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