The E Word … March 5th, 2019

THE

WORD

 

There are words that are so vile with violence and bedeviled by bigotry that they should never be written or spoken again. But there are also words, shrouded with sinister self-righteousness, which are equally poisoned.

Such is the case with our E word this week:

EXCEPTIONAL

From the Greeks feeling philosophically elevated to the Romans commanding allegiance through their powerful armies, to the Jews believing they were “the Chosen Ones,” to the touting of a Holy Roman Empire, there have always been cultures, races and faiths that have attempted to establish their dominance over fellow-humans.

I must be candid. My skin crawls whenever I hear my American brothers and sisters bolstering our national ego by referring to the United States as “exceptional.” It is the kind of blatant arrogance that made us pursue “manifest destiny,” stealing land from a native people, while simultaneously shipping in souls from Africa to become our slaves.

It is evil—not just because it is pompous and misrepresents reality, but because it works hand in hand with two other failing thoughts.

For you see, people who think they are exceptional eventually believe they are superior. And those who proclaim they are superior eventually insist they are supreme.

After World War I, the German people were devastated in morale and financially destitute. A little man came with a huge idea. He told the German people they didn’t need to be the doormat of the world. He raised the consciousness of their Germanic roots. He told them they were exceptional.

In doing so, he stirred the pride of the nation. They began to rebuild.

Once they contended that they were exceptional, the evil little fellow then told them that they were superior.

He gave them a common enemy. By the end of the 1930’s, nearly every German, in some capacity, believed that he or she was superior to a Jew.

But to go to war, the small man, who in the meantime had become their dictator, needed to convince them they were supreme—a Super Race. This became something worth dying for—at least tens of thousands of them believed so. Unfortunately, it was not a suicide mission, but also took the lives of hundreds of thousands of other people who had to break the hypnotic spell.

Yet I will tell you, preaching “exceptionalism” is not different just because it is hatched in America. The notion is already beginning to make us contend that certain individuals are superior to others, and if we’re not careful, we will start reacting as if we are supreme.

Exceptional is a word that not even God will use. The Good Book makes it clear that He is no “respecter of persons.” If God makes no distinctions among His creation, why in the hell do we think we can?

“Exceptional” is our E word—a misguided attempt to build patriotism or national pride by ignoring the beauty of commonality and the glory of “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”


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Jesonian … July 28th, 2018

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Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m sitting here with the Good Book open, peering down at John the 7th Chapter.

I have no intention of trying to impress you with my Bible knowledge nor attempt to turn some passage into a magical expression of salvation.

What I want to share with you is a pattern.

I would like to find an adjective to describe this pattern. Foolish comes to mind. Perhaps dangerous. But certainly repetitive.

The pattern is the ongoing belief in every generation that you can evaluate something by the numbers–“the bottom line.”

Ironically, it was verbalized perfectly over two thousand years ago by the brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth when they critiqued him on his approach to promoting the message he had chosen to share.

Their insights are frightening to read because they are so current to today’s ignorance. They spoke the following to Jesus:

“For there is no man that does anything in secret but instead, wants to be known.”

Have you ever heard that philosophy?

“Promote yourself.”

“Get it out there.”

“Showcase it.”

“Use your tools.”

“Adjust your intensity to the present flow of thinking.”

Amazingly, through the whole 7th Chapter of John, this repeats over and over again. For later on in that same passage, the audiences that come to Jesus muse whether he could be the Messiah, because they’re concerned about where he was born.

Added pressure.

Not only do you need to promote yourself well, but you need a certain look–maybe even a color. How about a culture to back you up?

We have the mistaken idea that Jesus always had great multitudes following him. There were times that people hung around for a while–after all, if you turn water into wine and can take a Happy Meal and make a buffet, you will gain some attention.

But the truth of the matter is, as soon as Jesus started teaching, the crowd thinned, and on one occasion totally disappeared.

For after all, what concerned the average Jew was whether God would send a military man to destroy the Romans and establish the Kingdom of Israel.

On the other hand, Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God, which was within us, and would enable us to get along with everyone, including the Romans.

Conflict.

Yet it is best capsulized in that same chapter in a meeting among the Jewish leaders.

When they sat discussing the phenomenon of Jesus of Nazareth, what finally made them decide he was a joke, a hoax or at least a light-weight was the fact that none of the hierarchy of their religion–those considered intelligent, educated and astute–believed in him.

The premise was, “If you really are somebody, all the “somebodies” will recognize and promote you.”

“If you really are talented, you will be discovered.”

“If you really are bringing a possibility of hope and salvation, eventually you’ll be offered a platform instead of a cross.”

It didn’t work out that way.

Nowadays, I often sit around with my children, explaining to them that success is meaningless. In my lifetime, notorious people, who appeared to be powerful and everlasting, bit the dust and became cautionary tales of stupidity.

You can’t look at the numbers.

If you had lived in 1st century Palestine and looked at the numbers, the popularity, the acceptance, the blending and the support of the people in the know, you would never have found Jesus.

If you want to find out what is going to last, be helpful, truthful and carry the touch of God, do one thing–simply watch and learn.

How resourcefully does he, she or they use the resources?

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Jesonian … June 16th, 2018

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“When are we going to stop all this stuff you’re teaching and go back to who we really are?”

This statement seems to ooze from the twelve disciples throughout Jesus’ entire three-and-a-half year ministry.

They didn’t mind being taught, just as long as they didn’t have to learn.

And they didn’t mind learning sometimes, as long as they didn’t have to apply.

And applying was alright every once in a while, as long as it was a one-time thing that didn’t need to be repeated.

You can look at the disciples as either some of the whiniest men that ever walked the face of the Earth, or be candid and admit that they were typical.

Typical of us all.

Every one of us arrives at the Gospel with too many pre-conceived ideas. No wonder Jesus referred to the experience as being “born again.” Otherwise, we try to join a club that pursues all the traditions we have contrived since our birth.

Why are we going to Samaria?

Why was this man born blind?

Why do you talk so tough to the Pharisees?

Why can’t we divorce women?

Why are we supposed to love our enemies?

Why don’t we kill the Romans and start over again?

Why can’t I be scared in a boat when there’s a storm?

Why are we inviting tax collectors into our really neat band of brothers?

Why can’t we bring down lightning and thunder on the Samaritans?

You see, the Gospel is not just a plan of salvation, it’s also salvation from our plan.

Because without the Gospel, everyone would run hither, thither and yon, starting their own renditions of what Jesus said, coming up with funny-sounding names, and focus on one doctrine over another.

Wait. We’re already doing that.

The greatest gift you can give to yourself is to know that Christianity is a lifestyle, not a religion.

It is not a revolving door, where we enter to worship, and leave to catch the beginning of the football game on Sirius Radio on the way home.

The Gospel is the essence of eternity, functioning on Earth. No other philosophy, no other interaction and no other manifesto ever came along which included God, Nature and people.

Instead, each of these other religions focus on one of these factors. In some religions, God is over-emphasized. Other approaches place too much importance on Nature. And of course, there are philosophies which contend it’s a human situation–i.e., every man for himself.

The Gospel is not going away. It is not going to be replaced or even mingled with provincialism. It took the disciples a long time to understand this.

But if we all join together with good hearts and good cheer, we might be able to shorten the process and get people rejoicing again, with exceeding gladness.

 

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Jesonian … April 7th, 2018

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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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Catchy (Sitting 33) Too Many Meetings … January 28th, 2018

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(3566)

Prophet Morgan was dead.

But he was not a victim of his own hand by suicide. He was killed.

While the medical examiner was studying the body during the autopsy, she discovered a pinprick under his right armpit. A needle mark. It prompted her to investigate further. She found evidence of potassium chloride. Somebody wanted Morgan dead, and used a lethal cocktail to stop his heart.

It also became obvious that the suicide note, though written by Morgan’s hand, did not contain his thoughts. Checking his groin, they found that electrodes had been attached to his body to generate severe pain, causing him to submit to his assailant’s will.

For Morgan, character that he was, had purposely misspelled some words and used bad punctuation to let all of his friends know that the note did not come from him. Everyone in the organization knew that even though Prophet talked like a hillbilly, he was actually a grammar Nazi, and went off into fits of rage over a misplaced comma.

Matthew sat quietly during the Inquest as four or five dozen people listened to the medical examiner explain how a beautiful young man had landed in an untimely grave. It was too much.

In the midst of the Q & A with reporters, Matthew rose, left the building, climbed into his car and drove to the Sahara Casino, punching the elevator button for the ninth floor, where a suite of offices had been provided by the owners as a courtesy to Jubal Carlos and the movement.

Matthew was alone. He was quiet. He had some time to think. But it was one of those nasty occasions when having an opportunity to contemplate was a punishment, not a relief. There was just too much shit in the stall to appreciate the horse.

Matthew knew good things were going on–that the rallies were meeting great emotional and spiritual needs in the populace. Matter of fact, his partner in business, Landy, had recently attended a session in Las Vegas and had accepted Jesus as her personal savior. At least that’s how she phrased it.

She was a different person. She now hopped the plane, going from city to city to be part of the Gospel caravan. She sat for hours talking to the prostitutes who were new members of the staff, interviewing them about what it was like to be whores–and how the change in their lives had saved them from eradication.

Matthew envied her. It couldn’t be that easy. Mumbling a few words and a prayer, and promising allegiance to a two-thousand-year-old creed did not seem to have the energy for explaining away the hell that went on in the world, nor the power to curb the appetites in his own being, which often left him vanquished instead of victor.

As he sat in his office listening to the hum of the flourescent lights, sorting through the everyday process of his existence, he was suddenly interrupted by Soos, who raced through the door, shutting it quickly behind her.

She didn’t waste a moment. “Listen, Matthew, I don’t have much time. Here’s what I need you to know…” She glanced at her arm for a watch, but there was none there. “In a few minutes a man is going to come here. I want you to be cool. I want you to ignore me. I’m going to go over and hide in this closet. For God’s sake, don’t tell him I am here. Just carry on your conversation, listen to what he has to say, and please… be cool.” She paused. “Oh, I already said that.”

She didn’t wait for a reply, but opened the closet door, slithered in and shut it quietly behind her.

As soon as the closet door closed, the buzzer on Matthew’s desk sounded. Since there was no secretary, some visitor had discovered the large, red button on the reception wall and was asking entrance. Matthew strolled to the door and opened it.

Standing there was a man in his mid-thirties, about six-feet seven-inches tall, broad shoulders, long blond hair which fluttered down his back, a deep brown tan, and with the physique of a defensive lineman from the National Football League. Matthew was startled at his appearance. He was looking at a Viking in a suit.

The guest, aware of the reaction, stepped forward and held out his hand, which more resembled a southern smoked ham. “You must be Matthew. My name is Jackson Priestly, but my friends call me Joshua.”

A chill went down Matthew’s spine. The name Joshua had some special significance. He tried to remember. What was it? Yes–it was Jo-Jay’s warning. “Beware Joshua…”

Matthew placed his small hand inside the monster mitt, shook it and said, “Well, what can I do for you, Jackson?”

Jackson motioned to the office, inquiring, “Could we go in and sit down?”

Matthew nervously held his hand out, gesturing toward the door. “Sure. I can sit down.”

It was only a few steps from the reception area to the office, but it was awkward, with Matthew not knowing whether to let the giant go first, or whether he should precede him. He stalled at the doorway, deciding to go in first, so they both ended up trying to enter at the same time, bumping into one another.

Matthew made his way to his desk, glancing at the closet door, knowing that Soos was listening, and therefore, if there was going to be a murder, she would be a witness. Horrible thought. But keep in mind, he had just come from an inquest.

“So what can I do for you, Jackson?” Matthew repeated, trying to upload some of his business decorum.

“I’m a spokesman,” Jackson began, “for the CLO. Our organization is very simple. Our slogan is ‘Maintaining the faith, faithfully.'”

Matthew nodded without responding.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Matthew,” Jackson continued. “We’re concerned.”

Matthew didn’t even blink an eye.

Realizing he was being given space, Jackson explained, “We’re concerned about this campaign you’re conducting about Jesus Christ.”

He paused. Again, no response. He pushed on.

“What has us bothered is the trivializing of an age-old message with eternal values being marginalized to become a street-vendor philosophy. Yes, complete with hot dogs and hamburgers, pennants and hats.”

Matthew said nothing.

“It’s a mistake,” declared Jackson. “I know you may consider this a bit of short-sightedness–for us to critique any contribution that would bring focus to the Christ. But the Master needs more than focus. He needs honor. He needs glory. He needs respect. He needs position. And even though you may not agree, he needs to be showcased as ‘Lord of Lords and King of Kings.'”

Matthew took the moment to insert some shock value. “Well, then, you’ve got a helluva fuckin’ problem, don’t you?”

Jackson was visibly startled at the profanity. Matthew smiled internally, overjoyed that he had struck a blow against the armor of this pious knight of religion.

“What do you mean?” challenged Jackson.

“Well, Jackson, my man,” Matthew said, “all your attempts to elevate the resume of Jesus of Nazareth have only succeeded in making him inaccessible to the masses, and gradually turning him into a religious icon, which I think even you might agree, is contrary to his druthers.”

Jackson shook his head. “I would not presume to know the druthers of the only begotten Son of God…”

Matthew interrupted. “Honestly, big fellow, I’m just working off of his material. You see, people who talk like you were frightened by Jesus, so they ended up killing him. Isn’t that amazing? People who are spiritual think they do service to God by killing someone…”

Matthew probed into Jackson’s eyes, looking for a flit of weakness, but he stared straight ahead.

“Let me give you a little lesson,” Jackson said. “I will keep it brief because I know this school of thought is not necessarily to your liking. It’s about the Feast of Tabernacles.”

Matthew squinted.

Jackson chuckled. “It was a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He was working in Galilee, he was blessing the people, he was healing. He spent an afternoon with his family, and they began to chide him, asking him why he didn’t go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, where the market would be larger for his message and he would have a chance to be more popular. Now let me explain this–we’re not sure what the family’s motivation was. Some theologians think there was a plot to kill Jesus, which was going to be executed on the road to Jerusalem, with his brothers being privy to the plan. But that’s neither here nor there. Jesus sees right through their pressure and decides not to go to the Feast of Tabernacles–but then later changes his mind. Arriving at the feast, he realizes it was not Galilee. It was not sitting around Peter’s house waiting for someone sick to arrive to get help. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he found himself like a little ant, running around a huge Temple.”

Jackson went on. “He stood in the middle of the square and screamed, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!’ He got attention. He created a stir. He became popular. But that popularity ended up jeopardizing his freedom to speak his mind and to save souls. It actually put him at the mercy of the Romans, who had no toleration for variety. So you see, a little trip to Jerusalem to gain popularity hastened his demise.”

Jackson paused.

Matthew sat, leery of him. This was a well-educated, intelligent, intuitive, well-rehearsed creature of knowledge. He was scary. He was dangerous. Matthew chose to play innocent.

“Honestly, Jackson,” he said, “I don’t know anything about the Bible. I wouldn’t even know how to spell it if it weren’t for that little Sunday School song about the B-I-B-L-E.”

Matthew laughed alone at his joke. “So let me ask you to take thirty seconds and sum up what you’re trying to communicate to me.”

Jackson stood to his feet, ready to exit after his closing comment. “You have lost a dynamic young man–Prophet Morgan. Now is an excellent time to reflect. How about ten days of mourning? Shut down the rallies, and take that time to realize the heat of the fire you’re trying to handle. You look smart enough. Use your brain to discover a better way.”

Jackson nodded, turned, walked to the door, and disappeared.

Matthew, in his chair, was shaking. He felt handled, out of his league and threatened.

Suddenly Soos burst out of the closet door, nearly scaring Matthew to death.

“Who was that? Who was that?” she questioned breathlessly.

Matthew sat, trying to gather his thoughts. “I don’t know, Soos. You heard the same thing I did.”

“I heard it,” said Soos, “but I didn’t really see him. What was he like? Was he a monster? Jo-Jay says he’s dangerous. He is Joshua, right?”

Matthew shook his head.

There had just been too many meetings.

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Jesonian … October 21st, 2017

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Even though I am an admirer, believer and follower of Jesus, there are things that bother me.

Yes, some attributes of Jesus give me the creeps.

Let’s start with the fact that he claimed to be “one with God.” Normally when folks make such an assertion, we give them a free trip to a mental hospital instead of building churches in their name. “I am God”–the classic statement made by megalomaniacs throughout history.

Secondly, he seemed to have a strong death wish. About halfway through his work, he became obsessed with his own execution. Needless to say, this is repeated throughout history by leaders who ended up being nefarious.

Can I give you a third one? How about this–he invited his disciples to drink his blood. That’s creepy. Although you can point out that it was a symbolic act, I don’t like to think about even symbolically taking in hemoglobin.

And there is the fact that he is traditionally reported to have stayed away from sex. Although surrounded by women and a plethora of men, it is alleged that he was as pure as the driven snow. We can certainly attest to the fact that those who pursue that lifestyle often end up being perverted, using their abstinence to injure the lives of others.

I’m sorry, these are some creepy things.

If I walked into your house and said, “Hey, did you hear about that guy down in Texas who thinks he’s God, hangs around with a bunch of women but says he abstains from sex, prophesies that the government is going to come and kill him, and it is reported that he makes his followers drink his blood…”

Come on. This is going to freak you out.

So why, since I know all these creepy things, do I still follow Jesus? It’s because of what he taught and how he followed up with it in his own life.

His teachings were non-violent. Most people who claim to be God want to kill you to prove the point.

Jesus didn’t care if you didn’t believe. He just went to another village.

His teachings were forgiving. Even though his disciples were a bunch of hotheads who wanted to kill their enemies, he rebuked them, told them to put their swords away and taught them that no one is better than anyone else.

His teachings were inclusive. Even though the average Jew of his day had a hit list of cultures which needed to be destroyed, Jesus walked freely with the Romans, the Greeks, the Samaritans, the Jews and the Afrikaans. He gave the same respect to everyone, whether a Pharisee or a man possessed with a thousand demons.

He also loved human beings. Even those who hated him.

He refused to take his claims of supremacy and force other people to submit to them. His philosophy was, “Whosoever will may come.”

So here’s an amazing fact: Jesus’ claims become viable because of his actions. It’s not that his actions are worth studying because of his claims.

I can accept some oddities in his choices, phrasing and mannerisms because his life was drenched in love.

Love is not creepy.

 

 

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Good News and Better News… July 31st, 2017

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I was sitting in the nursery of the Nativity Lutheran Church in Weeki Wachee, Florida, between services, snacking on some fruit which had graciously been provided by Pastor Giuseppe and glorious souls who have a knack for putting together such compotes, when I was struck–or perhaps just “pwanged”–by a simple revelation.

The world is always moving. It is our job to note the direction.

Just because the pace seems harried, leaving us all in the flurry of busyness, does not mean that we’re trudging forward. Sometimes we go backwards, often it’s just side-stepping right or left. We even become distracted by hitting a wall and continuing to push instead of stopping long enough to find a way around it.

Church is still a beautiful thing–it’s just that in the present march of humanity it seems irrelevant.

For we classify information that comes our way into three categories:

1. Philosophical.

This ranges from our educational system, to reading books, to listening to someone explain the value of a gluten-free diet.

2. Religious.

Once again, this could be anything from a Bible conference to a yoga class to hearing a testimony about someone’s ordeal or joining with others in prayer over some nasty bit of business that’s come along.

3. Necessary.

Every single day of our lives, we alter the gauge on what we feel is necessary for our existence. This explains the tremendous success of Amazon and Wal-mart. These companies have made it friendly to come and buy things we want at reasonable rates, and in the case of Amazon, have them delivered to our door without even needing to leave the comforts of the breakfast nook.

Candidly, if a piece of information is not necessary, we deem it useless. Once something becomes useless, it only receives attention if it can prove–even temporarily–that it has the value of Wal-mart or Amazon.

So something beautiful, like church, which at one time was considered necessary because it initiated relationships, faith, music, cooperation and a sense of community, has now been completely shoved to the rear by the collision of social media and the rising tide of agnosticism.

When I went into the second service I took the realization with me. I discovered that being philosophical or religious bored even those individuals who still remained in the holy sanctuary.

Give them what’s necessary.

When Jesus came to Earth, the common people were slaves to the Romans and subjected to criticism from the religious system.

Jesus told the people they were “the salt of the Earth, the light of the world,” but that they needed to take responsibility for their lives and not wait for either the Romans or Judaism to save them.

He made the message of God necessary. He referred to it as “daily bread.” He told people to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” and to “take no thought for tomorrow” but to live for today.

You will never meet a more promising group of people than I encountered at Nativity. But I will tell them that until the message they share is necessary in people’s lives, a philosophical or religious content will leave folks cold–staying at home and watching television.

The good news is that Christianity can still be about Jesus.

The better news is that he came to give us life–necessary life–and it more abundantly.

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