Exceed — October 13, 2011

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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.

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Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

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

Powerful — October 12, 2011

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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.

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Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

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

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