Back in the day when my wife and I were raising our 3 kids.. attending church was a given.
But.. there were those Sundays (not too many) where we slept in late, or the MinneFROZEta winters were very Minnesota (very cold) like. On those Sundays we might declare 'A Family Day'. A day free from the harried pace of getting 3 kids ready for church, and free of policing the 'energy' of our 3 darlin' kids in the backseat of our car to and from church.
Now on a 'Family Day' we would gather the children, and read a couple Bible stories from this great Picture Bible we had. We would then discuss the story and lessons learned, and take time to pray. Really, we did take time to have real church and it was not used as a 'Get out of Church Free' card.
Now fast forward to the Spring of 2020, and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has us on lockdown. I don't know how long this will last, and not here to argue pandemic v PANICdemic only know this is our new reality.
The good news is in our modern streaming world there is the best church worship, and sermons available from all all the best worship leaders and preachers.
So in our church lockout/down state we are presented with the new and improved 'Family Day'.
They may not call it a Family Day, but hey.. I know Family Day when I see it. And in this new stream all world I can even attend services of my church online.
With this 'Family Day' available my wife and I chose to attend (stream) the 9 AM service.. and to make our attendance even more realistic we were 10 minutes late.
Worship at our church is always good, and we enjoyed watching familiar faces from the worship team lead 4 or 5 familiar songs focusing on God. Worship was not just a label for the time they led us in song, worship was the attitude of their heart. I confess during this time I did not stand or raise my hands, but I did worship.
This was followed by a time where we could participate in giving a tithe and/or offering. Of course no physical or virtual offering plate was passed, but there they still laid on a virtual 'guilt trip'. <insert dramtic pause, and eye roll, and gasp here> KIDDING, KIDDING, there was no pressure to give but instead the true privilege and opportunity to give as another way to worship our God and support the Church we belong to. Also what was nice is that I typically give online to our church and did this per usual.
Next, our pastor shared a sermon that was timely for 'such a time as this' (homebound, stir crazy, with more than a hint of uncertainty).
After the service concluded, my wife and I prayed together. It was time well spent in our Homebound Church state. It was like our old Family Day declarations from years gone by, but this time Family Day was mandated by the Governor of Minnesota.
While we miss attending our church, and pray life returns to normal soon, until then we are thankful for attending our church today in our PJs with bed-hair, with me slumping in my easy chair while drawing cartoons.
May God bless you all during this trying time. I pray God meets your physical and financial needs as well as strengthens your spiritual health.
This can be a time where we trust our God and to seek His will like never before.
This can be a time where we read our Bibles, meditate on it's words, and stay quiet as we listen for God to speak.
Jeff (wearing my 4pm PJs) Larson
Invertebrate: an animal lacking a backbone, such as an arthropod, mollusk, annelid, coelenterate, .. and some forms of Christians.
But first a bunny trail>
With all things COVID-19 related it is easy for everyone including Christians to hyperfocus on this very real health risk. So hyperfocused that we almost forget to breath. Almost.
But the world does not truly go on hold. Life is still lived and as Christians we should not lose focus on Jesus and living out His truth. The evening news does not give you truth.. it gives you what will get you to watch their 'shows'. Cynical much? you ask. No, I think of it as being realistic.
So no matter, we all of course need to be careful, stay healthy but this is NOT the Black Plague. Stay informed, but don't swallow the bait cast out every night at 6pm at your favorite news fishing spot.
<End of bunny trail
Now put down your Purell for a moment and let's talk about the Church. Not the buildings where we all gather in, but those good folk called to be the body of Christ.
A strong body will have bones, muscles, a heart pumping, brain thinking, lungs breathing, and we have eyes, ears, nose to enhance our senses to the world around us. This is why the body analogy works well in describing the Church and how it should function. All parts of the body are different but important.
So here is my concern of the day.. the church appears to suffer at times from a hardened and/or weak heart.. and our brain perplexed while attempting to blend God's truth into a 'very' secular world view (a true square peg in a round hole dilemma). Of course we should instead share how this very secular world needs to align with God's Truth.
AND.. then my cartoon mind smriks.. Maybe the Church is an invertebrate? Spineless, unable to stand up in this sinful world.
At the very least the church appears to be slouching.. and maybe the slouching is because it has no spine.
Spineless Christianity? I am 62 years old guy with chronic back issues. Images of my spine a few years back indicated I have several bulging discs, spinal stenosis, and arthritis that give me at times considerable pain. So The Bad News is.. I have pain. The Good News is.. I have a spine!
But I have grown fond of my spine.. not sure I could live without it. LITERALLY.
So goes the same when we talk about the Church Body. The Church must have a spine (stand unflinching with God's Truth with no apology) or I believe will die.
Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. .. John 15:18-19
AND THEY DID hate Jesus for sharing God's unflinching loving truth. Not in rude manner we 'Christians' sometimes are known for, but the kind of love/truth where Jesus spoke more about Hell then He did Heaven. It matters eternally what we believe, what we say, or DON'T say.
But, we the Church worry, dare I say is afraid.
People won't like me and/or laugh at me. They will label me just another judgmental hypocritical bigot. I'm cool, really.. but ..
Hmmm.. let summarize my concern with these attitudes.. Any Church (or person) without Biblical convictions.. that does not follow Christ teachings, listen to the Holy Spirit cannot truly worship/obey God and.. is maybe not really a Christian. And certainly appears to be a 'Christian Invertebrate'
To exist in a luke-warm compromised Oprah Winfrey morning blend of religions that serves self with at best a wink and a thumbs up gesture towards Heaven will not get you to Heaven, and certainly not lead others to God.
So what better time than now to grow a SPINE. In the midst of the pandemic panics, partisan politics, border & homeless crisis, racial tensions, failing marriages, and LGBTQ confusion we (The Church) best grow a spine. I MEAN NOW.
It has been a long time since I was a student in Biology class but I am pretty sure our physical bodies cannot grow a spine. And I can't go to a body junk yard and pick up a spine that is used but in pretty good condition (no arthritics, or bulging discs) to replace my aching back.
But in contrast I believe any church body with a repentant heart desiring revival, and obedient to God's unchanging Truths (His Word) can be restored by God for His glory.
A Church Body with a Heart/love for God & others, with hands and feet serving God and others, and our minds renewed (Ro 12:2) and obedient to God's unchanging truths .. God will bless us as we stand tall and straight for God in this crooked world.
And just like that. Viola' - The Church has a spine again.
May God bless you and the Church to be seeking Him. May He find us faithful, standing straight for His truth in this twisted secular world. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Mt 5:16
Jeff (aching back) Larson
Back in my working days.. I would sometimes say with a smile.. "I never met a sick day I didn't like." And let's be real, no one wants to waste a sick day with strep throat, or a 102 fever. It makes more sense to be 'a little under the weather' and call in sick when the sun is shining.
Looking back I realize so many followed MY LEAD that Human Resources departments across the country coined a more user friendly term.. PTO (personal time off) days.
So I personally believe I was the catalyst in the creation of PTO. No more calling in and fake coughing.. no more intentional weak voices. Now with PTO you can simply call in to work with a strong voice and say .. "I'm not gonna come in to work, there is Netflix binge watching that needs my attention.
So for all of you that have benefited from PTO ..
YOU ARE ALL WELCOME.
Don't look at me that way.. Are you saying you never feigned a sick day? Hmm.. how about did you ever take such a day off and called it a 'mental health day'? Ok then, at least I was not claiming to be 'sick in the head' .. LIKE YOU!
But more far reaching than any random sick or PTO days you may have there is a much more concerning is the today's headline where Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) has been declared a global pandemic by the Center of Disease Control, and the World Health Organization. This sobering bit of news has put our lives on hold until further notice.
In response to COVID-19 were are closing of schools, stores, restaurants, sporting events, churches, and about everything else you can think of. The practical affects of this troubling news are the shortages of canned goods, cereal, and.. toilet paper. TOILET PAPER?
side note: I heard someone say if you are hoarding TP you most likely have a greater 'problem' (rogue IBS?) than catching COVID-19.
But very seriously.. the real health risks of Coronavirus are not to be ignored. My understanding is those especially at risk are over 65 years old, or with compromised immune systems.
BUT.. honestly I am even more concerned with the over-zealous domino overreach of governments, schools, churches, etc etc.
This will fuel far reaching economic and societal problems that may be more serious than the very real health risks. The longer this continues the greater damage is done.
So I pray.. for God's protection, and His wisdom to be displayed in ALL our leaders at all levels, and that it is not reduced to a partisan issue instead of it being an American issue.
So I pray ALSO.. for a return to God as this is a time where we can be quiet (we are like on a government timeout). This is a time to pray, read God's word, and then.. pray some more. A time to un-clutter our lives, our minds, and unplug from many of the subtle entrapments of our modern life. Maybe.. LESS is MORE.
Share and talk with friends about important issues, and about life. Pray for God to speak to you and to others without the 24/7 din of life. Spend more intentional time with family regaining perspective on what is important.
Let go of things.. minimize the madness, rethink your financial priorities, and just say no to the evening news SHOWS/PROPOGANDA.
AND of course be careful to stay safe and healthy without letting Corona run your lives.
Also, I have heard it said more than a few times..
I am concerned that our society and even the church is more focused on a possible pandemic than a pending panDAMNit. (Maybe a poor choice of puns, but you get my point.)
May God bless and protect all of you during this time. May the peace of God be realized in your lives through this pandemic and anything that comes our way.
Jeff (not even a sniffle.. yet) Larson
With this all being said I would not be a true Christian cartoonist if I did not also share what I will call...
' All Things ILL in The Back Pew'
Our Father who is in Heaven, GREAT is your name.. Your kingdom come, your WILL be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven.
As many of you know this is the start of the Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:9-13), and is what I believe God is impressing on me today.
Your Will on Earth? So how is that working out?
Christian Tweeters are all quoting the same Bible and while there are honest differences, tweets tend to be divisive as tweeters congregate in their own denominational or theological camps/gangs?.
With all the tension I am looking for an MMA pay-per view event with Catholics v Protestants to determine once and for all.. who really is saved? It can't be the both.. can it? I mean, one of the two must be on the fast track to HELL. Or will there be a Pro(testant)-Wrestling match with a high flying Beth Moore coming off the top rope attempting to way-lay John MacCarther.
kidding, I think.
But while I DO LIKE TO DIGRESS.. let us now return to the LORD'S PRAYER. God your will be done on Earth.. starting with me.
Through my life (I am 62 now) I have prayed "Lord show me your will for my life." many times. At times regarding big decisions and that is a good always to seek the Lord and His will, but I am just recently realizing often the prayer"what is your will for my life?" is me-centric. Prayers focusing on the right job, house, finding Mrs. Right/Larson, or even a car purchase.
Looking back I wish I could have heard an audible voice from Heaven telling me if I was close. :)
God could be heard from the Heavens with the words.. "Warmer, warmer.. hmmm.. colder, colder.. now you are FREEZING. Which I literally now realize is maybe how I ended up in Minnesota. Get it? colder, colder freezing.
Truth is (insert light bulb moment for me here) The prayer "Lord what is your will for my life?" should be more specifically.. "Lord how can I serve you today, show me what I can do for your kingdom." "How can I be that part in the Lord's Prayer helping God's Will be Done.
Again, I swear I am just this week realizing the extent of this truth. I could cry over my 62 years wandering with one foot planted firmly in the wilderness and the other foot only tip toeing into the promised land much like the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years before crossing the Jordan.
But I console myself with.. I am a pretty good guy. I have lived a life faithful to God (most of the time) I attend church every week (most of the time), and I am not the type of sinner you will find someday featured in a scandal on the evening news, or the topic of a murder mystery on Dateline.
Most of my sins lie most everyone fly 'mostly' under the radar. Then again much of my serving God flies under the radar too. Not in the humble way, but in a underachieving way.
An honest tombstone for me might read..
'Here lies Jeff.. he loved God, but also loved himself a bit too much.'
Not a catchy tombstone eulogy I must admit.
Even this little Back Pew Ministry.. I am blessed to be used by God in a way that He uniquely wired me. And the feedback I receive is most always positive.. but then even in my world of cartoons I can take my eyes off of humbly being used by God in this small way to praying for God to bless The Back Pew into being.. The FarSide, or Calvin & Hobbes of Christian cartoons, complete with a modest OR.. substantial income "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
But in recent months I have been diving deeper into my Bible, and reading challenging Christian books and points of view via sermons on Youtube or other streaming apps. And my selection of music is mostly worship music replacing my large classic rock playlist.
These recent months pursuing God deeper have not resulted in an exorcism of my old self, but it has become both a convicting and inspiring journey where today my prayer is .. "Lord what is your will for my life going forward? How can I serve you? Lord help me NOT to bury my talents in the sand, but instead do my part so YOUR will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven. AMEN."
I write this hoping it does not take any of you 62 years to figure out God's will for you is to serve Him. But if it does, 62 is not too late. Love God, Serve God where your will is God's will.
May God bless you all in this journey of discovering who you are intended to be in God's Plan and for his Kingdom on Earth.
Jeff (slow learner) Larson -->
If you sneeze, I will politely respond "Bless you." If you sneeze again.. you are on your own as I adhere to a strict one blessing per sneezer rule. This is not negotiable.
But sneeze blessings are not the topic of the day instead a Father’s Blessings, and ultimately God’s blessings. These blessings I want, and like I say often in The Back Pew .. ‘BlESSED beyond my DREAMS’. I want Prayer of Jabez supersized blessings.
It seems just like a chapter ago Isaac was just a boy, but now in Genesis 25 Isaac is all grown up and with his wife Rebecca has twin boys. The first to enter the world was Esau, and right on his heel literally (Ge. 25:25) was Jacob.
These boys were like so many brothers as they were very different from each other. Esau grew up to be a scruffy/hairy outdoors type who loved to hunt. Jacob on the other hand was not scruffy, and liked to hang out in the kitchen with maybe a reputation as a mamma's boy.
The Father's Blessing
Next we are introduced to the power of the Father’s Blessing, and especially the blessings set aside for the first born in this case.. by beating brother Jacob in the 'birth canal dash' was scruffy/hairy Esau.
I am not sure how or why they worked the way they did in the Old Testament, but it seems like the 'Father’s blessing' had the power to make or break the future of the ‘blessee’. It was like winning the family inheritance lottery.. and there were no TAKE BACKS.
The Blessing Plot Thickens
So one day Esau comes in from hunting famished and is met by his brother Jacob. Esau is so desperate for food, that Jacob talks Esau out of his birthright since Esau replies, "what good is my birth right if I die today from starvation."
note: It appears Esau was a great hunter, but a bit of a drama queen.
I don’t know exactly follow how the whole birthright and blessing stuff worked in those days, but I am thinking this birthright transfer should have required a signed agreement witnessed and stamped by a notary public.
ie The first party (Esau) agrees to relinquish his future blessing reserved for the first born to the second party (Jacob) in exchange for one bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup.
Esau sign here
Jacob sign here
Notary sign here
Date enter today's date
I am not sure if today this birthright exchange for soup arrangement would hold up even in front of Judge Judy, but in Genesis 25 it set the stage for the Ol' Birthright SWITCHEROO.
Isaac is very old!
As the story continues, their father Isaac is getting very old, he is nearly blind and his health is failing. Isaac recognizing his days on this earth are numbered and so wants to give his blessing to his first born son Esau before he hears Heaven's Angels singing 'Happy Trails to you'. and 'When the Roll is called up Yonder'.
So Isaac asks Esau to hunt, and then fix him some wild game for him and at that time he will give Esau his blessing.
Well, Rebecca overhears this and wants this blessing to got to her favorite son (and kitchen apprentice) Jacob. So while Esau is out hunting, she comes up with a planso simple, so ingenious, but with more than a hint of .. WHAT?
Mom schemes to put animal skins on Jake’s arms to appear hairy like his brother Esau.
As strange as this sounds.. this plan works and Isaac though he was suspicious thought it was Esau, and in the end gives Jacob THE BLESSING OF THE FIRST BORN. The Ol' Birthright SWITCHEROO is complete!
Of course being a cartoonist, and a dog owner I wonder.. WHAT IF the FAMILY DOG wanders on to the scene before the walking talking/lying carpet remnant Jacob and receives the blessing of the first born?
The Dog is hairy, Esau is hairy, and the gggruff voice it could be Esau with a cold. Hmmm.. WHAT IF?
But I digress as no dog wanders in, and Jacob gets the blessing and skips town just before Esau returns from hunting. Esau fixes a fine dinner of wild game along with a bottle of Desert Merlot. He walks into to see dad ready to receive the blessing of the first born WHEN…
It's like Déjà vu all over again for Dad. -The Prophet Yogi Berra
Isaac exclaims.. “Hey, weren’t you just here?... er..aaaa.. didn’t you already come for your blessing?.. I mean.. I mean.. HEY WAIT A MINUTE!”
HEY, WHAT ABOUT ME?
This is the moment when the light bulb goes on enough for Isaac’s dim eyes to realize.. HE GAVE THE BLESSING TO THE WRONG SON!
I hate when that happens!
Esau is of course distraught and cries out .. “Bless me too!!.. what about me!!??” In response Isaac hold out his right arm limply and says..
“It’s empty.” no blessing for you, but we have some lovely parting gifts.
Ok he did not say those exact words, but Isaac is very clear .. the blessing of the first born has been given.. given to Jacob. Like a winning lottery ticket, THERE WAS ONLY ONE!..
So this caper of the misplaced blessing is over.. without me understanding the blessings of Isaac, except the fact that there are no take backs. The fact is God did intend for Jacob to be blessed as he continues to bless the descendants of Abraham as promised, through Isaac, and now Jacob to continue the promise of a great nation.
Moral of the story for us today? Be faithful like Abraham so that God can bless and use you as part of his plan. Whether you are the first born, that dreaded middle child (kidding), the baby, or you are adopted.. God loves you, and has a plan to bless & prosper all who love and obey Him.
Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I Know The Plans I Have For You' Declares the Lord, 'Plans to Prosper You and Not to Harm You, Plans to Give You Hope and a Future.
Psalms 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
May God find us faithful and full of love for the one true God, and blessed by him in ways that are beyond our dreams.
Jeff (first born) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson