We had a Merry Christmas this year. Good times and food with family and friends per usual. The presents were nice and all was well in the Larson home for another year... EXCEPT..
Our dogs were on the naughty list this year AGAIN. Our dog Baylie on Christmas Eve ate a birthday cake for Jesus. On Christmas morning our dog Pepper ate a whole box of color crayons, and is sure to leave a rainbow of little crayon deposits in our back yard. Then later on Christmas day we find Baylie eating a snowman candle. ARGHH!
A couple other Christmas memories I have shared before was Baylie as a puppy getting shocked by chewing the Christmas lights and also making one of our Nativity sets her chew toy.. God was NOT amused.
Now please do not call PETA claiming we do not feed our pets, because this is simply not true. I could send you pictures that verify they are not starving. They are not starving they are simply naughty. <pause> More accurately they are simply being dogs, and do not aspire in the New Year to do any better than be dogs. So bottom line is they simply did NOT get any presents from us this year. Not a rawhide, chew toy or Lassie on DVD.
Hmmm.. now what spiritual lessons can I glean from my naughty dogs? Well I know personally I do not always eat what is good for me, and more importantly I do not always make the right decisions.
Our dogs reside in our fenced yard, but when Baylie was a younger dog she would often dig under the fence and become the prodigal dog who did not return home on her own. We had to catch her. In similar ways I have wandered outside the boundaries declared by God to be safe.
My dogs are also not good to take on walks.. they pull and yelp like they are sled dogs in a race. This is maddening to my wife and I. In parallel I find on my spiritual journey I tend to pull and stray instead of being content with walking peacefully led by my God.
One last important parallel I find between my dogs and myself is that I am blessed beyond my dreams. My dogs have a warm home, are well fed, and are loved even when naughty. The same holds true for me. My whole life I have been blessed with the love and care of my Heavenly Father even in my worst prodigal moments. Both me and my dogs are what I like to call BLESSED BEYOND OUR DREAMS.
My prayer today is that each of you have a relationship with God where you know even if you 'go prodigal' you are blessed beyond your dreams with His love and Patience.
I must confess I never finished college. I have about 3 years of college in along with a 1 year computer technology certification. I then used this education to gain me opportunities in the business world that combined with hard work landed me several nice positions in the world of computers.
Of course that is now in my rear view mirror as I moved away from the white collar world of computers to a profession where I wear stripped shirts accessorized with a referee whistle. No regrets really, in fact I am thankful for the career opportunities God has allowed me over the years to support my family.
But now let me segue to my SPIRITUAL EDUCATION. I have been reflecting lately on how little time I still spend on my spiritual education all while I desire a more intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Educationally speaking I believe I have accomplished a spiritual 2 year associates degree CRAMMED into my 57 years of life on Earth.
So here comes another new year right around the corner. Time for a New Years resolution for intimacy with God that I do not break like a bad fad diet. What if in 2015 I became a spiritual success story. What if in 2015 I understand the spirit of God better, understood His word better, listened to Him when I prayed, and was more generous in my service of Him? WHAT IF?
What if more important than losing a few pounds was a deeper relationship with God?
There are New Years Resolution success stories where people do lose weight and keep it off.. so why can't I be a spiritual success story becoming more sensitive to His will by spending more REAL time with Him. Even at my grand 'old' age of 57.
This is my prayer, this is my resolution.
May God bless each of you on your spiritual journey. May His will for your life in 2015 be more than a continuation of an underachieving spiritual education. AND.. may this education be more than head knowledge but instead a blessing of your heart and soul in ways that are BEYOND YOUR DREAMS.
Before Felix and Oscar in Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ there were the Shepherds and Angels that first Christmas Night. Never has there been a starker contrast between major players in any significant moment in history. Not since Almighty God himself walked through the Garden of Eden with the under-dressed for the occasion fig leaf clad Adam & Eve have there been such high society folk mixing with blue collar / red necked Joe and Joe-ette.
Think of it…
The Angels from the Realms of Glory wing their flight over all the Earth, while
the shepherds snack on ‘sheep jerky’ playing pull my finger jokes around the camp fire dressed and smelling like.. sheep.
The Angel Choirs sing Hark.. and Glory to the new born king, while
The Shepherds are in need of a SHEEP-PS (sheep positioning system) just to find this same baby Jesus.
Even Floyd ‘The Least’ looked high society in comparison to this motley crew of sheep flock watchers.
Of course that was then.. this is now. Meaning, CHURCH is still such a strange collection of odd couples.
Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, and ... those like me who ‘claim’ to be non-denominational.. aka denominational mutts.
So if Angels and Shepherds could unite in worship 2000+ years ago that first Christmas night, I think all Christians from the Holy Rollers to Baptists in need of Bran should worship the birth of Jesus this year.
If you are a high church kind of guy or gal, or if you call dressing up wearing a clip on tie on your best flannel shirt. If you raise your hands in worship, dance in the aisles, speak in tongues, baptize in an ocean, have bingo in the church basement.. we are all a part of the same church body.
May we unite our intentions and energies to bring Glory be to God this Christmas season! Love God, and care for others this Christmas.. the rest is just details.
Been there, done that. I am a good 'people’ who has bought bad presents. So with this Christmas season sneaking up on us I write today’s BP BUYER BEWARE!!
There are just too many ways to go wrong. As a guy, I am starting to see little flags to BAD PRESENTS, but still at times do not even see them when waving in the wind (hidden) in plain sight. So here are a few tell tale signs of the infamous bad gift.
This is not an exact science BUT rather a few good rules of thumb regarding GIFT BUYING DON’T’S.
RULE 1 If it says ‘As Seen on TV’ on the box.. beware! It could be a great deal, but it could be the ROMCO 'Pocket' Food Processor for only $19.99… and if you act now you will receive a free set of steak knives that (as demonstrated in the ad) are so sharp they can cut through a Buick like butter!
RULE 2 When buying Jewelry, buying in BULK is a bad idea. I once bought my wife this collection of jewelry ( a special one time offer ) that if all the pieces were linked together you use them as chains on your snow tires. My wife was gracious, but.. it is a point of amusement for her today.
RULE 3 A personal gift for your bride should not be manufactured by Black & Decker. Who knew?
RULE 4 Diet, Exercise, Weight Loss, or Hair Removal products no matter how much any are needed are cautionary purchases from husbands to wives.
RULE 5 Bad presents go both ways.. so don’t you ladies think everything you buy is a gem. Don’t confuse needed with wanted (ie Beano). We guys have feelings too… PULL MY FINGER.
Well so there you have it. Another season of shopping moments of adventure and misadventure are just waiting to happen.
In the end, it is the thought that counts, BUT.. a good present is really nifty too... and should be considered a good thought that counts..
Now let's all repeat together the BP Shoppers Prayer..
Oh Lord, grant us SHOPPING MERCIES and DISCERNMENT led by your Spirit. Amen, and amen!
May God bless your day, and Christmas season where presents received and given with proper perspective when compared to celebrating the birth of Jesus. May we slow our minds and warm our hearts to this amazing time of year. May God bless us all with the peace that passes all understanding even IF your husband's gift to you boggles the mind and screams.. "He did not go to anywhere near Jareds".
Ohhh you better watch out,you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to Town,
He's making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty or nice.. Santa Claus is coming to Town,
He sees you when your sleeping, he knows when your awake, he knows if youv'e been bad or good so be good for goodness sake ...
In these lyrics from Santa Claus is Coming to Town I find a few amusing spiritual parallels. Santa knows who is good or bad, and will deliver presents accordingly. He also does these deliveries all in one night giving the appearance of being omnipresent. Of course Santa is just holiday fun while God alone is truly omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
There should be no confusion regarding Christmas. Santa is a wonderful fun tradition, but God's plan for man's salvation began that first Christmas day with the birth of Jesus.
I pray you all can embrace Santa (but not Frosty he's too cold), the presents, and the secular festivities as they fit around family, church, with the birth of Jesus as the center this Christmas season.
May God bless and use each of you this Christmas season in ways that are beyond your dreams.
Jeff ( Ho Ho Ho ) Larson
ps - Next week after a little egg nog (not spiked) I will share the parallels between Rudolph the Red Nosed Reign Deer guiding the delivery of Christmas gifts from Santa with The Holy Spirit guiding us to our Spiritual Gifts from God. <insert awkward pause here>.. kidding.. kidding.. kidding
I wonder if that first Christmas there was any mistletoe growing wild by the stable where Jesus was born.
Probably not, but today's Christmas season has parties, homes, and offices decorated with Christmas trees, garland, and maybe a chunk-a-hunk-a-burnin-love-mistletoe in a doorway or two.
Each year in the Larson home we do hang our very own little plastic mistletoe in a doorway as part of our Christmas decorations though not much kissing goes on.. that I am aware of.
I don’t know much about Mistletoe except that if you wander under it with someone else you should kiss... RISKY BUSINESS for sure. So without further delay let me share a few 'risky mistletoe moments' from a Back Pew perspective.
With these images now implanted in your brains let me conclude the following mistletoe advice shared in the lyrics by Stephen Stills.
And if you can't be with the one you love, honey Love the one you're with!
Of course while these sentiments seem like something we might 'sorta' read in Song of Solomon, but... they are neither biblical, appropriate, or in any way wise. With regards to mistletoe kiss and love they are to be shared ONLY with your spouse. Stephen Stills advice is from a lonely rock star on the road and probably on drugs which does NOT make him credible, and King Solomon had 700 wives, and so he is 'I guess' may be an exception to the mistletoe rule. BUT I DIGRESS!
Merry Christmas wishes from The Back Pew
Being that it is Christmas time the classic It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed is playing again where the story of George Bailey through the assistance of apprentice angel Clarence learns the important impact he is unknowingly having on those around him... culminating in George realizing HIS LIFE IS WONDERFUL!
Just hours before the angelic intervention of Clarence, George Baily is stressed, depressed, desperate, and feeling hopeless to the point of contemplating suicide believing his life has been a waste never accomplishing anything of significance, and the world would not miss him in fact would be better off without him. So he whispers a prayer (while sitting at a bar) at the climax of desperate times.
So here I am Jeffrey ( George Baily ) Larson who at times feels a tad stressed and despressed, and other times feeling less than a success. Financially just getting by all while working too many hours and feeling limited in my abilities and resources. My body aches as I trudge into my 50s (kicking and screaming)... wincing in pain from arthritic joints, failing eyesight, a herneated disc or two, and in my case a surgically repaired knee reminding me my physical prime is in my rear view mirror... on the distant horizon.
While I do not have a Mr. Potter plotting my demise, I do find those in my life who wish I would not succeed in my sports officials assigning business, AND there are coaches, players, and delusional parents who believe any losses or failures they experience is due to the referees own biases and/or incompetence. THEN with regards to my creative efforts writing and drawing for The Back Pew there are those who find my attempts to share clean humor and God's truth to be neither funny or spiritual AND feel compelled to 'EXHORT' me with words that just fall short of damning.
Then, there are other realities I have to face.. I have a face made for radio, a voice made for email, and grammar and the spelling of an average 4th grader all while being oversensitive to what others think of me like a teenage girl with a big ol' honking zit on her nose as she primps for prom. LIFE IS HOPELESS! BOO HOO! So what is so wonderful about this life?
Ok, like usual I embellish MUCH to make my smirky points. THIS IS A WONDERFUL (dare I say BLESSED) LIFE!
1. I have a wonderful wife in my wonderful life that is my gift from God.
2. I am blessed with 3 kids who I love, respect, and appreciate,
3. I am blessed to have my 86 year old mom who I blessed with her love, support, and prayers!
3. I have a nice home to share it with different friends and family in their times of need.
4, I have employment in the arena of sports which I love and God has blessed me with abilities in.
5. I was raised in a loving Christian home which was never rich at the bank but was rich in love.
6. I have a wonderful Church heritage from the little town of Cable Wisconsin where I started my faith journey.
7. MOST IMPORTANTLY I have a personal faith in a loving God who sent His son to be born in a manger over 2000 years ago, raised by a carpenter and his wife, and then lived a life for man, preaching the way in words and deeds to salvation. Jesus then died on a cross, and was raised from the dead for all mankind. TRULY WONDERFUL!
Our prayers may not prevent the difficult days of stress, debt, and anxiety, BUT know that in this fallen world with all it's compromises and shortcomings God is there in the midst of it all. He hears our prayers, He loves each of us EQUALLY, and desires the best for each of us his children to where we see realize a WONDERFUL LIFE knowing our Heavenly Father.
First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS wishes to all of you. My prayer is that this is a Christmas where the use of the ‘F-word’ was freely spoken. Of course NOT the ‘F-word’ our post modern culture likes to use the all purpose adjective, BUT RATHER.. family, friends, and faith.
But for me I recall just 7 days before Christmas day 2009 I endured with an evening of ‘Bah Humbug-ness’ with my wife towards each other that if not for this being a Christian newsletter would be called a fight (the other F-word). What’s that you say you NEVER have 'disagreements' with your spouse? <pause> well don't try telling that line to Santa.
You see in a Christian email I should not admit to using the F-word (fight) unless talking about fighting the good fight, and NEVER regarding fighting with my wife. We .. simply had a disagreement. Nah.. it was a fight. Just 8 days before we celebrated in 2009‘ Joy to the World, the Lord has come’, there was no ‘Peace on Earth or good will to ME’ as my wife Mary and I did not like each other very much.
The good news is that we can’t stay mad at each other long, and after our disagreeable evening ‘aka fight’ we actually after 30 years of marriage have a better understanding of each other. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Of course to avoid throwing gasoline on another potential marital insensitivity fire ‘aka fight’ let me clarify.. In this analogy I WOULD BE THE OLD DOG, and my wife would be anyone else BUT NOT AN OLD DOG… I think she would prefer to be the OLD DOG’S MASTER…and she is.. but I digress..
So while I don’t recall the biblical recording of many marital frowns ‘aka fights’ I am sure they were as real a part of life then as they are now. The only glaring difference is a man in Bible days could go hang out with his sheep without being texted by the little Mrs. to get home and take out the garbage.
It was no accident that God created men and women so different. Our emotional wiring and sensitivity differences are intended by God to make married couples better. This truth is not very comforting for those moments when the light at the end of the life’s tunnel is your wife driving a Mack Truck bearing down on you while you stare like a deer in head lights wondering what you did now in your manly insensitive ways that is about to make you marital road kill. Of course I am figuratively speaking, and if you find this Mack Truck analogy literal, then you are married to an over the road trucker..
Marriage bumps ‘aka fights’ will happen but as another Christmas approaches I am so thankful for my family and my wonderful wife. As you can tell I love to joke, and banter, and good natured tease my bride, but she is my best friend... and allows me to sleep inside when I am good. kidding, kidding again.
May God bless each of you this Christmas. I pray any stress, pace, or F-word (fighting) moments fade in the presence of the F-words (family, friends, and faith ) as you celebrate Christ’s birth.
dateline.. December 2004
We have an unwritten rule in the Larson home that Christmas decorating can NOT be started until after Thanksgiving. So typically the first couple days following Thanksgiving we pull out all the boxes of all things Christmas and begin our Larson Holiday Home Makeover.
Christmas 2004 followed true to form.. as the tree was up, and the decorating began including a big lighted wreath we hung just outside our front door. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas EXCEPT.. there was no snow in 2004.
Included in ourChristmas decorations is one of those ceramic Christmas villages. Along with this village in our house you will find all shapes and sizes of snowmen, santas, reigndeer.. and even a plastic mistletoe hung in one door way.
We also have several Nativity sets that we put on display and this was never an issue until the infamous 2004 decorating season when our dog Baylie who at the time was about a year and a half old and still liked to chew on items that were not her chew toys.
You probably see where I am going with this but at the time we set up the Nativity with naivet'e not realizing the risk we placed the shepherds, stable structure, Joseph, Mary and little baby Jesus that comprised our Nativity sets.
Then that fateful day came when we found our living room looking like a Nativity Mob Kill scene. There was a wooden cart from the stable chewed to bits, there was a shepherd tipped over, and a baby sheep off the table and onto the living room floor. I can’t imagine the horror in these figurine eyes as this monster dog Baylie walked off with Baby Jesus in the clutches of her jaw.
Good news is this baby Jesus figurine was not harmed. Maybe Baylie simply wanted 'Jesus in her heart' but did not like the texture of the ceramic Jesus figurine, or maybe an audible voice from the Heavens spoke out.. “Baylie.. STOP IT.. This is my beloved son.. DONT EAT HIM!”
Only Baylie and the figurines know for sure.
From this moment in December 2004 Baylie learned God is kind and forgiving thus He did not strike her with lightning over his Nativity foolishness, but .. instead did get her attention in another shocking manner when she decided to chew our Christmas lights cord and was zapped sending her yelping. I believe this was from God.. at least that is the story I am sticking with.
Moral of the story. If you really love Jesus, and you don’t want to risk your ticket to Heaven being revoked, then don’t put your nativity sets down low enough for Baby Jesus to be mauled by the family dog.
and.. just like Baylie could not get Jesus in her heart by eating a figurine, neither can become a Christian simply by attending church.
Note: both the Nativity mauling and the Christmas light shocking stories are true.
Note 2: Baylie is now 10 years older and has learned her lesson. No more eating Baby Jesus, or chewing Christmas lights. Now if I could just get her off of my sofa.
May this Christmas be a peaceful season of adoration and personal faith where Jesus is in our hearts and not just in our nativity sets.
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson
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