My wife Mary and I have several nativity sets that we put on display each Christmas season. And in the month of December 2004 was a Christmas season like most all the others, EXCEPT.. our dog Baylie (Husky Springer Spaniel mix) who was about a year and a half old at the time still liked to chew on things that were not her designated chew toys.
One of those items is my kneaded eraser which I use when I am drawing my cartoons, and it looks like a lump of clay. Well Baylie would sneak it off my desk, and chew it up but never swallow it. Leaving a mangled pile of eraser fragments on the family room floor. I push the crumbs back together, and continue to use it. I know, I know.. Ewwwww!! But she cleans the pencil lead out of it and dog drool seems to be an active agent in making the eraser .. erase. BUT I DIGRESS..
Back to the Larson Nativity sets. One afternoon in December 2014 my wife and I came home to what looked like a Nativity Mob Kill scene. The wooden cart from the stable was in pieces, a shepherd laying face down on the coffee table, and a baby sheep took a fall off the table and onto the living room carpet. I can’t imagine the horror in eyes of the 3 wisemen who traveled so far only to see Baylie walk off with Baby Jesus in the clutches of her jaw.
The question remained why? Maybe Baylie wanted Jesus in her heart, and thought swallowing him would be close to her heart. Stomach? Heart?.. good enough. BUT THEN she maybe did not like the texture of the ceramic Jesus figurine.
OR MAYBE an audible voice from the Heavens yelled “Baylie.. This is my beloved son.. DONT EAT HIM!” Only Baylie and the figurines from the nativity set know for sure.
Good News: Only a short time later the 'baby Jesus hostage crisis was over. The son God in ceramic form was returned to ceramic parents Mary & Joseph who were besides themselves with worry. And good news for Baylie was God did not strike her with lightning which was within his right. But.. just a couple weeks later Baylie was shocked when she chewed the lights on our Christmas tree. Coincidence? I think not.
Moral of the story. If you really love Jesus don’t risk God revoking your ticket to Heaven just because your nativity sets are 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 any of us have Jesus in our hearts just by going to church.
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.
Often the coffee maker in the workplace is the common place for socializing. While pouring a cup of caffeinated fuel there is talk about the big football game on Sunday, sharing vacation plans, some are brave enough to discuss politics and/or religion and have lived to tell the tale (not recommended), and of course the ever popular grumbling about the boss (the emperor who has no clothes) in hushed tones.
In the same way the coffee maker at church is a place where friends catch up on each other's lives while a few may feel compelled to share the height and depths (and some bologna) on weighty spiritual matters.
So imagine the buzz around the coffee maker in Heaven a little over 2000 years ago when God's plan for ‘saving’ mankind was revealed?
Setting: It was just another day at the 'office' when Larry and Betty meet at 'Heaven's Coffee Maker' for their morning cup of coffee.
Larry the Angel: "Hey Betty, did you hear the latest about the plan the boss has for saving the world?"
Betty The Angel: "No, so what's up?"
Larry the Angel: "Well rumor has it, Jesus Christ will come to earth as a child born of a virgin in a barn and sleep in a feeding trough for animals. His birth will not be proclaimed to the world, but to .. get this.. shepherds." And a few smart guys from the east
Betty The Angel: "Shepherds? .. right."
Larry the Angel: "No really it's true. , and Jesus will be raised by a common carpenter and his wife" and for the next almost 30 years in rural Israel.
Betty The Angel: " Good one Larry, and so being a carpenter.. he will then build his father's kingdom." LOL.. Get it?
Larry the Angel: "I know this sounds bizarre, but I heard it all from a very reliable source. And that's not all. Next, Jesus will choose 12 men to assist him as key members of his kingdom
Betty The Angel: "You mean like a presidential cabinet of sorts? Made up I imagine of priests, rabbis, maybe a few influential politicians, and some sort of minister of defense would seem
Larry the Angel: "No, .. they are mostly fishermen."
Betty The Angel: "I see.. fishermen... So far we have Jesus born in a barn in obscurity except to shepherds, his critical years of development to be the King and Savior are spent as a carpenter instead of seminary?
Larry the Angel: "I know, I know.. but that's not all. Next Jesus will take on the established religious community. He will challenge, and mock their pious rules and their motives.. which of course flies like a politically incorrect Lead Balloon."
Betty The Angel: "Well if this is true, then what else could they expect. Now who is it you said you heard this all from? You were not talking to Cliffy from the mail room again were you? I know this is Heaven, but Cliff is full of it."
Larry the Angel: "No Betty it wasn't Cliff, it was from a very reliable source. Now be quiet for a minute and let me finish.. then you can let your jaw drop to the floor... because there is more."
Betty The Angel: [ Betty motions that she is zipping her lip and smiles.. in silence ]
Larry the Angel: "All of this leads to a final week when the salvation message is realized. Jesus in this unconventional plan lulls the leaders of the day into .. falsely arresting him, mocking him, he is beaten and whipped to the point of death. Then to a jeering crowd he is lead up to a hill where he is crucified as a common criminal while being rejected by the people he came to save... JUST THE WAY HE PLANNED IT ALL ALONG."
Larry the Angel: Of course Jesus will not stay dead. He will rise from the dead, but not everyone will witness this.. and so believing in Jesus, and accepting his free gift of salvation will be a matter of choice and it will require a personal faith in things not seen.
Betty The Angel: [still silent, Betty stands with her arms crossed]
Larry the Angel: "That's it Betty, believe me or not.. that is the God's honest truth (no pun intended)." <pause> "Ok, now you can speak."
Betty The Angel: I don't know who put you up to this.. but I would NOT tell these wild tales to anyone else... This is all CRAZY TALK.. and I have better things to do with my time. Next time you learn anymore 'Revelations' .. get it in writing on God's very own BLESSED executive stationary!! Next time.. you should consider your sources before swallowing it all hook line and sinker.
Betty walks away shaking her head. Larry refills his coffee cup and heads back to work perplexed why Betty did not believe him.
Ok, it may not have played out like this, but the story of Jesus life from the virgin birth that first Christmas and his 30 years on Earth culminating with his resurrection from the grave is such a beautifully unexpected story of salvation.
So next time at work when you are getting your coffee refill ponder the great news of God's salvation plan that began that first Christmas.
Merry Christmas blessings!
Jeff ( a lot lower than the angels) Larson
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 underdressed for the occassion fig leaf clad Adam & Eve have there been such high society folk mixing with blue collar / red necked joe and joe-ettes.
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.
It's safe to say you probably will not celebrate Christmas this year with a shepherd, or angel. But you may be a Baptist in need of bran sitting in church next to a self proclaimed Charismatic 'Holy Roller'. Or you may be a sharp dressed senior in suit & tie toting a leather bound red letter KJV bible sitting next to an unshaven Millennial in ripped jeans (on purpose!) with a bible app on his I-Phone using the MSG version. Come Lord Jesus Come!
So the more we change the more we stay the same. Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, and more all worshiping the same Jesus those angels and shepherds did 2000+ years ago.
May God bless all you 'odd couples' this Christmas.
Like an ugly ornament that I cannot bear to throw away so is my retelling of a Christmas Concert from a few years back.
In December of 2007 my wife and I went on a Christmas date to get the season started off right, but it did not end up like anything 'dreamed of' by Bing Crosby singing White Christmas.
We started the evening off with a nice dinner at a local steak house in front of a roaring (gas/fake) fireplace as the weather outside was as the Christmas classic described accurately as frightful. More specifically it was very COLD After dinner we were off to downtown Minneapolis to the Pantages Theatre to listen to an A Cappella group called the Blenders for their Christmas concert.
note: I am not an A Capella kinda guy normally, but I got the tickets for free from my cousin.. and I AM a free tickets kinda guy so I thought I would go where the cool kids go... or something like that.
As we approach downtown we soon learn parking on a friday night during the holiday season would not be a picnic. There was a Christmas parade in progress near the theatre so we began driving in a slow moving car conga line consisting of a series of one-way right hand turns for about 30 minutes resulting in us parking about 5 city blocks from the theatre. Like a slower colder version of Nascar without a winner.
Once parked we began our Frozen Mecca to the Pantages Theatre where the air temp was about 2 below zero and wind chill 14 below.
Oh by the way we were walking into this wind not with it. To complicate things for poor little ol me I was not wearing a hat, and my coat was was not a great coat for MinneFROZEta.
Along our walk we passed by several downtown establishments. One was a gay bar and then we passed a club advertising topless girls, with the words.. hot, hot, hot over the topless ad.
Now this is where I was tempted.. not to see topless girls.. but I asked my wife since they were hot maybe we could go in for a moment and warm ourselves by their heat.
Ok, honestly there was no temptation here for me, just an excuse for me to share another bad pun with my wife so she could roll her now frozen eyes at me.
Pantages at last! We finally arrive about 15 minutes before the concert began. Shivering and frozen we bought a $3 cup of coffee from the cash bar in the lobby which my wife and I took turns holding it to keep warm.
When another couple entered the theater and sat next to us visibly cold too, I offered to let them hold my coffee for $1 apiece. They both laughed, but I did not see what was so funny.
It's SHOWTIME.. So inside we go and the concert begins. The Blenders are very good but for me, one evening with an A Cappella group will be enough... enough for my lifetime. The Blenders are 4 guys I would guess their mid to late 30s in suits with choreographed movements like four Caucasian Temptations.
To add to the atmosphere there was a group of well dressed professionals filling a large block of seats just in front of us. I am guessing they were part of a company holiday party dressed up in suits and dresses.
They were kind of loud 'notice me types', which is .. not my type. Then during intermission they all stood in front of my wife making FULL use of the cash bar in the lobby and there was also one young good looking guy passing a flask with something that I am pretty sure was stronger than 7-Up.
After two hours of listening to A Capella Christmas croonings, were retraced to our frozen steps to our car and then headed back to our warm home free of anyone in my living room passing a flask and standing in front of my TV.
So to sum it all up .. We had dinner in front of a fake fire, participated in downtown traffic jams, crowded parking ramps, snow, ice, passed by topless & gay bars, all to sit behind loud drinking young professionals while being entertained by .. Minnesota Night with the Pips?..
The next night.. was more low key Larson type of Christmas which we spent with our son Nate and his then girlfriend Kendra, and our daughter Erin. We listened to Christmas music, made gingerbread cookies, and played the protestant approved card game.. Rook. It was a great evening which included a mini-fight with flour while making cookies.
IF by chance anyone from that corporate America party who 'LOUDLY' sat in front of me at the Pantages theater in 2007 I am sorry you missed out on my great Saturday night making cookies with family. Then again the risk of flour finger prints on your $300 suits, and the probability of gingerbread crumbs falling into the cleavage (front or back) of your black backless & low cut dresses without a flask in sight would not be who all would call fun.
Merry Christmas Blessings. May your family times be warm and A Capella free.
No, this email is not about Al Gore, Global Warming, or Big Al’s 2006 Oscar Award Winning Documentary on the subject, or his more recent sequel.
But.. on an ironic side note to this topic.. In 2007 North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite. The explorers, Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen called off what was intended to be a 530-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean after Arnesen suffered frostbite in three of her toes, and extreme cold temperatures drained the batteries in some of their electronic equipment.
- Irony .. a drink served best.. COLD
On a more personal less scientific note I would like to add.. I live in Minnesota.. and winter is ALWAYS COLD. do I really need to say more?
But for me the inconvenient truth that America does not like to hear is.. THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD! This is an inconvenient truth in a society that passionately respects all religions at the expense of compromising honor and worship due to the The God of our Bibles.
Passionately believing in another god or no God is just as wrong as sincerely attempting to summit Mt. Everest while on a skill hill in Minnesota. Being sincere will not matter as YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE. :)
I do agree and respect everyone's right to believe what we do, but CONVENIENT or not 1+1 does not equal 3, I cannot stay out of debt by spending more money than I have, I cannot summit Mt. Everest while in Minnesota, and again.. there is only one God.
The pursuit of God I do not believe evidence points to Buddha, Zeus, Sister Sun, Mother Moon, or any New Age / Oprah Winfrey wild haired scheme found on a Hollywood Astrology Hotline. I believe the creator of this world is the God of our Bibles, and all glory and honor is His and His alone. Convenient or Not, to believe anything else is .. WRONG.
So let's celebrate and share this INCONVENIENT TRUTH a wonderful truth of a loving God (THE GOOD NEWS) to a world searching for truth. And let's share this truth always with respect and love.
May God bless our lives with TRUTH.. purpose, and one that demonstrates our love for Him above all else. May this be the source of happiness and contentment and purpose like never before.
aka The Northwoods Good Samaritan of 2001. This is a story near and dear to my heart that I like to share most every December. note: Cartoons included may reference Minnesota but think Wisconsin when you view them :)
Back in the December of 2001 on the roads of ice and snow near Hayward Wisconsin a young mom with her preschool children loaded in the family car was heading home to the nearby town of Drummond when along the road she spots an older man with the hood up on his car.
This was a typical bitter cold December day, but though she has her young children with her she is impressed to stop and see if she can help.
As she pulls over the old man approaches her car. She cautiously locks her doors and rolls down her window slightly to ask if she can help. The old man does not speak, tries to open the door, then reaches inside his coat.. making her all the more uneasy.
The old man pulls out a small keyboard from his jacket and plays a pretyped short message explaining he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) so he can not speak. He then types needs a ride into town. The young woman opens her car to the old man she does not know and drives him home.
This old man was my father Walter Larson, and the young woman was Jen Herricks, and Jen was the the Good Samaritan of Northern Wisconsin 2001. I wonder how many cars drove by before Jen stopped to help. How many macho northwoods guys in their 4x4 trucks drove by too busy to help an old man stranded on a bitter cold winter day? Maybe none, but maybe too many. But no matter, my dad was cared for by someone with a family car, and a kind heart.
Jen later explained to my mom that she thought my dad was an angel. There are a few explanations for this observation but no one before this had described my dad as an angel. A good guy for sure, but an angel? .. hmmm. No so much.
Maybe there was an angel standing alongside my dad that cold December day, or the the peace dad demonstrated just months before passing on to Heaven. Either way today this was certainly a divine appointment with an angel named Jen.
I love the gospel passage Mt 25:35-40ish “You fed me when I was hungry, you clothed me when I was naked.” Well if the gospels were written today they would also say “you gave me a ride when I was an old man when my car broke down on a winter road in Wisconsin. For when you do these things for the least of my people, you do it for me.”
So Jen gives my dad a ride home. He offers her money, she refuses, and they go their separate ways. NICE STORY, BUT IT IS NOT OVER!.
A few weeks later my folks receive a Christmas card from Jen wishing and praying the best for them. This was nice touch too, but... THE STORY IS NOT OVER!
My dad passed away from his battle with ALS just a couple short months after their December encounter. The funeral was a celebration of the good man my dad was, and his reward in Heaven. 'Irony' or providence has it Jen and her family began attending my mom & dad's church in Cable Wisconsin still not realizing the connection.
After a short period of time it became clear to Jen that my mom attends this same church.. and so Jen contacts my mom. This began a friendship that continued until my mom passed away in December 2016.. 15 YEARS later. This friendship continued after Jen's family moving 70 miles away, and my mom later moved 150 miles to the Twin Cities. I mean, c'mon this took this good Samaritan thing too far.. they must have actually become close friends. Correction they were the best of friends.
When Jen came to visit my mom it is with hugs and kisses that are reserved normally for family. Her kids called her Grandma Nell, and many of the trips included sleep overs in my mom's little apartment This friendship God has provided Jen those 15 years my mom as a ‘seasoned’ Christian woman to talk and confide in.
My mom as I mentioned passed away in December 2016, but you can not take away the blessing of that God orchestrated ride 15 years ago for my dad, or the wonderful friendship over the next 15 for my mom and for Jen. God is good even through the tough times.
Thank you Jen.
So as Christmas approaches, please take time to slow down and notice the angel appointments in your life.
Heaven Already? It seems like only yesterday I was 6 years old when I accepted Jesus into my heart in Summer Bible School in the very little town of Cable Wisconsin.
"Ok then, I am still here doncha know" <--Minnesota Speak but there will be a day when I will say Heaven already?
Truth is no matter if I had made the trip to Heaven as a child or if I am cut down in the 'prime of life' at age of 100.. it is a relative thing.
So Heaven already?.. is the appropriate question with eternity in mind when my time arrives.
This side of Heaven is a drop in the ocean of eternity. Imagine life free from this broken planet of pain, strife.. and certainly no 24/7 News Channels/Shows! That all by itself sounds like Heaven.
It was Just a year ago my mom at age 88 passed away and the answer to the question 'Heaven Already?' was NOW. Maybe not on a Stair-lift to Heaven through the clouds, but I still hear Heaven is great.
- can't you just hear the Led Zeppelin Worship Band playing?
In Heaven is my mom with no more pain, glasses, hearing aides, diabetes, walker. This makes me smile.
This makes me ponder my Heaven Already day. No more back pain, bi-focals, hearing aides, arthritis, or any of the many other ailments I am prone to mumble about. I think I have even been operating for a few years with my personal 'check engine light on'.
So on my Heaven Already Day I will be.. Jeff 2.0 I can't wait for the upgrade!
Thankfully Heaven is not like my cartoon world of Heaven where everyone is halo'd up and wearing white robes (a daunting laundry robe task I am sure) while wandering around in clouds. Good news, I am pretty certain Heaven is much better.
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:2
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Mt 25:34
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:7-9
While these scriptures do not dismiss the pain and suffering of the dying, nor discounts our grieving hearts, but the promise of Heaven will be realized for all who love God.
May God bless and comfort each of you with this unimaginable promise of Heaven. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2
Jeff (on a holding pattern) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson