note: It is my Christmas tradition to retell this story most every year. It is like watching a Charlie Brown Christmas, or It's a Wonderful Life.. for dogs.
Dateline December 2004: My wife Mary and I have several nativity sets we put on display each Christmas season. The year 2004 was a Christmas season like most all the others, EXCEPT.. our year and a half old dog Baylie (Husky Springer Spaniel mix) 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. Now in the year 2020 my dog Cooper does the same thing! BUT I DIGRESS.
Back to the Larson Nativity sets. One afternoon in December 2004 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 wise men who traveled so far only to see Baylie walk off with Baby Jesus in the clutches of her jaw.
The question remained why?
Good News: A short time later the 'baby Jesus hostage crisis was over. The son God in ceramic form was returned to his ceramic parents Mary & Joseph who were besides themselves with worry. Baylie was thankful God did not strike her with lightning which was within his right.
But.. just a couple weeks later Baylie was shocked (literally) 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 Joe.
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.
ps - Share the Good News!
Jeff ( a lot lower than the angels) Larson
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. THIS WAS NOW 19 YEARS AGO!
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 earlier 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.
BUT IT IS NOT OVER!. Jen, her husband Todd now serve the Lord in Uganda working with a ministry called 'Woven2gether' serving expecting mothers valuing the born and unborn, becoming strong families while sharing the Gospel.
Thank you Jen & Todd. May God bless and use you both in ways that are beyond your dreams.
So as Christmas approaches, please take time to slow down and notice the angel appointments in your life.
The Wow Factor paraphrased - is an experience and/or observation that grabs your attention and holds it.. as you exclaim "WOW".
For me, I love sports. The speed, power, finesse, strategy, and teamwork of great athletes and teams playing to win the game. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat was the tag line for the old 'Wide World of Sports' show, and this all makes me go.. WOW!
It also love Art. Ok, not true art.. but cartoons. You may never catch me in an art gallery perusing the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, or Leonardo de Vinci, because I save my WOWs for Gary Larson - The FarSide, Berke Breathed - Bloom County, Bill Watterson - Calvin & Hobbes, and Jim Unger - Herman. WOW!
side note: one of my favorite Christmas presents of all time my wife bought me The Complete Farside collection (3 volumes) in hardcover. While many may think, "WOW, what a wasted of time and $$, but for me it was simply.. WOW!
Others love beautiful music. Music is that Wow their lives while I am busy checking my TV for a game while drawing Back Pew cartoons. It may be a symphony, jazz quartet, rock & roll, hymnfest, or a modern worship service there is for most of music that makes us go Wow. Of course I am old enough now that hip-hop, pop, and rap leave me shaking my head, cringe, and mutter "people like this stuff?.. wow."
Of course Disco, and Polka music I will just say.. no comment.
Next, let's travel further from the center of my universe as we look up at the night sky mesmerized by the stars while our planet Earth orbits around a blazing ball of burning gas (not Washington DC,.. it's the sun) realizing we are only one planet of 8 or 9 planets orbiting this sun and all this is part of The Milky Way Galaxy in an ever expanding universe all with order all functioning with precise science and math.. which the collective scientific community responds in one voice.. WOW!
- note the above is an 89 word runon sentence... WOW.
Did I choose your WOW tirgger? Well no matter if it is science, music, art, sports, or watching the Wheel of Fortune ( I like the wheel) realize all WOWs come from our creator.
Don't get me wrong, our Wow moments are real and there is no need to apologize for shouting wow (unless you are in church, or during a funeral).. BUT step out further to realize our God is the source of all things WOW.
If we don't we miss the point of this big ol' Beautiful world. Life is not about me, my passions or hobbies.. LIFE IS FOREMOST ABOUT GOD, and the worship and adoration he deserves.
How great is our God! WOW!
Thank you God for your amazing creation that is your handiwork, and thank you for your love and grace in this life, and the promise of eternity with you our wonderful creator.
Spiritually speaking.. It's so easy to wander into the shadows, and then closer to real Darkness if I am not careful.
Darkness can be a conscious choice or found on the slippery slope when I browse on the internet, or the movies/tv shows I choose to watch.
Darkness can also be found in watching the 24/7 BAD news channels where all is a world of conflict, hate, and unabashed Godlessness. .. thus saith the media.
Using this Darkness outline most of us would agree.. 2020 is dark. This darkness goes beyond the politicals, or the fear of Covid-19. The darkness in 2020 is VERY spiritual.
In 2020 we have 'progressed' to where the word of God is questioned, the goodness of God is questioned.. and God is judged. And for the most part anyone who stands as the word of God is true and unchanging are considered part of the problem. This is a year where the progressive church process, and the Emergent Church are making inroads, and respectfully but firmly I say.. This is not from God, and this is DARK.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
This world of darkness is far from God (and we are all a part of this world) and need TRUTH.. and the only truth is God's word. God's word is the lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path Psalms 119:105 to navigate in this dark world. This world needs a savior because we are sinners not just a spare tire when life goes flat.
In God's light we should recognize we are sinners (churchy word?), we need to repent (churchy word2), and walk out from a life in darkness and into a life in God's Amazing Grace (His light). This is NOT what the world, or even much of the church teaches anymore. This I am ok, and you are ok and God loves you just the way you are is darkness and will lead many to Hell. We are only ok, and find joy in obedience to God (living in His light).
So the choice is mine, and the choice is yours... Light or Dark? If we are talking toast, you can have it your way. If we are talking about our spirit, attitude, or life choices .. stay in the light.
May God bless and use each of you to shine his Light in a Dark world.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Note: It is one thing to walk through any 'Valley of Death' (Psalms 23) due to circumstances.. it is another thing to go there on a field trip ON PURPOSE.
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson