In the month of August in the year 2020 I celebrate my 63rd birthday, my 36th wedding anniversary.. AND it is my 57th anniversary for accepting Jesus into my heart ironically while sitting in the Back Pew of a little country church during Summer Bible School in my home town of Cable Wisconsin. John 3:16
Q. Should a fella receive a Gold Watch on my 50 YEAR 'Jesus in my Heart' Anniversary? asking for a friend.
Seriously, this was truly a cornerstone moment in my life. OK, I admit at age 6 I had neither a grasp on theology or anatomy but it was the very real beginning of my Christian journey.
Now 50+ years as a follower of Jesus Christ I am still a work in progress. I have made my share of compromises, bad choices, and had many regrets over the years.
But I look back fondly at that day in 1963 when I accepted Jesus in my heart. He has been there through all my ups and downs. I may have wandered a ways on my Prodigal Son vents a few times, but He was always there for me when I return.
So on this August day in 2020 I look forward to the next curve on life's road, and see the sun and son shining in my life. I am not ready to get off the ride, and the reward of Jesus in my life is better than any old Gold Watch.
Jeff (50+ in the Back Pew) Larson
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” James 2:2-3
James 2:2-3 This is how it looks for me in Minnesota-->
Let me start by sharing my wife and I attend a church that we really like. It is a friendly congregation represented by all age groups. The worship music is well done, and the preaching is straight from God's word in a manner that is both challenging and easy to listen to. The people are friendly and welcoming even in this season of all things COVID-19.
Next, let me share I am over 5 years sober now after it became apparent I was an alcoholic where drink was becoming a growing compromise in my life (off and on) for about the previous 15 years. It did not ruin life, but I was headed on the wrong road, and my addiction to a buzz was growing and dangerous. I thank God for his healing in this area and for the love and grace of my family.. especially my wife... and of course my God.
I never did attend a recovery program until about a year ago when I attended a Celebrate Recovery program for a few weeks to see if it was right for me at this point in my recovery.
Well, in contrast to my 'good church' where the worship, preaching, and presentation on Sunday's is clean and sharp.. this Celebrate Recovery program is messy.
These are people who are struggling. Some have been sober for 15+ years, others are celebrating not have a drink for 30 days, or less. Some are people who have been in and out of treatment, and/or suffering the consequences of their addictions by losing their drivers license, jobs, or family. Stories of jail-time, and restraining orders were common. Many were in the place where they were not drinking but now dealing with the void in their lives where once was a buzz. This group is a mess, but .. a Beautiful Mess
What makes this group such a beautiful mess is their journey starts and ends with a return to God. Not just a 'higher power' but the only true power, the God of our Bibles. This is our only hope for the alcoholic and ALL of the rest of humanity (aka sinners).
Life not so long ago..
Now after 5+ years of being sober, I look back on my journey to where I am now. I did not realize what a fragile mess I was.
So this all makes me reflect on James 2:1-2. I am ashamed to say I honestly don't like the mess or messy people. I like happy Christians with no deep dark secrets and/or sins. I like the well orchestrated church service and an attractive congregation that looks like .. church people should look? I don't know if I want my church to be messy, even a beautiful mess.
So here I am convicted, and I thank God for this conviction. I now desire to be in the mess, and I will blend nicely as I am a mess. Together we love and support each other. Where one hurts all hurt, and when all rejoice we rejoice together (1 Cor 12:26).
God desires to RESTORE US to become the healthy body of Christ. After church I don't want to be the guy looking past the guy or gal out of place to find my usual friends where I am comfortable. I don't know exactly how this conviction on my heart will play out, but I pray God would speak to me and change me to serve him among the beautiful mess that are the people Jesus would be spending his time with.
May God bless you, care for you today, and use you to serve Him in this very messy world. I pray for revival and restoration in our chaotic 2020 America. I pray His church is sensitive and caring for the beautiful mess inside and outside our church walls.
Jeff (plenty messy still) Larson
note: Recovery is not just for the alcoholic, it is for everyone that struggles with the very real issues of life. Depression, co-dependency, anger, sex addiction, anxiety/fear, etc. I pray we allow ourselves to be honest, and allow God to restore us from what ever has compromised our lives.
Today in my Minnesota the heat index forecast is 110, with the air temp being around 94. Ok, I know some of you may think that is not hot or humid, but for this very white skinned Norwegian it is HOT. But with this in mind I want to share a great Minnesota summer day from a weekend in 2007.
I remember a perfect Summer Saturday in 2007 .. Sunny, 75 degrees, light breeze, low humidity and I started this day in a perfect way with coffee and the morning paper with my lovely wife Mary.
After this peaceful slow start I was off to my job for the day as an umpire for a 12 yr. and under girls slow pitch softball tournament.
Now on this perfect summer day the games begin at 9:00am. Coaches and parents cheer on their ‘little darlins’ with smiles and encouraging words while the concession stand provides the hot dogs, candy, and pop in a way that gives this day the look of a classic Norman Rockwell painting.
So there you have it.. I am living a life blessed by God on a perfect summer day! Families, sports, summertime food, and I thank God for allowing me to be a part of this. Livin La-Vi-Da-Larson!! Ya-sure u- betcha!
As morning moved to afternoon, and finally evening rolled around it was still a beautiful day. BUT I was on my way to umping 10 games this day to be followed by 7 more on Sunday. The mood and competitive nature of some of the parents and coaches started sliding downhill.
One team in particular that was coached by three ‘gentlemen’ resembling Hell’s Angels (the bikers, not the minions) in both their demeanor and flavor of sportsmanship.
My sunburned body, tired mind and blistered feet are now mumbling over this ‘perfect’ summer day. Perfect summer day? Perfect Summer Day? Why do I have to be outside all day? I am an ‘inside dog’!.. I own a home, and I WANT TO GO TO IT!
Now fast forward to Sunday afternoon, the temperatures are hotter, the breeze is nil, and the humidity is up. So fate finds me umping a very competitive game between two very good teams that goes into extra innings! The joy of summer is back! The parents, kids, and coaches are having the time of their lives with me as the centerpiece enforcing the rules.
But... This Norman Rockwell moment comes crashing to a halt on a very close play at home that I call SAFE! The winning team is exhilarated, while the losing team quickly formed a lynch mob brandishing a hangman's noose created from the belts of parents who were now looking for a tree to STRING ME UP.
This Mob INCLUDES one pretty young mom who walks over to me, points her finger in my face and through her clenched teeth calls me a BLEEPING umpire. For ‘bleeping’ fill in the expletive of your choice.
Just a few short hours later I am welcomed home by my loving wife, my daughter, pizza, a pitcher of ice tea, and a big bottle of ibuprofen. All five are a welcomed sight as this ‘inside dog’ sits in his easy chair with blistered feet up, resting his sunburned body (even my lips are burned), and feeling every bit of my AARP legal existence.
The moral of this story is .. this is a wonderful world God has blessed us with. And a beautiful summer day in Minnesota can be almost Heaven… but 17 games in this Heaven on Earth can be TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING.
May God bless and use you this summer in ways that are BEYOND YOUR DREAMS. May the sun be shining, and the sunblock readily available, may your heat index NOT be 110,... and may no one call you a bleeping umpire!
AND remember there is hot and there is HOT!
Jeff (in the AC now) Larson
Lions and Tigers and Bears.. OH MY! The Bible is full of stories and lessons regarding animals and their place in this world.
In Genesis: Adam named the animals, a snake tempted Eve, there was a boat load of animals for Noah, and a few overlooked. Even Pharoah dreamed about..
How about Balaam's Talking Donkey.. before the famous Mr. Ed
Next came the rules regarding sheep and bulls and the proper way to prepare them and not one rule had anything to do with marinating them on a grill. This all led to the Leviticus Livestock Revolt.
Later in the OT Samson plays rough with a Lion, Daniel smirks at a Den full of hungry lions, and Jonah was eaten and spitup by a fish that was on the WILD SIDE 4 SURE.
The New Testament:..starts with sheep as bit players at the birth of Jesus. Some of these wooly creatures were helpful while others had a decidedly baaaa-d attitude
Christ's ministry is marked when the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove at the time he was baptized. This was to the dismay and envy of Vinny the Vulture. Later we find cliff diving pigs.. The prodigal son ate with a large hog named AbraHAM until he returned home to the fatted calf.
The temple was cleared by Jesus of those who were dealing 'birds'. and.. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city on a donkey which was the envy of all donkey-dom.
The End Times prophesies in the book of Revelation include the 4 horsemen riding on of course 4 horses.
Today: We have cats, dogs, and little birds who can't keep secrets. In Minnesota wildlife includes Mooses and Mosquitoes. If you say Mosquitoes are not animals then you have not been to Minnesota.
In My Life: I have owned many dogs and even a few cats over the years providing us with both goo memories and not so good ones. Right now my wife and I have one rescue dog named Cooper. He must have had a rough life before coming to us because he is a bit wary of men, but we love him quirks and all. He knows in the end he is well cared for. Dare I say.. blessed beyond his doggie dreams.
May God bless each of you this day with good friends, a good church, and dogs that neither chew your slippers or 'dooties' in your house. May your cats be hairball free, and you hamsters content running in those little wheel things... and may we all simply be found to be WILD or DOMESTICATED for Jesus.
This is the name of a great song from Matthew West with words of truth and perspective for those traveling through life's 'valley of the shadow of death' (Psalms 23).
Below is an excerpt of lyrics from this song. Note: A link to the video is at the end of this email.
Hello, my name is regret .. I’m pretty sure we have met .. Every single day of your life I’m the whisper inside That won’t let you forget.
Hello, my name is defeat .. I know you recognize me .. Just when you think you can win I’ll drag you right back down again ‘Til you’ve lost all belief
Oh, these are the voices. Oh, these are the lies. And I have believed them for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King. I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free. "Amazing Grace" is the song I sing. Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined .. By all the wreckage behind ..The one who makes all things new Has proven it’s true Just take a look at my life
.. I am a child of the one true King
Video of Hello My Name is .. by Matthew West
Like most folk, I have regrets for a number of missteps, and fall on my face moments.
But for these past faux pas and for the ones ahead of me that I will still make God's Amazing Grace and perfect love relaxes my shoulders and perspective returns to me with a smile.
I am a child of the one true King.
And so are you.
(revised and formerly entitled 'My Painful Introspection')
PAIN IS EVERYWHERE.. and our God alone is they answer.
There is pain in our own bodies, our minds, and our souls. Pain is found inside our own families, our friends, and everywhere else if you turn on the news and see all the angry hateful hurting people of our country and this world wanting relief from pain. With this in mind let me share..
My Painful Introspection.. by Jeff Larson (deep thoughts)
For those of you that know me, aches and pains have been my lifelong companion & complaint. I have migraines, a bad back, and these days I spend more and more time discussing life with my good friend Arthur Itus (arthritis). It tell Art what I would like to do, and he tells me why I can't.
Of course PAIN IS a relative experience, as I know the headaches, and bad back I suffer with are trivial by comparison to what others suffer with. None the less these are MY pains and THEY DO HURT... and this is MY blog. :)
But seriously, many of the important lessons I have experienced in life have involved pain. It may be dealing with physical pain, or lessons found the other side of (painful) blunders, stumbles, and/or bad choices. Or even deeper yet are the lessons I found in the death of a close friend or family member.
I believe the problem of PAIN & SUFFERING is the source of the age old question. If there is a God why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?
This is valid question, but for me I see a 'dangerous beauty' in this broken world where God the Creator allows his creation (you & me) the opportunity to persevere and succeed despite our state of brokenness.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
This Dangerous Beauty is found as we are allowed to choose right from wrong in big & small ways, and even good from evil.
There is danger in choosing poorly, and if we do not persevere.. BUT
there is beauty in prayerfully choosing well, supporting each other, to persevere, and trust God when bad things happen to good people... when it HURTS!
I believe Faith, Family, and Friends (in that order) is how God intends to comfort and heal this world of hurts. I seek God as my compass and my only worship, and I thank God for the blessing of family and friends where we can love and support each other as God intends.
May God bless and provide for each of you this day with love and grace when you are hurting physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. While pain can be very discouraging, but may we as believers (His Church) be God's comfort and healing for others in this broken/hurting world.
Jeff (ibuprofen infused) Larson
Simply put I think I deserve the BEST in life.
You may be wondering if have been sippin’ from the ‘Name It, Claim It’ and/or ‘Prosperity Gospel’ koolaid. Well, I do claim God's promises and a prosperity that is measured in Heaven but not necessarily in this life.
So let me clarify, I am a pretty good guy. I work hard, love my family, and love God. BUT I complicate this relative goodness when I make bad/wrong choices (aka sins).
I know what is right and wrong in God's eyes and I have compromised 'the best' that God intends for me, and at times I have not been good at all.
The Filthy Rags v God's Grace Summary
So I realize my righteousness is as filthy rags Isaiah 64:6 but I also know His love that is greater than all my sins. Romans 5:20
God’s grace and blessings in our lives is available in ways that are BEYOND OUR DREAMS. No more living in regret of past mistakes, and what the devil (there really is one) plans for bad in my life… God can use and bless in ways that I never saw coming. Our Heavenly Father is good and kind, and PERFECT. As far as the East is from the West so are my sins forgiven!
So with this all cleared up, let me continue with Getting what I deserve
No more hiding of sins.. no more hiding my faults..
Now most of you probably do not let your mind wander in circles like mine obviously does like a hamster in a wheel, but for those who are tired, depressed, sick, burdened with the weight of the world.. YOU DESERVE MORE.
You deserve the best that God has to offer. His best for you may or may not be fame and fortune, health and adventure… but HIS BEST which you deserve is the peace and perspective that passes all understanding or any circumstance.
They say money can’t buy you happiness, but it helps calm the nerves… BUT whether rich or poor, famous or obscure, fat or skinny, or any other nook or cranny of this world’s class system.. we can be content… and living unafraid, and enjoying the lives we have in ways that are beyond what we have yet to experience.
There is a scientific study claiming we only use 10% of our brain.. well I believe we as believers experience only a fraction of the blessings God wants us to experience… and only a fraction of the blessings WE DESERVE as his children.
May God bless each of us with lives blessed by God in ways that are NEVER limited by our abilities, but are truly BLESSED BEYOND OUR DREAMS and as God intends, and what WE DESERVE as his children.
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