I Remember back when I was a kid in gym class and did not want to be that last kid chosen for a team? Well I don't like to brag (as I puff out my (almost) 63 year old chest, not my gut it puffs out on it's own) but I was not that kid. I loved sports and was a decent athlete even if the game was dodge-ball I was always a solid pick. Of course if there was a robotics team back then I may have been been that last pick, then placed on the 'my brain hurts' injury reserved list.
We can all breath a sigh of relief God does not operate that way. He seems to like the odd ducks, and unlikely picks to be on his team, even LEAD his team. Hmm.. I might even be chosen on God's robotics team. :)
So here is a partial list of those God chose for his team.
Noah was Mr. 'if you build it they will come'. These were the paraphrased words of God from the book of Genesis as 600 year old Noah is chosen to craft an Ark with his 100 year old sons. And.. not just any Ark, an Ark in the desert.
Abraham was a spry 75 years old or so when called by God to pack up the Winnebago (figuratively speaking) and hit the road.
So much for the Golden Years. "I will make you a mighty nation you." Thus saith the Lord.
A mighty nation?.. Abe and the Mrs. were past the age of having their own kids, so unless God is talking about some 'Mighty Nation' app for his smartphone then he did not know how this was going to happen.
Moses, the exiled (for murder) prince of Egypt is working in a land far far away as an overqualified sheep tender when God speaks to him from a burning bush.
"Moses .. you and I are going to free the children of Israel." Ok, mostly I will but do I have a job for you." - Thus saith the Lord.
I don't know about you, but I would not have chosen a guy on the run for murder who smells like sheep.
Speaking of sheep, how about the Shepherd boy chosen by God to slay Golaith, and later becomes king!
A 5'8" 145 lb Junior College linebacker has a better chance trying out for the Chicago Bears than David did in defeating a Giant.
The safe money was all bet on Goliath, but God chose David and that is what mattered.
Then off to the New Testament..
How about the choosing of who would be the mother of our Savior. Mary was blessed among woman and obedient to God. Jesus father would be carpenter. Our Heavenly Father picked Mary and Joseph to be mother and father of Jesus.
Then we have the choosing of the 12 disciples. Budding theologians they were not. Jesus chose a bunch of fisherman and a few other rag tag everyday folk to be with him as the Gospel message of salvation was shared.
How about that moment when the thief asked Jesus to remember him in Heaven.
"This very day you will be with me in paradise." were the words spoken by Jesus to the thief on the cross shortly before he died.
The spiritual resume of this thief from what we know was pretty light, but that is how big God's Grace is.
Now it's time to choose an Apostle to lead to share the gospel message to the world. Who would God choose #1 in the very first 'Missionary Gospel Draft'?
The number one pick is Saul of Tarsus.. Saul? The same Saul who recently could be found attending the stoning of Stephen? Yep, that Saul. Yes God chose Saul aka Paul. That is all that mattered.
"Saul why do you persecute me?" were the blunt words of Jesus from a blinding light while Saul was on the road to Damascus.
"I've got good news and bad news. First the bad news.. your cushy leader of the Pharisees job is going away. The good news.. You will be my very first Missionary." - Thus saith the Lord.
I may be going out on a limb, but I don't see many literal burning bushes, or blinding lights on my horizon, but I do believe I am chosen and capable.
Not that it makes sense based on our relative and limited qualifications, but in fact we are all chosen by our loving Heavenly Father. Chosen not only to be a part of God's Kingdom, but also to serve in big and small ways.
So do not keep God in a box, and a lid on what is possible with regards to the blessings and opportunities to serve.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8
Just like Isaiah, be listening for God's leading in big and small ways, and when God calls on you.. reply "Here am I. pick me! pick me!"
May God bless and use you in ways that are BEYOND YOUR DREAMS and all that God intends.
I like the old saying ‘That fella is so Heavenly minded, they are no Earthly good.’ This describes a person is so in to church and ‘churchy’ things that they don’t add much value or function outside of church walls. He can barely change a light bulb let alone the oil on his car.
Over the years I have smirked at a person or twenty that fits that description, BUT I have come to believe the irony is actually there are too many people are so EARTHLY minded to be much HEAVENLY GOOD.
It's just too easy to be caught up in this pace and 'stuff' of life (good and bad) to where God is put on the back burner. Instead of starting my day quiet before God, reading my Bible, and prayerful I often clutter my life with the very real demands of work, family, rush hour traffic, and.. maybe what is on the TV and become simply more EARTHLY MINDED than HEAVENLY GOOD.
The real irony is.. When I drift from God is NOT when I am too busy or stressed but instead when life is good. No immediate worries or concerns so I relax my dependence, praise and appreciation of God to again become so earthly minded... and erroneously feelings of being self sufficient. Maybe even a little bit proud.
So while I don’t want my life to look as out of place as an Amish folk high rollin' in Las Vegas.. I do want my spirit, and life to start and end with God. A place where my personal faith shows through in all that I do and say.
My prayer for all of you is that this day and always be a life in love with God, and a life where God is not fit in around the details of the day. That sweet spot where our minds on God/Heaven impact our lives on Earth.
May your life be blessed and USED by God in ways that have both Heaven and Earth in mind.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Mt. 6:10
Be 'Blessed and Used' of course in ways that are BEYOND YOUR DREAMS and all that God intends for you!
I was reading recently about Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. Luther's 95 theses brought attention to corruption in the Catholic Church. Luther appealed the Pope in 1517 to stop the practice of squeezing ‘indulgences’ from parishioners as ‘down payments’ on heaven, and/or petition God to limit the time their dead loved ones spent in purgatory.
I know the Catholic Church still encourages indulgences but I believe they describe these gifts as part of turning our attention from our sins and to God's church. I can't say I completely understand this, but that may be just my protestant upbringing speaking up.
Anyways Catholics and Protestants should all agree our salvation is found only in Jesus Christ as our savior, then loving God and serving others with our lives. The giving of money or other form of indulgence will not affect our status in the next life.
Anyways, back to indulgences. We protestants sometimes are flippant about the Catholic Church and their history with indulgences. But how does that 'speck' scripture go? Be careful about pointing out the speck in someone else's eye when you have a beam in your own.
So I take a glance inward at the Protestant Church, and observe some possible big buck 'indulgent' items I am not just talking about the Prosperity Gospel Churches and the lavish lifestyles of their Leaders (ie Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn), but even many of the church programs (Mega & not Mega) in our cities? Are they a ministry serving God or a monument to the Church itself.
Of course it goes without saying God's house is special. We are to be reverent and generous in the space and resources we use for church, but the Gospel Message should never focus on a building or be concerned with numbers. But some churches appear to believe in buildings and cry they need xy & z to grow the church, and put up a good and proper Sunday morning SHOW. Q. Do we really need three huge video screens, and stream to other locations all over the city to share God's Good News? Maybe.. but maybe not.
It is obvious by the collective gasp of those reading this blog I now have stepped on many toes of those attending church in America. Still I am concerned too many church growth programs are the product of 'Church Consultants' focusing on numbers but lite on discipleship. They say "To grow the church you must promote the church,, and to promote the church you need a building program. Then to promote the program the pastor should write a book, and/or your need your own buzz words to 'market/brand' your ministry. And to function properly you will need xy & z to share the Gospel giving that old book (aka Bible) a modern kick." True? Maybe, or maybe not
Note: funny Jesus did not need xy & z, he just lived and taught God's Truth to a hurting world, and He did it without 3 big screens, A worship band, or a building of His own.
I observe many well intended building programs are built around a series of services focused on exciting church growth news followed by a series of sermons on giving. These services focus on what we do is special, dare I say anointed. No one does quite like we do! True? Maybe, maybe not.
The focus during this time is on giving above and beyond normal in 'faith' for this cause of God through testimonials of ordinary folk blessed by the church WHEN they gave more. The congregation is 'gently coherced' over the next several weeks leading to a special 'Sunday of Giving' with a special service where the whole congregation is invited to come forward and drop their pledges (indulgences?) into special baskets at the front of the church.. where it is visibly clear who participated in giving and who did not. All while the Worship Band plays. True? Maybe, maybe not
So my question is.. Did I just participate in a Protestant Indulgence? No, we are not like in Luther's day giving an indulgence to the church to get a loved one out of purgatory (or worse).. but are we giving to God or a monument to man? Do we desire to be a seeker friendly church that is a mile wide and 6" deep where people can comfortably attend, never convicted, never challenged to go deeper but again comfortably 'entertained' as they ease through life attending the weekly Sunday Worship Show eventually to Hell... or is my church something more?
Now let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with a Mega-Church with multiple sites where the service is streamed. I confess I stream sermons from the convenience of my home, and have attended churches with great preaching where the message was streamed from another site. But something with all this does not sit well with me. It may be just my preference, but maybe something more. Feels too often to be the Cathedrals of Man. Indulgence much? Maybe, maybe not.
For those who read this and are indignant that I am implying you are participating in protestant indulgences. Please don't be. If what your church does is all about God. Having 3 big screens at the front of your church is not the issue, and if the programs and efforts meet the community in very real ways bringing them closer to God, and if you are growing disciples.. then keep doing what you are doing.
But if your church is focusing on being cool & trendy then maybe you need a reset. Is this what God really wants, or is this what I convinced myself God wants?
Final confession. It's easy to throw stones at Glass churches.. BUT I am a bit of a hypocrite as I have and still do justify purchases that I want, are good, and convinced I need.. but.. I don't really need and should not afford. Kind of a personal indulgence where I may not be taking directly out of what I should give/tithe to the church, but indirectly that is exactly what I do. I even may pray to God about a purchase, but since God did not speak to me with a clap of thunder I may go ahead with my 'self-indulgent' purchase. My choice may not be bad, but is it the right choice. I like to think I am getting better about this, but I know I am a work in progress.
So no condemnation here of self or the church here. Just honest questions about priorities. Each of our personal priorities and the priorities of the collective church.
So I pray today for our churches are not just comfortable social quasi spiritual gatherings where on judgment day we cry "Lord, Lord".. but God replies.. "I never knew you". Mt 7:21-23 I pray our churches to be houses of worship, outreach, and discipleship that are not about being the cool church, but being the House of God. And I pray for myself and those of you who struggle with self-indulgence. May the Church and our lives listen to God's voice and to all things To God be the Glory.
Jeff (a tad self-indulgent) Larson
During this pandemic shutdown, I have come to realize how very LOUD our society was. Oh there is now less to do, less to watch, and less to fight about, and HEY.. THEY TOOK AWAY MY SPORTS! But we are still Loud while Home-bound .. once we turn on the evening news.
AND in the midst of this Shutdown we are becoming a little (or lot) stir crazy. The rush is removed from rush hour traffic while the din of sports, entertainment, and misc. life have been reduced to .. sports reruns (zzzz), and movies of the good ol' days before social distancing. I even treat watching Gilligan's Island reruns like it was the original Survivor series! My money is on Gilligan getting voted off.
The blessing for me of this shutdown, is before the government shutdowns are lifted and we return to the 'smack down' of 24/7 Election coverage.. I have been listening to audiobooks
One of my current listens is a biography on the life of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up to Hitler and the Nazis. It is very interesting listen, but I have found disturbing parallels between Nazi Germany in the 1930s with America in the year 2020. While you may think this is a grand conspiracy theory of someone in a state mandated lock-down.. I respectfully disagree, and so let me share a few social parallels..
In response to Hitler and Nazi Germany Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote..
So as we move back towards the din and distraction of normalcy let's not lose sight of what God has been teaching us in the Silence of this Shutdown.
As believers we cannot be silent. We need to stand tall and strong in our obedience to God proclaiming the Gospel. And remember part of these loving words and actions is to speak loving truth. We cannot be compromising of God's Truth even when our secular society reacts with any of the above 'Social Parallels' to Nazi Germany.
Finally, remember the words of Jesus
May God bless and speak to you in the Silence of the Shutdown. May you fill your stir crazy moments with prayer, and God's Word. Tune out the voices of the world where blame for the pandemic and the panic of the pandemic can consume our thoughts. Our God is sovereign, and soon this shutdown will be over. Let's take this time to be a spiritual reset so when the world is running full tilt again.. our spirits compass points to God alone in a way that the din of society cannot alter.
In all things (including shutdowns), to God be the Glory. Amen
Jeff (Shutdown but not Shut off) Larson
Making Sense in Life. The more things change, the more they stay the same. With this 2020 Coronavirus pandemic holding us captive my mind wanders to a range of intellectual and theological topics. Some of my thoughts are 'relatively' deep (for a cartoonist) while other thoughts just dip their toes in the shallow end of the kiddie pool of intellectualism.
My shallow thoughts might be.. "What does my dog Cooper dream about?" or "Why is it snowing in April?" Answer to the snow question is "You live in Minnesota, you dummy."
Now what I consider a little deeper topic is .. 'Is God really fair?' No, not just saying He is fair afraid of what others in the church think, but is God really fair.
So in my mind wanderings I was thinking about the story in Genesis where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. This is absurd, maybe even pagan. Could this have been a moment where Abraham replies to this seemingly grotesque request.. "If you are a loving God, why are you asking me to do such a murderous thing? If you are God, you are no longer my God."
No, Abraham while troubled by God's request did not question God, or debate Him. He proceeded to be obedient to God to the point of killing his son. This is when God said "STOP", and provided a lamb to sacrifice in Isaac's place. WHEW!
My wife and I watched the 1979 movie Jesus on Good Friday this year. It was remastered and included this story of Abraham and Isaac explaining Jesus (the Lamb of God) took the place for our sins just as God provided a lamb to take the place of Isaac. I love this analogy of Biblical proportions.
Now let me take this 'trusting God' thing a step further as I think out loud and type. Let's start with God is perfect, good and just in all He does. We are His creation that He can do with us whatever he chooses, and then realize God's Love and His Wrath are both attributes of God. note: read 'Knowing God' by J.I Packer for a better understanding of who God is. Finally, there is eternal life for those who accept Jesus as their savior, and Hell for those who say NO to God.
Well then we can question.. Is life an even playing field? We do not have the same opportunities, circumstances, or aptitudes to know God, or even more specifically know who Jesus is. To this I think honestly is NOT just, loving, kind, or FAIR! It seems at it's best to the judgment of a God who could be described as indifferent. This is a God who says "I am God and I will do whatever I want." If this is true my response is equal parts of being afraid, sad, and maybe appalled.
But maybe it is like the sacrifice of Isaac, or Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. I don't understand why, but in these examples I see God's love for those who are faithful. A lamb provided in place of Isaac, and Jesus in place of a sinful mankind.
But.. I still know life is not fair, and beyond this life the opportunities to know Jesus or even know there is a Jesus are not fair. This is true, but like Abraham we are called to be faithful and obedient to God even when we do not understand.
All of us will some day come right down to the end of life (young or old) and for some life has been blessed while others it is seems cursed. This is where we are called to be obedient, pray. and trust God like Abraham did when asked to sacrifice his only son.
I believe I am sharing is a glimpse of truth at least for me. I don't find my self debating deep theological issues with great theologians.. but it is an important part of my faith journey. To seek God and to TRUST God.
I believe God cares beyond this life for those injured by injustice even when I do not understand and/or are troubled by God's direction.
My prayer is to be faithful, humble, but not shaken by pandemics or 'worse'. I believe in both the goodness and sovereignty of God, and we are to trust God for this life and the next that He will make all things fair and right in the end.
Jeff (thinking deep thoughts with my theological water wings on) Larson
Just one day after Jesus Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, we find Jesus suffering with more than just a 'Case of the Mondays'. This special Monday he enters the temple where it was reduced from being God's House of Worship to a first century Holy Land Mini Mall
Of course in my Back Pew way of looking at things I have imagined and illustrated a few of these temple violators. There were The Temple ..
All these and more turned the temple into as Jesus called it "a true den of thieves". So I guess frustrated was a true understatement as I will call Jesus state of mind The Temper in the Temple.
After turning over a few tables Jesus leaves the temple not in the mood for encountering a 'fig-free-fig-tree' which he promptly cursed.
This was a lesson NOT LOST on his disciples.
Jesus, fully God, fully man (He 2:17)
We cannot fathom the mindset of Jesus at this time, but from a human perspective I believe Jesus experienced the elation of his triumphant entry that first Palm Sunday all while knowing that would happen over the next week. While his crucifixion, and resurrection later this week shocked his disciples, this was all a part of The Father's Gospel Plan of Salvation for mankind (see Isaiah 53).
note: If I was Isaiah and I just finished writing Isaiah 53.. I would.. DROP THE MIC!
So Jesus knowing what this week would bring, the shameful conduct in the Temple, and the fig tree bore no fruit were the realities of this sinful and broken world just one day removed from that first Palm Sunday celebration.
These are normal emotions for any of man or woman since Adam & Eve but deeper and more complex for Jesus who knew no sin while being fully God and fully man.
Holy week is one of those times where my silly cartoon images feel out of place as a medium to communicate God's Heart and His truth. My prayer is that these sketches and comments convey the absurdity of man when compared to what is Holy, and NEVER distract from the message of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
May God find us faithful while living in a world of barren fig trees, and churches with tables to be flipped. In all things to God be the Glory.
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
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
Before I discuss the Old Testament guide to 'FINDING A WOMAN' let me give a Genesis update where in Genesis 20 where Abraham AGAIN lies. He is not even original as he tells Abimelek king of Gerar that Sarah is his sister. So Abimilek took Sarah into his house .. until God spoke to him in a dream with the words "You are a dead man walking for taking a married woman from my prophet."
But God showed mercy on Abimilek as he had not come near her yet. The next day he gave Sarah back and Abe tried to explain himself in verse 12 ..
Well, technically she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.
<insert reflective pause here>
Sounds like an episode from the Reality TV show 'The Real Housewives of the region of the Negev between Kadesh and Shur'.
Let me note again.. Sarah was some kind of sport to go along with this. Don't think this plan would fly right with my wife Mary.
Also, why do Kings and Pharaohs in the book of Genesis want 80+ year old women? Not judging, just sayin'.
Next in Genesis 21 we learn Sarah becomes pregnant in her old age. This was before gender reveal parties so Abraham and Sarah had to wait the traditional 9 months before they exclaimed "It's a boy, and we shall call him Isaac."
In celebration then passed out blue cupcakes, and drank blue kool-aid... cuz boys are BLUE and girls are PINK.
Now onward and forward we go..
Do you remember Hagar in Genesis 16, The fact that she had a son with Abraham now complicated life. Tensions and jealousy rose between Hagar and Ishmael with Sarah and Isaac, so Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.
I obviously do not understand this whole dynamic or know how to justify this.. except I do know that Hagar and Ishmael were not how God planned to bless Abraham but through the birth of Isaac.
This story is harsh, but in these verses we learn God heard the cries of Hagar and was with the boy. 17 ..the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven "Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying ..Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Next, in Genesis 22, God tests Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice son Isaac whom he loved dearly.
.. but God finds Abe faithful in this test from God and God stops Abe from sacrificing Isaac and instead provides a lamb to be sacrificed.
Note 1: I confess I may have threatened to kill my boys when they were acting out as teenagers.
Note 2: Isaac being saved was very good news for the literal future of Israel.
Note 3: Not a good day to be a lamb stuck in a thicket.
Note 4: The above threats to kill my sons was a figure of speech
Moving forward in reading Genesis 22:21 we are introduced to my favorite names in the Bible.
Uz and Buz (not Buzz LIghtyear) the sons of Nahor.
Not much is said about these two fine young men leaving this cartoonist with time on his hands to imagine they were chick magnets and they had a cousin named.. Fuzz.
Maybe, maybe not.
Now back to Abraham. He is now well over 100 years old, and Sarah passed away Genesis 23. So of course Abraham feels the urgency of finding his son Isaac a wife before his days are over too. How is Abraham going to be the father of a nation with more descendants than the stars in the skies if his son never goes on a date?
"So Isaac my son, you need to go outside and stop playing video games all day. Say hi to a girl, they won't bite. Go find yourself a nice Jewish girl, settle down, then go forth and MULTIPLY! Maybe, maybe not
If the story in Genesis 24 was today, Abe could help Isaac set up an ad in the personals, sign up for a E-Harmony site, or Jewish Mingles, order a MAIL ORDER BRIDE, check the church bulletin board, or.. attend an old faithful church potluck where the dishes are HOT just like the ladies. Maybe, maybe not.
Since dating life in Genesis 24 was a tad more primitive than today with zero wi-fi, Abe decides to help his son out. Oh great, that is just the news any young man wants to hear.. Dad is finding me a woman of my very own. What I am trying to say is.. While I may have never been a major-mover with the ladies I never stooped to asking my dad for dating advice. I love you dad, but this was not going to happen.
To make this process even stranger-er, Abraham insisted his chief servant 'promise' to find this woman.
How is this promise secured you may ask?
No instead Abraham says.. “Hey fella, put your hand under my leg and swear.”
<insert dramatic pause here> I beg your pardon? Come again? Is this an advanced version of the old 'pull my finger' joke?
Aah those good old (testament) days. You just never hear anyone say anymore.. "put your hand under my leg".
note: I have a very good friend Bryan Anderson, and if he asked to put my hand under his leg you could be assured I would SWEAR. "Oh bleep, that was creepy!" Then I believe I would be deemed ceremonial unclean by my church for at least 7 days. maybe, maybe not
So Abraham’s servant does swear to Abraham to follow his instructions and finds the lovely Rebecca. It was truly love at first sight? er aaa.. meet?.. er aaaa… arranged marriage.
She agrees to return with Abe's servant and leave her family to marry Isaac. And they all lived happily ever after. Well at least through Genesis 24.
After the deal is done.. Abraham gets busy himself. He marries again and his new bride has more 6 kids. Finally at a very youthful age of 175 Abe breathes his last though they say he never did look a day past 155.
The lesson I see again in these Genesis stories is how God is faithful even when man even when we makes decisions that leave me more than scratching my head (ie Abraham). This is good news for me, and you too. I make more than my fair share of mistakes, and while my faith is not on par with Abraham.. I am blessed knowing God honors my desire to obey Him.
Life will never be about being the perfect Christian. Perfect Christians are like the Loch Ness monster.. folk lore at best.
I pray God finds us faithful, and I pray for His blessings and providence in our lives as we daily love and obey Him with all our heart.
Jeff (My wife is NOT my sister) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson