Max Lucado wrote a book in 1994 titled ''When God whispers your name'. It is a great read with his usual humor and spiritual insights, but my question is..
What happens when God whispers my name but .. I am hard of hearing, or maybe God simply remains silent? Truth is I do wear hearing aides.
Not so many years ago I weathered personal hurricane force storms in back to back years. My finances, health, and spirit were challenged and I didn't know if I would survive the first year's storm only to be windblown and tattered the next year too. I have never despaired more in my life.
Let me tell you I literally sobbed, and cried out to God for HELP. I wanted God to calm these storms, but my prayers were met with His resounding SILENCE.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Ps 10:1
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Ps 22:1-2
I admit my cries to God were not as eloquent as when David penned the above Psalms, but I shed enough literal tears to warrant flood insurance.
Side note on Crying:
When a woman cries we feel empathy as her deep emotions touch our hearts.
When a man cries it sounds like a wounded Badger caught in a trap trying to gnaw off his leg in a short sighted attempt to escape his pain. Those in ear shot want to put that badger out of his misery, and the crying men.. STOP IT!
but I digress..
Now back to my storms..
During these stormy days I discovered God's providence/answers were found in His silence. During my storms I needed to experience the full impact of my situation including my mistakes and their circumstances.
note: There is an infinite difference between God not ignoring my prayers and God being silent as an answer.
God was with me the whole time, but pain and reflection was important for me to grow on a true path of restoration. A genie in a lamp with three hot wishes available was NOT what I needed.
Life rains on the just and the unjust Mt. 5:45, the Jeffs and the unJeffs!
We all know the story of Peter walking on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on those very real waves.. and began to sink.
Just like Peter those the very real waves in my life overwhelmed me because I did not put my trust in the man who walks on water and calms the seas.
The good news is I endured those stormy years and learned over time how faithful and loving God was and is.
The details of my storm(s) are not important except to share a lesson learned when God seems silent. “Be still, and know that He is God." Ps 46:10
This is my prayer for you too. Be still, be faithful, be listening, be prayerfully try to remain peaceful even when you experience God's Resounding Silence.
Jeff (wearing my Hearing Aids) Larson
Persecution for my faith? I think the closest thing to persecution I encounter for my faith is attending church on a miserable cold MinneFROZEta Sunday morning while 'Old Man Winter' mocks me for leaving my warm home to worship with the frozen faithful.
Or maybe the fact that I am a Green Bay Packer fan living in the state of Minnesota Viking fans. Besides that.. persecution is a little on the light side in my life.
No Christians being fed to literal lions these days.
Persecution 2000 years ago looked much different. After the first Christian movement begins at Pentecost in Acts 2 the church grows. In response the religious establishment of the day is outraged and fights them for the next 26 chapters of Acts.
Now fast forward to today .. I am sitting in my warm home in a country that has allowed me freedom to worship. While the outside temperature may go below zero in the Minnesota winter months I have my gas fireplace warming me as I type.
But.. is Persecution on the rise? I do see a disturbing trend in the news that alarms me where traditional Christian values are under attack.
As Christians we should be unwavering and unapologetic of the gospel message. If we really believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Jesus. Jo 14:6, then shame on us as believers when we are fearfully silent as to not draw attention to God's Truth.
We are so careful to not call wrong.. wrong (in love) as we fear that society will label us the religious alt-right hate group of the month.
Our words and actions should be the evidence we are living out God's two greatest commandments. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and care for others in need and love them as ourselves.. even when persecuted for our faith.
May God find us faithful and full of His Love, and in all things we do. I pray God's people do not live to please man but instead to honor God.
To God be the Glory!
Jeff (Chick-fil-A eating) Larson
"He who dies with the most toys wins." This quote was attributed to flamboyant millionaire Malcom Forbes in the 1980s.
You can't take it with you." In stark contrast Jesus taught in the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mt 19:16-26.
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
While it was clear no big ol' hairy humped desert beast could pass through an eye of any needle, the 'eye of the needle' Jesus refered to was a small gate in Jerusalem where a camel could only pass through if it stooped and had its baggage removed. Not impossible but difficult, and the camel could take it (anything) with him.
Now I should be safe from being convicted by the teaching of the rich young ruler as I grew up in a lower middle class home and my 'wealth' since then is barely a blip on any money radar. BUT.. Wealth is a relative commodity, and I believe there is a lesson here for all of us.
ME ME ME ME FIRST!
I may not have wealth, but.. I am convicted there are things that keeps me from really following Jesus? How about you?
Maybe our toys, hobbies, sports, friends, family (yes family), or simply maintaining my comfort keeps me from being ALL IN FOR JESUS?
I desire to put God first.. but there is a lot of ME in me. I like, I want, I slip up, and am afraid of messing, and/or give up my time to serve Him..
SO I KNOW.. whether a 'Rich Man' or a 'Poor Man' it is clear to me we daily need to say to God I am yours. This pursuit of Him is through prayer, Bible (God's word), fellowship, and an intentional effort to serve Him in big or small, whether rich or poor, in sickness and in health (like a marriage vow).. all to the Glory of God.
My prayer is all of the RICH and POOR folk of God be faithful in the lives we live and the resources we are blessed with. May we all be about the business of sharing Jesus to a world that is lost as 'One body, many parts'.. God bless y'all!
Jeff (relatively poor and content) Larson
Life is good, and I am blessed. I serve a great God, my wife loves me, and I am content.. most of the time.
But then.. like that (loved but not liked) relative showing up unannounced with his unruly kids to visit for the evening OR LONGER.. arrives Mr. B.A. (Bad Attitude). Recently it appear Mr. B.A. stops over with his buddy Mr. B.B. (bad back) when I prefer to be left alone.
An everyday example of a visit from Mr. B.A. is arriving at home at the end of the day greeted by our dog Cooper (a rescue dog with issues) barking at me. While Mr. B.A. has not entered my house at this point I cringe to my barking dog and see Mr. B.A. easily as I look out my front window. He is sitting in his car on the curb, he notices me, and smiles giving me a thumbs up. Arghh.
I am tired after a long day and all I want to do is relax for a few moments, so I turn on the TV and flip it to the evening news.
Top stories are the border crisis, race riots, LGBTQ is adding another letter, and in North Korea that rogue 'nut job' hopped up on Red Bull is testing Nukes again.
Meanwhile Congress is playing partisan politics russian roulette with the American public, and.. there is a 'weather' alert of a pending 'snowflake' blizzard/protest in Berkeley where frightened college students burn flags, tipping monuments, and blocking streets as part of a SJW class project?
And OBTW.. everything bad listed above I have learned is still the fault of .. DONALD TRUMP. I thought he was no longer president. GO FIGURE!
So I turn off the news and notice Mr. Bad Attitude is now out of his car walking towards my house grinning big, and pointing to my door to let him in. I cringe but for the moment I look away.
Next is dinner, And dinner is always good as my wife Mary takes good care of me. Following dinner we most always watch Wheel of Fortune. Dinner and now Wheel watching is our 1 hour reprieve from this big ol' B.A. world.
For a brief moment I pretend Mr. B.A. is gone. I imagine he is not just outside my house.
but he is.
THEN.. 'Wheel' is over and so from 7pm CST to bedtime there is rarely anything good to watch on TV but I want to be sure so I waste the next 30 minutes channel surfing and coming up with zip!
AFTER.. the channel surfing I browse the web, or then on to Social Media for the whole 'poke the bear' experience.
Social Media is a digital glut of cat videos, political judgments, and 'Christian' cries of heresy among the bretheren. This angst found in the world via Social Media is sensed by Mr. B.A. and so he makes his move.
Now it is 7:45pm, and Mr. B.A. responding to the vibe of pointless channel surfing, and web browsing let's himself in and sits in MY chair. From his newly claimed throne he is munching Flaming Hot Cheetos leaving cheeto-orange greasy finger marks on my chair, TV remote, and my computer laptop. B.A. does acknowledges me with a glance and a nod before taking control of the TV remote with his left hand a computer mouse with his right. It is Clickity, clickity, click as Cheeto dust fills the air.
I am tired, irritated, my dog growls at me because I spoke to my wife without asking his permission and Mr. B.A. is now in full control of all things electronic for the evening, and in his glory!
So I mumble/moan about another evening lost with Mr. B.A., while I sulk (loudly). Yes I sulk 'loudly'.
It is not a pretty sight... Sulking loudly is much like when men cry. It is an ugly display of emotions and not an endearing as observed by my wife Mary.
Then, there is a LIGHT BULB MOMENT.. Ya know, it does not have to be this way. There could be more to my life than you-tube videos, and Twitter suspensions. Imagine a life bigger than Big-Bang reruns or a Hollywood blockbuster/flopbuster.
Even as I type these words a Spirit inside me speaks in a still small voice.. "Well, duh." note: I am not saying this voice was the Holy Spirit as I pretty sure He does not say "Well, duh" unless these are His words after passing through my Jeff filter.
So maybe I quiet myself. Yes, I remember being quiet for an evening back in 2017.. and I liked it.
Well about 'doing quiet' again tonight? I could turn off the TV, read a book, or listen to good music.. maybe even Worship Music. Yes, I do remember I liked that. This could work!
And maybe I calm myself to PRAY.. not asking God for stuff like a child at Christmas, or to help me not be bored, but pray to know God better, to thank Him, and to pray for others.
So while I ponder being quiet I notice Mr. B.A. seems distracted, and looking uneasy. He looks at me as if to say, "hey you need to focus, the night is young, let's binge Netflix!"
But I continue to ignore B.A. and quiet myself, I pray and let my mind be amazed by our God the Creator of all things and our perfect Heavenly Father.
At this point Mr. B.A. gets up. The TV is off, the computer is in sleep mode and he is feeling ignored. His Flaming Hot Cheetos are gone except for the crumbs his beard and speckled down his Back in Black AC-DC t-shirt.
Mr. B.A. looking dejected leaves my home while muttering maybe I will see you tomorrow. I smile, but honestly I am not sure tomorrow is going to work for me. I remember that time in 2017 when I was quiet just like today and I liked it.
AND.. my wife likes me better this way as my loud sulking is not one of my endearing qualities. So it's a win win situation.
I would like to say Mr. Bad Attitude will not come to visit again, but I know better. Also my TV and computer are not bad they just symbolize the distractions and wasted times that keep me from God's peace.
May God bless those moments of quiet and purpose found in His word, prayer that are rarely found in front of a HD big screen TV.
May He bless each of you with joy and purpose found in a life long pursuit of Him in the quiet.
May your attitudes be good, your hearts always thankful, and no loud-sulking please.
Jeff ( attitude adjusted ) Larson
I was 'praying anxiously' the other day. Of course praying anxiously is an oxymoron bigger than a skinny baptist preacher.. BUT God reminded me I am called to be FAITHFUL IN the moments that make up my day not FAITHFUL FOR a moment in my day.
I guess this is obvious to everyone else, BUT for me it was an epiphany.. and my calling.
I should not longer worry about being recognized as the Farside of Christian cartoonists (lol, in my dreams).. but instead focus on being Faithful in Word and Deed in what every day presents to me.
Faithful is not just when everyone is watching. We are called to be faithful to God in words, emotions, deeds, and our thoughts.
May the Lord find us all faithful in big and small ways including every nook and cranny of that makes up our days.
Jeff (work in progress) Larson
I shared recently the Bible story where a mysterious voice saying "If you build it, they will come." happened way before the movie 'Field of Dreams'. This was when God spoke to Noah instructing him to build it (an Ark) and they (the Animals) will come two by two.
Next big event IMO in the book of Genesis paralleling pop culture was when the phrase 'Home of the Whopper'. Let me share how this pop culture phrase was coined way before a single Burger King fast food joint existed, and certainly before America's presidential election process. Let me explain.. but first..
ON THE ROAD AGAIN!
In Genesis 12 Abram enters the Old Testament story. Abram is maybe a spry 85 years young, his bride Sarai is maybe 70. The Lord tells Abram .. “Road Trip.!!.. pack up the Winnebago”.
So Abraham loads a destination of Canaan into his GPS and says goodbye to Sweet Home Haran with Lynard Skynard playing in the background.
HOME OF THE WHOPPER!
The next thing you know Abram was in Egypt with his wife Sarai while there was a famine in the land. While in Egypt, Pharaoh spies Abram's wife Sarai who rumor has it was a 'fetching' 70 year old hottie. So Abe tells a little fib that Sarai is his sister as he is afraid they will kill him to take Sarai as their wife. Ok, that is not a white lie this is a WHOPPER of a lie.
So Pharaoh takes Sarai into his palace, and treats Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels out of the exchange.
side note: I am not sure my wife in Sarai's place would have been such a good sport.
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
side note 2: While Abraham would become known as a great man of faith, Honest Abe was our 16th president and never confused with this Abram guy pawning his wife off in Egypt.
After Egypt, Abe travels to southern Canaan as a very wealthy man with cattle, silver, and gold. But tension arose between Abram and his nephew Lot because there were simply too many animals for the land to support. So Abe says to Lot, “Let’s not bicker over land. If you choose the land to the left, I will go to the right, and if you choose the land to the right, I will go to the left.” And Lot chooses the land in the direction of Sodom which could have been named LOT VEGAS!
In chapter 14, there were battles, but I gather that military tactics were a bit primitive. One particular lesson learned is still taught in the Soldier’s Field Manual at WestPoint stating a soldier should always avoid the short cut across the TARPITS.
During all this time, the Lord often reminds Abraham that he will be blessed by God so that to try to number his descendants will like trying to count the grains of sand on the shore, or the stars in the skies. There was of course the minor problem that AARP collectors Abram and Sarai had no kids.
So now the plot thickens as Sarai (the good wife) says to Abram, “Why don’t you sleep with my slave girl Hagar?” I have a couple of Back Pew comments with this part of the story.
1. When I think of Hagar, I think of that Viking cartoon character Hagar the Horrible.
2. My wife has never offered me a slave girl to sleep with! Of course if she did I would say very politely, “Why Mary, thank you very much for this most generous offer, BUT (with the vision of Hagar the Horrible in my head) I’m good.” I may not be a great man of faith like Abram, but my momma didn’t raise NO DUMMY!!
But Abram ignores the tell tale warning signs that this idea is DUMBER-ER than a bag of hammers, and wanders out onto THIN ICE IN THE HOT DESERT and says more than howdy-do to the lovely miss Hagar.
Hagar now becomes pregnant by Abram and Sarai lets Abram have it by probably saying something like, “I told you to sleep with her, but not SLEEP with her!” To which Abram so eloquently in his defense says, “Huh? What? But you said!!! I thought I could.... Huh?”
As you can read in chapter 16, this arrangement is nothing you ever see discussed on Focus on the Family, Oprah, or even The Jerry Springer show. These chapters are NOT in the Bible as an example how to model the perfect marriage, but to instead show us God is faithful and caring for Abram and Sarai even when they do really dumb things. Fortunately for all of us, our foolish choices are covered by God’s grace and goodness.
In chapter 17, God says to Abram to change his name from Abram, to Abraham. I wonder if this was so that he could start fresh and people would not know he was the guy who lied that Sarai was his sister, and slept with his wife’s slave girl. Sarai also has her named changed to Sarah. Then near the end of the chapter 99 year old Abraham is circumcised. This profound scripture emphatically reminds me not to complain about my own aches and pains. And all men collectively shout AMEN!!.. and .. YOWTCHEE!!
So there you have another story of a very flawed man used by God in great ways. I thank God for His love and grace not dependent on my perfection.
I pray God finds us all faithful in words and deeds and willing to hear God's voice when He calls us.
Jeff (my wife is not my sister) Larson
There you have it.. My Back Pew list of Ponderings. One part resolutions, one part repentance, and all parts pondering this world, the church, and each one of us.
I pray sincerely we are not conformed to this world as prayerful, obedient children of God FIRST and foremost. Let's be known for being kind and understanding of others in and outside the church and not for snarky Facebook posts (guilty). I pray we are unwavering from His Truth (our Bibles), and obedient to share God's Truth in a world that will call us judgmental hypocrites. Never apologize for sharing God's Truth because these words (even when hated) are real love.
Blessings as you ponder
Jeff (the wandering ponderer) Larson
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.
Hmmm.. sounds like a lesson for the Karate Kid (ie wax on wax off).. BUT IT IS NOT!
Life is busy, and every day in our busy lives is filled with choices. I feel like a contestant on the Price is Right TV show and I randomly choose door number #3 today.. and hope for the best.
So to help guide my life decisions I have incorporated a Closed Fist and Open Hand approach.
But.. a serious dilemma occurs when we mix our Open Hand and Closed Fist views. Just think if an alcoholic who continues to drink, a marriage without fidelity, or if I decide not to pay my bills on time.. or pay them at all. All are a recipe for disaster.
Of course, Open Hand and Closed Fist views are rubbed in our faces when we turn on the evening news where Washington is filled with Closed Fists ready to punch political opponents in the nose.. or lower. I guess this is what Washington calls 'reaching across the aisle'.
Now finally, how's the old Open Hand v Closed Fist working with God's people? From my vantage point, not so good. Just a glance on my Twitter account I could imagine..
Seriously, the church can be a prickly place. Not just your basic Predestined v Free Will, eternal security, or are Infant Baptisms ok debates?
There are more serious divisions where when we do not agree on the interpretation of a passage of scriptures then someone must be a HERETIC... when maybe we really don't know and simply disagree. But then to be fair again.. some teachings are heresy.
God save us! No really, GOD SAVE US!
Now take it with a grain of salt that you are reading a blog from 'a grownup' who draws cartoons, but the following is my exhaustive (or exhausting) guide to Closed Fist and Open Hands in the Church.
The reason for writing today's blog was fueled by ongoing battles among well known evangelicals, and then watching the 'Christian' media and 'Christian' social media fanning the flames that divide us.
Let me be clear, I do believe in addressing sin and true heresy in the church. BUT.. I pray for a biblical approach.
Sigh.. Maybe from time to time I will just open my clenched fist and slap myself.
I am not positive today's blog is helpful, but the spirit of it is on my heart. May God use my fumbling words to speak truth or the desire for us all to seek truth.
May God bless you in your busy lives. Be true to God, stand for Him, follow His Word not the words of man, have good friends, and eat all your veggies. :)
Jeff ( in between a slap, tickle, & a fist fight) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson