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.
I wrote a while back about GETTING WHAT I DESERVE from God. I shared in this blurb I deserve God's Grace, I deserve His Love because I am a child of God and God the Father is the perfect parent, and even as an imperfect parent myself I would always forgive and forget and strive to be patient and graceful towards my kids no matter their mistakes.
This GETTING WHAT I DESERVE writing was met with mixed reviews as some shared Grace is a gift we do not deserve, and our goodness is as filthy rags in comparison to our creator. This is also true.
Here in lies for me the PARADOX as both seemingly contradictory statements are true. We are all God's children, and He desires each one of us choose Him, BUT I know first hand my weaknesses my failures, my selfish desires are sometimes far from the heart of God.
I could ramble on about this topic and may do so another day, but today I will use the PRODIGAL SON as a great story of this paradox. This rebellious son chose his own way with his own free will and was allowed by the father to separate his life and choices totally from the father. During this time he was still the son and was loved, but far from doing anything remotely obedient or loving.
Once the prodigal son hit bottom, he grieved his poor decisions and with his same free will CHOSE to return to the father who welcomed him NOT with scolding words of disappointment BUT with open arms and love and a celebration of a son who was lost but is now found. My son was lost but now is found.
This prodigal son was both selfish, sinful, rebellious, and also loved beyond description by his Father. Both aspects of the son were true.. he was a walking talking (smelling like a pig pen) paradox... and so are we.
Our very best is NOTHING compared to our Heavenly Father. He deserves and desires our love and appreciation but we have the choice to 'GO PRODIGAL' on Him. Isn't it great to be loved like this. Unconditional love that welcomes us back when we blow it.
Of course you may be like the other son who has NOT wandered far from home and was good, BUT please take on the heart of the father when those who have suffered prodigal moments have returned. We should celebrate the return of a brother or sister, and not EVER shake our heads comparing our relative goodness. Note: The very best of any of us is still truly filthy rags compared to our Father. Not shaming anyone, but the very best virtuous, moral, giving, talented, gifted orators are clanging cymbals without God's love. So be thankful, stay humble, and rejoice with others and with the Father always.
This PARADOX is the heart of the gospel. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 Two seemingly contradictory statements that are both beautifully true.
May God bless and use you today no matter if you are the good rule following child of God OR.. the prodigal who has wandered away YET AGAIN. Both of you are His children and you are loved, and you DESERVE HIS GRACE if you choose it.. because that is what perfect love does. Accept this paradox from God.
Jeff (A living Breathing Back Pew Paradox) Larson
The Back Pew believes it is ok to have a sense of humor and still be allowed in Heaven.
I am such a work in progress as my daily emails make clear. Today as I THINK OUT LOUD typing my thoughts, reflections, fears, anxieties let me share MY GRACE REALIZED.
A while ago I saw the movie Amazing Grace detailing the passionate enduring battle of William Wilberforce against a society and commerce built around slavery. Blacks were treated as cargo stored on ship like lumber, and the depth of this cruel time in history was the inspiration of a slave ship captain's repentance and writing the great hymn Amazing Grace. This movie was an eye opener for someone like me who's relative discomfort in life is misplacing the TV remote. I can never truly grasp the unspeakable ABUSIVE history of slavery, and while if there was a movie about my spiritual journey it may not be called Amazing Grace, BUT it could be called ‘A GRACE REALIZED’.
My GRACE REALIZED are those moments of peace.. where no matter my sins (aka mistakes in judgment, choice, vices), no matter my short comings I realize I AM A CHILD OF GOD. God’s Grace is not limited by a 30 return policy or 'pre-existing conditions'. LIMITS ON GRACE are from man (and woman), misguided churches, and the evening news.. BUT never from God.
Like many of you I am the product.. or byproduct of a world cluttered with rush hour traffic, bumper to bumper, a dog eat dog work world where GRACE IS RARELY REALIZED or shared. For having 60+ years of life experience I feel like such a slow learner… BUT this brings me back to the reality of a GRACE TO BE REALIZED. It is always there.. but without a paradigm shift of an oppressed mind towards God.. I will remain an underachiever.
So today I encourage each of you to accept God’s love, believe His words (our Bibles), and smile mon’ because you can and I can be refreshed and energized by A GRACE REALIZED. May God bless each of you in this journey where you love God with all you have, and love and care for others! May a ‘Grace realized’ for each of us be more than the name of the organist at our church, or.. the name of your church.
A Grace UN-realized is a life sold short of what God intends and what we desire!
Thus saith.. JEFF
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.
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.
Breaking Bad was the hit TV show on AMC a few years back where unassuming high school chemistry teacher and family man Walter White evolves over 5 seasons into someone truly bad.
Maybe.. Not since God tossed Satan out of Heaven has there been a comparable BREAKING BAD moment.
Walter White's life was a slippery slope of compromise, and his white (no pun intended) lies evolved into massive cover-ups. Walter White changes over these few years into a ruthless big time meth producer responsible for countless murders, and in the end, he dies alone, his family is destroyed, and the wake of his truly bad choices on those around him was far reaching for both innocent and guilty. Even those who survived DID NOT live happily ever after but were truly Badly Broken.
note: For those of you contemplating binge watching Breaking Bad on Netflix please disregard the previous paragraph. MY BAD
Ok, so far there are three obvious lessons learned
1. Don't cook Meth,
2. Don't Murder, and
3. Don't trust criminals to keep secrets.
But Breaking Bad is actually the story of mankind and from the very beginning it seems to be BAD is what we do. Since the very beginning our sins great and small, and our attempts to cover them up is the common plot line for lives we live.
EVEN OUR BIBLES are filled with Breaking Bad moments of literally biblical proportions.
Then let's fast forward to a few more contemporary Breaking Bad paths we travel today..
Comfort and Hope for your BB Moments..
But no matter your flavor of Breaking Bad there are so many great scripture truths of comfort and perspective. Here are two.
1 Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.
AND if/when we fall.. know the grace of our Heavenly Father is perfect. No matter how great or small your prodigal son or daughter moment.
Let's agree to fix our minds on the Will of God, not our own. Let' agree to seek His voice, and not the voices in this world. I pray God blesses His people with repentant and obedient hearts. Lord your will, not my will be done.
May God bless each of you on your journey.
Jeff (not so bad) Larson
Last we chatted, Abraham was healing from.. a ‘MINOR procedure’.
Next in chapter 19, Abraham is met by three men and welcomes these visitors into his tent to allow them to rest out of the heat of the day. Abraham then tells Sarah to bake some of her world famous homemade bread while he gets some red meat cooking on the grill.
After dinner, the visitors informed Abraham that Sarah will have a son one year from now. Well Sarah was listening at the entrance and LAUGHED to herself since she was so old. The guests heard her laughing and reminded Abraham and Sarah that this is not too difficult for the God who created the world. After this the three men left, and headed towards Sodom (aka Sin City).
Sodom and Gomorrah
Now Sodom and Gomorrah were the twin cities of evil, and God had enough with their behavior, and tells Abraham he is going to destroy them. But Abraham humbly bargains with God to spare these cities if there could even be found 10 good people. This is an interesting negotiation, and a great example of God hearing our pleas, and being sensitive to them. The prayers of a righteous man is heard by God with Abraham, and this is still true today.
Next the two angels arrive in Sodom and Lot pleads with them to come into his home and off the streets because it was not safe there. They wanted to spend the night in the City Square, but did agree to come to Lot’s home.
After dinner, the men of this wicked city came asking Lot to send out these men so that they could have sex with them. Lot being the good host.. good host??? says “no.. don’t do this evil thing, BUT.. you can have my two virgin daughters.” This is another one of those jaw dropping moments that transcends culture, and to compound the level of wickedness, the men yelled back.. “get out of our way Lot.. we want the men!”
Lot and his Family flee
So these angels, blind these evil men, and then told Lot to warn his family that the Lord is about to destroy these Old Testament sin cities. In the morning, Lot, his wife, and two daughters flee the city while his future son-in-laws thought Lot was joking and stayed behind.
Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed
So the two men/angels took Lot and his family and led them from the city, and once they were safe, and they were all instructed.. “don’t look back.”
Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur from the sky and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah completely while an emergency weather alert was issued 'it's gonna be a hot hot day'.
finally as Lot and his family ran for their lives, Lot’s wife looked back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Her last words were.. "I think I left the oven on".
After this display of God’s wrath and the there was an investigation by the local CSI TEAM finding an empty Improve Our City suggestion box at the city limits. Many years later an archaeological dig found a road sign verifying the existence/location of the ancient city of Gomorrah. The sign stated simply.. 'What happens in Gomorrah, stays in Gomorrah'.
Of course Lot’s life was a mess, and there are more stories following this judgment regarding Lot and his daughters that are further examples of a depraved society.
Moral of the story? God's Grace is amazing and free, but not.. cheap. You cannot put a price on God's Grace.. but know we must turn from our sins and never look back.
Jeff (No Salt Please) Larson
Aretha Franklin sang her signature hit R E S P E C T in 1967 as a declaration from a strong, confident woman, who demands the"respect" of her man.
Now 40 years later Aretha's cry for R E S P E C T has been hijacked and ratcheted up with evening news 'shows' reporting/exploiting headlines of sexual misconduct (and worse), bullying, systematic white supremacy, white privilege, (white bread), racism, reverse racism, envy, greed, hatred, and our Universities filled with melting fragile snow-flake students claiming 'micro-aggression' by the man. Whoever the man is.
Don't get me wrong, injustice is a serious matter, but truth often is lost in our GUILTY before proven INNOCENT 'intersectional' virtue signalling society.
The above mentioned microaggressions are defined as the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In fact in today's progressive thinking.. if I disagree with your views I can consider your words 'an act of violence' towards and can retaliate with real violence like a punch in the nose, or key your car door, or worse.. So beware!
By this 'standard' I have been microaggressed as a white man with a rural Wisconsin upbringing lacking economic opportunities or exposure to a racially diverse culture. Now that I am older I am again microaggressed for wearing bi-focals, and hearing aides by my younger better seeing, hearing, and looking co-workers.
Truth is I am NOT microaggressed, and I believe it is all 'microaggressed-hogwash'. Life is good but has never been a level playing field. So let's all determine to.. BUCK UP BUTTERCUP!
But back to Aretha's call for RESPECT.. Why do we make RESPECT so complicated? In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus taught us the two greatest commandments ‘Love the Lord your God' with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind .. and.. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'.
If I truly love my neighbor my words and deeds will demonstrate respect, and a nice byproduct is it's difficult to feel micro-aggressed if my focus is on God and others.. leaving little time for all things ME.
As I mull over this blog, I remember a couple years ago I had a job where my boss and I had honest mutual dislike for each other. I believed I was disrepected and mistreated leading to a mutual parting of the ways. Looking back I know I should have handled this better. Love God? check, love this boss? I did not appreciate, or RESPECT him so loving him like myself wasn't happening.. but it should have. I put my hurt ego over humbling myself and representing Christ. So my prayer coming from this bad experience is to get my eyes off of ME, love God, and care for others... even when the others are bosses from a no good very bad day.
So today I pray we all love God with all our hearts, and uses each of us to be the hands and feet for those who are in need, even maybe your enemies. (note these are God's two greatest commandments, not two greatest suggestions) May our hearts, words, and actions always be compassionate and RESPECTFUL to others in this hurting world, and I pray for God's loving presence and perspective when we are disrespected and/or mistreated by others.
Jeff (micro-REgressing?) Larson
p.s. On a lighter note, I would like to share a clip regarding Injustice inherent in the system at the time of King Arthur. Repression Inherent in the System. <-- click here for a chuckle
Note of Clarification
The following blog commentary is about the little word 'BUT' ..but.. it is not to be confused with the word 'BUTT' (aka bottom.. aka buttocks, ) which always makes Minions laugh.
I recently read a quote by Tim Keller on Twitter.. 'Repentance is crucial for renewal and restoration', and full disclosure honesty is required for true repentance.
Very true, BUT it is often easier to say "I am sorry, BUT.." then insert my favorite excuse/rationalization of what I am supposedly sorry for. Here are a few I am sorry BUTs.
Next let me share a couple gender specific 'sorry but' prayers.
(see cartoon on the right)
Hmmm, maybe we should raise the bar and strive to do better than either of the above man, or woman's prayers.
Back to Tim Keller's words of wisdom. 'Repentance is crucial for renewal and restoration', and full disclosure honesty is required for true repentance. Not much wiggle room for any sorry buts.
BUT.. Hey I am a pretty good guy. I go to church, love my wife and stay out of trouble.
But who am I fooling? Not God. He knows my secret doubts, rage, anxiety, envy, mumbled profanities, and other more quiet rebellions against what I know is right in my heart. I have too often compromised time, resources, and talents that were truly a gift from God. This does not include bigger sins (ie alcohol) that almost killed me. For all these and more I am sorry.. no buts.
Mark me down as a work in progress.
What would be possible if we all were truly repentant and inspired by the love of God? It could be a revival this fallen world needs.. like.. NOW!
May God bless each of you on your spiritual journey, where you are blessed and used by God in ways that are beyond your dreams. My our hearts be repentant, and open to receive the promise of God's Grace.
Jeff (no buts about it) Larson
Life again reminds me we are all so very busy with days filled and choices to be made. Sometimes 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 our life decisions I would like to suggest the 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.
Of course 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, know your Bibles, 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