A while back our pastor gave a sermon on getting to know God by reading our Bibles regularly and systematically. During this very good sermon our pastor joked that the most read books of the Bible are Genesis and Matthew, because our inspired intentions in January to read through our Bibles fades once we are through Genesis, and Matthew. (Leviticus has killed many a Bible study ).. then the next year we are back in Genesis and Matthew. I call this bible study plan.. The BEGINAGAINS.
I must be honest and say I have followed the BEGINAGAIN plan many times and not until 2003 did I completely read my Bible from cover to cover AND I CARTOONED THRU IT TOO! Note: Neither Billy Graham or the Pope could say they cartooned through the Bible. Then in 2018 lightning struck again as I read through my Bible from Genesis through Revelations. YEAH ME!
Now here I am starting out 2020 in the BEGINAGAINS using a chronological Bible with the intentions of getting past those tedious Dos and Don'ts highlighted in Leviticus.
Now for many reading through the Bible from beginning to end is not appealing and I understand that. My wife is one of those good folks. In fact I was told in a men's group about studying it is wrong to simply read the Bible through in a year. I DISAGREE.. for me reading through my Bible in order gives me a context and flow of stories and cultures that I may otherwise miss. This is NOT the only right way to read my Bible but it is a way that works for me.
No matter if you use tried and true(?) BEGINAGAINS Bible study, or topical study, or other method the important message is to be in God's word. DAILY!
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Oh we will have questions, and we will not understand it at times. Creation, Noah and his Ark floating on a universal flood, parting of the Red Sea, Elijah riding a chariot of Fire, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the feeding of 5,000 on fish and chips leftovers, the raising of the dead, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end time prophecies. All these subjects and many more challenge our reasoning while we scratch our collective heads, and even question what we believe. BUT I have found honest questions are different than doubts, and reading my Bible gives me answers to where I build my faith and love in God.
WHERE SHOULD I PLACE MY FAITH?
Of course in the end we are each challenged regarding where we will place our faith. Will it be science alone, a progressive secular world view, Christianity, or another of the worlds religions. I choose to place my faith in the God of my Bible and this is where I place my hope.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
May God bless each of you in your spiritual journey, and I pray that we all make a priority of reading God's word and be wise in where we place our faith and our hope.
New Year's Blessings
Jeff (BEGINAGAIN) Larson
note: Please understand I respect those who disagree with me (even on the existence of God). My intentions are simply sharing where I place my faith.
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 I attend a good church that I really like. It is a mix of all ages, from college students through senior citizens. The preaching is straight from God's word in a manner that is both challenging and at times entertaining. The worship is performed by talented musicians and the words and atmosphere are both.. worshipful. There are 3 big screens up front to assist in this modern presentation of church. Our motto is no perfect people allowed. It is a welcoming church where you are greeted at the door, there is care for the little ones, and classes for all the kids through teens. Ways to connect and become involved and a place to ask for prayer are presented each week. My church is attractive, welcoming, and like I said, I really like my church.
Then on Monday's recently I started attending a Celebrate Recovery program at a different local church (my church does not offer one). I am over 4 years sober now after it became apparent I was an alcoholic where drink had compromised my life for about the previous 15 years. It did not ruin it, 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.
So anyways, I never really attended treatment when I quit, but now 4 years later found myself in a Celebrate Recovery program which my wife attends with me. She does not have a problem with alcohol but supports me and encouraged me to attend for my own well being and to give back and support others in this struggle.
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.. such 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 God of our Bibles. This is our only hope for the alcoholic and ALL of the rest of humanity (aka sinners).
Now after 4+ 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 and am still recovering from. I went bankrupt, had to sell my home and my business and start over. I was wounded deeply and felt a void of what do I replace the buzz of alcohol with. I was a Christian through all this, I prayed & read my Bible, but was still a mess. Maybe God saw me as a beautiful mess.. I think my wife saw me that way. I was a mess but oh how important I was to her and how much she believed in me and loved me.
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 look like any mess, even a beautiful mess.
So here I am convicted today.. and I thank God for this conviction. I now desire to be in the mess, and I will fit in as I am a mess.. together we are a beautiful mess that God is in the process of restoring. 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, and I don't want to be the guy who stays home on Monday nights instead of attending Celebrate Recovery group with my beautiful mess.
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, and use you to serve Him in this world that is a mess. I pray for revival and restoration in America. I pray His church is sensitive and caring for the beautiful mess that we are a part of.
Jeff (what a mess) Larson
note: One person commented last night.. If the church was honest, the seats in Celebrate Recovery would be full. It 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. I pray we allow ourselves to be honest, and allow God to restore the mess in our lives.
There are those grey overcast days where I think the sun will never shine again. Maybe a little foggy, drizzling still morning but then a spot on the clouds glows and just moments later the sun peeks out. I now see the sun and feel it’s warmth. Amazing how that feels especially on that cool grey day, but sometimes as quick as the sun appeared the clouds return and the sun is gone and so is it's warmth.
This glimpse of the sun describes often my pursuit of God. I read, and pray and the story of God and the Gospel message makes sense. This time of clarity is beyond refreshing until.. circumstances and the world distract me, along with my inconsistent pursuit of God until my perspective is clouded and poof my moment of clarity is gone.
In my defense I find Isaiah 55:9, and 1 Corinthians 13:12 . I feel like Winnie the Pooh, a Bear of very little brain creator of cartoons attempting to grasp Almighty God creator of the Universe. Advantage God
I resign myself that in this life I will only in part understand the ways of my creator, but.. still when the clouds part that glimpse of God like the sun through the clouds on a grey day is priceless. This glimpse of God's truth, and love speak to me like the warmth of the sun. My shoulders relax, there is sudden clarity and perspective. Lord send more glimpses, Lord send me sunny days.
So I pursue another glimpse and for clear days of Sun and God's warmth. Why settle for glimpses so I quiet myself, focus on God's Truth in my Bible, pray without ceasing, listen to worship music, spend time with believers, and serve others.
No matter how cloudy your day is in this broken world of sickness, conflicts, family issues, greed, racism, and/or POLITICS (please pass the bucket).. pray for Glimpses (and more) of God and His purpose and perspective.
Get a glimpse of the Lord as your Shepherd in Psalm 23, and the live out Phil 4:8 dwelling on and pursuing what is good.
May God bless each of you this day with more than glimpses of Him that pierce the clouds in your life and rest in the promise of what He will reveal to us fully someday.
Note: The Apostle Paul given a tad more than a glimpse of the sun/Son on that road to Damascus. On your Damascus Road.. wear SUNBLOCK.
As a self-described little black rain cloud.. I too often find myself lamenting circumstances, and choices on my life's journey. From this I was 'inspired' to write the 'Larson Lamentations'. The following is an excerpt from chapter 1.
The Larson Lamentations
1:1 Everything is stupid, everyone is dumb, please leave me alone, and.. my back hurts.
1:2 I'm bored, there is nothing on TV except that Washington DC reality TV show 'Keeping up with the Partisan Bureaucrats'
1:3 It's 9 a.m. I have been awake for three hours, when can I go back to bed?
1:4 (intentional pause).. yawn, scratch..
1:5 Did I mention my back hurts? WELL IT DOES.. it hurts a-lot!
My LL Motto: Serve no WHINE before it's time.
Ok, this is just the first 5 verses, but my 'little black rain cloud' persona is showing. What do you think? Yes far from scriptural but while this is an embellishment of a runaway bad attitude, there are threads of truth in how I often feel. This 'broken' world and my circumstances (deserved and undeserved) can leave me tired, discouraged, depressed, and feeling hopeless.
Then to the rescue this morning my wife and I read 'Jesus Calling' devotional from Susan Young. Here are few excerpts.
... Accept each day exactly as it comes to you. By that I mean not only the circumstances of your day but also the condition of your body. .... Some days the demands on you are greater than your strength. You have two choices on such days.. give up, or rely on Jesus. If you choose to give up.. I will not reject you. You can turn to me at any point and I will help you out of your mire of discouragement. I will infuse My strength into you moment by moment, giving you all that you need for this day. Trust me by relying on My empowering Presence.
Psalms 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
I do struggle with the 'little black rain cloud' persona. I currently have LL pangs, but I choose not to be defeated. I pray for God's strength for all that I need, and to praise Him today for the blessings and pitfalls of this life. In all things.. To God be the glory.
May God bless, encourage, and provide for each of you today in a way that is inside and outside of your circumstances and in ways that are BEYOND YOUR DREAMS and your lamentations.
Jeff (not currently lamenting) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson