Sometimes Christians are just so smiley and so ‘Ned Flanders-like’ happy I could just slug-em. I know the joy of the Lord is my strength, but what’s with the ‘goofy-grins’?
I heard a good sermon a while back about the Fruit of God’s Spirit. You know.. love, joy, peace.. blah, blah, blah… and included in this list is JOY which I happen to misplace from time to time in my life..
Real Joy is not a serene surreal spiritual experience, but instead every day rubber meets the road with a pot-hole or two along the way experience.
Real joy is independent of circumstance. Most of us may not have your state of joy challenged by jail time, but joyful despite bumper to bumper traffic is instead our modern day challenge. Joy is even independent of having Covid-19.
How about joyful when doing the dishes? How about joyful and QUIET while doing the dishes?
How about.. Can I be joyful when
.. it appears God procrastinates, or
.. when my financial status and credit rating are less than (MAYBE WAAAY LESS) than perfect?
.. how about joyful when like today.. I have back spasms.
Yes.. joy is found in the difficult, tedious, stressful, and despite pain.
Can I be joyful when my relative prosperity can only be measured by God? … or can I be joyful when I have been married for what seems like one bazillion years! After a bazillion years of marriage your newlywed young love and passion is slowly replaced with something that includes a few disagreements (aka fights), money & health issues, raising kids without a road map, and living your til death do us part marriage with too often more questions than answers.
BUT.. we can learn so much from Jesus about joy. I don’t believe Jesus was the subdued passive image of joy and God that we often stereotype.
I believe Jesus was both passionate, and expressive. Jesus knew when it was time to be serious, worshipful, diligent all while being the friend of the common folk all while never compromising God’s values or God’s truths. I believe His joy was found in being faithful and unwavering to the Father in all circumstances.
Children loved Jesus, and sinners were attracted to Him because of his teaching was the perfect blend of truth with hope. The Pharisees hated Jesus for this very same teaching of perfect truth with hope.
The Gospels are full of Jesus telling great stories with purpose that resonated with man, but maybe Jesus laughed out loud and told great jokes. Maybe ‘milk comin out yer nose jokes.’
<pause> Ok, scratch that last one, that goes beyond even the goofy grin category of joy.
My point is that Jesus was real. He did not need to be vulgar or crass to be noticed, but he certainly would not be confused with Ned Flanders. It was not a somber sober demeanor that attracted people to Jesus, it was a man who loved life and lived his life with a joyful passionate purpose that honored God the father and cared for His fellow man.
I won’t even digress ‘long’ on my next point, BUT Jesus turned water into wine AFTER all the wine was gone. He did not make Welch’s Grape Juice, it was wine. Point is .. maybe Jesus liked to laugh and have fun with friends.. and we should to. PLEASE NOTE.. THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF DRINK (I personally don't drink anymore as I was not very good at it.. or too good at it..BUT I DIGRESS) .. I am just thinking out loud.
So where do we find Joy today?
Now with all of the bad news in our world right now.. my joy is challenged. I think of the Covid-19 related issues, racial tensions, hatred, greed, the media who lie as easy as they tell the truth, and all this stirred by the 2020 elections.
All of this and what I see as the Church (Christians) who are not salt and light. A church that compromises God's loving firm truth with the compromised views of our secular society. A church that lives in fear and too often is more concerned with offending the world, than offending God. A church that lives in Fear instead of Hope.
note: I am not pointing a finger at others here.. as I am a part of the Church. This is a sober reminder to love one another while we love and obey God.
Now back to the answer of the question.. Where do we find joy today? Know that joy is not found in who wins the upcoming elections. There are consequences to our actions, our votes, and in the direction our country chooses.
Our joy is found in the Lord through difficult times. It does matter that we love and obey God, but even if the whole world chooses NOT to obey God.. we must stand strong with Him always. Through good times and bad.. Joy is ultimately and eternally found in obedience and love of our God.
So there you have it. Maybe there is a world of Christian existence that is somewhere between a Ned Flanders goofy grin, and those Christians who look like they are in pain in church.
How will those people survive in Heaven when they learn they will have to be happy. So ‘Smile Mon!’
Joyful Christians without goofy grins? I know it will be a challenge, but we are just the people to do it.
May God bless and use each of you in ways that are beyond your dreams. I pray you find joy in the Lord in every circumstance.
Jeff (silly smirking) Larson
What happened? Was I out for 5 minutes when everything changed? Didn't up used to be up and down .. down.. not the other way around? And I am pretty sure too that WRONG is now the new RIGHT.
Let's start with a few easy Wrongs declared Right from where I sit observing our society.
So you see.. Wrong is the new Right.
We are numbed and dumbed down to vulgar language and violence in movies, TV, and pop/hip hop/rap music. Sex before marriage, and teen sexuality is assumed not discouraged.. in fact sex without boundaries is encouraged. Everyone claims to be a victim, or bullied which muddies truth of those who truly are victims and/or bullied. AND anyone who voices a contrary view is expressing HATE SPEECH.
The #MeToo movement, terms like toxic masculinity, white privilege, systemic racism, and systemic police brutality often dilute if not poison truth and justice. Note: There is only God's Truth & God's Justice and it is for all. Then we throw the old KKK in with the new rage (literally) Antifa (anti-fascists? not!). They are nothing more than masked domestic terrorists. And BLM black lives matter is a statement that is true just as all lives matter, but the organization BLM is a Marxist hate group.
We are a culture who on one hand munch on popcorn while being entertained by horror, violence, the occult, or the sorted story of a serial killer, BUT.. think that our 2nd amendment rights are the root of all evil. Wrong is new Right.
Now in 2020 the Wrong is the new Right has been amped up with the reality of Covid-19. I will not go into my opinion about what should or should not be done, but I will say it has divided us.. and divided the church. We too quickly condemn each other over this virus. We can't just disagree on the solution we decide to label each other naive or selfish.. and these feelings become something maybe just short of hate. This is Wrong, but this Wrong is also the new Right.
Even in the church simple choices of right and wrong are more carefully handled than a suicide vest by a bomb squad whose only training was using the old 'Operation board game'. We are so deathly afraid to call sin.. a sin in fear others will judge us as judgmental.
My concern/observation is The church (as a whole) is 1/2 afraid to speak truth in love afraid of the mess it may cause, and the other 1/2 appears to be like the frog in the boiling pan of water slowly cooking in our new boiling Baptismal Jacuzzi unaware the temp is rising. We are no longer salt and light as commanded in Mt 5:13-16, but excuse this compromise with the broad brushed statement.. We are about love, Jesus is love.
I agree Jesus is love, but his love included speaking directly about sin. He may have called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, but he also lovingly spoke truth to the woman at the well. How would Jesus have been loving if he did not speak the whole truth? In fact I believe Jesus referenced Hell 46 times. Hell is the scary truth regarding sin.
Same with Paul, he was loving but so direct about sin not because it was on his legalistic DO NOT DO list but because sin is harmful to the body and soul.
Let's even be more basic about TRUTH. We as Christians believe there is one way to Heaven and that is Jesus. To share this truth should be the most important truth we can share. BUT agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, etc would disagree. So do we quit sharing this truth because it might offend.. but let them go to Hell?
Do we just gently say, well we all believe generally in the same thing 'higher power' so.. peace be still.. Or remain silent because I respect your feelings so much that I would rather let you go to Hell for eternity than offend you today on Earth. This is so very Wrong, and.. the new Right
I also believe there is a growing population in the church that doubt the Inerrancy of the Scriptures. It's understandable to have questions on Bible issues we do not understand, but it is alarming to doubt that it is truly God's word. -Insert Head Slap here-
MY OWN MESS - Let me be very clear, I am such a sinner.. aka made 'lotsa' mistakes. I have trouble with my temper, watched movies and laughed at jokes I should not have. I have made compromises, told altered truths (aka lies) and all the other goodies that many of us do.
I am also a man who compromised too many years with alcohol (aka alcoholic), and it was ruining my life. I share the cartoon on the left that is typically received understandably with collective cringes as it is NOT FUNNY, but it is was becoming my story.
So in response to my drinking my wife expressed to me in love and sometimes the appropriate amount of anger "YOU NEED TO QUIT DRINKING. This is not good for you, it is not good for your family." So my question is.. was my wife intolerant and judgmental of me as a person, or was she directly and loving me tell me my alcohol use was hurting me and my family?
Well, I believe I would be dead now if I continued drinking. And.. to be honest I did not always welcome her words and would soften them by saying I would do better next time, but bottom-line my wife's loving admonishment CHANGED MY LIFE. I thank God for my wife and my three adult kids who lovingly told me truth. Changing a Wrong in my life to make me return to doing Right.
So in this world where WRONG is the new RIGHT how shall we participate? In our society compromised by ignorance, arrogance, and self we need to stand firm, in love and always stand for God's Truth.. because as they say.. Two Wrongs don't make a Right.
May God bless each of you to boldly go each day into a world that may hate you for saying RIGHT is still right, and WRONG is still wrong.
Thank you for indulging me sharing this topic of societal angst that is on my heart.
I am one of those folks who likes my food ever so slightly overcooked. I like the cheese on my pizza to be golden.. a 'dark' golden, and toast my bagel dark so to contrast with a spread of cream cheese. I want my bagel to CRUNCH when I bite into it. And I like DUSK.. where the sun has just dropped peacefully below the western horizon but before the black of night,
Of course choosing dark over light in the tasty matters of food or sunsets is fine, but in matters of the SPIRIT.. always choose the LIGHT.
This Present Darkness is a Christian novel by Frank Paretti published in 1986 showing the reader a view on angels, demons, prayer, and spiritual warfare while demons and angels interact and struggle for control in our lives and communities. And though this book was fiction, I believe this battle is real.
Of course there is obvious DARKNESS in this world, but I am surprised by many Churches maintain a Frog in the Boiling Pot perspective on life where God is fit into societal norms rather than the other way around as God intends. The temp is going up, but we the church are too often oblivious... and actually enjoying this Jacuzzi of the soul.
"In God We Trust" may be the official motto (for now) of the United States of America, but in this world's shadows we move closer to a Godless reality found in Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
How else can explain our society where
All this madness happens and honestly I am not sure the church knows how to handle it. I observe many if not most churches are afraid of secular man and public opinion rather than afraid of disobeying God.
If anyone espouses traditional Christian values we are deemed judgmental, hateful bigots or worse. But what of that? They hated Jesus first for telling loving truth, so why are we afraid to be hated for the Gospel?
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21
So these very words of Jesus make it clear.. It matters what we believe, our choices matter. JESUS WAS NOT TALKIN' TOAST. We are commanded in loving firm truths to stay in the light by Jesus. He does did mince word and the world hated Him for it.
So I prayer God finds us IN THE LIGHT, living in obedience to His word, loving and truthful in our words and deeds with others, and never lingering in this world's shadows.
Enjoy this life in the LIGHT.
Jeff (dark toast please) Larson
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
In this world of Essentials we have ..'Essential Oils' (5 quarts of motor oil?).. the 'Essential Van Morrison' album compilation, and now ..our government in Pandemic lockdown mode determines which businesses are 'essential'.
The disturbing twist of secular PANICdemic irony is this list of essential businesses include liquor stores, and Planned Parenthood while church gatherings are too 'risky' aka non-essential. In some states you can buy 'weed' (dude) but you can't buy weed killer (garden store).
It is a good thing Mother Theresa is not serving today in my home state of Minnesota where her 'willy nilly non-essential' orphanage and leprosy mission works would not be tolerated.. unless these lepers and orphans also tested Covid-19 positive.
It is obvious by my sarcasm I bristle over our Government's mandated (but ever changing) good, bad, &ugly list of essentials,non-essentials, and social distancing guidelines. But though I bristle I have remained law abiding through my clenched teeth and grumbled tones.
Then I heard a little sermon snippet of 'sunlight' from a Pastor in South Bend Indiana (Pastor YPJ). The just of it his message was to be prayerful & smart in our response to Coronavirus but remember our focus is on Revival not Survival.
With this bit of sunlight in mind, I may listen to Dr Fucci, and weed through the ever changing CDC labyrinth of scenarios, but in none of them do I find hope. Societies message is temporal and 'non-essential' by the Gospel message is life, hope for today and tomorrow, and essentially essential.
I will be smart, I will be safe, but I will not live in fear.
May God bless and use each of you this week in ways that are beyond your dreams. May you feel His protection and love that transcends the fears of men... May we find life in His Words, and a Revival of our hope.
To paraphrase an old Superman slogan.. "This is a job for Supernatural Man" filled by God's Spirit.
Jeff (The Essential Back Pew) 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
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 -->
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