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 walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Ps 23:4
The 23rd Psalm is a classic go-to scripture of comfort for believers. I read the beginning 'the Lord is my shepherd' to the concluding promise 'I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever'.. BUT my life seems to be hung up these days in the middle.. the SHADOWY DEATH VALLEY part.
Maybe I am the only one, BUT.. in this divisive election year, with social unrest, riots, racial tensions, persecution of Christians, and where socialism, and Marxism are being mainstreamed all while this little (microscopic little) virus Covid-19 deepens our paranoia and to wear a mask or not wear a mask has divided even our churches to where we are mandated to comply. This is a whole other discussion, but my point is ..
WELCOME TO SHADY DEATH VALLEY 2020.
Who knew there was a VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH in Minnesota in my neighborhood, but I am living proof it is here and wants to be here to stay.
The good news.. no.. THE GREAT NEWS is .. if I Love God with all my heart soul and mind, and others as myself, AND pray for God's providence for me, the promise of Psalms 23 is true. I do not want to be caught up with focusing on just a part of Psalms 23:4.. I must read it in context of the whole chapter to find my peace
So the next time I find myself lost in any VALLEY I will fear no evil because of the complete promise of Psalms 23. While bad stuff, bad people, bad weather all packaged in little bite sized segments can make a fella .. SICK... I choose to fear no EVIL.
I am determined to turn off those news SHOWS, get off SOCIAL MEDIA, and turn to the source of all truth in God's word. Psalms 23 is that message of peace tucked neatly in the middle of my Bible, but reading the whole Bible provides the big picture of God's plan for mankind from the Genesis beginning, through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and through the promise of his return. IT IS A MUST READ!
I pray that God will blessed with the peace of God's answers for any SHADOWY DEATH VALLEY moments in a way that is beyond your dreams.
Jeff (in the SHADE not the SHADOWS) Larson
note: Let me leave you with more than a few cartoons of HOPE inspired from the Bible book of Psalms. Psalms is for everyone who feels life is hopeless, and/ or you are simply .. having a bad day.
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 appears 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.
Does that sound familiar, or am I the only one? A simple check on Twitter and Facebook and the social media posts of Christians and I will conclude this line looking for Glimpses is a very long line. I am among friends.
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
It does not seem fair to have only glimpses. I even have my fair share of questions about God himself and the inerrant of His Word. note: While I have questions, I want to be clear I choose to place my trust and hope in Him and the answers found in His Word.
Short bunny trail... Now being a guy, I like gadgets.. so I am thinking maybe if God would give me a remote control for 'glimpses from God'.. then I could hit PAUSE when His light shines and I see.. if I could only make these glimpses longer. -sigh- ok, I checked Best Buy, and there is no such remote - end of bunny trail-
So again, I realize in this life I cannot and will not fully understand so many things, but when those 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 I pray for more glimpses, and I pursue these glimpses by quieting myself, focus on God's Truth in His word, pray without ceasing, listen to worship music, spend time with other 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.
Find peace in knowing the Lord as your Shepherd 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 this DARK world. And.. rest in the promise of what He will reveal to us fully someday.
Jeff (glimpse chaser) Larson
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.
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
(revised and formerly entitled 'My Painful Introspection')
PAIN IS EVERYWHERE.. and our God alone is they answer.
There is pain in our own bodies, our minds, and our souls. Pain is found inside our own families, our friends, and everywhere else if you turn on the news and see all the angry hateful hurting people of our country and this world wanting relief from pain. With this in mind let me share..
My Painful Introspection.. by Jeff Larson (deep thoughts)
For those of you that know me, aches and pains have been my lifelong companion & complaint. I have migraines, a bad back, and these days I spend more and more time discussing life with my good friend Arthur Itus (arthritis). It tell Art what I would like to do, and he tells me why I can't.
Of course PAIN IS a relative experience, as I know the headaches, and bad back I suffer with are trivial by comparison to what others suffer with. None the less these are MY pains and THEY DO HURT... and this is MY blog. :)
But seriously, many of the important lessons I have experienced in life have involved pain. It may be dealing with physical pain, or lessons found the other side of (painful) blunders, stumbles, and/or bad choices. Or even deeper yet are the lessons I found in the death of a close friend or family member.
I believe the problem of PAIN & SUFFERING is the source of the age old question. If there is a God why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?
This is valid question, but for me I see a 'dangerous beauty' in this broken world where God the Creator allows his creation (you & me) the opportunity to persevere and succeed despite our state of brokenness.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
This Dangerous Beauty is found as we are allowed to choose right from wrong in big & small ways, and even good from evil.
There is danger in choosing poorly, and if we do not persevere.. BUT
there is beauty in prayerfully choosing well, supporting each other, to persevere, and trust God when bad things happen to good people... when it HURTS!
I believe Faith, Family, and Friends (in that order) is how God intends to comfort and heal this world of hurts. I seek God as my compass and my only worship, and I thank God for the blessing of family and friends where we can love and support each other as God intends.
May God bless and provide for each of you this day with love and grace when you are hurting physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. While pain can be very discouraging, but may we as believers (His Church) be God's comfort and healing for others in this broken/hurting world.
Jeff (ibuprofen infused) Larson
My wife and I have a rescue dog named Cooper and I have written a 'beautiful' poem that captures my life with him.
Ode to Cooper
Cooper is our little rescue dog;
there's no doubt he LOVES my wife Mary,.
BUT despite the fact I 'm the one who rescued him;
.. for me.. Cooper remains wary.
I so want Cooper to love me too..
but he's a work in progress..
You see Cooper does not trust me ..
leaving me judged without due process.
Thank you, thank you
But then I stop and realize.. I am SORTA a rescue dog too.
For example, in this big old bad world I might turn on the evening news and .. I get uneasy as I can sense the tension EVERYWHERE, so I start to growl at partisan politics as I pace the room.
My demeanor only gets worse as these 'News SHOWS' spew this world's hatred, racism, and violence all wrapped in their biased narrative void of truth leaving me ..
out of control barking my panic and distrust of this world.
This state of panic and unease over just the evening news can leave me in reality wary of my God. He is my perfect loving Heavenly Father, Jesus my Savior, and the Holy Spirit my comforter. My God is my RESCUER from both the evening news and anything else found in this broken world.
So just like Cooper I need to chill. Chill and realize this broken world is the result of man's own free will, and compromised desires. This brokenness was never a part of God's plan.
So chill Jeff, and realize in God I have hope, a future, and a plan for happiness. So Jeff.. No more barking.
May each of us find our hope (our rescue) in the loving Heavenly Father who sent his son Jesus as our savior, and his Holy Spirit as our comfort.
note: God is still our rescuer even when we bark.
Now if Cooper would only understand that about me.
Jeff (Rescued) 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
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson