A compelling story shared can give us hope, and/or inspire us. But over time doubts may creep in and we ponder is this story truth or a fable? This will require some investigative work to bolster our faith. And the most compelling story we can ever investigate is to know God and trust in His love.
Every year my wife and I like to assemble a 500 or maybe 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. We start by turning all the pieces face up, then locating and assembling the edge pieces. Next we group pieces by colors, patterns, and shapes.
This is not an exact jigsaw puzzle science but it is how we roll.
After many hours/days and snacks we have the satisfaction of the fully assembled picture that looks just like the one on the puzzle box.
(hopefully with no missing pieces)
So back to the 'God puzzle' of Biblical proportions. We cannot comprehend God fully with a compelling Sunday sermon all by itself. This puzzle of God will take a lifetime of prayer and study, but is so worth it.
This puzzle for mankind starts in Genesis 1:1 .. In the beginning God created,, and ends in the prophetic book of Revelation.
In between we find the story of God's love and providence including..
ALL THIS is and more are a part of God's Plan and the most worthy puzzle to assemble.
But Puzzler beware: Just like with a jigsaw puzzle while learning about God we will find pieces that seem out of place, and even swear there must be missing pieces. But in time we better understand His mysteries and find everything is where it should be.
Also note, God designed this puzzle we did not. Isaiah 55:8-9 designing this puzzle is above our pay grade.
So if you like jigsaw puzzles or not, I would encourage everyone to take serious this puzzle of knowing better our amazing God, the creator of this world who loves each of us. Do not be distracted by the other puzzles and distractions of this world.
What greater pursuit is there? And know.. you will not be bored.
Jeff (often a puzzled look on his face) Larson
A few years back my wife and I lived in Roseville, a suburb of St Paul MN. Nice neighborhood, easy access to highways, shopping, dining, and.. is unofficially the bunny capital of the world. Bunnies were everywhere.
These friends of Bugs (bunny) crisscrossed our yard constantly. We don't have a garden so they are harmless and cute.. I guess... but what goes on in their little minds as they scamper from here to there and back again. All this is done of course as they travel their literal bunny trails.
Then I wonder.. are there 'BAD BUNNIES'.. you know, with tattoos hanging out the street corner smoking cigs and.. sorry, I guess my mind just went on its own bunny trail.
Ok, while I am obviously NOT a bunny, but I have traveled my share of bunny trails meanderings. I even have the 'gift' of veering off topic railroading a conversation 'deftly' interjecting my thoughts that have wandered away from the original subject. How did I get here?.. and now how do I find my way back?.. I don't know, maybe I will ask a BUNNY.
Even those involved in the conversation may with a bewildered look on their face respond with .. "whaaa.. and If no bunny can be found to help me I will segue back by saying "but I digress"
Of course for the most part the literal bunny trails in my yard and the nonsensical bunny trails in my head are harmless. They may be puzzling, possibly frustrating, but seriously no harm no foul.
But what about the more serious bunny trails we take? In a world that needs Jesus we are busy with bunny trails... even Pokemon Go trails.. really?
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Js 1:27
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Mt 22:37-40 .
There you have it.. all that is important shared economically in just 5 verses, BUT..
All of the above can be definite bunny trails that have nothing to do with Js 1:27 and/or Mt 22:37-40.
I am a big fan of the 'My Utmost for His Highest' devotional by Oswald Chambers. His daily readings are amazing bits of truth that return focus to what is important. Oswald's message is that life begins and ends with a devotion to God. What we say and do matters, and stay off the bunny trails that keep us from this truth.
Another great read is 'The Pursuit of God' by AW Tozer. In this book Tozer makes clear the pursuit of God is a direct path with focus and purpose and any bunny trails are mostly found in the pursuits of man... and his folly.
My prayer is to live a life that loves God in words and deeds (Js 1:27 and Mt 22:36-40) where I give my utmost for His highest in my daily pursuit of God while keeping my bunny trails to a minimum.
My prayer today is your life's journey has focus and purpose, and that He provides hope, and direction for those of us when we find ourselves off on a bunny trail using His Word and our Prayers as our map.
To sum up 2021 (IMO) our tumultuous society seems to disagree (often passionately) on most everything from politics, gender identity, LGBTQ, race issues, diets, and sports. At the core of much of this turmoil is a spiritual angst of global proportions.
BUT even if IF if we could agree there is a spiritual component, society does not agree on what we mean by spiritual. Islam, Christianity, New Age, or seek deeper meaning as a Buddhist, or a Hindu?
AND even as Christians I need to ask what 'faith flavor' are you? Could be Catholic, Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Prosperity Gospel believer, the ever popular 'non-denominational', OR maybe your faith is motivated by a Progressive / SJW focus.
AND let's not forget that fella who likes to handle snakes. Yikes!
So this is what I believe which is important to ME. What do you believe? What is God teaching you about truth? Does what I believe and/or what you believe fall in line with God's Truth?
and.. I believe it is important for everyone to pursue their own serious 'NICE TRY' understanding and appreciation of God. This is not an issue anyone should put on the back burner of life.
We owe God at the very least to make a NICE TRY... and for eternity's sake we owe ourselves.
May God bless each of you today with peace, and the Holy Spirit's leading us to truth and answers for all of life's questions, and to a place where we feel God's love and peace like never before.
We should not expect to get it all right, but there still is no greater pursuit for mankind than to know Him.
My heart says of you, “Seek His face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Jeff (Trying to be Nice) 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 is not a part of this prayer to gloss over.
Your Will on Earth? So how is that working out?
With all the tension among believers I am looking for an MMA pay-per view event featuring 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.
But while I DO LIKE BUNNY TRAILS.. let us now return to the LORD'S PRAYER. God your will be done on Earth.. starting with .. Jeff.
Through my life (I am 63 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 have come to realize this prayer "what is your will for my life?" can become me-centric.
Prayers focusing on the right job, house, finding Mrs. Right/Larson, or even a car purchase wanting God's can become my own little Prosperity Gospel prayer rather than 'thy will' pointing to God's kingdom (souls saved, and a society honoring Him)..
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. And so I guess living in Minnesota and being COLDER is about what I deserve.
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?
What would that look like if God's will was being done by those of us in the church? What if we were faithful in the moments that make up our days? What if we truly worshipped God in words and deeds with our eyes first on God then on the needs of others? What would that look like.
Even my little Back Pew Ministry. I am blessed to be used by God in a way that He uniquely wired me. but 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!"
In recent years I have become more intentional in pursuit of God. While I am and always will be a work in progress and not resulted in an exorcism of my old self, 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 63 years to figure out God's will for you is to serve Him. But if it does, 63 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 -->
There you have it.. My Back Pew list of Ponderings. One part resolutions, one part repentance, and all parts pondering this world, the church, and each one of us.
I pray sincerely we are not conformed to this world as prayerful, obedient children of God FIRST and foremost. Let's be known for being kind and understanding of others in and outside the church and not for snarky Facebook posts (guilty). I pray we are unwavering from His Truth (our Bibles), and obedient to share God's Truth in a world that will call us judgmental hypocrites. Never apologize for sharing God's Truth because these words (even when hated) are real love.
Blessings as you ponder
Jeff (the wandering ponderer) Larson
I am 63, and now wear hearing aides. Boo, hiss..I don't like to wear them but just like my bi-focaled glasses they do help. I now hear sounds (especially high pitch sounds) that I otherwise miss.
And now in 2020 with our Covid masks I miss the facial expressions and the sounds of the voice of those speaking are muffled, and so when not wearing my hearing aides communication is a bit muted and frustrating.
Like this, when I pray.. but am not still or quiet to hear his voice what I hear from God is also muted.
Muted at times by my own busy mind and compromised/selfish motives. God speaks, but do I hear His voice.
Ok, for you Minnesota Viking fans this is a foreign concept. Super Bowl? Minnesota? Winning? Like oil and water. but c'mon Minnesota use your imagination.
Sorry, I could not help myself. - signed anonymous Packer Fan
But I digress..
The point is.. we need more QUIET and less NOISE.. to seek intentional quiet times where we turn off our 24/7 media blitz on the senses. Be still and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10
Oh it's easy to be pulled down stream by the current of societies raging information river. I love all modern gadgets, and the ease of communication, and the instant resource of Google searches... But lost in this is the QUIET. How can I hear the Voice of God over the 'DIN' of our society?
Please realize the importance of hearing God's Voice is true wisdom in a world that is.. foolish. Why should we seek ANYTHING above the QUIET to the Voice of God?
AND.. there is no better time to commit to being quiet today. In fact that the 2020 elections is proving to be a Clanging Cymbal Symphony described in Corinthians 13:1.. NOW IS THE TIME to turn off the TV, do waaaay less social media.. and BE STILL to hear God's Voice instead of the angry voice of man. ie MSM, Fox, Reality TV, etc etc.
We had the grandkids sleep over the other night. We watched a very funny movie, played games, drew pictures, played outside, and went on a hike. AND while this was great fun and we love them when they leave the house goes quiet. It's a very good quiet for us grandparents with only a trace of legos and toys in the yard.. but it is quiet. I love them more than the world, but.. I do also like QUIET.
I pray what I have shared makes sense. There is no greater pursuit than to know the creator of this world.
May God bless each of you on your journey to hear God's voice.
Jeff (hearing aides in) Larson
That is not a fair question.. I know people may say church is boring, but God? boring? I would not say that, but then look how He stacks up with our 24/7 Entertain me NOW society.
Let's start with SUNDAYS:
Football - You can spend the afternoon sitting on the 50 yard line cheering your team as they play their hated rivals on a beautiful fall day doubly blessed with vendors who for a few dollars deliver to you your favorite snacks and beverages.
Church - You could spend Sunday sitting on a hard wooden pew in Church singing a hymn or EIGHT, listening to a sermon where the vendors are replaced with ushers who also take your money but there will be no food for you!.. Advantage.. FOOTBALL
Food Glorious Food:
Dining Out - The world offers wonderful dining opportunities of all cuisines whether you dine out, drive through, or have your meal delivered right to your door.
Church Potluck - Church offers the infamous potluck dinner where there are more ways to fix a macaroni casserole/hotdish than there are stars in the sky. Advantage: DINING OUT
Reality TV Superstar Kim - has over 20 million twitter followers with the focus on I guess watching Kim be Kim? and Kim is worth millions!
Mother Theresa - She ran hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens, dispensaries and mobile clinics; children's and family counselling programs; orphanages, and schools... BUT still no Twitter followers, and no signs of prosperity displayed in her life. So based on Twitter stats and $$.. Advantage: KIM
God's Word - The bible teaches God's never changing loving truth for mankind, and there is but one God. This Truth not everyone can handle.
Secular World View - Our society teaches truth is a relative state of being up for interpretation by progressive thinkers. This world is polytheistic where there are many ways to find god and/or truth. Based on the appearance of inclusiveness (though Col Jessup scares me)..
Cosmology v Theology:
Cosmology - Cosmology is the science of the origin and development of the universe. With an annual budget for space exploration of around $18 billion in the US, Resources like the images from the Hubble Telescope are used to support their studies.
Theology - This is the study of the nature of God and religious belief. Of course there is no annual US budget on Theology. Resources like the bible are used to support these studies. If money means anything.. Advantage: NASA
The above examples are a bit over the top but with a thread of 'humanistic truth' (please note humanistic truth is an oxymoron). How can the church compete with the glitz & glam, the look & presentation, and budget found in our 24/7 self serve society?
What if part of the next year's $18 billion NASA budget was spent on understanding our creator rather than His creation?
So in conclusion: God is not boring, but the little box we attempt to put him in is pathetic. Maybe more accurately our attempts to understand God are BORING... weak.
What if there was a spiritual revival of our nation where we pursue God like a spiritual Hubble Telescope? I know one thing.. we would not be bored.
May God bless each of us today free from society's buffet for the senses, but instead pursue what is important. To love God and care for others (God's two greatest commandments Mt 22:36-40) is anything but boring!
For the sake of today's blog let me share a story back when I assigned sports officials for local sporting events. Dateline, 9/18/2013
I have a confession to make. Yesterday I did NOT brush my teeth. Gross? .. yes kinda gross, I agree with you.
You see I work from home assigning sports officials for area sporting events. In the month of September I cover sports for everything from football, soccer, volleyball, baseball, and basketball.
So yesterday was especially busy and I was on the phone and/or my computer from 7am (like an assignor telemarketer) assigning open games, and updating the ongoing changes to our schedules. This continued until 4pm when I left home to officiate two soccer games.
End result was another VERY busy day where I did not stop EXCEPT to eat a quick lunch AND so.. I forgot to brush my teeth.
It was not a great feeling.. as my teeth reminded me when I was reffing soccer at about 5pm that they did not get any TLC today.
Good news my teeth will not rot away in a day.. and besides them not feeling clean, and breathe that was less than fresh... I will be fine. Now if I continue to neglect my teeth I will suffer with cavities, gum problems, infections, all resulting in losing my teeth and then on to my future eating a truly pureed diet featuring oatmeal and pudding.
Hmmm, now let me do an AWKWARD segue to the land of the spiritual?
Just like neglecting my teeth.. if I miss spending time with God my life begins to get messy. My perspective is less than fresh and if perspective could smell like 2 hour old onion infused bad breath.
So I can go a day or two without slowing down for time with God with life being for the most part busy as usual, BUT the longer away the more I notice a difference. Maybe others notice, maybe not.. but definitely I notice.
THE MORAL OF TODAY'S BLOG?
May God bless each of you with good dental health supported with dentists, orthodontists, and insurance as needed.. AND.. don't forget to FLOSS!
Also may you also be blessed with a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. May you realize the comfort of His perspective and provision in your lives that is fresh and never stale.
Jeff (brushing in the back pew) Larson
More 'minty fresh' scriptures below
If I remember correctly, today (August 8th) is the birthday of my good Richard (Dick) Ludzack, and Dick was 6 days my senior as I was born on August 14th. He was a lifelong friend as we grew up in the same home town and attended the same church, played sports together, and both participated in each other's weddings. Dick passed away suddenly a number of years ago, and at that time I wrote my own memorial of his life. I would like to share it again today about a life well lived.
THE ONLY CHOICE THAT MATTERS 10/12/2003
I traveled home yesterday to visit my mom and was greeted by the news that a life long friend of mine was killed the day before in a work related accident. This friend was Dick Ludzack, and his dad Karl Ludzack also passed away last January. Please pray for Dick’s wife Tammy, his kids, and for his 10 other brothers and sisters, and mom. It is kind of news that knocks the wind out of his many friends, and hits even much closer to home for his family.
Dick was a great guy, and though we have not talked all that often in the last few years.. I consider him a true friend. He was a good man who loved God and his family.
Dick was one of the guys that as a youth I sat with in the Back Pew of the church. He was also one of us guys that could not sing. NONE OF US COULD. We called it the sin of our parents. You know, when the people asked Jesus why a certain man was blind.. was it because of his own sin or the sin of his parents?? Well there was a core group of guys in our church, and NONE were blessed with the ability to sing. Some of us sang… but we pushed THE JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD concept to it’s limits. So the joke among a few of us guys was.. Jesus was it our own sins, or the sin of our parents why we can’t sing? The answer we have concluded.. was.. IT MUST BE OUR PARENTS. Lol
So back to the serious sobering point of these days. Dick was a good man, a good family man, and faithful to God. Though he will be missed.. Dick’s life was a success. Never to trivialize the loss to his family, and friends, but Dick lived his life right.. he loved the Lord, and is in Heaven now. Dick who lived only to be 46 (same age as me) was faithful with the time he had on Earth.
None of us know how long we have here in this world that is a blend of joy and pain. Where there is so much good, and so much tragedy.. so in the end it ETERNALLY makes a difference the choices you make in life. Dick chose wisely.
I pray we are faithful in making the same decision. May the Lord protect each of you.. may he give us all the perspective that is only his.. may his comfort and love be felt by us all, and may we all know Jesus.
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.
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson