I love Matthew 6: 5-15, where Jesus teaches how we should pray, and I return to it often to remind me how I could better pray.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Those are the beautiful calm words of Jesus on prayer and the power of prayer. In contrast this world plows forward without purpose like an rusty old truck without a muffler, blowing it's horn, leaking motor oil while all ready being two quarts low. This world is distracting, and without prayer, without our Lord this life does not go well.
So this brings me to a lazy Saturday morning where I was discussing life with my wife while eating an egg with toast, and drinking my daily allotment of coffee. Mary is a school teacher anxiously preparing for school that starts next week. Also in our conversation Mary shared about a little baby boy born last week with some serious health unknowns. With this in mind and other issues in life we decided we should pray.
As I started to pray out loud, our dog Cooper sniffed over to Mary's breakfast plate she was holding and started licking it. Mary moved the plate across her body, but Cooper was happy to move too. So she then stacked it on the table out of reach. As we chuckled I continued to pray only to be drowned out by loud engine sounds like on a race track from not too far away. There are no race tracks near me but a classic car show was being held that day, and while a classic car show sounds like fun, it was distracting. We chuckled again, then Cooper heard a neighbors car, a chipmunk crossing our yard, and/or maybe a gathering of 'nefarious cat lovers' up to no good at the end of the block. No matter what it was he ran to the door barking. We chuckled again, calmed our dog, and continued to pray.. finally my wife inserted. AMEN.
It was funny, but we did persevere though if there was an angel nearby my wife and I could have been pulled over and ticketed for 'Praying while Distracted'. Sorta like distracted driving for our prayer lives.
Now while this distracted prayer did not fit nicely into the Lord's teachings in Matthew 6 I know this sometimes is how our prayers look. I confess too often my prayers are fit into my day without setting aside a time to be QUIET. Yes this world's dogs may bark, the engines roar, there is 24/7 entertainment and news available to us on our literal fingertips via our smartphones, TV, and the internet calling for our attention, but I know I should do a better job of being quiet, and pursuing God in this quiet.
Again read.. Mt 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I am not at all saying, those quick prayers, and impromptu conversations with God are wrong. I am simply wanting to encourage us to seek our Lord in the quiet without distractions using Matthew 6 as our model. Let the dogs bark, phones rings, and the world rage all while finding God's people quietly pursuing to be obedient to the Lord, and not man.
May God bless each of you with a relationship with Him where your prayers become adoring conversations with our creator. May we seek and are blessed with the quiet alone times with our God knowing He hears our prayers.
Jeff (distracted in the Back Pew) Larson
Now how is that for a catchy title? I can divide my readership all in that one phrase.. IF I meant it.. and I do not. I REPEAT I DO NOT!
No it was not sweeps week in the Christian blog biz, and I did not use this title to roll my eyes ( no holy roller pun intended ) at those who would are a bit more charismatic than me. Truth be told.. WOOD is more charismatic than I am.
You see I was brought up in a wonderful small town little white church (both the building and the people) in Cable Wisconsin.. this is where I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was 6 years old. I appreciate my church upbringing, and the people who made up my church heritage.
The denomination was Christian Missionary Alliance (protestant) which was founded by A.B. Simpson, and like the 'Apostle' John (Denver) sang.. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy!”
So what does any of this have to do with being Pentecostal or charismatic? Literally Nothing.
There was an Assembly of God church in town, and they were the 'other' Christians. There was also a Lutheran, Catholic, and Congregational church.. and truth be told I did not know much about any of them. The funny (not funny) baggage I picked up on was that our church was the good one, and the other churches.. well .. while there I am sure are Christians in those churches.. but my church was the one doing it the right way. This was not taught to me, but this was my tainted perception.
Now fast forward 40+ years from when I accepted Jesus at age 6, and for about a year I found myself attending a small church that would describe themselves as charismatic and Pentecostal.
Doesn’t God have a great sense of humor?
We were there because my daughter Erin had connected with a youth group that is the best I could pray for. In this little charismatic church my daughter was loved and taught to love God and others. Though the energy, hand raising, and some dancing of sorts during worship stretched my comfort zone.. the teaching was down to Earth, AND also recognized the healing and amazing power of God for our lives.
I don’t speak in tongues nor do I pursue it BUT I desire to NEVER PUT A LID ON how God may work, how God may heal, how God may speak, and how God may choose to work through his people or how he may choose to work in me.
You may be wondering where I am going with this.. so here is my point. Just like Republican, or Democrat are labels of man, so is Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Pentecostal, OR any other denomination man's theological labels. Love God with all your heart soul and mind, and love others as you love yourself! These are the greatest commandments, and all other laws and DENOMINATIONS (should be) built on this.
So while being a Christian cartoonist and self proclaimed humorist I do find Charismatics make me smile and roll my eyes sometimes.. but I must be honest that we all are pretty funny in our differences. And.. VIVA LA DIFFERENCE!
One body, many parts.. and plenty of room for those who want to raise their hands, dance, speak in tongues, don’t speak in tongues, cry, laugh, shout halleluiah, shout amen brother, or sit on ample butt while all worshiping God. Our God is big. He is too big to be put into a man made box with any denomination label sticker on it. This is the good news, .. this is GREAT news.
Love God, love others, love yourself.. SMILE MON!! Thus declares Jeff.. Pentecostal in training.
I pray God would bless and use His people as they serve Him. I pray God gives us appreciation for those who obviously love the Lord and serve Him but may worship differently than we do. AGAIN.. The Church is one body, many parts as He designed.
Jeff (hand raiser now sometimes) Larson
Note: Since the original writing of this email, we no longer attend this Pentecostal church, but I pray I never forget the lessons of taking the lid off what is possible when God is present. Is this Pentecostal thinking? Maybe, AND it certainly is biblical.
The Bible in many ways is a RULE BOOK FOR LIFE, but beyond the Bible lists of Dos and Don’ts I find JESUS LOVES ME. Not actually beyond this but wrapped around these rules for life is the truth Jesus loves me.
The Bible also includes many great and powerful acts of God ..
In the Old Testament there was..
In the Gospels Jesus ..
but.. with all these jaw dropping miracles they all are just very loud clanging cymbals with the great truth Jesus loves me and He loves you!
Jesus loves me, this is know.. cute Sunday School song, but.. why would the creator of this world love? It’s a miracle.
While It is nearly impossible to get to know the preacher in any modern day big church (no knock on big) but in contrast our omniscient, omnipresent creator is involved with His creation to the point where all the above mentioned miracles and all the details in between occurring from Genesis 1 through this moment is NOT indifferent to His creation, though mankind often walks the other way, God is always there. <-- side note: I just completed a 72 word run-on sentence of truth.
The words in our Bibles shout the truth of a personal God who loves us enough to send His us his son. From the Old Testament stories of providence, to the gospels of Jesus Christ, to the Acts of the first church, to the Revelations to John of what is to come... these are all LOVE STORIES from a loving God!
An indifferent God would not be so involved or patient with mankind and it's often prone to wonder actions of free will.
So In this 24/7 world of distractions from our creator, let’s realize JESUS LOVES US, and live out in response God's two greatest commandments. Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, and mind and others as yourself.
Jesus love me this I know! Go figure! Peace be Still! Jesus love me this I know! The rest is details.
Jeff (Jesus loves me this I know) Larson
sidepoint: I bought a coffee coaster that says.. Jesus loves you, BUT I'm His favorite. While this is of course not true ( He loves us all the same ) but I thought it was a cute smirky coaster.
Just one day after Jesus Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, we find Jesus suffering with more than just a 'Case of the Mondays'. This special Monday he enters the temple where it was reduced from being God's House of Worship to a first century Holy Land Mini Mall
Of course in my Back Pew way of looking at things I have imagined and illustrated a few of these temple violators. There were The Temple ..
All these and more turned the temple into as Jesus called it "a true den of thieves". So I guess frustrated was a true understatement as I will call Jesus state of mind The Temper in the Temple.
After turning over a few tables Jesus leaves the temple not in the mood for encountering a 'fig-free-fig-tree' which he promptly cursed.
This was a lesson NOT LOST on his disciples.
Jesus, fully God, fully man (He 2:17)
We cannot fathom the mindset of Jesus at this time, but from a human perspective I believe Jesus experienced the elation of his triumphant entry that first Palm Sunday all while knowing that would happen over the next week. While his crucifixion, and resurrection later this week shocked his disciples, this was all a part of The Father's Gospel Plan of Salvation for mankind (see Isaiah 53).
note: If I was Isaiah and I just finished writing Isaiah 53.. I would.. DROP THE MIC!
So Jesus knowing what this week would bring, the shameful conduct in the Temple, and the fig tree bore no fruit were the realities of this sinful and broken world just one day removed from that first Palm Sunday celebration.
These are normal emotions for any of man or woman since Adam & Eve but deeper and more complex for Jesus who knew no sin while being fully God and fully man.
Holy week is one of those times where my silly cartoon images feel out of place as a medium to communicate God's Heart and His truth. My prayer is that these sketches and comments convey the absurdity of man when compared to what is Holy, and NEVER distract from the message of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
May God find us faithful while living in a world of barren fig trees, and churches with tables to be flipped. In all things to God be the Glory.
Back in the day when my wife and I were raising our 3 kids.. attending church was a given.
But.. there were those Sundays (not too many) where we slept in late, or the MinneFROZEta winters were very Minnesota (very cold) like. On those Sundays we might declare 'A Family Day'. A day free from the harried pace of getting 3 kids ready for church, and free of policing the 'energy' of our 3 darlin' kids in the backseat of our car to and from church.
Now on a 'Family Day' we would gather the children, and read a couple Bible stories from this great Picture Bible we had. We would then discuss the story and lessons learned, and take time to pray. Really, we did take time to have real church and it was not used as a 'Get out of Church Free' card.
Now fast forward to the Spring of 2020, and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has us on lockdown. I don't know how long this will last, and not here to argue pandemic v PANICdemic only know this is our new reality.
The good news is in our modern streaming world there is the best church worship, and sermons available from all all the best worship leaders and preachers.
So in our church lockout/down state we are presented with the new and improved 'Family Day'.
They may not call it a Family Day, but hey.. I know Family Day when I see it. And in this new stream all world I can even attend services of my church online.
With this 'Family Day' available my wife and I chose to attend (stream) the 9 AM service.. and to make our attendance even more realistic we were 10 minutes late.
Worship at our church is always good, and we enjoyed watching familiar faces from the worship team lead 4 or 5 familiar songs focusing on God. Worship was not just a label for the time they led us in song, worship was the attitude of their heart. I confess during this time I did not stand or raise my hands, but I did worship.
This was followed by a time where we could participate in giving a tithe and/or offering. Of course no physical or virtual offering plate was passed, but there they still laid on a virtual 'guilt trip'. <insert dramtic pause, and eye roll, and gasp here> KIDDING, KIDDING, there was no pressure to give but instead the true privilege and opportunity to give as another way to worship our God and support the Church we belong to. Also what was nice is that I typically give online to our church and did this per usual.
Next, our pastor shared a sermon that was timely for 'such a time as this' (homebound, stir crazy, with more than a hint of uncertainty).
After the service concluded, my wife and I prayed together. It was time well spent in our Homebound Church state. It was like our old Family Day declarations from years gone by, but this time Family Day was mandated by the Governor of Minnesota.
While we miss attending our church, and pray life returns to normal soon, until then we are thankful for attending our church today in our PJs with bed-hair, with me slumping in my easy chair while drawing cartoons.
May God bless you all during this trying time. I pray God meets your physical and financial needs as well as strengthens your spiritual health.
This can be a time where we trust our God and to seek His will like never before.
This can be a time where we read our Bibles, meditate on it's words, and stay quiet as we listen for God to speak.
Jeff (wearing my 4pm PJs) Larson
Life again reminds me we are all so very busy with days filled and choices to be made. Sometimes I feel like a contestant on the Price is Right TV show and I randomly choose door number #3 today.. and hope for the best.
So to help guide our life decisions I would like to suggest the Closed Fist and Open Hand approach.
But.. a serious dilemma occurs when we mix our Open Hand and Closed Fist views. Just think if an alcoholic who continues to drink, a marriage without fidelity, or if I decide not to pay my bills on time.. or pay them at all. All are a recipe for disaster.
Of course, Open Hand and Closed Fist views are rubbed in our faces when we turn on the evening news where Washington is filled with Closed Fists ready to punch political opponents in the nose.. or lower. I guess this is what Washington calls 'reaching across the aisle'.
Now finally, how's the old Open Hand v Closed Fist working with God's people? From my vantage point, not so good. Just a glance on my Twitter account I could imagine..
Seriously, the church can be a prickly place. Not just your basic Predestined v Free Will, eternal security, or are Infant Baptisms ok debates? There are more serious divisions where when we do not agree on the interpretation of a passage of scriptures then someone must be a HERETIC... when maybe we really don't know and simply disagree. But then to be fair again.. some teachings are heresy.
God save us! No really, GOD SAVE US!
Now take it with a grain of salt that you are reading a blog from 'a grownup' who draws cartoons, but the following is my exhaustive (or exhausting) guide to Closed Fist and Open Hands in the Church.
The reason for writing today's blog was fueled by ongoing battles among well known evangelicals, and then watching the 'Christian' media and 'Christian' social media fanning the flames that divide us.
Of course I do believe in addressing sin and true heresy in the church. BUT.. I pray for a biblical approach.
Sigh.. Maybe from time to time I will just open my clenched fist and slap myself.
I am not positive today's blog is helpful, but the spirit of it is on my heart. May God use my fumbling words to speak truth or the desire for us all to seek truth.
May God bless you in your busy lives. Be true to God, stand for Him, know your Bibles, have good friends, and eat all your veggies. :)
Jeff ( in between a slap, tickle, & a fist fight) Larson
The Wow Factor, I would paraphrase as an experience and/or observation that grabs your attention and holds it.. big time.
When I was young I was a decent athlete, and fell in love with sports. The speed, power, finesse, strategy, and teamwork of great athletes and teams playing to win the game.
The thrill of victory and agony of defeat was the catch phrase for the old Wild World of Sports show, and this all makes me go.. WOW!
It also goes without saying (though I am saying it) I love Art. Ok, not true art.. I love cartoons, and have doodled cartoons ever since age five.
You will never catch me wandering into an art gallery pondering the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, or Leonardo de Vinci, BUT.. I save my WOWs for Gary Larson - The FarSide, Berke Breathed - Bloom County, Bill Watterson - Calvin & Hobbes, and Jim Unger - Herman.
In fact one of my favorite Christmas presents of all time my wife bought me The Complete Farside collection (3 volumes) in hardcover. For most folks this is a waste of time and $$, but for me.. WOW!
Others are enthralled by the world of beautiful music. Personally I enjoy listening to music ranging from Jazz to Rock & Roll, Hymns to modern Worship.
But.. I don't sing so good, can't clap my hands to a beat, or even play a Kazoo. Music is that Wow for many.. but for me I am sorry but I am checking my TV for a game while drawing Back Pew cartoons.
Now as we travel further from the center of my universe we find many looking up at the night sky mesmerized by the stars while our planet orbits around a blazing ball of burning gas and realizing we are only one planet in one galaxy in an ever expanding universe all with order and functioning with more science and math that you could shake a stick at (real old saying that means ALOT) .. and the collective scientific community responds in one voice.. WOW! <-- note this was an 83 word runon sentence.
Did I choose your WOW tirgger? Well no matter if it is science, music, art, sports, or watching the Wheel of Fortune ( big fan of the wheel) realize all WOWs come from our creator. Our Wow moments are real and there is no need to apologize for shouting wow (unless you are in church, or during a funeral).. BUT step out further to realize our God is the source of all things WOW.
If we don't we miss the point of this big ol' Beautiful world. Life is not about me, life is not about my passions and hobbies.. LIFE IS ABOUT OUR GOD, and the worship and adoration he deserves.
How great is our God! WOW!
Thank you God for your amazing creation that is your handiwork, and thank you for your love and grace in this life, and the promise of eternity with you our wonderful creator.
I grew up in a good God fearing church in rural Wisconsin where the people loved and worshiped God. The joy of the Lord was real but if you were raising your hand(s).. they be expectin' you to have a question.
Since then I moved to the big city where more than a smattering of city folk in their city folk churches raise there city folk hands.
So it was only a matter of time for my close to the vest worship styling succumbed to the hand raising masses.
I started with one hand raised slightly about waist high, with a quick look to my left and right to be sure no one was watching me.. cuz I might be doing it wrong. Then one hand raised but still slightly below shoulder height, palm open of course. About 6 months later I ventured out to raise one hand above my head but only for a split second so that no one thinks I just have a question... Then quickly my hand is raised again this time for half a chorus. Finally both hands above my head high like Jesus just ran 80 yards for a touchdown!
My Worship Metamorphosis is complete!
Think of it like learning to ride a bike. You start out with both hands on the on the handle bars.. then try riding with one hand, then finally big and bold you are riding with no hands. Pretty, pretty cool.
Same thing with worship hands. You start out with both hands on the chair or pew in front of you. Then over time you let go with one hand, then finally both hands raised! Warning: The first time I raised both hands I lost my balance and fell over and skinned my shin.
Ok, I have rambled long enough to where I forget again what is true and what I made up for fun. Fact? Fiction? Hmmm, think of it as a 'hybrid of truth'. Truth be told I do not recall falling over during worship, though one of my butt cheeks did fall asleep on a particularly hard chair at our church. But that is a topic for another day..
What I do know that worship is a time to express our adoration to our loving Heavenly Father. Whether I choose to raise my hands, or remain seated with the above risk of a cheek going numb..
Posture is optional, but Heart is essential.
Note: Besides learning to raise my hands during worship I am also an accomplished 'worship watcher' (much like bird watching) always observing and collecting worship stylings. Let me share a few. There is..
Oh there are many more.. but I leave you all with one final request of any fellow 'worship watchers'. Please report back to me any 'creative' worship styling(s) you have observed so I can capture them with my vivid 64 pack of Crayola Crayons.
So until then.. Keep Calm and Worship on!
Jeff (Two Hands Raised High) Larson
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson