Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

He knows my worn out name — May 16, 2019

He knows my worn out name

James Ray Johnson

The coach sometimes calls the little leaguers by their numbers.   “Way to go 10.”  “Good eye 32.”  “Grip the other end of the bat 18.”  It seems like a science fiction baseball team: the Cy Young Cyborgs.

A name is important.  When someone remembers and uses our name it tells us that we matter to them.  But we rub elbows with hundreds of people every day who don’t know us.  Some should – like my boss.  Does he really think calling me “bub” will do?   And why does my wife sometimes slip and call me Sam?  Hey, wait didn’t she used to date a Sam? 

When I served as a pastor, I made it a point to try to remember names. Some made us their church home only because I remembered their name from their first visit.

My name is ridiculously common: James Ray Johnson.  Take my last name for instance.  There are over 2 million of us.  It ranks second only to Smith.  My first/last name combo ranks #10. 

I, therefore, prefer to use my full name.  But the Dallas phone book once listed 27 James Ray Johnsons.  (NOTE: a phone book is like a paper contact list). 

Two of us lived in the same apartment complex with the same street number. I got a nasty note from a collection agency that was intended for him.  I told them, “That’s not me – my social security number is….”   Hey-maybe the coach was on to something. 

Add to those 27 listings, variations like James R.; J.R.; J. Ray; Jim; Jimmy Ray: Jim R.; etc. and you have thousands of people in Dallas alone who could be me.  The commonality can be a problem.   When I go through customs I occasionally get detained because one of us has robbed a bank somewhere.

But it has its advantages too.  When I send a friend request on Facebook, even to a total stranger, it is almost always accepted because everyone knows someone named James Johnson.  Plus – it might be coming from the one who plays for the Miami Heat.

Another advantage – no one is interested in stealing my boring identity. 

Some have tried to improve on my name.  I preached at a crusade in Haiti just after their president was violently ousted.  We arrived to find leaflets and banners plastered everywhere with my name and picture: Predikate’ Jim Johnson Bush.  (see picture above) The Haitian who organized the event chose to make me a member of the family of then president George W. Bush.  He hoped it would keep the nasties away.  It worked.  I probably ought to give old Bubba a call and thank him.   

My name worries me a little.  When the roll is called up yonder and they say, “James Johnson,” how will that work?  Will all 2 million of us rush the podium in a frantic panic to get in?  “Master is it I?” 

Without a doubt, the most important thing about my name is that Jesus knows it.  John 10:3 says, “The sheep hear His voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” NET Bible®. 

Back in Jesus day, shepherds named their sheep even as we name our pets, based on their appearance or personality or circumstances at their birth. 

In the morning the shepherd would go to the communal sheepfold and gather his particular sheep for a day of grazing.  He would summon them by name, “Come on fluffball and chipper. Let’s go stormy.” 

As names were called, heads would lift, and happy feet would move toward the shepherd who led them out of the filthy, cramped, barren fold into lush green meadows.

How sweet and utterly personal.  My shepherd knew my name before I ever entered His flock and He used it, my very name – to call me to Himself.  The person that matters most – knows my name.  It is recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20) and He is smart enough to know which James Johnson is which. (2 Timothy 2:19).

He knows your name as well.  Have you heard Him and followed? If you want to discuss it, go to the contact page on this blog and shoot me an email.  I promise to respond.  – Yours truly, James Ray Johnson.

———

Treat yourself to this classic Maranatha tune, “He Knows My Name.” 

what if God chewed tobacco? — May 1, 2019

what if God chewed tobacco?

Jim Johnson – 773 words

I was new to Dallas and had just landed a well-paying job as a casual – unloading semi-trailers. As a casual, I would call into work each evening and if there was enough freight that day, I was given the green light to come in. Being a casual was perfect because I was also doing school. Not a problem to skip a day at the dock because there was always another casual who was eager to work.

The foreman hailed from west Texas. He had a drawl that reached to Lubbock and back. My northern ears had not yet adjusted. On top of that, he typically had a plug of tobacco tucked in his cheek. It was easier to put socks on a rooster than to understand him when he spoke.

My first day, he handed me a clipboard with the number of the truck that I was to unload and then he spoke to me. It sounded like, “slurburshebedee.” I said, “What?” He repeated, “slurburshebedee!” I asked again and evidently crossed a line. There was fire in his eyes and a rivulet of tobaccy juice oozing from the corner of his mouth. I saved myself by saying, “Oh I got it,” as if I understood, and then went to my truck.

This became our ritual. He would speak a couple of words, and I would pretend that I understood. But one day, he came to my truck and wanted to chat. Oh no! He spoke – I tried to decode. When he paused, I figured he had come to the end of a sentence, so I would nod my head yes, or chuckle, or say “I bet.” He could have been telling me that his wife had just died, and I chuckled and said, “I bet.” Two minutes later he was gone. Looked like I pulled it off again.

The next day I had a test at school, so I didn’t call in at work. The day after, I did, and was given the green light. But when I reported to the foreman, there was fire in his eyes again. I got the message this time. That day in the truck, he had asked me to become a regular and work full time. I nodded yes, so he told me to report the next day – which I didn’t, and he was not happy. I kept my job as a casual, but only for a couple weeks more. My loss!

Soooo – what if God had a cheek stuffed with Red Man Chew? What if He spoke so that every one-syllable word had two? What if John 3:16 read as, “slurburshebedee?”

Fortunately for us, God spoke with crystal clarity in His Word. It is so clear that it is to be used as a precision tool, like a lathe, to shape us (2 Tim 3:16-17). Is there anything unclear about the words, “You shall not steal?”

Though clear, we still hear a muddled message. Jesus said of His disciples, “You have ears but are unable to hear.” (Mark 8:18). This is because we allow our preconceptions and self-centered conditions to confuse His message. We want God to say what we want to hear, which keeps us from really hearing what He has said.

The better way is to lay aside our personal baggage, take His Word at face value and respond in an appropriate way.

As a pastor, I found that a sermon on giving was about as welcome as an outhouse breeze. (We say that in Texas!) But I’m not a pastor now and I ain’t got a dog in this fight (we say that too!) So, let me use giving as an example.

God spoke about it in 2 Cor. 9. There He said, “The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Cor 9:6) NET Bible® His point: The one who generously gives their money toward God’s purposes, will be generously blessed by God (and vice versa)

The truth is clear – but we muddle it up: “That’s not what it means” or “that was a promise given exclusively to the Corinthians” or “I can honor God in other ways” – or whatever.

Not cool. The better way is to lay aside our personal baggage, take His Word at face value and respond in an appropriate way no matter the issue.

It has taken some time, but now, not only do I understand a Texas drawl, I can speak it. Ya’ll hear? But with God, I am still working on listening clearly and responding fully.

And should my beloved former boss be a reader, may I say, “slurburshebedee!”

right field! —

right field!

Jim Johnson – 687 words

I have two grandsons who began little league this year.  Their mom equipped them with more gear than the Rangers on opening day.  Give me one reason why every kid needs his own batting helmet?  OK – besides head lice?

Unfortunately, both boys started the program late in the game (no pun intended).  Their peers have been playing for years.  (Some already have the scratch down).  My boys are seriously improving every day, but they started out being exiled to the bane of baseball players everywhere – right field.

For fun, I googled this question: “Why is right field so bad?”  Wikipedia weighed in.  “Right field has developed a reputation in Little League as being a position where less talented players can be “hidden” without damaging a team’s defense in any significant way.”  A lofty ambition!  “Hey coach I want to go in.  Hide me where I won’t damage the teams defense in any significant way.” 

The ball hardly ever makes it to right field and every right fielder knows it.  I chuckle as I watch the many right fielders bear their boredom in the uttermost part of the field.  One twists like a contortionist, another gazes into the sky and another lays down in the fields of clover.

I sheepishly admitted to my son-in-law that I am the carrier of the right field gene.  I earned the position in my kindergarten year.

I filled up the boredom by pretending my glove was an army helmet, or by spectating at the spectators, or by stomping on bees who were sipping from the clover.  Yes, I am the one who is singularly responsible for the decline of the bee population.  

When I heard the crack of the old ash bat, I would look for projectiles coming my way.  No worries!  T-ball had not been invented yet and it was kid pitch all the way.  The chances of a kid throwing a strike, and another getting a hit were about the same as me getting signed to the Phillies. 

One shimmery bright afternoon, the coach sent me in to stomp on bees.   The score was – me seven – the bees zero.  Then I heard the bat pop and the spectators scream.  I looked up to find every eye locked on me. I panicked as I scanned the field for the ball.   

I found it – or actually – it found me.  I looked up and it hit me right on the head.  When I came to, I was surrounded by my dad, the coaches, Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1932 Yankees.  It’s possible the hit addled my brain a little.  Maybe my dad wasn’t actually there.

A painful lesson learned:  You can’t play the game unless you pay attention.

I have graduated from little league, but I am still in the game.  The visiting team maybe dressed in red (and I am not talking about the Cardinals).  Paul the apostle tells me that the evil one sends flaming arrows my way (Eph. 6:16).  He referenced the weapon of the Roman legions – hollow cane arrow shafts, filled with flammables to devastate their enemies. 

Satan launches his arrows of temptation and deceit to defeat and trip us up.  When we bat, he pitches low and outside and suckers us into swinging.   When his arrows find their target, it puts him on the scoreboard. 

Paul told us to pay attention, “by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  (Eph. 6:16) NETBible®  He referred to the Roman scutum, a wooden shield the size of a door.  It was covered in layers of leather which were thoroughly wetted before battle.  It effectively intercepted and extinguished flaming arrows. 

We have a shield. Because of our faith in Christ, we have the wisdom to discern truth from error, and the power to resist Satan’s worst.

Someone, however, must hold up that shield, pay attention and be ready for battle.  Someone must take their eyes off the bees and keep them on the game.  The flaming arrows come even to those who play right field. 

a fire to forget — April 24, 2019

a fire to forget

Jim Johnson – 768 words

I was 17, had my own car and I was pretty cool.  I was also delusional because my car was a used-up 1960 Plymouth – the kind my grandma drove.  But – it was my car, and I was going cruising.  I cranked the windows open, hit the push button that said Drive, and then watched the bar graph odometer track my speed.  (It was a crazy car.) 

Because I drove a 1960 Plymouth, I felt I seriously needed to improve my cool factor, I, therefore, began smoking.  So, there I was on the interstate with the windows down, the radio blaring and a cigarette hanging from my lips. 

I finished my smoke, and even though there was a perfectly fine ash tray conveniently located in the dash, I threw the cigarette butt out my window. (It was more cool that way)  Minutes later I began to smell smoke.  The breeze blew the butt back into the car and my car seat ignited!!!

60 miles an hour, in the center lane of a 3-lane highway thick with cars – and my seat was on fire.  Where’s a rest stop when you need it?   One hand gripped the wheel, while the other frantically beat down the flame.  It finally died but the fire left a big smoldering crater in my fine upholstery.  

Being cool became more complicated after that.  It was hard to find a date that was willing to sit in a charred crater.

That was a fire I will never forget!

Peter also had a fire he would never forget. 

It burned in the courtyard of the high priest on a chilly evening while Jesus was being bullied by his captors.  John was careful to call it a “charcoal fire.” (John 18:18) 

Charcoal is the residue of wood that has been burned in an oxygen deprived environment.  To produce it, you would build a teepee of logs, kindle a fire in it, cover it with soil and then let it smolder for five days. 

The impurities would burn off leaving pure black carbon.   Charcoal was valued because it was 1/5th the weight of wood, created a controlled burn, produced greater heat and it was smokeless.   The cost of the labor involved, however, made it a commodity that only the wealthy – such as the priests could enjoy.

The scent of the roasting charcoal filled Peter’s senses as he warmed himself that night.  It was in the glow of that fire that Peter denied knowing Jesus.

The rooster call exposed his duplicity and reduced him to shame.  There could be no forgiveness for such disloyalty.

Peter began to move away from Jesus.  He was absent at His crucifixion and even His burial.  The resurrection should have changed everything, but it didn’t.  In fact, Peter decided to leave the life of a disciple and go back to commercial fishing. 

He and the others spent the night fishing but caught nothing.  A silhouette from shore told them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat.  They did, and they caught enough to sink it.

Peter sensed it was Jesus and that He seemed to be reaching out to him despite the past.  He moved toward Him, but as he drew near, he was stunned to smell that familiar odor again.  “When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread.”  (John 21:9) -NET Bible®

The experts say that odors evoke memory better than any other trigger.  The smell-analyzing part of the brain is near to the region that handles memory and emotion.  And don’t we know it!  The smell of fresh baked goods takes us back to grandma’s happy kitchen, while the smell of sweaty socks evokes the angst of 7th grade gym class.

Another charcoal fire!  There are only 2 references to this specific kind of fire in the Bible. Peter was present for both.  This was a divinely devised set up!

The sight and scent of that fire smelled like failure to Peter which is what Jesus intended.  It was a necessary prelude to reconciliation.   Jesus asked, “Peter do you love me or not?”  Peter contritely backspaced over his three denials by offering three affirmations of his devotion to Jesus.  “You know I love you.”

Reconciled!  Peter then went on to become a fierce and faithful witness for Jesus.

The Lord went to considerable trouble and expense to jar the memory of his erring child – to see him reconciled.   Could He also have a charcoal fire kindled for you?

______________

Treat yourself to this classic song of reconciliation: Man After Your Won heart: Gary Chapman (not Doctor)

________

the muttonmen — April 17, 2019

the muttonmen

James Ray Johnson – 713 words

He was sitting at the table working on his history homework.  The 10-year-old began to recite the facts to his mom about the renown muttonmen.  She wasn’t a history buff, but even she knew there was something about the muttonmen that just didn’t smell right.   

Muttonmen?  Was this a collective term for shepherds?  Was King David a muttonman?   Or was it an order of monks from the middle ages who swore off beef for Lent.   Maybe they lived on Drury Lane?  (Oh do you know the muttonman, the muttonman, the muttonman?)

She checked his book and found that he had misread the word “minutemen.”  He felt quite sheepish but it could have been worse.  He might have read it as mulletmen – which is an assembly of Billy Ray Cyrus imitators. 

It’s not unusual to misread something.   It happens with the crucifixion of Christ.  Many consider it an accident – not what was intended.  The betrayal, the mock trial, the spineless Pontius Pilate – all sad happenstance that unfortunately resulted in a great man dying in a gruesome way. 

I was rereading the story recently and was fascinated with the details.  “Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)  – Matthew 27:50-53 NET Bible®   

There were three spectacular things that happened the moment Christ died. 

There was a curtain in the temple that kept the people from the presence of God.  It was 30’ by 60’ and as thick as the palm of a hand.  It took 300 priests to hang it.  Yet, the Father reached down from heaven and ripped that massive thing from the top to the bottom.  Because of Christ, there was no more separation.

There was a colossal quake as well.  The Father had used earthquakes in the past and will use them again in the last days to focus the wandering eyes of humanity on what He is doing.  The experts tell us not to run during an earthquake – because – well – the ground is moving.  An earthquake was God’s way of getting people to stop and to think. 

And then there was the mass resurrection.  Tombs were opened and the dead who had believed were raised and then visited Jerusalem before they departed for heaven.  

Think of it!   The family sits down to eat, when grandpa, (who had been dead for 6 months) walks in and takes his place at the table.  He says grace and then says, “pass the hummus.”

There were miracles that also accompanied the resurrection of Christ, but not as many, and certainly not as physically grand and public. 

So why, then, why did the Father bother?  Why the dramatic signs at Christ’s death?  

Maybe because it seemed to most everyone – disciple and disparager alike, that the Father had simply abandoned His Son.  After three years of breathtaking, heaven-empowered miracles – Jesus appeared to have died a helpless pathetic death.

I suspect that the Father agonized in heaven as it happened to His boy. 

But the second Jesus gave up His spirit, the Father sent His spectacular signs as if to say, “Not true what you think.  Jesus has not been abandoned.  He was never helpless and this was certainly not an unfortunate accident, but rather our essential plan all along.  (Acts 2:23)

The old hymn asks, “What can take away my sin?”  The answer “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”   Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  Christ was compelled by His love for us to go to the cross. 

Easter is coming.  Your spot in the pew is still warm from last year.  But on the way to Sunday, don’t let Good Friday pass without breathing a prayer of thanks for the way in which Christ has loved us. 

Hey, you might even want to attend a Good Friday service at the church of your choice.  And if the preacher asks who sent you.  Tell him “the muttonman!”

______Take a moment to share this good news with a friend______

A hymn to brighten your day: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Guitar: Jim Johnson

bound to set free — April 10, 2019

bound to set free

Jim Johnson – 654 words

The word “helpless” fits.  We were at the nursing home visiting my grandmother.  Our kids said an obligatory hello to her and then went to wait in the lobby.  There is only so much cheek-pinching a kid can take. 

Time to check on them.  From a distance I saw the boys teasing the caged dove that sat on the coffee table.  I was about to rescue the bird and reprimand my boys, when one of the aged residents shuffled up behind my ten-year-old son K.C. 

He froze, thinking it was my hand on his shoulder – thought he got caught.   But then she uttered words that brought an even greater dread, “I got to go to the pot!”

She grabbed his hand and began to drag him off to the women’s bathroom as she frantically and loudly repeated, “I got to go to the pot.”  “I got to go to the pot.”   She mistook him for an aide.  Her frantic became his, times ten.

I watched from the distance with shock and amusement.  He looked back and saw me as she pulled him forward.  The angst on his face pleaded with me to intervene.   I just couldn’t. It was too, too rich.  (OK so I am not the most compassionate dad.)  Fortunately, she ended up dragging him over to the office where they came to her (and his) rescue. 

Helpless!  That’s what he was feeling.

I wonder if Jesus felt that way?  He was led away to a worse situation.  I was reading again of His last few hours and came across this, “Then Annas sent him, still tied up, to Caiaphas the high priest.”  (John 18:24) -NET Bible®

Jesus was being shuttled to the high priest to face a kangaroo court.  He was escorted by soldiers and His hands were tightly bound with rope to keep Him from grabbing a sword and breaking free.  He wasn’t going to make bail. 

So ridiculous and unnecessary!   He had freely surrendered to the authorities at Gethsemane. And yet His hands were bound. 

Those hands had such a history.  His newborn hands once rested in the soft sheltering hands of His mother.  They were later calloused by the work of a carpenter.  Those hands touched and healed the untouchable skin of a leper.  They were laid on a coffin to bring life to the dead boy within.  Mothers brought their children to be touched by Him and even at Gethsemane He picked up a severed ear from the dirt and restored it to His foe.

But – those hands were now bound up and out of business.

The hands of the priests “slapped Him.”   The hands of Pontius Pilate were washed as if his guilt could be dissolved, but Jesus’ hands were bound. 

We typically use our eyes to look, before we use our hands to grab.  The eyes help a person to see the immediate future and prepare for it.  Now psychologists have found that when our hands are tied, our eyes are also tied.  When we cannot use our hands, our eyes cease to look ahead.   Not true of Jesus.  His hands were bound but His eyes were on the objective before Him.

He chose to ascend Calvary hill.  He then laid down on a rough-hewn beam and stretched out His hands to be pierced with cold steel.  By those hands He was suspended in agony until He finally uttered, “It is finished!” And He died.  

BUT He was not helpless.  This was all according to His plan.  This was a “must” for Him (Matt 16:21-22) and a must for us as well, for it is by His suffering, that we are healed.    

Once raised again, He offered His pierced hands as proof that He was the Son of God and that His redemptive work was complete.

What some might regard as helplessness, He meant as help-for-us.  He was bound to set us free.  

______

I enjoy playing hymns on the classical guitar.  Here is a recording of one of my favorites.  O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus.  Enjoy!

O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus. Guitar: Jim Johnson

truthful tots — April 2, 2019

truthful tots

Jim Johnson – 749 words

I am a grandparent who proudly wears the name Papaw.  My wife was named by our first grandson who dubbed her “Mammo” which means that when a grandkid gets a birthday card from her, it’s a mammogram. 

The little ones make me laugh and sometimes think.

My 4-year-old granddaughter was exploring her nose and was mining it with the intensity of a 49er during the gold rush.   It went from there into her mouth.  Her mother, the science major, decided to teach her that this is not something that children do.  (This was her first born – she didn’t know any better.)   Using biology, she explained how God made our bodies to expel those nasty boogers because they were full of pollen, dirt and germs.  The girl replied, “But I think they’re delicious!”  Now there is an honest young lady.

“Stolen waters are sweet.”  That’s how Solomon described the irony.  It’s crazy.  When we reach for something we know we shouldn’t have or do something we know we shouldn’t do – we are rewarded with a brief sweet sensation.  Sin excites us and delights us – it tastes good to us.  It is delicious!  A guy cheats on his wife because of it.  A girl steals a debit card because of it. 

Sin may be sweet, but it is most definitely not good for us.  Solomon continued, “Stolen waters are sweet, and food obtained in secret is pleasant!  But they do not realize that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.” (Proverbs 9:17-18, NET Bible).

He argued that sin always, always has a cost – a broken marriage, maybe jail, sometimes even death.  In fact, always death, when you consider the deadness and guilt that comes to the soul that defies God.   

The collections person called, to tell me, a pastor, that I was behind on my bill.  This wasn’t good.  It tasted bitter to me, so I opted for something sweeter.  I replied, “Oh yes I just mailed the check today.”  

There – that felt a lot better – but then it didn’t.  An inky haze of guilt began to suffocate me – because – I had lied to her.  I really did – and me a pastor!  I couldn’t believe it.  By God’s grace, I summoned the courage to say, “Hey, I am sorry, I just lied to you. I will put the check in the mail as soon as I hang up.”   Believe me that moment of sweetness was not worth the shame that followed.

Not long ago I was taught by another 4-year-old.  My grandson sat down beside his mammo with a Danish sugar cookie in hand – the kind topped with big glittering crystals.  He’s a deep thinker – probably will teach philosophy one day.  After contemplating his crystal coated cookie, he confided to mammo, “I am going to call these salt because I am not allowed to eat sugar.” 

He was so dishonestly honest!  Change the name or the perception and the taboo becomes yahoo – and this is what we do?  A guy told himself that he was borrowing a friend’s bike, but then he later sold it and pocketed the money.  Isn’t that what we used to call stealing?  She has a problem telling the truth, but when she gets caught she tells herself it was just a misunderstanding – another lie!

I remember borrowing a Bible when I was a teen.  I scoured it to prove to a friend and to myself that the Bible had nothing to say about sex outside of marriage.  I was right!  Permission granted!  It wasn’t until my vocabulary had grown and my conscience had become tender that I learned the word fornication – the biblical word for sex outside of marriage.  Oops!  God was and always has been against it after all.  

My grandson was ridiculously honest about what he was doing.  But, many of us are so practiced in our charade that we have come to believe the lies we live.  I wish I could tell you one of the many stories of sin that I have seen and have counseled as a pastor.  Out of concern for those people (and my allergy to lawsuits) I will not.  But I can be candid about my own sad experiences and tell you that sin is nothing to mess with.  

To paraphrase the words of my daughter in law “God made our souls to expel such stuff.”

Anyone need a tissue?

__________

For the record, Jesus is God’s primary solution for our sin.  Listen to the lyrics of a hymn that my daughter and I put together – “Tis So Sweet.”

bite the onion — March 27, 2019

bite the onion

James Ray Johnson – 650 words

I was a youth pastor in Texas, working with a budget that was slightly less than what a Texan spends on snow shovels.  What I lacked in funds I tried to make up in fun.  So, this night we were playing “bite the onion.”  

I sat the kids in a circle and placed the biggest, strongest, hottest onion I could buy, in the hands of a boy.  The rules: pass it around the circle until the music stops.  If the onion stops with you, then you must truthfully answer a question from the one who just passed it to you.  You can refuse to answer, but if you do, you must take a bite out of the onion. 

Eye of the Tiger began to pulsate (It was the eighties – OK) and the onion zipped around the circle like a hot potato.  (Oops I mixed my metaphors or my vegetables or something.)   Then I stopped the cassette. (Like I said, it was the 80’s) Sadie got stuck with the onion (the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed).  She was asked, “Do you still sleep with your stuffed Orca?”  “Yes, I do” she defiantly declared.

More music – then it stopped with Blaine.  “Blaine, did you take a shower yesterday?”  Without hesitating he took the first chunk out of the onion, and then ran for some water to wash away the burn (and maybe his body odor).  

The evening got increasingly less truthful and the onion, much smaller.  It stopped with Angie this time.  “Do you have a crush on Billy Bob?”  (which isn’t a fair question because a quarter of the males in Texas go by Billy Bob.)  But, everyone knew this one.  He was sitting in the circle. 

Angie turned every shade of red.  She refused to answer BUT she also utterly abhorred onions.  She was stuck – the game stopped – and the mob grew restless.   They chanted their demand, “Bite the onion – bite the onion.”  

Suddenly, Cathy ran to her, seized the onion and took a big crunchy bite.  The mob was stunned to silence.   What just happened?  Evidently, she cared enough for Angie to bite the onion for her.

The group decided that the rules had been met, the onion had been bitten and Angie was free of her obligation. 

The story was a gift.  I later used it to explain to the teens what Jesus has done for us.  In the end, each of us will be left holding the onion because each of us has violated God’s instructions. His ultimate rule is, “the one who sins must die.”  I sensed Angie’s angst – holding the onion and knowing that it has earned a penalty that would be a terror to pay.

But Jesus came forth and grabbed our onion of death and buried His teeth in it for us.  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 6:6-8) -NET Bible®

I reminded the kids that some of us try to vainly earn the approval of God.  Angie simply released the onion and let Cathy take and eat it.  Not much more is required when it comes to Jesus.  Acts 10:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”  -NET Bible®

The story of the onion helped them to see their need for Jesus.  Some chose to believe in Him and receive the gift of forgiveness He offered.

If you are still holding on to your onion, maybe it’s time to release it and let Jesus handle it.  He is anxious to take care of it for you. 

—————-

If you have 4 more minutes, pull up this video of Mark Mitchum (a deaf man) who signs the song, “What Sin?”  The message of the song and his fluid expressive movements still cause me to tear up.  (even without an onion) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AynCUpZya2s

a panda predicament — March 20, 2019

a panda predicament

James Ray Johnson – 671 words

We were driving by Panda Express when my 5-year-old grandson asked, “Papaw, what do they serve there?”  So, I asked him, “Well what do they serve at Burger King?”  “Burgers!” he said.  “And what do they serve at Taco Bell?”  “Tacos!”   “And what do they serve at Pizza Hut?” “Pizza!”  “So, what do you think they serve at Panda Express?”   – – He took the bait and was ready for us to stop in and have a Panda paddy! 

He exercised his judgment.  He considered the facts and came to a reasonable, but wrong conclusion.

It’s a goofy story and yet a good reminder that I should be cautious with and even question my judgment.  This is especially true when it comes to others.   Many are obsessed with judging the behavior, attitudes and looks of one another.   I don’t know why you do it, but I do it because it has a perverse way of making me feel better about me.   Is that sad or what? 

But this judgment thing is pretty much like spitting in the wind.  It comes back to splatter us in the most disgusting ways.

Jesus spoke to the issue when He said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.  Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?”  (Matt 7:1-3) -NET Bible®

Well why not Jesus?  Why shouldn’t we judge one another?

– because we may not have all the facts.  Yes, the guy looks like a thug but he could be an undercover cop! 

– because we seldom know a person’s motives.  Your friend refuses to visit your church.  Such a heathen!  What you don’t know is that she doesn’t own a churchy dress and is afraid she’ll embarrass you in front of your churchy friends.  

– because our judgment can be skewed.  Which skew belongs to you?  “The most responsible parent educates their kids” 1) at home; 2) in a private school 3) or in a public school.”  Hey, there’s something in my eye.  It’s a redwood and it makes it hard to see the speck in yours.

– because we have guilt of our own.  Oops!  I just drove through a red light!   I wonder if that other driver is cussing me the way I would have cussed him?   Oh so that’s what Jesus meant when He said, “judge not lest you be judged?”

– because judgment is the work of government.   OK someone needs to be in charge!  God gave that job to government (hard to believe but it’s true).  Government creates laws; nabs the law breaker; and the court renders judgment as to guilt.  (Romans 13:1-7). 

– because judgment is ultimately the work of God.  I can relax.  One day God will wisely and fairly judge my neighbor for the choices he has made in this life.  (2 Corinthians 5:10)   Fantastic – except – I will be next in line as The Judge renders His judgment on we who judge. 

Lori Loughlin played the role of Aunt Becky on the TV show Full House.  She has been accused of paying to have her daughter’s SAT scores altered so that her girl could beat out other kids in the race for a place at college.

There has been a mixed response from her peers.  Uncle Jesse wants to whisk her out of town on his Harley.  Danny has volunteered to provide states evidence, and uncle Joey is asking the FBI to “Cut – it – out!”  Everyone seems to be in a rush to judge.

Slow down!  Maybe she was part of a sting operation; or maybe she thought she was buying some tutoring, or maybe she fully understood what she was doing.  Who knows for sure?  Better we allow the justice system and God to handle it!

In the meantime, I’m hungry.  Let’s break out those Panda paddies?

_________

Casting Crowns handled the issue well in their song Jesus, Friend of Sinners. Check out the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJXIugwiN7Q

twinkie tutor — March 13, 2019

twinkie tutor

James Ray Johnson – 752 words

Football practice was brutal that day!  I was 11 years old and truly believed I had to get something to eat or I would die.  So, I went to Elbon’s, the corner store, named after the owner.  I think that was his first name, but maybe his last.  I don’t know!   I plunked down a quarter and bought two packages of Hostess Twinkies.  (Oh, like you have never done that!)  I was excited!  2 packages of 2, for a total of 4 delectable tubes of cream-filled sponge cake. All mine!

I left the store and with trembling fingers, tore into the crinkly cellophane of the first package.  And then, the saddest thing happened.  I fumbled with the twinkie and helplessly watched as it tumbled out (along with its brother). 

I tried to catch them, but with two falling at once, I looked like a twinkie juggler who didn’t make the cut on America’s Got Talent.  Both ended up on the dirty gritty sidewalk below.

Tragic to be sure.  Two twinkies had perished BUT thankfully I still had my second package.  So, as you might expect, I wound up and threw it, with all my might, at the brick exterior of Elbon’s.  And they stuck, reduced to a yellow and white Rorschach blot on the wall.  There!  I taught those naughty Twinkies a lesson.  They’ll never do that to me again.   

It sort-of felt good, for about a half a millisecond, until I was stunned by my own stupidity.  I ended up with zero Twinkies and with no money left to buy more.   I lost one package, and my anger caused me to destroy the other – leaving me nothing.   

Why did I do that?  I don’t know!  I had red hair and was known to have, what they call in the south, “a red-headed temper.”  It was even said of Anne Shirley of Green Gables (from up north) “her temper matches her hair.”  Can I blame it on my genes?

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I realized that this was ridiculous a pattern in my life.  I would lose one thing then let my anger steal the rest.   Solomon captured the dynamic in Proverbs 19:19, “A person with great anger bears the penalty.”  (NET Bible®) 

A friend promised to play tennis with me.  He bailed so I, “unfriended him.”  Which really wasn’t a thing back then – but I did it anyway.  How dumb.  I took a really rewarding relationship and trashed it because I didn’t get my way.  Sure, he was insensitive and, yes, we needed to talk – but I let my anger nuke that possibility.

And there was the time my boss crossed me, so I quit in a snit; or the time my car broke down for the 6th time, so I defied it by driving it to the junkyard and selling it for pennies on the dollar; or the time my dad hurt me, and I returned the favor.   Each scenario just as dumb as my Twinkie trauma.  I lost one thing then let my anger steal the rest.

I am glad that Jesus finally got a hold of me.   With His Spirit in control, my frequent “outbursts of anger” have been upstaged by long spans of “self-control.”  (Galatians 5:20-23)

My hair is now white, and yet there is still red-headed DNA lurking in the roots.  When I am not walking with Jesus, my temper is the first thing to show.    

My Twinkie tale, however, has become a great asset.  I dutifully but shamefully confessed it to my three children when they were little and then used it against them as needed.  When my teen threw a fit because she had to be home at ten, I would say, “Do you really want to throw away your other Twinkie?” She would back down thinking, “I don’t want to be as dumb as dad was.”   I also use the story with my grand kids which is necessary because the red-headed gene keeps popping up in my family.  And you are welcome, as well, to throw me under the bus and use the story with your progeny.

The story also gives me a chance to make you chuckle and to remind you that we all have our own anger issues.  Be careful!  Anger is often reckless and always costly!   “Better to be slow to anger than to be a mighty warrior.”  (Proverbs 16:32) NET Bible®

Oh, and Mr. Elbon, sorry about the Twinkie stain on your wall!

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