Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

the snare of an airbnb — October 13, 2021

the snare of an airbnb

She wanted to visit Israel with her family – a whole month viewing the various historic sites.  So, she looked for an Airbnb.  She found an entire house in the town of Bethlehem at a ridiculously low price.

But just before she clicked the purchase button, she realized that Bethlehem was located in the Gaza strip – a place that often exchanges rockets with Israel and where you might find that the neighbor next door drives a truck bomb for a living.  But – you can get a killer deal on an Airbnb.

Where we settle matters!

Psalm 1 is in agreement. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”  (1:1) KJV

To be “blessed” is to be happy.  I am thinking we all want to be happy.  To get that, we are advised to be careful where we settle.

The Psalmist illustrates with an example of a man who has the habit of strolling along with the wrong kind of folks.  This together time begins to reshape his values. 

He once thought that the sanctity of marriage was a given, but the video he streams treats extramarital sex as common place.  Even his friends do it.  Over time, his moral compass began to skew.

His walking gave way to standing – in the path of sinners.   Not only is he comfortable with things that he once regarded as sin, he now takes a stand in their defense.   He finds reasons to justify extramarital sex (if only to justify himself.)   

First walking, then standing, then comes sitting – with the scornful. 

We sometimes use the phrase “to sit in judgment.”  This verse suggests that he too was sitting in judgment – mocking those who held to the moral truths that he once embraced.  He had mutated into the person, about whom he was forewarned.

He settled in a neighborhood more dangerous than the Gaza strip. 

He walked, he stood, he sat – but his journey was not over. 

The Psalmist goes on to say, “The ungodly….are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.  Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment….”   (1:4-5)

This person will be driven away, like wheat chaff in the wind – no undergirding values to keep him rooted.  And though he once stood in the path of sinners, he will not be able to stand up to God’s eventual judgment.

Not a lot of happiness there.  The happy part is in verse 2.  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”

In contrast – the happy person delights not in the company of the wicked, but in the Word of God.  He makes it a daily priority.

This person also walks – but with God.  He stands as well – but upon the things God has revealed.  Rather than sitting in judgment on the truth, this person allows the truth to – to be the judge of his own attitudes and behavior. 

Unlike the scornful, “…he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”  (1:3)

Well-watered, fruitful, evergreen and prosperous!  Those are the benefits that come to those who delight in the Word of God. 

So, I just open the Bible, read a chapter and my world will instantly shift?  Not quite. 

It takes 40 or so years to go from an acorn to a mature oak.  Forty years of daily drawing water and nutrients from the soil and rays from the sun.   A healthy tree, however, can endure and bear acorns for hundreds of years. 

And so it is with the Word of God.  We must draw from its resources daily.  The health that is produced and the growth that comes won’t be immediately perceptible – but like an oak, we will surely grow strong and stand tall.

So be careful where you settle.  Find an easy chair and open your Bible.  

A PRAYER: Lord, my life is ridiculously busy, so help me to carve out 15 minutes each day for Your Word.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

talk-to-text — October 6, 2021

talk-to-text

I am frequently misunderstood by my I-phone.  I have tried in vain to use the talk-to-text feature.   I have spoken slowly and precisely, annunciating every word, but after the phone has processed my message, it looks like a monkey had keyed it in.  I have offended many by sending before proofing. 

It must have something to do with the pitch of my voice.   I have learned that if I dictate my message in a – high-pitched Mickey Mouse kind of voice – it captures my speech perfectly. 

But those who might be with me, and hear me do this, well they laugh and think I’m goofy – and not the Mickey Mouse variety. 

____________________

According to Scripture we human beings are just as handicapped as my phone.  God has spoken to us in the past, but we haven’t always understood Him correctly.

There is an episode from the life of Israel that helps us to understand why.  They had just left Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai.  Exodus 20:18 says this…

“All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it, they trembled with fear and kept their distance.”   The people were gathered there to meet with and hear from God, but there was a problem according to verse 19. 

“They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.”   They didn’t want to hear God’s voice.   No wonder!   God was surrounded by a pyrotechnic display of thunder, lightning, and a smoking mountain.  They were terrified.    Think of the quartet from the Wizard of Oz standing before the huge intimidating image of the wizard. 

Their shaking legs deafened their ears.   So, they asked Moses to be a go-between – to hear God and then interpret His words for them.   Moses was an approachable human being whereas God was not.   

So, Moses received the Law from God and then faithfully passed it on.  Here is an irony.  It was called the “Law of God” only 9 times in the Bible but the “Law of Moses 22 times.”  The Law became more associated with the publisher than the author.

Nevertheless, God left His people a clear message.  Yet, through the ages it was misconstrued and misunderstood.  Jesus challenged the Jewish leadership saying, “Aren’t you deceived for this reason because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God?”  –  Mark 12:24   The scholars failed to understand God’s words.

This was a problem.  It required more than a Mickey Mouse solution.  So,  according to Hebrews 1:1-3, He sent Jesus!

“After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word…”

God said to Himself, “If I really want to get through to my people, I will need to look like them, and speak like them and experience life as they do.”   They need to mingle with God in the flesh.”

To interact with Jesus was to have known and seen God (John 14:7) and to have heard the words of Jesus was to have heard God speak.  (John 12:50)  

The people cowered in fear before the God of the OT, but when Jesus was near, even the children cuddled up to Him.  He clarified theological mysteries by His warm presence and His simple to understand words. 

I do love the Old Testament, but I get the fullest and sweetest understanding of God when I follow Jesus through the Gospels.   I am currently reading through Matthew, and it’s astounding how fresh it is – once again. 

If God is sounding to you like a garbled text, join me as I read through Matthew.

A PRAYER: Lord in the words of the hymn writer teach me “More, More about Jesus.” 

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 

Scripture references from the NET Bible ®

questions of heaven — September 29, 2021

questions of heaven

My wife loves the find-a-friend app on her phone.  It utilizes GPS to help us pinpoint each other’s location.   This means I can no longer sneak off to the Dairy Queen for a Blizzard without her knowing it. 

This is a little annoying, but there are benefits.

If I have my phone with me when I die, I will still be able to track how often she goes to Wal-Mart AND she will be the first to know the exact location of heaven!

_________________

– So, do we actually know where heaven is?

Scripture speaks of it as being up.  Jesus ascended to heaven. (Eph. 4:10) When He returns Paul says, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven…” (1 Thess. 4:16) The Bible actually speaks of three heavens.  The first is the atmosphere, the second is the space habitat of the planets and stars and according to Paul, if you could go beyond that you’d find the heaven of God.  (2 Corinthians 12:2)

Location is but one of many questions we have about heaven.  Another one…

– Are there animals in heaven? 

Yes.  At least one.  When Jesus returns for us, He will be riding on a white horse.  Revelation 19:11 says, “Then I saw heaven opened and there came a white horse!”

– Do the people there know what’s happening down here? 

Possibly!  According to Hebrews 12, those saints who have died, such as Abraham, David and Grandma are watching from heaven as the rest of us run our race.   We can’t speak with them nor they with us – but it appears they are aware and are rooting us on.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

– Will we recognize one another? 

Probably so.  When Moses and Elijah left heaven to meet with Jesus at His transfiguration, they could be distinguished from each other.  (Luke 8:28-30)

– Can you leave once you get there? 

You wouldn’t want to.  Again, there was that unusual time when the Father sent Moses and Elijah from heaven to rendezvous with Jesus on the earth at His transfiguration.   If that had been me, and I had been away for a while, I would have headed for Pizza King for a pepperoni and mushroom.   

But the record indicates that they wanted to get back to heaven as soon as possible. (Luke 8:33 & 36)  You probably would too.  After all the Scripture says, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”  (2 Corinthians 2:9)

We have a plethora of questions about heaven, but none is more important than this…

– Can I be sure that I am going?

Yes! The Apostle John passed on these words, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

John wrote to those who believed in the name of the Son of God.  To believe in Jesus is to understand that He is the divine, eternal Son of God who took flesh upon Himself so that He would be capable of suffering an execution on the cross that was due to you and me.  He paid our debt of sin that we might be debt free.  His resurrection is the proof that the debt was satisfied.

To believe is to commit ourselves to Him.   When we’ve done that – we can be positively sure that heaven is ours. It’s a solemn promise from God.

Once we are born, we become eternal entities – never to cease to exist.  We can choose however, where and how we will spend eternity.  Just two options according to John 3:16, God gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” One more question about heaven.

– Why not choose it for yourself?

A PRAYER: Lord, please hear the prayer of those who are ready to commit themselves to You.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com.  If you’d like to discuss this, please contact me.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Scripture references are from the NETBible®

stop it already! — September 22, 2021

stop it already!

Life is wearing on me like that crazy day at the State Fair.  My daughter wanted to ride Pharaoh’s Fury.  This carnival favorite features a giant ship, that rocks on a pendulum creating a sense of weightlessness.

She asked me to go with her.  No way! I get dizzy in a rocking chair.  But she pleaded so my reluctant daddy heart walked the plank with her.

The boat got to rockin’ and my stomach got to heavin.’ Back and forth – forever it seemed.  As I groaned for relief, the ride finally began to slow.

But the operator saw no one else in line.  So he yelled out, “Do you all want to go again?”  I whimpered “no,” but the cheers prevailed.  So, I suffered a second plague with the Pharaoh.

Once it stopped, I wobbled over to a bench and took the next 30 minutes to find my stomach. 

________________

Well, its déjà vu all over again. 

The world has suffered through a horrendous year of the virus, until the morbid ride finally began to slow.  But it has revved up again and we are all thoroughly sick of it.

We are used to having smart people who quickly and decisively solve our problems.  But this ride just won’t end.

As to the who or the how it got started, I won’t venture to say.  BUT I am certain I know who can stop it.

In the past, the Lord has stepped in and halted plague and pestilence.  2 Samuel 24:25 says, “And the Lord accepted prayers for the land, and the plague was removed from Israel.”

Prayer was the key then, but our prayers seem to go unanswered today.  Why is that?

The apostle Paul was beset by what he called a “thorn in the flesh.”   This thorn was a metaphor for a seriously painful situation in Paul’s life – something that he could barely endure. 

We don’t know for sure what it was. Some conjecture that it was a problem with his eyesight.  Others suggest that it referred to a tenacious persecutor.

According to 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul spent a season in prayer asking God to remove the thorn.  God was silent. The thorn dug in, so he spent a second season in prayer. God was silent.  The wound was getting infected, so he spent a third season in prayer.   He pleaded with God to hit the kill switch to the wretched ride. 

God said no to His faithful servant – the amazing apostle Paul, but He did tell him why.  He said, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (v. 10)

Paul was an accomplished person.  He even boasted about the things he achieved prior to his conversion.  (Philippians 3:2-6).   No doubt, he was sometimes tempted to bring his do-it-yourself mentality to the work of the ministry. 

So, God allowed the thorn to remain, to remind Paul that his intelligence, and strength and ingenuity may be great, but it was insufficient.   It was only in a state of weakness and affliction that Paul could sense his need and fully experience God’s strength. 

Me too!  I intellectually know that I need the Lord, but it often takes difficulty to remind me of it.  And though it’s crazy, many who live on this planet don’t believe they need God at all.

God has the might to remove our plague, but He doesn’t seem to have the motivation.

When I was a kid, I wanted to get rich, so I signed-on with a mail-order company to sell personalized Christmas cards.  But I had to sell in the summer months to allow time to process the orders.

Do you know how many people buy Christmas cards in July?   No – even less than that.  I didn’t even make enough money to pay what I owed for the sample book.   My dad quickly sized up the situation and knew that I needed to be bailed out – but he waited. 

For weeks – he waited – until I finally realized my mistake and that I needed my dad and the help he could bring.

I wonder if that’s what God may be waiting on?

A PRAYER: God, this ride is just too much for us.  Please tell us what we need to know.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Scripture references are from the NET Bible®

aroma — September 15, 2021

aroma

Seven young grandkids were gathered around my wife to celebrate her birthday.  She was honored with crayon and construction paper cards and gifts of pipe cleaners and macaroni. 

There was one gift that was especially unique.  She gently pulled the tape and paper from the box.  It was an ALTOID tin.  Oh great – another grandkid who lacked tact. 

She shook the tin, but it did not answer.  She lifted the lid with anticipation, but the box was empty – completely vacant.  Not even a mint!

She looked at the face of her little giver for a clue.  He was beaming with pride and joy.  So, she tactfully asked, “Well – what is it?”   He said, “Smell it.”  She lifted it to her nose and detected the fragrant scent of a perfumed oil. 

Hmm – what was percolating in his little mind?  He must have smelled that oil at one point and it so delightfully filled his senses that he thought he should capture and share it.

Now whenever his grandma needs something sweet to smell, she’ll have it in her purse. 

__________

Maybe we all need something sweet to smell because the news these days – well it stinks. 

Yesterday (9/10/21) I watched a news clip of an African American man who is a conservative political candidate in California.  He was assaulted by a woman who was wearing an ape mask and hurling racial insults and eggs at him.  How vile!

On the same day I read of a report in Long Beach California.  A 12-year boy was riding the city bus with his grandmother when a 40-year-old man boarded.   He sat down next to the boy, and without cause or warning began to pummel the boy’s face with his fists.   

He threw him across the bus and then busted the boy some more, while not one of the many passengers or the driver tried to stop it.   The man took the boy’s bag and then got off the bus. 

A culture with a stench!   I was sickened as I took in the news.  Jesus spoke of a day when, “most people’s love will grow cold.”  (Matt 24:12.)  Feels like we’ve arrived.

Our world could use more fragrance and less ferocity, and this is the Lord’s plan on how to do that.   

Paul revealed it in 2 Cor 2:14-15.  He wrote, “…thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…” NET Bible ®

The apostle says that God’s people are that fragrance.  We carry with us a sweet aroma of Christ both to the saved and the unsaved. 

The message we proclaim of God’s unmerited grace, and His rich mercy and forgiveness toward sinners.  That’s a breath of fresh air especially in this day of “cancel culture.”     

Couple that message with selfless deeds of kindness and service to others, and a sweet fragrance begins to dispel the stench that the evil has imposed on us.

My friend Kathy lives in Galveston and she recently took a picture of a telephone pole in the alley near her home.  There is a homemade box tacked to it about 5 feet up the pole.  It holds three ice-cold bottles of water.  They were left there for the men who pick up the trash.  This kind person puts them out every trash day.

Can you smell it? – so fragrant so sweet!

These days evil and righteousness are competing for air space.  In all honesty our world sorta smells like a bathroom after someone has tried to hide the odor with a can of Glade – an uncomfortable  mixture of smells. 

But Jesus said that the gates of hell will not overpower His church.  (Matthew 16:18) Not even the smell of hell. 

So, with the Lord’s promise and His power let’s be fervent to live and to speak the Gospel.  Let’s refresh the air

A PRAYER: Lord this sometimes seems to be a hopeless ambition, but we know it is not.  Help us to be faithful in our work and our witness.    

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 

unstained — September 8, 2021

unstained

My dad was a DIY kind of guy.  He cut our hair, pulled our teeth and treated our diseases.  His solution for a cold-fueled cough was a spoonful of Vicks Vapo-Rub – that slimy, translucent gel that reeks of Eucalyptus.   

It worked!  We would stop coughing – until mom administered CPR.    The company must have heard about dad because they eventually put a warning on the label of each jar: “Not to be taken internally.”     

__________________

There are other things that should not be taken internally – like the amoral values that shape our culture. 

They are pumped through the entertainment industry, water cooler conversations, schools with agendas, internet interactions, politically correct employers, advertisements and so on.   

It’s an intrusive and oppressive problem and yet the Scripture tells us, “to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27) NETBible®  

Interesting!  When you paint something, you put a coat on the exterior.  It can easily be sanded down to the bare wood again.  But when you stain something, the thin liquid soaks much deeper into the wood.  It’s sorta like the paint is on the wood while the stain becomes part of the wood.  To try to sand it off is next to impossible.

James understood that the values of this world, work on us as a stain does.  They become insinuated and buried deep into our thinking and character. 

So, what can we do to create stain resistant conditions for ourselves and our children? 

– drink deeply from the truth. 

When a board has been already stained with a dark rich stain, any added stain does not make a difference.  We need to be stained not by the world, but by the eternal, unchanging life-giving truth of the Word of God.  Read it daily, drink from it deeply and pray it into your life. 

– evaluate the media

It’s tough to live today without being bombarded by the media, but we can choose wise, safe sources for our news and entertainment and we can critically evaluate whatever is broadcast.

– physically meet with the saints

To believe the Scripture, is counter cultural today.  We who trust it are made to feel like the odd man out.  We need to be frequently reminded that there are many like us who cherish the truth and we need to be with them and interact with them and find courage and support from them. 

Personal involvement in a local Bible believing church will do this for us.  Our kids will learn that there are other families who treat cell phones and net access with the same level of scrutiny as you do. 

But you watch church on Facebook every Sunday!  Sorry that ain’t gonna do it for you or your kids.   You need face-to-face interaction with the people of God. 

– build interpersonal relationships with the likeminded

When we were kids, we often succumbed to peer pressure.  What we needed then and now, are a few good friends that share the same healthy biblical values.     

– keep an eye on your school

There is no perfect educational solution for our kids.  Each option has its assets and liabilities.  Regardless of your school choice – stay involved and evaluate and attend parent teacher meetings and ask questions.   Make sure that your values are supported by the teacher who monopolizes your child’s time.    And be extra wise about the university you send your kids to

– affirm what you believe

Start a family dinner ritual dinner and call it “This is what we believe and why!”  Consider one point each night and be sure to discuss it.  If your kids, ask questions or even challenge what you say – that’s a good thing.  It means they are searching for what is true.   

So, 2 things to remember – One: Beware of a culture that threatens to stain our souls and Two: Vicks Vapo-Rub is for external use only. 

A PRAYER: Lord keep us unstained and sand away that which may already be there. 

This has been Jim Johnson from pickleheavenpress.com.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 

wheelbarrow economics — September 1, 2021

wheelbarrow economics

My grandson is impressed with Texas A&M University.  He is familiar with their logo featuring a big T in the center with the A&M as bookends in a smaller font.   I would copy it here, but I might get gigged by the university.

He loves the logo but isn’t reading it correctly.  He recently declared that when he grows up, he is going to attend ATM university.  

Hmm? ATM?  A money dispenser could be handy when he goes to pay for his education! 

_____________________

A college education is pricey? But then again, what isn’t?  Where will we ever get the money to finance it all?   Could the answer be, “Give it away?”

I was converted when I was 19 years old, but my wallet was not.  It was still steeped in its heathen self-centered ways.  But my first pastor, Rev. Peter Courlas, helped me along.  He taught on money from 2 Corinthians.  It was all new to me and oh so uncomfortable. 

In chapter 9 money was compared to seed.  I learned that the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. (9:6)  Evidently, God gives to us based on the same measure that we give to others. 

This concept has been abused by some.

I had a friend who received a form letter from a prominent TV evangelist.  He asked for a “seed gift” of $10.   The letter promised that God would return that amount 100 times – a $1,000 divine rebate to the giver.

My friend wrote back suggesting that it would be wiser if the evangelist gave him $10, so that God would multiply it back to the evangelist.  The preacher did not reply. 

It doesn’t quite work that way.  Paul explains in verses 10-11 “Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow. You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God.” NET Bible®

God provides the seed (money) to the sower (giver) not to enrich us but to enable us to give to others.   He doesn’t give to us and expect it to remain with us.  He expects us to be a pipeline of blessing.  

Maybe this will help.  The concrete truck pours the concrete into your wheelbarrow, so that you can wheel it to the backyard and dump it where you are building the patio.   But, if you return with the wheelbarrow still full of concrete, the truck is not able to fill it again.

If we are slow to pour, God is slow to refill.   Sow sparingly, reap sparingly.   God is not so concerned with the money but with what we do with it.

Well, the pastor poked me in the eye.  My new bride and I had to make some adjustments.  We decided to give a minimum of 10% of whatever we received.  We chose 10% not out of a lawful obligation but because we are math impaired, and we could figure 10%  

Our income was small back then and 10% of small was even smaller – but we were faithful.  Soon after that decision, we headed off to many years of private biblical education – almost every tuition dollar came from our pockets.  We did not take out a loan. 

During those years we still gave away our seed, and God was faithful to supply what we had committed to give and so much more.  We graduated debt free. 

Today we continue to invest the value of that biblical education in the lives of others.

Have we ever felt financially secure?  No way!  We do, however, possess a sense of security that transcends our bank account.   It comes from years of watching God provide for us in unexpected ways.   

If money or the lack thereof is an issue for you, you might want to chew on 2 Corinthians 9. 

A PRAYER: Lord I am still sometimes challenged to let go of what You have given.  Help me to pass it on!

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  

need a rest — August 18, 2021

need a rest

We had completed the first workday of our mission trip.   It was grueling labor there under the scorching Nicaraguan sun.  Each of us gratefully grabbed a plate of food and took our places at the table.

One of us sat down and then suddenly vanished.  No – it was not the rapture.  All 4 of the flimsy legs of his green molded plastic chair snapped and he instantly dropped beneath the table.  We laughed and teased the guy once we found out that he was OK.

But then another person disappeared.  By the end of the week I believe we lost 4 team members that way.  It was a real-life game of whack-a-mole.

The work was exhausting and the chairs were frustrating – denying us physical and even emotional rest.  We worried every time we sat down, “Is it my turn to become the butt of the jokes?” (pun intended)  

______________

Isn’t that a lot like life?   As they say in Texas, “Some of us look like we been rode hard and put away wet.”  We want some – we need some rest.

She says, “Being the caregiver for my mom is wearing on me.”  The teacher frets about how much her kids are learning online.   He says, “The boss hired a guy to assist me but managing the guy has doubled my stress.”  “The new believer struggles to live the way the Lord wants her to live.”  “The news these days is just too much for me to bear.”

Rest!  We really need it – but where do we find it?  Jesus said, “Come to me!” 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”   “OK Lord that’s me for sure – weary and burdened – but how are you going to give me rest?”   (Matthew 11:28)

He went on, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (11:29)

He spoke of a yoke – the kind that harnessed a team of oxen.  When an ox became of working age, the farmer would take the younger smaller beast and yoke him with a veteran.  Together they would plow the fields, but it was the older beast that actually bore the brunt of it all. 

He did the heavy pulling, while the younger simply walked along – learning the proper gait and how to respond to the farmers commands and so on.   When the younger was yoked with the older, it was very easy work for him.   Which is why Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”  (11:30)

There is an irony here, however.  We think of rest strictly as inactivity, but Jesus tells us that we rest when we are at work – doing what He would have us to do and in tandem with Jesus.

I am thinking that we need that kind of rest.  How do we find it? 

Jesus says, “Come to me!  Spend some time with me.  Listen to more of my words and less of your newscast.  Forget your peers and consider life from my perspective. Allow my strength to fill you.  Try more peace and fewer pills.  Just spend some time with me.” 

A musician will sometimes use a “rest” in his song.  This is an interval when the instruments are silenced while he continues to sing.  The rest provides clarity and emphasis to the words.

It seems like a good idea to build that kind of break into our days.   A time of inactivity and reflection– so that we can more clearly hear the voice of the shepherd. 

This kind of advice also comes to us from the Psalms.

“Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still.” KJV – Psalm 4:4. “Be still, and know that I am God.”  KJV  – Psalm 46:10

We need to stop and rest a while with Jesus each day to find that kind of deeper rest we need. 

Well – you will be glad to know that our mission team gave our Nicaraguan hosts a parting gift.  We replaced all the flimsy chairs with sturdy ones.  And now every scale-tipping American can settle down and rest easy when they visit there.  And that’s the “rest” of the story.

A PRAYER: Lord – I know how to work hard, but find it tough to rest well.  Help me to learn from You.”

Scripture passages are from the NET Bible ® unless otherwise noted.

suffering and string trimmers — August 11, 2021

suffering and string trimmers

I have a string trimmer to tidy up my lawn.  It taunts me!  When it was new, it was ridiculously stingy in feeding out the line.  Frequently the line would break off so that I had to manually take the trimmer apart and pull out more.

Recently it has felt the need to atone for its sins.  It now feeds out the line with insane generosity – 3 times more than what I need.  Now it gets all tangled and I must frequently stop and stuff it all back in.   

When I get to heaven, I may need to apologize for the things I have said about person who engineered that thing.

Now before you start a GoFundMe page for poor Jim, please know that I have sufficient funds to replace it. I’m just cheap.

But I will say this.  Most every time I trim, I begin with a prayer, “Lord please let this be the day this thing bites the dust so that I’m forced to buy a new one.”

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Sadly, I have a few friends that pray that same type of prayer. 

Their bodies are old and frail and their minds sluggish.  Some endure diseases they can’t pronounce.  Most feel useless – a burden to their families. 

In their beds, they lay and pray, “Lord take me home. Take this old body and give me a new one.”  They understand heaven and are frustrated that they must suffer and wait.

Because I am a chaplain, they sometimes ask, “Why does God keep me here?”  I tell them, “It may not be about you.”  

Your kids need an example: 

When you were younger, they watched you and learned how to work hard, and manage their money and how to treat their mate.  By example you taught them how to live well. 

Now they need to be taught how to die well.  They need to understand how your faith sustains you though your body is failing.  It was Paul that said, “Show yourself to be an example of good works in every way.”  (Titus 1:7)

The unconvinced need proof: 

The unsaved in your circle of friends and family need to see the divine spark in your faith.  I think of the thief, who watched Jesus on the cross.  The man began the episode as a mocker but was quickly gripped by the way that Jesus suffered. 

Peter described Jesus in this way, “When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.”   (1 Peter 2:23.)  The thief was divinely drawn to this person who handled His suffering with such grace.  You have prayed for your family and friends for years.  It may be the way you handle your final days that finally wins them to Jesus.

Through suffering we draw nearer to Jesus: 

Paul coveted something he called “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.”  He wrote in Philippians 3:10, “My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death.”  

Shared experiences, especially difficult ones, bind people together.  To suffer is to join Jesus’ unique fraternity of faith.  It is there that we find Jesus to be sweeter and more precious than ever before. 

You kids need to grow up: 

A good parent teaches their kids to take responsibility – for their room, their car, their job and so on.  It’s time that they learn to take responsibility for an aging parent.   The Lord was clear on this matter.  1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”   It’s true.  As we age, we certainly do become burdens – but burdens that God expects our children to shoulder.

BUT are you useless?  Far from it!  God is using you and your circumstances to accomplish rich things in the lives of others. 

“Why is God keeping you around?”  It’s not about you.  So, trust Him as you have in the past and endure with patience and grace until He calls you home.  

A PRAYER: Lord help me to suffer with grace and use me to extend grace to others who suffer.

Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®

makin’ it count — August 4, 2021

makin’ it count

It’s a universal experience.   We key in a critical document only to find out later that it did not get saved – don’t know why!

Wasted effort; striving in vain; pointless labor.  There are few things that frustrate me more.  

At times I have been tempted to pray, “Lord I don’t know what happened to that resume, but I need it.  Could you do a divine undo and restore it to the hard drive?”

So far, He has ignored that request, but I wonder if God ever redeems a wasted effort.

She has prayed that God would save her alcoholic of a husband – she feels like she is wasting her breath.   He prepares diligently each week to provide a good class for the junior highers at church.  They could care less.   She has to correct her children on the same things over and over.  She’s convinced that they will never get it.   

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My wife and I were invited to participate in Gospel Sing hosted by a local church in southern Ohio.  We said yes but came to rue the decision.  The event took place on a bitter cold January night. 

We found the little country church perched high on an icy hill about a 30-yard climb.  We hauled a guitar, a 3-year-old and 4-month-old.  Oh fun!

We reached the peak after much slipping and sliding, entered the building and were surprised to find that it was a one room affair.  It was even serviced by an outhouse which was an icehouse that night.  This did not sit well with my wife.  (if you know what I mean)

KC was an infant that had to be continually jostled or he would wail.  So, while other groups were singing, I would jostle my son.   Just before our turn, I handed KC to a friend and gave him jostling lessons.  Someone needed to do it while we sang.  

Sharie and I began to perform our collection of original songs.  Soon after, KC began to scream.  My friend had failed his jostling exam.  The wailing reverberated off the walls of that small church building.  (and the congregation snickered.)

The boy’s howling was louder than our singing.  We needed to reduce the distraction so Sharie reclaimed him and resumed the proper jostling technique while she sang.  It gave her voice a new level of vibrato.  (And the congregation laughed.)

At this point our 3- year-old felt left out.  So, she climbed up the platform and began to cling to and circle us while we sang.  She passed through our legs and occasionally stopped to face her fans and pick her nose (and the congregation roared) 

We finished our set and sat – sure that had been the biggest wasted effort ever.  There were so many things that distracted from our musical message. 

However, months later, the pastor of that church found me and expressed his gratitude for our ministry.  On that icy night, we had taught the church a song that we had written based on Philippians 4:13. He told me that the church had sung that song nearly every Sunday since. 

Wow!  What we had regarded as a massive waste, turned out to be a meaningful investment in the Kingdom of God. 

The apostle Paul put it in perspective for us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”   NETBible ®

“Stick it out” he said.  “Keep praying and singing and teaching and parenting “knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”    God has an amazing ability to somehow take our waste and turn it to gold. 

I had a friend in high school who was studying Mandarin.  I was perplexed and asked him why.   He said he wanted to be a missionary to China.  At that time there were zero missionaries in China.  It was isolated and all westerners were unwelcome. 

“A wasted effort” I thought.  But several years later we met again at the very time he was leaving for China.   The nation had finally opened up to outsiders and he was already equipped with Mandarin.   Isn’t God’ amazing!

SO, “Be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 

A PRAYER: Lord help me stick it out when I’m tempted to sit it out.

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