Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

garbage smuggler — January 13, 2021

garbage smuggler

Lunchtime in elementary school – what blah memories.   Most of us did a brown bag lunch.  The content of mine was mind-numbingly predictable: a bologna sandwich, ruffled potato chips in a baggie; 2 discount brand vanilla sandwich cookies and a piece of fruit complemented by a carton of milk from the machine. 

The rest of the boys fared no better. So, we got in the habit of eating the best stuff and throwing the rest away.  (horrible I know) However, the nuns who taught us caught us.  So, Mother Superior ordered that a guard be posted at every trashcan to stem the mindless waste.  (this is true – scouts honor)

So, the challenge for us, was to hide the sandwich and the fruit in the tiny milk carton and then smash it so small that, it would appear to be impossible for anything to be in it.  We were human trash compactors.

The nun stood behind the receptacle with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.   Sam was the first to try.  He put on his best “I’m not guilty of doing anything” look.  Then he ambled forward and nonchalantly dropped the compressed 10-pound carton in.

She didn’t blink!  He did it!   He beat the sentry of the gulag (or maybe it was goulash).  The rest of us followed.  We successfully smuggled our garbage.

_________

Have you ever tried to do that with sin?  Of course, you have.  Most of us have. 

In the frailty of our humanity, we do something, or say something, or maybe even think something that we shouldn’t.   It may be simply an offense against God, or an offense against another person or both.

We are ashamed and fearful of being found out which stirs up a dark mood. King David, a sinner of renown, spoke to God about this.  He said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long.”  Psalm 32:3 NET

We try to stem the sour feelings, by stuffing it in a metaphysical milk carton hoping to slip it by the eyes of God.   But the soulish part of us continues to point the finger of blame.

To recognize and address it, would feel like adding another thick layer of humiliation.  So, we hide it.

David was experienced with the torment – enough to add these words, “Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”   – 32:5 

He faced his failure- confessed his sin.  He found understanding, grace and the one thing he needed most “and then you forgave my sins.“ –  32:6  NET

How good it is; how freeing it is to be forgiven.  The guilt is gone; the joy returned. 

And then do you know what that crazy David did?  He confessed it to everyone else as well.  He recorded his mess in a Psalm which was to be used in the worship liturgy of Israel. 

David eventually stood side-by-side with his people in worship as they sang of his sin in Psalm 32. 

What was he thinking?  Maybe this!  “Well we’re all human.  I messed up and I am embarrassed for people to know, but it would be utterly humiliating if I tried to hide my sin and it were discovered.  So why not be up front about it?  God has forgiven me, and maybe others can learn from my mistakes.” 

His fellow worshipper was thinking: “Wow I had no idea, but David sure is an honest and courageous man.  Maybe I should be honest about my own sin.”

Maybe we should too!

A PRAYER: Oh God as I finally bare my soul, please fully grant your forgiveness.

color blind — January 6, 2021

color blind

I am somewhat color blind.

So, my wife Sharie and I fuss about my clothes. I want to wear plain solid colors, because it gives me a remote chance of being able to coordinate what I wear. 

But she wants me to wear interesting, patterned, multicolored things.  And she is the one who buys my clothes – which means that I have as much a chance of coordinating my clothing as a putting socks on a rooster.

So, we fuss!  Only recently we struck up a deal.  If she should die before me – then I get to clean out my closet and invest in some Amish wear. 

If I should die before her, she has my permission to dress me for the funeral in whatever she wants. 

Color blindness is a liability to me – but color blindness can be an asset.

My earliest memories of the neighborhood in which I was raised involved two other kids named Anthony and Angela.  They played at my house – I played at theirs.  I wasn’t aware they were a different color than me until someone pointed it out – but we played on. 

I went to a High School that was predominantly African American.  The guys with whom I played football were like brothers.   I had a ton of fun singing in a school choir that would vamp the end of Hallelujah Chorus.  I was the only Anglo in a soul band.  I still love the Stylistics.  I was honored by my fellow students by being elected senior class president.

For many of us, color was something you found in a box of crayons.  We were people who worked, studied, sweat, suffered and strove together.  I even had a crush on a wonderful African American girl (who I hope is not reading this.) 

But something dark and terrible happened that senior year.  Agitators from outside our school came in and disrupted our peace.   There were inflammatory speeches; and clashes between the NAACP and the John Birch Society.   Every other day either the white students or the black students would raid the PA room and broadcast propaganda.

The school year was abruptly ended several months early because violence had escalated and was out of control.  We were not even sure we would graduate. 

But there was an even greater loss.  When we sub-divided by race, even the innocents were forced to hang out with our own, for safety.  Priceless relationships were strained and suspended, and it was profoundly sad. 

I was so glad to graduate and put all that behind me – and yet it’s déjà vu all over again. 

The divisive culture of my high school is becoming the culture of my nation.  People are devouring each other because of racial enmity.

I believe and try my best to live out the Gospel – a way of life that was designed to be color blind.  It was the prophet Samuel that said, “God does not view things the way people do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Sam 16:7 NET Bible ®

The Gospel may be the only way to erode our broken human penchant for prejudice.  The Scripture makes it clear that God’s people have certain obligations to “all men.”  Not just Christians, or people of the same race – but to “all men” 

The phrase “all men” (which includes women for sure) pops up frequently.  For instance.  We are to pursue peace with all men (Heb 12:14); to show every consideration for all men (Titus 3:2)  we are to pray for all men and to give thanks for all men (1 Tim 2:1); we should be gentle with all men (Phil 4:5) and we are to respect what is right in the sight of all men (Rom 12:17)

To “all men” shouts the Scripture.  Not just some – but all, not just the redeemed but all; not just those who agree with us but “all.”   And the people of God need to set the example in such matters because our Lord desires “all men” to be saved.  1 Tim 2:3

As we start a new year, let’s put the color back in the crayon box, and strive together again to create a land where “all men” (and women) are valued and celebrated.

Let’s live the dream – the dream of Doctor King who said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

A PRAYER: Lord strike our nation with a color blindness that there may be liberty and justice for all.

re-wed! — December 30, 2020

re-wed!

Such a great story!  The headline said, “Woman remarries husband with dementia after he forgot about first nuptials.” 

So, he forgot his first wedding.  If I did that my wife might hit me on the head with some nuptials.  Ah, but Bill had a valid excuse. 

He and Anne had been married for 13 years.  Along the way, he slipped into dementia.  Anne became his devoted caregiver but as the disease advanced, his married memories faded.  He eventually even forgot her name in the fog.

And yet he grew fond of her.  She was always there and sweetly attentive to his needs.  So, one day he popped the question, “Will you marry me?”   

She was amused and assumed he would soon forget.  But the thought lodged itself in his cerebral cortex.  He pestered her until she relented and said, “That would be lovely Bill.”

In August 2019, Anne walked down the aisle to their original wedding music, they exchanged their vows and then experienced what she called “the wedding effect,” for six weeks after.”

________

He had forgotten his first love – but he had a valid excuse.   Some of us don’t!

Jesus spoke through the pen of John the apostle to the ancient church at Ephesus.   They were having heart problems.  He said, “You have departed from your first love!”  Revelation 2:4

The church was about 45 years old at that time.  They probably started out as many of us do – with a fervent, personal uninhibited love for Jesus.  It even spilled out and touched the lives of others.  But spiritual dementia set in.   

Over the years, serving Jesus became more important than spending time with Jesus.  They substituted labor for love and passion for doctrinal purity.  They forgot to whom they were pledged.

It brings to mind that scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye questioned the devotion of his dutiful but distant wife Golde, “Do you love me?”

Maybe your first love is lagging.  Is it possible to do what Bill did – to fall in love all over again with the very same person? 

It is, according to Revelation 2:5, “Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first.”   NET Bible ®

It starts with recalling what life was like back when your love for Jesus was fresh. 

I was visiting an elderly patient in my capacity as a Hospice chaplain.  She was in somewhat of a foul mood, especially frustrated with her ability to recall.  So, I took my phone and did a search for the name of the small town where she was raised. 

I hit the jackpot!  I found lots of wonderful black and whites of the schools, churches, special places, graduating classes and so on.  Every time I brought up another picture, she was joyfully transported back. When I left her, she was smiling and in a much sweeter, better place.  All she had to do was to remember. 

We need to reimagine that sweeter simpler time with Jesus.

The passage also reminds us to repent which is to change our minds about the choices we’ve made.  I’m ready for a change. 

And then we’re encouraged to do the deeds of old, the things we did when our love was fresh. 

– Most of us spend time listening to the one we love.  Is there time in the day that we can drink from His Word and allow His Spirit to use it as God’s voice?

– Most of us really like talking to the one we love.  He truly listens with great interest when we pray.  Maybe we need to get beyond the grocery list of needs and have a heart-to-heart with Him about what really matters?

– Most of us try to please the one we love.    As a teenager, I changed my hairstyle because a certain girl thought it was cool.   I wonder what changes I could make in my attitude and behavior that would bring a smile to Jesus.

– Most of us give to the one we love.  I once bought my girlfriend a crockpot.  OK I am not as dumb as you think!   She eventually became my wife and every time she made me a meal in that crockpot – I felt just a little closer to her.   

One of these days Bill may wake up in heaven and discover that he had been a bigamist – two times in love and married to his singular soulmate.  May we experience the same with Jesus!

A PRAYER: Lord, stir the embers of my heart into an inferno for You!

hands — December 22, 2020

hands

My wife and I are lame when it comes to plants.  They do not live long and prosperous lives when they are in our care.  That’s why the perfect house plant for us is a Christmas tree – it’s already expected to turn brown in a couple of weeks.

Aside from trees, Christmas is a time to think of hands – more specifically, those of the infant Jesus.

When a baby is born, parents usually examine the child to make sure the manufacturer included all the parts. They ooh and ah over every marvelous, intricate detail. The hands are especially astounding – so perfectly engineered.

Mary must have caressed Jesus’ sweet smelling, tender soft, delicate, little hands. And surely, He latched onto her finger as she watched and pondered.

She saw innocent hands – hands that had not touched things they shouldn’t or bonked a brother in anger. With all babies this innocence is eventually lost – all except for Jesus. He maintained it throughout His life. (Hebrews 7:26)

She saw weak little hands. His fingers were powerless and uncoordinated.  They could not grab a stick or throw a rock. 

How appropriate, because Scripture tells us that Jesus chose to lay aside His divine prerogatives as God, including His almighty power in order to take on the flesh of a human being. (Hebrews 5:1) That finger, wrapped around Mary’s told the story of a mighty God who became weak for our sakes.

Mary kept her eyes on those hands through the years.  She watched them grow capable and calloused from the wear and tear of the carpentry shop.  The dirt under his nails said to her, that her boy was very much a man. 

She marveled when He put His hands to a different use.   Jesus reached for the coffin of a dead child and the boy lived.  (Luke 7:14-15)  He touched an untouchable and the leper was cleansed.  (Luke 5:12-13) Parents brought their children to Jesus that he might touch them (Mark 10:13) and in the garden Jesus picked up the severed ear of an adversary and, “He touched the man’s ear and healed him.”  – Luke 22:51

His hands became the conduit between the goodness of heaven and the suffering on earth.  They told the story of a compassionate healer.

But the day came, when the political hacks had hacked away at the message and character of Jesus.  He became a wanted man. 

They bound His hands at Gethsemane then tied them to a post as they raked the flesh off His back with a scourge. 

At Golgotha, He willingly reached those hands to the ends of the roughhewn crossbeam. The cold, rusty, hard steel passed through them causing untold agony.

Mary watched and wept as she remembered the soft, sweet innocent hands of her baby. 

But it was all part of God’s awfully awesome plan to redeem us.  The prophet said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6) KJV

He suffered and died for us – and it was His hands that told the story.  They still do. 

Jesus rose again, and His body was transformed and made new in every way – except for His hands.   He offered them to skeptical Thomas saying, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands…Do not continue in your unbelief but believe.” (John 20:27)

Those scars will forever mar the hands of the Savior so that the story of His death and resurrection will be told throughout eternity. 

I suppose that there is a story in every pair of hands. 

Some are lifted in defiance as if to say “Jesus, I want no part of You.”  I don’t want your salvation if it means submitting to your Lordship.  Leave me alone – and let me be.”   

Others are lifted in faith as if to say “Jesus – You are what I want and what I need.” My faith is in You and my life is bound to yours.  You bought me with Your blood, and I will serve You with my life.

What message do your hands tell?

A PRAYER: Lord, help me and my world to see the nail wounds in the hands of the infant Jesus.

All Bible references from the NET Bible ® unless otherwise noted.

who put the X in Xmas? — December 16, 2020

who put the X in Xmas?

Every year some of us get alarmed over the race to erase Christ from Christmas.  Some of our complaints are legit while some are not.   

For instance – Xmas.  Obviously, someone removed Christ from the word Christmas and replaced Him with an X.  So, who did it? 

Maybe it was my Algebra teacher who as a rule would let X stand for the unknown; or maybe it was a lewd little man who hoped to drag the holiday into the world of X ratings or it could have been a Gen Xer who wanted to make Christmas about himself.

Actually, the anonymous culprit is over a thousand years old, for that is how long the church has been using an X to represent Christ – but it isn’t really an X. 

The New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word for Christ is Christos, but it looks like this “Χριστός.” Did you notice the X-like first letter?  This is the letter chi which is pronounced key unless you are a frat boy.

The chi is an abbreviation of Christos and has been used reverently to represent Christ for many centuries.

The X in Christmas is not a snub to tradition but rather a nod to it. Keep in mind, it is still pronounced “Christmas.” 


We Christians do get bent out of shape when our culture tries to take Christ out of Christmas.   So maybe we should do our part to put Him back.

The apostle Paul tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ.  (2 Corinthians 5:20)  An ambassador is an agent of the highest rank who represents his/her superior.   And we are therefore, empowered to represent Christ in Christmas.   How?

– Your neighbor used to put up a legendary light display in the front yard each year.  But his age and declining health have had its toll.  Go over and raid his garage.  Dust off the lights and recreate the Christmas joy in his yard for him and the neighborhood.

– You have a wonderful display of lights in your own yard – but is there anything there that points to Jesus?  Anything?  Many years ago, I designed and made a manger/cross display.  It has been our Christmas centerpiece for decades now.  My wife even makes me repair it every time a so-and-so bulb burns out.  I do love it though.  It’s a creative statement of why Christ was born. 

– Some of your relationships are frayed and some forgotten.  Take time this season to reconnect – to swallow your pride if you must.  The conversation may begin like this, “I am wondering if I might have hurt you.  Have I?” 

– You may prefer to boycott the office party because of the craziness that goes on there.  Represent Jesus.  Attend!  Let your fellow workers know that you love them and enjoy being with them.  You can always graciously slip out later if things get wild.

– Christmas is an exceptionally lonely time for single people.  Be Jesus to them by inviting them to your home for Christmas dinner.   Bless them with a special gift and a hug.   I have known singles that have gone for weeks at a time without experiencing the touch of another human being.  There are few things that are more affirming than a hug.

– Right before you tear into the presents remind your family that we give to our daughters and sons, because God gave His Son.  Open your Bible and read together about God’s gift (Luke 2:1-20) before they open theirs

– And lastly – don’t be so judgmental.  It’s not the end of the world if you brother’s kids believe in Santa.   And when the clerk at the store says, “Happy Holidays” you don’t have to snarl back “It’s Merry Christmas if you please.”  You could just say, “the same to you!”  According to Paul, the Lord expects you and me to be “peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.”  Titus 3:2 NET Bible ®  

Hey, I think we can put back more Christ back into the Season than the culture removes.  So Merry Xmas to you!

A PRAYER: Lord may I seriously put back more Christ this Season than the culture removes

christmas lights — December 9, 2020

christmas lights

I love the lights of Christmas – the shimmer and sparkle and multicolored display is electrifying (no pun intended).  I just love em, at least until a bulb goes out which knocks out a whole string which makes the house look like it has lost a tooth.   

The very first Christmas light display was put up by the inventor of the lightbulb – Thomas Edison.  He promised to spruce up downtown Manhattan for Christmas of 1880.  He laid miles of underground wire and hung strings of incandescent bulbs around his laboratory. The locals were so awed they dubbed Edison “the Enchanter” and described the display as “a fairy-land of lights.”

2020 has been an unusual year for Christmas lights.  Some folks began hanging them before the goblins of Halloween were put away.  Many got out the ladders before the Thanksgiving turkey was even basted.   

What gives?  Maybe it’s just 2020.  It’s been a tough year.  Hurricanes have pummeled the east coast and wildfires have consumed the west.  Major cities have been broken and looted.  We have suffered through a brutal election season and the dumb old virus still has us in its grip.

We need something – anything to lift our spirits and pretty lights help. 

Marsha Chinichian is a clinical psychotherapist.  She wrote, “Studies show that decorating for the holidays improves mood and ignites positive memories.” Not to mention that fact that the actual act of putting Christmas decorations up offers a boost of your happy hormone, dopamine.”

Basically, Christmas lights tend to make us feel better.  They are bright and cheerful – like ice cream for your eyes. 

This is why I decided, several years ago, to take down the Christmas lights from the front of the house and hang them in the back.  They still are draped there and are often illuminated even in July.  Because I fear being called a Redneck, we call them “party lights.” (The grandkids believe me) 

Light is certainly one of the themes of Christmas.   It was a bright star, hung in the eastern sky that alerted the first century world of the hope wrapped in swaddling clothes.

But light and Jesus were paired long before Bethlehem.  650 years before Jesus made His debut, the prophet Isaiah gave a prediction about His advent.  He wrote, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.   Isa 9:2 – KJV

There is nothing like turning on a light to take the fear and anxiety out of the dark unknown.  Isaiah tells us that Jesus would be that light.  He would enter the land of the shadow of death.   Sounds like our beloved land at the moment. 

Jesus would enter that dark, depressing, dreary world and transform it – chasing away the darkness with His radiance. How?  He would challenge heartless legalism and open the spigot of grace.   He would provide a way to reconcile God and man by virtue of His life and His death.  He would become the means by which to usher in peace on earth. 

Isaiah was clearly speaking of Jesus.  We know this because the prophet went on to say, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6 – KJV

This baby Jesus would be a wonderful and powerful light.

And everlasting too!  My grandkids think it’s funny to flip off the lights and leave grandpa in a dark room.  The light of Jesus will never be switched off again because it is everlasting. 

Did you know that psychologists use what is known as “light therapy” to help people overcome depression?   I treat my occasional depression with a better “light therapy.”  I have a collection of Scripture passages that I use to remind myself that the “light of the world” loves me and gave up His life for me (Galatians 2:20).

No doubt you’ll put up your own Christmas lights this season.   Your wreath may be sparkly; Rudolph’s nose may glow, and your tree might rival that of the one at Rockefeller Center. 

All that is great – but make sure that you put the brightest light in the manger scene – right over the baby Jesus as a reminder that He is the light that we truly need.

A PRAYER: O light of the world, this Christmas I ask you to illuminate the shadows of this year.

even closer — December 2, 2020

even closer

The mystery of Bethlehem has been solved!  There actually was room at the inn for Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus but – the innkeeper was required to follow social distancing protocols. 

Time to celebrate the birth of Christ – an event that marked a change in the relationship between God and man.

– Prior to Bethlehem God could be described as a God that was “FOR” us. 

The Psalmist wrote, “The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us.” – Ps 126:3. Why would he say that?  

God had provided a woman to take away the loneliness of Adam and He gave Noah a way of escape. He provided a son for the childless Abraham and laughter to his sullen wife.  He extended patience to the scheming Jacob and elevated Joseph to a position of authority.  

He was on the sidelines, cheering for his people and intervening as needed. 

He still is for us.  If you were running for office, He would vote for you. If you were a NASCAR driver, he would be in your pit crew.  He would be your corner man if you were a prizefighter.   He would be your biggest cheerleader if you ran the 440.   God has always been for us but He has wanted to do more. 

– At Bethlehem He became God WITH us.

Matthew wrote, “This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  – 1:22-23

God has been for us, but He was also beyond us, or over us, or above us, or apart from us.  When Christ was born, He became God with us.   God Almighty took on human flesh that He might fully identify with us.   

My daughter was one of the more popular kids in high school.  When she attended the western themed dance, we figured she would be dancing all night. We were right.

She spent the night dancing with the boys with whom no one else would dance.  She did the two-step with the clumsy overweight boy and did a round with the boy with the complexion problem. 

She danced with the shy boy who never said two words at school.  Each one of those boys probably left that dance feeling like they mattered because the pretty girl danced with them.

When Jesus became God with us, He danced with us at a time we suspected that a holy God wanted nothing to do with us. 

– After Bethlehem He became “God IN us.”

Jesus lived, died, rose again and ascended into heaven making this possible: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 KJV

Paul taught us that Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, now indwells God’s children.  He lives within us.

And because He does, we now have the power to live God-energized righteous lives.

Headed to the airport this December?  Here’s a hint.  Take that arthritic knee and your 7 pieces of luggage and get on the people mover.  As you walk, it will carry you along and get you to your destination more easily.  

The Christian life is similar.  Don’t try to do it without the power of God.

Another hint: Don’t take your eyes off the end of the people mover or it could be the end of you – but that’s another story.

Man’s relationship with God has changed over time. 

It began as God FOR us, it was then expanded to God WITH us, and now it includes the idea of God IN us.  He moved closer to us each step of the way.

When I was a teen, I had a girlfriend and our relationship progressed in a different way: She was with me, she left me then she never heard of me.

Which is why I am grateful for a God who truly desires to be close to me.

How ironic that the innkeeper turned Jesus’ family away on that cold winter’s night.  How bizarre that Jesus was driven out of His own hometown.  How sad that the apostle John had to write, “His own people did not receive him.” –  John 1:11

Mistakes that we do not want to make!

A PRAYER: Lord I sense your movement toward me, help me scoot closer to you.  

Scripture references from the NET Bible ®

hydrated and thankful — November 24, 2020

hydrated and thankful

I recently wrote about my son who spent time in the prayer closet.  He was an antsy preschooler and it showed up during our prayer time.  I had to corral him between me and the sofa as we knelt and prayed. 

How ironic is it then, that he sired a sweet and passionate prayer warrior?   When her daddy asks, “Who wants to…?”  She has her hand up before he can say, “pray.” 

From three years old and on Lainey has led our family in the saying of grace.   And I would wish that my whole family could pray as she does; even the whole world would pray as she does.  Dang – if only I could pray as she does. 

She sweetly and personally speaks to the Lord.  When she prays, it’s as if she’s sitting on His lap – with their eyes meeting.  Multiple times she will say in the sincerest of voices, “and Jesus, I, I just love you.” 

But what is most striking is the profuse amount of thanksgiving that permeates her prayers.   While my mine are full of platitudes, hers overflow with gratitude and for the most unusual things.  

Her mother was a science major and filters life through that lens.   She once explained to her little Lainey the importance of drinking water throughout the day.  Since then, Lainey regularly thanks the Lord for keeping her hydwated.  

Her mother also explained the amazing law of gravity and Lainey now thanks the Lord that we don’t fly away up in the sky. 

Lainey is profoundly cute. She has an uncanny ability to look at everything that you and I take for granted and recognize it all as gifts from God. 

It’s as if God somehow impressed 1 Thessalonians 5:18 on her little heart, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  In every circumstance and for every circumstance we ought to be grateful. 

So tomorrow we give thanks!  Psalm 92:1 tells us that it is a, “good thing to give thanks to the Lord.”   

This is true according to the experts.  Gratitude activates the reward center of our brains so that we emotionally feel better.  A great way, by the way, to combat anxiety and depression.  Gratitude also has been proven to lower blood pressure and give us better sleep.*

Saying thanks is also a wonderful way to refresh and strengthen our relationships with others. 

It really is good to give thanks, not only because it does good things to and for us, but because God is a good God. (Psalm 107:1)

I am with Lainey – thankful for God’s good gifts of health and food and people that love me and a God who gave His life on a cross for me and a job that challenges me and for photosynthesis.  (Hey why can’t I be thankful for a scientific principle too?)  

Tomorrow our mouths will work hard at taking in Thanksgiving.  They also need to work hard at giving out thanksgiving.   Scripture says, “With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the Lord.”  – Ps 109:30

After dinner we’ll turn on the game and scream ‘til we’re hoarse.  David said that we ought to give thanks in the same way, “with all our hearts.”  – Psalm 86:12

Some of us will get up and raid the refrigerator for a midnight snack.  Also, a good time to give thanks says the Psalmist, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee…”  — Ps 119:62   KJV

2020 has been a tremendously tough year!   Amen?  All the more reason to gather the family on turkey day and have each person write out 5 things for which they were thankful this year.  Compare your answers.  Make note of the duplicates and the diversity and then offer a group prayer of Thanksgiving!

A PRAYER: Lord give me the eyes to perceive every blessing and the words to return proper thanks.

– All scripture references from the NET Bible ®

– * The Health Benefits of Giving Thanks; Community Health Network November 20, 2019; www.ecommunity.com/healthminute/2019/health-benefits-giving-thanks.

yes deer — November 18, 2020

yes deer

It is that time of year, once again, when men pause to lift their voices in thanksgiving to God!   Yes, it is deer season.   How do I know?  About half of our church was missing last Sunday and it wasn’t due to a virus.

I am not a hunter, but I am curious, so I hunted up some information on deer.

In the fragile balance of nature, I learned that deer can be a threat to us.   It was during rutting (mating) season that a big buck lowered his head and charged the car of a friend.  (maybe the car was an impala.)

It is more likely, however, that a deer will accidentally collide with a moving automobile.  There are about 1.5 million deer-related car accidents in the U.S. each year, costing over $1 billion dollars in vehicle damage.  Sadly, there are also 175-200 fatalities every year and 10,000 injuries.

This is why I purchased deer whistles and attached them to my front bumper.  As I drive, air passes through them and creates a high-pitched sound which scatters the deer away.  Although…I may have installed them backwards because the deer seem to gather on the road when I approach.

Hunters are, of course, the biggest threat to deer.   On average, more than 6 million deer are killed by hunters in the United States per year, while approximately 10 million Americans hunt them (which means there are 4 million unhappy hunters each year).

And there is a good reason why churches are deserted on the opening weekend.   If you don’t bag a buck then, you may be up a creek. 

Using GPS trackers, experts have learned that deer respond to hunting pressure within the first three days of the season.   They change their patterns, they move less, hide more and when they do move, it is to where the hunters are not.  They know when they are being hunted and they flee.

The prophet Habakkuk understood deer habits and he also had a good grasp of the nature of God.  He wrote of Him, “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.“  KJV – Habakkuk 3:19

The prophet was a citizen of Judah, a nation that had raced to embrace sin and had left God in the dust.  People like Habakkuk were on the most wanted list.  His message of repentance was repulsive to the masses and needed to be censored.

And then God had declared judgment upon them.  He promised to open the nation’s gates to the marauding Babylonians who would level the land and take her people into exile. 

There was little hope for his nation, but lots for him.  He considered God to be His strength – His wherewithal with which to meet the opposition and the devastation.

He also compared himself to a hind – a female deer.   God became to him a refuge during the hunting season.  It was as if he were fleeing the forest for the high places – far from his predators.  And like the surefooted hind, he would not stumble there, but walk securely because of the Lord.   The higher a deer ascends, the less accessible he is to hunters.

I must confess, at times I wonder if the hunt is on.  I am increasingly finding my Christian values out of sync with a predatory culture. 

How is it that believing the ancient words of Scripture is now considered a hate crime?   Why have the pandemic meeting restrictions been so much more severe on the churches than on casinos and bars?   When did it become so heinous for a Supreme Court nominee to be a person of faith?  

There was once a time when people of opposing values could respectfully disagree.  These days, opposing values have become imposing values.   When I am unwilling to concede certain biblical truths, I seem to be regarded as an enemy of social truth.  

Hunting season is underway so maybe you and I should join Habakkuk and find our refuge with the Lord on high. The air is clear up there.  The elevated view puts everything in perspective and our hearts will rest securely with Him. 

A PRAYER:  Lord help me find that place of peace above the fray.

trapped — November 11, 2020

trapped

He was as wriggly as a nightcrawler about to be hooked!   

Each night we read the Bible with our preschoolers and ended our time in prayer, on our knees at the sofa.   While my wife and daughter and I focused minds and hearts on our prayers, my boy was sitting, standing, rolling, sighing, twiddling – and every other “ing” but kneeling.  

I warned him that if he kept it up, I would put him in the “prayer closet.”  Which is what? you may ask.  It is a private place where a person can devote themselves to prayer (think the movie War Room).  It is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:5-6. 

But that wasn’t the prayer closet I had in mind. 

He continued with his antics.  Of course, he did.  We didn’t learn until he was in 4th grade that he had ADD / HD and maybe XYZ too.  He couldn’t help himself.   

But we didn’t know that back then, so one evening I followed through and pulled him into the prayer closet.   To do this, I placed him in a kneeling prayer posture, between the sofa and me with my arms on either side of him and my body hovering over his – as in nesting prayer partners.

He was trapped – trapped by my religion.

—————————–

There are other ways to trap a person with religion. 

The Pharisees in Jesus day were masters at it.  They went far beyond the principles in the Word of God to create a host of nit-picky rules that they compelled their flock to follow  

They decided that a righteous person could never eat with a sinner (Mt. 9:11); that one could not be holy unless they fasted (Mt. 9:14); that a person who feeds themselves on the Lord’s Day is a sinner (Mt. 12:2); that there are only certain days when it is appropriate to help others (Mt. 12:14); and that the person who does not wash before eating is a pretty much a heathen (Mt. 15:1)

They reduced faith to a punishing dribble of todos and were more excited about arguing the law than keeping it.  (Mt. 23:2) They drew others into the same empty pit into which they themselves had fallen.    

The urge to trap others with our religion is called legalism and it is contagious.  In fact, many of us have occasionally been guilty of putting others into a straight-jacket for Jesus.  

-Sam told Andrew that a true Christian could only vote for one particular candidate.

-Amber is teaching the girls in her Bible study that God wants them to eat vegan.

-Molly corrected Shirley for not wearing a dress to church

-Bill blasted his boy for cheating God – said he needed to give 10 cents out of every dollar

-The pastor counseled the man to boycott the movie theater, and yet the pastor was streaming smut at home. 

Oh my – why do we do such things?   Choose the excuse that best fits you…

– to create a ladder to holiness I think I can manage

– to make sure others share in my misery

– to validate my own convictions

– to deflect attention from my own sorry manner of life 

– to exercise power over others

Legalism is a trap.  For those of us who struggle with it, here are some suggestions.

– Escape the trap.  Those that impose legalism on others usually have the same noose around their own necks.  Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”  – Galatians 5:1. Study the book of Galatians if you need assistance.

– Focus on what is clearly articulated in the Word of God.  There truly are standards to which God calls us but be careful because it is too easy for us to tack on extras. 

– Allow the Lord to be the Master.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  

The Lord allows us a great degree of latitude with issues that are not clearly defined in the Word.  He says we need to be convinced in our own mind.   (Romans 14:5)   Let’s allow one another that same latitude. 

Not long ago, I threatened to put my boy back in the prayer closet.  He laughed!  He is now in his forties and a good 7 inches taller than I am.   

Fortunately, he is also standing tall in the faith.  He escaped the trap.  May you be as fortunate. 

A PRAYER: Lord relieve me of the obsession to straight jacket myself and others with peripherals.  

All Scripture references from the NET Bible®

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