Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

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!

the day God came to be — March 6, 2019

the day God came to be

I remember the day that God was born – in my experience that is.  He had always been more of a dusty theoretical concept to me until He opened my eyes to His hidden, spiritual, eternal reality.

I remember being stunned to find that God was truly alive and that He interacted with me, on my turf, on a minute-to-minute basis.  He answered my super specific prayers and spoke to me by directing me to a perfectly appropriate passage of Scripture.  I was mystified by the way He loved me by providing just the right car at just the right price.

I found significance in the details of life because the God I came to know was all powerful and all knowing – everywhere all at the same time.  I wondered at the way He ordered every aspect of life according to His gracious and sovereign plan and I was grateful to be a part of it.

I will admit, though, I sometimes took it too far.  I remember closing my eyes and running my finger over the pages of my Bible.  When I stopped roving and opened my eyes, I expected God to give me a personalized message.  Today I wonder what would have happened if my finger had landed on Job 19:17, “My breath is repulsive to my wife” -NET Bible®

When I dressed for the day, I would sometimes ask God to help me pick out a shirt.  Now I just ask my wife (although God was nicer about it.)

Yes, sometimes my wide-eyed wonder was a little excessive.  The dog was exhibit A. I shared a home back then with 2 others who were also new to and awed by God.   A dog had been given to us.  He was a big mangy dirty-white cur, but we knew that God was in the details and that He must have wanted us to have the beast.

The dog was nameless so one of us suggested that we ask God to show us the name He had in mind for the dog.  We circled up and prayed a prayer that ended in this way, “and Lord we thank you for the dog – Amen.”    We opened our eyes and dropped our jaws because we knew that God had just answered our prayer.  “Amen.”  The dog’s name was to be Amen! 

Contrary to his name, he turned out to be the dog from hell.    The word Amen is used in the Bible as an affirmation of what had just been said.  It means “So be it.”  At our house it meant, “So eat it.”   The dog was a bottomless pit.  And when he had finished his dog chow, he would chow down on our shoes.   

Eventually we had to go our separate ways and none of us could take the dog with us (at least that’s what we said.)  So, we gave him to a priest who seemed to be thankful to have a dog with a sanctified name (although I hope he sprinkled him with some holy water too!)  

He later told us that the dog had escaped from the rectory.  The priest canvased the neighborhood looking for him crying, “Amen!  Amen!”  He nearly started a revival.  An African American woman opened her front door and shouted, “Praise the Lord.”  (Hey, I am not making this up!)

Well, I am a lot older now and unfortunately that sense of awe I had for God has become as dulled as my other five senses.   I wonder what happened? 

What I initially believed about God has not been undermined or contradicted by anything that I have experienced with God since.  He has been the same yesterday, today and forever – the same, ever, awesome God. 

So, what can I do to recapture that wonder?  When I take time to marinate my mind with a passage of Scripture, I do hear His voice – and it stirs me.  When I review my prayer journal and I see the multitude of specific answers to my prayers, I am moved.  God shows up in new and fresh ways whenever I step out in faith and do a mission trip – and that is awesome.  Or maybe I need to write about Him – like in a blog.  Yep even as I think about and type these God thoughts, my heart is moved to worship.

Go and do likewise and may the Lord be with you, Amen.  (not the dog)

_________________________________________________________________________

I recently watched this clip and the Lord stirred me.  One of my most favorites songs of worship: Knowing You.  Watch it without tearing up.  Can’t be done!

No Fare! — February 27, 2019

No Fare!

We were bored and bottom-of-the-bucket broke, so several of us junior highers decided to become caddies.   It looked easy on TV.  The caddie followed the pro around, lugging a bag of clubs.  Sometimes he whispered stuff in his ear like, “Hey check your fly. You’re on TV for goodness sake!”   We could do that.

Early the next morning the four of us walked to the course.   If GPS had been invented, we would have known that it was 11 miles away.  Maybe we should have consulted a map first?  Oh well!  We finally shuffled into the clubhouse in the late morning only to have our ambitions crushed. “We don’t use caddies here!”   Hmm!  Maybe we should have called first!  Oh Well!

There was an optimist among us.  He mentioned another course in Worthington, the next town over.  So, we back-tracked 6 miles and then caught a city bus.  It was now well after lunch time and I had just used my last 20 cents for bus fare.  It was worth it – better than a limo.

The bus reached our stop and we tried to get off, but the driver said, “That will be 10 cents!”  “Why?”  He said, “Because we entered Worthington and there is a surcharge of 10 cents.”   So, each of us begrudgingly dropped in another dime. 

I was last in line and in a panic.  The only thing left in my pocket was lint, but he wouldn’t let me off until I paid my 10 cents.   The bus was stopped, the driver was irked, the rest of the riders were grumbling with impatience, and my friends were already off the bus.

I suddenly got a premonition of the future – me, trapped in a bus, on an endless loop to nowhere.  If I were lucky maybe a girl would show up someday who had made the same mistake.  We could marry, I could work as the bus driver (white socks and all) and we would have little bus babies.  

The daydream was broken by the sound of a rattling coin in the fare box.  Another rider took pity and dropped in a dime – for me.   With humility I whispered, “thanks” and jumped off.

That was a ridiculously hopeless feeling, but it was not a feeling that was new to me.   I grew up with the idea that I had to pay my way to heaven.  I needed to go to church and pray and give and live a stellar life and then – drop it all in God’s celestial fare box.  That was the price to get to heaven.

I worked hard at all those things, but I would also wonder if what I did was ever enough?  What if my bus pulled up to heaven and God were to say, “Sorry buddy, you are 10 cents short. You aren’t getting off till you pay up.”?

It wasn’t until later that I learned that I could contribute nothing to my journey.  God looked at my good deeds and called them “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  My efforts were costly, and they looked good, but they accomplished little.

Then I came to understand Jesus and the reason He came.  The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) NET Bible®   It was Christ who paid my fare.  He suffered and died on a cross in my place to bring me to God. 

When I accepted His gift, I was invited to get on the bus and when that bus finally stops at the gate of Heaven, I will move toward the exit in confidence because Peter used the word “once.”  Christ suffered “once” for my sins to bring me to God.  It was enough to cover every contingency.  Jesus paid it all – forever. 

From the bus stop we walked another mile to a posh country club.  It turns out, that they did employ caddies, but not the likes of us.  Besides, all the golfers had gone home to have the evening meal with their families.   So, with tails between our legs, we turned and walked home – which was another 10 miles.  

That day we ambitious but naïve kids walked about 26 miles and spent 13 hours doing it.  What did we learn?  Two things:  1) Mowing lawns is an easier way to make money; 2) It’s wonderful to have someone who is willing to pay what we are incapable of paying.

Enjoy the original song below!

Up the Hill. Written: Jim Johnson.  Vocals: Sharie and Jim Johnson 

reimaging — February 20, 2019

reimaging

I recently visited the office of a headhunter (the kind that shrinks the ranks of the unemployed not heads).  He seemed sincere about finding me a position and suggested that I email a copy of my resume.  He offered to evaluate it and make some helpful suggestions. 

So, I went home, pulled it up on the PC, brought the info up to date and pasted on the customary pictorial head shot at the top.  It looked impressive to my eyes.  I triple checked the whole thing and then hit the send button.    A day later he responded with a suggestion. 

He wrote, “I would recommend removing your picture!”   What?  Well that can’t be right – let me read it again more carefully.  Oh, it says, “I would recommend removing your picture!”  (I wish I were making this up, but it’s true.)

Wow!  This can only mean one thing.  My headhunter does not like my head!!!!! 

He thinks the presence of my image on my resume is a liability to getting a job.  I wonder why?  Could it be my Frankenstein scar or my moonscape complexion?  Or maybe it’s my teeth that have a strong resemblance to Stonehenge. 

So, what if I remove it, but an employer gets my resume and decides to give me a face-to-face interview.   Will they see me and then tear their eyes out from the trauma?

I suspect the issue is mostly about my snow-white hair and beard.  I get it.   No one wants to hire a Santa Claus (except in December). 

This is a tough one.   I am all about striving to be smarter and more capable than I was yesterday.  I want to make progress and grow.  I just want to be better BUT there is little I can do to improve my face.  I started out in life with rosy cheeks, velvety skin and a wisp of red hair and it’s has been downhill ever since – no remedy!    (Is it just me, or do the Hollywood types who do the lifts and Botox look worse than they did before?)

Thank God I have another image that is improving.  Paul reminds me that God’s plan for me is to, “be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29) This means that He is replacing my old image with the image of Christ.  His heart, values, even His character are all growing in and on me.   It’s a process that started the day I came to know Jesus; it continues (Phil 3:10) and will be completed the day I meet Him face-to-face. (Phil 3:21) – all possible because Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20)

It’s a subtle process to be sure, but it is discernible.  I visited with some childhood friends last year and we talked about the old days (some of which were good).  My wife was there listening and was shocked to learn about the old me.   

She heard me apologize for breaking into one friend’s house.  She listened as I asked another to forgive me for the “bus incident.”   I once stood with him as he waited for the city bus to get to work.  It came, but I thought it would be funny to waive the driver on.  My friend missed his bus, which made him late for work which made him unemployed.  (Hey! I know a good headhunter!)

My wife couldn’t understand how her husband could have been that other person too.   She was dazed but I was darn grateful to know that I had been changed.  Jesus was showing.

You may not be any better looking than I am.  (Well you probably are).  If you are in Christ, however, you are improving.  Don’t fight it!  Allow the Lord the freedom to reshape your marred image into the magnificent image of His Son. 

Co-Mow — February 14, 2019

Co-Mow

An enigma – that’s what it is!  On one hand the Scripture tells me that the Lord will provide for me (Matt. 6:33) while on the other hand it tells me if I don’t work, I should not be allowed to eat. (2 Thess. 3:10)   So why does a great big all-powerful God need us to participate in His program?

My dad answered that question when I was too young to understand.  It was the late fifties and I was nearly 5 years old.  My dad was clipping the lawn with an outdated reel mower on a sultry summer day.  I watched as he labored to force that manually powered mechanical beast through the thick green. 

He left the mower for the house to get a drink.  Aha, a chance to make him proud.  I reached high above my head and grabbed the worn T-handle and pushed.  It wouldn’t budge – not an inch.  No leverage – tiny muscles!  I huffed and puffed while the lawn laughed. 

That’s when a couple of massive hands came from behind me and outflanked mine on the handle.  Dad nudged the mower and we moved and then picked up speed.  Soon the reel was happily tossing its clippings in my little face.

Dad didn’t need my help, but I sure needed his.  We finished the lawn in record time. (It took at least twice as long to get it done.)   The sweet smell of the new mown grass was almost as sweet as the experience of having conquered it with my dad. 

And this is where I begin to understand my Heavenly Father.  My dad really didn’t need my help.  In fact, I seriously complicated the task.  He had to make room for me.  He had to take small steps and wait for me when I needed to stop to get a fresh grip. He had to step over and around me on the corners.    

But why?  I brought zero to the table toward the accomplishment of that task and I really wasn’t old enough to treat it as a training experience.  So why did dad allow me or even want me to participate?  

The relationship – just the relationship!  It was an opportunity for him to be with me and me with him – to share the experience together.

I am fairly sure that our Heavenly Father treats His ponderous work in the same way.   Though He does not need us, He enjoys us and the responsibilities He gives us are designed to draw us near.   

The Lord is my provider.  He can take care of me whether I work another day or not.  But as I work to put bread on the table, I am frequently reminded of how much I need Him.   I depend on Him for the opportunity to work and the wisdom, strength and health needed to get the job done.  Such things fuel my prayers.  He also allows me to enjoy what He enjoys when a task is completed.  Working with Him draws me nearer to Him and He loves it when that happens.

And yes, it certainly is more trouble and takes Him longer to accomplish what He could and would do on His own, but He loves us and wants to enjoy the experience with us.     

Thank you Father for making room for me at the T-handle of life, but please, never let me forget that it is only through and because of You that anything is ever really accomplished.

Listen to the song below and remember how wonderful He really is!

Oh God Our Help in Ages past. Vocals: Jim Johnson

toilet training — February 6, 2019

toilet training

There are some prayers that I wish the Lord would not answer!  I was removing the toilet in the master bath because the drain was clogged with roots.  At the same time my wife was in the living room thinking, “Lord I would really like to have one of those newer taller models.  It might help me with the pain in my hips.”  

Meanwhile, I lugged the toilet out to the garage and just as I arrived, the Lord answered her prayer.  The bowl slipped from my hands and shattered on the concrete.  Oh well, if I had been a better husband I would have bought her a new toilet anyway.

I am glad that God says yes to my prayers.  My prayer journal is filled, cover to cover with the evidence of God’s positive response to my pleas.  But sometimes he says no. 

The apostle Paul had some kind of difficulty.  He called it his “thorn in the flesh.”   He wrote, “I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10; the NET Bible)

Paul asked God over three different seasons of time to remove that thorn.  God said no!   “You need the thorn to remind you that you need Me and my power as you live your life.”   

How infinite is this wisdom that sees what is and what could be.  And how gracious of God to say no when to say yes would limit or hurt us. 

My wife thought she might be in labor with our first born.  It was 4 a.m. and there was a foot of freshly fallen snow on the ground.  I didn’t want to make that drive to the hospital unless I knew for sure it was time, so I prayed, “Lord, if it’s time, would you cause her water to break?”  The intervals between her mild contractions were growing shorter – but still no water.  

The doctor said he thought it was a false alarm, but that we should go to the hospital anyway.   We literally snowplowed our way there with snow higher than our VW running boards. 

They examined my wife and found that she was dilated 90% of the way.  But they also discovered that the baby was breech and the cord was between her and the exit.  (you know what I mean!)   The doctor broke out into a cold sweat and did a C-section in record time.   

Had God answered my prayer back at the house, my beautiful baby girl would have suffocated in the womb.  

Thank You, Lord for saying yes so often to us, but thank You as well for saying no to our short-sighted self-centered prayers.

PS: Here is a song by my beautiful baby girl. Enjoy!

The Love of God. Vocals: Bethany Bergman

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