Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

lumpy — March 9, 2022

lumpy

What game is well over 100 years old now, involves 2 players, a rope, a ball, a pole and a lumpy head?   

Tetherball of course! 

Back in 1909, a woman by the name of Jessie Bancroft, gave us the game in her book Games for the Playground.  You may remember Miss Bancroft.  She was the President of the American Posture League.  (They rejected my membership application)

Anyway, in tetherball, a ball is tied, by a rope, to the top of a pole.  Two players face each other.  One slams the ball with their fist, with the goal of wrapping the rope around the pole until the ball touches it. 

I remember learning the sport.  I would wind up and pound the ball as hard as I could, but before I could reposition myself, the ball would circle around the pole and hit me in the back of the head.  That’s the crazy thing about tetherball – the ball always returns to you. 

I seldom won, but tetherball taught me a life lesson that has given me a measure of wisdom which is this: “What goes around comes around!” 

Solomon said as much in Proverbs 11:25. He wrote, “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.” Solomon gave us a wisdom principle.  Be kind and generous to others and they will tend to treat you the same way.  I like the way that the New American renders it, “He who waters, will himself be watered.”  

This is consistent with our own experiences isn’t it?  A guy helped his neighbor mow his lawn when the man’s mower died, and that fall the neighbor joined him as he raked his yard.   The cashier was a little snippy, but her customer was so kind and positive, that the cashier volunteered to bag her groceries for her. 

The ball comes back around the pole to bring the blessing we sow.

But there is the flip side too. 

In Proverbs 26 Solomon also wrote about the evil we might do.  He mentioned lying, hatred and all other kinds of mischief.  He then capped it off in verse 27 saying, “The one who digs a pit will fall into it; the one who rolls a stone—it will come back on him.”

Pretty interesting imagery!  Wylie Coyote comes to mind.  He buys a shovel from the Acme Company to dig a pit in order to trap the road runner.  Inevitably he stumbles in himself.

In the next scene, he uses his Acme hoist to lug a boulder up a hill – still another scheme to steamroll his prey, but it breaks loose and leaves a paper-thin coyote.  Beep-beep!

Solomon wants us to know that the evil we say and do, tends to spin around the pole and return to hit us in the back of the head. 

I mean isn’t that right?  When she gets snippy with her husband, he’s inclined to get snippy with her.  One dad worked a lot and failed to find time for his kids.  Today they fail to find time for him.

These things often happen in real time, but if not now, the ball will come back to bonk us when we stand before God and give an account for our lives.  Paul put it this way in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.”

I got enough lumps in tetherball to know that I want to avoid the same in life.  I need to treat people right.  Fortunately, Jesus gave us a really handy gauge by which to monitor our behavior.  He said, “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31)  

Weigh every word. Consider every deed.  Choose to do well, cause it’s the right thing to do, and cause it’ll come right back at you.

A PRAYER: Lord help me be mindful and careful of the impact I have on others.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

prowler — March 2, 2022

prowler

If I were to start all over having kids, I might name each one “Siri” so they would answer me when I called.  I’m just being silly here, but it does cause me to ponder the perils of being alone.

I am thinking about the African Savannah, teeming with all kinds of safari life.  There in the tall grass is a hungry lion scanning the menu.  He spots a herd of wildebeests and fixates on the one that lags behind.  

Why is the mangy beest alone?   Could it be that he is tired, or maybe injured or sick, or maybe he had an issue with another wooly wildebeest.  Or maybe he was concerned about catching hoof and mouth disease from the unmasked.   Any of the above would make him the perfect prey.

The cunning lion is not going to attack a beast amid the herd.  Too much risk of failure or fatality.  He wants the loner – the one without the others to come to his defense.  Easy pickings. 

So, the lion lunges, lacerates, and then licks his lips over his tasty meal. 

I am guessing, this is why the apostle Peter used the lion as an illustration.  He wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.”  NET Bible ®

Peter tells us that we are the prey, and the devil is the apex predator.  Despite a world jam-packed with people, the devil is a picky eater.  He prowls about looking for a certain someone to devour. 

Who?  Like the lion, he often seeks the one who is separated from the herd.  This person isn’t meeting with and being with other Christians in a local church. 

Why might that be?  Like the wildebeest, maybe the person is tired – worn out by their last church – taking a respite.  Maybe they have been emotionally injured, disillusioned with the pastor or board, leaving a limp in their spirit; or maybe this person is in conflict with another beastly church member. 

Separated from the herd – vulnerable – the perfect prey for the devil.  He exploits that advantage.   He lunges and lacerates so that spiritually tender hearts are hardened, temptation goes unchecked and ethics are compromised.  This is what happens to the spiritual nomad.

The result: The bond between God and the believer is strained and icy – giving way to a meaningless faith, self-destructive behavior, broken marriages, and fractured families. 

And the devil licks his lips over his tasty meal. 

Oh, if that person had been with the herd, someone would have surely sensed the danger early on.  They could have intervened and closed the ranks.

The herd could have massed together and overwhelmed the devil with their prayers.  If one was injured, they could have surrounded him and protected him in his weakness.

We need each other.  We need to be with each other, whether we got the shot or not – whether our body has antibodies or not.   We need to gather with the collection of imperfect people called the local church – cause it’s the perfect place for us.

I have been part of a small church.  The community there was rich.  People cared and looked out for each other.  They prayed for each other when the times were good and especially when they were tough. 

They provided meals when folks were sick, or babies were born.  They celebrated the anniversaries and birthdays.  They did a great job of living with and loving on each other.  They stood strong because they stood together. 

I have also been part of a large church and found the very same kind of supportive community in a healthy Sunday School class or a Lifegroup.  

My friend, why don’t you return to the herd if you are currently away from your church.  Find one if you don’t have a church home.  It’s the smart thing to do. 

A PRAYER: Lord I am setting my phone to remind me on Sunday morning to get up and get to church.  Please help me to follow through!

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

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

deep sea distress — February 23, 2022

deep sea distress

Does God have a personal plan for you and me?  I hope so, because being a part of the collective isn’t much fun.    

My wife and I were down on the Texas gulf, when we decided to try deep sea fishing.   We knew nothing, but the captain supplied the boat, the bait, the tackle and the experience. 

We boarded with 40 or so other naïve fisher people and then cruised the gulf until the captain pulled near to shrimper.  Just beneath the surface, you could see scads of big fish in a frenzy over the shrimp. 

We were told to line up on one side of the boat, shoulder to shoulder, and drop our lines.   Immediately someone screamed, “Fish on!”  The fish fought – frantically swimming to and fro to escape. 

The line with the fish, became quickly entangled with the rest of ours.  Oh my – what a mess.  30 of us spent the next 30 minutes disentangling.   Meanwhile another snagged a fish, and the remaining 10 fisher folk snagged each other. 

It became clear that only the first one to hook a fish was going to catch a fish.  The rest of us sat on the deck and deknitted our lines.

___________

I hope God has a better plan for us than that!  Turns out He does! 

Paul wrote, “For we are his creative work…” (Ephesians 2:10)  

The phrase “creative work” was translated from one superb Greek word, “poiema.” Other translations have rendered it, “workmanship.”  We are God’s workmanship.  That sounds nice but it fails to capture the full breadth of the word.

“Poiema,” is where we get our English word, “poem.”  We are God’s poetry.  Other Greek literature of the day applied this word to a statue, a song, an architectural masterpiece and even a painting.   Which is to say that we are God’s works of art.

I love to create using words and music and though I have written over 400 songs, no two are even remotely alike.  Each has my unique stamp to it.  Such is the nature of art.

And so, it is with us – we have been uniquely and distinctively created by God who regards each of us as His masterpiece.  

And in our uniqueness, He has given us a unique purpose.  The passage goes on to say that we have “been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.

God has a special and unique plan for each of us based, on how He has crafted us. 

I think back to the book of Acts, where Paul referenced King David in a message.  He said, “For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors…”  Acts 13:36

God had a specific plan and purpose for King David to serve in relation to his own time, which the King carried out in his life.

So evidently, long ago, God said something like that about David.  “I have a plan for you, a specific purpose for you to fulfill in your life.  And though this plan will intersect with the plans I have for others, it will never become entangled with or thwarted by them.”  And David fulfilled God’s plan.

I recently went deep sea fishing again, BUT this time, my son-in-law chartered a smaller boat.  Just family!  The cap took us out to a school of blackfin tuna.  One at a time we took our turn in the “fighting” chair.  I landed two – no muss no fuss – and not a single tangle. 

When the individual is considered – good things happen and that is the way God does it.  In His sovereign power and wisdom, He manages the circumstances of our lives and accomplishes through us the purposes He has for us. 

I don’t understand how He does it, but I sure am glad He does. 

A PRAYER: Lord help me more each day to understand who you created me to be and what you have created me to do. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

All Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

an issue with the audio — February 16, 2022

an issue with the audio

A friend was having issues with his hearing.  It persisted for 3 weeks until he finally went to see his doctor.  “Hmm” the doc said.  “There is something in your ear.” 

He tried to remove it, but couldn’t, so he called in reinforcements – a nurse with a power wash!   And out it popped – the rubber part of an earbud.  Evidently, he really got into his music, or actually his music got into him. 

Ironic isn’t it?  Something that was designed to enhance his hearing, impaired it instead. 

I am familiar with that problem.

In John 10 Jesus presented Himself as the Good Shepherd and we as His sheep.  The passage speaks of the intimacy that the shepherd has with His sheep. 

In verse 27, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”   KJV.  A Christian has obviously sensed the Lord’s calling at the time they came to faith in Jesus.

But here, Jesus speaks of an ongoing conversation.  The verb “hear” is present, active, indicative, meaning that it is happening now. 

Jesus speaks to His sheep – words of encouragement, correction, teaching and more.

But we may not be hearing Him, because something that was designed to enhance our hearing, impairs it instead. 

Seriously.  Where do we go to hear from the Lord?  To church – to hear the pastor preach.  And why not?  He has spent 10-20 hours studying and praying over his biblically based message.  He has interacted with the Lord and is excited about sharing it. It’s worth hearing.

But the process is a little like the momma bird that eats and then regurgitates it up for her baby.  Sure, there are nutritional benefits to the predigested meal, but some essential things were lost along the way.

It was momma who sought out her own worm – experiencing the excitement of the hunt and the joy of discovery.   She savored the thrill of victory and then enjoyed a fresh, satisfying, tasty meal. 

Sermons, Bible studies, books, videos, podcasts or even this blog are great – but regurgitations at best. 

What our spirit craves is the joy of discovery and the excitement of the hunt, the thrill of understanding and the fresh, satisfying experience of hearing the voice of the Lord.

So, try this.  Open your Bible and chew on one of the stories of Jesus in the Gospels.  Some folks prefer to read several chapters a day.  I find that more time thinking about less is far more rewarding.

As you read, ask and answer 3 questions about your reading. 

1. “What do I see?”    Make a list of your observations.   Look for the who, where, what, when, why and how of the story.   Consider the details like a detective would a crime scene. 

2. “What Does It Mean?   Try to sum up the theme of the story in a sentence.  What is the moral of the story?  

3. “What does the Lord want me to do with this?”  How can you implement what you learned in your life?  Is there an attitude or behavior than needs to change?  Should you be encouraged, convicted, corrected?  What is the Lord saying to you through what you have read?

The Lord often speaks to us through His Word.  As we read it, we may identify with the men on the road to Emmaus who heard Jesus speak.  “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”  (Luke 24:32) NET Bible ®

The rewards are boundless.  I have been studying my Bible this way every night for almost 50 years.  Sure, a person can tire of reading the same thing over and over, BUT, when the Lord speaks freshly to me as I read, there is nothing better!  So, grab your Bible and perk up your ears!

A PRAYER: Lord it frustrates me to know that You are speaking, but I am not always hearing.  Help me!

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

go-to place – part 2 — February 7, 2022

go-to place – part 2

When things look bleak in the present, I do as the prophet Jeremiah did. I think back to God’s faithfulness to me in the past.   (Lamentations 3:21-22) This story is my primary go-to place. 

In part 1, I laid out the scenario.  I had graduated from Bible College and needed a job but was rejected 43 times over 9 months.  I had a wife and 2 kids and a vision to do ministry ahead of me, but God seemed to stand in my way.  My wife suggested I apply to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) for more training and that’s where the story picks up again. 

_________

There was a big hurdle to jump. No one from my college had ever been accepted as a student at DTS (a number had been rejected)  But – 2 months after applying, I got a letter of admission.  I would be on academic probation.

In May of 1982, Sharie and I happened to meet a couple that had just graduated from DTS.  They told me of a printer in Dallas that hired students.  I just happened to work as a printer for the last 4 years. 

So, I made a 2-minute phone call to Mr. David Millet.  I told him of my plans.  He told me to come him tro see him when I arrived.  He didn’t say yes, but neither did he say no.

Then I got a call from an old friend – out of the blue.  He was attending DTS that summer and just happened to find my name on a list of several hundred incoming students. 

Without knowing of our need, He invited us to stay with him and his family in Dallas until we got settled.  That was a God send because we certainly didn’t have the money to make an additional trip to go apartment hunting.

So, though we had multiple green lights – we had little money – hardly enough to move, then to get an apartment and then pay tuition.  Truck rental alone would be $1,200 plus fuel.  There was nothing to do but wait upon the Lord.

Our home church was in the middle of a costly building program, and yet on July 7th they  graciously chose to give us $1,000.

We found that we could rent a truck in Columbus, OH (3 hours away) for $900 which would maybe leave us enough money to move and possibly rent an apartment in Dallas.  So, by faith we set a date to move.

Many kind Christian friends gave us gifts.  The church purchased a fine suit for me.  The women of the church had a shower for Sharie.   The president of my Bible College gave me some needed textbooks.

Then Sharie’s brother promised us 2 used bedroom suites for our kids which they desperately needed.  They were complete except for the box springs for one of the beds.    We drove to Columbus to rent the truck and would pick up the furniture on the way back.

While we were on the road, my dad’s neighbor carried some box springs to the alley for the trash man.  He saw my dad and told him he hated to throw it away because it was in great condition.   He asked if dad knew anyone who might need them.  Not knowing our need, he said, “Maybe.”  We arrived, my dad told me about it – and I was stunned at the goodness of God.

The truck rental place required an additional $900 refundable deposit.   I didn’t expect this and didn’t have the money – but I did have a credit card.  They allowed me to put the deposit on my card.

Ironically, my credit limit had been $600 for several years but the ceiling was unexpectedly raised to $900 just the week before.  The exact amount I needed.

To get the truck at the right price, we would need to return it to Columbus.  A friend, Robbie Jones, volunteered to drive to Texas with us and then return it.  The night Robbie arrived back in Columbus; another church friend happened to be passing through.  He conveniently picked him up and carried him the 3 hours back to southern Ohio

We arrived at my friend’s house in Dallas on Aug.1st with 3 urgent objectives.  Get a job, get an affordable apartment in a town which at that time had a 96% occupancy rate, and earn enough money to start seminary. 

We were determined not to take out any school loans.  And all this had to happen over the next 30 days.  Not sure how we would do that with the $200 we had left.

The next day I visited the printer.  I was hired in 2 minutes without filling out an application and I was promised more money than I had ever made in my life with flexible hours so I could pursue seminary. 

In the preceding months we had applied by mail to several federally subsidized apartment complexes.  That morning Sharie called each of them looking for a vacancy   Every single last one said there was at least a one-year wait. 

We were out of housing options, so I decided to go in person.  I visited the first complex that Sharie had phoned, and the manager basically said, “You moved to Dallas with no apartment, and you expected to get one when you arrived?  You’re are an idiot.” 

I went to the second place, told them my story and they asked, “When do you want to move in?”  – – And yet – they had told Sharie on the phone that there was at least a year’s wait.  We were in our apartment in 2 weeks.  3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths AC with a swimming pool for $130.00 a month

Got a job and an apartment. Still needed tuition.  It turned out that the print shop had a lot of extra work in August.  So, both Sharie and I worked, and I had my first semester’s tuition in hand by the start of school.  From that point on, God provided the tuition money in advance of each semester.  I graduated on time with zero debt. 

And that’s my story.  Not a single word of exaggeration.  It happened just as I have written.  But please don’t get the idea that this is everyday life for us.  It’s not.  It was more of a special season in which we needed to see the faithfulness of God in the most awesome way

But that’s where my mind goes to when I am struggling with hope in the present.  And it warms me and encourages me and gives me the strength I need to trudge on.

You probably need to find your own go-to place with God.

A PRAYER: Father help us all to remember and cherish those spectacular God moments in our lives. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

go-to place – part 1 — February 2, 2022

go-to place – part 1

There was a prophet who was required to spend his entire life preaching a message that was perpetually rejected.  Because Jeremiah was faithful to God, he was physically beaten up by his peers and imprisoned; rejected by family; regarded as a traitor to his nation and his written prophecies were destroyed.

Only Covid could have made his suffering complete.  How did he get up and face each grueling day?  He had a secret.  He wrote, “But this I call to mind; therefore, I have hope: the Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end.” – Lamentations 3:21-22  NETBible®

Jeremiah would brush away the bad, and each day think on the instances where God had been so good and faithful and present for him.  That was his go-to place. 

I am thinking we all need a go-to place.  Here’s my favorite.

On July 6th, 1982 I had a wife and 2 children and an invitation to study at Dallas Theological Seminary but only $800 in our bank account – another frustrating factor in a string of hopeless situations.

It began with my graduation from Bible College in 1981.  I had an impressive resume and recommendation letters from a couple of well-known Christian authors.   I had planted a church, graduated with a 3.96 and had every expectation of landing a ministry position.

I was soon to discover, however that God was not interested in my accomplishments.  He wanted my attention.

He seemed to stand in the way of my moving forward.    I applied for teaching positions, missionary opportunities, para church work and many churches.  Over a 9-month period I had collected 43 rejection letters.  (still have them)

I remember making a lasting impression on one prospective church.  I met with the Elder Board for breakfast.   As they asked their questions, I tried to prepare my coffee.  I tore the corner off the bag of cream and squeezed – no cream.  I squeezed a little harder no cream, squeezed once again and the bottom of the creamer blew open and soaked the business suits of 3 Elders to my right. 

As crazy as this event was, it was somewhat typical of my attempt to get a job. Sharie and I would report back to our home church after each vain attempt and they would both sympathize and laugh. 

There was one option that I intended to postpone, which was to go to seminary.  But maybe the Lord wanted me there sooner.   I applied to an excellent school in Indiana.  It was closer to home; less expensive and a year shorter than the school I would have ideally chosen. 

But God stood in our way again.  We had one day to visit the school.  Both Sharie and I got the flu.  They needed two toilets in that hotel bathroom that night.  We were not able to line up housing or get a job so we limped back home in defeat once again. By Nov. of 1981 my possibilities were exhausted.  I could identify with Jeremiah – hopelessly trapped by my circumstances, and quite frustrated with God who controlled them, but He was at work reeducating me about my faith in Him.

At Sharie’s suggestion, I sent an application to Dallas Seminary.   It was so far away, a year longer, and cost so much more money, but I reasoned I had nothing to lose at that point.

I was force feeding my faith from the Word in those days.    Colossians 2:6 taught me that I was to walk in the same way that I came to Christ, which was by faith.  Hebrews 11 was a reminder that faith is the substance or reality of things I hope for and evidence or proof of things I can’t yet see.

I lived and cried my way through Exodus 14 every night where I found Israel blocked by the Red Sea and I learned that God sometimes steers us right into obstacles to build our faith.  From Hebrews 11:6 I learned that God expects me to live my life by my faith.   So by faith, I applied to DTS. 

___________

OK, not so encouraging thus far.  But even in the pain of this journey, the nearness of God was palpable and precious.  Look for part 2, for the rest of the story in my next blog.

A PRAYER: Lord if I never had a problem, I would never know that God could solve them.  Thank You

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

housing authority — January 26, 2022

housing authority

My daughter met her true love in South Korea.  They were both working at International schools there – each one subsisting on a modest educator’s income. 

He felt it was important that he get to know the parents of his future bride.  We met him at the airport on a cold December night and made the drive to our home.

We lived in a modest ranch style house of about 1,400 square feet – but he didn’t know that.   So, when we turned down the street with the illuminated million-dollar mansion on the corner, I pointed to it and said to my wife, “Oh honey did you leave those lights on again?” 

Boy did he perk up!  He thought he was marrying into money until we drove on and pulled up to our little bungalow.  

He wed our little girl anyway, and we are glad he did. 

___________

So, what kind of house would you like?  May I tell you what you are promised?  

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”  John 14:2 KJV

These are familiar words with a foreign meaning.  How can a house contain mansions? 

Jesus was reaching back into the culture of His day.  When a young Jewish couple was engaged, the young man would prepare for his bride by building a one-room house that would become their home. 

It would be erected on his father’s property and adjacent to his father’s house.  As each of the father’s sons married, they would do the same, so that over time – there would be multiple homes, built around a common courtyard. 

The whole complex, even the courtyard, was considered to be the father’s house.  

According to John 14:2, heaven is our Heavenly Father’s House.  Jesus called it a “place.”   It was a specific destination – a workplace where He would prepare eternal homes for each of His people. 

He underscored and italicized His words by saying, “If it were not so, I would have told you.”  

Heaven is a wonderful literal place.

Jesus went on to say, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” – John 14:3 KJV

Once that Jewish young man had finished building his house, he would return to his bride, formalize the marriage and escort her back to move into their cozy home.

In the same way Jesus promised to return for those He loved.  We will accompany Him back to the Father’s house to move into that special place He has prepared for those who belong to Him.  This is how Paul described the event in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17,

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.” – NET Bible ®

I love this!  It says to me that Jesus longs to be with us, even more than we long to be with Him. 

And yes, heaven is a place, but most importantly, heaven is a person.   The essence of heaven is just being with – united with Jesus.   

Hmm – Looks like we have married into something way more valuable than money.

A PRAYER: Lord, when I get caught up in the grind of this life, help me contemplate the great things to come.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

last no longer — January 19, 2022

last no longer

I played multiple sports when I was a kid, and I didn’t have to look at the scoreboard to know if my team was winning.   When we had a substantial lead, the coach would finally let me play.

Yep, my version of a sports injury was a splinter in my rear from the bench.

Then there were the pickup games in the neighborhood when the two most athletic guys would serve as captains, stand before the rabble, and choose players for their teams. 

When the chosen were chosen, I was often still left standing unclaimed.  I hung my head as the captains fought over who would be forced to take me. 

That was me – last to play – last to be chosen.

I guess that’s why I am thrilled to read words like this from 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”  NET Bible ®

The Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whispered several encouraging things to me and to you through this verse. 

– First: that we are loved by the Lord. 

In the little leagues there were most certainly players who were loved by the coach and by the throngs of parents who watched.  They hit the homeruns and scored the three pointers.  They made the big plays and were celebrated whereas I was barely tolerated.

But this passage tells me that that you and me – we are the ones who are loved.  The Greek word is based on the word “agape”, which is that exquisite love that is consistently attributed to God – a love not based on our performance or any return we might offer – but purely on God’s gracious initiative.

I am thinking that If God had been my baseball coach, he would have used me as a starter and would have endowed me with the skill I needed to get the job done.  

– Second: It tells me that we have been chosen.

God considered me, in spite of my inabilities and inadequacies. He said, “I have surveyed my vast options, and I choose you.” 

There were those rare occasions when a team captain would call out his choice, “I’ll take Johnson.”  I would stifle a surprised smile and then proudly walk over to his camp and stand with him while the rest of the team was assembled.  What a joy it was to have been chosen.

And yet the truth that God has chosen us is incomparable.  He has chosen us to be His own; chosen us to bear the eternal truth of salvation to the community; chosen us as citizens of heaven.   

And I smile a broad unstifled smile as I join Him.

– Third: God chose us from the beginning. 

The beginning of what?  Ephesians 1:4 put it this way, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”  Before time began, we were chosen to be His.  That is incredible – unthinkable. 

That’s like choosing up a team before the game of baseball or basketball was ever imagined. 

We were not the dregs of the sports world, last to be chosen when teams were being formed – but first – first to be selected.   

I am much older now and sadly I have not advanced much with my athletic skills.  I sometimes throw the football with my grandkids, and they get double the exercise as they chase my poorly aimed passes. 

Nope – athletics do not fill my emotional tank.  But knowing that God, out of His rich love for me, chose me from before the beginning of creation to be on his team.  Well – that is priceless.

A PRAYER: Thank you Lord, for not leaving us on the sidelines.  

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®

fingerless — January 11, 2022

fingerless

They slit the hand that fed them! 

My wife and I visited our missionary friends who served the people of Irian Jaya (now called Papua.)  The island rests in the South Pacific, with the Great Barrier Reef between it and Australia.  

It is the most primitive place on earth.  There are remote tribes there whose basic tools are made from stone. 

The men sit around their huts, tending to a few gourds which they use for underpants (don’t ask).  Everything else is done by the women.

Women build and repair their homes, handmake their clothes and weave tote bags out of tree bark.  They bear their children then carry them around as they work.

Most of their time is devoted to the sweet potato patch.  They plant, hoe, weed, harvest, cook and serve the tubers.  They eat this essential at every meal.

But here’s the thing, the Irian Jayans believe that the prosperity of their fields is controlled by the spirit world.  If the spirits are happy, the harvest is plentiful.

So, when a person dies there, they feel the need to pacify the spirit of the deceased.  The family does this by slicing off a finger of the closest female relative-all the way down to the knuckle without an anesthetic.

We encountered a number of women who were missing fingers.  Some of the older ones had maybe one or two left.

How crazy!   How could those women cultivate their crops with maimed fingerless hands?

How could the tribe prosper when they systematically disabled their primary workforce?

Please forgive the pun but: they slit the hand that fed them. 

___________

So, who it is that causes our nation to prosper? 

The answer is hidden in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.   In chapter 18, the Lord had a conversation with the prophet about the nations.  He said,

“There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. 8 But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it. 9 And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom. 10 But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it.”   Jeremiah 18:7-10 NET Bible ®

These words are unsettling because though they are Old Testament, they are not limited to the nation of Israel.  The Lord speaks of every nation and of the timeless principles by which He manages those nations.

It is God who determines whether a nation is built up or torn down, established or uprooted, flourishes or is destroyed.  His judgment is not capricious or partial but is rendered in direct response to the way a nation responds to God. 

He expects a nation to honor Him and abide by the truth He has revealed in His Word.  (vs.10)

It seems to me that the United States has been lavishly blessed – pretty much from her beginning.  Even today, while people scamper to escape other nations, they seek refuge in the USA. Why is this?

The God of the Bible has had a rich and comprehensive influence on how we have developed as a nation.  His Word has been welcomed and honored in our founding documents and our collective values.  It would seem that we are one of those fortunate nations that the Lord has chosen to build up and establish. 

But these days, I wonder if we may be taking a cue from Irian Jayans? 

We seem intent on pacifying the spirit of secularism – by cutting out the God that has prospered us.  

Hmmm.  Not good!

A PRAYER: Lord turn our hearts back to You; every heart back to You. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com 

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

coffee cup communique — January 5, 2022

coffee cup communique

She was reaching those early teen years when it felt a little awkward to express her heart to her grandparents.  But there was the night that she was rooting around the kitchen cabinet looking for a mug to hold her coffee. 

There were 40 or so to choose from and the one at the front was the most convenient, but she kept clattering through the various cups until she found the exact one that she wanted. 

She poured her coffee and then ambled over my way to make sure that I could see her choice.  It was imprinted with the words, “I love you grandpa.”  I choked up – and truly felt loved.

________________


I need to hear and experience more of that kind of lovin’.  I bet you do too!

Florida International University psychologist Lisa Arango says. “It’s the oxygen for the relationship. Telling somebody you love them feeds the relationship, keeps it alive.”

This kind of oxygen is sorely needed in this world of suffocation.  Ours is a culture that vilifies a person if they are not of the appropriate race or holds to a differing political view.   The teen driver that flips us the finger doesn’t help.

School can take your breath away too.  One kid started the fall term brimming with excitement.  2 months later his teacher had him convinced he was just another bad kid.  Then there was the teacher who told a child her class would be easier to teach once he was gone.  Another kid was assaulted at school because the bully didn’t like the color of her hair. 

OK – but what about family?   That’s where we feel the love – right?  Not always!  I am shocked at the epidemic number of Christian families that I personally know who are experiencing civil war – with members refusing to speak to each other, icing each other out of their lives. 

We need to hear and breathe the words “I love you!” 

My wife and I led a small group of newlyweds.  I polled them as part of my research for a magazine article I was writing.  I asked, “What do you wish your parents would have said to you – but didn’t.”  

Well over 90% had never heard one or both parents articulate the words, “I love you.”   To be fair, most felt loved by their parents, and yet they were sorrowful that they never heard the words.

OK but the One that matters most isn’t so bashful about saying it.  The Lord said to His people through the prophet Isaiah, “…you are precious and special in my sight and I love you.”  – Isaiah 43:4: NET Bible ®

Words of affection!  Note the present tense of the verb “love.”  This is not a love, long ago expressed or demonstrated.  It is an active, continual verbalized expression of God’s love for we His people. 

The apostle John instructed us to love others as God has loved us (1 John 4:11) which means we need to communicate it as He did.

Solomon wrote, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” – Proverbs 16:24: NET Bible ®

Life can be like a cup of bitter coffee.  Put some honey in the lives of those you love by verbalizing the words “I love you.”   

Could your marriage use a little sweetening?  Say the words to your love at the altar and do it every day after.  Use them especially before and after your debates.   

Speak them to your kids – when you drop them off at school, when you put them to bed and before and after you discipline them.  Be random with it too, so that they know your words are not driven by a mindless habit. 

Your aging parents feel forgotten.  Call them and tell them of your love.  And don’t be shy about telling your siblings and friends that you care for them.

Communicate your heart to the people you love.  Use a coffee mug if you wish!

A PRAYER: Lord I say these words a lot.  Remind me to say them more.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

%d bloggers like this: