Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

fifty years new — July 12, 2020
swim pit — July 8, 2020

swim pit

I guess we get what we deserve! 

It was a sweltering summer day and our gang of kids was griping that no one had a swimming pool.  So, somebody said, “Hey let’s just build one!  “Cool” we said.  But, “Who’s yard will we dig it in? 

They told me to ask my dad.  I almost wet myself at the thought and Steve’s mom would throw a hissy fit.  But Tommy, well his mother was a single mom and she worked full time.  Perfect!  We could dig while she was away.  Tommy said she never went into the yard anyhow. 

Monday, we gathered our hardware, went to Tommy’s and began to excavate.  There was a bunch of us, so dirt was flying every which way. 

We worked most of the day and had a pretty good-sized pit to show for it.  Tuesday, we decided that we kinda dug, digging. Wednesday, we made plans for a diving board.   

By Friday the pit was about 2 feet deep with maybe an 8-foot diameter.  We amazed ourselves.

We planned to finish it the next week – but then came Saturday.   That’s when Tommy’s mom used her weekend respite to clean the house.  She took the trash to the alley.  On the way, she stumbled onto, or maybe it was into our pool.

She made some blistering calls to our parents – and our audacious aquatic plans were sunk.

Worse – We were ordered to return to the scene of the crime on Monday and fill in what had become an abyss.  “Why?” we asked.  “It’s what you deserve!” they said!

What a summer bummer. The sun was furiously hot and the labor exceptionally meaningless as we back filled our pointless pit.

I guess we really do get what we deserve! 

The toddler gets flicked on the hand when he defies mom.  The school kid flunks the test when he fails to study.  The teen that abuses his phone, loses his phone.  The collegian that cheats is expelled.  The young man loses his license for his third DWI.  The young lady gets an STD because of promiscuous sex and so on.  Sometimes the consequences are not immediate, they seem to catch us later.

Even the Scripture echoes the theme. 

Paul the apostle charged us when he wrote, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23) All Paul?  Absolutely.  We have all missed the mark and usually more than once. 

Again, says Paul, “The wages of sin is death.”  (Romans 6:23)   It was his way of saying, “If you do the crime, you do the time.”  The justness of God requires a person to satisfy the law when they break it.  He requires a death sentence – an eternal, infernal death sentence. 

We get what we deserve!  – With only one blessed exception.

The apostle Peter put it this way, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death.”  – 1 Peter 3:18NET Bible ®

Jesus stepped between us and the wrathful judgment of God – the just for the unjust – to bury our sins and to bring us to God.  Jesus took what we deserve.  How disturbing and yet comforting.

Time never seemed to erase the scar we left in Tommy’s backyard.  The site of our former swimming hole was filled with dirt, but it settled in lumpy and uneven ways.  It sported more weeds than grass.  It was a lawn mower no-man’s land – a nasty place in the yard.  And that’s kind what it looks like when we attempt to self-atone for our moral mistakes. 

With Jesus it’s different.  The Scripture says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18   When Jesus does His work, we end up way better off than we were before – new on the inside. 

So, will you face eternity knowing that you will get exactly what you deserve OR will you step aside and allow Jesus to bear your burden?   Pick up a Bible, find the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16 to find out how!

planting a new church — July 1, 2020

planting a new church

It is quite popular these days to include the word “point” in the name of one’s church.  I know of a Lake Pointe, North Point, Life Point, Center Point, New Point, Mission Point and City Point Church and there are many more. 

I have occasionally toyed with the idea of planting a new church.  I already have a name.  It would be, “What’s the Point” Church. 

In my work as a Hospice Chaplain I have encountered many church dropouts who think of the church and wonder, “What’s the Point?” 

These folks were often raised in church and have sweet memories.   But somewhere along the way they were wounded by church people.

One young man was falsely accused by a church lady of stealing from her purse.  Another person was pointed out by the pastor from the pulpit.  Another was turned off by ugly church politics. 

There are those who are disgusted by the hypocrisy that grips so many in the church.  Then there was the adulterous pastor.  And what about the church board that tried to cover up the abusive Sunday School incident.

Some have been repulsed by the pastor that drones on about money and the monthly tithe reminder envelopes that come in the mail.  Others gave up on the church because they were forgotten during their hospital stay. 

These wounded understand what the church ought to be and are discouraged by what it is.  They rightfully wonder, “What’s the point?” 

What can we say to these dropouts?  What can we do to make sure that we do not become, or cause the next casualty?

1. Remember that we continue to be sinners, saved and sustained by grace.

Take a spiritual selfie.  What do you see?   Can you honestly say that there is never inconsistency in your own spiritual life?   We understand that we are sinners saved by grace.   Once redeemed we remain to be sinners, sustained by grace.  The apostle John wrote to Christian people saying, “If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” – 1 John 1:8

          Most of us do not want to fail the Lord and or each other – but we do, and we will because we are still made of flesh.  Expect to be disappointed by others.  If needed apply Galatians 6:1, “If a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.”  Don’t skip the last half of this verse.  “Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.”

I had a seminary professor that used to say, “If you should ever find the perfect church, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it.”

 2. Keep your eyes on Jesus

The author of Hebrews pictured the Christian life as being a race.  He then advised us to keep our eyes, “on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2. 

          Every competitive runner knows that taking even a fraction of time to glance at the other runners, slows you down.   We need to stop looking at others and fix our eyes ahead on Jesus who stands at the finish line

He is our master.  He is the one to whom we answer, and He will one day address the dumb things that each of we Christians have done.   Let’s leave the judging to Him. 

3. Keep His commandments

When I served as a pastor, there were times of frustration when I asked the Lord, “Are you sure that the church is your best idea for managing your people?”  He ignored me because He already answered the question in Matthew 16:18. “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”   He expects us to be an active part of a local church (Matthew 18:15-18; Hebrews 10:25)

Recently my grandson asked, “Why do some Christians give up on church?”  I explained to him much of what I wrote above.  Then I said,” Buddy, I have personally been so wounded by church, that I would probably drop out if I could.  But I can’t – because my Savior expects me to continue to be an active part of His church.”   He says to me, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)

My mom was a fantastic cook but there was a time that she burned dinner.  I was so upset, I vowed that I would never eat again.  That’s ridiculous of course. 

We will be burned at times by church people, but never should we forsake Christ’s church.    The blessings of being with the people of God far outweigh the bumps along the way.

Biblical references come from the NET Bible ®

the main thing — June 27, 2020
breaking camp — June 24, 2020

breaking camp

It is summer and a great time to go camping, unless you live in Texas, where the heat can approach the outer limits of hell. 

Summer camping elsewhere is usually fun.  My wife and I just returned from an outing, where a fresh cool breeze wafted through our camper each night.  We had lots of relaxing time with the Lord and each other.  (that’s what happens when you leave the grandkids behind) 

Of course, some trips are not so relaxing.  My extended family did a big outing once.   Pretty memorable.  It started with a rampage of ground hornets who had been aggravated by a lawnmower.  My grandson sustained several stings. 

Later that evening my granddaughter spied a night intruder.  In a trembly voice she cried, “a snake!”   My son ground the baby copperhead to pieces.  But nature got him back the next day, when a squirrel in a tree relieved himself on my boy’s head.   The next morning, there was a loud ominous crack in a tree which dropped a massive limb barely behind us.

Then there were the honeybees that sought out my sweet daughter, and there was the earsplitting industrial hum that came from the power plant across the lake.  Actually, it was better for sleeping than white noise.  All that in one outing.  Fun!

I love to camp but I must admit that my favorite part is going home.  Roughing it is great for a time – a short time.  A human burrito sleeping bag is OK for a night and a charred hot dog is good once a year.  But there is nothing like packing up and going home.  

I suspect that is why Paul used a camping word to capture the way we go to heaven.  In Philippians 1 we find him conflicted wanting to continue his work on earth while longing for the comforts of his heavenly home. 

He wrote, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.”  NET Bible ®

Did he really say that – “dying is gain?”   

He believed that dying is a departure from this life and a move on to heaven.  The word depart (verse 23) was actually a camping term in Paul’s day.  It was used to describe an army that was breaking down their tents and moving out. 

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul reminds us that our bodies are like tents – designed for a temporary stay – flimsy, tattered, and insufficient for the long haul.   Paul was ready to pack up his ratty tent and trade it in for the eternal home that Jesus had prepared for him.  (John 14:1-3)

The word depart was exceptionally colorful. Not only was it used of camping, it was also a nautical word descriptive of a ship that was being loosed from her moorings.  

In a similar way, we are moored to the pier of a place that is not our home.  It feels somewhat secure to be tied here, but the longer we remain, the longer we postpone the joys of being where we really belong. Death is the process of casting off the restraining ropes and sailing home.

Depart was also a legal term used to describe the release of someone from prison.  I think of some of the folks I care for as hospice chaplain.  Their health has declined and has imprisoned them in bodies to where they can’t even escape their bed.  For them death, becomes a benevolent liberator.

The word was also used with livestock.  It described the process of unyoking oxen.  They say a team of 2 oxen can pull about 12,000-13,000 pounds of weight.  That’s incredible. 

After a hard days work, I bet those beasts were relieved to have that heavy yoke removed.  Death does the same for us.  It relieves us of the backbreaking responsibilities of this life. 

All of us will face the prospect of death eventually.  When we belong to Christ, death can be regarded as more of a friend than a foe. 

It enables us to trade in our temporal tent for an eternal home.  It loosens the ropes that bind us to the dock of this life.  It releases us from the circumstances that imprison us and it relieves us of our burdensome yoke to give us rest. 

Paul makes a great argument for breaking camp.  I am looking forward to it.

Father may You Have Your Way — June 20, 2020
on the field — June 17, 2020

on the field

As we approach Father’s Day, I want to share a dad story with you.  My dad was a great athlete – super gifted.   He has bowled 300 and has played ping pong with the top ranked players in the world, but his love was football.

He played first string throughout his high school years and made the elite all-star team   He turned down scholarships to a couple of serious football schools because his single mom needed him at home.  Athletic skill and character – an uncommon mix today.

Anyway, I wanted to be just like dad, and I was, except that I had the athletic skill of fencepost.   Nevertheless, I took to the gridiron in 6th grade.  Dad was there for every game and most practices.  He was nuts about football.

He even volunteered himself to be the timekeeper for our games.   As timekeeper, he would stand 8 paces or so behind the offensive huddle and watch the watch.

Unfortunately, he was a chain smoker of cigars – King Edward – the cheapest money could buy.  He lit up and continued throughout each game.  The smoke was heavy and noxious.  There were times when the huddled were befuddled by cloud of smoke.  Oh, how we would gasp and cough.

On a good day, he could create a smokescreen that enveloped the quarterback and hid him from the defense.  The ref wanted to throw a flag, but it wasn’t against the rules

Honestly, there were times I was more than embarrassed.

But there was an upside to his service as a timekeeper.  For one thing, he wasn’t able to yell from the sidelines.  “Hey ref, my grandmother could have seen that guy was clipping!”

And then there was this:  When I picked myself up from the bottom of a dogpile and began to limp back to the huddle – the first thing I would see was my dad.

It was sort of surreal – there he was, nearby, in the midst of the haze.  When I did well – I saw him smile.  When I missed a block there would be an inspiring tilt to his head.  When I was called for off-sides, he would cast an understanding glance!  It was comforting to have him right there. 

I was amused to discover that God handled His duties much as my dad did.

Moses led Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, and they were terrified of what was behind and before them.  They needed some powerful reassurance.

So, God had them build a portable place of worship.  In this place, God promised to manifest His presence.   He wanted His people to know that He was nearby – to hear His words and sense His response to them.  He hoped to be more than a concept to His people.

They created the tabernacle and within its tent sat the Ark of the Covenant.  It was at that gilded box that God made His presence known.

And when the people marched to the promised land, the ark would precede them.  When they stopped and camped, the ark would be centered among them.  The Lord was always within eyeshot of every one of His people – near the huddle.

And would you believe it, He chose to present Himself as being surrounded by a smoke-like cloud.  But there was no King Edward for this King.  The cloud that signaled the presence of God was glorious.  (and free of tar and nicotine)

The presence of my dad on the field was indescribably comforting.   But I find even greater comfort knowing that my Lord still stands on the field of life with me just as He did in the wilderness.  He promises, “I am with you always.”  – Matthew 28:20 NETBible ®

And He comes with no warning from the Surgeon General.

Does life have you under a dogpile at the moment?  Look up.  He is there on the field with you.

firewood folly — June 10, 2020

firewood folly

I have a grandson who is a budding entrepreneur.  His daddy brought down a tree in the front yard and then reduced the trunk to firewood.   

The boy seized the opportunity.  He took a cardboard box and made himself a sandwich sign.  He draped it over his shoulders and paraded around the neighborhood hoping to retail some of his fireplace fuel.  The sign said, “FRESH FIREWOOD.” 

I so laughed when my daughter sent me a picture of him with his sign. 

“Fresh” is a word that you might use to sell strawberries, green beans or baked goods – but not firewood. 

Fresh firewood has a 30% water content.  Have you ever tried to light a campfire made of fresh firewood?  You’ll waste a box of matches and scorch a few fingers trying.  If you should coax a tiny flame, you won’t maintain it for long.

The green wood needs to be seasoned for 6 months to get to the 20% level.  It’ll burn then.  He might have bumped up his sales if the sign had read, “stale firewood.”

As it was, he failed to make his first sale.

That’s kind of the way it is these days – fresh and new are usually regarded as being better.  Often, they are, but rarely when it comes to wisdom

Knowledge also needs to be seasoned.  Time and experience enable a person to take what they know and fine tune its application. 

A teacher fresh out of college may be knowledgeable, but it will take time before she becomes a wise teacher.

Unless I want help with my iPhone, I seek advice from an older person.  (This is a challenge for me since I am now old)  I want to hear advice from someone who has walked in my shoes and can look back with 20/20 vision to help me see what still lies ahead.

Suppose a young couple decides to get premarital counseling before they say, “I do.”   Who best to guide them? 

There is the young associate pastor who has been married for 3 years, but the senior pastor is also an option.  He and his wife have been happily married for 33 years and have raised 2 children.

The couple might be more at ease with the younger pastor, but they would receive the maximum wisdom dose from the senior.  The younger could say to them, “This is what my wife and I are learning – and this is how it seems to be working out.” 

The senior can say, “This is what we have experienced, and this is what we have learned from a host of other couples over the years – and this is how it works out.

He can bring to the table both the successes and mistakes that were made along the way. 

Or how about your child who lies with the greatest of ease.  You need some help.  Should you get it by surveying your Facebook peers OR invite an older wiser mother over for coffee and talk to her?

Of course, everyone has experience from which we can learn, but the experience span of a young person is dwarfed by that of an older person.

King Rehoboam needed advice.  His subjects complained about the burden that his father had imposed on them.  He consulted with his elder counselors.  They encouraged him to be a servant to his people and reduce the strain.  They would love him for it and serve him forever. 

But then the king summoned his young peers and asked them for their input.  They told him to turn up the heat and demand more of his people. (1 Kings 12) 

He heeded his youngers.  His harsh response triggered 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel to secede and a bloody civil war to follow and he spent the rest of his miserable life saying, “What was I thinking?”

As you make your way, go ahead get input from your peers.  Sometimes even your children have some jewels to pass on, but don’t forget to obtain and give extra weight to the advice and experience of godly seasoned folks.

And be cautious about buying any fresh firewood!

That’s Why — June 6, 2020
daddy doldrum — June 3, 2020

daddy doldrum

Judd and his daddy decided to try out our church.  They showed up for worship one bright Sunday morning.   The precocious 3-year-old was committed to the preschool class.  He was properly signed in and dad was given a claim check to present when Judd was picked up. 

After the last song was sung, dad went to get little Judd.  However, the teacher refused to release the boy.   Dad didn’t understand the system and had misplaced his claim check.  Unfortunately, he was unknown to our folks.   He could have been a predator or someone’s angry ex.  They had no way of knowing for sure if Judd should go home with him.

So, they wrangled with words in the foyer while the other parents came and left with their little ones.   Poor Judd was held hostage, until he was the last child left in the class. 

With great annoyance, dad suggested that they bring the boy out for a face-to-face identification.  The teacher agreed.  Judd was fetched and marched into the foyer.   He looked up and saw the great concern on his daddy’s face.

And then the test. He was asked, “Judd, is this your daddy?”  Without hesitation Judd said – “No.”

He then ran back to the toys he had been playing with.  

Dad was speechless and embarrassed. 

But little Judd was in a tough spot. The new toys were fun and to acknowledge his dad meant leaving them behind. 

I understand!  There was a time in my life when I was enamored with toys – my guitars, my ambitions, my relational conquests, my academic achievements and so on.   Some were wholesome while others were downright evil – but they made up the sum of my life. 

Meanwhile, I simply refused to acknowledge God the Father who crafted me.  Like Judd I pretended I didn’t know Him and went back to my fun.   It finally took a crisis to help me see that I was stupidly choosing perpetual life in the preschool.

Judd is now a teenager, but his daddy still loves him.  He drops off a sack of groceries at the church every week.   OK not true.  The preschool teacher eventually decided that she had a Sunday dinner to make so she released Judd.

And after some coaxing, the prodigal son grabbed his daddy’s hand and went home.  It’s good that he did.   Since then Judd has been smothered in love by his family, he has enjoyed many birthdays and Christmas mornings where he received ten times the toys he left behind, and he has shared a lot of cool outdoor adventures with the daddy he once denied.

This same dynamic translates into the spiritual realm.  The apostle Paul said, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”  – Phil 3:7-8 (KJV)

Paul left behind a busy life of lesser things.  He called them dung – a revolting comparison.  He left them that he might enjoy the things that the Father had for him courtesy of Christ. 

He knew that he could not have both.  You just can’t hold grab onto the Father’s hand until your hand is emptied.

The day finally came for me when I said, “Yes that is my daddy!”  That was the day I began to experience the richness that comes through Jesus.  He granted forgiveness and a guilt free path ahead.  He loved me without condition and infused my life with meaning.  He has led me, protected me, walked with me and blessed me in countless ways.

I gave up dung to get delightful.

As for you, you may still be in the preschool class.  You can remain if you prefer.  But know that the Father, your Father, has way better waiting for you.  Feel free to contact your local pastor or me if you would like to discuss it.

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