Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

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.

broken cisterns — December 29, 2021

broken cisterns

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a clock in my bedroom, so if I wanted to know what time it was, I would play my guitar.  This provoked my dad to yell, “Son, do you know that it is 3 o’clock in the morning?”  “Oh, thanks dad!”

So what time is it? Well, it’s New Years – time for a drink.  I’m not talking about Champagne.  I have something way better in mind. 

The prophet Jeremiah tells us about it. He was speaking for the Lord when he said, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”   KJV (Jeremiah 2:13)

Living was a term used to describe water that was fresh and moving.  Like the snow melt from Mount Hermon in Israel.  The waters descend from above and produces cool, sweet, refreshing streams of pure water.   The Lord above compared Himself to such water. 

He also spoke of cistern water.  A cistern is a subterranean cavern built to capture and store rainwater.  It does not produce fresh water but simply captures the runoff. 

It was carved from the soft limestone that underlies much of Israel.  Because limestone is porous, the walls of the cistern were typically plastered to help them retain the water.

So, the people of Judah rejected living water for cistern water.  So what?   Of course, God was speaking of something more than H20.  He had spiritual/emotional cisterns in mind. 

This kind of cistern has to do with happiness.  It is that thing that we believe we must have if we are to be happy.   The people of Judah sought happiness from sculptures of stone and metal – satisfaction from pagan gods.

We are not as brazen, but just as foolish.  We tell ourselves, “I won’t be happy until I make the honor roll, or get rich, or I’m popular with the right crowd.  Maybe its success in sports or in the music industry, or maybe dating a particular person or owning that dream car.  These foolish beliefs are cisterns. 

The water from a cistern could be quite foul.  It was stored down deep until it was needed.  To drink of it, one would have to clear away a disgusting film of dirt and then draw water that was tainted with animal droppings, bugs and vermin.  It would cause illness and even death if not first boiled. 

Why would anyone ever choose cistern water over a mountain stream?   It probably has to do with control.  A person could dig a cistern on their own property and control it on their terms.  He can’t however own a stream.   Nor can we manipulate or control our God.  

So many of us choose the foul cistern water and just learn to tolerate it.

But the prophet also tells us that the cisterns are broken.  Israel rests on a significant geological fault and is prone to earthquakes.  So, it was not unusual to go to one’s cistern to find that the rock had shifted, the plaster had cracked, and the water had escaped leaving the pit dusty and dry. 

And so it is with our cisterns. Sooner or later, we will discover that they are broken and there’s nothing there for us. 

So how do I identify a cistern in my life?  Look inside.  What or who drives your decisions, dominates your conversations, absorbs your faith and is your financial priority?   If it is anyone or anything other than the Lord – then you may be trying to sustain yourself with cistern water.

We drink because we are thirsty.  The water of a cistern does not satisfy.  It poisons us and never delivers what we think it will. 

Not so with the Lord.  Jesus told us “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”  – John 7:37-38

Cheers!

A PRAYER:  Lord, through the years, I have filled in several of my own cisterns, and I occasionally dig another.  Forgive me and help us all be more discerning.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com  

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

angels at work — December 22, 2021

angels at work

The Christmas story is full of angels.  We commemorate their visit by putting their pictures on postage stamps and portraying them in 3rd grade Christmas pageants.  Oh, and by poking the top of a Christmas tree up their angel pants.

But did you know that these ministering spirits made several cameo appearances during the span of Christ’s life?   

The angel Gabriel invited Mary to give birth to Christ (Luke 1:26-27) and an angel nudged Joseph to take the pregnant Mary as his wife – enlisted as the guardian of the Christ child (Matthew 1:19-21).

Of course, it was the angels who heralded His birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). Two years later an angel popped in to warn Joseph about the plot of maniacal King Herod (Matthew 2:13).  It was also an angel that recalled the little family back home once the danger had passed (Matthew 2:19-20).

At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, the devil tried and failed three times to tempt Him.  Scripture says, “Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.”  (Matthew 4:11).  After a fast of 40 days, they may have served Him some angel food cake. 

Then there was Gethsemane where Jesus wrestled with the burden of the cross.  Three times He asked the Father to remove the suffering that was to come.  The Father remained silent, but He did send help for the moment.  Luke 22:43 says “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”  Emotional resources from heaven to carry on.   

Let’s see, angels at His birth, throughout His life and also present for His resurrection.

“…an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.”  (Matthew 28:2).  The Lord passed through the stone when He was raised, but an angel rolled it away anyway so that the world would have to grapple with the fact that Christ had risen. 

The same angel had the privilege of being the first being to announce the resurrection news (Matthew 28:3-5).  Forty days later the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven while an angel explained to them the significance (Acts 1:10-11).

As to the future?  Yes, angels will be a part of His story. Matthew 25:31 says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

Angels, angels and more angels.  They were there at every critical juncture in the life of Christ to watch over Him.  The devil put it this way, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:6).

And yet, there is one period in Christ’s life where the angels were derelict in their duty.  That would be His brutal crucifixion.

The Biblical record tells us that they were not there at the cross.  Why not?  Certainly, they could have helped. Angels provided protection for the babe, but none was offered at Calvary.  Angels strengthened Christ in the wilderness but just let Him hang on the cross.

Jesus could have commanded their help.  He said, “Do you think that I cannot call on my Father and that he would send me more than 12 legions of angels right now?” (Matthew 26:53).

But He waived them off instead, for the cross was something that He and He alone had to bear.  He alone had to suffer the full brunt of God’s wrath.  He alone had to endure the judgment that was due to you and me.

If angels had assisted, it would have raised a terrible unanswerable question:  Would His diminished sacrifice be enough to satisfy the wrath of God? 

Thank God we don’t have to wrestle with that question, because the angels were forced to watch from a distance as Jesus bore the burden of the cross alone.

A PRAYER: Jesus, thank you so so much for bearing the oppressive burden of the cross alone – for us.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

Scripture references are from the NT Bible ®

a begrudging gift card — December 15, 2021

a begrudging gift card

My wife was given a $25.00 gift card to a ritzy high-end store.  A thoughtful gift but problematic.   We searched the retailer’s web site for to spend it.   The prices began at sky high and went up from there. 

We found that the only thing we could buy with a $25 gift card was another $25.00 gift card.  Pointless!

Some of us wonder if God did us the same favor.  We asked Jesus to be our Savior, expecting amazing things to come from it.    And maybe our initial experience was awesome, but given the challenges we face these days, His gift doesn’t seem to go so far.

She has trouble resisting the temptation to binge eat.  He faces opposition at work and doesn’t have the faintest idea how to deal with it.  She says she trusts God, but she falls apart when things don’t go according to her plan.  That gift from God doesn’t seem to be buying much these days.

But it can – and it should! 

Listen to the words the apostle wrote in 2 Peter 1:3, “…His divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness….”   Everything?  Wow – try thinking that through!

It sounds like our God has generously given us a gift – packaged in Jesus, which contains every single resource we could ever need to live godly and effective lives.   With this gift card we get the entire store. 

Paul reverberates the same thought in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.”

Think of Christ as a gift box with your name on it.  Now let’s open it and see what’s inside. 

In Christ the controlling power of sin over us has been broken.  (Romans 6:11) and we have the rock-solid assurance of eternal life. (Romans 6:23). 

We have been stripped of the stifling burden of guilt before God because of Christ (Romans 8:1-2) We are given influence with God through prayer – prayers that are Spirit empowered (Romans 8:26)

Though we may be stubborn, God’s love for us is more stubborn. (Romans 8:39).  We have answers now to the questions that once perplexed us because we have been given the wisdom of God in Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:30). 

We were once trailing behind but are now triumphant because of Jesus.  (2 Corinthians 1:14) and once blind but now we see thanks to Him. (2 Corinthians 3:14). 

In Christ the old broken us has been made new.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)   We have graduated from laborious law-keeping to sweet liberty in Christ (Galatians 2:4)

We were exhumed from the grave and elevated to a place of power in Christ (Ephesians 2:1) We gained a forever friend who spoils us with His kindness. (Ephesians 2:7). 

We were once exiled but have been brought into God’s inner circle thanks to Jesus. (Ephesians 2:13) and our pathetic wandering has given way to purpose because of Christ. (Ephesians 2:10)

We are given unsurpassable peace from God due to Jesus (Philippians 4:7) and in Him we have God’s generous pledge to provide our essential needs. (Philippians 4:19)

We have staggered into a place of stability because of Christ (Colossians 2:5) and we have the ironclad promise that He is coming back for us. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) 

So – what should I do with that retailer’s gift card?  Maybe I’ll regift it at the office party.  But no way would I do that with God’s gift.

The issues of life can be complex.  We spend a lot of energy looking for a “how” to solve them.  But the how is nested in the who.  That would be Jesus.  In Him we have everything – everything we need.  By God’s grace we’ll learn better as to how to redeem that gift card. 

A PRAYER: Lord I often choose to live as a pauper when you have blessed me as a prince.  Help me to experience all that you have for me. 

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you  

Scripture references are from the NET Bible®

background check — December 8, 2021

background check

The past is the past – or is it?

I volunteered to serve in the work of a local homeless shelter.  They told me I needed to undergo a background check.  “Really?”  Evidently my reputation preceded me.

The results were returned, 71 pages containing every crime that anyone named James Johnson had ever committed.  Unfortunately, there are 26,850 of us in the USA at this moment.

So, the supervisor of volunteers scanned the report and decided that I was probably not guilty of the assault in Baltimore or the 30 counts of fare evasion in Dallas. 

But she did have a concern.  She said, “Tell me about the DUI in DeKalb, Georgia in 1989.”  

“What? Wasn’t me!  Never even been to Dekalb.”   After a 5-minute interrogation she decided I was on the up-and-up and cleared me to serve.    

It was humiliating, being suspected of a crime that I did not commit. 

And yet – if I were to back up the clock prior to 1972.  My rap sheet would fill up 171 pages.   It would include vandalism, shop lifting, embezzlement, theft, breaking and entering, multiple DUI’s and tons more.  These things are not on my record because I was never caught.

Except I actually was!  The Holy Spirit chased me down and wrapped me up with guilt over my sin.   Like King David I could say, “When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long.  4 For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. 5 Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.  I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”  And then you forgave my sins.” – Psalm 32:4-5  NET Bible ®

That took place for me in November of 1972.

But I wonder if there will be a spiritual background check in my future?  Hebrews 9:27 says, “people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment.”  NET Bible ®   

BUT – yay, the apostle Paul tells me that I’ll be exempt.  He says, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Col 2:13-14 – NASU

There is a “certificate of debt” full of hostile decrees and it has my name on it.   But Christ canceled that certificate.  He nailed it to the cross, where He personally satisfied my debt.   And I don’t ever, ever need to worry about those things coming up again.

The Psalmist says Amen.  He wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”  Ps 103:12  KJV    The prophet Isaiah agrees. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: 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 – KJV

My record has been expunged. 

Of course, there is the practical matter that I had wronged a lot of individuals with my recklessness.  But each has been contacted and has heard my confession and apology and received restitution.  They have also extended phenomenal forgiveness to me. 

Well, I suppose a day may come when I’ll stand at the threshold of heaven, and an angelic gatekeeper will stop me and ask to do a background check.  But that’s when Jesus will step up and say, “I’ve got Him covered.” 

What about you? 

A PRAYER: Lord I pray for those who have not yet asked Jesus to bear their sins.  May they experience this gift soon.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

$50,000 without her — December 1, 2021

$50,000 without her

So, I have an insurance decision to make.  We have a policy on my wife so that when she transitions to heaven, the company will send me a check for $50,000.

I didn’t realize at the time we purchased it, but the policy accumulates cash value.  I just learned that its currently worth about $10,000.

I believe we now have other resources enough to cover the costs in the event of her death.   So, my dilemma is this: Do I cash in the policy now or let it ride? 

So, I looked to the Word of God for a little guidance.  The wise one Solomon penned this in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life that God has given you on earth during all your fleeting days; for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth.” NET Bible ®

Hmm – enjoy life with your beloved wife.

I remember those days when it was more like, “try to get by with your beloved wife.”  Money was tight in those first few years of our marriage, so we made do. 

I gave my wife her first clothes iron by pulling it out of someone’s trashcan and repairing it.   She struggled to learn to cut my hair to help us save a buck.   We were on a first name basis with every generic brand at the grocery store – like Gnu Value Peanut Butter.

Everything in our first apartment was second hand except the food (but there were a few leftovers from the in-laws).

Our ancient car groaned every time we did a road trip.  I spent more time on my back under the car than I did in bed. 

When we finally stopped for the night – it was always at the Flea Bag Inn.  I knew I made a poor choice that night that my wife balled up in the middle of the bed and refused to touch anything in the room.

Did I mention that I sometimes retrieved day old bakery products from the dumpster just after the grocery store discarded them? (Not sure my wife knew, so don’t tell her)

My daughter’s first big-girl bed was a thick piece of foam on a piece of plywood supported by concrete blocks. It did, however, have a girly pink blanket.

Even our current vacuum cleaner is made up of three different salvaged vacuums.  We have used the frankenmodel for a couple decades and I still have spare parts in the attic.

Okay, we are much older now and the financial stress is less than it used to be.  Which is probably what prompted Solomon to say, “Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life that God has given you on earth during all your fleeting days; for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth.”

Life on this earth is fleeting says he.  We can’t stop the process or forever preserve what we have.  Our earthly reward is to sit back and enjoy the fruit of our work – here and now – and to do it with a beloved spouse.

So, do I cash in the policy now or let it ride? 

I think I would rather enjoy the $10,000 with her than the $50,000 without. 

Who knows, maybe we’ll take the money and splurge on some Peter Pan Peanut Butter!

A PRAYER: God thank you for my wife and every other faithful longsuffering wife.   May Sharie and I truly savor and enjoy this season of life.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

identified — November 24, 2021

identified

Who are you?  Really? 

My teenage daughter came to me with a fistful of mail while laughing her head off.  “What’s so funny?” I asked.   She said, “Someone sent a letter to the Reverend James Johnson.”  “So?”  She said, “Well you aren’t a Reverend.”

I said, “I am too!  That’s one of the titles that a pastor is given.”  She said, “But not you!” So, we argued until it was pointless.

But she also brought in her school report card for the first six-week term.   Being the devious daddy that I am, this parent signed her card, “Reverend James R. Johnson.”

I enjoyed myself so much that when I was asked to sign it again for the next 6-week term, I tried something different.  “James R. Johnson-man of the cloth.”  And so on, it went with a different and exaggerated title for all six terms.

___________________

We all have a variety of titles by which we are known. Some are based on our occupation: “Joe is a carpenter.”  “Gina is an engineer.”  As for me, there was a time my business card should have read “Llama Keeper.”  (seriously)

Some of us identify based on our hobbies.  Some are gamers while other gardeners. 

And what about politics?  “He’s a Republicrat.”

We are also titled by our relationships. We are mommies and daddies, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, sons and daughters and of course “Grandmas and Grandpas.” 

In fact, there is an amazing relational identification found in Isaiah 43:1. I love it!  Isaiah wrote, “Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you. I call you by name – you are mine.”  NET Bible ®

That last phrase is dynamite.  The Lord spoke to His people and said, “You are mine.”   That is who you are.  You are mine: a statement of who we belong to – but also of who we are.

In this country we elect presidents, not first ladies.  Yet, the first lady makes the White House her home and flies first-class on-Air Force One.  She has her own staff and is surrounded by an army of secret service protectors.  She is interviewed by news anchors, honored by heads of state, celebrated by millions and treated to a pampered life. 

All this, only, because she is his, the wife of the president of the United States of America. 

Good for her, but her perks do not begin to compare with ours because we belong to the Creator, the sustainer of this universe. (Isaiah 40:28) We belong to the author of all grace and mercy.  (Hebrews 4:16)

We belong to the one who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”  (Psalm 50:10) We belong to the one who “gives to His beloved even in their sleep.”  (Psalm 127:2) We are blessed beyond measure to be called “His.”

So that you know, one day the titles that define us will be no more.  In eternity, we won’t be known as daddy or chaplain, or sister or the llama keeper.   BUT, we will always and forever be known as His.  Always!

And I believe that He will frequently remind us of it just as He did in Isaiah 43:1, “You are mine!”   

There is a wonderful but seldom sung hymn, “I am His and He is Mine” by George Robinson.  The last verse goes like this.

His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?

Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!

Heav’n and earth may fade and flee,

Firstborn light in gloom decline,

But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine;

But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.

Amazing!  Maybe the next time I sign a report card, I’ll simply write, “I am His.” 

A PRAYER: Lord I am grateful that I need not wander and wonder who I am anymore.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

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

a bug’s light! — November 17, 2021

a bug’s light!

He and his family went on fun tent-camping weekend.  They were equipped with headlamps to help guide their paths at night.   Headlamps have several advantages over conventional flashlights.  They are hands free, and you can direct the beam with the turn of your head. 

One slight disadvantage, however.  The East Texas woods are teeming with light-seeking insects.  The headlamp beam drew them in, leaving the family with a mouthful of bugs. 

This made me wonder, “Well why in the world are bugs attracted to light anyway?”  I consulted the oracle of our times (Google) and learned that scientists don’t really know, but they suggest a couple of theories:

– Some insects navigate by the position of the sun and moon.  Artificial light confuses them, so they end up flying around in circles trying to figure it out. 

– Some insects need light to see, so rather than flying blind in the dark, they circle the light.   Silly bugs!

Both theories have this in common: a bug needs light to find its way.

People aren’t much different!  Hey, I have been in the belly of Carlsbad Caverns when they turned off the lights.  It was so dark I couldn’t find myself.  How relieved I was when they flipped on the light switch.  I promptly looked for the nearest exit.   

We need light to find our way.  I am thinking that’s what Jesus had in mind when he called us “lights.”   He said, “You are the light of the world.”  Matthew 5:14. We are essentially headlamps in the dark of night.

The light that emits from us, is the life of God lived out in our everyday circumstances.   The creatures of the night are drawn to the light we emit.  

It’s true! I worked at a camp with a couple that had a wonderful Christ centered marriage.  Their love and service and affection for each other were apparent.  Which is why the high school campers seemed to always end up in the cabin of that couple when they had free time.

I think of the thief that was crucified with Jesus.  He was initially hateful – but the light that hung from that crossbeam was so compelling that the thief asked to join Jesus in His Kingdom. 

You may have many friends and family members who have swept the message of Christ aside.  And yet, when they are facing difficulties – cancer, a lost job, financial crisis – who do they call and ask to pray?    

People are drawn to our light.  For some it’s obvious while others watch us from the corner of their eye. 

Why are they drawn to our light?   Same as our bug buddies – it’s really dark out there and they need the light to navigate.

They want to see examples of people that are able to make life work.   They want to know how to cope with Covid restrictions when they have 2 jobs, 4 kids and no family to help them. They want to know how to stay married in a culture that pulls them apart.

They want to know how to raise healthy kids, when they aren’t sure they can trust the school they attend.  They want to have peace amid the chaos and hope when the future is cloudy. 

They need our light which is why Jesus also said, “Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

He tells us to “show off.”   OK that doesn’t sound right.  How about this. “Shine off.”  Make sure your light is elevated (as on a hill or a lampstand).  Bring your light to the places that need to be illuminated. 

Take it to the school board meeting and PTA gatherings.  Take it to the local political party committee meeting.  Shine at work and in the neighborhood, and at the nearby nursing home, and through a prison ministry.  

Shine!  Our job is just to shine – the light will draw them!

A PRAYER: Lord this introvert has a hard time with this.  Help me, help us all to shine. 

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you

All references are from the (NET Bible ®)

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