Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

whatabungle! — February 24, 2021

whatabungle!

I blew it again!  In my defense, it had been a tough day.   My car broke down, my wife wasn’t happy, and I was running late for church where I had to teach that night.   

So, we dropped into a Whataburger for a quick bite on the way.   The young man taking orders, must have just started his employment there 10 minutes before we arrived.

My wife had to repeat and explain our order 4 times.   “Two hamburgers: one with mustard the other mayonnaise.”   When they were delivered – both had mayo.   She took back the mistake and he fell apart thinking that she was trying to covertly infect the place with Covid.

That’s when I lost it.  I went to the counter and with a stern voice and a scowl, I said, “We want two hamburgers: one with mustard the other mayonnaise.” 

Back at the table, my wife had more ice in her attitude than I had in my cup.   They corrected the problem; we ate and then drove to church in silence. 

And that’s when things really got bad.  The lesson touched on the wilderness episode when the grumblers cried for more water.  God told Moses to speak to a rock and it would issue forth in water.  (Numbers 20:8) 

Moses, however, had a bad day too.  Maybe his donkey broke down.  The Scripture says, “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the community together in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.” – Num 20:10-11  He struck the rock in anger rather than speaking to it as instructed.

Moses was hot! 

God provided anyway, but He had some choice words for Moses.  He said, “Because you did not trust me enough to show me as holy before the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”  – Numbers 20:12

The Lord was hotter – but with Moses. 

As I read those words to the class, the Holy Spirit rudely interrupted me and seemed to say, “Hey dummy, how can you teach this this stuff when you did the very same thing?”

I began to stumble on my aimless words until I blurted out, “Folks, I am sad to say that I just did this very same thing.”  I was angry and my words and attitude misrepresented the God I profess to serve.

And everyone got up and walked out!   (Actually, they were quite understanding.) 

So, have you ever had the Spirit of God sit on you for something you have said or done?  Scripture says His job is to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  – John 16:8  NASB

His is that still small voice that energizes our conscience – an umpire that helps us see straight when our minds have twisted the path. 

At times He speaks directly to our conscience as he did that night with me.  Sometimes He uses the written or taught Word of God again as He did with me. You may hear Him in the voice of another person or see his displeasure in the face of your wife while you eat a Whataburger. (with mustard)  

It’s an uncomfortable feeling – something you want to escape or cover up – quickly.  Some of us turn it off, like a smoke alarm that’s chirping.  To turn off that voice, however, is to grow to be calloused and insensitive to God and others. 

There is only one sane way to respond to that voice!   

After church I returned to the restaurant and found the young man still at his post.  I said, “I was here earlier and was impatient with you and I am sorry.”  He said, “That’s OK.”  I said, “It’s not.  Please tell the folks in kitchen that the old man with white hair came in and said he was sorry.” 

He was excited and he said, “Yes sir, what’s your name?”  I said, “Trevor Bergman.” (the name of my son-in-law) – – – Just kidding. I gave him my name. 

And I was able to fall asleep that night at peace with God and man, knowing that God was still speaking to me – and that I had taken responsibility for my sin. 

A PRAYER: Help me better tune into the frequency at which you speak.

Scripture references from NET Bible® unless otherwise noted.

stone age snow shovel — February 16, 2021

stone age snow shovel

Actually, the shovel isn’t really from the stone age, but it does look like something Fred Flintstone left behind.

God dropped 9 inches of snow on East Texas, where the only snow we usually see is in a cone covered with grape syrup.   Our world came to a stop.  Everyone stayed home and practiced “snowcial distancing.” 

The accumulation in my driveway had to be removed because the forecaster said more was coming.   “But how can I remove it?”  I wondered.   The only snow shovel around here is hanging on the wall down at the Cracker Barrell.

I had to improvise!  I raided my wood pile and found a cabinet door, and a 2 by 4 and then pinned them together with a lot of decking screws.  My shovel wasn’t very pretty, but it was sturdy and it worked. 

It was slow going, though.  The thermometer said 20 degrees and my fingers said, “Ouch.”   Texans have long endured the scorching months of summer and now frigid fingers too.  Is this fair? 

The snow was heavy, causing me to conclude that I overdid it on the size of my shovel.  It was at least as twice as wide as a store-bought shovel and four times as heavy.  I was ready to quit after 15 minutes of shoveling but I broke out a lawn chair and took a five-minute break instead.  (Hey, I am nearly 68 you know) 

It was tough work.  My mind was doing a two-part harmony with my back which was singing the blues.  Time for the lawn chair again.  

As I labored, I thought of one of my favorite Greek words – the word “hupomeno.”   It’s a compound word.  “Hupo” means under and “meno” means to abide or remain.  Put them together and the word means, “to remain under.”

It’s also a favorite word in Scriptures, used 23 times.  It is usually translated with words like perseverance, steadfastness or endurance.

The apostle Paul taught Timothy, his apprentice, that hupomeno was something worth pursuit.

He wrote, “But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance (hupomeno) and gentleness.”  – 1 Timothy 6:11 NETBible ®

Paul gave us a list of sterling character qualities and added endurance to it. 

So necessary!  Think of a weightlifter who has hundreds of pounds suspended above his head.  If his willpower softens and his arms sag, he may be crushed.  He must firmly remain under it to succeed and to survive.    

We may not be weightlifters, but we all face weighty challenges that stand in our way and threaten to defeat us.

– a boss that fails to recognize the value we bring to the job

– a spouse that has withdrawn

– a stubborn health issue that will not be resolved

– an addiction that seems to be an excruciating everyday battle

– or may it just be a snowbound driveway

I had to push forward through bitter temperatures, an aching back and icy fingers, but my biggest obstacle, much like yours, was internal.  “I can’t do this.”  “This is just too much.”  “What difference will it make?” 

So how do we respond?  We stand up under the weight.  We push forward toward the end and briefly rest when we need.  We lean on the kindness of others and we ask God to infuse our hupomeno with His divine power. 

It took about 4 hours of shoveling (and at least 10 breaks) but between my homemade shovel, and my commitment to persevere – we got it done. 

May you get yours done as well. 

PS: Texas is still expecting some nasty, nasty weather.  My shovel is available to borrow! Hupomeno!

A PRAYER: God help me to push on when life pushes back.

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage) — February 10, 2021

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage)

The newlywed couple wanted to learn to garden.  They decided to experiment with one lone tomato plant.  It was tender and small and ready to grow.  There was a plastic sticker in the soil that pictured the future of that plant – lush and large and filled with red juicy tomatoes.

They put it out on the patio and salivated as they waited for the fruit to come – but it didn’t. Each day the plant sagged a little more, the leaves yellowed, and the blossoms fell off. Its growth was stunted.

They became increasingly incensed at their plant.  The picture on the sticker mocked them.  This was not what they signed on for. 

They decided to help the plant meet their expectations.  Each day he went out and pulled up on the stalk about an inch or so, hoping to get it to the height where it would begin bearing.  She massaged the blossoms hoping to stimulate growth.   They were determined to get tomatoes from that plant one way or the other. 

They were dumbfounded to find that the poor desperate plant began to die.  She said, “Maybe we need to study up.” So, they found a book about tomato farming. 

Step 1:  Make sure the plant gets plenty of water.  “Oops,” she said. “I meant to water it.”    Step 2. Give it some plant food.  “What?  Plants eat?”  The list continued: prune it, give it plenty of sun, dust it for pests etc. 

He said, “No way.”  We already spent a $1.99 on that plant and it has given us nothing.  Plus, that sounds like way too much work.  “What’s the alternative?” she asked.  “Do we take it back to the store or just forget about it and leave it on the patio to rot?

Despite their anger and frustration, they chose to risk it and make the necessary investment.  They bought some pruning shears and plant food, and they committed to watering the plant every day. 

It wasn’t long after, that they enjoyed fresh salsa on their enchiladas and they (including the tomato plant) lived happily ever after. 

————————–

Now forget the enchiladas and think about your marriage for a sec. 

When we marry, we have expectations of each other.  In fact, we even make vows to meet some of those expectations. 

But there are others that are not obligatory.   Like – “He will be the fixer of my car!  “She will cook as good as mom did? Or even “He will put the toilet seat down after he is finished.” 

We have a picture in our heads of what the marriage will look like – but there will surely be expectations that go unmet. 

A conversation would be in order – a transparent, loving discussion about what’s going on.  But change is hard for some of us. 

And when he/she doesn’t change, some of us respond as the couple did with the plant.  We try to manipulate and force change through criticism, manipulation, argument or just by making their life miserable.

“Why can’t you cook like my mom?”  “I always thought my husband would be a better provider.” 

“I wish you would have warned me about this before we were married.”  “You are sleeping on the sofa tonight.”  “My dad always lowered the toilet seat.”  And on its goes. 

That kind of toxic environment kills a relationship.  The marriage withers and dies just as surely as it did with the plant.   What then?  Take it back to the store in terms of a divorce; or maybe just do the “right thing” and stay together but ignore each other the rest of your lives. 

No one wants to live that way – do they? 

Better to consult the book.  And the book says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.  – Philippians 2:3-4 NETBible®

In other words, we need to create the environment of the tomato plant – to offer lots of water, and plant food, and sunshine and so on.  That is where growth takes place.

Instead of being critical of her housework, grab a vacuum and help out.  Rather than ridicule him because he doesn’t know how to change a tire, encourage him about the things he does well.   Praise her for her cooking!  Thank him for reading to the kids. 

Treat your spouse as being more important to you than you are. 

Forget the expectations.  Love your spouse for who they are. 

Forget the criticism – it is toxic and will never help your spouse meet your expectations.

Give your tomato plant a healthy place to grow and he/she will. 

And the tomatoes will be excellent! 

A PRAYER: Lord, help become a wiser gardener for the sake of my spouse, and the health of our marriage.  

the horn of dilemma — February 3, 2021

the horn of dilemma

The park was 430 acres of wild in Grand Prairie, TX.  Like all things Texas, this drive through park was over the top.  Yes, they had your standard zebras, gnus and giraffes – but there were also elephants and even lions who stalked the place – even lion cubs in the petting zoo.

We had never been to such a place and we had a 7 and a 5-year-old that needed to be wowed – so off we went.

With buckets of feed and the windows cranked down, we drove through the Jurassic Parkish gate.  We were in my old lumbering Chevy Impala (mindful that impalas were lion food back on the Savanna.) 

The car was quickly surrounded by a mob of animals with the craziest being the longhorn steer that tried to stick the span of his enormous head into our car to get to the feed. 

Then we encountered a lone rhinoceros.  I was stunned to see the behemoth trot up to my car.   I extended my wary hand and he clumsily swept the feed off and onto the ground. 

He lowered his head and vacuumed the pellets from the ground and then raised it up again, or at least he tried. His horn got caught on the under carriage of my car.   Oh boy!  There was an upset Rhino attached to my automobile. 

He tried to pull out – frantically jerking the car way up and then down as he did.  I think the kids may have been screaming.  OK I may have been screaming.  Was he going to flip the car?

He finally pulled away and we were left with nothing more than a dent.  (try explaining that to your insurance company?)

—————

As in all of life, I try to glean wisdom from my experiences.  What I learned was this, “I need to be careful about what I feed!”

Wait!  This principle is way more practical than you may first think.

You see there is a part of me and you that is just as untamed and dangerous.  The Bible calls it the “flesh.”   The apostle Paul put it this way, “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.”  – Romans 7:18

This beastly nature was put to death at the cross for those of us who have been saved. (Galatians 2:20) and yet, it still lurks – waiting to be revived.  “For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.”  – Galatians 5:17  

This beastly nature will be with us ‘til we are with Jesus.  But it can’t rule us unless we feed it.  Paul put it this way, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.” – Romans 13:14.   In other words, “Don’t feed the animal!”

I was in seminary about the time a movie was released which centered on Amish life.  That sounded safe – right?  I wanted to do a date night with my wife to see it – but I needed to vet the movie first.

A friend had seen it and rated it 5 stars.  I asked about objectionable material.  He said – “Clean as a whistle – oh except one scene where the starlet was naked from the waist up.” 

Well I tried to rationalize the information away ‘cause I really wanted to see that movie.  But the Spirit of God began to needle me.  He reminded me about the beast. 

At the time I was laboring to learn Hebrew.  It seemed that whatever I learned on Monday was gone by Tuesday.  And yet if I were to see that movie, I knew that the image of the bare-chested woman would be forever imprinted on my mind.   I didn’t need it – so I threw the movie tickets away. 

There are just some places I don’t go because the beast is fed there.  There are some people I don’t hang with because the things they say and do, provoke me to do the same.  I’m very careful about what I read because it sparks the imagination of the beast.  I thoroughly review any movies or TV beforehand because I don’t want to awaken the beast.

One Rhino ride was more than enough for me.  I really do need to be careful about what I feed! 

A PRAYER: “May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight.” (Psalm 19:14) 

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

making a dent — January 27, 2021

making a dent

It’s a good thing to make a dent – if you are a peach tree. 

In my reading, I discovered some really interesting information about the reproduction process of a fruit tree.  (sounds kind of nerdish doesn’t it?)

My source is Dr. Paul Brand who tended orchards as a hobby and was also a surgeon (but not of the tree variety) 

I already knew about the method where man and animals whisk away ripe fruit and leave the seeds far and wide. But I did not know about the dent method of reproduction. 

This is how I understand it.  When the fruit, say a peach, is ripe to the eye, the seed within is also fully developed. 

The tree, if left to itself, kindly releases the peach.  Each heavy piece drops to the ground where it impacts the soil with a small dent.  This dent is of a strategic design.  It essentially creates a small bowl in which the new tree is birthed.

The peach sits in the dent and decomposes around the seed allowing its organic nutrients to seep into the soil.  The dent retains it providing the fruit with a fertile place to grow.

When it rains, the water puddles up and remains in that dent, thus providing for that need.  And the movement of the water also carries soil which again collects in the dent and buries the seed under a protective blanket.

Eventually there’s a sprout, that become a sapling and before you know it – a mature peach tree capable a reproducing itself. 

_______

Brilliant!  God gave us the dent method of reproduction for fruit trees – and for Christians as well. 

So, here’s the deal.  We Christians are planted in the soil of a hard and often hostile world.  It sometimes feels like the Gospel we embrace is on the retreat rather than advancing. 

There continues to be a desperate need for us to make a dent in this world.  How?

By dropping our fruit. 

The apostle Paul argued that we were saved from our sins, “in order that we might bear fruit for God.”  – Rom 7:4.

This fruit is measured by the kind of character we develop.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

I knew a fellow that took great delight in attacking me and what I believe.  When we met, it was a one-way tirade designed to strip me of my convictions.  I knew it was dumb to argue, so I listened instead as God enabled me with the fruits of patience, kindness and gentleness.

These days my friend seeks to be with me and is warmly receptive to what I have to say. 

It seems that my fruit made a dent.

Paul also says that fruit is measured by the good deeds that we do.  “So that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed…”   Colossians 1:10

Good deeds!  A theme that Jesus also addressed in Matthew 5:15, “Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” 

I have a number of friends – a physician, an accountant, and an engineer who have been involved for many years with the local homeless mission.  They have served these displaced folks in the boardroom and in the dining room. 

They are motivated by their faith in Jesus, and their compassion for the downtrodden and their reward is in seeing many of these homeless folks come to faith in Jesus each year and becoming productive people again.

It appears that their fruit is making a dent.

So, is your tree bearing fruit?  Are you making a dent?  Is your Christlike character opening the eyes of the lost around you?   Are your good works attracting the attention of this old calloused world? 

You don’t have to go to Katmandu to do this.  Like the peach tree, our primary area of impact will be nearby – with those with whom we often relate.   Think of your neighbors, fellow workers, your grandkids, or even the wait staff at your favorite restaurant – and determine to make a dent. 

A PRAYER: Lord help me make a dent in my world. 

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

less than perfect — January 20, 2021

less than perfect

I wanted to do a rebuild on my garage.  I planned on putting up new sheet rock all the way around.  Never did it before – but if it turned out to be hideous, I planned to hang rakes and shovels everywhere. 

So, I tacked it up, taped and bedded, sanded, primed and painted.  I was pleasantly shocked at how good it looked.    My son-in-law came over to inspect it.  To my chagrin, he looked past my gorgeously smooth seamless walls, to spot the trim above the door. 

It dropped ¼ inch from one side to the next.  That is what he saw and pointed out to me.  Hmm.   I told him I did that on purpose so that people can’t accuse me of being a perfectionist. 

And I was half serious.  I typically aim to do my very best when I engage in a task.  But my best is always hampered by my limitations.  No matter how hard I try, my stubby legs will never give me victory in a wind sprint. 

Or it may just be too much trouble to do it perfectly.  I play guitar pretty well, but I decided long ago it would be way too much work to master it. 

All in all, I end up averaging a B on most of what I do.  That works for me – but I am so glad that Jesus set His heart on more. 

He wants to see nothing less than perfection worked in me – not by me – but in me.

This is how Paul put it in Philippians 1:6, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

On the day a person comes to faith, the Lord makes some fundamental changes.  Our old natures are put to death, and we become new people with new spiritual capacities to live in the way that honors the God who created us.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)   

Paul tells us that it was Christ that began the process and He continues to work at it on a frequent basis.  His goal for us is nothing less than flawless perfection. 

So how do we get from here to there?  Remember that guy that irks you at work?  Or what about the psoriasis that clings to your arm?  James calls things like that trials and he says that these trials are a good for you.  They refine you “so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.”   -James 1:4

But there are other tools as well in the Lord’s toolbox to help develop quality in us.  Perfection grows as we read and apply God’s Word (John 17:17) and as we respond to the nudge of His Spirit (John 16:8) and as we interact with each other (Colossians 3:16)

Some of you are saying, “Too late. I have already arrived.  Meet Mr. Perfect.”  OK not sure conceit is a part of the finished package.

This is what Paul said about this expedition to perfection.  “Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.”  – Philippians 3:12

Paul was still in process as are all of us and he tells us that it will not be complete until Jesus’ return.  For then we shall see Him and we shall be made just as He is – in perfection. (1 John 3:2) In the meantime, we strive along in Jesus’ power to reach the goal.

I must say that because of Christ’s work in me, my life is of a much better quality than it once was, but I am still a far piece from perfect.   He has tamed my temper quite a lot which makes it all the more galling on the unusual occasion that I lose it.  

So, what if Jesus approached His work by using my B level mentality.   He might say, “Well I’d like to make Jim a better person but it’s just impossible – actually Jim’s impossible.”  Or more realistically, Jesus might say of me, “Nah he’s just too much work.”  

Fortunately for me and you, Jesus plans on getting straight A’s. 

A PRAYER: Lord I am glad the process in me depends on you and not me.   Have your way!

All Scripture references are from the NETBible®

garbage smuggler — January 13, 2021

garbage smuggler

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

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

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

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

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

_________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we should too!

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

color blind — January 6, 2021

color blind

I am somewhat color blind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

re-wed! — December 30, 2020

re-wed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to reimagine that sweeter simpler time with Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands — December 22, 2020

hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What message do your hands tell?

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

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

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