Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

lighten up — June 23, 2021

lighten up

lighten up – audio version

I lifted the hood of the car to find the compartment jammed packed with wire and steel.  The problem that needed fixed was inevitably in the hardest, darkest most awkward place to reach.  

I needed a flashlight and someone to focus the beam.  “Son, shine the light on this spot – this one right here – so I can see what I am doing.” 

He did okay – for the first three seconds, and then the beam started to bounce, and then it wandered some, then it moved to spotlight the beetle on the ground and then he dropped the flashlight and broke it while I was thinking words that I dare not say.   

With a new lightbulb, we resumed, and he did okay – for the first three seconds.  I finished the job in the dark while he projected shadow puppets on the wall. 

But I learned my lesson.  I bought one of those lamps that you strap to your head with an elastic band.  I could direct the beam to exactly where I was looking. 

Now when I work on the car, I do okay – for the first three seconds.

_______________________________

I am glad that God has provided a better source of light for me.  It is celebrated in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” KJV

There the Psalmist compared our life’s journey to that of following a path, and the Scripture to a lamp that lights our way. 

In Bible days they lit up a home with an oil lamp made of baked clay.  A wick dropped through an opening, which would draw the olive oil that was pooled in the bottom.   It created a small, cozy source of light. 

But traveling was another matter.  Israel is a land of winding, hilly paths, strewn with lots of loose stones.  Travel was tough during the day and treacherous at night.

The light cast by an oil lamp was too small to be helpful.  So, the night traveler would modify it by hanging the lamp with three strands of cord and then holding it out before him, so that it was suspended near to the ground, right before his feet.   

It would cast the light directly onto the path before him – where he needed it most.  Just enough for a step or two at a time. 

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

The path before us these days feels a little dusky and we need illumination to get to our destination.

God’s Word is still that light.   It is a resource that helps us to properly understand our world and clues us in as to how we should respond to it.  It gives us the big picture, but it also provides the precise practical wisdom needed for the next few steps before us. 

We just got to know and understand what is written there.  We need to read it, study it and marinate our minds with it. 

I have digested the book of Proverbs many times, even created my own topical index.   I’m encouraged when I find myself instinctively operating by the sound principles there – and occasionally grieved when they have been violated.   Without a doubt the book has been a lamp to my feet. 

The problem is, it is easier for us to assume what is written in the Bible than to really study it out for ourselves.  The Word of God is clear, whereas our assumptions about it are sometimes muddied.  There are things that creep into our assumptions like our personal preferences and the cultural messages which bombard us. 

In fact, some of our “biblical” beliefs are not biblical at all.  As it was in the days of Isaiah, some are calling evil good, and good evil.  (Isaiah 5:20) We are wandering in the dark, stumbling over stones and walking off cliffs.

Hey I would not tell you what you ought to believe, but I will tell you where your beliefs can be safely sourced.  Take God’s Word and apply to it to your next few steps.  The journey will become so much easier.

A PRAYER: God help me to mine your Word for wisdom then shine that truth on my path.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.   The Lord be with you

cowlick consternation — June 15, 2021

cowlick consternation


I desperately wanted to be like everyone else – but it was tough cause I had red hair – bright red hair – stick out in a crowd red hair.   All the mommas said I was cute, but their offspring were cutthroat.

Kids prey on those who are different.  If they can’t find a kid of another race, or with a disability – they pick on the red head. 

As if to make matters worse, my red hair formed a cowlick above my forehead.  Straight up it went.  My dad was also my “DYI” barber (oh joy).  He would buzz everything but the cowlick.  I looked like I ran into a wall – face first, with the cowlick reaching for the sky. 

I complained about it, but dad responded with a lecture.  “Why do you want to look like everyone else?”

I ignored him.  I was determined to lick that cowlick.  It just needed some training.  I figured I would mash it down by wearing a toboggan cap – even though it was July.  I used Brillcream but a little dab did not do me.  

This merited another lecture, “Son, why not dare to be different?  Who knows maybe people will even imitate you?”

“Right dad! – I’ll just try something else.”  I got one of my mom’s nylon stockings and pulled it over my head.   I wonder what the other kids would say if they saw that?    The stocking was so tight, my ears turned blue, but my red hair still stood straight and tall. 

I was a mess.  And it wasn’t until I was, much older that I realized that my Heavenly Father had similar counsel for me. 

King David was speaking to God when he said this in Psalm 139:14-15 “I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.  You knew me thoroughly; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth. –  NET Bible ®

According to Scripture, God is responsible for making the person called me – my body, soul and mind – all His doing.  

The word “sewed” was used to describe the creative process.   I like that.  Elsewhere the same Hebrew word was translated as “embroidered.”   (Exodus 35:35) I like that even better.

To embroider is to take plain cloth and uniquely adorn it with multicolored thread.  In the past it was always done by hand which meant that no two embroidered pieces were exactly alike.

To embroider something requires a detailed plan.  This suggests that there is nothing about me or you for that matter that is accidental or random. 

According to David the finished product is awesome.  Who me? 

It was frustrating trying to be someone else, so I caved in and tried to follow dad’s advice.  I dared to be different – to do and to be who God created me to be.   

When the rest of the kids wrote their stories using the third person, I used the first person and the teacher proudly read my creative paper to the class.  

When the band wanted to do the same old cover tunes, I would slip in a funny and original song and bored people began to listen again.

The frustration in me began to fade, and an exhilarating freedom was taking root.  It was fun, really fun to be me.

The cowlick, however, was still a sore spot.   But – one day, dad and I were driving through our neighborhood, and he pointed out Steve K, the cool kid who lived down the street.    

I couldn’t believe it!  Steve had pasted a bunch of goop on his hair, to force it to stand up into a cow lick – just like mine.

Oh – poor Steve!  He should dare to be different! 

As Father’s Day approaches, I want to say that I am grateful for the one in heaven for having uniquely crafted me, and the one that was at my house who helped me to find me. 

A PRAYER: Father I am uniquely and wonderfully made. Help me to embrace this when I’m tempted to erase it. 

coco — June 9, 2021

coco

audio version

Their pride and joy was about 2 years old at the time and learning to speak.  His dad was from Massachusetts and his mom from Brazil, but they were living in East Texas.  The poor little guy didn’t know what accent to choose. 

His mother was determined, however, to make sure that he learned the language of her heart.  So, she taught him Portuguese potty-training vocabulary which included “coco” the word used for bowel movement. 

One fine day she went to the gym and left her little guy in childcare.   He had to go – so he found the girl in charge and frantically repeated, “coco, coco!”

She got him a cup of hot chocolate.  (and you know the rest of the story)

_____________

It is frustrating to ask for something but get something else.   “I ordered a cheeseburger, but this looks like a sneezeburger.”  “Their web site pictured a scarf of aqua blue.  They sent me awkward blue instead.” 

Some suspect that God is as careless with our requests.  Jesus discussed the problem in

Matthew 7.  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.“ (7)

He used three words – all synonyms for prayer:  Each is a command with the force of a continuing experience. See prayer is something that you do repeatedly – continually.  The sequence of the verbs increases in their intensity

Picture a girl standing before heaven speaking through the door, “Lord, I am just not able to love my enemy.  The guy is horrible.  Will You help me?”

Her asking becomes seeking – looking for a key.  She looks under the rock and above the door frame.  There is determination in her manner. 

She finally pounds on the door, “Please, please God.  I desperately need your help to succeed.  Won’t you open up and help me?”

Now – as to why we must approach God like this – Jesus doesn’t say.  He just says that we are to pray in this way – persistently, deliberately, and passionately – like we really mean it.

He knows that we tend to lose heart in our prayers.  (Luke 18:1)

Then the good news.  “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (8)  When we pray with persistence, the answer comes into existence. 

But then Jesus gets a little silly.  He asks, “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  (9-10)

In Jesus’ day, bread was rolled thin and then baked on a flat hot stone.  The finished product didn’t look much different from the stone on which it was baked.   But what kind of dad would hand the stone to his trusting toddler to watch him grind his teeth on the rock?

And how could a dad offer his boy a bite of fish, and then watch as the alleged fish took a bite out of him?   The answer was, “No one would do that!”

He continued, “If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  (11)

So much for tact!  Jesus called us evil!  Well OK, my thought processes are not always wholly righteous – this is true, BUT I am going to do the right thing by my kids.

And the Father, who is all together righteous is going to do fabulously better by His.

He gives good gifts to those who ask Him.  Not inferior or harmful gifts or gifts from the clearance shelf or gleaned from the overstock store.  He gives good gifts – the best gifts – the very things that we seek.

He makes sure that there are no teeth shattering stones or toxic serpents among them.

Yes, at times, He may use His discretion because sometimes we ask for stones and serpents and don’t know it.  And we can be sure that what He gives, we will eventually treasure.

So, go ahead and “Ask and it will be given to you.”  Whether you do it in English or Portuguese!

A PRAYER: Lord forgive my prayer tweets and help me to pray with purpose!

The Scripture references from the NET Bible ®   

fik it daddy — June 2, 2021

fik it daddy

audio version

My boy learned that I was a handy man.   The toddler would run in the room and hold up a Lego car that had crumbled in his hand and say, “Fik it daddy!”   So, I did.  At other times the fix would require a screw or some glue, but I always managed to “fik it” for him.

All of my kids looked to me to be a fixer.  The third-grade class shunned my daughter – the new kid.  I sent her to school the next day with treats to share with her class.  Crisis averted. 

My son K.C. acquired a car that required lots of attention.  I believe that he and I replaced twice as many parts as the car actually had.  But dad was there to “fik it” for him.

I was famous for fixing with my kids, but the challenges became more complicated as they grew older.   

K.C. has a darling little 6-year-old girl who is facing open heart surgery.  They will break the sternum of my granddaughter which breaks my heart.  It was a horribly tough decision for mom and dad to make, but the surgeon says it’s necessary to seal and heal the hole in her heart.  They are stressed but intent on trusting God. 

As for me, I just want to “fik it.”  I want to fix it more than anything I have ever fixed.  I want to find a way around it – a way to address the problem without doing the surgery.  But, it’s just not possible says the doc. 

It’s a helpless feeling to be a fixer, who is unable to fix.

And yet it is not a new experience for me.

Many years ago, I worked as a maintenance man in an apartment complex.  I was tasked with installing a new dish washer.  I pulled the old one out and slipped the new one into place. 

I still needed to connect the machine to the water supply.  I lay on the floor and reached underneath it with my crescent wrench to the very back of the unit.  It was an awkward stretch.

I labored and I sweat over it for a good ten minutes.  I paused to rest and then gave it several more frustrating minutes.  It didn’t happen.  I wanted to swear but I didn’t.  (OK I might have thought a word or two) 

I stopped and lay flat on the floor in exasperation really close to tears. 

I prayed – sort of.  I reminded God that I had a job to do.  There was no one else to do it.  But it wasn’t happening

And right then He brought to my mind something I had read in my devotional time the night before.   Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.” – John 15:5

It was that last part that parted my skull, “apart from me you can accomplish nothing.

I thought, “Nothing?  Not even making a water connection?”  He whispered, “Not even that.” 

So, I asked the Lord to help this humbled helpless fixer.

With a new attitude and my divine plumber’s helper, I picked up the crescent wrench (which I had previously thrown across the room) and went back to work.  

And I, or should I say we – succeeded on the very first attempt. 

Well this situation with my granddaughter is far more beyond my control than was the dishwasher.  It is not beyond His, however. 

So, my wife and I have been praying for months now in preparation for the surgery.  It is proper that we do.  John the apostle wrote this in his third epistle, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.”  (vrs. 2)

So, encouraging!  John prayed for the health of those he loved – and so do we.

In fact, tonight, when my wife and I pray together again, we will say to our all-powerful and incredibly gracious Father in heaven, “Fik it Daddy!”

A PRAYER: “Daddy, you are always there when life breaks down.  Remind us to pray when we think we can fix it without you.”

All Scripture References from the NET Bible ®

inundated — May 26, 2021

inundated

It has been pouring in our East Texas community for days.  The animals at the zoo are starting to pair up and buy tickets for the next voyage of the Ark.   It is so wet, my wrinkles are starting to develop wrinkles. 

But I guess I don’t mind the rain all that much unless it should threaten my life – and it did.

We were on the interstate, in the middle lane of three busy lanes of traffic.  It was pouring something fierce.   The wipers could hardly keep up.  Two vehicles were passing me simultaneously – one on each side of my car. 

The first was a pickup, I think, and the other was a semi with 113,000 tires (or so it seemed) 

As they passed me, the two of them threw up an ocean of water on my windshield so that I could no longer see the road ahead. 

I am sure that you have experienced this at one time or another.   There is that instant of extreme panic that swallows a person.

My car was moving at 50-60 miles an hour and there were other moving vehicles all around – but I could not see a blasted thing.   I couldn’t brake or pull over.  I dare not even slow down because of those behind me.  I could not make any change without jeopardizing my wife and I.   

I had a snapshot look at the road before I was blinded, so I chose to hold onto the steering wheel and did my best to keep the car following the same course at the same speed I was going.  I was hoping that everyone else was doing the same.

Two to three seconds later, the water cleared, and we were safe and still on course. 

My pounding heart was telling me that I was terrified.   My mind was telling me something more.  The episode served as a metaphor for me.

Many years ago, I chose a path for my life.  Jesus described it this way, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. – Matt 7:14 KJV.   The apostle Paul called it “The Way.”  (Acts 22:14)   I mostly call it “following Jesus.” 

I have been traveling this road for almost 50 years, but I confess that there have been times when my life circumstances have overwhelmed me much as the water on my windshield. 

In my early twenties I had a undiagnosable heath issue that made me useless.   When I graduated from Bible college, I sought a ministry job for the better part of a year but was turned down over 40 times.   

In my middle-aged years, I was beset with unending depression like I had never experienced before.  In my 60’s I was nudged to resign from a job that I loved. 

Those were the biggies, but I must confess that even the lesser trials of life always felt huge to me

Each of those times I felt the inundation that I experienced on the road.  I was blinded.  I could not see the way ahead.  I was tempted to stomp on the brakes, but those following me would be hurt.  I thought about veering off and leaving “the Way” but I couldn’t, after all that Jesus had done for me. 

So, I chose to grip the steering wheel and by faith stubbornly follow the same path.   At times it felt hollow, maybe even insincere but I found some comfort in the words of the apostle Paul who said, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  – 2 Cor 5:7 KJV 

In each case, the wipers finally caught up, the chaos was cleared, and I was safe.  I then traveled on with ease until I encountered the next storm.  And there always was and will be a next storm as long as we are this side of heaven.

For those of you who are inundated at this moment.  May I encourage you to stay the course.  Do not compromise and do not give up on Jesus.   He will guide you through the chaos and when things clear, you will be glad that you held on. 

A PRAYER: Lord in those times I cannot see the way ahead, help me travel on by my faith.

sparkly to murky — May 19, 2021

sparkly to murky

The boy jumped for joy in the Galveston surf.  He had just found a GoPro video camera in the sea.  It probably didn’t work, but he was excited, nonetheless.   His dad was a whiz.  He took the camera home, attached it to his PC and found that it was operational.  In fact, it had been intermittently recording. 

It evidently had been turned on, then dropped and lost in the gulf.  It eventually timed out and turned itself off.  But as it tumbled in the surf, it would occasionally get bumped and then activated again until once again it timed out.   And the process happened over and over resulting in a topsy turvy snapshot documentary of the surf action of the gulf coast.

The first pictures were brilliant and clear, obviously capturing the waters that poured into the gulf from crystalline Florida rivers.   But the water in the gulf moves in a westward direction along our shores.  Other rivers then add their waters.  

BUT those waters are full of silt.   The Mississippi River alone carries roughly 500 million tons of sediment into the Gulf of Mexico each year.

Which is why the water on that 600-mile westward journey went from gorgeous to gross – sparkly to murky.  Swimmers in Galveston sometimes emerge from the sea with a beard of dirt.  Which is why the camera filled up with dark and dirty images.

If the original owner of the GoPro could reclaim it and view the video, he would be shocked.  “What happened?” 

_______________

Have you ever stopped and looked at your life and wondered the same thing?  “What happened?”

Like the Gulf of Mexico, there are currents in our lives that may carry us from the sparkly to the murky.

“We exchanged vows ‘till death do we part’ but 21 years later the marriage is on life support.”

“I used to be outgoing, but I have been angry for so long now, I have forgotten how to have fun.” 

“I was really devoted to the Lord when I came to faith, but these days I am mostly going through the motions.” 

These kinds of life changes are often subtle and go undetected, until one day we scan the full video and discover the disappointing truth – sparkly to murky. 

What may be needed is a time each day to review that day’s footage – to evaluate while things are fresh, and changes can be made before toxic habits are cemented. 

That’s what King David did.  Each night he lay on his bed and he meditated (Psalm 63:6).  He mentally reviewed his day. 

He gives us a taste of his experience in Psalm 139:23-24.   He prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” – NIV

He opened his life to God and asked that He search it – that God might know him for who he really was.   He left his fine robes in the royal closet and asked God to look beyond the role that he played to see the man he was.

Then he invited God to test him – to review the video of that day and point out where David may have caused offense to his wife, or his children, his friends, those he worked with each day and certainly God Himself.  David wanted to know who and how he might have offended.   He did not run from this information.  He humbly received it.

It has been my experience that when I ask for information like this, I get it. (especially from my wife) but yes even from the Lord.  He has no reason to conceal it from us.   As God caused each revelation to seep into David’s mind, the King confessed them. (Psalm 32:5)

Then most of all, He wanted help in learning from his mistakes that he might do better.  He prayed, “lead me in the everlasting way.”  He was aware of his imperfections and his need for guidance, so he invited the Lord to take the lead. 

In this way David got a reset for his mind and heart and his behavior for the next day.   The sparkle was maintained, and the murkiness resisted.

A PRAYER: Lord I want to please You.  Help me by exposing my subtle sinful ways each day and leading me in the everlasting way.

the last thing remembered — May 12, 2021

the last thing remembered

Old age is a sorter of memories and it’s interesting what gets sifted out.  I interviewed a sweet new friend recently.  Though he is over 90, he is possibly sharper than I am. 

But he struggled some with memory issues.  He could tell me about his children, and his grandkids and his devoted wife who had passed. 

But then I asked him what he had done for a living.  He stopped and pondered – and eventually said, “Well I don’t know.” 

So odd.  Why did time sift out that huge chunk of his memory?

My dad was also stumped when I asked the same question.  He was in his eighties – also struggling with memory issues.   He had spent most of his working his life as a truck driver and did some mechanic work on the side.

6 days and 60 to 70 hours a week he gave to his work.  And he did it well.  He was highly regarded by his bosses and admired by his fellow employees.  He put not everything, but an awful lot into it.  I have many memories of watching him leave us to go to work. 

But at age 87, he could not remember what he did for all those years.  He could still remember his family – but not the Keebler Biscuit Company.  

Why is that? 

Don’t know, but I can guess. 

The job gave him callused hands and a paycheck.  Sustenance!  Certainly, necessary for the care and feeding of his brood, but in the end – it was just a job. 

The family gave him more. Significance!  He married an auburn-haired beauty who forsook all to take up life with him.  She admired him and believed in him and stood by him through thick and thin.   She touched his soul.   They spent over 60 memory packed years together

He gave life to 5 kids who idolized him and took every opportunity to wrestle him to the floor.   They made him laugh and cry!  His values shaped theirs and it was with immense pride that he launched each one.  Their success or failure became the barometer reading of his heart.  

And then there were the grandkids and the greats.  What’s not to love and cherish?

Work had its memories to be sure – 60-70 weekly hours of boring routine occasionally interrupted with grumbling over the boss or the union dues. 

His memories of the family, on the other hand, were so much richer and multifaceted and rewarding and emotionally engaging and they touched every area of his existence. 

So why did he and why do I and most every other adult I know allow that which will be forgotten to crowd out that which will be remembered? 

In the book of Proverbs old Solomon wrote, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.”

Prov 18:22   I have scoured the Scripture and have failed to find a particular job that was acclaimed in this way.

As far as kids, the Psalmist said, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward.”  Psalm 127:3   A job is a responsibility – kids are a reward. 

He went on to say, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”  (127:4) In other words, an older person is protected and sustained by the children he sired in his youth. 

He caps it off by saying, “How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  Ps 127:5. The man with many children is blessed.  The man with many jobs is not.  He may be overworked and wealthy, but he is not blessed.

I am semi-retired but still working.  Yet, I have determined that from now on my family will get my best.  If work gets in the way, then work will go.  Too little too late – I know.    

You, however, may be able to adjust your priorities sooner.  Do it!   Give the best of your heart to your family instead of your work.  The reward is far greater and the memories longer lasting. 

A PRAYER: Lord a commitment like this is hard to keep.  Help me guard it with my life.

All Scripture references from the New American Standard Updated

ken and barbie — May 5, 2021

ken and barbie

Being their pastor, I was asked to officiate at the wedding of Ken and Barbie, except I knew them as Daniel and Rachel.  They really were the ideal couple, both very physically attractive and emotionally healthy.  Both were solid Christians and highly committed to each other.

In our premarital counseling I gave them a standardized temperament test to assess their compatibility.   They tested better than Adam and Eve before the fall.

In the months that followed the wedding, I watched them with great satisfaction as the sage preparation I had provided worked it magic. 

I understand that they ended each day in their cozy bedroom, side by side.  As Daniel contentedly slipped off to sleep, Rachel would pray for him, “God I can’t stand it anymore, would you just take this man home?  I won’t disobey you and divorce him, but you could solve my problem with a car accident or something?” (I am not kidding-here!)

Hmm – Problems in paradise!

So, what happened?  I decided to call and ask them. (Yes, they are still married!) 

She says she had unrealistic expectations.  She thought she was marrying Prince Charming but then married life revealed glimmers of Conan the Barbarian. 

He says he was stressed with excessive schoolwork and a fulltime job.  He didn’t handle it well plus, she fell near the bottom of his priority list.  As long as the clothes were washed, meals were cooked, and house cleaned – he was happy.  He described himself as a “jerk.” 

They refused to utter the word divorce even though both were desperately unhappy.  They understood that marriage is for keeps.  It was God’s idea in the beginning, and He takes an active role in bringing two people together.  Many ceremonies conclude with the words, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) KJV (Jesus words by the way)

They exchanged vows – a sacred and unbreakable commitment to each other with God as witness.  Yes, the Lord reluctantly allows divorce, but for a very limited number of reasons.  (Matthew 19:9)   

Daniel and Rachel were stuck.  They were bound by their vows.  

On the other hand – they pretty much knew what needed to happen with their marriage.  They had counseling, read the marriage books, and came from healthy families.  They knew!  Daniel says that they just finally committed to do it. 

They quit pointing the finger at one another and turned it back to themselves. 

She realized her own selfishness and self-righteousness, which doesn’t work well in any kind of relationship.  She determined to honor and respect Daniel even when he didn’t deserve it.

He told me that Rachel had become a mirror of his own behavior.  He saw the ugly impact he had on her and he didn’t like what he saw.  He bumped her up, just beneath God, on his priority list and began to practice servant-leadership in his home. 

They both came to realize that more was needed in their marriage than what they had the ability to give.  They humbled themselves before the Lord and sought His path and His power. 

On the MAIN thing, they both agreed.  The main thing was that they were committed to work it out – to address the problems head on and trust God to help them through.  There was no easy-out through a divorce.   

It took two years of hard, difficult, often lonely work, but number three became a honeymoon of a year for them.

They now have 5 kids and are expecting a sixth.  And Rachel still prays for Daniel at night. “Lord don’t ever let this guy die, I need his help with the kids – but more than that – I really, deeply love him.”  

A PRAYER: Lord help me be steadfast and immovable in the commitments I make, especially the one to my spouse. 

PS: I have their permission and their encouragement to share this!

the proposal — April 28, 2021

the proposal

We had been married less than a month but were serious about succeeding so we went to away to a weekend seminar.  We lodged in the basement of some friends, on the floor, in sleeping bags.  

In the middle of the night I began to stir.  I was laying on my back at the time.  So, I opened my eyes, and was startled to find my new bride’s face a ½ inch away from mine – nose to nose. 

I jumped up with my heart hammering away.  I asked, “What in the world are you doing?” She said “I was afraid that you died, and I was checking to see if you were still breathing.   

___________

I guess she didn’t want to lose a good thing!   And marriage is a good thing.  It provides mutual blessing for a couple, and a wondrous pathway towards understanding God.

Did you know that Jesus presented Himself as a bridegroom multiple times in the Scripture?  (Matthew 9:14-17, 22:1-14; 25:1-12; John 3:29)

The collective church is even referred to as His bride and our future with Him in heaven is described as a marriage.  For instance, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” – Revelation 19:7

Thinking of our relationship with the Lord in this way has helped me work through some difficult theological issues such as, “What does it mean to receive Christ as Savior?”

John 1:12 says, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children.”  These two words “believe” and “receive” tell us how to become God’s child.  They are synonymous and yet distinctly different. 

To believe in His name is to accept as fact that Jesus is the divine Son of God who ably bore the penalty on the cross for our sin, and then rose again.  

OK but what does it mean, “to receive Him?”  It seems like it should read, “to receive the gift He offered” but it is focused on receiving “Him” instead. 

Let’s process that question through a proposal grid.

When I decided to invite Sharie to be my wife.   I took her on an outing to a local park.   She thought me weird because I was wearing a big overcoat on a warm spring day.  This was to conceal the box that held a beautiful engagement ring – the most expensive gift I had ever purchased.  

I was excited and had every intention of giving it to her that day.  I did not expect her to pay me for it or make a pledge to never hurt me in the future, or to commit herself to at least 30 years of marriage to merit it. 

But I did have expectations.  I hoped she would say, “Yes I will marry you!”   And in that yes, would be an implied commitment to be with me, and to dwell with me and to do life together.  Basically, I wanted her to receive me – to accept and embrace and commit herself to me. 

But what if I should offer the ring, only for her to say, “Thanks!  I’ll take the ring but forget about a mushy commitment.  See ya!”

Fortunately, she wanted my ring and the me that went along with it! 

I think of Jesus’ invitation in a similar way.  When it comes to salvation, He doesn’t expect us to merit it or to earn it or to qualify through a commitment to be perfect.  He knows how feeble we are.

But He does expect to hear us say, “Yes, Jesus I will be yours.  I will go with you and dwell with you and be with you.”   In other words, “I want the ring and I am committing myself to the mushy relationship that goes with it.” 

There most certainly is a commitment involved – not to an ideal, or a moral code or an organized religious body but to the marvelous person of Jesus. 

So, think of Jesus as being on one knee before you, cradling in his hands a jewelry box containing the gift of heaven, while on His lips are the words, “Will you receive Me?”  

So – will you? 

A PRAYER: Lord I long for more than dry religion.  Give me a relationship with You. 

Scripture references are from the NET Bible®

first — April 21, 2021

first

If my dad taught me anything it was this, “If someone else is capable of doing it – you can do it too.”   I found this to generally be true, but there was the time I attempted to rebuild the rear brake cylinders on my car. 

Let me explain these brake cylinders to those of you who may be less mechanically inclined than me (which might include maybe 2 or 3 of you.)

In each wheel is a cylinder filled with brake fluid.  When you step on the brakes, it transmits that pressure to the fluid through the brake line, which pushes on a piston in the cylinder, which then pushes out on the brake shoe and against the wheel, thus slowing it down

I had rebuilt both cylinders and I wanted to see if they worked.  So, I stepped on the brake pedal.   I learned later that you should NOT do this until the brake shoes are reinstalled – BUT Youtube DIYs didn’t exist then.

Sooo – I stepped on the brakes, heard a loud popping noise, and then sadly watched as the insides of my cylinders flew across the street. 

Maybe my dad was wrong!

___________________

It all fell apart.  It’s embarrassing and even painful when things fall apart. 

Like a family!  The fighting and bickering.  Doesn’t feel like a family anymore.

Sometimes marriages crumble.  Criticism displaces the cuddles.

Ooh and I hate it when my financial plans fall apart – when my outgo exceeds my income. 

Pressure can cause most anything to fall apart – churches, friendships, partnerships, our sanity and on it goes.

The question is – what do we need to hold it all together?

The Apostle Paul wrote this of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,  for all things in heaven and on earth were created in him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.”  – Colossians 1:15-16

Profound words that could summed up in one word, “First.”  Christ was first over all creation.  The term firstborn refers not to birth order (Christ is eternal God) but rather to His rank in creation.   For instance.  Esau was Isaac’s firstborn, but God called Jacob the firstborn because he came to outrank Esau. (Exod. 4:22) 

Christ outranks all of creation because it all came into being through Him.  He was the glue so to speak.

Most importantly, Paul tells us that because Christ is first, He currently holds all things together.  “He himself is before all things, and all things are held together in him.” – Colossians 1:17.

Science tells us that matter (like the chair on which you sit) is made up of more space than substance.  It consists of rapidly moving electrical particles that move within defined parameters. 

That sounds like my life at times – more space than substance and rapidly changing circumstances. 

Yet, somehow the physical universe is stable and firmly held together.  Scientists can’t explain why, but Paul can, “all things are held together in him.” 

But can Christ hold our lives together as well?

Paul would say absolutely…if we allow Him to be first.  To bend our will to His, to seek His honor more than our own and to allow His truth to permeate all we do and say.

If Christ had the first place in our marriages – then husbands would love their wives like Christ loves the church, and wives would respond to that warm loving leadership – a sweet harmony.

If Christ had first place in our churches, then we would support rather than compete against each other. 

If we were to honor Christ first with our finances, He would see to it that we would still have more than enough for ourselves and plenty to share with others.  (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)

Putting Jesus first brings unity and peace and balance and a wholeness to our relationships, finances, even our mental, physical, and emotional health.

So, first things first.  Jesus!

A PRAYER: Lord take the throne of my life, gather the strewn pieces, and pull them together. 

Scripture references from the NET Bible ®

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