Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

Jesus and goats — July 29, 2020

Jesus and goats

In the sports pages, the acronym G.O.A.T. stands for the Greatest Of All Time.  In the Bible, however, it may stand for the Grimmest Of All Time. 

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. – Matthew 25:31-33  NET Bible ®

The sheep represent people of faith while the goats are the emblem of those who have rejected Jesus.  But why pick on the goats?

I know as much about goat husbandry, as a sumo wrestler at a quilting bee.  But I can research, and this is what I have learned.

Goats look like sheep:  Throughout the ages, these ruminants have looked ridiculously alike.  The primary way to distinguish them is by their tails.  A goat’s tail goes up – the sheep’s – down.  Then there is the issue of odor.  The goats reek!

In order to maximize manpower, both were typically herded together, until time to shear the sheep (I guess there was a goat tail checker on the payroll)

So maybe the Lord wants us to know that you can’t always tell a Christian apart from one who is not.  I know professing sheep that smell more like goats, and some moral goats that act better than sheep.  On the day Jesus separates them, however, it will be based on their relationship to Him.  

Goats look for trouble.  Quotes from a livestock forum: “If you leave goats in with your horse, they may chew off his tail.” “My dad has described goats as ‘Jack Russells with hooves.’”   

Male goats headbutt sheep, people and anything else that moves – including pickup trucks.  (and you thought sheep were dumb)

The Lord has issues with those who abuse others.  In fact, His indictment of the goats in Matt 25 was based on the insensitive way the goats treated His sheep.  Hmm. That snide remark to my wife was a little goatee like. 

Goats are destructive:  Sheep enjoy grass and are content to leave some for later.  Goats will gnaw it to the ground, which destroys the pasture. 

They also shinny up trees to feast on the leaves and twigs.   Their habits have earned them the title of “worst land destroyers in history.”   Whole herds have been known to wander off and create a feral race of goats that decimate the environment.  Sounds like a sci fi sequel – “Planet of the Goats.” 

Whereas goodness and mercy are said to follow the sheep, wanton destruction follows goats.  

Paul wrote to us saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another.”  – 1 Thessalonians 5:11. In other words, we sheep should leave people better off for having spent time with us.

Goats are independent.  Goats were the first to social distance.   When grazing, they tend to spread out, rather than feed side by side as do sheep.  

Goats tend to do their own thing.  Check out the picture!  I sat down at a petting zoo and ended up with a goat sitting on top of me. 

Sheep will follow their shepherd, but the goatherd vainly tries to keep up with the goats.  One herder says that sometimes you need to take the alpha goat by the horns or collar and force compliance to get the others to follow.

As for a fence, a goat can dig under it or climb over it – and they will.   It’s been said, “If your fence won’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat.”   A shepherd carries a staff which he uses to defend sheep and to discipline the goats. 

When there is danger, sheep run to the shepherd. With the other guys its every goat for himself.  They scatter.  

A goat will not follow the Savior – and this is probably the trait that makes them a most fitting emblem of unbelief.  Jesus, the Shepherd, put it this way in Mark 8:34-35, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and because of the gospel will save it.”

It is likely impossible for a bearded billy goat to deny himself and get behind and follow the shepherd.  Not so impossible for us.  May we be goaded by the goats to gladly follow the Good Shepherd.

All Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

handling a critic — July 22, 2020

handling a critic

Critics.  Sometimes they’re as thick as flees on a farm dog.  And they jump on you when you least expect it.

Terry was a friend and a student at the Bible College.  He was asked to fill the pulpit at a small country church hidden in a holler in southern Ohio.  The faithful few at the Wednesday night service gathered to hear what brother Terry was going to bring. 

He was a novice, but he ascended the platform in faith.  With a quiver in his voice, he made his first major point.  Just then, a man in the congregation stood, pulled a ball cap from his back pocket, snapped it open and put it on. 

He made a fist with his thumb up and then swept it over his shoulder.  Yes – the self-appointed umpire just called the preacher out!

Terry was stunned.  He hesitated and mentally retraced his words wondering, “What kind of heresy did I just spout?” 

Then his critic silently removed his hat, tucked it in his pocket and sat down.  

Terry scanned the flock to see their reaction – but there was none.  Those who were not asleep were in a daze. Terry wondered if this was not the church of the Twilight Zone. 

He found his place and resumed his oratory.  A short time later, the ump made another call – Out again?  No way!  Terry began to sweat.  The count was two outs.  Would another preacher take the field after three? 

And there it was – another out.  Terry was ready to kick some dirt on the ump, except on the next call, with palms down, he snapped his arms out to either side – Safe!  “Thank You, Jesus!”

And that’s how it went the entire message.   Terry was soon longing for the 7th inning stretch. 

He learned afterwards that the man was mentally impaired, and it was his custom to umpire every service.  (Hey at least he was listening).  The congregation loved him and just learned to ignore his antics.    

I am sure you have your critics too!  – The boss who edits your reports; the mother-in-law who gives you cooking tips; the wife who looks at your outfit with a sneer.   So, how should we handle those who criticize?

The book of Proverbs has some sound advice except it uses words like “rebuke” and reprove” in place of criticism.

If a criticism is not shared with you face-to-face reject it.  If a person chooses to talk about you rather than to you, they are a gossip – not a critic.  Scripture says, “Better is an open (criticism) rebuke than hidden love.”  (27:5) Do not receive a criticism unless it comes from the person standing in front of you.

Consider the source.   Is your critic a friend or foe?  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.”  (27:6) Listen to the criticism of a friend and treat with suspicion the words of a foe.

Listen and evaluate.  God uses critics to help us with blind spots.  “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise (critic) reprover to a listening ear.”   (25:12) It’s painful but profitable to hear criticism when it is on the mark. 

Is the opinion shared?  One way to measure the validity of a criticism is to find if other people have the same perception.   What if Terry would have had 6 people stand and call him out?  Send in a pinch hitter Coach!

Don’t let your self-worth get in the way. We tend to shy away from criticism because we allow it to eat away at our self-esteem.   That’s not the way God sees it.  “Do not (criticize) reprove a mocker or he will hate you; (criticize) reprove a wise person and he will love you.”  (9:8)   Did you catch that? The one who rejects criticism is a fool, whereas the one who considers appropriate criticism is deemed wise.  To be criticized is not a cause for shame – to reject it is. 

Adjust and Finish.  If the criticism is on the mark – do something about it.  “The one who stiffens his neck after numerous (criticisms) rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy.” (29:1) When we ignore the God directed critics in our lives, we travel a destructive path.  So, adjust and then finish the course.  Terry didn’t shut his Bible and slink out the side door in defeat.  He stayed and finished.  Don’t let criticism curtail you either. Adjust and finish.

We may never bat 1,000 in life but we can win the game, if we handle our critics wisely.

All Biblical references are from the book of Proverbs from the NETBible ®

fatman and robin — July 15, 2020

fatman and robin

I have a fine feathered friend.  When I break out the lawnmower and plow through the yard, there is a robin that hops around and follows me.  He comes ridiculously close and is not a bit intimidated by the noise or the exhaust fumes. 

When I move from the back to the front yard he follows.  He flits away when I finish, but then he shows up promptly the next week when the rope pulls the engine to life again.  Thus far it’s been six weeks in a row.

He makes me feel special – like Snow White when the birds helped her clean up the dwarf house. 

The question is why?  Does he like the buzz he gets from the exhaust?  Or maybe he has a proclivity to my sweaty obesity or maybe mister redbreast knows that I used to have red hair. 

Well a little bird told me that robins largely prefer to dine on earthworms.  The worms evidently get aggravated when I mow the lawn.  They come out and ask, “Hey what’s all that racket?” 

Plus, I found a scholarly paper called EFFECTS OF GRASS LENGTH AND MOWING ON

FORAGING BEHAVIOR OF THE AMERICAN ROBIN (TURDUS MIGRATORIUS). (This is legit – no joke) The researcher found that robins overwhelmingly prefer shorter rather than longer lawns.  Well who doesn’t? 

So, when I cut the grass, the yard becomes the Golden Corral of the robin hood.

I guess you could say that the robin shows up each week because worms of goodness and mercy follow me whenever I mow the lawn (unless you look at it from the perspective of the worms.)

I do love that phrase in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”    It suggests to me that the wake we Christians leave, as we pass through this life, should be a blessing and benefit to others – leaving good things behind and merciful deeds as a legacy. 

There is someone with whom I work that seems to understand this.  Even better – she lives it.  Stacy is a nurse who has made it her mission to care for the needs of those in hospice care.

Now hospice is a tough gig.  The purpose is to provide comfort and care to terminally ill people.  There is never a happy ending.  But Stacy is deeply motivated to do this out of compassion and her faith in Jesus. 

Just recently she and I made a simultaneous visit to a sweet frail octogenarian we’ll call Rosa.  It was inspiring to see Stacy in action again.  She brought with her a cheerful outlook.  Her words and the tone of her voice transformed the gloom in the room. 

She listened to Rosa’s heart with a stethoscope, but she was also attuned to her heart break as Rosa spoke of her sadness.  It is not unusual for Stacy to weep with her patients. 

Stacy had a busy day ahead of her, but she was not rushed.  Rosa was treated like a person and not an appointment.  

She often holds the hands of her patients and prays for them, but she deferred to me as the chaplain this time. 

After the blood pressure cuff and thermometer were stowed, Stacy lay down on the floor near Rosa’s wheelchair and gleefully painted her toenails.  (I don’t think Medicare covers that) 

As she left, I heard her say with a sweetness to her voice, “I love you Rosa.”   Rosa said, “I love you too.”  They both meant it.

Stacy’s patients are enveloped in the wake of the goodness and mercy she leaves behind her.

They know it and cherish it.  Often their eyes are lifted to the Savior that energizes this nurse. 

Now did you know that every hospice agency has a coordinator who arranges for volunteers to do things read books, play games, clean house, run errands and more for needful patients.   You could do it too!  If you live in East Texas, I would be delighted to get you connected!   Contact me.  If you live elsewhere, check out an agency nearby.

I probably should say that Stacy is only one of several amazing nurses with whom I work.  There are also wonderful aides, social workers and many others including we chaplains who handle our work with care and compassion. (PS: Except I don’t do toenails). 

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

swim pit

I guess we get what we deserve! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess we really do get what we deserve! 

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

Even the Scripture echoes the theme. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

planting a new church — July 1, 2020

planting a new church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 2. Keep your eyes on Jesus

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

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

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

3. Keep His commandments

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

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

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

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

Biblical references come from the NET Bible ®

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

breaking camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on the field

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, there were times I was more than embarrassed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He comes with no warning from the Surgeon General.

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

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