Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

what if God chewed tobacco? — May 1, 2019

what if God chewed tobacco?

Jim Johnson – 773 words

I was new to Dallas and had just landed a well-paying job as a casual – unloading semi-trailers. As a casual, I would call into work each evening and if there was enough freight that day, I was given the green light to come in. Being a casual was perfect because I was also doing school. Not a problem to skip a day at the dock because there was always another casual who was eager to work.

The foreman hailed from west Texas. He had a drawl that reached to Lubbock and back. My northern ears had not yet adjusted. On top of that, he typically had a plug of tobacco tucked in his cheek. It was easier to put socks on a rooster than to understand him when he spoke.

My first day, he handed me a clipboard with the number of the truck that I was to unload and then he spoke to me. It sounded like, “slurburshebedee.” I said, “What?” He repeated, “slurburshebedee!” I asked again and evidently crossed a line. There was fire in his eyes and a rivulet of tobaccy juice oozing from the corner of his mouth. I saved myself by saying, “Oh I got it,” as if I understood, and then went to my truck.

This became our ritual. He would speak a couple of words, and I would pretend that I understood. But one day, he came to my truck and wanted to chat. Oh no! He spoke – I tried to decode. When he paused, I figured he had come to the end of a sentence, so I would nod my head yes, or chuckle, or say “I bet.” He could have been telling me that his wife had just died, and I chuckled and said, “I bet.” Two minutes later he was gone. Looked like I pulled it off again.

The next day I had a test at school, so I didn’t call in at work. The day after, I did, and was given the green light. But when I reported to the foreman, there was fire in his eyes again. I got the message this time. That day in the truck, he had asked me to become a regular and work full time. I nodded yes, so he told me to report the next day – which I didn’t, and he was not happy. I kept my job as a casual, but only for a couple weeks more. My loss!

Soooo – what if God had a cheek stuffed with Red Man Chew? What if He spoke so that every one-syllable word had two? What if John 3:16 read as, “slurburshebedee?”

Fortunately for us, God spoke with crystal clarity in His Word. It is so clear that it is to be used as a precision tool, like a lathe, to shape us (2 Tim 3:16-17). Is there anything unclear about the words, “You shall not steal?”

Though clear, we still hear a muddled message. Jesus said of His disciples, “You have ears but are unable to hear.” (Mark 8:18). This is because we allow our preconceptions and self-centered conditions to confuse His message. We want God to say what we want to hear, which keeps us from really hearing what He has said.

The better way is to lay aside our personal baggage, take His Word at face value and respond in an appropriate way.

As a pastor, I found that a sermon on giving was about as welcome as an outhouse breeze. (We say that in Texas!) But I’m not a pastor now and I ain’t got a dog in this fight (we say that too!) So, let me use giving as an example.

God spoke about it in 2 Cor. 9. There He said, “The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Cor 9:6) NET Bible® His point: The one who generously gives their money toward God’s purposes, will be generously blessed by God (and vice versa)

The truth is clear – but we muddle it up: “That’s not what it means” or “that was a promise given exclusively to the Corinthians” or “I can honor God in other ways” – or whatever.

Not cool. The better way is to lay aside our personal baggage, take His Word at face value and respond in an appropriate way no matter the issue.

It has taken some time, but now, not only do I understand a Texas drawl, I can speak it. Ya’ll hear? But with God, I am still working on listening clearly and responding fully.

And should my beloved former boss be a reader, may I say, “slurburshebedee!”

paper trail — June 19, 2019

paper trail

Jim Johnson

“God doesn’t care for me the way He used to.”  That captures my mood at the moment!

You see – I have grown accustomed to His love.  He was there to pick up this 19-year-old when I was drowning in sin.  He gave focus to my aimlessness and redirected me from a mission-project girlfriend to the girl who is now my amazing wife.  He led me when I was clueless and provided when I was needy.

He stretched me with challenges and then empowered me to meet them.  He answered my specific prayers and he gave me the blessing of 3 children which has exponentially grown to 10 grandkids.   God has been more than good to me. 

And YET today – today I feel like the kid who reached into the candy jar just once too often to have his daddy slap his hand and say, “Son – you’ve had enough.” 

My earnest prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling.  When I go to the Bible for a Spirit whispered word of encouragement I am met with an eerie silence. I watch with a little envy as God dramatically works in the lives of others, while I sit like a wallflower glued to a folding chair at the junior high dance.  I find my comfort in the company of John the Baptist in his prison cell.

Has it finally happened?  Have I reached the limits of God’s love for me?

Maybe my nephew can help adjust my perspective.

He was two at the time.  His grandmother had a cold.  She exploded with a sneeze that vibrated the china (in China).  She startled us, especially the boy.  He reacted by racing out of the living room – a junior germaphobe in the making – or so we thought.   

Moments later he returned with a gift – some toilet paper with which she might wipe her nose.  He couldn’t reach the tissue box on the counter, so he grabbed it from the TP roll instead.  So, so sweet!

But, he didn’t understand that he needed to tear it off.  So, trailing behind him – from bathroom to the living room was an unbroken, soft, scented chain of two-ply love.   He offered it to her with pride and affection.  She gratefully received it with a giggle.

God’s love comes to us in that way.

He once said to His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.” – Jeremiah 31:3. NET Bible.    An everlasting love has no beginning or end.  It cannot be exhausted.  Before we were created He decided to love us. (Eph. 1:4) a decision from which He has never wavered.

The apostle Paul asked, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”  Or to paraphrase, “Who or what is able to tear off the sheet of two-ply and break the chain of His affection for us?” 

He continued, “Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”  – Romans 8:35.   The answer to that purely rhetorical question is – not a thing can separate us from His love.  

He was sure of it for he went on to say.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  – Romans 8:35-39.  NETBible

An unbroken, soft, scented chain of His heavenly love.

Now do I always feel loved?  Well no!  But how reliable are my feelings anyway?   As a pastor I made hospital visits.  I sometimes empathized with the patient to the point to where I left their room having the same disease – or at least I felt like I had some of the symptoms.  “Oh man, I feel like my ovaries are enlarged too!”

Regardless of the way I read my circumstances, God’s love is ever faithful, always true.  As I draw from it, it continues to perpetually unroll at its source.   

There is hope in the unbroken expression of His love for me. 

What about you?  Do your current circumstances dull your perception of His love?    May today be the day that you relocate that endless, unbroken chain and grab it.  Giggle if you must!

_____________________

Here’s a guitar instrumental to help you reconnect to the never ending love of God!

Blessed Assurance/Jesus Joy of Man’s Desiring: Guitar Jim Johnson
squirrel grit — June 12, 2019

squirrel grit

Jim Johnson – 745 words

When I grow up I’d like to be a squirrel, or at least be as determined. 

My wife and I love nature, but we have black thumbs.  Every bush we plant, lives a tortured existence and quickly turns to fertilizer.   So, we get our fix from a bird feeder instead.

I bought one, filled it with seed and suspended it on a pole.  We went out the next morning to enjoy nature, except there were no birds, because there was no seed.  There was however, a bunch of squirrels with gang tattoos, who had cleaned us out.

This aggravated me because the label on the bag said bird seed, not squirrel seed.  And they ate an enormous amount.  One of them looked like a little sumo wrestler without the diaper.

So then began my battle with the squirrels.  I put a barrier on the pole, but they easily bypassed it.  I improvised more attempts and they laughed.  When a barrier slowed them down they jumped from the trees with the greatest of ease.

But then I took a big trash-can lid and suspended it beneath the feeder.  O yeah!  There was not enough stretch in them to get past this one.  I finally won a round.

I spiked the ball in the end zone when I bought a sunflower seed mix.  This was too much for one of them.  He began to daily, gnaw at the trashcan lid until he whittled it down enough to bypass it

I was mad now!  I took a 5-gallon bucket and suspended it upside down. (see the pic) It was thicker plastic and there was 18 long inches to gnaw.  It took him forever – but he did it. 

Then I tried coating the rim of the bucket with Vicks VapoRub.  He would sniff it and run for the hills. Score another round for me (although he was grateful that his sinuses were cleared).

He countered by going for the motherlode which was in a sealed plastic bin in our garage.   One day we found him inside it luxuriating on top of 10 pounds of seed, like Scrooge McDuck basking on his mountain of gold.   

Only one solution left.  I baited a small animal trap with some enticing pecans.  The sneak couldn’t resist.  We caught and relocated him.  He is now a determined nuisance to someone else.

Such determination might look good on me!

Long ago I reported for my first ministry position as a pastor.  Before that I had been a printer, a broiler cook, taxi cab driver, printer, maintenance man and llama keeper.   I worked jobs where my value was measured by the volume I produced or how much money I made for the owner. 

But the work of a pastor seemed nebulous to me.  I didn’t like it.  At the end of that first day, I bought a newspaper to look for another job.  My wife was ready to club me. 

My response to difficulty back then was to cut and run – to give up and look for something else – to find a goal that was easier to accomplish.   So unlike Mr. squirrel. 

Jesus was at work in me though.  He said, “But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance.”  Luke 8:15 NET Bible®.   He tells us that the faithful, fruitful Christian is one who is marked by the quality of steadfast endurance.

The two are actually one word in the Greek language of the New Testament.  It means to remain under a great weight.  Think of a weight lifter who snatches 500 pounds from the floor and though tempted to drop it, he stands under it and keeps it elevated.  That is steadfast endurance – sheer determination. 

What might happen if God’s people were more determined? 

Instead of fleeing a problem-prone church, he might stay and become part of the solution.  Instead of abandoning a difficult marriage she might stick it out and find that the grace of God is enough to turn it around.  Instead of quitting a job in discontent, he might persevere and find that he gets promoted.  Instead of letting difficulty quench our faith, we could be steadfast and wait for God to show Himself.

Hey if a squirrel can do it – we can too!  We would please the Lord and amaze ourselves.  

_________

I have included a link to a song I wrote, maybe one of my best, but certainly one of my most transparent because it highlights my weakness in this area.

It’s Always Harder Stayin’ Here – Written and recorded by Jim Johnson
lie medicine — June 5, 2019

lie medicine

Jim Johnson

My mom, Anna Johnson, moved on to higher ground last week after a full rich life of 88 years.  Thank you, by the way, for your precious thoughts in response to my brother Doug’s Facebook tag. Mom had just celebrated Mother’s Day, her birthday and her 67th anniversary with my dad who she left behind.  She was a wise and resourceful mother to five and my blog this week pays tribute to her ingenuity. 

——–

Five kids – one crime – no one did it.  What does a mom do?   

My mother was a stay-at-home mom who possibly day-dreamed of being a stray-from home mom.  There were five of us kids and we were well-behaved (while we slept).   She ran a tight ship.  The wrath of mom was not something you wanted to risk.

So, it was, that one of us broke something that was dear to mom and then hid the damning evidence.  She eventually found it and growled, “Who broke it?” 

There were 4 quick replies, “Not me!”  We pinned it on Markie, the youngest.   He was too little to protest- the perfect fall guy.

Mom knew that one of us was lying – but who?  And how would she get to the bottom of it?   Dad had outlawed water boarding.  So, she introduced us to her mysterious “lie medicine.”  Lie medicine is a substance that identifies a liar.   It did not merit the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

She had each of us drink a liquid.  It tasted like water, but the label said lie medicine.  She told us that it would cause the hands of a liar to turn blue. 

This was frightening!  Each of us had told a lie at one time or another (probably within the last 12 hours).  If the lie medicine worked, then mom would become the mother of Smurfs.

But surely the stuff wasn’t legit.  Why hadn’t we heard of it before? No, she was manipulating us to get the guilty to confess.  So, we stood our ground. 

She pressed on.  Mom lined us up, oldest to youngest, and told us to hold out our hands, palms down.  She took my hands in hers and then flipped them over. Nothing to see but a little dirt and a wart.  I breathed a sigh of relief. Then onto my sister Sandy.  She too was clean. 

The suspect list had been narrowed down to Doug or Carol.  Mom moved on to Doug – her prime suspect.  She flipped his hands and there it was – a shockingly dark, blue stain.  He was terrified and swiftly confessed, providing every deceitful detail. 

We were stunned and scared.  The lie medicine worked.  Mom never had to use it again.  She had to only threaten to – and we broke.

Eventually we discovered her diabolical secret.  Mom had cunningly dabbed her finger in blue food coloring and touched it to Doug’s palm.

I must hand it to her, though, the thought of having our sins revealed, motivated us to be honest.

I wonder if that’s why Jesus has a similar plan for us? 

According to 1 Cor 3:10-15 and 2 Cor. 5:10, there will come a time when Christians will line up and Jesus Himself will check our palms (so to speak).  We will give an account then for what we did with our lives. 

It will be a time of gain, for we will be rewarded for our gold, silver and precious stone moments in life.  But it will be a time of pain as well – a time that we will likely meet with reluctance.  Paul associates it with the fear of the Lord.  (2 Cor. 5:11) 

Why reluctant?  Paul put it this way, “…wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”  (1 Cor 4:5) NET Bible®

Jesus, on 3 occasions, also told His disciples that what is hidden now will be revealed then.  (Luke 8:17; 10:21; 12:1-3) The lies, the unseen motives, our embarrassing thoughts – all revealed.  Most of us will be singing the blues (and maybe seeing the blue too)

Good news though, mom never kicked us out of the family for lying and neither will the Lord ever reject those who have entered His family through their faith in Jesus.  But as was with my family – and most every family – there is accountability. 

Better to drag the hidden into the light today. Confess it to Him (1 John 1:9) so that there is nothing to reveal in the future.  Better to live in a way today – that creates a blueless tomorrow.   By His power and grace, we can do that!

sleepy follow — May 29, 2019

sleepy follow

Jim Johnson

She wanted to stop at the grocery store.  When it comes to food, I am highly motivated to eat it, inept at cooking it, and totally apathetic about shopping for it – but I love my wife, so I went along.  

She grabbed a cart and I grabbed my phone and began to follow her.  I was trying to text in my calorie count from dinner.  The app was aggravating, and I have the fine motor skills of an ape. To do all this while trying to follow my wife was torture, and yet more satisfying than searching for a can of cream of mushroom soup.

I kept her in my peripheral vision as we walked.  I didn’t want to accidentally wind up in the laxative aisle.   Back and forth she went, with me two steps behind, until we reached the rear of the store.  I hit the save button and pocketed my phone.

I then lifted my head and found myself nearly nose-to-nose with a bewildered Latino woman.  Her steely eyes were asking, “What kind of creep are you and why have you been trailing me for the last 5 minutes?”  (and by the way – you text like an ape) 

I was embarrassed.  I went and hid in the laxative aisle.

I lost the person I was following.  It happens!  It happened to Peter the apostle.

Jesus recruited him while fishing in the Sea of Galilee. It took a miraculous catch and the words, “Follow me” to move him from his boat to the ranks of the disciples.  For Peter to follow, he had to set aside his own agenda and make the person and the will and the work of Christ his top priority.    It meant dying to self and being with Him.

Peter followed fairly well, but he had his moments.  Just before Jesus made His ascent into heaven, the two of them were talking.  Peter was rebounding from a previous failure, so Jesus felt He needed to prepare him for the future.  He revealed that Peter would one day pay the ultimate price for his faith by execution.

And then, as if He knew that Peter would buck, He reiterated those familiar words, “Follow Me.”  (John 21:19)   Unfortunately, Peter didn’t hear them.  He stopped listening when heard the description of his death.  That would probably stop me too.

Peter didn’t want to die a martyr.  He was also greatly annoyed that Jesus made no such gruesome prediction about John who was his fellow disciple, former business partner and cousin.  “So when Peter saw (John), he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”  (John 21:21) NET Bible®

Peter lost Jesus.  His eyes were cast downward – he latched onto and began to follow his fear and envy instead.  

Jesus replied as if he were speaking to a 4-year-old. “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” (John 21:22) NET Bible®    Ouch!  Tough words.  “Peter, I want you to stop looking around at others and keep your eyes on me.   Don’t follow your heart, or your fears, or your passions, or your Facebook friend or anyone or anything else but Me.”

He expects no less of us!

Beware though! We live in a day where being a follower is reduced to subscribing to someone on social media – someone like Cristiano Ronaldo who holds the current record for the most Instagram followers – 150 million of them.  I think I should probably know who this is, but I don’t. (just Googled it.  He is a Portuguese pro soccer star who plays for an Italian team)

It’s really easy to “follow” Mr. Ronaldo.  No commitment required.  You don’t even have to read the things he posts.  Following Jesus, however, requires exactly what Jesus asked of Peter. “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) NET Bible®

Take a moment to lift your head and look into the face of the person or thing that you have been following.  If it ain’t Jesus – you could hide in the laxative aisle or you could simply say “I’m sorry Lord.  May I join you again?

——

A special treat: Bethany Bergman singing what has been my heart cry – Nothing More, Nothing Less, Nothing Else.  

Nothing More: Written by Jim Johnson. Vocals by Bethany Bergman
apprehended — May 22, 2019

apprehended

Jim Johnson

What does a bluegrass band and a homeless person have in common?  The answer?  Neither are welcome at the Ritz.  True – but both were welcome at the Highway 80 Rescue Mission. 

Dinner had just been served and the men knew they had to attend chapel if they wanted a comfortable cot for the night.  So, they begrudgingly trickled into the chapel building– men of every color, shape and size.  Each one different, but each one the same – bullied by circumstances that were beyond their ability to cope.   Bonded by a common sense of helpless hopelessness.

The East Mountain Bluegrass Gospel Band was in charge that night.  Every third Monday of the month, they sing the Gospel there. They say bluegrass is sung from the nose and not the diaphragm.  Maybe, but I know these folks and they sing from the heart.

The band looked out on a sea of about 70 faces – some enthusiastic, while others were painted with a vacant stare. 

The band finished one song and was moving to the next when 3 uniformed police officers entered the back of the room.  They paused and scanned the chapel with their hands on their weapons. 

They whispered to a staffer who led the somber trio to the front.  A younger man was tapped on the shoulder.  He saw the officers and slowly came to his feet.  They spun him around, slapped the cuffs on his wrists and led him out.

The band lost the crowd.  Every eye was fixed on the man in cuffs.   Living on the streets is a tough life and the law is often a casualty.  Most of those men had done jail time before.  It was his turn now!

Julie, who plays with the band said, “It hurt to watch.”  It was a moment when you just wanted to stop the show and cry, but there was still more Gospel to sing.  Still a chance that someone in the crowd might choose Jesus and a changed life. 

The set list called for, ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.  It seemed to be an awkward song for the moment.   Julie says she whined about singing it as they were planning the set.   But they kicked it off, and she sang as the tears fell from her chin to the bass guitar she played. 

After the service, the staffer approached the band and filled in the blanks. He said that the young man had recently decided to follow Christ thanks to the ministry of the mission.

Fantastic – except that the Scripture says that the person who comes to Christ should be made new.  “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come!” 2 Cor. 5:17- NET Bible®   A true Christian is a new person – a person who thinks and speaks and acts like the Savior who indwells him.   If that young man had truly come to Jesus, then he wouldn’t be headed to jail.

And yet – – that was exactly why he was headed to jail.   The guy in cuffs was the snitch.  He had called the police that day to report himself and to tell them where they could find him. He had broken the law and he knew it.  As a new man in Christ, it was important to him to take responsibility for what he had done.  He wanted to be clean before God and man.

He knew they were coming for him that very night and He chose to be apprehended in the place where Christ had first apprehended him.  Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus! 

– – – –

An awesome story of grace and redemption!  I sure appreciate excellent redemptive ministries like the Highway 80 Rescue Mission. (http://www.hiway80rm.org/)  I am also glad for volunteer teachers and singers and such that put on the chapel services in these missions; like the East Mountain Bluegrass Gospel Band (http://eastmountainbluegrass.com/).  Above all I am awed by the Lord, who uses these folks in the lives of the hopeless to bring about new life – changed lives – on a regular basis.   

– – – –

PS: I loved the opportunity to tell Julie’s story.  If you have a story you might like me to tell – funny or sublime.  Go to the contact page of this blog, send me a note and let’s talk.

He knows my worn out name — May 16, 2019

He knows my worn out name

James Ray Johnson

The coach sometimes calls the little leaguers by their numbers.   “Way to go 10.”  “Good eye 32.”  “Grip the other end of the bat 18.”  It seems like a science fiction baseball team: the Cy Young Cyborgs.

A name is important.  When someone remembers and uses our name it tells us that we matter to them.  But we rub elbows with hundreds of people every day who don’t know us.  Some should – like my boss.  Does he really think calling me “bub” will do?   And why does my wife sometimes slip and call me Sam?  Hey, wait didn’t she used to date a Sam? 

When I served as a pastor, I made it a point to try to remember names. Some made us their church home only because I remembered their name from their first visit.

My name is ridiculously common: James Ray Johnson.  Take my last name for instance.  There are over 2 million of us.  It ranks second only to Smith.  My first/last name combo ranks #10. 

I, therefore, prefer to use my full name.  But the Dallas phone book once listed 27 James Ray Johnsons.  (NOTE: a phone book is like a paper contact list). 

Two of us lived in the same apartment complex with the same street number. I got a nasty note from a collection agency that was intended for him.  I told them, “That’s not me – my social security number is….”   Hey-maybe the coach was on to something. 

Add to those 27 listings, variations like James R.; J.R.; J. Ray; Jim; Jimmy Ray: Jim R.; etc. and you have thousands of people in Dallas alone who could be me.  The commonality can be a problem.   When I go through customs I occasionally get detained because one of us has robbed a bank somewhere.

But it has its advantages too.  When I send a friend request on Facebook, even to a total stranger, it is almost always accepted because everyone knows someone named James Johnson.  Plus – it might be coming from the one who plays for the Miami Heat.

Another advantage – no one is interested in stealing my boring identity. 

Some have tried to improve on my name.  I preached at a crusade in Haiti just after their president was violently ousted.  We arrived to find leaflets and banners plastered everywhere with my name and picture: Predikate’ Jim Johnson Bush.  (see picture above) The Haitian who organized the event chose to make me a member of the family of then president George W. Bush.  He hoped it would keep the nasties away.  It worked.  I probably ought to give old Bubba a call and thank him.   

My name worries me a little.  When the roll is called up yonder and they say, “James Johnson,” how will that work?  Will all 2 million of us rush the podium in a frantic panic to get in?  “Master is it I?” 

Without a doubt, the most important thing about my name is that Jesus knows it.  John 10:3 says, “The sheep hear His voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” NET Bible®. 

Back in Jesus day, shepherds named their sheep even as we name our pets, based on their appearance or personality or circumstances at their birth. 

In the morning the shepherd would go to the communal sheepfold and gather his particular sheep for a day of grazing.  He would summon them by name, “Come on fluffball and chipper. Let’s go stormy.” 

As names were called, heads would lift, and happy feet would move toward the shepherd who led them out of the filthy, cramped, barren fold into lush green meadows.

How sweet and utterly personal.  My shepherd knew my name before I ever entered His flock and He used it, my very name – to call me to Himself.  The person that matters most – knows my name.  It is recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20) and He is smart enough to know which James Johnson is which. (2 Timothy 2:19).

He knows your name as well.  Have you heard Him and followed? If you want to discuss it, go to the contact page on this blog and shoot me an email.  I promise to respond.  – Yours truly, James Ray Johnson.

———

Treat yourself to this classic Maranatha tune, “He Knows My Name.” 

right field! — May 1, 2019

right field!

Jim Johnson – 687 words

I have two grandsons who began little league this year.  Their mom equipped them with more gear than the Rangers on opening day.  Give me one reason why every kid needs his own batting helmet?  OK – besides head lice?

Unfortunately, both boys started the program late in the game (no pun intended).  Their peers have been playing for years.  (Some already have the scratch down).  My boys are seriously improving every day, but they started out being exiled to the bane of baseball players everywhere – right field.

For fun, I googled this question: “Why is right field so bad?”  Wikipedia weighed in.  “Right field has developed a reputation in Little League as being a position where less talented players can be “hidden” without damaging a team’s defense in any significant way.”  A lofty ambition!  “Hey coach I want to go in.  Hide me where I won’t damage the teams defense in any significant way.” 

The ball hardly ever makes it to right field and every right fielder knows it.  I chuckle as I watch the many right fielders bear their boredom in the uttermost part of the field.  One twists like a contortionist, another gazes into the sky and another lays down in the fields of clover.

I sheepishly admitted to my son-in-law that I am the carrier of the right field gene.  I earned the position in my kindergarten year.

I filled up the boredom by pretending my glove was an army helmet, or by spectating at the spectators, or by stomping on bees who were sipping from the clover.  Yes, I am the one who is singularly responsible for the decline of the bee population.  

When I heard the crack of the old ash bat, I would look for projectiles coming my way.  No worries!  T-ball had not been invented yet and it was kid pitch all the way.  The chances of a kid throwing a strike, and another getting a hit were about the same as me getting signed to the Phillies. 

One shimmery bright afternoon, the coach sent me in to stomp on bees.   The score was – me seven – the bees zero.  Then I heard the bat pop and the spectators scream.  I looked up to find every eye locked on me. I panicked as I scanned the field for the ball.   

I found it – or actually – it found me.  I looked up and it hit me right on the head.  When I came to, I was surrounded by my dad, the coaches, Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1932 Yankees.  It’s possible the hit addled my brain a little.  Maybe my dad wasn’t actually there.

A painful lesson learned:  You can’t play the game unless you pay attention.

I have graduated from little league, but I am still in the game.  The visiting team maybe dressed in red (and I am not talking about the Cardinals).  Paul the apostle tells me that the evil one sends flaming arrows my way (Eph. 6:16).  He referenced the weapon of the Roman legions – hollow cane arrow shafts, filled with flammables to devastate their enemies. 

Satan launches his arrows of temptation and deceit to defeat and trip us up.  When we bat, he pitches low and outside and suckers us into swinging.   When his arrows find their target, it puts him on the scoreboard. 

Paul told us to pay attention, “by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  (Eph. 6:16) NETBible®  He referred to the Roman scutum, a wooden shield the size of a door.  It was covered in layers of leather which were thoroughly wetted before battle.  It effectively intercepted and extinguished flaming arrows. 

We have a shield. Because of our faith in Christ, we have the wisdom to discern truth from error, and the power to resist Satan’s worst.

Someone, however, must hold up that shield, pay attention and be ready for battle.  Someone must take their eyes off the bees and keep them on the game.  The flaming arrows come even to those who play right field. 

a fire to forget — April 24, 2019

a fire to forget

Jim Johnson – 768 words

I was 17, had my own car and I was pretty cool.  I was also delusional because my car was a used-up 1960 Plymouth – the kind my grandma drove.  But – it was my car, and I was going cruising.  I cranked the windows open, hit the push button that said Drive, and then watched the bar graph odometer track my speed.  (It was a crazy car.) 

Because I drove a 1960 Plymouth, I felt I seriously needed to improve my cool factor, I, therefore, began smoking.  So, there I was on the interstate with the windows down, the radio blaring and a cigarette hanging from my lips. 

I finished my smoke, and even though there was a perfectly fine ash tray conveniently located in the dash, I threw the cigarette butt out my window. (It was more cool that way)  Minutes later I began to smell smoke.  The breeze blew the butt back into the car and my car seat ignited!!!

60 miles an hour, in the center lane of a 3-lane highway thick with cars – and my seat was on fire.  Where’s a rest stop when you need it?   One hand gripped the wheel, while the other frantically beat down the flame.  It finally died but the fire left a big smoldering crater in my fine upholstery.  

Being cool became more complicated after that.  It was hard to find a date that was willing to sit in a charred crater.

That was a fire I will never forget!

Peter also had a fire he would never forget. 

It burned in the courtyard of the high priest on a chilly evening while Jesus was being bullied by his captors.  John was careful to call it a “charcoal fire.” (John 18:18) 

Charcoal is the residue of wood that has been burned in an oxygen deprived environment.  To produce it, you would build a teepee of logs, kindle a fire in it, cover it with soil and then let it smolder for five days. 

The impurities would burn off leaving pure black carbon.   Charcoal was valued because it was 1/5th the weight of wood, created a controlled burn, produced greater heat and it was smokeless.   The cost of the labor involved, however, made it a commodity that only the wealthy – such as the priests could enjoy.

The scent of the roasting charcoal filled Peter’s senses as he warmed himself that night.  It was in the glow of that fire that Peter denied knowing Jesus.

The rooster call exposed his duplicity and reduced him to shame.  There could be no forgiveness for such disloyalty.

Peter began to move away from Jesus.  He was absent at His crucifixion and even His burial.  The resurrection should have changed everything, but it didn’t.  In fact, Peter decided to leave the life of a disciple and go back to commercial fishing. 

He and the others spent the night fishing but caught nothing.  A silhouette from shore told them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat.  They did, and they caught enough to sink it.

Peter sensed it was Jesus and that He seemed to be reaching out to him despite the past.  He moved toward Him, but as he drew near, he was stunned to smell that familiar odor again.  “When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread.”  (John 21:9) -NET Bible®

The experts say that odors evoke memory better than any other trigger.  The smell-analyzing part of the brain is near to the region that handles memory and emotion.  And don’t we know it!  The smell of fresh baked goods takes us back to grandma’s happy kitchen, while the smell of sweaty socks evokes the angst of 7th grade gym class.

Another charcoal fire!  There are only 2 references to this specific kind of fire in the Bible. Peter was present for both.  This was a divinely devised set up!

The sight and scent of that fire smelled like failure to Peter which is what Jesus intended.  It was a necessary prelude to reconciliation.   Jesus asked, “Peter do you love me or not?”  Peter contritely backspaced over his three denials by offering three affirmations of his devotion to Jesus.  “You know I love you.”

Reconciled!  Peter then went on to become a fierce and faithful witness for Jesus.

The Lord went to considerable trouble and expense to jar the memory of his erring child – to see him reconciled.   Could He also have a charcoal fire kindled for you?

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Treat yourself to this classic song of reconciliation: Man After Your Won heart: Gary Chapman (not Doctor)

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the muttonmen — April 17, 2019

the muttonmen

James Ray Johnson – 713 words

He was sitting at the table working on his history homework.  The 10-year-old began to recite the facts to his mom about the renown muttonmen.  She wasn’t a history buff, but even she knew there was something about the muttonmen that just didn’t smell right.   

Muttonmen?  Was this a collective term for shepherds?  Was King David a muttonman?   Or was it an order of monks from the middle ages who swore off beef for Lent.   Maybe they lived on Drury Lane?  (Oh do you know the muttonman, the muttonman, the muttonman?)

She checked his book and found that he had misread the word “minutemen.”  He felt quite sheepish but it could have been worse.  He might have read it as mulletmen – which is an assembly of Billy Ray Cyrus imitators. 

It’s not unusual to misread something.   It happens with the crucifixion of Christ.  Many consider it an accident – not what was intended.  The betrayal, the mock trial, the spineless Pontius Pilate – all sad happenstance that unfortunately resulted in a great man dying in a gruesome way. 

I was rereading the story recently and was fascinated with the details.  “Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)  – Matthew 27:50-53 NET Bible®   

There were three spectacular things that happened the moment Christ died. 

There was a curtain in the temple that kept the people from the presence of God.  It was 30’ by 60’ and as thick as the palm of a hand.  It took 300 priests to hang it.  Yet, the Father reached down from heaven and ripped that massive thing from the top to the bottom.  Because of Christ, there was no more separation.

There was a colossal quake as well.  The Father had used earthquakes in the past and will use them again in the last days to focus the wandering eyes of humanity on what He is doing.  The experts tell us not to run during an earthquake – because – well – the ground is moving.  An earthquake was God’s way of getting people to stop and to think. 

And then there was the mass resurrection.  Tombs were opened and the dead who had believed were raised and then visited Jerusalem before they departed for heaven.  

Think of it!   The family sits down to eat, when grandpa, (who had been dead for 6 months) walks in and takes his place at the table.  He says grace and then says, “pass the hummus.”

There were miracles that also accompanied the resurrection of Christ, but not as many, and certainly not as physically grand and public. 

So why, then, why did the Father bother?  Why the dramatic signs at Christ’s death?  

Maybe because it seemed to most everyone – disciple and disparager alike, that the Father had simply abandoned His Son.  After three years of breathtaking, heaven-empowered miracles – Jesus appeared to have died a helpless pathetic death.

I suspect that the Father agonized in heaven as it happened to His boy. 

But the second Jesus gave up His spirit, the Father sent His spectacular signs as if to say, “Not true what you think.  Jesus has not been abandoned.  He was never helpless and this was certainly not an unfortunate accident, but rather our essential plan all along.  (Acts 2:23)

The old hymn asks, “What can take away my sin?”  The answer “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”   Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  Christ was compelled by His love for us to go to the cross. 

Easter is coming.  Your spot in the pew is still warm from last year.  But on the way to Sunday, don’t let Good Friday pass without breathing a prayer of thanks for the way in which Christ has loved us. 

Hey, you might even want to attend a Good Friday service at the church of your choice.  And if the preacher asks who sent you.  Tell him “the muttonman!”

______Take a moment to share this good news with a friend______

A hymn to brighten your day: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Guitar: Jim Johnson

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