Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

the habit that saved our marriage — September 23, 2020

the habit that saved our marriage

We said, “I do” in August. By October our bliss had become a blister.  I got a clue the day she melted into a pile of sobbing mush. 

We talked and tried to unravel the problem.  My sarcasm fueled her insecurities.  She didn’t laugh when I said the meatloaf looked like an old shoe (tasted good though).

Problem was, she hid her hurt.  Instead of arguing with me, she argued with herself.  She was thinking, “He didn’t really mean that – I don’t want to rock the marriage boat – if I point out his mistake, he’ll point out mine” and “I don’t want to seem like a baby.” 

She would talk herself into silence, but the hurt remained.  It raised a tiny emotional blister on her soul.  The longer she ignored it, the bigger it got until that day it finally popped and created a yucky mess.  I confessed that I also hid my hurts.

We loved each other – didn’t want to hurt each other, so we went to Ephesians 4:25-27 for some help. 

Paul wrote, “Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.”  NET Bible ®

Some people “clam up” when they are hurt (which was our problem). Others “blow up” (which is where we would eventually end up) but what we needed to do was to “speak up.” 

Paul told us to lay aside falsehood.   To be hurt but pretend you’re not – is to lie.  We needed to speak truthfully to each other – in love – instead. (Eph. 4:15)

Anger is the way God designed us to respond to injustice.  There is no sin in that.  But to clam up or blow up is a sinful response to that anger.  We needed to speak up.

But when?  If the hurt had not been handled earlier in the day, then the time of reckoning is the end of each day.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”   

There is a price for those who hold onto their anger.    Paul said it gives the devil an opportunity to erode the relationship.   A hurt creates emotional distance.  The longer the hurt goes unaddressed, the greater the distance gets between us.  We can end up asking, “Why did I ever marry that person?”   And yet an honest, loving conversation can thoroughly remove any distance.  

My wife and I are simple people, so we decided to end every day with a checkup.  We would pray with each other, and read the Word, but before any of that, I would ask her, “Have I done any badness today?”   (don’t laugh – the word badness worked for us.)  

She didn’t have the courage to initiate the discussion.  But, because I did, she felt like I sincerely wanted to hear how I might have impacted her.   I still had to do a little coaxing, but she would then open up and tell me she was hurt when I left her alone at the party.

I was shocked!  It didn’t understand why that would hurt her, but we talked, I learned and then apologized.  She would then ask, “Have I done any badness?”  I would share, she would learn as well. 

Unfortunately, we were often up past midnight that first year of marriage. But we were committed, and we saw the fruit of our habit every day.  It helped us to learn and adjust. 

In fact, we found the habit to be so valuable that we will do it again tonight (as we have every night for the last 44 years.  We will ask again, “Did I do any badness?”

But we probably won’t have anything to share.  You see we got tired of having midnight discussions – so we chose to change.  As we changed there was less to talk about. 

We still err, but we have enjoyed such peace and intimacy in our relationship, that we now deal with hurts more promptly.  I love being at peace with my wife – can’t stand it when I’m not. 

Sorry – this post is not all that funny – but it may be the most important piece I have ever written.  Because, many if not most marriages suffer because they haven’t learned to speak the truth in love to one another. 

If you are married and you are not regularly experiencing this level of honest conversation, your marriage is hurting, and you just don’t know it. 

I would challenge you to find a way of implementing Eph 4:25-26.   Feel free to do what we have done.  We are committed to do it until the Lord takes the first of us home.  If you do it, we would love to hear about it.

A PRAYER: God give me the humility and the courage I need to open myself up to my spouse, that together we might build an even better marriage.

consider the grackles — September 16, 2020

consider the grackles

We were at a State Park near Waco as the thermometer was pushing 100. Whose idea was it to go camping in August in Texas anyway?  

So, we headed to town to look for some air-conditioned relief and tortillas at the HEB.

But it was actually in the parking lot that I learned how to keep cool.

When we returned to our SUV, we spied a grackle prancing beneath it.

A grackle is a blackbird with a glossy-iridescent body that looks like it’s been slightly stretched.  They are exceptionally savvy at surviving.  They will follow a farmer’s plow to catch unearthed mice and wade shallow waters to catch fish.  They might pluck and eat leeches from the legs of turtles and steal worms from the mouths of other birds. 

So, what was a grackle doing beneath our SUV?  Surviving! 

It was one of the few places a bird could find some shade, but also a great place to catch a drink.  The bird was sipping from the hose that drained off the condensation from the air conditioning unit on the vehicle.

I thought, “How smart!”  The water supply was clean and cool.  It was in the shade and it was even convenient – he didn’t even have to bend over to draw it.

As I stood there with the heat burning through the soles of my shoes, I was somewhat jealous. 

For I must cope with the heat of another kind.   Life was uniquely tough prior to the virus – now it’s become tediously difficult.

Once upon a time I could make a reservation to camp online, then show up at the State Park to be greeted by a smiling attendant who directed us to our site. 

This time I had to make an online reservation, then do an additional preregistration online, then provide more info by phone.  I had to arrive during a narrow window of time and when we showed up, we found the park office was locked to visitors. 

I had to deal with a lone masked ranger (but no Tanto) in the parking lot who was barking orders.  We then located our isolated camp site to find our sanitized registration packet.  And to top it off, we were required to wear masks in the shower house. 

I believe I even saw a swarm of bees that were socially distancing.

On the same trip, we toured a cavern at a State Park.  The guide told us that the state initially required him to wear a mask but did not require it of the visitors.  2 months later the state required a mask of the visitors but not of the guide.  All righty! 

These are small, maybe silly examples of the heated complexity of life these days.  For others, schooling the kids is bedlam; work is crazy complicated and trying to plan for anything is out of the question – and oh there is the constant anxiety of getting caught by Covid!

But like the grackle we can find relief.  David wrote this in Psalm 36. 

“How precious is your loyal love, O God! The human race finds shelter under your wings.  They are filled with food from your house, and you allow them to drink from the river of your delicacies.”  Psalm 36:7-8  NET Bible®

Isn’t that an amazing encouragement?  Life may be chaotic, but His love for us is steady and He is deeply loyal to His children.  His is a precious love.  He stands over us like a great bird (or an SUV) providing shelter from the heat. 

He also provides refreshingly sweet water as from a river (or a condensation tube) 

It may be intolerably hot everywhere else, but it can be quite comfortable as we shelter in Him.

How do we do this?  Start each day with a prayer.  “Father, I know I will be tested today.  Please help me meet every challenge with courage and patience.  Help me to remember that the people who seem to stand in my way, are trying their best to protect me.” 

And in the paraphrased words of Jesus, “Consider the grackles.”  Look for God’s creative provision as you face the heat.  It will be there.

meetin’ the in-laws — September 9, 2020

meetin’ the in-laws

Our sweet little Texas daughter was engaged to a fine young man from British Columbia (which is in Canada for those of you who slept through geography).   

It would be a merging of families and cultures.  She was “fixin” to get married and he said in, “a bit.” 

His family arrived in our little Texas town for the wedding just a couple of days before.  We had not yet met them, but we knew they were fascinated with the aura of Texas (and who isn’t?)  So, I decided they should get a rootin’ tootin’ redneck reception. 

I borrowed me some well-worn cowboys boots and slipped on some jeans helt up with a belt and big old buckle.  I snapped up a pearl buttoned, cowboy-cut shirt and dropped a round tin of Skoal in the pocket.  I finished off my western ensemble with an audacious cowboy hat. 

We then went to meet our new family.  My daughter and her beau were with them already and very excited about this first meeting.  I rapped on the front door and it was opened by her future mother-in-law. 

I conjured up a Texas drawl and said, “Well howdy Maam!”  She was speechless – but my daughter wasn’t.  She heard the knock at the door and came running down the stairs to see – took one look at me and screamed the loudest longest screech ever, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!”

                                                   ———————-

Sometimes it’s fun to pretend and actually, I’m pretty good at it.

Not only can I do a redneck, I can also create the impression that I have everything under control when in fact I am paralyzed with fear.  My lips have learned the art of saying yes to every request while the rest of me cringes.  Some pretend to care by asking me, “How are you doing?”  I pretend right back and say “fine.”

I am thinking that Paul may have written Ephesians 4:25 for me.  He said, “Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor because we are members of one another.”  NET Bible ®

He said to lay aside “falsehood.“  The word is translated from the Greek word, “psuedos.”  Yep that is where we get the English prefix “pseudo.”   He is talking about fakes.  It refers to deceit whether it be through what we say or portray.

Paul says this “psuedos” needs to be laid aside.  In other words, stop pretending.  Drop the mask (unless it is an N95 and you are Covid positive.)

Instead, Paul tells us to accurately reflect in words what is true because we are all members of one another – we belong to each other.

Why do I pretend that everything is under control?  Why can’t I tell the boss I could use a little help?   Is it my pride – the stuff that goeth before a fall? 

Why do I feel the need to say yes to every ask?  Do I not have my limits?  The pastor asked me to teach a class on marriage.  What if I were to be honest and showed him my crowded calendar.  I bet he’d send me home to work on my marriage.

Why must I reply “fine” to everyone who asks about my welfare?  A friend may be genuinely interested in how I am doing.  If he got a truthful answer, he might take a knee and pray right then. That would be nice!

Jesus once said that the truth will set us free.  He was speaking of freedom from sin and its consequences, but beyond that, there is true liberation and a sense of rest that comes from living genuinely and speaking truthfully. 

Yes, I need to consider the timing and the spirit in which I engage – but generally speaking: “Honesty really is the best policy.”

I have retired my western duds.   My Canadian family knows I am about as cowboy as bacon without the sizzle.   Now it’s time to remove the pretense from the rest of my life.  Will you join me? 

A PRAYER: Lord let me enjoy the freedom that is created by living in and speaking forth the truth.

air prayer — September 2, 2020

air prayer

If there is ever an anthology written of outrageous pastor stories – this one will no doubt be included. 

At some time during my pastorate, I learned to pace while I preached.  Back and forth, to and fro on our spacious, elevated, semi-circle platform.  Why pace?  Fewer people fell asleep.

So, with notes in hand and a microphone headset strapped to my face, I paced and preached. 

On one unforgettable Sunday, I was wrapping up the message and concluding with a prayer.  I appropriately closed my eyes to pray.  Unfortunately, I continued to pace.

Mid prayer, I planted my right foot down but found nothing but air.  In a panic, I jumped off the platform into the heavenly places, dropping the distance of 4 steps and landing squarely on the floor below.

But here’s the thing, I did this without opening my eyes or pausing in my prayer.  The apostle Paul should have such a prayer life – right?

When I finally said “Amen” the congregation opened their eyes and were awed seeing that I had experienced a miraculous transportation during my prayer.  Revival almost broke out.

Now I know what you are thinking.  “Why didn’t you open your eyes?”  I don’t know!   “But how could you do that without breaking your prayerful concentration?”  Again – I don’t know.  But I did – and I have plenty of witnesses.    

Obviously, I was not alert to my surroundings, but super alert in my prayer.   The apostle Paul might have even been proud of me for he gave this instruction in Colossians 4:2, “Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.”

Keeping alert in prayer!  Ahh – So Paul anticipated the way we typically tune out while others are praying.   We listen to the first seven words and then check out the veins on the inside of our eyelids. 

And when we pray in the “quietness of our hearts” it can become the quirkiness of our hearts – because they flit from “bless the work of our missionaries” to “I wonder what’s for dinner?”

We tend to be most alert in prayer when we pray out loud in the presence of others because they might accidentally be listening, and we want to sound halfway intelligent.

It’s sad really – because prayer is very much a two-way conversation with God.  It is a precious privilege to interact with the One who so dearly loves us and is able and very willing to help. 

We need to be alert in our prayers, so that we are communicating to Him more than gibberish and so that we are tuned in when He speaks to us.

So, don’t get so comfortable.  There is a reason they knelt and wore sackcloth and ashes in the old days.   No need to go to that extreme, but maybe you doze during prayer because you are sitting in a vibrating recliner.

When others are praying – pray along with them.  Agree with them.   Jesus said, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.”  – Matthew 19:18   

So, when Sam is pleading with God about his brother’s drug addiction, you could quietly pray along saying, “Yes, Lord please! He really is killing himself and he needs you so badly.”   You might even dare to do it out loud.

Speaking of speaking.   When our prayers are reduced down to mentally transferring our thoughts to God – it is super easy to be distracted.   If you are in a place where you can audibly speak your prayers, you will find that your ability to stay focused will skyrocket. 

My most effective and fulfilling prayer times happen when I walk.  I might stroll down a lonely trail in a state park and speak out my prayers.  The walking and the speaking tend to keep me laser focused and in the quiet in-between intervals, the Lord often impresses me with what I need to know. 

You might try walking too.  But be sure to keep your eyes open!

A PRAYER: Lord I want to thoroughly respect you when I come to you – so please help me to focus when I pray. 

Scripture references from the NETBible ®

Fairest Lord Jesus — August 29, 2020
prune juice predicament — August 21, 2020

prune juice predicament

The ladies of the church were tucked away at their annual women’s retreat.  My wife was charged with preparing for the communion service.  However, it was Sunday morning when she realized that she had accidently purchased a bottle of prune juice rather than grape.

There was no time to get to the grocery store.   Maybe she could slip in the prune juice and no one would know.  It could be a moving service.  No – can’t do that! 

She ran to the camp host to see if they had any grape juice around.  They told her to check the freezer for some concentrates.  There were two – passion fruit and lemonade.

Lemonade?  Hmm – maybe, but anyone who has ever bought a lemon – would have conflicted feelings about Christ.

Passion fruit was closer to the color of grape juice, and aren’t we all supposed to be passionate about Christ?  Passion fruit it was!!

Despite the tropical juice and French bread cubes, the women managed to savor the wondrous work of Christ on their behalf. 

It makes me wonder though; Is it important that the juice of grapes be used for communion?   

The beverage options in Jesus’ day were limited.  The Qumran Quik Stop carried water, wine and sometimes goat’s milk or vinegar.  (Eeeww – who drinks vinegar?)  

When Jesus gave us the rite of Communion, He did so during a typical Passover meal using what He had before Him, which was most likely wine.  People didn’t imbibe a lot of pure grape juice back then because fermentation begins as soon as the skin of the grape is broken.  Refrigeration was still 2 millennia in the future.

In fact, the church has used wine through the ages to celebrate communion.  It really wasn’t until 1869 that Thomas Welch found a way to pasteurize grape juice to keep it from fermenting.  He marketed it to local churches, urging them to adopt it for communion services, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.”

Today some of us have red-faced arguments over whether it was wine or grape juice that Jesus used.  I was stunned to find out that the Bible does not specify. 

When the Lord gave us the rite, He referred to what was in the cup generically as, “the fruit of the vine” which could refer to either.  Paul was also vague in 1 Corinthians 11:25-28.  I wonder if the Lord was diplomatically trying to help us avoid our present-day communion controversies.

But what is it about the fruit of the vine that makes it an appropriate symbol of the blood that Jesus shed for us?   Why not Dr. Pepper?  

Maybe it’s because wine is frequently associated with joyful celebration in the Bible.  When King David was installed as King of Israel the wine flowed.  (1 Chron 12:38-40) Likewise, when Christ shed His blood, He earned the right to rule on the throne of David as King (Philippians 2:5-11) – a great cause to celebrate.

Certainly, the juice was nutritious and life giving – a reminder that Christ gives us life abundant now and for eternity.  Not common knowledge back then, but we now know that the fruit of the vine is full of antioxidants that ward off free radicals.  We also know that the blood of Christ secures us from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)

Or maybe it’s because the blood of grapes becomes more precious over time.  It’s not that the value of the His sacrifice improves, but our appreciation of it grows. 

My best guess, however, is that the juice is produced by the crushing of the grapes.  The ancient prophet predicted that our Savior would be likewise handled.   “He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins.”  – Isaiah 53:5  NETBible ®

That night in the Upper Room, Jesus made sure that His disciples understood that He was the one the prophet had in mind.  Like the juice of the grapes that He held in His hand, He would be crushed, but the blessing that would come from it would be vast, extraordinary and eternal. 

The next time you receive communion, forget the prune juice and mull over the fact that Jesus was crushed for you.

A PRAYER: Lord help me to better understand and appreciate the kind of love that Jesus has for me. 

shortcuts — August 19, 2020

shortcuts

I both love and dread teaching the Bible.  My main complaint is this: God often takes the topic I plan to teach and allows me to experience it in a fresh way.  Why?  So, my message rings with authenticity – I guess.

If I plan to teach on patience – I end up standing in two feet of water with a plumbing issue that refuses to be fixed.   If I plan to speak on parenting, I hear from a frustrated teacher about one of my kids. This is why I have avoided preaching from the book of Job. 

One time, I planned to preach about our adversary the devil.  What was I thinking?  I was reviewing my notes just before the service, but I also needed to visit the men’s room.  I did both at the same time (back to the patience issue) 

I am pretty sure it was the devil who took the notes from my hands and dropped them in the toilet.  They were quickly saturated with sickly water.   Unfortunately, word processors weren’t invented yet.  So, I frantically worked to rescue them with a hairdryer.  After I had delivered my message someone told me it stunk.  I believed them.

Recently I’ve been preparing to teach on the temptation of Christ.  It was the devil’s plan to derail Jesus’ mission of redemption.  His third attempt is found in Matthew 4:8-9

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.”  NET Bible ®

They stood high atop Mount Hermon.  From there they could see many of the nations of the world of that day.  The devil said, “Worship me and this will be yours.” 

And they were His to give.  When Adam and Eve fell, dominion was ceded to the devil.  Christ called him the “ruler of this world.”  (John 12:31; 16:11) 

Jesus was promised this same inheritance by the Father.  But to gain it, He would have to endure 3 years of ridicule and rejection and then be nailed to a brutal cross and die.

The devil offered Him a shortcut – an easy path to power – no ridicule – no cross.  But, had He taken that shortcut; He would have forfeited everything.  Had he stepped out of the will of God; we would still be lost in our sins.  He said no!

The devil uses the same devices on us.  He wants to cheat out of what is rightfully ours, by tempting us to obtain it by shortcut.

The guy didn’t finish college but awarded himself a degree on his resume.  It worked fine until HR found out.  Now he’s looking for another job and finishing out his course work.

Her daddy told her to save up for a car, but she was impatient.  She took what little she had and bought as much car as she could get.   It ran for 7 months until engine locked up.  Now she has no car and no money.

As a young Christian I gave when the basket was passed – just a couple dollar bills to give an appearance.  I had an excuse – my income was insufficient to cover my bills.   

My pastor taught me to be a responsible giver.   So, my wife and I made a commitment to return at least 10% of our income back to the Lord.  From that time to this, we have consistently had enough to cover our expenses.   The shortcut hurt us until I obeyed.  It was then that God saw that our needs were met. 

So, my Wednesday lesson was going to be on shortcuts.  But I needed to trim our trees before then.  One branch was beyond my reach and I didn’t want to get down and move the ladder.  So, I stretched and stretched until I lost my balance and dropped 6 feet, landing flat on my face in the dirt.  Which is often par for a shortcut.

On the positive side: It gave me a good illustration for my teaching.  The negative: I ached for a couple of days and the doctor may have said that I have amnesia, but I can’t’ remember.

As I close let me rescue my point.  The devil is a tricky sort.  He offers us shortcuts to the things we desire.  He did it to Jesus and he does it to us.  Tell him no and do it God’s way.

A PRAYER: Lord your way is not always the quickest, but always the best.  Help me stay the course. 

life’s first truly traumatic moment — August 12, 2020

life’s first truly traumatic moment

It happened when she was playing Goony Golf.  My darling of a granddaughter was introduced to miniature golf by her daddy. 

She loved her Crayola colored ball and somehow, found a dozen different ways to grip her club.  She cheered when she hit it through the alligator’s mouth and moaned when the ogre blocked her path. 

She was only 8 but she played with the intensity of PGA pro and made sure her daddy kept an accurate score as she raced through the course.   

Then came the 18thhole.  She lined up the ball and followed through.  It ascended the ramp and dropped right in – a hole in one!   She was ecstatic – – until she went to retrieve her ball.  With astonishment and alarm, she cried, “Hey it’s gone!”  

We explained to her one of the cruelest facts of life.  In miniature golf, you always lose the ball on the last hole.  It drops through the green into the great black abyss below.   It was the final, inarguable signal that the game was over. 

Her sense of loss was profound.  The injustice distressed her, and she wanted her ball back. 

Having processed it a bit, she then decided to warn others.  There was a group of pre-teens approaching the 18th hole.   Our little Paul Revere cried out, “Hey girls, excuse me, do you know that when you hit the ball in the hole you can’t get it back?”

I was really sad for her and sorta sad for me because, it ate my ball too. “Oh man, I can’t believe the game is over.”  

As it is, my game really is nearly over.  I am reminded of it every day in my work as a Hospice Chaplain.  I care for people who are rounding the last bend of the last lap of their lives.   When the ball drops – that’s it. 

I got another kind of frightening reminder the other evening.  2 doors down someone fired a semi-automatic weapon at a neighbor – five rapid fire rounds.   I ran for cover.

All reminders that my game is almost over. 

There’s very little I can do to make it longer, but lots I can do to make it count.

The apostle Paul gave some advice.  I love the way Eugene Petersen translated it in THE MESSAGE, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!  Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” –  Ephesian 5:15-17

Such good counsel! 

“Watch your step”:  We can shorten or negatively complicate our lives by stepping off the narrow way and into the mire

“Use your head”:  We need to impound the impulsive and think before we jump

“Make the most of every chance you get”:  We should seize the opportunities that God brings and savor them along the way.  

“Don’t live carelessly or unthinkingly”:  We need to be deliberate about the way we live.

“Make sure you understand what the Master wants”:  This is the factor that brings it all together.  When we seek to know, understand and do the Lord’s will, we get the absolute maximum potential benefit out of this life, while making a sound investment in the life to come.

As a pastor of 32 years and a hospice chaplain I have sat with many who were facing the end of life.

I might dare to categorize them into two groups.  Those who were prepared for the end of the game and those who were not.

The prepared, generally speaking, were financially comfortable, if not through their own foresight in planning, through the kindness of family.  They enjoyed rich relationships with family and even friends – mostly church friends. 

Despite their afflictions, they looked beyond themselves and took an active interest in others.  They could smile and laugh and face death with a sense of ease because they had an eternal hope.  When they passed, they were celebrated rather than mourned!  

These things were often absent from the lives of the unprepared. 

The difference?  The prepared understood the will of the Master and ordered their lives to that end. 

Some of us are racing through life playing Goony Golf and forgetting that the 18th is coming.    

We need to slow down, tee up the ball, make sure that it is on target, follow through and savor the experience along the way. 

A PRAYER: Lord I have but one life to live.  Help me to live it well!

the sting of stubborn — August 5, 2020

the sting of stubborn

There is a saying we have in Texas to describe a stubborn person.  Read it with your best Texas drawl, “He’s so contrary he floats upstream.”  

We all know someone like that – a person that takes delight in defiance.  You try to feed your infant and he slaps the spoon away.  Plan a vacation at the beach and your husband tells you it’s the mountains or he’s not going.  The boss knows he is wrong but would rather run the company into the ground before he’ll admit it. 

Sounds like me.  I was the first child of five.  It was up to me to break in my parents.  Mom told me that when I was but a wee toddler, I was very self-willed, and I was creative at it.

When I did not get my way, I would hold my breath.   No big deal, except that I would hold it until they caved.  Mom tells me that I would reach the point where my fair skin turned blue (which paired nicely with my bright red hair.)  

When I went blue, mom and dad were scared into submission.  I did this often enough that mom finally took me to our family doctor (the vet refused to see me). 

She explained the problem and asked what to do.  That quack told her to go ahead and let me hold my breath. 

It wasn’t long before I threw another fit, took a gulp of air and held on for 1 minute – 2 minutes.  Mom stood her ground.  I was starting to turn blue and getting lightheaded.  “Surely she’ll see things my way now.”  But she didn’t.  I passed out and crumpled to the floor – and then involuntarily began to breathe again.   

Later – another power struggle.  Again, she handled it as the doctor advised.  When I came to, I realized that my plan wasn’t working.  Instead of helping me get ahead, I got a lumpy head from the falls.   

That was the last time I held my breath except for when I became a dad and had to change stinky baby diapers.   I held my breath – – – until my wife changed them. 

I am an adult now and I answer to God and I sometimes wonder about my stubborn streak.  I am pretty sure that my self-willed ways sometimes cross swords with His will for me. Does He ever fold His arms and watch as I turn blue and pass out?  Scripture seems to suggest that He does.

Proverbs 26:27 says “The one who rolls a stone—it will come back on him.”  NETBible ®    Picture a stubborn guy who is determined to roll a boulder up a hill.   He eventually reaches the point where gravity wins and turns the stone into a steamroller.  The man who pushed gets squashed.  There are natural consequences that often follow stubbornly foolish decisions. 

Elsewhere in Proverbs we read, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to relax, and your poverty will come like a robber, and your need like an armed man.”  – Proverbs 6:10-11 NET Bible ®   Point?  Idle hands become empty hands.

Yep, sometimes God simply stands back and lets us experience the consequences of our stubborn choices.   He allows the pain of it to get our attention and reshape our thinking. 

The wife neglects the care of her house until she sees how her habit has been reproduced in her kids.  The guy refuses to be ruled by the schedule at work until he is fired.  A dad consistently hurts his daughter but stubbornly refuses to admit it.  He stands his ground until she tries to run away. 

Is it possible that the pain in your life has its roots in your stubbornness? 

God wants better for us.  He loves us enough to instruct us from His Word, and to station His Spirit in us to direct us.  He even uses the perception of others to help us see what we miss.    There is no reason we must impose these self-inflicted wounds.

Rather than turning blue, we need to turn to the Lord.  Be stubborn no longer.  Enjoy His good and generous plans for you.

A PRAYER: Lord help me to be stubborn about listening, learning and letting things go when it’s needed   

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 ®

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