Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

the day God came to be — March 6, 2019

the day God came to be

I remember the day that God was born – in my experience that is.  He had always been more of a dusty theoretical concept to me until He opened my eyes to His hidden, spiritual, eternal reality.

I remember being stunned to find that God was truly alive and that He interacted with me, on my turf, on a minute-to-minute basis.  He answered my super specific prayers and spoke to me by directing me to a perfectly appropriate passage of Scripture.  I was mystified by the way He loved me by providing just the right car at just the right price.

I found significance in the details of life because the God I came to know was all powerful and all knowing – everywhere all at the same time.  I wondered at the way He ordered every aspect of life according to His gracious and sovereign plan and I was grateful to be a part of it.

I will admit, though, I sometimes took it too far.  I remember closing my eyes and running my finger over the pages of my Bible.  When I stopped roving and opened my eyes, I expected God to give me a personalized message.  Today I wonder what would have happened if my finger had landed on Job 19:17, “My breath is repulsive to my wife” -NET Bible®

When I dressed for the day, I would sometimes ask God to help me pick out a shirt.  Now I just ask my wife (although God was nicer about it.)

Yes, sometimes my wide-eyed wonder was a little excessive.  The dog was exhibit A. I shared a home back then with 2 others who were also new to and awed by God.   A dog had been given to us.  He was a big mangy dirty-white cur, but we knew that God was in the details and that He must have wanted us to have the beast.

The dog was nameless so one of us suggested that we ask God to show us the name He had in mind for the dog.  We circled up and prayed a prayer that ended in this way, “and Lord we thank you for the dog – Amen.”    We opened our eyes and dropped our jaws because we knew that God had just answered our prayer.  “Amen.”  The dog’s name was to be Amen! 

Contrary to his name, he turned out to be the dog from hell.    The word Amen is used in the Bible as an affirmation of what had just been said.  It means “So be it.”  At our house it meant, “So eat it.”   The dog was a bottomless pit.  And when he had finished his dog chow, he would chow down on our shoes.   

Eventually we had to go our separate ways and none of us could take the dog with us (at least that’s what we said.)  So, we gave him to a priest who seemed to be thankful to have a dog with a sanctified name (although I hope he sprinkled him with some holy water too!)  

He later told us that the dog had escaped from the rectory.  The priest canvased the neighborhood looking for him crying, “Amen!  Amen!”  He nearly started a revival.  An African American woman opened her front door and shouted, “Praise the Lord.”  (Hey, I am not making this up!)

Well, I am a lot older now and unfortunately that sense of awe I had for God has become as dulled as my other five senses.   I wonder what happened? 

What I initially believed about God has not been undermined or contradicted by anything that I have experienced with God since.  He has been the same yesterday, today and forever – the same, ever, awesome God. 

So, what can I do to recapture that wonder?  When I take time to marinate my mind with a passage of Scripture, I do hear His voice – and it stirs me.  When I review my prayer journal and I see the multitude of specific answers to my prayers, I am moved.  God shows up in new and fresh ways whenever I step out in faith and do a mission trip – and that is awesome.  Or maybe I need to write about Him – like in a blog.  Yep even as I think about and type these God thoughts, my heart is moved to worship.

Go and do likewise and may the Lord be with you, Amen.  (not the dog)

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I recently watched this clip and the Lord stirred me.  One of my most favorites songs of worship: Knowing You.  Watch it without tearing up.  Can’t be done!

No Fare! — February 27, 2019

No Fare!

We were bored and bottom-of-the-bucket broke, so several of us junior highers decided to become caddies.   It looked easy on TV.  The caddie followed the pro around, lugging a bag of clubs.  Sometimes he whispered stuff in his ear like, “Hey check your fly. You’re on TV for goodness sake!”   We could do that.

Early the next morning the four of us walked to the course.   If GPS had been invented, we would have known that it was 11 miles away.  Maybe we should have consulted a map first?  Oh well!  We finally shuffled into the clubhouse in the late morning only to have our ambitions crushed. “We don’t use caddies here!”   Hmm!  Maybe we should have called first!  Oh Well!

There was an optimist among us.  He mentioned another course in Worthington, the next town over.  So, we back-tracked 6 miles and then caught a city bus.  It was now well after lunch time and I had just used my last 20 cents for bus fare.  It was worth it – better than a limo.

The bus reached our stop and we tried to get off, but the driver said, “That will be 10 cents!”  “Why?”  He said, “Because we entered Worthington and there is a surcharge of 10 cents.”   So, each of us begrudgingly dropped in another dime. 

I was last in line and in a panic.  The only thing left in my pocket was lint, but he wouldn’t let me off until I paid my 10 cents.   The bus was stopped, the driver was irked, the rest of the riders were grumbling with impatience, and my friends were already off the bus.

I suddenly got a premonition of the future – me, trapped in a bus, on an endless loop to nowhere.  If I were lucky maybe a girl would show up someday who had made the same mistake.  We could marry, I could work as the bus driver (white socks and all) and we would have little bus babies.  

The daydream was broken by the sound of a rattling coin in the fare box.  Another rider took pity and dropped in a dime – for me.   With humility I whispered, “thanks” and jumped off.

That was a ridiculously hopeless feeling, but it was not a feeling that was new to me.   I grew up with the idea that I had to pay my way to heaven.  I needed to go to church and pray and give and live a stellar life and then – drop it all in God’s celestial fare box.  That was the price to get to heaven.

I worked hard at all those things, but I would also wonder if what I did was ever enough?  What if my bus pulled up to heaven and God were to say, “Sorry buddy, you are 10 cents short. You aren’t getting off till you pay up.”?

It wasn’t until later that I learned that I could contribute nothing to my journey.  God looked at my good deeds and called them “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  My efforts were costly, and they looked good, but they accomplished little.

Then I came to understand Jesus and the reason He came.  The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) NET Bible®   It was Christ who paid my fare.  He suffered and died on a cross in my place to bring me to God. 

When I accepted His gift, I was invited to get on the bus and when that bus finally stops at the gate of Heaven, I will move toward the exit in confidence because Peter used the word “once.”  Christ suffered “once” for my sins to bring me to God.  It was enough to cover every contingency.  Jesus paid it all – forever. 

From the bus stop we walked another mile to a posh country club.  It turns out, that they did employ caddies, but not the likes of us.  Besides, all the golfers had gone home to have the evening meal with their families.   So, with tails between our legs, we turned and walked home – which was another 10 miles.  

That day we ambitious but naïve kids walked about 26 miles and spent 13 hours doing it.  What did we learn?  Two things:  1) Mowing lawns is an easier way to make money; 2) It’s wonderful to have someone who is willing to pay what we are incapable of paying.

Enjoy the original song below!

Up the Hill. Written: Jim Johnson.  Vocals: Sharie and Jim Johnson 

reimaging — February 20, 2019

reimaging

I recently visited the office of a headhunter (the kind that shrinks the ranks of the unemployed not heads).  He seemed sincere about finding me a position and suggested that I email a copy of my resume.  He offered to evaluate it and make some helpful suggestions. 

So, I went home, pulled it up on the PC, brought the info up to date and pasted on the customary pictorial head shot at the top.  It looked impressive to my eyes.  I triple checked the whole thing and then hit the send button.    A day later he responded with a suggestion. 

He wrote, “I would recommend removing your picture!”   What?  Well that can’t be right – let me read it again more carefully.  Oh, it says, “I would recommend removing your picture!”  (I wish I were making this up, but it’s true.)

Wow!  This can only mean one thing.  My headhunter does not like my head!!!!! 

He thinks the presence of my image on my resume is a liability to getting a job.  I wonder why?  Could it be my Frankenstein scar or my moonscape complexion?  Or maybe it’s my teeth that have a strong resemblance to Stonehenge. 

So, what if I remove it, but an employer gets my resume and decides to give me a face-to-face interview.   Will they see me and then tear their eyes out from the trauma?

I suspect the issue is mostly about my snow-white hair and beard.  I get it.   No one wants to hire a Santa Claus (except in December). 

This is a tough one.   I am all about striving to be smarter and more capable than I was yesterday.  I want to make progress and grow.  I just want to be better BUT there is little I can do to improve my face.  I started out in life with rosy cheeks, velvety skin and a wisp of red hair and it’s has been downhill ever since – no remedy!    (Is it just me, or do the Hollywood types who do the lifts and Botox look worse than they did before?)

Thank God I have another image that is improving.  Paul reminds me that God’s plan for me is to, “be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29) This means that He is replacing my old image with the image of Christ.  His heart, values, even His character are all growing in and on me.   It’s a process that started the day I came to know Jesus; it continues (Phil 3:10) and will be completed the day I meet Him face-to-face. (Phil 3:21) – all possible because Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20)

It’s a subtle process to be sure, but it is discernible.  I visited with some childhood friends last year and we talked about the old days (some of which were good).  My wife was there listening and was shocked to learn about the old me.   

She heard me apologize for breaking into one friend’s house.  She listened as I asked another to forgive me for the “bus incident.”   I once stood with him as he waited for the city bus to get to work.  It came, but I thought it would be funny to waive the driver on.  My friend missed his bus, which made him late for work which made him unemployed.  (Hey! I know a good headhunter!)

My wife couldn’t understand how her husband could have been that other person too.   She was dazed but I was darn grateful to know that I had been changed.  Jesus was showing.

You may not be any better looking than I am.  (Well you probably are).  If you are in Christ, however, you are improving.  Don’t fight it!  Allow the Lord the freedom to reshape your marred image into the magnificent image of His Son. 

Co-Mow — February 14, 2019

Co-Mow

An enigma – that’s what it is!  On one hand the Scripture tells me that the Lord will provide for me (Matt. 6:33) while on the other hand it tells me if I don’t work, I should not be allowed to eat. (2 Thess. 3:10)   So why does a great big all-powerful God need us to participate in His program?

My dad answered that question when I was too young to understand.  It was the late fifties and I was nearly 5 years old.  My dad was clipping the lawn with an outdated reel mower on a sultry summer day.  I watched as he labored to force that manually powered mechanical beast through the thick green. 

He left the mower for the house to get a drink.  Aha, a chance to make him proud.  I reached high above my head and grabbed the worn T-handle and pushed.  It wouldn’t budge – not an inch.  No leverage – tiny muscles!  I huffed and puffed while the lawn laughed. 

That’s when a couple of massive hands came from behind me and outflanked mine on the handle.  Dad nudged the mower and we moved and then picked up speed.  Soon the reel was happily tossing its clippings in my little face.

Dad didn’t need my help, but I sure needed his.  We finished the lawn in record time. (It took at least twice as long to get it done.)   The sweet smell of the new mown grass was almost as sweet as the experience of having conquered it with my dad. 

And this is where I begin to understand my Heavenly Father.  My dad really didn’t need my help.  In fact, I seriously complicated the task.  He had to make room for me.  He had to take small steps and wait for me when I needed to stop to get a fresh grip. He had to step over and around me on the corners.    

But why?  I brought zero to the table toward the accomplishment of that task and I really wasn’t old enough to treat it as a training experience.  So why did dad allow me or even want me to participate?  

The relationship – just the relationship!  It was an opportunity for him to be with me and me with him – to share the experience together.

I am fairly sure that our Heavenly Father treats His ponderous work in the same way.   Though He does not need us, He enjoys us and the responsibilities He gives us are designed to draw us near.   

The Lord is my provider.  He can take care of me whether I work another day or not.  But as I work to put bread on the table, I am frequently reminded of how much I need Him.   I depend on Him for the opportunity to work and the wisdom, strength and health needed to get the job done.  Such things fuel my prayers.  He also allows me to enjoy what He enjoys when a task is completed.  Working with Him draws me nearer to Him and He loves it when that happens.

And yes, it certainly is more trouble and takes Him longer to accomplish what He could and would do on His own, but He loves us and wants to enjoy the experience with us.     

Thank you Father for making room for me at the T-handle of life, but please, never let me forget that it is only through and because of You that anything is ever really accomplished.

Listen to the song below and remember how wonderful He really is!

Oh God Our Help in Ages past. Vocals: Jim Johnson

toilet training — February 6, 2019

toilet training

There are some prayers that I wish the Lord would not answer!  I was removing the toilet in the master bath because the drain was clogged with roots.  At the same time my wife was in the living room thinking, “Lord I would really like to have one of those newer taller models.  It might help me with the pain in my hips.”  

Meanwhile, I lugged the toilet out to the garage and just as I arrived, the Lord answered her prayer.  The bowl slipped from my hands and shattered on the concrete.  Oh well, if I had been a better husband I would have bought her a new toilet anyway.

I am glad that God says yes to my prayers.  My prayer journal is filled, cover to cover with the evidence of God’s positive response to my pleas.  But sometimes he says no. 

The apostle Paul had some kind of difficulty.  He called it his “thorn in the flesh.”   He wrote, “I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10; the NET Bible)

Paul asked God over three different seasons of time to remove that thorn.  God said no!   “You need the thorn to remind you that you need Me and my power as you live your life.”   

How infinite is this wisdom that sees what is and what could be.  And how gracious of God to say no when to say yes would limit or hurt us. 

My wife thought she might be in labor with our first born.  It was 4 a.m. and there was a foot of freshly fallen snow on the ground.  I didn’t want to make that drive to the hospital unless I knew for sure it was time, so I prayed, “Lord, if it’s time, would you cause her water to break?”  The intervals between her mild contractions were growing shorter – but still no water.  

The doctor said he thought it was a false alarm, but that we should go to the hospital anyway.   We literally snowplowed our way there with snow higher than our VW running boards. 

They examined my wife and found that she was dilated 90% of the way.  But they also discovered that the baby was breech and the cord was between her and the exit.  (you know what I mean!)   The doctor broke out into a cold sweat and did a C-section in record time.   

Had God answered my prayer back at the house, my beautiful baby girl would have suffocated in the womb.  

Thank You, Lord for saying yes so often to us, but thank You as well for saying no to our short-sighted self-centered prayers.

PS: Here is a song by my beautiful baby girl. Enjoy!

The Love of God. Vocals: Bethany Bergman

The Journey Begins —
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