Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

hands — December 22, 2020

hands

My wife and I are lame when it comes to plants.  They do not live long and prosperous lives when they are in our care.  That’s why the perfect house plant for us is a Christmas tree – it’s already expected to turn brown in a couple of weeks.

Aside from trees, Christmas is a time to think of hands – more specifically, those of the infant Jesus.

When a baby is born, parents usually examine the child to make sure the manufacturer included all the parts. They ooh and ah over every marvelous, intricate detail. The hands are especially astounding – so perfectly engineered.

Mary must have caressed Jesus’ sweet smelling, tender soft, delicate, little hands. And surely, He latched onto her finger as she watched and pondered.

She saw innocent hands – hands that had not touched things they shouldn’t or bonked a brother in anger. With all babies this innocence is eventually lost – all except for Jesus. He maintained it throughout His life. (Hebrews 7:26)

She saw weak little hands. His fingers were powerless and uncoordinated.  They could not grab a stick or throw a rock. 

How appropriate, because Scripture tells us that Jesus chose to lay aside His divine prerogatives as God, including His almighty power in order to take on the flesh of a human being. (Hebrews 5:1) That finger, wrapped around Mary’s told the story of a mighty God who became weak for our sakes.

Mary kept her eyes on those hands through the years.  She watched them grow capable and calloused from the wear and tear of the carpentry shop.  The dirt under his nails said to her, that her boy was very much a man. 

She marveled when He put His hands to a different use.   Jesus reached for the coffin of a dead child and the boy lived.  (Luke 7:14-15)  He touched an untouchable and the leper was cleansed.  (Luke 5:12-13) Parents brought their children to Jesus that he might touch them (Mark 10:13) and in the garden Jesus picked up the severed ear of an adversary and, “He touched the man’s ear and healed him.”  – Luke 22:51

His hands became the conduit between the goodness of heaven and the suffering on earth.  They told the story of a compassionate healer.

But the day came, when the political hacks had hacked away at the message and character of Jesus.  He became a wanted man. 

They bound His hands at Gethsemane then tied them to a post as they raked the flesh off His back with a scourge. 

At Golgotha, He willingly reached those hands to the ends of the roughhewn crossbeam. The cold, rusty, hard steel passed through them causing untold agony.

Mary watched and wept as she remembered the soft, sweet innocent hands of her baby. 

But it was all part of God’s awfully awesome plan to redeem us.  The prophet said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6) KJV

He suffered and died for us – and it was His hands that told the story.  They still do. 

Jesus rose again, and His body was transformed and made new in every way – except for His hands.   He offered them to skeptical Thomas saying, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands…Do not continue in your unbelief but believe.” (John 20:27)

Those scars will forever mar the hands of the Savior so that the story of His death and resurrection will be told throughout eternity. 

I suppose that there is a story in every pair of hands. 

Some are lifted in defiance as if to say “Jesus, I want no part of You.”  I don’t want your salvation if it means submitting to your Lordship.  Leave me alone – and let me be.”   

Others are lifted in faith as if to say “Jesus – You are what I want and what I need.” My faith is in You and my life is bound to yours.  You bought me with Your blood, and I will serve You with my life.

What message do your hands tell?

A PRAYER: Lord, help me and my world to see the nail wounds in the hands of the infant Jesus.

All Bible references from the NET Bible ® unless otherwise noted.

who put the X in Xmas? — December 16, 2020

who put the X in Xmas?

Every year some of us get alarmed over the race to erase Christ from Christmas.  Some of our complaints are legit while some are not.   

For instance – Xmas.  Obviously, someone removed Christ from the word Christmas and replaced Him with an X.  So, who did it? 

Maybe it was my Algebra teacher who as a rule would let X stand for the unknown; or maybe it was a lewd little man who hoped to drag the holiday into the world of X ratings or it could have been a Gen Xer who wanted to make Christmas about himself.

Actually, the anonymous culprit is over a thousand years old, for that is how long the church has been using an X to represent Christ – but it isn’t really an X. 

The New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word for Christ is Christos, but it looks like this “Χριστός.” Did you notice the X-like first letter?  This is the letter chi which is pronounced key unless you are a frat boy.

The chi is an abbreviation of Christos and has been used reverently to represent Christ for many centuries.

The X in Christmas is not a snub to tradition but rather a nod to it. Keep in mind, it is still pronounced “Christmas.” 


We Christians do get bent out of shape when our culture tries to take Christ out of Christmas.   So maybe we should do our part to put Him back.

The apostle Paul tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ.  (2 Corinthians 5:20)  An ambassador is an agent of the highest rank who represents his/her superior.   And we are therefore, empowered to represent Christ in Christmas.   How?

– Your neighbor used to put up a legendary light display in the front yard each year.  But his age and declining health have had its toll.  Go over and raid his garage.  Dust off the lights and recreate the Christmas joy in his yard for him and the neighborhood.

– You have a wonderful display of lights in your own yard – but is there anything there that points to Jesus?  Anything?  Many years ago, I designed and made a manger/cross display.  It has been our Christmas centerpiece for decades now.  My wife even makes me repair it every time a so-and-so bulb burns out.  I do love it though.  It’s a creative statement of why Christ was born. 

– Some of your relationships are frayed and some forgotten.  Take time this season to reconnect – to swallow your pride if you must.  The conversation may begin like this, “I am wondering if I might have hurt you.  Have I?” 

– You may prefer to boycott the office party because of the craziness that goes on there.  Represent Jesus.  Attend!  Let your fellow workers know that you love them and enjoy being with them.  You can always graciously slip out later if things get wild.

– Christmas is an exceptionally lonely time for single people.  Be Jesus to them by inviting them to your home for Christmas dinner.   Bless them with a special gift and a hug.   I have known singles that have gone for weeks at a time without experiencing the touch of another human being.  There are few things that are more affirming than a hug.

– Right before you tear into the presents remind your family that we give to our daughters and sons, because God gave His Son.  Open your Bible and read together about God’s gift (Luke 2:1-20) before they open theirs

– And lastly – don’t be so judgmental.  It’s not the end of the world if you brother’s kids believe in Santa.   And when the clerk at the store says, “Happy Holidays” you don’t have to snarl back “It’s Merry Christmas if you please.”  You could just say, “the same to you!”  According to Paul, the Lord expects you and me to be “peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.”  Titus 3:2 NET Bible ®  

Hey, I think we can put back more Christ back into the Season than the culture removes.  So Merry Xmas to you!

A PRAYER: Lord may I seriously put back more Christ this Season than the culture removes

christmas lights — December 9, 2020

christmas lights

I love the lights of Christmas – the shimmer and sparkle and multicolored display is electrifying (no pun intended).  I just love em, at least until a bulb goes out which knocks out a whole string which makes the house look like it has lost a tooth.   

The very first Christmas light display was put up by the inventor of the lightbulb – Thomas Edison.  He promised to spruce up downtown Manhattan for Christmas of 1880.  He laid miles of underground wire and hung strings of incandescent bulbs around his laboratory. The locals were so awed they dubbed Edison “the Enchanter” and described the display as “a fairy-land of lights.”

2020 has been an unusual year for Christmas lights.  Some folks began hanging them before the goblins of Halloween were put away.  Many got out the ladders before the Thanksgiving turkey was even basted.   

What gives?  Maybe it’s just 2020.  It’s been a tough year.  Hurricanes have pummeled the east coast and wildfires have consumed the west.  Major cities have been broken and looted.  We have suffered through a brutal election season and the dumb old virus still has us in its grip.

We need something – anything to lift our spirits and pretty lights help. 

Marsha Chinichian is a clinical psychotherapist.  She wrote, “Studies show that decorating for the holidays improves mood and ignites positive memories.” Not to mention that fact that the actual act of putting Christmas decorations up offers a boost of your happy hormone, dopamine.”

Basically, Christmas lights tend to make us feel better.  They are bright and cheerful – like ice cream for your eyes. 

This is why I decided, several years ago, to take down the Christmas lights from the front of the house and hang them in the back.  They still are draped there and are often illuminated even in July.  Because I fear being called a Redneck, we call them “party lights.” (The grandkids believe me) 

Light is certainly one of the themes of Christmas.   It was a bright star, hung in the eastern sky that alerted the first century world of the hope wrapped in swaddling clothes.

But light and Jesus were paired long before Bethlehem.  650 years before Jesus made His debut, the prophet Isaiah gave a prediction about His advent.  He wrote, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.   Isa 9:2 – KJV

There is nothing like turning on a light to take the fear and anxiety out of the dark unknown.  Isaiah tells us that Jesus would be that light.  He would enter the land of the shadow of death.   Sounds like our beloved land at the moment. 

Jesus would enter that dark, depressing, dreary world and transform it – chasing away the darkness with His radiance. How?  He would challenge heartless legalism and open the spigot of grace.   He would provide a way to reconcile God and man by virtue of His life and His death.  He would become the means by which to usher in peace on earth. 

Isaiah was clearly speaking of Jesus.  We know this because the prophet went on to say, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6 – KJV

This baby Jesus would be a wonderful and powerful light.

And everlasting too!  My grandkids think it’s funny to flip off the lights and leave grandpa in a dark room.  The light of Jesus will never be switched off again because it is everlasting. 

Did you know that psychologists use what is known as “light therapy” to help people overcome depression?   I treat my occasional depression with a better “light therapy.”  I have a collection of Scripture passages that I use to remind myself that the “light of the world” loves me and gave up His life for me (Galatians 2:20).

No doubt you’ll put up your own Christmas lights this season.   Your wreath may be sparkly; Rudolph’s nose may glow, and your tree might rival that of the one at Rockefeller Center. 

All that is great – but make sure that you put the brightest light in the manger scene – right over the baby Jesus as a reminder that He is the light that we truly need.

A PRAYER: O light of the world, this Christmas I ask you to illuminate the shadows of this year.

even closer — December 2, 2020

even closer

The mystery of Bethlehem has been solved!  There actually was room at the inn for Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus but – the innkeeper was required to follow social distancing protocols. 

Time to celebrate the birth of Christ – an event that marked a change in the relationship between God and man.

– Prior to Bethlehem God could be described as a God that was “FOR” us. 

The Psalmist wrote, “The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us.” – Ps 126:3. Why would he say that?  

God had provided a woman to take away the loneliness of Adam and He gave Noah a way of escape. He provided a son for the childless Abraham and laughter to his sullen wife.  He extended patience to the scheming Jacob and elevated Joseph to a position of authority.  

He was on the sidelines, cheering for his people and intervening as needed. 

He still is for us.  If you were running for office, He would vote for you. If you were a NASCAR driver, he would be in your pit crew.  He would be your corner man if you were a prizefighter.   He would be your biggest cheerleader if you ran the 440.   God has always been for us but He has wanted to do more. 

– At Bethlehem He became God WITH us.

Matthew wrote, “This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  – 1:22-23

God has been for us, but He was also beyond us, or over us, or above us, or apart from us.  When Christ was born, He became God with us.   God Almighty took on human flesh that He might fully identify with us.   

My daughter was one of the more popular kids in high school.  When she attended the western themed dance, we figured she would be dancing all night. We were right.

She spent the night dancing with the boys with whom no one else would dance.  She did the two-step with the clumsy overweight boy and did a round with the boy with the complexion problem. 

She danced with the shy boy who never said two words at school.  Each one of those boys probably left that dance feeling like they mattered because the pretty girl danced with them.

When Jesus became God with us, He danced with us at a time we suspected that a holy God wanted nothing to do with us. 

– After Bethlehem He became “God IN us.”

Jesus lived, died, rose again and ascended into heaven making this possible: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 KJV

Paul taught us that Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, now indwells God’s children.  He lives within us.

And because He does, we now have the power to live God-energized righteous lives.

Headed to the airport this December?  Here’s a hint.  Take that arthritic knee and your 7 pieces of luggage and get on the people mover.  As you walk, it will carry you along and get you to your destination more easily.  

The Christian life is similar.  Don’t try to do it without the power of God.

Another hint: Don’t take your eyes off the end of the people mover or it could be the end of you – but that’s another story.

Man’s relationship with God has changed over time. 

It began as God FOR us, it was then expanded to God WITH us, and now it includes the idea of God IN us.  He moved closer to us each step of the way.

When I was a teen, I had a girlfriend and our relationship progressed in a different way: She was with me, she left me then she never heard of me.

Which is why I am grateful for a God who truly desires to be close to me.

How ironic that the innkeeper turned Jesus’ family away on that cold winter’s night.  How bizarre that Jesus was driven out of His own hometown.  How sad that the apostle John had to write, “His own people did not receive him.” –  John 1:11

Mistakes that we do not want to make!

A PRAYER: Lord I sense your movement toward me, help me scoot closer to you.  

Scripture references from the NET Bible ®

hydrated and thankful — November 24, 2020

hydrated and thankful

I recently wrote about my son who spent time in the prayer closet.  He was an antsy preschooler and it showed up during our prayer time.  I had to corral him between me and the sofa as we knelt and prayed. 

How ironic is it then, that he sired a sweet and passionate prayer warrior?   When her daddy asks, “Who wants to…?”  She has her hand up before he can say, “pray.” 

From three years old and on Lainey has led our family in the saying of grace.   And I would wish that my whole family could pray as she does; even the whole world would pray as she does.  Dang – if only I could pray as she does. 

She sweetly and personally speaks to the Lord.  When she prays, it’s as if she’s sitting on His lap – with their eyes meeting.  Multiple times she will say in the sincerest of voices, “and Jesus, I, I just love you.” 

But what is most striking is the profuse amount of thanksgiving that permeates her prayers.   While my mine are full of platitudes, hers overflow with gratitude and for the most unusual things.  

Her mother was a science major and filters life through that lens.   She once explained to her little Lainey the importance of drinking water throughout the day.  Since then, Lainey regularly thanks the Lord for keeping her hydwated.  

Her mother also explained the amazing law of gravity and Lainey now thanks the Lord that we don’t fly away up in the sky. 

Lainey is profoundly cute. She has an uncanny ability to look at everything that you and I take for granted and recognize it all as gifts from God. 

It’s as if God somehow impressed 1 Thessalonians 5:18 on her little heart, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  In every circumstance and for every circumstance we ought to be grateful. 

So tomorrow we give thanks!  Psalm 92:1 tells us that it is a, “good thing to give thanks to the Lord.”   

This is true according to the experts.  Gratitude activates the reward center of our brains so that we emotionally feel better.  A great way, by the way, to combat anxiety and depression.  Gratitude also has been proven to lower blood pressure and give us better sleep.*

Saying thanks is also a wonderful way to refresh and strengthen our relationships with others. 

It really is good to give thanks, not only because it does good things to and for us, but because God is a good God. (Psalm 107:1)

I am with Lainey – thankful for God’s good gifts of health and food and people that love me and a God who gave His life on a cross for me and a job that challenges me and for photosynthesis.  (Hey why can’t I be thankful for a scientific principle too?)  

Tomorrow our mouths will work hard at taking in Thanksgiving.  They also need to work hard at giving out thanksgiving.   Scripture says, “With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the Lord.”  – Ps 109:30

After dinner we’ll turn on the game and scream ‘til we’re hoarse.  David said that we ought to give thanks in the same way, “with all our hearts.”  – Psalm 86:12

Some of us will get up and raid the refrigerator for a midnight snack.  Also, a good time to give thanks says the Psalmist, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee…”  — Ps 119:62   KJV

2020 has been a tremendously tough year!   Amen?  All the more reason to gather the family on turkey day and have each person write out 5 things for which they were thankful this year.  Compare your answers.  Make note of the duplicates and the diversity and then offer a group prayer of Thanksgiving!

A PRAYER: Lord give me the eyes to perceive every blessing and the words to return proper thanks.

– All scripture references from the NET Bible ®

– * The Health Benefits of Giving Thanks; Community Health Network November 20, 2019; www.ecommunity.com/healthminute/2019/health-benefits-giving-thanks.

yes deer — November 18, 2020

yes deer

It is that time of year, once again, when men pause to lift their voices in thanksgiving to God!   Yes, it is deer season.   How do I know?  About half of our church was missing last Sunday and it wasn’t due to a virus.

I am not a hunter, but I am curious, so I hunted up some information on deer.

In the fragile balance of nature, I learned that deer can be a threat to us.   It was during rutting (mating) season that a big buck lowered his head and charged the car of a friend.  (maybe the car was an impala.)

It is more likely, however, that a deer will accidentally collide with a moving automobile.  There are about 1.5 million deer-related car accidents in the U.S. each year, costing over $1 billion dollars in vehicle damage.  Sadly, there are also 175-200 fatalities every year and 10,000 injuries.

This is why I purchased deer whistles and attached them to my front bumper.  As I drive, air passes through them and creates a high-pitched sound which scatters the deer away.  Although…I may have installed them backwards because the deer seem to gather on the road when I approach.

Hunters are, of course, the biggest threat to deer.   On average, more than 6 million deer are killed by hunters in the United States per year, while approximately 10 million Americans hunt them (which means there are 4 million unhappy hunters each year).

And there is a good reason why churches are deserted on the opening weekend.   If you don’t bag a buck then, you may be up a creek. 

Using GPS trackers, experts have learned that deer respond to hunting pressure within the first three days of the season.   They change their patterns, they move less, hide more and when they do move, it is to where the hunters are not.  They know when they are being hunted and they flee.

The prophet Habakkuk understood deer habits and he also had a good grasp of the nature of God.  He wrote of Him, “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.“  KJV – Habakkuk 3:19

The prophet was a citizen of Judah, a nation that had raced to embrace sin and had left God in the dust.  People like Habakkuk were on the most wanted list.  His message of repentance was repulsive to the masses and needed to be censored.

And then God had declared judgment upon them.  He promised to open the nation’s gates to the marauding Babylonians who would level the land and take her people into exile. 

There was little hope for his nation, but lots for him.  He considered God to be His strength – His wherewithal with which to meet the opposition and the devastation.

He also compared himself to a hind – a female deer.   God became to him a refuge during the hunting season.  It was as if he were fleeing the forest for the high places – far from his predators.  And like the surefooted hind, he would not stumble there, but walk securely because of the Lord.   The higher a deer ascends, the less accessible he is to hunters.

I must confess, at times I wonder if the hunt is on.  I am increasingly finding my Christian values out of sync with a predatory culture. 

How is it that believing the ancient words of Scripture is now considered a hate crime?   Why have the pandemic meeting restrictions been so much more severe on the churches than on casinos and bars?   When did it become so heinous for a Supreme Court nominee to be a person of faith?  

There was once a time when people of opposing values could respectfully disagree.  These days, opposing values have become imposing values.   When I am unwilling to concede certain biblical truths, I seem to be regarded as an enemy of social truth.  

Hunting season is underway so maybe you and I should join Habakkuk and find our refuge with the Lord on high. The air is clear up there.  The elevated view puts everything in perspective and our hearts will rest securely with Him. 

A PRAYER:  Lord help me find that place of peace above the fray.

trapped — November 11, 2020

trapped

He was as wriggly as a nightcrawler about to be hooked!   

Each night we read the Bible with our preschoolers and ended our time in prayer, on our knees at the sofa.   While my wife and daughter and I focused minds and hearts on our prayers, my boy was sitting, standing, rolling, sighing, twiddling – and every other “ing” but kneeling.  

I warned him that if he kept it up, I would put him in the “prayer closet.”  Which is what? you may ask.  It is a private place where a person can devote themselves to prayer (think the movie War Room).  It is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:5-6. 

But that wasn’t the prayer closet I had in mind. 

He continued with his antics.  Of course, he did.  We didn’t learn until he was in 4th grade that he had ADD / HD and maybe XYZ too.  He couldn’t help himself.   

But we didn’t know that back then, so one evening I followed through and pulled him into the prayer closet.   To do this, I placed him in a kneeling prayer posture, between the sofa and me with my arms on either side of him and my body hovering over his – as in nesting prayer partners.

He was trapped – trapped by my religion.

—————————–

There are other ways to trap a person with religion. 

The Pharisees in Jesus day were masters at it.  They went far beyond the principles in the Word of God to create a host of nit-picky rules that they compelled their flock to follow  

They decided that a righteous person could never eat with a sinner (Mt. 9:11); that one could not be holy unless they fasted (Mt. 9:14); that a person who feeds themselves on the Lord’s Day is a sinner (Mt. 12:2); that there are only certain days when it is appropriate to help others (Mt. 12:14); and that the person who does not wash before eating is a pretty much a heathen (Mt. 15:1)

They reduced faith to a punishing dribble of todos and were more excited about arguing the law than keeping it.  (Mt. 23:2) They drew others into the same empty pit into which they themselves had fallen.    

The urge to trap others with our religion is called legalism and it is contagious.  In fact, many of us have occasionally been guilty of putting others into a straight-jacket for Jesus.  

-Sam told Andrew that a true Christian could only vote for one particular candidate.

-Amber is teaching the girls in her Bible study that God wants them to eat vegan.

-Molly corrected Shirley for not wearing a dress to church

-Bill blasted his boy for cheating God – said he needed to give 10 cents out of every dollar

-The pastor counseled the man to boycott the movie theater, and yet the pastor was streaming smut at home. 

Oh my – why do we do such things?   Choose the excuse that best fits you…

– to create a ladder to holiness I think I can manage

– to make sure others share in my misery

– to validate my own convictions

– to deflect attention from my own sorry manner of life 

– to exercise power over others

Legalism is a trap.  For those of us who struggle with it, here are some suggestions.

– Escape the trap.  Those that impose legalism on others usually have the same noose around their own necks.  Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”  – Galatians 5:1. Study the book of Galatians if you need assistance.

– Focus on what is clearly articulated in the Word of God.  There truly are standards to which God calls us but be careful because it is too easy for us to tack on extras. 

– Allow the Lord to be the Master.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  

The Lord allows us a great degree of latitude with issues that are not clearly defined in the Word.  He says we need to be convinced in our own mind.   (Romans 14:5)   Let’s allow one another that same latitude. 

Not long ago, I threatened to put my boy back in the prayer closet.  He laughed!  He is now in his forties and a good 7 inches taller than I am.   

Fortunately, he is also standing tall in the faith.  He escaped the trap.  May you be as fortunate. 

A PRAYER: Lord relieve me of the obsession to straight jacket myself and others with peripherals.  

All Scripture references from the NET Bible®

end of the line — November 4, 2020

end of the line

Her assignment was to write a brief essay.  Being the involved parents that we were, we attended the open house and located her masterpiece in the jam-packed array on the walls of her third-grade classroom. 

Her teacher had highlighted one section that caught our attention.  At the end of a line, our daughter wrote, “I was very happy.”  At the beginning of the next line she wrote, “When I found out I was very happy.”

Hmm?  “I was very happy when I found out I was very happy!”   That’s wonderful – I guess. 

Obviously, she got to the end of the first line, lost her train of thought, and then tried to pick it up again without looking back.

A funny foible BUT also a reminder that there is a risk in forgetting what has already been written! 

In the days of Gideon, these words were recorded in Scripture, “And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side.” – Judges 8:34 (KJV)

Those Israelites had found themselves at a crossroads in their history. 

Their grandparents had made the Exodus from Egypt to Canaan.  They experienced God when the Red Sea parted and the manna rained down, and they knew that they were on the right road. 

Then their parents took possession of the promised land.   They watched the walls of Jericho crumble.  Once again, they experienced the power of God on their behalf.   The nation was on a blessed trajectory.

But that third generation, Gideon’s generation, they had forgotten the Lord and what He had done for His people in the past.  They lost their train of thought and started a new line that led them into the bowels of sin and idolatry.

It is the better part of wisdom to look back and remember the past as we wrestle to set the direction for the future.

My wife did that recently as we drove through the heart of Alabama to see the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement.  We traveled the streets of Montgomery where Rosa Parks courageously refused to give up her seat on the bus. 

We walked around the Dexter St. Baptist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached while he patiently labored to dismantle the barriers that kept African Americans from voting.

From there we glanced up the steps of the nearby State House, where a blockade of state troopers had heartlessly turned away the petitioners. 

Then onto Selma where 600 men, women and children had gathered to walk the 56 miles to the state capital.  We drove across the notorious Edmund Pettus bridge where those genuinely peaceful protestors were brutally gassed and beaten by the state police.

As a kid in the mid 60’s, I remember watching this history unfold on the evening news.  It was awful.   

But – then I also remember that a little over 40 years later, our predominantly Anglo nation gave evidence that our character had meaningfully matured.  This country elected our first African American president.  

A person of color, once barred from voting, was voted into office – the highest office in the land.  Even those who voted for the other guy agreed that the election of President Barak Obama was a watershed – an extraordinarily proud moment for the USA. 

Wow!  God’s grace has carried us forward in some thrilling and significant ways. 

We have come so very far since Selma, but it’s not been a flawless journey.  There remains plenty of injustices to correct.  

As we face these challenges, we can’t forget what has already been written.

With the courage of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and so many other civil rights heroes, may we continue to vigorously protest and correct racial injustice and with the patience and wisdom of those same heroes and heroines may we do it with civility.  

A PRAYER: Lord please – please, continue to refine our flawed nation for our good and your glory

the name — October 28, 2020

the name

The pastor was both excited and stressed about officiating at his first wedding.  So, he took a Pastoral Ministry class at the Bible College to learn how to do it.  The prof even shared a sample ceremony that he could use. 

The couple were both new Christians.  Each of them had lived with the pastor and his wife for a time, to be mentored in the faith.  Both were as precious to him as his own children.

The church was packed.  Everyone loved Jack and Dean – his beautiful bride to be.   Dean was the boy named Sue, except in this case the girl named Dean.

The music began and the bridal party processed.  Then Dean debuted.  She was a bit of a tomboy who was transformed into a radiant bride.  The pastor and the groom waited for them at the altar.  One of the two was trembling and it wasn’t Jack.

He was thinking, “Everyone knows what happens at a wedding.  They can probably recite the words.  There is no wingin’ it here.”  He had a specific script to follow and he was concerned about blowing it.

There at the altar, he welcomed the guests and thanked them for being present to witness the marriage of Tom and Susan.   The congregation snickered.  Evidently the stress of the moment caused him to forget their names.

But he didn’t catch it – didn’t even hear the laughter.  He carried on.  A minute later, he again referred to them as Tom and Susan.   More laughter – still no response on his part.

Finally, he started in with the vows.  He was about to marry Tom and Susan when his wife stood up and shouted from mid-congregation, “Their names are Jack and Dean.” 

The church erupted!

He had been using the sample ceremony his prof had given him, complete with the fictitious filler names of Tom and Susan.   He was just too stressed to realize it.

Stress can do that!  It may be happening to you at the moment.

Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms in the Bible.  Forget a three-point sermon.  This Psalmist has 22 points to his message – all alliterated according to the Hebrew alphabet.

The Psalmist longed to be a righteous man amid the complexities of life.  He longed for a nation that honored God and was governed by His Word. 

Instead, he experienced arrogant people who scoffed at him and the values that he represented (vs 51).  Wickedness was overrunning the nation and it enraged the author. (vs 53)    

He was a songwriter.  What could he do about it except sing the blues?  Possibly but instead he wrote, “I remember your name during the night, O Lord.” (vs 55) NET Bible ®

Yes, He was stressed, but He did not forget that all important name – His name.  He remembered it in the night.  Did he have the darkness of his circumstances in mind, or the nights he lay on his bed stressing about life – or both? 

Either way, he chose to think on the name of the Lord. 

So, what does this mean?  It’s been a perpetual custom over time, in most cultures to give a person a name that befits them.  The child was a fuzz ball.  He was given the name Esau which meant hairy.

Jacob was born hanging on to his twin brother’s heel.   He was out to overtake him from the start.  He was named Jacob which meant to unseat someone. 

So, God, being God, named Himself.  He told Moses that His name was Yahweh – four Hebrew consonants that form the phrase, “I am.”  God said, “My name is, “I am.”  

The name He chose communicated that He was, is and ever will be – a rock that never rolls.

Half of us are going to be very upset by the results of this election.  The day after, we will need to remember that, “He is.” 

He will endure even if our political ambitions should not.  He will continue to save, even if things should appear to be hopeless.   He will sovereignly manage this world and our nation even if it all appears to us to be spinning out of control.

“He is.”  This is the name that needs to be remembered in the night. 

A PRAYER: Lord, even as we grope in the darkness, remind us that “You are”

Jesus, Shepherd of Sheep — October 24, 2020
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