Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

life can squeeze the thanks from our tanks. — November 27, 2019

life can squeeze the thanks from our tanks.

when your egg scoots

Tis the season to be thankful.  However, one wise guy said, “It seems like the only place you find gratitude today is in the dictionary.”   Life can squeeze the thanks from our tanks.  Better, however, to meet the challenge with a grateful heart than a great complaint.

Jesus addressed a crowd of eight thousand who had feasted on His words but were famished for a piece of bread.   They were hungry and far from home. 

Out of concern, He asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven.”  (Mark 8:5)Seven loaves for 8,000?  Each small loaf would need to feed 1,142 people.  Enough for a crumb a piece!  Nice if you are on a low-carb diet, but ridiculously little for the crowd.

Jesus could have said, “whatever” or blamed His congressman.  He might have shaken His fist at the Father and said, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” 

Instead, “He took the seven loaves and gave thanks.”  (v. 6).  He somehow juggled the small loaves in His hands and prayed a sincere thanksgiving prayer

It was a meager and insufficient amount, but it’s what the Father had decided to supply at that moment.  So, He gave thanks for it, trusted the Father to make it all work, and then saw that it was distributed to the crowd. 

And then, He took a few small fish and unexpectedly gave thanks a second time. (vs. 7)   Sort of odd really.   What would your family say if you should interrupt your turkey feast to say grace – again?   Evidently Jesus had a lesson to teach about gratitude.

Of course, we know what happened next.  In His hands the meagerness exploded into more than enough to feed the multitude – with 7 good sized baskets full of leftovers.

He made it clear that a grateful heart is a great asset.

But I guess my wife and I are not spiritually perceptive enough to learn it from Him.  He needed to use a three-year-old instead.

I was in college at the time. My wife, our 3 year-old daughter and me – all squeezed into a very used up, 12 by 60 mobile home.  It was quite the place.

The support beams underneath had sagged over time, so the floor of the trailer was high in the middle and sloped toward the walls. 

If you cracked an egg into a frying pan, it would race to the side and try to climb out of the skillet.

The drain from the washing machine often overflowed the sewer line.  So, I had to drain the washer into our bathtub to accommodate the excess.  Not a problem unless you were taking a bath. (as if my naval didn’t already have enough lint) 

She and I were asleep one night when we were awakened by a jolt to our bed.  There was a new slope in the house.  A bed leg had had poked right through the rotted trailer floor!

The biggest challenge was the cramped space.  We had a tiny house before they were hot.  With only 820 sq. ft., we had furniture stacked on top of furniture with a growing theological library crammed into every nook and cranny.  

My daughter needed a bed.  I had to create a miniature version to fit in the teensy bedroom of our tiny house.

We endured.  We knew it was for just for 3 years, but eventually my wife reached the breaking point. The egg scooted just once too often, and she was overwhelmed with the cluttered chaos.

That evening we grumpily readied our 3-year-old daughter for bed who wasn’t aware of our frustration and yet she prayed the sweetest most sincere prayer ever.  She said, “Dear God, thank you for this nice day and for our big, big house.” 

Nuff said!   Take a good look at your house, and your family – your job, your car, your health, and whatever else needs a look – and thank the Father.

PS: You could even thank Him that your eggs don’t scoot (or do they?)


*Scripture references from the NET Bible®

why won’t God send a Christmas card? —

why won’t God send a Christmas card?

james ray johnson

It’s the holiday season and the Christmas cards are already coming.  Many are glossy flat cards with pictures of happy families on the beach in Cozumel.   Just what I need as I suffer the murky, bone chilling winter weather.   Oh well, its great to see the faces of family and friends, though they be tanned.

Maybe God ought to send a glossy of Himself.  He has always had an image problem!   He can’t be seen and has seldom been heard which has, therefore, generated a lot of conjecture about what He might be like.

An ad agency in ancient Philistia came up with the Dagon campaign which presented God as a statue – half fish / half man.   (think like mermaid except merman.) The Philistines were big into fishing and probably thought they needed a fish god to get their limit, but their lame attempt did God a disservice.

Other cultures have miscommunicated His character. There was the god who teased men with lightning bolts, and another who chased the skirts of earth-bound babes.  And then there was the bizarre many-breasted god of fertility.  (no comment)

The Jews of Jesus day contributed to the chaos by putting forth a God of stifling legalism.

There have been a tiny few who got a passing glance at God – and they regretted it.  He appeared at the burning bush and, “Then Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”  (Exodus 3:6) I had a blind date back in high school who reacted the same way when she first saw me.

The prophet Isaiah got a glimpse of God and said, “Woe to me! I am destroyed, for my lips are contaminated by sin, and I live among people whose lips are contaminated by sin. My eyes have seen the king…”  (Isaiah 6:5)  

God was too great, too mighty, too holy, too scary – just too much God for an ordinary human being to take in.

Somehow God needed to bridge the gap and show up in a way that we could perceive and appreciate.

One Christmas season He did exactly that.  He sent us a Christmas card with His picture on the front.  But, instead of sunny Cozumel, the background was a dimly lit, drafty, stable surrounded by livestock. 

On that day, God took upon Himself human flesh in the person of Jesus.  There are multiple reasons why, the first of which was to help us understand what God is like.   

The apostle John wrote, “No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” (John 1:18) This is to say, that when a person looked upon Jesus, He saw God. 

To listen to Jesus was to hear the voice of God and to sense His heart was to feel the pulse of God. To understand God, one only needed to understand Jesus.

I met someone for the first time who said to me, “Oh you must be Jordan’s father.”   I said, “I am.  How did you know?”   She said, “I hear him in your voice, and see him in your face and your mannerisms.”  Wow!  I felt like I needed to call and apologize to my son.  My point, however, is that a son can communicate his father. 

Jesus communicated both the power and the compassion of God when He fed the 5,000.   He sobered us with the wrath of God when He overturned the tables in the temple, and He made God approachable when He gathered the little children to Himself.

Knowing God through Jesus makes a difference.  When He attended the wedding at Cana and catered it with wine, He gave us the freedom to enjoy our lives.  He gave us a taste of His mercy when He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” 

But keep in mind.  Jesus was more than just a Son.  Jesus was, “God with us.”   He was and is God – a God who is comfortable with us – so that we might be comfortable with Him.   

Jesus chose 12 disciples.  Why?  Mark wrote, “He appointed twelve so that they would be with him…”   (Mark 3:14)   I love that.  Jesus was God with us, so that we could be with Him – comfortable with God.   

You are sure to get a Christmas card this season with a manger scene on the cover.  Just for fun, take a marker and write on top of it, “From God with Love” and hang it with the rest of your cards – and be ready to explain it to your visitors.

All biblical references are from the NET Bible ®


Bonus: Check out the guitar Carol below

O Come All Ye Faithful: guitar arrangement: Jim Johnson


an encounter with the Holy Spirit — November 20, 2019

an encounter with the Holy Spirit

I officiated at a wedding that took place in a spacious homey log cabin.  The place was packed including the huge loft area that overlooked the ceremony.  The decor included festive votive candles that were artfully placed throughout the house. 

During my biblical charge to the couple, someone in the loft accidentally kicked one of the candles.  It plummeted to the ground floor and landed squarely on a man’s head – burning wick, hot wax and all.  He survived it with a small bump.  

I felt badly for him, but I was encouraged about my preaching.  I mean how many other pastors can say that while they preached, tongues of fire descended from above and rested on each head.

Not only that, I think I heard the man grumbling in an unknown tongue just after he got hit!

Maybe I shouldn’t be so glib about one of the most earth-shaking sensational happenings in human history.  The day that the Holy Spirit descended from heaven to indwell His people was a watershed event.

In the Old Testament era, the Spirit was given on a temporary basis, to special people that they might perform a certain God ordained task.  

It was the Spirit of God that enabled Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:38).  He infused creative ability into those who crafted the tabernacle (Exodus 31:3). The Spirit made wise Moses and the 70 Elders of Israel (Numbers 11:17). 

He breathed courage into whimpering Gideon (Judges 6:34) and fortified the spent muscles of Samson (Judges 14:6) and He imparted a host of savvy skills to young King David. (1 Samuel 16:13) I could use power like that. 

In some cases, God withdrew His Spirit as with king Saul because of his sin. (1 Samuel 16:14) Saul became like a deflated balloon, which may be why his successor David prayed, “Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me.” (Psalm 51:11)

When the Spirit came upon an Old Testament personality, it was front page news.  It rarely happened but when it did, there was always spectacular, God honoring events that followed.   Everyone else would watch and wonder and wish for just a small taste of that power in their own lives.

But then God changed the rules at Pentecost.  “Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.”  – Acts 2:2-4 NET Bible ®

At Pentecost, every believer – man and woman – received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and they were immediately filled with courage, power and new supernatural abilities.  Since then, every person that enters the Kingdom of God, has had the Spirit come to dwell.  (Romans 8:9) 

And He comes to stay for good.  We may impede His work in and through us (Ephesians 4:30) but He will never leave or forsake us. 

The Spirit was given, not simply as a badge of belonging, but as an energy source for service.  Like the men of old, the Spirit empowers us to serve God’s purposes.  Paul said, “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.”  (1 Corinthians 12:7)

So, what difference does the Spirit make?  It’s mostly about quality.  When we allow ourselves to be filled and controlled by His Spirit, it is manifested in the way we live and relate to others.  We will bear the fruits of the Spirit which are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  – Galatians 5:22-23, NET Bible ®

Unfortunately, some of us have more in common with a porcupine.  If that’s you, take a moment to transfer control of your life to the Holy Spirit – once again. 

When you said “I do” to your spouse, you surrendered a lot.  Implicit in your vows was a commitment to honor and listen to the person that you wed.   Yield to the Spirit of God in that way, and He will fill you and use you and bless you. 

And I promise it won’t be as painful as getting clobbered with a votive candle.

fair game — November 13, 2019

fair game

james ray johnson

Is winning and owning really living?

My childhood home was about a mile away from the Ohio State Fairgrounds.  I have some crazy memories.  I could sit in my back yard on a pleasant summer evening and hear the relentless, ferocious crashing of cars.  The fairgrounds hosted an annual demolition derby. 

During the fair season, my friends and I would pool our money and buy one ticket.  One of us would enter and get his hand stamped. He then exited, spit on the stamp and rubbed it onto the rest of us.  We then trickled in through the gate by showing our reentry stamp.  We did this every day – until they caught us and made us muck the horse stables.    

We learned how to feed ourselves at the fair by deliberately walking into the low hanging vendor signs and then moaning and holding our heads.  It was always good for a sympathy hot dog from a worried vendor. 

Golly we were bad! 

My best fair memory, however, took place in the Lone Star state.  I took our youth group to the State Fair of Texas.   Soon after we arrived, Mike (the athlete) got fixated on winning a stuffed animal from one of the carnival games. 

He threw darts, pitched baseballs at milk bottles, and tried to ring a soda bottle.  He spent it all trying to win a prize. 

He finally did it.  He won a sad looking overstuffed green alligator, which he tucked under his arm and proudly carried around for the rest of the day.

Don’t be so quick to judge.  There may be something tucked under your arm as well – something that you competed for and sacrificed to get – maybe it was an academic award, or a passport filled with stamps.  Maybe it was a fixer upper showcase, or a bass boat or perhaps a manicured yard that was the envy of the neighborhood -not necessarily bad things.    

But we thought that winning and having and owning was the stuff that made life worthwhile.

Solomon sure believed it, until he got older. Then he wrote, “When I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless— like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth.”   Ecclesiastes 2:11 – NET Bible ®

Solomon amassed more wealth and accomplished more on the world stage than 99.9% of the rest of us.   Yet, the somber thoughts of this aged man tell us that most of it was meaningless in the end. 

About 10 p.m. we made our way back to the church van.  Mike was walking just in front of me when he happened to notice something bulging from the top of a big trashcan.   He went over and pulled it out.  It was a gaudy looking stuffed green alligator – exactly like his. 

The street light illuminated the shock on his face.  “Who would throw this away and why?” 

He reflected for a moment and then caught up with the rest of the youth group.  However, instead of instead one alligator, he then had – none.  He had laid his cherished prize right on the garbage heap along with the other.

Mike had come to understand that he had wasted his time and energy and money on something that belonged in a trashcan. 

He eventually aligned his heart with Solomon’s who concluded his book by saying, “So remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  Ecclesiastes 12:1 – NET Bible ®

Mike began to pursue Jesus.  He married a fine Christian woman, raised his kids to love the Lord, and he has served Jesus for many years by leading worship and as an Elder in his church.  He and his wife have recently planted and are leading a church to reach the unchurched.   

He is happy and fulfilled and the satisfaction he has found in Jesus has never faded.

So, what do you have tucked under your arm? 

As for me – I still have those 2 gators I plucked from the trashcan!     They must be worth at least $1.19 by now. (just kiddin!)

access — November 6, 2019


james ray johnson

I had my eyes set on the White House.  Just for a visit.  The country could never endure me as President. 

So, my family made plans.  The travel guide advised me to contact my Senators and Representative in advance to request passes for V.I.P.s, (which evidently meant Very Inconsequential Persons, because anyone could get them.) 

One Senator sent us passes to the FBI building and the Mint.  (where I got in trouble for picking up samples)  Another got us a backstage tour of the Capitol building which was sort of like watching politicians on HDTV.  Their blemishes were extra apparent.

But the office of our Representative didn’t respond.  (He lost my vote.) And no one provided passes to the White House.  I was sad.

But while we were in D.C., I received a call from the office of our Congressman.  (Oh man, someone told him I was changing my vote.)

The lady said, “If you would still like to tour the Whitehouse, then go to the east gate tomorrow at 10 a.m. and look for a Blue Lincoln.”  “As in Abraham Lincoln?” I asked.  (she didn’t laugh. Oh well – neither did you).

And that’s all she said.  So mysterious and creepy.  Was an FBI agent going to smuggle us in? 

The next day we arrived, the Lincoln pulled up, and out popped a C-Span celebrity – our Congressman Ralph Hall – in person.  He knew my name and that I was a pastor.   He was literally there for me.  I was speechless. 

He asked if I brought a bag?  I asked, “For what?”  He said, “You need to put Clinton’s cat in a bag and keep it until the president gives us what we want.”    “OK,” I said. (I think he was kidding.)

We followed him, past a long line of tourists and through a heavily guarded, special access gate, and into the headquarters of the most powerful and influential nation on earth.

It was so cool to have that kind of access!  

But listen, mine was a paltry experience compared to the kind of access that Jesus gives us. 

He spoke of, “the Father’s house” which is considerably bigger than the Whitehouse and represents an infinitely greater power.  It is an eternal dwelling.  The British can’t burn it to ground as they did the Whitehouse in 1814.

According to Jesus, it’s the place to be. He said, “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you.”  – John 14:2

He offers us special access to the Father’s House – to see it and roam the vastness of it and even to dwell in it – forever.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:1-2.  “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access…“

Because of our faith in Jesus and His finished work for us on the cross, we obtain access not only to the house, but to the occupant of that house.  We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.    

And we don’t have to kidnap his cat to have it.

My congressman knew who I was, but Jesus knows us even better and He calls us by name (John 10:3).  He invites us to follow Him as He leads us home.

A friend was telling me that his dad had lived the life of an alcoholic.  He hurt a lot of people and he was a committed Christ critic.  But then he was diagnosed with a slow-moving, but terminal form of pancreatic cancer.   

His son regarded the cancer as a blessing from God, because it caused his dad to consider his mortality and eternity.  At age 75 He confessed His sin and fell upon the grace and mercy of God.  Not long after, the Lincoln pulled up, and he entered the pearly gates.

Trust Him today, if you haven’t already and pickup your pass to the Father’s House.  

PS: Congressman Hall made his trip to the Father’s House in March of 2019.  Such a great guy!   Can I still use him as a write-in candidate the next time I vote? 


All references from the NET Bible ®

Picture by Rob Young from United Kingdom – The White House, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21831742

an Aggie’s revenge! — October 30, 2019

an Aggie’s revenge!

james ray johnson

I have been known to tell an Aggie joke or two. For instance: A young man walked into a store and said, “I would like a maroon hat, white sweatshirt, maroon pants and white shoes.”  The clerk said, “You must be an Aggie.”  He replied, “Well yes sir – how did you know?  Was it the school colors I ordered?”  The clerk said, “No, this is a hardware store.”

For you non-Texans, an Aggie is a student or graduate of Texas A&M University. (Whoop!)   The school was originally named The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas – hence the nickname Aggies.

How can you not tease a graduate of an agricultural school?  They are actually pretty sharp people except that they tend to tell more Aggie jokes than anyone else.

When I would preach, I sometimes used an Aggie joke to cheer up my congregation of East Texans (many of whom were grads) 

By the way, did you hear about the big game?  Longtime rivals – Texas A&M and the University of Texas were playing.  Late in the game, a train passed through town and blew its whistle. The UT players thought it signaled the end of the game, so they left the field. The Aggies scored three plays later.

Fun stuff, BUT I don’t tell Aggie jokes much anymore for two reasons: First: They may have been outlawed by the Hate Crimes Act and Second: because it turns out that the joke was on me. 

I shared a joke at church one Sunday and a couple of weeks after, I received something in the mail from the Alumni Association of Texas A&M.  It was a fund-raising pitch.  They wanted to build a new building (or maybe fix a corral). 

I didn’t think much about it, except that every other day I would find something else in the mailbox from the school.  It became an avalanche.  It was a mystery to me until I eventually got an official letter from their office thanking me for my contribution to the alumni fund. 

One of my Aggie church members sent in that contribution – IN MY NAME.  What a low-down dirty trick!

The wisdom of the ages has been vindicated once again.  In 1757 Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.”  (been there, done that)

In 1962, death row inmate, Paul Crump nervously coined the phrase, “What goes around comes around.”

But long before those guys, the apostle Paul weighed in on the idea. “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.”   (Galatians 6:7)

The context for this passage has to do with money and the way we use it.  But the principle is fairly comprehensive.  We could state it like this: “The things that we do, either good or bad, have consequences that come back to either bless us or bite us.”  Sometimes it comes as a God ordained natural consequence, and at other times through his direct intervention.

Proverb 26:27 states it in the negative, “The one who digs a pit will fall into it; the one who rolls a stone—it will come back on him.”  Sounds like my Aggie fiasco.

OK, what about the grace and the mercy of God?  Doesn’t God promise to forgive our sins?  Absolutely! And He does (which is great news for me.)   But hey, if I hit my thumb with a hammer, God can forgive me for being so dumb, but my thumb is still gonna bleed.  Right!

Proverbs 11:25 puts it in the positive, “He that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (KJV)

The sage pictured a person who goes around his community watering thirsty people as if they were desert plants.  Such kindness will be rewarded because those desert plants will be there for him when he is parched.

We reap what we sow. 

If only the Aggies could learn that.  One student threw a grenade at an LSU Tiger.  The Tiger pulled the pin and threw it back.  

Friend, before you click on that questionable web site, or spew some venomous words, or skew the spread sheet at work – hesitate – and remember my Aggie story and the Scripture.  We reap what we sow. 


Unless otherwise noted Bible references are from the NET Bible ®

my pastor kept me from my Bible — October 24, 2019

my pastor kept me from my Bible

james ray johnson

My wife left her Bible at a church we had visited.  I sent my friend, the pastor, an email letting him know we would get it the next Sunday.  He replied, I’ll watch for the Bible, and make sure no one reads it till she gets it back.” 

That earned a belly laugh.  BUT he wasn’t far off the mark.  Sometimes we pastors truly discourage a person from reading the Bible. 

Sometimes it’s extreme.  I was raised in a church that frowned upon personal Bible reading.  I guess they didn’t think we could get the truth right.  So, I never even saw a personal Bible until I was a student at Ohio State University. 

The Gideons distributed free copies of Good News for Modern Man to any student who would have one.  It even had pictures, which helped this biblically illiterate guy

In most cases the discouragement is subtle.  As a now retired pastor I plead guilty.   I bet there were times when I unintentionally communicated something like, “You people can’t understand the Bible as well as I do, because I have a cemetery (I mean Seminary) degree.” 

When I preached, I presented the highly synthesized fruit of my study.  I left very few specific bread crumbs that might help my flock track and probe the truth for themselves.

And then there were times, when someone would get excited about some truth he discovered.  “Pastor, look what I found in my Bible.”  I wonder how often I gave that person a positive, but underwhelming response.  “That’s nice,” while I was thinking, “Oh big deal I saw that 20 years ago.” 

My response to him should have been over the top, frothing at the mouth, full of excitement.  He was reading his Bible. -That’s pretty great!  And the Spirit of God was giving Him insight. –   Incredible.  And He was excited about what he was finding.  – He should be!  Shame on me.    

My greatest regret was that I stood by and watched various small group ministries trade in participation-based first-hand Bible study, to passively sit in front of a flat screen and watch a megachurch pastor teach. 

By the way, do you know what the difference is between a pastor and a congregant?  The pastor is paid to be good.  The rest of us are good for nothing! 

Because of pastors like me, you have a right to be bored with your Bible.  But, its so sad, because the Word of God is an incredibly exciting book.  And the greatest joy is in discovery.  There is nothing, nothing like the experience of poring over a verse, when suddenly the Lord breaks through the heavens to personally tutor you on its meaning. 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus put it this way, “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”- Luke 24:32 NET Bible ®

May I attempt restore what I may have taken away? 

Pick up your Bible this evening.  Start with the Gospel of Mark. Read only one paragraph – just one – but really read it.    As you read it, answer these three questions:  (I’ll use Mark 1:35-39 as an example.)

1) What do I see?   (Write down anything, big or small, that you observe. Look hard!)

Example: (based on Mark 1:35-39) It was early morning, Jesus got out of bed in the dark.  He left to go to a place of solitude. He was there to pray, and he was missed. Simon and the others looked for him. He wasn’t where they expected him to be.  They wanted him to go back to town to do more healing.  He politely refused in order to pursue his mission to preach.   Then ask…

2) What does it mean?

Example: Pursuing the mission that God gave Jesus was very important.  When His mission was threatened by pressure, He reset His priorities by spending time in prayer.  Then ask…

3) What should I do with it? 

Example:  I need to follow Jesus’ example and spend regular time in prayer.  I need to figure out God mission for me and pursue it. 

If you were to read the Scripture in this way you would get more benefit than having sat through a dozen of my sermons.  (I am serious).  You will be cutting out the middle man and going right to the source – the fountain of truth.  

OK so there won’t be as many jokes – but the experience of having a two-way conversation with God is better – way better.


Bonus:  If you want to probe deeper, check out www.Biblehub.com to access an enormous and free online library.

Jesus not cheeses — October 16, 2019

Jesus not cheeses

james ray johnson

After years in the delicacy doldrums, I buried my teeth in the most savory, sensational pizza ever to grace a plate. And I was invited to take home a load of leftovers.  Ah, but with what?

Let me backtrack.  My roots are Irish, but I went to a school where most were of Italian heritage.  I became enculturated.  I learned a few Italian phrases (some of which I was disciplined for repeating) and I was enamored with the cuisine. 

Italian mothers staffed the cafeteria, thereby filling the halls with daily, heavenly, Roma aromas.  Friday was the exception – that was stinky fish stick day.

But I, was made to take my lunch – always and forever.  I could expect one of 3 sandwiches in my Howdy Doody lunch box: peanut butter and pickle, bologna, or Braunschweiger.  The last one I could not pronounce or digest.   

But I got a break in 8th grade.  Our little garage band was invited to perform at the school banquet.  The cafeteria ladies served up the finest, spiciest, most wonderful pizza.  Heavenly stuff!

The band followed dinner and dinner followed the band – or at least this member.  I had a tough time singing I was so stuffed. 

I learned there was a mountain of leftovers.  They offered it to me, and I wanted it – all of it, every beautiful old-world pepperoni disc and stringy piece of mozzarella – BUT – I had nothing to carry it in. 

SO, I did what I had to do.  I removed my guitar and lined the empty case with pizza.  I carefully layered in each piece with the skill of a stone mason so that no space went to waste and then I latched it shut. 

It was a solid pizza guitar – 5” thick – and really heavy to carry.  I would have assigned it to a groupie except we didn’t have any. 

I got it home, gathered my family, put the case on the kitchen table and then dramatically opened my treasure chest to the astonished crowd.  They dug in and I had a couple more myself.   

Now you may be wondering one of two things: “Why do I bother reading a blog written by such a doofus?” or “What could the point of this story possibly be?”

In answer to the second question – it’s all about Jesus. (not cheeses)

May I compare my Jesus to pizza?  Why not?  He compared Himself to bread in John 6.

there is an enticing aroma to Jesus.  

Paul wrote, “Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”  (Eph. 5:2)   He compared Jesus’ work on the cross to the sweet incense offerings of the Old Testament.   The news that someone died so that others could live – that’s unsettling – its humbling – its enticing.

An aroma directs our noses to the source of joy.   This aroma may be wafting around your work place.  That girl at the other desk is different.  She is patient when challenged and she helps others when she could be advancing herself.  She endured her chemo treatments with courage from above.  She has been changed by the grace of the Lord.  She smells a lot like Jesus.

But how miserable to smell, and yet not be permitted to partake.  Not a problem.

we are invited to taste

The Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  (Psalm 34:8). David invites us all to experience the Lord – to feast on His mercy and grace – to personally know and enjoy Him.  Not a simple sample, but a banquet of His goodness. 

Last night my wife and I went to say our evening prayers.  I asked how I might pray for her.  She thought about it and said, “I really don’t have any concerns at the moment”.  Neither did I.  The Lord has been so ridiculously good to us.  We could think of nothing but to use our prayer to thank Him.  We have tasted and found the Lord to be extremely good.

And while Jesus completely satisfies, we will nevertheless long for more.  As the author of the hymn wrote, “More, more about Jesus; More of His saving fullness see, More of His love who died for me.”  When we have truly connected with Jesus, we never tire of Him.  

So, dig in and enjoy!

But remember, others are still suffering from the Braunschweiger blahs while Jesus offers so much more.  He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life and may have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

If you are fortunate enough to know Jesus, open that guitar case to your friends and family.

Bible citations from NET Bible ®

too close — October 9, 2019

too close

james ray johnson

My cousins and my siblings and I were playing hide and seek in the small basement of our home.   Hiding places for the slew of us were as scarce as hen’s teeth, but my little brother Doug improvised. 

He searched the back room and found that the furnace had a hood which extended downward to within 3 feet of the floor.  He was able to stand under it with his head in it.  A perfect fit.  Never mind that only his head and shoulders were hidden. 

Believe it or not, he was the first to be caught.  Game over.  In fact, we were done for the day.  Up the stairs and through the door and into the kitchen we went, where my aunt sat and nursed a cup of coffee. 

She sniffed the air and asked in a disgusted tone, “What is that horrible stench?” 

Well – it was my brother and the unmistakable scent of burning hair.  His crew cut had been scorched by the heat in the furnace hood.  His hair was reduced to ashy, crispy nubs.  Actually, he would look quite stylish today.

As I recall we all got a spanking for that.  Thanks Doug!

My brother did not incinerate – but he could have, because the person that gets too close to the flame often does.

That’s what happened to King David.  He was taking a stroll around his palatial penthouse, when he happened to look down upon another rooftop where a beauty was bathing.  Instead of moving away from the flame, he lingered and watched (and his hair began to smoke.)  Like my brother, he thought that he was hidden and could beat the game.

David used his kingly authority to make a royal mistake –adultery, which led to conspiracy, and then murder.  His example poisoned his children and his Kingdom was crippled.  It all began when he made the choice to stand too close to the flame. (2 Samuel 11)

Joseph on the other hand, was aggressively pursued by the wife of his boss.  He consistently resisted her and when she finally forced the issue, he left his toga in her hands and ran for cover. (Genesis 39)

Paul put it succinctly in 1 Cor 6:18, “Flee immorality.”  We just can’t stand in the flame or be anywhere near it.  We gotta run from it, fast, as soon as we sense the heat.  We need to put distance between ourselves and temptation.  

We were taught to pray about temptation in the Lord’s Prayer. Can we really ask Him to deliver us from evil if we are content to dabble in it?

So, what do we do about the flame?  How do we distance ourselves? 

We could get a filtering app for the phone to block the questionable stuff on the net.  And it would probably be wise to quit lingering at the Keurig with that hottie at work.  And if there really is power in suggestion, then maybe we should be a little more discerning about what streams onto our flat screens.

Years ago, I discovered an effective way to douse the flame.   Temptation likes to hide.  It lurks in the recesses of the mind and is potent as long as it stays in the dark. In fact, it grows there like a black mold. 

To disarm it, temptation needs to be dragged from out of the dark and into the light.  So, when I am tempted, I interrupt it, by verbally saying, out loud, “No!”  Using my lips to say it, and my ears to hear it, exposes the threat.  It gives temptation a cold shower.

As a pastor/counselor I have passed this secret on to many, (mostly men) who have also found it to be really helpful.

Well my brother was a hard core hide and seek player!  He stood there in the heat while his head was being charred.   Believe it or not, he is still with us and enjoying his 6th decade and he has a good-looking head of hair with more color than I do.  But he also has somewhat of a nervous tic.  He jumps every time the furnace kicks on.

my hair won’t beehive — October 2, 2019

my hair won’t beehive

james ray johnson

Annette (not my mom)

My mother wanted to honor her daddy by looking her best at his funeral, so she got her hair done up in a Bee Hive style for the occasion (ala Annette Funicello.)

It was raining that day, so she decided to reinforce her hive with some aerosol hairspray.

She and my sister rushed back into the house and into the bathroom. Mom quickly grabbed the can and wooshed it all around her head making sure to thoroughly coat every strand.

The effect was slightly delayed, but then it happened. Mom’s hairdo began to grow and glow.  It was poofing out exponentially.  She produced an instantaneous swirling, stark white afro. 

And that’s what happens when you spray your hair with Scrubbing Bubbles, which according to the manufacturer, is a “deep penetrating foam that clings to your bathroom surfaces.” (and your hair)   

My sister laughed hysterically until mom chased her out the house.  My mother finally got it under control and made the funeral in time – and she had several women tell her how wonderful she smelled.  (Plus her hair had no unsightly ring.) 

Things like that just happen when we aren’t careful about the outward appearance.  Worse things happen when we aren’t careful about our inward essence. 

The apostle Peter put it this way, “Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes, but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.”  1 Peter 3:3-4 – NET Bible ®

He addressed women in this case, but his counsel certainly applies to men as well.  He understood that we all like to look our best.  Nothing wrong with that.  Although some of us are quite handicapped. 

Someone once gave me the nickname, “The meandering torso” because my upper torso is disproportionately long compared to my bottom section (which is why my pants tend to sag, or at least that’s what I blame) 

Even I would like to look good, but Peter says, “Hey don’t just give attention to your outer appearance, think about your inner essence as well.  He called it, “the inner person” –  the person “of the heart.” 

Peter argued that it was quality in the inner person persona that grabs the attention of God.  It is “precious in His sight.”   The rest of us find it pretty attractive as well.

Gentleness in a person is alluring while harshness is repelling.  Patience is beautiful; a short-tempered person is beastly.  Kindness is a knockout while a harsh person you want to knock out.  Goodness is a virtue that is becoming while evil is beguiling.   One with a servant’s heart is incredible, but intolerable are the ego centric.

I know a young single woman who is both physically attractive and also has a sweet wonderful heart.   I have wondered when some intelligent young man would recognize her for what she is. 

Such a guy seems to have come along.  He recently pitched a party for her, to get to know her friends.  He stood before us all and gushed over her amazing Christian character – and then – he popped the question – right there in front of us all.

I had to choke back joyful tears.  It was a perfect match.  She had tended to her heart and he was captivated by it.  She said yes! 

A survey found that most of us spend between 11 to 30 minutes each morning getting ready for the day.   21% of men and 38% of women take over 30 minutes.  (Lifestyle, July 10th, 2012; Kate Palmer).  It takes times to look good!

What if we were to take the time that we invest in our morning routine and give an equal amount of time to the inner person?  We could read the Scripture, pray for our friends, text an encouragement to a struggler or even pour a coffee to go for a coworker.

That would be kinda like taking a can of spiritual Scrubbing Bubbles and applying it to our hearts. 

Naw. It would be better than that!  So shall we?

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