Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

calamity or opportunity — April 6, 2022

calamity or opportunity

She entered the house and heard the water running but couldn’t figure out from where – until she stepped into a lake in our kitchen.  It was growing and moving into the living room.

What a calamity!  She left our five-year-old in the house and hysterically ran to the neighbor.  With a panic pitch she begged him to help.  He found our water meter and shut off the flow.

My flustered wife, returned to the kitchen and was tickled to find our little guy there.   He had grabbed a boat and some people from the toy box and was having a super time floating that boat past the stove.

Some people look for opportunity in a calamity! 

The dynamic apostle Paul was one of those.  He was about 30 years old when he was commissioned to be the apostle to the Gentiles.

He then carried the Gospel to over 50 named cities in the New Testament.  Those cities were in the ancient nations that we now know as Italy, Israel, Saudi Arabi, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Sicily, Malta, Crete, and Greece. 

He established at least 14 vibrant churches.  To do all of this, he traveled on foot over 10,000 miles.  That compares to walking from New York City to LA times four.

He operated in high gear, driven by a mission to see people come to Jesus BUT he eventually ran into a brick wall.  He was arrested and taken to Rome for trial.  Like Jesus, he was unjustly painted as being a seditious threat to the Empire. 

His freedom to work was stolen.  The folks in those churches that he had planted, must have considered his jail time to be a calamity of catastrophic proportion.

But wait!   Because he was a Roman citizen, he was placed under house arrest for 2 years. He had to rent a home and provide for himself while he awaited trial.  And always he was chained to a soldier of the famed Praetorian Guard. 

There was 9,000 of them and all were stationed in Rome.  This Imperial force was the elite and most highly trusted unit in the Roman army.   There was always a Praetorian guard at the side of the Emperor.

Paul looked for the opportunity in his calamity and found it.  This is what happened according to Philippians 1:12-14. 

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly.”  NETBible ®

The captive had a captive audience chained to him, so he continued to preach.   Some of those soldiers were sorry they were chained to him.  Others came to faith.  This would have been significant because they were the most respected and influential military men in the empire. 

The scandal must have been whispered throughout the entire guard of 9,000.   The Gospel was strategically advancing as it saturated the leadership of the Roman Empire.

Bonus: Because Paul was sidelined, other Christians stepped up and began to fearlessly share the faith.  The number of evangelists at work was exponentially multiplied.

Double Bonus.  In the 2 years Paul was under house arrest, he also penned the letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.  Priceless truth was recorded over those 2 years.

In every calamity there is an opportunity.  This is true because our God is in sovereign control of all, and He promised to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose – even the things we consider calamities.

Take another look at that issue that’s eating your lunch.  You may find a place to float your boat too. 

A PRAYER: Help me to reframe the calamities in my life so that I see the opportunity in them.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

bema seat – part 2 — March 30, 2022

bema seat – part 2

Cycling is a sport with some crazy prizes.  There’s a race in France where the winner gets a piglet.  Wow – what do the losers get? 

In the Paris-Roubaix race they give the winner a cobblestone which was part of the pavement from the race.  Gee that’s nice. 

However, in the classic Hairibo race in France, the winner gets their body weight in gummy bears.  OK I’m in!

In Bema seat – part 1, we found that Christians will one day stand before Christ and be rewarded for the manner in which we have lived our lives.  (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

So, what is this reward and is it worth it?

The victor will be given crowns

James 1:12 speaks of those who “will receive the crown of life…”   The Greek word for crown is “stephanos” better known as the Victor’s Crown.  This was a wreath made of olive or ivy branches which was given to honor a military or sports victory.  It was worn on the head.  

There are 5 different situations where a victor’s wreath could be won 1) There is the Crown of rejoicing (1 Th. 2:19; Phil 4:1) which consists of the people we have led to Christ. 2) and the crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4) given to those who have labored to care for and disciple other Christians.  

3) And the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:6-8) given to those who live their lives in the light of Christ’s return, 4) the crown of Life is given to those who lose their life for the cause of Christ (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10)  5) and the crown of mastery (1 Cor. 9:24-27) for the one who faithfully completes the race of faith       

Now before you cast your ivy hat in the trash, let’s consider this.  In the first century a crown represented ruling authority

The victor will rule with Christ

When Christ returns, He will rule this earth for a thousand years. He will invite believers to participate with Him. 1 Corinthians 6:2 says, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?”  2 Tim 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.”  The believer who squanders their heritage today will be privileged to live and dwell in the Kingdom, but the believer who lives for Christ shall rule alongside Him.

The victor will receive commendation

To the victor, Jesus, Himself will one day say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) We all have our various love languages.  Mine is words of praise. Anticipating Jesus’ commendation motivates me way more than winning my weight in gummy bears. 

So what do we do about the Bema seat?

At graduation all of us got a prized piece of parchment. Among us were some who received special honors for stellar grades and college scholarships.  The Bema seat will be a graduation day of great rejoicing for all of us but it may be tinged with some regret for those who didn’t make a greater effort.

I have a container of foreign coins I have accumulated through my travels.  The money has value in the country where it was issued, but no practical value to me in the US.  Heaven is kind of like that.  We can accumulate lots of stuff down here.   But when we get there it will no longer have value.  We need to work to obtain an inheritance today, that will mean something when we get to heaven

Bruce Wilkinson, the founder of Walk Through the Bible told this story.  He spoke at a conference where he met a 9-year-old boy named Will.  Will asked Bruce to donate to his mission project? 

Bruce asked, “What’s the money for?”  He said, “It’s for people who live in the jungles so they can hear about Jesus.”  

Bruce said “OK but I have one rule: You have to give first.  I will match and multiply whatever you first give.”

Will’s eyes were as big as saucers then his face fell.  Bruce asked, “Don’t you like my idea?”  “Yes!”  “So, what are you going to do?” 

Will said “Nothing! I already gave everything I had.”  “You mean you put all your money in your own fund drive.    Will nodded yes.

Bruce said, “Will, I have another rule.  If you give everything, I will give everything too.  As it happened, he had just been to the bank and had withdrawn a considerable amount of money with which to finance his trip.  He opened his briefcase and gave a huge stack of cash to Will. 

I think the Bema seat will be a lot like that.  We sacrificially give and serve today, what little we have, only to receive a ridiculously lavish reward from Jesus in the future.  Serve Him.  You will never be sorry.

A PRAYER: Oh, Jesus give me the heart of Will    

This has been Jim Johnson will pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you   

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

bema seat – part 1 — March 23, 2022

bema seat – part 1

I like to work, but I don’t really get to enjoy my paycheck.  Payday at my house is like the Academy Awards.  I walk in the door and my wife says, “May I have the envelope please?”  (just kidding!)

Speaking of which, did you know that there is an award ceremony in your future?  The apostle Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

The place of judgment.

In the Greek, the phrase judgment seat is rendered by one word, “Bema.”  Back then, the Bema was a raised platform at the city gate, where justice was handed down and war heroes and star athletes were honored. 

The bema is a place of judgment, but fortunately Christ who gave His life for us on the cross is the judge.  When we stand before Him, we can expect him to be gracious and yet, fair.

The subjects of judgment

Paul says we must “all” make an appearance to undergo a thorough examination of the way we lived our Christian lives.   There is another judgment reserved for unbelievers (Revelation 20:11-15.) but the Bema is for those who believe. 

The basis of judgment

Paul said, “according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.”   We will be judged based on how we have lived our lives.  Jesus will be concerned with specific thoughts, words, deeds and attitudes – good and bad.

Wait! Doesn’t God forget our sins? (Ps103:12).  Yes, He does, He will never condemn a believer to hell because of their sins.   The Bema seat is NOT concerned about condemnation but rather commendation.  Jesus will be looking for ways to affirm us.

Another critical passage on the judgment seat of Christ is 1 Cor 3:11-15 where Paul tells us that Jesus will examine the quality of our work.  He pictures us as builders who use various materials: wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver and precious stones.  These materials symbolize the things we do as being either worthless or worthwhile   

For example, there is a specific reward promised for those who fast (Matthew 6:16-18) and those who give (Matthew 6:19-21) and for godly motivation (1 Corinthians 4:5) and worthy words (Luke 12:1-3) and for investing in others (1 Corinthians 3:6-8) and for extending hospitality (Luke 14:12-14) and for loving the hard to love (Luke 6:35) etc.

Our works will be tested, and Christ’s searing judgment will sift them as a fire that refines gold and silver, but consumes wood, hay and stubble.  Paul promised (vrs 14) that the one whose work survives the testing shall be rewarded.

But the one whose works burn, will be saved, yet so as through fire.   In other words, there is no possibility to be cast into hell, but his life’s work made of flammable, inferior materials will be lost, and he will go unrewarded. 

Think of it this way.  On the day we were saved we had nothing to lose, and yet everything to gain.  From that day forward, many of us engaged as Christians and we have been creating reward for ourselves. Others haven’t.  Some are still at net zero because they have treated their walk with God with apathy and indifference.  

You may ask, is this grace?  It is!  For we were once deserving of condemnation and hell, now having been saved, we have the unmerited opportunity to accrue treasure for ourselves in heaven.

The impact of judgment

So how should the prospect of this judgment affect us today.  In the next verse (5:11) Paul said, “Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people.” 

Paul spoke of his reverence for Christ as His future judge.  He feared being caught short of what the Lord would expect. So, he gave 100% to the work that God gave him to do.

Should a Christian be motivated by rewards?  Paul was motivated by many things especially his love for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:14) But it is clear here that the Bema seat was a considerable goad to him as well.  He wanted to win the prize.  How about you? 

A PRAYER: Lord help me to keep my eye on the prize. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

does it hurt? — March 22, 2022

does it hurt?

“He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  – Titus 3:5

According to Paul, a person is put through the wash when they are saved.  It reminds me of my Haiti experience.

Our mission team was in Haiti to put a roof on a church building.  I stayed with a family in a house that made my walk-in closet look big.  But the hostess was most gracious. 

It was at the end of day two for me.  I was desperate to bathe, but the new towel and washcloth, that I had used the day before, were missing.  Someone snatched them from the line.  Great!  It was going to be a stinky, sweaty week for me. 

Another day passed and the purloined linens reappeared.  Evidently my hostess took them down to the river, with her laundry, to wash them for me. 

However, she used the old beat-them-with-a-rock method.  They came back to me frayed and tattered with holes in several places and the fabric had a nice sandpaper feel.

She was all smiles – delighted to have been so hospitable.   I thanked her for her kindness and then took the washcloth and sanded off a layer of dirt from my arms.

_________

The washing took something new and made it useless.  When Jesus washes us, however, he takes the useless and makes them new. 

Theologians call this phenomenon, “sanctification” and it affects the Christian in three ways.

– Sanctification takes place the moment that we come to faith. 

It is then that God declares us as belonging to the clean ones.  In laundry terms, we have been placed in the special laundry basket of the redeemed.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, who were at time, grossly immoral, and yet he said, “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)   Paul addressed their sad lifestyle later in his letter, and yet nevertheless he recognized that they were saved and set apart for God. 

Because we enjoy the new birth, we also are given a new capacity to live righteously.  Doesn’t mean we will, but we have it within us because we have been sanctified.  All this is painless by the way, but not so with the second installment of sanctification.

– Sanctification takes place progressively throughout our lives.

This kind of cleansing is experienced.  This is where God trains us, corrects, teaches, refines, and transforms us, progressively, each day, so that we increasingly resemble the precious Son of God.   

Think of this as loading the laundry into God’s washing machine.  The churning and spinning and hot water can be uncomfortable for us, but necessary to work the dirt free.

But beware!  The darkness within us can be as stubborn to remove as that stain on your shirt.  This is because we have a part to play in this kind of sanctification.  Paul wrote, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires.” – Romans 6:12

– Sanctification is eventually completed.

This happens when we meet Jesus, face-to-face.  Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.” – Philippians 3:21

It will be then and only then that we will become perfect.  Think of this as pulling your wardrobe for the day from the dryer – the colors are sparkling bright, and the smell is meadow fresh. 

That will be you and me some day, thanks to God who sanctifies us!

A PRAYER: Thank you Lord for cleaning me up and getting me ready for heaven.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

leaning — March 17, 2022

leaning

We approached the place to dismount, unnerved because this was our first ride on a ski lift.   We pushed ourselves off.  My skis skittered a little, but I stayed upright.  But – my wife began to fall, and she tried to catch herself by latching onto wobbly old me. 

We ended up in a pile, looking like a weird appetizer with 4 toothpicks popping out.   Of course, they stopped the ski lift and every rider gawked to see what happened.  Where to hide?

Even more embarrassing – she did it to me two more times that trip.

_____

When you grab onto the wrong person – these kinds of things happen.  Take King Hezekiah, for instance. 

His kingdom was in big trouble.  The borders had been breached by the brutal Assyrian army.  They had obliterated every defense in Judah until they came to Jerusalem. 

Once the capital was surrounded, an Assyrian spokesman by the name of Rabshakeh confronted Hezekiah. 

He said, “This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What is your source of confidence?  Your claim to have a strategy and military strength is just empty talk. In whom are you trusting that you would dare to rebel against me? Look, you must be trusting in Egypt that splintered reed staff.…”  Isaiah 36:4-6

It was true!  Hezekiah was depending on his neighbor to the south, to come to his defense.  Egypt needed Israel to be a buffer state between them and Assyria – a good reason to join the fight. 

Rabshakeh wanted to undermine the king’s confidence, so he described Egypt as a “splintered staff.” 

A staff was a shepherd’s tool. It was about 5 ft. long and used for stability.  It was made of seasoned bamboo, strong and light and perfect for the job. 

But once it was dried, it became brittle.  Constant use would cause the ends to splinter and become sharp.

So, imagine a shepherd.  As he descends a steep hill, he stables himself by putting his hand on the top of his staff.  But he forgot that it was broken.  Screams of pain follow as the splintered ends pierce the meat of his hand.

That’s how Rabshakeh described Egypt. He said, “If someone leans on it for support, it punctures his hand and wounds him.”  (Isaiah 36:6)

The point (no pun intended) – Egypt may seem trustworthy, but she is incapable of defending Judah.  Lean on her and you will destroy yourselves.” 

He was right!  When we lean on someone or something that is unreliable, we end up getting hurt.

And yet that’s what we often do.  We lean on our investments to provide financial security and the medical establishment to protect our heath.  We trust our schools to always put the best interests of our kids first.  

We rely on our government to provide law and order.  We trust our employer to always do the right thing by us and our families to always be there for us.  We just assume our friends will always have our backs. 

Sometimes they deliver – sometimes they don’t.  And when they don’t – we end up with bloody hands.

Hezekiah decided that his enemy was right – so he forgot Egypt and turned to the Lord.  He prayed, “Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power, so all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”  – Isaiah 37:20  

Like my wife, Hezekiah and his nation were helplessly falling, but He reached out and grabbed for God.

And this is how God answered, “The angel of the Lord went out and killed 185,000 troops in the Assyrian camp.”  – Isaiah 37:36

The threat was completely eliminated, and Judah was secured. 

Do you feel like you are falling these days?  Leave your lean-to and grab onto God.  He is here for you.

A PRAYER: Lord I am so glad that you will never, ever let me down.  Thank You!

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

lumpy — March 9, 2022

lumpy

What game is well over 100 years old now, involves 2 players, a rope, a ball, a pole and a lumpy head?   

Tetherball of course! 

Back in 1909, a woman by the name of Jessie Bancroft, gave us the game in her book Games for the Playground.  You may remember Miss Bancroft.  She was the President of the American Posture League.  (They rejected my membership application)

Anyway, in tetherball, a ball is tied, by a rope, to the top of a pole.  Two players face each other.  One slams the ball with their fist, with the goal of wrapping the rope around the pole until the ball touches it. 

I remember learning the sport.  I would wind up and pound the ball as hard as I could, but before I could reposition myself, the ball would circle around the pole and hit me in the back of the head.  That’s the crazy thing about tetherball – the ball always returns to you. 

I seldom won, but tetherball taught me a life lesson that has given me a measure of wisdom which is this: “What goes around comes around!” 

Solomon said as much in Proverbs 11:25. He wrote, “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.” Solomon gave us a wisdom principle.  Be kind and generous to others and they will tend to treat you the same way.  I like the way that the New American renders it, “He who waters, will himself be watered.”  

This is consistent with our own experiences isn’t it?  A guy helped his neighbor mow his lawn when the man’s mower died, and that fall the neighbor joined him as he raked his yard.   The cashier was a little snippy, but her customer was so kind and positive, that the cashier volunteered to bag her groceries for her. 

The ball comes back around the pole to bring the blessing we sow.

But there is the flip side too. 

In Proverbs 26 Solomon also wrote about the evil we might do.  He mentioned lying, hatred and all other kinds of mischief.  He then capped it off in verse 27 saying, “The one who digs a pit will fall into it; the one who rolls a stone—it will come back on him.”

Pretty interesting imagery!  Wylie Coyote comes to mind.  He buys a shovel from the Acme Company to dig a pit in order to trap the road runner.  Inevitably he stumbles in himself.

In the next scene, he uses his Acme hoist to lug a boulder up a hill – still another scheme to steamroll his prey, but it breaks loose and leaves a paper-thin coyote.  Beep-beep!

Solomon wants us to know that the evil we say and do, tends to spin around the pole and return to hit us in the back of the head. 

I mean isn’t that right?  When she gets snippy with her husband, he’s inclined to get snippy with her.  One dad worked a lot and failed to find time for his kids.  Today they fail to find time for him.

These things often happen in real time, but if not now, the ball will come back to bonk us when we stand before God and give an account for our lives.  Paul put it this way in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.”

I got enough lumps in tetherball to know that I want to avoid the same in life.  I need to treat people right.  Fortunately, Jesus gave us a really handy gauge by which to monitor our behavior.  He said, “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31)  

Weigh every word. Consider every deed.  Choose to do well, cause it’s the right thing to do, and cause it’ll come right back at you.

A PRAYER: Lord help me be mindful and careful of the impact I have on others.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

prowler — March 2, 2022

prowler

If I were to start all over having kids, I might name each one “Siri” so they would answer me when I called.  I’m just being silly here, but it does cause me to ponder the perils of being alone.

I am thinking about the African Savannah, teeming with all kinds of safari life.  There in the tall grass is a hungry lion scanning the menu.  He spots a herd of wildebeests and fixates on the one that lags behind.  

Why is the mangy beest alone?   Could it be that he is tired, or maybe injured or sick, or maybe he had an issue with another wooly wildebeest.  Or maybe he was concerned about catching hoof and mouth disease from the unmasked.   Any of the above would make him the perfect prey.

The cunning lion is not going to attack a beast amid the herd.  Too much risk of failure or fatality.  He wants the loner – the one without the others to come to his defense.  Easy pickings. 

So, the lion lunges, lacerates, and then licks his lips over his tasty meal. 

I am guessing, this is why the apostle Peter used the lion as an illustration.  He wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.”  NET Bible ®

Peter tells us that we are the prey, and the devil is the apex predator.  Despite a world jam-packed with people, the devil is a picky eater.  He prowls about looking for a certain someone to devour. 

Who?  Like the lion, he often seeks the one who is separated from the herd.  This person isn’t meeting with and being with other Christians in a local church. 

Why might that be?  Like the wildebeest, maybe the person is tired – worn out by their last church – taking a respite.  Maybe they have been emotionally injured, disillusioned with the pastor or board, leaving a limp in their spirit; or maybe this person is in conflict with another beastly church member. 

Separated from the herd – vulnerable – the perfect prey for the devil.  He exploits that advantage.   He lunges and lacerates so that spiritually tender hearts are hardened, temptation goes unchecked and ethics are compromised.  This is what happens to the spiritual nomad.

The result: The bond between God and the believer is strained and icy – giving way to a meaningless faith, self-destructive behavior, broken marriages, and fractured families. 

And the devil licks his lips over his tasty meal. 

Oh, if that person had been with the herd, someone would have surely sensed the danger early on.  They could have intervened and closed the ranks.

The herd could have massed together and overwhelmed the devil with their prayers.  If one was injured, they could have surrounded him and protected him in his weakness.

We need each other.  We need to be with each other, whether we got the shot or not – whether our body has antibodies or not.   We need to gather with the collection of imperfect people called the local church – cause it’s the perfect place for us.

I have been part of a small church.  The community there was rich.  People cared and looked out for each other.  They prayed for each other when the times were good and especially when they were tough. 

They provided meals when folks were sick, or babies were born.  They celebrated the anniversaries and birthdays.  They did a great job of living with and loving on each other.  They stood strong because they stood together. 

I have also been part of a large church and found the very same kind of supportive community in a healthy Sunday School class or a Lifegroup.  

My friend, why don’t you return to the herd if you are currently away from your church.  Find one if you don’t have a church home.  It’s the smart thing to do. 

A PRAYER: Lord I am setting my phone to remind me on Sunday morning to get up and get to church.  Please help me to follow through!

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

deep sea distress — February 23, 2022

deep sea distress

Does God have a personal plan for you and me?  I hope so, because being a part of the collective isn’t much fun.    

My wife and I were down on the Texas gulf, when we decided to try deep sea fishing.   We knew nothing, but the captain supplied the boat, the bait, the tackle and the experience. 

We boarded with 40 or so other naïve fisher people and then cruised the gulf until the captain pulled near to shrimper.  Just beneath the surface, you could see scads of big fish in a frenzy over the shrimp. 

We were told to line up on one side of the boat, shoulder to shoulder, and drop our lines.   Immediately someone screamed, “Fish on!”  The fish fought – frantically swimming to and fro to escape. 

The line with the fish, became quickly entangled with the rest of ours.  Oh my – what a mess.  30 of us spent the next 30 minutes disentangling.   Meanwhile another snagged a fish, and the remaining 10 fisher folk snagged each other. 

It became clear that only the first one to hook a fish was going to catch a fish.  The rest of us sat on the deck and deknitted our lines.

___________

I hope God has a better plan for us than that!  Turns out He does! 

Paul wrote, “For we are his creative work…” (Ephesians 2:10)  

The phrase “creative work” was translated from one superb Greek word, “poiema.” Other translations have rendered it, “workmanship.”  We are God’s workmanship.  That sounds nice but it fails to capture the full breadth of the word.

“Poiema,” is where we get our English word, “poem.”  We are God’s poetry.  Other Greek literature of the day applied this word to a statue, a song, an architectural masterpiece and even a painting.   Which is to say that we are God’s works of art.

I love to create using words and music and though I have written over 400 songs, no two are even remotely alike.  Each has my unique stamp to it.  Such is the nature of art.

And so, it is with us – we have been uniquely and distinctively created by God who regards each of us as His masterpiece.  

And in our uniqueness, He has given us a unique purpose.  The passage goes on to say that we have “been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.

God has a special and unique plan for each of us based, on how He has crafted us. 

I think back to the book of Acts, where Paul referenced King David in a message.  He said, “For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors…”  Acts 13:36

God had a specific plan and purpose for King David to serve in relation to his own time, which the King carried out in his life.

So evidently, long ago, God said something like that about David.  “I have a plan for you, a specific purpose for you to fulfill in your life.  And though this plan will intersect with the plans I have for others, it will never become entangled with or thwarted by them.”  And David fulfilled God’s plan.

I recently went deep sea fishing again, BUT this time, my son-in-law chartered a smaller boat.  Just family!  The cap took us out to a school of blackfin tuna.  One at a time we took our turn in the “fighting” chair.  I landed two – no muss no fuss – and not a single tangle. 

When the individual is considered – good things happen and that is the way God does it.  In His sovereign power and wisdom, He manages the circumstances of our lives and accomplishes through us the purposes He has for us. 

I don’t understand how He does it, but I sure am glad He does. 

A PRAYER: Lord help me more each day to understand who you created me to be and what you have created me to do. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

All Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

an issue with the audio — February 16, 2022

an issue with the audio

A friend was having issues with his hearing.  It persisted for 3 weeks until he finally went to see his doctor.  “Hmm” the doc said.  “There is something in your ear.” 

He tried to remove it, but couldn’t, so he called in reinforcements – a nurse with a power wash!   And out it popped – the rubber part of an earbud.  Evidently, he really got into his music, or actually his music got into him. 

Ironic isn’t it?  Something that was designed to enhance his hearing, impaired it instead. 

I am familiar with that problem.

In John 10 Jesus presented Himself as the Good Shepherd and we as His sheep.  The passage speaks of the intimacy that the shepherd has with His sheep. 

In verse 27, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”   KJV.  A Christian has obviously sensed the Lord’s calling at the time they came to faith in Jesus.

But here, Jesus speaks of an ongoing conversation.  The verb “hear” is present, active, indicative, meaning that it is happening now. 

Jesus speaks to His sheep – words of encouragement, correction, teaching and more.

But we may not be hearing Him, because something that was designed to enhance our hearing, impairs it instead. 

Seriously.  Where do we go to hear from the Lord?  To church – to hear the pastor preach.  And why not?  He has spent 10-20 hours studying and praying over his biblically based message.  He has interacted with the Lord and is excited about sharing it. It’s worth hearing.

But the process is a little like the momma bird that eats and then regurgitates it up for her baby.  Sure, there are nutritional benefits to the predigested meal, but some essential things were lost along the way.

It was momma who sought out her own worm – experiencing the excitement of the hunt and the joy of discovery.   She savored the thrill of victory and then enjoyed a fresh, satisfying, tasty meal. 

Sermons, Bible studies, books, videos, podcasts or even this blog are great – but regurgitations at best. 

What our spirit craves is the joy of discovery and the excitement of the hunt, the thrill of understanding and the fresh, satisfying experience of hearing the voice of the Lord.

So, try this.  Open your Bible and chew on one of the stories of Jesus in the Gospels.  Some folks prefer to read several chapters a day.  I find that more time thinking about less is far more rewarding.

As you read, ask and answer 3 questions about your reading. 

1. “What do I see?”    Make a list of your observations.   Look for the who, where, what, when, why and how of the story.   Consider the details like a detective would a crime scene. 

2. “What Does It Mean?   Try to sum up the theme of the story in a sentence.  What is the moral of the story?  

3. “What does the Lord want me to do with this?”  How can you implement what you learned in your life?  Is there an attitude or behavior than needs to change?  Should you be encouraged, convicted, corrected?  What is the Lord saying to you through what you have read?

The Lord often speaks to us through His Word.  As we read it, we may identify with the men on the road to Emmaus who heard Jesus speak.  “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 ®

The rewards are boundless.  I have been studying my Bible this way every night for almost 50 years.  Sure, a person can tire of reading the same thing over and over, BUT, when the Lord speaks freshly to me as I read, there is nothing better!  So, grab your Bible and perk up your ears!

A PRAYER: Lord it frustrates me to know that You are speaking, but I am not always hearing.  Help me!

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

go-to place – part 2 — February 7, 2022

go-to place – part 2

When things look bleak in the present, I do as the prophet Jeremiah did. I think back to God’s faithfulness to me in the past.   (Lamentations 3:21-22) This story is my primary go-to place. 

In part 1, I laid out the scenario.  I had graduated from Bible College and needed a job but was rejected 43 times over 9 months.  I had a wife and 2 kids and a vision to do ministry ahead of me, but God seemed to stand in my way.  My wife suggested I apply to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) for more training and that’s where the story picks up again. 

_________

There was a big hurdle to jump. No one from my college had ever been accepted as a student at DTS (a number had been rejected)  But – 2 months after applying, I got a letter of admission.  I would be on academic probation.

In May of 1982, Sharie and I happened to meet a couple that had just graduated from DTS.  They told me of a printer in Dallas that hired students.  I just happened to work as a printer for the last 4 years. 

So, I made a 2-minute phone call to Mr. David Millet.  I told him of my plans.  He told me to come him tro see him when I arrived.  He didn’t say yes, but neither did he say no.

Then I got a call from an old friend – out of the blue.  He was attending DTS that summer and just happened to find my name on a list of several hundred incoming students. 

Without knowing of our need, He invited us to stay with him and his family in Dallas until we got settled.  That was a God send because we certainly didn’t have the money to make an additional trip to go apartment hunting.

So, though we had multiple green lights – we had little money – hardly enough to move, then to get an apartment and then pay tuition.  Truck rental alone would be $1,200 plus fuel.  There was nothing to do but wait upon the Lord.

Our home church was in the middle of a costly building program, and yet on July 7th they  graciously chose to give us $1,000.

We found that we could rent a truck in Columbus, OH (3 hours away) for $900 which would maybe leave us enough money to move and possibly rent an apartment in Dallas.  So, by faith we set a date to move.

Many kind Christian friends gave us gifts.  The church purchased a fine suit for me.  The women of the church had a shower for Sharie.   The president of my Bible College gave me some needed textbooks.

Then Sharie’s brother promised us 2 used bedroom suites for our kids which they desperately needed.  They were complete except for the box springs for one of the beds.    We drove to Columbus to rent the truck and would pick up the furniture on the way back.

While we were on the road, my dad’s neighbor carried some box springs to the alley for the trash man.  He saw my dad and told him he hated to throw it away because it was in great condition.   He asked if dad knew anyone who might need them.  Not knowing our need, he said, “Maybe.”  We arrived, my dad told me about it – and I was stunned at the goodness of God.

The truck rental place required an additional $900 refundable deposit.   I didn’t expect this and didn’t have the money – but I did have a credit card.  They allowed me to put the deposit on my card.

Ironically, my credit limit had been $600 for several years but the ceiling was unexpectedly raised to $900 just the week before.  The exact amount I needed.

To get the truck at the right price, we would need to return it to Columbus.  A friend, Robbie Jones, volunteered to drive to Texas with us and then return it.  The night Robbie arrived back in Columbus; another church friend happened to be passing through.  He conveniently picked him up and carried him the 3 hours back to southern Ohio

We arrived at my friend’s house in Dallas on Aug.1st with 3 urgent objectives.  Get a job, get an affordable apartment in a town which at that time had a 96% occupancy rate, and earn enough money to start seminary. 

We were determined not to take out any school loans.  And all this had to happen over the next 30 days.  Not sure how we would do that with the $200 we had left.

The next day I visited the printer.  I was hired in 2 minutes without filling out an application and I was promised more money than I had ever made in my life with flexible hours so I could pursue seminary. 

In the preceding months we had applied by mail to several federally subsidized apartment complexes.  That morning Sharie called each of them looking for a vacancy   Every single last one said there was at least a one-year wait. 

We were out of housing options, so I decided to go in person.  I visited the first complex that Sharie had phoned, and the manager basically said, “You moved to Dallas with no apartment, and you expected to get one when you arrived?  You’re are an idiot.” 

I went to the second place, told them my story and they asked, “When do you want to move in?”  – – And yet – they had told Sharie on the phone that there was at least a year’s wait.  We were in our apartment in 2 weeks.  3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths AC with a swimming pool for $130.00 a month

Got a job and an apartment. Still needed tuition.  It turned out that the print shop had a lot of extra work in August.  So, both Sharie and I worked, and I had my first semester’s tuition in hand by the start of school.  From that point on, God provided the tuition money in advance of each semester.  I graduated on time with zero debt. 

And that’s my story.  Not a single word of exaggeration.  It happened just as I have written.  But please don’t get the idea that this is everyday life for us.  It’s not.  It was more of a special season in which we needed to see the faithfulness of God in the most awesome way

But that’s where my mind goes to when I am struggling with hope in the present.  And it warms me and encourages me and gives me the strength I need to trudge on.

You probably need to find your own go-to place with God.

A PRAYER: Father help us all to remember and cherish those spectacular God moments in our lives. 

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 

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