Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

the tollbooth — April 14, 2021

the tollbooth

I loved to hear my mother laugh.  And there was one story that would always cause her to giggle.

She and dad had been visiting in Georgia.  He was impatient and wanted to drive back to their home in Florida even though it was pouring rain. 

So, they departed that stormy night.  Soon after, he lost his way and was a little flustered.  Ahh, but the entrance to the tollway was just ahead.   Dad pulled up to the booth and handed a dollar to the uniformed man.  But the guy responded by saying, “Uh sir – this is an army base!” 

___________

Dad attempted to enter a place where he was not welcome and which required more than a dollar.  Some of us may have a similar experience one day – but it won’t be as funny. 

As someone who ministers to the dying, I have often found that they are usually confident that heaven awaits them, regardless of how they have lived or whether they are religious or not. 

According to Jesus, this may be a fatal presumption.

He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me…” – Matt 7:21-23

Shocking words and yet spoken by the Prince of love – because of His love for us.  He wants to awaken us from the blind presumption that heaven is a universal entitlement. 

The problem is that we want to hand the sentry a dollar to get by when something else is needed.  

Paul tells us what.  “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9

Heaven comes to us as a gift from God.  It is not a privilege that we earn, but rather receive.  It was purchased for us by Christ who bore the penalty for our sin.   We are given a pass to heaven the moment we look to God through Christ, in faith and say, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!”  – Luke 18:13

But how can we know that our faith is genuine?   After all, the Scripture says, “Even the demons believe…and tremble with fear.” – James 2:19 

The fruit of saving faith is the proof of saving faith. 

Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit that proves your repentance.”  – Matthew 3:8

In other words, the way we live, the values we embrace, the faith we practice, the Lord we serve tend to trace the validity of our faith.

We are saved by our faith in Jesus, but there should be evidence to follow.  Saul’s heart and behavior were radically changed after his Damascus Road experience, whereas, the thief on the cross experienced not much more than a changed heart.   But, both were produced out of a saving faith.

Now if this blog causes you concern, then it is likely because your heart already belongs to Jesus.  Why would you even worry about this issue if it didn’t?   Unless – you have never trusted the Lord, then your concern is drawing you to Jesus.   If that’s the case you probably need to whisper that prayer, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!”

When you and I stand at the toll booth in the sky, may we offer not a dollar, but evidence of a faith in Christ that has changed us!

PS: Social media is for sharing.  So share this. 

A PRAYER: Lord thank You for truth that will keep me from tragedy at the gates of heaven.

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

thorns — March 31, 2021

thorns

We once had thorny Pyracantha bushes ascending the walls on the front of our home.  The berries were a beautiful bright red, partly due to the blood I left in pruning them.

Why did God give us thorns?  They grab our legs when we hike through the woods.  They draw blood when we weed the garden.  They make the beauty of a rose unapproachable.    What was God thinking when He gave us thorns? 

I guess we should concede that thorns were not a part of His original design.  God created man and woman and placed them in paradise – a perfect, self-managed garden teaming with fruit and vegetables from which they happily dined.   

But Adam and Eve fell from grace by rejecting God’s plan for their lives.  So, God imposed some painful consequences. 

He said to Adam, “Because you obeyed your wife  and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’  the ground is cursed because of you;  in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat food   until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;  for you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-18 NET Bible®

Adam was made to become a farmer and his nemesis would be thorns and thistles.  God imposed them on Adam and Eve and all of us so that every time we prick our fingers or stab our foot with a thorn, we would think of our sin and its great cost. 

Thorns can get buried in your skin. They also burrowed themselves into the biblical story.    

Moses was chasing his sheep through the Sinai wilderness when he encountered God who appeared to him in a burning bush.  Guess what!  It was also a thorny bush!  Luke wrote this for us in Acts 7:30, “And after forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush.” – NASB

It was from a burning thorn bush that the Lord met Moses and called him to be the leader and liberator of God’s people.  So why did God choose a thorn bush as His platform? 

It was through Moses that God gave the us the law including the Ten Commandments.   This law became a measuring stick to remind us that we fall short of God’s standards.  And that was God’s intention according to Romans 3:20, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  NET Bible ®   

Its kind of crazy.  God imposed the penalty of thorns, and then later appeared amid them as if to say, “Sin is still a big problem.”

Fortunately, thorns continue to creep through the biblical story. 

The prophet Isaiah described Jesus in this way.   “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.”  Isa 53:6  KJV

The Father laid on Him the cost of sin – the iniquity of us all – which was symbolized by the crown that was laid on His head.

“The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe. They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face.John 19:2-3 NET Bible®

The Roman soldiers mocked His claim to be King by weaving a clownish crown and forcing it into His head. 

And of course, it was a crown of thorns.   The original Greek word for this thorny wreath is “kanthai,” which seems to be the root word of the Pyrocantha plant that grew on my walls.  Ironic I know!

Those sick soldiers didn’t realize it, but in crowning Christ with thorns, they would shout a Gospel message through the ages to come. 

The curse of the thorns in Genesis 3, was placed on Jesus who removed it by His death on the cross for us, “and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Think on that when you weed your garden this Easter Season. 

A PRAYER: Thank You Lord for bearing our thorns in your flesh.

dis-concert-ed — March 24, 2021

dis-concert-ed

I was in the home of a friend who was approaching the end of his life.  It was my privilege to be with him, and to encourage, and read Scripture, and pray and sing for him. 

So, we were sitting in the kitchen facing each other, while I serenaded him with my voice and guitar.  

As I sang, I happened to spy a Texas sized roach as he scrambled forth.  This guy was brazenly bold.   It was a brightly lit inhabited room.  No scampering in the dark for this guy.

He stopped under the chair of my friend.  He then cocked his head upward and focused his attention on me as if he was listening to the concert. 

I didn’t know whether he was flattering me or needed to be flattened by me

As I launched my second song, he scampered off.  Simon Cowell could not have been more cruel.

____________

Music has always been a blessing to me, so I have tried to use it to bless others. 

And the Lord has given me a few ego inflating opportunities.  I have sung before a couple thousand at one time, had a song that I wrote recorded in Nashville, and I preached and sang in Haiti and had it broadcast by radio to the whole nation.  Those were the kind of opportunities I lived for – until I met Christ. 

Once I met Jesus, I took my guitar and laid it at His feet and told Him it was His to do with as He pleased.  He seemed to say “Go ahead and pick it up and use it for me.  Tell folks what I have done for you and what I can do for them.  And when it is all said and done, I won’t be interested in the far-flung places that you sang, or the large crowds at your concerts.  I will only want to know if you had been faithful – faithful with every opportunity – big or small.” 

At least that’s what I heard when I read Luke 16:10, “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.’”  NET Bible®

I, therefore, have tried to ever be faithful especially with the little.  These days I do several concerts each week for crowds of one – individuals who are facing their last days and need encouragement from sweet old hymns like “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and “When We All Get to Heaven” 

My friend in the kitchen lost the use of his eyes long ago.  And he didn’t get started with Jesus till, as he says, “It was too late.”  So, he doesn’t have a storehouse of truth to rely on.  But he savors the truth filled hymns.  He ponders the words after each is sung. 

As for me, I get more pleasure from that, than from singing to a sea of unknown faces. 

In conclusion…If my friend had gotten up and exited the kitchen, leaving the roach behind to listen, I suppose I would have continued to sing.  Maybe he needed the encouragement too. 

On the other hand, I hope there aren’t any roaches in heaven. 

So, what is your “little” and what are you doing with it? 

A PRAYER: Lord I really desire to hear you say to me, “Well done Thou good and faithful servant.”  May it be so.

creamed — March 17, 2021

creamed

Our God is at war today – and you and me may be His targets!  I speak from experience. 

Many moons ago I was finishing up my bachelors in preparation for ministry.  I was confident that God would open the doors to a position in a church. 

After all, I had a GPA of 3.96 and I had planted and served in the leadership of a church.  I possessed endorsement letters from a couple of published seminary professors, and I could play a pretty mean guitar.  From my perspective, I was a great candidate for that perfect job. 

I was contacted by a large church in Austin.  A friend with national influence recommended me for a position as a youth pastor.   

They flew us down to Austin and housed us in the home of a staff member (so they could keep an eye on us).  We toured the church facilities and were impressed with the size and quality. 

They wanted me to meet with the Elders, but there were too many to gather at once – so they staggered the meetings. 

The first took place on an early Friday morning for breakfast.  There were 6 of us.  They were dressed in jackets and ties and ready to zip down the freeway to their law firms and banks downtown.

The waitress delivered our coffee.  Quickly the men began to pepper me with questions.  “What is your philosophy of ministry?”  How would you approach a teen with a smoking problem?” 

In the meantime, I was trying to treat my coffee.  The liquid creamer was packaged in a goofy little triangular bag.  It was designed so that you tear off the corner and squeeze. 

Did it – but no cream.  More questions.  Sweat on my brow.  Tear a little more – squeeze a little more – but no cream.   

More questions.  Knees are starting shake.  Tear still more and squeeze but no cream. 

Squeeze a little harder and finally there was cream – but not where I wanted it.  The back of the packet blew open and showered the jackets and ties of the 3 Elders on my right. 

Oh my!  They were angry with me, but in a pleasant Christian way. 

And so, my unemployment was prolonged.  They didn’t want me in Austin. 

As I pondered my experience, I asked the Lord, “Was that necessary?  The waitress could have brought that dry nasty powdered creamer.”

He directed my mind to His answer, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:6

Oops – – I get it Lord.  I was resting on my resume rather than You, so Ya let me taste a hefty dose of humility.  All my credentials didn’t seem to matter much after I drenched my potential bosses with a milk product.

The verse is disturbing but it is a concept that is repeated multiple times in the Old and New Testament.  I can only assume that pride is a pervasive problem with us ornery human beings and that God takes great offense at it. 

In fact, the Greek word for “opposed” was used elsewhere to describe an army that went to do battle.   The implication is – God goes to war with the proud.  The passage does not limit the target to those who do not believe.  It includes any who might be proud. 

So God goes on the warpath against pride and He has lots of bogies.

Arrogance often cloaks our political leaders.  I hear their boasts and I cringe, and wait for God to eventually say, “OK that’s enough.  You need a big serving of humble pie.” 

I worry about pastors and their empires.  Success is subtle as it poisons the ego.  This last year, in our town of 80,000 we have seen several of the pastors of our largest churches go down in the flames.   Could it be that pride was the cause? 

I am praying for a once happy family that is now conflicted and angry with each other.  The battle has gone on for months now.  Each party is waiting for the other to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry” but pride has pasted their mouths shut.

But forget about them.  I need to worry about me. 

I need to boast a little more – more like Paul, who said, “I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

My abilities are liabilities when I fail to recognize that it is God who is at work in me (Phil 2:13)

A PRAYER: Sometimes I am even proud about being humble.  Lord search me and know my heart.

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

McChurch! — March 10, 2021

McChurch!

My youngest son had just started his very first wage-paying job.  He came home from work each night smelling like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  

When he started the job, he requested Wednesday evenings off so that he could continue with his youth group Bible study.  But the boss, whose name may have been Ronald, just ignored him.

The next week my son wrote out a schedule of the hours he could work, and omitted Wednesday – and yet, again his appeal was cast asunder.

He didn’t want to forfeit the study so he asked the group to pray that the manager would respect his request.

The next time he reported to work, the boss approached him and said, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t accommodated your Wednesday request. I will fix it in the future.” 

The boy exclaimed, “Wow that was fast!” 

I have to say that I was one excited dad.  My son prayed and saw God answer in a spectacular and expeditious way.  He experienced God.  Awesome!

But I was just as excited that he made his church involvement a priority. He was willing to sacrifice the job (along with his McNugget discount) to continue meeting with his brothers and sisters in Christ.

________________

You don’t see much of that kind of commitment much anymore.

Covid has cleaned the church pews faster than sanitizer. But the attrition started long before that.   The church is being drained by weekend sports tournaments, work schedules, late night Saturdays and that lazy paralysis us that grips us on Sunday morning.

They must have faced similar issues in the first century, because the book of Hebrews says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.” – Heb 10:24-25

Believers were abandoning the time they met together as a church.  It was a habit, meaning they did it on a regular basis.  The Scripture says, “Don’t do it!”

Yes, but church attendance doesn’t open the doors to heaven to us.  We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.  So why do church? 

– It is something that we give to God! 

In the Old Testament, the people of God were required by law to attend the worship gatherings of Israel.  Track the journeys of Jesus and you will find that He was consistent in his participation.  Evidently it is extremely important to God that His people gather for the purpose of worship.  Why He would want my voluntary wimpy worship? I have no clue – but He does.

– It is also something that He gives to us.

A worship service is like standing on a mountaintop and taking in a breath of God.  The lyrics of the songs awaken us to the awesomeness of His being and warm us with reminders of His love and mercy.

Biblical preaching spiritually comforts, educates and provokes us.  It equips us as spouses, parents, laborers and neighbors that we might succeed.   

And then there is the benefit that we get from doing life with one another. 

The Hebrews passage tells us that we need to gather to spur each other on – to encourage each other to love and to do good works.  

Love feels like it has entered the ice age these days.  Hard heart disease is sweeping the culture.  We vaccinate ourselves from that kind of crass hardness by meeting with and being with each other in church.  (but it takes more than 2 shots)

It’s like soothing aloe after a day in the windswept, sunbaked Rockies.  Red, chapped, cracked skin is restored and made soft again. 

The passage says we also gather because the “day is drawing near.”  He was speaking of the day of Christ’s return.  

Who isn’t wondering if the turbulent times we face are fig tree signs of Christ’s return?   They may or may not be, but we take on the times with courage and support when we do it together.   That’s why we do church! 

So maybe it’s time we abandon the abandoning – and get reinvolved!

A PRAYER: Lord clear my schedule and my heart that I can be with you and your people next Sunday

All Scripture references from NETBible®

gray area — March 3, 2021

gray area

We were up in the modest but majestic Ouachita Mountains on a back-packing adventure with our youth group.  I, the youth pastor had thoroughly planned for everything except the weather. 

So, we were holed up, at night, in tents, while the rain poured.  In my tent were three bored teenage boys.

I decided we should play some cards to pass the time.   I shuffled the deck and taught them the game, “I doubt it.”

I said, “I’ll deal all the cards, then we’ll go around the circle and discard them in order.  If you don’t have what you need – you should lie and say you do.”  (unbelievable! a youth pastor who taught his kids how to lie) “The first to get rid of all their cards wins.”

They nodded as if they understood.  I laid the first card facedown, “One 2” I said.  Little brother then discarded “One 3.”  The next brother was short of 4’s, but nevertheless laid a card and said, “One 4.”  The tremble on his lip gave him away. “I doubt it!” I said. We flipped his card and found it was an 8.  He got stuck with the pile. 

On it went without a glitch till we got into the double digits.   Tens had been laid, and jacks were next.  But the oldest brother said, “One 11.”  “What – one 11?”  Before I could object, the next sibling laid down two 12s.  

It was then that I learned that these boys had never played nor had even seen a deck of cards before.  It was a moral “taboo” in their home!  (I promise this didn’t happen in the 1940’s)

I began to sweat bullets wondering how I was going to explain to their parents that I had stolen the innocence of all three all at once.

———

So what do we make of this? 

Christians have been given a body of truth that we are obligated to believe and practice.  Which is why there should be no debate that Christ is eternal God.

BUT we have also been given the freedom to come to different convictions concerning issues that the Scripture does not directly address – the “gray” issues they call them.  Like the kind of music we enjoy, our preferred style of dress or hair color; the Scripture translation we read, whether to patronize a brewery, or vote for a certain politician or buy a lottery ticket and yes, the use of playing cards.

Of these Paul would say, “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.”  1 Corinthians 10:23-24

In other words, it may be lawful for me to play cards, but not necessarily beneficial to the boys.  If my choice erodes the faith of a less mature Christian, then I am told to forgo it.

Too late – I blew it.  I unknowingly introduced the boys to the dark world of card playing.  I thought to myself, “Maybe I need to reeducate those parents – get them to loosen up a little.”

“Better not,” says Paul, “Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.”  Romans 14:13. 

ME: “But Paul they are uptight and confused on this issue and I really like to play cards.”   

PAUL: “Do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil.” (14:16)

ME: “Well, OK but it doesn’t please me.”

Paul: “The one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.” (14:18)

Me: “Well if I can’t play cards with the boys what can I do?”

Paul: “Pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another.” 14:19

Me: “OK, I guess I really need to be careful with these gray areas.”

While I was writing this blog, a large church group canvased our neighborhood to invite us to worship with them.  Every female was dressed in a longish skirt – perhaps a church wide conviction.   Ironically, the pastor’s last name is Gray?   

Though we may not agree, I prepared to welcome them at the door with the love of Christ.

As to my backpacking buddies.  Their parents did not flog me on Facebook, or leave our church, nor did any of the boys grow up to be reprobates (yet). 

And I learned a little more about responding to the gray issues

A PRAYER: Lord help me to walk in a way that does not cause others to stumble.

– Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

whatabungle! — February 24, 2021

whatabungle!

I blew it again!  In my defense, it had been a tough day.   My car broke down, my wife wasn’t happy, and I was running late for church where I had to teach that night.   

So, we dropped into a Whataburger for a quick bite on the way.   The young man taking orders, must have just started his employment there 10 minutes before we arrived.

My wife had to repeat and explain our order 4 times.   “Two hamburgers: one with mustard the other mayonnaise.”   When they were delivered – both had mayo.   She took back the mistake and he fell apart thinking that she was trying to covertly infect the place with Covid.

That’s when I lost it.  I went to the counter and with a stern voice and a scowl, I said, “We want two hamburgers: one with mustard the other mayonnaise.” 

Back at the table, my wife had more ice in her attitude than I had in my cup.   They corrected the problem; we ate and then drove to church in silence. 

And that’s when things really got bad.  The lesson touched on the wilderness episode when the grumblers cried for more water.  God told Moses to speak to a rock and it would issue forth in water.  (Numbers 20:8) 

Moses, however, had a bad day too.  Maybe his donkey broke down.  The Scripture says, “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the community together in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.” – Num 20:10-11  He struck the rock in anger rather than speaking to it as instructed.

Moses was hot! 

God provided anyway, but He had some choice words for Moses.  He said, “Because you did not trust me enough to show me as holy before the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”  – Numbers 20:12

The Lord was hotter – but with Moses. 

As I read those words to the class, the Holy Spirit rudely interrupted me and seemed to say, “Hey dummy, how can you teach this this stuff when you did the very same thing?”

I began to stumble on my aimless words until I blurted out, “Folks, I am sad to say that I just did this very same thing.”  I was angry and my words and attitude misrepresented the God I profess to serve.

And everyone got up and walked out!   (Actually, they were quite understanding.) 

So, have you ever had the Spirit of God sit on you for something you have said or done?  Scripture says His job is to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  – John 16:8  NASB

His is that still small voice that energizes our conscience – an umpire that helps us see straight when our minds have twisted the path. 

At times He speaks directly to our conscience as he did that night with me.  Sometimes He uses the written or taught Word of God again as He did with me. You may hear Him in the voice of another person or see his displeasure in the face of your wife while you eat a Whataburger. (with mustard)  

It’s an uncomfortable feeling – something you want to escape or cover up – quickly.  Some of us turn it off, like a smoke alarm that’s chirping.  To turn off that voice, however, is to grow to be calloused and insensitive to God and others. 

There is only one sane way to respond to that voice!   

After church I returned to the restaurant and found the young man still at his post.  I said, “I was here earlier and was impatient with you and I am sorry.”  He said, “That’s OK.”  I said, “It’s not.  Please tell the folks in kitchen that the old man with white hair came in and said he was sorry.” 

He was excited and he said, “Yes sir, what’s your name?”  I said, “Trevor Bergman.” (the name of my son-in-law) – – – Just kidding. I gave him my name. 

And I was able to fall asleep that night at peace with God and man, knowing that God was still speaking to me – and that I had taken responsibility for my sin. 

A PRAYER: Help me better tune into the frequency at which you speak.

Scripture references from NET Bible® unless otherwise noted.

stone age snow shovel — February 16, 2021

stone age snow shovel

Actually, the shovel isn’t really from the stone age, but it does look like something Fred Flintstone left behind.

God dropped 9 inches of snow on East Texas, where the only snow we usually see is in a cone covered with grape syrup.   Our world came to a stop.  Everyone stayed home and practiced “snowcial distancing.” 

The accumulation in my driveway had to be removed because the forecaster said more was coming.   “But how can I remove it?”  I wondered.   The only snow shovel around here is hanging on the wall down at the Cracker Barrell.

I had to improvise!  I raided my wood pile and found a cabinet door, and a 2 by 4 and then pinned them together with a lot of decking screws.  My shovel wasn’t very pretty, but it was sturdy and it worked. 

It was slow going, though.  The thermometer said 20 degrees and my fingers said, “Ouch.”   Texans have long endured the scorching months of summer and now frigid fingers too.  Is this fair? 

The snow was heavy, causing me to conclude that I overdid it on the size of my shovel.  It was at least as twice as wide as a store-bought shovel and four times as heavy.  I was ready to quit after 15 minutes of shoveling but I broke out a lawn chair and took a five-minute break instead.  (Hey, I am nearly 68 you know) 

It was tough work.  My mind was doing a two-part harmony with my back which was singing the blues.  Time for the lawn chair again.  

As I labored, I thought of one of my favorite Greek words – the word “hupomeno.”   It’s a compound word.  “Hupo” means under and “meno” means to abide or remain.  Put them together and the word means, “to remain under.”

It’s also a favorite word in Scriptures, used 23 times.  It is usually translated with words like perseverance, steadfastness or endurance.

The apostle Paul taught Timothy, his apprentice, that hupomeno was something worth pursuit.

He wrote, “But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance (hupomeno) and gentleness.”  – 1 Timothy 6:11 NETBible ®

Paul gave us a list of sterling character qualities and added endurance to it. 

So necessary!  Think of a weightlifter who has hundreds of pounds suspended above his head.  If his willpower softens and his arms sag, he may be crushed.  He must firmly remain under it to succeed and to survive.    

We may not be weightlifters, but we all face weighty challenges that stand in our way and threaten to defeat us.

– a boss that fails to recognize the value we bring to the job

– a spouse that has withdrawn

– a stubborn health issue that will not be resolved

– an addiction that seems to be an excruciating everyday battle

– or may it just be a snowbound driveway

I had to push forward through bitter temperatures, an aching back and icy fingers, but my biggest obstacle, much like yours, was internal.  “I can’t do this.”  “This is just too much.”  “What difference will it make?” 

So how do we respond?  We stand up under the weight.  We push forward toward the end and briefly rest when we need.  We lean on the kindness of others and we ask God to infuse our hupomeno with His divine power. 

It took about 4 hours of shoveling (and at least 10 breaks) but between my homemade shovel, and my commitment to persevere – we got it done. 

May you get yours done as well. 

PS: Texas is still expecting some nasty, nasty weather.  My shovel is available to borrow! Hupomeno!

A PRAYER: God help me to push on when life pushes back.

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage) — February 10, 2021

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage)

The newlywed couple wanted to learn to garden.  They decided to experiment with one lone tomato plant.  It was tender and small and ready to grow.  There was a plastic sticker in the soil that pictured the future of that plant – lush and large and filled with red juicy tomatoes.

They put it out on the patio and salivated as they waited for the fruit to come – but it didn’t. Each day the plant sagged a little more, the leaves yellowed, and the blossoms fell off. Its growth was stunted.

They became increasingly incensed at their plant.  The picture on the sticker mocked them.  This was not what they signed on for. 

They decided to help the plant meet their expectations.  Each day he went out and pulled up on the stalk about an inch or so, hoping to get it to the height where it would begin bearing.  She massaged the blossoms hoping to stimulate growth.   They were determined to get tomatoes from that plant one way or the other. 

They were dumbfounded to find that the poor desperate plant began to die.  She said, “Maybe we need to study up.” So, they found a book about tomato farming. 

Step 1:  Make sure the plant gets plenty of water.  “Oops,” she said. “I meant to water it.”    Step 2. Give it some plant food.  “What?  Plants eat?”  The list continued: prune it, give it plenty of sun, dust it for pests etc. 

He said, “No way.”  We already spent a $1.99 on that plant and it has given us nothing.  Plus, that sounds like way too much work.  “What’s the alternative?” she asked.  “Do we take it back to the store or just forget about it and leave it on the patio to rot?

Despite their anger and frustration, they chose to risk it and make the necessary investment.  They bought some pruning shears and plant food, and they committed to watering the plant every day. 

It wasn’t long after, that they enjoyed fresh salsa on their enchiladas and they (including the tomato plant) lived happily ever after. 

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Now forget the enchiladas and think about your marriage for a sec. 

When we marry, we have expectations of each other.  In fact, we even make vows to meet some of those expectations. 

But there are others that are not obligatory.   Like – “He will be the fixer of my car!  “She will cook as good as mom did? Or even “He will put the toilet seat down after he is finished.” 

We have a picture in our heads of what the marriage will look like – but there will surely be expectations that go unmet. 

A conversation would be in order – a transparent, loving discussion about what’s going on.  But change is hard for some of us. 

And when he/she doesn’t change, some of us respond as the couple did with the plant.  We try to manipulate and force change through criticism, manipulation, argument or just by making their life miserable.

“Why can’t you cook like my mom?”  “I always thought my husband would be a better provider.” 

“I wish you would have warned me about this before we were married.”  “You are sleeping on the sofa tonight.”  “My dad always lowered the toilet seat.”  And on its goes. 

That kind of toxic environment kills a relationship.  The marriage withers and dies just as surely as it did with the plant.   What then?  Take it back to the store in terms of a divorce; or maybe just do the “right thing” and stay together but ignore each other the rest of your lives. 

No one wants to live that way – do they? 

Better to consult the book.  And the book says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.  – Philippians 2:3-4 NETBible®

In other words, we need to create the environment of the tomato plant – to offer lots of water, and plant food, and sunshine and so on.  That is where growth takes place.

Instead of being critical of her housework, grab a vacuum and help out.  Rather than ridicule him because he doesn’t know how to change a tire, encourage him about the things he does well.   Praise her for her cooking!  Thank him for reading to the kids. 

Treat your spouse as being more important to you than you are. 

Forget the expectations.  Love your spouse for who they are. 

Forget the criticism – it is toxic and will never help your spouse meet your expectations.

Give your tomato plant a healthy place to grow and he/she will. 

And the tomatoes will be excellent! 

A PRAYER: Lord, help become a wiser gardener for the sake of my spouse, and the health of our marriage.  

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