Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

firewood folly — June 10, 2020

firewood folly

I have a grandson who is a budding entrepreneur.  His daddy brought down a tree in the front yard and then reduced the trunk to firewood.   

The boy seized the opportunity.  He took a cardboard box and made himself a sandwich sign.  He draped it over his shoulders and paraded around the neighborhood hoping to retail some of his fireplace fuel.  The sign said, “FRESH FIREWOOD.” 

I so laughed when my daughter sent me a picture of him with his sign. 

“Fresh” is a word that you might use to sell strawberries, green beans or baked goods – but not firewood. 

Fresh firewood has a 30% water content.  Have you ever tried to light a campfire made of fresh firewood?  You’ll waste a box of matches and scorch a few fingers trying.  If you should coax a tiny flame, you won’t maintain it for long.

The green wood needs to be seasoned for 6 months to get to the 20% level.  It’ll burn then.  He might have bumped up his sales if the sign had read, “stale firewood.”

As it was, he failed to make his first sale.

That’s kind of the way it is these days – fresh and new are usually regarded as being better.  Often, they are, but rarely when it comes to wisdom

Knowledge also needs to be seasoned.  Time and experience enable a person to take what they know and fine tune its application. 

A teacher fresh out of college may be knowledgeable, but it will take time before she becomes a wise teacher.

Unless I want help with my iPhone, I seek advice from an older person.  (This is a challenge for me since I am now old)  I want to hear advice from someone who has walked in my shoes and can look back with 20/20 vision to help me see what still lies ahead.

Suppose a young couple decides to get premarital counseling before they say, “I do.”   Who best to guide them? 

There is the young associate pastor who has been married for 3 years, but the senior pastor is also an option.  He and his wife have been happily married for 33 years and have raised 2 children.

The couple might be more at ease with the younger pastor, but they would receive the maximum wisdom dose from the senior.  The younger could say to them, “This is what my wife and I are learning – and this is how it seems to be working out.” 

The senior can say, “This is what we have experienced, and this is what we have learned from a host of other couples over the years – and this is how it works out.

He can bring to the table both the successes and mistakes that were made along the way. 

Or how about your child who lies with the greatest of ease.  You need some help.  Should you get it by surveying your Facebook peers OR invite an older wiser mother over for coffee and talk to her?

Of course, everyone has experience from which we can learn, but the experience span of a young person is dwarfed by that of an older person.

King Rehoboam needed advice.  His subjects complained about the burden that his father had imposed on them.  He consulted with his elder counselors.  They encouraged him to be a servant to his people and reduce the strain.  They would love him for it and serve him forever. 

But then the king summoned his young peers and asked them for their input.  They told him to turn up the heat and demand more of his people. (1 Kings 12) 

He heeded his youngers.  His harsh response triggered 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel to secede and a bloody civil war to follow and he spent the rest of his miserable life saying, “What was I thinking?”

As you make your way, go ahead get input from your peers.  Sometimes even your children have some jewels to pass on, but don’t forget to obtain and give extra weight to the advice and experience of godly seasoned folks.

And be cautious about buying any fresh firewood!

That’s Why — June 6, 2020
daddy doldrum — June 3, 2020

daddy doldrum

Judd and his daddy decided to try out our church.  They showed up for worship one bright Sunday morning.   The precocious 3-year-old was committed to the preschool class.  He was properly signed in and dad was given a claim check to present when Judd was picked up. 

After the last song was sung, dad went to get little Judd.  However, the teacher refused to release the boy.   Dad didn’t understand the system and had misplaced his claim check.  Unfortunately, he was unknown to our folks.   He could have been a predator or someone’s angry ex.  They had no way of knowing for sure if Judd should go home with him.

So, they wrangled with words in the foyer while the other parents came and left with their little ones.   Poor Judd was held hostage, until he was the last child left in the class. 

With great annoyance, dad suggested that they bring the boy out for a face-to-face identification.  The teacher agreed.  Judd was fetched and marched into the foyer.   He looked up and saw the great concern on his daddy’s face.

And then the test. He was asked, “Judd, is this your daddy?”  Without hesitation Judd said – “No.”

He then ran back to the toys he had been playing with.  

Dad was speechless and embarrassed. 

But little Judd was in a tough spot. The new toys were fun and to acknowledge his dad meant leaving them behind. 

I understand!  There was a time in my life when I was enamored with toys – my guitars, my ambitions, my relational conquests, my academic achievements and so on.   Some were wholesome while others were downright evil – but they made up the sum of my life. 

Meanwhile, I simply refused to acknowledge God the Father who crafted me.  Like Judd I pretended I didn’t know Him and went back to my fun.   It finally took a crisis to help me see that I was stupidly choosing perpetual life in the preschool.

Judd is now a teenager, but his daddy still loves him.  He drops off a sack of groceries at the church every week.   OK not true.  The preschool teacher eventually decided that she had a Sunday dinner to make so she released Judd.

And after some coaxing, the prodigal son grabbed his daddy’s hand and went home.  It’s good that he did.   Since then Judd has been smothered in love by his family, he has enjoyed many birthdays and Christmas mornings where he received ten times the toys he left behind, and he has shared a lot of cool outdoor adventures with the daddy he once denied.

This same dynamic translates into the spiritual realm.  The apostle Paul said, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”  – Phil 3:7-8 (KJV)

Paul left behind a busy life of lesser things.  He called them dung – a revolting comparison.  He left them that he might enjoy the things that the Father had for him courtesy of Christ. 

He knew that he could not have both.  You just can’t hold grab onto the Father’s hand until your hand is emptied.

The day finally came for me when I said, “Yes that is my daddy!”  That was the day I began to experience the richness that comes through Jesus.  He granted forgiveness and a guilt free path ahead.  He loved me without condition and infused my life with meaning.  He has led me, protected me, walked with me and blessed me in countless ways.

I gave up dung to get delightful.

As for you, you may still be in the preschool class.  You can remain if you prefer.  But know that the Father, your Father, has way better waiting for you.  Feel free to contact your local pastor or me if you would like to discuss it.

They held hands — May 30, 2020
does God use a clicker? — May 27, 2020

does God use a clicker?

So, what is a clicker?  I shall explain. I was schooled by nuns – the sisters of Notre Dame.

They wore long sleeved, black, ankle length robes and a black veil with a broad white band across the forehead.  They were girded at the waist with a rosary bead belt, big enough for Andre the Giant.

To this day I don’t know how sister Mary Cletus played such excellent kickball in that outfit.     

Their favorite disciplinary tool was the clicker.  At least that’s what we, the clicked, called it.   

It was about 6 inches long – a spindly piece of oak – a short knobby table leg. Attached to it, with a thick rubber band, was another piece of oak – a slender dowel rod.  Depress and then quickly release the dowel rod and a loud resonant click is produced.

The clicker was for control.   Click: the class lined up; Click: the line moved forward; Click: we stopped; Click: we genuflected; Click: we filed into the pew for mass; Click: we sat down.   

Seldom was a word spoken.  We were programmed to respond to the click.  Which may be why I am confused today by the sound of a click beetle.

It was a versatile tool.  When a child failed to heed the clicker, the click became a clunk.  A kid would feel its knobby wrath on their head. 

It was standard nun equipment.  Each school morn, they reported to the armory and were issued their clickers.

It was the time in the mass, to receive communion.  I was taught that communion without prerequisite confession was a big no no.  But this 10-year-old was absent on the day the class confessed.

What to do?  Skip communion and displease my teacher or do communion and anger God.  Would it be better to be struck with the clicker or a bolt of lightning? 

God was nowhere to be seen, but the nun sat next to me, so I stepped into the aisle with the rest of the class.  As we inched forward, I began to sweat, and my folded hands began to shake because – I really was afraid of God.

He had His own clicker.  Click: go to church; Click: say your prayers; Click: stop hitting your sister; Click: go to confession before you take communion.  Get out of line and expect to get clunked with God’s clicker.   

It was only reasonable for a kid to project onto God the character and ways of the religious folk that represented Him.   

I trembled as I opened my mouth to receive communion – but – there was no divine retribution.  I returned to the pew asking myself why?

Years later I learned that God looks at me with a smile on His face rather than a frown. 

I waited for Him to demonstrate His wrath, but Scripture says, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  – Romans 5:8

Sure, He has His standards, but He Himself lived them out on my behalf. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”  – 2 Corinthians 5:21. 

Now He empowers me to live His truth.  “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So, the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  – Galatians 2:20. 

When I fail, He responds to me with patience, mercy and grace. “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.”  – Hebrews 4:15-16

He motivates me not by threat of hell but by His love for me.  “For the love of Christ controls us…”  – 2 Corinthians 5:14 

Such a radically different but wonderfully accurate picture of God.

If there is a lesson in the story; I guess it’s this: A kid really does project onto God, the character and ways of the religious folk that represent God.  

So, how do you represent God to your children or your grandchildren?   What of God does your 3rd grade Sunday School class see in you?  Are you quick with a clicker – or full of patience, mercy and grace?    

– All Scripture references taken from the NET Bible ®

Nothing More — May 23, 2020
something’s afoot — May 20, 2020

something’s afoot

Some folks have a foot fetish.  I, on the other hand, have a foot phobia.  I do not like feet – not big ones, not small ones.  I do not like them in a box.  I do not like them in my socks. 

Which is why I also avoid foot washing services.  For you non-initiated, a foot washing service, is a rite in some Christian denominations where the members kneel before and wash the feet of one another.  This is done out of obedience to Christ who called us to follow His example.

The Lord and I have argued about this at times.  Lord, I want to be an obedient disciple.  I am glad to tithe, even willing to up it to 11%.  And I am happy to read my Bible and pray every day – but can we just forget about foot washing?  Fortunately, my faith tradition has spiritualized foot washing as deeds of service for one another. 

But then I went to Haiti.  The big crusade was about to begin, and several thousand folks were expected to jam the soccer stadium each evening.   I was the guest speaker and it was a big deal.

My face was plastered on posters and banners throughout the Port au Prince area.  My voice would be broadcast throughout the nation by radio.  My ego was more inflated than a ticket to Disney World.

The sponsoring churches and pastors met beforehand to pray for a great moving of God.  It was then that my translator garbled something to me about a foot washing.  I went into near cardiac arrest.

The bigtime preacher and the key pastor were expected to start it off, on the platform, in front of the church.   He began.  He knelt at my snow white, soft, tender feet and washed away the lint from my socks.

I then knelt at his aged, black feet and I saw Haiti.  He had seldom worn shoes which caused his feet to be calloused and stained with the texture of tree bark.  His toenails were distorted and strange.  I was more than repulsed. 

But – I went to Haiti to touch people with the Gospel.  Should I not be willing to touch this good man’s feet in order to do that?  I poured the water and gently toweled his feet dry.

As I did, something died within me.   It was a putrid pocket of pride.  By washing his feet, He washed my heart.  This was exactly the kind of cleansing I needed before I should stand before the throng and proclaim the truth.

Something also happened in the hearts of the Haitians who were present.  They witnessed the great white hope from Texas, as he humbled himself at the feet of one of their own.  They saw me wash the dust and the dung of Haiti from this beloved pastor’s feet and it was as if I were washing theirs.

It was in that singular moment that I had earned the permission to speak the Gospel to them.

Humility is probably the most understated of virtues and yet its power to impact is exponential. 

Paul reminds us that Christ “humbled Himself” in order to accomplish the redemption of mankind.  He chose to submit Himself to self-serving leaders who twisted justice into the form of a cruel cross.  Jesus humbled Himself to reconcile all men to Himself (Colossians 1:20)  

Pride tends to be met with pride while humility provokes a humble response in others.  Perhaps that’s why Paul told us to embrace Christ’s attitude.  (Philippians 2:5) 

You said some exceptionally hurtful words to your wife.  Now she says, “I’m leaving.”   Humble yourself!   Wash her feet by taking responsibility for your part in the mess.  The words, “I am sorry,” have dressed many wounds and averted countless disasters. 

Your son is angry that he must do chores.  As a parent, you feel you have the right to demand it, but your demands are met with defiance.  Humble yourself.  Wash his feet by helping him gather up his dirty laundry. 

The group that you lead is dead-locked and the infighting is out of control.   Humble yourself.  Wash their feet by laying aside your agenda to support that of another.  

The crusade ended and was regarded as a raging success.  The Lord used me and my team to reach many spiritually hungry Haitians for Jesus.

He washed away the sins of many, but it began with the washing of the feet of one.

lion heartless — May 14, 2020

lion heartless

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Those were the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 4th, 1933, as he became the 32nd President of the United States. 

Those words would have been just as relevant had he said them yesterday.  The grip of Covid seems to be loosening a little, and yet the experts are predicting a lingering and significant financial fallout and possibly a recycling of the virus. 

Be that as it may, the greatest threat has been and still is fear – fear of reopening for business, fear that my business won’t recover, fear that there will never be a vaccine, fear that my job is lost forever, fear that I’ll be sued if I cough at the grocery store, fear that my kids are never gonna get back to school.

And fear can make us do funny and irrational things. 

It was a zoo day for my wife and I and our youngest who was maybe 11 at the time.  We wandered over to the East Texas section to gaze upon bobcats, otters and eagles. 

As we rounded the corner, we came face-to-face with a mountain lion.  We do not have mountains in East Texas, but evidently, we have mountain lions.  They must use the same map app that I use.

Anyway, the lion was behind a wall of thick plexiglass and was settled far back in his faux natural enclosure.  She noticed us and lifted her head with curiosity.  My son entertained her with some antics that piqued her interest even more.  In fact, she tensed and began to slowly rise to her feet.  Her gaze was fixed on my son like he was a tasty gazelle.

And then, in a flash, she exploded forth (at 40 mph according to the experts) and didn’t stop until she came within a millimeter of the plexiglass.   It happened in 2 seconds. 

My wife and I were stunned – awestruck.  We looked over to see how our son reacted, but – He was gone.  He had run 30 feet away in the opposite direction also at 40 mph.

We nearly fell down laughing.  After all, the cat was contained.  She was securely controlled yet still he fled in fear. 

Some of us are running with him.     

But we need to know that our God has caged that which threatens us.  This is to say that our God is in control – total and complete – and this containment exceeds the strength of plexiglass. 

This is how the Psalmist put it, “Look! Israel’s Protector does not sleep or slumber. The Lord is your protector; the Lord is the shade at your right hand.  The sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from all harm; he will protect your life. The Lord will protect you in all you do, now and forevermore.”  – Psalm 121: 4-8 NET Bible ®

Did you catch how often the words protect and Protector were used?  Go back and read it again.  Our God is here to protect us from the razor-sharp claws of Covid   He contains the jaw-crushing bite to business.   There is no reason to run in fear.  

It’s been said that nothing can touch us which has not first passed through the hands of God. Now it’s true, He will sometimes allow us to be distressed in order to grow us and nudge us closer to Him, but never will He allow us to be destroyed – distressed but never destroyed.  

I confess that if I were to graph the level of my hope these days, it might track with the erratic ups and downs of the stock market.   Embarrassing but true.

My hope and yours, needs to be fixed not a fixed rate of return, but on the Lord of whom it was said, “For he has put everything in subjection under his feet.” – 1 Corinthians 15:27 NET Bible ®

Take a moment today to peer through your particular plexiglass pane.  What is it on the other side that causes you to tense up?  Then plant your feet before it, knowing that God stands between you and that threat. 

just a singin’ — May 9, 2020
a wacky wedding — May 6, 2020

a wacky wedding

I have some dear friends who think they were married to each other – but they weren’t totally sure.

They met with their minister well in advance to plan out the wedding service.   It was decided that they would compose their own wedding vows.  Then with doe-eyed affection, they would recite them by memory to each other during the ceremony. 

That was the plan, but wedding prep can be hectic, and the vows didn’t get written.  So, they punted and opted for the minister to do the traditional, “Billy Bob, dost thou take Sally Jean as thine wedded wife?…” 

Well….they are not sure who dropped the ball.  They didn’t realize it until they were cutting the cake, that they had gone through the entire ceremony without exchanging vows of any kind.

Being in a church, at the altar, amid the flowers, amid maidens in pastel, does not make a couple married.  It’s the commitment they make to each other that seals it.   

The same can be said of being a Christian.  I sometimes encounter folks who identify as Christians.  Perhaps someone was raised in church.   But as an adult, he has no association with a church, he knows little about the Bible, and he prays only when the Cowboys are down in the fourth quarter.

He identifies as a Christian because that’s what he knows best, but having been associated with a church does not necessarily make him a Christian.  In fact, his limited association may even work against him. 

Researchers are looking for a vaccine at this time that will protect us against Covid-19.  This vaccine will be made of a small bit of the virus which they will inoculate us with.  The vaccine will essentially trick our immune systems into perceiving that we have had the disease already, so that we will not get the full-blown package. 

I meet people all the time who have been inoculated by their past church experiences.  They got just enough of Christianity to keep them from getting the whole thing.  This was certainly true of me at one time.

What is lacking is the commitment.

Now you may argue that the Bible says salvation is a gift.  And it does.  Paul wrote, “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.  NET Bible ®   

The Gospel is about receiving God’s gift of salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it.   But what does the word “receive” imply?

Suppose a guy gets down on one knee before his girl and opens a jewelry box with a beautiful diamond engagement ring.  Then he says, “It’s yours for 3 easy payments of $29.99 and if you act now, I’ll double the offer and pitch in a wedding band – just pay for shipping.”  

Ridiculous.  An engagement ring is a gift – a priceless, pure and simple gift with no obligation -except for one.  He expects to hear her say, “I love you and I will change the course of my life to merge with yours.  I want to be with you.  Yes, I will marry you.”   

And in a similar way, when we “receive” the gift that Christ offers, He expects to have our hearts.  He expects that we will want to be with Him. 

Suppose that girl said to her suitor, “The ring is beautiful. I think I’ll keep it.  But no, your nose is crooked, I don’t want be with you.” 

The ring box is snapped shut and into his pocket it goes.   He dusts himself off and moves on. 

Yeah, I don’t imagine a girl would ever do that, but it is a frequent occurrence with Jesus.  “Yes Jesus, I’ll take your gift of salvation, but I don’t really want to do life with you.” 

When that happens, I am pretty sure that the box goes back in His pocket and He dusts himself off and moves on. 

This is your opportunity now to do it right – to say to Jesus, “Yes I will receive the gift you offer.  I will change the course of my life to merge with yours because I want to be with you.”

Please don’t wait until you are cutting the cake to realize that this was a commitment that was never made.

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