Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

makin’ it count — August 4, 2021

makin’ it count

It’s a universal experience.   We key in a critical document only to find out later that it did not get saved – don’t know why!

Wasted effort; striving in vain; pointless labor.  There are few things that frustrate me more.  

At times I have been tempted to pray, “Lord I don’t know what happened to that resume, but I need it.  Could you do a divine undo and restore it to the hard drive?”

So far, He has ignored that request, but I wonder if God ever redeems a wasted effort.

She has prayed that God would save her alcoholic of a husband – she feels like she is wasting her breath.   He prepares diligently each week to provide a good class for the junior highers at church.  They could care less.   She has to correct her children on the same things over and over.  She’s convinced that they will never get it.   

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My wife and I were invited to participate in Gospel Sing hosted by a local church in southern Ohio.  We said yes but came to rue the decision.  The event took place on a bitter cold January night. 

We found the little country church perched high on an icy hill about a 30-yard climb.  We hauled a guitar, a 3-year-old and 4-month-old.  Oh fun!

We reached the peak after much slipping and sliding, entered the building and were surprised to find that it was a one room affair.  It was even serviced by an outhouse which was an icehouse that night.  This did not sit well with my wife.  (if you know what I mean)

KC was an infant that had to be continually jostled or he would wail.  So, while other groups were singing, I would jostle my son.   Just before our turn, I handed KC to a friend and gave him jostling lessons.  Someone needed to do it while we sang.  

Sharie and I began to perform our collection of original songs.  Soon after, KC began to scream.  My friend had failed his jostling exam.  The wailing reverberated off the walls of that small church building.  (and the congregation snickered.)

The boy’s howling was louder than our singing.  We needed to reduce the distraction so Sharie reclaimed him and resumed the proper jostling technique while she sang.  It gave her voice a new level of vibrato.  (And the congregation laughed.)

At this point our 3- year-old felt left out.  So, she climbed up the platform and began to cling to and circle us while we sang.  She passed through our legs and occasionally stopped to face her fans and pick her nose (and the congregation roared) 

We finished our set and sat – sure that had been the biggest wasted effort ever.  There were so many things that distracted from our musical message. 

However, months later, the pastor of that church found me and expressed his gratitude for our ministry.  On that icy night, we had taught the church a song that we had written based on Philippians 4:13. He told me that the church had sung that song nearly every Sunday since. 

Wow!  What we had regarded as a massive waste, turned out to be a meaningful investment in the Kingdom of God. 

The apostle Paul put it in perspective for us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”   NETBible ®

“Stick it out” he said.  “Keep praying and singing and teaching and parenting “knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”    God has an amazing ability to somehow take our waste and turn it to gold. 

I had a friend in high school who was studying Mandarin.  I was perplexed and asked him why.   He said he wanted to be a missionary to China.  At that time there were zero missionaries in China.  It was isolated and all westerners were unwelcome. 

“A wasted effort” I thought.  But several years later we met again at the very time he was leaving for China.   The nation had finally opened up to outsiders and he was already equipped with Mandarin.   Isn’t God’ amazing!

SO, “Be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 

A PRAYER: Lord help me stick it out when I’m tempted to sit it out.

a song in the haze — March 25, 2020

a song in the haze

Her dementia was pronounced.  Most of the day she wore a blank stare, and seldom broke the silence with a word.  Her body was atrophied as well.

As a Hospice Chaplain, my job was to bring her spiritual encouragement.  (Anna, by the way, is a fictitious name but she was a very real person)

I had been a pastor for 32 years and had learned to care for the sick and dying.  I thought I knew the ropes, but then I met her and wondered, “What could I possibly do to make a difference?”

I made my first visit just as the aide was finishing with Anna.   She got her looking good and smelling sweet as a rose – but Anna didn’t like the primping.  She was hotter than a tamale. 

Nor did she appreciate my intrusion.  She said the first and only word to me I would ever hear her say – a four letter word.  OK, not the best time. I got that. 

On my second visit, she was on her bed, thrashing and groaning, obviously tormented by something in her hazy mental world. I spoke but she ignored me.  I tried again but she would not be interrupted.

I sat with my Bible in hand, perplexed as to what to do.  She wouldn’t or couldn’t listen.  I had my guitar with me.  Maybe I could at least compete with the din she was making.

As I began to croon Jesus Loves Me, her groaning started to ebb.  She even paused at times.  Wow!  I played another song and another and she seemed to take it all in.

After the concert I held her hand and prayed and I told Anna I loved her.  I left the room feeling good – like maybe I got through.

Next visit:  She was alert and peacefully laying under a sheet.  Her pretzel of a leg was propped up on the other with her foot dangling in the air. 

Once again, I grabbed the guitar and sang to her.  There was no response, but I guess it was appreciated because she didn’t groan or cuss me out. 

But during the second song, I noticed that her suspended foot was moving.  I couldn’t believe it!  It was bobbing – up and down – to the tempo of the music – in perfect time.  A metronome could not have been more accurate. 

She was really listening, even participating in the experience. I really was getting through.  Excellent.  It made me glad that I didn’t give up.  

The apostle Paul had a message for people like me.  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 15:58-(New American Standard Updated Version)

Paul knew of the discouragement that comes with what appears to be a futile effort – preaching to the hard hearted, or teaching the apathetic, or trusting and untrustworthy coworker.

He passed on what he had learned when he said, “be steadfast (stick in there) immovable (like a rock) always (not sometimes) abounding (with complete commitment) in the work of the Lord.” 

He gave us an incentive when he promised that our toil (extremely hard and sometimes disappointing work) would never be in vain (useless or fruitless) in the Lord. 

When we persevere in doing that which God wants us to do, good things eventually come of it. 

So, Mom: When your 2-year-old throws a tantrum, stay the course.  He needs you to be firm.

Student: You may have blown the test, but you haven’t blown the course.  The Lord got you into that school and He will get you through it.  So, work smarter and harder.  It will be worth it.

Husband: The marriage seems to be hopeless, but you can do wonders by consistently loving and serving your wife – no matter what.  It will take time, but it will not be in vain.  

Teacher: Your class seems to be incorrigible.  Give them your best, every day.  It’s what the Lord would have you to do.   Your persevering love and devotion will change them. 

When I get to heaven, I hope that Jesus will remember my attempt to be a steadfast man for Him.  I long to hear Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”   If I should hear sweet Anna chime in with an, “Amen.”  Even better!

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