Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

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bite the onion — March 27, 2019

bite the onion

James Ray Johnson – 650 words

I was a youth pastor in Texas, working with a budget that was slightly less than what a Texan spends on snow shovels.  What I lacked in funds I tried to make up in fun.  So, this night we were playing “bite the onion.”  

I sat the kids in a circle and placed the biggest, strongest, hottest onion I could buy, in the hands of a boy.  The rules: pass it around the circle until the music stops.  If the onion stops with you, then you must truthfully answer a question from the one who just passed it to you.  You can refuse to answer, but if you do, you must take a bite out of the onion. 

Eye of the Tiger began to pulsate (It was the eighties – OK) and the onion zipped around the circle like a hot potato.  (Oops I mixed my metaphors or my vegetables or something.)   Then I stopped the cassette. (Like I said, it was the 80’s) Sadie got stuck with the onion (the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed).  She was asked, “Do you still sleep with your stuffed Orca?”  “Yes, I do” she defiantly declared.

More music – then it stopped with Blaine.  “Blaine, did you take a shower yesterday?”  Without hesitating he took the first chunk out of the onion, and then ran for some water to wash away the burn (and maybe his body odor).  

The evening got increasingly less truthful and the onion, much smaller.  It stopped with Angie this time.  “Do you have a crush on Billy Bob?”  (which isn’t a fair question because a quarter of the males in Texas go by Billy Bob.)  But, everyone knew this one.  He was sitting in the circle. 

Angie turned every shade of red.  She refused to answer BUT she also utterly abhorred onions.  She was stuck – the game stopped – and the mob grew restless.   They chanted their demand, “Bite the onion – bite the onion.”  

Suddenly, Cathy ran to her, seized the onion and took a big crunchy bite.  The mob was stunned to silence.   What just happened?  Evidently, she cared enough for Angie to bite the onion for her.

The group decided that the rules had been met, the onion had been bitten and Angie was free of her obligation. 

The story was a gift.  I later used it to explain to the teens what Jesus has done for us.  In the end, each of us will be left holding the onion because each of us has violated God’s instructions. His ultimate rule is, “the one who sins must die.”  I sensed Angie’s angst – holding the onion and knowing that it has earned a penalty that would be a terror to pay.

But Jesus came forth and grabbed our onion of death and buried His teeth in it for us.  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 6:6-8) -NET Bible®

I reminded the kids that some of us try to vainly earn the approval of God.  Angie simply released the onion and let Cathy take and eat it.  Not much more is required when it comes to Jesus.  Acts 10:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”  -NET Bible®

The story of the onion helped them to see their need for Jesus.  Some chose to believe in Him and receive the gift of forgiveness He offered.

If you are still holding on to your onion, maybe it’s time to release it and let Jesus handle it.  He is anxious to take care of it for you. 


If you have 4 more minutes, pull up this video of Mark Mitchum (a deaf man) who signs the song, “What Sin?”  The message of the song and his fluid expressive movements still cause me to tear up.  (even without an onion) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AynCUpZya2s

No Fare! — February 27, 2019

No Fare!

We were bored and bottom-of-the-bucket broke, so several of us junior highers decided to become caddies.   It looked easy on TV.  The caddie followed the pro around, lugging a bag of clubs.  Sometimes he whispered stuff in his ear like, “Hey check your fly. You’re on TV for goodness sake!”   We could do that.

Early the next morning the four of us walked to the course.   If GPS had been invented, we would have known that it was 11 miles away.  Maybe we should have consulted a map first?  Oh well!  We finally shuffled into the clubhouse in the late morning only to have our ambitions crushed. “We don’t use caddies here!”   Hmm!  Maybe we should have called first!  Oh Well!

There was an optimist among us.  He mentioned another course in Worthington, the next town over.  So, we back-tracked 6 miles and then caught a city bus.  It was now well after lunch time and I had just used my last 20 cents for bus fare.  It was worth it – better than a limo.

The bus reached our stop and we tried to get off, but the driver said, “That will be 10 cents!”  “Why?”  He said, “Because we entered Worthington and there is a surcharge of 10 cents.”   So, each of us begrudgingly dropped in another dime. 

I was last in line and in a panic.  The only thing left in my pocket was lint, but he wouldn’t let me off until I paid my 10 cents.   The bus was stopped, the driver was irked, the rest of the riders were grumbling with impatience, and my friends were already off the bus.

I suddenly got a premonition of the future – me, trapped in a bus, on an endless loop to nowhere.  If I were lucky maybe a girl would show up someday who had made the same mistake.  We could marry, I could work as the bus driver (white socks and all) and we would have little bus babies.  

The daydream was broken by the sound of a rattling coin in the fare box.  Another rider took pity and dropped in a dime – for me.   With humility I whispered, “thanks” and jumped off.

That was a ridiculously hopeless feeling, but it was not a feeling that was new to me.   I grew up with the idea that I had to pay my way to heaven.  I needed to go to church and pray and give and live a stellar life and then – drop it all in God’s celestial fare box.  That was the price to get to heaven.

I worked hard at all those things, but I would also wonder if what I did was ever enough?  What if my bus pulled up to heaven and God were to say, “Sorry buddy, you are 10 cents short. You aren’t getting off till you pay up.”?

It wasn’t until later that I learned that I could contribute nothing to my journey.  God looked at my good deeds and called them “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  My efforts were costly, and they looked good, but they accomplished little.

Then I came to understand Jesus and the reason He came.  The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) NET Bible®   It was Christ who paid my fare.  He suffered and died on a cross in my place to bring me to God. 

When I accepted His gift, I was invited to get on the bus and when that bus finally stops at the gate of Heaven, I will move toward the exit in confidence because Peter used the word “once.”  Christ suffered “once” for my sins to bring me to God.  It was enough to cover every contingency.  Jesus paid it all – forever. 

From the bus stop we walked another mile to a posh country club.  It turns out, that they did employ caddies, but not the likes of us.  Besides, all the golfers had gone home to have the evening meal with their families.   So, with tails between our legs, we turned and walked home – which was another 10 miles.  

That day we ambitious but naïve kids walked about 26 miles and spent 13 hours doing it.  What did we learn?  Two things:  1) Mowing lawns is an easier way to make money; 2) It’s wonderful to have someone who is willing to pay what we are incapable of paying.

Enjoy the original song below!

Up the Hill. Written: Jim Johnson.  Vocals: Sharie and Jim Johnson 

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