Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

don’t love the messenger — May 27, 2022

don’t love the messenger

I would never leave my wife – because I love her and because no one else would ever have me.  When I was a teen, I came to believe that my middle name was “homely.”   But there was one moment, in my teenage drama that still shines in my memory. 

There was a beauty about.  We’ll call her Bonnie.  My friend Barry was attracted to her.  But because of his fragile ego, he appointed me as his go-between to speak on his behalf.

So, I found her and began to talk with her.  “Oh no boyfriend huh?”  I relayed the intel to Barry, and he was pleased.  He sent me back for more. 

I asked about her hobbies and family and school and of course I told her all about Barry.  He was so delighted with my report that he sent me back with more questions.


And on it went.  Several conversations later, it was clear that Bonnie was smitten.  Not with Barry – but with homely old me. 

She had fallen for the messenger.

_________

Does that ever happen at church?

It does!   Paul and Barnabas were preaching in the town of Lystra.  There they healed a man who had never walked a day in his life. 

The pagan populace was astounded so they said, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”  –  Acts 14:11-13 

The Lystrians were misguided.  They fell for the messenger rather than the Lord of the message.   

And isn’t that we sometimes do with Christian leaders? 

Pastors, teachers, evangelists are all part of God’s good provision for us.   But we can become more attached to them than we are the Lord.

Have you ever heard comments like these?  “I skip church now because I listen to the celebrity preacher on the internet.” “I don’t read my Bible much cause I listen to that woman’s podcast.”  “This new pastor – isn’t like the old one.  I’m out of here.”

Or what about this, “My pastor can do no wrong.”  Really?  It’s this kind of assumption that makes it possible for a megachurch pastor to be a sexual predator or an embezzler and yet have the board and congregation beg to keep him in the pulpit.   This happens a lot.

Or maybe the opposite takes place.  The pastor errs and the faith of his congregants is eroded.  They pitch out Jesus with the preacher.  Bad things happen when we confuse the messenger with the Lord of the message. 

So, Paul responded to the folks of Lystra, “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! “– Acts 14:15a

Our leaders are flesh and blood just as we are.  They need accountability not worship. 

Then Paul said, “We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God.” Acts 14:15b Paul argued that he was only a messenger with a mission.

In the same way, the task of those who lead us is to direct our hearts to God and not to themselves. Don’t give your heart to the messenger and beware of any messenger who may try to take it.

It was my honor to serve as a pastor.  When I finally left that one church after 32 years of service, I left the hearts of my congregation behind.  I loved them and most of them loved me.  But their hearts were not mine to keep.  They belonged to Jesus.  They still do.

Listen to the messenger but give your heart to Jesus.

A PRAYER: Lord, I thank you for the many faithful folks who lead your flock, may they always lead them to You.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com   

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

Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®

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.

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 ®

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