Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

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. 

that thing you say — April 29, 2020

that thing you say

We were living the movie “That Thing You Do!”   It began with four bored teens in the mid 60’s who decided to start a rock band.  It didn’t matter that we couldn’t play an instrument.  Common sense had never stopped us before.

Steve located an old Stella box guitar.  Billy got hold of a beginner electric guitar that evolved into a bass.  I deftly pushed the buttons on a plastic toy chord organ and Terry gathered the trashcans to create a smelly but colorful set of drums. 

We taught ourselves and began to make music.  My earliest memories of our rehearsals have been repressed. We were pretty bad but determined.  It wasn’t long before we were booked to play at parties for $5.00 a gig. 

We soon upgraded our instruments and our personnel changed some.  We got a new drummer – an excitable guy named Bob, who kicked a hole in his bass drum about once a week.

And then we added a lead singer by the name of Gene who sounded like Mick Jagger but was better looking.  As a bonus, he had his own sound system. It was small, however, and Gene’s voice was lost in the din of the guitars and drums. 

We were getting better and upped our fee to $6.00 a party.  And then, an amazing opportunity presented itself.  The Franklin County Fair was having a talent contest with cash prizes.

We practiced every Rolling Stone song in Gene’s repertoire and picked the best to present.  The day of audition came.  My dad drove us to the fairgrounds in the tour bus (a 63 Ford station wagon).

They called out our name, “The Fourth Generation!”  We grabbed our instruments with trembling hands and did our thing.

The house sound system was amazing.  Gene’s lyrics could finally be heard and we were confident of making the finals. 

But, halfway into the song I looked up. The 3 judges looked like they had taken a swig of sour milk.  Was it my Beatle boots or maybe my granny glasses? 

And then I tuned into the lyrics.  He was singing, “Let’s spend the night together.  Now I need you more than ever….” 

Evidently the judges didn’t appreciate a song about shacking up for the night!  Consequently, the closest we got to the County Fair was the livestock exhibit. 

It was kind of silly.  We were broadcasting a message and didn’t know what we were saying.  Then again, it really wasn’t that unusual.  We Christians do it all the time.  

We may not know it but some of us transmit the idea that Christians are perfect or close to it.  And the world looks at us and laughs.   They should because we certainly don’t live that way.

Some of us even give the impression that Christians are better those who are not.  And the community looks at us as if they took a swig of sour milk. 

Perhaps, the most frequent miscommunication is the idea that the Christian life is problem free – that the Christian is entitled to be wealthy and healthy.  

It just ain’t true.  Covid-19 has seen Christians suffering the same as everyone else.  Some were put out of work, others are lost businesses, some were sick and some died. 

As I write this there is a tornado bearing down on our community.  If it lands, I am not expecting it to skip over my house because I am a Christian.  (I know, I know – I should be in the bathtub. Hey at least this blog is being saved to the cloud.)  

The Gospel message does not promise a problem free life.  The same rain falls on every head.   But God does provide the resources the Christian needs in order to cope – an umbrella with which to help us manage.

He extends the lifeline of prayer to us and promises to answer.  He lifts our hope from the mire of the present and sets it on the future.  He indwells us to give us the power and courage we would not have otherwise.  He provides a church family to walk beside us and we have Jesus who is ever present with us – a reminder that we are never alone. 

The Lord said, “Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you. I call you by name, you are mine.   When you pass through the waters, I am with you; when you pass through the streams, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not harm you. For I am the Lord your God.” – Isaiah 43:1-3 NET Bible ®

God doesn’t keep us from trouble; but He will carry us through it.

Maybe the present is a great time to evaluate the words we have been singing and to learn a new song that accurately communicates God’s mercy amid trial.

stolen piece — April 22, 2020

stolen piece

It was solemn moment in the service. Communion was being served. The tradition of the church was for folks to rise, move to the center aisle and go forward, receive communion and then return by the side aisle.

My friend Steve had just returned and had taken his seat when something in his peripheral vision frightened him.  There was a big, ugly, hairy animal on his arm.  He stifled a scream, jumped up and tried to shake the fearful thing off onto the next guy, but it had a tenacious hold on him.

He paused and realized that the beast was actually a bushy lady’s wig.   He snagged it with his coat button when he returned from communion.  OK this was absurdly embarrassing.

He discreetly scanned the row in front of him for a seated lady without any hair.  And there she was – an older, dignified matron who had no idea that her glory was missing.  Her husband noticed, however, and laughed himself under the pew.

I asked Steve what it was like doing church with her after that.  He said, “Every time they met, she gave him an icy stare and a grunt.

And who could blame her?  He exposed her scruffy scalp to the church!  He put her imperfection on display for all to see!   Oh my!

We will forgive him for that because it was an accident, but some of us do it quite purposefully.

During the Covid-19 confinement I had an occasion to personally speak with the Sheriff of one of our counties in East Texas.  I asked him if he was seeing the same uptick in crime that they were experiencing in New York.  He said not in terms of robberies, but the number of domestic 911 calls were spiraling up. 

Couples were getting into fistfights over the TV remote or a thoughtless remark – trivial offenses that didn’t really matter before.

I get it.  The quarantine is taxing. People are sitting around, with little to do, and their frustration is translated into impatience with their 24-hour-a-day companions.  Its crazy!  People are facing essentially a life and death situation and yet they are squabbling over who gets to wear the prettiest facemask. 

It’s at times like these we need the counsel of the Word of God. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.”   Col 3:12-13  NET Bible ®

I love every word of this prescription.  Our homes would be astounding if we filled them with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  But sometimes the only thing we are capable of doing is, “bearing with one another.” 

The word “bearing” in the Greek more specifically means, “to endure” one another.   To endure is to put up with someone.  Yes, your wife may talk incessantly when she is frightened, but who isn’t frightened at the moment? Instead of attacking her, maybe you just need to bear it. 

He thinks he owns the TV remote.  Why go to war over it?  He will be back to work soon, then you can wipe it down with a sanitizer cloth and have it all yourself.  In the meantime, maybe you just need to bear it.

Along with the “bearing” Paul adds “forgiving.” – always appropriate especially because we have been forgiven.   Maybe Steve should have been forgiven for heisting her hairpiece?

Solomon the wise adds this to the mix. “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.”   – Prov 17:9  NASU  Rather than camping on offense we should conceal it to minimize the embarrassment.  

Maybe the husband of the hairless wife should have quit laughing and discreetly helped to her to get rewigged?   As it was, she was on her own.  She turned, stared at Steve and said, “Hey you, boy, give me that hair!” 

Now of course, I am not suggesting that we should forever ignore personal differences.  A healthy relationship will withstand and prosper when effort is made to resolve these things.  But there are times, however, that its best just to bear them.  This may be the time!

bullied — April 15, 2020

bullied

I too went to a school that had its school bully.  He was 6” taller and 6” wider than the rest of us and wore a crew cut and a scowl.  I will seal his juvenile record by calling him Biff. 

Biff was always on the prowl, ever with a growl.  He pushed his way around and intimidated we wee ones.  He certainly liked to pick on me. 

One day we were sitting at the lunch table.  To my right was my bosom buddy.  We were pals because I was funny, and he liked to laugh.  Across from us sat Biff. 

I sensed an opportunity.  I waited until my friend grabbed his carton of milk and put it to his lips (the cool boys didn’t use a straw).  Then with the comic timing of Jim Gaffigan, I said something funny. 

His mouth instantly exploded with laughter, thus showering Biff with milk.  His face and shirt were covered.  It was so perfect.  The whole table of kids howled.  Biff reacted, jumping up and lurching across the table to grab me.

I got up and ran.  My friend watched and laughed.  Biff chased me around the cafeteria.  (Where was Sister Mary Cletus when I needed her?)   

I exited the school with him right on my tail.  I ran down Loretta Ave – one block, two blocks and three.  His face was a pace behind.  My lungs were starved for air, but I ran.

I circled back, thinking I could find help at school.  The cafeteria was empty – all had gone back to class.  I was alone and Biff did not relent.

I ran into the girl’s bathroom thinking Biff wouldn’t dare, but he did.  (Hey, did you know that the girl’s bathroom smells better than the boy’s) 

I was trapped in a stall, on a pot, cowering in fear, while he blocked me in with his massive frame. I trembled as I waited to get another beating.

I still remember that fearful sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.  

In fact, I am feeling it again – but this time the bully is a lethal virus that seems every bit as relentless. 

I watch the news and get a daily dose of despair.  The economy is unraveling, the death toll is rising, and the hope of full recovery is pushed back every day.  

And the aloneness is profound.  Social distancing is one thing, but the people and things that I look to for help aren’t there for me.  Government seems to dither, I can’t gather with the saints at church, and out of caution I am not able to be with my kids and grandkids.  

But I do find comfort in the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:16-18.  “At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it.” 

Paul, was in Rome at the time, on trial for preaching the faith.  The apostle was typically surrounded by a host of others, but at the time he went to trial, they bailed.  Should Paul be found guilty, he would face the lions in the Roman Coliseum while a bloodthirsty crowd cheered.  He was facing a frightening scenario.

It was a vulnerable moment for Paul when he said, “no one appeared in my support” – “they all deserted me.”   

He went on to say, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear.” (17)  He spoke of a unique experience with the Lord – as if the Lord was at his side, serving as his defense attorney.  

Of course, the Lord has promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20) but Paul seemed to be speaking of a unique experience – a special grace that he could sense. 

The Lord calmed the tremble in his hands, straightened his weak knees and gave him convincing and powerful words.  He strengthened Him. 

That’s what I need right now.  I want to sense the Lord standing with me.  I need to experience His strengthening.  Perhaps I would have it if I were to consult with my heavenly attorney more often through prayer.

Paul concluded, “And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth!”   He was acquitted and set free. 

Back in that bathroom stall, I was stunned.  Biff was ready to pounce, when suddenly he turned and just walked away.  Maybe he was a nicer guy than I had previously thought.  Either way, I too was delivered from the lion’s mouth.  And so, shall we! 

Scripture translation is from the NET Bible ®

is tissue the issue? — April 1, 2020

is tissue the issue?

Was there anything to laugh about in 2001?  Sure was!   Let me tell you about Miss Alice. 

Just three weeks after 9-11 there was a second scare that gripped the nation.   A demented person had mailed envelopes with anthrax spores to several politicians and media types.

It was about that time that I visited my sweet elderly friend Alice.  When I arrived, I found her nervously pacing in front of her home while holding her hands in the air.

I asked, “What’s wrong, Miss Alice?”  She ignored my question and asked me to turn on the garden hose so she could rinse her hands. 

I offered to open her home so she could wash with soap, but she gave me a terse, “No.”

Evidently, she had a small exercise ball in her mini-van which she had used over the past five years to help her arthritic fingers.  But on that day, the seam broke and the filling got all over her hands

Unfortunately, the filling was a white powdery substance.  Well Miss Alice just knew that some diabolical terrorist had sneaked into her mini-van and filled her little exercise ball with anthrax in order to kill her.

So, I explained that it would take a brilliant terrorist to be able to hide the anthrax in that ball, so that five years later it would break open at the exact time that the other attacks were happening.  No response.

I tactfully tried to help her see that elderly ladies were not a high priority on the terrorist hit list.  She didn’t believe me.  Her fears were blocking her ears. 

That week, she called numerous state and federal agencies and eventually wore down a bureaucrat in Austin who agreed to test her exercise ball for anthrax.  I wish I could have listened in on that conversation!

Once again, our nation is gripped with national anxieties.  Some of it is appropriate.  We should be concerned about viral social interactions and about the financial chaos.

But our responses are sometimes silly.

An Irish man recently had a painful accident.  His wife vainly scoured the town looking for pain meds.  She stood in a line at one pharmacy and saw that the woman in front of her had the last 5 boxes of what she sought.  She asked if she might have some for her distressed husband.  The woman obliged, “and admitted she didn’t actually need the medicine, but they were the only ones left in the store so she thought she should buy them all in case she couldn’t get them again.”   

Craziness! 

Jesus’ sensible words help in times like these.   He told us in Matthew 6:34, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”  NET Bible®

He prioritized concern for us.  He told us not to worry about what might happen tomorrow – with the stock market, or your job, or how you are going to cope with your bored-to-tears kids. 

Jesus wants us to plan for tomorrow (Luke 14:28-33) but He does not want us to worry about it.  

Then He gives us two reasons why.  First: “for tomorrow will worry about itself.” 

We know from our own experience that most of our tomorrow worries never materialize.   Issues tend to be resolved before tomorrow comes because we have a God who lovingly and sovereignly works things out for us.   Besides, we have no control over tomorrow no matter how carefully we plan.  

His second reason to forgo worry: “Today has enough trouble of its own.”  Sounds to me like Jesus was speaking from experience.  It is true, we need to spend our energies on managing the challenges that come to us each day.  We can control our response to these. 

But even with our daily concerns we can go overboard.  Which is why He also said “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”  He spoke of the Father’s excellent care for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air and then asked.  “Aren’t you more valuable (to Him) than they are?”  (Matthew 6:25-26) Of course we are!  

So how do we manage the anxieties of today?  The prophet Isaiah suggested, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” – Isaiah 26:3 – KJV

That’s the Lord’s counsel on this matter.  Don’t let your fears were block your ears.

I asked my wife to proofread this piece for me.  She was prompted to ask, “Do you actually think of these verses at a time like this?”  Hmm!  I had to mull that question overnight. 

In the morning I said, “No I do not think of these specific verses, mostly because I have assimilated their truth over the years – but yes, these are the specific kinds of thoughts that filter through my mind.  If this were not the case, I would find myself depressed if not despairing. 

I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to being anxious these days.  But when those toxic thoughts come, I try to redirect my mind to Him.  I count the ways He has loved me and mine in the past and trust Him to do so in the present.  It helps!

So, these are my thoughts for this week.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run over to Miss Alice’ house to see if I can borrow a roll of toilet paper.

tilt — March 21, 2020

tilt

Some of us grew up as latch-key kids.  Not me – I was more of a ten-pin tot.  My mom and dad were bowling enthusiasts and played in a league several times a week. 

They had five kids and dad didn’t make enough on a truck-drivers wage to pay for child-care (nor could they find a sitter foolish enough to take on we five). So, we spent a lot of unsupervised time wandering the bowling alley.  The clatter of falling pins and the smell of musty shoes is indelibly etched in my mind.

I had a routine.  I sifted through and tried out the loaner balls on the rack (until the day I dropped a 16 pounder).  I reached up into the soda machine looking for that one bottle that might have gotten hung up.  And I flipped open the cover of the candy dispenser checking for stray M&M’s.  I was often rewarded for my efforts.

I reached the age of 9 or so, (which felt like 90 in bowling alley years).  I had run all the traps and was bored.  Over on the far wall, were three teenage boys who were playing at a pin ball machine and going at it intensely.

I wanted to watch, so I sidled up to the game, stood on my tiptoes, lost my balance and bumped into the table.  This caused all manner of bells and buzzers to go off along with a flashing sign that said “tilt”  

For you non-pinballers, this was a safeguard built into a pinball machine to keep hotheads from abusing it.  Well I accidently triggered it and the moment I did, the game swallowed the ball and terminated the game.

The machine went silent and the boys – ballistic.  There was rage on their faces and viciousness in their words.  They called me names I had never heard before.

I can’t begin to describe the sense of fear that gripped me at that point.  We were in an out of the way place and my health and general welfare were obviously in danger.  I didn’t cry, but I wanted to.  I was too paralyzed with dread. 

One of the boys began to make a move toward me.  My little heart leapt out of my chest.  At the same time, I sensed some movement in my periphery.  Oh, my goodness, it was my dad.  He was headed from the bathroom back to the lane.   

He wasn’t aware of my crisis, but it didn’t matter.  I quickly slipped away from the boys and went over to walk with him.   Once by his side, the crisis was gone, and the comfort was great.  I didn’t even look back.  Didn’t need to.  My dad was way bigger than those boys and I knew he loved me.  I was safe with him.

I often think back to that experience.  I really do – especially these days. 

It seems that the world has gone tilt.  But the glares that threaten me now, come in the form a virulent virus and financial mayhem.

And though my daddy is in heaven, I still have a heavenly daddy.  I have a powerful, wonderful, all sovereign Father.  I am reminded that He encourages me to come walk beside Him through the chaos. 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. – Psalm 46:1-3

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4:

Jesus said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” – Hebrews 13:5

Paul reminds us “The Lord is at hand.” – Philippians 4:5

Our God does not practice social distancing. These are His promises to those of us that know Him and love Him.   If He should feel distant to you…

PRAY: Immediately after Paul said, “The Lord is near,” he followed it up by saying, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  – Phil 4:6-7

READ: Marinate over the words of Psalm 23.  Read it as often as you need it. 

LISTEN:  You must open this link and listen to Sara Hart who sings, Be with Me Lord.”   I have honestly listened to and even performed this song maybe a hundred times and yet every time it grips my heart and give me courage.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f_L0bz_wRY

ALSO: Check out Hidden in My Heart, Vol 1, 2, 3.  This is comforting Scripture put to quality orchestrated backgrounds.  My wife and I frequently play it in our home during seasons of stress.  You can buy it through a music service – OR you can listen to many tracks on Youtube.  Here is a sweet sample.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edfwnITsqT0

God Be with You!

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