Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

five-star Savior — October 18, 2022

five-star Savior

The most elusive endeavor: to find an item on a web retailer’s site, with solid five-star reviews. 

Looking for a guitar?  One person will give it a 5 because it’s pretty while another dings it cause it doesn’t have a cupholder.

There may be 69,000 great reviews but there is always a couple of 1- bombs that stops you from hitting the “add to your cart” button.

Where does one find consistent 5-stars?  Jesus!  He made that clear at Cana where He was a wedding guest.  Back then, wedding festivities lasted a week, so it was no surprise that they ran short of wine.

He spied 6 stone waterpots that would have held about 25 gallons each.  He asked that they be filled with water and then a sample taken to the boss.  The headwaiter was dumbfounded. 

He said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk. You have kept the good wine until now!” – John 2:10 NETBible.com

So typical!  The host of the party wants to impress so they serve the high dollar wine first.  When the senses of the guests had been dulled, he would dilute the wine to make it last for the duration of the feast. 

But the bridegroom, was praised for hiding the deluxe $200 a bottle stuff until the last.  Of course, they didn’t know that Jesus was responsible.

Please note that the emphasis here is that Jesus turned water into 5-star wine.  He had miraculously created about 2,400 servings of fresh and vibrant wine of the highest quality.

Jesus does not do average work.  He produces the highest quality.  But today He does it in the lives of those who trust Him. 

For instance, Jesus produces quality politicians.  Alabama Governor George Wallace was known as a bigoted, narrow-minded politician.  In 1963 he proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”   In 1983 Billy Graham shared a verse with the man. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul.”  Wallace gave his life to Christ shortly thereafter.  And in 1994 Mr. Wallace said to the world, “I was wrong.  I’m sorry!”

Jesus produces quality parents: Pastor Warren Wiersbe told the story of a drunken coal miner who was converted and began to share his new-found faith. A friend tried to trap him by asking, “Do you really believe that Jesus turned the water into wine?”  He said, “Yes I do.”  But He has done even greater miracles than that.  In my home he has turned the wine into furniture and decent clothes and food for my children.” 

Jesus produces quality professionals.  A friend told me, that when he began his law practice, he was not a pleasant person.  But he later allowed Jesus to take control of that part of his life, and he became one of the most sought after and well-loved people in his profession.

Jesus produces quality entertainers.  Comedian Jeff Foxworthy had his TV show canceled.  It caused him to rediscover his faith in Christ.  He said, “Money and success did not make me happy, but since I have decided to walk with God, it has changed my entire life.” 

Jesus produces quality athletes.  Mike Vinatieri was a kicker for the Patriots.  Ask him what he has on his mind when there’s six seconds in a tied game, and it’s up to him to make the winning field goal.  He says, “Trusting the Lord gives me a sound state of mind in those types of situations.” 

When water was offered, it was returned as wine.  When our lives are offered to Him, He infuses them with quality from heaven. 

His work has been reviewed by hundreds of millions of people for over 2,000 years.  He still gets 5-stars.

A PRAYER: God thanks for taking the water of my life and making it something special.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

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

broken cisterns — December 29, 2021

broken cisterns

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a clock in my bedroom, so if I wanted to know what time it was, I would play my guitar.  This provoked my dad to yell, “Son, do you know that it is 3 o’clock in the morning?”  “Oh, thanks dad!”

So what time is it? Well, it’s New Years – time for a drink.  I’m not talking about Champagne.  I have something way better in mind. 

The prophet Jeremiah tells us about it. He was speaking for the Lord when he said, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”   KJV (Jeremiah 2:13)

Living was a term used to describe water that was fresh and moving.  Like the snow melt from Mount Hermon in Israel.  The waters descend from above and produces cool, sweet, refreshing streams of pure water.   The Lord above compared Himself to such water. 

He also spoke of cistern water.  A cistern is a subterranean cavern built to capture and store rainwater.  It does not produce fresh water but simply captures the runoff. 

It was carved from the soft limestone that underlies much of Israel.  Because limestone is porous, the walls of the cistern were typically plastered to help them retain the water.

So, the people of Judah rejected living water for cistern water.  So what?   Of course, God was speaking of something more than H20.  He had spiritual/emotional cisterns in mind. 

This kind of cistern has to do with happiness.  It is that thing that we believe we must have if we are to be happy.   The people of Judah sought happiness from sculptures of stone and metal – satisfaction from pagan gods.

We are not as brazen, but just as foolish.  We tell ourselves, “I won’t be happy until I make the honor roll, or get rich, or I’m popular with the right crowd.  Maybe its success in sports or in the music industry, or maybe dating a particular person or owning that dream car.  These foolish beliefs are cisterns. 

The water from a cistern could be quite foul.  It was stored down deep until it was needed.  To drink of it, one would have to clear away a disgusting film of dirt and then draw water that was tainted with animal droppings, bugs and vermin.  It would cause illness and even death if not first boiled. 

Why would anyone ever choose cistern water over a mountain stream?   It probably has to do with control.  A person could dig a cistern on their own property and control it on their terms.  He can’t however own a stream.   Nor can we manipulate or control our God.  

So many of us choose the foul cistern water and just learn to tolerate it.

But the prophet also tells us that the cisterns are broken.  Israel rests on a significant geological fault and is prone to earthquakes.  So, it was not unusual to go to one’s cistern to find that the rock had shifted, the plaster had cracked, and the water had escaped leaving the pit dusty and dry. 

And so it is with our cisterns. Sooner or later, we will discover that they are broken and there’s nothing there for us. 

So how do I identify a cistern in my life?  Look inside.  What or who drives your decisions, dominates your conversations, absorbs your faith and is your financial priority?   If it is anyone or anything other than the Lord – then you may be trying to sustain yourself with cistern water.

We drink because we are thirsty.  The water of a cistern does not satisfy.  It poisons us and never delivers what we think it will. 

Not so with the Lord.  Jesus told us “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”  – John 7:37-38

Cheers!

A PRAYER:  Lord, through the years, I have filled in several of my own cisterns, and I occasionally dig another.  Forgive me and help us all be more discerning.

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com  

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

dis-concert-ed — March 24, 2021

dis-concert-ed

I was in the home of a friend who was approaching the end of his life.  It was my privilege to be with him, and to encourage, and read Scripture, and pray and sing for him. 

So, we were sitting in the kitchen facing each other, while I serenaded him with my voice and guitar.  

As I sang, I happened to spy a Texas sized roach as he scrambled forth.  This guy was brazenly bold.   It was a brightly lit inhabited room.  No scampering in the dark for this guy.

He stopped under the chair of my friend.  He then cocked his head upward and focused his attention on me as if he was listening to the concert. 

I didn’t know whether he was flattering me or needed to be flattened by me

As I launched my second song, he scampered off.  Simon Cowell could not have been more cruel.

____________

Music has always been a blessing to me, so I have tried to use it to bless others. 

And the Lord has given me a few ego inflating opportunities.  I have sung before a couple thousand at one time, had a song that I wrote recorded in Nashville, and I preached and sang in Haiti and had it broadcast by radio to the whole nation.  Those were the kind of opportunities I lived for – until I met Christ. 

Once I met Jesus, I took my guitar and laid it at His feet and told Him it was His to do with as He pleased.  He seemed to say “Go ahead and pick it up and use it for me.  Tell folks what I have done for you and what I can do for them.  And when it is all said and done, I won’t be interested in the far-flung places that you sang, or the large crowds at your concerts.  I will only want to know if you had been faithful – faithful with every opportunity – big or small.” 

At least that’s what I heard when I read Luke 16:10, “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.’”  NET Bible®

I, therefore, have tried to ever be faithful especially with the little.  These days I do several concerts each week for crowds of one – individuals who are facing their last days and need encouragement from sweet old hymns like “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and “When We All Get to Heaven” 

My friend in the kitchen lost the use of his eyes long ago.  And he didn’t get started with Jesus till, as he says, “It was too late.”  So, he doesn’t have a storehouse of truth to rely on.  But he savors the truth filled hymns.  He ponders the words after each is sung. 

As for me, I get more pleasure from that, than from singing to a sea of unknown faces. 

In conclusion…If my friend had gotten up and exited the kitchen, leaving the roach behind to listen, I suppose I would have continued to sing.  Maybe he needed the encouragement too. 

On the other hand, I hope there aren’t any roaches in heaven. 

So, what is your “little” and what are you doing with it? 

A PRAYER: Lord I really desire to hear you say to me, “Well done Thou good and faithful servant.”  May it be so.

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!

Jesus not cheeses — October 16, 2019

Jesus not cheeses

james ray johnson

After years in the delicacy doldrums, I buried my teeth in the most savory, sensational pizza ever to grace a plate. And I was invited to take home a load of leftovers.  Ah, but with what?

Let me backtrack.  My roots are Irish, but I went to a school where most were of Italian heritage.  I became enculturated.  I learned a few Italian phrases (some of which I was disciplined for repeating) and I was enamored with the cuisine. 

Italian mothers staffed the cafeteria, thereby filling the halls with daily, heavenly, Roma aromas.  Friday was the exception – that was stinky fish stick day.

But I, was made to take my lunch – always and forever.  I could expect one of 3 sandwiches in my Howdy Doody lunch box: peanut butter and pickle, bologna, or Braunschweiger.  The last one I could not pronounce or digest.   

But I got a break in 8th grade.  Our little garage band was invited to perform at the school banquet.  The cafeteria ladies served up the finest, spiciest, most wonderful pizza.  Heavenly stuff!

The band followed dinner and dinner followed the band – or at least this member.  I had a tough time singing I was so stuffed. 

I learned there was a mountain of leftovers.  They offered it to me, and I wanted it – all of it, every beautiful old-world pepperoni disc and stringy piece of mozzarella – BUT – I had nothing to carry it in. 

SO, I did what I had to do.  I removed my guitar and lined the empty case with pizza.  I carefully layered in each piece with the skill of a stone mason so that no space went to waste and then I latched it shut. 

It was a solid pizza guitar – 5” thick – and really heavy to carry.  I would have assigned it to a groupie except we didn’t have any. 

I got it home, gathered my family, put the case on the kitchen table and then dramatically opened my treasure chest to the astonished crowd.  They dug in and I had a couple more myself.   

Now you may be wondering one of two things: “Why do I bother reading a blog written by such a doofus?” or “What could the point of this story possibly be?”

In answer to the second question – it’s all about Jesus. (not cheeses)

May I compare my Jesus to pizza?  Why not?  He compared Himself to bread in John 6.

there is an enticing aroma to Jesus.  

Paul wrote, “Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”  (Eph. 5:2)   He compared Jesus’ work on the cross to the sweet incense offerings of the Old Testament.   The news that someone died so that others could live – that’s unsettling – its humbling – its enticing.

An aroma directs our noses to the source of joy.   This aroma may be wafting around your work place.  That girl at the other desk is different.  She is patient when challenged and she helps others when she could be advancing herself.  She endured her chemo treatments with courage from above.  She has been changed by the grace of the Lord.  She smells a lot like Jesus.

But how miserable to smell, and yet not be permitted to partake.  Not a problem.

we are invited to taste

The Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  (Psalm 34:8). David invites us all to experience the Lord – to feast on His mercy and grace – to personally know and enjoy Him.  Not a simple sample, but a banquet of His goodness. 

Last night my wife and I went to say our evening prayers.  I asked how I might pray for her.  She thought about it and said, “I really don’t have any concerns at the moment”.  Neither did I.  The Lord has been so ridiculously good to us.  We could think of nothing but to use our prayer to thank Him.  We have tasted and found the Lord to be extremely good.

And while Jesus completely satisfies, we will nevertheless long for more.  As the author of the hymn wrote, “More, more about Jesus; More of His saving fullness see, More of His love who died for me.”  When we have truly connected with Jesus, we never tire of Him.  

So, dig in and enjoy!

But remember, others are still suffering from the Braunschweiger blahs while Jesus offers so much more.  He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life and may have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

If you are fortunate enough to know Jesus, open that guitar case to your friends and family.

Bible citations from NET Bible ®

%d bloggers like this: