Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

trapped — November 11, 2020

trapped

He was as wriggly as a nightcrawler about to be hooked!   

Each night we read the Bible with our preschoolers and ended our time in prayer, on our knees at the sofa.   While my wife and daughter and I focused minds and hearts on our prayers, my boy was sitting, standing, rolling, sighing, twiddling – and every other “ing” but kneeling.  

I warned him that if he kept it up, I would put him in the “prayer closet.”  Which is what? you may ask.  It is a private place where a person can devote themselves to prayer (think the movie War Room).  It is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:5-6. 

But that wasn’t the prayer closet I had in mind. 

He continued with his antics.  Of course, he did.  We didn’t learn until he was in 4th grade that he had ADD / HD and maybe XYZ too.  He couldn’t help himself.   

But we didn’t know that back then, so one evening I followed through and pulled him into the prayer closet.   To do this, I placed him in a kneeling prayer posture, between the sofa and me with my arms on either side of him and my body hovering over his – as in nesting prayer partners.

He was trapped – trapped by my religion.

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There are other ways to trap a person with religion. 

The Pharisees in Jesus day were masters at it.  They went far beyond the principles in the Word of God to create a host of nit-picky rules that they compelled their flock to follow  

They decided that a righteous person could never eat with a sinner (Mt. 9:11); that one could not be holy unless they fasted (Mt. 9:14); that a person who feeds themselves on the Lord’s Day is a sinner (Mt. 12:2); that there are only certain days when it is appropriate to help others (Mt. 12:14); and that the person who does not wash before eating is a pretty much a heathen (Mt. 15:1)

They reduced faith to a punishing dribble of todos and were more excited about arguing the law than keeping it.  (Mt. 23:2) They drew others into the same empty pit into which they themselves had fallen.    

The urge to trap others with our religion is called legalism and it is contagious.  In fact, many of us have occasionally been guilty of putting others into a straight-jacket for Jesus.  

-Sam told Andrew that a true Christian could only vote for one particular candidate.

-Amber is teaching the girls in her Bible study that God wants them to eat vegan.

-Molly corrected Shirley for not wearing a dress to church

-Bill blasted his boy for cheating God – said he needed to give 10 cents out of every dollar

-The pastor counseled the man to boycott the movie theater, and yet the pastor was streaming smut at home. 

Oh my – why do we do such things?   Choose the excuse that best fits you…

– to create a ladder to holiness I think I can manage

– to make sure others share in my misery

– to validate my own convictions

– to deflect attention from my own sorry manner of life 

– to exercise power over others

Legalism is a trap.  For those of us who struggle with it, here are some suggestions.

– Escape the trap.  Those that impose legalism on others usually have the same noose around their own necks.  Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”  – Galatians 5:1. Study the book of Galatians if you need assistance.

– Focus on what is clearly articulated in the Word of God.  There truly are standards to which God calls us but be careful because it is too easy for us to tack on extras. 

– Allow the Lord to be the Master.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  

The Lord allows us a great degree of latitude with issues that are not clearly defined in the Word.  He says we need to be convinced in our own mind.   (Romans 14:5)   Let’s allow one another that same latitude. 

Not long ago, I threatened to put my boy back in the prayer closet.  He laughed!  He is now in his forties and a good 7 inches taller than I am.   

Fortunately, he is also standing tall in the faith.  He escaped the trap.  May you be as fortunate. 

A PRAYER: Lord relieve me of the obsession to straight jacket myself and others with peripherals.  

All Scripture references from the NET Bible®

does God use a clicker? — May 27, 2020

does God use a clicker?

So, what is a clicker?  I shall explain. I was schooled by nuns – the sisters of Notre Dame.

They wore long sleeved, black, ankle length robes and a black veil with a broad white band across the forehead.  They were girded at the waist with a rosary bead belt, big enough for Andre the Giant.

To this day I don’t know how sister Mary Cletus played such excellent kickball in that outfit.     

Their favorite disciplinary tool was the clicker.  At least that’s what we, the clicked, called it.   

It was about 6 inches long – a spindly piece of oak – a short knobby table leg. Attached to it, with a thick rubber band, was another piece of oak – a slender dowel rod.  Depress and then quickly release the dowel rod and a loud resonant click is produced.

The clicker was for control.   Click: the class lined up; Click: the line moved forward; Click: we stopped; Click: we genuflected; Click: we filed into the pew for mass; Click: we sat down.   

Seldom was a word spoken.  We were programmed to respond to the click.  Which may be why I am confused today by the sound of a click beetle.

It was a versatile tool.  When a child failed to heed the clicker, the click became a clunk.  A kid would feel its knobby wrath on their head. 

It was standard nun equipment.  Each school morn, they reported to the armory and were issued their clickers.

It was the time in the mass, to receive communion.  I was taught that communion without prerequisite confession was a big no no.  But this 10-year-old was absent on the day the class confessed.

What to do?  Skip communion and displease my teacher or do communion and anger God.  Would it be better to be struck with the clicker or a bolt of lightning? 

God was nowhere to be seen, but the nun sat next to me, so I stepped into the aisle with the rest of the class.  As we inched forward, I began to sweat, and my folded hands began to shake because – I really was afraid of God.

He had His own clicker.  Click: go to church; Click: say your prayers; Click: stop hitting your sister; Click: go to confession before you take communion.  Get out of line and expect to get clunked with God’s clicker.   

It was only reasonable for a kid to project onto God the character and ways of the religious folk that represented Him.   

I trembled as I opened my mouth to receive communion – but – there was no divine retribution.  I returned to the pew asking myself why?

Years later I learned that God looks at me with a smile on His face rather than a frown. 

I waited for Him to demonstrate His wrath, but Scripture says, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  – Romans 5:8

Sure, He has His standards, but He Himself lived them out on my behalf. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”  – 2 Corinthians 5:21. 

Now He empowers me to live His truth.  “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So, the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  – Galatians 2:20. 

When I fail, He responds to me with patience, mercy and grace. “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.”  – Hebrews 4:15-16

He motivates me not by threat of hell but by His love for me.  “For the love of Christ controls us…”  – 2 Corinthians 5:14 

Such a radically different but wonderfully accurate picture of God.

If there is a lesson in the story; I guess it’s this: A kid really does project onto God, the character and ways of the religious folk that represent God.  

So, how do you represent God to your children or your grandchildren?   What of God does your 3rd grade Sunday School class see in you?  Are you quick with a clicker – or full of patience, mercy and grace?    

– All Scripture references taken from the NET Bible ®

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