Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

ken and barbie — May 5, 2021

ken and barbie

Being their pastor, I was asked to officiate at the wedding of Ken and Barbie, except I knew them as Daniel and Rachel.  They really were the ideal couple, both very physically attractive and emotionally healthy.  Both were solid Christians and highly committed to each other.

In our premarital counseling I gave them a standardized temperament test to assess their compatibility.   They tested better than Adam and Eve before the fall.

In the months that followed the wedding, I watched them with great satisfaction as the sage preparation I had provided worked it magic. 

I understand that they ended each day in their cozy bedroom, side by side.  As Daniel contentedly slipped off to sleep, Rachel would pray for him, “God I can’t stand it anymore, would you just take this man home?  I won’t disobey you and divorce him, but you could solve my problem with a car accident or something?” (I am not kidding-here!)

Hmm – Problems in paradise!

So, what happened?  I decided to call and ask them. (Yes, they are still married!) 

She says she had unrealistic expectations.  She thought she was marrying Prince Charming but then married life revealed glimmers of Conan the Barbarian. 

He says he was stressed with excessive schoolwork and a fulltime job.  He didn’t handle it well plus, she fell near the bottom of his priority list.  As long as the clothes were washed, meals were cooked, and house cleaned – he was happy.  He described himself as a “jerk.” 

They refused to utter the word divorce even though both were desperately unhappy.  They understood that marriage is for keeps.  It was God’s idea in the beginning, and He takes an active role in bringing two people together.  Many ceremonies conclude with the words, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) KJV (Jesus words by the way)

They exchanged vows – a sacred and unbreakable commitment to each other with God as witness.  Yes, the Lord reluctantly allows divorce, but for a very limited number of reasons.  (Matthew 19:9)   

Daniel and Rachel were stuck.  They were bound by their vows.  

On the other hand – they pretty much knew what needed to happen with their marriage.  They had counseling, read the marriage books, and came from healthy families.  They knew!  Daniel says that they just finally committed to do it. 

They quit pointing the finger at one another and turned it back to themselves. 

She realized her own selfishness and self-righteousness, which doesn’t work well in any kind of relationship.  She determined to honor and respect Daniel even when he didn’t deserve it.

He told me that Rachel had become a mirror of his own behavior.  He saw the ugly impact he had on her and he didn’t like what he saw.  He bumped her up, just beneath God, on his priority list and began to practice servant-leadership in his home. 

They both came to realize that more was needed in their marriage than what they had the ability to give.  They humbled themselves before the Lord and sought His path and His power. 

On the MAIN thing, they both agreed.  The main thing was that they were committed to work it out – to address the problems head on and trust God to help them through.  There was no easy-out through a divorce.   

It took two years of hard, difficult, often lonely work, but number three became a honeymoon of a year for them.

They now have 5 kids and are expecting a sixth.  And Rachel still prays for Daniel at night. “Lord don’t ever let this guy die, I need his help with the kids – but more than that – I really, deeply love him.”  

A PRAYER: Lord help me be steadfast and immovable in the commitments I make, especially the one to my spouse. 

PS: I have their permission and their encouragement to share this!

the proposal — April 28, 2021

the proposal

We had been married less than a month but were serious about succeeding so we went to away to a weekend seminar.  We lodged in the basement of some friends, on the floor, in sleeping bags.  

In the middle of the night I began to stir.  I was laying on my back at the time.  So, I opened my eyes, and was startled to find my new bride’s face a ½ inch away from mine – nose to nose. 

I jumped up with my heart hammering away.  I asked, “What in the world are you doing?” She said “I was afraid that you died, and I was checking to see if you were still breathing.   

___________

I guess she didn’t want to lose a good thing!   And marriage is a good thing.  It provides mutual blessing for a couple, and a wondrous pathway towards understanding God.

Did you know that Jesus presented Himself as a bridegroom multiple times in the Scripture?  (Matthew 9:14-17, 22:1-14; 25:1-12; John 3:29)

The collective church is even referred to as His bride and our future with Him in heaven is described as a marriage.  For instance, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” – Revelation 19:7

Thinking of our relationship with the Lord in this way has helped me work through some difficult theological issues such as, “What does it mean to receive Christ as Savior?”

John 1:12 says, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children.”  These two words “believe” and “receive” tell us how to become God’s child.  They are synonymous and yet distinctly different. 

To believe in His name is to accept as fact that Jesus is the divine Son of God who ably bore the penalty on the cross for our sin, and then rose again.  

OK but what does it mean, “to receive Him?”  It seems like it should read, “to receive the gift He offered” but it is focused on receiving “Him” instead. 

Let’s process that question through a proposal grid.

When I decided to invite Sharie to be my wife.   I took her on an outing to a local park.   She thought me weird because I was wearing a big overcoat on a warm spring day.  This was to conceal the box that held a beautiful engagement ring – the most expensive gift I had ever purchased.  

I was excited and had every intention of giving it to her that day.  I did not expect her to pay me for it or make a pledge to never hurt me in the future, or to commit herself to at least 30 years of marriage to merit it. 

But I did have expectations.  I hoped she would say, “Yes I will marry you!”   And in that yes, would be an implied commitment to be with me, and to dwell with me and to do life together.  Basically, I wanted her to receive me – to accept and embrace and commit herself to me. 

But what if I should offer the ring, only for her to say, “Thanks!  I’ll take the ring but forget about a mushy commitment.  See ya!”

Fortunately, she wanted my ring and the me that went along with it! 

I think of Jesus’ invitation in a similar way.  When it comes to salvation, He doesn’t expect us to merit it or to earn it or to qualify through a commitment to be perfect.  He knows how feeble we are.

But He does expect to hear us say, “Yes, Jesus I will be yours.  I will go with you and dwell with you and be with you.”   In other words, “I want the ring and I am committing myself to the mushy relationship that goes with it.” 

There most certainly is a commitment involved – not to an ideal, or a moral code or an organized religious body but to the marvelous person of Jesus. 

So, think of Jesus as being on one knee before you, cradling in his hands a jewelry box containing the gift of heaven, while on His lips are the words, “Will you receive Me?”  

So – will you? 

A PRAYER: Lord I long for more than dry religion.  Give me a relationship with You. 

Scripture references are from the NET Bible®

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage) — February 10, 2021

the parable of the tomato plant (or how to really enjoy your marriage)

The newlywed couple wanted to learn to garden.  They decided to experiment with one lone tomato plant.  It was tender and small and ready to grow.  There was a plastic sticker in the soil that pictured the future of that plant – lush and large and filled with red juicy tomatoes.

They put it out on the patio and salivated as they waited for the fruit to come – but it didn’t. Each day the plant sagged a little more, the leaves yellowed, and the blossoms fell off. Its growth was stunted.

They became increasingly incensed at their plant.  The picture on the sticker mocked them.  This was not what they signed on for. 

They decided to help the plant meet their expectations.  Each day he went out and pulled up on the stalk about an inch or so, hoping to get it to the height where it would begin bearing.  She massaged the blossoms hoping to stimulate growth.   They were determined to get tomatoes from that plant one way or the other. 

They were dumbfounded to find that the poor desperate plant began to die.  She said, “Maybe we need to study up.” So, they found a book about tomato farming. 

Step 1:  Make sure the plant gets plenty of water.  “Oops,” she said. “I meant to water it.”    Step 2. Give it some plant food.  “What?  Plants eat?”  The list continued: prune it, give it plenty of sun, dust it for pests etc. 

He said, “No way.”  We already spent a $1.99 on that plant and it has given us nothing.  Plus, that sounds like way too much work.  “What’s the alternative?” she asked.  “Do we take it back to the store or just forget about it and leave it on the patio to rot?

Despite their anger and frustration, they chose to risk it and make the necessary investment.  They bought some pruning shears and plant food, and they committed to watering the plant every day. 

It wasn’t long after, that they enjoyed fresh salsa on their enchiladas and they (including the tomato plant) lived happily ever after. 

————————–

Now forget the enchiladas and think about your marriage for a sec. 

When we marry, we have expectations of each other.  In fact, we even make vows to meet some of those expectations. 

But there are others that are not obligatory.   Like – “He will be the fixer of my car!  “She will cook as good as mom did? Or even “He will put the toilet seat down after he is finished.” 

We have a picture in our heads of what the marriage will look like – but there will surely be expectations that go unmet. 

A conversation would be in order – a transparent, loving discussion about what’s going on.  But change is hard for some of us. 

And when he/she doesn’t change, some of us respond as the couple did with the plant.  We try to manipulate and force change through criticism, manipulation, argument or just by making their life miserable.

“Why can’t you cook like my mom?”  “I always thought my husband would be a better provider.” 

“I wish you would have warned me about this before we were married.”  “You are sleeping on the sofa tonight.”  “My dad always lowered the toilet seat.”  And on its goes. 

That kind of toxic environment kills a relationship.  The marriage withers and dies just as surely as it did with the plant.   What then?  Take it back to the store in terms of a divorce; or maybe just do the “right thing” and stay together but ignore each other the rest of your lives. 

No one wants to live that way – do they? 

Better to consult the book.  And the book says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.  – Philippians 2:3-4 NETBible®

In other words, we need to create the environment of the tomato plant – to offer lots of water, and plant food, and sunshine and so on.  That is where growth takes place.

Instead of being critical of her housework, grab a vacuum and help out.  Rather than ridicule him because he doesn’t know how to change a tire, encourage him about the things he does well.   Praise her for her cooking!  Thank him for reading to the kids. 

Treat your spouse as being more important to you than you are. 

Forget the expectations.  Love your spouse for who they are. 

Forget the criticism – it is toxic and will never help your spouse meet your expectations.

Give your tomato plant a healthy place to grow and he/she will. 

And the tomatoes will be excellent! 

A PRAYER: Lord, help become a wiser gardener for the sake of my spouse, and the health of our marriage.  

the habit that saved our marriage — September 23, 2020

the habit that saved our marriage

We said, “I do” in August. By October our bliss had become a blister.  I got a clue the day she melted into a pile of sobbing mush. 

We talked and tried to unravel the problem.  My sarcasm fueled her insecurities.  She didn’t laugh when I said the meatloaf looked like an old shoe (tasted good though).

Problem was, she hid her hurt.  Instead of arguing with me, she argued with herself.  She was thinking, “He didn’t really mean that – I don’t want to rock the marriage boat – if I point out his mistake, he’ll point out mine” and “I don’t want to seem like a baby.” 

She would talk herself into silence, but the hurt remained.  It raised a tiny emotional blister on her soul.  The longer she ignored it, the bigger it got until that day it finally popped and created a yucky mess.  I confessed that I also hid my hurts.

We loved each other – didn’t want to hurt each other, so we went to Ephesians 4:25-27 for some help. 

Paul wrote, “Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.”  NET Bible ®

Some people “clam up” when they are hurt (which was our problem). Others “blow up” (which is where we would eventually end up) but what we needed to do was to “speak up.” 

Paul told us to lay aside falsehood.   To be hurt but pretend you’re not – is to lie.  We needed to speak truthfully to each other – in love – instead. (Eph. 4:15)

Anger is the way God designed us to respond to injustice.  There is no sin in that.  But to clam up or blow up is a sinful response to that anger.  We needed to speak up.

But when?  If the hurt had not been handled earlier in the day, then the time of reckoning is the end of each day.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”   

There is a price for those who hold onto their anger.    Paul said it gives the devil an opportunity to erode the relationship.   A hurt creates emotional distance.  The longer the hurt goes unaddressed, the greater the distance gets between us.  We can end up asking, “Why did I ever marry that person?”   And yet an honest, loving conversation can thoroughly remove any distance.  

My wife and I are simple people, so we decided to end every day with a checkup.  We would pray with each other, and read the Word, but before any of that, I would ask her, “Have I done any badness today?”   (don’t laugh – the word badness worked for us.)  

She didn’t have the courage to initiate the discussion.  But, because I did, she felt like I sincerely wanted to hear how I might have impacted her.   I still had to do a little coaxing, but she would then open up and tell me she was hurt when I left her alone at the party.

I was shocked!  It didn’t understand why that would hurt her, but we talked, I learned and then apologized.  She would then ask, “Have I done any badness?”  I would share, she would learn as well. 

Unfortunately, we were often up past midnight that first year of marriage. But we were committed, and we saw the fruit of our habit every day.  It helped us to learn and adjust. 

In fact, we found the habit to be so valuable that we will do it again tonight (as we have every night for the last 44 years.  We will ask again, “Did I do any badness?”

But we probably won’t have anything to share.  You see we got tired of having midnight discussions – so we chose to change.  As we changed there was less to talk about. 

We still err, but we have enjoyed such peace and intimacy in our relationship, that we now deal with hurts more promptly.  I love being at peace with my wife – can’t stand it when I’m not. 

Sorry – this post is not all that funny – but it may be the most important piece I have ever written.  Because, many if not most marriages suffer because they haven’t learned to speak the truth in love to one another. 

If you are married and you are not regularly experiencing this level of honest conversation, your marriage is hurting, and you just don’t know it. 

I would challenge you to find a way of implementing Eph 4:25-26.   Feel free to do what we have done.  We are committed to do it until the Lord takes the first of us home.  If you do it, we would love to hear about it.

A PRAYER: God give me the humility and the courage I need to open myself up to my spouse, that together we might build an even better marriage.

They held hands — May 30, 2020
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