Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

coco — June 9, 2021

coco

audio version

Their pride and joy was about 2 years old at the time and learning to speak.  His dad was from Massachusetts and his mom from Brazil, but they were living in East Texas.  The poor little guy didn’t know what accent to choose. 

His mother was determined, however, to make sure that he learned the language of her heart.  So, she taught him Portuguese potty-training vocabulary which included “coco” the word used for bowel movement. 

One fine day she went to the gym and left her little guy in childcare.   He had to go – so he found the girl in charge and frantically repeated, “coco, coco!”

She got him a cup of hot chocolate.  (and you know the rest of the story)

_____________

It is frustrating to ask for something but get something else.   “I ordered a cheeseburger, but this looks like a sneezeburger.”  “Their web site pictured a scarf of aqua blue.  They sent me awkward blue instead.” 

Some suspect that God is as careless with our requests.  Jesus discussed the problem in

Matthew 7.  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.“ (7)

He used three words – all synonyms for prayer:  Each is a command with the force of a continuing experience. See prayer is something that you do repeatedly – continually.  The sequence of the verbs increases in their intensity

Picture a girl standing before heaven speaking through the door, “Lord, I am just not able to love my enemy.  The guy is horrible.  Will You help me?”

Her asking becomes seeking – looking for a key.  She looks under the rock and above the door frame.  There is determination in her manner. 

She finally pounds on the door, “Please, please God.  I desperately need your help to succeed.  Won’t you open up and help me?”

Now – as to why we must approach God like this – Jesus doesn’t say.  He just says that we are to pray in this way – persistently, deliberately, and passionately – like we really mean it.

He knows that we tend to lose heart in our prayers.  (Luke 18:1)

Then the good news.  “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (8)  When we pray with persistence, the answer comes into existence. 

But then Jesus gets a little silly.  He asks, “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  (9-10)

In Jesus’ day, bread was rolled thin and then baked on a flat hot stone.  The finished product didn’t look much different from the stone on which it was baked.   But what kind of dad would hand the stone to his trusting toddler to watch him grind his teeth on the rock?

And how could a dad offer his boy a bite of fish, and then watch as the alleged fish took a bite out of him?   The answer was, “No one would do that!”

He continued, “If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  (11)

So much for tact!  Jesus called us evil!  Well OK, my thought processes are not always wholly righteous – this is true, BUT I am going to do the right thing by my kids.

And the Father, who is all together righteous is going to do fabulously better by His.

He gives good gifts to those who ask Him.  Not inferior or harmful gifts or gifts from the clearance shelf or gleaned from the overstock store.  He gives good gifts – the best gifts – the very things that we seek.

He makes sure that there are no teeth shattering stones or toxic serpents among them.

Yes, at times, He may use His discretion because sometimes we ask for stones and serpents and don’t know it.  And we can be sure that what He gives, we will eventually treasure.

So, go ahead and “Ask and it will be given to you.”  Whether you do it in English or Portuguese!

A PRAYER: Lord forgive my prayer tweets and help me to pray with purpose!

The Scripture references from the NET Bible ®   

fik it daddy — June 2, 2021

fik it daddy

audio version

My boy learned that I was a handy man.   The toddler would run in the room and hold up a Lego car that had crumbled in his hand and say, “Fik it daddy!”   So, I did.  At other times the fix would require a screw or some glue, but I always managed to “fik it” for him.

All of my kids looked to me to be a fixer.  The third-grade class shunned my daughter – the new kid.  I sent her to school the next day with treats to share with her class.  Crisis averted. 

My son K.C. acquired a car that required lots of attention.  I believe that he and I replaced twice as many parts as the car actually had.  But dad was there to “fik it” for him.

I was famous for fixing with my kids, but the challenges became more complicated as they grew older.   

K.C. has a darling little 6-year-old girl who is facing open heart surgery.  They will break the sternum of my granddaughter which breaks my heart.  It was a horribly tough decision for mom and dad to make, but the surgeon says it’s necessary to seal and heal the hole in her heart.  They are stressed but intent on trusting God. 

As for me, I just want to “fik it.”  I want to fix it more than anything I have ever fixed.  I want to find a way around it – a way to address the problem without doing the surgery.  But, it’s just not possible says the doc. 

It’s a helpless feeling to be a fixer, who is unable to fix.

And yet it is not a new experience for me.

Many years ago, I worked as a maintenance man in an apartment complex.  I was tasked with installing a new dish washer.  I pulled the old one out and slipped the new one into place. 

I still needed to connect the machine to the water supply.  I lay on the floor and reached underneath it with my crescent wrench to the very back of the unit.  It was an awkward stretch.

I labored and I sweat over it for a good ten minutes.  I paused to rest and then gave it several more frustrating minutes.  It didn’t happen.  I wanted to swear but I didn’t.  (OK I might have thought a word or two) 

I stopped and lay flat on the floor in exasperation really close to tears. 

I prayed – sort of.  I reminded God that I had a job to do.  There was no one else to do it.  But it wasn’t happening

And right then He brought to my mind something I had read in my devotional time the night before.   Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.” – John 15:5

It was that last part that parted my skull, “apart from me you can accomplish nothing.

I thought, “Nothing?  Not even making a water connection?”  He whispered, “Not even that.” 

So, I asked the Lord to help this humbled helpless fixer.

With a new attitude and my divine plumber’s helper, I picked up the crescent wrench (which I had previously thrown across the room) and went back to work.  

And I, or should I say we – succeeded on the very first attempt. 

Well this situation with my granddaughter is far more beyond my control than was the dishwasher.  It is not beyond His, however. 

So, my wife and I have been praying for months now in preparation for the surgery.  It is proper that we do.  John the apostle wrote this in his third epistle, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.”  (vrs. 2)

So, encouraging!  John prayed for the health of those he loved – and so do we.

In fact, tonight, when my wife and I pray together again, we will say to our all-powerful and incredibly gracious Father in heaven, “Fik it Daddy!”

A PRAYER: “Daddy, you are always there when life breaks down.  Remind us to pray when we think we can fix it without you.”

All Scripture References from the NET Bible ®

hydrated and thankful — November 24, 2020

hydrated and thankful

I recently wrote about my son who spent time in the prayer closet.  He was an antsy preschooler and it showed up during our prayer time.  I had to corral him between me and the sofa as we knelt and prayed. 

How ironic is it then, that he sired a sweet and passionate prayer warrior?   When her daddy asks, “Who wants to…?”  She has her hand up before he can say, “pray.” 

From three years old and on Lainey has led our family in the saying of grace.   And I would wish that my whole family could pray as she does; even the whole world would pray as she does.  Dang – if only I could pray as she does. 

She sweetly and personally speaks to the Lord.  When she prays, it’s as if she’s sitting on His lap – with their eyes meeting.  Multiple times she will say in the sincerest of voices, “and Jesus, I, I just love you.” 

But what is most striking is the profuse amount of thanksgiving that permeates her prayers.   While my mine are full of platitudes, hers overflow with gratitude and for the most unusual things.  

Her mother was a science major and filters life through that lens.   She once explained to her little Lainey the importance of drinking water throughout the day.  Since then, Lainey regularly thanks the Lord for keeping her hydwated.  

Her mother also explained the amazing law of gravity and Lainey now thanks the Lord that we don’t fly away up in the sky. 

Lainey is profoundly cute. She has an uncanny ability to look at everything that you and I take for granted and recognize it all as gifts from God. 

It’s as if God somehow impressed 1 Thessalonians 5:18 on her little heart, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  In every circumstance and for every circumstance we ought to be grateful. 

So tomorrow we give thanks!  Psalm 92:1 tells us that it is a, “good thing to give thanks to the Lord.”   

This is true according to the experts.  Gratitude activates the reward center of our brains so that we emotionally feel better.  A great way, by the way, to combat anxiety and depression.  Gratitude also has been proven to lower blood pressure and give us better sleep.*

Saying thanks is also a wonderful way to refresh and strengthen our relationships with others. 

It really is good to give thanks, not only because it does good things to and for us, but because God is a good God. (Psalm 107:1)

I am with Lainey – thankful for God’s good gifts of health and food and people that love me and a God who gave His life on a cross for me and a job that challenges me and for photosynthesis.  (Hey why can’t I be thankful for a scientific principle too?)  

Tomorrow our mouths will work hard at taking in Thanksgiving.  They also need to work hard at giving out thanksgiving.   Scripture says, “With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the Lord.”  – Ps 109:30

After dinner we’ll turn on the game and scream ‘til we’re hoarse.  David said that we ought to give thanks in the same way, “with all our hearts.”  – Psalm 86:12

Some of us will get up and raid the refrigerator for a midnight snack.  Also, a good time to give thanks says the Psalmist, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee…”  — Ps 119:62   KJV

2020 has been a tremendously tough year!   Amen?  All the more reason to gather the family on turkey day and have each person write out 5 things for which they were thankful this year.  Compare your answers.  Make note of the duplicates and the diversity and then offer a group prayer of Thanksgiving!

A PRAYER: Lord give me the eyes to perceive every blessing and the words to return proper thanks.

– All scripture references from the NET Bible ®

– * The Health Benefits of Giving Thanks; Community Health Network November 20, 2019; www.ecommunity.com/healthminute/2019/health-benefits-giving-thanks.

the lady with the doily on top — September 30, 2020

the lady with the doily on top

We were dodging coal trucks on the winding mountain roads of West Virginia.  I was invited to preach at the evening service of a remote little country church.  Sharie and I had to lug our two little ones and a guitar, across a swollen creek, over a sketchy rope bridge and then find the building nestled in a holler.  I believe the name was End of Earth Baptist Church (or it should have been).

The house was full, and the service was bustling with activity.  The people were sweet mountain folk but there was one lady who stood out to me.  She had a doily secured with a bobby pin to her hair.

A doily!  I kinda wanted to get my Grandma’s knick knack and set it on her doily. 

She was evidently trying her best to follow the words of 1 Corinthians 11.  A head covering was a physical sign that she honored the authorities that God had placed in her life.

I was wondering if she might have been at odds with the Deacons.  She was the only woman in that congregation of about 100 with a head covering. 

That was also the night I was introduced to what they called, “family prayer.”   When the pastor said, “Let’s pray!” everyone, with robust voices, prayed in English, out loud and all at the same time.

The man to my right was asking for revival; the woman behind me wanted healing; the boy to my left asked God to help him with his grades.  It was planned chaos – more noisy than the snake handling church farther up the creek.

The way it ended was quite interesting.  After 3 minutes or so, folks concluded their prayers – one-by-one and the din would ebb until all were silent – except – the lady with doily on top.

With great fervor she prayed on, for every need on that mountain with special mention of the pastor and the deacons.  It took her another 2 minutes to finish.  Whatever happened to unspoken requests? 

The pastor led us in 3 different family prayer sessions and every time the lady with the doily – would pray on until she decided it was finally time for her to say Amen.

It was clear me who was in control of that meeting.   I guess there is more than one way to defy and dishonor those who are over us.

Then again, most of us have mixed feelings about those in authority over us.

And yet Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”  – Romans 13:1

He argued that God has established the authorities around us.  You don’t like your teacher?  Talk to God about it.  Dislike your mayor?  Your beef is with God. 

He gave us authorities to create order and promote the general welfare.  Without authority we have anarchy – whether it be at church, work, school or in government.   God expects us to comply with those authorities.

We Christians are appalled, “Oh my, that person has abused their authority.”   And “Oh that other person, well, he is denigrating the authorities.”  Well OK – we should be appalled. 

But here’s the thing, we may be the one wearing the doily.

Our first obligation to authority is to pray.  Paul wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”   – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

We are to pray for “all who are in authority” (not just the ones we like) says Paul.  Pray when we meet for worship, when we say our prayers at night, and when we gather for the purpose of prayer. 

They need wisdom and compassion and to be guided by justice. They must have strength, resources and moral centeredness.  They need the Lord’s help.

Paul says that when we pray in this way, it produces a society that provides for a “peaceful and quiet life.”   I am certainly ready for a lot more of that.

We Christians believe in prayer and in the authority of the Word of God – and yet this kind of prayer sometimes, but seldom happens today.

Hmm, time to take the doily from our heads and get to praying.

A PRAYER: Lord, help me to honor the authorities in my life – by honoring the authority of your Word – and doing some serious praying for them.

Scripture references from the NET Bible ®

air prayer — September 2, 2020

air prayer

If there is ever an anthology written of outrageous pastor stories – this one will no doubt be included. 

At some time during my pastorate, I learned to pace while I preached.  Back and forth, to and fro on our spacious, elevated, semi-circle platform.  Why pace?  Fewer people fell asleep.

So, with notes in hand and a microphone headset strapped to my face, I paced and preached. 

On one unforgettable Sunday, I was wrapping up the message and concluding with a prayer.  I appropriately closed my eyes to pray.  Unfortunately, I continued to pace.

Mid prayer, I planted my right foot down but found nothing but air.  In a panic, I jumped off the platform into the heavenly places, dropping the distance of 4 steps and landing squarely on the floor below.

But here’s the thing, I did this without opening my eyes or pausing in my prayer.  The apostle Paul should have such a prayer life – right?

When I finally said “Amen” the congregation opened their eyes and were awed seeing that I had experienced a miraculous transportation during my prayer.  Revival almost broke out.

Now I know what you are thinking.  “Why didn’t you open your eyes?”  I don’t know!   “But how could you do that without breaking your prayerful concentration?”  Again – I don’t know.  But I did – and I have plenty of witnesses.    

Obviously, I was not alert to my surroundings, but super alert in my prayer.   The apostle Paul might have even been proud of me for he gave this instruction in Colossians 4:2, “Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.”

Keeping alert in prayer!  Ahh – So Paul anticipated the way we typically tune out while others are praying.   We listen to the first seven words and then check out the veins on the inside of our eyelids. 

And when we pray in the “quietness of our hearts” it can become the quirkiness of our hearts – because they flit from “bless the work of our missionaries” to “I wonder what’s for dinner?”

We tend to be most alert in prayer when we pray out loud in the presence of others because they might accidentally be listening, and we want to sound halfway intelligent.

It’s sad really – because prayer is very much a two-way conversation with God.  It is a precious privilege to interact with the One who so dearly loves us and is able and very willing to help. 

We need to be alert in our prayers, so that we are communicating to Him more than gibberish and so that we are tuned in when He speaks to us.

So, don’t get so comfortable.  There is a reason they knelt and wore sackcloth and ashes in the old days.   No need to go to that extreme, but maybe you doze during prayer because you are sitting in a vibrating recliner.

When others are praying – pray along with them.  Agree with them.   Jesus said, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.”  – Matthew 19:18   

So, when Sam is pleading with God about his brother’s drug addiction, you could quietly pray along saying, “Yes, Lord please! He really is killing himself and he needs you so badly.”   You might even dare to do it out loud.

Speaking of speaking.   When our prayers are reduced down to mentally transferring our thoughts to God – it is super easy to be distracted.   If you are in a place where you can audibly speak your prayers, you will find that your ability to stay focused will skyrocket. 

My most effective and fulfilling prayer times happen when I walk.  I might stroll down a lonely trail in a state park and speak out my prayers.  The walking and the speaking tend to keep me laser focused and in the quiet in-between intervals, the Lord often impresses me with what I need to know. 

You might try walking too.  But be sure to keep your eyes open!

A PRAYER: Lord I want to thoroughly respect you when I come to you – so please help me to focus when I pray. 

Scripture references from the NETBible ®

%d bloggers like this: