Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

lighten up — June 23, 2021

lighten up

lighten up – audio version

I lifted the hood of the car to find the compartment jammed packed with wire and steel.  The problem that needed fixed was inevitably in the hardest, darkest most awkward place to reach.  

I needed a flashlight and someone to focus the beam.  “Son, shine the light on this spot – this one right here – so I can see what I am doing.” 

He did okay – for the first three seconds, and then the beam started to bounce, and then it wandered some, then it moved to spotlight the beetle on the ground and then he dropped the flashlight and broke it while I was thinking words that I dare not say.   

With a new lightbulb, we resumed, and he did okay – for the first three seconds.  I finished the job in the dark while he projected shadow puppets on the wall. 

But I learned my lesson.  I bought one of those lamps that you strap to your head with an elastic band.  I could direct the beam to exactly where I was looking. 

Now when I work on the car, I do okay – for the first three seconds.

_______________________________

I am glad that God has provided a better source of light for me.  It is celebrated in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” KJV

There the Psalmist compared our life’s journey to that of following a path, and the Scripture to a lamp that lights our way. 

In Bible days they lit up a home with an oil lamp made of baked clay.  A wick dropped through an opening, which would draw the olive oil that was pooled in the bottom.   It created a small, cozy source of light. 

But traveling was another matter.  Israel is a land of winding, hilly paths, strewn with lots of loose stones.  Travel was tough during the day and treacherous at night.

The light cast by an oil lamp was too small to be helpful.  So, the night traveler would modify it by hanging the lamp with three strands of cord and then holding it out before him, so that it was suspended near to the ground, right before his feet.   

It would cast the light directly onto the path before him – where he needed it most.  Just enough for a step or two at a time. 

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

The path before us these days feels a little dusky and we need illumination to get to our destination.

God’s Word is still that light.   It is a resource that helps us to properly understand our world and clues us in as to how we should respond to it.  It gives us the big picture, but it also provides the precise practical wisdom needed for the next few steps before us. 

We just got to know and understand what is written there.  We need to read it, study it and marinate our minds with it. 

I have digested the book of Proverbs many times, even created my own topical index.   I’m encouraged when I find myself instinctively operating by the sound principles there – and occasionally grieved when they have been violated.   Without a doubt the book has been a lamp to my feet. 

The problem is, it is easier for us to assume what is written in the Bible than to really study it out for ourselves.  The Word of God is clear, whereas our assumptions about it are sometimes muddied.  There are things that creep into our assumptions like our personal preferences and the cultural messages which bombard us. 

In fact, some of our “biblical” beliefs are not biblical at all.  As it was in the days of Isaiah, some are calling evil good, and good evil.  (Isaiah 5:20) We are wandering in the dark, stumbling over stones and walking off cliffs.

Hey I would not tell you what you ought to believe, but I will tell you where your beliefs can be safely sourced.  Take God’s Word and apply to it to your next few steps.  The journey will become so much easier.

A PRAYER: God help me to mine your Word for wisdom then shine that truth on my path.

This has been Jim Johnson with pickleheavenpress.   The Lord be with you

words in the night — October 21, 2020

words in the night

My wife and I were awakened by the hushed voices outside our open bedroom window.  I slipped over to eavesdrop in the night.  It sounded like teens, both boys and girls, and they had just stolen a toolbox from the bed of a pickup.  They had it but didn’t know what to do with it. 

They sat against the outside of the apartment wall.  We were less than inches apart with only curtains and a screen between us. 

One kid wanted to sell the box; another wanted to leave it with a friend; one of the girls seemed to be having second thoughts.  They argued back and forth.  

I wanted so badly to interject my opinion.  But what could I say?  My mind raced through what I knew from the book of Proverbs about speech. 

I could seize control by quickly blurting out something.  Not a good idea according to Proverbs 29:20, “You have seen someone who is hasty in his words there is more hope for a fool than for him.”   Been there – done that!  I understand.     

Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.  It wasn’t my toolbox and doesn’t Proverbs 17:28 say, “…the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning.” 

On the other hand, there is also this counsel, “Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak…” (Proverbs 31:8)  Someone had to speak up for the guy who had to go to work the next day, without his tools.

OK then maybe I should blast them with righteous indignation.  Probably not a good idea.  “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”   (Proverbs 15:1)  If I were to blast them, they would have their revenge.  I didn’t need that. 

Plus, my goal was to nudge them toward a good decision.  “The one who is wise in heart is called discerning, and kind speech increases persuasiveness.”  (Proverbs 16:21) That’s what I wanted to do – persuade them to do the right thing.

But how could I speak kind words, when my attitude was angry and judgmental.  Proverbs 25:15 is a reminder that one’s attitude is important.  “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a soft tongue can break a bone.”   Soft!  A soft attitude speaking soft words.  That’s what I needed if I were to nudge them to do the right thing.

And it had to be the right words.  It would probably not sit well with them if I were to have called them thieves.  Again, Proverbs informed me, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken.”  (Proverbs 25:11) I had to be sensitive to the situation and the moment.

And the timing, oh yes, the timing had to be just right.  If I interrupted too soon, it could be offensive.  If I waited too long, their decision might be already cast.  Proverbs 15:23 “A person has joy in giving an appropriate answer, and a word at the right time—how good it is!”

I was busy thinking through my lengthy speech when I remembered, “When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise.”  (Proverbs 10:19)  Got it.  I need to say as little as possible and yet get the job done.

OK so what should I say and when should I say it? 

The debate outside was stalled.  One boy said, “I just don’t know, what should we do with this thing?”   That was my cue.  Hidden by the curtains I spoke up.  In a natural and easy voice, I said, “If I were you, I’d put it back.” 

There was silence on the other side.  They were caught and they knew it.  One of the boys said, “Oh man look what we’ve done.  We woke these people up.” (like it was the worst thing they did all night.) 

Another kid said, “Come on, let’s take it back.”  All agreed. 

And as far as I know, the man with the toolbox, the teens and me and my wife lived happily ever after. 

A PRAYER: Father my mouth gets me in trouble much too often, help me rein it in by the principles in your Word. 

All Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®

handling a critic — July 22, 2020

handling a critic

Critics.  Sometimes they’re as thick as flees on a farm dog.  And they jump on you when you least expect it.

Terry was a friend and a student at the Bible College.  He was asked to fill the pulpit at a small country church hidden in a holler in southern Ohio.  The faithful few at the Wednesday night service gathered to hear what brother Terry was going to bring. 

He was a novice, but he ascended the platform in faith.  With a quiver in his voice, he made his first major point.  Just then, a man in the congregation stood, pulled a ball cap from his back pocket, snapped it open and put it on. 

He made a fist with his thumb up and then swept it over his shoulder.  Yes – the self-appointed umpire just called the preacher out!

Terry was stunned.  He hesitated and mentally retraced his words wondering, “What kind of heresy did I just spout?” 

Then his critic silently removed his hat, tucked it in his pocket and sat down.  

Terry scanned the flock to see their reaction – but there was none.  Those who were not asleep were in a daze. Terry wondered if this was not the church of the Twilight Zone. 

He found his place and resumed his oratory.  A short time later, the ump made another call – Out again?  No way!  Terry began to sweat.  The count was two outs.  Would another preacher take the field after three? 

And there it was – another out.  Terry was ready to kick some dirt on the ump, except on the next call, with palms down, he snapped his arms out to either side – Safe!  “Thank You, Jesus!”

And that’s how it went the entire message.   Terry was soon longing for the 7th inning stretch. 

He learned afterwards that the man was mentally impaired, and it was his custom to umpire every service.  (Hey at least he was listening).  The congregation loved him and just learned to ignore his antics.    

I am sure you have your critics too!  – The boss who edits your reports; the mother-in-law who gives you cooking tips; the wife who looks at your outfit with a sneer.   So, how should we handle those who criticize?

The book of Proverbs has some sound advice except it uses words like “rebuke” and reprove” in place of criticism.

If a criticism is not shared with you face-to-face reject it.  If a person chooses to talk about you rather than to you, they are a gossip – not a critic.  Scripture says, “Better is an open (criticism) rebuke than hidden love.”  (27:5) Do not receive a criticism unless it comes from the person standing in front of you.

Consider the source.   Is your critic a friend or foe?  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.”  (27:6) Listen to the criticism of a friend and treat with suspicion the words of a foe.

Listen and evaluate.  God uses critics to help us with blind spots.  “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise (critic) reprover to a listening ear.”   (25:12) It’s painful but profitable to hear criticism when it is on the mark. 

Is the opinion shared?  One way to measure the validity of a criticism is to find if other people have the same perception.   What if Terry would have had 6 people stand and call him out?  Send in a pinch hitter Coach!

Don’t let your self-worth get in the way. We tend to shy away from criticism because we allow it to eat away at our self-esteem.   That’s not the way God sees it.  “Do not (criticize) reprove a mocker or he will hate you; (criticize) reprove a wise person and he will love you.”  (9:8)   Did you catch that? The one who rejects criticism is a fool, whereas the one who considers appropriate criticism is deemed wise.  To be criticized is not a cause for shame – to reject it is. 

Adjust and Finish.  If the criticism is on the mark – do something about it.  “The one who stiffens his neck after numerous (criticisms) rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy.” (29:1) When we ignore the God directed critics in our lives, we travel a destructive path.  So, adjust and then finish the course.  Terry didn’t shut his Bible and slink out the side door in defeat.  He stayed and finished.  Don’t let criticism curtail you either. Adjust and finish.

We may never bat 1,000 in life but we can win the game, if we handle our critics wisely.

All Biblical references are from the book of Proverbs from the NETBible ®

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