Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

Cut Off — April 18, 2020
death where is thy fang — April 8, 2020

death where is thy fang

It was Vacation Bible School.  Our theme for the week was Bible Barnyard.  We took animals that were referenced in the Bible, brought them to the church and then used them as object lessons. 

We cast our pearls before a guest swine who had the manners of a pig.  There was a sheep that strayed by to teach us how to follow our shepherd.  Then there was the snow-white dove that dropped in to remind us to be gentle as we make our way through this world. 

The wolves were already booked elsewhere – a wedding I think – but we did have a serpent make a guest appearance.  It belonged to a member of the church.  He did a great job of teaching us to be shrewd as we interact with our world. 

The kids loved the him. They reached their hands into his glass enclosure and let him thread himself through their fingers.  We became a snake handling church for the day!  He seemed safe enough.

As the session came to an end, the snake’s owner told me that the serpent was due to be fed.  She asked if the kids might like to see it.  I said “Sure.” 

So, she dropped a little grey mouse into the cage.  The kids crowded around.  They connected with the cute little fuzz ball that was skittering about.  They oohed and giggled until – with lightning speed – the snake inhaled the mouse. 

Half the kids were awed by it.  The other half – not so much.  There was a scream explosion.  Not just one kid – at least a half a dozen – and it was catching.  They whimpered and blubbered and sobbed and they were loud. I was ready to line up some grief counselors. 

The cute, fuzzy, innocent, little mouse was swallowed whole by the cold-blooded, villainous reptile. I wanted to cry too.

The drama prompts me to think back to Calvary.  Jesus was not as cute, but many were deeply attached to Him.  He had healed the broken and ambulated the lame.  He brought the sparkle back into blinded eyes and the sound of laughter to empty ears. 

He touched the diseased, welcomed the outcast and courageously defended the downtrodden.  He was admired, esteemed and cherished. 

And then He was abruptly inhaled by death – and all creation screamed. 

The sun was obscured by a sheer veil of darkness.  The earth trembled and shook with sorrow as her rocks shattered.  The cavernous temple was filled with the harsh sound of tearing as the massive partition curtain was rent.  A river of tears flowed down the hill of Calvary from the faithful that were huddled there.

The cross was not the way His story should have ended.  But that’s the way it was – and all creation screamed in protest. 

Unlike our little mouse, however, it was His choice! -a decision that was all about us. 

“Christ also loved us and gave himself for us.”  – Ephesians 5:2

“Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”  – Ephesians 5:25

“the Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me.” –  Galatians 2:20

Oh, how amazing it would have been, if that little fuzz ball of a mouse could have backed out of the jaws of the serpent.  The bitter would have become better for our distraught kids. 

Jesus, on the other hand, backed out of His tomb – having been truly and fully dead for 3 days.  His glorious resurrection was also all about us.  Paul wrote, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.”  – Romans 6:4

Do you believe it?  It is important that you do says Paul, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

What does that mean “You will be saved?” It means, little mouse, that the python of death will never be able to swallow the one who belongs to Jesus. 

It is the Easter season – a perfect time to confess Jesus with your mouth and believe in Jesus in your heart.

All biblical references from the NET Bible ®

the muttonmen — April 17, 2019

the muttonmen

James Ray Johnson – 713 words

He was sitting at the table working on his history homework.  The 10-year-old began to recite the facts to his mom about the renown muttonmen.  She wasn’t a history buff, but even she knew there was something about the muttonmen that just didn’t smell right.   

Muttonmen?  Was this a collective term for shepherds?  Was King David a muttonman?   Or was it an order of monks from the middle ages who swore off beef for Lent.   Maybe they lived on Drury Lane?  (Oh do you know the muttonman, the muttonman, the muttonman?)

She checked his book and found that he had misread the word “minutemen.”  He felt quite sheepish but it could have been worse.  He might have read it as mulletmen – which is an assembly of Billy Ray Cyrus imitators. 

It’s not unusual to misread something.   It happens with the crucifixion of Christ.  Many consider it an accident – not what was intended.  The betrayal, the mock trial, the spineless Pontius Pilate – all sad happenstance that unfortunately resulted in a great man dying in a gruesome way. 

I was rereading the story recently and was fascinated with the details.  “Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)  – Matthew 27:50-53 NET Bible®   

There were three spectacular things that happened the moment Christ died. 

There was a curtain in the temple that kept the people from the presence of God.  It was 30’ by 60’ and as thick as the palm of a hand.  It took 300 priests to hang it.  Yet, the Father reached down from heaven and ripped that massive thing from the top to the bottom.  Because of Christ, there was no more separation.

There was a colossal quake as well.  The Father had used earthquakes in the past and will use them again in the last days to focus the wandering eyes of humanity on what He is doing.  The experts tell us not to run during an earthquake – because – well – the ground is moving.  An earthquake was God’s way of getting people to stop and to think. 

And then there was the mass resurrection.  Tombs were opened and the dead who had believed were raised and then visited Jerusalem before they departed for heaven.  

Think of it!   The family sits down to eat, when grandpa, (who had been dead for 6 months) walks in and takes his place at the table.  He says grace and then says, “pass the hummus.”

There were miracles that also accompanied the resurrection of Christ, but not as many, and certainly not as physically grand and public. 

So why, then, why did the Father bother?  Why the dramatic signs at Christ’s death?  

Maybe because it seemed to most everyone – disciple and disparager alike, that the Father had simply abandoned His Son.  After three years of breathtaking, heaven-empowered miracles – Jesus appeared to have died a helpless pathetic death.

I suspect that the Father agonized in heaven as it happened to His boy. 

But the second Jesus gave up His spirit, the Father sent His spectacular signs as if to say, “Not true what you think.  Jesus has not been abandoned.  He was never helpless and this was certainly not an unfortunate accident, but rather our essential plan all along.  (Acts 2:23)

The old hymn asks, “What can take away my sin?”  The answer “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”   Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  Christ was compelled by His love for us to go to the cross. 

Easter is coming.  Your spot in the pew is still warm from last year.  But on the way to Sunday, don’t let Good Friday pass without breathing a prayer of thanks for the way in which Christ has loved us. 

Hey, you might even want to attend a Good Friday service at the church of your choice.  And if the preacher asks who sent you.  Tell him “the muttonman!”

______Take a moment to share this good news with a friend______

A hymn to brighten your day: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Guitar: Jim Johnson

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