Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

garbage smuggler — January 13, 2021

garbage smuggler

Lunchtime in elementary school – what blah memories.   Most of us did a brown bag lunch.  The content of mine was mind-numbingly predictable: a bologna sandwich, ruffled potato chips in a baggie; 2 discount brand vanilla sandwich cookies and a piece of fruit complemented by a carton of milk from the machine. 

The rest of the boys fared no better. So, we got in the habit of eating the best stuff and throwing the rest away.  (horrible I know) However, the nuns who taught us caught us.  So, Mother Superior ordered that a guard be posted at every trashcan to stem the mindless waste.  (this is true – scouts honor)

So, the challenge for us, was to hide the sandwich and the fruit in the tiny milk carton and then smash it so small that, it would appear to be impossible for anything to be in it.  We were human trash compactors.

The nun stood behind the receptacle with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.   Sam was the first to try.  He put on his best “I’m not guilty of doing anything” look.  Then he ambled forward and nonchalantly dropped the compressed 10-pound carton in.

She didn’t blink!  He did it!   He beat the sentry of the gulag (or maybe it was goulash).  The rest of us followed.  We successfully smuggled our garbage.


Have you ever tried to do that with sin?  Of course, you have.  Most of us have. 

In the frailty of our humanity, we do something, or say something, or maybe even think something that we shouldn’t.   It may be simply an offense against God, or an offense against another person or both.

We are ashamed and fearful of being found out which stirs up a dark mood. King David, a sinner of renown, spoke to God about this.  He said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long.”  Psalm 32:3 NET

We try to stem the sour feelings, by stuffing it in a metaphysical milk carton hoping to slip it by the eyes of God.   But the soulish part of us continues to point the finger of blame.

To recognize and address it, would feel like adding another thick layer of humiliation.  So, we hide it.

David was experienced with the torment – enough to add these words, “Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”   – 32:5 

He faced his failure- confessed his sin.  He found understanding, grace and the one thing he needed most “and then you forgave my sins.“ –  32:6  NET

How good it is; how freeing it is to be forgiven.  The guilt is gone; the joy returned. 

And then do you know what that crazy David did?  He confessed it to everyone else as well.  He recorded his mess in a Psalm which was to be used in the worship liturgy of Israel. 

David eventually stood side-by-side with his people in worship as they sang of his sin in Psalm 32. 

What was he thinking?  Maybe this!  “Well we’re all human.  I messed up and I am embarrassed for people to know, but it would be utterly humiliating if I tried to hide my sin and it were discovered.  So why not be up front about it?  God has forgiven me, and maybe others can learn from my mistakes.” 

His fellow worshipper was thinking: “Wow I had no idea, but David sure is an honest and courageous man.  Maybe I should be honest about my own sin.”

Maybe we should too!

A PRAYER: Oh God as I finally bare my soul, please fully grant your forgiveness.

bite the onion — March 27, 2019

bite the onion

James Ray Johnson – 650 words

I was a youth pastor in Texas, working with a budget that was slightly less than what a Texan spends on snow shovels.  What I lacked in funds I tried to make up in fun.  So, this night we were playing “bite the onion.”  

I sat the kids in a circle and placed the biggest, strongest, hottest onion I could buy, in the hands of a boy.  The rules: pass it around the circle until the music stops.  If the onion stops with you, then you must truthfully answer a question from the one who just passed it to you.  You can refuse to answer, but if you do, you must take a bite out of the onion. 

Eye of the Tiger began to pulsate (It was the eighties – OK) and the onion zipped around the circle like a hot potato.  (Oops I mixed my metaphors or my vegetables or something.)   Then I stopped the cassette. (Like I said, it was the 80’s) Sadie got stuck with the onion (the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed).  She was asked, “Do you still sleep with your stuffed Orca?”  “Yes, I do” she defiantly declared.

More music – then it stopped with Blaine.  “Blaine, did you take a shower yesterday?”  Without hesitating he took the first chunk out of the onion, and then ran for some water to wash away the burn (and maybe his body odor).  

The evening got increasingly less truthful and the onion, much smaller.  It stopped with Angie this time.  “Do you have a crush on Billy Bob?”  (which isn’t a fair question because a quarter of the males in Texas go by Billy Bob.)  But, everyone knew this one.  He was sitting in the circle. 

Angie turned every shade of red.  She refused to answer BUT she also utterly abhorred onions.  She was stuck – the game stopped – and the mob grew restless.   They chanted their demand, “Bite the onion – bite the onion.”  

Suddenly, Cathy ran to her, seized the onion and took a big crunchy bite.  The mob was stunned to silence.   What just happened?  Evidently, she cared enough for Angie to bite the onion for her.

The group decided that the rules had been met, the onion had been bitten and Angie was free of her obligation. 

The story was a gift.  I later used it to explain to the teens what Jesus has done for us.  In the end, each of us will be left holding the onion because each of us has violated God’s instructions. His ultimate rule is, “the one who sins must die.”  I sensed Angie’s angst – holding the onion and knowing that it has earned a penalty that would be a terror to pay.

But Jesus came forth and grabbed our onion of death and buried His teeth in it for us.  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 6:6-8) -NET Bible®

I reminded the kids that some of us try to vainly earn the approval of God.  Angie simply released the onion and let Cathy take and eat it.  Not much more is required when it comes to Jesus.  Acts 10:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”  -NET Bible®

The story of the onion helped them to see their need for Jesus.  Some chose to believe in Him and receive the gift of forgiveness He offered.

If you are still holding on to your onion, maybe it’s time to release it and let Jesus handle it.  He is anxious to take care of it for you. 


If you have 4 more minutes, pull up this video of Mark Mitchum (a deaf man) who signs the song, “What Sin?”  The message of the song and his fluid expressive movements still cause me to tear up.  (even without an onion) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AynCUpZya2s

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