Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

for the birds — July 27, 2021

for the birds

There was chaos in the children’s church!  Was a pigtail pulled? A flannelgraph mishap? 

I was delivering a scintillating sermon when parents began to walk out on me to locate the chorus of sobbing preschoolers.

The kids had been making birdfeeders by dabbing peanut butter on a pinecone and then sprinkling it with birdseed. 

Aha!  A parent discovered that the seed was laced with cayenne pepper to repel squirrels. 

The little ones handled the seed and then rubbed their eyes – hence, the blood curdling screams. 


I guess some things are harmless unless we touch them. 

Sin is a lot like that.  It burns, but only if we touch it.

Of course, temptation abounds today.   It shouts to us like a carnival barker who uses every trick to draw us in. 

There’s little we can do to insulate ourselves from temptation.  In fact, James argued that the inclination to sin is already within us.  He said, “But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires.”  (James 1:14)

My nature is to be a people pleaser – that’s my desire.  Which is why I am sometimes tempted to compromise to keep people happy.  I am a man – like any other man – who is tempted to browse in all the wrong places.  I like things and am occasionally tempted to twist my ethics to get what I want.

The devil’s mission is to identify these inclinations and to tease them out – to turn my thoughts into evil deeds.  James went on to say, “Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.” (1:15)

It is when we touch sin that we suffer.  It gives birth to death.  For the Christian this results in a profound deadness in our relationship with God – a relational black hole that persists until we face it and confess it as sin.  As always, He is faithful and just to forgive us.  (1 John 1:9) 

But unfortunately, we are unaware that there is heat in the seed.  Like the preschoolers we unknowingly touch and feel pain.   Therefore, James ended with the words, “Do not be led astray…” (1:16)

Temptation is beyond our control, but we can choose – we can choose – whether to touch it to not.  Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

So how do we do this?   Two words – NO and GO. 

Joseph was a virile young man whose ego had been crushed beneath the feet of his 10 vile brothers who had sold him into slavery.   Despite his anger and wounded self-esteem, he became a successful estate manager in the home of Potiphar. 

However, the man’s wife was drawn to him.   Genesis says, “His master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me.” (39:7)

His bruised ego must have surged.  The slave with little control over his life, was offered the driver’s seat.  How intoxicating it was to be wanted.   She may have been as purty as a toad, and bigger than a house, but I bet she looked appealing to Joseph. 

But he saidNO!  “How could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” (39:10)

Well she kept it up, day after day, until “NO” had to become “GO.” Genesis says, “One day he went into the house to do his work when none of the household servants were there.  She grabbed him by his outer garment, saying, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his outer garment in her hand and ran outside.”  (39:11-12)

There was no one else in the house.  If he were to take the bait, this would be the right time.  The pressure was intense, so, he knew he had to run.

NO and GO.  It’s as simple as that. 

When temptation comes, “Just say NO.”  I often have said it out loud which chokes the temptation immediately.  And if it’s possible, GO.  Leave the situation.  The temptation will abate as soon as you get through the door.   

When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, she responded, “God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’”   She understood. Don’t even touch it – and yet she did.  May we be wiser.

A PRAYER: “Lord my prayer is the one that you taught me to pray, “Deliver me from evil.” 

Scripture passages are from the NET Bible ®

the horn of dilemma — February 3, 2021

the horn of dilemma

The park was 430 acres of wild in Grand Prairie, TX.  Like all things Texas, this drive through park was over the top.  Yes, they had your standard zebras, gnus and giraffes – but there were also elephants and even lions who stalked the place – even lion cubs in the petting zoo.

We had never been to such a place and we had a 7 and a 5-year-old that needed to be wowed – so off we went.

With buckets of feed and the windows cranked down, we drove through the Jurassic Parkish gate.  We were in my old lumbering Chevy Impala (mindful that impalas were lion food back on the Savanna.) 

The car was quickly surrounded by a mob of animals with the craziest being the longhorn steer that tried to stick the span of his enormous head into our car to get to the feed. 

Then we encountered a lone rhinoceros.  I was stunned to see the behemoth trot up to my car.   I extended my wary hand and he clumsily swept the feed off and onto the ground. 

He lowered his head and vacuumed the pellets from the ground and then raised it up again, or at least he tried. His horn got caught on the under carriage of my car.   Oh boy!  There was an upset Rhino attached to my automobile. 

He tried to pull out – frantically jerking the car way up and then down as he did.  I think the kids may have been screaming.  OK I may have been screaming.  Was he going to flip the car?

He finally pulled away and we were left with nothing more than a dent.  (try explaining that to your insurance company?)


As in all of life, I try to glean wisdom from my experiences.  What I learned was this, “I need to be careful about what I feed!”

Wait!  This principle is way more practical than you may first think.

You see there is a part of me and you that is just as untamed and dangerous.  The Bible calls it the “flesh.”   The apostle Paul put it this way, “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.”  – Romans 7:18

This beastly nature was put to death at the cross for those of us who have been saved. (Galatians 2:20) and yet, it still lurks – waiting to be revived.  “For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.”  – Galatians 5:17  

This beastly nature will be with us ‘til we are with Jesus.  But it can’t rule us unless we feed it.  Paul put it this way, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.” – Romans 13:14.   In other words, “Don’t feed the animal!”

I was in seminary about the time a movie was released which centered on Amish life.  That sounded safe – right?  I wanted to do a date night with my wife to see it – but I needed to vet the movie first.

A friend had seen it and rated it 5 stars.  I asked about objectionable material.  He said – “Clean as a whistle – oh except one scene where the starlet was naked from the waist up.” 

Well I tried to rationalize the information away ‘cause I really wanted to see that movie.  But the Spirit of God began to needle me.  He reminded me about the beast. 

At the time I was laboring to learn Hebrew.  It seemed that whatever I learned on Monday was gone by Tuesday.  And yet if I were to see that movie, I knew that the image of the bare-chested woman would be forever imprinted on my mind.   I didn’t need it – so I threw the movie tickets away. 

There are just some places I don’t go because the beast is fed there.  There are some people I don’t hang with because the things they say and do, provoke me to do the same.  I’m very careful about what I read because it sparks the imagination of the beast.  I thoroughly review any movies or TV beforehand because I don’t want to awaken the beast.

One Rhino ride was more than enough for me.  I really do need to be careful about what I feed! 

A PRAYER: “May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight.” (Psalm 19:14) 

Scripture references are from the NETBible ®

too close — October 9, 2019

too close

james ray johnson

My cousins and my siblings and I were playing hide and seek in the small basement of our home.   Hiding places for the slew of us were as scarce as hen’s teeth, but my little brother Doug improvised. 

He searched the back room and found that the furnace had a hood which extended downward to within 3 feet of the floor.  He was able to stand under it with his head in it.  A perfect fit.  Never mind that only his head and shoulders were hidden. 

Believe it or not, he was the first to be caught.  Game over.  In fact, we were done for the day.  Up the stairs and through the door and into the kitchen we went, where my aunt sat and nursed a cup of coffee. 

She sniffed the air and asked in a disgusted tone, “What is that horrible stench?” 

Well – it was my brother and the unmistakable scent of burning hair.  His crew cut had been scorched by the heat in the furnace hood.  His hair was reduced to ashy, crispy nubs.  Actually, he would look quite stylish today.

As I recall we all got a spanking for that.  Thanks Doug!

My brother did not incinerate – but he could have, because the person that gets too close to the flame often does.

That’s what happened to King David.  He was taking a stroll around his palatial penthouse, when he happened to look down upon another rooftop where a beauty was bathing.  Instead of moving away from the flame, he lingered and watched (and his hair began to smoke.)  Like my brother, he thought that he was hidden and could beat the game.

David used his kingly authority to make a royal mistake –adultery, which led to conspiracy, and then murder.  His example poisoned his children and his Kingdom was crippled.  It all began when he made the choice to stand too close to the flame. (2 Samuel 11)

Joseph on the other hand, was aggressively pursued by the wife of his boss.  He consistently resisted her and when she finally forced the issue, he left his toga in her hands and ran for cover. (Genesis 39)

Paul put it succinctly in 1 Cor 6:18, “Flee immorality.”  We just can’t stand in the flame or be anywhere near it.  We gotta run from it, fast, as soon as we sense the heat.  We need to put distance between ourselves and temptation.  

We were taught to pray about temptation in the Lord’s Prayer. Can we really ask Him to deliver us from evil if we are content to dabble in it?

So, what do we do about the flame?  How do we distance ourselves? 

We could get a filtering app for the phone to block the questionable stuff on the net.  And it would probably be wise to quit lingering at the Keurig with that hottie at work.  And if there really is power in suggestion, then maybe we should be a little more discerning about what streams onto our flat screens.

Years ago, I discovered an effective way to douse the flame.   Temptation likes to hide.  It lurks in the recesses of the mind and is potent as long as it stays in the dark. In fact, it grows there like a black mold. 

To disarm it, temptation needs to be dragged from out of the dark and into the light.  So, when I am tempted, I interrupt it, by verbally saying, out loud, “No!”  Using my lips to say it, and my ears to hear it, exposes the threat.  It gives temptation a cold shower.

As a pastor/counselor I have passed this secret on to many, (mostly men) who have also found it to be really helpful.

Well my brother was a hard core hide and seek player!  He stood there in the heat while his head was being charred.   Believe it or not, he is still with us and enjoying his 6th decade and he has a good-looking head of hair with more color than I do.  But he also has somewhat of a nervous tic.  He jumps every time the furnace kicks on.

right field! — May 1, 2019

right field!

Jim Johnson – 687 words

I have two grandsons who began little league this year.  Their mom equipped them with more gear than the Rangers on opening day.  Give me one reason why every kid needs his own batting helmet?  OK – besides head lice?

Unfortunately, both boys started the program late in the game (no pun intended).  Their peers have been playing for years.  (Some already have the scratch down).  My boys are seriously improving every day, but they started out being exiled to the bane of baseball players everywhere – right field.

For fun, I googled this question: “Why is right field so bad?”  Wikipedia weighed in.  “Right field has developed a reputation in Little League as being a position where less talented players can be “hidden” without damaging a team’s defense in any significant way.”  A lofty ambition!  “Hey coach I want to go in.  Hide me where I won’t damage the teams defense in any significant way.” 

The ball hardly ever makes it to right field and every right fielder knows it.  I chuckle as I watch the many right fielders bear their boredom in the uttermost part of the field.  One twists like a contortionist, another gazes into the sky and another lays down in the fields of clover.

I sheepishly admitted to my son-in-law that I am the carrier of the right field gene.  I earned the position in my kindergarten year.

I filled up the boredom by pretending my glove was an army helmet, or by spectating at the spectators, or by stomping on bees who were sipping from the clover.  Yes, I am the one who is singularly responsible for the decline of the bee population.  

When I heard the crack of the old ash bat, I would look for projectiles coming my way.  No worries!  T-ball had not been invented yet and it was kid pitch all the way.  The chances of a kid throwing a strike, and another getting a hit were about the same as me getting signed to the Phillies. 

One shimmery bright afternoon, the coach sent me in to stomp on bees.   The score was – me seven – the bees zero.  Then I heard the bat pop and the spectators scream.  I looked up to find every eye locked on me. I panicked as I scanned the field for the ball.   

I found it – or actually – it found me.  I looked up and it hit me right on the head.  When I came to, I was surrounded by my dad, the coaches, Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1932 Yankees.  It’s possible the hit addled my brain a little.  Maybe my dad wasn’t actually there.

A painful lesson learned:  You can’t play the game unless you pay attention.

I have graduated from little league, but I am still in the game.  The visiting team maybe dressed in red (and I am not talking about the Cardinals).  Paul the apostle tells me that the evil one sends flaming arrows my way (Eph. 6:16).  He referenced the weapon of the Roman legions – hollow cane arrow shafts, filled with flammables to devastate their enemies. 

Satan launches his arrows of temptation and deceit to defeat and trip us up.  When we bat, he pitches low and outside and suckers us into swinging.   When his arrows find their target, it puts him on the scoreboard. 

Paul told us to pay attention, “by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  (Eph. 6:16) NETBible®  He referred to the Roman scutum, a wooden shield the size of a door.  It was covered in layers of leather which were thoroughly wetted before battle.  It effectively intercepted and extinguished flaming arrows. 

We have a shield. Because of our faith in Christ, we have the wisdom to discern truth from error, and the power to resist Satan’s worst.

Someone, however, must hold up that shield, pay attention and be ready for battle.  Someone must take their eyes off the bees and keep them on the game.  The flaming arrows come even to those who play right field. 

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