Laugh Again

by Gary Johnson 

Every Christmas, my wife Leah says that she is going to buy me “Miracle Ear” for my gift.  To her, it seems that my hearing is waning.  Like many, I have what we call selective hearing.  Yet, there is a sound that I have not heard in recent times, and perhaps you can say the same. 
 
Where has all the laughter gone?  Have you noticed its conspicuous absence?
 
Life today is not a laughing matter.  COVID is making a comeback across the country and around the world.  Businesses that were told they could open are now being told to close.  Our nation is divided politically as never before.  Civil unrest is unrelenting.  Even Christians are at odds with one another.  Even the American Psychological Association recently stated that 70 percent of Americans say this is the lowest point in US history they can remember.  These are heavy-hearted days and there is little about which to laugh.
 
Yet, we need to laugh again – loudly and often.  We need to enjoy belly-busting laughter.  And why?  Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that “laughter is good like a medicine.”  We all want a vaccine for the virus, but we already have some great medicine for our souls that is readily available – laughter!
 
Laughing actually improves our breathing, increases our blood flow, reduces our stress, activates our “feel-good” hormones in the brain, and makes for a stronger immune system.  Knowing this, who would not want to “take this medicine” and laugh out loud?      
 
Think with me.  Jesus had a fun side.  In John 21, the resurrected Jesus appeared to some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee.  Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing.  It wasn’t an afternoon of recreational fishing, hoping to get a few bluegills for supper.  The text reads that they fished through the night – and caught nothing.  Ashamed for having denied knowing Jesus three times, Peter reverted to his old ways and went back to commercial fishing.  Jesus appeared to them early in the morning and the boat was about one hundred yards from shore.  He could have called out to them, “Hey guys!  It’s Me, Jesus!  Get in here!”  But, He didn’t.  He told them to “throw their nets on the other side of the boat,” and as they did so, the nets were filled with 153 fish!  Been there.  Done that.  Jesus performed this miracle with the disciples when He firsts met them some three years earlier.  Immediately, they knew it was Jesus and they took off for the shore.  Peter even jumped in the water and swam, the laden boat moving too slowly for him.  Talk about a practical joke.  I can “hear” the gut-busting belly laughter coming from Jesus.  Luke reminds us that Jesus “was filled with joy through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and the same can happen with us.  After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes joy (Galatians 5:22).
 
We have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God has a sense of humor.  We often think of God as being serious 24/7, but we need to think of God as being our ultimate joy-giver.  In Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (HarperCollins, 1977), gifted author and pastor Frederick Buechner describes a joyful moment from Genesis 18.
 
The place to start is with a woman laughing.  She is an old woman, and after a lifetime in the desert, her face is cracked and rutted like a six-month drought.  She hunches her shoulders round her eyes and starts to shake.  She squinnies her eyes shut, and her laughter is all wheeze and tears running down as she rocks back and forth in her kitchen chair.  She is laughing because she is pushing 91 hard and has just been told she is going to have a baby….  The old woman’s name is Sarah, of course, and her old man’s name is Abraham, and they are laughing at the idea of a baby’s being born in the geriatric ward and Medicare’s picking up the tab.  Maybe the most interesting part of it all is that far from getting angry at them for laughing, God told them that when the baby was born, he wanted them to name him Isaac, which in Hebrew means laughter.  So you can say that God not only tolerated their laughter, but blessed it and, in a sense, joined in it himself.
 
Does it look like we have been baptized in vinegar and weened on a pickle?  Maybe it’s time we start smiling and laughing again.  Let’s resolve to watch more comedies than we do action, suspense, or even horror movies.  And speaking of horror, rather than binging on fear-driven news updates, let’s read humorous stories.  Are there funny stories from your past?  Tell them again and again as if they were happening for the very first time.  And let’s not forget to laugh at ourselves! 
 
Years ago, someone gave me a piece of art as both a gift and a reminder.  This piece of art has never left my desk.  It is a well-known sketch of Jesus.  Drawn in 1973 by the late Canadian artist Willis Wheatley, Christ, Liberator (probably more commonly known as “Jesus Laughing”) became a sensation.  Why?  Few Christians ever gave thought to Jesus having a sense of humor.  This sketch reminds me to laugh like Jesus.  After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
 
Go ahead.  Laugh out loud.  People will wonder what we’re up to. 

News Story by Vancouver Sun about Willis Wheatley and the image:
https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/meet-the-creator-of-the-laughing-jesus-photo/

Tools for the Times

by Jeff Faull 

Chances are, you saw the same stuff I’d read.  Dust storms all the way from the Sahara are the latest threat to our safety.  One person humorously responded to the news like this:

“Always wondered what it would be like to live during the times of the Civil War, the Spanish flu, the Great depression, the civil rights movement, Watergate and the dustbowl.”

And, I might add, murder hornets, giant asteroids, Cyclospora food-borne illness and the list goes on…  Seems that threats are multiplied.  We definitely live in a V.U.C.A. world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

So how do we live on this planet in these chaotic times?  How do we respond to 2020?  And what can elders do to understand the times and help believers navigate this increasingly insane culture?

We who are shepherds can start by identifying some tools for God’s people to have in their discipleship toolbox to face uncertain times.  We can’t merely tell them what they are supposed to think, but we can provide biblical tools to help them learn to think and use the tools well.

At Mt. Gilead, where I serve, we are highlighting and demonstrating some of these tools and how to use them in our next sermon series, 2020 Tools for the Times.

We are building our toolbox and developing our skills with things like…

  • Courage and Conviction
  • Discernment and Wisdom
  • Spiritual Awareness
  • Active and Prayerful fasting
  • Good Theology and Hermeneutics
  • Uncommon Decency
  • Healthy Community
  • Righteous Justice
  • Honest History
  • Enduring Effort

Our responsibility as leaders and elders is to equip our people, including our children, with these essential cultural tools to use in an increasingly confusing and unsettling future.  

We can do this.  

Indeed, we must.

No Strangers Here

by Jeff Stone 

All leaders have had that awkward moment when encountering someone we’ve met, but find ourselves struggling to remember his/her name.  Remembering names is a leadership tool we all can develop that pays large Kingdom dividends.
 
Dale Carnegie, in his best-selling business classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, observed, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”  Making the effort to learn, remember, and call people by name, is a path to make a genuine connection and have spiritual influence on their lives. 
 
Jesus thought it was important enough to mention in John 10 that the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” (v. 3).  A moment later He also said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…” (v. 14).
 
As shepherds of the flock, taking a personal interest in people makes a profound difference as we lead the flock.
 
I’ve often had people tell me, “At first when I visited the church, I felt a bit intimidated because it was larger than our previous church, but when you called us by name on our return visit, it made us feel ‘at home’ and that the church wasn’t too large for us to matter here.”
 
Remember that “people want to know and be known.”
 
Here are some practical tips to help us do a better job of learning people’s names:

  1. When meeting someone new, make a conscious effort to remember the name.  Often, we fail to concentrate or are distracted when being introduced, then later when we can’t recall the name, we realize that we weren’t focused when we met.
  2. Repeat the name when you meet.  “Don, it’s good to meet you.  I’m really glad you chose to worship with us today, Don.”  That will ensure you heard the name correctly and the repetition will reinforce the name, better engraving it in your memory. 
  3. Write it down as soon as possible for later reference.  After meeting, when you walk away, jot in down on your bulletin or in the flyleaf of your Bible the name of the guests you just met for future reference.  It’s also OK to say when meeting, “Could you spell your name for me, please?  I’d like to write it down to help me learn it and be better able to remember your name.”  Few people object to someone making an extra effort to take a personal interest in them.  Also, the exercise of writing it improves our retention since we remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we see and hear, and 40% of what we see, hear, and write down.
  4. Review your list on Sundays before arriving at worship.  Study the names of new guests who have recently visited your church and pray for them on following weekends that God will bring them back to your services that day.  Refreshing yourself on their names will help you call them by name when you see them.  That’s done not to impress them with your recall, but to impress on them that God knows them, loves them, is interested in their struggles, and wants to enter their lives on a personal level.  He demonstrates His love through each of us.

That’s your assignment the next time you see a new face.  Go out of your way to welcome and authentically connect with that new person.  Remember what Will Rogers said: “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met.”
 
We want to always be willing to enlarge the circle and include the next new person whom God sends our way.