Grief and Humor — Part 2

(The first of this two-part piece was posted on June 30, 2015.  Access it by scrolling backward on our website.)

There are no comedians in Scripture and no jokes.  But there is a great deal of humor.

Elton Trueblood’s classic “The Humor of Christ” nowhere mentions the Lord as telling jokes or trying to be funny.

In times of grief–the subject before us today–it’s humor that eases the pain and lifts the spirits.  Not funny business, although there are notable exceptions.

I’m all for fun and laughter.  But mostly, we save that for another time.

At moments of grief, something a little gentler and sweeter is in order:  Something humorous.

Tom Brokaw’s new book “A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope” tells of his battle with cancer in recent years.  Multiple Myeloma is serious stuff, and it required his putting his life on hold to deal with it, and the involvement of Mayo Clinic as well as Sloan-Kettering.

Brokaw was speaking to an audience in Portsmouth, New Hampshire recently, and it was telecast tonight.  Throughout his presentation, the audience was often laughing with him. Since I’ve been working on a paper dealing with “grief and humor,” I paid attention.

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10 things about worship on a Sunday morning

I’m preaching on worship today at a church in Southwest Mississippi. A few weeks ago when the pastor asked for my subject, I quickly said “Worship is a verb” for a title of the message.  Hardly without a thought.  This is a big deal with me, I thought. God is working on this in me.  I’ve preached and written on it before.  I know some basic texts and have one huge burden on the subject, namely, that most Christians I know have it backward and think worship is all about “me.”  Then, as often happens, when I began preparing and praying for the message, I realized just how little I actually know on the subject.  God help me. 

1) God wants His children to worship.  In fact, He wants “everything, everywhere” to worship Him.

In Revelation, at the climax of all history, the praise chorus will include “every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them” (Revelation 5:13).  No wonder Scripture says “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

I wouldn’t be surprised if finally “the rocks cry out” (Luke 19:40).

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Ramifications: It has nothing to do with sheep

“We who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5)

We are all interconnected and are in this thing together.

The sooner we realize that, the better.

In the introduction to their book “One Anothering,” Dan Crawford and Al Meredith wonder if you have heard “the goose lesson”.

Geese flying south for the winter usually fly in a V-formation.  This formation adds at least seventy-one percent greater flying range, because the flapping of one bird’s wings creates uplift for the bird immediately following.  When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the flock, and another goose flies point.  Geese honk from behind to encourage the lead goose.  If a goose gets sick or injured and falls out, two geese follow it down to help protect it.  They stay until the fallen goose is able to fly or is dead, and then they join another formation and continue their journey. Should a goose fall out of formation, it quickly feels the difficulty of flying alone and returns immediately to the formation.

You and I are so interconnected, we might as well have slots and tabs.

No man is an island.

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Pastor, you’ve been invited to preach in an unfamiliar setting (and you’re trying not to panic)

A preacher friend whom I know only from Facebook sent out a panicky plea. He’s been invited to preach in a church known to be rather loose regarding some basic Christian doctrines.  The friend is a Bible-preaching conservative.

Uh oh.

He is anxious and eager at the same time.

He asked a number of us:  “What should I preach? What text should I use?  Suggest some good ones! Some of the people in that church are probably unsaved.”

The answers piled in. One minister urged him to preach the entire story of redemption beginning with Creation and the fall and going forward.

That advice strikes me as highly questionable, although I’m confident it was well-intended.

I said: “My brother, do not try to reverse the history of this church in one 25-minute sermon. Just preach a text the Holy Spirit gives you and leave the results to Him.”

Then, I sent this personal, private note.  “This is no time to reinvent the wheel and attempt something you’ve never preached before. Take a lesson from grandma in the kitchen. When guests are coming, you do not test new recipes. Serve something you’ve prepared before and know your way around.  Ask the Lord to lay on your heart one of the time-tested messages He has taught you in the crucible of life.”

Preach what you know.

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What I told her when she said her prayers were so weak

“It’s not all up to you.”

She had given me a burdensome list of prayer needs.  Her husband was battling a terminal illness, her daughter was in a bad situation, the grandchildren were at risk, and she herself felt so far away from the Lord.

I’m breaking no confidence in sharing this.  First, she gave permission, and second, her needs are not unlike a dozen people whom I know. There is a lot of this going around.  A few minutes ago, a mother whom I do not know, but who found us on the internet, wrote with a similar list of prayer needs.

She asked me to pray for her. She did not ask for advice. However, while I am indeed lifting her needs in prayer, the next best gift I can give is to encourage her own praying.’

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Humor and grief in ministry…hand in hand

“There is….a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The doctors at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Medical Center confirmed to Ted that the lung cancer had indeed metasticized to his brain.  “Perhaps six months, more or less,” said the doctor when Ted asked how long he had.  The worst news imaginable.

However, that night the doctor called his room.

“I’ve been studying the brain scans,” he said. “And I believe yours is Primary Lung Cancer which has moved to the brain.”  He went on to say that Primary Brain Cancer is not treatable, but a metasticized Primary Lung Cancer behaves differently in the brain and is often treatable.

There was hope, after all.

When he got off the phone, Ted explained this to his family. He was quiet a minute, then said, “Well, you know it’s your basic bad situation when you’re praying for lung cancer!”

And they laughed.

Can you weep and laugh at the same time?

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When we backslide, a dozen things happen, all of them bad

“The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15)  

What started this was a note from a fellow who took issue with something I said about the church.  He had no use for the church, he said. Every church he’d ever attended preached a shallow message, the sermons were mind-numbingly boring, and the people were dull and listless.  After venting, he wondered if I’d be interested in some essays he’d written about the church.  I declined.

In our exchange, I said, “Could I tell you something that happened to me?  IEven though ‘ve been preaching for over half a century, at least twice during that time, I have gotten out of fellowship with the Lord.  What we call “backsliding.”

And when that happened, I noticed something surprising.  I became negative about my fellow church members and critical of the other ministers.  Then, when I humbled myself and repented, I saw them in a new light and found myself loving them. That was a fascinating thing to learn.

This was as gentle a way as I could find to tell the man that my money is on his being in rebellion against God. In his backslidden state, he is down on the Lord’s people.

Backsliding.  Interesting term, isn’t it?  It says what it is, and needs little explanation.

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Preaching about America in the worst way

Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.”  “The country is becoming socialist.”  “The president is our worst enemy.”  “The Supreme Court is ruining America.”  “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”

Okay, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court has just ruled that homosexuals can marry in any state in the union, forever changing the character of this country.

We are justifiably concerned. And we are stuck with their decision.

Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country?  Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Not so fast.

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The most amazing thing we do when reading Scripture

Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Whosoever surely meaneth me.”  — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.   

“He included me.”  — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.

Every Christian I know does this and I do it too.  And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.

In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do?  We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.

We revel in those words.

We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness.  We do it for another overwhelming reason.

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Back into the pastorate: What I would do differently

“Keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The editor’s last question was “What would you do differently if you were going back into the pastorate today?”

After responding to his other seven questions at length (see the previous article on our website), I felt this one needed more reflection and its own space.  So, this is my attempt to answer that good question….

Well, first,  I’m highly tempted to say….

–I would wonder about that church.  Why in the world does it want a 75-year-old has-been as its shepherd?  They must be really hard up.

–I would have my head examined.  (If Margaret were still living, she might say, “And you’d have to find yourself another wife!” lol)

But seriously.

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