This fellow stopped me after church the other evening. I was the guest preacher there and about to walk out the door and drive home, a good 90 minute task. I was tired and he had a joke to tell me and another preacher friend.
“You seem like a together person,” he said in my direction. “Comfortable in your own skin. Good sense of humor. So, I have a joke for you.”
He began, “Did you hear the one about Billy Graham, the Pope, and Oral Roberts all dying and going to Heaven at the same time?”
How do you say, “Yes, I’ve heard it a few dozen times and didn’t like it the first time?” You don’t. You stand there and try to look like you’re listening.
It took the poor guy forever to tell the story, of how God said they had arrived unexpectedly, that their mansions were not quite ready yet, and would they mind if He sent them to purgatory for a bit first. He told of a conversation between God and the devil, in which the Lord was asking permission from hell’s warden.
It went downhill from there.
Finally–I know, I shouldn’t have, but I did–I said, “Is this where they air-condition hell?”
“Yes, after a couple of days, the devil is on the phone to God saying, ‘Can you come get them? The pope has healed everybody, Billy Graham has got them all saved, and Oral Roberts has taken up an offering and air-conditioned the place!”
This is the type of religious joke appreciated primarily by non-religious people. When it was originally told–decades ago, no doubt–it came from the beer-drinking, tavern-hopping crowd who enjoy making snide remarks about religious leaders such as the three mentioned.
Everyone else groans.
The story is unworthy. It’s unworthy of God, unworthy of the subjects in the story, and unworthy of a Christian to tell it.
I would hope the fact that I did not find it funny would speak volumes to that fellow. It’s not just that it’s a good joke which I’ve heard too many times. Rather, it’s an insult. Near blasphemy, if I may say so.
Whether one has a sense of humor has nothing to do with it. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever faulted mine. I’m a cartoonist and delight in telling great stories, whether of real happenings or fictional, truth or jokes. I’m in favor of a great joke. Genesis 21:6, where Sarah says, “God has made laughter for me,” is a biggie for me. I sometimes remind audiences, “God has made laughter for you too, and some of you are not getting your minimum daily requirement!”
But the Holy Spirit refines the sensitivities of believers on the subject of what’s funny and what isn’t. Of what is worthy and what is unworthy.
Here are three texts that speak to this and everything else you and I do–
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” (Ephesians 4:1)
“…that you walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him….” (Colossians 1:10)
“…that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:12)
Walk worthy of your calling, of the Lord Jesus, of God the Father.
The ultimate question for believers is: “Is this worthy of my Lord?”
That is, is what I’m doing (or considering doing) pleasing to Him? Will it reflect well on Jesus? Or, is it an insult to Him?
We would do well to ask that before offering our worship, our prayers, our financial contributions, our hymns, everything.
We remember the shoddy offerings God’s people were bringing to the Temple in the days of Malachi. The Lord found them insulting.
“You offer defiled food on My altar. But you say, ‘In what way have we defiled you?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer the lame and the sick, is that not evil?
“Try that with your governor. Offer it to him! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?’ says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:7-8)
From time to time, someone comes to me with a joke about Scripture. For a long time, I smiled or even laughed slightly in order to spare their feelings. But no more. As painful as it may be to stop someone with a well-intentioned plan to spread a little mirth, we should not miss this teaching moment. We owe something to our brother or sister.
Originally, the story went like this: “Daddy, what is ‘butt dust?’”
Dad asks his child, “What are you talking about?”
The child says, “When you read the Bible, you said God remembers that we are butt dust.” (The reference is to Psalm 103:14.)
I suppose it was funny the first time I heard it.
But I wish I’d never heard it.
The other day someone approached me with that joke. I stopped them.
“Can I tell you something? A long time ago, someone told me that joke. And now, I can’t read that scripture without thinking of that dumb little line. I wish I’d never heard of it, because it has forever messed that text up for me.”
I said, “Do you mind if I encourage you not to ever tell that joke again? I think it’s unworthy of you and is surely unworthy of your Lord.”
As one who loves to hear a good joke and even more, enjoys telling it, I regularly pray Psalm 141:3 for myself: “Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.” And Psalm 19:14, also: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and My Redeemer.”
For those who are serious about serving God and honoring Jesus Christ, it’s not enough to cleanse our language of profanity and obscenities. Anything unworthy of His honor and our calling should be scrubbed away also.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit….” (Ephesians 4:29-30).