Things that cause God to laugh

“But Thou, O Lord, dost laugh at them; Thou dost scoff at all the nations” (Psalm 59:8).

I think it was Erma Bombeck who said, “Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”

Or maybe it was Joan Rivers.

Anyway.  It’s right on the mark.

The writer for Our Daily Bread said this:  I was washing my car one evening as the sun was preparing to kiss the earth goodnight.  Glancing up, I impulsively pointed the hose at it as if to extinguish its flames.  The absurdity of my action hit me, and I laughed.

I get a kick out of seeing how prophecy experts bend over backward trying to locate the United States–as well as whatever country happens to be giving us headaches at the moment–in Scripture.  As though our moment in history is so huge and our place in God’s plan so essential, how dare anyone suggest He could have planned the grand sweep of history without our being given a starring role.

As if.

Isaiah 40 has a good word on this.

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Strategy for pastoral success: Make a mistake, a big one

In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.

The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.

This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.

This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.

My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:

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How to use humor in your sermon/speech even if you’re not a pro

Watch this. This is how it’s done.

Some years back, Robert Mueller was giving a commencement address at the College of William and Mary. This former director of the FBI in the first Bush administration is the epitome of dignity and class. He is anything but a comic or comedian. That day, speaking on “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” which he called the motto of the Bureau, he demonstrated a great way to use humor in a serious talk.

“In one of my first positions with the Department of Justice, more than thirty years ago, I found myself head of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. I soon realized that lawyers would come into my office for one of two reasons: either to ‘see and be seen’ on the one hand, or to obtain a decision on some aspect of their work, on the other hand. I quickly fell into the habit of asking one question whenever someone walked in the door, and that question was ‘What is the issue?’

“One evening I came home to my wife, who had had a long day teaching and then coping with our two young daughters. She began to describe her day to me. After just a few minutes, I interrupted, and rather peremptorily asked, ‘What is the issue?’

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Have you met the members of my congregation?

I belong to the greatest church in the world.  We have an eclectic group of members and leaders. You would love them.  Here are some of their names….

First off, our pastor is Rev. Turner Byrne.

The deacons are Rod(ney) N. Staff, Moe Love, Noah D. Word, and Ruffin Tumble.

The Sunday School teachers are I. M. Humble, Chester Drawers, Hal E. Looyah, and Shuck D. Corn.

The church council includes I. M. Wright, R. U. Ready, H. Evan Sent, and Joiner R. Flock.

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A funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery

If you’re ever sitting around with two or three preachers, ask for their funniest stories, the most memorable wedding or funeral they’ve done, something like that.  Pull up a chair because you’ll be here for an hour.

I don’t have any funerals where the “honored guest” got up and walked out, or where the wrong person was discovered to be in the casket, or such foolishness as that. And for good reason.

Funerals are highly structured affairs, regulated by state law and overseen by a whole battery of mortuary employees and family members.

When we gather at the funeral home, the family has already been in conference with the mortician on how they want things done. The funeral directors stand nearby to make sure all goes according to plan. As a result, there is usually very little wiggle room there, space for the unexpected to occur.

And that’s not all bad.

I did this one funeral…

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The best time I ever had in nearly 60 years of ministry

“What is the best time you ever had in a long lifetime of ministry, Joe?”

Wow. I don’t know.  Let me think about it….

A ride in an Air Force jet? The only reason that plane ride in the T-38 was so much fun is that I did it, survived it, then looked back and remembered it with pleasure. Columbus AFB Wing Commander Colonel Chet Griffin said, “You’ve been ministering to these student pilots all these years; you ought to learn something of what they go through.” As I say, it was great fun–in retrospect. (smiley-face goes here)

Chet and his lovely bride Eva Lee are beloved friends now for nearly a half century.  I was their pastor twice, during their  two assignments at Columbus, and we forever bonded. Over the years we have visited with each other, and still keep in touch.  Chet is a Sunday School teacher of the highest grade, and was used of the Lord to reach numerous Air Force officers for Christ.  He still teases me about that plane ride. Btw, my pilot that day was Captain Bob Orwig, now a Ph.D. professor at North Georgia and a dear friend, with his wife Linda.

Mission trip? The 1977 trip to Singapore (via Chicago, Anchorage, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and finally my destination) and back was part of a long, long process of drawing an evangelistic comic book for the missionaries there, then coloring each of the many pages (with acrylic and tiny brushes!), and printing up 10,000 copies for their use. It was a job! It was fun mainly in retrospect because we did it, it was most unusual, we would never be doing anything like that again, and we survived it.

Getting to know missionaries like Bob and Marge Wakefield as well as Ralph and Ruthie Neighbour was a special delight.

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Anecdotes a preacher would kill for

Anecdotes are short, catchy stories, the kind pastors and public speakers insert in just-the-right-spot to pep up a message. The word comes from the Greek and literally means “things not given out.”  In other words, “unpublished.”

Winston Churchill called them “the gleaming toys of history.” They are hard to define, but we all know a good one when we find one. Here are a few of my favorite stories…..

One. During the 1957 World Series between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees, slugger Hank Aaron came up to bat. Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher, noticed he was holding the bat wrong. “Turn it around,” he told Aaron. “So you can read the trademark.” (That’s the usual wisdom on how to hold a bat.) Hank never looked back, but said, “Didn’t come up here to read. Came up here to hit.”

And brother, did he ever.

Two. A patient afflicted with chronic depression called on the famous British physician John Abernethy. After examining him, Dr. Abernethy said, “You need amusement. Go down to the playhouse and hear the comedian Grimaldi. He will make you laugh and that will be better for you than any drugs.” The patient said, “I am Grimaldi.”

Great comedy is said to emanate from great suffering.

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Entering the ministry? Bring with you a good sense of humor!

Don’t just sit there. When you could be soaring with the eagles!

Why sit we here until we die? (2 Kings 7:3)

Every pastor has a story or two he used to tell but which was lost because of the years and circumstances.  I told this one a few times over twenty years ago and just ran across it in Chuck Swindoll’s book of 1500 stories, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart.

Back in the summer of 1982, Larry Walters, truck driver, had too much time on his hands without a clue what to do with it all.  Mostly, he sat in his back yard drinking beer and thinking.  One day he began to wonder what would happen if he were to get himself several surplus weather balloons, tie them together, and go aloft.  He could spy on his neighborhood, and wouldn’t that be fun?

That’s why on July 2nd of that year he rigged up forty-two surplus helium-filled balloons from the U. S. Weather Service or some such agency.  He anchored them to a backyard lawn chair he’d bought from Sears in San Pedro, California.  Before lifting off, he thoughtfully brought along a pellet gun so he could shoot out a few balloons in case he began to fly too high.

To his utter amazement, the balloons lifted off with a bang. In no time flat he was soaring through the sky, eventually reaching 16,000 feet. That’s three miles, y’all.

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The day I was kicked out of Wal-Mart

I’ve waited a while to tell this, so the host pastor would not put two and two together and a) be embarrassed or b) feel he should march into his local Wal-Mart and confront someone.

I was doing a senior adult revival in a wonderful church in a small Alabama city.  Late that afternoon, on my way to the church I saw I was a little early, so stopped by the lccal Wal-Mart to pick up a sketch pad.  They have great pads at a reasonable price and I always try to have a couple of extras on hand.

As I neared the checkout stations, I noticed none of the ladies had a single customer.  I made some little remark about “which one shall I go to” and then one of them checked me out.  Still no customers anywhere near, so as I often do, I said to the checker in front of me, “Hey, smile at me and I’ll sketch you.”  It takes a minute or so.  “Draw me,” the next one said.  I had time, so kept on drawing.

I was on the third or fourth one when a woman walked up.  “Sir, you’re not allowed to do that.”

I said, “I’m not allowed to sketch them?  I’m not taking them away from their work, and I’m giving them a nice little gift.”

“You’re not allowed to take pictures of the employees,” she said sternly.

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