Godly Humor & Knowing When to Laugh


In the heyday of The Late Great Planet Earth, an impressionable young man was accosted by an itinerant street corner preacher of the apocalypse. “Son, you better get right—or get left,” the preacher shouted into his face. Unnerved by the encounter, the young man decided to do something about his predicament. So he joined the John Birch Society.

That’s a Dan Edelen original, folks. It’s also about as close as I come to poking fun at the events of this last weekend’s Rapture bust.

The impression most people get about me from this blog is that I’m a super-serious, modern day counterpart to that street corner preacher of the joke. Laughter humor funPeople who meet me in person are often struck by the fact that I’m funnier than they thought and not so deadly serious. In fact, some people don’t understand why I’m laughing all the time.

Fact is, I love to laugh. People who can’t laugh at themselves when they should or who can’t lighten up at all bother me more than just about any kind of person. Something IS wrong with a stick in the mud.

Which is why I want to point out what bothers me about how we Christians joke around.

I read a ton of barbed yucks at the expense of Harold Camping and his followers over the last month. I can expect that from people who aren’t Christians, as the whole Rapture thing—even when viewed biblically and with solid theology—sounds weird to unbelievers. No surprise. It was the sarcasm from Christians that took me aback, though.

I was 25 in September 1988 when 88 reasons were given by some Rapture aficionado for the removal of the Church that month. I recall the stories of the euthanizing of pets, the homes sold, the bunker mentality, and so on. I also remember the subsequent suicides, the financial ruination, and the falling away by those who pinned their hopes on getting out of here on the predicted date, which obviously came and went.

In short, none of that aftermath was funny then. That stuck with me for this latest go-round of Rapture predictions. It’s why I wasn’t laughing over the Camping fiasco. Likewise, false teachings and false prophecy are not funny because they take a human toll.

The Bible says this:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
—1 Peter 5:5b

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
—Philippians 2:3-4

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
—Galatians 5:14-15

My experience in life is that cutting humor used against others has a surefire way of backfiring. When we’re making fun of someone else, it almost always has a way of getting out of hand.

It’s an issue of humility on our part, too. Sure, someone may be woefully deceived, but our role is not to  stand apart from that person but to help in any humble way we can to restore them to truth. Mocking others never accomplishes this goal.

Those Christians I have known who have had the most effective lives for Christ and for reaching out to others are universally NOT known for their jibes. Quite the contrary, they have a winsomeness that attracts people and lets those hurting or misled people know that they are dealing with someone who is safe and can be trusted. In such an adversarial age, when mocking is considered a high art by some, and people go at each other’s throats over the littlest things, shouldn’t the Christian response run counter to the way of the world?

At my core, I am an arrogant person. Of all the sins that afflict me, pride is the worst. I thank God daily that He continues to weed out this toxic root in my life. I truly believe that I am a more humble person today than I once was.

More than once in my younger days, I was confronted by fellow believers who told me I used humor to hurt other people. And they were right. It was a way of making myself look superior. But it was stupid on my part, and I know that now.

I share that because many Christians are still in that place of thinking more of themselves than they ought. It’s why their ministry is less effective than it could be. It’s why other people don’t seek them out when they need help. It’s why no one wants to listen to them when they try to witness. It’s why those Christians give up witnessing at all.

But this is a post about humor, and I don’t want to be all dour lest I perpetuate that false view that I’m some deadly serious killjoy.

I can’t point to any Scriptural mandate here, but I think humor works best within the shared human experience. Rather than poking fun at one person or at a group of people who have a serious problem, when we laugh at the silly things that afflict us all we find a way to cope with the world. God gave us laughter, and I think humor—when used rightly—has a way of defusing tension and making life more manageable. When we use humor to create tension, especially tension in or toward a person or group of people who are “not us,” we stray from God’s best.

Many years ago, I was at a large Christian retreat center. My group had plans, but I had others, so I stayed behind in the lodge and talked with an elderly man. We sat around and enjoyed the glorious day, relaxing and telling jokes. He was a stitch and had me in tears at several points. Just a really funny guy. When I asked him his name, he said, “J. Oswald Sanders.” I was stunned. This was the great biographer of the apostle Paul and one of the foremost theologians of the age.

So yes, Christians can be funny. Even the heavyweights.

And they should be.

Truthfully, too many Christians need to learn to lighten up. We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves a bit more, but not in a way that hurts others. I think that only comes with a willingness to be humble and to recognize that life is hard. Even if it isn’t hard for us, it may be for someone else, and we need to consider the state of another person’s life before we assault them with joking. We do need to consider what is funny for us may not be funny for someone else. Better that we find something mutually funny, something in the shared human condition, that makes it less about our superiority and more about the positive attitude that faith in Christ brings to help us overcome the vagaries of life.

The Great Unconfession


The wiser you are, the more worries you have; the more you know, the more it hurts.
—Ecclesiastes 1:18

Winter holds sway here in southwestern Ohio, defined by cheek-stinging cold and relentless gray skies that suck all the color out of creation’s palette. January and February lurk.

This time of year in the Midwest is my least favorite by far. It takes a great deal of energy to refrain from going into the garage (doors down, of course), climbing into the family car, rolling down the windows, twisting the key in the ignition, and letting a CD of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” loop repeatedly on the car stereo while the CO billows over you.

Yeah, that bleak.

It’s that set of weeks when people start thinking too much because there’s time to think;  the Christmas madness is over and there’s little else to do when a foot of snow traps you in the house. Everyone goes a bit more inward than they do in mid-June. They start thinking about their lacks. Christians do this more than anyone, I think.

We Evangelicals hear a lot about unconfessed sin. You can blame all manner of ills on that beast. Unconfessed sin is the spiritual antithesis of duct tape:  Everything falls apart when wrapped in it.

Somehow in the English language, a tongue in which I am supposedly familiar, we can have something that is unconfessed but not an unconfession. I find that odd.

But I do not find it odd that, whether the word exists or not, Christians make unconfessions. When I think about what may constitute an unconfession, I consider those confessions that no one would ever declare before an assembled body of believers, even if all are mature and have walked with God for years.

We can probably all imagine what might remain an unconfession: a heinous sexual sin, some awful thing done to a child, possibly even a murder.

In some ways, those are easy.

I think there’s an unconfession even more devastating. It’s the kind of inner disquiet that I’ve never heard spoken out loud in polite Christian company. It’s by no means salacious or repugnant, but it makes so many people uneasy that it goes unconfessed from generation to generation.

What follows, I believe, is the great unconfession of many sincere, earnest Christians in America today:

I gave my life to Jesus, believe in Him with all my heart, serve Him with everything I have, yet life still seems meaningless.

In many churches in this country, if someone respected in the congregation stood up on Sunday and spoke those words, people would be appalled. Yet I believe that a whole host of Christians struggle with that unconfessed angst—and its killing them slowly.

Daily they trudge to a cubicle in a stark glass edifice, punch some characters into a computer keyboard, fight gridlock on the way home, barely stay awake as they wolf down a warmed-over meal, spend some half-hearted moments with their spouse and kids, stare down the list of things they have to do but can never find time to resolve, punch a few more characters into a computer keyboard, trudge to a dark bedroom, sleep six hours, get up, toss off a quick prayer or two asking for yet another unmet need, read a half-baked devotional reading for the day…lather, rinse, repeat until death lays claim to them in an unguarded moment. And they are told by their spiritual elders on Sundays that this is the abundant life.

If they are ultra-spiritual, they may go into the ministry, each day confronting a set of problems in the lives of others, problems that may, in fact, relent, only to be replaced by others, just as the people are themselves replaced by someone else who is hurting.  The great circle of pain. And the meaninglessness increases when all that work comes to naught some day because of one misunderstanding or another, and they move on to whatever the next ministry assignment is. And on Sundays they tell people that this is the abundant life. But there’s a catch in their heart that they hope doesn’t show in their voice—because the meaning of all this still escapes them.

I’ve had people write many times and tell me the reason they read Cerulean Sanctum is that I write from the heart. Truth is, much of what I write here is to myself. I need to hear what I write more than anyone else does.

And so I write this post because I struggle with meaninglessness, too, especially this time of year. I may be alone on this, projecting my own struggle onto the lives of other believers, but I don’t think so. I think many Christians bottle up this unconfession concerning their own battles against meaninglessness in life. To confess that one struggles with meaning post-conversion is about as close as one gets to apostasy in some Christian circles.

It gets worse for many people who struggle with meaninglessness because the truth is that Christ is our sufficiency. If we struggle with meaninglessness, it’s because we are not connected to Christ the way they should be. And that’s not Christ’s fault; it’s ours.

Doesn’t make the struggle any easier, does it?

I think this plague of meaninglessness has been a problem with mankind since the fall. Ecclesiastes captures this better than any book in the Bible. A sampling:

These are the words of the Philosopher, David’s son, who was king in Jerusalem. It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless. You spend your life working, laboring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. The sun still rises, and it still goes down, going wearily back to where it must start all over again. The wind blows south, the wind blows north—round and round and back again. Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The water returns to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. Everything leads to weariness—a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. “Look,” they say, “here is something new!” But no, it has all happened before, long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.
—Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Despite the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, I think we humans of 2009 struggle with meaning more than our ancestors did. Under a charcoal sky...Most of our communities have shattered. We roam far from our birthplaces in search of what does not ultimately satisfy, fracturing family and robbing us of connection. We have little time for each other, for that once-tribe that helped root in meaning those who preceded us. Even the imprisoned apostle Paul had his faithful companions who cheered him with their presence. Without them, would the writings of that great apostle have taken an even more somber tone? There’s a reason why God intended the Church to be a communion: He himself is a communion.

But we have lost the idea of communion/community. For this reason, I believe we have magnified our struggle against meaninglessness.

Meaning also goes wanting when a society’s end goals cheapen, when beauty is replaced with cynicism, accomplishment comes down to material accumulation, and youth trumps age and its community-building wisdom. All of this detracts from our sole source of meaning, God.

We are all caught up in this race to the bottomless pit of meaninglessness. Some handle it better than others. I know that I do not handle it well at all.

Maybe that’s because I believe life can be better than it is. Maybe we don’t have to settle for less. Maybe in the midst of all that meaninglessness something better arises: hope.

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself. Ask me again come March.

Banking on God: Theology, Part 3


I’d not intended on writing a third post on theology in my “Banking on God” series, but a combination of events convinced me I need to say more.

Today in church, we had a visiting evangelist from Ghana in Africa. He regularly comes to our church because we help his missions organization minister in the countries of Liberia, Ghana, and Togo. He’s a gentle, self-effacing, native-born African who always has a powerful word to speak to us Americans, especially how we must bring Jesus to Africans and also address their extreme poverty.

As I listened to him speak, he drove home a truth that can’t be ignored. And while I already knew of the situation he detailed, I never saw how critical it was until yesterday morning.

Islam continues to swallow the northern half of Africa, with more and more countries becoming majority/exclusively Muslim each year. Poverty, Christianity, and Islam in AfricaPart of the reason for Islam’s growth in Africa is that “evangelists” for Islam have learned what Christian missionaries knew for years: people are more willing to embrace your message if you help meet their physical needs.

To this end, Muslims are building schools, hospitals, wells, orphanages, electrical generators, and mosques at record pace. And they’re doing so backed by the money we pay for oil. With a barrel of oil over $100, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is heading. The Saudis funnel massive amounts of money to Islamic “missions” programs, and the leaders of those programs go into villages loaded full of cash they lavishly spend to help poor people out of crippling poverty.

This evangelist told us that this is a very difficult issue to overcome, especially when Christians cannot muster the same outpouring of largess. Worse, he told us that many projects by a number of Christian ministries in his area have stalled due to a lack of funds.

Part of his work is to help new converts find work because so many people are stuck in grinding poverty. His organization equips people to start businesses and find careers because the need is so great and so practical. His hope is that the Christians in the countries he ministers to will leverage their new businesses to make local churches self-supporting. But they are not there yet.

Sadly, as Christian efforts break even or stall, the continued flood of cash by Muslim organizations is perpetuating Islam’s tsunami through Northern and Central Africa.

I heard this and, I’ll tell you, it just made me sick to my stomach. Truly.

I don’t want to think that the reins we keep on our wealth here in the American Church are so tight that millions will go to a Christless eternity for our stinginess. And while some may argue that money is not the reason for people going to hell, surely a lack of benevolence on our part contributes to that outcome. The starving African should not come to the Christian and be turned away for lack of funds—only to find comfort in the arms of wealthy Islam.

Are we ready for that kind of apologetic? Isn’t it sad to think that Christians, who once built the vast majority of hospitals, schools, and orphanages around the world are being rapidly outspent in those same areas by Muslims?

In an age when rational Western Christians have largely dismissed signs and wonders evangelistic techniques, we either need to re-evaluate our anti-supernatural position in light of Islam’s outpouring of cash or exceed that benevolence with our greater giving. If we can’t compete monetarily, we better have something a whole lot better to offer people, something that meets their physical need right where they are.

As the Bible notes,

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
—Acts 3:6

That’s something Islam can’t possibly hope to match.


Banking On God: Series Compendium