A Time for Laughing

 “A time for crying and a time for laughing.”

Ecclesiastes 3:4a (Common English Bible)


Samuel Butler said, “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken seriously.” I remember early in my ministry a man took exception to my humor during worship, “Worship should be religious and not a time for laughter.” In fairness, he didn’t object to laughter. He had a wonderful sense of humor and his laughter was contagious. His contention was that laughter didn’t belong in worship. I suppose he could have built a sturdy argument from this lesson in Ecclesiastes. There is not present in this book of the Bible an objection to laughter. Only that there is a proper time for it and, perhaps, worship is not that time.


On the other hand, I remember the prominent preacher, Thomas Long once commenting that worship is “dress rehearsal” for life in the kingdom – for our eternal life with God following our resurrection from death. In the drama of worship we learn the vocabulary for that life, specifically, the language of praise and adoration of God, and the posture for that life, the posture of humility. But – and perhaps most importantly – we learn something of the nature of God and how God desires to be in relationship with us. Worship becomes a moment that provides a glimpse of ordinary life with our creator. If that is true, then laughter belongs in worship. Without it, we could easily lose it.


Naturally, we are to be serious about some situations. When someone becomes ill or suffers an injury there is simply no room for laughter. The death of a loved one or news of the devastating loss of a marriage, financial security, or estrangement from someone we hold dear present moments when we rather quickly become serious. Samuel Butler would concur with Ecclesiastes that these are moments not for laughing but for crying and mourning. Yet, we should not let these moments last for very long. Not any of the moments represent the sum total of a life. That is precisely the argument of Ecclesiastes. When we lose our ability to laugh, those other moments have the potential to tear our life apart.

Recently I learned of the work of artist Deb Minnard. She has completed nearly a dozen paintings of Jesus laughing. These works are a delightful contrast to the wide depiction of Jesus as serious or somber. On February 3, 2013 I stood in the pulpit to welcome the congregation to worship. That Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday and the Baltimore Ravens were facing the San Francisco 49ers for the NFL championship. With my own team, the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated for the season, I threw my support to the Ravens. In my welcome that morning I simply noted for the congregation that I was wearing a purple necktie – the Ravens’ team color. I believe that Deb Minnard captured in her paintings Jesus’ response.




Success in the Spiritual Life

The following is from Doug Hood\’s upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Mediations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Vol. 2  

“Train yourself for a holy life! While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come.”

1 Timothy 4:7b, 8 (Common English Bible)


Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams…he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”[i] Advancement in a chosen direction is intentional movement, not simply a longing or a dream. One is aspirational; the other is a determined pursuit. One person may aspire to learn the Italian language; another enrolls in language class. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, “Have I determined a pathway for realizing my dreams? Am I now pursuing that path?” Success, says Thoreau, belongs to those who begin to move in the direction that is right for them. That is when things start to go our way.


In this letter to Timothy, Paul uses an athletic metaphor to describe, “Advancing confidently in the direction of a holy life.” He urges the reader to “Train yourself,” that is, to advance intentionally and confidently in the direction for living as Christ. The Greek word Paul uses for “train” is the word from which we get “gymnasium.” It would be odd for anyone to go to a gym simply to watch others train. Gyms have value, not as “observation posts” for people who dream of better health, but as an “action center” for advancing toward better health. When Paul speaks about training in holy living, he is talking about activities that engage us – activities that make a demand upon us.


It is good for us to reassess our priorities from time to time. Often we speak of our aspirations: an aspiration to learn a musical instrument, an aspiration to travel, or an aspiration to return to school. Yet, without “advancing confidently in the direction of our dreams,” they remain aspirations. Absent is a commitment and plan to advance toward them. Someone once observed that our priorities are transparent for the world to see – they see our priorities in what we do each day. The mature person understands that what is important receives time, energy, and intentionality. If consistently arriving to work on time is important for job security, we arrive to work on time.  


Thomas Long writes that if the holy life is our aim, we go to the theological gym to do curls, crunches, and run laps to train, not to run a marathon but in order to be people of love.[ii] Naturally, observes Tom Long, it does not take much training to love the lovable. However, when Christ calls us to love those who are difficult to love – or to love our enemies – then, that takes practice. That takes time in the theological gym. “Train yourself for a holy life!” writes Paul. The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said that the supreme goal of men and women is to fulfil themselves – to honor their unique calling in life. The apostle Paul is asking that we now honor our baptismal vows – to become like Christ.



[i] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press, 1981), 326.

[ii] Thomas G. Long, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Know Press, 2016), 131.


Life Without Shame


“‘I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene in every way possible. And that’s exactly what I did in Jerusalem. I locked up many of God’s holy people in prison under the authority of the chief priests. When they were condemned to death, I voted against them. In one synagogue after another – indeed, in all the synagogues – I would often torture them, compelling them to slander God. My rage bordered on the hysterical as I pursued them, even to foreign cities.’”

Acts 26: 9-11 (Common English Bible)


 Snoopy, of Peanuts comic strip fame, was sitting on his doghouse writing another novel. No Ernest Hemingway, he begins his novel as he begins all his novels, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lucy comes along, looks at Snoopy’s draft and begins to berate him. “How silly you are,” she says, “for such a beginning. Everyone knows that every great novel begins with, ‘Once upon a time.’” In the next frame, Snoopy starts again. “Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night.” Perhaps you feel that way some days. In your heart it is a dark and stormy time. For many people, the inner storm is the result of guilt, guilt for failures that have hurt those we love. Lucy fails to understand that no turn of phrase can settle the storm.


 It seems to me that most people today live with some guilt. For some, the burden of guilt diminishes their posture, shoulders pushed down and eyes that are heavy. Guilt is felt for what has been done and for what has been left undone. In one church that I served a man confessed that he cheated on his wife during a business trip. He asked that I tell her for him, “She will take it better from you. She respects you.” Naturally, that comment was code that he no longer carried any self-respect. He was ashamed of himself, knew that his wife deserved better. He continued that there remained nothing his wife could do to make him feel worse. The shame would remain on his back forever, he told me.


This story from Acts is the third account of Paul’s conversion to the Christian faith. As in the previous two times the story is told, Paul details his persecution of the church. Paul holds nothing back. Paul does not gloss over the details. Paul locked up many of God’s holy people. When they were condemned to death, Paul voted against them. In synagogue after synagogue, Paul tortured Christians for their belief in Jesus and compelled them to slander God. When Christians ran to foreign cities to flee Paul’s persecution, Paul pursued them, Paul’s behavior often becoming hysterical. What is striking to the reader is that Paul confesses his evil but never demonstrates any sense of shame. Not one word of dark remorse is spoken.


 What is Paul’s secret to a life without shame? Well, according to the Bible, true guilt follows the judgment, not of others, but of God. It is our refusal to live in dependency upon God. That refusal results in behavior that harms our relationship with others. Shame is the felt condemnation of the brokenness that follows. Yet, pay attention to the moment Jesus confronts Paul with Paul’s sin – Jesus does not beat Paul down with shame. Jesus tells Paul to stand on his feet. It is only then that Paul can return to God. Jesus does not use Paul’s guilt to disgrace him but to change him. It is then that Paul learns that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Without condemnation, without God’s judgment, there is no shame.




Here and Now


“This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!”

Psalm 118:24 (Common English Bible)

 Here and Now is a high energy, uplifting country song by Kenny Chesney that muses on living in the present moment. The track begins with memory of things past, the skyline in New York City, fireflies in Tennessee, and enjoying the sun sinking into the sea from a dozen different islands, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and hat.” The track then moves forward to the “Here and Now.” This is Chesney’s favorite place, “Ain’t no better place, ain’t no better time than Here and Now.” Those familiar with Chesney’s work will recognize a regular message of savoring life in the present moment, free of longing for the past or waiting for tomorrow. Chesney’s contention is that the present moment is what we have now – why wait for something in the future and miss what is abundantly available now. The song weighs how we live now against what we want sometime in the future.

There are people who cling very tightly to the past. They are unable to let go. They hold on beyond anything that is reasonable. Consequently, they are unable to live fully in the present. The result is despair: despair for what is lost. Other people are very future-oriented. They carry a daily planner that contains pages for the present year and for the next year or two. I am that person. My wife and children tease me because I am presently planning our vacation for March of 2023 – two years away! It is tough for me to be in the present and enjoy the promise of what this day seeks to offer. Planning is not necessarily bad. In some respects, planning demonstrates responsibility such as planning carefully for retirement. However, thinking about the future can keep you from appreciating the only day we can live in and that is the present day.

Perhaps this is why Psalm 118 is one of my favorite Psalms. The twenty-fourth verse seems to leap-off the page – “This is the day!” Often, that is the reminder that I need to let the future remain in the future and to enjoy what God desires for me to possess today. It is true for all of us. This is the day that God gives for our work and enjoyment – for us to experience blessings and to bless. This is the day that we may notice God, rejoice, and celebrate. If we look in one direction or another, look to the past or look to the future, God sneaks up, taps us on the shoulder, and asks that we pay attention to the here and now. God softens the longing for what has past and asks that we trust what is to come to God’s care. The present offers pure astonishment, wonder, and delight in the pursuit of God’s ongoing activity in the world.

Kenny Chesney seems to acknowledge that it is tough to be present and to be “in the moment” and try to live with enthusiasm and wonder in that space, “Everybody’s waiting, but they’re waiting on what? Better get to living, ‘cause all we’ve got is here and now.” The best place, the best moment is here and now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Nor March of 2023. If we fail to claim this, we find that we miss everything that matters. The Lord is active this day, active right now. All of our yesterdays and all of our tomorrows are unable to offer the opportunity that is available in the present moment to experience life as it unfolds all around us. Chesney brings his song to a close, “A lotta people dreaming ‘bout a one-day-some-days waiting just around the bend. I used to be one, wonderin’ when they’d come. But now I’m livin’in Here and Now.” This Psalm invites the same.



Where to Begin

 The following is from Doug Hood\’s 

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ.

“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8 (Common English Bible)
When the king in Alice in Wonderland was asked where to begin, he said gravely, “Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Begin at the beginning. Naturally, that guidance seems reasonable. That is, until you have to actually open your mouth, and speak. With thoughts racing from one place to another, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many fine places to begin. Jesus tells his disciples, here in Acts, “you will be my witnesses.” Where do the disciples begin? Where are we to begin? Sharing our faith in Jesus seems reasonable until we actually confront that moment – that moment when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?”
That moment came to me one Easter morning.  I was enjoying breakfast in a Doylestown, PA diner, looking over the message I would preach in just a few hours.  Mary, the waitress assigned to the table where I was seated, approached with coffee, and said, \”I guess this is your big day, pastor!\”  \”I guess so,\” I remarked.  Then Mary asked, \”What is Easter all about anyway?\”  Initially, I dismissed her question, not thinking she was serious.  But I was mistaken; Mary was very serious.  It was then I took the time to really notice her, to look into her eyes and really see her.  I will not forget those eyes – eyes that betrayed her silence; silence of considerable pain.  \”Where do I begin?\” I thought.  I began with her pain. \”Easter means that you can stop beating yourself up.  Whatever guilt you may have now, whatever mistakes you have made in life, Easter means that you are to stop immediately from beating yourself up. God has removed it all.\”
“But there is more,” I said to Mary. “Easter is an invitation to pay attention to Jesus.” I shared with Mary that as she paid attention to Jesus, by reading of him in the Bible, she will discover that she will want to be more than she is now. “Pay attention long enough to Jesus and you will experience a compulsion to be something more; you will begin to live differently.”  Mary needed to hear that Jesus doesn’t leave a life unchanged. Any significant time spent with Jesus always results in a desire to be made new. “Your whole world will appear different. You will want to be different.”
“Finally, Mary, begin to follow Jesus as you learn about him.” I shared with her that what that means is to “do what he asks in his teaching.” Imagine Jesus as a mentor in life and do everything that is asked of you. Something inexplicable happens when someone commits to doing all that Jesus’ asks: they receive an uncommon power to do so. People who obey all that they understand of Jesus’ teachings receive a power from outside of themselves; a power that actually makes them something so much more than what they were. Mary began to cry and asked how to begin. That is when I knew I had come to the end. And there, in a diner in Doylestown, PA, Mary gave her life to Jesus.