Holy Hilarity Sunday

Follow God’s Example—Laugh More
Our human ability to laugh at jokes, funny situations, stories and pranks is one of the characteristics that sets us apart from all the rest of God’s creation. It is part of being “made in the image of God.” God, too, laughs. “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh . . .” (Psalm 2:4).

Follow Children’s Example—Have More Fun
Have you ever noticed how much babies love to laugh? Jo sometimes comes across a YouTube posting of someone playing Peek-a-Boo with a baby or doing something ordinary like tearing a piece of paper, both of us can’t help laughing aloud along with the baby. No wonder Jesus, whom His enemies accused of being a party animal, said that we who are adults must become like little children or we will never see the kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3).

Follow the example of people “under the influence”—Have a Good Time
In addition to children, we all know of people who are free of inhibitions and full of fun. Some sports like running or sky diving bring on a rush, a high feeling of well being, much like that felt by people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol or some other drug.  So are people who are under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul counsels us to get our uninhibited feeling by putting ourselves under the control of the Spirit because there is no danger of the excess and debauchery that results from drinking too much wine. (Ephesians 5:18). There is no way to overdose on the Spirit of God.

Paul often connects God’s Spirit with joy. During a serious explanation about the Jewish people’s inability to understand the Good News, he throws in an aside, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:12) The Greek term elutheria, usually translated as “liberty” or “freedom,” carries the meaning of “being without restraint to enjoy, to be released from inhibition and constraint to enjoy pleasure.” In other words, Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is good, clean fun.” That fits right in with Paul’s comment on being drunk on the Spirit.

The Reason for Being Deliriously Happy
Easter time underlines the fact that Christians have good reasons to be happy. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the most deliriously joyful event in the history of the world. It proved without a doubt that Jesus is God and victorious over death, hell, Satan and all his forces of evil.

That is why some denominations celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Holy Hilarity Sunday. It comes from the ancient tradition of celebrating several weeks of Risus Paschalis—the Easter laugh, God’s Holy Joke. From Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, all through the trial, torture, crucifixion and burial, things had been going Satan’s way. Then, suddenly Jesus’s scarred corpse rose to glorious life again.

Celebrate God Playing a Cosmic Joke on Satan
On Easter morning, God suddenly turned the tables and revealed that Satan had played into God’s hands. Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus was God’s plan to reveal Him as King of the universe. What a horrible surprise for Satan as he and his forces suddenly realized God had defeated them. No doubt they smacked their infernal foreheads and groaned, “If only we had known!” But they hadn’t. God in His wisdom had kept His age-old plan of redemption hidden from Satan. Paul says, “If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)

Three Cheers for Holy Hilarity Sundays
April Fool’s pranks are about the only thing left of this post-Easter celebration of God’s Cosmic Joke on Satan. Too bad. In the weeks following Easter, wouldn’t it be great if all around the world, hundreds of thousands of church services resounded with waves of laughter at the pastors’ funny stories, and congregations sang every glad, joyful, happy song in their repertoire? Maybe organizers for these hilarity-filled church services should get advice from fun-loving little kids.

Here’s One to Get Us Started
And here is a story that may give you the option to be amused: Back in the pre-Covid years a pastor was greeting people as they left the Easter morning church service when he stopped one man and said, “Hey I haven’t seen you since Christmas, brother. You need to join the Army of the Lord and come to church weekly.” The man leaned over to the pastor and whispered, “I am in the Army of the Lord, but active in the Secret Service.”

A link to my book of funny stories: A Tickle in the Funny Bone. https://www.amazon.ca/Tickle-Funny-Bone-Jack-Popjes/dp/1543116825

The Jesus Way to Pray

The Story
I surprised myself last fall while writing a chapter in my last book, Two To Get Ready. I was writing the story of how Jo and I had to make a significant, life-changing decision, and wanted to be sure that we were following God’s will. We remembered the Bible story of Gideon, who asked God for a sign to give him the courage to make a major decision. He put out a fleece overnight and asked that God keep it dry while all around the grass would be wet with dew. God kept the fleece dry, and Gideon made his decision.

I wrote how we committed ourselves to pray earnestly every day for a week that God would give us a clear sign to help us make our decision. On Saturday evening at the end of that week, Jo and I were getting ready for bed when I asked her, “So, did you get any sign from God?” That’s when I stopped writing in surprise.

I suddenly realized we had been praying all week long as individuals, not praying together as a couple. How different from what we are currently doing. Why did it take us years to learn the value and power of praying together as a couple?

Our Background
Thinking it through, I began to understand that praying individually was trained into us during our early years as believers. We were often taught in church and Sunday school to make sure we got away alone every day to have a time of private devotion: reading a passage from the Bible and praying.

“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

I can’t remember hearing a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on Matthew 18:19-20 where Jesus teaches his disciples, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Throughout our years in Bible School, it was the same, “Get into your private ‘prayer closet’ to read and pray. Our pre-marital counselling never mentioned praying together as a couple. Even during our Wycliffe training and preparation, which covered a wide variety of essential subjects, there was no emphasis on the power of praying together with someone else. And this was in the face of married couples or teams of single people living for months at a stretch in villages where they would be the only believers.

The Error
This historical focus on individual private prayer is likely due to a misapplication of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus condemned the practice of praying in public to be honoured by people and contrasted this with being honoured by God.

Our Practice
Now, Jo and I pray together about our plans for the day, people in our lives and all sorts of issues. We find this draws us together as a couple, and it encourages us to be faithful in prayer and meets our need for inner peace and strengths. We see many answers to prayer. God even strengthens our patience when he delays the response.

Jesus’ Example
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he did NOT say, “My Father who is in heaven . . . give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my debt as I forgive my debtors, and lead me not into temptation . . .” No, he used the plural pronouns, Our Father, give us this day, forgive us our debts . . . .  Jesus taught us to pray with others.

 

Of Stories and Storytellers

It Started Eighty Years Ago
I have always loved stories. Eighty years ago, my mother read stories to me when I was just a little boy, and she taught me to read years before I entered grade One. I was already reading Dutch translations of Dickens’ classics and Jules Verne’s science fiction in grades Four and Five. It’s no wonder that I have always written stories, mostly true stories. When our grandkids were young, I told them stories I made up on the spot.

Three Kinds of Stories
Even today, I read, write and tell stories.
1. Some are fiction stories that I may have read or heard, or I may have made up myself; some may be jokes.
2. Some are true stories about other people, which they told me, or which I had read or heard from others.
3. Some are true stories about me. I tell what has happened to me, what I did personally, what I saw, heard, said, and felt.

My Story
This third type of story is the most important to me because it is My Story.
When someone listens attentively to me telling My Story, they are accepting me. They may not agree with everything I did or said during My Story’s events, but if they let me finish My Story, they are accepting, even honouring me.

If, on the other hand, they interrupt me or stop me from telling My Story, their actions do not say, “Your story is not important,” but “You are not important.”

When we interrupt or walk away from someone telling His Story, we reject not just the story but the storyteller. We are our personal Story.

Responding to a Personal Story
After someone tells Their Story, we need to respond somehow—thank them, ask questions, or make some positive comments. We may feel the person did or said something wrong or hear something we disagree with, and we can point that out, but only after hearing their whole story.

To some extent, this is also true when the storyteller is telling someone else’s story. We must be careful not to interrupt since telling that story about someone else is important to the speaker, and we need to listen closely to discover why this is important.

What God Thinks About Our Stories
Jesus pointed out that the words we speak show what is in our hearts, our real inner selves. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45.

We all need to monitor what we store in our memories and emotional centre since Jesus also said, “By your words, you will be acquitted, and by your words, you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:37.

I have often noticed when someone in a small group has told His Story, there is a second of silence, and the next speaker jumps in with a story of their own. That is as rude as being introduced to a stranger, and instead of conversing briefly with them, turning away immediately to talk with someone else. God has something to say about this too, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19

Supernatural Spiritual Power in Our Story
God empowers Our Story with Satan-defeating power when we tell Our Story of what Jesus did for us or through us, or possibly even despite us. Revelation 12:11 describes a group of martyrs. “They triumphed over him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” In other words, they put their faith in the atoning death of Jesus, and they told Their Story of what Jesus had done. As a result, they defeated Satan.

Our ability to tell and to appreciate hearing stories is a beautiful gift from our Creator. Let’s treat this gift with honour, both when telling and when listening to stories.

Why and How I Observe Lent This Year

Growing up in the Netherlands, speaking Dutch, I used the word “Lente” all the time to refer to the Spring season, as does the Old English term “Lenten.” Thanks for letting me indulge my linguistic bent.

I knew nothing about the term “Lent,” which liturgical churches use to denote the forty days before Easter. It reflects the forty days of fasting and prayer that Jesus experienced when the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Having withstood the temptations, He was cared for by angels before he started His three years of public ministry.

Our Experience with Lent in Brazil
Jo and I learned about Lent’s liturgical concept in Brazil through Carnival, which is a major Brazilian national holiday. Major cities stage parades with numerous samba bands and dancers, clubs and homes host wild parties, often accompanied with widespread drunkenness, debauchery, and depravity. In Rio de Janeiro, at least five million people pack the streets during those five days. Meanwhile, Evangelical churches safeguard their young people by operating youth camps far from the cities.

Suddenly, it’s Ash Wednesday. “This is the start of Lent,” I heard people say. I noticed how adherents of the dominant liturgical church repent of sinful behaviour, especially that of the previous week, start attending church more regularly, practise charity, and abstain from eating certain meats and drinking alcohol.

My Why and How
As I have done other years, I decided to observe Lent again this year. Coming as it does about six weeks after New Year, Lent gives me a chance to check on how I am doing with my (The Best Way to Predict the Future) plans. Lent calls for self-examination and prayer, both of which fit into making decisions on lifestyle and ministry plans.

Jesus defeated each one of Satan’s temptations by quoting a relevant command from the Bible. During Lent, therefore, I increase my reading and meditation on Scripture. I want to hear what God may say about the decisions I am making. Sometimes He brings up the memory of a person I need to forgive or someone to whom I need to apologize. Restoring relationships fits well into Lent.

Fasting is part of Lent and can take many forms of self-denial and discipline. As I have done in other years, during this Lent, I chose an area of my life in which I wanted to practice more than usual self-discipline and to consider it my part of fasting for the seven weeks of Lent.

Preparation for Ministry
Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer preceded His public ministry. Similarly, my time of fasting, prayer and meditation in God’s Word precedes writing my next book. I have been reading recommended memoirs for the past few months and have made audio recordings of my last two memoirs.

During Lent, I will plan the outline and content of a memoir covering more than two decades—telling the story of how the Canelas received God’s Word in their language—Jo and my most significant and impactful ministry. After Lent, I expect to go full speed ahead, following the plan and writing the book: From Adventure to Mission.

 Slander, Lies and Attacks Hurt, But In The End . . .

It happened one day after spending three months in the Canela village. We taught young men and women who were eager to learn to read. They were delighted with the self-teaching illustrated primers we used. They wanted to use them to teach others. Canelas who were sick sent for us nearly every day asking us to diagnose and treat their illnesses with the modern medicines we bought in town. We also translated quite a few chapters of Luke.

STOL plane landing near the Canela village

The First Story
At noon the STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) plane arrived in the village, and now we were gassing up at the airport 70 kilometres from the village to fly us 600 kilometres back to Belem, where our three daughters were waiting for us in boarding school.

As Jo and I got out to stretch our legs, a jeep drove up. The driver hurried to the plane without saying a word to us and peered into the cabin and the cargo hold. I spoke to him, but he ignored me and kept examining the interior. When we started to reboard, he drove away.

The Brazilian friend who had brought our drum of aviation gas explained. “Locals can’t understand why a North American couple would come down here to live for months at a time in an Indian village. Some think you are illegally mining gold, hauling it out by plane.” Since the Rio Ourives (Goldsmith River) ran halfway between the town and the village, I could see where they might get that idea. “Ah,” I said, “I guess this guy was looking for mining equipment or sacks of ore.”

We had already heard the rumour that we dug up Canela corpses, cut off their heads and sold them at a high price to universities for anatomical studies. Indeed, we often were at open graves, not to rob them, but to mourn along with the Canelas at burials. It happened all too frequently, especially when tuberculosis ravaged the village.

Brazilian Christians knew that we wanted to translate a good part of the Bible into the Canela language. How else would they have the opportunity to read about their Creator from a Bible in their own language, the same right as billions of people around the world have had for many years?

Brazilians tend to be generous. Even poor people give to the beggars on the street. All Brazilians are helpful to their families and their employees, and others they know well. But in the 1970s, the idea of charity to strangers was unknown. No wonder they suspected the motivation of foreigners, seemingly well funded but living in primitive conditions out in the jungle. Ignorance produced these suspicions and slanders. Jo and I began to experience pressures, even from government officials, that hindered our work with the Canelas.

The Second Story
A far more vicious and effective attack came from the 43rd International Congress of Americanists in 1979. At their meeting in Vancouver, BC, they passed a resolution to move governments to “expel Wycliffe Bible Translators’ field organization the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) from all the indigenous locations in North and South American countries.” They falsely accused us of “practicing compulsory religious conversion and annihilating the expression of Indian life and culture.” I heard about some religious groups, not Bible translators, who forced conversions by allowing only baptized believers to attend their schools, receive medical treatment, or buy in their stores. This was 100% false when applied to SIL workers.

About 900 people attended this Congress, although only 124 people (14%) were present in the last hours of the final day when this resolution was presented. Nine delegates jumped to their feet to protest that this did not align with what they personally knew to be true about Wycliffe and SIL. Even the chairman spoke out in favour of SIL. The resolution, however, passed 65 to 59. Brazil’s anthropologists jumped at the chance to cancel the contracts SIL had signed with the government permitting us to work in the indigenous villages.

The First Result
All SIL personnel were expelled from the villages in the forty different language groups where we worked. It was devastating not only for us SIL translators but for the indigenous people among whom we worked. The Canelas cried when we left, and some got angry. But there was nothing we could do. It was a terrible time of distress and confusion for many of us.

We kept up our spirits by reminding each other that God was still in control, He always knows what He is doing, and His love for us and the people groups we served lasts forever. We encouraged each other with promises such as,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11)

Brazil’s SIL translators were “in exile” for nearly five years. Then, finally, the Canelas and other indigenous societies won their long battle with the government, insisting that they wanted the translators back. Jo and I returned joyfully to the Canela village, where the Canelas received us in a grand celebration. We took no more furloughs but pressed on until the end. We completed our translation ministry on August 10, 1990.

The Last Result
Now thirty years later, a whole generation of Canelas has grown up reading God’s Word in their own language. Jesus built His Church in the Canela village, and scores of Canela believers have already gone Home to Glory. Yes, they are our great and growing reward in heaven.

So, Whom Do We Trust?

So, Whom Do We Trust?

We’ve all heard about the Boeing 737 Max airliners that were grounded for several years after two planes crashed killing everyone on board. The computer software problem that caused these tragedies has been fixed and the planes have now been cleared to fly again.

When I heard about passengers reluctant to board these planes “just in case” everything did not get fixed properly, a memory popped up in my mind.

The Story
The scene was the airport of Belem, Brazil, and Jo and I and our three daughters, four to seven years old, were about to fly home for a ten-month-long first furlough. We were near the end of a long line of passengers heading for the final passport and ticket check before we were allowed into the departure area. Since we were lined up along a series of windows looking out on the tarmac, I fought the boredom by watching our plane being serviced.

Several mechanics stood on ladders and were taking the cover off one of the engines. They did something inside with tools, then put the engine cover back on, moved the ladders away and signalled to the pilot to start the engine. The normal loud whine, but also lots of smoke and frantic waving by the mechanics for the pilot to shut off the engine. They put their ladders back up, took off the cover and worked some more on the engine. Again, they took down the ladders, signalled the pilot, more smoke and more frantic waving. During the 45 minutes we were in this line up this routine went on several more times.

Finally, since our family were among the last to check in, I saw out the last window, the signal to start the engine, the same smoke as before, but this time no frantic waving, the mechanics shrugged their shoulders, held up the palms of their open hands in the universal gesture meaning, “Who knows what the problem is?” and walked away carrying their ladders. Ten minutes later we crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane, ready to fly 4,500 kilometres from Belem to Miami, over mostly open ocean. No, we did not tell our girls what we had seen. Yes, we did pray for a safe arrival. Did we trust those mechanics? No way! Did we trust God? Yes way!

So, Now What?
That was half a century ago—five decades fill with Bible translation, leadership, recruiting, fund-raising, blogging, and authoring eight books. We also grew older, and we continued to trust God “who is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Rom. 8:28 (The Voice).

We continue to trust God in our current COVID situation. We go to stores for essential shopping, and interact with people, all masked and at a distance. We do church through Zoom and interact with our families the same way. But we also continue to meet people who refuse to wear a mask, even though new, more contagious, and virulent strains of the COVID coronavirus are being identified. We do what we need to do, and we are confident that God is still in control, not just of our lives, but of the entire COVID emergency.

I would like to stay alive and mentally alert to write the ninth book, a memoir of the Canela decades. And if that is God’s plan, Jo and I will stay alive, if not, well, that’s His business. We just keep on loving and trusting Him to keep “orchestrating everything to work toward something good and beautiful”.