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

How to Raise a Missions Support Partnership Team

It’s a welcome trend in churches. People of all ages are following a vision for ministry and are spending their savings, vacations, and sometimes more, to meet critical needs outside the church.

The ministries that spark these visions vary widely. Some are in the inner city, some are overseas. Some require special skills, others just willing hearts and hands. Some require a few weeks, others could take a lifetime. The ministries differ, and so do the workers. But there is one thing common to these situations—the workers need prayer and financial support from those who stay home.

Occasionally someone, from grandchildren to fellow missionaries, ask me if I have any ideas on how to raise the support team they need. I usually tell them that in the same way God prepared them to get involved in this ministry, He has also prepared people to support them through prayer and gifts.

“Ask God to lead you to meet these prepared people.” I say, “Then be ready to share your vision with them.” So how do you share your vision?

A pastor’s wife used to kiss her husband as he was about mount the platform to preach, and whisper in his ear, “K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Sweetie.”

Excellent advice for anyone who wants to communicate something important. A simple outline, and one clear, plain story to paint a picture. Nothing complicated that might confuse, or distract the hearer’s attention. I usually advise the worker to simply answer the following questions and illustrate with a little story:

  1. Need: What is the deepest need wherever it is that you are going to work?
  2. Vision: What makes you the perfect person to help meet this need?
  3. Obstacles: What are the obstacles that stand in your way of meeting the need?
  4. Action: What do you want your hearer to do?

Here’s an example that can be adapted to any other support-raising scenario:

The Need.

Country X has very few Christians and almost none of the women can read, write, or do simple arithmetic. Some of those that can read, run small businesses from their homes, making things and selling them. Their families prosper in comparison to the families of women who are illiterate.

(I heard of Lita, mother of four who tried to run a small store from her home. The business failed within months because the merchants who sold her the goods cheated her, she couldn’t read the simple instructions that came with some of the items to be sold, and she had no way of keeping records except in her head.)

There is a deep need, therefore, for a teaching ministry among illiterate women, coupled with evangelism through the Word of God.

My Vision

I am an experienced schoolteacher and, through an outreach ministry of my home church, have worked for years with women who dropped out of school but want to go back and graduate. I loved coaching and teaching them, and led many women to Jesus. I enjoyed a good salary and pleasant working conditions. My life was great, but as I prayed, I felt I could do more to advance God’s Kingdom if I worked in an area of greater need. So I quit my job, sold my furniture, gave up my apartment lease, and am now ready to leave. I will be working under the direction of mission agency X which will keep me accountable, orient me to the local culture, and guide me as I improve my language skills.

The Obstacles

Satan opposes Christ’s Kingdom and is certain to counterattack. Just as David had 30 mighty men in his army, so I need 30 men, women and children in my prayer protection team to pray for me daily informed by my regular emailed updates. I also need $X to cover travel, as well as financial partners who will commit to send enough money each month to cover my personal and ministry expenses, which will be about $X.

I long to go right now and help hundreds of women like Lita learn the skills she needs to provide for her family. Unfortunately neither the prayer protection team, nor the financial partnerships are yet complete. These are the only obstacles to my going.

The Action

Please consider joining me in this critical, Kingdom-building ministry by becoming part of my prayer protection team, or one of my financial partners, or both. (In the rack in front of you is a small envelope, please take it out and look at it now. Please check the appropriate boxes on the envelope, fill in your contact information and drop it into the offering plate. Or, better yet, hand it to me sometime later. I’m ready to answer any other questions privately at any time.)

counselA simple four-minute speech like this, covers everything a potential partner needs to know. The example was in the setting of a speech to a group, but can, of course, be used in a one-on-one conversation as well.

By dropping the story about Lita and the references to the envelope, (in parentheses) the whole presentation is only two minutes long. It is what writer’s call an “elevator pitch” where the writer presents the idea for an article to an editor while riding in an elevator.

You may not need this advice personally, but I’m pretty sure you know someone who does. Feel free to forward it to them.

Leaving a Legacy of God-Stories: The Why & How

This is a follow-up post to last week’s God’s Story about Cheryl: How I Blew It As a Dad. Many of you wrote to tell me you also have some guilt feelings for not remembering and telling your children about what God has done for you and your families.

Feeling guilty is one thing—doing something about it is something else. So here is quickie overview of the “something else.”

Why We Need to Leave a Legacy of God-Stories to Future Generations

  • Deut 4:9-10. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, or let them slip from your heart. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
  • Deut. 32:7. Remember the days of old, consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will explain to you.
  • Psalm 90:16. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.
  • Psalm 77: 11-12. Our Lord, I will remember the things you have done, your miracles of long ago. I will think about each one of your mighty deeds.
  • Psalm 102:18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord. (This command precedes a list of things God did for Israel.)

References to “remembering” and “not forgetting” occur, on the average, every fifth page throughout the Bible. Obviously God wants His people to notice and remember what He did for them and to tell these God-stories to their children, and even to write them down so their children and grandchildren can read them and praise Him.

God-Stories

  • A God-story is not an autobiography, which is the story of our whole life.
  • A God-story is not a memoir, which is the story about a certain period of our life.
  • A God-story is the story about an event or incident in our lives, and our family’s life, where God acted to answer prayer, to protect, to heal, or to guide. It is about conversion, God’s provision, a divine coincidence, etc. Each God-story a testimony of how we, or our families, have experienced acts of God in our lives.
  • When we write these stories, they will live on and increase in value, bringing praise to God, long after we are gone.

1-Kaleden Camping July 2012 (2)How to Remember Your God-Stories

  • Sit down, preferably during family gatherings, and pray for God’s help to recall some incidents that showed His action in your life.
  • Ask yourself, “What events have happened to me, that, if they had happened to my grandparents, I wish they had written the story for me to read?”
  • As you begin to share incidents, it will stimulate others to remember a similar happening.
  • Jot down the key words or phrases of each event at the top of a separate sheet of paper to help you remember it.
  • Once you have a half dozen or more events jotted down, answer the following questions for each incident:
    • Who was involved?
    • When did this happen?
    • Where did it happen?
    • What happened? What was the problem? How was it solved? What was said? What were my feelings? What was the result? These and other What? and How? questions will lead to the basic story.
    • Why did this happen?

You now have the basic facts of your God-stories.

From there on just rethink the event and tell it, either by writing it out, or by recording it in audio. Just do what you can to get the story down on paper, or on the computer screen, or on the recorder. It is more important that you let your emotions, your excitement and your wonder show than that you write it out in impeccable prose.

No matter how your God-stories are preserved, you will know that you have pleased God Who will continue to receive praise and thanks from readers or listeners for generations to come.

And no more feeling guilty!

God’s Story about Cheryl: How I Blew it as a Dad

Our youngest daughter, Cheryl, was born with amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye—a condition in children when vision does not develop properly in one eye. When she was two years old, an epidemic of trachoma swept through the Canela village in Brazil where we worked. This is a serious eye disease that, at that time, had blinded six million people worldwide. Most of the Canela and all our family were infected and we worked day and night treating the sufferers with antibiotic ointment.

eye patch CherylWhen we took off Cheryl’s bandages, we saw that our toddler’s lazy eye had turned aside even more. The optometrist prescribed glasses and an eye patch to wear over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. Each year he wrote stronger prescriptions.

After three years of service in Brazil our director ordered us to go on furlough much earlier than planned. “Your financial support continues to be so low,” he said, “you are borrowing money from other missionaries to buy groceries. Go back home and raise adequate support before you return to Brazil.”

When we arrived in Canada the eye specialist said, “It’s a good thing you brought your daughter in to see me today, her prescription is wrong, her lazy eye needs a different treatment. In another month or two it would have been too late. Her lazy eye would have gone completely blind.”

He prescribed different glasses, as well as a patch, and gradually her eye improved so much that by the time she entered college her vision was near normal.

1-20-P1040389When I finished writing this story, I gave it to Cheryl to read and she exclaimed, “You mean if we hadn’t been so under-supported and poor, you would have stayed for nearly another year, and I would have gone blind in one eye? I never knew that. Dad! This happened 45 years ago, why didn’t you tell me earlier!

Yeah, why didn’t I?

Because I failed in one of the most important duties parents have—to tell their children what God has done for them. All through the Old Testament, God commands His people to remember what He did to benefit them and their families and to tell their children, even to write them down.

Just before singing God’s praise for a long list of things that Hes did on earth for His people, the poet urged his listeners to action, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” Psalm 102:18 (NIV).

This incident encouraged me to keep going through my decades of daily journals and find incidents where God answered our prayers, where He protected us, where He arranged amazing co-incidences for our family. I continue to write them up, wanting to leave them as a legacy of God’s actions for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

So, what about you?

How do you remember the God-stories in your family’s life?

How do you pass them on to future generations?

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday

Please excuse last week’s double mail out. Computer problems. It won’t happen again. I hope.

I am publishing this week’s post a few days early to coincide with my birth date, March 19

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday 

It is nice to know that at 75 years old, I have learned pretty well everything. Now if only I could remember any of it . . .

I do remember pondering my age at another occasion. On March 19, 1966 I sat on my bunk at Wycliffe’s jungle survival training base in southern Mexico and wrote the following in my diary: “Jo reminded me after breakfast that today I became 28 years old. Good grief! I’m getting ancient! The life expectancy at birth for men in this area is 33. Only five years to go.”

By the grace of God I lived longer than that. Much longer. Many times, however, my life could have been cut short. I was a passenger in two head-on car collisions that totally wrecked all four cars but from which I emerged with only a few cuts and bruises. I survived three industrial accidents: one a cave-in, one where a car ran over the manhole from which I was emerging, and another involving an unexpected dynamite explosion. A freak accident with a water-loaded 16 foot awning nearly broke my neck. I could have avoided the last one, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking.

So why did God keep me alive? I often wonder about that. He continues to help me make good choices. When the Holy Spirit pointed out my sinfulness and that Jesus would save me if I wanted Him to, God helped me to say Yes! This led directly to giving my whole life over to Him to use in whatever way He thought best. I chose to attend Bible school, where I looked for a life partner who also had dedicated her life to God. God led me to choose Jo and to my great joy, she said, Yes.

After that came raising a family, a wide variety of Christian service experience, missionary training, and nearly 25 years in Brazil as Bible translators for the Canela people. This was followed by a decade of leadership in Wycliffe, and now by a continuing ministry of speaking at events in hundreds of cities around the world, and writing nearly a thousand articles, columns, and stories published on line, in magazines or books.

All this is obviously God’s doing and no credit to me.

I dropped out of high school after repeatedly failing algebra. I was expelled from Bible school for behaviour that was outside of school standards. I failed jungle survival training camp and Wycliffe accepted me into membership only after two years of probation. While Jo got all A’s, my grades were so poor I had to take remedial linguistic courses. For several years, I did not consistently show Jo that I loved her the way I should have. In my forties, after years of severe testing, I lost my faith in God’s power, wisdom and love and was restored only after six months of intensive weekly counseling. Even now, I need to be accountable to another person to keep me living in the way I know I ought to live.

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone's Favorite

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone’s Favorite

So what’s next? The average age at which my parents and grandparents died was just short of 90. So, if I follow in their genetic footsteps, and my guardian angel does not retire, I may still have another 15 years left on this earth. Currently my goals for these final years are to unreservedly love “the wife of my youth,” our wonderful daughters, our incredible grandchildren and all our extended family. This, of course, means being together with them often.

I have been working for years on a more long-term project—writing and organizing a legacy of diaries, memories, stories, photographs, slides and videos. These record not only our family history, but the God-stories—the times when God moved in our families, preserving, guiding, healing, answering prayer, and in many ways showing that He is alive and actively at work.

As long as I am physically and mentally capable, I want to keep on giving story-filled speeches and writing story-based articles. I cannot think of any retirement activity that would be more satisfying than this.

75 = 21+54I do have one question. What are the legal privileges of turning 75? You know, at 16 you can drive, at 17 join the army, at 18 drink alcohol, vote and get married, (hopefully not in that order). At 60, 65 and 70 pensions and RIFFs kick in, but the only thing that happened at 75 is that my travel medical insurance expired. Where’s the benefit in that?

Great Stories, Jack, But Are They True?

Recently I was the keynote speaker at a church mission conference where, during my three speeches I brought out my points by telling 25 personal stories. All of these stories were true, having happened in my life. All, except one.

The last meeting was an international dinner featuring a buffet with foods from every continent. Many of the guests were dressed in costumes native to countries where they had been born or had worked. The person introducing me jokingly asked why Jo and I had not dressed in the native costume of the Canela people of Brazil among whom we had worked for decades.

Jack Being Dressed in Canela Native Costume

“When we returned to Canada from Brazil,” I told the audience, “we were invited to dress in native Canela costume to attend an international dinner much like this one. Using plenty of body paint we got ourselves ready, and drove to the banquet. Fortunately it was a nice warm day. We had to park some distance from the church and were walking along the sidewalk when a passing RCMP patrol car suddenly pulled up alongside of us, two policemen jumped out, covered us with blankets, and arrested us for indecent exposure.”

This story was a lie from beginning to end and, after my audience had stopped laughing, I confessed. But what about the other 24 stories I told during that conference? Were they lies too? Or did I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

No, they weren’t lies. But they weren’t the whole truth either. To tell the whole truth is nearly impossible and would totally spoil the story.

Just think about it. What if a dozen microphones and cameras were to record every sound and angle of a two-minute memorable event in my life from start to finish? When you viewed all that footage, surely you would know the 100% truth about that event. No, you would not!

Cameras and microphones might show the date and the time, but they don’t record what I smelled, or tasted, or how warm I was, or how I was feeling physically. Nor would there be any record of what I was thinking, how I was feeling emotionally, what I remembered of similar incidents in the past, or what I resolved to do from now on. Yet aren’t these mental and emotional aspects often the most important part of a story? What was the final impact of the event on my life? No video can show that.

Yet, I can tell you the story of that same two-minute event in such a way that you will end up feeling the same emotions I was feeling, come to the same conclusion as I came to, and may even allow the lesson to impact you in the same way it impacted me.

I would not have described every possible second of the two-minute event, nor quoted every single word accurately. I would have left out many, many facts. Had I left them in they would have diluted the story and left you bored with all the true, but irrelevant detail.

Jesus did the same thing when He told His stories. Mark 4:3-8 records a 35-second story of the farmer who scattered seed on four different types of soil. Jesus did not tell the whole truth. He left out scores of facts: The farmer’s name, his age, his experience, what he was wearing, his marital and family status, the size of the field, the time of day, the amount of seed, the exact kind of seed, the species of birds that ate the seed, where the path led to, etc. All facts, all true, but He left them all out because they were irrelevant to the point of His story.

I want to be a good storyteller. That’s why, like Jesus, I never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.