Holy Hilarity (Or, Don’t Forget Jesus in Your Jokes)

jokeCalvin’s not usually known for his sense of humor, nor should he be. I mean, he’s funny in print sometimes, but the general consensus is that he was a pretty serious fellow. Actually, Luther was the riot among the Magisterial Reformers. I mean, the man named a treatise “TO THE SUPERCHRISTIAN, SUPERSPIRITUAL, AND SUPERLEARNED BOOK OF GOAT EMSER OF LEIPZIG WITH A GLANCE AT HIS COMRADE MURNER: GOAT, BUTT ME NOT.” To my knowledge, aside from an early treatise satirizing the use of spiritual trinkets and other ‘holy’ objects, Calvin didn’t produce anything so…pugnaciously humorous. He did use the word “stupid” on numerous occasions to great effect, though.

In any case, he makes an important exhortation on the subject of humor in his comments in Colossians. When explaining what it means to “sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to one another (3:16), Calvin would have us expand Paul’s encouragement to all aspects of our speech:

Psalms, hymns. He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments,but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savor. “Leave to unbelievers that foolish delight which they take from ludicrous and frivolous jests and witticisms; and let your communications, not merely those that are grave, but those also that are joyful and exhilarating, contain something profitable. In place of their obscene, or at least barely modest and decent, songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.”

Commentary on Colossians 3:16

Now, we might find Calvin a bit dour here. Surely there’s a time and a place for nearly pointless jokes. I enjoy a funny cat-falling-off-of-a-fan video as the next guy. I also love the back and forth of a good-natured battle of witty replies and roasts. Still, I find myself challenged a bit here when it comes to the way I use my humor. We live in snarky, sarcastic, and downright mean culture. And, let’s be honest, it’s hilarious sometimes. Okay, I’ll be really honest and say that a good chunk of my own humor is mockery-related. I mean, I work with college students–things get ridiculous at times.

Still, for those of us called by the God who speaks life and redemption through his words, all of our words should somehow bear testimony to that grace. I’m not saying we should all start making Bible jokes, (which are incredibly hard to do well unless you: a. know a good bit of the Bible; b, have an audience who does as well; and c. have a good sense of timing). And yet, I am saying that we still have something to hear in Calvin’s comments here.

Too often our speech-patterns, including our humor, is too conformed to the patterns of the world. Calvin spoke more directly to obscene and frivolous speech, but it might equally apply to uncharitable utterances. I had a mentor who would constantly call out his boys in Sunday School for putting each other down and then trying to cover it with “Just Kidding.” He’d look at us and say, “Here’s the thing, most of the time it still hurts anyways and you don’t want to tear down your brother, so just find something else to say.” Or something like that. I was in the 5th grade. In any case, while I think some playful ribbing is fine among brothers and sisters, he had a point. How often are our words aimed at building up our brothers and sisters? Can we think of the last time we used our humor positively? To build someone up instead of chipping away at them?

Calvin seems to think there’s a way for all of our speech to be ‘profitable’, even our hilarity.

To some this might seem like a recipe for a stiff, humorless life. Of course, the challenge is to get more creative with your humor. If you can’t think of a joke that doesn’t somehow trade on negativity, attack, or a put-down, you might not just be lacking in charity, but in imagination.

Take it as a challenge then: it’s not that you’re going to entirely eliminate the occasional joke at another’s expense, but rather, try to see your humor as one more area where you can obediently submit yourself to Christ/  Strive to creatively build up the body in all that you do–even in your jests.

Soli Deo Gloria

7 Tips on “How to Meet Reformed Men”

church_dating

Ah yes, the classic “let me show you a verse” move.

I’ve written enough articles over the last few months that I now get readers coming to my blog off of random Google searches. Sometimes they make sense, others not so much, and a few make me laugh. One particular search caught my eye the other day: “how to meet Reformed men.” Apparently there is at least one single Christian woman out there, looking for a man with a sound grasp of the doctrines of grace. Now, I’m not sure she found what she was looking for here, but in the spirit of brotherly love, I thought I’d list a few helpful, possibly humorous, suggestions from friends and family on “how to meet Reformed men”:

    1. Go to a local Reformed church and look for one. 
    2. If no Reformed church is available, look for the guy in the back of your local non-denominational church, furiously writing notes during the sermon in order to write the pastor an email filled with corrections.
    3. In that same church, mention words like “covenant”, “doctrine”, “election”, or “fatherly hand” in conversations with any single men and look for the twinkle in their eyes. (HT: Sean McLeish)
    4. Frequent local coffee shops with a copy of Calvin’s Institutes lying out on the table. Make sure you’ve read some of it, though, and include sufficient highlights and underlining.
    5. Repeat #4 in local breweries and pubs (unless Baptist).
    6. Move to Louisville, walk around Southern’s campus without a wedding ring on. (Reformed Baptist; HT Lauren Rambo)
    7. For those favoring the online approach, ReformedSingles.com offers to fill the gap. Unlike other dating sites this is a place where: “Our members are prepared for marriage by reading a wide variety of articles on marriage, dating pitfalls, courtship, divorce and remarriage, and more. Our Members’ identities have been verified by their pastor so people you meet really are who they say they are. Finally, our members know that their futures are predestined by our heavenly Father and rest in His kind hands.” (HT: Alan Noble)

Although I’ve limited myself to 7 tips, on biblical grounds, I’m sure our sisters would love some more (appropriate) suggestions from the readership in the comments. Blessings on the search.

Soli Deo Gloria

Checking Out Churches? Don’t Forget the ‘Jesus Drinking Game’ Test

Well, now that I have your attention, some of you may be wondering what the Jesus Drinking Game Test is and why is a college minister talking about it? (Also, whether I’m going to be fired in about two sentences.)

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. (Acts 2:14-15)

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” (Acts 2:14-15)

It all came up in a chat with my buddy, Andrew–a fiery, young, Welsh intellectual on the rise–when discussing church standards. Although staunchly Reformed, he keeps getting invited by his more liberal friends to their liberal mainline churches. Recounting one such experience he recalled: “I got drug to a new-agey Episcopal bible study where we did ‘centering prayer’ on ‘what God means to you, or however you perceive the Life Force.'” That did it for him. Now whenever he’s asked to check out one of his friends’ churches, “I tell them my rule: if I were to be drinking in church and take a sip every time Christ or the Gospel is mentioned, would I get tipsy? If not, I’d rather stay home.”

Now, make sure to note the hypothetical character of this test. Nowhere on this blog are you reading an exhortation to take flasks with you to church or play drinking games. For the record, drunkenness is a sin. (Eph. 5:18) Also, for my students, if you’re under 21 you shouldn’t even be touching the stuff.

The principle, however, is quite sound. As a baseline minimum, if you wouldn’t get drunk if you had to sip every time they mention Jesus or the Gospel in a church service, then it’s probably not a church you want to be going to. It might be a nice place, full of decent, moral people trying very hard to be good, have lovely children’s programs, lively social events, and a very nice pastor who is a great public speaker with a good amount of practical wisdom about your finances or dealing with conflict. All that taken into account, if this is not a place where Jesus’ Name is lifted up as the only one that saves, and the Gospel as the message that sustains, you should walk out and find another. Any church worth its salt will be drenched in Jesus and the Gospel.

Of course, merely dropping Jesus’ name and saying the word “gospel” in front of every other phrase is no guarantee of fidelity. This is probably another good reason not to be drinking in church–you want to pay attention to what they actually say about Jesus and the Gospel, measuring it against the word. (Acts 17:11) Still, for those considering a congregation to worship at, keeping the ‘Jesus Drinking Game’ principle in mind isn’t a bad place to start.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Silliness of Impatience

This last weekend our church’s high school ministry went on a little retreat. The theme for the weekend was learning how to grow in Christ in the midst of an instant gratification culture. In our Siri and Google Voice instant-access context we are trained in so many ways to expect things instantaneously. We don’t understand the slow and steady discipline it takes to grow in holiness and in the grace of Christ. In order to illustrate the silliness of the kind of impulsive impatience we are so prone to, a couple of my students put together this little video. It is one of the many reasons I love my college students. I thought I’d pass it on for your enjoyment and edification. Check it out.

Impatient Paul from Josh Berry on Vimeo.