Sunday Bulletin Inserts
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The Hebrew word for Laugh is Tsachaq pronounced tsaw-khak'. It means to laugh, mock, play, to jest to sport, play, make sport, toy with, make a toy of . The first mention of laughter in the Bible is in , she spoke about her old husband (natural) and she lied to the LORD.
This is the second time she put the "natural order of things" above God. When was the first time? ( She gave Hagar to Abraham as his concubine. Abraham had only one wife and that wife forced God's promise in her own way instead of waiting for the Lord's way & time. This is the classic response mankind has when we don't think God is quick enough in His response. We have such a problem when we focus on what we think is the problem.
Now compare or me; all who hear will laugh with me.
She is rejoicing. Her laughter is in tune with the LORD and she invites all to hear of her old age son. She enjoys the name Isaac which means laughter. I find it wonderful that Isaac's name never changed during his life as Abram's and Sarai's and his own son Jacob's. I also find it a marvelous, wonderful thing that God promised "Laughter"!
Now, look at
Stand-up comedians will tell you that most people laugh at the ridiculous, at a "twist" of meanings and a surprise outcome to the end of a story. This is why jokes are funny, they surprise us and it is why some jokes are not funny, the punch line isn't a surprise. Or sometimes the images conjured up are so ridiculous that we laugh no matter how many times we've heard the joke. Other people laughing is contagious. A merry heart does good like medicine, but sorrow dries the bones. Solomon said that. What was it that made you have a mind-cleansing, soul shaking belly laugh?
The key for finding funny stories in the Bible is to look for the ridiculous, the incongruous—strange, odd, bizarre—and the surprise ending and/or surprise statement of one of the people in the story. Most of the time, we are so serious when studying the Bible, that we overlook these aspects in the stories. Things like a donkey talking, lead floating, a king's right hand man dipping in muddy water to be cleansed of leprosy and a prophet's servant being punished with it, and four lepers saving a city. The list goes on and on.
My friend Rocky loves this story from
One of my favorites is found in gns and more signs. Even John the Baptist when in prison sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was the One. Jesus told them to go back and tell him, "The blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, and the dead rise." It was enough of a reminder of the Old Testament prophecies that John was reassured.
The Gentiles not only understood, but knew it in their hearts. The centurion understood. He said, "Just speak and it will be so. I command men and when I say do this, it is done." The centurion understood the far reaching authority of Jesus. The woman understood Jesus' healing power and had hope and faith that she would be healed.
Whose faith was greater?
Jesus said many times, 'Go. Your faith has healed you.' He also said to the centurion, 'Never have I seen such faith as this.' Yet, God doesn't need our faith to work. He desires us to work with Him much like the Israelites did when they went out to gather manna for their daily meals. God could have had it appear in their bowls. But what kind of whining would that have started? It was a lesson in obedience which is basically what the centurion was talking about. Recognizing God's authority over everything in our life.
What is the one thing that usually gets us in trouble? James says it can light a fire. has a habit of running without our brains kicking in gear and that usually gets us in hot water. The same thing happens in our next funny story from the Bible.
"In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
All the trees decided they needed a king so they asked the olive tree to be king. No way... said the olive tree, 'No. I'll have to quit making my fruit so that I could do all that work. I'd no longer be servant to God.' The other fruit trees said the same thing. Isn't it interesting that the fruit trees were asked and the fruit trees said no? The fruitful were the most valued. The oak and the pine and the cedar trees are only useful after they are cut down, but the fruit trees are more useful while producing fruit. Then all the trees ask the bramble to be king, to which the bramble scrambles to grab the crown. Just like Abimlech did. The worthless, scratching and destructive choking bramble trying to rule. He only ruled for three years. Compare that to the good judges who judged, not ruled, for at least 40 years.
This dog... er, bramble... sniffs the wind and sees how it lays. Then his mouth runs way ahead of his brain.
Gaal gets the citizens of Shechem to transfer their allegiance to him. They go out and press grapes having a big ole party. Gaal obviously gets drunk and blasts Abimlech.
'Who is Abimlech? He's not so big as the Shechemites!' He beats his fists on his chest and with a great Tarzan imitation. "If I were in charge here, I would know how to get rid of Abimlech!' (Insert the Tarzan yell), 'I would say to him, 'Let's take this outside buster...let's fight!' Nana nana boo boo... " This type of taunt is usually accompanied with the behind wiggle and the finger waggle, hands held appropriately about ear level. Here is one drunk bramble trying to take over another bramble's territory.
Oh, and Governor Zebul hears all about it! 'Ummmmmm! ' You can just hear the wheels in the man's mind rattling around and 'round. 'I'm tellinnnnn'!'
The Gov gets this brilliant idea and sends Abimlech a message and tattling all about it. Then tells Abimlech exactly what to do. The classic Indian ambush! Hide in the bushes at night and when Gaal appears 'do what the situation requires'. What was the Gov thinking? Do we have a three-way bramble brawl?
So when Gaal gets up in the morning probably not feeling very spiffy, probably with an exploding hangover, he downs his morning coffee, yawns, stretches, scratches the itches, then he goes and stands in the open gate! What a target. What a stupid thing to do. All night he was mouthing off about Abimlech to Abimlechs relatives. Didn't he know they were kith and kin? It was like 'Uh, here I am...I'm the one in the red shirt!' Any one who has had even the remotest contact with small towns, knows that everyone is related some way, shape or form in small towns. This is how Abimlech became ruler... he was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. You just don't say anything about anybody in a small town because sure as you do, you'll step on a cat's tail and set up the squalling all over the place. It didn't matter that Shechem's leaders had put violent men in the mountain passes to rob the passers-by to undermine Abimlech. That was just brotherly squabbling. Everyone knows you just don't step in between brothers when they squabble.
Standing in the gate, Gaal sees this huge army outside the gate and panics. He runs behind Zebul's skirt...
He says all whiney, 'Gov Zebul, baby, there are big men with knives and stuff coming!'
Gov. Zebul at first says, 'Oh, no. That's just shadows you're seeing.' Now, the hungover Gaal is probably seeing double through the pounding of his head and here is the classic case of seeing what you want to see. Whether Zebul was stalling for time, or was calling Gaal a scaridy cat for becoming alarmed at shadows is speculative. Gaal alarmed himself, it seems by pointing out they were surrounded by an army sporting war weapons.
Gov. Zebul looks at him with beady eyes and says, 'All right Big Mouth, you wanted to be in charge here. You were the one that said Who is Abimlech? There he is [finger jabbing Gaal's chest and a smirk on face] Go out and fight him!'
Then Gaal goes out the gate [knees trembling] and fights. But Abimlech basically says "BOO!" and chases Gaal. He flees with tail tucked between his legs after there are bodies strewn all the way to the gate. Zebul then bans Gaal and his brothers from living in Shechem.
What's the lesson here? Big mouths often cause big trouble. I think the better lesson here is choose carefully the person you follow or consort with because he's liable to cause you great pain or harm. I keep thinking about those fellows who followed Gaal. He ran and left them high and dry without so much as a horn-tooting-retreat. They wound up dead. It is crucial to know the character of the person you choose as a leader. How often do we vote without the first real thought of how that person votes on legislation? How well do we know how each candidate feels about each issue? Too often, we find out too late when the person is in office and we can't change it for years. Sometimes, the very bad choice made is because we are so apathetic to even voting. How sad. Arm chair critics are quick with their tongues, but slow with their fingers. Know the candidates and what they stand for. In my opinion, we've got too many brambles in Congress. Remember to VOTE!
On Sunday evening I was sure I would be sharing this week's column on contentment and my recent victory in it. Then I woke up and it was Monday and I was sent running back to the scripture which reassured me so much in the previous week of how this contentment thing really works- when it's actually put to the test.
I have often pictured myself facing multiple doors. I thought, "Open the wrong door and that's it you lose everything. So don't screw it up. Pressure is on, make sure you chose the right door!" But the more I got to know God's character the more I realized that that's not who He is. God wants to bless my way no matter which door I chose to walk through, as long as my heart is to glorify Him. No matter what decision I make I will always face moments of doubt and things will go wrong on any given path, but that does not mean it's the wrong path. It just means God is squeezing me a bit in order for me to draw closer to him and He will squeeze me no matter what the path. So as I job hunt and face decisions on where to go in my career and which options to pursue, I can question which path is right, but ultimately if I want to glorify God in either path He is willing to bless it. I just need to make a choice and be content in whatever He reveals. He will not always make it clear. Sometimes he will just give me options. Each option provides opportunities to see His glory in a different way. Each option will test my faith in a different way.
We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand--out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. 3There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.
I have been shouting Gods' praise even when I have felt hemmed in, but sometimes, I feel like I'm shouting all the louder to convince myself most of all. It's like when you first ride a bike and hit those wobbly moments. One minute you're cruising and the next you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach as you don't so much have control of the bike and lose balance for a split second. In that split second it takes everything not to drop your feet off the pedals to the ground, but to ride through the wobbles.
So Monday rolled around and my resume still didn't look how I wanted it to, I was still not convinced of my latest cover letter, and that decision that I was so content in, well I was second guessing it. As I waited to hear back from the uncertain semi-offers I got wobbly; I began to doubt and became impatient. I lost my alertness. As I write these words I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing, but then again that's always a good revelation. I don't know what I'm doing, but He does! I need to just stop and let Him work so He can forge virtue in me. God knows what He's doing I just have to trust his heart.
5In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary--we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
I told a friend recently that I was questioning if I was strong enough. Her reply to this statement was that God would keep me, not because I am strong or weak, but because of His Holy Spirit inside of me. When I feel "not good enough" or doubt my abilities or talents in my field of work I have to remember verse 5. Firstly, God will never short change me and secondly He will pour blessings into my life through His Spirit. He has me right where He wants me, I'm just being squeezed at the moment so the place where He has me may not feel all that great. It's ok, there is an entire week a head of me to step out on faith and rely on the Spirit.
This is from the "strange but true" files. There is a man named Peter Maxwell who owned a urethane manufacturing plant in Chino, California. Not only was he the owner but he carried himself on the books as an employee for an annual salary of $10,000. One day, while in the plant helping out, his sweater got caught in a machine and he was injured severely. This is where it gets bizarre.
He hired an attorney and sued himself for negligence. Of course, he had to defend himself so he hired another attorney for the defense against the lawsuit. Not wishing that a lengthy court case should ensue he decided to settle the case against himself out of court and pay himself $122,500 for his injuries. Thus he received tax free money in a settlement and a nice business deduction as well. The Internal Revenue Service caught wind of this little arrangement and got involved.
The IRS demanded that Maxwell pay $64,185 as income tax since he was acting as an employee. They also asked him to cough up another $58,500 as the owner for a fraudulent business deduction. I don't know if you're keeping up, but that comes to $122,685. Maxwell appealed to a U. S. Tax Court and they decided that both sides could keep their settlements; the total settlement without paying taxes and the total business deduction.
When they brought the money to Peter he reacted. "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price for the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold was it not your own to control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
We would. Daily we try to sneak things past God. We tell ourselves it's okay, God won't mind. But He does. And the consequences could be eternal. There is no other court to overturn God's decisions. His rulings will stand as they did with Ananias and Sapphira.
There are lots of great songs about friends - a little tune by Michael W. Smith comes to mind, as does James Taylor's seasonal serenade. Turn to literature and there are friendships for the ages: the classic Frodo and Sam ridding the world of evil; on a more contemporary note, Lena, Carmen, Tibby and Bridget, bonded before birth, mailing jeans all over the world. Television and the movies have made a few famous as well: who could forget the boys of Stand by Me or The Sandlot; and remember Kevin and Paul on The Wonder Years sticking together despite bullies and puberty?
I noticed as I tried to think of fictional friendships that made me go 'Awww', many of them were male camaraderie. I don't know if that's just in the classic vein or if we girls are just too moody to stick to the storyline. I know I haven't focused on or cultivated friendships as much as I should have over the last few years. I've had my husband and kids to take care of and jobs and obligations - who has time for that frou-frou girlfriend stuff? Well, we all should!
Until recently, when through adverse circumstances I became much closer to a girlfriend, I had forgotten what it's like to talk on the phone for hours or hang out with someone who won't judge me if I order dessert - even someone who can drop in when my house looks like - well like we live in it - and I will actually let her in the door because she doesn't care about the dirt or the dishes. Not a casual friendship, but a deep friendship which allows us to be casual. This is what every woman needs to help her stay sane!
While thinking about friends I was looking through the bible for examples and most of them were men as well: David and Jonathon; Shadrach, Meshech and Abednigo; Jesus and John; again, not many women jumped out at me. Many of the women recorded in the bible who were close, or forced to be in close proximity to each other, bickered and fought. I suspect Mary Magdalene, the other Mary and some of the women who followed Jesus were quite close, but we aren't told about what their friendships were like.
Numerous times God has spoken to me or given me a delight for encouragement. Oh, not out loud, but in such a way I knew it was Him talking to me.
I was on my teeth-grinding drive home from Arizona after my second husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore. I was devastated and I kept wanting to turn back. God kept nudging me forward. Finally, the whole western sky was a brilliant orange and I heard plain as day, 'I've got your back.' That night as I lay in a hard, motel bed, I was sobbing my eyes out and crying out to God, 'Why?' 'What is so terribly wrong with me?' I felt Him press me into the matress, covering me with His hands, and I heard, 'You are acceptable to me, beloved. You need only worry about what I say.' The next day, my heart was lighter but I was still angry.
Along about Albuquerque, I was enjoying the sun on the snow. I'm a Southern Magnolia and we don't see snow much. Only often enough to know what it is when we see it. For miles and miles the pristine snow stretched out on both sides of the interstate highway. So I got a thought in my head about bringing some of that snow back to sweltering Louisiana. I didn't have a thing to put it in except a plastic bag. But, I decided to stop . At the next exit, I drove down the ramp and pulled to the side of the road. Right where I stopped, there was some deer tracks angling from the North, across the road through the ditch and around the maintenance building then off into the distance. A jack rabbit had hopped right over those tracks. What a find! I scooped up those deer tracks and rabbit tracks, putting them in the bag and tossed it into the seat next to me. Back on the road, I chuckled and then laughed out loud. God is so funny. Only God could have directed the timing of those animals and the timing of my arrival to the exact point of intersection on that day at that hour. All I had to do was glance in the seat beside me at that melted snow and I would grin. The lighter mood lasted the rest of the way home.
I stopped in Amarillo for the night. It was freezing cold and it must have snowed after I laid my head down because I had to scrape a goodly portion of ice and snow from the windshield. There's wasn't a cloud in the sky when I set out. The first flush of dawn was just a thought in the back of God's mind because He had done a spectacular job on the stars. When I hit Witchita Falls and turned south, the sky was crystal and I remembered something about a green flash that happened right at the second the sun touched the horizon; the atmosphere giving it a prism effect. Not many people get to see this because conditions must be exactly right, so I was glad I had remembered and decided to watch for it.
I saw the first rays streak across that crystal sky and it was so beautiful it took my breath away. In the space of about a second, I glanced back at the road with a sigh because the green flash had not happened for me that morning, sipped my coffee and thanked God for the morning. Then the sky, right at the horizon, turned this brilliant emerald green and the color flashed across the sky from east to west. I was stunned. It was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen and it happened so quickly I could have missed it with the blink of my eyes.
I pondered the wonder of that through Dallas and then home. God reaching down to me to give me a delight to lift my sore heart. That trip was best thing I could have done to start the painful process of healing. It was just me and God on the road. I learned a lot about myself and about God. He absolutely does care deeply about each of us and what happens to us. He's right there every second, in total control.. like with the deer and rabbit tracks.
There in the seat was that bag of melted snow. I brought those deer tracks home to my Daddy. What a hoot that was!
'What's this?' Dad cleared his throat as he peered through the water in the bag.
'Deer tracks and rabbit tracks,' I tossed at him dragging my suitcase from the back seat.
I told him what I'd done and where I'd scooped up the snow. He started laughing then and chuckled every little while then he told Mom, 'I'm bringing that to church tomorrow.' She just laughed, fully aware of the 'Top this!' game that he and someone at church were constantly playing. They would each bring something back from a trip... some gag gift or novelty toy and give it to the other just to watch the grins and hear the chuckles from everyone. Whatever it was, it would cause a stir in folks as they tried to figure out what it was or would laugh over the saying on the thing.
On Sunday, after I got my coffee at church, I passed a clump of people peering into that bag of water and one fellow was saying, 'Yeah... I think I see it. What was it again?'
It's a God thing.
Blessed are ye who weep now, for ye shall laugh
It takes genuine courage to trust God. It's a lot easier to just be a coward because cowardice behavior is generally more acceptable and excusable. Trusting God can be like a Trust Fall, which I have done many times in activities with my peers, as well as trainees in my field of work. You blindfold a person and have them fall backwards into someone's arms. As I have myself participated in this I remember feeling completely over-confident when I first tipped from my heals and began to tumble backwards, but how quickly my confidence was shattered when my body began to shift from just being at an angle to almost parallel and I still did not feel hands bracing my back! I got that twisting knot feeling in the pit of my stomach and throat and fear griped my chest and it was at that very moment when my partner caught me inches from the ground.
When I see the command in verse three the first thing that comes to mind is that if I am being warned against losing my grip than for sure there will be times that I will do just that. I have indeed lost my grip on God's love and loyalty and I have done so when I tried to make sense of things for myself.
5Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. 6Listen for GOD's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. 7Don't assume that you know it all. Run to GOD! Run from evil!
Trust is me shifting my focus from how I see and make sense of a given situation and instead turning back to seek God's nature. If I can just get to a point in my prayer or thinking process where I begin to dwell on God's nature as I know it from the scriptures I can acknowledge Him and trust a bit more in that very moment.
It takes courage to trust because trusting for me has also meant shifting from praying and hoping for clarity to praying and trusting in the absence of clarity because as Paula Rinehart writes, "The path will always appear no clearer than one little step at a time."
I don't think I have ever truly understood trust in this way. I have tried to "trust" that God would give me what I want, as well as how I want to get it. I have also tired to "trust" that God would provide clarity where there was none or catch me right before I hit the ground. Instead I am learning that God will let me fall a bit longer than I am comfortable with, He won't give clarity, and His plan almost never resembles mine in any way shape or form. So as I face the big unknown career wise and ask what's next for my life in all its many aspects, I can feel challenged by the call to truly trust.
Brannan Manning once wrote, "The scandal of God's silence in the most heartbreaking hours of our journey is perceived in retrospect as veiled tender presence and a passage into pure trust that is not at the mercy of the response it receives."
So when the scripture says to "trust in the Lord always" all of a sudden as I get older and my life experiences broaden, along with the experience of pain and/or things and events that just don't make sense to me, the emphasis on ALWAYS is amplified in my heart as the call to trust becomes not just a matter of surrender or hope, but all out war to hear God's voice among so many other murmurs. It takes courage to keep straining to listen.
In my darkest moments a quote that really has always helped me to regain perspective has been,
"When you come to the edge of all the light you know and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly." (Unknown Author)
When I worked at McDonald's a couple of decades ago the menu offered Quarter Pounders and Quarter Pounders with cheese. You'd be surprised how many people wanted them without the cheese - at least I was. I mean, it's not like they weren't still 700 calories and no one even calculated fat grams back then.
After I had worked there a few months the company apparently decided that not enough people were ordering Quarter Pounders, sans cheese, to warrant taking up extra space on the menu. So they decreed that all Quarter Pounders should have cheese. Well that was all well and good, except that they, at least the powers that be in our store, felt that since it was now on the menu we should not ask the customers which type of Quarter Pounder they wanted.
Well, after working in the drive-thru for about ten minutes after this went into effect I knew there would be trouble. The first customer to order a Quarter Pounder asked for cheese. No problem. The next customer just ordered a Quarter Pounder. That meant he got cheese anyway. He did not want cheese. He returned, irate, about five minutes after leaving, demanding to know why there was cheese on his Quarter Pounder. Of course "the powers that be" who had decided the menu was self-explanatory and that everyone would get cheese were not around to smooth things over. That was left to me - the high school drive-thru girl!
So after explaining the situation and replacing his sandwich I began taking orders again. After this scenario (the irate customer) was repeated several times that night, I decided I would inform customers as they ordered that all Quarter Pounders now came with cheese. I figured if my manager didn't like it, he could take care of all the non-cheese lovers when they came back fuming.
I continued to announce the plus cheese menu to customers for a few weeks until people started to catch on. This made my job much less stressful and kept the customers happy. (And wasn't that my goal?)
When God provides a menu He makes the choices clear. He provides a variety of promises hinged on commands. The feast is plentiful, spiced with blessings and we have a truly heavenly dessert to look forward to.
When I make a choice based on God's commands I can be sure I will get just what he promised - no unexpected cheese. I will still have bad days and even painful, lengthy trials, but God will always be there to feed me.
" . . . because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen . . ."
This week as my family and I returned home from an out-of-state adventure, we stopped for a late lunch, pulling off the interstate into a combo KFC/Taco Bell. I promptly gave my south-of the-border order and headed for the bathroom while my family ordered their chicken pieces. When I returned, it was to find the kids whining to my husband and my husband looking bewildered.
'They're out of chicken,' he stated with disbelief. What are the odds? (Technically, they were just out of cooked chicken and it would be more than 15 minutes before any was ready to serve.) Considering this was fast food and we wanted to get home and collapse, my husband opted to head on down the road. As we drove he politely suggested I 'get my head out of my book and look for restaurant signs'. I spotted a Fazoli's, which he had informed me I missed earlier. Well, I didn't want to miss out on the breadsticks, so I was glad I had glanced up at the right moment to see this sign.
As we pulled off and turned to the right, where only a McDonald's sign was in view, I said 'don't blame me if this is one of those places that's two miles off the road.' Apparently that triggered some long-buried unpleasant memory because my husband responded, 'It is! This is the one we stopped at two years ago and got lost and drove two miles into the hills trying to find!' Well, at least we knew where the turn was this time.
We found the place with no trouble and traipsed inside. A worker came from the seating are and went behind the counter and said. 'Oh, we're closed.' Just before my husband went ballistic, the guy said, 'Just kidding.' At that point I told him I would not have been surprised if they were closed and shared out tale of woe. When I got to the part about KFC being out of chicken he said, 'You're what? Out of what? Aren't you called Kentucky Fried Chicken?' I'm sure that made his day!
So we got our lunch, Italian - not chicken and tacos, and everyone was full and content (except for a few 'how long 'til we get home?' queries - and those came from my husband). What I learned from this experience is that things are not always what we expect, or even the way they should be. I also had another lesson in patience and trust - if God can arrange for me to have a more interesting lunch through an odd circumstance (I love Taco Bell, but I eat it frequently) then what might He do with the really important things in my life if I wait and trust?
Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. -
the Second Week after Epiphany